ORONO, Maine — When hosting a talk about inspiring volunteerism, it’s good to have someone who has helped feed the homeless, inspired students through leadership, and found a way to assist others even though she leads a very busy life herself.
That is exactly what participants at the 25th annual Blaine House Conference on Service and Volunteerism got with keynote speaker Tammi DeVille of Denver, a volunteer, mentor and author.
“My intention is to inspire and celebrate volunteerism,” she told a crowd of more than 300 volunteers and volunteer managers who gathered for the daylong conference Tuesday at the University of Maine.
She got attendees excited about what they do by telling stories about four Mainers who inspired her through their volunteer work.
Disabled U.S. Navy veteran Craig Jackson, a University of Maine at Augusta student who mentors other student veterans there, is “doing huge things in his community,” DeVille said.
Maureen and Bucky Brooks began volunteering with Friends of Acadia 18 years ago and have no plans to slow down anytime soon, she said.
Nancy Teel of Farmington found her passion for community service when she wrote a grant proposal and was awarded funds to help her neighbors winterize their homes. Her endeavor, the Community Weatherization Challenge, now has dozens of volunteers who help others throughout the state, the keynote speaker said.
“It’s really an honor and a privilege to give back to your community,” said DeVille, who wrote “Changing the World on a Tuesday Night,” a book that profiles 48 volunteers.
After DeVille encouraged conference attendees to turn to a person beside them to tell and listen to their individual stories, she sent them off to the professional development portion of the conference.
The first Blaine House Conference on Service and Volunteerism was held in 1986 in Bethel with only 50 volunteers in attendance. For the past quarter-century, the conference has provided a gathering place for volunteer administrators and program managers from around the state to network and learn from each other, said Drew Matlins, chairman of the conference.
A second keynote speaker Tuesday was Kaira Esgate of Reimagining Service, a group based in Sacramento, Calif., that was one of the sponsors of the conference. Esgate outlined the benefits of a “service enterprise model,” a way to leverage volunteers and their skills to help meet an organization’s social mission.
New to this year’s conference was the naming of the first Champion of Service Award, which was presented to Judi Stebbins of Winthrop by Mary-Anne LaMarre, chairwoman of the Maine Commission for Community Service, another of the conference’s sponsors.
Stebbins, who started an all-volunteer drug abuse recovery program, moved to Maine 45 years ago, spent 20 years as a Winthrop Town Council member and has given her time as a member of the Maine Commission for Community Service since 1997, LaMarre said.
The conference ended with a celebration of its 25 years.
Before sending attendees off to learn, DeVille reminded volunteers and volunteer managers that everything they do is appreciated.
“It’s easy to look at what’s not done, … but it’s not often that we celebrate what we have accomplished,” she said.
DeVille then encouraged conference attendees to give each other high-fives whenever they heard or learned something inspiring during the conference.