Category Archives: Volunteering

Zen and the Art of Dusting


AmeriCorps member Rachel dusting at Riordan Mansion


One of the great things about my current position as an AmeriCorps program coordinator is that I can more effectively do my job by being an active community member.  Last weekend I was able to see two AmeriCorps members in action when I volunteered at the Rug Auction.  This week I stopped by Riordan Mansion on Tuesday and helped with their cleaning day.  Our AmeriCorps member Rachel showed me the art of dusting and we teamed up to dust the west wing of the house.  Dusting is a lot like pulling invasive weeds.  At first it seems like a chore, but then you get into it and you are in this moment of zen, making the world a better place.  By the end you are just obsessed, not able to put down your tools until every last speck of dust has been cleared.  Also, like weeding, dusting allows you a chance to chat and catch up with other volunteers.  Now if it was only that interesting to dust my own house!

Navajo Rug Auction



This afternoon, as snow started falling throughout Flagstaff, Jay and I were volunteering inside, at the Coconino Center for the Arts.  Once a year they host a rug auction of authentic Navajo handcrafted rugs.  There were 250 rugs, varying from small rugs the size of a large book to large area rugs that required three men to hold them up for show.  Our job was to be Vanna White, parading the beautiful rugs in front of the audience as the auctioneer rattled off details and pressure to buy.  It was an interesting experience.  I definitely gained a new appreciation for these well crafted weavings.

Last Trail Day of the Season for Flagstaff

Recently we had a chance to volunteer for the last day of trail work with Flagstaff Biking Organization this season.  Flagstaff is cooling off quickly and before long we will have snow.  On this particular Saturday however, it was wonderfully warm and the ground was soft from recent rains.  A perfect day for digging a new bench cut trail to try to finish out a missing link of the Flagstaff Loop Trail.

The segment we were building was just west of the Campbell Mesa area.  Even through we built more trail than expected that day, the loop remains broken and it will take some Forest Service or ACE crews working in the off season to keep the trail work going.  I can’t wait until the Flagstaff Loop Trail is complete!

Photo Review: Flagstaff’s Fourth of July Parade

Fourth of July is a big deal in Flagstaff, tracing all the way back to 1876.  It was in that year that a group of travelers camped in this area on the fourth of July and decided to celebrate the country’s centennial by cutting down a pine tree, stripping it of its branches and bark and raising it as a post to hoist an American flag.  They left the pine pole standing when they moved on and it became the landmark that ended up giving Flagstaff its name.  We celebrate every year with a huge parade downtown.  This parade is serious small town fun.  Everyone is either in it or watching it and it goes on for hours.  This morning I represented AmeriCorps in the parade and then got to take a bunch of pictures.  Here are my favorites:

Looking patriotic and representing AmeriCorps

These ladies were with Sambateque

We jumped in behind the Peace Corps group

For some reason the APS (utility) employees dressed up as clowns

the Alpine Pedaler, a human powered bar, was dry this morning

There were several floats representing different military groups

I had no idea there were so many cheerleaders in Flagstaff

I was very impressed with the gymnasts

Katie cheers on the NAU marching band, we decided they were the laziest marching band we had seen

Shannon oozed patriotic cheer as she promoted Pickin’ in the Pines

This little train was one of the coolest vehicles in my opinion

The Hopi Dancers walked with the Museum of Northern Arizona

Don’t hit any bumps or you’ll lose the tuba section!

Elisabeth’s darling daughter

These kids were remarkably good, playing classic rock!

Representing Coconino County Search and Rescue volunteers

This was my favorite of a long line of classic cars

This vehicle was towing a demolished demolition derby vehicle

One of our AmeriCorps members, Patrick, promoting recycling

Who knew there was an antique tractor club?


Thank goodness for the rain today.  Unfortunately after 65 days straight without even a drop of rain we are under severe fire restrictions and will not be seeing any fireworks tonight.  That doesn’t stop Flagstaff from having a festive Fourth though!  Happy Independence Day!

Applying the Toyota Production System to Community Building

A week ago I attended the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in Chicago.  The best session I attended was presented by the Toyota Production System Support Center (TSSC) and the New York City Food Bank.  Initially skeptical about corporations coming in to nonprofits to tell them how to operate, I was blown away by how this partnership actually worked.  First of all, TSSC is actually a non-profit arm of Toyota whose mission is to share the Toyota Production System (TPS) model with nonprofits and community organizations.  What’s in it for Toyota?  They rotate Toyota staff members onto these projects to hone their skills in implementing the TPS.  The greatest part about this for the nonprofit is that the Toyota employees learn through teaching.  They train staff at the partner organization how to use the TPS, allowing for the greatest change to occur after they leave (the true hallmark of lasting change!)

Here’s a short clip about how TSSC is partnering with the St. Bernard Project in New Orleans to rebuild homes:

We heard directly from Daryl, a Director of Operations at the New York City Food Bank.  His arm was twisted by NYC Food Bank’s CEO.  Daryl was as skeptical as I was about accepting corporate advice on how to run a food bank.  What could a car company possibly tell him about serving hungry people?  Well, Toyota may know next to nothing about food preparation or human services, but in one week they were able to drastically reduce the wait time at the kitchen, so much so, that patrons no longer had to wait outside in the snow or sweltering heat.  The change was so dramatic that longtime patrons were convinced that the kitchen was closed because they could no longer spot the line from a block away.

Here’s a video about the New York City Food Bank that gives you an idea of some of the challenges they face:

One takeaway that stuck with me from this presentation was when Daryl talked about coming to terms with accepting help from the TSSC guys.  His staff actually said to him “Have a heart and look out for us”.  Basically, once they realized the TSSC guys could help, it was time to put egos aside and accept that there may be a better way of doing things that you never thought of.  This was huge, because it’s not enough for TSSC to have a better way of doing things.  In order to actually embrace lasting change, all of the key players have to be willing to embrace that change and recognize when doing things differently will enable them to make a bigger difference.

Made in the Shade Beer Festival

This weekend was the 20th Annual Made in the Shade Beer Tasting Festival. The alcohol fueled shenanigans are actually for a good cause. This festival is one of three in the state that raise money for Sun Sounds of Arizona, who provide access to information to people who cannot read print because of a disability such as low vision. I had a few volunteer roles at the festival, managing the Facebook page, assisting with the brewers breakfast, and MCing the costume contest. I also donated a framed photo for the silent auction. The highlight was helping with the brewers breakfast. I made chair covers out of plastic tablecloths (too much reading of wedding blogs) and worked with April to create fabulous fruit trays. It was also fun to meet the brewers in a casual environment.

Here are some photos from the festival:













First Trail Building Day of the Season

Trail building mascot

Saturday was a beautiful day here in Flagstaff and a great one to start off the summer trail building season with Flagstaff Biking Organization.  Saturday’s event included support from the US Forest Service, American Conservation Experience, Absolute Bikes, Run Flagstaff, Fratelli’s Pizza, and Kickstand Kafe.  With all of that community support, it’s no surprise that there was a great turnout.

The crowd on Saturday seemed like a cross section of the active involved folks of Flag.  There were families with kids from age six to sixteen, young men that live for adrenaline and are part of the Gravity Riders group, couples who were enjoying a chance to work side by side, and older adults who showed the rest of us what hard work really looked like.  On their website, FBO encourages people of all ages and ability levels to come out to a work day.  The FBO rep (pictured below) reinforced this message by letting us all know at the beginning that shovel leaning was acceptable.  He said that some people come out every month just to lean on their shovels and chat and that that is perfectly ok.  Trail work days are as much about building the community as they are about building the trails.

I was really impressed how FBO took the lead in organizing the event, but then asked the volunteers who came to step up and form small groups with an experienced trail builder leading each team.  Jay and I each had the opportunity to lead a small team, though as the day carried on and all of the volunteers got familiar with the techniques we all just spread out and worked where we were needed.  With so many volunteers, the line of trail builders stretched out over at least a quarter mile.  In all we probably completed over a half of a mile of brand new trail.

The trail we were building is an important connector segment of the Flagstaff Loop Trail.  Once complete, the Flagstaff Loop Trail will be a 42 mile route that circumnavigates Flagstaff.  It will provide connections and access to many other important trails in the area, including the Arizona Trail, Forest Service singletrack on Mt Elden and Campbell Mesa singletrack.  Where we were working, the trail follows US Forest Service land, but in all it crosses many different boundaries, covering land owned by the City, County, US Forest Service, and even ADOT.  There are great maps showing the proposed trail and how it connects the city.

FBO has planned trail work days every month from now until October and almost every month we will be working on the Flagstaff Loop Trail.  If the attendance at trail days can stay at this level or grow, we should make very significant progress on the trail this year.

The next trail day is scheduled for National Trails Day (June 2nd) and we will be working on the Loop Trail near Ft Tuthill.  The National Trails Day event is sponsored by REI, Absolute Bikes, and Specialized and is sure to be a big and fun event.  I hope to see you out there!

If you want to see all of the photos from Saturday, check out this online album.