A few years ago, when MLK Day was officially named a National Day of Service in the United States, Kaiser Permanente urged employees to use the day to volunteer in their communities. The company not only permitted its employees to go out and be of service; it often sponsored many of the events in the communities where its facilities are located. It’s a comfort knowing that I work for a company that not only cares about the individual’s wellness, but also one that knows the importance of the impact individuals have on the community. For the past three years, I have signed up to volunteer on MLK Day. Last year was the first year I worked with L.A. Works- a non-profit volunteer organization that has been a trusted partner to Kaiser Permanente for several years, offering volunteer leadership services to its employees for big service events.
Kaiser Permanente runs its own internal employee volunteer site called KPCares. This site is a place where employees, as well as organizations that reach out to Kaiser and meet certain criteria, can post events in which volunteers are needed. These events can be local, regional, national or international, and can be seen by employees based on these preferences. Coming from Northern California a short time ago, a place where I did a lot of community service, it was frustrating to learn that the region-wide effort to get the volunteer site off the ground in Southern California was only a couple of years old and still in its infant stages.
Last year when I was looking for a place to donate my time, I was having trouble finding an event. So I started scouring the Internet and that is when I found the L.A. Works Web site. This year, I noticed they listed a big MLK Day 2013 event in which they would revitalize a school in Glendale and were in need of many volunteers. I also observed that project leader positions still needed to be filled, so I signed up for one, and within a couple of days I received an email from L.A. Works notifying me that there would be a project leader training for the event. L.A. Works makes it easy to find and sign up for events, and in addition they usually offer training for all the requested positions.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make the training, but I showed up for my shift at the school bright and early at about 6:30 am on MLK Day. Having done quite a bit of volunteer work in the past, I was a little skeptical that things would run smoothly. One of the biggest problems with the large service day events where I have volunteered in the past has been disorganization. Often organizations are taxed because of the large amount of volunteers that show up and then are left scrambling to provide work, find tools or be able to actively manage the sheer amount of people without running into a multitude of problems. A lot of this has to do with funding, so let me note how important donations are to an organization. They cannot run on sheer manpower alone. There are so many moving parts that make every event possible, from having enough pencils to making sure there is water and people are taking breaks.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that L.A. Works really had their act together. I tracked down the project leader manager, Becca Bloom, who greeted me with a smile and let me know that breakfast and coffee were being provided. After I made a cup of Joe, I tracked her down again. It takes a lot to coordinate the fine dance that is a big volunteer event, and you will never find the head person standing in one place for more than a moment. Once I located her again, she told me my duty. While I was waiting for all the volunteers to show up I lent a hand doing anything I could– this included setting up tables, hanging banners and basically just going wherever I could lend a hand. The thing I like least about volunteering is not making the most of every moment that I am there. I am sure most people have the same sentiment.
While I worked, it was great to network and meet people from all the great organizations that partner with L.A. Works. I have to say, I especially enjoy when I see the red shirt with the big white target sign. I will vouch for Kaiser Permanente volunteers. I have never worked with such passionate and dedicated people as the employees that sign
up from Kaiser Permanente to volunteer, but man, Target volunteers not only come ready to work, they come in droves. I swear the last two MLK Days I have volunteered with L.A. Works, there have been several hundred Target volunteers and man they know how to put in an honest day’s work. A great thing about L.A. Works is that it provides opportunities, and helps relieve corporations of the stress of coordinating such events by doing all the work for them. These big companies give amazing amounts of donations back to the community in the form of employee volunteer hours.
Like clockwork, people started to show up in droves. Families, individuals and people of all ethnic backgrounds lined up and patiently waited their turns to register. The beauty of volunteerism is that it knows no color lines. The people who show up just come with a heart of love and the willingness to donate their time to make someone else’s life easier.
I was assigned to be a line monitor and put in charge of making sure each individual had a liability form filled out. I believe that day over 500 volunteers showed up to help out. It took a good hour to get everyone checked in, and the only complication during that time was that we ran out of liability forms, but the school principal ran in and printed out a few more, and we were back in business. The coordination effort by L.A. Works and its partners to get everyone accounted for was seamless. I was really impressed.
While waiting for everyone to check in, people stood around and sipped hot coffee and ate fruit and bagels. When the line depleted, everyone gathered around the deejay for duty assignments and general announcements. When those were completed, the deejay fired up the music and everyone went to work.
What a sight it is to see a total transformation of an entire school grounds. Groups were landscaping, painting, sorting out old school books, and doing so many other things. Rarely did I see anyone standing around unless they were looking for something else to do or taking a break. The beautiful thing about the whole day was that it was about 80 degrees in the middle of January. It couldn’t have been a more amazing day. I am sure L.A. Works didn’t have anything to do with the weather, which is one of my favorite things about Los Angeles, but you never know.
For most of the day I worked hauling bark to provide as ground cover for the newly landscaped areas around campus. It was warm, and pushing a wheelbarrow up a hill and across the old campus was a chore, but as with any volunteer events, temporary hard labor is always worth the reward of seeing the finished product. I stayed with a group from a local dojo (Name here) until the very end. That is another awesome benefit of volunteer events: You meet so many like-minded, giving and passionate individuals.
The success of MLK Day convinced me to research L.A. Works a little more and find other, more long-term opportunities with them. I was sold on how smoothly this big event ran and wanted to look into how I could become a piece of the puzzle in the bigger picture that is L.A. Works. Over the last few months, I have joined the organization and I am currently in the process of helping them with marketing, social media, and finding donors for door prizes for the L.A. Works Service Crawl event on July 20th, 2013. I hope to someday start my own non-profit and if and when I do, I hope to model it after the blueprint that L.A. Works has set forth on how an organization like this can run efficiently, solely off the blood, sweat and tears of thousands of volunteers who show up every year to make Los Angeles a better place to live.
Thank you L.A. Works for all the time and effort you put into making Los Angeles one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Thank you also for the opportunity to fit into your little family and do the one thing that I love more than anything, volunteering.
This post was written by L.A. Works’ Volunteer Project Leader, Antonio Fernandez. Visit Antonio’s blog to read more about his take on volunteering, art, poetry and life in general!