“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.”
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
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.
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.
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
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.
Now that we are out of the gloomy wet weather phase, we can take time to reconnect to service. Volunteer Maryland Coordinators diligence and dedication drives the community and their passion for service influences and motivates everyone they meet. However, at times in this role they can feel removed from direct service in their day to day coordination duties, so this is when they turn to service to remind them of why they chose a term of service.
During many check in phone conversations, some of the VMCs mentioned the need for taking more time to reconnect to service, because it helps better understand the needs of the volunteers. I tend to describe the role of a VMC like hard worker bees, continually in motion working hard to keep their communities healthy. VMC Roslyn and Sharon mention at times we can lose sight of service and the role it plays within building a community. In my last blog I talked about giving back to students as a volunteer tutor helping with literacy. Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, Roslyn Linder really enjoys volunteering with FIRN clients, helping them improve their level of English through teaching ESL classes. Roslyn does this because she had been inspired by spending two years experiencing life as a foreigner in China, and she realized the many challenges foreign-born individuals have to face when immersed in a new environment. Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, Sharon Baldwin spends her direct service with Baltimore CASH families, helping them discover new skills in meeting their financial goals. Sharon commits her time to doing this because she is dedicated to helping people met their financial goals.
Engaging volunteers is the role of a VMC, so the numbers tell one story of service. However a deeper connection to community through VMCs providing volunteer service builds lifelong commitments to working in communities to make them safer, stronger and healthier. Not just one year, one person, but a continued lifetime of service to others.
Yay volunteers! This is your week. One week to celebrate the impact and value of volunteers in our communities. For those of you out there giving back, paying forward, or digging in, we at Volunteer Maryland salute you with a Volunteer Maryland, Class 26 jump! Our work would be nothing without you, and our communities are all the better for you.