Monday, May 31, 2010

I Made The Call To Volunteer ... No One Called Back!!!

It's been 10 days since I decided to do something to help put food in the hands of people in Ft Myers who, for one reason or another, weren't getting enough to eat. At the outset I had no idea where to start so I looked online and found the most prominent organization in Lee County. They delivered the most food, won the most acclaim for their outstanding service, had the biggest network and served the most people.

Fort Myers top notch "Hunger Fighters", it seemed reasonable to assume that if they were doing the bulk of the work ... they would have the greatest need for volunteers. So I called their volunteer number, got no answer ( understandable ... it was after business hours ) so I left a brief message, and figured I'd hear from them the next day. Oddly enough, after waiting several days and contacting other organizations, who were in fact interested in my help, it occurred to me that I had never received a return call from the first group I called! I didn't know what to think or feel, but, it certainly raised a few questions ...

Were they so understaffed that they lacked sufficient manpower to field and respond to their phone calls?

Did their answering machine/service somehow lose my message?

Do they currently have enough help, and saved my name and number for future reference?

Did I somehow leave the wrong phone number?

I imagine any of these scenarios is possible ... I can only say that not knowing has finally troubled me enough to want to find out. Up until now I've only mentioned this story to one other person, he is also active in the Ft Myers area food distribution charities, and as I shared my story and frustration with him he mentioned he had heard others tell the same tale! Have any of you had similar experiences ... or heard similar stories? I'll be following up on this as it has now finally piqued my curiosity to the point where I need to know ... I'll let you know what I find out ...

Richard Thomas, Social media/SEO Consultant in Ft Myers Florida, Writer, interested in making a positive difference in my community including but not limited to: regional search engine marketing for small businesses in Ft Myers Florida. Local Google Ranking Improved for both companies and charities. 501c3 non profit promotion done pro bono.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Finding Your "Comfort Zone" In Working With Charities

Several weeks ago I made a conscious decision to move from wanting to do something positive in my community to actually doing something positive in Ft Myers Florida. Among the various acts that could be considered "positive", I couldn't think of anything more positive than volunteering at a local Ft Myers food bank or soup kitchen.

I wanted to find out what organizations provided food bank or soup kitchens in Ft Myers, selected one near me, and reached for the phone to start making calls to see where I might fit in. I discovered that a local food bank in Ft Myers needs volunteers, specifically drivers for the meals on wheels and to pick up food donations.

Before my hand reached the phone a funny thing happened ... I felt uncomfortable ... I felt unsure ... I pulled my hand back away from the phone and went back to thinking about it! I recognized immediately that this was strange behavior, but the fact was calling to volunteer my services to help others was not in my comfort zone. I began analyzing and rationalizing ...

"Maybe I'm biting off more than I can chew?"

"Will I be able to fulfill the obligations I commit to?"

"Do they really need MY help ... I can only do a little?"

"Can I handle being witness to the hardships of others, especially when it involves children?"

These and other questions filled my mind and haunted me for several days. I eventually came to realize that the real issue was that I was about to leap into an area that I had no experience in, that I'd had little exposure to, but in spite of my lack of background, wanted to make a contribution that mattered. I saw it as an opportunity to be less than effective ... an opportunity to fail! As soon as I understood this I reached for the phone again, and then pulled it back once more ... I decided I would go and visit the organization in person.

I walked into the food bank unannounced and waited in line for my turn to speak with the lady at the front desk. The others in line were there to pick up food, and while it was obvious they were there because they had need, their spirits were high and their outlook upbeat. As I watched the administrators and volunteers dispensing the food going about their duties it was apparent that they felt good about what they were doing ... the whole room was filled with an air of positivity! Just standing in line watching these people interact with each other allayed 50% of my anxieties regarding volunteering! It was simply people helping people! When my turn came to approach the receptionist I sat down and told her I was interested in volunteering she seemed excited by the idea and called one of the managers from the back to speak with me. We went into her office where she gave me an overview of what the organization was about and what they were trying to achieve, and told me a little about the groups history. What was evident to me was that by virtue of the fact that I wanted to help ... I was already accepted as part of the family! The more we talked the more eager I became to show I was worthy of being part of their organization. I accepted a route on their "Meals on Wheels" program and will begin making deliveries this week, and intend to keep my eyes and ears open to see if there are other ways I can help.

Now looking back on my anxieties with volunteering they seem quite foolish. I imagine it's part of human nature, like your first day of grade school, or asking a girl on a date for the first time. Our minds seem to conjure up visions that are awkward or uncomfortable, when in reality it is a natural thing, just part of growing as a human being. It has occurred to me that there are probably many like myself who have wanted to volunteer, and wanted to do something positive for their communities, but felt awkward getting started. I would suggest that if you can put your fears aside long enough to take those first few steps you will quickly discover, as I did, that helping those in need isn't so far out of YOUR comfort zone at all!

Richard Thomas, Social media/SEO Consultant in Ft Myers Florida, Writer, interested in making a positive difference in my community including but not limited to: regional search engine marketing for small businesses in Ft Myers Florida. Local Google Ranking Improved for both companies and charities. 501c3 non profit promotion done pro bono.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ft Myers Food Bank Needs Volunteers

Located in south Ft Myers Interfaith Caregivers Of South Lee County ( ICSL ) has been serving their community for over 10 years. Focusing their attention to residents of Lee County who live south of Gladiolus Rd. in Ft Myers and north of Coconut Rd. in Estero.

Interfaith Caregivers of South Lee Inc.
17592 Rockefeller Circle
Ft. Myers Fl. 33967
(239) 267-3510

This group of dedicated individuals offer a place to turn to in times of trouble. With the cooperative efforts of
  • The United Way
  • Publix Supermarkets
  • Sweetbay Supermarkets
  • and a host of other business and private contributors they provide food, counseling, training, transportation and hope to citizens and neighbors in need. Following is a partial list of the assistance provided by Interfaith Caregivers Of South Lee County ( ICSL }

Interfaith Caregivers Of South Lee Inc.

Food Pantry

Participant in the " Meals on Wheels" Program

Online Food Stamp and Medicaid Registration

Transportation of the Elderly

Daily Phone Calls to Check On Those Living Alone

Assist in Providing Food to School Kids Who Otherwise Might not Eat Over The Weekend

Classes in Conversational English

For more information, to volunteer, or to make a donation contact ICSL at 239-267-3510

Search Engine Optimization Services for local Ft Myers Charities Provided pro bono by

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Learning The Ropes Of Local Charity In Ft Myers

I've devoted some time over the past week researching the various types of charitable and social service organizations exist in the Ft Myers area, and have been pleased to find there are many groups that address a diverse array of needs. I have also been surprised to find out that there are, in fact, needs for services that I never knew existed or if I was vaguely aware ... I didn't know the extent of the need. It had never occurred to me that there might be hungry people who, because of their age or lack of transportation, are incapable of going to a food bank or a soup kitchen. Likewise, I'd never considered these same people would find it difficult to get themselves to medical appointments, or even to the pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions. I learned just today that one of the major hurdles for Hispanics in the Ft Myers area is a lack of proficiency in speaking conversational English, which often times translates into difficulty locating an organization that can help them, and furthermore communicating their needs to them. In response to this need one of our local food banks has set up a classroom in the back of their distribution warehouse and devote considerable time to teaching English to those interested in learning.

I've also gotten the impression that while food and cash donations are always important ... the thing most of these organizations need more than anything else is for people to donate their time. Even a few hours a day once a week goes a long way when there are enough people volunteering. Take some time to consider what you can do to help when you have a few spare hours, it will be an eye opening and rewarding experience!

Richard Thomas, Social media consultant in Ft Myers Florida, Writer, interested in making a positive difference in my community including but not limited to: regional search engine marketing for small businesses in Ft Myers Florida. Local Google Ranking Improved for both companies and charities. 501c3 non profit promotion done pro bono.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hungry children in Ft Myers Florida wait out long weekend

Several months ago in the middle of service at church our minister asked a man to come forward and speak. I don't recall the man's name, but, the story he told struck a nerve in me, and is a large part of why I sit here writing this blog today! It's a safe assumption to say " we all " know the recent economic downturn has changed all of our lives here in Lee County, but, after hearing what this man had to say I realized I hadn't yet grasped the extent to which some lives were affected, and the hardships too many are forced to endure.

He shared a story told to him by a friend, who happened to be a principal at a local elementary school. She came to school one particular Monday morning and was greeting the students as they filed in from the buses and the area where parents drop off their kids. Most of the students had made their way to their classrooms, however, a few still lingered in the halls, among these was a group of 3 kids from the same family. What drew her attention was the fact that they were all standing together, holding each other and crying. When she asked them what was wrong their response surprised her ... they were crying because they hadn't eaten since their school lunch on Friday ... and their stomaches were hurting! She immediately took them to the cafeteria and had food served to them. It was at this point when she got another surprise, the children each took some of the food and put it away to take home with them, apparently there was another child at home, not yet old enough to go to school, who hadn't eaten since Friday either. She instructed the cafeteria workers to make sure at the end of the day these kids had food in their backpacks to take home. With their belly's full and their tears dried she sent the kids to class, and went to her office to make some calls.

Her first call was to a friend and associate of hers who was also an elementary school principal, she thought she would surprise her friend with the story, but it turned out this principal was dealing with the same issue with several of her students as well. They decided action needed to be taken ... they started calling schools around the county and telling administrators about the problem, they advised their staff to be on the lookout for any sign in the students that they might be hungry, and to advise them immediately, and they ( the administrators and teachers ) all started bringing food to school so that on Fridays they could fill the kids backpacks with enough food to get them through the weekend!

Since I first heard this story there hasn't been a day I didn't think about it at some point, and it has changed forever the way I look at teachers and school staff! I've kept my eyes and ears open lately when I visit my own daughter's school, and I've seen and heard enough to know that this is going on in my neighborhood as well, this problem is real and ongoing! If there is a time for action ... that time is NOW!

Contact a local food bank, find a church that is feeding the hungry, when someone asks for a canned food donation give as much as you can ... the need has never been greater!

I hope to post links to organizations in our community who can use YOUR help in the very near future.


Monday, May 10, 2010

One person can make a difference!

Yesterday was Mother's Day, we had gone out to eat and returned home for coffee and cake when my mother shared a story with the family that has stayed with me all day today. Mom serves as an usher/greeter, on a rotating basis at her church " The Church of the Cross " on Daniels Rd.. The church itself has a long history of reaching out to the community to help those in need, as well as a long list of members of their congregation who are active in many of our communities charitable organizations. Yesterday, as she was standing at the door welcoming people to the 10:00 service Mom noticed 2 passenger vans of men pull up to the front entry. They were well dressed and friendly, but unfamiliar to her, and she wondered where they all came from.

The service started with the usual songs and prayers, then before the Minister began his sermon he called one of the men from the group that arrived in the vans to come forward. He came to the front, and told the congregation he and his friends were from " Teen Challenge " and they had come to honor and express their gratitude to Dorothy Thomas ( no relation to myself ). Dorothy has, for some time, been relaying the needs of Teen Challenge to the church, bringing food items to the group, collecting and delivering clothing donations, and even went so far this year as to supply Mother's Day cards for those in the program to send to their own mothers. The group wanted to thank her publicly and present her with a certificate of appreciation.

As I heard this story I was struck by how much it must have meant to Dorothy to have these men want to take of their time and resources to come and show their appreciation for her. However, from the time I woke up this morning I haven't been able to stop thinking about how much Dorothy must have meant to Teen Challenge. I'm sure there are a number of people who have given of their time, and provided food or clothes to the group, but Dorothy has done so consistently and joyfully, and has made a real difference at Teen Challenge, in these men, and in her community!

For over a year now I have been hearing stories of how many Ft Myers charities resources are being spread too thin, and that there has never been a greater need locally for everyone to pitch in and help. Perhaps we could all learn something from Dorothy, find a group that can use what we have to offer, give of ourselves regularly and happily, and bring a true sense of community to Lee County.