Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thursday at the Park

Tomorrow I will head to Baldwin Park in Pontiac to help serve food as part of an Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency initiative.

Many children in Pontiac and other economically depressed areas rely on free school breakfasts and lunches. In the summer, though, schools are out. OLHSA administers the USDA Summer Lunch program for children in and around Pontiac, said Adela Knedlik, spokeswoman for OLHSA.

There are forty-two sites, which are open to children eighteen and younger. This means that children do not need to bring paperwork to show that they financially qualify, easing any embarrassment. If the demand for the food goes up, however, the program may require paperwork in the future.

Because volunteers are not allowed to handle food, my job will be to count how many lunches are given out.

Driving through Pontiac daily, I see the need. It's a rough town with high unemployment, but there are people who live and work here trying to make it a better place. I'm interested to do something in the city where I work, and I hope I can do much more in the future.

To learn more about OLHSA and its programs, visit www.olhsa.org.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Meatballs Anyone?

Phyllis Swalwell (from left), Jamie Schliter, Linda Spares and Pat Lemke serve up dinners at the Auburn Hills Civic Center.

When I was about nine years old, my mother took a job as a senior citizen coordinator at the senior center located three blocks from our home. This was also the first time when I did not have to have a sitter come and stay with me. It was a summer of freedom and massive amounts of chores. After picking up sticks from our wooded property, or mowing the lawn and weeding, my mother would sometimes call me up and ask if I wanted to have lunch with her at the center.

I'd pedal up to the center and chat with the folks and eat a two-dollar meal. On holidays like Valentine's Day, the center had parties. My mom would make little cherry tarts, and I looked forward to leftovers. These centers not only feed seniors for a nominal fee, it also gives them the opportunity to socialize. What makes the program even better is that seniors are not obligated to pay for the meals.

The senior services department in Auburn Hills still provides these opportunities to seniors, with the help of many volunteers.

On Thursday, I helped out by preparing food for the meals on wheels program. There are hundreds of volunteers. Some serve and package meals, while others serve as drivers who take the meals to seniors who can't travel.

Just the week before, a volunteer driver came to a home and found a woman who had been lying on the ground since five o'clock the night before. If it had not been for the driver, the woman may have been in that position for a much longer time.

When I arrived at the Civic Center, I met with Linda Spares, the kitchen coordinator. Because the Older Persons Commission in Rochester actually cooks the food for Auburn Hills, we had to wait a bit for it to arrive. But this provided Linda with the opportunity to show me around the Civic Center, which houses a gym, arts studio, game room and more.

A couple of seniors were whacking away in the gym during a heated pickleball match.

After the tour, we headed back to the kitchen. After donning an apron, I started packing bags with sandwiches, milks and salads and bagged them up for the drivers to take on their routes. Then, we started packaging a Swedish meatball dinner, with asparagus, egg noodles and peaches.

Alongside me were Pat Lemke of Auburn Hills and Phyllis Swalwell of Sterling Heights. Pat decided that she wanted to help out the center after her husband passed away. She takes on two shifts a week. While Phyllis, a harpist, has been volunteering for so long, she can't remember why she started. But she said she stayed because she likes the people. Jamie Schliter is a volunteer dishwasher, and the ladies love that the cleanup is now taken care of by him. Who says men don't do dishes?

On this day, the bus does not run to pick up seniors, so I didn't serve anyone face to face. I'd love to come back and meet seniors, or even volunteer as a driver (though, let's face it, with my navigational deficiencies, I'd need an easy route.)

The citywide support includes area businesses, and even the city manager, who all take time to drive. Volunteer Coordinator Alyssa Hawkins said that volunteers have saved the city more than one-hundred thousand dollars throughout the year.

Many local cities and senior centers have a meals on wheels program, and it's well worth your time to check it out. To find out more about the Auburn Hills program, call Alyssa at 248-370-9353.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Take some time to help someone else

Taking time to volunteer has been a rewarding experience. But sometimes, I'm just not sure where to go next. For those of you who want to help out your community, but not sure where to start, check out a local volunteer fair.

A fair will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on July 29 at the Oak Park Community Center at 14300 Oak Park Blvd Oak Park.
More than twenty local community organizations will be on hand to meet with each person to explain how they can volunteer with their organization. A few of the many organizations include The Michigan Humane Society, Alzheimer’s Association, American Red Cross, Forgotten Harvest and more.

Because I spend time volunteering and blogging, it's not likely that I will be able to make fairs, too. I'm lucky enough to have Katie Bontinen, calendar edtor at the OP, send me lots of ideas each week. But for those of you who don't have a personal helper, consider a fair.

This one looks like a fun one too. Personal services from Mary Kay, Avon and Party Lite Candles also will be at the free event.

Advance reservations are required. Call the City of Oak Park at 248-691-7577 to register, or if you have any questions.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Oxford Volunteers Boogie Down

Steve Allen and Madonna Van Fossen in front of The Randy Brock Group at the concert in the park in downtown Oxford.

Toddlers romped in the grass while parents and seniors lounged in lawn chairs listening to the The Randy Brock Group jam out classic covers by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The concert kicked off the Hot Blues and BBQ event taking place this weekend, which is put on by the Detroit Blues Society, and is sponsored by the Oxford Downtown Development Authority and The Oakland Press. This was one of my liveliest volunteer gigs yet.

I arrived at the DDA office at 6 p.m. and met the Director Madonna Van Fossen. She handed me some set-up materials and I walked over to the park.

Madonna is a free spirit — a barefoot free spirit. Walking around the office and dancing in the park, people gravitate toward her. With the economy in the toilet, it's important for leaders to remain optimistic and engage with the public, and Madonna does just that — all while providing free entertainment.

In comparison, I felt like a semi-pill. I loved the band, but I think I was just too tired to pull out my air guitar and rock 'n' roll.

I stepped it up a bit later as I "passed the bucket" seeking donations.

"How is everyone doing tonight? Are you enjoying the concert?" was my standard line. After I told them about the rest of the weekend festivities, I followed with, "Would you like to make a donation to help offset the cost of the event?"

Then if they hesitated, "Seriously, if I don't bring back enough money, they beat me."

Most people threw me a buck or some change. Some even dropped in a five. But even with all of my tactics, a tenured volunteer brought back a bucket filled deeper with green. The competition was fun, but the donations really are appreciated.

Madonna noted that there are at least thirty DDA volunteers, including Robin DiMeglio and Cindy Stoll. The mastermind behind choosing the bands is Steve Allen.

Dressed in Crocs, olive cargo shorts and a black polo, Steve is a blues and rock enthusiast. I have to say, I know nothing about modern-day blues artists. Sure, I've listened to the classics like Billie Holiday, Etta James and Muddy Waters, but I know nothing about groups that are playing now. I'm bummed I'll miss out on this weekend's events, but I hope it's successful.

Despite my lack of musical knowledge, Steve was gracious. He's served on multiple boards and committees within Oxford, and has a deep love for his community.

"I love volunteerism," he said, and it shows.

For more information on Hot Blues and BBQ visit www.hotbluesandbbq.com. For more information on the Oxford DDA events or more ways to get involved, visit www.downtownoxford.org.

Check out the concerts this weekend from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Friday at Centennial Park and noon to 12:30 a.m. Saturday at Scripter Park.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hot Blues and BBQ

I'm mixing it up a bit with some good times and good music.

I'm headed to Oxford tomorrow night to help out the Downtown Development Authority with the concert in the park event.

Many people view government in a negative light. But almost each local entity has many subcommittees that do everything from planting flowers on curbs, to planning free festivals for the public to enjoy.

The DDA is co-sponsoring (along with the good old OP) the free Hot Blues and BBQ event in Oxford. To kick off the event, the DDA will host a free concert from 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at Centennial Park in Downtown Oxford.

The event progresses with more bands and food Friday and Saturday. I won't be around this weekend, so I'll miss out on some of the fun. Don't worry about me too much though, nothing beats a weekend on Lake Michigan's shoreline!

After work tomorrow, I'll meet up with Steve Allen, a DDA volunteer. I'm excited to talk to him and see why he helps out his local community.

I might help with setting and cleaning up, asking for donations and reading some announcements. More volunteers are needed to help with the bigger event Friday and Saturday. And what could be more fun than listening to some great tunes?

For more information, contact Steve at sallen8961@gmail.com. Or, if you just want to have a great time noshing on some BBQ and jamming to blues, come on downtown from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Friday at Centennial Park and noon to 12:30 a.m. Saturday at Scripter Park.

Hot Blues and BBQ

I'm mixing it up a bit with some good times and good music.

I'm headed to Oxford tomorrow night to help out the Downtown Development Authority with the concert in the park event.

Many people view government in a negative light. But almost each local entity has many subcommittees that do everything from planting flowers on curbs, to planning free festivals for the public to enjoy.

The DDA is co-sponsoring (along with the good old OP) the free Hot Blues and BBQ event in Oxford. To kick off the event, the DDA will host a free concert from 7 to 9 p.m. tomorrow at Centennial Park in Downtown Oxford.

The event progresses with more bands and food Friday and Saturday. I won't be around this weekend, so I'll miss out on some of the fun. Don't worry about me too much though, nothing beats a weekend on Lake Michigan's shoreline!

After work tomorrow, I'll meet up with Steve Allen, a DDA volunteer. I'm excited to talk to him and see why he helps out his local community.

I might help with set up and clean up, asking for donations and reading some announcements. More volunteers are needed to help with the bigger event Friday and Saturday. And what could be more fun than listening to some great tunes?

For more information, contact Steve at sallen8961@gmail.com. Or, if you just want to have a great time noshing on some BBQ and jamming to blues, come on down from 7 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and noon to 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ready, Set, Action!

A lovely shot of a needle protruding from my arm.

I guzzled water and ate some greens to boost my iron while I waited impatiently for the blood drive to begin.

An hour later, before I left, OP Web Editor Steve Frye asked me if I wanted my blood donation to be videotaped for our website. I enthusiastically said yes, and moments later regretted my decision.

I chose print journalism for a reason. Why had I just said yes? I hadn't glammed myself up in anyway, and wasn't exactly "camera ready."

As I headed next door to the First Presbyterian Church of Pontiac with my gal pal and videographer Jacquelyn Gutc, we laughed about how I was now more nervous to be on camera than I was to actually donate blood.

We arrived at the church, headed to the basement and were greeted with a musty odor and the sight of nurses milling around tending to donors. I signed in and sat down to read a booklet. The text is standard for all blood donors, but some things just made me laugh. Why would I donate if I knew I was HIV positive?

Soon after, I met with the nurse who pricked my finger. My iron levels were barely above the minimum to donate. Thank you vegetables! After a few questions and a quick computer questionnaire, I headed over and met a scruffy-bearded nurse who did not want to share the limelight with me. In fact, he barely spoke to me, instead gabbing on the phone and giving me hand signals for what he wanted me to do.

"I never played baseball, I don't get your signs," I snapped. Undeterred, he continued talking. I have to give him credit for one thing — he hit the vein on the first time and I have no bruising today.

While my blood bags filled up, Jacquelyn kept me laughing and even took notes on my reactions. The role reversal felt strange. All I could think was that I should have been holding the pen and notebook.

In college, my first assignment was to interview and photograph the local blood drive. After five minutes into an interview, the donor passed out. I jumped up and took a photo. As the nurses glared at me and demanded that I not use the photo, I knew that I had become the devil. Perhaps journalism did choose me.

This time, I told Jacquelyn if I passed out to keep filming, though I doubt she would have. Heck, I made her shoot from two angles to give me the illusion of a chin, but even skillful editing couldn't produce one.

After she put the camera down, I looked at her face and eyes bugging out.

"What?"

"Wow, it's filling up fast."

When I looked over, two bags of blood were nearly full. I couldn't wait to be off the table.

Afterward, a different nurse taped me up and I headed over for juice and cookies — by far the best part of the experience. We chatted it up with a nice volunteer and other donors. I did feel a little lightheaded, and had a hard time concentrating on writing down an interview with Maria Sayre.

"S-A-Y-A-R-E," I asked for the second time.

"No, S-A-Y-R-E."

Maria told me that there is a greater need for blood in the summertime because donors come in less frequently. As a retired nurse, she also has a passion for volunteering at drives.

"It's a pleasure and an honor to still assist in some way in the medical profession."

Check out local blood drives in your area at http://www.redcrossblood.org/

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pins and Needles

The pinch of the needle stung my arm, but the discomfort was nothing compared to watching my blood slowly drain from my body and flow into a little clear bag hanging above my head. I was immediately nauseated. Turning away, I tried to breathe slowly and focus on the small details of the room. After the bag filled, my arm throbbed with pain. The nurse had stuck the needle through my vein and for the next two weeks, my arm resembled various shades of blue that faded to the color of a bruised banana skin – browns and yellows comingling from wrist to bicep.

I have only donated blood once, and that was only because it was a class-sponsored blood drive in high school and I was obligated to go. Nearly a decade later, I will brave it again. Donating time for an organization takes planning and sometimes physical labor, but it’s usually fun. Contemplating giving blood again and the memory of that bruised arm, however, makes me physically ill.

I’d like to volunteer with drives for the American Red Cross, but I don’t think I can do that unless I am willing to donate myself. So, as part of the project, I am going to face my fear and do it again. I just hope the end result isn’t as colorful as the last time.

The American Red Cross hosts blood drives in communities nearby every week. I seeks both blood donors, and volunteers to help run the drives. Visit http://www.redcrossblood.org to find a location to donate in your area.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gleaning the Harvest

Students and parents from St. Joseph
Catholic School in Lake Orion pack boxes for Gleaners.


For a "short week" it's been pretty darn long.

I did not want to volunteer this week. A quick trip to visit a friend in need and working some overtime at the OP had left me drained. I was just plain tired and wanted to relax. My husband even kidded that I should "Stephen Glass it." For those of you who don't know, Stephen Glass is a notorious reporter turned author who falsified articles.

"Just make up some organizations and write about what you did," Rob said, laughing.

But I couldn't skip out. It's not that I'm trying to portray myself as a martyr, it's just that I'm anal retentive.

I trudged into Gleaners in Pontiac Thursday morning before work where I met some friendly staff who showed me around the warehouse and set me up. My lame attitude quickly turned around — these are some of the most friendly people I have volunteered with in a long time.

Denise Leduc gave me a tour of the grounds and talked about Gleaners' mission. In one of the warehouse rooms where food is sorted, a colorful mural — painted by a 19-year-old local — depicts a scene of food production and distribution. One scene is a replica of the famous Jean-Fran├žois Millet production of three peasants who glean a field of stray grains of wheat. It was pretty impressive.

Biblically, it was a custom in Israel for farmers to leave some of the crops for the poorer sects of society to glean the harvest. And thus, the name Gleaners. The organization takes what is left from society and gives it to the less fortunate.

I have never been without food. I may have felt a rumble in my stomach on occasions, but there was always something to eat. It still shocks me how in a society of decadence, we allow our peers to go without. The thought seriously makes me question some useless purchases. Do I really need another pair of peep-toe heels?

Each year, Gleaners distributes millions of pounds of food to those in need. More than two-hundred-and-fifty thousand kids in Southeastern Michigan qualify for free and reduced lunches, said Denise, adding that Gleaners makes sure that these children get food on weekends and during the summer break.

However, even though donations are up, so are requests. People who used to give are now in need.

My task for the day was to sort and pack food. I started out with beverages. Gatorade, juice and even Pellegrino were packed into boxes that would be picked up by Gleaner partners for distribution. Groups that partner with Gleaners cannot make people "work, pay or pray" for their food," Denise said. In some locations, Gleaners even has a store so that customers may choose what they want to eat in a dignified manner.

After a half hour of packing beverages, I moved to snacks, and was met with a cacophony of children laughing and yelling.

Two sixth-grade classes from St. Joseph in Lake Orion were on a field trip — a mission to help others. We set up an assembly line and started packing away. Within another half-hour, the children, parents and teachers had packed about 2,000 pounds of food. The teachers have been participating in this annual field trip for three years, and it's a great way to teach children about helping others.

"We do this so that (students) will one day intrinsically help others," said teacher Sherry Brandon.

I hope these teachers' lessons leave an impression on the youths. Gleaners cannot do it's job without volunteers. The handful of offices employs about 70 people, Leduc said, adding that it has more than 20,000 volunteers. Summertime is a great way to get involved because people tend to volunteer more during the holidays. Hunger is year round.

The Pontiac Gleaners makes it so easy to help. Groups of five or less can drop by without signing up from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. However, it's probably good for first-time volunteers to call ahead. All of the Gleaners locations can use help. If you don't have time, consider donating. To learn more, visit http://www.gcfb.org/site/PageServer