Archive for the ‘volunteer’ Category

Praise vs. Thanks

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I’ve been wondering lately how clearly we hold the distinction between Praise and Thanks. Do we really know the difference? Does one of them, or the anticipation of receiving one, drive us more than another?

I’ve just returned from a 10-day exhausting and overwhelmingly fulfilling volunteer gig working with burn-injured children (Champ Camp of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation—it’s the largest and longest-running burn camp in the nation—reach out and I’ll tell you every little thing about it—you want to be a part of this, I promise)…and on the long drive home from the hot dusty foothills of Fresno, I reflected back on the week-and-a-half.

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I received a LOT of thanks for my work. I was often embarrassed, because it felt like praise and I, like so many of us, duck and deflect compliments…but I never want to avoid a thank you. A thank you deserves to be heard, received, and responded to (but NOT with that horrific reply “No problem”—Ooof how I want to thwack the head of every damn waiter and barista and service person who replies to “Thank you” with “No problem”…but that’s a rant for another day) with some grace. I also gave a lot of thanks to my fellow volunteers, not to slap them on the back as if to say, “Good on ya” but because I was (am) genuinely thankful for their hard and important work. It gets blurry in my own head which is which, but I know that praise is not important, gratitude expressed IS important.

If we functioned in a vacuum, with no one to witness our good deeds and service as volunteers, how much of this hard work would we still perform? I don’t mean to suggest that we do it selfishly to polish our halos and gain recognition for our selflessness—most of us are legit pretty darned selfless—there are MUCH easier ways to garner praise. If, however, we did a good deed in the forest and no one was there to hear it, might we just walk on by? Probably, at least some of the time. That’s hard for me to wrap my head around for my own self-image, but I think it is authentic.

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I wipe down the public restroom sink because I believe I should, not because someone is watching. I pick up the litter because it offends my sensibility to see it there, not because someone will clap for me. Those are tiny expressions. Will I, however, commit a week and a half to 24-hour-a-day service if I don’t get to humble brag about it on social media? Wow—I sure hope so. I have no sense of an audience for my service when I am in the midst of it all, but if I’m being honest, I sure do want you to notice afterward.

It’s not a peg on which everyone hangs their reputation, but the “being of service” thing is very much a part of who I am and who I say I will always be. How much of that is to feed my ego? I’m not sure. I’m probably being hard on myself with sleep deprivation and laundry and re-entry making my brain swirl. In the long run, what matters is that the good work is done and done well. If you volunteer because a spouse or parent or someone pressures you into it, or so you can include it on a resume or college app, or to get extra credit, does that matter? I say no. Do the work anyway. Sweat the sweat. Cry the tears. Laugh the belly laughs. Hug until it hurts. You might get some praise—big deal—but you WILL get thanks, and that IS a big deal.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the most important thanks is coming from you.

That seems like a trite statement but it is everything.

How Will You Spend Your MLK Day of Service?

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Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr has offered more quotable quotes to the zeitgeist than a boatload of news channel pundits, politicians, or presidents–perhaps because his public time in the spotlight was focused on realizing a greater future for all–a sentiment in shorter supply, today,than is healthy for us, I think. One of my favorites of his messages is…

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Today, many of us have a holiday from work, but it is not the Martin Luther King holiday we celebrate, rather the Martin Luther King Day of Service, a time to take a day ON instead of a day off. You should serve yourself as well–sleep in a bit, take some downtime to relax. Absolutely bask in rare extra hours with your family…won’t it be even more memorable if you, as a family, volunteer in your community? Kids are learning about MLK in their classes, but the lesson truly takes hold when they learn the spirit of the day by putting together care packages for the homeless, or cleaning up a public park, or shoveling the walk for a neighbor, or ladling stew at a soup kitchen, or, or, or…

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How can you creatively express your huge commitment to service? Without advance planning, perhaps you don’t have a volunteer project lined up for today–how about using the day to commit to action soon? Surf around to find a non-profit organization doing projects near you–there are so many resources for discovery, and SOOOO many organizations that need your assistance. When the new tax laws have most charities and non-profits quaking in their boots in anticipation of Americans donating RECORD LOW AMOUNTS to charitable causes, giving hours (in addition to) dollars becomes even more important.

There are web tools for you to use in your neighborhoods and towns, to find projects and programs that need your contribution. The MLKDay website has resources that are already serving the hundreds of thousands of people who will volunteer around the nation today, but the opportunity lasts long past midnight tonight. Use the website as a jumping off place. I promise there are other day of service events and tasks in your immediate region, school, place of worship, block, etc. What’s that? You already made plans for today you can’t break? You’ve got a little time coming up…Next weekend. On your birthday. On your anniversary. On the day a loved one passed to honor them. Or on an ongoing basis. What if today is the day you find a brand new, exciting passion project that completely fires you up? It is out there–I can promise you that, and they truly need you and what you bring. You don’t have to be a certain age, have expertise, have physical abilities, have endless free time–none of that is required for you to contribute.

Contribution can be a scary word–our brains go toward yet another request to open our wallets. What if you re-framed it and held the meaning of the word more closely to its intended use in language: the part played by a person or thing in bringing about a result or helping something to advance. What matters at the very root of it all is the contribution of your art, your passion, your enthusiasm, your voice, your ability to encourage and inspire others, your willingness to take a stand on an issue that matters to and moves you. Move things forward. Move our country forward, for you truly have the ability (without spending a cent).

“The time is always right to do what is right.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Largest Protected Area on Earth Created – Now What? Volunteer!

underwater shot of endangered Hawaiian monk seal

Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal

Last week, President Obama signed legislation creating the largest protected area anywhere. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (which was set aside as a protected Pacific ocean space in 2006) was quadrupled in size. The newly expanded marine preserve is now double the size of the state of Texas. Its area, called by some a “Blue Park,” encompasses a large spread of the waters to the NorthWest of the Hawaiian Islands.

Now a hefty 582,578 square miles, the National Monument is larger than all the US National Parks combined. It is now a protected sanctuary for thousands of species, many of them endangered, and many found exclusively in these waters. Its protection will stop any future deep-sea mining and other depleting practices. Commercial fishing is also restricted in these remote seas, though licensed recreational fishing is still permitted.

So here’s the cool part–to celebrate the newest baby park (a huge baby, at that) why not consider getting involved as a volunteer? Some of the Marine National Monument volunteer activities include: Communications and office-based help, habitat restoration on some of the atolls and small islands, wildlife sanctuary work, and wildlife biology volunteers. Some of the volunteer stints are smaller in commitment, some last up to 6 or 7 months living in remote places–a dream for a drop-off-the-grid service-oriented soul.

It sounds pretty dreamy to an island lover like me!


Photo credit: USFWS Headquarters via VisualHunt / CC BY

Volunteer for Homeless Young People: Safe Place for Youth

homeless teen girl one street with backpackIn 2011, in Venice, California, group of dedicated volunteers began driving around a Southern California city and opening their car trunks to offer hot food, clothing, and dry socks to kids on the streets of Venice. Now, SPY (Safe Place for Youth) has grown to a professional team with a headquarters, expanded programs, and much greater impact in creating services (health and wellness, street outreach, employment, education, drop-in services, and more) and safe space for homeless young people.

The goal is to provide an empowering resource bank of services so young people can take control of their lives and not be defined by circumstances — all in a positive, non-judgmental environment. In 2015, nearly 1,000 youth received life saving support from SPY, including nearly 10,000 hot meals served, hundreds of medical consultations, 5,000 drop-in center visits, and 57 young people that exited homelessness and entered stable living situations.

As in the beginning, SPY still relies on the great hearts and work of volunteers. Check out opportunities to get involved in creating an end to youth homelessness, and also to support the deeply important work of Safe Place for Youth.


Photo: “Homeless Teen” from U.S. Department of Agriculture

Whole Foods 365 and Volunteering

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Whole Foods Market powers-that-be have long had their hearts in the right place regarding food quality and the environment, helping shoppers find healthier food and grocery choices all under one wood-paneled roof…but clearly they would grow weary of the nickname their chain has: “Whole Paycheck.” Sure, prices are head-and-shoulders, overall, above the average grocery store, but it’s not just because there are artisanal cheeses and cut-your-own soap bars. Many of the products they sell, with the intention or at least bold claim of being healthy options, are from smaller companies with higher price points. That means you gasp a little when the friendly and seemingly pretty-darn-happy-to-work-there team member rings up your total.

Well, now there is a new initiative from Whole Foods. They are launching a new market aimed at millennials, called 365. Getting their prices competitive with Trader Joe’s and Kroger on a still-healthy collection of in-store groceries needed to happen. Since they made organic and healthy so cool for shoppers, (Wal-Mart offers an impressive array of organic products now!) the other stores caught on and offer a large overlap of the exact same products…so the unique business proposition of Whole Foods had grown far less unique.

So, with this agile pivot in their business model, I, of course wonder what their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs are like, particularly in relation to volunteering and social good causes…

The Whole Planet Foundation is the philanthropic and pro-social arm of the company, a 501(c)3 focused on alleviating world poverty and hunger. The foundation provides microfinance loan programs with community lending partners in 68 countries in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Middle East. Additionally, they support programs for training and support for the self-employed poor. Because the parent company is so stable, WPF is able to put 100% of donated dollars toward their impact mission–few charitable organizations can claim the same. The entirety of their overhead is covered by Whole Foods Markets.

OK, cool…so what can I (and you, too) do to support their mission? There isn’t yet a volunteer opportunity for shoppers and unaffiliated supporters, but employees, always called “Team Members,” have opportunities to travel and meet the microcredit clients funded by the organization and contribute effort to community service. Thus far, since their 2007 inception, 612 Team Members have volunteered in Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, and the United States. The videos about some of the trips (watch 2013 Volunteer Program in Kenya video below) place heavy weight on cultural immersion and visits with a service component (which will undoubtedly piss off the recently jaded bloggers who want to slam volunteering) but there is big progress on community projects as well (and not in the bad, taking jobs away from locals way). I’m certain it has a big impact on the visited communities, the entrepreneurs that are supported by micro lending, and the volunteers who come home as activists and advocates, spreading awareness.

World Turtle Day – You Can Help

pexels-photo-38452Today, May 23, is World Turtle Day, so give some love to the shelled wonders of the world. More than one species of sea turtle is endangered, and all of them need us to be caretakers of the seas to better protect the environment they share with so many species. Saving the integrity of oceans saves land masses as well.

As a kid, visiting touristy places with my family, I had an unshakable fascination with the tiny box turtles with shells painted with pictures of attractions as living souvenirs (Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, etc–better to buy a postcard or shot glass or thimble or license plate with your name on it). It was undoubtedly an unhappy, and unnaturally short life for the turtles as they scrambled over one another in plastic tanks outside a shop, next to the wind chimes and seashell picture frames. My own reaction shifted to revulsion and my activist blood began to boil when my folks told me that the paint would cause harm and probably kill the turtles. From that point forward, I would refuse to even cross the threshold of any store selling them (care of the tiny turtles is also a fair bit trickier than the tourists of the 1970s likely realized, also guaranteeing an unnecessarily short life for most).

Toward a much better life for turtles, and trying to improve aqua environments, Clean Ocean Access is championing work for cleaner oceans and marine debris solutions. Consider volunteering with their Rhode Island-based projects, not just on World Turtle Day, but any day.

On the opposite coast, in California, Heal the Bay works tirelessly to protect and improve the Pacific oceanscape, and their work has been accomplished with the help of over 100,000 volunteers just like you. Check out opportunities.

Before you book your next volunteering gig with these turtle champions or one of so very many others near you (an internet search for “Turtle Volunteer” yields loads of results), surf over to the website for Greenpeace and send an S.O.S. to world leaders on behalf of turtles everywhere, and all their aquatic neighbors, to protect their homes…and lives.

I’ve been blessed enough to snorkel among honu (the Hawaiian for green sea turtle) and it is simply magical and meditative to glide in the water with them. Making sure next generations can also see them (from a safe and unobtrusive distance, of course) is so important.

HAPPY TURTLE DAY!

National Parks 100th Birthday Volunteer

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Redwood National Park Tide Pool Tour with Ranger. Photo: NPS

2016 is the centennial of the National Park Service–the actual date of the birth of the countrywide system of great green and urban spaces, is August 25…but don’t wait to get outside and enjoy…and maybe give back a little while you’re at it.

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.

For birthday bashes, here is a link to Centennial Programs happening all year. Don’t miss out take a picnic lunch with cake at the Grand Canyon or blow out candles before diving in the Channel Islands. There are more national parks than states in the nation of ours – find one near you or near where your next travel plans will lead. (Find Your Park link)

On Equal Pay Day Commit to Volunteering for Women

Today is Equal Pay Day, one of those oops-we’re-doing-it-wrong shake your head sorts of days…it is the day each year when a woman’s earnings from the year before would finally catch up to one year of a man’s earnings doing the same work.

Yep, still true, it takes until April for a woman to earn what a guy took home by last December. On average, full-time working women still only make about 79 cents to a dollar for a man (better than the 72 cents of a few years ago, but c’mon…really?)

The wage gap costs the average full-time working woman about $430,000 dollars over her lifetime. Here’s the perplexing other side of the coin, and I know we’re all ramped up about minimum wages and unskilled labor making more than military, and those are entirely separate issues (about which…surprise…I have some very specific views…) but if we CLOSE the wage gap, we could add as much as $4.3 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy by the year 2025.

Since that closing of the gap won’t happen today, in the meantime, while you add your name to this petition to stand up for equal pay, here are a few volunteer opportunities around the world that you might consider that are dedicated to equality for women:

Volunteer at Marine Mammal Care Center

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Photo: marinemammalcare.org

I had a wonderful experience this morning and want to share.

A couple of years ago I picked up a pamphlet for the Marine Mamma Care Center at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, CA. I stuffed it into the ever-growing pile of information I always grab up about possible volunteer opportunities to explore and share, and sadly, I sort of forgot about it.

I recently randomly checked out their website and found their WISH LIST for needed donation items, and realized we had some things that would go to great use for them, and support the animals they rescue and rehabilitate.

Those animals are the all-too-many seals and sea lions that are stranded along the Los Angeles coastline. The MMCC functions as a hospital for sick and injured marine mammals and it is a great program serving a huge need.

With El Nino weather conditions, we tend to think of it just happening this year with some storms finally bringing much needed rain, but ocean water temperatures have been warmer than usual–an El Nino condition–for a couple of years. The warmer water creates some crisis conditions for seals and sea lions. The fish they usually feed on close to the coast are being driven farther out and deeper down, since they cannot thrive in the warmer ocean water. This means that mother pinnipeds (the center mostly treats California sea lions, northern elephant seals, Pacific harbor seals, and northern fur seals) have to go away to forage farther and for longer periods of time to find enough food to sustain themselves and produce milk for their babies. The pups are left on beaches for too long while adults search, sometimes orphaned, often malnourished. When a pup can no longer sustain itself and is starving, Animal Control or other agencies brings them to MMCC for care. Additionally, fishing line, nets, and other injurious human interactions take their toll.

An average year sees about 350 patients at the center…the past two years have exceeded 700. It’s a big deal and a big job.

I love this place. Some of the many animals, both young and mature, are frolicking like you’d hope, slipping in and out of pools of water, barking, feeding–these are getting close to being released back into the ocean. Others are newly arrived, in a quiet zone, while some pretty intensive care is administered trying to nurse them back to health and viability. With as much struggle as these little guys and gals go through, I expected a pretty somber mortality rate, but surprisingly they lose only a few. A few more are deemed unreleasable and find homes at aquariums and other facilities (all of the disposition is handled by the US Government…where, when, how many get transferred to which places).

If you’re local to the Los Angeles area and are looking for a rewarding volunteer gig, check out the opportunities, from docents educating children and adult guests and field trip classes, to folks doing animal husbandry in the back and keeping things clean and running smoothly, there is always a need for more big-hearted volunteers. I suspect it can be tough work, but I bet you, like me, won’t be able to wipe the smile off your face. If you’re local or traveling to the L.A. region and want to visit to learn more about the several species under their care and see them, there are educational docents there to show you around and answer all your questions from 10am to 4pm, and they are open 365 days a year. Check them out, support their work, and you too, will have a perma-grin.

Voluntourism, Killer Whales, and SeaWorld’s Tilikum

adult and young orcas in wild

Photo: Christopher Michel – CC License

You’ve likely seen, or at least heard about the documentary Blackfish, exploring the life and striving times of captive killer whales, or orcas, at SeaWorld marine parks. While SeaWorld has been goaded by the resulting uproar into some changes in planned habitat restructuring and living conditions for their largest resident animals, there are many who feel captive orcas can never be appropriate.

The main storyline of the film focuses on a particular whale named Tilikum. This 35-year-old cetacean over-earned the “killer” moniker by being responsible for the deaths of three people while in captivity for more than two decades. Now, SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida has announced that Tilikum has an infection from which he will not recover, and he is in declining health. It’s a rough life in a cement pool too small for comfort, no matter how attentive the care (and, to be fair, SeaWorld’s staff caretakers and medics are dedicated and skilled animal lovers) and many believe it has been tantamount to torturing the whale for the majority of his life.

The flip side of this difficult coin is the marine study of orcas in their natural habitat, like this brand new volunteer expedition from Earthwatch: Killer Whales and Their Prey in Iceland. The first of several offerings of this 12-day voluntourism service trip is offered in June of 2017, where you will help study the feeding behavior of orcas in Vestmannaeyjar in the Westman Islands in the south of Iceland. Some of your time will be on shore, some on boats, as you scan for whales and take detailed scientific research notes on behavior of individual whales. You’ll be thoroughly trained and also get up close and personal as you assist the scientist research team to collect small (non-harming) skin and blubber samples from whales to biopsy and record diet, pollutant levels, and genetic information. You’ll be living at the research field station in dormitory accommodations, cooking and sharing time and laughs with your fellow volunteers.

This is a leading study of the species, and, like all Earthwatch volunteer opportunities, the work you do actually advances scientific understanding–this work, in particular, will help establish policies to better protect killer whales.