Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Non-Profits: Something From Nothing

Here is what I love – people who get an idea, and make the world a better place because they have a vision and make a plan so that the vision can become a reality.

The Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council
I volunteer for the Gulf Coast Citizens Diplomacy Council. The one in Pensacola was started from nothing by a young woman with a vision, Gina Melancon Gissendanner. Her organization, her Board of Directors, her members and her resources deep within the Pensacola community have welcomed several hundred of the US Department of States International Visitor’s Leadership program delegates, bringing awareness – and dollars – to Pensacola.

When the visitors come into town, they have activities, tours and visits with professional counterparts that give them new strategies and resources to take back with them to their home countries. While here, they meet local people, shop in local stores and dine in local homes.

I love this program. From nothing, this young woman has created an organization with a far-reaching legacy. Thanks to her innovative and relevant programs, the international delegates leave here with happy memories of their time in Pensacola, and they go home and tell their friends and neighbors about their time here.

This weekend, we crossed paths with three more organizations, creating a better world, each in their own way.

The Master Gardeners

“You have to come to the sale at the County Extension Office!” our aqua aerobics friends told us. “It is so much fun, and they have Florida-hardy plants available at really good prices.”

OK! Finding ourselves awake and ready to hit the road early on a Saturday morning, we headed for the County Extension office, and the Master Gardener’s Sale. Now, I may get some of the details in this story wrong, but this is what I think I have been told. . . Several years ago, county extension offices (who answer questions about soil and growing things) found themselves deluged with questions, with too few people to answer them. They started a program – and I believe it is nation wide – training people in all aspects of growing things in the local area.

People who signed up for the training also signed up for a commitment to volunteer, and pass their knowledge along. Slowly, slowly, we have begun to know these people.

The sale was a lot of fun. While gardeners love a challenge, like growing flowers in Florida that aren’t supposed to grow here (like me, I am trying to grow bougainvillea, which isn’t really good at getting through cold winters, but maybe if I find the right protected spot, I can get it going and keep it going until it develops a deep root system and an ability to withstand the minimally cold winters we have in Pensacola) and they also love to share their knowledge.

There was an experienced, knowledgeable and enthusiastic Master gardener about every ten steps at the sale, and we could ask all the questions we ever wanted, and they just loved talking with us and giving all the answers. Free! There was no admission charged, the plants were reasonably prices (and many were very cool plants) and it was just a great place to pass a Saturday morning.

We’ve been told the Spring Sale is THE best sale – we can hardly wait.

When we left, AdventureMan said “Every one of them seemed so comfortable in their own skin.” I think he is right. I think working in the earth with your hands helps ground you. 🙂

The Master Gardeners are those people you find in Home Depot and Lowes, giving information on gardening in Florida, and at special booths at Arts Fests, in the schools, and working the beds at the County Extension office. They are volunteers. They do this work for the love of making the world a more beautiful place.

The Butterfly House

Our next stop was the Monarch Madness festival at the Panhandle Butterfly House in Navarre, where there was also an Arts Fest in progress. The volunteers at the Butterfly House all wore these terrific T-shirts with a caterpiller on the front and Monarch butterfly on the back. They had a great system, too, for getting a lot of people through the butterfly house in an organized and civil way, still giving people a lot of time to ask questions, and with lots of really cool activities for children to do, to help them understand the life cycle of these beautiful and short-lived creatures.

The Manna Food Pantries, Pensacola

I’m lucky. I work on a church committee where the chair brings in representatives from all the major charities in Pensacola to talk with us about what they do. The Manna Food Pantries is, in my humble opinion, a poster-child for how a non-profit should operate. Providing food for those who are hungry, for those going through tough times – and there are more than you might think – is truly part of God’s work for us here on earth. Manna Food Pantries collect and distribute food to the hungry. This morning, we had two Manna vans at the church and people were bringing in their full bags to donate.

It’s been a very tough year in Pensacola. The tough times just go on and on. You can prepare for tough times, save your money, gather your resources, but when tough times linger, sometimes those resources run dry. Manna has been faced with just such a time; resources are drying up, donations were down and the need is greater than ever. Manna hit the front page this week two days in a row, and is getting great coverage on radio, in the churches, in social groups – they are very very good at getting the message out, and the message is clear: We need your continued support, food, money, now more than ever.

They are brilliant at managing their volunteers, and many have been with them for years and years.

All these organizations are only able to exist because people believe in giving of their time and efforts in the hopes of making the world a little better, a little more beautiful, a little more peaceful, a little more hopeful – one person at a time.

Where are you going to put your efforts? What organizations do you support – and why?

October 10, 2011 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Character, Charity, Civility, Community, Cultural, Financial Issues, Food, Fund Raising, Gardens, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Pensacola, Social Issues | 1 Comment