April 20, 2020
Towson University (MD)
Volunteering with NACA has been one of the best professional experiences of my life. I’ve volunteered since the fall of 2011 when I was in my first semester as a student activities professional after having attended graduate school and worked in residence life. I was “voluntold” by my then supervisor to apply for a position on the NACA® Mid Atlantic Festival because they needed a logistics coordinator. Little did I know this experience would set me up for many years of involvement through multiple volunteer roles. I was searching for a place of belonging within the student activities field and I found it through volunteering.
I greatly appreciated all I learned from other volunteers while serving in my various roles, from the NACA Office staff, and from associate members. I’ve served as an Educational Session Reviewer, held positions on the NACA® Mid Atlantic Regional Conference Program Committee (RCPC) and Festival, been a member of the Concert Management Institute staff, and served on the National Volunteer Development Team. These roles have given me a wealth of experiences that have helped me create my NACA community. Consequently, the friends I’ve made have allowed me to challenge myself in new volunteer roles, share ideas for NACA involvement and for work, and socialize outside of work and conferences.
One such connection has led to a friendship that has been crucial in helping me get through the current COVID-19 pandemic. I met Joe Benyish at a Mid Atlantic Regional Conference in Lancaster, PA many years ago. He was a former student of a co-worker at the time, and because it was his first year as a professional, my co-worker wanted me to meet him and encourage him to get involved as a volunteer. We met and talked, and the following year, he served on the Mid Atlantic RCPC alongside me! He has gone on to volunteer for many years and is the current National Block Booking Chair and NACA’s “top fan” (shout out #blockswithjoe). I’m so happy I made that connection those years ago, encouraged his volunteer engagement and involvement, and now can call him a friend.
I share this story because it’s truly the connections we have with others that help us get through times like these. Through this connection, I’ve been able to co-chair a student life consortium in Maryland where we set up weekly meetings on virtual programming and how to support our staff while so many of our institutions are closed. Through the NACA community, I’ve been involved in multiple Facebook groups that offer support. Through the NACA Office, the broader NACA community has supported me through blog posts, posted videos, and informative and encouraging emails. In student activities, we program, we are with students, and we are BUSY. Currently, we’ve been stripped of much of that. The majority of us are working remotely, so we ask ourselves, “How do we matter in our roles now?” NACA and the community I’ve found within it helps me stay positive and remember that what we do does matter and will continue to matter in engaging students (virtually) on campus.
Although my term on the National Volunteer Development Team is quickly coming to an end, I look back on my almost nine years of volunteer involvement with love and respect for all those involved in NACA. I will continue my volunteer involvement for years to come in different ways, and I will continue to grow my NACA community. It has truly given me what I need when I’ve needed it. Now it provides a safe space to talk to others in the community, share ideas, and simple be present for each other.
Getting involved in NACA is what you make of it. But if you put your heart into it, get involved, and truly want to learn through your experiences, you will build your own community through volunteering.
Elizabeth Purswani is the assistant director of programming in the Office of Student Activities at Towson University. She serves as one of the Assistant National Volunteer Development Coordinators on the National Volunteer Development Team.