Archive | April, 2009

Hands On New York Day

26 Apr

What: Revitalize parks, gardens, playgrounds, community centers, and schools

Where: Bronx River Park, through New York Cares

When: Saturday, 830am-2pm

Hands On New York Day is one of New York Cares biggest days of the year. They mobilized about 5,000 volunteers, in partnership with the MillionTrees initiative, and sent them out to about 75 parks and gardens throughout the 5 boroughs. Some people planted trees, others re-painted fences or picked up trash; volunteers were doing whatever was necessary to fit the needs of the park/garden/school to revitalize and beautify the site.

I volunteered to be a registration leader and ambassador; the first job required that I register volunteers as they arrived at the site, give them a t-shirt, collect a registration fee if necessary, and have them sign a waiver. The ambassador’s (also me), were then supposed to collect all of the registration materials, money and any extra t-shirts, and bring them back to the New York Cares office on W. 29th Street. Though I’m sure that  it wasn’t the case at most of the sites, ours had some major issues that caused a late start. The directions that were sent out to most of the volunteers (including me, who was supposed to be at the site early) were wrong, so people had to get back on the subway and go two more stops to the correct meeting spot. It was really confusing; to add to this, I took the wrong train to begin with, so I was already running late. But that’s my own fault for being directionally challenged.

All of that aside, the Bronx River Alliance did a great job getting people registered and into t-shirts before we got there, and throughout the day were extremely helpful and knowledgeable about their park. It was a great day to  be outside and planting trees. This is an annual event, so you’ll have to wait until next year to try this activity out, but there are tons of opportunities during the warmer months to get outside and volunteer. Check out the organizations on my resource page to find something for you; these type of events/activities are great for groups, as you can all work together digging and planting and just having a good time.



Serve America Act Signed…Government did something good!

21 Apr

As I’m sure you’re aware, there has been a HUGE increase in the number of volunteers within the past year or so. Now there is a bill, the Serve America Act, that will help mobilize those volunteers and recruit more to help address the pressing needs of society. I think that this is a huge step in the right direction for our country. It will help to create a new generation of volunteers by incorporating service-learning into curriculum across the board- elementary, high school, college and beyond, in addition to offering incentives or stipends in exchange for service. There are many different facets to the Serve America Act; if you want to learn more about it you can read it in full online, or check out this summary from Service Nation.

Alan Khazei, the CEO and founder of Be The Change Inc., wrote a great piece about the new legislature that I had to share. You can find it here: Alan Khazai – ‘A New Patriotism’ .

The Serve America Act has come at just the right time… The citizens of this country will now have more access to volunteer opportunities, enabling us to pick up the pieces that government has left and may not be able to fix without our help. I think everyone keeps waiting for the government to fix everything for them. Newsflash: they can’t! But with this piece of legislation, we are now more able than before to be the change we want to see in our communities and the world around us.

And don’t think that New York City won’t be a major player in all of this.. This week Mayor Bloomberg announced the expanding opportunities that will address the most urgent needs of the city, making the volunteer experience more effective by assisting non-profit agencies, and keeping track of the progress our City makes as a result of these changes. For more, check out the new NYC Service site.

Excited? Pissed off? I’d love to hear what everyone thinks….

Enrichment Murals for P.S. 171

17 Apr

What: painting/touching up canvas and wall murals

Where: PS 171, through New York Cares

When: Saturday, 10am-3pm

This project happens monthly, and was pretty straightforward. The hardest part was finding the school itself, so stick to the directions you’re given and you’ll be fine. About 10-15 volunteers gather in the cafeteria and are then split into two groups: one group ventured off into the hallways to touchup previously painted murals, getting rid of graffiti and scratches. I was in the other group, made up of those who felt they had slightly- higher-than-average painting abilities. We were each given a large canvas that had a pencil sketch of a popular book cover- done via projector by a girl who I assume is a regular volunteer- to start/finish painting. Some people returned to finish their work from the month prior, and the team leader ensured that those people could get their murals back. The rest of us newbie’s had to finish someone else’s work -which is harder than doing it from scratch- or start our own mural (it’s likely you won’t finish one in a day).

This is a good project for artists (former and current) that want to lend their skills to a school in need of some pizazz, or really, anyone who doesn’t mind spending the day painting in a relaxed environment. This is NOT the place to go paint that masterpiece you’re been putting off since high school art class, or if you’re a perfectionist. You’ll be using worn out brushes and a rotating supply of old latex-based paint from a can. I’m not saying you won’t be able to paint something amazing, because some of the canvas murals were pretty sweet. I’m just saying it won’t be easy. Other things to know:

  • You can talk to other volunteers but for the most part, everyone keeps their head down and paints. So feel free to bring your iPod and headphones.
  • Even if you think your work is horrible, the elementary-age children you’re painting for will be impressed and think it’s awesome. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
  • This activity is an obvious lure for artists; if that’s you, you’ll get to meet like-minded people who not only enjoy painting, but volunteering as well.
  • Bonus: Not relaxing enough? This school is within walking distance of the Central Park Conservatory Garden. In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the city that often goes unnoticed. It’s accessible, it’s free, and it’s a great way to end a day of painting and art.

Dog Walking and Cat Care

7 Apr

Where: Animal Care and Control, Upper East Side/East Harlem

When: Tuesday, 6:30-8:30 pm

Dog walking is one of the more popular listings on New York Cares, and fills up fast every month. Though I went to walk dogs, there were an odd number of people, so I volunteered to split my time with the Cat Care group (also on NY Cares). After being given brief instructions on how to handle the dogs, volunteers will pair off, be given a dog and head outside. You’ll be instructed to walk from 110th to 104th St and back, though you can lengthen or shorten this depending on the weather and how comfortable/uncomfortable your dog looks. You may be allowed to walk a dog solo; it all depends on the team leader you have for that day.

After walking two very cute dogs, I switched over to the cat room. The first 3-5 minutes will be spent acclimating to the overwhelming smell of all things cat. It is a small room with about 15 cats (varies depending on the day) all in separate cages. You’ll tidy the cages and refill food/water as necessary, and then you can play with the cats one by one, sanitizing your hands in between. Most of them were sleeping, but didn’t mind being woken for a scratch; for the most part, you’ll open a cage, pet a cat for a short time, close the cage, & move on to the next.

At some point a cat will poop. It’s inevitable. If you don’t recognize the smell, you’ll know this has happened when all of the volunteers move to one side of the room until someone decides to take one for the team and clean it up. I won’t dwell on the subject, but I thought it was worth sharing, as I found the whole situation quite amusing. Other things to know:

  • Both Dog Walking and Cat Care are a good choice for those looking to meet new people, as you’ll have ample time to talk to fellow volunteers.
  • If you don’t want to talk to new people, then stick with the cats; otherwise you’ll be taking an awkwardly silent walk with your dog-walking partner.
  • Use your judgment: If you’re walking a 5-lb Chihuahua in the dead of winter, don’t go too far unless you’ve brought them a sweater.
  • If you keep trying to pet a cat and it hisses at you relentlessly, move on to the next cage.
  • Bonus: If you take 4 dogs along the designated route, you’ll have walked about 2 miles, which is enough to constitute my daily dose of exercise.

Monday Night Hospitality

1 Apr

What: A meal service program

Where: All Souls Church (Upper East Side), through New York Cares

When: Monday night, 6:30-8:45 pm

This was my first time volunteering in NYC as a part of this website, and it was a great experience. When you first arrive at All Souls Church, there is an office just inside to your left; you can tell the person sitting in there that you’re with New York Cares, and they’ll tell you where to go next. You’ll be given a brief orientation in a room off the main dining area, and then volunteers will be split into groups of 4 or 5 people which will each be given a color. When entering the dining room, you’ll see tables set up (tablecloths, ‘church china’, flowers and all) labeled by color and number, and upwards of 200 hungry people. Things get hectic really fast. At first I froze; some people were holding up their bowls asking for soup, some people yelled, others waited patiently. I just got in line for soup, took my pitcher, and began doling out portions to people sitting at my tables. Two hours fly by, and you’ll end the night breaking down tables and drying dishes. Other things you should know:

  • There are roughly 30 meal service volunteers, plus maybe 15 more in the kitchen. Not everyone is from New York Cares, so feel free to talk to other people and see where they come from and what they’re about while you wait for dinner to start.
  • Wear comfortable shoes; you’ll be on your feet the entire time.
  • No one gets seconds until everyone get firsts (including people waiting outside for a seat to free up). People will ask if they can be the first person you give seconds to (since they may eventually run out of food); this isn’t a good agreement to make, as it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to keep the promise. Just say ‘I’ll do my best’ and move on.
  • Don’t worry about having experience waiting on tables; no one is judging you.
  • Stick to your section! But if you do mess up and serve someone from another group/color, the worst that you’ve done is given someone extra food. Don’t sweat it.
  • If you get confused, just ask a fellow volunteer or your group leader what to do. Everyone is there to help others, including you.
  • Everything is very regimented and organized. Just go with the flow and you’ll be fine.