Volunteers in Action: Three Months to Make a Difference

Today’s blog post is from Abby Bartholomew. Abby works for Kenexa Corporation, a company with a stellar philanthropy program allowing recipients to donate their full-time efforts for three months to an organization of their choice. Abby was one of the chosen employees this year and is volunteering in Denver, CO with First Book’s advisory board (local First Book volunteer group) from May through July.

When I heard about this opportunity through work, I was thrilled–and First Book was the first organization that came to mind. A few years ago, I wrote my undergraduate thesis about creating an innovative way to increase youth interest in reading. Part of my research was identifying current organizations promoting literacy and reading, and First Book always stuck out in my mind as a leader in the community.

I contacted the Denver Metro Advisory Board, one of the closest boards to my home in Nebraska, during my application process and they were excited about the possibilities but informed me that they were struggling and might not be around by my arrival. But Kate Fergusson, our Community Development Manager, thought my skills and background would be perfect for revitalizing the board. So in late April my husky and I moved out to Denver!

The board had disintegrated by the time I arrived. Good news? We had the opportunity to start fresh. Bad news? I had basically no contacts or networks to tap into the Denver community. As I wrap up my last couple of weeks here, I’ve been contemplating everything I’ve learned about First Book, advisory boards and myself. I narrowed it down to three major things.

One: Boards are not a one-man show for a reason.

This may seem obvious, but some part of my subconscious thought it would be possible for me to successfully run things solo while working to develop board membership. But boards have members for a reason. My time here helped me indentify some of my personal strengths, but also some of my weaknesses. I learned the value not only of members but of members with particular talents, i.e. ones I don’t have. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been building up the board and I can already see how the Denver board will flourish with the talented folks who are stepping up.

Two: Networks are important.

I feel like I need to bold that, underline it, or maybe have fireworks shooting out of it for the appropriate emphasis. I accomplished some great things when I was working alone, but since members have stepped up I can already see the board’s velocity skyrocketing. From one member’s experience running a local literacy nonprofit for years to another’s experience in the education and library systems, the ideas and connections seem endless.

Three: First Book is chock-full of passionate people.

I never doubted this statement, but I am still surprised by the intensity and drive of everyone I talk to and work with. From the national office to the handful of advisory boards I spoke to, people here really care about getting as many books as possible into the hands of kids. It’s  incredibly inspiring and motivating. That might sounds cheesy, but it’s true!

I’m sad that I have to leave Denver soon, but am excited to get home and start a board in Lincoln, NE. I can’t thank everyone at national and on the Denver board enough for this experience and I hope to always have some kind of involvement in First Book! If you want to see what the Denver board has been up to, check it out on facebook, twitter or our blog. I’m also doing a personal fundraiser to leave behind a little something tangible for the Denver board and our recipient groups. I’m shooting for 5 books per day I was in Denver; that means a total of $1125.

If you are interested in volunteering with First Book,
please visit https://firstbook.org/support-us/to learn more. 

image of a young woman laying in the grass, smiling and reading a book. There is light blue boxes with purple text that say, 'Share Your Favorite Summer Read for Our New Online Album. Take a selfie with your favorite summer read and upload it by July 22 to celebrate our First Book family and the work we’re doing together! Send your selfie.'