Alisha Parzanese – Anne Arundel County Forestry Board – VM Story

This Tuesday’s VM Story takes us to Ms. Alisha Parzanese, originally from New Jersey who is serving at Anne Arundel County Forestry Board.

“There are several good things to know about me! I enjoy camping and spending time outside. I love to spend time with my friends and traveling to various places, such as Universal Studios in Orlando. I’m proud that I became the first individual in my family to graduate from college and serve as an AmeriCorps member. I enjoy learning about the environment and how to develop sustainable practices. This can range from learning about new renewable energy technology to new recycling methods.

I’m doing a term of service with Volunteer Maryland because I want to learn more about nonprofits in the environmental field. After talking to my educational advisors, they suggested that serving for AmeriCorps would be an effective way to do that. I decided that I also wanted to gain real world experience in how to manage volunteers to improve on my management skills. Volunteer Maryland presented a good opportunity to do that. I also want to improve my public speaking skills. I feel that I need to project more and have more of a presence when presenting in public.

I’m looking to develop my management skills in coordinating volunteers and developing a volunteer program with Anne Arundel Counties Forestry’s Board. I believe that this fits into my long-term goals in improving my confidence in management practices. In addition, I’m hoping to develop more improved presentation skills. I do tend to be a quiet individual and I need to learn to take into consideration my audiences needs when presenting in public.”

You can learn more about Alisha and Anne Arundel County Forestry Board volunteer opportunities at http://www.aacofb.sailorsite.net/

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Meet Friba – VM Story – Conflict Resolution Center

Friba describes herself as social, confident, and leader by nature. She’s strategic, analytical, and loves to study by reading books.

When asked what motivated her to do a year of service with Volunteer Maryland Friba said, ” I have knowledge and this is the time to use and work practically for my community and it is a great opportunity for me to build my career and learn new skills with helping and working in new field.” Friba also loves to travel, is a proud mother and good wife and a good person in the community. “I have a great time management in my work and have a good relationship with my colleague and friends.”

Friba graduated from Law School and hopes to use this year to gain experience. “After completing my service I have plan to go to back school and take another Master in Peace and conflict Resolution. Then I will be able to take my dream job and achieve at my goal to help people and my community!”

You can learn more about Conflict Resolution Center of Montgomery County by visiting http://www.CRCMC.org.

Pamela Evans – VM Story -Serving from the Start

Pamela Evans is “a proud mother of three adult children and three, but soon to be four, wonderful grand children. I was born and raised in Baltimore and taught as a young child to serve the community through the church.”

Pamela brings 38 years of public service experience with the State of Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR) and community based programs. “Within DHR, I served roles at the local and state levels ranging from case manager, social work supervisor, adult services program specialist, child care operations supervisor to program administrator and accreditation coordinator. I coordinated and led DHR’s statewide accreditation process and was nominated to the National Council on Accreditation’s Board of Commissioners. Outside of DHR, I worked in places such as, but not limited to, children’s diagnostic centers, homeless shelters, alternative living units, hospitals, and inpatient psychiatric (Walter Reed).  I also served the community through the American Red Cross (ARC) for ten plus years responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy (Maryland & New Jersey), Illinois Flood Disaster Relief Operations and the South Caroline Church shooting.  While with the ARC I served disaster survivors in a variety of positions such as disaster action team member, case manager, shelter worker, Regional and Division Mental Health Advisor and Advance Trainer.  I was proud and honored to be nominated and to receive the John T. Mendies and the Clara Burton awards for service and volunteer leadership.”

Volunteer Maryland is excited to have Pamela serve at Pigtown Main Street and continue her journey with our AmeriCorps program. To her, “volunteerism and giving back to the community has been a strong aspect of my raising and values and I wanted to continue to find new ways to remain involved and active in the community. The Main Street Project presented an unique opportunity learn a new approach to revitalizing Baltimore Communities. I see this opportunity as a challenge to approach our communities that are struggle from a different perspective.”

You can learn more about Pamela and volunteer opportunities regarding Pigtown Main Street at Historicpigtown.org . 

Jackson Hickey – CHAI – VM Story

 

I am Jackson Hickey, a recent graduate of Goucher College. It is with great excitement that I start my ten months of service with AmeriCorps. While I have worked with volunteers before, prior to accepting this position I was working in architectural sheet metal fabrication. I am lucky to accept this position and I hope that my wide variety of experience will come to together to help me through it.

I have lead volunteer groups from both my time with the Cheyenne River Youth Project and my time as a Peer Facilitator at Goucher College. Volunteer work is deeply meaningful to me as a practical way to make meaningful local change. The opportunity to work with Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc in a program that could expand to help hundreds of people was not an opportunity I could pass up.

I have lead volunteer groups from both my time with the Cheyenne River Youth Project and my time as a Peer Facilitator at Goucher College. Volunteer work is deeply meaningful to me as a practical way to make meaningful local change. The opportunity to work with CHAI in a program that could expand to help hundreds of people was not an opportunity I could pass up.

To learn more about Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc and opportunities to volunteer at their organization visit http://www.chaibaltimore.org

Swipe Right for this Volunteer Opportunity

How does your organization recruit its volunteers? Does it use a general ask with generic position descriptions, or is it a personal ask?

As a Peer Leader at Volunteer Maryland I have the opportunity to connect with our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (AmeriCorps Members in the field) on a regular basis, either by phone or in person. We often discuss challenges and celebrate their successes. Oftentimes I learn about creative strategies they are using for their site’s volunteer program. During one of my recent check-ins, I learned about an ingenious approach for tackling an urgent volunteer need…by using a dating ad format!

Joyce Plaxen, serving at Olney Home for Life, connects volunteers with driving opportunities to connect individuals who are aging or disabled. In order to make a Volunteer Driver position more enticing to her already committed volunteers she gives her clients a short bio, similar to a dating profile. This may seem a bit radical, but by bolstering the clients interests, and highlighting the benefits of driving them, Joyce found that within an hour all volunteer needs were met! Previously in the week, these rides were passed over, but with this innovative “dating ad” the client rides were taken quickly.

Why did this work? Personal connection- by reading these Dating Ads a volunteer feels a connection with the individual and is motivated to pick up the ride for the day. This is not a new idea. As Vue Le discusses in his blog Nonprofit with Balls, in the US volunteers
contribute over 8 billion hours of service, which is equal to over $173 billion. He claims that we tend to treat donors and volunteers differently, making donors feel personally connected to the organization for their monetary donations, but leaving volunteers feel not as connected to the clients for donating their time. So what can we do to correct this?

We need to get volunteers personalized quicker, before the volunteers even begin. If we find a way to make volunteer opportunities more personalized, volunteer recruitment efforts could be easier. Volunteers have already swiped right for your organization. So, create the personalized volunteer ask that won’t just get you a first date, but a long term volunteer relationship.c00c98d75bbe6c6a0a3eaa1e37f53298_oprah-dating-app-memes_620-588

National Service in My Life

National Service has been a guiding light for me in my life, something that has always led me in the right direction when I’ve found myself too far off the beaten path. In addition to being a second year AmeriCorps member, I am also a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Mali ’02-’04). We are celebrating AmeriCorps Week this week–a very important time for us at Volunteer Maryland–and last week was Peace Corps Week. It’s important to have this time devoted to National Service in order to spotlight the people devoted to National Service. For me personally, the experience has been profound and those people have made all the difference.

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Riding a camel in the Sahara just outside Timbuktu!

Peace Corps was the experience of a lifetime, as I was a 22 year old, barely out of college and placed wide-eyed in an extremely rural village as a Natural Resource Management Volunteer. Virtually every step was a challenge (as the line went, “the toughest job you’ll ever love”): completely different climate, completely different diet, completely different language, completely different culture altogether. I eventually found my footing and adapted to these things, but in a lot of ways, the most life-changing element was the Volunteers I served with. They were a group of idealistic people, up to the task but with an extreme willingness to be vulnerable that I didn’t always understand but was drawn to nevertheless.

For the next decade following Peace Corps, it became obvious to me how spoiled I had been to be surrounded by such remarkable people. When I wanted to recenter my life, I started looking at the things in Peace Corps that had made me happy: the people, the camaraderie, the constant challenge. Naturally, I looked at AmeriCorps, a program I was well aware of largely due to Volunteers who had participated either before or after Peace Corps service. Before I knew it, I was living quite a ways from home (Michigan) in Baltimore, Md, and was surrounded by people cut from the same cloth as those who inspired me so much in Mali. My VISTA year with Strong City Baltimore (July 2015-July 2016) was an excellent way to get me onto a better path, mind, body, and soul: I helped coordinate various middle school robotics programs for Baltimore City Schools with the JHU Center for Educational Outreach.

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Proud Strong City VISTAs at the JHU CEO!
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Visiting VM’s Habitat for Humanity Wicomico Co site!

This time, I wasn’t one of the young ones, I was one of the “old” ones. And that opened new doors to me as well. I loved watching and helping people fifteen years younger than me press through and do great things, and the taste of mentoring I got inspired me to spend a second AmeriCorps year as a Peer Leader at Volunteer Maryland, where it is now my role to give Volunteer Maryland Coordinators support of all types to help them through their service year. They inspire me constantly to reach down deep for my better nature, and they give me avenues to use my powers–meager though they are–for good.

For me, National Service has always been my North Star, the compass point that leads me to a meaningful life when I can’t find any other way to get there. Whatever National Service means to you, take this week to reflect upon it, and share in the community that we’ve all created with our service.

What are You Talking About?

What is your elevator pitch? Does everyone in the organization know the pitch and do they deliver the same message in the same way?  The  Baltimore Community ToolBank has a great strateby to address these very questions.  Every Monday , the ToolBank has a staff meeting with the message for the week written on a whiteboard.  This whiteboard is prominently displayed in their office where everyone who comes to volunteer, donate or for a meeting, sees the messaging.  Sometimes the ToolBank posts this message on socialbaltimore-community-toolbank media like the following posted on its Instagram: “2425 tools washed with rainwater this year”.  This specific messaging is a strategic way of ensuring everyone in the organization is talking about what matters, in the same way.  What if one person said, “2425 tools washed with recycled water this year”, or at a fundraising event, a board member stated, “2425 tools were washed with repurposed water this year”.  These are very different messages.   Although repurposed water can come from a variety of sources, including a toilet, Baltimore Community ToolBank is not sending a message regarding repurposed water in general.  Rather, the ToolBank, a leader in rainwater collection and repurposing from their 40,000 square foot rooftop, is focused on publicizing their ongoing strategic plan to leave as little footprint as possible by capturing the rainwater and using it to wash their tools. The ToolBank that loans tools, tables, chairs, wheel barrels and much more to community-based partners for pennies on the dollar are also environmentally conscience and holds communication in high regard throughout their organization.

Organizations that excel at communication are stronger, smarter and vastly more effective.  Sean Gibbons, the Executive Director of The Communications Network, explained this idea on the Podcast “Nonprofits are Messy” with Joan Garry (episode 13) Sean discusses how the organization’s message and passion needs to be clear to those inside the organization as well as made easily understood to those outside.  This precise messaging helps those outside the organization understand what your work is and why it nonprofits-are-messy-artwork-v2-300x300is important.  Gibbons challenges, that communications in a nonprofit can seem like it is adjunct to the ‘work, and when this is the attitude, the opportunity to share your story and bring more people on board is missed. He suggests that nonprofits are in the ‘idea’ market, and that large social issues cannot be solved by ONE organization.  The ideas of your organization’s mission, vision and purpose need to be sent out into the ‘world’ and partnerships need to be rendered.  If representatives of your organization can not explain clearly why, what you are doing is important the message is lost to those within the walls of your nonprofit, the hard work and importance is never understood by those outside the organization.

Social media can help target your messaging but be cautious of these sirens in the water, as it is easy to fall for every new, fast moving, shiny new platform.  When new platforms arise, i.e Snapchat, it is a good idea to look at your messaging, who are you targeting and decide if this new venture is worth your staff/volunteer’s time investment.  In the podcast, Gibbons talks about how, The Communications Network created a persona for their social media presence.  At about 21 minutes into the episode, Sean talks about how they represent themselves as Helen Mirren on social media.  This personification helps with their messaging and their ‘voice’ on various media.   Take a pause…..who would your organization be?

Being strategic about communication is not a waste of time.  Simon Sinek, in his vastly popular TED Talk Start with Why, challenges business to focus on their Why.  If it is unclear to the people in your organization why you are doing what you do, they will have a hard time talking or explaining why the work you do is so important.  It is worth spending time thinking about what your overall message is and to decide how to talk about your work.

Dancing Through Volunteer Management

Dance is a powerful art form that is constantly changing. Dance never stops evolving and growing in its definition to fit certain molds. There are moments when dance is rough and hard hitting, moments when dance flows and is seamless, and moments when there’s just nothing left to do but improvise your next move. Dancing tells stories and narrates feelings.  I find this to be true of the way volunteers’ work and dedication narrates the story of an organization. So what story do you want them to tell?

tumblr_m39mkqc5mg1r1zn4oo1_250I didn’t take dance classes growing up  unless you consider dancing around the living room to annoy my older siblings, a class. As soon as I reached middle school I became intrigued by the way dancing and choreography tells so many different stories. My next eleven years were spent cheerleading, dancing in school musicals, and eventually joining my colleges dance team.

Everything I learned from dancing I took with me after I left my team and I still use to this day. I took the ability to follow the set routine, the knowledge of every moving part of a performance, and the ability to change formations and switch choreography at the last moment to meet the group need. Every part of being involved in dance has allowed me to look at volunteer management with a different focus. Volunteer management tells a story.

In volunteer management there are moments when you have too few volunteers, too many volunteers, and when there are not enough volunteer jobs to fit the need of the group. This is when critical thinking comes in. What can you do with the volunteers that you have? How can you divide the volunteers up to be the most effective workers for your event? And most importantly, how can I learn from this experience to use it in future events, better recruitment, and stronger storytelling for my organization?

All of these experiences and lessons build up and create the foundation to maintain a wonderful and dedicated group of volunteers. If there is a hiccup in recruitment, whether it is a seasonal challenge for a site, or rather there are certain types of volunteers that are hard to come by, take every opportunity to look at the ebb and flow of your program. What volunteers need from an organization is constantly evolving and sometimes, like a performance, you need to change the choreography at the last minute to create the best story for your organization.

What I would encourage for everyone tackling volunteer management is to get out there dance-fail-tumblrand practice! Don’t be afraid to fall, stretch and become flexible, and don’t be afraid to take chances. If you fall, just pick yourself up and keep dancing!  Every experience you have with volunteers is just setting the stage for your next endeavor. Martha Graham once said, “Practice means to perform over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.” So with that, let’s hit the dance studio and get some rehearsals in for the next volunteer event.

Coping with the Shifting Seasons

 During my AmeriCorps VISTA year, I served as the Robotics Coordinator at the JHU Center for Educational outreach.  My project incorporated a wide array of activities that were often connected only by their association with competitive robotics, so the character of my service at any moment in the year was directly tied to the progress of the VEX Robotics season for Baltimore City Public Schools.  My first two months were dominated by undergraduate recruitment for a mentoring program where college students would work with middle school robotics teams during the season.  Then the season started, and my responsibilities began to spread out more:  helping plan and support event recruitment, training and managing mentors, running the VEX program at a local community center, and helping with a lot of behind the scenes event logistics.  The season was a busy time that ran from late October to late February.  Once the season was over, everything shifted once again:  now I was creating and revising sustainable plans based on what I had learned already, and formally evaluating the mentor program with input from children, coaches, and mentors.  Additionally, I was reworking the City Schools robotics website, and helping to optimize the storage space for robotics gear.

The toughest times of the year are when you are trying to contact people who are nonresponsive, and it’s impossible to get anything done without hearing from them.  Recruitment and evaluation can both cause this sort of bottleneck, as can ideas that need someone’s approval.  If your year is built around heightened activity for a stretch here and there—like my VEX season–other times can feel like the doldrums.  So what can you do when things get slow?

  • This is a great time to evaluate. If you have two or three months where you won’t need your volunteers, set up interviews or focus groups to get feedback.  It shows you are interested, keeps them in contact and invested in your site, and gives you valuable information.  It’s not a bad idea to look for ways to tie this into recognition, as well.
  • Sustainability plans: this is a time that you can consider how your volunteer program can carry on without you.  Does the program need room to expand?  If you chart the course, can certain volunteers or staff assume the torch with significantly less investment of time and energy than you are putting in?  What have you tried that never needs to be attempted again?  What has worked well, and what has promise despite lukewarm results?
  • Get to know your team and their projects, and especially projects they wish they could implement. Sometimes, you can find new areas of expansion for volunteer programs this way, and gain new sources of support in the office.  The sustainability of your volunteer program is much more robust if many people around the office see the value to projects important to them.
  • Arrange a supplemental training day for your volunteers. If you got a lot of feedback about certain issues, there may be interest in an offseason training session.  Similar to evaluation tactics, this offers volunteers a chance to make a bigger investment in their work and keeps them connected to you and the site.
  • Recruitment! Offseason recruitment is not always easy because volunteers don’t like to be committed as early as you want to have them signed up.  However, you can lay the groundwork by advertising a future recruitment event.  It’s also a good time to network to try to find new sources of volunteers that you can reach out to in the future.

If you have any other thoughts on how to push through the slow periods of volunteer coordination and to maintain productivity and motivation, please share them!

Cycles of the Job

I am a cyclist. It’s a deeply ingrained part of my identity.  Riding and racing bikes serves many purposes in my life.  It gives me an outlet for my frustrations, either alone or with a group out on the roads.  My nagging competitiveness is satisfied, at least temporarily, when a race on my calendar comes around.  However, probably most important, is how cycling grounds me and serves as a reminder of many life lessons drawn upon from my past

We all know that work, especially work within the nonprofit world, can be both exhilarating and, at times, draining.  It isn’t so much a job as a calling to do good, to better a neighborhood, serve food to those in need, or simply help your fellow man in some facet.  When someone has such a deep attachment to an activity, the tendency is to slip into tunnel vision and ignore many other parts of life.  A healthy balance needs to be found, you should remain calm in the face of a challenge, and endure when the situation calls for it.

The same idea applies to cycling, and it is why I find comfort and strength in how it relates to my everyday life.  The concept of training to race is something that needs a degree of commitment, desire, and foresight.  It’s a challenge by nature that can be overcome individually, but having a few friendly faces along for the ride certainly passes the time a bit more quickly!  While training for an event or working towards a professional goal, if there isn’t another part of your life pulling you from that mindset, you will eventually burn out. It’s important to take a step back once in awhile to recharge both physically and mentally, finding that all-important balance.

Finally, after all of your hard work, race day arrives! You might be nervous, scared, or just raring to get out there and show them what you’re made of!

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In cycling and your chosen profession, it’s important to remain calm in the face of a challenge. This may be the race you’ve been planning for all these months, or a big report on data from your volunteer program. If you’re confident, have laid the groundwork for success, and endure the challenge ahead, at the end of the day you will have accomplished your goal.
Remember to take some time to recharge and avoid the dreaded burnout. Know that you aren’t in this alone! Your co workers, family, and friends are here to support you in reaching that goal. Finally, after putting in all the hard work ahead of time, the accomplishments that were set out to be achieved long ago will come to you more easily than you’d ever think.