Category Archives: General Awareness

Week 52: Volunteering at the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana

My legs and back were stiff from sitting on the ground for the last hour, but there was no room to stretch or move in the tiny sweat lodge full as it was with tribesmen/women and invited guests.

 

I had never been in a place so dark. Covered with branches and then thick blankets, absolutely no light entered the space. The air was humid and thick enough that you felt you were breathing in gel.

 

IMG_7943Although it was as dark as the endless depths of space, it was not silent. Every so often the chief, or one of his chosen assistants, took large boughs of fresh sweet pine, dipped them in a bucket of water and then sprinkled them on the hot rocks in the basin dug into the center of the hut. You could hear the sizzle and feel the new steam rising. Members of the tribe chanted and sung prayer songs of thanks and wellbeing. Some were accompanied by seed rattles or drumming.

 

From time to time the Chief interrupted the darkness by burning offerings over the stones. Participants brought bits of tobacco to be burnt in offerings to the heavens. The tobacco became part of mother earth – she took all the troubles offered to her, cleansed them and turned them into nourishment for humankind. The smoke would take the prayers and messages up to the Gods.

 

IMG_8333To my left, the pipe woman prepared and passed the ceremonial pipe around the room and everyone took a puff, releasing the smoke to the heavens while praying.

 

You could see the tiny light of the tobacco in the pipe glow red hot when someone inhaled. Like a dancing firefly.

 

At one point the Chief passed around hot sweet pine needle tea in a large wooden scoop and everyone took a sip.

 

The sweat lodge ceremony was divided into 4 sections – each about 30 minutes long with a few minute break in between. During the breaks you were able to take a cold drink of water that was passed around in a shared jug.

 

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New rocks from the bonfire outside the hut were brought in to keep the hut hot. During those few minutes you could catch a wisp of cool air and see the night sky and bonfire outside.

 

Then the blankets and door were closed and you were once again encased in thick darkness.

 

I felt completely relaxed and a bit dizzy. I could be anywhere, or nowhere.

 

I imagined this was like the darkness that existed before the Universe was created… a thick darkness everywhere, unending.

 

This was the last week of my 52 week journey. I was on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana, working with a  team from Global Volunteers.

 

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IMG_8613Fantastically unique and special moments like the sweat lodge ceremony happened all week as we met and worked alongside the families of the tribe.

 

I slept in a teepee, worked dried elk hide to create a traditional par fleche, learned all about the history of the Blackfeet and the Reservation, their traditions and system of government.

 

I watched a traditional Blackfeet ceremonial dance, met tribal artists, ate traditional foods, and spent my volunteer days helping the team take care of an expansive working farm.

 

It was an amazing week and a spiritually special way to end my 52 weeks of charity. I will definitely be back!

 

To learn more about the Blackfeet Indian program and other programs run by Global Volunteers, please check out their website at: https://globalvolunteers.org/

 

THANK YOU for coming along on my 52 week journey. I’m not sure what’s next for me with this – I’ve LOVED my year and am sad to see it end. I’m going to think about next steps for 2019… stay tuned 😉

XO XO,

…PENNY

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Week 51: Mane Stream – Helping Children with Disabilities through Equine Therapy

logoThose who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves” reads a quote in the volunteer kit. I was reading up ahead of my scheduled day at Mane Stream, an adaptive horsemanship and equine therapy center in Oldwick, NJ. I would quickly learn that Mane Stream was much more than a therapeutic program. It is a community of joy and healing. The special staff, therapists and volunteers who work at Mane Stream light up the lives of their patients and their families.

 

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Week 47: Helping our Children Build a Better Tomorrow

kids earth heart

 

One day in the not too distant future the world will belong to our children. They will make decisions on the environment, policies on poverty and social services, and be responsible for making decisions about resources, war, and peace.  They will be the problem-solvers (and problem-creators) responsible for the well-being of future generations.

 

How can we support our children and young adults so they become their best selves in a global society? How can we fuel within them a sense of service and civic engagement? How can we expand their minds to include causes bigger than themselves?

 

Most importantly, how can we help them develop the resolve and confidence they will need so they believe without a shadow of doubt they can make a difference, effect change, and improve the world?

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Week 46: NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking: Fighting for the Victims

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The speaker stood up at the front of the auditorium….

Several times a year our group goes into local cities and towns and asks,Who are your missing children?We get their names and photos, then make posters of these children.”

 

(She holds up one of the posters with the faces of at least 15 children on it)

 

We then stop at motels and hotels” she continued, “and ask the staff, ‘Have you seen any of these faces?’”

 

EVERY TIME we’ve done this we’ve had at least one rescue. Sometimes several. The children are usually going by different names, but we always find someone who recognizes at least one and it allows us to start to work towards finding them and rescuing them.”

 

These children… they are typically between the ages of 12 and 16. These cities and towns? …. They are in New Jersey….

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Week 41: Kindness.org: The Surprising Effects of Building Intent Around Kindness

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Because this is New Jersey, and aggressive, caffeine-fueled commuting is standard, I pass 7 Dunkin’ Donuts and 3 Starbucks on my 40 minute, 11 mile drive to work.

 

Not only do all these coffee shops ensure I can always find a boost of energy, they provided the perfect venues for me to work on this week’s charity – Kindness.org.

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Week 35: Protecting Children in Crisis: Paint-&-Sip with Family Intervention Services

CDC sources of abuse

According to the NJ Department of Children and Families, there were 59,151 referrals for child abuse and neglect in 2013. All were referred for investigation. Just about 10,000 of them became active/open cases. Ongoing neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse, domestic/school/community violence… these are the environments of children living in trauma… of families in crisis. It’s a world behind closed doors, a secret space in society.  It is into this world that Family Intervention Services (FIS) steps, with the goal of protecting children and rehabilitating families.

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Week 33: SpreadKindness.Org: Heart+Action=Power

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One of my goals for this 52-week journey is to explore a wide variety of ways to get involved – from more structured organizations to grassroots efforts. Sometimes volunteering can take a pretty big commitment of time, resources, or planning. However, there are also many simple ways to tie volunteering and kindness into your life in much more organic and simple way.  SpreadKindness.org is one such avenue.

 

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Week 32: DoSomething.Org – Empowering Youth and Young Adults to Get Involved and Get Active (because apathy sucks!)

logoDoSomething.org is the future of volunteer and activism experiences. The non-profit uses a digital platform to power offline action through hundreds of grass-roots volunteer, social change, awareness and civic action campaigns.

 

 

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Targeted at ages 13 – 30, the campaigns can be completed by individuals or groups, without any need for transportation, funding by participants, or oversight. Young adults love to get involved and make a difference. They are passionate about causes they identify with. DoSomething.org taps into that potential and makes getting active super easy and super fun, empowering teens and young adults to drive social change.

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Week 28: Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee – A Story of Forgiveness

 

Let me tell you a story…

 

Map of rwandaSince the early 1960s civil war between the Tutsi and Hutu had flared across Rwanda. For decades, propaganda by politicians on both sides fueled a deep hatred between the groups. Tutsis were perceived to have greater wealth and social status as cattle ranchers, than the Hutus, who were considered lower-class farmers.

 

A generation grew up in the midst of this turmoil, influenced by never-ending cries of hatred and bias towards the other group. The conflict spread like a slow, smoldering burn across the country with the Tutsis killing thousands of Hutus in ongoing conflicts over the years. Rwanda became a tinderbox of anger and hatred, ready to ignite and explode at any moment.  That moment came in 1994 and would rock the world…

 

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Week 26: Salvation Army Angel Tree Program – Practicing Empathy Skills With My 4 Year Old Grandson

I wanted to include my grandson Jason in a few charitable activities this holiday season. He’s 4 years old, cute as a button and has more energy than a wild bronco, so I needed to find something that was both active and would make sense to him. The Salvation Army Angel Tree program fit perfectly.

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