Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Alternative Spring Break: Generous Gardens Project

This past Spring Break proved to be an educational and influential adventure for the eight Eastern students who participated in the Alternative Spring Break: Generous Gardens Project in Greenville, South Carolina. The Generous Gardens Project is a nonprofit organization that grows, harvests, and delivers fresh food, as a healthy alternative to canned and boxed food, to people who are in need. They also educate individuals on how to create and maintain fresh produce gardens in a sustainable way. South Carolina is ranked ninth in the highest population of hungry people in the United States. Hunger is a very real and significant issue in our world today and the Generous Garden Project works to end the struggle of hunger in the healthiest way possible. "It is a known fact that if people get fresh fruits and veggies in their diet, they think more clearly, have more energy and live more fruitful lives. We are here to fight hunger one garden at a time."

The students drove 11 hours down to Trinity Church in Travelers Rest, South Carolina where they resided for the week. Everyday from 8am until about 3:30pm the volunteers worked hard planting seeds, making compostable flower pots, making garden beds and laying down leaves, feeding chickens and gather their eggs, sifting through compost, making labels for plants, and harvesting lettuce. Students learned the ins and outs of gardening and volunteering at a community based garden. The volunteers were able to incorporate the fresh produce from the gardens into their daily meals, which was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the trip for most of the volunteers. This spring break, however, was not all work and no play, one day was spent exploring the city of Greenville, hiking through Paris Mountain and dining at a local Hibachi. 

Student Leader Lily Egan commented on her experience at the Generous Gardens Project: "I would never have imagined doing anything else during this spring break. It was truly an honor to be able to work with such open-minded and hard working people. On thing I learned through working at the Generous Gardens Project was that in order to grow you must learn, and in order to learn you must be willing to grow, just like in college and just like a plant."


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nicole: Better Than a Sister at Saving Money

Nicole Brooks, a senior majoring in Accounting at Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic, is a busy young lady. She takes classes at Eastern on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Fridays and Sundays for the past two years, she has worked at Loco Perro, a Mexican restaurant in East Hampton. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, she is engaged in an internship with the United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), which provides tax assistance to low-income individuals and families free of charge.

To boot, Brooks, a wonderfully warm human being from  Hebron, is very accomplished academically. Her determination and persistence regarding school has landed her on the Dean's List every semester at Eastern since she started college in fall of 2011, and last week, she received a letter of initiation into Delta Mu Delta, the Business Administration Honor Society. 

Such a hectic schedule would overwhelm most students, but Brooks, who wears a permanent broad smile, manages to juggle school, work, and volunteer work/internships with ease. “I find it best to focus on one thing at a time by writing everything down in a daily agenda. It’s a great tool to stay organized and on top of your schedule.”

Brooks derives tremendous joy from her time with the VITA program, where she interacts a lot with the taxpayers, greeting them when they come in for their appointment; handing out the in-take forms; and making sure they fill out everything. “Then I prepare the individual's taxes, asking them relevant questions along the way to clarify any uncertainties. I also review taxes prepared by my peers when they are finished with their return to make sure everything is filled in correctly.”

Brooks learned about the VITA program through Maura Cook, who spoke about it during a visit to an Accounting Society meeting. Brooks had already intended to volunteer for the program, during an email exchange with Cook, she learned about training dates for IRS certification and other details of the program. She also found out that she could also serve as an intern with VITA. She sent in her resume, and Cook immediately accepted her as an intern. 

 “Other organizations often charge a hefty fee for their services that some taxpayers may not be able to afford,” said Brooks. “Just by asking a few questions and punching some numbers into the tax software, I can put people at ease, and in most cases, get them some money back. I like being able to help people and put a smile on their faces. I really enjoy being able to assist people financially, especially in today's economy.”

Brook recalled her most favorable moment, when she sat to help a very nervous client who was anxious after the client’s sister had prepared her taxes. The sister had concluded that the client owed the IRS more than $1,500. “While I was plugging in numbers and asking her questions, she kept telling me how upset she was, and that she didn't have that kind of money. Lo and behold, when I finished preparing her taxes, she actually was receiving a rather large refund just under $500! After Barbara Ohlheiser, the site coordinator, reviewed the return and confirmed her refund, the client was so ecstatic that she told us that she would never have her sister prepare her taxes again! I was so happy that I was able to help her and ease some of her worry.”

Ohlheiser is very pleased to have Brook on her team. “Nicole is very competent, dedicated to her work and pleasure to work with. Her strong communication and computer skills help put her clients at ease. Nicole helps make running the site smooth and efficient for me and the other site coordinators, by greeting clients, working through a tax return at a good pace and doing peer-to-peer reviews of her fellow tax preparer's returns. She is a real asset to VITA.”

Brooks says her time and experience as a volunteer at VITA allows her to not only give back to the community helping those in need of tax assistance, but helps her academically as well. She said it makes her resume more vibrant and also helps her learning and overall education at Eastern. 

“I am very grateful to the United Way and VITA for offering this volunteer program at Eastern. “This volunteer experience really sets me apart from others when I begin looking for other internships and jobs upon graduation because I have first-hand experience with preparing taxes, and was certified by the IRS after completing the training program for VITA, something most applicants won't have.”

Brooks specifically cited Dr. Candice Deal assistant professor of accounting who teaches her Intermediate Accounting III class, and Dr. Richard Silkoff, who teaches her Federal Individual Taxation and is her advisor. 

“Dr. Deal is very inspiring because of all that she's accomplished at such a young age. I look up to her as a mentor and hope to be as successful as her one day. I enjoy Dr. Silkoff’s class because he is very passionate about and interested in what he's teaching. He also is a CPA. I look to him for advice because I hope to obtain my CPA license in the near future.”

Brooks has been helping others and giving back for a long time. As a freshman at Eastern, in fall of 2011, she served as a member of the Food Justice Committee, a club on campus dedicated to resolving issues with hunger and poverty within the Willimantic community. She participated in several volunteer activities, such as bringing food to various shelters and helped to build a greenhouse at one of the Windham elementary schools so that the students could learn about eating healthy and could grow their own fruits and vegetables. She also participated in the Walk for Warmth on campus and donated canned goods for the cause.

Brooks credits her upbringing with teaching her the value of helping others by volunteering. “My parents have always emphasized the importance of helping others. They would encourage my sisters and me to donate our old books, toys, clothes, and other items to those in need. I am very grateful to my parents for instilling such good morals in me. When I was younger, I participated in a lot of community service through Girl Scouts by volunteering at the local food pantry and homeless shelter. That continued while I was growing up with my involvement in the church.”

Brooks loves her parents so much that she actually moved back home after her freshman year of college. “As a future accountant, I am always looking for ways to save money. Since I live close to Eastern, it just made more sense for me to commute than to take out more student loans for room and board. Plus, my mom is an amazing cook!”

Brooks career goal is to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).  She would love to be able to assist people with their finances and to help budget their money wisely so they are in a stable financial position and are prepared for any emergencies. “Since I was a little girl, I've always been very conscious of where I'm spending my money and how much I'm spending; I even keep a journal of my spending. That is why Accounting is a good fit for me as a major.” 

The United Way’s VITA program is obviously a perfect fit for Brooks as well. She is shining as a volunteer and intern there. She is in a class all by herself. She is the real deal. She has set high goals for herself, and holds herself to a high personal standard. She is a rare treat, as she sets the standard by which others should be judged. 


“I am determined to do my absolute best at anything that I am faced with, whether it is school or work. I am extremely proud of all of my achievements and will continue to strive for success in my future.” With students like Nicole Brooks, the future for the United Way and the VITA program is bright indeed.


Story by Dwight R. Bachman


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Project K.B.A.

Check out the fun and exciting new things that Project K.B.A has been up to!

What is Project K.B.A?

Project K.B.A. ( Kids, Books, Athletics) is a program that focuses on literacy and fitness for children in the Windham area. This program, which originated at Connecticut College, gives volunteers the opportunity to work with elementary students through interactive reading sessions, and physical activities. The goal of this program is to help improve the literacy rates of children at a younger age, and to show how important and fun physical activity can be.

This past week at Project K.B.A. North Windham Elementary, the kids engaged in a Presidents Day project which involved arranging paper leaves and apples containing the names of United States presidents on a tree, in chronological order. The activity helped students learn more about our presidents and the history of the United States.

After students completed their Presidents Day tree, the remaining 30 minutes was spent in the gymnasium playing games with the volunteers. Kickball was the game of choice this week, and the students and volunteers had a blast! Some students, however, chose to spend their "gym time" doing other activities such as, jump roping, hula-hooping, climbing the rock wall, and cheering for the kickball teams. In every situation the students were getting physical activity and enjoying every second of it!

This program is a fun and rewarding way to get involved in the Eastern Community and work with young kids who are eager to learn and have fun. This semester, Project K.B.A. takes place on Tuesdays from 4:30-5:30 pm at North Windham Elementary. Stop by the CCE or  contact Student Leader, Camaren Lesco to sign up for this wonderful volunteer opportunity!

CCE Main Office: (860) 465-0090
Camaren Lesco: (860) 230-5183








Monday, January 27, 2014

National Holocaust Remembrance Day

The United Nations has designated today, January 27, as  the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. Today we remember the deaths of nearly six million innocent European Jews, targeted by the Nazi German Party in order achieve the political goals of the communist dictator Adolf Hitler.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, defines genocide as “a very specific term, referring to violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy the existence of the group.” This museum stands as a statement urging citizens and leaders around the world to promote peace, prevent genocide, and rid the world of such hatred. The museum’s website offers many opportunities to learn and remember the people affected by the heart-wrenching events of the Holocaust. Remember, knowledge is the first step towards making a difference and ending the existence of genocide in the world. 

The following links provide incredible opportunities to learn about the events and commemorate the survivors and victims of the Holocaust.

The Path to Nazi Genocide is a 38-minute video, produced by the Holocaust Museum, that recaps the historical events leading up to, and following, the Holocaust. The film delves into the ideology behind the actions of the Nazis, and aims to provoke thought and discussion regarding the roles of individuals and groups affecting, and affected by, the Holocaust.

Remember Survivors and Victims: This page provides links to testimonies, podcasts, and resources for information on the survivors and victims of the Holocaust events. These sources allow you to connect to the victims and their families on a more personal level, and help to really understand the horrendous conditions that millions of people suffered in from 1933-1945.

Visit http://www.ushmm.org/support to help support the museum in their efforts to keep the Holocaust memory alive and cary out initiatives to learn about and prevent genocide.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What's Trending Today


Today is Tuesday, December 3, 2013. You may have noticed the #GivingTuesday showing up a few times as you scroll through your Facebook newsfeed or tweets on Twitter.

I know that I have never heard of this phenomenon until checking my Facebook this morning and seeing it everywhere. So what is #GivingTuesday?

According to http://community.givingtuesday.org/Page/FAQ, this is the second annual #GivingTuesday event. It is a "movement to creat a national day of giving to kick of the giving season." The reason that it is called "Giving Tuesday" is because it was intended to be on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The mission of the #GivingTuesday campaign is to "create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activites that support non-profit organizations."

The website also lists some ideas for students of things they can do on #GivingTuesday, here are some of the ideas:

  • Use social media to highlight a cause that interests you and encourage other students to take action to support something that they care about
  • Organize a clothing or book drive or anothe on-campus giving activity on your campus
  • engage profressors and start a discussion about philanthropy and volunteerism, and what students would like to see more of campus related to giving.
You can also check out what people are doing around the world for #GivingTuesday on Facebook and Twitter.

This is definitely one trend worth checking out!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Day of Giving!

This month, ECSU volunteers have spent their weekends collecting cans and raising money for local soup kitchens and pantries. This has all led up to the Day of Giving! The Day of Giving is a community celebration where members from the Willimantic Community can come and enjoy a Thanksgiving feast together. It is a great time of laughter, joy and thankfulness as community members, who may not have ever interacted before, have the opportunity to share a meal.

This is the 7th Annual Day of Giving event and it is expected to accomodate more people than ever!

If you're in the Willimantic area, be sure to stop by!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Shack-A-Thon

Shack-A-Thon
 
Tuesday, November 19th-Wednesday, November 20th – The wind blew, sending a chill down the backs of ECSU college students as they made their way quickly to class. It was a high of 47 degrees during the day and a low of 31 degrees once the sun disappeared in the evening. Still, Habitat for Humanity Club members embraced the cold as they made their way to the center of Webb Lawn, carting large cardboard boxes behind them. There they started creating what would become their home for the next 30 straight hours, only going inside for class and to use the restroom.

The Shack-A-Thon is an event run by Habitat for Humanity in order to raise awareness for sub standardized housing. Members got to experience what it is like to live like a person who is unable to afford a place to call “home.” Club members had to raise $100 in order to participate.

Freshmen Habitat for Humanity members, Sam Walter, Kaley K. and Alex Hoffman and Sophomore, Kevin Powel, participated in this event for the first time. They collected their boxes at noon on Tuesday and had already been outside for nearly seven hours. They mentioned how “blessed they were to have a dorm with heat.” They also said that this experience really made them appreciate all the little things that they had so often taken for granted in the past such as their backpacks, sleeping bags and even their name brand clothing. Despite everything they had with them for this event, they were still cold and this made them think about what it must be like for people who do not even have a warm coat or gloves.

Eastern students and staff were encouraged to donate money or they could also make a donation in food for the Shack-A-Thon participants to eat. For every donation that was made during those 30 hours, the contributor could nail a paper brick to a plywood cutout of a house.

In the end, the ECSU Habitat for Humanity club was able to collect a total of $1,750. The participants were able to persevere through freezing temperatures and wind capable of blowing their structures away in order to support a great cause.