November Give Back!

All year long I try to volunteer as much as I can, but I feel like in November I need to step it up.  It is Thanksgiving after all!

This is the second year in a row that I have volunteered for the Goodman Community Center Thanksgiving Basket Drive that will provide over 3,500 families in need with a Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings.

My location was at the Festival Foods store in Madison to handed out flyers with information about the program and a shopping list of needed items. My shift started off slow, but then again, I was at the liquor entrance and it was one hour to kick-off for the Badgers Game. But then, you get that one donor who puts their items they purchased in your cart, and soon becomes a domino effect.

My shift was 2 hours and the time flew by. Something like this is not for everyone. You can’t be shy, you have to be able to approach people because if not, they will just blow right by you. Making eye contact is also key.

Come on, admit it…. how many times have you walked past a Red Kettle, eyes low, and full steam ahead?  I am guilty too.

We don’t know a persons situation, so that is why you can’t judge who gives and who doesn’t, but the key is you have to ask.  You thank them all and tell them to have a great day, and in turn, you are making a great day for yourself!

Looking for ways to help and get involved in your community? November and December there are no shortages of volunteer opportunities.

Here are a few.

Earth Day!

What did you do on Earth Day? I was one day late in taking action and doing something, but honestly, it doesn’t matter because everyday should be Earth Day!

Every since I got back from India, seeing trash on our streets, lawns, side of the road drives me crazy. There is so much litter and trash everywhere in India — even in the middle of the desert, that I don’t want my home, community, state or country to get like that.

Down the road from my house is an area that ALWAYS has trash strewn around — fast food beverage cups, swisher sweet cigar packets (?), straws, liquor bottles, etc….  I drive by this area most days on my way to work and to get on the highway.  Seeing this trash everyday drives me nuts. This is not the first time, I have cleaned up this section. On Earth Day, this was my goal to tackle. Armed with garbage bag, gloves and my big stick, off I went.

I collected a full bag of trash in a very small section. It made me feel good to do my part, I just hope more people will do theirs or think about where they are disposing of their trash next time. Nature is not our trash receptacle.

 

 

India – Positive and Negatives

I am very grateful for my time I got to experience in India.  By volunteering my time through the Sankalp Society Christmas Program, I feel I got a real snap shot of the Northern Indian landscape and daily life. It was only a week that I volunteered in the schools, but the beautiful faces of the children will be with me forever. I am blessed to have crossed paths with so many amazing people on this journey who helped make my experience an even better one.  This was a trip full of adventure and India really gets you out of your comfort zone.  If you like your comforts of home while away on travel, India is not the place for you! Flexibility, non judgement and positive outlook is what will get you through visiting this country like no other.

Positives:

1. The chia tea – every where you go, they have chia from the small shops, road side markets to restaurants. You can be in the most remote place and they will have and offer you chia.  I did get some of the spices and black tea with instructions on how to make when I am back home.

Photo by: Nina Davis

Photo by: Nina Davis

2. The beautiful saris you see the women wearing.  They are made of some of the most beautiful material and such vibrant colors. Again, even in the most rural areas the women dressed beautifully.

photo by Nina Davis

photo by Nina Davis

3. Tuk Tuks – is sort of a love/hate. In the city, best way to get around and so cheap.  Can be a little scary but it is also crazy fun as they are flying in and out of traffic dodging people, cows, cars and motorbikes.

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 4. Dollar goes a long way. 150 rupees is about $2.00 US dollars. When we take the tuk tuks from our house into town we pay about 150-180 rupees. For scarfs we paid no more than 300 or 400 rupees ($4.00-$6.00 US dollar).

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5. There is a mystic about this country. Among all the dirt, garbage and mass of people there is also a beauty about it. Very intriguing on how people live there daily life because it is so different from all the people I know in America.

Photo by Nina Davis

Photo by Nina Davis

 6. Taj Mahal – One of the most beautiful and impressive structures I have ever seen. Blows my mind how they could build something like that in its time.

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Negatives:

 1. Napkins, toilet paper, tissue and hand towels are a rare commodity. Some of the nicer restaurants will have napkins and when they did, we all grabbed every single one and a few from the next table.  Two of our three hotels during our travel time had toilet paper, but very small rolls. I went through 3 economy packs of wet wipes.  I used them for everything.  Toilet paper, hand sanitizing, drying them out, and using for tissue to blow my nose, washing my body when we had only cold water or no time to shower.

Western Toilet. Still haven't figured out how people use that hose.

Western Toilet. Still haven’t figured out how people use that hose.

2. Most of the places we stayed or restaurants we went to had western toilets. You can’t put the paper in the toilet like we can back home. You have to put it in a garbage bin next to the toilet. There is this hose next to all the toilets that we still haven’t figured out how people use that and don’t get all wet. In some of the places, they had the squat toilets. A porcelain square with a hole in it and grips on the side for your feet while you squatted. I did not attempt that while I was here. 

This is a clean squat toilet, most are not this nice.

This is a clean squat toilet, most are not this nice.

3. Garbage every where. I can’t figure out why there is no sanitation system here at all. Literally, garbage is everywhere.  Plastic bottles, clothes, plastic garbage bags. There is also so much dust.  You never really feel clean. 

4. The driving here is down right scary. I don’t think there are any traffic rules, there is constant honking. I would never be able to drive here between the cars, trucks, cows, goats, dogs, tuk tuks, motorcycles and people that you have to dodge. It is scary enough just trying to cross the street sometimes.

5.  India is every man’s toilet. Every time I looked out the window of a car or tuk tuk I saw a man peeing on the side of the road, on a brick wall, or in the middle of town. You never stepped in any wet spots you saw on the road because you didn’t know what it could be.

My Travel to India!

India Adventure – Day 1

I am sitting in O’Hare Airport, terminal 2 waiting to board my first flight to Toronto on Air Canada. I have to say, I love airports. The mix of so many people from so many different places and all with a different story on where they are going and why.

The first leg of my journey was fantastic! Anyone living in Madison, and if you are looking to go to Chicago (Airport or Downtown) I highly recommend the bus. I took an Uber from my house to the bus pick up location (800 University on the UW Campus) and it was only $10. I boarded the bus at 8:30am, and I was dropped off right at my gate by 11:15. Round trip bus ticket is $60.00. You can’t go wrong for that price.

I checked in at my gate flying Air Canada, and I loved how the attendants interchanged english and french. Madame Meyer would be proud that I could understand bits and pieces of what they were saying.

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First stop, magazine shop – air travel is the time to allow myself the guilty pleasure of buying trashy gossip magazines, grab a giant bottle of water and find a quite spot to charge up and reflect on the journey I am about to begin.

Am I nervous? Not really, it is more nervous excitement. I think my mother is worrying enough for me, but then again, no matter what age you are, that’s what Moms do.

For those of you who don’t know I am going to India to do volunteer work with the organization Sankalp Volunteer. Five years ago, I did an international service trip to Swaziland with the organization Heart for Africa. It was one of most amazing trips of my life. I have been searching since then to find other organizations with a program similar to Heart for Africa. I love the fact that I can pay a flat fee (some people do fundraise for their trips, but I do enough of that in my day to day world) and everything is taken care of when I get there. Place to stay, meals, travel within the country and I have people that can speak the language and help me navigate this new land. The best part of these types of trips is getting to actually experience real people and day to day life. You are not just hitting the “tourist” parts.

Getting to experience different cultures, meet new people and see new corners of the word is why I continually have a wanderlust for travel. Wisconsin will always be my home, but the world is my playground.

Day 1 – Extended

My first flight out of Chicago to Toronto went well. We had a slight delay in boarding, and in that time while waiting, I struck up a conversation with a cute guy from London, all from saying “Bless You” when he sneezed. I must admit, I think the British accent is one of the sexiest accents out there. I was hoping by fate, we would have been sitting next to each other, but, he was 5 rows up from me. He did look behind at me as he was exiting the plane and gave me a little smile and wink. Swoon!

The Toronto airport has a very weird set up when you get off the plane. You are confined to this long glass corridor, that you keep walking until you are escorted by an airline worker to a customs area and then you are allowed in the main gate area to find your connecting international flight. I had to pee so bad when I got off the plane, and when I asked the lady, who was going to escort me to the next area where the bathroom was, she said not until your gate, half way across the airport. She then said, let me take you to this one downstairs for staff. She was so nice. I don’t think I would have made it across the airport.

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I finally got to my gate for my flight to Delhi. We had a 30 minute delay. Instead of 9:20, boarding was at 9:50. As I looked around, there was people from all ethnic backgrounds waiting to board. In this one area we have people that speak many different languages, but the one thing that transcends in any language is a smile. By just smiling at someone – being a flight attendant, fellow passenger, gate attendant, you can see their mood and face change.

We board the plane, and there is some weather in Toronto that delays us on the tarmac. Our plane has to be de-iced. We sat on the tarmac waiting for takeoff for an hour and 20 min. I didn’t really notice the time because thank goodness we have a tv screen in the headrest of the seat in front of us. I was busy watching Bad Moms! Finally in the air – total flight time is 12.5 hours and my eta to Dehli is now 11:00pm.

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From Day 1 to Day 3 –

It is now 7:45am on December 23 – I made it to my new home for two weeks in Jaipur. It reminds me of the youth hostels I stayed in when I was in Scotland and did the whole backpacking thing. It was a little bit of an adventure to get here. I got off the plane and got through customs, exchanged some money, got my bag and then walked toward the exit and I was never so happy to see a middle aged Indian gentlemen holding up a piece of paper with my name on it. He was my driver to take me to Jaipur.

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It is about 280 Kilometers from Delhi to Jaipur. After 14+ hours of being on a plane, I had another 5+ in a car. We left the airport about midnight. The city was still jammed pack with traffic and as we hit the highway I couldn’t believe how many vehicles where on the road at that time of night. My driver told me his name, but I don’t remember what it is. He barely spoke any english, so it was a quite car ride besides the Indian music playing. I was amazed at all the little open “roadside” shops along the highway. We got about an hour in and my driver stopped to eat, I was not hungry so I stayed in the car while he ate at a roadside stand. I didn’t know if I wanted to be that adventurous only 2 hours being in India. We get back on the road and a little while later stop for gas. Navigating the Indian traffic was insane. There is no way in hell I could EVER drive in this country. No one uses the lanes, people are darting in and out of switching imaginary lanes and I think a few times there was only inches between us and the next vehicle with the tailgating, oh, and lets not forget all the honking.

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It is about 3am now, and my driver asks if he can pull over to sleep an hour. I don’t want him falling asleep, so I say ok. He pulls over along the highway, and puts his seat back and is snoring in 2 minutes. By this time, I am exhausted as well, so I do the same. A little cat nap off an Indian highway at 3am with a strange guy that just picked me up….. Brave or stupid… not sure, but all turned out ok. Back on road by 4:30. At about 5:30, my driver says stop for tea? I think he says stop to pee, so I am all for it. Lost in translation there. Either way, we accomplish both. About half hour out of the city, we stop at this open roadside shop/cafe and we order chia tea. It was surreal — here I am in India, at 5:30am drinking tea from a road side stand off the highway taking in all the sites and sounds around me.

imageI get to the house at about 6am, just as the sun was coming up. I was greeted by Puni, who lives here in the house and is also our cook for our lunch and dinner. She helped me to my room and made me coffee. The house is still asleep so I am taking this time to reflect and document everything while it is fresh in my head…. speaking of that, along the road while driving, I saw people leading camels and as we got into town, sure shit — cows everywhere wandering the streets. Looking forward to what the rest of this day has in store for me.

Day 3 – Continued…. I met the rest of the girls in the hours. Emily, who is one year away from her nursing degree is from Liverpool and also on the two week program like me. The rest of the girls have already been here for awhile and have their work placement. The four of them went off by 9am to the school to teach and work with the street kid program.

I had to keep moving or I would have crashed hard and I didn’t want to sleep my first day away. Finally I got a chance to shower after leaving my house at 8am on Dec 21st! Pure heaven. Emily and I decided to take a tuk tuk into town and find an Indian market. Let’s just say thank goodness I have a chiropractor appointments scheduled first thing when I get home because I will need it!!! It’s crazy – darting in and out of traffic, the honking, speed bumps, rough roads, cows in the middle of the road, people everywhere, camels used for travel….. those are just a few of the sites and sounds from my first tuk tuk ride.

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We eventually found a market and went into a few shops. I did end up getting two scarves. One for myself and one for a gift. We came back to the house for 1pm lunch and it was very delicious. After lunch we went up to the roof top to soak up the sun’s rays while we waited until our 3pm orientation with Amita.

She went over how Sankalp started, the history of the organization and the programs that they support. Based on our length of stay, we are going to be teaching street kids in school. Emily and I are going to team teach the kids 4-6 building upon their current knowledge and work with them on  colors and words to go with the colors, basic body parts and math.  We start that on Monday, Dec 26 for one week.

Sitting during the orientation I was starting to hit the wall. I almost fell asleep during it. After we got done going over our program, house rules and other basic information we should know Emily and I walked to the grocery store so she could get a few items. Got back to the house at 7pm, had dinner, cooked by Puska, and then I was ready for bed. It was 7:30 and I was out cold… and now it is 10:30 and I am wide awake writing this.

Tomorrow I am super excited for our overnight trip into Agra and to see the Taj Mahal.

I am going to India!

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Five years ago this month I went to Swaziland, Africa to serve on an 11 day mission trip with the organization, Heart for Africa! It was such an amazing experience and the children I met in Swaziland are forever imprinted on my heart. I knew when a similar opportunity came again, I had to go.

An opportunity presented itself last month. A few years ago, I was looking at going to India with Sankalp Society. After doing some research, they seemed like a legitimate agency, there was a mix of service and travel built into the program, I even messaged someone that went through this program, and they said it was amazing, the problem, most of the trips where for extended periods of time.

The literary meaning of the Hindi word ‘Sankalp‘ in English is Take a Pledge… A pledge to make with people from all parts of the world by ‘Sankalp’ and in turn a promise with Sankalp by the people to create a unique and different world by way of turning the entire population harmonious and helpful to each other.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, I am on Facebook, and I see an invite event for “Christmas Volunteering” with the Sankalp Volunteer. I click on the link and I see the trip is for two weeks over Christmas and New Years. Because I have already done my home work on this organization, I check out my schedule and think, I can do this!

I run it past my boss about taking two weeks off, tell my parents I won’t be home for Christmas, but I will get you all presents from India, and I submit the online application. Two days later, I am accepted to the program, and I submit my application fee of $210 and boom – I am going to India for Christmas and New Years!

Now to decide what area I want I want to volunteer in — English Teaching Program, Orphanage Work, Street Children Education Project or Women Empowerment.

More to come on this amazing adventure!

I AM an Iron-Volunteer!

Ironman 2014 is where I fell in love with the city of Madison, and now one year later it was crazy to think, I live here. All summer long, I looked forward to Ironman 2015.  No, I am not an athlete participating, I am a cheerleader and volunteer.  It takes 3,700 volunteers to support the almost 3,000 athletes who have spent the last year training for one goal – to cross the finish line and hear their name “You are an Ironman”.

The swim wave goes off at 7am, so at 6:15am, I pedal my cruiser down the Capital City Trail to the swim start near the Monona Terrace. It was a perfect day for Ironman. The water was calm, the sunrise was beautiful, and by the excitement and energy of the crowd, it was hard to believe it was only 6:30am.

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Beautiful sunrise over Lake Monona.

IMG_20150913_065931238_HDR7:00am the horn sounded and off they go to swim 2.4 miles. I had a few friends from Green Bay participating again this year, so I met their support crew on the helix to wait and watch. This is probably one of my favorite spectating spots. The crowds are crazy loud – a mixture of cowbells, air horns and mega phones. Most of the athletes at this point are smiling as they are running up the helix because they made it — one down, bike and run to go.

As a spectator and volunteer, you must also pace yourself. The cut off time is midnight for the athletes and I planned to be their to cheer on the last person crossing the finish line. My friend, Toni and I took a pit stop to The Old Fashioned. After a good carbo load of eggs, potatoes and bloody marys, we where ready to cheer on the lead athletes as they made their way back from the 112 mile bike course and start the 26.2 mile run.

Toni and I for two hours cheered on all the athletes as they came through the run out. At 2:00pm, it was my turn to perform.  I was volunteering at the aid station on State and Lake Street. The city streets now a criss cross of runners as the looped around the city of Madison.  As I got to my aid station, I was seeing some of the runners I saw as they where just starting the run. My station was mile 6.5 and the athletes also passed again at mile 20.

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We had two stations on each side of the road handing out first water, then Gatorade, ice chips, coke and sponges. At first when you get there the station is a little crazy, but then you find your role and begin. I was handing out water on the second loop, so after they passed me they had 6.2 to go to the Capitol. You start to recognize these faces and outfits – Guy with pink tutu, fireman running in his gear and tank, friends with double dare t-shirts, a visually impaired women tethered to her running guide and I hoped I could see them at the finish and fulfill their dream of becoming an Ironman.

I had completed my volunteer role at 7:00 pm and now I was headed to the finish line and meet back up with my friend Toni. We stood and watched the runners go by – one side of the street they had 1/2 a mile to complete their Ironman journey – the other side they still had a 1/2 marathon to go.

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Magical view with the Capitol in the background.

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One by one, I saw my friends getting close to their dream – Cooch, Andy and Mike cheering them on for that last 1/2 mile.  Toni and I then moved to the finish line. It was after 9pm but the bleachers and crowds surrounding the finish chute was incredible. We squeezed our way onto the bleachers and there we stood and cheered for the next three hours. The best part of the Ironman was the last half hour. A second announcer goes down in the finish shoot and as the athletes cross they get the crowd into cheering for each one —  “You Are an Ironman”.  It was incredible to again see those faces I have become so familiar with cross that line – the pink tutu, the friends going across holding hands, the visually impaired runner and with 13 minutes to spare Fireman Rob.

I have never witnessed an event that is so filled with emotion and that is why I love being a part of this event and many other endurance events – true test of the human spirit at its finest! The reaction and emotion on the athletes face as they cross that line also brought tears to my eyes. As I watched I also thought why can’t we support everyone in life the way myself and these crowds are supporting each of these athletes? Think how different our world would be.

20150913_142824_resizedI might not be an Ironman, but I am an Iron – Volunteer for life!!!

 

31 Days of Giving: Day 14– Gift of Books

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A friend of mine put out a facebook message if anyone was willing to help load books for the Give-A-Kid-A-Book Campaign this Sunday am. I was more than happy to lend a hand or I should say some muscle! Our group of awesome volunteers loaded 10,000 books in less than an hour.

Next week the books will be distributed to kids in our community. Because of the great turn out of new books donated and the financial support by the community, each child, will be able to receive two books.

Did you know donations are accepted all year long? Donations of new, unwrapped books for babies, children, or teens to age 18 can be dropped off at any Brown County Library at any time. Just let them know they are for Give-A-Kid-A-Book! Help every child discover the joy of receiving one’s very own book.

Did you know? 

  • If a child reads for 20 minutes every day, they are exposed to about 1.8 million words of text every year. That is 137 new words per minute!
  • If families read together for 20 minutes a day, 7 days a week, they get more than 121 hours of bonding time every year!
  • Many states use third-grade reading scores to predict the number of jail cells they might need in the future (about three out of five prisoners in America are illiterate).
  • For every year you read with your child, average lifetime earnings increase by $50,000. You make a $250,000 gift to your child from birth to age 5 by reading aloud, just 20 minutes a day!
  • Children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are 3–4 times more likely to drop out in later years.

Stats from the following website: http://www.kidcentraltn.com/article/benefits-of-reading-to-your-child

It’s All About the Music

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Do you put together a photo slide show for your agency’s volunteer recognition event? I do one every year, and it is one of the volunteer’s favorite things to see at our annual banquet.

To make a good video you have to think year round and collect lots of great pictures of your volunteers and staff in action. Having pictures that capture all aspects of your agency really makes for the best photo slide show.

You don’t need any fancy programs. I use Windows Live Music Maker on my pc to make our video. I know Macs have a free program, or this would be a great intern project for someone in video production if you want to get fancy.

You have your photos, now to put it to music. This is the part I struggle with every year. Volunteers can only hear “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler so many times.

Here are my TOP TEN songs for volunteer video slide shows that I have used.

  1. “People Loving People” by Garth Brooks
  2. “Heartlines” by Florence and the Machine
  3. “I Lived” by One Republic
  4. “Once in a While” by Billy Dean
  5. “Best day of my Life” by American Authors
  6. “Diamonds” by Rihanna
  7. “We all Need” by Rob Anthony
  8. “Get Together” by The Youngbloods
  9. “You Gotta Love” by Rob Anthony
  10. The Classic –—  “Lean on Me” by Billy Withers

Are You in the Career Meant for You?

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This past May I attended and presented at the Wisconsin Volunteer Coordinators Association (WVCA) conference. There were 200 other volunteer managers like myself who have been in the profession from 40 years to the newbie of 14 days.

There is nothing like being in a room full of people who share your same drive, passion and career goals as you. The conference kicked off with key-note speaker Tom Krause. Tom was a retired teacher/coach of thirty-one years in the Missouri Public School system, and he was a 20 time contributor to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series.

He shared with us heartwarming stories during his coaching and teaching days, that came back to the same inspirational message:

 PEOPLE COUNT – PEOPLE MATTER

 YOU COUNT – YOU MATTER

YOU MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

This statement really resonated with me. The more I am in this profession (13 years now and counting) I am learning it is not just about finding people to fill the needed roles of your volunteer organization, but it is more about connecting people with the right opportunities for them to serve in our community. Everyone has talents to share.

As a volunteer manager, there is nothing more rewarding than helping someone recognize and help facilitate that perfect volunteer match. Granted overtime, that perfect role might change, but then we have the challenge of connecting people with new opportunities and making that match again and seeing them thrive and find success.

I was up next to present to a crowd of 52 people. My presentation was on “Networking On and Off Line”.  (watch for a later blog post on that topic.) 

After I got done presenting, one of the greatest things happened. I was packing up my supplies, and I had a few people in line to ask me questions, so I stopped packing up, and this gentleman was before me and I asked him if he had a question. He said “No, I just want to give you a hug.” So, of course I hugged him.

I felt so honored, that he wanted a hug from me. It also made me laugh, because, Hector, the photographer I worked with on my national deployment to Colorado last September, called me “the hug whisper.”  If a hug from me makes people feel better, I am all for it, it also makes me feel pretty darn good too!

There was another really great moment that also came from this conference. This was another “ah ha” moment when I knew that I was in the right career for me.

I was in the hall between sessions, and a women came up to me and she began to tell me how my presentation last year (3 R’s in Volunteer Management – Retention, Recruitment and Recognition) helped her in revamping her program, and the success she was having.  I seriously teared up, I was so touched that she took the time to share this with me, and now I was the teacher. I am so grateful for my many mentors and now for me to be the person mentoring someone. It is a really cool career high moment!

After saying my good byes to my fellow volunteer manager peeps and I drove the hour and half home, I had a sense of peace wash over me in knowing, that I am in the profession, that I am meant to be. I hope everyone can experience this feeling, and maybe if you can’t find this sort of peace in your career, maybe you can find it in service. I encourage everyone to keep searching for it!

Save the date for the 2015 Wisconsin Volunteer Coordinators Association Conference May 7th & 8th, 2015 at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton.