A Flourishing Garden

I feel that nice summer days are great for a little gardening.  This Thursday, we had the perfect gardening day at the Greenwell Foundation.  Our fabulous Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, Kaitlyn, planned a service project for us to add a little distinction and pizzazz to the park entryway.  Every day during the summer, scores of children come through this entryway to take part in Camp Greenwell, as well as families coming to enjoy swimming and fishing on the river.

With eleven volunteers, we were able to make quick work of laying out a design for the flower beds, planting, watering, and mulching in the morning.  After lunch, we took time to explore the park, walk along the riverfront, and say hi to some of the horses.  As the end of our service year advances (where does the time go?!), this is a chance to step back and see how we have grown in experience.

It’s inspiring to see how much changes in a year – to see all the accomplishments and experiences of the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.  They’ve really taken ownership of their jobs, and take great pride in the service they’re doing.  And they’re excited to share their passion too – this group is now so chatty and gregarious that we almost had trouble staying on task.

But I have to remember, amidst all this celebration and finality, that our work isn’t done.  This year was exciting, and is coming to a close, but it’s not the end of our  time helping people.  On Thursday, all we needed to do is the simple, joyful task of gardening.  It is quiet, meditative even.  It won’t change the world.  But it is a small change for the future, and a project we will always be able to work on.  Big changes can come from small things, and our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are doing their part.

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Hello! My Name Is…

This week, about half of the class of VM25 will meet for a regional meeting hosted by VMC Casey Lowe at the beautiful Accokeek Foundation.  Between a potluck lunch and an exploration of the beautiful Piscataway Park, we will discuss an issue that comes up time and again for VMCs:  establishing new relationships with other organizations.

red-milking-devon-steer-and-colonial-site-farmhouse
One of the many lovely vistas we are sure to enjoy at the Accokeek Foundation tomorrow.

One of the earliest stages of volunteer program implementation is identifying good sources of potential volunteers.  These could be local colleges, houses of worship, nonprofits, or for-profit businesses.   For some VMCs, reaching out to these organizations easy.  Their service sites have long standing relationships with them, and reaching out is like getting back in touch with an old friend.

In other cases, however, VMCs are making cold calls.   While the VMC might have good reason to believe this new partnership could solve everybody’s problems and create wonderful opportunities all around, the organization she is about to contact has never even heard of her service site.  What should she do?

There is no one answer to this question, but here are a few pieces of advice, courtesy of the wise and wonderful Volunteer Maryland Staff:

Know exactly what you want before you approach another organization — Make a very direct ask.  Write a script if you need to!

Do your homework.  Make sure you are clear on the history, mission, culture and capacity of the organization before you come calling.  Do they have any history of helping organizations such as yours?  Is there any overlap in your networks?

Determine what is in it for them.  Why should this organization encourage its members to volunteer for your service site?  Will doing so contribute to service learning requirements?

Streamline the process.  If you have all your ducks in a row before you contact, say, a school counselor, you can pitch a very simple process that you have already developed for her to direct students to your organization.  Busy people love it when most of the work has already been done for them!

Ask a staff member from your service site to come along.  Creating lasting, sustainable partnerships with organizations whose members will reliably volunteer at your site is a long, labor-intensive process. Don’t be afraid to ask a staff member to join you in this venture.  Staff involvement in the partnerships you develop greatly increases the likelihood that those partnerships will flourish long after you have completed your service year. 

Finally, don’t be afraid!  Once you’ve done the legwork and your homework — pick up the phone — great things await.

You Are Not Alone

So you have a million things on your plate right now. As you start to truly embrace your role as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, your schedule is filling up and you might be worrying about getting it all done. What comes first; recruiting 15 volunteers for next week’s project, filling out that work plan, or working on planning the big project that’s coming up in a few months? At this wonderful stage of possibilities, you might be still deciding what direction you want your projects to go in, and which priorities should claim your time.

If this sounds like you, don’t panic – you’re not alone. One of the strategies that Volunteer Maryland uses to help folks throughout the year with this feeling is the weekly check-ins and the monthly regional meetings. The check-ins are Kerry and my time to hear about how you are doing and talk through some strategies in a one-on-one setting. The regional meetings are a time for you to share how you are doing directly to your fellow Volunteer Maryland Coordinators, and collaborate on solutions from a variety of angles.

There is the fear that you are the only one going through what you are going through; but talking to your Peer Leaders and to other Volunteer Maryland Coordinators helps you find out how others who are dealing with the same challenges as you are and maybe overcoming them. Each and every site has a different purpose and culture, but you’ll find that you have more similar experiences than different ones – you’re at very different places, but fundamentally you’re going to go through a lot of the same things.

“Catching up with the VMC crew was the highlight of my week. Realizing that I wasn’t the only frazzled, overwhelmed person was lovely… I feel like a whole new person,” Kristen said during our first regional meeting.

I’d love to hear what other ways you all are dealing with the new experiences and stresses, and so would your fellow VMCs. So make some time for coffee with one another. Take some time to talk things over with Kerry and I. Sharing strategies is a great way to get to know each other and find some good new ways to work through the difficulties of a new job.