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,

Happy Birthdays – 2 Examples of Celebrating Yourself By Giving To Others


(Editor’s note from Jeff Griffiths: Birthdays are times where we pause to celebrate others or reflect on our own lives. If you know me, you’ll often hear me say that I am not a fan of throwing my own birthday party or celebrating myself. I hope that if I am living my life in a positive way, that I’ll be surrounded by love and appreciation during those times of pause although I understand the place of birthdays as moments for fun, celebration, and love. According to the “population clock”, one person is born every 8 seconds. This seems like such a massive number yet we should not forget the power of each one of those births, of our lives to impact our world, to change a person, to give love. A recent story by the USA Today asked the 5 people still living that were born in the 1800’s about their secrets to longevity. One of the 5 people,Gertrude Weaver, spoke of the power of kindness as one of her secrets. Below you will find two great examples (one from an adult and one from a child) of using our birthdays as springboard for good. These two HandsOn volunteers, last fall, used the moments of their birth to make a difference and inspire others to serve. Zoe the 10 year old hosted her birthday party at the Friendship APL in Elyria. They certainty have inspired me. And if Ms. Weaver is right, I think that Sara and Zoe (and family) are destined for long lives. Volunteer at HandsOn Northeast Ohio. Enjoy and Happy Birthday!

Guest blog: Reflections by Sara Kidner, Educator: Principal – SuccessTech Academy:kidnerpicforblog9.11

When people started to ask, “what do you want for your birthday this year?”, I realized I didn’t want anything.  I didn’t need any scented candles, picture frames, sweaters or gifts.  At the age of 32 I am at a point in my life where I have what I need and could actually do with a lot less material objects.  This inspired me to think about what I really did want this year.  I decided to make this year an opportunity to give back now that I have reached my goals.  I was supported and encouraged by others to get through college and work my way through my career goals.  So for my 32nd birthday I decided to do 32 hours of service to pay forward all of the support I received.  I asked family, friends, and coworkers to support my service by pledging their own hours or donations.

While working on my service hours I have realized that service is not only a gift for those receiving, but those who are participating.  I have met wonderful people that work hard for others and have revived my love for Cleveland.  Ms. Rose at University Settlement has motivated me to cook from scratch and I have had an opportunity to work on getting “Michelle Obama arms” lifting boxes at the food bank. Although I have always volunteered, pledging to give back for my Birthday is a reminder of the greatest gifts we can give one another which are support and service. I encouraged others to see their birthday as a reminder of all you are grateful for and to pledge a day (or more ) of service.

Guest blog: Reflections by Charles Ellenbogen, Dad of Zoe:dogpic

Since she was young, Zoe has loved animals. Lions were her first fascination, but she will even shepherd ants out of our house rather than allowing us to trap them. She has also developed a kind of joy about giving back. I’m not sure of its origin or even the first example. She’s just a compassionate kid. I remembered my experience with HandsOn Nashville, so when I heard of HandsOn Northeast Ohio, I got us signed up.  She loves dogs. We had a neighbor with a dog when we lived in Minnesota, and she’d have to be restrained from going over there at 7am to collect the dog for the day. She reads books about dog training for fun. My wife, alas, is allergic. So, I landed on this as a way for her to get her dog-fix. As for why / how it became her birthday wish, I’m not sure. She wanted to share her joy with her friends, I guess. I’ll ask her tonight and write more if she has something to add. She’ll probably just shrug. She checked a book called 50 Ways Kids Can Help Animals out of the library and read it 6 times. Will she become one of those kids who raises $ or consciousness for a cause for her birthday? Who knows? I hope so.