Volunteers are the mother’s milk of what makes Kennett Square great.
In an earlier column I talked about the red flags we saw for the Kennett community using de Bono’s black hat thinking of what could go wrong. Two of the concerns dealt with how you get volunteers to do the work and leaders to run the boards that set the direction and strategy. From the book, “The Kennett Story: Shaping Our Future One Child at a Time,” we said:
Red flag #1- How do we maintain and replenish the pool of volunteers that makes Kennett work? We documented over 2,000 volunteers who support the nonprofits in Kennett, and that doesn’t even include the volunteers who support Boy Scouts, Little League, the environmental programs, the Kennett Run, the Mushroom Festival, or the churches and service clubs. This shows that it really takes a village to raise a child and you need everyone to take part in the process.
The value of these volunteers is almost priceless because it’s not just that they provide free leadership and labor, but they also include the passion for making these programs work.
It is a rule of thumb that board members are chosen to bring one or more of three things to a board; wisdom, wealth and work and the call to bring all of these contributions in the future will grow. There are a number of headwinds to keep us from meeting our goals of recruiting volunteers. With more single-family households and a reduction in the middle class, there is less bandwidth in terms of people, time and availability to volunteer. We see it in other towns, where keeping up with just supporting your own family is all that can really be expected of most in the community. We saw how the outstanding students actually had the self-awareness to feel guilty that they had to spend all their energy on their own success, and their precious time on friends and family.
Each organization will need to be conscious of the care and development of their volunteers. A leadership development program for volunteers, a program to transition outstanding volunteers to the board, a progression plan for the members of the board and a sense of how leadership will be transferred is essential to the organization’s success.
We see this implemented in Kennett with programs from the United Way and Chester County Community Foundation that are providing development opportunities for board members. There is a whole school of thought around the care and feeding of volunteers that Joan touched on in another chapter. We see nonprofits replacing volunteers with paid employees and being unable to fill board seats.
Red Flag #6: How can we sustain the high quality of experienced and capable Kennett leadership that we have had in the past? It is hard to visualize another generation of Bennetts, Lufts, Karkosaks, Thompsons and Newtons. That may just be me thinking of the good ole’ days, but they don’t call it the Greatest Generation for nothing. We certainly can get good leadership, and we have a number of inspired professionals. We will just have to pay attention and provide the vision and training for great leadership. And, if one sees that potential in a young person, nurture it.
To add to this insight I would take from a quote in the Musical “South Pacific” about racism: “Sharing and volunteering is not born in you; it happens after you’re born." I remember granddaughter Sarah on Halloween when she was three years old. She was going through the huge pile of hundreds of pieces of her haul and separating the candy into piles of good, better and “my favorites.”
The video recorder was taking it all in as she explained to her father which were the best ones. She had two of her very favorites and picked up one of them and brought it to her Dad and said, “This is for you.” Then she turned to the camera and said, “I shared.” Sharing is really tough and you have to start early. I was so proud that Sarah was being taught early.
Giving back and volunteering is in the Kennett DNA, well, actually selfishness is probably in our DNA but giving back and sharing is taught. It can be developed through example, reflection, education, and even requirement. Kennett’s Quaker heritage and their decedents at Kendal are living a life of giving back. Unionville School District’s mission is to “Empower students to succeed in life and contribute to society.”
Kennett High School requires 40 hours of community service as a graduation requirement. Then it happens every day in school with Mr. Duffy’s Interact Club of budding Rotarians and the librarian Lisa Teixeira’s Humanitarian club that has raised over $100,000 for childhood cancer and fed the kids lunch that were going to summer school.
This is a big deal for us. All the proceeds that Joan and I’ve made from this book have gone to an award to the graduating senior from Kennett High School that best exemplifies the spirit of “the Story of Kennett”---and that is the spirit of volunteering.
Books may be purchased on Amazon and at the Mushroom Cap or Resale Book Shoppe in Kennett. You can contact Bob at email@example.com.