The Ultimate Volunteer

Blue Star Mother’s Flag

It is with a heavy heart that I write this blog post.  This blog is actually a project highlighting my professional work for the conclusion of my Master’s Degree Program at the University of Nevada, Reno.  Maybe this will be my last post, maybe I will continue to blog.  But, I cannot potentially end my blogging about volunteerism without mention the ultimate volunteers…the servicemen and women who wear the uniform of the United States military.

My brother and his wife will leave shortly for the war zone in the Middle East.  This is my brother’s third tour, the first two he served in Tikrit and Baghdad, Iraq at 19 and 24 years old.  Sure, he is paid by the government, but he has volunteered to put his life on the line to promote freedom and liberty abroad.

The sacrifices are many.  He leaves behind his 10 year old stepson, who will go a school year without his parents.  My aging parents, who live across the country from where my brother is stationed, have anxiety and concern when my brother is abroad.  He is afforded the opportunity to return home on occasion, but with the responsibilities for his own family that has proven difficult.

Where he is headed is extremely dangerous.  Although his first trip to Iraq, he was stationed in the home town of Sadaam Hussein when the dictator was executed and put to rest there.  This tour, his safety is much more at risk.  I am unable to mention his duties due to his security clearance and for his safety, but we are all very concerned for him much more this time around.

However, he is not concerned.  He is eager to return to that part of the world and promote freedom for people who have lived without it.  He anticipates joining his fellow soldiers and supporting them in their duties while he counts on them.  With his sacrifice of his family at home, he is comforted by the family included in an entire division of soldiers.

My brother is a volunteer.  He is a veteran following the footsteps of my father and grandfather who served in the Vietnam conflict and World War II.  We do not live in a country that conscripts young people into service.  Our military is supported by the brave youth who take a stand and raise their hand to volunteer.  For whatever their reasons are, they still do it.

When my brother returned from Iraq the first time, my sister and I flew to Hawaii, where he was stationed.  We met many of his friends who he served with.  I was amazed at how many of these young soldiers were of little financial means and many times familial support.  My brother had the opportunity to attend college and choose another path, but he chose the Army.  For many of his cohorts, the military is the best opportunity for them.  It provides structure and a means to survive.   I think of these young soldiers and the sacrifices they make while people like me and my sisters sit at home in California and enjoy our carefree lives.

If you know a soldier who is deployed, write a note, send an email, and let them know you are thinking of them.  My mom emails soldiers who serve with my brother who do not have ANY family support AT ALL.  Volunteer for the Wounded Warrior Project and affiliated events in your area.  Volunteer for an organization that supports the families that are left behind.  Thank a veteran for their service.  Pray to God that they all come home safely.

Please share a story about your favorite soldier or veteran.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Operation Homefront

Wounded Warrior Project

Sacramento Blue Star Moms


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