Browsing Category: AmeriCorps

Healthy Competition: Team Indy’s Penny War

Healthy Competition — The Battle Between the ASOs

For Team Indy’s long term project, we are creating a PSA for National HIV Testing Day in June. To help cover the costs of the PSA, Team Indy came up with several creative fundraisers. The month of March, was dedicated to a Penny War between the ASOs in Indianapolis.  Penny wars are an easy way to receive donations, while spurring healthy competition.

point value

The rules behind our Penny War were quite simple. Each ASO was given 2 jars: a “Penny Jar” and a “Sabotage Jar.” ASO’s were encouraged to put pennies and bills into their penny jar and put quarters, nickels, and dimes in the sabotage jar. Pennies and bills counted towards an ASOs score, but silver counts against one’s score.  When silver was placed in the sabotage jar, it could be used to attack another ASO, causing them to lose points. We had 8 ASOs participate, even one ASO that does not have an AmeriCorps members at it.

DSCN0579 The competition was fierce. Our AmeriCorps members at the Damien Center presented the penny war at a staff meeting. By the end of the meeting there was over $130 in the penny jar!!  And that was just day one. By the end of the first week, the team had raised $394.33!!

As the weeks progressed, allegiances formed. Several ASO’s teamed up to sabotage the   Damien Center. These ASOs collectively brought in over $220 (-22,000 points) in silver to sabotage the Damien Center. The Damien Center executive director did not take this too kindly. Once learning that the Damien Center had fallen into third place, he pledged to his staff that if they raised $100, he would match their collective $100 donation. This did the trick. The Damien Center staff easily met that match and brought in more than $300 that week.

The AmeriCorps members were responsible for motivating their ASO’s to keep fighting and keep donating. Members updated their agencies with weekly emails. Some even got creative with song lyrics. Here is an email that went out to all of the Damien Center staff after rebounding back into first place during week 3.

Sing to Queen’s — “We are the Champions”

I’ve paid my pennies
Time after time
I’ve done my counting
But committed no crime
And bad sabotages
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of penny grime
left on my fingers
But I’ve come through

And we mean to go on and on and on and on

We are the champions (for this week) – my friends
And we’ll keep on donating
Till the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the ASOs.

 After 4 intense weeks of competition, the Damien Center came in first place with 37,783 points, closely followed by LifeCare, who brought in more than $200 in the last week. In total the penny war brought in close to $1800!!!!  Team Indy was shocked with the success of the penny war. Their initial goal was to raise just $200, which was easily met in the first week.

The penny war brought new energy to the team. They bonded while counting thousands of pennies and relished in their success. The competition also enabled the AmeriCorps members to interact with people they normally don’t within their agencies and with other agencies.  The Penny War showed that a little healthy competition can spur teamwork, renewed energy, and a lot of pennies.

Penny wars for the win!!!


For our long term project, Team Detroit has partnered with Teen HYPE, a community-based organization that strives to “empower urban youth to thrive while strengthening their communities.” In our work at our host agencies, each of us has witnessed the need for investment in Detroit’s youth and we wanted to help Teen HYPE expand its capacity to do so. Teen HYPE was established in 2004 to empower youth through education, leadership development, and service. Teen HYPE provides diverse programs for  youth.  These include an after-school tutoring program, STD and HIV prevention education and testing, teen pregnancy prevention, and the performing arts activities. Most importantly, Teen HYPE is a safe haven for young people when they have nowhere else to go.

To commemorate 20 years of AmeriCorps and kick-off our long-term project, we helped coordinate and assisted with Teen HYPE’s 10th annual play, “Secrets.” Every year, the youth at Teen HYPE write and perform a play, which is performed for thousands of students from the city of Detroit. The plays address topics that affect children and teenagers on a daily basis, though are not discussed openly due to social stigma. “Secrets” was about the problems young people encounter and how they hide them from their loved ones. “Secrets” portrayed characters struggling with illiteracy at the age of 16, not having enough food to eat, and taking care of their younger siblings because of absent parents. Two of the characters had survived sexual violence. When they attempted to hide their problems from their friends and families, they suffered consequences that included a nervous breakdown, failing grades, and social exclusion. The play showed how important it is for children and teenagers to share their experiences with others and seek help by displaying the positive support that is available within the Detroit community. Although the subject matter was serious, the playwrights used humor, music, and dance to keep their audience alert and engaged throughout, a difficult feat considering a majority of the audience were 13-18 years old.

Secrets shared by Teen HYPE youth

Secrets shared by Teen HYPE youth

Team Detroit contributed by calling every Detroit public school to arrange ticket purchasing and transportation for the students, in the weeks leading up to the play. To recruit volunteers, we arranged for the tickets to have space available on the back for people who were interested in volunteering in the future to write their contact information. We will be contacting them to see if they would be willing to be added to our volunteer pool. On the day of the play, we put together lunches for the students who attended, helped sell concessions and merchandise, and ushered people to their seats.

The most meaningful part of this event for me was watching the kids of Teen HYPE perform their own work. Though it was heartbreaking to know that most of them had drawn upon personal experiences when writing the play and performing, one could see how truly empowering  it was for them to tell the world what they deal with on a daily basis while continuing to dance, sing, and laugh.

The youth featured in the play

The youth featured in the play

My host agency runs a syringe exchange program for injection drug users in Detroit. When we have new participants, we ask them as part of the enrollment questionnaire how old they were when they first started taking drugs.  Many of them say they started at ages ranging from 12-17 years old. Obviously, I am not privy to all aspects of people’s lives and cannot make an accurate conclusion. But watching the kids perform made me wonder if the lives of our clients who started injecting drugs at a young age would be any different if they had had an opportunity to be a part of something like Teen HYPE.

The event was incredibly significant and meaningful, serving as a reminder of why we do what we do every day. We are excited to continue working with Teen HYPE and will use the energy from the play to carry us through to the end!

Kamran, Jerome, and Lindzy are excited for the play!

Kamran, Jerome, and Lindzy are excited for the play!

A Day On

MLK Day was an eventful and fun packed day of service for Team Indianapolis.  The group faced slight hiccups in planning for the day but was able to quickly overcome last minute cancelations.   The day began bright and early at Indy Reads Books with a bit of TLC and elbow grease to spruce up the bookstores donated basement collection.  Shortly after, Team Indy was able to explore the city events offered in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.  A day of service sweetly paired with a day of exploration and free events!  Who could ask for anything more?!

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Indy Reads Books is the only locally owned and operated new and used bookstore within the downtown area of Indianapolis.  The bookstore, more uniquely, is an affiliate of the local not-for-profit organization, Indy Reads.  Indy Reads seeks to provide literacy tutoring through family workshops, outreach programs, one-on-one sessions and ESL courses.  With an estimated 100,000 Marion county residents with reading and comprehension skills reporting at the lowest level of literacy, the funds raised through the bookstores donation resale go a long way.  The life-blood of the organization centers upon the skills and service of their volunteers.  We were very excited to support and serve for Indy Reads Books as we see the organization doing the same for many of our clients.

Working alongside a few other volunteeIMG_5218r organizations, Team Indy hit the basement stacks for a bit of refurbishing!   Cleaning and sprucing! Moving and sorting!  Shelving and ordering!  We did it all! And let me tell you, as someone who worked in a library for four years, it is incredibly frustrating to shelve and organize alphabetically.  Call numbers are so much more practical!  Thank you Library of Congress!!

Shortly after, Team Indy hit the town for a bit of exploration, education and fun!  Indianapolis provided a plethora of opportunities for city residents with free admission to multiple museums and exhibits when a canned good was provided.  We had the opportunity to explore the Rhythm Discovery Center, an interactive exhibit showcasing an array of percussive instruments, as well as the Indiana State Museum.  I finally know the difference between a mammoth and a mastodon!  It’s in the teeth!



Gardening, HIV Testing, & Drag Shows: Team NOLA’s MLK Day of Service

A day ON not a day off- this was our motto going into our Martin Luthor King Day of Service. Since the beginning of time (well, since our service year started…so August), Team NOLA has hoped to collaborate with another local AmeriCorps team. Finally, we had our chance. City Year New Orleans planned a magnificent MLK Day of Service and asked the community to come together and volunteer for a day at Arthur Ashe Charter School . Honestly, going into it I expected it to be a small crowd. I mean, people fake sicknesses for a day off so why would they give up their free time to come do manual labor all morning? Boy, was I wrong. There must have been about 200 people who came to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Everyone was full of energy (I was once I got coffee) and so excited to get out there and make this school beautiful. It was pretty invigorating. All I could think about was how much this moment embodied what MLK Jr. preached his whole life- “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Rebecca and Jeremy waiting to receive our volunteer assignments!

Rebecca and Jeremy waiting to receive our volunteer assignments!

After chugging three cups of coffee, we made our way to meet our assignment leader. Our team was placed with the school’s garden teacher. We were told to clean up the “Rainbow Garden” by weeding, planting, and fertilizing. When we first walked over to the garden, I realized there was nothing rainbow about it. It looked like a scary forbidden forest you would see in a Disney movie. We started by cutting dead plants and weeding- and let me tell you, we had our work “cut” out for us. (Sorry, bad joke)

First we had to get rid of all the dead/dying plants (which was most of the garden...)

First we had to get rid of all the dead/dying plants (which was most of the garden…)

A couple hours later we were ready to plant! The garden teacher placed all the plants for us and we went on a gardening rampage. I wish I had taken a picture of the plant debris we accumulated. Just imagine wheelbarrowing away piles of dead plant- nothing more satisfying.

Jeremy and Rebecca adding some "rainbow" to the Rainbow Garden!

Jeremy and Rebecca adding some “rainbow” to the Rainbow Garden!


Louie and Jeremy making the garden beautiful!

Louie and Jeremy making the garden beautiful!

We ended by fertilizing and watering our baby plants. (I didn’t know such an emotional connection to plants existed until this day) I was really proud, though. This garden is at the front of the school so it’s the FIRST thing kids see in the morning. What better way to start a day than seeing some pretty flowers. It was so wonderful to see a garden transformed in only a matter of hours.


Jeremy fertilizing the new and improved garden.

Jeremy fertilizing the new and improved garden.


Jeremy and I trying to look glam while watering/fertilizing plants.

Jeremy and I trying to look glam while watering/fertilizing plants.

We had a great time working with City Year. The school grounds looked amazing when everyone left- I wish I had a before and after picture!

Team NOLA!

Team NOLA!

Our Day of Service didn’t end there. After rejuvenating ourselves with naps, we headed out to Fusions, a popular bar in NOLA. Louie, Jeremy, and I walked around the bar with condoms & info cards while Rebecca was our “rapid HIV tester” for the night. We offered free testing from 9 p.m. til a little past midnight. It was quite the success! Plus, there was a fabulous drag show (when will I learn to dance like that in heels?) so we had a grand time! :-)

All in all, we had a day full of team-building (manual labor creates bonds), gardening, outreach, and testing. Even though the core value of AmeriCorps is “service”, MLK Day of Service gave us the opportunity to reflect on the needs of our community, work with other service groups, and remember a great man whose actions are still inspiring masses.

 Until next time,

Team NOLA!

If you are interested in learning more about where we volunteered –>

MLK Day of Service: Detroit

MLK Day of Service 2014 proved to be such an exciting time in Detroit that AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Detroit was fortunate enough to take part in two community initiatives within the city. The first community event allowed us to partner with the AmeriCorps Urban Safety Project in conjunction with Wayne State University. The AmeriCorps Urban Safety Project mobilized the community to help board up a series of abandoned homes along various routes to three different schools in Detroit to help foster safer communities for students and citizens alike. Team Detroit was able to serve on Day #2 of this three day service project, assisting with the project’s efforts near Osborn High School. The day started bright and early, and proved to be a cold and snowy day at that, but this did not stop the impressive group of dedicated volunteers that came out to insure this project’s success.


As there are a number of abandoned homes within the city, these homes can unfortunately be a target for illegal dumping. Team Detroit helped to clear away some of the trash and debris from these homes, and dispose of such items properly. In addition, we worked to clear away overgrown bushes and tree limbs to provide a clear route to the windows and doors of these homes, so that they could be boarded up easily. As blight is often a main area of concern for the city, it was nice to see so many groups and citizens come together to play a part in fixing the problem. As a team, we were aware of the blight within the city, but seeing the illegal dumping that takes place at these homes once they are abandoned was very eye-opening. The support of people from the neighborhood, as well as the city authorities, was heart warming, as we were offered hot chocolate and coffee from those passing by. It was wonderful to see the project successfully completed at the end of the day.


In addition, Team Detroit took part in the 11th Annual MLK Day community event in commemoration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event also sought to bring special recognition to the Freedom Summer of 1964, as well as to honor the memory of famed civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer. Several leaders and community members throughout Detroit joined together at the Central United Methodist Church to honor the life of Dr. King and reflect on the many valuable lessons his legacy taught us as a society.


A number of leaders throughout the Detroit community who had taken part in the Civil Rights Movement shared stories of their interaction with Dr. King, as well as Rosa Parks, whose life’s work continues to have an impact on the Detroit community today. We learned that Dr. King gave his famed “I Have a Dream” speech for the first time in Detroit before giving the speech months later in Washington D.C. during the March on Washington. Community choirs and poetry groups gave performances to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a quote from Nelson Mandela was also read aloud, which had a profound impact on Team Detroit:

“Let the strivings of us all prove Martin Luther King Jr. to have been correct, when he said that humanity can no longer be tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war. Let the efforts of us all prove that he was not a mere dreamer when he spoke of the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace being more precious than diamonds or silver or gold. Let a new age dawn.”

During this event, Team Detroit came together with hundreds of fellow community members to march in honor of Dr. King’s life, as well as in commemoration of Freedom Summer 1964, and the lives of those lost during this volatile time in our nation’s history. This time allowed Team Detroit to connect with other community members in meaningful ways, as we reflected upon and discussed Dr. King’s legacy, and how many of the civil rights issues he advocated for in his lifetime are still very much relevant today, as issues of race, gender and equality continue to impact our society.


Team Detroit’s favorite part of this experience was the opportunity to interact with the Detroit community in an authentic way, as well as the opportunity to see the impact of Dr. King’s life on the community at large.

Team Chicago Unites Highland Park Community in Service

AIDS United AmeriCorps Team Chicago ventured out of the city this MLK Day to participate in a massive day of service in Highland Park, a Chicago suburb. Presented by North Shore School District 112 and the Highland Park Human Relations Commission, the MLK Day of Service was the collective effort of nonprofit organizations across northern Chicagoland. Homeless services, animal shelters, financial literacy and education organizations—all types of service agencies gathered together to engage the Highland Park community in service.

Dozens of service organizations assembled at the Highland Park Recreation Center and set up tables providing assorted service opportunities. Local community members and area schools were invited to attend the day of service and participle in a series of mini-service activities with the various agencies. Team Chicago led the tables for the community’s food bank and North shore homeless shelters, working with Highland Park students and their parents to collect, sort, and ship donated food items and toiletry supplies for community residents in need.

Team Chicago sorted and bagged food for the local food bank

Team Chicago sorted and bagged food for the local food bank

It was our first service opportunity to work with entire families–with students and their parents–so the team really appreciated the opportunity to get multiple generations of volunteers involved. We also got maxed-out on manual labor with event set up and takedown; we’re definitely becoming physical labor professionals this year, but please give us a couple week break before you ask us to move anything again!

In addition to the day of service, the day boasted several speakers and activities to commemorate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The day opened with a performance of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and later included student music performances and speeches of community leaders, including Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

A breathtaking performance by the Jesse White Tumblers

A breathtaking performance by the Jesse White Tumblers

The clear highlight of the day was a breathtaking performance by the Jesse White Tumblers, who flipped, sprang, leaped, and wowed everyone with their astounding athleticism. But our team’s resident gymnast, Eric, assures us he’ll have us all in prime tumbling shape for next year’s MLK Day!

Team Chicago after a long day of service!

Team Chicago after a long day of service!