by Bekah Porter
CEDAR RAPIDS – Robby Marvin wanted more than a nice TV, a cushy apartment and a 9 to 5 workday.
“People need to make a difference in the lives of those around them,” he said.
So the 27-year-old Cedar Rapids resident started making calls.
The YMCA, Planned Parenthood, Meals on Wheels — he contacted dozens of local nonprofit organizations, asking how he could best help. Time and again, he was given the answer.
“Money and time,” Mr. Marvin said. “These organizations need you to give of yourself.”
So he did just that in a year-long project he labeled the Robject. Here’s what he had to say about his volunteering experiences in Cedar Rapids:
Q: What was the Robject?
A: I decided to give 31.2 percent of my income to charities. At that time, that was the estimated crest of the flood. And I also aimed to have 365 hours of volunteer time in a year. I ended up giving 32.2 percent of my income, and I came in at about 265 hours of volunteer time if you don’t count the time I spent at board meetings, political activities and presentations I gave about my project at Rotaries, schools, etc.
Q: How would you describe your volunteerism level at that point?
A: Honestly, it was very sparse. If I did volunteer, it was because somebody had asked me to, and I liked the person. But before this, volunteering was never something I actively pursued.
Q: How did you spend your volunteer hours?
A: I started out helping at Flood Stock, where I helped with set up, took out trash and answered questions best I could when people stopped by. Then I taught an eighth-grade Junior Achievement class. And I delivered meals through the Meals on Wheels program, and I coached soccer at the YMCA, which was a treat, considering that I had never played organized soccer before. And I did volunteer income tax assistance. I did a little bit of everything.
Q: You have a full-time job as a tax accountant at the AEGON Insurance Group. How difficult was it putting in all of these volunteer hours while working 40 hours a week?
A: It was very tough to fit in these hours. My work-life balance definitely felt out of whack when I started to volunteer on weekdays. Originally, I thought I was going to be able to fit seven hours in on the weekend, which meant I had time during the week for downtime, but if you have even just one other event on a Saturday to go to, you can’t fit in those hours, because a lot of organizations don’t have significant hours of volunteer opportunities available on Sundays. So, I had to start volunteering during the week, and it’s hard when you have to be at a volunteer place at 5:30 when you should be working until 5:30. So you go volunteer and then come back into work to finish your job. This made for a lot of late nights at the office. This worked out for me not just because I am a person who wants to get involved in the community but more because I am a single male without a family and a mortgage payment.
Q: Along those lines, how difficult was this financially, what with you putting one-third of your income toward charity?
A: I made quite a few cutbacks. I used to never really consciously think about when I went out and how much I spent. It had always sort of worked itself out. But this past year meant no McDonalds and Wendy’s and instead ramen noodles and baked potatoes and bananas at home. And I moved to an apartment where I got a heck of a deal on rent. I still managed to contribute $3,000 to my Roth IRA last year, but that was a challenge, and I still put 3 percent of my income into my 401K, and I still made my car payment, but again, I don’t have the diapers to buy or the extra mouths to feed. And am I going to be able to give to these organizations still on a regular basis? Probably not all of them. But I am going to still be able to give moving forward.
Q: Was it hard to find volunteer opportunities?
A: I thought once I announced my project, organizations were going to be pounding down my door with opportunities, but I found out right off the bat that just wasn’t the case. I had to be proactive in searching for these opportunities.
Q: What were the greatest challenges of this project?
A: Finding time for myself. When you’re working during the week and volunteering on the weekend, you don’t have a lot of downtime. And then the hardest part of it all is just getting started. Just that initial push is tough.
Q: What were the greatest rewards?
A: Understandably, it was the experiences I had. Yes, I could’ve paid down debt or bought a new car, but that feeling of buying is something that goes away fairly quickly. That new TV suddenly isn’t new anymore. But when you volunteer, you have new experiences constantly, and you always have the opportunity to talk about the lives you changed.
Q: How did your employer handle your project?
A: All of my co-workers were very supportive, and I am really appreciative of them. I am very lucky to be in an environment that understands work-life balance and allowed me to volunteer – sometimes even in the middle of the day if I needed — as long as I was getting my work done.
Q: Which nonprofit organizations did you work with?
A: HACAP, Horizons, YMCA, Cedar Rapids Downtown District, Legion Arts, Foundation 2, Habitat for Humanity, Theatre Cedar Rapids, Planned Parenthood of East Central Iowa, Junior Achievement, Friends of the Cedar Rapids Public Library and the Boys and Girls Club were some of them. CBJ