A Road Trip with a Twist {Volunteer While Traveling – At All Ages}

On a Friday morning at the end of June, 31 teens from New Jersey stepped off a bus in front of Raleigh City Farm. They had just begun a six-and-a-half-week trek across the United States. Raleigh was just their second stop on a trip with 26 destinations! The trip would take them to every region of the US—to cities like Chicago and Los Angeles and to the vast wilderness of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. What brought these teens from New Jersey to an urban farm in Raleigh? They were taking part in the Great American road trip, but with a twist. The trip’s leader, Daniel Kaplan of USY on Wheels, explained that the teens were on a journey “mainly focused on leadership and social action.” Whether it involved working on a farm in Raleigh, serving food to the homeless in Chicago, or singing songs at a nursing home, these teens would certainly be leaving a trail of “good” behind them. Here at Activate Good, this journey piqued our interest. It was fitting that these traveling teens would come to us to find a volunteer opportunity. Their journey echoed the road trip of Activate Good founder, Amber Smith, who volunteered across the country on her own two-and-a-half-month trek. Also fitting, the teens arrived just as the first week of our Teen Leadership & Service Summer Program was wrapping up. That morning on the farm the NJ teens wielded pickaxes to break ground for new plantings and harvested blackberries. They also had a chance to learn about the farm and its practices. Daniel said, “The kids got really into it....

When You Least Expect It… A 9-11 Day of Service Story

Some of our favorite stories to tell are those of unique and rewarding experiences had by volunteers and the nonprofits hosting them. Activate Good volunteer, Ken Dean, didn’t know what the day would bring when he signed up to photograph volunteers during Activate Good’s 9/11 Day of Service. Read on to find out the unexpected way his day unfolded: So… I wrapped up about five minutes early at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle gardening project, and asked Mrs. Google how to get me to my next assignment.  The morning’s coffee was working its magic, so I swung into a McDonald’s for a brief, two-minute stop.  And then I was on my way.  I was so pleased to see that the Veterans Helping Veterans project was very close.  I actually pulled onto the street and started looking for the house about five minutes before my scheduled 10:15 arrival time. And as I looked up at what had to be the house, I saw a woman with an iPhone taking a group photo of about twenty or so folks, all dressed up for their day of volunteering.  My first thought was “That’s perfect!  Somebody is thinking and getting a photo before they start work.”  But not wanting to miss out on a chance while everybody was together, I rushed up and introduced myself and jokingly asked if I could get just a few more photos.  Everyone was in really great spirits, and happily obliged me. After a few minutes, I made my way up to the porch to see what the plan was for everybody.  I had to make sure that I knew where to position myself...

Volunteers Are Rainbows: Capitalizing on Diversity

I am an Activate Good intern, writing the third post for a blog series about the five leadership challenges for nonprofits and how they relate to the wonderful word of volunteerism. For a quick recap, the five leadership challenges correspond with the core characteristics of the nonprofit sector (e.g., being mission based, accomplishing some social good, their tax exemption status) and affects almost all nonprofits no matter their size or their mission. We already visited a few of the other leadership challenges: aligning mission, methods, and resources and moving beyond charity to systematic change. Now it’s time to explore the fourth challenge, which is capitalizing on opportunities associated with diversity. Sunday I was driving a friend back to Burlington from Raleigh on I-40. Nothing against the interstate or my friend, but I’ve made the trek on that interstate many times as a North Carolina native, and I get so bored with the seemingly endless row of green trees and the swarm of cars. On my way back to Raleigh, it started to rain (of course). When I got to Chapel Hill, the sun came out and a rainbow emerged. The opaque yet colorful picture in the sky added new scenery to this drive that had personally become so mundane. What do my thoughts about I-40, trees, and rainbows have to do with nonprofits capitalizing on opportunities associated with diversity? Rainbows are vibrant because they are composed of different colors. Trees are essential to the environment and society, similar to how nonprofits are important structures in our civil society. Nonprofit organizations thrive when people from various backgrounds come together to...

Summer of Inspiration: A Glimpse of our Summer Teen Leadership and Service Program

  On a Monday morning this summer, local teens came to learn how to be volunteer leaders. They started their day off with some inspiration: Zach Bonner wanted to raise money and awareness to combat homelessness. So he walked 2,500 miles from his home in Florida to Los Angeles. When his journey ended, he had amassed $75,000 to benefit the cause. With such an impressive accomplishment, would you be surprised to know that Zach Bonner was only 12 years old when he finished that journey? “Without knowing it was someone young, I would’ve figured that it was at least someone 30,” said Ryan. “It’s inspiring because there’s a lot of stuff you can do even at a young age to change things and help with the community,” said Alyssa. Ryan and Alyssa are two of 35 local teens who participated in one of two sessions of Activate Good’s Teen Leadership & Service Program. Zach’s story and others like it are helping to inspire them to pursue volunteer causes of their own. During the first session, in late June, the teens gathered at the Wake County Commons Building in East Raleigh to learn about local issues and hash out some leadership ideas. They had fun while also getting down to business. They socialized while eating lunch and tossed beach balls during breaks. They also delved into research about social issues in North Carolina and learned about local organizations dedicated to solving them. As the teens sifted through eye-opening statistics, they learned more about where their volunteer leadership was needed. Alyssa was surprised to learn that 83% of homeless children had...

Volunteers Bring Beauty to Raulston Arboretum

The JC Raulston Arboretum runs on volunteers. According to Kathryn Wall, their volunteer coordinator, they wouldn’t exist without them. From the receptionist greeting you at the visitor center to the gardener labelling plants in the garden to the instructor teaching schoolchildren about photosynthesis, a volunteer touches every aspect of this nonprofit. “[The volunteers] love creating beautiful places for people to enjoy,” says Kathryn of the 300 volunteers who contributed 10,000 volunteer hours last year.  Started in 1976, the JC Raulston Arboretum became what it is today because of the work of volunteers. For 20 years, until his death in 1996, the arboretum’s founder and namesake, James Chester Raulston, worked alongside volunteers to bring this habitat for native plants to what it is today. Activate Good volunteers got involved in two exciting events last year, Moonlight in the Garden and Raulston Blooms. Kathryn was happy to see some repeat volunteers come back for both events. Kathryn, who was raised on a farm, noted that the arboretum’s mission of bringing nature to Triangle residents, 7 days a week, 365 days a year is more important than ever. 40 years after the Raulston Arboretum opened, Raleigh has far fewer acres devoted to farming as new construction dots the landscape. “The green space will be more valuable than ever,” Kathryn noted. With more young people living in apartments, places like the arboretum offer a slice of nature for the many children who are removed from it. Last fall, the Raulston Arboretum revived Moonlight in the Garden, a two-weekend event that brings the garden alive at night. Kathryn decided to enlist volunteers through Activate...

Why Aren’t More People Volunteering?

Guest blog by Volunteer Warrior If you were given 5 extra hours this week how would you spend them? Sleeping? Getting caught up on yard work?  Spending time with your family? What if you were given 10 or 20 extra hours? How about some “me” time? Or getting in an extra couple of workouts? Getting through that long Netflix queue maybe? Most people would not answer this question with volunteering. (Good for you if you did though!) Only about 25% of the US population volunteers each year. Of that 25%, some only volunteer once or twice, but a good portion of the volunteering population gives more than 15 hours of service (73.1%). So why is it that 75% of the population doesn’t volunteer a single time, but those that choose to volunteer keep coming back? Perhaps volunteers know something that others don’t.     Why aren’t more people volunteering? The main discussion around “Why aren’t more people volunteering?” regards a lack of time; I want to break this down to understand how we can each do our part to encourage volunteerism. Now, before we jump into discussion, it is important to acknowledge that certain populations do not have the privilege of being able to donate their time (that’s right, it is a privilege to volunteer!) However, for this discussion, my comments are directed toward those who do indeed have the abilities to volunteer but “choose” not to. To start this discussion let’s meet my imaginary friend Jenny. Me: “Jenny, why don’t you volunteer?” Jenny: “I would love to volunteer but I just don’t have the time.” Let’s also meet Dave. Me: “Dave, why don’t you volunteer?” Dave: “Oh I don’t know, I...

Taking it Back to Basics with the Big M

For the next part in this blog series, let’s take it back to the nonprofit basics with the all-powerful mission statement. If you are now stumbling on this post or if you have just forgotten about my first two posts, I am an Activate Good intern, writing a blog series about the five leadership challenges for nonprofits and how they relate to the wonderful world of volunteerism. For a quick recap, the five leadership challenges correspond with the core characteristics of the nonprofit sector (e.g., being mission based, accomplishing some social good, their tax exemption status) and affects almost all nonprofits no matter their size or their mission. We already visited the leadership challenge of moving beyond charity to systemic change with the help of our fishing friends in the last post, so let’s now tackle the first leadership challenge of aligning mission, methods and resources. M is for Mission One of the fundamental characteristics of nonprofit organizations that set them apart from their for-profit counterparts is that they are mission-driven rather than being profit-driven. The mission is the overarching purpose of a nonprofit, which often includes the work that they perform, why they were created and whom they serve. To put it another way, if mission statements became people, they would be self-centered and expect the world to revolve around them. In the nonprofit world, operations of nonprofit organizations really should revolve around their missions.  The mission serves as the guide light for staff, board members and volunteers. Now, methods are the means – programs, activities, and services – for how nonprofits accomplish their missions. But nonprofits rely...

Redeye uses the power of music to help local seniors

Have you ever had the experience of hearing a song that brought memories flooding back? Maybe that song was from your wedding or high school prom. For most of us, accessing those memories is easy. But for the millions of Americans living with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other cognitive impairment, those memories can be locked inside. Last month, Activate Good matched volunteers from Redeye with local nonprofit, A Helping Hand, to make a difference in the lives of local seniors suffering from these diseases. The goal: to bring back buried memories with music. All they needed were some iPod shuffles, headphones, and some music downloaded from iTunes. Together, A Helping Hand and Redeye used programming from the national organization Music & Memory to get started. Founded in 2013, Music & Memory “brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving the quality of life.” Through scientific research, Music & Memory demonstrated that music can help these people “reconnect with the world through music-triggered memories.” A 2014 documentary, Alive Inside, showcases their work by filming the reactions of seniors receiving these iPods. Music & Memory shows how one recipient, Henry, visibly enlivens upon hearing the music. It not only improves his mood, but has an amazing side effect: It brings back some of his ability to communicate. Family members and caregivers can now connect with him in a way that they thought was lost. Activate Good nonprofit partner, A Helping Hand, wanted to bring this same magic to local seniors. They had eight clients they thought would be perfect candidates for this program....

Volunteer Warrior – Activating Good!

Hi Reader, 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...

The Fisherman, the Old Wise Tale, and the Fifth Leadership Challenge

Keep this famous little saying in mind: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Imagine you are the fisherman faced with this decision after being approached by this man. Which decision would you make? Would you just give him a fish and go on your way, or would you take the time to teach him how to fish? Hold that thought for what is to follow. Recap: The 5 Leadership Challenges If you haven’t read my first blog post, my name is Kay McMillan and I am an intern at Activate Good. I am writing a five part series about the core leadership challenges facing nonprofits and how volunteers can help with these challenges. To give a quick recap, the five leadership challenges correspond with the core characteristics of the nonprofit sector (e.g., being mission based, accomplishing some social good, their tax exemption status) and affects almost all nonprofits no matter their size or their mission. As promised in my first post, we are going to now tackle the last challenge: moving beyond charity to systemic change.     Charity vs. Systemic Change: What’s the best way to make a difference? Time to go back to our fisherman and homeless dude and relate them back to charity and systemic change. Charity is like the first option in our analogy – giving the man a fish – which is an immediate relief to alleviate suffering – hunger, in this case. Whereas charity treats the symptoms of the problem, systemic change addresses the root...