My HandsOn Time Capsule

From Jen Palmejar-Takaki, Director of Programs emeritus, AmeriCorps member, and super human citizen – HandsOn Northeast Ohio:

When I was little, my parents gave me a time capsule.  It came with instructions that stressed the importance of only putting things in there that carried meaning.  As I began thinking about the past three years with HandsOn and in Cleveland, the image of that time capsule kept coming back to me. What memories will I store away in my mind? What items fully represent and capture all things HandsOn?
So, here it is.  My time capsule of HandsOn–all things near and dear to my experience and a small way to forever remember the people and places that made my life here so memorable.
1.  5-in-1 Scraper
It is an all-purpose tool much like the all-purpose people that make up HandsOn. HandsOn volunteers are the hardest working most creative individuals I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with.
2. A Quarter
For all the Bingo-ers who taught me the importance of caring for one another and showing me the joy of BINGO!  Projects with our seniors taught me how precious life is and to savor every moment.
3. Nametags
For the countless times I went into stores and restaurants with my name on my shirt and for the volunteers, clients, and agency partners whose names are now part of my memory.  Nametags are how memorable experiences and friendships began for me at HandsOn.
4.  “Painty Jeans”
For all the painting, gardening, parking lot sweeping, and outdoor project fun.  So many memories of volunteers and places are on my jeans.  A splash of bright green paint from a school paint, a grass stain from setting up GardenSoxx gardens, juice that was spilled after removing knotweed from trails, a saucy lasagna at Near West.
I will leave you with the words of Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle”: I’d save every day like a treasure and then again, I would spend them with you.
Thank you for the wealth of memories and experiences you have helped me make here in Cleveland.
High fives,

August 19, 2013 at 6:59 pm 1 comment

Resolution Refresher

From Gwen Stembridge, Director of Programs, Lorain County (Lorain County Volunteer Connection) – HandsOn Northeast Ohio:

It’s been a while since New Year’s Day, the day when millions of people with the best intentions make promises to themselves to do something differently in their life.  For weeks on either side of this day, conversations revolve around commitments to stop smoking or to eat better, exercise more, volunteer more, read more, spend time outside…etc.  All of the gyms have New Year’s Resolution joining specials so that you’ll sign up for a year-long membership while your energy is highest.  As we move through January and February, those goals slowly slip away. All of the sudden it’s Valentine’s Day, there’s chocolate everywhere, and people start dropping those well-intentioned promises. The reminders in the media go away and it feels just too cold to do anything.

Ladies, Gentlemen, and Everyone! I have good news!  Not about the caloric value of chocolate, unfortunately. The good news is:  It’s never too late to start volunteering!  According to a report by the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteering leads to greater life satisfaction and lower rates of depression. Read the report here. National research has also found that unemployed individuals who volunteer are 27% more likely to find work than non-volunteers. Read that report here.   Here are a few ideas for ways you can jump back on the wagon with a few of those goals:

-While volunteering at a foodbank (Cleveland Foodbank on Wednesdays or Second Harvest Foodbank in Lorain first Thursdays), remember those veggies you were going to eat as part of your New Year’s Resolution. Eating better: Check!

-You might work up a sweat playing sharks and minnows on the basketball court at the Boys and Girls Club of Elyria on a Friday afternoon: Exercise: Check!

-Do you want to read more? You can read with a student at Anton Grdina Elementary School during their required 20 minutes of reading per day at Homework Help.  Reading more: Check!

-Spring cleaning time is around the corner. Join a gardening or painting project and brush up (pun intended) on your skills so that you’re ready to spruce up your space, too!  Learning/improving a skill/being outside/cleaning: Check!

And all of these ideas happen to include volunteering. Isn’t it amazing how you can accomplish two goals at once! So jump back on target, no matter your goals were, because it’s never too late to make a difference. If you want to join us for a project, check out the calendar here.

You also don’t have to take my word for it. Check out these resources, too!

Happy volunteering!

March 14, 2014 at 5:11 pm Leave a comment

7 Tips for Effective Holiday Giving

From Jeff Griffiths, Executive Director – HandsOn Northeast Ohio:

1. Be organized – Plan ahead  and do some research for the places that you want to support. Lots of people want to help over the holidays. Also, don’t just show up or call the day before expecting to help. If you are going to give a donation, don’t just give what you have, give what is most needed. For volunteering, consider central resources, like HandsOn NEO to find out easy ways to connect with community need.

2. Be patient – There are more people who want to give over the holidays than other times of the year. Be understanding that agencies are closing out their year and often have limited staff. Organizations are doing their best to get back to everyone and to connect you with great ways to help.

3. Be a giver all year-long - Take this time to think about giving all year-long. Make your plan for how you will make a difference in 2014. Begin that work now by serving or by simply thinking about how you will give in the spring or summer when agencies have less help. Do you have special skills or talents to give? Are there peak times when you will want to help? If you want to start now, consider a holiday donation drive for the Homeless Stand Down then volunteer at the end of January for our event.

4. Be creative – Think outside the box. Do something beyond the traditional meal service. Do something hyper local like shoveling snow for a neighbor or visiting a senior in need. Give blood.  Think about different agencies like our partners MedWish International and the Friendship APL. If you are going to give to a hunger agency, give money (The Cleveland Foodbank can provide 4 meals with each dollar donated) give donations (like the Parma peanut butter drive for the All Faith’s Pantry) or give time be being a driver for St. Augustine Church‘s meal delivery on Thanksgiving or Christmas.

5. Be realistic  – Be thoughtful about what you can or cannot do and when you make a commitment, stick to it.

6. Be family friendly/age appropriate – Include your family in appropriate ways to give back. Host a donation drives (like Operation Warm Up – organized by the NCJW Cleveland for the Homeless Stand Down or connect with an adopt a families program like the one through Open Doors Academy, etc.). These are great ways to start talking about giving and serving. Understand that not every volunteer project is appropriate for children. Most of the time, you cannot have babies in a shelter/hot meal environment and bringing small children often forces the agency to take resources from serving their mission to babysit the children of volunteers.

7. Be a Voice - Share the mission and work of an organization/cause that you care about with your family, friends and social media circles. Fill holiday tables with information on organizations, issues and good works.

HandsOn NEO is only 7 years old and relies on the generous gifts of time and dollars from the community. To donate to HandsOn NEO, click here.

November 25, 2013 at 9:03 am Leave a comment

Guest Blog: Dramatic Changes to the GED Ahead

(Editors note: HandsOn Northeast Ohio began supporting the GED last year at the Merrick House. The program was started by an amazing woman  serving in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in the 70’s. This woman, not from Cleveland originally, decided to stay in Cleveland and lead the program. This summer, she will be retiring. The Merrick House GED program is amazing. It is very well-organized, caring and supportive for its students. It was first at Merrick House when we caught wind of these GED changes. This blog post is done at another incredible adult education program, Seeds of Literacy)

Guest blog: Jo Steigerwald, Development Officer at – Seeds of Literacy (the only nationally accredited adult literacy program in Northeast Ohio):

The GED is getting overhauled. Starting in January 2014, the GED will be based on the national core curriculum, which is designed to better prepare grades K-12 for the workplace and higher education.

What, exactly, does this mean?

Well, while the test will still have multiple choice questions, there will be more short answer questions of greater complexity. Instead of “state the three branches of government,” a test-taker will be asked to “compare the judicial and legislative branches of government.”

The long essay will disappear, but other questions will require short essay responses.

The new test will be 100% computerized. Since it’s a timed test, a student will need to be very comfortable with keyboarding and using the mouse, especially for graphing.

It will cost more. 300% more. Currently, the GED is $40 to take. The new test will be $120, and will only be given at a select number of testing sites.

And, if you are a student who has passed 4 out of the 5 sections of the current GED, you’d better get that last section passed before the change. No old scores will carry over once the new test begins.

What’s the impact?  Well, for Seeds of Literacy, it means redesigning our program, adding a computer lab, and reaching over 7,000 current and lapsed students with the news.

For our students, it may mean ramping up classes and studying to complete the GED before the change. It will also mean learning more complex ways of thinking, analyzing and strategizing, as well as reaching a higher level of digital literacy.

To learn more about this change and to get updates from Seeds of Literacy, click here.

Editors resources: 

April 14, 2013:

March 31, 2013:

March 20, 2013:

February 25, 2013:

February 18, 2013:

September 14, 2012:

June 11, 2013 at 5:32 pm Leave a comment


From Jeff Griffiths, Executive Director – HandsOn Northeast Ohio:

This Easter and spring season is marked in different traditions with a sense of rebirth. A time when those cold and grey days are replaced with buds on tree branches, green grass and blue skies. A time of faith, new hope, new life, and a new chance for a person or place to think about new possibilities.

Cleveland in so many ways is going through a rebirth. A renewed downtown, a renewed hope for educational improvements, a rebirth in business because of the work and guts of innovators and entrepreneurs. There is a wave of citizens that will not let the old, stale, political, silo, safe way of thinking stand. How can we?

In our work at HandsOn NEO, we see the hope for rebirth in many places and take many forms:

  • a veteran, battling addiction, longing for another chance and positive people to support him
  • a family looking for a way to get back on their feet
  • a sense of possibility for a student who is achieving or improving while just getting to school in the face of violence, family turmoil or lack of support is an accomplishment
  • a senior’s renewed sense of life and purpose
  • the men and woman affected by abuse seeking to move past with great strength from the hurt inflicted upon them
  • an adult after training or tutoring with a new sense of possibility about their career
  • new life for items re-purposed (medical supplies, bikes, household items, etc.)
  • a new home for an abandoned animal
  • new ways to retool, to rethink blocks and neighborhoods

I am convinced that service and volunteerism can be a platform, a place for this new sense of hope or renewed vigor through power of serving others and how that makes us feel.  There are many stories on these benefits of volunteering. Here are a few: story 1story 2. It can be this place because it surrounds us with other passionate, giving citizens. Programs that are citizen powered allow us to renew our fair city and communities.  Volunteering allows us to see that change is possible. It allows us to see that issues are complex, that life is hard but that we all have a role to play in solutions, that we all matter. We must share love.  We must do our  part to improve community. HandsOn Northeast Ohio will always work to be a place for this to live. We will always strive to be flexible, nimble and to create an environment to think of and work toward the possible.

The tumult that I have felt in my own life the last 2 years is complex, frustrating, and hard. It feels sometimes that it is trying to knock me down. And yes, I know that my issues are not nearly what others face and I know that my life has been laden with privilege (I am after all a white, straight, guy).  I also have the context of our work with clients and community as a reminder of deep and complex difficulties.  But nevertheless, this spring and Easter, I look past hardship to a renewed sense of hope; a longing for a period of renewal;  to live every moment to its fullest (as reminded to us by Jimmy V in his famous speech); to give as much as possible to my children, my family and to others (through service); so that this brief time of my existence on earth is the biggest and most beautiful flower in bloom. And this spring and Easter, I wish this for you.  Believe in the possibility of you and the power you have to do enormous good.

Happy Easter! 

March 29, 2013 at 9:20 pm Leave a comment

The Loveliest People I Have Ever Met

From Indira Deenanauth, Student Academic Success AmeriCorps VISTA – HandsOn Northeast Ohio:

(Editor’s Note: HandsOn NEO is strengthening its partnership with Anton Grdina Elementary by supporting two AmeriCorps members, Katrice and Indira, that will focus on increased parental engagement and resources and student academic success programming (Homework Help, Saturday Service Warriors, additional in/out of school programming, respectively.)

I have hit the six month mark with my term of service and it is hard to believe that time has flown by so quickly. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I am focusing on Anton Grdina Elementary in the Greater Central Neighborhood. The elementary school is in an academic state of emergency and I am offering to lend support to the students, teachers and parents. I work with fourth and fifth graders through a weekly Homework Help program which focuses on reading and math comprehension. I also run HandsOn’s Saturday Service Warriors program which teaches students about volunteering, issue areas and healthy habits.  I came into this position not knowing what to expect, and I feel that my perspectives on so many different concepts have changed in a very short amount of time.

Starting my year of service, I wasn’t sure how great I would be at working with children because I had never worked with elementary aged kids before. I honestly thought they would be unruly and mean. However, they have become the best part of my job. This should have been a given from the beginning, but the children I work with are the loveliest people I have ever met. To know that in a few short weeks I will not see them in this capacity is heartbreaking.

I also see a genuine positive change in the students which I credit to the amazing tutors who take the time to build relationships with the students. There is a mutual respect between students and tutors that for some reason, I did not expect. I know that when the students run up to me at school that they are happy to see me, and I hope they realize how truly wonderful it is for me to see them. 


February 19, 2013 at 2:21 pm Leave a comment

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