The Phoenix

Planning dream team


tacted RSVP, VEC program manager Sheri Wilensky Burke asked Gawel to head up a strategic planning team for the Norristown literacy group. Gawel, a retired senior executive with Lockheed Martin, has headed up some 75 projects in 15 years of volunteeri­ng for VEC in addition to chairing the RSVP board.

Gawel and Burke selected four of VEC’s 60 volunteers, most of them retired managers and profession­als, to help the literacy council.

“We looked at marketing, finances, programs and management,” Hallstrom said. “Each area had a champion on the VEC group, and we were able to focus on each topic in turn. They were very-no-nonsense. We got to what mattered quickly.”

The VEC team included retirees Jane Forth, who was a trade associatio­n executive; Barry Stein, Ph.D., formerly a technology investment executive and advanced computer researcher; Melissa Rodkin, who was an IKEA supply chain manager and financial administra­tor; and Stan Warchaizer, former vice president for intelligen­ce systems at Lockheed Martin.

For the Literacy Council of Norristown, board chairman Cliff Hirst “really led our board through the process,” Hallstrom said. “He took a lead role in making sure everyone understood the process and making sure it went smoothly.”

In the blink of an eye

“We received the request in September and finished in four months,” Gawel said. “I was so impressed with the Literacy Council of Norristown team. They came in with broad goals and details of how to get there. It was amazing. They are one of the best clients I’ve ever worked with.”

Gawel particular­ly credits Hallstrom and Hirst, a longtime administra­tor for the Norristown Public Library.

“The plan added specificit­y and context to what the center is doing,” said Elaine Green, an ESL tutor and member of the council’s strategic planning team.

She is also a VEC volunteer and former board chairman of the Philadelph­ia Center for Literacy.

“We developed the plan from a SWOT analysis, which studies Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunit­ies and Threats,” she said.

“In the blink of the eye, we had a strategic plan and a really good one,” Hallstrom said. “It is giving flight to our programs and our mission. There’s a great energy now.”

She said the Literacy Council’s new family literacy initiative includes a library area “where people can come and get free books. Having books in the home can make a huge difference, and an adult is 90% more likely to achieve literacy goals if family members are involved with their learning.”

“The plan includes teaching parents while the daycare center is teaching their kids, with joint parent-child programs,” Green said.

Meanwhile, the council’s ESL program has helped “a lot of Afghan refugees” and “we’re just starting to help Ukrainian refugees” to learn English, working in partnershi­p with the Nationalit­ies Service Center and other organizati­ons and churches, Hallstrom said.

“It’s going to get extremely busy,” she said.

Volunteers needed

Burke said VEC “can always use more volunteers, particular­ly with skills in strategic and business planning, fundraisin­g and marketing and communicat­ions.”

A former national director of volunteer management for the American Lung Associatio­n and currently a consultant in volunteer engagement, Burke said that “because so much of the VEC role is coaching and advising, the best VECs are those who are good listeners, team builders and problem solvers.”

She added that “many of our clients are very small organizati­ons. Most have budgets under $300,000. So being able to take the skills learned in larger business settings and modifying them for smaller organizati­ons with limited resources is important. We provide some of that learning during our onboarding process. Volunteers with background­s in nonprofit management can be especially helpful.”

At the Literacy Council of Norristown, “We need more volunteers,” Hallstrom said. “We seek adults who are willing to work with other adults, are relatively culturally aware, usually have a college education, are kind and want to help someone in their educationa­l goals. RSVP has sent us some of our best volunteers. They’re usually very well trained.”

For informatio­n about RSVP’s VEC, literacy and many other programs, email volunteer1­ or call 610-8341040, ext.123. Nonprofits requesting VEC management assistance can visit rsvpmc. org/vec-mangement-assistance-form. Startup nonprofits can visit: rsvpmc. org/vec-management-assistance-form-star

To explore volunteer opportunit­ies with the Literacy Council, contact Kathy Stocker at volunteer1­

 ?? ?? Eileen Hallstrom
Eileen Hallstrom
 ?? ?? Ron Gawel
Ron Gawel

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