A Flourishing Garden

I feel that nice summer days are great for a little gardening.  This Thursday, we had the perfect gardening day at the Greenwell Foundation.  Our fabulous Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, Kaitlyn, planned a service project for us to add a little distinction and pizzazz to the park entryway.  Every day during the summer, scores of children come through this entryway to take part in Camp Greenwell, as well as families coming to enjoy swimming and fishing on the river.

With eleven volunteers, we were able to make quick work of laying out a design for the flower beds, planting, watering, and mulching in the morning.  After lunch, we took time to explore the park, walk along the riverfront, and say hi to some of the horses.  As the end of our service year advances (where does the time go?!), this is a chance to step back and see how we have grown in experience.

It’s inspiring to see how much changes in a year – to see all the accomplishments and experiences of the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.  They’ve really taken ownership of their jobs, and take great pride in the service they’re doing.  And they’re excited to share their passion too – this group is now so chatty and gregarious that we almost had trouble staying on task.

But I have to remember, amidst all this celebration and finality, that our work isn’t done.  This year was exciting, and is coming to a close, but it’s not the end of our  time helping people.  On Thursday, all we needed to do is the simple, joyful task of gardening.  It is quiet, meditative even.  It won’t change the world.  But it is a small change for the future, and a project we will always be able to work on.  Big changes can come from small things, and our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are doing their part.

Building Strength

The other evening, I had the privilege of attending the kickoff event for the newly launched Baltimore chapter of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN).  I wasn’t surprised to see familiar faces from other AmeriCorps programs there, looking to continue a career in nonprofits.  I did, however, also enjoy hearing a number of new voices contributing to the discussion, in careers ranging from the police department to a for-profit bank.

YNPN serves as a resource for a new generation entering the nonprofit realm, giving people the opportunity to share ideas, find mentors, and become leaders.  Interestingly, in the panel discussion that took place, the two themes that emerged for me was the dynamic change that will come as a new generation moves into this field, and how to find guidance and mentorship from older, more established people in the nonprofit field.  The idea is that one does not conflict with the other, and that the best growth comes from these working together.  Those were two themes that I have heard before, but never thought of in conjunction before.

It is always valuable to get a new perspective, to hear new voices, on the issues we face.  The evening’s discussions inspired me to examine my actions- to make sure I was doing the best I could to, and not just sticking to comfortable habits during my year of service. We should never be afraid to critically reexamine things, when it comes to how we serve and how we give ourselves room to grow as leaders.  I am already looking forward to what more events the Baltimore chapter of YNPN will host, and what new ideas will come!

Sunshine and Room to Grow

On my first day at Volunteer Maryland, there was a sad little potted plant sitting at my desk waiting for me. Think “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree,” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it looked like.  I’d never had a plant before, and I didn’t want it to die because I didn’t think it would be a good reflection on me if it did.  I started watering it, and sometimes when I was working late by myself, I’d talk to it.  I’d heard that it might be a good thing for plants, and it helped me work through some of the self-doubt I felt at the beginning of my service year.  Besides, my dad always talked to his roses when he was frustrated by something at work, and his were some of the biggest roses I’ve ever seen. 

After a while, my plant started to turn around.  It started growing and filling out, and for now I don’t think it’s going to get any bigger.  This weekend, though, I’m going to buy a bigger pot for it, and some potting soil (dirt, actually, but that’s another matter).  You see, my plant stopped growing.  I was a bit afraid that I had done something to make the plant stop growing, so I started reading about plants.  It turns out that when a plants roots can’t stretch out, it stops growing.

One of the things I really appreciate about my service years with Volunteer Maryland is that I’ve had so many different opportunities to stretch out my own roots.  (I bet you were wondering where I was going with this, didn’t you?)  Last year when I worked with the Maryland Department of the Environment, I had to learn a lot in a fairly short amount of time.  I had to trick a computer program into doing something it was never designed to do, and I had to talk in front of a group of more than two hundred people, including the Secretary of the Environment (who is an alumnae of Volunteer Maryland Class 1).  I’m sure that if I had gotten some other job instead of joining Volunteer Maryland, I never would have had the chance to grow.

I’ve gotten a much bigger pot this year.  I’ve done things I never would have done if I hadn’t continued with Volunteer Maryland, and I’ve learned a lot more about things that I didn’t know anything about, how to balance the demands of an active work and social lifethat sometimes you need to take some time to play, and how to be more like Vanilla Ice.  Not only that, but things that I’ve learned this year have helped to open up a new career path for me – something that I didn’t even know existed a year and a half ago.

How big is your pot?