Guest post by Jovida Ross, Exhale
At Exhale we provide services, training and education to help individuals, families and communities achieve health and well-being following the decision to have an abortion. In 2010 we faced a number of challenges.
Like many organizations, we saw our revenue go down and the demand for our services go up. Simultaneously, one of our long-time organizational leaders decided it was time to move on to other endeavors. This is the story of how our volunteers lead our organization through this difficult time, and what they learned along the way.
These challenges could have seemed insurmountable to many. The Exhale Board and Staff team considered the challenge, and, importantly, we considered our strengths. Exhale turned to one of our strongest resources: our counselors, who are volunteers.
The counselors felt it was so important for Exhale to continue to offer welcoming, non-judgmental support to callers and members of our private online community, that they opted to manage these programs themselves. A team was formed to lead this effort. Dubbed the “Transition Team”, these four women – Holly Carpenter, Erika Jackson, Danielle Thomas and Carolina Gonzalez-Vilar – worked in tandem to ensure Exhale’s programs continued to operate with their usual standards of excellence.
The Transition Team led Exhale’s programs for six months, until I was hired on as the new Director of Programs. I recently asked the Transition Team members to reflect on their experience, what they learned, and what they have to pass on to other volunteer leaders. (See the full interview on the Exhale blog).
Me: How did it feel to take on a higher level of responsibility, managing programs as a volunteer?
Holly: Stepping into leadership during the staffing transition felt really risky. I had never done it before, and it had never been done before at Exhale.
Erika: There was a point, midway through, I had this moment of thinking, “How much longer are we going to do this? Are we doing a good job?” I felt less anxious when we were able to connect as a team.
Carolina: Seeing so many different people work together to do one person’s job helped me to see teamwork in different way, because we really had to work together to make sure everyone was on the same page.
Danielle: The counselors were really receptive; at first I worried that things would fall apart or that counselors wouldn’t respond, but everyone really stepped up. That made this role feel good. It demonstrated to me that Exhale’s counselor model is ingrained in how we work together.
Me: How did you learn and grow through this experience?
Carolina: I definitely have a newfound respect for managing volunteers and how different it is from managing staff. With each volunteer, you have to understand what their motivation is [for participating] and speak to that.
Holly: Leadership involves more grunt work than I imagined! It’s not just about being an innovator, it takes work and follow-through. My understanding of non-profit organizations also increased.
Erika: This was the first time I stepped up into a leadership role at Exhale. I always thought before that I wouldn’t have time to do all these awesome things. Now I know that being a leader doesn’t mean I have to be available all the time, as long as there is clear communication.
From everyone at Exhale: Thank you Holly, Danielle, Erika and Carolina!
Jovida Ross brings her passion for working with volunteers to her role as Director of Programs at Exhale. The organization works to create a social climate where each person’s unique experience with abortion is supported, respected and free from stigma.