April!

Around this time of year, I hear this phrase quite constantly: “I can’t believe it’s already April!!”  I always chuckle when I hear it from our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs).  This common exclamation a wonderful realization that we have officially arrived at the mid-point of our service year.

In April we are reminded of how incredibly fast time flies by, and at Volunteer Maryland we take time to reflect on what we have achieved and where we are going next.  As Patrice recently shared, the mid-point of our service year is a time for rest and reflection, but also reporting!  Reporting is a big part of my world right now.  Through reading the VMCs’ recently-submitted reports, I’ve enjoyed learning more about why they have felt like time has passed by in an instant.

Take a quick look at what our group of Volunteer Maryland Coordinators have reported to be their major accomplishments related to volunteer program development:

  • Recruitment of volunteers (woohoo!)
  • Strengthening of community partnerships
  • Leading new volunteer training/orientations
  • Creating new tools, such as volunteer hours tracking databases
  • Relationship development with staff and volunteers
  • Recognizing/appreciating volunteers

Although this is a mere list, these accomplishments are mighty.  It doesn’t take one day to find prospective volunteers, build and research the content for a volunteer training, or build a genuine, kind relationship with a volunteer.  It takes time and planning to succeed, and these VMCs have been busy.

In addition to their accomplishments, the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators have learned more about themselves and their communities.  The chance to give back to others while gaining much in return is a dynamic experience.  I loved reading reflections shared through each “VMC Story,” a short tale of each person’s experience thus far.  Although there are so many stories to share, I’ll share just one this time.  Here’s a peek into Sam’s experience:

Being a VMC means enabling others to improve the lives of others by creating a positive and sustainable change within their community. Shepherd’s Clinic and Joy Wellness Center serves uninsured patients in one of the unhealthiest communities in Baltimore; my role as a VMC is to engage volunteers to get involved and make a difference with a population who has both life circumstances and negative stereotypes working against them.

A phrase I often hear is that by being an AmeriCorps member, I am “dedicating a year of service to others.” However, that is not how I view my service year. I consider this year a time where I have the invaluable opportunity to become immersed in a cause that is much bigger than me. I am dedicating a year to learning from those around me, to growing as a professional and – more importantly – an individual, to being involved with the amazing Shepherd’s Clinic and Joy Wellness Center and everything it stands for, and to build relationships with those who also believe in the work of Shepherd’s Clinic and Joy Wellness Center, Volunteer Maryland, and AmeriCorps.

At the mid-point, the VMCs are understanding more about how their dedication and hard work has helped them get their volunteer programs jump-started.  Although much has been accomplished so far, there’s much more good work to be done.  I can’t wait to see what’s yet to come!

Tales from the Road

As the Program Manager of Volunteer Maryland, I feel so lucky to get to work with an incredible group of individuals.  Our AmeriCorps members, better known as Volunteer Maryland Coordinators (VMCs), work tirelessly to support and refine volunteer programs at nonprofit organizations across Maryland.  With the amazing guidance from their designated supervisor (a.k.a. their Site Supervisor), wonderful things happen in less than a year of partnership.

I get to learn more about these efforts when I visit each of our Volunteer Maryland Coordinators and Site Supervisors each fall/winter.  For the past two and a half months, I have engaged in what we like to call our “site visit season.”  This is a very educational experience in which I travel with a member of our Support Team to meet with each of our 30 partnership sites.  This is one of my favorite parts of my role, as I get a first-hand glimpse of where our AmeriCorps members are serving, as well as gain the opportunity to reflect and learn more about their service.

The knowledge and stories from the site visits have been so insightful and inspiring. Listening to such positive progress is an important reminder of the great things Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are able to accomplish in such a short period of time. I’d like to share with you a few reflections from the site visits that exhibit the impact of our AmeriCorps members.

Volunteer Maryland Coordinators research and implement smart tools that refine the process of volunteer management.

For example, Brinley, VMC at Court Appointed Special Advocates of Washington County, recently instituted a new tracking tool called OurVolts.  OurVolts can be used as an app on a mobile phone, making the process of reporting hours convenient and accessible for volunteers. This process will not only be easy for the volunteers, but help the organization gain an accurate understanding of how many hours their volunteers will serve.  As a result, this data will also be useful for reporting and recognition purposes.

Volunteer Maryland Coordinators understand the importance of recognizing volunteers.

The effort to celebrate the hard work of volunteers has a lasting impact on the quality of the volunteer experience.  An example of such recognition occurs in Baltimore where Montressa develops a regular “Volunteer of the Month” spotlight to recognize outstanding volunteers who serve at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center.  Also, Jessica, the VMC for the Frederick County Department of Aging’s Meals on Wheels program, is developing ongoing recognition events, and will soon be hosting a celebration titled “We Love Our Volunteers” (cleverly tying into Valentine’s Day!).

Volunteer Maryland Coordinators build meaningful connections.

This occurs on a such a significant and multi-faceted level.  Bintou, who serves at Moveable Feast, facilitates orientations for volunteers before they assist with preparation and packaging of nutritious food that will go to individuals who are fighting severe illnesses.  Through her orientation, Bintou connects volunteers with the mission and history of the volunteer program, making the experience so much more effective and rich for all involved.  Over at Education Based Latino Outreach, Johana builds connections with staff through weekly meetings, during which they discuss the progress of volunteers and additional resources to support volunteers.  Through relationship building, the staff can work together more cohesively to best support and supervise volunteers.

While the next piece of information did not necessarily derive from the site visits, it would be a shame to not include it!

Volunteer Maryland Coordinators recruit and manage qualified volunteers as a result of their strategic outreach methods.  I’m proud to share that since October 2014, this group has recruited nearly 900 volunteers and helped manage over 4000 volunteers.  Collectively these 4000+ volunteers have served over 9,000 Marylanders.  Wow!

This is just a snapshot of some of the great work that’s being done by the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators in Class 27, and so much more is yet to come this year!

Reyna and Johana (EBLO)
Reyna (Site Supervisor) and Johana (Volunteer Maryland Coordinator) are a great team at Education Based Latino Outreach.
A group pose during a site visit with Partners In Care. Each person in the photo is or has been an AmeriCorps member with Volunteer Maryland!

Serving Better

This week I had the chance to attend a reception for participants of Maryland’s Day to Serve, and it highlighted something very important for me.  The nonprofits partners of Day to Serve 2012 each spoke briefly about their work last year and their plans for this year, and made a point of talking about their cooperation and intertwined interests.  They emphasized how they were able to work together to help each other while achieving their own goals.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, while working to improve the environment, started a model sustainable farm.  This farm, in turn, produces food that they can provide to the community.  On the Day to Serve, volunteers at the farm harvested food that was then donated to the Maryland Food Bank, where volunteers prepared it for distribution.  Neither one needed the other to succeed in their work, but through their synergy these organizations created more good than they could have alone.

Daikon Kathryn’s Kloset, which I heard about for the first time here, spoke as being a nonprofit made explicitly for helping other nonprofits.  Much like the Baltimore Community Toolbank, they exist to provide critical items to other nonprofits, so that they can serve their community.  And while the Toolbank helps by loaning out items like shovels and power tools  Kathryn’s Kloset helps by working with large manufactures who have usable products slated for the landfill, taking that as donations, and sending that to nonprofits in state, out of state, and even internationally.  I even got to hear about them shipping a number of medical tables, donated by University of Maryland because they had upgraded to newer versions, to Senegal where doctors used them as work tables.

What this highlighted for me was the value of cooperation and synergy among organizations.  Sometime we lose sight of how much benefit we can gain from working together.  Oftentimes organizations (especially nonprofits) have very compatible goals, and can produce greater resources and public goodwill by seeking out connections like these.  Don’t forget that you exist as part of a network of similar people and organizations, and that networking events can pay off more than with just new job leads.

What local companies could you work with to improve how you serve your constituency? What do you have to offer to others in your area?

Appreciating Volunteers

Most of my work is behind the scenes, with a focus on the overall structure of a volunteer program.  But National Volunteer Week is the time to focus on not the programs or the clients, but the volunteers.  What amazing work are they doing?  What makes the experience worthwhile to them?

Volunteer Maryland encourages us to build time into our weekly schedule to do community service, and I love the insights that this allows me.  This week I got to experienced all the perks of being a volunteer with the Maryland SPCA during National Volunteer Week.  As one of the wonderful tokens of appreciation, each volunteer received a letter of thanks from Senator Barbara Mikulski.  There was a line in there that just stuck with me:

When Alexis De Tocqueville wrote about America, he said “America is great because she is good.”  He noticed the spirit of of volunteerism, neighbor-helping-neighbor, habits of the heart that bred habits of humanity

When we celebrate volunteers, we should not only be celebrating the wonderful work that they accomplish, but also celebrating how volunteers contribute to building “habits of humanity”.

As we come to conclusion of National Volunteer Week, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the importance of volunteers, and to thank everyone for their hard work. Without volunteers, all our ideas would remain just that – ideas. It’s their passion, enthusiasm, and devotion to sharing their good fortune with others that allows us to make our ideas into reality and bring goodness to the world around us.

America is great, because she is good. Her people are caring, giving individuals. And we should make sure they know just how much we appreciate that.

Let’s Make a Dent in the Universe

Don’t you just love the mantra of Steve Jobs?  Granted, he was referring to the explosion of Apple products, but I love this quote and think of it often whenever I need motivation.  You and I both know how important motivation is to us on a daily basis.  As much as we would like to pretend that things run smoothly day in and day out, sometimes our motivation is lacking…admit it.  Not only on a personal level, but also on a professional level.  We become consumed with the plethora of present distractions that our focus is no longer on where we’re going, but where we are.  So, now what?

Volunteer,  that’s what!  Even if you can dedicate two hours one weekend, take advantage of the opportunity to concentrate on others.  Performing direct service is reciprocal in that you give your time and return you develop whether you mean to or not.  I can speak from experience that when you start concentrating on others, you find your motivation.  It’s never too late to start a service journey.  If you’re looking for volunteer opportunities, check out the Corporation for National and Community Service.  On their website you can learn more about volunteerism and search opportunities that interest you.  Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. day, so why not serve for a few hours on your day off.  What do you have to lose?