Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cranes for Healing Wishes

Last month our students, parents, teachers and I all wondered what could be done to show support for the tsunami and earthquake victims in Japan. With California's Ed Code, fundraising on high school campuses can be tricky. The parents decided to host a bake sale anyway across the street, and they also raised relief dollars by selling "Pray for Japan" bracelets. But what could the students initiate? From, I heard about a crane-folding project where the students could mail origami cranes to That organization would receive a two-dollar per crane donation from the Jeff Bezos Family Foundation (Jeff is the founder of Our goal: 1,000 cranes to send healing wishes for Japan, to be folded in one day, April 18th.

Our gifted Japanese teacher, Ms. Kamikihara, began to share the artful folding technique with all of her students, and by Spring Break our students were folding hundreds of cranes to bring on the day of the event. Last Monday, over one hundred energetic teenagers stood at ten tables near our student center during a rainy lunchtime, keeping their fingers and the little origami squares dry. I knew we would surpass 1,000 when I saw seven or eight bags full of cranes already made during Spring Break. The Japanese foreign language students wore red and white yarn on their wrists to designate their status as crane-folding mentors. The thirty-five-minute soggy lunch break passed quickly, and the origami artists were having so much fun that we had to remind them that the bell had rung and it was time to stop. Now came the hard part. How many cranes did we have? Mrs. Tajima, our stalwart parent volunteer, had a plan to place sets of 100 cranes in paper bags, then into the copy paper boxes we had gathered from the other departments.

As I ate a little bowl of soup to warm up, the parent volunteers counted the students' lunchtime effort. I finished the soup and had to get back to my class assignment. I left the parents to finish counting cranes into paper bags at the folding tables. An hour or so later, Mrs. Tajima sent word that not only had we wildly surpassed our goal of 1,000 cranes in one day; our students had made 6,000! She made the little 6,000 crane sticker above, so we could post it around the school to say thank you to all who participated. As it turns out, we just barely missed the deadline to sponsor the two-dollar-per-crane donation from the Bezos Family Foundation, but the foundation decided to double their overall donation from this promotion (thanks in part to groups like ours that came so close to the deadline).

In the process of mailing cranes to and Architecture for Humanity, Mrs. Tajima also discovered the lofty "1,000,000 Crane Project" going on at Princeton (coincidentally, Mr. Bezos' alma mater). They were sent some of our cranes as well. We sent the remaining cranes to Osh Kosh B'Gosh, for their program to donate clothing to thousands of children in Japan who have been affected by the devastation. With the deadline for mailing cranes to the original organization having passed while we were out on Spring Break, the activity turned out to be less fundraising and more raising awareness. Either way, our students felt empowered to finally be able to make a difference for Japan.

Cool Community Service Idea:
Folding Cranes to Help Japan
(These sites also have instructions)

Architecture of Humanity project

Clothing Donations for Crane Donations

Princetons Students' Healing Wishes

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cesar Chavez Day of Service

What a day we had, celebrating the core values of Cesar Chavez on his birthday, March 31st. After a stirring message from Karthik Prasad, a Fellow from Stanford University Haas Center for Public Service, a diverse group of 120 Paly students contributed 7200 hours in service-learning around Palo Alto and beyond. They chose from seven organizations based on their interests and the values of Cesar Chavez: Milpitas Food Pantry; Magic, Inc. at Stanford Dish; Half Moon Bay Restoration; Lytton Gardens Senior Community; Creative Montessori Preschool; InnVision; and Ecumenical Hunger Program. My daughter Grace and her best friend signed up for Ecumenical Hunger Program, but I was needed at Milpitas Food Pantry.

Once we got the four buses loaded, we headed to East Palo Alto for two of the sites, then to Milpitas with my group. Of course, the exciting part of community service is that you never know what you may be asked to do. Karen
Kolander, the director and one-woman-show thanked us for coming and informed us that our group of nineteen working four hours each, represented seventy-six man-hours--a feat she could never accomplish alone. She assigned us the task of emptying the storage closet and the storage unit of all donations made since the holidays and check each package or can for a valid expiration date. If a can was badly damaged or expired, we tossed it. The "would-I-eat-this" test was also applied, with permission to throw out rusty or aging cans with no dates. It is astounding to see how many food donations are inedible. At the food pantry, and earlier in the month at a food donation bin, I noticed someone's discarded "specialty diet food." Of course, if you wouldn't eat that yourself, why would a needy or homeless person find it appetizing?

Our students stayed focused on the job at hand, and I worked to keep them busy. There's nothing worse than a bored volunteer. When some students were standing around, I found a job inside sorting shelves in the "share area," where recently-expired foods and household goods can be taken, two per client. By the time the students were finished with that part of the project, the shelves looked as good as a Mom and Pop grocery store. Lots of organizational talent was contributed that day at the food pantry. My only regret was that I couldn't be in two places at once. Grace and her group ran out of things to do at the Ecumenical Hunger site. The overworked director wasn't quite the drill sergeant that Karen was at the food pantry, and they didn't have a parent ordering them around. Maybe next time, they kids will be bold enough take the initiative and find extra ways to fill the time and make a difference. As Karen said, "I'm the only paid employee for this facility, except for the janitor who works a few hours a week. I could never do it without dedicated volunteers." One of her regular volunteers even brought a platter of freshly cooked Afghan food while we were there, "For everyone to share," he beamed. Volunteering with kindhearted people is just one of the perks of giving back to the community!