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This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs at the federal government level.

~ June 2011~


Up the stairs I go to the platform at the train station.  Another long day at the office.  Another long commute.  There’s usually one set of doors open and I whisk right through without having to touch either one of them.  This time, the doors “push” and “pull” are closed.  After a long day of pushing and pulling in the volunteer department, I wonder which is easier to do?  Do I take the path of least resistance?

I chose the door with the sign “push” for the following reasons:

  • Moving something out of my way seems liberating from the resistance I find at work – particularly paid staff who may be resistant to train volunteers (even though they request them) or high school students refusing to wear their fashionable red volunteer t-shirt
  • Instead of screaming, pushing the heavy door allows some kind of release (often, I feel bad for the person or cluster of people racing to catch the train behind me as I push the door too hard and it swings back even harder)
  • I want the world to stop and see “here I am, bring it on!”
  • How much do I push myself to be an effective volunteer administrator?

But, after this brief moment of a choice to go through the door I have to push, I wonder if I do it gracefully at work? 

By this I mean, do I push paid staff far enough to realize the value of volunteers?  Do I push my staff hard enough to know their work each and every day is valuable?  Do I push leadership to know that the volunteer department cannot operate with just 2.0 FTEE?  Two of the three I answer positively.  You can probably guess which ones.


The train arrives on time and I’m anxiously waiting to get home.  But now, I think how much I pull at work.  If I choose the “pull” door, this is what I may find:

  • I pull volunteers to navigate more effectively through the halls to meet patient needs
  • I pull staff in directions that may lead them to think I am crazy with my ideas, but I want them to at least enjoy the ride for the potential of what could be
  • I pull back on projects and tasks that I just cannot achieve by my standards as the plate is already full

My self-reflection leads me to just that – a reflection.  What I do every day is a decision to push and/or pull.  It’s constant.  We really don’t think about our professions as being a door and the options we have with it.  But sometimes, we take a moment to make analogies when we are looking to describe what we do to others. We understand our world.  Others do not.

Whether we push or pull or get stuck in the middle being pushed or pulled by others, don’t let the door hit you in the . . .  

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The author of the Federal Government Volunteer Programs page is melissa.heinlein@va.gov, MA, MS, CAVS. Melissa is the Chief of Voluntary Service at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, (215) 823-5868. Before venturing to the nonprofit sector, Melissa Heinlein spent time working for financial, IT, and pharmaceutical companies. With her business and marketing background, she took those skills and worked for Junior Achievement and structured a formal volunteer program at Hope Springs Equestrian Therapy before going into healthcare at Abington Memorial Hospital as the Assistant Director of Volunteer Resources. Her latest adventure is Chief, Voluntary Service at Philadelphia VA Medical Center. Melissa is past president and current board member of the Delaware Valley of Association for Volunteer Administration and current member-at-large for PSDVS, Eastern Chapter. She serves as an advisor for a grassroots organization “Spark the Wave” to encourage youth volunteerism. She holds a MA in Communications from West Chester University, MS in Administration of Human Services from Chestnut Hill College, and is a certified administrator of volunteer services through ASDVS. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Human Development at Marywood University. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, writing, sports, and exploring the outdoors. She prides herself when she talks about interacting with volunteers 5-99 years old – horses and dogs included.


The National Association of Volunteer Programs in Local Government (NAVPLG) is an association of administrators, coordinators and directors of volunteer programs in local government. Its purpose is to strengthen volunteer programs in local government through leadership, advocacy, networking and information exchange. NAVPLG is an affiliate of the National Association of Counties and is seeking affiliate status with the National League of Cities. Cost is $20 for individuals and $75 for group local government membership. An affiliate membership is $25 and is intended for those who are not local government members but may have an interest in the group. There is a quarterly newsletter, national network, and access to NACo's Volunteerism Project. For more information contact Robin Popik, who is a Volunteer Resource Supervisor. She can be reached by phone at 972-941-7114. Be sure to mention you read about this in Volunteer Today.

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