May Volunteer Spotlight: Sydney Howard


Our May Volunteer Spotlight belongs to long-time HandsOn Broward volunteer and project leader, Sydney Howard. Sydney began volunteering with HandsOn Broward in 2011 when she was only 10 years old. Her family originally got started with us when Disney was doing their ‘Give a Day, Get a Day’ challenge, where if you participated in a volunteer service project, you received a free ticket to Disney World. Her older brother, Jonathan, started participating in more HandsOn Broward projects which helped Sydney decide to get more involved too. “I originally began volunteering with HandsOn Broward because I saw my brother having so much fun at the projects and I wanted to join,” she said.

Sydney, now 14, has acquired 811 service hours (and counting!), and she isn’t even a high school student yet. She has volunteered with a variety of organizations through HandsOn Broward, such as the Ronald McDonald House, the Children’s Services Council of Broward County, Kids In Distress, Kids Ecology Corps, Tomorrow’s Rainbow, HAPPI Farm, and more. From 2012-2014, Sydney assisted her brother Jonathan in leading the monthly Movies, Muffins & Beyond project at the Ronald McDonald House.

Sydney helps lead HandsOn Broward’s monthly Kids Care Club projects as well. Kids Care Clubs are groups of young people, ages 5-12, who work together to help others in their communities and around the world. Sydney originally participated in Kids Care Club as a volunteer, but has since advanced to a project leader role. She now leads project components with the 5-12 year olds who participate in Kids Care Club. “My favorite project is constantly changing, but at the moment it is Kids Care Club because I love helping all the little kids,” she said.

Volunteering is something Sydney saw her family participating in, which helped show her at a young age why it is so vital. She also attends a middle school that encourages students to make a difference in the community. She credits her family and her school for getting her involved initially. “I was motivated to get involved in the community because my school encouraged it, I grew up around my mom who was constantly volunteering, and because I saw my brother having fun and meeting new people through it,” she said.

In 2013, Sydney and her family were honored by the Points of Light Institute with the Daily Point of Light Award. This award is granted to individuals and families who spark change and improve the world through service. “I think it is important for families to volunteer together because it’s important to give back to the community and to help others,” Sydney said. “It makes you realize how grateful and fortunate you are for the things in your life. Volunteering as a family puts the idea of volunteering into a child’s mind at a young age so they will continue to volunteer throughout their life.”

Sydney enjoys volunteering and believes others should get involved with HandsOn Broward so they can participate in a variety of volunteer projects too. “Other volunteers should get involved with HandsOn Broward because there are so many different projects that they are bound to find something they like,” she said. “I enjoy volunteering because I always have fun at the projects, I have met so many new people through it, and because it feels good to give back.”

When asked what advice she has for new volunteers, Sydney said, “My advice for new volunteers is to take a chance and try out all different kinds of projects because you never know what you might like.”

Sydney exemplifies the idea that anyone can make a mark on the world, no matter their age. Thank you, Sydney, for all that you do to make a difference in our community!


March Project Leader Spotlight: Nicolas Ulloa

Nico Ulloa

This month’s Project Leader Spotlight belongs to one of our newest Project Leaders, Nicolas Ulloa. Nico, now 14, began volunteering with HandsOn Broward in 2012. “I first heard about HandsOn Broward at a convention for youth volunteering in 6th grade. In middle school I was required to collect community hours, something I’d never dealt with before, so I looked everywhere and working with HandsOn Broward was an amazing option,” he said.

Since November 2012, Nico has been attending the monthly project Movies, Muffins & Beyond at the Ronald McDonald House, formerly led by Youth Project Leader Jonathan Howard. In December, when Jonathan decided to begin leading a new HandsOn Broward project, Nico was the perfect person to step in and take over as Project Leader. He was trained as a Project Leader in December, and has been leading the project monthly since January.

“The main reason why I’ve become a Project Leader is because the opportunity was handed to me by the previous leader, Jonathan Howard. I’d been volunteering every month for the past two and a half years at Movies, Muffins & Beyond and had become close with the Howard family. He asked me to take the reigns on the project and I gratefully accepted,” Nico said.

Nico is involved in other volunteer efforts outside of HandsOn Broward as well. “At first I did community service for hours for my school, but I soon came to love doing it. Now I’m running a project with HandsOn Broward, and one with Habitat for Humanity, as well as other projects within my school,” he said. “As of right now I lead Movies, Muffins & Beyond with HandsOn Broward and co-lead a “Lunches for Volunteers” project with my sister. I’m also trying to set-up a “Video Games for Charity” project at my school.”

Nico’s learned the best way for him to get the most enjoyable and meaningful experience out of volunteering is to combine it with things he is interested in. “As I’ve come to love volunteering, I’ve tried to combine the things I love with it,” he said. “Whether it be fundraising or rallying, I believe service that’s fun is more effective than service that’s not, therefore I’ve tried to combine things I like with volunteer opportunities, just like the Anime Club I created at school.”

When asked whether or not he recommends volunteers should take the leap to become a Project Leader, Nico said, “I’d recommend being a Project Leader to anyone because it makes you exactly that — a leader. I believe leading is always better than following. It is extremely rewarding to know that you’re doing something no one else is doing and that it’s helping the community.”

Nico also has some advice for new volunteers when it comes to selecting volunteer projects. “Don’t just grab quantity over quality. Find a couple of projects you like and are meaningful and stick to them.”

Thank you, Nico, for all of the meaningful things you do in our community! We hope other volunteers and Project Leaders are inspired by the impact he has in Broward County.

August Project Leader Spotlight: Natalie Martinez


Our August Project Leader Spotlight belongs to long-time HandsOn Broward volunteer and Project Leader, Natalie Martinez. Chances are, if you have been to a HandsOn Broward managed volunteer project, you have seen 17-year-old Natalie in action.

“The more I became aware of issues that face the community through personal accounts and news channels, the more motivated I became to get involved in the community,” Natalie said.

And she has become involved in the community in a variety of ways. Since she began volunteering with HandsOn Broward, Natalie has participated in the Children’s Services Council’s Back to School Community Extravaganza, Family Volunteer Day, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, 9/11 Day of Service, Be a Joy Maker, and much more. She has also taken on the role of a Project Leader at Kids Care Club, Tomorrow’s Rainbow, and Greater Horizons Academy.

Natalie was happy to take the step from volunteer to Project Leader and recommends other volunteers to do the same. “If you are considering becoming a Project leader, I highly recommend that you do. Not only will you gain new experiences, but you will also learn practical life and leadership skills that are crucial when entering the workplace and beyond,” she said.

As a youth volunteer, Natalie has also participated in many of our youth programs, from our annual Summer Service Camp, to Youth Action Corps, our leadership development program for teens. After experiencing them as a participant, this year Natalie took on a leadership role with both of these programs, acting as a co-facilitator.

“The unique aspect of my volunteering experience has been going from a volunteer to a project leader who also co-facilitates certain programs and events, such as the Summer Service Camp and Youth Action Corps,” Natalie said.

In 2011, when Natalie was just 14 years old, she began volunteering at the HandsOn Broward office over the summer. She assisted staff with clerical work, sorting t-shirts and donations, and making reminder phone calls to volunteers. She has volunteered with us every summer since, and has truly become part of the HandsOn Broward work family. In the past few years, she has started taking on more responsibilities in the office as well. She isn’t just filing and sorting – she is also participating in conference calls, staff meetings, answering the phones, and planning and leading projects and programs.

Natalie has helped her community through volunteerism time and time again, but she also believes that the experiences have helped her in return. “Volunteering has greatly impacted my personal and professional goals by helping me decide what profession to pursue, which includes representing citizens along with their views,” she said. “Volunteering has also given me many invaluable opportunities that have helped shape me into the person I have become today.”

Natalie was selected as the Youth Volunteer of the Year at the 2012 Heart of the Community Awards, and has over 650 recorded service hours with HandsOn Broward. She is also the recipient of The President’s Volunteer Service Award. Natalie is dual-enrolled at Broward Virtual School and Broward College.

When asked to sum up her overall volunteer experience, Natalie said, “One of my favorite quotes that sums up how I personally feel about volunteering is by former President of the United States Ronald Reagan when he states that ‘The work of volunteer groups throughout our country represents the very heart and soul of America. They have helped make this the most compassionate, generous, and humane society that ever existed on the face of this earth.’”

Natalie, thank you for your continuous compassion and generosity over the years! We hope other volunteers are inspired by your motivation to make a positive impact in your community.

Guest Blog: Summer Service Camp 2014

By Sherley Guerrier


HOB Staff/Project Leaders Misty, Luis, Sherley, Melinda & Natalie at Miramar Community Garden

HandsOn Broward held their third annual Summer Service Camp Monday, July 7th – Friday, July 11th, 2014. 38 youth volunteers, ages 13-17, were engaged in meaningful service projects throughout the week.

Summer Service Camp sites included:

  • Children’s Harbor: Foster care homes where siblings are kept together and teen mothers live with their children
  • Broward Emergency Operations Center: Center for disaster preparedness and response
  • ARC Broward: Electronics recycling facility
  • North East Focal Point: Senior activities center
  • Miramar Community Garden: Micro farming system

As a former youth volunteer, I have gone through similar programs with HandsOn Broward. During Summer Camp this year, I had the opportunity to serve as a Project Leader. It was definitely interesting to serve from a different perspective, especially since I was in their shoes not too long ago.

I remembered some of the campers from previous youth programs we were in together, but there were also new faces in the group. My initial thoughts were, “This is going to be a long week.” Every evening I got home I was exhausted, but it was a good exhaustion. I was witnessing youth become world changers each day. The campers switched from thoughts of “Why am I here?” to “I can’t wait until tomorrow!”

On Monday we went to Children’s Harbor. We had several projects in line for that day, which included building wood covers for storage under the pavilion and house cleaning. We also had time to decorate some treats and cards of caring for the kids to come home to after their summer activities.

On Tuesday, the campers learned all about disaster preparedness. We started out the day with a tour of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), where campers learned what happens in Broward County before, during and after a disaster. After the tour, campers headed back to home base and were involved with conducting hurricane preparedness assessments for local senior citizens. First, the students were prepared through a SAFE (Safety Assessments for Emergencies) Training, which showed them exactly what to look for when they examined the homes, and how to conduct the assessments. They also helped assemble disaster preparedness kits that they brought with them to the seniors’ homes. They also participated in a Hands-Only CPR training led by the American Red Cross.

On Wednesday, we went to ARC Broward where the campers split up into groups and visited four stations of the warehouse. The stations included testing donated electronics, shredding hard drives, disassembling computers, and sorting electronics for recycling. This project gave campers a chance to try something new while having a lot of fun and making a difference.

Our next destination was North East Focal Point Senior Center on Thursday. The campers participated in a wide variety of activities with the seniors, including Bingo, Tai Chi, gardening, dancing & singing, providing manicures, getting schooled in dominoes, and, most importantly, making the seniors smile by being their companions for the day.

Friday’s focus was on the environment at the Miramar Community Garden. The campers split into two teams – one group constructed benches for the garden, and the other created garden grids in the garden boxes. The campers ended our series of service projects with accomplished smiles as they carried the last finished bench to its new home under the big tree at the garden.

Witnessing these youth volunteers participate in service over the course of the five days was inspiring. Exposing students to different impact areas can ignite a passion to change their community for the better. The youth of this generation may not realize they have untapped potential that can be used to ultimately change this world. Together, this generation could change the direction of the world’s future politically, economically, and socially. Young people are capable. I strongly believe in the power of youth.

I encourage everyone to try volunteering through HandsOn Broward. If you have a child who wants to get involved in next year’s Summer Service Camp, or any other youth programs with HandsOn Broward, you can reach out to Melissa Sutliff, Director of Youth Programs, at You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram where they update the volunteer community with the latest news.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

Guest Blog: Why Volunteer?

by Natalie Martinez

Winston Churchill is known for saying, “We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.” According to Oxford Dictionary, the definition of the verb “volunteer” is to “freely offer to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.” Unfortunately, this rarely happens in today’s society. Instead, people regularly think in a way that asks “How can this act benefit me?” Volunteering encompasses civic duty, several benefits, and enhancing an individual’s personal experience.

Youth leader and guest blogger Natalie Martinez (center) has been volunteering with HandsOn Broward since 2011.

Youth leader and guest blogger Natalie Martinez (center) has been volunteering with HandsOn Broward since 2011.

Therefore, volunteering can be done at any age. However, I personally believe it is best to start at a young age. Also, it’s great for America’s youth to begin participating in civic duty, such as volunteering young, since they are not yet able to vote or be a part of jury duty. Overall, volunteering is a great way to give back to the community. I specifically urge all high school students to volunteer not only because it is a requirement to graduate, but because of the many things you can learn by volunteering that help better prepare you for the future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the volunteer rate declined by 1.1 percentage points to 25.4% for the year ending in September 2013. The Bureau also states that “The volunteer rate in 2013 was the lowest it has been since the supplement was first administered in 2002.” Together, we can ensure that this low volunteer rate is never a matter of fact again.

A few of the many benefits of volunteering include learning new skills, such as communication, along with gaining a sense of motivation and achievement. Also, although this might sound a bit cliché to some, but there truly is a “feel-good feeling” you receive after completing a service project. New experiences, such as creating a vegetable garden, are very common to undergo while volunteering. However, many people prefer learning more about an impact area or organization that interests them as compared to one that does not. For example, if a person is interested in becoming a vet, then that person should begin volunteering at an animal shelter or hospital. This would not only help the person gain experience, but also guide the person as to whether or not it is the correct field of study for them. By volunteering, I have met a variety of people. In fact, I still keep in contact with many people who I have met through volunteering; some have even become mentors and life-long friends to me.  Lastly, you boost your career opportunities by volunteering. Recent surveys conducted by TimeBank reveal that 73% of employers would hire an individual with volunteering experience over one without, and 94% of employers believe that volunteering can be added to skills on a résumé.

Attending a religious school during my early school years, I was taught the importance of giving back to the community and helping others. Everyone from teachers, coaches, the office staff, and head of school greatly influenced me. Through volunteering I have personally experienced many unique opportunities. Last summer, I began volunteering with a local politician. Through this unique experience, I was able to meet people I wouldn’t have met any other way, and learned about several career options that may interest me in the future. Also, I am currently assisting this politician as a volunteer in his re-election campaign. A few of the tasks that I completed last summer and am currently completing include writing proclamations, attending Commission Meetings and public hearings, and inputting candidate petition data. Volunteering with HandsOn Broward, which is the largest non-profit volunteer agency in Broward County, has also exposed me to many unique experiences that have helped shaped me into the person I am today. In fact, there is a full-time employee at HandsOn Broward who is their Chief Financial Officer, and this gentleman has worked for them for years now, but has never accepted a single paycheck from the agency. The reason for this is because he is a dedicated volunteer, along with his wife who also volunteers at a non-profit agency full-time. This is a perfect example that illustrates the fact that any person at any age can volunteer. A few of the many opportunities that I have experienced through HandsOn Broward include meeting Florida Governor Rick Scott, learning about the environment, participating and co-facilitating in leadership classes, becoming a project leader, and assisting the homeless, elderly, mentally handicapped, and pre-school age children. Another organization that I have worked with is named Bit by Bit, which is a therapeutic riding center for mentally and physically disabled children and veterans. By volunteering, I have had the opportunity to witness fellow volunteers grow socially and mentally.

It is because of all these experiences and benefits that volunteering is important not only for personal development, but for the good of the community. Therefore, I highly urge everyone to volunteer. If you do not have time, make a goal for yourself that you will begin volunteering at least once a month or more. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “The work of volunteer groups throughout our country represents the very heart and soul of America. They have helped make this the most compassionate, generous, and humane society that ever existed on the face of this earth.” Case in point, you, the volunteer, are in fact the heart and soul of America.


November Volunteer Spotlight: Justis Harrilal


By Amanda Hoffman

This month’s volunteer spotlight belongs to Justis Harrilal, who has volunteered hundreds of hours with HandsOn Broward’s DIY (Do It Yourself) volunteering program and Feeding South Florida. Although he’s only a junior in high school, Justis is wise beyond his years–the motto that he carries with him in life and volunteering is: “just because someone else has not defined a need- it doesn’t mean that the need doesn’t exist.”

The goal of the DIY Program is to allow people to complete service projects and make a difference from “the comfort of their own home.” The best features of DIY volunteering are its flexibility—participants are given 30 days to complete a project—and its ability to encourage group participation from friends and family. Justis also points out the program’s benefits for those who have limited transportation. “The other thing that I enjoy most about DIY is that it’s open to all ages- this is important because it’s challenging to find volunteer opportunities for age groups under 16.”

Right now, Justis is working on college applications, resume building and taking on new volunteer projects. But in the future, he plans to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida or to attend the University of Southern California Cinematic Arts School. Eventually, he wants to become a storyboard artist.

You won’t find Justis sleeping in on Saturday mornings, or lounging on the couch during the summer. Instead, he volunteers at Feeding South Florida, “the food distribution center for over 300 emergency food programs in Broward, Miami Dade and Palm Beach County.”

Feeding South Florida is especially important to Justis because, “it’s difficult for me to imagine that almost a million families in South Florida are suffering with the choice of feeding their families or paying their rent. I can’t imagine that not having food is actually an option- but it’s a scary reality for many families. That’s why I go there every Saturday morning to do my part in helping these families. It’s only a few hours a week, but it makes me more aware of the needs that exist in our community.”

For new volunteers, Justis offers up this advice: “I recommend that new volunteers find projects that they’re passionate about. If you can’t find a project- then find a group of people with similar interests and create your own project to serve your community.”

Good luck with your plans, Justis, and thank you for all that you do!

Local Teens Make an Impact through Countywide Service

Summer is a critical out-of-school time when children and teens can benefit from enriched learning, new experiences and making new friends.  In Broward, one organization’s summer programs served up plenty of inspiration to 60 teens who not only found new friendships, but made a difference for Broward communities.

Natalie Martinez, Emma Roberts and Angelo Narvaez help clear park trails and remove invasive plant species from Snyder Park in Fort Lauderdale

Natalie Martinez, Emma Roberts and Angelo Narvaez help clear park trails and remove invasive plant species from Snyder Park in Fort Lauderdale

The local volunteer mobilization hub, HandsOn Broward, hosted two youth programs this month to provide young people with meaningful service and in-depth learning experiences surrounding critical community issues.  Through the Youth Action Corps and Summer Service Camp programs, the teens served a combined 2,400 hours to positively impact seven local nonprofit organizations.

From July 30 through August 3, twenty young leaders joined HandsOn Broward’s Youth Action Corps. The program gave teens the opportunity to participate in GenerationOn’s goLEAD (Leadership Education and Development) Institute.  Participants focused on leadership and teamwork as they planned a capstone service project to benefit local military members.

Youth Action Corps members Blanca Mendez and Jonathan Howard build a tower as part of a leadership exercise

Youth Action Corps members Blanca Mendez and Jonathan Howard build a tower as part of a leadership exercise

“Through the program, I learned that being a leader is more than just giving orders to people or commanding a group,” said Youth Action Corps member Devi Lakhlani, 15, from Davie.  “I learned that leadership is about knowing when to step up as well as when to step down and let others lead.”

Youth Action Corps training was followed by the week-long Summer Service Camp, where campers participated in hands-on projects that benefited local nonprofit organizations.  Service activities included:

  • digital literacy mentoring and arts and crafts with the seniors at Northeast Focal Point Senior Center in Deerfield Beach,
  • painting and landscape beautification at Ann Storck Center in Fort Lauderdale,
  • serving food to residents at Broward Outreach Center in Pompano Beach,
  • native habitat revitalization at Snyder Park in Fort Lauderdale, and
  • group projects at Greater Horizons Academy in Lauderhill, where the youth planted a butterfly garden and worked with local children to make cat and dog toys for the animals at Abandoned Pet Rescue.

“Summer Camp helped me find the voice inside of me and showed me that everyone has the ability to be a leader,” said camper Alexia Pinajian, 13, of Coral Springs.

Summer Camper Rougiena Deriviere shares her computer skills with Carol Hazelwood and Mary German at Northeast Focal Point in Deerfield Beach

Summer Camper Rougiena Deriviere shares her computer skills with Carol Hazelwood and Mary German at Northeast Focal Point in Deerfield Beach

The week-long programs are offered annually by HandsOn Broward and cover a diverse array of community issues, from the environment to homelessness, hunger and animal protection.  Students are able to develop solutions to community problems by working together in hands-on service activities.

“We believe every child needs to know that they can make a difference in the world, and indeed they can,” said Dale Hirsch, CEO of HandsOn Broward. “Our summer youth programs are able to highlight what can happen when you ignite a powerful movement of young change agents who become inspired through service to communities.”

Brooke Aiello paints decorative ceiling tiles for the Ann Storck Center in Fort Lauderdale

Brooke Aiello paints decorative ceiling tiles for the Ann Storck Center in Fort Lauderdale

In addition to the valuable learning experiences, student participants earned 45 community service hours that can be used toward their high school service requirement.  Individuals interested in learning more about upcoming youth program activities can contact HandsOn Broward at  HandsOn Broward also offers hundreds of opportunities to volunteers of all ages year-round through their volunteer opportunities calendar at