Archive for the ‘Profiles’ Category

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

Changers Profile: Kirky “Xena” Kirkendall

XenaIf you were a blog reader here over this past summer, you know about the outstanding impact my volunteering at Champ Camp for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation had on me. A world-class camp for kids who are burn survivors, Champ Camp draws the most amazing people—campers and volunteers alike. As a counselor for my cabin of “Rancheros” (8-10 year-olds) I really won the volunteer lottery—I was over the moon for those kids—I still am. The volunteers at camp are some of the most dedicated I’ve known, and there is a very organized system of leadership. The unit leader of our Ranchero age group (my direct boss, I suppose) was Xena, aka Kirky Kirkendall. I didn’t know her name then—we all exclusively use our camp names—I am Monkey—and many of us will never learn the actual names of others, even after years of working together.

Next summer, Xena will step into a larger role at camp, and become one of two Camp Directors, meaning the buck stops here. We’ll be lucky having her as one of the Queen Bees…and honestly, I wish every one of you could meet her and hang out with her and have her crack you up for a week…but until you come volunteer with us at Camp (or other volunteer activities with the foundation), you can meet Xena this way:

Tell me a little bit about what you will be doing at Champ Camp 2014 (Not as opposed to previous years, but in general, for readers who are unaware of the program) and your history at camp. How did you first get involved?

Burn survivors are affected both psychologically and physically by the injuries that they endure. Many of the survivors are very young and are burned as a result of an accident of some kind. These youth then have to adapt to an entire new persona. Burns at any age can be traumatic due to the physical changes and adaptations which need to happen. For those that are burned at a young age, however, the physical and “natural” difficulties of growing up become that much more difficult.

I became acutely aware of these difficulties in 2009 as my nephew (he was 17 at the time) became a burn survivor when he was electrocuted. He thought there was a brush fire and was going to try to help put it out, but it was actually a downed power line. His chest caught on fire and a volt went through his body. He was changed forever! He would always be nervous and stressed somehow by power lines and his skin would always have issues and need different surgeries. It is amazing how important skin is to our self-perception, self-worth, and confidence. To this day he is having to re-create himself, as so many youths are doing….

This is what compelled me to be involved in Champ Camp through the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation, a summer camp for any youth between 5-16 that has been treated for burns in California. This camp creates an opportunity for youth to play and be, for one week at least, “normal”, without scars, to play confidently, and laugh. I started to volunteer in this experience as a counselor four years ago and will transition this year humbly to be a director of this camp with Jeeter (who is a co-director with me) with 80 other of my dearest friends who also volunteer. (More after the jump) Continue reading

Changers Profile: TORY SONSTROEM, Volunteers for Peace

logoTory Sonstroem has this whole volunteer thing figured out—Ireland, Wales, Iceland, Alaska, Italy, Turkey, and more. She and her husband and daughter have been project participants as well as project hosts for other visiting service workers for Volunteers for Peace over the past many years. To give of your hard-earned vacation time to make a difference in the lives of others is one thing. To open your doors and arms to other weary and wary travelers doing the same is giving on a whole new level.

The VFP mission: “Volunteers For PeaceIMG_2725 promotes International Voluntary Service as an effective means of intercultural education, service learning, and community development. We provide projects where people from diverse backgrounds can work together to help overcome the need, violence, and environmental challenges facing our planet. We organize and promote projects where nations join together to improve life on our planet and volunteers experience a microcosm of our world. Through the exchange of ideas and international understanding, our projects are practical ways to both prevent and resolve conflict while meeting local needs. By encouraging and providing opportunities for voluntary service we are sowing the seeds of a better future for all.”

 Tory tells me that the typical format of a VFP experience is a 2-3 week residential project with up to a dozen volunteers from different nations. The group usually lives together in simple accommodations while accomplishing a given work assignment. VFP’s fee per project is quite low (currently about $500 per person), although volunteers are responsible for their own transportation. VFP sometimes refers to itself as a “short-term Peace Corps.”

 After the jump you’ll find the questions I wanted to know of such a dedicated, repeat (you might even say habitual) volunteer. Continue reading


Lindsay at clinic with four girls on the way to their father's funeral.

Lindsay at clinic with four girls on the way to their father’s funeral.

This is World Health Workers Week (April 8-12), so it seems a perfect time to run this profile of Lindsay Southgate, who went as a volunteer with Global Brigades to Panama, and found it to be such a powerful experience, she then went on another service trip with the organization, this time as a Co-President/group leader, to Ghana.

Global Brigades works internationally to resolve global health and economic disparities by empowering student volunteers, local professionals, and community members in a collaborative holistic approach to sustainable development. Their vision is “To improve equality of life by igniting the largest student-led social responsibility movement on the planet.”

Lindsay explains so thoroughly what the experience was like for her–I hope it inspires you as much as it does me…I lover her attitude of basically saying: This was pretty daunting, but that’s what it took, so that’s what I did. What choice did I have, there was no alternative to changing people’s lives, so I did whatever it took (my interpretation/words, not Lindsay’s)

Tell me a little bit about what you did on your two trips with Global Brigades. What possessed you? There must have been easier vacations to take—why this?

A friend in Ghana

A friend in Ghana

On my two trips with Global Brigades, I traveled to Ghana and Panama. I got involved with GB through a roommate. She is a nursing major and the nursing program initiated the GB San Diego State University branch. After learning about the Panama trip I applied and got in. It was unfortunate because my roommate who informed me about the trip did not get chosen in the raffle for Panama, but fortunately she did come to Ghana. My interest was sparked because I had recently been to a pre-medical conference that suggested students get international experience. Of course, as a premed, we do everything we think we need in order to get into medical school. Prior to learning about the Panama trip I decided that I would not go abroad because it was too expensive, and not realistic for me at that time. Once I decided to get involved with the Panama trip it became more than just another check mark on the list. It became a passion to raise enough money to get the opportunity to travel far and help such deserving people. (more after the jump) Continue reading

Marilyn Monroe Birthday–and Her Charity Work


Katharine McPhee or Megan Hilty, whoever plays Marilyn Monroe in the show-within-the-show on Smash, the delving into her larger-than-life persona probably won’t go into Norma Jeane’s charitable work…but for a superstar of her era, she set a mighty fine example. Today is Marilyn’s birthday, so I thought I’d try to find some of the ways she reached out to make the world a better place.

In 1953 she performed with Jane Russell in a fundraising benefit at the Hollywood Bowl for underprivileged children at St. Jude’s hospital.

While still traveling on her honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio, she did three gigs for US service members serving in Korea.

Worked with WAIF (World Adoption International Fund–founded by Jane Russell in 1955), an organization that facilitated more than 50,000 abandoned children being adopted.

In 1955 she rode a pink elephant at a benefit gala for Mike Todd’s Celebrity Circus at Madison Square Garden for the Arthritis and Rheumatism Foundation.

Marilyn gave her earnings from the world premiere of The Prince and The Showgirl to The Milk Fund For Babies.

1958 March of Dimes Fashion Parade to aid children with polio.

Donated to a children’s welfare organization that provided free breakfasts to underprivileged children.

This one is well known: Marilyn visited an orphanage in Mexico and wrote a check for $1000 while the press was there–and after they left she tore it up and wrote a new one for $10,000.

Was a member and lent her name and efforts to SANE, an organization dedicated to eliminating nuclear weapons.

Her last public appearance was at Dodger Stadium for a benefit for muscular dystrophy.

Alice Rallies All of Us: #Alice’sBucketList

Alice Pyne and Mabel

My apologies for the radio silence of late–had a little health scare and was in the hospital for a few days, but am definitely on the mend and feeling better every day now.

Because of my days immersed in healthcare and all its foibles (and GREAT nurses, in my case), I am drawn to the recent super-trending story of Alice Pyne in Ulverston, England. Alice has gained international attention for her blog, Alice’s Bucket List. Alice is a 15-year-old girl with cancer. She has been fighting it for four years, and with incredible grace that just guts me, she has come to the understanding that she’s not going to win this fight. Alice has created a Bucket List of things she is anxious to accomplish in the time she has, with fantastic experiences she longs for, like “To Swim With Sharks,” “To Be a Dolphin Trainer,” and “To Meet [the band] Take That.” Alice’s number one wish is for everyone, and she does mean everyone, to sign up to be a potential bone marrow donor. A donor match can save a life. One-to-one, you being responsible for the survival of another, and without you, they will not make it. It is an awesome responsibility and honor. Alice’s work for awareness is huge.

Respond to the international movement started by this young woman, by finding the marrow donation center nearest you, and put yourself on the list. It is easier than you think.

Be the Match

CHANGERS PROFILE: Katherine Fisher—Destination:PEACE

Without getting too smarmy, the most amazing experiences I get from doing this blog are the interconnected webs of relationships with people I’ve met who are up to the same things as I. There are deep friendships that have been forged with some people who I haven’t even met yet, but we create a connection through work and through networking that lets us keep up with one another. Katherine Fisher reached out to me via the blog a while ago, and I honestly feel so supported by her, and am so inspired by the work she does in Mexico, she feels like family…and we’ve never been in the same place at the same time…YET…That’ll all change when I am lucky enough to join one of these fantastic volunteer trips she does, bringing folks into communities in Mexico to work, and giving folks a little downtime and yoga practice too. Her story, and the story of Destination:PEACE, is inspiring as I learn more about someone who saw a place in the world that needed an infusion of energy and support, and she recognized that nothing would fill that gap quite as perfectly as she herself…and now she holds the door open for us to join her as well.


Katherine Fisher is a visionary businesswoman who has creatively found a way to balance her life’s passions and practical skills into a social venture. After many years as a PEACE volunteer and multiple years serving on the Board of Directors, Katherine saw an opportunity to bring mind, body, and spirit together and founded Destination:PEACE Volunteer Vacations.

When Katherine discovered Bikram Yoga, she fell in love with the practice for both its meditative and physically challenging aspects, changing her perspective on what it truly means to be healthy. It was this outlook that led her to believe that like-minded yoga participants would enjoy combining this healthy practice with the opportunity to bring support to struggling families and animals in Mexico.

Katherine combined her background in business and sales with her passion for Yoga and has committed herself full time to build, organize, and promote Destination:PEACE, bringing funding to non-profits in Mexico while allowing volunteers to serve the local community and fulfill their own vacation and inspirational needs.

Mission Statement: To provide an opportunity for volunteers from all walks of life to experience different volunteer programs, to become immersed in another culture, and work side-by-side with other volunteers and residents to create and further sustainable community initiatives.

Read the interview after the jump. Continue reading