In 10 years with Youth Volunteer Corps, I have had the good fortune to be many things. I have held numerous titles from Team Leader to Program Director to Affiliate Services Manager (to name a few). I’ve played a variety of roles including manager, trainer, fundraiser, MC, evaluator and sounding board. I was even Kermit the Frog once.
I have traveled across the country (and Canada!) meeting, training, evaluating and learning from hundreds of dedicated youth, program staff, Executive Directors, agencies, funders and other stakeholders. In rural Iowa, I sunk a rented van full of youth deep in the mud of a project site. In downtown Kansas City, I helped push HQ’s ‘94 Lexus (Alex) out of the way of rush hour traffic when it ran out of gas (we really need to fix that fuel gauge). I witnessed the devastation of Katrina firsthand as well as the motivation of YVC youth to rebuild. I have held my breath to shovel rotting grain from steel drums in the heat of the Kansas summer and released my inhibitions to dance on stage with a special needs theater group. I’ve played Two Truths and a Lie so many times I don’t even know who I am anymore.
I’ve also been lucky to take on new roles in my personal life during this time, including uncle, father, and husband. All of those milestones were enriched by the fact that I was able to earn a living doing what I loved.
At YVC, we measure our impact, among other methods, by number of hours served. Since I started as a Team Leader in September 2006, I have devoted approximately 21,000 hours to this mission. While most of those hours were paid and do not compare to the millions of volunteer hours served by our amazing youth, they do represent what has been the lion’s share of my life for more than a decade. I am proud to have dedicated it to a noble cause.
With the support and guidance of some amazing supervisors and colleagues and the inspiration provided by the thousands of youth who have passed through YVC during my time, I have been lucky to contribute my energy and skills to strengthening this unique and wonderful network of youth advocates. I have witnessed YVC evolve into what I believe is the strongest position in its history. I have learned much more than I have space to describe here, but I want to share some of the more important lessons:
- 1. Never underestimate (or undervalue) the impact YVC is having. I have heard countless stories of youth turning a corner with their behavior, realizing a new skill, and simply making a connection with someone they would never normally cross paths with, all through YVC. Lives are changed forever by this work.
- 2. Don’t get hung up on the numbers. While we love to see programs grow and engage more youth in more hours, I have always tried to convey that we value quality over quantity. We know if youth have a negative service experience, we could lose them forever—our mission backfires. Focus on making each project as meaningful as possible, which is the essence of the YVC model, and the numbers will follow.
- 3. The solutions to (most of) your challenges already exist somewhere in the YVC Network. Either a fellow Program Director in another community, a resource in the YVC library, a staff member here at HQ, or a dedicated Youth Advisory Board has the answer. All you have to do is ask.
- 4. Expand your definition of what service is and can be. I envision a world where giving back is as routine and ubiquitous as going to school or working. Many people still share a limited perception of what service is (picking up trash, reading to children, serving meals at a shelter, etc.). This limits the potential of service to reach a higher level of prominence. I would love to see the word “volunteer” become obsolete because it’s no longer something we do but rather who we are: caring citizens who act on their beliefs.
- 5. When things get stressful or you question the value of what you’re doing, stop. Step back from your desk and think about that one Youth Volunteer. You know who it is. She may have passed through the program early in your tenure. He may still be active to this day. He’s the kid whose parents signed him up against his will but ended up having a great time and coming back. She’s the one who grew from a shy, awkward 12-year-old to becoming YAB president at 17. Whoever it is, focus on them. What did YVC do for them? What will they become thanks to your efforts? Odds are there are dozens or more youth like that whose lives you’ve touched through YVC. Never doubt you are changing the world, one youth at a time.
The past 10 years and all those roles have prepared me well for this next chapter in my life. I will be acting on one of my passions, animal welfare, by serving as the Director of Operations for Lawrence Humane Society in Lawrence, Kansas. I am leaving the Affiliate Services department in the highly capable hands of Leah Boal and Amanda Moser, who have both graciously stepped up to take on additional responsibilities.
I will miss YVC and all of you immensely, and I offer my deepest gratitude for your support and hard work over the years advancing this vital mission. My last day at Youth Volunteer Corps is November 30, at which point I will assume my final role: former staff member and lifelong YVC advocate.
From all of us at YVC, thank you Paul, for 10 years of impact, service and memories. You have made a huge difference at YVC, and your legacy will undoubtedly continue for years to come. Best of luck in the next step in your journey!
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