Seeing the Beauty in “Dark Times”: How Being a Community Manager with USDR Helped One Volunteer Through the Last Year

From when Leonardo Rocchiccioli first signed up as a handraiser in August 2020, USDR knew he would become an important part of our community. Over a year later, we say “it’s not goodbye, it’s see ya later” to our long-time community manager — and hear from him on why he started volunteering in the first place.

Q: Tell us a little bit about what you were doing before USDR.

I joined USDR in August of 2020. I was home, alone, in the quarantining dark days, and I was ecstatic to speak to someone who didn’t live with me.

When I was introduced to USDR, I found out that I could volunteer my community management and marketing skills, which is not something that I knew I could do before. I feel like that is something that a lot of people don’t realize: you have all these special professional skills that not a lot of people have, and [volunteering] is a way to channel them towards something amazing.

Q: What was it about USDR’s mission that inspired you to volunteer?

For a long time I wanted to work with the government, and suddenly found myself in this “techie social impact” area sort of by accident.

USDR was very close to government work, which was a lot of what I’ve always wanted to build my career around. But then it became something bigger. I think I stayed for the same reason that most people continue to show up every day with USDR, which is that the people are amazing. You get to work with the most amazing, kind, dedicated people who know so much about everything that they do.

And the impact is astronomical. You speak to partners, who saved literal months of work, through a project that someone took a week to do. It’s crazy, it’s amazing. It’s fantastic. It felt like, especially through the COVID pandemic and even so now, one of the most worthwhile things you could possibly do.

Q: Let’s talk a little bit about what you’ve been doing at USDR. What have been your main projects?

I’ve had my hand and lots of different pots. I’ve worked with the community and the marketing team. In the community team, I’ve worked a lot on our Brunch and Learns (USDR’s internal professional development events) and some of our Happy Hours (USDR’s internal project sharing events), which has been really amazing because it makes USDR feel like a real place, which is not something that you necessarily get the digital only environment. And that has all felt very special.

USDR started with an amazing network and has proven itself through all these different projects with all these different partners. And people trust us and are willing to talk to us and are interested in telling us what they know, and hearing what we know. It’s been really cool.

I’ve also been doing volunteer profiles and talking about the work that the volunteers do, I’ve gotten to meet a lot of our volunteers and work with a lot of them. It’s been amazing. Everyone who works here is so inspiring. These people who just come in and they’re like, yeah, I’m willing to give my time. Everyone I speak with comments that they’re using their professional skills, but “it doesn’t feel like work.” Well, one, because it’s not work. And two, because everyone is really excited to do whatever we’re doing at that point. You just get to work with the most amazing people.

Q: What have you learned while working with USDR?

I think a lot of what I learned has been some of the stuff that’s just very core to the operating model of USDR, which is coming in with humility and patience, delivering value as quickly as possible, and iteratively growing a relationship from there.

As a core operating model, I think it’s incredibly powerful. And the proof is in the pudding, so to speak, to look at everything we’ve done. I think that’s something that I’ll take with me forward as well.

Q: What are you going to do now that your time volunteering at USDR is winding down?

I think that community management gives you a super interesting perspective into whatever user you’re working with, and puts community managers specifically in a very good position to work with a product team, or marketing team. Community management is such a fun key role in that it can stretch in so many different directions. And I think we’re sort of uniquely positioned to go into all these directions.

And I don’t know specifically what that means for me, but I guess it’s going deeper and wider into this work. And USDR has shown me this area of civic tech, and working to bring the “promise of technology” to the world. How can you really leverage these skills and these things that maybe only you know, to improve the world around it?

It’s crazy to have been part of something so beautiful, that came out of something so dark [like the pandemic]. But working with USDR, you get to help make a better world.

Learn more about USDR or sign up to volunteer your time at www.usdigitalresponse.org/volunteers.

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U.S. Digital Response

U.S. Digital Response

Connecting governments and nonprofits with pro bono technologists and assistance to quickly respond to the critical needs of the public.