Volunteering made easy

HOBpic 2Volunteers pose for a picture after a hard day of work. 

With so many non-profits and volunteer organizations rooted here in Birmingham, it is clear that the people of this city are passionate about their home.

Yet often times people are overwhelmed by the amount of volunteer opportunities available to them, and they don’t know where to start.

That’s just what Hands on Birmingham is for.

The organization, which began in Birmingham in 1998, seeks to connect people with meaningful service opportunities throughout the metropolitan Birmingham area.

“We are a conduit for a lot of people to engage in community service in a very easy format,” said Karla Fields, the PR and Fundraising Manager for Hands on Birmingham.

But how exactly does Hands on Birmingham work?

With more than 200 non-profit partners, the organization seeks to work with the volunteer on a personal level by serving as the sort of liaison between the general public and the city’s non-profits.

“Whatever your interest area is, we can always connect you to an organization that meets the need of whatever you want to do during your volunteer experience — and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time,” Fields said

HOBpic1

A group works on a playground in the Birmingham area. 

While Hands on Birmingham does coordinate several days of service throughout the year and is available for custom group trips, each individual is encouraged to venture into the city and give any time he or she might have.

Volunteers can go to the Hands on Birmingham website, search projects around the city by date, area or type and then register to be a volunteer at that particular project. Projects may be a one-day event or a reoccurring project.

“You can go on our website Friday and register for something and be engaged Saturday,” Fields said.

Last year, more than 8,000 people donated more than 25,000 hours of service and time to the community, and with the deliberate planning that goes in to each of Hands on Birmingham’s projects, it is easy to see why.

“Our staff can scope a project, we can tell you how many volunteers it takes to get that project done, the materials that would be needed to get it done, order the materials, go and pick them up. We will get everything set up so it’s pretty much whenever those volunteers arrive we can tell them how many need to go to this station, and assign the volunteers to a particular station,” Fields said.

For Hands on Birmingham, success not only lies in the completion of a service project, but also in the satisfaction and hard-work of the volunteer.

“When they leave, they can see the immediate impact that they’ve made and its always a good feeling, ” Fields said.

For more information about Hands on Birmingham or to find out how you can get connected with a project, please visit http://www.handsonbirmingham.org/.

By Sarah Anne Elliott
Photos courtesy of Hands on Birmingham

Freedom Night: the anti-trafficking movement

freedomnight

“Hope” was the theme of Freedom Night. The word against the backdrop of the skyline allowed for attendees to really understand the heart behind the night. 

At this moment, more than 27 million people worldwide are enslaved. I-20, the highway that stretches between Atlanta and Birmingham, is America’s most used avenue for sex trafficking. Girls of all ages are being taken and forced to participate in brutal and alarming modern acts of slavery- right in our backyard.

To help raise awareness, Sonya Hornsby, a Birmingham local, was inspired to plan an event to help educate people about human trafficking in the United States and around the world. Hornsby believes that by making others aware and providing a space for advocacy, the “27 million” become much more than just a vague number, they become real people who are in need of rescue.

“I think it’s easy to think that we might not have resources or the platform to make a difference, but we all have a voice, and that’s what I want people to know and grasp” Hornsby said.

There are anti-trafficking organizations throughout Birmingham fighting for the freedom of all people being exploited or held in bondage by the sex industry. While all of these organizations have different tactics, they share the same underlying goal: to grant freedom and restoration for those being held captive.

Last Friday, October 19th, 2013, many of these organizations gathered together to take part in Freedom Night- a night aimed to shine a light on the reality of modern day slavery. Several different bands were featured, including Sister Hazel and Steve Moakler, and many different people spoke about the potential victory that can come with perseverance in the fight against sex trafficking.

“I thought it was cool to see so many different types of people and organizations supporting the anti-trafficking movement. I’ve always known about human trafficking, but it going on so close to where I live makes it so much more real,” said Caroline Dill who attended Freedom Night.

To learn more about the anti-trafficking movement, and how to get involved, go to http://the-wellhouse.org/

By Kadie Haase
Photograph by Kadie Haase

A beacon of hope for the children of Northern Uganda

IGFkids1IGF children in Kitgum singing “Victory in Jesus” at a weekly assembly July 2013, in Kitgum. Photo courtesy of Mary Katherine Riggs.

We’ve all felt it before.

That unshakable feeling of deep passion — a tight knot inside our stomachs combined with out-of-control adrenaline that seems to propel our bodies into action despite logic’s repeated reprimands and warnings.

If we are smart, we let that passion move us to wherever it wants us to go. And that’s just what Irene Gleeson did 22 years ago in the small town of Kitgum, located in Northern Uganda.

When Gleeson arrived in Kitgum, she had no plan (as world-changers seldom don’t), but she had that unshakable feeling of passion (as world-changers always do). Shocked by the state of the district which had been devastated by 37 years of war, Gleeson decided to gather the children of Kitgum under a mango tree and teach them songs— a simple gesture that helped restore a future of peace.

Since that fateful day under the mango tree where that first note of hope was sung, over 25,000 children have been impacted by Irene Gleeson. With the help of several donors and a remarkable Ugandan staff, Gleeson created the Irene Gleeson Foundation to ensure her vision would be carried out far beyond her lifetime.

And that it is.

Though Gleeson passed away in July of this year, her vision and legacy lives on. Every day, IGF opens the doors of four schools that ensure over 8,000 children in Kitgum are properly educated, fed and cared for.

IGF runs several other programs in Kitgum, including an AIDS Hospice, FM radio station and a Discipleship training program. A Women’s Hospital is also under construction, and when it opens it will provide advanced pre-natal and post-natal care to the women of Northern Uganda.

IGFjamie     IGF Stateside Director Jamie Ankenbrandt behind the IGF information table at Samford’s recent Go Global missions conference.

Jamie Ankenbrandt, the Stateside Director for IGF, explained the vision behind the ministry: “Our vision is to transform, liberate and empower people through Christ to build sustainable communities by improving the quality of life of children in Northern Uganda. We accomplish this in four areas of work, quality education, quality healthcare, economic development, and community development,” she said. “Our true vision for the ministry is that we will — in our skills through holistic care — raise up future leaders in Uganda so that East Africa becomes the shining light of the continent.”

As IGF’s North American offices are located in the heart of Birmingham off of Highway 280 in Office Park, the organization’s ministry hits particularly close to home for several locals.

Samford nursing students Mary Katherine Riggs and Kelsey Saettele travelled to Kitgum this past July to help care for the children in IGF’s schools, deliver babies at the local hospital and serve in IGF’s AIDS hospice.

“The Nursing School here at Samford teaches us to care for the patient holistically — not just medically. IGF’s vision aligns directly with what we have been learning the past three years here at Samford as the organization believes firmly in the whole care of a child — medically, physically, spiritually and emotionally” Riggs said.

Saettele added, “Applying the skills we learn in the classroom to real life situations and merging my love for missions and medicine was absolutely incredible, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have served in such a practical way.”

Riggs and Saettele also sponsor a child, Sandra, through IGF, who they were able to meet this summer.

“Meeting Sandra was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” Riggs said. “I was instantly overwhelmed by her beautiful smile.”

Children like Sandra are encouraged every day by the over 450 Ugandan staff that work for IGF — a continuation of Gleeson’s passion.

For more information about IGF and to find out how you could help be a part of Gleeson’s vision and change a child’s life forever, visit http://igfusa.org.

By Sarah Anne Elliott