Archive | April, 2011

Run for Change with Common Cents

28 Apr

This Saturday I’ll be running a 5K along with a few hundred other people- care to join us?

Common Cents, creators of the Penny Harvest, is hosting a run/walk/rally 5K on April 30th to celebrate 20 years of student service and raise money for the Penny Harvest program. If you haven’t heard, Common Cents is an educational, not-for-profit organization, which specializes in creating and managing service-learning programs for young people. The most notable of these programs is the Penny Harvest, which has enabled NYC children to collect and donate over 8.1 MILLION dollars in the past twenty years. This program teaches children -starting at age 4- the value of service and philanthropy, empowering them from start to finish; they collect the pennies, they discuss who needs it most, and they are the ones who hand out grants to local charities and community organizations. For more information about how the program works, visit the Common Cents website.

There is still time to register for the run; you can do so by visiting the Run for Change! website. It will start at Pier 84 at 43rd Street and the Hudson, and finish 5 kilometers south at “Penny Park” (formally know as Nelson A. Rockefeller Park but really, come on, Penny Park? It’s perfect) After the run will be a Student Action Fair and Global Relief Conference at Stuyvesant High School which all are welcome to attend.

Can’t make it but still want to help? You can donate and support me in my quest to complete my first 5K since the 1996 St. Patrick’s Day Fun Run in my hometown of Baldwin.. Just head to the website and donate on my page!

Stuyvesant High School is located at 345 Chambers Street.

Pier 84 is located at 43rd Street and 12th Avenue.


Hands On NY Day 2011: Highland Park Clean-Up

19 Apr

This past Saturday was Hands On New York Day, a citywide volunteer day which mobilizes thousands of New Yorkers to give their city a good ol’ fashioned spring greening. Though the weather wasn’t 100% optimal, the rain held out long enough to  get 70 public spaces cleaner, greener, and ready for people to enjoy all summer long.

Team Give and Get NYC was out straddling the line between Brooklyn and Queens this year, turning over plots in the Highland Park Children’s Garden. It was clear that the garden had endured a long winter and was in need of some TLC. Our site had an army of volunteers that were spreading compost, pulling weeds, and raking leaves, among other things. Our team was tasked with turning over four garden plots that belonged to local public school students. We prepared the soil for planting, which will take place in the next few weeks when the garden is turned into an outdoor classroom of sorts, teaching elementary-age kids how to grow their own fruits and vegetables.



Despite the weather it was a great day, as these events always are. It gives me a great sense of pride any time I can volunteer alongside such a large, diverse group of people; we didn’t know each other’s names, but we shared shovels, fetched compost for each other, and lent a hand when it was needed, no questions asked. I like to think this is what it’s all about to be a New Yorker.

It was also seriously hard, back-breaking labor that I know could not have been completed by the small children and surrounding community who will ultimately benefit from our hard work and the support of New York Cares.

To see more photos from our day in the Highland Park Children’s Garden, check out the G&G Flickr account!

Did you volunteer for Hands On New York Day 2011? Feel free to reply below with links to your own photos and recaps of the day!

ioby Goes Guerrilla

15 Apr

On my way to work yesterday I spotted a sign near Penn Station that caught my eye. I recognized the logo immediately and knew it belonged to my friends at ioby (‘in our backyards’), so I forced my way back against the morning rush of commuter foot traffic to get a better look. The sign said “with ioby I could be..” with the blank filled in to say “a Farmer’s Market!” 

After doing some online digging and calling Erin Barnes, one of the co-founders of ioby (much easier than digging), I found out that this sign was part of a guerrilla effort carried out by ioby supporters, with the intention of encouraging people to ‘reimagine’ spaces they see in their communities, and that ioby can help those ideas become realities. Erin explained that “ioby is a move out of the environmental movement’s NIMBY past. ioby is all about saying, ‘This is my neighborhood and I want positive change right here. I’ve got an idea and I’m going to make it happen with my neighbors.”

The Reimagine signs were placed all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens (and maybe the Bronx and SI, but I couldn’t recognize the other boroughs in pictures). Each sign had it’s own message; some people imagined spaces could be community vineyards, murals, rooftop gardens, and more. You can check out all of the reimagined spaces on ioby’s Facebook page.

Sadly, this particular sign was already taken down by this morning, but it was cool while it lasted. As someone who works in advertising, I really appreciate the appropriateness of a grassroots marketing effort by a grassroots organization; getting creative, getting dirty, and going guerrilla.


ioby connects donors and volunteers to environmental projects in their neighborhoods to inspire new environmental knowledge and action in New York City. If you’ve got an idea about making your ‘backyard’ community a better place and want to make it happen, check out the ioby website to see how they can help.

Spotlight On…Hearts And Voices!

6 Apr

I recently volunteered for Lifebeat’s Hearts & Voices program, an on-going live performance series for people living with HIV/AIDS. I watched as the performers entertained a small group of residents at Rivington House in Nolita, turning what would have otherwise been just another night into a musical experience and singalong for everyone present. It gave me goosebumps. After finding out that two of four members of the performing group Solo fell ill, Erika, Manager of the Hearts and Voices program, stepped up to the mic and helped round out the night with a few extra songs. Her willingness to go the extra mile to make residents happy was heartwarming and made me want to learn more about her and Lifebeat immediately. Luckily, Erika was more than willing to share her love for Hearts & Voices with me. Below is the outcome of our recent e-terview*; read on for some inspiration from Erika Banks:

Give & Get NYC: What is your role with Hearts and Voices, and what attracted you to this organization specifically?

Erika Banks: I am the Manager of the Hearts & Voices Program, which means I organize/coordinate all of the facilities, performers & general volunteers to produce over 240 shows each year for people living with HIV/AIDS.  I was drawn to this organization because it combines my two loves: Music & Community Service.  In many ways it’s a dream come true for me to be able to use music to make a profound difference in people’s lives.

G&G: I’ve heard you sing- and you can SING..Do you have a background in music?

EB: Yup!  I have always loved music and started taking violin lessons when I was 5 years old.  I switched to voice and piano lessons when I was 11 years old and currently have a Masters Degree in Music.  Though I’m no longer in a formal vocal training program, I am always learning and growing as a singer.  I perform my own shows outside of Hearts & Voices and collaborate with other performers whenever possible.  The learning never ends and the love of music never dies.

G&G: Why do you think it’s so important to have the H&V program in New York City specifically? Are there plans to expand to other cities?

EB: For well over 15 years, Hearts & Voices has been making a powerful and lasting difference in the lives of our audience members who are living with AIDS.  Live music has been proven to relieve stress, pain, build community and combat loneliness.  Hearts & Voices also provides performers with a way to give back to the community using their natural gifts and abilities.  Performing a Hearts & Voices show has a positive lasting impact for both the performer and the audience.  Everyone wins!

We have also started holding regular Hearts & Voices shows in Washington, D.C., which I’m very excited about.  I hope we will be able to provide this program to many other major cities in the US in the coming years.

G&G: From your experience working with HIV/AIDS patients, how have you seen music affect them and their rehabilitation?

EB: I have continually seen the people that attend our shows, enter the room in a “bad” or “ok” mood and consistently leave the show smiling, laughing, singing and happy.  We have many regular attendees to Hearts & Voices because they enjoy it so much.  This is a great link that shares the audience members experience of the show:

G&G: Is there any one artist on the H&V list of performers that you absolutely love to hear perform?

EB: I absolutely LOVE all of the H&V performers.  The generosity and heart that comes through in each show is what is truly moving.  When people perform from their heart/soul you can’t help but be moved and uplifted.  This is the main quality I look/listen for when I review Artist Applications and it’s the quality that comes through at each show.  That’s why we can have so many different styles of musician or performer and still cause the same powerful healing effect.

G&G: Do you have a favorite memory or performance?

EB: It may sound corny, but each performance is magical and amazing. I can’t say I have a favorite, but the last show is always the most fresh on my mind.  Just last night after the Hearts & Voices performance at Casa Promesa, an audience member came up and said the song “What a Wonderful World” really touched him deeply cause he’d been dealing with a lot of drama.  I live for these moments when I can see the difference the show makes for someone or they share directly how it uplifts them.

G&G: Are there any upcoming events for Hearts & Voices or Lifebeat in NYC that people can attend and learn more about the program, and maybe see a good show?

EB: People can find out about Lifebeat events on our website and on our Facebook page  We have a number of partnerships and events people can attend or get involved with, and we’re constantly creating more.

G&G: If someone is interested in volunteering, as an artist or just to help out, how can they make that happen?

EB: I encourage interested folks to contact me directly about volunteering at a Hearts & Voices show, either as a performer or a production volunteer.  We hold between 18-20 shows a month, which adds up to about 240 shows a year.  There are lots of opportunities to make a difference and have a good time while you’re doing it!


Erika Banks is the manager of the Hearts and Voices program based in New York City. She can be contacted at Lifebeat is a nonprofit that uses the power of music and the music industry to help educate young people about HIV/AIDS prevention. For more than seventeen years, Lifebeat has helped to mobilize the talents and resources of the music industry to raise awareness and funds, and to provide support to the HIV-positive community. Learn more about Lifebeat by visiting their website:

*E-terview is an online interview. I just made that up, but I’m hoping it catches on!

Hands On New York Day: Volunteer in Queens!

4 Apr

A few weeks ago I posted about New York Cares’ annual Hands On New York Day, taking place on April 16th citywide. That’s two weeks from now- have you signed up yet? The Give & Get NYC team will be cleaning up the entranceway to Highland Park in Queens. We have plenty of room on our team if you’re looking to volunteer outside on a beautiful April morning!

Hands On New York Day is an incredible day of service, with over 5,000 volunteers fanning out across the boroughs to work on spring greening projects. Last year our team was placed in Queens where we painted benches in Bowne Park.  It’s a great way to get outside with some friends and make a difference, and also an important fundraiser for New York Cares that supports the 11,000 volunteer projects that run year-round. I’ve thrown together a team for this and NY Cares other annual event, New York Cares Day, for the past three years. This year is no different: Join Team Give and Get NYC on April 16th