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.
Matt Pines, Co-Owner and Co-Director, Maine Teen Camp
What is your UWGP volunteer role?
I am currently a member of the Thrive2027 Goal 1 Cabinet.
Click here to learn more about Thrive2027 and Goal 1.
How did you get involved with United Way?
My wife and I moved to Maine in 2006 and wanted to get involved in volunteering. A friend suggested getting involved with CA$H Greater Portland, an initiative of UWGP in partnership with Goodwill Industries of Northern New England, that trains volunteers to prepare taxes for others. I was geeky enough to look into it, got trained, and volunteered for my first of four tax season in 2006 or 2007.
Since my background is in education, I had also been doing a lot of reading and getting deep into the weeds on early childhood education. Another friend mentioned that United Way had investment teams which help make funding decisions for partner agencies. I talked to the person who was running CA$H at the time and told her that I was looking to transition from my tax-related volunteerism to something more education-focused. She connected me to the Education Investment Team where I served for four or five years.
That role was definitely in my wheelhouse. We provided a level of oversight that helped to ensure that donors’ contributions to community partners were being spent in a thoughtful and accountable manner. Our team made sure that the partners receiving investments were doing what they said they’d do. We read a lot of applications and proposals and asked questions to help further our understanding of their operations and impact.
How has your role changed from that to what you’re doing now?
I’m fairly new to the Thrive2027 Goal 1 Cabinet, but so far I feel like we are seeing a bigger picture of United Way’s scope of work in the community and how there’s so much more beyond funding decisions. In the context of Goal 1, we are taking a more holistic, 360° view on literacy and school readiness and looking at all of the partners and strategies that can help us make improvements in that area. The Cabinet’s efforts feel much more interesting right now and less siloed. We’re getting a better sense of the greater context and our role in shaping the direction of Thrive2027 continues to become clearer.
What keeps you coming back to volunteer? What motivates you?
I think everyone should do something within their community to help out and contribute in some way beyond just what’s expected. As an employer, employee, taxpayer, or whatever, I think that while I may not always have money to donate to every cause, I feel like I’ve always got a few hours each month that I can dedicate to volunteering for something beyond myself.
I am not originally from here; I’m from Australia. When you take the oath of citizenship in the United States, you’re agreeing to get involved in the city and the larger community. I take that seriously. I think it’s important to find opportunities to give back, and I see the benefits of community through my work as a camp director. We know how important a strong and proactive and dynamic community is for its members, but it doesn’t just happen. People need to get off their butts and just do something! It doesn’t matter what. You can be making a difference.
What have you learned?
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that there are tons of people out there doing amazing work within the community. I’ve also been able to see how agencies are making a huge, huge difference. I don’t know where we’d be without them. It’s been eye-opening to see just how much basic civil infrastructure of our community is being taken care of not by the state or federal government or even not by local government sometimes, but instead by nonprofits getting by on shoe-string budgets. Given the challenges and funding cuts, we’re still pretty lucky to live in the place that we do.
What advice do you have for someone starting to think about volunteering?
I think that people can always find some room in their schedule for volunteering, but it helps to be honest about the commitment you can make. I would love to do something that requires a more frequent weekly or monthly ongoing commitment, for example, but I know that I couldn’t because I go live in the woods in Maine for four months each year. I would be the worst mentor because of that disappearance!
Fortunately, there’s a whole universe of opportunities out there and lots of ways to get involved even on a shorter term or project by project basis. For example, one Monday each month, the rugby club I used to play for volunteers at Preble Street.
My advice is to just make a decision to find something and go and do it. It might not be right, so try again – you won’t know if you don’t try.
Please share a story about your experience.
I’m thinking back to when I volunteered for the CA$H program. People would come in and I’d go through preparing their taxes and qualifying them for things they’re qualified for and show them running numbers of their return and income tax credit. I remember the weight that would come off their shoulders when they realized they might be able to save or pay off their bills for once. People would be pumping their fists, so happy and excited! I enjoyed celebrating with them, emphasizing all along that I was just the person who plugged in the numbers while they had done the real work.
Any other thoughts about volunteerism in general?
Don’t just talk about it – go do it!
Note: The Thrive2027 Goal Cabinets are responsible for developing a framework that will best make measurable progress on each of Thrive2027’s three goals. The Cabinets monitor progress on the goals and employ various strategies, including recommending where UWGP’s community investments are made. The Cabinets replaced UWGP’s Investment Teams in 2016.