A Day Of Service and Empowerment

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Today I spent the morning with Forever Ready Productions documenting the work of employees and their families from AutoZone as they helped clean the building that will house Room In The Inn – Memphis (coordinated by Volunteer Odyssey).

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8-year-old Turner Knotnow summed up MLK’s question very easily this morning.

“I’m cleaning these windows in here and trying to make it look nice for people who don’t have a home.” said Turner Koltnow. “I like volunteering. It’s pretty nice.”

He spent the morning volunteering with his mom and brother at Room In The Inn. It was a part of a volunteer day with AutoZone, coordinated by Volunteer Odyssey.

Fitting enough, it was scheduled on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  A day devoted to service projects, honoring his life and remembering the challenge he set before us years ago.

“I like serving because it’s helpful and I get to meet nice people,” said Turner.

But his mother brought him because it was a chance to serve together and instill values in him to continue a life of service.

“We are honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by doing a service project with Room In The Inn. And I am so excited to have the opportunity to do the project with my son’s. Turner who is 8 and Max who is 5 years old,” said Jenny Koltnow.

Dozens of others shared in the experience with their kids (who also had the day off from school) and by the afternoon the place was cleaned up, clothes were organized and there was a feeling of accomplishment.

“All those little things add up and they really matter, they really matter to someone. It doesn’t have to be big heroic acts. It’s a matter of taking a little time here and there. And all those things add up over time. So they too can adopt that same interest in giving back and helping others,” said Jenny.

It’s nice to see a local corporation make time for their employees to volunteer. They hired Volunteer Odyssey to plan and coordinate the day of service.  All they had to do was show up and do work.  The day was documented by Forever Ready Productions and will be edited into a video for them to share with friends and family.

It used to be (and sometimes still is) perceived that sharing about your volunteering experience was really just a way to brag about how awesome you are and the work that you’re doing.  But over time that has changed. Social media is now a tool of empowerment. Now it’s more about being a voice for the organization you’re helping and showing your friends and family that they can get involved too.

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“Focusing on the needs of other people and bring to their attention what’s really going on in the community that we live and that we can’t take what we have for-granted,” said Jenny.

It’s amazing to see kids learning at a young age that giving back to their community only helps to make it better. It is in showing them that a day off can be spent helping others that we can all learn too.

Martin Luther King Jr. lived a life of service and fought for the freedom of equal rights for all. It’s only fitting that we spend an entire day dedicating our time to giving back.

That’s empowering.

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Haiti: Seven years ago..and two years later…

I’ve been searching for words to express my thoughts all day. Five year’s ago today Port-au-Prince, Haiti was devastated by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. It destroyed most of the buildings and infrastructure that had been established in one of the poorest places in the world. My heart sank as I watched the round the clock coverage of the disaster. I even thought about traveling down there with some local doctors. We worked on a way to make that possible but we decided that it was better to send someone with a skill set to help those in need than another reporter to cover it.

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Why did what happen in Haiti hit me so hard? Well two years before the earthquake, in January 2008, I traveled down to Louverture Cleary School to spend a week with The Haitian Project. We volunteered our time helping with projects during the day but after school we conducted soccer clinics. I know what you’re thinking: Lauren isn’t a soccer player. True. I wasn’t and I’m still not but the skills we were teaching had more to do with teamwork and empowering girls than it did the actual game. And as I learned, the universal language and common ground we all shared was soccer.

The trip was only a week but it forever changed me. I still remember the people I met and the impact they had on my life. And the lessons they taught me.

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When the earthquake struck in 2010 some of our friends were killed. The school sustained significant damage. The structure that volunteers from Loras College and other areas worked so hard to build, had been destroyed. Life as they knew it was forever changed. But their spirit was not broken.

The following years in Dubuque, Iowa, I worked with a local restaurant and bar to build a fundraising for the group. And to honor my friends and their loved ones.

To this day I remember two very POWERFUL words and ways of life that were shared with me:

1. Faith, hope and love are all you need.
2. What you receive as a gift, you must give as a gift.

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In a country torn apart by violence and poverty…then an earthquake…I found their spirit and faith to be so inspiring. Seven years later I still think of the days I spent there and the impact it had on my life. Sometimes when things happen a world away it’s hard to understand or even grasp.

But the beauty of experiences is that we get to take them with us wherever we go.

So take yours and share it.