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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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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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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

Last week I attended the National Conference on Volunteerism and Service (NCVS) in New Orleans.  The Big Easy seemed like an appropriate backdrop for an event talking about how to effectively mobilize people to serve.  Hundreds of thousands of volunteers helped this special city rebuild itself after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina nearly six years ago.

James Carville

James Carville at NCVS (Photo: JD Lasica/socialmedia.biz)

“A third of the city many people feel is better than it was before,” commented political strategist James Carville as he addressed the conference on Monday, “a third is getting better and a third is [pause] long range.”  As a tourist, most of what you see falls into the first two sections Carville describes.  It’s the lesser visited areas, such as the lower ninth ward,  that you find ghost neighborhoods and 6-year-old pleas for help painted on sides of abandoned homes.

Katrina survivors find refuge on their roof.

I arrived on Sunday and had to get a decent night sleep because I agreed to be a volunteer for the conference organizers on Monday morning.  Somebody (who just might be yours truly) had a terrible idea to volunteer from 5am-9am helping get registration set up on opening day.  That means I was up at 4am.  You know it’s early when the Starbucks if full of dark shadows from the street instead of caffeine addicts lining up to get their fix.

Working registration was rather simple.  My specific role was to help people self register on computer terminals.  After a minor technical setback that caused 5 of the 8 computers not to work, we got things up and running.  The online registration system was not as intuitive as it could have been which caused many people to ask for assistance which I gladly provided.

Audience

Photo: JD Lasica/socialmedia.biz

I ended up staying on until about 10am since the next shift of volunteers arrived a little late.  I walked the new group through the process and wished them luck.  I had a feeling that it was going to get really crazy later in the day when the opening ceremony kicked off.

The rest of my week there was spent soaking up valuable knowledge in workshops and seminars on topics such as improving employee volunteer programs, effective volunteer engagement, and dynamic partnering between the for profit and nonprofit sector to create social value.  I got to hear from inspiring speakers such as Bea Boccalandro, Caroline Barlerin, Susan Portugal, John Power, Gail Gershon, Monique De La Oz, Evan Hochberg, Dr. Madye Henson, Glen O’Gilvie, Jill Friedman Fixler, Melody Barnes, John Oliver, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the list goes on.

Cafe du Mond

A Cafe du Mond waiter with fresh hot beignets. (photo: Thomas Hawk)

Alas my week of beignets, muffulettas, coffee with chicory, jazz and near 100 degree weather came to an end.  It’s a unique sensation.  Part of me is exhausted yet there is another side of me that wants to work all night developing strategies to solve some of the challenges we face in this sector.  Exhaustion won, for now at least, as I slipped off to sleep on the flight back to DC.

There is a lot going on this week.  Wednesday is the Worldwide Day of Giving.  Click HERE to find out how easy it is to be a part of this global movement.  And if you live in DC, we will be getting together in person – details can be found HERE.   Finally, I got to catch up with 94-year-old Ms. Charlotte T.  from New Orleans who was my 248th recipient of $10.  I will post an update on her later this week – you won’t want to miss it!

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

DSC_0008.jpgThe Year of Giving transitioned from a blog to a social movement a few months into my year-long journey in 2010 and all of a sudden I was thrust into the space of social media.  Given my background, I figured I would be a good volunteer for the DC Social Media Summit.  I spent four years organizing and producing events and conferences in addition to my experience navigating the ever-changing field of social media.  Sounds like a perfect match right?

The event was produced by the Center for Nonprofit Success, a nonprofit registered under the name Mediate Facilitate Inc.  This is the second time I have volunteered with this organization.  The first time was back in Week 7.  It’s an interesting organization.  Part of me really loves the concept.  They run conferences around theUS with no onsite staff.  That’s right.  Every single person working at the conference is a volunteer.  That’s amazing!

DSC_0084.jpgDespite the fact that I think our small team of volunteers managed to make the best of the situation we were presented with, it was not easy.  We were missing guidance, information, tools, etc.  Attendees seemed frustrated with our lack of information and less than organized demeanor.  It got so bad at one point that some of the volunteers contemplated walking out during the middle of the conference.  Thankfully the content of the sessions was quite good.  The organizer managed to secure some really talented speakers who dazzled the couple hundred attendees.

Although I did say that I was impressed that such an organization exists and puts on conferences all around the country with just volunteers staffing the events, I don’t think this is the best model.  I believe there should be at least one employee at each event from start to finish to manage the conference.  I think that would help in a variety of ways as well as help create the culture of the volunteer staff.

DSC_0082.jpgI did some research on this organization.  The math is just not adding up for me.  For a nonprofit that has such a skeleton staff that onsite management is done completely by volunteers, I have to wonder where all their revenue goes?  There were no handouts to give to attendees – they were asked to print them themselves along with their name badges.  The speakers were also donating their time and not compensated for their appearance or travel expenses.  So I was left with more questions than answers.

I did get to meet some interesting people who were volunteering with me and got to see a few minutes of one of the presentations which I found very interesting.  Having said that, I don’t think I will volunteer with this organization again.

Click here to see more of the photographs that I took during the event.

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San Francisco General

Photo: Troy Holden

Blog post by Reed S., a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC

Greetings from the foggy city by the bay, San Francisco.  This is the first time I have been on the West Coast since I lost my job in 2009.  It’s good to be back!  This city has been the incubator of some very cool philanthropic ventures.  The One Percent Foundation, with their bold approach to engaging young people in philanthropy,  held their first event here.  Kiva calls San Francisco home.  They’re the guys who made a seismic makeover of how we look at lending and alleviating poverty through the Internet.  Sparked, headquartered here too, is changing the way we look at volunteering by connecting organizations with volunteers on the Internet through micro-volunteering opportunities.  You get the idea.

Anyway, I am here for a special celebration of World Wildlife Fund’s 50th anniversary and their Spring Council meetings.  It should be an exciting few days celebrating the past and focusing on the future, especially looking at the intersection between technology and conservation.

Like all of these organizations, nonprofits across the country are driven by the desire to create social good rather than dollars.  These organizations work tirelessly to improve the world in which we live.  Whether it be protecting the biodiversity of our planet, reducing homelessness, or improving the education that our children receive, these organizations humbly push ahead toward their mission – often in spite of financial conditions that would be considered unacceptable in the private sector.

How do these cash-strapped organizations attract and retain top talent?  How do they use lessons learned from others in their field to solve their own problems efficiently?  How do they build partnerships with other organizations with aligned missions to progress their work?  Well, one of the ways is to take some of the sector’s brightest and most energetic leaders and bring them together in a dynamic exchange of experiences, ideas and contacts.  Few do this better than the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.

I was invited to attend their national conference in Grand Rapids, MI and speak to their members about the Year of Giving. I donated my time and services as a speaker and photographer for the conference at the end of March.

Over the Highway

Grand Rapids, MI at sunset (Photo: Eli Potter)

I touched down at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids just after seven, the glimmer of the late winter sunlight over the flat terrain quickly slipped into the night.  It’s a nice place to visit, possibly to live if you don’t mind winters that have overgrown their three month calendar season.  “You’re right here,” a woman sitting next to me on the plane explained while pointing to the palm of her right hand, just below where the little finger connects to the palm.  “You see Michigan is shaped like a mitt….we’re right here.”  I nodded and smiled at the novel way of showing someone where you lived and thought how I would shape my hand into the places I have lived.  No such luck for Brazil or Mexico, but maybe Pennsylvania works if I place my hand horizontally.

YNPN 2011.jpg

I was part of their speakers track titled Innovation. I’m not sure how innovating the Year of Giving is, after all it was Pierre on Day 359 who reminded me that certainly others had thought of this idea before.  “The difference,” he told me, “is that you did something.”  There is a tremendous difference between having an idea and implementing it.  Only one of the two really exists.  This conference was packed full of doers; my kind of people.

The conference went well, people even laughed at some of my attempts at humor which always makes me feel good.  That evening I put to work my photography “skills” to capture the nonprofit smackdown: a wild debate of sorts where nonprofit professionals from all different sectors defended their causes.  It was an interesting evening which was highlighted by an impromptu cash collection which I was told raised over a thousand dollars for the final two surviving nonprofits in the bout.

YNPN4

Impromptu cash donations totaled more than $1,000 for some of the terrific nonprofits represented at the smackdown!

There are 47 YNPN chapters across the US representing over 20,000 young nonprofit professionals working in a variety of capacities.  Check their website to see if there is a chapter near you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

My name tag from the seminar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I was attending a training seminar at the Hilton Hotel near the King Street Metro in Alexandria.  I had some roof leaks the night before during a heavy downpour and I ended up getting no sleep.  I arrived right at the time it was starting.  Hmmm…do I sit at the front and hope that helps motivate me to stay awake, or do I try to hide in the back, I thought.  I chose the front, although that ended up being a poor choice because I ended up surrendering at points to the inner need to sleep.  

I felt terrible…I was really interested in the subject matter but I just could not fight the narcoleptic impulses that pulled my eyelids downward.

Tiffany sent me this photo of herself.

The person sitting next to me at the conference was Tiffany.  She works as the Director of Philanthropy at a VA based nonprofit.  Originally from the DC area, Tiffany moved to Alabama for three years but returned recently.  “My parents and two brothers live here, so it’s nice to be back in the area,” she told me.

We chatted at the breaks.  She even offered to nudge me if I slipped into a slumber.  At the end of the day I asked her to take my $10.  She did and the fun began.  We talked about a lot of things; however, the thing that I could not get past was her unique obsession with hedgehogs.  Yep, hedgehogs.  Now, I think people often interchange hedgehogs and porcupines, but I’m going to assume that her infatuation is in fact with the hedgehog (Erinaceinae).

She has a hedgehog collection which started on a missionary trip she took with her father to Romania.  “This guy had 200 figurines and he gave me one,” Tiffany recounted.  She’s got them from about 20 countries although she was quick to point out that, “There not on display!”

It gets better though.  She later bought a live hedgehog in North Carolina and named him Darcy after the Lost character.  Well, this gets fuzzy (no pun intended) here but she transported Darcy to Virginia which may or may not have been legal.  I did a little research and found that there are about a half-dozen states that do not allow hedgehogs, however, I didn’t find anything related to Virginia or North Carolina that prohibits them.  THEN she decides she has to sell little Darcy and sold him on craigslist!  Well, before you go commenting that you can’t sell animals on craigslist, there is a little loophole.  She actually didn’t sell Darcy, she sold the cage and accessories and gave Darcy away to a veterinarian student.  I hope they didn’t use Darcy for lab work.  Tiffany had thought of this as well.  “There was one stipulation, no dissecting,” she told me.  

Hedgehogs apparently make good pets.  “You don’t have to walk them,” she said.  “And he was really cute and stayed up while I studied, they’re nocturnal, and he would run on his little wheel.”  The drawback she told me was that her clothes started to smell like hedgehogs.  She smelled fine when I met her though!

Tiffany has crossed paths with hedgehogs in other periods of her life.  Her sorority “little” had one too!

In all fairness, let me tell you that Tiffany is totally normal and even told me that she doesn’t know why she thought of the hedgehog when we were talking.  It definitely made for an interesting and educational chat though!

Oh, and remember that trip to Romania where the whole thing started, that was through Oakseed Ministries.  They help abandoned children and the poor throughout the world.  Tiffany donated her $10 to the organization.

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