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Doing a little good
One of Memento's better qualities is that the company has a fairly strong community-service ethic. Company policy is that employees get to take a half-day several times a year to do Something Good, and in order to make that a bit more real, management has a habit of occasionally leading field trips. And so it was that a half-dozen of us found ourselves serving lunch yesterday at Rosie's Place.

The place itself is quite a bit nicer than I expected. The usual impression from word of mouth is that it's a homeless shelter, and that's partly true, but the place thinks of itself more as a support center, providing women in need with necessary services. The shelter part is actually fairly modest -- a small number of medium-term beds. Their real pride and joy is clearly the classrooms: they recently bought the house next door, and renovated it to hold a large number of classrooms where they teach classes to help the women they serve to help themselves. And then, of course, there's the kitchen.

They provide hot lunches and dinners to all the women who come in, but the effect is deliberately *not* a stereotypical soup kitchen. The statement that they make (repeatedly) is that you should treat the ladies as you'd want your own mother to be treated -- with respect, and in a way that helps them keep their dignity. That tends to be self-reinforcing, with the result that the whole thing is very *polite*, making it much more pleasant for both the patrons and volunteers. The atmosphere is deliberately non-institutional: comfortable, well-lit, cafeteria style but not sterile.

So I spent the first hour or so on prep -- primarily on mixing the chicken and pesto for lunch. Then I ran one of the initial lines: bread and soup basically as requested. (The rule was that you'd serve so much automatically, but provide as much as requested if she asked.) Then on to plate-prep for the main lunch, which was served at table -- we had an assembly line making up plates of chicken-pesto burritos, a fairly ornate corn/barley salad, asparagus and an apple, and then several people taking those around to tables with full service. And then cleanup, starting quietly in the background as things begin to empty, and getting thorough once the dining room closes at 1pm, proceeding gradually enough that we were done by 1:10pm.

The politeness aside, they run a nicely tight ship: the schedule of what goes out when is firm, which I suspect plays into the dignity point -- they treat the women like grown-ups, and insist that they behave as such. And the volunteers are instructed on proper food safety from the get-go, with all the right nuances. (Including the point of, "We have lots of gloves. Do not attempt to save us gloves. When in doubt, put on new gloves.") The result is that it's a pretty satisfying place to work, with no surprises or panic. (Andy, who runs the show, reminds me a lot of a good SCA kitchener -- helping out as he has time, but always looking around for crises to deal with, understanding that his job is mainly to provide direction.)

All in all, a lot of hard work -- running pretty much flat-out for three hours -- but a good time. They do a nice job of making the volunteers feel useful, especially if you're the sort to go looking for ways to help out. Recommended as a way to spend some time, if you're looking for a opportunity to be societally useful...
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Thank you! My company gives us 2 days off a year to volunteer, and I'd been looking for a good place. I've also been looking at JVS, to help folks prep resumes and do well in interviews.

My company did a community day at a local children's hospital in Petach Tikva. It was a very rewarding day. I ended up with the managing directory of Citi Israel handing out balloons in the cancer ward. It was hard at some level but so worth it.

For next year I am thinking about learning to make balloon animals

There are some balloon animals (like dogs) that are totally easy and you can pick them up in five minutes or so. (Says the girl who went to clown camp for a week as a child.) And they make kids smile a lot.

I've been doing blacksmithing demos at the Topsfield Fair. One of the acts on the Children's Stage, across the "road" from us, is a children's magician, and one of the things he does is make balloon animals. One of his bits of schtick is that he "knows how to make 37 different kinds of balloon animals -- but they all look like dogs."

Don't sweat it, just do it!

what a great operation this Rosie's Place sounds like!
The importance of treating the clients with courtesy and making it seem like a nice restaurant rather than a Dickensian workhouse cannot be overstated. I've volunteered for nearly ten years the first Sunday of the month at the local community meal site. While I help with set-up and clean-up, my primary task is playing the piano for 90 minutes while the clients are there.

Those who remember what it used to be like say that the change was miraculous. Having the music calmed the angry, ended fighting, and created community among the regulars. They are my best audience.

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