The longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history started during the holidays when schedules and workloads are typically lighter. But as those initial couple of weeks stretched on, staff became anxious and stress increased due to missed or looming deadlines and missed paychecks. Several staff channeled this emotion into something positive by helping others and continuing to be dedicated public servants. While some staff became new volunteers with local organizations, others dedicated more time to their ongoing community service efforts. However one staff member, Mark Murray-Brown, took this to another level by volunteering with several organizations that serve the Cape Ann community - providing inspiration to fellow staff to volunteer in their communities.
Feeding those in need
Feeling the need for structure and wanting to do something positive with his unexpected time off, Mark reached out to some friends at The Open Door who immediately put him to work volunteering with doing a variety of tasks from moving boxes to unloading and organizing supplies to weighing groceries for individuals and families. The Open Door's main programs are The Food Pantry, which provides emergency groceries to those in need, and Community Meals, which offers free, nutritious meals to those in need of food or companionship. The Open Door was one of the many organizations that offered assistance to federal employees during the furlough. According to Mark, it was especially rewarding to return the favor and volunteer. His efforts inspired other fellow colleagues to volunteer for The Open Door.
Helping the homeless
Mark also volunteered at The Grace Center preparing breakfast, cooking and serving lunch for approximately 40 - 50 guests, and then meeting and talking with participants. Several years ago, he was part of a team that helped launch the Grace Center among local Churches in Gloucester. It is now located at one facility in Gloucester and serves more than 1,100 individuals yearly who are experiencing homelessness and those at high risk in need of a crisis shelter. Wanting to help this organization during the furlough, Mark introduced himself to their full-time Executive Director and Volunteer Coordinator and was put to work the next day.
Brightening young minds
Finally, seeing the furlough as an opportunity, a teacher friend of Mark’s asked him to assist her as a visiting educator to her class of approximately two dozen students at a local nursery school. Mark provided a short overview of his job at NOAA and personal background, followed by a lively discussion with the students of their experiences with the ocean and beach. After a short presentation from the BBC Blue Planet 2 documentary, he concluded with a question and answer session. The teachers were so grateful for the visit that they made him a beautiful thank you booklet that includes a section from the students on what they learned.
“I am extremely grateful for these opportunities to volunteer and be able to continue to engage in public service while on furlough,” said Mark. “Specifically to the volunteer coordinators, staff, directors and participants at each organization for being so welcoming and facilitating the process to bring me on board and volunteer so quickly. If I was to find myself in a similar situation again in the future, I would look forward to volunteering again immediately.”
Our thanks go out to Mark and other GARFO staff that volunteered during the furlough for your dedication to public service and for being an inspiration to all of us at GARFO and NOAA Fisheries.