Miss Piggy Hammers it Home

In early November 2009, my mother in law forwarded me an email.  I think this email originated from Lighthouse of the Big Bend, but I don’t completely recall.  The email contained information about a new program, Give a Day, Get a Disney Day (GADGADD), that was looking for volunteer coordinators.  The program would provide a free day at a Disney park in exchange for a day of service at an approved organization.  In roughly the time it takes to sing M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E, I was on board!  I could spend an entire blog dissecting the reasons why I would pile another commitment onto my already full plate.  Suffice it to say, I love volunteering and seeing people “connect dots” with each other within our community.  I also believe, after working with volunteers for a few decades, that it is as important (perhaps more important) to apply good “people management” skills when working with volunteers as it is when working with paid employees.  This program gave me a chance to put that belief to the test (and more).

When I look back on the period from mid-November 2009, through the notification we received in March 2010 that the program had reached its “million volunteer mark” and would no longer be accepting new volunteers, three observations come to mind:

Is it right to volunteer in exchange for “compensation” instead of the simple “joy of volunteering”?

Disney targeted this program very heavily toward families.  As project specialists, we were encouraged to recruit volunteer opportunities where children ages six and up could participate.  I spoke to many families who said, “we don’t believe you ought to get anything in exchange for volunteering.”  As a parent, I agree with them that it is critical that our children see us, their parents, giving back in the community with no expectation of anything in return.  In the case of the GADGADD program, however, I felt that the Disney ticket was a) a well-deserved reward for volunteers who often go unrecognized while giving selflessly of their time and energy, and b) an incentive to people who had not volunteered previously to give volunteering a shot (in the hopes they would keep volunteering after the Disney Day.) 

Speaking of those families……

As a parent who has always tried to demonstrate “volunteerism in action” to my children, I know it is not always easy to find an opportunity where kids are welcomed and given something age-appropriate and useful to do.  It was a stretch with GADGADD, too, but the agencies I worked with rose to the challenge.  At the Special Olympics 5K in January 2010, kids made signs encouraging the runners, ran alongside the Special Olympics athletes in the 1K event, and provided directional assistance to runners.  

Other family-friendly projects included rolling plasticware at the homeless shelter (another project coordinator’s cause), state park cleanups, collecting food from mailboxes during a drive for the homeless, serving as recreational assistants at a HUGE Martin Luther King Day community celebration, and helping foster animals get adopted. 

Big databases can make the simplest of concepts kind of “Goofy”

The volunteer opportunity postings as well as the volunteer signups for GADGADD were all done through the Hands on Network Volunteer Opportunity Portal (VOP).  There were times when the “portal” felt like more of a roadblock than a passageway.  As I wrote in my guest post on Lauren Novo’s blog, my “day job” experiences dealing with Healthy Kids’ transition to a new Third Party Administration vendor made the VOP a “walk in the park,” but it still presented challenges that many volunteers and agencies found discouraging.  Bill Hogg, who calls himself the “Amazing Service Guy,” wrote about his family’s experience, stating “the website did not function properly making it difficult to access volunteer opportunities.” 

Through this program, with its ups and downs, I met the kindest people.  (Except for this guy, who was unhappy that a project he wanted to do was full: 

“sure i understand you hooked up your friends first, you all getting together and
taking a bus down too?”
Maybe Kermit could hop on over and talk this guy down!

I could go on and on about this program, but hopefully hitting on these three main points gave you readers a little insight into the experience. 

Ultimately, I agree with the words of this Irish Proverb:
It is in the shelter of each other that the people live. 
The GADGADD program helped build many literal shelters through construction projects, but I like to think it built many figurative shelters, too, in the bonds that were strengthened among families and communities, both in the projects that were undertaken and in the memories families will make when they visit a Disney Park.*

I’ll “run” into you next week, readers!

*Volunteers were given the option to donate their tickets to charity. 

Every Problem Has a Gift for You in its Hands – a Be My Guest Post!

It endlessly fascinates me to see how different people can take one specific concept and turn it into something individual and unique.  I have really enjoyed “Be My Guest” month, a month of “mutual blogging.”  As Be My Guest month comes to an end today, Lauren Novo shares her thoughts on the quote she and I both chose to use (and encouraged the universe of Be My Guest-ers to use!):  Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.  (by Richard Bach) 

I became acquainted with Lauren through my coworker Niki Pocock.  When Niki and I talk social media, it seems like the conversation often comes around to Lauren, who blogs at Gen-Y PRogress.  Lauren and I are at very different stages career-wise, but we have found in common a joy in writing and making connections.  Make sure to connect with her.  It will be a gift you give yourself!

“Every Problem Has a Gift for You in its Hands.”

By: Lauren Novo

I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. So in January, when my boyfriend and I flipped off the highway and landed upside down in a side ditch, I knew it wasn’t an “accident.” My car was demolished. But we walked out of the vehicle completely unscathed.

Why? I’m not sure. All I know is that it could have been so much worse.

Still, I had to juggle insurance calls, school and work the following week. I had to squeeze in time for car-shopping, and worried I wouldn’t find anything as reliable as the vehicle I had lost. I was stressed. Even a little resentful.

I tried to stay positive. I was beyond lucky to be alive. But still, I couldn’t help feeling annoyed that the accident was not my fault (a possum, YES a possum, hit the front tire, causing the car to spin out) and yet I had to deal with the problem.

I forced myself to sit down and really face my situation. I knew that as much as I hated the idea, I was going to have to finance my next car. I figured out what sort of payment plan I could realistically afford and went from there. And while I was at it, I looked at the other expenses I would be responsible for in May, when I graduate from Florida State University.

So where’s the “gift” in all this? The silver lining? Besides the obvious—my boyfriend and I are OK—I’m finally starting to see the bigger picture.

As a student, I’ve lived in a bubble. I think about life after graduation in terms of my career all the time, but not so much in terms of financial responsibility. I don’t like thinking about losing health insurance coverage the day I graduate. Nor do I want to worry about cell phone plans and actually having to pay for cable and water at apartment complexes.

But that’s life, and thanks to the car accident, I feel slightly more prepared for it. Now that I’ve acknowledged new and upcoming expenses, I know just how far any given salary will go. I know what I need to survive and I know what I need to feel comfortable.

I’m still as excited as ever about my future. But now, I’m happy to report I have a more realistic view of what that future will entail. And that knowledge and peace of mind are most certainly gifts.

Like what you’ve read? Connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn and read my blog, Gen-Y PRogress: Lauren Novo’s PR Journey.