Call of A Global Movement: Tapping Into the Spirit of Service in the Volunteer State

Nov 30, 2017
Andrea Hill, right, is joined by Miss Tennessee Caty Davis and fellow Volunteer Tennessee board members for a food preparation service project at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga.

Across the globe, volunteers use their time, talent and resources to tackle tough challenges and build stronger, more vibrant communities. With our global network of more than 200 affiliates, Points of Light will celebrate International Volunteer Day on December 5, recognizing volunteers in communities around the world who answer the call to serve, every day and especially in times of need.

Andrea Hill

As part of this celebration, we are spotlighting a few of our affiliate leaders to share the story of their work and how their volunteers are making a difference locally. In Memphis, Tennessee, Andrea Hill – director of our affiliate Volunteer Memphis – prepares and mobilizes leaders to work together for the good of the whole community, with an emphasis on volunteerism and an understanding of the differences and similarities between volunteer and community leadership. Andrea has 16 years of experience in youth development and community engagement, including volunteer management and resource development.

We spoke with Andrea to learn more about what inspires her, and how Volunteer Memphis taps into the service spirit of the Tennesseans in “Volunteer State.”

As the director of Volunteer Memphis, an action initiative of Leadership Memphis, what inspires and drives you?

I am inspired by the spirit of service exhibited by my mid-South community. In Memphis, we call this service spirit our “grit and grind” spirit! On a daily basis, I see members of our community working together in their organically and intentionally created impact networks to make the greater Memphis community a better place. When you come to visit the mid-South, you will see the strong spirit of service interwoven amongst our corporate, nonprofit and grassroots community leaders.

How did you get started in the volunteer space, and what brought you to Leadership Memphis?

I truly found my passion for volunteering while attending the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where I majored in human services. In college, I volunteered with numerous groups like Circle K and the Black Student Association, and eventually I was promoted to a volunteer leader. Through this process, I began thinking of ways to recruit, engage and retain volunteers. All of these lessons learned spurred my desire to connect volunteers to organizations to meet their capacity gaps and maximize impact.

In my role as a Volunteer Tennessee board member, I actively participate in the commissions’ mission. Volunteer Tennessee is a 25-member bipartisan board appointed by Gov. Haslam to oversee AmeriCorps and service-learning programs, advancing volunteerism and citizen service to solve community problems in the Volunteer State. This role continues to motivate me to educate myself on trends and best practices in the volunteerism space and encourage others to take on more active leadership roles.

In my professional role as the director of Volunteer Memphis, I have the opportunity to provide project management, training and support to organizations. It is a dream come true to work at Volunteer Memphis, which is at the heart of volunteering. We build capacity for effective volunteering and connect people with opportunities to serve throughout Memphis and the mid-South. We work with nonprofits, churches, schools, corporations and other groups that engage volunteers to make community programs stronger.

An example of this is our Volunteer Memphis MLK Days of Service weekend. In our first year, we facilitated 72 service projects that engaged more than 2,000 volunteers. In 2018, our second year, the goal is to facilitate 500 service projects in nine counties that will engage 5,000+ volunteers.

These community-wide projects energize me to continue my work in the volunteerism space. I also love the fact that the field of volunteerism is constantly evolving. There is never a dull day and there is always someone who is being helped through the support of Volunteer Memphis, our partner organizations, and volunteers.

The theme of International Volunteer Day this year is “Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere.” In your community, how do volunteers act first?

Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State; it is simply in our DNA to volunteer. We have seen this spirit in full effect in the aftermath of the Sevier County fires to the recent storm that brought down trees here in Memphis. Most recently, Memphis had the opportunity to mobilize with the hurricane relief efforts for Harvey, Irma and Maria. Memphis leaped into action in a number of ways to collect and distribute items to those in need. “Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere.” means more than the tangible action of cleaning, collecting or hands-on work. The phase also means that volunteers have the ability, the skills, and the heart to serve others whenever and wherever needed before thinking of themselves.

How do you draw volunteers’ attention to real problems in their communities and equip them to be changemakers themselves?

Volunteer Memphis provides resources to our local community in a number of ways. We provide capacity building support to corporate groups, nonprofit groups and volunteers. We provide trainings to help organizations and individual volunteers become a better resource to their community. Volunteer Memphis hosts a volunteer management website that provides nonprofits the platform to promote their opportunities, recruit, track and communicate with their volunteer base. This system also gives individual volunteers and teams of volunteers the opportunity to browse interesting opportunities, and to track their service. Volunteers come to Volunteer Memphis to begin and end their forever volunteer opportunity search!  

What advice do you give to individuals who want to get involved, but don’t think they can make a difference?

I tell people that there is a volunteer opportunity for you. You have the skills, the passion, and the network to make a difference and fill a gap! Whether it is folding letters for a mailing, mentoring youth at a local community center, or leading a community clean-up project, you are needed. In addition, volunteering can be fun, eye opening and a transformative experience. Volunteering is one of the purest opportunities to make friends, discover a new city or community, learn a new skill or enhance current skills.

What has been the biggest benefit of being part of Points of Light’s affiliate network?

I love attending the Points of Light conference, having the opportunity to network with nonprofit professionals and hear from subject-matter experts. Having such a powerfully impactful network of professionals to brainstorm ideas, to glean best practices, is the biggest benefit to being a part of a national and regional network.

In addition, at the 2017 conference I was able to see in person a childhood hero, Dr. Mae Jemison. It was amazing to see and hear a true icon of service and academics. Dr. Jemison’s words were an inspiration and continue to spur my desire to make as big of an impact as I can make in my local community. At the same conference, I was able to attend the American Express Leadership Academy as well. It was an awesome experience to share with fellow nonprofit professionals and to goal set with a mentor. Overall, the 2017 Points of Light conference was one of the best professional development opportunities I have ever attended.

What emerging trend in volunteerism are you most excited about?

I am excited that volunteers see that they can use their talents, skills and networks to make a difference. Volunteers of all ages are coming together to help those around them in need. I hear the common phase, “music is the universal language.” I don’t disagree, but I believe volunteerism is a universal language as well. All over the world, you see people of different races, ages, faiths coming together to help each other. Ultimately, volunteering makes an impact in local neighborhoods, cities, states and the world!

Amanda Knowles