WindowDressers Mentors and Why We Love Them!

WindowDressers Mentors are super-volunteers – experienced Local Coordinators and Measurers who go above and beyond to extend our ability to support and train new local volunteer teams and help WindowDressers achieve its mission. Every year these experienced volunteers help new teams by teaching them how to measure windows for inserts, providing guidance and support before a Community Build starts, and attending the first day or two of a new Community Build to set them on their way with confidence. Some of our mentors have been around for years and are still Local Coordinators for their own Community Builds. Some have retired from being Local Coordinators, but travel around, supporting new teams as they join the effort. And some of our mentors are brand new, having just gone through their first Build and then stepping in to help another new team as they get started. Regardless of how many years of experience they have, all of our mentors bring a high level of support, enthusiasm and knowledge to each new Community Build team.

Mentors serve to provide backup guidance, support and expertise and to remind everyone involved of the collaborative nature of the Community Build effort – everyone is there to build everyone’s inserts and everyone is empowered to be on quality control. For our new teams, it can feel overwhelming to jump right in and have to train a roomful of volunteers on all of the insert assembly steps on the first shift of your first day. Having a mentor on site, by your side when you take that leap will help get your Community Build off to a strong start and quickly give you the confidence to continue on your own. Mentors will encourage you to take the lead right from the beginning and will be there to fill in any gaps, encourage you to trust the volunteers and teach you how to troubleshoot any issues that may arise. They will also remind you that everyone can be empowered to be on quality control to ensure a high quality end product.

As experienced Local Coordinator, former WindowDressers Board of Directors President, and mentor Sam Saltonstall says, a mentor will reassure “everyone that there is no mistake that can’t be fixed.” He urges all volunteers “to check over each insert that comes to their station before they do their piece of the assembly, and to check their own work before they send the insert on.” Sam also provides some great advice for Local Coordinators as they supervise insert assembly, “Gently, show rather than tell. Keep explanations as short and simple as you can. Smile. Make frequent visits to different stations. Pay compliments. Laugh at yourself whenever you can.”

Serving as a mentor provides an opportunity for volunteers to not only share what they have learned, but also share in the excitement and good work of bringing WindowDressers to a new community. As Zip Kellogg, another experienced Local Coordinator and mentor says, “Mentoring has all kinds of goodness associated with it. One is getting to meet a new group of folks who are committed to what WindowDressers does. This is always fun and a real spirit boost. Another is that you get to see yet one more venue where a Local Coordinator has done the extensive pre-Build work to make the whole thing happen. When all the stations are in high gear and new volunteers see the several steps of making windows there’s a moment of discovery where amazement sinks in! Then after this happens they often look around, not only at their own jig, but all the jigs used in the various phases of window making and W-O-W they really know that this is one very slick operation– and ALL volunteer– and in their own town–often meeting people they never knew. There is sooooo much that’s right with this. “

In 2021, we had more new teams in Vermont than we had experienced mentors. Linda Gray, Local Coordinator from Norwich, VT was a new volunteer who then turned around after completing her first Community Build to help another new team get their Build off the ground. She was a Local Coordinator and mentor again in 2022 and says, “In addition to the inserts themselves and the camaraderie at the Community Build, one of the top benefits I see from WindowDressers is the collaboration that comes from experienced Build coordinators helping out first-time coordinators. For our first Build in Norwich-Hanover, we got a ton of help from our neighbors in Thetford-Strafford. We paid that forward, helping new Builds close by in Woodstock and in Hartford-Hartland. In Vermont, given that so many Builds are organized by town energy committees, this sharing really has laid the groundwork for other collaborations from e-bike loan programs to energy fairs.” 

In truth, all of our volunteers are super- volunteers. Running a Community Build from start to finish is no small task and, as Sam Saltonstall says, “It’s hard work, but it’s a lot of fun…most of the time! The best part is seeing people assume ownership and pride in the tasks they perform.” We know that asking volunteers to do more by serving as mentors is a big ask and yet we hope that the increased sense of community and collaboration that results is worth the extra time and effort. We are all paying it forward, as Linda Gray said, to a future where our communities are more connected and resilient.

WindowDressers sends a hearty thank you out to everyone who has contributed to our work in one way or another since we started in 2010. Onward!