Ken Burns and National Parks Volunteering

Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island looking to the harborEverybody is going gaga over the newest Ken Burns series, The Roosevelts, An Intimate History, on PBS. I’ve yet to see it but will carve out the 14 hours, perhaps in bits and pieces, to get caught up–I have never been sorry to get into a Burns piece of work.

One of my favorites of his in-depth studies is the 2009 film on our wild lands, The National Parks, America’s Best Idea.

I forget, in my hurried day-to-day life, that the wondrous wild places I so fondly remember visiting (and look forward to many more visits) on family vacations and cross-country driving trips, are more than just stunning vacation spots–they are smoothly run enterprises of commitment to community and culture and the environment…AND…they have extensive volunteer programs.

As a National Parks volunteer, you can pop in for a one-shot deal to help with a program, or if you’re lucky enough to live near such sacred spots, there are ongoing opportunities. Kids, families, individuals…all will find rewarding service work in the parks. If you’re super motivated, and volunteer 250 hours of service to the parks and/or other federal agencies that participate, you can be eligible for the Annual Volunteer Pass. This pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation.

To find your V.I.P. (Volunteers in Parks) opportunity, from Yellowstone to the Statue of Liberty, the Everglades to Mount Rainier, you can search by park, state, or zip code. Many of the needs are seasonal, but some are year-round, and while a certain level of fitness or endurance may be required for some gigs, there is plenty to volunteer for that requires less energy as well. Visit the Park Service website and look around a bit, get re-inspired for some next visit plans, and find a way to be the boots on the ground folks who keep the parks the treasures that they are.

Respond to Banned Books Week – READ

burned book, pages aflame, censorshipWe’re now into the second half of Banned Books Week, when attention is paid to censorship and celebrating the freedom to read. Banned Books Week (BBW) unites the community of librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas.

In the United States, since 1982 when BBW began, there have been official challenges to more than 11,300 books! Some of the most challenged books are the most popular, like recognizable titles of the list toppers of 2013: Fifty Shades of GreyCaptain Underpants, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Hunger Games. I, of course, come down on the side of, “If it ain’t your cup of tea, don’t read it…”

In celebration, and some easy defiance of those that would curtail intellectual freedoms, honor banned books by volunteering with a program like READ Global, whose work in Bhutan, Nepal, and India is building and filling libraries for entire communities that were previously book-poor. Since their start in 1991, more than 2.1 million villagers have access to READ centers, and the mission has grown from supporting access to books and supporting literacy, to also taking on broader education issues, economic empowerment, technology, and women’s empowerment. Find out more, and support READ here.

Homeboy Industries, Food Truck, and Getting Involved

Homegirl Cafe worker, woman making espresso, tattoos

Photo: Homegirl Cafe

Are you familiar with Homeboy Industries? The organization is well known in Los Angeles but has developed a national profile for their innovative work serving high-risk, formerly gang-involved men and women, providing them services, programs, and job training at several very cool social enterprises. They’ve got products you can find in grocery stores (tortilla strips, salsas, and more), a restaurant and bakery (Homegirl Cafe), catering business that serves many film and TV studios, and now a food truck.

The model is great and the popularity makes their considerable reach grow more and more. A busy, bustling restaurant (which Homegirl Cafe DEFINITELY was last time I was there) is much better on-the-job training than a sleepy lunch counter. The gourmet food truck is new and already has fans following the social media feeds to discover where they will park and set up from day to day, inspiring buzzy word-of-mouth.

The job training at these great businesses is just the most forward facing element of the work the organization does. They also provide employment counseling and mentoring, tattoo removal (they remove about 745 tattoos every month, for free), case management to develop goal planning and accountability, legal services and referrals, educational services and classes, mental health/substance abuse/domestic violence services, and a solar panel installation and certification training program.

There are plenty of reasons young people step into gang life, but one of the most pernicious is the lack of alternatives. Homeboy Industries provides a rich array of opportunities to delve deeply into other options.

Volunteers keep much of this amazing work going…some of the most rewarding opportunities are GED course prep teachers and tutors, tattoo removal (30 volunteer doctors currently help out with this critical area), and Homeboy Heals program volunteer therapists, social workers, and counselors. Check it out, and jump in if you’ve got the skills needed.

Travel in the Buy-One-Give-One Mode: Elevate Destinations

Maasai Mara group standing in village settingI’ve blogged before, and likely will again, about companies like Warby Parker glasses and TOMS shoes, who have implemented the business model of buy-one-give-one. They are set up so that for each item a customer purchases, a similar item is donated to a community in need. It’s a good model, and is being more readily adopted by more companies, and provides the opportunity for customer loyalty to extend to cause-based issues, education about a chosen problem that can be addressed, and chance for retail to do well while doing good. Bottom line for a business needn’t be exclusively profit.

Since my normal stomping grounds include the travel industry, I am pleased to see footholds being made with this model in this arena as well. Elevate Destinations has launched a new Buy a Trip, Give a Trip model, where every client trip booked through this philanthropic travel company triggers a parallel experience for a child in a developing world destination. Working with local, on-the-ground NGOs, Elevate sponsors outings for youth groups that would otherwise not have access to the sites (and sights) that draw tourists from around the world. Children of Cape Town communities getting to visit Robben Island, for example, or Peruvian youth finally seeing Machu Picchu…it expands the experiences and understanding of marginalized young people.

For a while now, we’ve been aware of responsible travel practices and tools, like carbon offsets, that counter some of the impact we have on the planet as we engage with it…now, with this new Buy One Give One (#B1G1) model for travel…it could be seen as cultural offset, where your visit to a new community or destination leaves something more than footprints.

Changers Profile: Scott Fifer, GO Campaign

Scott Fifer GO CampaignI was recently e-introduced to Scott Fifer by a dear friend with whom I have traveled to Haiti, because she said her friend Scott was headed to Haiti again soon, setting up some grassroots volunteer programs generated from within the community, and we both shared a fascination with Haitian voodoo (vodoun) art, including the sometimes disturbing genre that includes plastic babydoll heads. Quirky and committed to service are a couple of high benchmarks in my estimation of folks, so I was looking forward to the conversation.

I, like so many of us would, figured I had to do an internet search ahead of time so I’d know more about who I was going to meet, and quickly became smitten with Scott’s huge undertaking, GO Campaign. Fifer is the founder and executive director of the organization whose mission he sums up: “We partner with grassroots Local Heroes to give opportunity to orphans and vulnerable children around the world.”

Now, tourism and orphanages uttered in the same breath become dangerous territory these days as it has become somehow cynically cool on the web to bash volunteer travel, especially in relation to kids. That’s an argument for which I have little patience, though it is true that there are some nefarious folks out there trying to capitalize on best intentions of travelers and who are creating a nasty “orphanage tourism” scam business model. While I don’t let that dampen my commitment to serving young people around the world, due diligence should be done before any of us lend our dollars or hours to any organization.

GO Campaign, established in 2006, is the real deal. The key is Scott and company’s commitment to work only with vetted “local heroes” who are already fighting the good fight in the communities where they live. This assures there is no foreign “savior” coming in and imposing outsider will on a local problem or issue. This is EXACTLY the sort of project initiative you should look for when volunteering anywhere—locally-generated solutions. The fact that this ethos is built into GO Campaign is a great sign. With GO Campaign, you can fund high impact projects from home, or you can go and volunteer with the hero projects in some amazing locations. The volunteer opportunities pages of the website share links to projects, and define the need for volunteers who might visit.

After the jump, find Scott’s answers to a bunch of Changers Profile questions: Continue reading

What Price Fashion–Rainforest Wreckage for Style

1168175_87597514Fashion Week just started in New York–the Mercedes Benz-sponsored high holy days for many, when it is impossible to get a cab or a table at hip eateries (ironic since so many at the forefront of fashion are known for eating so little). In addition to the swirling, whirling, paparazzi flashing chaos of couture celebrations, there is, as with most industries, an underbelly that is less appealing.

Clothing today, its manufacture and materials, is, in many instances, decimating our environment. To make the popular fabrics that drape beautifully and flow effortlessly, including rayon and viscose, is a pretty rough-on-the-world process. Rainforests in Indonesia, Canada, Brazil, and more, are clear cut to make way for “monocrop” plantations. The new monocrop trees are then cut down and their material put through a labor-intensive and highly toxic chemical bath process to create “dissolving pulp” that can then be spun out and woven into cloth. The chemicals used are brutal and high impact, and the destruction of the rainforest ecosphere adds to the loss of endangered species, like threatened orangutans, rhinoceros, and others. 

The fabric created is used by global brands like Gap, Forever 21, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and legions of others. Of course there are plenty of responsible, sustainable replacement options.

The Rainforest Action Network is calling upon the fashion industry, especially now during high profile fashion celebrations and showcases for designers, to find environment-sparing alternatives. They’ve got a petition going to bring attention to the cause and state that “there’s nothing fashionable about rainforest destruction.” Sign here and leaner more about awareness events happening this month with which you may want to participate. Sources report that an average of 137 species of rainforest life form go extinct EVERY DAY! Help curb those numbers with how you spend your clothing dollars, and volunteer to spread the word.


Volunteer to Work at the Olympics in Rio 2016

14-rio-2016Volunteer application opportunities have just opened up for those who want to work at the Olympic Games and/or the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016. Applications will be accepted from today through November November 15, so act now if you want to be one of the many, many dedicated souls who make Olympic magic happen.

Volunteers are needed for myriad roles, including Ceremonies Production, Customer Service, Health Services, Operational Support, Press & Communication, Protocol and Languages, Sports, Technology, and Transport. The volunteer squad will number about 70,000 individuals! 

It’s kind of a big deal, with many steps and interviews and training along the way, but what a hoot to be able to say at your next get together with friends that YOU are going to be helping make the Olympics happen. They even need volunteers to be in the “cast” of performers/dancers/marchers/etc for the opening ceremonies!

There is online training, then later, in-person training, and you get a full uniform specific to your volunteer placement, certificate of appreciation, local transportation, meals on days you work, exclusive gifts, and a whole slew of international friends and colleagues. You must be 18 years old by February 28, 2016, and be available for ten days during the Olympic or Paralympic Games. You are responsible for your own travel and housing during your stay, so start your planning early…like today! Full information and Frequently Asked Questions here


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