Volunteers Brought Food, Community Spirit to the Table on April 13th

By Amanda Hoffman

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HandsOn Broward’s Youth Leaders raise awareness about child hunger during “What Will You Bring to the Table?”

On Saturday, April 13th, volunteers of all ages came out to the First Baptist Church and Christian Education Center in Pompano Beach to participate in HandsOn Broward’s contribution to the “What Will You Bring to the Table?” project.

What Will You Bring to the Table? is an initiative through generationOn to mobilize youth to address child hunger in the U.S. by gathering around tables to create service projects that raise awareness and bring collective action to this critical issue. The project’s goal is to reach out to individuals and volunteer organizations across the United States to raise one million meals in six weeks. It’s a lofty goal, but if the work done on Saturday is any indication of what’s happening across America, raising one million meals seems very possible.

Sydney Howard and Patty Howard sort donations for the church's food pantry.

Sydney Howard and Patty Howard sort donations for the church’s food pantry.

On Saturday, volunteers were given the option to participate in several projects around the Church. Near the preschool, some volunteers planted a community garden, which featured plants such as celery, kale and arugula. The garden will give the preschoolers a chance to learn about gardening and harvesting, as well as have access to healthy snacks.

At the Church’s onsite food pantry, other volunteers helped plant shrubs and bushes to enhance the courtyard where 100+ adults and children experiencing homelessness receive a meal every Saturday. Jared Goodman, 15, who came out as part of the Youth Leadership Academy—a HandsOn Broward program that gives teenagers a chance to lean about leadership and volunteering—took a break from digging holes. “We’re planting some cocoplum bushes around the fence. We chose these because they give a lot of privacy and they produce an edible fruit.”

After working with the Youth Leadership Academy, Jared chooses to volunteer because,

Volunteers build a picnic table for the pantry at First Baptist Church in Pompano.

Volunteers build a picnic table for the pantry at First Baptist Church in Pompano.

“there are less fortunate families out there, and there are people who don’t have the luxuries we have and it just feels good to give back once in a while.”

Lourdes Lopez, 14, found that her favorite part of the day was gardening. “I don’t really get to do it much and I really like it,” she said, leaning on her rake.

Inside, more volunteers packed and decorated food boxes which will go into the church’s food pantry. Without looking up from the meal box he was coloring, Graham Guay, 10, said that his favorite part of the day was, “everything!” Over 300 food boxes were packed and left at the onsite Food Pantry.

Fort Lauderdale Commissioner and President of the Broward League of Cities (center) volunteered with HandsOn Broward CEO Dale Hirsch (left), and Broward League of Cities' Sely Cochrane (right).

Fort Lauderdale Commissioner and President of the Broward League of Cities, Bobby DuBose (center), volunteered with HandsOn Broward CEO Dale Hirsch (left), and Broward League of Cities’ Sely Cochrane (right).

Other volunteers decided to build a picnic table for the preschool. The significance of the picnic table is that it symbolizes the message of “What Will You Bring to the Table?” and serves to represent the goal of combating child hunger.

Pausing between hisses of duct tape as she packed her food box, Abbey Tomaszewski, 15, said, “Volunteering is important because I get to make a difference.”

So far, the “What Will You Bring to the Table?” project has raised 334,861 meals. Volunteers can submit photos of their own projects to combat hunger online at whatwillyoubringtothetable.org.

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April Volunteer Spotlight: Jackie Byrne-Garcia

By Amanda Hoffman

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Some may give a few hours a week to volunteering, but Jackie Byrne-Garcia, April’s Volunteer Spotlight, gives her whole life to her volunteer work at HAPPI Farm. Located at Southwest Ranches, HAPPI Farm allows for disabled children and adults to interact with farm animals. Guests at HAPPI Farm, which stands for Horse and Petting Pal Interaction, Inc., can ride therapeutically trained hoses and interact with many of the animals who make their homes at HAPPI Farm, including goats, chickens, pigs and bunnies.

Jackie started at HAPPI Farm when she suffered a brain injury that left her on disability. After working for twenty years as an office manager, Jackie now found herself cooped up at home. Looking for a way to keep busy, she sought out volunteer opportunities through HandsOn Broward and came across HAPPI Farm. She was able to work from home as a grant writer but it was Jackie’s experiences on the farm itself that helped her heal and “get back to normal.”

Jackie found more than a place to occupy her free time, she found a new passion, a new pet and even new friends. After making a call to HAPPI Farm to schedule her first volunteer visit, Jackie and the director of HAPPI Farm, Marie Lim, hit it off immediately and became instant friends. Later, Jackie discovered that she and Marie only lived three blocks from each other.

Even Jackie’s family has become involved at HAPPI Farm. Her five-year old granddaughter, Janessa, acts as a tour guide and leads parents around the farm.

Working at HAPPI Farm also brought Jackie to “PePe”, her Nigerian Dwarf Goat. After he was born on the farm, PePe needed a foster home and Jackie volunteered. Now, 13 weeks later, Jackie adores her new pet.  “I feed him three times a day with a bottle of honey and water. I put the honey in because the vet said he’s hypoglycemic.”

Jackie has become so involved in HAPPI Farm that she has been promoted to the Board of Directors and she is now planning her own event for the farm: “Farm Fun”, a program which allows both disabled and non-disabled children to spend a few hours with the animals on the farm.

This isn’t the first time Jackie has worked with horses. Growing up in New Mexico, she started training horses when she was 13. However, never before has she seen anything like the miracles that occur on HAPPI Farm every day. “One man is 33 years old and suffers from severe amnesia which causes him to forget everything after 30 minutes. When he first came to us he’d say, ‘Hi,’ and tell me his name and then a half hour later he’d say again, ‘Hi,’ then say his name again and I would say, ‘Hi, I’m Jackie.” My 5-year old granddaughter Janessa happened to be there that day and they took a walk together. The next week he came back and said, “Hi. Where’s Janessa?’ He knows everyone’s name now. We’re all blown away by his progress and he’s only been here 3 months.”

How does she explain these miracles? “The animals know. They know if someone has down syndrome or autism. They understand. There’s nothing like it.”

HAPPI Farm is always looking for help around the farm. A typical day for volunteers can range from helping saddle the horse, brushing the horse, helping patients onto the platform, walking alongside students and holding their legs during therapeutic riding lessons.

HAPPI Farm has become Jackie’s life. “If it wasn’t for HAPPI Farm…I thought I was going to fall apart but they helped me.”

And she loves every minute of it. Even when, “the goats jump up on the tables and eat the paperwork.”