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Inspiring Conversations with Amber Smith of Activate Good

Today we’d like to introduce you to Amber Smith.

Hi Amber, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Hi! I’m Amber Smith, and my literal job is to help people get started helping other people, their community, and the world. It started when I was a kid. I learned about problems like climate change, homelessness, human trafficking, and bullying through pamphlets and books, and television commercials. Like many people, I started to feel angry that these problems existed in the same world where we’d figured out how to travel to the moon and back. So I started to study these problems and what people were doing about them. I wanted to learn what I could do about them. I was introduced to volunteering in high school, and one of my first service experiences happened at my after-school job at a bakery cafe in Raleigh. When I noticed perfectly intact pastries were getting thrown away at the end of the night, I lobbied our manager to get them collected and donated to a local charity.

In college, my appetite for service grew stronger. Along with my best friend, I found myself volunteering for student chapters of Amnesty International, Hope for the Homeless, and other groups. We raised money in the college courtyard to buy blankets for people experiencing homelessness. We volunteered with groups to serve meals at the Shelter, build habitats for rescued tigers, and more Halfway through college; we wanted to take our service to the next level. So we saved up some money and drove around the country for 2.5 months, volunteering and doing acts of kindness in over 20 states. On that life-changing journey, we learned something amazing: Most people also want to help, to be of service, and to change their communities for the better. And if they weren’t already helping out somehow, it wasn’t because they didn’t care. We learned that people felt the call to help, but that understanding what problems need help and knowing how to get started helping is a big barrier to getting started.

So when we arrived home, we started a Nonprofit with a mission of helping people get connected to all the ways they could help in our community. My work with that organization, Activate Good, continues today. Since we started, we’ve connected over 30,000 people to opportunities to support nearly 600 causes.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
Trying to make a difference is never a smooth road! The mistakes I’ve learned along the way have been numerous, but the lessons are even more so. I’ve had projects fail, events fall flat, and so much more. I’ve learned the importance of excellent communication more than I care to say. I’d say one of the biggest struggles has been trying to figure out how to balance this work with rest, recovery, and reflection. There are always new problems to try to solve and more people to try to help, and it can be tempting to completely immerse yourself in work with your head down and never come up for air. It has taken me a VERY long time to get to the point where I realized two things: First, that rest, recovery, and reflection are not just a “nice to have” but are critical to my ability to continue this work; and second, that as a leader, if I’m not resting and recovering, I’m sending the message to my team and the people I care about an awful lot that they aren’t allowed to rest and recover either. I want my people to be at their best, their whole selves, with their highest energy levels – and they want that for me, too. It takes practice and a culture of “permission to rest within your service work.” Someone like me, who can fall into workaholic tendencies, can’t just flip a switch and be a new person who accepts rest. Having others around you reminding you to take a break and blocking out time on your calendar in advance for those breaks helps you learn how to do it.

We’ve been impressed with Activate Good, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
Activate Good is a nonprofit with a mission of mobilizing, equipping, and empowering people in Raleigh and the greater Triangle area to make an impact through service and civic action. Our goal is to help people get started in making an impact, to help them navigate the sometimes complex world of community and social issues. We do this through a variety of programs. If you’re trying to figure out how to help our community and find a cause that needs your volunteer time or skills, but you’re not quite sure where to start, we’ve got you covered!

Our volunteer platform is at https://activategood.org/, where people can browse hundreds of local volunteer needs and sign up for the ones they are interested in. Our Teens Change the World! Service Club, where teens join us for service projects with various local causes. Our Impact Campaigns and Days of Service – large-scale projects or days of service where we mobilize volunteers to make a big impact on one or many issue areas in a designated period. Corporate Engagement! We work with over 100 local businesses to help their employees get out there and volunteer. If you’re thinking of volunteering, check us out!

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
When thinking of who might be a great mentor or what kinds of connections you’d like to make through networking, I believe you need to know yourself well first. If you can reflect on and come up with clarity on the following 3 things, you’ll set yourself up for success in finding connections who align with you!

What are your top 5 values? What code do you live by? What are your personal and professional goals for the next 2-3 years? What do you need to learn or do to get there? What can you offer other people you connect with? Networking is a two-way street – how can you help someone you hope will help you?

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