The National Conference on Volunteering and Service, held June 6 through 8 in New Orleans, was great on so many levels, but for me the decision to place this year's biggest conference on volunteering in "NOLA" was best illustrated when I was on my way back home.
In a taxi heading to Louis Armstrong Airport after three days of inspiration, I met Angela. She was a driver in her early 40s, a freelance operator. Her husband suffered from bipolar disorder and was struggling to get medications. He had also recently had a heart attack and was home-bound. For Angela, that meant 12-hour days in a rundown cab -- days made even longer in the summer heat of NOLA and a cab lacking air conditioning.
And yet, as I saw again and again in NOLA, for Angela things were only looking up.
"I know all about all the good that volunteers are doing in our city," she said, weaving the cab in traffic heading out of town and still managing to catch my eye in the mirror. "We're learning how to take care of our own selves. New Orleans people know how to survive, and we always bounce back."
It was a great reminder for me of the potential of service -- especially how communities can take ownership of their problems, turning the bad stuff in our lives into opportunities to connect with each other, lean on each other and learn together.
Nearly six years after Hurricane Katrina, the people of New Orleans have found the strength and resiliency to respond to their challenges. In fact, as they've rebuilt homes, protected their culture, educated their children and cleaned up from the floods, spills and controversies, their city has also quietly become a laboratory for some of the most innovative service initiatives in the country. Indeed, we can all learn from New Orleans.
The Spirit Of NOLA At NCVS
The spirit of New Orleans was definitely alive and present at this year's National Conference on Volunteering and Service, where more than 4,500 participants came together to learn about ideas and innovation in service. Volunteer champions, national service leaders, local heroes and stars and innovators in social enterprise, philanthropy and corporate involvement were all on hand -- a stew pot of social good as delicious as any jambalaya.
Eleven of us from VolunteerMatch came out (see our "messaging map"), and we quickly fanned out to meet our friends, partners, clients and members to catch up. For us, that meant that our Client Relations team connected with our corporate audience to hear about CSR and Employee volunteering. Our education team got involved in the Summit on Advanced Volunteer Engagement and other critical conversations about volunteer engagement and capacity building. Our marketing and communications folks sat down with the growing group of brands and brand marketers who are involved in volunteer-related campaigns. And we all got to hear from the most inspiring stories in service this year.
The "southern stars" were also out at three big general sessions. Civil rights activist Ruby Bridges talked about how service enriches not just our communities but our souls, too. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour talked about shared responsibility in disaster response. News star Soledad O'Brien talked about reaching children one child at a time. Branford Marsalis, Percy Sledge and many other musicians helped keep the beat (and keep our blood flowing in the 92-degree summer swelter). And New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu shared a heartfelt thanks for how the nationwide community of volunteers and nonprofits have helped NOLA regain its swing.
More Sessions Than A Bourbon Street Jazzman
And in between all the fun we also learned and developed our skills. The conference provided 170 different sessions on nearly every topic related to volunteering under the sun. It was encouraging to see so much attention being paid to the needs of the organizations, schools and companies we work with to engage volunteers in nonprofit missions. Among the session topics that we were most interested in, a few that stand out included:
- Measuring and reporting volunteer engagement impact
- Preparing your organization to meet the demand of volunteers
- Pro bono service models
- Corporate-nonprofit partnership best practices
- Disaster relief and social media
- Online community building
- Building sustainable programs
- The upcoming tenth anniversary of the 9/11 Day of Service
And these are just the start of the many great topics and workshops in New Orleans.
Next Year In Chicago
At the close of the event was the news that 2012's conference will take place June 18 through 20 in Chicago, a great American city and home of our current president. We even got to see a video greeting from new Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, sharing his excitement to host next year's event and inviting everyone in for a little Chicago soul.
Follow The Notes
Where else can you go to find out how NCVS in NOLA went? For starters, the NCVS blog has lots of great recaps as well, and you can get there from here. You can see official photos the conference here. Videos are available on the conference website. And Twitter is chock-full of tweets and links by leading voices from the conference, making it easy to follow the NCVS hashtag to all kinds of great posts from @myimpact, @lauragonzo, @pointsoflight, @servedotgov, our very own @volunteermatch, @createthegood, @socialcitizen, @repair_dan, @handsonnetwork and many, many more.
Did you go to NCVS this year? Share you story with us here. We'd love to hear it.
Photo: Points of Light