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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Of mice, work gloves, and Snapchat: a newbie's volunteer travel experience

I've been working for Volunteer Expeditions for over a year. As the Director of Communications, I handle all of our marketing and outreach. I was well informed on how our trips to New Orleans work. I knew the important names - Paul, Pastor Bruce, Warrenetta, and so on. I knew the regular volunteer opportunities - Second Harvest, The Lower 9th Ward Village, The St. Bernard Project, and more. And I knew the basics of our trips - volunteer opportunities, a tour of the Katrina and flooding devastation, free time in the French Quarter, dinner and bowling at Rock 'n' Bowl, etc.

But knowing the names is very different from being there.

I was thrilled to find out I was going on my first Volunteer Expeditions trip to New Orleans. Originally, I was to lead three groups from the East Coast, but three turned into a slightly smaller two due to Superstorm Sandy. After a bit of scrambling, we were re-set to go.

All 28 volunteers and three chaperones flew out and arrived at the hotel with only one lost wallet and one almost-left-behind suitcase. As I settled into my room that first night, I barely slept. It's so cruel that being overtired and anxious keeps you awake. And I'll admit it - I was worried about the trip throughout that sleepless night. I had never been to New Orleans before! What was I doing leading thirty people through it?

Morning came, and with it came sanity. I knew what I was doing. I had a carefully laid-out itinerary for the volunteers, and I had created my own itinerary with precisely where we were going, who I needed to talk to, and any and all contact information for every single stop on the trip. I'd been over the whole thing a few times with Patti, plus Ivy and the rabbi (the leaders of the two groups) were well-prepared themselves. This was going to work.

And you know what? I was right. That morning (after an enlightening speaker with a sleepy audience) we kicked our volunteering off with sorting food donations at Second Harvest...and it was a blast. Mr. Charles was a great leader, the work was fun, music made everyone dance, and we did a good thing for hundreds of hungry people. And you can't argue with Piccadilly Cafe for lunch. Real Southern food. One entree + two side dishes + dessert + soft drink = 28 gleefully stuffed teenagers.

After a stop at beautiful Audobon Park (beware the fire ants) and admiration of trees covered in beads from Mardi Gras nine months ago, we partook in Shabbat services, ate a lovely meal, and listened to an experienced architect discuss the rebuilding process. More than one young woman perked up on hearing he'd met Brad Pitt by working for the Make It Right foundation.

Clearing a new lot
Saturday was unforgettable. We met the lovely Warrenetta (how wonderful to put a face to the name!) and were loosed to help in various ways to rebuild the Lower 9th Ward. The main task of the day was helping Miss Polly paint her house and clear her backyard. When the gate was first opened into the yard, my first thought was, It's a jungle. I didn't see a way to actually step inside amidst the overgrowth, let alone start clearing it.

But clear it we did. By the end of the day, you could easily maneuver throughout most of the yard and we had pulled out several industrial garbage bags worth of trash. Not to mention two laundry baskets worth of ancient deep red bottles that looked better suited to a pirate ship. After an enlightening tour with another sleepy audience, everyone was rewarded for their hard work with a deep-fried dinner and bowling.

The next morning was one we would never forget - services at an African-American church in the Lower 9th. By the end, our volunteers were on their feet and clapping along like they were members.

We toured Tulane with the help of another chaperone (a college student who a few of our high schoolers were big fans of), had lunch, and split up for free time in the French Quarter. All I can say is that beignets at Cafe Du Monde are the best things I have ever eaten in my entire life. My tablemates might agree.

We spent that evening at St. John's with Pastor Bruce (not Father John). Many of us made new best friends with the young children in the church community. I had my hair done by Pastor Bruce's children. The experience was truly eye-opening for our volunteers, who are lucky enough to have never before visited "the hood", as Pastor Bruce declared.

The next morning we made the discovery that most of the volunteers are not meant for a farmer's life. I was very impressed with the work happening at Our School at Blair Grocery - and now we will all have a better appreciation for the hard work involved in getting arugula onto our plates! Although the experience was difficult for many, there were smiles all around by the time we arrived at our final stop...because who doesn't enjoy Mardi Gras World?

I think I can best explain the ties made and the bonds forged in this trip by sharing one last story. When we arrived at the airport, no goodbyes were made before we split off to our different check-in desks. MSY is a small airport, and we all wanted to get going. We figured we could say goodbye while waiting at the gates. But once we were through, we made a horrible realization - one group was in terminal C with me, but the other was in terminal D. There are no hallways between terminals. I had resigned myself to texting goodbye, but that wasn't good enough for our volunteers. A number of the group I was with proceeded to leave our terminal back through security, then wait in line to go through the other terminal's security to say goodbye before returning through their own security again.
Sad faces saying goodbye

Let me say that again: our volunteers put themselves through airport security two extra times just to say goodbye to their newfound friends.

We shared meals, stories, tools, sweat, and photos. But the most important things we shared were the memories made. It sounds cheesy, I know, but when I look back on this trip ten years from now, I'm going to remember running around the airport with Cammy, Pammy, Joey, and Sam. I'm going to remember eating lunch with Nicki, Didi, Mira, and Lev. I'm going to remember bowling with Jamie, Ilana, and Hannah. I'm going to remember Andie getting her palm read while Hailey, Noah, and Matt observed. I'm going to remember being amazed by the red bottles in Miss Polly's yard with Samantha. I'm going to remember shouting "woo!" with Zach every time we filled a box of food donations.

Making the decision to go through security again to say goodbye was a piece of cake for me too.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: Learning the Lessons of Katrina

Hurricane Sandy has left a long trail of destruction in its wake. The sad events of the last few days, the images of homes destroyed, and the suddenly homeless all evoke powerful emotions. Unfortunately, this situation is not unique.

Our founder and president, Patti, is all too familiar with those who need to rebuild their lives. She reflected on the similarities and - thank goodness - differences from a hurricane just a few years ago...

Courtesy of NASA Goddard
As I look at the major devastation Hurricane Sandy has visited on the Eastern seaboard, I compare it to New Orleans in 2005. With scenes of rows and rows of houses with waters up through their windows and streets completely flooded, the flashback is real and intense. However, I think the horror of beginning to rebuild New Orleans will not be repeated. As I become glued to my television, I see the president, the governors, FEMA, and wonderful agencies like the American Red Cross immediately stepping forward so that the New Orleans nightmare is not repeated. The quick and responsive nature to Hurricane Sandy is stunning in comparison. All we can do is hope and pray that the victims of Hurricane Sandy will recover quickly and resume their normal and appreciated lives.

While people are focused on helping those in the Northeast who truly deserve our hope and attention, it is our wish that we do not forget the citizens still rebuilding their lives in New Orleans.

How will you help those on the East Coast? Leave us a comment below.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Patti's Passion

We are thrilled that our friends at Volunteer Global are compiling a book of volunteer travel stories. Our founder and president, Patti, wanted to share her story with them - and we want to share it with you! If you've ever wondered what you can do when you grow up and/or retire, you'll discover that the possibilities are endless.

Some people retire. They sleep in, play bridge and golf, knit, run some errands.

I am not one of them.

A year after my attempt at retiring, I was so shocked at the devastation from Hurricane Katrina that I organized a trip for my Chicago suburban synagogue to volunteer in New Orleans. Even 18 months after the storm, the destruction was heartbreaking. Thousands of homes were completely destroyed, and thousands more had to be completely gutted before they were deemed safe. We even had to wear HAZMAT suits.

I couldn’t just stay retired and do nothing. After word of our inspiring trip had spread to other local religious organizations – and I was asked to plan trips for them – I knew I had discovered my new lifework. I founded Volunteer Expeditions and now plan trips for religious, school and family groups from all over the country to help rebuild New Orleans. My organization has even expanded to offer trips for groups to tutor children in Jamaica and to help the homeless and hungry in Chicago and Washington, DC.

Patti jamming in New Orleans with some new friends
I am truly awed each and every day by the spirit, the determination, and the unwavering support of the volunteers I meet. Their work, their time and their money have genuinely made a difference to the people of New Orleans. I have had the pleasure of watching this city rebuild itself. In just a few short years, it has gone from a city destroyed with no green spaces to a vibrant place with new homes, businesses and parks. It still has a ways to go, but it is headed in the right direction.

Even though I have retired from the normal workforce, I'm spending my full time doing what I love best. And that's bringing volunteers to do worthwhile work that makes a difference in their lives and in the lives of the people they touch.

Do you know someone retired who is following their passion? Tell us in the comment section!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hurricane Isaac Relief: How You Can Help

Hurricane Isaac Path
With the threat of Hurricane Isaac past, we can breathe a sigh of relief. The damage wasn't as severe as Katrina, due to a weaker hurricane and stronger levees. But there are still plenty of people whose homes are destroyed, whose towns are flooded, and have no electricity in a humid summer climate.

We've reached out to our partners in New Orleans to find out what they need - and we hope you'll consider helping them.

  • Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development: Stimulating engagement and preserving resources
    • Send gift cards to Wal-Mart to help needy families
    • Donate online here
    • Donate via check payable to: Lower 9th Ward CSED, 5130 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA, 70117
    • LA, 70112
  • St. John #5 Baptist Church (Pastor Bruce Davenport): Helping low income families find community and faith
    • Donate via check payable to: St. John #5 Baptist Church, 3613 Hamburg St., New Orleans, LA, 70122
  • Beacon of Hope: Helping LaPlace residents
    • Need donations of
      • Storage containers (medium to large in size)
      • Contractor bags
      • Home Depot and/or Lowes gift cards
    • Volunteer: contact Heather Huth
      • Hhuth@beaconofhopenola.org
      • (504) 309-5120
    • Donate
      • Online here
      • Check payable to: Beacon of Hope Resource Center, 145 Robert E Lee Blvd. Suite 200, New Orleans, LA, 70124 (Att: Isaac Relief)
  • Second Harvest Food Bank: Providing several hundred thousand pounds of food to families in need
    • Need donations of
      • Non-perishable food items (canned fruits and vegetables, peanut butter, soups, juices, water, etc)
      • Cleaning supplies (bleach, disinfectant, hand sanitizer, mops, gloves, paper products)
      • Send to: Second Harvest Food Bank warehouses 
        • 700 Edwards Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70123
        • 215 E. Pinhook, Lafayette, LA 70501
    • Volunteer: contact them here
    • Donate
      • For ever $1 donated, Second Harvest Food Bank can provide the equivalent of $15.50 in grocery/food items
      • Online here
      • Call for more info: (504) 729-6322
    • For more info, visit their page here
  • ReNEW Schools: Helping lower-income families of students whose homes were damaged
    • Donate online here
    • Send gift cards to Wal-Mart or local grocery stores to help neediest families
      • 3128 Constance Street, New Orleans, LA 70115
      • (504) 367-3307
  • Harry Tompson Center: Helping the homeless stay secure and cool
    • Donate online here
    • Donate via check payable to: Harry Tompson Center, 130 Baronne Street, New Orleans, 
  • New Orleans City Parks: Clearing felled trees and restoring the park
    • Volunteers very much needed
    • Contact Steve Ryman, Volunteer Coordinator: sryman@nocp.org; (607) 237-6210
  • Community Center of St. Bernard: Providing food, water, baby formula, cleaning supplies, and personal hygiene items to families in need in the St. Bernard parish
    • Donate
      • Online here
      • Check payable to: Community Center of St Bernard, 1111 LeBeau St, Arabi, LA, 70032
    • Host a fundraiser: contact Iray
And, as always, to travel and make a difference with your own hands, you can schedule a volunteer trip for your school, office, or congregation with us at Volunteer Expeditions.

For those of you who have traveled with us, we have updates on some of our other friends. Paul, our beloved bus driver with Pelican Bus, is just fine. He and his wife stayed in a hotel for a few days, and his house was undamaged. He caught a cold though. Mark Schleifstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune is also safe, along with his family. They know several people who have lost their homes, though.

Please don't forget about your friends and countrymen in the Gulf Coast who were affected by this hurricane. For more information, check #nolahelp on Twitter. If you know of any other people or organizations in need of assistance, please leave the information in our comment section.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurricane Isaac on the Katrina Anniversary

As many are aware, today is the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. In the time since those devastating storms and floods, New Orleans has certainly made huge strides in recovery. Though it will always be a city divided - before Katrina and after Katrina - it is flourishing in a whole new way.

But as fate would have it, on this day of remembering, New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast is under barrage from Hurricane Isaac. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those in the affected areas. Our founder and president, Patti Vile, releases this statement on this anniversary and new challenge:

"The brave citizens of New Orleans are again facing a hurricane to test their nerves, endurance, and their love of the city.

"In the seven years since Katrina, New Orleans has made some giant leaps and has addressed many issues while leaving other issues to be further considered and solved in time. The physical beauty of New Orleans has definitely returned. Immediately following Katrina, there was not a green space or blade of grass or trees or anything but the gray aftermath of the storm. Now New Orleans is green again, with new buildings and colorful homes and residents.

"While many families are struggling to regain some sense of a normal life after Katrina, we find them again today with new challenges from Hurricane Isaac. So many people do not have housing, and we are very concerned that this number is escalating as the day goes on.

"My wish for New Orleans is that they retain their spirit and their very unique culture. While no one can boast food and music like New Orleans-ians, the need to continue addressing poverty, crime, and issues of education is still pressing.

"Let's send New Orleans our prayers and best wishes on this anniversary and as they face this new challenge."

Just as New Orleans has taken big steps in recovering from Katrina, so too will they get through and flourish beyond Hurricane Isaac. And we will be there to help them do it.

To help those affected by the storm, please donate to the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and DevelopmentSt. John's #5 Church and Social Ministry, the Lower 9th Ward Village, or Second Harvest Food Bank - or consider taking your group on a volunteer trip to New Orleans with Volunteer Expeditions.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Extraordinary Volunteer: Max Glazer

Everyone helps others in their own way. Some people donate. Some people volunteer. Other people raise thousands of dollars and send hundreds of pounds of supplies before graduating high school.

Max in New Orleans, 2009
Welcome to the premier edition of Volunteer Expeditions' Extraordinary Volunteers, where we feature the incredible volunteer work of those who have traveled with us (outside of their volunteer trip). We are truly honored to share the story of Max Glazer, who has done more in just four years as a teenager than many have done in their entire lives.

It all started in 2008, when Max was at the ripe old age of twelve. The Torah portion for his Bar Mitzvah centered on a theme of home. He wanted to have his guests help build a home with Habitat for Humanity after his service (and he would outfit the home with his gifts) but unfortunately was not allowed to because of his young age. Habitat's loss became New Orleans' gain, as his rabbi worked with Volunteer Expeditions. 30 congregants - including Max and his parents - joined us on a volunteer trip.

Max worked in a men's shelter and gutted homes during his trip with us. He returned to New Jersey inspired. To remind others of the importance of the rebuilding efforts, he wrote letters, articles, a play; he gave presentations; and he asked his Bar Mitzvah guests to donate while doing his own fundraising to send over $3,000 to the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association (now the Lower 9th Ward CSED).

But Max wasn't done. In 2010, he returned to the city and helped plant over 2,000 trees to revitalize the wetlands and worked in several other organizations. He was dismayed to discover that very few books had survived Hurricane Katrina and there was still no functional library. With the help of his 8th grade teacher, his friend Noah, and Noah's mother, Max started Books for the Bayou to replace the lost books and provide additional resources for schools, churches, and community centers.

In his first Books for the Bayou collection through his middle school, Max received over 1,000 books for children and adults in the Lower 9th Ward and a grant to cover the shipping costs. Since then, Max's efforts have collected almost 4,000 more books and the thousands of dollars necessary for shipping, which has led our friend and partner Warrenetta Banks at the CSED to declare, "He's my hero!"

Now 16, Max has received a Raoul Wallenberg honor for his efforts and donated the cash award to the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association. He has also been nominated for the Kohl's Kids Care Scholarship and the NJ Jefferson Awards for Public Service. There is a chair named after him in the Holy Cross Church in the Lower 9th Ward in appreciation for his dedication to the people of the community.

In his free time (he has free time?), Max plays the saxophone in his high school marching band, works at his temple as a classroom aid in the religious school and tutors Spanish. He hopes to study architecture and engineering - and he will be returning to New Orleans for the fourth time in January.

Max and more books at the post office, July 2012

To donate to Books for the Bayou, you can send checks to 203 Sailer Street Cranford, New Jersey 07016 or email maxxrea[at]gmail.com for more information. Please note that Books for the Bayou is not a 501(c)(3) nonprofit at this time, so donations are not tax-deductible.

Many thanks to Max and to Julie Glazer, his mother, for providing so much information!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Purposeful Journeys: Volunteer Expeditions in the news

We are thrilled to see an article this week in the Northbrook Tower (our local paper) all about Volunteer Expeditions! Patti loved talking to the intrepid paper's reporter and we want to share the news. Unfortunately, viewing the article online requires a subscription, but we want you to see Patti's story for yourself. (To view the article in its original home, click here.)
Purposeful Journeys
Northbrook resident's nonprofit organizes service trips
by Alan P. Henry
Volunteers work on a house in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward
July 24, 2012

If you are ready to make a difference in the world, Northbrook resident Patti Vile has an opportunity for you.

Vile created and runs Volunteer Expeditions, a nonprofit travel planning service that brings families, college students, corporate groups and faith-based organizations to communities that are in need of hands-on help.

"Whether it is an alternative spring break or a mission trip, we provide you the chance to mix doing good with having fun," Vile said. "You will contribute to the lives of people who need help.

"My trips are not for people who just want culture and to relax. You roll up your sleeves and do a lot of work."

To date, Volunteer Expeditions has coordinated 43 customized trips for roughly 1,200 people to flood-ravaged New Orleans, where participants have helped rebuild homes, worked in food depositories and helped rebuild the bayou. Six future expeditions are in the planning stages, with groups headed to New Orleans,Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

Trips normally last four to seven days and cost an average of $700, not including air fare. Hotels, sightseeing and speakers are typically also a part of the package, in addition to social service activities.

Vile, 70, came up with the concept in 2007, after spending time in New Orleans in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina.

"I couldn't believe it was an American city. It was like a third-world country, devastated and empty," she said. "I came back home with an ache and went to my rabbi [at Am Shalom in Glencoe] and said, 'We have to do something.'

"He said, 'Then do it.'"

Recently retired, she started from scratch and put Volunteer Expeditions together "piece by piece."

"I'm fearless," said Vile, who has three children, seven grandchildren and two dogs, Napoleon and Josephine. "No one has ever told me, 'You can't do this.'"

Today, with the help of a part-time assistant, she operates out of her home office.

Vile, who has master's degree in urban policy and planning with a health care emphasis, has worked as a teacher, consulted for BlueCross BlueShield, built private medical practices and worked as the vice president of a third-party administrator, designing nationally implemented self-insured health plans.

Volunteer Expeditions is a natural extension of her lifelong pull toward volunteer work.

She has helped Soviet refugees in Chicago, volunteered with village agencies in Uganda and El Salvador, and been involved with Jewish and Muslim interfaith activities. She has served as president of the nonprofit group Art Encounter and the Glencoe Public Library Board of Trustees, and in 2011 she joined the Board of Directors of the Geographic Society of Chicago.

Her latest venture is Volunteer Expeditions trips to Chicago and Washington.

"The amount of homelessness and poverty and hunger in Chicago and Washington is heartbreaking," she said. "It's all over, and people aren't aware."

One Chicago trip is already booked, and another is in the planning stages. Work at several homeless shelters and a food depository is on the itinerary, along with an architectural tour and stops at Second City and favorite Chicago eateries.

"These community-building volunteer travel opportunities are focused on social change, social justice and service learning," Vile said. "Each trip offers its own rewards and becomes a powerful experience ­— to see how meaningful it is to clear a field, to put a library together, to tutor a child; the stories people bring back from these expeditions are life-changers."

Getting CLASSY

Volunteer Expeditions is a regional finalist in the Hunger and Poverty Relief category for the fourth annual CLASSY Awards, which recognize philanthropic organizations from throughout the country. The winner will be determined partially through online voting, which ends at 11:59 p.m. Thursday, July 26. To vote, visit www.stayclassy.org/classy-awards/vote.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Volunteer Expeditions Diary: Chicago Hunger Walk 2012

Last Saturday, June 23rd, we here at Volunteer Expeditions were thrilled to participate in the 27th Annual Chicago Hunger Walk. Thousands of people (10,000 were registered, but many thousands more took part) walked and donated to end hunger in our home city of Chicago. The money raised went to the Chicago Food Depository and over 650 food banks in the city. Our team consisted of Patti (our founder and president), Allison (your blogger and Director of Communications), Herb, and Dianne. Thanks to a voice recorder, a watch, and a pedometer, we can give you the play-by-play of our 5k.

  • 8:00 AM: Arrived at the Walk. Managed to get free parking, but were quite far from the registration. Herb asked if the distance counted towards our 3.2 miles. Probably not.
  • 8:29 AM: Waited near the big banner that read Start. Had received water, snacks, t-shirt, and info from registration. Took pictures. Heard announcements about the sponsors.
  • 8:30 AM: The Hunger Walk officially begins!
  • 8:40 AM: Walked through first start gate.
  • 8:43 AM: Walked through second start gate. Inspirational man on platform with microphone read off names of groups who were walking. "Christ Church! THEY walkin'! Church Sisterhood! THEY walkin'!" Felt very proud to be walkin'.
  • 8:44 AM: Walked past stormtrooper and Sith Lord who were apparently there for no other reason than to be photo opportunities. Possibly to encourage walkers.
  • 8:53 AM: Path entered lot under McCormick Place. Was dark until we remembered to remove our sunglasses.

  • 9:01 AM: Neared end of being under McCormick Place. At 0.75 miles, 1,712 steps.
  • 9:07 AM: Walked past the McCormick Bird Sanctuary. Was news to all of us that Chicago had a McCormick Bird Sanctuary.
  • 9:18 AM: Reached the turn-around point, which was where path curved to head back, but closer to Lake Michigan. Provided much better photos. Were told that last year, people had to turn around and take same path back so that path was filled with walkers heading in both directions. Were glad it was all one-way this year. 3,588 steps.
  • 9:30 AM: Reached the 2-mile marker. Took pictures. 4,893 steps.
  • 9:35 AM: Decided to think about rest of race as much longer than actual length so that finish line would arrive much more quickly than expected. Began wailing "We still have SEVEN miles left??" with Herb.
  • 9:41 AM: Broke down and had granola bar. 6,046 steps.
  • 9:45 AM: While Herb explained the story of the book Unbroken, young woman overheard and asked Herb if he is a history teacher. Flattered, he replied no, he just read the book.
  • 9:50 AM: Reached 3-mile marker. Took photos and could smell finish line. 6,965 steps.
  • 9:55 AM: FINISHED! The final totals:
    • Steps walked: 7,329
    • Miles covered: 3.238
    • Kilometers covered: 5.212
    • Calories burned: 203.5
  • 10:52 AM: Capped it all off with some delicious frozen yogurt in air conditioning.
Want to see more photos of our Hunger Walk experience? Check them out on our Facebook page!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

7 Easy Ways to Volunteer From Home

Everyone likes the idea of volunteering. It helps other people, or animals, or the planet. You feel good about yourself at the end of the day.

Much comfier than volunteering.
Photo credit: Tachyondecay on Flickr
But let's face it: often, we just don't have time. There are many lengthy steps to making volunteering a reality. It's a wonderful, beautiful thing when it happens, and many people can do it. But we understand that there are also many people who can't.

So today's blog post is all about helping people from the comfort of your own home. Luckily, with technology where it is right now, this is easier than ever to do. Here are simple ways that you can help nonprofits all over the world from your comfy couch.
  1. Like and follow. When you're a fan of a nonprofit's page on Facebook, you sometimes see that page's updates in your Newsfeed. And your friends see your new like. This simple one-click support style engages you and spreads the word faster than you know. (And the same goes for Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+... all social media!) Take your appreciation a step further by liking and commenting on their status updates. Not only do your friends see your support, but Facebook's logarithms give that update a boost to show up on more fans' Newsfeeds!
  2. Use GoodSearch. This nifty search engine (powered by Yahoo) donates one cent to the nonprofit of your choice every time you use it to search the web. This may not seem like much, but thanks to our GoodSearchers, Volunteer Expeditions has raised over $20 in just a few months!
  3. Research local volunteer opportunities. By using sites like VolunteerMatch and Create The Good, finding new places to volunteer is easy. Use this research to inspire yourself to go out and volunteer when you have the energy (or to tell your friends about it for their volunteering)!
  4. Write a review. If you had a good experience volunteering for or working with a nonprofit, tell the world! This truly helps the nonprofit. You give them future volunteers through your visible word-of-mouth. Use a site like GreatNonprofits, or send them a direct email with your review and your permission for them to use it anywhere they need.
  5. Shop smart. Before you make a purchase at Amazon.com or almost any other major online retailer, first go through Give Back America or GoodShop. Just by using these sites first, a percentage of your purchase price is donated to the cause of your choice. (Yes, the links we provide above will support Volunteer Expeditions - if you'd rather support a different charity, you can change it with no problem.)
  6. Volunteer online. If you have skills that involve a computer, it's a sure bet that a nonprofit could use your help. Set up an account on Sparked and microvolunteer to help nonprofits in graphic design, writing press releases, researching, blogging, and more.
  7. And finally, donate. It doesn't have to be a big contribution for it to help change the world.
Do you have any other ideas for how to volunteer from home? Tell us below in the comment section!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Patti's Top Five Favorite Nonprofits

Let's face it, there are a lot of nonprofits out there. Lots of people are doing some amazing good work, but it's hard to know where you should donate your hard-earned money and volunteer your precious free time.

If you're looking for some guidance, we're happy to provide. Patti, our founder and president, is active in many organizations other than us. Check out some of her favorites:
  • The Greater Chicago Food Depository (and its subsidiaries): This nonprofit provides food and training to end hunger in Chicago. Patti says it's one of her favorites "because of their amazing focus on feeding the homeless and finding ways to address the needs of vulnerable people in our society."
  • The Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development: This nonprofit is one that Patti works closely with in New Orleans to restore the Lower 9th neighborhood. "They are an inspiration and offer hope to the families trying to rebuild their lives and homes in New Orleans. They are an example of commitment to the many volunteers who work under their guidance."
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum & The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center: These two museums are haunting reminders of the atrocity committed against the Jewish people and truly stay with their visitors. She supports them "for keeping alive the specter of the nightmare that could happen when people disregard the human rights of others."
  • Planned Parenthood: This diverse organization offers so much health care for women who need help. "The services they give to poor women who have no other place to go are invaluable. They have provide care women's health care that is available in no other place. They are steadfast in their mission to provide health."
  • Big 10 Universities (Michigan and Illinois): These two schools "provided such wonderful educational opportunities and gave me the ability to move forward."
And, of course, she is fiercely devoted to us here at Volunteer Expeditions. But you can find out about us right here!

What are your favorite nonprofits? Leave us a comment below!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Have You Heard the Big News?

Something new and exciting is happening at Volunteer Expeditions.

Are you ready?

We've always loved New Orleans and have been bringing people to rebuild for five years. Last summer, we became passionate about Jamaica and now offer trips to tutor children in orphanages on the island.

But we have a lot more love to give. Which is why we're sharing the love and offering TWO NEW VOLUNTEER TOURS! Both of these trips focus on helping the homeless - and we want to bring you along.

Photo credit: Funky Tee
The first new volunteer vacation destination is Washington, DC. We're proud to partner with Amizade on this new trip; we're taking the best of their program and mixing in our Volunteer Expeditions touch (which includes more sightseeing and hotel arrangements). This trip involves making and serving food to the homeless, distributing meals, and learning about their "invisible" culture.

Photo credit: Allison Bernstein
The second new voluntour experience is our beloved hometown of Chicago. We've partnered with the JCC to offer a meaningful experience in our amazing city. The past few weeks have been a flurry of emails and scheduling! It's going to be an incredible experience. There are some organizations that just inspire you to hear about them, let alone when you work with them! Volunteers will serve and distribute food, help schools, tutor homeless children, learn, and discover. And, of course, we promise a view of Chicago from the top of the John Hancock, history and beauty at the Art Institute (Sunday in the Park! Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles!), and some delicious deep dish pizza. More details are being finalized, and we can't wait to put it all together!

As these trips form more fully, we'll post the information on our website and all over the social media realm. Stay tuned, do good, and get in touch with us! We'd love to bring you on an unforgettable volunteer tour experience.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Young at Heart: Volunteering After Retirement

We just read a very interesting article.

Using Elderly Volunteers To Create A Whole New Workforce by Jack Rosenthal explains the largely untapped potential of retired people to contribute to the market, specifically for nonprofits. Many people face boredom in retirement and want to share their experience and wisdom with younger generations. But, faced with ageism and long hours, it is often difficult to find a place to do so.

Enter ReServe, a nonprofit that matches interested elderly people with organizations in need of knowledgeable part-time help. They create a mutually beneficial relationship where organizations receive good information and aide from an experienced worker, and the worker receives a small stipend and is able to stay busy while contributing to society.

In our experience, the information provided in the article is absolutely true. Only a small percentage of retired workers are disabled or ill, and many still want to contribute. In fact, that's exactly how Volunteer Expeditions was born. Patti had retired, but she wasn't done helping people. And for the last five years, she's sent group after group to New Orleans on volunteer vacations and shared her passion with so many others. By the end of 2012, Patti will be 70 - and she will have sent over 1200 volunteers on meaningful trips!

She isn't alone in this, either. Many of her trips are for religious congregations, which have a wide age range. Her very first group had volunteers as young as 17 and as old as 75! She also has several friends who have started nonprofits of their own as well once they retired, and many others volunteer regularly.

Patti and her diverse groups and friends make it clear that just because someone is past retirement age doesn't mean they are unable to help. With their experience and wisdom, many elderly people have quite a lot to contribute.

Do you work, even though you've retired? In a nonprofit or anywhere else? Tell us about it in the comment section below!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What is Mardi Gras?

It's okay, you can admit it. You've always heard of Mardi Gras. You know it happens in New Orleans. You know it involves a lot of beads, some crazy costumes, and a parade. You may even know that you see colorful cakes at the bakery called king cakes.

But you may not know what is.

You certainly aren't alone! In celebration of Mardi Gras today, we'd like to give you the run-down of what it actually all means. And we'll give you some beads for reading, too!

The story behind Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday," which is what today celebrates. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of fasting for Lent in Christianity. And what do you want to do before you fast? You pig out! On Fat Tuesday, it's tradition to eat the rich, fatty foods that many deny themselves over the Lenton period. Mardi Gras refers to the tradition of celebrating it! Since Ash Wednesday and the period of Lent are considered serious affairs, Mardi Gras takes the chance to turn everything topsy-turvy beforehand. Social norms are shattered, costumes and masks hide identities, and everyone joins the carnival.

The parade
The New Orleans Mardi Gras parades are organized by krewes (groups of people, usually affiliated with a specific organization or cause). These krewes put together floats and toss goodies to the crowd, such as beads, plastic cups, doubloons, and the like. Fun fact: since Mardi Gras is considered a traditional religious holiday, the event is not sponsored by businesses. The only exception was in 2006, after Hurricane Katrina caused such widespread destruction and debt, that the city accepted sponsorship.

The king cake
These tasty cakes are decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. Each oblong, braided cake has a small bean or plastic baby placed somewhere inside it. Whoever has the slice with the baby in it has to buy next year's cake or throw next year's king cake party!

Why New Orleans?
That's a good question. Louisiana was settled by the French, and in the late 17th century, the Le Moyne brothers were sent to defend the territory. They arrived just before the holiday, so they celebrated it near where New Orleans is today (and named the spot in its honor). One of the brothers went on to found the capitol of French Louisiana (Mobile, Alabama today). As the territory grew, so did its festivities. By the time the capitol was moved to New Orleans, Mardi Gras festivities had been widely accepted by all its colonists, whether they were originally French or not!

We hope this answered some questions for you. Mardi Gras can be a very fun festival, even for those who don't observe the traditional holidays it celebrates! And, as promised, your beads:

Photo: Mark Gstohl on Flickr
What do you do to celebrate Mardi Gras?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Good Work in New Orleans, February 2012

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

In honor of this celebration of caring and love, we'd like to update you with some interesting projects that are taking action in our beloved New Orleans. Check out these three opportunities in which an organization, a company, and the government are making the world better:

-UNITY of Greater New Orleans is doing some wonderful work to reduce the number of those without homes in the city. The bad news: New Orleans was placed with the second-highest homeless rate in the country. The good news: UNITY is working to change that - and they're getting attention for it too. For more information, visit UNITY's website or read this article about the homeless rate.

-LaQuinta Inns & Suites is making a great donation in a very fun way! They're donating 850 brand-new mattresses to various organizations in the city that fight homelessness....after they break the Guiness World Record for the largest human mattress domino drop! If you're going to be in New Orleans on February 27th or 28th, get involved! Check out more information about it through HandsOn New Orleans' website, or email Alexa Strong at alstrong@nola.gov for further details. 

-Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the city of New Orleans broke ground on restoring Oliver Bush Park in the Lower 9th Ward. This park was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, but the $2.1 million renovation will more than restore it to its former glory. The renovation includes a baseball field, a basketball pavilion, four tennis courts, a picnic shelter, a playground, lighting, and landscaping. Giving residents something pretty, functional, and fun is an important step towards restoring the beautiful Lower 9th. For more information, read this article or check out the CSED's blog post about the experience.

We're so thrilled to see powerful action in such a deserving city. What other projects are happening in New Orleans that you want to tell the world about? Leave us a comment with more information!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Storm Damage Isn't Just Physical

Traumatizing events can have a long-lasting impact on a person's life. Unfortunately, many don't quite realize the extent to which they can reach.

A recent study conducted by Princeton University determined that survivors of Hurricane Katrina continue to suffer mental health issues many years later. The survey began in 2003 (two years before the storm) to focus on low-income adults in community colleges. The study shifted to continue following the Katrina survivors. Four years after the storm, about a third of participants still exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress and 30% showed psychological stress.

According to the press release, the study's results cannot be assumed to apply to the population as a whole, but they shed light on natural disasters' effects on a particularly vulnerable group--namely low-income mothers with an average age of 26.

It's so easy to forget about natural disasters a few months or years after they occur...when you don't live there.  But for those whose lives were affected, things can never be the same. Whether a favorite location is gone from the corner where it stood, or a home was destroyed, or a loved one was lost, life will always be a little different.

It's up to those of us who are fortunate enough to have never gone through something so painful to remember the pain and loss of others and extend a helping hand. Even though it may seem like the past, for many, it is still the everlasting present. That is why our work means so much to us here at Volunteer Expeditions. We will never be finished helping others.

The paper on the study appears in the January issue of the journal Social Science and Medicine.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Guest Blogger: Inspired by New Orleans

This week, we here at Volunteer Expeditions are pleased to present you with a guest blogger. Ari was one of the leaders of a synagogue youth group that traveled with us at the end of December. We want to give you a firsthand perspective of the volunteer traveler's experience. So without further ado, discover what it's like...

Motivated. Inspired. Eyes-opened. Shocked. Energized. Committed. All of these words and more describe how I, along with 15 of my synagogue’s youth felt after spending a few days in New Orleans, volunteering in the Lower 9th ward. This was my first time to New Orleans, but a handful of the participants had gone on a temple-led trip 2 years ago. For newcomers and second-timers alike, the amount of work that still needed to be done was shocking. Parts of New Orleans looked like the hurricane had just come last week. Patti put together an amazing trip that allowed us not only to do some meaningful work, but to also meet and talk with those both still affected by the hurricane and those who are doing work to help the community stand on its own again.

To try and decide which moment of the trip was the most moving and powerful would be impossible. We had dinner at Pastor Bruce Davenport’s church, where we learned about the poverty and crime that affects his community. Our participants instantly fell in love with the children of the families in the community, and after only one dinner there were deep connections forged.

A second powerful moment the entire group got to share together was on our last day volunteering, at the Lower 9th Ward Village. The director, Mack, was very inspirational and really painted the scene for our participants. He told us of the troubles affecting the area around him and how the community was beginning to come together to help everyone rebuild. The children left their discussion and work with Mack asking me how we as a congregation could continue to help Mack in his mission to build this community center.

It has been 2 weeks since my trip got back from New Orleans, yet the feeling of wanting to do more and help, both in New Orleans and within our own community, is strong among the participants of the trip and we are in the process of developing monthly projects that our teens can do to better our community. The trip taught myself and the participants so much, gave us a new appreciation of our own lives, and inspired us to not let that trip be the end of our action, but the beginning.

Thank you, Ari! We're thrilled that you and your youth group were so inspired. We hope to give many, many more groups the opportunities you found. (For more information, email patti@volunteerexpeditions.org today!)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Helping Communities on a Regular Vacation

Let's face it - not all of your trips are going to be volunteer vacations. Most vacations are about relaxing, and that's not exactly the point of voluntourism! Everyone deserves a break, though, so there is no reason to feel guilty about taking a regular holiday.

But just because you aren't focused on rebuilding doesn't mean you can't help! We have tips on how to turn your regular vacation into one with shades of voluntourism, and we'd love to hear yours, too!
  • Shop, eat, and stay local. The money you're already spending will help the economy of your local community much more than it will help the big chains. (No offense to Olive Garden, but the local Italian restaurant will really appreciate your business!)
  • Have leftovers from dinner? No time to eat them later? Don't hesitate to give your box of leftover food to a homeless person. Be safe about it, but this is a much better use of your food than throwing it out!
  • If you want to spend a day or even a few hours volunteering in the community you're visiting, there are always many options! Most cities have soup kitchens, homeless shelters, food pantries, and more--and everyone is happy to take in volunteers. Do some research before you arrive on places you can volunteer, or check in with a volunteer travel organization for recommendations.
  • Clean up after yourself! If you have a picnic, leave no trace. If you bring a six-pack of pop (or other beverages), cut the plastic rings and throw them out. There's no quicker way to say "I don't care" to the community you visit than by leaving your trash around!
  • If you're there on the right days, don't be afraid to attend a local religious service. Broadening your mind through your religious perspective is a great way to become a global citizen! Talk to your religious leader or do some research online before you go to discover churches, synagogues, mosques, and more in the area you're visiting. We have friends who were in London on Christmas Eve and went to services at Westminster Abbey! (And be open to attending a service for a faith or denomination you're not a part of! If a religion other than yours is the predominant faith of the area you visit, observing them respectfully is a wonderful way to get to know the culture!)
Do you have more tips for how to give your regular vacation shades of voluntourism? Leave us a comment below!