In this season of gratitude, Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) unit leaders might be looking for low- or no-cost ways to say thank you to volunteers. The MRC Program Office makes available for download volunteer appreciation certificates that can be customized for use with local volunteers. National programs like the President’s Volunteer Service Award are also open to MRC units.
Earlier this year NACCHO shared how the Bucks County MRC in Pennsylvania worked with local elected officials to recognize volunteers. This month we are sharing how the Southwest Virginia MRC uses painted rocks to express appreciation to its volunteers.
The Southwest Virginia MRC serves a very rural area of in the western part of Virginia. It’s 650 registered volunteers serve 13 counties and three cities and about 45% of volunteers are nurses.
The unit has previously supported the community after a series of tornados hit the area, during H1N1, through flu clinics, and in response to substance use issues. During the COVID-19 pandemic volunteers assisted with call centers, contact tracing, testing, and vaccination clinics. They also led a mental health/resiliency team and assisted with volunteer management.
One low-cost way the unit acknowledges the work of its volunteers is through painted rocks.
“MRC Rocks” has been a catchphrase used through the Virginia MRC units for about a decade. Prior to the pandemic, Southwest Virginia MRC Unit Coordinator Kristina Morris had thought of giving painted rocks to volunteers, but hadn’t implemented the idea yet. She encountered someone at a community event that was painting rocks and talked to them about the materials and process.
“In March of 2020, I knew our volunteers would need something,” said Morris.
She took a 5-gallon bucket from a local home improvement store to a neighboring business that had rocks and asked if she could fill her bucket. They said, yes, and she left with a bucket full of flat and interesting shaped rocks for $5. Morris purchased paint and brushes online and put out a call through Facebook to her volunteers to see who wanted to put their creativity to work.
Since then, the unit has added several volunteer painters and decorated three more buckets of rocks.
The imagery on the rocks is up to the artist and range from patriotic images to things like flowers, hearts, and rainbows. The artists use a sharpie to write “MRC Rocks” and the year on the back of each rock.
Unit leaders carry rocks with them to events and those volunteers who have not yet received one get to pick from 8-10 rocks to find the one that speaks to them.
“You’d be amazed at how quickly someone responds to a rock,” said Morris.
Volunteers are invited to share a picture of their rock in its home and often share pictures of their rocks with each other.
“It’s surprisingly simple but has such an impact,” said Morris. “It’s something they can always look at and know that they are appreciated.”
Morris advises others interested in implementing this low-cost recognition strategy to find a local business that sells river rocks (like landscapers or chimney companies) and ask if you can fill a bucket. She advises those doing the painting to keep the artwork simple and, if you want to work with school-age children, to work with older students like juniors or seniors in high school. The activity is also great for those who want to volunteer from home.
“No matter the number of hours, Virginia MRC members ROCK!” said Morris. “And in Southwest Virginia, they have the rock to prove it!”
What low or no-cost methods are you using to recognize volunteers? Send your successes to NACCHO at [email protected] and we will share them in future newsletters.