Tuesday, February 21, 2017

4 Ways to Volunteer Inside During the Winter Months

With winter here, you might be thinking about how to take your volunteering to a warmer, cozier location. As temperatures drop and frost or snow covers the ground, outdoor projects become less feasible, giving way to a new crop of volunteering options that you can do from the comfort of your own home.
1. Make hats and blankets to donate
Help others stay warm this winter by gathering some fleece, wool or yarn, and putting it to good use! Make a fleece blanket and donate it to help warm a child in need. Or, break out your knitting needles and make a hat or baby blanket.
2. Write and send greeting cards
Sending greeting cards is not just for the holidays! Write cards for Operation Gratitude to send in care packages to deployed troops, new recruits, and veterans. Brighten a hospitalized child's day with a personal note or card. Want to double your good deed? Check out Greet for Good, a database of organizations that sell greeting cards benefitting the organizations or causes you care about.
3. Throw a party to fundraise for your favorite cause
Fundraising parties aren’t just for politicians and actors. You can throw a party in your house to raise money for a cause you are passionate about. Get your friends and family to help – invite your neighbors and coworkers to attend as well.
4. Help out seniors in your neighborhood
Cold weather, ice and snow can present some challenges for the elderly. Help a neighbor winterize their home to protect against winter’s chill. You could also help someone do their grocery shopping, bring over a fresh, home-cooked meal, or offer to pitch in with household chores.

For complete details on various volunteer opportunities, contact the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley at (319) 272-2087, information@vccv.org, or visit www.vccv.org.

Thanks to the Points of Light Foundation.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Random Acts of Kindness Day – February 17th

The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.
- Gandhi

We all struggle. We all have stress. Schedules are full. Yet, thankfully, despite hectic lives, we also all care.

As a matter of fact, we can’t help but care! It’s part of the human condition. You can’t have ‘humankind’ without ‘kind’, after all.

The problem is that, when we get wrapped up in our own problems, we forget to take care of others. Our brains go into self-preservation mode. Don’t get it wrong, taking care of yourself is important: you can’t take care of others without also taking care of yourself. We just need to remember to look beyond ourselves, and see the need in others as well as ourselves. It can sometimes be hard, but it’s immediately, obviously worthwhile... because it only takes one kind act to powerfully affect us. You know the sort of acts we’re talking about. It’s the person enthusiastically praising their co-worker’s hard work, or the waiter covering a bill for struggling parents, or the window cleaner dressing up as a superhero at the Children’s Hospital.

They’re the little moments that have a big impact – and stay with you. That connect you back to your humanity, remind you how much love and care there is in the world, and feel so good that they inspire you to spread kindness yourself.

We know how important kindness is because we’ve all felt its importance. But that’s not the only reason we know. Scientific studies have shown that random acts of kindness are good for you! They improve your life satisfaction by increasing your sense of belonging and self-worth, and they improve your health by decreasing your anxiety, depression and blood pressure. And here’s the best part: these benefits apply to the giver of kindness, the recipient of kindness, and anyone who witnesses the act! Every act improves the lives of at least three people.

So, why kindness? Medically? Because it’s good for your health. Economically? Because it’s free. Practically? Because it’s easy. Socially? Because it improves the world.

But the real reason, of course... is that kindness is the key to lasting happiness.

Random Acts of Kindness Day Ideas

Random Acts of Kindness Day is February 17th. Below are some of the things and you can perform on Random Acts of Kindness Day:
  • Pay it forward: buy coffee for the person behind you in line.
  • Genuinely compliment the first three people you talk to today.
  • Send a positive text message to five different people right now.
  • Post inspirational sticky notes around your neighborhood, office, school, etc. 
  • Donate old towels or blankets to an animal shelter.
  • Say hi to the person next to you on the elevator.
  • Surprise a neighbor with freshly baked cookies or treats!
  • Let someone go in front of you in line who only has a few items.
  • Leave a gas gift card at a gas pump.
  • Throw a party to celebrate someone just for being who they are, which is awesome
  • Have a LinkedIn account? Write a recommendation for coworker or connection.
  • Leave quarters at the laundromat.
  • Encounter someone in customer service who is especially kind? Take an extra five minutes to tell
  • their manager.
  • Leave unused coupons next to corresponding products in the grocery store.
  • Try to make sure every person in a group conversation feels included.
  • Write a kind message on your mirror with a dry erase marker for yourself, your significant other or a family member.
  • Place a positive body image notes in jean pockets at a department store.
  • Smile at five strangers.
  • Set an alarm on your phone to go off at three different times during the day. In those moments, do something kind for someone else.
  • Send a gratitude email to a coworker who deserves more recognition.
  • Practice self-kindness and spend 30 minutes doing something you love today.
  • Write a gratitude list in the morning and again in the evening.
  • Know parents who could use a night out? Offer to babysit for free.
  • Return shopping carts for people at the grocery store.
  • Write a positive comment on your favorite blog, website, or a friend’s social media account.
  • Have a clean-up party at a beach or park.
  • While you’re out, compliment a parent on how well-behaved their child is.
  • Leave a kind server the biggest tip you can afford.
  • When you’re throwing something away on the street, pick up any litter around you and put that in the trash too.
  • Pay the toll for the person behind you.
  • Everyone is important. Learn the names of your office security guard, the person at the front desk and other people you see every day. Greet them by name. Also say “hello” to strangers and smile. These acts of kindness are so easy, and they almost always make people smile.
  • Write your partner a list of things you love about them.
  • Purchase extra dog or cat food and bring it to an animal shelter.
  • Find opportunities to give compliments. It costs nothing, takes no time, and could make someone’s entire day. Don’t just think it. Say it.
  • Take flowers or treats to the nurses’ station at your nearest hospital.
  • Keep an extra umbrella at work, so you can lend it out when it rains.
  • Run an errand for a family member who is busy.
  • Leave a box of goodies in your mailbox for your mail carrier.
  • Tape coins around a playground for kids to find.
  • Put your phone away while in the company of others.
  • Email or write to a former teacher who made a difference in your life.
  • When you hear that discouraging voice in your head, tell yourself something positive — you deserve kindness too!

Contact the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley for more information about connecting with opportunities to volunteer in the community at (319) 272-2087, information@vccv.org, or visit www.vccv.org.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Volunteer Your Way to the Top: The Power of Pro Bono

Since your childhood years, you’ve known the importance of volunteering: you’ll help others, you can give back to your community, and you will make a positive contribution to the world.
All of these reasons are absolutely true, but let me add one more to the list: you can help your career—in a big way. Whether you’re searching for work, looking to take on new responsibilities at your current job, or trying to expand your network, volunteering can be an important (and fun!) way to reach your goals. Here’s how lending a hand to others can be helpful for you, too:

Learn About Yourself

Many individuals began volunteering at a young age and found that being surrounded by and working with a wide range of professionals helped them gain a sense of what they wanted for the future. Working in a variety of different settings can help expose you to new options and prepare you for those all-so-important career decisions you make in college or when you decide to change careers.

Gain Skills and Confidence

Want to learn how to develop a marketing plan, or get hands-on experience with graphic design? If you’re looking to grow in your current position or change careers, volunteering can provide an opportunity to learn new professional skills in a safe setting (that’s grateful for even non-expert help!). You can ask questions, test your knowledge, and expand your skill set —all while avoiding the critical eye of your boss.

Boost Your Resume

Getting a job right now is difficult for anyone—but particularly for recent grads with no real-world work experience or those who’ve been out of a job for a while. Volunteering is one way to fill that gap on your resume, boosting your chances of getting an interview (and eventually the job). Working with leaders of volunteer organizations can also help you score good references and letters of recommendation—other valuable tools in your job search.


Moving to a new city right out of college can be overwhelming. A great way to make connections, is to immediately start volunteering. One can meet great people that way—some for many years, and they can become your best support systems. When you suffer a job loss, they may be the ones who recommended you to several open opportunities.
Sure, you’re giving to an organization by volunteering, but you never know when you might need it to give a little back. If you’ve built a positive relationship with the people you volunteer with, they won’t hesitate to help.

Stay Active

At some point, you may face a time when you’re not working—you’ve been laid off, quit a job, or moved to a new city, for example. Whatever the reason, when you have some free time, keeping active helps prevent you from getting bored or going stir-crazy. Plus, volunteering can fill the “I’m-not-working” void and give you an answer to the sometimes awkward question, “So, what do you do?”
For complete details on these types of opportunities, contact the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley at (319) 272-2087, information@vccv.org, or visit www.vccv.org. Go out and volunteer! It definitely helps society, but don’t forget that it helps you and your career, too.
Thank you, Ashley Cobert, from “The Muse”.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley Accepting Nominations for Mayors’ Volunteer and Top Teen Awards

The Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley is accepting nominations now through Tuesday, March 1st for the 2017 Mayors’ Volunteer Awards and Top Teen Awards. The awards recognize individuals who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to service through volunteerism in the Cedar Valley.

The Mayors’ Volunteer Awards honor the exemplary contributions of individuals ages 19 and older who dedicate their time and talent to volunteerism in Cedar Falls, Waterloo, Evansdale and surrounding communities in Black Hawk County.

The Mayors’ Top Teen Awards honor youth ages 13-18 attending a school in Black Hawk County. The Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa also selects one junior from each of the accredited high schools in Black Hawk County to receive the $1000 Mother Moon Service Scholarship.

All nominees and recipients will be recognized at special events on April 11 at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center.

Nomination forms are available online at www.vccv.org or may be requested by contacting the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley at 319-272-2087 or information@vccv.org.

The awards program is sponsored by the cities of Cedar Falls, Evansdale and Waterloo, the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber Ambassadors, the Community Foundation of Northeast Iowa, the RJ McElroy Trust and the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January is Mentoring Month

Throughout January and year-round, mentoring is a critical component in young people’s lives, helping them make decisions that ultimately lead to improved opportunities and connections, which have an impact on real life.

9 million kids in America grow up without a mentor to offer real life guidance.

  • Having a mentor empowers young people to make smart choices that put them on a path to making better life decisions.
  • Students who have mentors are more likely to stay in school.
  • Hashtag activism can raise awareness of important issues, but mentoring delivers real-life impact. 

Mentoring, at its core, guarantees to young people that there is someone who cares about them, assures them they are not alone in dealing day to day challenges, and makes them feel like they matter. Research confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful positive effects on young people in a variety of personal, academic, and professional situations. Ultimately, mentoring connects a young person to personal growth and development, and social and economic opportunity. Yet one in three young people will grow up without this critical asset.
Young adults who were at-risk for falling off track but had a mentor are:

        55% more likely to enroll in college
        78% more likely to volunteer regularly
        90% are interested in becoming a mentor
        130% more likely to hold leadership positions.
Before becoming a mentor, here are a few things to understand about the role of mentoring. Most of us have had a teacher, supervisor or coach who has been a mentor to us and made a positive difference in our lives. Those people wore many hats, acting as delegators, role models, cheerleaders, policy enforcers, advocates, and friends. Mentors assume these different roles during the course of a relationship, and share some basic qualities:

  • A sincere desire to be involved with a young person
  • Respect for young people
  • Active listening skills
  • Empathy
  • Ability to see solutions and opportunities
  • Flexibility

Mentoring relationships are a shared opportunity for learning and growth. Many mentors say that the rewards they gain are as substantial as those for their mentees, and that mentoring has enabled them to:

  • Have fun
  • Achieve personal growth and learn more about themselves
  • Improve their self-esteem and feel they are making a difference
  • Gain a better understanding of other cultures and develop a greater appreciation for diversity
  • Feel more productive and have a better attitude at work
  • Enhance their relationships with their own children

Above all, a good mentor is willing to take the time to get to know their mentee, to learn new things that are important to the young person, and even to be changed by their relationship.

You have made a wonderful and very important decision in choosing to become a mentor. If you’ve reached this conclusion, you’ve done enough research to have an idea how different each mentoring situation can be. Before you start to look at the programs that are available, think about and identify your own interests and needs. Finding a mentoring program you’re excited about and comfortable with can require some time and thought, but the good news is that there’s something for everyone. The following steps will help walk you through the process of choosing a mentoring program that is right for you. To help you decide which type of mentoring program you want, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What time commitment can I make?
  • What age of youth would I like to work with?
  • Would I like to work with one child or with a group of children?
  • Would I like to team with other adults to mentor a child or a group of children?
  • What types of activities interest me? Do I want to help a youth learn a specific skill, pursue an interest, help with schoolwork or just be a caring adult friend?
  • What mentoring location would I prefer?

While thinking about these questions, remember to be open and flexible to all the different mentoring programs and focus areas that are out there.

The Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley works with a number of agencies looking for mentors: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Iowa, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Cedar Valley, Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, and the Waterloo Community School District are a few.

For more details on mentoring, contact the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley at (319) 272-2087, information@vccv.org, or visit www.vccv.org.

Thanks to National Mentoring Month, http://www.mentoring.org/.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Volunteering for Different Age Groups

There is really no age requirement for volunteering. In fact, the earlier that volunteering begins and continues throughout childhood, the more likely a person is to participate in community activities as an adult. Whether a participant reaches out to one person or a village across the world, he or she has made a significant difference in the life of another. This article presents a few of the many volunteer ideas for different age groups.

1. Volunteer with Pre-school Aged Children

One tip to keep in mind is to tailor the volunteer activity to your child’s personality, abilities, and interests. For example, if your child is very young, volunteer activities that require hours of physical work may not be a good fit. If she loves to be active and would prefer to be outdoors, participating in a park clean-up or riding a tricycle or bicycle in a bike-a-thon might be a fun way for her to help others.
You may also want to consider activities that allow you to volunteer together as a family. Working together as a family to help others is not only a great way to set an example for your child, but it’s also a wonderful way to spend time together and have fun doing something that benefits others.

2. Volunteer with Elementary School Children

Encouraging kids to get involved in the community and volunteering to help those who are less fortunate can cause children to develop a sense of gratitude and self-worth. The value of doing charitable acts for others is terrific, and kids will feel a sense of pride when they know that their actions are making someone else's life happy. Plenty of volunteer opportunities are available for kids, as long as you know where to look! When you begin to teach your kids about giving, talk to your kids to find out what types of activities they are interested in and take their ages and abilities into account. 

The Service Learning process and projects that are ultimately selected and accomplished is a great way to implement volunteering for elementary age children.

3. Volunteering for Middle School Students

Raising children who are civically minded isn’t easy. But you can expose your child to volunteerism and encourage your preteen to give back in a number of ways. When kids volunteer, good things happen. By volunteering or by helping others, your child learns valuable life skills, but he also learns how important it is to support organizations he cares about, and causes that interest him.

There are many ways your child can make a difference.

Start with projects that he or she can incorporate into a preteen’s busy schedule, and then add bigger projects that require more time. You might also want to consider volunteering together. That way you can spend quality time together, and set a great example for your preteen.

One of the great things about raising a preteen is that they are at an age when they can take on more responsibility and even give more to their schools, communities and other organizations. One of the ways tweens can contribute is through service projects. Some middle schools even require that their students give back by participating in community service projects either as a class or on their own.

By participating or volunteering, your child can learn leadership skills, a little about the community in which he lives and even a little about his own interests and passions. He or she may also learn a little more about how organization and support groups operate, and how challenging it can be at times to work through the proper channels to get the job done.

4. Volunteer Ideas for High School Students

In High School, volunteering takes on the potential of a new purpose. Not only does it allow the student to gain insights, be productive and participate within the school and community, it provides a venue for resume building, material for college applications and completes a well-rounded picture for one’s application.

Students in high school are able to accept more challenging volunteer positions and larger group volunteer activities.

5. Volunteer Ideas for College Students

College students fill the void between high school and adulthood in volunteerism. They are capable of adult responsibilities, very large group activities and volunteering through travel, either domestically or internationally. National volunteer efforts such as AmericaCorps or the Peace Corp are also options for college students. 

6. Volunteer Ideas for Parents and Families

Modeling volunteering is the best way to get your family involved for a lifetime of volunteering and community service. Always keep the needs of the youngest child in mind, particularly if the adult is otherwise distracted.

Family volunteering allows your family to learn the importance of charity and giving of one-self. It encompasses, perhaps, the broadest area of needs.

7. Older Volunteers

Older volunteers have the time and resources to give freely of their time and talent. Encouraging them to share their skills is a great way to place skilled volunteers in non-profits or agencies where their lifetime skills may be well utilized.

After retirement, however, it is important to know if an older volunteer desires to share their skills or try something completely new and different. A thorough volunteer interview allows for the best potential placement.

Contact the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley for more information about volunteer placements at (319) 272-2087, email, or visit www.vccv.org.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

MLK Day – A Day On!

Dr. King stressed volunteer service as a means to social justice. As he famously said: “Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Legislation was signed in 1983 creating a federal holiday marking the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1994, Congress designated the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday as a national day of service and charged the Corporation for National and Community Service with leading this effort. Taking place each year on the third Monday in January, the MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service. The MLK Day of Service is a part of United We Serve, the President's national call to service initiative. It calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King's vision of a "Beloved Community."

Millions of Americans will come together on the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, January 16, 2017, in a day of national service and dialogue to honor the memory of Dr. King. Dr. King had a dream that one day all people would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as called for in the Declaration of Independence. Dr. King called for social justice and opportunity. He asked that we bridge differences and come together in unity.

According to the Points of Light Foundation, we have a unique opportunity to unite as in volunteer service and issue a call to action to do what we, as Americans, do best – lend a hand, help our neighbors – and build better communities. Since Dr. King was assassinated, tremendous social progress has been made, but much remains unfinished. Americans believe that people have the power to make positive change – in cities struggling with poverty and high unemployment rates – in families where people are going hungry – and in school districts where more than half of our children aren’t graduating from high school.

With many communities struggling to access financial and human services, volunteer service can be a powerful force. Neighbors helping neighbors, young helping old, employees offering skills and companies investing in communities where they do business. We dream of a day when everyone is actively involved in making a better America. This year, Points of Light, in partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service and sponsored by the GE Volunteer Foundation, will create new and meaningful ways to harness the passion of our nation’s citizens in honoring the memory and promoting the vision of Dr. King

MLK Day is a great opportunity to get hands-on in your community. You might have a passion for service. Dr. King’s life and legacy was about his commitment to service and social justice. If you would like to connect your service project specifically to Dr. King, below are a few ideas:
  • Poverty: Organize a canned food drive for your local shelter. Expand the drive to include donating blankets, gloves, etc. to keep the homeless in your community warm during the winter months.
  • Education: Organize a school supply drive.
  • Community: Learn about the history of the community where you live. Identify cultural and religious groups in your community that might be neglected. Discuss how you can learn about their culture and help support them in preserving it.
  • Youth: Organize a toy drive to provide less fortunate children in the community with toys and games.
  • Military/veterans: Assemble care packages for military members overseas. The Community Blueprint is a set of tools and practices that provide a framework for communities to produce positive, measurable outcomes for veterans, military members and their families.
  • Women’s empowerment: Identify gaps in your community where women don’t have equal opportunity. Develop a plan to provide literacy classes, teach English, offer vocational skills, or train on financial literacy.

You can also join local volunteer initiatives. The Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley and First Presbyterian Church will once again sponsor a Martin Luther King Family Day of Service. Families are invited to participate Monday, January 16 from 10:00 – 11:30 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 505 Franklin in Waterloo. Participants will complete projects that will be donated to community agencies. Families are encouraged to volunteer together on this important day.
For more information on this event or to learn more about service, contact the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley at (319) 272-2087, email or visit www.vccv.org.

The MLK Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – a “day on, not a day off.” It’s a way to transform Dr. King’s life and teachings into community action that helps solve social problems.