Thursday, November 29, 2007

ReServe at Work with Project Enterprise

ReServist Yvonne Carr and Program Coordinators Beth Dunphe and Vertraille sit at a round table inside the Project Enterprise offices on 125th Street in Harlem.
Beth is describing Project Enterprise’s mission in her own words:

“We provide business loans and training to entrepreneurs who are in most cases just getting started,
through three different loan programs. We provide them with business loans, training, and networking opportunities to grow and expand their businesses. The types of businesses really run the gamut. The gentleman who just won our Entrepreneur Of The Year award does crossword puzzle books that he designs himself. Another owns a barbershop, and he designs T-shirts. We have folks who do bath and body. We have people who kill rats! I mean, anything in between.”

Yvonne was first assigned to work with them in June, “helping them with the financials. Accounts receivable, accounts payable.”

“Yvonne was actually the first ReServist that we met,” Beth explains. “The very first one. And we loved her!”

Vertraille chimes in, “We were sold on the program after that.” And Beth continues,

“We actually just took on a second ReServist last week. After having such a great experience with Yvonne, we immediately looked to ReServe again
because we wanted to bring someone with experience into a position, partly to help round out our staff a little bit. And also to be a more mature--face to the organization, you know? That's one of the things I really love about ReServe is they're bringing folks who have so much talent back into the workplace where they're desperately needed.”

Yvonne explains what about her work with Project Enterprise works for her: “I love it here. First of all, it's near my house. Number one! But--the people here are just wonderful. Everybody here was very open with me, very helpful. They're wonderful here. And the hours are great. I work from 12 to 5, three days a week, and 12 to 4 one more day.”

A former elementary school teacher with accounting experience at a larger firm, Yvonne has been able to bring very simple and practical knowledge to bear in her work here. As she so succinctly illustrates, “They didn't have an expense sheet. And that’s—really—critical!” The table dissolves into laughter.

Vertraille is quick to follow up. “We’re a really small office, and so there are some things that we don't think about because it's a really casual environment. Yvonne is coming from a place where she's worked in a much bigger office, and so she can see--that’s standard, you guys should have an expense sheet! It’s great having her around to give us those ideas and then to implement them. She thought of it. She created the work, then she went ahead and did it. It's fabulous!”

Yvonne sees herself as part of a movement in her generation to return to more meaningful work. “I think baby boomers . . . we're the generation that believe we'll never ‘grow old.’ We just want to hang in there for as long as we can.

"I don't think people should have to retire. They should be able to work as long as they, as long as they feel good. It's nice being at Project Enterprise also because everybody here is at a different stage in their lives,” Yvonne says. “You know--Vertraille has kids, Beth doesn't. We have someone else that's having a baby. So everybody's in different stages, and I think that's a beautiful thing.”

You can see more photos from our visit to Project Enterprise by visiting our flickr site. Click here.

To find out more about Project Enterprise, you can visit their website,

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Japanese Reporters Interview Our ReServist at the Carter Burden Center (pt.1)

ReServe and the AARP* Money Management Program at the Carter Burden Center for the Aging
*American Association of Retired Persons

In Japan, respect for the elderly is practically law—September 16th is “Respect For The Elderly Day,” a national holiday. We were flattered, then, when Nikkei Business Publications, Japan’s largest publisher and contents provider, sent two reporters to talk with our ReServist on assignment to the Carter Burden Center for the Aging about our mission, and his work with the AARP’s new Money Management Program.

Claire Hagga Altman (CA), Executive Director, ReServe Inc. - These gentlemen are writing a story about volunteer services and other programs for retirees. They say that the nonprofit sector in Japan is not as developed as here. And so they were interested in ReServe and we felt that the Money Management Bill Payer Program was a good example of our work. Takeru, would you like to open with a question?

Takeru Kise (TK), reporter - Why did you decide to work for ReServe?

Gerry Fisher (GF), ReServist - Well, you know, I was a retired businessman. For many years I had a corrugated box factory. And then I had an invention--a patent--and then I sold that. I sold the business, I sold the patent. And I was in limbo, not knowing what to do. And I couldn't just ‘do nothing!’ It was almost impossible for me to do nothing. My mind was constantly functioning. And so I discovered ReServe. And I applied for employment there. And luckily, I got the job.

CA Gerry, could you describe what you do with the Bill Paying Program?

GF Well, what I do here is I coordinate the program in conjunction with Velda. We get the clients. And we get the volunteers. And we get them matched up so that the volunteer goes to the client's premises. We organize their papers. And we pay their bills. But we don't sign checks. We just make out the checks. And we make sure that they have enough money to pay their bills. And make sure that they don't overpay their bills. And we make sure their bank accounts are in balance. So it's sort of like a book-keeping assignment.

CA The idea is to help them manage their resources so that they can keep living at home and essentially not become destitute.

Velda Murad (VM), Executive Director, Carter Burden Center for the Aging - We had a client who was facing eviction because she didn't pay her rent bill for months. She just forgot to pay it. But she was convinced she did. And she never responded to the landlord's letters because she said she paid the rent, so why does she have to answer to anyone? So she was taken to court. We got involved, and what we realized is she needed help. Somebody had to go in to make sure she paid her bills. So we got a volunteer to go in. And the volunteer is now making sure she pays all her bills. So this is a woman who is able to stay [in her] home because of this program. I mean it's extraordinary. Really--this is extraordinary.

CA And AARP recruits the volunteers and then sends them here and you screen them.

VM Yes.

TK How many clients do you have?

GF How many clients at the moment? Well there are four active, but there are two more coming. Four currently active. We’d like more clients. It's not as easy as you might think to find them. We've sent out mailings to 1200 people, gotten very little response. We've sent out letters to synagogues and churches . . .

VM But as you said, it's very hard for people to talk about income, and to share their financial information. It's hard to do, and it takes a tremendous amount of working with somebody. There's a period where the volunteers just have to chat with people, and visit them until they're comfortable enough to even work with them.

VM We don't have regular staff to do this. As a nonprofit, without ReServe sending in Gerry, you know, this project couldn't run. There's no way we could do it. We're understaffed as it is. We're a nonprofit, and we don't have enough staff here to begin with. And to take on another project like this that requires so much monitoring . . . Gerry contacts the volunteers every week. He's available to meet with them. They ask him questions. They email him.

GF However, I do like it here!


Japanese Reporters Interview Our ReServist at the Carter Burden Center (pt.2)

CA What do you like about your work here, Gerry?

GF What do I like about it--? It's the contact with these people who have very real needs. And secondly I like the money. The money is really important. It gives you a real feeling of . . . of reward of some kind.

CA I think that's important.

GF Yes, it is.

CA And the program is in three centers now on the East Side of Manhattan. It's expanding to one in Queens and one on the Upper West Side. And after that to 5 or 6 more. So the goal--which is ambitious--is to have 40 coordinators doing what Gerry does in about 3 or 4 years, and about 800 clients. And that could really make a difference in people's lives.

CA Do you think, Velda, it helps to have retirees like Gerry in this position?

VM Absolutely.

CA Do you think it helps to build the trust?

VM Absolutely. There's an immediate connection because they're talking to an older person.

GF One thing that would help--it would be helpful if Carter Burden and the other agencies would get some publicity. Any publicity that we could get would be very well appreciated.

Interested in learning more about the Money Management Program? The AARP Bill Payer Program is available to low income seniors who live in Carter Burden Center's catchment area of the Upper East Side of New York City. For more information, to obtain a consultation, or to volunteer, please call (212) 879-7400 ext. 121 or click here to send an email.

L to R, Reporters Takeru Kise and Shinichiro Kaneda with Carter Burden's Executive Director Velda Murad and ReServist Gerry Fisher

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"People Who Can Engage People": ReServe at Work at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center

ReServist Leo Johnson in the entryway to the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center. In the center is a quilt called “Five Decades of Change,” sewn by local residents, which illustrates the recent history of Manhattan’s West Side.

“The title that was given to me was Computer Specialist. I didn't know that's what I was!” Leo Johnson laughs, asked about the beginning of his work as a ReServist at the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center (LSNC).

For over 50 years, LSNC has pursued its mission: “Meeting the social, educational, recreational and cultural needs of the people of the West Side” of New York City, serving over 2,700 individuals and 1,250 families.

“I knew ReServe would be different from the work I had done in the past,” he explains. Before his retirement, Leo had been a field engineer, working with different types of computers. “And I wanted to go out and volunteer.”
Leo explains: “Since I had retired I was becoming sort of sedentary and not doing anything. I needed to get out of the house instead of rolling out of bed and sitting around all day. I needed to do more walking. Doctors kept telling me I needed more exercise. So that was an impetus. These two things came together at about the same time.

“Initially, my contact with ReServe was through my wife. She was a ReServist.”

In Leo’s ReServe application, under the heading “Interests”, he wrote: “I'd like to build a computer.” LSNC was looking for someone with computer expertise to help in their computer lab. ReServe put the two in touch.

“Certainly whatever skills and knowledge I may have had in the professional world before I retired--of course it helps--but I wouldn't say it's a prerequisite for what I am doing here.

“I would say that what I am doing here is . . .” Leo pauses, looking for the best word--“fun!”

“It’s challenging in the sense that I'm learning new things. And interacting with the people who are here.

“But that's what I try to do--I try to be an assistant, assisting in the teaching of the classes. And now due to a shortage of teachers, I'm more involved in being a ‘lead teacher,’ if you will--involved in teaching some of the courses.”
Stephanie Pinder, LSNC’s Executive Director, explains the significance of the ReServists’ work to the organization. “The other ReServist we have here is Trudy Solin. She provides art services for our senior program.

“When we got involved with ReServe--we heard about it, and then met with them to see exactly what it would be, and thought that it might make a good match for us to just be able to get some--certainly more experienced--folks here. And at reasonable rates!”

Stephanie stops to laugh, then continues: “These are two people who are really well grounded, and who are able to not only be knowledgeable in their field but to impart that knowledge. And to engage people as well. And the feedback that I've gotten, particularly from the seniors, is that they are really patient, very knowledgeable.”

Often, Stephanie points out, “Our seniors want to learn computers because their grandchildren are emailing pictures to them. They need to know what the heck is this, how do I get it? It has become part of their lives because the younger folks who are important to them are using email.”

Because of the ReServists’ involvement, she says, “Our seniors are really excited about coming and learning what they're learning. And the number of seniors in our classes has grown.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Working With What You Love: Doris Toumarkine Discovers Trees New York

Doris Toumarkine walked into the ReServe offices earlier this year not knowing exactly what type of work she might do. But she came seeking work she would love, and that would motivate and challenge her. And she hoped for something outside her area of expertise.

She answered a few simple questions about her professional background in filmmaking and her interests. And in the course of conversation, Doris also mentioned her love of trees. Six months later, she is explaining this fascination to a ReServe staff member:

“I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, in a semi-detached house on a street that didn’t have any trees. So I always looked for apartments on tree-lined streets. Now I take care of my mother’s house on Long Island, and it reminds me of the importance of trees.”

Trees are at the heart of Doris’ new work as a ReServist. ReServe introduced her to a nonprofit organization called Trees New York. In a conversation at their downtown Manhattan offices, Executive Director Susan Gooberman explains their mission.

“We’ve been around since the mid-70’s,” Susan says, “during the Carter Administration. There was a consortium of different greening groups that got together and realized that street trees had just not been addressed, and there was no money in the City budget for maintenance.” That consortium, she explains, “morphed” into Trees NY.

Trees New York needed volunteers “to take care of neighborhood street trees,” she says, “and so the Citizen Pruner course was born.” It has since grown to become their signature program. “We’ve been giving the course—I think it’s been 32 years now! We have over 10,000 people who’ve gone through the course, and that’s just the adult class. The program for high school students--the Young Citizen Pruner Program—has licensed thousands of kids as well.”

On October 9th, 2007, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg planted the first of a proposed one million new NYC street trees in a special ceremony in the Bronx.

“New York City has always been a place of big dreams and big ideas – and our Administration has never been afraid to embrace them,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Over the next decade . . . we are going to plant an unprecedented one million new trees across the City. Million Trees NYC is a key part in [our] effort to make a greener, greater city. This is an ambitious goal and to achieve it we’re going to need the help of the entire City; I’m encouraging all New Yorkers to get involved.”

Susan explains the significance of the Mayor’s initiative for Trees New York: “Because of the mayor’s initiative—planting a million trees—the word is out! And a lot of people are getting very involved.”

Putting a million new trees in the ground is just the first step in the making of a “greener, greater New York.” There’s a lot involved in caring for young trees, as Doris is quick to point out. “Only certain species of plants and trees will grow in the City. When you plant a tree, you plant a small tree usually. It would be a much greater undertaking to plant a mature tree.”

Susan explains that younger trees are pruned by volunteers only. The Parks Department doesn’t take responsibility for the care of a tree until it has grown to six inches in diameter. And as far as pruning is concerned, she says, “A cut made to a tree is with a tree for life.” Proper training for volunteer pruners is therefore essential.

As Doris says, “There’s so much to learn! I would love for this work to be an even more full time job than it is right now.”

And so the work Doris found as a ReServist has brought her love of trees into the center of her life. She’s begun a little careful pruning at her mother’s house on Long Island. Never shy in the pursuit of what she loves, she’ll be starting the Citizen Pruner course next Fall.

For more information on the Citizen Pruner course or any of Trees New York’s other programs, please call 212-227-1887 or visit

Finding Their Place—Great Transitions for CAMBA and “Graduating” ReServist Herb Preminger

Director of Development Bonnie Osinski (pictured, left) sits in a small meeting room. It is one of several in the offices belonging to her organization, originally founded in 1977 as the “Church Avenue Merchants Block Association”.

Its area of focus and its mission have grown steadily in the past 30 years. “We're now a $50 million agency, and the [Merchants Block Association] name was not serving us well,” Bonnie explains. “So we did a whole name change. There were focus groups, lots of interviews.”

Sitting beside her is former ReServist Herb Preminger (pictured, right). “We are now known simply as CAMBA,” he says.

“We have six core services areas: education, economic development, youth and family services, legal services, HIV/AIDS, and housing and housing services. And underneath those core service areas we have many programs. We have 40 locations, over 1000 employees. We speak over 40 languages.”

Herb was placed with CAMBA by ReServe to oversee the organization’s change of identity. His background is in health care marketing. Previously Herb worked on the marketing staff of hospitals and clinics in both Brooklyn and Queens.

Bonnie continues. “Herb came in at the point where there's now an enormous amount of work to roll out the new name.”

“The CAMBA ‘brand’,” Herb offers.

Asked about the motivations behind his involvement here, Herb says, “The similarities between ReServe and CAMBA are in exceptional communication,” he says. “ReServe is able to see a candidate, and then transfer that candidate to a position that works. And that's very, very unique. It’s a great place to work because everybody is so committed to helping people.”

Through his ReServe placement at CAMBA, Herb has connected with many opportunities to help people using his professional expertise. In addition to overseeing the naming transition, he has gone on to write CAMBA’s in-house newsletter. And when the marketing director left earlier this year, Herb stepped into the gap. He took on some directorial duties during the search for a replacement. As his ReServe project wound down, CAMBA valued his work so highly that he was hired outright for three days of work a week.
Bonnie refers to him as a ReServe “graduate,” and laughs. “Herb,” she smiles, “we should get you a little cap!”