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Posts Tagged ‘volunteerism’

-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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My year-long journey of volunteering brought me to the podium two weeks ago. As part of the Peace Corps 50th anniversary celebration, Meridian International Center hosted 50 men and women from 50 different countries at their historic mansion in Northwest D.C. for a panel discussion on volunteerism in the United States. I was honored to serve as the moderator for the discussion which featured experts from AmeriCorps NCCC, Youth Service America, Points of Light Institute, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Experience Corps.

It was a terrific discussion. I especially enjoyed the part where we opened the floor up to the 50 attendees to hear some of their comments. All of the participants have influenced the Peace Corps programs and led volunteering efforts in their local communities – so there was at least a couple hundred years of collective volunteer experience represented in the room. After the conference, I was fortunate to be able to speak individually with several members of the delegation. Hearing their personal stories was very moving.

My favorite comment of the day though came from Dave Premo of CNCS. We were talking about engaging young people and he said that they have found that email is no longer effective for that age segment. It’s seems that it still works well for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers but Millennials don’t read it. “You got to use social networking to get their attention,” he said. I laughed – another reminder that I’m getting older.

The full delegation with State Department Assistant Secretary Ann Stock and Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams.

The visit, which is part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, is very well done. They spend a week in Washington D.C. participating in meetings, cultural exchanges and volunteer projects and then they scatter out across the country to several cities to get an appreciation for regional differences. The program wraps up in Chicago this Saturday.

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC.

Don't be a litter bug

Plastic bags liter the banks of a river in Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia. Photo: CJETTE

Today’s post is a microblog post. I feel that’s only appropriate since today’s post is about a microvolunteering experience.  I logged on to Sparked.com and helped a UK nonprofit called Funky Junk Recycled.  In developing countries where plastic bags collect and choke drains and even animals, Funky Junk takes an innovative approach to turning this trash into beautiful, long-lasting items while providing fair trade income and training for local producers.

Here's a bag made from recycled plastic bags turned into yarn, or "plarn."

They needed help on how to recruit a British expat volunteer in Cambodia.  Click here to see my advice.  Oh, and while you’re there, why not try to do a project yourself.  I promise it doesn’t take long.

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

DSC_0011-2.jpgWell I have fallen two days behind on posting this.  Sorry, but I have been digging out from all of your emails and comments about the Worldwide Day of Giving!  I’ll be doing an update soon on some of the great stories from June 15th.

But for now, I want to share one of the volunteer projects I did on the Worldwide Day of Giving.  I spent six hours volunteering at The IMPACT Summit.  Organized by HandsOn Greater DC Cares, this unique forum convenes leaders from the business, education, government and nonprofit sectors to leverage volunteerism, service and philanthropy to address critical issues facing our community.  I was asked to photograph the event and captured nearly 300 photos throughout the day.

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HandsOn Greater DC Cares President & CEO Dr. Madye Henson (photo: Reed Sandridge)

I arrived at the Renaissance Hotel around 8am.  A friendly staff member for the event greeted me at the door and explained to me how to find the conference rooms designated for the event – there were several events taking place that day and it took a little searching to arrive at the right spot.

Alicia, my point of contact from HandsOn Greater DC Cares, gave me an overview of the day’s schedule and reviewed some of the key photographs they wanted.  I pulled my Nikon D90 out and connected the 85mm lens that my brother Ryan had let me use.  It’s a great lens by the way to capture quality images without flash.  I also used a few of the other lenses that I have – all but one of them were actually Ryan’s.

I enjoyed this project.  I wish I had been able to focus a little more on the content of sessions.  You obviously know about my strong commitment to volunteering and service, but I am also very much involved in exploring how companies engage their employees in service.  There are so many benefits for the companies, employees and the community, but I find that most corporations are not taking full advantage of the programs they have in place.

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Dr. Henson (left) and Chairperson Matt Mitchell present Jamila Larson of the Homeless Children's Playtime Project with the Community Impact Award. (Photo: Reed Sandridge)

The day closed with several awards for exceptional dedication to service by both individuals and organizations.  You can see a list of the amazing nominees and winners here.  I packed up my gear and headed home.  Now the laborious part for dodgy photographers such as myself – editing.

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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

Today is Earth Day and I can’t think of a more appropriate volunteer resource today than the Earth Day Network (EDN) website.  They have an entire list of events happening all around the United States and even some international countries as well.  Punch in your zip code and start browsing for events near you.  They need a lot of volunteers.  And remember, there are still plenty of events happening after today!

Earth Day started on this day back in 1970 when 20 million Americans brought the environmental concerns of our Earth to the streets in protest.  Check out this news footage from 1970! These efforts along with those of conservation pioneers like my employer, World Wildlife Fund, served as a catalyst for future conservation efforts and legislation around the world.

More than 1 billion people are expected to participate in Earth Day activities this year according to EDN, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

While you’re on EDN’s website, check out the section called A Billion Acts of Green®.  This is their initiative to collect over one billion commitments for a greener world from average Joes like us as well as organizations.  They hope to reach their goal before the global Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.

Tomorrow’s environment is far too important to ignore and we owe future generations the very same benefits of the rich biodiversity that we enjoy today.  What will you do to help?

Keep a look out in the coming weeks for my blog post about my volunteer project for Earth Day!

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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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My very first recipient: Knox

Happy New Year!

365 days ago I embarked on an amazing journey.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it would forever change my life.

When I started I had been out of work for 75 days, I was hungry for a job, at least that’s what I thought.  Looking back on it, I think I was searching for something even greater: purpose.

Sure, the first month without work is awesome.  I got loads of sleep, made it to the gym on a regular basis, read all the books that were on my list to read and made time to see friends and family.  But the second month brought with it changes.  I started waking up late and staying in bed watching television until midmorning.  Don’t get me wrong, not all of my skills were wearing away, oh no.  I was actually developing a rather impressive talent in guessing the showcase showdown price on The Price is Right!  By the way where do they get those people…I should be on this show.  Anyway, this need for a higher purpose in my life combined with my interest in philanthropy and the values my mother and father taught me as a child all collided.  I literally woke up one morning in early December with the idea of giving a different stranger a few dollars every day.

Writing the blog was a purely personal venture at first.  It quenched my thirst for a job-like activity.  Every day I would come home and write up the blog entry.  I had never blogged before and to be honest, hadn’t really followed anyone else’s either.  So I really had no idea what I was doing.

Me and mom in Rio de Janeiro in 2003.

I started on the three-year anniversary of my mother’s passing.  Possibly the kindest and most generous person I have ever known, she was a huge inspiration.  She guided me through all 365 days.

Every day was a unique adventure.  People always ask me who my favorite recipient was.  That’s like asking a parent to name their favorite child.  So many of them were special in their own way.  Whether it was someone’s personal story that touched my heart or their creative idea of what to do with the ten dollars, every person left their own unique footstep along this year’s path.  And at some point what was a personal project turned into a movement and you joined me on the journey.  That moment was magical.  I received over ten thousand emails and comments from people all around the world who said that they were inspired; whether it be by my personal commitment or by one of the stories of the year-long cast of characters I introduced them to.

December 14th always loomed deep in the distance but before I knew it the day had arrived.  I decided to host a celebration with the goal being to reunite as many of the recipients as possible and put them together in one room.  In addition to introducing them to one another, it was also an opportunity for those who had been following the journey on the blog to meet the recipients in person.

Darrold, recipient from Day 189, picks a winning raffle ticket. (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

It was bitter cold and windy on the 365th morning of the Year of Giving and my emotions were equally turbulent.  The excitement for the evening was met with a bit of sadness that this special year was coming to an end.  Sure I have some tremendous plans for 2011, but things would be different.   It’s like moving back to a place you once lived.  It’s never the same.  The magic isn’t easily created twice.

I spent all day on the 14th doing last-minute things for the event.  Thankfully my good friend Patricia Anderson had volunteered to take care of the brunt of the work and I was only left with a few minor tasks.  I ran a few errands and delegated a couple of jobs to my father.  The thing that took me the most time was editing the video that I wanted to show.  I have close to two hundred video files from the last year and I wanted to piece something together that would capture what this year meant to me.  I had never worked with video files before I started blogging and one thing that I learned is that it is a very time-consuming process.  A film editor once told me to benchmark one to two hours of work for every minute of final cut video.  I literally was editing until 10 minutes before I needed to be at Tabaq Bistro, the location of the event.  Miraculously I managed finish on time.  Click here to watch the video.

I was reunited with Knox, my very first recipient from Dec. 15, 2009. (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

I arrived and any plans I might have had for the evening were checked at the door. Events tend to just take over and you are then on autopilot for the most part.  It was very much like a wedding; lots of beautiful and emotional moments all blurred together.  Thankfully there are some great video clips by ABC-7 reporter Jay Korff and amazing photographs by Michael Bonfigli.  I encourage you to check out both of these links.

The year would not be complete however until I passed on the final installment in my $3,650 investment in kindness.  Who would it be?  There were several people at the celebration who I didn’t know, so they qualified.  But who?  People often ask me how I choose the recipients.  It’s not a science, it’s much more of an impulsive decision.  Then I remembered the dozen individuals who were volunteering their time to work the event.  I knew some of them, but there were a few unfamiliar faces.  One of them belonged to Alyson, a 25-year-old DC resident who was busy working when I pulled her aside and placed the ten-dollar bill in her hand.

The final $10 changed hands during the event when Alyson H. became recipient #365. (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

She works in congressional relations at the Peace Corps headquarters here in Washington, DC.

“I’m going to buy two raffle tickets,” Alyson told me.  Participants at the event could purchase raffle tickets for five dollars a piece for a chance to win some fantastic prizes from generous organizations and individuals (see list of sponsors) in the DC area.  All the money collected, about $2,200, is being donated to three amazing nonprofits: DC Central Kitchen, Street Sense and the Urban Philharmonic.  Each have played a special part in this year-long journey and it seemed fitting to mark this event with an act of giving back.

Unfortunately Alyson didn’t win anything in the raffle, but that wasn’t this Minnesota native’s real motivation.  She is just a giving person at heart.  In addition to her meaningful work with the Peace Corps, she takes time out of her busy schedule to do things for others.  In fact, she had recently volunteered at DC Central Kitchen.

So what now?  Well, for 2011 I have two big things planned.  First, the ten-dollar a day giving continues with other unemployed people signing up to be Kindness Investors and give a ten spot away every day for one week and then share their stories here.  It’s truly an amazing experience.  Later today you will start to get blog posts from Melinda from Xenia, OH, the first Kindness Investor for 2011.

Elijah (Day 185) made it to the event, still not wearing shirts or shoes...and it was cold! (photo: Michael Bonfigli)

The other big project I am planning is to personally volunteer once a week for the entire year.  After reflecting on the previous 12 months I realized that the most valuable part of this experience has been the interaction with others, the time I spent with the recipients.  That’s what matters, to really care about someone else and their story.  So, I am going to be volunteering my time with some great nonprofits over the coming year and sharing the stories here on the Year of Giving! I hope you will follow along and drop me a note about how you incorporate volunteering into your life.

In addition to my personal commitment, I am challenging all those who are out of work to volunteer at least one day of their time.  We currently have 15 million individuals who are out of work in the US.  If we take an arbitrary hourly salary for each of them of $20 and calculate the value of each of them spending an eight our day volunteering, it comes up to $2.4 billion.  Now the average person is unemployed for six months right now, so double that amount and you get the total potential for the US for a year.  $4.8 billion is a seismic amount.  To put that into perspective, that is more than the economy of Zimbabwe!  Or three times the economy of Belize!  And we haven’t even mentioned the benefits the individual gets from volunteering!

I also want to work with companies to get them to create programs that encourage their employees to volunteer.  Imagine what we could do if we got just 20% of the active workforce to volunteer one day a year!  Anyway, check back in the coming weeks for more on this exciting new project.

Pierre from Day 359

Everything that I have ever done that was meaningful was sad when it came to an end.  So too is this moment.  The Year of Giving is not an earth shattering idea.  As Pierre from Day 359 put it, “Probably many people have thought something similar, but the difference is that you took the initiative and did it!”  He’s right.  What is unique is the experience that I have had.  When I started this project I thought that I might potentially change the lives of a handful of people, but I never thought about how it would change me.  I am forever changed.  I look at giving differently now.  It’s contagious and it has seeped into all aspects of my life.  I look at the homeless man on the street through a new lens now.  I’ve learned that sometimes it’s more valuable to stop and ask their name and how they are doing than it is to drop a dollar into their bucket.

As I reflect on this experience, I can’t help but be reminded of some sage advice in Mitch Albom’s real-life story Tuesdays with Morrie. In the book, Morrie tells Mitch, The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”  I did just that and today I have 365 new friends and a truly meaningful purpose in life.

It’s ironic that just when I thought I was reaching the end I’ve realized that in fact it is just the beginning!  It is truly a happy new year.  Stay tuned…

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