Crofton, Preecs discuss state of volunteerism in Maine on 'A Local Affair'

Bryan Roche, communications officer

Decorative graphic featuring the volunteer maine logo and the logo for radio show a local affairMaryalice Crofton, executive director, and Kelsey Preecs, program officer for volunteer initiatives, recently appeared as guests on "A Local Affair" to discuss the state of volunteerism in Maine.

Crofton and Preecs covered the impact COVID-19 has had on volunteering, some of the plans to utilize grant funding awarded to Volunteer Maine by the AmeriCorps Volunteer Generation Fund, and Volunteer Maine's involvement in emergency response, among other topics.

"A Local Affair" is a weekly public affairs radio program that airs in the Bangor area Sunday mornings at 7 a.m. on 94.1 FM The Wave and at 7:30 a.m. on 96.1 FM/1230 AM WGUY. The show is hosted by Kent Taylor.

Use one of the links below to listen to the full episode on either the Port Broadcasting Spreaker page or on Spotify. A transcript of the interview has also been made available below.

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Transcript: 'A Local Affair' Volunteer Maine episode

KENT: Hi, this is Kent Taylor. Welcome to A Local Affair. A weekly dive into local issues, events, and happenings in the Bangor area. A public service of 94.1 The Wave. If you miss any part of this episode or want to hear any of our previous interviews, visit 941 The Wave dot com and the podcast section of the 94.1 The Wave app. This week, we talked to Maryalice Crofton, the executive director and Kelsey Preecs, program officer of volunteer initiatives of Volunteer Maine. We started our conversation talking about the state of volunteering in Maine and COVID. 

KELSEY: In general, volunteerism went down. In in general,  people just were unable to volunteer to the same capacity but what we are seeing is that it's recovering and people are getting a little bit more creative about how they're doing it whereas  you know, remote volunteer opportunities were sort of unheard of. It's it's much more common now. So,  so, while volunteerism did go down sort of, it's it is recovering and it is changing the landscape a little bit. I guess is the best way to say it. It's it didn't, well, I guess I can't say that. I was going to say it didn't close down everything but there are probably are, we did take a survey and we surveyed people who manage volunteer but obviously if they're not there anymore to be surveyed, we won't know about it but it feels the the data was showing that it it was in recovery  and the plus side is that new demographics started showing up as well. There were, you know, the sixty-five plus couldn't, you know, was couldn't come. A lot of places had  new policy that said if you were sixty-five and over, please don't come and so that did actually make a demographic of younger folk show up more. Which is pretty cool. 

KENT: So, COVID, I don't know what the demographics were like before COVID, but so you're basically saying that the younger demographics started volunteering more because of COVID or that just put more of a spotlight on them? 

KELSEY: Causation vs correlation. (laughter) 

MARYALICE: Yeah, really. So, we we're referring to is we partnered with the University of Southern Maine to actually do a formal structured survey of managers of volunteers to find out the answer to the question that you've got. Because before COVID, in Maine, there was a healthy level of volunteering. It was very different depending on where you were in the state there were basically if you get out of or north of Lewiston-Auburn, it was folks who had lived there forever or were  they're they were just well rooted in the community. So, they tended to be an older demographic. That really we thought was going to impact those sections of the states when agencies and programs started issuing policies saying, if you're sixty-five or older, as a volunteer for us, please stay home. And we understand they were protecting them. The question is, who's coming back? While folks were in that  protective of the most vulnerable group. They became in some ways more open to the high school and college student participation. Where there had been something of a view that the younger volunteers were more difficult to manage because they didn't have the experience, the work experience to be able to just go and do and understand. They need, they do need more support and more direction. They're very capable but you you can't just say show up and take care of yourself. So, what we're trying to determine is in the future, is that going to sick or as the state  feels safer and more open, are the older volunteers are going to come back. So, we've in a sense got a baseline for where we're starting now and we'll see what if we bounce back to where we were. The one we can, one thing we can say is that over the last ten years, the volunteer engagement around the state has decreased and we can see that in the national survey that was done of Maine and the profiles that were being released  by the census bureau of who is engaged in the drop in volunteering. 

KENT: You mentioned the younger the younger demographic and  they don't have the really the work experience. I mentioned, you guys have some sort of you know, training, how to volunteer, whatnot. Could you, could you speak to that?

MARYALICE: So, the training that we that we do comes in at two really different forms. First of all, when we're dealing with the general volunteer world in our state, we are really focused on the volunteer leaders so that they can provide the support to basically the team that is working under them or with them or however you want to frame it. Sometimes, that is like the volunteer program director of the Meals on Wheels or whatever. Sometimes, it is more informal like a neighborhood lake association that is monitoring the invasive species in their waterway during the summer or whatever but so our focus in the form of course that you're referring to it's an online course. It is 30 hours of work over six modules. It's really to help folks build those skills so that they are  strong leaders of any kind of a volunteer effort in the community. Then, the other portion of it is more tied to our AmeriCorps programming where we do training and technical assistance. Again, for program staff but so that they can provide a strong preparation for those AmeriCorps members who head out into the community. So, we're always focused on the person who will then turn around and train the volunteers or leaders who support them because that's our best way of ensuring that we would get out faster in a sense. If you train a person who becomes the trainer. 

KENT: So, you mentioned AmeriCorps and in my notes, I got that you guys have received a grant through the Volunteer Generation Fund which is administered by AmeriCorps. Do you want to expound upon that and  I as I understand, it's going to allow you to expand community outreach in a big way. 

KELSEY: Sure. So, AmeriCorps, the program is is different than AmeriCorps the corporation is the right word. There's AmeriCorps members who serve in our community and then there's AmeriCorps, the federal agency who does distribute funding and help with  reporting and that sort of thing. The VGF grant, the Volunteer Generation Fund is supporting my work which is sort of what I call the other end of the spectrum of AmeriCorps which is sort of more of the general volunteerism in the state. So, that's where the training for volunteer leaders comes from. That's where support for service projects come from is kind of the work that I do and that's where it's the VGF grant kinda goes to. 

MARYALICE: And your focus in this particular period largely on assisting communities and being prepared for response to emergencies, natural, you know, weather, what just happened in Belgrade sort of thing. You know, and doing that also by building up youth readiness to participate in those systems once they they hit those critical ages. I mean, you can't turn eighteen and suddenly know how to  participate in your community, you know, without ever having been exposed to what agencies locally does what and who does what? I mean, if you call the selectman, what do you do versus the chief of the fire department to work? Right. You know, the emergency manager. KENT: You guys mentioned  emergency response. You guys work with with agencies like MEMA and the Maine CDCs. 

MARYALICE: We have two very specific roles in the state emergency response plan and we do work mostly with MEMA because when there's a need for lots of hands that's usually at, you know, ice jams in this in the spring or hurricane cleanup or microburst cleanup or a whole number of other things and the two roles that we play we're on the one of the committees that were subgroups that manages donations and volunteer and we are charged with having a system that will manage spontaneous volunteers. They're the folks who decide independently without being affiliated are or having a task assigned to them by somebody who's involved in the emergency response. The folks who just sit and say, I feel like I need to do something and just go. We call it self deployment. And that is actually never what you want somebody to do. And no matter what their skill is, I don't care if they're an EMT. You do not want somebody self-deploying. Because it creates what they call a second disaster of having all kinds of people just show up and want to do and get in the way of the incident command. So, our job is to have them report to us, be the liaison, or the bridge between those people who are doing a response and then, deploy two specific people in charge, the volunteers as they are needed. Then, our second role is ensuring that the AmeriCorps program members and others who are associated with local emergency response teams and nonprofits who are ready to pivot and change their mission to support a local response. Make sure that they're ready, that they're connected, those sorts of things. So, it's very specific. 

KENT: What's the easiest way to volunteer in the state? 

MARYALICE: So, the easiest, I have two answers. One is various ways because local volunteer programs like to depend on word of mouth and so if you're coming to a community or you've reached a point where you know your  obligations in life give you a space to volunteer and then and you start looking around your community to say well this is what I am really interested in doing. Who does it? The volunteer platform used to make evident opportunities and it's maintained by the United Ways, has some but not all of the opportunities listed. So, one of the first things is that anybody operating a program really needs to get their volunteer opportunities in that place. It's kind of like, you know, going to Indeed or any of the online platforms for jobs. If you can't see the job, then, nobody knows you're looking for them. Then, on the other side from the person who wants to volunteer, many organizations tend to use their own website. So, you're going to need to dig around your community and find out who's there. You know, if you're, for instance, up and over Foxcroft, you may have to look more at a Bangor agency. That might be where their headquarters is and then they've got an office out there to find out who's doing what and then, yes, communicate with them by email. "Hey, I want to be a volunteer." The advantage of the United Ways platform which is maintained by each United Ways for their own territory is that you can create your own profile on there and as you see things that are interesting to you, or that you want to get involved with, you can connect with that organization and they will instantly have a sense of where you are, how old you are. Are you over eighteen? Do you have a license to drive? If what it is transporting meals or transporting people or whatever and you can start your conversation faster. 

KENT: As we get back into some semblance of normalcy, you know, we couldn't have in-person events over the last fifteen, sixteen months. I know you guys have some some events going on like the National Service Recognition Day, the 9/11 day of service. How are those going to happen in 2021?

MARYALICE: They will happen according to what is going on in that quarter. I mean, you know, it's kind of like, I mean, the expectation a little bit is that COVID will become sort of like a different flu season, at least initially and so, we will be taking a look at, you know, if it's not reasonable to be outside, 9/11 could conceivably people can organize efforts that are outside have got the appropriate air circulation and masking and all of that sort of thing that is going to be needed. Then, you know, if it's Martin Luther King Day in the winter  which hits us which is another big national service day. It's actually a big service. It is actually "national" with a small "n". It was declared by congress as a day of service as the best way to remember and carry on  Doctor King's legacy. So, those events might need to be smaller or more dispersed and again, we'll make that call as we get into late fall. So, we're going to just be recommending to people to adjust. 

KENT: Is there anything I missed? I only got a couple minutes left but is there anything I missed? Anything specific you guys want to touch on that I might have missed? 

MARYALICE: So, I think there are three things that we'll just toss out there. One is that as of  this week, there was a sign by  of a bill by Governor that directs, actually signed two bills, Governor Mills, one creates the Maine Service Fellows and that program is a corps program C-O-R-P-S that is not tied to the federal government and will allow us as a Commission to begin to  be more responses more quickly and to more specific issues in Maine that are not necessarily hitting the federal funding priority list. The funding for that is being developed in a public-private partnership and so we have  some folks who are looking for some private funds to to be able to push that out. Then, the second thing was  the core, the Climate Corps, which were charged with designing and standing up and being sure that aligns with the "Maine Won't Wait" climate plan. That is another new effort that we will undertake. We have three AmeriCorps programs that are already in that space and that brings me to the third thing that the Commission formally does, with about 200 people in the state, is to deploy people who want to do full-time service at some level to address  a critical need in the community. So, one of the things that happens with the Commission is because volunteering takes so many forms. It's ubiquitous. You can find it in municipal government. You can find it informally. You can it's all over the place. Our activities can reflect that diversity. 

KENT: Alright, Maryalice Crofton, the executive director, and Kelsey Preecs, program officer of Volunteer Initiatives of Volunteer Maine. Thank you so much for joining me today. 

KELSEY: Thank you.

MARYALICE: Thank you. Our pleasure. 

KENT: You can learn more about Volunteer Maine, the Maine Commission for Community Service, at Volunteer Maine dot gov. Thanks for joining us this week for a local affair, a community service of 94.1 The Wave. If you missed any of this episode, we have a complete archive on our station's website and mobile app. Join us again next week for another episode.

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