Talk of the Radio

VM Director Nicki Fiocco interviewed with I Heart Radio’s: Living in Baltimore discussing AmeriCorps, Volunteer Maryland, and how Volunteer Coordinators are helping transform nonprofits! Listen here

nicki at iheart radio heaven 600


My Season 2 Finale

When I first started as a Peer Leader, I was nervous. I thought that not having a site, unlike my year as a VMC, would leave me aimless or unmotivated. Instead, I got to live vicariously through all  29 of the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.

eating popcorn tvIt was kind of like being obsessed with an HBO show when you don’t have HBO. You can’t watch, so you just read the episode summaries on Wikipedia and talk to your friends about it (a lot), and every so often you get the chance to go to someone else’s home and watch an episode live. It’s such a thrill that it keeps you hooked and asking for more. So let me tell you about my favorite series, The Life and Times of a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator. There are other people who are much more qualified to speak to the details, after all, they actually lived them, but I read the books so I think I’m qualified to tell you all about it anyway and make predictions.

Let’s start with the setting. The communities I (vicariously) worked with throughout Maryland were incredibly different and incredibly the same. Wherever I went, I saw diverse groups of people coming together, driven by a pragmatic optimism and a basic need to connect. From clients to volunteers, no one would be in this work if we didn’t think things could get better. Sites are the hub and the fuel for this. They reinforce these feelings and attitudes and give physical form to intentions.

The charaflower cyclonecters in this show are incredible. They’re complex, they’re
intense, but they’re ultimately focused on one thing: the mission. The great challenge set before these Volunteer Maryland Coordinators is to catch a thousand petals on the wind and somehow make flowers from them. It’s so exciting to watch, but also very anxiety-inducing. I like to think I’m not just shouting at the TV when I try to offer then words of advice, but either way they somehow always work it out.

As you could guess, the my experience following this show has been nothing like what I expected. It was a profound lesson in communication, yet also in letting go. You find your limits when you’re pulled in fourteen different directions, but you also find your comforts. More than that, you find your sources of joy.

I found that in each episode, or each visit, there didn’t need to be a major plot point, there just needed to be some sort of revelation. Some sign that after the encounter something would be different, and for the better. I guess I have that insatiable optimism too.

that's all folksSo there it is: my favorite show in a nutshell. The second season has been nothing like the first, but it turned out to be just as intriguing and rewarding. Oh, and spoiler alert! I think the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators will all have a happy ending.

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.


Celebrating AmeriCorps20 through Environmental Stewardship

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

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

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

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

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












It’s National Volunteer Week!

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.

Thank you volunteers!


Jumping Group 3 Best

Twelve Hundred Thanks

When the calendar turns to November, I begin looking at the many things I have to be thankful for. I love that. I think about my great family, and the wonderful friends that fill my life. I think about the adventures and anecdotes that fill a year with laughter, hope and humility. In all of this thinking and thanking is Volunteer Maryland. I love this job, but more importantly I love the people within it. Through this blog, you have met Laura Aceituno, Kerry Ose, Elena Felton and Taketra Haynes, Volunteer Maryland’s Support Team. They are an amazing group of people, that I truly do not thank enough for their hard work and dedication. They push and pull VM into new shapes and forms each day while continuing to build on what we do well. They are also hilarious, kind, supportive, and brilliant. Volunteer Maryland works within the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives. This office is full of people dedicated to the citizens of Maryland, and we are glad we can join them in this service.

Right after the Support Team and our colleagues, I am thankful for the VMCs and Service Sites that we currently work with. You met our VMCs through this blog, and will continue to learn more about their work and their Sites that do amazing work supporting Maryland communities. The wall outside of my office has picture of each VMC along with the logo of their Service Site. It is a small thank you to these folks, with the hope that others that share the fifteenth floor at 301 West Preston will learn a bit more about the VMCs work, and the mission of the organizations we support. Volunteer Maryland asks each Service Site to designate a Site Supervisor. These folks work directly with the VMC in their work of volunteer program development and management along with the many other tasks and roles they play within the organization. Their role is one of the keys to a successful partnership with VM and success for the VMC. I am thankful for our work together, and the professionalism, support and guidance you provide the VMCs.

Photo Wall

Volunteer Maryland really has 1,200 thanks to give this year.  Five hundred and twenty three are to the Service Sites, past and present. I looked over the list right before starting this blog, and felt such amazing gratitude for our time together, and the continued commitment to excellence in volunteer programs. Six hundred and seventy seven go to AmeriCorps members, both VMC and VISTA that Volunteer Maryland has worked with over the years. I am humbled by all of your commitments to serve within communities that struggle, and renewed in service with each of your stories.

Simple thanks can never convey everything that your partnership, support and service have meant to Volunteer Maryland and to me.  I thank you for connecting with Volunteer Maryland, and wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Talk to you soon.

A Tree Grows at Volunteer Maryland

VM Tree


Kind readers of our blog, meet the Volunteer Maryland tree. I guess if I am being accurate, it is a plant. It came with some pretty simple instructions, and a vessel for providing water about once a week. Occasionally it likes to have its leaves spritzed a bit, and enjoys a sunny, but not too sunny window.  It has been a part of the director’s office here at Volunteer Maryland for quite a while.  It has lived through several caretakers and a move. It has been a part of countless meetings, celebrations and difficult discussions. All standing stoically as time rolls through class after class of Volunteer Maryland Coordinators and Service Sites. It was there when we changed our logo from blue to one that reflected more of the colors of the Maryland flag. When Volunteer Maryland interviewed applicants for positions on the support team, it listened intently.  When directors agonized over grants applications and budgets, it provided a calming presence to an otherwise dull office landscape. It laughed with us as we retold stories from our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators. It huddled with us as the 15th floor chill descended in late fall, and reminded us of warmer times to come. It was there to help strategize new marketing techniques to help Volunteer Maryland stand out as an innovator among AmeriCorps programs. On late nights in the office working on deadlines, it never left early, and was there to greet us in the morning fresh, and ready to go. It was there when I entered the office to say I lost me sister in a freak complication from surgery. This tree has heard a lot.

I have talked a bit about the importance of preserving what is good with VM, and the tree is of course one of them. But what is next for VM as we look at the next 20 years of service? How will we continue to be a resource for nonprofits, government agencies and schools looking to build a volunteer program focused on results? What role will we play as National Service continues to evolve? This year, AmeriCorps enters the 20 year club.  More than 80,000 people serve as AmeriCorps members each year, and this year, 26 of them are working in Maryland communities as Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.  They will recruit tutors to help students with reading and math. They will recruit volunteers that will help students understand technology to better positions themselves for the ever growing need for positions in the STEM fields. They will recruit individuals to improve the health of Marylanders with more access to clinics and healthcare. The volunteers they recruit and manage will work to preserve and improve our natural world, ensuring a cleaner, healthier place to live. We are just getting started.  Volunteer Maryland will continue to answer the call of communities all across Maryland with a proven resource of people, knowledge and results. We will continue to grow and learn as an AmeriCorps program, and continue to develop service leaders who will continue to serve in their communities long after their term of service ends.  Most important, we will show the true value of a volunteer, not just in the hours committed to service, but in the impact that one volunteer can bring to individuals and communities. AmeriCorps and Volunteer Maryland are ready to provide even greater impact and growth, and are committed to providing solutions to our toughest problems. A tree does grow at Volunteer Maryland along with experience and resources on engaging volunteers in a more effective way. A tree does grow at Volunteer Maryland, and I plan on helping it grow even more. Thank you for connecting with Volunteer Maryland. Talk to you soon.

Appreciating Volunteers

Most of my work is behind the scenes, with a focus on the overall structure of a volunteer program.  But National Volunteer Week is the time to focus on not the programs or the clients, but the volunteers.  What amazing work are they doing?  What makes the experience worthwhile to them?

Volunteer Maryland encourages us to build time into our weekly schedule to do community service, and I love the insights that this allows me.  This week I got to experienced all the perks of being a volunteer with the Maryland SPCA during National Volunteer Week.  As one of the wonderful tokens of appreciation, each volunteer received a letter of thanks from Senator Barbara Mikulski.  There was a line in there that just stuck with me:

When Alexis De Tocqueville wrote about America, he said “America is great because she is good.”  He noticed the spirit of of volunteerism, neighbor-helping-neighbor, habits of the heart that bred habits of humanity

When we celebrate volunteers, we should not only be celebrating the wonderful work that they accomplish, but also celebrating how volunteers contribute to building “habits of humanity”.

As we come to conclusion of National Volunteer Week, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the importance of volunteers, and to thank everyone for their hard work. Without volunteers, all our ideas would remain just that – ideas. It’s their passion, enthusiasm, and devotion to sharing their good fortune with others that allows us to make our ideas into reality and bring goodness to the world around us.

America is great, because she is good. Her people are caring, giving individuals. And we should make sure they know just how much we appreciate that.

My National Volunteer Week

Some weeks epitomize the word “eventful” in the best possible way, and National Volunteer Week 2013 has been that kind of week for me.  Here are a few highlights:

On Monday morning, the Volunteer Maryland Support Team celebrated Earth Day by spending the morning doing trail maintenance at Quiet Waters Park.  (Thanks goes to VM24 alum Nicki Fiocco for hooking us up!).  We worked on ridding the wooded area near the trail of rose and grapevines that threatened to kill the trees.  It was a wonderful change of pace and a great team-building experience.  A highlight was learning that grapevine sap turns into an awesomely icky, gelatinous goo if it is exposed to the elements.

On Tuesday morning, it was my great privilege to accompany our director, Maureen Eccleston, on a visit to a potential Volunteer Maryland partner site, Charm City Clinic.  Executive Director Andrew Gladdis is doing extraordinary work in East Baltimore by working in close partnership with other community organizations to improve the health of local residents.  Charm City Clinic relies on a corps of dedicated, passionate and skilled volunteers who manage cases and provide healthcare.  It was exciting to imagine how a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator might be able to help this agency achieve its mission.

Charm City Clinic
Charm City Clinic

That evening, I celebrated World Book Day by attending HoCoPoLitSo’s Blackbird Poetry Festival, which is planned and staffed each year by an impressive group of volunteers.  This year, Rachel Eliza Griffiths and Rives shared their amazing poetry with a greatly appreciative audience at Howard Community College.

Baltimore CASH Campaign VMC Sharon Baldwin attends Volunteer Howard's National Volunteer Week celebration.
Baltimore CASH Campaign VMC Sharon Baldwin attends Volunteer Howard’s National Volunteer Week celebration.

And Wednesday night, the Volunteer Center Serving Howard County celebrated National Volunteer Week by welcoming eight local organizations to join us for “Words into Action: Spotlight on Poverty,” where they shared volunteer opportunities with Howard County residents.   The focus of the event was serving low-income clients, and several individuals signed up to volunteer at organizations such as the Howard County Food Bank and the Salvation Army.

That was my National Volunteer Week.  What were some of the highlights of yours?


With abject apologies to T.S. Eliot, I would have to observe that April is the busiest month.  It’s National Minority Health Month,  National Fair Housing Month, and National Poetry Month.  April 3 was Maryland’s Arbor Day, April 15 was Patriot’s Day, and April 22 is Earth Day


Because we  partner with a wide range of amazing organizations, all of these celebrations are close to our hearts here at Volunteer Maryland.  But in the midst of all these celebrations, two stand out to us:  National Volunteer Month and National Volunteer Week.

In particular, National Volunteer Week, which is April 21 – April 27, is a special time for Volunteer Maryland Coordinators as they find meaningful ways to let their volunteers know how much they are appreciated.  Whether it is a posh gala, a simple potluck, a thoughtful gift, a heartfelt note or a verbal thank you, it means the world to volunteers to be acknowledged.

And they should be acknowledged!  The current estimated value of an hour of a volunteer’s time is $22.14.  Volunteer Maryland, our partner organizations and the many communities they serve could not function without this gift of time.

Whether you observe National Volunteer Week by volunteering, thanking a volunteer or learning more about volunteer opportunities, we here at Volunteer Maryland hope you truly enjoy your celebration of service… and minority health… and the planet… and trees… and fair housing… and…