The opening plenary of the Conference on Volunteering and Service in Houston resonated with thoughts on how to think about service in new and innovative ways, as Points of Light CEO Tracy Hoover issued the call to “mobilize every person in the world to be a change maker.” It recognized the great potential for change, as when Congressman Joaquin Castro told attendees, “The beauty of America is that there is an infrastructure of opportunity that helps us get where we want to go in life.”
Points of Light Chair Neil Bush offered an impassioned plea to think differently about volunteer service, to move beyond the simple framework of more volunteers serving more hours. He also was joined by his father President George H. W. Bush, who founded Points of Light 25 years ago, and former First Lady Barbara Bush. “He challenged us all by saying any definition of a successful life must include service to others,” Neil Bush said of President Bush.
President Bush later joined his son center stage to honor sisters Maggie and Harper Cunningham, ages 10 and 12, from College Station, Texas, who created Books and a Blanket. (Read more about the Cunningham sisters here.)
The plenary included a welcome by Houston Mayor Annise Parker and an engaging panel discussion, moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham and featuring three former chiefs of staff – Andrew H. Card, who staffed President George W. Bush; Mack McLarty III (President Bill Clinton); and John H. Sununu (George H. W. Bush).
Hoover welcomed conference attendees and encouraged them to seek the solutions that will bring volunteers closer to their passions. “Let’s inspire each other, let’s learn from each other, let’s be disruptive together,” she said. “You’ve accomplished so much and there’s so much to be proud of.”
The day started with 1,000 volunteers kicking off Read Across the Globe, a 24-hour bid to break the Guinness World Record for the number of children read to by an adult in a single day.
This Conference service project – sponsored by the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, Volunteer Houston, Deloitte, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and Jumpstart’s Read for the Record – brought volunteers to elementary schools throughout Houston. Neil and Barbara Bush joined volunteers at Edgar Allen Poe Elementary School, each reading to a classroom full of children and speaking out on the critical importance of literacy.
Later in the morning, the Volunteer Solutions for America’s Education Crisis Forum examined areas where volunteers can help establish a strong STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) foundation and connect to African-American and Hispanic youth.
STEM education for girls can be transformative, noted Anna Maria Chavez, CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA. Girl Scout alums who have had these opportunities have had more success in their academic and professional lives, are more involved in their children's schools and understand they have a voice in making positive change in their communities.
Corporate social responsibility practitioners dug into the key skills for success in their rapidly changing field during the Three Skills Every CSR Professional Will Need in the Next Five Years session. At the Understanding Power and Privilege in the Volunteer Experience session, participants examined how strong self-awareness of power and privilege can result in programs that yield sustainable social change.
In the Employee Engagement: What's Working and What's Not? workshop, more than 200 corporate attendees came to a deeper understanding of how they can spark excitement for service within their organizations and inspire employees to drive social change. In the Strengthening Community Networks for Efficiency and Impact session, speakers explored how innovative volunteer networks can build stronger communities.
In the Going Global workshop, speakers discussed the challenges and opportunities for scaling volunteering globally, from operationalizing volunteering around the world to deepening impact through skills-based service.
In the days leading up to the conference, attendees gathered for special training sessions and events.
- On Saturday and Sunday, the Points of Light Civic Accelerator hosted Innovate Houston, sponsored by Starbucks. The hands-on boot camp coached teams of social entrepreneurs and business, nonprofit and community leaders on using innovation best practices to make better decisions, test solutions and solve problems more effectively.
- Through the weekend, volunteer managers participated in a new certification program for disaster volunteer coordination, which covered a variety of topics, including recruiting and assessing volunteers and social media in emergency management.
- On Sunday, HandsOn Network affiliates – local volunteer centers across the globe – gathered to connect, learn and share ideas about volunteer recruitment and management. They also celebrated this year’s George W. Romney Award winner, Boston Cares (read more here).
- The American Express Leadership Academy, developed by the Center for Creative Leadership, took 24 emerging leaders through a feedback-intensive training program.
- In the afternoon, Repair the World hosted a summit to explore the state of service and volunteering in the Jewish community.
- Faith was a topic of discussion into the evening, with America’s Sunday Supper, hosted by St. Martin's Episcopal Church. The evening’s discussion, led by historian Jon Meacham and the Rev. Dr. Russell Jones, focused on how communities of faith can help improve the state of education.
What was your favorite part of the first day of the Conference on Volunteering and Service, or the events leading up to it? Tell us on Facebook or Twitter. For easy posting, and up-to-the-minute conference information, download the conference app.