nonprofit nerd reads

November is a month where, in the United States, a lot of talk turns to giving.  Naturally, most of the discussion stems from our Thanksgiving Holiday but also because the Christmas ads have been playing since Halloween and the day after Thanksgiving marks the official start of the Holy Crap, it’s almost Christmas! I have to start buying presents! frenzy.  I normally stay safely indoors on Black Friday, but for the first time ever, I will venture out at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning for the chance to buy–you guessed it–books.  Come on, what did you expect? 🙂   With giving back in mind, here’s what I’m hoping to add to my nonprofit nerd reading list:

 

  The Call of Service by Robert Coles.  A Harvard psychiatrist, Coles delves into the motivations of why we   serve.  Examining his own service experiences along with others’, this analysis hopes to prove insight into what compels us to help others. 

  

  

  

  A City Year by Suzanne Goldsmith.   Trained as a journalist at Harvard University, this is an account of Goldsmith’s  experience  with Boston’s City Year, a nonprofit organization that engages young people in full-time public service.   I am hoping to see something of my own AmeriCorps experience reflected here, with all of its challenges, roadbumps, lessons and revelations.

  

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If It Takes a Village, Build One by Malaak Compton-Rock.   Described as “part memoir, part practical guide” this book offers advice and interviews with social activists like Bobby Shriver and   Terrie M. Williams on how to make an impact with service projects large and small.  Bonus points for the included list of web resources, service ideas and suggested reading

  

  

 

 

Do you have any favorite books about volunteering and/or public service? Please share them in the comments!

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talent round-up day

Highlighting nonprofit organizations and individuals doing stellar work!

  • Maxwell Anderson of the Indianapolis Museum of Art spearheads the call for museums to reveal their climate control data in an effort to adjust standards to reflect geographic needs.    Not only might this benefit the environment, but perhaps it means I can stop wearing sweaters to work when it’s 90+ degrees outside.
  • Blue Avocado‘s Jan Masaoka urges nonprofit leaders to examine how the current economic woes affect their oftentimes most responsible but least authoritative employees–the front-line workers.   Kudos for highlighting solutions as well as problems.
  • Congrats to the 2010 American Express NGen Fellows! The 2010 cohort has the enviable opportunity of contributing a great deal to the nonprofit sector, but I agree with Rosetta Thurman’s point that “the program is not really reaching those who need it the most.”

 

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public service lessons

Apologies for the delay in posts – I’ve gone underground to complete my last semester of graduate school. *cue the Hallelujah! chorus.*

During a chat with a co-worker recently, she mentioned that she planned to volunteer with a nonprofit organization working to improve the quality of housing on Native American reservations.   She is a strong advocate, so I wasn’t surprised to learn of her support, but I was taken aback when she mentioned that she actually wanted to build the housing.  I greatly admire this woman, but she often refers to her love of finery and fancy notions and is always impeccably pulled together in both manner and dress, so the idea of her perched on a rooftop in the blazing heat of the South Dakota summer was difficult to fathom.

But then I remembered:  isn’t that what people thought of me when I told them I was signing up for an AmeriCorps term of service with Habitat for Humanity?

I certainly adore my creature comforts, so at the time it was a bold move.  I was cohabitating in downtown Kansas City, Missouri (before it became cool & subsequently expensive) with The Roommate  and our income was severely anemic.   I had recently returned to college and was working soul-sucking fairly profitable temporary gigs and there I was, asking him to allow our finances to dwindle down to practically nothing, as my base pay would be somewhere around $3 per hour.  The conversation went something like this:

The Roommate: You want to do WHAT?

Aspiring Public Servant:  Join AmeriCorps.  I know it doesn’t pay diddly, but think of what I’m getting–medical and dental insurance, money for my education that we’re going into debt for, job skills, networking, plus I get to help people.   I’m trying to switch careers, ya know.

The Roommate: Yeah, but we’re broke!

Aspiring Public Servant: Short term pain, long term gain.

The Roommate: I don’t know, man.  What the heck is AmeriCorps anyway?

Aspiring Public Servant:  It’s like the domestic Peace Corps.  This is a good thing, I swear.

The Roommate: *sigh* You’re lucky you’re cute.

I couldn’t afford to move, so I searched for local opportunities.  I applied and selected Kaw Valley Habitat for Humanity in Kansas City, Kansas (now Heartland Habitat) as my service organization.  There were several positions available and after much consideration, I settled on Assistant Volunteer Manager.  I was studying nonprofit leadership and preparing for American Humanics certification (my service counts toward the 300-hour internship? Sweet!) , so I desperately wanted the experience of nonprofit administration.  Plus I was guaranteed at least one day a week building on-site, and as a DIY-er at heart, I was thrilled about that.

My year-long term of service was one of the most amazing and challenging things I’ve ever done!

So What Did I Learn?

  • If you’re completing a term of federal public service, you qualify for tons of assistance from food to cut-rate home phone service.  You don’t have to live on Top Ramen and hot dogs and “borrow” your friends’ phones!
  • Select an organization that you are interested in, but that offers assistance with housing and/or transportation.  Luckily, I didn’t need these options, but access to free housing and a mini-van were invaluable to my fellow AmeriCorps members who were far away from home.  The affiliate also  provided us with free work boots, toolbelts and utility knives.  I may not have known what I was doing at first, but I certainly looked the part!
  • I gained such an intense admiration for Kansas City, Kansas and Wyandotte County (AKA “The Dot”) that I plan to make my home there.
  • It is possible to schedule over 20,000 volunteers in a year and not lose your mind.
  • When people use the phrase “hell on earth” they must mean Southern Georgia (where our training occurred) and Central Texas (site of our build-a-thon) in the summer.
  • Construction skills are super-handy when you’re looking to buy or build a house.   Start throwing around terms like “flashing” and “hand-blown insulation” and they’ll know you mean business.
  • Never turn down free training! You’ll appreciate it when you have to pay out-of-pocket for professional development.
  • Carpenter pencils are recommended for a reason.   Being on a 20-foot roof, dropping your regular round #2 and watching it roll helplessly down to the ground truly sucks.
  • The experience of living with less is something that has stuck with me.  I certainly don’t consume as much or in the same way as I used to.
  • I am much more capable of weathering financial storms than before.  When The Roommate was briefly unemployed and the Great Recession was bearing upon us, we reflexively went back to our term-of-service economic habits.
  • I  mastered the fine arts of budgeting, coupons and thrift store shopping.
  • Public service will change your life.

AmeriCorps Week is May 8 – 15, 2010.  It’s a great opportunity to learn about service & support those who are serving in your area.  AmeriCorps Alums is also in the running for a Pepsi Refresh grant.  Check it out and cast your daily vote to help build 25 healthy communities through AmeriCorps Alums leadership!