Signing Off

So, here I am wrapping up my final service year. What an incredible journey it’s been. AmeriCorps has truly impacted my life for the better. When I joined AmeriCorps in 2011, I did not have a solid idea of what I wanted to gain from this experience. What I did know is that I was invested in creating social impact. Since childhood, all I ever envisioned for my life was to help others. However, it took me a great deal of time and understanding to find my calling, and it all started while serving with AmeriCorps.

As an AmeriCorps member, I gained a wealth of knowledge; skills, and experience empowering others with the skills needed to create solutions to common community issues. My experience with outreach has been educational and has given me the opportunity to raise awareness of community services and resources. In this my last service year with AmeriCorps, I’ve realized that my passion is community outreach. AmeriCorps gave me the direction I needed to see this by providing the opportunity to serve in my community.

AmeriCorps showed me that service is not an option; it’s a way of life. Volunteering is a part of my identity. Being an active member in the community is important to me. Serving as a soup kitchen volunteer on the weekends isn’t just a time to feed the homeless. It is an opportunity to play an important role in impacting the lives of Baltimore’s citizen.

Kim, a new regular Saturday soup kitchen attendee age 30, has spent the last year jumping from shelters to city streets. When I first meet Kim at a gas station across the street from my church, she was jaded. She was not interested in human contact or receiving help. Kim had lost her job, her home, and her two children to social services. “Are you here to save me too,” she said. “No, I just noticed you out her every Saturday morning, and wanted to say hello,” I said. Saturday’s I dedicated time to engaging with Kim. She was looking for a friend and I provided that for her. In June Kim ventured over to the soup kitchen and asked for me one Saturday morning. She was finally ready to ask for the help she needed to get her life back on track. She expressed her gratitude and thanked me for helping her turn her life around. Kim is now on her own seeking employment and attending job coaching sessions with a local community program.

Believing in the significance of community engagement is critical to social change. AmeriCorps has strengthened my abilities in this. What I have learned these last three years will stay with me forever and will continue to drive me in my mission. AmeriCorps helped shape how I view the world and connect with others. I can’t say that I’d be who I am today without the experiences I’ve had. My service gave me the confidence to preserve, strengthen my core values, and determination to get things done. I am eternally grateful. My experience has been defined by what I wanted it to be and there was no endpoint to my dreams coming true. I am fulfilled, full of optimism and hopeful about life after AmeriCorps, and I owe this to Volunteer Maryland and AmeriCorps.

I am on my way to a new adventure. Wish me luck! For I can’t stop now, I’ve only just begun to change the world.

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Learning from a Year of Service

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Reflection is essential in a service year. As we begin to wrap up VM27, reflection activities provide our members with the opportunity to assess their expectations, what they learned, and what was gained from a year dedicated to enriching the communities of Maryland. Recently, Volunteer Maryland Coordinators Michelle Yellin, Christy Green, Sam Mestan, Melissa Goldstein, Colleen Walls, Emily Morrow and Erin Josephitis joined me at the Annapolis Maritime Museum to reflect on their experiences.

The VMCs shared how AmeriCorps has changed their lives. I asked each VMC to use one word to sum up their service. Without hesitation they had pen to paper. “Nutritious. I learned that I have the ability to be a great teacher and manager,” Michelle shared. Erin captured her service with the word green, stating that she “gained the respect of her volunteers by building relationships.” “Eventful. Learning how to manage multiple tasks is a skill I’m glad I enhanced,” Colleen stated. Christy shared her experience as “heartwarming.” “I truly value the needs of the elderly population due to my daily interactions with the clients.” “Enlightening. I’ve grown professionally while working in a diverse setting” is how Sam depicted her service experience. Melissa stated that her service was truly “meaningful. I learned new perspectives and gained confidence in my abilities to lead.” “Learning how to produce positive results and collaborate with people of all different backgrounds, ages, and economic levels was amazing,” Emily stated.

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Service is rewarding. Yet it does not come without its challenges. These roadblocks give the VMCs the push needed to problem solve and become more resilient. “Taking active steps to overcome obstacles helps you see what you’ve accomplished and where you have grown,” Christy shared.

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“Gaining trust presented a challenge, building rapport was the solution.” – Sam  “Communicating with staff seemed tricky, learning to be persistent and patient proved effective.” – Michelle  “Addressing social and economical welfare issues that I’d never faced was intimidating at first; learning to adapt propelled my experience.” -Emily  “Lack of budget pushed me to think on my feet and use my resources to acquire the things my program needed.” – Melissa

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As a result of their service, what the VMCs hoped to gain and what they learned is by far their greatest take away. “I’m taking away optimism, endurance, selflessness, leadership, determination, sacrifice, coordination, confidence, management, compassion, understanding, friendships, and stories to share.” the VMCs stated.

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Reflection is valuable and it helps you gain wisdom and insight. Without a doubt, it links our performance to our potential, using our experiences to shape how we view the world, ourselves, and the impact we make on others and the community.

Try Recruitment This Way

I have read many articles on volunteer recruitment. They all suggest making announcements; writing interesting articles, craft catchy blog posts and spend hours networking. However, the volunteer response is still slow. Last Saturday, I had an interesting conversation with a friend and an outreach coordinator for the Baltimore City public schools system. I asked, “What is it that makes volunteer recruitment challenging?” During the conversation three simple things to try were suggested. One, make a personal ask. Two, motivate people to volunteer and lastly, have confidence as a leader, knowing that “no” does not mean never.

Jessica Paguirigan, the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with Frederick Department of Aging Meals on Wheels program is doing just this. Jessica recruits volunteers to deliver meals to qualified seniors living in Frederick County. She is asking Frederick organizations to help recruit volunteers which is expanding her reach. By directly asking these organizations to hand out volunteer applications; provide the opportunity to speak at events, and publicize program materials, Jessica has been able to recruit 17 new volunteers who have helped 136 clients.  These 17 volunteers puts her at a little over half of her recruitment goal. As a further result of this expansion, she has established two new delivery routes in Middletown and Lewistown Maryland.

Jessica is well aware of the needs of her organization; clients, volunteers, and how these needs fit in with the mission of the Meals on Wheels program. She is people driven, full of motivation and able to capture the attention of the volunteers she comes in contact with. She possesses the understanding that volunteers are passion driven, looking to make impact and improve the circumstances of others’ lives. Giving up is not an options and she is steadfast in her role, “Although we may not be the right fit for an interested volunteer at this point, that does not mean we never will. Timing is everything,” Jessica stated.  Although recruitment presents a challenge for Jessica, she continues to find ways to get her recruitment message noticed.

Celebrating AmeriCorps Week with UCAP

AmeriCorps Week acknowledges the hard work of AmeriCorps members and alums for their service. On Friday, March 13, Volunteer Maryland Coordinators Bintou Ouattara, Emily Morrow, Ronnetta Zack-Williams, Melissa Goldstein, Patricia Burns and I gathered for a service project at United Communities Against Poverty, an organization that provides solutions to alleviate poverty in Prince George’s County communities.

Ronnetta is the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with UCAP. She works to recruit, train, and manage a volunteer base of 1,000 plus volunteers to provide services to UCAP clients including; housing assistance, case management, emergency shelter, life skills training, and GED training just to name a few.

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Our day at UCAP began with an outstanding orientation by Ronnetta. Our project focused on organizing the centers donations room. Following the orientation we headed to the donation center and were assigned stations. Ronnetta showed us how to organize the numerous bags of donations. It was amazing to see the quantity of donations the center acquired over several months and their importance to the patrons everyday lives.

During our time, UCAP staff and clients stopped by the donation center to thank us for our service. We all helped in a variety of ways. Patricia and Emily had the opportunity to gather clothing items for a UCAP client who was preparing for a job interview. We truly enjoyed this opportunity to help sort and organize the clothes, school supplies and miscellaneous products that would be given to the mothers and children receiving services from UCAP.

Emily Melissa patricia and emily Ronnetta

Volunteering with UCAP was a fantastic opportunity and learning experience. I will continue to remind myself that no matter how tough life may be, there’s always someone who has to face challenges that surpass my own. Our single reward that day was realizing that we helped make significant and positive changes in the lives of others. What a phenomenal way to wrap up AmeriCorps Week.

Trending Topics

There are a multitude of circumstances that are causing a shift in the way people think and feel about volunteering today. As our volunteer programs seek to introduce; engage and mobilize new volunteers, it is important to consider what’s occurring in the world that is impacting the way people volunteer. While doing some research, I stumbled across an interesting article that discussed 4 New Volunteer Trends to Watch posted by Lori Halley in January of 2014, on wildapricot.com. This article stemmed from a webinar presented by Volunteer Match that presented insight on: Future Forecast: Four Big Shifts That Will Change Volunteerism for the Better, by Tobi Johnson. Volunteer management is different than it was in the past. The premise of this article focuses on four key trends that are affecting how we attract, engage, and support volunteers. Tobi Johnson identifies four key trends:

Trend #1: Advances in brain science & neuroleadership. Assessing the happiness of the volunteers and cultivating ways to promote productivity in the workspace to achieve higher results.

Trend #2: Discover in human performance & talent development. Capture the motivations and inspirations of human performance to enable volunteer managers to develop supportive trainings that recognize the skills and talents of their volunteers as they align with program goals.

Trend #3: Migration from solely virtual to virtual and mobile. Introducing volunteer cyber services may allow an organization to reach a larger audience. Technology is advancing and organizations can develop approaches to engage these volunteers in a host of ways that foster organizational structure.

Trend #4: The increasing importance of data. Organizations gather substantial data to manage volunteers and grow volunteer programs. It is about storytelling and reporting to show the impact and effectiveness of an organization.

Volunteer Maryland Coordinator Jessica Paguirigan is currently improving the social media awareness of the Frederick Department of Aging Meals On Wheels program. Directly addressing trend three listed above, she created a Linkedln page and Facebook page with 41 new followers. Theses platforms exist to connect potential and existing volunteers to the mission of the Meals on Wheels program.  Jessica has also started a blog. She recruited a volunteer with a journalism background to write blogs highlighting the volunteer program. Jessica mentions that a majority of the blog posts are informative however; she looks to expand more of the personable side of the volunteering with FDOA. Moreover, she is focusing on including volunteer spotlights, and client stories into the blogs to use more of a persuading appeal that will expand outreach.

Jessica’s ideas and incorporations of technology have proved to be successful. She is providing avenues for the FDOA Meals on Wheels program to engage volunteers virtually. Her volunteers appreciate the dedicated efforts to provide additional resources and new virtual opportunities.

Where Can We Grow? Setting a Sustainable Structure that Optimizes Performance

Using volunteers gives organizations the capacity to both increase meaningful engagement with community members and discover creative ways to meet expanding needs of services with limited resources. The successful implementation of volunteer programs can accomplish these dual goals, with three strong work elements; management, planning, and structure.

Samantha Mestan serves as the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with Shepherd’s Clinic and Joy Wellness Center, which provides quality integrative health care to those who are medically uninsured in Baltimore City, is a solely volunteer based entity. Samantha has recognized the importance of this and is using her past knowledge and experiences, as a social worker to grow the volunteer program. Samantha is looking to impact the work of Shepherds Clinic in numerous ways. “Our patient census is growing, and with growth we need more providers. I am hoping that during my service year, I can get more doctors and nurses to help meet the ongoing expansion of the program.”

She has taken a close look at the current volunteer management system and identified the need for enhancing the performance of the clinic, starting with the restructuring of the nursing scheduling system database. The previous system proved to be very time consuming and inefficient. “Implementing a new self-scheduling process within Volgistics has proven to be successful. Before, our volunteer nurses did not have access to this but now, they are able to set an effective schedule that meets their needs as well as those of the clinic,” Samantha states.

The new system has vastly improved shift coverage on any given day. The nurses are also able to drop and add shifts and track their volunteer hours. This recent change increased the productivity of the volunteer program and positively impacted the flow of volunteers with the intention of better serving the clinics clients.

Dedicating time, understanding the mission of Shepherds Clinic, and formalizing a cohesive structure for volunteer management are an essential part of Samantha’s planning and sustainability. “Our clients view the clinic as a safe haven, and I overhear positive feedback with regards to the recent changes from our patients every single day. They are amazed and thankful for our service,” Samantha mentioned. Her continued efforts will fortify the growth of the volunteer program for seasons to come.

For This is Not Goodbye, AmeriCorps is Forever

This story was one involving growth of an AmeriCorps member, an illumination of service, and excitement for change. As I began I set out to broaden my horizons focusing on what I wanted to get out of a second year with Volunteer Maryland.

My expectations were to increase certain skills and grow professionally with regards to moving towards my goals in becoming a therapist. My experience as a Peer Leader has provided me the opportunity to develop a set of skills that has helped me to unlock my strength, and maximizing my potential. I have been amazed with the feedback I received from that of the Volunteer Maryland Staff and that of the VMCs. I will never forget one special note from Roslyn Lindner, “Thank you Elena for always being available to talk and listen to what I have to say, I really appreciate you.” This message really touched me and I was able to see that my work makes an impact.  In June I was presented an opportunity to take the lead as a facilitator. This spoke to my professional growth and I felt proud of my accomplishments.

 I also spoke to part of my story involving an illumination of service. Growing up, service was and still is an important aspect of life that my parents continue to teach. In a past blog I talked about a volunteer who helped me unlock myself worth, self esteem, and taught me to read. She continues to be my inspiration for why I serve. It is because of this very experience and that of my own volunteer opportunities this year that I understand why I serve. I serve to learn and to teach responsibility not only for myself but for others. By serving as a volunteer with organizations that aim to build stronger and healthier communities like; Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, Manna Food Center, and United Communities Against Poverty,  I have added value and made significant changes in the lives of those I’ve served this year. Service is not a task but rather an opportunity and a privilege to impact the community and give others hope for a brighter, safer, and more efficient future. It is because of this that I continue to strive, putting forth all my efforts to maximize the growth of this nation, advocating for my fellow Americans, and empowering others to get involved in meaningful service.

As an AmeriCorps Alum I look to make a difference by actively involving myself in community needs I look to improve with my fellow AmeriCorps and VM Alum. I look forward to expanding my knowledge; infusing my experiences as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator of VM Class 24 and as this year’s Peer Leader, to gain my Masters in Social Work and impact families and children health centers, mental health facilities, schools, and community organizations that work to make an immediate impact in the community. Finally I must Serve  this year and beyond, never to forget that in seeking change, I must be that change. This is my commitment. I will embrace a lifetime of service in all aspects of my life, leading each day with conviction as an example, changing the world.

 Now my story has come to an end. I am not good with goodbyes; rather I’ll leave you with a simple common phrase, “all right then,” for I am off. Off to change the world, never to close this chapter but to reread it, enjoying and learning from my experiences again and again. . This is not a goodbye, for AmeriCorps is forever.

 

Serving as An AmeriCorps Alumni

Our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators have persevered this year as avid volunteer activist, while spear heading volunteer engagements, and coordinating service projects that drive academic achievement; improve economic opportunities, and restore and preserve our environmental resources. Now they will move forward joining the ranks of Alums of both Volunteer Maryland and AmeriCorps. Not leaving their service experience behind but taking what they have learned and gained as Volunteer Maryland Coordinators, and continuing to do service this year and beyond.

During the National Conference of Volunteerism and Service, Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) CEO, Wendy Spencer highlighted the topic of keeping AmeriCorps Alums of all programs connected to service after their AmeriCorps term. During the conference plenary, Wendy Spencer constantly circled back to her opening statement, which encouraged listeners to recognize that the dedication of AmeriCorps Alums adds value to AmeriCorps programs and inspires others. “AmeriCorps Alums are bound together by the commitment to service and it is your aspiration to serve as avid community members that is greatly treasured.”

She went on to further talk about how we can commit to making connections with our members after completion of service. The Baltimore City AmeriCorps Alum Chapter exists to connect, support, and mobilize alumni in Baltimore and Central Maryland in order to strengthen communities. This is exactly the engagement other AmeriCorps programs discussed during a networking session with Wendy Spencer. One stand out subject during this time was expanding service; looking to ways we can mobilize our alumni along with current members to increase meaningful impact in every community. She also discussed ways we can utilize milestones like the 20th Anniversary of AmeriCorps to elevate service and our individual experiences, which will undeniably keep citizens engaged in service, delivering on that promise created 20 years ago, that changed the way Americans thought about service and how the generations that were to follow would think about themselves as an AmeriCorps and Volunteer Maryland Alum I plan to fulfill my commitment as alum by continuing to take advantage of opportunities that inform people of AmeriCorps.

My experience has been incredible and I experienced more than I could ever hope for, and I want to expand on my Volunteer Maryland experience. I have grown as an individual, a leader, and as a professional. Being able to advocate and impact communities has significantly changed my outlook on service, which has impacted my role as a Volunteer Maryland, Peer Leader. Looking to the future, I look forward to connecting with the Baltimore Alum Chapter in order to stay fully engaged in service as I volunteer with in my community, looking for ways to expand my professional network. I believe in the power of service to impact change and promote well being for Americans in need. In an effort to serve my community, I am perusing my aspirations of becoming a counselor to help individuals who face economical, mental, and social challenges unlock their full potential. It is through service that I have become a pioneer for change.  Service is and will forever be a part of who I am and I envision that as leaders of the today, all service members will continue to advocate, pushing forward to ignite social change creating a force for unity for generations to come.

 

Matchmaker, Make Me a Volunteer Match!

The most common question always asked while recruiting volunteers is “what type of volunteer work do you have?” The answer to this question in my opinion can be complicated. In early June I attended the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Atlanta, Georgia. I kicked off the conference with my first session on strategic volunteer engagement. This session gave listeners the chance to connect with like minded professionals looking to learn more about strategies and models to break the boundaries of successfully engaging and recruiting interested volunteers.
During this 60 minute interactive discussion we explored the topic of matching the right volunteer to the right position. Matching volunteers is not just about having a potential volunteer pick a volunteer position from a list. It is about exploring and match making. To emphasize the importance of listening during the all important matching process, our facilitator asked the group to partner and take turns talking about a time when we felt most proud, for three minutes. Our partner was to solely listen only speaking words expressing enthusiasm like; wow, amazing, and great. Needless to say there were many a pair who found it very difficult to speak and have someone just listen for three uninterrupted minutes.
When we think about recruitment we instantly start out describing our needs for the positions we are looking to fill. Volunteers need to know why it is important for them to volunteer, and feel the connection to the cause. There are two driving factors in volunteer recruitment; the needs of the organization and the needs of the volunteers. A volunteer coordinator needs to pay attention to both in order to make a strong match. Being direct in our questions, and giving the potential volunteer time to discuss what they are looking for in a volunteer opportunity. For example CASA of Prince George’s County volunteers advocate for the rights of children in foster care. This requires Volunteer Maryland Coordinator Simon Lee to pay close attention to the needs of individuals looking to volunteers to insure positive volunteer engagement and retention. As a child advocate, it is crucial that each volunteer is made aware of the sensitivity of each CASA case, the organization’s mission in regards to permanency and or reunification of the appointed foster care child, and their specific role. During the interview and training phase, each potential volunteer is able to discuss their needs with a CASA supervisor. This information becomes very beneficial to the matching process of a child advocate. For example CASA may find a volunteer who works best with children ten years and younger. To make the volunteer experience impactful and beneficial to both the volunteer and the child, CASA supervisors take this information into account for best outcomes of the relationship.
Furthermore, I found this experience enlightening giving listeners a greater understanding of the importance and impact actively listening to the needs of volunteers has on effectively matching volunteers to meaningful service. In the end this will provide opportunities that lead to rewarding service experiences, keeping volunteers engaged, coming back to serve again and again.

Above and Beyond a Thank You

FIRN volunteers are a vital part of achieving success in bridging cultures and building communities of Howard County foreign-born citizens. Throughout this service year VMC Roslyn Linder has pulled from her passion for service to engage community members of Howard County to supply support through translation services; English tutoring, and informal support services for foreign-born individuals in Howard County. FIRN volunteers consistently go above and beyond in supporting FIRN while meeting the need of serving a large volume of immigrant families. Over the last several months Roslyn has been busy planning a volunteer appreciation event to thank FIRN volunteers for their steadfast dedication on June 17, 2014.
I asked Roslyn her thoughts on thanking her volunteers. Roslyn spoke to FIRN volunteers being the life-line of the program. “The volunteers are the ones who come out week after week, providing support to our clients, tutor ESOL students, and make the life experiences of foreign-born community members more manageable,” stated Roslyn. We may never know the profound effect that a volunteer may have made on a person’s life. A kind word, a gentle touch or a listening ear can mean so much to someone who is of need. FIRN volunteers generously give the gift of time to make contact, provide support and encouragement and perhaps provide humor to make the clients day a bit more supportable. FIRN volunteers give of themselves and bring life experiences, compassion, and intellect and ask for nothing in return yet receive immeasurable satisfaction. They do not ask for accolades. Yet receive the reward of comradeship with those for whom they may never have met otherwise. This is why FIRN says thank you, not just with words but through their actions.
To further show appreciation, Roslyn plans to personalize this upcoming event. Everything from balloons and volunteer quotes, to posters recognizing each volunteer by name will surround the space and fill it with an atmosphere of admiration. Roslyn has also created a volunteer appreciation board that will showcase the volunteer impact of clients served, the dollar amount of volunteer efforts contributed to FIRN, and the collective number of hours served. “By doing this each volunteer will see how they have impacted change,” Roslyn stated. Roslyn is also handing out personalized candy filled mugs that symbolize the sweetness of a volunteer’s experience. Each mug will come customized and complete with candy donated by Roslyn’s mother who is also passionate of FIRN’s mission, with a personalized thank you tag attached.

Roz Volunteer Mug
Roslyn wanted to further thank her volunteers by securing an in kind donation for a light lunch and desserts for the event. Target has also generously donated a $30 dollar gift card that will be given away as a prize drawing to one lucky volunteer.
Roslyn wants her volunteers to know how outstanding they are. That the success of FIRN rests in its volunteers, who embody the spirit of greatness by serving others, inspiring dedication and who are tremendous examples to the community. FIRN volunteers now know how much their few hours they give each week means to Roslyn, FIRN and those they serve.
“Thank you so much to each and every one of our volunteers. We couldn’t do it without you.” Volunteer Maryland Coordinator Roslyn Linder