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Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

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Photo: Irena Stein Photography/Immigrant Food
Chef Enrique Limardo says the “Columbia Road” bowl at his restaurant, Immigrant Food, combines elements of Salvadoran and Ethiopian cuisine. A special side dish: opportunities to help recent immigrants.

People say, “I’m upset, but I don’t know what to do.” Or, “I don’t have time to do anything extra.”

Look, when you shop, do you have time put a can in the food pantry bin? Do you have time to write a handful of postcards to voters once in a while? There is always time to put a can in a bin; there are always nonprofits that will accept a tiny bit of volunteering. It adds up.

And here’s the biggest benefit: you will feel better. Was it Ann Landers or Dear Abby who was always recommending helping someone worse off as a cure for nonclinical blues? You just need to find a volunteer gig that fits your interests.

This post is mostly about a cool restaurant in Washington, but be sure to note what the owners are trying to do in addition to presenting delicious, creative dishes.

In November, Catherine E. Shoichet reported at CNN about a new restaurant that opened up in the nation’s capital.

“It’s called ‘Immigrant Food,’ ” she wrote, “and it’s just a block from the White House. The fast-casual spot caters to a weekday lunchtime crowd, with bowls blending cuisines from different cultures around the globe — like a dish that combines Vietnamese spicy-rice noodles with pickled bananas in what the restaurant says is an ‘ode both to Central America’s favorite fruit and to German-style pickling.’

“It also gives diners a chance to donate to local immigrant advocacy groups, all under a slogan aiming to bridge the political divide and find common ground: ‘United at the Table.’

“[Co-founder Peter Schechter] wants people to feel at home here, and to hear the story he’s excited to tell. …

“As the child of immigrants from Austria and Germany, Schechter says he felt like he had to respond to the surge in anti-immigrant rhetoric across the United States.

” ‘This isn’t the America I recognize. … Immigrants have been the foundation of growth and vibrancy. This country has been great again and again and again because of immigrants. …

” ‘Immigrants are feeding America,’ he says. ‘All of the industries that make food, whether it is the picking or the shucking or the meatpacking or the slaughterhouses, (or) in restaurants, the servers, the bus boys, this is an industry that is dominated by immigrants.’ …

“At Immigrant Food, menus available by the door describe each of the nine fusion bowls and five vegan drinks on tap. They also encourage visitors to donate to and volunteer with local immigrant advocacy groups.

“Among the suggestions listed on the restaurant’s ‘engagement menu’: teaching English, visiting detention centers, staffing hotlines and helping with mock ICE interviews. …

“There’s also a photo booth featuring a world map. Diners can point to where their families are from, snap a selfie and get a text message with a frame around the image that says, ‘We are all immigrants!’ …

‘People say, “I’m really upset about what’s happening, but I don’t know what to do,” ‘ Schechter says. ‘And so, you come to this restaurant, we will give you stuff to do — concretely and easily.’

“Local immigrant advocacy groups will also be able to use the restaurant’s upstairs space for things like meetings and English classes, free of charge. And on its website, the restaurant will serve up bite-sized breakdowns of immigration policy issues, dubbed ‘The Think Table.’ …

“The location turned out to be a case of serendipity, Schechter says. ‘[But] I really think it goes beyond the political.’ …

As he sips on a drink called ‘Across the Border’ — which blends cacao, dates, peppers, allspice, vanilla and cashew milk — Robert Evans, 72, says he loves the concept but worries the restaurant might end up preaching to the choir rather than crossing political lines.

“But then again, he says, one day someone who works in the White House might stop by. … In Schechter’s view, immigration shouldn’t be a polarizing topic. He points to polls that show most Americans say immigration is a good thing. And he hopes Democrats and Republicans will dine at Immigrant Food together.

” ‘The table, the restaurant, has always been a place where people unite,’ he says.” More.

By the way, if you’re ever in Providence, the immigrant restaurant called Aleppo Sweets is just fantastic. An extra treat for me is running into one of my former ESL (English as a Second Language) students who’s working alongside her family members there.

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Photo: Parklands Primary School
Children from Parklands Primary School in the UK enjoyed a Christmas extravaganza at the ice rink of Leeds East Academy. And Parklands staff volunteered their time to serve a hot Christmas meal.

Here’s a Christmas dinner story from the UK, one that would be perfect if it weren’t so necessary.

Alex Evans writes at the Yorkshire Evening Post, “Staff at Parklands Primary School volunteered their time to serve up a hot meal for the school’s 328 pupils and their families [Monday] at its ‘Christmas Eve Eve’ party.

“Youngsters were able to meet Santa Claus at the party which was set up by headteacher Chris Dyson. He says he was left ‘heartbroken’ when he discovered some of his pupils had never met Father Christmas and many wouldn’t receive gifts. …

“Each child received a Christmas present to unwrap — likely to be the only one they will receive this year, Mr Dyson said.

“The school, in Leeds, West Yorkshire, serves one of the largest council estates in Europe and an area in the top 1 percent in England for deprivation.

“Only a third of working-age adults have jobs and three-quarters of pupils qualify for the pupil premium, extra money given to schools from the Government to support the poorest children.

“Headteacher Chris Dyson, hailed ‘an inspirational leader’ by Ofsted inspectors said: ‘It broke my heart when I started at the school five years ago and found out that some families don’t even go to visit Santa, which is something we all just take for granted. …

” ‘So I said I would bring Santa to Parklands and get every child at least one present to open.’ …

“Mr Dyson’s initiative saw 150 people attend the school’s first party six years ago. The number doubled the following year and continued to grow. [Today] 800 people benefited from the headteacher’s generosity, which has been helped by donations from local business who have given cash and gifts, as well as Leeds City Council who have provided food.

“Mr Dyson added: ‘We are in the middle of one of the biggest council estates in Europe, a lot of our families don’t even go off the estate. …

” ‘Christmas is a vulnerable time for families, its cold and for some people it is the only hot meal they will get this week. I’m blessed that I have had so many presents donated that those with a birthday coming up will get a birthday present as well.’

“Mr Dyson took over at the school in 2014, after it went through five headteachers in just one year and was rated inadequate by Ofsted, the government’s education watchdog. It had the country’s highest number of annual exclusions and a padded cell was used as a form of punishment. Mr Dyson said he wanted to bring ‘love and smiles’ back to the school and has extended that to the wider community. …

” ‘It’s for the entire community, anyone can come and they all do. Our first year we had a lot of kids who didn’t come to our school come round, and I said Santa doesn’t turn people away. So we just welcomed everyone. … It’s a vulnerable time, food isn’t as plentiful here as where I live. It’s important they get a hot meal.

‘These kids will ask why doesn’t Santa answer my letters like he does to people in those middle class areas. I want to make sure they feel Santa hasn’t forgotten about them.’

More.

Just a reminder about the miracle of great teachers.

Hat tip: @HertsLearning on twitter.

 

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0712-border

Photo: Henry Gass/Christian Science Monitor
Volunteers like Luis Guerrero, pictured above, reach out to migrants — after they are released from federal custody and their cases are proceeding — and help them to reunite with families around the country and get legal assistance.

At the end of 7th grade, after we had had a half year each of Spanish and French to get a taste, the Spanish teacher took me aside and begged me to take Spanish in 8th grade and not French. I spouted what my parents told me about French having more great literature, and the teacher was shocked at my ignorance. Still, I wasn’t one to go against my mother.

Today I think if only I could speak Spanish, maybe I could actually be some help as a volunteer at the border — like the people in this story.

The Christian Science Monitor writes, “At the U.S.-Mexico border, our reporter found an army of everyday citizens compelled to offer help where officials cannot.”

Henry Gass, the reporter, writes, “Luis Guerrero has been going to the central bus station here for six years now. He still hasn’t bought himself a ticket.

“It started when he saw a nun trying to help newly arrived migrants passing through the station and offered to translate for her. The migrants have kept coming, so he has kept making the ride to the station.

“Of course, migrants are crossing into this part of Texas in numbers not seen in over a decade. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has already apprehended more migrants in the Rio Grande Valley sector this fiscal year than any other year this century besides 2014. Mr. Guerrero has responded to this latest surge with the calm enthusiasm of a retired firefighter who rescued children from a submerged school bus three decades ago. …

“The zero tolerance policy is no more, but the flow of migrants – primarily families from the Northern Triangle of Central America – has only increased. News and government reports of migrant deaths, as well as ‘dangerous’ and ‘squalid’ conditions in government holding centers, have thrust the issues back into the national spotlight in recent weeks. …

“Immigration lawyers, local officials, and volunteers across the border [have] been feeling the strain.

“Bus stations have been a consistent area of need, and that is where Juanita Salazar Lamb found herself this week after driving down to McAllen from Benton County in northwest Arkansas. She had been following the news coverage of the border crisis, unsure of whom to believe – people who say the migrants need asylum, or people who say they’re exploiting loopholes in immigration law; people who say they’re being treated horribly, or people who say they’re being treated well. …

“Thirteen months ago [Joyce Hamilton] and four friends formed a group, Angry Tias and Abuelas, focused on helping migrants on international bridges and reuniting separated families. The group expanded to a core of eight regular volunteers, and six months ago got a fiscal sponsorship from an Austin-based nonprofit (so it can attract donors even though it’s not yet recognized as a tax-exempt organization).

“ ‘By August [2018] I just really, I didn’t feel like I had a center. I was just shaky a lot,’ she says of the toll her work has taken over the past year.

“As government policies have changed, the group has had to shift where it devotes resources. … In January the administration began implementing Migrant Protection Protocols, a policy also being challenged in court in which migrants may be returned to Mexico while their immigration case is proceeding.

“International bridges are now mostly empty, while shelters in Mexican border cities are overwhelmed with migrants. Ms. Hamilton’s group is now focused on helping at the bus stations and sending money and supplies to shelters in Mexico. …

“Things have slowed down recently in her hometown of Harlingen, Texas. When she arrived at the local bus station on Monday morning – a station so busy on some days this summer she couldn’t hear herself talk – there was only one Guatemalan girl. It was her 18th birthday, so she had been released from the Norma Linda child detention center nearby and dropped off there.

“The girl’s bus ticket – to Georgia, where she says her uncle lives – was for the next day, so Ms. Hamilton arranged for her to spend the night at Loaves & Fishes, a homeless shelter in Harlingen. The 18-year-old says she hopes to work in the U.S. and send back money to support her parents still living in rural Guatemala. After she had crossed the border into Arizona, she spent eight months in Norma Linda, an experience she had only a few complaints about.

“ ‘There were lots of rules,’ she said in Spanish, fidgeting with a bracelet she had made at Norma Linda bearing the names of her grandparents.

“ ‘I made a couple of friends,’ she added. ‘I’m going to miss them.’ ”

As a colleague at my last job used to say about migrants who had made the trek, “People who go through all that sound like the kind of people I would like to know.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: The Book Catapult
When a co-owner of the Book Catapult fell ill at the same time as the only full-time employee, rival bookstores in San Diego kept the shop open. (Pictured: The Book Catapult co-owners Seth Marko and Jennifer Powell, Marko’s wife.)

Never give up on humanity. In a February story at Publisher’s Weekly [PW], Claire Kirch reported on the selflessness of some booksellers in San Diego. Of course, we know that book people are remarkable folks, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that most people show kindness at some point in their lives.

Here’s what happened when a bookshop owner had emergency heart surgery while his only full-time employee was suffering from bird flu.

“The bad news coming out of the Book Catapult in San Diego’s South Park neighborhood,” wrote Kirch, “is that co-owner Seth Marko underwent emergency surgery immediately following his return home from Winter Institute 14 in Albuquerque, after suffering chest pains while there. Plus, the two-year-old store’s only full-time employee, Vanessa Diaz, came home from WI14 with a case of bird flu, or as she called it, ‘the Albuquerque swine flu.’

“The good news is that six booksellers from four other San Diego-area bookstores — The Library Shop, Warwick’s Bookshop, the University of California-San Diego’s bookstore, and Adventures by the Book — have volunteered their time for more than a week to keep the Book Catapult open during its regular hours, while Marko’s spouse, store co-owner Jennifer Powell, tends to him. (Marko left the hospital Wednesday). Another pair of booksellers, John Evans and Alison Reid, the two co-owners of Diesel: A Bookstore in Los Angeles, have committed to volunteering at the Book Catapult this weekend. [Ingram Publisher Services personnel pitched in later.]

 ‘It’s a story of redemption and hope,’ joked Library Shop manager Scott Ehrig-Burgess, who coordinated the volunteers and, he says, trained them on the store’s [Point of Sale] system. …

“ ‘I’ve had to turn away volunteers, from former booksellers to people who know nothing about books but want to help out,’ Ehrig-Burgess said. ‘We’re a close-knit community.’

“As for Evans, he says that he and Reid are driving down from L.A. to help out because Marko and Powell ‘are great people, fellow booksellers, [who] created a wonderful bookstore in their neighborhood and this health crisis just came out of nowhere. They are much-loved in the book community in Southern California, with Seth having various roles over the years in keeping the book culture vital, fun, and interesting.’

“Andrea Vuleta, the head of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, told PW, ‘I am so pleased to see such warmth, community, and fellowship among our bookseller membership. I think it is one of best things about indies, the mutual support. Definitely something to be thankful for these days.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Katie Leigh

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Photo: Rebekah Welch, Missoulian
Two refugee children hurry to watch a soccer game at Fort Missoula in Montana.

I’m back volunteering with refugees and other immigrants, and it feels great. I took a hiatus to rethink my schedule after my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer. Now I’ll be doing only one day a week instead of three, assisting at a morning ESL class in a Providence resettlement agency and an afternoon class down the street. It makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile in retirement.

In today’s story, volunteers and staff at some unusually stable refugee programs in Montana feel the same. The article reminds me that my ignorance of much of the country has kept me from appreciating how every state has people with similar values.

In October, Kim Briggeman wrote at the Missoulian, “Montana’s lone resettlement office is just big enough to dodge the ax lowered by the [administration’s] slashed refugee cap, but small enough to escape the staff reductions others face.

“ ‘In Salt Lake City we were staffed to serve 600 arrivals (per year). Well, when you get half of that, you start losing staff,’ Patrick Poulin said in Missoula last week.

“Poulin is acting regional director of 13 International Rescue Committee [IRC] offices in seven Pacific Northwest states, and serves as executive director of the one that opened in Missoula two years ago. …

“The U.S. State Department has ‘pretty much told resettlement agencies’ that offices serving fewer than 100 refugees a year will be shuttered, Poulin added.

“Missoula’s IRC office received 115 refugees in fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 30. Poulin said that was up from 78 in the first full year, and included a welcome but unexpected rush of 26 Congolese in July and another 23 Congolese and Eritreans in August. Those represent the top two months for refugee arrivals since the IRC began receiving them in August 2016. …

“The U.S. Secretary of State [announced] in mid-September a proposal to lower the number of refugees allowed into the country from a maximum of 45,000 to 30,000 for fiscal-year 2019. Both are fractions of the 110,000 set by President Barack Obama in his final months of office in 2016, a cap that was ratified by Congress. …

“ ‘This is not only the lowest goal in the history of the U.S. program — the average has been 95,000 — but puts U.S. resettlement, as a proportion of population, well behind Sweden, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom,’ noted a guest commentary co-authored by Helena mayor Wilmot Collins that appeared last Monday in The Hill. Collins [is] a refugee from Liberia. …

“Missoula Federal Credit Union (MFCU) … donates roughly 7.5 percent of its annual net income to community programs like these. …

“[Mary Poole of volunteer-reliant Soft Landing Missoula] said it was another reminder of how Missoula Federal and its president, Jack Lawson, have supported local refugee resettlement from the start.

“ ‘We’ve had, I think, three or four meetings with Jack where he’s asking, “What’s next? What can we do beyond money to help?” And of course there’s always an answer for that,’ she said.

“The IRC works with schools and organizations to set up classes such as English language and computer literacy courses to help refugee families integrate into the community. In the credit union’s case, it’s financial literacy support. …

“[Gwen Landquist of Missoula Fed] said a ‘fantastic’ family of Congolese has agreed to be taken under the wing of a financial mentor from MFCU for a year.

“ ‘The husband and wife met at a refugee camp and moved here in July with their three children and one of their mothers,’ she said in an email. …’ The husband speaks about seven languages, including English, and his kids are learning Spanish in school. He has taken some prep classes to prepare for attending school. He is currently employed and is eager to get a car so they can get to church and work.’ …

“A study that came out in July found that the 4,600 refugees and other immigrants in the Missoula region generate more than $26 million in tax revenue each year and contribute disproportionately to goods produced and services provided.”

More at the Missoulian, here.

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Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Volunteers try to find housing and employment opportunities for asylum seekers in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville, Mass. Refugees have government-approved supports. Asylum seekers have nothing.

In the last couple years, since I’ve been volunteering in ESL classes, I have learned there is a differences between refugees, who arrive in this country fully vetted and eligible for official support, and asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers are generally fleeing persecution and danger. One woman I heard about knew that the government in her country intended to arrest her after disappearing her husband for his vocal opposition. When she arrived here, she had nothing.

Numerous groups of US citizens are now organizing to help such people.

Zipporah Osei reports at the Boston Globe, “With more attention than ever on the crisis and issues of immigration, Fowkes knew what he needed to do was to effect direct change. …

“Said Fowkes, “I wanted to do more than just mail a check to an organization. I wanted to have a hand in changing someone’s life.’

“Fowkes and his wife joined ArCS Cluster, a group of volunteers helping refugees and asylum seekers in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville. The group started in the spring of 2016 as an arm of the Malden-based nonprofit Refugee Immigration Ministry, with a mission of helping through person-to-person connection

“Asylum seekers come to the United States to escape issues such as war, persecution, or domestic violence. Once here, they must apply for asylum and then wait at least five months to apply for a work permit.

“While they wait to be approved, individuals can lack access to medical care and face housing insecurity and social barriers that make the process even more difficult. The group attempts to make the transition as smooth as possible. …

“The cluster, which has over 250 members with roughly 50 active volunteers, provides services to asylum seekers from countries including Saudi Arabia, Libya, Liberia, and Rwanda. It is the first explicitly LGBT-friendly cluster in the Refugee Immigration Ministry. Although the cluster was formed out of First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington, all volunteers are welcome whether or not they are affiliated with any religious organization. …

“For many of the volunteers, the connections made with asylum seekers are long-lasting.

“ ‘I have so enjoyed forming relationships with these people. We develop friendships together,’ said [Sarah Trilling, co-coordinator]. …

“The cluster helps the asylum seekers in seemingly small ways as well. After finding out that one of their guests was uncomfortable taking the bus late at night, volunteers took turns driving her home from appointments.

“ ‘They support me morally and financially. This is a blessed group,’ she said of the coordinating team. ‘I love them for all they do.’

“Fowkes and his wife, who live in Medford, have been members of First Parish for more than 20 years. He recently retired and felt he had more time to invest in charity work. The experience of housing an asylum seeker has also had a positive impact on him.

“ ‘This kind of work suits me,’ said Fowkes. ‘You can do a small thing for a great many people or you can do a huge thing for one person, and I just know I’m making a tremendous impact on someone’s life.’

“The couple took in an asylum seeker who had been living on the street. The guest has been living with the pair for more than a year now. The three have dinner together every night, and the couple has introduced him to his family and friends. Fowkes said they have formed a deep connection.

“ ‘He introduces me to people as his American dad,’ said Fowkes.”

More.

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Photo: Elissa Nadworny/NPR  
Cathy Meaney (right), a volunteer with International Neighbors, has befriended an Afghan refugee family in Charlottesville, Va.

Here’s a story of how one person can make a big difference. The one person I’m thinking of is a teacher who started a nonprofit to help refugees in Virginia. After launch, there was another “one person” and another and another.

In fact, quite a few kind Virginians were concerned to learn that refugees have to start taking care of their own needs in 90 days — a nearly impossible task in a strange place where you don’t know the language.

Elissa Nadworny has a report at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Here’s a number: 90. That’s how many days most refugees arriving in this country have before the basic resettlement money they get from the government runs out.

“But once that three months is over, there are still so many things recent arrivals need. That’s what Kari Miller saw over and over as a teacher in the public schools in Charlottesville, Va.

“In her classes, students who had recently arrived in the U.S. as refugees were struggling with all kinds of problems, like serious dental issues, or a lack of winter clothes or just the challenge of adjusting to life and school in a new land and a strange language. …

“She asked her principal for permission to take children to clinics, to buy them winter coats, to go home and meet their families. … Seeing them every day at school gave her an idea: Connect these families to their Charlottesville neighbors.

“Working out of her garage, Miller started the nonprofit International Neighbors. That was two years ago, and the organization has now grown to more than 200 volunteers. Many of them work full-time jobs but are ready to jump in to help families in that crucial period after the government aid runs out. …

“There are so many questions: Where can I get a car? Is school closed today? How do I turn on my shower? And, please, help me fill out all this paperwork!

“Paperwork, that’s the real currency in the United States, says Liza Fields, a member of International Neighbors’ board. … Fields helps refugees fill out those many, many forms — mostly for medical care but also dental work, school needs and, of course, paying bills. …

“The No. 1 request refugees make of International Neighbors is for a car. That’s usually followed closely by another related request: driving lessons. The organization provides money for lessons. But some volunteers like Helga Hiss are willing and able to give lessons. That, says Kari Miller, is the sweet spot. …

“Last fall, Hiss started giving driving lessons to a woman named Neegeeta, who moved to Charlottesville with her family from Afghanistan about 2 1/2 years ago.

” ‘It was very, very difficult life,’ Neegeeta says as her 18-month-old son, Musadiq, crawls into her lap. She asked that we use only her first name in order to protect family members who remain in Afghanistan.

“That first year in the U.S. was so hard, Neegeeta says, that they thought about moving back to Afghanistan. She felt isolated. She was working on her English, taking care of her three children, and dependent on a bus transfer to get her to appointments. …

“But, month by month, things got better. Her husband got a good job. The family got a car. They moved into an apartment downtown.

“Neegeeta credits much of this newfound confidence to volunteers like Hiss, who she says helped her feel welcome as she drove around her new city, laughing — and praying — in Hiss’s Toyota Camry.

“Those lessons, Neegeeta says, changed everything. Gave her freedom.”

Read about the nonprofit’s varied programs — including the one that pairs Charlottesville and refugee families who have similar characteristics — at NPR, here.

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Photo: Elisa Coltro/Facebook
Nonna Irma, of Noventa Vicentian, Italy, poses with some of the children in the Kenyan orphanage she supports.

News outlets around the world reposted this story about a 93-year-old’s outreach work as described by her granddaughter on Facebook. But I found that BrightSide dug for additional details.

The website reports, “This charming woman from Noventa Vicentina, Italy is Irma, and she is 93 years old. Despite her age, she’s full of energy and desire to change the world for the better. She decided to fly to Kenya to help children in the orphanage there. Her granddaughter shared her grandma’s photos on her Facebook page, which took over the Internet. …

” ‘Irma has always loved life and was never stopped by life’s obstacles,’ her granddaughter [Elisa Coltro] wrote. She knows what difficulties are like and has always tried to help others. Irma lost her husband at 26 and later one of her three children. Her life has not been easy, and she has always relied on her own strength to make it through.

“Many years ago she met Father Remigio, a [missionary] who has spent his life helping the people of Kenya. Irma has supported him for many years. Once she heard that Father Remigio was hospitalized, she made a decision to visit him and all the places he had built during his lifetime, such as hospitals, orphanages and kindergartens.

“Now being in Kenya, Irma helps children as much as she can. She teaches English and Math in the school of Malindi. … Her age never stops her from taking motorcycle rides. Despite all the difficulties she’s faced, she continues to enjoy life. Irma plans to stay in Africa for a few weeks, but there is a possibility that she will want to stay there for good.

“She has always taught her children and grandchildren to help others. Her granddaughter Elisa did volunteer work in refugee camps in Greece in 2016 and 2017.” More here.

One of the things I like best about the story is the sense of a network of fellow travelers. Irma’s daughter went to Kenya with her. Her granddaughter volunteers. And zillions of people loved what Irma is doing enough to share the news on social media. One and one and 50 …

Photo: Elisa Coltro / facebook   

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Art: Jean-François Millet (1814-1875)
“The Gleaners, “1857

When farmers are done harvesting their crops, or when homeowners grow fruit trees for decoration but don’t eat the fruit, an opportunity arises for gleaners. Some gleaners may scavenge for food for their own tables, but nowadays it’s become more of an activity to feed people who need extra help. I blogged about the concept in 2011, here, and 2014, here.

A recent article by Henry Schwan in WickedLocal provides an update.

He writes, “Ruth Lyddy bent over and used a sharp farm tool to take a whack out of a thick stalk of kale at Barrett’s Mill Farm in Concord. Lyddy had the look of a full-time farmer, but she’s a volunteer gleaner, which is someone rescuing crops before they are plowed over and destroyed.

“She joined other volunteers Nov. 17 at Barrett’s Mill Farm in Concord, and their leader was Dylan Frazier, who works for Boston Area Gleaners, Inc. (BAG). …

“The nonprofit formed in 2004, and is in the midst of its ’10 Tons in 10 Days’ campaign. As the name says, the goal is to gather 10 tons of food in 10 days, which is distributed to local food pantries.

“Frazier said many farms only harvest what they can sell, so BAG swoops in, takes the excess and hands it over to Food For Free in Cambridge, which distributes it to local food banks and pantries. …

“The volunteers also harvested purple-top turnips, red beets, leaks, daikon radish and Savoy cabbage, and all of it was piled into a truck, paid for with a $25,000 grant from the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. …

“Volunteer John Pilch summed up why people give their time to BAG as he carried a box full of kale that he just cut. ‘It’s very grounding for me. I love to give back, because I’ve been so blessed in my life,’ Pilch said.”

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When I think of Russia and the words “big brother” together, I don’t ordinarily picture the charitable organization that partners adults with kids who need role models. Roman Sklotskiy has altered my mental model.

Last month, Diana Kultchitskaya interviewed Sklotskiy for the Christian Science Monitor.

“Roman Sklotskiy, a former businessman and a graduate of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, didn’t dream of having a career in charity. In the early 2000s he was a pioneer in the telecommunications industry, testing applications for mobile networks.

“But then he was invited by a friend to be the administrator of a theater for deaf actors – a charity project launched by a group of professional actors and directors. He was so inspired by the experience that he decided to pursue charitable work.

“In 2007 he learned of a nonprofit group trying to bring a United States-based mentoring program to Russia. Big Brothers Big Sisters International is a volunteer program that helps orphans and children from troubled families find mentors who provide them with a role model and help them build a healthy relationship with an adult.

“In Russia this kind of volunteering was a new idea. Mr. Sklotskiy decided to join the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia team and became its director, spending six years developing it. …

“The selection process for people who would like to participate in Russia’s Big Brothers Big Sisters program is strict. … Those who are selected receive training. Psychologists work with them and explain the unique demands of communicating with an orphan. …

“Alexandr Gezalov, an expert on child adoption and orphanages, says that the project is very successful.

“ ‘I’ve never seen a more effective format for communicating with an orphaned child,’ Mr. Gezalov says. The success of Big Brothers Big Sisters should be shared with other organizations, he says.

“Today Sklotskiy serves as director of charitable programs at the RVVZ Foundation. But he’s stayed involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters as chairman of the board. And he thinks it still has great potential to grow and help even more children. Currently Big Brothers Big Sisters is operating in Moscow and St. Petersburg.”

More here.

Photo: Svetlana Balashova for the Christian Science Monitor
Roman Sklotskiy longed to do charitable work, and he found his calling in developing Big Brothers Big Sisters of Russia.

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The past couple holiday seasons, I’ve heard of acts of charity such as paying off a stranger’s layaway items. In November, a Minnesota couple deposited half a million dollars in a Salvation Army bucket.

As Lonnie Shekhtman notes at the Christian Science Monitor, “More than Black Friday or Cyber Monday, the Salvation Army’s iconic and ubiquitous red donation kettles, accompanied by bell-ringing volunteers, signify that the holiday season is upon us.

“This year, the century-old tradition got a major boost by an anonymous and unprecedented donation: a $500,000 check slipped into a kettle …

“This was the biggest single kettle donation ever deposited in a Salvation Army kettle in the Twin Cities, reported the Tribune

“In a statement from the donors the charity provided to the Tribune, the [donors] said they made the generous donation in honor of their father, who served in World War I and was grateful to Salvation Army volunteers who brought soldiers free coffee and doughnuts.

“The two also said they were inspired by challenges earlier in their lives that forced them to collect food discarded at a grocery store to feed themselves. …

“This was the same spirit that inspired Manhattan philanthropist Carol Suchman to buy an entire toy store and donate its contents to underprivileged children earlier [in November].

“The mother of three has preferred to donate anonymously in the past, but this year agreed to go public to inspire generosity in others.

” ‘I know everyone can use a gift around the holidays,” Ms. Suchman told the NY 1 News.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Ann Hermes/Christian Science Monitor
A Salvation Army donation kettle sits outside a shop on 5th Avenue in New York.

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What I liked about this story on rescuers in Iceland was how the volunteer tradition started when “women banded together and organized a rescue crew to curtail the loss of their men at sea.” The part that wasn’t so great was about tourists endangering everyone with harebrained feats for their bucket list.

Nick Paumgarten writes at the New Yorker, “Iceland, with a population of little more than three hundred thousand, is the only NATO country with no standing Army. It has police, and a coast guard, but these, like the citizens they are paid to protect, are spread thin, so come accident or disaster, disappearance or storm, the citizens, for the most part, have always had to fend for themselves.

“[Slysavarnafélagið Landsbjörg, or, in English, the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue] has evolved into a regimented volunteer system that serves as a peerless kind of national-emergency militia. It is not a government program, and so represents a tithing of manpower. There are close to ten thousand members in all, with four thousand of them on ‘callout’ duty, on ninety-seven teams. … They are well trained and well equipped, self-funded and self-organizing, and enjoy a near-mythical reputation among their countrymen, who, though often agnostic regarding the existence of elves and gnomes, are generally not inclined toward reverence or exaggeration. …

“Landsbjörg traces its roots back to the formation, in 1918, of a rescue team in the Westman Islands, an archipelago just off the southern coast. The women on shore banded together and organized a rescue crew to curtail the loss of their men at sea, and in time other fishing communities established similar groups and protocols. Eventually, the fishing industry, as it grew, supported these efforts with donations. On land, farmers, left to their own devices, looked after each other, as they will.” More at the New Yorker, here.

You may get a kick out of the fundraising based on selling fireworks. Setting them off is legal in Iceland once a year. “Last year, Icelanders blew up five hundred tons of fireworks.”

Photo: Benjamin Lowy / Getty Images for The New Yorker
“People think of the rescue teams as the Guardians of the Galaxy,” a mountain guide said. “They forget these are normal people.”

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Yesterday, as part of my organization’s participation in the United Way Community Care Day, several of us chose to volunteer in the Jewish Vocational Service’s refugee employment program. This service helps refugees learn basic English and works with local employers like Legal Sea Foods and Pret a Manger to find the immigrants jobs in four months. They have 80 percent job-placement success and more than 90 percent job retention after several months.

Each of the volunteers had a reason to be interested in this particular opportunity as opposed to, say, painting a day-care classroom or weeding in a community garden. One guy had lived in Germany for three years and knew what it was like not to understand the local language. Two women had parents who had been immigrants. Two other volunteers were naturalized citizens and had experienced challenges being an immigrant. In my case, I edit articles on low-income immigrant issues as one of the topics we cover where I work, and I am related to immigrants.

We were assigned either to a classroom where people spoke no English (and may not even have learned to read and write in their home country) or to a classroom where people had a little English. I was directed to a table of three adult learners in the latter classroom. The teacher gave me small cards with questions such as: What is your name? What is your favorite movie? What do you do on the weekend? How many people in your family?

We proceeded to get to know each other through these questions. The students asked me questions, too.

Then the teacher provided worksheets about the kind of things it is OK and not OK to talk about at work or to do in an interview. The worksheets also discussed body language in interviews. We practiced interviewing for a job.

Other staff showed up from time to time, reminding me of being in a hospital, where someone pops in to take your blood pressure and someone else suddenly arrives to check your chart or ask if you want to talk to a social worker. The people popping in at JVS were staff members focused on employment. A young man told my three students that on Saturday the restaurant Pret a Manger would be hiring people and did anyone want to come? He said it is a very supportive partner company. He noted that one person doesn’t eat pork and was able to ascertain that she wouldn’t want to work there as she might have to handle pork. She was a Christian from Ethiopia, and I found the prohibition against pork intriguing, especially has she later mentioned that she likes wine. The other woman said she would come Saturday. The man didn’t have his work papers yet, but another staff member popped in to help him take care of that.

Later, that student said I had helped him a lot and hoped I would come back again. All the volunteers had a wonderful time and are trying to figure out when they can volunteer again, although we will have to do it on our own time.

Photo: Jewish Vocational Service

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I asked around whether any local nonprofits were providing a service opportunity in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. on the Monday holiday. Here is what I learned.

Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Black Heritage Society told me it published a 12-page booklet to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery March. The Dr. King Booklet is free. Postage is $3 for one booklet or $4 for two or more copies.  To have one mailed, send a $3 check to RIBHS at 123 North Main Street, Providence, RI 02903 or call 401-421-0606.

“Let Freedom Ring: 50 Years Later …” Woonsocket, RI. Memorial Service, King Memorial Sculpture Garden, South Main Street, across from St. James Baptist Church, 10 a.m., January 19, 2015. Youth Service Learning Project, St. James Baptist Church, 340 South Main St., 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Participants will help collect basic-needs items and snack food for the homeless. Contact nofokansi@neighborworksbrv.org or call 762-0993, ext. 234.

Providence College MLK Jr. Day of Service (2nd annual). Open Mic Night and Potluck, PC/Smith Hill Annex, 231 Douglas Ave., Providence. 2-5:30 p.m. Click here for info.

Special programs are being held to celebrate Martin Luther King Day at Audubon’s Environmental Education Center in Bristol, January 19, 10 – 2. Click here to volunteer to do crafts with children on Monday.

RI School of Design (RISD) has planned MLK Jr. events in Providence. Day of Service, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, 35 Camp St., RISD and the Mt. Hope Learning Center partner to celebrate King’s teaching by inspiring children to reach their full potential through the arts, crafts and special activities. 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Click here for details.

Greater Boston

I also wanted to check on what Kids4Peace Boston was doing because I know they are into service. Youth from the interfaith organization are volunteering on MLK Jr. Day at Solutions at Work. Matt says, “Approximately 12 of our teens will be helping to revitalize the space at Solutions at Work, which works to end homelessness in the Boston area.” Click here for some of the nonprofit’s other MLK Jr. service options.

Next year I hope to reach more nonprofits to give them — and the idea of a service day — publicity.

Photo: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki
Martin Luther King Jr., Washington DC

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With increasing numbers of Americans experiencing food insecurity, it seems like an appropriate time of year to be grateful that at least there are many goodhearted people managing food banks and community meals and doing what they can.

If you know of anyone in New England who could use the help just now, or if you want to volunteer or donate, this partial list may be a good starting place.

Rhode Island

http://www.rifoodbank.org
“The Rhode Island Community Food Bank works to end hunger in our state by providing food to people in need. We envision a day when all Rhode Islanders have access to nutritious food and a healthy lifestyle.

Massachusetts

East
http://Gbfb.org
“The Greater Boston Food Bank’s mission is to End Hunger Here. Our objective is to distribute enough food to provide at least one meal a day to those in need.”

West
https://www.foodbankwma.org/
“We are fortunate to live in such a special part of the country, allowing for the growth and harvest of a multitude of fresh fruits and vegetables. As this harvest season comes to an end, we have received more than 266,800 pounds of fresh produce — including potatoes, lettuce, carrots, apples and squash — donated by local farms this year.”

Vermont

http://www.vtfoodbank.org/FindFoodShelf.aspx
“If you are looking for a place to have a Thanksgiving meal or to volunteer to help cook, serve or clean-up, download our list of Thanksgiving meals.”

New Hampshire

http://www.nhfoodbank.org/
“Need Food? We Can Help. If you are in need of assistance, use our search to locate the nearest food pantry or soup kitchen to you. Search by your town or county, or view all of our partner agencies.”

Maine

http://www.foodpantries.org/st/maine
“There are several food pantries and food banks in the Maine. With help from users like you we have compiled a list of some. If you know of a listing that is not included here please submit new food pantries to our database.”

Connecticut

http://www.ctfoodbank.org/
“The mission of Connecticut Food Bank is to provide nutritious food to people in need. We distribute food and other resources to nearly 700 local emergency food assistance programs in six of Connecticut’s eight counties: Fairfield, Litchfield, Middlesex, New Haven, New London and Windham.”

harvest

 

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