Monday, March 15, 2010

Moms Who Give Back: Project Linus

Most of my friends have their plates a little too full these days. With all of the conveniences that we have to multi-task, free time goes by the wayside in favor of fitting more into our days. A generous family in Palo Alto started a foundation years ago to provide below-market rent and a housing purchase program to families just starting out; in exchange the requirement is that the recipients of the deal will give back to the community in their spare time, however they can.
From the website: "The California Family Foundation helps low-income families work towards home ownership. The Below Market Rate Housing Program rents homes in eastern Menlo Park and East Palo Alto to families who have good credit, a growing income, are willing to perform community service every month and who are ready to be homeowners in 3 to 5 years."
Cindy and Jenny live in some of the foundation's rental houses as their husband's begin their careers. These gals are inspirational to me; I've asked them to share their story to empower other young people. Teenagers, families, and groups can all do community service for Project Linus.

"Our Mission is to provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade, washable blankets lovingly created by volunteer blanket makers or 'blanketeers'.

"On Christmas Eve 1995, an article titled Joy to the World appeared in Parade Magazine. It was written by Pulitzer Prize winning photo-journalist, Eddie Adams. Part of the article featured a petite, downy haired child. She had been going through intensive chemotherapy and stated that her security blanket helped her get through the treatments.

"After reading the article, Karen Loucks decided to provide homemade security blankets to Denver's Rocky Mountain Children's Cancer Center, and Project Linus was born.

Project Linus has delivered over 3,000,000 security blankets to children around the world. With nearly 400 chapters in the United States, our organization continues to supply blankets to children in need. Although Project Linus originally donated blankets to pediatric cancer patients, recipients now include any child who is seriously ill or traumatized in some way -- in other words "children in need of a big hug."

Thanks to Project Linus and the California Family Foundation for inspiring this service opportunity to make a difference in children's lives. I'm not sure how many blankets Cindy and Jenny have made, but they are setting a great example for their own families and for all of us who know them. According to Jenny, Stanford pediatric fellow's wife and mother of four beautiful little girls, with another baby on the way:

"I’ve enjoyed working with Project Linus because I’m a busy mom without a lot of time. I can make blankets in the free time I have in the evenings and still feel like I’m contributing to the community. I especially love the idea of serving a child in need. The project welcomes several types of blankets so you don’t have to be an expert seamstress to participate. Its relatively fast, easy and inexpensive and my older children can watch, help and learn to develop a servant’s heart."

Find out how youth and families can do good works by making blankets and delivering them to local fabric stores for distribution, visit Project Linus:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The 10-Minute Volunteer

Working in a high school environment, I have come to appreciate the value of small fragments of time: five-minute passing periods, ten minutes for brunch, and thirty-five minutes for lunch. Usually the adults skip those latter two increments. There is one round institutional clock in every room, sometimes two, each being a few seconds or a minute apart. I have learned exactly how much time it takes to trek from one end of campus to the other: five minutes from the north portables on the Embarcadero side, to the science classrooms in the 1700 building. We move with the sound of the bell, a pattern that has caused me to jump even when I hear a telephone ring: "Time to go," my brain signals.

Today, the clocks and bells sounded louder than ever in my mind, deadlines and expectations mounted with the hours and I soon felt overwhelmed. That's when I usually go into "tidal wave" mode, and just try to keep my head above water: invite 250 students to Saturday school, meet the career day guest speakers and publicize the next event, field parent calls about their students' attendance, find the microphones for today's career day. My jobs at Paly are completely disconnected but somehow I weave threads from one student to the next: one thousand eight-hundred or so of them, and one of me. At 3:50 p.m. this afternoon my nearly-sixteen-year-old daughter Grace called to remind me that I promised to take her to sign up for Drivers Ed. "No way," I thought." I stayed last night until 6:00 p.m. and tonight doesn't look any better." Then I heard something louder than clocks, bells, or telephones in my head; it was the "Cat's Cradle" song by Harry Chapin, reminding me about the fleeting years with my kids.

A substitute whom I had already complained about came in rather abruptly, looking for her paperwork. There were six other people standing outside the door waiting to be helped and I didn't care about anything anymore; I just wanted to go home and pick up Grace to sign up for driving lessons. I'm not sure what was going through the substitute teacher's mind, but she must have seen I was outnumbered. She said, "You know, I have ten extra minutes until my ride arrives so I'm going to give you a hand. What can I do?" I was shocked. I knew she wasn't getting paid to be there, or to do anything more than cover her classes for the day. Exhausted from working alone when there should have been two of us in the office, I pointed to a pile of envelopes and asked her to file them. She fanned out the envelopes and tucked them away, then offered to do another job with her remaining four minutes. "I can see you need some help," she said, as I attempted to take phone calls. She would have stayed longer, but I knew the price of missed driving lessons would be worse than Harry Chapin's warning so I told her the office would close for the day regardless of loose ends hanging. Irene didn't have another assignment lined up for the next day, but by volunteering out of kindness to help for just ten minutes she proved her worth. I arranged to hire her for tomorrow!

Volunteering often leads to paid work, see The Ladders Article: