But I DID Bring It Here!

The title of this post “But I DID bring it here!” is a reply I have been wanting to make to someone I dealt with earlier this week. Here’s the story:

(and note, I have intentionally not said what entity I was dealing with because I think the staff person was just a reflection of the communication system, not a bad employee)

Earlier this week, a local municipal transportation agency was doing a food collection promotion (titled “Caring in Motion”). If you donated two canned goods you would receive a free one-way bus pass; if you donated three canned goods you would receive a free round trip bus pass. Contributions went to a local agency that does a lot for hunger in our community.  Although I don’t ride our local bus, I am a big proponent of mass transit (as well as eliminating hunger) and I have partnered with this entity before.

As soon as I saw the campaign announced, I shared it on Facebook (and possibly Twitter – I don’t recall). I stopped at the store that night and purchased canned goods to take to the main transportation plaza on the appointed day (and yes I got three).

chicken breast one

When I approached the staff person behind her plexiglass shield, she had just finished dealing with a very unhappy customer who was dissatisfied with some aspect of our bus system’s routing. I approached her and asked if I could drop off my items. She was not prepared for that question. She said, “well I can’t give you a free pass” (I replied that was okay) and continued to act reticent about accepting my contribution. At some point I asked, “is it easier to go to that bus over there and hand it to the driver?” She finally opened a special little drawer in her plexiglass bunker where I could fit my items. And as I deposited my items, she said, “You didn’t bring it here.” (As in “I could get in trouble for taking these canned goods … the ones our agency encouraged you to bring and you then encouraged other people to bring … so let’s keep it between us okee dokee?”) I agreed somewhat non-verbally. As I was walking away, I was worrying about the negative experience anyone I told they could do the same thing might have. My worries were interrupted when she heartily yelled over her plexiglass-enclosed microphone: “THANK YOU!”

Why does it matter? For me, it mattered because I had put my name behind encouraging people to do this. Having dealt with volunteers in many capacities, I know how easily one small perceived slight or mishandled detail can deflate a volunteer’s altruistic motivation. More importantly, I was wishing that from a management and leadership perspective, she as an employee had been fully informed about the campaign underway and encouraged to participate and be thrilled that the public was interested in helping out. I know her job is often hard. This could have been handled so differently, so that our interaction was a positive point in her day, not something that made her feel like she was going to get in trouble.

In a post she wrote about “8 Things Collaborative Leaders Know,” Jesse Lyn Stoner said, “People want their organizations to be successful, and when given an opportunity to participate, they bring their best thinking and contribute fully.” In the case of how my contribution to “Caring in Motion” was handled, I just wish the interaction I had with the staff member had been different. Instead of “you didn’t bring it here,” I wish something else had been brought: some “caring in motion” perhaps.

Have you ever had a sense that someone you were dealing with was not fully engaged with their organization? What can managers do to increase opportunities for everyone to participate?

** Update: I ended up sharing this post with StarMetro, emphasizing that it was constructive feedback and the last thing I wanted would be for the employee to be criticized. I really appreciate the director’s gracious reply and receptiveness! One quote: “As always, I enjoy great feedback like this, since it helps identify areas that improvement may be needed.”


MLK Day of Service 2013: Helping Tallahassee Veterans Village

voa florida logo

I have become interested in the work of Volunteers of America of Florida, Inc. VOA-FL is a faith-based, nonprofit, 501(c)3 human service organization that responds to the needs of vulnerable Floridians in these areas:

  • Elderly individuals searching for an affordable and independent lifestyle
  • Individuals, families and Veterans experiencing homelessness
  • Persons with disabilities; and
  • Individuals, families and veterans at risk of homelessness or struggling to make ends meet

VOA-FL has 71 programs and services in 18 Florida cities. I need to do some more research in order to fully understand VOA-FL’s impact and recommendations I can make regarding how interested readers could get involved.

In the meantime, I can share that VOA-FL’s primary Tallahassee project is Veterans Village. Tallahassee Veterans Village is a two year transitional housing program for both men and women from all branches of service who need and want to rebuild their lives through being part of this community. Services available at Tallahassee Veterans Village include: Housing, Health Services, Training, Education, Counseling and Employment.

Tallahassee Veterans Village

Homeless veterans do a lot of waiting. In Tallahassee’s case, there is currently a waiting list for spaces to open up at Veterans Village.

Another kind of waiting Tallahassee Veterans do, whether they have secure housing or not, is for transportation. Most residents of Tallahassee Veterans Village rely on public transportation to get around. Access to public transportation strains budgets that are already stretched thin.

That is why, for my Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service 2013 project, I am setting a goal of generating 21 7-day bus passes for the residents of Veterans Village Tallahassee. These StarMetro passes are $10 each. A latte, a brown bag lunch instead of a lunch out, one less happy hour. It’s not much to ask for people who have served us so selflessly.

7-Day TalTran Card

I’ll be buying mine tomorrow and posting it as Wednesday’s Wordless Wednesday. If you’d like to join me, let me know! If you know me, I will work out a way to get the money from you. You can also PayPal it to me at opuswsk {at} aol dot com.

What I like about doing this is that the benefits of the project will last beyond MLK Day. Edmund Burke said, “Edmund Burke: Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” This is an opportunity for us to do “a little” that can have a big impact on a Veteran’s life.

Are you in?

MLK Day of Service



In A Jam

During my father in law’s illness, I have often been the family member to escort my mother in law, Barb, to church. When we were leaving today, she mentioned that she needed to stop by the fellowship hall to pick up Christmas jams and jellies she had ordered from the annual jam/jelly sale.

When she and I arrived at the jam/jelly sale, one of her friends said she had put Barb’s purchases aside, since Barb had prepaid. When I went to pick up the box of approximately 16 jars of jelly, the friend asked me if I needed help. A couple of conversations overlapped at that point. I was telling the friend that I was fine (I guess the question had to do with me carrying the box while Barb was holding my elbow in the usual position that a blind person does for mobility assistance). While I was saying I would be fine, the friend was recruiting her son, who looked to be around nine, to help me. Although I truly was fine, I also recognized that the mom was trying to encourage altruism in her child and I said something to her like, “well, are you looking for him to have a job to do?” Eventually it was agreed that her son Ryan would carry the box of jams.

Our little procession started out of the fellowship hall, with me guiding Barb in front and Ryan carrying the box a few steps behind us. We were stopped by quite a few people since everyone wants to know how my father in law is doing. We made it a few steps, and got stopped by another well wisher. At that point, a gentleman came up to Ryan and asked if he needed help. Although my eyes-in-the-back-of-the-head weren’t working, I think Ryan was actually doing fine but the adult made it clear that he wanted to take over.

I didn’t have time to explain the whole “his mother wants him to have a job” deal. And frankly by this point the afternoon’s obligations were stacking up in my mental calendar and I just. wanted. to. get. out. of. there. So we all got to the car, the jams were loaded, and Barb and I went off on our way.

The situation with Ryan reminded me of the time when Wayne Kevin was quite young (six or seven) and had run an entire 5K. He was faster than me at the time so I was behind him. When we crossed paths I knew he was farther ahead than he should be, and he told me one of the traffic control personnel told him to cut it short, I guess because he was “little” and “cute.” I was so annoyed!! And I was annoyed because Wayne had been doing fine on his own. Although he really didn’t care about his time in the race, the official time wouldn’t be accurate because he had not run the whole course and he wouldn’t have the pride of having done something he was perfectly capable of doing had an adult not intervened.

It seems a bit mean-spirited to snark about the adult who helped Ryan today. He was tremendously gracious and, like almost everyone we have encountered as we navigate the additional needs for transportation, food, and moral support as Wayne’s dad deals with his current medical situation, he just wanted to help.

But the situation sparked off a question in my mind so I thought I would share it with you readers and get some thoughts. (And it is World Kindness Week so feel free to remind me that the kindest thing I could have done would have been to delete about 627 words of this post and make it, “Thank you Ryan and you, Mr. Nice Guy who wanted to help.”

What a jam.

About That Bling

I often volunteer at local running and triathlon events. I have had almost every race volunteer job there is: registration, water stop, making endless pbj sandwiches for marathoners. You would think “handing out medals” would be simple. The two times that has been my job, I have encountered medal quandaries.

It should be simple.

  1. Runner or triathlete crosses finish line.
  2. I place medal around said athlete’s neck.

At the April 2012 triathlon I worked, an athlete approached me who had decided not to complete the race after he finished the swim portion. He had to turn in his timing chip, and I stood between him and the bin where the chips were. He said, “DNF [did not finish], can I still get my medal?” I am not sure what expression my face portrayed, but my inner dialogue was, “What would the race director tell me to do?” At an event like that, I want to be compliant with the race director’s preferences. And at a triathlon, the race director could be miles away on the bike route or otherwise inaccessible. Sensing my hesitation, the athlete angrily threw his chip in the bin and huffed away.

The other time my job was medal hander-outer, I also had an athlete who had not broken a sweat that day ask for her medal. She was pregnant, so she had deferred her entry to the following year, but still wanted her medal. Again, I told her I needed to consult with the race director. I think between the time I asked the race director and could respond to her, she had convinced another volunteer to give her the medal.

Getting back to the giving out of medals in general, the vast majority of athletes at races accept the medals that are given out as rewards.

The day I worked the triathlon, several people matter of factly declined the medals that were offered to them as rewards for finishing. Whatever led them to make that choice, they must have felt “complete” solely for finishing such a grueling endeavor.

I guess it’s splitting hairs in a way to question the honesty factor of owning a medal for a race you didn’t compete. I guess it’s not any different (to some people’s way of thinking) than wearing a race shirt for a distance you could not have possibly completed (case in point: me wearing the Tallahassee Marathon shirt I was given as a “volunteer reward”).

Full disclosure: I did not earn the shirt I am wearing (a Tallahassee Marathon shirt) by running 26.2 miles. I did earn the medal for running 5K and the Relay for Life hat by being a RFL Captain.

But I always walked away from the interactions where someone wanted a medal for a race they didn’t complete feeling conflicted. Sure, they had “paid” for it with their registration fee. The monetary value of the medals is probably nominal compared to their emotional value.

And I doubt the athletes planned to parade around in these medals, proclaiming to everyone they encountered, “Congratulate me! I competed the [insert name here] Triathlon! I’m amazing!”

What I ask myself, still, after both of these interactions (and one of them happened years ago) is: what does that individual think when they look at that “finisher” medal?

When we have athletic goals, just as when we have principles in our lives to uphold, no amount of external reward will counteract the fact that we did not honestly keep our own bargain with ourselves. To do the right thing, to serve others to the best of our abilities, to do what we said we would.

As you approach your week, consider finding that incident, that conversation, that challenging moment when there is no outward reward, but the serenity of knowing you did the right thing.

“If we say something often enough, we come to believe it. We don’t usually delude others until after we have first deluded ourselves.” – David Frum

PS – While I am on the subject of Triathlons, I would like to congratulate my friend Ann Brennan on definitely, 110%, undoubtedly earning her medal at yesterday’s Beach to Battleship Ironman Triathlon in Wilmington, North Carolina. Ann has inspired me, motivated me, and (most importantly) befriended me. Congratulations, IronAnn!!


My Time is Valuable – Why Should I Volunteer?

This is an article I wrote for the monthly newsletter of the North Florida Chapter of the Society of Certified Public Managers. Although I volunteer regularly, and used my experiences volunteering with NFCPM (and other places) to inform this article, today brought it all home to me in a real way. Sabrina Hartley, our president, and I packed books into boxes for Operation Paperback. With every choice of book I made that will end up in the hands of a military serviceperson and/or a dependent, I was reminded of a) how simple it is to do something that will be meaningful to a serviceperson, like donate a book, b) that behind the simplicity of donating a book is an entire process –sort the books, store the books, pack the books, fill out the paperwork for the books, label the books, etc., and c) that, as I said in the article, there are things we learn about each other when we do something “out of our usual zone” that we would not have otherwise learned. I’ll keep signing up!

My Time is Valuable – Why Should It Go To Community Service?

Helping others, together, makes us a better “managers’ organization.”

When you hear the name “Certified Public Managers,” what images come to mind? Management theory? Programs such as those we’ve had recently on Conflict Management, Performance Measurement, and Procurement Processes?

One other thing should be part of the mix: an image of service.

CPM Members Kim VelDink and Sherry Valdes Serve Florida History Fair Attendees 

That is why I feel so strongly about making sure our chapter members have opportunities to serve the community once a month. There is something that members of an organization gain through serving a cause outside of their own, something that can’t be measured on a flow chart, ishikawa diagram, or scattergram: the benefits of striving to go beyond ourselves.

It is the things you find out about one another huddled around a bank of phones at 6 a.m. to take calls from donors – what radio programs people like, how they are the neighbor of the guest host, that they like their coffee black, that they look like a different person in glasses because they don’t put their contacts in that early in the morning.

Pass the coffee – CPM Members Paula Kiger, Anna Bethea, Sherry Valdes Volunteer at WFSU-FM

It is the things you find out at a run, helping hand out water to people struggling through a tough competition – how it takes teamwork to rapidly dispense a hundred cups of water in a span of five minutes, to clean up the aftermath, and to laugh at each other when you think the lid on the big water container is a screw-on and it ends up being a “pop off.” When you see people who you normally only encounter in business attire or a uniform, in sweats or shorts and a t-shirt instead, some of the differences that may be transmitted by our business attire evaporate.

It is finding out that even as adults with years of work (and management) experience behind us, there are still “teachable moments” in situations where we are with people who are younger, older, smarter, less educated, of a different race, and a whole host of other differences. We should get out of our comfort zones and plop down in the middle of some other group’s universe once in a while. Marvel at young people smart enough and motivated enough to concoct a history fair project and put it up for the scrutiny of a panel of adult judges (for example).

We learn that it may take a bit of time out of our schedules to volunteer for a few hours of community service, but, in doing so, we are adding to the collective heart of our group and bringing new insights, knowledge, and experiences to our traditional monthly meetings.

We are putting more “public” into our Public Manager credentials.

A few more images from Sabrina’s and my day at Operation Paperback:

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.