Monday, August 19, 2013

The End is Just the Beginning!

As I sit at my home in Ohio in preparation to go back to school I am shocked and can't believe that my summer and internship with Feeding America Southwest Virginia has come to an end. Throughout this time of reflection I have truly realized how blessed I was to have such a fruitful and incredible internship, and to meet wonderful people and make contacts, but not only are they contacts, but good and lifelong friends. 

Another benefit was the fact that I am studying Nonprofit Management at Ohio State and was able to apply my classroom knowledge to the field, in addition to taking the ideas and aspects that I learned this summer back to the classroom this fall. In that spirit I want to highlight for you a few things that I learned this summer.

1. Many problems can't be solved overnight. 
Nonprofits have problems and struggles that they must overcome and Feeding America Southwest Virginia has it's fair share. A few stuck out to me and were comprised of external communication with partners, employee education and development, internal organizational communication, and lack of funds and resources. I noticed them and became frustrated and wanted to immediately fix them but I soon realized after many conversations with staff that these problems may not be solved quickly and that many nonprofits or businesses for that matter have many more obstacles to overcome. It was enlightening and I have walked away from the experience with high hopes for FASWVA that they will solve these problems and will be all the better for it. It has also pushed me to continue to strive and provide solutions for the nonprofit sector as I will be pursuing a career next year.

2. Keep good records.
I really learned this one when the end of the month reports came around. These records are beneficial when applying for grants, year end reports to see the impact FASWVA made, and when audits come around. I had to fill out forms on how much time I spent towards certain projects, my mileage and places traveled, I had to tally numbers that kept track of meals for the summer feeding program, and the list goes on. I was annoyed and bogged down, but I realized that if I would have kept track of things throughout the month instead of trying to come up with everything at the end of the month things would have been much easier! 

3. Collaboration is awesome!
I am a real big fan of working in teams and seeing businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations working together to make a large impact in a community. I saw many needs for collaboration over the summer and I was constantly thinking of ways in which FASWVA could work together with another group or their agencies to improve food distribution, engage the community  and improve the summer food service program, or enhance the development department and bring in more funds. There were a few great examples of collaboration that I witnessed this summer, first in watching the Catholic Heart Work Camp group that helped out a ton this summer, and the Canstruction event. Both of these are explained in further detail in previous posts, CHWC and Canstruction . Also the Hunger Study interns, Chelsea MacCormack and Katie Romano, they worked seamlessly together and with agencies to successfully run the whole study. They went over and above their duties and truly showed how much more you can accomplish when you work together as a team than by yourself.

4. Step out of your comfort zone and be willing to always learn from others.
I tried so many new things this summer and I moved 6 hours away from home in order to have the internship. But it was all worth it and I would do it again in a heart beat. People are great and hold a wealth of knowledge, so engage them, talk with them, and serve and help them. Life provides endless opportunities and I've found that I have learned the most about myself and this world when I have dove headfirst into these opportunities looking for an adventure. 

I could go on and on and describe to you more of what I did this summer, from working with Summer Food Service Programs for children, helping with the Hunger in America 2014 study, reading and studying a fantastic book called Nonprofit Sustainability, to helping with planning for the Child and Adult Care Food Program, or simply meeting and hanging out with some wonderful people all over southwest Virginia. But I don't have to because many of these projects and adventures are described in previous posts, so please take another look and learn from them and I hope be inspired by the words I put down.

I want to thank my readers for without you I wouldn't have had a blog. So keep pressing on and I encourage you all to volunteer, serve, and look and come up with solutions for the many social problems that plague our world. One simple act can change a life. I am going to keep striving to help and I know that this internship has pushed me that much more, the end is just the beginning.

Monday, August 12, 2013

From Hope to Change

Part 2: Canstruction 
During my time in learning more about Canstruction with Lora J. Katz, AIA, partner with Gilliam Katz Architecture & Design  I asked her a couple of more questions, more personal this time. I asked, what brought about your passion for service and the willingness to help others and why do you look to better your community?

These questions struck a chord within her heart, as I could see the passion flowing from her answer and stories she shared. She said that she grew up in a home where service was emphasized. Her father worked hard and provided for his family but didn't want to be involved in service to his community. But she explained that her mother had a very different view, she made sure to serve and she knew that it helped and changed people's lives. Her mother encouraged her to get out there and help people so Lora did all that she could to make a difference and simply serve. This view has stuck with Lora ever since and she still makes time for service.

She continued and said, "That if you don't do it yourself then it may not get done." She has seen plenty of needs in her community and she has ultimately recognized that she needs to step up to the plate and help, because if she doesn't then who else will. In these aspirations though, she also recognized the importance of bringing others along with her to create change in the community. It's the old adage that with a team you can accomplish so much more than what you can do alone.  It was incredible and encouraging to see her zeal for service, especially coming from an experienced professional who may not have the time to do much else besides work and attend meetings.

We then started to branch off and talk about the needs that are so evident in our communities, whether poverty, abuse, or food insecurity. Ms. Katz led with a story. During the winter she was touring a school with the principal to provide ideas on future designs and renovations for the building, when suddenly a little boy ran up. There were rumors going around that there may not be school the next day due to a incoming snow storm, he asked the principal to make sure. The principal assured the boy and said by the looks of things that there wouldn't be school. But this wasn't the answer that the little boy was looking for, he immediately had a frown on his face and exclaimed, "I won't have anything to eat then tomorrow."

By this time Ms. Katz had teared up and she was working to hold back more tears, she apologized for being emotional. But I praised her and said that her tears were encouraging and her heart for those in need was so big and so full of hope for continued change in our world. She was working hard and doing the best that she could to serve her community of Roanoke, VA and I know for certain that she will never slow down in her pursuit for a better world. I also know that this mindset is present in myself and many others and that brings me a hope that I am sure will transform itself into change.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Put in the time in hopes for a great return!

Canstruction: one can make a difference, Part 1:
It has been an exciting past six days! I was home in Ohio over the weekend and the first half of the week for a wedding and some much needed family time. I was feeling emotionally and physically drained in returning to Virginia yesterday, but I knew that I needed to get back for a meeting at 3:30pm. I can honestly say now that it was absolutely worth it to go to that meeting and I am so glad that I made the 6 hour drive to Virginia. It was an encouraging and fantastic learning experience! 

The meeting was with Lora J Katz, AIA, an architect and interior designer with Gilliam Katz Architecture & Design  where she has been working tirelessly to bring Canstruction to Roanoke, which will take place October 4-12, 2013. She was willing to meet with myself and the two other interns, Chelsea and Katie, to explain the details of this event and to offer further insight and awareness on the other community development work that she and her partner at the firm are doing in the Roanoke area.   

Canstruction is an international organization as their website explains, "Canstruction is a nonprofit organization that holds annual design and build competitions to construct fantastic, giant sized, structures made entirely out of canned food. In each city after the structures are built and the winners declared the creations go on view to the general public as giant art exhibits. At the close of the competition all of the Cansculptures are dismantled, the food used in the structures is donated to the local food banks for distribution to community emergency feeding programs."

Feeding America Southwest Virginia will be the recipient food bank of the Canstruction in Roanoke and we are so excited to be able to partner in such a great opportunity. Lora explained that the event will have 10 organizations participating as designers and builders, ranging from technology companies, a bank, and schools. It is expected to raise 12,000-15,000 cans which will equate to feeding thousands of people in the southwest Virginia area!  

The sculptures to be built in Roanoke will be displayed at the Taubman Museum of Art and there are strict rules as to how the sculptures are to be constructed. We thought that this was quite interesting, Lora explained that each structure has to be on a 10' x 10' base and up to 8 feet tall and entirely built out of canned foods. They also must be free standing except for small pieces of velcro on the tops of the cans so that the labels will not be defaced as they will be donated at the end of the viewing period. The free standing aspect presents its challenges as Lora informed us of a Canstruction exhibit in Washington D.C. that she helped with. The sculptures had been built and professional pictures of the exhibits had been taken and soon the museum guests were let in for viewing. A little boy ran over to one of the sculptures and pulled a can with the whole sculpture toppling in front of him! She said that it was quite a sight but very unfortunate for the participating organization that built the sculpture. 

Another surprising aspect of the event is the amount of collaboration taking place to put on the event. There of course is Gilliam Katz Architecture & Design donating their time and planning, the Taubman donating the space, there is also a photographer donating his services in addition to one of the participating organizations donating marketing and advertisement. These donations are integral and successfully work to keep the price of the event at a huge low. Lora also emphasized Kroger as a monumental help to the event. They are selling the cans to each organization at a very low price, basically only to recoup costs, and are donating cans to one of the participants, the Roanoke City Schools: Burton Center for Arts and Technology . They are also providing the transportation and moving of the cans throughout the duration of the event, a large expense that is being provided free of cost. 

Lora exclaimed, "It's all about planning! If you get the right people involved and the right people on committees then you'll have a successful event. If you put in a lot of time for an event, you want to get a lot of return." She knows that Canstruction has the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of so many in the Southwest Virginia area and she and others are making sure that it does just that.

So come out and join us for the kickoff of the exhibit on October 4th and for more information and volunteer opportunities at the week long event check out:

Below are just a couple of pictures of sculptures that groups have done around the world! Both pictures are property of Canstruction, Inc.

A swan that won an award for Most Cans used!

A large corn on the cob with a snake and fish in the background!

Look for Part 2 in the coming days! 

Friday, August 2, 2013

I think it's going to get worse...

"I think it's going to get worse," said Irene Salyers, 52, of Buchanan County, Va., a declining coal region in Appalachia. Married and divorced three times, Salyers now helps run a fruit and vegetable stand with her boyfriend, but it doesn't generate much income. They live mostly off government disability checks."

This excerpt is from a recent article in USA TODAY titled 4 in 5 face near-poverty, no work in USA. 

I have been to Buchanan County for the Mobile Food Pantry visit that myself and the two Hunger in America 2014 study interns made in late June. We saw first hand and heard from those in the community the struggles that this area is going through. It was eye-opening and I am so glad that I was able to see and experience this area, as the article describes, "Buchanan County, in southwest Virginia, is among the nation's most destitute based on median income, with poverty hovering at 24%. The county is mostly white, as are 99% of its poor." Seeing this area helped me to better understand the face of poverty in this nation. It is a complex and very large problem that will not be solved overnight.

As Mark Rank, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis put it, "Poverty is no longer a issue of 'them' it's an issue of 'us'. Only when poverty is thought of as a mainstream event, rather than a fringe experience that just affects blacks and Hispanics, can we really begin to build broader support for programs that lift people in need."

I am hopeful that we will find solutions for the many aspects of poverty that affect our nation and I know that I am going to work hard to be a part of this solution and create ideas for positive change. The link to the USA TODAY article is below, I highly encourage you to read it, it provides an invaluable light on the face of poverty in our nation.

There are also plenty of ways you can help at Feeding America Southwest Virginia or at your local food bank through volunteering, making a donation, or spreading awareness of poverty and food insecurity issues.