We have a new topic you’ll be seeing on the Don’t Panic Labs blog – Communitarian of the Month. Each month we will recognize a Don’t Panic Labs team member for their “communitarian” work through volunteering. For the inaugural “Communitarian of the Month” post, we are recognizing Project Manager Lori McCarthy. Here’s what she told us when we asked about the wheres, whys, and whats of her volunteer experiences.
Why do you volunteer?
When I was growing up, I had a lot of opportunities to participate in programs that let me explore engineering and robotics. I realize now that these would not have been possible without the commitment from many parents, sponsors, and volunteers. I try to help provide similar opportunities for the middle school and high school students that I work with.
I like volunteering at the Zoo because it’s fun to have an excuse to see the animals and understand some of the work that goes on behind the scenes to create such a great zoo environment.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering? A favorite memory?
I’m always impressed with the ideas that some of the students come up with. It’s satisfying to encourage them along the way, and see what they can come up with. Plus, let’s face it, robots are kinda fun.
When we go to Robotics competitions, it is exciting to see all of the spur-of-the-moment changes the kids come up with to improve their robot between matches. It makes for a very exhausting day, but it’s well worth it.
How has your volunteer experience impacted your workplace?
I think that my volunteer experiences provide a positive energy within my workplace. My coworkers are always excited to hear what the Robotics team is up to, and I’ve even had a few coworkers tag along to our work sessions. These impromptu visits give the team a chance to explain what they’ve been working on and take pride in what they’ve accomplished.
What have you learned while volunteering?
The last time that I worked with high school students was when I myself was in high school. It has been enlightening to work with these students in a mentor role. You come to realize that no matter how much you try to warn them of possible pitfalls, or steer them down the right path, they are always going to learn more by experiencing first-hand the effects of their decisions.
The most vivid example of this is trying to convince a student team that they need to complete their project well in advance of competition, so that they will have time to practice. This was not something we succeeded at this year; the team was finishing up their robot on the night before the competition. However, I heard several of them say how they wished they’d gotten things rolling sooner, and how they plan to do better next year. Now, instead of just listening to their mentors’ advice, they will be pushing themselves to work more efficiently.
Do you have any advice for other volunteers or people who want to get involved?
If you have a passion or a skillset in an area that you enjoy, you can count on the fact that there is a group of kids out there who could benefit from any amount of time you might be able to offer.
Since joining the Don’t Panic Labs team, Lori has volunteered for these organizations: Boys & Girls Club, CEDARS Youth Services, Center for People in Need, City Impact, Community Action Partners, Community Crops, FTC Robotics, Lincoln Children’s Zoo, Nebraska Community Blood Bank, People’s City Mission, Raikes School, Salvation Army, TeamMates Mentoring, Volunteer Partners, and the YWCA.