Tag Archives: community service

A Million Reasons to Volunteer This 4th of July

Screen Shot 2013-07-03 at 10.40.44 PMBy Levi Newman

I’d like to believe that most of us are actively looking for ways to live healthier, more meaningful lives. It may be a “glass half full” way to view life, but to me you should always be looking to do more with the time you have. That’s why I think we should become more responsible citizens of this planet by finding ways to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Think about it; we’re always asking for help from dieticians, aestheticians, yoga instructors and life gurus, but how often do we ask what we can do for someone else? I’m going to let you in on a secret that I’ve been using to fill my own health and wellness needs—it’s called volunteering.

Wait, you mean you’ve heard of it? Okay, you caught me, it’s not a secret, but it is amazingly good for you!

There are a million and one reasons to volunteer at either a local or global level, but let’s focus on just a few. For starters, people who volunteer are linked to having better mental, physical and emotional health. According to a study by the UnitedHealth Group and Optum Institute, 76 percent of people surveyed said volunteering made them feel physically healthier, while another 78 percent reported lower stress levels. Researchers at the London School of Economics have even found a correlation between the amount you volunteer and the chances you’ll have of being “very happy.” In essence, the more you volunteer, the happier you become.

Of course, I don’t need statistics to tell me that if I trimmed my waistline and dropped some stress that I’d be a lot happier.

Did you also know that people who volunteer are more likely to land paid employment? In fact, people who volunteer are 27 percent more likely to find a job according to research by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Looks like all that time you spent passing out meals on Thanksgiving could pay even more dividends than you imagined.

Let’s not forget the social aspect. Your selfless service helps your community grow and come together. In today’s society we can sometimes lose those close ties because of social media, so it’s imperative that we build strong bonds with those around us. And while making new friends, expanding your social network (hooray for jobs!) and even boosting your interpersonal skills are important facets, we’re not even scratching the surface of the benefits of volunteering.

We’ve talked all about the selfish—in a good way—reasons we should volunteer, but let’s talk about how volunteering our valuable time affects those in need.

The single most important thing you provide those you serve is hope, and even a little hope inspires. Giving your time, time you may have otherwise wasted on some mundane, forgettable task, could have been time used to inspire someone that may have all but given up on life. It doesn’t matter if it’s volunteering at a food bank like Feeding America, or rebuilding communities around the globe with Team Rubicon, the point is that you’re providing a service to people that truly need help.

Volunteering is one of the few activities on earth that benefits the givers as much as the recipients. That’s why when you’re looking to take on a new hobby, project or adventure, choose something that can impact someone’s life in a positive way. It doesn’t matter if you decide to start down the street at a local church, or choose to take on the big jobs with the United Nations, know that you’re making the right decision.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” If we’re all looking to be happier people living more fruitful lives, I challenge you to take those words and volunteer to be that change. Here’s hoping I see you out there.

* * *

-1Levi Newman, a 10-year Army veteran and graduate of the University of Missouri, currently serves as the senior author for the Veterans United Network. He also works as the Director of Outreach for Veterans United Home Loans, where he builds and maintains relationships with businesses, organizations and individuals.

A Story of Fatherless Daughters and God’s Grace

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 5.05.19 PMPreface:

I haven’t seen my Pop in 20 years or so. I’ve forgiven him for skipping out on his fatherly duties and have accepted that he walks a path that leads him far away from home. His dreams were always much bigger than the reality his small suburban family could provide him. He wanted to change the world. And he did so through education.

He taught English through a bilingual program he developed at Boston English High School. He lectured passionately and positively about the growing Latino movement in Boston. He was even invited by Harvard University to do a lecture series about his work. I remember attending one of his lectures and was completely shocked when a swarm of undergrads rushed the lectern after his presentation, praising him for his work and his passion. His students loved him, his teacher community praised him, and his family thought he was nuts.

Pop walked down the street pinching a joint in one hand and flashing a peace sign in the other. His signature look was a “No Nukes” sweatshirt, overalls and long curly hair wrapped up in a red bandanna. No apologies. Crazy genius, I like to call him. I respect him for achieving some pretty amazing things as a teacher and advocate for the Latin community in Boston, though as a father he pretty much sucked.

Today’s story…

In 2001, my husband MG introduced me to Dorchester’s Mother Caroline Academy and Education Center, a tuition-free inner city middle school for bright girls of limited financial means. He’d been involved with the school’s fund-raising mission for some time and brought me to their annual spring event in Jamaica Plain. I remember being greeted by a bunch of smiling girls in plaid kilts, knee socks and over-sized red blazers with shoulder pads – all singing, chattering, laughing and doing double dutch. Suddenly an nun came out of nowhere and jumped between the ropes. She was really good. A couple of other nuns ran in and did the same. It was absolutely adorable. I laughed out loud. And so the love affair with MCAEC began.

After a few years of attending MCAEC’s Spring Gala, their annual fundraiser, I joined the planning committee, eventually co-chairing the event for 3 years. As my family grew, I’d take my babies along with me to the school for meetings. I would sit and breastfeed at the conference table and hand off my full-bellied baby to a friend when it was my turn to speak. I enjoyed the experiences, but longed for a real connection with the girls for whom I spent so much time raising money. Plus I was knee-deep in diapers and nap schedules. So in 2009, I took off my co-chair hat and signed up to mentor a student.

My girlfriends KF and CP also decided the time was right to reach out to one of these amazing Mother Caroline girls. So the three of us attended a meet and greet with the entire 8th grade class at a swank football party in a private box at Foxboro Stadium overlooking the 50 yard line (provided by a generous donor, of course). After a few awkward conversations, I came upon a charming girl, LR – well, “came upon” might be an unfair way to put it. Honestly, I practically gave CP the Heisman to get to her, interrupting their conversation and shoving myself between them. The reason for my boldness, though unknown to me at the time, would be revealed later.  ;-)

LR and I chatted easily for a long while, sharing some pretty personal things about each other and discovering lots of commonalities between us. She’s an old soul. Thoughtful, inquisitive, interesting, genuine, beautiful. I cornered the head of the mentoring program at the end of the game and gushed to her that I had a great conversation with LR and would love to have her as my mentee. As it turned out, LR liked me, too. So we were matched and spent the next few months getting to know each other.

The program head shared with us that typically mentor/mentee relationships start off slow. And I think that’s true for LR and me. Friendship and trust grows over time and as LR has told me, “We have a lot of years to do that.” So we’ve been sporadically setting up outings and getting to know each other. A couple of weeks ago LR and I were in the car together, talking about high schools. I mentioned that my Pop taught English to bilingual students at Boston English. She said, “My Mom went to Boston English.” Some quick math led us to realize that our parents were there at the same time. And LR’s Mom being Puerto Rican, the likelihood of her knowing my Pop was good. Really good. Really really good.

About 8:30 that night LR called and told me that her Mom had class with my Pop, “Mr. Cronin”, and remembered times staying after school with him when he’d tell her about my family and his days living in Honduras with the Peace Corps. Not only that, but she also spent a couple of years as a counselor at Pop’s summer camp “Campamento Hispano Internacional” in Waltham. I had also spent a fair amount of time at that summer camp as a kid, visiting with Pop. Weeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrd.

I’d just spent the last couple of days blogging about coincidences so I was certainly conscious of the ones happening in my life and was well-studied on synchronicities. And right there, on my family room couch, I was living through a pretty major one. I hung up the phone with LR and chewed on the idea for a minute. Then I proceeded to burst into tears. Fat ones. A full-on contorted-face-heaving-chest ugly cry.

I surveyed my mind to figure out why I was having a fit and realized that I was feeling the loving presence of my Pop for the first time in 20 years. I felt our intangible connection through the Universe. I saw the parallels between us, our mutual desire to make the world a better place, and the genetic gifts he gave me that have allowed me to be where I am today. I understood in that moment that God’s power is great. That there are no coincidences. That LR is my karmic gift, one that I am so happy to accept.

The things that had to happen and the timing of which those things had to occur was perfect. Divine. How on earth could something like this happen without God? God is perfection, organizing events in just the right way, even though to us it looks like total chaos. But it’s not total chaos, it’s divine chaos.

For me there has been a paradigm shift. LR fell away from my Mother Caroline family and neatly settled into my soul family. We are part of each others’ weaving labyrinth of life and always have been. And now we know. Now there’s no question, no surprise that I practically gave my dear friend a black eye to get to her at that football game over a year ago. Everything is written.

I thought about the series of events that had occurred over my lifetime and decided this…

Change (in some cases loss) is inevitable. Embrace it. Everything will be okay. And sometimes, what you think is lost forever is really not lost at all. God will bring it back to you in one form… or another.

Reach Further: Your Life is Only As Big As the Communities You Serve

In a recent TED Talk, Dan Pallotta boldly stated, “No one ever went bankrupt giving to charity.” I love that line. The words remind us that we can give a little cash and still have enough to fill our own needs. That’s true of our energy, too. We can give a little time and still have enough to do the things we need to do.

So often we get caught up in the complexities of our lives and forget that we co-exist in a big world filled with people who need our help.  My vlog today is a loving challenge to parents. The hope is to inspire families to work together to serve the greater community, to spend time helping folks who can offer them absolutely nothing in return. Today’s message focuses specifically on parents because I blog about mindful mothering on Bringing Up Buddhas; but really this message is for everyone. CEOs and introverts, democrats and yogis, students and circus performers. We all have something to give.

So I’m officially dubbing this season the Summer of Service. A perfect time to let our babies use their superpowers to give freely, love wildly, and live fully.

Click to read the Huff Post article.

Click to read the story of my mentee and me.

5 Amazing Stories from Go Inspire Go’s 50/50 Campaign

Many have written about the ability of social media to disperse information and create networks, but is it affecting any real social change? There are plenty of examples of social networking platforms playing essential roles in social movements, often in an organic, if scattered and chaotic, fashion. But the folks at Go Inspire Go (GIG) are taking a different approach. Their aim is to create organized, social media-driven campaigns to trigger overarching change on social issues.

Easier said than done. What makes people actually change their ways and beliefs? What final straw acts as the catalyst for reform? You might say “give people the facts,” or “use statistics to make an argument,” or “wait for a catastrophic event to get people moving.” For GIG, the power lies in sharing inspiring, relatable stories to show people that small steps can lead to real transformation.

That’s why GIG’s leader Toan Lam came up with the idea to document 50 inspiring stories, one from each of the 50 United States, to paint a portrait of local, everyday heroes in communities around the country. They are calling the initiative “50/50” and dispersing the stories via their YouTube channel – a great thing to check out if you’re ever in need of an inspiring pick-me-up. From an 8-year-old’s freedom-inspired lemonade stand to a woman who makes custom Superhero capes for sick children, these stories are guaranteed to strike a empathetic chord. In conjunction with the 50 stories, GIG also oversees a “Tea with Toan” video chat series, leadership training for millennials, and monthly blogs on various nonprofits working for social change.

We are inspired by the many ways people are rallying to use social media to make a difference in the world, and these video stories poignantly capture these efforts.

Here are five of our favorite stories from the 50/50 campaign:

1. After witnessing homelessness for the first time, 5-year-old Phoebe from San Francisco spearheaded a campaign to raise money to feed the hungry in her city. She has raised over $18,000 already for the SF Food Bank!

2. Psychiatrist Dr. Ron Holt decided to cut back on his private practice in order to travel around the country speaking about and educating people on LGBT issues and the science of sexuality. He discusses the devastating impacts of bullying and discrimination, with the goal of inspiring communities to adopt more inclusive values.

3. In response to recent riots in London, one couple decided to take alternative action. It started when they offered one particularly exhausted-looking sergeant a cup of tea, and spiraled into them walking the streets with cups and pitchers of hot tea to pass out to guards and bystanders.

4. Many people love dogs, but Emelinda Narvaez made it her life’s work to save as many dogs as she could through her nonprofit, Earth Angels. As of now, her organization has rescued over 10,000 canines. Even cancer couldn’t stop her, and she went on to use her own social security money to continue her dog-saving efforts.

5. In one inspiring story of corporate responsibility, the Spungen family from Illinois sold their multi-million dollar company and distributed $6.6 million to 230 employees as year-end bonuses. If only more businesses would follow their example!

Support Go-Inspire-Go’s IndieGoGo campaign HERE >>>

For more amazing stories from GIG’s 50/50 campaign and to help them raise $50,000 in the next month, visit their website, YouTube channel, and help them spread the word!

108 Prostrations: The Discipline Behind Zen Buddhism

In the latest episode of 30 DAYS OF INTENT on The Chopra Well, Natalie and Iman meet with Senior Dharma Teacher Jim Pallet for a lesson in Zen Buddhism. Little did they know they were signing up for 108 devotional bows – just the regular, daily fare for students at the Dharma Zen Center in Los Angeles where Jim teaches. Despite being heralded for its tranquil, meditative quality, Zen is actually a highly disciplined lifestyle. Consider this next time you say you’re going to “be zen” about something…

Every day, residents at the Dharma Zen Center rise at 5:30 am to 108 prostrations, followed by an hour of chanting and meditation. They end the day with another hour and a half meditation and chanting session, and some nights keep going for an extra hour or two for long stretches of sitting meditation. The time in between these morning and evening sessions is filled with personal practice, study, and chores. Lay residents may leave for work or school, returning in time for the second round of sessions every day. Regardless of their personal dharma, every resident at the center is expected to contribute to the communal living space, whether that means washing windows, sweeping patios or cleaning toilets. And by maintaining the space and cleaning externally, they simultaneous “clean inward” and attain higher levels of clarity.

To someone not immersed in a Zen lifestyle, the practice may seem overwhelmingly regimented. Who has the discipline to wake up at 5:30 am (not to mention the hip flexors to remain in seated meditation for hours on end)? But as Jim explains, he maintains the practice in part because it makes his life easier. His mind feels less cluttered while he’s immersed in Zen, deriving clarity and focus from the devotion. The takeaway for Natalie and Iman? Practice silence and find the beauty in simplicity.

Subscribe to The Chopra Well and don’t miss Thursday’s episode on Power Yoga!

photo by: Denish C

Food For Thought: The Charitable Giving Of Food

The charitable giving of food is giving food to a person without charging that person any money for the food.  It is true compassion and can be life saving.

When we want to serve food to someone living outside, we consider a few things.

1.  We “serve” food to homeless people, we “feed” animals.  Many years ago, Michael, a homeless man, brought this point to my attention.  He explained how it felt to homeless people when they heard that the people serving them were “a feeding program.”  “That makes it sound like we’re animals in the zoo,” he said.  “Could you please call your program something else?” he asked.

2.  Every person we serve is our “guest.”  This idea came from Koo Koo Roos who used to say, and I hope they still do, to their customers, “Next guest, please.”  The concept of serving a guest helps us remember that we treat each person we serve with respect and kindness.  And it is our goal to have enough of what we’re serving so that every guest gets the same item. 

3.  We serve everyone who asks us for food, whether we truly believe they are hungry or not.  In rare circumstances someone who appears not to be homeless or in need, asks for food.  We serve them just the same.  Why?  Because we understand that something may be missing in that person that perhaps the food that we are sharing can fill, at least for a time. 

4.  We can serve canned and packaged food in Los Angeles County, CA, anywhere and anytime.  In Los Angeles, there are no health rules and regulations dealing with the distribution of canned and packaged food.  Please check to determine if there are any applicable rules and regulations about this in your locale.

 

Continue reading on The Huffington Post

How To Serve A Homeless Person: Guide to Gift Bags

We can help a homeless person by serving him/her food, a blanket and/or necessary items.  It’s a pretty simple and wonderful thing to do.

In this article, I would like to propose a way to share items with homeless people. This distribution method of serving an unhoused person has worked for Children Helping Poor and Homeless People volunteers for over twenty-two years. I will discuss "the charitable giving of food" in detail in a later article.

Let’s start from the beginning – we’d like to share something with a homeless person/people, but what should we share and how can we do share it? 

First, we ask ourselves, what would we like to share with those in need.  Not sure?  On our website, www.chphp.com, there is a "Can You Help?" bittpm which, once clicked on, will reveal a number of suggestions of how to help.

One of our favorite projects is to assemble one or more Gift Bags, also known as, Survival Kits or Toiletry Bags.  The goal of this project is to fill a bag(s) with new hotel/motel size toiletries and then give them to homeless people.

Although any bag or container can be used, we suggest using gallon zip lock bags for a number of reasons: they are big enough to fit a lot of items; a homeless person can reuse the bag; and because the top of the bag can be securely closed, the car/transportation vehicle is safe from spillage.

Having selected Gift Bags as our project, we can then think about the toiletry items we want to include in each Gift Bag.  This is a very important part of this project because we are raising our own awareness.  We can let our minds wonder and imagine what personal items a homeless person could use.  We might even ask ourselves what personal items we would want if we were homeless.

For more ideas of personal items to include in the Gift Bag, we can refer to a list of just some of these items on our website, www.chphp.com and click on the " "Can You Help?" button.

Continue reading on The Huffington Post

Direct Service: How You Can Help Someone In Need

 Do you ever wonder who could possibly help a homeless person? The answer is each of us can help. It’s called direct service – helping someone in need ourselves.

But how? There are many ways to help a person in need, including giving a homeless person a blanket. That’s how we started Children Helping Poor and Homeless People (www.chphp.com).

There is a law that prohibits sleeping on a beach in Los Angeles County at night. However, prior to 1988, this law did not apply to the area known as Venice Beach. So people without homes came to Venice Beach to sleep legally on the beach. Further, police officers would escort homeless people to Venice Beach so they had a legal place to sleep.

By the winter of 1987, there were hundreds of homeless people sleeping legally each night on Venice Beach. Each morning, some of these homeless people would leave the beach and walk by our home in Venice on their way to spend the day at a local park. The park had benches where the homeless people could sit, swings for their children and bathrooms that were open for public use free of charge.

At night, these homeless people would often walk past our home on their way back to the beach to sleep.

I must admit that I had fears about the homeless strangers who passed by my home on what seemed like a daily basis. I also had genuine concerns about their welfare when I saw homeless children, women and men without clothing appropriate for the weather. I was particularly moved when I saw a pregnant woman without shoes walking on the cold sidewalk.

I told my best friend, Augustine, that I didn’t know what I should do about the homeless people walking by my home.

Augustine responded, "Well, give them a blanket."

"Okay, I’ll bring a blanket to The Salvation Army."

"No," said Augustine, a little louder this time, "Give them a blanket."

"Okay, I’ll bring a blanket to Goodwill," I said, a little worried about where this conversation was going.

Continue reading on the Huffington Post

 

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