Mitch - 8,164 miles, 508 hours
Even though my time in San Francisco has passed, I am still reminded of it quite often. One of my favorite ways in which I am transported back to the bay, is during my meditation practice. I have you to thank for my newfound morning meditation practice, and it's become my favorite part of my day the past few weeks. Each time I sit down and close my eyes, I start to see waves breaking and crashing as if I'm at Ocean Beach and they're going right over my head. I may not physically be able to go to the beach each week anymore, but my mind is doing a great job of transporting me back there each day, and I'm not mad about it.
Right now, I'm down in LA taking things easy with Andy before I head over to Tucson for the final leg of the trip. Having some free time here in LA has allowed me to reflect more about my work in SF with the food bank, and I have a few takeaways that I think you might find interesting.
The first is how important I think skills based volunteerism is not only for non-profit organizations, but volunteers as well. During my month at the food bank, I was able to provide insight on an issue that their policy and advocacy team is currently in the process of tackling. The work revolved mainly around technology for social service programs, so given my four years of work on CARES in Wisconsin, I was able to provide valuable insights that not every volunteer would be able to provide. At the end of the day, the work I was able to do and the value I was able to bring based on the skills I had made for a much bigger impact at the food bank than if I simply signed up for a month's worth of volunteer slots. I also left the food bank with a greater sense of accomplishment since the work I was doing was only made possible by the skills I was bringing to bear. I love how skills based volunteerism drives up value for both the organization and the individual volunteer, which I think in turn leads to a better relationship between the two, and a higher potential for more collaboration in the future.
My next big takeaway was understanding the role of non-profit organizations in times of emergency. When I came into town the week of the northern California wild fires, it was all hands on deck at the food bank to help support the communities up north. Whether it was sending additional food, finding more warehouse workers to support increased demand, or helping those in need sign up for disaster benefits, everyone at the food bank was putting in extra hours on top of their everyday jobs to help. And the support isn't just for the tragedies that hit close to home. The food bank had also sent volunteers down to Houston for weeks at a time to support the increased need after the hurricanes hit. Through these examples I was able to better understand how important it is to have a strong network of organizations that a community can lean on in dire times. If there wasn't already a strong enough reason to support local non-profits, I hope we can all learn from the most recent emergency situations, and do whatever we can to support those that will be there for us when our communities need it most.
My last takeaway isn't so much related to my work at the food bank, but to some conversations I've had with non-profit workers during my sabbatical. Often times a non-profit is rated based on the percentage of money they put back into their programs. The higher the better, just as I had mentioned in my last letter to you after talking about The Food Bank of the Rockies' impressive numbers. The food bank here in SF has equally spectacular numbers, but I think it's becoming harder for me to say if that is a good thing or a bad thing in the social sector. In one regard it is excellent because it equates to more money spent on programs. But on the other hand, I think it can have negative effects on the perception of success for a non-profit or the ability for a non-profit to attract top talent. One part of a non-profit's spending that isn't to programs is admin costs, and rolled up in that are the salaries of employees. If this number is to be kept low for the sake of ratings, then it begs the question as to what kind of talent are non-profits capable of hiring and retaining? Seems like a good starter question to be discussed over a cup of coffee or two.
As I wrap up this letter, I'm sitting in my tent in the middle of the desert. Tomorrow I head to the Grand Canyon to check out a big hole in the ground, which will mark the beginning of my four week stint in Arizona. It feels like just yesterday I was in the same tent but instead penning my very first letter to my mom. Hard to imagine it's five months down and one to go.
Alongside my morning meditation practice, I also have started a positive affirmation practice in which I read hand-picked quotes that I find myself resonating with. My favorite at the moment is by David Foster Wallace, and it reads, "Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it." If I can give you one cliche piece of advice for your sabbatical, it'd be to make the most of every second of every day. It's going to go by quickly, but if you grab on tight enough, it'll make it's mark on you, just as you will on it.