Learning Through My Travels

Through all of the site visits that Volunteer Maryland makes around the state, we get to see a lot of great ideas in practice, like Mosaic Community Center featuring the artwork of their clients throughout the office, or the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation’s multi-pronged approach to engaging their community.  On a recent visit to Shepherd’s Clinic in Baltimore, I was able to see a medical center that provides its care using almost exclusively volunteers.  With so many volunteers playing a role in Shepherd Clinic’s work, I wondered how they make sure everyone felt recognized and appreciated.

Shepherd mosaic

As I soon learned, some of the methods they use were quite eye-catching.  As we toured the clinic, we walked by a beautiful mosaic that combined a timeline of Shepherd Clinic’s history and testament to the many volunteers that have given their time over the years.  I could imagine as a volunteer walking through the hall, this would give me a sense of history and belonging.

We also saw an interesting way of combining name tag storage with learning each others name.  Each volunteer had a picture of themselves on a board next to the check-in station where their name tag would be clipped whenever it wasn’t being used.  Not only does each volunteer get to feel like a star with their picture on display, but it can be helpful for learning names and faces in such a busy place. Building camaraderie in a big volunteer base can be a challenge, and this is a fun way to help address it.

Shepherd board2I loved seeing how Shepherd’s Clinic creatively integrated volunteer appreciation and a sense of unity into the everyday structure of their work.  One of my favorite parts of the site visits is seeing the different approached that each nonprofit takes to serve their volunteers and community.  Each site has something that we can learn from, and I know I will continue to be impressed as we travel!and this is a fun way to help address it.

Photos courtesy of Shepherd’s Clinic

Just Breathe. . .

Last week looking at the Work Plan as a navigation system for the service year got me thinking about some of the other approaches I use to provide structure in my life.  One of the frameworks I use is a template borrowed from Traditional Chinese Medicine.   As you might imagine, since this approach has been around for over 5,000 years, it is routed in nature.  Traditionally body, mind, and spirit were interconnected and experienced as a whole.  A traditional Chinese healer’s mission was to keep the chi flowing throughout the three levels.  They also saw the movement of chi extending from the person out to their family, to the institutions they were part of and beyond.  There are five elements or phases and they correspond with what we identify as seasons.  The Metal element is associated with the time of year we usually consider fall.  To the ancient Chinese it was a time of taking in and letting go, on all levels. In the human body the lungs (i.e. breath) and colon (i.e. elimination) correspond to Metal.  According to the ancients it is the optimal time to consider topics like inspiration, acknowledgement, rhythm, structure and value. This is a useful paradigm for looking at the current period in the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator service year.

The Volunteer Maryland Coordinators have been at their Service Sites for a month.  Last week they submitted their Work Plans, joint agreements between Volunteer Maryland, the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator, and the Service Sites, regarding the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator’s scope of work from now through July, 2012.  At this point of the year, it’s a good time for the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators to take stock of where they are. It is likely the expectations they had coming into the service year are now butting up against the realities of life at their Service Sites.   I know this was a challenging time for me last year.  During the initial days I got oriented to the program and the tasks for which I was going to be responsible.  I learned to work with a custom built database that was both expensive and obsolete.   For one of the tasks I was recruiting volunteers to carry out, it was insisted I start with data printed out over a year earlier.  I had to take  more than a few deep breaths.  I looked at what expectations I brought with me into the service year that I could get rid of while still maintaining my personal integrity.  I respected my Service Site’s mission and I felt honored to be a valued member of the team.  It was useful for me to move beyond my frustration with what I deemed to be an antiquated system of operation.  I learned to be more patient and to respect the cultural milieu.  We’d even joke in staff meetings about my service site having its own sense of time.

I established a structure for my life, at my Service Site and elsewhere, that had a logical sense of rhythm and still allowed some flexibility.  I prepared for the monthly regional meeting and Volunteer Maryland training with an appetite whetted for inspiration.  I couldn’t wait to reunite with my fellow Volunteer Maryland Coordinators.  I was inspired by their accomplishments and humbled by the challenges they faced.  We shared gifts and talents, inspiration and ugghhhs, collaboratively.

Are your expectations clashing with reality?  Stop for a minute and take some deep breaths, maybe even a walk in the crisp air.  Revisit your story about what is important to you and why you chose this year of service.  Need a reminder?  It’s a good time for inspiration.  Find a quote that resonates or a picture of someone whom you admire, then put it where you can’t miss it!  Ask for support if you need it.  Last year one of the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator needed some sunshine.    We sent her brightly colored stickers and pictures for the shed where she tended to aquatic life.