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.
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.”
“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.
It 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.
Spring 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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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 email@example.com or (504) 486-8699 to learn more about volunteering with us.
Ed 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.
Mary 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.
To learn more about our Retired and Senior Volunteer Program click here.
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 Greater 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.