Friday, September 2, 2011
Reflections on 9.11.01 and Volunteering on 9.11.11
When I think back to September 11, 2001, I immediately think of where I was. I think of how beautiful of a day it was. I recall sitting in my 2nd period World Religions class, laughing with other classmates, and I try to remember that feeling of lightness – the feeling of unknown tragedy – that everyone in our country may have experienced before the tragic events on September 11th. If you were old enough to remember where you were and what you were doing that day, you remember. It’s almost as if that moment – that day – altered the existence of every American. It’s a memory – a tragic memory – we will never forget. Over the past few months, Jersey Cares has been preparing to mobilize 1,000 volunteers throughout New Jersey to pay tribute to the events of September 11th. While my colleagues and I have discussed ways to make the 10th anniversary more meaningful and possessing greater impact on our New Jersey neighbors and communities, my memories of 2001 turn away from the tragedy of September 11th, but to the less vivid – but somewhat more inspirational – memory of what I did on September 12th.
I remember waking up and calling a friend of mine – school was cancelled – and telling her that I felt that we HAD to go do something. Anything – just help someone. Thousands of people had just died – almost 200 of them within a few miles of my house – and I couldn’t spend another minute watching the horrible images on the TV. My friend came over and whether we thought this was the only way we could contribute, or what seemed to be in the most need to us at the time, my friend and I located the nearest location where we could donate blood and went to donate blood. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate blood, needles, anything related to medicine – but there was that call within me that I needed to do something. I needed to give back. Thousands of people from all over the country traveled to New York City, Shanksville, PA and Arlington, VA to assist with the recovery efforts. Clearly, I was not alone in my feeling of needing to give back. Something had changed within Americans and there seemed to be a common bond between us that inspired us to get up and give back and serve those who had lost so much.
First Lady Michelle Obama recently commented on “the spirit of community and compassion” that emerged following the tragic events on September 11th. This spirit that she refers to was evident from the volunteer firefighters and others who arrived at Ground Zero to help with the clean-up to the candlelight vigils held around the country. Whether it was large or small, Americans came together – not to just mourn as a country – but to honor those who lost their lives and serve our neighbor in the best way possible. As September 11, 2011 rapidly approaches and I look back on the tragedy that took place ten years ago, I keep reminding myself of what my first thought – and the thought of many others – was on September 12, 2001, that while in our country’s darkest hour, we needed to be a light in that darkness.
In the past few months, Americans have been asked the question – what will you do to pay tribute to the 10th anniversary? I don’t see the answer to that question being too different than the feeling many of us felt when we woke up on September 12, 2001. While the darkness has seemed to fade, the 10th anniversary of September 11th provides our nation with the opportunity to let the world know that our “spirit of community and compassion” does not need to be fueled by a national tragedy, but that we will continue to serve our neighbor – whether it’s by mowing the lawn of a senior that lives on your street or spending the day packing care packages for active military members and their families – whenever and wherever there is a need.
– Siobhan Tiernan, Jersey Cares Staff
Monday, July 11, 2011
I began volunteering regularly last October. Since I started my new habit, I have volunteered at after-school programs, food pantries, and at the Jersey Cares Winter Coat Drive. My passion is in tutoring grade school children and serving as a positive role model. I remember how after my first afternoon as a Homework Helper volunteer, I vowed to be there for the children every afternoon. At the time, I was only volunteering for Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries (RMM), a non-profit organization in Midtown Manhattan.
It was in February that I found the Jersey Cares website while browsing Serve.gov (a community service online resource). Seconds after finding the event posting for tutoring and mentoring at Hoboken’s Jubilee Center, I signed up for every Monday evening occurrence through the remainder of the school year. That was quite a commitment that I made.
It was Mei Zheng of the Jersey Cares staff, who immediately noticed my commitment and encouraged me to become a Jersey Cares Project Coordinator, essentially a volunteer leader. I went ahead and became this leader and I assure you all that it was a painless process. I was accustomed to staying for the whole duration of an after-school program, typically from 3pm-6pm. I found it unsettling that the tutoring and mentoring event was only for the 6pm-7pm hour for those afternoons. I did ask the Jersey Cares staff for more hours to be posted for the location and Thomas Dougherty, the director of volunteer programs, stepped in to start additional programming support. I then proceeded to show up at the Jubilee Center every Monday and Friday at the start of the program at 2:30pm until 7:00pm when it closed. I was known for being the first volunteer to arrive and the last to leave. Between RMM and the Jubilee Center, I would volunteer every weekday afternoon, working with children. Being a college student with an occasional part-time job, I had a schedule that was just right for the amount of volunteer work I wanted to do.
I volunteer a lot of my time and many may be wondering why. I’ll try to explain. My afternoons with the children serve as a tribute to a mother who every afternoon tirelessly tutored her neurologically impaired son, a five year old who was developmentally 2-3 years behind his classmates. Bad news heard from professionals would leave her in tears, but her indomitable spirit would persist. Years later the son would find himself amongst the gifted and talented students of his class. Yes; I am him and I whole-heartedly believe in the children’s potential for academic success as my indefatigable mother did with me.
I kept up my current volunteer commitment and reached the end of the school year. After-school programming ended for the summer, but I would still get to help out with summer camp at the Jubilee. An awesome surprise came my way this past week. I received the honor of being offered a job as a counselor for the Jubilee Center. Craig Mainor, the program director for the Jubilee Center, has expressed his joy of having me join his staff for the summer season. I would have continued to volunteer there for the summer anyway, but I now view the compensation as being a reward. I will continue to do what I love the most. I would have never known about the Jubilee Center if Jersey Cares had not existed.
You can bet that I will be signing up for more projects through Jersey Cares. As I can attest to, there are boundless opportunities awaiting anyone who has a desire to help others.
Jersey Cares Volunteer
Monday, May 16, 2011
Planning Reflections on Jersey Cares Day 2011
Prior to working at Jersey Cares I could never imagine the incredible amount of planning and foresight that goes into Jersey Cares Day. Having worked at Jersey Cares for a little over a month now, I was thrown into the final planning and preparation stages for the day. From organizing t-shirts for the volunteers to sorting paint colors at Sherwin Williams, I never thought that so much effort could go into the making of one day of service.
It’s an incredible thing these volunteers are doing for communities throughout New Jersey and the staff at Jersey Cares is double checking every supply to make sure that the day goes as smoothly as possible. The past three weeks have been focused on grabbing last minute registrations, procuring and organizing supplies, and then finally delivering the supplies to the Jersey Cares day sites.
My favorite part of these past weeks has been the supply drop-offs. When going to the sites I get to see how excited the staff there is. The supplies make it real, the paint cans and rollers mean that something new and exiting is coming soon. For one site in Newark, we needed to prime the basement walls before Jersey Cares Day volunteers could cover up the thirteen year-old paint job. The children who spend their time at the Center after school had made a beautiful thank you banner to welcome the volunteers who would be priming the basement. Just the anticipation of change made the children so thankful.
As Jersey Cares Day approaches I’m excited to see the end products of all of the volunteers’ hard work. Thank you to all of those who have registered to volunteer. It means so much to the communities and the staff who work at the facilities where you’re volunteering. And to those who have missed this year’s Jersey Cares Day, there are plenty of more events to come!
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Behind the Scenes…Planning an MLK Day of Service
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question: What are you doing for others?” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. posed this question to a generation long before mine. In commemoration of his commitment to service and equality, first observed in 1986, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service is a nationally recognized day of service. In 1994, Congress also designated it a national day of service, changing popular belief that MLK Day is “a day on- not a day off.”
To fully understand my MLK Day experience, I must start at the beginning. November 1st marked the beginning of my AmeriCorps journey of 1,700 hours of service at Jersey Cares as the Service Events Coordinator. I was reveling in the thrill and delight of my new job but it was time to hit the ground running. My task at hand was to lead the planning for the 3rd Annual Jersey Cares MLK Day of Service. Jersey Cares set out to mobilize 2,000 volunteers and expand to 15 counties in New Jersey, essentially doubling the size of the event from the previous year. All of this was to be accomplished in just two and half months, an ambitious and aggressive task for even a seasoned veteran. As a rookie, listening to the goals and challenges of the event made me quiver but I knew there was no time to waste.
With the firing of a start gun for a race, my team and I embarked on a two and half month marathon towards the finish line. Armed with the determination to succeed and teamwork, our 4 person team made countless phone calls, emails, Tweets, Facebook posts, visits to volunteer fairs, everything short of enlisting the services of a skywriter to spread our message to service minded individuals. When faced with adversity, our team rallied on. Not even back-to-back winter blizzards or ice storms could take our eyes off the prize.
The two and half month long hustle was in the home stretch and all the preparations were completed. Early morning of January 17th my supportive mother, who has been eager to organize a coat drive at her office and sketch a mural, joined me at the largest volunteer site, Dr. Michael Conti School P.S. 5 in Jersey City. Final preparations were made and 500 volunteers began to arrive. While working at the registration table, it was wonderful finally putting faces to people I have been in contact with for months and meeting new faces. Students, corporate volunteers, members of Greek organizations, families, fellow AmeriCorps members, faculty and parents of students at P.S. 5, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and other service minded individuals were eager to begin. After the opening ceremony concluded, I took to my post on the ground floor. For three hours, I was amazed at the spirit, can-do attitude, teamwork, and camaraderie of the volunteers at Dr. Michael Conti School P.S. 5. Volunteers of all backgrounds and ages came from all over with the same altruistic intentions. Every volunteer personified what MLK Day is all about.
1 rental van, 15 counties, 25 hours spent in our storage facility, 38 partner agencies, 167 rolls of tape, 475 gallons of paint, 2,000 volunteers, 2,034 paint brushes, 5,778.5 hours of volunteer service, guidance and the support from my colleagues as well as friends and family made MLK Day a giant success. It was a day that was larger than any of us could imagine. Expectations were far exceeded and a month after the event, I have basked in the glow and glory of the accomplishment for Jersey Cares, our volunteers, our agencies, and myself.
To me, MLK Day was not about the fastest and most challenging two and half months of my professional life. It wasn’t just another task at work or another school revitalized. Hundreds of thousands of other Americans, including the Obama family, answered the call to service on January 17th, 2011 and knowing that I played a small part in it is what I will bring away with me. Making MLK Day a day on- not a day off is something that will stick with me long after my year of AmeriCorps is completed. In retrospect, MLK Day 2011 will remain one of my finest accomplishments in both my professional and personal life.
– Stephanie Asymkos
Service Events Coordintor
Monday, December 20, 2010
Reflections on Global Village Experience
In early November 2010, AmeriCorps members from HandsOn Network affiliates across the country participated in what may go down as one of the most memorable membership conferences EVER! I personally will never forget this conference. Although the idea of being in the wilderness in the middle of November had me a bit on edge, I didn’t allow it to deter me from having an open mind for new experiences.
As one of the brave members who decided to participate in the Calvin Center’s Global Village experience, my time in Georgia was more than just the conference. The Calvin Center’s Global Village allows different groups to experience what it would be like to live in underdeveloped countries in unfamiliar and sometime uncomfortable conditions. Upon our arrival at Global Village, we were split into groups and assigned jobs throughout the assimilated villages. Some of our jobs included learning how to make bricks using cement and clay. Together we built make shift houses in the town using any resources we could find. We also built huts using dried bricks that were made earlier from the previous group. At the end of the day were paid for our hard work in small wages which were used to buy food in the global village market place.
Although Global Village was an assimilated version of what it would be like to live in these conditions, it made me realize that there are people in the world who are less fortunate who live in unsafe and unsanitary environments. One important factor that struck me was the notion of happiness. Being in those conditions for one night was completely out of my comfort zone, but I enjoyed talking and meeting everyone in the AmeriCorps family. I had the opportunity to learn about all the great things that have been accomplished and plans for the future. In the midst of these great conversations, it dawned on me that happiness can come from anywhere. People who have less aren’t necessarily unhappy. Being around family, friends and neighbors can be enough to put a smile on a person’s face. Even though people are born into poverty and sometime don’t have the resources to get themselves out, I know that there are still some things that make them happy. Everyone has a story no matter what stretch of the earth we are from. Just because a person has less doesn’t make them less of a person.
This experience helped me realize that as an AmeriCorps Member, I am a part of such a great network of people who are doing great things for the world. For this year of service and beyond I will strive to make a difference and an influential impact on not only my community but the world!
Posted by Jersey Cares at 5:43 PM 1 comments
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010
How long do you think it takes to revitalize a school? Three months? Two weeks? Three days?
I’ve seen it done in six hours.
In six hours I have seen volunteers, who are in no way experts or specially trained, transform buildings with no life and give these places a breath of fresh air. I have seen schools, shelters, transitional housing facilities, and community shelters all revived before my eyes. Colorful murals, breathtaking gardens, freshly painted line games and planter murals created all in the short time span of six hours.
How is this possible? My answer is simple, teamwork.
Yes, there is a great amount of planning that goes into these projects, as there is with any other event. However, what really drives a project are the people and how well they work together.
Over the last two months as the Corporate Service Coordinator at Jersey Cares I have been fortunate enough to always work with groups who naturally follow their basic human instincts and seek the help of their peers. As soon as the introductions are done, the directions are explained, and the groups are separated into their projects and grab their supplies; the first sentence I almost always hear is, “how are we going to do this?” From the moment the project gets into motion, everyone is thinking as a group and knows that the project cannot be done alone nor can it be done without communication.
Teamwork is the key in these projects and it ultimately is what drives these projects towards success. What many people may not realize is that volunteering does a lot more than just helping the community. It also brings people together and strengthens the bonds in the community as well. Whether it’s people in your work place, your friends, your family, or even strangers; civic service naturally brings people together and helps everyone recognize the importance of teamwork.
Team effort is what beautified all those schools, shelters, and community centers. Team effort is what assembled all those kits, served all those meals, and what ultimately brought smiles to hundreds of peoples’ faces. Teamwork is what drives our community and I hope, it inspires YOU to help make a difference.
– Sarah Lansey
Posted by Jersey Cares at 4:09 PM 0 comments
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Monday, November 1, 2010
We are all aware of the terms “baby boomers”, “Generation X”, and “Generation Y” but are you aware that a new generation has been coined? Well, there has been. Many psychologists have coined the term “Generation Me,” or “GenMe” for short. According to psychologist Jean Twenge, GenMe folks are more confident, assertive, entitled, and more miserable than ever before[i]. You are probably thinking, what in the world does this have to do with service?? In fact, Generation Me’s have a lot to do with service! Last year alone there was dramatic increase in the number of recent graduates devoting a year or more to serve others in one of the nations many service organizations, such as AmeriCorps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, or the Peace Corps. This causes one to think, what is it that has made a generation so entitled and self-absorbed (that they feel the need to “tweet” or Facebook their every move) serve others? To be honest, there is no one answer to this question, but as a GenMe, I am going to do my best to answer it.
It has been forty-four days since my fellow AmeriCorps and I began to eat, sleep and breathe service. Throughout the last month and a half, I have planned and staffed nearly twenty service projects, all of which were being vastly different from the next. However, one content remained the same, the number of students, young professionals, and yes, even kids, willing to take time out of their busy lives to give back to their community at large. This got me thinking of the increase in individuals dedicating time after college to service. Are young people getting more involved in service due to social influences around them such as the First Lady’s, because it makes them look good, or in fact because they have the drive and passion to make a difference, no matter how small. Even in an office full of individuals devoted to making a difference, the reasoning behind doing what we do is unique to the individual. For me, it’s a combination of beliefs bestowed upon me during my years of education as well as personal experiences and aspirations that have drawn me to a world full of service and giving to the community. With the goal of becoming an International Human Rights attorney, there is no better way for me to spend the transitional year between my undergraduate career and law school then to work for a non-profit such as Jersey Cares, which is devoted to engaging individuals in service by making it as accessible and easy as possible.
It has been my privilege to serve as a young volunteer through Jersey Cares. I look forward to seeing my fellow recent graduates engage in acts of service as well.
[i] (Twenge, 2006)
Jersey Cares AmeriCorps Member
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010
First Month of Americorps at Jersey Cares…
About three weeks ago, I started my year of service as an AmeriCorps member working at Jersey Cares. There was no time to waste, and everyday and every second of my daily work routine was involved in servicing the communities in NJ. As the Economic Coordinator/ Community Outreach Coordinator; these past three weeks; I have staffed volunteer projects at soup kitchens, visited non-profit organizations throughout the state of NJ, observed volunteers during their service, and drawn and painted murals on school walls. This is not to say; Jersey Cares has taken care of all the social issues in NJ; but little by little the organization is trying to improve our communities with the power of volunteering. And with that, there is still so much more to be done. If each one of us, takes the time out of our busy lives to spend just a couple of hours a month to help out a non-profit organization we can all make a big difference in our communities.
The first service project that I staffed was at a non-profit organization that distributes clothing and organizes a daily soup kitchen. To be honest, this was the first time in my life that I have ever entered a soup kitchen. It was hard at first, for me to realize that there are people in our community that can’t find employment and need these services to live. Towards the end of the day, I was humbled, and I realized that this could be anyone of us using these services. Especially, after the economic recession, there are many highly educated people that were once living it “big”, but today cannot help provide for themselves or their families.
Since my service began, I have met so many dedicated volunteers that just wanted “to help their communities”. There are so many people out there that do not have any underlying interest (money, networking, etc.) in becoming a volunteer, other than to lend a hand, and help their communities. On one of my recent site visits, I visited a non-profit organization that uses horses to assist people with either their physical or mental disability. My meeting was with 15 year old George. George has been volunteering with the organization since he was 11yrs old and is now volunteering as the Volunteer Coordinator. During our meeting, I saw the passion and dedication he had representing his organization. He introduced us to an 11yr old boy that was born paralyzed and is today beginning to walk. With the assistance of regular everyday volunteers, this non-profit organization was able to make one boys disability something of the past.
Every day, I am amazed at the different services I lead and the work that many of the non-profits do to better our communities. Most if not all of these services, cannot be provided without the help of volunteers. We are all living together in this society, and if we want to improve it, it starts with each one of us to spend some time to help an organization so that it could continue to provide its services. Whether or not you have a particular skill, there is definitely an opportunity for each one of us to effect change in our society by volunteering.
Posted by Jersey Cares at 10:15 AM 1 comments
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Friday, October 1, 2010
Reflections on Being a Service Leader
Anyone who has ever run a long-distance race knows that its completion is much determined on the proper planning: a structured training regimen, the proper running shoes, a good warm-up, pacing yourself, etc. Going into a race with no preparation is like walking into the rain with no coat or umbrella. Not only do you risk physical harm to yourself, but you will most likely end up turning around and walking right back inside. That being said, anyone who has ever attempted to run long-distance knows that good preparation is only one piece of the puzzle. Regardless of how well you train and plan, there will inevitably come a time during a run where the ability to continue is entirely dependent on mental motivation. All too often runners who may plan brilliantly will not succeed at reaching their goal because they have neglected to connect psychologically to what they are accomplishing physically.
Being a service leader is in many ways similar to completing a long-distance race. Preparation and proper planning are key, of course. One can’t usually be an effective volunteer without a project or task in front of them, and as Hands On members our role is to provide this to those who have a desire to serve. We identify a civic need, coordinate with an agency, arrange for needed tasks to be completed, and facilitate the execution of the project. It is, in the ideal situation, a streamlined process with a positive outcome. Everyone is warmed-up, the track is clear and dry, and all of the shoelaces are tied. However, anyone who has ever been a volunteer leader knows all too well that the “perfect projects” are few and far between. Try as we may, no one can save the world in a day, and inevitable challenges will always arise. It then becomes the role of the service leader to help volunteers find their own mental motivation to continue doing the work in front of them. One can plan for the perfect execution of a mural painting project at an elementary school, but if a volunteer doesn’t understand why they are putting this picture on the wall, and how they are helping to improve their community, chances are they won’t be too thrilled to continue after three hours in a humid school hallway when they can’t seem to mix the perfect shade of turquoise. Nor are the chances great that they will want to come back and serve again in the future. If the physical execution of a service project is perfect, but the mental motivation behind it fails to materialize, have we as service leaders really done our job?
This week marks the end of my fourth month at Jersey Cares. I don’t mean to compare my time here thus far to a marathon, as it has actually flown by quite quickly, but I’ve found my experiences and challenges as a service leader here have in many ways paralleled my own challenges as a runner. My skills in the physical planning and execution of events and projects have developed at a very rapid rate. Before working at Jersey Cares, the idea of giving paint brushes to 80 TD Bank interns to take to the walls of a shelter would have made me hyperventilate. Figuring out how to organize the collection and distribution of over 40,000 donated coats sounded daunting. However, thanks to some very quick hands-on experience, and a developed, deep appreciation for the perfect spread-sheet, I can see these things as manageable. Much like in running, a structured plan to accomplish a goal is indispensable, and it is something I am learning more about each day. On the other hand, challenges still remain, and I think always will, in how one can take a role as a service leader one step beyond just the planning of volunteer projects. How do we help volunteers connect psychologically to their physical work, so that they will understand their contribution and continue to do meaningful work in their communities, even when they pull a muscle, get a shin splint, or even just get bored. Just as a coach can’t force a runner to be motivated, service leaders can’t force volunteers to connect to their work, but it is our job to try as best we know how.
Tomorrow, my colleagues at Jersey Cares will be working with a large group of volunteers to complete a service project at the Boys and Girls Club of Jersey City. They will, in essence, be running a marathon. While I will be unable to join them, I hope that as they are turning the corner at the end of the day they will be highly successful at helping each volunteer at the project find that voice of motivation to tell them to continue engaging in the important work they are doing, rain or shine, so that we can all successfully cross the finish line.
L. Mallory Lane
Service Events Manager, Jersey Cares
Posted by Jersey Cares at 4:56 PM 0 comments
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Friday, September 17, 2010
9/11 National Day of Service with Jersey Cares
Nine years ago during the months after 9/11, I remember being awestruck by the outpouring of genuine kindness and the remarkable increase in civic engagement. I remember hearing from my friends, my family and from the media that we should “value this moment in time because eventually people would lose this spirit and go back to their everyday lives and forget how 9/11 inspired us all.”
To my friends, my family, and yes, to you, the media – I want to say that you were not completely accurate in your overall prediction. I say this from a fresh and rejuvenated perspective because now that I have started my year of service as an AmeriCorps Member at Jersey Cares, I am constantly inspired everyday by the humanitarian spirit of the many people who I meet, speak to, and work with on a daily basis.
It’s both exciting and monumental for me that my first major service project was on 9/11, which is now considered a National Day of Service. Nine years ago, I never would have imagined the type of work that I would be doing today, nor did I have any idea as to where exactly my career would take me. My saying always was, “I just want to help people and inspire others to do the same.”
On September 11, 2010, I got to do just that when I helped to lead a group of over fifty volunteers revitalize a charter school in Jersey City. Not only did I learn about all of the planning and the preparation that goes into making such a project happen; but I also learned that the spirit of volunteerism did not just “fade away” after 9/11. Today, there still is a tremendous amount of people who continue to nourish their humanitarian spirit; it’s just that unlike nine years ago, it is no longer the major focus of the news.
During the National Day of Service, I met over fifty people who came out on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon simply because they wanted to volunteer out of the kindness of their hearts. There were men and women of all ages – teenagers, parents, college students, and even two young children who were no older than six years of age. Together we made bare walls beautiful. The orange walls of the cafeteria turned into canvases of artwork inspired by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The hallways went from long empty corridors, to breathtaking pictures and inspirational quotes about the endless possibilities we all have with an education. The library was transformed into a stimulating environment, full of colorful pictures and quotations. Our volunteers even took a plain, concrete blacktop and turned it into an interactive recreational area filled with lines games including a mini soccer field, four square, and hopscotch.
As I reflect on all of the wonderful people I met that I day, I can’t help but smile. The young man, who took a simple tree and added his own personal touch and made a beautiful garden scene, complete with flowers and an apple tree. The group who carefully mixed colors to effectively create a multicultural scene of hands holding up the world. The little boy who helped paint a bookworm with his mom, who was so excited about his creation that he could not stop dancing around the room when Enrique Iglesias played on the radio.
Thank you everyone for all of your hard work. Jersey Cares would have never been able to complete this project without your help. And on a personal note, thank you, for helping me recognize that the spirit of volunteerism is still, very much alive.
Posted by Jersey Cares at 2:04 PM 2 comments
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Wednesday, August 4, 2010
AmeriCorps National Direct Service member Heather McGreevy has served as our Volunteer Relations Coordinator for the better part of a year, shepherding groups and teams of volunteers through registration and introducing them to our monthly volunteer projects. We’re very sad to see Heather go, and before she leaves we’ve asked her to share her takeaways from a year of dedicated service with you.
At the start of my term I embarked on a 1700 hour journey that would take me not only all over New Jersey, but to a different space in which to think, a different lens to view the world, and a new found appreciation for volunteers. My experience as a Jersey Cares AmeriCorps member has given me the opportunity to be Oz’s wizard behind the curtain enabling thousands of New Jersey citizens to be the change for their community. Their direct service to those in need has been at many times awe-inspiring, heartwarming, and impressive. In October, I became familiar with Christopher who is probably my most celebrated volunteer from this experience. A year ago Christopher’s mom asked her then 7 year old son to button up on his way to the bus stop. When he asked why, she responded that not everyone was as lucky to have a coat as he was. Determined to put a warm coat on as many New Jersey residents as he could, Christopher set out on a campaign that would inspire his neighbors, business owners, and fellow students in his town of Hillsborough.
With what started as knocking on a few doors, distributing some flyers, and placing a bin outside his door Christopher has grown his coat collection effort so that it composed nearly 15% of the 40,000 coats collected throughout New Jersey this past year. He reminds us that building a better community can start with something as simple as a bin outside your house. His effort reinforces the idea that grand plans and complicated systems are not necessary to have great impact. Christopher’s enthusiasm to do good for his community at such a young age was beyond inspiring. His ability to mobilize his neighbors I found unbelievably humbling. Only a little over a month into my year of service and I had encountered one of Jersey’s premier citizens with a heart bigger than the moon.
Christopher is only one of many volunteers who have been a source of inspiration and hope throughout my year of service. A man who has led other volunteers in projects for 15 years, a woman who doesn’t let a blizzard stop her from attending a project, a teenager who thrives on feeding those who would go without – these are the heroes I have the utmost privilege to work with each and every day for the last year. It has been nothing short of an honor to work for and alongside these local change agents. The power of volunteerism to impact meaningful change in a community can be difficult to measure, but this seemingly intangible and most certainly indomitable force can effect sustainable change for generations to come. For these volunteers, volunteering isn’t a requirement. It’s not a chore. It’s not an inconvenience. For them it’s a way of life. It’s a great way to end the day. It’s a passion to help their neighbors. It is an unquestionable commitment to being the change.
The year has not been without its challenges, but throughout the experience I will always return to the volunteers and how much I admire their efforts. I have the very special job of going home each day knowing that I helped make it happen. I have the humbling experience of knowing I am only a very small part in their amazing work. Over 1700 hours later I am honored to have participated in the national service movement as an AmeriCorps member. Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll take the time to be the change in the coming months.
-By Heather McGreevy