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Blazing new trails: How a New York City retiree found purpose in stonework

Originally from Cuba and now living in Poughkeepsie, New York, 61-year-old Artie Hidalgo worked for the New York City Transit Authority for 36 years before retiring as an assistant general manager in 2010. That year, he started building trails to make paths safer and more convenient for hikers. Hidalgo now co-leads the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew, an all-volunteer group specializing in wilderness stonework. Below, he talks about his passion.

This post originally appeared on Next Avenue, a PBS website that informs and inspires the 50 + crowd. 

I knew volunteering would be an important aspect of my retirement. I also knew I wanted to do stuff outdoors.

An avid hiker, I was always fascinated by the dry stonework used on hiking trails to prevent erosion, as well as how it got there.

Dry stone has been around for thousands of years. Look at the Great Wall of China and the Aqueducts in Rome. They’re such beautiful structures. There’s something primitive about building with natural stone. It’s like sculpture, in a way.

Since 99 percent of the work on U.S. trails is done by volunteers, I developed a game plan to volunteer by doing dry stone building.

In 2010, I joined the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, a nonprofit that monitors and maintains trails and took a dry stone building course. As soon as I finished, I began volunteering and put in almost 1,000 hours that season. It was the highest number of hours from a volunteer for the group in a single year.

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Photo of Artie courtesy of the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew.

One of my jobs was working on a reroute of the Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain. During the weekdays, there were hardly any volunteers so I had the opportunity to work directly with a professional trail crew that was overseeing volunteer training.

I developed a really close working relationship with them and they would ask me to do stuff that sometimes volunteers wouldn’t want to do because it was really hard, like turning big rocks into little rocks with a sledgehammer.

Toward the end of my first season, one of the guys took me to a site on Bear Mountain. “I need you to build a staircase here,” he said. “It’s probably going to be about 15 or 16 steps.”

I was shocked. Prior to that, I’d only built a two- or three-step staircase. I remember asking, “Tom, do you think I can do this?” He said, “Yeah, I think you can.”

I tell you, I worked for six or seven weeks on this project and it’s still so gratifying.

Sometimes, I walk new volunteers up it when we do an orientation because that staircase is so special to me. But I never think of it as my staircase. I always think of it as being done by all the guys on that crew who inspired me and gave me the opportunity to build it. I’m incredibly grateful to them.

I developed a special chemistry with two of the guys, Chris Ingui and Bob Brunner, and in 2011 the three of us built an all-volunteer crew specifically devoted to stonework, known as The Jolly Rovers.

We started with 12 volunteers who had little or no experience in trail building. We taught them how to do stonework and had an incredible season.

Now there are 23 Jolly Rover volunteers, men and women of all ages, and we have a deep connection that goes beyond stonework. This has become an extended family for all of us.

That’s the thing about my experience doing this kind of work. I’ve done it in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee and North Carolina and the quality and caliber of people I’ve met is astonishing. Nobody is pretentious. Nobody has a chip on his shoulder.

Ideally I’d like to see the crew evolve to the point where we can do what we’re doing on a national basis and expand internationally.

I feel so proud about what I’ve done as a volunteer.

I look back on my 36-year career with the Transit Authority and say, “Wow, what was that all about?” But when I look back on the last three years of my life, every structure that I built will outlive me, outlive my sons.

I remember taking my sons to Bear Mountain and they said, “I don’t believe this, Pop! This is awesome!”

They had heard me talk about what we did, but they never saw the magnitude of the structures that we built.

That stuff is going to be around for a long, long time. Nobody is going to put up a parking lot in any of these places. These are protected sites.

And that’s what I feel is so gratifying about it. In today’s modern culture, where else are you going to get the kind of opportunity I’ve had?

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In the NY area and interested in doing trail work? The Jolly Rovers are always looking for volunteers.  

Interested in trail work in other parts of the country? Try searching Idealist for opportunities around the U.S. and world

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Colorado Snapshot: Senior volunteers continue to make a difference

Meet three sprightly Southern Colorado septuagenarians who won’t stop.

After a long teaching career, Rhoda Cordry still has a spring in her step

Rhoda Cordry, now 78, retired from a satisfying career as a public elementary school teacher in the mid-1980s with no particular plans to take on another big job. But after a friend asked her to attend a community meeting about restoring the town’s unique cold mineral springs she found herself intrigued by a new endeavor.

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Cheyenne Spring, one of Manitou, CO’s prized cold mineral springs. Photo courtesy of the Mineral Springs Foundation.

“Manitou is right in the mountains; we can’t grow physically as a town,” explains Rhoda. “And there’s no industry, so we have to do something to keep the economy up as a tourist attraction. The springs are the thing, but they’re hard on the pipes and fountains people put them through—they clog, corrode, eat through them. They need maintenance.”

In 1987, Rhoda and a handful of other concerned locals started the Mineral Springs Foundation to restore, protect, publicize, and document Manitou’s springs. So far, they’ve succeeded in working with private landowners and the city to restore eight of the area’s approximately two dozen springs, and are working toward more. Rhoda left the foundation in 1995 due to health problems, but stays involved.

“I spent all my working years teaching elementary school, so that was child- and parent-focused,” she says. “But this was a whole new world. I learned a whole new set of skills, met wonderful people, and benefited greatly from it. I loved teaching, but I loved this, too. People asked what I wanted to do in retirement, and I said ‘I don’t know!’ So I’m glad this happened.”

Eagle Scout badge, black tie, and choir robe: some of Arthur Benson’s many uniforms 

“Being an Eagle Scout is probably worth $50,000 over a lifetime in terms of preference for schools and jobs,” says Arthur Benson, a 71-year-old retired plastics industry manager who now spends between 40 and 50 hours a month volunteering for five organizations in Colorado Springs. One of his favorite roles is as a leader and committee chairman of a local Boy Scout troop.

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Arthur Benson presents the Theodore Roosevelt Medal of the Navy League of the United States to a junior ROTC cadet. Photo courtesy of Arthur Benson.

“When I was in my 30s, I mentioned being a Scout leader in a job interview and the first question was, ‘Were you an Eagle Scout?’ and I was able to say yes. And I’ve read many college admissions deans say that all things being equal, they’ll choose the Scout,” he says. “It’s because scouting drills integrity into boys—teaches them about trustworthiness and loyalty, and how to live those traits out. It’s the right age to teach them, too, because then at 16 or 17, two kinds of fumes draw them away from scouting: gas fumes and perfume!”

Arthur is also a retired Navy officer with 23 years of service. He’s now active with the Navy League, an international, 50,000-member civilian organization that educates the public and Congress about the value and needs of the country’s sea services—”a mission especially important in a landlocked state,” says Arthur.

As treasurer of the local board and Navy Ball committee, Arthur helps to raise about $20,000 a year to support the League at the annual black-tie-or-uniform Navy Birthday Ball they sponsor for hundreds of active military and the public in Colorado Springs.

In addition, Arthur sings in two choirs and volunteers as treasurer for the small foundation that owns the real estate assets of his church, as well as for a charter school building corporation. “Those commitments don’t take a lot of time now, but I have a feeling they’ll snowball!” he says.

Bob Baker takes on many roles as the roll winds down

“Serving at the soup kitchen is really neat; it’s humbling,” says Bob Baker, 70, of the monthly volunteering he does with his wife in Colorado Springs. “Serving at that level is really valuable.”

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Bob Baker of Colorado Springs. Photo courtesy of Bob Baker.

But Bob has served at many levels for a long time, including in his professional life as CEO of Goodwill Industries of Southern Colorado for 17 years. Prior to that, when he was president of a local bank, he also dedicated time to the United Way, first as a campaign solicitor and eventually as chairman of the board of their local chapter.

“The United Way was a very vibrant organization at that time,” Bob says. “They had a ‘give once’ philosophy—you’d give once, to them, and they’d distribute your donation to worthy organizations in the community. It was very effective.”

Since retirement, among a host of other volunteer pursuits, Bob has joined the board of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, a Catholic organization that provides health care and other services to those in need.

“The connections I’ve made—as a nonprofit CEO, board member, and volunteer—they’ve been very important,” he says. “I’ve maintained a lot of them. But life is that roll of toilet paper, right? And now, it’s winding down, so I want to make good use of the time I have left. There’s great fulfillment in all types of community involvement. We’ve been fortunate, and giving back is important to us.”

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In Colorado and want to volunteer? Search hundreds of opportunities on Idealist. Or check out Metro Volunteers, a Denver-based organization that promotes volunteerism in the community.

Learn more about Colorado month at Idealist!

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Setting sail, again: Navy vet returns to volunteer on retired submarine

Ron Bell is one of 10 U.S. Navy submarine veterans who volunteer to lead weekly visitor tours on the USS Blueback, a sub docked outside the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon. Retired from a career in scrap metal construction, Bell spoke with me about why he loves volunteering.

This post originally appeared on Next Avenue, a PBS website that informs and inspires the 50 + crowd. 

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Ron Bell below deck in the USS Blueback

I had been following the USS Blueback submarine since it was retired in 1990, because that’s what we submarine vets do. I was in the Navy for four years during two wars, and worked on a few submarines similar to this one, doing everything from maintenance to communications. When I heard the Blueback was coming to Portland, I had to see it and I had to be a part of it.

So in 1995, soon after it docked, I got involved in volunteering there. From giving tours of the sub to performing maintenance — whatever needs to be done, I do it.

I’m also here because submarines are the most beautiful pieces of machinery. Once you get bit by these things, you want to know all there is about them. You can’t quit.

Checking up on the sub

The Navy still owns the Blueback, but they’ve made it non-operational. For good reason, maybe. To be honest, I don’t think they trust us old sub vets not to take it for a spin. Every year or so, they visit to make sure it’s still up to par. Which, of course, it always is, since they’ve got us on deck.

I enjoy everything about what I do down here. I love telling our tours how we lived on a sub back then and sharing old stories. People like hearing them and I like telling ‘em, so it works out nicely.

In the Navy, I was in Hawaii, Australia, the Philippines — during the Vietnam War — and then the coast of Europe, especially Russia, during the Cold War when I was in a nuclear sub. We got hit by Communist missiles a couple times.

You have to go through sub school, which is a rigorous, intensive type of training. Everyone on deck needs to know how to do everything, in case something goes wrong.

The USS Blueback docked outside of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (Photo credit: Meltedplastic on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/meltedplastic/8415091795)

The USS Blueback docked outside of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (Photo credit: Meltedplastic on Flickr)

The joy of volunteering with fellow vets

The point is, sub vets worked hard to get to where they are. We are all very proud of what we’ve done and deeply respect each other. That’s what makes it so rewarding to work together here. Being on a sub in the Navy is something that connects us all at a very deep level.

I’ll tell ya, if you get a bunch of sub vets together for a cup of coffee after our shift, you end up sharing a lot of laughs and old sea stories, which is just the Navy term for lies.

I’ve visited amazing places around the world while on patrol, but now all I want to do is stay in the states and see this beautiful country where my wife and I live. We make time for RV trips every year to do just that.

An opportunity for time traveling

And of course, I travel back in time when I’m on the sub. As soon as I first walked on board the USS Blueback, it was just like “Boom!” I was back. And I loved it.

And I think the rest of the vets here feel the same. Being here brings back so many fond memories; it’s good for the heart.

I have to say my favorite part of volunteering is when young sub sailors come down to look at the old machinery — it’s a piece of history. They respect us more than anyone, since they know they wouldn’t be where they are if it wasn’t for us guys. That’s why doing this matters.

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Want to volunteer in your community? Search over 13,000 volunteer opportunities around the globe listed on Idealist. 

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Sewing, photography, and researching: Can you use these skills to make a difference?

Photo credit: Donna Cymek, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: Donna Cymek, Creative Commons/Flickr

You sure can! And each of the individuals below would love to tell you how!

Each week, we’ll introduce you to some members of the Idealist community who are out to do good in the world. You can get to any of their profiles by clicking on their picture. Then just click Send a Message to reach out!

WasimWasim has worked for a wide array of media organizations around Los Angeles and amassed an impressive amount of experience. He founded Kotori Magazine in 2003 and is also an avid photographer, a skill he would like to use to help out organizations and causes he supports. Check out his Idealist profile to see some links to his photos, and contact him if you have any questions about media or want to collaborate on a project.

 

 

Sara

 

After graduating college with a degree in anthropology, Sara worked with primates in Oregon, Indonesia, and Chicago. Now she’s moving to Arizona after acquiring an M.A. in Nonprofit Management. She’d love to share her knowledge about anthropology, primates, and nonprofits, so send her a message!

 

 

ClayClay recently moved to Maryland and works with Habitat for Humanity. He’s dedicated to living and promoting a sustainable lifestyle, and would like to meet people that share his concern for the environment. He’s particularly concerned with lessening fossil fuel consumption and revitalizing urban communities. Help Clay make a change and drop him a line!

 

 

Alissa For the past seven years, Alissa has owned and operated a clothing boutique in Southampton, NY. She’s an expert in fashion design and has been sharing her skills with others for years. She is particularly interested in teaching young adults and children how to sew and design. If you’re curious about the fashion industry she’s an invaluable resource.

 

 

April

April is one of our editors at Idealist, and loves connecting with interesting people. She can give you advice about everything from urban bike riding to 3-day weekend itineraries. She’s a great person to contact if you have questions about how to start a career in writing or just want some suggestions about getting involved in the NYC nonprofit community.

 

 

Are you looking for advice? Or partners and collaborators? Do you have knowledge to share? Create a profile to offer your expertise to the community and to connect with people who can answer your questions, partner with you on a project, or help with an idea you’ve been developing. Include information about your past work and what you’re looking to get involved in. Happy connecting!

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Special event: 6 ways to rock your nonprofit career in 2013

We know that many members of our community are looking for ways to take their careers to the next level. To help, we’re co-sponsoring a free teleseminar with leadership experts Rosetta Thurman and  Trista Harris and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network to share tips and resources on how to take your career to the next level.

Can’t make it? Check out other free teleseminars in the Nonprofit Rockstar Series

January Teleseminar Image

6 Ways to Rock Your Nonprofit Career in 2013

Date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Time: 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm EST

Where: via teleconference, dial-in information will be provided upon registration

This teleseminar is co-sponsored by Idealist and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network

Click here to register

Are you looking for ideas to advance your nonprofit career this year? If so, mark your calendar for the kickoff of The 2013 Nonprofit Rockstar Teleseminar Series! Join Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris, co-authors of How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar: 50 Ways to Accelerate Your Career to learn six practical strategies to accelerate your nonprofit career based on concepts from their popular book.

In this information-packed presentation, you will discover:

  • How to develop valuable nonprofit expertise (even if you’re “just” an intern)
  • Strategies for building a strong professional network
  • Ideas to help you establish a great personal brand
  • Steps to achieve work/life balance
  • Opportunities to practice authentic leadership
  • Tips for when and how to move on up in your career

You will be guided through a professional development planning worksheet that will help you define action steps to take in your nonprofit career over the next year. When you register, you will also receive a free chapter of Rosetta and Trista’s book that will help you gain valuable momentum toward a successful 2013!

Click here to register for free

Space is limited to 100 attendees, so be sure reserve your seat right away. This teleseminar will be recorded, so if you can’t make it this time, you will still receive the replay afterwards!

About the 2013 Nonprofit Rockstar Teleseminar Series

Monthly Conversations about Nonprofit Leadership and Careers

This free, monthly teleseminar series will cover a variety of topics in nonprofit career and leadership development. Each session features experts who will be sharing their knowledge, ideas and experience to help you accelerate your career and enhance your leadership skills. For more information and a full schedule, visit nonprofitrockstar.com.

About Rosetta Thurman

Rosetta Thurman is the President of Thurman Consulting, an education company that provides personal and professional development opportunities to empower a new generation of leaders to change the world. Rosetta is a nationally-recognized speaker and facilitator who has helped hundreds of nonprofit and association professionals improve the way they work, lead and live their lives. Her popular keynote speeches and workshops inspire audiences around the country to build meaningful careers, enhance their leadership skills and live with greater purpose. For more information, visit rosettathurman.com.

About Trista Harris

Trista Harris is nationally known as a passionate advocate for new leaders in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. She is a leading voice for Generations X and Y and seeks to create professional development opportunities throughout the sector. She writes about generational change in the foundation field in her blog, New Voices of Philanthropy and is an international speaker on working across generations to create social change. In her professional life, Trista is the Executive Director of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice.  A native Minnesotan, Trista received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Howard University and her Master’s in Public Policy degree, with a focus on philanthropy and nonprofit effectiveness, from the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota. For more information, visit tristaharris.org.

About Idealist

Idealist was launched in 1995, on a shoestring budget but with an ambitious goal: to be the starting place for anyone, anywhere who wants to make the world a better place. Today, Idealist is the most popular online resource for the nonprofit sector, with jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities provided by over 70,000 organizations around the world and 100,000 unique visitors every day. For more information, visit idealist.org.

About the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network

The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) promotes an efficient, viable, and inclusive nonprofit sector that supports the growth, learning, and development of young professionals. We engage and support future nonprofit and community leaders through professional development, networking and social opportunities designed for young people involved in the nonprofit community. For more information, visit ynpn.org.

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Start the year with these professional development opportunities

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: CollegeDegrees360, Creative Commons/Flickr

Yes, it’s cliche, but January is the perfect time for resolutions, goal-setting, and making plans to better yourself throughout the year. Here are some events, webinars, and other activities of note to help you with your professional development this month.

Job-Hunting Help. If you’re on the hunt for a new job, and one-third of employees are, look for online resources to help you make the most of social media and learn more about potential future careers.

  • Learn how to leverage the new LinkedIn profiles in a paid webinar from Jason Alba, the author of I’m on LinkedIn—Now What??? on January 17.
  • Join #JobHuntChat on Twitter, Monday evenings from 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. EST.
  • @HFChat (Hire Friday Chat) also hosts #HFChat with career experts on Fridays at 12:00 p.m. EST.
  • NY Creative Interns hosts Creative Q&A virtual events, and on January 16 at 8:00 p.m. EST, Tina Yip, community manager for R/GA will talk about getting into and advancing in the social media industry.

Local Events. If you live in one of these cities below, check out the interesting workshops and panels taking place during January.

Free Online Events and Resources. No matter where you are located, you can easily attend several free webinars in January related to nonprofit management and operations.

Conferences. Do you have the time and money to attend a conference that’s not in your zip code? Plan ahead with a couple conferences set for early February.

Fellowship and Mentorship Programs. If you’re looking for something a little more in-depth and long term, there are several fellowships and internships in public service, government, and more that have January deadlines.

Management Training. Even if you are a bit farther along in your career or more set at your organization, there are still ways you can grow and learn.

And don’t forget to volunteer. Volunteering during your free time is definitely be one ongoing way you can boost your career, especially when the career is in nonprofits. Martin Luther King, Jr. day is Monday, January 21, and there are many volunteer opportunities available on Idealist and elsewhere for that three-day weekend.

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We’re hiring web developers in Portland, OR!

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Idealist Staff

Idealist is a great place to work, largely because such great people work here. We’re currently hiring for three web development positions in our Portland, Oregon office, and we’re looking for—you guessed it—great candidates.

If you’re a top-tier web developer or operations engineer who wants to join a stellar team, work in a dynamic environment, and play a key role in keeping Idealist.org fast, available, and growing, then check out the jobs below.

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Want to fight human trafficking? Explore these opportunities to make a difference

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day.  With nearly  27 million people trafficked each year, people and organizations around the world are coming together to draw attention to this pressing issue. To help you explore ways to get involved, we’ve put together a list of job opportunities and events around the world.

If you want more information and opportunities on human trafficking, set up an email alert based on a search for the term “human trafficking”. Idealist will deliver dozens of jobs, volunteer opportunities, events, and internships directly to your inbox.

Photo credit: thomaswanhoff, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: thomaswanhoff, Creative Commons/Flickr

Opportunities in Cambodia

  • If you live in southeast Asia, or would like to work there, check out Transitions Global. Although based in Ohio, this organization works extensively in Cambodia and runs a center for girls rescued from sex trafficking. They’ve currently got three positions posted on Idealist, all of them in Cambodia.

Opportunities in the United States

Special events

  • Not in the market for a new job but still want to make a difference? On January 29th in New York City UNICEF is screening Not My Life, a documentary about human trafficking filmed over four year across five continents. After the screening, there will be a panel discussion with advocates from the movement.
  • On the West Coast, the Freedom and Fashion Collective Conference on March 23rd needs volunteers for backstage production and foreground logistics. The Conference will bring together  the non-profit, fashion, business, and media industries to fight human trafficking.

What are YOU doing for Human Trafficking Awareness Day?

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Three ways to take a break this holiday season

When was the last time you took a vacation? While it can be hard to step away from your desk, a little time away can do wonders for you professionally and personally. Read on to learn how to get away.

By Eleanor Whitney

When I worked at a New York City museum I was surprised to learn that some employees who had been working there for years had amassed months worth of unused vacation days.  These same colleagues felt burned out, jaded and disengaged from their jobs.  At another organization where I worked, there was a policy of mandating that all employees use their vacation days within the fiscal year after some workers went years without taking a vacation.

Photo Credit: Kenzoka, Creative Commons/Flickr

This reluctance to going away is understandable: many nonprofit employees are invested in their work and might feel too overwhelmed to take a vacation. However, spending some time away from work can have distinct benefits that actually make you more productive and effective.

Why you should take a vacation

Let’s start with the physical and emotional: several studies, reported on by the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review, find that taking vacation lowers stress levels, the risk of heart attack, promotes good sleep, and encourages family bonding and overall well being.

It never hurts to come back to work happier and healthier. Additionally, in my own experience, one of the greatest career boosting elements of taking a vacation is the clarity you develop around your work:

  • You can reflect on your accomplishments and identify next steps for yourself
  • You gain perspective and new ideas by trying something completely outside of your daily routine
  • You can find new ideas or solutions to an old problem: Ideas often appear when you are relaxed and your mind can wander

So how do you set yourself up for vacation success?

Plan before you go

Before stepping away, prioritize essential business, delegate tasks that still need doing, and communicate where your colleagues can find any information that they might need while you are away. Trust your colleagues to handle situations that come up, knowing that you would want them to put the same trust in you.

Start small

If you are traveling, chose a trip that has a low stress level. For example, unless you are an adventure seeker, traveling to the wilds of Alaska in winter might not be for you.  If you are traveling with family make sure you have time to bond and do things together, but also make time for yourself.

Limit connections

If you just can’t cut the chord on your smart phone, set a limited time each day to check in, say 15 minutes to skim your emails and check your voicemail and respond to whatever is pressing, and then leave the rest.

If you take the risk to let go, you’ll find that your break, whether its several days or several weeks, will enable you to come back to work energized and refreshed, with greater perspective, new ideas, and perhaps an improved attitude that your coworkers may appreciate as well.

What are your strategies for preparing to “get away from it all” and what are some benefits that time away has brought to your work? 

Eleanor C. Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She currently is a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of the forthcoming book Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, which will be released in the spring of 2013 on Cantankerous Titles

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Can an MBA boost your impact and career?

In October, Curtis Chang at the Stanford Social Innovation Review shared a few management tips for nonprofit leaders based on lessons taught in MBA programs. While he notes the challenges in pursuing an MBA – including cost and time – we know that many people are considering graduate school to help them develop these skills and we are excited to see that MBA programs are expanding their offerings to include a greater focus on social impact. To explore this topic more, we’ve invited Net Impact — a nonprofit that helps business school students and professionals leverage their talent for social change — to share more about the growth of these programs and how we might use them to increase our impact.

By Kyle Skahill

Net Impact, Business as UNusual

If you’ve never really thought an MBA could help you amplify your impact, consider this: more and more business schools are restructuring their programs and incorporating sustainability and social impact issues into their curriculum. In fact, the number of programs featured in Business as UNusual, our guide to impact MBA programs, has grown 170% since we first started publishing it in 2006. That means the tools, opportunities, and connections you gain from today’s impact MBA programs offer newfound potential to create the change you want to see.

Here are a few other ways an MBA might help you advance your career and ability to make a difference:

1)     Expand your impact opportunities

Innovative cross-sector collaborations are opening new avenues for change, so a working understanding of other sectors may be an eye-opener. Business models are changing rapidly, from the rise of B-corporations to unconventional start-ups to cross-sector partnerships – so options abound post-graduation for nontraditional integration of business skills into your career for good.

Who knows, you might even discover opportunities you never considered. Kirsten Tobey was a teacher focusing on experiential education when she realized her interests were increasingly drawn to the bigger-picture issues around food accessibility. So she enrolled in business school, attended a cross-disciplinary product design class, and graduated with the idea for Revolution Foods, which has now served more than 50 million healthy meals to school children nationwide.

This year’s Business as UNusual suggests Kirsten isn’t alone: while entering MBA students came largely from traditional corporations and nonprofits, students’ aspirations post-MBA shifted markedly to include start-ups, social enterprise, and other mission-driven companies (see graphic). It’s clear that the MBA experience opened students’ eyes to a wider set of paths toward making change.

2)     Build your impact-making skills

Nonprofits demand leadership, innovative thinking, and responsive problem solving skills if they expect to make progress on the world’s most serious issues. And they need hard skills like project management, finance, and strategy to galvanize that progress. MBA programs incorporating social and environmental issues give students the chance to develop those skills, while applying them to the issues they care about most.

As one Business as UNusual student respondent wrote about his program, “a deep dive into sustainability through all sectors of the curricula, as well as leadership development, prepares one to implement social and environmental policy in business, one’s community, and our planet’s future.”

But in addition to your own skill building, an understanding of the models and language fundamental to the business sector will be an asset in conversations with partners, sponsors, and stakeholders. Dan Winterson, program director at the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, describes his work on initiatives like the foundation’s Forever Costa Rica effort involving multiple funders and NGOs. “We talk about applying Wall Street principles to conservation because it’s a big project to finance,” he explains. “It’s a big ‘deal,’ essentially, where there are number of conditions that need to be in place before the deal can close. That’s an example where a business background and financial skills are crucial. And I think you see more and more of that in the environmental conservation field.”

3)     Build a network for lifelong impact

The fact remains that a large part of business school’s clout rests on the students and alumni you meet and the doors that this cadre of professionals can open for you. And if you’re an aspiring impact-maker, you’ll find more like-minded students in your MBA cohort than ever before. In this year’s guide, 77% of business students reported that their peers are also prioritizing impact careers in their post-graduation job search. These contacts often translate into future volunteers, partners, employees, and donors instrumental to your organization’s continued viability.

On the first day of that cross-disciplinary product design class, Kirsten Tobey had already started thinking about how to get students eating healthier. So when a classmate – who would become her future business partner – held up a less-than-nutritious lunch she’d just purchased and wondered if there was a better alternative, it was kismet. “We looked at each other across the room,” says Kirsten, “and that was the beginning of a great friendship and partnership.”

With so many MBA programs addressing social and sustainability issues (Business as UNusual 2012 features more than one hundred) to choose from, it’s safe to say that business school is no longer the exclusive domain of the corporate world. The b-school now offers social sector professionals a way to build valuable networks, hone critical skills, and discover new opportunities for impact – and that is a change for the best.

Kyle Skahill is the Community Program Fellow at Net Impact, a leading nonprofit empowering a new generation of leaders to work for a sustainable future. Business as UNusual, the organization’s annual guide to impact MBA programs, can be downloaded free at: netimpact.org/bizschoolguide

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