Monday, April 18, 2011

Crossing the Finish Line

On April 16, 2010, I started my exploration in philanthropy at HAVEN — a shelter for women and children of domestic and sexual abuse in Pontiac. This past Saturday, April 16, I hit the one-year mark volunteering with area residents by picking up trash in Pontiac.

Read the story here.

In between those two dates, I have volunteered with the hungry, homeless, senior citizens and children. I even managed some time with the four-legged variety. For the most part, I did volunteer every week, with a couple of exceptions on vacation. I do wish I had blogged more and sent out volunteering tips these last couple of months. That was a failure on my part.

Regardless, I am finished. I'm not sure how I expected to feel upon finishing. I had no huge epiphanies during the year. Yes, I learned to appreciate my life more. But there were days when I wanted to be home, reading a book instead of going out for my weekly gig.

This weekend, I went to a co-worker's home for a shindig. After talking to his girlfriend, who is a first-generation U.S. citizen of Polish descent — she reminded me of something I am acutely aware of, yet benefited from the reminder.

After listening to her talk about how her parents came to America and how she grew up poor, she said, "Americans expect things to be given to them."

How true those words are. And how many times have I thought "I deserve that."

This year has taught me that life can be unfair to many, and sometimes, as fellow humans, we must lend a helping hand. The woman who gets cancer and loses her home because her insurance would not cover her treatments; the children who take backpacks of food home over the weekend so that they have something to eat;  the sweet, old Labrador-mix who no on adopts and just wants a romp outside — these stories are everywhere, and yet, many have become immune to them.

I love my soapbox, and I plan on using it now. So, if you're not in the mood for a lecture, I advise you to stop reading. You've been warned.

Nothing annoys me more than people who complain about the world's state of affairs, yet do nothing to make a difference. I could be given a gold medal in whining — just ask me how I feel about the weather today (it's snowing outside). My husband should be given a gold medal for listening to me whine.

Back to the point: Yes, the economy sucks, gas prices soar, the U.S. military is led into more conflicts abroad than I care to remark on. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The world will end in 2012. There is plenty of fodder to complain about.

It's cliche, but true: Change starts at home. Instead of carping about all of the problems in the world, consider tutoring a child in your neighborhood or serving a meal to someone in need. If you don't want to give your time (and trust me, no one is too busy to donate time every once in awhile) please, don't complain to me. You will not find me sympathetic. 

This weekend, as I interviewed volunteers for a story for The Oakland Press, I met a homeless woman who hopped off the bus from Detroit to help clean up the streets because she said she wants to be a help to society. I am continually amazed by the giving nature and optimism of others. Perhaps what I most gained from this experience is appreciation and admiration for my peers who make their lives a story of giving back.

Because I cannot name every person I met, (but you know who you are) I want to let you know how much I appreciate all that you do for your communities. You inspired me.

While the project may be over, I will continue to volunteer (though, not on a weekly basis). I seem to have found a rhythm — I already have two events lined up for the near future.

If anything, I hope this blog some positive messages about people making positive change, and hopefully, I inspired you to give back as well.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

National Volunteer Week

The kids listening to music at OLHSA.

The lovely singers at
the OPC.

It seems fitting that I will end my volunteer/blog exploration during National Volunteer Week.

Over the last two weeks, I have volunteered at OLHSA, reading books to preschoolers and later hanging out with seniors at the OPC in Rochester. This weekend, I will end my stint during a clean-up in Pontiac.

It was a sad day at OLHSA, as nineteen employees worked their last day because budget of cuts in funding. In this climate, it seems unlikely that OLHSA will regain funding, but here's hoping.

Studies have shown that early education can make a huge difference in childrens' performance. When I walked into the classroom, children were playing at an indoor sandbox. Corralling these tykes was no easy feat, but they were soon seated on a circular rug while I read "The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers."

These kids were adorable. I quizzed them in between reading and shouts of "My favorite color is pink" about strangers. I wasn't the lone volunteer though, members of the Bloomfield Optimist Club come every month to read and sing music to the boisterous children.

Last Friday, I headed out to the OPC for the Gangsters and Hot Babes Millionaire Party fundraiser. The work day had been disasterous with only a handful of staff in the office. It was hectic, and I was not really in the mood to volunteer.

The OPC, as always, lifted my mood. I arrived in jeans and a sweater, and quickly changed into a dress and topped that off with a red feather boa.

A foursome of young ladies sang songs from the Roaring '20s. Seniors wore feather headbands, flapper dress and were accompanied by dates in suits and silk ties. 

I stepped in by greeting seniors and then borrowed from my past, serving dinners and clearing plates. The OPC goes above and beyond in creating authentic ambiance. The aforementioned singers strolled from room to room, performing in a parlor style.

A band played in the auditorium while seniors sashayed along the wooden dance floor. And the roulette and blackjack tables were swarming with gamblers. I wove in between them all with refreshments. 

Of course, I got my dance with Ralph, and even scored a story scoop. The people at the OPC are incredibly kind, and are a prize within the community. By the time I left, my darkened mood had lifted. This is either the magic of the OPC, volunteering or a combination of both.

I'm looking forward to this weekend — my last documented volunteer gig.