Big Picture News: Celebrating our volunteers

Below is the Big Picture News insert from our Summer 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

I’m sure you’ve heard it a million times: “We couldn’t do it without your support!” But when it comes to Solid Ground volunteers, this nonprofit fundraising mantra is much more than a platitude – it’s a reality.

King County RSVP Director Jen Gahagan with longtime volunteer Paul Jeganathan

King County RSVP Director Jen Gahagan with longtime volunteer Paul Jeganathan

Volunteers like Matt (see our 8/2015 Groundviews lead story) profoundly increase the impact Solid Ground makes in communities across Seattle and King County. Last year, over 5,000 volunteers gave 247,358 hours of service to the Solid Ground community. (The vast majority, 197,936 hours, were contributed by volunteers 55 and older!)

By the Independent Sector’s standard, one volunteer hour in Washington state equals $27.54. In 2014, this translated to nearly $6.8 million in volunteer labor – more than one quarter of Solid Ground’s annual budget! We very literally could not accomplish our work without them.

Volunteering is win-win, changing lives for the better both for our program participants and our volunteers. Volunteers share their talents, learn new skills, and make connections while taking action to improve our community and help our neighbors in need. They play a meaningful role in something big.

Many of Solid Ground’s 22 programs and services rely on volunteers. Opportunities range from one-time to long-term and include…

  • Hands-on projects: Grow fresh, organic food for local food banks, or help renovate residential building spaces.
  • Direct service with people: Tutor and mentor kids coming out of homelessness, or teach children, teens, adults and families about nutrition and cooking.
  • Community outreach: Help communities register to vote, or represent Solid Ground at informational events.
  • Behind the scenes: Help put on events for our program participants and supporters … and more!

Lettuce Link is one Solid Ground program that relies heavily on volunteers to work with and in communities to grow and share fresh, nourishing food.

Lettuce Link Program Manager Nate Moxley says, “Volunteers are the life force of Lettuce Link. Their work and dedication allow us to manage two education and access farms where we host hundreds of classes, field trips and community groups every year.” Additionally, volunteer giving gardeners donate the bounty of their labors, and last year grew more than 55,000 lbs of fruits and vegetables for food banks and meal programs.

Senior volunteers also make an enormous contribution to the Solid Ground community. Our RSVP (Retired & Senior Volunteer Program) matches volunteers 55 and older to opportunities both with Solid Ground programs and with 52 partner organizations across King County.

RSVP Director Jen Gahagan says, “We are so grateful and appreciative for the support and commitment of our senior volunteers. They provide a wealth of knowledge and experience which help us tackle our community’s greatest challenges.”

Thank you to all of our amazing volunteers!

For more info on volunteering, visit our Volunteer webpage, or contact our Volunteer Coordinator at 206.694.6825 or volunteers@solid-ground.org.

Summer 2015 Groundviews: Volunteers, making a direct impact

Below is the lead story of our Summer 2015 Groundviews newsletter. To read the entire newsletter or past issues, please visit our Groundviews webpage.

Through 12 years of volunteering, Matt* has tutored scores of students at our Broadview Shelter and Transitional Housing for women and their kids who are leaving domestic violence. Along the way he’s helped students get into major universities, and provided vital witness and support to others.

Matt, a longtime volunteer tutor at Broadview

Matt, a longtime volunteer tutor at Broadview

Matt began volunteering at Broadview in the fall of 2003, when he relocated to Seattle to pursue a tech career after graduating from Duke University. “I had done various volunteering opportunities when I was in college and high school; I was just looking for a way of getting involved out here,” he says.

Comfortable with math and a steady role model, Matt became a weekly tutor with middle and high school kids, many of whom face considerable challenges. In addition to overcoming domestic violence, Broadview residents include refugees and other families who have suffered additional trauma.

A flawed system
In Matt’s experience, the public education system often fails to adequately support these students. “They might be in huge classes where the teachers just don’t have time. I don’t fault the teachers. The system is not set up to help kids who may have been in a different school every year because of their homelessness. They can be three grade levels behind and getting pushed forward because we don’t hold kids back anymore. So they are pushed forward, pushed forward, pushed forward, and they wind up in middle school and high school.

“I’ve seen kids in high school probably at a fourth or fifth grade level. I think a comparatively small amount of input time can yield really large benefits for some of these kids. And the earlier that you can get them academic help can have really profound impacts on how they do later on.”

One of Matt’s students now goes to the independent Lakeside School, another attends Stanford University, and another graduated from University of Washington. The Stanford student now volunteers at Broadview as well. “Which is really awesome,” Matt says. “But here is the thing: Those kids, they needed a lot of help, but they really cared. They were passionate, they worked really hard. So I helped a lot, but I didn’t have to necessarily sit and explain, ‘Doing homework is important’ or ‘This is why we would do this.’ They really cared.

“The flipside of that is I’ve had many kids where the conversation ends up being, ‘Well, why am I doing this, why don’t I just drop out of high school?’ It ranges all the way from kids like that to kids who – it makes me sad – who are juniors in high school and will say ‘I want to be a video game designer’ or ‘I want to be a rocket scientist’ or something like that – but they can’t add.”

Opening doors
Matt says, “I think education is just super important. It is super important at least to empower people to have whatever opportunities they might want. I mean, people can go and choose to do anything with their life, but without certain basics, there are certain doors that I think will forever be closed.

“I think education is just super important."

“I think education is just super important.”

“I am very privileged and I recognize that. Good education, good job. I think coming here actually helps ground me in some of the realities that not only go on in this city, but go on elsewhere. I am personally upset by the increasing income inequality in this city.”

A positive impact in the local community
“My wife and I both feel that it is important to engage with the local community where we live. I’ve always been pretty impressed with Solid Ground. I feel like I am having some positive impact.

“We donate money to Solid Ground and we donate to other places. But I don’t think it is the same as donating your time. The dollar value of coming here one hour per week is not necessarily huge compared to what a check can give. But I feel like I am actually having a real direct impact in someone’s life.

“I think when I was younger, and maybe a little more gung-ho, I would have said, ‘We can bring any kid up to grade level!’ Or something like that. And now I don’t think that. I am more pragmatic in the sense that if I can come – and with some of the more difficult kids, if I can just show them that I am a responsible adult willing to come here once a week and care – that might be good enough. That might be really important; that’s the best that I can do with that kid.”

Visit Broadview’s webpage for more info.

*Matt requested that we not use his last name.

New additions to Marra Farm!

The children's shed got a makeover!

The children’s shed got a makeover!

If you haven’t been to Marra Farm lately, things might look a lot different next time you visit! Lettuce Link has some incredible recent additions to the farm, thanks to our amazing partners and hardworking volunteers.

Compost Bins

Young’s Market donated their time and money installing six new compost bins at Marra. Lettuce Link is thrilled to have these new bins, as they will help us build compost onsite and move us away from importing compost from other locations. By the start of next growing season, there will be lots of compost ready to add great nutrients to the soil.

Mushroom Hut

Marra has a brand new mushroom hut and mobile farm stand courtesy of Magnusson Klemencic Associates (MKA). The engineers at MKA designed the building and came to the farm en masse on Saturday, September 13 to bring their vision to life. Produce from Lettuce Link’s giving Garden at Marra Farm is available through a work trade program to anyone who has trouble affording and accessing fresh vegetables. The new mushroom hut will allow Lettuce Link to meet diversified interests from individuals in the community, at our partnering food banks, and at South Park’s Community Kitchen nights, and is a great educational tool for children and adults who are growing food for fun or to become self-reliant.

Mobile Farm Stand

One of Lettuce Link’s areas of emphasis is creating access points in the south end of Seattle for fresh produce. For individuals who don’t have time or capacity to participate in our work trade program, the mobile farm stand is a particularly exciting project. The stand creates a space directly in the middle of South Park at the farm for people to find affordable, organic produce. Local growers in the Marra Farm Coalition can sell their produce directly onsite. Stop by Saturdays from 11am-2pm to pick up some veggies from Marra Farm’s collective of growers!

Children’s Shed Addition & Makeover

South Park Arts gave our children’s shed a great makeover, complete with chalkboards on the walls! This group has worked with children at Marra for years on many art projects, and it’s wonderful to see this lasting, colorful piece thanks to them.

Hamm Creek Signage

Lastly, a very exciting, beautiful new project this year was made possible due to the King County Conservation District, Subaru Foundation, and the Russell Family Foundation. Brand new multilingual signs (in English, Spanish and Vietnamese) about the Hamm Creek Loop were installed along the perimeter of the farm on beautiful cedar posts. Come by for a walk around Marra and you’ll read about the animals you might find in and around the creek, take a peek into the water with a periscope, and learn about foraging native edible berries and the history of the creek.

If you or a group are interested in volunteering with Lettuce Link, please contact volunteers@solid-ground.org.

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September 2014 Groundviews: ‘Sharing in the goodness’

Groundviews is Solid Ground’s quarterly newsletter for our friends and supporters. Below is the September 2014 Groundviews lead story; please visit our website to read the entire issue online.

Stacy Davison in her garden (photo by Jenn Ireland)

Stacy Davison in her garden (photo by Jenn Ireland)

When you step through the front gate of Stacy Davison’s Maple Leaf home in North Seattle, you enter a lush gardening wonderland. Ornamentals and flowers commingle happily with edible crops. Trellises tower over raised beds – one bordered festively with partially-buried wine bottles – and many labeled with creative hand-painted signs. Wind your way down the flagstone path to the backyard, and you’ll find more verdant richness, plus treasures such as a bunny hutch, a chicken coop with a “living” roof covered in succulent plants, and a former garage converted into a cozy teaching space: Stacy’s one-room Seattle Urban Farm School.

Solid Ground’s Lettuce Link program makes it easy for backyard and P-Patch gardeners like Stacy to donate their extra produce to local food banks and meals programs, getting fresh vegetables onto the tables of families who need them. For about three years now, Stacy has donated 10% of her harvests from her bountiful garden to her neighborhood food bank. Then about two years ago, she says, “I got inspired to teach a class, posted it on my blog, and it sold out.” Initially holding classes in her living room and garden, last winter she transformed her “junky old garage” into her schoolhouse. And keeping in tradition with her commitment to donate 10% of her harvests, she decided to donate 10% of class proceeds to Lettuce Link as well – a natural next step for her.

Setting down roots

When you see her garden, it’s hard to believe that Stacy, a 5th grade teacher by profession, previously “had no idea what a giving garden was.” But when a friend invited her to a fundraising harvest party in the backyard giving garden of former Lettuce Link Farm Coordinator Sue McGann, she says, “I was enthralled with Sue’s garden, and mine was just taking off. And I remember distinctly coming home and being inspired to start a giving garden of my own as a way of giving back. I was excited!” She immediately wrote a blog post announcing it: “I’m going to be a giving gardener!” Then she began to plot out which beds she’d use to grow extra food to donate to her local food bank via Lettuce Link.

Stacy says that as a kid, her family moved around so much that she knew she wanted to have a home, and she literally ‘set down roots’ as soon as she could. She describes her personal journey with gardening: “My dad was a musician; we were on food stamps. As kids, we thought that that was cool money! But later, I understood what that meant: not having money. We ate a lot of cereal for school lunch – and a lot of pancakes for dinner – foods you end up eating when you can’t really afford to buy food. I remember being hungry a lot.” Also, she says, “I work with students who don’t have access to food that I would like them to be eating. So personally it kind of tugs at me.”

Even now, she says, “Donating food can be challenging. When you spend a lot of time growing it, there’s a tendency to want to…” she hesitates a moment, “…not hoard it, but enjoy it. But I’m fortunate to be in this place now, and to have a space where I can grow my own food. This is my passion and love in life.

“My mission is to grow as much food in my yard as possible to provide food for myself – and I want to share the food as my gratitude for what I’m able to enjoy. And it feels good! I always feel so proud of what I’m donating, and being able to contribute in that way. I’m sharing in the goodness that I’m enjoying for myself.”

When she started teaching classes, Stacy says, “I realized my teaching skills plus my passion for gardening came together, and I came alive more than I have in a long time.” In her first year as a giving gardener, “I donated about 10% of the total pounds that I grew. So that’s been my mark: 10% of Farm School proceeds go to Lettuce Link – money and food to people who need it. Setting a goal for myself, it’s sort of like making a direct deposit.

Stacy at the front of a class in her Seattle Urban Farm School (photo by Jenn Ireland)

Stacy at the front of a class in her Seattle Urban Farm School (photo by Jenn Ireland)

From giving gardener to donor

“If you make a commitment and be really clear about what the commitment’s going to be, then it’s easier to stick to, or it becomes a habit. For me, the percentage has been a fun challenge, and I don’t even think about it anymore, it’s just what I committed to, and I feel good about it. It’s like a bill. A feel-good bill!”

Making the transition from volunteering to also being a donor “felt really manageable to me. I believe in the organization. Donating monetarily has allowed me to feel like I’m still contributing, even when my harvests aren’t strong or I’m not able to participate as actively because of time. I want to do my part to support it in whatever way I can,” she says.

“My work with Lettuce Link has been a way of making my gardening activity even more proactive and connected with the community than it was before. I’m not just playing in the dirt – even though that’s great and it is my therapy. It’s less a solitary thing, less just about me and what I’m eating, and more about what I’m eating plus what I’m able to share. I feel immense gratitude for what I have and what I’m able to contribute. So that’s been amazing, and it feels good.”

Seattle Community Farm: classroom-style

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The Seattle Community Farm (SCF) is really something else. Most of my young adolescent life was spent going to school not too far away in Columbia City, but the neighborhood now is much more developed than it used to be. So I got lost.

But three light rail crossings and two U-turns later, a large recently installed sign told me that I’d arrived to a narrow (1/2-acre) strip of land that would otherwise be overgrown with blackberry bushes and giantess maple-looking trees. The strip has been turned into a full-blown farm in which 100% of the produce goes to local residents of the Rainier Vista housing development in the Rainier Valley neighborhood and the Rainier Valley Food Bank.

For the next three hours, I found myself beside complete strangers who had one thing in common with me: We came to work. We harvested tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and zucchini. We prepared beds and planted spinach and bok choy. We cut back some invasive, thorny blackberry vines. And we did something adults don’t often like to admit: We learned.

Scott Behmer is the SCF Coordinator. He told us all what to do with such enthusiasm and timeliness I had a feeling he was well versed in shaping up us (sometimes clueless) volunteers. And while we hacked at those pain-seeking blackberry bushes and burrowed our faces deep into the leaves of cucumber plants searching for ripe ones, Scott made a point to engage us in little-known facts about plants and the food system in Seattle. Like the fact that there are 29 food banks in Seattle (we all guessed around 10). As we prodded the thorny cucumbers, he asked us how long we thought the vegetables we picked that day would last at the food bank. A couple days, we guessed uncertainly? Actually, it was a couple of hours. That’s how in demand fresh, organic produce is in a community that cannot afford it otherwise. One other volunteer mentioned her experience seeing people in a pretty long line at a local food bank. All eight of us fell silent, looking for more ripe cucumbers that weren’t there.

As city-dwellers, small scale gardening and urban farming can make us feel more connected to the food we eat. Being part of the growing and picking experience can put the food on our plate under an entirely different light. But planting, watering, nurturing and harvesting while knowing full well that you, yourself, will not be able to enjoy the taste of them (save a few rogue cherry tomatoes) – but that someone with little time and fewer resources will – well that adds an entire dimension of humanity to food. Think on that a while.

But also keep in mind that there’s no standing around at the SCF. Get to work!

Financial Empowerment: Together We Thrive

This blog post was written by Emily Kuo, a Duke Engage intern who has been working with multiple departments at Solid Ground this summer, but with a focus in Supportive Services. The post originally appeared on the Duke Engage Seattle blog
guest column button

Week four has come and gone. I can hardly believe that we’re past the halfway mark in our placements and our Seattle experiences. We’re in the thick of things now – our routines are set and projects are flooding in. What was once a vague suggestion of an action plan is now concrete and the deadlines very real. One of the main projects my community partners at Solid Ground was hoping for me to complete was a video that can be viewed by both the staff and the clients they serve to energize them about financial empowerment and how it could benefit everyone, staff and clients alike. For the past three weeks I had been collaborating with Vera Zhang, the Duke Engage intern placed in the Communications Department of Solid Ground, to conceptualize, film, and edit the project.

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Gerald Wright, the Hunger & Food Resources Director, on set

I had not met Vera until we were both in Seattle and discovered we were placed at Solid Ground. Our friendship developed into a trusting team dynamic as we learned that our placement supervisors wished for us to work on this rather large-scale project together.

Teamwork is a tricky thing. It’s an ever elusive concept and a frequent buzzword flying around large corporations, small firms, and pretty much every social sphere we’ve been in since we were children. So what is it? What does teamwork mean to you? Is it all in the bottom line and whether your group accomplishes the goal, or is it something that permeates through every step of the creative process?

To me, a great team doesn’t need to have fancy frills and titles. It doesn’t take multiple experts coming together to form a dream team. A great team can be as simple as two minds coming together, understanding the mutual end goals, adapting to whatever limits exist and balancing out the others’ strengths and weaknesses.

It was a great pleasure working with Vera because we both wanted to do whatever it took to create a professional, high-quality output. Though there were some setbacks and limitations to the equipment and short timeframe, we both tried to think innovatively about how to overcome these trials and fed off of each other’s energy and enthusiasm. There were some rough moments during the process when we broke a light bulb and frame on the first day, but we were there to encourage each other despite the fact that we both wanted to cry in frustration. When we felt overwhelmed, we’d allow ourselves a pick-me-up at Molly Moon’s or our favorite sushi lunch. We allowed each other the time and space to recharge and reapply fully to the project.

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On the set shooting Kira Zylstra, Stabilization Services Director

Moreover, as we worked intimately over the course of these last few weeks, I found that our strengths and weaknesses really complemented each other. Vera’s attention to lighting and detail were crucial in the ultimate high-level production, whereas I wouldn’t have weighed the importance of such things. I was much more focused on the lines and whether they felt natural or scripted, and finding the energy in each individual actor. Her skill in PowerPoint proved integral when she created beautiful animated infographics that appeared much more high-end than mere PowerPoint wizardry. Meanwhile, I edited the footage and music and we synthesized the two to create the final rough-cut. Through it all, our supervisors Mike and Judy were endlessly helpful and gave so much guidance and support to us. When our video finally got its debut at the All-Staff Meeting on Wednesday, July 23rd, there was a gratifying sense of relief and pride. So many of our coworkers came together to help us and be a part of our video despite their busy schedules, and it was so wonderful for everyone to see the finished product.
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Our video being displayed at the All-Staff Meeting

Take a look!

Washingtonians love to volunteer!

This post was contributed by Chelsey Loeffers, Solid Ground’s Volunteer Coordinator.

Community volunteers and Solid Ground Board Members at a Seattle Community Farm volunteer work party

Community volunteers and Solid Ground Board Members at a Seattle Community Farm volunteer work party

Volunteerism in our country has hit a five year high, says the recent Volunteering and Civic Life in America report from the Corporation for National & Community Service. In 2011, over 64 million Americans donated almost eight billion hours of volunteer service to organizations nationwide!

Washington ranked 9th out of all 50 states in volunteerism rates; 34.4% of our residents volunteer! Our region specifically also came out on top – the Seattle-Metro area ranks 3rd in volunteerism out of the 51 major metropolitan areas in the country. That’s over 936,000 volunteers!

Solid Ground depends on its volunteer force to create positive change in our community, and we are so lucky to live in a community, state and country that values volunteerism. Congratulations to each one of you for being a part of such a positive big picture.

For more information about volunteer opportunities at Solid Ground, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator at volunteers@solid-ground.org or 206.694.6825. Find more information about volunteerism in the United States at www.volunteeringinamerica.gov.

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