Honor MLK Jr. with Family Service Activities in NYC

If you are in town this weekend, take the opportunity to participate in a community service project. It is a worthwhile way to spend some of your free time and since these activities geared toward families, you’ll still have time to take your little volunteers out to lunch for a skate in the park to celebrate their good works. If you know of other events, please add a comment. And if you attend an event, let us know how it went. Thanks everyone!

  • Sunday, January 16 from 1pm-3pm: Family Community Service Day  in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. The event, co-sponsored by Ansche Chesed and the Advent Lutheran Church, will take place at Ansche Chesed (entrance on W.100th St between Broadway and West End). Activities will include making birthday cards for nursing home residents, assembling craft kits for children in hospitals, cooking for the Ansche Chesed homeless shelter, and mural-making. The event is free. Families are asked to bring a canned food item for the Advent Lutheran Food Pantry.  Plus, the Discovery Programs Gym will be available for open play with a donation to the Ansche Chesed homeless shelter and the Advent Lutheran Food Pantry ($10 per family). If you have any questions, contact event chair, Lynne Bermont at lynnebermont@yahoo.com.
  • Monday,January 17, from 10am-2pm. Organized Community Service via the JCC.  Join neighbors by participating in organized community service activities in and outside of the JCC building as we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by turning community concerns into citizen action. Choose your project on the morning of the event. Breakfast will be served. To register contact Judy Gross at 646-505-4450 or jgross@jccmanhattan.org.  A blood drive and coat drive (newborn to child size 14) will also be taking place at the JCC on January 17.
  • Monday, January 17: generationOn presents a Day of Service. This event has been run for years by the NYC non-profit ChildrenForChildren which is now a part of generationOn, a division of Points of Light.  This year the event will be held at PS 57 James Weldon Johnson School in East Harlem.  All youth volunteers under the age of 13 must be accompanied by a parent or chaperone; teen volunteers (ages 13-18) may attend with signed parental permission.  To register your family, class, or youth group, please click here to submit your volunteer information. For more information, email Josh Collins or call 212-850-4170.
  • Monday, January 17, 10am: Raising Citizens: In our Neighborhood Collage. The youngest set (4 and under) an help create a mural honoring the city’s diversity at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan at 212 West 83rd Street, New York, NY 10024. Additional activities including some for kids 5 and over, can be found on the CMOM calendar.

January 12, 2011 at 6:29 pm Leave a comment

Cyber Monday? Meet Fair Trade Tuesday!

I hope you scored some deals shopping Cyber Monday yesterday.  Some of your purchases may supported a cause too. Well, I am now declaring today Fair Trade Tuesday.  With Fair Trade your shopping dollars have great impact not just for you but also for somone in need.  Why? Because Fair Trade is dedicated to developing sustainable economic opportunities for people in impoverished areas around the world. Fair Trade facilitators work to preserve native skills, teach new skills, and provide access to the infrastructure and capital needed to help local tradespeople and farmers thrive and grow.  Fair Trade efforts are committed to the environment and fair labor practices. 

Contrast this approach with cause marketing, in which a percentage of sales (usually of specific items over a specific time period) are donated to a non-profit.  Dollars raised through cause marketing are no doubt welcomed and well-used by the recipient organizations.  Nothing wrong with that. Still, cause marketing is analogous to buying someone a meal while Fair Trade is more like teaching someone to fish (and providing a market to sell the fish at a fair price). In addition to providing sustainable income, Fair Trade delivers the emotional benefits of empowerment and self-reliance.  Here is what Alicia in Bolivia had to say about her experience with a Fair Trade organization:

 “I left my home with my three children because of violence.  But I was lucky because the Sisters of the Good Shepherd  – Las Hermanas del Buen Pastor – took us in.  My children were able to attend a nursery school and I went to work. I already knew how to weave and do some silver work because my mother taught me.  With the sisters I could do higher quality work because they have better knitting needles and looms than I could afford. So my work improved and they paid me for the products I make – so much better than waiting for the tourists all day in the dusty street.   I now have a little money of my own and can buy things that my children need. I feel like a real person. The sisters call our place ‘Levántate’, which means to stand up and be a person. I am doing that.” 

I feel so strongly about the power of women using economic opportunity to improve their circumstances for themselves and their children I  recently joined the Board of HandCrafting Justice to help. So, this holiday season, I ask you to shop Fair Trade vendors such as HandCrafting Justice. Simply by purchasing this really cute purse made of recycled chip bags for the teen, babysitter or friend on your list, you are directly empowering someone who needs help in standing up for herself. So stop by and shop any of the authentic handmade items at HandCrafting Justice and other Fair Trade retailers today. Happy Fair Trade Tuesday!

November 30, 2010 at 2:12 pm Leave a comment

Can you read THIS?

For the first-time ever, our Real-World Super Heroes class ventured into the world of low vision and blindness. Since this was a new topic for me as well as our students, I was thrilled to welcome Community Outreach guru Annie Presley from Visions into our class. (Thank you Visions!)

Annie explained to us that many people who we may think are blind actually possess what is called “low vision” or “partial blindness.” If their conditions worsen, then they can become totally blind.  “Legally blind” in New York is vision of 20/200, which means needing to be no more than 20 feet away from something which could be seen clearly from a distance of 200 feet by a person with average vision. Once we had our definitions down, we talked about how someone with low vision or blindness might get around and accomplish school tasks on their own. Annie shared some great tools, low vision or blind kids and adults use including a talking watch, writing templates, and a filling alarm. This last item is a small device you hang on the edge of a cup or pot to beep when the liquid you are pouring nears the top of the vessel.  NOTE to self: when shopping for seniors, there are some great Web sites out with really clever products that can help them maintain independence.

Of course, we also learned about Braille. Annie brought in some Braille books our young Heroes loved and even had made a card for each child with his or her name in Braille! For more Braille fun, your kids can try the interactive games in the Braille Bug site hosted by the American Foundation for the Blind.

Following our show and tell, we got the chance to experience classroom life as someone blind or with low vision. The Super Heroes put on goggles and masks that had been altered to simulate different vision scenarios such as tunnel vision, cloudy vision and spots. (This video shows you what we mean.) You could make these at home: just take an old pair of goggles or glasses and: (1)  stick on some paper with a hole cut out in the middle, or (2) stick on some irregular dots, or (3) brush with a layer of glue.

While simulator glasses, our Heroes walked over to the tables to color in pictures and write their names.  At least immediately bumped into a chair, and Annie had to remind everyone with low vision to please walk with a sighted helper since the experience was new to them.  So, this exercise is useful in at least two areas:

  • providing an experience to help raise our level of undertanding of what it is like to function with low vision
  • providing an opportunity to practice the correct way to offer to help to someone with low vision or blindness; one person can wear the simulator glasses and one can be the sighted helper and then switch roles

For a clear guide on the best way to offer and lend a hand, I suggest watching this “Top 10 Tips for Helping” video.

After our simulation experience in class this week, our Super Heroes set to work adapting Candyland games for children with low vision or blindness. They added raised foam shapes to the game’s colored squares to create a tactile aspect to the game boards and cards.  The kids dove into the project and even came up with the need for some additional tactile cues for special spots such as “Lose a Turn.”  I was impressed by our Heroes’ abilities to fashion great solutions for the issues they ran into while adapting the games.  

Well, that’s all (and a lot) for this week. Enjoy a picture-perfect weekend!

May 21, 2010 at 11:06 am Leave a comment

Feeling hungry? See how Empty Bowls can help.

Did you skip breakfast this morning?  Or work through lunch? Does your stomach feels empty or nauseous? Know how you can’t concentrate well and you are distracted by thoughts of your next meal?  Then you aren’t alone.  And, unfortunately, for many people, hunger is the result of the hard choices they have to make to pay the bill. Missed meals and meals of low nutritional value are the most common hallmarks of hunger in America.

According to City Harvest, more than 25 million people across the country visit emergency feeding programs – nearly 9 million children – each year. In New York City alone, kids who rely on hunger assistance annually could fill Yankee Stadium nine times. Yet, because 95% of the time you cannot tell a person is hungry by looking at her, hunger is largely invisible to most of us.

These facts spurred active and thoughtful discussion among the third-grade students at my son’s school. This year, I’m co-chairing the third-grade’s community service project Empty Bowls to benefit hunger assistance programs in NYC.  My experienced co-chair Laurie artfully led the children through a discussion of what hunger feels like and looks in America. Even though I’ve lived with children in the city for eight years, it was eye-opening to hear the students talk about seeing and in many cases trying to help the homeless they encounter on our streets. At the same time, the bigger picture of hunger (beyond the panhandlers) really sunk in as the students shared lots of scenarios about how and why hard-working people may not make enough money or find themselves unemployed, leaving them unable to buy the food their family needs.  We shared the fact that 9 out of 10 people at risk of hunger have homes.  As the kids talked through ways we can help – such as volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating food to a pantry, giving money to a reputable charity, or directly donating to an individual – I felt we were empowering them to act on an issue they clearly feel emotional about.

The Empty Bowls project provides the children with a specific opportunity to raise money for a charity dedicated to hunger relief. Our Empty Bowls project is one of the variations on the theme repeated in many ways in many places. At our school, the third-graders create their own ceramic bowls which as empty vessels symbolize the meals many children are forced to skip, around the city and across the country. Our students display their beautiful creations in an art show and parents have the opportunity to “buy” them with a donation to a charity aiding hunger relief.  As with all our projects, we have no suggested donation amount and all monies collected are pooled and sent to our charity of choice as a gift from our school’s third grade.

Empty Bowls is a project you can easily do at your school or club. Or, simply pull together a group of friends and head to your own make-your-own-pottery shop such as Make in New York City. Once your creations are ready, hold your own art show at someone’s house or the local park (as an alternative to the ubiquitous Lemonade Stand) and collect donations to benefit the organization of your choice.  Visit FeedingAmerica.org for excellent information about hunger in America — try the quiz in the Hunger 101 section, to get everyone up to speed on this critical issue. As one of our art teachers told her class, the best art comes from the heart and when you use the creative process to help others, it is that much more beautiful.

May 4, 2010 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

Heroes’ choice project now funded!

The donorschoose.org project our Real-World Super Heroes decided to support is now fully funded.  After one of our Super Heroes made an individual donation – Go Halia!  Go Halia! – another NYC resident closed the remaining gap. The requesting teacher promptly sent this thank you:

Dear Real-World Super-Heroes Club, 
I would like to express my sincere thanks to each of you for supporting and believing in my project! Not too long ago I had my student’s first iPod Touch funded through DonorsChoose.org. Since then I have begun to glean the tremendous value this tool has in my student’s lives- they are doing things they have never done before done, things that we take for granted, like going into a coffee shop and asking for a straw! Having a second is such a blessing and I am confident that the number of communication opportunities and experiences will exponentially increase as a result!

I wish each of you could be there to see how this device is radically changing my student’s daily experience in the world! They are what it is all about! Thank you again!
With gratitude,
Ms. A.

I’m proud of our Heroes and of Ms. A for going the extra mile to ask for help for her students. Thank you to donorschoose.org for making it easy for both of us!

April 13, 2010 at 7:33 pm Leave a comment

Kids vote for technology to provide a voice

Thursday was our first class of the Spring 2010 session and we loved meeting our new Super Hero recruits!  Once we discussed the three big super powers we all have to help others and the world around us –our Time,  our Talent and our Treasure —  the kids moved onto the project of the day: creating their own Spend-Save-Give treasure chests (aka banks).  Lots of creative muscle went into decorating our recycled shoe boxes. 

As we wrapped up our decorating, we learned about some surprise treasure: my friend at donorschoose.org gave us $100 to spend on a classroom need listed on their Web site.  Our Heroes discussed two specific requests in detail: Junie B. books for a first-grade class and an iPod Touch with Speak2Me software for high-schoolers unable to talk.  The appeal of technology and the desire to help kids with special needs won out and the kids voted to support “a handheld voice.” When we noted the project still needs $180 to be completed, one of our Heroes suggested we “email friends to see if they can help.”  What a smart idea! We sent out the word to parents and of course, if you want to help close the remaining $180 gap, please go here. Donorschoose.org has great system for matching classrooms in need with individual donors, and you’ll receive thanks directly from the teachers and kids you help.

April 10, 2010 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

New Super Heroes ready to do some good

This Thursday Mindy and I will kick-off of the new session of Real-World Super Heroes. We’ll take to the streets with a whole new group of kids. Many of our previous sessions included repeat Heroes but as they start to age out of the program, some eager kindergarteners are taking their places. We hope our past Heroes continue to use their powers for good around the neighborhood and we welcome our rookies!

This week, our new recruits will be briefed on the super powers everyone has to make the world a better place: time, talent and treasure. Our philanthropy framework follows the one established by learningtogive.org. We are again working with donorschoose.org to provide the kids with a $100 gift certificate to show just how big (and concrete) of an impact “treasure” can have. 

We look forward to sharing some of our favorite projects with a whole new group of kids this spring, and sharing with all of you how it all goes.  Know any Upper West Side NYC non-profits that can put our kids to work on a project? We love off-sites!Have ideas for a hands-on project that can be done in the classroom?  We do those too! Share your ideas with a comment here or email me at munsellnyc@yahoo.com.

PS – To buy an adorable cape like the one in the picture, visit Cutie Pa Tutus.  Feeling crafty? Check out these DIY directions.

April 6, 2010 at 3:39 pm Leave a comment

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