Archive | May, 2009

Citymeals-on-Wheels

24 May

What: Delivering food to home-bound seniors

Where: Encore Community Center, Theater District, through Street Project

When: Saturday, 10am-12:30pm

Citymeals-on-Wheels is a non-profit organization that provides many services to home-bound seniors throughout the five boroughs of New York. According to their website, Citymeals “funds 30 community-based agencies that bring weekend, holiday and emergency meals to home-bound elderly New Yorkers who can no longer shop or cook for themselves.” Signing up through Street Project, I was able to volunteer at one of those 30 agencies, the Encore Community Services Center in the theater district.  You’ll be told to arrive at 10am or earlier to ensure that you won’t get left behind when everyone sets out to deliver; when I volunteered they were running a late, but I heard its rare, so I suggest you heed the warning and get there on time.  You’ll sign in with your friendly project leader and wait to be given a delivery route for you and a partner. There is one hot meal, and two cold entrees that can be eaten later in the day; everything is packaged, counted, and packed for transport beforehand. Also, it could be my affinity for TV dinners and airplane food, or the fact that I didn’t have breakfast, but everything looked and smelled delicious. But I digress…

You’ll be given a route with about 7-12 stops, all within a 10 block radius, so you won’t need to get on a subway. The food is transported in hot/cold packs on a rolling luggage cart; I have an aversion to these, especially in Times Square, so I let my partner pull the food through the throngs of tourists. Thanks, Partner. We had a short list, 7 seniors, 4 of which resided in the same building. All of the meals we delivered were received with generous thanks. Some wanted to chat for a little while, just about the weather or DTV switch, while others took their food with a thankful nod and closed the door. Both reactions are understandable: on the one hand, these people are living alone and can’t really go anywhere by themselves, so they’re happy to have company if only for a few minutes. On the other hand, some people may feel ashamed that they need to have food delivered to them because they can’t get it themselves. Just something to think about if you do this project. Our delivery took about an hour; when you’re all done, you’ll bring the empty packs back to Encore and sign out. Other things to know:

-This may be obvious, but I’m saying it anyway: wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather-this is a rain or shine activity. People gotta eat, even in the rain!

-Citymeals offers other volunteer opportunities that aim to help home-bound seniors, such as phone chat, letter writing, and friendly visiting, all with varying time commitments. Check out their website for more information. You can also email Encore Community Services, if you’re interested in volunteering directly with them; they have many programs for seniors, including lunch service during the week  at 11 & 1230.

-I was pleasantly surprised with the crowd Street Project attracted. True to their website, it was a good mix of  male and female young professionals. You’ll have an opportunity to meet people before going to deliver, and get to know your partner (mine was Ori, orignally from Israel, now a PhD student here in New York-thanks for pulling the food, Ori). I’m looking forward to future projects with Street Project, which are mostly on Saturdays and Sundays.

-This is a great activity to do with a friend or two, or even, on a date. I know it sounds weird, and I’m not sure if I should be advocating dating on a volunteer project, but it just seemed like a nice way to get to know someone while working together to get the meals delivered. Or you can just go out to dinner…that works too.

Dancing with Seniors.. kind of.

17 May

What: Roseland Dance with seniors

Where: Jewish Home & Hospital for the Aged, Upper West Side, thru New York Cares

When: Thursday, 630-815pm

When you first arrive at the Jewish Home and Hospital, you’ll be directed to the auditorium upstairs where you will meet the other volunteers and a few staff members. After a briefing about how to handle the residents (Alzheimer’s is prevalent here, so you’ll be given a few tips), you set off to one of the various wings to go get anyone who wants to dance and escort them down to the auditorium. Most of the residents (about 90% that I saw) are wheelchair-bound, and unable to go anywhere on their own. Because of this, the dance consists mainly of volunteers pushing residents around in a circle to the beat of the music. You can dance while you push, and even take a break every now and then to dance in place in front of your partner or with another volunteer. If you don’t have a dance partner, you can dance solo or take a seat next to one of the residents and keep them company while they listen to the music. Around 8 you’ll bring the residents back to their floors, bid them a good night, and be on your way.

Let me stress something very important that I learned quickly upon my arrival: Know where you’re going before you get there. I was completely unaware of the diminished mental and physical capacities of the residents here until I turned the corner and saw for myself. When I was growing up,and even now, I loved listening to my mom tell stories about the senior center she used to run in Brooklyn in the 1970’s. She spent her days and sometimes nights hosting dances with retired competitive dancers (who often wore their old costumes), and even ‘A Night at the Races’, where the seniors bet on video-taped horse races from years prior. They danced the Foxtrot with precision and played a nasty game of Bingo. They were mobile and aware of their surroundings. So naturally, I assumed that the ‘Roseland Dance’ I signed up for would be just like that. I was sadly mistaken. My first dance partner stared at a book on her lap the majority of the time while I danced my heart out behind her.  There were a few residents who danced or clapped in their chairs a little, and the only two men there used walkers and took a turn or two around the floor. This all would’ve been perfectly fine had I been prepared for it, but I wasn’t. Not in the least. Something a little online research would’ve told me, but I neglected to look into where I was going beyond getting subway directions on HopStop. I’ll be prepared next time, and now, so will you. Some other things to know:

– This is a very family-friendly activity. Bring the kids. There were two mothers who brought their young daughters to volunteer with them; they add a lot of positive energy and the residents seemed to enjoy watching them dance.

– Be prepared for what you’re going to see: this is mainly a long-term care facility. It’s a sad place. No one is pretending it’s not, and that’s why you’re there- to spread a little joy through music and dance, if only for an hour or so.

-You don’t need to know how to dance, just how to smile.

-I want to mention Lew, the New York Cares team leader, who has been doing Roseland for the past 9 years. It takes a big heart to do what he does every week, and it was inspirational to see someone so dedicated to bringing happiness into an otherwise dismal place. Lew also organizes a Senior Prom every year for the residents, which is on June 11th this year. You can read about it here in an article by the NY Times, and sign up to volunteer on the NY Cares website.

Reality for Good, not Bad..

11 May

Recently, while I was mindlessly searching the web for volunteering events and such, I discovered Volunteer Nation. According to their website, “Volunteer Nation is a new video series that celebrates the passion of extraordinary Americans who take action through service, volunteerism, and civic engagement.” This series will get up close and personal with volunteers from all over the country, and share their stories. I’m not sure when the first episode will be released, but I’m looking forward to watching.

Click here to watch the Season One Trailer!

Not that I don’t enjoy reality shows like ‘For the Love of Ray J‘ or ‘Tough Love’. Because really, I do. Probably too much. But I’d much rather watch the REAL reality of Volunteer Nation and see how other people are affecting the world around them in a positive way, than watch Steve Ward dole out tough love to 8 desperate women via a game of touch football.

How much is your time worth?

5 May

Volunteers are indispensable. They help certain organizations function on a day-to-day basis, do the work that may otherwise go undone, and in some cases, they ARE the organization. Our time is invaluable…. or is it?

A recent study done by the Independent Sector estimates the monetary worth of the average volunteer hour. In 2008, this dollar value was $20.25 per hour! And that’s the national average; New York volunteer hours are estimated to be $28.04 (this is 2007, as the state-by-state breakdown is a bit more involved).

So next time you head out to volunteer, think about the difference you’re making and how valuable your time really is..