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Hundreds of Maine’s Volunteer Leaders Gather In Orono To Consider Role in Community Development

Published October 12, 2013

kristen cambellORONO - The largest statewide conference for leaders of Maine volunteer efforts and National Service programs convened at the University of Maine today. Over 320 people from across Maine gathered at the 27th Blaine House Conference on Service and Volunteerism to learn how to connect volunteer efforts with community development and strengthen the ability of volunteers to solve local problems.

According to conference co-chair David Wihry, "the links between a healthy volunteer sector and thriving communities have been presumed for many years but the actual importance and interaction of these connections is only now being understood thanks to some of the research in the past 10 years."

Keynote speaker, Kristen Cambell from the National Conference on Citizenship, shed light on these links as she talked about the Civic Health Index and the indicators or signs of health that are now monitored nationally. Maine's civic health data shows citizens have strong connections with family and friends, trust other community residents, but don't tend to get involved in community life or civic activities. (See volunteermaine.org/annual-maine-profile-volunteering-and-civic-health/. Across the state, just under one-third of Mainers volunteer in their communities and, on an annual basis, devote an average of 37 hours/year to volunteer activiites.

Conference participants met to learn how to attract more citizens to existing programs and re-engineer volunteer approaches to have an impact on today's community issues. Tony Dale from Points of Light Foundation in Washington, DC, provided insight into the expectations of different generations of veterans and how their service molded those expectations. The differences, he argued, are important to consider if programs want to succeed in tapping into the many veterans living in Maine.

While Katrina Weimholt from the Civic Education Project in Evanston, IL, was showing how her organization has connected k-12 service-learning with asset based community development, three teens were in other sessions presenting how they and their peers are leading community change. Deja Joseph of Baltimore, MD, is a high school junior who is president of Youth Dreamers, a community change nonprofit operated by Baltimore youth. Sophie Friedfeld-Gebaide of New York and Rachel Little of Massachusetts are members of FEMA's Youth Preparedness Council helping to engage youth in community preparedness, response and recovery.

Maine presenters offered insight into the roles volunteers are playing in revitalizing off-shore communities, managing and protecting lakes and ponds, drawing up community development plans, and providing leadership to local problem solving. All these were in addition to core sessions on skills needed to effectively lead volunteer programs.

The conference was organized by the Maine Commission for Community Service with support from Machias Savings Bank, Cabot Cooperative, GenerationOn, Points of Light Foundation, and Bangor Savings Bank.

Conference planners included conference co-chairs Janice Daku and David Wihry from the Maine Commission for Community Service, Susan Austin from Unum, Megan Arzberger of United Way of York County, Casey Smith United Way of Greater Portland, Suzanne Hand from Girl Scouts of Maine, Lisa Suarez Neighbors Care Volunteer Center, Erin Vinson from Eastern Maine Community College, and Tamara Whitmore from Friends of Cobbossee Watershed. 

The Maine Commission for Community Service builds capacity and sustainability in Maine's volunteer sector by funding programs, developing managers of volunteers and service-learning practitioners, raising awareness of issues impacting the state's volunteer sector, and promoting service as a strategy to address local problems.

For more photos of the event, use this LINK

FMI: contact the Maine Commission for Community Service (service.commission@maine.gov; 207-624-7792).

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