Happy International Volunteer Managers Day

Today is a special day, and we’d like to stop to celebrate all the volunteer managers around the world who are dedicated to serving their communities and affecting positive change in our world.

It has been a crazy and challenging year for many volunteer programs, but we know that volunteer managers have continued to serve as a beacon of hope, positivity, kindness, and love. We want to thank you all for your passion and commitment!

To celebrate all that you volunteer managers have done and are still doing, we collected stories of your successes during 2020 to share. We were blown away by your responses! Even through the hardships that have come along with this year, so many of you have adapted, overcome, and thrived! That is so encouraging!

In fact, we received so many responses that it won’t be possible for us to share them all in a single post! Instead, we’ll be sharing groups of stories each day for the next week! So if you don’t see your story here today or simply want to continue celebrating volunteer managers with us, please come back tomorrow and for the next week for more!

Today, we’ll start the celebration with a number of inspiring stories of volunteer managers who have overcome adversity and adapted to the new challenges of volunteering during a pandemic. Many of these volunteer managers have pointed to their volunteers for their successes this year. While some of that is certainly true, it is incredibly clear the kind of leadership that these managers bring to their volunteer programs and how that has inspired the kind of service their volunteers provide. Under the leadership of these volunteer managers, volunteers have stepped up and volunteer programs have prospered.

Our volunteers have helped us weather the storm this year. Flexibility has been key – for our volunteers and our staff. We welcomed volunteers back on site in June and have taken a phased approach to resuming our programs, with all but one currently operating now. About 42% of our volunteers have participated in active service since June. They have contributed almost 10,000 hours. For context, they contributed over 18,000 hours for the same time frame last year.

Our staff continue to be humbled when our volunteers love this organization and believe in the mission enough that they want to be here in the midst of a pandemic. Even though we have waived all attendance requirements until further notice, they continue to show up even though they don’t have to be here. The phrase “have to” has taken on new meaning this year. Many of our volunteers have told us they “have to” be here because this is their happy place. And we couldn’t agree more.

We got to see what a day – many days, in fact – was like without volunteers in the building. For our animal staff who were deemed essential and worked on site during our 93 day closure to take care of our zoo and aquarium animals, the reunion with their volunteers was so special to see. Volunteers help support their work, but they also build the staff up by connecting with them personally and being their biggest cheerleaders. Volunteers don’t get enough credit for the emotional support their presence brings. This organization was founded by volunteers in 1957 and continues to be supported by them today.

We’ve heard a lot this year about how the number of volunteers you have and the number of hours they contribute doesn’t accurately capture impact. I 100% agree with that. Although our annual report worthy numbers are smaller this year, we’re choosing to tell a different story – one of service that supports our mission in the darkest of days, is a place of calm in the midst of the storm for those who serve, and is a blessing in more ways than one for the staff who work with them.

Volunteers are a light in the dark. And we need them more than ever. I will forever be grateful to our volunteers for choosing this place time and again – even when they don’t “have to.”

– Kelli C., Greensboro Science Center

Yes, indeed this has been a year like no other. Our very popular and beloved park closed due to COVID-19 “Shelter In Place” orders in March 2020, then opened to limited activities in April. Our Trail Patrol Volunteers were able to resume volunteering when the park opened back up, and have continued being the “eyes and ears” in the park. They actively patrol over 45 miles of backcountry trails on foot/bike/horseback.

After about 8 weeks of horrific wildfire smoke further limiting outdoor activities, our park was hit by the Glass Fire on September 28th. About a quarter of the 5,000-acre park is burned, but our trail patrol volunteers got right back out there as soon as the rest of the park opened again after about a week. Our Volunteers truly are the glue that holds our park together.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I created some “Get Your Nature Fix” emails to share with our volunteers (via Volgistics VicNet) — we all missed being in the park. Each Nature Fix focused on a specific plant or ecosystem in our park, creating historical perspective, education, stewardship and things to look for next spring/summer, and including photos from within the park taken by me. I sent these out about every 10 days, just to keep a connection with my Volunteers.

During the Glass Fire most of our active volunteers (150) were under Mandatory Evacuation Orders in Santa Rosa. This was extremely stressful, and difficult for me to connect with everyone, as many did not get back home or have power for at least two weeks. Unfortunately, we also learned that at least 3 of our dedicated and regular volunteers lost their homes in the Glass Fire, one lost her ranch but was able to save her Mounted Patrol Mule, Cecilia B deMule (“Sis”).

We are all grateful to have the opportunities of being out in Nature and giving to our community through volunteerism, especially during such a long strange year as 2020 has been. Be well everyone! Be safe, and Happy Trails!

(Sarah has been involved in this volunteer program for CA State Parks for 20 years, both as a Volunteer and as a Coordinator. Sarah is a UC certified CA Naturalist.)

– Sarah R., Trione-Annadel State Park, CA State Parks

“Wright In Kankakee’s Volunteer story is one of determination and dedication that began fifteen years ago, in 2005, when Sharon and Gaines Hall took a big chance to purchase and restore Frank Lloyd Wright’s First Prairie House design in Kankakee, Illinois. Their work took nearly five years to complete, bringing the B. Harley Bradley House back to its original glory of 1900. In 2010, a contract purchase agreement was made with the non-profit organization, Wright In Kankakee, whose mission it is to preserve and present the Bradley House Museum to the public for the past ten years with a mostly volunteer staff.

Since the covid pandemic hit in March 2020, the B. Harley Bradley House Museum schedule, like so many other small businesses’ schedules, was put on hold until restrictions lifted enough to allow a limited reopening. In June 2020, the ten year contract mortgage with the Halls was completed on time. A substantial portion of the contract was forgiven, with the matching funds they provided during the retire the mortgage campaign. Donations from members of Wright In Kankakee and Volunteers, plus revenue from tours, gift shop sales, and rentals of the House for meetings, private and public events contributed to paying down the mortgage.

While the tour and event schedules have been operating at only a fraction of their usual five to seven days per week in strength, the Bradley House Volunteers and staff have continued to manage the necessary work. Volunteer executive board members have followed CDC recommendations to meet safety standards to protect our Volunteers and tourists alike. They have reorganized schedules to allow small private tours for family members and close social groups. Rentals for small events and meetings have continued to produce some revenue, as has rental of several upstairs rooms in the Museum to the Kankakee River Valley Community Foundation (one of two organizations responsible for the creation of Wright In Kankakee). Afforded a bit of spare time because of the pandemic, plans have been put into place to automate reservations on our website, freeing up staff and volunteers to attend to other business. Part-time administrative assistants of Wright In Kankakee have consistently kept the office operating. The volunteer grounds and gardening team has continuously tended to weeding, planting, clean-up and creating seasonal displays in planters. While volunteer tour guides armed with face masks, shields, and gloves have shared the rich history of the Bradley House with guests from around the country, volunteer clerks have priced new merchandise, cleaned shelving to artfully display it, and sold the home decor and personal accessories that use Wright’s designs to eager shoppers.

The Volunteers (and staff) of Wright In Kankakee have demonstrated phenomenal stewardship of the B. Harley Bradley House for the past ten years and especially this very challenging year. These Volunteers exemplify what volunteerism is all about. The old saying holds true here, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

– Laura G., Wrignt In Kankakee

Hospice of the Western Reserve (HWR), located on the North Coast of Lake Erie in Ohio, has not closed our doors to patients and their loved ones during the COVID 19 prevention restrictions. At the beginning, we only allowed 2 visitors per patient and now we allow 6 designated visitors per patient with outdoor window visits.

While previously to COVID 19, my job included the reception desk management, most of my focus since March has been on the staffing of the reception desk. Due to the COVID prevention restrictions and the high-risk population of volunteers, we lost about 85% of the reception desk volunteers. It has given us a chance to incorporate our paid staff who were not able to make their own visits in nursing facilities, assisted living and/or homes. Slowly, gradually as the paid staff resume their regular field visits, we have done targeted recruitment to invite existing volunteers and/or new volunteers to assume the volunteer role at the reception desk. My colleagues, other Volunteer Service Managers (VSMs) have become back up substitutes who come in if volunteers are unable to fulfill their shifts. We have also taken up being on-call 9am to 9pm during the week and rotating on-call over the weekends to maintain the desk.

Our roles suddenly included the involvement of the upper management who are now creating the visitation structure with the COVID screening. Our volunteers went from retired seniors being able to gently welcome visitors to quarantined younger/full time worker volunteers or those willing to come in despite the high risk factors. Their focus now on screening and COVID prevention alter the activity and philosophical inspiration of the hospice mission.

At HWR, we are used to saying yes to whatever it takes to give people what they need to live well and fully during their last days or months. These COVID prevention restrictions weigh out between our philosophical intent and the reality of the agency’s need to focus on safe prevention. It’s been a challenging time for my VSM colleagues, for the staff, the isolated volunteers, as well as juggling newer volunteers remotely. The scheduling of the reception desk was already a challenging “moving target” but with the COVID screening, added the collaboration, partnership, scrutiny, accountability and involvement of upper and middle management, all of my VSM colleagues and their respective schedules, all the existing volunteers “on hold” and the orienting, scheduling, support and logistics of adding new volunteers 9a to 9pm days a week.

Looking back on these amazing and ground breaking overnight changes is something, isn’t it!? Wow, how transformation can occur in an instant. Now, it looks like “slow motion” to review these difficult, emotional and rocky waters of such rapid change and growth.

Now, I’m proud to have the courage, inspiration and generosity of a whole new group of volunteers. I’m honored to have the partnership and respect based on new awareness and understanding of our management, as well as our colleagues and the other members of the interdisciplinary teams (including secretaries, spiritual care coordinators, hospice nursing assistants, social workers, bereavement coordinators, team leaders and supervisors.) How we got “from there to here” is really a blur beyond real comprehension.

Somehow, though, we’ve managed, I’ve managed to be part of a group of people who said “Yes” during a time when saying “No” was most needed. I’m proud to say that as a Volunteer Service Manager (VSM) for a large and specialized non-profit Hospice agency, that I’ve been able to help patients still die well, not die alone if they wish and enable a whole new (albeit temporary) model of care under the new regime called COVID 19.

Yes, it’s been and still is, at times, an emotional roller coaster. It’s full to the brim, though, with moments of gratitude, generosity and triumph for people are working together. People are kind and understanding of how deeply this change impacts the dying and their loved ones.

In the moments of great stress, too many hours on phones and computers, too many questions from others who needed answers when there were none, not as many people to fill the scheduling holes.. I managed to make a difference. I managed to rise above the “before’s” and become a leader for my community, my patient base and their loved ones, for my volunteer pools and my colleagues and teammates. I am grateful for the work we do together. I am grateful for the flexibility and the skills that I have to be a full-out “people person” in the midst of being a happy introvert in quarantine.

So far, we’ve done it! We’ve kept our doors open to a 42-bed inpatient hospice unit. Our interdisciplinary staff and our volunteers have done it. We have not closed our doors or fully had to isolate the dying from having their loved ones with them. Yes, we’ve had to set limits and adopt new practices. But we have kept our doors opened.

I’ve done that. We’ve done it together in a new way never before done.

That’s my story!

– Tina T., Hospice of the Western Reserve

I have been a volunteer manager at Grant Cottage Historic Site in Wilton, NY for a few years now and thoroughly enjoy the challenges and joys involved, but nothing could prepare me for the curveball of COVID-19.

When preparing for the 2020 season (May-Oct) I sent out a survey to gauge the views of volunteers in regard to volunteering during the pandemic. The overwhelming response from the volunteers was that they wanted to participate despite the risks involved. As a volunteer manager this level of dedication was truly inspiring.

Our small non-profit organization, The Friends of Grant Cottage, made a commitment to try to open the Historic Site as soon as permissible and to develop a modified operations plan that would provide the safest environment possible for staff, volunteers and visitors alike. We had a virtual training session to instruct volunteers on the required health protocols and their ability to adapt this season was impressive.

Through the tireless efforts of staff and volunteers, Grant Cottage was the first New York State Historic Site to open on July 3rd.

Since that time the volunteer and visitor response has been tremendous. We consistently booked all our daily tours throughout the season and many others came to explore the grounds. Despite capacity limitations our 22 active volunteers contributed 250 shifts totaling over 1400 hours and conducted 850+ guided tours. We even brought on three new volunteers!

It was the volunteers who made the difference between this season being a complete closure and loss, to being a shining success by providing thousands of visitors with a meaningful experience in a difficult time.

I’m proud and privileged to work with such a friendly and selfless group of individuals.

– Ben K., The Friends of the Ulysses S. Grant Cottage

Our organization decided to change our program to a 100% virtual back in 2018. We used to bring volunteers to studios around the country to record audiobooks for our educational solution, but decided to change all our program into virtual. It was a very hard decision and we lost 50% of our volunteer pool back then. Now, we are back into the number of volunteers we were before and after the pandemic we have increased those numbers to an unprecedented level we never experienced before.

We are grateful and overwhelmed by the tremendous support of volunteers over these last few months. Through their efforts efforts, we have been able to support more students with more audiobooks than ever before. Here are some numbers to show just how unbelievable you have all been:

We have received over 5,000 new volunteer applications since March! To put this in perspective, we typically receive about 200 new volunteer applications each month. We have been averaging 1,012 applications per month since March — that’s 5 times more! See the bar chart on the left.

We have had 340 new volunteers donate service since March — over 3 times more than over the same period last year (97)! The same behavior we have seen on subsequent months.

We have had 662 total volunteers donate service hours since March — 58% more than we had over the same period last year (418)!

Volunteers have donated 69,000 hours of service since July 1, 2019, with 43% or 29,490 of these hours donated since March 2020. This is 44% more than we had over the same period last year (418)!

We produced 51% more audiobooks (479) between March and June than we did during the same period last year (317).

– Paula R., Learning Ally

The volunteers at Sampson Regional Medical Center have succeeded in making a difference to our patients and their families. This is what we do.

Get Well card daily delivery – For each new patient in the hospital, our volunteer stops by to give them a get-well card that reads, sorry you are not feeling well, this is just our little way of letting you know we care. Complete with hospital logo. The volunteer signs card and the nurses and doctors can sign it if they get a chance. It really touches the heart of each patient, and it gives them a visit they did not expect. Sometimes the only visit. Before the volunteer leaves they ask the question, it there anything you need, or anything I can do for you. If there is an issue we have a chance to recover and make their staff a positive outcome.

Courtesy Cart – Our volunteers make rounds twice per-day with a cart stocked with a variety of snacks and bottled water. These are offered to the family members of patients at no charge. The volunteers raise the money for these snacks by having fundraisers such as: Uniform sale once each year and we have a Gift-wrapping service throughout the year. The charge is minimal, so many give more than the charged amount to help the courtesy cart fund. This service is offered to our community as well. At Christmas, the volunteers normally raise more than $ 1,000.00 just in December alone.

Courtesy Cart Testimonial – One family member was so touched by the service we offered to him and his family while his mom was in our critical care unit, he donated $1,000 to the courtesy cart fund. He said the time he got to spend with her instead of the café was priceless.

Guest Ambassador – These volunteers make a difference to those family members waiting for or with a loved one Emergency Department and ICU. The volunteer’s job is to take care of the guest, such as offer refreshments from our courtesy cart, or if the patient is out for test etc. and the family member has questions, the volunteer is the liaison between the medical staff and the guest in times when ER is extra busy.

I share this motto by Maya Angelou with my volunteers each day after our morning huddle:

People will forget what you said,
People will forget what you did,
But people will never for get how you made them feel.

– Judy N., Sampson Regional Medical Center

Our institution closed for lockdown for three months. During the three months we were closed we found new ways to not only engage the volunteers we currently had but also managed to figure out how to bring on a new group of teen volunteers. We moved everything to a virtual platform by holding meetings, socials, interviews, presentations, and more from our home computers. The volunteers were able to stay connected with us, the Zoo, and each other while miles apart.

During this time we were also busy trying to figure out how to proceed once we were able to once more open our doors. We stayed in contact with other organizations across the country and learned from the ones who were able to open before the rest of us. We had to take a bursting program with over 80 different opportunities and whittle it down to only two.

On June 23rd, we were able to open our doors and slowly allow volunteers back. In preparation we had to poll our volunteers and find out who actually was comfortable enough to come back and who could offer the most service. We were only able to have 15 volunteers out of our 200 plus when we reopened.

Since our reopening we now have 81 volunteers helping us with our limited on-grounds opportunities, and over 20 teens helping with our conservation efforts. The remaining volunteers in our corps had to make the decision to either be placed on a “”COVID Leave of Absence”” or leave the program. We have also been able to have a couple of events for which we were able to pull from our episodic volunteers. We will reassess our program in the spring and hopefully have more volunteers come back with more opportunities.

We have definitely had to learn to deal with constant change. Our volunteers have so far been awesome with all the new changes and directions we had had to go in. It is disappointing to many that we cannot offer more but they do understand the circumstances. It is a new world we live in and we can only keep adapting to federal, state, and city protocols. Maybe one day we can offer what we used to, but we certainly have found alternative ways to recruit, train, and prepare our volunteers for whatever the future holds, and that, is the most successful outcome anyone can ask for.

– Allison S., The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

Staying cool, calm and collected amidst uncertainty and so much constant change has been a wild rollercoaster ride.

What keeps me going? The many teen volunteers, who make up the majority of the Museum’s volunteer base, that yearn for some type of normalcy in their daily lives and find friendship and good, wholesome busy work by volunteering at the Museum.

In order to keep up with the abundance of applicants (which we are very grateful for and do not take for granted), I’ve had to increase monthly orientation sessions with fewer applicants to accommodate the physical distancing guideline and we also switched to individual trainings rather than large groups.

These changes have heightened the coordination of the program but the silver lining has been more time to pause and take into account the small details that have made a positive impact. Although I would have preferred to have made these changes under different circumstances, I’m glad they are in place and benefiting the volunteers and the program in general.

How do I manage any stress? My therapy comes from being able to interact with the many creative and good hearted teenagers that can lighten my day with a little humor.

In closing, I hope that any difference the Volunteer Program is doing to positively impact volunteers now will be recognized and valued in their lifetime.

Salute to all Volunteer Managers!

– Irene C., Discovery Children’s Museum

Thank you so much to all of these volunteer managers for sharing their stories! We hope that this was inspiring and encouraging for all of you!

We’ll be back again tomorrow with more stories to share, so please don’t forget to join us in continuing the celebration!