How to Deal With a Hard Headed Three Year Old

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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 Nicki With Oystersattitude 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!

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Cat Cuddler, Level 1

The title of Cat Cuddler is a real thing in the world of volunteering. I had just signed up to volunteer with Baltimore-based animal shelter Maryland SPCA a few months ago when I made this exciting discovery. I started volunteering with homeless animals because I miss having pets, but I wasn’t expecting to find out there were volunteer positions dedicated to spending quality time with the furry beneficiaries!

The shelter maintains numerous volunteers to keep the cats and dogs socialized and happy during their stay.  As a Cat Cuddler (the dogs get Dog Deputies), I spend time with each cat in the shelter once a week, petting or playing with them.  As I gain experience with handling the cats, I can move up to taking on more responsibility and become a Level 2 Cat Cuddler.  For the Maryland SPCA, this frees their staff to take care of the many other daily tasks, and keeps the animals in a happier and healthier mental state.  What I get out of it is the warm fuzzies and the chance to meet some engaging characters, like these guys.

Siblings, Penny and Felix
Siblings, Felix and Penny

 What I love about this volunteer position (besides the kitties) is how I can see that it is one that enriches everyone; the client, the volunteer, and the organization.  I would have also been happy to help by washing dishes and cleaning litter boxes, but by giving me what I think the most fun job in the organization, the Maryland SPCA has created a volunteer who will gush about how great volunteering there is to anyone who will listen.  Deliberate planning on their part lead to volunteers who feel rewarded while at the shelter, and then go home as advocates for the mission; a win-win situation.  This is what I look forward to seeing in more volunteer partnerships!

All That and a Pair of Haikus

Last night, Volunteer Maryland celebrated its 20th anniversary.  As a Volunteer Maryland Peer Leader, I have been involved in the planning, and had an intellectual understanding of the import of this event. But, wow.  Seeing is believing.  AmeriCorps programs are, by design, organizations with high turn over rates.  Most members are in and out in less than a year.  Each Volunteer Maryland class knows that there is a broader community of alums out there, but they exist mostly as part of a mythology — a foundation narrative that is recited but not experienced.

But last night, members of Volunteer Maryland classes from 15 years ago mingled with members of last year’s class.  Peer Leaders met their predecessors.  And the biggest lump-in-throat moment of all came when the Founder of Volunteer Maryland, Ellie Young, met our current Director, Maureen Eccleston, for the very first time.

As the evening proceeded, those of us who are new to Volunteer Maryland heard stories from the previous Directors — Ellie Young, Cathy Brill and Barbara Reynolds — about how Volunteer Maryland has changed (and stayed the same) throughout the years.  Ellie and Cathy talked about the “wild west’ pre-AmeriCorps years when Volunteer Maryland was a one of a handful of demonstration programs that led to the advent of AmeriCorps.  Barbara talked about how aware she was of the precious legacy she was receiving from Ellie and Cathy, and how mindful she was of maintaining its robustness.  Barbara also talked about how, during Pre-Service Training, Volunteer Maryland Coordinators used to reflect on the experience through Haiku and Hula.

The program portion of the evening ended with remarks from Izzy Patoka, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives.   He presented all four directors with the Governor’s Citation congratulating Volunteer Maryland on 20 years, but not before he offered, in honor of Volunteer Maryland’s tradition, two Haikus.  And I leave you, dear reader, with one of them, by Kobayashi Issa:

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji,

But slowly, slowly!

A Whirlwind

We are two months into the Volunteer Maryland service year, and that means, among other things, site visits!  Twice each year, the Volunteer Maryland Program Manager and Peer Leaders travel far and wide, visiting each Service Site, where we meet with each VMC and Site Supervisor, talk about the service year and tour the site.  When I was describing these meetings to a friend over the weekend, I remarked “There was a lot of love in those rooms!”

It’s not hard to understand why.  Though VMCs have been on-site for only about seven weeks, they have already made tremendous progress developing programs that their sites have wanted for years.  Site visits are an opportunity to let VMCs know that their efforts are deeply appreciated.  Last week, I got to visit Krisia Jones at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, Gina Knyazev at the Conflict Mediation Center of Montgomery County, Rhonda Nelson at Volunteers of America Chesapeake, Kristen Wharton at CHEARS, Nina Lewis at United Communities Against Poverty, and Kat Patterson at Ardmore Enterprises.

Six visits down, eight to go — I feel another road trip coming on….

Start of a New Season

I love autumn.  It’s one of my favorite seasons of the year; just warm enough still to enjoy the outdoors, cool enough to start having an excuse to enjoy hot chocolate. But most importantly, fall means apples!  I grew up on a family-run orchard, and every year I look forward to a new season of apples. The orchard is pretty small as far as commercial apple farms go, but it’s just big enough to be plenty of work for my family. And as much as I love apple-picking, it’s more than a few hands can handle. One of the only things that allows us to get all the work done is our volunteers.

Whether they volunteered themselves or we volunteered them, almost every weekend we are joined at our farm by friends and family donating their time. The only tangible reward for them is all the fruit they can carry off (but trust me, we still get a deal), and sometimes I wonder what could possible motivate them to come out and spend hours working for free.

What our friends and family tells us is that they feel good about their work with us. They see us all excited about growing fruit, and they want to share in that excitement. They love the hands-on aspect and the sense of accomplishment that comes at the end of the day when they can see all that they have helped get done. This is so worthwhile to them that they will come back time and again to help us.

But it’s also about the relationships. At first our friends and family might just be doing it as a favor, but as time goes on they get invested. They have the desire to see our farm succeed as much as we do. They see themselves as being a part of what we do, and they really are. That’s the beauty of volunteering in action. Whatever gets a person started volunteering, passion for the cause is what keeps them going.

Kerry and I will be here to support all the new Volunteer Maryland Coordinators as we all start our service year, and as the VMCs develop their volunteer programs I can’t wait to see the rewarding results of a strong relationship between the volunteers and the program. My advice would be to find what makes you passionate about your work and find a way to light that fire in your volunteers, even if it’s something as simple as apples.

VM25 Gets Started with Kelly and Kerry!

Well, we are just about to start Pre-Service Training for VM25 and we’re pretty excited.  For the last week, we’ve had a preview of the class as we’ve gotten to know our new Peer Leaders.  They’ve already shown themselves to be professional and flexible as they have started to learn their roles while working hard to prepare for the new class.  Today, they’ll start making phone calls to the soon-to-be Volunteer Maryland Coordinators; it’s always nice to have a friendly face – or at least voice – when we all get together for the first time.

You’ll begin to hear from them soon; they’re working on their introductory blog posts this week.  In the meantime, here’s a little bit about our first two AmeriCorps members of VM25!

Kelly MacBride-Gill previously served as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County from 2010 to 2011.  A recent transplant to Baltimore, Kelly spends her free time gardening, cooking, and dog-watching.  Kelly holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Maryland, where she is also a proud alum of Alpha Phi Omega.

 Kerry Ose served as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator in VM Class 24 at Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc.  She has worked as a writer and college teacher, and, in, recent years, has been involved in grassroots efforts to support and improve public education. Kerry holds a PhD in English, watches a lot of Netflix, and is an avid swim parent.

There’s a whole lot to come this year – service, teamwork, celebration, learning, fun, and more.  Stay tuned!

Want to join Volunteer Maryland? It all starts with a good application!

It’s summertime and that means we are well into our AmeriCorps member recruitment and matching season!  We’re receiving applications every day from people all over the country who are interested in serving as Volunteer Maryland Coordinators or Peer Leaders.  Because we receive so many applications, it takes a certain something for an applicant to rise to the top and reach the next level – the interview.  As I mentioned this time last year, we’re looking for just the right combination of qualifications and passion.

We know searching for jobs and service opportunities is hard work, so I thought I’d provide three tips for success.  Whether you’re submitting an application through the AmeriCorps Portal or using the application on our web site, there are some things you can do to help your application stand out for the right reasons.

  1. Write a good motivational statement/essay.  This is our chance to get to know you.  This is your opportunity to show us why you really want this position.  An essay of four sentences doesn’t cut it; a typed page is more appropriate.  Writing in all lowercase tells me you don’t care; make sure to proofread and use proper grammar and punctuation.  Take the time to craft out your ideas before you get online or type into the application.  Write professionally while sharing some personal experience.  It will take more time, but it will help your application and will help you in an interview later.
  2. Provide professional references.  Your best references will likely be supervisors (from paid or volunteer positions), teachers, coaches, or guidance counselors.  Friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors are not appropriate professional references.  (HINT: Make sure to ask your references for their permission to include them before you submit the application.  There’s nothing worse than contacting a reference to find out s/he won’t give one!)
  3.  Complete the application in full!  Provide a full employment history and explain your accomplishments within each position.  Provide full contact information.  Make sure every section is complete.

Remember that an application is a first impression.  You could be the most qualified and passionate person in the world, but if it doesn’t show on your application, you’re not going to have a chance to use your skills and put passion into practice!

We receive about 300 applications for 30 positions.  Think you should be one of the 30?  Then take some time to complete your application.  Don’t submit today; submit tomorrow!

In-kind what?: Tips on Perfecting the Ask for Donations

Unless you have been living in “no man’s land” you have probably heard the phrase “in-kind donation” once or twice before.  When I joined AmeriCorps and Volunteer Maryland in 2010, I heard this phrase often, but still had many questions.  What is all  this talk about acquiring in-kind donations?  What is an in-kind donation?  Funding is limited for organizations as a whole, how am I going to get them invested in donating items?  What types of donations am I looking for?  All of these questions were in rotation in my mind, instilling uncertainty and low confidence in my abilities.  Thankfully, working with Volunteer Maryland has given me plenty of opportunities to practice what works and what doesn’t.  Hopefully you walk away with tips that can work for you.

What is an in-kind donation?  In-kind donations are items or services given without receiving some form of payment in return.  These can be gift cards from a business, meeting space, bagels from your local bakery, an hour (or more) of photography for an event…ANYTHING!  The kinds of donations are endless and should be approached as such.  Which brings me to my tips for securing donations:

1.  Know what you are asking for.  How can you expect a business to give you a donation if you are unsure of what you want?  Don’t expect it.  You should be prepared with a list of items or services and the quantities of each that you are asking.  Randomness will not help too much.  Make a list before you go.

2.  Know why you are asking for this specific donation.  If you are going to ask Target for a $25.00 gift card, be prepared to explain how this gift card will benefit your clients/business.  Donors want to know the cause they are supporting, even if their product will be used as a prize during an event.

3.  Narrow your list to your top asking companies.  The last thing you want to do is drive around aimlessly, visiting every place you see.  Trust me, nothing will be accomplished and you’ll kick yourself for using your gas.  Know where you want to go before hand.  Do research on what they offer and how that fits into your in-kind donation plan.

4.  Sketch out a script and practice.  I cannot stress this enough; practice, practice, practice!  You may think of yourself as the best persuader in the world, but having a basic outline of how you will make your ask is excellent preparation.  It is easier to tweak a script that exists as opposed to one only in your head.  Practice with a coworker.

5.   Do not accept rejection!  Receiving a “no” from a business is not uncommon, otherwise we wouldn’t be go through so much trouble in prepping ourselves.  Do not let a few nays dry up your energy.  As humans, we dislike rejection, however, this is why having a list of your top businesses is crucial.  One may say “no” but you still have others to try, so keep going!

6.  Prepare a request letter template.  Different companies have different policies on how they receive requests for donations.  Have  a template ready and make edits as you see fit.  When you visit a business that only accepts letter requests, you can have your letter on hand and deliver it personally.  It adds a personal touch.

Make sure that you are keeping track of the donations you receive.  Send a follow up thank you note and receipt to all donors and make a copy for yourself.  That information will be helpful when you complete your reporting of any kind.  I am not a master of securing donations, but I have had a lot of practice and am changing my game plan as I go.  For Destination AmeriCorps, I was able to secure MyLipCandy products (valued at $27.00) and an hour personal assessment consultation from Freddie Bell Jones Modeling & Finishing School, Inc (valued at $125.00).  I am very excited that these businesses have contributed to this year’s event.  I did not think in-kind donations was my thing, but I am proving myself wrong.  Join in and let us know your best practices in securing donations.