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!

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!