Welcome to my corner of the internet polygon. I’m Julia McLean and, like you, I am one of the restless people that David Bornstein calls “social entrepreneurs”. I know that you and I share this title because, if you are reading this, you are just as passionate as me about investigating the many ways we positively impact our communities, our larger society, and ourselves.
It is exciting to be sharing my story with you today because, honestly, I’m just at the beginning. After 10 months with my project Volunteer Warrior, I still feel as though I am standing at the mouth of a dark dewy cave, using my narrow flashlight beam to take in the impossibly high, incredibly ornate ceilings. This is what it’s like to have a single person’s perspective trying to investigate the immense depth and scope of this crazy world of volunteerism and community engagement.
Volunteer Warrior (VW) is a storytelling and research project that promotes volunteerism as a development tool and tries to understand the best practices for volunteer recruitment and engagement. VW started because I was completely new to my community. Like many others all over the world, I moved from the familiar to the new and ended up in a sea of people trying to figure out which way was up. I wanted to make new friends and to get to know the areas of my community that were outside of my daily commute. I wanted to learn to be a better me and I wanted to help others along the way. I wanted to make a difference and I wanted to have fun.
Now, I’ve always been a first-hand- raised-in- class, show-up-twenty-minutes-early, join-every-student-group, every-experience-is-meaningful kind of lady, so, during my adjustment to a new city I leaned into these old habits. I subscribed to different community listservs and I began volunteering for all of the things. I took in every experience, big or small, that I could get my hands on.
On one particular Friday evening, I sauntered the sidewalks of downtown Raleigh on my way to volunteer for ArtSpace for First Friday. I’ll never forget the sun setting on the already-shaded skyscraper alcove. It was suddenly crystal clear how much a part of this city I was. In so many tiny different ways, I had laid my handprint all across this city and I had helped make it work; I had helped make it better. Seconds later, I was rushed with another big-breath moment when I registered how much my city had helped make me better too. Through my service I had met so many new people, I learned the streets of my city, and I was privy to the cool local places and all of the goings-on. I finally felt like I was home.
So, after much thought, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I had to share with the whole wide world how meaningful volunteerism is and thus Volunteer Warrior was born. I continue to volunteer for many different things and share my experiences in a way that highlights how volunteerism helps us grow as people.
In the months since starting VW, I’ve also begun investigating the ways that organizations can connect better with volunteers. This is where Activate Good and I engage in our Wonder Twins-esque ring bump. Activate Good and Volunteer Warrior both share a passion and curiosity for making volunteerism work for both the organizations and the volunteers. We both want to answer the many questions of our industry:
Why aren’t more people volunteering?
Why aren’t more volunteers committing to organizations?
How can organizations communicate effectively with volunteers?
How can we make bigger and better differences through our service?
Over the next few months, I will be discussing these big questions and I hope that you will ask your own questions too. I will be diving into cliffhangers, investigating the backstories of countless characters, and learning some meaningful life lessons along the way. I am grateful to share my story with you today because I know I am sharing only the beginning. Together, dear reader, we will investigate this wonderful world of community engagement.