Archive | June, 2009

Visions – Services for the Blind

26 Jun

What: Arts and Crafts with blind and visually impaired persons

Where: Visions Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Chelsea, through New York Cares

When: Wednesday, 6:15-8:15pm

When you first arrive at Visions on 23rd Street, you’ll wait in the lobby for the rest of the group to get there (there were about 8 or 9 volunteers the night I went). You’ll then head down to the Arts & Crafts room, where the Visions clients will be waiting or arriving shortly after you (we had 10 clients this particular night). There are 3 communal tables; volunteers will be paired with clients, to assist them with the project of the day. Since this is an on-going program at Visions, and many of the clients come each week, some people will have projects from previous weeks to finish before starting a new one; some that I saw were jewelry boxes, small hemp-like tapestries, and painted wood crafts. At the end of the class, you’ll assist in cleaning up the scraps of fabric, glue, or whatever else you were using, and make sure that all of your partner’s work is labeled with their name.

You’ll notice that not all of the Visions clients are completely blind; the woman I was working with could make out shapes and colors, but was still highly visually impaired. You can gauge your partner with simple questions, asking if they want to use the glue or if they’d like you to do it instead. Everyone was very nice, and don’t think that asking if they need you do something is condescending: you’re there to help them when they need it. The project we had the night I was there involved gluing tiny googly-eyes to foam shapes; it was a bit tricky to hand-off the eyes to Shannon, my partner, but we got the hang of it and finished our project with time to spare, allowing us to also decorate a woven hat with fabric and beads. Keep in mind that in addition to helping with the art projects, you’re also there to socialize and talk with the clients in class. Other things to know:

-This is a good activity for people looking for an on-going project that allows you to form a special bond with the clients you’re helping. Most of the volunteers had been there before and knew the clients in the class, and seemed to have nice, friendly relationships with them.

-Don’t get overwhelmed in the Arts & Crafts room; its got a lot of stuff thrown all over the place. I’m thinking that there was probably some kind of method to its madness, but I couldn’t find anything I needed. That’s what your super-nice, New York Cares team leader is for. Just ask.

-There was a dog in this class, and many others in the building; obviously, they were well-behaved seeing eye dogs, but if you have an allergy or are scared of dogs, you may want to skip this project or call ahead.

-Visions has many other volunteer opportunities for people of all ages, assisting in recreational programs, reading to clients, and more. Click here to check out their website for more information.

-This particular Arts & Crafts program has ended, but the summer session begins on July 21 and will run for 8 weeks. Click here to search for it on the New York Cares website, keyword ‘Creative Expressions’.


United We Serve

18 Jun

With the ink still wet on the dotted line of the Serve America Act, President Obama just announced a new summer service initiative: United We Serve. The program is a summer-long call to action for people young and old across the country. In his video remarks,which can be viewed below, the President explains that the government can invest in and create programs for economic recovery, but it is volunteers who will inevitably sustain these programs in the long run. President Obama went on to say that the initiative will focus on five key areas: Healthcare, Energy Independence, Education, and Community & Economic Renewal.

Kicking off on June 22nd and ending on September 11th, the National Day of Service, the ‘United We Serve’ summer service initiative will help to encourage and foster new volunteers by providing opportunities on the website. Here, you can register your own organization so that other people can volunteer to help you, or record a volunteer project idea you may have. The website has everything you need to get started. President Obama ended his remarks with these powerful words: “Because America’s new foundation will be built one community at a time — and it starts with you.”

Click here to read the full transcript and learn more about

NYC’s First Chief Service Officer

16 Jun

This past week, Mayor Bloomberg announced the appointment of Diahann Billings-Burford  as New York’s first Chief Service Officer. She will lead NYC Service, the city’s program focused on promoting volunteerism, which includes nearly 40 initiatives to be implemented and overseen by Billings-Burford. “The goal of NYC Service is to let loose an army of volunteers who will help tackle our biggest challenges — which have only become more pressing during this national recession,” the mayor said. This is all a part of Mayor Bloomberg’s (and his administration’s) master plan to make New York City the easiest place in the country to volunteer.

To read more about the new Chief Service Officer, check out the link below to Amy Potthast’s article from The New Service:

“Mayor Bloomberg Appoints a City Year Staffer as NYC’s First Chief Service Officer” – Amy Potthast of

Or, read the full mayoral press release by clicking here

Ralph J. Sansone Foundation Art Show

10 Jun

Update 6-10-10: If you would like to make a donation to the RJS Foundation, you may do so by writing a check out to the Ralph J. Sansone Foundation and sending to 5816 13th Avenue, Brooklyn NY, 11219.

The RJS Foundation was formed 23 years ago in memory of Ralph Sansone, who died tragically in a plane crash at an early age. To honor his life, my aunt and uncle, Mary and Zack Sansone, decided to do something meaningful for the children of their community, who might follow the path of life that Ralph was on: he was a successful lawyer and labor arbitrator, husband and father, and community activist. They began to collect money and set up a $500 scholarship at Ralph’s alma mater, Bishop Ford High School. The Foundation grew with each passing year and since its inception, has given out over $200,000 in scholarship money. Five years ago, they began an endowment scholarship program which awards one student each year with a partial scholarship to Brooklyn Law School, where Ralph received his law degree.

So, long before I started volunteering in New York City, I began my involvement with the Ralph J. Sansone Foundation. This organization is one of a few (others include CIAO and C.U.R.E) that are the creation of my aunt, Mary Sansone, who is largely responsible for the exposure I’ve had throughout my life to the world of non-profit work and community service, and consequently, the passion I have for such things. (But that’s a post for another day.) What began as my attending honoree dinners and luncheons with my mom, has in recent years evolved into my playing a more integral part in these organizations.

Another scholarship program they have is the annual Art Show, which started six years ago. For the past two years I have had the pleasure of being one of four judges for this contest. It is open to high school students across the boroughs; the winners are given monetary awards (first place gets $500, second place $250, third place $150, and four honorable mentions get $50). Also, the art department of first place winner receives $250. The level of work submitted is always impressive, and sometimes downright unbelievable. If these kids didn’t come back to get their work, I would gladly take their paintings and hang them in my own apartment.  I posted some pictures below so you can see the level of work the kids of New York City are capable of. All of the judges, including myself, are employed in the field of graphic design or art education. Deciding who wins is not easy, and heated discussions were had regarding the quality, composition, and technique of the entries. Their work will be on display for the next month or so at the CIAO office in Borough Park, Brooklyn. For more information on when and where you can see these paintings and many others, email me :


Sports Explorers with 24K

1 Jun

What: Providing a recreational outlet for kids, playing games

Where: P.S. 24, Sunset Park Brooklyn, through New York Cares

When: Saturday, 11:25am-1:00pm
When you first arrive at P.S. 24, you’ll head upstairs to the gym and jump right in and start playing with the kids. The day that I volunteered was one of the first beautiful days of summer, so attendance was low- about 12 kids, all boys, all 8 years old, give or take a year or two (I heard that there are usually about 20-25) We played floor hockey for the first hour, and dodgeball the second hour. If there was nicer equipment locked up somewhere safe for the weekend, we didn’t have the key; the styrofoam hockey sticks were patched together with packing tape, and there were only 3 dodgeballs.

This activity took place at PS 24,  The Dual Language School for International Studies: “780 students from pre-K to grade five attend this barrier-free school, with 45 percent of students receiving services as English Language Learners (ELL), 20 percent qualifying for special education, and 87 percent qualifying for free or reduced lunch.” This is a pretty accurate description of the cross-section of kids that attended the Sports Explorers, which provides a place for these kids to come and play in a safe environment with adult supervision. Other things to know:

– This program is suspended until school restarts in September, but the Sports Explorers program isn’t only at PS 24; check the New York Cares website for other locations.

– Wear sneakers and clothing suitable for sports activities.

– This is a good activity to do if you miss the good ol’ days of ducking and diving in gym class; not only did I break a sweat, but I won a game of dodgeball. So what if the other team was made up of 9 year olds?

– Like any other activity with kids, be prepared to mediate squabbles and come with a thick skin. No one wanted me on their team because I’m a girl (until I proved myself in dodgeball), and I’m pretty sure that one of the boys kept calling me “Ta-Ta’s”. Kids say the darn’dest things…