Browsing Category: AmeriCorps

Team Indy- Make a Difference Day

Team Indy mid-afternoon at Auntie Mame’s Child Development Center

Team Indianapolis banded together on October 26th at Auntie Mame’s Child Development Center to prepare for their 5th annual Fall Festival.

Auntie Mame’s provides high quality, culturally responsive early education and school age programs to equip children to become tomorrow’s leaders. As a team of nine, Team Indy worked to transform the basement corridors of the facility into a frightening haunted house, a pivotal attraction for their festival. The free festival provides the community with a safe place to celebrate Halloween. Traditional trick-or-treating is not an option for many of the local children as they live in a high crime neighborhood.

This year’s theme was to create a haunted corn maze. We worked tirelessly to cloak the walls in darkness, paint frightening murals, create spooky lighting and haunt the rooms with terrifying decorations. Transforming these few rooms and hallways was no easy feat. Who knew that stringing cobwebs was so difficult!

Erin streaming cob webs

Erin stringing cob webs

With only two employees working on the fall festival, Team Indianapolis provided the much needed power to conquer the daunting task and provided a bit of respite for those workers. Moreover, this was our first all day project as a team where we were able to delegate tasks, display teamwork, express our creativity and see a finished a product. Although we were unable to attend the festival, we are all proud to provide a safe and slightly frightening service to the community.

Sarah painting with fake blood.

Sarah painting with fake blood.

Team NOLA goes MADD

Team NOLA goes MADD? You may think 1) I don’t know how to spell “Mad” or 2) the AIDS United AmeriCorps Team New Orleans is actually going crazy. I promise neither are true. MADD stands for “Make a Difference Day,” a National Day of Service that took place on October 26.  On this year’s MADD, AIDS United Team NOLA set out to do some good ole soup kitchen volunteering.

Except this isn’t just any other soup kitchen. Food for Friends (FFF) is an outstanding food delivery service, delivering meals to home-bound folks who are affected by HIV in the New Orleans area- and soon Baton Rouge!  Although FFF has been around for over 14 years, its site was lost during Hurricane Katrina, leading the organization to run out of a temporary location for several years. Just recently it moved to a brand spankin’ new kitchen, with plans to expand its services to other cities in Louisiana and even to cancer patients who are unable to cook for themselves.


Our duties for the day started with packing and sealing the “dry good” breakfast. Each breakfast had 7 nonperishable items in it- all yummy and nutritious!  Jeremy, Louis, Rebecca and Morgan had a nice assembly line going while I managed the sealing machine (by the far the coolest machine I’ve ever played with). After all the meals were put in dry storage, we moved on to helping with the hot meals. Some of us scooped, some of us stacked, some of us sealed. We discovered Team NOLA’s hidden talent: assembly lines.

giving-food-webHoucine Harrabi, FFF’s fantastic and eccentric chef,  explained each part of the meal to us. He strives to make his meals healthy and delicious – which can be hard to do when making food for so many people. He even let us try out the meals because as he says- “I wouldn’t give any of our clients food I wouldn’t eat myself.” And let me tell you- IT WAS DELICIOUS. Shrimp pasta, spiced cauliflower, a yummy sauce (you can probably tell I don’t know anything about cooking). Our taste buds were very happy. Plus, Houcine has jazz blasting in his kitchen at all times. He is not only a master chef, but an unreal dancer and musician. The guy can do it all!

After sampling the hot meal for the day, we finished sealing and labeling all the meals. They ended up looking a little something like this:


Food for Friends serves about 50 clients right now, but will continue to expand in several ways. Glen Kahrman, the program manager, explained to us how the current program works and how he wants to make it even better. Right now, food is delivered to clients Tuesdays and Thursdays every week. There is also a food pantry clients can access when needed. Listening to both Glen and Houcine talk about their work made me truly thankful we have such humble, devoted people in this line of work.

This is such an important service in our community. Remembering to take medications, dealing with side effects, going to work, picking the kids up from school, trying to squeeze in some physical activity- yeah, having a warm, healthy meal waiting for you would be a nice relief. It’s another thing those affected by HIV don’ have to worry about.

Overall, our team really enjoyed our day with Food for Friends. I know I am extremely impressed with the quality of food and services provided to the clients- and I have volunteered in several soup kitchens in my life (pretty sure my mom was determined to volunteer at every soup kitchen in the state during my reluctant teenage years). This is a valuable organization that is serving our community the best it can. I sincerely cannot wait to see how it grows in the coming years.Team NOLA will continue to volunteer with FFF in the coming months- we even get to help them make pies for Thanksgiving!

teamnola-webTo end with a cheesy but true statement- everyday should be thought of as “Make a Difference Day”. Go MADD, give back, learn about your community.





Team DC Unveils the T.H.E. Memorial Garden

This year Team DC decided to collaborate with Transgender Health Empowerment in their efforts to enhance the quality of life of the diverse transgender population that they serve. Our team is worked hard to provide support to their clients, and revitalize the plot of land adjacent to THE. Our efforts were to help allow THE clients to take ownership of a community garden and provide a space to gather and facilitate community building.

Starting in February, we began to create a detailed plan on how the garden was going to look like, how much it was going to cost us, how we would raise the money and what kind of long-term effect we wanted the community garden to leave. We literally began the renewal of the garden with a pair of gloves, a few trash bags and our hands. We spent one full day pulling weeds, some reaching the height of our hips.  The messy plot of land was filled with rocks, clay, bricks, needles, broken glass, trash, you name it! However, once we finished the garden, it was filled with lots of herbs and vegetables including zucchini squash, oregano, okra, basil, tomatoes and our favorite, chocolate mint!  The goal was to have not only a peaceful place for their low-income, HIV positive clients to relax in but for them to also adapt a healthy lifestyle with fresh vegetables and herbs that they could hand pick.

After months of running in an out of Home Depot, getting assistance from local carpenters Danny and Randy, raising nearly $2,000, days in the heat working tirelessly, a 10′ x 12′ patio, picnic table, grill, bench, a hydrangea tree and many shrubs, vegetables and herbs later, we decided to reveal the garden on June 27, which happened to be National HIV Testing Day.  Our team ended up administering over 80 HIV tests to people in the local community along with passing out fish and hamburger trays as incentives for getting tested!

Team DC is so proud of our hard work as a team! Being able to create a space for such a small organization that serves a population that is constantly overlooked was a very rewarding way to end our year as Americorps members.

On the make: Team Chicago checks in

In mid-May, Team Chicago broke ground on the Bettendorf Place Community Courtyard.We expected to get dirty and sweaty as we made way for the perennials and annuals that now grace Bettendorf’s front and backyards. Instead, the sun kept the chill out of the air and seasoned greenthumbs made sure more soil ended up around the plant than on our hands. With the usual difficulties of a large scale planting project out of the way, there was time for us to take in the magnitude of what we had done and were doing: making a significant, sustainable contribution to the fabric of a community.

Making. Admittedly, Team Chicago did the easy part: we put a little force on a few shovels, and in a matter of hours a courtyard was there. Our partners in this project (and science) ensured that the plants were ready to put in the ground when planting day rolled around. Yet, it is appropriate to name what we’ve done at Bettendorf as making: The Community Courtyard was – and is – a creation in process.

When we initially brainstormed for our long term project, we wanted it to be as much about the community we were serving as possible. We did not want a project that whose only traces in a year’s time would be a picture or two. We wanted to sponsor something with both staying power and growing power. As the Bettendorf Community Courtyard continues to thrive without us, Team Chicago is confident that we’ve set a lasting process in motion: Upon arriving at Bettendorf to start planting, residents were already out enthusiastically planting the first bulbs.

It’s June now. On the 22nd, we’ll see the burgeoning fruits of our labor as we host the grand opening of the Bettendorf Community Courtyard with a BBQ. Long after the pictures are taken, the Courtyard will be there, ready for continual celebrations and conversations of a community in the making.

Team Indianapolis Unveils Wellness Garden to Public

After six months of beautification, Team Indianapolis welcomed the public to the Wellness Garden within Miss Mary’s Garden on June 12th.  Situated on the west side of Indianapolis, renovations to this garden were made possible through a collaboration with the Center of Wellness for Urban Women, Inc (CWUW), Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, and the Purdue Cooperative Extension.  Team Indianapolis has been working since the beginning of the year to make this artistic addition possible.

“Our original goal for the long-term project was to create a space for people living with and affected by HIV to express themselves.  With advances in medication and medical treatment, people with HIV are living long and healthy lives, so we decided to focus on the idea of life and holistic wellness rather than limiting our vision to a single disease.  It was amazing to see the response that we got from the community and the art projects that were submitted,” said Lisa Passmore, AmeriCorps team member.

The Wellness Area consists of a path made of bricks with inspiring messages for health and wellness painted by volunteers, clients of the nearby Damien Center, and neighbors.  A new Health Circle also adorns the yard, offering an artistic space for retreat, group activities, and exercise. Various art projects and contributions are placed throughout the yard to attract and accommodate wildlife and visitors.  All the beautification projects were completed with supporter donations and through a special grant from the Office of Faith-Based Community Initiative.  With the help of community members and students from Butler University, the majority of these works were installed as part of National Volunteer Week in mid-April.

“The addition of the Wellness Area makes this garden more than just a place to grow vegetables. It will also be a hub for education about sustainable gardening, community beautification, and garden and art therapy,” said Rhonda Bayless, executive director of the CWUW and one of the community speakers at the garden’s opening event.

The garden, on the donated former home of Miss Mary Kinchlow, was built by the CWUW in 2010 as an educational resource for the west side neighborhood. The garden is heavily focused on the seven dimensions of wellness, as originally described by Dr. Hettler of the National Wellness Institute.  Team Indianapolis was proud to be a part of this community effort and create a natural wellness space for all to enjoy for many years to come.

In bloom: a longterm project update from Team Chicago

Photo of Team Chicago planting

by Brittaney Bethea, Member, AU AmeriCorps Team Chicago 

As we inch toward the summer months, the residents at Alexian Brothers’ Bettendorf Place have a lot to look forward to. To encourage them to engage more with one another, the outdoor space surrounding Bettendorf Place will be transformed into a community courtyard.

Team Chicago presented this idea to Alexian Brothers mid-December last year. The Team’s vision was simply to provide a space where the support of friends and peers can reduce stress, encourage a positive outlook on life, and motivate individuals to remain proactive about their health. Since the beginning of 2012, Team Chicago has been planning and fundraising to ensure this project’s success.  In January, we held a focus group with Bettendorf residents to ensure the courtyard would meet their expectations. In February, we began a vigorous fundraising campaign that included fundraising through and partnering with local Chicago businesses such as Target, Early to Bed, Trader Joe’s and Home Depot to gain monetary and in-kind donations. Additionally, God’s Gang, a horticulture organization, and Whole Foods have agreed to provide flowers, plants, seeds and planting supplies.

Most recently, “Benefit for Bettendorf” was held in early April to also raise funds for the cause at MultiKulti, a multicultural community center located in the heart of Chicago serving the public as a central location for diversity, artistic expression, and activism for social justice. The event’s purpose was threefold: to promote safe sex, to raise awareness of the ongoing HIV/AIDS epidemic, and to raise money for Bettendorf Place. Thanks to a slew of spoken word artists, musical guests, and graffiti artists, the event was a huge success!

Soon picnic tables, benches, and other courtyard furniture will be purchased for the courtyard. As we enter the last two months of our AmeriCorps year, Team Chicago is gearing up to landscape the courtyard and host a celebratory end-of-project BBQ at Bettendorf. The Team is thankful for the friends, family, and co-workers who have supported the long-term project thus far. Stay tuned for updates on our project and a long list of thank yous to our supporters. Hope you’re as excited as we are to reveal the flourishing new courtyard to the Bettendorf community!