There are few things that can match the experience of getting lost in your first book.

    Faithful readers of this blog (hi Mom) may remember a while back, we spent some time with the non-profit in Laos called Big Brother Mouse.  This is an organization dedicated to improving literacy throughout the country. Their focus is on writing and printing books in Lao, getting them into the hands of kids, and giving them the gift of reading.

    If that wasn’t enough, they also encourage tourists to come to their offices to practice English with anyone who wants to learn. We had a great time volunteering here several times while in Luang Prubang, and helping school students, adults in the tourism field, and monks with their English.

    We were lucky enough to be a part of delivering books to a rural area outside of Phonsavan in central Laos as well, and seeing the excitement on the faces of kids receiving their first books left a big impression on us.

    After we returned to the US, we were fortunate enough to have our own gallery show and exhibit some of the photos from our trip. Incredibly, we sold quite a few, and decided to donate the profits to Big Brother Mouse.  

    True, we could have donated directly to the website but it just so happened that our awesome friends Ali and Ben were off on a 1 of 7 style volunteering trip of their own, and were passing through Laos. They were more than willing to help us remotely sponsor a book party. 

    A big thanks to Ali and Ben (seen above, front row) for trekking an hour outside of Luang Prabang to make the delivery. And there was literally trekking involved.. Ali carried a box of books for quite a long way down a dirt trail. in the sweaty heat, but it was worth it!


    Liz had a week in between her old job ending and the new one beginning, so we planned a trip to Cartagena, Colombia, a spot we missed on our trip but have long wanted to check out.
    Unfortunately, when we got to the airport at 4 AM to catch our flight, Spirit Air cancelled it, leaving us stranded. With few options that didn't involve missing our entire trip, we decided to hop a flight later that day to Cancun, Mexico. Not quite Colombia, but close enough for us.
    After touch down, we headed south for Tulum in a hatchback rental car that had seen better days. We explored the Mayan ruins nearby, found a cheap hotel, then set our sights on Majahual, motoring down the coast. The road hugged the Caribbean, showing off periodic glimpses of the turquoise waters that make the area famous.
    Once in Majahual we checked out the town and quickly decided to look for someplace a little more remote down the coast toward Belize. A few miles after the pavement ended, we found Hotel Maya Luna, a property of tiny bungalows, complete with an empty beach, vacant hammocks, and a resident dog named Dinga. Liz's new favorite pet.
    We were all set for a few days of complete nothingness. Or so we thought. 

    After a nap in one of the hammocks and a rum drink accompanied by a passing storm, we took a walk down the white sand. And unfortunately, as with so many of the beaches we've encountered on our travels, plastic littered the views.
    The next morning at sunrise, we set out, with Liz's new canine friend in tow, to get in our weekly 1 of 7. The next day we did the same.
    That remote beach was yet one more reason we decided to join with the Surfrider Foundation in its "Rise Above Plastics" campaign and encourage people to use less plastic. The world's beaches are covered with bottles, packaging and all sorts of other floating debris -- and it's all made of plastic. But you don't have to visit a remote beach in Mexico to join the effort. Check out these 10 ways to use less plastic every day. And do what you can to use less plastic. The world's beaches and its beachgoers will be glad you did. 

    It was a sad, sad day in Mexico.  
    After more than 50,000 photos, 30,000 miles, and repair shops in Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi and Panama, our trusty Canon EOS Rebel T2i and the 18-135 lens attached to it died. We can't blame it really, after it sank six feet deep in the Caribbean. 
    At least the final photos it ever shot survived (see below)!!! This photo might offer a clue how the camera may have ended up in the water. Kip swears it wasn't his fault. 
    Got camera advice? Please send it our way! We're in the market for a new one.
    Click here to check out a few of our favorite photos from our travels.


    Ninety Northwestern State University students rolled up their sleeves last week and put themselves to work at the Robeline Food Pantry.

    The event was a 1 of 7 project that encourages students to pledge one day a week to helping others, performing service activities or volunteering in ways that improve the world around them.  

    The food pantry was a hive of activity with students cleaning out freezers, tearing out and removing metal shelving to be recycled, cleaning the building's exterior walls and roof, burning refuse and moving larges boxes of bulk food items to sort and prepare for distribution.  

    Established 14 years ago as an outreach of Triune Ministries, the Robeline Food Pantry serves as many as 250 people per month and recently began making deliveries to shut-ins.  

    Paula Jarvis whose husband John established the ministry said, "We are so thankful and so blessed that these young people are helping us. It shows their hearts and their compassion and giving nature.  It's a wonderful outlet for them to come and serve and it's wonderful for us to be on the receiving end." 

    The activity was the first opportunity for students to get involved with NSU's partnership with 1 of 7, a program developed by NSU alum Kip Patrick in which individuals commit to completing doable service or volunteer tasks one day a week. 

    Student Julia Berry of Lafayette is no stranger to volunteering through her involvement with NSU's Presidential Leadership Program, Phi Mu and other campus activities. 
    Berry said, "We try to give back. People may think that Greek life is all about parties, but we do a lot for the community and give back to the university."   

    The push to engage students in 1 of 7 was incorporated into NSU's Welcome Week activities, chaired by Matt Spence of Houma, Taylor Layman of St. Gabriel and Jack Fletcher of Bunkie, who all participated in last week's unglamorous work at the food pantry. 

    Reatha Cox, NSU's director of First Year Experience and Leadership Development, said since last Friday's event, students have participated in a blood drive and met with NSU's Director of Service Learning Steve Gruesbeck about a recycling program. 

     Cox said, "We have encouraged students to explore and research their interests and passion.  Next week, there will be 150 bags to stuff for the homeless."

    Cox has also been approached about recruiting students to volunteer with the Wings Over Natchitoches Aerobatic Show, the Meat Pie Triathlon and activities coordinated through the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. 

     Cox said, "The student feedback from the food pantry visit has been so positive.  The one question many have asked is 'When are we going back?  There is a lot more to do there.'"

    If someone asked you to give up your Saturday mornings for the next seven years, would you do it?
    Not many of us would. Yet, that's what the tall, shaggy Scotsman Graeme King has done since he began volunteering with the nonprofit Food For All in Washington, DC back in 2007. Virtually every weekend since, he's been working with volunteers and helping deliver food to people who need it most in the nation's capital.

    We first met Graeme about a year ago after finding his organization via our well-tested volunteer-search methodology. On that fateful Saturday and many since then, we've joined Graeme and fellow Food For All volunteers to bag and deliver groceries bound for people who aren't able to afford or can't physically travel to purchase food themselves. Food for All has become our 'go to' volunteer spot, and Graeme has taught us a lot about the dedication it takes to commit to a single organization each week.
    Despite all the busy weekends, Graeme says he loves working with Food For All, which he does in addition to his day job as an IT Consultant at the Corporation for National and Community Service.
    "When I showed up that first Saturday so long ago, I never imagined I'd be doing this every week," Graeme told us, in the thick accent of his Scottish homeland, "but I love the people I volunteer with, and it feels good to know I'm working with an organization that's making a positive difference in the lives of so many DC residents." 
    In addition to helping organize the Saturday volunteer events, Graeme also manages Food for All's website and social media presence, as well as recruit volunteers for the weekly grocery packing and delivery sessions.
    We've spent many Saturday mornings with Food For All over the last year, and for us, the deliveries are the most rewarding part. Many of Food For All's "clients," live in some of Washington's toughest neighborhoods. Yet despite their surroundings, the recipients are some of the most gracious, thankful people in the city. We even get a few hugs on our Saturday delivery runs, a nice bonus to an already rewarding day. Volunteers have the opportunity to meet new people and see a new part of DC they'd never see otherwise. 
    "That's one of the things that attracted me to Food for All -- getting to know the people we're helping," King says. "Even if I'm having a tough week at my day job it gives me something to look forward to every Saturday.
    For those interested in giving back, sign up to volunteer on the Food For All website. They can accommodate groups as well. It's one of the most rewarding things you can do on a Saturday morning in the District.
    Plus, you get to meet Graeme.

    By: Leah Jackson, Northwestern News Bureau
    Northwestern has partnered with a non-profit organization to encourage students to spend one day per week engaged in volunteer work or service to others.
    “The concept is to pick one day and do something for someone else, as you can” Reatha Cox, director of First Year Experience and Leadership Development, told students during an informational meeting to explain the intent behind, a program developed by NSU alum Kip Patrick that encourages people to commit to doable tasks that benefit others. “Our goal is for every student at NSU to start thinking of service and doing for others.” 
    Patrick, who was guest speaker at this year’s New Student Convocation, and his wife developed 1 of 7 as a result of their experiences picking up trash, tutoring and engaging in other service projects at home and during their extensive travels. Patrick has travelled to more than 70 countries and completed some kind of service work in most of them.
    “Being kind can start a chain reaction of positivity,” Patrick explains. “Being kind to others may lead them to be grateful and generous to others, who in turn are grateful and kind to others.”
    Cox said each student has individual talents that can be tailored towards service to others. (Below: A bracelet students will be wearing this semester to show their commitment to volunteering).

    For it’s first project, the student group will meet at 1 p.m. Friday and travel to the Robeline Food Pantry, a facility that serves as many as 250 families per year, to sweep, clean, paint and sort as pantry volunteers prepare to box meals for distribution. Future projects could include packing boxes for the military, packing hygiene kits for the homeless or participating in canned food drives, said Cox, who is compiling a list of charitable service opportunities in the Natchitoches area.
    “We want the students to use their talents in a meaningful way. We think of service as doing something where other people see us,” Cox said. “We want to think of service as doing something just because it needs to be done.”

    To speak to a class of curious sixth graders was scary enough.
    But when Kip got invited to speak in front of some 1,000 college freshmen at his alma mater Northwestern, he knew he had his work cut out for him.
    Luckily, all went well, mostly.
    First, he assured the students they would be in good hands this semester with NSU's faculty, who care deeply about student success. As an example, he told the story of one of his own professors throwing an eraser at him for falling asleep in an 8 am class, and how that same professor would later become his advisor and mentor, counseling him on classwork and helping him get his first job in Washington, DC. 

    He then asked students to always remember why they were in college (to get an education!), and then minutes later in the speech, he threw T-shirts to attendees who could still recall why they were in college (to get an education!). The T-shirts also helped keep the students awake and off their iPhones. Briefly. 
    In the preachy but obligatory section of the 12-minute address, he asked students to remain curious, to push themselves beyond their comfort zones, and to remember that while they were out there finding themselves these next four (or five or six) years, they would also be defining themselves to their friends, their teachers, their parents, and ultimately, to themselves.
    He ended his talk highlighting the importance of being nice and helping others, which gave him an opportunity to announce the new partnership between Northwestern and 1 of 7 to make volunteering and community service part of the freshmen experience. More than 100 students have since signed on to participate.
    Finally, he tossed out one last T-shirt and returned relieved to his seat ... but not before taking the obligatory selfie. 

    Celebration time!
    1 of 7 co-founder Liz has earned her Master of Business Administration degree!
    Between the working full time, volunteering, and going on a recent around-the-world trip, the program took a bit longer than she had expected. But she now has her MBA.
    "Done with school forever!" she says a little too happily.
    Just as exciting, at a solemn ceremony in Colorado (her home state), she was inducted into the honor society Alpha Sigma Nu, which honors students who "distinguish themselves in scholarship and in service to others."
    Big congats to Liz! All the late night conference calls and weekends writing papers finally paid off! And best of all, now she has more time to have fun...and give back!


    Seven years ago, an over-served bartender handed Kip what looked like a treasure map sketched out on a wrinkled cocktail napkin. The cryptic drawing, the guy solemnly swore, would direct the holder to what he called his "secret swimmin' hole," described as a water-filled granite quarry in rural West Virginia, known only to a few other lucky souls. 
    Kip and said bartender had spent the previous hour swapping travel stories, which focused mostly on the best places in the world to jump off high cliffs into water (one of Kip's favorite past times).  Somehow, Kip charmed said bartender into giving up a closely-held secret - the location of the quarry a mere two hours from DC, with a boulder to launch from into the water 60 feet below.
    And so, our story begins...
    The first trip out, we never found the place. And we looked hard. The next time, still cursing the bartender, we re-studied the drawing, trekking down a railroad track, traversing an overgrown field and sweating through thick underbrush until we stumbled onto what looked like a rabbit trail. We followed it until the narrow path opened up into a small clearing, blocked off by thick vines on one side and a massive boulder on the other. As we stood upright and creeped forward, we saw an opening that slowly widened as we got closer. As we walked up to what became a cliff, we looked out across a green pool shrouded by trees and vines and shouldered by steep granite and we knew we’d found the spot.
    But this story isn’t so much about the quarry itself. It’s actually about how garbage can ruin one of the most unique places on the planet.
    It seems that quite a few people had found this secret spot before us, and sadly, they didn’t live by the “leave no trace” mentality.
    So for the past few years, Kip and his friends Adam, Alex, and Nick have made an annual pilgrimage to the quarry, primarily to jump from the cliffs, swing from the rope swing and try to capture a youth that’s not that far removed from any of them (at least mentally). But when they’re done playing, they spend some quality time filling garbage bags until the place looks, at least, a little less discovered. It lets everyone give back a little, which is what it’s all about, really. That and jumping off cliffs and living to tell about it.
    Big thanks to Adam, Alex and Nick for joining the clean up! We're looking forward to the next one!

    Like the well-known hair stylist in New York who gives free haircuts to homeless people, using an existing skill to help others can be an easy and fun way to do something nice.
    As Kip found out, you don't even have to be a pro at something to help out a friend. Maybe you just have a nice camera, some free time and a buddy who needs an engagement photo!
    Congrats to Adam and Lauren on your upcoming wedding! 
    And btw, the photo above was NOT the official engagement photo, but it looked so cheesy we had to put it up here. The real one's below:

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