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4 Reasons Kids Should Start Volunteering Young

Compassion, empathy and service to others—these are only a few of the values volunteering on a regular basis can teach us. Volunteering shows us our own privilege and how we can use it to help those less fortunate than we are. For many people, volunteering isn’t a part of our lives until a school course requires it for credit, encouraging us to go “be a part of the community.”

These are great outlets and programs, but what if we started instilling these volunteering values at a younger age? Despite their age, children can have a powerful impact in the community, if only we encourage them to do so. Here are four reasons kids should start volunteering young.

1. Volunteering teaches valuable life skills.
First and foremost, volunteering teaches children valuable life skills, such as working with others and following directions. It gives kids a chance to get outside of the classroom and put their knowledge into real-life work.

Consider this: collecting food for a local shelter could be a chance for your child to learn how to organize materials by type, expiration date or brand name. Cleaning up garbage in a park can show them the value of working as a team, and how to efficiently come together to get an important job done. Whether it’s working with animals, a local shelter or a national cause, volunteering gives your child the chance to learn important life-lessons in a safe environment.

2. Volunteering encourages empathy.
Working with others also gives children the chance to develop their empathy and compassion. Oftentimes, kids grow up in a specific world and aren’t exposed to much else. Volunteering, however, gives children the chance to meet and interact with others who are different—and often times less fortunate—than themselves.

Through volunteering opportunities, kids have the chance to see the world from a different lens and recognize their own circumstantial privileges. What better way for children to learn empathy, than to experience it firsthand?

3. Volunteering gives a voice to young people.
According to Scholarship America, the current largest demographic of volunteers is adults ages 35-54. By contrast, just one in five Americans between the ages of 16-24 reported spending any time volunteering. However, according to a 2012 study by DoSomething.org, the most important determining factor for youth volunteering was having friends who also volunteered.

When your child volunteers, it gives a voice to young people, establishing a network between younger and older generations to work together. Kids have the chance to get involved and make their opinions heard. And when just one child starts volunteering, it acts as a catalyst for other youth to be active in the community as well.

4. Volunteering can help with college.
Finally, and of course: volunteering is a great boost when it comes to college. Volunteering experience on college applications shows schools your child is a valued member of society who contributes to his or her community. Starting kids on the volunteering track at a young age gives them the chance to be even more involved, get more background experience for their resume and establish personal connections for potential recommendation letters.

Volunteering is more than just an activity for high school or college students earning credit; it’s a chance for children to get involved at a young age. Giving back teaches life skills and intense empathy, while giving children a voice in the community and preparing them for college.

If you want your child to start on the right path for an altruistic lifestyle, help them get involved in their community and start volunteering today.

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Spring Cleaning: Cool Ways to Donate Used Items

Spring is officially here, which means it’s out with the old and in with the new as we shake off the dusty cold of winter and embrace the upcoming sunshine of summer. For most people, spring marks a time of cleaning, rearranging and repurposing within their homes.

But where can we put all of our used items as we make way for the new? If you’re looking for cool ways to donate your gently used items, check out this list of things you can and should donate, and some unique ideas of where to give them.

Cool Things You Can Donate
Turns out, many items we think are just a one-time thing can actually be put to good use somewhere else by someone else. Here are some unique items you may not have known can actually be donated:

  • Winter Coats—While you may think many nonprofits don’t need winter coats right now (summer is coming up, of course), you could be surprised. Right now is a great time to go through old winter clothes and donate them, so charities can start prepping for next winter to keep those in need warm.
  • Wedding and Prom Dresses—No one should have to worry about their prom or wedding just because they can’t afford a dress. Wedding and prom season are coming up, which means dresses will be in high demand. If you have an old prom or wedding dress that’s gathering dust, consider donating them to help make someone’s night special.
  • Cars—That’s right, the old clunker sitting in your driveway that “no one wants” can actually be put to good use. Check in your community to see if any local nonprofits will take old cars for parts or repurposing. The best part? Your donation is tax deductible!

Yard Sale Freebies
If you really want to go all out this spring cleaning season and don’t have time to stop by your local charity, consider hosting a free yard sale. That’s right: open up your driveway and let the neighbors run wild. You’ll be brightening someone’s day while also cleaning out your house.

Or, if you really want to take things a step further, host a yard sale with all the proceeds going towards a nonprofit of your choice. You may be surprised at just how many customers give an extra dollar or two if they know it’s going to a good cause.

Blankets for Animals
Maybe you’re thinking, “I would love to donate some of this stuff, but it’s in such poor condition I don’t think anyone would want it.” Well, while humans may not be in the realm of taking roughly used items, dogs and cats probably wouldn’t mind.

Consider donating any of your old bedding or towels to a local animal shelter to be used as blankets for rescued animals. When it’s keeping them warm and safe, Fluffy and Filo really aren’t going to care what condition the blankets are in.

Toiletries for Victims of Violence
Finally, if you have a few extra dollars or toiletries laying around the house, you can give those to the local domestic violence shelter. For men, women and children escaping violence, nothing can be as comforting as a safe place to call home and a warm shower to relax. Any unused toiletries or gently used bedding, clothing or furniture can go a long way in helping those escaping abuse.

This season, take your spring cleaning to the next level by utilizing these cool and unique ways to donate gently used goods. Your house will be less cluttered, your neighbors will feel supported and your lifestyle will be more philanthropic.

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Generous Donors Provide Bowling Night with Pediatric Clients

This past month pediatric clients and their families from Brain Injury Services were treated to a night at Bowl America because of the generous support of two local philanthropists – Tina and Irfan Nawaz. Over thirty bowlers participated in the event as they enjoyed time bowling, playing games, and eating pizza together. If summed up in one word, the night was FUN!

“I think the bowling party was a great place for families to connect with each other” said Jo Thompson, Program Director of Child & Adolescent Services at Brain Injury Services. “Not only did the clients and siblings get to have fun and get to know each other better, but so did the parents, which was wonderful to be a part of.”

The idea for the event came one day when Tina and Irfan were bowling with some friends. They noticed another group of children bowling together and began to think about our pediatric clients. Having worked with Brain Injury Services before, they could imagine that not all families who have experienced a brain injury could so casually enjoy a night out like this. So they brought the idea to Brain Injury Services and said that they wanted to pay for a night of bowling for these families.

One of the parents wrote to Brain Injury Services and said, “I wanted to thank all of you at Brain Injury Services for organizing the bowling outing. It was really fun — we all enjoyed ourselves and it appeared everyone else did as well. It was also nice to meet the other participants. What a great idea — thanks to all of you for making this happen!”

After reflecting on the event, Michelle Thyen, the Director of Community Engagement at Brain Injury Services said, “We are so grateful for the support of generous donors like Tina and Irfan. They are the perfect example of how beautiful things can happen when we find ways to support others in a way that speak to our hearts.”

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Karen Brown Honored with BIAV’s 2017 Weinstock Award

On Saturday March 11th 2017, at their annual conference, the Brain Injury Association of Virginia honored Brain Injury Services’ Executive Director Karen Brown as the winner of the 2017 Weinstock Award. This annual award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated “a commitment to people with brain injury and promoted awareness of their needs.”

One of the quotes Anne McDonnell, Executive Director of Brain Injury Association of Virginia, read as the award was presented stated, “Karen Brown exemplifies leadership. She leads with integrity, passion and courage and her work is innovative and collaborative. She responds to accolades by acknowledging other team members’ contributions. Her enthusiasm is as limitless as her compassion is for others.”

Everyone in the Brain Injury Services community is proud of Karen Brown for this marvelous achievement. The award is well-deserved.

Below is the full statement from Anne McDonnell about the award:

The Weinstock Award was established in 2006 by the Brain Injury Association of Virginia (BIAV) in honor of Harry Weinstock who served sixteen years with BIAV, fifteen of them as executive director. Harry demonstrated a passionate dedication to helping individuals and their families’ journey through life after a brain injury and to improving and increasing services and supports available to them.

Nominees for this award are citizens of the commonwealth who have made unique and lasting contributions to the brain injury community.

Individuals are nominated and then voted on by the BIAV Board of Directors. This is the eighth time we’ve presented this award; previous recipients include Harry Weinstock, Dr. Nathan Zasler, Teresa Ashberry, Irv Cantor, Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services Commissioner Jim Rothrock, Patricia Wilkins Harrison, Fred and Evelyn Esposito, Jason Young, Jeff Kreutzer and Martin Donlan.

With over 40 years dedicated to the rehabilitative field, Karen Brown has worked at state and local levels to ensure families connect with the services and resources they need. Last summer, she celebrated her 20th anniversary with Brain Injury Services. As Executive Director, she has made a tremendous impact, expanding program services and broadening the organization’s service area throughout Northern Virginia, as far south as the Rappahannock area and as far west as Winchester. During her tenure, Ms. Brown has introduced a number of innovative rehabilitation programs, and its model for brain injury rehabilitative services has been replicated in communities across the Commonwealth of Virginia and around the world. She is the past Chair of the Virginia Brain Injury Council, the Virginia Alliance of Brain Injury Services Providers and the Fairfax County Long Term Care Coordinating Council. She serves on George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services Advisory Board and Ohio Valley Center for Traumatic Brain Injury Advisory Council.

Patti Goodall, the Director of the Brain Injury Unit with the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services had the following to say about working with Karen: “As a leader, Karen is always seeking new and innovative ways of serving individuals with brain injury, and Virginia has benefited from her strength, knowledge, expertise, and fearlessness.”

Jason Young said “Under Karen’s leadership, Brain Injury Services has developed an array of services and supports and shared their model with providers around the state, offering guidance and consultation, and living, in a very visible way, her philosophy of sharing innovative models and ideas.”

One of her staff shared that “Karen’s greatest strength and her biggest lesson to us all is to always, always put the client first.”

Joann Mancuso, another colleague from Virginia Beach said “After 20 years of working with Karen Brown there are three words that come to mind: mentor, colleague, and friend.

And Krystal Thompson, the Executive Director of Brain injury Services of Southwest Virginia had this to say – “ Brain Injury Services of Southwest Virginia would not be the organization it is today without Karen Brown’s mentorship more than 17 years ago when BISSWVA founders, Greg and Fran Rooker, met with Karen and modeled their new organization after hers.”

Karen Brown exemplifies leadership. She leads with integrity, passion and courage and her work is innovative and collaborative. She responds to accolades by acknowledging other team members’ contributions. Her enthusiasm is as limitless as her compassion is for others.

And when I attended my very first Brain Injury Council meeting, there was this really smart, very striking woman leading it, who seemed to everything and everybody, and I thought to myself, “I want to be Karen Brown when I grow up.”

The award reads…for demonstrating a commitment to people with brain injury and promoting awareness of their needs, the Weinstock Award is presented to Karen Brown in honor of her dedicated service to the brain injury community.

The award also includes a scholarship in her name, funded by BIAV, for a deserving individual to attend Camp Bruce McCoy.

I’m very happy to be the one who gets to stand here and hand this award to someone I respect immensely and to whom I am eternally grateful. Please join me in expressing our great gratitude to Karen.”

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Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by Going Green

St. Patrick’s day is this week, which means green is everywhere—green clothes, green decorations, even green food. But the biggest question is: are you going green? Now more than ever, our Earth is under stress from the pollution, waste and harmful chemicals humans release into the environment.

This week, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by taking simple steps to go green in your home and community. By going green, we create a better environment for ourselves and future generations. Check out these easy ways you can live an altruistic—and green—lifestyle.

1. Reduce, reuse, recycle.
We’ve all heard this phrase, but how many of us actually put it into consistent use? Recycling materials is a simple step towards building a healthier, happier planet. Before you throw out your garbage, check to see if it’s recyclable. If you haven’t already, get in contact with a recycling company in your community to work with. Of course, if you’re ever confused or unsure about whether or not a product is recyclable, check online or call the recycling service.

If you want to be even more efficient, check products before you buy them to see if they’re recyclable. By making a conscious effort to buy recyclable products and restore them afterwards, we can all come together to create a greener world.

2. Chuck the bottled water.
For water drinkers, one easy step towards a green lifestyle is simply chucking the bottled water. According to Sustainable Baby Steps, nearly 30 billion plastic water bottles are sold in the U.S. annually, with less than 20% of them actually being recycled. You can help break the cycle by drinking from a reusable water bottle. The water bottle can even save you money by drinking from your home tap or filtration system.

3. Turn it off (and save money).
If you want to save even more money while going green, get into the habit of turning off any and all electronics which are not in use. Turn off the lights when not in a room, unplug electronics—e.g. the toaster, fan or curling iron—when you leave the house or even take shorter showers. By practicing these simple, everyday steps, you can potentially cut your energy bills in half (Sustainable Baby Steps).

4. Try new transportation.
Going green on your commute can sometimes be easier than expected. Bicycling, walking, carpooling or public transportation are all great ways to save money and help save the Earth. When you do have to drive somewhere, combine multiple trips into one, drive slower and make sure your car tires are inflated to save gas money and gas emissions. Green transportation can be pretty easy to do when we take the initial steps and follow through.

5. Buy local and organic.
One of the most important ways to go green is through the food you eat. When food travels in from around the world, its transportation emits negative chemicals into the air and can have a harsh environmental impact. Buying local, organic food ensures that your food is healthier than products commercially grown, and is brought in from a shorter distance, reducing the environmental effect. Organic and locally grown food is better for your health, better for the community and better for our planet.

6. Educate others in the community.
Finally, you can help improve the Earth by educating others in your community and those around you. Through gentle education and encouragement, together we can positively influence those around us and build a more altruistic society.

This St. Patrick’s Day, make an impact by truly going green. Put these steps into practice and see how you can do your part to make the Earth a happy and healthy place for everyone.

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Show Support for Women’s History Month

Throughout history, remarkable women have worked to overcome stereotypes, discrimination and even violence, in order to further women’s advancement and build greater generations for the future. The month of March recognizes these women’s sacrifices, and celebrates the strong women of our past who laid the foundation for the strong women of our future.

This Women’s History Month, get involved by showing support for the women in your community. Check out these ways you can remember powerful women from history, while advocating for women today.

Remember women’s history.
What better way to celebrate National Women’s History Month than by actually checking out some valuable women’s history? Whether it’s visiting your local museum or road tripping to a famous women’s historic location (Women’s Rights National Historic Park, anyone?), taking time to remember some of the history that has gotten us this far as a society is a valuable way to support women today.

If you have a family, use this month as a chance to teach children why women’s rights are important, and how they have developed over the years. Enjoy activities centered on powerful women in history, or maybe even watch a famous movie to celebrate.

Use female-created inventions.
Another great way to support women this month is to intentionally use inventions created by women. Women have often gone unrecognized and underappreciated throughout history for the valuable contributions they have made, but you can use March as a chance to recognize the great utilities many women have brought us. Check out this list for examples:

  • Wash your dishes in a dishwasher, brought to you by Josephine Cochrane in 1886.
  • Drive in the rain, with your windshield wipers by Mary Anderson in 1903.
  • Drink coffee with a coffee filter, thanks to Melitta Benz in 1908.
  • Clean up with Scotchgard, invented by chemist Patsy Sherman in 1932.
  • Use a computer, thanks in part to Grace Hopper in 1944.

Celebrate female art.
Whether it’s Jane Austen, Georgia O’Keeffe or Maya Angelou, celebrate female artists this month by reading a historic book, visiting an art gallery or listening to women-empowering music. Or, enjoy a fun family night out by watching a female-centric movie like The Hunger Games or Divergent. Whatever you decide to do this month, celebrate women’s contributions to the artistic world and the hard work they have put in to build a more diverse community.

Volunteer for a women’s organization.
If you really want to commit this month to supporting women in your community, check out local women’s nonprofit organizations to see if they need volunteers. Some charities may be hosting events to celebrate Women’s History Month, or some may need more volunteers to support their female clients in need. Whether it’s a women’s domestic violence shelter, a female-centric political group or a woman empowerment organization, find a cause to get involved and show your support for the women around you.

Donate to a women’s fund.
Finally, you can celebrate this Women’s History Month by donating to a women’s cause important to you. Women around the world are in need of support, resources and encouragement, and together we can help make a difference in their lives. Whether your donation is monetary, goods or services, your help is valued in contributing to women’s growth and empowerment.

This March, get involved with National Women’s History Month by trying out some of these ideas. Whatever you do, use this time to remember the women who have made historic strides, and honor women in your community who continue to advocate for women’s rights.