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Posts Tagged ‘volunteering’

It’s funny how fast time goes by. It seems like just yesterday that I was unemployed and embarking on my year-long journey of giving $10 away to strangers. For those of you who have followed this adventure in giving you know for me it wasn’t about the money. Sure I needed the money and it might have been foolish to give away $3,650 while being out of work, but it was about something larger. It was about community. It was about kindness. It was about hope. And it was about the stories – the stories of a community of strangers that allowed me into their lives.

But it was also about time and how we choose to spend it. I discovered that we control very few things in our hectic lives but in the end we have the most control over our time and how we spend it. Last year I chose to spend my time volunteering at least once per week with a different organization. You can read about this amazing year of service here.

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That’s me in the middle with my brother and sister-in-law at a recent volunteer outing for http://www.yachad-dc.org!

But what now? Many people have written to me asking what I will do for 2012. Well, there are lots of things in the works…most of them are much less public than the endeavors of the previous two years. Here’s a look at what is keeping me busy in 2012.

Spending time with loved ones – Life is too short. I know that sounds very cliché but it’s true. Don’t forget to stop your busy life to spend time with those you care about. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.

Giving away stuff – I have too much stuff. Others need stuff. There seems to be a simple solution to both of these problems and I will give away one item per day. I’m not writing about this journey – not yet at (more…)

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

DSC_0170.jpgSeven years ago Winston Duncan started an amazing organization that would send bicycles to needy individuals in Africa. Now in and of itself this is a tremendous idea and a worthy endeavor, but what makes it extra special is Winston. You see he was only 10 years old when he started this organization. Seven years and four thousand bikes later, he continues on his mission.

I volunteered with Wheels to Africa on December 10th – the final outing of my Year of Volunteering. I arrived in the morning and volunteers were already hard at work receiving bicycles and making adjustments (removing pedals and rotating the handlebars 90 degrees) so that they would stack more efficiently.

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Dixie, Reed and Winston

A good bit taller than me, the 17-year-old is unassuming and quiet. He’s passionate not only about basketball and hanging out with his friends, but also about caring for individuals half way around the world who he has never met and probably never will.

Far outnumbering the adults, I was surprised at how many young people were volunteering. They seemed to have an almost magical feeling of empowerment. Nobody had to tell them what to do – they just stepped up and got the work done. Winston also had a little help from his mom, Dixie, who worked tirelessly on the project. I got to spend some time with her as we rode together up to Kensington, MD to pick up a U-Haul truck full of bikes and bring it back down to the main collection point in Virginia. From behind the wheel of her SUV she kept on working during the 35 minute drive; fielding phone calls from donors wanting information about drop off centers and making calls to volunteer leaders to make sure things were going OK at their respective locations.

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Volunteers put some muscle into getting the pedals off of a donated bike.

Few volunteer opportunities that I have been a part of this year have touched me as much as this one did. The way so many people came together to help Winston in his mission. We worked well into the night; loading bikes from collection centers on to trucks and then driving them to storage centers and unloading them. You gain a new respect for the kind of effort that is required to pull something of this magnitude off.

Exhausted and sore from the day’s work of loading and unloading bikes, Winston laughed and nodded his head when I asked him if he ever wished that he had started a “Harmonicas for Africa” organization instead – it sure would be a lot less heavy lifting and shipping would be a fraction of the cost, but then again I doubt that harmonicas would have as meaningful of an impact on people’s lives.

This year there was no collection point in the District of Columbia and I hope that next year I can help Winston and Dixie establish one. Maybe you will join me? I hope that you check out Wheels-to-Africa’s website and drop by and say hello at next year’s event. In the meantime, Wheels to Africa not only needs your bikes, but they also need your donations to help cover shipping and other related costs to get the bikes to those who need them. So consider making a tax-deductible donation and help Winston fulfill his dream.

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It's not just a guy thing either!

If you would like to see more photographs that I took while volunteering with Wheels to Africa, check out my Flickr account.

Also, I just checked and harmonicas-to-africa.org is still available so if you want to pursue that idea you better hurry!

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

Share the Story logoDecember 5th marks the United Nation’s International Volunteer Day – a day where people and communities worldwide come together in service. I agreed to join a group of volunteers from Meridian International Center (you might remember them from Week 36) who were going to plant trees with Washington Parks and People.

On the bus ride over to Oxon Run Park in the Southeast part of our nation’s capital my mind drifted back to the turn of the 19th century to images of Johnny Appleseed leisurely spreading seeds from a small leather pouch as he headed to the new frontier of the Midwest. Well not only is my mental version of Johnny Appleseed historically inaccurate, it couldn’t have been further from the reality that lay ahead.

Along the trickling banks of the stream bearing the park’s name, we were put into small groups and assigned about a half-dozen trees to plant in the lonely green clearing. That’s right, no seeds but 100+ pound baby trees. Each team was led by a graduate of the DC Green Corps – a city-wide program developed by Washington Parks and People that introduces participants to more than 50 different careers in urban forestry through an intensive three-month course.
I am not sure which part is more difficult. Digging the whole to put the trees in or schlepping the trees around. The next morning my forearms hurt so bad from shoveling…that movement that you make to leverage the shovel against the earth burdens muscles that I apparently never use.

DSC_0078.jpgWhen the day was over we had planted 61 trees according to the design plan that the Washington Parks and People staff architected. It took into account aesthetics and purpose – the trees would help keep soil in tact and reduce erosion and excessive runoff that causes flooding during heavy rains. The American sweetgums (liquidambar styraciflua) that I helped plant that day are native to the region and will dazzle local residents with its deep glossy green foliage which give way to beautiful purplish hues in the fall.

Before we left several volunteers named and hugged their trees. Despite being a self-proclaimed treehugger, I didn’t wrap my tired arms around any of my trees. Instead I took a moment to appreciate the beauty of our labor that day and firmly record the new landscape in my mind. I think I will make a pilgrimage to the area each year to find refuge from Washington’s sweltering summer heat and have a picnic in the cool shadows of the sweetgums five-pointed star-shaped leaves.

DSC_0159.jpgPlease consider volunteering with Washington Parks and People and DC Green Corps. You can also make donations to help support their incredible work.

Click here for more photographs from this event.

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

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

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

photo courtesy of cbs.com

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

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

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

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My empty breakout session

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the Giant where I did my research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A group crosses the finish line together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tattoos and mohawks are free to particpants.

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

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

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

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

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