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Posts Tagged ‘Washington DC’

My Year of Giving was a life-changing event. I could have never in a million years imagined before I gave away my first ten-dollar bill on Dec. 15, 2009 how the journey would change my life. One of the amazing 365 people I met during that year was Anthony. Our lives crossed paths on Day 67.

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Anthony & Me on our first day of our project. (Photo: Reed Sandridge)

In two weeks it will be three years since I started the project. A lot has changed. I am now employed, I can’t walk around my neighborhood without seeing somebody I gave $10 to and I have an entirely new perspective on giving. Life is pretty good.

Many of you have encouraged me to put this story into a book. I’ve started that – well, I am trying to do this at least. It’s harder than it sounds to dedicate time to writing – especially when you are often tired from your day job. But I am committed to finishing the book. But I thought I would enlist some help. That’s when I turned to my friend.

Anthony has been homeless for nearly 10 years in our nation’s capital. One of the first Street Sense vendors, vendor number 5 to be exact, Anthony doesn’t let the fact that he can not afford housing get him down. He works Monday through Friday at the corner of 19th and M selling the paper. But his dream is to have his own apartment and I have wanted to help him achieve that goal for some time.

Anthony offered to help me stay on track with my writing. You know, sometimes you just need someone to be accountable to. In return I am trying to help him get housing. If this sounds simple – keep in mind that I don’t know anything about helping someone get off the streets and Anthony hasn’t a clue about what it takes to get a book published. But that hasn’t stopped us.

We are working to achieve our goal by the end of 2013 – and with a lot of hard work, collaboration between Anthony and me, and possibly your help too – we just might make it! If you would like to follow our journey – drop by and say hello at AthonyAndMe.com.

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The cast of A Year of Giving: Patrick Miller, Devon DuPay, Reed Sandridge, Steve Langley. Photo: Timothy Sharpe

It was the fifth and final night of A Year of Giving at the 2012 Fringe Festival. We sold out the day before and had several people trying to get tickets at the door – unfortunately they were turned away.

The performance went very well. I was really happy to that my friend Anthony from Day 67 was in the audience! That being said, the evening was a bit sad in that the show was coming to an end. A lot of hard work, time, energy and heart went into bringing this production to the stage and I am very thankful for all of those who were a part of that.

On this final evening, I gave my $10 to a woman seated near the back of the audience. I picked her because she kept looking straight ahead when I went into the audience…you know the type that is saying, “Please don’t pick me.” I actually like to choose them! Well, instead of me telling you how it happened, I am going to let Dale S. Brown, my $10 recipient that evening, tell you through her words that she so kindly sent to me via email. Here you go.

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Jeff displaying his $10 after the show. And yes, I know. My camera phone sucks. Photo: Reed Sandridge

So last Sunday we did a matinée show. It went really well and we had a good crowd for a Sunday afternoon. Celia Wren from the Washington Post was there and did a very nice review on A Year of Giving – check it out!

So at the show…I gave my $10 away to Jeff M. He’s a program analyst with the government – he told me which (more…)

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A Year of Giving cast: Patrick Miller, Devon DuPay, Reed Sandridge, Steve Langley. Photo courtesy of Tim Sharpe

Friday night was a great show! We sold all but 5 or 6 tickets. It was the first show I did without forgetting some portion of the play…thankfully the way the play was created it makes it quite easy to go on if you forget something without letting the audience know.

As I had done the previous two shows, I gave my daily $10 to an audience member. I handed it to a tall guy (ok, a lot of people seem tall compared to me!) seated on the left side of the audience. He told me his name was Josh.

Normally after the show I find the $10 recipient and take a few minutes to grab a photo and ask a few questions – just as I did every day during my year-long journey in 2010. Unfortunately this one got away!

Well, I looked at the ticket list and found someone named Josh and Googled him, found someone in DC with his name and I sent him a tweet hoping that he was in fact the same Josh who was at my show.

Josh plays softball in DC’s Capital Alumni Network league. Photo courtesy of Joshua Novikoff

It was, and as it turns out, he is a critic for DCist and was reviewing our show! Oh no. I hope the fact that I gave him $10 didn’t make him feel like he couldn’t do a fair review…I mean after all it is just $10 and I had no idea who he was.

Yesterday, his review was published. “A Year of Giving is among the best shows I’ve ever seen at the Capital Fringe Festival,” he said. Wow…what a compliment!

Today I traded some emails with Josh to find out a little bit about him and what he planned to do with my ten spot! Josh, who moved her from Brooklyn, NY, has settled in Columbia Heights. He’s a busy guy. In addition to being a contributor for DCist, he works on environmental policy issues. And when he is not hard at work, you might find him playing softball or football, checking out some authentic Asian cuisine at Eden Center in Fall’s Church, or making some final arrangements for his wedding this fall. Congratulations Josh!

As for the $10, Josh said he plans on giving it to, “someone on the street that seems like they need it, like someone who is homeless but is not panhandling.” Hopefully he will leave a comment here and share how it goes once he has passed it on.

Also in attendance this evening were two other friends of the Year of Giving: Brad D. from Day 101 and Robert E. from Day 225. Both their stories are woven into the stage version of the project. Thanks for coming out to support the show! Oh, and as always, Knox, from Day 1, was outside shinning shoes!

Only one show left and based on current ticket sales, it should sell out, so get your tickets in advance.

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Reed handing Sabrina $10 during Tuesday night’s performance of A Year of Giving.

So my unsuspecting $10 recipient on Tuesday night was Sabrina S. from Washington, DC. I picked her out of the crowd – about 5 rows deep. She was seated next to a woman who I later found out to be her mother, Patty.

Trained as an attorney, she told me that she only uses her legal prowess for good. She’s worked for a variety of international agencies and been stationed in places where most of us would think twice about accepting a post; Iraq for example. “I might be headed to Kabul later this year,” she said in the same tone as you might expect someone heading off to the beach for a long weekend.

“It’s like an early birthday gift she said,” referring that her birthday was the following day. “I’m not sure how I am going to use the $10, but I will promise you this, whatever I do with it it will get leveraged to do even more good.” – something she said she learned while working for USAID.

We snapped a photo and said our goodbyes. Happy birthday Sabrina.

Three remaining shows….

Friday July 20 7:00pm

Sunday July 22 3:00pm

Saturday July 28 6:00pm

Click here for ticket information

Also check out the reviews the show has received so far…

5/5 stars – “A Year of Giving is an extraordinary story and it makes for an extraordinary play.” – DC Metro Theatre Arts

4/5 stars – “A Year of Giving is a play you can’t not like or at least appreciate for its warm-hearted intention…This is the kind of show Oprah would love.”
-DC Theater Scene

“REAL.HONEST.TO.GOD.HUMAN.EMOTIONS.” – BrightestYoungThings.com

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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.

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Registration at Philanthropy Day 2011

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure to volunteer at the National Capital Philanthropy Day here in Washington, D.C. It’s an annual celebration of the region’s individuals, nonprofits, volunteers, businesses, and fundraising professionals whose philanthropic contributions have made significant impacts on our community.

On my way over to the JW Marriott, I ran into Bill Davis who was my 100th $10 recipient last year. He was filling the corridors of Metro Center with the beautiful sounds of his alto saxophone.

I arrived at the hotel around 9:00 a.m. – a few minutes early for our scheduled 9:15 arrival time. I grabbed some pastries that were offered for us while waiting to get our assignment for the day. At my table I met some great people who were also volunteering. One of them (and her family!) ended up coming to my farewell party for David! She’s got a great blog too that you should check out.

Anyway, I was asked to be a greeter at one of the hotel entrances. It was an easy enough job but you do get a newfound respect for security guards and hosts who stand all day in the hotel. After a couple of hours it starts to take a toll on your feet.

Another great volunteering experience chalked up! If you know an outstanding individual or group who you believe to be worthy of recognition of their philanthropic efforts, please consider nominating them for your local Philanthropy Day! To find one in your area, check out the Association of Fundraising Professionals website to find your local chapter.

To see more photos from the event, click here.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

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David's hometown is near Kenya's Lake Victoria

I woke up this morning with mixed emotions. On one side, I am so excited that David will soon be reunited with his family in Kenya. The series of events that have come together to make this happen is extraordinary. Having said that, I am not very good with “good-byes” and am sad to see him go.

My focus today though is on celebrating this pivotal moment in his life. We will gather tonight to laugh together and look forward to the future. We are far from my goal of raising the $1,000 to help cover the expenses of David’s travel – but perhaps some more online donations will still come in today. If you haven’t donated and feel that you could spare $10 to help someone else out I encourage you to click on the yellow Donate button.

If you live in D.C. please join us tonight between 5:30-8:00pm at One Lounge (1606 20th Street, NW) in DC. It’s right near the North entrance of the Dupont Circle Metro stop. Here’s a link to the invitation – don’t worry about the RSVP – just show up!

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

Columbus Day weekend delivered quintessential fall weather here in our nation’s capital. Bright sunny days that gave way to stark autumn evenings. And if you walked down Pennsylvania Avenue– just a few short blocks from the White House – you would have smelled the aromas of gourmet food and heard the sounds of live music echoing off the governmental walls that line the street. That’s right; it’s the Taste of D.C. festival.

And after a bowl of Ben’s famous chili or a mouth-watering plate from SÂUÇÁ you might need something cold and refreshing to wash it all down with. Look no further than the Craft Beer & Wine Pavilion. Dozens of craft breweries and wineries were set up to give visitors a taste, literally, of some of the most refined libations around.

I actually worked a shift for Stoudt’s (you might remember them from Day 77 of my Year of Giving) and helped the small craft brewer introduce their brews to the palates of Washington. The beer pavilion is run by a handful of staff from the breweries themselves with the help of a small army of volunteers. Unfortunately that small army was really small and the tent would go through periods where it was severely understaffed. So I decided to go back the next day and help them out. After all a portion of the proceeds went to DC Central Kitchen, Bread for the City, Luke’s Wings, and the American Red Cross – all really good organizations.

So there I was for another shift, pouring beers and answering questions about the subtleties of the different malt beverages. “Either I’ve had too many or I think I taste something like those little banana flavored Runts candies,” a bearded thirty-something guy told me as he smelled and resampled Stoudt’s Heifer-in-Wheat, a Bavarian style Hefeweizen. Well, he very might be more sober than you think. No, the beer doesn’t have Runts candies, but you get some of that fruit flavor from the German yeast that is used. It’s also got a sweetness about it thanks to a generous amount of malt that goes into the brew. Although not my favorite of their 15 or so beers that they make, on a warm autumn day it’s perfection.

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

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My mother, Lenora “Ann” Reed Sandridge, was born in the sleepy coal miner town of Richlands, Virginia 68 years ago today. She died nearly five years ago yet the pain and emptiness that I felt at the time of her death remains more or less unchanged today. I’ve heard some people say that “it gets easier.” I am not sure about that. I know she is not coming back, but sometimes I feel as if she has just been separated from us for a short while and somehow she will be waiting for me the next time I walk through the doors of my parents’ house in Pennsylvania where my father still lives.

If you knew my mother you will understand why today’s blog post is appropriately posted on her birthday.

Last week I reconnected with a friend I had met in Colombia last year. We met after work at the Whole Foods across fromGeorgeWashingtonUniversity’s campus where she is now pursuing post-graduate work. We drank coffee while catching up on each others lives; the conversation occasionally interrupted by passersby ducking inside to take refuge from the monsoon-like rain storm.

The rain stopped and we parted ways. As I headed up 22nd Street toward my neighborhood I saw a woman on the side of the road crouched down on the wet asphalt in front of her car trying to position a jack under the front left bumper. I asked if she needed help and she let out a sigh of relief, “Yes!”

I sat my bag in the wet grass, rolled up my dress shirt and moved the jack around to the side of the car and found a solid piece of the frame to position it under. A few short minutes later the tire was fully suspended off the ground and I grabbed the tire iron and muscled the stubborn lug nuts counter-clockwise. About then a couple of young guys, probably university students, stopped and offered to help too. We quickly got the spare on and sent her two blocks down the street to get some additional air in her temporary tire.

“Thank you so much, you don’t know how much this means to me,” she said reaching for her purse that sat on the empty driver’s seat. “Let me give you all something for your time.”

We all refused the money – I mean, we just did what every decent person should do. Volunteering my time to help her out was well worth the small inconvenience of arriving late, and covered with grease, to meet up with some work colleagues for a beer.

It was this kind of generosity and kindness that my mother embraced so strongly; probably the result of growing up in a town where you helped your neighbor, shared your harvest and brought dinner over to the grieving widower. These weren’t things that my mother ever sat me down and taught. She didn’t have to, they were part of her and she taught by example. Somehow I find comfort knowing that her lessons still live vividly inside me after all this time. I love you Mom!

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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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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, D.C.

David on Day 258 in 2010 (photo: Reed Sandridge)

I want to update you on David G. who was one of my $10 recipients last year. I met David on the corner of Connecticut and Q in D.C. while he was selling the Street Sense newspaper. Homeless in DC for ten years, David hails from Kenya.

When I asked David if he needed anything that I could include in the Lend a Hand program he thought for a minute and then said that he would like to find his cousin and find out more about his father. So with the power of the Internet, I posted their names on the Year of Giving and asked that if anyone knew them to contact me.

Six months later…it happened! By an almost impossible series of events I was on the phone with David’s cousin Ben who was now living in Poland. Check out the update here to find out the latest news in this beautiful story.

You will read in the update that we need to raise a little bit of money to help David…so please consider clicking on the DONATE button on the upper right area of this page and contribute $10 to help reunite David with his family back in Kenya!

These kind of experiences are what it is all about!

To read the original blog post when I met David click here.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC.

One in three children in the U.S. is overweight or obese according to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.  Pressure is growing on strapped for cash school systems to provide healthier meals.  D.C. Public Schools has implemented a salad bar system this year and asked for volunteers to help teach students how to make a healthy salad that complies with USDA requirements for school meals.

I signed up to help out at Ballou Senior High School.  Named after former D.C. superintendent of schools Dr. Frank W. Ballou, the school is located southeast of the Anacostia River and has a student body of about 1,000, nearly all of them eligible for free and reduced lunch.  I parked my car in the almost empty lot next to the football field and walked up the hill toward the school passing several parked police cars.  A friendly smile greeted me as the front door opened and a uniformed security guard motioned toward an airport like security checkpoint.  After collecting my camera and the contents of my pockets from the other side of the x-ray machine, the same woman explained to me how to get to the cafeteria.

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Ballou's salad bar minutes before students flood the cafeteria. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

I made my way across the empty dimly lit cafeteria and poked my head in the kitchen.  A dozen school cafeteria employees, mostly women, were busy making last-minute preparations for the second day of the school year.  I was directed to Mr. Sparrow, a thirty-year veteran of the food service industry.  He explained the task at hand and I, along with another volunteer named Hale, got ready for the first wave of students.

“It aint going to be easy,” Mr. Sparrow told me.  “You’ve got to make sure they have a balanced meal that includes vegetables, a protein, a fruit and a grain.”  Sounds easy enough, right?

Although most students chose the standard school meal, probably about 60 or 70 lined up to make a salad.  Freshly prepared that morning, the salad bar looked delicious.  Although students could choose from fresh romaine, arugula and endive, most stuck with the standard romaine lettuce.  Zucchini sticks weren’t very popular either, despite my sales pitch to the young people. Turkey ham, eggs, bacon bits and ranch dressing were the hot items.

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This young man made the healthiest salad I saw all day - all on his own! (photo: Reed Sandridge)

“Sir,” called out Mr. Sparrow to an upperclassmen dressed in the standard blue shirt and beige pants, “I need you to take a piece of fruit with you.”  The student pushed back some saying that he wasn’t going to eat it.  In the end he reluctantly grabbed a shiny red delicious apple and went on his way.  This type of scenario played out about half the time.  Sometimes they were missing fruit, other times they had loaded up on just meat and almost nothing else.  Stern yet compassionate, Sparrow and his team work with the students to get it right.  I secretly wondered where they found the patience to do this every single day.

An altercation erupts in the cafeteria courtyard and the half-dozen police officers on hand in the cafeteria quickly defuse it.  The experienced kitchen staff is unphased; just another day.

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Mr. Sparrow (right) gives some coaching to the students on their salad preparation. (photo: Reed Sandridge)

Overall it was a good experience.  It had been a while since I had been in a school cafeteria.  Although I applaud Ballou and DC Public Schools for taking on this initiative, I believe they will need additional help to make this work properly.  Just keeping the salad bar looking presentable is a full-time job for one worker who was busy restocking and cleaning up spilled toppings.  They need someone for the foreseeable future helping students build a healthy lunch.  As students head back to school tomorrow, the volunteers won’t be there anymore and I am afraid Mr. Sparrow and his team will be stretched too thin.

Check out this video that DC Public Schools put together to help volunteers learn how to build salads that qualify under USDA guidelines as a school meal.  I thought it was pretty good!

Here is a link to some other photographs that I took.  I will have more uploaded later this week.

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge 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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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 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 S. from Washington, DC.

Last year I introduced you to Carlton, a 45-year-old homeless man who took up painting a few years ago and discovered an untapped talent.

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Carlton working on a new painting on Wednesday. (photo: Reed)

Yesterday I was walking around the west side of the traffic circle at Dupont Circle where I found Carlton in the exact same location I found him last summer.  Sweat beading down his forehead, he greeted me with an upbeat hello.  “Everything is cheap.  Really cheap,” he told me.  I reminded him who I was and he claimed to remember meeting me although I am not sure.

He reminded me why he chose this location to do his paintings.  “I used to panhandle right here and now I want all those people who knew me then to see what I am doing now!”

Having not seen him much lately I asked if he had started painting someplace else.  He explained that he had been down in Norfolk,VA helping with his mother who is struggling with diabetes.

Sitting on the concrete sidewalk, just feet away from some leftover puddles from a mid-afternoon shower, Carlton started to work on a clean canvas.  “I painted a parrot today!” he blurted out.  “I’ve never painted animals before.”  I prefer his landscapes.

Carlton, who battles HIV, stays healthy by walking and biking throughout the city.  “I’m staying over near Gallaudet University now and ride my bike all the way over here.”  That’s about 30 blocks and in this heat it’s easier said than done.

He seems to turn into Bob Ross and starts painting happy bushes and trees.  “I ran out of black paint,” he told me as he used a piece of sponge to smear a terracotta colored horizon.

Always working the crowd, Carlton is keenly aware of when the eyes of passersby focus on his work.  “I’m Carlton, the homeless artist,” he says in his raspy voice.  “They’re all very inexpensive.”  She’s silent and he goes back to putting in some trees on his newest work.  “Talk to me,” he says grinning and hoping she will make an offer on one of the half-dozen paintings that surround him.

I shove a few dollars in his cup and shake his slippery hand.  “Now you tell your wife (I’m not married by the way) that you didn’t fall in the mud, you tell her you shook Carlton the homeless painter’s hand!”

You can see video of Carlton from my first visit by clicking here.

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