Love: Kindness Wherever You Look!

Season 2, Episode 12

How do you really spread love around a city, so lots of people all feel it? Have a Big Volunteer Day! In a disadvantaged area of Newport News, a city on the Virginia Peninsula in the USA, volunteers disperse all through the community once a month on many service projects at the same time. From playing Bingo with the elderly, to packing gift bags for single parents, to making a greenhouse for an urban farm, residents and non-residents alike work together to shower the city with love.

In this episode, we find out from Serve the City Peninsula director Cindy Hahne, and Project Manager Sue Grimes how and why they started STC in this neighbourhood. And we interview volunteers as they work on their projects, as well as some STC partners from Hampton Roads Urban Agriculture—an amazing inner-city farm providing fresh produce in a food desert! Through all this, we hear the impact on people of a love that returns to serve time and again, in a racially-divided neighbourhood. Many people doing small things together can make a big difference!

Listen to this Love episode here:

Sue Grimes and Cindy Hahne started Serve the City Peninsula together seven years ago. (In fact, on the weekend this episode is released, they are celebrating their seventh anniversary with a gala dinner! Happy Birthday!) They started out serving in a historically African-American community in Newport News that was recommended to them by the Newport News police… but quickly found that two white “do-gooders” were naturally regarded with some suspicion.

Gradually, they made friends with community leaders and created a leadership team that is racially mixed and has inside connections with the neighbourhood. After seven years, their partnerships with local non-profits and perseverance in coming back to serve every month have won trust and created cooperation between between all kinds of people and groups.

For another Serving Stories episode featuring Serve the City Peninsula, listen to “Humility: Mopping Mayors and Stumbling Stones.”

At the beginning of the Big Volunteer Day in February 2024, Sue Grimes briefs volunteers for one of the projects on serving with the Serve the City values: humility, compassion, respect, courage, love and hope. Let’s see how they love the city today!

PROJECT 1: Bingo at Spratley House. Spratley House is an apartment building for low-income and disabled elderly residents that does not have an activities coordinator. Each month, STC Peninsula volunteers come to play bingo with the residents, for prizes that they need—things like dish soap and toilet paper. But the residents are expected to play with the Serve the City values; after winning two prizes, they need to choose someone who has not won to give a prize to for any subsequent wins.

The lady in black (below) on the left is Tansy Perkins, a community resident and member of the STC Core Team. She was the project leader for Bingo at the February Big Volunteer Day. Usually her daughter (far left in the second picture of the Bingo team, next to her mom) also comes along to Bingo; Tansy started volunteering in part to give a good example to her.

Cindy Hahne also told us the touching story of Miss Maxine’s letter of appreciation (pictured at right). Miss Maxine is one of the ladies who lives at Spratley House and plays Bingo each month. It is clear that Miss Maxine was able to perceive the love that Serve the City volunteers brought to serving.

We also heard about Christy Sutton’s friendship with Miss Beatrice Fernandez, another home-bound elderly resident of the neighbourhood. Christy met Miss Bea during a follow-up visit after her son and his football team cleaned up Miss Bea’s garden. The two became fast friends, meeting regularly until Miss Bea passed away recently at the age of 102.

PROJECT 2: Gardening at Spratley House. STC Peninsula volunteers had previously put in raised vegetable beds at Spratley House, to supplement the residents’ diets. But some of the disabled residents aren’t always able to come out and pick the veggies they want, so volunteers weed and make up bags of produce for residents each month when they come for Bingo.

PROJECT 3: Random (Valentine) Acts of Kindness. This CRU student group from Christopher Newport University made little packets of candy with hand-written valentines to hand out to residents as they came to the one grocery store in the neighbourhood. And along the way, they also picked up trash! A little love for Valentine’s Day…

PROJECT 4: Valentine’s bags and grocery bags for Thrive Peninsula. Thrive is one of STC Peninsula’s partners, which helps families that have fallen on hard times pay their bills; they also have a food pantry for help with groceries. On the left, volunteers make Valentine goodie bags for children of the families who visit; other volunteers were putting together little gift boxes for the parents. At right, volunteers prepare grocery bags to make it easier for people to do their “shopping” at the food pantry. (Two of the volunteers in this picture are Carlton Deal, founder of STC International [2nd from left] and Shannon Deal, producer of Serving Stories [far right].)

PROJECT 5: Trash clean-up. One team of volunteers cleaned up trash around the premises of Newport News Shipbuilding, the largest employer in the region and also located right next to the neighbourhood. We also heard from Jason Sutton (at right), one of the vice-presidents at the shipyard who has been instrumental in getting employees to volunteer with Serve the City in the community.

PROJECT 6: Gardening and construction at Hampton Roads Urban Agriculture. This urban farm supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to a community known as a “food desert,” lacking good supermarkets that people can access. On this day, skilled volunteers were constructing a greenhouse that would help the farm develop its own seeds and seedlings, as well as regular gardening tasks.

We also had the chance to talk to Renee Foster, farm founder (not pictured) and Judge Graham, one of the organizers (at left), who told us all about how the farm was started and all the many things that are grown there! You can listen to this entire interview with Renee and Judge below.

If you want to learn more about Hampton Roads Urban Agriculture, click HERE.

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