Feeling Lost? How service can help you find your way (#GivingTuesday Exclusive)

In honor of #GivingTuesday, I am going to share the powerful impact of volunteering and how it helped me find a place in a new state.

Life as a military spouse comes with a unique set of challenges- of which is the feeling career aspirations will remain unfulfilled. Receiving orders to move was initially devastating. I had to leave my clerical job for a job-deprived rural community in the mid-west. I started my job search long before I arrived, but it wasn’t long until I realized I was only one of hundreds scrambling for any job available. To fill what I thought would only be two years in this new community, I set out to finish my bachelors degree.

It wasn’t long until I realized I was only one of hundreds scrambling for any job available.

During most of this time, I stayed rather unattached from the local community. I served with my spouse’s unit Family Readiness Group- organized events, helped with nonprofit and military affiliated fundraisers, and gathered resources to advocate for other spouses to expand their education. Still, I felt unfulfilled. I missed my home state dearly and was convinced this place would never feel like home. At the time, I didn’t see the struggle to find my place in the world as a shared experience. I saw it as an exclusively military spouse experience which kept me isolated.


Then in August 2013, after nearly a year and a half, a devastating flash flood swept through the area. We saw nearly ten inches of rainfall in a matter of hours with no signs of slowing. In a state of emergency and mandatory evacuations, the unexpected event caused people to be stranded in their homes or cars with rescue missions all over the county, not to mention the horrible damage to property.

The response of the community, both local and military, was inspiring. Military units gathered vehicles to pull people from unsafe roadways, strangers helped people reach higher ground, search parties were organized to find missing family members, donations poured in, and volunteers for every need were secured. Not knowing where to start, I gathered cleaning supplies and clothes and headed to the temporary Red Cross station. I expected to be one of few when I arrived but people were everywhere- some needing help but many there to volunteer. I have never experienced such an out pour of giving, especially giving of time. I was amazing. People, local and military, were coming together to serve the community, the shared community.


That day, I helped sort supplies and helped the needy get the things they most direly needed. It was there I heard people organizing cleanups around the town to help citizens and businesses recover while we waited for the rain to stop. Over the following week, I helped a local and longstanding automotive company recover salvageable inventory and muck out offices. I met some local people and learned what they valued most about their home. They shared their love of their small town even in the wake of disaster, so much of what they said sounded like home.


It was in this moment I realized, I didn’t feel at home here because I hadn’t invested in the community. Instead, I had merely expected to receive without service. I was a part of the problem, not the solution, and I realized I had the power to create change. It was in this moment I realized, I didn’t feel at home here because I hadn’t invested in the community.

It was in this moment I realized, I didn’t feel at home here because I hadn’t invested in the community.

Soon, I was looking for ways to contribute to the community more continuously. It wasn’t long until I discovered the AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program. In my area, we “fight poverty with passion,” specifically targeting ways to alleviate poverty through education programs and end the cycle of poverty. Eagerly, I committed to a full-time, 12-month term to serve as a VISTA, dedicating my new education and perspective to serving community needs as a whole. Half-way through my term I assumed a VISTA Leader role mentoring other VISTA members in their community projects and working to build sustainability.


I have been privileged to serve my new community in many capacities since my start with VISTA but none are as satisfying as my work with the Snack in a Pack program. Building on the work of a previous volunteer, the hunger relief program serves youth in our school district- both military and local alike- with supplemental food packs on weekends who experience food scarcity.


Hunger, surprisingly, is a real, tangible issue even in our society.


By building and strengthening community partnerships, I spearheaded the increase of funding resources- a necessary venture as our program saw a 13% increase in need within 6 months. My efforts, with the support of many volunteers and community partners, led to our ability to send meal packs home for over 315 students during both thanksgiving and winter extended breaks- the most the program has ever served.


In recognition for my VISTA service, I was selected to participate as part of a 2014-2015 leadership academy-  a selective community-based leadership program with the Chamber of Commerce designed to identify, educate, and develop leaders. I was also elected Class President and influenced a class service project supporting Snack in a Pack. I designed the service project to build awareness for the issue of hunger in our area in the presence of some of the community’s most committed members while inspiring career-minded individuals to give of their time in service.

Everyone has a valuable currency, its really a matter of finding the appropriate way to spend that currency. If you are unsure of what you have to offer the world, start with your time. Time is an invaluable commodity when offered to others and is always accepted- worldwide (with no pesky exchange fees).

Time is an invaluable commodity when offered to others and is always accepted- worldwide (with no pesky exchange fees).

Since beginning my service journey, I learned community service is not just giving of your time but rather an investment in our future. Understanding change does not, as they say, just happen with time but rather occurs when people come together to put change into action. The inspiration from my new community led me to service, and I only hope I can be that catalyst for others.

Are you interested in serving your community, building new skills, and experiencing memories to last a lifetime? Answer the call at the Corporation for National & Community Service website.

Disclaimer: All statements made above are only a reflection of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of organizations mentioned within the article.


Illinois State’s Stevenson Center Offers Financial Support Worth Up to $58,000 For AmeriCorps Alums

A Lifetime Of Service

Today’s post is from our August 2014 Career Newsletter sponsor, Illinois State University’s Stevenson Center. For questions about the Center’s programs, visit this website, and for  financial aid details, explore more here.

Illinois State University’s Stevenson Center offers AmeriCorps Alums a unique graduate program and an unrivaled value. AmeriCorps Alums who enroll in our Applied Community and Economic Development (ACED) Fellows Program receive a 100% tuition waiver for all courses AND a paid graduate assistantship! In your second year, paid professional practice provides you with invaluable field experience and networking opportunities.  The full financial package is worth up to $58,000.

The transition from AmeriCorps to the Stevenson Center ACED Fellows program proved seamless for Alum Niko Valaris who earned his MS in applied economics. Niko shares:

Niko Valaris headshot“The Stevenson Center at Illinois State University was the best step I could have taken after completing my terms with AmeriCorps. Serving…

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Burwell v. Hobby Lobby: How dissenters misunderstand “person” & “right”


In what’s sure to be a quoted precedence for many cases to come, the U.S. Supreme Court held that Heath and Human Service regulations forcing corporations to offer contraception violates the  1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. A lot of dissenters claim the ruling is a lost for women’s rights when the real issue is about about protecting rights.

Allowing companies to conduct business based on their religious beliefs doesn’t make this a women’s rights issue. What needs to change is the healthcare system. Private companies are not and should not be responsible for the falsies that exist in government regulations. Government involvement in healthcare causes it’s high cost and inefficiency. Solve that problem and you allow better access to proper healthcare making whether or not a company chooses to cover those costs irrelevant.

Many people picket for freedoms and enjoy its rewards but expect to pick and choose which are worth defending. When one freedom is in jeopardy, all are equally threatened. If you want government covered healthcare, you have to allow government to choose for you (i.e. in a public program you loose the right to choose anything).

Allowing each person and company to choose what’s right for them (a private run program) allows everyone access to what’s important to them with the freedom to choose, protecting  freedoms. In a free society government should only protect your freedoms, not provide the services by choosing which ones to promote.

The major misunderstanding is with the definition of “person” as defined legally.

The Official Laci Green Facebook Page

The following is an excerpt from the U.S. Supreme Court ruling:

It employed the familiar legal fiction of including corporations with in RFRA’s definition of “persons,” but the purpose of extending rights to corporations is to protect the rights of people associated with the corporation, including shareholders, officers, and employees. Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.

The word RIGHT, i.e. “women’s rights” “human rights” or any other freedom, means right to choose what’s best for yourself. If you don’t like what your company provides, you have the choice to choose another employer. Saying corporations (which are private collections of people) must provide certain healthcare services also leaves them open to determine when and what kind of services you should experience. If government can choose for private companies, then they will be able to choose for you, relinquishing your right to have or not have any healthcare service anywhere, ever.

A great point from The Matt Walsh Blog:

These claims are unabashedly dishonest because they fail to take into account two important points: A) Hobby Lobby covers birth control. I say again: Hobby Lobby covers birth control. B) Whether any employer covers birth control or not, none are trying to stop women from accessing it. The issue here is whether a private company should be forced to pay for birth control, not whether it should be allowed to sneak into your house at night and check to make sure you don’t have a bottle of Yaz in your medicine cabinet.
Read more at http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/06/30/want-birth-control-go-buy/#d3pc5op8YU5JEg3V.99

Millennials are lazy, uncaring, money hungry Kardashians…

While thumbing through Upworthy‘s Facebook page, I stumbled across a recent article by HuffPost Impact which cited research published in 2012, “millennials aren’t all that interested in improving the world around them.”

As a millennial with a personal interest in volunteering and societal issues, I began to boil over in rage at another promotion of a generational stereotype to justify social inadequacies for an entire society.

This article doesn’t consider the volatile economic climate or the impact of years of war on millennials but rather quietly implies millennials are narcissistic and “preoccupied with money and fame.”

The article never considers the fact millennials have watched their parents return to work after retirement, live well below the standard of living they saved and invested for during retirement, or that many are unable retire as promised.

With this in mind, it can be understood why new college graduates are struggling for job placement with pay scales that do not provide an ability to repay their educational investments and why they are concerned with finding employment that offers security.

It also should be noted that traditional ways of measuring volunteerism and community concern is based on formulas of past generations, suggesting millennial efforts and concerns to improve their communities may be over looked by an outdated model.

One study found millennials are a “generation that experienced first-hand the toll of Boomer parents consumed by careers.

Millennials first support causes they are passionate about (rather than institutions).” And this is unsurprising given the political climate millennials have experienced.

Here is some other research results about that debunk millennial stereotypes:

Stereotype: Millennials only care about themselves.

Truth: Millennials want their time to have meaning and make a positive impact on society.

While most Millennials (74%) believe business is having a positive impact on society by generating jobs (48%) and increasing prosperity (71%), they think business can do much more to address society’s challenges in the areas of most concern: resource scarcity (68%), climate change (65%) and income equality (64%). Additionally, 50% of Millennials surveyed want to work for a business with ethical practices.

Stereotype: Millennials don’t volunteer or donate to charitable causes.

Truth: Millennials value education and dedicate their knowledge and time to their communities.

75 percent of young people donated to causes last year [ 2010] and 63 percent said they gave their time to volunteer. The survey polled 6,522 people between the ages of 20 and 35. Ninety-three percent had a bachelor’s degree and the majority did not have kids.

Stereotype: Millennials only care about money and are not as family oriented.

Truth: Mellennials understand the importance of stability and value family life.

Millennials don’t rank salary as the highest factor when looking for a job—they’re actually willing to forgo a better salary for more security and better benefits.

Even though a career is defining for millennials, they value work-life balance. They want a rewarding career, but they also want a family. (The top-ranked milestones in our research were getting married, having a career and having children.) Keep in mind, this is a generation that experienced first-hand the toll of Boomer parents consumed by careers. They’re not eager to repeat this pattern. Millennials are looking for an employer that values balance.

Despite the disappointing millennial stereotype projected by the HuffPost article, the fact remains that successful societies include members who donate their time to community improvement. So please consider volunteering in your community for issues that matter to you personally.

Checkout VolunteerMatch.org for some opportunities in your area.

Technology is Evil?

We’ve all seen the mean tweets, trolling YouTube comments, and Facebook cyber bullying. Its the mean spirited actions of a few negatively affecting our youth in the masses, desperately trying to convince each of them they don’t measure up. I could link to many videos and articles showcasing the mental and physical harm caused by these comments shared online, but I truly believe at this point it only sensationalizes the problem instead of offering a solution.

"Technology has exceeded our humanity"

Many of us spend our day engulfed in so much self-hate and worry that we miss the beauty in everyday life and the kindness shared between strangers. We long to fill a void and feel connected yet we distract ourselves with worldly pursuits while overlooking the things that bring us true joy. We trick ourselves into believing a fulfilling life is made of the perfect career choices, the people we surround ourselves with, or aiming for specific achievements.

Closer self-evaluation reveals these are just the moving parts. Each part facilitating moments, that when noticed, bring us opportunities to find purpose. Think of how differently we view the world through each new experience, it shapes our perception and brings joy to things that in and of themselves are meaningless.

The internet is being used by so many people to facilitate change and taking notice of the inherit goodness of man. It ranges from large organizations raising money for charitable causes to a beginner blogger hoping to affect positive change by sharing her perspective.

A tweet inspired this piece today.

Jarrett Sleeper, a cast member on The Fine Bros online sitcom called My Music, tweeted, “It’s nice seeing a stranger smile so genuinely looking at their phone after some little text just came in. Not all technology kills us.”

Its moments like this that bring true value in life. He noticed another human being’s joy, a stranger at that, and appreciated its beauty.

I felt compelled to respond to him, someone I’ve never met, because the human experience is something that connects us. We recognize it in others are we are drawn to it. It’s in these moments we feel full of hope rather than loneliness.

We have to keep a hold of that feeling. Its easy to become tainted with the stresses of life and the pursuit of things that hold no true value.

And the beauty in all this is technology, that evil thing often distancing us, is also bringing us closer together if we can just take notice.

Want to join a community of caring and aspirational people and make a difference? Contribute to the Project for Awesome Campaign by helping raise awareness or by making a donation.

Project for Awesome is a campaign organized by online creators to “Decrease World Suck” by raising awareness and funds to make a difference around the world. You can participate through a donation, spreading awareness for supported organizations, or sharing info about Project for Awesome. This is an organization I love!
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How-to enjoy Chritsmas and holiday gatherings with 3 tips

Beer Bread mix and dog treats gift set for the lovely neighbors
Homemade beer bread mix and dog treats gift set for the lovely neighbors

Counting down to my baccalaureate freedom, I am overwhelmed with the most important assignment of my educational career while I am distracted with dreams of Christmas morning mimosas, green bean casserole, and lots of buttery rolls.

My assignment is supposed to be a cumulative representation of what I’ve learned during my undergraduate work but focused on one distinct area of study and fulfill a minimum of 20 pages, all wrapped in a pretty red bow on December 29th.

Yes, you read that correctly. The Sunday sandwiched between Christmas and New Years’ I will be scrambling to put the finishing touches on what will determine if I get that $30,000 student loan piece of framed paper.

I don’t have a lot of holiday traditions established yet, but I enjoy baking and presenting my fine work to friends in hopes of earning another holiday stripe on my apron. I refuse to let my final degree requirement (and the emotionally unstable state it causes) rob me of this pleasure.

Intern Sherry's Christmas decor-2013
Intern Sherry’s Christmas decor-2013

As a bit of time insurance, I spent last Sunday snapping, boiling, blanching, and freezing 6lbs of green beans for the Worlds Best Green Bean Casserole from scratch thanks to A Veggie Venture blogger recipe from Alanna Kellogg of St. Louis.

I also pre-made the garlic dough for two dozen yeast rolls during which time I made my kitchen look more like a messy kindergarten art project.

On both camps, I still have tons to accomplish before the big day, but I hope my little preparations provide me some sane comfort as the day looms closer.

Holidays can be stressful and, at times, un-fulfilling. Here are 3 holiday tips to ensure you enjoy every minute and walk away with some holiday glow!

EAT. Eat and enjoy it. Don’t guilt yourself over that buttery roll (or 6 rolls, no judging) calling your name each time you return to the kitchen for another beverage (mimosas are my Christmas drink of choice!) Resolutions come after the holidays for a reason, let future you deal with that.

DON’T SHARE. Well, you can share your rolls but don’t over  indulge in self-pity. Holidays are stressful for everyone, even the overly excited amateur baker in the apron. Holiday parties are not the time to get some “support” for whatever drama is going on with you.

BE GRACIOUS. I know, you thought all that “thankful” stuff ended the moment you shuffled through the crowds on Black Friday. But now is the time to tell that friend you don’t see as often as you like that you appreciated the invite to the party, tell mom the care packages she keeps mailing you brightens your day, and tell your neighbor that watched your dog while you were away that it was such a blessing. Just because you appreciate these wonderful people doesn’t mean they know. Tell everyone how much they mean to you!

Beautiful December view at local restaurant, Di Trapani's Italian Bistro in Dixon, MO
Beautiful December view at local restaurant, Di Trapani’s Italian Bistro in Dixon, MO
Image Source: Di Trapani’s Facebook 


Mistletoe? Might as well hang poop from your doorway


If a million dollars were riding on what connected kissing and excrement, would you know the answer and live out the rest of your life in poop trivia happiness? Before today, mistletoe was nothing more than a weird neighbor’s way of getting an awkward kiss from every girl at the holiday party. Now, you can make your unwelcomed smoocher as uncomfortable as his sloppy kiss by sharing this bit of trivia.

(Photo credit: Lamerie)

According to numerous sources, the word mistletoe derives from misteltān where the Angle-Saxon tān means twig. Mistel is believed by many online sources to mean dung, or excrement. In this translation, mistletoe would come to mean “poop on a twig,” and you wouldn’t be completely wrong.

More analytical sources find mistel is named for the bird, Mistle Thrush, who spread the seeds of various mistletoe plants by eating the berries and excreting the seeds onto tree branches causing the mysterious appearance of the plant.

The exact meaning and origin varies but surely sharing this information with Mom will stop the traditional berating to share a smooch under the poop twiq this Christmas.

Due to the seemingly mysterious appearance of the plant alongside your family’s favorite tire swing tree, many myths surround the parasitic plant. Viking legend holds it has the power to resurrect while British Druids believed it had healing powers such as fertility and protection from sorcery.

Mistletoe Kiss
Mistletoe Kiss (Photo credit: davis.jacque)

Like many traditions now common in Christmas celebrations, mistletoe was once part of pagan rituals. Berry plentiful plants would be harvested and enjoyed for their bright colors during the cold winter months. Some legends say a kiss would be shared for each berry on the spruce.

So, when you head to Grandma’s house this holiday season and inevitable find yourself under her strategically placed mistletoe with the “nice” neighbor she’s been bugging you about, just share your “poop twig” knowledge. It’s sure to set the appropriate mood this holiday season.

Princess toys spark girls to fill high demand careers?

Image representing GoldieBlox as depicted in C...
Image by None via CrunchBase

There is no shortage of parents eager to get their child the latest and greatest in educational toys.

GoldieBlox, a brand developed by a female engineer who was puzzled by the lack of women in the field,  aims to fill the gender gap in STEM careers through hands-on toys geared to girls.

Despite the buzz surrounding GoldieBlox as a finalist to earn a SuperBowl ad spot, critics say the princess themed science toys sell girls short.

I argue princess themed educational toys can help fulfill high demand careers within an underrepresented female population.

Infographic Source: She-Geeks

Educational toys’ effectiveness have been questioned by researchers and parents alike. Who can forget market dominated Baby Einstein, promising to turn parent’s bundles of joy into geniuses through the art video babysitting. Time magazine reported research back in 2007 that for every daily hour of television a child consumes results in up to eight fewer vocabulary words learned.

Baby Einstein, acquired by Disney, started offering refunds to its consumers in 2007 following the release of multiple studies which not only suggested the lack of intellectual edge for its young viewers but some even claimed developmental disadvantages.

GoldieBlox critics claim the entire concept as a marketing gimmick, using traditional pink and purple packaging,  a strategy some say contradicts their mission to  “disrupt the pink aisle.”

Deborah Siegel, a published feminist writer, halfheartedly defended GoldieBlox by saying “sneaking a princess narrative into an otherwise girl-empowering toy is an act of Trojan Princess.” She goes on to note that affecting gender role stereotypes is an evolutionary process and admits GoldieBlox is a step in the right direction.

And Siegel is right. GoldieBlox has a great concept already eliciting excitement and change in the toy industry. The marketing strategy may not perfectly represent the idea of gender neutrality, but I dare to say that neutrality is not the social solution formula to the gender role problem.

In the case of GoldieBlox, the marketing strategy is used to inspire children to create, learn, and reach for new interests. The issue of traditional gender role marketing of the past mimicked the social norms of the time.

Not only have social norms evolved but so have social needs. There is high demand for STEM workers and while women make up nearly half of the general workforce, less than a quarter of STEM positions are held by women.

This suggests that while gender acceptance into the workforce from homemaker has evolved, gender marketing that ignores social need, such as demand for skilled STEM applicants, is missing out on a valuable workforce resource.

And unlike Baby Einstein, GoldieBlox requires engagement, independent problem solving, and encourages teamwork, all elements contributing to increased vocabulary and analytical thinking.

It’s true some feminist continue to criticize GoldieBlox for marketing through gender role stereotypes. The Budding Biologist blog explains this objectively well. But, I must point out the aim of GoldieBlox is not necessarily to change the marketing strategy itself but to increase science interests in girls who are being strictly marketed kitchen sets and baby carriages.

It is admirable to argue that marketing should be less gender specific, however, choosing to market this product under gender-neutral strategies will miss the chance to impact girls/families who will still be drawn to the princess aisle.