Friday, May 1, 2020 at 11:29 AM
Friday, May 1, 2020 at 11:29 AM
Volunteer Appreciation Week is an opportunity to celebrate the incredible folks who dedicate their time and energy to our mission. But what about the team behind our volunteers?
With 18,000 volunteer shifts to coordinate and five programs to support, Martha’s Table’s Volunteer Engagement Team is all hands-on deck with a passion for community and service.
This week, we sat down with Volunteer Managers D’Mario Hill and Uneka King for an inside look at how they lead one of MT’s largest programs and why volunteerism resonates so deeply with them.
MT: How did you become introduced to Martha’s Table?
D’Mario: I was first introduced by a good friend of mine Jemarkus Booker, who at the time was in my current position. He would always talk about how our friend group should volunteer, and one day I did. My first volunteer experience with MT was terrific. My Market Leader, Sean Noyes, was super positive and fun.
Uneka: My first intro point was through Public Allies for two consecutive years. I also spent the summer in between working at Martha’s Outfitters Boutique. That was a fun summer! Working with James and Leslie and interacting with shoppers was great.
During my years as a Public Ally, there were some powerful moments for me. I grew up east of the river but still lived a somewhat sheltered life, and I never experienced interacting with people who were just so grateful to have a bag of lettuce or a pair of shoes.
D’Mario: Right after I volunteered a second time, I immediately knew I wanted to work with Martha’s Table. When Jermarkus was promoted, he told me about his position. I applied, and here I am! It was a natural choice.
Uneka: After Public Allies, I worked as a contractor and then transitioned to my role on the Volunteer Engagement Team. The transition was smooth; everyone already assumed I already worked there!
MT: What do you love most about your job?
Uneka: I love connecting volunteers with opportunities that impact them. It makes me feel good when a volunteer says, “Wow, I didn’t know you guys had this program I want to come back!”.
When we exceed those expectations for one reason or another, it’s great. Volunteers become engaged and take a personal investment in what we do as an organization because they enjoy it that much.
D’Mario: I’m a huge people person, so I love the fact that I am directly working with people every day and getting to work side by side with neighbors in the community.
MT: How has COVID-19 – “our new normal” shifted the volunteer experience, and what do you want our volunteers to know during this time?
Uneka: It breaks my heart a little when I see volunteers walking around with masks on having to practice social distancing. It impacts the opportunity for volunteers to connect. We have volunteers who have met their best friends or their spouse and physically distancing…it dilutes the experience.
I want volunteers to know that we’re still here and we still need them. They, too, are a part of our community and the resources we have available are open to them. We have a pool of resources for volunteers to access.
D’Mario: In terms of day to day operations, there is a reasonable amount of reassurance that we must give to our volunteers so that they are safe. However, the service and the actual atmosphere are fantastic!
I want volunteers to know that it’s completely understandable to be cautious about volunteering. I encourage everyone to make sure any volunteer experience is safe. I want them to know that we put our volunteers, community, and staff safety above all else. The experience that we provide is a safe, exciting, and impactful one.
MT: Why do you think the MT volunteer experience is so impactful?
D’Mario: We have amazing volunteers that show up with the best energy in the country! Our program leads love what they do, and that spirit and energy are infectious! Lastly, the work we do is genuine and meaningful. Martha’s Table operates community first, and that shows in our programming.
Uneka: I think that it’s impactful because our volunteer experience connects people of different backgrounds and puts you on the front lines with folks who have such a great need. It makes you think about things you probably never considered.
You never thought to have fresh produce was a big deal. You never thought that early childhood education was a big deal and how much that time between a child is born and when they enter Kindergarten is so essential to them. It makes you think about our mission and our intention.
MT: Where do you see the future of volunteer service?
D’Mario: I see it unifying people from different walks of life and backgrounds. I see it growing beyond our 18,000 volunteer opportunities and even beyond the district. I think one thing that’s important to me is for the community to see how we are stronger together than separate. One MT, one community.
Uneka: As a result of systemic hurdles, there will always be a need. There will always be people who do not have access to resources that are needed for survival. It’s the duty of all of us to lend a hand and help make sure that access is opened to those who previously have not had it. Volunteerism makes you aware that you are not the only person on the planet. It’s humbling.
MT: What do you love most about the Volunteer Engagement Team?
D’Mario: WHAT! You haven’t heard?! I work on the best team in all the land!!! Robbie, Uneka, Donna, and Devin are fantastic. Our department is high-energy, comfortable, and truly invested in the work that we do!
Uneka: The Volunteer Engagement Team is LIT! I’ve had the experience to work with some very amazing and brilliant and influential people on this particular team, and it has definitely contributed to my growth. Everyone has been excellent on this team.
As far as MT goes, I think that the work that is being done is needed in a community that we are now stapled in. I grew up in a neighborhood that’s less than 5 mins from the Commons; I wish that Martha’s Table was in Ward 8 when I was growing up. I am grateful for all the future little Uneka’s who are being nurtured right now in Southeast.
August 27, 2020 at 6:13 PM
This October, in collaboration with the Anacostia community and Families First DC, Martha’s Table will expand its community-driven services to better support children, families, and individuals.
July 31, 2020 at 2:48 PM
Continuing to support MT families right now is incredibly important. With this in mind, our family engagement team works incredibly hard to remain connected with parents.
July 6, 2020 at 6:13 PM
For D.C. residents, the “new normal” can take many forms. Ra’Chelle Dennis, a mother of two, Ward 8 business owner, and parent of a child enrolled in Martha’s Table’s early childhood education program, shares her perspective inside the pandemic. Here is her story in her own words…