New way to take time for Baltimore

If you've ever wanted to do some community service in Baltimore but simply haven't found the time, consider this idea: Take a workday for it.

That's the premise of a new program rolling out this week, Johns Hopkins Takes Time for Baltimore, which encourages university employees to devote two days of paid leave per year to volunteer at designated local community organizations or schools.

The possibilities are vast: building playgrounds, delivering furniture, tutoring students, planting gardens, cleaning up parks, and so forth. The new program, run by the Office of Work, Life and Engagement, promises to make good use of your helping hands for short-term projects at one of 20 local nonprofits or any Baltimore City public school.

"We're fulfilling dual needs here: helping community organizations achieve their missions and providing Johns Hopkins employees with a structured outlet for volunteering."
Ian Reynolds
Director, Worklife and Community Programs

The idea is to organize groups and departments at Johns Hopkins for service days or team-building activities that match their schedules and interests. To start the process, you first complete an interest form on the Work, Life and Engagement website indicating the type of activity you're looking for and days of availability—then the office will help connect and coordinate.

"We're fulfilling dual needs here: helping community organizations achieve their missions and providing Johns Hopkins employees with a structured outlet for volunteering," says Ian Reynolds, director of Worklife and Community Programs.

The program officially kicked off this Monday at the Family Recovery Program, a nonprofit in the Biddle Street neighborhood that provides supportive services for families affected by substance abuse. About two dozen Johns Hopkins volunteers were on hand for several hours to spruce up the building with new hallway murals and garden beds.

The Family Recovery Program is one of the 20 nonprofits that won grants this year through the Johns Hopkins Neighborhood Fund, which helps support (through employees' United Way donations) community-serving organizations in close proximity to the university's campuses.

For the Johns Hopkins Takes Time for Baltimore program, employee volunteers can work with any of the 2017 Neighborhood Fund grant recipients—a group that includes Moveable Feast, Reading Partners, Adelante Latina, the Living Classrooms Foundation, and the Bulldog Basketball School. Check out the full list here.

The new service program also folds in an existing effort, launched in 2010, that connects employees to volunteer opportunities at Baltimore City Public Schools. It's that program that pioneered the idea of allowing university employees to use paid leave time for service.

The same principle carries over with the expanded program: Groups of two or more employees can seek approval from their supervisors to pursue service opportunities during normally scheduled work hours—up to two days per fiscal year.

"For employees, this really is a valuable benefit to explore—a chance to break away from your desk and engage with the Greater Baltimore community," says Heidi Conway, the university's vice president for human resources. "Instead of taking time off for service, or shuffling it off to the weekends, you can fit it right into your work schedule."

Another advantage of expanding the program beyond schools is the greater flexibility it gives volunteers to find the right match, whether it's a project that takes sweat and manpower, or one demanding specialized skills—say, legal consulting or IT work.

"We're interested in finding the best fit for everyone involved," says Greg Burks, a community programs manager at Work, Life and Engagement, who is coordinating the new service program.

Burks expects there to be no shortage of needs from the community organizations—many of which are strapped for funds, staff, or other resources. "Wherever there's interest from university employees, we can create new pathways and opportunities," he says. "Just a day of service can make a big difference."

Case in point: Soon after the Johns Hopkins volunteers' visit to the Family Recovery Program, Jocelyn Gainers, its executive director, emailed to say, "The parents and staff of the Family Recovery Program @ The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Building at Sage Center are so very excited and grateful for the time your team spent at our facility today beautifying through paint and plants. I overheard one of the kids say, 'This is magical!' Thanks again for helping us add joy to lives of children and their families."