Let’s Take the A-Train to the White House

What’s happening in the White House?
Claudia Gordon is what’s happening in the White House.  The Jamaican Native came to the US when she was eleven years old, two years after she had suddenly lost her hearing.  But this did not stop Ms. Gordon.  She went to the American University Washington College of Law in 2000, the same year her mother, and biggest role model, lost a six year battle with ovarian cancer.  She was the first deaf student to graduate from the school and went on to be the first deaf, African American, woman to become an attorney.  
Now, she is still doing great things and being very successful.  She took a position in July in the White House Office of Public Engagement as the Public Engagement Adviser to the Disability Community and will be the liaison between the White House and the Disability Community.
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It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing
Born in DC, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington spent most of his life in New York City.  He is considered a pioneer and one of the greats of jazz music although he himself referred to his music as “American Music” instead of using a single and restrictive genre of Jazz.  He was conducted a jazz orchestra which was the home to many of the greats of the genre.  
When Duke started out he made his way by making posters for events and asking if they had music.  If they didn’t he offered to play for them.  He then started a band “The Duke’s Serenaders” which eventually led him out of DC to Harlem where he became a part of the Harlem Renaissance.  In September of 1923 he took on a four year engagement at the Hollywood Club which brought him and his band into the game.  In 1965 his nomination for the Pulitzer Prize was turned down but in 1999 he received a special Pulitzer Prize for “commemorating the centennial year of his birth, in recognition of his musical genius, which evoked aesthetically the principles of democracy through the medium of jazz and thus made an indelible contribution to art and culture.”
Ellington died from lung cancer and pneumonia on May 24, 1974, a month after his 75th birthday. His last words were, “Music is how I live, why I live and how I will be remembered.”  His only son and child, Mercer continued to conduct his band until he passed in 1996.
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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!

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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Keepsacks for Kids

Now that we are into October, Keepsacks is growing closer and closer.  There are donations arriving, hygiene items being inventoried, and blankets being sorted.  In just a couple short weeks, there will be many volunteers gathered in the East Peoria High School cafeteria finishing blankets and putting together hundreds of hygiene kits.  There will be breakfast, lunch, and a raffle for volunteers, along with a sense of pride in a day of volunteering. 

What is Keepsacks?

Keepsacks is an annual event where AmeriCorps members and volunteers from the community get together and make hundreds of fleece blankets and hygiene kits to deliver to shelters in the Peoria Area.  From there,  these blankets and kits are given to families, children, teens, and adults to give them something that’s not only their own, but something to give them comfort.  Times are tough right now, especially with the government shut down and more people without pay.  Food is going to be harder to put on the table, some heat will be shut off for those who need help the most, and these people will be turning to anyone for help.  That’s where we step in.  For months we have been getting things together for this and on October 19 we will donate all of these items to those who need it the most.

If you are in the Peoria Area, we ask you to join us from anytime starting after 8:30.  Pick up for the shelters begins at 3:30 and we will need help then also.  There will be breakfast, lunch, and drinks for volunteers and a raffle for prizes as a thank you.  Or if you would like to donate items, there is still time to donate any of the hygiene supplies or fleece for blankets.  Feel free to email americorps@chail.org for more information.