AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Final

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LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we conclude a multi-part series entitled “The Navigator’s Log,” created by LaRhonda Boone, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Jersey Cares’ ServiceWorks program in Newark, NJ. ServiceWorks helps youth ages 16-24 to develop workplace skills through specialized training and to gain leadership experience by designing and implementing community service projects. You can learn more about Service Works here.

Every volunteer’s story is unique, and while LaRhonda’s story, which is still being written, is her own, she provides us with insight into what it is, can be – and at times hopefully won’t often be – to be a volunteer.

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Stations. We have come quite a ways from the classroom setting where our scholars have had countless discussions about their community and the problems that plague them. They are tired of the cycle of drugs, violence, poverty, educational inequities, etc. and as we are moving from theory to practice, they now want stations. Yes, stations. Let me explain.

For our MLK Day service project, our site partnered with a grassroots organization to provide for the homeless within our borders. The day included having four tables called “stations” that held coffee and donuts, a meal, clothing and toiletries; bags of toiletries that our young people assembled and handed out. Inspired by their experience, they have decided to do something similar for their ServiceWorks Capstone Project. They have entitled their project, “Caring & Sharing” and will utilize their school space to create provision stations, but instead of tables, they will have rooms; one room to obtain a meal, one room for clothing, another for toiletries, and finally, a large open space to eat and commune together.

There is much to do as we continue with the development and planning process, but the scholars are abuzz. “Maybe we can include some kind of counseling services,” expresses one and “I can cook the food myself,” shares another. They have a concept that they will transform into beautiful action and I am excited to see them see it — to see their Work turn into Service.

Invested energy. Watch out and hold on.

AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Part IV

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we continue a multi-part series entitled “The Navigator’s Log,” created by LaRhonda Boone, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Jersey Cares’ ServiceWorks program in Newark, NJ. ServiceWorks helps youth ages 16-24 to develop workplace skills through specialized training and to gain leadership experience by designing and implementing community service projects. You can learn more about Service Works here.

Every volunteer’s story is unique, and while LaRhonda’s story, which is still being written, is her own, she provides us with insight into what it is, can be – and at times hopefully won’t often be – to be a volunteer.

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LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

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By:  LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

With scholars finally entering our realm, I’ve seen one or two shooting stars but they were of a different sort. They were stars that shoot, not across the sky, but with guns as in harm & danger. Their target, another scholar, survived though he was grazed and all of this after only a day or two of meeting. Shooting stars, as you know, aren’t really stars at all but are meteors that flash & burn away, and as expected they were removed from the program before the program really began. No staff, crew member or other scholars were hurt as the shooting occurred off-site, but when a burning meteor crashes to our world, our space, we are all impacted. And yet that was one kind of light – a fiery, angry, one.

Since then, as Scholars have gone through our host site’s Mental Toughness process (one that assesses preparation & readiness and in so doing weeds out a few) I’ve seen pockets of brilliance. I do not mean intelligence, street-smarts or even common sense. Through Mental Toughness and our recent ServiceWorks info session, I’ve seen charred embers begin to brightly glow. While there is hesitation (a fight even –by some Scholars) to keep their light hidden for fear of ridicule, vulnerability and disappointment, it is hard when nothing but love, support, encouragement and the idea of possibilities form meteors of their own to chip away at a Scholar’s resolve.   The embers will glow until they catch and then there will be fire. Not an angry one, but one of determination. And that is another light – a radiantly beautiful one.

 

 

Who I Am

This month at Jersey Cares we are celebrating Women’s History Month by inviting some of our friends to share their thoughts and experiences on the women who have inspired them.  Today we feature a piece by Alexis Slade, External Affairs Coordinator at Jersey Cares. 

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Alexis Slade, Jersey Cares External Affairs Coordinator

My thoughts, my ambitions, my quirks, – who I am, is directly connected to the many intelligent, creative, and powerful women that have come and gone during the last 31 years of my life. I am grateful for the fact that I have had the opportunity to learn from so many diverse women. In this moment, I want to honor a woman that has had a great impact on my life by challenging me to wholly embrace who I am.

Maya Angelou.

As an artist, so much of my struggle comes from being able to give myself permission to be authentic and true to who I am. I am often told that I am too wild, too colorful, too expressive, simply – too much. Maya’s words give me courage to be myself, to speak my mind with love, to be ME. She reminds me that my differences are what make me beautiful and that I need to be unapologetically true to myself. She challenges me to see beyond the “norm”, to step in to my biggest self, and to embrace every inch of what makes me a woman. Caged Bird, paints a picture of what it feels like to be trapped within the boundaries of fear. All too often the walls of those cages have been built by my own hands. I am afraid to be myself and of being “too much” of something once again. But the caged bird sings of freedom and freedom is what I deserve and long for.

For me, that inner freedom comes and goes. It changes with my surroundings and the people in my life. I often forget that I have wings and tuck away the things that bring me the most joy. I don’t always remember to embrace my body or dance as wildly through the world as much as I want to. But deep down, I know my worth and love who I am. Of course I never knew Maya personally, but her words resonate within my soul and I carry her with me for the moments that I need to be reminded to be ME. Phenomenally.

Maya Angelou

8th January 1993: Headshot portrait of African-American author Maya Angelou wearing black sweater with a pearl necklace, smiling and holding flowers in one hand. (Photo by Stephen Matteson Jr/New York Times Co./Getty Images)

AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Part III

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we continue a multi-part series entitled “The Navigator’s Log,” created by LaRhonda Boone, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Jersey Cares’ ServiceWorks program in Newark, NJ. ServiceWorks helps youth ages 16-24 to develop workplace skills through specialized training and to gain leadership experience by designing and implementing community service projects. You can learn more about ServiceWorks here. Service Works

Every volunteer’s story is unique, and while LaRhonda’s story, which is still being written, is her own, she provides us with insight into what it is, can be – and at times hopefully won’t often be – to be a volunteer.

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By: LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

Prosper.  That was his name.  I met him at our recent National Day of Service and he is the Service Scholar of one of our crew (VISTA) who works at another site within our borders.  There were other Service Scholars there but I remember him, his name.  He was typical in many ways for someone his age – silly (borderline goofy), comical (hilarious actually), and a hard worker (or hardly working) and yet, in some ways he served as a IMG_3770bit of an adhesive.

A quip or gesture here, a funny expression or impersonation there, was often enough to keep his fellow Scholars entertained and engaged while working.  Their camaraderie was evident and it reminded me of a team, of how it can be, how it should be.  Each fit of laughter, every raised voice or discussion about some commonality (like holding a bag of leaves and pulling weeds) were ultimately sealing a bond that will come in handy as they move forward.

No doubt they didn’t see it or understand it then and may never, but I did, and it made me smile.  I smiled for our crew because they are truly ServiceWorking it and I was happy for myself because despite not having Scholars yet, I caught a glimpse of what is to come.  Here for a moment and gone the next?  Perhaps, but even that is ok.  Prosper.  Love long and.

 

Sheroes in Volunteerism

This month at Jersey Cares we are celebrating Women’s History Month by inviting some of our friends to share their thoughts and experiences on the women who have inspired them.  Today we feature a piece by Lucy Doyle, Programs Manager at Jersey Cares. 

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Lucy Doyle, Jersey Cares Programs Manager

At 51% of the United States’ population and with nearly 30% of that population volunteering,[1] women easily make up the majority of volunteers in the country. It felt only right, then, to give our female volunteers the spotlight today of all days, on International Women’s Day.

Why do women volunteer in such great numbers? Theories about the giving nature of women, the extracurriculars that come with motherhood, and the gender pay gap all come up in conversation. While we may not know for sure what it is that brings the ladies to the yard (to do some planting and bench building for schools and shelters all over New Jersey!), we can say for sure that the efforts of our girls and women across the state are very real, and very impressive. Consider for a moment that 60% of the working poor in the United States is made up of women, and the average woman will make $0.64 to her white male colleagues’ $1.00 (and the numbers only get worse for women of color)[2]—these numbers paint a dismal picture for the state of women at work. It’s a true testament to our wills that we’re able to give so much of ourselves to improving the lives of those around us as unpaid workers, even when we are faced by some insurmountable odds. On a given day, women may be faced with sexism in myriad forms (from shaming and street harassment to being underrepresented in positions of power and being bombarded by impossible beauty standards), and yet, we don’t just survive but we thrive through the lives we reach and the mentorship we provide the next generation. What better motivator is there to create change, when you see the need for change each and every day.

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Some of the role models in civic engagement are the unsung female (s)heroes of the abolition movement, the suffrage movement, the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Liberation movement, and the LGBT rights movement—that’s really a lot of moving!

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Volunteerism and activism go hand in hand, and I am proud of the feminist foremothers that came before us—and hopefully the feminist daughters that come after. It’s no coincidence the First Lady of the United States has historically been a role filled by women who take on volunteerism and the public good.

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Michelle Obama embraces volunteerism, making nutrition accessible for kids across the country, promoting girls’ education, and exemplifying grace under pressure. But it doesn’t take a seat in the White House to make real change every day, and the young girls and women who volunteer every day know it.

 

Around the office at Jersey Cares, it isn’t unusual for a female staffer to be seen unpacking and repacking the van full of heavy duty, industrial supplies for a project, then to be caught brushing the dirt off to command an audience of corporate volunteers. Breaking a sweat isn’t gendered, and we’re happy to get the work done. We wear multiple hats, and defying gender stereotypes that many of our own mothers had to face growing up is part of the everyday experience at Jersey Cares.

 

Women’s work is never done, and for the sake of the state, that adds up to a lot of volunteer hours. That’s a lot of wo-man power!

Alice-Walker


[1] http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/02/27/charts-new-data-show-women-more-educated-doing-most-volunteering

[2] http://money.cnn.com/2015/11/18/news/gender-pay-gap/

AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Part II

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we continue a multi-part series entitled “The Navigator’s Log,” created by LaRhonda Boone, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Jersey Cares’ ServiceWorks program in Newark, NJ. ServiceWorks helps youth ages 16-24 to develop workplace skills through specialized training and to gain leadership experience by designing and implementing community service projects. You can learn more about ServiceWorks here. Service Works

Every volunteer’s story is unique, and while LaRhonda’s story, which is still being written, is her own, she provides us with insight into what it is, can be – and at times hopefully won’t often be – to be a volunteer.

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By: LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

We are floating.  To where, I do not know.  We encountered what we thought to be scholar activity in the distance, but learned instead that the activity was atmospheric shifts causing matter to unfold unto itself.  What does that mean exactly?  We’ve yet to engage scholars because there was a collapse due to a breakdown of communication and accountability.  This person set “that” up, and that person ignored or forgot or puIMG_3770t off the “this,” and as such, we are here – floating.

The good news is that this setback wasn’t because of the crew of this massive ServiceWorks enterprise.  While floating, we’re continuing to observe (while offering help); prepare (knowing our start day will eventually come); and take notes (our Points of Light home station demands this.)

And I don’t dare assume this incident doesn’t take a toll.  The energy around finally beginning has faded.  The recruits we worked hard to obtain may go to another site for fear of their disengagement as we wait for this matter to be resolved.  It’s for the good of the team, of course, but still a hard pill to swallow.

So what does a Master Navigator do?  I’m learning to manage the unexpected.  I’m networking and making new partnerships in my quest for additional cohorts.  I am willing myself to not just accept a new reality, but embrace it.  I am willing myself.  I am willing myself.  I am willing…

AmeriCorps Navigator’s Log – Part I

In honor of AmeriCorps Week, today we begin a multi-part series entitled “The Navigator’s Log,” created by LaRhonda Boone, an AmeriCorps VISTA serving with Jersey Cares’ ServiceWorks program in Newark, NJ. ServiceWorks helps youth ages 16-24 to develop workplace skills through specialized training and to gain leadership experience by designing and implementing community service projects. You can learn more about ServiceWorks here. http://www.jerseycares.org/ServiceWorks

Every volunteer’s story is unique, and while LaRhonda’s story, which is still being written, is her own, she provides us with insight into what it is, can be – and at times hopefully won’t often be – to be a volunteer.

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By: LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

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LaRhonda Boone, AmeriCorps VISTA

At a point in our Pre Service Orientation, I decided to stop trying. I stopped telling myself that I needed to question everything, understand everything, and be prepared for it all. “There’s no way”, I realized then, that I could know it all and even if they had told me everything (yes they tried), I wouldn’t have remembered it anyway (indeed I don’t). “Your task then”, I declared to myself, “is to become a Master Navigator.”

 We’ve been on this mission for 47 days and while we’ve yet to enter the true waters of full scholar-trainer-coach engagement, I find that what I’m most navigating, what I’m finding my way around and under, up and down, over and about is — myself.   

“Stay positive,” I say, to remind me of my ultimate goal, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore the rolling wave of ego that prevents me from seeing the amazing gifts others have to offer, or the crashing wave of stubbornness that wants to convince me my way is best. And there are other off-putting waves in this self that fight for attention: waves of judgment, frustration, angst, etc. but with every surge, the mighty wave of discovery pushes back. I’m seeing how humility makes way for empathy, how camaraderie slices through isolation, and how compassion swells purposefulness. I still have no idea what lies ahead, but a Master Navigator I strive to be, and it’s what pushes this self, this ship to stay the course.