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Archive for February, 2011

Thanks for those of you who have reached out to become Kindness Investors!  The next few weeks are certain to be exciting!

As you know, I dedicate every Monday’s blog post to my weekly volunteer experiences.  I recently stumbled upon an interesting organization called the Center for Nonprofit Success (CFNPS) whose mission is to provide the training, knowledge and resources to help nonprofit organizations succeed.  I thought this would be an excellent group to help out.

DSC_0001.jpgCFNPS holds monthly seminars on a variety of topics salient to the success of nonprofits.  Volunteers are utilized to help produce the events and I applied and was accepted to help with a session titled, “Strategic Alliances 101.”

I showed up at 7:30am as requested and searched for someone from CFNPS.  I was surprised not to find anyone.  There was one woman who seemed to be managing everything but she told me that she didn’t work for CFNPS and in fact was a volunteer herself.  “I’ve volunteered one other time with them,” she told me.

“So who is from CFNPS,” I asked a few of the other volunteers.

Nobody seemed to know based on the silence and shoulder shrugs.  As it turns out there was nobody there from the organization.  They rely completely on volunteers.  Part of me loves this model, the other part realizes that there were some downfalls as a result.  None of us really knew anything about the organization and were unable to answer questions from the attendees.

My name tag from the seminar

Anyway, I got to work organizing the registration desk and welcoming attendees.  It went rather smoothly thanks to the great team of volunteers.  The room completely filled up, I’m guessing there were about 50 attendees.  There were four speakers and the program got started just a few minutes after the 8:00am schedule start time.  Although I thought the speakers were good and quite knowledgeable about their respective areas of expertise, I didn’t think they really addressed the topic that was listed in the program:

This Session will explore:
-How to know if a Strategic Alliance will benefit your organization
-The different kinds of alliances and partnerships and how nonprofits can benefit from them
– A step by step guide to setting up a partnership
-Identifying suitable partners
– Common mistakes to avoid with your strategic partner
– How to evaluate whether your alliance is producing a return on investment

You will leave this session with a full understanding of how and why a strategic alliance can benefit your organization, and the best ways to set one up.

The four presenters spoke almost exclusively about fundraising.  After the second speaker, a few of the attendees began to ask me if they were at the right session.  I assured them they were, however, I too noticed that the presentations didn’t seem to address the topics above and certainly didn’t give someone a “full understanding of how and why a strategic alliance can benefit your organization, and the best ways to set one up.”  One attendee was really bothered and complained that he had taken time out of his busy schedule to attend, not to mention had paid $100 to participate.  “This is a waste of time,” he said as he packed up his items and just left.

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All in all it was an interesting experience.  I actually got something out of the presentations since I am involved in fundraising in my profession, however, it was clear that many of the attendees found themselves utterly confused with the incongruence between the description and presentations.

CFNPS holds seminars in the following cities: Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattleand Washington, DC.  Click here for a calendar of upcoming events.

Next Monday I will be sharing with you my experience volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen!  Stay tuned.

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Blog post by Maria D., a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC.

Photo: Maria D.

Meet Alex.  She’s a vibrant, young woman, full of life and energy.  She’s lived in Australia, Oregon, Chicago, and attended undergrad at Northwestern.  Alex has a passion for grapes, which is what has led her to her current gig as Director of Marketing and Communication for Washington Wine Academy, based out of Arlington, VA.

But it wasn’t a smooth transition – she was an unemployed, “freaking out” new graduate “loafing” around Oregon and came to VA on a whim to take a wine certification class after working at Winestyles in college.  Her instructor at WWA saw something in her that he wanted to snatch up, and hired her back in April 2010.

Alex’s gamble of moving out East from Oregon seems to have paid off as she loves her job – wine, people, events, what’s not to love?  Which brings us to her $10.  She knew immediately how she’d be spending it: “mmm, a giant coffee and a breakfast sandwich” while working her company’s event this weekend, a 1K Wine Walk.

When I asked her if she needed anything, she quickly responded, “No thanks, I’m perfect!  Well….(she hastily recanted) I could use an extra day before Monday!  Can you guys help me with that?”  Probably not…but thanks for your infectious smile and boundless energy, Alex!

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Thanks to the couple of people who have reached out to me after my “wanted ad” yesterday.  It’s with pleasure that I introduce to you our Kindness Investor for the next seven days!  Her stories begin tomorrow!
Name: Maria D.
Age? 27
Where do you live? Takoma Park, MD, near Washington, D.C.
Where were you born? Guildford, England
What’s the highest level of education you have completed? Juris Doctor
Do you have a family? I’m a single gal, but am very close with my sister Julianna, parents John and Catherine, and have a superstar half-bro named Ron

How did you hear about the Year of Giving? I am temping where Reed works, so I heard about it while he was recruiting some other potential Kindness Investors

How long have you been unemployed? Hmm, well I guess officially since graduating law school in May 2010 and moving to D.C. to look for a job in Oct. 2010
What happened? The market for newly minted lawyers sucks. Straight up.  I graduated knowing I wanted to be a human rights/civil rights non-profit lobbyist but no leads. So I took a leap of faith and am still finding my way while temping at World Wildlife Fund.
Do you currently volunteer? Yes, I am starting to volunteer with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (they do DNA exoneration for MD, VA, and DC inmates) and N Street Village (a women’s shelter and center), as well as other random events when help is needed.
Who have been your biggest influences? My mom and dad, who instilled a sense of social justice in me from an early age, and anyone else who has spoken out to help others when those in need had no voice. Also my Nonna, who emigrated from Sicily and started a life out of literally nothing.  Hard work is very important to me, as is appreciating life.
What is your favorite food? Tomatoes.  But as a dish, I’d say Capellini Pomodoro (angel hair pasta w/ fresh basil, tomato, olive oil, and garlic tossed together). Now I’m hungry!
What is the most meaningful gift you have ever received? After the bar exam, I had the privilege of going to Europe for a month. I went to Paris for a week and made friends with the woman who set up breakfast and cleaned the hostel. We had a mid-morning dance party a few times, which was pretty awesome. On the last day, she took the earings she was wearing out of her ears and gave them to me.  I kept them on for the rest of the trip…Well, until my ears started to hurt. Ha..
Describe your ideal job: My ideal job is working as a researcher and lobbyist at a non-profit engaged in tax policy reform that benefits low and middle-income families.

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There’s no blog post today from a Kindness Investorthat’s because we don’t currently have one! :(

So…I thought I would utilize today’s post to try to find one.

Wanted: 46 unemployed or underemployed individuals who are willing to be Kindness Investors for seven days!  No prior experience necessary, just seven ten-dollar bills and a willingness to reach out to seven strangers and give them ten bucks and find out what they are going to do with it.  Interested candidates can email reed@yearofgiving.org for more details!

 

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A picture of Bob from my original encounter with him a year ago. (Photo: Reed)

Tomorrow will mark exactly one year since I met Bob on the basketball court near the intersection of 17th and P Streets in DC.  Draped in layers of clothing and blankets Bob made me very nervous.  I remember his hands disappearing under the garments several times as he erratically moved closer to my face calling me stupid.  “Was there a weapon concealed beneath the sea of fabrics he wore?” I thought to myself as I held my ground.

It turns out that Bob suffers from mental illness and probably doesn’t pose a threat to anyone.  I have seen him a few times since our original encounter; however, I hadn’t been able to really talk to him until last night.  It was just before midnight as I headed home from a dinner at Birch and Barley on 16th Street with an old colleague in town for the week.

“Oh, yeah…you were the one who writes the stories,” he told me after I reminded him that I had given him $10.  “Well, ok,” he began to say nervously, “So, how have things been with you?”  I gave him a quick update on me and then tried to find out what he has been up to.

He was dressed in the exact same sweatshirt and torn slippers that he wore a year ago.  The aluminum foil, rags and plastic bags that covered his head were gone; however, he now had a small swatch of aluminum foil covering his nose.  It was held in place by a rubber band that wrapped around his head, forcing the skin of his upper cheeks toward his eyes.

I watched as he shot from the foul line.  Like my earlier encounter he sank basket after basket always shooting with just the right hand.  In his left hand he held a newspaper, bottle of water and the corner of the grey standard issue homeless outreach blanket.  His twelfth attempt wasn’t successful.  “That wasn’t a good shot,” he said as he released the slightly deflated ball, “I’m not concentrating.”  I apologized and offered that he probably missed the shot because I was talking to him.  He says that he believes that he has made 20+ one-handed shots from the foul line this century.  That doesn’t compare to his record of lay-ups in a row which he claims to be approximately 2,900.

The evening was definitely worthy of a warm jacket but the still air and bright light from the moon’s last quarter phase helped mitigate the temperature.  He seemed to be shooting a little hastily, albeit every time placing his toe exposed slippers in the exact same location.

“I think there is about four or five specific movements that I do and I try to do them exactly the same way every time in order to make a basket.”  He went on to explain that the key is to add a little bit of top-spin to the release.

Another photo from my original encounter with Bob in 2010.

I stood in silence and watched him shoot.  He’s truly gifted at being able to reproduce the same shot.  One of his attempts misses and I take the opportunity to ask him about the $10 I had given him.  I actually never asked him what he was going to use it for so I thought I would try to take the moment to find out.  He didn’t recall very well, after all it has been a year, but he said it probably went toward some food or bus fare.

My question about money must have triggered something in his head.  “Do you have a few dollars that you could give me,” he asked not taking his eyes from his target.  The shot missed and he walked over to retrieve the ball next to his cart holding his belongings.  I reached into my pockets and found some coins.  “I hate to ask you but I need to add a few dollars on my Metro card.”  I pulled a five dollar bill from my wallet and placed it in his hand.

Shortly after I thought I should leave.  It was now close to 12:30 in the morning and I needed to get up early.  I shook his weathered hand and told him to take care of himself.  He returned the pleasantry and continued shooting baskets.  I watched him shoot as I excited the court.  He made three in a row before he slipped out of sight.

You can find my original post on Bob by clicking here.

 

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC.

When I started the second Year of Giving and invited others who were out of work or underemployed to pick up where I left off after my 365 day journey I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew that a year was way too long to find someone who would continue the giving; however, I figured that I could easily find people who would commit to seven days of giving.  I was wrong!  I’ve had a hard time finding new Kindness Investors.  Can you feel me trying to nudge those of you who are on the fence about it?

As a result I am in a situation where we have no Kindness Investor for a few days; however, I figured I would take advantage of this time to give you some updates on some of the amazing people that I met last year.

 

This is Knox on December 15th, 2009.

The Year of Giving began on the afternoon of December 15th 2009.  On that chilly monochromatic day, I got rejected twice before finding Knox who accepted my $10 as he hawked his shoe shining services on the corner of 21st and P Streets in DC.

 

Fast forward 365 days and Knox made it to the year-end celebration on December 14th 2010.  There is a great photo of us from that event.

And then I ran into Knox on February 12th after I was volunteering with Yachad.  It was ten minutes shy of midnight when I heard the familiar voice reaching out to the alcohol coated passersby on 7th Street near Chinatown.

We chatted for a while.  “Business is good,” he told me.  And he said that he has been doing well.  He claims to have a handle on his addictions although I am not sure what that means…especially after he produces a bottle of shaojiu, an indiscernible clear white liquor that based purely on the label probably has never made it to any FDA testing lab.

 

One year after meeting him, I was reunited with Knox, my very first recipient, . (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

Anyway, Knox is Knox.  He still thinks that I am some sort of event producer.  Ever since I invited him to the year-end party he thinks that I organize regular events.  He encourages me to throw another party soon and invite him to shine shoes.  I let him in on the secret that I am actually not an event planner…although I guess I could be as it seems that I am collecting professions these days.  He seemed disappointed but I promised him that when I throw the year-end celebration in December that he will again get an invite.

 

I updated his cell number in my phone, handed him the three dollars I had left in my pocket and said goodbye.  It was late and I don’t think I was helping his business a bit.

To read my original blog post on Knox that I posted on December 16th, 2009, click here.

 

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Before I get to this week’s post, I want to let you know about a great opportunity for those of you in the DC area to join me on a day of service.  Every year Greater DC Cares holds Servathon, an amazing event where more than 8,000 people come together to complete a variety of service projects.

This year the event is Saturday, April 16th.  Trust me, after you submit your taxes on the 15th, you will be ready to do some good!  I am leading a team and encourage you to sign up to join me.  Click here, sign up and choose to join a team.  Then when prompted with the list of available teams, scroll down to the bottom and you should find team Year of Giving!  We’ll do a half-day of volunteering and then meet up with all the other service teams for a happy hour (or two)!

DSC_0295.jpgYou will notice that this blog post shows Week 5 and 6 service days…that’s because I did two days of volunteering with this organization.  Yachad is a DC organization whose mission it is to repair and rebuild lower-income neighborhoods by engaging construction and real estate professionals and hundreds of volunteers to repair housing, renovate storefronts, and create safer community spaces.

What I like about the work that Yachad does is that the volunteers work alongside the community members they are helping.  It’s a very small group and they do some pretty amazing work on a very modest budget.

In order to support their work, they host a film festival called Our City Film Festival.  Showcasing films that focus on our nation’s capital, the two-day event is a must see for DC residents and film enthusiasts.  Saturday evening things kicked off with a launch party followed by a day of films on Sunday.  I volunteered both Saturday evening and all day on Sunday.

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Christylez Bacon performing at the kick-off party.

Saturday was awesome.  The kick-off was hosted at RFD, a fixture in the Gallery Place neighborhood that features hundreds of beers.  The highlight of the evening was a performance by Grammy nominated recording artist Christylez Bacon, a progressive hip-hop artist who stunned audiences with his truly unique performance.  Keep an eye out for him and make it a point to see him if you can.

My job there was to basically do anything that Film Festival Director Kendra Rubinfeld told me to do.  Mostly I checked people’s tickets and took photographs of the evening’s festivities.  It was a little embarrassing when Kendra corrected me on the pronunciation of the word Yachad.  It’s pronounced “YAH hahd”, not “YAH shod” as I was walking around saying.  Thank goodness she corrected me before I went around butchering the name even more!

Then the next day the event moved literally next door to the Goethe-Institut.  There was fantastic line up of films and everyone that I met raved about the films and the event in general.  Kendra did an amazing job.  The evening wrapped up with the premier showing of TLC’s reality show DC Cupcakes.  After the screening, the stars of the show – Sophie and Katherine – handed out some of their delicious cupcake creations at a champagne reception.

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Sophie (left) and Katherine (right) pause for a photograph with Kendra next to some of their sensational cup cakes.use for a photograph in front of some of the tasty c

All in all this was a very fun two days of volunteering.  I was so impressed with this small but mighty nonprofit.  So many people think about helping rebuild communities when natural disasters strike like Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, but Yachad president Roxanne Littner reminded me, “We have our own New Orleans right here!”  She’s right too.  There are plenty of communities in the DC area that desperately need support.  I am going to work on a future Yachad construction project.  If you too want to help them, click here to find out more information or drop me a note and I will let you know when I will be volunteering again with them.

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Mmmm...hungry now?

I can’t say enough about this organization and the professional manner in which the film festival was run.  I learned that the word Yachad means “together” in Hebrew, but based on the staff and other volunteers that pour their hearts into this organization, you could have just as easily believed it meant “love.”

If you would like to see more photos from the film festival, click here.

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