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Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

-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 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 from Washington, DC.

HandsOn Network is a very impressive organization.  As the volunteer-focused arm of Points of Light Institute, they claim to be the largest volunteer network in the nation comprised of more than 250 HandsOn Action Centers in 16 countries.  Where these guys really get traction is by digging into their more than 70,000 corporate, faith and nonprofit organizations that have stepped up to the plate to help create meaningful change in their communities.  The latest figure I saw was that last year they racked up some 30 million volunteer hours.  That represents over $600 million worth of services that nonprofits and government entities didn’t need to spend.  That’s pretty awesome.

logoI have a connection with HandsOn Network.  You see I’ve been volunteering for a while with their local Action Center here in DC: Greater DC Cares.  I recently participated in Servathon and on the MLK Service Day.  I’m also building a team for their 9/11 Day of Service.

HandsOn Network mobilizes people who want to do good.  That is the hard part.  All of us want to do good things, however, moving individuals to act is often the barrier.  We have so many other parts of our lives that are pulling at us.  But it can be done.

Log on to HandsOn Network today and find a local Action Center near you.  There’s more than 250 of them so there is a good chance there is one near you!  And for those of you in Oconomowoc, WI, yes, even you have one near you…just down the road in Waukesha!

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Me volunteering at MLK Service Day in January.

By the way, HandsOn Network and the Points of Light Institute (along with the Corporation for National and Community Service) are part of the driving force behind the National Conference on Volunteering and Service that will be held in New Orleans June 6-8.  If you are passionate about volunteering, find a way to make it to the Superbowl of Volunteering and give me a shout…I’d be happy to meet up.

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Do-it (UK)

Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

royal wedding social media twitter  Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge smile following their marriage at Westminster Abbey

Photo: telegraph.co.uk

I am in London today for the wedding of Prince William and Princess Catherine.  The royal couple invited me to volunteer during their wedding celebration.  I will be helping pour champagne for the more than 650 guests at the reception.

OK, that was a lie.  I’m not in London nor have I been invited to volunteer at the royal wedding (although if they want to reach out some time for me to do some volunteering that would be cook too.)  I did however think that it would be appropriate to either get a Kindness Investor from the UK this week or do a blog post focusing on a British organization helping individuals volunteer.

do-it logoDo-it, a volunteer portal operated by YouthNet, claimed to be the first national database of volunteer opportunities in the UK when it was founded in 2001.  Since then it has grown to be a leading connector between good organizations and people doing good.

The majority of opportunities on Do-it come from local volunteer centers in England. These organizations secure the hardware, software and training so that they can upload their vacancies onto the Do-it database.  In addition, some large national and international organizations post on Do-it as well.

So when all the pomp and circumstance is done over in Old Blighty I hope my English readers will check out Do-it and find a cause that they feel passionate about and find out how they can help them!  Trust me, it’s easy.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

“Imagine making a meaningful difference in the lives of others, while discovering amazing cultures, people and places!”

These are the words that greet you when you fire up the website of Wellington, New Zealand based Global Volunteer Network (GVN).  That’s right; today’s spotlight on volunteering takes a unique perspective.  What if you could combine your interest in traveling with your passion for volunteering?  Well, that is just what GVN has done.Volunteer Abroad with the Global Volunteer Network

Colin Salisbury

GVN Founder and President, Colin Salisbury

Founded in 2000 by Colin Salisbury after he volunteered in Ghana,West Africa, GVN has placed more than 14,000 individuals to about two dozen countries around the world.  Although I couldn’t find a concrete answer on their website, it appears that most volunteer opportunities last for about a week or two.

I like this concept that many people refer to as voluntourism or humanitarian tourism.  Having traveled to 30+ countries and lived in four, I have often seen how tourists to developing countries are perceived.  “They come and open their wallets,” a restaurant owner in Brazil once shared with me, “but they don’t necessarily open their hearts to the local challenges that we face every day.”

A few years ago my friend Kim spent her vacation in New Orleans helping rebuild a community that was devastated by Katrina.    She found the experience to be fun and really rewarding.

Vietnam Youth Tour

Photo courtesy of globalvolunteernetwork.org

One of the program’s that I like most that GVN provides is their Youth Tour which gives 15-17 year olds the chance to explore a new part of the world while learning a life-long lesson of service.  This year their trip is to Vietnam.  Click here for more details.

A recent post on the New York Times blog by Heidi Mitchell focuses on Voluntourism.  If you are considering your volunteer trip, I recommend checking her article out to familiarize yourself with GVN and other groups providing similar services.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

Easter Egg Dying

Photo: Luz Bratcher

Happy Easter to those of you celebrating Easter today.

I thought I would mix it up today and share a different type of volunteer resource with you today.  Volunteer.gov is volunteer portal that connects US citizens with volunteer opportunities with various local, state and federal agencies.  The portal was launched in 2002 by then President George W. Bush.

To my knowledge this was the first time such a resource had been rolled out nationwide.

So how does it work?  You just go to www.volunteer.gov and search for volunteer opportunities in your area that meet your interest.  For example I choose DC and then typed in “Parks” for the keyword and it churned out 12 different volunteer opportunities in the area that involved parks.  There were several activities; from maintaining parks to being a docent to my favorite of them all: counting non-migratory Canada Geese.

Once you’ve found an activity that you like, you register and notifications are sent immediately to both you and the activity coordinator.

Some agencies have some specific requirements, but their Website notes two general requirements:

  • A sense of solidarity and service, plus commitment to share one’s knowledge, skills, time, and effort with others (the volunteering “ethos” or spirit).
  • A willingness to serve in a non-salaried, non-stipend volunteer position with no or little remuneration beyond incidental expenses (arranged on a case-by-case basis and subject to the availability of funds).

If you have volunteered through Volunteer.gov before, please consider sharing your experience here.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

One of the places that I find myself going back to time and again to search for volunteer opportunities is VolunteerMatch.  While the system is not perfect, it is probably the most comprehensive website with national coverage that you will find.  These guys are the match.com of the volunteer universe.  Yesterday I wrote about Sparked, the leader in virtual microvolunteering, VolunteerMatch is a much broader platform for discovering face to face and virtual volunteer opportunities of all kinds, including microvolunteering.

The history of this volunteer matching powerhouse goes back to the early nineties when a team of four were sitting around trying to figure out what to do with their MBA degrees.  They ended up pulling together a plan in 1994 to launch an online nonprofit that would promote community involvement.

Fast forward nearly twenty years and you have VolunteerMatch which last year welcomed 8.4 million visitors!  In a nutshell what they are doing is strengthening communities by making it easier for do-gooders to connect with organizations doing good in order to create greatness.

If you are passionate about volunteering and have not checked out their website, go there NOW and sign up.  You plug in your location and a few key words about your interests in volunteering and voilà!  You’ve got a list of opportunities to volunteer right in front of you.  Choose the one you want and they exchange your information with the organization and your set.

My experience is that I usually get contacted by the organization within 24-48 hours, but if not, you get their contact information as well and can reach out to them.

Although they do have the option to search for virtual volunteer opportunities, my feeling is that Sparked has established itself as best in class in that arena.

You can read about two of my recent volunteer outings that I found on VolunteerMatch: the MS Society and the Arthritis Foundation.

Stop reading this and go sign up!

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Blog post by Stephanie, a Kindness Investor from Mt. Laurel, NJ.

Day 4 Intention ~ Today, I Choose Greatness

I had the great honor to meet 9 1/2 years old Stephanie E. at Indigo Moon, a yoga/massage and gift shop where her mom works.  Stephanie is great not just because she shares a great name as me, but she is truly an all around amazing kid.  As a fourth grader, she is a Safety Patrol Monitor at her school.  Her role is to help as a hallway monitor and bus buddy. Stephanie is also involved in The Circle of Giving program at her school that was created to honor a teacher’s son who passed away in the third grade.  Stephanie believes the program has been going on since the 90’s. She thinks it’s a great opportunity because over Thanksgiving she volunteered at The Ronald McDonald House.  Stephanie has also decided to give back by volunteering to help the Food Bank of New Jersey feed people, especially children.

She decided to volunteer with her mom.  I asked Stephanie, “Why is your mom great?”  Stephanie said her mom is funny and makes her laugh. She says being funny helps people to be happy.

This young girl is not only giving in many ways, but also talented.  She is a great artist, an excellent writer and loves gymnastics, even though she is now healing from a sprained ankle.  Stephanie also likes swimming in the summer and always loves playing with her dog, Brodie.

This young lady describes herself as, “crazy in my own way.”  I asked her what that meant.  She said she likes to entertain people and is usually energetic and happy. Stephanie said the greatest gift you can share each day is happiness.  I have to say, I agree!

Kids are great and so are you, Stephanie.  I love the creative person you are.  You are a leader and will continue to do great things in your life!

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This morning I went down to the Washington Post’s office to volunteer with Greater DC CARES to prepare food for Martha’s Table, an organization that helps at-risk children, youth, families and individuals in the community improve their lives by providing educational programs, food, clothing, and enrichment opportunities.  I was part of a team of youth and adults from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.  I used to work for the Alliance, a terrific organization started by the American Heart Association and former President Clinton’s Foundation.

We spent the morning working as a team to do several service projects.  Our group prepared over 2,000 sandwiches to be handed out by McKenna’s Wagon.  The youth that were part of our team were part of the Alliance’s Youth Advisory Board, 25 amazing kids from across the country who inspire their peers to make healthy behavior changes and to become leaders and advocates for healthy eating and physical activity.  They quickly figured out good systems that allowed them to work more productively as a team.  Despite some minor help from us adults trying minimize the amount of jelly on the carpet, they pretty much handled it all.  What an amazing group of young people.  Thanks to my friend Kim for inviting me to be a part of this special day.

In addition to the food we prepared, the other teams participating produced 600 burn kits, 1,000 first aid kits for search and rescue teams, 500 basic toiletry kits for the homeless, and hundreds of cards and letters to be sent to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Great work by everyone!

While I was volunteering I heard about a wonderful woman named Gwen who drove the bus for the Alliance’s group.  As we left the building, I found Gwen and asked her if she would accept my $10!  Her face lit up and she gladly accepted.  The 54-year-old has a face that glows with energy.  I don’t think I saw her not smiling the whole time.  Born near the RFK stadium, she now lives in Largo, MD with her mother.  She has a 32-year-old son who works for Metro and four grandchildren.  

Me giving Gwen $10. Check out the video of this on the YoG Facebook Page. Photo Credit: John Wilson

My friend Daniel told me that yesterday he had asked Gwen if she knew where they could get some food.  She didn’t hesitate and opened her bag and offered a pear that she had brought for herself.  What a nice person to offer up her own food to someone else.

So I asked Gwen what she was going to do with the $10.  “I am going to put gas in my car!” she quickly replied.

Almost everyone had loaded up on the bus at this point and I didn’t want to hold the group up, so I quickly said goodbye and headed back home to write about the experience.   I am planning to go to the Embassy of Haiti at 5pm tonight for a candlelight vigil.  If you are in the DC area and would like to attend, go to 2311 Massachusetts. Ave., N.W. or check out the Greater Washington Haiti Relief Committee’s page on Facebook.

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The end of my first month.  I have invested $310 to date in random acts of kindness.  It has been worth every penny!

Embassy of Haiti in Washington, DC

I decided to go to the Haitian Embassy to see if there was something I could do to help in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.  I arrived at the embassy to see it blanketed in camera crews and news trucks.  There was a small candle memorial in front of the embassy as well.  Apart from the news personnel, I did not see many people outside.  I saw two gentlemen walking toward the embassy and I thought I would offer them my $10.

Gilles’ mind was clearly elsewhere and I sensed that he has suffered greatly from this earthquake.  Despite this, he kindly responded to me, “You can give me money, but any money you give me is going to go directly to the efforts to help those in Haiti.”  He invited me into the embassy and said he would be with me in a minute.  I figured he worked for the embassy at this point, but I later found out that he was from Philadelphia and worked for Church & Dwight, the company that makes Arm & Hammer and several other household and personal care products.  

I waited in the lobby of the embassy for Gilles for a few minutes.  There were about 20 in the lobby.  Some looked almost lifeless, paralyzed by the tragedy and loss of this week’s earthquake.  Others were bustling around trying to resolve a myriad of questions.

Gilles appeared and explained to me that he was born and raised in Port au Prince and had left his homeland five years ago to move to Philadelphia, PA.  He had driven down from the city of brotherly love to try to get his passport in order so that he could fly to Port au Prince to help in the relief efforts.  His plan was to get a satellite phone and then help the people of Haiti get in contact with their friends and families.  “Communication is limited there right now.” He paused and continued, “There are lots of deaths.” I asked him about his family and he said he was able to contact his family to find out if everyone was ok.  I heard a tremor in his voice and saw him holding back a tidal wave of emotion.  There was a split second where I had to decide whether I push on and ask about his family or avoid the potentially painful subject.  I gathered the courage and tried to respectfully push further.

“I lost my mother,” he said.

Gilles didn’t cry, but the tears were flowing inside him.  I found it hard to swallow and really wanted to just give him a hug.  I understood that she died at home when their building collapsed.  He says the rest of his immediate family appears to be ok.

Where do I go from here?  There are so many things I want to ask him, but I also know

Earthquake devastation in Haiti

 that he has much more important things to be doing now.  I asked him how readers of my blog could help.  “They need food, water, and medicine,” he told me.  They really need on the ground volunteers he explains.  He says he will introduce me to someone from the Greater Washington Haiti Relief Committee who can give me more details on how you can help.    

But first he says, “Come with me and we are going to donate the $10 right now.”  We walk to a desk with a woman speaking on the phone.  When she hangs up, she explains that she can not accept cash.  Gilles holds the $10 out in front of him and says, “You keep it man.  Find another way to donate.” I encouraged him to hold on to the money and put it to good use while he was in Haiti.  He agreed.  I gave him a hug and said I was sorry about his mother and wished him good luck.  I wish I would have asked for his email address so that I could follow up with him later.  It was such an emotional moment that I simply forgot.  Maybe someone reading this blog can help me find him.  I did some searches but haven’t had any luck so far.

I later spoke to Fermin from the Greater Washington Haiti Relief Group.  He said the best place for information on how to help can be found at their Facebook page.  Type “Greater Washington Haiti Relief Committee” in the search field and it should come up.  There they give this information about donations:

Make checks payable to “GWHRC” and mail to:
Greater Washington Haitian Relief Committee
Embassy of Haiti
2311 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20007

Needless to say it was a very powerful scene to witness first hand. I gave my name and contact details to them and offered to help in any way possible.  I even offered to go to Haiti one month from now to help in reconstruction efforts.  Hopefully I can help in some way.

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