During National Volunteer Week, we are highlighting the efforts of several key UWGP volunteers. 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.
Dean & Professor of Law,
University of Maine School of Law
How did you get involved with United Way of Greater Portland?
I was invited to a meeting with Liz Cotter Schlax [UWGP’s President], and she asked me about getting involved with United Way of Greater Portland. After she spelled out what United Way’s mission was [to improve people’s lives by mobilizing the power of our community], I was on board. I was hooked!
For people who may not know, can you explain the volunteer roles you currently hold with us?
When I first got involved with United Way, I began as a Board member. Through a period of movement of certain Board members, I was elevated to serve as Board Treasurer and Chair of the Finance Committee. I took up the challenge because I knew that it would be something that would be good for me and a way to learn about the organization. It was actually true; I found out a lot about the organization, and the skills I learned in chairing that committee have actually helped me with my job, and how I establish and staff committees and implement the law school’s work plan.
Could you share a little more about what serving on the Finance Committee entails?
The work on UWGP’s Finance Committee is very similar to the work at many other organizations. We’re responsible for monitoring the budget on a monthly basis, reviewing quarterly reports, evaluating the 990s that nonprofits have to file, and for following best practices in dealing with fiscal and budget requirements of the organization.
What skills have you used while volunteering with UWGP?
I’ve been really excited to serve on the Finance Committee, and I even had the opportunity to use my government procurement skills. There was a need to develop a request for proposals for finance and audit work, and I was able to reach back into my toolkit and pull out those skills to help the organization go through the proposal process to select a firm to assist us with our budget and our audit functions.
What motivates you or keeps you involved?
What keeps me involved with UWGP are the people and the mission. I have been able to meet people I don’t think I ever would have met if I hadn’t volunteered, and these are people who are really excited about serving our community. Having access to those people and knowing that what we’re doing together is helping the community keeps me involved.
Is there anything you’ve learned from your experience serving with us?
Definitely. There’s a lot to learn with an organization as sophisticated as United Way…and then what you learn gets transferred into your everyday work. I’ve learned how to use a strategic plan for the benefit of moving the organization forward and how to connect with the community using a very complex work plan. I don’t think I would have approached strategic planning at the University of Maine School of Law the same way, if I didn’t have this board experience.
What impact do you feel you’re making in your roles with UWGP?
I’m really excited about the Thrive2027 effort. I think the impact that I’ve been able to have is to infuse those concepts and ideas into the work that we do at the University of Maine School of Law. We’ve really jumped on Thrive2027 and made it a part of our goals and objectives.
Specifically, we’ve started a program where our law students and faculty and staff read with students at Lyseth Elementary School. It’s been going for 18 months, and I’m really excited about the prospect of continuing the program. Our students read with the elementary students; one of the benefits of that has been to expose our international students to that program. We actually have our Master of Laws students – generally from different countries – practicing their English by reading to elementary school children; it’s really fantastic.
What advice do you have for someone thinking of volunteering or joining a Board?
Everyone should have the experience of joining a Board. Working for a common goal, a common mission, learning what our community needs, and being able to actually have some impact is so important. We can actually accomplish a lot of good by taking smaller steps to help our community. As I like to say, “many hands make light work,” and we will see our community advance as a result.
Is there a story that you may have had from your experience volunteering with UWGP that you would like to share?
One of my stories came from the various activities we had to do in preparation for a recent UWGP Board Retreat. My activity was to visit the Portland Public Library and walk around and observe what was happening there and see how people use that resource. It was so exciting, because the day I visited, there were King Middle School students there learning about the First Amendment! So I thought, “this is kismet – I get to do my volunteer Board work when professionals at the Portland Public Library are talking about the First Amendment with middle school students.” I felt like I was in the right place at the right time, doing the exact thing that I was put here to do – which is to promote the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law. It was pretty cool.
I noticed that there was a level of diversity in the people who were using the library, and they were all coming to a common place to do very similar things. They were there to research, they were there building community, they were there learning about the U.S. Constitution, and they were there just relaxing and having coffee. And that, to me, is the definition of community. Preparing future generations for finding their common bonds…that’s what it was about.
Do you have any final thoughts to share about volunteerism?
I think volunteerism is something that we often take for granted. United Way, however, is very purposeful in its attempt to serve the community, and so they have really thought practically about how to get the most out of a volunteerism effort without overtaxing people. You can get volunteer fatigue, but the strategies that United Way uses preserve people’s energy and excitement about volunteerism, and that’s why I‘ll always be connected to United Way.