Getting Together for Memorial Day

I am excited for Memorial Day weekend.  Over this long weekend, I can’t wait to see friends and enjoy some cookouts (potentially rainy ones, alas).  It will be nice to have a long weekend for fun, but I also am looking forward to service.  I will be spending a couple hours today at Project PLASE, one of our service sites, helping prepare for a Memorial Day Service.  This is a way for community members of Project PLASE to remember and celebrate in a meaningful way the lives of loved ones who passed away.

Memorial Day is a more than a time to have fun, though I plan to have that as well.  It is a time for me, but for our community as a whole.  A national holiday gives us a chance to all have some time off, and use that time to come together.  How you use that time, if to have fun going to see friends or to pay respects to fallen soldiers, you are using your time for something special to you.

Reflections, food, and fun!

Back in December I wrote a post in which I mentioned Ok Go’s perpetual motion machine video that complements their song, “This Too Shall Pass.” As I reflect back on my service year, that video comes to mind (just ignore the lyrics) again. I felt like I was in constant motion, some times things got really messy, and I had a blast!

I was directly involved in more than 20 nonprofits serving citizens across the state of Maryland. Some organizations, like St. Francis Neighborhood Center, I had become familiar with last year as a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator. This year I developed a deeper understanding of SFNC’s mission and the amazing impact they have on the Reservoir Hill Community. I will never forget the delight on the children’s faces when they arrived on Read Across America Day. Others, like Baltimore SquashWise, I was introduced to for the first time. Words fail me in describing the warm welcome I received from the SquashWise volunteer family at the Meadow Mill Athletic Center squash rally this spring. I wish I lived close enough to be regularly involved in this wonderful organization.

I also had the opportunity to develop relationships with AmeriCorps members serving in programs other than Volunteer Maryland. I met Dara from Public Allies, Cory from PALS, Shane from Campus Compact, and Cora from Experience Corps, just to name a few. It made my day when I attended Maryland Association of Nonprofits Organization events and walked into a room full of friends!

Did I mention how much fun I have had? Just yesterday I looked like a Blue Man Group wannabe after putting grout on a mural with Project PLASE. It was an incredible cooperative effort that engaged clients, community members, staff, and volunteers. Last fall during a tree planting day at Anacostia Watershed Society I met an amazing group of corporate volunteers from a local engineering firm. They even offered to feed me!

Speaking of eating, food was a memorable part of my service year. Both exchanging recipes and discovering great places to eat. I made the Stinking Rose recipe Sumiko gave me for staff meeting this week. I’m still trying to get up enough nerve to attempt Liz’s chocolate cake. Joy introduced me to Lemongrass, a great place to warm up on a cold February day. And, thanks to Patrice, I discovered Nando’s Peri Peri. The Butternut Squash and Couscous salad is delish. If you are in the Bolton Hill neighborhood, be sure to stop in On The Hill. The sandwiches and salads are excellent. I am looking for an excuse to go back and get a burger. . .hope Laura can join me!

Last, but not least, Volunteer Maryland. I loved working with Maureen, Laura, Patrice, Kim, and Joy. If you are considering serving with AmeriCorps, become a Volunteer Maryland Coordinator. It’s fun, you’ll learn a lot, and you might even get lunch!

Charm City’s Rite of Spring

In the Volunteer Maryland Support Team meeting this week each of us shared highlights of the service year to date. One of the highlights I shared was my introduction to two restaurants that immediately became go to’s: Lemongrass and Nando’s Peri Peri. Later this week I anticipate encountering another highlight, the annual Baltimore FlowerMart at Mt. Vernon. It’s “Baltimore’s rite of spring.” When I solicited “Upcoming Events” from the Volunteer Maryland Coordinators for the May Volunteer Coordinator newsletter, the VMC serving at Project PLASE sent a plea for volunteers to help at the “Purses for PLASE” booth at the FlowerMart. I’d like to say it was the “goodness of you heart. . .” as Faith put it; but, I could hardly disregard, “. . .or your love of purses” she included in her plea.   All the proceeds benefit Project PLASE and I could work it into my schedule, so I signed on. Then, Faith sent me an email that included:
Dress code is FUN! We might be lifting boxes here and there, so you should definitely wear comfortable clothing, but we want to be colorful and noticeable! Flower Mart’s colors this year are green, pink, and black. Project PLASE’s color is, as always, purple!

There was also this “eye candy” signature:How could I resist? I checked out the event’s website. There is so much going on: vendors, entertainment, pet parade, contests, local non profits, and the signature treat: lemon sticks! I can’t wait. Maybe I’ll decorate a hat. The important questions are: Do I really need ballroom couture? How will I resist a pet that needs a home? And, of course, can I get the lemon sticks back to the car and home to Anne Arundel County?  The next time you are recruiting volunteers, use some of Faith’s “can’t resist” techniques.  I used a few this week recruiting for Destination AmeriCorps volunteers (which is next Friday!) and they worked like a charm.

Our VISTA members: Their passion inspires me

On Friday, Megan shared some of the results from this year’s group of VISTA members.  We had a great time celebrating with them last week, as we’ve had great times with them all year.  This group of VISTA members has continually inspired and energized me throughout the year.  I’ve seen them struggle and come out better for it.  I’ve seen them network and share resources like the true professionals they are.  I’ve seen them scared and saddened by the proposed elimination of AmeriCorps in federal budget debates earlier this year.  I’ve seen them lean on each other and use every ounce of energy available so they could make a positive impact in their communities.  It’s been quite a year.

Over the past week, I’ve been reviewing their exit portfolios, the final documentation of each one’s service year.  The very first one to arrive was hand-delivered by Lauren Stoler, who served with Project PLASE in Baltimore.  Lauren has a quiet strength about her and that was reflected in her portfolio as she talked about what she’s learned this year as she worked with individuals who are homeless.

“As the year progressed,” Lauren wrote, “I began to see homelessness in a new light.  I no longer saw it as a problem that only affected ‘those people’ or as a problem that ‘others’ were taking care of.  Homelessness affects people, people with aspirations, people who are worthy of more, and people I know.”

Lauren came into her VISTA year with an interest in community organizing, event planning, and working with volunteers.  She is leaving with a deep passion for helping the most vulnerable and most misunderstood.  I have no doubt that her passion will continue to grow as she continues to serve others.

AmeriCorps calls for all of us to make service part of our everyday life, to continue to serve beyond the AmeriCorps year.  With members like Lauren and the 11 other VISTA members completing their AmeriCorps year this Friday, I know that call will be answered.  We will serve because no matter our interests when the year began, service itself becomes a passion.

Congratulations to our VISTA members Andrea, Ashley, Elanor, Emily, Heather, Jordan, Kate, Katie, Kelly, Lauren, Lisa, and Warren.  Thank you for serving, for giving of yourselves, and for allowing me to be a small part of your year.  I can’t wait to see where you go from here!