Thursday, July 27, 2017

WHAT'S ON MY MIND!

Why I Love Bergen County by Elma
I have lived in Bergen County for the past 12 years and there was not a single day when it did not feel like home.

Home is synonymous with comfort, belonging and community. In Bergen County, there is a deep-seated feeling of community. Uncompromisable relationships develop between neighbors, between peers, between YMCA staff and members and even between people you see regularly at the grocery store.

I had first sensed the pulse of our community when I moved to Hackensack from Poughkeepsie. My mom had to pick me up from Fairmount Elementary School by foot because our car had broken down. My brother was cooing in his stroller and I hopped along, a carefree preschooler. Suddenly, the sky cackled and the dark clouds opened up to torrential rain.

Without an umbrella we were forced to keep trudging along in this monsoon. Wet and shivering, we made it to the end of the block, still ten daunting minutes away from home. We were stopped in our tracks by a seaweed green truck whose tinted windows rolled down to reveal a familiar face - our crossing guard. Every day we saw her going to school and coming from school. And there she was, willing to go out of her way to take us home.

That is the heart of Bergen County - a feeling of community that persists through thick and thin.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

14,000th Ride and Counting!


ROAD WARRIORS
ITNNorthJersey is training their 90th volunteer driver this week. The Independent Transportation Network of North Jersey is making great strides in just over 2 years. They started with 3 volunteers driving 2 rider members, now they are set to give their 14,000th ride in Bergen County.

ITNNorthJersey is a community based transportation service for seniors and adults with visual impairment. They help dozens of members get to all kinds of appointments including: kidney dialysis, jobs, errands, routine medical and even the hairdresser.

Dora from Franklin Lakes is a recent widow who now relies on ITNNorthJersey for her weekly trips to the hairdresser and grocery store shopping. Dora says these trips allow her to stay in the home she loves while being able to safely continue her usual routine.

Like Dora, the consistent feedback from members is overwhelmingly positive. For many of them it's not just about getting around with ease, it's also about doing so with dignity. And for the volunteer drivers, they say it's a rewarding way to spend their time.

If you're interested in learning more about ITNNorthJersey, contact Mary Lyons-Kim at either 201-398-3885 or Mary.LyonsKim@ITNNorthJersey.org.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Meet the Chore Volunteers - Ed L.!

Prior to joining Chore about 1 ½ years ago, Ed Lipiner worked for the US Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta, where he conducted field assessments and reviewed environmental impacts of federally funded projects.  He also worked with the Passaic County Planning Department as a principal Transportation Planner, where he conducted planning studies encompassing all modes of transportation, as well as managed programs providing transport services for disadvantaged populations in the County.  

In addition to his time with Chore, he continues volunteering in support of the environment by participating in EcovillageNJ, a meetup group collaborating on housing projects based on environmental and cooperative principals,  and GreenFaith, a local group of religious congregations that sponsor events to promote environmental sustainability. He enjoys hiking and travel, and has developed his own website/blog about Urban Affairs.   “Through my association with Chore, I have gained an appreciation of the challenges and potential solutions facing seniors and disabled people who wish to remain in their homes.  Chore means people connecting with and helping other people in need—a foundation for an ethical and humane society.”


  

Monday, July 17, 2017

Meet the Chore Volunteers - Rich!

Rich Heslin is another of our newer volunteers-- he joined Chore about 9 months ago after retiring from a long career with the Port Authority of NY/NJ, which included management responsibilities for PATH’s structural, mechanical and track/third-rail systems. He also served as general manager at both Newark Liberty International Airport and Teterboro Airport.  

In addition to Chore, Rich volunteers with Traveler’s Aid at Newark Airport, where he helps visitors find their way, and provides them with information and assistance as they journey.  He enjoys cycling in his spare time.  “My wife suggested I volunteer with Chore, because after I retired, I wanted to give back to the community and help out where it was truly needed.  Chore absolutely provides that opportunity.  And as I am sure you know, while we do make a difference to those who request our services, the feeling you get for helping others makes it all worthwhile.”

Thursday, July 13, 2017

WHAT'S ON MY MIND!

THE DAY I SHAVED MY HEAD by Elma


Right now, I can put my hair up in a ponytail, braids or even a bun. But 2 years ago, I couldn’t do any of that. I couldn’t even part my hair.

Two years ago I shaved my head, completely! I looked like a brown egg that had sprouted a body. Keep reading, the reason I did this will become clear. But first, I want to take you along the journey.


I remember the day I went to the salon. My mother was nervous, as a mother should be. She was worried that I would be bullied, that I would become a social outcast. But I knew this was something I had to do.

Just as my mother was worried, the barber was confused. The man had wet my hair and was ready to snip away with small shears.

“How short do you want it, miss?”

“I want to shave my head”.

He stopped and stared at me, the shears suspended in bewilderment. The man then rested two fingers just above my ear lobe.

“Up to here?”

At that moment I remembered my grandmother, my great aunts and my aunt.

When I was five, my youngest great aunt died of breast cancer, at home, surrounded by her own things.

I remember when the doctors took my grandmother off of life support because lung cancer had eaten her away; I was six.

When I was eight, my oldest great aunt passed away of stomach cancer. I remember the call at midnight.

And I do not remember my aunt at all. Years before I was born, she passed away. She was 32 and a victim of Leukemia.

Weeks before my haircut, I had read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta had died of cervical cancer. Her daughter, Deborah, almost drove herself crazy because of those tumors. She was afraid of inheritance. I am too.

Then I remember the commercials for St. Jude’s. They are just kids yet they are fighting battles that my family had lost. I see them smiling on screen, tubes up their nose and arms, bald head, but still they have hope.

In fourth grade, I read a book by Patricia Polacco titled The Lemonade Club. In the book, a fifth grader, Marilyn, had leukemia, and so she started to lose her hair. I had seen the same thing happen to my family. In support and to help her through her difficult treatment, Marilyn’s entire class shaved their heads too. Support, it is the least I could do.

I thought of all this and I shook my head no.

“I want it completely off, like bald off”, I asserted.

The man chuckled and began braiding my hair. Then, snip, snip, snip. It was like a weight had been lifted off of me.

He handed the dismembered braid to my mother, who cradled it like a newborn child.

The man used shears to cut away all the remnant hair, the scraps that could not be mailed off to Locks of Love. When he could not cut any further, he buzzed all my hair off.

It is often difficult to explain to people why I did it. How do I explain to them the pain of losing my family? The pain of watching children suffer a ruthless disease? The pain of not being able to do anything about it?

I will never regret my decision to shave my head and donate my hair to a non-profit like Locks of Love, because hopefully I helped a child regain a sense of self confidence.

Monday, July 10, 2017

BVC Can Help Parents Apply for College Financial Aid



Did you know that students are now able to submit FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application starting October 1st? And did you know that your chances of receiving a favorable financial aid package is higher the earlier you apply?

As we all know, college is expensive. The most important component of your financial aid application is the FAFSA and submitting it, as early as possible, maximizes the amount of federal aid you receive. Every little bit counts.

Since the application process is online, and filing for FAFSA is such an integral part of the college financial aid package, it can often be intimidating to those who are new to the college process.

Sharon Genicoff, Guidance Counselor at Bergen County Technical School:
“Some states award financial aid on a first-come, first-served basis, so eligible families who file soon after Oct 1 have a better chance of receiving aid, including grants, work-study and federal loans. You should file the FAFSA even if you don’t think you’ll qualify for need-based aid. If you want to take out a federal loan of any type—including the unsubsidized Stafford Loan, which isn’t based on financial need—then you’ll need to file the FAFSA. Also, some institutions require students to complete the FAFSA in order to be eligible for merit-based awards. Some students and families may have difficulty completing the FAFSA because of misconceptions, including thinking there is a fee. The FAFSA is free and families should never be charged for completing the application. Also, some students may not complete the FAFSA because their parents are not U.S. citizens. The citizenship of their parents has no bearing on aid eligibility and the FAFSA will not ask parents whether they are citizens. The form will ask for their Social Security numbers, though. If a student’s parents do not have this information, they can simply enter all zeros as a placeholder. Lastly, if families do not have access to the internet, there is a printable version available.”

We are here to help! Last year, the Bergen Volunteer Center launched the IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. This year, through an extension of the VITA program, volunteers are offering to help students and families understand and complete the FAFSA application. The FAFSA Help Sessions will be held between October 14th through October 28th. Specific locations and times are still being confirmed, so if you are interested in the Help Sessions or know anyone who might be interested, please contact elma@bergenvolunteers.org. For further information regarding FAFSA, you can also visit www.fafsa.gov.

We are also looking for volunteers for the FAFSA event who can help families and students to fill out the FAFSA forms. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact elma@bergenvolunteers.org.

Keep an eye out on our website (http://www.bergenvolunteers.org) or our FaceBook (https://www.facebook.com/bergenvolunteers) for any updates regarding the FAFSA Help Sessions.

Meet the Chore Volunteers - Ruth!


Ruth Connolly has been helping out in the Chore office for the past 14 years, making reminder calls, mailing out thank you notes for donations, and many other administrative tasks.  Prior to joining Chore, she was an Executive Secretary at various corporate and non-profit organizations in the area.  In fact, she continues to work in a local construction company as their office manager when she is not at Chore.  

Other volunteer activities include visiting a nursing home patient weekly and shopping for him and clipping coupons which she sends monthly to active military personnel.  “Chore is a very worthwhile program that helps people have things done that they cannot do for themselves.  Volunteering with Chore gives me great personal satisfaction by helping others, while doing the kind of work with which I am comfortable.  It affords me a social atmosphere to work with people who treat me like family.  By the way, I am also a recipient of Chore services at my own home.”

Thursday, July 6, 2017

POVERTY DOESN'T EXIST IN BERGEN COUNTY... OR DOES IT?



(This week Bergen Volunteer Center begins a new blog series: What's On My Mind! For the next few weeks, this blog will be written by our volunteer student intern, Elma. A resident of Bergen County and a future doctor, Elma will be blogging about things that matter to her and the Bergen County community.)


WHAT'S ON MY MIND!


I was born in Bangladesh, a South Asian country known for its' diverse culture. I came to the United States when I was 4 years old. Unlike the U.S., Bangladesh is also known for being one of the poorest countries in the world. The streets of Bangladesh bustle with poverty. Children weave through traffic half naked, maimed men drag themselves on the roads, and women cradle their babies on one hip and a tin bowl on the other hip - they all ask for money. Those images haunt me.


I go to Bangladesh every other year. And every other year I see the same thing. But when I return to the U.S., I find refuge from those images. In Bergen County, I do not see the sunken eyes of hungry children. I do not see their protruding ribs. I do not see their tiny hands banging on car windows asking for money. I do not see those things in Bergen County, so poverty does not exist here.

During my junior year of high school, I learned the truth.

Debbie Emery came to speak at my school, Bergen County Technical High-school, as a representative of the Bergen Volunteer Center. One of the things she said that stuck with me was about the poor in Bergen County. As ignorant as it may seem, I had never known there to be any poverty in Bergen County. Certainly, I had not seen any.

To me, poverty translated to the conditions I saw in Bangladesh. However, the evil of poverty is that it exists in many forms. In Bergen County, it exists as homelessness, hunger and lack of healthcare.

Although these seem moderate compared to the situation in Bangladesh or any third-world country, any level of poverty must be acknowledged.

My county’s perceived affluence obscures individuals who truly need help. This is why I wanted to get involved in community driven non-profits. Through volunteerism and community initiatives, the Bergen Volunteer Center makes my county a better home for the less fortunate.

Now that I know poverty exists in Bergen County, and I know the extremes that poverty can ultimately lead to, I want to protect my community.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A MESSAGE FROM OUR CEO

“Volunteering is so pervasive it’s invisible. We take for granted all the things that have been pioneered by concerned, active volunteers.”
—Susan J. Ellis, Energize, Inc. and e-Volunteerism.com


These words are so true of Bergen County. Volunteerism and civic involvement are so much a part of the air we breathe that we don’t always call it by its name. Here are a few of the encounters I have had with volunteers in the last couple of weeks:

The Bergen Campership Fund is a public/private partnership that raises money to help low-income children go to summer camp. The Fund was founded over 20 years ago and has been managed by dedicated volunteers for all those years. Sitting with them reading applications and allocating scholarships was both solemn and uplifting. For them, knowing that children they will never meet are having a happy, healthy, summer is worth the hours of meetings each year. www.bergencampership.org

The house across the street from me was bought and torn down in a matter of weeks. In one afternoon, all the old trees on the property were chopped down—a shocking and devastating transformation of the neighborhood. Within hours, I discovered the Shade Tree Association and other activists in town. They have organized a tougher tree ordinance and mobilized residents all over town to support it.

My colleague is organizing a career workshop for adolescents in our Mentoring Youth program. Everyone she has asked to serve on a panel has said yes and named others she should invite. The enthusiasm to share and guide young people is exhilarating.


As I drive throughout Bergen County, I am now greeted with warm green signs declaring the town “Stigma Free.” In fact, 51 communities have declared themselves Stigma Free and are actively working to encourage mental health awareness and wellness. The Stigma Free movement is entirely volunteer-led and it is transforming our community for the better.

Muhammad Ali said that “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

One of the reasons Bergen County is such an abundant community is because so many pay their rent every day in so many ways.

The Bergen Volunteer Center is proud to make volunteerism in our community highly visible and to help turn all that caring into meaningful action.

Lynne H. Algrant





Monday, July 3, 2017

Meet the Chore Volunteers - Krikor, Cliff, and Al!

People find out about the Chore Service in many different ways.  They may read an article about us in the local newspaper; they may hear about us during a presentation at a Senior Center; a nurse or physical therapist may recommend Chore; they see us on our website, Facebook and blog; or people may find out about us via good, old-fashioned word of mouth.  In 2016, 1,497 people were helped by Chore.   


 
Krikor Babikian, Cliff Hook and Al Ott are the Tuesday, Chore Van #3 crew


Mrs. F. writes: “Thank you for doing such a professional job installing smoke detectors in my home.  I am always passing your phone number to my friends.”