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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.

DSC_0704.jpg

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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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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Before I tell you about my amazing experience volunteering as a photographer – yep, a photographer – at a local event for individuals with multiple sclerosis, I want to do a shameless plug for two volunteering opportunities that are coming up…and I need you to come out and volunteer.

Servathon DCOn Saturday April 16th Team Year of Giving will help Greater DC Cares.  We’ll most likely be assigned to a local DC school or public park.  Click here, sign up and choose to join a team.  Then when prompted with the list of available teams, scroll down to the bottom and you should find Team Year of Giving!

Hands on DC Work-A-Thon: Similar to Servathon, this is a large city-wide initiative that focuses on improving DC Public Schools.  Click here to join…be sure to join Team Year of Giving!

 

Dr. Byrne, who turned 60 on this day, spoke to the audience on the power of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Speaking of volunteering, my most recent volunteer outing was with the National Capital Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis SocietyA Day of Healing was a half-day program that was offered, free of cost as I understand it, in conjunction with the local YMCA for people in the DC area living with MS.  An autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, MS affects approximately 300,000 people (mostly women) in this country.

 

I arrived a few minutes late, having promised earlier that I would arrive by 10am.  I somehow got stuck in the middle of a road race and couldn’t get unstuck for about 30 minutes.  Thankfully I had given myself plenty of time to get there.  When I finally did arrive I was greeted by Emily, a senior communications manager for the MS Society.

 

Adaptive yoga was a popular session

The day’s program started with a light breakfast, followed by an opening ceremony and group meditation led by Dr. Hugh Byrne who is an expert in mindfulness – the art of bringing a direct, non-judging awareness to our own experience, moment-by-moment.  I think this is mostly done through meditation, but it seems clear that you can do this throughout your day as well.

 

I was instructed to try to get some photos in the opening session of Dr. Byrne speaking and leading the group meditation.  First of all, I got to tell you that Dr. Byrne is your man if you want to meditate.  I wasn’t even really trying to meditate, remember my task was to capture images, and I was like a baby being lulled to sleep by his calm British accent.  But no time to relax, I have to get some photos.

Photographing people meditating is really awkward…second only to covering a funeral probably.  You have a sea of attendees all motionless with their eyelids closed; resting like heavy clouds.  The worst thing probably, besides the occasional hotel staffer who would make some noise, was the sound of me snapping pictures!  Anyway, I tried to be respectful and got through the session.  I don’t know if they will be able to use them though because basically it looks like an audience full of bored attendees who have fallen asleep!

 

Art proved to be a very relaxing activity.

Later the attendees had the opportunity to attend two of three break-out sessions that focused on yoga, nutrition and art therapy.  Somewhere in the mix there was a lunch too where Dr. Byrne would deliver the keynote address and talk about Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and how it can positively affect those living with MS.

 

I weaved in and out of the break-out sessions trying to get good photographs despite the blah yellowish-gold colored rooms that were backdrops to the images I was to capture.  What is it about hotel conference rooms that dictate that they be painted this terrible color anyway.  All the while I have to be mindful of those with an orange circle on their badge.  That meant they didn’t want to be photographed.  Don’t tell anyone, but I’m color- blind.  But I did the best I could!

 

Some people literally rolled up their sleeves and got dirty too!

Back at the lunch I set down my Nikon for a while and enjoyed the spread of food (who says there’s no free lunch!) and concentrated on Dr. Byrne’s presentation.  Let me tell you that I am not someone who is into meditation and yoga.  The only thing worse than sitting still for me is sitting still and getting blood work or a cavity filled (sorry Dr. Robinson!)  But I will say that I really enjoyed Dr. Byrne’s presentation and did allow myself to relax some too.

 

According to our keynote speaker, subjects in a recent MBSR study reported improved memory and empathy while reducing stress.  Now what was really astonishing was that when they did MRIs of these individuals the participants in the MBSR program showed increased brain density in the areas that deal with cognitive learning, compassion and introspection.  Furthermore they experienced a thinning of the brain matter that relates to stress and anxiety.  Nobody in the control group experienced such changes.  Now that is pretty phenomenal.  You might make me a believer out of this after all.

 

Adaptive Yoga Session

There were other impressive studies as well such as one done by researchers at UCLA that showed a slowing of the progression of HIV in patients who practiced MBSR.  Dr. Byrne, who was celebrating his 60th birthday on this day, left us with one clear message:  “Attitude is everything.”  What is the attitude that we bring to our current situation?  I am a big believer in the power of positive thinking and attitude and couldn’t agree more with his emphasis on this point.

 

If you would like to help the MS Society by volunteering or making a donation, please visit www.nmss.org.  And for those of you in the DC area, come out and join them at Walk MS on April 9, 10th and 16th.  Click here for more details.

 

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After leaving the Black Cat on Day 242, we got some pizza on U Street and I offered to walk a friend of mine home.  On the way we noticed some bright lights in the CVS parking lot. At first I thought maybe they were filming something. As we got closer we noticed that there were five cloth backdrops with scenes painted on them, some portrait studio type lighting and two color printers.

You can find Carlton every weekend until October at the CVS parking lot near Florida and 7th (photo: Reed)

Carlton was holding a Canon Rebel camera. I asked what was going on and he explained that during the warm months he and his brothers set up in the parking lot there at the CVS and take people’s photos in front of the backdrops. “It’s ten dollars for a picture,” the 31-year-old tells me. I looked at my watch, it was about 12:30am…it’s a new day. Game on! I reached in and grabbed $10 and gave it to Carlton. “I’ll take your guys picture for you if you want,” he offers but I explain that I can’t receive anything in return for the $10.

Carlton’s uncle negotiated a deal with the CVS people to use their parking lot from 11pm to around 3am on the weekends. Then he and his brother’s got a friend named GQ to design all the back drops. There were five backdrops lined up: one that said “Wasted” and had some alcohol bottles on it, another with a Cuervo 1800 bottle, a third with a Mercedes, the fourth one had a Cadillac truck and the last one showed a beach with waves crashing under the moon. “My favorite is one that is not up tonight, but it’s one with two bottles of Moet champagne,” Carlton says.

Carlton at work (photo: Reed)

As we are chatting a group of nine presumably inebriated young people show up to get their picture taken in front of the “Wasted” backdrop. He takes their photo about four times until they are happy with it and then pulls the memory stick out of the camera and slips it into the printer and hits print. About 90 seconds later, their picture was ready.

“We print about 70 pictures a night,” Carlton says. “We got a lot of regulars too.” No sooner did he mention that he had regulars than a guy shows up who must have taken 30 photos of himself. He was wearing sunglasses and had his car stereo system pumping hard. He took photos in front of several of the backdrops but then he took some of him in his car too. Carlton printed what looked to be about two dozen photos and handed them to the customer. “He’s a regular,” Carlton says nodding toward the man as he pulled out of the parking lot. I hope he didn’t pay $10 per picture!

Carlton poses for a picture (photo: Reed)

Carlton and his brothers, DC natives who attended Roosevelt High School, have been doing this for four years. Sometimes they also set up in clubs and other places, especially in the winter when they are not out at this location.  Things get a little out of control from time to time too. “Sometimes ladies get naked, it’s crazy,” Carlton admits.

Some ladies strike a pose for Carlton (photo: Reed)

Two young ladies approach us and ask to get their picture taken. I now had my camera out and I guess they thought I was working there…reasonable assumption. I directed them to Carlton and they struck a pose in front of the Cuervo bottle. I captured Carlton taking their photo.

“I’m going use the $10 to put gas in my car,” he says as he slides the ladies’ photo into a sleeve.

Before leaving, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get my photo taken as well.  I chose the beach scene. You can find the photo on the Facebook Page.

If you want to get your photo taken by Carlton, you’ll find him or one of his brothers in the CVS parking lot at Florida and 7th Street, NW any weekend from 11pm to around 3am until October.

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The Year of Giving does not focus on any one “type” of person. People often ask me how I select the recipients. Sure, some days I go out with a type of person in mind, however many times it is just a feeling I get when I am sitting next to somebody on the bus or watching a mother play with her child in a park. Having said this, I have given my $10 to a considerable amount of people who are currently or who have in the past experienced homelessness.

The US Government defines homelessness as follows (Source: US Department of Housing and Urban Development)

The term “homeless” or “homeless individual or homeless person” includes-

  1. an individual who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence; and
  2. an individual who has a primary nighttime residence that is -
    1. a supervised publicly or privately operated shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations (including welfare hotels, congregate shelters, and transitional housing for the mentally ill);
    2. an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or
    3. a public or private place not designed for, or ordinarily used as, a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings.

Photo: Jon Howell

Although I don’t think that the government has came up with the best definition here, it is certainly better than the definition that usually comes to people’s mind when they hear that someone is homeless. The image of someone sleeping on the streets.

The area that I have found particularly interesting to study here is the one that deals with those who lack “fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.” So many people today fall into this category and they are often not counted in statistics on homeless populations. The Year of Giving has taught me an immense amount about the people who struggle with this every day. I often forget how fortunate I am to have such a comfortable environment to keep my belongings, prepare my meals and sleep at night.

As a result of the writings, photographs and videos that I have done about the homeless I was nominated for the David Pike Excellence in Journalism Award. Although Maria Glod from the Washington Post ended up winning the award, I was extremely honored to have even been nominated for my work.

Photo: Jon Howell

I went to the award ceremony with my father and brother. It was a very nice evening. I took pictures which I can try to post here once I get my computer fixed. I thought I would look for a recipient for my $10 at the event, so I had my small black Moleskine journal with me to take notes. As it turns out, the notebook slid out of my bag and remained underneath my seat when we left the auditorium. I noticed that I was missing it immediately and had an idea that it was probably under the seat so I went back and checked but didn’t find anything. Now I was concerned, because I knew I had it with me. Maybe somebody turned it in, right?

Well, just as I was looking around to ask someone if anyone had turned it in, a young man who I recognized from being the photographer at the event, walked over to me and gave me the book. Well, on my Moleskine notebook it is clearly marked that there is a reward for returning it to me. You guessed it, that reward is $10!

I thanked Jon and happily handed him the $10. He explained that he was an intern working at Street Sense for the summer as a photographer. A photo journalism major at the University of North Texas, Jon is here in DC through a partnership with the George Washington University. Still holding his Canon Rebel XTi in his hands, he mentioned he was on his way to the reception to take more photographs. I didn’t want to hold him up so I tried to be quick.

Baylor rugby player (Photo: Jon Howell)

I found out that Jon recently transferred to the University of North Texas from Angelo State University in San Angelo, TX. He played rugby for two years there and hopes to continue playing at North Texas. “It’s different than football,” he says, “you have to learn how to hit the other guy differently.” He talks about the importance that strategy plays in the game as well. But even strategy doesn’t protect you from getting a little banged up. Jon has broken his nose three times (weird, so have I!) and had his AC separated off the clavicle.

Off the field Jon’s artistic interest is not limited to photography. He also loves music. “I own a record store in Abilene, Texas” he says. “You mean old school vinyl records?” I asked. He nodded his head and confirmed my suspicion. This struck me as odd. CDs were already starting to dominate as the preferred physical medium for music by the time he was born! But this has nothing to do with that. This is more about the relationship someone has with music. There is something almost romantic about vinyl records.

Record player (Photo: Jon Howell)

I was just surprised to discover that someone his age who grew up in an era full of hi-tech gizmos would feel so strongly about this format of music that he would own a record store. Let’s not forget how cool it is that at 19 he owns his own record store!

Jon said he was going to use the $10 to get some food that week. As an unpaid intern he has to be careful with his spending.

We talked about Washington, DC some. “The first time I came here was when I was in the eighth grade. I remember seeing the homeless and it made an impression on me.” He also took lots of photos while he was here. Jon was very excited to to return to Washington and work with an organization like Street Sense which does so much for the city’s homeless citizens.

Narrow DC street (Photo: Jon Howell, Street Sense)

His internship will be up in August and he will return to Texas. With him he will take much more than the thousands of photos he has shot and the college credits that he has earned. He will take with him an experience that I believe will change the course of his life as it has changed mine. The opportunity to learn about and work with this city’s homeless population has opened my eyes and my heart in so many ways.

I said goodbye to Jon and let him get to work.  The Award Ceremony reception had left over food and coffee which I took with me a few blocks away to the park at 20th and Pennsylvania.  There I found several people who were happy to receive some of the leftovers.  As I was walking around the park I found one man laying in the grass with nothing but the clothes on his back.  I was worried that he might not be ok, so I walked over and asked.  The man awoke from his sleep and turned out to beAnthony from Day 6! He and I chatted for a while and he seemed well, although sufficiently inebriated.   It was good to see him.  I chatted with another man for nearly an hour and a half.  It was now midnight and my brother and father were waiting for me across the street (they had went to dinner when I went to deliver the food and coffee).  It was a great night!

Jon (Photo: Reed)

A special thanks to Jon for allowing me to post some of his photographs in this blog. Click here to check out more of Jon’s photography.

UPDATE: 10/27/2010

I got an update from Jon.  Here it is…

Hey man its been awhile. Hope all is well in DC and with your giving. Sorry I never got to give you a photo lesson, it was just so crazy the whole time I was there. I’m working for the newspaper at UNT doing photography and multi-media news videos and playing for the UNT rugby team. I also just got a job working as a field representative for  home improvement place in Lewisville. I go door to door to offer a free estimate on any projects they may have on their homes. My brother also graduated from film school and got signed to an agency here in Dallas. He just got cast in stage production and is about to audition for another. The record store is still in business and doing pretty good. I still haven’t found a location for here in Denton but the one in Abilene is doing well. Hope to hear back from you.

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