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Bracing for Boston

When Meagan Willits Holman ’99 became director of volunteer programs for Boston 2004, the nonprofit, nonpartisan committee that managed the civic side of this summer’s Democratic National Convention, she faced a very uncertain future.

“We had a staff of five in an office with no Internet access. I had no game plan, no information on previous conventions, and a contract with the Democratic Party stating that we had to recruit 8,000 volunteers,” she says. “It was all very daunting.”

That was in summer 2003. By the time the convention rolled into town a year later, Holman had collected the names of 14,000 volunteers and raised $1.2 million in donations to support her department.

Supervising the huge mass of volunteers was a true lesson in management, as Holman’s recruits wore many hats. Some were liaisons to state delegations and drivers for VIPs; others staffed information booths and hospitality events. The job, she says, was a perfect fit—a combination of “citizen service and civic engagement, plus working in the city I love.”

Among the convention-goers was Oberlin junior Danielle Indovino (in pink), who met Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio’s 11th district. Indovino attended the convention of the College Democrats of America and talks by the Revolutionary Women and the Youth Women’s Caucus.

A Boston native and former Oberlin Cole Scholar, Holman had finished her first year of graduate studies in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2003 when she began searching for a summer job. “As soon as Boston received the bid for the convention, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” she says. Because of her previous work in state and local politics—including a stint as a legislative aide to Massachusetts State Senator Dianne Wilkerson—Holman knew where to start.

“I began by setting up the volunteer program for the director of volunteer programs who was to be hired during the summer,” she says. “As it turns out, I loved my work and thrived in the environment.” So much so that a month later Boston 2004 offered Holman the director’s job.

In addition to its massive workforce, the volunteer program comprised 80 operation centers scattered throughout the city, a call center, computer facilities, uniforms, materials, and one other paid staff member. It’s budget? Exactly zero.

“The lack of funding required us to be creative,” Holman says. “We had to solicit support through in-kind donations. In the end, we raised more than $1.2 million in donations, something that I’m very proud of.”

Among Holman’s staffers was former Cole Scholar Behrad Mahdi ’04, who created and managed Boston 2004’s call center, a volunteer-based setup that fielded questions from delegates, the media, and the general public. “It was a great opportunity to focus on the mechanics of a convention rather than the flashier parts,” he says.

Oberlin College senior Ben Pred, an intern working in volunteer headquarters, described the convention as a big show. “Even so, it was really inspiring to see a lot of smart people give up so much of their time and work for something they believe in.”

Now back in graduate school at Harvard, Holman says her name occasionally comes up as a potential candidate for office in Boston. While the convention awakened in her an interest in program development, right now she’s focused on more immediate goals—finishing her thesis and earning her master’s degree.

“This time last year we were working with an intensity unlike anything I had ever before experienced,” she says. “I want to continue making a difference in my community, something I believe the convention truly did.”

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