Monthly Archives: May 2012

Camp Odayin

Imagine not wanting to go to summer camp because you didn’t want to have to explain the scar on your chest from heart surgery or a parent being too scared to send their child off to camp because they would be too far from medical care.  This is what the families of children with heart disease had to think about before Camp Odayin came along.

Camp Odayin provides safe, fun and supportive camp experiences and community building opportunities for young people with heart disease and their families. 

Sara Meslow knew about heart disease.  At just 13 years old, she was diagnosed with supra ventricular tachycardia which caused abnormal electrical impulses sometimes made her heart to beat wildly.  She grew up to be an elementary school social worker and volunteered for several summers at a camp for young heart patients in California.  Sara’s mother suggested that she start one of these camps in Minnesota and Camp Odayin was born.  

The camp was formed in 2001.  Odayin means “heart” in Ojibway.  The goal is to make the camp an ordinary camp so the kids don’t have to feel like a heart patient. 

The main office is located in Stillwater, Minnesota but their camp programs are held around the area.  They have a resident camp in Crosslake, Minnesota; a day camp in St. Paul, Minnesota; and a winter camp and family camp in Amery, Wisconsin. 

The only cost to campers is a $25 registration fee per person to attend.  The actual costs are between $100 and $600 per child depending on the program.  The additional funds are contributed by generous donors and four annual fundraising events.  They also utilize an all-volunteer staff, including highly trained pediatric cardiac nurses and physicians, in addition to the camp counselors and program directors. 

The resident camp is for children with heart disease between 8 and 17 years of age, the day camp is for children with heart disease that are 6 and 7 years of age, and the family camp is for families with a child with heart disease.  All camps are for children who would benefit from connecting with other young people who may share similar health, emotional, and social concerns.  Camper eligibility is determined upon recommendation by a pediatric cardiologist and approval by the Camp Odayin Medical Director.

The organization hosts three annual fundraisers.  The Heart & Sole Fun Run/Walk features a beautiful 5K run and 2.5K walk at Como Park in Saint Paul, Minnesota in September.  The Whole Heart Golf Tournament is an annual event in June at the Indian Hills Golf Club in Stillwater, Minnesota.    The Have a Heart Benefit is a music event held each winter.  You can learn about these fundraising events on the organizations website.  These fundraisers return about 93% to their campers.

How can you help?

  • Each summer over 120 volunteers are needed as counselors, nurses, and cardiologists.  Camp counselors stay in the cabins with 7 to 9 campers.  Each cabin is also staffed by a nurse who administers medication and monitors the health of the campers.  You can learn more and apply for these positions here.
  • The organization also utilizes volunteers who serve on event planning committees and provide office support.  You can learn more and apply for these positions here.
  • You can purchase Camp Odayin logo clothing on their website.
  • You can also make a monetary donation using the “Donate Here” button on the organization’s website.

You can learn more about Camp Odayin at their website,  You can also connect with them via e-mail, Facebook, or Twitter.


Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization


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Handmade Especially for You

I have written posts about using your passion to give back (Refresh Your Resolutions and Give Back).  Today’s organization was founded by a woman who found herself with extra gifts to give.

Leslye Borden sold her business in 2007 and spent more time on her favorite hobby, knitting.  She made beautiful outfits for her granddaughters, but realized that she had gotten carried away when she found the outfits in her daughter’s giveaway box.  It was then that she decided she needed to find more needy recipients for her gifts. 

She decided to start creating scarves for women impacted by abuse.  She created an organization named Handmade Especially for You with a mission to provide comfort scarves to women who flee domestic violence by escaping to a shelter for abused women.  The organization is based in Palos Verdes, California.  In 2010, they shipped 10,000 scarves to 33 shelters.  In 2011, they donated 15,000 scarves to 57 shelters throughout California.  

Handmade Especially for You has found there is power in the scarves they provide.  Directors at the shelters who receive the scarves often say receiving such a beautiful gift from someone they do not even know is a tremendous surprise to the women that it lifts their self-esteem and makes them open up to the counseling and education provided at the shelter, which is an enabler to change their lives.  Many women who leave their abusive environments bring their children with them.  The shelter staff give the children a scarf to help them sleep and they provide them some comfort in a difficult time.  

You can read stories from shelter staff in a recent newsletter.  One comment really seemed to summarize it well.  Richard Kravetz, Executive Director of DVS for Santa Barbara County, wrote, “Thank you for your support!  Your gift of 25 comfort scarves gives women and children a promise to fulfill a dream of a home and life without violence. . . . Thank you for being part of the solution.”

The organization has volunteers all over the United States as well as scarf contributors from England, Scotland, Singapore, Germany, South Africa, Australia, and Costa Rica.  Volunteers can make knitted or crocheted scarves to donate.  They prefer the scarves to be 4 to 4 ½ inches wide and at least 60 inches long.  The organization often provides kits with premeasured yarn.  Another way you can help is to donate yarn or make a monetary donation.  Learn more about making a donation on their website.  You can also find a listing of companies that have donated yarn on their website.

Local volunteers can assemble yarn kits, tie ribbons and gift tags on the donated scarves, and ship out boxes of scarves.

You can learn more on the organization’s website,  You can also find them on Facebook or contact them via e-mail.

Thank you letters sent to Handmade Especially for You by some of the 60 shelters for abused women to which they donate comfort scarves.

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Posted by on May 29, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization


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Global Soap Project

You may have heard of organizations such as homeless or women’s shelters that collect the small unused toiletries from hotels to give to their clients.  Today’s organization takes that collection one step further by collecting used soap from hotels.

The mission of the Global Soap Project is to work with their hotel partners to divert used soap from going to the landfill and instead be reprocessed and reused by vulnerable populations around the world.  Their ultimate goal is to impact global health by promoting sanitation and hygiene.

The Global Soap Project is based in Atlanta, Georgia, but soaps are collected from participating hotels across the United States and Canada. 

In a CNN interview last year, Global Soap Project Founder Derreck Kayongo, a native of Uganda, spoke about his first hotel stay in the United States in the early 1990s.  He was surprised to see the soap replaced each day even though it was barely used.  That sparked an idea to recycle the discarded soaps into new bars for those who could not afford it.  At 25 cents a bar, soap is not a priority for those making just one dollar a day.  In 2009, Derreck was able to bring his soap recycling idea to life.  Derreck and his wife Sarah started experimenting with soap making techniques in their basement.  The organization has since grown to fill a warehouse. 

Housekeeping departments of participating hotels collect the soap and the hotels ship it to the Global Soap Project warehouse.  Volunteers clean the soap, process it into new bars, and package it for shipping.  They also verify the safety of random samples of their reprocessed soap on a regular basis using an outside lab.

The soap is shipped to vulnerable populations including orphans, refugees, and disaster victims.  Most organizations receiving soap contact the Global Soap Project and are screened and vetted as appropriate recipients.  As of February 2012, the organization has distributed over 250,000 bars to 21 countries.  In March 2012, they shipped their first container load of soap to Haiti.

How can you help?

  • If you live near Norcross, Georgia, you can volunteer to clean and re-make soap.  You can find the details of this opportunity on their website.
  • You can share the project details with a hotel that is not already participating in the project.  You can find a brochure for hotels here.
  • Monetary donations can also be made to the Global Soap Project.  You can donate online or by mail.  Learn more on their website.
  • You can also spread the word about this project by sharing this blog post using the sharing options at the end of the post.

You can learn more about the Global Soap Project on their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, or via e-mail.


Posted by on May 24, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization


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Project Sweet Peas

One thing that ties most of the Blogunteer posts together is a story of a passion that drove someone to start an organization.  Today I write about three women whose stories had a common bond that brought them together to form one organization.

Stephanie Olivarez gave birth to her daughter, Shelby Grace in July 2006.  Shelby was born with a life threatening birth defect known as Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia (CDH).  Shelby fought for her life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and has endured several surgeries since she was only nine days old.  Shelby has three older sisters that have served as an asset to her recovery.

Corin Nava gave birth to her son Gabriel in November 2006.  Gabriel presented serious complications immediately after his birth and was whisked to the NICU.  Corin was told that her son had the devastating birth defect CDH.  In January 2007, Gabriel lost his fight to CDH.  Corin went on to have three more children, one of which needed NICU care. 

Kate Crawford gave birth to her daughter Shannon in January 2007 with CDH and was later diagnosed with Hypoplastuc Left Heart Syndrome.  The combination had a 1% chance survival rate and she died in her mother’s arms at just two days old.  Kate went on to have three other children who were all premature and spent weeks in the NICU. 

These three mothers came together through an online support group where they found comfort and support.  They knew there was something they wanted to do to help families so they started filling gift bags with items they needed or wished they had during their stay in the hospital.  Project Sweet Peas was born.

The organization’s headquarters is in Pennsylvania, but there are divisions and affiliates in 18 states and Canada.  Their mission is to provide comfort to families who have critically ill children in the intensive care unit or families who experience the unfortunate loss of a child by providing care packages and memory boxes.

The strain felt by families during a stay in the NICU result in a great deal of sadness, depression, and most of all, stress.  Often families find themselves in the NICU unprepared; without the basic necessities or any simple comforts of home.  The parents are consumed by a focus on the health and survival of their newborn.  In some cases, the hospital staff can provide some comfort, but that is not always the case since their focus is providing the best medical care to the baby.  

One source of sadness is the inability for the parents to hold or bond with their new baby.  Anything that promotes closeness, touch, and other positive interactions promotes attachment with serves to keep the infant close to its mother and improve the child’s chances of survival.   

Project Sweet Peas works with hospitals to provide families with the basic necessities and comfort items through care packages.  These customized kits could contain toiletries, gift cards for food, or gas to help cover the costs of frequent trips between home and hospital.  In addition, notebooks, journals, and resources to help families keep track of progress and stay informed are provided.  Books and toys can be included to help entertain siblings.  Blankets, hats, booties, decorations for the baby’s bed, scrapbook materials, hand and foot molds or print kits, and disposable cameras could also be provided to help parents build precious memories.  When needed, bereavement memory boxes are provided to help families collect treasured mementos to remember their baby who passed away.  Since their founding in 2009, over 4,000 care packages have been delivered. 

How can you help?

  • Project Sweet Peas allows parents to start divisions of their organization in honor or memory of their own children.  Each division has been touched by a child who spent time in the intensive care unit or has passed away.  You can find all the divisions along with the story behind their creation here.
  • You can donate handmade items such as booties, hats and blankets to a local project.  Learn more and find patterns here.
  • You can find fundraisers and events hosted by the various divisions of Project Sweet Peas on their website.
  • Tax deductible monetary donations can be made via PayPal on their website.
  • You can share the variety of resources for NICU families, find stories from other NICU families, or send a care package/memory package to a family via the Project Sweet Peas website.

You can learn more about Project Sweet Peas on their website,  You can also follow their blog, follow them on Facebook, or connect with them via e-mail.


Posted by on May 22, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization


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Kindness: Pay It Forward

Today we have another guest post for my series on kindness.  Today’s post is by Kelsey Ohme, an Outreach Manager at Metro Meals on Wheels; an association of 37 Meals on Wheels programs serving the Twin Cities, Minnesota metro area.  Kelsey’s work at Metro Meals on Wheels has focused on recruiting and engaging the next generation of diverse volunteers to meet the growing need for Meals on Wheels in the Twin Cities. 

Meet Norm.

Norm is able to live independently in his own home in Maple Grove, Minnesota with the help of Meals on Wheels

Having lived in outstate Minnesota for most of his life, Norm actually delivered meals at a rural
Meals on Wheels program many years ago and fondly remembers his time volunteering as a way to
give back and connect with members of his community.

As life often does, Norm’s life has come full circle as he is now a recipient of Meals on Wheels. He
started receiving Meals on Wheels a couple of years ago after struggling with serious health issues.
At that time, he moved to the Twin Cities and his doctor recommended he receive Meals on Wheels
so that he would have a regular and nutritious meal on a daily basis to help him regain his health.

But for Norm and many others, Meals on Wheels is much more than a meal. Meals on Wheels is
about spreading kindness to seniors and individuals with disabilities who might otherwise be socially
isolated and lonely. By delivering Meals on Wheels you are sharing a smile, kind words, and a sense
of community with your neighbors. Many years ago, Norm was able to spread kindness to his
neighbors by delivering Meals on Wheels, and now he enjoys the friendly greetings his Meals on
Wheels volunteers bring him on a daily basis along with his meal.

Meals on Wheels conducted a survey of their clients and 40% of the respondents said the meal
delivery volunteer is the only person they see on an average day. When you think about that
statistic, it highlights why the kindness of a volunteer is so important in the lives of Meals on Wheels
recipients. Often times when volunteers deliver Meals on Wheels the client is waiting at the door in
anticipation of the meal, but even more so, to greet and chat with the volunteer who is delivering the

We invite you to learn more about Meals on Wheels and the many ways you can help spread
kindness to your neighbors at

“Words cannot express how much I appreciate all the volunteers who deliver the meals. If it wasn’t for them, I couldn’t live at home” —Meals on Wheels Recipient


Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Guest Post


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Women’s Bean Project

“Every person has a dark side. What defines a person with good character is not a spotless life of constant kindness, smiles and even temperament. But rather, it’s the yearning to learn from your mistakes, applying it, making amends for them and choosing not to repeat them that defines good character. These are the friends to keep in your life because they have stared adversity in the face and became a better person because of it.” ~ Shannon L. Alder

Today’s organization is dedicated to giving women second chances.  The mission of the Women’s Bean Project is to change women’s lives by providing stepping stones to self-sufficiency through social enterprise. 

The Women’s Bean Project was founded in Denver, Colorado in 1989 by Jossy Eyre.  She was working at a day shelter for women and saw the same women visit the shelter multiple times.  The shelter was providing the women with a safe place to stay, but the women were not gaining the necessary skills for self-sufficiency.  Jossy used $500 of her own money to purchase beans and put two homeless women to work.   

The Women’s Bean Project serves as a transitional employment program, but they are set apart from other programs by teaching life skills and skills necessary for job placement to the program participants.  They want the participating women to be successful in the workplace and in life.  Approximately 25% of their time is spent in classes learning skills such as conflict management, financial management, organizational skills, computer skills, and job readiness.  These classes make them ideal candidates for employment when they graduate from the program.  You can hear stories from the women impacted by this program on their website.

The products that the Women’s Bean Project participants create are gourmet foods a recent addition of a jewelry line.  The participants work with women jewelry designers to learn the basic skills of jewelry-making to create limited edition pieces. 

How can you help?

  • You can support the mission of the Women’s Bean Project by purchasing their jewelry items and food, including soup mixes, cookie mixes, coffee, tea, sweets, and more. 
  • Volunteers are needed throughout the year as job coaches and life skill teachers.  Volunteers are also used when the product demand is higher and for special events.  You can learn more about the various volunteer opportunities and fill out a volunteer application here.
  • You can also make a monetary donation on their website.

To learn more about the Women’s Bean Project, you can visit their website at  You can also connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.

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Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization


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Kids ‘n Kinship

Many children do not have positive adult role model in their life.  Mentoring relationships are proven to improve a student’s academic performance, school attendance rate, and increase their positive attitude.  They also decrease the likelihood of the child turning to drugs or violence.  You can read more details of the benefits of mentoring here.

There are many mentoring programs around the country, today I profile one that serves children in Dakota County, Minnesota.  The original Kinship program began in 1955 by a group of students at the Saint Paul Seminary.  The “Kinsmen” was a group of volunteers who befriended young men on probation and parole.  Over the years, the program has evolved to become more preventative in nature by serving children instead.  The Kids ‘n Kinship program began when Carol and Dick Frick saw a high percentage of youth in need of role models in their community.  They established and ran the program in Dakota County for the first 20 years and in 2012, the program is celebrating their 40th year of serving children and families in the cities of Apple Valley, Burnsville, Eagan, Farmington, Lakeville, and Rosemount.

Kids ‘n Kinship’s mission is to provide friendships to children from ages 5 to 16 who are in need of a positive adult role model.  They match children in need of support with a screened and trained adult volunteer mentors.  Through these relationships, children receive positive attention, experience a variety of activities, and develop a sense of self-worth essential to successfully functioning in healthy relationships.  Adult individuals, couples, and families spend time each with a child, modeling consistency, character, and good citizenship.

While there are many mentoring organizations around, Kids ‘n Kinship is unique because as a small organization they get to know their participants really well, which helps them make the best possible match for each child and volunteer.  The matches are made on common interests, compatible personalities, and according to the preferences of the child, parent/guardian, and volunteer.  The hope is to create a lasting friendship, not just a short term relationship.

You can see examples of these mentoring relationships in this short video from Kinship:

How can you help? 

While Kids ‘n Kinship serves children in Dakota county, they do welcome volunteers from other areas.  They do have 47 children currently on their waiting list.  Mentors can be individuals, couples, or families who spend one to four hours each week doing fun and enriching low-cost activities such as going to a park, nurturing a child’s hobbies and interests, and attending community events.

There are also volunteers needed for their quarterly outings for participants, for presentations to the community about the program, or to provide any number of other services.

You can learn more about Kids ‘n Kinship on their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook or by phone (952-892-6368).  For those nearby, consider attending their next information session on Tuesday May 22 from 6:00-6:45 PM in the small meeting room at the Burnhaven Library in Burnsville, Minnesota.  You can RSVP to this session by e-mailing or calling 952-891-3885.

There are Kinship programs in North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan.  You can connect with these other programs through the Kinship website,

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Posted by on May 15, 2012 in Nonprofit Organization


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