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Building More Than A House

On Saturday, I’ll have volunteered with Atlanta Habitat For Humanity for six weekends in a row.

Day 1 - 'My' house is on the left

When I first showed up there was an empty concrete slab. When I leave on Saturday, there will be a punch-out list and a home.

I’ve been on a lot of builds with Atlanta Habitat, but I haven’t built a whole lot for myself. Last weekend was the first time that I’ve felt like I’ve built something for myself.

After builds the house leads, skilled supervisors and sometimes some volunteers head out to a bar for a few drinks and to shoot the breeze. Last weekend was the first time I’ve ever gotten up to leave and someone asked me to stay later.

And then asked me to come to dinner with them.

I was never very good at making friends and I’d sort of resigned myself to the few friends I have here and the friends I’ve left behind.

I’ve spent a few hours volunteering. I’ve given a lot.

I’d forgotten that volunteering gives back to you, too. Meeting people and building friendships that are more than ‘we volunteer together’ is kind of nice.

I Bet I Can Fill My Bag Faster!

I thought today was going to be just another day at work.

red cross, donation, double red donation, twitter

The internet stops for no one!

Don’t get me wrong, a year plus into my job and I still love it, but it wasn’t just another day in the office.

Today the Red Cross came into the office to set up for a blood drive. I’d never donated before, but I signed up and they told me I could do a double red cell donation.

After I was done donating I had some juice and cookies and went back to work. I knocked a few things out and cut out early because I was hungry and kind of tired.

It wasn’t until I got home that I really started thinking about what I’d done. Sure there was the whole, “I squirted blood out of my body into a bag,” thought process. There was also the, “I just did something that can help six people.”

So I sat and looked at the little red spot on my arm and thought about what I did.

All I really did was sit there and make goofy faces and joke around a little because I was nervous.

It’s what we talk about a lot at The Job, though. We’re trying to get people to look at volunteering in a new light and this is one of the ways we can do it.

The simple act of sitting in a chair for a little bit helps people. It helps people who are in no position to help themselves when they need the help that I gave them.

So, today was a pretty awesome day at work. I’m excited for tomorrow.

I Found the Marble in the Oatmeal!

On my second day at 9am, I got twenty emails from my boss.  Thankfully, she let me know it was going to happen so I wouldn’t freak out.  She referred to it as “drinking from the fire hose.”

The mass of information I’ve had to absorb in three days is mind boggling, and the realization that I didn’t quite understand what I was getting myself into was humbling.  There’s a silver lining, though.

The last two years when I started my service year, I hit the ground not really knowing anything about what I was doing, and I had no clue how to find out the information I needed.  It left me feeling so confused that I didn’t know whether to scratch my watch or wind my ass.  My first two days at the New Job didn’t have that, though.

Sure, there was the feeling of not really knowing what was going on and the realization that no amount of preparation before starting would have brought me up to where the people I work with are.  There was something else, though.  A quiet confidence that, even though I didn’t know what was going on, I knew where to find information and I knew the kinds of questions to ask.

I feel really lucky to have had the kind of experience over the past two years that has put me in this position.  I know that I wouldn’t be here without having served with Volunteer Maryland, and the farther I get away from my service there, the more I realize how good the experience was for my professional development.

So I found the marble and I get to drink from the fire hose, but this time the hose is full of awesome.

On the Move

The past week has been something else.  Two days on a Habitat site, a day of packing, and a day on the road.  Five hundred and twelve miles that included a trip through both time (a time zone was crossed!) and space to arrive in a new apartment in Atlanta to start a new job.

I’m looking forward to new adventures in a new city.

Changing the World with an Allen Wrench?

This might be the start of a trend; large companies and contest philanthropy.  You could say that it started with the Pepsi Refresh Project, but Ikea and Vodafone have jumped on board to fund individuals so they can volunteer in their communities.  Ikea’s Life Improvement Project and Vodafone’s World of Difference fund individuals to improve their lives and work with charities of their choice.

Ikea’s Life Improvement Project gives one person $100,000 to use how they see fit to “improve the lives of others.”  It doesn’t look like there are restrictions on the dollars, as long as you submit a budget with your entry.  You can use the dollars to fund yourself so you can volunteer full-time with an organization or you can donate the dollars to organizations of your choice.

Vodafone’s World of Difference program supports volunteering specifically.  Vodafone funds charities to support a full-time volunteer.  Instead of the individual getting funds, organizations get the funds to put the winner on payroll for two months.  The organization gets £2,500 to fund a salary for the winner, and £250 towards “administration expenses incurred as part of the programme.”

The £250 is interesting.  It looks like Vodafone is acknowledging that the volunteer isn’t free for the organization.  I think this is something a lot of people don’t realize.  Even volunteers who aren’t funded have management and material costs associated with their tasks.  I’m sure part of the money is going to go to setting up the volunteer’s payroll and insurance coverage but I doubt that it will use up the whole £250.  The contest rules don’t say anything about how the organization can use the funds outside of “administrative costs.”  Training and support are part of the administration of a volunteer program, right?

Is this the start of a bigger movement where companies help individuals to become more active in their communities?  If so it seems like a good idea.  More people working to make their communities better is a good thing.  Sure, the companies get some free advertising, but does it really change how people think about the company?  If Nike or Shell or BP or Walmart start a similar program, is it really going to change what people think about them as a company?  Are more people going to shop at Ikea or use Vodafone because of the contest?

Answering the Call to Serve… Again…

Friday I volunteered with Habitat again, and amid building a fence railing and turning a boring concrete slab into a front porch, I got one of the best phone calls I’d ever gotten.

The Army of Do-Gooders called me and asked me to get back to service.

I’m going to be working with Points of Light in October–we haven’t fixed on a start date just yet.  I will be an Interactive Strategy Coordinator; supporting Points of Light’s online presence, developing content for Points of Light’s digital outreach, designing and developing training tools and representing Points of Light through presentations and conferences.

I’m almost positive that this never would have happened without the opportunities I had with Volunteer Maryland over my service year.  From working with them to develop a blog and their Twitter presence, their support when I was planning an event to teach nonprofit leaders in Baltimore how to use social media, and the opportunity they provided me with to attend the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in New York and the LEAD Summit in Washington, DC.

It was at the LEAD Summit that someone came up to me, showed me their phone which had a post I’d made to Twitter, and asked if it was me.  I told them it was, and we started talking about how we’ve used social media to support volunteerism.    This was not the last time I’d talk with Jessica Kirkwood.

Jessica invited me to speak at the National Conference on Volunteering and Sevice in New York and I accepted.  It was a wonderful experience on so many different levels; I started to become really confident about what I knew about social media, I built my network of nonprofit movers and shakers, and I had a really great time rubbing elbows with a few (internet) famous people.

I’m still reeling a little bit from the whole thing.  Everything happened in less than a week.  Now I’m working on finding an apartment in Atlanta, and the logistics of moving two cats from northern Ohio to Atlanta.

Move… That… …Bust?

When I was with Volunteer Maryland, part of my service hours could be spent doing direct service volunteering in the community.  I got a lot of information from people about the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition build in Baltimore because a lot of people knew how much I liked volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.  I tried signing up, but never got any information back about when to show up.  I had written the whole thing off, but someone that I served with convinced me to just show up because they really needed people to help with the build.

I’m glad she convinced me to go, because it was a great experience.  Something even better, though, was getting to sit down and watch the show with my parents and tell them about the work that I got to do on the site.  It was the first time that they got to see concrete results from something that I did during my service years.  I got to talk to them about the volunteers I got to meet and work with, and all of the different reasons people came together to build the home.  We talked about what the home meant for the girls that were living there, and what it meant for the people who worked on the site.  I think they finally started to understand what I did with the last two years of my life, and why I chose to do it.

I’ve got to admit, I got a little misty during the show.  It was the first time I’ve ever seen the reaction of the people who are going to use a home I helped to build.  When I volunteered to help build a playground, I went to the grand opening but just hung out with the people I’d worked with.  When the Habitat homes I’d worked on were being dedicated, I never went.  It was great seeing everyone’s reaction and knowing that I helped to make them that happy, even if my part was only a small part of the overall project.

Of Ceiling Boxes and Blogs

I’ve never really thought of myself as a leader.  I worked hard at what I did, whether it was school or my job or volunteering.  I really just wanted to (and still want to) be good at what I do.

I’ve only recently  started to realize that people are seeking me out because I am pretty good at what I do.  My last year at Volunteer Maryland started to drive it home for me.  From working with Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, to bringing people together to talk to nonprofit leaders about social media, to going to New York to talk about how nonprofits can use blogs for outreach.  All of it happened because people recognized that I knew what I was talking about, or that I was willing to learn what they had to teach me and share what I’d learned with other people.

It’s happening again, too.  Last Friday I volunteered with Habitat of Greater Indianapolis, and the crew leader gave me a person and a task and just let me do it.  I took a bit longer to do it than I needed, but I got to teach the person I was working with how to do a bunch of different things on their own.  The crew leader came up to me at the end of the day and thanked me for my work, and for showing other people how to do things.  They wished I could stay on longer than I could-serving here is only temporary until I nail down a job.

I might be getting another really big recognition that I’m good at what I do.  I can’t say much about it right now, but I’m really excited about it.  If it pans out, I’ll write about it on Friday.

As for now, I’m on a Habitat build today at a new site.  Here’s hoping we’re framing!

Continuing the Tradition

During my second service year, I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake.  It was an all around great experience; I got to learn a lot of new things, I felt like I was part of their team, and got to see the impact of the work that I was doing.

I had to move to a suburb of Indianapolis, though, so I got in touch with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Indianapolis and last Friday got back to swinging a hammer.   Once again, it was a really great experience.  I got to meet some new people and knock the rust off of my framing hammer.  I’m going to sign up for a few more builds this month, and hopefully stay relatively injury free.