AmeriCorps Makes Front Page

Member Coach Becca and members Laura and T pose while on the peace walk Tuesday night.

Member Coach Becca and members Laura and T pose while on the peace walk Tuesday night.

AmeriCorps members T and Laura along with member coach, Becca, joined a peace walk through the East Bluff Neighborhood where the Children’s Home is located.  This peace walk went along with the third annual Night Out Against Crime where people from the neighborhood come together to make a difference to bring peace back to the area. 

There was a great turn out!  There were people who live and work in the East Bluff, the police and fire fighters that work in the area, and a couple dozen volunteers from Target who helped serve the delicious corn and hot dogs while also helping out with face painting.  The night was full of fun! 

Check out the front page article of the Peoria Journal Star!

http://www.pjstar.com/article/20140805/NEWS/140809533/0/SEARCH

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We’re Back!

After 6 months of hard work, we’ve officially closed the Washington Tornado Relief Center. It’s a bittersweet feeling; while we’re thrilled to see people back on their feet, we’ll also miss all the wonderful volunteers and neighbors we’ve met. There’s too much to say about this experience for one post, so for now I’ll stick to the facts:

1. The WTRC was open from November 18th, 2013- May 10th, 2014.

2. During those 6 months we had countless volunteers (and by “countless” I mean, “we’re still counting them!”) who logged over 5000 hours of service time.

3. There were days when we had over 100 people come to the store for help.

4. We worked with many local (and not-so-local) organizations to find, receive, coordinate, and give out thousands of donations.

5. We filled 3 stores at the Washington Plaza in Sunnyland, plus 4 or 5 warehouses, with donations.

6. People from as far away as North Carolina and New Jersey traveled to the WTRC to volunteer with us.

7. AmeriCorps St. Louis came to Washington immediately after the tornadoes to take over the phone/volunteer coordination for us–and they were fantastic!

8. The Salvation Army and Red Cross brought hot food and drinks to us so we could feed our volunteers (and ourselves!) for several days.  The Red Cross continued to bring us hot chocolate and coffee all through the record-breaking cold this winter.

9. There were lots of tears–at first, tears of sadness and shock; but then, tears of happiness and relief as people started to put their lives back together.

10. We celebrated 3 major holidays at the Center–Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. They might be some of the most memorable -and meaningful- holidays we’ll ever celebrate.

 

So, the WTRC is closed.  We’re still helping to make sure the remaining donations (mostly water, perfect for the hot summer coming up) gets to those in need, but we’re no longer in Washington daily.  The people we met, the stories we heard, and the volunteers who gave so much to help those in need will always stay with us, though.  They’ve become a part of our program, a part of our community, and a part of our lives.  And we’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to be part of their story.  We’re sure, no matter what, they’ll stay Washington Strong!

 

 

.Washington AmeriCorps

Devastation.

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November 17, 2013 has become a day that will not be easily forgotten by those who live in Central Illinois.  Around 10:30 to 11 a tornado ripped through multiple areas in the areas surrounding Peoria.  Washington getting the brunt of the storms which reached nearly 200 MPH winds while there were touchdowns in Pekin, East Peoria, Marquette Heights, and Roanoke.  Devastation is widespread.  There was luckily ONLY one fatality in Washington, but six throughout Illinois.  Governor Pat Quinn has been going throughout Illinois assessing damage and visiting with the communities effected the greatest, seeing what the needs are and trying to lift spirits as best as he can.  Volunteers are still being asked to stay out of the area, especially Washington, until they can determine what needs to be done and who can be of the most help.  Stay tuned to news and radio reports, FEMA reports, and reports from American Red Cross, as they are the sources you should be listening to.

What can I do to help?

As of right now, Red Cross is asking to go online and make monetary donations, selecting that the funds be sent directly to the tornado relief.  Although there will be needs in the next few days to weeks, once everything has been assessed the shelters will know exactly what they need.  Right now, the area has been flooded with donations of all kinds, which is wonderful, although there is no areas to store anything yet.  Again, stay tuned to see when they will be accepting donations and what they need.

What is AmeriCorps doing?

Today, our members gathered together at the Agency and put together everything we had including sleeping bags, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, and hygiene items.  We haven’t sent them anywhere as we are still waiting to hear where there is a need.  We have also not been mobilized.  We are ready and we are on call for when we are needed but until all of the damage has been assessed, we will not be sent anywhere.  There are other AmeriCorps groups that are coming from Missouri and other states to help and once they have arrived, our AmeriCorps team will help them in whatever ways we can, be it lodging, transportation, or guidance as they are not familiar with the area.  We will later be put in charge of volunteer groups at emergency child care places that have been opened, or at shelters, or food pantries, or with animals.  Wherever we are needed we will be.

How can I stay updated and in the loop?

This website has everything that you need to know.  Who is involved, who needs what, where you can help, what you can donate, etc, etc.
Also feel free to contact us here at AmeriCorps: Fostering Transitions.
Coordinator Julie S: jsiebert@chail.org
Team Member Coach Natalie S: nsalawage@chail.org
AmeriCorps members: americorps@chail.org
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What We’ve Done and What We’re Doing

The past couple weeks have been very busy with lots of events and preparation for such.  We went to Springfield for the National and Community Service Recognition Day where all of the Illinois AmeriCorps, Vistas, RSVPs, and Fostering Grandparents programs met and heard from a few speakers, were given the chance to give blood, and went through breakout sessions.  After that we all met back together and marched down the streets of Springfield to the Capitol Building where we all recited the AmeriCorps Oath.  It’s always an exciting event and a good experience for all of the members involved.

That weekend a couple of members helped at the Special Olympics Bowling, another awesome event that can be life changing.  Volunteers help the participants bowl, give hugs and high fives, and help hand out awards.  It’s an all day event that is not only very special to the teams and coaches participating, but then also for the volunteers.

Then came the Keepsacks Chaos.  The office was full of members helping prepare bags for the hygiene kits and also activity bags for children.  We were able to send out at least a hundred activity bags with a book, a coloring book, crayons, a toy, and either a beanie baby or a hot wheels car.  This was the first year that we were able to put those together and it was a lot of fun working together trying to make these the best we could.  We had a need of 1,200 blankets and nearly one thousand hygiene kits this year and we are still working on numbers of how many we achieved.  A few days before we did last minute shopping and also got lunch arrangements figured out.  The week before Keepsacks was crazy busy, but that’s what we love!

Keepsacks itself was the 19 and a success.  We had many volunteers including girl scouts, high school groups, and college groups.  Everyone was kept busy assembling hygiene kits, sorting blankets, and even making more blankets!  We had close to twenty shelters that we helped this year which is awesome!  Like I mentioned before, we don’t have numbers yet but as soon as we do, we’ll let you know!

Now, the upcoming events! 

The East Bluff is doing a Deterrence Walk on Wisconsin with police officers, church officials, and those in the neighborhood.  At nine o’clock we will take to the streets to show that not only crime happens on the streets after dark!  In the past weeks, crime has hit a high and we’re showing the city that we are not going to just lay down and take it.  We have people who are proud of where they are from and want to keep it safe.  Feel free to join us!  We are meeting at the UU church and riding over the East Bluff or you can meet us at the Glen Oak School Parking Lot.

The following weekend on November 2 starting at 9 AM The East Bluff Planting New Growth project is taking place.  Many of us volunteers will be planting daffodil bulbs so that in the spring they bloom.  This will signify new growth and new beginnings in this neighborhood.  We had generous donations and our Vista Zack has done all of the coordinating.  There will also be a clean up to get some of the garbage up off of the street.  We want those in the East Bluff to be proud of their neighborhood and not be ashamed.

As you can see, AmeriCorps Fostering Transitions has been very busy!  We plan on staying that way as we start up our Preschool Literacy Project for the year and also begin working on an AIDs/HIV awareness day.  If you have any questions or would love to help us with any of our upcoming events, feel free to let us know!

More on Keepsacks.

Keepsacks

As Becca said in yesterday’s post, our annual Keepsacks for Kids project is coming up quickly.  Now that we’ve started some of our new members (and brought back a few of our old ones) we’re gearing up for this awesome event. Since Becca explained the project already, I’ll just add our request for donations and help with hygiene kits.

Ideally, our hygiene kits will be specialized by age and sex. Our wish list for each hygiene kit includes shampoo/conditioner, liquid body wash, razors and shaving cream for adults, deodorant, hair brush/comb, lotion, face/body wipes, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, wash cloth or hand towel, bandages, antibiotic ointment, cotton balls, tissues, pads and tampons for adult women, and hand sanitizer. Since donations and money are scarce, we know that we should have realistic expectations.  Our most-needed items are listed in the graphic above, but we’ll happily accept any donations that come our way.  We ask that items be unopened or unused, especially if they are hotel-sized travel items.  Things that are individually packaged are best, but items in bulk that can’t be separated are always useful for large families or agencies that cater to many people.

 

We’d love for you to be a part in our Keepsacks for Kids project. On behalf of the hundreds of people who will receive a warm blanket and a hygiene kit this winter, THANK YOU!

A quote, and a challenge.

Hello, readers. It’s mid-summer, and since things are (kind of) quiet around here, I figured I’d give you something to do.  First, I’d like to share a quote I recently came across from Jane Addams’ Twenty Years at Hull House.

I dreamed night after night that every one in the world was dead excepting myself, and that upon me rested the responsibility of making a wagon wheel. The village street remained as usual, the village blacksmith shop was “all there,” even a glowing fire upon the forge and the anvil in its customary place near the door, but no human being was within sight…

I always stood in the same spot in the blacksmith shop, darkly pondering as to how to begin, and never once did I know how, although I fully realized that the affairs of the world could not be resumed until at least one wheel should be made and something started. Every victim of nightmare is, I imagine, overwhelmed by an excessive sense of responsibility and the consciousness of a fearful handicap in the effort to perform what is required…

Jane Addams, looking dapper and philosophical.

Jane Addams, looking dapper and philosophical.

Something about this particular quote stood out to me (though the entire book, and anything by or about Jane Addams, is definitely worth a read).  I think it resonated particularly clearly because I, and I’m sure anyone who has ever done service work, know that feeling well.  The feeling of sensing just how large the task before you is, and having not a clue how to go about solving it.  It can be overwhelming to look at something like poverty, or hunger, and feel that you could never hope to be more than a ‘drop in the ocean’ against it.

Even a small project can feel daunting when you’re staring it in the face.  Last weekend, a member and I showed up at an East Bluff home armed with a plastic trowel, a rake, and a pair of gloves between the two of us,  having been unable to round up any other members or tools.  The yard we were scheduled to work in was overgrown, with weeds, saplings, rogue flowers, overhanging tree limbs, thorny plants…and me with a Dollar Store trowel. I felt a lot like Addams described above: overwhelmed, under-prepared, but heavy with the knowledge that it was up to me to get this done–alone.

Luckily for us, we weren’t alone.  A community member had answered our call, and she walked over with tools and (more importantly) first-hand experience with gardening.  Then, another member brought more tools and more knowledge, and with some teamwork we were able to fill two bins, four yard waste bags, and several bundles.  We cleared the yard, pruned the bushes, transplanted flowers, cut down invasive plants, and even took down a tree limb or two.  Together, we were able to complete the task that had been so overwhelming to one or two members.  And together, even the big problems like hunger and poverty can be solved.

I’d encourage anyone who’s interested in service work to reach out.  Talk to your friends and family, join a group (like AmeriCorps), or start your own service group…or, hey, start a blog! The important thing is not to get overwhelmed by the big problems, and one of the best ways to do that is to take them on little by little, and together.

On that note, I came across a local initiative to recognize and encourage service in Peoria: WWCT’s Neighborhood Heroes campaign.  You can nominate someone who does work in and around Peoria who will be recognized by the radio station and Central Illinois Bank.  It’s always nice to be recognized.  If you see someone doing good things, reach out.  Whether through a nomination or a simple “thank you,” it’s another way we can work together to Get Things Done.