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Archive for January, 2012

-Blog post by Reed Sandridge in Washington, D.C.

DSC_0170.jpgSeven years ago Winston Duncan started an amazing organization that would send bicycles to needy individuals in Africa. Now in and of itself this is a tremendous idea and a worthy endeavor, but what makes it extra special is Winston. You see he was only 10 years old when he started this organization. Seven years and four thousand bikes later, he continues on his mission.

I volunteered with Wheels to Africa on December 10th – the final outing of my Year of Volunteering. I arrived in the morning and volunteers were already hard at work receiving bicycles and making adjustments (removing pedals and rotating the handlebars 90 degrees) so that they would stack more efficiently.

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Dixie, Reed and Winston

A good bit taller than me, the 17-year-old is unassuming and quiet. He’s passionate not only about basketball and hanging out with his friends, but also about caring for individuals half way around the world who he has never met and probably never will.

Far outnumbering the adults, I was surprised at how many young people were volunteering. They seemed to have an almost magical feeling of empowerment. Nobody had to tell them what to do – they just stepped up and got the work done. Winston also had a little help from his mom, Dixie, who worked tirelessly on the project. I got to spend some time with her as we rode together up to Kensington, MD to pick up a U-Haul truck full of bikes and bring it back down to the main collection point in Virginia. From behind the wheel of her SUV she kept on working during the 35 minute drive; fielding phone calls from donors wanting information about drop off centers and making calls to volunteer leaders to make sure things were going OK at their respective locations.

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Volunteers put some muscle into getting the pedals off of a donated bike.

Few volunteer opportunities that I have been a part of this year have touched me as much as this one did. The way so many people came together to help Winston in his mission. We worked well into the night; loading bikes from collection centers on to trucks and then driving them to storage centers and unloading them. You gain a new respect for the kind of effort that is required to pull something of this magnitude off.

Exhausted and sore from the day’s work of loading and unloading bikes, Winston laughed and nodded his head when I asked him if he ever wished that he had started a “Harmonicas for Africa” organization instead – it sure would be a lot less heavy lifting and shipping would be a fraction of the cost, but then again I doubt that harmonicas would have as meaningful of an impact on people’s lives.

This year there was no collection point in the District of Columbia and I hope that next year I can help Winston and Dixie establish one. Maybe you will join me? I hope that you check out Wheels-to-Africa’s website and drop by and say hello at next year’s event. In the meantime, Wheels to Africa not only needs your bikes, but they also need your donations to help cover shipping and other related costs to get the bikes to those who need them. So consider making a tax-deductible donation and help Winston fulfill his dream.

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It's not just a guy thing either!

If you would like to see more photographs that I took while volunteering with Wheels to Africa, check out my Flickr account.

Also, I just checked and harmonicas-to-africa.org is still available so if you want to pursue that idea you better hurry!

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One way that you can volunteer your time and expertise is to join your home-owners or community association. I spent the last two years as vice president of my condominium association.

This service typically takes a long-term commitment – at least a year. You get to be involved in a variety of activities. From shaping the rules that we all agree to live by to ensuring that the common facilities stays in good working order, you actively participate in the overall operation and management of the building. Meeting four times a year, and additionally as necessary, I got a first hand look at the finances of our association as well as the long-term planning that takes place to ensure that we have enough funds to cover large ticket items – such as replacing our roof.

Over a delicious espresso I recently shared with a friend that I was stepping down from my position on the board of directors. “Really,” she said, “I thought you enjoyed it.” While it is true that I enjoyed my service on the board, as well as getting to know my neighbors better, it was time for a break and I was very pleased to see some new faces on the board.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, D.C.

Share the Story logoDecember 5th marks the United Nation’s International Volunteer Day – a day where people and communities worldwide come together in service. I agreed to join a group of volunteers from Meridian International Center (you might remember them from Week 36) who were going to plant trees with Washington Parks and People.

On the bus ride over to Oxon Run Park in the Southeast part of our nation’s capital my mind drifted back to the turn of the 19th century to images of Johnny Appleseed leisurely spreading seeds from a small leather pouch as he headed to the new frontier of the Midwest. Well not only is my mental version of Johnny Appleseed historically inaccurate, it couldn’t have been further from the reality that lay ahead.

Along the trickling banks of the stream bearing the park’s name, we were put into small groups and assigned about a half-dozen trees to plant in the lonely green clearing. That’s right, no seeds but 100+ pound baby trees. Each team was led by a graduate of the DC Green Corps – a city-wide program developed by Washington Parks and People that introduces participants to more than 50 different careers in urban forestry through an intensive three-month course.
I am not sure which part is more difficult. Digging the whole to put the trees in or schlepping the trees around. The next morning my forearms hurt so bad from shoveling…that movement that you make to leverage the shovel against the earth burdens muscles that I apparently never use.

DSC_0078.jpgWhen the day was over we had planted 61 trees according to the design plan that the Washington Parks and People staff architected. It took into account aesthetics and purpose – the trees would help keep soil in tact and reduce erosion and excessive runoff that causes flooding during heavy rains. The American sweetgums (liquidambar styraciflua) that I helped plant that day are native to the region and will dazzle local residents with its deep glossy green foliage which give way to beautiful purplish hues in the fall.

Before we left several volunteers named and hugged their trees. Despite being a self-proclaimed treehugger, I didn’t wrap my tired arms around any of my trees. Instead I took a moment to appreciate the beauty of our labor that day and firmly record the new landscape in my mind. I think I will make a pilgrimage to the area each year to find refuge from Washington’s sweltering summer heat and have a picnic in the cool shadows of the sweetgums five-pointed star-shaped leaves.

DSC_0159.jpgPlease consider volunteering with Washington Parks and People and DC Green Corps. You can also make donations to help support their incredible work.

Click here for more photographs from this event.

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