At IHN, we may sound like a broken record but we LOVE how our volunteers connect with our mission. Everyone has their own way.
Sharon Simmons has been involved with IHN for a number of years through her daughter's school and Girl Scout troop, but it wasn't until recently that she connected with us on a professional level. As a professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at William Paterson University, Sharon wanted to expose her students to IHN and our mission.
A group of her students were working on a team project for Enactus, an international non-profit organization that brings together student, academic and business leaders who use the power of entrepreneurial action for social good.
These 15 students competed this past spring in the Enactus national competition. The project they chose was to publish a book online about the Declaration of Independence Signers. One student is a descendent of one of the signers. He is passionate about bringing to life all of the signers and not just the four who are well known.
For the book, they gathered one-page excerpts on each of the 56 Declaration of Independence Signers and then spoke with children in the IHN Afterschool Program about the relevance of the document from an historic and modern perspective. The children wrote their reflections, some of which are included in the book.
The students presented their book project to Enactus. Although they didn't win the competition, they learned valuable lessons about social entrepreneurship, which they hope to use in future endeavors. The students also sold copies of the book around campus and donated the proceeds to IHN. The project may be finished, but we hope that this is just the beginning of opportunities for future collaboration.
Alex Cole is an original. For IHN that means she was one of the original founders of IHN of Essex County over 26 years ago. Today she is the only founder in the network who continues to act as a volunteer coordinator. We recently spoke with Alex to help recapture some of the organizational history, and to learn the secret of her longevity.
Her time with IHN dates back to May 1987 when she gathered with a group of clergy and individuals who were interested in helping families that were experiencing homelessness. As a representative of St. Stephen's Church, Alex led the charge to involve her congregation. Thanks to the support of the rector and congregation, St. Stephen's became the 4th hosting congregation in April 1988, a month after IHN of Essex County opened.
Alex credits Sara Ruth Dorn for her strong partnership over the years. Sara Ruth has been responsible for all aspects of food coordination each time St. Stephen's has hosted. This includes recruiting and managing volunteers for shopping and preparing meals, and ensuring that the kitchen is well stocked for the families according to their dietary needs.
When asked about her thoughts on what makes a good volunteer, Alex talks about the importance of being a caring presence -- simply being there, able to respond as needed. It means not coming in with expectations, but letting the families go about their business. And since life is often uncertain, especially when one is homeless, a volunteer must be flexible and understanding. One of Alex's favorite moments is seeing a volunteer who starts out with a fear of serving become completely committed.
Alex says that she has started to transfer her IHN activities to another church member who is eager to learn the ropes. She hasn't said she's stepping down, though. We have a feeling that year 27 for Alex is right around the corner. At IHN, we couldn't be more grateful.
Like many of us turning a certain age, we throw parties to celebrate our milestones. Such was the case for IHN trustee, volunteer, and Dream Team* member Kathy Stine.
When family members and friends started calling her husband, Craig, for gift suggestions, Kathy got an idea. Instead of getting gifts that she clearly didn't need, why not direct loved ones to donate to IHN, an organization near and dear to her heart? That's when the donations started pouring in, proving to Kathy that turning 50 definitely has its advantages.
If you are interested in raising funds for IHN for your special occasion, simply direct your family and friends to the IHN website. Using a credit card, they can make a secure online gift in your honor, directing IHN to send you a special acknowledgment. Alternatively, they may mail a check to IHN with information on whom they're honoring with their gift.
*IHN Dream Team members pledge to donate $1,000 or more annually to IHN for five years. If you're interested in joining the Dream Team, contact Interim Executive Director Leslie Brown.
Interfaith Hospitality Network of Essex County (IHN) hosted its annual Back-To-School Bash Sept. 11 for children in the shelter and housing programs. This time, however, they were joined by players from the NY Jets.
Muhammad Wilkerson, Bart Scott, Marcus Dixon, and Quinton Coples answered questions, played all sorts of games (even freeze dance!), autographed oodles of shirts and cards, and posed for picture after picture — all with nonstop smiles and inspiring words. Volunteers from the Far Brook School assisted with food, games, and logistics.
A local blogger who writes about local and national issues that impact families (www.TheMotherhoodBlog.com), Lisa Duggan had heard about IHN through IHN Volunteer Manager Kanani Briggs. Given that we’re all about helping families, the IHN cause resonated. So when Duggan entered the Clorox Blog-Off she pledged that if she won, she’d contribute her prize to IHN.
Putting her enormous network on task to click on a Clorox commercial, Duggan walked home with second prize: a year’s worth of Clorox products, which she has generously donated to IHN families.
Then there’s Kimberly Minor.
Hearing that one of our teenagers wanted to attend her senior prom but had no dress, Minor decided to step in. Given that her day job is in fashion, Minor was just the right gal to outfit "Jasmine" in a fabulous gown, handmade necklace, and evening bag for a night of glamour and memories that she’ll hold for the rest of her life.
And sometimes, our friends give to IHN without knowing exactly what the end result will be.
That’s where Bonnie Park and Lori and Terry Martin come in.
They received our email for back-to-school supplies and decided to raise money at their respective offices for our cause.
Lori and Terry Martin decided to turn their donations into a Staples gift card. Park, on the other hand, was planning to buy school supplies at a big box store. However, the retailer was imposing a ten-piece limit on each item and wouldn’t bend the rules, even for a charitable act. Taking her business elsewhere, Bonnie decided to also turn her donation into a Staples gift card.
The combined result? Enough money to pay for a new laptop for "Javon," son of a former guest and an incoming college freshman.
When we shared this news with Bonnie, she commented, ”I was so touched to read this story. It’s always amazing to me how things just seem to work out for the best even when we don't realize it.”