Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Can Service Save Us?

A lot of people have serious concerns about the future of the world. You hear it all the time, especially when folks start talking about the future, in regards to politics and religion. “I am praying for your kids." "This country is going down the drain." "The world is terrible." "I have no hope for these kids’ future.” These are not things you hear all the time, but hearing them once is enough.

I’m not going to lie, I have concerns about the future for a variety of reasons. Is Artificial Intelligence (AI) going to destroy humanity? Has the world reached it’s maximum capacity? What is happening to the bees? Even though we don’t know what the future holds there are reasons to be hopeful.

One of the more exciting things that is currently happening is The Giving Pledge, which is a site that lists billionaires or near-billionaires who have pledged to give over half of their money to philanthropy or charitable causes. The list includes Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, these three alone are currently worth over $100 billion.

Another billionaire who has made the pledge to donate part of his fortune, Elon Musk, is also committed to protecting us from rogue computer intelligence. He recently donated $10 million to the Future of Life Institute as a preventative measure against AI going bad.

Habitat for Humanity Build
But, billionaires aren’t the only ones trying to make a difference. As the co-founder of a dating site for volunteers, I see first hand the impressive number of people giving their time to make the world a better place. We have members who serve daily, they do the little things that add up to make the biggest impact.

The volunteers on our site are everyday people working to make the world a better place. If you doubt the kindness of humanity, then I suggest taking some time to volunteer. If you don’t see the change you want to see, be the change you want to be. Assuredly, getting together with friends and working to help others will restore your faith.

So, can service save us? My experience tells me, “Yes!” Taking action and doing good by volunteering will make you feel good, it builds empathy and it helps people, which in turn makes the world a better place. Like #MLK said, “Life's most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Need some ideas on how to give back or take action? Fight rogue AI by applying for a position with OpenAI, help save the bees by registering to be a part of the Pollinator Partnership, or give back by mentoring a child with Big Brothers Big Sisters, signing up for a Build with Habitat for Humanity, or serving our veterans through the DAV. Check out our member resource page for more opportunities to make the world better.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Volunteer Spotlight - Refugee Crisis

We are very proud and happy to announce the first individuals for the Volunteer Spotlight! Congratulations, to Amy and Colin Pappajohn, whom are also a part of the iHeartVolunteers team.

Currently, Amy and Colin are on hiatus from iHeartVolunteers and have been volunteering for an ad hoc group of independent volunteers. Better Days for Moria is an informal organization formed to provide volunteer coordination and to fill in the service gaps in Moria Camp - the main refugee registration camp in Lesvos, Greece. Read below to learn more about their important volunteer work in Greece, helping the refugees.

"They're just like us. They have the same basic values. They have the same fears. They have the same ambitions. They each have their own story. Listen."

Amy & Colin at a local eatery in Molyvos on Lesvos island

What is a typical day like for you two?

11:00AM - Wake up, shower, make breakfast, read news about Balkan Route (the main route for refugees from Turkey to Germany).

2:00PM - Drive from Molyvos (a village located in the North of Lesvos) to Moria camp - it's an hour drive but we rideshare with volunteers who are also on the north of the island.

3:00PM - Arrive at Moria registration camp and do a walk-around (gather information). We talk to refugees, volunteers, large NGOs, the police doing the registration, in order to determine where volunteers are needed.

Amy&Colin_Refugee Camp.png
This is the camp where the Pappajohns spend a lot of their time

4:00PM - Lead a short meeting with volunteers who signed up for the evening shift. Pair volunteers who have experience with new volunteers and send them to the areas of the camp that need volunteers. The needs change everyday and every hour.

4:30PM - After the new shift has started, we do workarounds every 1-2 hours answering any questions. Moving volunteers to areas they might be needed.

The camp is huge, but we have volunteers almost everywhere. We have volunteers who greet refugees as they come off the buses, volunteers who distribute and help to get refugees who are wet into dry clothes, volunteers who distribute hot food and tea, volunteers who help manage the lines for registration, volunteers roaming around ensuring the general well-being of refugees and at night, volunteers finding places for refugees to sleep. We also have regular blanket and sleeping bag distributions. Our job is to ensure the proper coverage of volunteers in each area and to circulate up-to-date accurate information.

A big part of our job is to handle some of the special cases. If there is a separated family or lost child we refer them to The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). If there is a fire, we put it out (literally and figuratively). If sleeping spaces run out, we improvise. If there is a suspected trafficker or someone selling fake papers, we are the ones who help deal with it. Whatever can happen, does happen.

8:00PM - Volunteer Dinner - Mmmm

12:00AM - Share information with the next shift coordinator. Wrap-up any last minute tasks.

1:00AM - Drive home.

2:00AM - Grab a snack. Unwind. Facebook.

3:00AM - Sleep

What are the biggest challenges?

Lack of Coordination, Communication, and Collaboration. The Moria registration camp is huge. There are so many organizations involved everyday and no one entity oversees the camp. The Greek Government and Greek Police change their policies and procedures everyday. A handful of large NGOs such as UNHCR, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Doctors Without Borders, and Save the Children are all present in the camp. There are hundreds of small NGOs and independent volunteers. The large NGOs are buried in bureaucracy and lack the overall manpower. The small NGOs and the independent volunteers are not adequately coordinated, so duplication of services and service gaps are inevitable.

All organizations and individuals have good intentions but without the proper information or training, people can cause more damage than good.

A life-jacket recycling project. Straps = belts.
The rest of it = padding and insulation under the tent.   
When you're down, what keeps you going?

Everyone around us keeps us going. It's such an ugly atmosphere - the registration camp is surrounded by razor wire because it was previously a detention center - but it is filled with the most amazing people. The super-motivated short term volunteers. The long term volunteers who quit their jobs to be here. The refugees.
The man from Afghanistan who gave his tent and blanket to a family who needed it. The 16 year old Syrian boy who helped us translate. The man who gave me his gloves because I had none and refused to accept them back. The elderly couple who came all the way from Syria. The man with perfect English who translated for the US Army only to later be targeted by the Taliban.

Pappajohns poking their head out of a kids tent

Everyday we meet the most amazing people this world has to offer. People who have overcome some amazing atrocities. In addition to all of this, we have an amazing network of support waiting for us back home. We consider ourselves pretty lucky.

How has your previous experience as Peace Corps Volunteers helped you with your current volunteer service?

Professionalism - Peace Corps does a great job teaching you how to be a good volunteer. We remember the phrase "own your service" from pre-service training but we didn't realize how important it was until now. The most effective volunteers in Peace Corps and on Lesvos, approach their volunteer service as a job. In any crisis situation, you need to have reliable people you can count on and Lesvos is no exception.

Flexibility - The most important thing that we took from our PC service is how to be flexible in an ever changing environment. Everyday procedures change, needs change, different problems arise and Peace Corps gave us invaluable experience reacting to dynamic environments. We use this skill everyday.

Is there a specific story that you would like to share, about your time in Lesvos?

One day, we ran out of blankets. It happens from time to time. Usually, we put a call out for blankets to all the groups managing the many warehouses located around the island. But this time, we couldn't find any in any of the warehouses. It was late. Many of the employees from the big NGOs had gone back to their hotels. The camp was almost full and when the camp is full, people are required to sleep in a huge tent that can fit about 200 people. It's more like a gigantic, drafty, plastic barn with particle board floors. It was cold. Refugees kept arriving on boats and then they were bused to the camp from the beaches. The only thing we could give them was an emergency foil blanket. Amy found three large blankets but it wasn't nearly enough for everyone.

Then we got a call. In one of the warehouses, they had thousands of brand new XXL fleece jackets, probably donated by some company as overstock. The large tent was completely packed with people, most without proper blankets. Three volunteers spent an hour opening the packages of comically large fleeces and draping two over each person without a blanket. The people who were still awake thanked us profusely. The three blankets that Amy found we draped over a very large extended family of over 20 people with babies, children and some grandparents. One elderly woman woke up in the process of being tucked in and thanked us repetitively in Arabic, in tears. It was so great to be able to help even in such a small way.

What do you want people to know about the people you're helping?

They're just like us. They have the same basic values. They have the same fears. They have the same ambitions. They each have their own story. Listen.

Amy&Colin_Some Laughter.png
A traveling clown group came to the camp to entertain the refugees

How can people get involved?

People often say that there is a shortage of donations and volunteers on the island but this is only half of the story.

Donations ARE needed but only the RIGHT donations. I know, I know, there should be no such thing as wrong donation but there is. Used, unsorted clothes would qualify as a wrong donation. There are currently warehouses on Lesvos full of stacks of used, unsorted clothes that probably will never be sorted (volunteers don't tend to come to Lesvos to spend time in a warehouse sorting clothes). Sorted, high need items (such as shoes, sleeping bags, gloves) are the right donations.

New items are also great because they are sorted by size, in nice stack-able boxes and unworn. But, money is the best donation. It supports the local Greek economy and can be used to purchase whatever is high need at that moment - gloves are our highest need right now, but by the time a container makes it's way to Greece it might not be needed anymore. Also financial donations can be used to cover overhead costs, like diesel for the generator to run the lights. If you want to donate to Better Days for Moria please visit the website (It is a work in progress, so please check back frequently).

Amy&Colin_sorting clothes.jpg
Amy sorting clothes in a warehouse. A constant need.

Volunteers ARE needed but only the RIGHT volunteers. Lesvos needs volunteers who can either hit the ground running and/or volunteers that can stay for longer than a week. The right volunteers are volunteers who treat their volunteer time with a high level of professionalism. This means being on time for shifts, being dependable and committing to one location (not bouncing around to wherever there is the "most action"). The right volunteers spend some time doing inglorious tasks such as sorting clothing in a warehouse or picking up litter - it’s all necessary. Better Days for Moria wants these volunteers on our team. If you are one of these volunteers please spend some time and read this document by clicking here and then contact Better Days for Moria .

Can't donate or volunteer? You can still be involved. Become more educated on the refugee crisis. Share what you find. E-mail your district representatives.  Educate those around you. Every little bit helps.

Colin & Amy Pappajohn
Volunteers, Better Days for Moria
Peace Corps Volunteers, Botswana 09-11
Washington State University Alums

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Member deletions are good news?

I know it may seem weird, but Shelly and I always get a little excited when we get a member deletion email. When we first started iHeart these emails made us sick. We were trying to build a community, we couldn't afford to lose anyone. But after getting a couple of them it became obvious. People delete their dating site accounts when they meet someone they are serious about.

Ultimately, we came to realize that our goal is for members to delete. If you run a dating site and nobody deletes, then your site isn't working. We started iHeart with the goal of bringing good people together, which would result in them leaving our community. I remember our first deletion was because the user had met someone, but not on iHeartVolunteers. We were happy for them, but we wanted the relationship to have started on our site. Well, we recently received the best member deletion possible. Check it out.

Good deletions...getting married!
Getting married deletion email!

As a new dating site this made us extremely proud. We look forward to many more!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Shared Connection

When I first met my wife, we had an immediate connection because we both loved sports. She was the only girl in our building that played pick-up basketball, and I was always at the court looking for a game. She ended up transferring schools, and six years later we reconnected. Our love of athletics was still present, but what ultimately brought us together was our love for service. We had a shared desire to join the Peace Corps, which we did a year and a half after reuniting. We are not special though, the majority of single people are looking for someone like them. If you like sports, you'll want to date an athlete. If you love to play an instrument, you’re going to be attracted to musicians. If you love to go to church, you’re going to look for someone who shares your faith.

Our shared love for giant beers!
In fact, research shows that 60% of active online daters are looking for someone who shares their interests or hobbies. We started iHeartVolunteers because our love for service brought us together, and we want others to experience the same thing. Plus, our site offers more than finding a shared love for volunteerism. We offer another level to the online dating experience by screening our members volunteer service!

We care about our members and we want to present them with the best possible partner, so we screen. But that’s not the only reason, online dating has some negative aspects we’d like to prevent from occurring. It’s not uncommon for online daters to report being harassed or being made to feel uncomfortable by other members. Fifty-four percent of online daters complain that people seriously misrepresent themselves online, e.g. Christians not being very Christian or lumberjacks not loving lumber.

Screening can seriously help eliminate misrepresentation and harassment. Anyone can claim to be spiritual or religious, but a verified church volunteer is definitely committed to their faith. Being verified adds a level of accountability, it's less likely for a member to get their volunteer service verified and then engage in harassing behavior towards other members. (Side Note: We can't always verify volunteerism when we can't the user's account reads "Unverified". Check out our FAQ verification section for more info.) For those that do harass or bully, "Verified" or not, we gladly remove them from our site.

It's obvious, a website full of volunteers focused on creating a positive online dating environment is super awesome, and that's one of our priorities. Good people meeting good people, that's what it's all about.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Eighteen Days of Service, Kind of

Today's blog entry is about a post by the non-profit All for Good that I shared on our iHeartVolunteers Facebook page.  All for Good is a volunteer service that connects volunteers with service opportunities, they are a great organization. On top of that, I enjoy their Facebook posts; they are often insightful, motivational and humorous.

A couple weeks back they Facebooked this list of service ideas:

I looked at the list and thought, "I'd like to do this".

So I commented on the post from our iHeartVolunteers account saying, "We're going to do one a day until Christmas!! We'll let you know how it goes."

Shelly laughed about it, I tend to over-commit. I hadn't devised a plan on following through, and she knew it. I thought it would be easy. All of the tasks seemed very do-able. I made the comment on December 7th, I had only committed to 18 days of service. 

My plan was to pick an act of service each night and schedule it into my phone's calendar, as a helpful reminder. I wanted to ease my way into it, so I set a reminder to thank sincerely as many people as possible.

My reminder went off at eight AM, time to be thankful. The first person I thanked held the door for me. I was glad they did it, but I was a little overzealous and ended up yelling, "Thank you!". It was embarrassing. But, I recovered and ended up thanking a lot of people. Some sincerely, some loudly. It was a good day.

I planned on going to the grocery store the following day, so I set my reminder to return someone's cart. Turns out, I didn't get groceries. So,  I resorted to cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. I decided it would qualify as doing something special for my spouse. It was my only option, even though I knew my wife would not consider me cleaning the kitchen as doing a special act of service for her.

After that I fell apart. I know, that was quick. I did not end up living up to my end of the bargain. I have no excuses, some days I just didn't make it a priority. I ended up completing ten acts of service, so just over half. Not terrible, but I can't brag about it.

However, I am very glad I did it. One of the acts I ended up completing was writing a letter of appreciation. It made me happy. I felt like the people in this video:

The 10 acts of service I did, made me happy. It makes me wonder why I don't go out of my way to serve others more often. For that reason, I recently saved the service list as an image on my phone and set a recurring reminder to look at it.

Doing good makes us happy, and it's easy. I dare you to try it.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

iHeartVolunteers is for Who?

When we first came up with the idea of starting a dating site for volunteers, we weren't sure where to begin. As Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), Shelly and I started off thinking we would create a Peace Corps dating site. But, with a 63% to 37% girl to guy ratio we quickly decided to expand on who to include.

At first we had a very romantic notion of what we wanted our dating site to be. We had a lot of ideas. Initially, the plan was to focus on international volunteers, thinking they could meet all around the world and travel together. We contemplated on having only long-term volunteers who had served for over one year in an immersive program. At one point, it was narrowed down to five organizations. We thought it would be very exclusive.

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa - A fancy international travel date location we initially envisioned for our members.
Not long after, Shelly had brought up adding Habitat for Humanity to our exclusive list. Habitat does great work locally and abroad; they even have long-term programs lasting between 6-12 months. A short discussion later and we agreed Habitat for Humanity had made the cut.

After that, we added Big Brothers Big Sisters, because of how important it is for youth to have a mentor. Next, we added Children's Hospitals because of the impact they have had on our lives. We followed that up by adding volunteers for the Department of Veterans Affairs, because there is nothing better than serving the men and women that have defended our country.

Eventually, it became clear. We needed to accept all volunteer organizations and programs. Our company name is iHeartVolunteers, not iOnlyHeartSomeVolunteers. All volunteers contribute to important causes and make a positive impact on our communities, and that's what matters.

If volunteering is an important part of your life and you're looking for someone to share that with, sign-up!

Do good, together!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Launch Message

We are very excited to announce the soft launch of iHeartVolunteers, a dating site for people who volunteer! Join our community of like-minded people.

For all single individuals who have or who currently volunteer, we are offering our limited time launch exclusive , a free one year subscription! Why are we offering free subscriptions you ask? Well, let’s be real, who wants to be the first to sign up for a dating site? Free subscriptions will grow our community and create more opportunities for our members to make a real connection. It’s the least we can do for those who believe in our site and join our community from the start. If a free membership isn’t enough here are five reasons you’re going to love iHeartVolunteers...
  1. We have a community of like minded people who share similar interests. 
  2. We verify that our members are, in fact, volunteers through a simple screening process. 
  3. Our subscriptions are free for volunteers currently in a long-term immersive program.
  4. We donate 10 percent of profits to our members volunteer projects/organization.
  5. We promote volunteerism, which is awesome!
We invite you to check out our site & click the "Sign Up Now" button!

Do good, together!

Shelly & Chris Zenner
Co-Founders and fellow volunteers

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