By Samuel Moore-Sobel
The opportunity to serve on a board of directors is rare, especially for young adults. But as a senior in high school this past year, I had the honor to serve as a member of the Good Shepherd Alliance (GSA) Board of Directors with fellow student Nicole Levinson (Loudoun County High School). The GSA is a non-profit organization that aids the homeless people of Loudoun County and the surrounding community. In the summer of 2011, I saw the organization was looking for high school students to volunteer on their Youth Committee. I chose to apply for the position because I was drawn to the idea of making a difference in the lives of the homeless in our community. This is due, in part, to a difficult episode I had in the recent past.
In September 2009, I was hired for a day to help some people move furniture and boxes. We were cleaning out the shed when a box that contained a glass jar of sulfuric acid exploded, and I suffered second and third degree burns on my face and arms. After this terrible experience I came to believe that “service is the rent you pay for living,” and I desperately wanted to turn this negative experience into something positive. Needless to say, I was excited when I was selected for the position on the GSA board.
After meeting with GSA board members Steve D’Argenio and Bob Ohneiser, I came in with high hopes. I wanted to hit a home run by making a huge impact. I knew I only had one year to make a difference. So following the suggestion of Mr. D’Argenio, we began working on a poetry book project. We collected 423 poems written by elementary school students on the topic “what does home or homelessness mean to you?” I worked hard to raise $725 in sponsorships for the book from businesses in and around Loudoun County. We published the book in mid-December and made it available for sale to parents and others in the community. It didn’t raise as much money as we hoped, and looking back I would have done things differently. But I learned a lot which helped me with the project I undertook this past spring.
As a member of Forward Turn, a student board for the Piedmont Community Foundation, I knew that we were looking for student-run programs that would positively affect Loudoun or Fauquier County. So I applied for and received a $2,000 grant to install window screens, mulch the playground and plant shrubs at one of the GSA homeless shelters called the Hebron House. On a pleasant weekend in May, the Crossroads Church youth group assisted me in carrying out the job.
It was also great to see other members of the Youth Subcommittee make a difference in the community. Hameeda Naimi, senior at Loudoun Valley High School, organized a “Sleep-Out” at her school to raise money and awareness about the GSA and homelessness. She invited students from all around the county to spend the night in the school gymnasium. We had a booth set up with literature about the GSA and ultimately raised $5,000.
A great lesson I gained from this experience is that you don’t always know the issues facing the board members of an organization without sitting in their shoes. I learned a lot regarding finances and mortgages, but I also learned about the different things you have to juggle when serving on a board. As a board member it is important to follow the executive director’s advice as they run the day-to-day operations of the organization. But it is also important to go with your gut as someone who can give a fresh perspective.
Collaboration among members is also very important. In order to get anything done, most members have to be unified on an issue. No one board member can act alone and expect to get their policies passed by the rest of the board. Time and care should be taken to garner the respect of the board. Over the first few months I spent a lot of time trying to show that I had the ability to hold my own in board meetings and interactions with other members.
Overall I enjoyed my time on the board and am grateful I was able to participate. I learned a tremendous amount just by seeing how the organization worked. I hope to one day start my own non-profit organization and this experience has given me a greater frame of reference for how to do so successfully.
For students who are looking for an exciting opportunity to make a difference in the lives of many in our community, I recommend joining the GSA Youth Committee. Students need more opportunities like this to learn lessons that can only be taught through first-hand experience.
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