Although time a is a rare and precious commodity  an increasing number of people are willing to put aside a few hours a month to help advance the mission of a worthy non-profit.  Whether running a Marathon or ladling soup for the homeless,  every organization in desperate need of free help will ask  “Why do you want to volunteer?”

The cliche answer of “to give back” will prove  wrong on so many levels once you’ve found your volunteer niche.  Altruism ignites an endorphin rush that helps you bond with the clients of soup kitchens, nursing homes and animal shelters.  You’ll find that the homeless have fascinating stories, the elderly can remember every detail of their favorite recipe and rescue dogs are irresistible.      And your fellow volunteers are some of the best people you’ll ever meet.

Picking a  worthy cause to champion is not as easy as you think.  The well known and most respected organizations usually have a screening process and a waiting list.  You may need to submit a resume and references before you are invited to an interview or orientation.

Many people consider volunteering around the holidays.  However, Christmas and Thanksgiving may be the only time during the year when your favorite charity doesn’t need help.  If you really want to make a difference on a holiday, consider Fourth of July, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day  and Halloween.  Although Fourth of July is usually the only holiday I ever take off, it usually falls at a time of year when many regular volunteers are on vacation.  Also, there are fewer visitors at hospitals and  nursing homes  on 4th of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Spending part of Valentine’s day in a senior center will do your heart good.    Halloween can be fun if you volunteer in the pediatric ward or community center.  And if you’re an animal lover you’ll greatly appreciated the local animal shelter.

If you want to know the truth about hunger in America, just ask the kids who put food on our tables. Over 400,000 American children work 14 hours a day, 7 days a week, risking their health, education and future as farm workers in the United States. Shine Global, U.Roberto Romano and, executive producer, Eva Longoria have teamed up to educate us about this atrocity with the documentary, “The Harvest (La Cosecha)”. This film reminds us that child labor laws are often ignored by those who hire day workers. Hopefully, this film will be seen by enough people to get the CARE Act (HR 2234) passed.

To help make the CARE ACT a priority, consider doing one, or all, of the following; see The Harvest (la cosecha), type the CARE Act into your search engine, then call tell your congress person to protect the quality of childhood for all children.

The hallmark of a great man is his willingness to help others succeed and his unconditional loyalty to his friends. Allan Sih lived a quiet life of purpose, dedicating most of his free time to helping friends and strangers in their hour of need.

As a long time New York Cares team leader, Allan spent the better part of his weekends volunteering with people who were struggling with life altering illnesses. He also enjoyed an active social life, maintaining friendships from his teenage years to his final days.

Allan had a strong sense of empathy and the ability to organize everything and everyone in the midst of chaos. His only discernible weakness was the way he made coffee.

When I met Allan he was struggling with a coffee pot at NYU Rusk Institute. We were setting up the snacks at his monthly social event for patients with spinal cord injuries. Alan had carefully measured the water and scooped out a minute amount of grounds. I grabbed the pot, scooped a heaping pile of grounds into a paper cup and said “trust me, and everyone will stay awake through BINGO.” That was the beginning of our friendship and charity collaboration. We chopped vegetables at God’s Love We Deliver, read to kids and served lunch to the homeless for over seven years. We also ate at every vegetarian restaurant below 14th Street.

Allan knew how to pick a restaurant, where to buy the best green tea in bulk, and how to get the best prices on electronics. He was also an expert on chili.

As a former president of the New York Texas Exes, the University of Texas alumni association, he never missed the annual chili cook off fundraising event. He considered himself a Texan as much as he considered himself a New Yorker. I think he was born in Asia, so I guess you could say he was a citizen of the world. And he lived everyday of his life trying to make the world a better place.

Allan Sih’s Memorial will take place on May 7th from 12 to 3 pm at Hill Country, 30 West 26th Street, NYC.
(212) 255-4544

As we turn back the clocks and change the batteries in our smoke alarms, let’s take five minutes and think of a way that we can make this winter warmer for people living with HIV/AIDS. I have devoted the thirty days between Halloween and December 1, World AIDS Day, to promoting non-profits that use their resources wisely to help the HIV/AIDS community. It’s my intention to make 30 people aware of the exceptional work that is done by these organization and to get 30 people to donate $30 to a worthy charity. God’s Love Deliver, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and Rivington House treat their clients with dignity. AIDS Be Gone is the perfect example of entertaining while educating.

I never cry when I’m faced with 50 lbs of onions on a Sunday afternoon at God’s Love We Deliver. I consider it a privilege to chop vegetables for the 3,400 plus hot meals that the God’s Love volunteers deliver to the homebound each day.

I love the boys at GMHC! And their female clients are fun too. Gay Men’s Health Crisis was the first non-profit in the world to step up to the plate with a variety of services for the HIV/AIDS community. My four hour shift is always the high point of my week, as the GMHC staff and clients treat the volunteers like rock stars.

Rivington House, the Nicholas H. Rango Healthcare Facility, offers residental care for HIV/AIDS clients. Over the past five years, I’ve volunteered in almost every capacity from Art Therapy to serving breakfast and initiating some dreadfully unmelodious sing-a-longs.

AIDS Be Gone, founded by Angie Bowie, hosts musical events and produces compilation CD’s by talented and compassionate artists to raise money and awareness for several organizations devoted to HIV/AIDS research.

Five star restaurants with celebrity chefs are a dime a dozen in New York City. But an immaculate kitchen is hard to find. Cleanliness is a top priority for two very busy venues that serve an exclusive clientele.

The kitchens at God’s Love We Deliver and Gay Men’s Health Crisis are by far the cleanest you’ll find at any non-profit organization.

The old cliche, “it’s so clean you could eat off of the floor” certainly applies to the kitchen at God’s Love We Deliver . Every surface of the oversized kitchen is gleaming. Volunteers change their gloves approximately every half hour as they chop vegetables, wrap sandwiches and pack up the meals. Cutting boards and knives are washed, and counters are sanitized several times per shift.

God’s Love We Deliver prepares and delivers fresh, hot meals every weekday to clients who are too ill to shop or cook for themselves.

Gay Men’s Health Crisis serves hot lunches and Friday night dinner to their members battling HIV/AIDS. Clients have a choice of entrees, soup, salad, dessert and fruit. The food is prepared to the same high quality, gourmet standards that you’d find at the best Manhattan eateries. Volunteers help bus the tables and the staff keeps the counters, tables and floors in pristine condition.

Araceliz Romero-Gonzalez is an educator, child advocate and mother of three. Her teenage son is overcoming the effects of autism thanks to her exceptional parenting skills and tireless efforts to fight for his academic and medical rights.

Last month, Araceliz helped to organize a fundraiser in our neighborhood for Anais Rosado, a beautiful three year old suffering from Leukemia.

As she handed me a glossy invitation, I spied the colorful Caring Bridge logo in the corner of the picture. Caring Bridge is a non-profit that offers websites to critically ill children so that they can keep friends and family in the loop on their medical progress. Many of these children need constant care, and are not strong enough to recieve visitors, these websites are the only way that they can communicate with the outside world. Anais is too young to text, so her mother writes the journal entries about her courage and chemo treatments.

Caring Bridge also accepts donations to help familes defray medical expenses.

For more information about Anais Rosado and the Caring Bridge organization go to www.caringbridge.org search for her story.

Sherri Lewis is a postive role model. The former lead singer of GET WET is the epitome of grace and courage as she talks about the HIV epidemic. She has been taking responsibility for her health and happiness since she was first diagnosed in the late 1980’s. With a smile and sense of humor, she works tirelessly to educate others on prevention as well preservation. Sherri is not only a motivational speaker and an entertaining fixture on the charity benefit circuit, but a blessing to those who need information on healthcare and emotional support.
Presently, Sherri is a candidate for a televison show on Oprah’s netwok. You can view Sherri’s auditon video “Living Out Loud” and cast a vote of support at:

http://myownoprah.com/audition/index.htl? request=video_details&response_id+903&promo_id=/

AidesBeGone is the name of a non-profit organization founded by the incredibly chic and intelligent Angie Bowie. Angie is determined to help find a cure and perfoms at AidesBeGone charity events and on her AidesBeGone CD compilations.

You can pick up a CD at www.lulu.com

March comes in like a lion ready to prey on the innocent little lambs flocking to Sunset Park for a game of basketball.  The  unscrupulous are roaming the streets for fresh blood to feed the insatiable appetite of the ubiquitous gang royalty fighting for control of a certain south Brooklyn neighborhood.  

Information is our best defense.  So, every spring, Children of the City hosts Gang Awareness workshops after their Saturday Reading Buddies Program. In conjunction with GRIPE (Gang Reduction through Intervention and Education), kids and their families learn about the ways that gangs recruit members into a sub-culture that fosters violence and economic suppression.  

An icy grey pentimento in  the deep blue December sky was the first hint that there was something special in the air over Sunset Park.   A string of unseasonably  balmy   days inexplicably  gave way to 6 inches of snow on the afternoon  of Children of the City’s annual Holiday Super Saturday Event. 

  Months in the making, this party was the culmination of a  week long marathon of collecting, sorting and wrapping gifts for  600 families living below the poverty line in soutwest Brooklyn.  

Joyce Mattera, Daniel  Ramos, Marty Raymond and Melissa Perez   orchestrated  every aspect of  the Christmas project from soliciting donations to recruiting volunteers and making sure that  each  gift was  wrapped,  labled and delivered on time.   

Wrapping was never my forte, so I relied on the kindness and expertise of Elizabeth and Jocelyn Greenwald form Park Prep Academy in New Jersey to help me make a dent in the pile of “creativity kits” donated by New York Cares. 

Rumors around the local schoolyard claimed that   Santa  was on a tight budget.  So,  many of the   kids were  convinced they’d be forgotten.  Most of the letters were requests for clothes, sneakers or toys for a younger sibling.    

A virtual round of applause to all of the donors  and  volunteers who helped to make the holidays happier for the  1100 kids who celebrated with Children of the City.    Santa couldn’t have done it without  you!

This season even the most posh, high end stores in NYC are slashing prices and  offering deals.  But nowhere could you find a better bargain than collection of free coats and sweaters offered to the homeless and low income clients of the Village Temple soup kitchen. 

The congregation of this reformed Jewish synagogue are unusually generous.  Twice a year they  clean out their closets and offer all their extra items to the poor.   Gently used coats, boots,  ivy league sweatshirts and stadium blankets  are snapped up by clients who’ve forgotten what its like to pay retail. 

My New  York Cares volunteers help to transform  the temple foyer into a  chic salon as they act like personal shoppers and fashion consultants.   Every “shopper” walks away with a  coat  and a bag full of sweaters, scarves and everything they need for either a job interview or holiday celebration. 

Although donations were down,  slightly, this year we were blessed with enough merchandise   to extend the coat give-away for an extra week.