Elise Eplan ‘78 serves on the Alumni Advisory Council and is a current parent to Hannah Marcovitch ‘13.
Elise discusses her part in starting the organization, Hands On Atlanta.
How did you come up with the idea for Hands On Atlanta?
I wish I could take credit for the idea, but it was actually modeled after an organization that a friend of mine started in New York called New York Cares. I had just returned from graduate school and saw that there was a void in terms of volunteer opportunities for people in their 20s and 30s who were busy establishing their careers and families. I recruited 11 other people who were excited about the idea, and we put the wheels in motion.
What’s the connection with the Hands On Network?
Hands On Network was created after there were three of the "Hands on" organizations (Atlanta, New York and DC) because there began to be real interest in replicating the model in other cities. Several of us thought it made sense to create a national umbrella organization. Hands on Network is now a significant national organization that is central to promoting community service around the country.
What did it take to implement your idea?
It took a "village" - really! The initial 12 of us started meeting to talk about how to create an organization to meet the growing need we saw. We had to have money to file our 501 (c)3 and for mailing costs, so we sent a letter to our parents, asking for contributions. We went to volunteer in various projects around the city and started bringing others with us. Our biggest turning point was hiring our first staffperson, Michelle Nunn (current Paideia parent and now President of Hands On Network), who really helped to grow the organization in ways we could never have imagined in the early days.
What are the advantages to the Hands On Atlanta approach to volunteerism?
The advantages are that people can choose the kind of project they want to do (from hundreds of projects) and can do it when it is most convenient. It has also been very appealing to people to volunteer in a group. All of this seem obvious now, but they were not options 20 years ago.
Has the role of organizations such as Hands On Atlanta changed with the recent economic down turn?
Unfortunately, there is much more need for volunteers to address the growing challenges that come with economic problems. The biggest challenge for organizations like Hands On Atlanta right now is that it is harder to raise the funds needed to keep the organization going.
Are you still involved in the leadership of Hands On Atlanta?
I am on the advisory board of the organization, which keeps me involved in a broad way. The organization has attracted lots of talented folks, both on the board and on the staff.
I am also on the board of Fugees Family, a wonderful organization that uses soccer as a way to engage refugee kids and helps them rebuild their lives. It is still a grass-roots organization that has tremendous leadership and a very powerful mission.
What would you say is the most important lesson you learned from you time spent at Hands On Atlanta?
I was amazed by the enormous response that Hands on Atlanta got from people wanting to volunteer. The big lesson was that a few people with an idea and a willingness to work to make it happen can make a big difference. Perhaps more importantly, it reinforced for me that most of us want to be involved in our communities, want to give something back - we just need a vehicle.
Did your time as a student at Paideia influence your career path?
I was at Paideia in the very early days, and certainly, the messages around community obligation and the importance of taking leadership roles were central to the school even then. That, and the examples that my parents set, gave me the confidence to pursue my passions, many of which are focused on giving back.
What advice would you give Paideia students regarding community service?
From what I see, many of the Paideia students are both involved and creative when it comes to community service. My experience has shown me that if you are excited about something and if you can communicate the impact that you and others can have, you will draw countless people into your efforts. Don't be afraid to step out front -- it can be transformational, both for you and for people who may benefit from your leadership.