Moving Announcement

Announcement: The Volunteer Fringe has been incorporated into my new website.

Please click on over to and join the discussions on the writing life, travel, faith, and stepping up. Your story matters—and I’d like to hear it.

With a wider range of topics comes a new blog: FREE TO ROAM. Click the photo to head on over to the new site.

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The Skills Gap

photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Have you heard of the “skills gap”? Recently, while researching and writing content for some business blogs, I found the discussion of the skills gap particularly interesting—the disconnect that employers complain exists between skills needed in the workforce and the education students are receiving. Employers complain that they get a landslide of resumes, but a large number of job applicants lack the necessary skills. According to Online Colleges, a resource for online education, our government is looking at a variety of ways to subsidize colleges and universities on the condition that academic programs better reflect job market trends. Good? Bad? Both?

With the economic downturn and reduced number of jobs, a student’s chosen field of study probably matters more now than ever. Many people with expensive liberal arts degrees are finding it difficult to get decent jobs (which makes me extremely sad). I’m all for the practical fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), but our society needs to be well rounded, doesn’t it? Little bit practical, little bit creative.

Management professor and director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources Peter Cappelli says employers now look at filling a job like buying a spare part. They expect the person to fit exactly without much investment in training. He also mentions that automation has made the hiring process easier and cheaper for companies, but if an applicant doesn’t use the right keywords and exact titles in writing job descriptions, they may get nixed, even if perfect for the job.

This sounds very faceless…and conforming. Is it me, or is that ironic? We’re always talking about thinking outside the box. But seems that a lot of times, we pretty much just like to put a checkmark in it and align it nicely with the others.

Another interesting point that Cappelli makes is that when pressed for details, employers often list “character issues” like punctuality and motivation as a greater deficiency than technical skills and education. Aha! Human factors. Something a computer couldn’t be the best judge in determining. We need face time. Time to grow and hone our unique gifts. I obviously don’t have the answers (or else I’d be getting paid the big bucks), but as you probably know already, I’m a firm believer in gaining early hands-on experience by volunteering or doing internships, which is basically the same thing—one just more formal and businesslike than the other.

True, certain fields are practical and have higher earning potential—and if you love them because that’s where your passion is? Full on great. But those in the arts and social sciences are still needed. Where would we be without those who love history and culture, and write it all down for the generations to come?

Where is the balance? Any ideas?

A Different Sort of Contest

551197_337037406382696_1891785269_nOnly two more weeks until the Poetry For Their Freedom Contest closes. First prize is $100 and no entry fee.

Submit a poem on human trafficking and victims’ restoration of hope. Raise awareness and promote freedom for the 27 million enslaved around the world and in our own backyard.

Please consider sharing if you know any writers and poets. From some of the cover letters and background stories we’re getting, let me tell you, it confirms that human trafficking is way too alive and well in our country.

The Volunteer

Photo: courtesy of njaj/

Photo: courtesy of njaj/

So, I’ve been reading Erma Bombeck’s work. Love her humor. One of my favorites is her piece on volunteers. Have you read it? She talks about a dream she had where all American volunteers become disillusioned and set sail for parts unknown. At first, she’s happy to be done with committees, casserole concoctions, saving particular items and peddling baked goods. But then, she realizes the quiet left behind in places like the hospital, the nursing home…how those in need lift their arms, but no one’s left to comfort them or offer a hand.

She ends with, “I fought in my sleep to regain a glimpse of the ship of volunteers just one more time. It was to be my last glimpse of civilization…as we were meant to be.”

This is from 1975 and still timely as ever.

It’s a good one, isn’t it? Do you have a favorite Erma story?

Help Fight The World’s Fastest Growing Crime

Are you a poet? A writer? Do you know one?

Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world. Criminals buy, sell and trade human beings into the commercial sex industry and forced labor. Take up your pen to help combat this horrific form of modern-day slavery. Submit a poem to the Poetry For Their Freedom Contest.

Poetry For Their Freedom

First prize includes $100, a live reading at The A21 Campaign – U.S. East Coast office’s Be Their Freedom annual benefit to be held on Sept. 19th in Charleston, SC. Additionally, the winning poem will be printed in the Be Their Freedom event program and posted on The global A21 Campaign’s Instagram feed.

For submission guidelines and more information, please visit Poetry For Their Freedom at

Please forward to any poet you think would be interested in becoming an active voice for freedom!

Books That Make A Difference

So many books, so little time…

Are you like me? Do you have multiple pages of wish lists for books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and “To-Read” shelves on Goodreads and Library Thing?

I know this will come as a big surprise to you, but I have an especial interest in books that highlight aspects of humanitarianism and social justice.

Two of my upcoming reads:

Strength in What RemainsStrength In What Remains by Tracy Kidder

This is a non-fiction story about a man from Burundi who comes to the U.S. after surviving civil war and genocide. He arrives with practically nothing, but through the kindness of strangers, finds his path to healing (and a medical degree from Columbia).

All That is Bitter and SweetAll That Is Bitter And Sweet by Ashley Judd and Maryanne Vollers

This is Ashley Judd’s memoir that stemmed from diary entries written during her humanitarian journeys around the world. It details individual stories of survival as well as her own personal struggles.

Have you read either of these? If so, what did you think? Do you read books like these? Why or why not?

If you know of an inspiring book I should add to my list, I’d love to have your suggestions!

Are You Safe?

Photo Courtesy of Thunderchild7

Photo Courtesy of Thunderchild7

When a hurricane hits or a terrorist attacks, how can you find out if your loved ones living in the area are safe?

Cell service could be cut off, as happened in the terrorist event at the Boston Marathon. What options are available?

Here are a couple to consider:

Google Person FinderGoogle Person Finder

This tool is designed to reconnect family and friends in the aftermath of a disaster or humanitarian emergency. It allows individuals to search for the status of specific persons and receive updates on them. This application can be embedded in personal webpages for ease of use and access.

Google’s Crisis Response division developed this tool after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Google Person Finder can mine data from other registries in a common format. After Katrina in 2005, many different websites provided a scattering of missing persons registries, a consolidation problem…now solved. Once the crisis is over, Google deletes the repository, as it has in regard to the Boston Marathon event.

American Red CrossThe American Red Cross: Safe and Well

This web application allows you to register yourself as “Safe and Well”, to ease your loved ones minds, as well as search for those who are missing.

Hope you never have the need to use these, but doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Have you ever been in a near-panic, unable to reach a loved one during a time of epic crisis? How did you finally reach him or her?

Drop A Meal

Take Them A MealA good friend of mine from Georgia has a rule: “Whether things are really good, or things are really bad, always bring food.”

I laughed at the time, but those few words, spoken almost flippantly, have stuck with me. My friend is a matriarch of Southern hospitality, complete with pearls and Mary Janes, but also just as comfortable in her fraying Georgia Bulldogs ball cap. She’s right though; taking meals to friends and family during the ups and downs of life is important. Food is the Grand Poobah of comforting gestures.

Have you ever received meals from friends and family during a time when cooking was just not feasible? Say after a loss? Or a surgery? I’m part of a small group that routinely cooks meals for a family with a young child with severe medical problems. (Full disclosure: except that I forgot a couple weeks ago and had to scramble to make it up to them.)

As my friend says, food is also great for happy occasions like the birth of a baby. (I have to take a moment for a personal shout out. This past Sunday, some good friends had a baby daughter. Welcome to the human race, Baby McKenna!)

So, guess what? This morning, I received an email from my Georgia friend about meals for McKenna and her new parents, with a link to a website that helps you coordinate food delivery called (appropriately): Take A Meal. Thought you all might be interested in case this is one of your ways to volunteer or give of your time (and hopefully, for the receiving party, utilize your excellent cooking skills). The site offers a place for central scheduling as well as recipe ideas if you’re coming up blank or trying to minimize the number of tuna casseroles your friend receives. It also provides email reminders, which considering my mess up a couple of weeks ago, is a great feature.

It’s obvious the people at Take A Meal have done this once or twice. They even provide a great list of logistical questions to ask the receiving party prior to food showing up at their house…all the way from available freezer space and food allergies…to secure drop-off locations and hours.

This past winter, my husband did a tour of duty overseas, so we were out of the country for a while. I came back ahead of him, and let me tell you how nice was it to find my formerly-stark fridge laden with BBQ pulled pork, Southern mac n’ cheese, salad, homemade quiche, berry fruit medley, bagels, OJ and milk. Oh…and on the counter, Girl Scout cookies and a bone for my dog. Do I have some super friends, or what?

The little things truly do make a difference. They truly do warm the heart, serving as reminders that we are not alone in this life. Others are there to support and celebrate with us.

What have been your experiences with taking/receiving meals during the good and bad times?

Where All Roads Lead

Path in GuatemalaHow closely have you followed the road you life-planned for yourself?

Me? Not so much. I have a B.S. in Forensic Chemistry, but I am a freelance writer and novelist…and write for a non-profit. Writing and language arts always came naturally while math required serious focus.


You’d think I’d have recognized the signs back then. But, my brother doesn’t call me a tenacious bulldog for nothing. I wanted a chemistry degree; I have a chemistry degree. But, my career immediately veered into humanitarian operations and writing. My true north. And it found its way there because of first volunteering.

What have you discovered about yourself regarding your career? Is it what you expected?