Saying Goodbye

Big News!  Volunteer Maryland is getting a new director!  Check out our announcement!

I can remember when I first heard of Volunteer Maryland.  I was taking a class at Notre Dame of Maryland University when my professor introduced herself.  Surprise!  It was Barbara Reynolds, Director of Volunteer Maryland.  A few months later, a position announcement for VM’s Project and Resource Manager came to me through the AmeriCorps Alums network and I knew I just had to join this organization.

Before VM, I had never stayed in a job for more than 18 months; though I had the pleasure of working with a number of amazing organizations, I was always ready for the next big challenge.  Until VM.  Since January 2008, I have been at home at in the exciting, fulfilling challenge that is Volunteer Maryland.  So it is bittersweet that, like leaving home for college, I’m saying goodbye to a place where I have both history and family.

During my time with VM, I’ve had the incredible pleasure of working with amazing people and organizations.  I’ve gotten to know and travel Maryland, to learn from the strongest volunteer management training program that exists, and to become even more connected to the AmeriCorps network that I have known and loved since I was 21.

When I became Director, we were riding the national service high – the Serve America Act had passed only two months prior and we were all talking about the upcoming growth of AmeriCorps.  Things changed quickly; I’ll never forget talking with our members less than a year later about the very real possibility that AmeriCorps could be eliminated because of proposed federal budget cuts.

But we’re VM and we’re AmeriCorps and so we rallied our spirits and did what mattered – we served.  Since becoming VM’s Director in 2009, I’ve been witness to incredible impactIn the last four years, our members mobilized 24,452 volunteers who provided 282,028 hours of service to 178,792 community members; 87 percent of our Service Sites reported an increased ability to recruit volunteers; and 85 percent of prior Service Sites note that they sustained or improved their ability to recruit and manage volunteers beyond the VM partnership.

We also increased our collaborations with other AmeriCorps programs, instituting an annual networking event called “Destination AmeriCorps” that brings together AmeriCorps members serving at programs throughout MD.  In 2013, VM hosted the fourth Destination AmeriCorps, which engaged 71 members, alumni, and staff from 13 programs across the State.

During the same timeframe, Volunteer Maryland was recognized nationally for the quality of our programming and impact.  In 2010, VM was selected for inclusion in the publication “Transforming Communities through Services: A Collection of 52 of the Most Innovative AmeriCorps Programs in the United States,” published by Innovations in Civic Participation and America’s Service Commissions.  In 2012, both the Volunteer Maryland program and I received nominations for National Service Impact Awards.

And, in a wonderful celebration that happened just two weeks after the birth of my son, we celebrated VM’s 20th anniversary with alumni, current and former Service Site partners, community supporters, and all three of our previous directors.  With stories, photos, vintage video footage, and original program displays, we celebrated 20 years of incredible impact.  I couldn’t be happier to have been part of such an event.

Over these years, I’ve worked alongside some of the most passionate, intelligent, resilient people I’ve ever met.  I’ve seen growth in individuals, organizations, and communities that many wouldn’t have thought possible.  And I’ve seen real growth in myself.

Thanks to the community of VM, I’ve learned how to enjoy networking, to better listen, to meet others where they are.  I’ve learned to dance in the hallway of a government building and accept that I don’t have to have all of the answers or know the dance moves in order to be a leader.

After all of this time and all of these people and every one of these experiences, I struggle to imagine a September that doesn’t include Pre-Service Training.  But, come this September, I’ll face a new challenge – one that I am so happy to take on.  After VM, Experience Corps, NCCC, VISTA, and Learn and Serve, I now get to join the Maryland Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism.

It’s also a really exciting time for Volunteer Maryland as we welcome VM alum and Outreach Manager Extraordinaire, Patrice Beverly to the role of Director.  I hope you’ll join me in celebrating her promotion to this position!

I’ve known for a long time that service is my thing, that AmeriCorps works.  That enabling others to serve – and to serve well and effectively – is a calling.  My time at VM helped solidify that and I remain incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of  Volunteer Maryland.  So I bittersweetly say goodbye to VM and hello to AmeriCorps programs throughout our State.  I can’t wait to work with you.

VM25 staff and Peer Leaders.  (Thanks to VM, I also have a new-found skill: jumping photos.)
VM25 staff and Peer Leaders. (Thanks to VM, I also have a new-found skill: jumping photos.)
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AmeriCorps Week: Gaining while Giving

We’re about halfway through AmeriCorps Week!  As Kelly said, AmeriCorps Week is a time for “sharing our stories and explaining what a year of service means to us.”

If you haven’t seen it, check out what some of our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators had to say about how AmeriCorps works for them and their communities; we’ve been posting photos all week on our Facebook page.

At VM, we regularly hear from our alumni about how their AmeriCorps service helped make them who they are today – by igniting a passion for service, providing professional skill development, building a network, and more.  That’s one of the wonderful things about AmeriCorps (and about our AmeriCorps program at Volunteer Maryland); the AmeriCorps members gain so much while they serve.  (And, as AmeriCorps Alums, they continue to have access to great learning opportunities, among other perks!)  Here are some thoughts from our current members about what they are gaining while they give.

I Love AmeriCorps“Through this term of service I have learned a lot about volunteer management best practices and consulting skills.  I have also improved my time management skills by simultaneously coordinating volunteers for multiple different programs and my public speaking skills by developing and running a volunteer orientation.”  Krisia Jones, Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington

“[This experience] has gotten me volunteering at places I wouldn’t have considered before, like the hospital, and I love it!”  Kara Grosse, Maryland Coastal Bays Program

“I’ve seen first-hand what makes a nonprofit successful.”  Rebecca Larew, Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless

“[I’ve gained skills in] professionalism, group projects, networking, communication, time management, and flexibility – and I got to meet some great people!”  Allyson Bloom, MAEOE

“[I’ve gained skills in] volunteer management, recruitment and outreach, general organizational skills, time management, project development and implementation.”  Kristen Wharton, CHEARS

“I enjoy going to work every day and I love the group of people I am lucky enough to work with.  I have learned so much about so many different things – history, agriculture, networking, the community, livestock, and myself.”  Casey Lowe, Accokeek Foundation

“Being a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator has given me the opportunity to practice patience, creativity, awareness, and professionalism within a safe a supportive structure.”  Kat Patterson, Ardmore Enterprises

“[I’ve gained skills in] management, interviewing, time management, recruitment, and networking.”  Trayana Thomas, Mosaic Community Services

“[I’ve gained skills in] public speaking, persuading, collaborating, initiating change, multi-tasking, time management, presenting proposals and ideas with supporting materials.”  Kaitlyn Fernald, Greenwell Foundation

“As a Peer Leader, I’ve learned how to plan and facilitate events.  I’ve learned how to use WordPress, Constant Contact, and Mail Chimp.  I’ve become more confident with the Microsoft Office suite and Chrome.  I’ve built on my workshop training and leadership skills.  I’ve developed as a writer and professional blogger.  I’ve developed skills as a recruiter and I have developed supervisory skills.  I’ve also developed time management skills and learned how to successfully ask for donations.”  Kerry Ose, Peer Leader

No Tricks! Just Treats on this Halloween!

Our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators have now been in service for one month – and what a month it has been!  Pre-Service Training; time on site to get oriented, draft a work plan for the term of service, and get started with program development; and Superstorm Sandy.  What a start!

We’re two weeks away from seeing Class 25 together again for our first In-Service Training and we’re definitely looking forward to it.  In the meantime, we’re going to take the next two weeks to share a little bit about each of the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators; think of it as a lengthy Halloween treat.

Class 25 is full of interesting people.  Many are recent college graduates entering the nonprofit sector for the first time.  Several are AmeriCorps Alums.  Two were born in Guyana and a whole lot of them have traveled or studied abroad.  We have folks who are new to Maryland and others who have spent their entire lives here.  We have parents and soon-to-be parents, adventuresome outdoorsy-types, and one member of a moped gang.  We have 17 individuals who have names that begin with a C or a K.

Every single member of Class 25 is taking a bold step for Maryland this year as they work to engage community members in service to others.  We’re lucky to have them and excited to introduce them to you.  Check out the blog tomorrow and through the next two weeks to learn more about the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators of Class 25 and the service they’ll be doing this year as AmeriCorps members.  I think you’ll be impressed.

VM25 Gets Started with Kelly and Kerry!

Well, we are just about to start Pre-Service Training for VM25 and we’re pretty excited.  For the last week, we’ve had a preview of the class as we’ve gotten to know our new Peer Leaders.  They’ve already shown themselves to be professional and flexible as they have started to learn their roles while working hard to prepare for the new class.  Today, they’ll start making phone calls to the soon-to-be Volunteer Maryland Coordinators; it’s always nice to have a friendly face – or at least voice – when we all get together for the first time.

You’ll begin to hear from them soon; they’re working on their introductory blog posts this week.  In the meantime, here’s a little bit about our first two AmeriCorps members of VM25!

Kelly MacBride-Gill previously served as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County from 2010 to 2011.  A recent transplant to Baltimore, Kelly spends her free time gardening, cooking, and dog-watching.  Kelly holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Maryland, where she is also a proud alum of Alpha Phi Omega.

 Kerry Ose served as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator in VM Class 24 at Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc.  She has worked as a writer and college teacher, and, in, recent years, has been involved in grassroots efforts to support and improve public education. Kerry holds a PhD in English, watches a lot of Netflix, and is an avid swim parent.

There’s a whole lot to come this year – service, teamwork, celebration, learning, fun, and more.  Stay tuned!

Happy Birthday, Volunteer Maryland!!

Yesterday VM turned 20 years old.  It was on September 9, 1992 that the Maryland Governor’s Office on Volunteerism was notified of its selection as a National and Community Service Model program by the Commission on National and Community Service.  Just a few months later, in January 1993, the first Volunteer Maryland Coordinators began their service.

Since then, VM has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, schools, and government agencies; 612 AmeriCorps members (or pre-AmeriCorps members!) have successfully completed the program and created strong, engaging volunteer programs that serve our communities.

We’re so proud to have been a model of what was to become AmeriCorps – from our first members entering the field in 1993 to the launch of AmeriCorps at the White House in 1994 through the 2009 Service America Act, and today, as we get ready to start our 25th Class.  Names, logos, and titles have changed (did you know our first name was not Volunteer Maryland but the Ten-Four Corps?), as have focus areas and priorities within AmeriCorps; but needs within our community remain.

Twenty years after a survey of Maryland nonprofits said that volunteer management was a need within our state, we continue to rely on volunteers to help serve our citizens and communities.  Twenty years after the first 55 VM Coordinators and Associates began their service, we still hear from organizations about how much our service is needed, how important it is to develop and sustain quality volunteer programs, and how essential Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are to this work.

So, with as much energy as mustered by our first Executive Director, Ellie Falk Young, the VM staff, and those 55 Coordinators and Associates, we continue our work.  With little fanfare, we’ll start our 25th class in just a few weeks.  Across Maryland, they will enable their Service Sites to better serve their clients and communities – and our team of three staff and two Peer Leaders will continue to support them.  Our multiplier model remains the same and continues to thrive – this year, a small support team and 30 Volunteer Maryland Coordinators Service Sites will engage 5,000 volunteers in service to up to 60,000 community members in need.  Just as importantly, the service this year will continue to strengthen our communities, leaving programs in place that will engage volunteers and better serve communities for years to come.

With a wonderful mix of excitement and pride, we say Happy Birthday to Volunteer Maryland!  Happy birthday to all of the VM Coordinators, Associates, Regional Coordinators, Peer Leaders, VISTA members, Service Sites, and Host Sites that have been part of the last 20 years!  And, as long as we’re needed, here’s to another 20!

Where are all of the dudes?

In Volunteer Maryland’s history, about 73 percent of our AmeriCorps members have been women.  In this past year, Class 24, we started the year with eight men (out of 32) and finished with just three.  As we gear up for Class 25, the number of men who want to serve is incredibly low.  To date, we’ve interviewed 19 women and just two men.  (Note: Applicants are not required to include gender as part of the application and one can’t necessarily tell gender from a person’s name or other information on an application.  Besides, unless you write your name in all lowercase letters, I’m not interested in that section until I’m contacting you.  I’m much more interested in the meat of your application than your name or address.)

So, what’s going on here?  Where are all the service dudes?

I know Volunteer Maryland is not alone here.  I saw a photo on Facebook the other day of a group of ten AmeriCorps VISTA members starting their service in Baltimore.  You guessed it: nearly all women.  I’ve worked for NCCC and Experience Corps and was a VISTA member with a cohort of about 20 others.  In each program, the women were the majority.

Still, two out of nineteen?  I have to believe that there are more potential AmeriDudes out there that we’re just not reaching.  To prove this to myself, and maybe to convince some concerned fella that’s nervous he’ll be alone in a sea of women all year, I put together this slideshow of some of VM’s Dudes of Service from the last couple of years.  I hope we’ll get to add more in VM25!

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Thank You to VM24!

One week ago tomorrow we celebrated the end of another term of AmeriCorps service.  Volunteer Maryland’s 24th class completed their time with us and went out with a bang.  There are the statistics: 3,432 volunteers engaged in service; 31,764 community members served; 22 volunteer programs created or improved.

But this class represents so much more than numbers.  As I said to them in my final remarks, they did something all year long that is remarkable; they collaborated.  That’s right!  They shared ideas and resources, asked questions, networked, and volunteered at each other’s sites.  I watched this collaboration from the middle of September through the end of July and wondered if they knew how unusual it was.  Collaboration is a word often thrown around, but not seen nearly enough.

Class 24 collaborated and, through their collaboration, everyone benefited.  I’m confident that they learned more than they could have done by going alone.  I think their Service Sites benefited by learning from others’ trials, errors, and successes.  I’m sure the volunteers benefited from the recognition ideas that were swapped.  And, ideally, all of these benefits have enabled community members to be better served.

I know I benefited from their collaboration.  The energy when we all got together was incredible.  The stories from the field were filled with passionate ideas and a great dose of humor.  The sense of community that grew over this service year energized me to continue our work together.

And I know I wasn’t the only one who noticed how great they are.  Nine Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are continuing with their Service Sites beyond their VMC terms.  That’s 41 percent of the VMCs who completed the year successfully.  That’s a large and impressive number – and I’m sure it would be larger if more Service Sites had the ability to hire additional staff.

So I’ll say it one more time before I finally and thoroughly shift gears into Class 25: Thank You.  Thank you to the 22 Volunteer Maryland Coordinators, 2 Peer Leaders, and 21 Site Supervisors that helped make this year amazing.  Thank you for your partnership, your dedication to strengthening our communities, and your collaboration.  I’m honored to have worked alongside you this year and I look forward to learning of your continued work in the years to come.

VM24 members and Site Supervisors
VM24 AmeriCorps members, Site Supervisors, and staff celebrate the Class Finale on July 31, 2012.

Want to join Volunteer Maryland? It all starts with a good application!

It’s summertime and that means we are well into our AmeriCorps member recruitment and matching season!  We’re receiving applications every day from people all over the country who are interested in serving as Volunteer Maryland Coordinators or Peer Leaders.  Because we receive so many applications, it takes a certain something for an applicant to rise to the top and reach the next level – the interview.  As I mentioned this time last year, we’re looking for just the right combination of qualifications and passion.

We know searching for jobs and service opportunities is hard work, so I thought I’d provide three tips for success.  Whether you’re submitting an application through the AmeriCorps Portal or using the application on our web site, there are some things you can do to help your application stand out for the right reasons.

  1. Write a good motivational statement/essay.  This is our chance to get to know you.  This is your opportunity to show us why you really want this position.  An essay of four sentences doesn’t cut it; a typed page is more appropriate.  Writing in all lowercase tells me you don’t care; make sure to proofread and use proper grammar and punctuation.  Take the time to craft out your ideas before you get online or type into the application.  Write professionally while sharing some personal experience.  It will take more time, but it will help your application and will help you in an interview later.
  2. Provide professional references.  Your best references will likely be supervisors (from paid or volunteer positions), teachers, coaches, or guidance counselors.  Friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors are not appropriate professional references.  (HINT: Make sure to ask your references for their permission to include them before you submit the application.  There’s nothing worse than contacting a reference to find out s/he won’t give one!)
  3.  Complete the application in full!  Provide a full employment history and explain your accomplishments within each position.  Provide full contact information.  Make sure every section is complete.

Remember that an application is a first impression.  You could be the most qualified and passionate person in the world, but if it doesn’t show on your application, you’re not going to have a chance to use your skills and put passion into practice!

We receive about 300 applications for 30 positions.  Think you should be one of the 30?  Then take some time to complete your application.  Don’t submit today; submit tomorrow!

Traveling on Retention Road

Over the past couple of weeks (and for the next few), I’ve been out on site visits meeting with organizations that submitted applications to be Service Sites in the upcoming year (Class 25!).  It’s so interesting to learn about new organizations; I really enjoy this piece of our work.  We have several organizations this year that are looking to start a volunteer program from scratch, while others are looking to improve their volunteer program structures and recruit more volunteers.

One thing that comes up a lot during these conversations is the idea of volunteer retention.  I’m asked this question a lot: How do we retain our volunteers?

Unlike volunteer position descriptions or policies or recruitment materials, you can’t sit down and spend time on “retention.”  Retention comes from getting all of the other elements in place and, even more importantly, keeping them in place.  Retention comes from putting the right volunteer in the right position.  Retention comes from relationships between staff and volunteers and clients.  Retention is not something that can be checked off a list; rather, retention requires an ongoing effort to engage volunteers effectively.

Partner with us and have a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator create your volunteer program?  Perfect.  That’s right in line with what we do.  Have the VMC put all your volunteer program structures in place and recruit like crazy and plan ongoing, year-round volunteer recognition.  Awesome.  That’s the perfect VMC position.  Ask the VMC to work on retention?  Hmmm.

See, a VMC can definitely retain volunteers during the course of the term of service.  But what happens next?  If there’s not a plan in place to maintain those efforts, then retention falls off.  Volunteer Maryland – and AmeriCorps in general – is a short-term solution.  AmeriCorps members come in with crazy amounts of energy and passion and get more done in 10-12 months than often seems possible.  Then they leave – and that’s exactly how it should happen.  Let them infuse your organization with energy and infrastructure and, throughout that term of service, work together to figure out how you’re going to maintain it.  Plan from the beginning.  Use this opportunity every way you can.

Do that, my friends, and you’re on Retention Road!

Looking for a Few Good Partners!

Friday was a big day for Volunteer Maryland as we answered our door throughout the day and looked in the mail with excitement.  Yes, it was the deadline for Service Site applications.

Good news for anyone who missed that deadline: we’ve extended it until April 20.  That’s right, you have almost three weeks to put together your application.  We are looking for organizations that need help developing or improving a volunteer program – everything from writing position descriptions to recruiting volunteers to evaluating the effectiveness of the volunteer program.

And here’s the thing – we are really into partnership.  That’s the big difference between our application and an application for a job or a grant.  We’re not looking for reasons to disqualify organizations; we’re looking for reasons to move forward.  We don’t want your application to show us the “best side” of your organization; we want to see if there’s a genuine need that we can help meet by working together.

Over the last five years, we’ve accepted 81 percent of the applications we’ve received – and 83 percent of those have gone on to full partnership with the placement of a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator.  So, if you apply, you have a pretty good shot at success.

What does success look like?  That answer is individual to each and every organization we’ve partnered with since 1993.  For some, it’s all about getting more volunteers in the door.  For others, it’s about developing a volunteer program from scratch.  For many, it’s about improving an existing volunteer program by putting solid structures in place, like volunteer position descriptions, policies and procedures, volunteer training and recognition, and program evaluation.

The application gets all of this started.  It’s our way of learning more about your organization and your goals.  From the moment we read your application, we’re looking to see if we can help you better meet your mission.  It takes real partnership – from submitting an application to meeting with us to discuss it further, to working collaboratively to recruit the right Volunteer Maryland Coordinator for your organization and train and supervise him/her over eleven months.

So we’re on the hunt for good partners.  If you’re interested in exploring a partnership, let us know!  We’re happy to talk with you now to help you decide if applying is right for your organization.  Here are some other tools to get started:

  • Be part of the 81 percent! This pre-recorded webinar will help you write a successful application.
  • This two-page document will give you more information about the partnership, our selection criteria, and more information on “who does what” in the partnership:
  • Our web site includes both of the above, plus tip sheets for explaining your community need and understanding direct service.  You’ll find our application here as well.

I hope you’ll apply.  Who knows?  This could be the year for a partnership that helps you have the volunteer program of your dreams!