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Posts Tagged ‘students’

-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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-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

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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 from Washington, DC

Thanks for all of the nice comments I received about yesterday’s post about my mother.  Although she passed away more than four years ago now, Mothers Day continues to be a day where I honor her and remember what a wonderful person she was.

To shift gears a little today, we’re going to get dirty…well, get our hands dirty at least.

April 22nd was Earth Day, a day that has been dedicated to informing and energizing people around the world to take an active role in securing a healthy future for us and our planet.  The building where I work sent out an email that they were observing Earth Day by partnering with the Fairmont Hotel next door to help revitalize an elementary school across the street: Franics-Stevens Education Campus (FSEC).

FSEC is small public school that has about 225 pre-school through 8th graders.  Despite its rather privileged location on the eastern periphery of upscale Georgetown, the school reports that 69% of the students receive free or reduced lunch.

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Me spreading some mulch.

Its worn red brick façade looked a little dated as I arrived at just before 10am.  The misty rain was refreshing even if it was foreshadowing for the downpour that would come later.

Given that I work for a conservation organization and that Earth Day is tied so closely to our mission, I was very surprised, and frankly disappointed to be honest, that so few colleagues came out to volunteer.  I think there were a total of five individuals.  All they asked was for a minimum of 30 minutes of people’s time, which is nothing.  We could all make that time up by taking a shorter lunch that day.  Thankfully the Fairmont Hotel had several volunteers and the maintenance staff of my building sent at least five people.

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Volunteers from the Fairmont Hotel.

The outside of their campus was definitely looking a little tired.  We all pitched in digging up weeds, cleaning up debris, and laying new mulch.  My earth covered hands worked to get all the soil and mulch looking good perfect for the students.  It wasn’t a huge task – from start to finish it took about two hours.

The real rock stars were some folks from Inside Out Landscaping.  I only spoke with Jenna and Damion, but there were a few others there as well.

I understand that their company donated the materials and they came to help guide all of us amateurs in the right direction.

“It’s not a big deal,”

Damion said as we cleaned up, “We enjoy doing this and are happy to stop by a couple of times a year and make sure things are doing ok.”

It was a good thing we finished when we did because the rain started to pick up.  There is something nice about the smell of a freshly mulched garden and the rain makes it more intense.  I took one last look at our work and headed back to the office to get cleaned up and get back to work.

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Ryan hawks some beers on his first day at work at FedEx Field. (photo: Reed)

What does today’s recipient have in common with yesterday’s recipient?  They both carry things for a living.  Harold from yesterday carries the mail in DC while Ryan carries beer for thirsty sports fans at the Redskins games.

The 21-year-old, who wears a badge identifying him as Vendor #623, said that today was his first day on the job!  I asked him how it was going and he said, “The beer is heavy.  Really heavy.”  Just for that I bought one of his chilled Budweisers…you know, to help his tired arms and aching back out.  The container he is carrying around looks like it holds about a case and a half of 16 oz bottles.  Add some ice and water to that and you got a back-breaker of a load. 

He says that he has already gone back three times to pick up additional beer.  He kept moving and I followed him a little bit and talked to him between his sales. 

"The beer is heavy. Really heavy.” - Ryan (photo: Reed)

He told me that is a sophomore studying business at the University of Maryland.  I’m quite certain that in his first hours at work there at the stadium he has already learned some business skills.  I am guessing that he has learned a thing or two about the price inelasticity of demand when it comes to products like alcohol!  Maybe he can get college credit for his job.  It doesn’t matter that he is selling beers for ten times the cost that they would be sold at a supermarket, people will still buy it.  I bet they could charge $15 a beer and still have tremendous sales.  I hope owner Dan Snyder is not reading my blog and getting any ideas!

Well no surprise here what Ryan chose to do with the $10.  Yep, he’s going to buy some beer when he gets off of work.

Ryan finds some thirsty fans. (photo: Reed)

As for the game, the Redskins held a 17-point lead late in the 3rd quarter and then managed to blow it giving up 20 points to loose 27-30 to the Houston Texans.  The season is not looking good…

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First of all thank you so much for all the kind notes, emails and comments about my new job here and on Facebook.  I am very excited about this opportunity!

Photo: Reed

Summer time is a great time to get outside and visit a farmer’s market.  I was walking downtown on Day 192 when I came across a small farmer’s market near Penn Quarter in DC.  Near the corner of 8th & H Streets was stand with a yellow tent with the name Endless Summer Harvest on it.  I decided to wander over and find out what exactly the folks at Endless Summer Harvest were all about.

Photo: Reed

  • The water stays in the system and can be reused- thus, lower water costs
  • It is possible to control the nutrition levels in their entirety- thus, lower nutrition costs
  • No nutrition pollution is released into the environment because of the controlled system
  • Stable and high yields
  • Pests and diseases are easier to get rid of than in soil because of the container’s mobility

Cassandra and Zack (photo: Reed)

The main disadvantage of hydroponic systems is that great caution must be taken to control the growth of salmonella due to the high humidity environment coupled with the presence of fertilizers.

 Anyway, I got to meet two great people who were working at the stand: Cassandra and Zack.  Day 192’s recipients met while studying biology at James Madison University.  Cassandra works full-time at the Alliance to Save Energy and helps Endless Summer Harvest out on Thursdays at the farmer’s market.  Zack, a 21-year-old JMU student, has worked at Endless Summer Harvest since high school. 

Photo: Reed

I asked the two of them what they were going to do with the $10 and they said that they were going to donate it to a group that works to stop mountaintop removal for coal mining purposes.  I am trying to find the exact organization and when I do I will post it here.  There are lots of negative environmental effects of this practice.  My new employer, the World Wildlife Fund, has this to say about it on their website:

In West Virginia and other Appalachian states – in one of the most biologically diverse temperate regions of the world – mountaintops are torn apart to gain access to low-sulfur coal lying underneath. The leftover rock and earth is dumped into nearby valleys and streams. These practices threaten songbirds and other wildlife dependent on large tracts of interior forest, and the mussels, fish, crayfish, and invertebrates found in the streams. Hundreds of miles of streams have been buried by the dumping of such wastes in the past, in an ecoregion that WWF has identified as being globally outstanding.

Photo: Reed

I enjoyed meeting Cassandra and Zack.  They opened the door to a new world to me, the vendor community at farmers markets.  They seem more like partners than competitors.  “The fruit people do really well,” Zack says with a little bit of envy, “but we all help one another out.”  While I was talking to them several other stands stopped by to see if they could use some left over product that they had.

7pm came around and they started to pack up.  I was impressed at how quickly they tore down and got everything packed up.  Cassandra wasn’t scared to get her hands dirty either.  She didn’t hesitate to pick up the huge coolers they use and load the van.

Photo: Reed

 Note: The Penn Quarter Farmers Market is administered by Freshfarm Markets and is located at the north end of 8th St. NW, between D and E Streets.  According to a representative of the organization, it is open every Thursday (except Thanksgiving) from April 1 – Dec. 23rd from 3pm – 7pm.

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Before I introduce you to Andrew, I have two updates.  The first one is a big one.  After 285 days of unemployment I have accepted a position with the World Wildlife Fund and will begin next week!  Don’t worry though, the Year of Giving will continue!  Perhaps this will give me a new perspective on giving.  Thanks to so many of you who have given me encouragement throughout the past 9 months.

The other update is that I delivered some items for Phillip from Day 75.  Click here to see him receiving some of the items that you have sent!

Day 191 was one of the days that I was struggling with my dying laptop.  I had been over at my brother and his wife’s house all day trying to rescue it.  It was nearing the midnight hour and I rushed out of the house in pursuit of a recipient.

Andrew (Photo: Reed)

I saw a man walking along North Lynn Street in Arlington and stopped to see if he would accept my $10.  I tried hard to convince him to participate, but he stuck to his guns and said he didn’t want to “get involved.”  Strike one.  Back in my car and across the Key Bridge into DC.  I headed over to the “Social Safeway” on Wisconsin Avenue where I found Andrew studying the contact lense solution at 11:40pm.  The 22-year-old is in DC for the summer doing an internship for his master’s degree program in international affairs at Georgia Tech.  I asked him if he always does his shopping around midnight.  “No, I just happened to have time now,” he responded.  

When Andrew is not studying and working he is training for his first marathon.  I have never had a desire to run a marathon.  I could see trying to do a 10-miler, but I have no interest whatsoever in running 26 miles!

The grandson of Eastern European immigrants, he has lived abroad in Bulgaria for four months.  He talks about his grandmother fondly.  “She is 86 and still going strong!”  Maybe his grandmother and his time in Bulgaria

Photo: Reed

have fueled his interest to get grant money to go to the Black Sea region and study the relationship between highly bureaucratic governments and the degree of development that has occurred within the country.  If you can offer any suggestions on how Andrew can secure grant funding for this specific project, please leave a comment here.    

“So what are you going to do with the $10,” I ask.  He says that he will put it toward an outing with his “Little.”  That’s right.  Somehow Andrew finds time to be a Big Brother to a six-year-old in Atlanta.  “I feel that the best way to help those who are disadvantaged is to volunteer my time and be a positive role model for them.”  I couldn’t agree more.  “Somehow you got to break the cycle,” he concludes.

Andrew (Photo: Reed)

At the end of our conversation, I learn that Andrew will be joining the Air Force upon his graduation from grad school.  “I just got my bars pinned on,” he tells me.  With his international interest I am not surprised when he tells me that he plans to serve in the Intelligence Division.  I am sure he will go far.  Thanks in advance for your service to our country.

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