According to Punxsutawney Phil, Spring is supposed to come early this year. I was hesitant to believe him (that groundhog has fooled me in the past) but it seems like he got it right this time!
Flowers in our kitchen window, signaling spring
I've started seeing signs of spring all around, especially this weekend. The hills to the East are practically free from snow. Some of my braver friends are wearing shorts outside. And Real Salt Lake had their first game of the season.
I can't wait for even warmer weather in the next few weeks. And with the warm weather comes opportunites to go outside and take advantage of some great service opportunities.
If you're looking for a way to help your community, and get some much needed vitamin, contact the Provo Park and Recreation Department to volunteer with one of their much needed service projects.
They are in need of volunteers to prepare flowerbeds, help with spring cleaning, and get park pavilions prepped for the summer. Service projects are already planned for March 9th, March 23rd, April 27th, and May 11th. If you would like to participate in one of these projects (or help plan another service opportunity) you can contact Jenny Hansen, the volunteer service coordinator. Jenny can be reached at (801) 852-7607 or by e-mail at JHansen@provo.org
So take advantage of this lovely weather, and help the community at the same time. It's a win-win!
I like taxes! I know this sounds crazy, especially coming from someone who studied Public Health at BYU. For a lot of people that make less than $51,000 a year IRS certified volunteers are able to help file a tax return for an individual or family using the program I run…VITA. This service will run until April 13th. Several families that have already filed have reported they received their refund in less than three weeks. If you or anyone you know would qualify for this service, feel free to call 2-1-1 anytime between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., weekdays to make an appointment.
But this post isn’t actually about taxes, it’s about the refund. What do you do with the refund once you receive it? Some people take a vacation; others go out to dinner or buy the newest HD flat screen TV. A lot of people I have talked to are putting their money towards paying off a car, credit card, student loan or some other form of debt. These are all great choices. Another great choice is choose to save.
My parents did a great job of teaching me this concept when I was young. They gave me an old mason jar and let me paint it, put stickers on it, or do whatever I wanted to make it mine. (You can do this with your kids too…perfect for days when it’s too cold to play outside). My parents had a list of chores that my brothers, sisters and I could do and get paid for. Mom and Dad would keep track of what chores we did and on a planned date they would pay us for our services.
I was taught that whenever I earned money that I should first pay tithing to my church and put some in savings. The rest was mine to use as I wanted. When I was hired for my first job, my dad gave me even more great advice; give that 10% to the church and then give yourself 10% to set aside for a rainy day. Several of my college professors told me the same thing.
It doesn’t always have to be the 10%. There are small, easy ways to establish saving habits. Another way that I saved money when I was in college was by paying cash for most items and then throwing any change I received into a piggy bank (or a jar, or a glass, or a can). Once a year, I would take the change and exchange it for cash.
Some banks make it automatic to save if you pay with a debit card. When you purchase items, the bank will round to the nearest whole dollar and then automatically deposit the change into your savings account. Just ask at your financial institution.
This week is America Saves Week, and one of our partner organizations, AAA Fair Credit Foundation, is helping people commit to saving and offering free information and classes on working toward become financially sound. Check it out at www.utahsaves.org.
Every little drop in the bucket will help. It doesn’t take much effort, a pocket of change each day or week will add up over time.
It is often said that the worst day at a job is always the first day. About a month ago, I made the switch to United Way of Utah County. I was nervous about taking a new job, but with my wife and I expecting our second child, we needed to find something new. The switch meant sacrificing a lot in the hopes of a brighter future. It was not an easy decision, not because I didn’t want to work for United Way, but because I was just a few months away from being vested in my retirement and I loved my job.
Like any new employee, I was extremely nervous my first day. I was full of so many different questions. Had I made the right decision? Would I be able to do what I was expected to do? Would my team accept me or would they see me as an outsider? As I sat at my cubicle and began to fill out all the necessary paperwork, all I could think of was, “I hope you know what you got yourself into.” Obviously I didn’t and that made me even more nervous. After about an hour or so, I had finished my paperwork and it was now time to meet with the CEO, Bill Hulterstrom.
My nervousness reached a climax as I sat down. I began shifting my weight from left to right as I waited. The room was completely silent except for the sounds of a keyboard as Bill finished an email and the thumping sound of blood pumping to my brain. And then it happened, the awkward silence was broken as Bill began to relate to me what it meant to work for United Way. Three things stood out during that conversation:
- Working at United Way is a lifestyle
- I was expected to live that lifestyle
- That lifestyle would change my life and that of my family
During those few minutes, Bill shared with me what it means to Live United. He explained the rules of the office, but with each rule he would say, “The only exceptions to this rule are if you are helping someone in need or of you are dealing with a family matter.” That conversation impacted me greatly and I have thought about it often. He closed our meeting by saying, “If our community can’t see us as Living United at work and in our personal lives, then we have failed.”
By the time our conversation was over, my feelings of nervousness had completely subsided and they were replaced with amazement, excitement and a little bit of shock. Since that day, I have tried to Live United. In many ways I already was, but like anything, we can always improve and so I continue to try. It has led me to do things I would have never thought of doing, such as pulling over on the freeway to change a stranger’s flat or taking the time to clean the windshields of my neighbors after a storm so that they wouldn’t be late to work the next morning. By doing so, I may have missed a meeting or two or had to stay a little later at the office to catch up, but it has been worth it. I have met great people in the process and made someone’s day just a little bit better.
Simon Sinek, author of the book Start with Why, explained it perfectly when he explained that people can be happy doing things for themselves, but if they want to be fulfilled, well that means taking the time to do things for others. I am grateful to have a boss that is more interested in having fulfilled employees than happy employees because that is what it takes for a community to LIVE UNITED.
I live with three roommates. They’re all very nice and hardworking roommates who like to have fun. They also are very easy going and don’t get irritated easily. It’s a great living situation. However, there is one thing that is sure to make one of my dear roommates the orneriest person around. Taxes. I discovered this last year when she was preparing her taxes. She was a grouch! So frustrated, so confused, so many difficulties to get them filed correctly, and so much stress. I mean really, I was shocked to see this side of her, but a little relieved to know that I’m not the only “adult” to have “meltdowns”. But that’s a different blog post.
This year was no different. She filed her taxes and had the unfortunate surprise of owing more money than I think anyone wants to see on the screen. Not just struggling-starting-out-adults. Needless to say there was frustration. The whole filing process was annoying to her and then to have that lovely (sense the sarcasm) surprise at the end was really just the cherry on top of the experience (again, sense the sarcasm). It made me nervous. I thought, “oh no, what if I owe a ton of money?” I’m sort of used to getting a return. You know, what with previously being a starving student who didn’t make much money and was going to school. It was a great perk to the struggling lifestyle that embodies college students. I haven’t filed them yet. But I think this year I’m going to take advantage of an awesome resource.
Was your income in the year 2012 $51,000 or below? Do you live in Utah, Summit or Wasatch County? If you do you should call 2-1-1 and sign up for VITA. Vita is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Local volunteers are IRS certified to look for specific tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and will help you submit your taxes. The volunteers try to help you, the participant, receive the best refund possible. And the best part is it’s FREE! Appointments are currently being scheduled and are filling up. Appointments go until early April but don’t procrastinate. Trust me. You’ll just stress about possible outcomes and you run the risk of appointments filling up. This is a wonderful program and one you should take advantage of if you’re able to. I’ve never participated so I don’t want to guarantee anything but I’m willing to bet that this will make the process less stressful, more accurate, and maybe you’ll learn something new about taxes. I’ll be participating this year so check the blog in approximately 365 days. I’ll have some guarantees to tell you about.
Let’s be honest. Isn’t that the question these days? And amazingly enough, there really IS always an “app for that”. It constantly amazes me. Amazing tools are available, not just with mobile apps, but also through social media tools, software, and other devices. Recently, I’ve found some extremely useful apps all along the spectrum. Here are a few that might be helpful to individuals in our community.
The first one was starts with this amazing story shared in multiple news publications back in 2010. The CNN article records, “Alone in the darkness beneath layers of rubble, Dan Woolley felt blood streaming from his head and leg. Then he remembered -- he had an app for that. Woolley, an aid worker, husband, and father of two boys, followed instructions on his cell phone to survive the January 12 earthquake in Haiti.” (Read article here)
The app is produced by the American Heart Association and has over 30 instructional videos and illustrations to educate individuals on CPR and First Aid. Click here for more info.
A second app, is almost as incredible when it comes to survival techniques. This App helps parents survive the inevitable period of potty training.
My little niece had been successfully potty trained, but when her little brother was born, she had a little set back and started having accidents again. Someone at Help Me Grow had commented on our blog about this app. I showed it to my sister and my niece. My niece fell IN LOVE with it and whenever I’m visiting, tells me that she wants to play the Potty Training Memory Game. No really. If you want to brighten your day, just to their website and watch their video. You’ll love it too. And now, you’ll be able to survive potty training too!
The third app to share is from one of my favorite books called Press Here by Henre Tullet. One of the funnest, interactive books ever! Written for preschool ages, it teaches them how to interact with a book and learn directions, movements shapes and colors. Its unreasonably fun for a 28 year old. (I shouldn’t admit that…) The app takes you through similar games that the book has and is really colorful and visually stimulating. Honestly, a great baby shower gift! The book and the app together! Perfect.
Progress is being made at the construction site of the South Franklin Community Center! Everytime I drive by, I think of how great the new space will be for all our programs. Take a look at the progress we've made over the past few months:
Volunteers can sign-up to help at the construction site online. CLICK HERE! For information on volunteering at the South Frnklin construction site, contact LeAnn Hillam with Habitat for Humanity at email@example.com!
Now that Christmas has come and gone for the majority of the world, it still lives on here at United Way. We are still in the process of finding ways to improve our program for next year! Having been involved now for 3 years, I am constantly in awe of how compassionate and generous this community is. Here is the breakdown for this last season:
4,913 children and golden angels (seniors and adults with special needs) helped
550 Sub for Santa sponsors
150 Sub for Santa volunteers
1,070 Angel Tree volunteers
Can you believe that many volunteers are involved? This program is successful because of all those who give of their time and money to help make these children’s Christmas a little brighter.
Now to make this personal- I’m a gift giver. I admit it. I find so much joy in finding the perfect thing for someone, even before they realize they need/want it. I even love to think of ways to make sure my future children also enjoy this, but I worry that I’m going to shower them with gifts because I love it so much. Here’s to hoping I can be successful! I know one way that I want my children to learn about the importance of giving, particularly during the Christmas season, is making sure to provide for families in need. One of my favorite things about working with the Christmas programs at United Way is talking to parents who want to sponsor a family or child to help their children understand this very important concept of giving. Isn’t that great? I’m grateful for the chance to learn from wise parents and work with a program that helps to make the lives of those in need a little easier. And as the very wise Mother Teresa has said, “It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
There’s a question that I hate, “What are your hobbies?” Why would you ask me that? I know why. It’s an attempt to get to know me better. Well that’s a poor way to get to know me. It says nothing about my personality, my thrill for life, or my goals. At least, that’s what I used to think. But that’s because I didn’t have a hobby. Now, I have thought of an answer to this question.
“What are your hobbies?”
“Trying new things.”
That’s right folks, my hobby is trying new things and it says everything there is to know about me. This covers a wide range of activities, food, travels, games, dance moves, etc. Let me tell you about some of the new things I have loved trying.
Skiing. I was born and raised where the snow falls in the winter time so you’d think this would have been my way of life. Not so. I grew up waterskiing but never snow skiing. As my mom puts it, “you can only have so many toys.” She’s right. But in college I took a snowboarding class. It was awesome. I loved every minute of it and almost broke my nose. The next year I decided to take the skiing class. I like to think of it as soul mates finally crossing paths. After my first class I told my roommate that this was a mistake. I was sure to fail my classes that semester because I would spend all my time on the mountain. And so it has been for the past 3 years.
Cooking. Now this is a love-hate relationship for me. When I want food I want it to magically appear right then. And after I cook I do not want to clean dishes. But I hate a dirty kitchen. It’s a vicious circle. But this has proven to be fun. My friend and I love trying new recipes with each other. We’ve made falafels, Armenian kebabs and pilaf, maple glazed salmon, meat pies, egg rolls, and many other dishes that were adventurous to say the least. Most of our dishes turn out well and some taste a little funky. But every attempt improves our talent and brings lots of laughter.
Slacklining. This all began in another college class I took. I took a kayaking class (clearly recreational classes are the reason it took me 5 years to graduate) and for our final excursion we kayaked across Utah Lake and camped on the other side. Our teacher brought his slackline for us to play with. I made it a whole 2 steps the entire trip but loved every attempt I made. When I finally did graduate from college a family friend gave me a gift card to REI. I used it to buy myself a slackline. I still can’t make it all the way across but can now get half way. But I love that thing. I love taking it to a park with a group of friends in the summer and just hanging out and trying to make it from one tree to the next. This is how I realized one of my favorite summer activities are lawn games. I now have a bocce ball set (that glows in the dark), ladder golf, a Frisbee, and a slackline that I will take to the park with me and my friends for a day of lawn games and enjoyment.
Now, these are just some of the new things I have tried. But since this is my hobby I’m always trying new things. I have a very long list of things I would like to do in life. The thing I love most about my hobby is that it leads to other activities. They build on each other and introduce me to even more new things I can try. Once I try one new thing I think of another new thing and the ripple effect begins. This is why my bucket list is long and daunting but also exciting and adventurous. I have a goal: no regrets. Never wonder if you would have liked something. Try it and find out for yourself. So I invite all of you to try something new every month this year. You won’t regret it and you’ll feel more alive.
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