Archive | October, 2009

Maybe baseball isn’t so bad afterall…

29 Oct

I’m just going to throw it out there: I hate baseball. I don’t enjoy watching it. I don’t mind playing, but really, I only like to hit the ball. No fielding for me. Boooorrring. So when I caught wind of a recent wager made between the mayors of this year’s World Series teams -Mayor Bloomberg for the New York Yankees and Mayor Michael A. Nutter for the Philadelphia Phillies- I let out a big sigh. Torn between my love for volunteerism and my hatred of the sport, I had to decide: do I write about it, or do I remain happily ignorant of all things baseball. Obviously, I chose the former….

According to a press release from the Mayor’s office, “the losing mayor will travel to the winning city to join the winning mayor in a volunteer service project, while wearing a jersey from the winning team.  In addition, the losing Mayor will cater lunch from a local establishment for the volunteers working with the winning Mayor. Win or lose, Mayor Bloomberg will be joining Publicolor to work with students painting open spaces at I.S. 131, the Albert Einstein School in the Bronx, and Mayor Nutter will be joining the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program to paint a mural on the side of a Philadelphia recreation center.” In addition, Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig announced that the entire Series has been dedicated to community service as a part of the MLB’s “Going Beyond” initiative, which supports programs for veterans, cancer research and youth development.

Publicolor, a partner of the Mayor’s NYC Service initiative, is a nonprofit organization that engages disaffected youth and encourages them to work together to improve their learning environments by adding color to the drab hallways and classrooms that often exist in NY public schools. The hope is that this will not only keep them off the streets and out of trouble, but the program will also teach them a marketable skill that they can use to increase their chances of a better future. They have a slew of workshops and programs for the teens involved, as well as various volunteer activities, which you can read about by clicking here.

I think this is great, that both Mayors are choosing to bet their time rather than eating cheesesteaks and cheesecakes together. Enriching the lives of children instead of feasting on rich and cheesy treats (more for me). Following a week of prime-time TV volunteerism through iParticipate, this wager should continue to push the call for a national service movement full steam ahead; afterall, I may hate baseball but I’m well aware that I’m not in the majority for that. Lots of people are watching this series- at least 1,000. Maybe more, right?

For me, it adds a few inches of depth to an otherwise flat-lined sport.

So, I guess baseball isn’t all bad. For now…

 

For the full press release, click here.


Making Strides in Central Park

21 Oct

This past weekend I volunteered at the 2009 Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Central Park. I signed up through an ad posted to Craigslist about two or three months ago, and completely forgot about it until I received a letter in the mail reminding me to show up. Not that I wasn’t aware of the walk or it being Breast Cancer Month, I just forgot that I signed up to participate. It being the same weekend of the New York Cares Day event I did one day prior, I was worried that I wouldn’t really feel up to volunteering all day outside. My apprehension aside, I made a commitment so I was going. Come hell, high water, or unseasonable cold temperatures and rain, perfect for sleeping in.

So, on Sunday the 18th, I was up by 6am and heading into Central Park by 7. It was about 35 degrees out and raining, and somehow, my socks were already wet. I was not happy. But once I got to the 72nd St Bandshell in the park, I realized how big this event is and how important it is to so many people, and I quickly changed my attitude.  There were tents set up with different promotional items for sale, and a huge pink tent with a banner that read ‘Welcome Survivors’. I headed over to check in with the other volunteers, put on my XL volunteer t-shirt, and had a bagel and coffee (provided by Tim Hortons) while the sun came up. I was concerned that having signed up on Craigslist, the process of getting oriented and ready for thousands of people to arrive would be chaotic and unorganized. I should’ve known that a huge organization like the American Cancer Society would not only have things under control, but the volunteers would be led with military precision. Whether assisting with set-up, checking in walkers, or passing out water along the route, all of the volunteers seemed to be comfortable with what they were doing, as if they had been doing it for years (some of them had, in fact, been doing it for years)

I was assigned to the registration and online check-in tents. There were mini-orientations for volunteers as they arrived: when about 7 or 8 people got to the tent, a lead volunteer or staff member would tell us what we would be doing, and send us each to our location for the day. I was to direct the walkers to the appropriate place as they arrived, depending on whether or not they had registered online, were with a group, etc. Having studied the map of the event footprint before the walk started, I was also able to give people directions to event areas or park exits and subways. I assumed the weather would deter people from attending and was prepared to deal with cranky, wet participants, impatiently waiting on line. Once again, I was wrong. Not only did 20,000 people show up, but they were happy to be there. No one was running for shelter from the rain, or complaining about the cold. Droves of people continued to arrive for the rolling start from about 830 to 11am. The music played on and some people danced their way to the starting line. Groups of high school and college students waited, taking pictures and cheering. Every time a survivor registered or checked in for the walk, a team of volunteers would begin ringing cowbells and cheering, which incited sporadic cheers all morning from walkers, volunteers, and staffers alike.  By the end of the day, the Making Strides in Central Park walk raised over $2,400,000.

On their website, the The American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer writes that they provide “a community for all of us to join together with a shared passion to end breast cancer once and for all. Together, we will make a difference, make history, and make strides against breast cancer.” At this event, I really did sense that this was a community; of women, families, children, coworkers, people from all walks of life, supporting one another. It wasn’t just a fund raiser; it was a day dedicated to paying tribute to anyone affected by breast cancer, and a day to recognize that no one has to go it alone. I was proud to be a part of it, and look forward to next year’s Walk.

To see if there is an event coming up in your area, or to make a donation, visit the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer homepage by clicking here. You can also check to see what volunteer opportunities the American Cancer Society has by clicking here.

New York Cares Day 2009

18 Oct

Yesterday, along with some friends and coworkers, I participated in New York Cares Day. It was a huge success: $235,000 was raised for New York Cares year-long programs, and 117 schools in NYC were given revitalizing makeovers. 8,000 volunteers painted bookcases, murals, fences and walls, organized libraries and classrooms. Our team was assigned to PS 11 K, the Purvis J. Behan Elementary School in Brooklyn, and our job for the day was to paint as many bookcases and shelves as we could. Following a list of classrooms that were registered for the day, we took to the halls with red, blue, purple, yellow and green paints, brushes in hand. For each room, we had to take out anything that was in the bookcases, lay down some butcher paper to protect the floors, and then decide how we wanted to paint each one: stripes? handprints? I like to think we did a pretty good job. We and everyone else wanted to add as much color and fun as we could. At the end of the day, we returned to each classroom we had dismantled, put everything back the way we found it, and admired our handy work.

Other teams at PS 11 K were painting murals that had been drawn out on walls and doors. Some were painting fences outside a bright yellow. The library also got a much needed re-organization. On Monday morning, 600 children will arrive at PS 11 to find bright new colors in their classrooms and new murals to enjoy. More importantly, they will hopefully see that there were a lot of people who cared enough about them and their education, to come to their school and make it more vibrant and fun place to learn.

To those that came out for Team Give and Get NYC, thank you: Alison Art, Dustin Growick, James Posner, Jason Kahan, Jonathan Essa, Massimo Pennisi, Marshall Weaver, McKenzie Mahoney, Meghan Dockery, Michael Bamford, Paul Costa, and Sasha Growick. It meant a lot to me that I was able to share something I love to do with friends. We had a lot of laughs, and got a lot of paint in places it didn’t belong (don’t worry, we cleaned up).

I’ve posted some pictures from our day at PS 11 below (click to enlarge). If you’re interested in seeing what went on at other schools on New York Cares Day, check out their blog by clicking here.

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iParticipate

16 Oct

I recently came across a new initiative from the Entertainment Industry Foundation that I wanted to share. It’s called iParticipate, and its coming soon to a television near you…

According to their website, the Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF) “harnesses the collective power of the entertainment industry and channels its unique assets to raise awareness and funds for critical health, educational and social issues in order to make a positive impact in our community and throughout the nation”. You’ve probably seen PSA‘s from the EIF without even knowing who was responsible for them: Felicity Huffman raising breast cancer awareness, Morgan Freeman for colorectal cancer, Christina Ricci with Stand Up to Cancer. Many more have been created, and for over 65 years EIF has been educating, raising awareness, and raising money for research not only in the United States, but internationally as well, using the power of celebrity.

Their latest initiative, iParticipate, is not a surprising addition to their resume. Service and volunteerism are hot topics in our country right now, thanks to the Serve America Act and other government/city programs, so it’s only natural that a large organization like EIF would follow suit. iParticipate is a multi-year program designed to inspire a new era of service in the US. It will kick off next week on October 19th; in addition to PSA’s, the EIF has enlisted numerous television networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC, to name a few) to participate in encouraging viewers to give back to their community, and prove the power of community. Many shows have written service and volunteerism into their story lines or segments (for shows like The View and David Letterman), and it should be interesting to see how each chooses to shed light on the subject, given the diversity of the 90+ participating shows, which include The Office, Desperate Housewives, Heroes, and CSI:Miami. For a full list of participating shows, you can visit the iParticipate blog on their website. One show I am most looking forward to is 30 Rock; according to a USA Today article, Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer), who has embraced faux charities including Pants for Zoo Animals in past episodes, gets emotionally wrapped up with abandoned dogs from an animal shelter. I love 30 Rock, I love Tina Fey as a writer and actress, and I am excited to see how next week plays out.

In addition to the week-long kick-off, iParticipate has also created a widget (which you can pick up here) to help you search for local volunteer opportunities by zip code and area of interest. Feel free to test it out at the end of the post-it worked for me, returning about 20 listings in my area.

iParticipate will be able to reach a lot of people, using prime-time television as a vehicle for delivering their message. Whether or not it will increase the number of volunteers, I don’t know. Judging by the comments left on a lot of blogs and online news sources, it seems some people are not impressed with force-fed information about volunteerism, and are downright insulted that in the current economic climate, we as a nation are being asked to give our time away and work for free. It’s understandable, but I don’t share their sentiment. Taking a few hours out of my day to help clean up an animal shelter or serve food to a group of homeless co-citizens, doesn’t seem unreasonable, especially when there often isn’t money to pay someone to do these things. But I digress…

Regardless of the outcome, I think this is a great initiative that will undoubtedly grab the attention of the nation next week, for better or worse. Be it through subtle hints in plot lines or PSA’s during commercial breaks, it should become clear to many people that volunteering isn’t always as hard or time-consuming as they previously thought, and there are many ways to give back to your community and country.

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President Obama – A Nobel Laureate in the Oval Office

9 Oct

It was announced today that President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As an American, I’m proud to know that the man currently leading our country, and representing our nation abroad, has also gained the respect and admiration of people outside of this country. For years, the approval ratings for America and it’s citizens were plummeting, mostly attributed to former President Bush. We really had a bad rap overseas, to the point that I was embarrassed to tell people I was American when traveling through Europe. However, since the last election, the perception of America that people outside of this country have, has improved vastly. The Huffington Post sited that, “a 25-nation poll of 27,000 people released by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found double-digit boosts to the percentage of people viewing the U.S. favorably in countries around the world. That indicator had plunged across the world under President George W. Bush.”

President Obama is the third president in U.S. history to receive a Nobel Peace Prize while sitting in office (Theodore Roosevelt & Woodrow Wilson were the other two winners, in 1906 and 1919 respectively). But after only 8 months in office, is it too soon to be giving the President a Nobel Peace Prize? The Norwegian Nobel Committee said it honored Obama for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” (CNN.com) But so far, his efforts have been, for the most part, just that: efforts. With so many initiatives and ideas, there hasn’t been much coming to fruition, which is causing some people to question why he would be awarded a peace prize if he hasn’t yet fulfilled any of his promises for change. However, I believe that this award will propel the President forward in his quest for diplomacy, and give him additional clout internationally. It’s validation, if you will, of his intentions to improve our nation and our world. It does put a LOT of pressure on the President to now carry out all of his promises; of peace abroad, of fixing the health care system, addressing the climate change. But I think this pressure, though initially overwhelming, should prove to be the necessary push and reassurance that this administration and President Obama need.

Quoting again from the Huffington Post:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who won the prize in 1984, said Obama’s award shows great things are expected from him in coming years: “It’s an award coming near the beginning of the first term of office of a relatively young president that anticipates an even greater contribution towards making our world a safer place for all,” Tutu said. “It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama’s message of hope.”

Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/09/obama-wins-nobel-peace-pr_n_314907.html