Sunday, November 11, 2012

Hats & Tea & College Students!

Ok! So big events in my life for October: recruiting college students and our huge fundraiser Hats & Tea!

The last two weeks of September, I traveled to different colleges to speak about volunteering at Mary's Place. I was really excited to find that many colleges in the area have a service-learning component to their freshman and sophomore classes. This means that they must do a certain number of hours of volunteer work besides the normal class time, and they will apply what they are learning at their volunteer sites to their classwork. It sounds awesome, and I wish William & Mary had done something like that!

Organizing all the different schools was a little hard at first because I originally planned two orientations and said that if they couldn't make those dates I wouldn't have time to plan others. This worked until the day of the last orientation when a school I had not previously heard from, had not been asked to speak at, and which did not have an easy online list of interested students (the other schools did!), sent me like 5 emails with more coming each day of interested students! So I planned for 3 more orientations, stressed myself out a little (more like a LOT), and settled on the 25 or so students I currently have.

The problem was not just taking extra time for orientations, but I had also made a schedule of which students would come when, not putting too many at one time, and now it all had to be altered to fit 10 more people! Now that it's pretty regular, I know who to expect to do what tasks each day, and they are so awesome! They really help me stay focused, and end-of-the-week trash runs are not so daunting!

The other reason I was super stressed and busy in October was because in the middle of planning for college students, I also had to gather all the volunteers for our annual Hats & Tea fundraiser. This is a HUGE production, which after planning, I was so excited to be part of because it reminded me of old-time southern fancy-pants tea parties which I had never been to while living in the South!

We started having meetings in September to talk about the pieces of the event, one of which was a sandwich-tasting meeting: awesome! We decided on chicken salad, salmon, pimento cheese, and open-faced cucumber sandwiches (this term slowly grated at my nerves as I frequently heard someone talking about the specifics required; oh yeah, open-faced cucumber sandwiches are a big deal because we CANNOT have soggy sandwiches haha!) Basically we had to find church groups to prepare 100 of each kind of sandwich, and the Friday before the Saturday event our kitchen crew cut them into fours and de-crusted them, EXCEPT for the open-faced-cucumber sandwiches which were delivered in pieces to be assembled as close to the time as possible! (They actually ended up being my favorite-tasting sandwich!)

Besides the groups to make desserts and sandwiches, we had a phone list I had to set volunteers on for asking for donations for the silent auction (also my first time at an auction!). This was not a popular task because you had to be comfortable talking on the phone and soliciting, but I had two or three solid people who worked on it, and many people had donated in the past or would be notified through word-of-mouth. Luckily that's all I had to deal with for the auction other than finding volunteers to help on the day because it seemed like a very detailed job, and those in charge of it did great!

I was a little worried about finding volunteers for the set-up on Friday because I didn't plan very well for that one, but we ended up taking some of the ladies from Mary's on a field trip and they helped with my major task: the tables. Each table had a specific placement for each of many items that were to decorate it, and with some confusion along the way when people would start on the next task without me explaining how it would work, we did it!

Finally the day came on October 20th! I was in charge of the high school students who served each table, and they did a great job! I forgot to ask in the beginning if they had been told what the event was for, I assumed they would know since they signed up, but I figured out about half-way through Saturday morning before the event that they didn't really know how big of a deal this was, and one of the women from Mary's who now comes back as a volunteer helped me tell the stories of some of the situations people face while dealing with homelessness. I think this really helped convince them (and remind me!) of why their job that day was so important.

The day started with the auction, where endless gift baskets lived among cool items like home-made American Girl doll clothes, jewelry made by the women of Mary's Place, expensive knife sets, and so many other things that I wish I had taken a picture of! As people were deciding on the auction items, my high schoolers got to go around serving sparkling cider on trays, feeling super fancy themselves!

After the auction, people found their seats and were served tea, sandwiches, fruit cups, and desserts as they listened to and participated in the program. We had a few performances by our choir, a guest choir, a parade of hats, a time for Pastor Linda to talk with some of our moms about what it is like to raise a child on the streets, and "The Ask" (which I didn't know had an official title, but indeed each piece of a fancy fundraiser is appropriately named!).

This was an amazing day, and the guests were left with the words from The Ask, that giving more may hurt them a little, but it would hurt a lot of families a lot less. And they must have really believed it because we raised about $11,000 more than last year, and the most we've ever seen at this event! This was really great because we are opening our new night shelter at our old location which should be able to hold 12 or so families, and after working out the legal issues with turning the building into temporary housing, the funding was a big thing we needed to get it started.

So that was my October, the next few months will have lots of planning around holiday events!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Voting Day!

No matter what happens today, I am so excited to finally be living in a state that wants to give everyone the chance to marry :)

Monday, November 5, 2012


It's been a really busy month, but the reason for my business is what I had planned to write about next anyway! I'm going to explain one part of my job at Mary's Place, as the Volunteer Coordinator:

I think I mentioned this in the last post, but Mary's Place was started from the Church of Mary Magdalene as they began to have more resources available for the women and children who came to the church. Now they are separate non-profits although we still exist in the same location with some overlap of staff, and many women attend both the church and Mary's Place the day center.

The position of Volunteer Coordinator has not been around for very long, and before my supervisor was a Mission Intern around 2008, volunteer options were more limited because two staff members with other job descriptions had to also tackle volunteer inquiries. But once Liz got here (followed by Rachel, followed by me), volunteers had one person to go through who could explain more about the program, figure out where the volunteers' interests lie and how they could apply that to serving at Mary's Place, and manage big events requiring lots of volunteers as well as recruiting college students who could fulfill their service-learning requirements for school while helping the staff have less stress each day.

For the first month I was here, I spent most of my office time looking through Rachel's old emails, figuring out the information in her/my desk, and answering a few volunteer inquiries since it was the end of the summer and not as many people were around or ready to commit to something. When I get a new volunteer in, we pick a date to meet where I can explain more about Mary's Place, give them a tour which includes explanations of how they can help in different settings, answer any questions, find out what their interests are for volunteering, and explain some ethical concerns while volunteering.

There are endless ways that people can volunteer, which is awesome because most people that come in aren't really sure how they can contribute. The least-involved (but certainly not least-helpful!) thing people can do is to bring in donations, from baby supplies to hygiene products to food to paper coffee cups, or anything else people may need for daily living. I've heard that one guy (I think one of our board members?) has a big hot sauce party each year where the entrance fee is a bottle of hot sauce which gets donated to Mary's Place! Another less-regular way to be involved is by letting me know that you'd like to be put on the "as-needed" list, where I will contact you about coming in to fold newsletters when they are ready, helping out at a fundraiser or holiday event, or any other one-day volunteer opportunity.

For those who are looking for a regular volunteer opportunity, there are two categories of options: skilled and I-don't-have-skills-but-I-want-to-volunteer-anyway! The skilled volunteers include people who want to bring a particular program or activity to the women, such as volunteer nursing, prayer groups, arts and crafts groups, workout groups (we have a belly dancer who comes about once a month!), playing music, kids activities, or anything else you can think of and would like to share! For those who have no idea what they want to do but want to help anyway, they might do office work (usually mine or Carol or Ann's since we have a lot that can be easily explained), help organize the pantry or the donation closet, help clean at the end of the day, take out the trash (not an easy task, it's usually like 3+ carts full!), help prepare or clean up lunch, join in on a discussion group, or anything else the staff needs help with. The biggest thing I tell people when they don't know what to do and the staff has no work for them is to just interact with the women and children because Mary's Place is not just a drop-in center for people to get things, but it is a supportive community, so much so that women who were formerly homeless come back to be there for their sisters.

In the interest of not making a super long post, I will save the college students and big events for another time, but now you know what the volunteer side of my job looks like from a general, everyday view!