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A Day in the Volunteer Life: Shepherd’s Table

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of Catalogue for Philanthropy

Imagine that you wake up on the street one morning. You have no job, no home, no bank account, no food, no blanket, and you’re running out of your prescription medication. It’s getting cold and you’re hungry. Where do you turn?

Located in downtown Silver Spring, nonprofit Shepherd’s Table is often the first place individuals experiencing homelessness go for help. For over 35 years, this local institution has been providing a broad array of free services, such as clothing, referrals, information, toiletries, bus tokens, and even mail boxes. As their name indicates, they are best known for their meal service, delivering 3 nutritious meals a day during the week and 2 meals a day on weekends. This past Valentine’s Day, I was honored to join them for lunch as a volunteer.

The kitchen was a hustle-bustle of moving bodies and dishes when I arrived for my 11:30-1:15 shift. Plus, there was a camera crew! WUSA9 was filming a news segment on Michael’s Desserts. Michael is a 14-year-old who started his baking company in 2017. That lunch, he was handing out free Valentine’s cupcakes to the guests of Shepherd’s Table.

Shepherd's Table 1

I signed in on the volunteer computer (it shoots out personalized nametags!), grabbed an iconic Shepherd’s Table green apron (one of the nice ones since cameras were rolling), scrubbed up, put some gloves on, and was introduced to fellow volunteers and staff members. Given that Shepherd’s Table has been around so long, it’s no surprise that lunch was run like a well-oiled machine.

Their highly capable head chef assigned me to the section of the buffet line next to Victoria, another veteran volunteer. Next came my 30-second volunteer orientation: two pieces of garlic bread, one scoop of vegetables, keep your station clean. Down the buffet, other volunteers served salad, rolls, and beverages. At the end, Michael served his cupcakes along with cookies that had been decorated and donated by Silver Spring Cares the day before on “Galentine’s Day.”

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Soon, the lunch rush was upon us. Guests of all ages, genders, and colors filed through the line; when a family with small children came though, we used smaller kids’ plates for their meals. It was fast-paced work! I took people’s preferences (only bread, no green beans, etc.) and filled their plates as quickly as possible, wishing them a Happy Valentine’s Day as they went along. When a pan began to run low on food, I shouted back into the kitchen for a refill and tried to swap it out as quickly as possible to not hold up the line. The spaghetti sauce was incredibly heavy — I’m relieved that I didn’t drop the whole thing on the floor!

Because Victoria has been a volunteer for a long time at Shepherd’s Table, she knew many of the guests by name and cheerfully chatted them up as the line went along. Volunteers are under strict instructions to not provide anyone with seconds lest we run out of food for late-comers. Some people tried anyway, but Victoria’s sharp memory helped us remember who had already gone through the line once already.

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The cafeteria filled up quickly. One volunteer’s role was to stand near the front door with a clipboard to take a headcount. (That lunch, we received 119 guests. An average lunch serves about 135 guests.) Another volunteer accompanied guests through the line, helping them carry their plates or find a seat. As guests finished their meals, they bussed their trays and dishes to a hole in the wall where cleanup volunteers were cleaning dishes.

After guests had departed – many thanking us as they left – it was time for cleanup. Many hands make light work and we certainly needed many hands! We packed away leftover food, wiped down tables and countertops, swept the floor, and put up chairs. Back in the kitchen, I started methodically rolling silverware, using muscle memory from my time as a waitress. After an adrenaline-fueled lunch rush, Shepherd’s Table could take a breather. Only a few hours left before the dinner rush!

Shepherd's Table 4

My lunch shift had been a fun, rewarding, and straightforward experience. I got to share my Valentine’s Day with some lovely, caring people and contribute to my community. I highly recommend those living in the Silver Spring area to consider volunteering there! It was also great fun to watch the news segment on Michael’s Desserts afterwards.

Since 1983, Shepherd’s Table has never missed a meal. This has required a lot of manpower to pull off and wouldn’t be possible without the reliable flow of volunteer labor. Because there’s no time-intensive training needed to dish out food and clean dishes, just about anyone can help out with meal service! You can sign up for as many or as few shifts as you want, depending on your schedule.

However, if being a lunch lady isn’t your cup of tea, then good news — Shepherd’s Table needs volunteers for other projects as well:

  • Resource Center — If you’re willing to make a recurring commitment and attend a training, you can help staff distribute mail, supplies, and toiletries to clients as well as file paperwork.
  • Clothing Sorters/Distributers — Help sort clothing donations and help clients pick out outfits.
  • Food Pickup — If you have a vehicle, you can pick up and deliver food donations from local grocery stores and deliver them to the Shepherd’s Table kitchen
  • Eye Clinic — Provide administrative assistance to the Eye Clinic staff such as greeting clients and filing paperwork
  • Garden — Help Shepherd’s Table expand their garden for on-campus produce by weeding and helping them install new beds.

If you’re interested in learning more about giving back to Shepherd’s Table, visit their volunteer page.

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A Day in the Volunteer Life: Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator at the Catalogue for Philanthropy

A minimum-wage worker in Arlington would have to work 154 hours a week to afford a one-bedroom apartment. But even if a particularly industrious individual could manage only sleeping 45 minutes every night while balancing their 3.85 full-time jobs, imagine that they also have 3 children to take care of. Well, to afford a two-bedroom apartment, they’ll need to up their weekly hours to 177.

A week only has 168 hours.

Unless scientists start making some real progress on time machines, this situation is currently unsustainable for low-income families. That’s what drives the work of Catalogue nonprofit partner Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH). This organization develops and provides affordable, high-quality rental apartments for Arlingtonians making less than 60% of the average median income.

Living in an APAH apartment entails more than just a roof over your head. APAH staff provide holistic support by building invaluable connections between residents and resources. They partner with nonprofit and for-profit organizations around Arlington County to give residents access to services ranging from supplemental food assistance to coding classes for kids. These buildings aren’t just a collection of homes — they’re communities. All residents have access to APAH-led programs held in community gathering spaces.

One of these programs is APAH’s Story Hour program for children ages 0-7. During this hour-long program, children gain literacy and social skills through books, toys, and play. It is an opportunity as well for their parents to socialize with others and gain exposure to language skills alongside their children. When APAH staff invited me to volunteer for their Story Hour, I was thrilled.

That afternoon, I arrived at Columbia Hills, one of APAH’s 17 rental communities. Story Hour takes place in a multipurpose room every Wednesday. Throughout the month, various volunteer-groups make Story Time a possibility, including a local synagogue, church, and even a construction company. This Wednesday, I was joined by 3 regular volunteers who all share a genuine love of children and making silly faces while reading books.

We laid out big blue foam puzzle pieces on the floor (what a flood of nostalgia!) and soon welcomed our visitors. We ended up being joined by three mothers and eight children for Story Hour. We began song-time with a couple of the classics: head, shoulders, knees, and toes; wheels on the bus; and the itsy bitsy spider. Then it was time for story-time, when the volunteers took turns reading aloud to the children. I started off with Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown. It involved a lot of wild-tiger ROARING.

APAH 1

During other volunteers’ stories, I sat on the puzzle mat, encouraging the kids to stay engaged with the book. One girl found it more interesting to try and braid my hair instead. We periodically broke up book reading with “wiggles” to get the energy out. (Million Dollar Idea: instituting regular wiggle breaks in workplace offices to stimulate productivity.)

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Then, we spread out for solo reading time, when kids got to pick out their own books. While I read to her, the girl I had partnered with got distracted by my camera hanging around my neck. I allowed her to take a few photos. Predictably, the situation devolved when other kids inevitably noticed the shiny gadget and also wanted to take turns pushing the button. Whoops. An APAH staff member helped redirect attention since this was supposed to be literacy-improvement-time and not play-with-selfies-time.

Photo Credit: Children of Columbia Hills

Photo Credit: Children of Columbia Hills

For our final activity, we brought out the toy chest! Children spread out with educational toys and puzzles.

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When Story Hour was over, the children helped us put away the toys and puzzles, and we waved goodbye as the families went home. How convenient that home is just an elevator ride up! Reading and playing with charming, happy children sure does make an hour fly by. It hardly felt like “work” at all, especially when supported by APAH’s team and volunteers. What a joy to meet such genuine people!

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This program is a fantastic, completely free resource for residents — and it’s made possible through volunteers. APAH hopes that with a larger base of reliable volunteers, they will be able to expand Story Hour to additional times and locations. Because of space limitations, each Story Hour is capped at 12 children. But at Columbia Hills there are 499 residents, 99 of whom are children younger than 8 — that’s 20% of the entire building! Clearly the need is there. It’s just a matter of finding enough volunteers to sustain program growth.

So, if you love children and live in Arlington, then please consider volunteering with APAH. In addition to more Story Hour volunteers, they are also looking for volunteers to help kids work on their homework and read aloud to kids ages 5-12. Spanish speakers are especially needed! If interested, you can learn more and sign up on their volunteer page or shoot an email to their Volunteer Program Coordinator Julie Booth at jbooth@apah.org.

 

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Manna Food Center

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

Fact: Maryland is the wealthiest state in the country.

Fact: Montgomery County is the 18th wealthiest county in the country, out of over 3,100 counties.

Fact: Over 63,000 people in Montgomery County don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

No one should have to struggle with food insecurity, yet too many do right here in our local communities. That’s why Manna Food Center is committed to not only ending hunger, but also combating the structures that allowed it in the first place. As Montgomery County’s largest food rescue program, this nonprofit provides supplemental food assistance, education, and advocacy to more than 6,000 families every month. Recently, I got to know this organization a little better by volunteering for their annual MLK Weekend Food Drive.

Since 1994, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been recognized as a day of service, when Americans are encouraged to give back to their community through volunteering. And what better way to celebrate the message of Dr. King than to help our neighbors in need? That’s why on Saturday and Sunday, January 18-19th, Manna Food Center hosted food drives at 19 Giant Food stores across Montgomery County.

Signing up for a volunteer slot online was quick and easy. In the spirit of one of the Catalogue’s frequently-used phrases “think local, act local, give local,” I chose the Leisure World location, which is only 10 minutes from my house. I recruited one of my roommates to join me for the Saturday 12-3pm shift. When we arrived, we found signs for Manna Food Center hanging from shopping carts already filled with food.

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We greeted the 9am-12pm shift volunteers, a mother-father-daughter team. They provided a quick breakdown of our task: inviting grocery store customers to purchase additional items while shopping to then donate to Manna Food Center on their way out. We were to hand shoppers helpful slips of paper with a list of the most needed non-perishable items. (It had the Catalogue’s seal on the back!)

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I found this to be a cleverly designed setup. First of all, some individuals feel more comfortable donating tangible things than money. And second of all, this was a convenient and fun way to give back; you’re already shopping anyway, so why not pick up a few extra cans of soup?

Our fellow volunteers included a high schooler earning service hours for National Honor Society. His father accompanied him for the first half of the afternoon and switched places with the mother in the second half. Then, a surprise – we were joined by Maryland Delegate Vaughn Stewart! He helped us collect donations (and shake constituents’ hands) for a while before heading on to another Manna location also in his district.

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The weather that day was an unwelcome mixture of freezing rain and snow. Even though we were inside the building (not always a guarantee for food drives!), we kept our coats on because every time the automatic door opened, we got assailed by the chill. Regardless, the mood was upbeat among the volunteers. I especially enjoyed interrogating Delegate Stewart about local politics. He was very pleasant and interesting to talk to!

This particular volunteer role required a certain degree of salesmanship when approaching strangers and persuading them to buy us food. Some individuals gave us a brusque NOTHANKYOU, only to come back later with donations anyway. One man wearing a University of Washington sweatshirt told us that he couldn’t. I replied, “Go Dawgs! I’m an alumnus of ‘U-Dub’ too!” He later sheepishly returned with a bag of baby food jars.

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Although we never solicited money-donations, some people didn’t want to bother with picking out an item, so they just put cash in our hands instead. Throughout our three hours of volunteering, we consolidated this money into a coat pocket (referred to as “The Bank”) for safekeeping. At the end of our shift, we used this money to buy a cart full of cans for Manna Food Center.

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Three o’clock came and our shift was over. The shoppers of Leisure World had been generous – we had filled up multiple carts’ worth of donations! We rolled our final packed cart of donations over to Giant staff and folded up our signs for the next day’s volunteers. Volunteering had been an invigorating experience! I’m glad to have made a memory of getting to know a local politician, meeting two families celebrating the MLK weekend through public service, and helping to make a difference for people struggling with food insecurity in my county.

That weekend, I was just one of over 200 volunteers and 24 elected officials to participate in Manna Food Center’s food drive. These officials included city councilmembers, county councilmembers, state delegates, a state senator, and even U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin! Together, we collected over 27,000 pounds of food that will be donated to Montgomery County residents in need. Out of 19 locations, Leisure World volunteers were the 4th most productive – we collected 2,244 pounds of food!

If soliciting strangers in a grocery store sounds intimidating to you, then don’t worry! Manna Food Center has a wealth of volunteer opportunities for introverts too. For example, volunteers can help out with:

  • Packing boxes of non-perishable food items
  • Transporting food from donors to recipient organizations
  • Sorting warehouse donations

 

On the other hand, if you enjoy more community-facing work like my experience during the MLK weekend drive, you could volunteer for such tasks as:

  • Receiving and processing referrals through phone and email in Manna’s call center
  • Assisting with educational workshops on nutrition, health, and cooking
  • Representing Manna Food Center at community events
  • Distributing food directly to Manna clients

Some of these positions require additional training. Some are well suited for individuals and others are excellent fits for families and groups to volunteer together. You can learn more about volunteering with Manna Food Center on their volunteer page.

Volunteering is a way of getting involved in your community and seeing an immediate, tangible difference in your labor. Despite its prevalence, food insecurity is not always obvious; volunteering with Manna Food Center can open our eyes to the size of the need. When you help out with food assistance, you could be helping out your neighbor or classmate and not even know it.

 

 

 

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Iona Senior Services

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

Loneliness has become an epidemic. It’s increasingly common and can have seriously negative effects on our physical and cognitive health — research has even suggested that it’s as equally dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. What’s more, our society’s elderly are particularly vulnerable.

One organization working to combat social isolation among older people is Iona Senior Services. This nonprofit provides comprehensive support to those who are “aging in place.” They run errands, prepare meals, manage money, and provide anything else older adults need to live and thrive in their own homes. Iona also implements community programs to encourage social engagement, where participants can talk with their friends, meet new people, go on field trips around DC, share meals, and enjoy classes about various topics. Iona’s Active Wellness Program at St. Albans not only uplifts seniors’ spirits, but also their health. Iona’s work is made possible by their committed staff and team of volunteers. Recently I had the privilege of being one of those volunteers!

It was a rainy Wednesday morning when I arrived at St. Albans Parish on the grounds of the Washington National Cathedral. Inside Satterlee Hall, I entered a large room with a vaulted ceiling where I was greeted by staff and fellow volunteers. People sometimes joke that their cubicle feels like a closet — at this particular location, Iona Senior Services literally does operate out of a closet! Every possible inch of space was strategically packed like a game of Tetris.

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In preparation for incoming participants, we set up tables for lunch and chairs for the exercise class. Some friendly, enthusiastic ladies started arriving for the day’s programming. Over cups of coffee we got into a lively discussion about how the Kennedy Center is too expensive. Although there were other tasks to be done as well, I would come to learn that much of volunteering for Iona Senior Services is just socializing with nice people.

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At 10:15, it was time for that day’s field trip: The Smithsonian Postal Museum! Courtney, the St. Albans Program Manager, asked me to join her and a small group of women to come along for the ride. We piled into a van and set off. It felt rather like a private bus tour of DC since Courtney has an incredible encyclopedic knowledge of the city’s history. So many fun factoids!

We arrived at the museum; I had taken the day off work to volunteer, yet now I was coincidentally back across the street from the Catalogue office. The visit was a charming diversion. We leisurely wandered through the history of the American postal system, learning about the various innovations and services the post office has provided us over the years. The women chuckled when I asked what a money order was.

Our last stop was the stamps room. It is far more interesting than some might give it credit for; one could easily spend hours examining designs and rare mistakes. Our group dedicated our short time to the international section. It included stamps for some nations which don’t even exist anymore! A few of the ladies were delighted to look at stamps from their countries of origin.

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We returned to Satterlee Hall, where tables were filled with people halfway through lunch. The meal had been served by other volunteers, including some young women from American University. Because this was their final day after having volunteered for multiple weeks, they gave a public thank you and goodbye speech to the participants. After a round of applause, a man complimented one of the students, saying that she looked just like Amy Carter. She asked, “Who?”

After lunch, I helped clean up dishes, tablecloths, and decorations. It was very important to place items back into the correct spots in the closet so that everything fit! At 12:35, Courtney began a class for participants on “The Art of Writing,” a discussion on language structure and history. People seemed engaged and enthusiastic about the topic. My shift for the day was done, so I said my goodbyes and headed on my way.

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We all need more community and connection in our lives. Iona is making that local community possible; many of the people I spoke with that day lived within a few blocks of St. Albans, or as we like to say at the Catalogue “hyperlocal.” These programs are an opportunity for them to make new friends and spend time with old ones. I felt honored to participate and meet some altruistic and caring individuals. All in all, the volunteer experience felt rather like spending the day with a beloved grandmother: relaxed, pleasant, and rewarding.

If you can make a commitment to come consistently and make connections, then please consider finding a volunteer opportunity with Iona Senior Services:

  • The Active Wellness Program at St Albans. This is what I did. Come on weekdays to greet people, serve lunch, set up classes and meals, and go on field trips around DC!
  • Weekend Meal Packing and Delivery Time. On Saturday mornings, Iona needs volunteers on a recurring basis to prepare and deliver meals to older adults in their homes. Like all volunteer positions, this is an opportunity to form personal relationships and provide social connection to people living alone.
  • Wellness & Arts Center. Volunteers here help out during the week with adults with less mobility by sharing specific skills as possible, helping out with lunchtime, and general support for recreational activities.
  • Friendly Visitors Program. Make friends with older people by visiting them in their homes, help with reading, and run general errands.
  • Administration. Iona can usually use volunteers to help with tasks involving office and computer work.

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Rock Creek Conservancy

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

Over the course of 33 miles, Rock Creek meanders from a spring in Montgomery County, through 9 miles of Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC, and alongside residential and industrial areas until it finally disperses into the Potomac River. In the DC section alone, over 2 million people visit this local treasure every year. Rock Creek Conservancy is the only nonprofit solely dedicated to its preservation through their people-powered efforts. Every year, over 5,000 volunteers join in to restore Rock Creek, and on National Public Lands Day (NPLD), I was honored to be one of them.

Led by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), this national restoration event takes place every year on the last Saturday of September. On this day, volunteers across the country come out to celebrate our public lands through public service. Earlier this year, Rock Creek Conservancy’s event in Rock Creek Park was honored as the 2019 signature site!

It was an exemplary autumn morning in Rock Creek Park — clear and crisp. As I approached the welcome tents, I was impressed by the scale of the event. There were not only sign-in sheets for volunteers, but also members of the media! Tables were lined with free t-shirts, water bottles, sunglasses, pastries, and coffee! There was even a mascot walking around! …of what appeared to be a bison dressed as a doctor? (It was later explained to me that he was promoting doctors prescribing nature to patients, an intriguing and promising idea.)

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After listening to some enthusiastic speeches from the event sponsors, we split into color groups to begin our tasks for the day.

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Volunteers had been given 5 choices of work projects, each associated with a different color:

  • Red: Invasive Plant Removal at the Trail 9 Mini-Oasis
  • Orange: Horse Stables & Maintenance Yard
  • Yellow: Weed Warrior Walk
  • Green: Trash Trek
  • Blue: Nature Center Rail Repair and Restoration

I had chosen blue. My group of fellow blue wrist-band-wearers convened. While other groups left the area to do work around the park, Team Blue stayed put to provide service for the Nature Center and Planetarium. We could choose to do one of three tasks: railings, bee hotels, or invasive plant removal. I joined the railing crew. The Nature Center is wheelchair-accessible, but the railings around the back were in disrepair and peeling. We used sand paper and bristles to scrape off the flaking paint chips — but not before laying down plastic tarp of course, since losing paint chips into the woods would have obviously undermined the spirit of protecting our public lands.

After making the railing acceptably smooth, we then spray-painted the railings with a new shiny glossy coat. We held up pieces of cardboard while spraying to make sure that we didn’t paint passersby or plants. Although the pre-event informational email had clearly instructed us to wear long sleeves, I had rolled up my sleeves, thus defeating the purpose. It wasn’t until the end of the day that I realized that I had accidentally spray-painted my arms in black paint speckle. Whoops.

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After finishing the railing, I joined the bee hotel group. What’s a “bee hotel,” you may ask? It’s a collection of bamboo shoots just the right size for a bee to get cozy in, specifically for the bee species which are more solitary than the type we usually think of. These hotels are part of the park’s effort to combat bee extinction, a troubling recent phenomenon which can potentially have devastating effects on our planet’s ecosystem.

My task was to brush out the bamboo’s inner dust with a combination of shaking and using a smaller bamboo stick. *Cough cough*. Fortunately, I didn’t disturb any creepy crawlies that might have been hiding inside.

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Then, I passed on the cleared-out shoots to the volunteer team doing a deep clean with vinegar and then gluing them down in the house frames. Earlier we had learned the importance of securing the bamboo, since even a slight tilt would send them rolling everywhere with a delightfully hollow cacophony of clinks.

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After a couple of hours, we had constructed two bee hotels and finished refurbishing all of the railings! Our Rock Creek Conservancy team leader Scott thanked us for our hard work in contributing to NPLD and we dispersed. As we returned to the front side of the center, we were rewarded by free catered lunches, a live DJ, and a voucher for free entry into any national park. As mentioned before, this was not a typical volunteer experience!

Over 175 volunteers showed up to support Rock Creek Park that day. Nationwide, over 150,000 volunteers participated at 1,000 sites! It was exciting to be a small part of a much larger communal effort, which was highlighted in this video.

You don’t have to wait until next year’s National Public Lands Day to volunteer with Rock Creek Conservancy! Most volunteer experiences with them don’t include free swag, but they do include making friends and making a difference:

  • Throughout the week you can find volunteer events to sign up for. These don’t require any training or long-term commitment. Just register and show up ready to help out!
  • If you’d like to make a recurring commitment, you can become a Stream Team leader, by “adopting” a segment of Rock Creek that you maintain together with friends, family, and neighbors.
  • Weed Warriors are recurring volunteers that help stem the growth (pun intended) of invasive, non-native plants. The next training takes place on November 23rd.
  • If your company would like to host a team-building exercise that gives back to your local community, then reach out to Rock Creek Conservancy staff about creating a custom group volunteer opportunity.
  • In the spring, they host the Rock Creek Extreme Cleanup, picking up trash along Rock Creek at over 70 locations. Mark your calendars now!

In a time of dwindling park financing, Rock Creek Conservancy staff work hard to create volunteer opportunities so that everyone in the DC region can enjoy local nature. These are especially well-suited for those with intellectually intense jobs whose impact feels removed and abstract. Volunteering with Rock Creek Conservancy is rewarding, invigorating work where you can immediately witness the difference you’ve accomplished. Volunteering to protect the Rock Creek watershed and urban wilderness feels good and does good.

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Common Good City Farm

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator for the Catalogue for Philanthropy

Picture this: It’s Wednesday morning. You’ve been answering emails for two hours straight. Your eyes ache from your screen. Your office has no windows and smells a little like stale coffee. For lunch, you eat something greasy and instant.

Now picture this: You’re breathing in fresh air and kneeling in a garden. You smell basil and freshly tilled soil. You hear a bee buzzing nearby. Your gloves are caked in dirt as you pull weeds. The sun warms your skin. You have gathered a basket of fresh produce, ready for today’s lunch.

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If the second scenario sounds a little more appealing to you than the first, then consider embracing your inner farmer by volunteering at Common Good City Farm. This is what I did recently, and I recommend it for anyone who would appreciate a break from their work to reconnect with nature and accomplish some good.

Common Good City Farm uses their plot of farmland to promote sustainable agriculture and healthy nutrition in their local community. Their many programs include selling fresh produce to community members and businesses, employing high schoolers over the summer, teaching children about nutrition, and providing the community with a wide variety of workshops. You can learn more about their programs here.

CGCF 2

I signed up for their Community Volunteer Day, an event specifically designed for folks who only want to try their hand at farming for a one-time commitment. It was a beautiful Saturday morning when I arrived a little after 9. As I approached the main entrance, I was struck by the explosion of GREEN right in the middle of the city block. The lot was immediately adjacent to a playground and surrounded by apartment buildings. Inside the gate I saw an open shelter, with camping-esque kitchen ware and Christmas lights strung around the rafters. Since I had arrived early, I watched staff give an orientation to the City Farmers, the longer term volunteers who would be guiding the first-time volunteers for the morning.

CGCF A - Copy

My first task of the morning was to slice lemons for the water cooler for incoming volunteers. Hydration and sunblock would be important that day–it was hot! I also helped wiped down tables as fellow one-time volunteers flowed in.

CGCF A

At 9:30, all 34 volunteers received a tour of the farm (a typical Community Volunteer Day gets 30 people). There were four tasks for volunteers to choose between:

  1. Prepping spinach beds in the hoop house
  2. Widening beds for winter preparations
  3. Harvesting basil plants (to be sold at Bacio Pizzeria!)
  4. Tilling the soil along the outside fence

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I chose option 4. This involved pulling weeds and removing rocks. Quite a bit of rocks. An insane amount of rocks. A passerby slyly congratulated us on our fruitful rock harvest. It was highly satisfying work and surprisingly relaxing.
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In my opinion, gardening together is a more engaging environment to socialize with people than the typical DC happy hour; conversation felt less forced and more organic (no pun intended). I enjoyed getting to know other volunteers’ motivations for coming this morning. Some reasons I heard included:

  • They loved gardening and needed a contrast to their Monday-Friday DC professional careers.
  • He wanted to get to know his community better; he lived only a few blocks away but had only recently heard about Common Good City Farm.
  • He had been feeling discouraged about climate change and wanted to tangibly do something.
  • She wanted to make friends.

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One of Common Good’s missions is to “contribute to a sense of connectedness, vibrancy and sense of place.” In my short time volunteering there, I felt this connection to the neighborhood. Urban farming is a way to connect people to healthy food, nature, and each other when they might otherwise remain siloed apart in their separate apartments. Community members can come to the weekly farmer’s market for Common Good’s fresh produce (which participates with WIC, SNAP, Produce Plus, and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program). At one point some local kids grabbed gloves and joined us in picking out rocks. Apparently this was a common way for local kids to come have fun and keep busy on a weekend.

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At noon we finished and surveyed the fruits of our labor. After hours of sweating and getting our fingernails dirty, we had managed to remove a good portion of the rocks from the land. It looked remarkably more garden-like. Go team!

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Then, all the volunteers were treated to a lunch made primarily from vegetables grown by Common Good. It was a vegan’s cornucopia: organic, fresh, plant-based, locally sourced. Food always tastes great after working up an appetite and people happily enjoyed the meal and each other’s company until there were hardly any leftovers. The group dynamic was satisfied, warm, and communal. After lunch, people peeled away while I and a few others stayed to clean dishes and wipe down tables.

CGCF 19 B

If this sounds like a refreshing and enjoyable experience, then consider volunteering with Common Good City Farm. If you only want to come farm for a one-time commitment like I did, then you can sign up for a Community Volunteer Day. In the past these occasions only took place twice a year, but beginning in 2020, Common Good will be meeting demand for volunteer opportunities by providing Community Volunteer Days every month!

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Or, if you’d like to get more deeply involved, you can sign up to become a City Farmer. This is a 12-week commitment to help out on the farm once a week alongside 5-10 fellow volunteers. Being a City Farmer provides a sense of ownership over the produce, builds skills and relationships, and lifts up Common Good by accomplishing more difficult tasks. This opportunity is especially useful for high school students who need to fill service requirements at a single location.

If you’re interested in getting your hands dirty and volunteering with Common Good City Farm, then check out their volunteer page. I loved my time there, and I am sure that you will too.

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A Day in the Volunteer Life: Art Enables

This post was written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of Catalogue for Philanthropy.

Are you an art lover? Do you want to support people with disabilities? Are you a fan of cheese and crackers? If you answered yes to all three to these questions, then you should consider volunteering with Art Enables, a Catalogue nonprofit partner. I did recently, and I highly recommend the experience.

Art Enables allows artists to make, market, and earn an income from original art pieces. These artists experience a broad range of developmental and cognitive disabilities as well as various mental health challenges. This local nonprofit gives artists opportunities to express themselves through visual art by providing a professional studio environment, art supplies, technical guidance, and exhibitions both on and offsite.

After Art Enables caught my eye on the Catalogue volunteer page, I reached out to their staff to set up a volunteer time that worked with my interests and schedule. To allow me to experience different sides of their work, we decided that I would volunteer at two consecutive events. My first position was as a Studio Volunteer for the 2nd Saturday Workshop, an ongoing community engagement event that Art Enables hosts — you guessed it — every 2nd Saturday of the month. Community members can walk in and create art for free in the style of that week’s theme. Past themes have included pop up art, sketch portraits, painted leaves, minimalist watercolors, and more. People get to learn about resident artists’ work and the services that their neighborhood nonprofit provides.

When I entered the studio that afternoon, the first three words that came to mind were bright, colorful, and open. Art pieces lined the walls. Large windows flooded the space with natural light. There didn’t appear to be any separation between staff desks and studio workspaces.

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A staff member welcomed me and introduced me to my fellow volunteers (women from the Junior League of Washington) and our guest facilitator for the day, Sonya Michel. She would be leading everybody in creating “assemblages,” converting “junk’ into 3d-collages.

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I grabbed an apron, got familiar with our art supplies table (plastic, cardboard, paint, paper, markers, magazines, etc) and began welcoming guests as they trickled in off the street. Throughout the day I refilled dirty paint water glasses, chatted with people and artists, and took plenty of cliche art photos from odd angles. You know, for the gram.

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A total of 65 people came that day (typical 2nd Saturdays range from 50-125 people). Community members mingled with resident artists, staff, and volunteers for an easygoing afternoon of making art. When life gets hectic, it’s nice to be able to take a minute and decompress by creating art in a communal space. During the lulls of the day, I even got the chance to make my own assemblage; it’s now proudly hanging on the corkboard above my desk at work.

 

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All the artists I spoke with were generous with their time and sharing their pieces with me. Robert showed me how his painting has been transformed into a mug (other Art Enables merchandise includes playing cards, leather bracelets, and coasters).

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Each resident artist has a drawer with their name on it filled with additional pieces of art (all for sale!). It was a pleasure to recognize the distinctive artistic styles of the resident artists. For example, Shawn is in the midst of a shoe period.

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The workshop came to an end and we moved onto the next event for the evening: the opening reception for the 13th Annual Outsider Art Inside the Beltway (OAIB) exhibit. As described by their website, OAIB “has been committed to highlighting and providing self-taught artists who often don’t have opportunities to exhibit their work the opportunity to do so. This includes new and emerging self-taught artists, artists with disabilities, and artists from traditionally underrepresented communities.” I was to be a Volunteer Gallery Attendant. In preparation, I cleaned up art supplies, wiped up spills, and set up refreshments. Armed with a butter knife, I did a spectacularly mediocre job cutting the cheese for the platter, but they tasted great regardless.

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Throughout the reception, I refreshed snacks, welcomed guests, and took photographs. The Art Enables basement exuded hipness, the perfect industrial-chic look for an art gallery reception. I love art galleries, so getting to hang out and chat about art with people while volunteering was a win-win situation for me.

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At the end of the evening, I helped put away leftovers, wipe down tables, and clean dishes. It had been a lovely volunteer experience with Art Enables; I met some amiable artists, enjoyed some art, and even got to participate in the art making process myself.

If this sounded like a fun way to spend an afternoon, then you should consider volunteering with Art Enables. Their volunteer opportunities can easily accommodate individuals with busy schedules who can only come once in a while or on a one-time basis. Possible positions include staffing special events and at the studio (like I did), helping out administratively, and even providing professional services, such as marketing or education. Check out their volunteer page to learn more and work with their helpful staff to find an opportunity that appeals to you. Your support can make a real different for artists with disabilities in the DC region.

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A Day in the Volunteer Life: Housing Initiative Partnership

This post was written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of the Catalogue for Philanthropy

It was a hot, Saturday morning in August. I was fanning myself with a brochure seated at a table under a tent, one among many, in a church parking lot. In between greeting people walking by, I took in the smell of hotdogs, the sound of blaring hip hop, and the sight of kids jumping on a moon bounce. If it sounds like I was hanging out at a barbecue, you’re right! But it was also my most recent volunteer experience with another one of the Catalogue’s nonprofit partners, Housing Initiative Partnership.

Housing Initiative Partnership (also known by their fun acronym “HIP”) has been a Catalogue nonprofit partner since 2013. Their mission is to revitalize neighborhoods and create economic/housing security in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. They renovate foreclosed homes and develop new multifamily and single family homes to provide low and moderate income families with environmentally-friendly and high-quality affordable housing. Additionally, they provide financial counseling, helping some people prepare for first-time home ownership, and helping others avoid foreclosure.

I first found HIP while looking for volunteer opportunities on the Catalogue website. I reached out via email and got in contact with Lesia Bullock, their new Director of Resources and Communications. HIP has been a vital community resource for over 30 years and yet is still a “best kept secret” that many people don’t know about. Lesia doesn’t want it to be a secret anymore. So, she actively looks for opportunities to improve HIP’s community outreach and raise public awareness about their services.

She invited me to be her volunteer helper in promoting HIP at the Palmer Park Back to School Block Party and Community Resource Fair, hosted by Maryland State Delegate Alonzo T. Washington. Delegate Washington had invited HIP and other local nonprofits to set up tables at the fair to share their resources with community members. My role as volunteer was to help her set up the table, hand out written materials and swag to passersby, and answer questions about HIP’s programming.

It was already hot when I arrived at the Park View Baptist Church at 10:30 in the morning; I bathed myself in sunblock and donned my massive skin-cancer-prevention straw hat. Lesia got delayed at the thrift store where she was buying goodies to hand out to kids, so I went ahead and picked our table out for us. (Turns out I picked poorly — we were situated right next to the DJ, which meant that we would end up having to sometimes yell about HIP’s wonderful services into people’s ears.)

Once Lesia arrived, I helped her unload her car and set up the bright blue and green HIP collateral for our table. The wind was strong that day, which required some cleverly situated weights and clips to avoid HIP branded papers from flying everywhere.

Nancy and LesiaSome of these papers advertised HIP’s upcoming housing opportunities just around the corner in Palmer Park. Right now, nine new NetZero Ready certified townhomes are already under construction. People interested in buying must take required homebuyer education courses with HIP.

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Lesia was in her element tabling. Not only did she know a thorough answer to every question asked her, she also seemed to know just about everyone at the block party (or at least that’s how it felt to me).

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In addition to having a good relationship with our block party’s charming host, Delegate Washington, she also knew US Representative Anthony Brown who swung through the event for a while to shake hands and give a speech. It was a pretty neat surprise to meet a member of Congress that morning. See, this is why you should volunteer! You never know who you’ll run into.

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I recommend volunteering at community events and parties, because parties are fun! There were speeches, games, line dances, giveaways, and even a karate demonstration by a local studio.

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Around 2 pm, I helped pack up and carry HIP materials back to Lesia’s car and thanked her for the opportunity to learn more about HIP and help run the table with her. All in all, the block party/resource fair had been an easygoing volunteer experience. I enjoyed visiting a new community, seeing civic engagement in action, and learning more about one of our nonprofit partner’s contributions to their community.

As Lesia continues to look for more ways to spread the word about HIP’s work, you can potentially join her as a table volunteer at future public events like the one I helped out at, or their upcoming 30th Anniversary Networking Reception in November. Also, HIP can benefit from weekly administrative volunteers at their Hyattsville and Germantown offices to help take the load off of their hardworking counselors. If you’re passionate about affordable housing and financial literacy, you can help out a trusted, community-based nonprofit by visiting HIP’s website.

 

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Lucky Dog Animal Rescue

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator at Catalogue for Philanthropy

Are you in love with dogs, but your apartment lease doesn’t allow animals? Do you wish you could have a pet, but your work schedule is too inconsistent? Do you want to help save a rescue dog from being put down? Then you should consider volunteering with the Catalogue’s nonprofit partner Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. That’s what I did recently, and it was a fantastic experience that I highly recommend.

The weekend was approaching and I considered two possible choices: watch Netflix or contribute to society. As much as I enjoy re-binging The Office, I decided to make the nonprofit-positive choice and began researching last-minute volunteer opportunities. I found a Lucky Dog adoption event just 7 minutes from my house. The signup process was really quick. How convenient!

Although Lucky Dog is based out of Arlington, they frequently host weekend adoption events all around the DC region. They rescue dogs from high-kill shelters, treat their medical needs, and place them with temporary foster homes while they search for forever families to match them with. Lucky Dog prides themselves on their matchmaking skills, placing their dogs with carefully vetted adoptive families that are perfect for them.

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At 11 am on Sunday morning, I arrived at the Rockville Petco, signed in, and received a brisk orientation from a more experienced volunteer, an Event Coordinator. My job for the day was a Volunteer Handler; I would learn my rescue dog’s bio, handle the leash, answer potential adopter questions, and keep the dog happy for the next several hours throughout the adoption event. If people had questions about fostering or adoption, I would send them to the informational tables outside. Some people had already gone through the pre-approval process, and others were stopping through on a whim.

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I was paired with Baloo, a 1-2 year old shepherd mix. He was a real cutie. My informational paper explained a little about his medical history and some behavioral comments from his temporary foster family. They said that Baloo is gentle, sweet, and loves belly rubs. Spot-on observations! During my entire service experience, I never once heard him bark. And he loved snuggles.

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The day in question was hot. Outside were generous amounts of water bowls and baths for the dogs to stay cool in. Volunteers and their doggies huddled under canopy tents or hugged the side of the building. Like many others, I spent the majority of my time inside the air-conditioned Petco; I told myself that it was purely motivated by concern for Baloo’s comfort, but really I also appreciated a break from the oppressive sun.

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Adoption events are bustling, crowded fun! Everywhere you went were dogs being pet, playing, and getting their leashes tangled up together. It was one of the easiest volunteer experiences I have had; I leisurely spent my time walking around, hanging with Baloo on the floor, chatting with other volunteers, promoting Baloo to prospective families, and even sneaking a peak at the puppies section.

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Baloo had been randomly assigned to me, but I became pretty emotionally attached very quickly. Although there were so many diverse types of dogs at this event, I became convinced that my doggie was the best one there. But although he was clearly a favorite of a few families that day, he didn’t make the final cut for any of them. I felt indignant on his behalf; couldn’t people see how amazing he was? A few fellow volunteers coyly mentioned that I could foster or adopt Baloo, but my housing doesn’t allow animals.

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At 3:30pm, I said goodbye to Baloo and he returned to his foster placement, still without a permanent home. I was sad to see him go. I enjoyed my experience volunteering with Lucky Dog Animal Rescue. I got to meet both wonderful people and some wonderful dogs. It was rewarding yet stress-free “work,” and it gave me a chance to meet a new community of animal lovers. As much as I love The Office, this had been the superior choice for a weekend activity!

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There were 68 dogs up for adoption this day, which is actually on the low end for Lucky Dog adoption events. Apparently some of their events have had up to 120 dogs! That means a big need for volunteers. There is a wide variety of volunteer opportunities at Lucky Dog that can accommodate just about any schedule or level of commitment.

In the week of the event that I volunteered, 27 Lucky Dogs (and 2 Lucky Cats) ended up getting adopted. A few weeks later I was delighted to learn that Baloo ended up getting adopted as well! I hope that he is giving his new family the same friendly cuddles that I got to enjoy during my brief time with him. If you are interested in adopting a dog in need of a home, you can also get started on their website.

 

 

A Day in the Volunteer Life: Friendship Place

Volunteering can happen anywhere, from multiple blocks of an Anacostia neighborhood to an expansive Virginia warehouse. Or, a single closet. Specifically, the Clothes Closet of Friendship Place, where I recently volunteered.

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Friendship Place has been a nonprofit partner of Catalogue for Philanthropy since 2005. They provide holistic support to people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness in the greater DC region. After signing up to volunteer on their website, I was contacted by their friendly Community Engagement Manager to find a position best suited for my interests.

She connected me with their AimHire Job Placement program. In 2018, AimHire helped 77 people gain employment with an average hourly wage of $14.26 Most of the volunteers for AimHire are professionals who provide pro bono services such as finding job placements, reviewing resumes, mentoring, and performing mock interviews. Since I was looking for a one-time experience, she recommended that I help out in the Clothes Closet.

The Clothes Closet provides professional and high quality clothes and accessories, either for interview purposes or just everyday wear. Although during my shift I heard Friendship Place staff and volunteers use the terms “customers” and “sell,” the Closet is actually a completely free resource for those in need with no strings attached. All of the items are donated, many of which are dry-cleaned by their donors beforehand. How considerate!

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After arriving, I met my two fellow volunteers, Sylvia and Janice. They are both retirees and resident experts of the Clothes Closet. Once a week they come to sort through donations, organize the layout, and even occasionally provide advice to customers on which tie matches which shirt. Prior to them joining the Friendship Place team, the closet’s upkeep had been “haphazard” because there had not been a consistent volunteer assigned to it. But now it is methodically and consistently run by reliable volunteers with a keen eye for fashion and orderliness.

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For the next two hours, the three of us got to know each other while working elbow to elbow in the closet. Clearly, I was the resident amateur. Sylvia and Janice are experts in identifying designer labels; I couldn’t tell you Dolce from Gabbana. Sylvia and Janice have mastered the art of folding and hanging to avoid wrinkles; I don’t own an iron.

One of my tasks was to sort the sizes of the women’s shirts and pants. In the true spirit of nonprofit ingenuity, we MacGyvered scissors, a sharpie, and a used manila folder to create makeshift signs to make it easier for customers to find the right fit. Sidenote: it turns out that a Chico’s pants size 2.5 is really a US size 14? Confusing.

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People in the DMV are so well-dressed that donations to the closet were incredibly high quality. (One of the participating donors of the closet is a local law firm.) How wonderful that people who need a leg up in finding a job can find such a great local resource that provides them with dignity and style.

I thought it was lovely how two veteran volunteers take the time out of their week to create a thoughtful, tasteful, and welcoming atmosphere to the Closet. Sylvia even made the delightful sign on the outside door to give it a “boutique” feel. Volunteering for Friendship Place has given them a creative outlet, an opportunity to give back to their neighborhood (they both live close by), and a chance to socialize with each other and with customers. It was wonderful to meet them and learn more about a trusted local nonprofit’s programming.

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If you’re interested in volunteering for Friendship Place, they have a wide variety of programs and opportunities. By signing up online and telling them your skillset and schedule, you too can help them end homelessness in DC.

Written by Nancy Erickson, Communications Coordinator of Catalogue for Philanthropy