Tag Archives: Arlington County

I Don’t Run Towards Fire

Last night when we got home from walking around the neighborhood, I told Jay, “Someone’s going to die in this storm tonight, I just know it”.  We had just passed falling trees, dangling power lines, nonstop sirens, abandoned cars, … complete frozen chaos … and that was just in the four block radius of our house.

Route 29 in snow storm

Route 29 last night around 8:30 pm

When I heard on NPR’s morning edition this morning that a man died last night when a tree fell on a truck, my heart sunk.  When I hear that it is going to snow, I think about the beauty of the snow and cancelling school and work.  It wasn’t until last night as we walked past hazard after hazard that I realized the deadly potential of a storm like this.

Last night we were supposed to be out on the streets of Arlington, talking to people who are homeless for the Annual Point in Time Survey[PDF].  We were all set up to volunteer through Community Volunteer Network with Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network who was leading the count for Arlington County.  Luckily we got a call from the Volunteer Coordinator a few hours before our shift to let us know they were postponing.  I was so relieved.

I do not want to die in the line of duty, whether it be paid or unpaid.  I don’t know if that’s a lack of courage or a heap of good sense, but it is not in my personality to run into burning buildings or to jump in to a river to save someone.  I actually tried being a volunteer on a Rescue Squad in college, but I found it to be too stressful (not to mention I wasn’t very good at it).  Last night as we watched all of the cars on Route 29 spinning their tires and just honking out of frustration, I didn’t want to help.  It seemed too dangerous.  I’d be willing to help my friend if they got stuck in the snow, but not help out a line of cars on a busy street.

The one helpful thing I was willing to do was to use the VDOT site to report the downed power lines that we saw in our neighborhood.  We were so lucky to be warm and safe inside our house last night, and it weighed on me, wondering what we could be doing for others during this disastrous storm.

How about you?  If you were in the area hit by the storm, what did you see?

Do you help when there is danger or personal risk involved?

Volunteering with Community Volunteer Network at Help the Homeless Holiday Gala

Last Thursday night, Jay and I volunteered together for the first time in a long time.  We signed up through Community Volunteer Network to volunteer for the 5th Annual Help the Homeless Holiday Gala hosted by Arlington’s Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN).


Help the Homeless Holiday Gala

Photo by Joshua Stockstill, click on the photo to read an article from Patch and see more photos from the event

NOTE: More Great PHOTOS from Clifford on Flickr.


I had come to learn about A-SPAN’s work through their Director of Development, Jan Sacharko, who is very active on social media and has really amplified the voice of A-SPAN in the short time he has worked there.  Although Arlington is well known for its high median incomes and low unemployment rate (around 4% even during this Great Recession), affordable housing and homelessness are still issues that face many Arlingtonians.  Many families are one pink slip or health crisis away from losing everything they have.  A strong safety net is vital so that children’s lives are not uprooted and so that men do not freeze to death on the streets in our community.  These are real consequences  of a broken support structure that I became aware of in the last community we lived in.  Arlington manages to keep the safety net intact with a lot of dedication from individuals like those present at Thursday night’s gala.

Interested in giving to A-SPAN?

Donate Now

Interested in volunteering with A-SPAN?


Our Volunteer Experience

Community Volunteer Network

As a volunteer experience, Thursday night was primarily positive (and would have been overwhelmingly positive if we had been able to arrive sooner and enjoy the event more).  CVN offers a great way for young people like Jay and I to volunteer on a flexible schedule with people that we know.  They have an ongoing calendar of volunteer events as well as happy hours where you can meet other volunteers.  Through my position at Volunteer Arlington I have worked closely with CVN for 2.5 years so we knew most of the CVN volunteers working Thursday night.

The event was split into two shifts, which is absolutely crucial for special events.  First, big events take a lot of energy and therefore a 2 or 2.5 hour shift is long enough (especially since all of the volunteers were coming straight from a full day of work).  Also, one of the main attractors to volunteering for a special event is getting to take part in it for free.  The shifts allowed us to participate before or after our volunteering was complete.  This is great for the organization as well, since none of us would have been able to afford the $100 ticket, but now that we know what the event is about we could spread the word next year or maybe attend in the future when we earn more money.

Jay at A-SPAN Gala

Jay working the front entrance at the A-SPAN Holiday Gala

Jay and I were stationed at the front entrance.  We welcomed guests, answered questions, and opened doors.  This role suits me well since I enjoy direct customer service.  Jay said he felt out of his element at a “gala”, but he was excellent at the job and seemed to enjoy himself.


For next year, or for similar gala events I would recommend:

Offer a service club the opportunity to coordinate the coat check in exchange for keeping any tips they make.  Two volunteers handled the coat check and turned away tips all night.  They did not feel comfortable taking any money, but the guests did not mind paying and that would have been a great way to raise more money for the cause or for another community group.

The bulk of the money raised came from auctions (silent and live).  There is a lot of interesting social science behind raising the most money from an auction which is worth researching.  For example, in a live auction, should you have the auction items get steadily more valuable?  How many auction items are ideal for netting the greatest amount of money and good will from your donors?  What is the effect on giving when large donors are publicly recognized in front of their peers at the event?  Are there methods for real time feedback to the participants about who is bidding, how much, and why they give?  In addition to the giving itself, how can the payment process be streamlined so that donors have a positive experience throughout the event?

CVN has actually volunteered at several fundraisers that featured auctions this year.  We have discussed how CVN volunteers could serve as volunteer consultants to the nonprofits based on our first-hand knowledge of auctions and what we have observed to work best.

You Could Be the New Me! (as a Volunteer Program Specialist at Volunteer Arlington)

As you know if you read this blog, I will be taking a “career break” starting in February to travel the U.S. and Canada volunteering and exploring (and of course writing about it here).  My last day of work at my current position is set for Friday, January 21, 2011.

Today, my position was posted on the Arlington County jobs page.  There will be a 2 week recruitment period, unfortunately it is taking place right during the holidays, closing on December 30th.  With this challenge in mind, I want to make sure the position gets publicized as widely as possible.

My experience with this position

This is a unique position, working within a volunteer center that is within local government.  Arlington County Government is a great place to work, with lots of benefits (lunch time fitness classes, great health & dental, discounts on County facilities & programs, etc).  Although Arlington County Government (ACG) is a large organization, Volunteer Arlington is small, with only three full time staff.  This allowed me to work on a variety of different projects and be a project lead even as a specialist.  Also, being part of a department and a larger County structure can offer opportunities to work on big picture projects.  There is a lot of support for learning and developing relationships with community partners.  In addition, for the last two years, Volunteer Arlington has been very involved in using Social Media for recruiting volunteers.  Managing the social media presence for Volunteer Arlington will be one of the responsibilities of the position.

The position description and how to apply

Volunteer Program Specialist

Volunteer ArlingtonThis is a highly responsible position with Volunteer Arlington in the Community Assistance Bureau of the Department of Human Services. Volunteer Arlington plans, designs, and implements programs to increase the involvement of Arlington residents as volunteers in the county government and with non-profit agencies to meet community needs, deliver creative solutions to community problems, and enrich lives.
This position is specifically responsible for overseeing Arlington County’s nationally recognized Community Volunteer Network and serving as county liaison to the program. Volunteer Arlington operates an on-line volunteer clearinghouse and promotes volunteerism by providing matching and referral services to non-profit and community agencies seeking volunteers.
Please visit http://agency.governmentjobs.com/arlington/default.cfm and select the open position title(s) for complete Description, Benefits, & Supplemental Questions.
Online Application Required.