What Hope Looks Like

 

By: Vanessa Martinez, Service Events Manager, Jersey Cares

Bag pipes, names, fathers, daughters, planes. Towers, sons, mothers, pain. If you ask me what I recall during the attacks of 9/11, I’d respond this way. As if recalling a memory, I intend on forgetting, but keep recalling anyway – a nightmare. I grew up in a small town – West New York – where people bustle about their lives the same way people did on that Tuesday morning on September 11th, 2001.  If you walk west towards the Hudson River, you could see the silent beauty that is the New York City skyline – all of it. Uptown cathedrals, the bright “New Yorker” sign, the Empire, West Side Highway, downtown skyscrapers towering above clouds.  Living here, one gets used to having such magic so close – you forget to look as you ride along the boulevard. That Tuesday morning, that quiet, unseasonably warm morning, everyone noticed it. Everyone heard it. Everyone stopped and stared at a different sort of magic– the black smoke that billowed, the ferries stopped in their waved paths, the sirens from every direction, the fire and smoke reflected on the river—it was as if everyone felt everyone elses lives turn into dust.

Some covered their mouths in horror, some looked away. Some jumped on the nearest City bound bus, maybe they knew someone. Maybe they wanted to help. As for me? I was 12 and late to my Science class as I walked into the 5th story corner classroom of P.S. #5. Incomprehension as the second plane impacts the South Tower.

Teachers begin to cry as I stare fixated on burning buildings in the distance. A thought interrupts the moment as I reflect on the fact that I was just there on Sunday with my cousins and we gazed straight up between the two pinstriped columns and got dizzy at the scale. My twelve-year-old brain skipped to the thought of “what if they fall?” and instantly was replaced with “they’re massive, it’s impossible.”

They did fall. And with their descent they took so much with them.

We went home early that day and my sister and I walked the three blocks home in silence. My dad’s voice cracked when I called him at work. “I’m glad you two…. are home safe” Those are the things I remember. Not a whole lot compared to the lessons I learned in the aftermath of 9/11.

I learned that our beloved skyline would never be the same. I learned what a declaration of war is. I learned that if you “see something, say something”, but most of all, I learned what hope looks like…

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Today, hope looks like 500 volunteers from across New Jersey coming together on 9/11 Day of Service for one purpose: to serve alongside one another to transform a Jersey City 9-11 Day of Service 2017 (8)high school deeply impacted by the tragic events of the day and create meaningful kits to be donated to hurricane victims, local first responders, seniors, and refugees.9113

Families and teams from schools, corporate groups, churches, and service organizations joined Jersey Cares at Dickinson High School on Saturday, September 9th. Half of the volunteers worked on revitalization projects including landscaping the school’s 9/11 memorial, brightening doors and railings with a fresh coat of paint, painting inspirational murals in school hallways to foster pride and school spirit, and911 day 1 creating decorative rock mosaics for the front entrance.

Simultaneously, families and several student organizations created hygiene kits for hurricane victims, Senior Care Packages with comfort items and 911day2thoughtful notes for Jersey City seniors, indoor hopscotch mats and activity kits for refugee children, and First Responder Thank You Kits for firefighters in Jersey City.

The morning of 9/11, I left Dickinson High School with a mission of delivering our First Responder Thank You Kits.  I drove by several firehouses on the way to Engine 14 – all with their garage doors closed – eerily reminiscent of the stations downtown on that fateful day. As I was sitting at a red light at the intersection of Palisades and Congress, I noticed it. A bright red fire truck poking its head out, followed by a line of solemn fire fighters. They followed their captain and lined up facing the spot where our beloved towers would have stood. They stood there in silence and saluted. It was 9:59am – the time the South Tower fell.

Palisade Avenue is typically a busy intersection. People walking, buses transporting commuters, but not at 9:59am. Traffic was paralyzed and people froze the same way as so many years ago.

Suddenly it did not matter how long I had been driving around or how far I had traveled to get these kits donated because in that moment, I realized what hope looks like and how far we have come. There are memorials scattered along the water, and countless lives that have been lost, but hope is everywhere and we must never lose sight of that.

Thank you to all of our incredible volunteers who came together to transform 9/11 into a day of empathy, unity, and service. Your time and hard work mean more than you could possibly imagine.  Thank you for keeping hope alive.

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Flamingos and Service

By Michelle R. Dee, Senior Director of External Affairs

Monday morning I was talking with my husband about the fact that it was finally getting cooler in the house in the morning when we woke up.   I was mentioning that it was chilly but not “cold” yet, even though it was cold outside. That is when he told me, “I get up every morning before you and turn the heat on so that the bathroom is warm when you get out of the shower.” All day long, it stuck with me and the more I thought about it, I came to realize that was my very stoic husband’s way of telling me he loved me. The small, almost unnoticeable gestures that make my life better without me knowing it are his little “I love yous,” every day. Don’t get me wrong. He does grand gesturesIMG_3387 as well. Ask any of my friends and co-workers. He got me an “amazing” Kate Spade Flamingo Purse for my birthday. It was epic – and fortunately returnable – and was his giant, silly way of telling me he loved me. But, the just as meaningful “I love yous” are in the little things he does. Getting up before me and turning on the heat so the bathroom isn’t cold, unloading the dishwasher because I hate that part of doing the dishes, making me laugh even when I am absolutely sure I don’t want to.

As we gear up for MLK Day, a day on which federal legislation challenges Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of volunteer service in honor of Dr. King, I have been reflecting a lot on what service truly means. I was looking for a way to talk about service and the legacy of Dr. King and what service is about and what it means to me.

On my drive home Monday night, in a single moment of clarity, I realized that service for me is a lot like love.   (Stay with me here…)   Service is a combination of flamingo purses and getting up early to turn on the heater. It is the small and the large and the mundane IMG_1846and the grand. It is whatever speaks to you as a person. For some volunteers, it is the rush of the big days of service. They love to serve, surrounded by hundreds of other volunteers and enjoy the feeling of community and accomplishment that comes with that. Other volunteers prefer to serve by leading projects as Project Coordinators on a recurring basis. They work with us on a monthly basis on an issue that holds meaning for them. Other volunteers serve across different opportunities in different capacities. One month they may sort food, at a local food pantry, and the next they may work at a local animal shelter. Bottom line, they serve.

Heading into a week packed with service and reflection, I think the most important thing we can remember about service was said by the man whom we are honoring with service – “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.”

Bottom line, no matter what your skill, your interests and your desires and no matter if you are a “flamingo purse” or a “getting up early to turn on the heat” kind of volunteer, we thank you . If you haven’t figured out what your passion is or what kind of volunteer you are, we can help with that too.

Jersey Cares

 

What Does Volunteering Mean to You?

By Simone Carvalho, Jersey Cares’ newest Service Events Manager

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Even after years of working with volunteers, I still find myself astounded by their benevolence. From individuals to families, Scout Troops to Fortune 500 companies- volunteers can take many forms but the spirit of generosity is identical.

What is this goodwill I speak of? It is the 17,341 Jersey Cares volunteers who donated 63,730 hours of their time to 410 agencies across New Jersey in just 2014.

These numbers leave me astonished because:

  •  17,341 is more than the entire population living in Hopewell Township, New Jersey.
  • You would have to volunteer 24 hours a day for 27 years to accumulate 63,730 service hours.
  • According to the Independent Sector, a volunteer hour in New Jersey is valued at $25.33. In 2014, our volunteers’ service was worth $1,614,280.90!

These numbers only just begin to quantify the enormous value of service because we can’t measure the smiles, bonds formed, or how a community has strengthened. But we can ensure the continued success and expansion of volunteer projects across the state. Jersey Cares strives to increase the level of meaningful volunteer engagement by creating and managing efficient, impactful projects that address critical community-identified needs.

We are celebrating National Volunteer Week 2015 by highlighting opportunities to #GiveBack and #BeTheChange with @JerseyCares on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram throughout #NVW2015.

Tag us @JerseyCares and tell us what VOLUNTEERING means to you!

– Simone Carvalho

BMW of Bridgewater Donates During Coat Drive

Jen Silva, Corporate Fleet/Portfolio Manager at BMW of Bridgewater, talks about a donation she made and her dealership’s annual coat drive.

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I’m grateful that I’m able to go out and purchase a new coat when I need to, but I understand that not everyone has the means to do that. So I choose to donate what I can and hope that it helps one person at a time to feel warm in our harsh winters.

I wasn’t the only one who made a donation during our annual coat drive. Several of our staff members cleaned out their closets and added to our bags of coats that we gave to Jersey Cares.

Everyone had their reasons to giving back. For instance, one of our Client Advisors Aubrey Brandt contributed a few coats since he understands and values the need to help those in need because his sister is in the Peace Corps.

We’re so thankful that we’re able to donate to Jersey Cares. This isn’t the first time we did this and it won’t be the last.

Seniors in Hillsborough Give Back to Their Community

One of our Project Coordinators, Becky Bongiovi, describes her involvement connecting seniors in service for the Jersey Cares Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. 

What happens when you have a group of willing and able volunteers without transportation? You bring the event to the volunteers, of course!

In celebration of Jersey Cares Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, seniors at an assisted living facility in Hillsborough took a break from games and recreation to make no-sew fleece blankets for a local children’s shelter. One generation gave back to another to honor Dr. King’s legacy.

As a Jersey Cares Project Coordinator, I am constantly on the lookout for new volunteers, either for the Volunteer Opportunity Calendar project I lead, Cooking Creations in Somerset County, or one of the other exciting projects managed by Jersey Cares. Often times those persons are right in front of me if I look hard enough, engage in some conversation and connect the right people together. With a little imagination and a dream, anything is possible!

Volunteers with their finished product.

Volunteers with their finished product