The following is a guest post from Patrice Beverly, VM’s Outreach Manager.
Somewhere in most of our lives we have that bad break-up. The kind that leaves us maybe a bit bitter, a bit sad, a bit angry, and perhaps wondering what happened. Recently a Volunteer Maryland alum contacted us stating that she wanted to return the “stuff” Volunteer Maryland gave them. The reason stated was she just didn’t use them and didn’t want them to go to waste. I have to tell you that hurt a little. It felt like we were breaking up, and the box of mementoes of our time together landed on my doorstep one cold morning. How did our relationship get here? Why did the idea of keeping Volunteer Maryland shirts, and gifts from the end of service celebration mean nothing? Building relationships with Volunteer Maryland Coordinators begins with the application, getting to know why they chose service and finding a good fit for not only their skills but their passions as well. It follows through with training and support given to each Volunteer Maryland Coordinator. The Volunteer Maryland Coordinators represent not only our work, but the very concepts we discuss concerning good volunteer management, it is all about relationships. So in the end, why did the relationship with this past Coordinator end with a thud of returned items?
Building relationships can be tough. From awkward first dates, to meeting new clients, to bringing in brand new AmeriCorps members, it takes time. Time to learn more about what we each value and what we are looking to gain from this relationship and what we are willing to give. I make no excuses here, as Outreach Manager I want Volunteer Maryland Coordinators to represent Volunteer Maryland well, and to engage people in conversation concerning their service as often as possible. In training we practice elevator speeches, storytelling, and invite guest blogging. In this relationship I need support in telling people about our work and the work of AmeriCorps. Volunteer Maryland encourages AmeriFridays where staff and members wear our “gear’ to let people know that service and AmeriCorps and Volunteer Maryland bring us to this work. I can’t tell you how many quick conversations I have had in line at a coffee shop, or getting gas, or heating my lunch in our building cafeteria concerning AmeriCorps and Volunteer Maryland simply by wearing a AmeriCorps or Volunteer Maryland shirt. There is a line in the AmeriCorps pledge about taking this commitment with me this year and beyond, and that shirt reminds me and others that Volunteer Maryland and AmeriCorps work to find solutions to hard problems. Engage community members in meaningful service. Give a voice to those silenced by fear and neglect. It is important for me to remember that I am not only recruiting and placing Volunteer Maryland Coordinators, but encouraging voices to tell the story of service through words, pictures, and yes shirts. I am sorry this alum never made that connection, and I know that maybe it is not always so easy to see the stewardship part of our service. Next time I will do better making the connections to service and the importance of telling our story, even it is by wearing a Volunteer Maryland polo as I cruise the aisle of my local grocery store. I do hope that one day this alum will come across a photo or forgotten artifact of their time with Volunteer Maryland and talk about it. For now, that returned “stuff” will be a reminder for me to continue to carry my commitment and to encourage others to do the same. It still hurts a little, but I am all the better for it.