April was National Volunteer Month and our team was out there meeting volunteers every night to wish a deeply felt “Thank You.” May 13th is the birthday for Amanda Mark, our Manager of Volunteer Programs & Special Events, who joined us at A-SPAN on December 16th of last year. We invite you to learn a little bit more about her and volunteering at A-SPAN.
Where were you before A-SPAN?
I’m originally from Carlisle, PA, and I went to college at Penn State University. I graduated with degrees in both Public Relations and Hospitality Management.
What made you want to switch careers?
I love to cook (and eat), so I thought I wanted to work in restaurants and be around food for the rest of my life. However, after two-and-a-half years of managing a sandwich shop I felt like something was missing. I worked hard 50-hour weeks, but I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything. I wanted a job where I felt like I was contributing to the world and giving back in some way. I thought back to college when I volunteered for my school’s year-round fundraiser (THON) and how happy that made me. This helped me realize I needed to look for jobs in the non-profit field. After nine months of searching the internet and filling out countless applications, I got the call from A-SPAN.
What have you learned in the past 5 months?
When I moved to this area I quickly saw that there was a large population of homeless people, which was something I wasn’t used to seeing in my hometown or college town. I often avoided eye contact and walked along hoping they wouldn’t bother me. Coming to A-SPAN and actually talking to some of our clients and getting to know them has greatly changed my outlook. I knew there were people who were homeless, but I never thought about WHY they were homeless. I’ve learned that everyone has a unique story, and a lot of uncontrollable and unfortunate circumstances can lead to living on the street; it really can happen to anybody.
What has been most rewarding since being at A-SPAN?
I love seeing the faces of our clients when we pull up for the bagged meal program. They are always so happy to see us and ALWAYS express their gratitude to the volunteers handing out the meals. I have also had the privilege of hearing clients tell their personal stories during our Emergency Winter Shelter Insider Tours. Hearing these stories directly from the clients is so touching, and really reinforces why we do what we do at A-SPAN.
How does someone become a volunteer with A-SPAN?
You have to attend a new volunteer orientation session, which are held twice a month. Volunteer orientations are held on the first Monday of the month at 5:30 p.m. and the third Saturday of the month at 10:00 a.m. (We’re thinking of changing up the time a little for the Monday orientation to 6:00 p.m. to make it more convenient for people leaving work.) It’s a half hour to an hour-long commitment. It provides a way for us to explain A-SPAN as an organization, describe programs and services offered to our clients, and what our volunteer programs and opportunities are. It also provides a way for volunteers to get training and proper ways to interact with clients. Volunteers are required to sign a volunteer agreement saying they acknowledge and agree to everything addressed in the orientation. Once volunteers have signed the agreement and filled out the online application; they have become active and are able to sign up for different positions. We use an online program called Volgistics to manage volunteer opportunities.
What are your future goals for volunteers?
I have quite a lot of future goals! We have a lot of volunteers already, but we have a great deal of interest from people who want to help end homelessness in Arlington. Because the shelter is not open right now, it’s a little difficult to sign up new volunteers because our existing volunteers sign up for available opportunities really quickly. So I’m excited to develop some different programs for example, a client companion program, which I think would mean a lot to our clients. I’m also excited about future fundraising events and developing smaller fundraisers throughout the year to get the word out to different groups in the community. Some of the ideas we’ve discussed are doing a wine tasting, a carnival, or a chili cook off.
What is a client companion program?
It’s a program to pair a volunteer with a client in Permanent Supportive Housing to help them with daily tasks such as running errands, going to the grocery store, cook, etc. It goes hand-in-hand with a tutoring/mentoring program we are also trying to develop. Volunteers can help clients with education skills such as reading and writing, financial management, creating a resume, and really just being a friend that they can see consistently and develop a relationship. I think that will be really important for our clients and a key part of their reintroduction into society.
What do you do on the weekends?
I work with a wedding planning company called a Sweet Soiree sometimes on the weekends, and I’m the assistant wedding planner. I go to the event the day of or sometimes rehearsal diners. The event has a timeline, and I just make sure everyone is sticking to the timeline and everything is running smoothly such as vendors arriving. It’s a really fun gig. I get to see different cultural aspects as far as wedding traditions. I mean it’s great once the ceremony is over and the reception is set up, I just get to chill, listen to music, eat the food, just like I was a guest at the wedding. I have always had a huge interest in weddings.
Besides being an assistant wedding planner, I spend time visiting friends and family. My family is still in Pennsylvania and a lot of my friends are in Philadelphia or some of them are still at home in the Harrisburg area. It seems the people I knew and grew up with are all over the country, and finding time to visit and keep in touch can be difficult at times. I also enjoy reading and taking a Saturday or Sunday going into the city and walking around and looking at cool stuff not necessarily doing anything but just walking around and exploring. I also love to cook. I have a couple signature dishes, for example I can make some really good enchiladas, and I also do a lot of stir fries. Stir fries are simple but they are fast and easy to do.
What are you most proud of during your time at A-SPAN?
So far, I’m most proud of the Coming Home Breakfast. It was a long process of planning that I was not fully a part of since I started in December. The room at the NRECA building was full, and being able to see three hundred people show up for the event meant so much to us here at A-SPAN. Getting feedback from the attendees over the past week by talking to them on the phone, through email, and having them say it was so incredible made me extremely proud of being a part of the Coming Home Breakfast. We got a lot of new people there who weren’t previous donors or volunteers. That was the goal of the event, and I think we accomplished the goals that we had in place for the breakfast.
How are you planning on celebrating your birthday?
I’m going to go home this weekend and spend some time with my family and friends. I’m thinking of taking a half-day off and getting a manicure and treat myself!