My Solo 50-Mile Walk Benefiting 6 Great Charities, California Coast
At first, I thought this entry was so difficult to write because my 50-mile walk was so spiritual, meaningful, and personal. I now realize it was that ... and, it's the LAST Follow Me To 50 experience to post! Though in a state of denial, here it goes ... (Get comfy, this is LONG - 50 miles long!)
THE OVERVIEW: In 3 days, I walked 50 miles along the California coastline from Ventura to Santa Barbara raising money and increasing awareness for 6 amazing charities (see below) -- ALONE
THE PREP: A walk like this requires a lot of planning. First, I had to find a destination that would lend itself to a safe and manageable 50-mile walk. I did not want to hike mountains or to be without creature comforts. I did want good weather and a place I had never been before. I did want my walk to be a challenge but not so much that it took away from my enjoyment. After some research, the dart landed on Santa Barbara and boy was it a bullseye! Now, with the location picked, I had to chart my route, find places to sleep, and figure out how to get me and my stuff there! Thankfully, John who is better at using maps, helped to plot my course using bike trails along the Pacific Coastal Highway (PCH). To get my stuff to each hotel pit stop, I planned to drive up the coast to my furthest destination (hotel #3), leave a small overnight bag and then turn around to do the same thing at hotel #2 before settling into Ventura where I would start my solo adventure and spend the evening at a local comedy show.
THE EXPERIENCE: Mind blowing. Unforgettable. Something I must do again ...
Follow Me To ... Cute Babies (#49)
Aspire Counseling, Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, Gaithersburg, MD
Full disclosure: This project, which was near and dear to my heart, unfortunately, didn't materialize quite the way I hoped it would. That said, it is a program and organization that I wish to promote and share. Allow me to explain ...
Holding a baby always transports me to a simple, quiet, and meaningful place. Is there much better? Maybe only if you are giving deserved respite care to a new mom! This is what I hoped to have done with Aspire Counseling, a mental health nonprofit that has served local residents for over 20 years. Among other community-based programs and traditional counseling, Aspire hosts a Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Program. This program provides no-cost in-home therapy for low-income uninsured and Medicaid eligible women who suffer from prenatal and postpartum depression. Families are connected to community services that augment therapy and help families meet basic needs. Can you see why I wanted this project to work for me? ...
Follow Me To ... La Casa (#48)
Washington D.C., operated by Friendship Place
HOME - a four-letter-word that means so much to so many, but even more to 40 men who call La Casa home - forty men who are particularly vulnerable and who were previously homeless. This stunning 7 story building on Irving Street is a model for D.C. and the nation as it provides comprehensive on-site case management, supportive services, 24 hour staffing, and permanent housing to 40 residents. La Casa, funded by D.C.'s DHS and operated by Friendship Place, believes that stable housing is a must before other needs can be addressed. Residents at La Casa have their own private apartments and meet regularly with case managers to assess their needs and connect them to resources. There are community activities and it is close to public transportation and employment opportunities...
H Street Farms - Cultivate The City, NE Washington, D.C.
Imagine walking into a hardware store, following the steps up to the roof, opening the door, and walking out to a "Green Dream" - a roof covered with eye-opening colors, plants and gardens of all kinds, and rich, robust LIFE! This is H Street Farms of Cultivate the City atop the roof of W.S. Jenks & Sons in the middle of the Ward 7 food desert (see blog post #45). Here, grows all sorts of fruits, vegetables, herbs, plants, and flowers that are then sold to the public and Community-Supported Agriculture members, many of whom are restaurateurs, who wish a special connection to producers. H Street Farms and Cultivate the City also host numerous educational workshops and teaches families how to produce their own food.
Though I don't have a green thumb at all, I had an interest in urban gardening and wanted to learn about this "Green Dream." I was greeted by a kind young man who smiled as I rambled off my gardening disclaimers and was handed an apron, a pair of gloves, and scissors. My first job was to harvest kale. Yes, I'm a kale harvester now! (Add that to my resume!) When the potted kale plants started to look like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, I knew it was time to bring the kale inside to be weighed, bagged, and prepared for sale. Later, I watered vegetable plants, mixed piles of soil, and boxed herbs. Maybe I'd develop a green thumb after all!? As I worked, I enjoyed the conversations around me as usual. Most were gardeners, foodies, or educators who had so much to share about urban gardening, the surrounding community, and the people who create and support it all. Everyone was so interesting! ...
Follow Me To ... Summer Fun (#46)
Summer Sun, Summer Fun Baskets, with KindWorks
What is summer without fun? Summer is a break from routines, a time for whimsy, and good old-fashioned F-U-N fun! Imagine the smiles when 1600 kids in over 8 low-income housing and camp locations started summer with bins overflowing with tons of 'fun stuff.'
Though several community centers and organizations throughout the county host summer camps, limited budgets prevent them from refreshing and replacing the tools of summer fun - a.k.a. 'fun stuff.' This isn't something KindWorks likes to hear, so it stepped up to become Angels of Summer Fun! Kindworkers from all over the community gathered truckloads of summer fun gear - bubbles, sports equipment, books, puzzles, art supplies, and toys - that would be delivered to low-income apartments and community partners. So much was gathered that kids who had to be turned away when registration was full, were given string backpacks filled with 'fun stuff' like playdough, coloring books, jump ropes, and books to enjoy at home...
Joyful Market, SE Washington, D.C. (partnered by Martha's Table and CAFB)
Food Deserts are areas where access to affordable and nutritious foods is limited. Almost one quarter of all Americans live in a food desert where supermarkets are scarce and access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and protein sources is nearly non-existent. Much of Washington, D.C. is a food desert, particularly east of the Anacostia River in Wards 7 and 8. Of no surprise, this is also where the City's rates of poverty AND obesity are the highest. Without grocery stores, residents are forced to shop at over-priced convenience stores that are overflowing with high-fat snacks, soda, alcohol and cigarettes. Fruits, vegetables, and the potential for healthy eating are as challenging to find here as water is in a desert.
Do The Most Good, Montgomery County
This was a great two-part project that hopefully has a lasting payoff in the near future! One weekend I attended a Democracy Bootcamp led by Do The Most Good Montgomery County and Representative Jamie Raskin and the next, I marched out to enlist the troops! Learning followed by action felt good - and it's oh so timely! ...
Follow Me To ... Main Street (#43)
Main Street, Rockville
In the heart of every town, there is a Main Street and, for the City of Rockville, that's where true heart is soon to be! Main Street is an inclusive, community-centered residential development where 25% of the apartments are designed and designated for adults with disabilities. It is the result of great need, vision, determination, and collaboration and is the first of its kind in the D.C. area...
Mission Clean Water
This could easily have been my favorite project (do I say this every time?)! First of all, it combined my two favorite things -- walking and raising awareness for great causes. Secondly, I got to collaborate with and learn from someone new - a fellow UD Blue Hen who I very much admire. Lastly, I helped to connect issues that aren't often grouped together: clean water and child welfare and female empowerment.
Clean drinking water is essential for life and yet over 884 million people live without it! In areas where water is not available, plentiful, or provided, its typically the job of women and children to collect water for their community. The journey to collect water is long ("The Long Walk"), hard, and very dangerous. Taking up to 8 hours a day, children can not attend school, women cannot hold other jobs, and predators make the job very dangerous. The real crushing blow is that, despite the risks and rigor, much of the water collected is contaminated causing deadly illnesses, especially in young children. James Leitner, founder of Mission Clean Water, has a unique vision, solution, and funding approach to bring about real change! ...
Comfort Cases, Rockville
What does it mean about your cherished possessions if they get shoved into a big plastic trash bag when you move? What might it mean about you? Trash bags are used to collect garbage and other unwanted items. They are not for items that are special or of value and yet this is how thousands of children in our nation's foster care system go from place to place! Why? Maybe its for convenience, efficiency, or for sheer cost, but what is the cost to the mind, heart, and soul of the child who is carrying it? ...
Stepping Stones Shelter, Rockville, MD
Tonight, my family enjoyed Taco Night and so did the families living at Stepping Stones Shelter. Not such a big project, but something that lets families in transition get that little boost of support they need.
Stepping Stones is family shelter located in a residential neighborhood in Rockville. This white stately home is very fitting for this part of town. You'd never know it to be a shelter but for the donations that tend to pile on the front porch. Though the outside may look just like another beautiful home, it's what happens inside that makes this home so beautiful!
Follow Me To ... The Fair (#39)
Family Services Inc., Thriving Germantown Family Fair
I love when one good experience leads to another and that's exactly what happened with Family Services Inc. (FSI). I was first introduced to FSI while reviewing grant applications for the County Council Community Grants Advisory Group (GAG - project #30). FSI had submitted an application seeking support for its Thriving Germantown (TG) Community HUB program that works to promote an integrated response to the increasing economic and social disparities found in nearby Germantown, MD. What I learned about this one community in Germantown and the VERY special people and organizations who support it, made me want to work with FSI and meet other members of this special community...
Anthony's Angels on the Road (2nd and D Streets, NW, D.C.)
Meet Lashawn, the woman I befriended when I volunteered at Bread For The City (post #31). Lashawn originally impressed me because she had lost a son to gun violence and turned her grief into inspiration by starting Anthony's Angels in his honor - an organization that works to improve the lives of the homeless and grief stricken. Lashawn and I could have parted ways after my time with her at BFC but we didn't! In fact, we've gotten together twice since and are kindling a very sweet friendship.
A few weeks ago, we met for lunch on Capital Hill to discuss an art project I wanted to commission. (Lashawn transforms empty soda cans into woven pieces of art to help the homeless -- See (https://www.wusa9.com/mobile/article/news/local/dc/woman-turns-trash-into-art-to-help-the-homeless/65-510979528) Before our lunch ended, a homeless man approached our table and asked for food. Then, someone else started tapping on the window gesturing that he was hungry too. Needless to say, our lunch turned into an impromptu homeless feeding mission with Lashawn as my guide and radar. She seems to know who needs what, how much is enough, and, luckily for me, how to say, "no!" We had a lot of fun and scheduled our next get together -- today's mission ... !
March For Our Lives, Pittsburgh, PA
February 14, 2018 was supposed to be a lighthearted day filled with love, hearts, and candy; it was anything but. That day as you know, a 19 year old young man walked into Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and opened fire. He killed 14 students and 3 staff members, injured 14 others, and traumatized those who were there and us who now may live in fear.
This was my wake up call! Admittedly, it's 5 years late and should have come following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Somehow then, I allowed myself to think it wouldn't happen again. I think my denial was just a way to quell my fear and anxiety. On February 14th, Ella returned home from school and I saw the sadness in her heart, the fear in her eyes, and the utter bafflement in her mind. "Why do lawmakers allow people, even kids, to have access to military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines," she logically wondered? All I could say was, "it's just the way its been." That answer was unacceptable and I can no longer do nothing AND be the good mother I try to be (or the good citizen for that matter). How can any of us allow children to go to school fearing they may not return home because their instruction was interrupted by an unbridled shooter? I promised Ella on this very day that I would ACT and do my best to change this. I don't expect it will happen fast, but I'm going to stick with it! ...
Greater DC Diaper Bank, Silver Spring, MD
Not to over simplify, but babies really only need a few things: Food, Sleep, a Clean Diaper, and LOVE. Providing these needs comes easy for some, but may prove difficult for others due to a lack resources. Parenting in poverty must be THE MOST difficult challenge. Did you know that diapers, wipes, and feminine hygiene products are not typically covered by food stamps or WIC programs? These programs group diapers and wipes in with other items such as pet food and cigarettes excluding them from coverage. How can a healthy mother and child program exclude necessary items such as diapers and wipes? In addition, other necessary items such as tampons and sanitary napkins are taxed as luxury items in all but 9 states that have sales tax. For a woman living in a "first world country" like ours, feminine protection are luxuries?
Habitat For Humanity, Metro Maryland
FOR SALE: A Piece of the American Dream - 3 bedroom single-family home on Virginia Ave in Hyattsville, MD
SELLER: Habitat for Humanity, Metro Maryland - believer that "good, stable housing matters for neighborhoods" and that families "with the right tools can have the confidence to maintain their own stable community" and change "lives, one home at a time!"
Seller has a 35-year history of delivering this dream to more than 90 hardworking families using a unique model of home ownership that offers low and moderate-income families living in the high-cost DC area the opportunity to purchase their own simple, decent, affordable home...
Capital Area Food Bank, Washington, D.C.
I felt as if I were on "the yellow brick road" driving up Puerto Rico Ave, NE to the Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB). This place certainly knows how to greet their volunteers and get them excited! In fact, with over 26,000 volunteers a year, they really have the entire volunteer experience down pat!
The CAFB is the largest organization in the D.C. Metro area working to solve hunger and related issues such as diabetes, obesity, and chronic undernutrition. Through over 400 partners across the DMV and about 125 staff members, CAFB provides over 52 million pounds of food, including 17 million pounds of fresh produce, to over 540,000 people a year. Many smaller food banks, church programs, shelters, and soup kitchens receive food from CAFB to serve their clients...
Birthday Party at the Interfaith Women's Shelter by KindWorks, Rockville, MD
I've been to my share of festive birthday parties, but few were as rockin as the one tonight at the Women's Shelter in Rockville! Thanks to KindWorks (yes, another great KindWorks project), birthdays don't go uncelebrated just because you live in a shelter. Once a month, residents are invited to a party where the Birthday Girls get a balloon and special attention and everyone enjoys the decorations, good food, and a fun evening activity...
Food & Friends, Chef's Assistant
1. a special feature or technique kept secret by an organization and regarded as being the chief factor in its success.
Today, I returned to organization that stole my heart - Food & Friends (project 10) - to find out what went into their "secret sauce." What exactly goes into those bags I deliver that brings so much joy and comfort to "friends?" I was determined to find out so I returned to their kitchen for a behind the scenes look as a Chef's Assistant ...
Bread for the City, SE Center, Washington, D.C.
"People won't have to beat the odds if we change the odds," says George A. Jones, CEO of Bread for the City. That is exactly what he, his staff, and volunteers do at Bread for the City -- work to change the odds for the 50% of children living east of the river from poor families, change the odds of the 33% of children and 25% single residents who have income at or below 150% of the federal poverty line, change the odds of residents living with food insecurity and those who live in the "food desert" of Wards 7 and 8 where there is only one supermarket for every 70,000 people, change the odds that many D.C. residents can't obtain proper health care, dental care, and/or legal assistance, and so much more. This wonderful work is being done day in and day out at two City locations; one on 7th Street, NW and the other at the SE Center in the heart of Anacostia -- on a street rightfully named Good Hope Road. This is where I was introduced to BFC's dedication for change and left feeling full of GREAT HOPE ...
County Council Grant Advisory Group, Montgomery County
Yesterday, I had the first of two orientations before my work on the County Council's Grant Advisory Group begins. I will be on a team with two other volunteers reviewing our share of the 354 grant applications the County Council received for FY19. We will be reading applications and interviewing 27 nonprofits serving Montgomery County who have applied for grants to address juvenile development. I am very excited to get to know my teammates, learn more about worthy nonprofits in my community, juvenile development, and better understand how the County Council administers grants. I will work on this project weekly starting February 28th and will continue through April.
When this project ends, I will share my experience. Until then, keep reading ahead and check back here in May!
Nourish Now, Rockville, MD
The Ultimate Recipe for Leftovers: (5 Star User Rating)
Ingredients: Fresh, delicious, surplus food from restaurants, stores, and catered events that would otherwise go to waste
Preparation: Rescue (collect) ingredients from a growing list of community partners and then, using a largely volunteer staff, sort, store, and "redistribute" to individuals and families in need.
Recipe Yields: A significant reduction or elimination to local hunger and food insecurity and better health, and education for its recipients.
For an interesting twist to this great recipe try: Bringing rescued food to other volunteer organizations who will create wonderful hot meals for hungry people using whatever is made available. (For example, visit www.dokindworks.org)
Wreaths Across America, with UD DC Alumni Association
It's way too cold and way too early for me but nevertheless I'm on the first train out of Grosvenor Station and it's standing room only. We are all heading to Arlington Cemetery to participate in Wreaths Across America. I have no idea what to expect so allow myself to be carried by the crowd when I arrive. Suddenly, there is silence and everyone stops. The convoy is arriving. About a dozen of trucks carrying thousands of wreaths enter the cemetery and we all watch in awe. After it passes, the streets open up again, people are scurrying about, and I head to the Women's Memorial where I am to meet fellow members of The UD DC Alumni Association. I fear I won't find them among the 75,000 volunteers but from atop of the memorial, I am able to make out CJ down below sporting her blue and gold rugby shirt. Phew!
National Wreaths Across America Day is an annual event in over 1,400 locations where the mission Remember (our fallen veterans), Honor (those who serve) and Teach (children the value of freedom) is carried out by coordinating wreath-laying ceremonies. Over 1,565,000 remembrance wreaths will be placed nationwide, with 244,700 at Arlington National Cemetery. This is a super cool event; I can't believe I haven't done this before!
Follow Me To ... True Angels (#27)
Angel Tree Project, The Salvation Army
Say "Salvation Army" and I think strip mall thrift store and man ringing red kettle at Christmas. Shame on me for not having a broader understanding of this organization whose name is synonymous with charity! The Salvation Army, founded over 150 years ago, is a Christian international charitable organization that serves the needs of our youth, homeless, at-risk, and addicted in a quasi-military fashion. It also provides disaster and humanitarian relief and has members in about 128 countries.
Today, I reported for duty at the local chapter's Angel Tree Project. You've seen it before - those big trees in the mall or in the lobby of your office building that have tag ornaments listing a child's name, age, size, and holiday wish list. My family has participated in similar "adopt-a-child" holiday projects before so I thought I had an idea of what I was volunteering for and boy, did I underestimate what the experience would be. What I thought would be just a feel-good holiday project, turned into a holiday miracle of sorts as my whole perspective of my community's generosity changed. I was completely blown away by the generosity of ordinary people - strangers in my community - and am left with such hope and positivity. Isn't that refreshing? ...
Follow Me To ... an Afghan Home (#26)
Good Neighbors Initiative, Washington Hebrew Congregation & LSS/NCA
So, if you read the "My Story" page of this blog, you'll know that I vowed to volunteer by myself without the company of friends and family. I have been particularly happy about this "rule" because it has allowed me to interact with those I serve and serve with in a way I would otherwise not. But, how can a daughter refuse the opportunity to establish a home for a refugee family with her mom? After all, she turned my childhood houses into wonderful homes. Thanks Mom! This on-going project with Washington Hebrew Congregation called The Good Neighbor Initiative is perfect for this mother/daughter duo ...