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 “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 recommended 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 from 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).


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.

Emily’s Story – Uplifting Children, Youth Tutoring returns Sept. 12!

Twenty-five year old Emily McGrane, an Email Marketing Specialist at Direct Digital volunteers with Hands On Charlotte because she has always been interested in helping others. She found HOC through a Google search.

Emily has been volunteering for the Homework Hounds project for over the past three years tutoring elementary and middle school students. The project takes place at Beatties Ford Road Library. She has volunteered over 86.5 hours with Homework Hounds and is now a Volunteer Leader for the project.  When I asked her why she choose the project she responded “I love kids and that is the first project I went to after orientation. I loved it so much I just stuck with it.”

Emily McGraneEmily McGrane

“I love the kids who come to this project in particular because they’re all so sweet and have a genuine curiosity about everything and a desire to learn” Emily replied when asked why she enjoyed volunteering with children. Emily wants to brighten a child’s life and make that child’s self-esteem grow. She is dedicated to this project and enjoys being a part of it. She thinks HOC has done a good job making this project is available at various libraries throughout Charlotte which is convenient for volunteers.

In Emily’s own passionate words about why people should volunteer “The kids at this project are the sweetest kids ever. They genuinely WANT to learn but they have many roadblocks. Some of the children have parents who don’t speak English. Other kids can’t afford school supplies or have dropped out of school and are looking to come back. You definitely see a little bit of everything at this project. Something that I really enjoy is that the majority of kids during the 2015-2016 school year came every week so you really got to build a personal relationship. There’s a girl who has been coming to the project every week for the past three years. This year, she made the honor roll for the first time and her dad was teary he was so proud. The parents who bring their kids to tutoring are really good, involved parents so it’s also a pleasure getting to know them as well.” 

Emily wants the kids that come to her project to learn and grow as individuals. She wants them to take away a sense of comfort from Homework Hounds. She feels good about helping but also feels sad when she thinks about how much more there still is to do. She wants more people to volunteer in order to make a positive difference in the lives of children. Children are the future and by her compassionate volunteer work she is helping the whole community. She would recommend HOC because it has been a great way for her to volunteer. “Doug does a great job training everyone and making sure that everyone feels comfortable. I’ve also met some great friends along the way,” Emily explained. Emily is another example of how volunteering can impact our lives positively. She uplifts the children by helping them learn but in return is uplifted.

  • Breannon Wills an Aspiring Author and Creative Enthusiast, who hopes to one day start a creative children’s non-profit organization



Mia’s Story – making Charlotte a better place to call home

A lovely young lady originally from Arizona, Mia Andrews is the volunteer leader for Urban Farming at Garinger High School. This project tremendously impacts its neighborhood by providing fresh vegetables to low-income families. I had the opportunity to get a bit of insight into the incredible woman behind one of Hands on Charlotte’s most popular projects. “I actually got started with Hands on Charlotte when I was in high school” she begins as we sit down to chat at a local pizzeria “I was 17 or 18 and I helped clean up a local creek. I remember pulling an old tire out of the creek bed and getting a sense of satisfaction that I had accomplished even that small amount.” Mia echoes the sentiment many volunteers share about making a change, however small, in our world. “The world today is a scary place, there are so many problems I can’t do anything about. Sometimes you don’t know where to even start. But by volunteering you can do at least something to help you try and fight back against all the scary that’s out there.” She sums up her motivation for volunteering in one sentence: “There’s no real good reason not to help.”

image1                                   Mia at Machu Picchu, not an HOC project site 🙂


Mia, an avid traveler, seems to have set down roots here in the Queen City, “I like Charlotte. The rest of North Carolina can be a bit worrisome at times but Charlotte seems to have its act together.” I’ll freely agree; we are sort of an island for many ideas and cultures you don’t often see elsewhere in the state. In addition to her approval of the city, Mia shared her admiration for the people she’s met while volunteering. “One of the coolest people is Thom Duncan who works with Friendship Gardens. He’s so passionate and knowledgeable. I love talking with him. Also one of my volunteers, a guy named Geoff, is from England and he’s very cool as well.” I too have met many awesome people through Hands on Charlotte. You’ll find no finer people than those who’ll go out of their way to make the world a better place.

One person Mia and I both have a deep respect for is HOC Staff member, Doug Macomb. I’d certainly say he made the right call when he chose Mia to lead Urban Farming. “When the previous volunteer leader […] left, Doug asked me to take over. I think he knew I’m sort of a control nut so I’d be a good volunteer leader.” As any volunteer leader will attest, leading projects is always a fun and challenging experience. Mia expands on this:

“One of the most important things I do is make sure my volunteers know very clearly what our mission here is. What is it we’re trying to accomplish? I hate volunteering and nobody seems to know what’s expected of them or what they should be doing. I try to keep everyone as busy as possible. Busy projects are the best because you know you’ve actually done something when it’s over.”

This is very sound and intelligent logic. It’s pretty clear that Mia tempers her passion for helping with a level head and firm understanding of what’s actually needed in a leader. Keep up the great work Mia! Thank you for your time and dedication to making Charlotte a better place to call home.

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

Karyn’s Story – getting children involved

One of the delights of Hands On Charlotte is the diversity of its volunteers. When looking at Mrs. Karyn Godsman and me, no one in his right mind would conclude that we have anything at all in common. I’m a tall, heavy set, pale, bearded man who is fond of tattoos and thrash metal. The excellent Mrs. Godsman is a slender housewife and mother of three who constantly wears a cheerful smile. Yet there we were sitting in a local ice cream and coffee shop while chatting about her life, her volunteer work, and her motivation for giving back. Like most of the people I meet in Charlotte, Karyn is a transplant; she hails from the strange and foreign land of Connecticut. Along with her family, she moved to our area a few years ago and has been engaged with Hands On Charlotte for some time now. A veteran of our pet visits project, she shared that “It’s great the look the residents get when they see the dogs. Also my youngest saw one gentleman’s face light up and I knew he got it then the impact we have.”

Karyn & kids

Karyn & her kids at the Fun Zone – photo courtesy of Together We Feed

While two of her kids explore the shop, Karyn talks about her involvement in a new project. “It’s called Fun Zone,” she begins as I eat my ice cream “we meet at a Title I (low-resource school) and partner with Second Harvest Food Bank and Together We Feed to provide activities for kids while their parents are getting food. We have games, face painting, and just an overall blast with them. It’s a lot of fun for everyone and I love that I can bring my own children with me and get them involved.” This partially answered my inevitable question of “Why do you do it?” As Karyn explains, “It’s really important to get kids involved in volunteering and being active early on. It sets a good foundation for later.” We’ll always be dependent on the next generation of volunteers. Thankfully, Hands On Charlotte provides a host of opportunities for families with children.

Another fun facet of our volunteer community is meeting friends of friends. Karyn and I were excited to find that we both know Hands On Charlotte Superstar Sara Yon! Karyn exclaimed, “She’s my bestie in school! I met her at UNCC and we found out we both volunteer with HOC! She borrowed my son for a homework project!” Sara is a veteran of The Relatives and is also one of my best HOC friends. Like Sara, Karyn is working on her Master of Social Work degree as another means of giving back. She believes “We should be focusing on Charlotte’s forgotten neighborhoods and communities. This is a big city and sometimes areas get neglected by city officials and that’s where we should step in with projects.” As a big advocate of Charlotte’s diverse cultures, Karyn says “We should be bringing them together. Mixing people from different communities should always be a goal of any volunteer group.”

Having met Karyn, I am heartened by the strength of our volunteer community and glad there are parents getting their children involved. I whole-heartedly share her vision of Hands On Charlotte’s role in our city. The new Fun Zone project impacts communities with activities for children who may not have many opportunities. It sounds like one of the most enjoyable ideas to come down the pike in a long time. As the summer heat grinds on, Fun Zone is a great way to get the entire family engaged before the school year starts back up. Thank you Karyn, for taking the time to share your experiences and thoughts with us. I wish you and the other volunteers at Fun Zone continued success!

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