Friday, September 21, 2012

Prudential Spirit of Community Awards

We are very fortunate to live in a country where we have opportunities to make a difference.  Since I was a teenager, I have felt a strong sense of responsibility to making a difference in causes that I believe in.  I have marched in parades, walked 10Ks, written letters, volunteered my time, made phone calls, been part of grassroots organizations and made monetary donations.  Being part of something that you believe in is a wonderful part of the human experience, knowing that you have the potential to make a difference is exhilarating. Since my girls were little, we have sought out opportunities to make a difference as a family.

Prudential believes that encouraging young people to create a better tomorrow is important.  Prudential offers young people who make a difference in their community a chance to earn a Prudential Spirit of Community Award.  I was offered the opportunity to interview one of these young people who is making a big difference.  Our family was inspired by Joseph Mandes and his energy with raising money for cancer research and inspiring other young people, I know you will be as well.

Joseph Mandes, 17, of Brigantine, N.J., a volunteer with the United Way of Atlantic County and a junior at Atlantic City High School, founded the “Kids for South Jersey Cancer Fund” when he was 13 years old and has since helped to raise more than $28,000 to support the South Jersey Cancer Fund. Joseph, whose volunteer work is in honor of his “Poppy” who died from cancer, has recruited 75 volunteers to raise funds by hosting bake sales, coin drops and beach runs.

How did you become interested in this particular volunteer effort?
After my grandfather's unexpected death from a disease which we thought had a cancer-basis, my mom brought to my attention an article in our local paper indicating that the South Jersey Cancer Fund was freezing services due to a lack of funding. (Most people wouldn't think that their parent would bring a newspaper article to their kids attention. However, my brother and I had been fundraising for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation since we were ten years old, and had raised a lot for that cause.) My mom has taught us that when you are sad, if you do something to help other people it will make you feel better.

b) Did you have to make any sacrifices (other than your time) with this 
effort? Did it feel like a sacrifice?
No. Not really. It didn't feel like a sacrifice to volunteer. I was helping others and it was actually fun to volunteer. I also made a lot of friends doing it. Some of them are my best friends to this day. I am not saying that I didn't get tired after a long day of volunteering or that it was fun to clean up after a volunteer event, but I always had a good feeling in the end.

c) About how many hours a week did you spend volunteering? Do you do
other extracurriculars?
I would say I volunteer between 3 and 3 1/2 hours a week in all. However, this would include my other volunteer work as well, and not just the Kids for South Jersey Cancer Fund Project. It’s really not that much time when you think about how much time can be spent on things such as watching TV or playing Video Games in a week.
I volunteer with my brother's lead in raising funds for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation and have done so since age 10. I also have been a part of the Youth Alliance in Brigantine, which is another effort my brother and I started to get other youth from different youth groups in our community to collaborate on projects to better our community. This includes church youth groups, scouting groups, and our Kids for S.J.C.F. group.
Through our school, my brother and I are involved with the Key Club and are both officers. Recently, our local Elks Lodge requested that we form an Elks Youth Group called the Antlers so that our efforts we started in getting youth to volunteer to support Elks Programs can continue on even when we are in college. This will basically take the place of our Youth Alliance Group which has been doing service projects at the lodge for about 5 years, helping to serve Veterans, and raise funds for Programs for Special Needs Kids.
The Antlers Youth group which my brother and I will initiate and lead for at least the next 8 months, will serve as the engine to train local youth on the initiatives which my brother and I started in our town. We will give these youth the tools to make the fundraising efforts for these causes continue on in even bigger ways, by building onto the projects each year and learning from each project on the way.

d) Did other members of your family get involved with this effort?
Yes. Without a doubt. Both of my parents have been supportive and an important part of the effort in the advice they have given us, and the way they have guided us. They have also been helpful with things like getting supplies to and from events and lending an extra hand as needed. My parents served as the adult facilitators for our group, so there would be adult supervision at meetings and events. They supplied the funding for many of the social events of our group and meeting refreshments.

e) What suggestions do you have for parents who may want to get their
children interested in volunteering?
I think parents should start getting their kids involved in volunteering early; the younger the better! It is a wonderful thing to do as a family. Kids can make new friends this way. It really boosts self-esteem for kids as they see their success in fundraising and making a difference in their community.
It has taught me a lot and I have become a better public speaker as I had to approach businesses and community groups for support from an early age. I also have become a better writer as I needed to write letters of requests to businesses. Over time, I even had to give speeches in front of large groups of adults in accepting awards that I have received. Actually, when I volunteered at age 10 for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, it was at a time in my life when I was being tormented by bullies. Volunteering took my mind off of it and the problem seemed to disappear. School wasn't always easy for me. Learning was a challenge. However, my volunteer work was something that made me feel proud and something I was good at. I gained self-confidence and I think it made me do better in school in the long run.
It is something everyone should get their kids involved in.

f) What suggestions do you have for kids who want to volunteer?
Always volunteer. If you have a nice group of friends and you choose to volunteer together, you will always be having fun, doing something you love, and making your community a better place.
You can go to our various groups' web sites and those of other volunteer efforts, to get ideas on how to model your effort. Our websites actually also serve as records of what we have done and even are awesome to look at for us, because they include many photos of our work from the beginning. We try to keep posting new photos when we can. It is hard to keep up with because we do so much. It is a good idea to create such a website or fundraising page for your cause. To see ours, go to:
Whatever you do, consider your community. See what is needed in the community. Think of your strengths and use these to give back. Also, consider using Facebook, texting, YouTube, Twitter, and whatever new thing comes our way, as tools to make your effort even greater. Don't be afraid to get your pet involved in helping. Watch our YouTube : Cats for a to see how we did this! I hope this helps! Happy Volunteering!