One step back (in history), two steps forward

About a week and a half ago, I had the pleasure and privilege to be invited to and to attend the Winter Social pot luck luncheon at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore.  I was introduced to Cylburn last November when the staff graciously donated a space to hold my regional meeting.  It was in the most magnificent Victorian mansion.  I drool at the prospect of heading back when the flowers are in full springtime bloom….

All that aside….I went to this social thinking wow, what a great way to get staff and volunteers together in a social setting!  Karen, the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator (VMC) at Cylburn and fellow AmeriCorps member had explained to me that many of the volunteers of the organization are over the age of 50.  That being said, I was expecting a lot of adorable older folks who had a story for every occasion and the wit to match.  What I actually saw was an intersection of generations.

At no other event that I’ve ever attended has there been such a wide variety of age range.  I saw people in their 20’s to people who were in their 70’s and 80’s; all volunteers of Cylburn!  When I entered, a presentation on the history of Cylburn was being given.  It was fascinating to hear about the connections between the family who owned the property with the surrounding area.  I heard a love story between a woman and a man five years her junior (Mr. Tyson, the owner of the property who began construction of Cylburn Mansion in 1863).  I learned that the mansion’s name was oftentimes mistaken for a nearby property previously owned by Mr. Tyson’s daughter.   I learned that the nearby Mt. Sinai Hospital was actually built on a landfill where the spoils from the subway were dumped. I’m guessing these were the remains of Baltimore’s Light Rail subway system.  One woman at my table remembered seeing the trucks doing their dumping to build the “mount” that is now Mt. Sinai Hospital.  I also learned that from the fancy Italian cupola, one can see straight to the Inner Harbor on a clear day!  Fantastic!

During the social, there were some interesting variations of volunteer recognition that I observed. The first was a sort of free-for-all question and answer session.  There were about five flip charts up on the wall each with an area of volunteer service written on them.  A Cylburn employee instructed the group to raise their hand or shout out if they had ever volunteered in any of the areas listed.  She then wrote their names on the papers.  It seemed to work very well in letting volunteers know that everyone acknowledged their contribution to the organization’s success. Following the energetic Q & A, there was a raffle during which lucky volunteers won plants, crystal beaded bracelets, and even Orioles tickets!

After the excitement, Karen took the stage once more.  She emphasized the heritage of Cylburn by referencing Mrs. Tyson’s desire to keep modernizing the property.  She mentioned that volunteers are helping to continue the legacy of not only keeping its magnificence current, but taking it through to the fulfillment of its future.   Watching this unfold, I had a sense that the volunteers were a representation of what modernity can look like. In my opinion, modernity is diversity. Included in diversity is age difference.  Appropriately managing both younger and older volunteers provides a well-rounded range of perspectives and can effectively take an organization’s volunteer program into its future!

This was a great representation of the great work AmeriCorps members do for the organizations where they work. Volunteer Maryland Coordinators work to build capacity for host organizations by managing and creating volunteer programs. Recruitment and recognition of volunteers are huge aspects of volunteer management. The Winter Social at Cylburn was a great example of recognition as well as volunteer intergenerational diversity.

Tell us about your efforts to recruit a diverse volunteer base for your organizations!

2 thoughts on “One step back (in history), two steps forward

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