Four years ago, I volunteered to coach a team of kids who were told they weren’t good enough to play “select baseball.” Little did I know, that by “raising my hand” to volunteer, my involvement would include 300+ hours away from my family each season. I often ask myself: is the commitment to these 12 boys worth the effort?
The word “volunteer” is somewhat misleading and even undersold. When we volunteer, we do much more than just show up to an activity. We commit our time to making a person, a team, or a community better. This is especially true when volunteering with youth. We can change lives through our mentoring and guidance. We can inspire, influence, and create positive impressions. Often this impact is through the words we offer, but most times it is through our actions and presence in their lives. Rarely do we realize the value and impact we provide as a volunteer—both to ourselves and those we are serving. If we did, we would be volunteering in our communities every day.
Last year, I had a new player on the team who was very quiet. He had been cut from another team and was ready to quit baseball altogether. Over the course of the season, we pushed him (and the other players) to set goals on and off the field. We worked with him on his leadership skills, and in turn, he stepped up to serve as captain of the team this year. As a team, we’ve discussed becoming better students and college aspirations. One player recently gave me a hand-written list noting that I was “one of the top 5 people who will help him get into college.” In moments like this, there is no question that my commitment to this team is worth the effort.
If you’d like to volunteer but aren’t comfortable volunteering on your own, find a group of coworkers. About two years ago, a group of our architects and engineers started working with a local after-school program for 5th-8th grade boys called NorthStar. Together, we developed a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outreach program.
Our engineers engaged the boys with a “World Water Monitoring Challenge.” We taught them the value of water and discussed the impact of clean water with examples from Flint, Michigan, the 2016 Summer Olympics, and the Omaha Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Program.
Since then, we’ve conducted monthly meetings with the boys and facilitated a four-week summer session. During the session, we focused on water quantity and quality issues, taking field trips to parks to brainstorm ideas about park reconstruction and touring several CSO project sites. To keep it geared towards the youth, we developed templates/layouts of basketball courts, zip lines, roller coasters, and various other fun activities. The boys took an hour to develop their “new” park and then took turns presenting their ideas/park concepts. The best part of each presentation was to see their confidence and smiles as they took ownership of their ideas. The number of future engineers in that group of boys increases every time our engineers step into their lives.
We took our relationship with NorthStar to a new level when our architects helped the boys design their own multi-function room. As a surprise, at the end of the design process, the HDR Foundation gave a $90,000 grant to pay for a lounge and study space.
HDR is starting a new volunteer tracking program called AngelPoints, an effort to better measure our community impact. Many of our clients are looking for partners who are engaged in their local communities and are strong community stewards. AngelPoints allows our employees to find opportunities to serve in their local communities, and the tracking component helps our organization understand and demonstrate our full reach. Engaging your clients with a volunteer effort is a great way to see them in a different light. You will build your relationships with them while making your community better. We market our clients every day over food or golf—why not challenge yourself to build relationships over at your local boys/girls club? It is worth the effort!