A Wider Circle, supported by Giving Together
What jewish girl wouldn't want the chance to be a Christmas Elf for a day? I was surely grateful to have the opportunity! Today, I wrapped Christmas presents for clients of A Wider Circle who were able to shop for books, toys, decorations, and stocking stuffers in a place that rivaled Santa's workshop. Elves were abound to help pick out just the right gift and bring them to the North Pole (a small loft in the warehouse) for gift wrapping.
Members of Giving Together, a giving circle comprised of like-minded women who pool funds to allocate grants and volunteer time to serve low-income women and children, staffed this event today at A Wider Circle in Silver Spring. My mom has long been a member of GT and included me in the festivities today. A Wider Circle, as many of you are familiar is an organizations that helps people rise out of poverty. They help with job development, health support, and is most well-known for their Neighbor-to-Neighbor Program that provides beds and other household furnishings to families transitioning out of shelters, escaping domestic violence, or otherwise living without their basic need items. They serve over 4,000 families a year. Today, was a perfect pairing of two amazing organizations working to brighten the holidays for families in need...
Winter Warmth Project, hosted by WHC, Friendship Place, and local churches
I have walked into Edlavitch Hall at Washington Hebrew Congregation several times and have seen it look exquisite (especially at Jacob, Sarah, and Ella's Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties), but never have I seen it look better than it did today! One half of the large ballroom had tables upon tables packed with sweaters, pants, hats, gloves, and scarves as well as racks and racks of winter coats. There was even a make shift shoe store with boxes of new boots piled high. On the other side, were dining tables, a buffet of hot food, and a table with goodie bags to-go. This was the Winter Warmth Store, an annual event hosted by WHC in partnership with Friendship Place and local churches. Homeless men and women are invited in (in fact, bused in) for a hot meal and to "shop" for what they need while a friendly personal shopper assists them. Today, I was one such personal shopper and happily gave my guests the royal treatment!
Though of course the warm winter clothes were the main attraction, it was the smaller things that made the event more meaningful and will be my big "takeaway!"
My Takeaway: We tend to think our gestures, gifts, and acts have to be grand to be impactful -- they really don't as it's really the little things that can make the biggest difference. (1) Simply offering to carry my guest's suitcases and bags as he shopped turned out to be a gift. Just by lightening his load, literally, made him act 100 pounds lighter and allowed him to stretch, let his guard down, and use both hands to look through the contents on the tables. JUST A LITTLE THING! (2) Another guest who was self-conscience about her size thought nothing would fit her. She started with her head down and spoke in a quiet voice. As I showed her a sweater that was "BEAUTIFUL," she started to perk up. By the time we found the hat with matching scarf that was "AMAZING," she got a little louder. When we found a long coat that she could actually zip all the way up, it was "PERFECT" and she jumped up and down. This sweet lady appreciated EVERYTHING and looked at the tables of gently used clothes as if they were piled in gold! JUST A LITTLE THING! (3) Though my favorite part of the event was the "shoe store," it was really the young high schoolers who staffed it that made it so special. They greeted each guest with a smile, looked past their worn shoes and socks with holes and smiles with no teeth, and made each person feel special. This special interaction between these men and women and young people made such a difference. How often do you think young people engage with this part of the community? JUST A LITTLE THING! (4) Lastly, I will always remember being told by someone who was once homeless that he often went weeks without anyone calling him by name or looking into his eyes. Ever since, I try to slow as I pass people and say hello while looking at them - really looking at them. Just introducing myself to each guest and offering a handshake seemed to be a gift. Will you remember to look up and say, "hello"? JUST A LITTLE THING!
Forward March DC
Though I am familiar with the well-known adage, "in business, at the dinner table, at the barbershop and elsewhere, never talk about religion or politics," it is sometimes a must as is in the case of Alabama's upcoming special election. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that on December 12th, Alabama voters will elect someone to fill the vacant seat in the United States Senate left by Jeff Sessions who resigned last February to become the U.S. Attorney General.
Feeling VERY strongly that Republican candidate Judge Roy Moore MUST NOT be seated in the U.S. Senate, I found a group that, along with other issues, is working to oppose him. In fact, this group called Forward March DC, is a Montgomery County resistance group of active and engaged citizens working to effect all sorts of change following the 2016 election. This Sunday morning, members and guests like myself, gathered in a beautiful Bethesda home to do things the old fashioned way -- participate in a postcard campaign! Over 25 women and 2 men (really, men?!) wrote over 400 postcards to registered democratic voters in Alabama. Though scripts were offered by the organization 5 Calls, we were invited to write our own compelling message to Alabama voters. The idea behind this being voters may respond more to something handwritten and personal than a telephone call or other campaign method.
The Mission Continues, Washington, D.C. 1st Service Platoon
Who are the ultimate 24/7/365 community servers? Members of our armed services, of course! These men and women put the needs of others ahead of their own as a matter of course and, along with their families, make sacrifices many of us will never know. To me, they are so noble not just for their strength and skill, but for their heart and devotion to a collective purpose. Missions are not in terms of "Me's", but on "We's", "Us's" and "Them's". The military itself is a community working together for the benefit of a bigger community and, hence, makes them the ultimate servers in my book!!
The Mission Continues empowers veterans who are adjusting to life at home to find purpose through community impact. Veterans are "deployed" on new "missions" in their communities, so that their actions will inspire future generations to serve. It also keeps veterans, who may feel alone after returning home, connected to a familiar community of fellow veterans. Could there be a better mission? This is a national organization with service platoons in many cities, including 5 in Washington, D.C. ...
Slice of Life, Food & Friends
When buying pies counts as a good deed, sign me up! Okay, my part involved distributing them too, but it was "easy as pie!" This annual pie sale, fondly known as Slice of Life, is a huge fundraiser for Food & Friends and supports their food delivery to those living with critical illnesses. Each pie sold provides a full day of meals - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This year, Food & Friends made $350,000 and shared 10% of its proceeds with its sister organization Bill's Kitchen in Puerto Rico to help them recover from Hurricane Maria.
I didn't do very much for this project but was happy to support an organization I have really grown to love. For 3 hours, I manned a table a the North Bethesda Marriott and distributed pies to team sellers and buyers. There were pick up sites all around the DMV and we had about 300 at our location. I worked alongside a former client of Food & Friends who shared touching stories of her struggles with illnesses, family, and living very far from the support of family and friends. She had been so grateful to this organization, she wanted to give back. This doesn't even surprise me anymore; this is how people are!
This Thanksgiving, I count my blessings and there are many! I am healthy and so is my family. My husband is my best friend and my 3 kids are turning into amazing young adults (most of the time). I have incredible and supportive parents, a grandma who couldn't be sweeter, and a HUGE extended family, many of whom share my same zip code. My world is enriched by fabulous friends who too are like family. Best of all this year, however, I have this journey that I am able to process and share. Follow Me To 50 has given me the opportunity to interact with the most amazing people and to serve incredible causes. Each time, I learn something new and have become a student to my world. I love it! Not yet halfway to 50, I have rediscovered myself and feel very fortunate. May you all have a your season of gratitude, giving, and growth. XXOO
Nadim Khan Memorial Homeless Resource Day, Montgomery County DHHS
I know this event is officially called a "resource day" but it is truly THE ultimate county fair! Montgomery County's Nadim Khan Memorial Homeless Resource Day is a one-day, one-stop opportunity for individuals and families experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness to access services, resources and information. This fair has absolutely EVERYTHING a homeless or at-risk person could need and was executed with the upmost of thoughtfulness, dignity, and personal attention. The county really knocks this out of the park - Bohrer Park, that is!
When I entered the Activity Center and saw that I was one of 300 volunteers, I couldn't imagine that I would be needed or get value from the experience. That was not the case at all! An army of volunteers was needed to make this experience personal, dignified, and successful for the over 400 guests who attended and I was honored to be part of it all. It was to be 1:1 service 4 gymnasiums packed with resources would be navigated. One gym hosted government and legal services such as housing assistance, Legal Aid, MVA, cell phones. The second focused on healthcare, transportation, and wellness. The third was filled with cosmetology students from Gaithersburg H.S. who gave haircuts and manicures, as well as banks, educators, and more. The last gym was transformed into pop-up store offering winter jackets, socks, toiletries, diapers, long johns, scarves, hats, gloves, and more. Tables not only lined the perimeters, but filled the inside rows as well. There were over 63 service vendors!
Let me introduce you to the 3 people I helped today. They each taught me much I hope not to soon forget. First, is Tony who you will see made quite an impression on me. Tony is handsome, dressed nicely, and gives me a big smile as he shakes my hand. He is 25 and graduated from a Montgomery County school. Tony sleeps at a men's shelter. Tony needs a state-issued photo ID so that he can collect his paycheck from a job he just started at the mall. I connect with Tony immediately and go into mother-bear-mode, trying to make sure he avails himself to everything offered. Before the crowds get too big, I charge through the crowded gym and get Tony a seat at the MVA table. Before Tony sits down, he extends his hand to shake the hand of the man across the table who will help him. Immediately, there is a computer problem. Others leave and get frustrated; Tony does not. Tony is polite and very patient. Tony sleeps at a men's shelter. Tony gets his receipt and we start through the maze of other vendors. As we pass each table, I explain who the vendor is, what they can do, and look to Tony to see if he is interested. As we approach the Legal Aid and Pro Bono Attorney tables, Tony makes it a point to tell me that he doesn't get in trouble with the law and so doesn't need legal help. After I explain that lawyers don't only handle criminal issues but can help with landlords, debts, and other problems, Tony moves forward with great interest. He is at the table for a long time while I stand back to give him privacy. When he returns, he tells me they will help him to get visitation of his 3 year-old son. Tony is a father! Tony wants to engage with his son! Tony sleeps at a men's shelter! We continue through the other gyms where Tony engages with vendors, fist pumps other patrons, and picks up pamphlets and small giveaways. Next, Tony opts to stop at a health vendor who tests his blood sugar, blood pressure, and answer personal questions. Again, I try to afford him as much privacy as one can get with 800 people around! Tony wants to be healthy. Tony wants to keep his job and to visit with his son. Tony sleeps in a men's shelter. After about an hour, we end at the "store" where he collects long johns, socks, a new winter coat, and a bagged lunch. It's time to say good-bye but I'm already quite attached to this young man. Tony looks at me, extends his hand, and gives me his sincere thanks. He doesn't know that the pleasure was really mine. I respect Tony. Tony is smart, articulate, complex, and wants to do well for himself. I don't know what Tony's story is but what I do know is that Tony sleeps at a men's shelter and that breaks my heart!
My next two guests aren't quite as lovable as Tony is but they too need many of the resources here today. Schwana is introduced to me by a crisis counselor who notices she is getting agitated in the long line and wants me to take her out of turn. This too is my pleasure. Schwana is already tired. Schwana is already frustrated. Schwana needs warm clothes and something to eat. I greet her with a big smile and a cup of coffee in an attempt to disarm her and improve her mood. Though we are instructed to secure services, not just goods, I know that Schwana isn't going to last long and I want to follow her lead. Right out of the gate, we have a problem! Schwana has brought 4 bags in with her that she can't carry and won't leave unattended. It takes a few minutes, but I find a volunteer who can sit and watch her bags while we enter the gym. Despite the fact that she only wanted warm clothes and a backpack, Schwana has big eyes for the other vendors once she is in. She stops to talk to some and collects some information. We then enter the "store" where she fills another bag and gets her lunch. Though my interaction with Schwana was not warm or touchy feely, I appreciate her because she is alone, she is without support, and she isn't able to access help very easily. Then, comes Annette who is there with her daughter. They are not homeless but do need energy and rent assistance as well as clothes for themselves and grandchildren. Annette walks with a cane while I carry her bags. She also has me fill out any needed paperwork as I don't think she reads and writes. Annette is pleasant and appreciative but is reasonably distant. I'm sure she thinks I'm simply a "do-gooder" who shares nothing in common with her. For the most part, she's right but I do feel a sense of responsibility for her and her family. She is, after all, a member of my community!
My Takeaways: (1) No one plans to be homeless, wants to be homeless, or deserves to be homeless. Being homeless and/or at-risk can and does "just happen." You can get sick or lose your job. Your spouse or parent can die leaving you alone, without, or in debt. You can battle drug addiction and/or mental illness or be responsible for someone who does! The reasons are endless and the problem itself just cannot be accepted. I recently heard that for a single mother with an infant and school-age child to live comfortably in Montgomery County, she needs to earn $82,000 - 85,000/year. The poverty level, is half of that! What is one to do? (2) Homeless people are not typically lazy and happy to receive handouts. They'd much more prefer the dignity of being self sufficient, safe, and healthy. Many of the people I served at Shepherd's Table were here today too. It can't be easy to get from Silver Spring to Gaithersburg. (3) Too often, people point fingers and think state or local governments don't do anything. That is simply not the case. The hosts of this fair and government employees worked tirelessly to secure housing, food, and other services for clients (as they do 24/7 with or without a resource fair!) Bottom line: This is not just a government problem; it is a community problem!
Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Rockville, MD
Today shouldn't count as a service project because I had too much fun! It was a perfect example of being in the right place at the right time as I was asked to decorate for my service project today!
Those of you who really know me now or knew me way back when, know that Jimmy Carter is one of my "top citizens" of all time! I love so many things about him but mostly the legacy he created with the establishment of Habitat for Humanity, an organization that seeks to provide affordable housing to those in need. In addition to the well-known build projects, Habitat operates several ReStores where they sell discounted home improvement items and use the proceeds to support Habitat for Humanity. Today, I volunteered at the local ReStore on East Gude Drive.
Back in my Don't Think Twice days, Debbie and I went to the ReStore often to donate client's unwanted appliances, building materials, and home furnishings. I had never been beyond the loading dock or privy to the inner workings of the store. Today would be different! Not knowing if I'd be moving furniture, accepting donations, or cleaning up, I dressed in work clothes, had my water bottle and advil handy (and of course my coffee cup), and was raring to go! When I reported for duty, I was greeted, given a list of rules, expectations, and waivers, and watched an orientation video. My trainer handed me a pair of work gloves and apron and was just about to assign me a job when he was stopped by a customer who needed his assistance. My temporary idleness apparently caught the the attention of the regional manager who took me to area where much of the china, crystal, and nic nacs were displayed. She asked me to freshen it up by removing "junkie" items and "pretty up" the area by gathering like-pieces and arranging some nice displays. Could she have made me any happier? This is what I mean about being in the right place at the right time! Does she know that when I add a new dish or nic nac to my house, I obsess until 3am rearranging everything in my house and LOVE it?
For over 4 hours, I did what I love to do - I "prettied up the place". I found missing mates to china and glass sets, I decluttered shelves, arranged things by color and style, talked to customers, and hopefully added value to the store. I had so much fun, I forgot to take my break or end my shift on time. Honestly, I could have stayed longer. The place is huge and has so much stuff!! I think my enthusiasm (or obsession) was apparent when the manager came back to check on me. Trying to lure me back, she expressed her appreciation and interest in my Follow Me To 50 project. It worked as I'm happy to return instead of making this a "one and done!" When decorating counts as a mitzvah (good deed), sign me up!
My Takeaways: (1) First, why do we buy so many brand new things when there is so much to repurpose, restore, and use? Second-hand things aren't always broken, undesirable, or useless. One man's trash is another man's treasure! Throw something in the dishwasher or use a little elbow grease and things are as good as new. This place is a perfect trifecta -- people donate unwanted things, others buy it for a discounted price, AND the money goes to an amazing organization that does amazing things! A win/win/win, right? (2) Many in our community seem to already appreciate this notion as the store was very busy during my shift. Where some of us run instantly to Home Depot to pick up floor tiles or molding, others can't even contemplate making necessary home repairs or improvements without securing discounted materials. (3) The ReStore employs and/or utilizes the help of many people with special needs. There were several men and women with a range of physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities who were dusting table tops, sweeping the floor, and/or assisting customers. When I went to the break room to collect my personal things, a bank of people were assisting with paperwork and data entry. This is another Win/Win -- the ReStore needs the help (they really do!) and people need to learn skills and spend their time productively. See why I still love Jimmy Carter?! (4) Even decorating can be a public service if done for the right recipient!!
Monocacy Cemetery, Beallsville, MD
It's a very cold Veteran's Day morning. I layer my tops, my bottoms, bundle up, and drive up Route 28 to Monocacy Cemetery. My task: to find and mark the graves of veterans with a flag. Here, there are veterans of almost every war - The Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and more. It is like walking inside of a history book passing stones inscribed with names such as Beall, Poole, and Dickerson - each that could be its own chapter in a Montgomery County history book! This is truly impressive, like nowhere I've been before, and a great way to spend Veteran's Day!
There are over 5,500 grave sites at Monocacy Cemetery and twice a year, once on Memorial Day and again on Veteran's Day, approximately 340 graves are honored and marked with an American Flag. I was given a list of 24 names - "Row H" - and sent off to do my "honoring." At first, I worried I wouldn't get the interaction I generally crave from these projects working alone, but as I wondered down my row studying the names and years etched in stone, and consulting my list for the war they served in, I didn't feel alone. I felt very connected. It was kind of funny because later, about halfway through, I was joined by one of the leaders and 3 other people. They were all very sweet but it changed the experience. It progressed much faster and more systematically (don't forget it was freezing), but it lacked the time for reflection I had when I was on my own. My desire to do things more slowly, pensively, and organically seemed understood and, when the group disbanded, I backtracked through the names and sites on my list I felt I had rushed through. This was a moving experience that I wanted to savor.
As my walk came to its end near the chapel where the oldest graves are, I was greeted by some of the cemetery's board members and supporters who offered more history of this great place. Their dedication to the cemetery was certainly not a passing interest as their parents and family members had been board members as well. In fact, most of their family was buried there -- together they said they were related to about 3/4 of the people buried there! This was their community and they were true civic leaders of it. They were also enthusiastic cheerleaders of me and my Follow Me To 50 project. Thank you!
I swear the cemetery folk insisted that my selfie to be taken in front of this angel!
My Takeaways: (1) I wish the veterans in my family (my two grandfathers who served in WWII and my dad who was a National Guard Reservist called up following the DC Riots in 1968) had shared more about their service with me. I know little more than it was where my dad was when my mom went into labor with me and where my grandfather was when my mom was born -- it was presented more as a backdrop for a bigger family event. I wonder why. (2) We are all so indebted to the selfless service and risks our military men and women assume and the sacrifices their families make. It really seems to be underappreciated and worthy of more status, recognition, and support. (3) You never know what you'll like or won't like until you try it. I'm very ashamed to say that I worried this experience would be stuffy or dry and that I wouldn't enjoy myself much. That could not have been further from the truth. I really loved it and got so much more out of it than I had expected. (4) I also learned new things today - not just about the history of Montgomery County or of war veterans but of stone - which stones were used when and why, how they are maintained, etc. After admiring the original Seneca Stone but seeing how fragile it is, or seeing the beautiful marble stones covered with lichen, who knows, I may be able to be talked into coming back for some spring stone cleaning!! Who'd a thunk that?! (5) I'm pretty amazed that this project of mine interests so many that I meet. People who seem to appreciate it the most are people who work in the field. This is their 24/7/365 and, yet, they admire and appreciate me. It's all remarkable and reminds me that, though I don't know how this story will end, my journey is grand - truly, grand!
Shepherd's Table, Silver Spring, MD
Food has been a common theme to my service projects and yet each experience has proven to be unique in scope, quality, and experience. Today, Shepherd's Table was no different and, like so much else, I LOVED it!!
Housed in Progress Place in downtown Silver Spring (along with Interfaith Works), Shepherd's Table provides food, clothing, an eye clinic, and a resource center (telephone, mail, and shelter assistance) to our homeless community. During the week, Shepherd's Table serves 3 meals daily with brunch and dinner service on the weekends. Approximately, 100 guests are served at each meal -- cafeteria style with a nice dining area.
I felt like a restaurant employee today, greeted by a chef, given gloves and apron, instructed to wash my hands, and given a tour of the facility. Veteran volunteers took familiar positions on the serving line and in the kitchen and I secured my great spot -- behind the desserts!! By the time the doors opened for lunch, the room was filled with the smells of great food. On the day's menu was chicken tortellini, squash, salad, hot tea, and a selection of bread and pastries. Like I do at the fish counter, my "customers" pointed to the exact pumpkin muffin or cookie they wanted and I was happy to oblige. Most had a sweet tooth (like me) but others passed by with discipline saying they were trying to eat well, had diabetes, or didn't want to fill up on sweets. This is my favorite part -- interacting with people as they pass through and with my fellow volunteers during the down time. Each person has their own story and I feel so lucky when anyone will share theirs with me! The more seasoned volunteers were able to greet many of the guests by name. That must be special for someone who might otherwise feel alone or uncounted. There were even faces familiar to me as some had played bingo with me a few weeks before.
The line of guests looked like others I've served; they were a variety of skin colors, styles, and were of all ages. Two young people gave me great pause as they looked to be Jacob's age. They were put together very well, carried backpacks like college students, and made a special effort to show their manners and gratitude. I hope that their struggle passes as brief moment in a much brighter life. I was also struck by the site of a pregnant couple who strolled through the line with their toddler son. I tried not to stare as I didn't want my interest to be misconstrued as judgement, but I was extremely curious about this family. "Friends" came over to play with the baby during lunch and later, as I returned to my car, the couple seemed to be entertaining a bank of strollers while another couple was off to the side showing their affection for each other. This was an unusual playgroup!
The hour of service passed quickly and before signing out, I got the pleasure of passing through the kitchen and peaking in on what the chefs were working on. They were crafting food for a fundraising event at Discovery Communications. Just the food alone could have been the fundraiser as it looked to belong in a trendy restaurant. In one pan, a chef layered cauliflower steaks (something I had never seen),bacon, caramelized onions, thyme, and gruyere cheese. Another chef tossed a bright fruit salad filled with pomegranate seeds, thyme, and other exotic fruits. These chefs certainly inspired me to raise my game for dinner (tho it didn't happen)!
My Takeaways: (1) Notice, I write, "OUR" homeless community, not "THE" homeless community. This distinction is very important to me and should be to you too! It is OUR responsibility to look out for everyone in OUR community. If we take away the personal connection, it is too easy to turn our backs and push the 'fix' on someone else. This is OUR community; OUR problem to fix!; (2) Soup Kitchens are not all alike and certainly aren't all institutional-style serving boring food! These trained chefs at Shepherd's Table carefully choose their ingredients and create good-tasting and good-looking healthy food! The pride in their work carries over to the volunteers who serve it and give dignity to those in need. Shepherd's Table is fantastic!! (3) Volunteers continue to amaze and impress me. The woman next to me giving out the bread said that she's between jobs and looking for work. She is 'taking advantage' of this time by volunteering at Shepherd's Table whenever she can. Many people I know would simply complain, retreat, and/or do things for themselves during this time period. Instead, this woman chose to serve. Thank you!
So, I was so wrapped up in my service that I forgot to take pictures!! Since I'm coming back (alone and with my family over the Thanksgiving holiday), I will edit this post later with personal photos. Until then, look at this yummy food posted on their Facebook page:
Clean Water Challenge, Lois-Green Sligo Chapter of Izaak Walton League Assoc.
Clean Streams = Clean Communities! This was the motto of the Clean Water Challenge, sponsored by the IWLA, this cold morning. The local chapter, some boy scouts, and other community members gathered at the Lois Green Conservation Park near the Montgomery County Airpark for a clean up and stream monitoring study. I collected only a few items of trash and spent most of my time learning about the process of stream monitoring and aquatic macroinvertebrates. Though I love the outdoors, I don't really know much about ecology and kind of take it for granted. Well, now I know more than I did earlier this morning and do have a much better appreciation not only for the environment, but for the men and women who work to preserve it. Thank you!
Twice a year, this stream and others are monitored to assess water conditions and macroinvertebrates. This assessment includes remarks about the physical setting (depth, width, etc), current weather, appearance of the surface water and bank, nearby land uses, a flow rate test, and chemical tests for dissolved oxygen, pH, chloride, phosphate, nitrogen, and more. Nets collect bugs and macroinvertebrates to examine. This was a very cool biology lesson.
Our stream got a good report card! Though our shirts said Clean Streams = Clean Communities, it is clear that it works both ways as Clean Communities = Clean Streams too.
My Takeaways: (1) I wish more kids were able to see the application of their studies in this hands-on and relevant way. Memorizing definitions and learning science at a desk just doesn't cut it! This really brought biology to life!
(2) Though I knew intellectually that the use of chemicals in our cleaning supplies, the application of salt on our roads, land uses, etc. negatively impact water conditions and the ecosystem, watching and doing the chemical studies really drove this idea home. I don't have a special interest in macroinvertebrates and other aquatic life but I do like knowing that they are there and thriving!!
Prepare Breakfast for the Men's Shelter (with KindWorks, Nourish Now, and GPC)
Great things happen in the kitchen, right? It is where we prepare good meals, eat good food and, best of all, connect with others and make memories. That's what happened today in the kitchen of the Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church (GPC) (minus the part about eating good food -- darn!). Here, a dozen or so volunteers gathered to prepare breakfasts for the MCCH Men's Shelter. It smelled good for sure, but even better, it sounded good as we all gabbed and laughed getting to know one another as we chopped and cooked away!
Once a month, KindWorks organizes an event that brings 3 amazing organizations together to provide a weekends worth of breakfasts for the County's Men's Shelter on Gude Drive. GPC hosts the kitchen and has a welcoming staff, KindWorks provides the helping hands, and Nourish Now provides recovered food, yummy recipes, and the inspiration. It is the perfect trio of collaboration. Nourish Now (an organization brought to my attention 2 yrs ago by my mom) recovers food throughout the DMV and then redistributes it to over 600 needy families and 90 service organizations each month. Its mission is clear: reduce food waste and reduce hunger. They have partnerships with over 150 donor organizations that include restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, and event venues. The donors provide the food and Nourish Now picks it up and redistributes it.
This was a great experience and was so easy to do -- I just showed up, gloved up, netted up (you are jealous now), and had a good time!! I actually ran into two people I knew there - a neighbor and a woman I've sat with at Wednesday Morning Group. We all ended up at the same work station and enjoyed getting to know each other better. It felt like we cooked together all the time! Our conversations (meaningful ones) even continued after the cooking was done and really made my experience even better. Our meals, by the way, looked and smelled fantastic. This weekend, 200 men will be eating delicious homemade apple french toast, salmon patties, and an egg casserole -- all from recovered food and people who care!
My Takeaways: (1) Nourish Now is run by HARD WORKERS! There must be so much schlepping involved to recover all of that food in a timely manner. When you think about it, the idea of redistributing unused food is not so novel - it makes sense. What is novel and unique, in my opinion, is that Nourish Now ACTS and EXECUTES this idea despite the tremendous amount of coordination, driving, and shuffling involved. I don't think there is an easy button here. Nourish Now just gets it done! (2) Cooking with friends - new or old - is always fun. It's great to shake it up by seeing familiar people in a different environment. We can look different in a new setting - literally! NO LAUGHING!
Interfaith Empowerment Ctr. Silver Spring, Bingo Party (offered by KindWorks)
Entering the room a few minutes late, I didn't have much time to size up the group before jumping in. Assembled were a dozen or more men and women laser focused on a bank of cards ready to yell "Bingo" each time a combination of letters and numbers were called. Bingo is a serious game you know - the room got too loud for some, the caller went too fast for others, and players traded in unlucky cards for better ones. There were gift cards on the line after all! That said, however, these men and women were really here to comfortably pass the time. They are homeless and receive services at the Interfaith Empowerment Center in downtown Silver Spring where they are able to shower, do laundry, and pick up clothing and toiletries. Each month, when KindWorks volunteers bring out the bingo cards, buttons, and spinning cage, players gather for an hour of entertainment, snack, and distraction. The worse the weather, the more players who join seeking shelter from the heat, cold, or rain.
The adults here today were generally polite to each other and all seemed to honor a certain code for their belongings and personal space. If a bag had to be moved to make room for someone else, the owner was asked first. If someone wanted the clementine that was in front of someone else, permission was sought before taking it. This continued to be the case even when players temporarily left the room to transfer laundry or to take a phone call. They appreciated our snacks, our help, and our cheers and only showed their dissatisfaction if they thought the caller was going too fast!! I told you, Bingo is a serious game!
The chuckle came at the end of the hour when we realized there was only one lady who had not yet won a bingo. She studied her cards intently and seemed resolved to not win a prize. Every volunteer routed for this woman and yet they all seemed to rely on luck for her to win. Luck? No! My mother and grandmother trained me well. When my kids needed a certain letter and number, what do you think was called next? I-73 was what this sweet woman needed to win a bingo after playing for an hour, so with a wink and a whisper, lo and behold, I-73 was called. Bingo!
My Takeaways: (1) Over and over, I'm reminded that those with less appreciate more. The men and women today were simply happy to have a place to sit for an hour. Yes, they won $5 and $10 gift cards to 7-11, Dunkin Donuts, Target, and CVS, but they were there for more than that. One woman asked at the end if we could come more often than once a month. She said she'd sacrifice having prizes just for something to do; (2) Do a little social experiment ... Walk past a homeless person on the street and then walk by someone dressed in business attire. Who do you think will look up at you and say hello? Today, I rode the elevator up with a young man who was receiving services at the center. As the door opened, he couldn't wait to say, "ladies first" as we were to exit. How often does this happen? (Yes, John and Jacob do this but so many don't!). Everyone seems so busy rushing around and doing their own thing. Please look up. Please say hello. So much more can be enjoyed!
Gaithersburg HELP, Food Coordinator
I call into retrieve messages and hear, "My name is ___, I need food. My number is ____. God Bless." Oftentimes, I have to repeat the same message over and over again in order to get their name or hear their phone number. All I seem to hear is "I need food." There are many messages like this one on the answering machine at 9am when I start my shift and many more by the time my shift ends at 1pm. This is humbling. This is upsetting. But I love this job because guess what? I get to call them back and say, "This is Amy from Gaithersburg HELP. I hear you'd like to pick up food today at the food pantry. Can you be there between the hours of 5 and 6:30?" After confirming their address, the members of their family, and a few other administrative matters for the database, I get to deliver good news to people who don't get much good news. Food will be waiting for them at the pantry that evening; diapers and formula too should they need it. This is fabulous. This is rewarding. This is my job as a monthly Food Coordinator for Gaithersburg HELP.
Gaithersburg HELP is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization that has served the Gaithersburg community for over 40 years providing short-term emergency assistance to residents. It provides a variety of coordinated support including food (3-5 days worth), infant needs (diapers, baby food, formula), prescription assistance, transportation assistance, and financial support and referrals. It was started by church groups but now includes a broad base of volunteer support. It raises most of its own funds and, thus, can provide a range of services that are responsive and tailored to individual needs. For instance, unlike other food providers in the area, residents here may visit the food pantry as often as they need to up to 18 times a year. Food is distributed according to family size instead of one size fits all and typically consists of newly purchased uniform components versus randomly assembled products from donated sources. Bus tokens, prescription assistance, and other services are provided as well.
My Takeaways: (1) There are so many organizations doing similar things but each differently - each good in their own way. Thankfully, for local residents there are many food sources that can be pieced together to mitigate food insecurity. I am very impressed by the services and support of Gaithersburg HELP so have committed to at least one shift per month as a food coordinator. I can do it in my pajamas from home (are you seeing this theme of volunteer opportunities -- "things to do at home in pjs?"); (2) We think we know our community and its needs but there is so much we don't know about our neighbors. I'm starting to think about the needs of my own community very differently and hope you do too.
#HandsOffMyBC Rally, White House
I am woman, hear me roar! This is how I felt standing outside of the White House holding up my piddly handmade signs chanting things like, "Not the Church, Not the State, No License to Discriminate", "Not the Church, Not the State, Women Must Decide Our Fate."
Rewind a week: At the request of Planned Parenthood, I sent a message to President Trump demanding that he NOT overturn a provision in the Affordable Care Act that would let insurance companies (employers) off the hook for covering birth control as no cost, no co-pay preventative health services. This provision, which has benefited 62.4 million women, has also lowered the number of unintended pregnancies (especially for teens) to its lowest rate in decades. I can't believe that in 2017 it still isn't well-established that women should be in control of their own bodies. I just can't get my head around this.
Now, fast forward a week: In unlucky Friday-the-13th fashion, the Trump Administration does in fact issue rules, effective immediately, that will allow an employer to deny an employee's right to birth control coverage on the basis that it is against the employer's religious or moral beliefs. So now, your employer's beliefs dictate a woman's right to health care, not the woman, not the physician, but the boss!! REALLY???!!! OMG!!!!!
Advocacy groups immediately filed lawsuits citing the rules illegal and Planned Parenthood sent a text blast calling for a rally at the White House. I cancelled my plans (sorry Dave), made my crappy poster, and charged downtown. This was a cause I was passionate about! I missed the Woman's March back in January and I'd be damned to miss another chance to speak up for women! At the rally, there were a number of great speakers including representatives from the National Woman's Law Center, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Catholics for Choice, the CEO of the YWCA, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, LGBTQ groups, a Unitarian minister, an OB/GYN, and many more. The crowd was enthusiastic, welcoming, and in funny costumes with clever signs to boot.
In addition to the obvious, My Body = My Decision, there are so many other reasons to protect free access to birth control. First, we must never have pregnancy through coercion and without access to pregnancy prevention, it can result in coercion. Second, denying access to birth control becomes an economic issue because women with unintended pregnancies may be kept out of school or the workforce and be unable to be independent or support their families. It attacks the most marginalized of groups by making people once again chose between paying the rent and a grocery bill or paying for birth control. There are complicated medical reasons as well to have free access to all birth control. Woman shouldn't have to chose birth control options that are less desirable simply because of price. The ACA provisions made ALL birth control options no-cost, no co-pay giving women and their physicians the right to chose what is best for each individual (e.g. oral contraceptives vs. an IUD etc.) Finally, many women use birth control to treat other medical conditions such as endometriosis and other medical conditions. Does anyone really want an employer to determine someone's health care? Unless that employer is MY doctor, my answer will always be NO! Lastly, this is not a religious freedom issue. It's purely an issue of discrimination using religion as an excuse. If it starts with birth control, what is next, and where does this misogyny end? This is why this is EVERYONE'S issue, not just women's.
What puzzles me the most about the proponents of this rule is that most of them are against abortion as well. If the rate of unintended pregnancies decreases (which it has under the ACA provisions), so would the need for abortions, right? Why isn't this more clear? This isn't "fake news". In any event, an employer's morality should not effect the healthcare of its workers. Please get employers OUT of the exam room and leave this issue for a woman and her physician. #HandsOffMyBC!!!!!!!!
My Takeaways: (1) Rarely are there issues that simply affect a small group and not everyone. This isn't as simple as a woman's issue or a man's issue. It's a health care issue and a human rights issue that relates to both men and women. Please expand your lens when thinking about important issues and get involved whether you "seem" to be affected or not; (2) The right to free speech and to free assembly is really nothing to take for granted. As I got out of my car at a parking garage on I Street, the parking attendant noticed my poster, asked if I was going to a protest, and told me to have a good time. When I got back, he told me about his experience growing up in Ethiopia where people are often killed, fired, and shamed if they participate in a rally like the one I did today. Unlike me, whose grown up with the privilege but hasn't exercised it frequently, this man, this immigrant, exercises his rights here all of the time -- just because he is free to! In a time when we aren't always so happy with the state of our America, let's remember all of its good and USE it! Our freedoms of assembly and speech should not only be cherished, but exercised.
My all time favorite protesters: Ms. IUD on the left and Pillamina on the right! LOVE, LOVE
"Silent Guest" Campaign - by KindWorks in partnership with the WFP
South Sudan, the world's newest country (est. 2011) has been living in a state of civil war and violence since 2013. This violence has crippled the country causing mass starvation, internal displacement, and the fastest growing refugee problem in the world. The World Food Programme (WFP), the food-assistance branch of the United Nations, has made an official Famine Declaration in South Sudan where approximately one half of the population (six million people) face starvation. Two million people are internally displaced and over 1 million are in refugee camps across the border. The WFP, USA needs help and KindWorks (my new favorite go-to organization) has answered the call!
Today, I was invited to a KindWorks meeting where they were doing final preparations to launch their first Silent Guest Campaign. I have to admit that after working at Manna and with Food & Friends, I questioned myself about getting involved in a hunger crisis so far away when there is hunger so close by. I credit Sarah for reminding me that the point of my "Follow Me To 50" project was to be open-minded and not to pre-judge what would and would not inspire me. Thanks to Sarah, I went and I am very glad that I did.
Piggy backing on the Silent Guest Campaign done 70 years ago to rebuild war-torn Europe, KindWorks will launch their own Silent Guest Campaign for South Sudan. Starting October 16th (World Food Day) through the Thanksgiving holiday, the campaign asks that we Give $10 (the cost of feeding a guest at your holiday table) and Share 10 (ask 10 people to give $10 and share the campaign 10 times). For each person who gives $10 and successfully gets 10 people to give $10 as well, the WFP will be able to feed 200 people facing famine in South Sudan. Pretty extraordinary, right? Pretty easy too!
Sitting at the dining room table of the woman who watched the March 19th airing of 60 Minutes - Fighting Famine and then compelled the Board of KindWorks to take action, it was easy to get inspired by their passion and comfortable with the idea of expanding my service beyond the U.S. This group of intelligent, hands-on, compassionate women welcomed me to their table and to their project and really made me feel valuable. There need not be a choice -- Manna helping local residents with food insecurity OR the Silent Guest Campaign for South Sudan. I can do both! I can do it all and so can YOU! First, $10 is a very modest donation to give as well as to seek from 10 friends. Second, we are really all part of a global community. People are people no matter where they are. What is happening in South Sudan and elsewhere is unspeakable. What happens there should and does affect me. There is no down side for me getting behind this cause. In fact, it started to sound very Trump-like not to (ooh, sorry if I offended any fans). I don't have to make it a Sophie's Choice - my community OR their community. It's ALL OUR community, so I'm in!
I invite you to explore the website launched by KindWorks and the WFP to see if you too are as compelled as I am to take action - a.k.a. Give $10/Share 10x. I want to assure you that I don't plan to use this blog as a forum for solicitation and I hope no one takes offense to this soft ask. I am not forming an official team or tracking donations, so the decision to participate is entirely up to you. I'm simply making my own donation and sharing it with my 10+. Please explore the website to learn the more about the history of this problem, the solutions, and get the tools to "Join the Table" yourself (be a part of the campaign). The site can be found at wfpusa.org/silentguest. I hope you will participate in this meaningful program. Feel free to reach out to me directly for more information and/or to cut and paste from this blog to share with your 10+. I have beautiful printed material you can use and access to people more knowledgeable than me to connect you with should you be interested. Is there room for one more at your table? Please feed a silent guest this holiday season!
My Takeaways: (1) My community is much larger than I tend to think it to be; (2) If you you don't act because you think about everything so skeptically as, "how will my $10 really make a difference?" you will never be part of a solution. Together, everyone and anything can make a difference; (3) The more I continue to say "yes" to things and explore new ideas, causes, and people, the more I learn and grow. I'm so glad to have been included in this circle of KindWorkers and am grateful to Sarah for giving me a healthy push to go.
Food & Friends, Meal Delivery
If you aren't already familiar with the nonprofit Food & Friends, please make it a point to acquaint yourself with them right away! This FABULOUS organization not only provides needed services, they execute their services with the upmost of professionalism, dignity, and organization from start to finish. I've never seen anything quite like it.
A Bit of Background: The mission of Food & Friends is "to improve the lives and health of people with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other serious illnesses that limit their ability to provide nourishment for themselves." It was started by a small group of friends in 1988 who wanted to care for their friends dying of AIDS. Not only did they want to provide meals for these friends, they wanted to provide companionship so that no one dying felt alone or isolated. Today, with an extended scope to serve "friends" with cancers and other serious illnesses, Food & Friends delivers over 1.2 MILLION meals a year throughout the DMV. They cater to at least 11 different nutritional needs (GI friendly, diabetic, etc.) weekly, 52 weeks a year. Eligibility for services is entirely health-based and is not based on financial needs. Using more than 10,000 volunteers in the kitchen, office, and on delivery routes, they train and operate like a top-notch Fortune 500 Company. They honor their clients as well as their volunteers with thoughtful rules governing safety, confidentiality, and codes of conduct. I was blown away last month when I attended the mandatory orientation and toured their facility - an oasis of art, beauty, and education - on Riggs Road in Northeast D.C.
Onto my service ... Because I was so enamored with this organization, I didn't want this to be a "one and done" experience. I committed to making meal deliveries once every other week. Though my exact route may change from time-to-time, the goal is to have me deliver to the same clients each time so a friendship may be forged. Today was my first day and I had a great time. First, I had to go to a church in Kensington to pick up my delivery bags. I was so excited to see "AMY Y-M" on 3 huge red insulated bags waiting for me. My route included 5 stops each with detailed notes about each particular delivery (what type of meal they were to receive, how many, if I needed to call before arriving, etc.). The best part about this is that my route is near where I grew up, so I feel like I'm really giving back to MY community. Flooded with my own memories of the area, I went to each house successfully delivering the correct meals to the correct people. (Phew!) Though I didn't meet any of the actual clients, I briefly interacted with some of the caretakers -- wives, daughters, and neighbors. Each family was so polite, appreciative, and kind and I told them how happy I will be to see them later this month. Let's see what happens!!
My Takeaways: With all of the food-based work I am doing, what draws me to this one is that they provide more than just food - they want to provide comfort and a personal human connection. Some clients may not be able to leave the house much and my delivery could be the only time they see someone other than a caretaker. This is a valuable service whether people have financial needs or not. No one should be lonely; especially when they are sick and afraid. This is important.
There was a short time before my dad died that he got Meals on Wheels in Florida. I know that for my dad, who was such a people person, the interaction he had at the time of the delivery was just as important as the meal he received. I'm honored to be able to pay it forward!
KindWorks, Welcoming New Legal Refugee Neighbors Project
This was my greeting as I entered the apartment complex in Riverdale, MD. The sign had not been put up by KindWorks, but instead by the apartment complex itself -- a TRUE welcome for its new residents. Immediately, I smiled and knew it was going to be an honor to be part of this project. Four days earlier, the S.O.S. came out online from KindWorks announcing that a family of 8 from Afghanistan was soon coming to Maryland and that their unfurnished apartment needed to be transformed into a home within a few days! A sign up sheet called for everything big and small and in bulk for this large family. It called for 2 sets of bunk beds, 3 other beds, 7 bedding sets, multiple dressers and rugs, dining tables, dinnerware, pots, pans, light bulbs, toiletries, and all of the other pieces of a home. Within hours, the sign up sheet filled up, including the option to set up the actual apartment. This last request called to me -- meaningful hands-on work. How often would I get this kind of opportunity? I was ready to go!
When set up day arrived, I got there early and was lucky to claim the kitchen as my domain. Here, I was out of the way of the movers and able to put my old Don't Think Twice skills to work. I arranged cabinets with dishes, pots, glasses, and Afghan spices and filled drawers with cutlery and kitchen tools. I even got to put a few finishing decorative touches into the space (I love making things look pretty!). I worked alongside great people, some of whom brought their children so that they could see how their donations were being used. Everything settled quickly into this 3 bedroom apartment thanks to so many good-hearted men and women who wanted very much to make this a real home. Though the actual family had not yet arrived from Afghanistan, their cousins who lived in the complex and other members of the Afghan community assembled in the apartment as we unpacked. They offered their help, their company, and their input. They were beautiful, their children were beautiful, and their presence gave us context for our work. The family expressed their gratitude, their excitement to see family they hadn't seen in over 3 years, and shared stories of their immigration experience.
The highlight of the day for me, however, came at the end when it was time for me to leave. Alexa, the woman supervising the move, asked if anyone would help the family's cousin get home. She had 2 young children with her and was taking some of the duplicate kitchenware back to her apartment - it was a load that required extra hands. A fellow volunteer and I offered to help. In the heat, we walked to the other end of the complex making conversation along the way. She told us her story of leaving her parents, in-laws, cousins, and friends in Afghanistan 3.5 years ago when the Taliban made their lives miserable. She spoke about the effects of the war and the dangers of living in Afghanistan. Over and over again, she expressed her gratitude for our help and for giving her such nice things. (KindWorks had not been involved in her move-in and she did not has as much as her cousins were getting though she did not complain.) Once we arrived at her apartment, she invited us in for juice. At first, we declined as not to put her out but when she asked a second time, we didn't want to offend and accepted her generous offer. Never had I envisioned that I would get this 1:1 cultural opportunity. How lucky am I? As we sipped the cold mango juice served from a bright silver tray, she continued to tell us her story. Her husband had been in the army and worked with the Americans before they were offered passage to the U.S. She expressed her excitement to receive family here, but clearly still longed for her own parents and siblings who remain in harm's way. Our hostess was most gracious, kind, and generous.
A Bit of Background: KindWorks gets referrals from various re-settlement agencies and helps families stretch their allowance by furnishing their apartment through donations instead of having it reduced by the agency's purchases. I am told that the quality and quantity of donations have increased since KindWorks started and that the apartments are getting better and better each time. This one really looked like a home by the time all was done!
My Takeaways: (1) Welcoming legal refugees and asylum grantees into our country and communities is one of the most patriotic things we can do as Americans. (2) By the time these families arrive in the U.S., they are exhausted, afraid, and have been through experiences most of us cannot imagine. By turning a place into a home and including important things from their culture, like spices and tea pots in this instance, can make a new family feel welcome and invested in the U.S. right away. Let these tired and brave parents help their children adjust to their new world, not worry about setting up a proper home. (3) There are opportunities to learn in everything we do. I learned about a new culture and about aspects of the refugee process I didn't know before. What started as a hands-on physical project turned into work that changed my mind, heart, and soul.
Montgomery County, MD Special Olympics Inspiration Walk/Run & Fit Fun 2017
It was likely the participants of the Inspiration Run/Walk who were supposed to be the most inspired today but I think it was ME who was! Over 350 people gathered at Georgetown Prep School on this cold morning to do one of 3 things: (1) participate in the 5k run or 1k walk; (2) support and cheer for a participant; or (3) to volunteer. I, like many others, did all 3 and had very "special" experience!
At first, I manned the raffle table with 2 other volunteers from the Montgomery County Bar Association. Registration fees and raffle ticket proceeds support 26 local athletes from the Maryland Delegation who are going to the 2018 Special Olympics USA in Seattle, Washington this July. The raffle table was hopping and was a great place to interact with families. By mid-morning, I was excused and joined other guests on the main field for the Welcome Ceremony. Knights of Columbus lead the processional with large flags, football players from Georgetown Prep escorted athletes from the MD Delegation onto the field, "Team Joy" performed their cheers, and a saxophonist played the national anthem. Groups then assembled to either start the Inspiration 1k or the 5k run. I planned to be a buddy runner but when no one seemed to need me, I considered hanging back just to watch and cheer. Then disappointment set in -- I really wanted to be a part of this inspiring race! So, off I went -- running and cheering and engaging along the way. I ran with some members of the men's soccer team and others who were running alone. My conversations weren't extensive but they were nice and whenever I cheered for them, I was always kindly thanked and/or encouraged in return.
The best part, however, was after the race when I "ran" into someone I grew up with. She looked exactly the same, just a little bit older. Andrea was someone I remembered from the neighborhood pool. She always wore a bright smile and never seemed deterred by her challenges. Andrea may not have remembered me but she was very happy to talk to me about the old neighborhood, mutual acquaintances, and her family. It made me happy to see her doing so well. As kids, we don't think about kids with special needs growing up to be adults with special needs but they do and she seemed great.
Montgomery County's chapter of the Special Olympics (SOMO) supports about 600 athletes in 23 sports and has about 300 active volunteers. They raised over $30,000 in this 6th annual event. This organization gives great support to its athletes, their families, and to its volunteers. Our volunteer shirts read "Athletes are Why - Volunteers are How". I will support this fine organization again and I hope you will too.
My Takeaways: (1) Inspiration can come from the little things in life. For these participants and their families, the inspiration was just being together, running 3.1 miles or walking 1 mile with their peers. They trained for this and were happy to have accomplished their goals. (2) This is a true community. It felt strong, supportive, and very connected. I wish there were more all-inclusive events where everyone could interact together more often. I think it would help everyone to grow. (3) Lastly, running a 5k on grass is hard! How does Ella do it for all of those cross country meets? I hope the coach will let her team come next year to cheer on the runners.
KindWorks Inspiration Day 2017
This is not a project but something I'm very inspired to share with you. KindWorks, a sponsor of several of my service projects, hosts an Annual Inspiration Day Tea. I had never heard of it before but now with my 5 senses (sight, sound, speech, thought, and compassion) so sharp, I read about it and wanted to check it out. I'm so glad that I did. This year's theme was Refugee Storytelling and Building Community. The panel assembled included a holocaust survivor, a woman who escaped Saigon as a young girl, and a man who fled Syria and sought asylum in the U.S. When I went to this event, I knew no one. When I left, I felt very connected.
Though I've had the privilege of hearing other holocaust survivors speak, listening to Blanche Porway's story left me speechless and inspired all the same. Opportunities to listen to survivors first hand are becoming rarer and rarer as they are aging and won't be with us much longer. Blanche herself is 94 years old. Blanche said that her happy childhood ended in 1939 when she was moved to a Poland ghetto and then sent to Auschwitz 2 years later. After losing most of her family to starvation and to the gas chamber, she and her sister survived to see the camp's liberation. In her strong message of "Never Again", she plead for us not to allow 1 man to do anything like this again and to open our borders to others. Not only is Blanche a survivor, she is a hero for sharing her story. May we never forget.
Thu Tran, a local OB/GYN, told the most amazing story of her family's escape from Saigon only hours before South Vietnam fell to the communists. Her family left on the second to last helicopter able to take off from the roof of the American Embassy. Thu has a riches to rags and back to riches life story and many clear messages. First: Freedom is not free; it has to be fought for. Second: Refugees are here for a reason -- no one leaves their homeland, family, and way of life without good reason. Third: People new to this country aren't here to "take" things from Americans. Her parents never took advantage of the system. She and her sister would not even accept a free lunch in high school. Lastly, when asked what people here could do to ease the transition of refugees and immigrants, Thu suggested that we help the teens who often overlooked and may struggle in silence. Help them to learn the culture - common American games, holiday customs, etc. is what she recommended. Thu is truly remarkable.
Abdullah Al-Sayed, a former officer in the Syrian army, received asylum in the U.S. when his life was threatened after declining to join Asad's Syrian intelligence. The once military captain worked as a landscaper when he arrived here 6 years ago and and now is thrilled to be an Uber driver. He is grateful to have "learned to fish vs. taking fish" in America and says he needs nothing from anyone - he is happy.
I mentioned earlier that my senses feel sharp and heightened on this journey to 50. Well, my sense of taste was also in full swing today. We were served the most delicious food from an amazing company called Foodhini. It is a new food delivery and catering service that employs emerging and self-taught immigrant and refugee chefs. It is a way of bringing the flavors of their home here for all to enjoy. The company was founded by a first-generation American who is an engineer turned MBA graduate of Georgetown University. He was smart, kind, and adorable. I can't wait to have him cater a dinner or party.
Thank you KindWorks for sponsoring this wonderful event and for opening my eyes to the issues surrounding immigration, etc. I will not just reflect and think, I will act! Inspiration Day 2017 was a huge success -- what else would I have expected from an organization that has a Chief Inspiration Officer? KindWorks, you are my type of organization! I'll see you again soon.
Manna Food Center, Montgomery County's Food Bank
The best bank in town turns out to be right around the corner on Gaither Road in Gaithersburg -- Manna Food Center, our county's food bank. Though I'd been there before to drop off donations, I knew nothing about its inner workings. After working 3 - 6hr shifts, I still now only have a glimpse of how this fabulous place operates, but I'm very impressed!
A buzz with the sounds of Motown, the warehouse is in full swing when I arrive each morning. The palates of fresh produce are waiting for us to prepare the 179 boxes that line the perimeter of our work station on tall racks. 100 boxes of perishables, non-perishables, and meat will leave the warehouse by 11am to be delivered to satellite locations and the remaining 79 will stay here to be distributed between 12 and 3pm. The rhythm and fast pace of the warehouse takes some getting used to. Rule #1 - Glove up; Rule #2 - Don't get in anyone's way, especially Miss Sunshine's (pictured lower left); Rule #3 - Do quality control as you go composting what cannot be used; Rule #4 - Reach high and bend low to evenly disperse the perishables of the day (typically potatoes, onions, greens, berries, apples, tomatoes, squash, and random cheeses and cold cuts) to each of the 179 boxes; Rule #5 - Break down boxes and clean up as you go; Rule #6 - Stay out of the way of the busy forklifts and keep the door to the walk-in fridge closed. After fumbling only a few potatoes and putting the occasional item in that Miss Sunshine deems unfit, the boxes are all packed and I am moved to the vats of bread and desserts to check "best by" dates.
I LOVE the pace, the work, and the company of my fellow volunteers. I feel charged. It's like mowing the lawn - you feel productive because you can see the benefit of your work as you go and you feel tried and achy but for a good reason! Best of all, by the lunch break, I felt the approval of the staff and seasoned volunteers. The ones that work there regularly must see many volunteers come and go so they are a bit of a tough group to break into. I felt like I was on the right track with these vets and that my attitude and effort was being well received.
At noon, we head into the lobby where there is already a long line of clients waiting to check in. Reservations must be made in advance, clients must qualify financially, bring a picture ID and proof of county residence, and may only come once every 30 days. Miss Sunshine checks them in one by one and we are there to great each one with a shopping cart filled with a bag of frozen meat, a closed box of dry goods (beans, cereal, rice, etc.), the box of produce we packed that day, and any daily surplus items like milk, eggs, or watermelons. We pass the bread and pastry section where they are permitted to make their own selections. Pastries are limited to 1-2 depending on the daily supply and bread that is plentiful is typically unlimited. When ready, we escort each client out to their car and load their vehicles. This is the scene EVERY M-F and one Saturday a month at Manna where they serve almost 4,000 families a month! It is beyond remarkable.
While I waited in queue to load my cart and greet my next client, I studied the line. There were people of all races, cultures, ages, and education levels here -- men, women, parents, children, people who dressed well, came from work, people who looked like me! Everyone was different but had one thing in common -- they faced some amount of food insecurity that brought them here. Most everyone I helped expressed their sincere appreciation and often left me with a big smile and a, "God Bless You." This personal interaction was of course the highlight and has left me with thoughts and memories I will not soon forget. For that reason (as well as my 3 days of service), I have more "Takeaways" than usual.
My Takeaways: (1) Something more must be done about America's problem with food insecurity. For some clients, the one shopping cart of food filled the small gap that they encounter on a monthly basis. For others, multiple food providers (Manna only being one of them) must be pieced together in order to feed their families. Hunger should not be a first world problem, it shouldn't be anyone's problem; (2) Most of the clients I served HAD A JOB and still had to line up for food donations! I packed many trunks that contained cleaning equipment and supplies (they were our house cleaners) or had tools and/or construction equipment in them. This is the working poor -- people we know and who we interact with but who can't feed their families. Perhaps the most troubling thing for me to see was a man who works at my local grocery store in line with his mother to get food. This man works in a grocery store filled with food and he doesn't have enough for himself. Many of the items I packed in his shopping cart were from the grocery store he worked in!!! What a missed opportunity for employers to match resources to their needy employees. Can we improve on that?; (3) People down on their luck are often far more grateful, happy, patient, and pleasant than those who are more fortunate. One woman I walked out couldn't stop thanking me and expressing her gratitude for Manna's help. She told me how happy her 3 children would be when she brought home the large danish tray from Costco. She said that even in better financial times, this item would have been too expensive and indulgent to bring home. She went on to say that though she just lost her house and declared bankruptcy, when her finances turned around, she wanted to return to Manna as a volunteer. Really? I want to be more positive, appreciative, and patient like this woman. God Bless HER!; (4) Last but not least, I have to give a huge shout out to the men I volunteered with. I've worked and volunteered with several non-profits and community service projects and see mostly women. Why is it always women who give their time to these efforts? Where are the men? Typically, I think good-hearted men often make financial donations and/or support their wives, daughters, and friends doing this sort of work and aren't the ones rolling up their sleeves. Why? Men are so helpful to community service. First, it was so nice to have their company and perspectives. Our conversations were varied and different than the usual "tell me about your children...". Second, their muscle was much appreciated as we had 50 pound bags of potatoes to empty and move around (not to be sexist, but I have a bad back!). Lastly, men are great models and ambassadors for the clients themselves. This posse of 4 retired men that I worked with many of my days at Manna volunteer several times a week and were truly inspirational. What a great use of their time. There were also two young men who were volunteering as part of their high school internship programs. I hope the men in my life will follow suit. Get on it boys!!
I love this place and will continue to volunteer here. There are other jobs I'd like to try here as well to see the different aspects of this terrific organization. Think about joining me!
Hurricane Harvey Relief Effort
Yes, the most important thing to me is my family's health and happiness, but I still can't imagine losing all of the things we surround ourselves with -- our home, car, pictures, mementos, etc. Those poor families who lost everything in Houston during Hurricane Harvey. Admittedly, I am often desensitized to the devastation flashed on TV daily (it's everywhere!), but the images and stories coming out of Houston were too hard to ignore. I guess I tried to relate to this and it made it more personal.
I loved watching how strangers helped fellow strangers in the aftermath of Harvey. I wanted to help too. One question in addition to "what?" one was would I count this as an official service project towards my goal of 50? Originally, I thought no, as this was something I'd ordinarily do. After thinking about it, however, I realized that though true, the same could be said for other projects too so for that reason (and because I need 50), this counts as #6!
Driving past Wootton High School on Labor Day Monday, Ella and I saw a large truck flying a huge Texas flag. On my way back, I stopped at the big truck and asked the young men what they needed. They would accept most anything but knew the need for diapers, water, and non-perishable items were the most in demand. They have friends in the area and planned to drive to Texas on Thursday. Knowing what would be useful and that my contributions could reach people in Texas, I went straight to the Giant and bought diapers, water, and wipes. No big effort here, just a little something.
My Takeaway: Strangers really do want to help strangers. Thanks guys!
Happy 94th Birthday Grandma! Gram has two birthdays (yes, there's a story) so we celebrated last night with family and today with the residents at her group home in Bethesda - Eden Homes.
Anyone who truly knows me, knows that my grandma is my number one girlfriend. She has been SOOO good to me! As a young girl, I slept at her house every Friday night and spent every Saturday with her and Poppy. When I was 16, she started driving Poppy to work so I could have his car. Our relationship grew even tighter after we shared our sorrow over the loss of Poppy. Gram always gave me comfort in times of need and I think I often did the same for her. Laughter was often our medicine. While I studied for my bar exam, I moved in with her where I was waited on hand on foot! Then, when I had children, she came to my house once a week to watch the kids while I took a nap or ran an errand. She was also my happy laundress who marched right upstairs each week to see how much folding and ironing there was to do. She's cooked, baked, and did it all for me. She likely greeted you at my door on Halloween!
Most importantly, Gram taught me what mattered most in life -- to have a tight knit family and to be a productive member of the community. Gram was always an active volunteer. She founded and was president of a Cancer Aid group, was a devoted daughter and sister to 4 older siblings (she was practically a fixture at the Hebrew Home when her brother resided there), and was a loyal friend among other things. Overall, Gram was, and still is, a true "mensch" (the yiddish term for a person of extreme integrity and honor)!
In honor of Grandma's birthday and her generous spirit, I wanted to do something special for the residents of Eden Home -- the people who provide her with companionship now. Gram loved to make goodie bags for her family so I made little ones for all of the residents. In each bag, I packed chocolate kisses, nail polish, emery boards, word find book, tissues, fuzzy socks, and hand lotions. It wasn't anything grand - just a simple gesture that brought some joy to others. Gram's goodies bags were much better!
Happy Birthday Gram! We are so blessed to have you as our matriarch. I love YOU MORE!
MyTakeaway: Perhaps I am most amazed to find that as my grandma ages and her mind often leaves this decade for one of yesteryear, she still retains the same values, character, and overall personality she's always had. She'll still ask what she can do for you and tell you that she is most proud of her family.
TESS Community Service Center (a project offered by KindWorks)
"If you're happy and you know it clap your hands..." This was the song being sung as I carried lunch and treats downstairs to the moms at a Mommy & Me class at the TESS Service Center (part of DHHS). As I set the food down on the small table, at least a dozen pair of big brown eyes reached into my heart. The moms looked over and smiled their thank yous while the toddlers welcomed me to clap along!
KindWorks (see Organizations Tab for more info) arranges for lunches to be delivered for mothers in this bi-weekly Mommy & Me class. Since the county only provides food for the toddlers, everything and anything for the up to 30 adults is greatly appreciated.
I had fun arranging these sandwich and dessert trays, but way more fun delivering them!
My Takeaways: (1) The county really does provide many wonderful programs the community; (2) Being a mom is super hard, so moms taking care of other moms is something I am happy to support. Happy Moms = Happy Kids
American Red Cross Blood Services
Today, I rolled up my sleeves and tried try something new. I became a first-time blood donor! I have long admired people who regularly donate blood (my mom, John, Jacob, etc.) but have never been comfortable to do it myself. In my mission to come out of my comfort zone, I decided to give it a try!
To be honest, I tried before and failed. Almost 30 years ago, I attended a blood drive for my next-door neighbor Barry Katz who needed multiple organ transplant surgery. I loved Barry very much and really wanted to help. When it was time to give, my nerves got the best of me. My pulse raced, my blood pressure soared, and I was politely excused (rejected). Though I still have White Coat Syndrome (fear at doctor's offices etc.), I wanted to give this another try so quickly made an appointment before I could change my mind.
When I arrived at the collection center on Parklawn Drive, I was nervous but not about giving blood. I was nervous to be rejected again. I was triumphant when I passed triage and was taken to a blood drawing chair. Phew! My euphoria soon turned to dismay as I realized this blood donating thing isn't for me! Apparently, I'm a "slow bleeder", have difficult veins, and, just don't like the whole process much! Donating blood IS very important -- it's just not for me! Now, I know. At least I tried.
A month later, I was happy to learn that my blood had been delivered to University Hospital in Baltimore on September 5th. Though I couldn't help Barry, it was good to know that I helped someone else!
My Takeaway: The donation center was packed with donors in the middle of a busy work day. It wonderful to see how many people are truly committed to this needed service. Thank goodness they do it as it's not something I'm sure I'll do so soon again.
Environmental Letter Writing Campaign
Did you know that you can do community service in your pajamas, sipping coffee at your computer? Well, you can -- I did! While searching for a volunteer project, I came upon the Izaak Walton League website, a national conservation organization, and clicked on "take action." They asked interested citizens to take part in a letter writing campaign to help protect the Great Lakes and address other clean water needs. It was easy! I entered my zip code, was shown my list of representatives, and was provided with a template letter. Did I have a particular interest in the Great Lakes? No, not really but after reading about the issue, I was happy to get involved as political action is certainly an important community service.
There were three letters to send. First, to Representative Delaney and Senators Cardin and Van Hollen requesting that they not cut funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative by the proposed 97%. Did you know that the Great Lakes holds 95% of the surface fresh water in the US providing drinking water, recreation, transportation, and power to over 30 million people? It is also home to over 3,500 species of plants and animals. Funding is needed to prevent invasive species and to protect and restore habitats while reducing bad run off. The second letter was to President Trump asking him NOT to use Justice Scalia's opinion to define water protected by the Clean Water Act and to uphold the Clean Water rule as sound and provide funding as needed (Good luck with that!). Lastly, I urged Rep Delaney to help ensure that the Dept. of Transportation studies the economic and environmental risks of hazardous spills and pipeline leaks in the Strait of Mackinanc (a strait that connects Lakes Michigan and Huron). It felt good to be an engaged citizen while at the same time being in my pajamas!
My Takeaways: (1) Not every act has to be big to make a difference; (2) You can do good things from the comfort of your own home; and (3) I was reminded how vital the Great Lakes are.