Volunteer Opportunities: Able Bodies and College Students Needed

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Are you looking for a way to make a lasting difference in your community? Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans’ Community Living Services (CLS) Program, which provides homes for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, needs your help! There are two opportunities available to those wanting to make our community a better place.

If you are able-bodied and can spare a few hours once or twice a month, you can help CLS in a big way by receiving and unloading food donations. Volunteers need to be able to lift and carry boxes, sometimes up and down stairs.

CLS is also seeking college students that are interested in working one-on-one with residents, with the potential to turn the experience into a fulfilling career. Students will work a couple of hours two days a week in teams of two to transport residents to and from their doctors’ appointments and communicate important care information to CLS case managers. Because this opportunity requires extensive training, students should be able to volunteer at least one semester of service. Each resident transport will take about two hours to complete. Stellar performance and commitment to this opportunity could allow for the transition to a paid job.

For more information, please contact Victoria King at (504) 486-8699, or email volunteer@voagno.org.

Having Support Changed Charles’ Life

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Charles is someone you will never meet, yet you have changed his life for the better in so many ways. As a teenager, he was raised in an area where he saw violence, shootings and beatings every day. He was afraid and didn’t feel like he had a lot of choices. He chose to drink and do drugs to make himself numb and feel less afraid. These choices made him love himself less and less. When his mom died, he felt even more unloved and alone. He had nowhere to live, couldn’t hold a job because of his addictions and mental illness and lived most of his life on the street, homeless.

Fortunately, he met Ann, an outreach worker with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans. Ann goes to meet our most vulnerable community members where they are. She met Charles at a homeless shelter. Within weeks, Charles started making different choices—choices that would change his life forever. A choice to love himself by getting into treatment for his mental illness and his alcohol and drug addictions. A choice to get sober and to continue working on his sobriety—one day at a time.

Now, if you were to see Charles, you wouldn’t find him on the street or in a homeless shelter. He lives in his own one-bedroom apartment because of Ann and our Permanent Supportive Housing Program. You’ll find him with a smile on his face and hope in his eyes. He even stands a little taller. That’s what you made happen with your help and support.

You and others like you in our community help us close our funding gap so we can provide needed resources like Ann to provide the care and support individuals like Charles need.

David and Ashley’s Adoption Love Story

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Like many couples in love, David and Ashley married and wanted to start a family.

When they realized getting pregnant was not possible, they made the decision to explore adoption with Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans. Five days before Christmas 2015, David and Ashley lovingly welcomed their son Beckett Christian to their family; it’s a holiday they will cherish forever.

An adopted child herself, Ashley says that God led her and her husband to Volunteers of America and to their angel on earth – the Adoption Program’s social worker who shared the incredible three-year journey with them. They are especially thankful to Beckett’s birth mother for her selfless act of love and for turning to Volunteers of America for assistance with her unplanned pregnancy.

Make a Christmas Wish Come True!

e-_blog-october_lighthouse_christmas_2013_websiteStart dusting off your Santa hats and breaking out the gift wrap! Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans is gearing up for our 15th Annual Christmas Wish Project to spread some holiday cheer to those in need this season. But we can’t do it without you!

How can you HELP? We are currently serving more than 55,000 individuals in need and over 1,000 will not receive a gift for Christmas. Help us make wishes come true by purchasing a present for one or more people in our programs! To see the joy your gift brings, check out pictures of last year’s Christmas Wish Project.

How can you GET INVOLVED? Let us know how many people you would like to adopt and we will send you their Wish List. We have asked those on the Christmas list to choose reasonably priced gifts they most need. Presents will need to be wrapped, labeled and delivered to our office by Tuesday, December 6th.

Don’t have time to SHOP? Make a monetary donation to the Christmas Wish Project by Wednesday, November 30, and we’ll do all the work for you! When entering your donation, please be sure to select “Christmas Wish Project” in the Gift Designation menu.

JOIN THE FUN! Email Victoria King, Community Outreach Coordinator, or call at (504) 486-8699.

Your support spreads Christmas joy! Thank you!

Volunteering Brings Joy, Rewards to All

Every Thursday, you can find New Orleanian Gail Rouen at Terraces on Tulane, our Mid-City housing facility for seniors. Rouen began volunteering earlier this year. “I hit it off with everyone,” she says enthusiastically. “Their stories melt my heart I love listening to them and hearing about their backgrounds.”

Rouen’s interest in volunteering was piqued at a Volunteers of America Greater New Orleans breakfast, which she attended with a group from her husband’s company. Soon, she was volunteering at the Terraces, which serves lower-income persons 62 and over. Her assignment: be a friendly helper, doing whatever residents need, be it light housekeeping or sharing a meal. She quickly discovered she and the residents enjoyed their time together.

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Ronald and Gail

The staff then asked if she would take on a special project, working with resident Ronald, known for creating art from everyday objects. His apartment was overfilled with his late mother’s belongings and other items. Rouen began helping him sort out what to keep.

“We have a wonderful relationship,” she says. “We trust each other and have wonderful conversations.” All the while, Ronald’s apartment is being cleared and organized, with Rouen taking things he no longer needs to charity.

“Gail is God-sent,” Ronald exclaims. “She was sent to me right on time.” Ronald, who has lived at the Terraces for five years, remembers how depressed he was over his mother’s death. “I know how to clean and organize, I just couldn’t do it. Gail helped me see things better. She’s become a good friend and is highly intelligent. I don’t have to Google, I just ask Gail.”

Rouen encourages others to volunteer. “The rewards are so great. You feel like you’re doing something worthwhile. You can work out a plan to give however much time you have.”

Afterschool Enrichment: More than Homework

What happens when practice, guidance, and positive reinforcement are combined? For students of Volunteers of America’s Lighthouse Afterschool Program, confidence and competencies for future success emerge. Before enrollment in the afterschool program, the letters A – N – D – R – E sat flat on the page for pre-kindergartener Andre of Moton Elementary. As you can imagine Andre was frustrated when he entered school as he was unable to recognize his name, didn’t know how to hold a pencil and could not focus his attention—basic skills his classmates possessed.

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For three months, his Lighthouse Program teacher provided additional support and taught Andre the mechanics of writing. Her calm and patient approach also taught him discipline and focus. Now Andre is able to recognize and write his name independently, has developed self-control and confidence, and is thriving in the classroom. The dedicated Lighthouse staff has a personal investment in their students. They believe in their academic potential and challenge them to do their best. To learn more about the Lighthouse Program visit voagno.org/lighthouse-program.

The Journey to Achieving Dreams

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Christopher has deep blue eyes, honesty, humility, and tenacity for animal care that drives him to pursue a career as a Veterinary Technician. His determination is strong as he works to overcome the challenges that are inherent in his developmental disability known as Asperger’s syndrome, which falls on the Autism spectrum.

Individuals like Christopher often display characteristics such as loyalty and highly specified interests. Other common presentations include social challenges or difficulty with time-management. However, with proper support, these individuals can better utilize their strengths to achieve high degrees of success. Christopher receives assistance through Volunteers of America’s Supported Living Services Program and now, at age 24, he is on his way to achieving his dream of becoming a Veterinary Technician.

The relationship began in 2008 when he was a junior at Riverdale High School. At the time his Direct Support Professional, Christy Chachere, worked with him side by side.  In the classroom she was there to help him understand the material and take notes. But as time progressed, Christopher took the initiative to take notes on his own—incredibly, he is a student who actually wants to take notes! To balance the work load, Christopher and Christy also do fun things together such as go to lunch or the movies.

Animal care is of course, more than just textbook analysis, so this summer, to gain practical skills Christopher volunteered at the Metairie Small Animal Hospital and felt at home in that environment. But despite the progression, the school work is extremely challenging therefore, this semester Christopher has enrolled in a time-management course, which can be especially helpful for individuals with this developmental disability. Now, Christopher is pushing forward and taking on his biggest challenge to date…mastering Microbiology!

Career preparedness is an incredibly important part of our society, and Volunteers of America is proud to be a part of Christopher’s journey toward gaining competences in this highly valued field of work. With the proper support systems, such as those provided by the Supportive Living Services program, individuals can harness the power of their strengths to reach their dreams.

Christopher’s previous facilitator, Latasha Marshall, said that he “opened her eyes,” to her own vision and inspired her to purse her goal of attaining a Masters of Business Administration degree, of which she is now engaged!

His next business card should read: Christopher Chilton—inspiring people, helping animals.

A Father’s Perspective on Adoption

D&G2“The moment we put him in our arms, there was a bond,” says adoptive father Donald about his son, Gianni. Donald and his wife, Vanessa, brought Gianni home from the hospital almost four years ago, in September of 2011. And now, every year he gets to celebrate Father’s Day, “like any other father—it is just a wonderful feeling to be a parent.” Adoptive families are unique, but their desires for their children are universal—that they be happy and healthy.

To help create their special and loving family, Donald and Vanessa turned to Volunteers of America. Vanessa’s father had volunteered with the residential re-entry program for many years and they trusted the organization to guide them in the adoption process. Donald says he feels blessed to have been selected by Gianni’s birthmother to care for her natural born son, and to have maintained some openness in their adoption plan. Their family meets with Gianni’s birthmother and her daughter, Gianni’s biological sister, several times a year.  Maintaining bonds with Gianni’s birthmother will be very important for Gianni as he gets older and starts to have questions about his adoption story. But for now, Gianni is just enjoying getting to play with his sister.

Donald and Vanessa are excited to share their adoption experience with friends, as well as other families at church and at school. “We feel like we are now stewards or ambassadors for adoption,” says Donald. Many people have asked for advice, some of which already have natural born children.  “People have many reasons to adopt; some cannot conceive themselves, but others just want to expand their families and they feel called to adoption.” The couple has also spoken at a Volunteers of America adoption meeting for potential adoptive parents as well as volunteered at our annual Golf Star Classic, the sole fundraiser for the adoption program. These efforts are made with the intention of helping others to also realize their dream of becoming parents.

D&GIt is clear when you speak to Donald, why he feels so compelled to advocate for adoption—Gianni. “He is a loving, kind, compassionate kid, who can do so much. The thought and emotion that he puts behind the things that he says are inspiring.” For instance, when you ask him how his day was, he might just say, “Amazing!!” Donald is enjoying watching Gianni grow –he knows how to stick up for himself, as Donald found out looking on at a recent birthday party. “That’s what you want, to know that they’ll be ok.” But mostly, Gianni is a fun-loving and active child, exited to play any sport, especially football, T-ball, and basketball.

Donald and Vanessa are raising Gianni with care and appreciation for their son, his birth mother and Volunteers of America.  This Father’s Day, with the love and support that he and Vanessa give Gianni, Donald is sure to get what he wants—a happy and healthy child.

How to Make Wellness Sustainable

At Volunteers of America, our dedicated staff work hard to care for the most vulnerable individuals in our community. As a result we place a high value on healthy lifestyles and seek to encourage and support employees in their efforts towards wellbeing.

Gary Zapata is one such employee who has shown leadership in the arena of healthy practices. Below, Gary shares the practical ways he sustains a healthy lifestyle: Gary3

 What are your top 3 healthy habits?

“For a snack during the day I’ll have nuts, which are easy and healthy.

My wife and I shop on the outside edge of the grocery store, mostly, except for ice cream and freshly frozen veggies.

We also walk to the park with our son, Lucas, in the stroller—it’s a mile there, we walk in the park, and then a mile back. For five years my wife and I did not have a car, so we walked everywhere in the city.”

What is your favorite healthy food?

“As a comfort food at my house we eat lentils with carrots, potatoes, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. We eat it with pita and yogurt.”

Do you have any guilty pleasures as far as food or activities?

Gary Slide“I like Candy, especially Smarties. I also definitely like to have a bag of Doritos on Super Bowl Sunday–it’s part of the experience.”

Do you face any challenges to your wellness?

“Scheduling—when you have a lot of roles and you have to serve your family members, your friendships, your community, and your work, it can be difficult to make time for your needs.”

What do you think drives you to be fit?

“It’s internal. I am very competitive with myself. I am often striving to be better in various aspects of life. I also enjoy the camaraderie of sports when I am able to play them.”

What’s your fondest fitness memory or experience?

“Going on 4-5 hour long walks with my wife (then girlfriend), in college when we were in Madrid.”

In your own words, what is wellness?

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“Wellness is having good habits that can last a lifetime. It is not performing herculean acts or doing extreme diets, but having a balanced set of habits that can be maintained. It is not always easy, but it is sustainable.”

 Gary does a great job of maintaining wellness on a personal level. To support our employees with their fitness goals, we offer ongoing initiatives such as reduced gym membership costs, a walking club (that is participating in the upcoming Crescent Connection Bridge Run), free yoga trial memberships, Biggest Loser competitions, our Wellness Fair, financial wellness consultations, and spiritual wellness opportunities.

The pathway to well-being is multifaceted, but Volunteers of America is proud to be a positive part of the journey.

 Gary and his family will soon be moving to Seattle for new opportunities. We appreciate Gary’s many contributions to Volunteers of America over the years–including the example of wellness he’s been for our staff–and he will be greatly missed. We wish the very best of luck to Gary as he embarks on this new endeavor!

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.