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It’s almost Spring and baseball season is underway.  My kids are starting practices and getting ready for their first game.  Seems the perfect time to introduce The Miracle League of San Diego – this is an amazing organization that provides children with mental or physical disabilities the chance to play baseball on a team in an organized league.    They have built a $1.2m baseball field in San Dieguito park in Solana Beach. 

They have a Spring season with opening day coming up on March 21st.    You can volunteer and be a buddy for one of the players.  You are paired up throughout the season and help them hit, run and score!  It’s an incredibly rewarding experience for any age.  the20field20with20players

Check out the incredible photos!    And head out to the ballpark to check it out every Saturday from 10 a.m. til 4:00 p.m.

Volunteer San Diego

You can’t really talk about volunteer opportunities in the San Diego area without talking about Volunteer San Diego.  It’s like Volunteer Match – it basically matches individuals based on their interests with a variety of different types of volunteer opportunities.  You can find specific projects to help out with or can look for more of an ongoing commitment.vsd_logo1

There’s also some great information on different types of community issues that you might want to learn about and lots of valuable resources for anyone involved in volunteering.  It’s a great site – check it out!

The Monarch School

I’m often struck by all of the negative news that you read about in the papers and hear on the news.  Makes the world seem scary and dangerous.  But it’s not a true representation of the world.  It’s the age-old glass half-empty vs. glass half-full – what do you choose to look at and what do you see?

I choose to focus on all of the amazing things that people are doing to help and inspire others.  And what’s you start looking, it’s unbelievable the number of “angels” that are out there.   logo_monarch_school

The Monarch School is an organization filled with angels  — it’s a school for homeless children located in downtown San Diego.  What’s unique about the Monarch School is that it’s run by the San Diego County of Education but it’s is also an official California non-profit corporation.  So…it gets to conduct fundraising efforts like any other non-profit and it is incredibly well-supported.  Now that you’ve heard of it, you’ll see their fundraisers all over the place.

There are over 100 students at Monarch School, ages 7 – 18.    They provide basic education as well as healthcare, food, clothing, personal hygiene.  They also provide a safe haven for these kids with great before and after school programs.

They always need volunteers – to tutor kids, help with administrative work, help out with fundraisers, etc.  I have a friend who has been reading with kids every week for the last year or so and loves it!  Check out their Get Involved page for more info.

Ronald McDonald House

This week I’d like to talk about the Ronald McDonald House Charities.  We are all familiar with McDonald’s,their happy meals, fries and McFlurries, but many of us are not as familiar with this great organization.   Ronald McDonald House Charities was founded in 1984 in memory of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc.    There are now over 300 Ronald McDonald Houses around the world.  These homes provide a place for families to stay while their children are being treated in a nearby hospital.  They provide home-cooked meals, private bedrooms and playrooms for children  – all free to the families.  Without these houses, families have to stay in hospital waiting rooms or hotels.

The Ronald McDonald House in San Diego is located right next to Children’s Hospital.  It currently has just 12 bedrooms for families which isn’t nearly enough.  There is usually a waiting list of 60 families waiting to get in.   The exciting news is that they are about to open a brand new facility above the new parking structure that will have 47 bedrooms!  The new facility is expected to be open to families this summer.

There are lots of ways to help — one great way is to go make a home-cooked meal for the families that are staying there.  Our Kids Korps group went down on a Sunday and provided a salad and potato bar to all of the families and did an art project with the kids.  It was  big hit.  You just need to call and pick a night – great for company employees to do together! 

You can also check out their wishlist and donate needed items – toys, books, etc.  You can volunteer there, and of course, all financial donations are welcome too.  Check out the different ways to get involved.

My Girlfriend’s Closet

Today, I took my case child from Voices for Children (see post below) and her older half sister, Erin, to My Girlfriend’s Closet.    It’s an event where teenage girls, who are homeless or in foster care, can go and “shop” for clothes that have been donated by other teens.

I wasn’t familiar with the organization, but it’s very cool.  Here’s a brief description from their site:

My Girlfriend’s Closet collects quality, gently used clothing from teen girls in the greater San Diego area who can afford quality clothing, and distributes it to teen girls who are homeless, in foster care or otherwise economically disadvantaged.

By providing stylish clothing at no charge in an inviting boutique-like “shopping” environment set up three times a year in donated space, we offer a unique wardrobe resource that aims at helping disadvantaged girls feel more self-confident and comfortable in their schools and communities.

It’s a very popular event and we learned that you have to get there early to get the good stuff!  But we found a few great pants and shirts, and Erin was excited to fill up her shopping bag.  

These girls don’t get to go shopping, so this is a really special treat for them and it’s a really easy way to give back – just clean out  your closets and drop off your donations at one of three locations in San Diego.

Kids Korps

For those of you that have kids, this is a great organization for you.  Kids Korps is a non-profit organization that gets kids involved in community service projects while fostering leadership and responsibility.   Kids Korps is available to children, ages 5-18, and offers a wide variety of service projects to its members almost every day of the month.  For the older kids, they have Teen Korps with additional service projects that allow those kids to contribute and participate at a higher level.  Project examples include serving the homeless, visiting an orphanage in Tijuana, helping sort/pack at the food bank, cleaning up a lagoon, painting over graffiti or playing Bingo with seniors.  They provide lots of different options so that you can pick and choose those that interest you and your family most.

Kids Korps is headquartered in San Diego and you can become a member of the national organization and participate in any of their ongoing community service projects.   You just check out their project calendar and register for any event that you want to participate in.  You can do as many or as few as you want.   Or, there are over 100 chapters throughout San Diego.  Most chapters are affiliated with a school or religious organization.   You can become a member of your local chapter, if there is one, or better yet, start your own chapter at your child’s school!

I’m the co-leader of a Kids Korps chapter at my kids’ school.  It’s now our third year, and it’s been amazing.  We have about 75 families and over 160 kids in our chapter.  We offer 2-3 service projects to our members each month – some are from the national Kids Korps and some we have created on our own.  We just made dinner for the families at the Ronald McDonald House and are getting ready for a Valentine’s party for the Harbor School for homeless kids in downtown San Diego. 

The most important part is teaching your children about giving back and starting when they’re young so that hopefully it becomes a habit that will stay with them throughout their lives.   Here’s what my daughter (age 12) has to say about her experiences so far with Kids Korps, “It helps me understand how other people live and makes me appreciate what I have.  Whenever I do it, I feel good…it makes me feel like I’m really making difference.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Voices for Children

An organization that is near and dear to my heart is Voices for Children.  It’s an amazing non-profit organization that recruits, educates and trains volunteers to work with children that are in the foster care system (of which there are over 7000 in San Diego alone).  These volunteers known as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) are assigned by the courts to help protect the best interests of abused and neglected children who have been removed from their homes.  They act as mentors, friends, tutors, moms and supporters.

These are kids who have done nothing wrong…it’s the parents who have messed up.  So they are removed from their homes and are put in group homes or foster homes.  The goal is to eventually reunify them with their parents — sometimes that happens and sometimes it doesn’t — but the process can often take up to 2 years.   During this time, these kids need someone to look out for them to make sure they get the help and services that they need.

I’ve been a CASA for 3 years and have had 2 cases.  My first case was with a 10-month old baby and his 9-year old brother.   The baby was born at 28 weeks with serious medical issues due to the mom’s use of drugs.   There were also 2 other boys that were removed from the home.   The baby was well cared for in 2 different foster homes, and my role was primarily to help him get the medical care he needed.  He was eventually adopted by a wonderful, loving couple and is doing great.  The 9-year old was in a terrible foster home and was doing poorly in school, performing 2 years below grade level.  My work with him focused on his education, helping him get an IEP, working with him on his homework and getting him a tutor.  But more than that, I was his trusted friend who showed up every week to spend time with him and do fun things together.  We went to the zoo, Sea World, Boomers, the movies and lots of parks.  He finally moved to New Mexico and was adopted by his grandparents who also adopted his two other brothers. 

My current case is with a 4-year old girl who was beaten, almost to death, by her father and has several medical issues as a result.  She’s a sweet, amazing little girl full of personality and charm.  She is currently living with her grandmother and doing really well – it’s truly amazing how resilient kids are.

During the training, the other CASAs would say ” you get so much more than you give” and I wondered how that could be.  I now know what they mean.  Every time I get to see and spend time with my “kids,” I feel that I have received an incredible gift  — getting to know them, spending time with them and being a part of their lives.

 I’m a volunteer with the San Diego Voices for Children organization which you can visit at www.voices4children.com.  But, there are CASA organizations in every city throughout the US.  You can visit the National CASA web site at www.nationalcasa.org  to find information about your local CASA organization.   It’s a great cause and has been shown to have a huge impact on the lives of these children.