Tag Archives: volunteer

Fast Track to a Vegemite Sandwich?

Ever do those word puzzles in the newspaper that make you find the prefix to a set of words? Try this one: What’s a prefix for  -fiche, -scope, and -volunteering?

Give up? Try “micro”.  Maybe some of you don’t remember microfiche, and it’s probably been years since you actually used a microscope, but I’m sure you’re wondering “What the hell is micro-volunteering?”.  Enter The Extraordinaries.  That’s right – this website is made just for you, oh internet-obsessed blog reader.  I’ll admit I was skeptical at first, I mean – what good could I possibly do from my computer? Well, not only could I volunteer from my bed (no judging), but it only takes about 35 seconds to make a difference.  Seriously.

I started perusing opportunities on The Extraordinaries after a prompt from AmeriCorps Alums – they’re using the site to map projects for National AmeriCorps Week.  So, I searched for “trails”, wondering how the land trust I work for might think about using it (obviously there is some paradox when you’re microvolunteering for an organization based on getting people outside) – I found a similar organization who’d asked people to use gps on their phones to map trails.  Now, I was intrigued.  Searching the site a little more, I somehow got stuck volunteering for a museum in Australia that needs help tagging its photo archive.  It’s almost like playing a slightly boring computer game – but you really are helping out! Heck – how many times have I searched our archives for a photo of a kid on a trail on a bike with a helmet to use for some promotional material? Not the easiest task.  If only I had a micro-volunteer, tagging away from the comfort of their own home (or smartphone).

While I see the use for microvolunteering, I am a little concerned.  Isn’t part of the benefit of giving back the connections you create with the organization and other volunteers? Is there really a way to build community through this form of volunteerism? Could it be used to recruit volunteers for other positions in an organization once they’ve helped you on the web? The internet constantly astounds me – so I guess we’ll just have to see how far this microvolunteering thing goes.  As for me, I’ll probably continue to give a few minutes to random organizations like the Powerhouse Museum…maybe they’ll find out I’m such an amazing image tagger that they’ll hook me up with a trip to the Land Down Under.  I’ve been dying to try one of those vegemite sandwiches…

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Dancin’ with Myself

Alright, I’ll admit that I’m a little behind on this post – our Spring Fling event was a few weeks ago.  Would you believe I’ve been too busy volunteering to post about it? Forgive me.

STRIVE is a program focused on addressing the issues of young people with disabilities.  The cornerstone of their program is a weekly Friday Night Social for these teens and young adults to interact with their peers.  A friend of mine from Maine AmeriCorps Alums saw they needed help creating theme nights for the socials and immediately emailed the program to set up a date.  Our group spent a lot of time brainstorming games and crafts for the evening – after much deliberation and a few duds (umm…oragami?!), we came up with our grand plan.  We decided to do cookie decorating, plant potting, tissue paper flowers, an egg hunt, and face painting.

I started out helping with the tissue paper flowers (somehow, I’d been deemed a pro at this), but eventually found myself with a paintbrush in my hand.  The last time I painted anyone’s face was year’s ago, and I’m certainly far from an artist.  But, I was in luck! My first (and only) customer just wanted a rainbow – easy enough! Oh, but then he wanted a woman’s face on his cheek, and a swirly thing on his neck, and a fancy moustache…yeah, and then a full beard.  Turns out my artistry (or lack there of) was completely irrelevant.  The weird thing is, the whole thing made me super sappy.  I seriously almost started crying at how beautiful the moment was – this kid was totally appreciating me and the process more than the outcome of some pretty drawing on his face.  Well, I’m just going to tell myself that since he immediately washed it all off.

After face painting, I got my dance on.  The DJ was an “aged-out” member of STRIVE, volunteering his time to continue involvement with the program.  He was eager to play my request (MJ, of course) and I did the best moonwalk that dance floor had ever seen.  One of the kids, J. grabbed on to a few of us to form a dance circle.  The throng of beautiful woman around him was clearly…shall we say… “exciting” for him.  I’m not that mature, so I bailed after a weak attempt to draw boundaries (“I only dance with myself, J.”).

The only downer of the night was the realization that C. from STRIVE had clearly exaggerated when she told us there would be about 70-100 attendees at the event.  I think we’d be lucky to call it 30-40, which left us with lots of extra cookies and seedlings (obviously something to complain about).

We debriefed over a beer – turns out many of us had rewarding moments like my “this is the best thing ever” thought while slopping brown face paint all over that kid’s face. Guess the old adage is true –  “No one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”  What are you STRIVING for?

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You Better Recognize!

Well, I lost my phone in the woods (and therefore, my camera) so the beauty of this post just won’t be the same.  A couple weeks ago was National Volunteer Week.  Many people took time during the week to reflect on the meaning of service or make a difference in their community.  What did I do? I got recognized!  Now, anyone who has ever gone to workshops in volunteer management knows that  recognition is high on the list of best practices for volunteer programs.  You know, as an overworked (and usually underpaid) administrator, you’re supposed to ask your boss to add a couple hundred bucks to the budget for a nice celebration.  Needless to say, it doesn’t always happen.

But, Big Brothers Big Sisters did a pretty good job this time.  Capitalizing on the visibility of National Volunteer Week, they took the time to bring “littles” and “bigs” from across greater Portland together for a pizza party.  Ok, so I know you’re probably thinking “Wow – that’s original.  A pizza party?”  Being as arrogant as I am, I was already preparing a rant on modeling behavior and healthy eating habits…and I didn’t even know about the “stuff-your-face-with-ice cream game”.  But, I was actually surprised.  Most of the pizza toppings were veggies and not only did we get to build our own, but the whole thing was a contest for which big/little combo could make the most original pizza.  (Here is where pictures would have been handy).  K. and I chose to make a face, which then morphed into something resembling a puppy, though maybe it was a bald old man.  We were clearly outdone by the “creepy crawly” pizza – these ladies made centipedes and spiders with their toppings.  Our neighbors did up a “flower garden” pizza with brightly colored hydrangeas made of red and orange bell peppers.  There were also monsters, a pacman, and a “leaning tower of pizza” that stood a few inches high…pretty cool.

Following the pizza thing, we watched some of the younger kids do an ice cream eating contest.  K. wasn’t up for me poking her in the eye with a spoonful of chocolate gooeyness, so we just watched and cheered for the frantic competitors.  We still got a bowl at the end (and we actually got the dessert into our mouths, unlike the contest participants).

So, here is the real question: Did I really need to be recognized? Would I be a better volunteer because of a little free pizza? To be honest, for me, the answer is no.  Sure, it is great to get together with other volunteers, but we just sat awkwardly at the table not knowing what to say.  There were games and word searches, but we weren’t really encouraged to use them.  K. and I had a good time, and the outing was free (probably the best part), so that means something.  But realistically, my motivations for volunteering have little to do with a night like this – I get recognition every time K. and I spend a day together.  That being said, there are obviously volunteers who are truly inspired by celebratory functions (yes, you still need to have the awkward conversation with your boss about increasing your program budget).  Want to know what your motivations for volunteering are?  My roomie (and fellow volunteer junkie) KM. passed on this Volunteerism Questionnaire – it only takes a couple minutes to figure out if make-your-own-pizza is the fastest way to your volunteer spirit.

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Those Freaks!

Ever think that things just couldn’t get any weirder? Yeah? Well, you obviously don’t work with volunteers.  Any volunteer manager or coordinator knows that volunteers are – I’m just going to say it – whack jobs.  Seriously.  And just when you think you’ve met the weirdest one, here comes another.

So, what makes us volunteers so dang crazy? My theory is that we all like to pretend that we enjoy service because we are saving the world, while we’re really playing a grand game of “what’s my job?”.  My favorite volunteer experiences? The ones where I took on a role I’d never have the opportunity to do in normal life.  That’s probably why I loved the MPBN gig so much – suddenly I’m a superstar, answering phones and gaining fame and fortune across the airwaves.  Same thing happened when I volunteered at the NYC AIDS walk – who knew that I was a super-badass security guard?  Oh, and that mentoring thing? Yeah, that’s me practicing to be a good mom (shh).

Now, what does this have to do with anything? Well, I guess I’m starting to get a reputation for being one of those whackjob volunteers…like writing a blog about my obsession with service hadn’t tipped everyone off already.  So, tonight I checked my email for the umpteenth time and what appeared before my eyes? Let me show you:

“The Lisbon Conservation Corps is looking for a volunteer to wear a fish costume at our youth fishing day. If you know someone who might be interested, however I am asking you because you are not only all wonderful people, but wonderful people in small packages – that wouldn’t burst the costume like an individual like myself would.”

Ok, so he wasn’t asking only me, but still.  Do I want to wear a fish costume?? I think that goes a bit beyond this whole pretending to be someone else thing.  Would I need to do a special fish song and dance? And am I supposed to be happy or sad when all these little kids are poking my friends with sharp objects disguised as food? I don’t even know where Lisbon, Maine is.  But yet, sort of secretly, I think it sounds like the most fun EVER!

If you or someone else you know is petite, wants to be a fish for a day, and could actually get to Lisbon, Maine on May 2nd, let me know! I’ll pass your info on to Luke without even mentioning how much of a freak you are.

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Me and My Little

cupcake

Friday night fun at Color Me Mine

Well, to start this off, I guess it makes sense to begin with my ongoing volunteer work with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Maine.  BBBS is located off Lancaster Street in Portland.  Feeling a little antsy on a warm summer day last year, I trucked myself down to their office to figure out what being a “Big Sis” is all about.  The application process was a little lengthy, but not enough to turn me off.  I’ll admit to being a little worried by the orientation quiz, which implied that all the littles in their program are out-of-control freaks. But, I was up for a challenge, so why not?  BBBS requires a pretty high level of commitment – I am expected to meet with my little every week for 3-5 hours, and to carry this out for at least a year.  I’m also supposed to check-in with a BBBS staff member every month to update them on how the relationship is developing.

The first time I met K. I knew that volunteering my time to act as her mentor would be a piece of cake.  The kid was about to turn twelve and looked at me with glowing eyes – it was like I was the best birthday present she could ask for.  Our first outing was to the YMCA – we get free passes through BBBS.  Hoping for a couple hours in the pool, we excitedly approached the check-in desk, only to find out that the pool was unexpectedly closed for the day.  K. took it all in stride as we ended up in the i-pool, practically crowded out by unruly kids from summer camp.  We ended up leaving early and getting ice cream at Wild Burritos – obviously neither of us could complain.

Over the past few months, K. and I have managed to get together about every other week for an outing.  I can’t say enough good things about her.  But, I haven’t been particularly impressed by BBBS.  In the first few months, I made an attempt to check-in on a regular basis, but my phone calls weren’t returned for weeks.  A good friend (well, ex-boyfriend, really) tried to sign up as well, but never heard anything after what he thought was a successful interview.  And, my other complaint is that there is relatively little support for low-budget outings.  I mean, K. and I are pretty good about finding cheap or free things to do, but spending time together nearly every week gets expensive (and I always carry the cost).  Our most recent night out was painting pottery at Color Me Mine – $30 and three hours later, we were happy owners of a cupcake box and small plate.  Not exactly a cheap date, but I can’t think of another way I’d rather spend a Friday night.

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