Before I get started recapping my experience as a volunteer team leader for New York Cares, I would like to direct your attention to the annual Coat Drive. Between now and February 7, New York Cares is taking coat donations at a ton of locations in every NYC borough, as well as Westchester and Rockland County and Long Island, between now and Feb. 7.
At the moment they are experience a severe shortage of coats; they’re getting a lot less donated than they had hoped for. If you are able to take a look in your closet and find a perfectly good coat you just don’t want or need any more (I found and donated two of mine) — or if you could take a little time out of your day to pick out a coat at a store — please consider whether someone in need might need it more than you do, and then consider dropping it off at one of the locations from this list. The staff at New York Cares even compiled a list of the neatest places to take your coat on their blog. Locations include the coat drive bin in Bryant Park, accessible 24 hours a day until the drive ends.
Another option is to buy a coat from their Amazon or Target wishlist and send it directly to them, or to donate money. Probably the easiest way to contribute is to text “iCARE” to 85944 to donate $10, which I just talked myself into doing as I was writing this blog post.
Now onto the next chapter in my chronicle of volunteering for New York Cares.
As I alluded to in my previous post on this topic, in addition to the game night project I lead every other Thursday at Coler Hospital on Roosevelt Island, I have become the first team leader at a new project at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx. I first visited Beth Abraham in the fall as part of the five borough challenge for new volunteers, and I wrote about the Beth Abraham Game Night in Part 3 of this series. It’s a trek for me to get there and takes more than an hour on the subway coming from Queens, but I liked the facility and the people and could see myself volunteering there on a regular basis.
So after months of planning with my project manager and the community contact at the hospital, I completed my first date for the Book Cart project on Saturday, and I think it went really well.
The uptown 2 train decided it wanted to run local, so I got to the hospital a few minutes later than intended, but still ten minutes before the 2 o’clock start time. A couple of my volunteers (including one who has become a regular at my Coler project) were already there waiting for me when I arrived. I greeted the volunteers, signed in at the front desk, and in a couple minutes my contact from the hospital was giving us the tour and orienting us to the project. The other two volunteers arrived, and we started in.
We split into two teams, each team with its book cart to push and its own sheet documenting which resident would be borrowing which book or VHS tape (since we randomly had those also, and a couple people did take some). We also brought some magazines but didn’t take note of that, since we let them just keep the magazines.
Of the eight floors, we were actually able to cover five of them, which was a lot more ground covered than we expected. I think next time (two weeks from Saturday) one group, led by me, will take a cart to the people who borrowed books to see if they are finished and ready for another. The other group — which will hopefully have a repeat volunteer who knows what she’s doing (I say she because all my volunteers were women) — could start at the 8th floor and work their way down.
The point was not just to deliver books, magazines, movies, and word search puzzles to people. Many of the people were sight impaired, or spoke no English, so they couldn’t benefit from the items on the cart. The true point was to deliver smiles, making conversation and sharing friendly moments with people whose only other interactions on a day-to-day basis might be with nurses or the occasional family visitor.
It’s true that I put in the work to get the project started and made the bi-weekly commitment to it, but I owe a lot of credit for the success of the project to the great women who came and brightened the days of scores of hospital residents. One of them in particular who I shared a cart with had a very warm and sunny demeanor, a bright laugh, and a good way with people she has never met and might never meet again. I am friendly and quick with jokes, but I know it would be exhausting for me to be as naturally bubbly as some of my volunteers were.
It was real work navigating the hallways with the carts, coordinating the group, and communicating with the residents, many of whom had limitations when it came to speech — a lot more effort went into it than goes into my game night project, which is more or less effortless fun — but nonetheless the two hours zoomed by. It was a neat experience, and it seemed like my volunteers were happy about having participated. Most of them were talking as though they would be coming again and had good ideas for how to improve the project. One of them has already signed up for the next two project dates!
I’m grateful to have the opportunity and ability to team lead my two projects. I don’t know if I could ever commit to managing a third, but you never know.