Jennifer Kelley, chair of the Bedford Volunteer Coordinating Committee, is energized by her role.
“It has been gratifying to feel like you’re making a difference,” Kelley said in a recent interview. She pointed out that the VCC is “the entry point for all other committees. So, we want to be easy for people to talk to and willing to communicate with residents.”
Kelley serves on the panel with Patricia Carluccio, Joseph Piantedosi, Kelly Korenak, and Angel Pettitt. A few years ago, the committee was expanded from three members to five. The intent was to broaden the reach among the town’s demographic elements, “candidates who might be newer to town government and represent the increasingly diverse demographics in town.”
The committee is “a great mix of folks who have been involved for a long time and some newer folks as well,” said Kelley, a local realtor who has been a member for eight years. “I think we really benefit from having the mix. By nature, we are approachable welcoming people. Everybody learns from each other, shares information from different networks.”
“One of the most important things that we as committee members do personally is make sure we are always communicating with our own circles,” she explained. “This is my second year as chair and I have had more opportunities to talk to interested candidates directly.”
“We are kind of ambassadors for Bedford within Bedford. Our job isn’t to go out and wrestle people into doing things, but to inform and try to recruit. That does require letting folks know what opportunities are out there to volunteer. There’s an entry point for everyone – that’s where we come in and help people use their time and skills where they will enjoy it and where they will be of value.”
Kelley observed, “I think for a lot of people, volunteering for a town committee isn’t their first foray into volunteerism.” For example, many parents get involved with their young children’s activities in school or recreation programs.
She noted that besides individual conversations, the committee has developed recruiting strategies over the past two years.
“We have curated a list of other town organizations,” she said. “Much like town committees, other organizations are made up of people who actively volunteer. People who are already involved know other people. We are really trying to expand the VCC’s network. We want to disseminate the information more widely.”
“We send information to town committees, other community organizations, and all of the school parent organizations,” Kelley said. “This is not my only volunteer gig so I understand what it’s like to be out there, doing a lot, and still make time for the town.”
Kelley described “a multi-step process of spotlighting” specific committee opportunities. “We discuss at our meetings a committee that might have a longstanding or multiple vacancies and might need a push. We reach out to the chair of that committee and they fill in the details on some of their latest projects, what kind of skills might be helpful on the committee. We put a full article together that we can share and link.”
“We are fortunate as a committee that we have a Select Board liaison and town manager’s staff, all of whom are very helpful with a lot of our technology and paperwork,” including the all-important website, Kelley noted. “When we decided to rework the information on our web page it was the folks in the town manager’s office who did that for us and they continue to keep it up.”
The VCC page on the town website is a one-stop clearinghouse for volunteer vacancies and descriptions, Kelley said.
“For volunteer groups, Covid has been tough, but I think virtual committee meetings made it easier for folks to tune into what’s going on,” Kelley remarked. “According to the town manager’s office, for the past year we had almost 40 new committee members. That’s an improvement over the year before, and we consider the last couple of years to have been very successful.”
“I think Covid hurt volunteerism in some ways,” Kelley commented. For example, “new parents came in under abnormal circumstances. We have been very fortunate fielding so many people willing to step up – I don’t think every organization is feeling that.”
Kelley pointed out that there are several ways for prospective volunteers to get on the committee’s radar: contacting the town manager’s office or any member directly; completing the volunteer questionnaire on the web page or as printed in the town meeting warrant.
Completed applications are reviewed at VCC meetings and passed along to the appointing authority, usually the Select Board, with interviews scheduled through the town manager’s office.
“We screen for basic criteria – residency, registered to vote. We really encourage folks to attend at least one of the meetings” if they have a committee targeted, Kelley said. “We ask that volunteers have a general understanding of the time commitment, and have some skill or interest level – not necessarily an expert but having some idea of what’s involved and how they might be able to help.”
“People should know that appointment is not an intimidating process. The Select Board is very grateful to people who come to volunteer,” Kelley said.
“Some folks reach out and say, ‘I just want to volunteer.’ Sometimes we get applications. You can reach out to the VCC or do your research first,” Kelley said. “We are happy to help folks as early in the process as they want.”