Monday, January 25, 2010

AmeriCorps Rocks Extreme Makevover Neighborhood Edition

The blogpost below tells the behind-the-scenes story of AmeriCorps involvement and the extraordinary partnerships and compassion that transformed a neighborhood.

It all started with a text message to a friend. Kyle Kraus (from Buffalo, NY construction company David Homes) sent Joshua Randle (of WNY AmeriCorps) this text: "Extrm mkovr home edit comin 2 do house in buflo. u in?" "can u bring vols?" Randle's response, "Of course! want 10 or 10,000?"

David Stapleton of David Homes had been selected to build a home for a deserving family on Massachusetts Avenue in the City of Buffalo, by the hit ABC show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." David was looking to expand the project beyond the one house and into the community, but they only had two and a half weeks to make a plan and build a team. WNY AmeriCorps agreed to come on board to manage volunteers and further develop the community projects, and what started with the idea to assist a handful of homeowners quickly grew into what would be coined "Extreme Makeover: Neighborhood Edition."

"It was heartening to see David embrace a commitment to the community beyond the makeover house,” said WNY AmeriCorps CEO Mark Lazzara. "It really enabled WNY AmeriCorps to do the kind of service we do everyday, but with amazing resources at our finger tips. We didn't have to say no to anyone in need.”

Led by WNY AmeriCorps COO Joshua Randle, community meetings began and the scope of the projects expanded, with the staff of WNY AmeriCorps taking an active role in identifying and addressing community need while also maintaining the required confidentiality of the chosen house. Along with community partners, the scope of the project had more than tripled.

Meanwhile, something special started to happen online. The outreach was working. Western New Yorkers had begun to sign up to volunteer; hundreds the first day, hundreds the next, adding up into thousands. Word went out to WNY AmeriCorps members, offering them the unique opportunity to lead volunteers in the kind of large scale community change possible under the spotlight of national attention with passionate local interest.

On November 7, the day the Powell family finally found out they had been selected to receive an Extreme Makeover, over 1,000 volunteers came out to march to their front door as part of what the show calls the "Braveheart March.” While volunteers were marching, WNY AmeriCorps was working to prepare for the next five days of projects.

Through the work of David Homes, Delores Powell's family's new house was going to be "green;” super efficient with a minimal environmental impact. On the first project day, the deconstruction of the old house began, with local non-profit, and WNY AmeriCorps partner, Buffalo ReUse leading WNY AmeriCorps members and alumni as the house came down piece by piece for recycling. Many materials taken from the house were used in the neighborhood projects, including using the stone foundation to create a retaining wall in the community garden and lumber to reinforce other community projects.

Throughout the week community members began to come forward with their stories, opening up to WNY AmeriCorps members and staff, admitting that they had been living without some of the most basic necessities for years. Some had no hot water while others had been living with no running water at all. Roofs had been leaking while porches deteriorated, with little or no resources to correct the issues. As WNY AmeriCorps members began leading the projects to replace railings and roofs, reinforce porch floors, rebuild steps, paint houses, and hang siding on houses, staff reached out to local retailers and contractors, working with David Homes to receive donations to help fix the most urgent problems of neighborhood residents. Complete roofs were donated and installed, new security lights dotted the neighborhood and increased the sense of safety, all while a certified emerald-green home was built in the center of the City of Buffalo with volunteers serving around the clock to complete it. In the end, Buffalo had the largest amount of volunteers in the history of the show,yielded 6,336 volunteers who served 53,544 hours in service to 422 individuals from 164 families.

In the course of five days, an opportunity to create tremendous community changefroman impressive public-private partnership between David Homes and WNY AmeriCorps, creating confidence in the Massachusetts Avenue community and providing many low-income homeowners the encouragement, resources, and leadership they needed to move forward and build community. "I am proud that over 200 WNY AmeriCorps members and staff a significant role. We believe that service benefits both those who are being served, as well as those who are serving,” said Lazzara. "This was truly a transformational service project.”

The full statistics of the community projects are staggering:

6,336 Volunteers Mobilized
4,053 Community Revitalization and Transformation Volunteers
1,428 Skills and Trades Volunteers
855 Food Drive Helping Hands Volunteers
53,544 Volunteer Hours Served
32,424 Community Revitalization and Transformation
14,280 Skills and Trades
6,840 Food Drive Helping Hands
$1,516,511 Value of In-kind Volunteer Service
$909,169 Community Revitalization and Transformation
$415,548 Skills and Trades
$191,794 Food Drive Helping Hands
14,360 Meals Donated and Served to Volunteers
109 Individual Community Revitalization and Transformation Projects
33 Homes Equipped with New Security Lights
7 Full or Major Paint Projects
17 Minor Paint Projects
3 Full Siding Projects
3 Roofs Installations
5 Porch Renovations
5 Gutter Installations
4 New Fence Installations
2 Community Garden Projects
30 Properties Landscaped
164 Unique Households Served
412 Community Residents Served
119 New Trees Planted
388 Units of Blood Collected
85.1 Tons of Food Collected
$255,300 Value of Food Collected
1,207 People Fed Every Day for an Entire 10 days
Yours In Service,

The AmeriCorps Alums Team

Sunday, January 24, 2010

MLK Day - New Mexico

Team New Mexico's MLK Day was pretty low key, as there wasn't much for us to do in the area, but we made work for ourselves. At the state capitol in Santa Fe there was a Day of Remembrance held in Dr. King's memory. This years turn out was more sparse than last, from what I understand, but it was memorable non-the less.

When we arrived people were just starting to gather in their seats, and during the wait there was a traditional African drumming group, one of the members we talked to was from Nigeria. One of the drummers, we found out later was form Nigeria. Before the speeches started, everybody joined in singing "The Black National Anthem" Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing, By: James Weldon Johnson.

Lift ever voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resounds loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of hope that the present has brought us;
Facing he rising sun of our new da begun,
Let us march till victory is won.

After that there were many key note speakers. Some from the NAACP, the mayor, and awards given out for children who entered the MLK Essay contest.

The most memorable speech, however, was given by a historian and genealogist by the name of George Geder. He talked about Dr. Kings "roots" more than he talked about Dr. King himself. Dating back to his great-grandparents, Dr. King had a long legacy of people who devoted themselves to the greater good of society. Most notably, are his parents: Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Williams, who were both social activist and pastors. Without this rich family life, George Geder argues, Dr. King would not of been the civil rights activist we celebrate today. This reminder of Dr. Kings history, served as a reminder of the importance of looking at the full picture. I think, Dr. King would agree that he is not the only person to be remembered, but the people who stood behind him, and the people we work hard to help everyday.

After the ceremony, we went to lunch with Robert and planned our long term project and gathered together what we had planned for the rest of the day. Those of us that had something to donate brought what we could, and we went around to local charities and donated goods to them. We went to Salvation Army, Open Hands, and St. Vincent de Paul.

All in all, while the day was low-key, it felt very productive. We helped out good charities, bonded as a team, and were reminded of why we celebrate MLK Day in the first place - to remember those who have made what we have today, and to look forward to those who we can help tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."- MLK Jr.

On MLK Day Team North Carolina started the day off with an awareness march through downtown Durham. Durham's Hayti Center (where the team also was for WAD), was the beginning point of the march. After a long wait trying to find a restroom for half of the team, the day began. We joined about 200 people with signs, jackets and a pure excitement for raising awareness about the issues Martin Luther King, Jr. was all about. There was a great mixture of diversity represented through the group. The march was led by a police escort- which was fun! People honked and waved at us as they drove by.

Team NC braving the cool air to march!

One sign of MANY that had quotes from MLK Jr!

The long line of marchers

Crowd gathered to listen to Attorney Larry Hall remarking on the significance of the day. He also spoke about how doing service should be a necessary part of life.

During the march songs were blasting from vocal pipes. One song that made repeated cameo performances was "We shall over come." The march ended at the First Baptist Church. The Church held a special ceremony with several pastors speaking, leading the congregation in remembrance prayers and speeches. There was also a youth choir from the Durham Community that sang several well pitched and well practiced songs about unity, faith and hope. This ceremony we had to leave a few minutes early to trek over to Duke University's campus to watch a special show.

Duke University's Martin Luther King Day Event Planning committee hosted the African Children's Choir. The African Children's Choir is a group of orphaned African children, that have been given the chance at a new life. Before the African Children's Choir performed, a local Durham High School choir regaled us with "We are the World," by a group of artists, and "It's the Climb" by Miley Cyrus. These songs really were perfect fit into the day, and a great way to have our team's thoughts transition from the march to a musical appreciation of love, friendship, and hope

A bit about the Choir's history: The first Choir was formed in 1984, selected from orphaned and vulnerable children in the Kampala and Luwero areas of Uganda. After the Choir was trained to perform and readied for living in new and different cultures, the children traveled from Uganda to tour amongst the North American Church communities. They immediately impressed audiences with their vibrancy and outstanding musical talent. They quickly became a mouthpiece for the plight of the many thousands of vulnerable children like them in Uganda. The funds they earned through donations provided for their own support and education and more!
The proceeds of the first African Children’s Choir tour also funded the building of an orphanage back in Kampala from which a second African Children’s Choir was selected. The proceeds of their tours and the sponsorship support they would attract funded a growing program of establishing literacy schools to enable the very neediest children to get a foot up into proper education.

Meanwhile, the continuing care, education and development of returning Choir children was assured through the proceeds of Choir tours and the generosity of sponsors and donors.
To date over seven hundred vulnerable children have been through the Choir program and the funds they have generated have provided the opportunity of education and hope for many thousands like them in some of the most desperate and needy areas of Africa.

This choir really was inspiring! There was a reception afterwards that promoted more opportunities to get involved with the organization, how to sponsor orphans in Uganda, and had craft tables where the proceeds went to help the children. A few members purchased items from the craft tables. The African Children's Choir was a moving way to end the day. The choir sang songs that were inspirational, and some that were religious. All had thankful messages about being saved and given a new chance at life. Hearing the children speak about what they wished to be when they grew up, really spoke volumes about the chance at a healthy future that these kids have.

The title of this post, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter," said by MLK Jr., is really the take home message from our day of remembrance and service. The march was helping promote awareness of equality, unity and peace within the Durham Community, and remembering the past but also helping the community to look to the future. The future is all about the youth within our communities. As we watched the choir, the fact that the youth of all over the world need a chance to be healthy, educated and given a chance to thrive (basic human rights), really was evident. We can not be silent about the way life is for others around the globe, we can not be silent about promoting equality. The African Children's choir is giving youth of Africa the dream of a better tomorrow, a thought and message MLK Jr. said and hoped for all of us.

It was a great day! Team NC must give kudos to Kim for planning an inspirational fifth day! :)

Cheers! Alex

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Team Indy/MLK Day of Service 2010

Each year the IUPUI (Indiana University, Purdue University, Indianapolis) Center for Service Learning puts on a day of service on Martin Luther King Day. Students, Faculty, Community Members, and Alumni gather for breakfast and a program honoring Dr. King. Participants are prepared for a productive day of service throughout the city of Indianapolis. After meeting in groups lead by a Service Leader from IUPUI, the groups disperse to work on projects off campus.

Year after year, Indianapolis tends to fall short in opportunities which are available to the community who want to volunteer. IUPUI Center for Service and Learning has been nationally recognized for their work in the community and always has a great role in creating opportunities for those interested in service.
The morning began at IUPUI where we gathered for breakfast with people who were to participate in the day with us. Shortly thereafter, we were presented the “I Have a Dream Speech” by a local high school student. The members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Sigma Phi Chapter presented a short step-show in honor of their fraternity brother, King. We were given a brief synopsis of King’s work and life, encouraged to speak to the people at our table about why service was important, and mentally prepare for impact in the community. We were soon dismissed, with our yellow 2010 MLK t-shirts to nearby sites to serve.
This year our team was placed at the Indianapolis Senior Center. Located downtown, not too far from many of our offices, it was nice to get to know a little bit more about the fantastic perks hidden away in Downtown Indianapolis. It offers everything from exercise classes to computer classes. We helped to organize, clean, dust, and tour the center.
During the day of service, we got to work with other community members, IUPUI student leaders, and staff at the Senior Center. After service there was an opportunity to reflect by each person sharing what they got out of the day. It gave the opportunity to discuss service from several different perspectives.

One thing we discussed as a group was that next year members could attempt to coordinate volunteer opportunities for volunteers in our agencies etc. We all seemed to hear about somebody who wanted to serve but had no where to go because most places ran out of slots to have people participate in whatever opportunities were available. The obstacle here is finding things that can be done on a national holiday when offices are usually closed. Of course that is something for next year’s team to discuss. MLK Day 2010 was a success. Although many people were wondering how dusting and wiping down furniture can make any difference, small things add up to a lot and as a team and as a community we made a big difference. Team Indy is always eager to make the biggest impact possible, and this year it was nice to be able to do so collectively with other groups. We work as a collaborative group of six, group of the Indianapolis community, National AIDS Fund Caring Counts AmeriCorps group nationally, and hopefully as group globally to make real impact in the world. It starts with one person organizing one group who can change the world in one city at a time. And of course it doesn't hurt to have a little fun while you're at it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

30 seconds of your time will Change someones life!

Hey everyone!
I hope your year is going well! I would love if you could take a few minutes of your time and VOTE for Think Impact, a non-profit organization that I am currently a Fellow with, and when we all first met had just spent the summer in Kenya with. Think Impact (formerly Student Movement for Real Change) has a chance at winning a MILLION DOLLARS! If you are a Facebook user please take 30 seconds to go to and vote for us! You need to become a fan of Chase Giving Challenge, then just simply click on Student Movement for Real Change and you will have become a part of a huge movement to help thousands of people living in poverty in Africa. Voting ends Friday the 22nd! So Please vote and help your fellow AmeriCorps member out! I really appreciate it! Thank you for your help and support!

<3 Alex Team NC

*For more info on my project that this challenge will help fund please visit:

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

World AIDS Day in the Southwest

One day for AIDS work and recognition was not enough for us here in New Mexico, so we tested and partied all week long. Starting on WAD-eve, we headed over to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque for a full day of testing from 10am-4pm, followed by a half hour presentation by the Department of Health on HIV/AIDS prevention. We ended up testing about 25 people. Thank you to Arika, the NM DOH, and Alpha Phi Alpha for setting it all up!

The following day we switched it up and instead of testing students in Albuquerque we went over to Santa Fe Community College and held an event there (thanks to the awesome help from their Student Nursing Club). Being that SFCC is a smaller school, we did not test as many people, but we still managed to inform nine individuals of their status. We also were able to hand out some free condoms and literature, so there are a couple more people out there practicing safe sex because of us!

The testing event went from 9am-4pm, and afterwards we grabbed some dinner at Bumblebee’s and then headed to Railway Park for a candlelight vigil for those who have died of AIDS. The vigil was hosted by Trey’s agency, Southwest Care Center, which is a high tech HIV/AIDS clinic, and was a sad but good experience. They lined the park with “farolitos”, a local decoration that is simply a brown paper lunch bag with a candle inside. There was a bunch lining the pathways and in the shape of a big AIDS ribbon in the middle of the park. It was simple but scenic, gently lighting up the park. After a brief speech by the Medical Director of SWCC, Trevor Hawkins, and a few melodies sung by SWCC staff, anyone who wanted to could tell their and their loved ones story. It was a good way to hear how people other than those who are positive are affected by the disease.

Unfortunately, we had to go back to our agencies and work after Tuesday, but that did not stop us from finishing off the week with a party! That Friday our city supervisor, Robert Sturm, and the agency he works at, New Mexico Community AIDS Partnership, held a get together for WAD and the various HIV/AIDS agencies and projects they help fund. There was a whole bunch of interesting people there, as well as free soda and food, so obviously us Americorps members flocked to the event. It was a fun and relaxing way to finish up a busy week.

Monday, January 4, 2010

World AIDS Day with Team Detroit

Team Detroit worked tirelessly all day to do its part for a very significant cause. The Team decided to spread itself around in hopes of contributing to the success of several different programs. Team Detroit aimed to get things done.

Team D was split into 4 overlapping groups. The first group was extremely excited to be a part of the Detroit Health Department's WAD Testing Event. Two team members offered their services to the community via the Detroit Health Departments Mobile Testing Unit.

The second group participated in the University of Detroit Mercy's all-day WAD event. A few team members helped with testing, while the others participated in a HIV/AIDS Panel Discussion. A good and rewarding time was had by all.

The third group helped set-up and take down the Detroit Red Ribbon Collaborative's Health Fair. Additionally, one team member provided rapid testing to persons attending the fair, while the others participated in HIV/AIDS outreach, engaging community members in important discussions.

Finally, the last group staffed the Detroit Red Ribbon Collaborative's Detroit Red Fundraiser. The event proved to be an awesome success. For Team Detroit, WAD represented an exciting opportunity to collaborate with different organizations in hopes of providing as much assistance, direct or indirect, to the community.

We hope all teams did everything in their power to help the communities they serve on WAD. We wish all teams a successful and rewarding remainder of the service year.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Team Indy celebrated the winter holidays by decorating cookies, which we then delivered to a local domestic violence shelter.

Happy New Year, from your friendly neighborhood reindeer impersonators!