When music, dance, and amazing athleticism come together, there is nothing more beautiful to watch. Of course, if the location is Boston, and the music is Irish, it's got to be special. Sheer entertainment!
Once I realized that I was no longer averse to working on hunger relief and food and nutrition issues, I reached out to an old flame: Cooking Matters, the direct service arm of Share Our Strength, one of the nation's most successful hunger relief organizations, and one with a very active Boston-based chapter. More than twenty years ago, I first got involved with Cooking Matters as a volunteer and member of the local advisory board. In those days, local chefs -- some of whom have gone on to open multiplerestaurants, write books, and appear on TV -- lined up to teach healthy cooking and nutrition classes to adults at community agencies, and to kids in schools. The six-week program also relied on volunteer nutritionists and classroom assistants. A good time was had by all, and everyone had fun adapting the national curriculum to local ethnic and culinary preferences.
On the web site, I found the name and email address of the woman who coordinates volunteer opportunities; I sent her a note describing briefly my own history with Cooking Matters, and my interest in learning more about the program's current needs. We met over coffee and pastry at a local bakery. She brought me up to date on how the program has grown (and become, as she described it, more "corporate") in the past two decades, and confirmed that, like many other nonprofits, they have been swamped with inquiries about volunteer opportunities since the beginning of the year. Their primary need is for volunteers to work in the classrooms, as assistants or cooking instructors (the program no longer relies solely on professional chefs, but also welcomes talented and confident amateur teachers). Although I taught cooking classes for years, I'm not sure that's how I want to spend my time now, and we shared a few other ideas. "I'm really impressed that you're so intentional about how you approach your volunteer work," she commented.
Being intentional doesn't mean that you always find what you're seeking. More often, it means that you recognize when something is not a good fit, or not a fit right now. As much as I love the Cooking Matters program, it doesn't seem to be quite what I'm looking for as I build this volunteering life. However, I've learned to never say never.
If you have a six-year-old granddaughter who thinks your phone is her personal Game Boy, you'll love these screen cleaners. One side is sticky and adheres to the back of your phone or case; the other side is a microfiber "cloth" that wipes the fingerprints right off your screen. You can buy them in many different shapes and patterns, including glitter dots and zebra prints, and in medium (tablet) and large (laptop) sizes, too. The sticky screen cleaner I keep on my phone is just over one inch square, and the first one I tried lasted almost three months.
On my first day as an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) conversation group assistant at Project Hope, an agency that serves low-income mothers, I worked with two women in an intermediate-level class. One, from the Dominican Republic, has three young children, and wants to study to become a medical assistant. The other, a Somali woman, has raised five kids as a single mom; two are college graduates, one is in college, one will go to Boston University next year, and one is still in high school. She wants to be a nurse and work with cancer patients. For both women, the goal is to improve their English, so they can pass the GED, enroll in certificate programs for their chosen career paths, and lift their families out of poverty.
They attend ESOL classes several days a week. In class, they learn to read and write in English, and the conversation groups help them practice speaking and listening. Their teacher provided me with a list of questions that related to the topic they were working with that day: employment. The questions also touched on less specific concepts, such as "What did you dream of being when you were growing up?" At the teacher's request, we used some of those questions as the basis for brief writing exercises, and I reviewed and corrected grammar and punctuation.
After we worked through the "official" conversation topics, I asked the women if they had any questions for me, questions about me or my own childhood dreams (ballerina, of course), or anything else. Both of the women told me that it can be frustrating to make people understand them in everyday interactions. One woman brought up the very sensitive topic of visits to the doctor. Why, she asked, when she went in for a mammogram and then needed a biopsy, did the doctor not allow her daughter to translate for her and instead insist upon bringing in a translator from the hospital? Now this person (the translator) knows everything about me, the student said, and she felt completely uncomfortable about that. And then we were off and running on the topic of medical privacy, a concept that is complicated to discuss in any language.
The scheduled hour raced by, and I left feeling totally jazzed and ... satisfied. It took me a few months to find this work, and I have so much to learn, but it feels right.
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