Saying Goodbye

Big News!  Volunteer Maryland is getting a new director!  Check out our announcement!

I can remember when I first heard of Volunteer Maryland.  I was taking a class at Notre Dame of Maryland University when my professor introduced herself.  Surprise!  It was Barbara Reynolds, Director of Volunteer Maryland.  A few months later, a position announcement for VM’s Project and Resource Manager came to me through the AmeriCorps Alums network and I knew I just had to join this organization.

Before VM, I had never stayed in a job for more than 18 months; though I had the pleasure of working with a number of amazing organizations, I was always ready for the next big challenge.  Until VM.  Since January 2008, I have been at home at in the exciting, fulfilling challenge that is Volunteer Maryland.  So it is bittersweet that, like leaving home for college, I’m saying goodbye to a place where I have both history and family.

During my time with VM, I’ve had the incredible pleasure of working with amazing people and organizations.  I’ve gotten to know and travel Maryland, to learn from the strongest volunteer management training program that exists, and to become even more connected to the AmeriCorps network that I have known and loved since I was 21.

When I became Director, we were riding the national service high – the Serve America Act had passed only two months prior and we were all talking about the upcoming growth of AmeriCorps.  Things changed quickly; I’ll never forget talking with our members less than a year later about the very real possibility that AmeriCorps could be eliminated because of proposed federal budget cuts.

But we’re VM and we’re AmeriCorps and so we rallied our spirits and did what mattered – we served.  Since becoming VM’s Director in 2009, I’ve been witness to incredible impactIn the last four years, our members mobilized 24,452 volunteers who provided 282,028 hours of service to 178,792 community members; 87 percent of our Service Sites reported an increased ability to recruit volunteers; and 85 percent of prior Service Sites note that they sustained or improved their ability to recruit and manage volunteers beyond the VM partnership.

We also increased our collaborations with other AmeriCorps programs, instituting an annual networking event called “Destination AmeriCorps” that brings together AmeriCorps members serving at programs throughout MD.  In 2013, VM hosted the fourth Destination AmeriCorps, which engaged 71 members, alumni, and staff from 13 programs across the State.

During the same timeframe, Volunteer Maryland was recognized nationally for the quality of our programming and impact.  In 2010, VM was selected for inclusion in the publication “Transforming Communities through Services: A Collection of 52 of the Most Innovative AmeriCorps Programs in the United States,” published by Innovations in Civic Participation and America’s Service Commissions.  In 2012, both the Volunteer Maryland program and I received nominations for National Service Impact Awards.

And, in a wonderful celebration that happened just two weeks after the birth of my son, we celebrated VM’s 20th anniversary with alumni, current and former Service Site partners, community supporters, and all three of our previous directors.  With stories, photos, vintage video footage, and original program displays, we celebrated 20 years of incredible impact.  I couldn’t be happier to have been part of such an event.

Over these years, I’ve worked alongside some of the most passionate, intelligent, resilient people I’ve ever met.  I’ve seen growth in individuals, organizations, and communities that many wouldn’t have thought possible.  And I’ve seen real growth in myself.

Thanks to the community of VM, I’ve learned how to enjoy networking, to better listen, to meet others where they are.  I’ve learned to dance in the hallway of a government building and accept that I don’t have to have all of the answers or know the dance moves in order to be a leader.

After all of this time and all of these people and every one of these experiences, I struggle to imagine a September that doesn’t include Pre-Service Training.  But, come this September, I’ll face a new challenge – one that I am so happy to take on.  After VM, Experience Corps, NCCC, VISTA, and Learn and Serve, I now get to join the Maryland Governor’s Office on Service and Volunteerism.

It’s also a really exciting time for Volunteer Maryland as we welcome VM alum and Outreach Manager Extraordinaire, Patrice Beverly to the role of Director.  I hope you’ll join me in celebrating her promotion to this position!

I’ve known for a long time that service is my thing, that AmeriCorps works.  That enabling others to serve – and to serve well and effectively – is a calling.  My time at VM helped solidify that and I remain incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be a part of  Volunteer Maryland.  So I bittersweetly say goodbye to VM and hello to AmeriCorps programs throughout our State.  I can’t wait to work with you.

VM25 staff and Peer Leaders.  (Thanks to VM, I also have a new-found skill: jumping photos.)
VM25 staff and Peer Leaders. (Thanks to VM, I also have a new-found skill: jumping photos.)

AmeriCorps Week: Gaining while Giving

We’re about halfway through AmeriCorps Week!  As Kelly said, AmeriCorps Week is a time for “sharing our stories and explaining what a year of service means to us.”

If you haven’t seen it, check out what some of our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators had to say about how AmeriCorps works for them and their communities; we’ve been posting photos all week on our Facebook page.

At VM, we regularly hear from our alumni about how their AmeriCorps service helped make them who they are today – by igniting a passion for service, providing professional skill development, building a network, and more.  That’s one of the wonderful things about AmeriCorps (and about our AmeriCorps program at Volunteer Maryland); the AmeriCorps members gain so much while they serve.  (And, as AmeriCorps Alums, they continue to have access to great learning opportunities, among other perks!)  Here are some thoughts from our current members about what they are gaining while they give.

I Love AmeriCorps“Through this term of service I have learned a lot about volunteer management best practices and consulting skills.  I have also improved my time management skills by simultaneously coordinating volunteers for multiple different programs and my public speaking skills by developing and running a volunteer orientation.”  Krisia Jones, Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington

“[This experience] has gotten me volunteering at places I wouldn’t have considered before, like the hospital, and I love it!”  Kara Grosse, Maryland Coastal Bays Program

“I’ve seen first-hand what makes a nonprofit successful.”  Rebecca Larew, Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless

“[I’ve gained skills in] professionalism, group projects, networking, communication, time management, and flexibility – and I got to meet some great people!”  Allyson Bloom, MAEOE

“[I’ve gained skills in] volunteer management, recruitment and outreach, general organizational skills, time management, project development and implementation.”  Kristen Wharton, CHEARS

“I enjoy going to work every day and I love the group of people I am lucky enough to work with.  I have learned so much about so many different things – history, agriculture, networking, the community, livestock, and myself.”  Casey Lowe, Accokeek Foundation

“Being a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator has given me the opportunity to practice patience, creativity, awareness, and professionalism within a safe a supportive structure.”  Kat Patterson, Ardmore Enterprises

“[I’ve gained skills in] management, interviewing, time management, recruitment, and networking.”  Trayana Thomas, Mosaic Community Services

“[I’ve gained skills in] public speaking, persuading, collaborating, initiating change, multi-tasking, time management, presenting proposals and ideas with supporting materials.”  Kaitlyn Fernald, Greenwell Foundation

“As a Peer Leader, I’ve learned how to plan and facilitate events.  I’ve learned how to use WordPress, Constant Contact, and Mail Chimp.  I’ve become more confident with the Microsoft Office suite and Chrome.  I’ve built on my workshop training and leadership skills.  I’ve developed as a writer and professional blogger.  I’ve developed skills as a recruiter and I have developed supervisory skills.  I’ve also developed time management skills and learned how to successfully ask for donations.”  Kerry Ose, Peer Leader

Telling the AmeriCorps Story

Lately, I’ve been working at a number of career fairs.  These career fairs are a time for Volunteer Maryland to recruit not only for the coming Class 26, but potentially for classes years from now.  What a career fair means for me as a representative is a chance to reach out to the community, to educate people on a world that AmeriCorps is working towards, and to try and help them figure out a part they can play in that.  And whether their part is to start a charity, volunteer a couple hours a week at the pound, to tell a niece or nephew about our organization, or just go home thinking about how they can improve their little slice of the world, that’s fine by me.

The career fairs aren’t just about asking for jobs or offering jobs – a career fair is a chance to give people whole new ideas of where they might end up, or what they might want to explore.  Any number of the attendees of these fairs have never heard of AmeriCorps and Volunteer Maryland before, making the fairs the perfect place to start educating.  We talk about what Volunteer Maryland exists to do, its history, and their possible place in it.  We explain what AmeriCorps is, all the places it ranges and community needs it addresses.  It might take me several minutes to tell a student everything they need to know.  Hopefully at the very least, I’ve exposed them to the idea of working for a non-profit, or at least inspired them to look into how they can volunteer for something they care about.

All of this talking is for a bigger purpose than just recruiting.  Whether that person I just talked the ear off of decides to apply this year or not, they now have an invitation to learn more about the AmeriCorps world with them.  As that idea incubates, it might just grow into a relationship with us and with the AmeriCorps world.

For me, this fits in neatly with the mission of AmeriCorps Week.  This approaching week is a time for those who have or are taking part in AmeriCorps to educate.  We will be sharing our stories and explaining what a year of service means to us.  My elevator speech will become a multi-layered story- talking about service broadly across the nation as well as my own experience this year with Volunteer Maryland.

All of us here at Volunteer Maryland will be sharing our stories this coming week in the hope of informing and inspiring.  Check in on us every day to hear about our adventures and achievements in AmeriCorps!

Happy Birthday, Volunteer Maryland!!

Yesterday VM turned 20 years old.  It was on September 9, 1992 that the Maryland Governor’s Office on Volunteerism was notified of its selection as a National and Community Service Model program by the Commission on National and Community Service.  Just a few months later, in January 1993, the first Volunteer Maryland Coordinators began their service.

Since then, VM has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, schools, and government agencies; 612 AmeriCorps members (or pre-AmeriCorps members!) have successfully completed the program and created strong, engaging volunteer programs that serve our communities.

We’re so proud to have been a model of what was to become AmeriCorps – from our first members entering the field in 1993 to the launch of AmeriCorps at the White House in 1994 through the 2009 Service America Act, and today, as we get ready to start our 25th Class.  Names, logos, and titles have changed (did you know our first name was not Volunteer Maryland but the Ten-Four Corps?), as have focus areas and priorities within AmeriCorps; but needs within our community remain.

Twenty years after a survey of Maryland nonprofits said that volunteer management was a need within our state, we continue to rely on volunteers to help serve our citizens and communities.  Twenty years after the first 55 VM Coordinators and Associates began their service, we still hear from organizations about how much our service is needed, how important it is to develop and sustain quality volunteer programs, and how essential Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are to this work.

So, with as much energy as mustered by our first Executive Director, Ellie Falk Young, the VM staff, and those 55 Coordinators and Associates, we continue our work.  With little fanfare, we’ll start our 25th class in just a few weeks.  Across Maryland, they will enable their Service Sites to better serve their clients and communities – and our team of three staff and two Peer Leaders will continue to support them.  Our multiplier model remains the same and continues to thrive – this year, a small support team and 30 Volunteer Maryland Coordinators Service Sites will engage 5,000 volunteers in service to up to 60,000 community members in need.  Just as importantly, the service this year will continue to strengthen our communities, leaving programs in place that will engage volunteers and better serve communities for years to come.

With a wonderful mix of excitement and pride, we say Happy Birthday to Volunteer Maryland!  Happy birthday to all of the VM Coordinators, Associates, Regional Coordinators, Peer Leaders, VISTA members, Service Sites, and Host Sites that have been part of the last 20 years!  And, as long as we’re needed, here’s to another 20!

Some Best Practices of Volunteer Recruiting. . .Far and Near

Back in March, at the Volunteer Maryland Mid Year retreat, each of us share the successes we’d experienced so far in the service year. Jordan Silverman, the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator at Planned Parenthood of Maryland (PPM), mentioned that she had recruited volunteers remotely. Recruiting volunteers locally can be a challenge and I wanted to know more about recruiting “from afar.” I invited Jordan to have coffee and I picked her brain to find out how she did it. What she shared with me are “best practices” of volunteer management, regardless of geography.

First of all, I would be remiss if I did not re-educate you about Planned Parenthood of Maryland’s intention:
Our mission is to enable all Marylanders to have access to a wide range of high quality, affordable reproductive health care services. By providing medical services, education, training and advocacy, PPM seeks to help individuals make informed decisions about their reproductive health, family planning options, and sexuality.

There are eight PPM centers across the state of Maryland; only three sites have their volunteer positions filled. PPM clearly communicates their expectations to prospective volunteers. Each volunteer is asked to make a minimum commitment of six months, and preferably pledge at least a year of time. Volunteers’ talents are matched with tasks to be done. Both PPM and the volunteer benefit from these intentional matches.

Volunteer position descriptions are very clearly written; each volunteer is provided clear expectations of what’s needed. Some volunteers teach classes. Outreach volunteers are enthusiastic and engaging with good public speaking skills. The culture on transparency shows through even on their web page.

In addition to making a time commitment, volunteers also receive intense training provided by PPM. Most of the centers have very limited space and many administrative duties. One strategy for confronting this challenge is monthly administration nights. These evenings are dedicated to assembling information packets, writing Thank Yous, and other crucial administrative tasks. This approach permits staff and volunteers to plan accordingly and effectively use the schedule.

PPM strives to reach community members effectively. Billboards and TV marketing are used in areas where that approach has proven to be effective. The organization has also established partnerships throughout the community, including local colleges and universities and other community and civic groups. Currently a graduate student is working on a long-term history project.

PPM shares a continuous flow of information through their website, Facebook Page, LinkedIn and Pinterest. They also use, VolunteerMatch, and Idealist, etc. These tools allow PPM to communicate with the public and volunteers effectively and in a timely manner. The website is user friendly and engaging. Visit it and you will see how PPM implements the best practice of transparency. It’s easy to find a local PPM center,volunteer opportunities, or make a donation.

Whether you are recruiting volunteers from the next block or the other side of the bay, here are a few best practices to consider. Know what the community need is and how your organization’s mission intersects with the need. Have a clear understanding among staff of tasks to be accomplished and position descriptions that reflect the understanding. Following successful recruitment, screen volunteers for “best match” of tasks and then orient and train them. Finally, be creative in over coming obstacles like space. Regularly scheduling duties on rotating days means space can be re-purposed. These are best practices wherever you are recruiting volunteers.

Volunteer Maryland/AmeriCorps = Happiness

Did you kick start summer this Memorial Day weekend? I sure did. Two highlights were a surprise visit from one of my kids and a picnic. Sunday I joined out of town friends at Pen Mar Park. Pen Mar is unadulterated Americana, including a Big Band concert and dancing! A lesser highlight was cleaning out my “desk”. I used quotation marks because being on the road quite a bit the last two weeks; I have spent little time at a desk. I have been in the car using my bag as my desk. Among the pages of “notes to myself” I found the latest edition of the IC VIEW, the Magazine of Ithaca College. “Hmmm,” I thought, “I’m sure there was a reason I put this in here.” Once I opened it up, I remembered that the featured articles were about “happiness.” Writer Keith Davis examines “The Pursuit of Happiness” and asks, “Is happiness a choice?” The section that really caught my eye was “10 Core Values that are essential to happiness.” I reflected after reading this that serving with Volunteer Maryland as an AmeriCorps member offers the opportunity to experience some of the values Douglas Ramm identified as enhancing happiness.

-Mutual sharing in interpersonal relationships
-Food, clothing, shelter
-Money to get the other nine values (Ok, the stipend may fall short here.)
-Rewarding occupation (The shortfall on the stipend is made up for here.)
-Good health
-Security of not losing the other values

You can take a happiness inventory and read the entire article here. And, if you are looking for an opportunity to gain skills and experience (that enhance happiness!), check out the information sheet and application to be member of Volunteer Maryland Class 25. AmeriCorps Works and enhances happiness!

Carving Out My Niche: How AmeriCorps Works for Me

It is hard to believe I am more than half way through my second year of service with Volunteer Maryland.  I had no idea what I was getting into when I signed up to be an AmeriCorps member, but without a doubt it has been one of the best decisions I ever made.  While in college, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Egypt.  That experience planted the “law-as-a-career seed” and AmeriCorps has watered it.  I did not know that serving as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator at the Banneker-Douglass Museum and now as a Volunteer Maryland (VM) Peer Leader would prepare me for a career in the law field, but I believe that it has.  Since joining the VM family, I have improved and discovered skills that will only help me in the long run as an attorney.  It was difficult, but I narrowed down my list to my top three skills:

1.  Clear and effective communication really is key.  I never had a fear of public speaking, but I was not the most comfortable with it either.  AmeriCorps has allowed me to practice speaking to various groups and learn how I need to readjust how I give out and receive verbal information.  There really is no point in me talking if people are not understanding what I am saying.  That also applies to written communication.  In today’s social media and electronic advancing age, it is easy for emails, messages, documents, etc. to be misinterpreted, so I have learned how to be clear and concise; even in my writing, so that my main points are not lost in translation.  Pretty important for when I’ll be preparing briefs and appearing in court.

2.  Time management is a skill, not a natural talent.  Like communication, managing my time has been another area where I have grown.  Since being a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator,  I have learned more about my work ethic, how to balance short and long term projects, and (most importantly) my limits.  I now have a system on how I prioritize to make sure I follow through with any task I am given.  Being a lawyer will require a lot of juggling, so I am glad I have a time management system in place.

3.  The beauty of relationships may not always be easy, but it is necessary.  Establishing a rapport with the VM Support Team, Volunteer Maryland Coordinators, volunteers, clients, and all persons really, is essential for work to get done.  I have learned to work with a variety of communities ranging in age, race, gender, interests, needs, and professions.  I never understood the importance and value of building relationships in the work place until I joined Volunteer Maryland.

I thought I had AmeriCorps all figured out, but I have gained more than I thought I would!  I have gained so many great experiences, and I am eager to expand upon them in law school this fall.  I do not know many jobs that would have enhanced the skills of their employees in this way, which is why I will be forever grateful for Volunteer Maryland and AmeriCorps!

As Promised, I’ve Gone Flat. . .

for #AmeriCorps  Week                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Here is a photo documentary of one day. 

Before I went flat this morning, I drew the stars Joy and I will assemble tomorrow.   Shhhh. ..It’s a surprise!  

  On my way to the office I stopped by the Partners in Care boutique to drop off donations my father-in-law gave me last weekend.  The manager wasn’t there yet so I had to take my own flat picture at the door.                                     


I read my email and then it was time to head toward Charm City.  I had a regional meeting scheduled with the Baltimore Barbarians.  On the way I stopped at Michaels to pick up another roll of gold paper.   Isn’t it sparkly?    Wait until you see the final product!  Before I went in to get the paper, I stayed in the car to listen to one of my favorite new songs Alex @WRNR was playing, Little Talks, by Of Monsters and Men.

I picked Ayana up at Baltimore SquashWise and we met the rest of our gang at our usual meeting place, Charmingtons.      She was recently accepted into the Masters of Social Work program at Howard University.  And, she’s invited a friend to apply to next year’s Volunteer Maryland Coordinator class.  We are a dynamic group and our conversations are exhilarating.  Marie arrived with colorful postcard announcements she made for the upcoming Destination AmeriCorps event.  Michelle has just secured a partnership with Johns Hopkins University to ensure the sustainability of the Story Pals program at the Barclay School.   Abby reported The Read Across America event at St. Francis Neighborhood Center was great fun.  I know the “Book Nook” fort sure looked awesome!  Each of us was busily scribbling notes about resources we weren’t aware of and promising to email information i.e. neighborhood engagement, paired reading strategies, volunteer appreciation, and Boot Up Baltimore, just to name a few.  We also talked about the documentation for the mid year report that is due at the end of the month.  All of us are looking forward to the mid year retreat next week. We bid one another good bye and set off into the beautiful sunshine.  After I dropped Ayana off, I headed back to Pasadena, resisting the urge to take a picture of Flat Barb on the back of the motorcycle riding city police officer next to me on Presidents Street. 

           Remember, when you see me out and about this week, take our picture and post it on the Volunteer Maryland Facebook page.

Transformation and Relationships: How AmeriCorps Has Inspired Me

A couple of weeks ago, I received a special note in the mail.  It was small and written in pencil on a scrap piece of notebook paper.  The message was brief and simple; it read, “When are you coming back. I miss you.”  The author of this letter was a nine year old boy who attends an after-school program, the Power Project, at a non-profit in Baltimore City, the St. Francis Neighborhood Center.  He is part of a group of young students I met as a volunteer during my second AmeriCorps term of service.  During this time, I served as a Regional Coordinator (a position now called Peer Leader) with Volunteer Maryland.  In this position, my main role was to mentor nine Volunteer Maryland Coordinators as they worked for organizations throughout Maryland.  I had just served as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator the year before and this was the perfect next step for me.  While I served my duties as an AmeriCorps member, I also had the privilege of spending 10 percent of my time volunteering at another organization, and that is how I was connected with the great work that’s being done at the Power Project.

Receiving that note meant so much to me on many levels.  It reminded me of how long-lasting and meaningful a relationship can be between a volunteer and a community member, and these kinds of the relationships are constantly being developed through the work of AmeriCorps members.  This relationship reflects how AmeriCorps works well; it helps to inspire and foster real relationships that are necessary for growth, both individually and on a wide scale. This reminder immediately transported me back to many memories of not only my time getting to know this child but of the powerful moments I’ve had throughout my time with Volunteer Maryland.  It’s because of these meaningful experiences that I jumped at the chance to take on the role of Program Manager at Volunteer Maryland after my years of service.  

My passion for empowering others through service is one of the big reasons I love my job.  While I am very committed to working directly with communities, I also wanted the opportunity to work with AmeriCorps members.  The core of my role as Program Manager is to support AmeriCorps members and the organizations they work with.  A lot of this has to do with building strong relationships with these individuals (just like the ones between volunteers and clients) through active listening, learning and guiding. We work hard as a team to try to use the skills of AmeriCorps members to create and enhance the way volunteers are incorporated in the mission of an organization.  The beauty of this system is that AmeriCorps members and the non-profit staff who support them put in an incredible amount of creativity, passion, and energy into achieving these goals that ultimately create change.  Throughout this process, AmeriCorps members gain real work experience, learn new perspectives about themselves, have their views challenged from time to time in healthy ways, and become stronger leaders.

Over the course of a little over three years and three different experiences, AmeriCorps has given me the chance to be positively transformed by the work of volunteers, AmeriCorps members and alums, community residents, and incredible non-profit leaders. From Darnell to the 24 AmeriCorps members in Volunteer Maryland Class 24, I will always remain grateful for the power of those relationships and the invaluable experiences AmeriCorps has given me.

Going Flat for #AmeriCorps Week

Do you know about the upcoming TOMS One Day Without Shoes campaign? Blake Mycoskie and company invite supporters to go one day without shoes, April 10, 2012. It is “the day we spread awareness of the impact a pair of shoes can have on a child’s life by taking off our own. . . Millions of children live without proper footwear, exposing them to injury and disease every day.” I love this engaging call to action and segue into telling a story! I am already crafting the one I’ll tell. 
Volunteer Maryland is crusading too. As an AmeriCorps program we are celebrating AmeriCorps Week. This year’s theme is “AmeriCorps Works.” I know “AmeriCorps Works.” Last year Volunteer Maryland Coordinators recruited 8,800 volunteers who served 65,000 community members. Those volunteers provided approximately 90,000 hours of service valued at $1.9 million. In honor of AmeriCorps Week, March 10 through March 18, I will be putting my shirt on, my AmeriCorps shirt that is! If you see me in my “AmeriGear” in the grocery store, at my local community center, driving a Partners in Care senior to a medical appointment, or meeting with my Volunteer Maryland peeps at Charmington’s in Charles Village , ask me how AmeriCorps Works.
Maybe you know Flat Stanley? Stanley’s dad gave him a big bulletin board which he hung on the wall over Stanley’s bed. During the night, the board fell off the wall, flattening Stanley in his sleep. He survived and Flat Stanleys have been visiting the friends and family all over the world, mailed in envelopes, for almost 50 years. He even has an iTunes app; we are in the digital age! Keep your eyes open.  Not only am I putting on my AmeriGear to celebrate AmeriCorps week, I am going flat!  When you see me, take a picture of us and post it on the Volunteer Maryland Facebook page.  Let’s see how far I can go. . .and remember to Read with the Trees on Friday, March 2.  “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better.  It’s not.”