Archive | August, 2009

Bialystoker Bingo

28 Aug

What: Assisting the elderly with bingo

Where: Bialystoker Home for the Aged, Lower East Side, through New York Cares

When: Wednesdays and Sundays

When you first arrive at Bialystoker, you’ll be asked to sign in with security and then be directed straight ahead to the auditorium where bingo will take place. You’ll spend the first half hour waiting for all of the guests to arrive, chatting and passing time with whoever shows up first, until it’s time to start playing. Since this is a home for the aged, most of the players are residents in the building, and need assistance to play (see my previous post about my last experience with a home, and what you can expect to see at a place like this). Some of the residents invite their spouses or friends to come play; for obvious reasons, the people who come to visit are usually healthy enough to play their own bingo, and help their spouse/friend who invited them.

I was placed with a nice gentleman who spoke little english and had poor hearing. After each number was called, I had to point at it on his board, or shake my head ‘No’ if he didn’t have it. There were points in the game (you’ll play about 9-11 games depending on time), where I think he thought I wasnt paying attention, and would hold a chip over each space, and look at me to see if he could put it down. Either that, or he was just trying to cheat.

I was really excited when I was able to sign into the Bialystoker Bingo project. I had heard from other volunteers that bingo was one of the most fun activities that New York Cares has to offer, and the fact that it seems to fill up fast confirmed that for me. The thing I always seem to forget is that my idea of a rowdy time, and a rowdy time at a senior center, are two very different things. After hearing that ‘Bingo with the seniors is a ball’ from others, I pictured a much different scene than what it was: about 15 immobile senior residents, a few of whom were excited to possibly win $1. However, I do believe there is another New York Cares project at a senior center, not a home, that does in fact, get rowdy…Regardless, I was more excited that my mom decided to come into the city and join me in volunteering; this is one of New York Cares’ ‘family-friendly’ activities, where you are allowed to bring children (or in my case, parents) along with you. She was hoping to relive her past, when she used to run a senior center in brooklyn-and I think she had a great time. It was a great feeling, working side by side with my mom, helping other people. It’s a rare bond to share and I recommend, as I have in the past, to try it yourself.  Other things to know:

  • Each game has a $1 prize, which can be used at the local dollar store up the block from the home, and the last game has a $5 pot, so keep your ears open. If you miss a number, there’ll be hell to pay.
  • Don’t repeat the numbers often or talk to anyone while a game is going on. It confuses people, and can cause delays, which really angers those who are trying to play and win big. Get there early if you are feeling chatty.
  • Get two sets of directions- subway and walking/car. I have never been to this far east land of the city, and had no idea where I was or how to get home. The subway from the west side didn’t work, and even the cab driver has to use GPS. Plan ahead.
  • Having a good time and want to stay past the last ‘bingo!’? Feel free to ask your senior partner if they’d like to sit in the Bialystoker garden for a little while longer and chat. One woman I had spoken with before the games got underway asked my mom and I to come play cards with her and her husband. We declined, since my dad was waiting outside, but they would’ve enjoyed the company.

Interview with a Volunteer Leader

13 Aug

A few weeks ago, I met Muthu Kuttaiyan while volunteering at Nazareth Housing in the East Village. He was the New York Cares team leader for the project, which unfortunately got cancelled; in spite of this, Muthu spent some time explaining the various functions of Nazareth and discussing other similar organizations where we could volunteer with children. He was such a wealth of useful information regarding the volunteer and non-profit world, I wanted to know more about him. I wasn’t the first person to notice him either; he is currently featured on New York Cares’ website as a ‘New Yorker Who Cares’. I decided to contact him and see if he would agree to answer a few questions. Luckily, he was more than happy to chat.

When did you begin volunteering?

I have been volunteering ‘officially’ since college in India. In USA, I have been volunteering for the past 10 years or so.

What was the motivation behind your starting?

I grew up believing: To live in a society, we all need to help each other. Just like [I said in my New York Cares interview], volunteering is like vitamins for my soul!

What are some of the roles you play within New York Cares?

I am a volunteer, Team Leader, Speaker Bureau Member, and Site Captain.

How do you choose which organizations to give your time to?

On the contrary, it is the organization that chooses me! I have always been willing to assist any organization that doesn’t discriminate and is respectful. For example, New York Cares has been consistent in letting all of its volunteers know where they are needed to fulfill many special roles in addition to ‘plain old volunteering’.
With a full time job, how do you manage to volunteer so often?

First of all, quantity is never an issue, quality is all that matters. There are many who volunteer better than me, who may not be volunteering as much as I do. Secondly, there are a lot of people who volunteer lot more than I do. Finally, I don’t think I volunteer often enough. That said: When a person (who is single & has a full time job) finds another to have a relationship, [they] find time to spend with the significant other. When a couple (who have full time jobs) has a child, [they] find time to be parents. So, when one loves something, one can find time.


Muthu KuttaiyanMuthu Kuttaiyan


To see more about the projects he has done and other info about Muthu Kattaiyan, check out his bio on the New York Cares website.

Gardening at Future Leaders Institute

9 Aug

What: weeding and garden maintenance

Where: Future Leaders Institute, Morningside Heights, with New York Cares

When: Thursday, 6-8pm

When you arrive at the address for Future Leaders Institute charter school, you’ll notice that the name above the entrance is Hans Christian Andersen Complex. Enter. You’ll meet your team leader there and head over to the gardens, where you can begin on a number of tasks. I was given some options: 1, pulling weeds in the rocks and flower bed; 2, chopping and pulling large, 5′-6′ tall weeds; or 3, discerning what is a weed and what is a not, and pulling the weed. I immediately eliminated the 3rd option, as I have no idea how to differentiate a weed from a plant. I’m pretty sure one of my house plants is actually a weed. The second option seemed like a fun challenge, but I wasn’t sure if I trusted myself with a weedwacker. So I chose the low-and-slow weeding option #1.

Though it was a small area, me and my fellow volunteers (I think there were about 7 of us in one garden) pulled those suckers for 2 hours straight and just barely finished. Even though it was hard work, it was oddly calming. There were a few pedestrians walking around, but other than that, it was a perfect, mind-numbing activity done in relative silence; I welcome things like this after a hectic day at work.  Another great thing with a project like this is that you can see the difference you’re making, literally. I posted some pictures below of the before and after; I never realized how ugly weeds are until this day. I used to love dandelions-I’m a changed woman.

At the end of 2 hours, we had made a huge dent in the work needed to get this garden looking 100% awesome and well-manicured. Luckily, it will continue to get better, since this wasn’t a one time activity; this was only the second session, & ‘Gardening at the Future Leaders Institute’ will continue to run through the school year. After the maintenance and weeding are done, the project will begin to include the students, teaching them how to garden and participate in hands-on activities. And they’re lucky-I was huffing the sweet smell of fresh rosemary and loving it. These kids have a source of fresh basil, thyme, tomatoes, and much more to look forward to.

I usually end my posts with ‘other things to know’, but I can’t take full credit for the helpful tidbits this time;  NY Cares team leader Nada gave a full description of what to wear, subway directions, even weather reports the day of the activity. So, besides my advice, which is that you should bring some bug spray, here are some other things Nada the team leader will tell you:

  • Be on time! The project is only two hours long.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that can get dirty.
  • Relax, and be kind to your back [and knees]- be sure to get up and stretch from time to time.
  • Ask if you have any questions.

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Art Explorers at Nazareth Housing

4 Aug

What: Hang out with kids, do some arts and crafts

Where: Nazareth Housing, East Village, through New York Cares

When: Thursday, 5:45-730pm

This project took place in the E. 4th Street building, one of three locations Nazareth Housing operates in the East Village. This is where the youth programs are held in addition to other services, such as educational workshops for adults and computer literacy classes. While the parents were taking a class in financial planning, the volunteers were supposed to be hanging out with their children; doing arts & crafts, playing cards, talking. The purpose of this project is not only to help the parents, but also to keep the kids entertained and out of trouble. Mostly ages 3-9, the children here are often unhappy, because of their living situation (or lack thereof). You’re here to have a good time with them and make them feel good. Doesn’t sound  too hard. I’ll have to go again when there’s actually kids there.

This project  was unfortunately a bust. There was a mix up in the scheduling of a field trip, and the kids weren’t there the day I volunteered. I was disappointed, but even more so after talking with the New York Cares team leader Muthu, who talked up the program so much I thought it may be better than Disney World. Maybe. He was a wealth of volunteer information, spewing out names of organizations and places to volunteer with kids for about a half an hour. Hopefully one day I’ll get to speak with him more about what he’s done at Nazareth and beyond, but for now, I can tell you what I learned..

According to their website,Nazareth Housing is committed to the promotion of housing stability and economic independence among poor families and youth of New York City, through the provision of: transitional shelter, homelessness prevention services, self-sufficiency education, supportive housing, youth programming.”. A lot of the residents who live here are single mothers and children, coming from volatile relationships involving domestic abuse. They often come with a bag on their back and nothing else; this is one reason that Nazareth always has food out. At any time of day or night, you can get a meal, no questions asked.

Currently, Nazareth Housing oversees 40 units of permanent housing and thirteen units of transitional housing. The great thing about this organization is the sense of order they restore in people’s lives. They offer a safe haven for those who can no longer afford to live in their home,be it for financial reasons or for their own personal safety. They then receive free services to help them get back on their feet and living independently; meanwhile, their children are offered educational programs,social outings, and other enriching activities to ensure that they too can grow and learn in Nazareth. The end result is a person or family who is able to retain and remain in their own stable housing. Nazareth Housing is not a glorified handout; it’s an opportunity to get your life back.

But there is so much MORE to know-you should really read their website and find out. Here’s some other things to know:

-If you sign up for this particular project, feel free to bring a deck of cards, a boardgame, crayons, anything. You can take it home with you or leave it behind for future use; either way, it’ll give the kids a greater variety of fun things they can do with you for 2 hours.

-Don’t have time to go volunteer, but really want to help Nazareth Housing? They have a wishlist of donations you can choose from and it can all be done online. Alternatively, they also take used furniture and household goods. But don’t just drop off your old Ikea couch in front of their door and speed off; check out the details here, make a phone call to the program assistant. Don’t donate anything you wouldn’t give to a friend; they don’t need your beer-stained futon from college any more than you do.

-You’re probably hungry aren’t you. After volunteering for two hours right at dinner time, you’re gonna be hungry. I can tell. After you’re done, head over to Pommes Frites on 2nd Ave between St. Marks and 7th. Belgium fries with your choice of 25 dippings sauces and mayo’s. You’ll never look at french fries the same way again…unless you go back for seconds.