Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

20 of my favorite activities May 28, 2017

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 12:56 pm
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trails

Ready to explore?

One of my favorite pieces of the start of spring and summer weather is the opportunity to sit outside on the deck, at the park, or anywhere outdoors and enjoy good conversations with family and friends. I’ve been doing that recently and several of our conversations have drifted to what we’d do if we didn’t have to be at the office every day, whether we won the Lotto, retired or some other plan arose to keep us financially independent. It makes me think about all the activities that I would love to do more regularly if I had more time. I don’t think I would get bored!

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Here are 20 of my favorite activities (in no particular order):

    1. Hike
    2. Bike
    3. Read
    4. Garden
    5. Dance
    6. Sing
    7. Write
    8. Make candles
    9. Photography
    10. Geocache
    11. Camp
    12. Wine tasting
    13. DIY craft projects
    14. Relaxing with good people
    15. Beer tasting
    16. Puzzles
    17. Golf
    18. Volunteer
    19. Try new food recipes
    20. Road trips
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What activities keep you busy? What would you try if you had more free time?

 

Honored to be a LIVESTRONG Leader January 6, 2017

hh_livestronghqThe best year ever is kicking off on a good note! I am honored, excited and proud to share that I was chosen to serve as a LIVESTRONG Leader in the new year. Leaders are volunteers from around the world who help strengthen LIVESTRONG’s mission, messages, and programs and services in local communities (and online).

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I’m excited to focus on some grassroots efforts to raise awareness of the great programs and services that LIVESTRONG offers to people touched by cancer. You might ask why LIVESTRONG? There are thousands of nonprofits dedicated to some sort of cancer cause, and I’ve been involved with many over the years. LIVESTRONG is an organization that I’ve been involved with on some level for many years because I truly believe in what they do for people affected by cancer. I think one of their greatest strengths is the ability to make a difference on the grassroots, local level. LIVESTRONG helps build a community by getting the people directly affected by cancer involved in the programs and services, through sharing program information and their own stories, raising funds to support these programs, meeting with elected officials to advance patient care, and so much more. Not just cancer survivors – caregivers, health professionals, family, friends, community professionals and more. People passionate about fighting cancer, interested in helping others and making a difference, talented, kind and compassionate. These qualities and so many more are what make up the people involved with LIVESTRONG. I love being in the presence of these people. A major reason I’m honored to be a volunteer for this organization.

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A few of my favorite LIVESTRONG programs include:

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LIVESTRONG at School: This program, designed for grades K-12, provides educators the tools and resources needed to have conversations about cancer in an age-appropriate manner. According to the National Cancer Institute, 25 percent of cancer survivors in the United States have at least one school-aged child at home.I also love that my younger sister jumped on this program idea when I shared it with her (she’s a former high school teacher and mom of three young children) so we’re already developing plans to pitch to our local schools!

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Advocacy/public policy work: LIVESTRONG works hard to ensure that cancer care remains at the forefront of the legislative agendas and is a national priority. I love working in this area of cancer advocacy, not just with my fellow cancer survivors and supporters, but also our elected officials and their staffs. I had the honor of being a LIVESTRONG advocate at last year’s One Voice Against Cancer lobby day in Washington, DC.This type of volunteer work is admittedly a bit of a rush and excitement for me. I just love it, especially the highs, and even the lows.

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Guidebook and journal: When I was asked to help edit the first edition of these books, I happily put my professional (and cancer perspective) skills to work. I then cried when I finished….because I was so happy these resources, packed full of valuable information, were available to people with cancer (these weren’t completed until after I finished cancer treatment). It’s a great way to navigate and organize your cancer journey. I always direct newly diagnosed cancer patients to these books.

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LIVESTRONG Fertility: Thousands of people are diagnosed with cancer during their reproductive years. Facing the possibility that cancer can take away your ability to have children adds stress to an already stressful time (facing it years post-treatment is equally stressful). This program provides reproductive information, access to discounted fertility preservation services and free medications, and more.

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Navigation services: These services provide free, personalized support and information for people affected by cancer, at any stage of the cancer journey. There is wealth of knowledge and support offered through these services.

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“Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything. This is LIVESTRONG.”

People sometimes ask me why I devote so much time and energy to volunteering for cancer-related organizations, wondering if it doesn’t get to be too much since I’m a survivor and lost my dad to cancer. My response is always why not? I’m alive, blessed to be healthy, and able to give back. But I honestly don’t feel it as an obligation because I survived cancer (although I do feel that ALL people have some obligation to help others when you can; simple kindness goes so far.). I feel it’s simply part of who I am – I enjoy helping others.

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If you or someone you know is going through cancer or a caregiver, supporter or health professional, visit www.livestrong.org for information and assistance.

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***GREAT NEWS! If you’re in the metro Detroit area and interested in supporting LIVESTRONG, join me on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 11:45am for a “Rock Your Ride” event at Cyclebar Troy benefiting LIVESTRONG. It will be a fun cycling class with great music and giveaways – ride at your own pace and no experience necessary! 🙂 Click here to register.

 

Why I’m a cancer advocate (and how you can be too) July 7, 2016

Two weeks ago, I went to the doctor’s for my annual ‘girl check up.’ All was going well until my doctor started the breast exam. He paused, made an odd face, then felt the breast again. Then he commented that he didn’t remember that lump being in my right breast.

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This is when the world suddenly screeches to a halt, your heart skips a beat and you have a moment to think, “what the $%@! is he talking about?” If you’re a cancer survivor, you might have a flash of deja vu, regardless of your past cancer type. But then the world begins revolving, your heart resumes beating (maybe a tad bit accelerated) and the rational voice in your head whispers, “Take a chill pill.”

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girlfriendsonwall

Good support can make all the difference to someone.

We both knew I had small scar tissue from a biopsy done more than a decade ago in that area, but he was convinced something was different. In the days following, I felt like I stepped outside of my body. I scheduled a mammogram and ultrasound, and marveled at the irony that my 18-year anniversary from bone cancer treatment was less than a week away. I reminded the universe that I would be thoroughly pissed off if anything messed with that milestone (then followed with gratitude that I had been healthy for so long, just to be safe). While the anxiety and nerves tried to push to the surface, my determination to be optimistic and courageous remained steadfast. I thankfully am surrounded by a circle of amazingly supportive people. My family is loyal and positive, my medical team competent and kind. I talked to two cancer survivor friends who assured me that I was not being negative or crazy to feel a curling of anxiety in the pit of my stomach, but we would pray for the best. So I went for tests, then plowed forward through life for the few days it took to get the results.

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And it wasn’t cancer. Tests showed that it was a new cluster of tiny benign cysts wrapped in the scar tissue, thus changing the feel and size. The relief was palpable and I admit I cried a few tears of gratitude. I think once you have heard the words, ‘it’s cancer,’ that becomes the most dreaded phase in your mind.

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I know I am fortunate. I have a kick-ass health care team that works together as a team to ensure every aspect of my health is taken care of, even when they work at competing health systems. I have health insurance that allows me to go to almost any medical facility to ensure I can get whatever tests I may need. I have family and friends who support me and are willing to be beside me whenever I need someone (and they know I won’t ask for help so do it without being asked). And I have a mom who is the best advocate anyone could ask for (seriously, if someone tells you that something can’t be done, call my mom!).

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The unsettling reality is that many Americans do not have the benefits that I, and many others, have. Insurance is a financial luxury that many don’t have (there were still 28.6 million Americans without health insurance in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Access to good healthcare, whether good doctors, facilities, testing or treatment, is often unavailable. And even when you can access these things, you still need to sometimes jump through hoops, make too many phone calls, endure long wait times for tests and then results. Many people don’t have family and friends to help during treatment, travel or recovery.

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My gratitude is part of the reason that I advocate for cancer survivors (I also think it’s good karma to give back and I truly enjoy helping others). I have lobbied on Capitol Hill, presented at conferences, raised funds for nonprofits, held someone’s hand during chemo, sat on the end of a hospital bed while a friend faced tough decisions, talked late into the night with a cancer survivor friend and shared many hugs, smiles, tears and laughs. I share these things not to get a pat on the back but to show that if I can do it, others can too. Yes, you can.

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Here are easy ways you can be an advocate for others:

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If you are a cancer survivor or caregiver, consider being a mentor to those going through similar situations. I have met with many newly diagnosed cancer patients at my local cancer center to provide insight into treatment, tests, side effect prevention and survival tips, and much more. I also a mentor through Imerman Angels, which matches people going through treatment with those who completed similar treatments for the same cancer. They also match up caregivers. These can be one-time meetings or long-time relationships. The options are endless, especially with technology.

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babyteddy

Offer to go to a doctor’s appointment with a friend in need.

Volunteer to be an advocacy volunteer for organizations that support cancer survivors, such as LIVESTRONG, American Cancer Society, Cancer Support Community or another similar type of nonprofit. If you’re uncomfortable meeting with your legislative officials in person, there is much you can do from the comfort of your computer. Many of these organizations will send emails to volunteers when action is needed, such as sending pre-written emails to your elected officials, sharing information on social media, and emailing letters to the editors of local medial outlets.

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Support organizations that provide education, counseling, financial support and more to cancer survivors. There are more than 15 million cancer survivors in the United States, and that’s expected to grow to more than 20 million by 2026 (great news!). Access to follow up care, mental support, financial support, fertility treatment and education is vital to the health and well-being of these people. One of the greatest things that could have happened to me was being given a scholarship to attend a young adult cancer survivors’ conference in Montana shortly after treatment. I felt lost and alone during and after treatment, and meeting 60+ other young adult survivors, attending fantastic education sessions (relating to long-term side effects, fertility, job searching and relationships) and simply laughing with new friends helped me embrace my new ‘normal’ life. It was life-changing for me.

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Offer to be someone’s sidekick. This can be serving as a notetaker during a doctor’s appointment, sitting in the waiting room, sending positive phone calls, cards and text messages, showing up with a bottle of good wine. Just knowing there is someone in your corner can make the world of difference.

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Share resources. There are hundreds of organizations in the U.S. that support cancer survivors, many focused on specific cancers, genders, life issues and more. I recently shared a few of my favorite cancer-related resources with all of you. I’m pretty open about my cancer journey and post-treatment life. I realized early during treatment that sharing my experiences might help others going through similar experiences. Frankly, it’s the only way I know to be….having cancer wasn’t a choice I had, but using that experience to help others is a choice I gladly make.

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If you have other resources to share, please feel to comment.

 

7 tips for finding a great volunteer activity April 13, 2016

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 12:01 pm
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volunteerimage quoteThis week is National Volunteer Appreciation Week so I want to thank all of you who volunteer in your community! Volunteering is an incredible way of helping others and supporting your community and neighbors.

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I love to volunteer for many reasons – I feel so fortunate to be alive, healthy, financially stable, educated and loved by many. I know how lucky I am to be here, especially as a 17-year cancer survivor. I believe that everyone can pay it forward in some way. Maybe not financially, but we can all donate our time and talent. Every minute can help others.Consider this information:

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Last year, 62.8 million Americans volunteered almost 8 billion hours!* This equates to almost $184 trillion! Need another reason to volunteer? Volunteers have 27 percent higher odds of finding a job after being out of work compared to people who don’t volunteer. Consider the new skills you learn and people you meet as added bonuses of helping others.

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If you haven’t yet found the time to volunteer and help others, no worries. You can start tomorrow (or today depending when you read this)! Maybe you’re wondering how to get started and what you might be able to do. There are thousands of nonprofits that need help! Here are some suggestions to get you started:

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Start with your local community: Think of what interests you or what really makes you passionate (Are you a cancer survivor too? Love animals? So grateful to your shelter for helping you or someone you know? Experienced in planning events or finances?). Check out some nonprofits near you. Ask your family and friends where they volunteer and what they like about these organizations.

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Thank your church: Many churches welcome volunteers to help with activities such as office tasks, answering phones, greeting members before services, and during Sunday School for the children. Our church hosts coffee time between services where members volunteer to greet others, donate baked goods, and basically ensure everyone is enjoying the social time as we get to know each other.

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School time: Those of you who are parents know that most teachers and schools love to have volunteers help out in the class and at activities. I’m not just talking about PTA. While I may not yet be a parent, I still love volunteering at my nieces and nephew’s schools. I’ve done everything from chaperoning field trips to helping with classroom activities to checking out books during library time to assisting at holiday events.

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Volunteer with a group: Volunteering with others is a great way to help and have fun at the same time! Gather your family, friends and/or coworkers together to help make a big difference. Many nonprofits have special group projects, such as spring cleaning gardens, packing food boxes, painting and building homes. The local horse rescue organization that I support organizes group volunteer days in the spring and fall to clean the farm for the four-legged residents. Tasks can range from washing water buckets to fixing and painting fences to organizing the feed room to cleaning the pastures. It helps the organization get a lot of big projects done quickly while also exposing many people to the great mission and animals. And I love meeting new horse-loving people!

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Cuddle some animals: Many animal shelters need people to play with and simply love the pets in their care to help socialize the animals waiting for adoption. Many of these animals have been abandoned and possibly abused so letting these furry creatures know there is lots of love in the world can help them find a home.

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Hang out with seniors: I have so much respect for the generations above me and love talking to them to hear about our history through their experiences. Some senior citizen homes have volunteers come in to play games and activities with the residents and help them not be alone.

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Focus on your passion: I’m pretty passionate about fighting cancer, helping others touched by cancer, and anything horse-related so it’s probably no surprise that I give a lot of time and energy to organizations with missions that fit my interests. I am particularly partial to organizations that support young adult cancer survivors since I know first-hand the powerful impact cancer can have on you when diagnosed at that vulnerable stage of life. Do some research though. As you can imagine, there are thousands of organizations focused on cancer so I thoroughly research an organization, meet some of the staff to ensure we ‘click’ and commit to organizations that I feel really need my help (I refuse to help as a volunteer or board member just to list this on my resume).

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There really are SO many volunteer opportunities available throughout the country, even world. Many communities have an organization that lists volunteer opportunities throughout the area (Volunteer Impact is one example in the Detroit area and Volunteer Impact highlights U.S. opportunities). What are some volunteer opportunities you participate in?

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*source: Corporation for National & Community Service.

 

Volunteers needed for great charities May 18, 2013

Filed under: Cancer Tips,Life Lessons — Heather @ 6:01 pm
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For most of my career, I have worked in the nonprofit sector, focusing on missions, fundraising, volunteers and getting the best bang for always low budgets. I loved knowing my work was making a difference in the lives of people in our communities. So it’s a little strange to be in the for-profit world, not worrying about planning fundraising events and raising donations (although for-profits obviously focus on raising funds for different reasons). I’m not complaining though – I love not worrying about those things! And it frees my time for volunteering at my favorite charities.

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Horses have been my passion since childhood.

Horses have been my passion since childhood.

I love volunteering – love knowing I’m helping others, love sharing my skills and knowledge to help others give back, love seeing the results of hard work. Whether it’s helping facilitate a program, coordinating publicity for an event, chaperoning children with cancer to camp, cleaning feed buckets for horses, or sitting on a nonprofit board, it’s quite gratifying to help worthwhile charities be successful.

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I always encourage others to give back, whether volunteering your time and talent, attending a fundraiser to show support, donating funds for a project or simply helping spread the word about programs and events. So many of us are blessed with health and success, and there is always something that everyone can give. And giving back doesn’t have to be about money. While donations are critical to a charity’s ability to provide their programs, volunteering is essential too. Most charities have small staffs to keep administrative costs low so rely on volunteers to help with office tasks, work at events and assist during programs.

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After years of working in the nonprofit sector, I am familiar with many local charities. Many have a wonderful mission, are well-managed and efficient with funds and resources, and positively touch the lives of many people in our local communities. And several have a well-meaning mission and want to make a difference but don’t quite understand that operating a nonprofit is similar to operating a business. Just because you are ‘helping’ people, the environment or animals doesn’t mean you get to slack on accountability, ethics and responsible management. Donors trust you to do good work with their money and make the greatest positive impact. The IRS has high standards too. I recall a board member of a nonprofit I managed telling me that I was running the organization like a business, not a nonprofit. I knew he meant it as a snarky comment but I smiled at him and said “thank you.” It was clear he didn’t know the business model of a highly functioning nonprofit and I took his comment as a compliment.

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While there are thousands of charities to find in metro Detroit, and many worthy of support, I admit I have my favorites. These organizations fall into categories that interest me, thereby motivating me to give my time, energy, talents and money to them when possible. I thought I would share in case you’re motivated to give back to others.

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Camp Casey, Royal Oak: This organization combines two passions of mine – horses and cancer advocacy. Founded in memory of a young girl who loved horses, Camp Casey offers horse-related programs to children with cancer. Cowboy Camp Outs lets families with a child with cancer get away for a weekend at a dude ranch. Outlaw Outings are cost-free fun activities for these families, including sports games, museum visits, theater shows, etc. And Horsey House Calls are an awesome opportunity for Camp Casey to bring the horse to a child’s house. I recently trained to be an equine therapist for the Horsey House Calls, which includes a fun pizza party, craft project, grooming lesson and ride on the horse around the neighborhood for the child with cancer and a few siblings and/or friends. All programs are free to participants. You need horse experience to be an equine therapist but there are several other volunteer opportunities, including helping at events.

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A magical place to support.

A magical place to support.

Friends of Camp Mak-A-Dream, Michigan Chapter, Bloomfield Hills (and Montana): I’ve shared info in the past about this great camp for children, teens and young adults with cancer. It means so much to me that Justin and I chose to give a donation to the camp in honor of our wedding guests rather than favors (we also chose Michigan Humane Society). The Michigan Chapter raises funds to send local cancer survivors to the camp in Montana. Local volunteer opportunities include helping plan a fundraising event and working at events. If you want a life-changing event, volunteer for one of the week-long camp sessions in Montana. Each session is unique in activities but always is filled with fun (ropes course, miniature golf, art studio, archery, swimming, bonfires, etc). The modern cabins and a state of art health center enable participants to be in treatment for cancer, and a siblings camp provides a much-needed getaway for those who have a sibling with cancer. There are several volunteer positions to fill – cabin counselor, kitchen, program, office and more.

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Horses Haven, Howell: I continue to be so impressed this all volunteer run organization does so much for the animals they rescue. I love visiting the farm, seeing horses who thankfully were rescued to get another chance at happiness and health. Volunteers help with many tasks around the farm. There are two shifts during every day for volunteer to feed, water, clean stalls and do a

How do you resist this handsome face??
myriad of other tasks to care for the horses. Quarterly work days let volunteers paint fences, clean water buckets, organize tack rooms and whatever else is needed completed around the barns, paddocks and grounds. Sponsor days are monthly, welcoming individuals who sponsor one of the horses for a minimum one year so experienced horse volunteers help get the horses from the paddocks and ensure safety (I sponsored Shecky for several years and hope to do so again soon). Random volunteer opportunities include helping at awareness events and helping plan fundraisers.

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Clinton River Watershed Council, Rochester Hills: This environmental nonprofit works hard to protect the Clinton River, its watersheds and Lake St. Clair. If you love to be outdoors, you’ll enjoy the many opportunities to help make a difference for our communities. Cleaning up the river and its banks is always needed, removing invasive species and wood. Adopt A Stream volunteers monitor water at specific sites and River Day volunteers ensure this annual June event is a fun, safe time for all. There are plenty of other projects and tasks to keep you busy all year.

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Many local metroparks and state parks need volunteers to help remove invasive species, clean trails and keep the parks clean and safe for thousands of people to use each year. REI coordinates many volunteer activities during the year so check your local store for details (volunteers usually get a cool REI shirt). My family and I have also helped at our church, particularly around the holidays to pack boxes from the food pantry. During my work transition, I used some of my free time to volunteer at my niece’s elementary school. Nothing made me smile more than chaperoning a laughing group of kindergarteners at the farm or helping during their computer class.

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As I mentioned, there are MANY more worthy charities in the area that could use your time and talent. Even if you volunteer once a month or a few times a year, every bit helps the organization. And I promise it will help you too. Who doesn’t feel great about giving back to the community and helping those in need? So do it for others and yourself. Do you have a favorite charity you volunteer for?

 

Beer & food tasting at the Winter Beer Fest January 28, 2013

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 10:47 pm
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photo-11On Saturday, my husband and I volunteered at the Winter Beer Fest IV in Royal Oak. We were helping Camp Casey, the charity recipient of the evening. Camp Casey is a nonprofit horseback riding program for children with cancer. I recently became more involved with the fabulous organization and am excited to be trained as an Equine Therapist to help this summer (and beyond).

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When we saw the volunteer request, we were quick to respond. Justin and I really enjoy trying new craft beers and it was a great opportunity to do this while helping a great charity. The Winter Beer Fest, held at Royal Oak Music Theater, offered samples of more than 100 beers (pale ales, pilsners, white ales and more) and hard cider from throughout Michigan and the nation.

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Justin and I were stationed at McKenzie Hard Cider, which offered Black Cherry Cider and their Seasonal Reserve, which tasted like Apple Cinnamon. YUM! McKenzie is based in New York and distributes locally to Holiday Market in Royal Oak. They try to use Michigan ingredients but unfortunately our 2012 crop was pretty dismal due to the weather so this year’s cider couldn’t be deemed Michigan product. But these ciders were still awesome. Neither include added sugars (only natural sugar from the cider) and weren’t too sweet. We had a great time marketing our beverage, talking people who claimed they ‘don’t drink cider’ into trying it, then smiling when they came back for another sample. Our line remained constant and we actually ran out of samples by 10:15pm!

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The event quickly got packed! Hundreds of people flowed through the venue tasting the beverages. I was impressed with the turnout, and more so with the polite, friendly guests even as the night went on and the alcohol flowed (we’ve all been at those venues with drunk, obnoxious people). As a volunteer, we were able to take short breaks to sample too.

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Justin really liked Bell’s Hopslam Ale. He recently tried this hoppy with a touch of honey beer. It is a limited supply and many photo-14distributors sell out quickly. He also enjoyed the Milkshake Stout from Rochester Mills Brewery in Rochester and Decadent Dark Chocolate Stout by Atwater Brewery (smelled like chocolate!) in Detroit.

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I was excited to see Pyramid Breweries on site. I discovered Seattle-based Pyramid beers while vacationing in Alaska. For years,  I couldn’t find it east of the Colorado River so was pleased when they started distributing in Michigan last year. So while I have a six-pack of Apricot Wheat in my refrigerator (thank you, sweet husband), I can’t pass up an opportunity to try their other beers. Chai Wheat is a seasonal beer that combines by favorite drinks – Chai tea and Wheat beer!

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Blue Moon had a great display, including an artist painting a Blue Moon canvas. I’ve long been a fan of Blue Moon, from their Belgian White to Harvest Pumpkin Ale to their speciality releases. Blue Moon now offers a Vintage Ale Collection, which combines their white ale with the juice of either red or white grapes. We tried the Proximity, which is a white ale that includes juice from Sauvignon Blanc white grapes. It was a light, crisp taste that I liked. We also tried a Peanut Butter Ale, brewed with real peanut butter.  Neither of us really liked this, particularly the aftertaste. We tried other beers, including Magic Hat No. 9 and a few from Jolly Pumpkin. One of my new favorites is Milking It Productions‘ SNO White Ale, a Belgian-Style white ale infused with orange peel and spices. It is brewed in Royal Oak and available at Holiday Market. Very tasty.

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photo-12Throughout the venue, Michigan-based vendors provided samples of food, sauces and rubs. Westborn Market (Royal Oak) was set up near our spot so we wandered over to sample several variety of snack mixes. Justin loved the Dill Pickle mix, while I liked the Hot & Spicy mix. We settled on purchasing the Motor City Snack Mix. I tried Street Eatzz 313 sauces – good but too spicy/hot for my husband’s liking.

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We sampled, and liked, chips and salsa by Zalza. Both products are locally produced and can be found in a variety of stores, including Kroger and soon Meijer. I’m a huge salsa fan so sometimes picky. I thought the chips weren’t greasy (my biggest dislike) and the salsas were tasty. They had mild, medium, mango and a few other choices. As we wandered we came across a samples of hummus and pita chips sold through Westborn Market and made by another local vendor, Zane Foods. Our favorite flavor, roasted red pepper, was delicious! Seriously, we’ve tried a lot of this flavor and this is one of the best. It has a nice, smooth, flavorful consistency. I was delighted when offered a free container of the hummus and pita chips (and yes, we opened both as soon as we got home!).

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We had the pleasure of chatting with John Coram, co-owner of Jonny Secreto Foods based out of Rockford. Such a nice guy with great photo-13foods! We sampled several different rubs cooked on chicken bites, as well as a delicious BBQ sauce and spaghetti sauce (soon found in Meijer stores). I purchased the Craft BBQ Sauce. Yum.

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I enjoyed this event. It gave us a great opportunity to get familiar with new beers and hard ciders, while meeting fun new people. I also really enjoyed working with Justin. We make a great team and have lots of fun together. It was a nice reminder of how thankful we are to have found each other and say we’re happily married to someone special.

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If you’re interested in attending a beer fest-type event and supporting a great charity, stay tuned for info on Camp Casey’s fundraiser on June 22 in Royal Oak.

 

The season of giving to charities December 2, 2012

Filed under: Life Lessons — Heather @ 5:12 pm
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The end of the year brings the holidays, parties, shopping, decorating and trimming the Christmas tree. It also is the time of year that charities focus on year-end donations. Giving USA shares that total charitable giving in the United States reached more than $298.4 billion in 2011. Individuals contributed 73 percent of that amount.

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With thousands of charities seeking donations from the general public, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the multitude of online and direct mail appeals. How do you choose a charity to support? If you’re unfamiliar with a charity, check out their website, visit their location if possible, talk to staff and volunteers, learn about their programs, and their impact. Websites such as Guidestar.org and CharityNavigator.org provide fiscal information.

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Horses are my passion.

I usually focus on charities that personally affect or interest me. Since my family has been so heavily affected by cancer, for instance, I try to support one or two cancer-related organizations every year. And I’m a huge animal lover so am a sucker for animal-related charities. And I love the outdoors. But I can’t support all of them! So I start by looking for charities with missions that resonate with me. I also look for organizations that are fiscally responsible (ie, spend more of their annual budget on programs versus administrative and/or fundraising) so I know my donation is making the greatest impact. And, the last few years, I’ve been focusing on local charities so I can support people, animals and places in my surrounding communities.

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Supporting a charity can be done in many ways. Most prefer unrestricted cash. Making a donation in honor or memory of someone is a wonderful way to share your support of an organization. Many nonprofits will send special cards to a recipient. We chose to honor our wedding guests by making donations to two charities in lieu of favors (we put table cards at each place setting). Some charities sell holiday cards as another opportunity to support, and promote, their work.

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I’m sure most of you have your favorite charities, but if you’re searching for a worthwhile organization, here are some ideas, as well as some of my favorites that I’ve had personal contact with.

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My childhood obsession with horses continued into adulthood. While cancer stopped my ability to ride/train, horses still bring me inner peace and happiness. I am incredibly impressed with Horses Haven, a rescue organization in Howell that is run completely by volunteers. I sponsored one of their un-adoptable horses for many years (and hope to do so again next year) and volunteered several times. There are a lot of shelters for dogs and cats in your local area, such as the Michigan Humane Society or your city’s animal shelter.

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Supporting the outdoors is a great way to ensure your favorite parks and trails continue to be available. Many of these

Support the outdoors!.

Support the outdoors!.

places, such as the Macomb Orchard Trail or Maybury State Park, have a ‘Friends of’ charity that accepts donations to maintain the trail or park.

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If a family member or you have been affected by a disease, consider supporting an organization that conducts research, offers support services, and provides education or other resources. As I mentioned, cancer-related charities are close to my heart. I’ve written about Camp Māk-A-Dream’s impact on my life several times so no surprise I’m a big advocate for this amazing free camp for children and young adults with cancer. I also believe in the mission of the Cancer Support Community, which offers free social and emotional support for people with cancer, their families and friends. With more than 50 affiliates throughout the U.S. and Canada, there is most likely an affiliate in your area. Make-A-Wish Michigan provides ‘wishes’ to children with life-threatening illnesses. I know many children and teens fortunate to receive a trip or special moment provided by Make-A-Wish. Their smiles tell the impact this organization provides to participants.

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Of course there are so many other health-related charities beyond cancer. From March of Dimes to Gift of Life to the American Heart Association, these charities certainly positively affect many people.

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Good education is critical to our society. With continued budget cuts for school districts and higher education institutions, education can use some help. Many local school districts have created foundations so the public can donate funds for items needed in schools, field trips, programs such as choir and band, and other needs. Many universities have opportunities to support specific programs, such as certain departments, scholarships or athletics.

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Local arts and culture organizations are also feeling the pinch of the economy. I am a firm believer that a city is so much better with museums, theater and cultural opportunities for children and adults. The Henry Ford, Cranbrook Institute of Science, Stagecrafters theater, Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Zoo are among my favorites to visit. All rely on donations to help operate and offer great programs.

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A magical place to support.

The camp is a magical place to support.

You may think that you can’t make a difference because you can’t donate a large sum. Not true! Every dollar counts. Really. If you can’t donate money or don’t want to give cash, check into a wish list. Many charities need office supplies, animal food, clothing, etc. Every spring, I print Camp Māk-A-Dream’s wish list, head to the Dollar Store and purchase art supplies, journals and other items needed for the camp season. Every December, my husband donates cat food, litter and other supplies needed by a local animal shelter.

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And almost every charity I know needs volunteers. Most nonprofits have a small staff doing multiple job duties. As a former nonprofit executive, I can attest that volunteers are quite often the batteries that keep an organization moving forward.

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There is unfortunately no shortage of needy, worthwhile charities. There are also irresponsible, ineffective charities. Before parting with your hard-earned money, I encourage you to investigate a charity to ensure fiscal responsibility, a clear mission and positive impact in the community.

 

 
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