Big Questions and Big Answers from #ServiceUnites

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 2.52.15 PMLast week I had the immense privilege of attending Points of Light’s annual Conference on Service and Volunteerism. This year’s conference, “Service Unites,” centered on themes of engagement and inclusion in the 21st century world of volunteerism and national service. There were many amazing speakers from many diverse backgrounds and experiences. Throughout the conference they asked and answered questions which felt somewhat familiar to someone whose volunteer management background has been shaped by Volunteer Maryland’s holistic training model. Hearing their different answers, however, was reinvigorating and inspiring. Here are some of the big questions I found most interesting to consider and reconsider. What are your answers?

Why is service important?

“Volunteerism is a passion that makes impact.” – Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service

As a second-term AmeriCorps member I feel like I have to find and justify answers to this question a lot. Unsurprisingly, CNCS CEO Wendy Spencer has her answer on lockdown. We all want to follow our passions, but a passion for service gets things done!

How can volunteerism change people and communities?

“Service is an opportunity to build empathy and understanding.” – Chad Hiu, National Specialist for Diversity & Inclusion with the YMCA

Chad Hiu and Emily Holthaus, the YMCA’s National Director of Social Responsibility, led an engaging and deeply interactive session on the “social benefits of volunteerism” and how we might structure our volunteer programs in order to promote inclusive communities. The session reminded us of the value of volunteerism in community-building and the great responsibility with which that leaves us as volunteer managers.

How do we effectively lead volunteers?

“You must act your way into change.” – Jennifer Bennett, Volunteer Program Manager at VolunteerMatch

There are a million great answers to this important question, but at her session “From the Inside Out: Creating a Culture of Volunteer Engagement,” Jennifer Bennett highlighted the necessity for volunteer program administrators to walk the walk when asking for change. It’s not enough to put an expectation in the Policies and Procedures, she posited, you’ve got to live it.

How can we achieve sustainability?

“Charity is temporary, but solidarity creates permanent change.” – Brittany Packnett, Executive Director of Teach for America: St Louis

The question of sustainability is one which Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are now confronting head-on as they prepare for their terms to end in early August. During the opening plenary, activist and AmeriCorps Alum Brittany Packnett offered a perspective on sustained change which resonated deeply with us in the audience. As she went on to explain, “if they most affected aren’t leading, it’s not a movement.”

What sort of mindset do we need to bring to this work?

“Have the tenacious attitude of change.” – Chris Lambert, President & CEO of Life Remodeled

Improving the world is hard work. It takes commitment, passion, and a good dose of optimism. If there’s one thing that the Points of Light conference showed me, however, it’s that we have a lot of allies. Changemakers are radicals, but we’re also everywhere, and with events like the Points of Light conference which bring us together around common goals, we become even more unstoppable.

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