April 10-16 marked the return of National Volunteer Week and the first time Bethesda Project has actively aligned with the nationally recognized week shining a spotlight on volunteerism.
My name is Hannah and I am the Program Coordinator of Community Life at Bethesda Project. April also marks my one-year anniversary at Bethesda Project, so it is only fitting that I have spent much of the month focusing on our volunteers. Successfully coordinating over 400 volunteers across 13 program sites and upholding the seasonal Community Life traditions I’ve inherited, such as the annual picnic and holiday gift giving, is no easy feat.
While holding all that down, I converted our all-analog volunteer management system to a digital platform. On top of that, a natural drive and passions keep me creating new programs and opportunities for our guests and residents we serve. With so much going on, it is all too easy to get sucked into the nuts and bolts of making things run smoothly and forget about the big picture.
The big picture? The people who make it all possible – our volunteers. They are the heart and soul of Bethesda Project’s work, and I am privileged to work with so many loving, giving folks volunteering with us.
I started volunteering as an elementary school student. A group from my school would go to a supportive temporary home for children who were taken out of their parents’ custody awaiting a more stable placement. The children at this home ranged from infants to 6th graders. It was our duty as volunteers just to go there and play with other kids. Even if I had gotten in trouble at school or upset my family, visits with these kids freed me from any trouble I was experiencing. I knew that I was helping another child feel a little more normal during a scary time in their life. Volunteering remained a part of my life throughout adolescence and into adulthood, so it felt natural when I started coordinating volunteers. What I wasn’t expecting was how much the volunteers would bring to my life.
Some of our greatest work comes from conversations with volunteers. Together, we turn ideas into real programs and opportunities for our guests and residents. Volunteers have shared great wisdom and life advice with me and even entered my social and professional networks in Philadelphia.
It has gone the other way, too. Close friends support me and Bethesda Project by volunteering to take on particularly daunting undertakings, such as a long haul of supplies or stocking a 13’ box truck to the brim after dark, the night before the picnic.
While each program site at Bethesda Project is unique, I noticed a similarity throughout: Our guests and residents are some of the most proactive, giving people I encounter in a given week. They are always looking to give back. Guests at our shelter offer to work on maintenance projects, residents at our recovery house offer to cook the whole house a special breakfast, and guests at the safe haven take pride in maintaining their house. They take pride and joy in that extra work, because that is what they see our volunteers come to our houses to do. Bethesda Project men and women are re-learning what it is to be family, and learning from the best.
To all of our volunteers, thank you.