Welles: Vacation volunteers

Some employees take public service to the beaches and mountains

It's July, time to take a break and — if the budget planning cycle permits — rev up for the new fiscal year. For some federal employees, recharging involves carrying public service beyond their jobs into vacation time.

Patrick Booher, who leads a budget formulation team at the Energy Department, changes pace by leading work teams to repair

homes for needy families as part of the Appalachia Service Project (www.asphome. org). At the end of July, he will be in Mingo County, W.Va., on his seventh volunteer vacation. Although he has become pretty good at installing drywall, he said no one needs masterful skills. Volunteering is "a way to get tangible, real-time results," he said.

Last week, Johari Rashad, a human resources management analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency, left for Tanzania to help build an orphanage for children with AIDS. She is volunteering for 16 days as part of a group from the Capitol Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church in Washington, D.C. She took along a hammer, cement trowel, gloves and safety glasses, all of which she plans to leave behind for the villagers to use.

"I want to give something back, and this is a way to help Africa," said Rashad, who spends hours at Lowe's shopping for home remodeling projects. She looks forward to learning bricklaying during her vacation.

For people like Lisa Westerback who manage from their desks, vacation is a time to try a different type of management. Westerback, director of information technology policy and planning at the Commerce Department, said she gained expertise in managing a wheelbarrow while volunteering for two overseas projects with Habitat for Humanity's Global Village Program (www.habitat.org).

Westerback helped build houses for the Maori in New Zealand a few years ago and for a village family in Portugal last fall. "A wheelbarrow can take balance and heft," she said, describing her work mixing cement, sawing wood and adding finishing details to windows.

"It's wonderful to be part of a group contributing to help others," she said. "You don't have to be hugely strong."

Habitat for Humanity volunteers range from college-age students to people in their late 60s. Westerback is planning a trip this winter to help build housing for some of the many still-displaced tsunami victims in Southeast Asia.

You don't have to leave the office to use annual leave to help others. You can donate your leave to people who have exhausted theirs through illness or personal emergencies. No governmentwide records are kept of such donations, but at the Office of Personnel Management, for example, 482 employees so far have donated 1,702 hours — more than 42 weeks' worth — of their annual leave to help fellow employees this year. Twenty-two people have benefited from the donations.

Check with your human resources office to learn about procedures for donating or transferring leave to help a co-worker.

Welles is a retired federal employee who has worked in the public and private sectors. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work life topics for Federal Computer Week. She can be reached at [email protected].


  • Defense
    Soldiers from the Old Guard test the second iteration of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) capability set during an exercise at Fort Belvoir, VA in Fall 2019. Photo by Courtney Bacon

    IVAS and the future of defense acquisition

    The Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System has been in the works for years, but the potentially multibillion deal could mark a paradigm shift in how the Defense Department buys and leverages technology.

  • Cybersecurity
    Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lora Ratliff)

    Mayorkas announces cyber 'sprints' on ransomware, ICS, workforce

    The Homeland Security secretary announced a series of focused efforts to address issues around ransomware, critical infrastructure and the agency's workforce that will all be launched in the coming weeks.

Stay Connected