During National Volunteer Week, we are highlighting the efforts of several key UWGP volunteers and staff. We hope you enjoy their interviews and are inspired by their service to our community! Looking for a new opportunity to give back? Check out http://volunteer.unitedwaygp.org.
Andy Abrams, VP IT, United Way of Greater Portland
How did you get involved in your volunteer roles?
For me, volunteering was modeled in my family, and my parents were very involved on different Boards and committees when I was growing up. I didn’t realize that my dad was a United Way volunteer until I started working here.
I moved to Portland to be in a community where people were volunteering and things were pretty connected. I tried in Boston but it was hard to work, live, and volunteer in different communities.
I currently volunteer in three different ways. I have been involved with the India Association of Maine since 2008 and currently serve on a committee that helps to organize the community.
For the past year and a half, I have been a member of a task force focused on social justice and community engagement at my synagogue.
I have also volunteered with Portland Trails since 2006. I began as a general volunteer and then became a Board member. I am currently President Emeritus for two more months, and then I will transition to committee service.
What skills do you use while volunteering?
Volunteering allows me to explore a whole bunch of things and use my technological, organizational, and leadership skills. I like being involved in projects where I can have an impact, as well as ones where I can do things that use different parts of my mind. As a volunteer, I’ve tried to explore areas different from my day-to-day work as well.
I believe in collaborative leadership, not always needing to have one identified leader. Portland is a great place where so many people want to do one small piece. I think we’re great about realizing our strengths and when to step forward in some aspects and backward in others in order to sustain our involvement. Keeping a work/life balance is so important.
What keeps you coming back to volunteer? What motivates you?
With Portland Trails, the thing that got me excited was that it’s really expanding in a sustainable way, and at the same time, we’re focused on getting people to enjoy and appreciate where it is right now. I’ve enjoyed the way the organization collaborates in the community, working together with other groups, like the Trust for Public Land, schools, companies, and the city. It’s been transformative for Portland, as areas become available for trail development. It’s great that there is a vision for this, and I like that the organization is in a position to collaborate and be creative about how it happens, like joining pieces of a puzzle.
It’s also personal. There’s a trail near my house where our family used to play games, such as “Red Light, Green Light.” In its strategic plan, Portland Trails has a focus on place-making, strengthening the connections and memories between people and the public places that they share. I like to think that my kid has grown up on these trails, just how my grandfather introduced me to trails before I was six. My efforts help to ensure that he can bring his kids there someday.
You’ve also brought your son along on volunteer activities. Can you talk a little about that?
When it’s appropriate, I’ve encouraged my son to join in on special projects with organizations such as Ruth’s Reusable Resources and Portland Trails. Sometimes it’s challenging to get him excited at first, but when we get there, he’s interested and engaged.
I know that not everyone gets exposed to volunteering when they’re young, but I really love the work that we do here at UWGP to engage youth, including Family Volunteer Day in November.
What have you learned as a volunteer?
Through my service with Portland Trails, I’ve learned that it’s possible for an organization’s staff and Board members to recognize each other’s strengths and collaborate efficiently. We have a special synergy and mutual respect, and there’s a lot we can learn from each other as we partner to lead.
I’ve also been exposed to things outside of my expertise, such as green space creation, land conservation rules, and how to work with the government. I’ve learned that it’s important to think sustainably about funding big projects. Sometimes it’s easy to make a splash and do something big and new but creating something and ensuring that it will remain for the long term can be challenging.
What advice do you have for someone starting to think about volunteering?
Just do something! Start somewhere. Participate in Day of Caring in the future. Every year that I’m involved (coming up on 15 now!) I make new connections and have a different experience. Also, check out volunteering websites, such as VolunteerME Greater Portland.
Please share a story from your experience.
I really love being able to share the trails with people while volunteering or exercising. You’ll be out on the trail and you might come upon someone and have this nonverbal exchange – a look of shared enjoyment. It’s nice to not have to use words to communicate and just feel good about this place that we get to live in and the people and organizations which make it possible.