Summer Fun!

School is out, graduations are over, and there are big things happening in the Peoria area!  Summer is a good time for community actions and block parties and that’s exactly what is going to be happening!  Come August 5 at 5:00 in the evening, the entire East Bluff is coming together to do a peace walk and then celebrate the summer and a crime free area.  Join AmeriCorps with our friends from the East Bluff Community for the Night Out Against Crime!  There’s always delicious food and fun games along with lots of great people.  AmeriCorps is very excited to be helping for another year and can’t wait to have fun. 

But that’s not all that we have going on.  Ignite Peoria is also coming up in August at the Civic Center.  It’s an interactive art exhibit with visual arts, music, dance, theatre, and different unique arts.  We are very excited to go and see that and we invite you to come as well since general admission and parking is free for the event!  You can join us on August 9th for an entire day of fun!

(http://www.ignitepeoria.com/, http://artspartners.net/ignite-peoria/)

We have many new members starting a summer term and taking on a summer full of camp!  They will enjoy long days with many kids of all ages at a variety of different camps.  The members who are stationed at the Children’s Home will continue to find things to do all summer long while helping with the East Bluff Build It Up (formerly Taking Back Our Neighborhood), and will be visiting a few pre-schools for our literary projects.  Our project from last year where we teamed up with Youth Build has gotten back together and they are currently working on fixing up houses on Frye.  If you know of anyone in the East Bluff that may need some house work please contact Glen Oak Community Church about their In As Much program.

Of course, AmeriCorps would not be AmeriCorps if we did not start preparing for Keepsacks!  Keepsacks is our annual project where we gather fleece and hygiene items in order to make blankets and hygiene kits to deliver to the shelters in the area.  Did you know the average age of a homeless person in Illinois is 9 years old?  This fact breaks our hearts and so we do our very best to help take care of them while their family gets back on their feet.  Luckily, we have a surplus of hygiene supplies left over from our time in Washington to help make our kits but we will as always need donations for blankets. 

Enjoy the sun and stay cool!

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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

Martin Luther King Jr Day

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Every year the AmeriCorps members and their fearless leaders attend the MLK Day Luncheon with hundreds of others.  There is always a phenomenal speaker who inspires and encourages those in attendance.  Afterwards there is a freedom march that many participate in, although, AmeriCorps does not partake.  Instead, we do a service project, usually at the Midwest Food Bank, which is where we went this year.  Three years ago, there were some issues with who was going to come and speak, last minute they brought in Michael Eric Dyson.  Dyson is a Professor of Sociology at Georgetown and is referred to as “a Princeton PhD and a child of the streets who takes pains never to separate the two” by Michael A Fletcher.  The year following him was none other than Condoleezza Rice who spoke of what her father and grandfather had taught her about how if you put your mind to something you could do it.  Just like Dr. King.  This year, they brought back Michael Eric Dyson.  

He ignored controversy and spoke about what Dr. King would think of everything that is going on with the United States.  He spoke of unemployment, the treatment of the poor, the LGBT community, the young, and women.  He spoke of politics and everything that the conservatives and liberals disagree on and how what matters is taking care of people.  He spoke on the war on drugs, Trayvon Martin, and racial profiling.  He touched on how we are quick to judge people for numerous reasons.  He spoke of how those who sag their pants may be hiding a body that is ravaged by the community that they live in.  He spoke on the music of this generation and how the language offends people but that the situations and the lives these artists sing/rap about don’t bother them.  He quoted Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, Trey Songz, Marvin Gay, Barry White and countless others, using lyrics to connect the audience.  It involved everyone and helped them understand the points he was making.  He spoke of how women make less than what men do when doing the same jobs, about how we “love our mamas and hate our baby mama’s”, and how we should respect and love everyone no matter their race, gender, religion, sexual preference, or anything else that someone uses to define themselves.

He even went as far as to call people out.  The mayor, the city council, and the pastors, who at one point were not perfect and how they therefore can not judge people.  He told Peoria that we are the belt buckle of the Bible belt and that Jesus would be afraid to come here because he does not meet our standards of what Christianity is.  It was a much needed reality check for many of those in attendance.  He was very clear that no one is perfect and that we have a very long way to go but he did so in an inspirational way that mixed comedy and music with what he was speaking about.

After the luncheon, ten people went to the Midwest Food Bank.  After a brief video and tour, explaining everything that went on there, we sorted canned goods, labeling and re-boxing them.  We formed an assembly line and got to work, doing 2,036 cans of spaghetti sauce in under an hour.  All in all, it was a very successful and productive day while also bringing all of our AmeriCorps members together on such an important day.  Remember, MLK Day is not a day off, it’s a day on.  

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Getting Things Done

washington-tornado images

Devastation hit nearly a month ago in the Washington Area, a quick ten minutes from Peoria.  That Sunday we all knew we would be called into the office, but we had no idea what this would entail.  We had heard stories of AmeriCorps teams being part of the first responders to the Joplin and Moore Tornadoes in the past.  Would that be us?  Would be in the middle of the mess, picking up the pieces of people’s lives?  Could we handle that?  Our members are for the most part in schools, doing after school programs and tutoring.  We were not disaster relief specialists and honestly, I don’t think emotionally ready for what we could have been asked to do.  It was 8 AM Monday morning when members came in, current and past alike.  We were ready, up for the challenge.  We sorted everything we had in the basement that we could donate, hats, gloves,scarves, sleeping bags, hygiene items, and blankets.  Then… We waited.  We had to wait for the powers above us to give us the okay.  So we waited, ate some McDonald’s… and then waited some more.  We were almost disappointed!  We were supposed to be there!  Instead we were sitting in the office, eating McDonald’s, telling stories of how long we were without power, how windy it was, and how scared we all were for those who we knew who could have been effected.

Finally, we got the call.  We were going to Washington and setting up a donation center.  Not quite clean up, not quite right in the middle of it all, but the perfect spot for our loving and compassionate members who were in fact trained to take care of people.  We headed to Washington and started sorting.  We had tables and tables set up, Julie had helped take over for an exhausted Chamber of Commerce member who had be effected by the storm and was now in charge of donations, Natalie lead all of the sorting with some members, Andrew (an alum) photographed every bit of it, and Rebecca made phone calls.  We knew that this banquet center wouldn’t last long as a donation center.  We had trailer loads of things coming and there was no way that this could be what we needed it to be.  Two days later, we moved.  We went to an empty warehouse and filled the entire thing with shelves to put items on.  Three empty stores became Donation Centers, and that was only the beginning.

Now, nearly a month later, we are still going strong.  Three warehouses are filled to the ceilings with donations that are currently being sorted and then used to restock our shelves at Sunnyland Plaza.  AmeriCorps has completely taken over donations and will be there for the long run.  We were told to expect six months.  We never ever would have guessed that we would be there that long, holding victims hands as they pick up what they need, hugging them as they cry, and reassuring them that we are there for them and that this was all for them.  There have been some ups and downs and you’ll get that with anything like that.  But we have truly seen the best of people and have been so blessed to be able to be a part of this.

http://www.pjstar.com/article/20131211/NEWS/131219761

This is a newspaper article all about our donation center, and although no members, nor Natalie were interviewed, member Brenton is pictured.  For any information feel free to contact us here or on Facebook.

Fostering Transitions AmeriCorps (Facebook page)

AmeriCorps: Getting Things Done!

An udate.

We have been posted to Washington, IL for full-time tornado recovery efforts. We will be at the donation center located at Countryside Banquet facility (659 School St.). We are asking that those who want to sign up to help go through the Washington Chamber of Commerce. Thanks!

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!

Back to School, Back to School…

Many of our AmeriCorps members are currently students in college.  We have a few just beginning, a few half way done, and a few who are nearing the end.  Never the less, they’ve all gone back to the classroom, carrying books, listening to lectures, and doing homework.  Not only are they doing that, but they are beginning a new term here at AmeriCorps.  Soon enough the office will be back in full swing of things!  There will be members in and out of the office, up and down the stairs, and constantly on the phone setting up things for our team to do.  Lucky for all of you, that means it’s time for you to get involved with us.

We have many projects that are already looming closer and we’ll need plenty of help.  This Saturday there is a Special Olympics Bowling outing that always needs volunteers and there will be another one on October 12!  Also approaching very quickly is the United Way Day of Caring.  There are many things that you can do and you can look on line to see what your community is doing and how you can get involved.  Our AmeriCorps team will be at the Civic Center boxing up canned goods.  Which we will also be collecting until the 5th of September which is soon!  So if you are in the Peoria area, feel free to bring by canned goods to any of the Children’s Home locations!  In a couple of months, one of our biggest projects happens.  On October 19 we will all gather together in honor of the annual Keepsacks for Kids project and sort and make hundreds of blankets and hygiene kits to be sent out to all of the local shelters to help those in need.    The average age of a homeless person in Illinois is 9 years old!  Isn’t that heart breaking?  So when you’re all snuggled up in your warm bed in your home with a full stomach, think about those children who need your help and ask what you can do for them.  We would love donations of any kind, including fleece for blankets or any type of hygiene kits such as full size shampoo and body wash, tooth brushes, tooth paste, combs, brushes, tissues, etc etc.

The school season is the busiest time of the year but don’t forget that you can still help!

Our fearless leader Julie's son and a past member's nephew helping at Keepsacks for Kids!

Our fearless leader Julie’s son and a past member’s nephew helping at Keepsacks for Kids!