National Volunteer Month & Beyond Boosts Service-Based Learning

Over 16 Volunteer Opportunities to Connect with Your Community & Community Treasures

Participating in community spring clean-ups gives families the opportunity to engage in community service together while promoting civic engagement and strengthening a sense of place in youth participants.

As spring warms the landscape across western Massachusetts, opportunities for outdoor adventures increase exponentially. What might have been a ski or snowshoe trek to search for animal tracks just a month ago would now be a muddy hike to search for vernal pools. However, in order to truly appreciate the wonderful outdoor spaces available to us, it’s important to lend a hand in readying local parks and trails for the season!

During National Volunteer Month, many local parks and trails are in need of some restoration, and there are plenty of upcoming opportunities for families to volunteer their time to prepare such locations for warm weather visitors. In addition to providing a much needed (and much appreciated) service to the community, participating in a spring clean-up effort is a great way to learn the specifics of local outdoor spaces. In helping to ready garden beds for spring, families can learn about how, when, and why certain plant varieties are planted. Similarly, families with older children can learn by helping out with trail maintenance – an activity that will help volunteers to learn about how trails are created and how (and why) they require such maintenance. Read the rest of this entry »

Build Community & Inspire Change During National Volunteer Month

National Volunteer Month provides opportunities for the entire family to support the community

Families from across Western Massachusetts joined together at a recent Family Volunteer Day held at The Food Bank to sort and pack fresh produce. The food is distributed through The Fook Bank’s ‘Mobile Food Bank’ and ‘Brown Bag: Food for Elders’ programs, to food insecure families throughout the region.

April in National Volunteer Month — a time when we celebrate and honor the people who dedicate themselves to taking action and support their community. The month-long celebration is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. By working together, we can meet our challenges and accomplish all of our goals.

One of the best aspects of volunteering is that there are so many different reasons to get involved. It’s a fun opportunity to meet new people, network and gain new working skills. It’s also a great way to help an organization that aligns with your personal values and beliefs. Most importantly, volunteering is the best way to support your community.

At The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, we rely on the continued efforts of our volunteers to help us provide healthy food to the more than 235,000 people in our region struggling with food insecurity. We asked some of our volunteers why they donate their time to us. Here’s what they had to say:  Read the rest of this entry »

Nutrition Month Reminds Us What Eating “Well” Truly Means

Nutrition plays active role in supporting the community

Join us to honor National Nutrition Month. The Food Bank and Hilltown Families are holding a very special Family Volunteer Day at our Hatfield facility on Saturday, March 21. In addition to learning about hunger in our region and helping to prepare food for distribution, the event will also focus on healthy eating habits by providing a fun cooking demonstration. Click here to learn more about this event and how your family can participate.

March is National Nutrition Month — a campaign aimed at raising awareness of the importance of making informed choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. It highlights the value of adopting eating and physical activity plans  focused on consuming fewer calories and getting daily exercise in order to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of chronic disease and promote overall health.

Hunger is not just about lack of food. It’s also about lack of nutritious food. That’s why, at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, we are dedicated to providing our neighbors in need with the healthiest foods possible. Every year, our farm in Hadley provides 100,000 pounds of fresh, chemical-free produce for us to distribute to our member agencies (including pantries, meal sites and shelters). We also work closely with many local farmers, who generously donated more than 266,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables in 2014. In the past year, our Mobile Food Bank has provided hundreds of thousands of pounds of produce directly to families in areas when they may not otherwise have access. Read the rest of this entry »

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts & Hilltown Families present Family Volunteer Days!

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts &
Hilltown Families present Family Volunteer Days!

Volunteering together teaches children positive values, like kindness, empathy and tolerance, and opens up channels of communication between parent and child. Engaging children in community service can increase their participation as future volunteers, helping to create more resilient and sustainable communities.

Over the years, Hilltown Families has partnered with The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts in several ways, offering families in the region opportunities to engage in service-based learning while volunteering together as a family in support of food security in our region. We’ve organized a field trip and a couple of virtual food drives and told you how you could organize your own field trips and food drives too. We’ve given you a heads-up on youth volunteer opportunities, services for families during summer months, and resources to support child(ren)/student’s learning of hunger and food security, including Children’s Books on Food Security/Scarcity and Youth Against Hunger Education Curriculum.

One of the issues participants learned during our field trip was how difficult it can be for some families to have access to fresh organic fruits and vegetables. In response, we organized a station at our Family Community Service Event to empowered families to learn how to grow an extra row of vegetables in their home gardens to harvest and donate to their local food pantries, and collaborated with local business and farms to offer gleaning opportunities for families.

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts &
Hilltown Families present Family Volunteer Days!

Families continue to seek out new ways to spend time together that supports values and learning, and volunteering as a family at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts is great way to do just that! In partnership with Hilltown Families, families are invited to attend a series of monthly volunteer sessions where they will help sort food, take part in educational activities, and learn how to take actions to help fight hunger. Volunteering together as a family encourages quality time, increases communication, and provides opportunities for family members to be role models.  Read the rest of this entry »

Support Hilltown Families During Valley Gives!

Schedule your donation today for December 10th!

This month, Hilltown Families will be entering our 10th year! We will also be participating in our 1st ever Annual Appeal through Valley Gives this Wednesday, December 10th! Your tax deductible donation to Hilltown Families during Valley Gives will help us continue to support community building and community learning initiatives throughout western MA!

Supporting Education through Community Engagement

For nearly a decade, Hilltown Families has been working towards creating resilient and sustainable communities by developing and strengthening a sense of place in our children and citizens through community-based education and engagement.

Schedule your donation now for December 10th!In this TEDx Talk, “Supporting Education Through Community Engagement,” Hilltown Families Founder, Sienna Wildfield, shares her story on why feeling connected to where you live matters, and how community-based education and community-service learning can help grow active citizens who care about where they live.

Service-Based Learning

Part of our mission includes connecting, creating and collaborating in service-based learning opportunities for families in Western MA. Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Events are one of our signature events that accomplishes this mission. We have been able to deliver over 1,500 hours of community service through service-based learning with our yearly Family Community Service Events and collaborations with local businesses and non-profit organizations!

Help us generate 1,500 more hours of community service!Volunteering as a family has so many benefits for children, parents, families and the community… yet families are so very busy that it can be difficult to find the time to volunteer together, or to identify ways to support causes and organizations they care about. Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Events offer a bridge between families and service organizations in our region, bringing our community together in the spirit of volunteerism and collaboration to amplify the work of these organizations while supporting service-based learning and the value of giving back to our community.

Learn more about Hilltown Families Community Service Events in this video, Hilltown Families: Sense of Place:

Pay it Forward with Hilltown Families’ Premiums

Local businesses and community institutions love Hilltown Families just as much as our community members! Every day we make connections between the embedded learning & community building opportunities they offer and ways our community can engage with them to support their interests and education.

Schedule your donation now for Valley Gives!We want our donors to be able to share our local community-based educational resource with your friends, family & community members too. During Valley Gives Day we will be partnering with local businesses and community institutions, like Historic Deerfield, Amherst Cinema and A2Z Science Learning Center, to offer Premiums to our donors to share with others! We will be offering museum passes, movie tickets, gift certificates, music and more to our donors, encouraging you to “Pay it Forward” by gifting awarded Premiums to another.

Not only will you feel good about supporting Hilltown Families, but you will also feel good when you share a Random Act of Kindness with another by gifting them the opportunity to engage in our community in a way that supports their interests and education too!

If you own a local business or are involved with a community organization and would like to add a gift to our pot of Premiums, encouraging giving as a Random Acts of Kindness following Valley Gives, contact Sienna to make arrangements.

Why Valley Gives?

Why through Valley Gives? Valley Gives is a collaboration of non-profits throughout western Massachusetts working together to engage 20,000 donors in a single 24-hour day of giving on December 10th.  By scheduling your tax deductible donation to Hilltown Families through Valley Gives you too become part of this collaborative effort while amplifying your donation with bonuses and prizes given out by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts to participating non-profit organizations.

Schedule your donation now for Dec 10th!Valley Gives offers big prizes and bonuses for the highest number of new and individual donors. Every tax deductible donation made to Hilltown Families through Valley Gives counts!  Can only give $10? We need your donation and Valley Gives boost your donation & support!

Have you seen Hilltown Families promotional video for Valley Gives video contest?  Hilltown Families placed in the top 10! Check it out:

Matching Grant

Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts’  Meet Your Match Bonus is one way you can help us raise over $7,500 on December 10th This is a special competition only for nonprofits that secure matches for Valley Gives Day. Bonus awards will be announced at the end of the day and will be chosen randomly. Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts will award $2,500 to 25 randomly selected nonprofits that meet their matches. Minimum match must be $2,500.

If you’re a BIG BIG fan of Hilltown Families and can support us with a tax deductible donation of $500 or more, your donation can be pooled together with other supporters to create a matching grant of $2,500. Please email Rick Feldman or Sienna Wildfield to make arrangements prior to Valley Gives Day.

Join our Virtual Street Team!

Are you already a fan of Hilltown Families? Join our Virtual Street Team!!! Get social with us and share Hilltown Families on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, email and your blogs! As we get closer to December 10th we’ll be asking our virtual Street Team to rally for Hilltown Families, inviting friend, fans and family to support Hilltown Families with a donation during Valley Gives Day.

To get started, connect with us through our various social media channels.

“Like” us on Facebook
“Follow” us on Twitter.
“Follow” us on Pinterest.
Add us on Google+.
“Follow” us on Instagram.

Schedule your donation now for Dec 10th!Then get busy Liking, Sharing, Tweeting, and Pinning our updates, letting those in your own social networks know why you support Hilltown Families and your plans to make a donation of any size on December 10th.

Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Event Generates 600 Hours of Community Service in a Single Morning!

Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Supports Western MA Non-Profit & Community Organizations through Service-Based Learning!

This past Saturday, November 22nd, was the third Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Event, a one of a kind event for families to volunteer together in a morning of community service! From teens to tots to grandparents, over 200 folks were able to generate 600 hours of community service at this intergenerational event for different non-profit and community organizations in our region that support education, children’s welfare, and human services.

This year our event was held on national Family Volunteering Day at Leeds Elementary School in Northampton, MA. Together, families traveled to five different community service stations with a Community Service Passport in hand, participating in facilitated hands-on projects to benefit non-profit & community organizations throughout Western MA:

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Just like the non-profit organizations Hilltown Families supports during our Family Community Service Events, Hilltown Families is a non-profit organization too… and we need your help so we can continue to support education through community engagement, including service-based learning experiences. Donate to Hilltown Families and double the impact of your giving dollars!

Part of the mission of Hilltown Families is to create, connect and collaborate in service-based learning experiences through community engagement. Acting as a bridge between Western MA non-profits and service organizations, Hilltown Families is able to amplify the work of these community groups by connecting families to said organizations through service-based learning opportunities.

Thank you to all of the families, volunteers, facilitators and sponsors who joined us! The event was a great success with over 200 folks participating in a celebratory morning of family community service! Together we were able to:


VOLUNTEERS WANTED

We look forward to hosting more Family Community Service Events, but we can’t do it without your help!  Want to join our Community Service Committee? We want to hear from you: Read the rest of this entry »

Engage in Community-Based Learning & Service: Become a Pet Foster Family

Pet Fostering Helps Animal Welfare Organizations While Allowing Families an Opportunity for a Short Term Commitment to Care for Animals

There are many local community organizations through which families can foster pets. While some organizations care only for dogs, others include cat care, and still others offer foster opportunities for small caged mammals and even birds! Whatever shape the pet-sized hole in your family’s heart takes, there’s likely an animal in a shelter waiting to fill it. Learn more about the humane societies and animal rescues below, fill out an application, and enjoy your fostering experience!

Have your children been begging for pets as presents? As the holiday season approaches, requests for living gifts can come in a deluge, and for kiddos who have yet to truly conceptualize the long-term commitment that pet parenting entails may not understand the true weight of the “forever” attached to the acquisition of a family pet. However, families can enjoy the adventure of having pets at home by participating in a local animal shelter’s foster family program!

In addition to allowing children experience pets without a permanent, years-long commitment, pet fostering is a meaningful and exciting way to participate in community service. All across western Massachusetts, animal rescue organizations and humane societies work hard to provide food, warm homes, and companionship to animals who might otherwise go without these three basic needs. As any animal-loving child knows, a domestic animal without a home, proper food, or love from a human companion is neither a happy creature or a healthy creature. However, with the help of foster families, animal shelters are able to offer pets the comfort and care of a family and a true home environment while they wait for placement with a permanent family. Read the rest of this entry »

Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Event: November 22nd!

Halloween Candy Collection Shows Kindness to Others

Halloween Candy: Catalyst Towards Service Based Learning

After the magic of Halloween has ended and bits of costumes have been strewn about the house, kids are left with fond memories and gigantic piles of candy. While the candy can be of moderate educational value, it primarily serves as an unnecessary dietary supplement that, if well-rationed, can hang around the house for months to come. As much as most children love to eat candy, health-conscious parents may not want the collected treats to hang around and be consumed. On Nov 1 in Easthampton, Easthampton CrossFit will be collecting unwanted candy to donate to Operation Gratitude!

Halloween brings haunted hayrides, cute costumes, and more candy than anyone needs–or even wants–to eat. This year, families can use Halloween candy as a catalyst toward community service by getting rid of unwanted candy and helping our troops at the same time. On Saturday, November 1, at a “Halloween Candy Give Back,” Easthampton CrossFit will accept donations of candy to be sent to the troops serving overseas through Operation Gratitude, a California-based non-profit that sends military care packages.

“Halloween candy brings a memory of home,” says Jim Rego, a military veteran and a coach at the gym. By donating their candy to the troops, children can learn about service and giving back, and also cut down on eating Halloween candy.

This is a great event for kids who want to trick or treat, but either can’t eat candy due to food allergies or who just don’t want to eat too much. Parents can allow kids to pick out a few pieces of candy to keep, and bring the rest to Easthampton CrossFit ((180 Pleasant Street) on Saturday morning from 11am to 1pm to be donated.

Can’t make it? Want to organize a similar event in your community? Find out how you can organize a collection drive in your community through Operation Gratitude.

Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Event: November 22nd!

Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Event
Saturday, November 22nd from 10am-1pm
Leeds Elementary School in Northampton, MA

Volunteer with your family to help local non-profits in a single free event on Saturday, November 22nd from 10am-1pm during the Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Event, held at Leeds Elementary School in Northampton— a one of a kind event for families to volunteer together while educating children about important social issues and the value of community service. — We are all filled and registration has been closed.

Hilltown Families will be hosting a Saturday morning of family volunteering during our fall Family Community Service Event on Saturday, November 22nd from 10am-1pm in Northampton, MA!

Two years ago was our inaugural Family Community Service Night where we focused on human service organizations, and last year was our Spring Family Community Service Event where we focused on animal welfare and food security. Through both events, families were able to put in 750 hours of community service!  Check out this great video that shares the joy and excitement families experienced together while engaged in volunteerism for their community at two of our family community service events… and then make plans to join us for our newest event this fall!

Our third community service event will be on Saturday, November 22nd and will again be held at Leeds Elementary School in Northampton.  We will be offering five volunteer stations for families to participate in hands-on service projects for ALL AGES that support education, children’s welfare, and human services.  Families will also be able to bring home one of their service projects to continue their community service together from home.

Find out more! Sign up your family!

Family Volunteer Event Helps to Close the Summer Meal Gap!

Summer Family Volunteer Event at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
Tuesday, July 1 from 12noon –  4pm

You can help close this “Summer Meal Gap” for working families in Western Massachusetts by bringing your family to The Food Bank’s Summer Family Volunteer Event on Tuesday, July 1 from 12noon-4pm in Hatfield, MA. Everyone is welcomed.

Without school meals, grocery budgets are stretched to the brink, and many parents find it difficult to replace the two to three free meals they receive five days a week during the school year. Nearly half of the families must make tough choices between paying for food and paying for utilities, fuel, rent, mortgage or medical care, because they don’t have enough money to meet all these basic needs.

How important are school meals to kids in our area?

  • 1 out of 5 children in Western Massachusetts are classified as “Food Insecure.”
  • More than 365,000 children (nearly 2/5 of Massachusetts students) receive free or reduced meals in school.
  • Families that rely on school feeding programs must provide an additional 10 meals per child for each week of summer!

You Can Help

You can help close this “Summer Meal Gap” for working families in Western Massachusetts by bringing your family to The Food Bank’s Summer Family Volunteer Event. Read the rest of this entry »

Just Roots Community Farm Fosters Youth Collaboration

Innovative farm program uses accessible skillshare as community builder

Just Roots Community Farm isn’t “just” anything – never just this or just that, the farm incorporates many different projects, practices, and goals into its overarching purpose. Located on the former Poor Farm in Greenfield, MA, Just Roots works to promote knowledge of, demand for, and access to local food in Franklin County. Through a variety of offerings including community workshops, affordable CSA shares, volunteer workdays, and educational programming, Just Roots serves as a community-centered vehicle for resiliency, self-sufficiency, sustainability, and endless learning.

Read the rest of this entry »

We (heart) the Deerfield River: A Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night

Art Garden Event: River Fest Parade

Hilltown Families and The Art Garden partner for a final community-service art-making event for the season

Our watersheds are vital and important ecosystems for animal and plant species. Celebrate the Deerfield River Watershed with friends, family, Hilltown Families and The Art Garden on Friday, June 6th, from 4-7pm in Shelburne Falls for our final community-service art-making event for the season.

At this event we will be focusing on what we love about the Deerfield River Watershed and preparing for the annual Deerfield RiverFest’s Frog and Flower parade on June 7. Be a part of creating large cardboard fish, frogs and flowers for the parade, as well as individual processional artworks. All ages can participate! Materials provided. Takes place at The Art Garden.

Engaging your family in community service teaches kids positive values while opening up channels of communication between parent and child, and can increase their participation as future volunteers. Join us for an evening of community service art-making on Friday, June 6th from 4-7pm at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls, MA, for We (heart) the Deerfield River, the final event in a series of five free family community service nights!

The Art Garden is located at 14 Depot Street in Shelburne Falls, MA (in the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum building.) SEE MAP. Questions? Email Sienna at swildfield@hilltownfamilies.org.

Read the rest of this entry »

5 Featured Community Service Events

Clean-up With Your Family
Community Clean Up Days for Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

Families can participate together in community service at one of the many spring clean ups happening in the region. Here are five featured community service opportunities happening this Saturday, May 3rd, 2014.

  1. EASTHAMPTON: Spend time with community members cleaning up Easthampton at the city’s Community Clean Up Day. Starting at 8am, meet at the Chamber of Commerce office and bring gloves, rakes, shovels, and brush cutters, if possible. This is a great chance for older students to gain valuable community service experience by making a visible difference in their community. 413-527-9414. 33 Union Street.
  2. LENOX: Older students and adults can help prepare Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary for summer at Cleanup Day from 9am-1pm. There will be a variety of projects for volunteers to help out with. Call for more information. Registration is required. 413-637-0320. 472 West Mountain Road.
  3. SPRINGFIELD: Help out the City of Springfield at an Earth Day Clean-Up event at Duggan Middle School from 8am-12noon, coordinated by the Springfield Science Museum and Keep Springfield Beautiful. Join the group and get hands-on experience making a difference in your community with your family. Call to register. 413-263-6800 x404. 1015 Wilbraham Road.
  4. SPRINGFIELD:Do some Spring cleaning for your community at the Downtown Springfield CleanUp at Court Square from 9am-12noon! All ages can help sweep away signs of Winter and get the city ready for Spring at this community-service event. Clean up days get kids engaged in community service and give them hands-on experience making a difference in their city! Court Street.
  5. WEST SPRINGFIELD: West Springfield’s Friends of Park and Recreation are holding a cleanup day for Regan Park from 8-11am. Come do some Spring cleaning and bring tools if you can. Community clean ups are a good way for students to discover the importance of community service and gain hands-on experience helping their communities. 413-736-3878. Overlook Drive.

Read the rest of this entry »

Global Youth Service Day

Global Youth Service Day
Community Service-Based Learning

Families interested in participating in community service can use Global Youth Service Day as an opportunity to choose a cause and begin donating their time and efforts to it.

Every single day, kids are making a difference in their communities. Whether it’s through collecting donations for a food bank, volunteering to walk dogs at a local animal shelter, delivering meals to senior citizens, or helping to raise awareness and support for an important cause, kids can (and do) accomplish some really wonderful things through community service. Not only do such efforts benefit communities, they also help kids to learn important lessons about fairness and equality, community activism, and leadership.

This year, GenerationOn honors the efforts of youth around the world with Global Youth Service Day – an event designed to celebrate kid-lead projects and to encourage youth to become engaged in service within their communities. Taking place from April 11th-13th, 2014, Global Youth Service Day honors youth on six continents and in over 135 countries for their service. In addition to celebrating efforts that are already being made, Global Youth Service Day is designed to promote community service and to draw in youth as volunteers to support a wide variety of causes.
Read the rest of this entry »

Grassroots Diaper Drive to Support Families in Need

Spring Diaper Drive in Franklin County to Support Community

Host a Diaper Drive this spring in your place of work, faith community, neighborhood, school, civic organization, or any group you belong to. It is easy and a positive way to support families and a great way to incorporate service-based learning with your children.

Diapers matter in a big way!  The health and social consequences for babies and families who do not have sufficient diapers can lead to a whole mountain of problems. To help mothers and families in need, Spring Diaper Drives are being organized to benefit young children and families living in Franklin County.

Sponsored by the Perinatal Support Coalition and the Early Childhood Mental Health Roundtable, two groups of professionals from a range of organizations that serve young children and families, this Spring Diaper Drive can help “close the diaper gap” and help low incomes mothers and families meet their diaper needs… and organizers are looking for families who want to volunteer by organizing a diaper drive in their community to donate to the Spring Diaper Drive!

Reducing diaper need for low income mothers has huge ramifications for maternal and child health, mental health, the child’s development and school success, and the mother’s access to future economic opportunity.  Did you know that….  Read the rest of this entry »

Service-Based Learning: Volunteer Land Monitors

Service-Based Learning: Volunteer Land Monitors
Hilltown Land Trust

Participating in land maintenance with a conservation organization can be an empowering experience for teens. Building on experiences from their childhood, they will experience nature in a new way – not only will they be enjoying its beauty while immersed in it, they will be responsible for helping to ensure that an area continues to be available to them and to others. Making close observations of an area can help volunteers to develop a deeper connection to the area, and can help to open their eyes to tiny details of nature. Teens who are required to do community service in order to receive a high school diploma can use work with the Hilltown Land Trust to satisfy that requirement – and as an added bonus, their work will overlap with concepts that they learn in biology and environmental science courses! (Photo source: HLT)

Land conservation, like many things, begins at home. Young child can learn to appreciate natural resources by exploring and caring for their immediate surroundings, and in doing so will develop respect and appreciation for the environment. As they get older, their appreciation for their local environment begins to broaden into the larger community. Community-service opportunities, like Land Monitors for the Hilltown Land Trust, are ways older students can participate in service-based learning while supporting natural resources they have grown to care about.

Teens and their parents can help to promote conservation and land preservation together by serving as Volunteer Land Monitors for the Hilltown Land Trust. The Hilltown Land Trust’s many properties are set aside as protected land to ensure that the numerous species that call them home will continue to do so for years to come. However, as these lands are also open to human visitors and have human neighbors, they require some monitoring. Truly caring for preserved land means ensuring that it has been properly used – a task designated to the organization’s Volunteer Land Monitors.

On Saturday, March 15th, 2014, the Hilltown Land Trust and the Kestrel Trust will hold a Volunteer Stewardship Training Workshop at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton…  Click here to find out more about this community service opportunity!

The Children’s Garden Project Brings Garden-Based Learning into the Community

The Children’s Garden Project

Working on garden bedsA childhood filled with playing in the dirt is something that rural folks can almost take for granted. Small lessons about seeds, plant growth, weather, and seasonal changes almost teach themselves when kids are able to explore the earth – and the things that grow in it – for themselves. But what happens when the dirt to dig in is covered with pavement? How do we help children to learn these lessons when the materials aren’t quite so handy?

Thanks to The Children’s Garden Project , kids in the urban areas of Hampden and Hampshire counties have easier access to dig-able, plant-able, fascination-inducing earth! The organization – which begun their work just last year – has helped to bring gardens to locations in Holyoke and West Springfield. This year, the organization has partnered with Head Start to bring gardens to seven new locations in Holyoke, Springfield, and Chicopee.

While school gardens are becoming increasingly more and more prevalent, the founders of The Children’s Garden Project saw one major flaw with the model of using school gardens as a tool for teaching…  Read the rest of this entry »

DIY Mittens & Scarves for Families in Transition: A Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night

Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night
at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls, MA
DIY Mittens & Scarves for Families in Transition
Friday, January 17th, 2014 from 4-7pm

Engaging your family in community service teaches kids positive values while opening up channels of communication between parent and child, and can increase their participation as future volunteers. Join us for an evening of community service art-making on Friday, Jan. 17th from 4-7pm at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls, MA, for DIY Mittens & Scarves for Families in Transition, the second in a series of five free family community service nights!

What better gift to receive in the winter than a warm pair of handmade mittens or cozy handmade scarf; and what better gift to give to someone in your community than something you have lovingly made?

On Friday, January 17th from 4-7pm, Hilltown Families will be hosting a Free Family Community Service Night with The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls.  We are inviting families to join us for an evening of DIY Mittens & Scarves for Families in Transition. Come with an outgrown felted wool sweater, and/or fleece outerwear to be repurposed into easy-to-sew mittens and scarves to donate to New England Learning Center for Women in Transition (NELCWIT).  No previous experience is needed and there will be tasks for all ages… Join Us!

Family Volunteers Can Help Children in Transition Celebrate Their Birthdays!

Volunteer Opportunity with Birthday Wishes
Because Every Kid Has a Birthday!

Volunteering together with your children teaches positive values, like kindness, empathy and tolerance, while opening up channels of communication. Thanks to Birthday Wishes, a nonprofit organization serving much of New England and New York, children living in homeless shelters are able to celebrate their birthdays with games, cake, and gifts – and there are lots of ways that families can help to support the organization’s efforts…

The celebration of birthdays is an important childhood activity. Birthday parties honor a child, and acknowledge the growth that has taken place during the past year. Children, to whom the length of a year feels much longer than it does to an adult, look forward to their birthdays with excitement and can hardly wait to have a new number to represent themselves. Even older children who have lost some of the excitement of early childhood look forward to birthdays – a birthday means a special day when you’re the center of everyone’s positive attention.

Imagine, though, that you’re a small child and your birthday passes without celebration or perhaps even without mention. Imagine that after spending the whole year sharing cupcakes at school for friends’ special day or getting invitations to the parties of others, your own much anticipated day brings nothing special. Children whose families are experiencing homelessness often have this experience. Families whose lives lack stability and financial resources are forced to make sacrifices, and non-essentials like birthday parties are no longer a priority when these families reside in a shelter.  Thanks to Birthday Wishes, there are several ways families can help children in transition celebrate their birthdays…

DIY Mittens & Scarves for Families in Transition: A Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night

Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night
at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls, MA
DIY Mittens & Scarves for Families in Transition
Friday, January 17th, 2014 from 4-7pm

Engaging your family in community service teaches kids positive values while opening up channels of communication between parent and child, and can increase their participation as future volunteers. Join us for an evening of community service art-making on Friday, Jan. 17th from 4-7pm at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls, MA, for DIY Mittens & Scarves for Families in Transition, the second in a series of five free family community service nights!

What better gift to receive in the winter than a warm pair of handmade mittens or cozy handmade scarf; and what better gift to give to someone in your community than something you have lovingly made?

On Friday, January 17th from 4-7pm, Hilltown Families will be hosting a Free Family Community Service Night with The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls.  We are inviting families to join us for an evening of DIY Mittens & Scarves for Families in Transition. Come with an outgrown felted wool sweater, and/or fleece outerwear to be repurposed into easy-to-sew mittens and scarves to donate to New England Learning Center for Women in Transition (NELCWIT).  No previous experience is needed and there will be tasks for all ages… Join Us!

Children’s Volunteer Morning at The Food Bank

Children’s Volunteer Morning at The Food Bank
Monday, December 23rd, 2013

This community service-based learning opportunity will take place during school vacation week on Monday, December 23rd, 2013, and offers kids and their families a chance to volunteer together while learning about food security and the important work the Food Bank does to support food security in the region.

1 in 5 children in Western Massachusetts live in food insecure households. The holidays are a particularly difficult time for families in need, who must juggle higher heating costs, children needing more meals at home (instead of at school), and recent cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), all while trying to put food on the table and make the holidays a special time for the whole family.

You and your family can help the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts provide food for your neighbors in need during a special Children’s Volunteer Morning in Hatfield.   Find out more…

Community Service: Creating Care Bags for Giving

Hands-on volunteering experiences can sometimes be hard to find for families with younger children. There are many terrific of organizations within our community that need volunteers to help with a variety of jobs, but often these jobs are skill-specific or take place in environments that may not be welcoming to young children. However, there are lots of community service projects that kids can do at home that make just as large an impact as in-person volunteering.

Care bags are an example of an at-home community service project that families with young children can do together with parents or teens facilitating. Care bags can be created to donate for people of all ages to a variety of organizations, but creating them for children can help young children feel a particular connection to the process. While your own children may not have experienced anything like what those who will be receiving your bags may have (homelessness, foster care, major illness, etc.), they will already have one thing in common: they’re kids, and they know what is fun and interesting, as well as what would be comforting during a scary time.

There are many different ways to participate in the creation and distribution of care bags, and the process of creating them can be tailored to the age and specific interests of those involved. Families can research organizations that solicit donations of items or create their own bags from scratch.  [Continue reading…]

A Serving of Art: A Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night

Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night
at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls, MA
A Serving of Art: Placemat Making
Friday, December 13th from 4-7pm

Engaging your family in community service teaches kids positive values while opening up channels of communication between parent and child, and can increase their participation as future volunteers. Join us for an evening of community service on Friday, Dec. 13th in Shelburne Falls at The Art Garden, for A Serving of Art: Placemat Making, the first in a series of five family community service nights!

During the holidays, many families find themselves wanting to give back to their community by supporting food security and connecting with their neighbors. This time of year can also see children with a bad case of the “gimmies.” A family night of community service is one way to support your community while helping children focus on the needs of others. Using art and making your own gifts creates a well rounded recipe for the holidays.

Hilltown Families and The Art Garden will be collaborating again this year in a series of Free Family Community Service Nights! The first in the series will be on Friday, December 13th from 4-7pm: A Serving of Art: Placemat Making.

Join us in Shelburne Falls for an evening of art and community service, making reusable handmade canvas placemats and collecting nonperishable foods, both to donate to Stone Soup Cafe in Greenfield, MA. Families will also be invited to make a second canvas placemat to take and give to an elder in their life or a home-bound senior in their community… Find out more about this community service event…

Support Seniors with a Sock Hop!

Community Service Learning: Socks for Seniors

Of all the possible ways to give back to your community during the holiday season (and the entire year, too), collecting socks might seem like the smallest of ways to make a difference. In reality, it’s not such a small gesture! The socks that you collect or donate don’t have to be boring six-packs of plain white gym socks…. they can be whimsical or even hand knitted!

Spread the spirit of giving and build community this holiday season by organizing a collection drive to support Socks for Seniors!

The organization has been collecting socks all over the country for more than ten years, thanks largely to the support that they have received from families, businesses, schools, and other community groups. The socks collected in each drive are then given to elderly community members in order to keep their toes nice and warm throughout the winter and share some of the holiday spirit that inspired the project in the first place… Read the rest of this entry »

A Serving of Art: A Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night

Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night
at The Art Garden in Shelburne Falls, MA
A Serving of Art: Placemat Making
Friday, December 13th from 4-7pm

Engaging your family in community service teaches kids positive values while opening up channels of communication between parent and child, and can increase their participation as future volunteers. Join us for an evening of community service on Friday, Dec. 13th in Shelburne Falls at The Art Garden, for A Serving of Art: Placemat Making, the first in a series of five family community service nights!

During the holidays, many families find themselves wanting to give back to their community by supporting food security and connecting with their neighbors. This time of year can also see children with a bad case of the “gimmies.” A family night of community service is one way to support your community while helping children focus on the needs of others. Using art and making your own gifts creates a well rounded recipe for the holidays.

Hilltown Families and The Art Garden will be collaborating again this year in a series of Free Family Community Service Nights! The first in the series will be on Friday, December 13th from 4-7pm: A Serving of Art: Placemat Making.

Join us in Shelburne Falls for an evening of art and community service, making reusable handmade canvas placemats and collecting nonperishable foods, both to donate to Stone Soup Cafe in Greenfield, MA. Families will also be invited to make a second canvas placemat to take and give to an elder in their life or a home-bound senior in their community… Read the rest of this entry »

The Stone Soup Cafe: Community Engagement One Meal at a Time

Greenfield’s Stone Soup Cafe
Bringing Community Together One Meal at a Time

It can be easy to go through your family’s daily, weekly, and monthly routines without actively engaging with a diverse cross section of the community. Even families who routinely do volunteer work or explore new areas are somewhat limited in their ability to connect with others whose experiences – in the same physical location – are very different from their own. Strong communities, though, depend on interconnectedness amongst all of their members. In order to be resilient, a community must allow for those from all walks of life to have a voice, to be respected, and to be understood.

Greenfield’s Stone Soup Cafe offers a venue that supports just that! Stone Soup is a weekly pay-what-you-can community cafe that serves fresh, homemade food to community members of all ages, backgrounds and dietary restrictions (gluten-free & vegan options). Located at All Souls Church in Greenfield, MA, (and supported by the congregation), the cafe is run based on the idea that food is a common thread in all communities, and that in sharing it, people from all backgrounds can bridge differences and connect with each other. In addition to community-building efforts, Stone Soup is also helping to address the issue of hunger in Franklin County. The cafe is the only place in Greenfield to get a free meal on Saturdays, making it a necessity in the lives of many families and community members.

Read the rest of this entry »

How to Hold a Holiday Food Drive, Anytime of the Year!

Community Service Learning: Food Drives

What’s in the very back of your pantry? It’s likely filled with back-ups of items that your family eats often, like peanut butter, pasta, and dry beans. While it’s good to have extras of these things for times when there’s a lag between grocery story trips (or winter storms!), items like this – nonperishable and in sealed packages – can be the perfect starting place for a community food drive.

Food drives are just one of the many ways to help support those in need within your community, and food banks and survival centers are generally so easy to support and access that even teens and tweens can facilitate food drives at their schools or in their neighborhoods. GenerationOn, an organization that works to inspire and support youth in engaging in community service projects, offers simple (yet comprehensive) instructions for creating your own food drive. Using these steps, kids will not only be able to successfully collect food to donate, but they will learn and practice useful skills that will help them be successful in completing future service projects as well…

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Kids Day of Community Service Benefits Many!

Hilltown Families &  Whole Foods Market
Kids Day of Community Service Benefits Many!

This past Saturday at Atlas Farm in Deerfield, Hilltown Families collaborated with Whole Foods Market and brought families together in the fields for a day of community service, gleaning 669 POUNDS of organic kale, collards, chard and broccoli leftover from a recent harvest to donate to the Food Bank of Western MA!

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This community service-based learning experience is one in a string of events Hilltown Families has organized over the past year in a effort to support food security in the region, offering families opportunities to participate in community service together. Last September (2012), Hilltown Families organized a field trip to the Food Bank of Western MA where families were able to see how the Food Bank operates while learning about food security efforts in the region and participating in hands-on community service projects. This past May (2013) at the Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Event we partnered with Grow Food Northampton and empowered families to grow an extra row of vegetables in their home gardens to harvest and donate to their local food pantries.

When Whole Foods Market in Hadley approached Hilltown Families this summer with the idea of collaborating in a community service event during Hunger Action Month, we wanted to tie it in to this theme of supporting food security in the region.  We suggested collaborating with a local farm and organizing a trip to glean left over vegetables from their fields to donate to The Food Bank. Atlas Farm, a local vendor at Whole Foods Market, welcomed the idea and together we were able to bring in families and glean 669 pounds of organic vegetable! Whole Kids Foundation provided a build-your-own salad-bar lunch following work in the field, giving families a chance to enjoy healthy eating together.

“Hilltown Families and Whole Foods Market Kids Day of Community Service was a wonderful service learning experience for my son,” writes Ronna Kullberg of Northampton, MA. “Not only did he get a deeper understanding of community involvement, but a closer look at where his food comes from. Terrific experience all around!”

Collaborating in the creation of community service experiences gives Western MA families opportunities to be engaged in their community.  This directly supports Hilltown Families mission to nurture and create resilient and sustainable communities by developing and strengthening a sense of place in our children and citizens.  Whole Foods Market in Hadley has consistently been a supporter of the community building work of Hilltown Families and we thank them for their ongoing support and service to our community!

In this video, volunteer Andy Wallace covered a couple of Hilltown Families community service events, including our collaboration with the Art Garden for Flowers for Friends,  and our Family Community Service Event this past May. Check it out and get a glimpse into the mission of Hilltown Families and how community service-based learning is an important piece of community engagement and in developing a sense of place in our children:

Thank you Andy Wallace for the video and Steve Roslonek of SteveSongs for the soundtrack!

Hilltown Families & Whole Foods Market Kids’ Day of Community Service: Join us!

Kids’ Day of Community Service with
Hilltown Families & Whole Foods Market
at Atlas Farm in Deerfield, MA
Saturday, Sept. 7th from 11am-2pm

PRE-REGISTRATION REQUIRED: Registration Ends September 5th, 2013

Kids’ Day of Community Service is a free, family-friendly 2-hour project with tasks for everyone ages 2 and up.  Join us in a service learning opportunity, giving kids a hands-on look at how their food is grown while supporting the food security efforts of the Food Bank of Western MA. Space is limited and all participating families are asked to pre-register online.

Last September, Hilltown Families organized a field trip to the Food Bank of Western MA where families were able to see how the Food Bank operates while learning about food security efforts in the region.  Families were also able to participate in community service projects during their visit by lending a hand with sorting food donations and with preparations for the Food Bank’s annual “Will Bike 4 Food” Fundraiser.

One of the issues participants learned during this field trip was how difficult it can be for some families to have access to fresh organic fruits and vegetables.  This past May at our Family Community Service Event we partnered with Grow Food Northampton and empowered families to grow an extra row of vegetables in their home gardens to harvest and donate to their local food pantries.

Coming up this September, in collaboration with Whole Foods Market in Hadley and Atlas Farm in Deerfield, families are invited to come together again on Saturday, September 7th, 2013 from 11am-2pm in Deerfield for a day of community service, gleaning organic vegetables leftover from a recent harvest to donate to the Food Bank. We will also be rolling up our sleeves to help prepare the Farm for winter.  Jerod Shuford, the Education Coordinator at the Food Bank, will be attending our Kids’ Day of Community Service, speaking to families about food security in the region and how they can continue to support the work of the Food Bank…

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