Author Archives: k8mante

Post-pandemic Call to Community: Volunteering to Build Hope

Organization: Habitat for Humanity, Tucson: https://www.habitattucson.org/

Location: Tucson, AZ (USA)

Backyard angel

We are still collectively emerging from the pandemic and many of us feel a sense of uncertainty… an unsettling. The ways of life we took for granted were shaken and we are struggling collectively to adapt to new patterns of work (where, when, how), community (sharing public space such as shopping & restaurants), family (holidays, celebrations, trips), and even a realignment of what we want for our lives and our families. In a way, we have been shaken awake from a life we may not have questioned enough. And we are not yet settled into what will be.

Adding to our sense of vulnerability are big-world challenges such as concern about the economy and inflation, the war in Ukraine, new rounds of COVID, seasonal flu. There may sense we have lost the control we thought we had over our lives and feel more vulnerable to the world’s ills.

But that’s not the full story of our collective experience. It does not reflect what we are capable of building as we emerge post-pandemic.

We need to rebuild and reclaim our agency over our lives. To work through the trauma of the past few years which has left us anxious.

We can do this by focusing on what is ours to do in the moment. We can ask ourselves, what is right in front of us, in the smaller spaces of life? Where can we have impact in our families? Our work? Our communities?

I’m not talking about anything big or splashy. There is magic in the subtle and the ordinary. We just need to tap into that energy. One such avenue is volunteering.

Volunteering is personally empowering and socially productive. Spending even a short amount of time surrounded with people who are dedicated to bettering the world, and participating with others in community to make a difference for others, strengthens our hope muscles and lessens our anxiety. It also boost our connection to others. We are part of a whole.

Volunteering even just one time, for a few hours, can give you a mental and emotional boost, while also helping members of the community in need. There is magic in working together with others focused on kindness…. and in what happens when you do that. It’s energizing.

It’s also a conscious choice to act, so it builds confidence and agency. The word volunteer comes from the Latin “voluntaries” meaning “willing or of one’s own choice.” Volunteering is a conscious decision to act. You choose to make the effort to volunteer. This is empowering!

Even when I travel, I look for an organization where I can volunteer. It is one of the best ways to get to know the local community. Instead of remaining at a tourist level, it is exciting to dig deeper and be part of something that sustains the local people.

Some types of organizations are better suited for one-time visitors. Habitat for Humanity is a great choice! They have chapters in every US State and 70 countries around the world. Habitat focuses on building or repairing homes for low-income families and they need regular teams of volunteers for a variety of projects.

My husband and I traveled to Tucson, Arizona, to visit his father over Thanksgiving weekend, and I spent one day volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Tucson’s “A Brush With Kindness” division.

We started painting but then it rained

A Brush with Kindness partners with low-income residents who struggle to maintain the exterior of their homes, allowing them to reclaim their homes with pride and dignity.

They help with outside painting, system repairs to electrical and heating, tree trimming and removal, repairs on roofing, siding, doors, and windows.

On this particular day we were there to install fences and gutters.

Tucson ended up experiencing an unusual day of rain so we did not get to do the gutters, so we focused on installing the fencing.  

I was one of about 10 volunteers that day. I met some inspiring people – among them a female long-haul truck driver who shared interesting stories of life on the road, a retired school principal who traveled the world on her bicycle and shared wonderful stories of towns visited around the world, and a seminary student getting ready to embark on the next phase of his journey.

Our team was across all ages – from college students to retirees. Most were local so I learned a lot about the local culture, local favorite hidden restaurants and activities, and about local, little-known hiking spots. Things I may never have learned had I remained in “tourist” mode and not volunteered for the day.

I have volunteered with several Habitat for Humanity chapters in a handful of States and love the organization. The site leaders are always very helpful, ensure you are properly trained and following safety protocols, and also ensure you are engaged and busy. It is always a wonderful experience!

Habitat for Humanity Tucson builds about 15 – 25 houses a year. Applicants undergo an application process where they are approved based on their income, willingness to partner to build the house (sweat equity) and need.

Families have to put in 200 hours of sweat-equity per adult per home. The typical home is about 1,200 sq ft, and is often one story, with 3 bedrooms and 1 ½ bathrooms. They will vary from that depending on location/need.

Volunteer activities vary based on needs of the day but can be tailored to each participant’s abilities so everyone has something meaningful to do. This makes it great for families (parents and adult children, siblings, etc.) and all different ages (teens through retirees). Please note – there are minimum age requirements so check your local Habitat for details.

Interested in finding a Habitat for Humanity near you so you can volunteer? 

Check out https://www.habitat.org/ and you can search by your State.

Interested in learning more about Habitat for Humanity Tucson and their Brush with Kindness division? Check out: https://www.habitattucson.org/

Thank you for journeying with me! XO – Penny

Building a Clean Water Well in Guatemala

Organization: Living Water International: https://water.cc/

Location: Aldea Almolonga, Tiquisate district, Guatemala….

Those of us at the drill site that morning were working hard to keep the mud out of the way of the drill pipe as it bored deeper and deeper into the earth. The extreme humidity challenged our energy levels as the drill slowly ticked its way down through the rock.

The steel tip of the drill was made up of 3 circular sets of teeth that worked together to powerfully grind its way through the rock and shale, looking for a water table deep enough for it to run clean.

A diesel pump about the size of a large suitcase drew water up a rubber hose from the water pit we’d dug and filled from a huge tank the first day.

The diesel pump drawing water

The pump powerfully pushed the water down and out the tip of the drill pipe, flushing the sludge and debris from drilling back up to the surface, where we needed to perpetually shovel it out of the way before our water pit, and the trough around the drill pipe, became peanut-butter-thick with sludge.

That would stop the drill and set us back while we cleaned up the area.

This was day 3 and we’d bore about 60 feet, stopping off and on for a myriad of reasons – to check the type of rock/mud (categorize the strata), dig the pipe free of sludge, and change the tip of the drill to a heavier one when the rock was too hard.

Muddy and exhausted, fending off the heat and 90% humidity with fresh juice from coconuts machete-chopped from a village tree by one of the elders, we kept each other going by sharing the heavy work and joking around.

Even though we all did not speak each others’ languages, it did not matter.

Hard work and community made us all feel close and we learned to communicate in our own way.

The equipment itself was both sturdy and old, so there always seemed to be a need to fix something – a jam in the chain gear that methodically and slowly moved the drill downward, a leak in the rubber hose that caused loss of pressure, a jam in the hose when some sort of debris got tangled up inside.

The rest of our crew were down the street, in the courtyard of one of the homes in the village, teaching hygiene lessons and working with the mommas and the children.

Although groups of homes throughout the village had hand-dug narrow, shallow wells they shared for water, and some homes used vats and plastic barrels to collect rainwater, the water was toxic, full of pesticide run-off from commercial sugar and plantain fields, livestock waste from the chickens, turkeys and pigs that ran free, and human waste run-off from outhouses.

Generations had been raised without running water and with no access to clean water, so members of the village were often sick with stomach and digestive issues from the toxic water and many had skin irritations because they hand-washed their clothing in the dirty water.

Children and the elderly were most affected, often getting sick and having life-threatening diarrhea. Children missed school often and both the youngest and oldest were at risk of death from illnesses brought on by the toxic water. The villagers knew the water was making them sick, but they had no options. There was no way to access clean water so they had to use what was available.

Education was necessary to ensure they knew how to stop the spread of germs. Proper handwashing techniques, teeth brushing, keeping the well pump clean, learning how to mix a quick solution to combat dehydration from diarrhea… These are some of the lessons the group taught over the week. After lessons the team often played soccer and other games with the children. For many of the families, we were the first Americans they’d ever seen.

The amazing in-country Living Water team!

We were there as part of a small team of volunteers from the USA to work alongside the villagers and the in-country Guatemalan team from Living Water International, a non-profit dedicated to creating clean-water wells in villages across the globe with no access to clean water.

Long before our trip, the village had spent almost two years going through a process with Living Water to determine if their village was not only a viable site for a clean-water well (geological studies), but if the village met all the other criteria required as well – such as having a dedicated local team to help drill, build, and maintain the well, solid geo-political and religious agreements and alliances so that everyone in the village had equal access to the clean water, and the villagers had to raise some of the funds for the well drilling, the parts, and future maintenance.

The well is a partnership between every member of the village and Living Water. As in every other country Living Water operates, there is a waiting list of villages in Guatemala hoping to get a clean water well.

Each day on site, the mommas of the village worked together to cook us all (the village drillers, the US volunteers, and the team from Living Water) a spectacular luncheon of traditional foods made with local foods.

These lunches were typically traditional chicken or pork stew with vegetables, or some sort of meat cooked on the open grill and served with rice and vegetables. And there were always fresh-made tortillas – so delicious! Everything was made in their traditional kitchens.

Each home had a kitchen as a separate structure, often with low or partial walls and a tin roof. Open to the elements and air without doors and full walls, they cooked with wood on open fire pits built on cinderblock platforms slightly lower than counter height. Sometimes they had a gas stove as well, although our lunches were always made on the open fire.

The food was always delicious!

This particular day was Tuesday and through the afternoon and long into dusk we would be working, looking for water.

That evening, as the past two evenings, we would leave exhausted, sore from the hard work, and covered in mud, not yet having hit water, but getting ever closer!

We would get back to where we we staying, quickly shower, crash for some sleep, and eagerly be ready to get back to the village early the next day.

When we hit clean water we had to let it
run for many hours to ensure it was coming up clean

By the end of the next day (Wednesday) we would be blessed – hitting clean water – and with it would come a joyous celebration to be remembered for generations!

Hitting water meant life would change in the village!

Before we would leave the village the final day, we would help line the new well with PVC piping and build a hand-pump for the entire village to use.

The Living Water in-country team made sure the village representatives were taught how to maintain and fix the pump so the village would be self-sufficient.

The villagers could, if desired, save up to put in an electric pump in the future. But the manual hand pump is a great start because it will always work!

The in-country Living Water Team will follow up with the village to see how the well is doing. There are villages who still use their hand pump up to 15 years after it’s installed!

Thank you for journeying along with me.

To learn more about Living Water International, please visit: https://water.cc/

Wishes for 2021 – Spreading Kindness Collective Art Installation

HELP SPREAD LOVE AND GOOD WISHES!

What do you hope 2021 will bring? Unity? Love? Joy? Peace? Here at Wall, Einhorn & Chernitzer we want to send holiday cheer throughout the universe and we need your help!

Think of a positive wish for 2021 then print out this page (you can download below) and write your word on the ornament. Color or decorate your ornament and send it in (mail it in or email a photo). We’ll hang it on the positive wish tree!

We’ll be posting photos of the ornaments we receive to spread the love far and wide and share your wishes.

Mail your ornament to:

Wall, Einhorn & Chernitzer
Attn: Penny
150 West Main Street, Suite 1200
Norfolk, VA 23510

OR e-mail a photo of your ornament to:

marketing@WEC-CPA.com

Let’s share positive wishes the world over!


Click the “Download” button below for a printable version of the instructions and ornament.

Virtual Volunteering Part Three: 8 Amazing Virtual Volunteer Opportunities for Groups, Offices and Teams

teamwork to help others

 

Volunteering as a team:

  • Is a chance to get to know and appreciate each other on another level. This has ripple effects as it promotes collaboration in the workplace.
  • Gives employees a fresh perspective on positive and productive interaction. It brings teams together on an emotional and personal level.
  • Builds and reveals skills you may not even realize your team members have!
  • Promotes good citizenship. There’s only one Earth and we are its stewards. What future do you want to build? What responsibility is your organization/group/team taking to be responsible members of your community?
  • Inspiring a culture of giving back engages employees, builds employee passion by supporting a sense of purpose, elevates workplace morale
  • Provides an amazing opportunity to develop leadership skills, build problem-solving skills and teaches participants how to be flexible.

Read more

Virtual Volunteering Part TWO: 8 Amazing Ideas for Children and Families

dogs on beach

The dog days of summer are the perfect time to help your child give back by volunteering and participating in charitable activities. There are TONS of opportunities… but who has time to look for the right ones, right?

 

Here is my list of 8 super-fun and super-meaningful opportunities to get children of all ages involved in volunteering.  Each of these ideas are super-easy, can be completed from anywhere at pretty much anytime, and can be done by an individual child, a group of children, or with the whole family – whatever works for you!

Looking for a way to keep kids busy for an afternoon? What about on a rainy day? Looking for something for the kids to do when they visit grandparents? These ideas have your back. They are even great for birthday party activities, boy/girl scout activities and family picnics.

 

Which will be your family favorites?

 

 

Read more

Love in the Face of Tragedy: Volunteering after Unimaginable Acts of Violence

May 31st, 2019…. The words “active shooter” sent ripples of horror through the police radios. A 15-year city employee was on a shooting rampage at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. When it was over, 12 people would be killed (13, including the gunman). Another 4 would be injured.

 

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The VA Beach 12. Lives cut short tragically and violently. Innocent victims cruelly and horribly lost.
When unexpected and unimaginable tragedy hits, the collective community trauma can be devastating. It’s a story we hear far too often: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Pulse Nightclub, Parkland… the list goes on and on, battering us with grief and loss. 
Read more

Serving Friday Mission Lunch in Paris, France

IMG_7687

It was a beautiful, sunny morning in Paris as I walked along the Seine. It was my birthday and I was completely excited to be spending it in the city of lights!

 

Across the river, the Eiffel Tower’s wrought iron latticework gracefully sparkled in the sun. Below me I could spy on picturesque houseboats moored along the banks of the river and wondered what it would be like to vacation on one of them.

 

Tourist cameras were already snapping wildly as trinket vendors (les bouquinistes) began to set up their tiny stalls along the bridges.

 

I was heading towards the American Cathedral in Paris – on Avenue George V, in the heart of this wealthy tourist mecca – to begin my shift at their Mission Lunch.

 

250px-American_Cathedral_in_Paris_LogoEvery Friday, 64 homeless and/or poor guests come for a hot, 3-course meal and dessert served by volunteers in a restaurant atmosphere.

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Virtual Volunteering Part 1: Amazing Ideas for Individuals!

virtual volunteeringDo you want to volunteer but can’t seem to fit it into your busy schedule or can only do it at odd hours? Are you looking for a way to give back that lets you do it when, where and how it best works for you? Do you have mobility/ability challenges that prevent you from traveling to various locations to volunteer? I have solutions for you!

Join me in exploring amazing volunteer opportunities that work whenever, wherever and however volunteering works best for you!

 

Today’s post is Part 1 of a 3-post series exploring all sorts of alternative volunteering ideas designed to work with any schedule and availability. Part 1 focuses on amazing ideas for individuals. Part 2 will focus on opportunities for families and Part 3 will focus on opportunities for groups.

 

Now, let’s get started… the world NEEDS YOU!  Read more

Habitat for Humanity South Hampton Roads (Norfolk, VA): Changing lives through the ReStore

meThere was time to read through several homeowner stories as I waited for the volunteer shift to start at the Habitat for Humanity South Hampton Roads ReStore (HFH-SH) in Norfolk, VA.

 

I learned of single moms working multiple jobs to make enough to put food on the table and care for their children.

 

I read a story of a family forced out of their apartment by rent increases. Another family struggled to move to a safe neighborhood to get away from gun violence and drug gangs. One family, unable to secure affordable financing, was forced to live with relatives in crowded conditions. Read more

The Environmental Defense Center: 50 Years of Protection, Advocacy and Education

Me at the gate

 

Pockets of rain passed overhead on the 2 mile walk to the Environmental Defense Center’s (EDC) headquarters in Santa Barbara, California. It is impossible to ignore the breathtaking beauty of the area… even in the rain.

 

Behind me spread peaceful, wide beaches, shaped by the waves of thousands of years. Before me rose the undulating foothills of the imposing and majestic Santa Ynez Mountains, its tops hidden by thick shreds of clouds. Santa Barbara is nestled here, in this oasis. Read more

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