February Project Leader Spotlight: Janet Rooks

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This month’s Project Leader Spotlight belongs to all-star volunteer and Project Leader, Janet Rooks. Janet began volunteering with HandsOn Broward in April 2013 originally to help her teenage daughter, Shayla, achieve her community service goals for scholarship and graduation requirements. Janet first heard about HandsOn Broward while watching a Neighbors 4 Neighbors segment on CBS. “Their recommendation was that HandsOn Broward would be the perfect place to start since [they] represent most of the areas of volunteering,” Janet said.

But to understand why Janet is such an inspiring volunteer and Project Leader, it’s important to know Janet’s history of volunteering and strong sense of community. “Volunteering is a family tradition started by my grandmother,” she said. “I was, and am, the only grandchild who followed her to hospitals since [I was] 3 years old. Of course I told her that I could not see myself visiting the sick in the hospitals and helping in the community. She would always smile because I guess she knew that I would be the one following in her footsteps.” And follow in her grandmother’s footsteps she did. As a 15-year-old high school student, Janet volunteered at a children’s hospital and it inspired her to change her career path. It was then that she decided she wanted to become a nurse, or have a career in the medical field.

As an adult, Janet was always very involved in her community. She was the Mayor of Lauderhill appointee to the Art, Cultural, and Tourism Board and the Public Art Board for several years. She was involved in the concept and design of the Lauderhill Police Station, library, and parks, as well as putting on various concerts and community events. She also volunteers as a mentor for Catholic Charities HIV/AIDS ministry. Janet said of her experience, “Many cannot complete the training because it is very stressful and an emotional roller coaster. However, I love changing perceptions and fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.”

Since last year, Janet has become a very involved HandsOn Broward volunteer. She and Shayla rarely miss a feeding project at the Broward Outreach Center in Pompano. “When the opportunity for Broward Outreach Center was posted, I told my daughter. We agreed to volunteer and see what happens. The rest is history,” she said. That was nine months ago. They haven’t missed a month since. In fact, it is thanks to the Broward Outreach Center project that Janet initially became a Project Leader. When one of our usual Project Leaders was unavailable for the Broward Outreach Center project, we reached out to Janet to see if she could handle the Project Leader responsibilities for the day since she had attended so many times before. She accepted, did a wonderful job, and shortly afterwards went through the official HandsOn Broward Project Leader Training.

Of being a Project Leader, Janet said, “Project Leaders are taking volunteering to another level. You have to be confident and respectful to all you meet. If you are looking to develop leadership skills, this is an opportunity. This is also an opportunity to improve on communication skills, and to give you a sense of whether you could be a manager or any other leadership career, or personal goals you may have or aspire to achieve.”  Janet is currently working to develop a new project for HandsOn Broward volunteers.

When asked what she would tell new volunteers, Janet said, “Volunteering has so many rewards that cannot be explained. New volunteers should research the areas of interest and follow their intuition. I believe it is a disservice to give less than your best on an assignment. You have to believe and have the proclivity towards helping others. Project a positive image so that you can make a difference wherever you go.”

Janet definitely projects a positive image wherever she goes. She is known around the HandsOn Broward office as the volunteer who best uses social media for good. She is always tweeting about the different projects she’s involved in, and informing her social network about the many volunteer opportunities HandsOn Broward has to offer. “Social media is the best opportunity to motivate and inspire others. When used responsibly, you are communicating to the world. It is our responsibility to become the change in our communities,” Janet said.

Janet epitomizes “being the change” in her community. And she doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. “Volunteering is priceless. There is nothing that can give you the inner peace and joy that you will experience as a volunteer,” Janet said. “Change your community one person at a time, and you will change your world and your perceptions of people and situations.”

We hope other volunteers and Project Leaders are inspired by her positivity and the impact she makes on our community. Thank you for all you do, Janet!

February Volunteer Spotlight: Rebecca Liberty & Dan Kerness

By Amanda Hoffman

February’s Volunteer Spotlight belongs to Nova Southeastern University medical student Rebecca Liberty and soon-to-be attorney, Dan Kerness: two volunteers who know all about balancing schedules.

As a full-time medical student, Rebecca’s schedule is overloaded and busy. “Our school schedule can be chaotic and unpredictable, and that makes it hard to find time to do anything outside of school and studying.”

Rebecca realizes how essential service is for the profession she wants to go into. “A career in medicine means serving others, and I don’t feel like that has to wait until I graduate. I wanted to start serving people now, in whatever way I could, with whatever skills I already possess. So if I had to get up a little early on a weekend to squeeze in some volunteering before studying, I was happy to do it.”

Rebecca devotes most of her time to HandsOn Broward’s monthly DIY project. “I already finished up the January DIY project, making crayon art kits for children at the Ronald McDonald House. In the meantime I have been doing other volunteer activities, most recently visiting a nursing home to spend time with the residents while they beat me at card games.”

Although she volunteers on a variety of service projects, Rebecca finds it most rewarding when she gets to work with children. “I love children and a lot of my volunteering has been with kids. They are so much fun to be around and never fail to brighten up my day.”

Dan, too, has found a way to strike a balance between work and volunteering.  Currently in the process of getting sworn-in to the Florida Bar, Dan has done video editing for the Children’s Harbor organization. “Children’s Harbor is a safe-haven for children of all ages, who have been subjected to difficult home environments.  At Children’s Harbor, kids find a comfortable home-like atmosphere, friends, mentors, education, healthy levels of discipline, and love.”

Dan also finds that service is essential for his own profession, and he wants to use volunteering as a way to make a difference in the lives of young people. “I want to help young people avoid trouble and hard times by being a positive role model.  I also thought I might be able to help them by imparting life lessons I’ve learned, enabling them to avoid making similar mistakes.”

Children’s Harbor gave Dan the opportunity to give back that he was looking for. “I had never been there before, and it was an eye opening experience to meet the kids and staff, who clearly have created an extremely beneficial atmosphere for families who need them.”

Rebecca originally got involved with HandsOn Broward because she needed to fulfill volunteer hours for her degree. Pretty soon, Rebecca had completed her hours but she just couldn’t stop volunteering. The flexibility of the DIY Projects really appealed to Rebecca and her hectic schedule. “Balancing a school schedule and volunteering can be a challenge, especially since the responsibilities of school don’t end when class is over. This is why I love the DIY projects. These projects are perfect for anyone in school because they can be done on your own schedule. Sometimes I work on them late at night and other times I fit them in a little at a time over several days. You can’t study all the time, you have to take a break and do something else or you’ll run yourself down, so take the time to fit in some volunteering and give yourself a break while doing something good for other people.”

Rebecca has some great memories from the different service projects she has participated in. “One of the activities I really enjoyed was Movies, Muffins & Beyond at the Ronald McDonald House,” she says. “I baked cupcakes with several other volunteers and then we decorated them with the kids. I got to sit down with a couple of the patients and we watched a movie while trying to see who could make the prettiest design on their cupcakes. I felt like they really enjoyed having something to do outside of the hospital and we had a lot of fun making a huge mess of frosting and sprinkles.”

Thank you Rebecca and Dan! We don’t know how you do it, but thank you!