Pioneers Of Tomorrow Grasp Realities Of Today

003 BSpring break! Time to party and shirk your responsibilities—pretend to be someone else for a while, right? Well, students from Rice University, St. Mary’s University Law School and Cornell College decided instead to take on responsibilities, and not to pretend to be someone else, but to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. These volunteers came to work with Volunteers of America for three main reasons: to uplift others, to be immersed in a vibrant culture and to engage in a multi-faceted approach to human services.

Volunteers of America’s relationship with these colleges provided the opportunity to turn the students’ passion into participation. For five days, the students worked at our Community Living Services group homes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Fresh Food Factor and our partner organization—Stoney Point Farm.

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While on the farm they planted onions and peppers, organized the barn and harvested eggs. The students worked together to complete tasks, and a participant from St. Mary’s even taught the Cornell students techniques he had learned from the farmer.But the connections grew as the students worked at Fresh Food Factor. They cited their amazement at the volume of meals produced for at-risk youth— over 2,000 a day—and the sheer amount of effort necessary to pull it all off.

The students made it clear that their affinity for volunteerism was rooted in an awareness of the real challenges facing our communities and the potential for growth. Heidi, a site leader from Rice, told us that she wants to be an advocate for social change, and to do that she knew that she had to couple academics with real world experiences.Rice2

The students from St. Mary’s credited their school’s culture with instilling altruistic values in the student body. Group leader Bridget and her team from Cornell wanted be involved with an organization that has a broad reach and could encompass their interests in after-school enrichment, civic engagement and sustainable food service. For them, Volunteers of America was a perfect fit.

To learn about volunteer opportunities for your group, contact Logan Ebel at (504) 486-8699 or lebel@voagno.org.

Desire to Transform Lives Motivates Volunteer

April is National Volunteer Month, and throughout the month we have been recognizing the contributions of our dedicated and selfless volunteers. While Volunteers of America is comprised of nearly 500 paid staff members, community volunteers are an indispensable part of the work we do. We are fortunate to have a partnership with the Americorps VISTA program which provides organizations with volunteers who make year-long, full-time commitments to serve on specific projects to enhance the organizational, administrative, and financial capacity of nonprofits. Gabryone “Gabby” Newman is currently serving as our Development VISTA Volunteer. In our Q & A below, Gabby shares what motivates her to volunteer in her own community, and what she’s learning during her term with Volunteers of America:

VISTA Volunteer Gabryone "Gabby" Newman

VISTA Volunteer Gabryone “Gabby” Newman

Q: Why did you choose to serve as a VISTA with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans?
A: As a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, I wanted to serve in my own community, impacting the lives of ordinary people. My mother worked within the Human Services industry for 20 years. I wanted to transform lives and make a difference in the world like she did. Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans has given me that opportunity. As a Resource Development VISTA, I have expanded my volunteer/fundraising skills with one of New Orleans’ leading nonprofit organizations that focuses on moving underserved communities into self-sufficiency.

Q. What has been your favorite experience while working with Volunteers of Greater New Orleans?
A. My favorite experience has been preparing for the 2015 GolfStar Classic, our annual golf tournament which benefits our adoption program. Recruiting food and auction donations from businesses, hotels and restaurants was a challenging, yet exciting experience.

Gabby helps at a special volunteer event

Gabby helps at a special volunteer event

Q. From your time working with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans, what have you gained so far?
A. I have learn new skills such as cultural competency, community outreach, event planning, database development and grant writing . Also, working within the nonprofit industry has opened up a secondary career option for me.

Q. What do your plans after finishing your VISTA term include?
A. Once my VISTA term is done, I plan on working for a nonprofit organization, radio/news station, or doing a second AmeriCorps VISTA term.

To Gabby and our many wonderful volunteers who do so much for our organization and our community: THANK YOU!

Senior Living: Independent, Interconnected

Sandra Smith

Volunteer Sandra Smith

Sandra Smith, at age 63, attends many concerts and football games. She works as an usher at the Superdome, and her part-time occupation suits her lighthearted, helpful nature perfectly.

Sandra understands how important living independently is, so three days a week she travels to Volunteers of America’s senior adult living facility on Tulane Avenue to help “make life a little easier,” for those who she knows have already worked so hard.

Her call to action began when her mother, age 86, began needing help with fine motor skill tasks such as retrieving dishes or doing laundry. Sandra says that her mother has done a lot in her life and, in fact, still drives. But Sandra saw the opportunity to relieve her from small burdens so that her day ran more efficiently. Sandra’s belief is: since she can lend a helping hand, she will—so she turned to Volunteers of America to extend her reach. Now, she makes regular visits to residents’ apartments to share her smile and her time, assisting with things like ironing or simply wiping a table—small, thoughtful actions that make a big difference in the flow and enjoyment of a senior adult’s day.

Terraces On Tulane

The Terraces on Tulane Senior Housing Complex

Senior independent living often includes small aids like handrails or walkers; but, what is equally important is connection to others—the ability to help and be helped. So as February, which is National Senior Independence Month, continues remember the ones who have paved the way directly or indirectly for you, and do as Sandra does: lend a helping hand.

Are you inspired by Sandra’s story and want to get involved, too? Contact our Volunteer Coordinator, Logan Ebel at lebel@voagno.org or (504) 486-8699 to learn more about volunteering with us.

 

Share Your Volunteer Story!

IMG_03682015 has arrived, and no doubt you’ve made ambitious plans for the year to come. We know you’re going to be awesome this year! But, chances are, you were great in 2014 too! Did you, or someone you know, volunteer with us last year? Tell us about the experience. Write in with your story (or someone else’s) and we could feature you on our blog!

WHY?

1) You’re a super hero! No matter how you helped, you have positively affected someone’s life.

2) Share the wealth! Your story will inspire others to do the same. Be an inspiration in 2015!

3) We all want to be happier and healthier! Studies have shone that volunteering increases your social, physical and mental capital, while it could also have positive implications for your career. Oh, and it’s fun and fulfilling.

4) Just taking the time to write the story will bring back all those good feelings! It will be almost as good as the real thing.

Email your story any time to eduffy@voagno.org. Happy New Year!

P.S. Already feeling inspired to start doing good in the New Year?
Check out our website for opportunities as well as info on how to choose the best experience for YOU!

*If you’re a tad timid about sharing your personal story, no worries, Clark (or Clarissa) Kent! We’ll keep your true identity a secret upon request.

Adoption Helps Families Grow & Blossom

We are proud to share the story of staff member Lori Arceneaux North, LCSW, BACS. Lori serves as the Program Manager of our Adoption & Maternity Services program, and she is also an adoptive parent. 

Lori (left) with her daughter  and husband

Lori (left) with her daughter and husband

“Adoption has tremendously impacted my life on both a professional and a personal level. After working for Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans’ adoption program, my husband and I felt compelled to turn to adoption to begin our family. We soon became foster/adoptive parents with the state. Our daughter joined our family in 2010. We have since adopted her. Through my personal experience with adoption, this has driven me to help other children like my daughter who need a forever family of their own. Currently, I serve as the chair of the Louisiana Adoption Advisory Board, a non-profit that consists of adopted persons, adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoption professionals. We seek to promote understanding and education about adoption-related issues. Also, I’m the secretary of NOLA Hope, a local foster/adoptive parent support group. We support, educate and advocate for both foster and adoptive parents and for children in foster care too.

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Lori’s daughter

It’s been an incredible experience to see my daughter blossom over the last four years since she joined our family. Sadly, there are so many other children just like her in Louisiana that need the same opportunity to thrive in an adoptive family. We hope to expand our family again through adoption in a couple of years. This firsthand experience with adoption has helped me to become a better social worker and to better assist the people we serve in our program. I can draw on my personal experiences to better understand their perspectives and assist them on their individual adoption journey.”

As a licensed adoption agency and a respected pioneer in issues such as open adoption, Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans’ Adoption Program has united thousands of families over many decades. We place infants in adoptive homes, counsel birth parents and adoptive parents and reach out to both groups with a variety of helping services that range from crisis counseling for pregnant women to home studies for adoptive couples. To learn more, visit our website,  email us or call (504) 835-3005.

You could be the lucky winner of a 2015 Mercedes CLA250 in our raffle benefiting our Adoption Program! It’s an amazing prize with a life-changing cause. Don’t miss out–get your tickets here.

The Value of Volunteering for Senior Adults

Ed & Mary Ann Brannan 2Ed and Mary Ann Brannan of Mandeville, LA, made it a point when they retired to stay involved in their community. More than ten years ago they began volunteering through Volunteers of America’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), each pursuing opportunities that fit their individual interests and skills. They volunteer, on average, a combined twenty-five hours per week.

Ed dedicates time each week to our Faith In Action volunteer option, which focuses on transporting senior citizens who are unable to drive themselves to doctors’ appointments, grocery stores, and other essential errands and tasks. Ed happened upon this opportunity years ago when a neighbor asked him to fill in as a temporary volunteer while the neighbor was away. Ed agreed, and was soon hooked on the rewarding experience of serving others in need. He decided to continue transporting his fellow seniors, and over the years has made new and lifelong friendships with those he serves and their families.

Ed & Mary Ann Brannan 3Mary Ann enjoys serving as a volunteer in several capacities, including her RSVP assignment working as a hospice volunteer with St. Tammany Hospital Hospice. She currently visits with a particular hospice patient every week, sitting with the patient when family members need a break, and listening to the patient’s entertaining stories about her relatives. Mary Ann notes that although some may see hospice volunteering as challenging or sad, she sees it as a much-needed service that supports patients and their families during a most profound time of need.

The Brannans feel strongly that the personal benefits they receive from volunteering are significant. They have met a variety of interesting individuals through their volunteer work, and have made many friendships with those whom they’ve served throughout the years. A strong sense of personal fulfillment from their volunteer work is, in part, why they’ve both continued serving for over a decade.

Ed aims to encourage other seniors to  volunteer and “experience the great things you get out of volunteering, as well as the many ways you can contribute.”  He hopes that more seniors will become aware of the needs of the community and embrace the exceptional benefits that come from volunteering as a senior adult.

Ed & Mary Ann Brannan 1

 To learn more about our Retired and Senior Volunteer Program click here. 

Q & A with our AmeriCorps VISTA

Emma Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans is grateful for our partnership with the Americorps VISTA program, which provides nonprofit organizations like ours with talented volunteers who support capacity-building for the organization. We have been fortunate to have Emma Murray, our Development VISTA who hails from Lexington, Massachusetts, serving with us for the past year. Emma has made many behind-the-scenes contributions to numerous projects throughout her time with our organization.  Emma wraps up her year-long term with Volunteers of America on July 18th.

Q: Why did you choose to serve as a VISTA with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans?

A: “I thought it would be valuable work experience that I could take with me into a future career. I have always been drawn to human service work, and this position gave me the opportunity to see how one of New Orleans’ premier nonprofit human service providers recruits and distributes its resources in a way that effectively and responsibly supports multiple programs that benefit thousands of people.”

Q: What has been your favorite experience/part of working with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans?

A: “Preparing for the GolfStar Classic, [our Adoption Program’s annual charity golf tournament]! The event supports a great cause, and I found the experience of recruiting food and auction item donations from community partners to be a challenging, yet rewarding one.”

Q: From your time working with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans, what have you gained?

A: “I’ve gained a clearer understanding of what I am interested in doing professionally as well as new skills in grant writing, communication, and leadership.”

Q: What do your plans after finishing your VISTA term include?

A: “I will be attending graduate school at the University of Michigan to pursue a Master of Public Health degree.”

June Minister’s Message

Agency Chaplain Bud Snowden

Agency Chaplain Bud Snowden

The Gift of Ministry
by Bud Snowden, Agency Chaplain

Many Christians over the years have embarked on a quest to discover or identify their “spiritual gifts.” Inspired by the teaching that each Christian believer is endowed by the Holy Spirit with a gift or special ability to be used to help nourish and support the church, many believers of every Christian denomination have attended seminars and retreats and even taken “spiritual gifts inventories” all in the hope of learning which of the gifts listed by the Apostle Paul they might have received.

Unfortunately, for many Christians, including me, this quest has been a frustrating one because there have been no clear answers to the question, “What are my gifts?”

In his recent book, “What Are Spiritual Gifts? Rethinking the Conventional View,” Kenneth Berding points out that the source of this frustration may be the result of a misunderstanding of Paul’s use of the word “gifts” in his writings. Instead of thinking of “gifts” to mean a special ability or power (as in “she is a gifted preacher”) Berding contends that, “gifts” should be understood to mean “ministry, role or assignment.” So the question we should be asking ourselves is not “God, how can I discover the special abilities that you have given me?” but instead, “God, where do you want me to serve?”

Dr. Berding’s approach appeals to me for several reasons:

First, the interpretation of gifts as ministries implies that, rather than being a formal role exclusively for specialized clergy, ministry can be understood to be any activity that serves to build up the community of faith.

Second, the idea that “gifts” refer to ministries rather than individual abilities reminds me that while God usually empowers us when He calls us to serve, He sometimes calls us to serve out of our weakness rather than our “strength.” God asks us to serve in areas where we feel less than “gifted” so that He can do something, not just through us, but also in us. As St. Paul told the church in Corinth, God’s power is “perfected in weakness.”

Another reason this view of “spiritual gifts” resonates with me is that it is very consistent with Volunteers of Americas’ view of its ministry of service. We are called in Volunteers of America to “go wherever we are needed and to do whatever comes to hand.” There is no room in that statement to question whether we have the special ability required. Instead, we are to respond in faith, trusting that the Lord will provide. Of course, it is truly a blessing for all concerned when someone with a special gift from God is led to the right place and the right time to put that ability to work–but the lack thereof is no excuse for not doing the Lord’s work, “wherever” and “whatever” that may be.

Lastly, the understanding that “spiritual gifts” refers to ministry assignments affirms for me that ministry, whatever form it takes, is truly a gift from God, for which the proper response is humility and thankfulness. While God certainly does bless some believers with special gifts or abilities, he assuredly blesses all with the gift of ministering to one another in love and humility.

A Day on the Farm

Growing up in an urban setting often means children lack opportunities for a first-hand experience with agriculture. Yet, providing kids with the chance to see where their food comes from can not only be a new and fun experience, but one that teaches kids the importance of making wiser nutrition choices that can have a big impact.

On Tuesday, June 10th, Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans
madeBoy with tomatoes it possible for 30 New Orleans children in our Lighthouse Summer Program to visit Stoney Point Farm in Franklinton, LA. Farm owner Tim Roper gave students a tour while sharing the importance of local farming, and teaching the kids about his farming methods— including how hot peppers are grown and used to make a natural pesticide. The children enjoyed learning about planting and growing chemical-free crops, choosing healthy and fresh foods, raising chickens and honeybees, and more. A highlight of the farm visit was when the children had the opportunity to harvest fresh fruits and vegetables, which were made into a tasty salad to sample. Another of the children’s favorite moments was learning how chickens roost while looking for eggs in the chicken coop.

Stoney Point Farm, a family-owned and operated farm, has partnered with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans’ Fresh Food Factor program. Dedicating two acres of land to Fresh Food Factor, this partnership supports the “Farm to School” initiative to provide local, organically grown produce for childcare centers, schools and summer camps that participate in the Fresh Food Factor food service program.

This partnership allows Fresh Food Factor to offer produce harvested in-season, at their peak of flavor.

The CDC has identified Farm-to-School programs as an effective means to improve the quality of school meals, enhance effectiveness of nutrition education, and provide opportunities for eco-literacy training of students through hands-on experiences in the outdoors. Farm to school programs support local farmers and economies, and of the farm to school programs that have been evaluated, most have demonstrated increased selection or intake of fruits and vegetables by students following the incorporation of farm produce into school salad bars, meal selections, or class-based education.

Urgent Need: Help Ms. Thelma

Ms. Thelma calls every Friday to ask if we have raised enough money to begin work on her house.

Please help us say “Yes” this Friday by donating to the Friends of Thelma Fund.

Volunteers of America GThelma150reater New Orleans wants to help retired New Orleans nurse Thelma Hines.  A truck smashed into the front of her home, after the driver was shot and killed; she has no means to repair it. Watch WWL-TV reporter Bill Capo’s feature on Miss Thelma.

“The truck came through there, two feet from me,” she said. “I thought that it was a tornado coming through, really, because it sounded like a train.”

Payne Diez, who manages the Volunteers of America Repairs on Wheels program assessed the damage. “Had the truck hit 24 inches over, it would have struck her in her bed,” said Diez. “It was a miracle.”

The Repairs on Wheels program is ready to help, but faces a major problem. We need funding help for this project.  It will cost approximately $8,000 to repair Ms. Thelma’s house and we do not have a grant to do this work in Orleans Parish.  So, Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans is looking to the community to come together and donate towards this project.

When asked how it felt to have people trying to help her, Ms. Thelma said, “It means so much. It means that I meant something, I touched some people’s lives.”

Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans has started a fund – Friends of Thelma – to raise the monies needed to repair Ms. Thelma’s home. To date we have only raised $225, even with Bill Capo’s report.  So, we are turning to you, our friends in the community, to ask you to consider giving.

Please Help Miss Thelma With Your Gift

 

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