27 February 2008

February 26th - Re-launching a campaign.

Last night was the big event for Sam at the Wonder Ballroom. It went off without a hitch. Volunteers were in abundance.

I love movies. Above is a movie that was produced about Sam's vision for PDX. It was premiered last night. I love the quote... what would our communities looks like if we "work(ed) as if we are in the early days of a better nation?" Hmmmmm. Go ahead and try, okay?

For those of you who don't live in Portland... Sam is feeding his rooster in the beginning AND he lives within the city limits. And, yes it is not uncommon for people in suits to ride their bikes. One more thing.. Portland is just as cool as the video shows. Come visit and we can volunteer together!

When I was at Hands On Baltimore, some college students made an orientation video for us to show prospective volunteers how fun it is to volunteer. The number of volunteers who left our orientation and then volunteered at a project skyrocketed.

There is much power in moving pictures.

Total volunteer hours as of 2/27/08: 40.25

25 February 2008

The Value of Service

I define values as things that one can’t justify. When I think of my values, service is there at the top. It might not make sense to others why I would leave work to go volunteer and get home after 8 at night. It might not make sense why I would spend a sunny weekend day out pulling ivy, an invasive species that is choking trees across the city. It might not make sense. I mean it might make sense here and there, but nearly every day? That is crazy!

I believe in the power of service to transform others. There is research out there that says if students volunteer they are better citizens… they vote and participate in community activities. There are academic outcomes when service is incorporated in a curriculum. Now, I don’t think it is exactly figured out yet what makes some service activities transformative, but those exist. Right? Some people have an experience and they can’t go back. (Write me back in the comments and tell me about yours.)

I can point to volunteering in high school at the Red Cross. I had to complete 75 hours of service to graduate. My mom set me up at the Red Cross because I was terrified to call them myself. I loved the experience. People gave me things to do and when I did what they asked, they would smile. I could connect with people and I didn’t have to say a word. I had their respect just because I was there. I learned more in one summer than in any given class in school. I was hooked.

I believe in the power of service to transform me. My own tragedy comes from a loss of people dear to me… both too young… both too fast. I lost part of me then and I can’t say I have felt really happy for over 13 years. I’ve made stupid decisions because I thought I deserved to be sad. Now, I have made some good decisions and I have had some good days, but I have not felt this good in over 13 years. I believe without any doubt that my service is the reason for this difference. It is like waking up from a dream.

I believe in the power of service to transform communities. So far in this “project” I am not sure if I am transforming communities. A wonderful leader in the nonprofit sector, Bill Shore, says that working in community is like building a cathedral, the work is not always realized in one’s lifetime. I want to be part of something big. I know I can’t always know that this is making a difference, but maybe it just is!

I Made It!

I completed the triathlon. I have to say it was harder than I imagined. Somehow I had it in my head that swimming was easy. Oops. After one length of the pool, I was tired. I bounced back on the bike. As a Portlander, I had to represent. I was 5th in the women’s division on the bike. I really think I just programmed in the right music for that portion.

There were several times during the swim or run where I wanted to give up, but I had one thought in my head… the Stroup Family. This was about them.

The day was fantastic. Last year over 60 individuals signed up for the event, this year it was over 100! Whether they knew it or not, each one of those people made a difference with every drop of sweat, along with every huff and puff.

Total Volunteer Hours as of 2/25/08: 34.75

22 February 2008

What would you do if it were you?

Everyone has tragedy and loss in their lives. It is one of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths. Sometimes it hits you personally, sometimes it hits people you know, and sometimes it hits people you don’t know yet it affects you. But, when it hits… what do you do? I have two friends in Baltimore who are facing their daughter’s rare disease with courage and action that stops me in my tracks.

In October 2004, Addie had her first seizure. I remember the call like it was yesterday. Tina and Trent had taken Addie to the hospital and they were doing lots of tests. We all waited for some hopeful report that it was an allergy or something “simple”. After months of tests and medications that made Addie cry nonstop and not sleep, she was diagnosed with Aicardi Syndrome, a rare seizure disorder that affects girls.

Over the last three years, Tina and Trent have faced on-going tests and no certain answers about Addie’s future. Would she walk? Would she talk?

There have been ups and downs…
Seizures come and seizures go.
Thoughts of surgery are there.

And some answers…
Addie walks.
Addie talks.
Her brain has miraculously reprogrammed itself to its other side.

Two things stay constant, Tina and Trent’s unwavering hope and their positive attitude.

This weekend I am flying to Baltimore to participate and volunteer in the 3rd Annual Tri to Help indoor triathlon. (I didn’t even know how to spell triathlon until this experience!) Trent and Tina have channeled their energy into putting on this event to raise money for epilepsy research.

I know that flying across the country puts a ridiculous amount of greenhouse gases into the air, but these two have strength and courage that amazes me. It is a no brainer to hop on a plane for 36 hours in Baltimore where I am going to swim for 10 minutes, run for 20 minutes, and bike for 30 minutes. It is the least I can do. What would you do?

Week 2!

This week has flown by! On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings I spent time in the campaign office gearing up for our big community event next Tuesday evening. While I was there Tuesday night, another volunteer in the office who I had never met said, “hey are you that girl that volunteers every day?” I guess word is traveling around! She asked me if I work on top of the volunteering… I said, “yes, I have a full-time job”. She was surprised. I can say that I am feeling tired, but it is the best tired I can think of at this time in my life. I have the opportunity to give back. I have the opportunity to give my time. I don’t have a ton of money, but I can give my time, my ear, my voice. I am lucky.

On Tuesday afternoon, I read again with Davis and Mya. I learned all about Jedi training with Davis and I was surprised to hear that volunteering in one’s community was not a key component of Jedi training. I was, however, pleased to read that peaceful conflict resolution was their first line of defense in a battle with the Dark Side. Maybe Gandhi learned it from the Jedis or was it the other way around?

I also read a book about spiders with Mya. I learned that Mya’s sister regularly eats spider webs, she can spell her sister’s name really fast, and her favorite food is Mongolian Beef. I am learning so much! (In case you were wondering, Mya’s High School Musical valentines were a big hit!)

TOTAL VOLUNTEER HOURS as of 2/22/08: 24.75

17 February 2008

AmeriCorps Alums Oregon

I am involved with AmeriCorps Alums Oregon, our local AmeriCorps Alumni chapter. A team of us have been building this entity for the last two years and a bit. Our database shows a good few hundred Alumni who have participated in social endeavors, service projects, trainings, and the like.

Saturday was one of our monthly service projects. This month we volunteered at the Rebuilding Center. The Rebuilding Center is a great building supply nonprofit that recycles building materials and sells them to the community. This place has materials with character! Knobs, tile, windows, wood; all saved from landfills. Our house boasts raised garden beds from recycled wood from the Rebuilding Center. My fella has also built a picnic table from finds at the Rebuilding Center. It is a great place to get materials for your home project, but also a great place to volunteer.

The task was to reorganize donated tile. There were 16 hands dedicated to the project so the load was light. I couldn't stay for the whole three hour project, but I did get in my 1.

Sunday included work on Alums stuff; both national and local. I wrote up notes from our 2/14 exec team meeting and worked on recruiting volunteers for an Alums OR project that I am planning on March 1st.

Total Volunteer Hours as of 2/17/08: 17.25
Average of almost 2 hours a day in the first 9 days. It's happening and I am tired in the best way possible.

It's my birthday and I'll volunteer if I want to!

An update of the week...

Wednesday- Another hour and a smidge in the campaign office preparing for the Feb 26th event. Wednesday there were more volunteers than work and I could see we were going to run out of things to do. Others teased me about being too intense as I ran around trying to get things ready so folks weren't sitting around with nothing to do. I hate wasted time, but what I sometimes forget is that talking to one another and not working... is NOT a waste of time. Breathe, E!

Thursday- My birthday! The morning started out with an Exec. Committee meeting for the AmeriCorps Alums' Leadership Council. AmeriCorps has now graduated over 500,000 AmeriCorps Members. These folks are out in communities all over the country and around the world. That is a powerful group of people who have delved deep into community change! If they were all in one place, they would be the 33rd biggest city in the U.S. They could change an election! I know that each one of them has good ideas about making the world a better place.

AmeriCorps Alums is an organization whose mission it is to harness the power of Alumni. There are AmeriCorps Alums chapters all over the country including one in my neck of the woods. I have the honor to sit on the Leadership Council and Exec Committee of this organization. I get to help organize this amazing human force of change.

After the conference call, I joined some of my fellow Gulf Coast volunteers at the Hands On Portland Heart of the Community Awards. This is an annual event that showcases volunteers from around the area. There was not a dry eye in the house as the room watched short videos of the amazing volunteers and what they have accomplished over the last year. It was very inspiring.

Total Volunteer Hours as of 2/14/08: 14.25

14 February 2008


I now have a regular Tuesday gig... I am a SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) volunteer at Sunnyside Environmental School. Every Tuesday afternoon, I go to Sunnyside and read with students for an hour.

This was my first week. I started with a little training and orientation then got straight to the work. I worked with a kindergartner for 30 minutes... he read a bit and I read a bit. We read Bark, George and Six Dinner Sid and a book about an ogre. He loved to tell me to read faster. The second half hour I worked with a first grade girl who told me all about her High School Musical valentines and the time she saw the tooth fairy.

Ah to be young...

Volunteer Hours as of 2/12/08 = 12

How do you win a city?

I have dabbled in politics from time to time... whether watching friends bloody their knuckles on door to door voter registration or working in the Lt. Governor's Office in Maryland through AmeriCorps... I have been a dabbler until now.

I have thought I would love to work on a campaign. I think that work in addressing critical community needs is like getting elected, but it is about building a coalition to address issues like hunger, homelessness, and access. It is about building community support and moving forward together. There are so many connections.

I now have my campaign and my candidate, Sam Adams.

Sam originally comes from Montana, but has lived in Oregon for some time. He went to school and college in Oregon then got involved in various campaigns including working for Vera Katz, a previous mayor. As most people, Sam has a story one should listen to. Currently Sam is one of our City Commissioners in charge of transportation and is running for Mayor of Portland.

I got to have breakfast with Sam a couple of weeks ago after an event. (And by breakfast, I mean it was Sam and a few of us volunteers and his Campaign Manager, Jen. We were a small table talking about changing the world... a typical Sunday.) This I know... He believes in the power of service in schools and the community, so he has my vote. He believes in the importance of public transportation, so he has my vote. He believes in the potential of our city to live sustainably, so he has my vote. He believes in our potential... so he has MY vote. He is a gardener, too! One has to support a gardener.

I have been volunteering in the campaign office for the last month or so. From the first night I knew I was in the right place. I love the energy. There is a team of us all working towards one thing... it is a blast.

Right now we are gearing up for a large community event on February 26th. We have been making neighborhood signs for folks to hold up like a Presidential Convention. We have been making calls. We have been gearing up!

From a volunteer perspective, Sam's campaign staff, Jen and Megan, are great! There is always enough work for folks, they are constantly thanking us for our time, they feed us, and there is great music! They are activating folks to use their skills and talents. Did I mention it is fun?

So... if you are in Portland and you aren't busy, join the team with your time or money AND YOUR VOTE FOR SAM IN MAY. And come out on February 26th and see what it is like to be amongst 700 of Sam's supporters.

I am ready for the bloody knuckles!

As of 2/11/09

13 February 2008

The Worst Day of the Year Ride

Portland LOVES to bike. Bicycle Magazine named Portland the no. 1 cycling city two years running. Portland boasts somewhere around 200 miles of bike lanes and boulevards to ease the riding and the bike industry is moving en mass to our Rose City. We got it goin' on.

This past weekend I got out amongst the mob for the Worst Day of the Year Ride . This 18 or 40 mile ride is a benefit for the Community Cycling Center, which is a great nonprofit that offers bike safety training and gets bikes to kids who need them.

The name of the event comes from research done on the strangeness that is our Portland weather. They looked into it and typically last weekend contains the worst weather day of the year. I have to say it disappointed a bit as it was mild and overcast.

My volunteer gigs were to hand out packets on Saturday and then be a course marshall on Sunday for the actual ride. Handing out packets was... handing out packets. I spoke to a lot of people (over 150) in a short amount of time. Sunday I was a couple miles into the race standing on a corner making sure folks made a turn. For a good 2.5 hours I jumped up and down, did my best “John Travolta Turn Here Dance, ” yelled, screamed, and made a general fool of myself for the nearly 2,000 bike riders. They returned the favor with crazy costumes, dinging their bells, and constantly yelling things like “volunteers rock”. Portland has to be the nicest city in the country.

Other Portland volunteer opportunities with your bike. (Please add more from your city or mine in the comments area!)
- On the last Friday of the month, a nonprofit called Shift to Bikes will give you free coffee and doughnuts as you ride across the Hawthorne or Steel Bridges. They need help spreading the joy.
- Bicycle Transportation Alliance has great biking events as well as on-going volunteer opportunities for you.
- And don't forget the Community Cycling Center which takes used bikes and fixes them up for folks who need 'em. In addition to the Worst Day of the Year Ride, they also offer the Hottest Day of the Year Ride.
- If you are female and like to perform, look into the Sprockettes, they do amazing things on their bikes while they encourage others to bike.

Get on your bike and RIDE!

Total Volunteer Hours: 9

09 February 2008

Gulf Coast in 2007

A team of us from Portland went down to the Gulf Coast last October. Organized by Hands On Portland, this week was one of the formative volunteer experiences I have had lately, and a large part of the inspiration for this adventure. Here are pictures.

This is a Hands On Portland newsletter article that went out about our trip...

15 Volunteers, 5 Days and 2 Hurricane Ravaged Cities:
Hands On Greater Portland Volunteers Help Rebuild Gulf Coast

On August 23, 2005, one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States hit the Gulf Coast. The declared federal disaster area covered an area the size of Great Britain. The loss of lives and livelihoods was devastating; without accurate measure.

More than 2 years after the disaster, the region is still rebuilding. If standing in some communities, one might think the hurricane hit yesterday. In other communities, the buzz of tools and the banging of hammers quickly communicates the rebuilding is happening. It is estimated that rebuilding could be a twenty year effort. Two decades of sweat, buzzing, banging, and amazing dedication from people all over the world.

Hands On Greater Portland had been dreaming of sending a group of volunteers to the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina hit the region. The call went out this past Summer and thanks to the giving nature of the Portland volunteer community, we had no trouble forming a group to go down to the Gulf to lend a hand in the rebuilding effort.

On Sunday, October 28th, 15 Portland area volunteers met at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, Louisiana.  This was the meeting place and launching point of the first Hands On Greater Portland Gulf Coast Rebuilding trip.

For the first 3 days, the group volunteered in Biloxi, Mississippi.  In Biloxi, the hurricane hit and within eight hours, the water receded. Though the water was gone quickly, it is estimated that there are still over 17,000 FEMA trailers being utilized in the state of Mississippi.

Upon arrival, the group met volunteers who represented all parts of country. Many volunteers are AmeriCorps Members and it was not uncommon to hear them declare that they are staying “until the work gets done.” The Portlanders were incredibly inspired by the volunteers and the staff at Hands On Gulf Coast. There was also frustration at the large amount of work still to be done in the community.

“I felt that there was more to be done.  Whatever task I was doing at that point was just a small piece to a bigger puzzle.  How do you go about rebuilding the lives and homes of people…when can you say that your job is fully done?  You can fix the house…help the kids on a test…but when will they be fully “rebuilt”?”

“I thought this work was representative of a great deal of work that is left because of the number of houses that have not yet been cleaned up or demolished since the storms. I really enjoyed this project - a lot of hard work, and I felt at the end like we had really helped both the homeowner, and the Hands On team in Biloxi. The work we did saved the two-person mold team several additional days worth of work.”

The Portland volunteer’s dedication was very apparent in the amount of work they accomplished.  In three short days in Biloxi, Hands On Greater Portland volunteers:

- Rebuilt/redirected more than 1 mile of hiking trails and picked up trash throughout Cedar Lake Island Park
- Completed 85% of the mold remediation needed at Mr. Lawrence’s House; mold scraped from every interior surface of the house, mold spores vacuumed and every surface primed with special anti-mold paint. Mr. Lawrence can now finish his house and move out of his fourth FEMA trailer.
- More than 12 children were tutored at the local elementary school
- 6 donated bicycles were tuned-up for a brand new physical education program that will get students riding bikes.

For the final 2 days the group was in New Orleans.  In New Orleans, the water stood in many communities for weeks. Faced with a different type of disaster than Biloxi, one of massive failure of the protective levees, volunteers rallied around the needs of the local community thanks to the great leadership of the Hands On New Orleans project development staff and another amazing crew of volunteers, this time reaching internationally.  

“Volunteering is not just about what one can give. It is also about what one can learn in the process. This reciprocity is one of the greatest experiences.”

In New Orleans, the Hands On Greater Portland volunteers again accomplished a great deal.  In short volunteers:
- Prepared dinner for both the entire Hands On Gulf Coast and Hands On New Orleans short and long term volunteer residents
- Sorted and packed more than 11,000 pounds of food at the New Orleans Food Bank
- Weeded and tested soil in public spaces throughout New Orleans
- Tiled, painted and performed general carpentry work at 3 residential homes in both Biloxi and New Orleans
- More than 50 kennels and cages cleaned out, 40+ food bowls cleaned, sample pet food repacked, carpets shampooed and numerous dogs walked at the only no kill animal shelter in New Orleans
- Tutored students and reorganized a charter school library
- Assisted HIV positive residents at the Lazarus Project house by assisting with general maintenance, clean-up and errands          

“I felt plenty of emotions on this trip.  I was disappointed and perplexed that the Gulf Coast was still at the state they are in.  2 years and things are slowly recovering.  I also felt alive…as I was doing/working on something that would make a direct impact on someone’s life.”

There is still work to be done. The rebuilding is just beginning. An estimated two decades of sweat, buzzing, and banging. The call is still there. Will you answer?
Here are some reflections and comments from the volunteers:
“I was very impressed and inspired by the volunteers and relief workers that were still there.  We met several volunteers who were on their 2nd or 3rd stint.  I noticed that for the most part, the Hands On efforts were also run by fairly young adults.  They seem to care and that was their mission.”

“When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, I felt that I needed to go to the Gulf Coast and help.  But I was afraid and was not sure how except for donating money.  2 years later and an email from Hands On Greater Portland, I decided to follow through on that urge.  I also thought that this would be an interesting way to get to know an area I’ve never been to.”

“Please continue doing this! I think that are group has built lifelong friendships and that we are more energized to do work in Portland because of the trip. Though the mission of HOGP is to work in Greater Portland, this trip addressed a critical need in another community and makes us much stronger HOGP volunteers.

“I would have liked more time. I think that a two week trip, with that group, would have been amazing. I don't know if all groups would be as cohesive, but this group was amazing. I was very sad to leave.”

Project Reflections
“Helping to make homes livable was rewarding - It was frustrating because there is still so much left to do –“

“In New Orleans I worked at the Food Bank, helping repack over 11,000 lbs of food to redistribute. Rewarding because we were told how few volunteers are available to them now, and how the food can't go out without volunteer labor.”

“Mrs Severs---Leadership was exceptional!!!! Total refurbishing of her home.. Tiled, Painted, general carpentry. I felt competent in my abilities here and felt I was utilized in the best possible way. Most meaningful in that she was the reason I was here to begin with.”

“Mold remediation: Day 1, 2, 3- Scraped, treated, and painted a house to eradicate mold that had returned to the structure. Completed about 85% of project. Personally, I thought this was a great project, although somewhat tedious. We worked hard but had fun doing it.

“Another establishment where volunteers make up almost the entire staff. We cleaned cages, dishes, dogs, driveways, carpets. We also fed the animals and walked the dogs to give them some exercise. Sometimes the pets of Katrina were forgotten and many of them are still roaming the streets with no where to go. The emotion and dedication the woman who ran the rescue (Robin) showed was amazing. She also voiced frustration with the government but a love for all the volunteers who help everyday. At one point she did get a little choked up when talking about the situation down in New Orleans which points out how real this situation is for those who are still living there and how much help they need even two years later.”

“My first project was working on de-molding a home in Biloxi, MS. The owner of the house was present every day that we worked, and our team leader - Emily - was enthusiastic, direct and positive through the entire 2-1/2 days we were there. I thought this work was representative of a great deal of work that is left because of the number of houses that have not yet been cleaned up or demolished since the storms. I really enjoyed this project - a lot of hard work, and I felt at the end like we had really helped both the homeowner, and the Hands On team in Biloxi. The work we did saved the two-person mold team several additional days worth of work. Seeing Lawrence, the homeowner, so happy was also very nice.”

“My favorite project was visiting the Lazarus Project because it was the most difficult for me and because I will always remember the stories that the residents shared.”

“The schools. Even though the results/accomplishments of this task will not be seen until a latter stage, I felt that this could be one of the most impactful as you help a community member.”

So it begins...

Yesterday was the official start and I am off and running!

I have the pleasure of sitting on a few volunteer boards and yesterday I had a committee meeting for one of them. I serve on the Oregon Commission on Voluntary Action and Service and on their resource development committee. I will speak about the other boards as they come up.

A Commission exists in most states as it is the entity that receives and distributes funds for AmeriCorps and often leads statewide volunteer initiatives. I sat on the Maryland Commission for 5 years and it was one of the best experiences I have had as a volunteer. I appreciate having the opportunity to see things on a bigger scale from time to time. AmeriCorps changed my life. I completed two years of service over ten years ago. I am happy to do whatever to keep AmeriCorps thriving.

So, yesterday was a meeting of our resource development committee. We are figuring out how to raise money for the Commission. I don't have much to say about the experience. An hour... check.


How the heck?

I got this wild idea a few months ago and thought I would start on January 1st.. keep it to the calendar year. Turns out I was in Germany on the 1st and traveling all of the 2nd, so I had my first adjustment to make. I then decided February 8th would be a good start... 2/8/08.

As I seriously considered this adventure, my initial thought was that I would volunteer every single day for one hour. The reality is, there is no volunteer opportunity that is just one hour. There is at least a half an hour travel on either end and most opportunities are more than one hour. Rats!

And as I thought a bit more, there are my other commitments... a husband, friends, family, a yard, eating, exercise, doing nothing from time to time, a new job (priorities not in any particular order). How could I possibly volunteer every day and not lose all of my other priorities?

Then came all the travel that I do... how would I squeeze in volunteering on a day when I am flying 7 hours or more to get to family and friends? Travel days would have to be exempt.

I was hoping I could go to Hands On Greater Portland for ease of setting up opportunities. I am a huge fan of the Hands On Network and their ability to make volunteering easy. As I look at the HOGP calendar, they don't have something every day, travel will be a consideration, and I want to volunteer at opportunities I am passionate about (not all of their opportunities are so interesting to me.) Finding opporunities is going to take more work than I thought!

So here are my parameters to start; with inevitable adjustments to be made.
- I will volunteer 7 hours a week, an average of one hour per day. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, people my age typically volunteer 37 hours a year or a little more 3 hours a month. I will be volunteering 9-10 times as much as the average me. (http://www.cns.gov/pdf/VIA/VIA_summaryreport.pdf)
- I will bring along another person at least once a month.
- I want to have one opportunity that I consistently do to build a relationship with an organization.
- I will make adjustments as I need to.
- I will blog about this year at least three times a week so I have an opportunity to reflect upon the experience regularly.

Here we go!

05 February 2008

Why the heck?

When I lived in Baltimore, it was part of my job to volunteer. I would pop around town to our different projects and wherever I went, I ran into G. One night I asked G if he volunteers every day. He said, "yes, when I can't find a project I fix sandwiches and pass them out to people who need them." Not only did G volunteer every day, he also brought dozens of cookies that he had freshly baked that morning to share with volunteers. He didn't make a huge batch of cookie dough and freeze it... he made cookies every day to take to volunteer projects. I asked him why he does what he does and he simply said, "I want to help others like they have helped me." I think of Gene often.

I am fascinated with folks who do things every day for a year... wear the same dress (http://www.littlebrowndress.com/) or not buy things for a year (http://judithlevine.com/index.html). When I think of making a year long commitment to something, it has to be volunteering. Considering G's commitment to Baltimore and my commitment to connecting with community... it just makes sense.