Welcome to the first Chicago Cares staff blog! Today’s blog comes to us from Caroline, Senior Manager of Annual Events. Caroline recently attended the National Conference on Service and Volunteering and the American Express Nonprofit Leadership Academy in New York City. 

The 2010 National Conference on Service and Volunteering, co-convened by the Corporation for National & Community Service and the Points of Light Institute, took place in arguably one of the most exciting and culturally vibrant cities in America: New York City. A handful of my Chicago Cares colleagues and I were part of the 5,000 strong who showed up en masse to learn about current trends in volunteerism, gain best practices from professionals from across the country and the globe, and be inspired by the courage and will of our fellow friends in service.  “It’s Up to YOU” was the theme for this year’s convening and there is, perhaps, no more poignant message to address the current challenges we are facing in America. In light of these economic and social issues, this year’s conference empowered us to own a stake in the future of our communities rather than waiting on others to take action. 

Perhaps one of the most exciting announcements came during the opening plenary regarding the newly developed coalition: Cities of Service. What is the Cities of Service, you may ask? According to the website, “Cities of Service is a bi-partisan coalition of the mayors of large and small cities from across our country who will work together to engage citizens to address the great challenges of our time.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that due to the overwhelming response to the first round of Rockefeller Foundation leadership grants awarded to ten Cities of Service Leadership Grant awardees, the Rockefeller Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies have teamed up to provide additional grants to expand the program to include an additional ten cities. “The Cities of Service Leadership Grants provide recipient cities with $200,000 over a two-year period to hire a Chief Service Officer.” Chicago is among the cities chosen to receive a leadership grant. You can view the other participating cities here.

In addition to attending the full national conference, I was also one of 24 nonprofit leaders, recognized as high-potential emerging leaders, chosen to participate in the American Express Nonprofit Leadership Academy from June 26-27, 2010. This was amazing experience! Although it was certainly an abridged version to the much more in-depth weeklong academy, the facilitators at the Center for Creative Leadership expertly crafted and led our discussions so that the participants could gain a tremendous amount of applicable knowledge in a short timeframe. The feedback-intense sessions centered on a 360 degree evaluation which was filled out in advance by our peers, direct/indirect reports and supervisors, as well as ourselves. This assessment was an invaluable tool to gain unbiased insight into our strengths and areas of development as a leader. The highlight of the two day seminar was the opportunity to meet for one hour with an executive coach to discuss our assessment. The executive coach provided tangible steps to help us tackle our areas of improvement and any key leadership issues we are struggling with in our current position. Through this academy, it is clear that American Express recognizes the importance of investing in nonprofit leaders of tomorrow. By working to address our development areas now, we can better focus on how to inspire our organizations and communities today and into the future.

The entire experience at the national conference – from inspirational words from organizations like New York Says Thank You to a panel discussing the future of education in America, featuring the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan –truly motivated me to take action. I am invigorated with new ideas on how I can not only carry the service movement forward but also make a sustainable difference in my community. It is clear: It’s Up to YOU and ME.