Cassie’s our first Volunteer Coordinator to be featured in our #VM31 Service Year introductions! Cassie Motok, is currently the Volunteer Coordinator for Caring Matters, formerly known as Hospice Caring. “This is the first time I am actively serving a nonprofit organization and am excited to start this new journey!”
Cassie’s passion for helping others started at a young age. “I always did volunteer work growing up, whether it was volunteering at retirement homes or serving food at the local the soup kitchen. This created a drive for me to want to be in the position of helping and serving others.”
It was not until my sophomore year of college when she joined the fraternity, Zeta Tau Alpha, where her passion for serving others really took off! “Our philanthropy is Breast Cancer Awareness and is something that hits close to home. However, it was not until I actively started to fundraise for our philanthropy and attend educational events that I saw the true impact volunteer work had on others.”
“I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in.”
After graduating from West Virginia Wesleyan College, Cassie was not sure the direction she wanted to go in. “I was actively searching for jobs, but doing a service year was always something I thought about the most. However, it was not until a year after where I decided I needed to be in a position where I got more out of what I was doing and took a deeper look into Americorps. That is when I came across the opportunity to serve in Volunteer Maryland’s AmeriCorps program.”
“I decided I needed to be in a position where I got more out of what I was doing and took a deeper look into AmeriCorps.”
“One of my main goals this year is to gain a new perspective on how nonprofits work. I would like to have a strong understanding of how to create sustainable practices to benefit smaller organizations when they may not have as many resources or as much funding as others.”
To learn more about volunteer opportunities and the great work at Caring Matters in Montgomery County be sure to visit CaringMatters.org
Do you ever come back into the office after a few days at a conference and feel like people won’t recognize you because you’ve learned so much and you feel yourself changing all the time and you’re actually a new person now? That was me last week and again this Monday.
Our morning speaker for Light City U’s first day was Aaron Hurst who spoke about the ways in which our economy will shift its focus from information onto finding purpose, what he has dubbed the “Purpose Economy,” and how this shift will influence Baltimore’s economic landscape. To Hurst, purpose is about enhancing relationships, doing something greater than yourself, and personal growth and experience, and people will be looking for that more and more in their lives.
It’s a pretty interesting and exciting idea (and I encourage you to watch the video below and learn more), but how does that translate to our work at Volunteer Maryland? It means that we have to strive to make purpose a focus of volunteering programs. This means that volunteers and potential volunteers want to be able to build relationships with others, they want to hear about the impact that they are making, and they want to know more about how they fit into the mission of the organization they are working for. So start planning those socials, sharing those statistics, and getting your directors involved in the volunteer program, because that’s what people–particularly millennials–want more of.
Thinking Better, Doing Better
Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, III, President of UMBC
As a UMBC alumna, President Hrabowski will always have a special place in my heart as the college president who walked the campus while waving at students, most of whom he knew by name. His presentation at Light City U certainly did not disappoint (especially since I got a picture with him beforehand). President Hrabowski told the story of his own journey to social justice and creating change in his communities, and he inspired us to embrace the struggle and never never never give up.
By the end of his talk, President Hrabowski had the whole of the Columbia Center standing up and chanting, “Thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, habits become character, character becomes destiny.” This mantra is so important, because it means that change comes through the simplest means: thought. All we have to do is be open up our minds and we can change the world.
D. Watkins and Lance Lucas had a sort of fishbowl conversation at Light City U, where they discussed skill sharing. Both men have made their way by doing so. D. Watkins as an acclaimed columnist and author is the founder of the BMORE Writers Project, which aims to teach writing to the Baltimore community and thereby empower Baltimore to write its own story. A profile on Lucas and Digit All Systems by Technical.ly Baltimore describes, “a nonprofit group on East Lexington Street that offers computer certification courses, Microsoft certification, programming courses—even a class in Lego Mindstorm robotics.. Digit All Systems is providing a pathway out of poverty for unemployed Baltimoreans, one A+ computer programming certification course at a time.”
Though both of these men have spent much of their time building up industries and programs around skill sharing, they also agreed that skill sharing is simple. All you have to do is have a skill and teach it to someone who wants to learn. For volunteer programs, this might mean creating opportunities for volunteers to do some skill sharing with other volunteers, clients, or staff. When we are able to share our skills, we not only learn more and thereby increase the scope of work we can do, but we also create relationships with people further enabling that purpose-driven economy.
Asset Mapping and Building Foundations Among One Another
Alice Murray, business administration student at George Washington University
At the Maryland-DC Campus Compact’s Service Learning and Civic Engagement conference, I was able to participate in a workshop by Alice Murray, a business administration student at George Washington University, who was also volunteering with Lift, a national organization that is working to break the cycle of poverty. Inspired by her time as a volunteer coordinator with DC Engage, Alice presented a set of best practices for asset-based volunteering, community organizing, and service learning. Although asset-based approaches are nothing new, Alice’s discussion was incredibly enlightening and offered insight into how the theory can be put into practice.
Alice explained that the difference between asset-based and need-based approaches are that need-based approaches focus on filling in gaps, and asset-based approaches are founded in looking at what we already have and building from there. To demonstrate this, she led all of us workshop participants through a session of asset mapping, where we stood in a big circle and would throw a ball of string to people we had connections with. For example, someone might say, “I served as an AmeriCorps VISTA; who else has served as a VISTA?” This person would then hold onto one part of string and throw it to one of the VISTA alums in our circle. Then the VISTA alum would think of another fact about themselves, maybe, “I live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland,” and then throw the string to another person in the circle. The object of the activity is to connect everyone in the room with the string and and thereby create a web among us. Alice also noted that instead of getting overwhelmed by the literal gaps between each of us (needs-based approach), we create a foundation through the things we share (asset-based approach).
For a volunteer program, this means leveraging the assets that we have. For example, a small non-profit might not have a lot of money to do a big volunteer recognition event, but it might have a lot of connections among people with resources that could be used in other creative ways. A community theater might give some free tickets to a dress rehearsal, a local caterer could sponsor and donate some food. The coworker with incredible crafting abilities could create some recognition gifts.
When we employ an asset-based approach to our volunteer programs, we do what Aaron Hurst, President Hrabowski, D. Watkins, and Lance Lucas, all champion in some way. We are creating an opportunity to share our skills among others, which further entails becoming open with others and possibly changing our thinking. Further, we are creating purpose-driven opportunities for people to grow in their communities.
Have you ever tried to rationalize with a three-year-old? Apparently, this is something my mother had to do on a regular basis. According to her, the stubbornness started when I was born, 10 days after my due date! I was born in May, so the Taurus bull in me reared its head often. When I was three years old and trying to learn a backward somersault for gymnastics, my mom tells me I would practice over and over again. She said I had bruises on the back of my head because the floor in our house was so hard. She remembers continually asking me to stop and that my answer to her was always, “Just one more”. After two hours of banging my head on the floor, I had the backward somersault! You might be thinking: this does not sound like a difficult child. However, I also insisted on having my mom watch me. I wanted to make sure that once I mastered the backward somersault, she would see it.
I slowly learned to use my bull-like powers for good and not evil! We rarely ate fast food, but once in awhile my Pop would cave and take me to McDonald’s. We were taking a ride through town on our way to get a burger when I saw a woman with two young children sitting on the side of the road holding a sign that said, “Please help, homeless & hungry”. I remember feeling confused. I am sure I saw homeless and hungry people before, but for some reason, she stuck out in my head. She had two girls with her and it made me think – what if those two girls were my sister and I – what if that woman was my mom. I internalized their situation and I had to do something about it. I asked Pop if he would buy three extra hamburgers. He asked me why I needed three more hamburgers if I had just finished eating! I described what I had seen and pleaded for him to buy the hamburgers for the lady. Pop did not like to waste money, but he hated disappointing me more – and I knew that! I got my way, we gave the hamburgers to the family, and every weekend for about five months, we drove around our town handing out anything I could squander from the cupboards in our house. I think my mom was actually planting extra canned goods and boxed food in order to boost my enthusiasm.
Whether you call it being hard headed, stubborn, or persistent, this attitude has helped me in so many aspects. As a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator in the Class of VM 24, this resolve helped me to accomplish many difficult or challenging volunteer projects. As a VMC at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, I called on my bullish nature to do anything from get trees planted to train Girl Scouts about oyster restoration. Through the many projects and programs we were able to accomplish many meaningful volunteer experiences. I am looking forward to being part of so many more!
As the Program Manager of Volunteer Maryland, I feel so lucky to get to work with an incredible group of individuals. Our AmeriCorps members, better known as Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs), work tirelessly to support and refine volunteer programs at nonprofit organizations across Maryland. With the amazing guidance from their designated supervisor (a.k.a. their Site Supervisor), wonderful things happen in less than a year of partnership.
I get to learn more about these efforts when I visit each of our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators and Site Supervisors each fall/winter. For the past two and a half months, I have engaged in what we like to call our “site visit season.” This is a very educational experience in which I travel with a member of our Support Team to meet with each of our 30 partnership sites. This is one of my favorite parts of my role, as I get a first-hand glimpse of where our AmeriCorps members are serving, as well as gain the opportunity to reflect and learn more about their service.
The knowledge and stories from the site visits have been so insightful and inspiring. Listening to such positive progress is an important reminder of the great things Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are able to accomplish in such a short period of time. I’d like to share with you a few reflections from the site visits that exhibit the impact of our AmeriCorps members.
Volunteer Maryland Coordinators research and implement smart tools that refine the process of volunteer management.
For example, Brinley, VMC at Court Appointed Special Advocates of Washington County, recently instituted a new tracking tool called OurVolts. OurVolts can be used as an app on a mobile phone, making the process of reporting hours convenient and accessible for volunteers. This process will not only be easy for the volunteers, but help the organization gain an accurate understanding of how many hours their volunteers will serve. As a result, this data will also be useful for reporting and recognition purposes.
Volunteer Maryland Coordinators understand the importance of recognizing volunteers.
The effort to celebrate the hard work of volunteers has a lasting impact on the quality of the volunteer experience. An example of such recognition occurs in Baltimore where Montressa develops a regular “Volunteer of the Month” spotlight to recognize outstanding volunteers who serve at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center. Also, Jessica, the VMC for the Frederick County Department of Aging’s Meals on Wheels program, is developing ongoing recognition events, and will soon be hosting a celebration titled “We Love Our Volunteers” (cleverly tying into Valentine’s Day!).
This occurs on a such a significant and multi-faceted level. Bintou, who serves at Moveable Feast, facilitates orientations for volunteers before they assist with preparation and packaging of nutritious food that will go to individuals who are fighting severe illnesses. Through her orientation, Bintou connects volunteers with the mission and history of the volunteer program, making the experience so much more effective and rich for all involved. Over at Education Based Latino Outreach, Johana builds connections with staff through weekly meetings, during which they discuss the progress of volunteers and additional resources to support volunteers. Through relationship building, the staff can work together more cohesively to best support and supervise volunteers.
While the next piece of information did not necessarily derive from the site visits, it would be a shame to not include it!
Volunteer Maryland Coordinators recruit and manage qualified volunteers as a result of their strategic outreach methods. I’m proud to share that since October 2014, this group has recruited nearly 900 volunteers and helped manage over 4000 volunteers. Collectively these 4000+ volunteers have served over 9,000 Marylanders. Wow!
This is just a snapshot of some of the great work that’s being done by the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators in Class 27, and so much more is yet to come this year!
This year AmeriCorps is celebrating its 20th Anniversary by highlighting six focus areas identified in the Serve America Act and last month AmeriCorps members 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 engage 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.
I’m thankful for the chance to help others. That’s what I shared this past Thanksgiving holiday when anyone asked me, “What are you thankful for this year?” Yes, I am thankful for my health and the health of my loved ones, but more importantly I am thankful for the fact that my health affords me the chance and the ability to do well in this world. So instead of focusing on food and gatherings and football this Thanksgiving I chose to spend the first several hours of my morning giving back. As an AmeriCorps member I am all too aware of the situations of those less fortunate than myself and I wanted part of my Thanksgiving to be in service to those people.
My roommate and I woke up at 7 am on Thanksgiving morning and went out to join over 120 fellow volunteers, including several other AmeriCorps members, at Moveable Feast. Moveable Feast helps to put healthy food on the tables of people in Maryland with AIDS, cancer and other life-threatening illnesses and when we arrived we found out that our time would be spent helping sort a week’s worth of meals for 200+ clients. Once the sorting was complete we then worked with volunteers loading meals into cars for delivery and as an added bonus to the morning, my roommate and I were able to make a few deliveries ourselves. Delivering those meals may have been the most sobering and rewarding part of my service. There is a bittersweet dichotomy that occurs when you find yourself trying to balance the joy you feel helping someone and the stark realization that there are so many who are in need of that help.
Holidays are a great opportunity to give of your time in service to others, but it’s also important to keep in mind that there are hundreds of other days when people need help just as much. We here at Volunteer Maryland are all about volunteering. Not only do our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators recruit volunteers for their respective sites but they also participate in their own direct-service each week, as do myself and all of our staff. In fact, by the end of this service term we will collectively log over 4000 hours in service to others. I don’t know about you, but I know that I speak for all of us here at Volunteer Maryland when I say that we hope all of you who read this will consider giving a little of your time to volunteering before, after, and during the holidays.
As a Peer Leader for Volunteer Maryland one of my roles is to hold monthly Team Meetings with the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators. These meetings are meant to serve many purposes. They are a chance for all of us to take a few hours out of our work week to do a little direct service and giving back. They also offer a chance for the VMC’s to come together, find out what has been going on at each other’s sites and to get any updates from myself about aspects of Volunteer Maryland. For this months Team Meeting Volunteer Maryland Coordinator Selwyn Ramp volunteered to have the meeting hosted at his site, Chesapeake Natives. Chesapeake Natives is a nonprofit comprised of volunteers who are enthusiastic promoters of native plants. They preserve, propagate and promote plants native to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. For our team meeting we decided to volunteer a few hours of our morning to the organization.
When we arrived at the location we were greeted by Selwyn who led us through an orientation that included a brief history of the site. We were then broken up into three groups and were assigned to various activities. At station one, a group worked on adding nutrients such as petrol to freshly acquired soil. At station two, volunteers worked on taking the newly nutrient rich soil, placing it in planters and adding fresh seed to each planter. Lastly, at station three volunteers worked on re-potting plants that had outgrown their previous pots.
Each activity was both useful to the organization and informative for our group because each leader walked our team through not only the process itself but also the environmental and scientific components. For instance, the group that worked with the fresh seeds not only planted them into the planters but also learned about what it takes for a seed to germinate. We learned about how planting a seed at certain times of the year is necessary to their germination because they need specific weather in order to successfully germinate.
We engaged in our respective tasks for about an hour and half and then we started our debrief. Debriefs are my favorite part of any direct service activity because it affords me the opportunity to really see what others got out of an experience, share what I gained, and really understand the importance of what we’ve accomplished. During our debrief I asked each member of my team to describe how they were feeling in one word. Some of the words were as follows: giddy, accomplished, informed, productive, and happy. Selwyn, our leader and fellow Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, even took a moment to express to us his appreciation for all that we had accomplished and to explain to us the environmental impact of what we had achieved. This project was a great one for our first Team Meeting because it allowed everyone to see that Team Meetings are a great way to take a few hours and make a difference.
Plan the work then work the plan. That’s what happens each year when Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMC’S) and Peer Leaders are asked to submit work plans for their term of service. These work plans serve as an in-depth analysis of the year ahead and provide an opportunity and process for building staff investment and reaching consensus on the needs, desired outcomes, and necessary action steps and benchmarks needed for achieving success. In other words, these work plans are a way to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that things are progressing towards a successful outcome.
Creating a work plan comes with its many challenges and our VMC’s have risen to the task with fervor and determination. The hardest obstacle that the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators seem to be dealing with is the magnitude of the document. Now, it’s no surprise that a document as all inclusive as the work plan would be substantial in size. However, its volume stems from the fact that it accounts for, and measures, most of the components needed to create a sustainable volunteer program that has the potential for growth. As current VMC Ericka Blackwell put it, “It’s not so much that it’s hard, but rather it’s time consuming. Dedicating time to do it is a must.” Although the work plan may be cumbersome, within its pages VMC’s will find many of the tools needed to understand their impact at their sties as well as gain a deeper understanding of how their organization operates.
Through this process of creating and utilizing a work plan the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are not just completing a document for the sake of completing a document. They are gaining knowledge about their sites by engaging with members and peers in a constructive and informative manner. I’m a firm believer of not reinventing the wheel and this is a perfect example of that situation. The VMC’s are able to listen to their co-workers past experiences in order to avoid the same mistakes or gain new insight. The work plans are also a way for the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators to see success and accomplishment during their term of service. It gives them the chance to recognize progress they have made as well as navigate the road they still have to travel.
Webster’s dictionary defines the term goal as, “Something that you are trying to do or achieve ,” (goal.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, 2013.Web. 23 Oct 2013) and we here at Volunteer Maryland would tend to agree with that definition. In fact, each service term we ask all of our members to draft a list of personal and professional goals that they hope to achieve, accomplish, or progress towards during their time with Volunteer Maryland. When you sit down and write-out goals at the beginning of a service year you are setting in place the tools needed to help you achieve those goals. First and foremost you are putting your thoughts down where they will not get lost in the millions of things that will occur in your life during the next eleven months. Personally I know that I have goals and ambitions that sometimes get pushed to the side by everything going on in my day to day life. Having my goals written out gives me a way of always being able to visually see what I am striving towards. Writing down goals also helps me monitor and keep track of my progress in attaining them. Goal setting for the sake of goal setting is great, but having a way to monitor the steps toward your goals is as important as the goal itself. I think it’s fair to say that most of us have used the term “I’ll do it tomorrow,” or “I’ll get to it next week,” and somehow tomorrow and next week seem to escape us. Well, taking the time to write out goals affords us all the opportunity to set-up timelines for different milestones that will occur in pursuit of those goals. Last, but certainly not least, turning in our goals to our fellow peers at the beginning of the year gives us the chance to serve as coaches, mentors, and accountability partners to one another. It has been my experience that most people need a little help in achieving their goals and this process gives us assistance that many people don’t get in life. We can serve as sounding boards for one another, as that nudge we might need to push forward when we face setbacks and as that congratulatory cheering section when things go well.
For me, I have countless goals that I will strive to actualize during my term of service. Some of those include working on my networking and leadership skills, learning more about social issues like domestic violence and sexual assault and further developing my language skills. I have written out each of those goals, what success will look like, and how my peers can help me in accomplishing them. Volunteer Maryland had me divide these goals into two categories: personal and professional. Putting goals into these two categories has helped remind me that I am someone who wants to succeed in more than just one area of my life and that finding a balance between personal and professional life is just as important as the goals that exist in each sphere. I have many things that I hope to accomplish during my year of service and I know that things may not always go according to plan but at the end of the day I also know that Volunteer Maryland has started me down the road to success.
So, I have only been in my Peer Leader position at Volunteer Maryland for a few weeks now and already I am aware of the fact that this years Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are a special group of people. They have just completed eleven days of Pre-Service Training and I think it’s safe to say that for me it was an experience that I won’t soon forget. Within minutes of the twenty-four of them entering the training room it was clear that they had joined the Volunteer Maryland because of their passion for service. They didn’t join because someone made them do it, or told them to do it, but rather because they wanted to do it. That’s what I find so unique about programs like Volunteer Maryland and AmeriCorps; people join because they really want to make a difference, give back, and affect change in their communities, and this group of people is no exception.
Each individual I talked to who shared their connection to service and how they got to this point in their life really touched me. During training I was super peppy and hyper and I’ll let you all in on a little secret….every morning knowing that I would be going to learn and grow with them and the Volunteer Maryland Staff put an instant smile on my face and kick in my step. There is something about being surrounded by people who not only talk about change, but actively pursue it that does something amazing and nourishing to the soul.
Not-surprisingly, this group of individuals practice a sense of service to others not only in their basic 9:00-5:00 days but also in their personal lives. In the two weeks of training alone I have come across Volunteer Maryland Coordinator’s taking part in volunteer activities at book fairs, museums and farmer’s markets to name a few. It truly is inspiring to see their passion, dedication and commitment. I cannot express how excited I am to spend this year of my life doing service with such a phenomenal group of people.