For This is Not Goodbye, AmeriCorps is Forever

This story was one involving growth of an AmeriCorps member, an illumination of service, and excitement for change. As I began I set out to broaden my horizons focusing on what I wanted to get out of a second year with Volunteer Maryland.

My expectations were to increase certain skills and grow professionally with regards to moving towards my goals in becoming a therapist. My experience as a Peer Leader has provided me the opportunity to develop a set of skills that has helped me to unlock my strength, and maximizing my potential. I have been amazed with the feedback I received from that of the Volunteer Maryland Staff and that of the VMCs. I will never forget one special note from Roslyn Lindner, “Thank you Elena for always being available to talk and listen to what I have to say, I really appreciate you.” This message really touched me and I was able to see that my work makes an impact.  In June I was presented an opportunity to take the lead as a facilitator. This spoke to my professional growth and I felt proud of my accomplishments.

 I also spoke to part of my story involving an illumination of service. Growing up, service was and still is an important aspect of life that my parents continue to teach. In a past blog I talked about a volunteer who helped me unlock myself worth, self esteem, and taught me to read. She continues to be my inspiration for why I serve. It is because of this very experience and that of my own volunteer opportunities this year that I understand why I serve. I serve to learn and to teach responsibility not only for myself but for others. By serving as a volunteer with organizations that aim to build stronger and healthier communities like; Baltimore City Recreation and Parks, Manna Food Center, and United Communities Against Poverty,  I have added value and made significant changes in the lives of those I’ve served this year. Service is not a task but rather an opportunity and a privilege to impact the community and give others hope for a brighter, safer, and more efficient future. It is because of this that I continue to strive, putting forth all my efforts to maximize the growth of this nation, advocating for my fellow Americans, and empowering others to get involved in meaningful service.

As an AmeriCorps Alum I look to make a difference by actively involving myself in community needs I look to improve with my fellow AmeriCorps and VM Alum. I look forward to expanding my knowledge; infusing my experiences as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator of VM Class 24 and as this year’s Peer Leader, to gain my Masters in Social Work and impact families and children health centers, mental health facilities, schools, and community organizations that work to make an immediate impact in the community. Finally I must Serve  this year and beyond, never to forget that in seeking change, I must be that change. This is my commitment. I will embrace a lifetime of service in all aspects of my life, leading each day with conviction as an example, changing the world.

 Now my story has come to an end. I am not good with goodbyes; rather I’ll leave you with a simple common phrase, “all right then,” for I am off. Off to change the world, never to close this chapter but to reread it, enjoying and learning from my experiences again and again. . This is not a goodbye, for AmeriCorps is forever.

 

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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!

Serving as An AmeriCorps Alumni

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.

 

Service to a Job

One motivation for doing an AmeriCorps term of service is to gain skills for future employment or education.  For this reason, VM takes time with each applicant listening to what they are looking for, and hoping to experience in order to find just the right fit.  We know that the job market, though recovering is still a bit tight, and respect the fact that Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are hoping that service may lead in the direction of a job.

In about two weeks, the current group of coordinators will end their 11 month term of service.  This can be a time filled with a bit of anxiety as our folks look at what comes next.  For a few the futures involves a bit of the past.  Six of the 23 VMCs have accepted jobs with their service site.  That is great news on many levels.  First, it speaks to the professionalism of the individuals that were offered employment.  Their sites know that these folks can get things done, and are committed to the mission.  It is also a good sign for the nonprofit community as this is an improvement over last year’s number of VMCs that stayed on as employees.  Last year two of the amazing members of VM25 were hired on by their site.  This is not a reflection at all on the members of that class, but rather a continued sign of the times.  With a 200 percent increase over last year, my hope is that there will be more opportunities out there for truly talented VM alums.

I am so proud of the current group of Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.  AmeriCorps is not easy, but these folks preserved, and went from novice volunteer coordinators to seasoned professionals.  They developed management skills, facilitated trainings and put volunteer programs in a place where they could provide results.  That is what makes them so hirable.  They have the goods that equal a strong employee.

I wish I could keep them, but AmeriCorps is not meant to be a lifelong job, but rather a time of meaningful service that leads to new opportunities.  Congratulations to all of the members of VM Class 26.

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.

 

Matchmaker, Make Me a Volunteer Match!

The most common question always asked while recruiting volunteers is “what type of volunteer work do you have?” The answer to this question in my opinion can be complicated. In early June I attended the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Atlanta, Georgia. I kicked off the conference with my first session on strategic volunteer engagement. This session gave listeners the chance to connect with like minded professionals looking to learn more about strategies and models to break the boundaries of successfully engaging and recruiting interested volunteers.
During this 60 minute interactive discussion we explored the topic of matching the right volunteer to the right position. Matching volunteers is not just about having a potential volunteer pick a volunteer position from a list. It is about exploring and match making. To emphasize the importance of listening during the all important matching process, our facilitator asked the group to partner and take turns talking about a time when we felt most proud, for three minutes. Our partner was to solely listen only speaking words expressing enthusiasm like; wow, amazing, and great. Needless to say there were many a pair who found it very difficult to speak and have someone just listen for three uninterrupted minutes.
When we think about recruitment we instantly start out describing our needs for the positions we are looking to fill. Volunteers need to know why it is important for them to volunteer, and feel the connection to the cause. There are two driving factors in volunteer recruitment; the needs of the organization and the needs of the volunteers. A volunteer coordinator needs to pay attention to both in order to make a strong match. Being direct in our questions, and giving the potential volunteer time to discuss what they are looking for in a volunteer opportunity. For example CASA of Prince George’s County volunteers advocate for the rights of children in foster care. This requires Volunteer Maryland Coordinator Simon Lee to pay close attention to the needs of individuals looking to volunteers to insure positive volunteer engagement and retention. As a child advocate, it is crucial that each volunteer is made aware of the sensitivity of each CASA case, the organization’s mission in regards to permanency and or reunification of the appointed foster care child, and their specific role. During the interview and training phase, each potential volunteer is able to discuss their needs with a CASA supervisor. This information becomes very beneficial to the matching process of a child advocate. For example CASA may find a volunteer who works best with children ten years and younger. To make the volunteer experience impactful and beneficial to both the volunteer and the child, CASA supervisors take this information into account for best outcomes of the relationship.
Furthermore, I found this experience enlightening giving listeners a greater understanding of the importance and impact actively listening to the needs of volunteers has on effectively matching volunteers to meaningful service. In the end this will provide opportunities that lead to rewarding service experiences, keeping volunteers engaged, coming back to serve again and again.

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.

Above and Beyond a Thank You

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.

Roz Volunteer Mug
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

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.

 

 

Connecting Directly to Service

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.