Volunteer Journal #98 - LA Regional Food Bank

The trusty work boots at sunset. To my knowledge I have not been stuck in a freezer the size of a tennis court yet, so this was a first.

I was in the gleaning room of the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank, going through thousands of pounds of salvaged food from restaurants, grocery stores, and manufacturers.

Celebrating 40 years of service, the LA Foodbank has redistributed over 1 billion pounds of food to the needy. 1 in 6 people in Los Angeles are at risk for hunger.  Many of them have worked their whole lives, but are members of the working poor - those who must decide between rent and  food, or medicine vs. lunch and dinner.

Physically, the building is imposing, looking like a Costco with pallets of food stacked from floor to ceiling. And the gleaning room - is freezing. My infamous knee high work boots (see pic) and nano puff jacket were almost not enough. I needed a hat and gloves.

My group of volunteers was tasked with sorting everything, and throwing away any donated items without a clear expiration date and ingredient deck.

LA Regional Food Bank

Most of the mountain of food was salvageable, however I was not sad when I had to make the call to trash several hundred pounds of an unmarked butter substitute/margarine.  To be fair the margarine company probably didn't want to print the ingredient deck because it's nasty.

What was fun? Climbing on top of a mountain of food to pass packages down.  Hey, heat rises. I'm nothing if not practical, and a monkey-like climber.

It's tragic that we still need such a large facility because so many people live in poverty. However, I am eternally grateful that the LA Regional Food Bank exists, and that over 200 volunteers showed up, today and many days, to get food ready so many people in LA, including 400,000 children, don't have to go to bed hungry.

Volunteer Journal #97 - Angel's Flight

Princess is standing in for the kids.  Or more like sleeping in... On Wednesday night, after a long day at work, I found myself staring over a hand of Uno cards at a runaway teen.

I had come to Angel’s Flight near downtown LA to spend the night playing games. I ended up in one of the most intense, war-like games of Uno ever.  To be fair my opponents were tough and sophisticated. True survivors.

Angel’s Flight is a shelter for homeless and runaway kids between thee ages of 10-18.  Many of the children are fleeing abusive families. The kids are given food, clothes, and shelter, appointed case workers and therapists to help them cope with what they’ve been through.

The Uno game went on for 2 hours, a time during which I forgot about my work. Which is priceless.

Trucker hat kid = me

I don’t feel comfortable taking pictures of minors, especially teens forced to escape unimaginable circumstances.  A can briefly tell you about them because they were exceptional and interesting:

A 16-year-old former vegan, wanna be guitarist, who was thrilled that I taught him how to “count cards” in Uno. He was very proud to be starting college level classes soon.

The 11-year-old who had arrived at the shelter the day before.   He was tiny for his age and scrappy. His clothes were 3 sizes too big.

Playing games.

A girl in her final year of high school who couldn’t bother to play games because she had to finish her homework on the center’s tattered couch.

The 13-year-old who hid the fact that he started crying when, in the heat of Uno battle, another kid called him stupid (a crime that was reprimanded).

The only picture I took at this event are the Uno cards. I think you can understand.

Volunteer Journal #94 – WriteGirl

WriteGirl There was a time when female writers were discriminated against and forced to change their names to George Eliot.

Unfortunately, that time is now.  Women are still the underdog in the writing world. For example, between 2010 and 2012 in Hollywood female writers made up only 9% of the scripts (written on spec) sold.

My parents chose the name Raegan so no one would know if I was a boy or a girl on a job application.  Out-of-date anxiety?  Nope, that choice has proven monumentally important time and again in my career. My personal experience is backed up by this Princeton study that found that female playwrights are more frequently rejected especially by... wait for it... female artistic directors!

So I’m going to support any group that encourages more young women to write.

More than just a 1960s Secretary

That's why I was thrilled to stumble across WriteGirl. WriteGirl empowers young women by matching them with female writers who mentor them in creative writing.

A large cafeteria had been commandeered for the WriteGirl workshop at which I volunteered. Among the areas each girl had to visit was a college counseling section, different brainstorming/writing prompt tables, and the greatest catering table I have ever seen at any volunteering event. I signed in, got a brief tour where I met many of the fellow mentors (all impressive credential female writers) and then was sent to one of the writing prompt tables to help.

At my table the girls, all in high school, were required to look at a map of the world with highlighted pictures and pick a location.  Even if they had never visited that country they were then to write everything about that area they could imagine. i.e. What's the temperature? What does it smell like? Who's there? What do you see? What do you hear?  How do you feel being there?

The Girls Plan Their Villas in Tuscany

The girls worked with very little prompting.  When they seemed stuck I just did what my teachers had done for me - I showered them with questions and encouragement reminding them, "There is no right answer.  You are the master of this little universe you are creating, so don't be self conscious.  Just write something down."

Again. Don't be self conscious.  There is no right answer.  You are the master of your universe. Just write something down.

100% of WriteGirl graduates go to college, but more than that it's important for girls to have female mentors who have played the game, written the words, and succeeded. WriteGirl infuses young women with confidence and teaches them that their opinion matters. So, for God's sake, Lean In Ladies!

And remember, as the women of WriteGirl say at the end of every meeting:

"Never underestimate the power of a girl and her pen."

 

Volunteer Journal #92 - Midnight Mission Kids Program

Drawing in Chalk Out of all the charities I've volunteered for the Midnight Mission is by far one of my favorite.  They don't make you jump through too many hoops, they just put you to work.

When I found out that they needed people to play with kids at an after school program in South Central LA I was in.  I signed up for a two hour shift after work on LAWorks and drove over to the small park next to the apartment building where the kids lived.

Showing up at any new volunteering project is like showing up for the first day of a new school.  Are they gonna like me, what are we going to play?  I'm terrible at kick ball I hope we don't do that. I hope I'm not the last one picked.

I had lots of first days at different schools growing up, but I still get nervous wondering if any kids will want to play with me.

After a little awkward standing around a young guy named "Jack" (changed to protect little 'un), who was a bit by himself as well, decided that it would be okay to play horse shoes with me. Phew.  The rest of the evening went like this:

Jack: I think I won that game of horseshoes.

Me: Agreed.

Jack: Lets jump rope.

Some of the kids drawings .

Me: Okay.

Jack: Lets draw with chalk.

Me: Awesome.

Jack: I will draw a river going down the steps.  You will draw fish.

Me: Sure.

Jack: Let's play tennis.

Me: Cool.

Jack: Can you swing higher than me?

Me: Probably not.

Jack: If I put this toy around your ankle can you jump it?

Me: Ummm...

Jack: Nevermind let's go draw some more.

Me: Cool!

More sidewalk art!

Jack and I spent the bulk of the night drawing on the sidewalk in chalk.  We were joined by the other kids and they eventuallyy worked out a drawing contest.  Little introvert Jack, much like little introvert me, was included in the group.  Though much like me he also stepped away a bit to draw by himself.

So as not to get any little ones on film I handed them my iPhone so they could take the pictures.  After a little instruction they proved to be naturals. Those are their sidewalk drawing, and Jack took the picture of me sitting cross legged on the ground on the front page.

Volunteering Journal #89 - Tree Musketeers

Climbing Trees next to LAX. I had the pleasure of volunteering for an organization founded by kids for kids called Tree Muskeeters.

The young Musketeers plant trees, care for them, and hopefully pass on the lessons they learn to adults.

I always tell people that one of the best things about volunteering is how much you learn in the process - you can even get job training by volunteering.  My educational focus on this particular day was tree care (because some day I’m going to have fruit trees).  Since we were doing tree maintenance I didn’t think the arborist would mind being harassed.

The Tree Musketeers Arborist James was very accommodating as I peppered him with tons of annoying questions like “What is the tree that looks like it’s catching fire?”

One should never mention fire around a California Arborist.

When the panic subsided he said, “Oh the bottlebrush tree.  Yes, hummingbirds love that tree.”

She really likes trees

And I love hummingbirds so this is good.

He told me that he was in the park so often to care for the trees that the hummingbirds had gotten to know him.  They would give him an elevator greeting.

“What’s an elevator greeting?”

He said that they will swoop in and hover, considering him for a second, and then shoot straight up.

I then had far too many questions about hummingbirds.

I continued my question barrage at him and our teenage team leader Sammy as we pulled up weeds and grass in a two-foot radius around each tree and then put down a berm of mulch.  The mulch keeps the tree well hydrated, and also prevents weeds growing which zaps trees of needed nutrients.

Sammy and I put down mulch

It was fun.  I got dirty.  I climbed some trees.

Organizations founded with child volunteers in mind are few and far between.  Most groups will allow children so long as they are accompanied by an adult.  Never assume - always call ahead before bringing your children – for their safety as well as yours.

Volunteer Journal #87 –LA Green Grounds & Ron Finley

TED 2013 superstar, Our new crush. Last year when LA Green Grounds sent out a call for volunteer gardeners 5 people responded.

Then in early March 2013 a founding member of LAGG, Ron Finley, gave what is arguably one of the best inspirational speeches ever delivered on the famed TED Long Beach stage.

He spoke about planting gardens in South Central LA - making gardens, local food, and growing your own sexy and gangsta.  Ron’s TEDTalk went viral.

In early April LA Green Grounds sent out a notice for volunteers – in less than 4 hours they had 300 responses. And inconceivably enough, for any group of do-gooders, had to turn people away.

The before digging picture

Sensing this would be the case after I watched the speech 20 times I:

a) Contacted Ron Finley directly.

b) Set the LA Green Ground email as a special alarm on my phone so I could jump as soon as I got the volunteer request. I did jump – unfortunately while I was baking rosemary crackers, which burned.  I responded within 5 minutes and got into the April 21st LAGG Earth Day “Dig In.”

It’s a great world we live in when planting a garden in South LA is a harder ticket to obtain than a red carpet event.

For the April 21st Dig In LA Green Grounds renovated a yard and 3 sections of parkway – turning them into an edible garden.

http://youtu.be/4PO9CvnmZTQ

I dragged my friend Sara along – reminding her we had committed to 7/8 hours of work.  And work we did – we shoveled, and pick axed (in truth I’m not great with a pick ax), moved brinks, shoveled more, picked out weeds, put in baby plants, and shoveled some more. We had a fantastic time, though both of us had trouble lifting our arms that night.

Not to disappoint Ron Finley showed up and so did cameras. Lots of cameras.  A virtual paparazzi followed his every move whether demonstrating the proper use of said pick ax or pulling baby beet plants apart.

All the ladies with shovels say hey!!

While catching his breath near the mulch pile he told me the biggest difference in the last two months is that he slept before the TEDTalk.

The cameras, and all the attention are a bit odd to him. They are a bit odd to the entire tight knit group of LA Green Grounds founding members.  They were a renegade-grassroots-group-of-garden-graffiti-artists, and friends, that challenged the LA City Council. Now they’re rock stars. Almost overnight.

They’re learning. They’re growing. They all get they’re hands dirty. They’re trying to not let it get to their heads.  They’re still going to need you guys so don’t stop requesting to volunteer, find a renegade garden group in your town, or better yet – start your own.

To contact LA Green Grounds go to their website, be patient, and set an alert on your email. It's worth it!

 

Volunteer Journal #85 - The Polar Bear Jump!

Polar Bear for Polar Plunge! Here are the pictures from the San Francisco Polar Plunge I did benefitting the Special Olympics.

It was a great event and I had a blast! They ended up raising over $200,000 dollars for the Special Olympics in Northern California! I even got to meet some of the athletes.

A few things to look for in the slide show:

When I'm hugging the corporate bear in the white bikini check out the large bruise on my knee.  I dislocated my right knee lifting weights at the gym the week before.  It was so painful that I dropped the 10 lb. weight in my hand on the other knee causing the bruise and keeping me out of the gym for the last week.

When I dove under the water my friends lost sight of me and couldn't get many pictures.  Reason why - when I dove under my bikini top and bottoms slipped off a bit so I stayed under water until I pulled everything back on.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNwkQozo19Y&feature=youtu.be

Thanks to all of my wonderful donors who helped me raise money for the Special Olympics and my first polar plunge.  As I've said before on Twitter and Facebook - you guys keep TheGoodMuse running with your well wishes and you've help me cross off a major event on my bucket list.

Here's hoping you all have a lovely week.

Stay tuned for the next 15!

Volunteer Journal #84 - The Crown Jewel Club Tea

If you see a flock of chickens on the sidewalk in Los Angeles you’re in a bad neighborhood. Roosters are illegal within the city limits.  People do bad things with roosters, the most innocuous of which is wake everyone up at sunrise. However, when I pulled up to the small elementary school south of Downtown LA for a tea party that’s just what I saw - derelict houses, and 2 Roosters managing a flock.

I was in South Central to help The Crown Jewel Club throw a graduation tea party for their newest graduates.  Somebody mentioned to me that this seemed kind of frivolous – tea parties weren’t necessary.  But instilling confidence in at risk girls, The Crown Jewel Club’s mission, is necessary, and this tea was to celebrate a group of 5th graders graduation from the program.

The Crown Jewel Club teaches basic etiquette and social skills to girls in small classes.  For example: before the tea party began the volunteers lined up opposite the girls and they practiced shaking hands, formal greetings, and eye contact.   You may think this is easy or natural, but I would beg you to try to get a 5th grade girl to look you in the eye and shake hands firmly.  As Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook mentioned recently the girls are instilled at an early age to lean back and not be assertive – it’s perceived as bossy or worse.  You could tell some of the girls were desperately fighting the need to look at the floor.

My job was beyond easy and fun - help set up the tea party and then sit down and help the girls practice conversation skills.  It went something like this [with body movements like this]:

Me: “Okay Guys... Sorry I shouldn’t call you guys… Ladies.  Okay ladies. [Taking elbows off the table and holding my shoulders back] What is your greatest dream? [Again don’t slouch].

Smart Girl 1: “I would like to be a vet. Errr…. Veterinarian.”

Me: “Cool… I mean that is wonderful.  So did I." [Gently taking the sugar spoon out of her hand before she used it to stir her tea, and then immediately dropping it against my saucer with a clatter as I almost did the same thing.] "What about you?” [Nodding to the second girl as a burn tongue on hot tea.]

Smart Girl 2: “I want to be a teacher!”

Me: “Great.  What subject?” [Stirring milk in my tea.]

Smart Girl 2: “Milk?”

Me: “Try it. You’ll like it.  It will cool down the tea. You won't burning the... it will keep you from burning  your tongue. Ah hmm. Yes. Now... What subjects do you want to teach?"

Smart Girl 2: “Math and Science.”

Me: “Are you serious? I mean that’s awesome!  You’re awesome.” [Smirking. Take that study which says little girls don’t like math and science.]

Well, I did my best.  I probably messed up the etiquette a bit.  I ended up telling them the story of my children's book.  They got excited because it's about a girl only a year older than them. They gave me tons of suggestions for the second book.  Maybe I'll use them...

Doing Polar Plunge 4 Special Olympics! Need Help!

Answers to all your questions about why you should go to this link and donate to the Special Olympics to make me jump into ice water.

Who?

Me! TheGoodMuse. On a mission to complete my 85th volunteer activity - a Polar Plunge benefitting the Special Olympics.

Special Olympics Northern California provides year-round sports training & competition opportunities for children and adults with intellectual disabilities FOR FREE.  We need to raise money to help them do this it's awesome!

What? !!!!!!

I know, free training and competition opportunities for those with disabilities!  Why wouldn’t you help?

As for me it’s been on my bucket list forever, and I’m using this as an excuse to get back into “Body Double Shape” (pictured) after I was struck waiting for a red light in March (which left my neck screwed up).

Yes, I really was a body double when I first got to LA.  It’s how I survived.  No nudity.  I was just in really good shape.  I worked out A LOT.

I figure if the kids and adults of the Special Olympics are going to show an incredible amount of bravery and persistence at the gym so can I.

Where?

San Francisco “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” – Mark Twain

And I’m jumping into the Bay in the winter.

When?

February 23,  2013

Why?

Because over 15,700 Special Olympics athletes participate in The Special Olympics.

Because you are encouraging me to get back the stomach pictured.  Serious motivation if everyone is going to see a picture of you jumping into freezing water in a white bikini.

Because this is on my bucket list.

Because no amount is too small and whatever you can give is appreciated.  I set the goal at $250 total, because that’s double the minimum, but I think we can do better.

Why does your hair look like dry twisted straw in that old picture?

I have no idea.  People make mistakes.  Please forgive.

More?

For more information on Special Olympics Northern California, go to www.sonc.org or join the chatter on Facebook.com/SONorCal and Twitter.com/SONorcal

For more pictures of my adventure and adventures check out Facebook/TheGoodMuse

If this goes well maybe I’ll post up some more pics from body doubling days and tell some stories ‘bout it on TheGoodMuse.com

Volunteer Journal #81 - Pablove: Fight Pediatric Cancer

This took so long to write because I wasn’t feeling well. I haven’t been feeling well. Nothing life threatening, I’ll get over it. And then Newtown happened, and it made my heart hurt. But... no more excuses! It occurred to me that this non-profit that I volunteered with, Pablove, is about preventing the unnecessary death of children. Children who really, really, don’t feel well. Children who have cancer. See Pablove was founded because of a little boy that got terribly ill:

The Pablove Foundation is named after Pablo Thrailkill Castelaz, the son of Jo Ann Thrailkill and Jeff Castelaz and the little brother of Grady Gallagher. Pablo was six years old when he lost his valiant yearlong battle with bilateral Wilms Tumor, a rare form of childhood cancer. Imbued with his spirit and inspired by his strength, Pablove is dedicated to the daily, global fight against childhood cancer and the suffering that comes in its wake. We fight on in order to amplify one simple message: kids get cancer too.”

It’s a simple message - kids get cancer too and until recently pediatric cancer was often treated with smaller doses of adult research medication. But a child is not a little adult. Their bodies are growing and changing.

Compared to adult cancers pediatric cancer is extremely underfunded. KidVCancer.org states that National Cancer Institutes Budget for Research on Childhood Cancer gets 4% or roughly 190 million compared to Adult cancer 96% or 4,800 million. In the past 20 years ONLY ONE new cancer drug has been approved for pediatric cancer. More pediatric cancer factoids here!

Also, when you’re sick with cancer you can’t be a kid. The medicine makes your stomach hurt, you lose your hair, get weak, have developmental delays. You definitely can’t play like you use to or even go to school.

The Pablove Foundation funds pediatric cancer research and advances in treatment. They educate and empower cancer families, and improve the quality of life for children living with cancer through hospital play, music and arts programs. They even host photography classes so the kids can tell the story of their lives with and without cancer.

All I did was help bartend one of their parties - a symposium actually, which brought together families who have a child with cancer, doctors, and Pablove Volunteers. The event is a chance for everyone to interact outside of the hospital environment.

It was a lovely, easy evening of volunteering and meeting fantastic people. Including my new volunteer friend Heidi (pictured) – an actress who is a regular volunteer for Pablove. She was inspired to volunteer because of her grandfather as well. Habitual volunteers are the lifeblood of any organization, so hats off to the better woman.

If you want to know more about Pablove I encourage you to visit their website.

For the Children of Sandy Hook Elementary

True - When I was 16 there was a shooting in my high school as we were changing classes. I remember it sounded like a book being slammed on the ground. I was walking up the steps and a teacher behind me started yelling, "Go go go..." We were pulled into whatever classroom we were near and locked in until the first responders arrived. We hid under the desks.

Every day after that my fellow classmates and I had to walk through metal detectors. And yet, after that, another friend of mine was shown a loaded handgun in English class. That's the reality of what it is like going to school in America. It's a little difficult to focus. It makes the sound of a door slamming or book being dropped a whole different experience. It sits in your gut. I don't think children, anywhere, should live with that kind of fear.

Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech... The list goes on and on.

This is unacceptable. We have failed to protect the innocent. Many of the Newtown children killed were 6. 6 years old. And many others watched their classmates die.

"We can't tolerate this anymore.  These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change... Surely we can do better than this." - President Barack Obama

Green Bronx Machine: Fighting Poverty

Stephen Ritz noticed the kids in his class were getting heavier and heavier. Three generations had pass through his Bronx classroom; obesity and diabetes were on the rise.

He needed to engage his students, to make them responsible for their health and education.

He started with a simple class project – they would build an edible wall. The kids sorted seeds, planted the wall and it grew. They named themselves the Green Bronx Machine, and adopted the slogan “We are Amer-i-CANS.” They got support from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and people noticed.

The kids were invited to Boston to install an edible wall on the George Hancock building. They were invited to South Hampton to install green roofs. They came back to the Bronx, installed more living walls and began earning real green.

The students got licensed and bonded in trade, they now build affordable housing, and their gardens easily produce 25,000 pounds of vegetables a year. They donate some of their fresh vegetables to seniors. “Brook Park feeds hundreds of people without a food stamp or a fingerprint,” says Ritz.

When Mr. Ritz’s kids became the first in their family to... Read the Rest on Celsias and watch the video.

Volunteer Journal #77 – DonorsChoose.org

Recently, I stumbled upon the brilliant organization Vittana – a group that makes loans to students to finish their education much like Kiva makes loans to small businesses in developing countries.

Seeing how excited I was to loan to students a TGM fan suggested I check out Donorschoose.org, which makes donations directly to teachers for school supplies, class projects, field trips, etc.

I had heard about Donorschoose around “the water cooler,” and the fact that America's teachers dip into their own poorly paid pockets to provide at least $40 a month in basic school supplies for their students. I believe, American public, this constitutes an epic fail on our part.

DonorsChoose, developed by teacher Charles Best in 2000, has unique transparency, you are allowed to choose the exact way in which your money is donated.  After a brief search I made a donation to a southern elementary school to help them fund a school garden. (I am particularly fond of school gardening programs). I responded to the brave request of Mr. Carberry who wants his student to have gardening supplies.  Currently, this loan is still not completely funded.  Look people, when a fund will educate, provide food, fight obesity, and teach real world skills it's a no brainer - donate to the garden.

Generally, I try to limit TheGoodMuse activities to physical acts or loans like Kiva or Vittana*.  My rational is - most people in this economy, around the world, don’t have money to spare, like myself, but they can act – thus volunteering or acts of kindness.  Also, making TheGoodMuse a sight about giving money away was too easy and boring – unengaged, unplugged, and not realistic for the majority of readers.  But Donorschoose was a unique case, and I wanted to demo how it worked for all of ya'll.

I believe, in the digital age that most charities will be required to move towards a more transparent donation model like Donorschoose, they just got the jump on the competition.

* Vittana and Kiva are loans not donations because your money is given back eventually and then it’s your chose to reloan or pocket.

Volunteer Journal #76 – Back to School Shopping

Bless the Salvation Army; they are efficient because they handle things simply.  To help underprivileged children buy new school clothes they teamed up with Target who offered each child an $80 gift card.  For some kids this would be the first time they would be able to buy new clothes and items for school.

I arrived at 8am, checked in with the Salvation Army representative and waited in a volunteer cluster.  Soon the volunteers were lined up on one side, the kids on the other and they pared us together.

I got paired with an adorable 8-year-old girl, we’ll call T because she’s a minor.  Her older brother and sister were also getting new school clothes and were chaperoned by two other volunteers.

Each chaperone was handed the Target gift card and told to let the kids get what they wanted for school as far as clothes and backpacks.  This was a rare treat for the kids; school supplies (like pencils, paper, folders) would be handled by another group.

T and I grabbed a little basket and headed into Target.

I don’t have kids, and so at this point I felt majorly outclassed by the other volunteers, who thankfully offered advice like, “If she wears an 8 buy a 9 because she’ll grow out of it in a month.” And “With only 80 shop the clearance racks.”

T wanted new shoes so we headed for that department.  She had a particular tennis shoe in mind, but when she realized Target didn’t carry the brand she gladly switched her wish to a pair of pink Hello Kitty sneakers (Buy stock in Hello Kitty – little girls are obsessed).

New pink tennis shoes acquired we went to clothes next. Little T took my hand and guided me through the section as she looked.  She picked out a number of cute options and we narrowed it down to panda t-shirt, Mickey sweatshirt, black leggings to go with both and the essentials underwear and socks.  Now the most important – the backpack.  The day was won when we found a fuzzy monkey backpack with plush squeezable zipper for $15 bucks.  We came in just over the amount because of tax but that was fine.  We backed up all her belongings in her backpack; she recycled the target plastic sacks herself in front of me.  A task that earned her a big hug.  T seemed thrilled with her finds.

I was about to leave when the volunteer coordinator asked if I would take one last little girl through who’s name was Jo.  She was a tiny skinny little thing and had arrived late. Her mother apologized saying they were looking for a place to stay.  No problem.

Jo had to wear a uniform, which we grabbed, and a Hello Kitty backpack, but when it came to shoes – I let Jo go a little wild and she was thrilled. Her purchase? Knee high black sparkly sneakers, good for running or being a fierce little girl in a plain school uniform. Only $5 more than standard sneakers.

I had a fun day. Even though I am an amateur shopper and have no kids everyone, including the little girls, were very patient and helpful. And let’s be honest, it’s fun to shop for little girl stuff, since I believe, though it’s been a while, that I was one once upon a time.

Guaranteed my little girls were the cutest little girls ever when they start to school.

Volunteer Journal #74 - Vittana.org

Dear Readers,

I am super excited to introduce you to the awesomeness that is Vittana.org. - A micro-lending site for student loans.

My love of Kiva is well publicized, as it is one of the easiest and safest ways to make a difference.  Plus, they don’t send you junk mail, which I hate.

Now Vittana picks up where Kiva left off.  Supplying loans to students in developing nations so they can complete their education and become problem solvers within their community.

i.e. “Our mission is to empower young people around the world with the the education and training they need to build a life of prosperity and opportunity.”

The students pay you back and you can either pocket the money or re-loan to another student.  Also, unlike Kiva you can donate any amount you want – from $1 to $100,000.  Those of us who have been students know that even $1 helps buy a cup of Ramen.

I found out about Vittana because I was contacted by one of their interns Isabel about a campaign launched by New York Times Best Selling author Tim Ferris who has pledged to match every donation to $50,000 for his 35th birthday.  He’ll also buy the person who does the most good a round trip ticket to anywhere in the world as long as you become part of the campaign by his birthday on July 27th.

I loaned to a woman named Huda in Jordan who is going to school for computer science.  Her loan is 90% funded – help me out and send Huda to school!

Volunteer Journal #71 – FreeRice.com

Do you like video games?  Do you want to volunteer but don’t want to leave the couch?

Great! I have an activity for you. Go to www.FreeRice.com

FreeRice.com is the Official Winner* of:

  • Volunteering Made Easy
  • Best Way to Stay Seated and Volunteer
  • I Made the World A Better Place While Procrastinating at Work
  • Can I Report These Community Service Hours to My Parole Officer?

And possibly…

All kidding aside – go play any of the fun trivia games on FreeRice.com. I am partial to the original vocabulary game.

For every right answer FreeRice.com gives 10 grains of rice to The World Food Programme. 10 grains might not seem like a lot but it adds up.  To date they've donated almost 100 billion grains. They're around 95 billion - time to pitch in and help reach a big even number.

I’ve been playing FreeRice for years and can’t believe I never thought of it as volunteering, but now that I’ve done 70 different volunteer activities - this totally counts.

Make yourself smart. There’s an SAT prep game for High School Kids! Feed The Hungry! JUST DO IT !!!!!!

*Made up categories by TheGoodMuse

** Not confirmed

Volunteer Journal #65 – The Trevor Project

“Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds.”

Downer opening but, let's face it, 15-24 is rough. For many of us it's the worse time of our life.  Almost impossible. You get raging hormones, a new body, acne, and hair in random places. You want to experiment with stuff, learn what you are and are not capable of, but you're still under the watchful eye of the ever present parentals. And then there are your classmates. I don’t know many adults who weren’t picked on to some extent.

Personally, I feared walking into the cafeteria so much during high school that I started eating lunch in the library with the librarian. I got a lot of reading done.

But, besides being female, I wasn't in any minority or oppressed group. I can't fathom...

“LGB youth are up to 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.”

Is it any wonder?  We tell them they can die for their country but they can't tell us who they really are.  We tell them they can't legally be with the person that they love, so sorry - no legal protection for you. In many countries lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are even butchered by the law. So, is it any wonder?

That's why I'm so honored I got to work with The Trevor Project on Labor Day weekend.

The Trevor Project’s goal is to stop suicide among young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or questioning youth, but anyone seeking help is welcome to call their 24/7 help line 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386) to talk to a counselor.

My friend Sara, who spent time in Africa rehabilitating monkeys (random amazing factoid - see pic), joined me and other volunteers from the group Century of Compassion. We made survival kits!  Filled with information on GLBTQ literature and films and tips on how to deal with and prevent bullying. The kits are sent to kids, parents, schools, anyone who needs help - and they're free, so don't be shy about calling to ask for one.

The Trevor Project needs volunteers to make survival kids, be lifeline counselors (you have to go through training), or answer Trevor Chat.  Trevor Chat is a new instant messaging program for anyone who might be too scared to call.  They've talked to kids as young as 9 who need counseling.

Trevor took 33,000 calls last year, and intervened in a several suicide attempts.  If you have a friend or know someone who needs to talk please encourage them to call.

Life is rough but it would be so much less interesting without you around. Lots of people care and have been through something similar.  Please call 866-4-U-Trevor.

It gets so much better.

 

Volunteer Journal #60 - Writing Coach

I love that number 60 was in my wheelhouse. Teaching a writing workshop. That’s it. Pretty simple. Class – 6 High school kids. Who should be worried about going to college and picking up classmates. Unfortunately these kids, as KIDSAVE ambassadors, had to worry about finding families and convincing others to look beyond blood and do the same. How to convince aka seduce someone with the written word? In two words - “Yes, and…” “Yes, and…” is my writing motto. It keeps a story moving forward, fills it with interesting details, but is also appropriate to use in life. For Example: “Raegan, would you like a cookie?” Yes, and milk. “Do you write plays?” Yes, and screenplays, short stories, a blog, and teleplays. “Would you like to have your own TV show?” Yes, and I’d like to win a Pulitzer, speak at TED, and… can I please have that bag of cookies? Try it everywhere, like in the dark with a significant other. You can thank me later.

Back to the kiddos… I started the class by handing out the guidelines below. If anything these little rules, principles, guidelines help me unstick myself. It’s how I avoid writers block, which I fortunately don’t get (knock on wood). After I explained the rules (yes - juxtaposition is a real word) I had them do some improv writing exercises and then we talked about what they produced. The kids wrote quality 1st draft work about their lives in two hours.

One kid wrote the most beautiful personal statement. It was honest, brutal, and bitter. He captured the emotions of a boy who was forgotten. Passed from shelter, to group home, to the street. A life in limbo. I loved it. I knew the organization would never let him read his story at an event but I told him several times how much I loved his statement. To that kid I want to say – keep that story, give me details, tell me what you learned in all this screwed up madness, and remember what Oscar Wilde would say, "If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they'll kill you."

Raegan’s Writing Guidelines

1) Yes, and… (AKA No Censoring - nothing is stupid till it proves to be so…)

Always advance a story. Saying yes to a suggestion will give you more to work with than no. “Yes, and…” is also an improv game.

For example: An elephant walked into a bar. Yes he did, and he ordered lemonade. Yes and…

2) Juxtaposition – You wouldn’t know it was dark without the light.

This rule keeps things interesting.

A good guy is more interesting if he has to struggle to be good – Dexter. A bad guy is always more interesting if he makes you laugh – The Joker. Know that the darkest moments can be funny and it's okay to laugh at them.

3) Don't ever try to be funny. Real is funny. Forced is not.

For example: An elephant walks into a bar and buys lemonade. Vs. An elephant walks into a bar and buys a purple slurpy glurp (WHAT?!?!?). Forced is children’s lit – i.e. Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are

4) Don’t ever be too proud.

Always be okay with editing. Be ready to cut out an idea completely.

5) Try to take out words you don’t need.

Examples: like, that, I think, is, my, mine. I think you should try to like take out words that you totally don’t need.

6) Truth, beauty, funny = details.

What’s the worst place you’ve ever slept? Why? – The bed smelled like feet, there were bugs on the floor, and the person in the next room recited the star spangled banner in their sleep.

7) Commit to an idea.

Once an elephant walks into a bar he’s there. Tell me the story. What happens?

8.) Writers write.

Don’t tell me what you’re working on – tell me what you’ve written.

Food Insecurity and Climate Change

Extreme weather conditions fueled by climate change will increase food insecurity across the globe. Scientists and humanitarian groups point to events like this summer’s record breaking heat in Russia and floods in Pakistan and Canada as examples of how food stocks are likely to be affected in the coming years. "Climate change will lead to different weather patterns, and that is what we are already seeing in many places like Pakistan and Russia. It doesn't rain the way it used to," World Water Week director Jens Berggren told AFP recently . Russia’s hottest summer on record helped fuel 600 wildfires near Moscow, which destroyed almost one-third of the countries buckwheat crop. This crop loss led...Read Full Article

Volunteer Journal #59 – Share Our Strength

I got the call from Share Our Strength on Friday requesting volunteer help on Sunday for the LA Times Celebration of Food and Wine benefit at Paramount. Regardless of the late notice, I got butterflies. Maybe even a bit lightheaded. Some people go weak over movie stars – I lose my mind over gourmet-handcrafted food. To prep for the large amount of yum I would inhale (for charity yada yada yada) I ate nothing but fruit and veggies for two days, lived at the gym, and fasted the last 18 (miserable) hours before the event.

Technically, Share Our Strength had asked me to help sell raffle tickets at their booth, and I totally intended to – once my food obsession had been satiated. I arrived early so my eating would not cut into my volunteering time. Before I type out this entire embarrassing list I want everyone to know this happened over several hours and most of the food was in sample sizes – okay. Alright here goes…

First stop Coolhaus – retro-architectural-gourmet-ice-cream-sandwich-chow-truck – I got peach cobbler ice cream sandwiched between two oatmeal cookies, next the Dosa Truck for a Dosa (Indian crepe) wrapped around spinach, cheese and potato with curry sauce, a Chocolate Chipotle Cake Ball at Delicious Wishes, Aged cheddar samples, spicy potato salad, blueberry lemonade, homemade strawberry buttermilk ice cream, Thai pitas and mung bean pattie (better than sounds), gourmet potato chips, wahoos veggie tacos, chocolate cake muffin, homemade s’more at Madame Chocolat, oh crap almost forgot and then a snickerdoodle cookie at the end. I have no idea how I ate that much it was an awesome feat. Estimated calorie intake 4000 to 5000. Days would have to fast to make up for today-3. Was it worth it for one day of gourmet gluttony?  Yes.

As for the volunteering - I manned the booth with the other volunteers but the best time I had was helping the chefs and restaurant owners set up the VIP area. Though some were a bit snippy (who will remain nameless here). I probably ran across the lot 6 times filling various requests. I ended up invading the Paramount set supplies at one point and snatched some unused black curtains to use as table linens because we had run out. I did this under the eye of a Paramount security guard who saw me taking the curtains and said, “Ma’am, can I help you?” He said it like, “Ma’am can I take you to studio jail?”  So I played dumb, which I hate doing but... [bat eyelashes, flip hair, jut out hip]... I said, “It’s the damn’dest thing I just can’t get these curtains off the metal poles." They were attached to because they were part of a stage. The over accommodating guard said, “Oh let me help you with that.” So children -when stealing act like suppose to be stealing.

Here's the irony in this volunteer assignment and blog.  Share Our Strength helps fight childhood hunger and food insecurity.  Over 17 million children in the United States, that's one in four, faces hunger.  I stuffed myself like a little pig at an event to help children who may not even get one good meal a day.

On a side note (and I do this out of love and with the knowledge that TheGoodMuse’s design is far from perfect) – Share Our Strength has one of the most difficult websites to negotiate of any charity I’ve ever seen. It’s like a word bomb went off on every page. After I was asked to volunteer for the LA Times event I literally had to Google LA Times Food and Wine to find any information because I couldn’t find it on their website. What’s needed? Fewer words. Easier Tabs. Events page with info. General volunteer sign-up - THAT’S EASY TO FIND. More concrete factoids, for example: How exactly does the Great American Dine Out raise money to help stop hunger? What percentage goes to support your programs? On a positive note -The Great American Bake Sale page has improved since last year because of a searchable map.

Bottom-line on the Share Our Strength Website– less pomp more substance. Potential volunteers please don’t get discouraged or frustrated.