Sage’s Director of Service Learning Alison Schaeffing, Ph.D., and Chaplain Michelle Thivierge regularly work with area not-for-profits – including Capital Roots, the Sanctuary for Independent Media, Unity House, the YWCA and others – to design experiential learning curriculums and plan social justice-related activities for Sage students.

In the course of their work, Schaeffing and Thivierge heard volunteer administrators repeat a common need: they wanted a professional network to exchange ideas, share best practices and find camaraderie.

The administrators felt that such a resource could strengthen their capacity to match college students and the wider community with meaningful service activities, and reduce turnover in their profession (one organization Schaeffing and Thivierge work with had three different people in a volunteer administrator role in 18 months.)

Sage Engaged at Joseph's House & Shelter

Janet Douglass, volunteer coordinator at Joseph’s House & Shelter, third from left, pictured working with Russell Sage College students during the Sage Engaged day of service. Douglass frequently collaborates with the Sage community on social justice-related activities, and is now working with Service Learning’s Alison Schaeffing and Chaplain Michelle Thivierge to build a professional development network for volunteer administrators at non-for-profits in Rensselaer County.

“This seemed like an opportunity that ticked all the Rubin grant boxes,” said Thivierge, referring to the Louis and Hortense Rubin Community Fellows Program, which funds cooperative projects among higher education and not-for-profits in Rensselaer County. She and Schaeffing enlisted Carlie Barella ’19 as a research assistant and Janet Douglass, volunteer coordinator at Joseph’s House & Shelter who works closely with Russell Sage College’s general education program, as a community partner. The team collaborated on a successful application for a Rubin grant to build a professional development network among volunteer administrators at non-for-profits in Rensselaer County.

“The idea has been tested and proven. Such an organization did exist, and the administrators found the connections and resources valuable, but there were no structures to ensure the group’s sustainability, and they disbanded,” said Schaeffing. “We hope to provide the support necessary for the group to reconvene, and develop plans to ensure long-term sustainability.”

Schaeffing, Thivierge and Douglass have recruited members and are planning a launch event and initial meetings to be held on the Russell Sage campus in Troy. Goals for the first year include training association officers; branding the association with assistance from Sage Art + Design students; and offering a workshop to help members prepare presentations for the annual Campus Community Collaborative Engage for Change conference, which attracts higher education and not-for-profit leaders who work to advance campus and community partnerships.

Schaeffing and Thivierge also envision a central online resource for volunteer opportunities in Rensselaer County and an annual conference and volunteer fair on Russell Sage College’s Troy campus. “We see this as creating new avenues to connect students to service and campus to the community,” said Schaeffing. “Our goal is to highlight good work in our community and make sure that Sage is known for contributing value to our county,” said Thivierge.

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