And Now For Something Completely Different…

This blog often focuses on, so to speak, the meat and potatoes of volunteer coordination — foundation building, recruitment, service projectsorientation, and getting free stuff.

But along with the meat and potatoes come, well, the meat and potatoes.  We all gotta eat, right?  Here at Volunteer Maryland, we have a tradition of sharing “AmeriRecipes” with each other.

What does it take to qualify as an AmeriRecipe?  Well, in light of the fact that Volunteer Maryland Coordinators live on a modest stipend, these recipes should feature affordable ingredients.  And in light of the fact that Volunteer Maryland Coordinators have a busy, full-time work schedule, these meals should, ideally, take minutes to prepare.  Finally, these recipes need to exist in that sweet spot wherein lies the nutritious and the delicious.

My current favorite recipe that falls squarely in the AmeriRecipe category is what I grew up in Illinois referring to as Soup Beans and Corn Bread.  I love this meal for many reasons — not the least of which is that it has many iterations.  Traditionally made with ham, it is easily converted to a vegetarian dish.  Want to go the extra cheap, nutritious route?  Buy dried beans and soak them overnight before preparing.  Navy, Great Northern or Cannellini beans(or some combination) work beautifully.

Here is my latest version:

Combine 3 14.5 ounce cans of beans with 1 can of low sodium chicken or vegetable broth (add water or another can of broth if you want a soupier consistency) in a dutch oven.

Chop up two carrots, and onion, and one or two potatoes and add to soup.

Bring to a boil and then simmer, adding minced garlic, salt, pepper, basil and/or other seasonings to taste.

If desired, add leftover ham or bacon.

Simmer until vegetables are soft.

While the soup simmers, heat the oven to 400 F.  In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup of flour, ¾ cup of cornmeal, 2 to 3 tablespoons of sugar, 2 and a half teaspoons of baking powder and ¾ teaspoon of salt.

In a small bowl, combine 2 beaten eggs, a cup of milk and and ¼ cup of oil.  Add to flour mixture and stir until just moistened.

Pour batter into a greased 8x8x2 inch pan and bake at 400 for 10 to 15 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean).

For vegans, here is a good alternative cornbread recipe.

Serve warm with bean soup and enjoy!

Don’t Neglect the Things that Bring You Joy

Now can be a stressful time, with new projects starting up with the new year.  It can be easy to become swept up in that rush and forget to take time for yourself.  I think this is especially important when I think about the AmeriCorps members serving with Volunteer Maryland.  Devoting yourself to any one thing, especially when it’s the service of others, can really wear a person out.  So I want to say: make sure that you have time to relax, however you like.

It’s important to remember that there is life outside your job and your volunteering obligations.  Keep in mind your own needs and goals, then make them a priority that ranks with your professional work.  Passions and hobbies allow creativity to grow, and are a rejuvenating force.

If you like to read, make time for a good book.  It’s the same whether you relax with a good run or a day of cooking.  Don’t neglect the things that bring you joy – a happy person will provide more effective service than someone who feels exhausted or resents not having time for themselves.

Right now I am reading Treasure Island, which has no direct application in my work, but it is engaging and enjoyable.  After work, rushing around through chores and seeing friends, it’s even more important that I take some time to relax.  It might be twenty minutes, it might be an hour – but I make sure it happens.

Look at your own life – do you sometimes feel like you’re passing other people like ships in the night?  It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the workaday world and forget about the importance of interpersonal contact and communication.  Nurturing yourself.  If you work in a field where the focus is on taking care of others, it can be tough to remember that you too are worth that same time and care that you give to others.  While you can’t reduce the time you spend on some things like your job, it’s important to find time for the things you love, so you stay happy, healthy, and ready to give your all.

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.

Time Management: Plan Time to Have a Dance Break…seriously

On Monday, I traveled to my primary office in Baltimore (Volunteer Maryland’s headquarters) to attend our scheduled Support Team meeting.   You may recall that I also have a Host Site on the Eastern Shore so I do not have to make the two hour commute to Baltimore on a daily basis.  It was my turn to put the agenda together and for the opener I chose one of Volunteer Maryland’s traditions, a dance break.  You read correctly, a dance break!

For as long as I have known about Volunteer Maryland, taking five minutes to dance in the middle of the day has been event the Support Team has looked forward to.  Since Barb and I are not in the office on Fridays, the normal day for a dance break, we have not participated in many this service year.  This Monday I chose a Just Dance Wii game routine to Shakira’s World Cup song, “Waka Waka.”  We probably looked ridiculous to those passing by our hallway, but it was fun and that’s what really mattered.

A few months ago I wrote about the importance of planning time to plan and now I am encouraging you to plan time to dance (or for another office tradition).  Why?  I’m glad you asked.  It is my firm belief that a company or department of any size should have office traditions because they are essential to having a healthy work environment.  Who wants to have the office blues all the time?  Office traditions boost morale amongst staff members, strengthen camraderie, and can decrease the amount times a person is feeling like the woman below.

What kind of traditions does your office have?  If you don’t have a tradition, maybe you can create one.  It doesn’t hurt to throw out a new idea that would benefit the entire office.  Share with us!!

Time Management: Plan Time To Plan

How often are you working on one project and suddenly remember another task you have to complete immediately?  You become frazzled and begin to have an internal battle over which assignment takes precedence because they both are due asap.  Every person in your rolodex seems to have a question on the same day, and your email inbox is constantly overflowing with messages.  On top of that, your phone will not stop ringing (you pick it up every time), coworkers interrupt you with the latest office gossip, and an impromptu meeting was called.  Before you know it, three hours have gone by and you don’t have much to show for that time because you kept bouncing between several projects, emails, and people.  Sound familiar?

This scenario is especially true for nonprofit organizations that usually function with a small staff.  Take Volunteer Maryland for example,  we have three full time staff members, an administrative associate, and two full time Peer Leaders working together to support over forty Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs) and Site Supervisors, attend site visits for all current and new partnering organizations, facilitate the upcoming Joint Training Day, plan Destination AmeriCorps, daily paperwork, and much more.  How in the world do we manage to accomplish it all?  Planning is key.  Distractions are inevitable; however, they do not have to jumble your entire business day.  Anyone can enhance their time management skills if they make time to create a plan of action.

One tool we shared with the VMCs this year was using Covey quadrants.  Have you heard of them?  I can attest to the tool’s success in helping me prioritize my many checklists and reduce the stress of “not having enough time.”  Setting aside time to plan    may seem ironic, but I’m sure you will find the planning time to be beneficial if you use the Covey quadrants wisely.  Here is how they work:

1.  Make a list of all the things you need to complete within the next three months.  If this is too broad, feel free to adjust the time frame.

2.  Next, draw the diagram above and begin to place the items on your list in one of the four listed quadrants.  By doing this, you are able to see which assignments are the most urgent and important, and which ones are not.

3.  Lastly, use the Covey quadrants to create daily or weekly checklists until you have achieved all of your goals.  Simple, right?

Scheduling time to re-create Covey quadrants every few months can save you many headaches and keep the important projects at the forefront of your mind.  Happy planning!