Category Archives: General Awareness

Benefits of the Unexpected

Volunteering at Gallop NYC

Howard Beach, NY is nestled cozily into the Southwest portion of Queens. Across its Northern and Western borders runs the very busy Belt Parkway, a major thoroughfare transporting thousands of travelers to points between Staten Island and Long Island every day.

JFK Airport – the busiest of the 7 airports that serve NYC – juts up against the Eastern border. And Jamaica Bay and its estuary curl up along the South.

The neighborhoods within Howard Beach reflect its history. Each area showcases the housing style typical at the time of development.

One neighborhood, built directly after WWII, spans street after street of quaint cape-cod and raised-ranch homes on 50 x 100 lots, with tiny, neatly maintained, front yards.

A few streets over you’ll find larger two-story homes with Dutch-angled roofs, built in the 1950s. Each with street-level entries jutting out from the main house like a chin. These homes have bigger front yards – – almost every one delineated by ornate gates and fences.

The newest neighborhoods have 6-story red-brick apartment buildings and shared condos.

Some of the housing styles in Howard Beach

More than 26,000 people live in this busy, vibrant, urban 2.3 square mile area that is Howard Beach.

This is a fact I find almost impossible to believe as I stand looking out across a large, outdoor, riding arena surrounded by trees and listening to the cluck-cluck-cluck of a few chickens and the neighing of horses and ponies.

Two white geese are splashing in a small plastic kiddie pool off to the side.

Behind me, a long red stable barn runs out towards two fields where horses are stretching their legs and enjoying the morning sun.

A few more horses and ponies are grazing on fresh hay in a gated paddock attached to the side of the barn.

It’s hard to believe I disembarked from the busy NYC Subway’s A-Train less than a mile from here!

I am at Sunrise Stables in Howard Beach, Queens, one of Gallop NYC’s three locations.

I am here to volunteer for the morning – – helping work in the barn and lend a hand wherever needed.

Gallop NYC provides therapeutic horsemanship to veterans and people with developmental, emotional, social, and physical disabilities.

Their goal is to help individuals with physical, verbal, and learning skills… inspiring them to live their lives as fully and independently as possible.

Weekly Therapeutic Riding Sessions are led by PATH International certified therapeutic riding instructors. Trained volunteers are on hand to assist each rider.

The lessons provide the opportunity for students to learn how to ride while setting individual goals.

These goals translate to the world beyond the stable.

Learning how to build a bond with a horse, how to care for a horse, how to lead a horse, understanding how horses perceive the world – each these develop skills useful in daily life, such as: balance, control, muscle use and strength, patience, focus, empathy, emotional perception, and confidence.

In addition to the therapeutic riding lessons, Gallop NYC also has two unique programs for Veterans:

  • Riding for Veterans trains participants how to bond with and ride a horse and includes special breathing and physical techniques. Participants report decreased anxiety and depression, more focus in the workplace, more overall confidence, and the strengthening of leadership skills.
  • Groundwork for Veterans focuses participants on how to care for horses. Through this program they learn important verbal and non-verbal communication skills, patience, confidence, and leadership skills as they actively take on horse care responsibilities such as grooming, tackling, lead walking, lunging and other activities.

Gallop NYC also provides Hippotherapy sessions, which use the horse’s movement as a therapeutic rehabilitative treatment. The program is designed to improve coordination, balance, core stability, muscle tone, sensorimotor function, and overall strength. Sessions are conducted by a physical or occupational therapist. The therapist adds motor tasks to the horse’s movements to address the specific needs of the patient such as sitting, standing, walking, changing the horse’s direction or gait, and working with props.

Sweating my way through barn cleaning

I started the day helping muck the stables. The horses were out in pasture or already in the middle of lessons, so our team had time to clean out the stables and then provide fresh hay and water.

It was a super-hot day (Accuweather’s “real feel” listed at 99 degrees and humid), so frequent water breaks for all the volunteers, workers, and animals kept our energies up.

The volunteer coordinator who ran the barn staff and one of the head volunteers (who volunteers several times a week) were very helpful in showing me the ropes and allowing me to help in a wide variety of tasks. They also provided me with a lot of information about the horses and the programs.

In addition to mucking the stalls, I helped clean the water buckets and food buckets, as well as a variety of other equipment for the barn and horses.

Prior to coming for the day I was asked to watch a few videos provided by the organization which detailed how to behave around, and interact with, the horses.

The videos also explained in detail how volunteers help during the lessons by walking alongside the horse and supporting the rider for safety. I found the videos very helpful and useful. They definitely prepared me for the day!

Later that morning I had the opportunity to be a support volunteer walking alongside a horse during a rider’s session. The therapist in charge of the lesson gave me very specific and detailed instructions to ensure everyone was safe and the rider had any support they needed.

The student had been taking ongoing lessons so was experienced in riding. My job was to walk alongside the horse and hold my arm across the rider’s thigh while holding the edge of the saddle with my hand.

There was another volunteer on the other side of the horse and a third volunteer leading the horse with the reins. The instructor gave very specific directions to the rider to have them practice a variety of motor skills, posture setting, verbal communication, and more.

After the first time around the arena, the volunteers walking next to the horse were asked to let the rider’s legs go so that they had more independence and control. We continued to walk alongside to ensure rider safety. At this point the front-walker leading the horse helped the rider respond to the instructor’s directions to weave between cones, stop walking, start walking and more. The instructor also kept the rider focused on correct posture, proper body movement to direct the horse, and proper arm, leg and foot positions so all the correct muscles were engaged. The instructor’s passion for their work was inspiring.

The rider was very focused and seemed to be greatly enjoying the lesson!

At the end of the lesson the instructor and one of the aides helped the rider dismount. Myself and the other side walker volunteer stayed close by in case an extra set of hands were needed. It was very safe and the rider was very confident in their actions! They dismounted like a champ!

I was able to assist with a second lesson as well. I felt very lucky to participate in the training.

In between lessons I was able to help with other barn chores. It was clear the barn managers and volunteers truly enjoy caring for the horses. I found that very motivating.

I did have a favorite horse by end of day – Sadie. She was so gentle and loved scratches on her forehead.

Throughout my time that day I was continually surprised by the peaceful beauty of the surroundings. I kept thinking about how unexpected this was – a magical place within the densely-populated, hustle and bustle of Queens.

I was energized by the excitement and happiness of the students. They were working hard and learning lots. And they were making very special memories. I am positive they each had happy stories to tell their families about their lessons.

It was a joyful day!

Transitioning back to the city atmosphere as I walked the .8 mile back to the A-Train, I thought about the unexpected moments of the day – looking into the curious eye of a horse a few inches away, finding a beautiful rural farm in the middle of a busy city, seeing the joy on the faces of the students, meeting wonderful people who devote their time regularly to the organization….

Experiencing the unexpected affects how we see the world. It shines a light on something new, shifts perspectives, and inspires. It opens us up to thinking creatively. It is a chance to break away from life’s usual script, and a reminder that doing so is good for you!

I greatly enjoyed the day. The staff, the instructor, and the other volunteers were wonderful!

And I could tell through my interactions with the students that they were inspired by and felt joy from their experience. A chance to break away from their daily script to enjoy something special!

It helped me remember positive surprises and unexpected moments are important.

How can you bring more of the unexpected into your life and create small positive surprises?

It starts with curiosity. Pick a topic that sounds interesting and dig into it, search for a nearby organization you can volunteer with, or try shaking up your routine with a random walk (focusing on searching for unique beauty around you). Even looking at things you see every day with a new perspective can be a happy unexpected surprise.

If you remain curious as you do these things, you will be surprised at what opens up for you and within you. You can shake up your life with joy! And sharing those moments with others through story is part of the fun! Pulling others along with you into moments of curiosity and wonder spreads the benefits of the unexpected.

If you are interested in learning more about Gallop NYC, in volunteering with the organizaiton, or in donating to support their programs, please click this link:  GallopNYC

In addition to the Howard Beach, Queens, location, Gallop NYC has locations in Forest Hills, Queens, (a 30-horse stable and indoor riding arena and an outdoor bridle path) and Prospect Park, Brooklyn (they transport horses into the park, near the Parade Grounds, for lessons). If you live near any of those areas and would like more information about their programs, you can check out this link: programs — GallopNYC

Thank you for journeying with me this week!


Juneteenth Celebration

Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19th and commemorates the date in 1865 when Major General Gordon Granger told people in Galveston, Texas about President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. President Lincoln had actually signed the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery in 1863, however many southerners sought to evade the executive order by forcibly moving enslaved people to Texas, the most Western of the slaveholding states.

Image from National Museum of American History

Union troops pursued them and arrived in Galveston in the summer of 1865, finally freeing more than 250,000 Black Americans.

Enslaved people were formally emancipated, and slavery officially abolished by the 13th Amendment in December 1865.

In 2021 President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, making June 19th a Federal holiday.

The holiday not only commemorates the end of a horrific period in American history, it also 1) symbolizes the ongoing struggle for freedom and equality, 2) celebrates and draws attention to the incredible achievements of Black Americans who have shaped history, 3) highlights the resilience of Black Americans who continue to fight against the bonds of racism and advocate for systemic change, and 4) reminds us that the fight for equity and justice for Black Americans continues to wage on even today.

The struggle against racism is still felt at both the individual and systemic levels. Hundreds of years of racism did not vanish overnight with Juneteenth or the Civil Rights movement. We each have a role in working towards equality.

As a non-black ally, I found myself understanding the importance of the holiday but was unsure how to commemorate it appropriately. How could I actively participate in Juneteenth celebrations in an authentic way? What could I do beyond the celebration?

I wanted to learn more and be a stronger ally personally and professionally – beyond a weekend celebration.

My first step was getting involved in supporting the holiday by volunteering with “Juneteenth New York City” for the 14th Annual celebration in Brooklyn titled “Kaleidoscope of Black Culture” .

This 3-day event included concerts, a fashion show, a virtual summit, a “In Celebration of Black Kings” awards ceremony honoring 28 Black men from NY for their impact in the community, a day of kids’ activities, a field day, food trucks, Black-owned vendors, and more. I had registered to help on the third day of the event – which took place in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.

The organizers I primarily worked with included three passionate and inspiring women: Shantel, Tyisha, and Mel. They were amazing! They ensured everyone was organized and informed of all the details prior to the event so there was no confusion on location, roles, expectations. During the event Mel was my go-to and she was perfect at answering any vendor, food truck owner, or participant questions that came my way. She also kept me focused on tasks from greeting and directing, to helping ensure the drum core team and the models for the fashion show were taken care of. And all three women were high-energy, passionate and very motivating!

The event was well-attended and there was much joyous celebration of the Black community. Because I volunteered on Sunday I was able to enjoy the DJ, hear inspiring speakers share prayer and stories, hear beautiful traditional songs, watch a fashion show, speak with a host of Black-owned small business vendors who were selling fabulous crafts, and watch an amazing young adult/teen drum core team perform. It was such an inspiring day!

As much as I enjoyed volunteering and celebrating at the event, I want my ally-ship to extend beyond a single day.

Juneteenth is great for awareness but emancipation did not instantly fix inequality for Black Americans. There is much to do to help increase equality across all groups of people in America!

From discussions with Black friends and colleagues, and through extensive research, here are some suggestions for meaningful steps and actions we can take personally (within our community) and professionally (within our workplaces) to support the Black community, bring change, and continue to boost racial equality for all.

I am also including at the bottom of this article some informative websites to become an informed, proactive ally.

I’ll be looking to expand my involvement through some of these!

As an individual:

  • Support Black-owned businesses – Get to know the black-owned businesses in your community.
  • Truly reflect on the essence of Juneteenth and what it means for Black Americans. Learn why the holiday has profound importance to them and their lived experiences. Respect the purpose – approach it with reverence and understand it is a time for Black Americans to honor their history, celebrate freedom, and reflect on the ongoing struggle for racial equity.
  • Celebrate alongside the Black community, honor the heavy history, embrace empathy as a mindset of understanding, and embrace the joyous spirit of this holiday. Juneteenth is a time for Black Joy, fellowship, and achievement – actively engage in the festivities and foster a spirit of celebration. Celebrate the achievements of Black individuals and the Black community while acknowledging the pain and impact of history extending to today.
  • Foster learning! Use Juneteenth as an opportunity for personal growth and education. Reflect on the holiday’s historical significance and deepen your understanding of its cultural importance. Listen to the stories and experiences of Black Americans. Visit Black/African American museums and cultural centers in your city/town.
  • Move beyond general awareness to personal action. Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom AND a celebration of opportunity. Read books by Black authors. Support Black non-profit organizations (financially, volunteering, etc.) and Black-owned businesses.
  • Stay aware of existing inequities and help fight to end them. For example, for two centuries our educational systems greatly neglected the Black American experience. “A 2015 study by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Oberg Research revealed that U.S. history teachers spend only 8 to 9% of lesson time on Black history, and research suggests that what is taught centers on the trauma of slavery, the struggles of the Civil Rights movement, and mass incarceration, instead of more positive features like the Harlem Renaissance, the Great Migration, and the myriad achievements and contributions of the Black community.” (1) How can we change the conversation?

At your organization/workplace:

  • Educate yourself about DEI topics such as racial injustice in the workplace.
  • Support Black team members by having them in the room during meetings (internal and client) and on teams making important decisions. Give them a voice (from business to politics).
  • Sponsor networking and training opportunities in Black communities and then hire from within those communities to help revitalize them economically.
  • Set meaningful DEI goals which create an environment where Black employees can thrive, are fairly compensated and promoted based on their value to the organization, and feel safe and empowered to bring their authentic selves to work. Address any disparities they may face. Fund resources and initiatives that expand promotion and leadership opportunities for Black and brown employees.
  • Ensure the organization takes a firm stance against racism and systematic inequity and clearly communicates the company’s anti-racist values, backing them up through actions and policies that promote diversity, equality, and inclusion.
  • Bring in speakers and provide educational resources that facilitate learning and dialogue around the history, significance, and ongoing struggles related to Juneteenth and the Black experience in America. African American history has long been distorted and it is an opportunity for truth to be shared.
  • Actively promote diversity in leadership, challenge outdated stereotypes of what a leader should look like.
  • Support and recruit at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs).
  • Celebrate Juneteenth as an organization – give employees the day off, encourage them to visit African American/Black cultural sites, bring in a speaker to share their experiences, actively foster dialog about the holiday and what it represents.

A last point for consideration when thinking about Juneteenth:

We should resist any urge to downplay the need for the holiday under the thought that it’s unfair to highlight the experience and injustices of one group when others have experienced different injustices.

Art: Dzmitry Dzemidovich purchased from iStock; Photo ID:1401009573

Instead, lean into the holiday and encourage using the power of empathy to acknowledge the experience of this particular marginalized group – enslaved Black Americans, and what their liberation meant for the country – and continues to mean today (the possibilities and opportunities as well as a humbling of the country from a horrible experience). Focus on progress made and what can come in the future and what that kind of progress means for us all.

There is room for everyone at the DEI table, and when we advocate for change, it inherently raises everyone up – creating a more inclusive environment for all. We should celebrate bringing many different perspectives and experiences into what what binds us together as a country, and focus on how bringing equality to all will create a resilient, creative, healthy, and powerful America of the future.

Notice any of the action steps suggested in the lists above can easily translate to any minority group. Helping one group will help all.

Here are a few good sources of materials for further exploration of Juneteenth, the Black experience, and the impact of Black Americans on our country:

Celebrating African American and Black heroes that shaped America from National Geographic:

Extensive materials for all ages, individuals and organizations can be found on the website for the National Museum of African History and Culture at the Smithsonian:

Teach for America has wonderful resources including teaching resources, videos, and books:

Perdue University’s on-line resources include interviews, podcasts, recipes and more:

If you have resources you can share, please submit them in the comments.

To learn more about Juneteenth NYC you can check out their FaceBook Page at:

Or you can check out their website where you can learn more and donate to support their programs:

Hope you enjoyed this week,



Welcoming Spring: Cherry Blossom Ambassador at Branch Brook Park

Volunteering with the Branch Brook Park Alliance

Early each Spring Essex County’s Branch Brook Park in Newark, NJ, lights up with millions of cherry blossoms in varied hues of gentle pinks and soft whites, heralding the end of winter.

The park is home to over 5,200 Japanese flowering cherry trees in 18 varieties.

That’s more trees than can be found in the magnificent Washington, DC display (which is about 3,600 trees).

For about 4 weeks in Spring, the trees blossom and paint the landscape with a stunning array of flowers.

How did Branch Brook Park get so many Cherry Blossom Trees?

Many of the original trees planted in Branch Brook Park (just over 2,000) were donated to the Essex County Park System by the Bamberger and Fuld family in 1927.(1)

There were several other donors over the years that donated sets of cherry trees to add to the collection and the Branch Brook Park Alliance continues to purchase and plant trees today.

While some species of cherry trees have long lives (up to 250 years), most varieties are fairly short-lived, averaging 30 – 40 years (2) which means the trees need careful care and occasional replanting for the new generations.

Who cares for the trees?

The Branch Brook Park Alliance is a public/private partnership with the Essex County Department of Parks and Recreation and Cultural Affairs. The Alliance provides ongoing stewardship to the renowned collection as well as cares for the other plants and garden areas within the park. They keep the park clean and beautiful for public use. They help provide volunteers for a variety of events in the park and have ongoing groups of volunteers who help pick up litter and do pruning and maintenance.

The park as it looks today was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1898. He was the famed landscape architect who designed Central Park in NYC. He envisioned Branch Brook as a grand, centralize park of respite for the citizens of the city of Newark.

While Central Park in NYC is known as the first landscaped park in the US, Branch Brook Park is distinguished by being the first county-run/owned park to be opened for public use in the US and it appears in the National Register of Historic Places.(3)

During the brief Cherry Tree Blossom season, which lasts approximately 3-5 weeks, the Alliance plays a key role in both maintenance/upkeep of the park and gardens, and in designing a welcoming and informative visitor experience.


I volunteered with the Branch Brook Park Alliance for a shift as a Cherry Blossom Ambassador.

My role was to welcome visitors as they strolled through the park, sharing details about the trees and the history of the park, and answering any questions they may have.

I also shared maps with them, discussed different blossom viewing areas, and provided directions to key areas such bathroom facilities, nearby restaurants/delis, etc.

And I helped collect donations for the Branch Brook Park Alliance for their educational programs, restoration and maintenance of landscapes, accessibility projects, etc.

Our team-leader and project coordinator was the head of the Branch Brook Park Alliance… Thomas. He started our shift by sharing key details about the park and the trees and getting us ready for what we should expect from the visitors. He continually checked in with the volunteers during the shift to be sure everything was going well and to help answer any visitor questions we could not answer. And people had questions about everything! From the age of some of the trees, to how they could tour the spectacular cathedral that was adjacent to the park, to where they could purchase cherry trees of their own to start a grove in a park in their town, to questions about lanternflies and other pests – Thomas had the answers to all. I learned a ton from him that day!

Most of my day was spent at the Branch Brook Park Alliance table working alongside one of the Alliance staff members. But I also had time to walk around a bit, enjoy the park, and look at the beautiful trees and flowers. Such a wonderful celebration of spring!

Cherry blossoms are an important symbol in Japanese culture. Because they only bloom for a few weeks each year, they represent renewal and the fleeting nature of life.(4)

It was sunny but very windy and chilly the day I volunteered – winter coats and scarves were a must. Winter was reluctant to let go of its grasp.

Even so, there were thousands of visitors to the park that day. Families were picnicking and having parties, groups were walking and taking photos, and children were playing on the lawns.

The blossoms were at the very beginning of opening their blooms, just peeking out, but it was still spectacular!

What does the park look like when all the trees are blooming?

Here are some photos of the park in full bloom:

As you can see from all the photos in this blog post, the flowers are amazing any time during their bloom cycle!

You can celebrate Cherry Blossom Season from wherever you are!

You don’t have to visit Branch Brook Park in Newark, NJ to celebrate the season (although if you live anywhere nearby I would highly encourage you to do so). You can celebrate spring and enjoy the blooms from wherever you are with these activities:

First – learn more about the Cherry Blossoms and the Branch Brook Park Alliance, by visiting their website at:

You can also donate to support their educational programs, to maintain sustainable landscapes, and to support complex renewal projects at:

Second – You can experience the amazing Cherry Blossoms of Branch Brook Park from anywhere in the world through the Alliance’s Live Web Cam. They have two cameras set up – one on the north end of the park and one on the south, so you get great views:

Third – You can have your own Cherry Blossom Party, celebrating the arrival of spring! Here’s how:

Try a fun cherry-blossom-inspired mocktail recipe the whole family will love:

  • Pour pink lemonade into a glass about 2/3 full. Add a large scoop of pineapple sherbet into the cup. Add a few fresh cherries on the top and enjoy! If you’re super-creative, add a few spots of canned whipped cream to mimic the petals of the flowers.

Try writing a Haiku about Spring. A Haiku is a Japanese poetic form that consists of 3 lines, with 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second and 5 in the third. Here’s one I wrote to get your creative juices flowing:

Learn a few beautiful Japanese vocabulary words about the season:

Finally – download the coloring page below and let your imagination go wild with the colors of spring!

Author/creator of coloring page: Lena London – This coloring page is a derivative work) (tracing copy of photography work). Original image credit: Cherry blossoms in Vancouver photo by Eviatar Bach Permission: Free for personal, educational, editorial or commercial use. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License.

I hope you’ve enjoyed journeying with me and the Branch Brook Park Alliance to experience the beautiful cherry blossom trees at Branch Brook Park in Newark, NJ. If you create a Haiku or color the page, share them – I’d love to see your creations!

XO XO – Penny

Citations in Article:

(1) Baker, C. (2010). Cherry Blossom Land at Branch Brook Park: A Bamberger-Fuld Legacy. AuthorHouse.

(2) Maloney, M. (2019, April 2). How Cherry Blossoms Became the Most Celebrated Event of the Spring. Town & Country. Retrieved April 3, 2023, from

(3) (n.d.). Branch Brook Park (About). Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs. Retrieved April 3, 2023, from’s,trees%20in%20the%20United%20States.

(4) Takeda, E. (2014, April 9). Significance of Sakura: Cherry Blossom Traditions in Japan. Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Retrieved April 3, 2023, from,colleagues%2C%20friends%2C%20and%20family.

Going Wild with the New York WILD Film Festival

I’ll tell you how the sun rose that morning in Tsavo National Park, Kenya – just like all other mornings for days on end. There’s nothing casual about mid-February sun in Tsavo. It rises early and immediately unleashes an inescapable tsunami of heat across the land. Then, happy with its work, the sun stands guard in a cloudless sky, both like a fierce sentinel and a tyrannous explorer, relentlessly finding every tiny crevasse and crack in the parched land. Dancing heat along the horizon shimmers and sparkles as if in great celebration of the quest.

Photo 60040206 / Termite Mound © Volodymyr Byrdyak (subcription)

Across these southern plains of Kenya, communities of termites are building their mounds. They excavate nutrient-rich soil from deep underground and transport it to the surface, building their structures higher and higher, reaching to the sky, seeking fruitlessly to touch any possible breeze. But there is none. Not yet. Not until the deluge of the rains come in March.

The dirt the termites excavate is packed with minerals and nutrients not available otherwise in the surrounding soil of the plains. Over time, battered by seasonal rains, wind, heat and wildlife, the mounds eventually erode and leave large patches of bare soil filled with nutrients. These patches dot the landscape like freckles across the dusty plains.

They are a perfect visiting spot for families of elephants, who are drawn to the patches for the rich nutrients and salts in the clay…. minerals the elephants need for survival.

Photo 96834699 / Elephants © Klomsky | (subcription)

The elephant families come and dig into the patches, scraping up the nutrient-rich soil with their feet and tusks and leaving behind an indented area. Slowly, over time, the indented clay patch becomes deeper and deeper as more elephants visit. Then it rains.

Rainy season brings with it a deluge of life-giving water and the fine, mineral-rich clay of the patches becomes sticky mud. The elephants love it – they dig in it and spray the mud on themselves and each other. They wallow in it and roll in it and splash it all over themselves. The mud coats their bodies, head to toe, keeping them cool and protecting them from sunburn and biting flies.

Each elephant family carries away up to a ton of mud with them, so the indented freckle becomes a larger indented spot, and eventually a deeper hole that continues to widen and deepen with each visit. Within a few years, what the termites started, and the elephants created, becomes a full watering hole. An oasis in the plains, full of life….

This was part of the story shared in the independent documentary film “The Elephant and the Termite”- one of 35 powerful and exhilarating documentaries shown at the 9th Annual New York Wild Film Festival.

The Elephant and the Termite won the Best Cinematography award and it was easy to see why.

The film was enchanting and stunning – silhouettes of elephants against an orange sunset, the deep greens of chameleons poised perfectly on seasonal grasses, drinking crystal clear drops of water, underwater shots and close-ups of wildlife of all types (birds, insects, mammals). It was hard to pull myself away from the film!

Me at the “paparazzi” screen

The festival ran 4 days, and I was super-excited to be chosen to volunteer for a shift on Saturday, welcoming guests and generally helping guests however and wherever possible.

There were a team of volunteers who helped check people in, provided guidance to find film showings and reception areas, answered questions, helped usher people to their seats, organized gift baskets, helped set up and break-down, and more

While films were in process the volunteers had opportunity to watch some of the films from a separate viewing area. It was inspiring and emotional to watch parts of the films!

The NY WILD Film Festival is the first annual film festival in NY to showcase a spectrum of topics that bring attention to wildlife, conservation, exploration, and the environment. It is held every March.

2023 Event Poster

More than ever, people are fascinated with the natural world and phenomenon that affects it. There is a quickly-awakening awareness of human impact on our planet and a growing feeling of urgency to live differently in order to save it.

People want to connect with our planet and understand how to do better for the natural world.

The NY WILD Film Festival provides an active platform creating excitement around crucial issues, gives a voice to critical issues, builds important partnerships with key players in exploration and conservation, highlights dedicated scientists and explorers, celebrates filmmakers, and reaches growing audiences – spreading energy around protecting our planet. Films run anywhere between 5 and 90 minutes.

There were films by filmmakers from all over the world (USA, Brazil, France, China, Mexico, Kenya, Canada and more) and that diversity of experience and perspective was truly inspiring. The festival also includes Q&A sessions with filmmakers, explorers and experts.

It was exhilarating for ticket-holders to be able to watch the films, be moved by the powerful images and storytelling of the filmmakers, and then meet the heroes protecting our planet for Q&A sessions.

There were various receptions, award presentations, and on-line auction, and even a family program for children ages 7+.  

The festival presented an extraordinary opportunity to exchange ideas and effect change. Over 300 films were originally submitted, which were initially vetted by a group of pre-screeners, who chose a large number of films to go to a Final Jury for selection of the final 35.

The festival runs in partnership with The Explorers Club (the festival was held in its NYC location), the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), FujiFilm, Acr’teryx, Flite, and The New Yorker Documentary.

I left that day feeling that while there is much to do to save the planet, there is an extensive network of passionate, powerful, action-oriented teams of people looking to solve issues and make the world a better place for future generations! I am inspired to get more involved in making a difference and continuing to learn more about the synergistic human-wildlife-planet experience. Each of us already have impact – it’s up to us to make that impact positive or negative.

How do you celebrate the wild? What passions do you have for the planet? Leave me a comment below.

If you’re interested in learning more about the New York WILD Film Festival, to join their mailing list and to keep an eye out for tickets for next year’s festival, check out their site here:

This is the link to the inspiring and powerful trailer for the 2023 film festival here (you’ll be glad you watched it and I bet you can’t just watch it once):

If you’d like to learn more about my favorite film of the day I volunteered, The Elephant and the Termite, PBS has a learning media site with clips:

If you are a member of PBS Thirteen Passport, you can watch the film in entirety here:

External view of Explorer’s Club

A note about The Explorer’s Club – As hosting partner to the festival, The Explorers Club is a perfect location for the event. Founded in New York City in 1904 by a group of the world’s leading explorers of the time, the not-for-profit organization is dedicated to scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural and biological sciences.

The Club’s members have been responsible for an illustrious series of famous firsts: first to the North Pole, first to the South Pole, first to the summit of Mount Everest, first to the deepest point in the ocean, first to the surface of the moon.

The building is stunning – 5 floors filled with artifacts and photos from explorations and scientific breakthroughs. You can spend hours just looking around!

You can learn more about the Explorer’s Club and their programs and public events here:

Thank you for joining my journey! XO XO

Wishes for 2021 – Spreading Kindness Collective Art Installation


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:

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.

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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?



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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.




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. 
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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

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