Posts Tagged ‘volunteering’

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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In my Leadership class, a couple of my classmates presented on leadership in virtual work environments.  They showed the video below and one excerpt caught my attention … watch the first minute to see what I mean.

This IBM employee works virtually from the Fire station where he is a regular volunteer.  Genius!!  As more and more companies and government agencies go completely virtual, this may open up a whole host of possibilities for volunteers.  In fact, one concern I have heard of potential virtual workers is that they would prefer to have an office setting or be around other people when they work.  What if a small nonprofit could supply the desk space in exchange for a regular commitment of volunteer time.  This could be a very symbiotic relationship.

One example… an IBM employee that has great technical knowledge works from the offices of a small nonprofit in exchange for “on call” hours in which they make themselves available for technical assistance or training.  As long as the employee is doing project based work that is very flexible, it should work out well.

What do you think?  Could you envision scenarios in which a virtual worker could volunteer in a new way?

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This year, the national organization for volunteer centers, HandsOn Network, has partnered with hollywood to promote volunteering and basically “make volunteering cool”.  This effort is also supported by President Obama, who launched the “United We Serve” campaign from the first days of his presidency and passed the “Serve America Act”.
With volunteerism and volunteer centers suddenly thrust into the national spotlight there are important changes underway that have serious implications for what we do and how we do it at our organization.  For example, President Obama’s website, www.serve.gov, encourages volunteers to start their own projects and use the site to connect to other volunteers who can help them in their community.
On the one hand this site has been great for us, because our data is pulled in to the site and a lot of publicity has gone into promoting it.  On the other hand, the site and the publicity around it takes the “professional volunteer manager” out of the picture and encourages grassroots organizing without acknowledging the important role that a volunteer manager can play in maximizing the ability of volunteers to create change in their communities.  Volunteer management is a relatively new field, with the Certificate of Volunteer Administration (CVA) just starting to gain steam and a new national association for volunteer managers coming into its own.
From what I read in Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody, about the way new social technologies are revolutionizing the way that people can organize themselves and reducing the need for some professions, I believe that volunteer management is one of those professions that will be transformed or eliminated by the growth of these technologies.  When serve.gov was announced it should have been a great moment for volunteer centers across the country, but all of the volunteer center administrators that I spoke to were upset and fearful of what the new technology meant for volunteer management and volunteer centers.
Now, as many volunteer managers just started to embrace the President’s initiative, this new campaign from Hollywood, iparticipate brings up new fears and dillemmas.  We putting our messaging, our PR, in the hands of the mouthpiece with arguably the largest mouthpiece in the Nation, and it could turn out to transform the way our industry does business.
The iparticipate website states “Everyone’s a volunteer, some just haven’t met the right opportunity yet.  This is your chance to participate”.  I love it!  In my opinion that is the perfect wording for our campaign.  Unfortunately, the messaging is not consistent, and we are starting to see some questionable messages come out with recent PSAs and ads from the related programs.  Check out a few below and see what I mean….

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