AmeriCorps

2011 Year in Review: November

I gotta tell you. Doing this whole year in review has been so cathartic for me. There have been so many moments in my life over this past year where I felt overwhelmed, sad and at times, depressed. But taking a look back at all of the great things that happened in 2011 has made me realize that despite all of the negativity and challenges I dealt with, it was a pretty good year.

Thank you to all of the people who made it that way. I couldn’t have gotten through it without you.

Anyways, here’s November…

It Gets Better Project

I worked with Jeff, a senior corps member in Washington, DC to produce an It Gets Better Project video on behalf of City Year. I think this was one of the most important projects I have had the pleasure of working on, and I was pretty thrilled with the results. Unfortunately there is some weird animation in here that happened when I uploaded it to Youtube and selected the stabilize option, but the overall message is what is most important.

#SaveAmeriCorps in Washington, DC

I had the opportunity to travel down to Washington, DC to help ServeNext and AmeriCorps Alums with an AmeriCorps rally on Capitol Hill. I helped them design their social media strategy, shot photos and edited a video. It was a really great experience for me professionally, and it felt really amazing to be down on Capitol Hill rallying for something I really care about.

A special thanks to Bill Kuchman for letting me crash at his place for the duration of the trip (and for being a really great tour guide). I had the opportunity to see a couple friends: Meli, my roommate from my first year of City Year and Leigh, my best friend from kindergarten and a good friend all throughout high school. I think my favorite part of the trip was getting to go to the Newseum. I know, I’m a nerd. But it was really awesome and is totally worth paying to get into. I highly recommend it!

Thanksgiving in NYC

This year for Thanksgiving, I went to NYC where my best friend Lauren lives. We failed to make it to the parade, but had a really nice walk around Central Park, had a pretty hilarious dinner with her grandmother and aunt (which included Boris and Natasha’s doppelgangers asking to move away from our drunk, obnoxious selves) and hung out with a photographer and his fiance and awesome dog in his studio loft afterwards. I also got to see Tori, a corps member who I served with my first year in San Jose, which was really awesome!

Our mothers also made the drive out to NYC to spend the weekend with us, which was really awesome. My favorite moment of the weekend was when we visited the 9/11 Memorial. Lauren’s aunt is the facilities manager of the memorial, so she told us a lot of really interesting factoids about the memorial. If you get a chance to make it out there, go at night. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

Other Stuff:

  • Harvest Fest Beer Summit (Essentially a huge beer tasting. It was awesome).
  • Meeting up with Matthew Kelly in Brooklyn, a guy I have been friends with on Twitter for quite some time. Good dude with good taste in beer.
  • Speaking to the Emerson PRSSA about social media
  • Going to Finale, a dessert bar, with Dan

Does social media make us lazy?

The aforementioned title is the question being raised by comedian Dean Obeidallah in an opinion post he contributed to CNN.com today.

He points out that we have become a generation of observers rather than doers. He suggests that our Facebook likes and tweets are giving us a false sense of involvement, calling it “slacktivism.”

As someone who uses social media for my livelihood, it pains me to agree with him.

It is a topic I addressed my senior year of college (fall of 2008) when I wrote my thesis entitled: “Social Media Networking: Does it Directly Impact Political Efficacy?”

Fueled by President Obama’s presidential election, this topic was incredibly intriguing to me. In an article by Bruce Bimber titled “The Internet and Political Transformation: Populism, Community, and Accelerated Pluralism,”  Bimber developed a theory which he called “accelerated pluralism” to describe the possible future relationship of citizen Internet use in the political process.

I don’t want to bore you here, so I’ll give you the cliff notes. Basically, he said that the expansion of communication and its effect on political participation will depend on the already instilled willingness of a person to participate, meaning that the person would probably have participated even without the addition of the Internet.

Now, this article was written in 1998, but I think it still holds true. People who are already likely to be involved will be involved. The Internet is just a means for those people to share and potentially facilitate the involvement of fellow supporters (or dissenters depending on the situation).

So, the big question is: how can one get tweets and Facebook comments translated into action offline?

At a time when budget cuts are looming and national service is hanging in the balance, this is a question I hope we can answer.

Social media shouldn’t be the end all. It should be just the beginning. Just look at the recent revolutions in the Arab world. They were organized through social media, but not accomplished through social media, which is an important distinction to make.

So Dean, is social media making us lazy? Sometimes, yes. But can it help people to empower others and make a difference? It sure as hell can.

Five things Friday: Early Edition

I’m posting a bit early because I have to be at the office at 6:30 am for a physical service day. Hope ya’ll don’t mind! 

1) Physical Service

Me and my buddy Nick mulching at the 2010 Great American Litter Clean Up.

Today marks the last time I will be doing a physical service project with City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley. After two years of working into the night to trace murals and showing up super early to set up paint stations and greet volunteers, I can’t believe its over. Physical service is one of my absolute favorite aspects of the City Year program. I really hope that I can participate in service events with City Year Boston in the coming years.

If you’re interested in checking out some of the amazing service projects our site has done this past year, check out our Flickr collection.

2) Literally Unbelievable

So I love The Onion. I even showed it to my students last year as part of newspaper club to explain to them what satire was. One of the funniest (or saddest depending on how you look at it) things about The Onion is that people are stupid enough to think that it is actual news.

I just started following this Tumblr account that shows when people post Onion articles on their Facebook as truths. If you need a good laugh or a reminder of how idiotic people can be, check them out and follow them. I get at least one good laugh a day.

3) All Stats

Speaking of Tumblr, two of my buddies created a really awesome account called All Sats. Basically it takes two of my favorite social media personas (The Creative and Information Sharer) and puts them together in a really clever way.

Oh, you should follow them on Twitter too.

4) Romney 2012

It’s official. Mitt Romney is running for President of the good ‘ol US of A.

If I was a betting person (which I’m not… I wasn’t allowed to bet on sports when I played college soccer due to NCAA rules and still haven’t shaken that fear) I’d say he has a pretty decent shot.

I’m actually a fan. I mean, hell, the dude even looks like a president. I’m even impressed with his website; which is saying a lot for a Republican candidate. If he wins the nomination, it will be one heck of a presidential election. That’s for sure.

5) Twitter Upgrade

According to an article in the Mercury News, Twitter is planning some pretty awesome (and long awaited) upgrades in terms of photo sharing. Pretty soon, you will be able to upload photos right through the site and soon after that, they will roll out the feature for aps to be used on the iphone (which I reaaally need to purchase… my Blackberry just isn’t cutting it anymore).

I’m excited for this. Now if Netflix would expand their library, all of my Internet needs would be met.

Five things Friday

1) End of the year goal-setting

As my time with City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley is quickly coming to an end, I’ve spent some time thinking about what I want to accomplish before I leave. It was interesting to find that the goals I had were pretty similar to the ones that my fellow senior corps members had.

Some of the similar goals we had were: Recommitting ourselves to service, showing appreciation for others and setting up next year’s senior corps members for success.

Another goal that I have is that I want to create a mutli-media project to encompass this year’s corps experience. I haven’t really figured out what that means or what it’s going to look like, so I plan on doing some serious brainstorming this weekend.

2) Lake Tahoe

As you may know, I’m planning an end of the year trip for 44 people in Lake Tahoe. It has been kind of stressful putting everything together, but hearing how excited everyone is about it makes me feel like all of the work I’m putting into it is going to pay off. I know I’m super excited for the trip. It’s going to be an amazing send-off after two amazing years of service!

3) GLEE

I got to see GLEE live this week in San Jose at the HP Pavilion and it was AMAZING. I’ve been to a ton of live shows in my day and I must admit that this was by far one of the best shows I’ve seen.

From the singing to the dancing to the little bits of acting, everything was on point. I felt like I was back in my preteens at a Backstreet Boys concert (which hell yes I saw them live!)

Some of the highlights of the show included (don’t read on if you are planning on seeing the show!): The Cheerios handing out Sue Sylvester barf bags, Britney’s performance of “Slave 4 U,” the Warblers performing “Teenage Dream,” Kurt and some lovely ladies performing “Single Ladies,” Artie getting up and performing “Safety Dance,” and of course, the acoustic rendition of “Friday.”

4) Abilities

This week I had the opportunity to do an enrichment (club) at Dorsa Elementary School. I decided to teach the students an Abilities enrichment that corps member Amanda Liles had done at Lee Mathson Middle School. Every day the students learned about a different disability and how the disabled adapt to be able to do everything that they need to do.

At the end of the week when I asked the students what they learned, a number of students said that they learned that just because you have a disability it doesn’t mean you can’t do things. It just means you have to do things your own way. Mission accomplished.

Here is a video that I showed the students about Aaron Fotheringham, a young man who isn’t confined by his wheelchair.

5) Camera

I’m looking into buying a nice digital camera. I’ve wanted one for years and have decided that it is something I’m going to invest in this fall. I’m looking for suggestions for models in the $500 – $1,500 price range, so if you have suggestions please let me know! Ideally, I’m looking for a Canon or a Nikon (Sorry dad, not interested in a KODAK).

(Thanks to those of you who have thrown ideas at me so far).

AmeriCorps Week: Realizing the need for national service

This week marks the fifth annual AmeriCorps Week. As a proud AmeriCorps member service with City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley, it is a time to reflect on my two years of service and to be inspired by the service of others.

This year, I feel that we are at a critical time in the national service movement. The republicans attempted to slash federal funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service in this year’s budget. Thankfully, they failed to get rid of us completely, but we did lose some funding.

At a time when education budgets are being cut to the point where the school years are being shortened and thousands of young people seeking a college education are being turned away, national service couldn’t be more important.

We need to stop viewing service as something that is “nice to have” and recognize that it is something we need to have.

Since 1993, 540,000 Americans have proudly served their country via AmeriCorps. They have served in schools teaching children how to read, in low income neighborhoods providing vital services such as access to food, counseling and shelter, in the wilderness protecting our environment. They have been some of the first responders to natural disasters and have played a huge role in rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

And it has certainly changed my life. Through my service, I have learned to take action to fight some of our nation’s most pressing issues (namely education), to work with diverse groups of people, to know what it means to be civically engaged and to not be afraid to take risks.

I am eternally grateful for the experiences I had due to my participation in AmeriCorps. And hope that this week, you will ask an AmeriCorps member about what they have done in their service. See for yourself why our country needs this and maybe even see how you can get involved.

Five things Friday

1. Michael Brown came to town

This past week, City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley was visited by a lot of the senior leadership of City Year for a “focus visit”. We were lucky enough to welcome City Year co-founder and CEO Michael Brown to our site during this time. I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Michael speak a couple times during his visit; once at the City Year office and once at the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford.

It is always so inspiring to be around Michael, as he is truly a crusader for the national service movement. In fact, I highly doubt that national service would be nearly as powerful as it is today if it weren’t for his idealism and ingenuity. He is definitely someone that I look up to and his life and career are incredibly inspiring. If you are interested in learning more about how City Year (and ultimately, AmeriCorps) came to be, I highly encourage you to read Big Citizenship by Alan Khazei, the other co-founder of City Year.

2. Global Youth Service Day

Me tracing a Finding Nemo mural in the nurse's office at Majestic Elementary School.

Every year on Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) City Year brings together volunteers to make a positive impact in neighborhoods across the country. We will bring together more than 300 volunteers in San Jose to celebrate GYSD, an annual campaign that celebrates and mobilizes the millions of children and youth who improve their communities each day of the year through service and service-learning through transformative community service projects.

GYSD is hands down one of my favorite City Year events. There is just something really powerful about knowing that I am serving alongside people all over the world to celebrate what I have dedicated my life to for the past almost two years now.

If you are interested in finding how you can get involved on GYSD, check out their website. Better yet, if you live in the Bay Area, some serve with us! Here are the details.

3. I’m going home…

Okay, so I’m not going home for another 11 weeks (my train arrives in Rochester on June 24th), but I’m starting to get ready for it. Yesterday I packed a couple boxes that I plan on shipping home this weekend (which I’m really scared to find out how much it will cost) and I’m hopefully going to hit up Crossroads, a thrift store in San Jose, to sell a bunch of clothes I don’t want anymore.

Ah! And if you’re in the upstate New York area, you should totally come to the 3rd Annual Bakerfest to celebrate my triumphant return on June 25th.

4. Government shutdown

Clearly, this is a big deal. But I don’t feel like I’ve educated myself enough on it to give commentary. (I am relieved however that my pay won’t be affected by it).

But you should check out my friend Romel’s blog post about it.

And read this GOOD blog post about how Defunding AmeriCorps and taking City Year out of schools is an awful idea.

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer… not the strong female role model I remembered

So I’m rewatching the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and let me tell you… it is really different to watch it again as an adult. When I was starting to watch it I was excited to see something with a strong female lead that just kicks ass (there just isn’t enough of that) but what I have been seeing is actually pretty disappointing.

Now that I am the end of the third season, I’m finding that she wasn’t the bad ass I remembered her to be. She’s whiny and completely dependent on Angel, her vampire love interest. It has been reminiscent of Bella in Twilight, whose utter lack of self worth makes my skin crawl.

The true unsung hero of the show is Willow, the smart Wicca and eventual lesbian played by Alyson Hannigan, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses. She is comedic genius in How I Met Your Mother and of course, who could forget her quirky sex crazed character in the American Pie movies. (Which I’ve been reading that she was not invited back to star in the most recent installment).

Anyways, it has been fun rewatching these episodes but it has also been kind of a bummer watching Buffy’s character now that I’m pretty far beyond my high school years. Maybe she will get a backbone when she goes to college in the fourth season…

Five Things Friday

1. UCLA Student’s Anti-Asian Rant: Do Colleges Need Mandatory Diversity Classes?

In the aftermath of the earthquake of Japan, millions of Americans were posting prayers and kind words for those affected by the tragedy. One UCLA student however, found it to be the perfect opportunity to post a video on youtube attacking Asian students for their “misbehavior” on campus. While I won’t honor her ignorance by posting the video on my blog, you can see excerpts accompanied with student interviews here.

In response to her video post, one of my favorite blogs Good.is posed the question: Do Colleges Need Mandatory Diversity Classes? I think this is an excellent suggestion. This week on the City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley blog, I posted a piece titled Celebrating diversity through inclusivity about how before I served in City Year, I didn’t really have sufficient exposure to diversity. I’m wondering if a mandatory diversity course in college would have been beneficial to myself and my peers. It’s fair to guess that it would have.

2. Protestors outside Planned Parenthood

It seems like every time I ride my bike to the gym, I get accosted by the pro-life protestors who are outside of Planned Parenthood, which is located right across the street from the Y. This past week a man asked me if I wanted a pamphlet filled with pro-life rhetoric (well, he didn’t word it quite like that) and when I politely said no thank you, he then proceeded to ask me if I had any questions for him about my female development. Lucky for him, I was too shocked to respond and the light changed so I was able to cross the street.

A couple days later as I was on my bike heading to the gym, I saw an abnormally large crowd protesting outside of Planned Parenthood. But as I got closer, I saw that their signs read “Thank you Planned Parenthood” and “Don’t cut Teachers.” I spoke with a couple of the protestors thanking them for being out there in the rain to represent those who need Planned Parent’s services for health reasons (myself included) and for the teachers who work so hard, yet have been under much scrutiny. It brought tears to my eyes to hear all of the people honking as they drove by; showing solidarity with these people. Thank you.

3. Save Service

On March 15th, Save Service asked voters to call their Senators to ask them to reject an FY11 Budget that will strip the Corporation for National and Community Service of its federal funding. Thousands of people called their Senators, pleading the case for National Service.

The fight is not over. I encourage you to visit Save Service and Voices for National Service to see how you can help keep the spirit of service alive in this country.

If you need a little inspiration, here is a video I put together highlighting the invaluable services City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley has provided to the Alum Rock School District during the past seven months:

*Please remember that any opinions I express on my blog are my own and do not represent the views of City Year and/or AmeriCorps.

4. Good Joe/City Year Design Contest

City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley is teaming up with Goodjoe to facilitate a design contest to create an inspiring t-shirt design that will be sold with half of the proceeds going to City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley. The person who submits the winning design (which will be decided by City Year and Goodjoe) will win a $500 prize! For more information on the contest, click here.

5. Jon Stewart’s Cribs: Teacher Edition

This is probably the funniest sketch I have seen in a long time. But don’t take my word for it. Check it out for yourself.

Five Things Friday

1) Charlie Sheen

First I couldn’t understand how that Two and a Half Men show was popular in the first place (my grandmother loves it, so I can’t hate on it too much) and now I really just don’t get Charlie Sheen in general. I’ve been trying to not pay attention to it because I can’t stand how Americans love to watch the total self-destruction of celebrities, but I can’t escape it. This dude is making a moron of himself every time he opens his mouth and now it has led to him losing custody of his twin two-year old sons.

One thing I will admit I have enjoyed about all of this is photos of cats quoting Charlie Sheen that my friend Andy put on my friend Liz’s wall for her birthday. Best gift ever.

2) iPad 2

I have never wanted something so bad that I truly cannot justify owning. Everything about it is just so bad ass. Even the invitation to the media ruled; it enticed people to show up with a cryptic message reading “Come see what 2011 will be the year of…” And Steve Jobs (who unfortunately looks incredibly ill) definitely didn’t disappoint. Some of the new features of the iPad include: rear and front facing cameras designed for video chat, availability in both white and black and the ability to hook it up to an external screen.

One day it will be mine. Sigh.

3) Save Service

I mentioned this last week, but it is still a huge deal to me, so it is definitely worth another mention. As I mentioned in a blog post from a couple days ago, AmeriCorps funding is in serious danger of being cut from the budget. Check out that blog post to see how YOU can help stop this from happening.

4) Reconnecting with Friends

In attempts to assuage my homesickness I’ve been dealing with, I’ve been trying to contact people I haven’t spoken with in awhile to catch up. It always feels good to hear a familiar voice and reminisce over old inside jokes, it is just so difficult to set aside the time and do it. Plus I think social media gives me a sense of false involvement with my friends. I can tell you what is going on in most of my friend’s lives based on their Facebook updates and Twitter feeds, but I don’t know what’s up beyond that. It has been totally awesome getting real updates from some of my favorite people on what’s going on with them. So glad I did that.

5) Project Ubuntu

My good friend and former City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley colleague Daniel Becton is working on an incredibly impressive service initiative called Project Ubuntu. Essentially, it is a yearlong service project in which Daniel will visit communities in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. to complete service projects. It is a celebration of service for our country and it hopes to spread the spirit of volunteerism along the journey.

I’m a huge supporter of this and think you should be too. I encourage you to like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and check out the website.

How YOU can Save Service

What if I told you there was an organization that provided jobs for thousands of young Americans. Some of the jobs include: tutoring children, cleaning parks, running afterschool programs and building affordable housing. In exchange for their work, these young people receive a monetary award to help them finance furthering their education.

What if I told you that this organization currently exists but is in serious danger of being shut down?

It’s true.

In the reckless Republican backed budget that was recently passed by the House, billions of dollars are being slashed. Money is being taken from nearly every area of government, including the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is the umbrella organization of AmeriCorps.

Without government funding, it will be impossible for City Year and many other AmeriCorps programs to continue functioning at capacity, if at all.

But we can help stop this.

Here’s how:

1) Contact your Congressperson or Senator and ask them to “reject the version of H.R. 1 that passed House. Restore funding for Corporation for National and Community Service. Do not eliminate programs like AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Learn & Serve America, Volunteer Generation Fund or the Social Innovation Fund. These are cost-effective, critically-needed and highly-leveraged programs.”

2) Attend a Town Hall meeting and vocalize your concerns.

3) Write a Letter to the Editor to your local paper. Most newspapers have instructions on how to do this on their website.

I’m contractually obligated to tell you that I am not saying any of this on behalf of City Year or AmeriCorps.

But I am morally obligated to tell you that I am saying this on the behalf of the eighth grade students I tutored last year who were reading at below a second grade reading level. And the second grade students who live in dangerous gang-ridden areas that will have no safe place to go after school. And for the young people in our nation who desperately want to serve but will not have the means to do so should AmeriCorps lose its funding.

Please visit Save Service and join the fight to keep the spirit of service alive in this country.

Five Things Friday

This is a new series I’m doing on my blog inspired by City Year New York’s blog. It’s called Five Things Friday and it means that every Friday I am going to write about five things that have either directly happened in my life, I’ve found interesting on the news, or pretty much anything else I feel like writing because hey, it’s my damn blog so I can do what I want!

Here goes…

1. Apple Cares

So I’ve been having issues with my Mac just shutting off on me and it has been stressing me out a lot because I’ve been working on a couple important projects for work. Since I have Apple Care, I took it into the Apple store for a date with a barista on Valentine’s Day. While my battery didn’t “qualify” for a free replacement, the (super awesome) barista decided to replace it anyway. Not only that, but they replaced my keyboard because there was a chip in it due to a design flaw. And they did it all in about 20 minutes. Best Valentine’s Day present ever.

2. No Hot Water, I Cry

We haven’t had hot water at my apartment complex since Saturday. I never knew how much not having access to hot water would affect me emotionally. I literally broke down and cried when I got home last night and not only didn’t have hot water, but not even the cold water would work in the shower. I haven’t showered in a few days and it is really getting to me. I honestly can’t take it anymore. Thankfully they are supposed to replace the boiler today. If they don’t, I’m seriously going to freak out.

3. AmeriCorps Funding Threat

As most of you know, I have been an AmeriCorps member since I graduated from college. The experiences I have had serving in AmeriCorps has forever changed my life.  Unfortunately, the Republican party is proposing to slash AmeriCorps from the budget. I encourage you to read this article about why AmeriCorps deserves to be saved. If you agree, please sign this petition and help keep this incredible program going strong.

4. Lil Kim’s Tasteless Album Cover

I don’t really understand the beef between Lil Kim and Nicki Minaj but it is getting a little out of hand for my taste. First there were songs about them pissing on each other and now Lil Kim’s album cover is an artistic rendering of her murdering Minaj, complete with a dead body and a pink haired head that is clearly detached from the body. I don’t even want to honor it by putting it on my blog, but you can see it if you click the link above. She’s going way above and beyond to try to stay relevant. Sorry Lil Kim, you had your time to shine. Stop trying to relive your glory days by tearing other people down.

5. 2011 State of the City Address

Last night I attended San José Mayor Chuck Reed’s State of the City Address. While the radio personalities who were emceeing the event were painfully lame, the Mayor’s speech really hit home. In San José we have a real problem with the high costs of pension plans for city employees (particularly fire fighters and police officers). While it is highly unpopular with the unions, Reed is determined to do a fiscal overhaul of the pension plan system, which will help balance the budget and will make it so the city doesn’t have to continue cutting much needed services. While he didn’t address the recent spike in gang murders, it was an informative and inspirational speech and I trust that he will do what is best for San José.

Hope you enjoyed the first edition of Five Things Friday! Let me know what you think!