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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An important note.

Hi, Natalie here. I want to post something important from the site Becca listed yesterday (http://www.illinois.gov/ready/Press/Pages/111713.aspx).

TO VOLUNTEER

  • DO NOT GO TO THE SCENE OF A DISASTER
  • Due to the overwhelming response, there are far more volunteer offers than there are volunteer needs.
  • The arrival of unexpected volunteers will interfere with response efforts.
  • STAY SAFE by volunteering with a reputable agency!
  • Volunteers will be needed most during the long-term recovery phase, which will last month/years.
  • Please be patient and WAIT until relief agencies can train you and use your help.

Bolded emphasis mine. PLEASE remember that unexpected/unsolicited volunteers can often make things worse.  We understand that everyone feels helpless and wants to do anything they can at a time like this to help, but it’s imperative that you wait until you’re contacted by a reputable agency to come out.  Please don’t show up unannounced, and please don’t donate things that aren’t asked for. We spent hours yesterday evening going through bags of donated clothes, and while those will be very helpful for victims of this disaster, there were also many thing that won’t be helpful at all (for example, the many pairs of used underwear we had to sort through).  There will be plenty to do, and work for everyone in the long term, so please be patient while we figure out where to place you. Thanks!

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!

Views from the Conference

Some more pictures from the 2013 National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Washington DC.

Becca, Shaquita, and Kiona participating in a service project at the conference.

Becca, Shaquita, and Kiona participating in a service project at the conference.

Shaquita working hard.

Shaquita working hard.

A few of the supplies put together by the volunteers at the conference.

A few of the supplies put together by the volunteers at the conference.

Our fearless leader posing with the "AmeriCorpse."

Our fearless leader posing with the “AmeriCorpse.”

Meet the Members: Gerald

Time for another segment of Meet the Members.  Introducing…Gerald!

Gerald.

Gerald.

Hi my name is Gerald and I have been working with the AmeriCorps team for 9 or 10 months. We have been working on community projects and doing things to help the East Bluff neighborhood out with some of the projects. The AmeriCorps team is dedicated to help out the people that have been down and out or that live in houses that needed fixed up. We help out at the Dream Center, Neighborhood house, and a lot of non-profits in the Peoria area. AmeriCorps is a great opportunity for people to learn job skills and gain job experience for the jobs that they want to apply for in the future. It gives you knowledge on things that you want to know or haven’t learned yet for the people that don’t have jobs that want a job. The AmeriCorps team is happy to help the people that don’t have job because they offer a whole lot that I wouldn’t pass up and I would actually like to do it all again because it was a fun ride here with the AmeriCorps team. The people that I have worked with have good personalities. The person that I worked with the most while I was here would be Natalie and she is very good to get along with and when you’re having a bad you can always go to her and talk to her.  When you are feeling down she is the best person to go to that can cheer you up. It’s been one heck of a ride for me and I would like to do it over again.

Not quite ready for the shot.

Not quite ready for the shot.

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.