Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Give a Call

Hello, is that you?

In an age filled with communication consisting of texts, emails, IM, snaps, and tweets, has the art of a real live interactive telephone conversation gone to the wayside? The answer is, “No, not for everyone.”

Depending on your age, you may have seen and used a rotary phone, where noisily dialing  (just) seven numbers could take a whole 15 seconds. These phones are now a novelty – a fun retro item you can buy on Amazon for about $70. As times have changed, society learned how to use a push button phone, followed by a cordless phone. Imagine the freedom of walking and talking without a cord! It was so liberating. “I’m talking to you from my basement!” We heard telephone carriers brag about fiber optics, a cutting edge technology used to transmit information through fibers made of glass over long distances. Now we use “cell” phones which are called cell phones because the network they connect to is a system of cells, each cell defined by a tower. More impressive than that, is the fact that the cells are connected to the network via communication with satellites. We can now use our cell phones just about anywhere - on planes, trains, and in automobiles. But with all this flexibility, statistics repeatedly show that people prefer to text rather than speak. According to research done by TextMagic.com, the number of monthly texts sent has increased by more than 7,700% over the last decade.

There is no denying the fact that sending a text is a great way to convey a quick, short message; perhaps a daily check-in for a friend or relative. Maybe a new driver lets his parents know he has arrived at his destination by sending a text. Or maybe a teenager meets her favorite celebrity and wants to let all of her friends know in a group text. While there are hundreds of emojis to add to a text, there isn’t one for every single situation, emotion, or feeling. How many times have you received a text containing a variety of typos - so much so, that you don’t understand the message? Or maybe you didn’t finish reading a text because you got distracted and forgot to go back to it? Your conversation remains unfinished. In some cases, the absence of a comma can change the entire meaning of a sentence. There are definite inefficiencies with texting that would not happen with a phone call. 

Calling to talk to someone on the phone is intimate and transparent with a beginning and an end, hence the ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’, phrases not necessarily used in texts. When you are on a phone call, you have to be engaged. You can’t just put the phone down and take a break from the conversation. You get to hear someone’s tone, voice fluctuation, or laugh. Hearing someone laugh is way better than looking at 20 laughing emojis. You could imagine the laugh, but why imagine it when you can hear it? When you are given the opportunity, consider making the call. You never know where the conversation may go.  You could be changing the entire outlook of someone’s day! 

At Bergen Volunteers, the act of making phone calls is thriving. We have volunteers who sign up to do just that - call homebound senior citizens on a weekly basis. The seniors are thrilled to receive the call and know that someone cares. There is no structured format to the call, no list of questions to read through. Just two friends chatting about whatever they want. In some cases, the voice of the volunteer is the only one the senior is hearing all week. With the restrictions of the last eighteen months, there are so many seniors who feel isolated and lonely. 

Would you consider making one phone call a week to lift the spirits of a senior? 

To learn more contact Lisa Trediciat 201.221.4706 or ltredici@bergenvolunteers.org

Monday, October 25, 2021

How do we inspire kids to give back?

We all have hopes for the future adults our children will become. We hope they will be successful, we hope they will be happy, and we hope they will make a positive impact on the world around them. We have schools and teachers to educate them, prepare them for a career in the world. We have family and friends to spend time with, to laugh with, and to show them what happiness is. That leaves making a positive impact. Yes, this may go hand in hand with the career they choose, but what if it doesn’t. What can they do, and how can we teach them the impact of being charitable. 

First and foremost, we inspire children through the example we set. A child who grows up in a charitable home, who takes part in volunteering or donating, will learn what it means to give back. It is important in these situations to always share the “why” with children. It is great to have them go through the motions of volunteering; however, it makes even more of an impression if they understand why they are volunteering. That lasting impression will be the reason they carry on the tradition of being charitable.

One of our volunteers reached out with a story about her son. For years she has been instilling in him the importance of giving back. She has done this by including him in volunteer opportunities, and explaining to him why she chooses to participate. One of the first opportunities she actively included him in was an environmental clean-up. He was five years old at the time. By the end of the day he was explaining to others the importance of keeping plastic out of the waterways, and why you shouldn’t litter. Five years later, and many more clean-ups under his belt, his conversation about taking care of the environment has become more detailed and compelling. At the age of eight he started helping shovel snow from the driveways and walkways of seniors in his neighborhood. While delighted to receive the occasional batch of fresh baked cookies in return, he was not doing this with the expectation of any kind of reward. Rather, he was doing this with an understanding that sometimes people need help, sometimes they are unable to do certain things, and for their safety and well-being, it is important to lend a helping hand. More recently, with the rise of food insecurities, he has been helping with meal deliveries and distributions, carrying boxes in and out of drop points, and running individual meals up to the homes of seniors in his community. Having these opportunities to volunteer, and to understand the importance of his actions, has left a lasting impression. He now jumps at the opportunity to help someone in need.

Giving back looks different for each family. Some families donate items, some give financially, and others donate their time. Many families, in anticipation of the holidays, have their children select some of their toys donate. Others will hand their children money to drop in a collection bin. Those who choose to donate their time do so in a variety of ways, as detailed in the story above. All of these ways of giving are important; all of them make a positive impact.

Children are also inspired by what they read and what they watch. Books like “The Giving Tree” and “When Stories Fell Like Shooting Stars” contain powerful messages about giving, and appreciation. Movies like “The Lorax” and “Up” for younger children, and “Pay It Forward” for older children, teach valuable lessons about giving and caring. A follow up discussion on the books and movies will leave even more of an impression. Let the children tell you what they thought about the story, what they thought was important, how the characters made a positive impact on the world around them, and why that matters.

It seems appropriate to close with the words of Graham Nash, “Teach your children well.”  We are raising future adults. What we do, what we show them, will have a direct effect on who they will become. This November, in honor of GivingTuesday, what can you do to inspire your children to give back? 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Teens - The Leaders of Tomorrow

When thinking about the importance of leadership in teens, perhaps the best place to get input is from a teen. Fortunately for us, we have a couple of amazing interns here at Bergen Volunteers, and one of them gave us his thoughts on the topic.

Leadership is a necessity in today’s world. It is a leader’s job to inspire and to turn ideas into reality. With the ever changing world around us, new leaders are needed more than ever. Teenagers can be the answer to this need. Teaching them the skills necessary to succeed in leadership roles will help the community and the world around us.

Teenagers can greatly impact their community by volunteering and getting involved in events around their town. By participating in these events, teenagers experience and learn about the leadership needed in today’s world. Teenagers are the future of the world and they need to be able to step up to the challenges facing them. By learning about leadership, teenagers can start to organize their own events, whether it is fundraising or spreading awareness for a cause they believe in. This promotes growth in their community and inspires others to do the same. 

Leadership is also needed in everyday life. Teenagers are on the brink of adulthood, and that means they will be on their own in the world. At that point in their life it is important to be able to lead themselves into the direction they want to take with their life. By learning about what it takes to be a leader, it helps teenagers transition into being adults because they will be able to make the necessary decisions that will be presented to them when no one else is there to direct them.

Teenagers are the leaders of tomorrow.  The leaders that are in charge today won’t be in charge forever and the world will need to be able to trust their position with people that can fulfill the duties that need to be done. For a teenager, getting the experience early on helps them be more prepared for when they need to take the role of a leader. Teenagers bring with them new perspectives. The world changes constantly and the teenagers who have grown up in the new world are better suited for the problems that it presents.

Overall, leadership is a large part in teenagers’ lives whether it is in their community, for themselves, or for the future. Teenagers are still learning about the world around them and it is important that they learn about leadership to help make that world a better place.

At Bergen Volunteers, we recognize that teens are the leaders of tomorrow. We want to prepare them with the knowledge and skills that will set them up for success. That is why we run the Teen LEADS program for high school students. Participants in Teen LEADS learn about local government and public policy. They analyze community issues and develop new approaches to problem solving. The program is designed to get participants involved in their community to become effective community leaders.

If you would like more information on bringing Teen LEADS to your school, contact Jodi Murphy at jmurphy@bergenvolunteers.org


Tuesday, September 7, 2021


What makes a place a home?  A house, a condo, an apartment, all of these can be homes.  What is it that switches a place from just being a structure with walls, floors, windows, doors, and a roof, to being a place with an emotional attachment to it?

Home is where people should feel safe, comfortable.  It is a place for dinner around the table, a place for a restful night’s sleep, a place to keep the things that are important to us, a place for families to create memories.  Homes become customized to those living in them.  The favorite spot on the sofa, the placement of items in and on a dresser, the tables so many memories are created around, all contribute to the comfort of, and attachment to, our homes.  

Bergen Volunteers’ Making-It-Home program turns structures into homes by providing the furniture that fills a room with warmth and comfort.  Over the past year and a half there has been an influx in the purchase of new furniture, leaving many with gently-used furniture to donate.  Making-It-Home has been a grateful beneficiary of this interesting phenomenon. Gently-used furniture from residents in Bergen County has been collected and delivered, free of charge, to individuals and families who are leaving emergency shelters and moving to unfurnished apartments. Clients include veterans, survivors of domestic violence and their children, seniors, people with disabilities, and other homeless, low-income residents. Making-It-Home has enabled them to live in a safe and comfortable environment, improving their quality of life and ability to achieve greater self-sufficiency. 

Most donors are motivated by a desire to give to those less fortunate than themselves, and to keep their once beloved items out of landfills.  Their generous donations include all the pieces needed to furnish the apartments of 200 clients each year. In an average year, Making-It-Home volunteers spend 1,600 hours collecting nearly 800 pieces of furniture from 150 residents, keeping approximately 42,000 pounds of unwanted items out of our landfills.    

To learn more about this unique program, visit www.bergenvolunteers.org/mih

Friday, August 6, 2021

We Live to Give

She ripped open the wrapping paper to find the stuffed pink pony she had wanted for the last three Christmases. That stuffed pink pony stayed in her arms for the rest of the day, and she had trouble letting go of our hugs when our time together was over. But the joy she got from receiving that stuffed pink pony was nothing compared to the joy we all felt for making this little girl so happy.

All of us here at Bergen Volunteers love the time of year when we bring presents to our mentees during our holiday party. Seeing the smile appear on another’s face when we give a gift, provide a service, or do anything in their best interests will undoubtedly reflect back on us. Giving to others makes us happy, far more than receiving things for ourselves does.

In 2018, psychology researchers Samantha Kassirer from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and Ed O'Brien of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business conducted two studies which concluded that the subjects’ happiness declined much less if they continuously offered gifts to others rather than receiving the same gifts themselves.

One of the studies provided 96 college students with $5 each day for five days. They were required to spend it on the same thing either for themselves or another (like a charity donation or contribution to a tip jar), and they would reflect on how they spent their money and how happy they felt following each day. Evidently, self-reported levels of happiness reduced daily in those who spent on themselves, whereas those who spent on someone else were consistently happy over the five days.

We all enjoy being selfless; we naturally start to feel guilty or selfish when we don’t give to others. Sometimes we need to take a step back from our lives to be able to understand how we can help those who have less to be grateful for. This pandemic has certainly made us more aware of how daily tasks and interactions can be taken for granted, and now we see more and more acts of kindness every day. Anything from holding a door for someone to donating half your paycheck to charity can bring cheer to your day. 

We have an easy way for you to give and join in the feelings of happiness: donor-advised funds. When you donate through a donor-advised fund to a public charity, there are many positive tax ramifications. Those funds can often be invested to grow your donation tax-free, or, if you are required to take a Required Minimum Distribution, Bergen Volunteers can be the recipient, with tax benefits for you. By donating to us through a donor-advised fund, you can reap the positive emotional benefits similar to those in Kassirer and O’Brien’s studies. You give a gift and get a gift: we’d call that a win-win.

You can find out more about donor-advised funds at this link, and if you’d like to put yours towards Bergen Volunteers, please contact your financial planner or Bergen Volunteers CEO Nina Bachrach at nbachrach@bergenvolunteers.org or 201.489.9454 x201 for more information.

At Bergen Volunteers, our job is to bring joy to our community, whether that’s through our programs and services, friendly conversations, or even giving out boxes of lightbulbs. And we ask you to give back to us so you can get even more happiness out of each day.

Ratner, Paul. "Why Giving Gifts Brings You More Happiness than Receiving Them."

     Big Think, 25 Dec. 2018, bigthink.com/personal-growth/

     why-its-better-to-give-gifts-than-to-receive-according-to-science. Accessed

     3 Aug. 2021.

"What Is a Donor-Advised Fund?" Fidelity Charitable, Fidelity Investments

     Charitable Gift Fund, www.fidelitycharitable.org/guidance/philanthropy/

what-is-a-donor-advised-fund.html?immid=PCD&engine=GOOGLE&campaign=Donor+Advised+Primer&adgroup=Donor+Advised&keyword=Donor+Advised+funds&gclid=Cj0KCQjw3f6HBhDHARIsAD_i3D91sAbP9rocN4fgNRiFz8viZLnR90_l_FjZ9dmlR1LQXkM3Fpk5-hAaAiMGEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds. Accessed 3 Aug. 2021.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

How School Supplies Impacts Students' Lives


Schools should be places where children feel safe, empowered, and equal -- an environment where a student’s background or home life need not determine their success or belonging. However, this kind of equitable environment is not a given in the classroom. Issues with school supplies are a significant barrier to a healthy school experience for many children.

The national average of what parents spend on school supplies per child is $696.70, with many asked to pay far higher amounts. While some families don’t think twice about the yearly routine of  rounding up binders, calculators, pencils, and pens, the cost of these items can be overwhelming for low-income parents who may need to weigh school supplies against absolute necessities, such as groceries and rent. As a result, many children do not have the option to follow these prescribed lists of supplies and come to school less prepared than their classmates. 

These students face a difficult social situation. Gail O’Connor with Teach for America writes that “teachers are in a unique position to either add to a student’s feelings of inadequacy, or be sensitive to the mental burden that comes from financial insecurity.” Upon seeing students unprepared, teachers sometimes lean towards the former. They may be less than understanding, failing to consider possible financial issues and accusing students of being forgetful or careless. “It’s often seen as a behavioral issue,” Dr. Heather Clawson from Communities in Schools reports. Such assumptions can set students up for a negative relationship with teachers, producing feelings of shame and alienation. This negatively impacts the student’s ability to learn. 

Conversely, teachers who do recognize the student’s situation often buy school supplies for them out-of-pocket -- which isn’t sustainable for those teachers who are often already underpaid. O’Connor writes, “ninety-three percent of public school teachers spend their own money on school supplies without reimbursement, and on average, teachers spend $479 on items for their classrooms.” While teachers who go above and beyond in this manner should be applauded, it is unfair for the burden to be set upon them.

Many teachers note how the lack of school supplies negatively impacts their students. One teacher, Mario Black, reported of his own students, “When scholars don’t have what is needed for school, they don’t give it their all.” (WSOC)

But beyond the negative impacts of not being prepared with adequate supplies, it is deeply empowering when students are prepared. 

If you had the chance to start each school year with new supplies, you may remember how exciting it felt to look through the different colors of your binders and carefully assign colors to school subjects, or the satisfaction of pulling out cleanly sharpened pencils as you learned how to take notes. In the turbulence of starting a new school year, the prevalent feeling was that of a fresh start, and some control. 

And the data confirms these memories -- teachers have reported in studies that students having their own school supplies seems to increase students’ self esteem, class participation, class preparedness and interest in learning. (Kids in Need Foundation) 

At Bergen Volunteers, we want to make sure children in our community are prepared to do their best -- and feel their best -- in school. That’s why we run Tools for Schools, our program focused on providing school supplies for students in northern New Jersey. We invite businesses and individuals to donate to our annual drive, which this year runs from July 22 to August 31. Then, we distribute the supplies to our agency members -- hand-selected organizations that we have history with, and pool volunteer resources with -- who pass the supplies directly on to schools and students! 

If you’re ready to get involved in this important mission, contact Melissa LaRobardier at melissal@bergenvolunteers.org. We need your help to ensure that more and more children can enter their school year confidently, with the tools they need for success. 

“School Supply Donations Have a Positive Impact on Student's Ability to Learn.” WSOC TV, WSOC TV, 24 Nov. 2019, www.wsoctv.com/community/school-supply-donations-have-a-positive-impact-on-students-ability-to-learn/571267245/. 

O’Connor, Gail, et al. “The School-Supply Gap.” Teach For America, Teach For America, 8 Sept. 2019, www.teachforamerica.org/one-day/top-issues/the-school-supply-gap. 

“Why It Matters.” Kids In Need Foundation, 19 Apr. 2021, www.kinf.org/why-it-matters/. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Don’t Throw Away Your Shot

Caheri & Tammy Cloud, Intervention Specialist with Caught in the Crossfire

L to R - Cloud and Gutierrez (youthalive.org)

Caheri didn’t even realize she had been hit when the bullet burst through her jaw.

An 18-year-old model from one of Oakland, California’s most unsafe neighborhoods, Caheri Gutierrez was shot in a drive-by while sitting in the passenger seat at the intersection of 98th Ave and San Leandro Street in November of 2008. She felt a shock but didn’t realize the damage done until she noticed the driver’s expression and reached to touch her face: it was effectively blown off. Her biggest asset for her up-and-coming modeling career was gone. 


Gutierrez stayed strong and survived through the night, waking up to find herself toothless, jawless, and deaf in one ear. After almost a month in the hospital, she returned home to East Oakland and struggled with severe nightmares, fear of her neighborhood, and growing resentment and grief for her former identity.


Soon enough, Tammy Cloud was assigned to Gutierrez’s case. Cloud worked as an Intervention Specialist in the Caught in the Crossfire program as part of Youth ALIVE!, an Oakland non-profit whose mission is to prevent urban violence and cultivate young leaders. Cloud provided emotional and practical support to victims of Oakland’s violence.


At first, Gutierrez did not want assistance, not realizing how difficult it would be to handle her emotions. But Cloud stuck by her side during her recuperation, helping her to graduate high school, start therapy, take college classes, and regain her academic and athletic strengths. Gutierrez was eternally grateful and described Cloud as her “guardian angel.” Cloud began to see an internal strength developing in Gutierrez, a power she could use for the greater good. She suggested Gutierrez speak to the youth from her community, so Gutierrez applied for and accepted a job at Youth ALIVE!, working for their Teens on Target (TNT) program, where she could share her story and confront her trauma in a new way. 


Gutierrez bravely returned to Oakland, but she was afraid she would frighten the children with her story and physical scars. However, not only were the TNT students drawn to her warm personality, but they were also enlightened by her experience, as they too were growing up under the cloud of violence in East Oakland. Gutierrez went on to initiate many necessary conversations of how to cope with and avoid a life of violence even if it’s all one has ever known (O’Brien).


With the help of Youth ALIVE! and the support of her community, Gutierrez established herself as an effective speaker and community leader who took steps to prevent incidents like hers from happening again. 


We are born from our experiences; they shape us into who we are, fostering our passions, character, and capabilities. With patience and guidance, we can use resilience and courage to take our history to make history.


Here at Bergen Volunteers, our Bergen LEADS program transforms individuals into ones who use their experience and knowledge to take action for the common good. We cultivate leaders just like Gutierrez who learn about the challenges facing their communities and develop the skills needed to address them and effect change. Over the past 15 years, more than 400 leaders have completed our 10-month extensive program involving project development, topical debates, site visits, alumni networking, and more. They learn about a vast number of issues ranging from mental health to environmental concerns to local government.


We would like to congratulate the Bergen LEADS Class of 2020-21! They most recently presented their project “Need a Hand, Lend a Hand - The Halt Hunger Project” where they discussed how their community can connect to food resources in Bergen County. Now we welcome the incoming class of 2021-22, and we are so excited to see how this program will transform them into the next generation of community leaders!


We encourage you to get involved in Bergen LEADS to make a difference in our community. If you’d like to contribute to our scholarships or become a sponsor, contact Nina Bachrach at nbachrach@bergenvolunteers.org or 201.489.9454 x201 for more information.


We need both the Caheri Gutierrezes and the Tammy Clouds in this world: those who utilize their challenges and experiences to make a difference, and those who help pave their path. And at Bergen LEADS, you can accomplish both.

O'Brien, James. Until You Bleed: The Caheri Gutierrez Story. 2013.