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Archive for August, 2011

-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

“It is in the shelter of each other that people live” -  Irish proverb

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Irish Aid's offices on O'Connell Street in Dublin - right where the airport bus let me off. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Ireland is an amazing place.  This was my second trip to the Emerald Island and it didn’t disappoint.  The people are terrific, weather cooperated this time and there was plenty of Guinness.

After landing in Dublin and navigating my way through Dublin’s new Terminal II, I grabbed my bags and headed toward the AirCoach bus service that has direct service to a drop-off spot about five blocks from my hotel.  I must have had a shamrock packed in my bags because the bus dropped me off directly in front of building that had “Volunteer” written all over it.  It turned out to be the office of Irish Aid: the government ofIreland’s program of assistance to developing countries.  Although they are not involved with volunteering within Ireland, they did have connections to people at organizations that utilize volunteers locally.   Jill at Irish Aid put me in touch with Kate at Volunteer Ireland and within 24 hours I had a volunteer project all lined up.

DSC_0136.jpgAs my luck would have it my trip would overlap 2 days with the European Union’s Year of Volunteering Roadshow -  a five-day fair featuring more than 70 charities in Ireland that depend on volunteers to operate.  There were information booths about each of the nonprofits that were participating as well as informational seminars on a wide range of subjects related to volunteering.   Kate set me up to help out during Tuesday’s event which worked perfectly for me not only because I would be back in Dublin on that day but also because the focus of the day was on charities that engage older Americans – a topic that I thought would be of great interest to the readers of the column I write for AARP.

I arrived around 10:30 and met Kate.  She put me to work helping another staffer hang a banner out a second story window.  Although it didn’t look perfect, we got it placed as best we could without falling 20 feet to our death!

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That's me on the left helping hang the banner out of the second story window of the EU Parliament building. (photo: Krisztina Szabo)

The rest of the day was spent doing small tasks that came up and trying to get passersby to come in and check out the fair – a painful job but somebody’s got to do it.  Although the event had been publicized reasonably well, attendance was light.  I took the opportunity to speak to some of the organizations that were exhibiting and was really impressed with the work that they are doing.

I got lucky that things fell into place and I was able to volunteer.  Despite trying to arrange things prior to my trip, I was unable to secure any volunteer opportunities mostly because of standard bureaucracy related to volunteering in Ireland.  You see typically you have to formally apply, get screened by Garda (Irish Police) and attend an in-person meeting all before being accepted as a volunteer.  If you are thinking about volunteering overseas you check out two articles I did for AARP on the subject for some tips and lessons learned.

AARP Article Volunteering On Your Next Vacation

AARP Article Volunteering Overseas: My Recent Adventure to Ireland

For more information on volunteering in Ireland please visit:

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

I woke up to terrible shooting pain in my neck.  It always happens when I fall asleep on flights.  Despite my weighty eyelids, I didn’t think I could go back to sleep.  With another two hours or so to go on my journey to Ireland I decided to fire up my laptop and knock out some volunteer work.

That’s right, you can even volunteer from the comfort (can you hear me laughing?) of your own chair as you glide through the air at 600 miles per hour.  I cracked open my laptop and connected to the Internet – for a “small” fee.  Before we all start bitching that we shouldn’t be paying these fees, let’s not forget how amazing that is in and of itself – to connect to the Internet as you speed around the Earth at an altitude of 36,000 feet.

Children in Cameroon. (Photo courtesy of Connected Youth of Cameroon)

Once connected I logged on to Sparked.com and started browsing volunteer opportunities.  I quickly found Connected Youth of Cameroon, an African based nonprofit whose mission it is to foster youth and women’s civic, social and intellectual development while promoting community engagement and development.  They posted the following on the micro-volunteer site:

Help us with ideas to attract people to our facebook page

We have created a facebook page and need to invite visitors and even have a fan club page. We need your ideas and suggestion.

So, I did about 15 minutes worth of research on their website and their facebook page and then started putting together some advice for them.  It’s that easy.  Check out my recommendations.

An airline passenger surfs the Internet from 36,000 feet. (photo courtesy http://www.usatoday.com)

I’m glad that I hopefully have been able to help this young nonprofit, however, I couldn’t stop thinking about a bigger, more systemic problem that we have.  We need to get every WiFi access carrier in the world to create a portfolio of websites that anyone can access free of charge.  Sparked.comwould be on that list for sure!  If we just take the airline industry, imagine how many people stuck on airplanes might be willing to spend 15 minutes online helping out their virtual community instead of watching some dumb B movie that they fell asleep watching on their last flight.

I’ve been told that the airlines and the WiFi access providers are not interested in enabling such a service for volunteer work.  Let me know what YOU think…can we make this happen?!

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall to the left reflects the trees that surround the memorial. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Not even 15 minutes after the sun crested the horizon this past Saturday morning, 20 members of the Montgomery County Chapter 641 of the Vietnam Veterans of America grabbed buckets and brushes and walked down the stone pathway toward one of the most iconic memorials in the United States: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“It started out I guess between 14 and 16 years ago,” Art Wong, who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, told me.  I later discovered that it’s actually been 17 years since he and Mike Najarian, both of  Silver Spring, MD, started making the early morning pilgrimage on the first Saturday of every month between April and October to wash away the grime and dirt that builds up on the 58,261 names engraved on the black granite memorial.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

“The Wall,” as it is often referred to, consists of nearly 500 feet of black granite from Bangalore, India.  Carved out of the shadowy stone are the names of all military men, and eight military women, who lost their lives (or went missing) as a direct result of military wounds suffered during the Vietnam war.  The sheer volume of names is breathtaking.  An emotional place for many Americans, it is a place that I encourage everyone who comes to DC to visit and pay their respects.

Art was the first person I spoke to when I arrived.  He was kind enough to take a few minutes and let me interview him.  Click below to hear Art’s story as well as see the washing of the wall in the background.

“Wait a minute, don’t wash that section just yet,” Bill Gray, a silver star recipient, said as we washed the grime out of the crevices of the fallen soldiers’ names.  He pulled out a small camera and took a photograph of the name of a guy he served with.  “You can see a perfect handprint touching his name,” he said as he steadied his camera and captured what a loved one had left behind.  He paused and turned to me, “I’ve got six buddies up here.”

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Soap suds slide down some of the 58,261 names that live on the wall. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

The sound of brushes scrubbing back and forth, water hammering against the dark granite and conversations soft enough to be held in church were the only sounds.  The reflection of the mirror-like wall overflows into my mind and I find myself reflecting on those who lost their lives half a century ago.  How old were they?  Where were they from?  How sad their parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends must have been when they heard the news?  How many dreams were washed away as quickly as the soapy water that ran down over the names in front of me?

What impressed me the most about these men, and yes they were all men with the exception of my friend Patricia who also pulled herself out of bed at 0’dark thirty to come volunteer, was how friendly they were.  As we wrapped up our work a few early rising tourists made their way to the memorial.  There was no shortage of hellos, good mornings and respectful nods showering the visitors.

A pair of combat boots pinned with the Purple Heart sits in front of The Wall. (photo: SC Fiasco)

Although it was never spoken, it was clear that this monthly ritual was somehow comforting for the men.  Old friends, both present and in spirit, come together each month to pay their respects and share memories, laughter and tears.  Part of a poem written by Guy L. Jones, 43d Signal Battalion, Pleik Oct. 1968 – Nov. 1969, helps explain this:

A visit to the “THE WALL” will be many things to many people
But to me it has healed my soul
And made me feel proud to have been there.

I will be back on October 16th to lead a group of volunteers in cleaning the Korean Memorial.  If you would like to help out, drop me an email.

UPDATE: I found this MSNBC story about the men mentioned in this blog post…enjoy!

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

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Students at Let's Get Ready's Career Day in New York City (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Although his eyes seemed to dance around the room, I would later learn that Antoine was indeed paying attention.  Seated at a small table on the third floor of Robert F. Wagner Middle School on New York’s East Side, the soon to be high school junior’s mind was aldreay dreaming of places far beyond the walls of room 302 this past Saturday.

Antoine was attending Let’s Get Ready’s Career Day.  It’s a day that gives a diverse mix of high school students the opportunity to learn about a variety of careers from about 50 professionals who volunteered their time to share their knowledge with more than 250 young people who attended.  Founded in the summer of 1998 by Jeannie Lang Rosenthal, an undergrad at Harvard, Let’s Get Ready is a nonprofit organization serving communities in and around New York City and Boston whose mission is to expand college access for motivated, low-income high school students by providing free SAT preparation and college admission counseling.

“You think that one day I could have a job like you,” the young man from west Bronx asked me after I finished my presentation.

“Absolutely.  How are your grades?”

“Okay, I guess.”

“What’s that mean?” I asked him trying to get a sense of how he was doing in school.

“Well, last year I did real good: an A and mostly B’s.”

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Students took a personality assessment to help determine possible careers to explore. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

The 16-year-old, whose real name I changed to Antoine for this article, is one of 3.1 million young people this year who will be faced with the decision of whether or not to attend college after high school.  If you evaluate his situation based solely on drive, there is no doubt in my mind that he will go on to college.  He’s thirsty to know more and asked several excellent questions during the seminar.

I co-led a variety of sessions focused on helping the students understand their career interests through a personality assessment, interactive sessions about college, and tips on how to build and maintain a professional network so that they can land a job after college.  Originally I was only to be a speaker at the half day workshop, however, when their photographer wasn’t able to make it, I offered to stand in and try to capture some visual images of the day as well.  Click here to see the images I captured from Career Day.

The thermometer nearly broke the century mark that afternoon and there was no air-conditioning in the room that I was assigned to.  Exhausted and covered with sweat, I wrapped up my session and headed to the closing session in the main auditorium.  I got the chance to meet and exchange business cards (Let’s Get Ready supplied the students with cards that they filled out to serve as business cards for the day) with dozens of tomorrow’s leaders.

It was inspiring to talk with them and hear their dreams.

“I want to be a pediatric oncologist.”

“I want to be a social worker.”

“I want to work in television.”

“I want to start my own organization to help underprivileged kids.”

“I want your job!”

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photo: Reed Sandridge

After the event was over I stayed and spoke with several young people who patiently waited to introduce themselves to me.  I hope they all keep in touch, I will be checking in on them periodically too to see how things are going.  When the last student had left, I grabbed my bags and headed for the front doors.  Now dim and voiceless in the school, the heavy metal doors rumbled as they gave way to a sun-drenched sidewalk filled with the sounds of the Big Apple.

The success of Let’s Get Ready depends greatly on volunteers and donations.  If you would like to support this organization and help prepare our next generation of leaders, please visit their website and get involved!

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