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Posts Tagged ‘volunteering’

Blog post by Reed Sandridge of Washington, DC

This post was supposed to be put up yesterday – sorry. I was out volunteering and got behind.

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I captured this image of a fallen soldier being delivered to Arlington Cemetery on a recent return flight to DC.

Yesterday was Memorial Day – a day when we remember those who have served our country. I took some time to think about my family members who have served – most recently my cousin Jonathan and his wife Alex. Thankfully they made it home safely. I then was reminded of Jen B. who I met on Day 362 of my Year of Giving. She lost her husband, Army 1st Lt. Todd J. Bryant, when his Humvee came under attack in Fallujah in October of 2003. My thoughts go out to her, Todd’s family and all of those who have lost loved ones serving their country.

My first bike ride of the year is something that I look forward to every spring. The mixture of warm sunlight and cool air on my face as I roll by some of our country’s most iconic monuments keeps me sane.

Washington is full of wonderful trails that provide safe riding throughout our nation’s capital. However there is one day each year that gives riders full access to the city and so many of the breathtaking vistas usually reserved only for snapshots out windows of slow moving cars. That day is Bike DC.

I rode in Bike DC last year and even gave my $10 away to another rider. You can read the blog post and watch some video I shot while riding. This year I too was going to ride and then I got the idea that I would volunteer for them.

I was stationed at the Will Call table which was set up on the corner of 3rd and Jefferson, directly west of the US Capitol. Technically I was supposed to be answering questions that the cyclists had, but there was a much greater need to actually check the nearly 4,000 riders in so I started checking them in too. It was impressive. We managed to process every single rider in about 90 minutes.

Crossing the Potomac River (Photo: Charles Hagman)

The event, which costs riders about $35, supports the Washington Area Bicycle Association (WABA). They represent cyclists’ interest here in DC. I overlook their tired emails and letters because I, like many others here in the area, benefit from their work. Click here to find out how you can support WABA.

After I was done working, I tacked on a rider’s bib and headed out on the course. It’s beautiful and there is something indescribable about riding through such a picturesque city with no cars. My favorite part though is crossing the bridge into Virginia and riding down the GW Parkway! That is pretty cool.

Ghost Bike

Photo by M.V. Jantzen

I started this post off remembering those who have served in the military. In the theme of remembrance, I offer a name to you: Alice Swanson. She died just a block from my home while riding her bike to work in July of 2008. For a long time there was a white bicycle placed at the corner of Connecticut and R Streets as a memorial. Although I never knew Alice, there is not a day that goes by when I walk by that corner that I don’t think about her.

Next Monday I will take you along on a volunteering journey with Yachad DC where we will rebuild some lower income housing near Fort Totten.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

DSC_0008.jpgThe Year of Giving transitioned from a blog to a social movement a few months into my year-long journey in 2010 and all of a sudden I was thrust into the space of social media.  Given my background, I figured I would be a good volunteer for the DC Social Media Summit.  I spent four years organizing and producing events and conferences in addition to my experience navigating the ever-changing field of social media.  Sounds like a perfect match right?

The event was produced by the Center for Nonprofit Success, a nonprofit registered under the name Mediate Facilitate Inc.  This is the second time I have volunteered with this organization.  The first time was back in Week 7.  It’s an interesting organization.  Part of me really loves the concept.  They run conferences around theUS with no onsite staff.  That’s right.  Every single person working at the conference is a volunteer.  That’s amazing!

DSC_0084.jpgDespite the fact that I think our small team of volunteers managed to make the best of the situation we were presented with, it was not easy.  We were missing guidance, information, tools, etc.  Attendees seemed frustrated with our lack of information and less than organized demeanor.  It got so bad at one point that some of the volunteers contemplated walking out during the middle of the conference.  Thankfully the content of the sessions was quite good.  The organizer managed to secure some really talented speakers who dazzled the couple hundred attendees.

Although I did say that I was impressed that such an organization exists and puts on conferences all around the country with just volunteers staffing the events, I don’t think this is the best model.  I believe there should be at least one employee at each event from start to finish to manage the conference.  I think that would help in a variety of ways as well as help create the culture of the volunteer staff.

DSC_0082.jpgI did some research on this organization.  The math is just not adding up for me.  For a nonprofit that has such a skeleton staff that onsite management is done completely by volunteers, I have to wonder where all their revenue goes?  There were no handouts to give to attendees – they were asked to print them themselves along with their name badges.  The speakers were also donating their time and not compensated for their appearance or travel expenses.  So I was left with more questions than answers.

I did get to meet some interesting people who were volunteering with me and got to see a few minutes of one of the presentations which I found very interesting.  Having said that, I don’t think I will volunteer with this organization again.

Click here to see more of the photographs that I took during the event.

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC.

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

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

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

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

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Me volunteering at MLK Service Day in January.

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

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

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Year of Giving volunteer getting dirty!

If you live in DC and are not familiar with Hands on DC, check them out today!  Founded back in 1994 by a small group of friends who wanted to make a difference in DC public schools, this all-volunteer organization leads a variety of improvement projects at more than 30 area schools.  Their largest event is Work-a-Thon, held every spring.

I signed up to lead a team at the 2011 Work-a-Thon that was held April 29th.  I was joined by about a dozen Year of Giving volunteers.  We were part of a larger team that was assigned to Brent Elementary School, a Pre-K – 5th grade school located not even three blocks from the well-groomed lawn of the US Capitol.

When I showed up I was really impressed.  This school looked a lot better than I expected.  I have done two other school based projects this year and their campuses didn’t look anything like Brent.  A variety of gardens surround the brick building that sits across from Folger Park.  On the Southwest corner of the grounds is a really cool playground.  It’s got a special foam-like ground surface that helps reduce injuries upon impact.  So I’ve got to say that when I walked onto the campus I was thinking, “Did I miss the event?  Was it yesterday?  It looks like everything is already done!”

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The entire work group

But I was indeed in the right spot.  This school, which seems to be very progressive with their Museum Magnet Program, benefits from the fact that the staff and parents are very involved with all aspects of the school experience.  To give you an idea, check out something I found on their website: “Students, parents community members and Brent staff will collaboratively share leadership and accountability for empowering the highest quality of teaching and learning, everyday, in every Brent setting, for every student.”  We worked side by side several parents and staff members and I could tell that they really cared for their school.

Team Year of Giving quickly got to work on a variety of projects.  I, like most of us, spent the day weeding and mulching.  My brother and Jody planted a tree.  Kimon and Aster built a tee-pee!  So there were some interesting projects.

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Some of the Team Year of Giving volunteers

Everyone on the team had a great time.  I hope to do more volunteer projects where I have support from you guys!  Thanks to those who came out and helped make Brent Elementary look really fantastic!  Click here for more photos.

For those of you who were not able to participate in Work-a-Thon can make a donation to this great organization.  100% of your donation will be to secure supplies for service projects as well as to provide college scholarships through College Bound, a local mentoring and tutoring organization dedicated to supporting DC public schools students who want to attend college.

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Me and my bro Ryan

We are one month away from the Worldwide Day of Giving – if you haven’t signed up, and everyone can sign up, click here.  How many people do you think we can get to sign up in 30 days?!

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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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Do-it (UK)

Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

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

Photo: telegraph.co.uk

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

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

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

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

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

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

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

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

Colin Salisbury

GVN Founder and President, Colin Salisbury

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

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

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

Vietnam Youth Tour

Photo courtesy of globalvolunteernetwork.org

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

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

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

When I was 15-years-old there was only one thing stood between me and the rank of Eagle Scout.  This high distinction in Scouting is marked by the completion of a Leadership Service Project where candidates must conceptualize a project that will benefit their community and then successfully manage a team of other Scouts in order to complete the task.  I chose to organize a region-wide food drive to collect non-perishable items and donate them to an organization that would ensure that they would reach individuals and families in need.


After reviewing potential benefactors to receive the collected food, I chose New Hope Ministries (NHM) – a Christian social service agency that provides assistance to community members in times of need and supports their efforts toward stability.  My project resulted in thousands of donated items.

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In addition to food, NHM needs toiletry items and financial donations to finish their kitchen and add a chair lift to the 2nd floor.

Goose bumps wisped over my skin as I walked into their new facility 22 years later.  I was in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania helping my father recover from knee surgery and I took a few hours off to go and help NHM out.  I was scheduled to be folding letters and stuffing envelopes for an appreciation dinner the organization will hold in June for all the volunteers who have helped NHM achieve their goals throughout the year.

Every single person I had contact with there was delightful.  Kindness flowed freely from every staff member with whom I interacted – Joanne, Molly and Sue – as well as my two follow envelope-stuffers – Brenda and Silvia.  The work might sound boring, but the three of us had a lot of fun.

DSC_0024.jpgAfter two hours of folding and stuffing and successfully avoiding paper cuts, Sue Fornicola, the program manager, kindly offered the three of us a tour of their new facility.  It hardly resembles the building I had visited as a teenager.  I think the most impressive areas were the food pantry and the food warehouse.  It is a very professional operation.

Although it’s easy to be distracted by the well run food pantry, NHM is much more than just a pantry.  They also provide:

  • rent/mortgage assistance to prevent homelessness
  • prescription, medical, dental and eye care assistance
  • utility assistance to prevent termination of service
  • transportation assistance
  • counseling
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I like this photo. It was hanging in the room where we were stuffing envelopes.

But what I discovered through my time at NHM is that their real gift to the individuals who walk through their doors is something far more valuable than bags of groceries or assistance paying rent.  They give people the love and support that they need to pull themselves up.  They give them hope.

Click here to donate to NHM

Click here to volunteer with NHM

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

Easter Egg Dying

Photo: Luz Bratcher

Happy Easter to those of you celebrating Easter today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

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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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop reading this and go sign up!

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Blog post by Reed from Washington, DC

We’re without a Kindness Investor for a while it looks like.  As always, if you know someone who would like to take on this exciting seven-day adventure, drop me a note.

For the rest of you I’d like to share some tools that I use for volunteering.  So for the next couple of days I will do a blog post each day on a resource for finding volunteer opportunities.

Here's a cool video of Sparked Co-Founder and CEO Jacob Colker talking about Sparked and the impact it's making.

The first one is one that every single one of you can use!  Sparked (www.sparked.com) claims to be the world’s first microvolunteering network.  What’s microvolunteering you ask?  Well, the folks at Sparked define it as volunteering that meets four main criteria.

Convenient
It’s volunteerism that fits into your schedule when you have time – typically (but not necessarily) via an internet connected device such as a personal computer or mobile phone.

Bite-sized
Volunteer tasks are broken into small(-ish) pieces, so that you can complete a task in the time you have available (whatever that time may be).

Crowdsourced
The nonprofit that needs help asks a large(-ish) group for assistance.

Network-managed
The time demands of the manager (e.g. a nonprofit staffer) are reduced by distributing as much of the project management and quality review as possible to the network of micro-volunteers. This work management method differs from a top-down model of project management.

I’ve signed up for Sparked and have already completed my first project, which didn’t take me long at all.  You can read my blog post about using Sparked to help the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas.  What is brilliant about Sparked is that you can volunteer when you have time all from the convenience of your computer.  You can help nonprofits in dozens of areas, but here are a few to give you an idea: accounting, blogging, copywriting, data entry, marketing, research, social networking, translating, etc.

All this talk (ok, I’m writing not talking, but you get the idea) about microvolunteering has got me thinking.  As you know, the Worldwide Day of Giving is coming up on June 15th!  This year you have an option to volunteer if you would rather do that then do a $10 kindness investment.  If you are busy and don’t have time to get out and volunteer on that day this is your perfect option.  I want to see how many people we can get to do microvolunteering projects on June 15th with Sparked!  Right now they have 2,642 volunteer opportunities on their website.  Wouldn’t it be cool if all of us Year of Giving followers could get enough people to volunteer that day that we could complete every single task they have on their site?  Wow…that would be amazing.

You better start spreading the word fast!

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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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San Francisco General

Photo: Troy Holden

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

Greetings from the foggy city by the bay, San Francisco.  This is the first time I have been on the West Coast since I lost my job in 2009.  It’s good to be back!  This city has been the incubator of some very cool philanthropic ventures.  The One Percent Foundation, with their bold approach to engaging young people in philanthropy,  held their first event here.  Kiva calls San Francisco home.  They’re the guys who made a seismic makeover of how we look at lending and alleviating poverty through the Internet.  Sparked, headquartered here too, is changing the way we look at volunteering by connecting organizations with volunteers on the Internet through micro-volunteering opportunities.  You get the idea.

Anyway, I am here for a special celebration of World Wildlife Fund’s 50th anniversary and their Spring Council meetings.  It should be an exciting few days celebrating the past and focusing on the future, especially looking at the intersection between technology and conservation.

Like all of these organizations, nonprofits across the country are driven by the desire to create social good rather than dollars.  These organizations work tirelessly to improve the world in which we live.  Whether it be protecting the biodiversity of our planet, reducing homelessness, or improving the education that our children receive, these organizations humbly push ahead toward their mission – often in spite of financial conditions that would be considered unacceptable in the private sector.

How do these cash-strapped organizations attract and retain top talent?  How do they use lessons learned from others in their field to solve their own problems efficiently?  How do they build partnerships with other organizations with aligned missions to progress their work?  Well, one of the ways is to take some of the sector’s brightest and most energetic leaders and bring them together in a dynamic exchange of experiences, ideas and contacts.  Few do this better than the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.

I was invited to attend their national conference in Grand Rapids, MI and speak to their members about the Year of Giving. I donated my time and services as a speaker and photographer for the conference at the end of March.

Over the Highway

Grand Rapids, MI at sunset (Photo: Eli Potter)

I touched down at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids just after seven, the glimmer of the late winter sunlight over the flat terrain quickly slipped into the night.  It’s a nice place to visit, possibly to live if you don’t mind winters that have overgrown their three month calendar season.  “You’re right here,” a woman sitting next to me on the plane explained while pointing to the palm of her right hand, just below where the little finger connects to the palm.  “You see Michigan is shaped like a mitt….we’re right here.”  I nodded and smiled at the novel way of showing someone where you lived and thought how I would shape my hand into the places I have lived.  No such luck for Brazil or Mexico, but maybe Pennsylvania works if I place my hand horizontally.

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I was part of their speakers track titled Innovation. I’m not sure how innovating the Year of Giving is, after all it was Pierre on Day 359 who reminded me that certainly others had thought of this idea before.  “The difference,” he told me, “is that you did something.”  There is a tremendous difference between having an idea and implementing it.  Only one of the two really exists.  This conference was packed full of doers; my kind of people.

The conference went well, people even laughed at some of my attempts at humor which always makes me feel good.  That evening I put to work my photography “skills” to capture the nonprofit smackdown: a wild debate of sorts where nonprofit professionals from all different sectors defended their causes.  It was an interesting evening which was highlighted by an impromptu cash collection which I was told raised over a thousand dollars for the final two surviving nonprofits in the bout.

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Impromptu cash donations totaled more than $1,000 for some of the terrific nonprofits represented at the smackdown!

There are 47 YNPN chapters across the US representing over 20,000 young nonprofit professionals working in a variety of capacities.  Check their website to see if there is a chapter near you!

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

Did you know arthritis affects an estimated 50 million (one in five) American adults and 300,000 children and is the nation’s most common cause of disability?  Or that there are more than 100 types of arthritis?  I didn’t until I volunteered with the Arthritis Foundation.

They held a black tie gala event called Arts for Arthritis and needed people to help with the silent auction.  I pulled up to the Marriott hotel and conference center in North Bethesda and parked my car.  I adjusted my tie in the rear view mirror and made my away across the parking lot to a door that I hoped would be open.

After making my way up a set of escalators I discovered that I indeed was in the right place.  Art work and jewelry decorated long rectangular tables that were set up in the hallways.  I took a peak inside the ballroom and found forty or fifty tables filled with men in tuxedos and women in exquisite gowns and dresses.

I couldn’t find anyone that seemed obviously in charge, so I wandered around aimlessly until I found a young woman named Mandy who said for me to sit tight until they needed me.  I took the opportunity to browse the items up for bid.  A photograph of Led Zeppelin taken by James Fortune caught my eye.  There were some impressive paintings intermingled with a few very bizarre ones as well.  I also saw a cool photograph of Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals shooting on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury during this year’s Winter Classic.

Mandy reappeared and put me to work.  There were about 125 auction items that we had to organize and get ready to process payment.  Having done a few auctions in the past, I have to tell you that these can be a disaster!  When I had my year-end event for the Year of Giving, my friend and event coordinator Patricia told me one thing, “Just don’t do a silent auction!”  I ended up doing a very small one and it went smoothly thanks to her, however, it can be a nightmare.

This one went ok, although it was stressful and we had lots of people standing in lines waiting to pay for their items.  Barefoot volunteers with aching feet were fetching purchased items and bringing them to the happy owners.  Unfortunately we didn’t have bags or boxes to give to those who purchased multiple items, but people got over it.

“What the heck did we end up winning,” one man asked his wife who was dressed in a fancy black lace outfit.

“The box says ‘Huggable Hangers,’” I told him.

“I’ve got no idea what they are,” he said shaking his head.

Either it was a very expensive box of hangers or it was something else packed in a Huggable Hangers box.  He walked away with a confused face.

At midnight all but a few stragglers had left.  Staff and volunteers collapsed into chairs and relaxed with a glass of wine.  I was exhausted too, but had to get back to my brother’s house in Virginia where I have been taking care of my father for the past week as he recuperates from a total knee replacement.

I found this volunteer opportunity on Volunteer Match.  If you would like to help out your local Arthritis Foundation chapter, check out Volunteer Match or your local chapter website.

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Before I tell you about my amazing experience volunteering as a photographer – yep, a photographer – at a local event for individuals with multiple sclerosis, I want to do a shameless plug for two volunteering opportunities that are coming up…and I need you to come out and volunteer.

Servathon DCOn Saturday April 16th Team Year of Giving will help Greater DC Cares.  We’ll most likely be assigned to a local DC school or public park.  Click here, sign up and choose to join a team.  Then when prompted with the list of available teams, scroll down to the bottom and you should find Team Year of Giving!

Hands on DC Work-A-Thon: Similar to Servathon, this is a large city-wide initiative that focuses on improving DC Public Schools.  Click here to join…be sure to join Team Year of Giving!

 

Dr. Byrne, who turned 60 on this day, spoke to the audience on the power of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Speaking of volunteering, my most recent volunteer outing was with the National Capital Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis SocietyA Day of Healing was a half-day program that was offered, free of cost as I understand it, in conjunction with the local YMCA for people in the DC area living with MS.  An autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system, MS affects approximately 300,000 people (mostly women) in this country.

 

I arrived a few minutes late, having promised earlier that I would arrive by 10am.  I somehow got stuck in the middle of a road race and couldn’t get unstuck for about 30 minutes.  Thankfully I had given myself plenty of time to get there.  When I finally did arrive I was greeted by Emily, a senior communications manager for the MS Society.

 

Adaptive yoga was a popular session

The day’s program started with a light breakfast, followed by an opening ceremony and group meditation led by Dr. Hugh Byrne who is an expert in mindfulness – the art of bringing a direct, non-judging awareness to our own experience, moment-by-moment.  I think this is mostly done through meditation, but it seems clear that you can do this throughout your day as well.

 

I was instructed to try to get some photos in the opening session of Dr. Byrne speaking and leading the group meditation.  First of all, I got to tell you that Dr. Byrne is your man if you want to meditate.  I wasn’t even really trying to meditate, remember my task was to capture images, and I was like a baby being lulled to sleep by his calm British accent.  But no time to relax, I have to get some photos.

Photographing people meditating is really awkward…second only to covering a funeral probably.  You have a sea of attendees all motionless with their eyelids closed; resting like heavy clouds.  The worst thing probably, besides the occasional hotel staffer who would make some noise, was the sound of me snapping pictures!  Anyway, I tried to be respectful and got through the session.  I don’t know if they will be able to use them though because basically it looks like an audience full of bored attendees who have fallen asleep!

 

Art proved to be a very relaxing activity.

Later the attendees had the opportunity to attend two of three break-out sessions that focused on yoga, nutrition and art therapy.  Somewhere in the mix there was a lunch too where Dr. Byrne would deliver the keynote address and talk about Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and how it can positively affect those living with MS.

 

I weaved in and out of the break-out sessions trying to get good photographs despite the blah yellowish-gold colored rooms that were backdrops to the images I was to capture.  What is it about hotel conference rooms that dictate that they be painted this terrible color anyway.  All the while I have to be mindful of those with an orange circle on their badge.  That meant they didn’t want to be photographed.  Don’t tell anyone, but I’m color- blind.  But I did the best I could!

 

Some people literally rolled up their sleeves and got dirty too!

Back at the lunch I set down my Nikon for a while and enjoyed the spread of food (who says there’s no free lunch!) and concentrated on Dr. Byrne’s presentation.  Let me tell you that I am not someone who is into meditation and yoga.  The only thing worse than sitting still for me is sitting still and getting blood work or a cavity filled (sorry Dr. Robinson!)  But I will say that I really enjoyed Dr. Byrne’s presentation and did allow myself to relax some too.

 

According to our keynote speaker, subjects in a recent MBSR study reported improved memory and empathy while reducing stress.  Now what was really astonishing was that when they did MRIs of these individuals the participants in the MBSR program showed increased brain density in the areas that deal with cognitive learning, compassion and introspection.  Furthermore they experienced a thinning of the brain matter that relates to stress and anxiety.  Nobody in the control group experienced such changes.  Now that is pretty phenomenal.  You might make me a believer out of this after all.

 

Adaptive Yoga Session

There were other impressive studies as well such as one done by researchers at UCLA that showed a slowing of the progression of HIV in patients who practiced MBSR.  Dr. Byrne, who was celebrating his 60th birthday on this day, left us with one clear message:  “Attitude is everything.”  What is the attitude that we bring to our current situation?  I am a big believer in the power of positive thinking and attitude and couldn’t agree more with his emphasis on this point.

 

If you would like to help the MS Society by volunteering or making a donation, please visit www.nmss.org.  And for those of you in the DC area, come out and join them at Walk MS on April 9, 10th and 16th.  Click here for more details.

 

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Before I share with you my amazing volunteer experience at Miriam’s Kitchen here in Washington, DC, I want to introduce you to a very important person at the Year of Giving.  His name is Kyle.

A photo of Kyle when I met him back in October of 2010.

Some of you might remember him from Day 311 last year when I gave him my $10 for the day after seeing him do a stand-up routine at a local open mic night.  He recently graduated from the University of New Hampshire and completed an internship here in Washington, DC at a talk news radio station.

The Year of Giving has grown and around the beginning of this year I realized I needed some help.  Kyle volunteered to be the Web Editor and help keep the daily blog posts coming.  In addition to volunteering with the Year of Giving, he’s currently looking for magazine or internet related journalism work in New Hampshire, Washington, DC or potentially other areas of the country.  Please reach out and let him know if you have any connections or ideas for him.  Although he has worked in news, I know that he is also very interested in music and film journalism.

DSC_0038.jpgSo back to today’s volunteer experience.  I was so impressed when I walked into Miriam’s Kitchen.  It was warm, not because of the ovens but because of the love.  I was almost immediately met by Ashley, the Development and Volunteer Manager.  She gave me, and the other 8-10 volunteers for the day, an overview of the 28-year-old organization.  “We like to bring people in through our healthy great tasting food,” she said going on to add that their guests usually stay and utilize the many other services available to their guests.  There was a station full of donated personal hygiene products, a security guard who also gives a hell of a sharp-looking haircut, case managers, legal assistance, access to healthcare, etc.  “A lot of our guests don’t have a physical address so we allow them to have mail sent here too,” she added.

I strapped on a blue or purple apron (I’m color-blind, so who knows which one it was) and was sent to help out Chef Tom.  He had me preparing some home-made chicken and duck stock.  After that I helped wash some of the items used earlier that morning and get them put away.  After the kitchen was in good shape it was time to go out and work the front side of the house.

The inviting dining room had about 25 tables, all with fresh flowers on them, some of them even had cards and games on them.  The walls were covered with art work from the guests.  “It’s a fun environment,” Ashley said as smiling staff members and volunteers started to greet guests making their way in out of the cold.  I was assigned to the personal hygiene station and got to interact with several of the guests who needed essential items such as multi vitamins, deodorant, toothpaste, shaving supplies, condoms, etc.  Everything of course is free for the guests; however, they are limited to receiving a reasonable amount of the items.

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Just one of the delicious items being prepared at Miriam's Kitchen.

Ashley then asked if I would help refill juice cups to those who were seated eating their lunch.  This got me circulating a bit more and I was able to spot some familiar faces: Jim M., Lionel and Bill C. I spent some time speaking with each of them and will update you in the coming weeks on how these 2010 YOGIs are doing.

Lunch came to an end and the dining area transformed into an art center with several of the guests busy working on projects.  Bill was working on a new painting.  “I’m not sure what it is going to be yet,” he told me as he applied some broad strokes to the canvas.  He showed me several of his pieces which were going to be highlighted in an art show being held the following day at Miriam’s.

DSC_0022.jpgMy shift ended and I cleaned up and said my goodbyes.  I walked out into the brisk afternoon, the sun warming my face as I headed north along 24th Street.  I was impressed by how well the staff seemed to know the guests.  “Yesterday we had 212 guests for breakfast,” Ashley told me earlier, “and our case managers knew all but three of them by name.”  Everyone there seemed happy.  It was almost family-like.

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Reed finishing up in the kitchen.

This appears to be a really well run operation.  That being said, they rely on support from volunteers and donations.  If you live in the DC area you can check their list of volunteer needs.  In addition to your time they need lots of items for their guests such as: gloves, socks, long johns, sleeping bags, jackets, yarn, crazy glue, Crayola markers.  If you would like to donate any of these items, reach out to me and I can see that they get there.  If you would prefer, you can also make a financial contribution.

Thanks to Ashley and everyone at Miriam’s!  You guys are awesome.

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Thanks for those of you who have reached out to become Kindness Investors!  The next few weeks are certain to be exciting!

As you know, I dedicate every Monday’s blog post to my weekly volunteer experiences.  I recently stumbled upon an interesting organization called the Center for Nonprofit Success (CFNPS) whose mission is to provide the training, knowledge and resources to help nonprofit organizations succeed.  I thought this would be an excellent group to help out.

DSC_0001.jpgCFNPS holds monthly seminars on a variety of topics salient to the success of nonprofits.  Volunteers are utilized to help produce the events and I applied and was accepted to help with a session titled, “Strategic Alliances 101.”

I showed up at 7:30am as requested and searched for someone from CFNPS.  I was surprised not to find anyone.  There was one woman who seemed to be managing everything but she told me that she didn’t work for CFNPS and in fact was a volunteer herself.  “I’ve volunteered one other time with them,” she told me.

“So who is from CFNPS,” I asked a few of the other volunteers.

Nobody seemed to know based on the silence and shoulder shrugs.  As it turns out there was nobody there from the organization.  They rely completely on volunteers.  Part of me loves this model, the other part realizes that there were some downfalls as a result.  None of us really knew anything about the organization and were unable to answer questions from the attendees.

My name tag from the seminar

Anyway, I got to work organizing the registration desk and welcoming attendees.  It went rather smoothly thanks to the great team of volunteers.  The room completely filled up, I’m guessing there were about 50 attendees.  There were four speakers and the program got started just a few minutes after the 8:00am schedule start time.  Although I thought the speakers were good and quite knowledgeable about their respective areas of expertise, I didn’t think they really addressed the topic that was listed in the program:

This Session will explore:
-How to know if a Strategic Alliance will benefit your organization
-The different kinds of alliances and partnerships and how nonprofits can benefit from them
– A step by step guide to setting up a partnership
-Identifying suitable partners
– Common mistakes to avoid with your strategic partner
– How to evaluate whether your alliance is producing a return on investment

You will leave this session with a full understanding of how and why a strategic alliance can benefit your organization, and the best ways to set one up.

The four presenters spoke almost exclusively about fundraising.  After the second speaker, a few of the attendees began to ask me if they were at the right session.  I assured them they were, however, I too noticed that the presentations didn’t seem to address the topics above and certainly didn’t give someone a “full understanding of how and why a strategic alliance can benefit your organization, and the best ways to set one up.”  One attendee was really bothered and complained that he had taken time out of his busy schedule to attend, not to mention had paid $100 to participate.  “This is a waste of time,” he said as he packed up his items and just left.

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All in all it was an interesting experience.  I actually got something out of the presentations since I am involved in fundraising in my profession, however, it was clear that many of the attendees found themselves utterly confused with the incongruence between the description and presentations.

CFNPS holds seminars in the following cities: Boston, Chicago, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattleand Washington, DC.  Click here for a calendar of upcoming events.

Next Monday I will be sharing with you my experience volunteering at Miriam’s Kitchen!  Stay tuned.

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Before I get to this week’s post, I want to let you know about a great opportunity for those of you in the DC area to join me on a day of service.  Every year Greater DC Cares holds Servathon, an amazing event where more than 8,000 people come together to complete a variety of service projects.

This year the event is Saturday, April 16th.  Trust me, after you submit your taxes on the 15th, you will be ready to do some good!  I am leading a team and encourage you to sign up to join me.  Click here, sign up and choose to join a team.  Then when prompted with the list of available teams, scroll down to the bottom and you should find team Year of Giving!  We’ll do a half-day of volunteering and then meet up with all the other service teams for a happy hour (or two)!

DSC_0295.jpgYou will notice that this blog post shows Week 5 and 6 service days…that’s because I did two days of volunteering with this organization.  Yachad 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.

What I like about the work that Yachad does is that the volunteers work alongside the community members they are helping.  It’s a very small group and they do some pretty amazing work on a very modest budget.

In order to support their work, they host a film festival called Our City Film Festival.  Showcasing films that focus on our nation’s capital, the two-day event is a must see for DC residents and film enthusiasts.  Saturday evening things kicked off with a launch party followed by a day of films on Sunday.  I volunteered both Saturday evening and all day on Sunday.

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Christylez Bacon performing at the kick-off party.

Saturday was awesome.  The kick-off was hosted at RFD, a fixture in the Gallery Place neighborhood that features hundreds of beers.  The highlight of the evening was a performance by Grammy nominated recording artist Christylez Bacon, a progressive hip-hop artist who stunned audiences with his truly unique performance.  Keep an eye out for him and make it a point to see him if you can.

My job there was to basically do anything that Film Festival Director Kendra Rubinfeld told me to do.  Mostly I checked people’s tickets and took photographs of the evening’s festivities.  It was a little embarrassing when Kendra corrected me on the pronunciation of the word Yachad.  It’s pronounced “YAH hahd”, not “YAH shod” as I was walking around saying.  Thank goodness she corrected me before I went around butchering the name even more!

Then the next day the event moved literally next door to the Goethe-Institut.  There was fantastic line up of films and everyone that I met raved about the films and the event in general.  Kendra did an amazing job.  The evening wrapped up with the premier showing of TLC’s reality show DC Cupcakes.  After the screening, the stars of the show – Sophie and Katherine – handed out some of their delicious cupcake creations at a champagne reception.

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Sophie (left) and Katherine (right) pause for a photograph with Kendra next to some of their sensational cup cakes.use for a photograph in front of some of the tasty c

All in all this was a very fun two days of volunteering.  I was so impressed with this small but mighty nonprofit.  So many people think about helping rebuild communities when natural disasters strike like Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti, but Yachad president Roxanne Littner reminded me, “We have our own New Orleans right here!”  She’s right too.  There are plenty of communities in the DC area that desperately need support.  I am going to work on a future Yachad construction project.  If you too want to help them, click here to find out more information or drop me a note and I will let you know when I will be volunteering again with them.

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Mmmm...hungry now?

I can’t say enough about this organization and the professional manner in which the film festival was run.  I learned that the word Yachad means “together” in Hebrew, but based on the staff and other volunteers that pour their hearts into this organization, you could have just as easily believed it meant “love.”

If you would like to see more photos from the film festival, click here.

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Happy Valentines Day!

Although the US tends to think of this day as primarily a day to cherish our spouses or significant others, in many other countries it is a broader celebration that includes remembering our friends; much more like it was when you were in grade school and you made Valentine’s cards for everyone in the class.

Whether we celebrate our lovers or friends, it is a day where we focus on giving.  We often do this by giving gifts or taking time to do something special, but we also give of our hearts.  Why not try something different today and consider volunteering or doing something nice for someone in your community?  And if you can’t find anyone, check out Sparked, a great website that connects volunteers with projects that they can do from the comfort of their own home.

I did one that I will share with you today.  Capital Area Food Bank of Texas (CAFB) wanted some help shaping up their blog.  I often get told that people like my blog partially because they say it is “clean” and “well organized.”  I believe that this applies less this year with the addition of my Year of Volunteering, nonetheless, I have learned a thing or two about what makes a successful blog.

The challenge: “We’d like to get some feedback about our organization’s blog and if we’re providing the right mix of content. What do you like about it, and what could we do to improve? Is it telling our story effectively? Are we spending too much time talking about ways to donate? Are we not telling enough first-person accounts or writing enough essays?”

So I spent some time reviewing their blog and tried to formulate some suggestions for them which you can find here…mine are listed under “Reed.”  If you like them, go ahead and click on the thumbs up to let them know you agree with my suggestions.

Take a look around Sparked. Who knows, maybe you will find a project for you!

Enjoy your week!

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-Blog post by Traci, a Kindness Investor traveling in Southeast Asia.

Today I gave my $10 to the students at the Buddhism Association School.

The Buddhist monks here offer free English classes to adults.   Tourism is a growing industry in Cambodia and the ability to speak English greatly enhances ones abilities to work, grow their income and improve their lives. While having the opportunity to be a substitute English teacher, I gave the students a donation which they used for school supplies (paper, pencils, pens, etc.) to aid them in their efforts.

Tomorrow I’m visiting an orphanage!

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

Reed shoveling a sidewalk on R Street in Washington, DC

People often tell me that they want to volunteer their time but don’t know where to start. Sheila, a working mom from Boston recently expressed her frustration with trying to volunteer.  “The local community center where I was hoping to volunteer only accepts applicants that are able to make a commitment of at least once a month for a year,” she wrote.  “I can’t guarantee that.”  She went on to say that other organizations were looking for individuals with specific skills or training which she didn’t have.

Sheila’s challenges are not unique.  I hear this same comment from individuals from all parts of the world on a regular basis.  The fact is that there are lots of ways that you can contribute to your community without volunteering with formal organizations.  Here are seven simple ways that you can make a difference in your community that cost little or nothing and don’t require you to jump through any administrative hoops!

  1. Pick up trash around your neighborhood or at a local park
  2. Rake the leaves/shovel snow/mow the lawn for an elderly neighbor
  3. Drive an elderly neighbor to the store or to their doctor’s appointment
  4. Take leftover food to poor/homeless members of your community
  5. Donate clothes in good condition that you no longer use to a local shelter or community outreach center
  6. Ask people to bring an item for donation to your next party or get-together
  7. Micro-volunteer online at an organization like sparked.com.

So two weeks ago I did exactly this.  We got a dose of really wet snow, maybe four or five inches.  A day after the snowfall I noticed a couple of sidewalks that still were not cleared.  The fluffy white blanket had now compressed down into a three-inch thick sheet of ice that was not only hard as hell to remove, but dangerous for those who relied on the sidewalks to get around town.  One spot was owned by an older couple.  Another was an abandoned home and I don’t know the situation of the third home, but their sidewalk hadn’t been touched.  So, I grabbed the shovel and set out to clear those areas.

Snow shoveling isn’t my thing.  Sure I can do it, but my back usually gets all out of whack for days after a long day of shoveling.  I know, “You gotta use your knees,” you’re thinking to yourself.  You are right…and I probably don’t use them enough.

As I was shoveling the long sidewalk in front of the abandoned home I spotted an elderly woman carefully navigating the icy terrain.  I should have offered her a hand but she gave me a terrible scowl as if to say, “You are late in getting this sidewalk shoveled young man!”  Geez.

That's Reed in the distance making his final pass on a sidewalk on 21st Street in DC.

I finished clearing the final patch of ice at the third house and headed home to put away my weary shovel and rest my now screaming lower back.  The next day I walked by one of the areas and saw people moving about on the now snow-free sidewalks that I had cared for.  I felt magnificent.  Ok, that’s not exactly true.  My back felt like an 18-wheeler had pulled into my bedroom in the middle of the night and parked on top of me.  But seriously, I was elated by the simple neighborly act that I had done.  It didn’t cost anything, well not then at least.  I just have to save up to have a microdiscectomy procedure to fix my herniated lumbar disc!

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITY IN DC THIS WEEKEND!

Hey, are you in the DC area and want to give a few hours of your time this weekend for a good cause?  Why not join me in volunteering at the fourth annual Our City Film Festival.  All proceeds go to Yachad DC, a local non-profit working to bring communities together through service.  They mobilize skilled and unskilled volunteers to work side-by-side with those being served to repair homes and communities for low-income residents.  What a fun way to help out.  If you are interested in volunteering, email me or Kendra at kendra@yachad-dc.org.

 

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge from Washington, DC

"The Amazing Kim Perry" volunteering at Robert E. Lee High School.

Last year a good friend of mine, the amazing Kim Perry (I actually call her that too), invited me to spend Martin Luther King Jr. Day doing some community service.  This past MLK Day marked the 25th anniversary of the federal holiday and I thought what better way to pay tribute to the great civil rights leader, and continue on a tradition that Kim instilled in me, than to spend my day off helping others.

The holiday was officially designated as a day of service by Congress in 1994.  So it’s actually supposed to be a “day on, not a day off.”  A day when people from all backgrounds come together to strengthen the fabric of communities we live in.

I invited lots of people to come out and serve with me.  Greater DC Cares organizes a massive effort in DC to help a plethora of organizations; from revitalizing schools to helping feed the poor and hungry.  On their website you can create a team and activate your own network to come together to work on a project.  I signed up a Year of Giving team, however, the web-portal that Greater DC Cares uses for registration locked a week in advance so many of those who wanted to join me were unable to which I think was a shame.

Anyway, the response I got from friends was interesting.  Many supported the idea of serving on MLK Day, a handful even came out and worked alongside me.  And of course there were a few who took the attitude of, “I have the day off…why would I waste a day off to go out and work?”

Fair question.  I guess because I believe that if you really want to celebrate the holiday, and after all isn’t that why we are released from our work commitments on these holidays, the best way to do that for MLK Day is to volunteer your time to help transform the dream that Dr. King had of a “beloved community” into a reality.

My team was part of a larger project that helped paint parts of Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, VA.  In all I think we had 40 volunteers there.  Although I thought the service day lacked a little overall leadership and guidance for the volunteers, we managed to complete the task.  The team I was assigned to gelled really well.  What we lacked in the way of instructions we compensated with initiative, enthusiasm and compassion – not to mention a heavy dose of FUN.

I really believe our team produced the best looking wall.  Now to be fair we had a bit of an advantage.  Several of the teams painted stripes down the hallways; we were assigned yellow, others had blue, red and green.  Yellow is the lightest of the colors and hides flaws very easily whereas those who were painting more contrasting colors, such as blue and red, had a challenging time concealing the brush strokes that escaped the painting area.

Volunteers at Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, VA.

All in all it was good experience and I hope we created something that the high school students will appreciate – although I doubt that when I was a student I would have valued such an effort very much.  Back then I just didn’t appreciate the challenges that schools face financially and value the efforts that were made by others to make the learning environment a more attractive space.

Thanks to all of those who helped to keep Dr. King’s dream alive.  For those of you who haven’t ever spent the day serving, make a commitment to do this next year.

And for those of you in DC who can’t wait to get out and help your community keep checking my calendar for service events.  Also keep an eye out for Servathon in April – two extraordinary days of service organized by Greater DC Cares that bring together nearly 5,000 volunteers to help 70+ nonprofits!  I checked their website and they don’t have any information up as of today on the 2011 event, but hopefully they post it soon!

Did you volunteer on MLK Day?  If so, I’d love to hear about your experience!

Want to see more photos from this event?  Click here.

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-Blog post by Mike B., a Kindness Investor from Cromwell, CT

This week was a very interesting week.  Thanks Reed.  The people I have met along the way in just 7 days are people I could have met sometime in my life, although it’s extremely unlikely I would have the type of conversations that I have had with them.  It was the taking of time, the interest in their lives, the one-on-one conversations are all what made it special to me.  I remember Reed saying something about, it’s not the $10 that he’ll remember, it was the quality time he spent with each individual he talked to.  I would agree wholeheartedly.  So thanks for the opportunity to do this.

I love it when I’m surprised by things in life.  If it’s a TV show or a movie, I love a plot twist that I didn’t see coming at all. It really makes me appreciate that show. Same thing for a book.  I love it when I’m surprised in life with people as well.

Today’s recipient, Joey, surprised me very much.  I was up and out the door earlier than normal this morning, as I was at Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford again.  Today was a big day as we were filming some students and tutors of the school to be put together for a video for the event in April (as I wrote in Day 23).

We were there at 8 am in Hartford, so it was almost like I was up and getting ready for work again!   We filmed and interviewed a few students and tutors which kept us pretty busy for the morning.  During that time, the first group came in and in the group were 2 males and a female.  They all come to Literacy Volunteers for different reasons; some to learn English from scratch, some to better their English and some study and prepare to take the GED.  Still others come to overcome a disability they may have when it comes to learning.  Joey fit into this category, but you would never know it.  When it was his turn to be interviewed, one question was asked and he proceeded to answer, but the words that came out of his mouth sounded anything like a person with a disability!

Manuel Joseph Arango (“Call me Joey”) is 68 years old, retired and now, a former student at Literacy Volunteers.  When I heard him speak, I knew he had to be my recipient of the $10 for today.  After his filming was done, I asked him if I could talk to him about something else, but knowing there was another group coming in to do filming, I asked him how long he could stick around.  He said he could hang out till noontime, and so when the filming was on a break, I went in search for Joey.

We connected and I proceeded to tell him about the Year of Giving.  “This is unbelievable,” he said as he agreed to accept the $10.  If I could describe Joey in one word, it would be eloquent.  He spoke very succinctly, but yet with passion.  He spoke with a reverence about him that made you want to hear more.  You could say he made an impression on me and he definitely surprised me.

He grew up in Hartford with parents that did not read or write, had his own learning disability and his language skills, as he put it, were deceiving.  He went to a Catholic school in Hartford and became involved in Hartford schools as a swimming instructor.  The federal government wanted to put him through a program at the University of Hartford, but due to the learning disability that he had hidden so far, he had to decline their offer.  He would have become too embarrassed if anyone were to find out!

He became a tractor-trailer driver for 35+ years among other things in his life, and retired recently.  He’s married to a woman who’s a bigger “giver” then he is, has three children, all successful and now he works part-time doing maintenance for Social Services of Manchester, CT.

He and his wife also offer cooking classes occasionally at Stonewall Kitchen in Evergreen Walk (a local shopping center) in South Windsor, CT.  Those classes fill up quickly he said as they’ve been doing them for a while and they don’t get the chance to do them that often.  I told him I hope to take his class one day!

We talked for quite a while on several topics and I wished everyone could hear him speak.  Almost all of the time though he would revert back to the Year of Giving and give a quote I just had to write down.  “The philosophy of this whole project, what we believe in life we can hold onto, there is good being done! There’s meaningful people walking right by you.” and “The element of emotion in what’s trying to be presented is larger than the element of finance”.

When asked what he would do with the $10, there was no hesitation; he said that he would pass it on.  “This is the first $10 in passing it on.  I want to commit myself to go even further.”  He said he would tell all of his recipients about the project as well as anyone else that wanted to hear.  He gets together with people from his church once a month in participating families’ homes and said he would share with them as well.  He then started naming off some friends or relatives of his that he couldn’t wait to tell about the project!

I knew I had to go back to the filming and it was time to say farewell.  He was anxious to read the blog and wanted to write about his experience as well, so Reed, I’m thinking he could be another Kindness Investor!   We said goodbye, and the last words were had by him, “You made my day.”   I couldn’t have asked for a better final recipient!

Thanks again for letting me be a Kindness Investor for a week.  It surely was a memorable one and I hope to have the ability to do it again at another time.  In the meantime, I would offer another blog called Things I’ve Learned Weekly to read.  It’s my own and I try to keep it updated every week or so with just as it sounds – things I’ve learned about, or even re-learned about, over the past week or so.  Hope you visit it!

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-Blog post by Reed Sandridge

Last year was an exhilarating daily adventure.  Every day I had a mission of finding someone new and sharing a small gift with them: ten dollars.

As you have already seen, the giving keeps on going this year.  Every week I will introduce you to a new Kindness Investor who will continue the ten dollar a day giving tradition for seven days.

“So you finished your year-long commitment and that’s it,” many of you have said to me.  Nope, not even close.

This year my personal commitments are focused around volunteering.  One thing that I learned while doing the Year of Giving is that what made every day so magical wasn’t the ten-dollar gift, but rather the time that I spent with each individual.  Time.  It is so valuable, yet we don’t treasure it as much as we should.  That’s why this year I couldn’t think of anything more valuable than to spend my time with others.

Each week I will volunteer in some capacity and share those experiences with you.  Why?  Because I hope to inspire you to volunteer as well.  I hope that you will speak to your employer about creating an Employee Volunteer Program, join your children in student learning service projects and become leaders for volunteerism in your own community.

Here is my first blog of my year-long commitment to volunteering!  I hope to blog about my volunteering every Monday!

Me going nuts with the sander

On a recent Saturday I spent the day helping Rockville Little Theatre build the set for their upcoming production of Translations, the acclaimed work of Irish playwright Brian Friel.  I showed up around 10:00am to the Theatre’s workshop that is tucked away behind some municipal buildings for the city of Rockville, MD.  “Quarters” as it is referred to is no foreign place to me as I spent many evenings rehearsing in this space when I performed in RLT’s productions of The Laramie Project and The Foreigner – I’ve done a little acting.

Pat Miller, the show’s producer, along with his wife Melanie were in charge.  Melanie was busy painting some of the backdrops when I arrived.  I went to work sanding and staining and spent most of the next six hours doing that.

A volunteer from a nearby middle school works on a large wall for the set.

There were probably about ten of us total that helped out.  Three of which were local middle and high school students who were completing Student Service Learning credits.  Menen, an 11th grader from Rockville, told me that she had more than 170 community service hours.  “I’m hoping to get a college scholarship,” she said as she maneuvered the power sander over wooden bench she was working on.

RLT has a variety of volunteer needs listed on their website.  “We’re an all volunteer organization,” Pat told me, “so quite literally the productions could not be possible without volunteers.”  And it’s not just the actors, they also need donations and lots of behind the scenes support as well; from publicity to construction.  “Community theaters really need to tap into the community in order to be successful,” he went to say.

And don’t miss the upcoming production of Translations opening on January 28th and running through February 6th.  Followers of the Year of Giving might even recognize the show’s director: Jacy D’Aiutolo.

This is a very important play for many reasons according to Pat:

Translations is first and foremost a beautifully constructed play with amazing use of language and an amazing story. In addition to being a great piece of theater, it’s also a very significant play for a number of reasons. Translations was the first production staged by the Field Day Theater Company, which was cofounded by Playwright Brian Friel and actor Stephen Rea who American audiences would know best from The Crying Game and V is for Vendetta. Unlike most Irish theater of the 20th century, which grew out of the Abbey Theater in Dublin, Field Day was founded in Derry, which lies just across the border in Northern Ireland.

Pat stains a bench that will be used for the show.

When the play was written in 1981, it was a particularly tense time during “The Troubles” and bombings were common both in Ireland and Great Britain. Guildhall, the theatre where Translations debuted was itself bombed repeatedly. The play, which deals directly with the subjugation of Irish language and culture at the hands of the British military, had tremendous resonance during this difficult time.  It also marked Field Day as a company that was striving to reestablish a cultural “fifth province,” which could unite a divided Ireland through its literature, poetry and theater. The work, that began with the production of Translations, continues to this day.

I hope you will come out and see the show – I’m planning on going this Friday.  As Pat reminded me, “In the end the most important people for a theatre company is the audience.”  So even if you are not able to volunteer with your local theatre go see a show.  There’s nothing like live theatre!

As a bonus, check out this behind the scenes footage of the making of RLT’s production of Translations:

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Photo: Melinda T.

A few days ago while speaking with Reed on the phone I was telling him about my dog Max being a Therapy Dog.  Later that day Reed saw a news story about a service dog that helps an autistic child.  The dog was trained through a group called 4 Paws for Ability.  Very ironic because 4 Paws for Ability is located in Xenia, Ohio where I’m currently living.  Reed had no idea of this at the time.

I’ve lived in Xenia for almost a year and a half, drove past  4 Paws for Ability several times but never actually stopped to check it out.  I decided I should head over to 4 Paws for Ability and donate $10 to a volunteer there.  I gave the money to Charlene who in turn donated the money to 4 Paws for Ability.

Connor says hello to Melinda. (Photo: Melinda T.)

Charlene showed me around the facility and introduced me to quite a few dogs.   In total 4 Paws for Ability has 200 dogs but they are not all living at the facility.  Some of the dogs live at a Correctional Facility where the inmates there train the dogs, other dogs are living with foster families.  75% of the dogs at 4 Paws for Ability are rescued from animal shelters, I thought this was just amazing.  After working with the dogs if a dog just doesn’t seem like it will be a good service dog they place the dogs on PetFinder.com.  All dogs placed on Pet Finder have went through extensive obedience training so you get a fully trained dog.

4 Paws for Ability has designed the inside of the facility to resemble a home.  They have an area in the facility which is set up like the living room in your home.  This area has toys, television with video games and a computer.  The area is somewhat barricaded and was designed for children who are getting a service dog to be able to spend a day in a home like setting with just them and the dog as the parents view the interactions from outside the area.

Outside the building is a 2 acre area which is sectioned off into different yard type areas for the dogs to play.  Outside I was greeted by Connor who is currently going through training.  Connor was playing in the area which was made up to look like a typical backyard area with swings and play-sets.  During the warmer months the children can spend time outside interacting with the dog.

4 Paws for Ability play area (photo: Melinda T.)

If it weren’t for participating in the week of giving I may have never walked into 4 Paws for Ability.  Thanks to this opportunity I may have just found an additional opportunity to volunteer.

4Paws for Ability has ongoing needs for donations.

-Melinda T. from Xenia, OH

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