A Toast to You National Service!

From Jeff Griffiths, Executive Director – HandsOn Northeast Ohio:

In the last 6 months, we have celebrated the birthdays of 2 great programs that personify the ethic of giving and service that is connected with America. In September 2014, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps and in February 2015 the 50th anniversary of what is now a program of AmeriCorps, VISTA. Both programs have had a profound impact on communities of Northeast Ohio, on the individuals who have served their country and they are a big reason that HandsOn Northeast Ohio has grown to be a force for good through volunteer-led service.

Inspired by John F. Kennedy’s vision for a national service corps, that would “help provide urgently needed services in urban and rural poverty areas”, VISTA was created in 1965 when President Johnson launched his “War on Poverty”.  Johnson welcomed the first group of 20 VISTA volunteers saying, “Your pay will be low; the conditions of your labor often will be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow man.” *http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps/americorps-vista/vista-history

In the years following, VISTA has changed to try to address the needs of the moment. According to the Corporation for National & Community Service website, “The 1990s saw a resurgence of national service. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush developed the Commission on National and Community Service. With the signing of the National Community Service Trust Act in 1993, President William Clinton expanded national service to create AmeriCorps, and VISTA became part of AmeriCorps.” The first official AmeriCorps class was launched in September of 1994.

The impact of this service, this pipeline for Americans to give of themselves to better our world includes:
• 7,000: AmeriCorps VISTAs members serve each year.
• 190,000: Number of VISTAs who have served since the program began in 1965.
• Since VISTA was incorporated into AmeriCorps in 1994 more than 90,000 individuals have served as AmeriCorps members.
• 1 billion: Total number of hours served by AmeriCorps members since 1994.
• 25,000: Number of nonprofits, faith-based and community organizations, schools, and other sites that AmeriCorps members serve with annually.
• 4 Million: Number of community volunteers managed or mobilized by AmeriCorps members in 2012.

Stats from: http://www.nationalservice.gov/sites/default/files/V50_Organizer_Kit120914_508.pdf

Our first encounter with AmeriCorps was through members provided by Points of Light whom we are the local affiliate. Our first member was a returned Peace Corps volunteer, Leader with HandsOn Atlanta and coming to us with experience in corporate America so needless to say the bar was set high. Ever since, I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that all of the good that HandsOn Northeast Ohio produces is a direct result of the strategy, service, and sacrifice of our AmeriCorps members. Additionally, two of our three staff members are national service and AmeriCorps Alums.  These wonderful people helped establish HandsOn programs that support 100+ agencies in four counties addressing hunger, homelessness, education, seniors, animals and more.

The HandsOn AmeriCorps members have allowed us to build and strengthen the relationships that mean everything to our work with agencies partners, Volunteer Leaders  and our volunteers. They have also allowed us to leverage resources to take on the Homeless Stand Down, support the Earned Income Tax Coalition and Anton Grdina school.  The relationships created through the work of national service build understanding, collaboration, community and family.


So, a toast to you AmeriCorps, VISTA and all of those who choose to serve (either in our armed forces or through national service)!! A special toast this week, AmeriCorps Week!


Also, a special HandsOn high-five to the amazing HandsOn NEO AmeriCorps members Kate, Katie, Molly, Nadia, Jen, Tyler, Stephen, Gene, Keely, Laura, Indira, Katrice, Elena, Stephanie and Kevin.


Thank you for who you are!  We are forever grateful for your decision to serve!

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,

Family Fun, Thanks and Giving!


(Editor’s note: In the past two weeks, HandsOn Northeast Ohio “HandsOn NEO” celebrated national Family Volunteer Day with various projects around Northeast Ohio. As part of our celebration, HandsOn NEO was able to recognize  the Denk family for their service to our communities and for their work with our organization. Our acknowledgment of the Denk’s volunteerism was meant to not only recognize them but also to honor all of those families helping others in Northeast Ohio. The Denks are like all great volunteers; humble, kind hearted and willing to do their part to help others. They are proof that all of us are remarkable and have immense power to do good. Please find Joellen’s reflection on their service and the fun of helping others)

Guest blog: The following blog is by Joellen Denk, a HandsOn volunteer whose family (husband Tom and sons Thomas, 7 and Benjamin, 6) was recently recognized for their service with a “Daily Point of Light Award” from Points of Light and the Corporation for National and Community Service. More than 5,000 Daily Point of Light honorees have been named to date: 

If you ask either of my two sons (ages 6 & 7) why they like to volunteer, you would undoubtedly get the same answer, “Because it’s fun!” And that right there is why we volunteer and why I have tried to make it a priority to get them involved as young as possible.

For the past three years, we have attended the HandsOn Family Volunteer Parties. They have loved every one of them! From weeding at local community gardens to playing bingo with seniors to painting cans for flowerpots to clearing brush at the nature center to packing up toys for children…they have had a blast. To them, volunteering is now synonymous with fun. Especially, as my oldest tells me, “If it involves getting muddy.” The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes will forever be one of their favorite places because of how muddy they were allowed to get in the marsh removing invasive plants.

I am so grateful HandsOn provides the opportunity for us to have fun as a family while helping others! I am certain these early experiences will ensure that volunteering will always be an important part of their lives in the years to come.

Purpose, Joy and the Value of HandsOn

(Editor’s note: The heart and soul of HandsOn Northeast Ohio’s work is our Volunteer Leaders, awesome volunteers, and the partnerships with the agencies that we support. Every once in a while, due to opportunity, the economy and/or life, some of these key people in the HandsOn family leave Cleveland (crazy, right?). And although they are missed like crazy, we feel blessed to have been involved in moments of their life and to provide a platform for them to direct their passions to help others. We have been fortunate to hear from a few of those volunteers and Volunteer Leaders in the last few months and would like to share with you their reflections on HandsOn and our value in the community.)

Guest blog: Reflections of the HandsOn NEO Experience by Sarah Pels, former HandsOn volunteer, Volunteer Leader, and current superstar of life:

Going to the Merrick House for GED tutoring every Tuesday night was often the highlight of my week. Working with the adult learners in class made me feel like I was making a difference in someone’s life. Someone who wanted more for herself or for her family, even if that meant dedicating evenings to pesky fractions and careful algebra after a long day of work. Getting to know the learners inspired me deeply to work hard for what I want in life and filled me with gratitude for my own education and support system.

Each week, I walked out of Merrick House feeling drained from the mental heavy lifting but also invigorated by the steps forward that each learner took that night. I felt a sense of purpose and drive knowing that a group of people counted on me to show up so I might help them work toward earning their GED. It truly was the best way to spend my Tuesday nights.

My positive experiences with HandsOn extended beyond my Tuesdays at Merrick House. Dancing with Adults with Disabilities was such a blast and would definitely recommend it to HandsOn volunteers who haven’t given it a try. It’s a joyful community aimed at putting smiles on faces through genuine human connection and dancing, what could be better?

Looking back, it was very sad to say goodbye to the service communities I became involved with through HandsOn. Which is really a strong testament to the relationships that the HandsOn Northeast Ohio facilitated. Now that I’ve moved out of state to pursue my own dreams, I deeply miss the communities of dedicated and tirelessly supportive people I had the chance to call friends. But the spirit of my friends at Merrick House and HandsOn inspire me to push passionately towards my goals while never forgetting to help those around me along the way.

Quote from Katie Farnan, former HandsOn volunteer, Volunteer Leader and current super human being:
I have never found as rewarding a volunteer experience as I did being a HandsOn NEO volunteer leader… it’s just not the same out here where I am… Not that I have a ton of time, but would love to have such an easy, fulfilling pipeline of opps like you offered in Cleveland. Good work!!!!!

A picture from one of the monthly dances with Catholic Charities Disability Services

A picture from one of the monthly dances with Catholic Charities Disability Services