Microvolunteering – Evolution of the One-Time Volunteer Project

Community Service Blitz - Adopt a Senior Project Volunteers

Community Service Blitz – Adopt a Senior Project Volunteers

When I started my first full-time job after college, I managed a neighborhood based volunteer program for a local government entity.  The purpose of the program was to help neighbors organize in groups to offer assistance to elderly neighbors.  Early on, this program required an ongoing time commitment by neighborhood volunteers.

Although I had experience recruiting and coordinating volunteers on political campaigns, the nature of the service was short-term.  Not to mention, I was not an ongoing volunteer, because my sister and I enjoyed volunteering in a variety of one-time volunteer projects for multiple organizations.  In spite of this, I did not understand the needs, interests, and time commitments of my potential volunteers.  I was asking others to do what I was not committed to do myself.  As a result, I probably lost the opportunity for several months to utilize available human capital in making a difference in our community.

When a colleague and I decided to launch a joint project between our programs, this changed everything.  We launched the “Adopt-A-Senior” program in 2002, featuring one-time projects for at-risk teens to serve seniors.  For the first project, we painted the home of a grandmother who was raising three young grandchildren alone.  This was the first of many to follow.

As soon as my newsletter featuring the project was distributed, I received an influx of phone calls and emails from individuals and service groups interested in getting involved.  So, I offered two types of volunteer opportunities, the ongoing effort and the one-time projects.  By far, the one-time project was the most popular and successful.  Thousands of volunteers each year participated in these events, and many returned for our seasonal projects or for events designed for a specific volunteer group.  I lead one of the most successful, awarded, reported, and popular programs in the entire organization.

This one-time project idea was not welcome by all.  I had one hell of a time trying to convince my supervisor of its merits.  Although it was clear, by volunteer participation numbers, that the one-time project was in demand, I was criticized for the exposure of the one-time project and not the ongoing effort.  This is a classic case in the industry to consider what you THINK is best rather than what IS best.  People are extremely busy with work, family, and other commitments, so rewarding their desire to volunteer is important.  Making it fun and rewarding is even better, it is a win-win.

Listening and responding to the needs and interests of volunteers and how THEIR time and skills fits into the need of your organization will maximize the use of human capital for your organization. Doing so will increase volunteer retention and recruitment.  Your volunteer pool will expand and diversify.  Service hours will increase.  Even if your program DEPENDS on ongoing volunteers, find needs that can be fulfilled on a one-time basis.  If you are a nonprofit, I guarantee you will find a need.

If you are seeking volunteer opportunities, join those organizations who are interested in YOUR volunteer objectives.  There are many opportunities available with great organizations that will value your service and maximize your objectives.

What one-time projects are you participating in?  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Volunteermatch – 101 Volunteer Recruitment Secrets

Points of Light Foundation – Volunteering 20 Minutes at a Time

Breaking through Barriers – Volunteering for Disabled Recreation

“Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I am not handicapped.”

Team Hoyt Bronze Statue, Boston, MA

I am an avid runner.  I love everything about participating in a race.  I love the rigor and exhaustion of training, the crowd at the start line, the sense of accomplishment at the finish.  I enjoy picking up my race packet and posting my bib in competition with my spouse, on the wall.  At the end of a race, my physical and mental rewards are indescribable.  There is nothing else in life I do that makes me feel more alive.

One of my favorite stories is that of Team Hoyt.  This father and son duo, Dick and Rick, is a Boston Marathon legend having finished 31 Boston Marathon races.  Rick, who has Cerebral Palsy, is quadriplegic, and cannot walk or talk on his own.  However, his parents insisted on immersing Rick in activities for him to enjoy a life as normal as possible.  When a group of engineers at Tufts University built a computer that Rick could use through a series of head taps to communicate, his first words were “Go Bruins,” in support of his hometown team competing for the Stanley Cup.

When Rick was 13, he told his dad that he wanted to participate in a five-mile run for a paralyzed Lacrosse player.  So, Dick pushed Rick in his wheel chair and finished the race second to last.  Rick typed a message to his father, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I am not handicapped.”  Since then, Team Hoyt embarked on a racing journey to include over 1,000 distance races and triathlons.  They have run across the country, participated in Iron Man competitions, and are the face of the Boston Marathon that is complete with a bronze statue of Team Hoyt.

Recreational activities are vital to the social, psychological, and developmental well-being of disabled children, teens, and adults.  The benefits are immense, from developing self-confidence and language skills, to social interaction and trauma therapy.  Everyday volunteers are helping developmentally disabled people participate in activities previously unheard of, to experience the exhilaration enjoyed by non-disabled people.

Martha, a previous member of my staff, was disabled due to polio.  She had difficulty walking, and was aided by crutches.  When, as a teenager, her family visited Yosemite National Park, she was told to stay home because she could not walk very far.  So, when the Access Leisure Program in our department hosted a Yosemite hike for disabled adults, staff encouraged Martha to go.  She went, she hiked, and she returned the next week beaming with confidence and a sense of accomplishment.

Organizations that provide recreational activities and therapy are typically non-profit and vigorously compete for funding.  Services depend on the contributions of volunteers, who enable those with disabilities to break through barriers and enjoy the exhilaration of sports and recreation. Organizations such as Kids and Horses in Minden, NV and Access Leisure in Sacramento, CA are two of my favorites, but there are MANY more in need of help.  Find what is available in your community and make a difference!

How are you volunteering to help people with disabilities? Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Wounded Warrior Project

Kids and Horses

Access Leisure

Network for Good

09.24.2008 – Fighting Cancer for Those Who Cannot

betty2

Betty Seise, My “Second Mom”

Once in a lifetime someone makes a difference in your life.  I do not mean my parents, or my husband, my childhood best friend, or even my child.  Someone who takes an interest in your well-being for no reason except that they really give a crap about your future.  That was my mentor, and “second mom,” Betty Seise.

When I was a teenager, I worked as Betty’s assistant for a company where she was the Controller.  She guided and directed me through school, life decisions, and choosing a future.  She supported me when I was right, told me the truth when I was wrong, and encouraged me to the light when it was dark.  After her career advanced and I went on to college, Betty remained close by.  She was always interested in what I was doing with my life.  When I graduated from school, she told me, “The world is your oyster,” and I was inspired by that.

Betty was a champ.  She had her shares of ups and downs, but she was a self-made woman, a mom, a daughter, a wife, a leader, and a self-proclaimed life-long student.  She was charitable, helped others, and when you told her something you knew she was listening.

So, you can imagine my response when in the summer of 2008 I found out that she had cancer.  Stage 4, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, to be exact.  I began researching everything I could find on the disease, and found that 5 in 10 people go into remission post chemotherapy and radiation.  I was 100% confident she would be okay.  After all, Betty was a fighter. 51 years old, in impeccable shape, a healthy eater, and a holistic healer.  She was educated and well-read, so if anyone had a chance for survival…it was her.

Over the next ten weeks, the updates on Betty’s health were up and down.  Due to the cancer in her lymph nodes, large amounts of lymph fluid accumulated in her abdomen and under her arms.  Doctors had to surgically extract 1.8 liters here, 1.5 liters there, and it was excruciatingly painful for her.  She had to maintain iron levels in order to receive the chemotherapy treatments that were imperative to her survival.  She spent days in the hospital, lost a great deal of weight, could not eat, could hardly sleep, and eventually could not talk.  One day, her condition improved.  We had hope!  Then on a Monday night, I received the news that she was again hospitalized and was not expected to make it.

09.24.2008 is the day that Betty, my mentor, my second-mom, lost her battle to cancer.  And I started the fight.  4 months and 1 day before I was married.  Two years and one week before my daughter was born.  One day before her son turned 22.  One year before her oldest son earned his Master’s Degree.  And my life, like many others, has never been the same.

Betty is not the only one.  We all know somebody who has won, lost, or is still fighting the battle.  There is something that we can do to help.  All organizations that provide prevention to support for Cancer patients and their families need volunteers.  In fact, many rely on volunteer support to serve those in need.  Contact any hospital, cancer treatment center, hospice, American Cancer Society, or Leukemia and Lymphoma society and find out how you can help.  Or, volunteer to be a bone marrow donor. ALL of these organizations need volunteers, so JOIN THE FIGHT!

How are you volunteering to fight cancer?  Please share.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

American Cancer Society

Delete Blood Cancer – Bone Marrow Registry

Hospice Foundation of America

UC Davis Hospice Volunteer Program

Volunteering for Public Awareness

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,”  Benjamin Franklin

DARTIn effort to escape the triple degree heat this weekend, my family and I made a trip east from our Placer County, California home and spent a day at Lake Tahoe.  My toddler, who cannot yet swim, was equipped in her pink and gray life jacket while my husband and I were right by her side.  As we are in the midst of summer, there were dozens of boats out on the lake and many children passengers.   More kids were swimming in the lake, including youngsters under 5 that could not yet swim.  I was astonished to realize that my child was one of only a handful of children wearing a life vest.

To many, it may seem that I am overreacting.  But having grown up near two major rivers and a big fat lake, I have seen the all-volunteer Sacramento DART (Drowning and Accident Rescue Team) vessels searching for drowning victims more times than I can possibly count.  Just this spring, my husband and I were cycling around Lake Natoma, when we had to stop for a series of emergency vehicles crossing the bike path to a lake access area.  We saw DART vehicles and immediately knew a swimmer was lost.  A young adult, Lisa, was standing by until her 23 year old fiancée was found in the lake.  Without a life jacket, he unknowingly attempted to swim across a cold, deep, section of the lake to an island.  Due to the cold water shock, and physical exhaustion, he succumbed and was recovered several hours later in water 30 feet deep.  Perhaps a life jacket could have saved his life.

In the state of California, the law requires children under 13 to wear a life jacket unless they are in an enclosed cabin or under deck.  Several agencies, including many local fire departments provide FREE lifejacket rentals for people of all ages.  Perhaps many people do not know the dangers of drowning, and others are not aware of the life jacket program.  Raising public awareness, by volunteering with a nonprofit or public agency, is where YOU can make a difference.

Whether it is water safety, public safety, or any other issue affecting your community, get involved and make a difference.  Volunteers support nonprofits and public agencies by providing public outreach that they lack the resources to provide.  For example, DART utilizes volunteers to raise public awareness about water safety and education by making presentations to K-12 school students or attending large events with a large public audience.  Volunteers with special skills to coordinate operations are also needed, including open water divers, accountants, grocery clerks, security guards, and many more.

YOU can make a difference by volunteering to provide an ounce of prevention in YOUR community, through an agency or organization that is central to a cause you are interested in.  Choosing an issue you are passionate about is imperative to maximizing your experience, as shared in my earlier post, “Find YOUR Passion and Volunteer.”

How are you making a difference through public awareness?  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Sacramento DART

American Heart Association

CERT – Community Emergency Response Teams

Volunteer FD

Child Abuse Prevention Council

Faith-Based Volunteering – With a Spiritual Purpose

There is an abundance of good work that takes place in our communities, and it might not be obvious or well-known.  It is the work of volunteers through faith-based organizations of every denomination.  The religious purpose of volunteering adheres to a higher purpose, and many in the faith-based community aspire to this principle.  Faith-based organizations, such as the Salvation Army, are also typically organized in their service capacity, have a unique connection to or understanding of a certain need, enjoy access to a lot of human capital, and provide an excellent opportunity to serve those in need.

When I was a new volunteer coordinator for a public agency, I was discouraged from recruiting faith-based groups to my program.  Having been a member of a church for my entire life, it seemed plausible because of the existing service component in the faith-based community.  Besides, it seemed a little sketchy to me working on the public sector side of things.  However, as my program expanded and earned media, volunteers from all over town joined the team.  Faith-based groups from every population were interested in my volunteer program.  I could not turn them down.

South Natomas Caring Neighborhood - Max and Virgie Villavert (2)

Max and Virgie Villavert

One of my favorite groups included a Filipino American Church.  The two amazing service leaders were Max and Virgie Villavert.  They were the most sincere, heart-felt, volunteers who really wanted to make a difference.  Max and Virgie spent Friday nights hosting a teen program for neighborhood youth as an alternative for fun, and at some activities had around 100 kids in attendance.  As volunteers for my program, they were constantly seeking out elderly neighbors in need and going the extra distance to help out.  Max and Virgie did not expect anything in return except the opportunity to offer a helping hand.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of faith-based teams on one-time volunteer projects as well as ongoing endeavors.  These groups provide a unique opportunity to volunteer, as members include all backgrounds.  Some of these groups have the ability to reach individuals in their communities that will not respond to offers of assistance from outsiders.  Others have a sheer volume of human capital through their numbers. They certainly make the difference.

If you are a member of a faith-based organization, or if you live near a faith-based organization, contact leaders and find out what work they are doing in the community.  Faith-based organizations in my community do anything from operate a food closet and homeless shelter for women and children, to collecting in-kind donations of needed materials for a cancer center and provide free employment services.  Through my church, my family contributes monthly donations to three local nonprofit organizations, and we have worked with youth in building life skills and personal development among other things.  At the end of the day it does not matter what you believe, but what you do to help others that counts.

What is your experience with faith-based volunteering?  Please share.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Salvation Army 

Mormon.org – Values and Helping Others

Mary House

Sacramento Loaves and Fishes

Catholic Charities

 

 

Mentors Bridge the Gap for Youth

Picture1There are not many causes that pull my heart strings more than those about children…the most innocent of victims in poor circumstances.  They have the most to lose and the least with which to fight.    Mentors are working every day to bridge the gap for children in crisis or at-risk of crisis.  Mentors teach youth skills to achieve their life goals and live productive, fulfilling lives.  And, it is still not enough.  There is something that we all can do to help.

All kids need the influence of a positive adult.  However, not all are devoid of a loving home.  Some families have one parent or even two parents who work long hours to support the family.  Other children have a learning or physical disability, or are simply struggling in school.  Others may have endured a traumatic experience such as divorce, loss of a parent to death or prison, abuse or neglect, or are in foster care.

I am inspired by the life stories of two star NFL athletes, Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Patrick Willis of the greatest team in the league, San Francisco 49ers.  Both men endured poverty and abuse as children, were rescued by an adult mentor, attended college, and embraced sports with motivation to overcome obstacles.  Both Graham and Willis have shared that the adult mentors in their lives made the difference for them.

Jimmy Graham was abused and abandoned at 9 and again at 11 years old. While attending a local church, a young mother, Becky Vinson, took him under her wing.  The three lived in a small trailer with no heat, where they had to sleep in one room during winter to stay warm.  Becky graduated from college and her example encouraged Jimmy to excel as well.  While Jimmy went on to college at the University of Miami on a basketball scholarship, he played one year of football, and was drafted by the Saints in 2010.

Patrick Willis and his three younger siblings, living in poverty and violence from an alcoholic parent, were on their way to foster care.  A coach and a young couple took the Willis kids into their home and encouraged their education.  Patrick went on to graduate from the University of Mississippi, playing baseball, basketball, and football, where he was All-American.  A highly awarded athlete, he was drafted in 2007 by San Francisco.

The key factor for these outstanding athletes was a mentor, an adult who envisioned a future for these kids whose parents gave up on them.  There are many children, who are in crisis or at-risk of crisis today.

Youth mentors make a difference on a variety of schedules.  Organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, or your local school district match adults with at-risk students to provide help with homework, engage in hobbies or sports, teach leadership and life skills, and serve as a positive role model.  YOU can make a difference as a youth mentor.

What is your inspiration for mentoring?  Please share.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

The National Mentor Partnership

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Boys and Girls Club of America

Hands On Network

Junior Achievement

Never Underestimate the Power of Gratitude

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” William James

Being grateful for a kind word, an act of kindness, or a recipient of service is one thing.  Expressing gratitude to the messenger, Samaritan, or volunteer is certainly another.  While volunteers make a difference in the lives of others, recipients can make a difference in the lives of the volunteer simply by saying “Thank You.”  I have learned to never underestimate the power of gratitude.

In “7 Ways to Appreciate Your Volunteers,” Christopher Bautista of Volunteer Match shares how investing your time to recognize volunteers has great benefits in retention and recruitment.

One of the most powerful volunteer retention tools is gratitude.  While the intrinsic value of impacting the lives of others is important, this benefit is only maximized by the sincere, expressed, demonstration of gratitude.  Expressions of gratitude might include saying “Thank you,” during the volunteer activity, providing lunch or snacks, sending a handwritten note after the activity, recognizing volunteers at a special event, or other similar action.

However, showing gratitude begins with providing a rewarding volunteer activity.  Appreciating a volunteer includes recognizing that their time is valuable and could just as easily been spent with another organization or relaxing with a daiquiri on the beach.  Ensuring that eager hands are not idle is imperative. You never want your volunteers to be without a value-added task.  All volunteer work should be of great value directly related to the project or organizational mission.  If this is not clear, the value should be expressed to the volunteer so that he/she knows how they are making a difference.

While working for a government agency, I did not have a significant budget for volunteer recognition.  I had thousands of volunteers, so, I had to be creative.  My volunteer projects always included some type of food, often donated, whether it was breakfast burritos, pizza, hot chocolate, or snacks.  Project introductions included thanking volunteers for coming and a detailed description of how their service specifically made a difference to those we were assisting.  I continuously checked in with volunteers, thanked them for their service, and asked if there was anything they needed.  At the end of the project, I again thanked volunteers and reiterated what value their service added to our recipients and to the organization overall.  Post project, I sent thank you letters to each individual volunteer and group, including a memento specific to their group, and detailed their work in our newsletter.  Several of my volunteers were later recipients of awards from the Mayor of our city and the Governor of California.

Saying “Thank You,” is not enough.  Demonstrating gratitude through the volunteer activity and understanding of value added through the work, as well as our words and actions is invaluable.  When you do this effectively, many volunteers will thank YOU for the opportunity to make a difference through your organization and return again to join in the work.

How do you show gratitude to your volunteers?  Leave a comment. Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Volunteer Match Engaging Volunteers Blog

Points of Light Foundation – Recognition

California Volunteers