Inhale Deeply, Exhale Slowly

Rarely have I taken the time to reflect on how my life has changed since I joined AmeriCorps in 2010.  I can rattle off a list of ways my AmeriCorps experience has prepared me for a career in law, which I will highlight next week; however, recognizing how AmeriCorps has effected me  on a personal level is not a regular occurrence.  Now that I am taking the time to inhale experiences and exhale memories, one memory stands out as one I cherish.  On December 4, 2010 I was asked to volunteer for the Delaware HIV/AIDS Youth Forum in Wilimington.  Like the rest of the world, I had heard of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but had not been active in spreading awareness.  That all changed that day.

Delaware AmeriCorps member, left, and IWhile working the registration table and directing people to the auditorium, I spotted an AmeriCorps logo on a sweatshirt from across the room.  Without thinking, I made a “B” line for that sweatshirt and introduced myself as a fellow AmeriCorps member.  We made small talk and I learned that she was serving in Delaware.  She explained why she was attending the event and how  important it is for people who have not been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS to also be vocal.  That got me thinking because I knew for a fact that I was not being vocal at all, not even a whisper.

Aside from meeting another member, the best part of my day was meeting Paige Rawl.  She is a high school student in Indiana, who has been certified as the youngest HIV/AIDS educator through the American Red Cross. Before she joined the other guest speakers on stage, I had the opportunity to speak with her backstage and hear her story.  To learn more about her background and what she shared with the audience, take a look at her web site here.  Paige was an absolute delight to speak with!  She made me realize the stigmas I unintentionally attached to people living with HIV/AIDS, and then shattered those same stigmas.  She brings compassion and efficiency to her work, a true millennial.  I am honored to have met her.

Paige Rawl, leftSince meeting Paige, I have made it a goal to be less ignorant and actively volunteer to raise more awareness and prevention for HIV/AIDS!  You can imagine my excitement when Volunteer Maryland spent a day serving at Moveable Feast in Baltimore during our Pre-Service Training for this year’s VM24 class.  Every time I volunteer, I want to become even more involved!  It is amazing how two people can have such an impact on one person.  AmeriCorps has a way of building relationships, and I wonder, had I not been with AmeriCorps, would I have met another member at the Delaware Youth Forum or Paige…probably not.

In case you are unfamiliar with the upcoming events in the AmeriCorps world, tomorrow kicks off this year’s National AmeriCorps Week.  Be on the look out for members and alumni, I’m sure they will be wearing some sort of AmeriCorps gear to celebrate!

Moveable Feast’s Recipe for Successful Volunteer Management

Volunteer Maryland’s new class of AmeriCorps members recently completed two weeks of Pre-Service Training. These sessions orient the current class of Volunteer Maryland Coordinators to service, program development, communication, and leadership skills. Volunteer Maryland Coordinators examine and experience best practices of volunteer management. Experiential practice prepares members to apply the principles at their respective Service Sites. Incorporated into the training session is a service project. Participation in this project provides the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators with an opportunity to learn about a specific community need, experience volunteer orientation and training themselves, and demonstrate what was learned. This year we volunteered at Moveable Feast. Here, each day, 1,100 nutritious meals are prepared and delivered to homebound members of our community suffering from HIV/AIDS and breast cancer. Last year, over 11,000 volunteers served more than 50,000 hours. Here is how Moveable Feast makes it happen:

 

Ingredients:
~heartfelt passion
~a solid understanding of the community need and agency mission
~a handful of humility
~knowledge of staff/volunteer investment, policies and documentation
~heaping helping of flexibility
~effective recruitment, orientation/training, and recognition
~healthy sprinkling humor

Directions:
1) Have Volunteer Coordinator, Tom Patrick, share his passion and that of Moveable Feast with you. He began “helping out” over 20 years ago and continues to carry the mission of volunteer work at Moveable Feast forward.
2) Choose from several areas in which to commit your time. Our volunteers were divided between the kitchen, garden and office. However, it rained. . .and then it poured. No worries, Tom was quite masterful at finding alternative tasks crucial to the program. Because Moveable Feast’s volunteer procedures and position descriptions are clear and well-defined, the garden group easily took on other responsibilities including, follow-up phone calls and writing Thank You letters to volunteers.
3) Tom was adept at weaving our service that day into the rich tapestry of Moveable Feast history. We also received training in required procedures, were invited (recruited) to return for upcoming events and, walked out feeling like we had made a real difference.
4) If you’re interested in “tasting” Moveable Feast’s recipe for volunteering first hand, contact Tom and add yourself; groups are welcome!

At the conclusion of our Service Day, the Volunteer Maryland Peer Leaders, Joy and I, facilitated small group discussions with the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators reflecting on what we had learned at Moveable Feast. The reflections acknowledged the importance of including flexibility, humor and structure in a successful volunteer program. Each group prepared a demonstration that symbolized their experience. The demonstrations included group spoken word, ingredients to build a volunteer cupcake (Did you wonder where I got the idea for this post?) and a family convincing reluctant teenagers to get involved in service. This opportunity gave the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators personal practice in a successful volunteer experience. Now, they are putting this process into practice as they recruit and manage volunteer programs at their Service Sites.