Friday, August 20, 2010

Back to School Service

If you think spending a summer week on the beach in California guarantees a sunburn, try La Selva Beach. Lots of happy memories were made during my childhood when we visited a family friend's beach house, but we often had to be creative with our time as the fog was stubborn and tried to ruin our vacation. The beach houses didn't have great television reception in those days, so we spent our time playing board games inside and building forts in the sand just outside the house. When the sun did come out, we screamed upon entering the chilly Pacific water but seeing blue sky encouraged us to stay in the surf until our lips began to change color. For a long-overdue family gathering a few summers ago, we rented some of those same beach houses where we had our favorite vacations in the 1970s.

Since my first thought of La Selva was "brrrr," I packed a few wetsuits and board games, with supplies for beach-side campfires and roasting marshmallows. It would be just like the good old days!
Except it couldn't; the houses are all now equipped with multiple televisions and stacks of DVDs, and kids no longer resort to board games for entertainment. We did have a mostly foggy week after the first day at La Selva, so it was challenging to keep everyone busy. With my idealistic views of what a beach vacation should be, I tried to rally my children and some of their cousins but finally gave in and let them stay up late a couple of nights watching videos. I figured they could get it out of their system, then they would be more willing to play board games with me and build camp fires. Except they weren't. The kids spent just enough time in the water to be tired and cold, then all they wanted was to cuddle up in front of the friendly t.v. set.

Finally, on our third day at La Selva I had to drive to Palo Alto and back, which caused me to realize that it was twenty degrees warmer and perfectly sunny just a few miles away on the other side of the mountains from the beach. I couldn't change the weather at our location, but I could bring back a little project for the kids to work on to make the week memorable and not accompanied by quite so many videos. I had seen a display at a favorite breakfast hangout, Hobee's, advertising a charity drive to gather backpacks with school supplies for needy kids of all ages: The Family Giving Tree. I knew my own children and their cousins could relate to this project, as our family had students in various levels of grade school, middle school, and high school.

When I brought back the request cards for a backpack from each family, the kids were pleased with the diversion at least. I assumed they would head to Walgreen's with parents or Grammie in tow to purchase the specified supplies, but they took it a step further and scoured the neighborhood at La Selva on a door-to-door donation request! With cash in hand and a little help from us parents, the cousins were able to assemble the backpacks within a day or two. They brought the bulging packs to me with labels affixed, "5th grade girl," or "10th grade boy." No longer did my children and their cousins look like fogged-in zombies with square eyes from too much television viewing; they had an unmistakable glimmer, the kind that comes from doing good works. Hopefully, La Selva will be a part of their conscious childhood memories, punctuated by the time they gave something back while on their summer vacation.

Check out these cool good works school supplies organizations and ideas!

  • San Jose/Silicon Valley Area: Sunday Friends Back to School Program, Yearly in August.
  • San Francisco Bay Area:
  • and Staples Back to School Drive:
  • National: AARP/Create the Good "Equipped to Learn" campaign:
  • Some individual backpack donation projects: /1-25-2006-87290.asp
  • Another backpack donation drive, this one in Florida:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Staycation Summer: Good Works Provide Family Fun!

What more could I do after moving, getting married, and absorbing another six members into my family? We are working on
blending this summer, looking for fun things to do around town on a budget. In line with my passion for service, my favorite activities have been provided by volunteer-driven community benefit organizations: The "Tri for Fun" series triathlon in Pleasanton, "Jazz on the Plazz" in Los Gatos, "Shady Shakespeare" at Sanborn Park in Saratoga. As I continue to work on solutions to the problem of not enough service opportunities for the students at Paly, I'm amazed at how many "Staycation" activities are provided by the volunteer efforts of those around us.

Tri for Fun started twenty-six years ago with a handful of volunteers helping to mark the course and pass out water cups, the organizers hoping to inspire exercise for good health. This year, the summer sampler for would-be triathletes is accomplished by a small staff at On Your Mark Events...and 114 volunteers! I'm a veteran road racer, but this was only my second triathlon. I didn't get a chance to interview those pleasant helpers who gave me water and orange slices, but the ones who cheered for us as we swam, biked, and ran seemed to enjoy their service more than those who just did the job. As I completed the last mile of dirt trail in my swimsuit, I thought how miserable I would have been without the support of strangers in my new sport of choice.

Jazz on the Plazz is managed by the Los Gatos Music and Arts nonprofit organization, to promote appreciation for jazz and to make it accessible to the community. Since my mom was out of town, we got her VIP tickets and enjoyed reserved seating with appetizers. This fun summertime festival is manned by dozens of community members who want to provide a fun event free of charge; the legwork is done by a slew of high school students who will earn 900 service hours this summer setting up and taking down chairs and awnings for the concerts. Thanks to the dedicated effort of these civic-minded adults and teens, I discovered my new favorite jazz artist Spencer Day.

One of the Bay Area's best kept summer secrets is Shady Shakespeare Theater Company. After Bob and I made plans to escape for the weekend, we thought the kids might enjoy a free (yes, free!) production of the Merchant of Venice just up the road from our house, at Sanborn Park. Not only is this worth the drive to visit a beautiful park in the Santa Cruz Mountain foothills, but the quality of this production ranks even higher than my last visit to a famous Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, Utah. The adminstrative staff all works for free, the actors are students of the Bard Academy in the Bay Area, and the organization is supported by major businesses, arts councils, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, and the National Foundation for the Arts. This collaboration of talent is produced by a small group of paid workers and organizers, with a larger volunteer group who are passionate about the Arts. Because of their effort to share their passion, my family immensely enjoyed a cultural feast with elaborate costumes in the shade of the Santa Cruz mountains.

Between our weekend activities and our little weekly Wednesday family field trips, I've come across more volunteer labor than I could have imagined--just by focusing on the idea throughout the summer. We've ventured to the Tech Museum in San Jose, where all the hosts and hostesses are volunteers; they taught us how to grow green jellyfish cells and how a robot works to detonate explosives. At the Rosicrucian Museum, also in San Jose, we were guided through a replica Egyptian tomb by a student volunteer who translated the intricate heiroglyphics to tell a story of the Egyptians beliefs in the afterlife. In Santa Cruz, we viewed hundreds of antique Woodies, antique cars all brought together for the weekend by a group of passionate volunteers.

Who cares that we didn't make it to Europe or the Orient this summer, we'll get there eventually. We have benefited from the dedication of volunteers who are interested in everything from sports, to music and the arts, technology, history, and automobiles. Without their willingness to get involved and even work for free, these organizations and events would not survive. This has been my favorite "staycation" summer, because I've watched for these little community treasures and I've had so many opportunities to enjoy them!

Good Works Inspiration for You! Spencer Day - Movie of Your Life