Thursday, July 21, 2011

Service by Composure

I've been under the weather since last Wednesday, and now my granddaughter--800 miles away--is sick too. A roller coaster of memories flooded my mind when her mom, my daughter Sheridan, texted me from the ER saying that our baby girl had a febrile seizure on Tuesday evening. I guess this runs in families, as my son had the same type of seizure when he was a toddler and my youngest daughter Grace had many of them before her fourth birthday. Paramedics always send the young victim to the ER by ambulance as a precaution, which seems to add even more stress to an already traumatic situation. After coming out of the febrile (induced by fever) seizure, the little patient most often returns to normal within a few hours.

I wish I could have been there, but Braelyn's parents are blessed with loving neighbors who were available and rushed to the scene. Their upstairs neighbor, Mindy, had come down just before the seizure to help get an accurate temperature reading. When the seizure began, she happened to recognize it, as she confided to Sheridan that she had her own medical condition. She ran to get another neighbor, a nurse, and they called 911 to get help for little Braelyn. Sheridan was so impressed with Mindy's always-giving nature and her ability to come to the rescue for anyone in the complex, never worrying about her own needs. She asked Mindy how she was able to maintain her composure. "Well, I've been diabetic all my life and I'm waiting for a kidney transplant. So I've had my share of medical emergencies," she said.

My family has been inspired by this young woman and her constant upbeat, unselfish nature; she is a light for the newly-married couples living in this little apartment complex. Her small act of service to my daughter and Braelyn made them feel cared for. Mindy continues to make a difference for other residents of her community by always being a cheerful presence, and by lovingly considering the needs of others regardless of her own dire health condition. Thanks to all of the Mindy's of the world for touching lives for good each day. We can make a difference for young moms like her by promoting organ and tissue donation, and by registering as donors ourselves. May this very special young mom live a long, happy, and healthy life to watch her daughter grow.

  • Register as an organ donor here, it will only take you 5 minutes to save someone's life.
  • Promote awareness of organ donation. Make posters, distribute organ donation cards.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Volunteers Make a Difference for Weekend Warrrior Athletes

They did refer to us as "athletes" yesterday at the Tri for Fun series in Pleasanton. I like to think of myself as an athlete, even if a late bloomer. Bob and I signed up for a sprint distance triathlon at Shadow Cliffs Regional Park, but as the event approached we both developed a respiratory bug and nearly backed out. I decided since it's supposed to be "for fun," nobody would fault me for skipping the 1/4 mile swim and I planned to jump into the 11 mile bike ride and 3 mile run, even if I wheezed and coughed the whole way--that's a weekend warrior, right? After 4 days of feeling lousy I was sure we were no longer contagious--just experiencing the after effects--so as long as my body could do this it would be fine.

When I saw the competitors riding old Schwinns and hard-tails, the endorphines started to pump and sick or not I wanted to at least beat my last-year's time. Bob had filled my tires to maximum capacity, so I whizzed past most of the ladies in my 29-49 age group, even some from the younger group who started five minutes earlier. To play fair, I hadn't started until the middle of my age-group pack transitioned to bikes. This event is made possible by dozens and dozens of volunteers all along the course. As I rode past the Palm Event Center and adjacent vineyard, a red light and stopped cars told my brain to wait. I reluctantly slowed a bit, but a yellow-vested race volunteer held the traffic, motioned me forward and sweetly called out, "We're doing this for you!" At the next intersection, an older gentleman pointed the way and told me and another rider, "Good job, ladies!"

The volunteers were generous in their comments, as most of us were really pushing ourselves at various forms of fitness and could barely respond. They kept encouraging anyway. Smiles came from the volunteer course monitors as I transitioned to the 3-mile run along trail at the park. I didn't know how I was going to be able to do this, with post illness and now tight calves from biking. I tried to eek out a "thank you" to some of the volunteer cheerleaders, remembering the last time I stood on the sidelines to inspire weekend athletes at the end of a half-marathon. Some volunteers just do the bare minimum and man their post; others go out of their way to call out a cheer or two, even when we don't respond. It's not that we don't want to thank them, we're just spent and trying to finish the race! Every On Your Mark race-day volunteer who encouraged me yesterday deserves a big hug. They told me "Great pace, you're almost there," or "You look strong," and even at the end, "It looks like you could do this race twice!" They had no idea of the bug I had battled just to show up, and to finish, but without their positive words I would have wondered why I even tried. Instead, it was a thrilling experience, and I will be back for another Tri for Fun next summer. Perhaps some of you looking for a fun way to get involved will give it a try and sign up as a race day volunteer to make a difference for us weekend warrior athletes!

Want to try community service helping with a triathlon or other sporting event?
  • Tri for Fun Series, by On Your Mark EventsPurpose: To further the sport of Triathlon.
  •, Mark and Kandee Aiton
  • List of 2011 Events,
  • Tri For Fun #1: 3rd Saturday in June, Tri For Fun #2: 3rd Saturday in July, Tri For Fun #3: 3rd Saturday in August
  • What: 400 yard swim, bike distance 11 miles, 3.1 mile run.
  • Shadow Cliffs Regional Park, Pleasanton.

Friday, July 8, 2011

3,150 Hours of Service and Counting

Each summer in Palo Alto and throughout the school year, hundreds and hundreds of high school students from every grade descend upon the community to offer their volunteer assistance as part of the Living Skills course. The class is a graduation requirement and somewhere along the way, community service entered the curriculum as a means for our students to make connections and to pursue their interests by giving of their time in areas such as:
  • Humanitarianism
  • Health and Safety
  • Animals and Environment
  • Education
  • Seniors and Disabled
  • Food and Shelter
  • Civic Engagement
  • Sports
  • General Community-Building
During the past three weeks I've worked with my twenty-nine Living Skills students to help facilitate meaningful projects that go beyond simply checking off the boxes and filling the time sheet. It was quite an adventure for some to realize the deadline to complete their service is now the last day of the three-week class. In the Summer School sign-ups, they are told they can start volunteering before the class begins but who reads the fine print these days? Some of my students were a little panicky during the first week of class but thanks to Linda Yeung, a dedicated Paly College and Career Center volunteer, we offer a comprehensive calendar of vetted local events with nonprofit organizations and community agencies at

It was incredibly rewarding to watch my students first focus on their sense of
purpose in life, through some of the studies of Dr. William Damon of Stanford University (The Path to Purpose, 2008). Next, they considered their interests and talents. With that in mind, they pursued the most appealing "matched" opportunities they could find within the time restraint. One student who is interested in the environment emailed me on the eve of the Fourth of July, earnestly hoping to fill his hours on the holiday with the deadline looming. Luckily, a few days before, the organizers of the Palo Alto Chili Cook-Off at Mitchell Park had sent out a volunteer request to help keep the grounds clean and free of debris. It was a stretch, but with one email introduction the student was able to make a difference by keeping the park clean during the event.

My class, I'm proud to say, were all able to fulfill the 15-hour community service requirement in their areas of interest. The reflections they wrote show the positive impact of this unique course requirement in Palo Alto Unified School District, helping our students find meaning and purpose in their lives. Since the "Get Involved" publication recently won a grant from the Palo Alto Community Fund, we will be able to include many of the PAUSD Summer School students' reflections in the Fall publication. Watch for it online at

By contributing a small amount of time to the surrounding community, our first session of summer school students have given over 3,150 hours of service in the past month or two. If they were each to be paid minimum wage for their time, this would be a $25,200 grant to the community on their behalf. That's the power of students who give back. I'm proud to work in a place where youth are seen as a valued community resource, and where they are willing to share their diverse talents and interests to make the world a better place!

Community agencies that benefited from my 29 students serving in the first session of PAUSD Summer School:
  • Acterra
  • Save the Bay
  • Lytton Gardens
  • Kwong Wah Church Kitchen
  • YMCA
  • Shady Shakespeare at Sanborn Park
  • Red White and Blue Parade
  • Lion's Club Car Show
  • Circle of Friends Preschool
  • Lucile Packard Foundation Summer Scamper
  • Resource Area for Teachers/RAFT
  • Second Harvest Food Bank
  • Me to We Humanitarian Mission
  • Mid-Peninsula Open Space
  • Humane Society/SPCA
  • Channing House
  • Stanford Soccer Club
  • AYSO
  • St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room