Arriving at the National Conference on Volunteering and Service, representing the Upper Peninsula Volunteer Network, I wasn’t sure really what to expect. So I went into this experience thinking “If I can bring back one thing that can help nonprofits in the U.P., I’ll be happy.” One day in, and I’m already overwhelmed with information and inspiration. I hope you enjoy reading about my experience. I can’t wait to get back to the Upper Peninsula and share the knowledge with nonprofits.
I started Day 1 of the conference with a service project. What I knew going in was that Atlanta had been a hot bed for the civil rights movement. What I didn’t expect was the be in the funeral home where Martin Luther King, Jr.’s body was prepared. The funeral home has since closed, and was purchased by Trinity Community Ministries, a transitional housing facility for homeless men in Atlanta. The program is minimum 60 days, the first 30 (minimum) focus on sobriety.
I will admit, going to a men’s transitional home in Downtown Atlanta was very much out of my comfort zone. I was nervous about what type of service project we’d be doing. As a girl born and raised in the Upper Peninsula, would I have the skills to do what is needed? To my surprise, we were tasked with building a bench that could hold flower pots for the men’s outdoor area. This included cementing umbrellas into buckets. I jumped right in and became the “Quickcrete Master”, using my gloved hands to stir the bucket, as there was not a stirring utensil available. Now, you may be thinking, “ok so you poured some concrete…I did that in my garden last week.” That is exactly why I’m telling this story. I was intimidated by the fact I was volunteering in an urban setting, while in reality my small town experiences provided me with skills and confidence to get the job done.
After a wonderful lunch at Centennial Olympic Park, provided to volunteers from the Arby’s Foundation, I was ready to start learning. My first session, “The Accidental Trainer” was facilitated by Beth Kanter, one of my favorite nonprofit bloggers. In this session, a variety of facilitation techniques were presented and used. My favorite advice she gave was to “use the knowledge in the room.” I’m excited to try this with my next webinar training (whenever that will be).
It was then time to meet up with the wonderful ladies from Michigan Nonprofit Association. I’m attending the conference though the Sarah Ballard Scholarship Program, so we gathered to get a picture with MNA staff and the winners. It was great to meet the winners, who I spent the rest of the day with.
The Opening Plenary blew my mind. From the stepping performance, to the youth choir, to the marching band, the southern flavor was present, and I really enjoyed being able to experience it, as I’d never been to the south before. For me though, the real experience started with Dr. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., facilitating a panel with Congressman John Lewis, Ambassador Andrew Young and the Rev. C.T. Vivian, who were integral in the civil right’s movement. Their message of inspiration, determination and love is something that I will never ever forget. Really, I could write so much about this experience, I am going to do a post all about it when I get back.
The plenary continued with another panel, facilitated by Chelsea Clinton. This panel discussed the “new” view of service, straight from the mouths of Millennials. It was a fascinating discussion with Nelson Mandela’s grandson who is a documentary film maker, an AmeriCorp Alumni who recently completed her term of service, and the Mayor of Flint, who is also an AmeriCorp Alum. It was great to hear from people my age that service does matter, and needs to be looked at as a way of life, not a one day project.
The plenary wrapped up with Tyler Perry, filmmaker, receiving an award from Points of Light. He talked all about his upbringing, and how he had “points of light” in his life via caring adults outside his family. It was a great reminder that the work we do with youth really does make an impact.
After Mr. Perry’s speech, we were rushed off to load the busses to the Atlanta Braves game. Upon reaching the field, my group was directed right to Kitting Line 2, where we each prepared 5 kits of school supplies for teachers. These kits will be distributed via HandsOn Atlanta to low funded schools that need the help. After the five kits were done, I was able to enjoy my first Major League Baseball game, while networking with some great young professionals who are working in the volunteer management realm. The Braves lost 6-1 in 13 innings, but I jumped on the bus after the end of the 9th, when it was 1-1. Baseball was fun, but it wasn’t as exiting as hockey.
Once I got back to my hotel, I took what I thought would be a minute to reflect. That minute turned into an hour, which turned into my inspiration to blog my trip. It’s getting to be time to start today’s sessions, so I’m wrapping it up with a great quote I heard from the plenary yesterday. CT Vivian said “To change a culture, you have to love it’s people.” Thank you for reading, you are all amazing and I can’t wait to update you on what today will bring.