Unleash New Possibilities in Your Life

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Elaine likes to start her morning at the window and thinking about the possibilities of the day ahead. While her sight may be fading, Elaine’s search for the promise of each day is strong. The glimpse of a new flower in the garden or a bird sighting brings a smile to her face.

It is a philosophy that has served her well for more than eight decades. Elaine had two children and lost her husband in a war when both youngsters were still in diapers. She found new possibilities in the tragedy and went to work while earning a degree in nursing. Elaine went on working and helping people until her faltering sight took her independence and ability to drive. That is when Elaine moved to the senior community she now calls home.

fold-63623_960_720One of her favorite new friends is Clyde. Elaine sometimes forgets his name, and just calls him “Sweetheart”, but Clyde doesn’t ever seem to notice. Clyde always sits as close as possible to Elaine’s wheelchair. So close, some people stop and watch their sweet exchanges of affection in the lobby of the senior community.

Clyde and Elaine have a lot in common. She likes to share stories of her family and Clyde likes to listen. Both are avid birdwatchers. Elaine knows the names of the various species and Clyde seems eager to learn more about one of his favorite past times.

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Clyde is one of the few visitors Elaine ever has. She has outlived most of her family and friends. She looks forward to school and church groups who might visit the senior community on special occasions. But week after week, she knows she can count on her faithful friend Clyde to come see her. Elaine shares some of her favorite stories over and over again, and Clyde never tells her he’s heard that story before. He is the most patient and polite conversation companions one could ask for.

Clyde’s love of birdwatching comes naturally, but not his skills as a great companion. You see Clyde is a bird dog. He is a Pointer mix and a therapy dog, trained to visit hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and rehabilitation centers. Clyde’s intensive training equips him to work with all kinds of people in a variety of situations.

Clyde and wheelchairClyde and his owner enjoy volunteering in pet therapy. They are part of the Animal Protective Association of Missouri or APA Adoption Center PetReach Program. Since 1983, PetReach has sent APA staff, volunteers and their pets into senior care facilities and convalescent centers. PetReach was the first no-fee, pet-assisted activity program in the St. Louis area. You can get more information about volunteering, pet education, pet adoption and PetReach therapy dogs at the APA website: http://www.apamo.org/

Another nonprofit in the Saint Louis area with free dog therapy teams is C.H.A.M.P. Assistance Dogs, Inc. CHAMP provides free assistance dogs and also offers a disability awareness education program, facility dogs and a reading program utilizing dogs. These are just a few of the services CHAMP has offered since 1998. Learn more volunteering, pet therapy, assistance dogs and other services at their website:   http://www.champdogs.org/ Spring_CHAMP5

Both nonprofits are a great way to help someone else. Sometimes it’s the best thing you can do for yourself too! You never know what you’ll learn in the process. Think of the ‘pawsibilities’ of volunteering with or without a dog.

 

Follow Hank to the Fun of Fast and Furriest to Help Homeless Pets

It’s said some of our most precious gifts we place in museums or vaults; others we take for walks. It is a very unique walk and run for dogs and people I want to share with you.

I think most dogs and pet people find ways to make friends. Just visit your local dog park to see how pets and owners mix and mingle.

BucaneerstateparkwldogsonbeachI recall a dog park visit where I met a woman and her pooch visiting the facility for the first time. Hank was met with wagging tails. Hank’s mom just moved from Atlanta. Other pet parents learned Hank came into her life in college and has been a constant companion through moves, break-ups and celebrations including the job promotion to Saint Louis. Hank is more than a great companion; he helps his owner meet new people and learn about their neighborhood.

Hank and his owner exercise together. I mean serious running. Hank is a Whippet, a superb athlete as well as a gentle companion. Several of us want to make sure Hank can stretch his legs in an upcoming event to help homeless pets.

The 8th Annual Fast and the Furriest 5K Run and 1-Mile Walk will be Sunday, April 24th at Hollywood Casino in Maryland Heights from 9am to 11am. The run is the Saint Louis original dog-owner professionally-timed race. Others with or without pets will take part in the walk at a leisurely pace or activities on the grounds. This is an event not only for athletes, but the entire family. Fast and Furriest also offers children’s face painting, vendor booths and food trucks.

Another fun element of the event to help homeless pets is Pooch Poker where walkers will be dealt playing cards at stations along the 1-Mile Walk route. Players with a winning hand receive a prize at the end of the walk!

Animal lovers don’t have to walk or run to participate to help pets and be a winner.  There are online options to take part in the Fast and Furriest. Plus for first time contributions are matched! A generous donor is matching participant pledges for Fast and the Furriest. $25 turns into $50; $100 turns into $200. Think of the possibilities for homeless pets!  There is also a social media component, share your online fundraising page with your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors. It is easy to share your passion for the APA on Facebook and other social media outlets. By getting the word out, you could win fundraiser prizes!

All proceeds from this event will benefit the APA’ s mission of bringing people and pets together, advancing humane education, and creating programs beneficial to the human-animal bond.

You can learn more about the event and register at https://apamo.org/event/apas-fast-and-the-furriest/

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Fast and the Furriest 5K Run and 1-Mile Walk

Bee a Nature Hero: 3 Easy Ways to Help Pollinators + Free Online Garden Resources

Bees and other pollinators are in trouble. Join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge

Have you spotted many butterflies this year? What about bees? Unfortunately, these pollinators are in trouble. Pollinators move from plant to plant while searching for protein-rich pollen or high-energy nectar to eat. As they go, they are dusted by pollen and move it to the next flower, fertilizing the plant and allowing it to reproduce and form seeds, berries, fruits and other plant foods that form the foundation of the food chain for other species—including humans. Pollination is vital to the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink.

Bees  are on the decline

Bees are the most obvious and recognized pollinators in nature. It came as a surprise to me that over 100,000 invertebrates also pollinate. These include butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles and even flies! Hummingbirds are among a thousand birds, mammals and reptiles also helping pollinate.

Vital pollinators on the decline

You can help be pollinator hero in many ways. Here are three easy ways to start.

  1. First, and perhaps the most obvious is through plants. Whether you’re a gardening novice with a small balcony or gardening veteran with a few acres; you may be able to help wildlife in your area. It is easy to plant varieties that will attract pollinators. For example, start with native plants. Native plants form the foundation of habitat for pollinators by providing them with pollen and nectar for food, cover from the elements and predators, and places where their young can grow. The best way to attract beautiful butterflies, busy bees, speedy hummingbirds and other pollinators is to fill your yard with native plants. There are some free resources to help at the end of this post.
  2. Avoiding pesticides is not only good for you, your family and pets it is the second great way to help pollinators. Bees are our most important pollinators, and they are insects. So are butterflies like the monarch. Using insecticides will kill these insects. Herbicides will kill important native plants such as milkweed that pollinators rely upon as a food source and a place to raise young. Make the commitment to avoid using chemicals and to maintain your garden in a natural, organic way. The traditional suburban lawn, on average, has ten times more chemical pesticides per acre than farmland. By choosing native plants for your landscaping, you are creating a healthier place for your family and community.
  3. The third easy step is to help protect our grasslands to aid pollinators. America’s native grasslands are critically important for pollinators such as bees and monarch butterflies. Our grasslands are filled with native plants that offer nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and a wide variety of pollinators. They also provide milkweed, the only host plant for monarch caterpillars. Today, more than 90 percent of native grasslands have been converted to cropland and development. Grasslands are disappearing faster than any other ecosystem in North America, and that’s a big problem for pollinators. Spreading the word through social media and helping educate others is a great way to be a pollinator hero. Planting milkweed to attract butterflies will give you enjoyment as you help pollinators.

Businesses and community groups can get involved in this effort to help pollinators. One nonprofit in Saint Louis is working to provide a living landscape for birds and other wild animals. The Animal Protective Association of Missouri or APA is part of the growing trend to garden for wildlife.

APA Executive Director Steve Kaufman is working with the Saint Louis Audubon Society to create landscaping to encourage wildlife and benefit the ecosystem surrounding the adoption center: “The APA cares for all animals, not just the ones brought into our facility for direct care. This is just a small way to do our part to help the native Missouri animals that live in our area (or fly through!).”

The Missouri Botanical Gardens offers many free resources online to help with native gardens. You can find them by clicking on A Guide to Native Landscaping in Missouri or following this link: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/visit/family-of-attractions/shaw-nature-reserve/gardens-gardening-at-shaw-nature-reserve/native-landscaping-for-the-home-gardener/native-landscaping-manual.aspx 11078212_10204083286547347_1748544961633585133_n
A national native online plant guide can be accessed by clicking on American Beauty Native Plants or following this link: http://www.abnativeplants.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/plants.search/index.htm?announcementid8429382

10494643_10207078779912157_3907921197852980798_nThe National Federation for Wildlife or NWF offers many free resources for gardening to benefit pollinators and wildlife. The NWF is joining with dozens of conservation and gardening organizations as well as seed groups to form the National Pollinator Garden Network. To mark the occasion there is a new nationwide campaign – the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. You can take part in the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge by turning your yard or garden into a Certified Wildlife Habitat via National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife program. It’s as simple as providing food, water, cover and places to raise young for pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. You can learn more at www.nwf.org.

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Volunteer Trips Make a Difference Abroad and at Home

Your next getaway could change more than your view.  More travelers are finding a way to help others while exploring new communities and cultures through volunteer vacations.

 

Growing in popularity, volunteer vacations can strengthen family bonds while you volunteer to help others. On family volunteer vacations parents and grandparents have an opportunity to spend meaningful time with youngsters, with the opportunity to pass along values. Younger family members develop compassion for others and also master new hands-on skills.

Volunteer vacations can strengthen family bonds.

Volunteer vacations can strengthen family bonds.

 

Travel adventures for a cause can involve some tropical paradises or breath taking scenery, but require more planning than your typical vacation advises travel expert and author of Voluntourist, Ken Budd: “Taking a volunteer trip isn’t like spontaneously going to the beach. It requires a lot of homework and research. You want to find organizations that are meeting a legitimate need, and projects that need volunteer labor; not projects created to give volunteers something to do.”

 

Finding a great volunteer vacation opportunity starts with being realistic about your desire and abilities for the adventure. Taking a good look at what you’d like to get out of the trip will decrease your chances of disappointment. Think about what areas and subjects are important to you: Do you want to study climate change in Alaska or preserve the campground where you vacationed as a child?  Budd suggests you ask questions about a volunteer vacation adventure before packing your bags. 

 

·        What is the volunteer work?

 

·        Who will benefit?

 

·        Who runs the volunteer programs?

 

·        Where does the money from program fees go?

 

·        May I contact previous volunteers about their experiences?

 

Many volunteer vacation organizations will ask you to submit to a background check, particularly if you’re working with children. Others will want you to provide references or to write an essay on why you want to volunteer. When organizations don’t take those steps that should be a warning sign.

 Not all volunteer opportunities abroad are legitimate explains Budd:  Over the last year or so, the media has reported on a terrible situation in Cambodia, where orphanages basically trap kids in squalor to attract donors and volunteers.  So seriously scrutinize the organizations,” he advises.

There are many volunteer vacation opportunities close to home.  For example, volunteer conservation trips. These popular vacations combine camping in national or state parks with service projects to help beautify the land and make the parks more safe and accessible.

 This year, there are more volunteer vacation offerings than ever before, from building trails in the Grand Canyon to clearing debris washed up on remote Alaskan beaches following the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Volunteer conservation trips may include activities like trail work, clearing fallen trees and branches, picking up litter and debris, removing invasive plants, maintaining gardens, and sprucing up fences and buildings.

 Volunteer vacationers often get access to parts of parks and forests not open to the public. And they always have free time to enjoy the beautiful parks they’re helping.

A lot of organizations offer multi-generational volunteer opportunities perfect for families who or large groups who want to get away and contribute together.  Budd says many volunteer vacation organizations find experienced, older volunteers to be a great asset:

“I’ve found that most volunteer organizations value people who have a lot of life experience. Older volunteers tend to be patient and they won’t get rattled when something goes wrong.”

The author has trekked and volunteered around the world and recalls many great experiences with older volunteer vacationers: “I encountered a lot of people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s when I was volunteering. In China, we had about 11 volunteers and only three were under the age of 50. The majority were in their 60s: they taught English to university students, which was really quite helpful. The students knew English, but they needed practice speaking it.”

Budd recalls another senior volunteer who became a world traveler while helping others: “I was in Costa Rica, I met an 80-year-old woman who volunteered there for three months. She was a widower, and it was only the second time in her life that she’d been outside of the United States. She enjoyed it so much that she wound up volunteering for three months in Thailand!”

There are many volunteer vacation options near home and abroad.

There are many volunteer vacation options near home and abroad.

Say My Name

There is a song stuck in my head: “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child. I know when it got stuck there and why.

It was a cold and wet start to my morning. Gusty winds made it impossible to use an umbrella as the rain rapidly turned to snow. It was a grey day outside but a bright spot for me. It was to be the first day of a new way to help some of my neighbors. I’d done some research and was full of ideas I hoped could make a positive impact. As I drove along slushy side streets, it began to snow harder and 30-mile-per-hour winds whipped the flakes around limiting visibility. I arrived early and was dismayed to discover there was no place to park! I was driving around the lot looking for an empty parking space when the call came not to come in to work as scheduled. A computer crash was putting my plans for a new bigger mission on hold.

The snow was falling faster. I turned up the radio to hear it would not continue at the rapid pace much longer. The radio meteorologist called it a ‘fast-moving clipper’ with big, sloppy flakes. In a short time driving would be easier according to his forecast. So rather than return home, I headed to a coffee shop in my favorite shopping area to wait for the snow to pass.

The coffee shop was packed as many other customers were taking a java break and waiting for the snow to slow. The line was long. Some of the coffee shop’s employees were delayed due to winter’s latest blast. Just one person was working to handle the customers at the counter and the window. I was waiting in the long line when, someone asked me if the folded newspaper on a table was mine. After I said it was not, the person behind me tapped me on my shoulder. I turned around to see a neatly dressed young man with a smile as bright as the sun. He exclaimed, “I thought it was you, but I could not see your face. When I heard your voice I was sure.”

I stammered, “Hello, how are you?” I attempted to place the friendly, engaging face before me. I did not have a clue. I decided to come clean and attempted to frame my inability to place him in our shared quest for caffeine; “Please forgive me, I don’t recall your name. I can’t even remember my own name until I get some coffee,” I sheepishly explained.

The smile grew bigger, “Oh sure you do. Every time you come into my line at the store, you say, Hello, Steve. You have two white dogs who like Purina dog food. I helped take it to your car. I saw them in their back-seat dog house. You remember me.”

And he was right. Now, I did remember him. I recalled he found amusement in my dog’s frantic barking as he placed groceries beside their car-crate in the back seat. Believe me, very few people find the charm in their expressive nature right away. No, I had not recalled his name; but I did not forget his delight and wonder in how such small dogs could produce major vocal eruptions.

I always try to use people’s names when I see them on uniforms, tags or receipts. It is a practice I learned in my high-school and college retail jobs. When checking out customers I would use their names from checks or credit cards as I thanked them for their business and asked them to come again. So without his name tag on, I did not remember Steve’s name. But I recalled his enthusiasm for bagging groceries and his courteous regard for my pets.

I told him I did remember him loading the dog food into the car. Nodding, he replied, “I have a good memory. I like your dogs and I like it when you say hello.”

I asked Steve how long he had worked at the neighborhood supermarket. I learned he began at Schnucks Markets through Paraquad, a St. Louis nonprofit that assists disabled individuals to live independently. 

It was finally my turn at the counter and I ordered my coffee and hot chocolate for Steven. He took his cup to go as he walked next door to work at Schnucks. I sat down to drink my coffee and waited for the weather to clear.

It wasn’t just the coffee or the clearing skies improving my mood. I was happy to connect with Steve and be reminded of the power of a person’s name. A name used correctly can convey respect and appreciation. The moment we hear our name our ears perk up. It doesn’t take extra time to make an effort to recognize the other person as an individual. Such a simple part of social interaction; greeting someone with their name. Make an impression: say their name.Image