Furry Good Neighbors at San Jose Airport Spread Cheer

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Kyra Hubis and Henry James at Mineta San Jose International Airport.

“Henry is in the house!”

The shout out rises from jubilant TSA agents on many Monday mornings at Mineta San Jose International Airport, in San Jose, Calif., as regular visitor Henry James makes his way through security into Terminal B.

With a big smile—and a wagging tail—Henry signals his mutual excitement at seeing his fans. The 5-year-old golden retriever is on his way to his volunteer job as one of the airport’s 13 certified therapy dogs, greeting nervous, frazzled and even distraught passengers, and reducing employees’ stress levels. San Jose is reportedly the first airport to use therapy dogs, and inspired up to a dozen other U.S. airports to launch similar all-volunteer programs in the last two years. [Read more…]

Carter Work Project Day 5: Getting Busy Building Community

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habitat-for-humanity-carter-work-project-volunteersIf I had to boil my five days of volunteering for Habitat for Humanity’s 2013 Carter Work Project (CWP) in San Jose, it would come to this: good people can make a difference in their communities, even in the face of overwhelming problems.

All week long I couldn’t help contrasting what was happening at the national level with what was happening right in my own backyard of Silicon Valley with CWP. The government was shut down, seemingly mired in an impossible conflict, yet all of us working on CWP were getting something truly good done in our communities. Groups like Habitat are tackling huge issues like affordable housing, and make a real impact. Of course Habitat couldn’t do what it does without partnering with municipalities and governmental agencies, but it’s not chained to a political process that sometimes leaves the most vulnerable in the dust.

Thanks to hundreds of volunteers, nearly 30 families in Oakland and San Jose were helped in very valuable ways. Work on a dozen new homes in Oakland progressed, renovation work on two homes in San Jose came closer to completion, and about 15 homes got things like new roofs, energy-efficient windows, new insulation, siding, and numerous repairs both small and large.  [Read more…]

Carter Work Project Day 2: ‘Habitat a Gift to All of Us’

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president-jimmy-carter-rosalynn-habitat-for-humanity-carter-work-project-san-jose-by-pam-marino-good-neighbor-storiesTuesday was Day 2 of Habitat for Humanity’s Carter Work Project (CWP) in San Jose, or rather, The Big Day, since President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn came to work side by side with a partner family and hundreds of volunteers.

The morning started early and in the dark at 6 a.m. for those of us serving as registration volunteers. We fumbled in the dark, using a couple of flashlights and our cell phones to read off names as volunteers showed up. Approximately 275 volunteers checked in over the next couple of hours.

Sometime after 8 a.m. the stars of the event, President and Mrs. Carter, arrived by a small motorcade, and more than 300 people, including volunteers and donors who attended an earlier breakfast, burst into applause as they walked from the parking lot to the outdoor pavilion in Lake Cunningham Park. Moments later the crowd stood up and cheered for President Carter as he took to the stage to speak, prompting him to quip, “Sit down, save your strength, you’re going to need it for later in the day!” [Read more…]

Carter Work Project Day 1: ‘A Culture of Kindness’

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carter-work-project-habitat-for-humanity-east-bay-silicon-valley-jimmy-carter-rosalynn-carter-volunteers-kindnessI spent the day with dozens of volunteers today in San Jose for Day 1 of Habitat for Humanity’s Carter Work Project. One of the best lines of the day was from a long-time volunteer who told me she volunteers because of Habitat’s “culture of kindness.”

Best moment of the day: when a member of one of the partner families—someone who thought she’d never be able to purchase a home in her lifetime—was in tears when I asked her what being able to purchase a Habitat home means to her. She could barely speak.

My day as a volunteer started at 6:30 a.m. at Lake Cunningham Park in East San Jose to help at the registration tables, before heading off to work sites to interview people and take photos as a Social Media Volunteer. Of the volunteers I met today, most were from around the Bay Area, but some were from as far away as Los Angeles.

Tomorrow’s day starts at 6 a.m., to greet the hundreds of volunteers showing up to work with President Jimmy Carter, his wife Rosalynn, and country music stars and husband and wife Garth Brooks and Tricia Yearwood. The couples worked in Oakland today.

Here are some other highlights from the day: [Read more…]

Habitat’s Carter Work Project in Bay Area Begins!

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president-jimmy-carter-rosalyn-carter-work-project-habitat-for-humanity-east-bay-silicon-valleyThis morning marks the beginning of the 30th anniversary Carter Work Project (CWP), Habitat for Humanity’s annual large-scale volunteer event, and I am ready for the roller coaster ride about to launch here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I volunteered to be a “Social Media Volunteer” in San Jose for the week-long service event. Mostly I’ll be doing what I always do as a journalist, interviewing people, taking photos, and writing stories, only on the fly around San Jose. I’ll also be sending bits of content to the people in charge of Habitat’s media for tweets and other social media posts throughout each day.

I’ve wanted to be a volunteer for the CWP for more than 20 years, but family, work, finances, and distance have all been a factor in not signing up. The special service and fundraising event is held in a different location every year, in the U.S. and abroad. When I heard this past spring that the CWP was coming to the Bay Area, I jumped at the chance to help. [Read more…]

Wounded Soldiers Catch Some Waves Thanks to Operation Surf

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Mark Brazwell (front) steadies himself while surfing with Operation Surf in Santa Cruz.

When San Jose native Mark Brazwell  suffered debilitating leg injuries in Afghanistan as part of a U.S. Navy explosives ordinance disposal unit, he had no idea that experience would lead to standing tall while riding the waves in Santa Cruz.

“It’s absolutely amazing; it’s beyond words,” Brazwell said, after a morning of surfing off of Cowell’s Beach near the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. After growing up Boogieboarding, bodysurfing, and skateboarding, he always dreamed of actually surfing. Thanks to a nonprofit program called Operation Surf, that dream became a reality last week—despite his injuries.

Brazwell and nine other soldiers—some missing legs, arms, or feet—got a week of surfing April 15-19, thanks to the program coordinated by the nonprofit Amazing Surf Adventures, in conjunction with another nonprofit, Operation Comfort.

“We had no idea it would be this intense, and there would be so much support,” Brazwell said, referring to the dozens of volunteers who made Operation Surf possible.

There were two volunteer surf instructors in the water for every soldier that particular day, with even more on the beach coordinating food, transportation, lodging and anything else the soldiers needed. [Read more…]

Rural Chinese Children, Schools Prosper With Help From Bay Area Volunteers

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President Steve Ting and one of the students Shin Shin Educational Foundation is helping. Photo courtesy of the foundation.

“A group effort will bring prosperity,” goes the old Chinese saying. In the case of the Shin Shin Educational Foundation, a group effort by volunteers in the San Francisco Bay Area is bringing educational prosperity to rural Chinese school children in the form of sturdy buildings, books, access to computers, and better-trained teachers.

It started in 1997 with a trip back to China for some elders who had settled in the U.S. Noting that schools in their home villages were in poor condition, they returned to their new country, determined to raise money to build new schools for the children of those villages.

Over the past 16 years that small group of elders has grown to hundreds of volunteers, and the Bay Area-based Shin Shin Educational Foundation (“Shin Shin” means “prosperity” in Mandarin) now helps more than 120,000 elementary school children and educators in 333 schools throughout rural provinces. [Read more…]

Good Karma Bikes Spins Forward With Grand Opening

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Good-Karma-Bikes-grand-opening-san-jose-councilman-sam-liccardo-jim-gardner-ribbon-cutting-photo-by-pam-marino-good-neighbor-storiesGood Karma Bikes and its founder and CEO Jim Gardner got a little of that good karma back for all his efforts to help the community, during the grand opening party at the group’s headquarters in downtown San Jose on Thursday, March 28.

With about 100 supporters looking on, San Jose District 3 City Councilmember Sam Liccardo hailed Gardner for being an innovator in his quest to lift people up from homelessness and joblessness through offering bike repairs and job training.

“In this valley we honor  innovation, and we honor innovation in the world of things, things that help us tweet and post and connect in various ways until we’re completely distracted out of our minds, and those innovators certainly deserve their rightful due and undoubtedly they’re well compensated for their innovations,” Liccardo said. “But so much more rare are those innovators who remind us that when we’re done tweeting and posting and connecting, ultimately we’re human beings…I want to thank you for creating something that inspires, lifts up and that empowers, and I think we are all indebted to you and your innovation.” [Read more…]

Giving Back: Great Guidebook for Volunteering, Donating Decisions

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If you’ve ever struggled with where to volunteer your time, or the most efficient way to donate money, Giving Back by Steven P. Ketchpel, Giving-Back-book-Stephen-Ketchpel-volunteering-donating-good-neighbor-storiesPh.D., is the book for you.

Underscore that advice if you have kids and have always wanted to find ways to volunteer as a family, or teach life lessons about the value of donating to causes you care about.

Ketchpel is a San Francisco Bay Area computer scientist and entrepreneur who grew up in a family dedicated to giving back to the community. He writes that even before he was born his parents were very involved in church, Scouting, and spreading kindness throughout their neighborhood. He grew up in Boy Scouts, and when it came time for his Eagle Project he helped his church modernize by computerizing membership records.

Uncovering Passions and Creating Plans

When I first met Ketchpel in December, he described the book to me as a sort of a What Color is Your Parachute for volunteering and donating. In other words, a guidebook to help users discover their passions and create strategic plans for service and giving away money. [Read more…]

Repairing Bikes and Lives

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Jim Gardner

“What goes around, comes around,” is one western interpretation of Karma, and there’s probably no better illustration of the concept than Good Karma Bikes of San Jose, where those who once sought free help for their broken down bicycles are now helping others—while repairing their own lives in the process.

Under the motto, “Transportation for transformation,” the two-year-old nonprofit has grown from one laid off engineer fixing bikes for homeless people in St. James Park, to a team of volunteers that not only fix thousands of bikes each year for homeless and low-income clients, but also provide job training, as well as a friendly place to belong.

Every Saturday in a makeshift bicycle repair shop covered by bright red canopies near the Diridon Station (the clinic has since moved to a warehouse at 345 Sunol St., San Jose), loud cheers of welcome greet returning volunteers who come from all over the South Bay Area and Peninsula. As people line up with their bikes to be fixed between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.—between 30 and 40 every week—each person is greeted with friendly smiles and treated with great care and respect.

There is no charge for the repairs. The clients are considered the same as paying customers, and the volunteer mechanics strive to perform the same quality work as a professional bike shop.

While it may look like Good Karma Bikes is one more nonprofit providing free services to the community, founder and Executive Director Jim Gardner insists it’s something more. [Read more…]