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Political Action and Protest

Cutting Waste and Feeding the Hungry: Volunteers Lead the Food Redistribution Revolution


"Volunteers in the food redistribution revolution" would have been an unlikely Along the Web topic even just a few years ago. But today there is an undeniable and growing public awareness about the shocking amount of food that’s wasted and sent to landfills, despite still being fit for people to eat. Citizens now understand and are speaking out over the economic, environmental, and ethical concerns raised by food over-production and disparities in food distribution. And food poverty in the midst of this excess and waste has also become a rising concern.

Volunteers around the world are leading the way to create solutions to this unsustainable food mismatch. They are, if you will, ‘stepping up to the plate’ to challenge, to campaign, and to make a practical difference through the redistribution of surplus food. This Along the Web looks at some of these creative food redistribution programs, with featured websites, video clips, volunteer stories, and first-hand accounts of volunteers leading this revolution.


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Volunteers Protecting Civil Rights

Freedom of speech and of movement, freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of religious worship. . . All are taken for granted by many and they are, of course, fundamental to volunteerism as an associative activity within the civil society space. These rights and freedoms became enshrined in laws over centuries in democratic countries, often after having been hard fought and won in the first place. But they can just as easily be removed or revoked.

Volunteers around the world are monitoring civil rights. They often also take action to defend rights where there is a risk of them being eroded, or if governments need to be challenged where rights are being abused. This issue of Along the Web looks at examples of where and how volunteers are protecting fellow citizens from unequal treatment. These examples show that volunteers often work alongside professionals such as lawyers, and in some communities even place themselves at personal risk in the course of defending or promoting extension of rights.


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Belfast’s Creative Extremists

In 2010, Volunteer NOW and the Voluntary Service Bureau in Belfast obtained Heritage Lottery Fund money to conduct a two-year oral and social history project to capture the volunteer stories of over 110 people in all walks of life in Northern Ireland. The work led to the publication of a book called Volunteer Voices: Belfast’s Creative Extremists and an exhibit open to the public. The book also included several historical accounts of the evolution of volunteerism in Belfast, sometimes bleak but also hopeful. As the Foreword states:

Most of the past forty years of Belfast’s history has been turbulent, fractured and painful. The City suffered and over 1,500 of its people died; countless others injured. During the early 1970s Belfast experienced one of the largest movements of population in Europe since the Second World War. Later with the erection of ‘peace walls’ and interface barriers, it became, and still is, a physically divided city…Amidst this reality, however, are countless stories of people with hope. People equipped with enthusiasm and energy who gave their time as volunteers…and “faced the dragon’s fire” believing it was possible to make a difference.

In Voices, we excerpt some of the many inspiring examples of the power of volunteering told in this book. 

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Bridging the Divide Between Volunteer Management and Community Organizing

A community organizer is usually a social agitator who wants to build grassroots power. While a volunteer manager may be working toward social justice, the primary goal of this position is usually tied to a pre-determined objective, like service delivery or broader organizational support like fundraising. In practice, the roles often overlap. Both require a high level of interpersonal skills, insight into what motivates people, and the leadership to get those people to act in ways that benefit the community.

In this e-Volunteerism feature, author Aimee Inglis discusses the often fine line between the two fields and the tension this creates in the volunteer community. Inglis explains that “as a volunteer manager who is also trained in community organizing  and currently working at a nonprofit that organizes for social and economic justice and tenants’ rights  I have felt the line blur between the two fields. I have also felt the tension as both fields professionalize and learn the same lessons in silos where they would be stronger sharing notes.”

Inglis builds on her personal experiences as she examines not only the history of community organizing but also how community organizing and volunteer engagement have become part of the profession. Inglis also proposes ways for volunteer managers to bridge what she calls the unnecessary divide between these fields.


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Volunteer on a Mission: Watching a New Organization Emerge

One of the most powerful things a volunteer can do is see a need and start trying to meet it. With enough passion and hard work, that initial maverick will attract other volunteers to the cause and a worthy organization will emerge and grow. That evolution might expand over time to raising money, hiring staff, and moving volunteers to governing boards and service-assisting positions. That’s the history of most of the institutions and organizations we take for granted today.

In this article, we introduce Stephanie Myers, a recent MPA (Masters in Public Administration) graduate at Villanova University in Villanova, PA. As readers soon learn, Myers is a decidedly determined young woman who is taking steps to try and change the world through her role as a volunteer and her dedication to a cause: the unrecognized – and therefore untreated – mental health issues among student athletes. To address these issues, Myers founded Mind4Athletes, Inc. (M4A), an organization so new that it doesn’t even have a Web site yet. In this article, we get to know Myers and her work, and discuss why and how she decided to form M4A.

In future stories published over the next months and years, we’ll revisit Myers and M4A to see how things are going. We hope this shared journey will give our volunteer management readers insight into how to support mavericks, Millennials, and dreamers like Myers.   

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The Sparking Controversy about Volunteer Internships

There was a time when the word “intern” was used mainly for doctors-in-training. Over the last 50 years, however, the concept has widened to include many different experiences in nonprofit, government and for-profit settings. Some internships are formal requirements through university courses, while others are totally individual to the intern and the host organization. Some are paid (medical interns are considered staff), others are remunerated through stipends or living expenses, and many are totally volunteer and unpaid.

Right now there is growing opposition to unpaid internships in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere. Opponents are quite vocal and have gained allies among labor unions and some politicians, taking their cause to the courts in an attempt to control internships or ban them outright. Among other things, these opponents state that internships: exploit the young adults seeking them; do not provide the training or professional development often promised; exclude those from low-income backgrounds who cannot afford to volunteer and forgo compensation; and benefit the recipient sponsors in ways that skirt labor and tax laws.

At the same, the volunteer field has grabbed onto the concept of internships as a great way to attract a wide range of new volunteers into roles with status and co-worker respect.

Which side is right? What – if anything – is clear cut and what is muddied or muddled? In this Points of View, authors Rob Jackson and Susan J. Ellis debate the issues and nuances of the internship dilemma. 

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Short Term Impact, Long Term Opportunities: The Political and Civic Engagement of Young Adults in America

This report examines the civic and volunteering behavior of young adults age 15-25 following September 11th. There are surprising findings, some of which we don't quite understand, so you'll have a chance to join in the analysis as we're trying to figure out what's going on.

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Political Volunteering: Lifeblood of Healthy Democracy

One of the most basic and vital types of volunteering is citizen involvement in democratic political processes. All the elements of volunteering and volunteer management are here: recruitment, volunteer leadership, supervision, volunteer motivation, etc. Guest contributor Debbie Macon is uniquely qualified to help bridge the perceived gap between citizen involvement and volunteering. She has had 10 years in public service as an elected official, and is a 20-year member of the League of Women Voters. In addition, she is a member of the Association for Volunteer Administration (AVA) and a member of the adjunct faculty of Wayne State University as co-instructor for "Managing Volunteer Programs" in the Nonprofit Sector Studies program.

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Towards a More Cohesive Volunteerism Public Affairs Strategy: A Story, Steps and Lessons from Minnesota

Paula J. Beugen, an active leader in the field of volunteerism and volunteer resources management for more than three decades, has observed legislation passed in her home state of Minnesota from the 1980s to the present. In this e-Volunteerism feature, Beugen asks why the needs of community volunteer programs and volunteers seem to be the lowest or last-to-get priority in policy conversations – and what the field of volunteer resources management can do about it.  

Beugen begins with the story of how she worked to raise the allowable volunteer mileage tax deduction rate, including her testimony at a Congressional hearing on volunteerism in 1980.  She then details public policy strategy carried out first by the former Minnesota Office on Volunteer Services and more recently by the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration. Finally, she discusses 2009 legislative advocacy efforts around both the resurfaced mileage deduction issue and the Serve America Act. Throughout her important story, Beugen elaborates on lessons learned through this timeline and history, asking readers to think about their own  volunteerism public policy experiences. She urges more advocacy to strengthen the infrastructure and capacity of volunteer programs and volunteers, stating, “We can and must come together.”  She poses some provocative and timely challenges to the field – both inside and outside the United States.

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Maori Volunteerism from 1800 to 1900: A recognition of community services in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Māori volunteerism, which has become embedded within the fabric of Māori communities, is a culture that derived from voluntary activity, introduced by immigrants in the early colonial settlements of Aotearoa/New Zealand.  Current literature, however, fails to provide sufficient evidence to pinpoint when this culture emerged; instead, literature discusses the contemporary culture of voluntary activity and attaches Māori terms to explain the behaviour.  This article provides an important new look at the origin to Māori volunteerism by identifying certain documentations in history where volunteerism was exercised by Māori.  It gives a voice to an activity that has been unrepresented, and recognises volunteers during 1800 to 1900 for their communal activity and contribution to building the society of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

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