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,

September 11: Pause. Reflect. Pay Tribute to Lives Lost.

(Editor’s note:  2016 marks the 15th year since the horrible attacks on September 11. As a remembrance of the lives lost that day and after, HandsOn Northeast Ohio annually participates in the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance to pay tribute to those lives and to the heroes that rose up as a response to the attacks. The 9/11 Day was created in 2002 by a nonprofit group called MyGoodDeed with widespread support of the 9/11 community (victims families and survivors). In 2009, Congress and President Obama officially recognized September 11 as a Day of Service and Remembrance. The goal of this day is to encourage individuals and organizations to perform good deeds in honor of those close to 3,000 lives lost. HandsOn annually plants American flags and name markers for each victim in partnership with the Great Lakes Science Center and we host “thank you” lunches for local fireman/women in Cleveland, East Cleveland and Lakewood. Each flag we plant is a life. Each flag a son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, etc. We plant them in remembrance of the victims but also in honor of those soldiers/families serving and sacrificing. We plant also for those who responded to September 11 and now have faced serious, life threatening health issues. We plant them in our busy lives, to pause.

Each year, we must pause to remember and reflect. We must teach young people who might not remember or who were not born, about those lives. Just as we must remember those taken from us through other past acts, conflicts, etc. Take time to watch inspirational stories like the one by ESPN on Welles Crowther, which is one of so many of heroism and sacrifice. Hear from survivors and families through special initiatives like the one from the National September 11 Memorial & Museum and StoryCorps. Visit the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

One of the StoryCorps radio clips is from the parents of Christina Ryook. HandsOn had the honor last fall to plan a volunteer project with family and friends of Christina Ryook, a Greater Cleveland native, daughter, friend and victim of September 11.

Guest blog: Reflections from Michelle Han, friend of Christina SungAh Ryook and person who oversees the Christina Ryook Foundation:

On September 11, 2001 Christina was taken from us so suddenly.  She worked on the 104th Floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center for Cantor Fitzgerald.  That was a tragic time for the nation and a personal tragedy for us, the friends and family of Christina.  She grew up in Westlake, Ohio and went on to the University of Michigan.  She decided to take a break from getting her Double Master’s at Eastern Michigan University and moved to New York in the summer of 2000.  Christina loved children and was always very involved in the community.  She was a candy striper at St. John Westshore Hospital throughout high school and during college she worked at a daycare center.  For her 40th birthday (in 2015), we wanted to do something special that would commemorate her spirit.  We contacted HandsOnNEO and they were able to arrange our volunteer endeavor with Wigs for Kids.  Serendipitously, Wigs for Kids is headquartered in Westlake, Ohio.  That was the first sign that this was the right organization for us!  Also, Wigs for Kids is an organization that we know Christina would have felt passionate about.  Her love for children and helping others in need were hallmark qualities of hers and Wigs for Kids was exactly about that.  Our experience volunteering was phenomenal!  As we sat, sifting through all the boxes of hair donations, you could feel that you were helping make a difference in the life of a child in need of a wig.  You do become overcome with emotion when you hear the various stories of the children who may be battling cancer, or some other illness.  We hope to create an annual volunteering event on her birthday and thanks to HandsOnNEO and Wigs for Kids, we have set a precedent that will be so incredibly meaningful for years to come.

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.