Category Archives: Mason Service Corps

Flint Hill’s Learning Center

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By Lili Jalaie

The service-learning project that I am at is Flint Hill’s Learning center program. This program helps kids with difficulties and disabilities that make them a little slower than a regular student. It’s a program that bring kids that are slower and helps guide them and encourage them to understand that everyone goes there own pace and that it is ok. There purpose is to be a supporting guide to students. Their organization isn’t that big but at Flint Hill it is a key system that they use, and it is very affective.

As a person who went to Flint Hill and was in the learning center program it really affected my life for the better. I am dyslexic and have ADHD and it has always slowed me down and coming to Flint Hill where they specialized in kids like me it helped me become more organized and independent and helped me grow to be the person I am today. Now that I have started working there it helps me understand the other side and how much the Learning Center teachers did for their students. Since I was a kid in the learning center before, I knew how to handle the kids the way I wanted to be treated. What I have learned about myself is that I really do want to help kids and guide them the way my teachers guided me when I was in school. The community I work in is so opening and judgment free and really helps me feel at home and also makes the students feel safe.

What I think I contributed to the community site is that since I was a student there and knew how it felt they would use me to talk to the kids and share my story and be a role model to who the kids would want to be. But I also helped by talking to kids and guiding them the right direction when they seemed to be down or upset because they weren’t as fast at understanding things as their friends. Some values and beliefs that come to mind are the fact that when I went to Flint Hill and was in the learning Center Program I used to hate having to go at first because I didn’t want to look like the slow kid and the one that was behind because I always wanted to be a leader. But once I went a couple more times I realized that it really did help me for the better and it was ok to be slow. But now that I work there I can see the same feelings I had about the process that the kids have. It just takes a little time for the kids to really realize the amazing program that they are in.

In the end the most important lesson that was learned was that it is ok to be a little slower. Everyone goes at there own pace and it shouldn’t discourage you. Working at Flint Hill now I wouldn’t want to change anything about the community. I think that they have a great community already and that it shouldn’t be changed at all. The main problem that the Learning Center is trying to identify is that no kid should feel alone and be discouraged because of something they are born with. They should be encouraged for working even harder to get where they have to be. Flint Hill’s Learning Center is very good at addressing this issue and helping kids with the problem that they have.

 

Trees.

By Anthony Applewhite

For my service learning project I am helping to clean up and maintain the grounds and building.  I am also tasked with helping set up for special events and other such jobs.  The organization I am working for is the Vale Church.  Their purpose is to spread the word of god as well as to help those in need.  It is a decently small church with a very tight knit community.  Their history is very old, it is an old piece of land, it is an old building, and the people are all old.  Their mission and goals are to help spread the word of god and to help those in need.

 

I have learned that when doing manual labor, it is infinitely more pleasurable to talk to someone and just generally converse with friends than it is to do work in silence for hours.  I have learned that even though people care about the community not many can take time out to help clean it up, so that’s left for me.  I have done a ton of clean-up be it taking down tree branches, raking leaves, changing light bulbs, painting, power washing, stain proofing, cleaning, and much more.  I have gone from respecting nature to hating trees.  If I have the choice when I get a place to live there will be no trees near me.  They make WAY too many leaves and other problems to deal with.  I learned two things.  Number one is that even for such a small area of land, it requires copious amounts of maintenance and general upkeep.  The second thing that I learned is to never think you are done.  There is always something else to do or a way you can redo the original task better.  I would love to burn all the trees.  This way I don’t have to do any work to cut them down haul them away and mulch them then spread the mulch, I don’t have to rake the leaves that fall off when cutting it down, I don’t have to plan where to let it fall or to clean up the ground around where it falls including the indents, and most importantly I don’t have to ever rake the leaves again.  If I urn the tree it would look cool, it could toast marshmallows, and it would provide heat in the winter for a couple of hours.  There is not really an identified problem, just general upkeep.  They get volunteers like me to do it.

Britepaths (Formerly Our Daily Bread)

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By Lynne Eisenberg

I worked with two organizations during this semester, however I will be focusing on the second one because it was more of a nonprofit focused organization.  The organization was Britepaths in Fairfax, VA.  This organization has been up and running for over 30 years.  On their website they say they have been “a dedicated leader in developing sustainable solutions that stabilize low income working families, build resilience through financial literacy and mentoring, and provide seasonal supports”.  Their main goal is to help families who are struggling to make ends meet and stabilize and guide them toward self-sufficiency.  Their former name used to be Our Daily Bread, but they recently had a name change to indicate that they were not simply a soup kitchen but were there to provide many more resources as well.

During my time at Britepaths, I learned how uninformed I was about things happening even right inside my own neighborhood.  Fairfax is in the top 3 wealthiest counties in the nation, and yet they have tens of thousands of individuals that are homeless and go without proper food and other basic needs.  I’ve learned that there are things that I can do to help, even if it is the littlest things, however nothing will get better if the underlying cause is not addressed.  It is great to continue to provide food for the hungry, but a better goal for the future would be to figure out why these people go hungry and how to have less and less individuals going without these basic needs.  During my time there volunteering, I was able to help with mailing out letters to donors, organize “customer” files to make sure their contact information is correct, help prepare posters and setup of fundraiser, and help sort and organize food in the food pantry.  One thing I think they could have been better at was being organized.  It seemed whenever I went in to help, they were slightly disorganized.  I think this was partly due to the cramped space that their facility is in.  I know the organization is moving addresses in a few months, and hopefully the move will be to bigger space and will allow for more organization and efficiency.

Before I always wondered and even judged those who were homeless or without food, thinking that it was their fault and that they could get themselves out of the situation if they really wanted to.  I now have a much better understanding of how some individuals get into these situations that can sometimes just spiral out of control.  Britepaths is an organization that is there to offer that initial support to those in need, and then to make sure the individual puts forth their own effort to continue their progress.  They are good at not just offering superficial or short term solutions, but looking at underlying problems and helping to make people self-sufficient so that they can continue to make a better life for themselves.

Wright to Read

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By Liza Kremer

When I first came across the Wright to Read program located in Alexandria, VA, I was thrilled at the thought of both helping others and working with children. Over the past three times I’ve volunteered, I’ve learned a lot about the program.

Wright to Read is a program aiming to serve students (in 2016, their goal is 100) in Alexandria City Public Schools, grades 1-5, who have tested a minimum of one year below grade level in literacy skills. Many of the students referred to the program are more than a year behind; it’s also found that nearly all qualify for free or reduced lunch; over 50% are English language learners; and 25% receive Special Education services. The vision of Wright to Read, as stated on their website, is “Every child will have the necessary literacy skills to acheive success in school and in life”. However, the director, Luisa Reyes, is aiming to do more than that. She not only wants them to improve their skills; she also wants the students to develop a love literature, as well as form a unique relationship with their chosen tutor. Tutors are chosen carefully and go through a two-month long process that includes orientation, training, and a background check. Then, of course, there is the introduction meeting with the student and their parent(s)/guardian(s) before beginning the actual tutoring. I’ve been in the office during one of the orientation sessions and have learned that Luisa is keen on helping her tutors out whenever they need, whatever it may be, in order to further increase the student’s success. She stresses the importance of building a relationship with the student, as well as a routine. Students meet with their tutor for one hour each week after school at one of the local libraries, and that one hour includes a detailed schedule to be guided by, if not follow. The schedule is also catered to the student’s need; for instance, if a student reads well, but has trouble with comprehension, the tutor is to focus on that, and vice versa.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned so far while volunteering is humility. As much as I would love to be a tutor, the time frame required to become a tutor exceeds the length of this class, not to mention that my current schedule doesn’t allow for the 30-minute drive once a week (plus that’s a bit of a drive to make every week). Therefore, I’ve been helping Luisa out in the office. The first time I volunteered was for a Scavenger Hunt event. My main duties included setting up the food and then standing in the room, letting families know what to do. I was discouraged, in all honesty, about what the next volunteer hours would bring. However, my next session I helped Luisa clean off this massive desk in her office, which she decided would be sold later, and then I proceeded to make copies. My last session, which I found most enjoyable, consisted of me reading several different children’s books and writing comprehension questions to go along with them, for the tutors and their student. That, of course, brought out the inner writer in me, and I found it to be both fun and slightly challenging. All of these tasks did not include me tutoring or involving myself at all with children, which is what I wanted when searching for an organization; however, I have still been a help to Luisa and the program. She’s a very busy woman, as I’ve learned, and seems to dedicate much of her life to helping others. While the service work I’m doing is not my ideal, it sill counts, it still matters, and it’s taught me that I don’t have to do something big to help someone out.

Pop Up Pantry

By Collette Rhoads

I ended up doing a large majority of hours with George Mason University’s Pop-Up Pantry. Pop-Up Pantry is a institution on campus that offers food to students on campus who may otherwise be unable to provide food for themselves. It’s a relatively small institution, but it has a huge heart. Their missions is t mitigate the challenges that face students with food insecurity and hunger at George Mason University. Working with the pantry I have realized that I am very fortunate. So many people are able to have necessities such as food, water, and shelter. Often times I feel that many people overlook the fact that there are some people on college campuses that cannot afford to eat. I learned that my community (primarily the Leadership and Community Engagement LLC) is very aware of hunger and homelessness being a serious issue. I’ve gained a lot of respect for the people around me and their willingness to give up time in their schedules to help those in need. I feel that I contributed a helping hand. The pantry went through a lot of change at the start of the school year and I’d like to think that I helped make a more smooth transition. I truly value people and their well being, helping with the Pop-Up Pantry farther instilled my hope and goal of world peace. I learned that the only way to truly strive to end something as big as world hunger is to do something about it! I did an internship with a company called STOP HUNGER NOW which focuses on ending world hunger. Whether it’s hunger students on a college campus, or hungry children in India, I’m passionate that with the help of human kind our world can achieve something so magnificent.

Smashing Walnuts

Blogger: Rianna Rosenkranse

Service Site: Smashing Walnuts

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The service site that I am working for is called Smashing Walnuts. Smashing Walnuts is a fairly new non-profit organization which aims to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer. The organization was started when 9 year old Gabriella Miller was diagnosed with DIPG, a terminal brain cancer. Her tumor was the size of a walnut and every night her and her family would smash a walnut to symbolize Gabriella smashing and defeating the cancer. This became a worldwide thing as Gabriella went and faced the world with her cancer. This nine year old girl took on the world like it was job. She made differences in every person’s life who knew about her. Less than a year after Gabriella was diagnosed, at the age of 10, she passed away and her family continues her organization to bring the hard truth about childhood cancer to the face of society.

This service site challenged my assumption of the stereotype that adults get cancer and adults die. When we grow up, we think that people die because they are old. We grow up with the stereotype that we will live to have children, then grandchildren, and maybe even great grandchildren and we will die before them. We have a stereotype that we will not outlive our children, but the truth is that we may. Mark and Ellyn Miller outlived their daughter Gabriella just like many other parents will because of cancer. Thousands of children are affected every year because of cancer and we do not think about it because we are programed to think that we will live into old age. Smashing Walnuts made me realize that anyone can die at any time. Life is not fair. Life does not allow children to be immune to disease like cancer, so as a society we must face reality and instead of think our children will outlive us, we need to make sure they outlive us. We need to put in the time, research and funds to provide our children with the life they deserve.

The main social problem that my service site works to alleviate is the disadvantage children are given for receiving treatments of cancer. This is because adults have a higher success rate of surviving cancer. Since children are less likely to live, more money is given to adults for treatment and research and only about 4% of government funding is given to children. Children are not given the time, attention, money, or research that they need in order to find a cure or even better treatments. The problem is that children are our future, yet we aren’t giving them the attention they need to survive. We will not have a future if we do not give these children fighting cancer a chance to survive. My service contributes to this cause because all of the service to Smashing Walnuts is about raising awareness to this problem. The main point of Smashing Walnuts is to show people that it is not fair that our children need to die because they have a lower success rate. Their goal is to teach people the truth about childhood cancer and in return hope that awareness, funds, and treatments will rise. My service alone went to raise awareness to this problem through creating a YouTube video which told dark facts about cancer and through my aid in programs such as Galas and walks to raise both awareness and money.

My biggest challenge with this experience was the communication aspect. While I like to work in a timely manner and get my work done, in order to do that you need constant communication with your boss. In my case, my boss was not good with communication and usually out of town. My boss, is an extremely busy woman and would usually takes days to respond to any message and also would not post important messages for me on the Facebook page until it was almost too late. Having a boss who cannot communicate with you makes it very difficult and makes you almost not want to do the work, but it also taught me the most valuable lesson I learned. Even though there were days I wanted to stop because of it, remembering why I am doing this kept me going. The thought of the beautiful Gabriella Miller and all other children with cancer having hope is what kept me going and that is what I will take away from this experience. No matter how tough things are getting, you are making a difference in someone’s life.

What I really learned from this experience is that it is not about me. It is not about me trying to make a difference, it is not about the volunteer next to me trying to make a difference and really it’s not even about 10 year old Gabriella Miller trying to make a difference, it’s about the whole world as one trying. With just one person trying to make a difference the world would be nowhere. We need each volunteer just as much as we need each person who starts an organization. Without Gabriella Miller there would be no Smashing Walnuts, but without the help Smashing Walnuts would have no success. What I will take away is that while one person can make a difference, it takes the world to change the world.

The Busiest Internship I’ve ever had

VolFfxBlogger: Dan O’Brien, Mason Service Corps Volunteer

Service Site: Volunteer Fairfax

For my internship, I interned at Volunteer Fairfax and my role was an essential one as I was not a typical intern. My role as an intern was to be in charge of the brand new Volunteer Emergency Team, or VET for short. With this role, I was in charge of a very large task. It was my responsibility to make sure that the group of people that would tell volunteers where to go during an emergency was properly-trained and knew how to handle any sort of emergency. Volunteer Fairfax is an essential volunteer agency as it is responsible for thousands of volunteers across the entire county. Although I learned a lot at the internship, one of the most important lessons that I learned at the internship was to be open to new challenges and to not be afraid when something I was unfamiliar with came up. There were a lot of moments at my internship when I would come into contact that I either had minimal experience with or had no idea how to respond, but I was willing to learn new things and become more experienced. Overall, that lesson was a very essential one for me to learn and I am very glad that I got that experience at Volunteer Fairfax.

The internship challenged many of the stereotypes that I had about volunteers, especially what the demographic makeup of most volunteers would be. I expected most volunteers to be white, middle class, and either 18-24 or 65+, but I saw a variety of different demographics among the volunteers that I ran into.

One of the largest problems that I ran into while interning at Volunteer Fairfax was the numerous amount of volunteer agencies that exist in Fairfax County as well as other counties, the local and state governments, and the federal government. Although it is very comforting to see so many people willing to participate in volunteering for the sake of assisting those who need it, it must be said that so many different agencies creates a lot of red tape. With all that red tape, it takes intelligent people with a comprehensive knowledge of the non-profit system in order for the entire system to run efficiently, and it would only get worse in the case of a severe disaster. I think that one of the root problems is that there are too many agencies and non-profits in Fairfax County, but I believe that Volunteer Fairfax is essential to have in order to keep the agencies and non-profits organized. Although I am probably biased, I believe that my role as the intern for Volunteer Fairfax has created more organization in the sense that there will now be a team on-site after a disaster to take care of the logistical work in regards to organizing volunteers.

My main challenge at the internship was to get all the work done that I could in the short amount of time that I had there. There was never a moment where I wasn’t either working on a task or finding a new task to work on, which has its positives and negatives. Overall, I will take away the fact that this will be the busiest internship that I have ever had and I would not have gotten this internship had it not been for Mason Service Corps.