Got 30 seconds?

Joyell and I started our service year as Peer Leaders recently.  As part of our orientation, we refined and practiced our “30 second spot”, also known as the “elevator pitch”.

There are a number of stories about the origin of the “elevator pitch”.  My favorite is that it came from Hollywood, of course!  Supposedly, the only chance script writers had to grab the attention of producers was to jump on the elevator with a producer and ride from the ground floor to the penthouse, a trip of about 30 seconds.  Even if you are not pitching a script, a well-crafted “elevator pitch” is indispensable.  All you do is clearly and concisely communicate who you are, what you do, and why you do it…in about 50 words!  And, your mother should be able to understand it, as well as a complete stranger.  Here is a draft of mine:


I am a Peer Leader serving with Volunteer Maryland.  Volunteer Maryland builds stronger communities by engaging people to create and strengthen effective, sustainable volunteer programs in our neighborhoods.  We partner with nonprofits, schools and government agencies to address needs in their communities.  Volunteer Maryland is passionate about service and strives to inspire passion to serve in our neighbors.


Once you nail your “elevator pitch”, you can use it as the foundation for a more complete bio, or even an email signature line. Here are a couple of links to get you started. Remember, your mother and I want to know who you are, what you do, and why.  Get going, you’ve got 30 seconds!


Reflections from an AmeriCorps Alum

It’s been over six months since I completed my second term of service with AmeriCorps yet the memories and lessons from those two years remain very much a part of my life. If you were to talk to any of my non-AmeriCorps alum friends, I’m sure they would roll their eyes and comment on how I never stop talking about my time in AmeriCorps. I suppose to them AmeriCorps is like a secret club and the unfamiliarity of it all makes listening to me unbearable at times. This saddens me because my decision to join AmeriCorps has proven to be undoubtedly one of the best decisions I have made.  I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to serve, to meet such wonderful and inspiring people, to develop close friendships with fellow AmeriCorps members, and to grow and mature into the person I am today. AmeriCorps has impacted my life in more ways than one and truthfully it would take more than a blog post to illustrate just how much national service means to me.

I made the decision to join AmeriCorps in the spring of my senior year of college. I knew I wanted to take some time off after graduation and do something meaningful– I wanted to volunteer and give back. I heard of AmeriCorps through a friend and I did some research on the various programs My first term of service of AmeriCorps was with AmeriCorps NCCC (National Civilian Community Corps). During our orientation one of our fellow AmeriCorps members got up to speak. He described NCCC members as an “army of altruists” and this description has always fascinated me. National service doesn’t necessarily mean service in the armed forces. Service can come in varying forms and AmeriCorps members serve their country, both indirectly and directly, by working to address some of our nation’s most difficult challenges. Former President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” For me, and for thousands of current and former AmeriCorps members, this quote resonates. I wanted to serve my country, make a positive contribution and join a movement of people who felt the same way. AmeriCorps provided me with this opportunity.

I can honestly say that AmeriCorps has molded me into the person I am today. I am a better person because of what I experienced in AmeriCorps. I think one of the best aspects of AmeriCorps is that you learn to live simply as a result of your very modest living stipend. Although, this was a source of anxiety and frustration at times, I will never take for granted what I have, because I know what it’s like to struggle financially. AmeriCorps seeks to teach its members what it means to live close to or below the poverty line. It’s easy to become indifferent or apathetic to the needs of others when you live in a privileged enclave and can’t identity with the struggles of others. Through personal experience, AmeriCorps motivates its members to seek out solutions to poverty and to assure that every person’s basic needs are met.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone how detrimental the economy has been to recent college graduates finding employment. AmeriCorps for me was like my first big “break.” It provided me with the opportunity to travel the country, work with a number of different nonprofits and government agencies, acquire relevant experience and develop the skills I would need to be successful. Essentially, AmeriCorps transformed me from a somewhat naïve recent college graduate into a motivated, informed and experienced professional in the nonprofit sector.

AmeriCorps has opened so many doors for me and has provided me with so many opportunities. As a result of my service, I have been nominated for a Jessie Ball DuPont Fellowship through my alma mater, McDaniel College. Additionally, I had the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of volunteering abroad in Africa, by using the Education Award I received to participate in a January term course. Still not convinced? After finding a job opening on AmeriCorps alums for a FEMA Reservist position, I applied and received a call the following day requesting an interview (I worked with FEMA during my term of service with AmeriCorps NCCC). I could continue to cite examples. However, for the sake of brevity I will allow those three to suffice and leave you with one more thing.

Friendship. I met some of the most amazing people in AmeriCorps. These people share my passion for service and making a difference. The bonds you form in AmeriCorps are unlike any other. In a previous blog post for Volunteer Maryland, I wrote about how AmeriCorps for me was where I felt most at home. My Ameri-friends became Ameri-family. I love how we will always have our memories of service and how we will always encourage and inspire each other to leave the world a little better than we found it.

Career Advice from Two Guys in Motorcycle Helmets

There are a lot of things that I enjoy about my work with Volunteer Maryland.  I get to help shepherd in a new generation of nonprofit leaders.  I’m working to improve nonprofits across the state by showing them efficient, effective ways to communicate their mission and vision.  Volunteer Maryland is growing because of the work that staff and AmeriCorps members are doing.  Because of what we believe in.  Because of the world we hope for – because of the state, the cities, and the neighborhoods that we hope for.  Bit by bit, we’re doing grand things, and we’re getting things done. 

I can’t help but wonder whether or not I’m helping to achieve everything that can be, that needs to be achieved.  Am I advising people well?  Is there some better way that a problem can be solved that will result in a better outcome?  Is there something that I can say, or do, or some way to show something to someone to make them understand why I’m doing what I do?  Something that will make them say, “Yes, I get it now.  This is why what you’re doing is important.  This is why things need to change.  This is my role in making this place better.”

I don’t know what that one thing is.  I don’t know if I’ll ever know what that thing is for some people.  For me, that’s the biggest challenge of what I do.  Knowing that there are people that, no matter what I say or do, nothing is going to make them understand why I do what I do.  That there isn’t anything that anyone can say or do to make them understand.

The thing that’s hardest about this isn’t that the other person doesn’t understand the importance of what I do; it’s that I can’t make them understand its importance.

But what’s the big deal?  When you go fishing, you don’t ever catch all of the fish, right?  I can’t let myself think like that.  It will keep me from working harder, from trying new ways of getting people to understand what I do and motivate them to do the same kinds of things.  If I were to stop trying, I’d have to settle with being “good enough,” and that’s just not an option. 

So what am I going to do about all of this?  Some days it’s enough to make me want to throw in the towel and stop trying.  I can’t let that happen, though.  So I’m going to have to work harder, make my piece of the world better, and do it faster.  It makes us stronger.  Which is a good thing, because our work is never over.

Ok, so they're not really motorcycle helmets.

Living the Dream

For a while, I worked three jobs.  I was burning the candle at both ends, and wasn’t doing a very good job at any of them.  One night while I was bartending, a friend told me that I had their dream job.  I was a bit confused, because I had three jobs.  I asked him which of my jobs was his dream job, and he told me that my AmeriCorps position was his dream job.  I didn’t want to discourage him, but I had to ask him if he knew just how much I got as a living stipend, and why I had two other jobs.  He said that he knew and that he was planning on signing up once his wife finished school and got a job so that he wouldn’t be the only salary coming into their home.

Last weekend, I went over to his house and we sat and talked about why we do what we do.  It was one of those late night conversations where people talk about changing the world.  He talked about his time as an officer in the Navy, and I talked about why I’m in AmeriCorps.  Our stories are surprisingly similar; he joined because he wanted to serve his country, I joined (or, more accurately, signed up for a second year) because I want to serve my community.  Both of us had different ideas about what our service meant when we signed up than we do now.  When my friend signed up, he thought that he’d be helping to make the country safer, and became disillusioned with military service for a variety of reasons.  When I signed up for my first year, I did it because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and needed some kind of income.  Now, I’m all about AmeriCorps and really believe that what I’m doing is making a change in the world. 

I’ve got to admit that it’s uncharted territory for me, to be seen as the kind of person that other people want to be.  For one thing, it makes me want to be even better at what I do.  If there are people looking to what I do as something to achieve, I feel like I have to live up to their image of what I do.  It also makes what I do more than “just a job” to me.  Up to the point where my friend and I talked about my AmeriCorps years, I never really believed that I could be a role model – that there are people who might want to do what I do. 

It’s not that I didn’t know that this year would bring me to a leadership position; I knew that I’d have people who I work closely with and who would come to me for guidance or to help solve problems.  What my friend and I talked about is something different, though.  I had never considered that people would want to follow me just because of who I am and what I do.  It’s a nice feeling to be respected to the point of emulation, but it’s also an awesome responsibility.  It’s something that wasn’t ever in the job description.  

It’s something that I hope I can live up to.

Collaborating and Listening is Also Part of My Job.

My second year with Volunteer Maryland started a lot differently than my first year.  Rather than being intimidated and unsure, I was excited for my second year.  I was going to be working with people who inspired me to push harder and go farther than I would have if I hadn’t worked with them, and I was going to be working with two friends I had made during my first year with Volunteer Maryland.  I thought that I had a good idea about what I would be doing over the course of my second year.  It turns out that I had no idea what my job was actually going to involve.  Even now, almost half-way through my year, I’m amazed by how dynamic my job is.

I'll solve itIt’s not that my job doesn’t have any structure, far from it in fact.  A lot of the dynamics come from the nature of my position.  I’m part of a team of AmeriCorps members who are out in the field.  For them, I’m a quartermaster – I get to make sure the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators have all of the resources and tools that they’ll need to do their jobs.  I’m a mechanic – helping to fix things when they break and greasing a lot of wheels.  I’m Vanilla Ice – if you’ve got a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.  I’m an intelligence agent – spending time finding out things that the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators and Volunteer Maryland staff need to know in order to be able to better do their jobs.  Overall, I’m the guy behind the guy behind the guy that works behind the scenes to make things run smoothly.

I’m part of the Volunteer Maryland support team.  I plan meetings for some of Volunteer Maryland’s AmeriCorps members so they can get together outside of the regular training days – I’m working on planning a service project for the members in my region now.  I go on site visits with Volunteer Maryland staff to make sure that our members and sites are working well together.  I’m involved in training days for our members, and sometimes people even remember what I say, which makes me feel good about the time that I put into preparing to speak in front of people.  We’re ramping up our recruitment and outreach right now, and I’m going to be involved in that, too.

I’m also allowed to design my own projects, so I’m part of a team of people who are trying to show Baltimore nonprofits some low-cost ways of sharing information and communicating with the people they serve.  If I’m lucky, the project will expand to the state of Maryland, and if I’m really lucky, I’ll be able to go to New York at the end of June to talk to nonprofit leaders from across the nation about how I, and a group of pretty amazing people, did it.

I’ve never really understood why people use the phrase, “I’m just a cog in a machine,” in a negative way.  Have you ever taken a cog out of a machine and had it still work like it ought to?  That piece that’s “just” a cog is fairly important, otherwise it wouldn’t be there.  It’s part of being on a team – you and those other cogs need to work together or else things wouldn’t happen.