The end of an Era, the continuation of a lifestyle

When I joined AmeriCorps two years ago, I chose a lifestyle of service and I will continue to embrace that AmeriCorps_logolifestyle long after I’ve moved on from my AmeriJourney. Next week, my term of service with Volunteer Maryland and AmeriCorps will conclude and since my last post dealt with reflection and looking back, this final post will tackle looking towards the future.

Volunteer Maryland taught me that service can come in all shapes and sizes and even though I’ll be transitioning out of my AmeriRole, I will still engage in direct service and strive to impact the communities in which I live. I will also continue to cultivate the relationships and networks that I built as an AmeriCorps Member. The VM Program prides itself on its diversity and it’s that diversity that allowed me to meet people from all walks of life and gave me the chance to have some incredible experiences and adventures with those people. As a VM Alum, I plan to engage my fellow alums and current VM members and will remain connected with the Program that gave me the chance to explore my passions and join others who shared my love of service. As an AmeriCorps Alum, I will continue to GET THINGS DONE and I will embrace the values of the AmeriCorps Alumni Pledge.


I am an AmeriCorps Alum and 

I make a difference in my community. 

I believe that AmeriCorps is one year 

in a lifetime of service. 

I pledge to continue to serve in 

all aspects of my life. 

I took action, and will continue to serve. 

I sought common ground, and 

will build community throughout my life. 

I persevered, and 

will live each day with conviction. 

I will lead by example. 

I will engage other people 

as we make our world a better place. 

I join the AmeriCorps alumni before me 

as we harness our energy 

to inspire those yet to come. 

Together, we will continue to GET THINGS DONE!


Scoring Goals VM Style

Blog picFor the last few weeks the world has been enthralled in goals; World Cup Soccer Goals. During that time, I too have spent my time focusing on goals; personal goals. At the beginning of my term of service with Volunteer Maryland(VM)  I was tasked with creating personal and professional goals, and as my service term winds down I’ve done some assessing. Successes and shortcomings are part of any goal setting process and as look back on my time with Volunteer Maryland I am pleased by my successes and motivated by my shortcomings.

One of the biggest goals I set for myself this year was the goal of improving my networking skills in order to expand my network potential and the lasting impact of my encounters with other professionals. During my first term of service as an AmeriCorps Member, I engaged in networking in several professional settings and made connections with other, but this year I knew I needed to do more. With the help of the Volunteer Maryland Support Team, I jumped right into networking during my first weeks as a Peer Leader. Getting to know the staff here at VM and meeting people in our offices and elsewhere on an almost constant basis gave me the chance to start networking from day one and started me down the field towards a scoring goal . The training I received through Volunteer Maryland also helped to accelerate my goal reaching aspirations. Each year, VM trains Volunteer Maryland Coordinators in the art of networking starting with their pre-service training and continuing through the year, with additional training’s and opportunities to practice this necessary skill. As a benefit of being a Peer Leader, I have the privilege of also participating in those training’s and the knowledge I gained was expansive. I learned about topics like how to approach networking settings, how to prepare ahead of time, and how to follow-up after an event. I also learned that networking can occur in a variety of settings; everything from meet-and-greets to lunch and learns, to training’s can serve as networking opportunities and being able to recognize and take advantage of those is the key to successfully building and utilizing networking skills.

Through site visits, social activities, team meetings, and direct service I have simultaneously gained additional knowledge about networking and put it into practice. One of the concepts that truly stuck with me this year was the idea that networking should be about knowing what you have to offer others. Going into a networking event with the mindset of finding someone who has something to offer you can be detrimental and will overall limit your chance of successful network building. I also realized that having resources and expertise that I can offer if the situation warrants helped build my confidence in networking settings. With everything I have learned and practiced in regards to networking, I can safely say that this year I lined up my shot, gave the biggest kick I could, and scored a goal with an assist from the Volunteer Maryland team.


Local Service that impacts a Global Cause

Volunteer Maryland prides itself on getting citizens involved in direct service here in Maryland, and we here at Volunteer Maryland Headquarters are no exception.  For my direct service this year I chose to volunteer some of my time serving with TurnAround Inc, the domestic violence and sexual assault center in Baltimore City.  The center focuses on the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as advocacy for victims of human trafficking through their anti-sex trafficking program.  Human trafficking, widely referred to as modern day slavery, is the trading of humans predominantly for the use of sexual slavery and forced labor and TurnAround works with victims of these crimes helping them to re-acclimate themselves to life outside of the world of trafficking.  Advocates with the anti-trafficking program spend their hours of service attending doctor appointments with victims, engage them in social activities, and serving as someone the victim can turn to for support and encouragement as they enter into a life of freedom.

Being an advocate with TurnAround, I’m able to see the local impact of our work and as a volunteer I understand the importance of knowing how my service impacts my local community. However, I am also aware that as a volunteer I find myself wondering how my service makes an impact on a global scale.  This past month, I was given a glimpse of that impact during the National Conference on Volunteering and Service (NCVS) in Atlanta, Georgia. NCVCS is a conference where leaders from nonprofits, business, and government come together to build and lead a more powerful and vibrant volunteer sector and remind everyone that service really can unite us all. The conference hosts sessions that cover a wide variety of social issues and strategies to combat those issues and a few of those sessions dealt with the issue of human trafficking.  I attended one such session hosted by Lisa Williams, founder of Living Water and found myself part of a dialogue that spoke to the impact that states can make against the issue of human trafficking. Living Water is a home of respite for young girls victimized by human trafficking and Lisa was at NCVS to help local citizens understand that taking action against this issue is a pressing need in all communities including right there in the state of Georgia. She was there to help Georgians understand how getting involved could help to destabilize a $32 billion per year industry and to help them see that one state could make a difference.

As I sat listening to Lisa reach out to the Georgians in the audience I found myself thinking about the work being done here in the state of Maryland and felt a sense of pride in knowing that our state is helping to make a difference.  TurnAround and organizations like it work diligently to help fight human trafficking here in our state by providing service to victims and raising awareness about the issue.  Lisa doesn’t know this, but as she was working to get her home state invested in this issue and showing them the impact they could have, she was simultaneously impacting me.  She was showing me the impact TurnAround has in fighting human trafficking and she helped me see how my service on a local level is truly helping to alleviate the issue on a global scale.

Canoes and Kayaks and Service Oh My!

When thinking of volunteering and the great outdoors I would like to draw your attention to one phrase, “Canoe and Scoop.”  You read that correctly.  I’m talking about direct service incorporated with canoes and kayaks.  For environmental direct service projects, people are used to tree planting and garden cultivation.  However, a few weeks ago the Volunteer Maryland Support Team along with members of the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives (GOCI), and the Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism (GOSV)  joined Baltimore City Recreation and Parks for an afternoon of clean-up at Middle Branch Park in south Baltimore and took an unconventional approach to environmental stewardship.

In order to pursue our afternoon of environmental service, we boarded kayaks and canoes and launched ourselves away from the bank and into the Patapsco River to remove garbage from the river with the help of trash picker tools.  The afternoon was an incredibly rewarding experience for everyone because it gave us all the chance to engage in environmental stewardship in a new way. Volunteer Maryland Outreach Manager, Kerry Ose says that our service was, “A great way to learn and enjoy a recreational activity while also benefiting the environment.”  And she’s absolutely right because it’s not often that environmental stewardship can be accomplished while enjoying the experience of being out in a small watercraft enjoying a beautiful, sunny Maryland day.

Another enjoyable aspect of the afternoon was how close to home it felt for many of us who live here in Baltimore City.  While talking to the GOCI Chief of Staff Elizabeth Hines, she shared with me that she’s always seen impacting the environment as venturing away from home and out into the Maryland wetlands into places like Accokeek.  However, after participating in the Canoe and Scoop, she has a new outlook on how she can engage in environmental stewardship and feels that, “It means a lot to do wetland conservation and restoration right here in the city I call home.”  Direct Service is a rewarding experience in itself, but there will always be an added bonus when that service can be done where someone calls home and it’s safe to say that everyone out on the water that day felt a sense of connection to the environment, to their home, and to the state of Maryland.

Taeketra Haynes Kerry Ose Dana Schwartz
Governor’s Office of Service and Volunteerism Program Officer Dana Schwartz says it was great to have a change of scenery from the office and enjoyed seeing Baltimore City in a new light alongside her fellow co-workers.


Volunteer Maryland Director, Patrice Beverly, and Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Pamela Hargest, work to remove trash from the grassy water’s edge of the Patapsco River.



Celebrating AmeriCorps20 through Environmental Stewardship

This year AmeriCorps is celebrating its 20th Anniversary by highlighting six focus areas identified in the Serve America Act and last month AmeriCorps membersBlog Post Image around the country focused on Environmental Stewardship. Volunteer Maryland currently partners with Natural Partners, MAEOE, and Chesapeake Natives, and at these sites, VMCs are engaged in activities that raise awareness and advocate for environmental issues.

At Natural Partners, Kelly Lawhorn recruits volunteers who promote environmental stewardship in many ways.  One way is through the Monarch Sister Schools Program by which hundreds of students, teachers, community members, and parents learn the importance of pollinator gardens and habitat restoration.  Through their Monarch Program Natural Partners has recruited 14 volunteers who have donated 96 hours of their time training Maryland students to be environmental stewards by helping them learn how to care for gardens and creatures that rely on those gardens for food and shelter.  Kelly believes that, “Students will gain knowledge from this program that will follow them throughout life and teach them to act responsibly when it comes to protecting and restoring our natural environment here in Maryland and beyond.”

Next we have VMC Gabrielle Cantor who serves at MAEOE and is recruiting volunteers to aid schools around the state of Maryland in increasing their levels of environmental stewardship.  The VMCs that Gabrielle recruits volunteer to assist with MAEOE’s Green School Program which establishes green school culture at Maryland schools.  By establishing this culture, the Green School Program is helping to motivate entire schools into seeing environmental stewardship as a school wide behavioral change that molds students into adults who will be more environmentally conscious.  As Gabrielle says, “The great thing about the program is that it often starts with one or a few people interested in making a change in their school,” and those like-minded people can really affect change.  In the past few months as the VMC at MAEOE Gabrielle has led 84 volunteers into serving 168 hours of service to the state of Maryland through their schools.

Over at Chesapeake Natives Inc., Selwyn Ramp is working to help promote the use of native plants throughout the state of Maryland.  Selwyn is working to engagdownloade Maryland volunteers all over the state in activities related to botany and gardening of native plants. He is also working to promote forest restoration through the removal of invasive species.  By getting the volunteers involved in these activities Selwyn is helping to educate Marylanders about invasive species management as well as teaching them how to share their knowledge and training with other Maryland citizens.  Selwyn has managed to engage a wide array of volunteers from all walks of life.  Selwyn says that the secret to his success is the fact that, “I’m able to find niches for all types of volunteers; I’ve never had to say no to a volunteer because I can also find a way for them to serve.”  Since his time there, Selwyn has served Chesapeake Natives Inc by recruiting 103 volunteers who have served a total of 1,155 hours and as a result 12,325 sq ft of environment has been preserved and impacted by grown plants.

As an AmeriCorps Program with a strong focus of Environmental Stewardship it is always rewarding for me to see the great work being done by our VMCs. As environmental stewards, our VMCs serve to aid in preserving the environment here in Maryland by not only engaging volunteers in environmental projects, but also by ensuring that knowledge is a part of the experience.  By doing this, the Volunteer Maryland Program is helping to shape a generation of environmentally conscious Maryland residents.












Volunteering to Reconnect

For the past several years I have spent a considerable amount of time volunteering for various organization and agencies.  Last week I was introduced to a revelation regarding the act of volunteering during a meeting with Volunteer Maryland’s Director, Patrice Beverly.  During out meeting, she mentioned that a great way to recharge after a hectic few days is to get out and do direct service.  Now, I have always seen my position as a Volunteer Maryland Peer Leader as a service role, but never really thought about how removed from direct service my day to day work can make me feel.  When Patrice made her comment I found myself realizing that I needed a little bit of recharging time and decided to head out on a Tuesday morning and do some service with Moveable Feast in Baltimore City.

For my volunteer service at Moveable Feast I worked in their kitchen helping to prepare meals for persons with HIV, AIDS, Cancer, and other blood borne illnesses.  When I arrived at Moveable Feast I went in with the mindset of seeing my time there as an opportunity to step back from my day-to- day routine and really get into some direct service.  In my role as a Peer Leader with Volunteer Maryland, I serve as a resource and support system for our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators who serve others and often this can feel like an indirect/third-party kind of service.  However, when I serve at places like Moveable Feast I serve in a way that directly links me to the people I’m serving and that form of service re-ignites my sense of connection to the community.

When I served at Moveable Feast I knew that the meals I prepared would go directly to clients in need and that was an amazing feeling.  Conversely, as a Peer Leader I serve VMCs who in turn serve clients, so knowing that I have a part in helping to create that avenue for volunteering feels great too.  Both types of services are rewarding in their own unique way, and doing both has helped to remind me that serving one’s community can take many different forms and that I should continue to explore and understand the ways by which I can serve others.

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Re-brand

For the last 6 months Winona Caesar has worked diligently to fulfill her role as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator at the Digital Harbor Foundation located in Baltimore City.  Digital Harbor Foundation (DHF) is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to foster innovation, tech advancement, and entrepreneurship by helping youth develop digital age skills through maker activities and tech workforce development.

When Winona first arrived at DHF, there was a strong need to fill two volunteer positions: tech coaches and mentors.  In these positions, volunteers would work directly with students to assist them with tech literacy and hands on projects in the after school program at the Tech Center. Volunteers would also be tasked with leading community classes and events in the tech center.  Once Winona began her service term, she quickly settled into her role and started trying to recruit volunteers as well as set in place the tools needed to manage those volunteers.  However, despite her drive and efforts, Winona kept running into the same obstacle; people weren’t interested in volunteering at DHF because they did not consider themselves to be tech literate. Winona was fully aware that volunteers didn’t need prior tech knowledge or experience in order to fill a volunteer position, but the challenge for her was finding a way to make potential volunteers aware of that fact.

Once Winona realized that volunteers had a misunderstanding about the expectations concerning their expected level of tech knowledge she decided to do some re-branding.  Winona started by re-distributing DHF volunteer recruitment materials such as informational flyers, online postings, newsletters, and outgoing emails.  On those materials, Winona emphasized the fact that no tech knowledge was needed in order to fill open volunteer positions.  She also made sure to highlight some of the tech benefits that would come from volunteering at DHF, such as access to training and enrichment session that would help to expand skills and enhance abilities surrounding tech topics such as 3D printing and circuits.  Winona wanted potential volunteers to start seeing their service as a chance to learn about technology and increase their tech skills with the bonus of giving back to kids in the community.  In addition to volunteer recruitment material, Winona also understood that many of her volunteers were introduced to DHF through word-of-mouth.  In order to re-brand this portion of her volunteer recruitment and outreach Winona made the “no tech experience” point very clear when engaging with potential volunteers via phone calls and through in-person conversations.  When a volunteer contacted DHF and expressed interest in volunteering with the organization, Winona made sure to address any and all concerns regarding the expectations of tech knowledge or skills.  By doing so, Winona not only re-branded the physical materials of DHF, but also the word-of-mouth aspect of the organization.

Since beginning her service at DHF, Winona’s efforts have led to the recruitment of nine volunteers who have served a total of twenty-three hours in service to the Digital Harbor Foundation, and a majority of those volunteers have little to no tech experience.  This is a significant point because it shows the effectiveness of Winona’s rebranding efforts and the ability of DHF to reach a larger audience of potential volunteers.  When Winona began at DHF she encountered one type of potential volunteer: individuals already involved in the tech community.  She attributed this singular type of potential volunteer to the lack of understanding on the part of volunteers regarding opportunities at DHF and the tech knowledge required.  However, in the last 7 months, Winona has started to see a shift in the type of potential volunteers who contact her.  She has noticed that she now receives more calls from persons outside of the tech world who are interested in volunteering and this has led to a steady increase in the number of volunteer, and a gradual shift in the type of volunteers, serving at DHF.

Recruiting volunteers who are not directly linked to the tech world has been advantageous to both the volunteers and the kids they serve.  As Winona explains it, “When we recruit a volunteer with a non tech background we are able to expose kids to someone who can help them develop an array of professional skills outside of tech based ones.”  For instance, DHF currently has a volunteer with a background in business who serves as a mentor, but also serves as someone who can provide tips and advice on how the youth can enter into the world of business.  Although still in its infancy, DHF hopes that this new pool of potential volunteers will continue to help the organization thrive and fulfill its mission of fostering innovation, tech advancement, and entrepreneurship by helping youth develop digital age skills through maker activities and tech workforce development.

Building a foundation at the Asian American Center of Frederick

Starting a term of service and knowing you will build a volunteer program from scratch is a daunting task.  Many Volunteer Maryland Coordinators begin their first day at their sites with little to no structure in regards to the sites volunteer program, so establishing a plan, and developing strong communication with their sites is job number one.  A prime example of the strong planning and communication that goes into this undertaking is the work being done by Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, Jessica Peiffer who serves with the Asian American Center of Frederick.  The Asian American Center of Frederick is a minority-led non-profit in Frederick, Maryland that focuses on community development, improving access to health care, and increasing language access.

Since starting her service at the Asian American Center of Frederick (AACF), Jessica says that she has followed the concept that the best way to develop a volunteer program is, “By devoting time and commitment to the process of volunteer coordination.” She understands that in order to establish a program one has to enter into the process with the understanding that it will take a significant amount of time and effort to put in place, and that it will not happen overnight.  Jessica knows the important role that recruiting and managing volunteers plays in this process and through her time with the AACF, Jessica has quickly learned that the most important part of volunteer coordination is creating a foundational structure that is both efficient and effective.  The first step of foundation building that Jessica worked on at the AACF was the creation of the organizations volunteer database.  The database she created tracks volunteers by name, hours served, language spoken, and their event preferences.  This database has helped to streamline the process of volunteer coordination by creating a central location where any organization staff member can access volunteer data alongside any pertinent information about the volunteer.  Prior to her arrival at the AACF, the organization had no comprehensive way of tracking volunteers, but now they do.  The database she created also allows staff members to focus less on constantly having to recruit new volunteers for each of their events, and more on volunteer retention by reaching out to volunteers who have already served with them and building upon those relationships.

This first step that Jessica helped to initiate sets in place a process that will continue to allow for successful volunteer recruitment and retention at the AACF.  For example, this past January the AACF hosted their first MLK Jr. Day of Service event during which Volunteers served a total of 49 hours helping children design an MLK Jr. Day of Service Mural, write postcards to service men and women, and learn what it means to be a good citizen.  By using the database she created, Jessica was able to reach out to volunteers who have already served with the organization at similar events and will now be able to store the information of any new volunteers who served for the first time that day.  With the help of the volunteers the center was able to serve 378 clients, including 26 children, and was able to host a highly successful event. Because of Jessica’s actions and dedication serving with the AACF, the organization has learned more about the important role that volunteers can play within the community.  They have started to see how volunteers can help with tasks on event days as well as how volunteers can increase the organizations capacity to hold bigger and more frequent events.  Effective volunteer recruitment and management by the Asian American Center of Frederick will bring greater results from the volunteer program, and build a program that will continue to serve the Frederick community.

Pioneering Change

Recently, several Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs) and I attended the TEDxBaltimore 2014 series titled “Pioneer! O Pioneer!”  The premise of the event was that “We celebrate those who harbor vulnerability.  We seek those who carry the creative flame.  We yearn for those who call deep on their courage to march, impatient, and full of action.  Pioneers!  And we honor the cause that there is more to live, to do, to experience, and to discover than what is known today.”  The day was filled with speakers from all walks of life who shared with us their stories of success in pioneering for causes and organizations that draw their passions.  As I sat listening to the speakers I really began to understand that anyone, anywhere has the power to be a pioneer.

One of the first speakers I had the privilege of hearing was in fact a member of the non hearing community.  Derek Braun, professor and geneticist at Galludet University, is one of several pioneers working on Project CASL.  The CASL Project is a life streaming platform that affords attendees at conferences and events the opportunity to view a live stream of speakers without having to modify or change aspects of the conference.  This innovative way of reaching the deaf community is a noble cause and drew my interest not just because of the work Mr. Braun is doing but also because of the passion he has to help others in his community.  Braun’s innovation and entrepreneurial spirit is a true testament to his dedication and commitment as a pioneer.

Another pioneer who really grabbed my interest that day was Nick Cienski, Under Armour Senior Director of Innovation as well as the founder of Mission 14, whose primary mission is the combating of human trafficking.  Now you may know of the work that Mr. Cienski does at Under Armour, but what you may not know is that he is the man who founded Mission 14 and is an accomplished mountaineer who is turning his passion for the sport into an awareness and fundraising campaign for the Mission 14 organization. In one year, he will attempt to summit six of the world’s highest peaks and while doing so will use the media coverage and publicity to raise much needed awareness about the human trafficking epidemic that is plaguing the world.

Each of these men are out in the world making a difference and pioneering for change and both are using somewhat unconventional means to do so.  That in itself really speaks to the pioneering spirit that TEDxBaltimore was speaking of when it mentioned the creative flame and the action oriented person who fosters change and innovation. Both Mr. Braun and Mr. Cienski saw a need for something and met that need by being true to their passions and themselves and I find that truly inspiring.

Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service- A day on instead of a day off

Last week Volunteer Maryland Peer Leader, Elena Felton blogged about Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and discussed what it means to serve.  Well, this past Monday myself, Elena and several Volunteer Maryland Coordinators did some service of our own. It was a day filled with giving back and doing good things in communities throughout Baltimore and Frederick.  We started the morning at Ambrose Kennedy Park where we worked with over 100 volunteers, including several AmeriCorps members cleaning and restoring the park for the community to enjoy.  We collected trash, broke-up old asphalt to lay down new cement, built tire pyramids for children to play on and helped increase the stability of the fence surrounding the park.  When that project concluded we headed to Frederick to serve with the Asian American Center of Frederick, a Volunteer Maryland Service Site, where we helped kids celebrate the day by writing postcards to service men and women around the country, drawing pictures that depicted what citizenship meant to them and drawing pictures that showed what their dreams were.  So, for the rest of this blog I’m going to let pictures be worth a thousand words and show you a little of what we did.


Volunteer Maryland Coordinators Ashia Moultrie, Winona Caesar, and Ericka Blackwell worked with fellow AmeriCorps members cleaning up the alleyway behind Ambrose Kennedy Park with fellow AmeriCorps Members.


Volunteer Maryland Coordinator Ericka Blackwell and myself digging up weeds and collecting trash around Ambrose Kennedy Park.


Volunteer Maryland with the State’s Attorney General of Baltimore Maryland Gregg Bernstein after having a discussion about what volunteering means to us and why we serve with AmeriCorps.


Volunteer Maryland Coordinator Ruth Santa Maria helping register one of the 50 + kids who came to the  Asian American Center of Frederick.


Children, staff, Volunteer Maryland Coordinator Jessica Peiffer and Peer Leaders Taeketra and Elena at the Asian American Center of Frederick celebrating the “I have a dream” children’s mural.


An up-close look at the “I have a dream” mural made by children at the Asian American Center of Frederick.