What I Tell AmeriCorps

Day’s Verse:
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.
Romans 4:4-5

To facilitate happy feelings and empower me, AmeriCorps requires that I periodically get to write reports documenting my activities. These reports may also have something to do with their need to show their grant-suppliers that the money is going towards good things. These reports have handy-dandy little pre-set sections to help categorize members’ work. The categories are:

  • Restoring Watersheds,
  • Land Management,
  • Educating Students,

  • Increasing Volunteerism

The sad part about this form is that my project doesn’t fit into any of those categories. You might think “Increasing Volunteerism” could cover my work, but creating a volunteer program, while ultimately intending to increase volunteerism, is too far upstream to fit into their paradigm.

So I get to write a little short essay — “short” being the operative word — to show I’ve been using my time wisely, and not blogging and looking at potential homes on work time. Here, for the sake of posterity and spreading the suffering around, is the entirety of my Site Report essay.

My goal since January has been to learn everything I could about volunteer programs. When I started, I had no real idea of where to go with the project. Now, after interviewing a senior HR manager and 8 volunteer coordinators from all around the country, conducting extensive research, listening to input from the staff and volunteers, and absorbing the Bicycle Alliance culture, I’m starting to envision the skeleton of a volunteer program for the Bicycle Alliance.

The skeleton includes working with staff to create and document policies, procedures, a volunteer handbook, volunteer job descriptions, and to create an outline of the overall volunteer program (which is continually under revision; the latest version is attached). The digital component, comprising the website and database, is another key component, and I’ve been working with the appropriate people for each of those to ensure that whose digital pieces will come online before the end of my term.

At the same time, I’ve created drafts of a training module, including a handbook, lesson plan, and other helpful checklists, for how to represent the Bicycle Alliance at tabling events. To learn about tabling, I tabled for the Bicycle Alliance at 9 events, including Bike Expo, and talking to about 2,300 people. I’ve also created two other training handbooks, one on how to do financial batching and the other on how to do map mailings. To improve my teaching ability, I’ve co-taught four bicycle related classes and completed my League of American Bicyclist Instructor certification.

Additionally, I organized the attendance of 50 Bicycle Alliance volunteers and staff members at the Mariners Salute to Volunteers game (one of the few games the Mariners have won this year) on April 20th, 2010.

Finally, to help facilitate using bikes as transportation, I worked closely with a volunteer graphic designer to create a brochure titled “Go by Bike!” (attached). We received 2,500 of the brochures at the end of March and have distributed 1,300 of them to date.

There. Does that sound like an achievement, or what? I sure hope so, ’cause I’ve theoretically spent 548 hours on my internship (not to mention the 116 hours of AmeriCorps training or 68 hours for KDOG), and I’d hate to think those were wasted. Really, it’d break my heart.

KDOG Project: Success

Day’s Verse:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
John 14:27

These are pictures from the Kirkland City Council Study Session on off-leash areas. This is the big meeting we were trying to use my door hangers to advertise and encourage people to attend.

Total KDOG member attendance: 37 — too many to fit in the meeting room!

Kirkland City Council Study Session 3

Kirkland City Council Study Session 2

I think I have about 25 door hangers left out of the 750 I received on March 23. Not too shabby for barely 2 weeks of scrambling around.

Somewhat Disappointing

Day’s Verse:
One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
Acts 16:14 (context)

A couple weeks ago, I spent quite a few hours working really hard on an email newsletter for KDOG, the group I’m doing my Community Action Project with. On Monday, March 29, at 4:05 pm, I triumphantly finished it and emailed it to the KDOG mailing list through my Bicycle Alliance account. I felt a little thrill of excitement at having shared something I worked so very hard on with all those people. I also hoped it would get a few people to come out and help distribute door hangers on Saturday, April 3.

I never heard anything about the newsletter after I sent it out, but I got busy and it slipped my mind.

That is, I forgot about it until Sunday, April 4, when I received an email from one of the KDOG leaders. She asked when I was planning on sending the newsletter out.

As you can imagine, my heart sank. I immediately scrambled around desperately for confirmation that I had, in fact, sent the newsletter. That’s when things started getting strange. I realized that I never received the newsletter to my gmail account, which is the one that gets KDOG notifications. Then, when I checked my work email Sent Items folder, I didn’t have a record of having sent it to the KDOG mailing list. However, I had cc’d my work email on the newsletter, and that email indicated it had been sent to the correct mailing list. Also, the Meetup.com Mailing List page had no record of the newsletter going out last Monday, and the two leaders never got it.

Eventually, through some trial and error, we figured out that Meetup.com only allows email address on the mailing list to send emails to the mailing list. That means that the newsletter I sent out through my work email — which is not registered with Meetup.com — never reached the intended recipients. I never got a notification that anything had gone wrong, or that my email had not arrived at its intended destination. It was only Ian commenting about the different email address thing that made me realize sending it through work might have been a problem.

I re-sent it this morning through my gmail account and immediately got confirmation that it worked. Even though I got it sent out this morning, I spent the entire last week thinking I’d done a great thing when in reality I had completely failed.

I feel very disappointed about this. I could very well have gotten a decent number of people to meet me on Saturday, and maybe have finished getting all the door hangers hung, if the newsletter had gone out as intended. Also, the newsletter talked about the extremely important meeting on April 6, and strongly encouraged KDOG members to attend the meeting. Now it’s such late notice that I doubt my sending it today will make any difference.

On the bright side, at my last count, I have fewer than 100 KDOG door hangers left out of the 750 I originally received. I don’t know what people and businesses have done with them, but I’ve certainly done my part as far as organizing people to distribute door hangers goes. Also, 4 people did come to the Saturday meeting.

This has been a learning experience for me in many ways. Now I know to confirm that the email went out with somebody on the mailing list; to plan events farther in advance and ask businesses for food donations at least 1 month ahead; and that personal connections are the best way to get people to help. Next time I will also post the volunteer opportunities not just on the KDOG Meetup page, but with United Way of King County, other dog groups in the area, and the Kirkland Reporter if possible.

So, even if the newsletter may not have served the purpose I intended, I’ve learned some about organizing events and volunteers. And that’s probably more valuable in the long run than having sent out one particular newsletter.

Slough of Despond

Day’s Verse:
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior…”

2 Samuel 22:2-3

Do you ever want to run screaming from your own life? It’s funny; I took this internship that we all agreed was perfect for me, combining my interests in biking, nonprofits, living in Seattle…the whole deal. What could be better?

Now, though, I’m at the end of my tether. Last night I broke down and just started weeping, paralyzed, with a pile of laundry in my arms. I couldn’t do anything. I just stood there and wept out of desperation and misery, my inability to handle everything that’s converging in my life overwhelming me in one fell swoop. It was terrible. Anne of Green Gables would have called it “the depths of despair”; I truly felt (and to some extent still feel; after all, nothing’s changed since last night) that I couldn’t move, couldn’t do any more. That all my reserves were gone and I couldn’t force myself to keep going any longer.

As a result, I’m having a difficult time finding much motivation to work hard or, honestly, work at all. I’d like to take a day off, but I’m behind in AmeriCorps hours. We are house- and cat-sitting through the 31st, and of course also house-hunting, and those (especially the impending terror of spending nearly all our money on one huge, permanent choice, and committing to spend a hefty portion of Ian’s monthly salary) have added to the sense of chaos as I struggle to find some solid ground in the quagmire that is my life.

I keep telling myself, “Just make it through this week,” but somehow the next week doesn’t turn out any better. I wish we had a permanent home. Or that I had something predictable in my life somewhere.


Day’s Verse:
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.

Isaiah 64:3

Not a radio station, but a nonprofit group!

I think I’ve mentioned my interested in turning a vacant lot in my neighborhood into a park, preferably a dog park, as the Community Action Project I have to do for AmeriCorps.

On Saturday I talked with my friend Karissa, who’s a civil engineer and knows a thing or two about getting projects put together and implemented, about my park idea. She said that I should expect it to take a year or two, depending on whether the permitting had been started, to turn it into a park. Well! I have 10 months as an AmeriCorps intern, so my CAP wouldn’t get finished in that time if I took the project on, but I didn’t feel overly deterred. After all, it’s a very worthwhile project and I like the idea of having a mini-Marymoor closer than Redmond.

Today I spoke with a very informative, knowledgeable woman with SODA, the group that runs the Marymoor off-leash area. She set me straight: One to years is a major underestimate. Many dog parks take four or five years to get implemented, and some take much longer than that. Dog parks are difficult to create because people say, “Why should we have a park just for dogs?” The answer is: “It’s not a park for dogs, it’s a park for people, the same as a ballpark isn’t a park for balls and a bike path isn’t a path for bicycles.”

As it turns out, Kirkland citizens have already formed a group to push for a dog park in my town: KDOG. The effort to create an off-leash area in Kirkland has gone on for the last — gulp — eight years, with little success. The current iteration of the Kirkland off-leash group, however, seems persistent and well worth talking to. Tonight they’re going to be at a Kirkland City Council meeting, and I think I’ll go meet them.

Should be informative, if nothing else. I’ve never been to a City Council meeting before.