Today’s post comes from Molly Louthan, Chicago Cares volunteer leader and Primary Project Site Manager for the Annual Chicago Cares Serve-a-thon.

I come back to Serve-a-thon year after year because I love the HUGE sense of accomplishment volunteers feel when they walk out of a newly painted school.

That sense of accomplishment only grows at the after party when thousands of volunteers gather to exchange stories.  There is an overwhelming sense of “Can you believe we did all of that in just one day?!?”  It is incredibly motivating to help people understand the power of giving back, both the personal reward and the community improvement.  It is human nature to want to give back and improve our community, and Chicago Cares makes it easy.

Every year I sign up to serve as a Primary Project Site Manager at a school.  I bring together other great leaders (Project Site Managers, or PSMs) that have volunteered with me in the past as well as new people assigned to my team by Chicago Cares.  Together, about 8 leaders manage 250 volunteers as they paint one school.  Does paint spill on the floor?  Yes, of course, but we clean it up.  At the end of the day does the school look amazing?  Totally!

I still remember the first year I served as a Serve-a-thon Primary Project Site Manager.  I was 23 years old, working in my first job out of college.  Was I ready to manage an army of 250 volunteers to paint Lozano Elementary? Hardly.  But Chicago Cares armed me with the tools and training that I needed in order to be successful.  I gathered a group of friends to help me lead the project and did site visits with the school supervisors and maintenance engineers.  I prepared everything on the check list, double checked the supplies, and got a good night’s sleep.

I was extremely prepared.

The only problem? The volunteer bus was late.  Inside I was panicking and trying to determine which school room wasn’t going to get painted.  I could picture the kids’ faces, extremely upset that their room was the only one left out.  So I hustled the volunteers through the intro and quickly got them started painting.

The thing is…250 people can accomplish a lot.  We actually finished with extra time and extra paint, so we had volunteers paint the teachers’ lounge.  All the volunteers got on the bus right on time at the end of the day and the principal of the school was ecstatic.

Now, that’s not to say there weren’t issues.  There always will be: spilled paint, not enough ladders in one room, too many people in the next.  You can’t prepare for that the night before.  But, man, was that excellent training for my future.

You can’t get experience leading people at that magnitude at any company at the age of 23.  Nor is there an easy way to get trained to manage people in high paced environment.  Chicago Cares has basically given me a real world MBA, for free.  All they ask is that I help improve the community where I live.  WHAT A DEAL!

Ready to join Molly as a leader for this year’s Serve-a-thon? Register to serve as a Project Site Manager today.