Who Doesn’t Love a Good Ribbon Cutting?

While we may be reaching an endpoint here at Volunteer Maryland, Volunteers of America Chesapeake celebrated a new beginning on Wednesday.  And thanks to a gracious invitation from VOA Volunteer Maryland Coordinator Rhonda Nelson, Kelly MacBride-Gill and I were able to join in this celebration.

After years of providing residential re-entry services to ex-offenders in a small, outdated facility on East Monument Street in Baltimore, VOA proudly unveiled its new Residential Re-Entry Center just down the street from its old one. This new facility dwarfs the old one, and will allow VOA to provide a wide range of services to individuals as they prepare to re-enter society and the workforce.

Rhonda Nelson and Kerry Ose at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Volunteers of America Chesapeake Residential Re-entry Center
Rhonda Nelson and Kerry Ose at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Volunteers of America Chesapeake Residential Re-Entry Center

The occasion was marked by visits from dignitaries (the Maryland State Secretaries of Veterans Affairs and Public Safety were there, along with Baltimore City Council President Jack Young), and the highlight was a moving speech given by Gary Antonino, an ex-offender whose life was changed by Volunteers of America.  Thanks to the residential re-entry support Mr. Antonino received from VOA, he was able to reintegrate into his family’s life and begin a new career with the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, where he helps individuals charged with crimes navigate the criminal justice system.

VOACHES Board President Alvin Nichols, VOACHES President and CEO Russel K. Snyder,  Mayor's Office of Human Services Director Olivia Farrow, and Baltimore City Council President Jack Young cut the ribbon at the beautiful new Volunteers of America Chesapeake Residential Re-Entry Center.
VOACHES Board Chairman Alvin Nichols, VOACHES President and CEO Russel K. Snyder, Mayor’s Office of Human Services Director Olivia Farrow, and Baltimore City Council President Jack Young cut the ribbon at the beautiful new Volunteers of America Chesapeake Residential Re-Entry Center.

The event ended with tours of the new center and a lovely lunch, during which Kelly and I met  Joseph Budzynski, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Volunteers of America National Office.  Mr. Budzynski asked us thoughtful, probing questions about Volunteer Maryland, service and volunteerism, and Kelly and I were both taken by his genuine interest and grateful for the training we’ve received in talking about the value of the work we do.

All in all, a lovely day.

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Where in the World (Maryland) is Volunteer Maryland Class 24?

Well, let’s start with where they came from. Some members of Volunteer Maryland Class 24 celebrated their college graduation last spring. Others are seasoned professionals. And, a few packed up and moved from other parts of the country to spend the next year strengthening communities and enhancing volunteer programs here in the Maryland. Lunchtime conversations during pre-service training were pretty humorous to someone who has lived here forever. “Fall is the best time of year in Maryland.” Ha! I think I was starting to get moldy by the time October finally arrived, not to mention how great my hair looked with all the humidity. “You won’t need a winter coat, it doesn’t get that cold.” Not cold enough for a coat? I didn’t confide my favorite winter pastime is cross country skiing through the woods in central Anne Arundel County. Besides, the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are going to be too busy to notice whether it is 80 or 20 degrees, both of which are entirely possible. By the time you read this, they will have been at their service sites just two weeks. So, let’s take a look at some of the places in our communities they are serving.
Joy and I each have a section of the class for which we are the Peer Leader. I fondly refer to the group I am assigned as “my peeps.” “My Peeps” stretch across the state, from Baltimore to St. Mary’s County. While the missions of their Service Sites vary, each one is placed at a school, community nonprofit, or government agency, with the purpose of providing effective volunteer programming.
Several Volunteer Maryland Coordinators are at educational sites in Baltimore City: Digital Harbor High School, Barclay School, St. Francis Neighborhood Center,

and Baltimore SquashWise. Marie, Michelle, Abby and Ayana are recruiting and managing volunteers for programs focused on tutoring, youth and community development, and enrichment. In Southern Maryland, Volunteer Maryland partnered with the Greenwell Foundation

to provide accessible and inclusive experiences for residents with and without disabilities in the southern counties; think Therapeutic Horsemanship and kayaking, I am sure Jackson needs you!
 In the DC metropolitan area, Heather is working on river restoration with the Anacostia Watershed Society. Captain John Smith wrote in his journal that the area was a paradise of pleasant springs in the early 1600s. I wonder what he would say today. Brandon is starting an urban agriculture program through Suitland Family and Life Development Corporation at the Drew Freeman Middle School. What a great way for the students there to learn where food comes from. At Volunteers of America Chesapeake, Lynelle is enlisting volunteers to serve as life skills tutors, teach resume writing, interviewing, and other tasks to inspire self-reliance and hope. Our Volunteer Maryland Coordinator at Asian American LEAD, Sumiko, is coordinating area college student volunteers to provide youth development and educational enrichment for low-income Asian American children. At Community Support Services, Katie is implementing a new peer mentoring program. They have a Fine Arts Program coming up on October 30, 2011 if you’d like to learn more about how they create community for developmentally disabled and autistic individuals.
Karen, with the Department of Parks Cultural Resources Stewardship Section, is making history come alive! She is working to get interpretive guides at Oakley Cabin, the Underground Railroad Experience Trail       and the Josiah Henson Special Park in Montgomery County. Celebrate Maryland Emancipation Day with her. At the Housing Initiative Partnership, Carlos is working with the Foreclosure Prevention program. They need volunteers to serve as homebuyer educators and pre-purchase counselors. If you are a detail oriented person, this might be for you. Zarqa is looking for instructors for computer classes, GED preparation and ESL tutoring at the Tony Davis Family Resource Center at Seneca Ridge. Their program assists low-income residents pursuing self-sufficiency. Over at Stepping Stones Shelter, Liz manages a program to transition homeless families from crisis to stability in an atmosphere of dignity and respect. She is recruiting volunteers to help with childcare, meal preparation and program facilitation.
Click on the link to a site near you to get engaged in your community. When the Volunteer Maryland Coordinator asks how you learned about the program, tell them I sent you!