Sunday, March 31, 2013

Feeding the Hungry

Tomorrow, I am making dinner for 15 homeless youth. I'm so nervous/excited.

Several of the projects I've been able to support so far have been really fun.  So much fun, that arguable, it's not much of a sacrifice to help them out.  Yeah, spend a day talking with students about thier awesome science?  Eat girl scout cookies?  Yeah, I'm a real hero.  But I was looking for a way to get involved with some issues that are frankly harder to deal with.  Feeding the hungry.  Giving shelter to the poor.  I learned really quickly that because there is no easy fix for homelessness, organizations that deal with these issues need a real commitment.  You can't just pop into the soup kitchen and see if they need help ladling. 

I also started learning a lot more about the actual problem of youth homelessness in my own community.  I'm going to need a few blog posts to cover this, but the quick summary is that even though I live in a privaledged suburb, people, included young adults and children, regularly deal with homelessness (and hunger) here.  Ugh. 

I will confess to being an absolute bleeding heart liberal.  We live in the most privileged country on earth.  People shouldn't go hungry.  And people (especially kids) should have a safe place to sleep.  Even a home. 

Up the street from me is a building that is being converted to a Friends of Youth Shelter. Friends of Youth provides therapeutic foster care and emergency shelters and services for youth and young adults.  The new building is going to be shelter for transitional housing for kids graduating out of the foster system.  I started learning about the really great things that Friends of Youth does for youth and families on the Eastside, and I thought they really are the kind of organization I want to help.  They provide a lot of support and connect clients to a variety of services to help with the transition out of homelessness. 

One of the ways that they need help is providing meals at a young adult shelter.  The Landing provides emergency housing (and dinner, and breakfast, and showers and laundry) for 15 adults from 18-24.  They can also connect them with other services, like counseling, medical help or even education.  This is really important stuff!

So important, that even though I am terribly hesitant to cook for people I don't know especially well (or at all), I decided to start volunteering to bring dinner to The Landing.  After we get this first run off the ground, I'll see how often is realistic to volunteer.  I've been SO nervous about this, but I expect that as it becomes routine, I'll feel less nervous.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Looking for ideas

Finding places to give 20 hours a month is going to be a challenge.  I've found some great community organizations locally, but I quickly realized that if I want to keep my job (I do), I may need some volunteer hours with flexibility.  I had read recently about micro volunteering, which is a way to recruit volunteers to do very simple tasks that help an organization, often from home.  Things like and other needs a simple click to give (which basically funnel advertizing dollars to a charity).  Many groups want help signing petitions, "spreading the word," etc.

I was wondering if there would be any version of micro volunteering that could fit into my project, which is how I ran across Help from Home. This is a clearing house of micro-volunteering projects, some of which require little more than a click, and other range to about 30 minutes of work.  There are feed the children projects, clothe the poor projects, save the environment projects.  It's all over the place.  I might have to ask my grandmother to teach me to knit again so I can help make scarves for women in homeless shelters.

This morning I ran across a very interesting website that facilitates putting prisoners letters online.  The letters are all scanned to be viewed as images, but when the images are transcribed, they can be found by search engines.  Comments left online are mailed to prisoners.  I transcribed a letter from a prisoner reflecting on the death of Hugo Chavez and his interest in anarchism.  He said "you are the only one who can speak for yourself." The irony of writing this in a forum that is created to give voices to the voiceless was not lost on me.  There is some scary stuff on this blog, but ignoring human suffering doesn't make it go away.  Prisoners were not a group I had imagined finding a way to help, but this seems like an important and interesting opportunity.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Donating Blood

Just a quick update to say that I finally managed to get in for my next blood donation.  I had an appoint at the blood drive happening at work, and I got an email from the donation coordinator that there were blood shortages.  Blood shortages!  Are you eligible to donate?  If so, your donation could save a life, and it is needed.

I could seriously use a blood donor buddy though- I really hate needles and blood.  I'm taking application for virtual or in person blood donation partners.

With an hour of me bleeding, and my parent's recent donation to Donor's Choose, we are broaching 3.5% of the way to goal!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Science Fair Judging

Last weekend, I judged my first science fair. 

It might be surprising that I've never done this before: I care about education, about science, about youth having opportunities that ignite their passions... and somehow I've never judged a science fair.  Why, you ask?  High schoolers scare me. I was a real jerk when I was in high school, so it seems fair to assume that high school students just won't be that much fund to hang out with. But, because I need to find some way to get all these volunteer hours, I figured I should do it, even if am killed by uber-cool-kid eye rolls.

I thought the Central Sound Regional Science & Engineering Fair might be a chance to flex my science background a bit and I heard there was free breakfast.  I didn't expect it to be such a great networking opportunity, and I was positively blown away by the student entrants.  But we'll start with the adult experience.  I was on a team of four judges in Molecular and Cellular Biology.  A grad student, a high school science teacher, and a professor/researcher (and me). I was (of course) the only woman, so I immediately felt glad I showed up, since easily half of our students were girls.

While chatting before and after with the other judges, we had a really great chance to share ideas and resources. The teacher was looking for ways to help his students get science fair projects, so we got to brainstorm ideas and resources with him.  And the professor/researcher wanted to know more about my work as a curriculum writer because he is interested in special ed. The point is, the science fair is a cool professional networking venue that really mixes people up across disciplines.

As for the judging, it wasn't hard work.  Talking with students is WAY less mind numbing that your average poster session.  They were excited and nervous to talk to us.  As we were walking through the poster, conveying the very essence of hopelessly lost, students would straighten up as if we might swoop and pepper them with irrationally hard questions at any time. Ha!  The organizers specifically told us to leave all students with a positive impression of their work (you know, to keep them in science).

The students we got to talk to were absurdly sharp. And almost all of them had been performed at one of the research institutes.  This made us skeptical that the students hadn't just shadowed a post-doc for a few weeks and put some mystery figures on a poster.  A few had pretty basic projects, one experiment, n=1 stuff, but frankly not stuff a grad student would suggest. It was clear those students had a lot of ownership in thier projects.  The other were even more sophisticated, stuff that I can say would have been impossible to do in Juneau's science fair.

The student we were most impressed with, from abstract, to the 20 minutes of grilling he joyfully tolerated while we tried to probe the question "is this kid for real?" went on to win the science fair.  His project was about developing a human induced Pluripotent Stem Cell-derived heart tissue.  He had done lots of work, had great experiments and results, and was super excited about what he had done.  He really knew his stuff, how the assay were done, why the assays were done, and how his tests would help inform whether he could build a better heart.  Oh, and he was a freshman AND he had to drive an hour into the city to work at this UW lab twice a week. 

This experience clearly left me excited for the future of science.  It also made me very excited for the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair, April 4 and 5.  If you are around, and want to join in this judging it should be a lot of fun!  You can judge only Friday or only Saturday, if being in Bremerton doesn't work well with your work schedule.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

In Which I Strive to Make Some Accomplishments

Since I've announced this mad, mad ambition of mine, I've had lots of people tell me they'd be willing to help out.  That's encouraging.  But it highlights one of the shortcomings of this plan: the lack of actual plan. 

That's been wigging me out for a while now, so I sat down the other night, and tried to come up with a reasonable way to tackle this that doesn't require me to quit my job or default on my mortgage.  Some of that is planning ahead.  A lot of that is asking for help.

First, I decided I want to be 10% of the way to goal by the time I hit my 30th birthday.  I hope to be way ahead of that mark, but if I have to spend a little more time upfront planning, then so be it.

I want to make 1/3 of the goal through regular volunteer commitments.  My regular AWIS stuff, and  a couple other regular gigs would bring me to ~25 hours a month, which will get me to 300 hours in a year.

I want to make 1/3 of the goal cash raised for charities. (See the side bar for some great ideas to start with!)  I'm hoping that I can do this by participating in ~ half a dozen different fund raising events and raising wild funds.  I have no idea if this will work.

And the remaining third?  I'm really counting on it being gifted. Some of this will be dragging my friends and family to events with me (doubles my efficiency!). I'm hoping some of it will be them taking on ambitious projects of their own. Some of this will probably be ad hoc stuff as it comes up as well (trail maintenance is seasonal work, science fairs are seasonal) which might fill in the gaps.

So, would you like to help? 
You can do several things.
  • You can start saving cash, because it is only a matter of time before I start passing the hat.  
  • You can take on your own volunteer or fundraising project.  If you donated 2.5 hours a month for a year, that would be 30 hours, or more than 3% of the goal! Even if you committed to donating blood as often as possible next year, that would be almost 7 hours.  For eating cookies!
  • You can tell me you want to join me in one of my upcoming efforts. It would be nice for me to have people working with me on these projects (and thanks to those who have already).  I cannot emphasize enough, I have no idea what I'm doing, but I intend to have a wildly good time doing it.
  • You could share your expertise in fundraising efforts with me.  That's some help I really need right now.
These would all be super helpful things right now.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

AWIS Scholarship

One of the organizations I have been volunteering with since I moved to Washington is the Seattle Chapter of Association for Women in Science (AWIS). AWIS is a professional organization that works to promote careers of women and girls in science. They have a strong policy arm; our headquarters are in Washington DC.  The advancement of women in science careers and rational science policy are two things I care a lot about, so this organization was a natural fit.  On top of that, everyone I've met through AWIS is fantastic, and I've made some interesting friends and connections. We also host really great events.  I am on the newsletter committee, we put together quarterly updates for members about our events, and issues of importance to the community.  This is where most of my volunteer hours have come from so far. I enjoy being a part of this organization, and I beleive in what they do.

We have several very cool things going this year, including an award for a leading female scientist, and scholarships. I'm very excited about the scholarships.

When I was in college, I had several merit based scholarship.  It means a lot to be recognized for your potential while you are still training.  And I think it it really important that an organization like AWIS, which is predominantly active researchers and professional scientists can give a hand up to trainees.  It says, "You belong," to someone is still trying to earn their way.  Last year we gave 4, $1000 scholarships to local students.  All of them had really great stories, and I was so happy we were able to support these students in their education. We recognize them at an annual event, which this year they will share with a banquet and the award ceremony for an outstanding senior scientist. 

The other really cool part about this scholarship is that the funds are donated by local members and organizations.  We don't have huge endowments; every year there is a fundraising campaign. Every year the membership has to decide, "is diversity in science still an issue? Can I support the training of future women scientists?"  We have about 150 members.  I think we do a pretty awesome job supporting the chapter goals to support women's careers by providing scholarships for these students.

What to support the scholarship?  Mail a check (yes, we are a bit old fashioned) to:
AWIS Scholarships
5805 16th Ave NE
Seattle, WA Nine Eight One Oh Five
(that a spambot proof zipcode, folks)

(If you support this scholarship, please let me know directly! And also, thank you so much!)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Even The Kiddos Can Help!

My sister-in-law just informed me that she and my nephew have started volunteering with an organization called Little Helping Hands. Their mission is to support raising kids to value volunteerism by making it a family activity. My family helped out by cleaning up a park.

Also, my nephew isn't yet two. I am just loving the idea of him helping out and volunteering!