Painting over Graffiti with FC Dallas Beer Guardians

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor those who don’t know, I have become a huge soccer fan in recent years. I’m an FC Dallas season ticketholder and member of supporter group Dallas Beer Guardians. They have a tailgate before every home match with food and beer, and you can see them behind the goal yelling, chanting, and waving flags.

IMG_20150314_211928_192Beer garden at the St. Patrick’s Day game

They also do a yearly day of service in the local community. This year, they partnered with Lionsraw, Playsoccer2give, and Fifty-Eight Foundation to paint the dugout wall at Medrano Middle School’s baseball field and play some soccer with the kids.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALionsraw is a global movement to mobilize soccer fans for good.

Fifty-Eight Foundation is a local group that grows food and raises animals to give away, uses mobile sporting equipment and running coaching programs to promote healthy and active lifestyles, working with schools, nonprofits, and churches in low income communities.

Playsoccer2give establishes soccer-playing communities in New York, Texas, and California that raise funds via pickup games and other soccer-related activities. They also help soccer nonprofits and projects with funding, awareness, and volunteers in under-resourced areas.

Our leader told us that, although the Medrano looks nice and new, most of the students are on the free lunch program, and the school needs a lot of help. Volunteers from Lionsraw have been at the school all week building benches and doing other projects.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived at 8:00 and did as much painting as we could when it was still shady. Eventually, some kids showed up and started playing soccer, dodgeball, and human foosball. I think they were eventually going to cook hotdogs and play bubble soccer (which is hilarious), but I used my missing kidney as an excuse to head out after the wall was painted. What? I can’t get dehydrated…

IMG_20150707_171401_596Bubble Soccer

If you like soccer, I highly suggest joining the Beer Guardians or another FC Dallas supporter group.

FC Dallas also has a foundation that participates in the American Heart Association Heart Walk, builds well-lit turf soccer fields in low socioeconomic areas, has a Special Olympics team, allows needy kids to attend FC Dallas games, donates soccer gear around the world, and offers scholarships for kids to play recreational soccer.

This year, I participated in the Footy 5K benefiting the foundation. Hopefully this will become a yearly event. IMG_20150711_080353_912I also attended the extremely fun fundraiser Cocktails and Cleats, which featured a silent auction, free food and drinks, a DJ, painters, foosball with FCD players, and more.

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Playing foosball with FC Dallas players Tesho Akindele (Canadian national team) and Ryan Hollingshead, who helped start a church

Also, if you are a soccer fan, check out my blog entry on America Scores, which fights obesity and illiteracy in the city with poetry, soccer, and community service.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinished wall

My Kidney Donation Story

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11170360_10204430137781493_3307313483236171377_nMy surgeon, Tiffany Anthony, and me before surgery

In the summer of 2012, my cousin Kim posted on Facebook that a friend of hers, Ace, needed a kidney transplant from someone with type O blood and she wasn’t eligible. (See my previous post for statistics about the need for donors, facts about who can donate, and info on how it works.) I knew a little about kidney disease. My Grandpa Bud was on dialysis for the last couple of years of his life, so I’ve seen what a pain it is and how much of your life it eats up. You have to go to the dialysis center and be hooked up to a machine for several hours 3 days a week and eat a very restricted diet. You’re tired and in pain, and it’s hard to keep a job. Most people only live 5-10 years once they are on dialysis. I think because of my grandpa’s age and other medical conditions, donating to him wasn’t an option. I knew living kidney donation existed, but I guess I didn’t seriously consider it until someone asked me to.

396221_10100618229006007_565713392_nGrandpa Bud and me

I’ll try to make a long story short. Ace wanted to receive his transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota because of his previous positive experience there, so I worked with the Mayo Clinic to try to get approved. I will admit, my experience with them was not optimal. Part of that was how long it took, and part was a lack of communication from them, in my opinion. I think our situation was unusual, because usually the recipient works with a local hospital and has already been approved to receive a transplant. I don’t blame Ace for any of the problems. He had a good reason for choosing Mayo, and he didn’t know it was going to take them so long to approve him. Eventually, I was approved to donate and he was approved to receive a transplant, but a “cross-match” test on our blood did not go well, so I couldn’t donate to him. He ended up receiving a kidney from a cadaver and is doing pretty well, so everything turned out fine. I applaud the Mayo Clinic for finding him a kidney and performing a successful surgery. And for the record, I have read only good stories from other people who donated there.

76127_10101218932102187_1135333178_nView of Rochester, MN, from the Mayo Clinic

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Weird Barnes and Noble, second-most exciting thing in Rochester after the ear-of-corn-shaped water tower

However, I decided that starting over at a local hospital would be easier for me than continuing to work with the Mayo Clinic, so I contacted Baylor University in Dallas to start a kidney donation chain, and things went fairly smoothly. I was approved about 2 months after first contacting them, and they identified a donation chain for me within 2 weeks after that. There was a delay when one of the recipients in the chain encountered health problems, but the four transplants finally happened last week.

This is a really good article about kidney donation chains. Basically, a third of people who have willing donors aren’t compatible with those donors. I had a hard time putting it into words, but according to this article from UCLA Transplantation Services, “It starts with an altruistic donor – someone who wants to donate a kidney out of the goodness of his or her heart. That kidney is transplanted into a recipient who had a donor willing to give a kidney, but was not a match. To keep the chain going, the incompatible donor gives a kidney to a patient unknown to him or her who has been identified as a match, essentially ‘paying it forward.’ A specialized computer program matches donors and recipients across the country.” In my case, I donated a kidney to a stranger. His sister was willing to donate but wasn’t compatible with him, so she donated to a stranger in California, whose loved one donated to someone in Florida, whose loved one donated to someone in Colorado. It’s confusing but really cool, and maybe if more people knew about this possibility, it would become more popular. One person can help a bunch of people.

Very little about the surgery or my recovery has surprised me. The doctors and nurses gave me a ton of information beforehand about how everything would go and what could possibly go wrong, and I did some internet research myself. I’ll be honest about my experience, because I don’t want to mislead anyone. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you’re squeamish. I had been warned that the anesthesia could make me nauseous, and it did. Let me tell you, vomiting with a four-inch cut through your stomach muscles is not terribly pleasant. I knew before the surgery that they would be putting a catheter in my urethra after they knocked me out, which creeped me out. I knew that a bunch of strangers would see me naked and dig around in my bathing suit areas, so I threw my pride out the window on the way to the hospital. I know they are professionals and see this stuff all the time. I had many different nurses and doctors checking my incision, measuring my urine levels, asking whether I’d passed gas yet… It’s kind of hilarious when people cheer about a 32-year-old having a bowel movement.

IMG_20150429_171213_333View from my hospital bed

There were a couple of surprises. I had what they think was a bad reaction to antibiotics, which involved my whole body shaking and my heart racing. And the potassium they added to my IV made my hand feel like it was on fire. But I knew beforehand that I wasn’t going to feel great, and those problems passed quickly.

In the days before my surgery, people kept asking me if I was afraid. I felt like I probably should have been. I guess I didn’t really believe it would happen until I was lying in the hospital bed in the pre-op room, but even then, I was mostly just excited. There were possible downsides, but I had been thinking about this for a long time.

  • I feel bad stressing out my loved ones, but if one of them needed a kidney, I would hope someone would do this for them.
  • The thought had crossed my mind that maybe I should save the kidney in case someone I love does end up needing one, but if they don’t end up needing one, it would go to waste.
  • Maybe I’ll end up needing the kidney, but I couldn’t really expect anyone to donate to me if I wasn’t willing to donate.
  • Maybe the recipient’s body will reject my kidney, which would suck, but at least I started a chain, so some people will end up getting help. And I hear rejection is pretty unusual these days.
  • After the surgery, I’m supposed to avoid getting high blood pressure and diabetes to avoid stressing my one kidney. However, I was pretty committed to those goals before all this started. They are good goals to have.
  • My mom said a lot of people ask her if I can have kids with one kidney. I could if I wanted to. I would just need to wait a year for my organs to settle into their new locations.
  • I’m supposed to avoid contact/extreme sports, so unfortunately my rodeo career is over before it started. I’ve come to terms with that.
  • I knew there was a very small chance that something could go wrong, but you have to die eventually, and I couldn’t really think of a better way to go. I had a chance to do something meaningful for once, and I felt I had to take that chance.

A couple of days after the surgeries, I was able to meet my recipient and his family, which was one of the coolest moments of my life. Maybe the best. They are all so sweet and said such nice things. I learned that Timothy had been on dialysis for 5 years. He lost his job and hasn’t been able to take his daughter on vacation. He almost died once when his blood pressure got too low. His family said he had received many calls about possible donors who ended up not being matches. They weren’t sure they would ever find a donor. Timothy said his leg and foot pain went away the day of the surgery, and my coordinator said the color was back in his skin almost immediately.

11111559_10205341064458899_5626678790956560749_nMe, Timothy, and his sister Jenn (who also donated to a stranger)

People keep saying I’m selfless for doing this. I’m really not. I get a lot out of it. It makes me so happy to see that I’m helping someone. I’m too shy and awkward to be nice and generous and helpful on a personal level to people I encounter on a day-to-day basis, so I do stuff like this. I’m afraid to talk to people, but I’m not afraid to go under the knife. Go figure.

I’m so glad I stuck with this. I am grateful to Ace and my cousin Kim for getting me involved in this. I didn’t know Ace a couple of years ago, and now I feel very close to him even though I wasn’t able to donate to him. He is such a positive person despite all he has been through. In addition, he helps raise awareness about kidney disease and cancer and performs in concerts to help others. I also need to thank my friends and family for listening to every boring detail and “vicissitude” of this over the past couple of years and for all the flowers, kind words, and visits, especially my mom, who I know was worried but very supportive and helped me a ton at the hospital, and my husband, who has been providing me with Braum’s ice cream on demand. I’m thankful to the staff at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas and the Simmons Transplant Institute for taking great care of us and putting up with my crabbiness. Finally, I appreciate my company and coworkers for supporting me, sending food, and picking up my slack at work during my recovery.

11188318_10204442256764460_6646545419540105565_nFlowers from my best friend, Katie

It has been 6 days since the surgery, and I’m feeling pretty good right now. Definitely not back to normal. I almost Hulked out on a clementine I was trying to peel earlier and then had to rest for a few minutes. But I can function on a couch-potato level with very little pain.

Anyway, the point of this entry is to encourage other people to sign up to be organ donors when they die, donate to the National Kidney Foundation, walk or volunteer at the Dallas Kidney Walk on June 6, or maybe even look into altruistic undirected kidney donation (especially at Baylor, which rules). It’s basically just a day of tests and a couple of weeks off work, which is actually pretty sweet. You need to catch up on House of Cards, anyway.

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Kidney in a cowboy hat at the 2013 walk

New Friends New Life Wings Luncheon

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Friday, my mom came down from Tulsa to volunteer with me at the New Friends New Life Wings Luncheon with keynote speaker Kevin Costner and honorary co-chair Laura Bush. I was super excited.IMG_20150410_110003_831

New Friends New Life helps formerly trafficked and sexually exploited women and children overcome the poverty, addiction, and other mental issues associated with their backgrounds by providing counseling, job training, financial assistance, education, and more. I was shocked to learn that about 400 teens are trafficked on North Texas streets every night.

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Mom and I signed up to help set up and clean up at the luncheon, and NFNL was nice enough to invite us to eat and enjoy the program. It was held at the Hyatt Regency downtown, which is one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever seen. The ballroom was gorgeous and the food excellent, especially the chocolate “bag” full of mousse, berries, and whipped cream. I’m pretty sure everybody who is anybody in Dallas was there. I’m not terribly familiar with the Dallas elite, but I definitely recognized the police chief, David Brown, and Mayor Mike Rawlings. We learned about the new men’s auxiliary group and heard from CBS 11’s Karen Borta about what NFNL does.

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Kevin Costner was hilarious. It’s really not fair how talented, handsome, funny, and kind he is. Save some for the rest of us, Costner! It turns out he is not just a great actor and director but also a musician and athlete and can do a great impression of President George H.W. Bush. Last year’s speaker was Sally Field, so I’m sure they will have another A-lister next year. Try to attend if you can!

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Our jobs were pretty easy. All we did was help set donation cards at each seat (I think there were 1,400 attendees!) and then help pick up donation envelopes at the end. This was really well organized, and we finished early despite a lot of volunteers not showing up. The HR manager from my company was volunteering too. Seeing her was a nice surprise.

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You can help them out by joining their “Circle of Friends,” serving meals, helping with children’s programs, mentoring, volunteering at events like this, providing administrative support, or many other ways. They will also send a speaker out to your function to help educate about the human trafficking problem in Dallas/Fort Worth.

We had some time to kill afterward and went up to the Reunion Tower observation deck.

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It was a great day to give service, bond with my mom, and see Dallas at its most generous and most beautiful.

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Mothers Opposing Bullying Walk-a-Thon

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This morning, I volunteered at the Mothers Opposing Bullying (MOB) Walk-a-Thon in Dallas with the Random Acts of Kindness Meetup group.

Former Ms. Texas Belinda Ramsey founded MOB and plans to start a 24-hour hotline for kids. Bullying has been around forever but seems to be more prevalent in the age of social media and smartphones. According to StopBullying.gov, 28% of students in America in 6–12 grades report having been bullied. Many more have seen bullying and done nothing.

Fortunately, this blight is gaining more attention thanks to people like Belinda and initiatives like the aforementioned StopBullying.gov from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVendors: William from It Works! and very popular jewelry and accessories from Neecie’s Necessities

The Walk-a-Thon was held at Anderson Bonner Park on the White Rock Creek Trail on a perfect day to build some awareness. The trail was packed, and as we cheered for participants at the finish line, tons of people who just happened to be out biking or running saw the banner and cheered us on.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was a fun atmosphere with police officers playing basketball, tiny dogs, and tutus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter everyone crossed the finish line, I helped load up the truck.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAProps to the lady who (eventually) got the golf cart back into the moving truck. Unfortunately, nobody had their phone out during the first attempt, when one of the back wheels slipped off the ramp and the cart tipped over. It didn’t flip all the way over, so she lived to try again. I probably shouldn’t admit that it was hilarious. And I have had the “America’s Funniest Home Videos” song stuck in my head all day.

Belinda told me the organization is working with Old Navy to put some bullied kids through a 6-week course and conduct a fashion show to help build their self-esteem.

They need volunteers for events like the Walk-a-Thon, golf tournaments, fashion and comedy shows, and their gala. Connect with them on Facebook.

Captain Hope’s Kids

Saturday, I helped sort some donated t-shirts at Captain Hope’s Kids with the Random Acts of Kindness Meetup group. Captain Hope started out as a charity for the homeless but quickly realized the need for help specifically for homeless children in DFW. They get donations of clothing, diapers, toys, school supplies, and more from individuals, companies, and churches and distribute them to a network of 50 shelters and agencies. They also help kids participate in extracurricular activities outside the shelters and give teens boxes of hygiene products and gifts on their birthdays.

Giving kids school uniforms and supplies helps them stay in school so they can end the cycle of poverty in their families.

Captain Hope’s Kids is located in a huge warehouse in Dallas. They had just received a donation of brand new t-shirts from SanMar that companies had ordered but didn’t end up being exactly what they wanted. I think the employee said there were six vans full. Our job was to sort them by size and gender, count them, and box them up. We set aside polos that could be used for school uniforms and bright shirts that could be screen printed for volunteer shirts for the upcoming Captain Hope’s golf tournament. This was pretty easy work but slightly physical, so I counted it as exercise. People had fun talking to each other as they folded and sorted.

The guy leading the volunteers had only worked there two weeks but already had a touching experience. When he recently delivered some toys to a shelter, a little girl tried to give him back a toy as he was leaving. He realized that she was used to the sharing system at the shelter, had probably never owned her own toy, and didn’t even understand the concept. She was ecstatic and recognizes him every time he makes a delivery.

He said Captain Hope delivers about 13,000 diapers to shelters every month, which were donated by Kimberly-Clark. Here is the wall-o-diapers in the warehouse. This is apparently the only picture I took, and it’s blurry, because I am a terrible journalist.

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Volunteers get to wear these fetching neon vests. I am really regretting not grabbing that megaphone at some point and yelling “Attica!” or “Adrian!”

If you would like one of these trendy vests of your own, Captain Hope need help sorting every Saturday and could also use help with driving, administrative tasks, cleaning, fundraising, and events. They keep a low overhead by using a lot of volunteers and are therefore able to provide more services to the needy.

Trains at Northpark Benefiting Ronald McDonald House

I decided to start 2015 on the right foot and start volunteering on the first day. I saw on Twitter that Ronald McDonald House needed volunteers for ithe Trains at Northpark exhibit. It has been going on for 16 years, but I’d never been.IMG_20150101_160101_445Put on my Bank of Texas, the exhibit features 1,600 feet of tracks through 4,000 square feet of miniature cityscapes from all across America. My favorite part, of course, is the Dallas cityscape, complete with Big Tex and Texas Star ferris wheel.

IMG_20150101_160315_264Some cityscapes have buttons you can push to make things happen like a little guy putting up a billboard. There are so many little details that one man suggested they make some kind of “I spy” book to encourage kids to look closely.

IMG_20150101_135528_772San Francisco Cityscape

It seemed like hundreds of people visited in the 3 hours I was there. Mostly families but also some adults in groups or on dates. The kids loved it. One girl ran up to me and yelled, “We’re having a great time!” Another girl was running around taking pictures of every little thing. Several children had to be dragged out crying.

IMG_20150101_160040_304Grand Central Station

The exhibit is the largest fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House of Dallas, which provides shelter, food, transportation, laundry services, and more for families with sick or injured children receiving treatment in Dallas-area hospitals. They serve more than 2,000 families annually at little or no cost to the families. They also provide activities for the kids, a room for families to rest between appointments, and a scholarship for patients or family members whose education has been delayed by illness.

IMG_20150101_160132_638My job was to stand at the exit of the exhibit to keep people from coming in without paying and stop any little kids who tried to run off. It was pretty easy, and I got to do some people watching. Plus, Northpark Center is a tourist attraction in itself. It’s like a museum, garden, and mall all in one.

IMG_20150101_160337_328If you want to help Ronald McDonald house, you can volunteer at the train exhibit or at the house in the kitchen, at the front desk, or with family activities. Groups can hold fundraisers, collect pop can tabs to donate, clean at the house, or collect wishlist donations.

IMG_20150101_160123_917(Sorry, I really need to start taking a good camera when I volunteer!)

You can also help by visiting the exhibit. Keep in mind for next year that you can purchase a railcar that will be displayed at the exhibit and then mailed to whomever you choose as a gift. Their artist will paint the car however you want, and they range from $175 to $325.

The exhibit runs until January 4 (tomorrow), so go check it out. It’s $7.00 for adults and $3.00 for children (free under age 2) with $1.00 off coupons available at Tom Thumb. If you can’t make it this year, it will start again in late November 2015.

Love for Kids Holiday Event

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Saturday morning, I volunteered at Love for Kids‘ 39th Annual Holiday Event for disadvantaged children. It was probably the most epic party I’ve ever attended.

IMG_20141213_090405_126About 2,000 kids aged 6-12 from various local groups converged on Circle R Ranch in Flower Mound and were welcomed warmly to say the least.

There were singers and dancers, arts and crafts, Santa’s workshop, horse rides, a petting zoo, a bounce house, educational booths, toys collected at the Margarita Ball, free coats, and an inflatable slide, obstacle course, and jousting.

IMG_20141213_094612_815I had signed up for the petting zoo, because duh, but when I showed up, the organizers needed people to help set up the food area, so I begrudgingly obliged. We put chips and cookies in several thousand paper trays for the kids and their chaperones.

IMG_20141213_094030_497Then, while waiting for the hot dogs to cook, we went to greet the kids and hand them toys. As with most of my volunteering, greeting the kids was at first a little sad and overwhelming and then very uplifting. It breaks my heart to know that so many kids in the metroplex are in need, but seeing their happy little faces as they got off the buses was heartwarming. I was in charge of handing out calculators and cute little horse dolls. My favorite kid yelled, “Just what I wanted!” when I handed him a horse. Another little boy was shivering and said, “It’s cold! Glad I’m getting a coat here!” and I almost burst into tears. Some of the older kids looked a little embarrassed to high-five everyone in the line, but they were still smiling. My hand hurt by the end.

IMG_20141213_094805_568After all the kids were inside, we had a little down time, so I wandered around, said hi to my friends, and took some pictures. I think I might have been more excited than the kids when I ran into the Justice League.

IMG_20141213_104123_219Once the hot dogs were ready, volunteers started opening buns, putting hot dogs in them, and placing hot dogs in each tray. Once the kids started coming through the line, we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to keep up with them.

I had to leave at noon, but it looked like it was going to continue to be an awesome day for all those kids.

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(Human kids, not these kids)

Love for Kids started in 1975 when it held its first party for 200 kids. They also hold a yearly party for senior citizens, a summer picnic for chronically ill children, and after-school programs. Their fundraisers include a “Day at the Derby” in May with mint juleps, a hat contest, and betting on the Kentucky Derby and “Palette to Palate,” a food, wine, and art event in August. You can contact them to help at these events or help sort toys for the holiday event.

Challenge Air Part Deux

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have written about Challenge Air before, but each experience is different. I volunteered with them again a couple of weeks ago through the Young Adult Volunteer Organization Meetup group.

You can read my previous entry if you want all the details about the organization and how fly days work, but basically, pilots volunteer to fly special needs children around for about half an hour and let them steer the plane to build their confidence and give them and their families an awesome experience. Volunteers lead the families to the planes, help get them situated, and keep them safe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis event was at the Dallas Executive Airport in Oak Cliff and had some really great entertainment during downtime.

The clowns were making balloon animals as always.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACheerleaders and the mascot (Dunker the Dog) from the Texas Legends NBA Development League team cheered on the participants as they boarded and deplaned. They also did a dance routine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA special needs gymnastics company brought some equipment for the participants and their siblings to goof around on. It looked really fun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen there was this guy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s apparently Spandy Andy. He’s an entertainer whose mission is to spread positivity through dance, and I can attest that it works. He had everybody smiling and a lot of the crowd dancing. I just looked him up and found out he was on Canadian So You Think You Can Dance and Wipeout Canada.

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I only volunteered for the morning, so I only got to help two families fly. But it was still really cool. Our first co-pilot entrusted me with his balloon, and it somehow came untied and flew off. Fortunately, he was too excited to notice. One of my teammates joked, “You had one job!” Whoops.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnthon and his brother loading passengers

Our second co-pilot, Roberto, was very enthusiastic. He not only wanted to ride in the plane and steer; he was ready to parachute out or at least race some other planes. After landing, he announced that he wants to be a pilot some day and give rides to other kids. Hopefully in about 20 years I will see Pilot Roberto flying at another Challenge Air event. He made my day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHai and Anthon goofing off during some downtime

One cool new thing at this event was that the kids got to put their handprints on the planes’ wings in washable paint after their flights. I don’t know how they came up with that idea, but the kids seemed to love it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough I signed up for the event through YAVO, I ended up on a load team with complete strangers. As always, it was really nice to meet them. The couple on my team told me they actually met while volunteering at a previous Challenge Air event. How cool is that? I told you volunteering is a good way to meet kind, fun people! Maybe even your life partner.

At the speech before the fly day started, the event chair said 120 kids would fly that day with 21 volunteer pilots. I am sure they all had an amazing time and made some lifelong memories.

Blackland Prairie Raptor Center

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My day job is at International Risk Management Institute, Inc., a company that provides courses, conferences, certifications, and educational materials for people in the insurance industry. This year, the company participated in the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation Week of Giving by sending groups to the North Texas Food Bank, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Thrift Harbor/Hope Harbor Children’s Home (in Oklahoma), and Blackland Prairie Raptor Center. I opted to volunteer at the raptor center because I had never done anything like that.

Honestly, I had to Google “raptor,” because I wasn’t sure what all that included. It basically means birds of prey (hawks, owls, and falcons). The raptor center helps conserve and rehabilitate birds and educate the community about wildlife and their habitats. They do presentations at schools and other organizations and at their facility, along with hikes, fishing, and other events. It’s a really lovely area by Lake Lavon.

Blackland Prairie Raptor CenterSeven employees and one friend drove out to Lucas last Friday to help build new habitats for the birds. The center is adding several new buildings. The one we worked on was almost finished and will be used to let birds practice flying and hunting. They will let live mice loose in the cage with the birds, and if the birds gain or maintain weight, they can be released into the wild.

Blackland Prairie Raptor CenterOur job was to cut wood using a table saw, drill holes in the wood, and then attach it to the top of the cage. I had used a drill before at the Texas Ramp Project, so I helped with that a little.

B0K_4gYCMAABVUbPeggy gettin’ her drill on

I was a little scared of the table saw, but I thought it would be cool to try, so I asked Brenda to show me how to do it. It was pretty fun. I now understand why Tim Taylor was always making that annoying grunting noise on “Home Improvement.”

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The best part, of course, was meeting some of the birds. Our company logo is an owl, so we obviously had to get some pictures with the owls.

2014-10-17 12.27.03Photo credit to Lisa Harrington

The birds come to the center for various reasons. Some are found injured in the wild. Others were foolishly kept as pets by humans and never learned how to hunt, so they can’t survive on their own.

2014-10-17 12.31.08Kestrel (photo by Lisa Harrington)

If you want to help out at the raptor center, they need people to help build the new buildings, or you can work directly with the birds.

Our coordinator also told us about the Master Naturalist program, which involves a 40-hour training program and subsequent volunteering and advanced training requirements in all sorts of nature topics, all of which sound really interesting. He has completed more than 5,000 hours of volunteering and got a letter from the president! One of the volunteers I worked with at River Legacy was working toward this designation.

You can also help by making a donation or buying a shirt. And they are open to the public on the first Saturday of every month if you just want to visit.

If you work in the insurance industry, look into the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation. They provide volunteers, grants, and leadership for programs dealing with disaster preparedness and other topics of interest to the industry.

River Legacy After Dark in the Park, Oct. 10-12

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Coming up this weekend is a fundraiser for River Legacy in Arlington called “After Dark in the Park.” It’s a fall festival that showcases their environmental education programs. There are all sorts of activities, including hay rides, a pumpkin patch, animal encounters, face painting, balloon artists, and food trucks. Hours are 5-9 this Friday through Sunday evenings, and tickets are $8. (Or they have family fun packs.)

Yesterday was my first time visiting River Legacy Living Science Center, and it looked pretty cool. I was jealous to hear that all Arlington fourth graders get to take a field trip there. It’s a beautiful, heavily wooded park with all kinds of wildlife (apparently 1,300 acres). They have nature classes for kids and even adults, like “PSI: Pond Scene Investigation”; “Nature’s Nocturnal Wonders,” including a sleepover; and “Amusement Park Science,” which includes tickets to Six Flags. Even the building itself is cool; it looks like a giant flying bird and has a minimal impact on the environment.

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I went yesterday to help set up for After Dark. We were putting twinkle lights all over the park to light the pathways around the forest. I probably should have read the description of this volunteer opportunity a little better, because I was not exactly prepared for manual labor outside. I’m sure I looked like a scarecrow decoration by the end, but it was good exercise, and I think the park is going to look awesome. And I got to commune with some local butterflies.

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I’ve written about River Legacy’s Cardboard Boat Regatta before. They really know how to make learning fun. And their foundation preserves and enhances parkland along the Trinity River. (If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend kayaking along the Trinity. River Legacy offers educational canoe/kayak trips.)

If you want to help them out, they need volunteers for administrative work in the office, taking care of the turtles and whatnot in the learning center, and at special events like a kite festival, water festival, bird counts, clay shooting tournaments, Trash Bash, kids’ classes, and tons more.