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

~ February 2012~

  • The Day The Phones Went Down


One day during the second week of January, the phones in our hospital went down.  At first, my specialist and I panicked.  “What are we going to do?”  A few moments later, we rejoiced.  “OH MY GOSH…DO YOU KNOW WHAT WE CAN GET DONE TODAY?”

We immediately grabbed all of our new volunteers who attended new volunteer orientation the day before and divided up the placements.  On a day where the phones would be ringing off the hook, this could take us 5 hours.  But it only took us one hour. 

We were forced to physically walk down the hall to talk to someone about a volunteer assignment.  WOW.  The concept!  We did ignore the e-mails from staff and volunteers who asked “can I call you on your cell phone?”  Ummm….”no.”  If you need me, come see me.  If it’s not a life or death situation, if you are not bleeding out, you don’t need to call me, text me, or Facebook me.  And, we didn’t apologize for doing this. 

We were forced to slooooooooow down.  By not having the phones (and in some respects, the traffic coming into the office), we actually took moments to brainstorm for national volunteer recognition week and have FUN with crazy, off-the-wall ideas. 



We actually had staff come see us and commented, “I almost forgot where the volunteer office is. Glad I had the time today since the phones weren’t working.”

We cleared out our e-mails and organized our desks.  We threw out ideas back and forth and filed!!!!  We forget how relaxing filing can be.

By 4pm, the phones were back on line and we saw the red light blinking.  My specialist and I both looked at the phones…staring in anticipation for how many messages could be waiting for us.  After one of my giggles, I looked at the clock and (surprisingly) said, “let’s wait until tomorrow” and we continued to enjoy the peace and quiet.

There were a few lessons we learned the day the phones went down:

  1. We have to stop for more than just a moment during the workday…to not only breathe (and take that prolonged bathroom break), but to enjoy what we actually do.  My specialist and I love going through the master schedule to work on volunteer placements.  We had the moment to enjoy this process.  This is just one example.
  2. When we rely so much on technology, we forget that talking to someone face-to-face (while sometimes time consuming) actually does help with the relationship building process.

And the final lesson?

  1. We can’t wait for the computers to be down!

*The author of the Federal Government Volunteer Programs page is melissa.heinlein@va.gov, MA, MS, CAVS. Melissa Heinlein-Storti is the Chief, 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 member of the Delaware Valley of Association for Volunteer Administration.  She is a member of the Pennsylvania Society of Directors of Volunteers in Healthcare, Inc. and held positions as education chair (state and local), vice-president (state), and member-at-large).  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 AHVRP. She is currently a doctoral candidate with her PhD in Human Development at Marywood University. She also contributed to the first textbook on volunteer administration.  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.

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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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