Transcript: Josh Maxwell, Chester County Commissioner (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode S2E10: Josh Maxwell, Chester County Commissioner.

Stormy Bell (00:00): Welcome to another episode of The Art of Volunteering. I am very excited today to have my guest, Josh Maxwell. He is one of three county commissioners for the Chester County community. He is going to talk about volunteering in a little different aspect than what we’re used to. Welcome, Josh.

Josh Maxwell (00:20): Hey, thanks for having me.

Stormy Bell (00:22): Alright. Josh began his term as Chester County Commissioner in January of 2020, and is currently vice chair. His priorities are to ensure that our communities thrive, create opportunities for working families and safeguard equality for all. He also serves as an adjunct professor of Political Science at Lincoln University in Southern Chester County. Prior to his election as commissioner, he served 10 years as the mayor of Downingtown, where he lives with his wife Blair. I am looking forward to this. Back in June at The Taste of Coatesville, I had an idea and I shared it with Josh. It’s about time donations. People can donate their furniture or their clothes and get an In-Kind donation, but what about people who volunteer their time of a way of giving back for or saying thank you for what they’re doing? In October, I woke up and read the Daily Local News and there was this article about how Josh had found a way to make time donation work for first responders. I’m just gonna let Josh share about what he and the other two commissioners came up with and how it’s gonna help the people of Chester County. Take it away.

Josh Maxwell (01:35): Awesome. Thank you. This is exciting. We in this country rely heavily on volunteers to do the work on behalf of government. It’s not something you see in many other countries where the people who run towards and into a fire are actually volunteers from the local community that are nearby and willing to leave their house, go grab a firetruck, get into somebody’s house, and save some lives. The training, the preparation, and the regulatory things that have to be overcome by these volunteers is immense. It’s always difficult, especially as people start to move around more often and don’t work in the same town where they live quite often to get folks to fill these positions. So one of the things we decide we would do is create a way for folks to earn rebates on their property taxes by volunteering as an EMT or a local volunteer or firefighter.

We came up with a scoring system, a unique scoring system. Some counties are doing that doing it in a different way, but we have a way where you can earn 50% rebate on your county property taxes, all the way up to a 100% rebate on your county property taxes based on how many, how much training you go to, how many fires you show up to, how many ambulance calls you go on, things like that. Say you can only do 50%, that’s fine. That’s still valuable. Two people doing 50% of the work allows for a 50% rebate. We still get, between the two, a full commitment from a volunteer firefighter in Chester County. We’re rolling it out beginning next year. People will pay their property tax and then apply for the rebate based on the scoring system the following year. So exciting to see how it look. It works for the first year as any government program that’s well run. We expect to have to toggle the switches here a little bit to see how many people actually take advantage of this and then make sure that we evaluate it next year to see what worked, what didn’t work, and then make any changes that need to be made.

Stormy Bell (03:55): That’s awesome. How’s it been received by the first responders? Have you had anyone comment?

Josh Maxwell (04:01): They appear to be happy with this. Okay. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was a request from them. They want to use it as a recruitment tool. So especially getting younger people, first time home buyers, folks are looking to pay off student loans or save up for their kids’ college. This is an opportunity for them. They seem to be very, very happy. We need to make sure we get the word out so that everyone that deserves this tax rebate gets rewarded with it.

Stormy Bell (04:32): Oh, that’s awesome. I love it. I love the fact that you found a way, and I hope that it spreads through all of Pennsylvania and beyond. All right, let me circle back to you. Do you have a volunteer journey and would you like to share that?

Josh Maxwell (04:50): I grew up in a small town, and I got really involved with my church when I was a teenager and started to volunteer visiting people in the hospital, taking flowers to folks, and then going on mission trips, things like that to Mexico. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Then when I was in college, I was given an extra credit opportunity, which is something I needed, by volunteering at a nonprofit in Kent Square, which was La Comunidad Hispana and at LCH which they are actually known by. I was teaching GED classes and citizenship tests to people who are applying to be citizen or trying to further their education. Maybe they dropped out between entering this country or some cases were going back to school.

In some cases they graduated in their home country, but needed to get a GED here in this country to have access to better employment opportunities. I actually stayed an extra year volunteering at LCH post the extra credit opportunity I received. I’ve kind of been always involved with volunteering in an organized way whether it was with the Rotary Club for five years, good works once a month I’m repairing people’s homes, and now I serve on a lot of volunteer boards and have a lot of opportunities to get involved in and meet people and find ways to fund a lot of these nonprofits I was volunteering with just a few years ago.

Stormy Bell (06:29): Do you have a favorite that you’d like to work with? More human service, more arts, like, is there something you enjoy more than others?

Josh Maxwell (06:38): I think anything that fights to eradicate poverty tends to get my interest. I think a lot of our issues from a human services perspective flow out of people experiencing poverty. So whether it’s finding employment opportunities, academic opportunities, or just better health services, I tend to gravitate towards the areas that as a government really struggle to reach and struggle to get people the help they deserve.

Stormy Bell (07:06): If you could put it into 60 seconds, why do you volunteer?

Josh Maxwell (07:11): I think selfishly, it feels good. I feel good helping somebody else, right? I don’t think I would be a happy person if I didn’t spend a few weekends a year, you know, one weekend a month or a couple nights every week helping somebody else. I think I would feel probably anxious and not very proud of myself. I just wouldn’t feel like a good person. So I think [helping] other people on a volunteer basis fulfills me in some way.

Stormy Bell (07:49): Through your volunteer experience or your life journey, have you seen a story of impact somewhere where you really, the time that you were donating really impacted someone’s life, and what does that look like?

Josh Maxwell (08:04): When I was in college, one week a year we would build a ramp for somebody who needed it. That was kind of the thing we did every year. Somebody’s father was a contractor, we would source all material. We were 19 years old and sufficiently capable of being laborers and carrying wood around and drilling things. One time he did it, was a gentleman [and] he was living in a manufacturing home community. So we built the ramp and it was a pretty large ramp. It has to be one inch per foot. I mean, we’re talking up and back and up and he came out and we’re gonna take a photo with him. His wife mentioned he hadn’t been outta the house in 10 years. We’re like, whoa. Well, this is significant. He was very happy to be out in the sun and it made us kind of sit back and feel good about what we were doing.

Stormy Bell (09:12): Amazing. If you could encourage someone else to volunteer or get involved, what would you say to them?

Josh Maxwell (09:20): I would say we all have a skill that would be useful to help somebody else. Whether you’re a good writer, a good photographer, someone that likes to listen go to a local senior center and listen to stories, there’s no better way to kind of grow as a person than by helping somebody else out.

Stormy Bell (09:46): That’s awesome. Can you share a blooper, not that there’s something that went wrong, that it didn’t go as planned from your volunteer journey, maybe one of the boards that you’re on or someplace that you volunteer with, and what did you learn from it?

Josh Maxwell (10:04): Blooper. Like, blooper a mistake I made?

Stormy Bell (10:07): It doesn’t have to be a mistake, just something that didn’t go as planned.

Josh Maxwell (10:12): Well, sometimes these boards can be tense. Sometimes you disagree on things like budgets and who should work there or who shouldn’t work there. At times I’ve navigated those decisions poorly. Many of those times I’ve learned from them. I think some of that stemmed from being on some boards, getting elected the most in my mid twenties and being asked to serve on some of these. At one point in time I thought somebody who [volunteered] for us was being treated really unfairly. I think I’ve learned a little bit to see the big picture and manage those relationships a little more professionally and making sure that we disagree in a positive way. There’s a little bit of small politics and everything, whether you’re a university professor or on a nonprofit board. I don’t mean cable news, political, I mean how we prioritize different things. It’s important to be able to navigate that in an effective way, in a professional way.

Stormy Bell (11:26): Gotcha. We’re almost done. I’m going to let you love on Chester County. From a commissioner’s point of view, why should people check us out? We have a large amount of nonprofits in Chester County. You get to see us from a really bird’s eye view. You kind of have a wide angle and a focused angle of who we are and what we do. Just love on us.

Josh Maxwell (11:57): Well, it’s the starters, like where do we stand out? 70% of Chester County residents live within one mile of a park, trail, or preserve. Everyone wants to live near near a trail, a park, or preserve and 70% of our 530,000 residents do. This is a wonderful place to live a quiet life with a tremendous amount of resources between public schools, healthcare, [and] access to some transportation. This county really has a lot of assets and much less struggles than almost all of our neighboring counties, if not most of the counties in the country. We’re always trying to build this cohesion here in Chester County. This is a county that likes to stay out of the news. We like to do our own thing quietly and together. You’ll be around people that just want their entire community to thrive. I think it’s a special place to be.

Stormy Bell (13:07): That’s awesome. Well, that concludes our interview. No really hard questions today. Today’s actually Veterans Day, so I hope you have a great Veterans Day. To my listeners, thank you for tuning in. I hope you found as much value in today’s episode as I did. If you did, please go to wherever you listen to the podcast and rate, review, and share it with your friends. Thank you and have a great day.

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Transcript: Michael Rothberg, LCSW, Core Psychotherapy (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode S2E9: Michael Rothberg, LCSW, Core Psychotherapy.

Stormy Bell (00:00): Welcome back to another episode of The Art of Volunteering. Today we’re coming from the new Bell Recording Studios. Fresh paint, new sign. Just hope that you like the new look. It’s not completely done, so just stay tuned over the next few weeks to see if you like it. Today I have my friend Michael Rothberg with me. We’ve been trying for several months to schedule this conversation. He is a licensed social worker and we’re gonna be talking about how mental health and volunteering can support the other. Michael is a clinical social worker working in private practice in Cresskill, New Jersey. He provides counseling and psychotherapy to adolescents, adults, couples and families. Cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic theory are among the modalities he uses to treat patients. The most common diagnosis that he treats are depression, anxiety, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and OCD. Michael, thank you for coming on the show today.

Michael Rothberg (01:07): Oh, you’re very welcome. Good to be here. I don’t know what the studio looked like before, but it looks good to me now.

Stormy Bell (01:14): Well, that’s good! It was kind of a beige wall and no sign. We’re just moving ahead.

Michael Rothberg (01:23): I gotcha. I understand.

Stormy Bell (01:25): People talk about volunteering being more than just helping the person or the lives that you’re impacting. It also benefits the person who does the volunteering. How does volunteering and mental health or mental wellbeing, how do they kind of work together and what would that look like?

Michael Rothberg (01:43): I guess I can use my own experience to kind of inform how I feel volunteering, what volunteering does for a person. I remember when I was in my early twenties, I was kinda lost. I had just finished law school and really didn’t wanna be a lawyer. I was really feeling like I really didn’t know what to do with my life. I felt just a lack of, you know, kind of knowing me. I felt just lost and unhappy. I had always thought about going to a career, helping people so I decided to join a volunteer agency. In the volunteer agency we were trained and we basically went out to people’s houses. I had some kids, like a big brother type of program, and then I had some older folks.

What I found was it gave me a sense of purpose. It gave me a sense of meaning and gave me a sense of myself. The feeling that you’ve helped somebody, at least for me and my personality style and for many other people, is really just a great feeling because even though you’re giving, you’re really getting a lot back. Not that you should give to get, I think it’s always good to give, but in the giving, you see the people’s lives getting better, and that’s an incredibly satisfying feeling to have and really kind of solidifies your place in the world if that’s what you wanna do. What I did was I kept on doing it, and I really liked it and it gave me energy.

Michael Rothberg (03:49): In my prior jobs, I would run out of energy. I’d be looking at the clock, I’d be like, when is this over? But when I was doing that, I never looked at the clock. I never wanted it to be over. It just fed me. It was like a source of fuel. When I went back to school, got my degree in social work and in school for social work, you do a lot of volunteering also. That’s part of the curriculum. Volunteered at a couple different places: mental hospital, psychiatric hospital, a counseling center. That further solidified, I knew I was in the right place and then I went on from there and just kind of eventually went into my own private practice.

Recently, I volunteered as a poll worker. Even that felt good. Just the idea of helping people that usually [get] lost when they walk in the voting place. They don’t know where to go. They got the sheets, and the whole thing is kind of overwhelming. People are very appreciative. It’s just a great feeling. You really get a lot out of it personally. It’s really very rewarding. I think mental health wise, it kind of helps with your sense of self, your sense of who you are, and really kind of builds that up. If you have a strong sense of self and you like yourself and you like what you’re doing, you’re much more resilient to when things go wrong and when things are in your life are difficult because you’ve got this purpose and you’ve got these things that you’re doing something productive and something of value to other people. I find it to be very grounding and very good for just level of self-esteem.

Stormy Bell (05:55): I’ve read that it does help give people a sense of purpose. It’s helping to be focused  not necessarily on the negatives of themselves. They’re finding something outside of themselves to be involved in and giving to something bigger than themselves. Do you find that?

Michael Rothberg (06:14): Yeah, a hundred percent. The sense of purpose is absolutely there. The sense of giving something to something bigger than yourself. I forget what the first part of what you said was.

Stormy Bell (06:34): Like you get outside of yourself. You’re not just focused on yourself, you’re focused outward.

Michael Rothberg (06:39): Exactly. For example, the day, the tasks, the errands, and just the hum humdrum of every day can really make you go inside your head and really kind of just get stuck there. When you’re helping other people, you forget about your stuff. It’s gone. You’re just there with them for them. It’s a great escape too. Obviously it shouldn’t be abused as an escape, where you’re just not taking care of yourself and you’re just doing that to the point where you’re literally self-sacrificing too much. In a healthy way, it definitely takes you out of your own head.

Stormy Bell (07:32): Okay.

Michael Rothberg (07:33): Yeah. So I would agree with that. 

Stormy Bell (07:34): Another thing that I had come across is that it can help combat depression. How would that work?

Michael Rothberg (07:41): Well, I think depression really happens when a lot of things are going on. There’s lots of theories about depression. Some people think depression is when you’re very angry at yourself and you’re very ashamed of yourself. So people get depressed because they turn their anger towards themselves. When you’re doing something that you feel good about, you’re not mad at yourself, you’re proud of yourself. If you have suffered from depression, and if you have suffered from anxiety, you know, taking that experience which was so painful and being able to understand that in other people and be non-judgmental. Really kind of just listen and not sit there and give advice and just kind of listen and be there for the person and just be a kind of a container where you can. Just be there and be there for their feelings.

It helps them, the person that you’re talking to not be depressed. Because depression also seems to happen when people are not expressing themselves. When we keep our emotions kind of bottled up. Obviously there’s more to depression than just, than just volunteering but I think it definitely goes a long way towards one feeling good about themselves, getting outta their own head that type of thing. I’m a big proponent of that for depression. It’s interesting because you also get to feel. When you’re sitting with somebody and you’re helping them, you get to emote too. You get to experience the joy of seeing their- or the sadness of their lives or whatever they’re going through.

Michael Rothberg (09:35): Depression, a lot of times, is a result of the body kind of revolting against itself when we’re not living our truths. We’re not living our true selves. There’s a lot of books written on this. One that comes to mind is a book by Alice Miller called The Body Never Lies. Famous book. Basically, when we’re not living our true feelings and we’re not bringing authentic to ourselves, our body gets mad and our body does weird things. We get stomach aches, we get headaches, we get aches and pains. We’re more susceptible to illness. We get depressed. It’s just an opportunity really to do so many things that fly in the face of depression. That fight depression. I think it’s a really positive thing in that respect.

Stormy Bell (10:30): Very cool. I like that. I think that’s awesome. Particularly from, I’m dating myself, when I was growing up, mental illness, mental health there [was] very much a stigma around it. Can you share how that’s changed over time to like what adolescents and young adults are experiencing now where they’re much more aware of what that is and being much more comfortable about speaking about it in a public forum? Just what you’ve seen.

Michael Rothberg (11:02): I’ve seen it change definitely. There’s less shame about it but there’s still a stigma. There’s still some people that are, because they’re so, I guess, afraid, they’re afraid to admit to any type of vulnerability and any type of that they need any kind of help in any way. Because that would mean they’re broken or damaged goods. I think, and I don’t mean to generalize, but for the most part, men rather than women seem to have more of a shame involved with mental illness. It’s definitely there for women too. I’ve got a couple clients that are definitely ashamed of what they’re going through but overall, especially this new generation, the newest generation, this new young generation, they’ll shout it from the mountaintops. They’ll basically say, yeah, I’m in therapy.

Yeah, that’s great. I love it. It’s great. You know, I gotta go talk to my therapist. Sorry. I’m, you know, can’t come, I have a therapy appointment. It’s very normal chatter for them. Normal just like, I’ve got a dentist appointment. So I definitely think it’s gotten better. You know, medications have their place, and I think people have over time really kind of seen that medications can help a lot too, and we can’t ignore that they can help. Why live a life that is full of pain if there’s something out there that can help you? I think people have come around to the idea that, hey, you know what? I don’t care. I just wanna be happy. Whatever that means. Whether it’s seeing a therapist, taking medication, or both. I think that it’s definitely gotten better. I still see it though. It’s still there.

Stormy Bell (13:03): Yeah. I work for a nonprofit and we work with high school students, and we actually partner with another nonprofit for mental wellbeing. Just identifying self-care, what that looks like, and cues that you might need additional therapy or resources. We’ve really seen that increase since the pandemic that really exasperated an issue. Our students are, they’re, it’s gonna take years for them to recover and catch up from what the pandemic did to everyone, especially the high school students who are all ages, but really high schoolers, it just rocked their world as it did everyone’s, but we see it.

Michael Rothberg (13:55): Yeah. I agree. I think it got avoidant people. It gave them an excuse to avoid more and people that are people people that like to be with people couldn’t be with people. It really didn’t work out well for anybody. It was bad. I’ve got some 20 year olds, people in their twenties that literally they’re socially behind where they should be, not because they have any kind of underlying social problems but because during that time, they couldn’t develop. They weren’t in school, they weren’t seeing friends. They got very used to doing things online, talking to people online, playing video games or whatever it is. Really kind of just got used to that and that became kind of the norm. It was very damaging in a way that I never thought it would be, but it really, it surprised me how I still see the, I guess the aftermath of it.

Stormy Bell (15:01): Right. That’s just something to be mindful [of]. Me being an advocate for volunteering, I can see how for that age range encourage them to get out and volunteer, to resocialize, to have those exchanges an opportunity to explore passions that might’ve been put to the side, because you couldn’t, or you talking about people who are very people people. Just re-energizing what that community looks like around them.

Michael Rothberg (15:33): Right. It’s really recharging even for introverted people volunteering.I think a lot of times introverted people or sometimes avoidant people because they really don’t like all the disappointment and all that comes with social interaction a lot of times. They’re self-conscious and all that stuff but when you’re helping somebody through volunteering, you’re really getting a lot of positive feedback. You’re getting so much. You’re getting smiles, you’re getting tears, you’re getting all types of stuff, and you’re feeling it too. It’s just it makes you wanna talk to people. It can bring somebody out of their shell too. Somebody that’s really in a deep, like after the pandemic, for example.

People just got used to being in this kind of isolated place. Volunteering really is a great way to reacclimate. I have some clients that are volunteer firemen and they love doing that. It gives them a great sense of purpose, and meeting the people they go out to. Whether it’s not necessarily a fire, but just some sort of, you know, like an old person who can’t get up or something like that. I think all types of volunteering is really great. I think people just think it’s giving a lot of times, and they feel like, oh, I can’t do that. I don’t have time for that. You know, what’s in it for me? There’s a lot in it for people that are doing it. It’s really a lot in it. There’s a lot to gain from it.

Stormy Bell (17:27): I was just gonna say I read someplace [that] when people volunteer, they come out with a soft glow. Like there’s this beauty to it that they just feel so good about themselves. It was not about them for the time. I guess that’s what it comes down to. It’s others and then how it makes you feel just all warm. Just, I don’t really know the right word, but I had read soft glow. I’m like, oh, that’s an interesting way of describing it.

Michael Rothberg (17:57): I would agree with that. Yeah. I’ve seen my wife come back from volunteering, and she might’ve been in a very critical or negativistic kind of mood, and she comes back and she just looks proud of herself. She’s got this I like life attitude. Very positive, more positive view on life and people. Yeah, the soft glow is great. I would say I’ve definitely seen the soft glow.

Stormy Bell (18:28): Very cool. You had talked about some of the volunteering that kind of led you into being a social worker or counselor. What was your volunteering journey like, a little bit more than what you had done?

Michael Rothberg (18:45): I was interested in psychology and I was also a lawyer. I was like how can I use my skills? You know, because I thought I was a good listener, and I thought I had some legal knowledge. I was an okay lawyer. There was this place at the time, I don’t know if it’s still around, but it was called Volunteer Counseling Services. It was in New City, New York. It was this beautiful big building, and basically they had trained professionals there that would train you, just lay people how to, you know, for the populations or whatever you were gonna do.

I was volunteering with mediating, doing mediating for divorce and stuff like that. I was also mediating, you know, just disputes. Then I was also doing outreach to people at risk youth and stuff like that. They provided the training. I remember one of the best things that I ever saw in any of my training, even in my graduate training, was in this volunteer place, the woman who was teaching brought out a big, big glass of blue water. Like a giant container of deep blue water. I think the water was colored with food coloring and we all were confused. Why are you bringing that out?

Michael Rothberg (20:23): We’re all just looking at each other, she says, this is the person you’re working with. This blue water. We said, okay. Then she got another thing of water, clear water, and she poured it in, and the water obviously became lighter in color. She said, that’s what happens to people when you join them in whatever they’re going through. The intensity of whatever they’re going through becomes less because you join them and they can share it with you. I thought that was just the best thing I ever heard. I just, that just spoke to me so much. To this day, I still think about it. That was kind of the image that I kept in my mind. I still, you know, it’s always something that’s on my mind.

Stormy Bell (21:13): Oh, I like that. I mean, it applies to what you do as being a counselor, but that applies to volunteering. Like the impact we’re having on someone else’s life. We’re lightening the load, we’re uplifting them, we’re just coming into the place where they’re at and joining them, and kind of like, you know, from Avatar, I see you. They’re being a part of that and you’re just the waters becoming less blue.

Michael Rothberg (21:41): Yeah. It’s just like, even if you have a family member who’s upset and they come to you upset if you, if you automatically jump down their throat and start giving them advice or telling them not to feel that way, as opposed to joining them, oh, that must be awful. Tell me more about that. You know? Wow. They see you understanding and all of a sudden they feel understood. That understanding is the lightning of the water and you’ve helped them get there simply by just being present.

Stormy Bell (22:15): That’s amazing.

Michael Rothberg (22:16): Yeah. That’s really something.

Stormy Bell (22:18): So some of the questions I asked my guests are why do you volunteer? We’ve kind of covered that also from your days of being a volunteer, can you think of a blooper, something that didn’t go, not necessarily wrong, but as you expected it? You are expecting it to go one way, and it went completely different. Like, what did that look like and what did you learn from it? Anything come to mind?

Michael Rothberg (22:56): Yeah. I remember there was one time this, I don’t know why this one came to mind. I haven’t thought about this in years, but I went to see this one kid, and he said meet me behind my house. I met him behind his house and he had a dirt bike. He said come on, get on. We’re gonna go for a ride. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to be unsupportive of the kid so now I’m on this dirt bike, and we’re flying through like you know, like bumps and jumps, and I’m terrified for my life! I’m like, what am I doing? Oh my God.

I felt like I was enabling this kid for this dangerous behavior. I was like, not only am I putting my own life on the line, this kid I should have told him not to do this. This is terrible. We’re gonna die! Thank God we made it back okay. But yeah, I was a little outta my league as far as how I should have handled that. If I had a little bit more training, I probably would’ve been able to kind of talk to the kid and be more honest with the kid and not worry about disappointing him so much, but at the same time, be nice and say like, hey, I don’t think this is a great idea. I went back and I told the people there at the place and I said, this is what happened.

Michael Rothberg (24:14): They said, oh, okay. Don’t worry about it. It’s okay. Nobody got hurt, but this is what you do next time. You know, go for it, just don’t give up. You’re gonna make some mistakes and that kind of thing. At the time I was like, oh God, this is so bad. It was terrifying. 

Stormy Bell (24:33): But you made it out alive so that’s good.

Michael Rothberg (24:36): He was going so fast and we didn’t have helmets on. It was just absolutely insane. We’re okay so that’s good.

Stormy Bell (24:46): That’s funny.

Michael Rothberg (25:25): Yeah. So that one stands out.

Stormy Bell (24:50): Alright.

Michael Rothberg (24:50): When you go into somebody’s house, you know that’s a big deal for somebody to let you in their house. That’s their place. They’re sensitive about their house. They’re either proud of it or not proud of it, or a mixture of those things. It can feel weird being in somebody else’s house, different smells. It might not feel, may not be what you’re used to as far as just the way things are set up or the way the lighting or whatever it is. It might be filled with too much stuff and it might feel a little uncomfortable, but you get past that and you manage to just focus on the person, and that stuff kind of falls by the wayside.

Stormy Bell (25:38): I could see that. Some of the volunteering that I’ve done, not necessarily in someone’s house, but just being in different settings and just like, okay, focus on the main thing, which is typically the person that you’re with or the activity that you’re doing. If you were to encourage someone to volunteer, what would you say?

Michael Rothberg (26:02): Well, I would probably say, have you thought about volunteering? Depending on their answer, I’d say well, let’s say they answered and they said no. Why would I do that? My answer would be, well, it sounds like you’re struggling. You’re feeling a little bit lost in life and without purpose and meaning, and this could be really good for you. Not to mention the people that you’re helping, but I think more importantly for you right now, the person I’m talking to, I think this could really help you find who you are and what you’re good at and what you like to do and how rewarding it is to do things for other people. I think that could really set the stage for your career, for a second career, for older people that have retired. It can be amazing for people that are out of the workforce and they haven’t done anything in a while.

They feel kind of bored and it can be really amazing for them in addition to younger people who really don’t know what they’re doing with their lives. So I think just for all ages, it’s great. I think it’s great for parents to kind of encourage their kids at a young age. My parents took me when I was younger to a soup kitchen. I think that just seeing that other people, you know, not living in a bubble and seeing that other people don’t have it the way you have it a lot of people and just seeing the satisfaction of giving somebody a scoop of whatever it is you’re giving them at the soup kitchen, and how appreciative they are.

Stormy Bell (27:55): Dr. Kathleen O’Connor was a guest on here, and some of her responsibilities oversaw enrollment management at Lasell University. I’d asked her about high school students when they volunteer, what does the college look at? She was explaining, when you see someone who volunteers versus having a lot of just clubs, it means the volunteer is able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. More apt to be able to take in new situations, help people who are different than themselves and feel comfortable in those settings. There was a lot of benefits of what they were looking for on a college application for volunteering. I think that’s very true with someone who has had that in the younger years. Those experiences for going into college, for going into the workforce where you have people who aren’t like yourself for a variety of reasons, and just being able to adapt and volunteering gives that opportunity at a young age to prepare you for that.

Michael Rothberg (29:02): Yeah. Like, it always seemed like a box you needed to check off when you were getting ready for college, you know, I have to have volunteering experience. People just did it because they needed the experience, but then you ended up, wow, I really like this. This is actually, this is actually something, and this actually is meaningful. I can see why the colleges value it. I don’t know who’s looking at the applications, I don’t know if they’re just checking off boxes, but I would assume that some people really do care about boxes. I think it’s a great thing to do when you’re younger. I remember doing it in the beginning of high school. I volunteered and I remember it really gave me a sense of confidence. It really gave me [a] sense of confidence like nothing happened before. Getting good grades, doing well in school. That was fine and everything, but that hands-on kind of experience that really made me feel alive.

Stormy Bell (30:11): Well, that covers all my questions for today. I do appreciate your time. I may have you back on, we’ll cover a different topic sometime.

Michael Rothberg (30:24): Sure!

Stormy Bell (30:24): All right, well I wanna thank all my listeners today and my guest, Michael, for sitting down and listening to this conversation. I hope that you found value in it, I know that I did. Just consider getting outside of your normal activities and get involved in a nonprofit, after school organization, or anywhere that volunteering is promoted because not only with the people you help benefit, you’ll benefit and you’ll have that soft glow that we spoke about.

Michael Rothberg (31:02): Wanna volunteer to train my dog to stop barking?

Stormy Bell (32:36): We could try that too. I just wanna thank everyone. See you next time on The Art of Volunteering.

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Transcript: Anne Forcine, Internal Controls Auditor for SIL (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode S2E8: Anne Forcine, Internal Controls Auditor for SIL.

Stormy Bell (00:00): Welcome back to The Art of Volunteering. Our guest today is one of my dear friends, Anne Forcine. Anne has worked in the field of accounting for over 50 years in pharma, construction and advertising. She retired from full-time work about a year ago to give her the opportunity to do more traveling and volunteer work. Most of her weekends, you’ll find her spending time with friends, family, attending church, getting outside for a hike, kayak[ing], or skiing. Welcome, Anne.

Anne Forcine (00:32): Hi.

Stormy Bell (00:34): Anne, let’s start. Last spring, you went on an amazing journey to Africa as a volunteer to perform a financial controls audit for the Summer Institute of Linguistics, or SIL. I think you were an internal controls auditor, is that correct? Can you share a little bit about who or what SIL is and how you started your journey with them?

Anne Forcine (00:57): Sure. About 10 years ago, I was put in touch with SIL or Wycliffe. I didn’t know that there were any kind of mission trips, or we call them mission trips, that would enable me to use accounting. I found out that they have probably 25 to 30 trips a year all around the world that they need people to go in and just make sure their audit, their financial controls are in place. As a nonprofit, it’s really important to have that accountability for the money that is being poured into their agency. So that’s how I got connected with them. I was just blown away by the different countries and continents that you could go to and that God was using my gifts in that way. I didn’t have to go into a teaching environment or a construction environment to help with missions, but I could be in an office helping them stay on track with their budget.

Stormy Bell (01:59): Why Africa?

Anne Forcine (02:05): I’ve loved Africa. I’ve always loved Africa. It’s been on my bucket list since I was really little. I wanted to go to Kenya. I feel like every time I wanna go somewhere, God provides a way for me to go. Africa, it’s like that continent that is still really unknown a lot. I mean, people are starting to go there more often, but the idea of being able to meet people that I probably would never have an opportunity to meet and the animals were just, I just wanted to see the animals in their natural habitat. It was a dream come true to be able to do it.

Stormy Bell (02:45): Awesome. Did you go alone?

Anne Forcine (02:47): I did. When I requested the trip, they said there was another young woman who just graduated from college and she had never been on a trip, and I had been on one 10 years prior. We ended up meeting in Nairobi about two in the morning at our guest house. So I did travel alone. I have really never been fearful of that because I just love airports. I love them. I love the idea that you could walk up to any counter in an airport, put down your credit card and go anywhere in the world and follow people that were going anywhere in the world. It just fascinated me. I was not worried. I feel like when you’re on your own that is when you depend on God the most and he comes through. I just knew that at the end I had to meet somebody to pick me up from the airport at one in the morning in Nairobi. So I met up with somebody else. I like working as a team with somebody else.

Stormy Bell (03:54): That’s awesome. Now, how many days did the internal control audit take?

Anne Forcine (04:00): It takes two weeks, and there were two of us. I had gone 10 years prior, and that was a three week audit. It can be one week too. But this particular week we audited all of Africa’s internal controls, all their offices. We were given a script on Word to follow along so that there’s consistency among all of the audits. We didn’t have to invent what we were gonna ask. The questions were all there, and they had all been through the audit before so it’s fairly comprehensive, but it was easy to jump in.

Stormy Bell (04:49): Gotcha. What did you do in your downtime?

Anne Forcine (04:54): Well, there wasn’t a whole lot of downtime. When we woke up in the morning, we went to breakfast, and then we worked until about five, [then] we had dinner. Now in Nairobi, you can’t really walk around on your own. We had to have a guide, not a guide, but more of a I don’t know what you would call him, but he would take us if we wanted. Now they are near the equator, so it was pretty much six to six. Six in the morning, the sun would come up and six at night it would go down. Even in early May.

We would take walks and at night we would just hang out and read. Now on the weekends, we had free time and there was a local safari park we went to. There was a local market that one of the women took us to. A Maasai market. The Maasai are the largest tribe in Kenya. Everybody who worked in the office belonged to a tribe, their family. When you would meet them, they would say, I’m from the so-and-so tribe. They were all very educated. They all had MBAs. They were all very smart and they were all super friendly. So friendly. We went to church with them on the weekends, and we were invited into their homes on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Basically we just got to spend a lot of time talking to Kenyan people, which was what I had wanted to do.

Stormy Bell (06:33): Was there a language barrier?

Anne Forcine (06:34): No. They speak English and then Swahili. I think English is their main language. Most of them know English and Swahili is like their second language, or maybe the other way around. But no, they wanted to know so much about America. They wanted to get our ideas on issues in America. They were so inquisitive. A couple pastors had been in other careers before, one had started as a doctor, became a CPA, worked for the World Health Organization as a consultant, and then started his own business. He just had all these careers. He was so inquisitive and wanted to know our take on so many different issues.

Stormy Bell (07:35): That’s very cool. Now, when your work was done, your two weeks there, did you get to go on vacation or did you come straight back to the States?

Anne Forcine (07:46): Absolutely. I joined and my friend who worked with me, she joined a different safari because she was 21 and wanted to be with the young people. I wanted to be on a tour that was a little more geared towards, I guess, people that wanted a tour guide. So we went on a safari. I was a week in Kenya. I am all about the tour now. I used to be highly independent, wanted to do my own thing, but they had everything kind of really mapped out for us as far as the hotel. There was not really any security issues when we went to the different parks. The tourism there is really growing back because of the pandemic. Places really greeted us with open arms.

When we walked up to the hotels, they had hot towels for us. They had homemade juices, squeezed juices, and they were so happy to have us. They said, please be ambassadors for Kenya. Tell everybody that we’re here, we’re open and we’re safe. We saw so many animals. We were in the game parks all the time, we would go on game drives in the morning, game drives in the afternoon and you got to meet a lot of people that were from varied backgrounds and why they wanted to travel. You could talk with them. It was wonderful. Everybody there had never been to Africa and it’s still kind of unusual to go. We were just amazed at how beautiful it was and how different it was. That’s what we did. 

Anne Forcine (09:39): Then I took a week and I went to Tanzania as well. I got to see Mount Kilimanjaro. I got to see the Serengeti. There is a wildebeest migration that happens every year in Africa. People go from about June to August where literally they’re in the Serengeti in Tanzania, and it’s the end of the rainy season. It’s starting to be more of a kind of a dry season and famine. The wildebeest from a couple hundred miles away can literally smell the fresh green grass in Maasai Mara, which is in Kenya. They travel millions. If you go there and you take a balloon ride, which I did, I didn’t see the wildebeest quite like this, you can see them stretch for miles and miles and miles.

They all go back to Maari, hang out there for, I don’t know, a couple months and then they go back. That’s really fascinating. The zebras go along with the wildebeest. They’re buddies. We got to see like world heritage sites, there’s something called the Ngorongoro Crater. We got to stay in some tents, semi-permanent tents they were called, they were beautiful. Full bathrooms, beautiful beds with mosquito netting. We stayed in some hotels and then we stayed in some lodges. They had the full gamut. It’s not rustic. It’s not on the ground. A lot of people think well I could never do that. You were in Jeeps that pop open and you can stand up there, hold on to bars, take pictures, have cameras and binoculars. It’s very well run, the tourism over there.

Stormy Bell (11:43): I bet you came home with lots of photos.

Anne Forcine (11:46): Oh like 3000. I culled them down to 600, but I have a lot. The tour guides, the drivers, they have to go to school, they have to go to the university, and they take hospitality and they know the animals. They were like National Geographic experts. It was so educational. They know so much. They have to be like counselors, you know, they get six people that don’t know each other in a Jeep. Everybody has different expectations, so they have to make sure everybody’s happy. They did a great job. It was really fun.

Stormy Bell (12:25): That’s awesome. Now this was a missions trip, so did you have to raise your own funding for it?

Anne Forcine (12:31): I did. To take the plane over, I had to pay for my plane flight, my lodging and food is paid for while I’m doing the trip.

Stormy Bell (12:46): Okay. 

Anne Forcine (12:47): I stayed in a guest house. It was in a compound. All of the places in Nairobi, they’re big, huge gates and fencing around the property with guards, a lot of places have guards. We had a guest house in there that was really nice. For people that are interested, your airline is deductible as a contribution tax, tax wise. Anything that you put out to be able to do the job is tax deductible.

Stormy Bell (13:23): Oh, that’s good to know.

Anne Forcine (13:24): Yeah.

Stormy Bell (13:25): Very cool. All right. Anne, why do you volunteer?

Anne Forcine (13:29): Well, I feel as though I have this gift of accounting that I’ve done all these years, and I really wanted to see how I could use that in a different way. That I feel like God is calling me to different places. I wanted to do something that wasn’t just for me, even though the second half was. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and do work for an organization that I really believe in. There are, I’m trying to think of how many languages today, like 7,500 languages that do not have a Bible translation. My organization will do that. They will raise funds to be able to translate the Bible into their language. They’ve partnered now with another big organization called Illuminations, and they have said that from 2013, it was gonna take 125 years to get every language in the whole world translated. Because they’ve been raising more money and because of technology, they’ve been able to move that timeline back within 10 years. Every language in the world will have been translated and they will have a Bible.

Stormy Bell (14:50): That’s very interesting.

Anne Forcine (14:51): They don’t usually even have anything written. Sometimes they have to invent the written language. I went to Papua New Guinea 10 years ago. They did not have written languages in the different tribes, and they have over 600 different languages that they speak on that island. It really blows your mind how many people are in the world and how many languages [there are]. Once they get a Bible that is speaking to their heart it’s so much easier for them to understand about God. I wanted to do something that I was passionate about.

Stormy Bell (15:34): Okay. Think of your experience with SIL over in Africa. Can you share a story of impact? Something that you saw during your time there that was really making a difference in the community?

Anne Forcine (15:51): Well I don’t know if it was making a difference in [the] community. It made a difference in our lives is when it comes to the weekend, and we had about 10 people we were working with in the office. My friend Catherine and I on Friday afternoon, and since she was a young 20 something, she’s like, so what do you guys have going on this weekend? What are your plans? They kind of looked at her like, well on Saturday we go grocery shopping, we do our laundry, we clean our apartment, and then on Sunday we go to church, and then we go over and visit with family and just hang out for the day. We’re like, okay, do you do anything for fun? They said, no. In America, you guys are constantly being entertained and you have to entertain and you’re so busy.

We’re like, I wish you would come and visit us. They’re like, no. You all have three jobs and you all are so busy. I’m like, well, not everybody has three jobs, but we are rather busy. They’re very content and they’re all like that. They don’t have all of the places that we have to be in America and have to do. We have to be entertained on a Friday night and a Saturday night. It was awesome to just have our little suitcase, have our camera, and just be very free to do whatever we wanted to do. That was impactful for us to consider gratitude. There was some impactful things on the actual tour that we got to see with the Maasais and within the park, and they protect their cows and the lions were coming after them. We saw the Maasai trying to go after the lion because he had killed his cow. We were watching this and it was really interesting to see their back to the basics of defending their livestock and going after the lions. And there were lions. We enjoyed seeing things that we’d only read about in books that we would never see in America. That was kind of impactful.

Stormy Bell (18:14): That’s cool. All right, I think this next question’s fun. Some people agree with me, some people don’t. Think about something that didn’t go as planned, kinda like a blooper, and what did you learn from it? What did that experience teach you?

Anne Forcine (18:33): Well I have an idea. I don’t know if it’s a big blooper, but my friend, her luggage, my luggage didn’t come for two days. Her luggage didn’t come for six days. Their market for clothes over there, they have a huge secondhand market because they love clothes that are made in Europe and in America, and they’re made so much better than even in Kenya. Most everything they wear secondhand, but we didn’t realize that. We had to get a few clothes, so we had to be driven to the market and she had to buy a few things. She had worked for Ernest Young as an auditor as an internship. She understood, you wear a very professional, very conservative jackets and white collar blouses.

Here she’s going into an audit and I’m like, no, we can just be, we can be a little more casual. She’s like I only have one pair of pants and one top. So I had these pair of pajamas that were just navy blue, like pull on cotton pants, and then a gray, kind of a cotton top and they were pajamas. I said, here, why don’t you wear these. These look okay. Nobodywill know the difference. She wore them for one or two days and finally she got her luggage on Saturday. We had been there since Sunday, and we’re like, this is amazing how little we need to live on. We could live on two blouses, and two pairs of pants. Why do we need a huge suitcase full of clothes? When we were getting ready to leave, we had a big lunch with all the people we worked with, and we told them that we had gotten her luggage. She said, yeah, I had to wear pajamas to work a couple days, and I’m sure you didn’t know. They all looked around the table and started laughing. They go, yeah, we all knew. We all knew you were wearing pajamas to work or like, you did it, but you never said anything. They’re like, yeah we know what pajamas look like and they definitely weren’t your work clothes.

Anne Forcine (20:49): We just learned a big lesson about how little we need to work. We have so much here. I think it was those kinds of things. You always had to go through checkpoints when we were going anywhere and they had to search the car and search her bags but, we just kind of went with it. So there wasn’t any really big bloopers except this poor girl didn’t have clothes for six days.

Stormy Bell (21:19): But you learned something how little that you actually need.

Anne Forcine (21:21): We kept saying that over and over again, how little we need to live. Then when her suitcase showed up, it kind of burst on her bed and she’s like, yeah, I don’t need this. I don’t need this. She had so many clothes, so many clothes. So she donated those and just said, I don’t need those.

Stormy Bell (21:41): That’s awesome. All right, Anne, we’re at the point of our conversation where you can love, just love on SIL. Just why should people check them out? Why should they get involved? Why should they look at becoming an accountant or whatever their skill is and going someplace around the world just love on them.

Anne Forcine (22:04): Well, I think I did that a little bit before. I just love the idea that this organization is dedicated to getting the Bible in everyone’s hands so that they can learn about Jesus. I love that. I’m not an evangelist, so it’s hard for me to go out and tell the world about Jesus in a way that so many other people can do. I’ve worked down in Katrina when they had the floods, and that was years ago when I was a little bit younger. I love the way I can just go. A lot of retired people do this. It’s safe and I feel like I’m contributing something. They are so grateful, so grateful that we do this because they don’t have to pay an outside firm to do it. Wycliffe Bible Translators has a good name. A lot of people in the Christian community know about them and they know about their work. Their integrity is really intact. I know that they always have more trips and yeah, I don’t know what else to say, but I really love them there.

Stormy Bell (23:21): That’s a lot, that is a lot.

Anne Forcine (23:24): They’re very organized when they do this. You’re not just thrown on a plane. Technology is so wonderful now. I mean, we can Zoom with people back home in Dallas, Texas is where their headquarters are, and you don’t feel like you’re just in the middle of nowhere anymore. Everybody has a cell, everybody has a wireless connection, so it’s a lot easier than it ever has been before. So if you have an accounting background, I did not have auditing that did not make it difficult because they have it all planned out for you. Once you’ve done it the first time, you can pretty much pick it up and do it. It was a wonderful experience. I cannot wait to do another one, I don’t think. Maybe next year we’ll see.

Stormy Bell (24:17): Okay. Well, Anne, thank you for being my guest today on The Art of Volunteering. After hearing your story, I hope that my listeners will consider how they can impact the world with their talents. You know, accounting, videography, masonry, there’s so many skills that we do in our daily lives that can make such an impact in the States or around the world. Just not to be self-limiting with.

Anne Forcine (24:51): You know, who knew that accounting could be used in a missions type of environment.

Stormy Bell (24:56): Right, right. Absolutely. All right. Thank you, my listeners. Thank you for being a part of today. Thank you, Anne.

Anne Forcine (25:28): Oh, thank you.

Stormy Bell (25:29): I welcome you back for the next episode of The Art of Volunteering. Have a great day. Bye-Bye.

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Transcript: Peter Urscheler, Mayor of Phoenixville (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode S2E7: Peter Urscheler, Mayor of Phoenixville.

Stormy Bell (00:00): Welcome to the latest episode of The Art of Volunteering. My guest today is a friend of mine, Peter mayor of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. When Pete is not doing his mayor duties, he is a passionate volunteer. He believes in the importance of volunteering, not only in his community, but in his own life. Welcome Mayor Pete to The Art of Volunteering.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (00:26): Thanks so much Stormy.

Stormy Bell (00:28): To start off our conversation today, if you can give a brief history of the town of Phoenixville and how it’s becoming a renaissance town, and maybe tell a little bit about yourself as well.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (00:40): Absolutely. I’m so fortunate to serve as the mayor of the Borough of Phoenixville. We are an incredibly vibrant community about 45 minutes from Philadelphia. Phoenixville actually has incredible historical roots. We were founded in 1849 when we changed from our original name, which was Manavon to then Phoenixville. Phoenixville is a very hardworking community. It always has been. Really kind of our first industries were the steel factories that we had here. Phoenixville used to produce a number of items that were used all over the world including, we had steel, we had fabrics, and then we also had a special type of pottery called Majolica. All of these products were actually sent across the world. Probably the thing we were most well known for were our bridges.

Phoenixville had two incredible patents which really helped to make the steel company grow and of course, the community kind of grew with it. The first was actually the Griffen Gun, which was a cannon that was used by the Union Army during the Civil War. If you go to Gettysburg today, 90% of the cannons that you see on display there are actually from Phoenixville. That’s pretty neat. The other thing is that we made the Phoenix column, which was this special type of column made out of raw iron, it’s hollow on the interior and it’s four pieces which are riveted together. The column at the turn of the century really allowed structures to have this extraordinary strength, but also be lightweight so that structures could have great height.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (02:18): The interior of the Washington Monument in Washington DC is actually made of Phoenix Steel. It’s very special as a community to have that kind of history. Like many steel towns, Phoenixville went through a very challenging time when our steel plant closed, which was in the 1980s. Phoenixville kind of went through this quieter period. It was almost like a depressive period where all of our shops and things in the downtown were kind of closed up. Our community always had this fighting spirit. In the late 1990s, early 2000s a number of our citizens got together and they said, we don’t wanna lose these very special buildings that we have. Buildings like the Colonial Theater, which are right in the middle of downtown. That was really one of the first buildings that they started to kind of bring back.

Between the Colonial Theater and the Foundry building they really wanted to preserve our history and use that as a way to attract people to come into our community. In the early 2000s, the Colonial Theater was saved and the Colonial Theater probably is best known as the home of The Blob. So the 1950s cult classic, which we recreate every single year was actually filmed at the Colonial Theater right here in Phoenixville. Over the last 20 plus years everyone in our community’s really been working together to help Phoenixville kind of grow and attract new people and just be the vibrant community that it always has been. What we’ve seen is a 14% increase year over year, and people moving into our community.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (03:49): We have over 52 extraordinary festivals in our downtown every single year. Almost something every weekend. We are number 11 in the country for breweries and distilleries per capita. So if you wanna come and find a neat place to go out, it also has a lot of great nightlife. We have so many beautiful restaurants and shops all kind of within the walkable downtown historical district of Phoenixville. I actually came to Phoenixville in 2006. I’m originally from Florida [and] I’m the first person in my family who was actually born in the United States. My mother was from the Philippines. My father was Swiss. They met in Australia and they moved to Florida in 1980 and then I followed not too far after. I’ve just always loved being involved and being part of the community. In 2017, the opportunity came for me to run for mayor and I actually became one of the youngest mayors in Phoenixville’s history.

Stormy Bell (04:43): That’s awesome. I was doing a little research, 2018 is when you became mayor. That’s incredible. Has it been a good journey?

Mayor Peter Urscheler (04:51): It has. It’s really been a very special journey for me. I was always very involved when I was growing up. I would’ve never, if you would’ve asked me when I was growing up, do you wanna be mayor? Do you wanna be an elected official? I don’t know if I would’ve ever said yes. But now that I look back on my history, I suppose maybe it was meant to be. I’m actually named after an auditor general, and my middle name is my great-grandfather, who was a mayor of his town. So perhaps it was a genetic predisposition but I was always really involved in my school, my student government. Whenever I visit our schools here, I always say to the kids, my first elected office was when I was in third grade. We built a milk carton city and I was elected superintendent. I guess I got an early start but I was really involved in high school and in college and I did a lot of advocacy initiatives around student scholarships with the legislature in Florida. I guess it was something I was just naturally attracted to.

Stormy Bell (05:48): Oh, that’s awesome. Okay. Let’s circle back to Phoenixville. How have you seen the residents come out? Because I’m assuming there’s a lot of volunteering that has happened to help Phoenixville become the town that it is and where it’s going. What has that looked like from your position as the mayor? What do you see?

Mayor Peter Urscheler (06:10): Phoenixville is really kind of special and unique because when I think of our revitalization, there are certainly a lot of players that I could point out and we’d be here for days, I could make a list, but every single person in our community was working towards that. Really Phoenixville from its start was always a very caring community. From a volunteer perspective, we actually have 65 non-profits within the borough. We have the highest concentration of nonprofits in Chester County. I really think it’s a testament to our community and to the care and concern that everyone has in Phoenixville for one another and for their neighbors. That really has been, I think, a driving force of the revitalization. There are many communities that are challenged to revitalize and they think, how can we balance having social service organizations and then also the desire to have significant economic growth. I always say, you can do both. In fact you have to do both. People in your community need to know that they are cared for, that someone’s there to care for them, and they need to feel valued and valuable within your community. From that economic growth will follow.

Stormy Bell (07:22): Oh, I like that. They really compliment each other.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (07:27): You need both. Absolutely.

Stormy Bell (07:30): Now I know just from knowing you, you volunteer. You’re not just the mayor, you participate in the volunteering. You’re part of different organizations. What organizations do you serve with and why are they so dear to your heart that you would put your time into them?

Mayor Peter Urscheler (07:47): Absolutely. I volunteer and interestingly enough too, mayors are not full-time jobs. So in addition to being mayor, my full-time job is a Development Director for a nonprofit in Phoenixville. I literally live, breathe, and eat nonprofit and volunteerism. To me it’s really special. I like to be right there, like boots on the ground involved in kind of everything. Any organization that will ask me to come to do an event, I will literally be there. Many people in Phoenixville know me for my funny costumes. If you have a costume you want me to wear, I will literally put it on and do whatever I can to support our organizations that we have here. You know, we have so many great organizations and it’s like  I know I’m gonna miss some, but I’ll just kind of give you like the last week the things that we’ve worked on.

One of our great organizations is PACS. They really focus on food insecurity. During the pandemic, they went from a 3000 square foot building to a 20,000 square foot building and have really become kind of like a regional hub helping ensure this Northeastern part of Chester County is safe from food insecurity. I will say, unfortunately, because of the pandemic and inflation the need for their services has increased almost four times what it was prior to the pandemic. We do a lot of fun programs with them, a lot of food sorting. I’ll generally go kind of on the big days, especially if like the Boy Scouts or somebody’s doing a special drive, I’ll go and help out with the food sorting.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (09:21): Orion Communities, I am their physical next door neighbor. I literally live next door to them. They are really a great organization. Neighbors helping neighbors. They help with case management and helping people on the, you know, everyday types of needs. Bus passes, sometimes gift cards to the grocery store, helping them get job placements and other types of needs that maybe even larger than that. We just had an incredible casino night last week for them, big fundraising event last night. I literally am just coming off of the Phoenixville Community Education Foundation. They’re a very special organization we have here in our community. They raise money specifically to help students in our school district to have access to programs that they may not have if we didn’t have this kind of other source of revenue. They help ensure every student has the supplies that they need at the beginning of the year. They do weekend backpacks with food for students who may be facing food insecurity. They also help to inspire different types of clubs and organizations within our school districts. One of those great programs.

Another great nonprofit is Crescendo. Crescendo is free violin lessons taught by an extraordinary person. Liz actually was an attorney and had loved playing the violin and really wanted to make sure every student in our community had access to play a stringed instrument, which is generally seen as a very expensive kind of process. She ensures every student has access to string instruments free of charge, and they’re able to play them. Of course the organization, I actually am the development director for Ann’s Heart very ironically, close to my heart is Ann’s Heart.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (11:05): One of our core programs is our Code Blue Center, which is the lowest barrier emergency center in Chester County. Meaning that as long as individuals are safe and they can come there and they won’t cause harm to themselves or others, they’re able to stay there. Generally from, we draw from about a 10 mile radius from Phoenixville. It is truly[ an] emergency shelter during cold weather. So we open in November and we’ll run from November till probably April or May. It’s the 15 beds in a dormitory style setting and we ensure that people who are unfortunately facing housing insecurity have a place to safely be inside. During the summer, we provide Code Red which is on specific days where the outside temperature may be dangerous for individuals who aren’t housed.

We also provide the Center for Emergency Resources at Ann’s Heart, we call it CERAH. That is a program specifically that works with housing case management. If individuals are in imminent danger becoming homeless or are already homeless, they can come. We actually have showers and laundry facilities there that are open throughout the week, during non Code Blue times. We also have a full-time case manager who will actually work with individuals, meet them where they are, and help them along their housing journey so that they can get to sustainable insecure housing. Those are just to name a few. My gosh, you know, I’m also on the board of the Schuylkill River Heritage Center, which is the museum inside the Foundry. If people haven’t had an opportunity to go see that, it’s really about our history, not only here in Phoenixville, but the history of the Schuylkill River.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (12:43): Basically how we once had mule barges that were bringing steel and other materials down the Schuylkill River and really helped places like Phoenixville grow. Things like the Reading Railroad that we’re bringing anthracite coal from the northern part of Pennsylvania into Phoenixville to help all of our industries grow. I’m also the President of the Board of the Senior Center. Phoenixville Area Senior Center is one of five senior centers in Chester County. We serve over 2,500 members of our senior center, an incredibly dynamic community. I will tell you that being a senior is definitely not what people envision. Our seniors are extremely active. We have exercise classes. We have evening out programs the third or fourth Thursday of every month, we do a specialized program.

We’ll have like October Fest, we’ll do Valentine’s Day dances. We actually have a really fun program coming up on the 16th of March. We’re going to be doing an Irish Wake. We do a ton of fun and creative programs. Our Irish wake at the Phoenixville area Senior Center is really special. It’s actually a kind of a two hour event. The first hour is really funny. I actually play the corpse and I sit in the coffin, and if you make me laugh, you can win prizes or you can take home whiskey. It’s all sorts of different types of things. Then after that first really funny hour, we go upstairs and we have an end of life fair. People are probably shocked, like, you’re going from this really funny, like, comedic thing.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (14:16): What we find is it’s a nice way to get people to talk about a really challenging subject and that’s kind of end of life care. What are your wishes? What do you wanna have happen at the end of your life so that we can ensure it’s as graceful and dignified as the entirety of your life. So we have a fair upstairs that everyone attends, and it’s a great way for people to start that conversation. They come in and have fun and have a big Irish meal and then go upstairs to the end of life fair. What I think is really special about all the nonprofits, and again, I’ve just named a few. The other day I was at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area, absolutely incredible. We have a team of people here in our community dedicated to the preservation of our history and not just our history, but every family who’s been here is history.

What I would say is special about our community is that our nonprofits all work together. The kind of the nonprofits I’ve been telling you about, I could go on and on and on about cross programming that they do with one another. Oh, one of my other favorite ones [is] The Clinic. We have The Clinic and Health Care Access here. Both of those organizations specifically focus on the physical health of individuals, access to primary care physicians. The Clinic is actually a free clinic for uninsured or underinsured and then Health Care Access is an organization that helps people who may need more advanced types of treatments. We have all these things and they’re all working together, which I think is really special. If there were anything I were to classify Phoenixville as, it’s that we have an abundance mindset. Our nonprofits are not competing with each other for dollars or attention or space in our community. Everybody’s really working to find their niche that they work on and then serve and assist each other and collaborate with one another so that we can best serve the needs of our community.

Stormy Bell (16:00): That’s probably helped. We’re talking about the town becoming a renaissance town because everyone is working together and it’s collaborative that you’re all working towards the goal together. There’s not this friction or striving to one up someone else. It’s a collaborative effort. That’s amazing.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (16:24): Absolutely. When I look at it, you know, Phoenixville is successful because everybody is working towards the success of Phoenixville. Now, like any community we may have different opinions on which journey, or which road we need to take to get there but when we pick a direction, we all come together. We share our thoughts and ideas, and then we all kind of move in that same direction and that direction is moving our community forward. I would say too from a volunteerism perspective, what’s really special to me now is to see, you know, we’re one of the fastest growing municipalities in Pennsylvania. We’re probably from a borough perspective in the top 2% of population. So we are right around 20,000 people as of our last census. The people who are moving into our community have I don’t know if it’s in the water, I don’t know if they find us on some specialized magazine where it’s like we are looking for the most vibrant and exciting people who wanna be involved and engaged and live in a community where people take care of each other and everybody moving in fits that description.

Stormy Bell (17:32): Oh, that’s amazing. That’s amazing. I think I skipped one of my questions and it kind of segues a little bit. I hear all the things that you’re involved in. Why do you do that? Why do you volunteer?

Mayor Peter Urscheler (17:46): Why do I volunteer? Oh my gosh. I think a lot of it has to do with my parents. Unfortunately I’ve lost both of my parents now. I was their caregiver at the end of their lives. I think the impact that they had in their community and in our community when I was growing up, you know, they were like the mom and dad of all my friends. They were everyone’s mom and dad. I look back on their lives and they really had this profound impact because they did little things for the community in a really meaningful way. To me, that’s just, I just hope to carry on that legacy. I just want to make an impact in someone’s life. I’m not even sure, you know, I just want to think that somebody’s life was better because I was here. I want to think maybe that the world could be just a tiny little bit better because of me being here. That’s, I think, ultimately my goal.

I really [take] so much joy in seeing and being part of, and experiencing kind of community in this way volunteering. It really is a way to bring people together to understand people’s stories. I think it makes for such a rich and vibrant experience. It has enriched my life more than I think I’ve ever put out. I feel so blessed and so honored that really, I feel like I’ve gotten so much more out of it than perhaps even I’m putting into it. It just drives me to want to do more. I just, I love it. I guess it’s just part of me and like part of that fabric.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (19:39): I just want to make our little world  as good as it can be. I think also for me, it’s an opportunity to help young people. I think one of the unique things, of course, being mayor is getting to interact with young people, but when you can hear their stories and you can give them the ability to be heard and to be active in the community, I think it really gives them ownership over the place which they live in. To me, that’s how we sustain Phoenixville. That’s how we keep going as a community, and we keep that spirit that we’ve always had, which is to take care of one another and to take care of our neighbors. It’s kind of, I think, the Phoenixville way.

Stormy Bell (20:21): That’s incredible. I have friends that live in Phoenixville. That’s how, in one way I’ve met you and I just love the spirit that comes out of it. You talked about the community working together, just seeing their involvement in the community. I work with Chester County Futures and we’re in the school districts in Phoenixville and just helping people see the best of themselves and set the trajectory for their own lives. It’s just been so rewarding being in and around the whole Phoenixville area. I’m so glad that you’re leading the charge on that, so to say.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (20:59): Oh, thank you.

Stormy Bell (21:02): I would like you to share a story of impact whether from your bird’s eye view as a mayor or the nonprofits that you volunteer with, or you’re the, you know, development director with just a story of impact that you’ve seen the world change for good.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (21:26): It’s so interesting, I could sit here I think for hours and I could give you individual stories. What I would say I think if I look at it from the perspective of being a mayor and looking across all of [the] nonprofits that I work with, it’s that sometimes I think our challenges as society are, we believe we have to have a full answer. We have to be able to solve some giant social issue. That can become daunting. I think sometimes we give up when that’s how we approach it. What I would say is that the greatest impact is doing small things in a meaningful way. When everyone in your community, and this is really truly how I feel about the people in our community, when everyone in our community is doing and giving and serving in whatever way they can, that’s when we move forward.

What I would say is that oftentimes what has the most profound impact on someone’s life is not some giant thing. I mean I wish I could just go out and buy people houses. I wish we could have millions and millions of dollars to just give away and fix every issue that exists. When you’re able to help somebody access a service when you are able to, sometimes it just takes helping somebody get a pair of shoes to do a specific job or transportation or connecting someone in the community with a service they didn’t realize was there or available to them. It’s making sure that whatever services are provided are provided with dignity and kindness. At the end of the day, it’s really that we are able to connect with one another.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (23:16): I always say to people what’s unique about Phoenixville is, and as we’re talking about it right, people might be like envisioning Phoenixville as this picture perfect community, and sometimes, honestly, I think it is right out of a Hallmark movie. It is. It’s beautiful. The streets are perfect, the trees have lights in them, you’ve got a bookstore, you’ve got a coffee shop. People are just enjoying their lives. At the same time, we acknowledge that there are challenges in our community and we’re not afraid of those challenges. I never want someone in Phoenixville to be embarrassed to ask for help, because we have help and assistance here. The reality is, none of us ever know today I might be providing the support and tomorrow I may need the support. I think that’s really us as people. That’s us as a community, that’s us as neighbors.

Really when we consider impact I think of a couple different stories, families who’ve been impacted with their children. Just by somebody providing, like I said, a pair of shoes to help somebody get a new job, a neighbor checking in on them and bringing them maybe like a casserole or something to eat. Sometimes just that warm meal just really has that connection that people need. Sometimes also just overcoming loneliness. During the pandemic, we had volunteers who would just call all of our seniors to check in on them, especially the ones we knew were most vulnerable and living by themselves. I think that’s the most important thing is that every day the way that we live our lives and the joy that we bring into the world has an impact on people. I would encourage people, don’t think that you have to solve some giant issue but just do everyday things in a meaningful way and you’ll have a tremendous impact on your community and on the people you serve. All those little pieces of impact will add up to having that giant impact that we want to have.

Stormy Bell (25:13): Oh, amazing. I love that simple act of kindness. Just helping your neighbor going across the street and helping someone. It’s amazing. Well, thank you. All right, here’s a question. I think it’s fun. Some people don’t, but I do. Can you share a blooper something, not necessarily something that went wrong, but something that didn’t go as planned and what you learned from it

Mayor Peter Urscheler (25:42): Before I started working at Ann’s Heart, I actually used to volunteer there. We do a monthly, it’s called Pay It Forward Cafe, and it’s a dignity model. What happens is we advertise it to the whole community, and people can sign up for a meal once a month, it’s a hot meal made from scratch. When I say scratch, I mean literally like the potatoes are being peeled. Like mashed potatoes are not instant. They’re being peeled by volunteers and cut up. People go on and they register. If they’re able to or they want to make a donation then they’re able to. If not, no questions asked, happy to give anybody food a warm meal once a month that they’d want. One of our first Pay It Forward Cafes, and we always feed probably close to 350 individuals, we were making chicken pot pie.

Now I used to have a little show online, which was The Mayor’s Kitchen. Basically people would come and teach me how to cook. I was never the cook myself, but people would come and teach me their recipes. It was funny ’cause it kind of helped me become more comfortable in the kitchen. So we’re in there and all these people are lining up outside and we recognize that we don’t have enough pie crust, so we had to start making it from scratch. I went from A never having made a chicken pot pie period to having to make dozens of pie crust from scratch. We’re running around, people are going to every store you can dream of to buy them out of flour and desperately trying to get the ingredients to make the pie crust, because we’d already bought the stores out of every pie crust, so now we’re trying to make it from scratch.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (27:34): There are people literally lined outside as I’m rolling out, there’s like a team of us rolling out dough and trying to get it out as quickly as possible to people like waiting in the parking lot. The other funny thing is, again I don’t generally cook at home because I don’t have to feed that many people, so sometimes it’s easier to go out out. I’ve never like cooked a Thanksgiving turkey and this last year we had 750 meals that went out for Thanksgiving. I actually have a ServSafe certificate, I’m a registered food manager so I know all the science behind it and all the regulations and things to keep you safe, but I’ve never actually cooked a turkey.

We’re trying to time it and figure out when we need to cook these turkeys. I went from having never cooked a turkey to like, now I can prepare the turkey. We cooked 112 turkeys in the course of two days, eight at a time. I can also now carve a turkey in eight minutes or less. Literally for two days, our kitchen manager and I, and I mean a team of volunteers. I can’t take any credit doing this alone, but our kitchen manager and I like, I don’t even think we wanted to eat turkey on Thanksgiving I’d seen so much turkey. It was so much fun though. It’s funny, you know, at the time you’re like pulling your hair out, you’re like how am I gonna get enough turkey for 750 people?

Mayor Peter Urscheler (29:07): The kitchen I’m telling you about, this is not some giant kitchen. I mean, it’s a commercially licensed kitchen but this is like maybe slightly larger than your kitchen at home. We do have convection ovens, which helps speed the process along and we can cook eight turkeys at a time, but this is not some giant, warehouse kitchen. It’s just amazing. That’s one of the things I love about volunteering too, is you just never know what you may be doing. One day you’re like putting things in envelopes, putting stamps on them, and the next day you’re cooking turkeys.

Stormy Bell (29:43): All right so wait a minute. I love that. What did you learn from it?

Mayor Peter Urscheler (29:47): Oh my gosh. From all of it, it’s the power of resilience. People are resilient. It’s like, you know what, we are resilient and we are creative. If there’s a problem, we’re gonna figure it out and we’re gonna move forward and we’re gonna help everyone in our community have the best time ever. Honestly, if it doesn’t work out perfectly, we’re gonna laugh about it and just keep going.

Stormy Bell (30:10): That’s awesome. Okay, here we are. We’re almost at the end of our conversation. I invite you to love on your community whatever aspect of it you want to just love on it. Why should people check out Phoenixville? Why should they get involved with Ann’s Heart and volunteer? Just love on them.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (30:32): Oh my gosh. I mean, constantly people [ask], what’s the best thing about Phoenixville? We have a beautiful place to live, super walkable, beautiful historic buildings. We have all these great festivals and events, but really at the end of the day what makes this so special is the people of this community. I’m an only child. I kind of told you at the beginning that both my mom and dad were much older. I didn’t tell you that part, but my parents were much older when they had me. Unfortunately I lost both of them. I lost my mom in ‘14 and I lost my dad in 2018. My relatives are scattered throughout the world, my blood relatives, so really this is all I have. Phoenixville is my family, and they’ve adopted me, they’ve taken me in, they let me serve in this really unique and special capacity.

It’s the people of this community, that’s what makes Phoenixville special. The buildings and everything could, I mean, I don’t want this to happen [but] they could burn to the ground and this, this community would come together and figure out a way to keep moving forward. That’s what’s special about Phoenixville. It’s not the festivals. I mean, the festivals bring us together. They mark time, they’re part of our celebrations but it’s the people. It’s the young people. Oh my gosh, I’m so inspired every time I talk to a young person in our community, when I go to visit a school or I visit a club or an organization that’s made up in our school district.

Mayor Peter Urscheler (32:08): Our students are so caring and concerned. They care so much about each other. They care so much about taking care of each other, about being kind and making sure that everyone in our community feels safe, celebrated, and loved. That’s what’s special about this community. It’s the people. It’s the people. Honestly, that’s what drives me to do what I do. When my mom and dad died, it just felt natural that I could find a way to continue caring about my family and it’s my Phoenixville family. To me, that’s the greatest legacy that my parents left me was a legacy of care and kindness. I just hope to keep doing that every single day and serving in whatever way Phoenixville wants me to serve.

Stormy Bell (32:58): Ah, that’s beautiful. Thank you. Mayor Pete, thank you for being my guest today on The Art of Volunteering. I so enjoyed hearing your passion for Phoenixville and hearing about everyone who has worked so hard to make the community what it is. I invite all of you back next time on The Art of Volunteering. Thank you for sharing your time with me today. Have a great day.

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Transcript: Lori Martinek, Certified SCORE Mentor (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode S2E6: Lori Martinek, Certified SCORE Mentor.

Stormy Bell (00:00): Welcome back to The Art of Volunteering. I’m your host Stormy Bell, and today I’m with my friend Lori Martinek with SCORE. Welcome, Lori.

Lori Martinek (00:14): Hey Stormy. Thanks for having me on this morning.

Stormy Bell (00:17): Well, Lori and I have been connected through SCORE. I met with the local rep and she connected me with another person, and I went to another person and finally we connected today so I’m really looking forward to our conversation.

Lori Martinek (00:32): Great. Me as well.

Stormy Bell (00:33): Lori is a branding and digital outreach expert and the owner of ED/c Partners, a marketing public affairs firm founded in 1988. She is a passionate, small business advocate and mentor, a published author and a long life volunteer. Lori has written two books and is the thought leader on creating community and retiring with purpose. In her current role with SCORE, she is working to promote and expand diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives to bring the organization’s, volunteers, and small business clients. Before I ask you to elaborate on your role within SCORE, because there’s so much there, can you share about who or what SCORE is and who do you serve?

Lori Martinek (01:19): Absolutely. SCORE is a mentoring program, which is funded by the US Small Business Administration. It’s our federal partner and we are a resource program for them. Basically what SCORE offers is for any aspiring new or growing small business, someone who wants to grow, who is looking for advice, direction, resources, education. What SCORE does [is] help people plan businesses, works with them to launch them, helps them grow that business. We provide free access, and free is an important word as we all know, free access and advice to people who either wanna start or grow a business. It’s all fueled by people like me and 10,000 other people like me across the country who are former business owners, former corporate executives, and we are volunteering our time. Everyone in SCORE, these 10,000 people are all volunteers who are giving of themselves to these people who also wanna create some kind of financial independence. It’s a really, really good worthwhile organization that anybody can access in [the] United States.

Stormy Bell (02:23): Love it. I had heard of SCORE. I don’t know if it was mentioned in college, like coming out, maybe working with a SCORE mentor and then kind of wasn’t in my circles. Then recently, like I said, I had reached out to our local rep and she came in and we’re looking, because I work for a nonprofit. We were seeing how we might be able to partner with a mentor to work with our marketing department. We’re like a 27 year startup. We’re just coming out a strategic plan and looking at everything new. It’s like, hmm, maybe we could use some help. So we’re exploring that now.

Lori Martinek (03:00): Well, the great thing about SCORE is that a lot of organizations, and your story’s not unusual, are looking for outside objective opinions. Okay. My favorite line is, if you want someone to applaud what you’re doing and tell you that you’re brilliant and it’s all good, ask your family and friends. But if you really want to get some good objective advice, go to an organization like SCORE where they will look at your business plan, they’re gonna look at your marketing, they’ll look at things, and they’re not gonna solve it for you. They’re not gonna do it for you, but they’re gonna ask you questions and encourage you to think in different ways, to look at who your audience is, maybe consider other ways to reach them. All the questions that we don’t always know that we should be asking ourselves, we can go to SCORE and talk to our local SCORE chapter and get a mentor through them and have them lead us along this path to ask these questions and do the work. Then also applaud our efforts as we move along. It’s really a great organization because there are 10,000 people across the country. You can access any of them no matter where you are. They have all different specialties. Like you said, Stormy, I’m a branding and digital outreach expert. I’m a marketing person, but we have business people, we have sales people, we have people who are in every part putting a business together. You can always find somebody who can help you.

Stormy Bell (04:19): That’s absolutely right. I agree, when we did meet with a couple people, they asked us a lot of questions. To look at what we were doing and how the different pieces connected. Definitely hope people listen to the interview today and take that for themselves because it was really a good experience.

Lori Martinek (04:40): One of the great things about being here this morning also is that it’s all about volunteering. We always are looking for new volunteers, no doubt. But the thing about the SCORE story is that if you’ve ever been nursing that idea where you wanted to start a business or you have something and you’re thinking, well, maybe I could make this happen, that’s the other part of this interview, is that you could go to SCORE and whether you wanna be a volunteer or not, you could go there and you say, hey, they may be able to help me move forward in what I wanna do in life. We have a twofer here today. How’s that?

Stormy Bell (05:12): I love it. Thank you so much. All right, now your current role with SCORE just talk a little bit about that because there’s a piece of it I find very interesting based on some training that I’m doing with my nonprofit.

Lori Martinek (05:27): At the basic, I’m a Certified SCORE Mentor and anyone you work with is gonna be a Certified Mentor, which means that they’ve gone through some amount of training, they’re experienced. I’ve been a business owner for 34 years, and I’ve been working for more than 40. Everybody brings experience to the table. I’m a Certified SCORE Mentor, I’m also a Subject Matter Expert. We have different kinds of volunteers in SCORE. You can be a subject matter expert in whatever your expertise is. You can be a workshop presenter if you have a subject that you wanna share with aspiring or existing small business owners, you can present workshops for SCORE as a volunteer. Then we have regular volunteers who work in the office and do other support roles like that. So I’m both a mentor and an SME, we call it.

Recently they’ve also asked me to become the DEI ambassador for [the] Western region, which is five states. California, Hawaii, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and what DEI is diversity, equity, and inclusion. When we talk about DEI, we’re talking about ways to make our workplace or our organization, whether it’s a nonprofit or not, more inclusive of all kinds of people. We look for diversity not only in gender and age and in race, but we also wanna make sure that once we do recruit these people and we do bring them on board, or we hire them, or we work with them as clients, that they all feel part of our community. I’m really, really big on building community, which is one of the reasons that I like being part of SCORE is that I believe that we’re all out there looking for some kind of community and creating it, whether it’s through work or volunteering or the neighborhoods we choose or whatever.

Lori Martinek (07:14): Inclusion is that element where it’s, if you hire me Stormy, or if I join your nonprofit, somebody doesn’t just hire me. They also actively work to make sure that I feel part of this. They tell me about leadership opportunities, they tell me about training opportunities. They may invite me personally to the coffee or something like that so that I feel like I’m not in it alone. Inclusion works everywhere in our lives. I mean, whether it’s your new neighbor that you bring that you introduce to other neighbors or the new person in the hiking group, it’s so important. So DEI for SCORE, who’s really embraced it a lot, means DEI at the volunteer level, making sure that all of us as volunteers feel welcome and incorporated and part of the community, and also our clients to make sure that we, you know, especially I’m here in Phoenix and in Phoenix we have a very, very diverse marketplace. We have a lot of diverse clients. We wanna make sure that all of those clients feel that they’re being heard. We all have different experiences. We wanna make sure that they feel like they’re being understood for what they’re bringing to the table. This is recent for me with SCORE. I’ve been in SBA programs for 20 years now, but the DEI part, it is exciting and it’s important. I’m looking forward to doing more of that across the country.

Stormy Bell (08:27): Absolutely. Right now the nonprofit I work with, it’s actually called DEIAB, the diversity, equity, inclusion, access, and belonging.

Lori Martinek (08:39): Very good. Yeah. Belonging.

Stormy Bell (08:42): It’s with Tammy Dowley-Blackman Group, and we’ve been doing a six month training session. We finish in June, and the outcome for every nonprofit participating is to come out with our own DEIAB plan and how we’re going to implement it not just within the organization, but with the people that we work with outside of the organization, our larger community. One takeaway that I had because many times with media, you just think it’s about race and it’s not. It’s any bias or barrier that marginalizes another human. One such topic had come up and it just resonated with me. There was a individual who talked about having a bias towards tattoos and making hiring and promotion decisions based on that bias. Looking at that objectively, it’s like, no. You understand where it came from when it was talked through, but you can’t, you shouldn’t do that going forward because that’s a barrier and it’s a bias.

Lori Martinek (09:48): One of the key things about trying to bring DEI to anyone is that it’s not all about race. It’s definitely not. In fact, one of the biggest issues, and probably one of my current personal hot buttons is ageism. Ageism works on different ends of the spectrum and dismiss younger people and say they don’t have the experience, whereas they may have something that we really need anyway. Then we all know that when people reach a certain age, and particularly women, let’s be honest about that, that it becomes very, very hard to move forward in a career, to get new job opportunities. Ageism is very real. We all read these articles about, oh, you know, you get towards retirement, we’re all gonna live longer, so we should work longer and this and that.

Good luck trying to find someone who’s gonna hire you or getting the same opportunities that you used to when you were younger. Fighting for DEI, it has to do with age, it has to do with gender. As women, we have fought lifelong battles with that anyway and it does not get easier as we get older, unfortunately. It’s that in addition to race, it’s in addition to people who have different sexual orientations, people who have different neural conditions. It’s all over the spectrum, no pun intended. But really, I mean, ageism is a huge, huge issue right now. In SCORE, we’re working really hard to make sure that we bring in more women, that more women feel part of the community. We have a lot of women in leadership. If you look at the national level, there’s a lot of women there. Then we continue to create these opportunities for everybody who are also working really hard to bring in more younger people.

Lori Martinek (11:26): SCORE traditionally was thought of as an older person’s organization for retired people, which it is not anymore. 53% I think of our volunteers still own a business actively, or are still actively working, and a growing number of them are getting younger and younger. That’s good for a couple reasons. You know, it creates that diversity and inclusion that also means when you come to SCORE, you’re gonna get advice that spans the whole spectrum as well. That’s the best part. The best part of all of this is that we all have different experiences. Even you and I live in different parts of the country, so we have different experiences and that makes us all better. It makes us more innovative, it provides more information and we can learn from each other. It’s exciting to see that. But yeah, the biggest challenge with DEI is making sure that people don’t tune out and think it’s all about race, and it’s an important part of it, but that is not what it’s all about.

Stormy Bell (12:21): Firmly agree with that. That piqued my interest when I was preparing for the interview. I’m like, oh, we’re actually going through this.

Lori Martinek (12:28): I know, right.

Stormy Bell (12:29): It’s nice to have something to talk to about.

Lori Martinek (12:31): Anytime. Anytime you wanna chat.

Stormy Bell (12:34): How did you get involved with SCORE?

Lori Martinek (12:37): Okay, so I volunteered throughout my life. A lot of times they say, as you get older and you’re winding down your career, which I’m not done, but I mean, I am getting older. They say, oh, you should start volunteering. Well I’ve been volunteering from the get go. My company is 34 years old, I have always done pro bono work so volunteering is not new to me. As I find that I’m scaling back my consulting business and I have more time, I was involved in SBA and Small Business Development Center programs, are a related resource partner for 20 years. I moved to LA for a little while during the pandemic and I was introduced to the SCORE chapter there. I said, okay, SCORE is another SBA program. It fits with my wheelhouse, it takes advantage of all the things that I like to do, and that’s how I was introduced to SCORE.

I onboarded, which when they bring you in and make sure that you feel included, in Los Angeles during the pandemic so it was all remote and [I] really liked what I saw. It is amazing to me how many people continue to give back into volunteer well into it. I’m actually a little bit on the younger side, well into their sixties, seventies, and eighties, because let’s be honest, you spend 40 plus years  building a career, accumulating all this expertise, becoming an expert in something or passionate about it. Why would you want to turn it off suddenly when you reach a certain point because you’re retired or you’re stepping back? Why would you not want to use that anymore?

Lori Martinek (14:12):  Something like SCORE is perfect, whatever your experience is, because you can give as much or as little as you want. There’s no requirements for the amount of time. You can volunteer a few hours a week. We have people who volunteer 40 hours a week. I mean, for them it’s a full time volunteering thing, but you can make it whatever you want it to be. I got into it accidentally. It was an opportunity that came in front of me. I’ve always been a volunteer. I believe in volunteering and giving back because, especially to people who wanna create small businesses. I know that I’ve had opportunities in life that other people probably do not have. I really want to try to help them create some kind of financial independence. Not necessarily wealth, but some kind of financial independence. I know that I have expertise that they may not normally be able to find or pay for traditionally.

SCORE is a really, really good way to be able to access that kind of expertise that can help you create something for yourself regardless of what it is. A very small business or a small business that grows and gets bigger. That’s how I got into it. It played off of all of my interests and passions about giving back and entrepreneurship and all the things I love, and talking to other people like you who are excited about what they’re doing. You’re excited about your nonprofit, you want it to be even better. I love it when I meet people who are either trying to create something or who have something and want it to be even better. I mean that gets me going. That’s how I got into SCORE. I moved back to the Phoenix area probably about a year ago and switched chapters.

Lori Martinek (15:50): This is actually my second SCORE chapter in Greater Phoenix now. Again, similar experience. Different bunch of people, different area, but the same culture that we get nationally with SCORE is we’re all in this together. We’re working together. I often co-mentor with people in your area, in California, all over the place because you can go on and find a mentor anywhere in the country. If I’m someone’s mentor and I need an expert on say, nonprofits or on cybersecurity, I can go find that person and bring them in and they’ll gladly jump in and help the person. I’m excited to be part of this community. I mean, I’m always looking for new ways to find new friends, new community and things like that. SCORE has been a really good way to do that.

Stormy Bell (16:37): If you had to put it into sixty seconds or less, why do you volunteer?

Lori Martinek (16:43): Why do I volunteer? I volunteer because A, I love the idea of giving back. I love helping other people create something, whether it’s financial independence or just confidence or whatever. I’m [a] really good cheerleader. And three, because it’s so fulfilling. I get to use the things that I’m really good at, my superpowers, and I get to share them with the world. That doesn’t always have to be for money. You should be able to give it to the world freely for people who can actually benefit from it. Those are my three things.

Stormy Bell (17:14): I love it. This is a little, I guess a little off track. What were the books that you published?

Lori Martinek (17:21): I have been a writer my entire life. I’m a double journalism school graduate. I’ve written for newspapers and things, but the two books I wrote the first one was a primer on marketing and branding for entrepreneurs and professionals. It’s called Be the Bulb!. The premise of that is how you can project a positive energy into the marketplace and create opportunities for yourself by being that person who, even if you’re not an extrovert, by being that person who reaches out and creates opportunity. The second book, which is the one that’s been most interesting back about, you know, when I was getting older, I decided I needed to create a plan. I am single and I’m happily single, and I knew that I would probably remain happily single for the rest of my life.

I created this plan, what do I want my life to look like? Where do I wanna live? What do I wanna be doing? How do I plan to pay for all of this? At the end of this, I created this plan and I said, you know what? I think there’s a lot of other people in my age group who are out there trying to figure out the same thing. So I wrote a book. It’s kind of another primer if you will, apparently I have a lot to say about how to do things, called Retiring Solo. It’s how you can either be, remain, or become happy, healthy, socially engaged and independent as you grow older as a solo person. It’s done well because mainly we all know that even if someone’s really happily married or partnered right now, sadly, unfortunately, people rarely go at the same time.

Lori Martinek (18:53): Everybody ends up single again at some point. It has relevance for a lot of people. Interestingly also internationally. I mean it’s not something I’m gonna get ripped off of, but then that was never the purpose, but it seems to have a bigger following internationally and I attribute that to Facebook, social media, and some of the groups I belong to. It’s interesting how you can reach people all over the place. They’re both on Amazon. I’m self-published. I also have a small publishing company called Herlife Publishing. There’s other books I wanna write. That kind of goes depending on what my current passion is. The third book will be about retiring with purpose. You know, as I struggle with this whole idea of getting older, and when you give up your career and whether it was a career or a job or whatever, you lose identity, you lose your community, you lose all the people you were working with. That can be really hard.

They pound into our heads how we’re supposed to plan financially, but they don’t really tell us a lot about making sure that you can take care of that vacuum, that you’re gonna lose a lot of those contacts. You’re not gonna have that job to get up at four in the morning. If you’ve always been a volunteer like I have, that’s not gonna suddenly fill it in. You can only hike so much and you can only drink so much, you can only travel so much and you’re probably gonna live another 20 or 30 years, right? It’s a lot to think about. So that’s the one I’m working on next.

Stormy Bell (20:27): Well, what you’re speaking of there is part of the reason why I promote volunteering is because it does give purpose and it does give community, and it gives people something to, to do to keep their skills up or to help someone else so they’re not focused on themselves. Like, there’s so many reasons that compliment what you were just saying.

Lori Martinek (20:46): Absolutely. Volunteering is an absolute great way to use your time and your expertise, and I’m just trying to find new ways to do it. Even if you’ve been a volunteer your entire life, and a lot of us have, but there are so many ways that now that you do have more time, you can really get into something. You can get into leadership, you can start to become more than, you know, just a casual volunteer. You can actually start something, perhaps even like your nonprofit. Here’s your opportunity. 

Stormy Bell (21:13): Thank you for sharing. Oh I love that.

Lori Martinek (21:15): You’re welcome.

Stormy Bell (21:16) Can you share a story of impact? Something that you’ve experienced with SCORE or a success story. Something that you’d like to share.

Lori Martinek (21:26): You know, that’s a hard question because so many of the things we do are success stories. When people ask me that question, it’s that success is such a relative thing, okay? Success for some people is just getting that business started, getting the door open. You know, not everybody is looking to create great great wealth, a lot of people just wanna own something, or they wanna create something that other people can share in. Other people create that and then are surprised that it turns into something really big. In SCORE, we measure our success not so much by some other programs measured by how many sales did you have, this and that. We all wanna help people grow. But to me, a real success story is anytime that I can help someone who either had the odds stacked against them for whatever reason, whether how they grew up or the community they live in, or just having no resources to work with other than their own passion and get go, is to see them actually get started, to get something off the ground and to work really hard at it.

Success is being able to hire that first employee or to have that first sale or whatever it is. To me, it’s all about baby steps. I get excited by seeing those successes. Of course, we all wanna see the big success stories, but for a lot of people that’s not really achievable or maybe even relatable. For a lot of people, that story of someone who’s finally hung the open sign in the coffee shop or got the food truck or whatever is the one they said, I could do that too. To me, that’s the big success. That’s the story I like to tell a lot of people, because you can see the light bulb go on over their face where they get the idea that, if she or he or they could do it, I could do it too. To me, that’s the best part.

Stormy Bell (23:13): Oh, I love it. All right, I shared this question with you before we started. It’s my favorite question. Can you share a blooper or something that just didn’t go as planned, and what was learned from it?

Lori Martinek (23:31): I thought about this one a lot, Stormy. We all have bloopers in our life. I’m gonna turn it a little bit on you because to me, a blooper is a left turn. A left turn is where we’re headed in one direction in life, and suddenly we make this left turn and it takes us in a totally different direction that we never planned for or expected. That’s happened to me a bunch of times in my life. The first time I was going [to] go to law school like a lot of people did back in the eighties, and I made this left turn and I went to journalism school instead. I mean, a complete left turn. Again, it turned out to be one of the very best things I ever did in my life. It set me on a lot of different paths that led to me starting my business, which specialized in public relations and marketing.

Then I made another left turn. I went to work corporate first for a big company, and that was going well. Then I made this hugely left turn and decided to start my own business. This was back again in the eighties when personal computers had just come out and I saw an opportunity where I could do something with my writing and my publishing that I now have the ability to do. That was a huge left turn for me, but it turned out to be really like one of the best things I ever did. 34 years later, it really was the best path I could have taken. Now I’m kind of at this place again, as I dance on the edge of retirement. You know, I’ll never be truly retired, but I’m sitting here and I’ve spent my entire life working, being a consultant, getting paid for that. Now I’ve kind of made this hard left turn into volunteering. 

Lori Martinek (25:11): I’ve always been that volunteer, but now I’m essentially doing it almost full time. I’ve dove into SCORE, I’ve gone into leadership, I’ve gone into regional leadership, you know, I’m speaking nationally and do things like that. That was a huge left turn from even a year ago where I still had clients that I had responsibilities for, and there was money coming in. Now there’s not money coming in in the traditional sense, it’s all volunteers. So another big left turn. It remains to be seen how that’s working out but so far, again, it’s going really well. If it’s like the other times that I made that left turn, or that blooper or that unplanned whatever, it really turned out to be the best decision I could make. The upside of all of that is if that left turn is in front of you and you’re like, oh, that doesn’t make any sense at all, sometimes you should really take it because that’s where things are really gonna, you know, when we get off the expected path, that’s when things can get really interesting in a really good way.

Stormy Bell (26:15): Oh, that’s awesome. Well, thank you so much. I loved that!

Lori Martinek (26:18): Good.

Stormy Bell (26:19): Okay. We’re at the point in the interview, and my guests know it’s coming, I’m going to give you the opportunity to love on SCORE. Something that we didn’t cover, or if you wanna go back over something we did cover and just love on it. Why should people get involved?

Lori Martinek (26:36): You should get involved in anything. In anything, not just SCORE. I can tell you in a second why SCORE, but like me, like Stormy, we’ve spent a lot of our life getting expertise, becoming good at something, it doesn’t have to be business expertise, and being passionate. This is an opportunity really to get out there and share what you’re good at. Everybody has a superpower. It’s completely different whether you’re a writer, you’re a business person, you’re an athlete, you’re just really empathetic and you’re good with children or dogs or older people or whatever it happens to be, you have a superpower. I really feel that all of us have a responsibility to go out and share those superpowers with the rest of the world and to give back as much as we could.

At the very least, hopefully find young people who have similar superpowers or look like they might and help cultivate them. Because we’re not getting any younger, none of us are getting younger. We always need to be thinking about, well in addition to me creating this legacy for me and hopefully doing something positive, who are gonna be the people who are gonna do this after me. I’m always trying to find people who are younger at least by one generation or so and get them engaged and excited about volunteering and how this can be a benefit to them. I think that’s really important. Whatever it is that you feel you can do that you’re good at, share it with somebody.

Lori Martinek (28:06): Start a meetup group, start a club, go out and find other people who are looking for community, find people with those interests and bring them together. You’d be amazed what you can learn from them. Definitely go to First of all, for two reasons. You can learn about volunteering and we love volunteers. We wanna have you. You can volunteer anywhere in the country, they’ll get back to you and someone will actually call you and chat with you about what you feel you have to offer, and you can determine whether you think it’s a good match for them as well as vice versa. But then also, as I said earlier, if you have any idea or any inkling where you might wanna start a business, also go to and you might wanna talk to someone and think about how you can make that happen. Whether it’s a nonprofit or for profit. 

My advice to everyone, and this applies to any organization, is do it now. Volunteer now. Don’t wait until you’re retired. Don’t wait until you have more time. You’re gonna get a lot of value from the experience. This isn’t just about giving back, this is about you getting something as well. We all know we feel satisfied, we feel fulfilled, we learn. One of the other things I volunteer for is a conservancy here in Arizona where we’re all stewards and I learn so much from these people who are scientists and who know about nature and about ecology and things like that. I never thought of myself as a science nerd, but now I am a nature nerd as well. You’re going to get back as well. Regardless of what you’re doing right now, and no matter how busy you are, at least start thinking about how you could volunteer and look for those opportunities and maybe just flirt with them a little bit and, you know, go to a meeting or ask for information or talk to someone who’s part of it and start planning it.

Lori Martinek (29:52): I will tell you personally in closing that as you’re getting near retirement, do not wait, do not wait to put together that plan because it snuck up on me a little bit. I wrote a book about this and I thought I was very well prepared, and it still ended a little faster than I thought it would. I suddenly was like, oh. So now I’m trying to tread a little bit of water here, and the SCORE thing has been really good, but I’m still trying to figure out where’s this identity coming from? Is this enough of a sense of purpose? Where am I gonna replace these people who I had in my life before? You know? Start thinking about that. If you have advice to share, I’d love to hear it, first of all. Secondly, you may too wanna write a book. Writing a book with your advice and sharing your passions is a really, really good way to volunteer and to give back, because people can learn from you that way as well. Just do it now, share what you have to offer and learn from other people at the same time.

Stormy Bell (31:04): Ah, this has been awesome today. I’ve so enjoyed having you on. We’re gonna have Lori’s social links in the show notes, so you can check that out there if you’d like to get in touch with her. Well Lori, again, thank you for being a guest on The Art of Volunteering. I know my guests have truly appreciated our conversation and to my audience, I look forward to seeing you next time. Have a great day. Bye-Bye.

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Transcript: Kate Lannan, Education Director for A Haven (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode S2E54: Kate Lannan, Education Director for A Haven.

Stormy Bell (00:00): Welcome back to another episode of The Art of Volunteering. I’m your host, Stormy Bell. Many of you may have noticed that we’ve been on pause since June, and I just wanna share a little bit about that. My mom passed away Memorial Day weekend of metastatic colon cancer. It was a quick diagnosis. It was nine weeks from the time she found out to the time she passed. There’s just been a lot with that grief journey, so I decided to take the summer off. Some of you have reached out, and I do wanna thank you for that. In part of that, I’ve invited my guest today. They’re part of A Haven and they work with bereavement counseling with youth and families. My guest, Kate Lannan, is going to share more about that. She’s the education director and I hope that you really find value in today’s episode because everyone at some point will have a grief journey and it’s good to know that there are people out there who are willing and able to help you through it. Welcome Kate, I’m so excited to have you.

Kate Lannan (01:10): Thank you. I’m honored to be here.

Stormy Bell (01:11): Yeah, this is exciting. We met for the first time Monday night. We’ve been emailing. I’m like, I know we’re gonna talk on Saturday. It was so exciting.

Kate Lannan (01:21): Yes, I was very glad to have kind of a previous in person.

Stormy Bell (01:28): That’s great. Alright, I’m gonna just read to our listeners a little bit about Kate. Kate is a licensed social worker and the education director at A Haven, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to partner with grieving families by providing grief support, education, outreach to the community, and hope. Kate graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice with her master’s in social work in 2014. She has spent her social work career alongside grieving children and families in a number of settings, including the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Kate joined the A Haven team in 2018 after moving to West Chester, where she currently lives with her husband and three children. As I already mentioned, welcome. I’m glad that you’re able to join us.

Kate Lannan (02:21): Thank you so much for having us.

Stormy Bell (02:23): I’m gonna start off and just give you the platform to talk about A Haven. Who you are, what you do, how did it get founded? What was identified as the purpose? Just share about your organization.

Kate Lannan (02:38): I would love to. As you mentioned, A Haven is a nonprofit organization. We work with grieving kids ages three to 25 and their grownups. We serve primarily Chester County, though we do have families reaching out from other counties in Pennsylvania, from within the greater Philadelphia area and beyond. We were co-founded, which is beautiful. We were founded by two women who both had been working with grieving kids in different capacities. Our executive director, Michelle Noble is a child life specialist by trade. She had also worked at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Liz Dreibelbis, our clinical director, is our other co-founder here at A Haven. She had been working in hospice. She’s an art therapist by trade. She had been working as the bereavement coordinator for a hospice program. They kind of met and together realized, hey a lot of what we’re doing is supporting the kids in the work that we do.

The reality is that for a lot of the kids, their grownups are not well supported. Really the kids are kind of only well and only okay when they’re with the people who are supporting them. They’re going home into an environment where the adults are not supported and the adults are not equipped. They kind of knew from their own professional experiences that in order to support kids well, the grownups have to be tended to also, especially when we’re dealing with grief and bereavement and when we’re talking about death, because a lot of grownups themselves have a grief story and have a history of loving and knowing someone who died and they themselves were not supported well as children so how can we expect grownups to care well for little ones when maybe no one did that for them, or they never had a model of how to do that.

Kate Lannan (04:31): Liz and Michelle started dreaming about this organization that could really do both. They sat down together and they literally looked at a map and they said, where in this area are families not being served? Liz knew from her experience working in hospice and driving around to different homes that out in Chester County, it’s a huge service area and there was nothing specifically out in this area. Families who lived out in Chester County and in Southern Chester County were often driving an hour or more for support if they were even able to do that, if they even had the means to do that. They were able to identify Chester County as a really underserved and huge geographical area, and they knew that this was the place to set down roots. They founded A Haven in 2017. We received our 501(c)(3), we had our fifth birthday this past February and from there they started offering groups and they were able to really design programming that targets kids and their grownups together so that families can get support out of A Haven, but also learn how to grieve well together, talk about their people who have died, share their memories and feelings together away from A Haven and begin that healing journey together outside of our space.

Stormy Bell (05:51): Very cool. Can you elaborate on, well share about, you are a small staff, right?

Kate Lannan (06:00): We are, yeah.

Stormy Bell (06:01): Gee, but you’re small and mighty ’cause you do such incredible work. Correct me, you have five staff members and 30 volunteers. Did I get that right?

Kate Lannan (06:09): We have right now about seven staff members, which has been huge for us because two years ago we had just three. It was Liz, Michelle, and myself. We are in a season of tremendous growth. This year we are preparing to welcome our largest volunteer team with just about 30 members coming in, 19 of whom are new for us this year, which is really exciting.

Stormy Bell (06:36): Wow. You’ve explained who A Haven is and how you serve. How do volunteers fit into this? Are they licensed therapists? What does that look like?

Kate Lannan (06:53): Especially at A Haven, volunteers are really the backbone of everything that we do. Everything that we offer to kids and families is offered to them at no cost. We are able to do that because we have a really beautiful team of committed people who are here and who do this work for no pay. They are volunteering just to be here with kids and families. Because of them, we are able to offer our services at no cost. Our volunteer team really is the critical backbone of everything that we do. That’s intentional for a number of different ways. The cost piece is one of it, but really we want our services to be reflective of the community that we’re serving. Our volunteer team really handles that piece of it for us as well. The people who are here giving support are just regular people from the community, the same as the families who were coming to access that support.

Stormy Bell (07:48): So having been through my grief journey and bringing my experience, I could volunteer with you?

Kate Lannan (07:54): Yes. You absolutely could.

Stormy Bell (07:56): You have a training program that I would go through on your side of it?

Kate Lannan (07:59): Yes. So thank you, that reminds me to answer the other part of your question. Our volunteers really, I mean, their backgrounds are so varied. We have some who do have clinical backgrounds, we have volunteers who work during the day in school, and then are on onsite with us in the evening to provide support groups. We have volunteers who have no clinical background, just a love for working with kids. We have volunteers who have their own personal grief story and are driven to A Haven specifically for that reason, to be able to remember their people who have died in a really active way. Kind of this meaning making process of being here and having their grief story then be used as a catalyst to pay something forward back into the community. So their backgrounds are very varied. We provide all of the training that you need, kind of some baseline clinical skills to be able to sit in group and hold space.

Really then kind of a general overview of what actually is grief when we talk about grief, what are we actually talking about and what does that look like at each different developmental stage? Because again, we have on site here kids ages three to 18 and, and their grief looks very different than a grief that we would typically think of or expect to see in an adult. Our volunteers are really equipped to be able to meet kids where they are at each different, each different developmental stage from three to middle school to teenagers that looks different for them as they grow and change. Our volunteers are really able to hold each different stage because of the training that we provide. So yes, anyone can reach out to be a volunteer and we provide everything that you need to be ready and equipped to sit in that room with families when they get here.

Stormy Bell (09:50): Wow, that’s incredible because I just, some of the people that you like the groups that you just mentioned, like I can imagine age-wise, you run the gamut. You talk to someone younger, middle age, even retirees all coming in at different places on that spectrum. That’s really cool. You said on onsite, so you have space in your building and then you also go to the schools. What does that look like?

Kate Lannan (10:25): So A Haven has a beautiful location in Exton. We are on Route 100 on space here. We have different rooms available again for each different developmental stage and including a space that our adults can use. That’s just for them, where they can sit for their portion of the group where they’re just spending adult time together and it’s comfy. There’s couches and they can just sit and talk. Then as you mentioned, we also do go offsite and out into the community, into schools by request from the school counselor. We know that for a hundred different reasons, not every family is going to be able to come to A Haven in the evening. We really wanna make sure that there’s no barrier for service for those families as well.

We will meet kids right where they spend most of their time in schools. We will put together a peer support group with other grieving students from the school. Again, we do that in partnership with the counselors. It’s really the counselors who let us know what they’re seeing and what they need and what will work best for their students. Then we can just kind of go out and put something together that works for that specific group of students. We really try hard to carry our family centered approach home, even when we’re in a school group. A Haven is family centered, our groups are family centered. That means, as I talked about in the beginning, we really want kids and families to be safe not only when they’re here at A Haven but when they’re at home together as well. In our groups, we do a lot of work to kind of make ties between what the kids are doing and learning and experiencing and what the grownups are talking about, and kind of helping people figure out how to do that together away from here.

Kate Lannan (12:03): Even when we’re off site in a school group, we might only be meeting one or two members of the family if we have a sibling set in the group. You know, we’re only meeting the two kids right where they are at school. We partner with the counselors to make sure that some grief education is going home, that there’s information going home about, Hey, your kid’s participating in this group at school. This is who A Haven is. This is how we’re ensuring that your child is safe when they’re in this group. Here are some things that you can talk about together at home, or some activities that we did in group that you could ask them about. Again, just kind of trying to build some small steps to ensure that those conversations are continuing at home too.

Stormy Bell (12:46): Wow, that’s powerful. On your website, and it might even be in your mission statement, you talk about grief literacy.

Kate Lannan (12:54): Yes.

Stormy Bell (12:55): Can you explain a little bit more like, just explain what that is.

Kate Lannan (12:59): I would love to. This is the piece that I feel so passionate about in our mission. Again, as a part of our mission, education is right there baked in, right in that mission statement. That is because we want kids and families to be safe when they’re not at A Haven. If you’re going back out into a community where your coworkers or your neighbors or your family friends or your extended family don’t know how to support you when you’re grieving or are uncomfortable talking about your people who have died or are uncomfortable, when you are feeling emotional, that doesn’t feel good. We want really the greater Chester County community to know how and to be equipped to support grieving kids and families. On our website,, there is a separate resources page where we just have teaching sheets [on] a bunch of different topics.

We’re adding to this little library all of the time about how do we talk to kids when somebody dies by suicide or by accidental drug overdose. How do we talk to kids when someone dies after a long illness? How do we talk to students in the classroom when one of their classmates has experienced a death? How do we talk to grieving teens, young grieving children? How do we memorialize our people who have died? So really wanting anybody in the community to be able to access those resources and create their own little toolkit of supporting people when they are grieving after someone has died and be able to kind of feel comfortable doing that, right? Because again, the reason that we feel uncomfortable is because we care about people and we love them and we don’t wanna do something that’s gonna hurt them or be harmful.

Kate Lannan (14:50): Because we feel like we don’t know what to say or we don’t know what to do, sometimes we don’t do anything. That hurts too. We don’t want people to be feeling that kind of uncomfortable dance of, what do I say? Do I say nothing? When do I say it? How do I say it? By providing these free online resources, we want the community to be equipped. Then we also do go again offsite from A Haven by request and provide grief education and grief trainings to schools, other community organizations, really anybody who is interested in learning how to support grieving kids and families, well we will come and deliver specific grief education so that really everybody can be a part of standing behind kids when someone has died.

Stormy Bell (15:38): Wow. I’m glad I asked.

Kate Lannan (15:41): Yeah, I am too!

Stormy Bell (15:42): My mom was in her late seventies, and so while it is a grieving process, she’s older so it’s almost okay. But when you talk about someone who may have overdosed or a car accident, something where in our finite minds, it’s kind of like they’re taken prematurely. There is a whole other set of emotions and head space that you’re in that you’re not in when they’re 78 and it’s just their time, you know? So having that as a tool, I’m already tucking that away to just be aware that it’s there if I encounter that where I am. That’s really cool.

Kate Lannan (16:36): Yeah. Thanks.

Stormy Bell (16:38): Alright. I wanna circle back a little bit and talk about you. You started out in social work. Is that what your undergrad was in? Because I know you mentioned your master’s work.

Kate Lannan (16:48): No. I am a social worker kind of by heritage. My dad was a social worker. He spent his career in social work. I had kind of kept it in my brain and considered it at different points over the course of my young adult life. It was funny ’cause my dad always said like, I don’t want that for you. Social work can be so difficult and you could choose something easy or something that does not carry the emotional weight of being a social worker. It just was always, that itch was always there kind of waiting to be scratched. I did my undergraduate degree at Temple University in communications, which I think has served me really well in my role at A Haven because I am a social worker by trade. A lot of the work that I do here at A Haven is about communicating with the larger community and with different audiences about how to support grieving kids and children and my communications degree serves me really well in that way. 

My dad died from a very brief and unexpected cancer journey when I was 26. I had turned 26 about a week before he died. At the time I was working at a nonprofit organization and really loving the work, but also kind of arriving at that place of I’m not really able to grow in this role without some additional education or without kind of pushing myself to take the next step. About a year after he died, I realized social work has always been calling for me. It was finally time to answer that call. I initiated my master’s coursework at that time in 2011, and it was home for me. You know, I knew kind of that this was where I was destined to be.

Kate Lannan (18:38): This was the type of work that I wanted to be doing that my soul had kind of longed to do. But also that my journey up to that point, again, spending time in communications and spending time in nonprofit organizations, that I really had to do that first and build some of those skills first in order to be the best social worker that I could be. So I kind of found my way to social work. I took the long way but found my way to it eventually as a young adult.

Stormy Bell (19:05): So you would definitely be one of those people who they referred to having a calling on their life.

Kate Lannan (19:11): I think so!

Stormy Bell (19:12): That this is your calling.

Kate Lannan (19:13): Yes. It has always felt, once I arrived, it was like, okay, yes. This was the right place for me.

Stormy Bell (19:22): Alright. This is The Art of Volunteering, do you have a volunteering journey?

Kate Lannan (19:27): I do. When I was pursuing my MSW, I volunteered in a couple of different ways and I enjoyed at the time working with teens and very young adults. I volunteered with some organizations in Philadelphia who were focused on supporting teens and young adults as they aged out of the foster care system. I thought kind of going into my social work career, that that was the type of work that I wanted to do. It was really only through the coursework that I had at Penn with a professor who was local out in this area, actually, Lara Krawchuk taught some courses at Penn about grief and grieving. It was when I sat in those classrooms that I realized, oh this is the work that I’m meant to do within social work.

Kind of ended up switching gears a little bit at that point. Because I loved volunteering and because I love just getting to be a part of the community where I’m working, I find that volunteering really gives you that opportunity in a way that a regular full-time job doesn’t necessarily do. Because when you are volunteering, you are so community focused. I switched gears a little bit at that time and actually started my career at A Haven as a volunteer. Knowing that grief and bereavement work was the type of work that I wanted to do, then as I continued kind of seeking volunteer opportunities or seeking different ways to be connected to grieving people, as I moved out to Chester County, I stumbled upon A Haven and started my journey here with A Haven as a volunteer.

Stormy Bell (21:09): Oh, that’s awesome. You kind of mentioned it, but I’m gonna ask you specifically, why do you volunteer?

Kate Lannan (21:16): I volunteer because as a social worker, the community and the communities that people live in is really important to me. I know that that’s a really important piece of people’s identity. Volunteering gives me the opportunity to serve people, which I love to do. To be of service to someone in whatever capacity that may be. It gives me the opportunity to do that in a way that feels more like a peer relationship. I can be with you just as a part of the community that you are living in. I can support an organization that I feel excited about or that I feel passionate about in a way that allows them to expand their reach. That also just allows me to be a part of who they’re working with and a part of who they’re serving. Volunteering for me feels like a way to just be a part of the community that I’m living in, while also being of service to the other people who live in that community with me, right. Like my extended neighbors while also being a part of allowing an organization to expand the way that they’re delivering their services.

Stormy Bell (22:28): I love it. So building off of your time at A Haven, both as a volunteer and as education director, can you share a story of impact? Something where you truly see the work that you’re doing and the impact, the outcome on an individual’s life or on the community’s life?

Kate Lannan (22:53): I remember when I first started at A Haven as a volunteer, I started coming to groups. Even, you know, me as a trained clinician and someone who had done a lot of grief work prior to being here, when I showed up on those first group nights, I felt nervous. What is this gonna be like? It was interesting to think about supporting the kids and the grownups at the same time. I felt a little, I don’t know, I was a little nervous about doing that. What would it look like and what would it feel like and how would it be received? I remember seeing really clearly in the body language of the kids and their grownups who were here that night. This was like our first night together, that they were really nervous too.

If you’ve been to A Haven, you know, we have lots of places to sit. There’s lots of benches and couches and just places where you can be comfortable and kind of sit and gather together. I remember the kids with their grownups kind of huddled together on the bench makes me emotional to think about, because I know even as a mom that moment of like, we need to be here and this is really important, but I’m scared and I want my kids to be okay. I remember this visual of this mom huddled together with her two kids and seeing and really feeling in the room, like their nervousness of like, is this gonna be harder? Is this gonna be okay?

Kate Lannan (24:28): Then I remember watching every week as they just transformed into this family who knew and trusted that they were gonna be safe here, that they were gonna have fun here, and that they together could do the work of remembering their dad and her husband. As the weeks went by, you would hear the footsteps in the hallway as the kids came, like flying down the hallway running to get to the room to get out the ping board, the ping pong paddle, get to the ping pong table, and play with the volunteers who were here. Mom is like dragging behind them in the hallway, kind of like slowly walking down the hallway with her purse and her coat hanging up her stuff. Again, just trusting that, I don’t need to be right on top of my kids, and my kids don’t feel like they need to cling to me because they know that they’re safe here.

We’re coming here to do this hard work. It’s painful and sad to think about what has happened and what it means for our family, but we get to do it in a space that’s really safe with people who I trust, care about me, and care about my kids and who my kids know care about them, and they trust these people and they’re excited to be here. Really getting to watch the transformation of feeling really afraid and apprehensive to be here, to being excited to come to a grief center. Right? It feels so different than what you would expect, but they really, they’re excited to be here. They want to see their volunteers, they want to play with these people and tell them about what has happened since the last time they were here. Really getting to see and know that like, okay, this family’s gonna be okay. A large part of that is because they have a place like this where they can kind of rest and get stronger together as they do this work of rebuilding their family lives after this loss has occurred. That, for me, watching the transformation that families have, and I’m thinking of one family in particular, who  I was here with in the beginning of my journey with A Haven, getting to watch that family’s transformation really drove home for me the impact of the work that happens here.

Stormy Bell (26:48): You made me think of another question sharing that. How long does a family stay with you?

Kate Lannan (26:54): Oh, great question. As long as they want. Families get to be the ones to decide what they need from A Haven, what that looks like. We’ve had families who come and stay for years. We’ve had families who come for a year, feel great, and then come back a year later and say things have shifted or things feel hard and we wanna come back. That’s great. Our teens in particular, we have a teen night here at A Haven, which is the one group that looks a little bit different than a lot of our other groups in that the teens are here, just the teens. They have kind of free run of the space. Their grownups don’t stay with them. Our teens in particular come and stay for years.

I mentioned earlier that A Haven just turned five years old. Last year we had our first crop of teenagers who had been with us throughout their high school journey and we’re graduating from high school and getting ready to move on to college, and they kind of got to graduate from A Haven too. That was really special. Really for us, we feel that we are the experts and we are bringing one piece of this journey to the table, right? The grief support and how to design the grief support and how to support people well. The families really bring the other piece of it, which is that they’re the experts of who they are and what they need and what works well for them. They kind of get to decide, how long they’re here and what they need from us.

Kate Lannan (28:28): There is no limit to services on our end. Families also get to decide when they’re ready to come. We don’t have a rule that says you can’t come until it’s been six months since your person has died. Family readiness is really the determining factor for us and that looks different for every family. Every family works really closely with our family services director. When they make that first call and that first reach out for support they partner with her really closely, Carrie Silver, to determine is this the right time? Do we need to pause? Can we jump in? If they’re safe and they’re ready for group, we’re ready to welcome them here. They can stay as long as they need.

Stormy Bell (29:11): It’s very peaceful to know that you’re not gonna be rushed. No 12 months, you gotta be ready. You’re able to help navigate, because I gotta think in high school, there’s so many just normal high school levels that you just go through the experiences to add that layer of grief on top of that, that you might think you’re good for the beginning of the year, but by the time you get to Valentine’s Day, spring break, whatever that looks like, you’re like, oh, I need help. I’m not in the right space anymore.

Kate Lannan (29:50): Absolutely. You touched on something really important too, which is that over the course of a child, every developmental stage that they go through, that they experience their understanding of the death and their emotional experience of the death shifts and changes as well. You might have a child whose person died when they were in kindergarten, and now they’re in fifth grade and they’re getting ready to graduate from elementary school. From the outside looking in, you would think, well, the death was six years ago, surely this child could not be sad about this thing. They must have moved on or be over it at this point when in reality, that death is fresh and new in a different way for that child than it was when they were five years old. Even as we think about different milestones, you mentioned high school in particular, when we’re thinking about prom night and graduation and all of those pieces the grief never goes away for a child. It just changes as they grow and change and as they experience fun moments of life or challenging moments of life or big milestone moments the grief is fresh at any of those times. That’s another reason that it’s really important for us that families know that we’re here and that they can come and be with us and be with our volunteer team whenever they feel that they need it.

Stormy Bell (31:16): I’m gonna switch subjects slightly.

Kate Lannan (31:19): Okay.

Stormy Bell (31:22): You’ve had this career of working with people, different aspects, they come teen nights, all of that you’re teaching from the educational aspect of it. You have family services. Can you share a blooper, something that not necessarily went wrong, but just didn’t go as you planned and what did you learn from it? Because you’re dealing with so many different aspects, there’s gotta be something that was just like, I thought I was gonna go this way and we went completely in a different direction.

Kate Lannan (31:58): Oh my gosh, I am sure I have had so many over the course of my career and especially over my time at A Haven. This is so tricky. I think about all of the school groups that I have done, and all of the times that I have gone like with an activity in mind, and I’m like, this is the activity that we will do and the kids just go like a totally different direction with it. I’m trying to think if I can give you a specific example. I will say this in elementary school groups in particular, there was one that I had this past spring and I just never knew what those kids were gonna do. We would go in and I’d have this activity in mind, this is really gonna resonate with them and we’ll make like a little animal out of model magic and it will be great. The number of times that they would turn that into an opportunity to laugh about the word butt. Now they’re using their model magic to make a butt instead of what I had originally anticipated. With the young kids in particular, and even here on site, it’s like, we’ll think this activity will be so great, and then all of a sudden they’re wanting to paint the walls instead.

What I get from those moments, and like I do have a sense of peace with those now as I’ve gotten more time and more experience under my belt. Whereas, you know, years in the past I might have felt a need to like redirect in a situation like that. I have kind of learned to let them laugh about butts together because what’s actually happening in that moment is they’re connecting with the other kids and they’re doing the work of relationship building, which is also really important. The reality is when they’re sitting in a room with me at a school, I’m thinking of this elementary school group in particular where it was very often about like butts and farts.

Kate Lannan (34:12): They know why they’re there with me. They know why they’re in the room. They know why the other kids are in the room. Sometimes they’re not ready or in the mood to go deep into their grief. If the end result of that session is that they just get to kind of laugh together and be with other peers who again, they know the other kids in that room have had an experience similar to them, then that’s a great outcome. They have done the work of being able to connect with another kid who understands what they’re going through, and that they, again, have gotten to see and kind of learn through that process that like grief is a normal part of life and not something that needs to be forced. Or not something that I’m gonna make you talk about when you’re not ready to talk about it or when you’re having a great day and maybe you just want to kind of feel silly and feel really energized that you can trust that I’m not gonna try and make you do something different is really powerful too.

So being able to, through the process of many years worth of like having an activity go totally left being able to kind of realize that there’s actually, there’s actually beautiful work happening underneath of that. That the kids are building trust, having their grief experience normalized and getting to connect with each other that I’m like, now I can just kind of like let it go a little bit.

Stormy Bell (35:42): There’s healing in that laughter.

Kate Lannan (35:44): Absolutely. Yeah.

Stormy Bell (35:45): Alright. Kate, I’ve enjoyed our conversation. We’re at the point in the interview where I let you have the platform I want you to love, like all capital letters, love on A Haven. Just why should people get involved, whether they volunteer or support you, like just love on them, something that maybe we haven’t brought up so far. 

Kate Lannan (36:10): This is so easy for me to do because I love A Haven. This is the one place, this is the one organization that any kid, every kid, any family, every family will need at some point. We will all lose people we love, lose people we care about. We will all watch other people we love lose people that we love, and we will hurt for them and not know what to do and long to be able to fix it for them. This is something that will happen to everyone over the course of our lives. It is here that people get to do that work together. It is here that people don’t have to feel alone, that kids don’t have to think that they’re the only person who knows what it’s like when you’re young and your mom or your dad or your brother or your sister or your favorite aunt, your favorite uncle, or your grandma has died.

When you’re young and you look around and think, nobody understands what I’m going through. I’m the only kid who knows someone who has died. Here is the place that’s not true. That whoever you are and whatever you’re experiencing on any given day is fine. Whether that’s a really difficult grief day or a day that you’re super excited and super energized and really happy to be here, all of that’s okay because that’s what grief is. Grief is the love that we have for our people who died that we have to carry with us after they’re no longer with us. Sometimes that’s painful to hold and sometimes it feels okay. Here is the place where families get to figure out what that looks like together. At A Haven, our logo is a nest. That’s because a nest is a place of safety and refuge that is built slowly, piece by piece over time, by weaving together twigs and leaves and other materials to make a place that feels safe to grow and rest and get stronger.

Kate Lannan (38:29): That’s what A Haven is. A Haven is a place where you can come and rest and figure out what life looks like now that something terrible and sad has happened. You can grow and get stronger as a family while you weave together these different things, right? These new relationships, these coping skills, this sense of community, the sense of hope that comes from knowing that your kids are gonna be okay while you get to weave all of those things together and build for yourself, for yourself, and for your family. A new nest, a new place of safety and refuge. While you’re here at A Haven, A Haven gets to be that place, but you will build the safety and refuge that you have in the longer term going forward as a family. We can’t do that for families. We can’t be that place of safety and rest and fun and hope without volunteers being here, making meaning from their own losses relating to kids and saying, you’re not the only one that’s happened to me too.

Getting to be with the kids while they grow closer to each other, while they make those connections to each other. We get to do that all at no cost to families. Families can come here and they don’t have to worry about how am I gonna pay for this? Am I gonna pay for this support that my kids need or are we gonna have a Christmas this year? That’s not a part of the equation here, and it’s because of the people who come and serve as volunteers. It is because of them that we get to be a place of safety and refuge for families and a place of safety and refuge for our team too. I mean, A Haven, there’s something really special here, and our families know it and our team knows it. We hope that the community knows it and can feel it too, that anyone might need us and anyone and everyone is welcome here whenever they do.

Stormy Bell (40:35):  Oh, that’s beautiful. Well thank you Kate for being my guest today. I know my listeners have found value because I’ve found value. I’ve so enjoyed our conversation. Just reflecting on my own journey, how the Memorial Day weekend where I’m at a different place than I am even now three months later, and just knowing like I’m in the year of firsts. First birthday she’s not here. First Christmas and what those emotions look like at every step of it. Yeah, thank you.

Kate Lannan (41:17): Oh, thank you for having me. It was an honor to be here and to talk with you.

Stormy Bell (41:22): Appreciate that. Alright. Thank you, listeners. We’ll be back in two weeks for our next episode. I hope that you tune in and please feel free to share with your friends and family The Art of Volunteering because America might run on Dunkin’, but the world runs on volunteers. Have a great day, bye-bye.

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Transcript: Robb Muse, SEI Cares Champion (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode S2E5: Robb Muse, SEI Cares Champion.

Stormy Bell (00:01): Welcome to another episode of The Art of Volunteering. Today I have my friend Robb Muse. He is the president of SEI Trust Company, the VP of the SEI Cares board and its SEI Affinity Group. SEI takes volunteering very seriously and has a dozen of longstanding partnerships with nonprofit organizations near its local main office. Robb is passionate about volunteering, especially in support of young people. Robb, thank you for being a guest today.

Robb Muse (00:34): Oh, Stormy good morning. Thank you for having me.

Stormy Bell (00:38): Robb as we start our conversation, I’d just like you to share a little brief history on SEI and then explain what SEI Cares is and how the initiative began.

Robb Muse (00:50): Yeah, no, great questions. SEI is an investment and technology firm. We’ve been in business for over 50 years. We’re based in Oaks, Pennsylvania, which is a Philadelphia metro area company. We’re a large employer and philanthropy has always been core within our values. SEI Cares officially kicked off shortly on the heels of 9/11, but going back the entire range of our history, again, 50 plus years, we’ve always been philanthropically minded. The partnerships with nonprofits local to our offices have always been instrumental to making a difference in our community and building better relations with the community and the employees and applying the energy and excitement that SEI has into the community in positive ways.

Stormy Bell (01:44): Oh, that’s awesome. You mentioned, I mentioned earlier that SEI takes volunteering very seriously and their partnerships. What’s the big why? Why do they take it so seriously? Because people volunteer and some companies, they’ll do something special on Earth Day and you’ll get together and go out and do something, but this is a core value of SEI.

Robb Muse (02:14): Yeah, that’s a great question. We’re really proud of our culture. We’re a very people-based culture and it’s important to us that people have opportunities to bring their best selves to work and their authentic selves to work. What we’ve found through the many years is that lots of people have a desire to give back. Sometimes they have easy avenues to do that in their personal lives, maybe helping with their kids’ sports teams or a nonprofit that’s always been central to their lives and sometimes they don’t know what to do. Sometimes having that extra support and direction and foundation of an SEI Cares program gives those employees the ability to tap into things that they didn’t even know existed. Just great local organizations or maybe a cause, you know, maybe some of our employees are on the younger side and they’re still trying to figure out what causes are passionate to them. Food insecurity, environmental, kids. What we try to present is a real platform of options and opportunities that they can get involved to the degree that they’re comfortable. Our culture supports them in that regard by giving them the time to be able to do that and they can get as involved as they’re able.

Stormy Bell (03:37): Obviously it affects the entire culture, [but] just from an employer standpoint do you see stronger retention with your employees? Because they’re invested in this culture that they stay with SEI longer?

Robb Muse (03:52): I would definitely like to think so. Now that said, we’re a big company. We’re 4,500 people, we’re global and there’s a lot of factors that go into building a very successful culture at SEI and this is just one of them. What I have found personally, and I know this applies to other members of the SEI community, is that because of SEI Cares and because of the size of our company, I get to volunteer and work with people that I wouldn’t naturally in my day-to-day job. It makes my opinion professionally and personally a richer person because I’m connected to more people that I’m passionate about. I feel good about the things that I’m able to accomplish in the community with the support of the SEI Cares program and the support of SEI as an employer. It definitely enhances the employee experience. I don’t know that we’ve ever actually statistically, you know, compared retention rates and isolated this as a specific factor, but without a doubt it’s one of the important things about our culture that we have fostered for decades.

Stormy Bell (04:56): Awesome. You were talking about the different areas like food insecurity or housing or anything like that. I had the privilege of coming into an SEI Cares day, I think it was in December, and it was just very interesting all the different organizations that you support through the SEI Cares program. They had a presentation at the end of the day, and they talked about, I believe it was Habitat for Humanity where you had a team of young professionals, or just overall professionals, [that] went down to was it Mississippi or Louisiana that they went to?

Robb Muse (05:32): Yeah, so we’re actually gearing up for that trip. We started these trips way back when Katrina happened in New Orleans years ago and the goal of these trips when we first crafted them was to take the SEI energy on the road and go to a place that had a need of rebuilding. We went to an area on the coast of Mississippi about a year after Katrina happened, and we invested a few years going back once or twice a year to help rebuild that community. Then we took it a little further. We went to Charleston, South Carolina and although they didn’t have any near term weather events, they just have a lot of need. They have a lot of need for affordable housing so we continued our partnership with Habitat in Charleston for a few years.

Lately we’ve been going to Central Florida, again, the same thing not really in a specific weather event that triggered our involvement, but we found a great another Habitat affiliate partner. Now our team is gearing up for a trip in May of this year to go back to Mississippi in a different part of Mississippi in an area that has needs of four volunteers. At this point, we plan to take a few dozen SEI employees down there. I think one of the coolest things Stormy about this particular activity we’ve kept the same model in place, is that the entire SEI community is eligible to participate. Any employee in good standing regardless of your age, can participate. We’ve had employees from 21 up to 81 go on these trips and they’re responsible for raising their own money. What that means is that the entire community gets behind them, right? Because SEI is proudly sending these 30 volunteers. So the entire SEI community is involved and financially supporting these volunteers covering their travel expenses so that they can go down there. They get a free week off. This is not vacation time, SEI gives them a complementary week off. 

Stormy Bell (07:33): I was gonna ask you that. 

Robb Muse (07:35): Yeah. It’s generally shared housing. Usually we’re associated with a Habitat affiliate that has some kind of a volunteer housing program. It’s a hyper collaborative activity honestly. We work together for 24 hours a day for about six days in a row and we’ve had some awesome privileges in association with this. On the heels of Katrina, the Carters are obviously very involved in Habitat and I think it was two years after Katrina that that particular area of the country was the Carter’s focus. Many of us had the opportunity to actually meet President and Mrs. Carter on that trip. It’s been a very interesting program. We call it rejuvening, and we’ve been proud to maintain this program and having it come back in 2023 post Covid under new young leadership is really exciting for us.

Stormy Bell (08:37): That’s awesome. Appreciate that. So I know because you’re the nonprofit I work for, you’re our champion, that there are champions within SEI Cares. Can you share what a champion is and what that role does?

Robb Muse (08:53): Yeah, it’s a really interesting part of our program. You know, for companies of our size, it’s not uncommon for employers to have whole teams. Whole teams of paid employees that orchestrate community philanthropic activities. We’ve taken a different tack. What we do is we tap into the SEI community, we look for volunteers like myself and many others. The goal is to build the program. We are company supported, company finance, but we’re employee led. What that does is that really empowers us as the employees, I’ve been on the SEI Cares board for a number of years with a number of awesome people. So we create the program that we think will have the best impact on the community, we’ll engage our employees and make a difference. The champion role in that regard Stormy is crucial. What that means is that in addition to our 10 to 20 person board, we also have this quadri of dozens of volunteers that are particularly passionate about one or more organizations in the community.

They know that those organizations have appealed to the SEI employee base. It’s their job, if you will, to stay connected to that organization and look for opportunities for us to partner. So I’ve had the privilege of being the Chester County Futures champion for about 15 years and the way that executes in my world is that I’m in touch with the organization. One of my favorite activities that I’ve done through the years is to bring kids on campus, right? So we bring emerging middle school and high school aged kids on campus. They spend an entire day with us. They take tours of key parts of campus, maybe our data center, they see our artwork which is onsite, which is another part of our culture. Probably the best part of the day, in my opinion, is we sit down for a two hour pizza lunch and it’s just.

Robb Muse (10:48): Any SEI employee can come in and just sit around a table with these kids. These are adults that these kids would not normally have access to and the organic and authentic conversations that come out of these pizza lunches, I think are truly the most valuable thing. Because with Chester County Futures, so many of these kids are trying to chart their path forward and they’re thinking about college and what goes beyond college, and in some cases, they don’t have a blood relation with anyone that’s been through that journey. Just being able to tap into these adults that are perfectly happy to share about their experience, what they learned, what they didn’t do right, what they wish they had done differently, what they love about SEI you know, making those decisions as a young person is a big thing. The more information and more data they can get their hands on the better off they are.

That’s been one of my favorite things to do with Chester County Futures. What has also spun out of that is, in the last year during Covid when we had to really focus on virtual support is a mentoring program. So right now we support five or six early college age Chester County Futures kids and we team them up one-on-one with a mentor. They have an adult mentor within the SEI community that they get to know that they stay connected to and they’re on a shared journey. They’re comparing notes on a regular basis. That could be weekly, that could be monthly, what’s going on at college, how are you doing? What’s gonna happen next year? What are you thinking? It’s been a beautiful program, especially in the virtual environment to get the kids coming along, keep the SEI community engaged. Everyone gets so much out of it.

Stormy Bell (12:43): We so appreciate it and our students truly appreciate it as well. All right now let’s switch gears just a little bit. We kind of started with it. Why do you volunteer?

Robb Muse (12:55): For me, I have a personal belief that those that have the ability to give back should give back. The world is an interesting place. There’s so much need in this world and whether it’s economically, whether it’s time, whether it’s energy, whether it’s knowledge whatever the case is, those that have the ability to give back, in my personal opinion, have a responsibility to do so. I can relate based on my background, where I grew up and how I grew up, I can relate to Chester County Futures kids. Neither one of my parents went to college. My father didn’t graduate high school. I can truly relate to their journey. Looking back, if I had had the privilege of interacting with intelligent adults that weren’t part of my immediate circle, I think my path could’ve been a little easier.

I love that idea of just making any kind of a difference. One of the causes that’s most important to me personally, and we have tested this through survey many times at SEI, is economically underprivileged youth. What can we do to help equalize the impact of being an economically underprivileged youth? We think that with our energy and our focus, we can play a small role in that. I’ve been happy to do that as well.

Stormy Bell (14:27): Amazing. You kinda of answered my next question. What motivates you most about volunteering? You really touched on that. This next question, it’s been woven through our conversation, but, actually you did just answer. I was gonna ask you in your opinion why people should share their time, talent, and treasure and you truly, truly spoke to that. So I have a question that’s more of a commentary. Please share a story of impact from either SEI cares or your personal journey, or if you have two, you can share both of them.

Robb Muse (15:09): For me, beyond Chester County Futures, but in a similar vein another passion that I have is youth bereavement. I’ve had the privilege of volunteering at a local organization working with kids in situations of grief for about 18 years. That’s been especially powerful for me. I find that as a society, I’m not sure that we always tackle and talk about death to the degree necessary, but the impact of a death on a young person is really tremendous, right? To lose your parent when you’re 10, 12, 14 years old or to lose a sibling around the same time is a very, very impactful thing. To me, being able to work hands-on in a group setting with kids that are dealing with the immediate and the aftermath of death is a really powerful thing.

Some of my most powerful volunteer moments have actually come out of that level of volunteering because I’ve been doing it for so long. I’ve always been focused on teenagers in that regard. Not surprisingly experiencing death enduring or, you know, before your teenage years in any of your immediate circle is a big thing. It’s a very big thing and it creates a lot of change. Some intended, some not intended. Some anticipated, some really unexpected. That’s probably where I’ve had a lot of my most powerful moments. Just listening to kids’ stories, having them share what they’re going through, their worries, their fears, their fears for the future, their concerns. That’s been an especially powerful part of my personal volunteer journey.

Stormy Bell (17:06): Wow. Thank you for sharing that. I have no words for that, but thank you. All right, my next question is supposed to be a really fun question. Tell me about a blooper not necessarily went wrong, but something didn’t go the way you thought it was gonna go and what lessons did you learn from it?

Robb Muse (17:31): I dunno that I have a funny blooper, but what I will say, one of the biggest things that sticks with me, I wish I could turn this into something funny, but I’ll just share anyway. Time is precious. Life is precious, right? So what I would encourage anyone to do is really pick an organization that they’re passionate about, pick a cause. Really think about causes that are important to them because you know, this whole blooper I can think of is that there’s been a handful of times where I have been attracted to an organization because I think they do great work. But in truth when I really step back, I realized that there are causes that are more important to me. I think placing a priority around things that are hugely important to you personally. It just creates passion. It just creates that ability to make a difference even deeper. So I would say more of a life lesson than a blooper for me. But it’s always front of my mind. If I’m gonna make the time and the energy for something, I really wanna make sure that it’s something that is hugely important to me and also that that’ll have the ability to make an impact in a positive way.

Stormy Bell (18:48): Oh, I love it. Thank you. All right, Robb, we’re at the time in the interview where I give you the mic in the sense that I want you to love on SEI Cares, whatever you wanna say about it.

Robb Muse (19:05): That’s easy for me. You know, SEI Cares has been such a part of my SEI journey and such a part of my philanthropic journey personally and professionally. The fact that SEI has empowered our employee base to take this program in whatever direction we want to take it in, they’ve truly handed us the power to do that. You know, a group of very responsible SEI employees through the last few decades have taken that responsibility seriously and the program keeps evolving. SEI continues to turn into a bigger company, a more global company. We need to take everything that we’ve done well in Oaks, Pennsylvania, and we need to apply that model to London, and we need to apply that model to Dublin, and we’re doing that. SEI Cares is a program that is a living, breathing thing, and we are in the process of successfully globalizing it. For that, I could not be more proud. Again, the support and passion that SEI gives us to work with and the flexibility that we have to turn that into whatever we want to turn it into for the benefit of our culture and our company and those organizations that surround us geographically is just massive.

Stormy Bell (20:20): Again I love it. I love everything about SEI Cares. They’re just making such an impact in the world. Robb, thank you for being my guest on The Art of Volunteering.

Robb Muse (20:39): My privilege.

Stormy Bell (20:20): Now if my listeners wanna connect with you about anything they’ve heard today, what’s the best way to reach out to you?

Robb Muse (20:39): Yeah, that would be great. I’d love to hear from people. You could definitely ping me via email, which is or find me on LinkedIn, it’s Robb Muse. Welcome to contact.

Stormy Bell (20:57): Okay, wonderful. Awesome. Thank you again, and I will see you next time on The Art of Volunteering. Have a great day.

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Transcript: Kendra Corman, Nonprofit Marketing (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode S2E3: Kendra Corman, Nonprofit Marketing.

Stormy Bell (00:00): Hello and welcome back to another episode of The Art of Volunteering. Today I have one of my dear friends, Kendra Corman, who’s gonna be on the episode with us. Kendra and I met almost two years ago. We were in an accountability pod together for Amy Porterfield’s digital course workshops. We’ve became good friends and I’m so excited to have her on today. Thank you, Kendra for joining us.

Kendra Corman (00:29): Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m really excited.

Stormy Bell (00:32): Let me just give you a little bit about Kendra. She has more than 15 years experience in marketing and advertising for managing one of the world’s most iconic brands to working with solopreneurs and nonprofits. She has helped organizations grow through marketing and communications. I’m sure some of my listeners are like, well Stormy, why do you have Kendra on? Why is she on today? Let’s start off the conversation with why do you volunteer?

Kendra Corman (01:03): I’m a strong believer that we have to give back. Just as people in communities we are obligated, in my opinion, to give back to the community in which we live, work, and play. Whether it’s through our companies, through our work, through volunteering, whatever it is that you can do, I do believe that we have an obligation to give back. Personally, I think we get a lot more out of volunteering than we give. So I love to volunteer and make a difference.

Stormy Bell (01:40): That’s awesome. What’s your favorite place to volunteer? Where do you enjoy volunteering the most?

Kendra Corman (01:48): I am not an outdoor kind of girl. So those outdoor days of service where you’re raking and cleaning up leaves and planting flowers, I’m like, I don’t even do that at my house. I actually really enjoy volunteering and giving my time to nonprofits with my skills. So my talent. I have more than 15 years of marketing experience like you said. I’ve worked on the Jeep brand, I’ve worked on numerous nonprofits. I like to give where they need, where I can help replace operational costs in a way and give my time for helping them with their marketing strategy, their fund development strategy. Right now I’ve got a huge pile of thank you notes I’m going to be mailing for a nonprofit to thank people who donated and that can really make a difference for them. That’s where I like to supplement.

Stormy Bell (02:44): That’s awesome. With H2H Consulting, how do you volunteer? I know you kind of have a formula for what you do and how you work with your nonprofits.

Kendra Corman (03:03): Back in the beginning when I started, I was like, wow, I’m doing a lot for my nonprofits. I’m like, I should just take a look at this and see how much. So for every hour of paid work that we’re paid for, we give back an hour of free work to a nonprofit.

Stormy Bell (03:22): That’s amazing.

Kendra Corman (03:23): It’s a one for one. It’s a lot of extra work, but it makes a difference.

Stormy Bell (03:28): How many nonprofits are you doing that with right now?

Kendra Corman (03:31): I have four established nonprofits that are clients slash I volunteer for, and I actually just added a new one this week who is starting up. I am helping them with their launch planning for their first cohort. Because it’s an educational based nonprofit.

Stormy Bell (03:52): Okay. Just curious, you said this one’s educational based. What are the others? What areas are they in for your other nonprofits?

Kendra Corman (04:01): I don’t work with anybody that competes against each other, so you’re gonna hear a little bit of a range here. First I have a nonprofit that works with survivors of human trafficking and spreading the word about the dangers and concerns of trafficking. The lures and all that stuff to hopefully limit the amount of vulnerable children available to traffickers. Then we’ve got an animal shelter, which who doesn’t want little kitties and puppies to play with, so I love it. They rub them in usually on a Zoom call. If we’re on a status call, they’ll be like, look what I got. Oh, it’s so cute. I still work a little bit with an organization that’s a second level ministry. They help frontline ministries and they provide Christmas gifts, tutoring, things like that through other nonprofit organizations and supplements their work. I have a leadership development organization that is a nonprofit that I work with, and I have an educational foundation that gives scholarships to engineers which is awesome. Those are the big ones.

Stormy Bell (05:20): Okay. Very cool. That’s awesome. You share of your talents and your talents are many in marketing. You and I had a conversation about [how] one should volunteer to gain experience. Tell my listeners where that kind of inspired you or where that came from.

Kendra Corman (05:43): So I’ve always been a get involved kind of girl. I’ve always filled my calendar with stuff to do, and I have always been very active in organizations whether they were at my workplace or outside of my workplace. Whatever it happened to be, I always found a way to give back. Early on in my career, I was at Chrysler and I was at a Women’s Forum presentation, and we had the Executive Vice President Human Resources on the panel. Someone [asked], what is the best advice you could give someone that’s looking to move up or move on or try and change positions? Her line was, if you’re not getting the experience for the job you want in the job you have, volunteer and get it.

I was already doing that, but just her saying it made me really make that connection. I wasn’t doing it to try and get experience and move up, I was actually doing it just because I liked it. I wanted to get involved and stay involved. Then I was like, wow, this could really help me move up and get me the job that I want. I became the youngest person in marketing at the time at Chrysler, eventually became the Jeep Advertising Manager. I attribute all of that to the volunteer work that I did at Chrysler through the Women’s Forum and all the different projects that we did. I didn’t make the direct connection in the beginning, but once she said that it really resonated with me and has probably still been the single best piece of advice that I’ve ever been given. Even though I have a lot of experience now, I still volunteer to give back and to make a difference and to learn other things because marketing is constantly changing. There’s always opportunities and not one of my nonprofits is not willing to experiment and try new things. So I can actually work with ’em and test things out, which is a lot of fun.

Stormy Bell (07:55): That’s awesome. Circling back about you getting experience in areas that you might wanna learn or try different things. I actually believe that there should be more of an emphasis when people go through a job change, whether it’s downsize or whatever, that part of their time of being unemployed that they should give back to keep their skills up to explore new skills. I think there should be something that goes a little bit more hand in hand, a little more intentional with that. Or like you said, if you’re just in a job and you wanna try something different to volunteer for it, I think it makes a whole world of sense.

Kendra Corman (08:35): I love that. I think it’s huge. I don’t ever recommend that anybody go into a volunteer position looking to get something. However, I know a ton of people that have volunteered while they were unemployed. I live in the Motor City, so outside of Detroit we tend to be like the first one going down and the last one to rebound back. Unemployment is a part of our regular cycle here. I know a lot of people that have gotten jobs from being exposed to board members to being exposed to other people with networks and they’ve found someone that excels at something and they’ve shared it and marketed it with their network, and they’ve gotten jobs from that before.

Stormy Bell (09:33): Yeah. I mean, there’s just so much good that happens to volunteers and when people, like you said, board members can see someone shine. They want to see that good happen in whatever company they may be representing. It goes hand in hand. It’s just something that I’m passionate about seeing happen. 

Kendra Corman (09:54): No it is and again it’s a great way to show that you’re current, to learn new things, to test things out, to add and supplement to your resume as you go. It doesn’t have to be selfish from the get-go. You don’t have to go in there looking to get a job from the situation or anything like that. You can just benefit from getting that connection and giving back.

Stormy Bell (10:21): I like to say that America might run on Dunkin’, but the world runs on volunteers.

Kendra Corman (10:28): It does, definitely.

Stormy Bell (10:30): Just in the world, we could not nearly accomplish as much good without the generosity of people. Just as simple as walking across the street and noticing, hey, your newspaper’s piling up. I’m dating myself on that to, you know, being at a soup kitchen or helping during the pandemic of getting meals out to the community. I just recently had another guest on who he and his family during the pandemic would go down and volunteer every Saturday in Philadelphia to help box meals for families of four, five people to partnering organizations who would come in and collect for their families. They just made it a part of their life. Just how many people were impacted by that. Yeah, volunteering really moves the world.

Kendra Corman (11:25): It doesn’t have to be packing food or doing raking and planting flowers. I have a nonprofit that has a day of service outside coming up so that just happens to be one that’s on my radar. You know, the fall cleanup and spring cleanup and all that stuff, you can do things that make a huge impact just using your skills. If you like to organize, I’ll betcha they’ve got filing. It doesn’t really matter. You like to decorate? A lot of people would love to have decoration advice and have somebody lead a team that could redecorate their room or an office. There’s just so many opportunities to leverage skills that I think some people are like, oh, nobody wants my skills. I don’t know a nonprofit that would turn down so many different skills. So if you have a talent that you can offer, take it there. Then I also recommend that people definitely treat their nonprofit volunteering positions as if they would a job. They’re counting on you and they really need you to come through with what you’re promising.

Stormy Bell (12:37): I can account for that. I work for a nonprofit and we rely heavily on our volunteers. We work with high school students. One aspect of what we do is we have classroom presenters and they come in from their respective fields engineering, teaching, medical, and they come in and they share a little bit about their life journey, like their educational journey. Then they share about the organizations they work with, be it engineering, what that looks like, what a day in a life looks like to give our students an opportunity to see beyond the immediate that they’re able to like, oh, I could envision myself doing X, Y, and Z. When we prepare for the classes, we need to know that volunteer’s gonna show up because that’s what the students are looking forward to. There is that commitment level that has to come along with volunteering. It’s easy to say, oh, I don’t feel like it, but you gotta think about who’s relying on me for that time. I’m gonna give.

Kendra Corman (13:45): Yeah I mean it’s more obvious, I think, at some places to people that it’s really needed. Like who’s gonna walk the dog if you don’t go there? The poor dog’s gonna end up staying in a kennel longer than they need to. Or the cat’s not gonna experience the level of enrichment that they need. You know, the horse’s stalls are gonna get dirty. There’s just so many different things that those I think are a little bit more obvious to people, but if you’re not posting on social media or not taking the pictures that they’re sending you, or you’re not writing that article or that newsletter that they had asked you to do that you stepped up to do, it pushes everything back. It affects everything else that they’re doing, all of their other communications. I mean, it’s a job. They’re counting on you to do it and it’s amazing that you’re stepping forward to do it, you just gotta follow through.

Stormy Bell (14:49): Totally agree with that. Okay. You come from a marketing background, and I know marketing is your passion. Actually, email marketing is your passion. Can you share your perspective on this? Maybe the importance of marketing in nonprofits and volunteering, just how that all relates or how you see it relate.

Kendra Corman (15:11): With nonprofit marketing, I was one of those people at the beginning that was like, oh, well, it’s the same thing as marketing Jeep vehicles, right? It is and it isn’t. Your target’s a little bit different, who you’re marketing to is a little bit different and what they wanna hear about is also a little bit different but constant and consistent communication is key. Whether you’re in business for yourself, consulting or selling Jeep vehicles or selling wholesale insurance, which I came from also, whatever it is that you’re selling, your job is to remain top of mind and to build a relationship with your audience. That relationship is key in any business.

I also teach part-time for a local Christian university, and I ask my students, okay, tell me about a brand you love. They always give me brands. I got a lot of student athletes in my class so we’ve got Nike, we’ve got Under Armour, we’ve got all of these different brands, someone loved a certain brand of baseball bat this year, but again they have a relationship with the brand. They have a relationship with that product. Whether it’s Nike and Under Armour or Jeep Vehicles or insurance, or me talking to people about email marketing, it really doesn’t matter. It’s all about that relationship. The only way to build a relationship is constant and consistent communication. By constant, I don’t mean you need to be sending daily emails, but all of my nonprofits on average send probably, I don’t know, I’m gonna say one to two emails a month minimum to promote attendance at events and galas and fundraisers. Just to send an update on the program and what’s going on, to send an update on the animals who are adopted to provide and present volunteer opportunities.

Kendra Corman (17:17): You wanna stay top of mind. Top of mind is the number one goal of email marketing. Even if someone deletes their email and doesn’t read it, it doesn’t matter because they saw your name and they’re keeping you in mind. There’s a lot of small business networking organizations, so chambers of commerce. I’m in one called Local Business Networking that’s in Michigan and Texas. There’s another one called BNI. I mean, they’re everywhere, right? Well, they meet weekly or at least twice a month. The piece that they do with these meetings is to keep each other top of mind so that the other people in the group can refer you. That whole purpose has worked in networking for decades. Now we have more technology to put behind it, and that’s email marketing. That’s the power of staying in front of people and making sure that, again, that you’re getting the dollars, the time, the talent from your audience as best as possible in the nonprofit world.

Stormy Bell (18:27): That does tie hand in hand with volunteering because you need to be the top of mind that you are a place to volunteer at and it’s a mission that you wanna align with. It’s not just marketing for fundraising or special events, it’s really reaching out for your next volunteer to walk the dog or to write the newsletter.

Kendra Corman (18:51): Yep. Yeah, again it’s all about relationships and staying top of mind. You want people to have a great experience when they’re volunteering and, you know, we’re all so busy. People just don’t remember what you’ve got going on and the opportunities you have, and you’re like, seriously? You’ve been volunteering here for how long and you didn’t realize we did what? But it happens in work too. I remember one of the companies I worked for, the CEO used to go out on visits. He would visit all these offices and he’d have lunch meetings and dinner meetings with their clients and they had prep meetings with their clients and would prep them with all the different services they offered and everything. Every single time they’d go to this meeting and they’d say, really, you do that? I’m like, oh my gosh, I just prepped you on this. We’re so busy. Our lives are so full. They’ve gotten busier, I think, since Covid and the pandemic but you can’t expect anybody to remember anything unless it applies directly to them at that moment. Which is why, again, staying top of mind with volunteer opportunities, with how to sign up for opportunities. That’s why it’s so important to stay in constant contact and have multiple channels for your volunteers to connect with each other and post pictures and just some amazing things.

Stormy Bell (20:23): That’s right because when your volunteers are doing that, they become your greatest advocates for sharing your mission. The email marketing or social media, all those platforms just compliment that experience.

Kendra Corman (20:38): Anybody that wants to raise a bunch of money for Giving Tuesday or some day of giving, I always recommend that they get ambassadors, social media ambassadors that will spread the word about what you’re trying to do. People are more likely to attend an event, to donate, to do something if they’re personally asked by somebody. Well, if somebody is personally asking them and they’re an advocate for you, they’re an ambassador out there for you. Everything that you invest in building those volunteers makes a difference. I think it’s something that should be core to every nonprofit.

Stormy Bell (21:18): Totally agree but I’m the choir, so. All right, I have a question. You’ve worked with several organizations. Can you tell me or share a story of impact? Something that you either experienced firsthand or witnessed from one, or you maybe have more than one stories of where the volunteers at the organizations or the organizations themselves are making an impact in the community around them?

Kendra Corman (21:48): Wow. I’m like, they all do that so well. I mean, that’s part of why I work with them is because they just do amazing jobs with the community. Hope Against Trafficking is an organization that I work with. They help survivors of human trafficking and they give them a first chance at life because they never really had a first chance. This isn’t a second chance. They weren’t given the first chance. One of the things that they do is their education piece. They go out to at-risk schools and groups and do presentations on the lures and the signs of trafficking. I would say through my experience, which is limited because that’s not where I focus, but I would say the majority of people who are trafficked have no idea that they’re being trafficked. It’s through force, fraud, or coercion. They think they’re helping somebody out. They think they’re protecting their family. There’s all of these reasons that they are coerced or forced or fraudulently pushed into this.

It’s really horrible and sad. One of the people that volunteer in the education program has, actually multiple of them, actually presented and two different at risk and have called the FBI and have saved people out of trafficking through education events and gotten the FBI involved. It’s a big see something, say something. Even if it just feels off, you want to bring that to people’s attention. The sheriff of the county that I live in, which is Oakland County, he is big into anti-trafficking laws and regulations and things like that. He’s like, no I’d rather find out it was bogus then miss something that could have been stopped. Call us, let us know. We’ll go check it out. They’ve been able to identify and save young girls between the ages of 12 and 14 that were either being groomed or were falling into trafficking with a trafficker and bring the FBI to help stop it. Which gives me goosebumps when I think about it.

Stormy Bell (24:23): It’s very weighty what you just shared. Then the impact that that organization is making and that volunteers are willing to go there, because that’s such a hard place. I mean you just sharing it,, I kind of felt like a weight come down, but to be involved in that on a daily basis, it takes fortitude. Just a whole group of emotions and abilities to go into those hard places.

Kendra Corman (24:53): One of their volunteers who’s amazing, she is an amazing public speaker and so passionate and that’s literally what she does. She goes out and she does public speaking to giving groups and things like that and asks for funding. She’s not, you know, on the front lines necessarily working with the survivors every day. She’s not doing her therapy or equine therapy, but she’s out there giving presentations and she’ll say, I don’t have any cute puppies or kitties and I don’t have any sad little kids to show you because nobody wants to talk about trafficking and what’s going on. I had a call with a friend of mine who’s in marketing. She’s like, oh, some one of my kids for Christmas bought me this purse that had all of these cities and the monies went to trafficking act efforts in Africa. I’m like, well, that’s great. What are you guys gonna be doing about the trafficking here in Michigan? In our county? Trafficking has been reported in every zip code in Michigan. Every zip code. I mean, there’s five zip codes just in my city.

Stormy Bell (26:03): Yeah.

Kendra Corman (26:04): It’s something people don’t like to talk about. It’s something that isn’t pretty and fun, but I’ve firsthand seen people make an impact and make a difference because it comes down to saving one life and that’s what they’re doing.

Stormy Bell (26:24): Wow. Thank you for sharing that. I almost don’t wanna go into my next question because there’s just so much with that. 

Kendra Corman (26:36): Let’s clear the slate.

Stormy Bell (26:38): Yeah. You know, there’s another podcast that I have listened to occasionally yet, Mike Kim. He talks about Love 146. The founder started that organization when he had actually gone on a I would say like an observation trip as a donor. He saw they couldn’t intervene. They actually only had to witness it. There’s this one girl whose number was 146 and she still had a spark in her eye like she was still alive where a lot of the other girls, the spark had gone out. So he named his nonprofit Love 146 because the impact that situation had on his life.

Kendra Corman (27:31): It gives me chills.

Stormy Bell (27:33): There’s so much that goes into that. I encourage people to get to know the warning signs in whatever community you’re listening to this podcast with and help save one, one person at a time. Because it’s not just girls, it’s guys too, right?

Kendra Corman (27:52): It is. So many people just don’t wanna get involved because it isn’t fun or sexy. It’s the dark bowels of who we are and what’s going on.

Stormy Bell (28:11): Okay. We are gonna move on.

Kendra Corman (28:14): Okay, good, good. Let’s get happy stuff now.

Stormy Bell (28:20): Here’s my I think it’s a fun question, some of my guests might not. Can you share a blooper? Something that maybe didn’t go wrong but just didn’t go the way you thought it was supposed to go? Like the way it wasn’t planned and what you learned from the situation.

Kendra Corman (28:36): I got a list. I gotta think of something. I have a heart attack every time I send out an email. Some emails I’m sending out to like thousands of people. My favorite is when the links don’t work. Because you know, I forgot to attach ’em to the right link. I have actually numerous times sent things to the wrong people or the wrong thing or something in draft that didn’t have the right stuff. I would say, you know, I mean it sounds a little bit light and small after our talking but the thing I learned, nobody died from me sending the wrong link. We corrected it, we sent it out. People realized I was human. I realized I was human. I think it’s okay to make mistakes and I think people will give you the grace and understanding cause they’ve done it too. I think that’s okay.

I would say yeah, when you’re trying to send things out, being detail oriented and proofing and having multiple people proof things is a great lesson to have but also to remember that this isn’t brain surgery. What I’m doing in marketing and stuff like that, it’s important and I want to give the best I can to my nonprofits and their brands but sometimes mistakes happen and we just have to learn from them. You’re always gonna be learning. That’s why if you’re volunteering to get experience that you don’t have, so if you wanna become a social media manager, there are a ton of organizations that would love your help with their social media because there’s so much more that they can do. You’re gonna make mistakes. You’re gonna try things that aren’t gonna work. That’s okay. Because not only are you learning, but that organization is learning and that’s all good. In the end, no matter what mistakes you make, as long as you’re learning something from it, it’s all good.

Stormy Bell (30:40): Absolutely. Absolutely. All right, Kendra, we’re at the point in my interview where I invite you to love on your nonprofit. You worked with many and you can love on all of ’em if you want, but if there’s one that’s more impactful, I mean, I know we just shared about I forget the name of it.

Kendra Corman (31:03): Hope Against Trafficking,

Stormy Bell (31:04): Hope Against Trafficking. If you wanna share on them again or if there’s someone else you want to, just highlight like why people should get involved or why they should learn more about it or any of that. Who would you like to love on?

Kendra Corman (31:20): I already shared about Hope Against Trafficking, so I will share the love with another one of my nonprofits. Living and Learning in Enrichment Center, they help adults with disabilities and actually kids with disabilities to live their best life. I’m so amazed with what they do. One of the things that a lot of parents of children with autism have is that their kids age out of the system. If they’re at the more severe end of the spectrum of autism, they may not be able to live independently. The parents and families of these kids with disabilities, they have to go on. Some of them are a little bit socially awkward and things like that but places like Living and Learning, and I haven’t seen very many quite like Living and Learning that have like the vocational program, they also have their Tuesday night social hours, their Friday night hangouts, and their Saturday night hangouts where they have pizza and friends that they haven’t had ever before because they weren’t around people that were like them that had the same level of social interaction.

There are kids that come that were like, I’ve never had friends before. They love going. They love going. Every donation that you do helps offset costs that allow them to put more programs in place. You can do things from actually volunteering to work, something like that. They’ve got a 12 acre campus here in Michigan. Other ones probably have smaller spaces, but they’ve got days of service that you could do. You can help them do maintenance and cleanup days and you could work their front desk, answer the phone. Little things like that just can make such a big difference.

Kendra Corman (33:23): Every dollar you save them, can go back into programming and helping adults again with all different kinds of disabilities get vocational training, get have social activities, art classes. I mean some of these people in the programs there are so talented. They actually sell their artwork in a local store. It’s just unbelievable what they’re capable of doing and the service that they’re providing not just to the individual taking part, but the parents and the families of these individuals who were worried about what was gonna happen next and they’re not as worried anymore. That’s if you wanna check it out. Living and Learning Enrichment Center, they have an amazing, amazing, just too many programs. I can’t keep track of them all but they’ve got amazing programs and they’re an unbelievable organization that provides a service that’s not matched anywhere else.

One of my former clients retired because he had a son with autism on the severe end of the spectrum and he had to retire and close their family business that he built up to spend more time with his son because there was no other place for him to go. Having to dedicate that time to his family is remarkable. There’s just so much more that he could do and that his son could do that. We need a lot more of those types of places around to help people and to help them live their best life. Some of them are even becoming independent and living in group homes and just things that their parents never thought they could do before. It’s amazing. It’s amazing what they’re doing.

Stormy Bell (35:23): I love it. Thank you for sharing that. I knew I had loved having you on the podcast today. I love your stories.

Kendra Corman (35:32): Thank you so much. Well I love listening to your podcast. I think it’s great. I think people underestimate the value that they’re providing through volunteering and I think with your podcast and The Art of Volunteering, there’s just so much that people don’t realize that they can do and provide and should be providing. I think we’re obligated to provide a certain amount of that make a difference.

Stormy Bell (35:58): I agree. You talked very much on the local level, on an international level I have a guest coming up this summer. She’s retired accountant. She went to Africa last summer to do the audit of a nonprofit. So she was able to go visit with the community that she was in and do their books. When we talk about talent, it can be anything you talked about the young woman who’s a public speaker. It doesn’t have to be just raking leaves .

Kendra Corman (36:36): I think people think about soup kitchens and raking leaves when they think about volunteering. It’s so much more than that. So much more.

Stormy Bell (36:45): Anywhere from being on a board to, you know, like you said, writing a newsletter, managing someone’s social media. If you have a passion to give back, there’s a place for you to do it. It’s just as simple as asking your friend, hey, what are you passionate about? Or look at yourself, what are you passionate about? Find the organization and they will accept you with open arms, believe me.

Kendra Corman (37:12): Exactly.

Stormy Bell (37:14): Well Kendra, I wanna thank you for being my guest today. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. I know my listeners did. I just again wanna thank you.

Kendra Corman (37:24): Thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited. It’s great to see you not on a Tuesday night. That’s our normal meetings [where] we hold each other accountable for what we’re delivering on our podcasts and the value we’re providing our audiences. That’s always a fun time.

Stormy Bell (37:42): Awesome. Well to my listeners, thank you for tuning in today and I look forward to seeing you on the next Art of Volunteering. Have a great day. Bye.

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Transcript: Daniel Kasambira, United Way of Madison County (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode S2E2: Daniel Kasambira, United Way of Madison County.

Stormy Bell (00:00): Welcome to The Art of Volunteering. Today, my guest is my friend Daniel Kasambira. We actually grew up in the same rural community in Pennsylvania, and he was quite the basketball player when we were in school. He was in the Thousand Point Club, which was a huge accomplishment. Let me introduce him. He joined United Way of Madison County in Huntsville, Alabama as President and CEO in April of 2022, he received his undergraduate degree from Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, New York, where he was a three year starter on the basketball team. Daniel is married to Julian of 24 years, and they have four children Jamal, Daniel, Isaiah, and Imani. Welcome Daniel. Thank you for being my guest.

Daniel Kasambira (00:51): Well, thank you very much for having me. It’s a privilege and honor, and it’s always good to reconnect with folks from back home. It’s been a long time since I’ve been back there. What you didn’t share was when the basketball back then we had peach baskets and it was an old school ball. It was a long time ago, but it was a great experience and I just am honored to be on the show today. Thank you for sharing this great, important work of volunteering.

Stormy Bell (01:18): Thank you so much. You worked for the United Way. So my first question is, what attracted you to the United Way?

Daniel Kasambira (01:26): Yeah United Way is a fantastic organization. My current United Way will be celebrating 80 years in August of this year. One of the things that I’ve always been raised [on is] the importance of service. My parents emphasized the importance of service and no matter what organization I wanted to be involved with I wanted to make sure that volunteers were involved and [there was an] opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. Long story short, I was able to work through the YMCA throughout most of my nonprofit career. Left the Y, ended up working at United Way in central Alabama. Did that as a relationship manager for four years and it got experience, it got my feet wet. For those who don’t know, relationship manager United Way, it’s kind of frontline work.

I had $7 million, which I raised within my divisions and got back into the YMCA when I came here to Huntsville. Prior to getting back in the Y, I worked for Alabama A&M University, which I was able to serve. When I worked for Alabama A&M University, because it was a nonprofit, I wanted to really get involved. I still remember a lady named Lauren Trailer when I moved here to Huntsville said, if you wanna be involved, watch what you say. There’s opportunities to get involved and everyone’s gonna get you involved. I was able to be a part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Alabama, and I served on their board and actually became board chair at a very crucial time. I understand the importance of volunteerism and through that because we had one-on-one bigs and littles to serve young people in our community.

Daniel Kasambira (03:11): Through that experience, someone got wind that I had been involved with United Way in [the] past and they said, hey would you be interested in being a part of our loan executive program here in Huntsville? I said, sure. What loan executives do is you get a bunch of companies in which you go out and basically share the United Way story, and you share stories about other nonprofits importance of that. Through that experience and having some success in that, they asked me to be Pacesetter Chair, which led about 30 to 40 companies in which we set the tone and set the pace for the United Way campaign. I was doing it all volunteering. It was a $2 million campaign at the time and during my time, we raised over $600,000. In 2015, [they] asked me to come back and do it again, which I did.

Then [I] got back at the YMCA for seven years, and had the opportunity to work and got a promotion within the YMCA. Well, lo and behold, the President, CEO job came open with the United Way. I look back and say, God brought me through this time to prepare me for this time and this opportunity. The value of relationships are very, very important. I learned that through a volunteer in Birmingham, Alabama, Judge Andra Sparks, who said, Daniel, you have relationships down south before and then what happens is business will happen. Well, I was able to use that for my experience here at the United Way. When I interviewed, 13 people were on a virtual, kinda like we’re doing now interview process, and I knew 11 of them personally. The who’s who in town.

Daniel Kasambira (04:47): Then I interviewed and ended up being blessed with this opportunity to be the President, CEO here at the United Way. I just know people along the journey that have been by my side, as you shared with my wife, Julian, 24 years, and my four children who were there through the good times, bad times. To see us all hit this point, we’re able to lead an organization and be connected with 1800 United Ways across the world, 1100 across the country. To be leading one of these organizations, it’s a privilege and honor.

Stormy Bell (05:20): That’s amazing. Alright. Some of my listeners might not know what the United Way is and what you do or who you serve. Can you share a little bit about that?

Daniel Kasambira (05:31): Yeah. United Way is a worldwide organization. As I said earlier, 1800 United Way is across the world in 40 different countries. We raised 4.6 billion across the whole organization annually, which is phenomenal. We have over 1.5 million volunteers throughout. Locally, we serve board members of the volunteers. Each United Way has its own kind of franchise. We’re United Way of Madison County so we serve our entire area. We have 27 partner agencies which we allocate dollars to help them and support their budgets, help them support everything they do. Through that time, through that work they do, we’re able to be a convener, a supporter, and add value to their work. We have names that you’ve probably heard of the YMCA, Big Brothers and Sisters, Boys and Girls Clubs, Girls, Inc., and so on and so forth with these organizations we support.

Daniel Kasambira (06:36): It’s just exciting to see that happen. Also within our organization, we’ve kind of transitioned into three focus areas. Education, financial stability, and health. With education our focus here is we have ACAP surgeon. What ACAP Surge is basically they take testing for fourth and eighth graders here. There’s some schools that are in some students that are kind of struggling right now with 28% in math, 27% in fourth and eighth graders. We’re seeing some of the challenge with that so we’ve got a big surge happening and which we’re gonna really solve a problem. We’re having volunteer readers that are gonna come and spend some time with these students and help them to raise these scores with education. With financial stability, workforce development and affordable housing are two key issues that are impacting our community right now.

Daniel Kasambira (07:30): Huntsville was voted the number one city in the country to live but as I always say, unless everybody’s raising that level, then we need to see the benefit and results of that. So with finance stability and health, you have workforce development. We have great industry. A lot of smart people here, a lot of rocket scientists and things like this but what happens, everyone needs to get an opportunity to be able to be part of workforce development. We’ve got a program called Ride United. It’s a partnership set up with the United Way Worldwide, and then we locally do it, and we work with Lyft to give people transportation back and forth to work. To help them through this challenging time. It also gives them rides to medical appointments. Gives them rides to the grocery store if they cannot.

We’ve serviced over 13,000 rides in the last year and a half. Then also with that with affordable housing, we have 800 people on section eight housing right now looking for housing. With the market that’s increased significantly and it’s the cost of apartments and housing, it’s gone up. We wanna make sure everyone gets the benefit of that. Finally the health piece with physical health, but also mental health is our focus. With mental health, we saw that really rise, I’m sure you saw the same thing, when the pandemic hit. Mental health impacted everybody. CEOs, rocket scientists, middle managers, homeless people and day to day folks. You saw the impact. We’re really focused on trying to curb the stigma of what mental health is, but also getting people assistance that they need and support they need. Those are three key focus areas and we understand that we’re here in our part of the world to try to make a difference in people’s lives.

Stormy Bell (09:15): That’s amazing. With that, you’ve mentioned about 27 partner agencies. Do you seek them out or do they seek you out?

Daniel Kasambira (09:28): Well, they go through a process and it’s a community impact allocations process. The cool part about this is we could actually as United Way staff, go out and pick agencies we wanna support, but we do it a little differently. What we do is we have an allocations committee. We have about 53 community volunteers that spend some time. It used to be annual basis, now we do it on a three year rotation. This is the second time we’ve done a three year rotation. What they do is, anybody who wants to be a United Way agency, they submit their information, their budget information, their application to be our United Way agency. These volunteers are broken down into education, financial stability, and health and we categorize those agencies that have submitted applications to be a part of United Way.

It’s a pretty challenging process because what happens is these volunteers, a lot of community leaders, community volunteers, they look through the applications, they look through the budgets, but then on top of that, they go ahead and visit each one of these agencies that have submitted applications. They gotta kind of do a deep dive into why this is important for our community so that they come together and they actually make a determination of who should be United Way agency. They make the decision and then we present it to our steering committee. The steering committee determines yes or no and then we bring it to our board for final approval of these agencies. Also going through that process, they determine how much we should distribute to each agency. It’s a volunteer driven process. It’s great because you can see people who are invested in our community say, hey, these organizations that need to be part of this, these organizations are making a difference. We wanna make sure that we are a part of the solution that’s on the challenges, not necessarily just looking from the outside.

Stormy Bell (11:30): That’s amazing. So the people [are] the community impact volunteers? Is that what you said?

Daniel Kasambira (11:36): Yes.

Stormy Bell (11:38): They’re all volunteers who do this. Like every level is a volunteer. Let me flip the question. How many paid employees do you have?

Daniel Kasambira (11:47): We have 10 paid employees, seven full-time [and] three part-time. We’re a lean mean staff and we have a community impact director, her name’s Cathy Miller, and she is the one who basically works all these volunteers through this whole process. Really makes [it] important not to insert her own point of view, but kind of guides the process. So we have a United Way representative there. It’s amazing what you can see happen and she can answer any questions that people may have, but our community impact director leads that effort.

Stormy Bell (12:22): That’s awesome. I’ve actually had the opportunity to work with volunteers as the volunteer manager or relationship manager and I enjoy working with volunteers because they’re doing it for their passion.

Daniel Kasambira (12:33): Yes.

Stormy Bell (12:34): Their heart is so into it, and they’re making that choice to be dedicated. It’s different than earning a paycheck where it can just be a job. Just a means to putting food on a table. But when you’re volunteering, you’re going above and beyond your work life. You’re taking time away from your family. You’re making a choice to make a difference.I just see the value in that. Let me ask you this question. Why do you volunteer?

Daniel Kasambira (13:04): Well, I understand the importance of service. I’ve always been kinda raised that way to give back. One of the things that I do, I wanna make sure that I stay connected. I can easily continue to do the work that I do, but I do serve on numerous boards and as a volunteer, numerous committees to really make a difference in our community because I feel if I’m gonna ask someone else to do this type of work, I need to be involved as well. One of the things we talked about, you know, volunteers taking the time out to just do it for a reason and purpose. I always have kind of a five Rs when I look at volunteerism and when I talk with people interested in volunteering, whether they’re on a board, whether they’re [in] our community, and I say we look at, you know, because you gotta get something out of it as well.

The first R is a reason. What is the reason you wanna be involved, volunteered? What is the reason? It could be a student wanting community service hours. It could be someone has time in their hands that’s been impacted by a situation in their life that they wanna say, hey, they wanna give back and make some time. It could be the reason that they’ve done well financially and said, hey, listen, I want to volunteer not necessarily just money, but time to give back. So having a reason behind what you do on a purpose. The second R, is providing them the necessary resources. A lot of times you can put a certain situation where it can be not a successful volunteer experience if you don’t give them the resources and tools that they need. Informing them, giving a proper orientation of this is what you’re gonna need to be successful in this role. This is what to expect when you’re taking the time out to volunteer, whether it’s at an organization or part of our board.

Daniel Kasambira (14:45): The third thing is relationship and showing them the value of how they’ll build relationships with other people who may be in their area, maybe their field, maybe the circle of influence, but also get an opportunity to be able to have relationships with people that they may not come across. Especially when you’re talking about crossing paths with different socioeconomic levels, crossing paths with different racial levels, ages. This is an opportunity for all of us to get together, and value relationships. Then the fourth R is the result. One of the things that we wanna make sure that we show the result. When you have a young person that’s got an A on a test because you took time to read out. A young person that may have, you know, trying to matriculate to college and trying to fill their college applications out to go, but this volunteer spent time doing that. You may have had a person that says, hey, I needed food that day but you were there and I thank you for that, to providing that. So showing them the result. 

Then the last R is recognition and it’s important that we recognize and give proper recognition. Doesn’t anything big could be a t-shirt. It could be just recognition among their peers. Showing the value of like with our volunteers, with our community impact, we were just able to show the names that these people were important, that they believe in our community to make a difference. It could be, you know, recognition as far as on our website. There’s a different way you can recognize people and just say, hey, thank you for what you’ve done. I always say those five Rs, if we can get people invest in those areas and use those five Rs, you’ll have successful volunteer experience.

Stormy Bell (16:19): That’s amazing. I love that. I hadn’t heard it articulated that way before. I might use that.

Daniel Kasambira (16:27): Oh, please. I came up with that personally and just give me credit twice the next time it’s yours.

Stormy Bell (16:34): I’ll give you credit, don’t worry. Okay. You’ve done a lot of volunteering across your lifespan and with the United Way. Can you share one or two stories of impact? Something that you have personally seen or experienced and the impact it had on the other individual in this situation or group of people that were receiving the service or the services being provided?

Daniel Kasambira (17:09): Yeah there’s a lot of different stories I give. One in particular I can share. It’s a young man named Dominique Mallory. He was actually an employee of mine when I worked at Alabama A&M Wellness Center. He’s a young man who did some great things, but I spent some time outside just kind of mentoring and volunteering, you know, helping him along the path. Well, Dominique, and he has no problem [with] me sharing this now, was a young man that came from Memphis, Tennessee. He graduated from his undergrad from Lane College in Tennessee area, was coming to Alabama A&M for his master’s degree and he got in some trouble. Grew up in Memphis, tough part of Memphis. Parents were there, of course, grandparents something but he had come a long way.

He ended up getting in some trouble on campus at Alabama A&M. Because he worked for me, they knew I was working along with him, I got a phone call from the Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs. That person said to me, hey, listen, I know you work with Dominique. I know you see some things in him. We’re possibly going to kick him outta school because of what happened. I said to him, let me take him under my wing. Let me work with him and to help get him where he needs to be. Dominique, of course I was the second call he got. The first call he got was from the mother, which really kind made him listen, you know, you need to straighten up.

Daniel Kasambira (18:42): Second call he got was from me. I had a conversation. I said, listen, meet me one o’clock, it was on a Monday, and said, we’re gonna sit down and talk. I had a closed door meeting with him and kind of challenged him. Challenged him saying that you’ve got a lot of people that invest in your life, basketball coaches, your parents, your grandparents that invested a lot of time. I said, I’m on hook now cause I’ve put my name on there as credibility on your part. I said, I expect more from you. I expect more and I held him to a higher standard, both professionally as well, personally. Six months in, he comes to my office and said, hey, Mr. Danny, can we talk? No problem. He said, I wanna thank you first of all, cause you saved my life, saving me from direction.

I said, wait, saving your life is a little too much but you know, no problem cause I see some greatness in you. [He said] second of all, I wanna start my own nonprofit called Beating the Odds. I wanna work with young people like myself who’ve gone maybe the wrong direction and start a nonprofit. He did that locally in a place called Decatur here [in] Huntsville and now expanded to I think Birmingham and Atlanta. In this past December celebrate 10 years of Beating the Odds. Five years in, he invites me out to an event and says, and he works all volunteers, it’s all volunteer driven. He works in an event and he calls me up and my wife up and says, hey, listen and he kind of shared his story. He ended up winning Volunteer of the Year locally. He’s written two books.

Daniel Kasambira (20:09): He’s also shared. He said, I’ve worked with 600 young people who I’ve helped get on the right pathway because you saw enough to invest in me. That’s why I’m volunteering to give back. So he is probably over thousands people he’s worked with over this past 10 years. But had we not, you know, and I said we, because it takes a family, it takes a village to invest in [a] young man like this, who knows what could happen to those other people that he’s impacted. That’s probably one of the experiences that I said that you can see the results and you never know what’s gonna happen from this point forth but just knowing that if we in invest and take the time to invest in people and understand that everyone’s got an opportunity to be some great things, as long as we make an impact on their lives and invest in them.

Stormy Bell (20:58): That’s amazing. Well, we’re recording this in January, which is mentoring month. I read a statistic recently that a young adult who’s had a mentor is 130% more likely to take a leadership position.

Daniel Kasambira (21:14): Wow. I didn’t even know that. That’s amazing.

Stormy Bell (21:17): Yeah. I worked for a nonprofit and it was one of our social posts and it was the stat that was given in it and I’m just like, that’s amazing. Just the impact of one-on-one or even a small group of having an adult who can just, they’re not a parent, they’re not a teacher, they’re someone that they can learn from and rely [on] and ask questions about life that you might not feel comfortable talking to someone else. They are invested. They give that time and attention to the student, and it just helps them develop as a young adult and carry on to what your friend did. That’s amazing.

Daniel Kasambira (22:00): Yeah and it’s amazing when you think about it. I think about Gretchen Goodman, was Ms. Stopper before, and she’s my kindergarten teacher. We still keep in contact. It’s amazing after all these years, but [when] you look back when teachers were able to take those the time out, but they’ve got so much things going on. I was a kindergarten student. I was the only African American person in her class and she would just take me under her wing. Ms. Stopper to take me to the baseball games, bring me to her house on the weekends. I had two parents that were actually involved, but the time that she spent with me just showed me different parts of the world, it’s just amazing.

When you look back on people like that have impacted your life along the journey. I talk about Ed and Jane Wilson who taught me the game of basketball. Ed Wilson in particular the Wilson family that spent time with me and mentored me and brought us cookies when the first time we moved to Mansfield, Pennsylvania from Cleveland, Ohio. Just people like that who ongoing and mentored me and opened up doors for me. I just remember families like that. Eddie Wilson and I are still best friends and people like that have impacted my life throughout.  All it takes is one person to make a difference and great things can happen.

Stormy Bell (23:20): It’s priceless. You can’t put a dollar amount on that impact.

Daniel Kasambira (23:25): Yes.

Stormy Bell (23:26): Yeah. That’s awesome.

Daniel Kasambira (23:27): You think about Mr. Kirby with our basketball coach? Mr. Wentzel. People like that were coaches in my life that also mentored and spent some time. As hard as Coach Kirby was on me, I’m grateful. I’m grateful.

Stormy Bell (23:45): Oh, all those names I remember. That’s awesome. Okay, now here’s supposed to be a fun question. Can you tell me about a blooper? Something that didn’t go right in a volunteer experience and what you learned from it. Or what was learned from the experience?

Daniel Kasambira  (24:07): Oh, yeah. I’m trying to think of find a funny one. I remember when I was in, it ended up being worked out well. Can I say it was successful?

Stormy Bell (24:21): Sure, go ahead!

Daniel Kasambira (24:24): Okay. Well, Dennis Irvin was my board chairman in Chicago. He was a great guy, a banker. Dennis was someone who had the potential to do a lot for our YMCA at the time. I was excited because we had a big campaign coming up and giving campaign, but also we’re doing a capital campaign. We have a big event at this lady’s house and we’re gonna try to share our story. Dennis stands in front of the group and says, hey, listen, this is a great opportunity. I’m about to pull my checkbook out and write a big check for this event. So he stands in front of the group of people. People writing checks, excited. I’m getting close guys to writing a check. He kept saying over and over again, never wrote a check!

I said, Dennis, you’re sharing this and we’re telling people gonna do certain things. He said, Daniel this, but what’s happened is he wasn’t invested in what we’re doing. That’s why I came with the five Rs because I realized those things happened. Well, lo and behold, he ended up writing a check for us. I thought about another story with this young Marcus Hargrave. He’s actually employed, but he’s volunteering- voluntold to do something. I was a program director and he still reminds me of this today at the YMCA in Rochester, New York. One of the programs we had was gymnastics. Knowing Marcus, he was a basketball player in college and he was a good guy. Well, I ended up using some of my opportunities as being a supervisor of our program because our gymnastic coach didn’t show up.

Daniel Kasambira (26:13): Hey Marcus, I need you to volunteer some time for me. Alright, no problem. Dan, anything you need. I need you to go ahead and help with the gymnastics program. Here you see this big old guy and he’s sitting down doing stretches with five six year old girls, little girls in tutus. He never let me forget it. I wish I had some pictures from it. I could hold them as blackmail. I had him doing that and he said he never forgets the day. I remember Daniel, you put me in that situation. So those type of volunteer experiences that it went well could have gone awry, but it went well.

Stormy Bell (26:46): Yeah. That’s amazing. Yeah. We all have them. Well, opportunities and some turn out really well and some you leave scratching your head like, what, what went wrong?

Daniel Kasambira (26:57): Yes, exactly.

Stormy Bell (26:59): We’re coming to the point of the interview where I’m gonna ask you to love on the United Way or one of the other organizations that you volunteer with. Just love on them. Why should someone get involved or find out more information about whichever organization you choose?

Daniel Kasambira (27:21): What I have to choose is United Way. I say that not because I’m invested, but United Way changed the way I see things and changed my life. What I didn’t share initially was during that time I was in Birmingham and I worked for United Way. I ran into some challenging times, my family did. Because I worked for an office distribution center as an operations manager [before] I left [for the] nonprofit field and ran into some challenges because they merged with another company. I said, well I’ll get back in the nonprofit field no problem. Three months in, I still couldn’t find any work. I was blessed to have my wife working at UAB at the time and we have four kids who want to eat of course, you know, kids wanna eat. I still couldn’t find anything. 

This is back in 2006. What I did was I started delivering pizzas [for] Papa John’s Pizza. [I] was doing that for seven days a week. I was delivering pizzas from 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM Monday through Friday. On Saturdays 10:30 AM to 10:00 PM and Sundays 12 to 6. I did it because a couple reasons. First, I had to support my family through my family. Second of all, I just couldn’t get back into the work field. Lo and behold, 10 months in I get a job with United Way of Central Alabama’s Relationship Manager. Coming in entry level, they believed in me. They saw the experience that I had and opened up my eyes to new opportunities.

Daniel Kasambira (28:55): During that time I continue to deliver pizza. From eight o’clock to four o’clock every day I would raise $7 million for United Way through their campaign season and then from five o’clock to eleven o’clock at night, I was delivering pizzas. I know God was taking me through as a process. Three and a half years I was doing that. Back in 2008 there was a couple crucial things that happened along the journey. That’s why I talked to the value of volunteers and people who you meet. In 2008 I got a flat tire at United Way and Camille Cowher knew I was working both jobs. You get to a point where you can’t afford $40 for a new tire, but United Way was there. She went to the HR department, said, listen, we need to write a check for Daniel because he’s working hard, trying, doing great for his family, doing great work for us.

They wrote me a $40 check and she meant the world to me. So 2008 as well, a guy named Kevin Grigsby who worked for Alabama Power which is a strong company in Birmingham. We were challenged because we understood that Christmas wasn’t gonna be Christmas. Kevin thought enough of us to say hey, listen Daniel me and my wife every year we support a family. He was a volunteer basically through his company. We wanna have your baby sat. We’ll take care of that. We’ll have you and your wife come out and buy whatever you want for your kids for Christmas and it’s from you. So Kevin Grigsby impacted, he’s a volunteer. We went through that process, ended up getting a job. Alabama A&M in 2010.

Daniel Kasambira (30:49): When I talk about United Way, it’s bigger than just me serving as President CEO. When I went through all the relationships and all that and just different people to impact my life at United Way of Central Alabama. When I got the job here at the United Way as President CEO, first call I made was of course my wife. [I] said, thank you honey. You were there in our tough times and good times. We’ve made it. Now we’re now running United Way of Central Alabama. Cause United Way of Madison County, you know, they love me the same, my four kids love me the same, whether I had a Papa John’s shirt on or shirt and tie on it was all the same. Second call I made with Camille Cowher.

I said, Camille, we made it. You saw me at my lowest time and you thought enough for me to invest your time and energy to say, listen, we need to take care of him cause he’s one of us. Third call I made was Kevin Grigsby. Hey Kevin, we made it. We were in a tough time. It was a challenging time, but you invested [in me]. We made it. So there’s people along the journey that have impacted my life and my family’s life. I’m able to say that’s why I believe in United Way. I have a title. I have a position where I can move and influence situations and people. It was bigger than just me coming in here with the 27 partner agencies.

Daniel Kasambira (32:25): It’s bigger than me working along with our great board of directors. It’s bigger than me just working along with a terrific staff team of people. It’s impacting people’s lives because I was one of them. We were one of them that needed help at the time. We needed support. That’s why I believe strongly in United Way. When you talk about living united, it takes all of us. It takes an entire village to help all of us become successful. That’s why I’m proud to say that I carry the United Way banner. I’m proud to be able to be in a position where one of there’s 1100 United ways across the United States and I’m one of 36 African American CEOs leading the organization across the country. It’s just an honor to be here. I’m privileged and honored. I understand the importance of people. When I can share with volunteers and talk to them about the importance of the work they’re doing, I see myself in that role. I see myself opportunity to be able to talk to a homeless person and make a difference or young person say, hey listen, you can do whatever you wanna do. I carry the banner for United Way.

Stormy Bell (33:39): Amazing. Thank you for sharing your journey.

Daniel Kasambira (33:44): Well, thank you.

Stormy Bell (33:45): It’s so impactful to hear that. I have a new appreciation for the United Way. I’ve always heard of them, you know, I know they do great things, but now for me it’s more personal. I’m so glad. Thank you again. Thank you for sharing.

Daniel Kasambira (34:01): Thank you.

Stormy Bell (34:01): Well Daniel, thank you so much for being my guest today. I know my listeners have enjoyed it as much. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did because I took a lot out of this. You graduated a little bit ahead of me and maybe at a reunion we’ll see each other. That’s awesome. To make it back up.

Daniel Kasambira (34:22): That’d be fantastic. Thank you also for providing this opportunity to this day for people to be able to share. Because you didn’t have to do this, but you think it’s important to make a difference across this world. I share the story when I talk about it. Often I share the story of the impact one person can make. The story of a pastor writing a sermon and his son [saying] hey daddy, daddy, daddy come spend some time with me. The pastor kept saying, hey, gimme a few more minutes to do that. He said, daddy, daddy, daddy come spend some time with me. Comes back and he said, his pastor said, okay, what I’m gonna do is I’ll give my son a puzzle to put together and this will take him 10-15 minutes to put together. I’ll give you some time.

The child came back in five minutes, puzzle completed. He said, wow, son, how’d you put the puzzle together? He said, dad, it was easy. Cause I knew it was two sides of the puzzle. The first was a picture of man’s faith and the second side of the positive picture of the world. Once I was able to put the man’s face together, the world came together. I think on an ongoing basis, we make a difference in people’s lives. You put together one person at a time, whether volunteering, spending some time together, the world can come together as a better place. You’re doing that by the work you’re doing with The Art of Volunteering and I appreciate you taking the time and effort to do that because you’re taking people’s lives one at a time and the world’s come to a better place.

Stormy Bell (35:54): Thank you for your kind words. All right, thank you. I hope to see you next time on The Art of Volunteering. Have a great day. Bye.

Show Notes & Links
United Way of Madison County –
United Way of Madison County in Huntsville Alabama –

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Transcript: Tracy Huxley, President-Elect Optimist International (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode 20: Tracy Huxley, President-Elect Optimist International.

Stormy Bell (00:00): Welcome to another episode of The Art of Volunteering. Today we’re gonna be speaking with my friend Tracy Huxley. Now, Tracy was introduced to me by a mutual friend Jane Morrison, who has been involved with The Optimist for several years. Let me give you a little bit about Tracy. She’s been a proud optimist since 1996 with membership in both the Southwestern Ontario and the Caribbean districts serving multiple roles in the club, district, and international levels. One thing that fills her bucket is the chance to work with optimists from around the globe. Tracy’s style has been described as interactive, enthusiastic, and motivational. Her leadership approach is very based in the strength of relationships. I’ve had an opportunity to talk to Tracy before this and she’s very engaging so I’m really looking forward to our conversation now. Tracy, again thank you. Thank you for coming on.

Tracy Huxley (00:59): Thank you. This is exciting. I listened to so many podcasts in my life, in my general day because my eyes are busy on my actual work that I’m actually gonna be on a podcast!

Stormy Bell (01:12): That’s awesome. All right. Some of our friends listening today might not be familiar with Optimist International. Can you share a little bit about who and what Optimist International is? What’s their mission? Who do they serve? Just a little history.

Tracy Huxley (01:30): All right let’s hope that I get this correct. Okay. I’ll have people that’ll listen and definitely correct any of these dates. The Optimist organization started in 1911 with a bunch of men in New York in Lafayette. They wanted to create a bonding opportunity for professionals, men with the original motto of Optimist, before we became international, as the friend of the delinquent boy. In 1919, they became an actual organization where they now had those five clubs and they soon changed to just friend of the boy as our motto as our mission. We are going to be celebrating in 2024 a hundred years as Optimist International. That was when we built our very first club outside of the United States, which was built in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

[It’s] really cool because I will be the fourth female president serving that year. I am from London, Ontario so I will be the Centennial Canadian president and when we celebrate our Canadian centennial. We have gone through different mottos of the delinquent boy, the boy, friend of youth, to now you know the fFriend of youth. Our mission statement is by providing hope and positive vision, which are synonymous with the world word optimist, Optimists bring out the best in youth, their communities and themselves. It’s a three-tier approach of bringing happiness, positive vision, and optimism into everyone’s lives. Each club within Optus International, we’re in over 35 countries, gets to approach their community with the needs of their community. There is no one project every club must do. There is not one target that every club must do. They must bring out the best in their community, their children, and themselves. That’s what their mission is.

Stormy Bell (03:51): Oh, that’s awesome. I love that. What’s your favorite part of that mission statement?

Tracy Huxley (03:58): The one that hits me the most is that it’s brought out the best of me. Without a doubt. There are parts of me that I thought, gosh, if I had known this about myself many years ago, I’m not gonna date myself. I don’t care if people can see my face or not on a podcast. Many years ago, I probably would’ve taken a different career choice although I am taking what I’ve learned as an optimist and added another career into my fold because part of it. It is really nice. This might lead into one of your future questions for me. I apologize.

Stormy Bell (04:35): That’s okay.

Tracy Huxley (04:35): No worries. I’ll do that a lot. My Optimist club that I belong to in Ausable Port Franks, my first Optimist club that I’ve been a member of since 1996, was built in 1983 when I was a young child. My dad was one of the charter members. He was the second president of the club. I was the 25th president of the club. I now am a member of that club. That club, which I took as a child. They donated the first computer into my elementary school. Now I am dating myself. They sponsored my T-ball team. They were the coaches for my baseball team. I went to their art programs. I competed in the lip sync contest, you know they donated the money to my girl guides and my brownies and things like that. I’m now on the flip side of that and I get to give back to my community. I get to now serve with my club to give back to the community as I was a child who was taking when I was younger.

That’s a really beautiful thing. I think we all look for opportunities to make ourselves feel good. I had an English teacher that said, I challenge you to come up with something that truly is altruistic after teaching us the, you know, the true definition of it. He said, because no matter what you give me as an altruistic act, you’re probably getting something in return. Even if that is the warm and the fuzzies. Sadly when we volunteer a lot of times or when we sign up to give of ourselves, we feel it greedy to feel that we’re getting something in return. We wanna be giving, we’re doing it because we want to give, but there should be no shame in taking pride in feeling good about giving. That’s what makes us more human. That’s what makes us happy. That’s the beauty about giving back after taking.

Stormy Bell (06:38): Ah, I love it. You did answer a couple questions.

Tracy Huxley (06:43): You can still ask them! I can give you more answers.

Stormy Bell (06:47): Well, I was gonna ask you why you volunteer and you just shared that. You also answered my question about what you personally receive from it. As much as they give to help someone else, [everyone] ultimately [does] receive something. Volunteering is the feeling that you receive, it helps your mental wellbeing. It helps you feel connected, it gives you purpose in your life and that’s what people do receive from volunteering. They come away with a smile on their face. Knowing that they’re making an impact in someone else’s life. That’s just so important. I’d love to hear that. Now the Optimist, you’re 100% volunteer or do you have paid employees?

Tracy Huxley (07:37): We have a head office. It’s in St. Louis, Missouri with paid staff that helps support our clubs. Optimist clubs themselves, by being an Optimist club, you have liability insurance that is automatically issued to you. We have lots of supports. We do have programs. We have a world oratorical program, speeches, where the ultimate world oratorical champion gets a $25,000 scholarship. We have the world junior golf competition, which the likes of Mike Weir and Tiger Woods have been through our junior golf competition, which takes place every year, multiple different venues, and then the epitome of the whole thing in Florida.

We have essay contests with scholarships that come from our foundations. Instead of an oratorical contest, we have communication contests for the deaf and hard of hearing. The adapted version of an oratorical contest that can be done with sign language or with adaptive hearing. These are all just a few of the many different programs that are available to clubs to host. Like I said, they’re not required to do any of them. We have the staff base and then we have an international volunteer base. I’m currently in the process as president-elect, so our term begins October 1st, of creating my committees from things like the programs that I was just describing to marketing and all these other things. So they are then volunteer based committees with a staff liaison that helps pull things together in a more professional way.

Stormy Bell (09:30): Okay. That sounds cool. How many volunteers, I guess, internationally do you have?

Tracy Huxley (09:38): We’re at about 60,000 right now. We are, like I said before, just over 30 countries. I think it’s somewhere around 35 countries in the world. We’ve just created a new district that over 40 clubs we’ve built so far in the last few years. Nepal has over 40 clubs right now, and they’re going so strong. Our mission statement up by providing hope and positive vision to bring up the best suits very well to the Nepali way of life, namaste, and bringing peace and living in a harmonious way. They have really wrapped their arms around becoming optimists and spreading optimism throughout their communities. It’s a very beautiful marriage that’s happened when we tapped into that country.  It’s a wonderful thing. 

Being an optimist, whether it’s an optimist with a capital O as I consider myself and those card carrying Optimist members of Optimist clubs or being an optimistic person carries its own advantages. Optimists, people who are optimistic, are scientifically known to live longer, healthier, happier lives. We actually live, I think it’s two point something extra years over the average person when you live an optimistic lifestyle. I almost shy away from using that term of glass half empty, glass half full because to be optimistic is to have a positive outlook on the future. To see the hope and the positive vision in situations when you might more naturally go into the dismal side of things. You look for a silver lining and you look for an opportunity and an opening  to make change or to change the course of a negative situation. That’s the way I see it.

Tracy Huxley (11:36): I took an EQ test last year, emotional intelligence, and it was very sur- not surprising at all. It should have been surprising to me that my weakness is that I’m overly optimistic. When presented with a video at one point of a kid that was actually being mean to another child, I didn’t see it that way. I thought he was trying to be helpful, where everybody else in this demo group saw the mean child. I was like, oh, no, I thought he was okay. Yeah, I guess he must’ve been mean. That’s overly optimistic. I was like, well, then make me the president of the Optimist. So here I am!

Stormy Bell (12:17): I’m sorry. That’s funny.

Tracy Huxley (12:21): There’s your blooper. There’s a blooper for you. I have another one, don’t worry.

Stormy Bell (12:27): Oh good! You’ve shared that your dad was like a founding member back in, was it 1983?

Tracy Huxley (12:37): Of my club, yes.

Stormy Bell (12:38): Of your club. What drew him to the Optimists? Because this set the foundation for you coming in, so what drew him to it?

Tracy Huxley (12:47): It really did. I think we all probably look back to our parents and ask ourselves you know which one are we more like? Whether you look like them or you act like them. I am almost a carbon copy of my father. Thank God some of those crazy things that he has, I go to my mom’s side. My dad has always been an extremely giving person. I remember before the Optimist club was created in our community when we had first moved into the house that they still live in, so I was very young. He went around the neighborhood collecting funds on Canada Day so they could have, in the middle of our subdivision, fireworks go off. He was already out there doing these little things to make where he lives a more enjoyable place to be. Whether it was just for the kids or whether it was for everyone. It really, really was no line there. I mean, fireworks are for everyone, right? When the community was starting to build this Optimist club, that was a natural fit for him. When people heard a little bit about Ron Huxley, they were like, oh, well we gotta go ask this guy.

Now I will absolutely date myself. I was six years old, six or seven years old when the club was built so I knew nothing else. It was much like my love for public speaking and my ability to stand up and my desire to take the butterflies that you feel and make them excitement versus nerves. I learned that from watching my dad. Little did I know my dad was extremely nervous, but he never gave that vibe off. I just thought, yep, this is what you do. This is the shoes I fill. You go up, you stand in front of a podium, you make people laugh, and you give them wonderful, heartfelt words. I only learned later in life that when he started doing that, he was terrified, but he didn’t share the terrified feelings with me so I didn’t take them on.

Tracy Huxley (14:48): I strongly associate that with, if I hate broccoli, I won’t tell my kids I hate broccoli so that they’ll love broccoli. You know, the same kinda thing. My dad’s been that man his whole life. He’s a retired volunteer fire chief, just retired a couple of years ago when they built a brand new fire station in their rural community. He was the first to sign up and say, make me a firefighter. They all leaned to him and said, you know, with your leadership skills, we want you to be the chief. I will be the very first second generation. [He was] 2013-2014. That is very special. Fourth woman, first second generation. You can see I was slowly filling in his shoes. You were gonna ask later what I do for a living that’ll come up again filling in my dad’s shoes. I have a tight family network and that I believe has to do with the fact that since a young age, optimism has been part of our lives.

Stormy Bell (15:50): Okay. So twofold. Building off of your jumping ahead of my questions,you’re the incoming president, right?

Tracy Huxley (16:01): Yes.

Stormy Bell (16:02): What does that look like for the time commitment? What activities do you do? What does that look like? Then the second question is, after I hear this, I wanna hear what your day job is. I wanna see what this balance looks like.

Tracy Huxley (16:21): We’ll do it in your order and then it’ll make sense.

Stormy Bell (16:24): Okay.

Tracy Huxley (16:25): So what is the time commitment? This year as president-elect, I do a lot of time of planning my approach getting the synergy between the current president and what they’re trying to accomplish because we really are at a pivotal time in the volunteer world. I’m sure you are hearing this in many of your different interviews but volunteering looks very different today than it did in 1911, 1919 in how people give of their time. It was not until 1987 that this organization welcomed women into its membership. Now we’re looking at millennials and Gen Z and they all have this huge desire to give back, but their style of giving back it’s much different than a meeting every Tuesday at noon for lunch.

Stormy Bell (17:24): What volunteering do you do within your organization?

Tracy Huxley (17:27): How much time does it take for me? This is my last weekend home until the end of March. I’m gone for the next nine weeks to different cities to train. We have 42 different districts in the organization that then filter down and serve the communities. I am going to be in eight different cities, training the governors of those districts. Big time commitment there. I’m gonna be flying out at the bare minimum on Thursdays, coming home on Sunday, petting my dog, saying hello to my partner, and then flying back out again. That’s not how the past president-elects have been doing it. They’ve been doing one giant session together in our head office city St. Louis.

As you said in my intro, I’m relationship based is my leadership style and I want to really get to know these individuals as individuals and not in a giant room from a stage. I will be at board meetings. I’m on the board of directors for Optimist International as president-elect. I will be chairman of the board the third year and then I have a flux year where I get to relax and just kind of decompress. I will [then] serve on our candidates qualification committee for a four year term. That’s the committee that looks to find nominees for vice presidents, seven of them, president-elect, and the two board members that come on and off every year from a three year term in addition to traveling to some of these districts, these clubs. This is my hope in the year that I’m president that we will be able to, instead of sending me to district conferences to sit at a head table, I wanna hear about the amazing events our clubs are doing. I wanna go to the events, flip the burgers, hand out the cotton candy, you know, put air and bicycle tires. I want to continue to be a grassroots optimist with fellow optimists, shoulder to shoulder. There’ll be more traveling. What do I do for a living and how am I ever going to fit that in?

Stormy Bell (19:40): Yes, please. My listeners wanna know.

Tracy Huxley (19:43): I’m not retired. I not only work full-time, I actually have a full-time job and a part-time job which really makes things convoluted. As a full-time job, I am a goldsmith. I’m a jeweler. I am with the family business to take over from my father, as I’ve already alluded. I just keep following it in his footsteps. My sister, by the way, is a fire captain. She’s in the fire industry and I am in the jewelry industry. When my father was president in ’13 and ’14, I held the fort down at work, and now he will hold the fort down while I hit the road with more knowledge than anybody’s employer could possibly know of really what it’s going to demand of me time-wise, which is wonderful. The moment that I have that flux year, he gets to retire.

Stormy Bell (20:35): Oh, that’s amazing. Because I was just reading through your information, I’m like, she’s got me in sales. Like a salesperson could adjust their schedule to do all this.

Tracy Huxley (20:49): I’m in family. I’m in the business of family and dog training. Dog training is my other. I am a certified dog trainer.  I teach puppy classes and obedience and behavior modification and do home visits. I get to control that schedule myself.

Stormy Bell (21:09): We actually have dog training this afternoon. We have a nine month old golden doodle and she’s awesome! She’s the best thing that happened to our family.

Tracy Huxley (21:19): Absolutely!

Stormy Bell (21:21): Yes. She wasn’t a Covid puppy. I had sworn off all pets. Our previous one ran me for my money and I was just like, never again. I had a weak moment and my husband’s like, let’s go now and we came home with a puppy.

Tracy Huxley (21:36): I’m waiting for Nigel’s weak moment so that Balou can have a friend. Well, I mean happy friends. My term will end on September 30th, 2024 and I plan to get a puppy that fall.

Stormy Bell (21:49): Okay.

Tracy Huxley (21:49): I’ve been planning that for two years.

Stormy Bell (21:52): Nothing like planning ahead. Well you have to, I mean, with your schedule you have to know where you’re at. 

Tracy Huxley (22:00): Absolutely. I need to be home.

Stormy Bell (22:02): My husband is in sales and he does trade shows so I actually work year over year because I know that these trade shows are gonna happen at the same time every year. People ask, well, what are you doing? Well when? A year from now I can pretty much tell you. Yeah  I totally get that. Okay. We’ve covered a lot so far. I guess in your years of being an optimist, whether receiving or giving, can you share a story or stories of impact. Something that you’ve seen, the work that you’re doing, actually being received and how it’s received?

Tracy Huxley (22:45): I can. I can and I share this story, I select when I’m going to share it. It’s probably gonna be one that I share a lot over the next two years, meaning way more people are going to hear it. As I said, I’ve been an Optimist member since 1996, so it’s been quite a long time. For a long time I did not do anything with my membership. I didn’t attend club meetings, I barely attended club events. I was in my twenties and I was one of the managers of Canada’s largest drag racing facility so I was working a hundred hour weeks at the time. Then I got asked to participate in an event and specifically, and not by my parents. It reeled me in and over that time, anytime someone would ask me why I am an optimist it started off as every father’s day I would give my dad a card as most of us do. I would alternate this year’s funny, odd is funny even is sentimental and the card would go back and forth. One year it was a sentimental card, sentimental must have been 1996. My dad was very touched by it and told me that he wanted to sign me up as a member of our club. 

That was my story. That was why I was an Optimist member until 2013, I think it was. Back it up to 2006, I live in the city of London, Ontario. The Children’s Hospital of Southwestern Ontario is in this city and they were building an extension onto the hospital. The pediatric oncology department was going to have its own wing. They approached the Optimists and said can you make a donation? The two districts, Midwestern, Ontario and Southwestern Ontario, came together and said, we will commit to making a $1 million contribution over the course of four years.

Tracy Huxley (24:52): They did it in three years, raised over a million dollars in under the three years. That was the first million dollar contribution to the hospital here. There’s, you know, Optimist stuff throughout the oncology department. That was a huge, huge deal. They had a parade. They closed Wellington Street and all these Optimists wore their shirts and that was all wonderful. When that was finished my dad went back to them and said, now what can we do for you? We’ve done that, now what can we do as Optimists to help bring out the best in the children in the hospital? The Children’s Health Foundation of Southwestern Ontario said, well, we do a Bravery Bead program. I think this was actually developed out in Vancouver where a child comes in and gets diagnosed with, at the time, some form of cancer, maybe it’s leukemia.

The family has the option to enroll the child into the Bravery Bead program. They start building these necklaces because youth pediatric leukemia will take maybe about four years of treatment. Every time the child would come into the hospital and they had a poke, so whether it was a blood transfusion or radiation treatment or bone marrow transplant or whatever, each one of these types of treatments would have a specific bead. Blood transfusion, red bead, bone marrow transplant, a bone colored bead radiation, a glow in the dark bead and they would create these necklaces. After about four years of treatment, they’d have more necklace and beads than they’d have neck on these little tots, right. Little babes. Every year on the anniversary, they would have an anniversary bead and their first beads would be their name.

Tracy Huxley (26:40): When we approached them and said, what can we do now that we’ve raised the million dollars? They said we’d like to expand this program beyond just children through cancer treatment, but other illnesses. If we really could, we would really like to expand it to the siblings of those children. Because when kids are going through cancer treatment, it is not just the child that’s going through the whole, the treatment place, it’s the whole family. If they have siblings, those siblings are clearly and justifiably going to feel like they’re constantly taking a backseat. By bringing them into the fold, they also get beads during visits to the hospital. For many of these children to receive that bead is the end to that treatment, and it’s the thing they look forward to.

It brings that hope and positive vision. It brings that happiness to the other side of a negative situation. If we could raise the money on an annual basis to take over the funding of this program, they would be able to hire a part-time staff member and bring this into more than just the children with the cancer illness to more illnesses and more children. So we did. [Most] of our clubs in southwestern Ontario make annual fundraisers to donate money to continue to fund this since about 2010.

Tracy Huxley (28:07): I live in the city. This is my impact story now. That was the buildup. I told you I have stories.

Stormy Bell (28:12): Okay. That’s okay. I love it.

Tracy Huxley (28:15): I live in the city of London and at the time I lived very close to the children’s hospital. The grocery store that I would be most likely to travel to was across the street from the children’s hospital. It was February 3rd and I think it was 2009 maybe or I think we started this program in ’10. Yeah, we’d been doing it for a couple of years and I’m waiting in line to pay. In front of me is a mother and her son, and her son is probably close to about 10 years old but very slight in size. So slight that he was sitting in a car seat and the car seat was in the grocery cart.

Stormy Bell (29:02):  Oh, wow.

Tracy Huxley (29:04): He was wearing a black toque, a black wool beanie and on the front of it was the stitching the words, I’ll alter this. It said cancer stinks. In one of his eyes, it was his left eye socket was a tumor for a lack of knowing his diagnosis both the size of my fist. You could tell he’d had a terrible, no good, very bad day. In that moment, I wanted to be who I know I am, the Tracy that might say something to trigger a smile or a little bit of laughter but I couldn’t because the empath in me started to have tears run down my cheek. I’m like, I can’t go talk to this child crying. That’s not going to help his terrible, no good, very bad day. Then I was comfortable in the resolve that although in that moment I could not put a smile on that child’s face, in my involvement in my Optimist club and the fundraisers for the Bravery Bead program I have put many smiles on his face inadvertently. By being involved in something bigger than myself. Sometimes I am pumping up the tire of a child’s tricycle and sometimes I’m selling raffle tickets that are being donated. The funds are being donated to the Bravery Bead program, and my reach goes further than my eyes will ever see. So if you ask for my impact statement, the reason that I am an optimist ultimately boils down to that evening in that grocery store where I realized I might not be able to touch the heart of that child in this moment, but I have touched him in my past and my future.

Stormy Bell (30:56): Yeah. Amazing. You’re touching my heart right now. Yeah. That’s incredible. That you were able to recognize that and see beyond the moment, like what that greater impact was and continued to be after that time. Okay. All right. Enough of the sad or not sad, but weighty. Fun. What is your blooper? Tell me something that didn’t go right, but you learned something from it.

Tracy Huxley (31:34): It’s not as necessarily maybe didn’t go right. In 2019-2020 our international president was Adrian Elcock. He is from Barbados. A very good friend of mine and extremely intelligent gentleman. Funny how I was gonna say that and the next point I was gonna say, I should put something in between there. He is an extremely intelligent gentleman who decided to make me his Chief of Staff. Those were supposed to go back to back, but they did. What he wanted to do, he like myself when he was first elected, he was under the age of 50 and running family businesses and knew that his time available for this kind of a commitment was going to require a partner. Someone that he could dish other things off to either that he [were] not his strengths or didn’t have the time for, let’s divide this job up a little bit. That’s who I was to him.

Throughout the two years, his year as president-elect and his year as president, I was side by side with him. As he was wrapping up his year as president, and let’s remember I said 2019-2020 and our Optimist years end in September. He was our president of Optimist International when we went into the pandemic and really had to change the way that we did approach things. When we were wrapping up his year, he once said to me, Tracy, and this was the life lesson that I learned from him. One of the many, but one that definitely sits with me. Sometimes you just need to let things break.

Tracy Huxley (33:16): What he had observed was as soon as, and I do not like to micromanage, but the moment a ball looks like it’s gonna hit the floor, I pick it up and I finish it. I was doing a lot of that and he’s like, you have to start choosing when it’s okay to let something break. Because I wasn’t gonna let anything fail for him. I thought, you’re right. I wear myself out because I don’t want anybody to be disappointed. I don’t want something to go wrong, so I will not sleep to make sure something is done. I’ve had to learn that. That was a big life lesson for me to figure out when I can just let something break.

Stormy Bell (34:02): That must be difficult for you because you have a high emotional intelligence.You don’t just read yourself, you read and understand everyone you’re involved with. You know what the impact is gonna be. I gotta think that was a challenge for you, even though the light bulb went off. What that really looked like in everyday practice.

Tracy Huxley (34:25): Yeah. Yeah. It’s one thing to learn the practice of choose your battles. I got pretty good at that. That’s why I have a strong relationship with my partner. When choose your battles. It’s the same kind of skill. It’s like, when is it okay to let something fail? What is the greater impact of that not going right. Do you have the time and the capacity right now to make it succeed and if not, is it, is it okay to let it fail? Can we learn from our failures too? I mean, that means you have to then be in that mindset where you’re gonna like, okay, so what can I learn from this for the future?

Stormy Bell (35:05): Yeah. Well I like this. This is a standard question that I asked, so I find it very interesting what the comments are and I so appreciate this. Thank you for sharing that.

Tracy Huxley (35:19): You’re welcome. I’m sure it’s not as goofy  as I could have came up with keep on long enough goofy will come up.

Stormy Bell (35:26): I think my listeners will embrace that because they would encounter that in their everyday life and may not have articulated it that way. So thank you.

Tracy Huxley (35:36): You’re welcome.

Stormy Bell (35:38): All right. We’ve had this awesome conversation. We’re coming to a close, but I have one more, I guess it’s not really a question, it’s more of an opportunity. I would like you to love Optimist International. Why should people check you out? Why should they get involved? Just love on your organization.

Tracy Huxley (35:58): All right. If somebody fast-forwarded through this entire session, is only listening right now and did not hear everything else and was not enticed: Optimist International, being a member of your Optimist club, everybody has an opportunity to volunteer in their home. In their home area, in their community, in their neighborhood. What is different between volunteering with an Optimist club versus volunteering with anything else is that we offer that capital O. That ability to be optimistic, to have a positive vision and outlook for the future, to bring positive vision and hope to people within your community. Whether it is as simple as having a breakfast with Santa at Christmas time, or an Easter egg hunt Easter time or respect for law where you bring out your fire department and your ambulance and your police and the kids get to touch a truck.

What we do by surrounding ourselves with other people who have a positive vision for the future is that we increase our appreciation for life. We increase our appreciation for friendships and fellowship and with a full-hearted opportunity to try and bring out the best in our community. If you don’t like where you live, if you don’t feel your community is giving you what you need, you have an opportunity to change that. You have the chance to either build or join an Optimist club and make those changes that make your home a little better place for people to want to live and to communicate and to step out of their doors and to be with their neighbors. I have lived this almost my entire life, and I have not only continued to love the community that I came from and travel that hour back all the time, but I am also a member of the Optimist club of St. Ann’s Bay in Jamaica, which is where my partner is from.

Tracy Huxley (38:02): I have the opportunity when we return to his little hometown, to volunteer with fellow optimists who share that same pride, that same hope and positive vision, that same optimism with a capital O in a completely different country. Every optimist out there that is doing good things for their community makes me look like a better person because we all do this with the same goal in mind. That is simply to give back and to make our communities a better place to live. These people, I will always walk into a room and feel like I am at home regardless of what country or what state or what club I’m with. We all have that same little heart inside of us that wants to do better for everybody.

Stormy Bell (38:48): Amazing. Thank you.

Tracy Huxley (38:50): You’re welcome, Stormy.

Stormy Bell (38:52): I’m gonna encourage my friends to check you out. Like I said, I had always heard about Optimistic International but really didn’t know much about it. I heard great things just- you hear good things, but you really don’t know exactly what that means. I loved learning, preparing for the interview. I just thank you. Thank you for all the great work that you’re doing.

Tracy Huxley (39:19): Oh, thank you Stormy and everybody else, all the other optimists out there too.

Stormy Bell (39:23): Absolutely. All right. I just wanna thank you for being a guest today on The Art of Volunteering. I want to thank my listeners for tuning in and I hope to see you next time on The Art of Volunteering.

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