Jane writes about volunteering and community engagement for AARP. She is the communications/volunteer coordinator for Community Lodgings, a nonprofit that lifts families from homelessness and instability to independence and self-sufficiency, and retired from the United States Air Force. You can contact her through her blog http://travellingcharitywriter.wordpress.com. She loves family, food, friends and fitness.

Books Program Exposes Kids to the Joy of Literacy

Some people take a fitness class before heading to work. Others jog a mile or two. Jennifer Kenealy, 45, gets her morning workout by hauling boxes of children’s books to schools, recreation centers, youth-focused nonprofit organizations and other sites. These are spots where children of low-income families congregate as part of Alexandria Book Shelf (ABS), a citywide literacy program run by the uber-creative DreamDog Foundation. It is 8 a.m. on a humid, 90-plus-degree morning as Kenealy and I meet in …

Lights, Action … Volunteer at a Community Theater

Men in tuxedos and women in sparkly jackets mingle in the Green Room of the Little Theater of Alexandria (LTA) in Virginia. A pianist in the far corner plays show tunes on a baby grand piano while a small group sings “Hello, Dolly.” Other guests sip wine and nibble on artistically presented hors d’oeuvres. It’s opening night! The show: In the Heights. Jayn Rife only ushers on opening night now at the LTA and other theaters. “It’s just fun,” she …

Summer Goodness: Donated Fresh Produce Delivered by Bike

Pearl Turner, 85, is excited on this clear, sunny, Saturday morning. Soon the lobby of the Annie B. Rose House, an apartment complex where she lives with residents who are older or have disabilities, will overflow with fresh kale, okra, bread, cantaloupe, berries and peaches, all donated by area farmers who sell produce at the Old Town Farmers’ Market in Alexandria, Va. Four blocks away at the market, Sara Rhoades, the city’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) coordinator, is already …

A Recipe for Success: Cookies and Second Chances

Mary Jane Ward is receiving a very special present on her 55th birthday — a graduation certificate from Together We Bake (TWB), a nonprofit that teaches life and culinary skills to women who need a second chance. Once homeless and despondent over her future, Ward is excited to see where her new skills in baking, food safety and customer service, along with her ServSafe certification, will take her. All 12 women who started  the eight-week course completed it, and about 75 …

Volunteering in a Garden Brings Friendship, Peace and Beauty

Ronnie Gardstein dons her gardening gloves and pulls her pruning shears out of her gardening bag. A beautiful and overgrown pendula, or weeping hornbeam, is in her sights. She sits in the middle of the U.S. National Arboretum’s Asian Collections, eager to begin her volunteer work on a beautiful spring morning. “It’s an honor,” says Gardstein, 64, as she snips a wayward branch, referring to the privilege of spending one morning a week at the Arboretum’s 446 acres of cultivated …

Showing Compassion Makes a Difference to the Homeless

The steps of the bank seems like a perfect place to sleep. Mark (not his real name) stretches across the concrete. His belongings, stuffed into a luggage cart and grocery bags, spill out around him. He snuggles under a blanket and adjusts his wool cap. The blanket, his fleece jacket, three sweaters and his long pants should keep him warm. Twenty feet away an electronic billboard displays the time and temperature: It is 1 p.m. and 80 degrees. Emily Powers, …