On Saturday, I’ll have volunteered with Atlanta Habitat For Humanity for six weekends in a row.
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 thought today was going to be just another day at work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.