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Jul. 08

When Volunteer Projects Don’t Work Out as Planned, Learn From the Experience

This post is by Daily Point of Light Award winner Joe Ziskovsky, who has made community involvement a part of everyday life, from teaching swimming to serving on nonprofit boards.

joe_z_blog_0.jpgJoe Ziskovsky

I became an Eagle Scout in 1989 at age 13. It was a high honor – one to this day I am proud of, and one that taught me a critical lesson about making a difference in my community.

Every Boy Scout seeking to earn the Eagle Scout rank has to complete a service project. The projects are designed to test one’s ability across many facets: creativity (in developing the project), management (in seeing the project through from start to finish) and leadership (in building and leading the team involved in accomplishing the project), among others.

Mine was “Project Oxygen.” In retrospect, that was kind of a cheesy name… But hey, I was young.

I love the outdoors and my project was intended to replace some of the trees in my city that had been lost during one particularly harsh summer in Minnesota in the late ’80s. I arranged for volunteers to deliver donated seedlings and saplings of various sizes to every classroom at multiple elementary schools in my district, along with instructions. The idea was that each student would take a seedling or sapling home and plant it.

joe_z_point-of-light001_square_crop_blog_0.jpgJoe Ziskovsky's Eagle Scout service project led to a Daily Point of Light Award and a hearty handshake from President George H. W. Bush, who created the award.

I later heard that some teachers told their students to throw away the saplings. That was a mistake in my organizational plan. I had inadvertently sent saplings to a couple of first grade classes. The saplings were taller than the kids! The kids didn’t know any better and followed their teachers’ instructions.

At a young age I learned that the right intentions in the wrong circumstances can fall flat, doing little good.

So I share this lesson with you: When volunteering, be observant and ask for guidance if you are unsure. Give and keep giving, but look for those opportunities that will sprout both short-term benefit and longevity in the eyes of your community. A small action on your part can easily make a lasting impact.

And those managing volunteers, please look for those who have the best intentions but don’t know the right place to sprout. Help them find a better place to grow.

Are you looking for a place to grow? Find volunteer opportunities in your community at AllforGood.org.

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