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Nonprofit Symposium Highlights a Life of Purpose

Keynote speaker Amanda Lehman

70 students gathered last week at Bowdoin’s annual nonprofit symposium, “Make it Matter: Discover Meaning and Purpose Through the Nonprofit Sector”

In her introductory remarks at Bowdoin’s recent nonprofit student symposium, Meg Springer, the event organizer, admitted she felt her kick-off speech was a bit unnecessary. “I put a room together of people interested in social justice and the discussion just takes off,” she said to the group that had been buzzing moments before.

This is the third year that Springer, assistant director of Career Planning, has organized the symposium, which exposes students to nonprofit jobs in the region and helps them meet leaders of local organizations.

The symposium attendees, who gathered in Moulton Union last week for the afternoon event, consisted of 28 nonprofit professionals — including nine alumni — as well as eight Bowdoin faculty or staff members, and approximately 70 students. After eating lunch, the group listened to a speaker and several panelists. They also discussed around their tables weighty matters, such as what it means to have purpose in your life.

This year’s symposium was meant to highlight not just how people can find purposeful work, but also how they can engage in meaningful activities outside of their day jobs. “Philanthropy, volunteering, serving on boards, mentoring, connecting other people — there are many ways to do this,” Springer said. The symposium’s keynote speaker, Amanda Lehman, serves as case study. As a LEED project director at a Portland architecture firm, Lehman spends her days designing sustainable buildings. Even though she sees value in this work, she said it is not enough to satisfy her need for community engagement.

So Lehman founded a nonprofit, Take Action Portland, which organizes a once-a-month group volunteer day. Anyone is welcome to sign up for this day of service, although it’s particularly popular for people in their 20s to 40s, she said. ”The financial stability of working in the for-profit world has given me the ability to pursue nonprofit work,” she said. “This is a balance for me of career and community engagement.”

The symposium also included a panel on “Purposeful Pursuits.” The panel of four included two alumni — Shana Natelson ’10 and Sean Sullivan ’08 — as well as Rob Orton, a regional recruiter for the Peace Corps, and Keri Westbaker, who works for Americorps.

Natelson founded Speak About It, a theatrical group that travels to college campuses to stage presentations about preventing sexual assault and fostering healthy relationships. Sullivan, the executive director of Maine Brewer’s Guild, has founded a couple of nonprofits, Portland GreenDrinks and Buoy Local.

Springer moderated the panel, asking the guests to address issues such as how they stayed committed to their work; when they had felt fulfilled after making a difference; and what rewards they gained from their work.

In her talk, Lehman summed up why she does what she does: “Volunteering just feels good,” she said. “And I argue that the world would benefit from more people feeling good.”

thumb:Keynote speaker Amanda Lehman