Friday, April 30, 2010

Cheer on those Olympians!

Check out to find local Special Olympic events. Fans can watch for free and the organization can always use volunteers to set up courses, participate and cheer. It's a worthwhile event to see.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Get with the Action

Kristen Rogers and Chris Harris of ImageSoft, Inc. haul brush during the Christmas in Action event.

Christmas in Action's work day has ended, but that doesn't mean volunteers can't help out for next year's event.

Christmas in Action (formerly Christmas in April) started in 1972 in Midland, Texas. "Bobby Trimble was teaching his young men's Sunday School Class at Alamo Heights Baptist Church from James 2:14-17. In paraphrasing he told them, 'If you see your neighbor in need of food and clothing, and say to them, God bless you, I will pray for you, and send them on their way, what good does it do.' He told them there is more to being a Christian than just going to church.

"The lesson encouraged the class to step outside the church walls and work on homes of women without husbands in the community," according to the website.

The organization continued to grow throughout the nation and more people were helped. This year, the Waterford group only worked on half the amount of houses it had the previous year, said site coordinator Debbie Berry. She said the group is always looking for homes to fix.

To learn more about Christmas in Action, volunteer or nominate a home, visit

Monday, April 26, 2010

Christmas in Action

Homeowner Joyce (left)
Debbie Berry
at Christmas

in Action

Christmas came early to 77-year-old Joyce Taylor of Waterford Township on Saturday. The front lawn of her home looked like an edition of “Extreme Home Makeover.” About one hundred volunteers were scattered in the house and throughout the yard swinging hammers and wielding rakes.

The contents of Joyce’s home were strewn outside underneath a blue tarp while volunteers cleaned appliances and polished wood furniture. Others tore out flooring to replace with new carpet, while still others worked on the kitchen and porches.

Because I lack any real skills, I spent most of my time in the backyard, hauling bricks and other debris up a lumpy hill to a ginourmous dumpster. Then, we trimmed and hauled brush and tree limbs to a truck to be dumped offsite. I have never seen a yard transform so quickly. What was once an overgrown jungle, was a pruned lawn, with lush lilac trees, and new shrubbery.

Volunteers worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. I only stayed until 1:30 and was exhausted by the end. But it was a good exhaustion, knowing that Joyce’s home would be renovated.

Though the home was small, the multitude of volunteers was well coordinated by Christmas in Action. I never felt like there was a lack of work. And when I was done with outside tasks, I moved to the basement. There, I cut insulation to be packed between joists.

Part of the reason things ran so smoothly was because of Debbie Berry. She has been volunteering with Christmas in Action for twelve years and is a site coordinator. Although active in her community, Christmas in Action seems to have a soft spot for her.

“Everyone is going to be a senior some day,” Debbie said. “Seniors run out of resources. They run out of money. Their homes become dangerous places.”

So Debbie makes sure that these seniors have someone to take care of them.

“It’s an expression of love,” she said. “We have to take care of our seniors.”

And indeed, many seemed to feel the same way, volunteering their services. ImageSoft, Inc. in Southfield sent about 45 people out to help. Young couples worked alongside seniors. It was a community effort, and it was amazing.

One young man interning for ImageSoft, Inc. had recently returned from helping with volunteer efforts in Haiti. It seems volunteering is contagious.

To find out more about Christmas in Action’s home renovation efforts and to view pictures, check out Wednesday’s blog.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hammers and umbrellas

So, the weather isn't looking too hot for this weekend, but I'm remaining hopeful that the Christmas in Action event will still be successful.

Tonight, I'll be taping my name to a rake and shovel and packing up my car. Our group will work on a variety of tasks at a Waterford home, which will include taking down a shed, raking, painting, cleaning, etc.

Being a first-time homeowner, I've had some experience in cleanup. My hands have just healed from the recent blisters I received from my own yard work. And I have plenty of paint-splattered clothes.

On Sunday, it's anyone's guess what I will be doing. I'll join with a co-worker Jerry Wolffe — who writes the Voices of Disability column for The Oakland Press — at the Ultimate Soccer Arena in Pontiac for the Special Olympics. I can't wait to see all of the athletes and be a part of such an inspiring event.

Rain or shine, it should be a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Double booked

So, I’ve packed it in for this weekend. I’ll be working for Christmas in Action on Saturday, a national Christian program that works on dilapidated houses for the disabled and elderly throughout the country. I’ll follow up with the Special Olympics on Sunday.

When looking for organizations to volunteer with, I have been surprised by how I’m received by nonprofit groups. Christmas in Action was a bit difficult. When I signed up, the website was acting wonky — turns out it has been hacked into three times.

But after I called, we got it figured out. However, people are skeptical of a blog, many not knowing what a blog is.

“So, you’re doing a chat thing,” an elderly woman said when I went to the Christmas in Action meeting Tuesday after waiting five minutes even to be acknowledged. I’m not sure if the somewhat cold reception is because I’m young, but I was kind of turned off. After the introduction, a gentleman who knew that I was coming sent me on to the house that I will work on in Waterford and I signed up for a few tasks.

The opposite happened with the Special Olympics.

“Yes,” was the simple response I got after I called and asked if they needed a volunteer. No sign up sheets, no third degree, no explaining the Internet. (OK, the last one is an exaggeration.)

Either way, I’m looking forward to both. Besides, it's all about helping others.

Monday, April 19, 2010


After getting lost on the way to HAVEN’s shelter while managing a GPS in my lap and simultaneously giving directions over my cell phone to my gal pal Jacquelyn Gutc (who gave up a Friday night to volunteer with me) we finally arrived for game night.

A bit frazzled, and a few minutes late, we went inside and set up the games and food. The game took a bit to get organized as people filtered in for a grand total of about 15 – half kids and half adults.
These were some of the best behaved children I have seen, always saying please and thank you. The first winner was a young girl, about 11 or 12, who was deliberating for a long time at the prize table.

“I don’t know if I should get something for myself, or my mom. It’s her birthday tomorrow,” she said.

It was touching. These children have become “parented children” said Jackie Arias, the child development specialist at HAVEN and our unofficial Bingo helper. Having seen so much at such young ages, they grow up fast.

Being a bit of an overgrown child at times, I made corny jokes to subside some of my own nervousness. Yelling out “B-4,” I had to follow with “and after.” Yeah, I’m that bad. It was worse though, I continually called out “zero” instead of “O.” To be fair, it looked like a zero. But if anything, it was comic relief as the women playfully chided me. I even learned a new Bingo, Crazy T, from a woman who was born to play the game.

The sense of family was present throughout the evening, as the ladies chatted with one another and the children munched on cookies. It makes sense. The shelter, which can house about 40 people, centers on community living. It’s similar to a dormitory, with common areas and a chores list.

At about 8:30, the families filed out, the children grasping their loot. Many of these families come with nothing to the shelter. One woman asked for dental floss, which the shelter did not have.

“These women literally run from their houses,” Arias said, noting that toiletries are all donated.

HAVEN offers a home and recovery to families in need. What it needs the most is funds to keep doing what it’s doing, according to staff, who said that the economy has taken a toll on the organization.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the game night. I didn’t have that fuzzy warm feeling of helping others. Instead, I couldn’t stop thinking of those little kids and how scared they must feel not knowing where their next homes will be and if it will be safe. Though I do hope for a couple of hours, the families were just able to relax and have fun.

For those who want to learn more about HAVEN, volunteering opportunities or to make a donation, call 248-334-1284, ext. 349 or visit

Friday, April 16, 2010


Having shelter is one of the necessities of life. I stayed in a friend’s basement during a tough period in my life. (It was better than it sounds; it was furnished with a TV and had a private bathroom). I also spent summers with extended family members, who, ironically, were foster parents at one time.

But not everyone has friends or family to rely on when life gets rough. That’s why HAVEN, in Pontiac, is one of the first nonprofits I chose to volunteer with.

HAVEN provides resources and shelter to victims of domestic and sexual violence. It also aims to better educate the public on these issues, which continue to plague our homes and communities.

With the help of a friend, I will put on a family game night of Bingo complete with prizes and snacks tonight. I’m nervous. Bingo doesn’t exactly get my blood pumping, but I’m hoping the kids and parents won’t find it too lame. I already stocked up on snacks and juice boxes, and picked up some prizes for the kids.

Let’s just hope the B in Bingo ends up standing for a blast instead of boring.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What’s in it for me?

Not everyone understands public service.

When I explained my project to my father his response continued to be, “But you don’t get paid to do it.”
To which I responded, “Yeah, that’s why it’s called volunteering…”

My father, who I love and respect, has never really understood my desire to help others. Growing up in a middle class family, I never lacked for anything I needed and I often got what I just plain wanted. Even in tough times, I realize that I had it pretty damn good. I also realize that not everyone has the opportunities and support that I have had.

There are many people in my position. We go to work, we mow the lawn, and we zone out in front of the television. Yet, so few of us – myself included – have really taken the time to give back for our good fortune. It seems that people either perform public service as a resume booster, or because of a court order, thus, defeating the purpose. There may not be any real altruism in this world, and I am certainly not claiming that I am altruistic.

This Friday, a friend and I will volunteer for HAVEN, a resource and shelter for victims of sexual and domestic violence. I will be organizing an evening activity with the children and families with the help of the staff.

Hopefully, the only thing in it for me will be spending time with some great people.

Monday, April 12, 2010

An experiment in philanthropy

Working at a daily newspaper is challenging. There’s always breaking news and deadlines to meet. In this dour economy, there are also many people who need help. As a reporter, I have had a hands-off approach. Now, I am stepping outside of “observe and report” and literally lending a helping hand.

Many people donate years to public service. I had always wanted to be a part of the Peace Corp., but instead I entered the work force directly after college. I love what I do, but there’s more to life than fixing up my new home and thrift-store shopping. The adage, “Service is the rent we pay for Living” will become my own in the form of The Valunteer Project.

I am making a mission to volunteer with several organizations for one year in an effort to not only help promote their causes, but also learn something about myself in the process. Whether I’m hammering nails, cleaning out dog cages, or playing games with children, I hope that even my meager efforts will help get others involved as well.

I encourage readers to share their stories of volunteering. I’m also seeking your suggestions on where you you think I should volunteer.

Keep checking out the blog to see what new projects I’ll be working on and watch videos from the events.