Archive for the ‘Volunteerism’ Category

cross posted on my new blog: Service Driven

This service-oriented road trip, Service Driven, has been in the our minds for about a year, but a new twist was added just over a month ago.  On the IBM Service Jam in October, one of the participants mentioned that StartingBloc was a really successful new program for young social innovators.  Having never heard of it before, I checked it out and was impressed by the people associated with it and their stories of social change.  I applied, and two weeks ago I found out that I was accepted!

Learn more about StartingBloc from this Fast Company article, or by watching this 2 minute clip:

So now I will be spending the middle of February in Los Angeles, surrounded by 109 other young people who are just as energized about making a difference and having an impact as I am!  I am hopeful that it will be the perfect precursor to our adventure.

If you would like to support me in attending the Social Innovation institute, you can sponsor me HERE.  This would also be a great alternative this year to Christmas or birthday presents since we are downsizing in anticipation of our trip.

To support StartingBloc in offering more scholarships for 2011 Fellows, vote for them in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge HERE.



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As Facebook is wont to do, they have added a new feature which has potential privacy ramifications.  The new feature shows up as groups and is initially difficult to distinguish from the existing groups feature.  However, it is structured differently, in that members of the group can tag their Facebook friends in order to add them to the group.  This is similar to how the notes feature of Facebook works.  The first reports I heard from the media about it were focused on how it could be misused for pranks and bullying.

I was recently added to a group for Madison Women’s Rugby alums.  With JMU’s Homecoming this weekend, the new groups feature came out just in time ….  this new Facebook group allowed word to spread very quickly about events for the weekend.  Our group is basically a latent network, with many people who are Facebook friends, but who may not have actually spoken to one another in years.  This new feature allowed the network to become active as rugby players from different graduating classes added their cohort to the group.  In just a couple of days the group has grown to 51 members and there are already three events with RSVPs being coordinated through this ad hoc group.

This is a great example of self organizing and I can see potential parallels to community response.  For example, if there is a sudden need for neighbors to organize (think snow storm for example), they could quickly form a group and have it grow organically.  The latent networks that already exist within communities could become active and organized using this new feature.

What do you think?  Could this new feature be beneficial to groups of volunteers or neighborhood members?  What concerns or barriers do you see for using this new feature?

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Right now there is an international dialogue going on online about service as a solution to challenges around the world.  This dialogue is hosted by IBM and it is called Service Jam.

The discussion platform that IBM provides is very intuitive and powerful.  You can move easily between following discussion threads as they unfold, to looking at themes emerging (in a tag cloud) and then clicking on a particular theme to see where the conversations around that theme are taking place.  In addition, you can choose to follow individual participants or to follow individual posts.  The site includes a page that acts as a personal dashboard in which your own contributions, as well as those you have chosen to follow, are organized.

So far, since the Jam started Sunday morning, there have been over 3,000 posts from over 8,000 people logging in.  Now what really surprised me was that I actually know several of the most active “jammers”.  One of the most prolific participants so far is Andrew Levy, who runs a blog about Citizen Corps and lives nearby.  Another jammer who has been featured on the “Hot Ideas” page almost the entire time, is Jessica Kirkwood, who runs the HandsOn Blog and handles social media for HandsOn Network.  Out of 8,000 participants from around the world, several of the ones who I am running into in the Jam are people who are already in my social network.  How does that happen?

One lesson in this example is that in a platform such as an online discussion forum, content matters.  Andrew and Jessica were both featured throughout the site because they were actively contributing new ideas and coming up with great questions to spark discussion.  In fact, when former President George H.W. Bush came into the room (online), who did he end up conversing with?  Andrew Levy.

These new ways of hosting dialogue allow different voices to be heard.  The former President’s posts get pulled up beside those of citizen leaders, because they are both contributing relevant experience and great questions for discussion.  I think this is a great example of how new technology can change the way we host the conversation.  What do you think?

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In John McKnight and Peter Block, recent book, Abundant Community, they state,

Volunteerism was never designed to be efficient, only satisfying.   Systems were never designed to be satisfying, only efficient.

This simple truth speaks to something that I have come to know in my heart over the last few years working in volunteer management.  As I have often described it to people, instead of trying to figure out how I can do the same or more with fewer people, I actually look for ways to involve more people in the work.  If your goal is to mentor a child, do you really want to do that efficiently?  If volunteers are seen as resources, then the standard view of creating an efficient program would be to reduce the number of volunteers it takes to mentor a child, or to get more mentoring out of each volunteer.

But a mentoring relationship is not a system, it is a building block of community.  The rules are different and we can not use the same language to talk about mentoring as we use to talk about manufacturing.  It is too easy to confuse not only why we do what we do, but the beauty in HOW we do it.  We build community through making connections between people and between associations.  More connections, stronger connections, are better.  Taking more time with one another leads to higher quality relationships.

I refuse to be efficient in volunteering.  Can anyone give me a reason why I should accept this language and concept of efficiency for volunteering and community building?

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This post was originally written for and published at The CVN Forum, a blog for the Community Volunteer Network.

Finding a great volunteer opportunity is about finding a great fit between your personality and the needs of the position.  A good volunteer opportunity requires an actual human being to fill the role, and there is a chance to bring your uniqueness to the position.  For example, I recently started volunteering with The Women’s Center in Vienna as

The Women's Center logoan educational program assistant.  The Women’s Center has been working for over 30 years to further the psychological, career, financial and legal well-being of women and families. However, what got my attention about the position description was the opportunity to sit in on classes.  I love to learn new things and will take a class in almost anything as long as it is free and I’m not being graded on it!

Last night was my first time assisting with a class.  I was impressed with how organized the volunteer program is. I received detailed instructions, but was also working independently and able to be authentic in welcoming the participants, introducing the speaker, and handling registrations.  I felt as if my role was important, I represented the Women’s Center.  In class we learned about sugar cravings and how to conquer them.  The class was taught by a passionate and well trained nutritionist, Kristy Rodriguez, and I learned quite a bit.  The participants really enjoyed the class, but I was disappointed because the class size was very small.  The two hour class was $25 for members ($50 membership fee) or $35 for non-members, which seemed very reasonable.  They have reduced fees for women who are in need of a discount.

Next Thursday I am volunteering again, this time for the Successful Resume Essentials class.  There is still room to sign up (you can even register at the class) and if you are currently unemployed, you would most likely qualify for a reduced fee.  If the class is anything like the Sugar Blues class, it will be compelling and informative!  Hope to see you there!

The Women’s Center is looking for other people to volunteer in the same role that I am in.  Most of the classes are held in Vienna in the evenings, but they also have classes on Saturdays and are hosting a few in Arlington.

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Camp FantasticYesterday my sister Nora got back from a week at Camp Fantastic, a camp for kids with cancer, run by Special Love. My sister was there as a volunteer. She served as both a camp counselor, supervising two girls for the week, and assisted with classes (such as Film Class). This is an opportunity that my sister looks forward to every year. As a childhood cancer survivor herself, the camp serves as both a way to give back as well as a strong community of other survivors and families who understand this unique challenge.

Special Love’s motto is that every kid has a right to be a kid. When I see Nora talk about her time at camp, it seems like the real motto is that everyone has a right to be a kid for a week. The counselors get so into the fun, spending months beforehand planning and collecting donations (Nora collected bags upon bags of toilet paper rolls to make decorations for the dance), and creating magic at camp. They turn camp into a place where anything is possible and where adults are there for the amusement of children, though it is hard to tell who is having more fun.

Camp Fantastic makes a huge difference in the lives of children battling cancer. It is all possible because of volunteers who commit their time and their heart to this program. On paper, this endeavor should not be possible. Most people would not be able to imagine that a week-long camp for kids with very serious health problems, almost entirely run by volunteers, with an extremely limited budget would even exist. Luckily, it does and it should be looked to as an example of the best that can come from volunteers getting together and having a lot of community support to pursue a worthwhile mission.

Do you know of similar camps in other parts of the country? How do they do it? What about other volunteer-run initiatives that seem to accomplish impossible feats? What can volunteer programs learn from successes like Camp Fantastic?

Post from Rotary about their involvement with Camp Fantastic

Video from TBD News about this year’s Camp Fantastic

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Back to follow up from the National Conference on Volunteering and Service for a moment….

Besides the professional volunteer managers and national service members, there were for profit companies and celebrities at the conference.  As the service movement gains popularity, and volunteering is seen as cool, many companies and brands are looking to partner.  Last fall, the Entertainment Industry Foundation worked with individual celebrities as well as TV producers to promote service through their programming and PSAs.  In most cases these partnerships are win-win.  The celebrity or company gets good PR and the organization has greater visibility and may receive donations, volunteers, or free marketing.

At one of the first sessions that I went to, CauseCast showed this video from Ben Stiller:

This video and the type of civic activism that it represents is seen as a win for the service movement.  This model rests on the following assumptions:

Assumption: celebrities will be perceived as more trustworthy than the average joe and therefore a better spokesperson for your cause

Assumption: having a celebrity promote your cause will help your cause

Discussion / Reflection Questions:

Are those assumptions always correct?

Is Ben Stiller a volunteer leader?

Most volunteer policies say that you can not volunteer to do the same work that you do for pay.  For instance, a County social worker can not volunteer to screen homeless clients.  Ben Stiller is an actor and he is now acting on behalf of a cause.  Is he being paid?  By whom?

If he is not compensated are there labor law considerations?

Can you be paid or receiving material benefit and still be a volunteer leader?

Is the definition of volunteer leadership more about your actions, or about your intentions?

Is the concept of “being” the same as intentions?

Do celebrities who are promoting causes while also promoting their own brand muddy the waters of volunteerism or is this a great innovation in the social sector that changes the paradigm of giving?

That’s a lot of questions I know, but I have far more questions when it comes to this model of volunteer leadership than I have answers.  I would appreciate your insight or suggestions for other reading on this topic.

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