This Thursday, I took a break from my normal workday at the CELC to attend a Volunteer Administrators Network (VAN) meeting. VAN is a professional network that provides professional development and networking opportunities to volunteer administrators in Central Ohio. Since my primary role at the CELC is to develop a volunteer program, I have officially joined the organization and will be attending the their bi-monthly meetings throughout the summer. Usually, VAN’s meetings are in the form of a presentation, round table discussion or a webinar focused on a particular aspect of volunteer programs. For example, the next few meetings that I plan to attend will focus on building relationships between college students and nonprofits, measuring the impact of volunteer involvement and designing work for today’s volunteers, all extremely relevant topics for the work that I will be doing.

In addition to covering these topics, once a year, the organization breaks from their usual format to participate in an annual service project. My first meeting with the organization on Thursday just so happened to fall on the date of this service project. For the project, we volunteered with the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio, a nonprofit in Columbus that provides free furniture to Central Ohio families suffering from poverty and other challenges, such as the loss of a home due to a fire or flood. The Bank receives furniture donations daily from Columbus area residents and then allows eligible families to come into their showroom and pick out about fifteen items. In addition to receiving donations, the bank has started constructing its own furniture out of donated scrap wood. Since most of the materials that they use are donated and since volunteers provide all of the labor, the Bank is able to produce most items entirely from scratch, including tables, chairs and dressers, for under $10. Today, furniture produced from this project now accounts for 13% of the 1400 pieces of furniture that are provided to families each week.

After spending the morning building coffee tables and dressers at the organization, which I found surprisingly fun, the other members and I grabbed lunch at Tommy’s diner, an old-fashioned diner on Broad Street west of downtown. This lunch was not only a great opportunity to start building relationships with other volunteer administrators in the area, but it also provided an opportunity to pick their brains about starting a volunteer program. Although I have made considerable progress starting up the program at the CELC, the members of VAN were able to pass on to me what they have learned about starting volunteer programs and they challenged me to consider aspects of the program that I had not yet considered. The finished product of my fellowship will surely be stronger due to my involvement with this organization, not only because of the content of their meetings, but also from what I will be able to learn from my new colleagues. I will keep you updated about my involvement in this organization throughout the summer.

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