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Archive for the ‘Volunteering’ Category

The Worldwide Day of Giving is fast approaching us. Once again on June 15th you can join people all around the world in a simple act of kindness. There are 3 simple ways that you can take part in this event:

1. VOLUNTEERING
You can volunteer with any organization. For those of you who are busy and can’t take off work, consider micro-volunteering on www.sparked.com. Many of the volunteer projects take 15-20 minutes. You can volunteer on your lunch break!

Day 296 $10 recipients Kyle (aka Kevin) on the left with his friend Chris. (photo: Reed)

2. GIVE A STRANGER $10
So you’re old school? You want to celebrate the Worldwide Day of Giving by paying forward like I did for 365 days. It’s easy. Find a complete stranger. Approach them and tell them that you are participating in the Worldwide Day of Giving and would like to give them $10. The only rules are that you may not know the person and you may not receive anything in return for the $10 (aside from the rush of goodness you will feel).

Ideally you will take some time to speak with the recipient, find out what they will do with the $10 as well as a little bit about who they are. If you can take a picture or video, that would be even better – we would love to have you post that here.

3. DONATE $10
Give $10 today to your favorite charity. Don’t know who to give to? You can donate through the Year of Giving website to help some of the 365 recipients I gave $10 to in 2010. Click here to make a donation.

At the end of the day, share your giving stories on the Facebook Page and then sit back and start to watch the phenomenon begin. Stories trickling in from all around the world. Imagine the different reactions and stories that we will collectively have from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Raahe, Finland to Montevideo, Uruguay!

Please pass the word around!

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

One in three children in the United States are overweight or obese.

The CDC reports that since 1980 obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled.  So what is being done to stop this? Well, some of the most influential stakeholders came together in Washington last month to actively discuss innovative ways to reverse the rising trend of childhood obesity – and guess who volunteered their time at this conference? You guessed it.

photo courtesy of cbs.com

As a chubby kid myself, I have more than just a casual interest in the subject. As a young adult I started to get interested in the food that I ate and how it affected my health. I even had the honor to work for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation a few years ago, one of six founding members of the Partnership for a Healthier America.

At this first of its kind summit I was charged with being a facilitator for a breakout discussion about how the private sector can help reduce current barriers that negatively affect young people’s ability to participate in before and after school activities. Cash-strapped schools generally don’t have the means to provide transportation for students to either arrive earlier or go home later if kids choose to participate in sports and extra curricular activities outside of school hours.

I participated in several preparatory meetings and phone calls, read numerous articles and opinions on the subject and took off work to volunteer at the two-day conference. As it turns out though this is either not really a problem or in fact it is such a conundrum that people truly don’t know where to begin. I say that because only one person out of the more than 700 attendees showed up to the session! “I don’t know much about these challenges and thought this could get me up to speed,” she told me as she sat alone in a sea of chairs that I had formed into a large circle. We decided not to hold the session given the turnout and our brave attendee joined another session.

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My empty breakout session

Besides my rather anticlimactic session, I enjoyed the two-day experience and was particularly energized by the collective expertise and brainpower they managed to bring together. On top of that, there were memorable moments by tantalizing speakers such as First Lady Michelle Obama and Newark, NJ Mayor Corey Booker not to mention an entertaining and educational dinner program which challenged James Beard Award-winning chefs Tom Colicchio, Maria Hines, Holly Smith and Ming Tsai to create dinner meals on a SNAP (food stamp) budget of $10!
To learn more about this event and other resources to help reduce childhood obesity, check out the Partnership for a Healthier America or the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

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

There’s an overwhelming joy … of sharing what I love and bringing it into the community.

Those words were spoken to me back in the summer of 2010 by Maestro Darrold Hunt, the founder and conductor of the Urban Philharmonic, a nonprofit whose mission it is to take high quality symphonic music normally heard only within the marble walls of prestigious concert halls and introduce it to diverse neighborhoods throughout our community.

Hunt was the 189th recipient of my $10. As I normally do I spent some time speaking with him and learned more about him and the organization he started four decades earlier. I was so touched by the history and potential of the organization that I agreed to take a voluntary role of interim executive director. Despite its rich history, the organization had fallen on hard times. Silenced for several years, they were in debt and missing clear direction.

I spent about one day a week for the next year working to revive the symphony. I recently stepped down from my role and now serve as an advisor – albeit in a much less active way. We succeeded in improving the financial position of the organization tremendously, however, now it is time for a full time executive director to come in and take it to the next level. If you are able to make a donation or know of a dedicated individual who might be able to carry the organization forward, please reach out.

Hunt outside Soho Tea and Coffee on Day 189 of my Year of Giving

To learn more about Maestro Hunt and the Urban Philharmonic click here to watch a short video I shot of him in what became our “office” – Soho Tea and Coffee at the intersection of 22nd and P. If you go in the mornings you will hear some beautiful orchestral music. If you go in the afternoon you very well might run into Maestro Hunt…say hello and tell him I sent you!

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

This is the Giant where I did my research

Ever feel like supermarket prices are going through the roof? Well, those who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Progam (SNAP) – formally known as Food Stamps – really feel these increases. And how do we know that the amount that SNAP provides is sufficient to meet a family’s food needs?

D.C. Hunger Solutions, a nonprofit here in the nation’s capital that works to create a hunger-free community, set out to answer this very question. On a warmer than usual November evening I found myself at their offices across from the Hilton Hotel near Dupont Circle participating in an orientation on how to visit supermarkets and record pricing data that can be used to compute whether the benefit offered through SNAP is sufficient to cover reasonable costs of buying food for low income families. They also want to find out if foods, especially high nutrient dense products, are equally available across the city regardless of socio-economic factors of the neighborhoods. The two staff members did a great job going over the process and then we were assigned a grocery store where we would record the prices for about 150 items.

Since I have a car they assigned me to a Giant Foods Store on Eastern Avenue up in Hyattsville, MD. I had Friday afternoon free and decided to go up there after lunch to do the inventory which we were told would take about an hour. I was to find very specific items and record the lowest available price for that size. So for example, I needed to find “Chocolate Drink Mix” in a 21.8 ounce package. After finding the right size, and who knew that 21.8 ounces is a pretty standard size for chocolate drink mix, I compared the prices of each one and determined that Nesquick was the cheapest at $5.59. Usually there is a store brand that is cheaper, but not in this case. Anyway, multiply that process by 150 and I ended up running up and down the aisles for about two and a half hours.

Despite some funny looks from those who saw me “shopping” for hours with no groceries to show for it, it was a good experience that helped me develop a greater respect and understanding of food pricing. When I got home I had to fill out an online form so that D.C. Hunger solutions could properly evaluate the data that I collected with data they received from the dozens of other stores from around the Greater Washington area.

If you would like to learn more about D.C. Hunger Solutions or volunteer with them, please visit their website.

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

So for week 44 I went out to support the 21,250 runners in the 36th running of the Marine Corps Marathon. I was camped out at about mile marker 12 cheering the semi-lucid runners on. As the temperature traversed the 40 degree mark, the lead pack whizzed by us at an alarming clip. Charles Ware, a 27-year-old 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, was in that group and eventually won the race finishing in a lightning 2:19:16.

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Army 1st Lt. Charles Ware leads the three-man breakaway at mile 12. Ware went on to win the race in 2:19:16.

For me the highlight was seeing my good friend Sasha Bratt. Me, along with a couple of friends, hoped that we would see him through the sea of runners. Actually he spotted us and came running over to give us all a hug. “Don’t stop,” I told him, “you gotta finish this thing.”

Sasha is a bit of a marathon addict these days…well not really, it’s more of a Disney Marathon addiction. He’s actually got a special place in his home where he can display all of his Disney medals which number close to ten.

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My friend Sasha displaying Jody's name on his right arm.

This race though had special meaning for Sasha. The words “Jody” and “Brother” were written on the insides of his forearms. He had planned to run the Marine Corps Marathon in honor of his brother-in-law Jody who had been battling brain cancer for the past 10 years. Unfortunately, two days before the race the cancer took Jody’s life. He was 45 and the father of four children.

“This one’s for Jody,” he said looking at his arms. “When this race gets tough – that’s who I’ll be thinking of.” With that he took off. He finished the race in 4:37:52. Congratulations Sasha!

This blog post is dedicated in memory of Jody David Viets Calabrese.

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

Before we get started with today’s volunteer experience, I want to remind you that today is the United Nation’s International Volunteer Day. I’m teaming up with Meridian International, Washington Parks and People and DC Green Corps to plant 61 trees in Oxon Run Park located in Southeast D.C. If you don’t have a volunteer project scheduled for today, make a commitment to volunteer at least once before the end of the year.

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A group crosses the finish line together

Now close your eyes and imagine this. It’s a  chilly October morning and you and your friends are gathered at ski resort getting ready to run a ten-mile course peppered with 25 insane obstacles that I probably wouldn’t want to do by themselves, much less after I’ve been running for hours.

To quote their website, “Tough Mudder is not your average lame-ass mud run or spirit-crushing ‘endurance’ road race. It’s Ironman meets Burning Man.” I’m not sure that’s how I would describe this extreme race designed by an ex British Special Forces commando, but it is not for the week at heart.

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A woman collapses as her body absorbs some 10,000 volts as she tries to navigate the dreaded electrical guantlet.

The sunlight  breaks through the trees while rumors of daunting tasks such as traversing logs floating in freezing pools of water and sprinting through a gauntlet of live electrical wires, some of which are charged with more than 10,000 volts, circulate amongst the participants. I’m just thankful that I am not actually running this race. That’s right, I’m volunteering in this madness.

The event, one of a series of international races that Tough Mudder puts on, is being held at Wintergreen Ski Resort nestled in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains in Central Virginia. I drove down the night before in stayed at the Acorn Inn – a wonderful European style inn run by Kathy and Martin, charming hosts who make you feel like you never want to leave.

I spent my day of service primarily at the finish line – watching exhausted participants triumphantly complete their mission. We handed out fruit and energy bars as well as water and sports drinks to the dazed athletes who wandered around trying to recover. Those who finished also were awarded a t-shirt and a free beer sponsored by Dos Equis.

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Tattoos and mohawks are free to particpants.

In addition to the race, several other Tough Mudder related activities were going on. You could get a mohawk style haircut or a mullet, have the Tough Mudder logo tattooed on your body or donate your mud encased shoes to charity. The haircuts and tattoos are free too!

“It’s all for a good cause,” said one exhausted racer who had driven up from North Carolina the night before, “the money goes to help the Wounded Warrior Project.” Well, that is partly true. Some money, nearly $2 million to date, does benefit the charity – and that’s the reason I agreed to volunteer. But as I handed out bananas to weary runners my mind raced off to calculate how much money these guys are making on all of this craziness. Let’s just say they are doing quite well – and I am totally ok with for profit companies doing well while also doing good. The business is so going so well that next year they will double the number of Tough Mudders.

I captured LOTS of images from the event – some of them show the euphoria of crossing the finish line – others show near defeat as the race begins to take its toll. I also got a few good shots of some brave souls who got tattoosmohawks, and mullets. You can check out all of my photographs from the weekend here.

DSC_0127.jpgIf you think you are Tough Mudder material – check out their website for an event near you! They have races in North America, Europe,Japan and Australia – chances are there is one near you!

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

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Registration at Philanthropy Day 2011

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to volunteer at the National Capital Philanthropy Day here in Washington, D.C. It’s an annual celebration of the region’s individuals, nonprofits, volunteers, businesses, and fundraising professionals whose philanthropic contributions have made significant impacts on our community.

On my way over to the JW Marriott, I ran into Bill Davis who was my 100th $10 recipient last year. He was filling the corridors of Metro Center with the beautiful sounds of his alto saxophone.

I arrived at the hotel around 9:00 a.m. – a few minutes early for our scheduled 9:15 arrival time. I grabbed some pastries that were offered for us while waiting to get our assignment for the day. At my table I met some great people who were also volunteering. One of them (and her family!) ended up coming to my farewell party for David! She’s got a great blog too that you should check out.

Anyway, I was asked to be a greeter at one of the hotel entrances. It was an easy enough job but you do get a newfound respect for security guards and hosts who stand all day in the hotel. After a couple of hours it starts to take a toll on your feet.

Another great volunteering experience chalked up! If you know an outstanding individual or group who you believe to be worthy of recognition of their philanthropic efforts, please consider nominating them for your local Philanthropy Day! To find one in your area, check out the Association of Fundraising Professionals website to find your local chapter.

To see more photos from the event, click here.

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

I am very fortunate to be able to work for a great organization and also do some private consulting on the side. Generally I spend three days a week at my main work-place. Tuesdays and Thursdays I try to keep open for my consulting projects. From time to time I also volunteer on those days if I have a light workload. Recently I had the opportunity to volunteer for my employer on one of my days off.

IMAG0102World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was hosting the Global Forest and Trade Network (GFTN) annual meeting for North America at our headquarters. They needed a note-taker for the session and I signed myself up!

GFTN’s mission is to eliminate illegal logging while creating a new market for environmentally responsible forest products. To do this WWF works with corporations and other nonprofits with similar interests. Some of the nearly 300 participating organizations are household names like Williams Sonoma and Proctor & Gamble while others are names we might not recognize but who have a tremendous impact on our world’s forests.

I sat in the corner of the room taking copious amounts of notes and hoping that I was recording something that would be of value to the group later when they reviewed them. The participants pushed through their agenda – stopping only for a very short break for lunch. After grabbing some food people filed back into the meeting room and continued the discussions.

I couldn’t help but leave the meeting wondering about where the wood and paper products that I buy come from. Are they being sourced properly? How much more would I pay for a product that I knew was manufactured in accordance to the guidelines created by GFTN?

What about you? Does it matter to you how companies behave – are you willing to reward those who act as responsible corporate citizens with your business even if it costs you a little more?

Don’t forget – if you live in the DC area come out tomorrow night to One Lounge to meet and support David – my $10 recipient from Day 258. I hope to see you there!

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

Columbus Day weekend delivered quintessential fall weather here in our nation’s capital. Bright sunny days that gave way to stark autumn evenings. And if you walked down Pennsylvania Avenue– just a few short blocks from the White House – you would have smelled the aromas of gourmet food and heard the sounds of live music echoing off the governmental walls that line the street. That’s right; it’s the Taste of D.C. festival.

And after a bowl of Ben’s famous chili or a mouth-watering plate from SÂUÇÁ you might need something cold and refreshing to wash it all down with. Look no further than the Craft Beer & Wine Pavilion. Dozens of craft breweries and wineries were set up to give visitors a taste, literally, of some of the most refined libations around.

I actually worked a shift for Stoudt’s (you might remember them from Day 77 of my Year of Giving) and helped the small craft brewer introduce their brews to the palates of Washington. The beer pavilion is run by a handful of staff from the breweries themselves with the help of a small army of volunteers. Unfortunately that small army was really small and the tent would go through periods where it was severely understaffed. So I decided to go back the next day and help them out. After all a portion of the proceeds went to DC Central Kitchen, Bread for the City, Luke’s Wings, and the American Red Cross – all really good organizations.

So there I was for another shift, pouring beers and answering questions about the subtleties of the different malt beverages. “Either I’ve had too many or I think I taste something like those little banana flavored Runts candies,” a bearded thirty-something guy told me as he smelled and resampled Stoudt’s Heifer-in-Wheat, a Bavarian style Hefeweizen. Well, he very might be more sober than you think. No, the beer doesn’t have Runts candies, but you get some of that fruit flavor from the German yeast that is used. It’s also got a sweetness about it thanks to a generous amount of malt that goes into the brew. Although not my favorite of their 15 or so beers that they make, on a warm autumn day it’s perfection.

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

Lenora "Ann" Reed Sandridge 10/17/43-12/15/06

My mother, Lenora “Ann” Reed Sandridge, was born in the sleepy coal miner town of Richlands, Virginia 68 years ago today. She died nearly five years ago yet the pain and emptiness that I felt at the time of her death remains more or less unchanged today. I’ve heard some people say that “it gets easier.” I am not sure about that. I know she is not coming back, but sometimes I feel as if she has just been separated from us for a short while and somehow she will be waiting for me the next time I walk through the doors of my parents’ house in Pennsylvania where my father still lives.

If you knew my mother you will understand why today’s blog post is appropriately posted on her birthday.

Last week I reconnected with a friend I had met in Colombia last year. We met after work at the Whole Foods across fromGeorgeWashingtonUniversity’s campus where she is now pursuing post-graduate work. We drank coffee while catching up on each others lives; the conversation occasionally interrupted by passersby ducking inside to take refuge from the monsoon-like rain storm.

The rain stopped and we parted ways. As I headed up 22nd Street toward my neighborhood I saw a woman on the side of the road crouched down on the wet asphalt in front of her car trying to position a jack under the front left bumper. I asked if she needed help and she let out a sigh of relief, “Yes!”

I sat my bag in the wet grass, rolled up my dress shirt and moved the jack around to the side of the car and found a solid piece of the frame to position it under. A few short minutes later the tire was fully suspended off the ground and I grabbed the tire iron and muscled the stubborn lug nuts counter-clockwise. About then a couple of young guys, probably university students, stopped and offered to help too. We quickly got the spare on and sent her two blocks down the street to get some additional air in her temporary tire.

“Thank you so much, you don’t know how much this means to me,” she said reaching for her purse that sat on the empty driver’s seat. “Let me give you all something for your time.”

We all refused the money – I mean, we just did what every decent person should do. Volunteering my time to help her out was well worth the small inconvenience of arriving late, and covered with grease, to meet up with some work colleagues for a beer.

It was this kind of generosity and kindness that my mother embraced so strongly; probably the result of growing up in a town where you helped your neighbor, shared your harvest and brought dinner over to the grieving widower. These weren’t things that my mother ever sat me down and taught. She didn’t have to, they were part of her and she taught by example. Somehow I find comfort knowing that her lessons still live vividly inside me after all this time. I love you Mom!

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

Before I share this blog entry with you, I want to wish my father a very happy birthday today – he turns 71! I love you dad!

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Bikes parked at the WABA Bike Valet

When I visit a city I try to see it by foot or bike. Not only is it an environmentally friendly form of transportation, it slows you down enough that you see the details that you often miss while zooming by in a car or tour bus. I also do this in my home city of Washington, D.C. where you can discover new elements of our nation’s capital every day if you take the time to absorb your surroundings.

Every two years the U.S. Department of Energy challenges collegiate teams from around the world to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. They call it the Solar Decathlon and hold it on the National Mall – which for those of you not familiar with D.C. is not a shopping mall but a large open green area that is home to many of our national monuments.

IMG_3987.jpgThe event featured a free bike valet – which is simply a secure place where you can drop your bicycle off while you visit the Solar Decathlon. This allows you not to worry about carrying a lock or removing items such as seats, wheels, bags, etc. that could be easily stolen. The whole process is really fast too. You just roll up and give them your bike and they give you a ticket to claim it later.

I spent the morning volunteering at the bike valet. Operated by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), hundreds of visitors took advantage of this free service. You might recall that I helped WABA out earlier this year at Bike D.C.  Volunteering was a blast and I also enjoyed checking out a few of the energy-efficient homes. I didn’t have a lot of free time away from the bike valet so I mostly appreciated the homes from the outside but did get the chance to tour the one built by the University of Tennessee which won 8th place – winners are judged on their abilities to effectively address affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. I later went online and checked the others out and really liked the home built by the New Zealand team.  It came in 3rd place! The overall winner was right from my backyard here: The University of Maryland.

Illustration of the home built by the team from New Zealand. (photo: http://www.solardecathlon.gov)

Click here to see my photos from the event.

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My year-long journey of volunteering brought me to the podium two weeks ago. As part of the Peace Corps 50th anniversary celebration, Meridian International Center hosted 50 men and women from 50 different countries at their historic mansion in Northwest D.C. for a panel discussion on volunteerism in the United States. I was honored to serve as the moderator for the discussion which featured experts from AmeriCorps NCCC, Youth Service America, Points of Light Institute, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Experience Corps.

It was a terrific discussion. I especially enjoyed the part where we opened the floor up to the 50 attendees to hear some of their comments. All of the participants have influenced the Peace Corps programs and led volunteering efforts in their local communities – so there was at least a couple hundred years of collective volunteer experience represented in the room. After the conference, I was fortunate to be able to speak individually with several members of the delegation. Hearing their personal stories was very moving.

My favorite comment of the day though came from Dave Premo of CNCS. We were talking about engaging young people and he said that they have found that email is no longer effective for that age segment. It’s seems that it still works well for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers but Millennials don’t read it. “You got to use social networking to get their attention,” he said. I laughed – another reminder that I’m getting older.

The full delegation with State Department Assistant Secretary Ann Stock and Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams.

The visit, which is part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, is very well done. They spend a week in Washington D.C. participating in meetings, cultural exchanges and volunteer projects and then they scatter out across the country to several cities to get an appreciation for regional differences. The program wraps up in Chicago this Saturday.

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Brrr…it’s chilly this morning. Yesterday was the coldest October 2nd ever recorded here in Washington, DC.

I am trying to get caught up with my blog posts – I’m a little behind. Although the posts sometimes get delayed, the volunteering goes on.

This week’s volunteer experience came at the last minute…well, almost! Just before I left for my lunch break at work I decided to check my personal email. In my inbox I found an email from my friend Kevin who was directing a play at Rockville Little Theatre and he was asking if I would be able to play one of the roles that evening. It was Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge which I had seen the previous weekend, but I certainly didn’t know any of the parts that well.

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Me back stage with Dominique who played my wife in "A View from the Bridge."

As it turns out one of the actors had a last-minute emergency and wouldn’t be able to perform that evening. Although it was very minor part, I was still a bit nervous. That didn’t stop me though and I was on stage just eight short hours later. It’s kind of ironic that this worked out the way it did since I had wanted to audition for this show but couldn’t due to some schedule conflicts.

It was a lot of fun, although a bit awkward since I didn’t know most of the other cast members – I did actually knew a few of them from previous work. As an actor I always feel lucky if the cast forms a bond and becomes its own family. The easy interaction and lively game of Uno back stage let me know that this cast wasn’t lacking camaraderie.

After the show I joined the other actors and went out to the front of the house to say hello and thank the patrons. I was surprised to see a friend of mine, although not as much as she was surprised to see me. “I didn’t know that you were in this show!” she said almost reprimanding me. I gave her a big hug and told her the truth, “I didn’t know either until about eight hours ago.”

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

When you put people first and politics second, you can get things done.” -President Bill Clinton at CGI 2011

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks during the 2011 Clinton Global Initiative in New York on September 22, 2011. (Reuters Photo/Eduardo Munoz)

Even after having worked in his organization for 18 months, the hair on the back of my neck still stands up when I am in the presence of our 42nd president Bill Clinton. The 65-year-old statesman is one of our greatest political thinkers.

I can’t think of a better place to volunteer than at the Clinton Global Initiative, an action oriented meeting of some of the most influential people and organizations in the world. It’s hard to grasp unless you have been there, but I will try to give you an idea.

On my way to my first assignment there, I passed Bishop Desmond Tutu, who by the way has one of the most intoxicating laughs I have ever heard. He was leaving his session where he and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar talked with Charlie Rose about human rights, democratic governance and ethnic reconciliation. On the escalator up to the next floor I turned around to see Procter & Gamble’s CEO Bob McDonald standing behind me.

I arrived at the session I was assigned to volunteer at which was titled “Securing Global Nutrition.” Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times led a panel discussion which featured the head of USAID, the president of WWF International, the CEO of Britannia Industries and one of the leading agronomists in the world. They were gathered to discuss how to tackle the nutritional challenges we face, primarily in the developing world.

Later I headed to a session on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) where I was tasked with taking the official notes of the meeting. About 30 people were gathered – including two princesses from Jordan, the actress Fran Drescher and executives from the American Cancer Society and PepsiCo.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

Before it was all over I saw President Obama speak about service and the economy, watched Chelsea Clinton moderate a panel on leveraging technology to help women and girls in developing countries, saw actresses Heather Graham and Geena Davis and chatted with Michael Jordan’s mother – who’s a sweetheart by the way.  And just when I thought I had seen all that I was going to see, Ted Turner popped his head into the lobby bar of the Sheraton at the end of the day.

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

So often times when we talk about volunteering our time we think about helping out at the local hospital or soup kitchen, but there are many informal ways you can volunteer to help your community or even friends and loved ones.  You might remember I did a little neighborhood snow shoveling back in February to help out those who weren’t able to remove the snow from their walkways. Well this week I put my photographic skills to use and captured images from a friend’s wedding reception.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

Married earlier this summer in a small private ceremony in the romantic city of Montreal, the reception here in D.C. surrounded them with nearly 150 friends and family.

I showed up about an hour early to the Bethesda, MD home where the reception was held in order to familiarize myself with the location and take some early photographs of the setting. Lighting was a little tricky because I didn’t want to be snapping flashes in people’s faces all evening. Thankfully in addition to my 18-105mm lens I also had my brother’s 50mm lens which is much faster and allows me to photograph in lower light.

The evening was beautiful and I hopefully made some good photographs. Now the hard part begins, going through all the photographs and editing them. As I am not a professional, I don’t have all the bells and whistles that they do, not to mention my raw product is not nearly as good as theirs, so I have to invest a good amount of time to make the photographs look worthy of being framed.  Wish me luck!

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC.

One in three children in the U.S. is overweight or obese according to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.  Pressure is growing on strapped for cash school systems to provide healthier meals.  D.C. Public Schools has implemented a salad bar system this year and asked for volunteers to help teach students how to make a healthy salad that complies with USDA requirements for school meals.

I signed up to help out at Ballou Senior High School.  Named after former D.C. superintendent of schools Dr. Frank W. Ballou, the school is located southeast of the Anacostia River and has a student body of about 1,000, nearly all of them eligible for free and reduced lunch.  I parked my car in the almost empty lot next to the football field and walked up the hill toward the school passing several parked police cars.  A friendly smile greeted me as the front door opened and a uniformed security guard motioned toward an airport like security checkpoint.  After collecting my camera and the contents of my pockets from the other side of the x-ray machine, the same woman explained to me how to get to the cafeteria.

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Ballou's salad bar minutes before students flood the cafeteria. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

I made my way across the empty dimly lit cafeteria and poked my head in the kitchen.  A dozen school cafeteria employees, mostly women, were busy making last-minute preparations for the second day of the school year.  I was directed to Mr. Sparrow, a thirty-year veteran of the food service industry.  He explained the task at hand and I, along with another volunteer named Hale, got ready for the first wave of students.

“It aint going to be easy,” Mr. Sparrow told me.  “You’ve got to make sure they have a balanced meal that includes vegetables, a protein, a fruit and a grain.”  Sounds easy enough, right?

Although most students chose the standard school meal, probably about 60 or 70 lined up to make a salad.  Freshly prepared that morning, the salad bar looked delicious.  Although students could choose from fresh romaine, arugula and endive, most stuck with the standard romaine lettuce.  Zucchini sticks weren’t very popular either, despite my sales pitch to the young people. Turkey ham, eggs, bacon bits and ranch dressing were the hot items.

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This young man made the healthiest salad I saw all day - all on his own! (photo: Reed Sandridge)

“Sir,” called out Mr. Sparrow to an upperclassmen dressed in the standard blue shirt and beige pants, “I need you to take a piece of fruit with you.”  The student pushed back some saying that he wasn’t going to eat it.  In the end he reluctantly grabbed a shiny red delicious apple and went on his way.  This type of scenario played out about half the time.  Sometimes they were missing fruit, other times they had loaded up on just meat and almost nothing else.  Stern yet compassionate, Sparrow and his team work with the students to get it right.  I secretly wondered where they found the patience to do this every single day.

An altercation erupts in the cafeteria courtyard and the half-dozen police officers on hand in the cafeteria quickly defuse it.  The experienced kitchen staff is unphased; just another day.

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Mr. Sparrow (right) gives some coaching to the students on their salad preparation. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Overall it was a good experience.  It had been a while since I had been in a school cafeteria.  Although I applaud Ballou and DC Public Schools for taking on this initiative, I believe they will need additional help to make this work properly.  Just keeping the salad bar looking presentable is a full-time job for one worker who was busy restocking and cleaning up spilled toppings.  They need someone for the foreseeable future helping students build a healthy lunch.  As students head back to school tomorrow, the volunteers won’t be there anymore and I am afraid Mr. Sparrow and his team will be stretched too thin.

Check out this video that DC Public Schools put together to help volunteers learn how to build salads that qualify under USDA guidelines as a school meal.  I thought it was pretty good!

Here is a link to some other photographs that I took.  I will have more uploaded later this week.

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-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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Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

50.2 million Americans live in food insecure households, 33 million adults and 17.2 million children.  Feeding America goes on to report that 7.8 percent of seniors living alone were also food insecure. Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas all report more than 17% of their households facing food insecurity. Washington, DC checks in at 12.9%.  Least affected by this challenge is North Dakota that reports only 6.7 percent of households living with food insecurity.

I’ve been fortunate my entire life not to have to worry about where my next meal would come from, but as you can see above, many people in this rich country are not so fortunate.

One of the most impressive models for helping feed those in need is DC Central Kitchen.  Although I had been aware of this organization for several years, it wasn’t until July 27th of last year when I gave $10 to their founder, Robert Egger, that I started to realize how amazing this organization really is.  Check out what Robert did with the $10!  It will blow you away.

Two weeks ago history was made – at least for DC Central Kitchen.  At the DC Convention Center the largest specialty food and beverage show in North America was wrapping up.  Thousands of exhibitors filled the exhibition hall with their mouth-watering offerings.  From Theo Chocolate’s organic, Fair Trade-certified Madagascar sourced chocolate to melt in our mouth Spanish Serrano ham from Fermin, if you like food, welcome to heaven!  When the last attendees get ushered out and booths begin to tear down their displays, there would still be hundreds of thousands of pounds of perfectly good food and beverage products on the show floor.  For a variety of reasons, it’s often difficult for these companies to ship the food back to their warehouse so they simply leave it behind.

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Volunteers pour onto the show floor ready to work! (photo: Reed Sandridge)

That’s where DC Central Kitchen stepped in and seized and opportunity by working out an arrangement where they would pick up unwanted food and turn it into meals for the thousands of households in the DC area who depend on them for nourishment.

They assembled a small benevolent army of about 150 people made up of employees of the kitchen and volunteers like myself.  Our mission was to comb the aisles collecting food that the exhibitors had designated for donation.

It’s a bit of a race against the clock.  Perishable foods must be removed within two hours and then we only had about another six hours to collect the rest of the food and transport it across the titanic show floor while dodging forklifts and workers removing miles of carpet from beneath our feet.  Then we had to load all the food onto pallets and wrap them in cellophane so that they could be loaded onto waiting trucks.  To give you an idea of the chaos, keep in mind that the show floor is 700,000 square feet and has a wingspan that covers six city blocks!  So making a run from one side to the other was no easy task.

One funny moment was when I was looking for some large boxes and heard a gentleman with a distinct Spanish accent saying, “Look at that – I turned a hexagon box into a rectangular one!”

“I know this guy,” I thought.

He handed me a box and then I realized I did know him – well not personally, but it was famed chef and restaurateur José Andrés!  I’ve dined in his restaurants, watched him on TV and even prepared tapas from his cookbook but I had no idea of his newest talent of transforming unusable boxes into perfect containers for our collection.  There was no time to be “star-struck” though and I grabbed the boxes and headed off to collect more food.

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Volunteers packaged 150,000 pounds of donated food!

When the last pallet was wrapped we had collected over 150,000 pounds of food – the largest single food donation that Robert’s organization has ever received!  DC Central Kitchen shared the historic donation with DC Food Bank and other community organizations that help provide meals to area residents in need.

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Some of the 150 volunteers who made it happen. (photo: dccentralkitchen.org)

Although this was an amazing day for DC Central Kitchen, this was not a typical day and the organization needs your support.  They are much more than a kitchen too – they provide training and jobs for the communities unemployed and homeless.  Click here to find out how you can volunteer or support them financially.

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

According to the American Humane Society’s webpage, 56% of dogs that enter into shelters are killed.  This fact disturbs me so much that I almost didn’t put it in the blog, but I think it’s important that we know the truth.  Fortunately there are organizations out there trying to make sure these dogs get adopted and do not end up like the more than 2 million dogs that are euthanized every year.  One such organization is Lucky Dog Animal Rescue here in Washington, DC.

I pulled together a small team of Year of Giving volunteers and headed over to the PetSmart on Route 50 near Seven Corners on a blistering hot Sunday morning.  Each volunteer was assigned a dog for the afternoon.  “We need somebody strong for the next dog,” the volunteer coordinator yelled out to the small army of volunteers who had assembled under the glaring sun.  Given that most of the volunteers were women, eyes seemed to focus on me and I stepped up to the challenge.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

They gave me two leashes (“You’re going to need them both,” they assured me) and a two-page bio about my dog.  “What kind of dog are they giving me,” I thought as they showed me how to wrap the leashes securely around my hands.  Out comes one of the cutest hounds I’ve ever seen.  Black with white and chestnut spots, Christine is a happy and energetic four-year-old.

Don’t let the big floppy ears fool you though!  She’s strong (hence the double leash!)  She immediately starts pulling me over to a tent where the other dogs are resting out of the sun.  Did I mention it was hot?  Christine and I had to take a couple of laps inside the PetSmart to cool off in the air-conditioning from time to time.

A big-hearted, fun-loving dog, Christine gets lots of attention.  She’s great with kids too.  My friend Jessica stopped by with her three young boys and Christine soaked up the attention.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

Lucky Dog Animal Rescue is an all-volunteer, non-profit animal rescue organization dedicated to saving the lives of homeless animals and educating the community on responsible pet ownership. They do not have their own facility, instead dogs stay with temporary fosters (and occasionally boarding partners) while they wait to be adopted.

Lucky Dog holds weekly adoption events and is always looking for volunteers.  Visit their website to find out more information.

“What amazes me is their resilience,” Executive Director Mirah Horowitz said in a recent interview.  Many of these dogs have been abandoned and neglected, yet Horowitz says that they regain their ability to trust and love again.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

On the Sunday I volunteered about a dozen dogs were adopted.  Since their inception in May of 2009, Horowitz says they have rescued about 2,900 dogs and have found permanent families for about 2,800 of them.  You do the math, that leaves about 100 dogs which is what she says are currently waiting for adoption.  “We’ve got a 100% adoption rate,” she proudly shares.  That’s impressive!

Unfortunately Christine didn’t get adopted.  I checked the website today and she is still waiting for either a foster family or a permanent family.  If you or anyone you know is considering getting a dog, I encourage you to check with local organizations like Lucky Dog.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

By the way, if you would like to see additional photographs of Christine and many of the other dogs that were at the adoption event, check out my Flickr page.

Catch my weekly blog post on AARP’s blog every Wednesday.  Last week I wrote about giving during desperate times of need.

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

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Me with a fellow volunteer Jane who was part of LGW's Class of 2004. (photo: Tohry Petty/LGW)

Volunteer Days is an annual event organized by Leadership Greater Washington (LGW) that focuses on giving back to the community.  LGW is a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to identify and connect diverse local leaders in order to facilitate finding solutions to regional challenges.  I got introduced to them through a few of my friends and colleagues and decided to help them out on their service day.

I was reminded of the importance of effectively using volunteers during this outing.  I arrived at 9am as instructed and found two adults and a student waiting outside of Martha’s Table where we were to do some painting.  There was some miscommunication with a third-party that helped connect LGW with Martha’s Table and as it turned out there was nobody there.  After a few phone calls we realized that we would have to wait until 10am to start.  I didn’t care since I was planning on being there anyway.  I was kind of tired too so I slumped down on the sidewalk and waited in a semi-conscious state.

One of the other four volunteers was irritated that we had to wait and said he had better things to do and left.  I get that he wants to be useful, but we had all planned on being there anyway, so what difference does it make right?  I mean Martha’s Table is counting on us and it’s not their fault that we were there early.

This provides a good lesson to organizations that use volunteers.  Not everyone will share my view on this and many will feel like they have wasted their time and form a  negative impression of the nonprofit in need.

Everything worked out fine.  There was not enough of us to paint but Justin, volunteer coordinator extraordinaire, quickly came up with a project for us that involved freshening up the green areas in front of Martha’s Table.  Pulling roots out is hard work!  Who knew?  We replaced about a dozen plants with beautiful new ones.

I was really impressed with Martha’s Table and you should check them out!  “We provide folks with a chance to live their values,” said development and community manager Kimberly Lyons-Briley.  “Ultimately volunteers are some of our biggest advocates.”  Well, I can understand why – everyone there is so nice!

DSC_0001-2.jpgNo more weeding for a while.  Check back next Monday to learn about my experience volunteering with Lucky Dog Rescue!  In the meantime, check out AARP’s blog this Wednesday.  I’ll be starting a new weekly column on their site – but don’t worry, I’ll still be here too!

If you want to help Miriam’s Kitchen but don’t live in DC, check out their Wish List on Amazon.com.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC.

Happy 4th of July! 

Just beyond the beltway of Washington, DC, Congressional Country Club was selected to host this year’s US Open.  The United States Golf Association, the organizers of the Father’s Day classic, provides concession stands around the course that are manned primarily by volunteers.  In turn, a percentage of the proceeds go toward those organizations that work the stands.

logoHands’sOn Greater DC Cares, the leading mobilizer of volunteers in the Greater DC area, asked for volunteers to help out and raise money for their organization.  I’ve volunteered at several of their service days and always been impressed with them so I was happy to help them out.

Now this may sound like a piece of cake, right?  How hard could selling a few cold beers and hotdogs to a bunch of golf enthusiasts be?  Well, you’re right it isn’t so hard, however it does require a lot of volunteers and a well-coordinated operation to serve the 230,000 attendees.

After parking nearly 40 minutes away and taking a special shuttle to Congressional, I got checked in, tied an apron on and found myself pulling cold drinks and hot food for the cashiers.  After about three hours of this I had to change jobs as my knee was failing me – I tore my meniscus two months ago playing softball.  Anyway, I closed out the rest of the day running the register.

All in all it was a good experience despite the scorching heat and lack of breaks throughout the eight-hour shift.  We were slammed for five to six hours solid.

I have no idea how much Greater DC Cares received – hopefully a healthy amount.

Rory McIlroy holds aloft the U.S. Open trophy after winning the championship at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, June 19, 2011. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)

Rory McIlroy holds aloft the U.S. Open trophy after winning the championship at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., Sunday, June 19, 2011. (Drew Angerer/The Washington Times)

Volunteers receive a nice perk – they are free to watch the golf play before and after their shift.  I headed over to the 18th hole with fellow YoG volunteer and former Kindness Investor Maria D.  We watched the golfers wrap up the second to last day of golf at the final hole.  The last pair to putt and wave to the fans was South Korea’s Y.E. Yang and 22–year-old tournament winner Rory McIlroy who set a record with a 16-under finish.

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC.

Don't be a litter bug

Plastic bags liter the banks of a river in Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia. Photo: CJETTE

Today’s post is a microblog post. I feel that’s only appropriate since today’s post is about a microvolunteering experience.  I logged on to Sparked.com and helped a UK nonprofit called Funky Junk Recycled.  In developing countries where plastic bags collect and choke drains and even animals, Funky Junk takes an innovative approach to turning this trash into beautiful, long-lasting items while providing fair trade income and training for local producers.

Here's a bag made from recycled plastic bags turned into yarn, or "plarn."

They needed help on how to recruit a British expat volunteer in Cambodia.  Click here to see my advice.  Oh, and while you’re there, why not try to do a project yourself.  I promise it doesn’t take long.

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

DSC_0011-2.jpgWell I have fallen two days behind on posting this.  Sorry, but I have been digging out from all of your emails and comments about the Worldwide Day of Giving!  I’ll be doing an update soon on some of the great stories from June 15th.

But for now, I want to share one of the volunteer projects I did on the Worldwide Day of Giving.  I spent six hours volunteering at The IMPACT Summit.  Organized by HandsOn Greater DC Cares, this unique forum convenes leaders from the business, education, government and nonprofit sectors to leverage volunteerism, service and philanthropy to address critical issues facing our community.  I was asked to photograph the event and captured nearly 300 photos throughout the day.

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HandsOn Greater DC Cares President & CEO Dr. Madye Henson (photo: Reed Sandridge)

I arrived at the Renaissance Hotel around 8am.  A friendly staff member for the event greeted me at the door and explained to me how to find the conference rooms designated for the event – there were several events taking place that day and it took a little searching to arrive at the right spot.

Alicia, my point of contact from HandsOn Greater DC Cares, gave me an overview of the day’s schedule and reviewed some of the key photographs they wanted.  I pulled my Nikon D90 out and connected the 85mm lens that my brother Ryan had let me use.  It’s a great lens by the way to capture quality images without flash.  I also used a few of the other lenses that I have – all but one of them were actually Ryan’s.

I enjoyed this project.  I wish I had been able to focus a little more on the content of sessions.  You obviously know about my strong commitment to volunteering and service, but I am also very much involved in exploring how companies engage their employees in service.  There are so many benefits for the companies, employees and the community, but I find that most corporations are not taking full advantage of the programs they have in place.

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Dr. Henson (left) and Chairperson Matt Mitchell present Jamila Larson of the Homeless Children's Playtime Project with the Community Impact Award. (Photo: Reed Sandridge)

The day closed with several awards for exceptional dedication to service by both individuals and organizations.  You can see a list of the amazing nominees and winners here.  I packed up my gear and headed home.  Now the laborious part for dodgy photographers such as myself – editing.

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