America in Miniature

Volunteer Maryland is clearly a powerhouse for volunteering. Our members are devoted to national service, our VMCs work exclusively to expand volunteerism at their sites, and our even our VISTA sponsor sites rely on volunteers to get critical work done. Whether an organization has a formal volunteer program or staff members rely on their personal networks (who hasn’t been extra nice to that friend with IT skills?), it would be difficult to deny that volunteering in its many forms is absolutely critical to helping organizations across the board provide services. This I’ve understood for a very long time.

But Volunteer Maryland is also about something else: Maryland. And that’s the part that’s just been hitting home for me recently. In terms of personal philosophy, I have over the past two years seen the power of working comprehensively within a local region versus working on a niche issue on a national or global level. For organizations we work with, that can translate into providing hot food, job training, clothes and other goods to one neighborhood as Paul’s Place does in Pigtown or providing extremely comprehensive nutritional services and meals to the medically vulnerable by focusing on Baltimore and the Eastern Shore, like Moveable Feast. For Volunteer Maryland as a whole, it means working with dozens of organizations each year within this one state, which has led to an unbelievable collective networking ability and experience of what works in this region.

Beyond feeling like I’ve gotten to know an incredible amount about the nonprofit sector in this state, I’m also fascinated by the topography of Maryland and its unique blend of urban and rural areas between the shore and Appalachia. On Wednesday I had the pleasure of meeting with Sarah, who is wrapping up her VISTA year at The American Red Cross of the Delmarva Peninsula in Elkton, MD. While I was there she thanked me for driving all the way up there (it’s not that far, but that’s just how nice Sarah is), and seemed genuinely shocked when I said that I love the drive. In fact, I am apparently the first person she has ever heard say that about the area. I couldn’t imagine why! Just in the hour between Baltimore and Elkton I got to go through a tunnel under the Patapsco river, see tons of huge ships and heavy-duty equipment just North of Baltimore, and cross what I believe was the Susquehanna river to find impossibly flat land on the other side.

On the way back, I (accidentally) took a different route and wound up on a major road completely surrounded by marsh. I don’t know that I’ve ever unexpectedly stumbled upon vast marshland before, and it’s a pretty neat little experience. During a time when I’m already consumed with reflection, it served as a reminder of how excited I’ve been on so many drives over the past months. It’s been incredible to see beaches, mountains, suburbs, fertile land and concrete cities and to meet the people who shaped- and have been shaped by- them.

I suppose that’s just another one of the unexpected benefits of this position. I doubt that anyone’s been recruited as a VISTA Leader by being told “so at various points in the year you can drive over and through an assortment of bridges and tunnels and view a wide array of terrains while rocking out to that classical music of yours. It’s like a really short road trip with an office at either end!”, but maybe it’s worth a shot the next time around.

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