Jacqualyn’s Story – Pet Visits, You Can See the Difference

It takes all kinds to volunteer, to take time from our schedules and give back to others and try to make the world just a little bit better than when we woke up in the morning. In my time with Hands On Charlotte I’ve met volunteers from all walks of life and of all shapes and sizes. However, furry and four legged was a first as I met Dixie the undisputed star of Pet Visits at White Oaks Manor. Dixie and her recently adopted Golden brother named Gabe are gorgeous Golden Retrievers owned by the straight talking Jacqualyn Levin, a Volunteer Leader for White Oaks since August 2015. She actually started volunteering for HOC in Feburary 2014. Jacqualyn is the mother of two very successful daughters and is an avid world traveler. Having visited a host of countries she’s an intelligent and well versed woman. Jacqualyn  explained the details of the White Oak Pet Visits: “It’s hard to get started for some people” she explained, “You go to White Oaks and it can be discouraging. The environment can be a bit depressing.” White Oaks is a skilled nursing facility for the elderly and adults with disabilities. Hands On Charlotte volunteers, along with their well behaved dogs, visit with the residents. It’s an often overlooked population and one in need of positive experiences. “You can see the difference it makes to them. They don’t get a lot of visitors so when we come with the dogs it means a lot.”

Pet Visits Star, Dixie

Jacqualyn explained that she also volunteers at Plantation Estates Assisted Living as well as the Food Bank but considers White Oaks her home project. “The relationship we have with the staff and residents is just great. They know us and we have developed a good relationship with them.” Dixie I’ve been told by numerous sources remains the belle of the ball at White Oaks. A friendly empathetic canine Dixie has learned what each particular resident wants most from a furry visitor.”She knows what to do” Jacqualyn tells me “One resident she just comes up real quick and puts her head and paws on her bed and gets a quick pet. With another it’s something else. Dixie has been doing this for over two years and is a natural.”

In terms of what motivates Jacqualyn to do this project it’s pretty simply explained “Dixie loves it. She gets excited when we turn the corner towards White Oaks. Of course I enjoy meeting all the volunteers and their dogs. I’m not stopping any time soon.” Dixie and Gabe are both rescues from Golden Retriever Rescue of Charlotte or GRRCC, which Jacqualyn is also active with. “GRRCC has a link to HOC on their facebook page in hopes that some Golden owners will see it and consider pet visits with HOC. What should be very appealing for dog owners is that the dogs do not need to be certified therapy dogs.  They just need to be friendly with other dogs and enjoy getting lots and lots of hugs and kisses.

  • Ben Burton is a Hands On Charlotte Volunteer Leader for The Relatives project.

Big News from HOC!

Today, Hands On Charlotte (HOC) is announcing a new collaboration with United Way of Central Carolinas (UWCC). Our two volunteer centers will be combined into a unified resource which will provide you with even more opportunities to address the needs of our community.

The new volunteer center will keep the Hands On Charlotte name and logo. All of our nonprofit partners have been encouraged to continue their current project offerings. Volunteers will still have access to our online calendar of flexible volunteer opportunities, and HOC staff have been offered positions with the new volunteer organization.

By merging our volunteer operations, we will increase the visibility of our volunteers’ fantastic work in our region while becoming even more focused on the meaningful impact we can all have in our neighborhoods.

We anticipate the merger will be complete early next year and we’ll share with you additional details as they are finalized. Thank you!

Yours in service,

Eric Law
Executive Director
Hands On Charlotte

Partner Agency Spotlight: Reaching for the Stars Tutoring Program

Dee Camm is the President and co-founder of The Sky Is the Limit Community Development Corporation. Both Camm and her co-founder, Emanju Zinnah, were working for the City of Charlotte when they created The Sky Is the Limit CDC. Since, furthering education is the goal of the corporation, Camm remarked, “We knew that we wanted to provide high quality tutoring services to the at-risk community free of charge.” The Sky Is the Limit CDC has created a mentoring program, a free tutoring program at two locations, as well as a North Carolina AAU divisional football and cheerleading league.

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Dee Camm

Camm explains the mission of The Sky Is the Limit below.

“The Next Generation Mentoring Program connects professional men and women with at risk boys and girls. The mentor provides guidance, career advice, support, and encouragement throughout the duration of the mentoring relationship. The children within this program come from neighborhoods that have a high concentration of violence, teen pregnancy, and high school dropouts.

The Reaching for the Stars Tutoring Program takes place at two free tutoring locations here in Charlotte, NC. The locations were strategically placed in neighborhoods that have a significant amount of at-risk youth. The free tutoring services are provided to grades K – 9 throughout the entire academic year.

For the 2016 academic school year, Reaching for the Stars received a laptop based literacy grant through Habitat for Humanity. The literacy software provides each child with a customizable learning experience based on their current literacy level and learning style.”

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HOC Volunteer with Reaching for the Stars student

In the early days of The Sky Is the Limit, Camm and her team had already gathered educational resources, such as a laptop-based literacy program and EOG prep curriculum, but what they really needed were volunteers. Thankfully, there was another nonprofit waiting to partner with and support Camm’s fledgling organization. Hands On Charlotte specializes in volunteer recruitment and management for other nonprofits. Camm remarked, “We were in desperate need of volunteers who not only had a desire to make a difference in the community but that also cared about the future of children. After meeting with Doug, the Director of Programs, we immediately knew that Hands On Charlotte was the missing piece to our Charlotte mission.”

Camm is pleased with the work her organization and HOC have accomplished together. “The Hands On Charlotte staff (Doug in particular) is very supportive of our goals, mission, and the overall success of the tutoring program. They have invited me to orientation sessions to allow me to directly recruit volunteers and they always keep the lines of communication open. The volunteers for Study Buddies at West Blvd Library are friendly, professional, and helpful.”

The Sky Is the Limit CDC aims to provide volunteers with the opportunity to make a difference in a community that is in desperate need of their assistance while also having fun. When asked what she wants volunteers to take away from the experience, Camm replied “I want the volunteers to walk away knowing that they made a difference in a child’s academic future. I want them to know that their hours of volunteer work have decreased the dropout rate of an at-risk youth.”

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Reaching for the Stars student with HOC tutor

Camm thinks the best part of her job is making a difference in someone’s life daily, such as hearing reports from parents about their child’s increase in academic and behavioral performance. “Helping people is my calling in life. It’s what I was placed on this earth to accomplish. There is no greater feeling than knowing that you are operating from a higher calling. Attending a graduation, watching a child go from failing to honor roll, putting a smile on the face of those in need…there is no greater feeling than that.”

  • Breannon Wills is an aspiring author and creative enthusiast who hopes to one day start a creative children’s non-profit organization.

B-I-N-G-O

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By: Alexa Catherman

I am happy to say that even after over an hour of continuous play at the Regency Retirement Home in Pineville, my flawless Bingo record still stands. To this day, I have never won a game of Bingo. Ever. Nevertheless, my experience volunteering at Hands On Charlotte’s “Game Night – Pineville” event was decidedly positive. My table definitely scored the most bingos, even if I wasn’t able to contribute any wins of my own. The folks at my table kept the game interesting by making little jokes, ragging on each other, and just adding a little more drama to the game (let’s be honest, Bingo is not exactly an edge-of-your-seat kind of game.) I enjoyed myself, despite my incompetence; it was nice to help make the residents smile.

Calling All Pets!

untitledBy: Alexa Catherman

Have you every felt bored, staying at home all day, eating kibble? Do you want to do something more with your life than sniff every corner of your house, again? The solution is simple: Volunteer with your human! Hands On Charlotte offers several different volunteering opportunities for pets and their owners. You can go to new places and make people’s day at the same time!

Bentley and Dixie (see photo) volunteer with us regularly and they are nearly celebrities at White Oaks Manor. All the elderly folks love having them come visit and both dogs love it too! You can make a difference in the world, even if you are just a pet. What are you waiting for? Get your human to sign both of you up today!

How to Have Fun and Help Others at the Same Time

taboo_02By: Alexa Catherman, Hands On Charlotte

Yesterday evening, I went to a volunteer opportunity with Hands On Charlotte called Thursday Night Fun, and the title did not deceive. It took place at Florence Crittenton Services, a facility that provides a home, prenatal care, and life training to pregnant and at risk young women. Our job as volunteers was simple, to play games and have fun with the ladies who lived there. After much debate over which game to play, we ended up playing several hilarious rounds of Taboo. It was nice to see so much laughter and happiness in that activity room because I know many of those girls are going through hard times and have uncertain futures. In fact, I think some of the residents were more joyful at first than the volunteers. I can only hope we managed to brighten their day as much as they brightened ours.

Great Advice from Mom

The morning of August 20 I stopped for gas ahead of a nearly 4-hour drive. Shortly after I started pumping gas a man pulled up behind me and said, “Can I ask you a question?” I knew what that meant and was not in the mood for a story. I could see the man had on sweat pants and a cell phone clip with no cell phone. He asked if he could borrow a few bucks for enough gas to drive a few miles down the road.

I told him to wait a minute and after I filled my tank I went over to put in my credit card and gave him the gas nozzle. As he was filling up he explained that he had lost his wallet and he needed to get to the hospital since his wife had kidney cancer. Once he finished, I said to him, “well you have no idea where I’m going.” Then I explained how my mom was under hospice care and I was driving down to Southport to say goodbye. The man looked at me and said, “I had no idea you were dealing with that.” We shook hands and wished each other well. That brief encounter changed my outlook on the day, since I could not imagine his pain.

2010With my parents, Lorraine and Doug Sr. in 2010

In early 2014, Mom encouraged me to seek help to deal with my divorce. A few people recommend DivorceCare, a 10-week class. My mom knew I would make excuses on why I shouldn’t go and made me promise to attend at least 3 times before giving up. As an introvert with GAD (general anxiety disorder) just about every social situation makes me uncomfortable. Over the years, I’ve learned how to manage those feelings although they have not gone away. After attending the first session I called mom and explained why that group was not a good fit but went back and eventually looked forward to attending. It proved to be an extremely helpful and rewarding experience.

If I had one wish for all the new Hands On Charlotte volunteers it would be the same: that they try at least 3 projects before giving up. Mom knew that helping others did not always work out but that never stopped her trying. Both my parents experienced less than ideal childhoods. As young adults they were each responsible for an older sibling with a developmental disability. When I was 5, my grandmother suffered a massive stroke and spent the next twenty years in a nursing home. When I was 10 my parents decided to adopt a child. My brother had lots of issues. As a teen he decided he no longer wished to be part of the family. Under New York state law he successfully sued my parents. They had no issues providing for his care until he turned 21 but could not understand why he was not required to attend school or seek help for his issues. Even though many of these experiences did not work out in her favor, Mom never stopped trying or believing in the good of others

One of the things that bothered her most about having cancer was that she was unable to volunteer at the hospital thrift store and food bank. She never stopped putting others concerns ahead of her own. In early August, when her oncologist suggested she look into hospice care, Mom said she did not want to die at home. When my sister asked why, Mom replied that she didn’t want to make it more difficult for us to sell her house.

As usual Mom enjoyed hearing the story about how I helped a stranger. She died peacefully a few days later. When I looked at my credit card statement I saw that man at the gas station took exactly $3 worth of gas. Best $3 I ever spent.

  • Doug Macomb, Hands On Charlotte’s program director wrote this post in memory of his mother Lorraine Macomb (Nov. 12, 1944 – Aug. 26, 2016).

Clothe Your Neighbor at Crisis Assistance Ministry

By: Alexa Catherman, Hands On Charlotte

Last Wednesday, I volunteered at Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte to sort and hang clothes with other Hands On Charlotte volunteers. Crisis Assistance Ministry helps people in a financial crisis through several different means, including a free clothing store, and the majority of the work the do is volunteer driven. alexa-at-crisis-1

I arrived that afternoon to an impassioned speech by the staff about who they were and what they did. The rest of the Hands On Charlotte team and I were assigned to hanging clothing that would then go into the free store to help people in need. Though the work was difficult and involved a lot of bending over to reach the bottom of the clothing bins, it was made so much better by the cheerfulness of the Crisis Assistance Ministry staff. They were welcoming, gave clear instructions, told us exactly how much we helped them through our volunteer work, and made the whole process fun. My favorite part was knowing that I was helping to make a difference in someone’s life and allowing them dignity in a tough time by making sure the clothes they had were good quality and weather appropriate. I would never have heard about Crisis Assistance Ministry without Hands On Charlotte.

  • Alexa is a new Ready Corps member, serving with HOC through August 2017

This project also takes place on Saturday mornings where it’s called Saturday Morning Live.

Ryan’s Story – Sometimes you wear a Superman costume with a TuTu for fun

I had a chance to sit down recently with a Volunteer Leader named Ryan Sullivan and I have to say I was impressed. The Connecticut native leads one of the two Crisis Assistance Ministry projects, which for many of us is our first volunteer opportunity with Hands On Charlotte. A fun and energizing opportunity, Crisis Assistance Ministry provides clothing to Charlotte families free of charge, as well as financial assistance to those in urgent need. It’s also next door to Second Harvest Food Bank, another favorite of HOC volunteers. Ryan, a tall glass of water by any measure, began his tenure with Hands On Charlotte in 2006 and has been a Volunteer Leader since 2009. Aside from his work with Crisis Assistance Ministry, Ryan has also led events for our annual Hands On Charlotte Day and has for years been the Fundraising Chair for the Relay for Life of Ballantyne. There, he dressed as Superman and led another great group of HOC volunteers. (Why the tutu in the picture? Cancer doesn’t discriminate by gender.) In addition to this, the multi-talented man is part of the funny local improv comedy troupe Now Are the Foxes (check your old Saturday Night Live tapes if you’re missing the name reference there, sports fans).

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Crisis Assistance Ministry is, as Ryan states, “A great volunteer project in that it lets participants immediately see the amount of work they’ve done. They can tell the impact they’re having then and there, and take something positive away from it.” I’m inclined to agree. The sorting and organizing of clothes, while not the most glamorous work, is still very fulfilling and—given the fun group of folks who show up for this event—you can have a great time working with a group towards a goal together. I strongly recommend it for beginning volunteers who want to see if the call to service is something they truly want to invest in. It’s also a good time for veterans who have some time to give to a very worthwhile cause.

An early life-changing injury to his brother gave Ryan his perspective on the world and the troubles that plague it. “You can’t solve every issue, but you should at least try to help address the ones you can,” he explains when I ask him why he volunteers so much of his time helping others. “I feel when you’ve been given blessings in life, it’s only right that you give back,” he mentions, as we begin talking about his life and motivations for volunteering. Engaged to a beautiful woman and employed by a financial planning software company that’s also very charitably inclined, Ryan certainly has a lot going for him. Having studied abroad and traveled the country extensively, he has a good view of the world. He also has, I can attest, a very healthy appetite for excellent BBQ and perhaps the best taste in music I’ve encountered among any volunteer I’ve met so far. We’ve been trading songs back and forth since meeting and giving each other new ideas on some genres.

Ryan and I found we had an unusual amount in common over the course of destroying our plates of BBQ, ribs, and pulled pork….ok, maybe the most obvious is we have large appetites and can put away the food. In addition, though, we’ve both kept busy at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. While I sit on a scholarship committee, my good friend Ryan volunteers leading public speaking workshops for the Center for Leadership Development. When asked, Ryan stated, “It’s important to help set the volunteers and leaders of tomorrow off on the right foot today. The early college years are some of our most developmental and learning to find one’s voice early is truly a gift.” I couldn’t agree more. Very often we focus on younger children when it comes to instilling the importance of service, and while that’s clearly important we should not overlook the value of guiding our young adults along a positive path as well. Our last common trait is that, while we’re both very busy—and who isn’t these days—we find time to volunteer through HOC on a regular basis. Ryan and I both encourage people to use HOC’s easy online calendar to sign up at least once a month and to make volunteering a habit.

Ryan personifies exactly what Hands On Charlotte looks for in a Volunteer Leader. Well organized and possessing a passion to give back, Ryan has been a real asset to our organization for a decade. We can only hope his love for giving back and the time he dedicates to helping others survives as he prepares to engage in one of the greatest challenges to free time known to man: Marriage. Congratulations, buddy – you two are going to be great!

  • Ben Burton is a Hands On Charlotte Volunteer Leader for The Relatives project.

Kelsey’s Story – playing in the dirt and connecting to the city

Kelsey Willis, 28, is an employee for Compass Group. Compass Group provides services in areas such as food, hospitality and support services. There, Kelsey works with the benefits department. Previously she worked at Habitat for Humanity in Knoxville, Tennessee. She moved to Charlotte in May 2015.

When Kelsey came to Charlotte, she was looking to meet new people and get involved in the community. While Googling volunteering, she came across Hands on Charlotte and decided to sign up for volunteer orientation. From the introductory presentation, Kelsey believed HOC to be very thorough. She liked the fact that she could try out different projects and then choose to return to the ones that appealed to her.kelsey-1-crop

When I interviewed Kelsey, I could tell that she is a natural leader because she is willing to lend a hand and is honest about her thoughts. She explained to me that the projects she leads benefit Friendship Gardens, a huge network of gardens in Charlotte. The Urban Farming at Garinger project helps to supply food for Friendship Trays, Charlotte’s meals on wheels program. About her commitment, Kelsey says “I used to do a lot of other projects, and I still go to others when I can, but I focus on this one now.”

When I asked Kelsey why this project fits her personality she said “I like to focus and complete things and be tangible when I do things.” With her willingness to work hard and wait on the beauty to appear, Kelsey has the right attitude for working in a garden. She says her projects are great for “anyone who wants to play in the dirt for a little bit, get out in the sun, and come back in a couple of weeks to see the sprout of what they planted.” I also learned that Kelsey likes to be outdoors and appreciates that the food grown in the gardens feeds people in need.

Kelsey knows when her projects will be held a month in advance so she is able to make sure they fit into her schedule. She feels that HOC is a great place to meet new people and get out into the city. She says that through volunteering you can break out of your comfort zone and meet people you wouldn’t normally meet. “When I volunteer I feel like I did something to help out. I feel a part of the community and connected to the city.”

kelsey-2-cropKelsey still doesn’t know too many people in Charlotte but she champions HOC to as many people as she can, hoping that they’ll volunteer. “My volunteer leader shirt is a very bright fluorescent orange and people ask me about it, it’s a great conversation starter,” said Kelsey. She desires for people to come out to her projects and enjoy themselves just like she does.

  • Breannon Wills is an aspiring author and creative enthusiast who hopes to one day start a creative children’s non-profit organization.