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.













Who Doesn’t Love a Good Ribbon Cutting?

While we may be reaching an endpoint here at Volunteer Maryland, Volunteers of America Chesapeake celebrated a new beginning on Wednesday.  And thanks to a gracious invitation from VOA Volunteer Maryland Coordinator Rhonda Nelson, Kelly MacBride-Gill and I were able to join in this celebration.

After years of providing residential re-entry services to ex-offenders in a small, outdated facility on East Monument Street in Baltimore, VOA proudly unveiled its new Residential Re-Entry Center just down the street from its old one. This new facility dwarfs the old one, and will allow VOA to provide a wide range of services to individuals as they prepare to re-enter society and the workforce.

Rhonda Nelson and Kerry Ose at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Volunteers of America Chesapeake Residential Re-entry Center
Rhonda Nelson and Kerry Ose at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Volunteers of America Chesapeake Residential Re-Entry Center

The occasion was marked by visits from dignitaries (the Maryland State Secretaries of Veterans Affairs and Public Safety were there, along with Baltimore City Council President Jack Young), and the highlight was a moving speech given by Gary Antonino, an ex-offender whose life was changed by Volunteers of America.  Thanks to the residential re-entry support Mr. Antonino received from VOA, he was able to reintegrate into his family’s life and begin a new career with the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, where he helps individuals charged with crimes navigate the criminal justice system.

VOACHES Board President Alvin Nichols, VOACHES President and CEO Russel K. Snyder,  Mayor's Office of Human Services Director Olivia Farrow, and Baltimore City Council President Jack Young cut the ribbon at the beautiful new Volunteers of America Chesapeake Residential Re-Entry Center.
VOACHES Board Chairman Alvin Nichols, VOACHES President and CEO Russel K. Snyder, Mayor’s Office of Human Services Director Olivia Farrow, and Baltimore City Council President Jack Young cut the ribbon at the beautiful new Volunteers of America Chesapeake Residential Re-Entry Center.

The event ended with tours of the new center and a lovely lunch, during which Kelly and I met  Joseph Budzynski, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Volunteers of America National Office.  Mr. Budzynski asked us thoughtful, probing questions about Volunteer Maryland, service and volunteerism, and Kelly and I were both taken by his genuine interest and grateful for the training we’ve received in talking about the value of the work we do.

All in all, a lovely day.

Serving Better

This week I had the chance to attend a reception for participants of Maryland’s Day to Serve, and it highlighted something very important for me.  The nonprofits partners of Day to Serve 2012 each spoke briefly about their work last year and their plans for this year, and made a point of talking about their cooperation and intertwined interests.  They emphasized how they were able to work together to help each other while achieving their own goals.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, while working to improve the environment, started a model sustainable farm.  This farm, in turn, produces food that they can provide to the community.  On the Day to Serve, volunteers at the farm harvested food that was then donated to the Maryland Food Bank, where volunteers prepared it for distribution.  Neither one needed the other to succeed in their work, but through their synergy these organizations created more good than they could have alone.

Daikon Kathryn’s Kloset, which I heard about for the first time here, spoke as being a nonprofit made explicitly for helping other nonprofits.  Much like the Baltimore Community Toolbank, they exist to provide critical items to other nonprofits, so that they can serve their community.  And while the Toolbank helps by loaning out items like shovels and power tools  Kathryn’s Kloset helps by working with large manufactures who have usable products slated for the landfill, taking that as donations, and sending that to nonprofits in state, out of state, and even internationally.  I even got to hear about them shipping a number of medical tables, donated by University of Maryland because they had upgraded to newer versions, to Senegal where doctors used them as work tables.

What this highlighted for me was the value of cooperation and synergy among organizations.  Sometime we lose sight of how much benefit we can gain from working together.  Oftentimes organizations (especially nonprofits) have very compatible goals, and can produce greater resources and public goodwill by seeking out connections like these.  Don’t forget that you exist as part of a network of similar people and organizations, and that networking events can pay off more than with just new job leads.

What local companies could you work with to improve how you serve your constituency? What do you have to offer to others in your area?

Partnerships that Matter

What could your organization accomplish if you had a full-time AmeriCorps member commit a year of service to strengthening and developing your volunteer program?

This is outreach season at Volunteer Maryland.  Most weeks, we have a table at at least one career fair.  We share information about Volunteer Maryland, AmeriCorps, and the value of service. Though we know it’s early days, we hope to plant at least a few seeds that will come to fruition when the people we’ve talked to at these events apply to become Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.


The other big piece of the Volunteer Maryland outreach puzzle is recruitment of our partner organizations, otherwise known as Service Sites.  Developing 30 new partnerships with nonprofits, schools and government agencies is one of the most exciting parts of life here at VM.  Our Outreach Manager, Patrice Beverly, has been busy all year letting organizations throughout the state know about how bringing a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator on board could transform the way their organizations engage volunteers and, by extension, meet urgent community needs.

Interested in learning more?  Contact Patrice at patrice.beverly@maryland.gov.

Superhero On Deck!

In an earlier post I referred to myself as a “mosquito” and shared one of favorite quotes about service, “If you think you’re too small to make an impact, then try sleeping with a mosquito.”  Well it seems many of our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs) are also mosquitos at their Service Sites. Take The Friends of Quiet Waters Park for example.  This is the second year, The Friends of Quiet Park has partnered with Volunteer Maryland to have a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator manage the volunteer program.  After completing two weeks of Pre-Service Training, Nicki Fiocco, began her service year at Quiet Waters Park with much enthusiasm.  I think her work speaks for itself and showcases how effective VMCs are in bringing forth results!

Nicki, right, sporting her AmeriCorps gear while volunteering

With any partnership, there has to be clear and concise purpose.  The long term goal of Nicki’s service year is to recruit volunteers to deliver ten educational programs and ten interpretative programs.  Prior to Nicki beginning recruitment of new volunteers, she realized that there were some short term goals that needed to be accomplished in order to recruit and retain those volunteers.  She took the “bull by the horns” and immediately began implementing ideas.  One of the first things Nicki did was create the necessary materials to capture information and build a solid foundation for the volunteer program.  She created a volunteer application, volunteer “Bill of Rights,” position descriptions, exit surveys for volunteers and staff, and a tracking system to record the hours volunteers serve. She even created a vibrant and resourceful volunteer web site.

Forming new partnerships has also been an enjoyable project for Nicki.  She has joined forces with the Anne Arundel Community College and Annapolis Jr. ROTC service learning programs to recruit volunteers for the Park’s Environmental Lecture Series.  A few months ago, she oriented and supervised forty employees from Six Flags of America’s  “Project Six” program, as volunteers to service the 370 acres that encompass Quiet Waters Park.

If that isn’t enough, Nicki has recruited volunteers for the Park’s Rainscaping and Oyster Guardians of Harness Creek programs and shows no sign of slowing down.  She is already preparing for the sustainability of the volunteer program once her year concludes in six months.  Keep in mind that Nicki has only been at Quiet Waters Park for four months now.  Imagine the progress she will make by July 31!  Way to go, Nicki!

It is my firm belief that Volunteer Maryland recruits only the best VMCs.  As a former VMC and current Peer Leader, I am one hundred percent biased, but the proof is all too apparent.  They are like superheroes of volunteer programs.

If you are interested in recruiting your own “superhero” view Maureen’s post to learn how to register for one of our Information Sessions.  Who doesn’t love superheroes?  Seriously. 🙂

Service Salsa

Unlike our amazing Volunteer Maryland Coordinators, I am not developing a volunteer program for the Chesapeake Volunteer Center (CVC), however I am still working on a project to revamp their website and online database.  You may be wondering, “How did that come about?”  One of the great things about Volunteer Maryland is that we partner with organizations across the state for various reasons.  In addition to the service sites, at which our  Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are currently serving, Volunteer Maryland has partnered with the CVC  and Partners in Care this year to provide the Peer Leaders with a secondary, yet convenient office space, in exchange for  us dedicating our time to their projects.  It is truly a give-give relationship.

My work with the CVC is not solo.  I am partnering with Chesapeake Helps and  an AmeriCorps*VISTA member, who is with the MD-DC Campus Compact program!  It is always exciting and motivating to work with fellow AmeriCorps members, especially if we are affiliated with separate programs.  This is another reason why Volunteer Maryland partners with so many institutions.   Each of us brings something unique and valuable to the table; a special salsa if you will.  Some organizations are tomatoes of environmental stewardship. Others are bell peppers for quality education, jalapenos for economic opportunity, cilantro for disaster services, or onions for healthy futures.  Blended together, we produce a “service salsa” that  our communities can dip into.   I personally love salsa and practically eat it every other day…but I digress.

The specific mission statements for Volunteer Maryland, Maryland nonprofits, government agencies, and schools differ from one another, but our ultimate goal of bettering our communities is the same.   We’re always looking for new “ingredients” to add so visit our website to learn more about  how you can become involved.  I don’t want to force you to join our salsa mix, but man, you’re missing out.  For those of you already in the mix ¡Disfruta de su salsa (enjoy your salsa)!