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Posts Tagged ‘volunteers’

-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.

Before I share this blog entry with you, I want to wish my father a very happy birthday today – he turns 71! I love you dad!

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Bikes parked at the WABA Bike Valet

When I visit a city I try to see it by foot or bike. Not only is it an environmentally friendly form of transportation, it slows you down enough that you see the details that you often miss while zooming by in a car or tour bus. I also do this in my home city of Washington, D.C. where you can discover new elements of our nation’s capital every day if you take the time to absorb your surroundings.

Every two years the U.S. Department of Energy challenges collegiate teams from around the world to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. They call it the Solar Decathlon and hold it on the National Mall – which for those of you not familiar with D.C. is not a shopping mall but a large open green area that is home to many of our national monuments.

IMG_3987.jpgThe event featured a free bike valet – which is simply a secure place where you can drop your bicycle off while you visit the Solar Decathlon. This allows you not to worry about carrying a lock or removing items such as seats, wheels, bags, etc. that could be easily stolen. The whole process is really fast too. You just roll up and give them your bike and they give you a ticket to claim it later.

I spent the morning volunteering at the bike valet. Operated by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), hundreds of visitors took advantage of this free service. You might recall that I helped WABA out earlier this year at Bike D.C.  Volunteering was a blast and I also enjoyed checking out a few of the energy-efficient homes. I didn’t have a lot of free time away from the bike valet so I mostly appreciated the homes from the outside but did get the chance to tour the one built by the University of Tennessee which won 8th place – winners are judged on their abilities to effectively address affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. I later went online and checked the others out and really liked the home built by the New Zealand team.  It came in 3rd place! The overall winner was right from my backyard here: The University of Maryland.

Illustration of the home built by the team from New Zealand. (photo: http://www.solardecathlon.gov)

Click here to see my photos from the event.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

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The Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall to the left reflects the trees that surround the memorial. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Not even 15 minutes after the sun crested the horizon this past Saturday morning, 20 members of the Montgomery County Chapter 641 of the Vietnam Veterans of America grabbed buckets and brushes and walked down the stone pathway toward one of the most iconic memorials in the United States: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“It started out I guess between 14 and 16 years ago,” Art Wong, who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, told me.  I later discovered that it’s actually been 17 years since he and Mike Najarian, both of  Silver Spring, MD, started making the early morning pilgrimage on the first Saturday of every month between April and October to wash away the grime and dirt that builds up on the 58,261 names engraved on the black granite memorial.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

“The Wall,” as it is often referred to, consists of nearly 500 feet of black granite from Bangalore, India.  Carved out of the shadowy stone are the names of all military men, and eight military women, who lost their lives (or went missing) as a direct result of military wounds suffered during the Vietnam war.  The sheer volume of names is breathtaking.  An emotional place for many Americans, it is a place that I encourage everyone who comes to DC to visit and pay their respects.

Art was the first person I spoke to when I arrived.  He was kind enough to take a few minutes and let me interview him.  Click below to hear Art’s story as well as see the washing of the wall in the background.

“Wait a minute, don’t wash that section just yet,” Bill Gray, a silver star recipient, said as we washed the grime out of the crevices of the fallen soldiers’ names.  He pulled out a small camera and took a photograph of the name of a guy he served with.  “You can see a perfect handprint touching his name,” he said as he steadied his camera and captured what a loved one had left behind.  He paused and turned to me, “I’ve got six buddies up here.”

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Soap suds slide down some of the 58,261 names that live on the wall. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

The sound of brushes scrubbing back and forth, water hammering against the dark granite and conversations soft enough to be held in church were the only sounds.  The reflection of the mirror-like wall overflows into my mind and I find myself reflecting on those who lost their lives half a century ago.  How old were they?  Where were they from?  How sad their parents, siblings, spouses, children and friends must have been when they heard the news?  How many dreams were washed away as quickly as the soapy water that ran down over the names in front of me?

What impressed me the most about these men, and yes they were all men with the exception of my friend Patricia who also pulled herself out of bed at 0’dark thirty to come volunteer, was how friendly they were.  As we wrapped up our work a few early rising tourists made their way to the memorial.  There was no shortage of hellos, good mornings and respectful nods showering the visitors.

A pair of combat boots pinned with the Purple Heart sits in front of The Wall. (photo: SC Fiasco)

Although it was never spoken, it was clear that this monthly ritual was somehow comforting for the men.  Old friends, both present and in spirit, come together each month to pay their respects and share memories, laughter and tears.  Part of a poem written by Guy L. Jones, 43d Signal Battalion, Pleik Oct. 1968 – Nov. 1969, helps explain this:

A visit to the “THE WALL” will be many things to many people
But to me it has healed my soul
And made me feel proud to have been there.

I will be back on October 16th to lead a group of volunteers in cleaning the Korean Memorial.  If you would like to help out, drop me an email.

UPDATE: I found this MSNBC story about the men mentioned in this blog post…enjoy!

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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 Sandridge from Washington, DC

50.2 million Americans live in food insecure households, 33 million adults and 17.2 million children.  Feeding America goes on to report that 7.8 percent of seniors living alone were also food insecure. Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas all report more than 17% of their households facing food insecurity. Washington, DC checks in at 12.9%.  Least affected by this challenge is North Dakota that reports only 6.7 percent of households living with food insecurity.

I’ve been fortunate my entire life not to have to worry about where my next meal would come from, but as you can see above, many people in this rich country are not so fortunate.

One of the most impressive models for helping feed those in need is DC Central Kitchen.  Although I had been aware of this organization for several years, it wasn’t until July 27th of last year when I gave $10 to their founder, Robert Egger, that I started to realize how amazing this organization really is.  Check out what Robert did with the $10!  It will blow you away.

Two weeks ago history was made – at least for DC Central Kitchen.  At the DC Convention Center the largest specialty food and beverage show in North America was wrapping up.  Thousands of exhibitors filled the exhibition hall with their mouth-watering offerings.  From Theo Chocolate’s organic, Fair Trade-certified Madagascar sourced chocolate to melt in our mouth Spanish Serrano ham from Fermin, if you like food, welcome to heaven!  When the last attendees get ushered out and booths begin to tear down their displays, there would still be hundreds of thousands of pounds of perfectly good food and beverage products on the show floor.  For a variety of reasons, it’s often difficult for these companies to ship the food back to their warehouse so they simply leave it behind.

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Volunteers pour onto the show floor ready to work! (photo: Reed Sandridge)

That’s where DC Central Kitchen stepped in and seized and opportunity by working out an arrangement where they would pick up unwanted food and turn it into meals for the thousands of households in the DC area who depend on them for nourishment.

They assembled a small benevolent army of about 150 people made up of employees of the kitchen and volunteers like myself.  Our mission was to comb the aisles collecting food that the exhibitors had designated for donation.

It’s a bit of a race against the clock.  Perishable foods must be removed within two hours and then we only had about another six hours to collect the rest of the food and transport it across the titanic show floor while dodging forklifts and workers removing miles of carpet from beneath our feet.  Then we had to load all the food onto pallets and wrap them in cellophane so that they could be loaded onto waiting trucks.  To give you an idea of the chaos, keep in mind that the show floor is 700,000 square feet and has a wingspan that covers six city blocks!  So making a run from one side to the other was no easy task.

One funny moment was when I was looking for some large boxes and heard a gentleman with a distinct Spanish accent saying, “Look at that – I turned a hexagon box into a rectangular one!”

“I know this guy,” I thought.

He handed me a box and then I realized I did know him – well not personally, but it was famed chef and restaurateur José Andrés!  I’ve dined in his restaurants, watched him on TV and even prepared tapas from his cookbook but I had no idea of his newest talent of transforming unusable boxes into perfect containers for our collection.  There was no time to be “star-struck” though and I grabbed the boxes and headed off to collect more food.

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Volunteers packaged 150,000 pounds of donated food!

When the last pallet was wrapped we had collected over 150,000 pounds of food – the largest single food donation that Robert’s organization has ever received!  DC Central Kitchen shared the historic donation with DC Food Bank and other community organizations that help provide meals to area residents in need.

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Some of the 150 volunteers who made it happen. (photo: dccentralkitchen.org)

Although this was an amazing day for DC Central Kitchen, this was not a typical day and the organization needs your support.  They are much more than a kitchen too – they provide training and jobs for the communities unemployed and homeless.  Click here to find out how you can volunteer or support them financially.

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

According to the American Humane Society’s webpage, 56% of dogs that enter into shelters are killed.  This fact disturbs me so much that I almost didn’t put it in the blog, but I think it’s important that we know the truth.  Fortunately there are organizations out there trying to make sure these dogs get adopted and do not end up like the more than 2 million dogs that are euthanized every year.  One such organization is Lucky Dog Animal Rescue here in Washington, DC.

I pulled together a small team of Year of Giving volunteers and headed over to the PetSmart on Route 50 near Seven Corners on a blistering hot Sunday morning.  Each volunteer was assigned a dog for the afternoon.  “We need somebody strong for the next dog,” the volunteer coordinator yelled out to the small army of volunteers who had assembled under the glaring sun.  Given that most of the volunteers were women, eyes seemed to focus on me and I stepped up to the challenge.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

They gave me two leashes (“You’re going to need them both,” they assured me) and a two-page bio about my dog.  “What kind of dog are they giving me,” I thought as they showed me how to wrap the leashes securely around my hands.  Out comes one of the cutest hounds I’ve ever seen.  Black with white and chestnut spots, Christine is a happy and energetic four-year-old.

Don’t let the big floppy ears fool you though!  She’s strong (hence the double leash!)  She immediately starts pulling me over to a tent where the other dogs are resting out of the sun.  Did I mention it was hot?  Christine and I had to take a couple of laps inside the PetSmart to cool off in the air-conditioning from time to time.

A big-hearted, fun-loving dog, Christine gets lots of attention.  She’s great with kids too.  My friend Jessica stopped by with her three young boys and Christine soaked up the attention.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

Lucky Dog Animal Rescue is an all-volunteer, non-profit animal rescue organization dedicated to saving the lives of homeless animals and educating the community on responsible pet ownership. They do not have their own facility, instead dogs stay with temporary fosters (and occasionally boarding partners) while they wait to be adopted.

Lucky Dog holds weekly adoption events and is always looking for volunteers.  Visit their website to find out more information.

“What amazes me is their resilience,” Executive Director Mirah Horowitz said in a recent interview.  Many of these dogs have been abandoned and neglected, yet Horowitz says that they regain their ability to trust and love again.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

On the Sunday I volunteered about a dozen dogs were adopted.  Since their inception in May of 2009, Horowitz says they have rescued about 2,900 dogs and have found permanent families for about 2,800 of them.  You do the math, that leaves about 100 dogs which is what she says are currently waiting for adoption.  “We’ve got a 100% adoption rate,” she proudly shares.  That’s impressive!

Unfortunately Christine didn’t get adopted.  I checked the website today and she is still waiting for either a foster family or a permanent family.  If you or anyone you know is considering getting a dog, I encourage you to check with local organizations like Lucky Dog.

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Photo: Reed Sandridge

By the way, if you would like to see additional photographs of Christine and many of the other dogs that were at the adoption event, check out my Flickr page.

Catch my weekly blog post on AARP’s blog every Wednesday.  Last week I wrote about giving during desperate times of need.

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Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

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Me with a fellow volunteer Jane who was part of LGW's Class of 2004. (photo: Tohry Petty/LGW)

Volunteer Days is an annual event organized by Leadership Greater Washington (LGW) that focuses on giving back to the community.  LGW is a nonprofit organization whose mission it is to identify and connect diverse local leaders in order to facilitate finding solutions to regional challenges.  I got introduced to them through a few of my friends and colleagues and decided to help them out on their service day.

I was reminded of the importance of effectively using volunteers during this outing.  I arrived at 9am as instructed and found two adults and a student waiting outside of Martha’s Table where we were to do some painting.  There was some miscommunication with a third-party that helped connect LGW with Martha’s Table and as it turned out there was nobody there.  After a few phone calls we realized that we would have to wait until 10am to start.  I didn’t care since I was planning on being there anyway.  I was kind of tired too so I slumped down on the sidewalk and waited in a semi-conscious state.

One of the other four volunteers was irritated that we had to wait and said he had better things to do and left.  I get that he wants to be useful, but we had all planned on being there anyway, so what difference does it make right?  I mean Martha’s Table is counting on us and it’s not their fault that we were there early.

This provides a good lesson to organizations that use volunteers.  Not everyone will share my view on this and many will feel like they have wasted their time and form a  negative impression of the nonprofit in need.

Everything worked out fine.  There was not enough of us to paint but Justin, volunteer coordinator extraordinaire, quickly came up with a project for us that involved freshening up the green areas in front of Martha’s Table.  Pulling roots out is hard work!  Who knew?  We replaced about a dozen plants with beautiful new ones.

I was really impressed with Martha’s Table and you should check them out!  “We provide folks with a chance to live their values,” said development and community manager Kimberly Lyons-Briley.  “Ultimately volunteers are some of our biggest advocates.”  Well, I can understand why – everyone there is so nice!

DSC_0001-2.jpgNo more weeding for a while.  Check back next Monday to learn about my experience volunteering with Lucky Dog Rescue!  In the meantime, check out AARP’s blog this Wednesday.  I’ll be starting a new weekly column on their site – but don’t worry, I’ll still be here too!

If you want to help Miriam’s Kitchen but don’t live in DC, check out their Wish List on Amazon.com.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

Last week I attended the National Conference on Volunteerism and Service (NCVS) in New Orleans.  The Big Easy seemed like an appropriate backdrop for an event talking about how to effectively mobilize people to serve.  Hundreds of thousands of volunteers helped this special city rebuild itself after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina nearly six years ago.

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James Carville at NCVS (Photo: JD Lasica/socialmedia.biz)

“A third of the city many people feel is better than it was before,” commented political strategist James Carville as he addressed the conference on Monday, “a third is getting better and a third is [pause] long range.”  As a tourist, most of what you see falls into the first two sections Carville describes.  It’s the lesser visited areas, such as the lower ninth ward,  that you find ghost neighborhoods and 6-year-old pleas for help painted on sides of abandoned homes.

Katrina survivors find refuge on their roof.

I arrived on Sunday and had to get a decent night sleep because I agreed to be a volunteer for the conference organizers on Monday morning.  Somebody (who just might be yours truly) had a terrible idea to volunteer from 5am-9am helping get registration set up on opening day.  That means I was up at 4am.  You know it’s early when the Starbucks if full of dark shadows from the street instead of caffeine addicts lining up to get their fix.

Working registration was rather simple.  My specific role was to help people self register on computer terminals.  After a minor technical setback that caused 5 of the 8 computers not to work, we got things up and running.  The online registration system was not as intuitive as it could have been which caused many people to ask for assistance which I gladly provided.

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Photo: JD Lasica/socialmedia.biz

I ended up staying on until about 10am since the next shift of volunteers arrived a little late.  I walked the new group through the process and wished them luck.  I had a feeling that it was going to get really crazy later in the day when the opening ceremony kicked off.

The rest of my week there was spent soaking up valuable knowledge in workshops and seminars on topics such as improving employee volunteer programs, effective volunteer engagement, and dynamic partnering between the for profit and nonprofit sector to create social value.  I got to hear from inspiring speakers such as Bea Boccalandro, Caroline Barlerin, Susan Portugal, John Power, Gail Gershon, Monique De La Oz, Evan Hochberg, Dr. Madye Henson, Glen O’Gilvie, Jill Friedman Fixler, Melody Barnes, John Oliver, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the list goes on.

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A Cafe du Mond waiter with fresh hot beignets. (photo: Thomas Hawk)

Alas my week of beignets, muffulettas, coffee with chicory, jazz and near 100 degree weather came to an end.  It’s a unique sensation.  Part of me is exhausted yet there is another side of me that wants to work all night developing strategies to solve some of the challenges we face in this sector.  Exhaustion won, for now at least, as I slipped off to sleep on the flight back to DC.

There is a lot going on this week.  Wednesday is the Worldwide Day of Giving.  Click HERE to find out how easy it is to be a part of this global movement.  And if you live in DC, we will be getting together in person – details can be found HERE.   Finally, I got to catch up with 94-year-old Ms. Charlotte T.  from New Orleans who was my 248th recipient of $10.  I will post an update on her later this week – you won’t want to miss it!

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

Last year I gave my $10 to several people who were victims the gentrification that is taking place in DC.  Ca’ Vonn E. stands out the most.  I met her in the Shaw neighborhood at the controversial plot of land referred to as Parcel 42; land that the local residents say former Mayor Adrian Fenty agreed to make into affordable housing.   When that didn’t happen they took matters into their own hands and created a tent city on the land as a form of protest.  From bringing food and water to securing the URL for their website, I spent several weeks helping the residents of tent city.

Last Monday I got another opportunity to help ensure affordable housing options exist for lower-income families here in our nation’s capital.  Yachad (pronounced yah-hod) is a DC organization whose mission it is to repair and rebuild lower-income neighborhoods by engaging construction and real estate professionals and hundreds of volunteers to repair housing, renovate storefronts, and create safer community spaces.  

Yachad, whose name comes from the Hebrew word for together, has an initiative called We the People where they mobilize volunteers on federal holidays for service projects.  I decided to spend my Memorial Day with them.

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Me handling some power tools...Look out!

I walked from the Fort Totten Metro Station over to the properties that we were going to be working on.  With the temperature clearly on its way to 90+ degrees, drops of sweat had already covered my forehead before I had even lifted a hammer.    

Kendra Rubinfeld was surrounded by a group of eager volunteers when I arrived.  She explained that the occupancy ratio of this apartment complex was falling and as a result has put the property in jeopardy of being lost to developers who would turn it into expensive townhouses.  “Our goal is to refurbish these units as quickly as possible so that they can be rented and start generating money so that doesn’t happen,” she explained to me.

I got to work on an upstairs unit that had been gutted and needed to be sanded and painted.  One of my least favorite tasks is working on ceilings – there’s just no good way it seems to do it without getting your back or neck messed up.  Luckily for me I got pulled onto another project as they needed some people to help install some locks on the doors.  I had just replaced the lock on my father’s front door a few weeks earlier and was emboldened to believe that I was an expert. 

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A volunteer works on bringing the hardwood floor back to life.

I encourage you to check out the photographs I took.  Some of the units were in very poor condition, but we made great progress and soon these will be filled with happy tenants. 

There are several ways that you can help Yachad.  For those of you in the DC area you can volunteer like I did on a federal holiday.  If you don’t live in the area but still want to help them in their mission, I encourage you to make a donation to help pay for contractors and supplies needed to refurbish more houses.  I’ve seen a lot of nonprofits and can tell you this is one worthy of your donation.

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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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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much. ~Helen Keller

DSC_0199.jpgThe above quote is particularly relevant to today’s post.  As you know every Monday I bring you a blog post of my weekly volunteer activities.  Today’s service project was one that I took part in along with more than 8,000 other volunteers throughout our nation’s capital.

For the past 18 years, Greater DC Cares has organized Servathon – two extraordinary days of service.  The first day corporations and their employees participate in region-wide projects that focus on schools, parks, and other community areas.  On the second day, individual volunteers join in.

I registered a Year of Giving team for the second day where we were tasked with working on several outdoor projects at the Maya Angelou Evans Campus here in DC – a charter school in Northeast.

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Volunteer team at Maya Angelou Evans Campus

As I drove up to the school on Saturday morning colorless skies grew heavy and rain began to fall upon my windshield.  I was hoping the rain would hold off until we finished our outdoor projects.  We were building a garden area; from constructing the wooden frame that would encompass the area to building benches and painting concrete slabs that would be used as a walkway.

I was in charge of building some of the benches which turned out not to be to be too difficult since all the wood came pre-cut.  Thankfully we could do this work indoors, but that wasn’t the case though for several other teams who spent hours in the rain.  Mud was everywhere.  The beautiful thing about working on these projects together is that despite the thick layer of wet earth that was slathered on our clothes and exposed skin, spirits were bright, friendships were forged and cooperation thrived.  Thanks to all of those who came out to support team Year of Giving!  Click here to see more photos from the day.

Check out the Greater DC Cares website for other volunteer opportunities such as Servathon.  Their next region-wide service day will be held on 9/11, but you can find hundreds of other volunteer opportunities throughout the year on their website.

DSC_0168.jpgDC Cares also holds an annual event called IMPACT Summit which focuses on volunteerism, service and philanthropy.  As part of the event, they present a series of awards to outstanding organizations and community leaders who demonstrate extraordinary leadership in volunteering.  If you know of any organization or individual who should be recognized, please click here to nominate them.

Enjoy your week…hopefully we will have a new kindness investor soon!

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

This is my fourth day of focusing on the great resources that we have to volunteer opportunities.  Have you signed up for one of the organizations that I have showcased?  Are you going to?  I hope so.

Today’s organization is One Brick, an organization headquartered in San Francisco that brings volunteers together to support other local non-profits.  They try to create a friendly and social atmosphere around volunteering by inviting the volunteers to a social event after volunteering.  So you might work at a community kitchen for a few hours and then find yourself having a coffee or beer with the other volunteers.

Although I really like what these guys are doing, they have a much smaller footprint than the other organizations that I have highlighted so far.  They currently have operations in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Chicago, Washington DC., Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Seattle and Orlando.  This boutique volunteer shop reported more than 65,000 hours last year.  That’s impressive, but I can’t help but think back to my recent visit to the Junior League of Atlanta and how amazing that group is.  I recall that their membership provided over 90,000 hours of community service last year.  That’s amazing.

Some DC volunteers with One Brick help out Books to Prisoners

If you live in a One Brick city, sign up and check out the cool opportunities that they have to offer.  The website is very easy to use.  I’m actually in the process of signing up for my first volunteer gig with them.

Have you already volunteered through One Brick?  Why not leave a comment here and share your experience.

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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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Michelle - Day 277

Blog post by Reed, a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC

On Day 227 of last year I introduced you to my 277th recipient, Michelle B.  With an infectious smile and a “let’s get it done” attitude, Michelle keeps the dining room at So Others Might Eat (SOME) in order.  The guests are warmed by her love and laughter but also know not to step out of line.  She’s in charge.  One of the things I most look forward to when I am going to volunteer at SOME is the opportunity to see and talk with Michelle – she’s awesome.

On a recent Tuesday morning after meeting up with Anthony from Day 67 for breakfast, I made my way over to Truxton Circle, a small triangular neighborhood that has lost its identity somewhat since the traffic circle for which it’s named was removed in the late 40s.  Somewhere between then and now it seems the area’s identity has also been lost, often being referred to incorrectly as Eckington or Shaw.  I frankly had never even heard the name Truxton Circle used very much until I started researching things for this post, but then again, I don’t frequent the neighborhood that often and neither do the majority of other middle/upper class Washingtonians.  In fact, the only reason that I go to Truxton Circle is to visit SOME and hopefully see my new friend Michelle.

SOME-2.jpgUnfortunately on this Tuesday Michelle wasn’t there, but that’s alright.  I got to speak with Dirk, the volunteer coordinator, who I have “known” via email but not in person until then.  After a career overseas working in foreign policy, Dirk came back to Washington looking to make a difference.

“I haven’t ‘worked’ a day since I’ve been here,” he remarks about his 15 months on the job.

Inside the dining room I get to work resetting tables for the 250 guests that filed through the doors that afternoon to get a sausage sandwich, beans, mixed vegetables and an apple.  It was not too hectic as we had a decent number of volunteers; even some young students from a high school in North Carolina were on hand to help.  Everything just sort of works.  The regular volunteers guide the new volunteers in a very proactive way.

“Want to help me wipe down these tables,” I overhear a veteran volunteer ask one of the students.

Back with Dirk, he explains that it would be impossible to provide the quality of services that they do without the help of volunteers.

“We need all types,” he says.  “Serving breakfast during the week is something that we can always use help with, but we have other needs too that you might not realize.  We need volunteers with skills in web design, landscaping and tutoring.”

When asked about the challenges associated with maintaining regular volunteers Dirk’s eyes widen. “If you feel the impact – a smile or a hug – then you show up the next day.”  I couldn’t agree with him more.

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I wanted to get my picture taken with Dirk.

Before leaving, I take several boxes of clothes that I collected at my birthday party back in January over to their clothing center.  Over one hundred items were given to me to be donated, many of which had sales tags still on them.

I left with my heart glowing; feeling that high that you get when you make somebody’s day.  SOME is doing terrific work not only with their dining facility, but also in the other services that they provide which they break down into three categories: emergency, rebuilding and stability.

Anthony told me that morning that “SOME is possibly the best” when it comes to providing comprehensive services to the homeless.   I totally agree and will continue to support them.

If you would like to volunteer with SOME, please visit their Volunteer Page.

If you would like to donate to SOME, click here.

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Blog post by Reed S., a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC.

I’m looking for volunteers for four things.  Two of the items can be done anywhere in the world, so there’s something for everyone!

  1. On Saturday April 16th I am volunteering at DC Servathon, a city-wide volunteer movement.  I am leading a small team of people who will be working to make some improvements at the Maya Angelou Charter School.  We are in need of volunteers and donations.  If you are interested in volunteering making a financial contribution, click here.

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    Volunteers from MLK Service Day!

  2. On Saturday April 30th I am involved in another service day called Hands-On-DC!  We’ll be tackling a DC public school and need more volunteers.  Click here to sign up or make a financial contribution to provide college scholarships for underprivileged kids in DC.
  3. We need a new Kindness Investor on Year of Giving!  If you or someone you know is unemployed or underemployed and wants to spend seven amazing days investing in kindness let me know.  Click here for more details.
  4. The Worldwide Day of Giving is back!  That’s right, this coming June 15th is the second annual Worldwide Day of Giving.  Last year over a thousand people from around the world participated by giving $10 to stranger.  This year, you have an additional option for those who would prefer to volunteer.  Both options are a lot of fun.  Details can be found here or on the Facebook Page.  I need your help in spreading the word so that we can make this another amazing day!  Use your Facebook, twitter, whatever…just spread the love!

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It was a slow week on the blog.  We are without a Kindness Investor to share a daily story of giving from some part of the world.  If you or someone you know are out of work or underemployed and would like to become a Kindness Investor for seven days, shoot me a message!

My blog today is a special one.  I recently was honored to be invited to visit Atlanta to speak at the 95th anniversary event for the Junior League of Atlanta (JLA).

In case you are not familiar with the Junior League, it’s an organization made up of outstanding women who are committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.  They have a little less than 2,000 active members in the Greater Atlanta region who last year collectively volunteered more than 90,000 hours at 95 different organizations saving them more than $1.8 million in labor related expenses.  That is awesome!

My speech was in the evening and so I had some time to visit first hand some of the work that JLA’s members are involved with.  I was met by Audra Dial, JLA’s current president.  She accompanied me to three spectacular organizations where JLA works.  Audra, a partner at a top law firm, is a truly inspiring individual.  In addition to her professional and philanthropic work, she’s married and is the mother of a handsome 18-month-old boy!  People often ask me how I do all that I do, well, I want to know how the heck she does everything that she does!

Atlanta Union Mission.jpgThe first organization we visited was My Sister’s House a 264 bed facility that offers overnight shelter and residential discipleship programs for homeless women and women with children.  Part of the Atltanta Mission, My Sister’s House also provides counselors, referrals to job training programs, and help in finding housing, medical and legal resources. For mothers, the organization has a fully developed childcare facility staffed with a behavioral specialists and social workers.

Melissa, the manager of volunteer services, greeted us and showed us around.  I was very impressed with the facilities, especially the part that houses single women and women with children for up to a year.  They have simple yet comfortable apartments that they call home.  The housing and services are provided free of charge to the women and their children, however, each woman is required to contribute in some way.  Some do laundry, others clean the general facility rooms or help provide the more than 500 meals that are served daily.

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My Sister's House facility.

“How can people help,” I asked Melissa.  She told me that they need volunteers, especially men.  “The children, in particular the boys, need positive male role models.”  They also need people who are able to provide child-care for the guests, mainly on Sunday mornings and evenings during the week.  “We also need volunteers who can help with adult literacy, serve meals and tutor the women on computer skills.”

This appears to be a very well run organization that is full of love.  It was sad to leave, but we had a few other places to visit.

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Nearly New Shop storefront

Next it was the Nearly New Shop, a store that is run by JLA as a source of fundraising for the organization.  “We’re somewhere between a thrift store and a consignment shop,” Scott, the store manager, explained to me.  I walked through the neatly organized store and wandered over to the men’s clothing.  A charcoal Brooks Brothers suit caught my eye, but it wasn’t my size!  Everyone working here is extremely warm and caring.  Jackie, a JLA volunteer, warmed my heart with her smile and calming voice.  “We are always in need of donation items in good condition,” Scott mentioned as he showed me around the storage area.  “Especially furniture and men’s clothing,” Jackie added.

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Jackie, Reed and Audra at the Nearly New Shop.

My last stop was the Atlanta Speech School, one of the Southeast’s oldest therapeutic, educational centers for children and adults with hearing, speech, language or learning disabilities. Co-founded in 1938 by Katherine Hamm, the mother of a deaf son, and JLA, the school has the feel of a state-of-the-art learning center.  Comer Yates, the school’s executive director, manages to squeeze me in to chat for a few minutes.  He was full of awe-striking facts
about language and literacy that made me wish I had taken notes.  If you would like to support this vibrant learning facility please click here.

I ended up back at my hotel for a quick shower before heading over to the beautiful Ahavath Achim Synagogue where I delivered my speech.  The evening presented two “firsts” for me.  It marked the first time I have given a speech in a synagogue and the first time I have been the only man in a room with nearly 500 women!

I want to thank Audra, Sara, Deb and all the members of JLA.  I truly felt the southern hospitality!

If you want to learn more about JLA or support their terrific work, please click here.

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There’s no blog post today from a Kindness Investorthat’s because we don’t currently have one! :(

So…I thought I would utilize today’s post to try to find one.

Wanted: 46 unemployed or underemployed individuals who are willing to be Kindness Investors for seven days!  No prior experience necessary, just seven ten-dollar bills and a willingness to reach out to seven strangers and give them ten bucks and find out what they are going to do with it.  Interested candidates can email reed@yearofgiving.org for more details!

 

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