The Power of Retreat

April is a report heavy month here at Volunteer Maryland.  Our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators just submitted their mid-year report full of data and stories and our sites submitted an update on how they are doing with their National Performance Measures.  What this means is Laura Aceituno, VM’s Program Manager extraordinaire is spending many quality hours reading and aggregating data for our Quarterly Progress Report due in mid-April.  Reporting is of course necessary in this world of service, but so is taking a step back.  Reports can offer a moment of reflection for the writer as they discuss successes and challenges and build the narrative of progress thus far through stats and stories, but there is something missing here.  What is missing is the space to give all of this work meaning, and commit to keeping on.

It has been well documented that an AmeriCorps member’s service is not easy.  It has tough road written all over it, and that toughness can get to the best of us.  Volunteer Maryland refers to this time as “the dips”.  It is when a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator finds it hard to see progress in their work, and the limited resources available to them seem more limited than ever.  This can be a dark time for those on the getting things done highway as their journey is half over, but the light at the end of the tunnel can seem a bit faint.  So how do you help folks get over this bump, and onto a successful second half?  You take them away.

Each year, VM hosts a retreat for the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator’s to re-charge, re-access and re-commit to their service.  In the past, the retreat was a two day affair with an overnight stay.  This year we are trying a new approach. Many of our folks have part-time jobs, or take classes in the evening or have families to take care of, so the overnight aspect of the retreat posed a problem.  This year we are doing a one-day retreat with a focus on leadership and deepening service.  This retreat is for the VMCs, but the truth is I am really looking forward to it.  The opportunity to pause, and build skills for what is to come seems luxurious and almost decadent, like a huge box of delicious chocolates.  But here is the thing, pausing is just the right move when each move feels heavy with little to no progress.  That pause can lead to new ideas, new attitudes, and new opportunities bringing changes from dip to doing.  Pausing with purpose is the true power of a retreat.

Taking a pause, even if it is just for a breath can be just the thing for what dips you.


Debbie Franc, University of Maryland Extension Carroll County 4-H

“4-H has been part of my life since I was eight,” Debbie shares. “Growing up in 4-H, I developed many life skills and enjoyed many new adventures. 4-H even gave me the opportunity to live in Japan for a month. I loved the 4-H experience, and when I had children of my own, I looked for the best 4-H program to help them grow.”

In 2006, Debbie’s husband founded Sparks 4-H Club, which focuses on robotics. Home to a robotics team called Super Sonic Sparks, this club has participated in VEX Robotics World Championships several times and won a number of awards. Of her service with 4-H, Debbie says, “I am proud that we provide a caring environment for youth to grow. In 7 years, our robotics team has graduated 10 youth who have all gone on to college in mostly science or engineering fields.”

The Volunteer Maryland Coordinator position with University of Maryland Extension Carroll County 4-H opened up at the right time for Debbie, who observes “After being a stay-at-home mom for 21 years, volunteering was the one area I had plenty of experience with and the Carroll County 4-H position seemed like the perfect way to enter the working world. The idea of giving back to the 4-H program has motivated me to accept this challenge.”


Brinley Holmes, CASA of Washington County

A graduate of Gettysburg College, Brinley Holmes has taught English in Vietnam, volunteered while studying abroad in Italy, and served as a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Brinley has two older sisters who are AmeriCorps alums, so she has decided that it’s her turn!  To that end, she is serving this year as Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with Court Appointed Special Advocates of Washington County.

Brinley has grown up doing service and volunteering, and it has become a part of her life. Brinley shares, “I have always learned a lot from volunteering. I hope that by taking this time to focus on others, I will always learn more about myself and the professional direction I want my life to take. I am looking to gain confidence in myself with regard to becoming a professional. Brinley believes this service year will prepare her for life as a volunteer and for a future career.

William Drew, Chesapeake Natives

William Drew, a graduate of Belmont Abbey College and proud Eagle Scout, recently completed a year of service as Volunteer Maryland Coordinator at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center, where he led 79 volunteers who assisted with the Power Project, a free afterschool program for 31 students.  During that time, William also became an avid volunteer at Chesapeake Natives, where he will serve as VMC this year.

Of his upcoming service year, William says, “I want to help and learn more about the environment. I also want to put my developed leadership skills to good use. I was motivated by my desire to help people. I also share many similar interests to the people I’ll be working with.”

During the service year, William  says, “I am hoping to further develop my leadership skills. I would also like to gain construction skills” One of William’s long-term goals is to build a tiny house and start a homestead.

Montressa Hammond, St. Francis Neighborhood Center

Montressa Hammond is a graduate student at University of Maryland University College, where she is studying Nonprofit Management.  Montressa previously served as an AmeriCorps member with the House of Ruth, and most recently she has interned with the St. Francis Neighborhood Center.  She and St. Francis Neighborhood Center staff are very happy that Montressa will be able to continue her service there as Volunteer Maryland Coordinator.

While serving SFNC’s 2014 Summer of Service learning project, Montressa became entranced by the youth’s desire to soak up knowledge, and she noticed there was a need for more long-term volunteers. This inspired Montressa to help the organization continue their great work for the community.

This year, Montressa hopes to build professional skills such as public speaking and networking.

Erin Josephitis, City of Greenbelt in partnership with CHEARS

Erin grew up in Lake Bluff, IL, where she says, “I spent as much time as possible playing outdoors in the protected prairies and forests preserves. From a young age, I was curious about nature and fascinated by caterpillars and butterflies. My family always encouraged me to be involved in giving back, so I chose to work outside gardening and restoring the natural state of prairies and forests whenever the chance arose.”

Erin visited Costa Rica, Spain, Greece, and Morocco while she was in high school, and these experiences nurtured her passion for plants and animals, which led her to pursue a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development from Rollins College. While at Rollins, Erin participated in and led volunteer events including shoreline cleanups, gardening projects, and energy efficiency workshops.

Erin sees service as Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with the City of Greenbelt in partnership with CHEARS as “a calling to use my knowledge and skills in environmental studies, background in volunteering, and passion for helping others to make a positive impact on my community.”

During her service year, Erin is looking forward to developing her skills in Spanish, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), plant identification, and leadership. She explains, “It is very important that I inspire others to become environmental stewards so that the service projects and workshops I coordinate will replicate throughout the community even after my term is over. I want to teach others how to care for nature, grow fresh food, and minimize our ecological footprint. Serving as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator provides the unique chance to be a leader in solving today’s most pressing human and environmental needs.”

Emily Morrow, Seeds 4 Success

Emily recently spent five months abroad in Cape Town, South Africa and of that experience she writes, “The biggest lesson I learned was if you’re nervous or feel uneasy taking on a challenge, you should bite the bullet and do it. While there, I climbed mountains, bungee jumped, spent time living with a family from a local township, traveled to other southern African countries, and took classes in challenging subjects like genocide through colonization in Africa. I went into each of those experiences feeling nervous and unprepared, and I came out the other side feeling wiser and more confident.” Emily says she is approaching her service year the same way, and is ready to take on any challenges. Emily expects gain a wealth of new knowledge and confidence as she serves as Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with Seeds 4 Success.

After graduating from the University of Maryland and spending the summer interning, Emily says,  “I was unsure where to take my next steps into the career world. I was familiar with AmeriCorps and decided to look into it. I stumbled upon Volunteer Maryland, and it seemed like a great transition that would allow me to learn a lot and serve my state. I have aspirations to make a career in nonprofits, and Volunteer Maryland seems like a wonderful place to start.”

While serving with Seeds 4 Success, Emily wants to learn more about nonprofits and hone her planning and organizational skills so she can effectively recruit, train, manage, and support volunteers. Emily’s passion lies in environmental concerns, and she sees a clear connection between environmental causes and the work Seeds 4 Success does to support the education of Annapolis children. In the future, Emily hopes to pursue a graduate a degree and career focused on improving the lives of others.

Michael Roundtree, Maryland New Directions

Michael Roundtree proudly served as a US Marine, and before that was Student Government President at New Era Academy. Roundtree has a long history of service, having been a trained, active conflict mediator since elementary school. Roundtree was a leader in the Associated Student Congress of Baltimore City and has volunteered with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington. Roundtree will continue in his chosen path by serving as Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with Maryland New Directions.

Roundtree credits his mentor, Sergeant Winters, with inspiring him to serve with Volunteer Maryland. Roundtree explains, “One of the first female Marines to go into combat, Sergeant Winters inspired me to chase my dreams and get back into giving back to the community. Because she didn’t make it back from Afghanistan, it gave me an extra push to get into the nonprofit world for the benefits of others. Volunteer Maryland was a perfect fit for me continuing on that path.”

During his service year, Roundtree hopes to gain a larger network of nonprofit professionals and develop his entrepreneurial skills. His long-term goal is to start his own nonprofit organization that will benefit young men in the city of Baltimore.

Chelsea Goldsmith, Baltimore Urban Debate League

A graduate of Wesleyan University, Chelsea Goldsmith has a great love for education, public history, and the fine arts. She is an avid museum-goer and plans on pursuing a master’s in Museum Studies.

Most recently, Chelsea has volunteered with the Carroll Museums, where she curated a gallery, planned free educational programs for the public, and taught students from Baltimore Public Schools about local history and the importance of museums.

Chelsea sees working in nonprofits as her calling, and believes Volunteer Maryland will allow her to delve into the nonprofit world while focusing on one particular area: volunteer management. Chelsea sees serving as Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with the Baltimore Urban Debate League (BUDL) as an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to Baltimore and Maryland. She considers herself lucky to live in such a vibrant and interesting community, and through her service with Volunteer Maryland she will be working to ensure that there are equally vibrant cultural and educational resources from which all of the city’s residents can benefit.

Chelsea is passionate about out-of-classroom education and project-based learning, so BUDL’s work and mission truly resonate with her. By working with the small and effective team at BUDL, Chelsea expects to gain a valuable perspective on the different roles within a nonprofit, as well as the unique demands of such an organization.

Ayroba Dutton, The Menare Foundation

Ayroba Dutton has a degree in Political Science and won an award for distinguished service to Morgan State University’s Office of Student Judicial Affairs. Ayroba also loves the arts. She performed with her high school marching band in Shanghai, and takes every opportunity she can to act and dance. A recent college graduate, Ayroba saw Volunteer Maryland as a good opportunity, and reports that some of her best memories are of volunteering. Ayroba has volunteered with the Families Foremost Center, and has worked with her faith community to assemble Easter baskets for pediatric cancer patients at Johns Hopkins. Serving as Volunteer Maryland Coordinator with The Menare Foundation, which educates the public about plantation life and the Underground Railroad, is a natural next step for Ayroba, who is very interested in American history.

During her service year, Ayroba is hoping to gain leadership skills, including organizing materials and helping people find appropriate opportunities to serve. Ayroba is considering graduate studies in history, sociology, educational leadership or public administration. Her career goals include journalism, government service, education and running for elected office.