“Am I too old for this?” A question Nora Skiver, an AmeriCorps member at Habitat for Humanity Choptank, asked herself. Nora shares her wins and efforts at her organization.
“At the beginning of this journey with Volunteer Maryland, I admit my thoughts were: “What am I getting myself into, Am I too old for this?” Guess what? I have since changed that perspective. When I make a presentation to recruit volunteers I am enthusiastic and excited. I am encouraged by the response of my volunteers and how much they are enjoying their experiences. I have increased the group presentations and am learning to network with local organizations to share volunteers when they request other volunteer experience”.
She ends with this thought, “ …life presents us the opportunity for us to give in order to get”.
Nora has also met other clients and volunteers like herself, who continuously prove her change in perspective.
According to her, Loretta Smith, a 71 years old had applied with Habitat Choptank’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program to assist with replacing a rotted porch floor. With the support of the organization she replaced all of her own door locks and did some of the painting. Nora learnt that every year Loretta, makes Christmas breakfast for Clients at a nursing home for low income clients, and is a volunteer at a Public Library. She does not want to be called a “senior”
Nora is known to encourage and engage her volunteers such as recruiting active volunteers to bake cookies for 60 construction volunteers. And with the help of a board member had the cookies delivered. She continues to challenge herself to find innovative ways to inspire her volunteers. Some ways of achieving this are, viewing webinars such as “Engaging Volunteers of the future” and reading books like “The New Breed: Second Edition: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteers.”
There really is no excuse for not serving your community. We all have skills that can be of service to the community. All we need is the heart. We have many AmeriCorps members from different age brackets, background, race and creed with heart currently serving.
Sophia an AmeriCorps Member at Ulman Cancer Fund (UCF) whose passion for raising awareness for UCF has helped her developed skills that many seek. Being a volunteer coordinator requires various skills, public speaking is one of them. Sophia shares how her experience so far helped her to hone this skill.
She says, “In the month of December, I was able to travel back to my Alma mater, Geneseo and speak about 4K for Cancer and my involvement with UCF. I have been working on my goal of improving my public speaking quite a bit this month through presentations to the UCF staff and also through outreach opportunities that I have helped out with. Speaking for an hour as a part of the All-College-Hour Speaker Series at Geneseo was a huge test to the work that I had put into my public speaking and it was a really exciting and challenging experience for me. I was able to share my personal story as well as the stories that I have heard throughout my involvement with Ulman that inspire me to keep working with UCF. My goal of the speech was to inspire others in this community to get involved with UCF and hopefully other types of service in and outside of their community. I was really happy with how the speech went and I spoke to a few people afterwards who really wanted to get involved with UCF. It felt great to be able to see the improvement in my public speaking since the start of the service year and someone who attended the speech reached out to inquire about having me come and present at their university.
Another skill necessary to be a volunteer coordinator is being able to inspire volunteers to commit their time and effort, the challenging part being recruiting and retaining this volunteers.
For Martin Luther King day, UCF hosted a day of service well attended by 56 people of all ages. According to her, “the UCF tradition of the Dedication Circle was an opportunity to hear the people that inspired the volunteers to give up their day off to serve with us. Some of the names said were familiar ones and some were names I had never heard before, but it was so inspiring to take a moment like that in which we were reminded the importance of what we were doing.”
Sophia goes further to share about one of the volunteers that served on MLK Day.
“A woman came to the MLK day of service after hearing about it through her company. She showed up with her kids and not knowing much about UCF, still took time out of her life to attend. I spoke with her about the UCF mission and my involvement and she told me about her life and where she had come from. Like me, she was new to Baltimore and looking for a community. She not only stayed the entire day, but was one of the most dedicated volunteers as her and her kids were knee deep in garbage cleaning out an area near the UCF House. She hopes to get more involved and told me how inspired she was by the UCF mission.”
However recruiting and learning what inspires volunteers is only a part of the job. Sophia faces the challenge of engaging volunteers, as volunteer opportunities are inconsistent.
She explains how they focused on creating an impactful opportunity.
“The greatest challenge this month was trying to figure out how to continue to engage volunteers after the initial interaction. I noticed that a lot of volunteer lose interest after the first event because our volunteer opportunities are less consistent. I don’t want to lose the interest of the volunteers, but still want to make sure that the work the volunteers are doing is meaningful and is making an impact. Lauriann and I have started doing Chemo Care Bag Builds every other week so that we will always have the bags ready to give to the Patient Navigators and also there will always be a volunteer opportunity for volunteers to get involved in.”
Volunteer Management is a cycle, the process is not stagnant and needs to be readdressed on all levels. From the Big Picture to the Implementation of volunteer engagement, a Volunteer Coordinator or Manager is ultimatum responsible for relationship building and without constant care and attention eventually the relationships can end. Sophia understands the importance of this constant need to nurture the relationship with new and excited volunteers and she’s up to the challenge to inspire them to stay engaged with the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. #PickmeupWednesday
“In the face of critical need in our communities, many of us feel concern: but when does that concern move us to act? At the story telling workshop hosted by Project Change and CASA, we tackled the challenge of telling our stories of service. Mallory’s story of service and engaging the community’s compassion compelled listeners.
Mallory Jones is the AmeriCorps member serving with Volunteer Maryland as a volunteer coordinator at The Samaritan Women, a shelter in Baltimore City for women rescued from domestic sex trafficking. She shared that when she gives presentations about human trafficking to the community, it sometimes elicits a response of sympathy or emotion. What resonated with participants at the storytelling workshop was Mallory’s goal to turn that sympathy into action. Mallory’s task at hand is channeling the community’s sympathetic feelings into actively serving the community.
According to Mallory, this is what true compassion looks like: Service and Action.
In her role as a volunteer coordinator, she knows the impact one individual can make in the fight against human trafficking, and wants potential volunteers to know that if you act on your concerns, you truly can make a difference.
Mallory reminds us of how important it is to get our own story out there and inspire our community to act.”
Alisha Parzanese is determined to meet every problem with a solution. She says, “My greatest challenge this month was developing the material for the Weed Resistance Program. I decided that I had to take several steps to overcome this challenge. I began looking over material on Montgomery’s Weed Warrior program which was given to me by my Site Supervisor. I decided that we could borrow some of the material from Montgomery counties Weed Warrior program such as documents on volunteer hours, frequently asked questions, prevention of poison ivy and Lyme disease, native alternatives, and a list for targeted invasive plant species. However, I had to rewrite some of this material to incorporate it into our program and to avoid copyright. In addition to looking over other neighboring counties Weed Warrior programs, I had to develop documents for the program such as policy and procedures. To do this, I looked over how to develop policy and procedures in our Volunteer Maryland Training Tool Book. I decided that I had to include policy and procedures on confidentiality, volunteer-client relations, volunteer – staff relations, health and safety, legal liability, volunteer records, dress code, and speaking on behalf of the organization. Throughout the year, I will be updating and developing several other documents such as descriptions for Weed Warrior Peer Squad Leader’s and the material in volunteer’s work packets.”
Alisha proves you can find solutions by looking into other similar programs. She researched and found resources around her and used it to the advantage of her organization.
Jessica Plummer found her belonging in the community by volunteering at her site for the Live Out Loud obstacle run.
She says: “This was my first time attending this event and I volunteered as a spotter for runners. I stood at the top of the hill and cheered runners on to keep going and as runners came up I directed them to the next obstacle so they stayed on course. This was such an exciting time because I was able to see so many of the participants. Moms were running with their daughters, dads with their son’s, entire families and groups of friends all together. These people were running for a cause to raise money to feed the hungry in Calvert County and they were having fun doing it. Friends and families all came out to take pictures and cheer the runners on and capture that moment when the runners finished the race. It was an exciting time and it was a special time because this is a community that I am becoming familiar with and they weren’t just a bunch of strangers but people and faces I am getting to know. So when people came running up it was even more fun to cheer them on because I recognized them and knew their name.
After the races were over I was able to watch the awards ceremony which was really adorable. A young girl made a cape that said End hunger and she wore a tutu and she won the most spirited award. A little 5 year old boy covered in mud won the muddiest award.
The most amazing part was at the very end when the Bertolaccini family stepped up to the platform to acknowledge their son who passed in 2004. After the brief synopsis of Matt’s story they counted to 3 and then together all of the runners, friends and family chanted 3 times “Live Out Loud.” I was amazed at how special this event was. The tragic death of this young teen could have had a lasting crippling effect on the Bertolocinni family yet they chose to turn that pain around and use it for a good purpose.
The impact on the community is a beautiful and positive one. Hundreds of people running together, eating together, listening to music and laughing together all while serving a good cause was a very special moment for me as a volunteer who was new to this event. I felt happy to see the community thriving together and I was honored to serve them.”
It’s great to be a part of community that finds strength, courage and purpose in the face of a tragedy. #PickMeUpWednesday
How do you reengage a forgotten opportunity. Rachel Ebz at St. Francis faced this challenge and accomplished more than expected. She and her site supervisor reached out to a company, MediaStar Promotions that had expressed interest in volunteering. Despite their delay in response, they had a 50 person group volunteer day on November 17th.
According to Rachel, “MediaStar intends to donate time, resources, and support to St. Francis in the way of revamping the Power Bucks store, and redesigning their classrooms, and computer lab! Additionally, 90% of the materials that they are donating and designs that they are implementing will be removable – meaning they can re-apply the designs and materials after the remodel!”
In her own words, “I’m proud that we have identified a solution that can accommodate our capital campaign and our urgent need for structural and design improvements.” #PickmeupWednesday
The Chronicle of Philanthropyhad a few interesting pieces concerning volunteerism. In the January 22, 2015 issue titled What’s Next, I noticed a small piece concerning volunteer retention. New York Cares, one of the largest volunteer management organizations is offering eight week, web tutorials, in-person workshops, and one-on-one counseling to help groups develop high quality programs. Gary Bagley, executive director of New York cares stated that, “The lack of excellent experiences is the biggest reason people don’t volunteer.”
Flipping a few pages, an article by Megan O’Neil, “Volunteerism and Trust in Public Institutions Are On the Decline”, discusses the drop in volunteerism across the country. According to the Bureau of labor statistics, the volunteerism rate fell to 25.4 percent in 2013. This is the lowest level since this data collection began in 2002. What is happening here? Why are fewer folks volunteering? The data is a bit confusing, so let’s look at a few indicators. A report released by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) states that 62.6 million adults (25.4 percent) volunteered through an organization in 2013, and more than 138 million Americans (62.5 percent) also engaged in informal volunteering in their communities, helping neighbors with such tasks as watching each other’s children, helping with shopping, or house sitting. Wendy Spencer, CNCS chief operating officer noted that the share of Americans that participate in formal volunteering has remained steady, at about one in four for many years. So does this mean that volunteerism is doing kinda okay? Maybe we are looking at the wrong set of indicators. In Megan O’Neil’s article, she quotes Greg Baldwin, president of VolunteerMatch stating that nonprofit sector and volunteers are as vulnerable to the economic swings as other sectors. He further states that, “Strong volunteer programs are coordinated by healthy, strong organizations that are well resourced.” So it’s the organizations fault? Not exactly.
Right now VM sees an amazing shift in how folks want to volunteer. Over the past four years, our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators report that they are recruiting more episodic volunteers. These are folks that volunteer for a shorter duration then the stereotypic, long-term volunteer that most organizations dream of. Our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are consistently reporting volunteers that provide less than one hour per week, and serve for shorter durations. But here is the really interesting thing; volunteer satisfaction has risen with our sites as they are able to offer a more tailored approach to engaging volunteers. Providing opportunities for volunteers to engage in a less structured way has not diminished the experience or the productivity of the programs. So is the answer short term all the way? Not completly. Circling back to Greg Baldwin’s comment concerning strong volunteer programs; I think we also need to keep in mind what the volunteer market is telling us. If volunteers are looking for short-term, meaningful opportunities, how can we meet that demand? The simple and not so simple answer is start identifying opportunities where a shorter commitment would work. Engaging volunteers on projects with a very specific end date, or being open to one and done volunteers. Meeting the market in terms of opportunities offered is not only good for volunteers, but good for organizations as well.
As the Program Manager of Volunteer Maryland, I feel so lucky to get to work with an incredible group of individuals. Our AmeriCorps members, better known as Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs), work tirelessly to support and refine volunteer programs at nonprofit organizations across Maryland. With the amazing guidance from their designated supervisor (a.k.a. their Site Supervisor), wonderful things happen in less than a year of partnership.
I get to learn more about these efforts when I visit each of our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators and Site Supervisors each fall/winter. For the past two and a half months, I have engaged in what we like to call our “site visit season.” This is a very educational experience in which I travel with a member of our Support Team to meet with each of our 30 partnership sites. This is one of my favorite parts of my role, as I get a first-hand glimpse of where our AmeriCorps members are serving, as well as gain the opportunity to reflect and learn more about their service.
The knowledge and stories from the site visits have been so insightful and inspiring. Listening to such positive progress is an important reminder of the great things Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are able to accomplish in such a short period of time. I’d like to share with you a few reflections from the site visits that exhibit the impact of our AmeriCorps members.
Volunteer Maryland Coordinators research and implement smart tools that refine the process of volunteer management.
For example, Brinley, VMC at Court Appointed Special Advocates of Washington County, recently instituted a new tracking tool called OurVolts. OurVolts can be used as an app on a mobile phone, making the process of reporting hours convenient and accessible for volunteers. This process will not only be easy for the volunteers, but help the organization gain an accurate understanding of how many hours their volunteers will serve. As a result, this data will also be useful for reporting and recognition purposes.
Volunteer Maryland Coordinators understand the importance of recognizing volunteers.
The effort to celebrate the hard work of volunteers has a lasting impact on the quality of the volunteer experience. An example of such recognition occurs in Baltimore where Montressa develops a regular “Volunteer of the Month” spotlight to recognize outstanding volunteers who serve at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center. Also, Jessica, the VMC for the Frederick County Department of Aging’s Meals on Wheels program, is developing ongoing recognition events, and will soon be hosting a celebration titled “We Love Our Volunteers” (cleverly tying into Valentine’s Day!).
This occurs on a such a significant and multi-faceted level. Bintou, who serves at Moveable Feast, facilitates orientations for volunteers before they assist with preparation and packaging of nutritious food that will go to individuals who are fighting severe illnesses. Through her orientation, Bintou connects volunteers with the mission and history of the volunteer program, making the experience so much more effective and rich for all involved. Over at Education Based Latino Outreach, Johana builds connections with staff through weekly meetings, during which they discuss the progress of volunteers and additional resources to support volunteers. Through relationship building, the staff can work together more cohesively to best support and supervise volunteers.
While the next piece of information did not necessarily derive from the site visits, it would be a shame to not include it!
Volunteer Maryland Coordinators recruit and manage qualified volunteers as a result of their strategic outreach methods. I’m proud to share that since October 2014, this group has recruited nearly 900 volunteers and helped manage over 4000 volunteers. Collectively these 4000+ volunteers have served over 9,000 Marylanders. Wow!
This is just a snapshot of some of the great work that’s being done by the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators in Class 27, and so much more is yet to come this year!
The estimated value of one hour of volunteer time is $22.14. This dollar amount has huge implications on how Volunteer Maryland reports the value of a volunteer’s time in relation to the organization or service site they serve. But what does this figure really mean? First, let’s get the details on where this number comes from. Independent Sector determines the value of a volunteer hour and provides this information as one measurement of a volunteer’s impact.
The Independent Sector methodology for calculating this is pretty simple, “The value of volunteer time is based on the hourly earnings (approximated from yearly values) of all production and non-supervisory workers on private non-farm payrolls average (based on yearly earnings provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Independent Sector indexes this figure to determine state values and increases it by 12 percent to estimate for fringe benefits.” Got that? Not really rocket science as it uses BLS information to determine value.
In 2013, one in four adults volunteered through an organization. This amounted to 7.7 billion hours with a value of $173 billion. That is a huge number, but is misleading in telling the value of a volunteer to an organization and a community. At times this number is viewed as money saved by the organization. There may be times that a skilled volunteer provides professional services which do have a value in terms of dollars saved through the use of a volunteer, but in most cases a volunteer supplements rather than substitutes paid staff.
So why does this number matter? The matter of determining a volunteer hours worth is tricky for most of the organizations Volunteer Maryland works with. The reason being is value has multiple facets that a volunteer program should factor when determining and showing its volunteer forces impact. Beyond the hours, there needs to a clear method of determining that impact on the client that they serve, and how their service made a difference.
Each Volunteer Maryland Coordinator works with their site to determine a way of measuring the impact of the volunteer. Some examples are an increase in reading fluency for early readers, or a decrease in invasive plants with an increase in native plants in a pre determined plot of land. This measurement gives value to the $22.14 because it shows the significance of the one hour of service. Knowing how the volunteer provides impact to your community in real, tangible improvements not only speaks the language of funders, but the language of potential volunteers as well. With the perception of less and less time, it is on the organization to prove that that a volunteer’s time has true value to the shared community.
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.