I love ‘Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep’, I love the families we photograph, and I love my team of *Rock Star* volunteers who serve alongside me. I’m proud to be an Area Coordinator for such an amazing organization, with an awesome team, in one of the greatest cities in the U.S.
Webster’s defines a ‘volunteer’ as a person who performs a service willingly and without pay. Our volunteers are so very important; we simply couldn’t exist without them. They give their heart, time, and talent, taking time away from their own families, to come to the aide of complete strangers on the spur of the moment. And the only compensation they get is the reward of knowing that they have given a family a priceless treasure. Knowing that is most definitely a beautiful thing, don’t get me wrong, but this work takes an emotional toll on the volunteers and their families and that must be acknowledged. No one can truly understand what it takes to do this kind of work except another volunteer so I feel it’s important to give them opportunities to connect with one another.
I’m a relatively new Area Coordinator still, I’ve only held the position for less than ten months, so I’m still kind of ‘charting my course’. I set several goals for myself, but one of the most important to me was to make sure my team felt loved, heard, and appreciated for all their hard work. To that end, last month I held an ‘appreciation dinner’ for them. I reserved the private room at a local pub and decorated it with balloons and little pails filled with candies in NILMDTS blue. We had a great turnout, only a few couldn’t make it.
When they arrived I bought everyone’s first drink and some appetizers for them to munch on. Most had encountered each other on our local Facebook page but had never actually met in real life. There were hugs all around. We had dinner, we shared stories, we covered a little bit of business, we connected like only people who have ‘been there’ too can, and we laughed, and we laughed, and we laughed. A great time was had by all. Oh, and I managed to snag enough door prizes from local businesses – ranging from a small gift certificate with a high-end salon to a $100 gift card from a print shop – that everyone went home with something. And everyone won the right gift for them, it was utterly uncanny… the pregnant volunteer who can’t see her feet anymore won the salon GC and can now get a pedicure, the assistant who is working her way up to photographer won a free class at the local photography school, etc. It was a totally random draw, but everyone got exactly what they needed. I love it when things like that happen!
I intend to have appreciation type social events at least twice a year, once in the summer and again around the holidays. For the holiday social, our families that we have served will be invited as well so that we can see them again under better circumstances and they can share their journey with other families who are on the same path. We will honor their angel babies, support our families, and celebrate our volunteers.
In addition to appreciation which is a big part of retention, recruitment was another goal of mine and our team is growing by leaps and bounds. We’ve more than doubled the size of the team by going from 5 photographers and 0 assistants, to 9 photographers and 5 assistants (all of whom wish to work their way up to photographer). And as of this writing, I have 4 more potential photographers and 1 more assistant whose applications are pending. We have a relatively new and amazing orientation program now to get them fully trained and started on the right foot. This gives them an opportunity to address any questions and/or concerns they may have and helps them to feel confident well in advance of their first session. I’m proud to say everyone on my team has gone through the orientation with flying colors and I’ve gotten nothing but great feedback on it. They all have said that, even though they had read the materials and watched the training videos, they feel like they were much more prepared to actually take a session after the in-person orientation. Such a small investment of my time on the front end gives them a much greater chance of success and our team a much greater chance of retenetion. I’m so lucky to work with absolutely amazing people that I respect and admire.
Like I said at the beginning, I love this organization, I love our families, and I love our volunteers, and since they are the lifeblood of this organization, it’s vitally important to me that they know how much I appreciate them. I’m so glad they had a good time at our event, I definitely did (as I think you can see by the huge grin on my face). Here is (some of) my team and these are some of the smiling faces that I work with and adore. Jennifer D., Chelsea, Cassie, Jennifer H., Karen, Brandi, Jená, Jesse, Ryan, Melissa, Tawnya, Holly, and Kati… you are a blessing to the families we serve and my life is richer for knowing you!