Although he only moved to Boston last year, Greg Thomas has certainly been able to experience the city in unique ways through his participation in the Boston Cares’ TeamWorks program. A motivated and an enthusiastic TeamWorks volunteer, our October Spotlight’s amenable attitude has been appreciated by all who work with him.
TeamWorks focuses on the transition from casual volunteering to intentional community engagement. Each TeamWorks session consists of a series of three to five projects, where individual volunteers select a team to learn about specific issues, organizations and/or communities encountered through volunteerism. Greg joined Boston Cares as a way to become involved in a new city. He says, “what I really appreciate about TeamWorks is that it is largely scheduled around the basic work day and is something I can commit to in advance; a schedule that keeps me honest and that way, I can say ‘no, I can’t meet at whatever o’clock at night, I’ve committed to something better [TeamWorks]’ so it gives me a way to be accountable to a broader group.”
Greg has participated in a variety of projects and is always willing to try new opportunities. His first TeamWorks cycle was based around an impact area where volunteers serve at projects focusing on the same issues. For example, a “basic needs” TeamWorks group might distribute food at the East End Food Pantry one week and serve dinner at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans the next. Greg also joined some of TeamWorks’ agency focused teams, which allow volunteers to return to the same site for each opportunity, such as Urban Wilds, which seeks to protect the natural ecosystem of the greater Boston area with the help of volunteers. “My most recent was Urban Wilds, which was an intensely beautiful experience,” he shares, “I had no idea that in the Boston city limits there was that much nature.”
The ability to discover Boston in a new light is a hallmark of the TeamWorks program and Greg has been willing to seize each new experience. Greg affirms that the knowledge he gained through the Urban Wilds program made this opportunity stand out. “The representative from Urban Wilds was very informative and very kind- not just about the flora and fauna but also about the environmental issues he battles on a daily basis to keep this level of nature and beauty intact.” Learning about his own community in an immersive project helped increase Greg’s own awareness as well as his appreciation.
Last year, TeamWorks piloted a new type of project where volunteers committed to hands-on service projects at a particular site, which is how the project earned its name as the Hands On team. The Hands-On project was held at the Codman Square Library in Dorchester, where each of the four opportunities Greg and other likeminded volunteers assisted in restoring the grounds, repurposing space, and preserving the cultural vibrancy of the library over the course of three months. Greg says that this project enabled the volunteers to experience Boston outside of their comfort zone while lending support to a neighborhood in need.
“It was truly wonderful to work with the team we did, a husband and wife, Carl and Arnetta…week by week, the goal was that we could be reminded of the progress we made and it was great. Every week or every two weeks we went, there was a difference and there were great conversations with Carl and Arnetta around the issues these communities have.”
Greg says that there is an educational component where volunteers engage more deeply with their city in each of the TeamWorks projects. For Greg, his interest in TeamWorks began with his first team, Pallet to Plate, which focused on hunger. When discussing the impact of his work, he notes how incredible it was to learn about the many organizations serving indigent populations. In particular, he couldn’t believe the numerous locations throughout Boston. Although he works close to the Friday Night Supper Program, he had no idea the organization existed until volunteering. “It was a great way for me to experience the city and take away the broader lesson that it’s really an organism of a support networkIt is this insight and empathy that has made Greg stand out as a volunteer.
In addition to learning more about Boston and the needs of different communities, Greg relishes the connections made with other volunteers through TeamWorks. He shares that the original group of volunteers he worked with in Pallet to Plate still stay in touch. Laughingly, he recalls their fun together and even the name they called themselves. “The first group I was in, Pallet to Plate, we still keep in touch, still hang out, we came up with a team name…we call ourselves the Unfriendly Toast [after their many unsuccessful attempts to dine at the Friendly Toast together] but yeah, they’re awesome.”
With his other TeamWorks groups, he says he was pleasantly surprised to find there was carryover between the Hands On and Urban Wild groups. Being able to engage over shared interests as well as building on friendships with fellow volunteers made service projects even more enjoyable. Greg stands out as a volunteer because he was also willing to step up and become a Volunteer Leader for the Urban Wilds Team. This experience, which he describes as easy to step into because of the support he received from the Urban Wilds coordinator, prompted Greg to become trained as a Boston Cares Volunteer Leader.
An outstanding volunteer and committed team member, Greg says that one of the most rewarding aspects of joining a TeamWorks group are the people you meet. “It’s really great to be around people who are likeminded and care- you just find friends very easily and everyone has a really good time getting to know one another.” Greg is looking forward to the new TeamWorks cycle starting on October 17th where he will be a member of the Friendly Meal Service Team.