A Swabbing Good Year

Eleven months ago, I happily accepted a position at There Goes My Hero. I didn’t know what to expect, but I hoped that this would be an exciting and fulfilling year. Now that my service year is almost done (it ends July 21st), I can definitively say that this year has far exceeded my expectations in a way that not even a monthslong pandemic could detract from. 

When I began as There Goes My Hero’s Volunteer Coordinator through Volunteer Maryland Americorps, I was unsure of what it would be like. While some of the obligations were self-evident from the job title and description, what I didn’t know was how ever-changing, occasionally stressful, exciting, and fulfilling I would find the position. 

Volunteer Maryland’s pre-service training and the opportunity to meet with our Executive Director and Community Outreach Coordinator gave me more of a general idea of what I’d be doing, but it wasn’t until I actually began to work in our (tiny) office that I began to understand my role in the organization. From the start I was creating volunteer materials such as a volunteer handbook and training plan, writing and editing blogs and grants, and most importantly I was recruiting and working with volunteers at drives.

I also became used to hectic but enjoyable events. One of the earliest new challenges I faced was at our OctoberTaste event. I did several drives throughout Baltimore in September and remember thinking that I was beginning to have a handle on things. Then October came and it was utter pandemonium. At this point, There Goes My Hero had a tiny one-room office in the back of a printer company, which was shared by three people. In the weeks leading up to OctoberTaste, our headquarters became a typhoon of raffle tickets, gift baskets, banners, and other event materials.

 In addition to these practical preparations, I was trying to sign up as many volunteers as possible with a list that was ten years old and a few Maryland volunteer websites that I’d recently become familiar with. In the days leading up to the event I thought I had ten volunteers since ten people signed up. But, for various reasons, this number was eventually reduced to four the day of OctoberTaste. The volunteers who showed up were amazing, and it turned out that there were just enough people to get the job done. Being able to conduct OctoberTaste smoothly, thanks to the help of these four volunteers helped boost my confidence and made me feel that I could handle whatever the rest of the year brought. Still, I came to appreciate a new mantra when it came to recruiting volunteers: recruit early, and recruit often.

This helped make our next big event, Flannel and Frost, a success. Through early recruiting I was able to bring in about 7 great volunteers, which was enough to have people at each station without having anyone too overworked. Not only was Flannel and Frost a lot of fun, it also became the most productive drive that I worked at all year– we had 26 people join the bone marrow registry.

At the very beginning of March, There Goes My Hero did a drive at the B’More Healthy Expo., an event which over 10,000 people attended. With the welcome help of four volunteers from the Howard County branch of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, we were able to add 20 people to the bone marrow registry. I didn’t know it at the time, but the B’more Healthy Expo was the last in-person drive that I would attend. 

 In between these drives we had numerous smaller drives at locations throughout Baltimore. These include a drive at the offices of Dr. Prashant Shukla in Aberdeen, a drive with CityFam (hosted by the Horseshoe Casino), and a very successful drive series with St. Agnes Hospital at their weekly farmers market. 

Whenever I began to feel a little disillusioned, or questioned the impact I was having, there were always little things from which I could find inspiration. Especially during the final months of the service year, as I contemplated the impact I could have with just a laptop and my cell phone, I could always find something that made me want to keep pushing forward.  I’d see a video of an interview with a former blood cancer patient and the donor that saved his life. Or volunteers I’d never met in person shared their stories about how they or a loved one survived blood cancer and asked to do a virtual drive. Or I’d think of the people who came up to me at drives or There Goes My Hero’s board members, some of whom are still here today thanks to the bone marrow registry. Instead of worrying about whether I was still having an impact, stories like these made me refocus on how I could have more of an impact with the remainder of my service year I had.

After ten months at There Goes My Hero I’ve worked with 43 volunteers, over 30 of them new. I’ve been impressed and enheartened by the commitment, work ethic, and positivity that these volunteers have displayed throughout the year. While a devastating pandemic and a complete shift to remote work could have left us at a standstill, about a dozen volunteers have stepped up to do virtual drives for us. I’m proud of having a small role in adding nearly 1,000 people to the bone marrow registry in the past year. I hope one day that many of them will save a life.

As for my future personal plans, I will be attending Case Western Reserve Law School in the fall. I’ve grown a well-kept quarantine beard that I plan on taking to Cleveland for warmth in the winter. While I’m still not sure what type of law I want to practice, this year has helped instill in me an appreciation for public service, and that is something I will take with me– a commitment to the public good in whatever position, location, or company I end up in.

I’d like to thank VMD staff and our cohort of Volunteer Coordinators who have been getting things done throughout Maryland and who it’s been an honor to be a part of. 

Thank you to the Board of TGMH and especially to our staff members, Mary Kaye DiUbaldo and Stephanie Cupp, who from the outset made me feel welcome, were always helpful, and always entertaining. There’s no one I’d rather share a one-room office with.

Finally, thank you to all of There Goes My Hero’s volunteers. It’s been so rewarding to see the progress you’ve made and the lives you have affected. You are literally the reason why I am here, and for that I am grateful.

I will miss everyone, but the experiences and friendships I’ve had because of Volunteer Maryland and There Goes My Hero are something that I’ll carry with me in the future. And you can bet that I’ll be back as a volunteer. Thanks, and take care!