Busy-ness as Usual

Overbooked as usual today, but managed to arrive early enough to City Hall that I got to chat with two different staffers on project updates before I rushed to the 8:30 meeting of the Montpelier Business Association, a monthly meeting of business owners.

This was the last meeting we had before breaking for the holiday. By breaking for the holiday, I mean that we do not have a meeting planned for December and will resume in January. During this time, the retailers will be busy staffing longer holiday hours, talking up our promotional events and luring customers away from Wal-Mart and into our historic downtown.

As usual, the meeting ended with many of us lingering around to continue discussions about topics just barely touched upon, such as District Heat work, New Year’s Eve plans, and MBA meetings in 2014. I knew that a couple of folks were meeting about possible street closures for New Year’s Eve and after my check-ins, I joined them to brainstorm a few more brilliant ideas for this year’s celebration.

After that, I ran to a local coffee shop and checked in with the director of the Office of Creative Economy to catch him up on PoemCity plans, Art Walk feedback and our coordination of Montpelier creatives. Talking about his priorities and where our programs lend value to what the OCE is working towards.

Then coming back to City Hall and catching up with Design Committee members finishing up their last bit of work installing new art banners on the lamp posts out front. We’ve been working on this project since spring, and it’s so great to see it manifested. It was a sunny day, which made it all the better to witness the light filtering through the plexiglass and painting the cobblestones.

The best part was recognizing the self organization of volunteer labor. The best part of my job is making dreams come true—the true desire of a group of people to implement their vision. My role in all this is to steer them towards the best way, asking important questions, giving them resources, and most of all, entrusting them to the work. Those of us that run volunteer organizations must continually learn to let go and trust the execution of our volunteer workforce.

In the short time of my tenure here at Montpelier Alive, I have consistently been faced with the attitude that volunteer labor is “worth what you pay for”, which is to mean “zero”. But even the IRS acknowledges that there is value associated with volunteer labor, and that it can be measured. Leveraging volunteer contributions is an important strategy in resource management, and it can only truly be successful with an attitude of openness and inclusion. I recognize that everyone who comes to the organization with a desire to contribute has great potential for such contributions. Our job as volunteer managers is to guide them towards the best fit—sometimes with unexpected results.

I’ve been a lifelong volunteer, and so I know first-hand that in volunteering my time, I am looking for nothing close to recognition, or the ego satisfaction of having “given something back” to the community. Selfless contribution has always been about developing myself—understanding what my limits are, in what spaces I am comfortable, with whom I can confide, how to build allegiances, how to dream big and do small. I see all of this play out daily within the scope of work I am charged with—volunteers showing up at meetings, developing promotional campaigns, donating expertise, taking extended lunch breaks, and insisting on quality above all.

I am extremely lucky to be working with people I could never pay to do this work. They wouldn’t take it. They are worth more than our budget could allow. Besides, assigning a monetary value to their work diminishes their doings to busy-ness without meaning. Even the most sobering and mundane of tasks are enlightening if done intentionally and with future-building in mind.

Today I am honoring all the people who present themselves to me, who make their dreams vulnerable to my influence and who give themselves to the group, knowing that the whole would be incomplete without them.

Design Committee Chair Paul Carnahan and Jason Cheney assemble the plexiglass installation.

Design Committee Chair Paul Carnahan and Jason Cheney assemble the plexiglass installation.

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