Friday, November 30, 2012

Thank You KW

"Leaving him right before Christmas is the toughest thing I've ever done. 
I never felt quite at home in KW but as my boys and I start our new life together, we'll always have the best memories of this city and how people came together for someone they didn't know to help make this life change easier for us. Thank you so much!" 
- Ashley

Dear KW,

Every time I've used my social networks to ask for something, whether it was winter coats, clothes, toys or money to help those in need, you've come through in spectacular fashion. Last year it was evident as you helped put on the best Christmas party ever for the teens from ROOF, as you donated 1000 pairs of socks towards street outreach and with the 160 bags of used clothing you donated for the FoodLove clothing closet.

I often get notes of thanks and encouragement, folks telling me what a great job I do, and I appreciate those notes so much BUT I do have to remind people every day,

I'm only the organizer of the stuff. 
It's the people around me who are giving that make what I do possible.

You all are amazing.

Two days ago I asked for 5 handfuls of lego for a boy in need. 2 bins full of lego plus gift cards, clothing, dinky cars, colouring books, candy, books and other toys are what ended up in my living room. When I met with the family on Wednesday night, they were overwhelmed. Today, they don't know that I'll be coming back with more.

To Jacki, Wes, Gillian, Daisy, JR, Hogg Mechanical, The Printing Place and Dr. Snyder's office... To Karen, Jane, Michelle, Britney, Dr. Sears, Marilyn, Sandy and Pat... To Carla, Mr. W, Grapesavers, Candice and Joel...


for your donations. And thank you to everyone who retweeted, posted on their facebook pages and asked friends for help. We have come together and made a significant difference in the life of a family who doesn't know what their future holds.

This is why I do what I do. To be changing lives and to be surrounded by such a warm, giving community... it's the best thing a girl could ask for.

Thank you all for helping me, help others. 
I couldn't do it without you.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Heartwarmer of the Day

I posted this over on the Heartwarmer of the Day button but it deserves special mention here, too:

LEGO needed urgently

KW Friends,

In the wee hours of the morning I met Ashley and her 2 sons, Daniel and Caleb. The 3 of them are fleeing from an abusive family relationship.

Daniel is 9 and severely autistic. Ashley says that they only thing that calms Daniel down is Lego, he plays with it constantly. As they were leaving last night, they didn't get any but the few pieces Daniel had in his backpack.

Daniel needs some Lego pieces to help him adjust to the big changes that are happening in his life. If 5 KW families can each donate a handful of lego, Daniel will have enough to help him through this transition and help him cope.

If you can donate a small amount of lego, please let me know. I can pick it up in KW this evening or can give you an address to drop off. Let's rally and help this boy with a rough life make this big change a little easier.



**this was pointed out to me and I thought I should clarify: Ashley, Caleb and Daniel are NOT this family's real names. Of course, it is a safety concern and these are the names they have chosen to use at this time.**

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why Do You Volunteer?

Why do people volunteer? When recruiting, what reasons do you give potential volunteers to convince them to work for your cause?

Keeping in mind the many reasons that different people volunteer can help you during the recruitment phase by tailoring your call to each individual volunteer.

I asked 25 different people why they volunteer and these are just some of their answers:

I like to help.
I appreciate being needed.
To keep busy.
It's given me new skills.
It helped me graduate high school, then I just continued.
My friend asked me to.
I feel it's my duty.
To gain professional experience.
I appreciate the cause I'm working for.
For escape from my everyday life.
Job experience.
I enjoy it.
To share my skills.
Because people need my help.
To get involved in my new community.
Because this agency needed change.
It helps me feel alive.
I wanted to make a difference.
I wanted to help.
I got guilted into it, turns out I love it.
To gain status in my professional community.
To network with a person I wanted to work with.
Because they asked me to.
Because I can't say no.
I feel I was made for service.
Because my grandma died of cancer.
To make my voice heard.
To learn new skills.
To set my skills learned in school to practise.
To challenge myself.
To change my community.
If I don't, who will?
Because I get back 10x more than I put in.
The Pay!
I was shy, now I'm not.
Because if I can help just one person, it'll make all the difference.
Because it's an honour.
Because I can.
It keeps me young.

Why do YOU volunteer?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Bully

I hear a commotion.

It was at the one area in the entire room where we couldn't see what the kids at the breakfast club were doing. There was yelling and I ran down the hall to see what was going on. As I round the corner I see my boy fall to the ground, pushed by another kid. One of the crowd sees me and yells, telling the pusher to go. Now.

I follow him outside.

He tells me he hates that kid because he follows him around.

keep him away from me or I'll kick his ass

For a moment I wonder why there's no lynch mob waiting to take this bully to task for his crimes.

I tell him he should go to an adult, that's what we're here for.

what's the point? You're on his side

Precisely that moment, my heart breaks.
I see the bully not as a bully
but as a kid who's been terrorized himself.

He wouldn't come to us because he doesn't trust
the grown ups around him to make the right decisions.
He scared.
He feels alone.

I tell him I'm sorry my son bugs him
and I tell him he can come to me anytime.
I'm not always on my kid's side,
I'm looking for the right side.

I don't even realize that I'm crying until I walk down the stairs
and my boy ask me why my eyes are red.

I ask him if he's hurt and he tells me
we were just playing mom
and I realize he doesn't understand what just happened.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

We Day Student Feedback

The best part of We Day is that it is made to inspire young people. You can't get in because your parents have money or influence, participants have to work their way in, by contributing to one local AND one global cause.

I was lucky enough to talk to a number of students after We Day. Here's what they had to say:

"I didn't think I could make a difference until I saw 
people my own age doing it." - Maddy, 13

"Spencer is SO inspiring!! If he can climb a mountain when he has no legs there's 
no limit to what I can do!" - Selma, 11

"I loved Donisha Prendergast. I have a 
lot of dreams for the world, 
I do believe they can become real." 
- Andrea, 14

"This was my first We Day. I liked that they mix up stars and regular people so we know they're not doing it just cuz they have lots of money." - Spencer, 12

"Marc and Craig are my heroes!" - Daniela, 11

"I wish my friends could attend We Day so 
they'd understand why I'm so excited to 
make a difference." - Merideth, 16

"My mom didn't even know that Martin Sheen was an activist. We Day gave me information to share with everyone, not just my classmates." - Jacob, 13

"I'm ready to rock!" - Jaden, 11

"I'm going to canvass my family and I want to fill 5 We Create Change bags. 
It's the least I can do." - Lillian, 15

"I started a letter campaign to my MP about bullying and how we can teach kids it's not right. That's how I got here. I'm not sure what I'll do next but I'm going home tonight to think about it." - Max, 14

"Marc and Craig are total superheroes to me! 
There's no one else getting kids to work like they are!" - Kayla, 14

"Adding music to the events is a good idea, it helps keep me interested when I have trouble sitting." - Andrew, 12

"I CAN'T WAIT FOR NEXT YEAR!" - Sophia, 13

"I don't know what my next action will be after filling my change bags but it's gonna be huge!" - Caitlin, 14

Friday, November 16, 2012

We Day Waterloo Region

I was honoured to be among the attendees at We Day Waterloo Region this week. For me it was an incredible experience to see and meet students with passion and purpose, students who aren't afraid to stand away from the crowd and fight for others. I had the opportunity to meet students who have already done more as change makers than I have and most importantly, students who were willing to be leaders and start educating their friends and family.

On top of all these fabulous students, I was also given the chance to meet Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Free The Children and one of the men who helps these students find the courage to think bigger, to act better and to truly BE the change.

I was playing media for the day, my first experience from behind the scenes. I was astounded by the team supporting the media in the press room. First of all, they fed us. Always important. There was always somebody there with advice, directions and good golly, the press runners even held the door open for me every single time. When I asked if I could have a tour of the concourse and all the student areas, it was given. When I asked if I could possibly meet Craig Kielburger, they made it happen. Then I even asked for extra "We Create Change" bags so I could start my own mini-activists at home on the project and got more than I expected. What an authentically helpful, serving team of individuals, both Free The Children staff and volunteers. You made my first press junket a dream come true for a girl who once dreamed of being a journalist and writer.

Now lets get on to the good stuff, here's just a handful of the hundreds of pictures I took that day.

Media. Just like the big boys (and girls).
Press room. Look carefully and you'll see awesome KW women like Jane Barkley,
Diane Morgan and Jenn Annis. Also awesome but not from KW woman, Candace Alper.

Sydney Brouillard-Coyle starts off the day with her "Prime Minister in 40 years"
speech and gets the crowd off to a roaring start.

"it doesn't matter what age, size or colour you are"

Dr. David Williams spoke of persistence. 
Impossible doesn't exist.
This guy appeared on stage and the crowd went bananas.
Consider yourself warned:

Shawn Desman = kind of a big deal
(also wears awesome shoes and has some great tattoos!)
"Did you know dreams can be real?"
Donisha Prendergast, granddaughter of Bob & Rita Marley,
lights up the stage with an enthusiastic presence.
She sends the crowd off with some key points:
"build your character"
"prepare yourself"
"dreams are sent from the universe for you to manifest"

John Beaucage, Aboriginal Advisor to the Minister if Children and Youth Services and Darren Thomas, a member of the Seneca Nation spoke.

"Each and every day is OPPORTUNITY"

Thorsten Heins, CEO of RIM takes the stage
And pulls Marc and Craig Kielburger in for a hug.
 RIM is the title sponsor of We Day Waterloo Region.
How lucky are we to have this amazing company in our own backyard?

Marc and Craig spoke and I just love this shot, the ridiculously big grin
on Marc's face as he shows off a picture of his wife and new baby.

Spencer West took the stage, to DEAFENING applause and cheers.
If you haven't heard of Spencer, here's the Coles notes:

He's got a dynamic personality and a quick, self-deprecating wit. 
He climbed this "kind of a big deal" mountain last year called Kilimanjaro.
He's raised over $500,000 to bring clean, sustainable water to people in Kenya.
He lost his legs at age 5. 
He acts like he totally forgot that previous fact.
He can inspire a crowd like nobody's business.

Francine Dyksterhuis from RBC spoke and we were treated to a performance 
by ONE DROP, a Cirque du Soleil initiative.
(Sorry! No pictures were allowed during that one!)


Back to the press room, I got a great initiation for my first press conference. 
We press were, well... conferring... when Craig Kielburger entered the room. He stood a few feet away from me and made jokes about how we were just waiting on the President and how he would grace us with his presence shortly.

 The lovely Hannah, from Call Me Hannah
has the rapt attention from all 3 men as she addresses 
"Mr. President" (coached by her grandma).

Poised and easy-going in a way I'll never be.
I'll admit, I'm a little jealous of you Hannah.

 After the press conference I got a tour of the concourse 
and all the student areas.
Thanks to Natalie Herzing for making that happen!


Sadly, since I was touring the building and then taking my 4 minutes with Craig Kielburger, I missed hearing Robin Wiszowaty, the Program Director from Free The Children in Kenya and Maasai Warriors, Wilson & Jackson. Can't wait to see the event aired on CTV on November 24 at 7pm so I can catch up on these speakers!

I got back to the Auditorium just in time to hear Martin Sheen say,

"It is the absolute necessity for healing, justice and mercy 
that unites us."

Mr. Sheen, I don't know if it's your acting skills, your stage presence or your 
unwavering dedication to activism but Sir, you truly do have a voice that could 
and WOULD be heard by the people. 
Ever thought of running for President?

"One heart with courage IS a majority."

Molly Burke spoke of bullying and the loss of dignity.
In the end, those actions helped her find her voice.

"Silence makes people uncomfortable. . . Now is the time to become aware of that uncomfortable silence."

 Liz Murray was one of the highlights of my day, having poured over her book, Breaking Night: My Journey from Homeless to Harvard, several times this year.

"My history does not have to determine my future."

We heard from RIM Build a Village Awards Programs recipients Ganesha and Kaitlyn.

A Bollywood performance that broke the sound barrier when the dancers broke out into a bollywood/gangnam style remix.


 And just when I thought that the crowd couldn't possibly get any louder, Craig and Marc Kielburger came out for their keynote. I've been too busy combing through the photos... was there an earthquake recorded in Waterloo Region yesterday?

A shoutout for the courageous Lydia Herrle.
My heart skipped a beat when I heard 6000 students
cheering at the sound of Nellie McClung's name.
I wish this picture didn't have head shadows in it. Heh, even with the head shadows I love it.
Especially the penny background!
I hope these students pay this much attention in class!

Signs of adorations and promises to be the change after the keynote.

And finally, our last musical performance of the day by These Kids Wear Crowns, playing for their first time at We Day.

I'm sure I'm not the only grown up in the crowd who knew all the words to
"I Wanna Dance with Somebody" but knew they didn't learn it from this band!

Oy! What an emotionally exhausting day! Not only the actual event itself but the hours of photo combing and writing of this post. I'll be posting on the weekend with feedback directly from students on what they loved about the event and how you can join in!

Project Winter Survival

5 years ago I made my first donation to Project Winter Survival. Last winter I had the opportunity to meet the founder of the project, Jody Steinhauer and see the facility where the magic happens. I've never seen another project of this calibre serving our homeless population. If you can donate $25, you may literally be saving someone's life this winter.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Coat

How can we teach children to give without saying a word?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Being Human

One of the things I love most about inspiration events is that they remind you that you don't need to do something huge to make  change in the world.

It's important to end worldwide hunger, there is more than enough food on our beautiful green Earth to sustain us all. It's important to send children to schools, to house the homeless and love the unloved. You know what else is important? Being human.

Being human is more than just existing as a species. Being human is acting respectfully towards your fellow humans. It's opening doors, saying "please" and "thank you" on a regular basis. It's making eye contact with your bank teller, Tim Hortons server or fellow walker on the street. Another part of being a good human is taking time to recognize other people for the things you admire about them. I'm a firm believer of writing letters and notes to people who make my days brighter. Every Thursday I sit down and take some time to acknowledge the impact they have made on my life.

When I received this last week, it reminded me that sending a kind word, encouragement or a smile in the direction of another person makes change in the world. After all, if we're all a little happier we'll be much more prepared to go out and make bigger changes in the world.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Acts of Good

My friend Wes (go follow him on twitter, he's a cool dude) posted this on his facebook page this morning and it warmed my heart.

So c'mon, let's all go out and get caught doing an act of good.

Friday, November 9, 2012

My Own Random Act of Kindness

Today is Random Acts of Kindness Day in Waterloo Region.

I'll post on the day's events at a later time but for right now, a quick story of a random act of kindness that will touch me forever...

Late on a Friday afternoon I was at the pharmacy with two sick kids. One had a double ear infection and the other, infection in both eyes. We had dropped off the prescription and waited 30 minutes for it to be filled. When they finally called us up, the pharmacy assistant told me our drug plan didn't cover any of the cost of either drug. The bill was $78.

There was no way we could afford that cost and the pharmacist told me to have my doc call in a new prescription. Dejected, we turned and started walking out of the store when a woman ran up behind us saying "Excuse me!" When I turned to pull the boys out of the way, she looked at me and said, "Your prescription is ready to go now."

I walked back to the pharmacy counter and the people in line clapped as the woman who paid for those prescriptions pulled me into a hug. I couldn't say more than "Thank you" in a broken voice as the tears streamed down my face.

I'll never forget the face of that woman or that moment in time. Thank you again, my pharmacy hero.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Beacon(s) of Light: Ed and Ginny Peng

Customers entering Ginny Peng's boutique are greeted with smiles, kind words and hope for tomorrow.

The store is so busy they can only let a few people in at a time. Ed Peng jokes with a customer, "No tax  today, just for you."


Ed and Ginny, along with about 20 dedicated volunteers, run the clothing boutique at Kitchener's Ray of Hope. They started volunteering with Oasis several years ago with a small group from their church. When Ray of Hope moved to their new location almost 2 years ago, Ginny was asked to head up the clothing donation program. With Ed, a self-admitted reluctant volunteer by her side, Ginny dove into the project head first, transforming a dreary clothing donation closet into a boutique where her customers could come and shop for high quality clothing that would serve them for everyday and work related purposes.


3 times per week, clients can shop for pants, shirts, new socks and underwear, jackets, shoes, boots and more. There is no cost for the clothing and every step of the process; from accepting donations, sorting,processing and the "sale" is manned by volunteers.

Both Ed and Ginny hold the Ray of Hope organization in great esteem. They told me the support from Ray of Hope staff is huge and they couldn't ask for a more dedicated management team.

Ray of Hope has been a fixture in Kitchener-Waterloo since 1967. In addition to the clothing boutique and meal program, they have their own food bank, run Morning Glory café sites in downtown Kitchener and at Heffner Toyota in East Kitchener. The Ray of Hope umbrella also shelters life-changing community programming for youth at risk, with open and secured custody facilities, youth employment programs and youth addiction services.

Every time I am at Ray of Hope one thing that astounds me is the level of respect in the building, from staff, volunteers and clientele. I've been in shelters and community centres where chaos is the game 24/7 but Ray of Hope is always dignified. Where clothing rooms usually operate somewhere around "frenzy", the folks visiting Ed, Ginny and their team are calm and collected. They browse through the racks of clothing the same as they would in any store and this is where I think the difference lies between your average clothing donation room and the vision the Ginny has created.

Ginny shows her clients respect by providing good quality clothing that is clean and cared for. She has created a space where her clients don't feel that they're sorting through someone else's garbage but instead, are shopping for new clothes for themselves. Her team is loving, kind and generous with both smiles and time. She shows a level of respect that oftentimes, homeless and vulnerable clients just don't receive. In return, the atmosphere of the boutique she runs is reposeful, poised and above all, courteous.

   "From the minute you walk through the door you know            that you are loved." - Ginny Peng, on Ray of Hope

Meeting with Ed and Ginny, I felt honoured to be in the presence of a couple so committed to their community. They wear their hearts on their sleeves and I saw the love they have for God, community and service. Ginny is like the pin-up girl for my mantra of bringing your passion to your volunteer work. She didn't want to only head up a room full of donated clothes, she had a vision for a space that was going to serve her clients in more ways than just handing out free clothes and her vision has succeeded in a spectacular fashion.

Ed and Ginny, when I grow up, I hope to be just like you.

You can support Ed, Ginny and the Ray of Hope clothing boutique by donating new and pre-loved items that are in good repair. Seasonally appropriate clothing is in high need as the weather gets cold and donations of winter jackets, boots and other cold-weather gear for men, women or children are always appreciated. Donations of new underwear and socks are always in need. 

**Thank you to Scott Brush of Ray of Hope for recommending Ed & Ginny to me as some volunteers that truly deserve a little recognition. You can recognize exceptional volunteers on the Baking the World a Better Place blog by sending their contact info to**

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Don't Forget to Breathe

sometimes i get going 
in so many directions that i forget
to stop

and just breathe

This morning I woke feeling crushed. That I was doing too much. And neglecting myself. So I took the day for myself. I read a book. I ignored the ever-growing pile of dishes. I wrote some notes for friends. I relaxed.

Oftentimes, I feel my volunteer work is so much more "work" than working ever was. Not because I dread it, but because it wrenches your soul. I see kids at breakfast club asking for another bagel, wrapping it in a napkin and shoving it into their backpack, eyes darting to make sure no one sees them "stealing". I see moms packing their children off for school at the shelter looking guilty and ashamed as they show their kids how to pull their hands inside the sleeves of their jacket to keep their hands warm. I listen to addicts apologize as they work up their next hit right in front of you because they just can't wait anymore.

It's easy to see why volunteers get burnt out. Not always because of being overworked but because of the nature of the work itself.

So as I start to organize my holiday calendar, scheduling family, work and volunteer commitments, I am making a concentrated effort to schedule Melissa-time. Since I'm a shopper, chances are most of those time blocks will be devoted to spending quality time within the aisles of my favourite thrift and book stores.

Do you make an effort to schedule time for yourself or do you take it as it comes? Do you have any suggestions on how volunteers can recharge their batteries to avoid burnout?