Josh’s Story

Very often as volunteers we can feel overwhelmed by all the projects and causes that need our attention, it’s easy to get discouraged. This happens with organizations such as Hands On Charlotte, we lose sight of what it is we’re doing and why. With that in mind I decided to start talking with some of the people who make Hands On Charlotte great and ask them why it is they do what they do. I’ve been with HOC for just under two years now and wanted to know others experiences out there doing a little bit of good at a time.

My first stop on this adventure was the University area of North Charlotte to meet a young man named Joshua Gatlin. It’s really easy to like Joshua; he’s a laid back and super friendly guy who works for the Sheriff’s Office. At 22 years old Joshua has been with Hands On Charlotte since last October and he’s made it very clear where his interests in volunteering lie: “I think it’s really important that kids now a days have a positive reinforcement in their lives, that they have someone helping them and encouraging them” he tells me as we order lunch. Joshua volunteers with HomeWork Hounds at Beatties Ford Road Library and helps kids understand the basics of reading and math. He also volunteers at CPCC tutoring adults trying for the GEDs. I could tell he’s passionate about helping others beat the odds “So long as you’re trying then I believe you should get the help you need to better yourself” he stated as we wondered where our waitress went.

However the biggest question that we’re all asked is “Why?” Why is it we donate thousands of hours of our time every year to help absolute strangers? Joshua had a good answer for this one: “You feel better about yourself, you get to know that you’re making a difference and that you matter to someone at least. It’s a great feeling.” I can certainly agree with his sentiments there, volunteering gives us a means to show that we’ve made a small difference in the world and that’s a strong feeling. As a Criminal Justice major it’s obvious Joshua has a strong desire to give back to the world and to help those in need. “I’d like to work at the jail downtown and try to help some of the guys there get their lives together and make something positive, maybe change the direction that got them locked up” he tells me as we wait for the fries I ordered twenty minutes ago. Tutoring kids and adults working on a GED is one thing, but reaching out to criminals? Maybe a lofty goal but not one I see as being outside this young guys reach. He’s certainly got the drive and skills for it as evidenced by his work with Hands On Charlotte already.

One question I get asked a lot about Hands On Charlotte and that I posed to Joshua is who we are and what we’re all about. Joshua smiled as he thought about it before answering “What you have to do first is decide why you’re doing this. If you know the why then you know who you are.” He explained that Hands On Charlotte’s greatest strength came from the diversity of its volunteers, hundreds coming together with no other thing in common than a desire to help. Our reasons for volunteering, don’t matter, what makes Hands On Charlotte great is that we’re all here to do some good. I thought on that for a moment and realized he’s absolutely correct, as a volunteer leader myself I get to know my volunteers as best I can and I can’t attest to any single common denominator other than they showed up to help. I suppose Hands On Charlotte is a reminder that we’re not alone in the struggle to make this world we live in a better place. People from all walks of life are out there giving up what precious free time they have to make it all work. I’m very grateful I had this chat with Joshua, it helped remind me of why we do this, even if the waitress never did get our orders right.

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

Belk volunteers continue to serve in spite of school lockdown

Belk volunteers at Ashley Park PreK-8 School on Friday, May 6, 2013

Belk volunteers at Ashley Park PreK-8 School on Friday, May 6, 2013

Last Friday, local media outlets buzzed with breaking news of a lockdown at Ashley Park PreK-8 School in Charlotte. Faculty, staff, students and visitors were asked to confine themselves to classrooms, prompted by the discovery of a gun in a student’s backpack.

In the midst of this stressful situation, a dedicated group of corporate volunteers continued their work to beautify the Ashley Park campus before, during and after the lockdown.

Belk is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. As part of the commemoration of this milestone, the Charlotte-based department store chain is working to engage all 23,000 of its employees in 125 Days of Service. From March 11 through July 12, Belk associates are volunteering to enhance the educational environment at more than 250 Title I elementary schools across the company’s 16-state footprint.

Belk is working with Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, to make this happen. As the local affiliate of Points of Light’s HandsOn Network, Hands On Charlotte is coordinating service projects for associates from Belk stores in Gastonia, Pineville, Charlotte, Concord, Durham, Raleigh and Cary, and for those from the Belk Store Services (BSS) corporate office.

Nearly 100 associates from the BSS Feminine Apparel division, led by Executive VP Jacque Hall, had signed up for school improvement projects at Ashley Park on Friday. The first 30 or so of these volunteers were wrapping up their morning shift when the internal lockdown was announced at about 11:30.

The situation was brought under control fairly quickly, thanks to established procedures implemented by experienced law enforcement and school officials including Ashley Park Principal Tonya Kales, the 2012-2013 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ Principal of the Year. This swift resolution allowed the Belk projects to continue with minimal interruption.

After being on lockdown for less than 45 minutes, Belk morning shift volunteers (who helped students paint their handprints in hallways and prepped the teachers’ lounge for painting) were cleared to leave campus shortly after noon. Second shift volunteers, many of whom had already begun to arrive when the lockdown began, were all assigned to outdoor tasks (landscaping, building planters); their work continued on schedule. The lockdown was lifted at 2:00 pm, and those in the final shift completed their tasks (building/sanding/staining picnic tables, finishing teachers’ lounge painting) ahead of time.

In the end, the quick and decisive actions of the police and school leadership diffused a potentially lethal situation. The determination of the Belk associates to complete their volunteer service in spite of the day’s dramatic events, however, is truly admirable. A tradition of active community involvement is a hallmark of Belk’s corporate culture, and the perseverance of the Belk associates who volunteered at Ashley Park last Friday is a perfect example.

Hands On Charlotte is proud to work with and to be associated with such devoted corporate citizens as the ladies and gentlemen of Belk. On behalf of a grateful community, we salute you for your service.

Eric Law

Executive Director 

Hands On Charlotte



The Wise Woman’s Stone

author unknown

“A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.
But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman. “I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”

Volunteers are a lot like the wise woman, they give freely of a precious resource (their time) without expecting anything in return.

What do you think?

Please share your inspirational stories with Hands On Charlotte. We are always looking for new material for our blog.

Top Ten Tips for Becoming a Good Volunteer

Your volunteer experience depends on how much you put into it. Here are some tips for making the most of your volunteer time. If you follow these suggestions, volunteering will add far more to your life than it takes away from your calendar.

1. Choose wisely – read opportunity details carefully, ask questions ahead of time. Make sure you are clear on the date/time and location of the project.

2. Show up on time – always show up on time. This allows projects to run smoothly and for HOC to maximize impact for our partner agencies.

3. Stick to your commitment – late declines and no shows really hurt our ability to help our partners. They also prevent other volunteers from signing up when projects fill up.

4. Keep a positive attitude – when you attend projects, keep a positive attitude, especially if you’re directly helping people.

5. Be flexible – be willing to do what is asked, even if it’s not the most fun task. This extends to trying projects outside your comfort zone. Many HOC volunteers have told us their favorite projects are those that they were nervous about attending.

6. Be friendly to other volunteers – welcome and encourage new volunteers at projects, remember what it was like to volunteer your first time. Many people are uncomfortable and a friendly face with helpful advice can go a long way to making it a positive experience.

7. Ask Questions – learn about the agency, what they do, why do they need volunteers? If the volunteer leader or partner agency contact can’t answer your questions then ask the HOC staff. We are here to help.

8. Have Fun – Helping others is its own reward, but it shouldn’t feel like a chore. Even the most mundane task can be fun if you manage it with a sense of humor and passion for helping others.

9. Give Feedback – yes, we read all your feedback. HOC always strives to improve the volunteer experience so please tell us about your ideas and concerns!

10. Step Up – help us implement your suggestions and consider leading a project. The only way to guarantee a spot at projects is to become the Volunteer Leader! You don’t need a graduate degree or 10 years experience to become a volunteer leader just a desire to help and expand HOC’s impact!

125 Days of Service

UntitledMarch marks yet another historic month for Hands on Charlotte.  This month, HOC has partnered with Belk in celebration of the company’s 125th anniversary. This is a notable milestone, not only for the Charlotte-based retailer, but also for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community. In celebration of this milestone, Belk employees are participating in the single largest corporate partnership in HOC’s history.

Now you might be thinking to yourself… “How did this partnership originate?”  Well that is a great question which I’m happy to answer. Hands On Charlotte is a charter member of the national HandsOn Network, which is operated by Points of Light (POL), the largest global organization focused on volunteer service. POL partners with thousands of nonprofits and corporations to facilitate community engagement.

Belk wanted to commemorate its anniversary by engaging its employees in not just a day of service, but a day for every year of business. To create this momentous event, Belk reached out to Points of Light for their expertise.  The result of this partnership is Belk’s 125 Days of Service, which gives all of the retailer’s 23,000 associates the opportunity to improve conditions at more than 250 Title I schools in low-income communities across Belk’s 16-state footprint.

As the HandsOn Network affiliate in Belk’s home region, Hands On Charlotte is managing 125 Days of Service projects for Belk associates in area stores, and for those in the corporate office. The kickoff, held on March 11, featured CEO Tim Belk and over 130 of his colleagues completing improvement projects at two Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools.  Belk employees will also volunteer with schools in several other North Carolina cities, including Gastonia, Concord and Raleigh.

Hands On Charlotte is a established nonprofit organization that continues to provide the key connection between corporations and the community. As a HOC volunteer, it is great to see such a notable corporation recognize HOC’s presence within the community.  This partnership continues to validate my enthusiasm for supporting all of HOC’s efforts and initiatives to maintain Charlotte’s strong community connection.

Leticia Foster
Communications Volunteer
Hands On Charlotte

Learn more about Belk’s 125 Days of Service.

Learn more about Hands On Charlotte.

A Man Falls in a Hole

I never watched an episode of the West Wing but saw this scene once and loved it.  This story became my favorite about helping others.  (link to youtube)

“This guy is walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.

A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole. Can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a friend walks by: ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me. Can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.'” 

I liked to tell this story to groups when I worked for Charlotte Rescue Mission because it relates well to helping those with addictions. The hole can represent many of life’s challenges.

Sometimes it’s easy to ask for help, more often it is not. Sometimes you don’t even know you need help until someone jumps down into the hole with you.

Many times  I’ve tried to be the person helping a friend but more times than I’d like to admit I’ve been the man in the hole.  The friend who jumped down to help was always my father. He would say something like, “I may not know all the answers but I know there’s nothing we can’t overcome together.” It always helped. On January 12, 2013 my father lost his battle with cancer. Fortunately, I’ve found several other friends willing to jump down and help me.

We all have the ability to be that friend. You don’t have to know the answers, sometimes just being there shows a person in crisis that you care and that can make all the difference in the world.

2 DougsThis post is dedicated to Doug Macomb Sr. father of HOC’s program Director, Doug Macomb. Doug Sr. was an active volunteer with Habitat for Humanity of Brunswick County, Wounded Warrior Project and Southport-Oak Island Food Pantry. He also volunteered many times for HOC special events.

New Leadership

The Board of Directors of Hands On Charlotte recently elected new officers and added five new members to the board of the Charlotte nonprofit.

Sasha Trosch, executive director of external relations for the Belk College of Business at UNC Charlotte, is the new board chair. Mark Kutny, an attorney with Hamilton Stephens Steele + Martin, PLLC is vice chair. Jane Bufkin, P&L and risk control analyst at Bank of America, is secretary and Gaston Wilson, a CPA in private practice, continues his role as treasurer.

New members elected to the Board of Directors are:

Allyson Pyeritz Colaco, non-profit fundraising consultant;

Keith Cradle, adolescent program manager, Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office;

• Dawn Fisher, compensation consultant, Wells Fargo;

Melisa LaVergne, community volunteer;

• Matthew Robertson, special counsel, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP; and

• Mark Schuler, managing director, Accenture

“Our new board members bring a wealth of knowledge and talent to Hands On Charlotte,” said Eric Law, executive director. “These appointments reflect HOC’s commitment to finding the very best leaders to guide the organization’s continued growth and service to the community.”

About Hands On Charlotte

Hands On Charlotte ( is a nonprofit volunteer service organization,founded in 1991, that promotes volunteerism and direct community service to meet Charlotte’s most critical needs. HOC’s mission is to inspire, equip and mobilize a diverse corps of volunteers to strengthen our community. Working with more than 100 non-profit partner agencies, HOC volunteers provided more than 35,000 hours of service in 2012. Hands On Charlotte is a charter member of the HandsOn Network, an international, innovative alliance of volunteer organizations working to build community through service and civic engagement.

Family Day at the Bechtler Museum

One couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. Not only did we have a lovely spring day in January, but we also participated in Family Day at the Bechtler museum.

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art hosted a fun filled day which included museum tours and arts activities for children under the age of 18.  Shortly after noon, the museum bustled with children’s excitement to let their imagination run wild. Hands On Charlotte was asked to facilitate one of the arts activities for students.  Families could choose to participate in a scavenger hunt, water color still life, oil portrait drawing, and/or pipe cleaning sculptures.  For my time, I volunteered to help children make their own sculpture.

One of the Bechtler’s featured collections is Giacometti: Memory and Presence. The collection features one of the most recognized modernist artist in the 20th century. Giacometti was known for evoking emotion through sculpture, paintings, prints and drawings to name a few.  As an activity, the Bechtler wanted children to emulate Giacometti’s process of creating sculptures.

It was great to see the creativity among the children with just two pipe cleaners, play doh and tin foil. The bustle in the video gallery influenced some of the parents to create their own sculpture!  I loved the variety of sculptures and the interaction with each individual. It was interesting to hear some of the children’s reasons for their sculpture and the questions asked.  I can’t capture all of the sculptures. Let’s just say no two creations were alike!

If you didn’t have the opportunity to participate this month, there will be another opportunity on February 5th.

Leticia Foster
Communications Volunteer
Hands On Charlotte

Celebrating Dr. King through Service

Let the countdown begin! Tomorrow is the MLK Call to Service presented by Hands On Charlotte. In previous years, Hands On Charlotte has hosted a fun filled day of community service projects on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. This year, we changed not only the day but the structure to meet community’s growing enthusiasm. Tomorrow, Saturday, January 19 we will host a day of service at not one…two… but THREE Mecklenburg locations.

From 10am-2pm, HOC will convene at three Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools: Blythe Elementary School, East Mecklenburg High School and Harding University High School.  At each school, one can help sort donated clothing for Crisis Assistance Ministry, wrap books for Promising Pages, and/or stuff pencil packages for Classroom Central. Kids of all ages can let their creative energy flow while making greeting cards for Friendship Trays.

Last year, I had the privilege of helping Crisis Assistance Ministries with the Poverty Simulation.  It was a touching experience. Not only did I have the opportunity to interact with the organization but also learned so much about the constituents within my local community.  I was so moved by interaction that I continued couldn’t stop spreading the word.

Come out and kick off your 2013 resolutions with service to the Charlotte community. No need to sign up to attend. Just stop by and lend your community an hour or two of your time.  If you are lucky, you might catch up with Charlotte’s local blogger from Pure & Simple Organizing or win a US Airways gift card.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  See you on Saturday!

Leticia Foster
Communications Volunteer
Hands On Charlotte

New Year, New Opportunities

As I step out of room 2012 and into room 2013, I realize that I will never be able to enter the room of 2012 again and will only be left with the memories of what once was. I look ahead in to the new room that awaits me, and I am excited for the possibilities that lie ahead in the next year I will spend in this room.

Like many others, I walk into the room with goals that I want to turn the room into. There are things I want to see, windows I want to open, things I want to create and people I want to help. I know that like most everyone, there is not a regret from the last year that too much time was spent helping others, but there is always a little something in everyone’s minds that wishes they would have done a little more to help the less fortunate.

Hands On Charlotte has a room for 2013. There is space for you and everyone you know to pay a visit and return often. Hands On Charlotte partners with more than 100 nonprofit organizations to organize groups of people and serve the needs of the less fortunate through various volunteer activities.

Hands On Charlotte’s goal is to recruit thousands of visitors in the month of January, and for those people to become regular givers to the needs of those that don’t always have the fortunes of everyone else. A great opportunity to become involved or reconnect with Hands On Charlotte is on Saturday January 19th. This is the day set for the Martin Luther King Call to Service.

Every year Hands On Charlotte unites people to spend this day giving to the community through various non-profit groups to honor Dr. King’s legacy. This year the activities will be spread through three locations and will involve many young people through various school programs. I challenge you to step forward in the first part of the year and be an example for young people. The locations are East Mecklenburg High School, Harding University High and Blythe Elementary School. These are drop in locations with various activities ranging from organizing donated food and clothing, creating video messages for troops overseas, wrapping books for children living in shelters and many others.

Let’s all start the year off with a shelf in our room that displays what we have done for others. Even if many won’t be able to see the shelf, it will be something that you can look upon throughout the year as something you are proud of. You will smile to yourself and know all of the lives you touched. That is something that will be with you for the rest of your life, the time you decided to start helping others more. That small amount of time out of our lives can help to make a world of difference in a life we will never know. Think of how good it will feel to know that in some small way you are helping 2013 to start off better for a complete stranger. I look forward to seeing you at one of these locations and spend a few hours with you to change lives forever.

“It takes a noble man to plant a seed for a tree that will some day give shade to people he may never meet.”  – D. Elton Trueblood

Ryan Kamp
Communications Volunteer
Hands On Charlotte