Here at Repair the World we’re celebrating National Volunteer Month – and we can think of no better way to do that than to check in with Tracy Hoover of Points of Light. Points of Light is one of the country’s leading service organizations and a founder of National Volunteer Week, which is running through the end of this week. Tracy, meanwhile, has dedicated her life to service – first as a volunteer in her community of Atlanta, then as the CEO of HandsOn Atlanta, and now as President of Points of Light.
Here, Tracy chats about lifting up volunteers’ stories, what’s on tap for National Volunteer Week, and how you can get involved – this week and beyond.
You’ve worked in the world of service for 20 years. What have you gained personally from dedicating your life to service?
When I first moved to Atlanta with my family, I did not know anyone. It was a great big city that felt hard to navigate, and hard to figure out our place. Like a lot of people, through volunteering I learned a lot about myself, but I also learned about my community and made a lot of friends. Some of the most important people in my life I met through volunteer work or my professional work with HandsOn Atlanta. Those connections and that energy is part of what keeps me motivated.
I imagine a lot of people feel that way?
Yes, absolutely. When you ask people how they got started volunteering, many times it is because they were asked. They were invited by a friend who was working on a project and needed help, or they had an organization reach out to them. Over the years, I’ve gotten to watch people develop from 1-time service dabblers into people who devote their whole lives to volunteering. And it’s all because they got invited.
Today, non-profits are trying to broaden that invitation to encourage as many different people to volunteer as possible. They are putting choice into the hands of the volunteer, providing a menu of ways that people can plug into and serve in a way that fits their lives. Our work at Points of Light focuses on how we can help equip individuals to activate their own power and the power in their communities.
What role does National Volunteer Week play in Points of Light’s mission?
National Volunteer Week is a time to really shine a light on service. It is a time to lift up the stories of people making a difference in their communities through consistent, committed service. A lot of organizations out there use National Volunteer Week as an opportunity to recognize their volunteers and meanwhile hopefully encourage others to serve.
What are some highlights of projects and events going on this week?
Many communities and organizations around the country have great projects planned for this week. People can tap into those on by typing their zip code into our volunteer opportunity database. On April 10, there will be a big luncheon in Washington DC honoring the Make a Difference Day honorees of 2013. Jon Bon Jovi will be there, and so will Today show hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, so it should be lots of fun. And on April 12th, New Yorkers will celebrate New York Cares Day, which brings together more than 4,000 people for a day of hands-on volunteering.
How has America’s relationship to volunteering changed during the last 20 years that you’ve been in the field?
It has changed in so many ways for the better. People are engaging in different types of service from physical projects to taking action online. They are making more pro-bono commitments and finding other ways to use their skills, time, and talent to benefit the issues they care about.
Thanks to social media, people today are more equipped with the tools to influence their friends and build awareness within their networks via social media. They are also using their consumer power in new ways. There are many new products like TOMS’s shoes where a percentage of your purchase helps individuals or an organization. There’s been research to show that people are willing to pay a little more for products that have a social benefit – even in a time when low cost items are almost always deemed preferable. That’s incredible.
How can people get involved with National Volunteer Week and Points of Light?
Throughout the year there are several major days of group service including MLK day and 9/11. Then there’s National Volunteer Week, which does the same thing for a full week. We’re really proud and excited to watch these days grow. One of the things I’ve seen is how they can create a spark that inspires someone to get involved. Today, there are more opportunities and ways for people to make a difference regardless of how much free time they do or don’t have. I hope that these national days and weeks of service continue to inspire people to take that first step.
Find out more about National Volunteer Week and other great service opportunities on the Points of Light website.