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2006 National Conference on Volunteering and Service

by Sarah Thoma, Social Entreprenuer

Having grown up in a household where community service was embedded in our lifestyles, at times I felt different from other people. When someone needed something, my family was there. My father, being a member of New York City law enforcement, was looked on as a resource to go to whenever there was a problem. Even when my father wasn't around, we all got called in to assist someone. As I reflect back as an adult, I can say that I was very lucky to have parents who instilled service in us. Although we did not have much money, my parents showed us that we had something to give. We didn't realize that we weren't rich, because in many ways we were.

When I attended my first National Conference on Volunteering and Service seven years ago, I had the honor to meet Bob Goodwin, CEO of the Points of Light Foundation and Volunteer Center Network. I told Mr. Goodwin that I felt “like a kid in a candy store.” The conference opened my eyes and mind to the many programs, resources and most importantly, people like me, who wanted to use their talents, skills and passion to make a difference, make the world a better place. I found that every time I participated in this conference, I came away with new ideas, resources and friends. This year was no different.

The 2006 National Conference on Volunteering and Service was held in Seattle, Washington, a beautiful city located in the Pacific Northwest. Robin Roberts, co-anchor of Good Morning America opened the conference with her personal story about her family in her hometown of Pass Christian, Mississippi and their experience with Hurricane Katrina. Her moving words set the stage for the announcement of the report on “Volunteering in America: State Trends and Rankings” followed with Bob Goodwin and David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, co-conveners of the conference, to issue a call for service. Answering the challenge, the 2,500 volunteer and national service leaders in attendance pledged to join them in recruiting 10 million volunteers by 2010.

“Volunteering in America: State Trends and Rankings” is the most statistically significant study of volunteering ever conducted in America. The Report includes highlights, state by state rankings profiles of volunteering in each region and state, statistical tables and technical notes.

Although the conference had a major focus on disaster response, there were a myriad of training sessions, workshops presented by top professionals in their respective fields, along with an Exhibitors’ Hall and networking events, giving the participants from all over the world, not only a great reason to be there, but innovative ideas and programs, valuable tools and resources to take home with them.

Other highlights of the conference included: The 3rd Annual Faith and Community Institute, the Forums on Public Policy and Civic Engagement, and Professionals and Volunteers in First Response, an International Roundtable, launch of the new Points of Light website and database registry, empowering speeches by wonderful Eric Lu and the Spirit of Service Awards.

Not to diminish the impact of any of the events or speakers, but hearing Ambassador Andrew Young speak during the closing ceremony brought it all home. Through his simple and heartfelt words, he spoke about his life’s work on ststae, national and international levels and his desire to make a difference in the world.

He spoke about his current position as Chairman of Goodworks International and the work that they were involved in.  Ambassador Young spoke about a young woman from Atlanta, who is involved in this program that, because of her situation, would not have a chance at surviving...a chance in life... His voice cracked and tears were present when he stated that she is now enrolled in college and is on her way to a better life… In these brief moments, we all got to see this great man humbled by the impact one can have in the world.  We knew he got the ‘message’, he knew what it was all about, why we were there…He let us know he was—in spite of all of honors bestowed upon him—he was one of us.

As we left the great hall, although we felt tired from the rigors of the conference, we were energized. Our spirits were renewed, we were inspired by the work of others, and ready. Ready and armed with resources, support and new friends, who like us, decided to answer the call to be of service, to make a difference…

Next year’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service is scheduled take place in Philadelphia, PA.

Resources from this article:

Points of Light Foundation
Volunteering in America Report: State Trends and Rankings
Register as a Volunteer in Disaster Recovery

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Sarah A. Thoma recently transitioned out of her position as Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Volunteerism for the State of New Jersey where she served since 1999.

Prior to being in state government, she was a hand-on volunteer manager where she successfully re-designed volunteer programs to be compliant with standards and protocols established by the facility, government and accreditation organizations. Describing her volunteer management experience which included event management, fundraising, in addition to the usual day-to-day organizational duties, as “the most challenging yet rewarding position” she has ever held.

Ms. Thoma, presently is showing support for those in this profession by serving as a committee member for International Volunteer Managers Appreciation Day (IVMAD). This initiative was developed to acknowledge, recognize and celebrate those in the role of the Volunteer Manager while demonstrating the diversity and expansiveness of volunteerism throughout world. IVMA Day celebration takes place on November 1. Ms. Thoma is also working with community partners on the 3rd Annual Youth Assembly and Leadership Training scheduled to take place at the United Nations in August 2006.

Sarah is a board member of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program of Mercer County, One Day’s Pay, and participates in promoting citizen engagement on all levels particularly in disaster response.

She resides in Sea Bright, NJ, a beach community located on the Jersey Shore.

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"The first thing to keep in mind, is that your objective is not to make a 'TV show' or a 'show' of any kind. You are collecting evidence; you are encouraging witness; you are emboldening ordinary people to 'go public.'"

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