Greetings from the National Conference on Volunteering and Service

Good Monday morning from New Orleans! I arrived yesterday to incredible sticky heat and a city full of service leaders. That’s right; it’s the 2011 National Conference on Volunteering and Service!

The National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS) is an opportunity for service leaders to gather together to learn new skills and improve existing ones, generate new ideas, network, and “be inspired and develop strategies to address the critical issues facing our nation.” I’ve been here for less than 24 hours and I’m already on my way to meeting those goals.

I love the networking part of this conference. Each year, I have the opportunity to reconnect with former colleagues and partners and meet people who are working in all kinds of ways to engage individuals in service. Yesterday was a great start to this year’s networking.

It started before I even got off the plane (which, I’m pretty sure, was filled with NCVS goers!) when I met Abby from Atlas Corps, a fellowship program that describes itself as a “multinational Peace Corps for Social Entrepreneurs.” Abby is an AmeriCorps*VISTA alumnae and incredibly dynamic, so I was pleased we met and am looking forward to seeing her again throughout the conference.

Shortly thereafter, while checking into my hotel, I ran into Michelle, a former co-worker of mine from Experience Corps  who leads efforts to promote encore careers in education through Civic Ventures.  As we hopped in the elevator, Michelle told me about a session she attended during the pre-conference about a new service leadership institute being developed. I already know I’m following up on that one!

After registering and running into another friend from Experience Corps and John Gomperts, the Director of AmeriCorps, I moseyed, with AmeriCorps Alums Jen from the Maryland Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism and Christy from Genesee Valley Outdoor Learning Center, into the French Quarter for the AmeriCorps Alums NCVS Kick-Off Party.

What a great event! AmeriCorps Alums put together an evening of casual networking, complete with a get-to-know-you bingo game, dancing, food, and drinks. It was exciting to catch up with the new Executive Director of AmeriCorps Alums, Ben Duda. Ben and I were in AmeriCorps*NCCC  together many moons ago, so we swapped stories and shared updates about our fellow classmates before he got down to the business of formally welcoming everyone to the party. Ben talked about AmeriCorps members and Alums as present and future leaders and, as I looked around the room I realized he could not be more right. I was surrounded by people who became part of AmeriCorps for a million different reasons and they all continued to serve, keeping true to the AmeriCorps pledge of serving “this year and beyond.” It’s both exciting and humbling to be a part of such a group of people.

As the evening went on, I met people (some of whom I had interacted with on Twitter and now met in person for the first time) from within – and outside of – the service sector. I met two women from Notre Dame Mission Volunteers, an alum of City Year and NCCC who now works in the Boston Mayor’s Office, the brains behind AARP’s social media efforts for Create the Good, social media leaders like Nolan Hoshino and Bryan Dainty, Executive Director of MyImpact Chris Golden and staff from the Points of Light Institute including our very own Volunteer Maryland Alum Michael Nealis  (plus, of course, conference penguin, Hamilton Stand).

This was a wonderfully fun and inspiring event to start NCVS. Meeting new friends and connecting with old ones is energizing. It reminds me of the impact that AmeriCorps and service has on those who serve. And, while we do this for the communities that are most in need, we know that those who provide the service are impacted for life. Many of them, like those I met yesterday, become our most innovate leaders in the service movement. They come up with the ideas to help us meet our greatest needs.

They also, to my wild surprise, really enjoy line dancing. But that’s another story altogether.

So, I’m off to the conference. The networking will continue as I take part in sessions about evaluation and policy, volunteer management best practices and more. More to come!

PS – I’m trying really hard to be one of those cool, relevant, social networkers. So I’m tweeting a bit throughout NCVS. Feel free to follow me at @mkeccleston, the conference at #NCVS and, as always, @VolunteerMD.

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