Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Volunteer's Perspective (NYC Pride 2014)

It definitely brings a huge smile to my face when I think about how The March and Heritage of Pride's membership and events have grown over the last decade. I was quite nostalgic last month thinking about my involvement with Heritage of Pride and all the events that happen throughout June - aka Pride month. I remember getting the Montclair High School's Gay Straight Alliance back to an active status taking on the president role and within the same year I got a huge turnout of students and friends to join me in The March (2006). Year later while at college I was active with their GSA of sorts, Spectrum. Fast forward to May of this year I was filling out a volunteer form and attending three separate training sessions for The Rally, Teaze, The March and Dance on the Pier - of which I was volunteering for ALL of them. Yep I'm crazy but I'm also a super proud ally of the LGBTQIA community :) especially with the increasingly A class list of entertainers and performances (this year Laverne Cox - Orange is the New Black, Demi Lovato, Susan Sarandon, and Johnathan Groff - Spring Awakening; Glee)

View of Pier 26 Saturday
Orange is the New Black represent - Thanks to Lavrene

Volunteers made this abstract masterpiece

Long story short, as much as I knew it would be an intense commitment, I honestly had NO IDEA! However, I did meet some awesome volunteers that since we've kept in touch via social media. Also it was a true learning experience for me both with the internal staff relationships, roles, and organization but also as a volunteer. I don't think its wise to push oneself beyond the minimum because let's be real here, its not like I'm getting paid for this gig. Secondly, I advise volunteers to value their time - its all you have and if an organization doesn't appreciate that (because they should, they should be giving you gratitude forever!) than what are you doing it for and with that, is it really worth it?

Of course there are those people that volunteer to get free access to the action. And of course there are people who are extremely rude and nasty to other volunteers and staff while on/off their "volunteer shifts". But we win some and lose some. The hope is that you are setting aside your valuable time for something you believe in and want to be a part of. Despite all of the things that went wrong throughout the weekend, I did have a memorable and fun time!

Fellow volunteers at check-in tent for The March

View from Fifth Avenue

Thanks Bret, Julian, Michelle, Elizabeth and everyone on the Heritage of Pride staff and all of the volunteers I met who could not have been more hospitable and friendly!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Moments in History

Its definitely been a rollercoaster these last months of spring especially to do with my job...but I'm not even going there. What I will say is that despite the bumps rather walls I've had to climb I have had some good experiences.

Meggan, one of my second cousins on my Dad's side of the family (Valero) invited me to come with her and her friend Alli to go to the Boston Calling Music Festival. This was perfect timing considering I didn't make plans for Memorial Day weekend. Top it all off, we stayed with Meggan's sister Erin - who's apartment was REALLY spacious, clean and modern - and met up with their brother Justin, who flew in from DC. I was so thankful for the beautiful weather during the daytime and parts of the evenings throughout the weekend - with the exception of Saturday night when it poured for about an hour before I decided 'eh I've had enough of this' and go back to Erin's place. Sunday was 'walk in Erin's shoes' day, met her friends at this french restaurant, walked around the SoWa market and bringing some food truck meals back to Erin's apartment. I really appreciated the bonding moments between the cousins - Erin, Justin, Meggan and I - like Saturday morning breakfast :) I hope to repeat this again soon in the near future!

Meggan (flamming purple hair), me and Alli
Boston Calling Festival at City Hall - scenes from The Departed were filmed here :)
The crew heading to the SoWa market

SoWa Food Trucks

Street art (SoWa)
One of two stages - Boston Calling (every fall and spring)

Fast forward a week later, I went out with my JC Gang and the Downtown Jersey City Meetup peeps on the annual Bar Hawral/Birthday Party for Rachel. I met up with everyone at the first dive/irish pub called Bobby Dee's near Journal Square. The bartender and old patrons couldn't have been sweeter. Rachel got some rounds of free shots and a pound cake with a candle - as we sand "Happy Birthday". It was a get way to kick off the Hawral! Fifth bar in - Journal Square Pub next to Loews Theater - I said my goodbyes and heading home to make a quick change for the Sundree and Tie event at The W Hotel via NJ Young Professionals group. I met some more lovely single ladies who gave me all the dish on other events and groups to check out for a young, single, professional like myself. It couldn't have been a more pleasant evening.

Happy Birthday Rachel cheers

After a hellish week, I took off part of the first Friday in June to head into the city with my Mom to get massages and facials. It was the right amount of pampering I needed to diffuse my stress. We made it back to Jersey City just in time to catch some of the cultural/artsy events in The Heights for JC Fridays (first Friday every quarter).

View from The Heights 
  Madouche Bag - plays live every Thursday at Madam Claude Cafe
Live at the Lumberyard (Palisade Ave) - once a month throughout the summer 
The next day I was heading into the city with all the yuppies to make my way to the Belmont Stakes in the hope that California Chrome would win. I met up with my cousin Kerry, whom I hadn't seen since Christmas. We spent the rest of the day hanging out, rehashing our college days as we watched all the preppy kids take over the grounds outside the racetrack. Two hot dogs, a couple of bets, and one, two, three beers in we picked out our spots to get the best "front row" seats we could find. Unfortunately but expected, California Chrome didn't take the gold but lucky Kerry #11 did! She bet on him thanks to a family member's tip. $95 winning ticket - cursing that I didn't follow her lead but none the less it was a fun time.

Craziness inside
Craziness outside - mainly tailgating yuppies
 Our view of the track
 My cuz and I

To bring you up to the most recent events...the last few weeks I've been hard working after work hours. I've gone to a few volunteer training sessions for this years NYC Pride events, The Rally (6/27), Teaze (6/28), The March & Dance on the Pier (6/29). I know this is going to be a super rewarding volunteer effort - plus I'll meet more friends in the LGBTQIA community so WIN for me. I also started the summer Zogsports leagues - Social Sampler (again) and Soccer. I recruited a few guy friends from the JC Gang which is awesome especially since we're on the same team. Downside is that Zogsports Soccer League - at least the team I was assigned to - is way too competitive for me. I pretty confident I won't be returning...which sucks because my friend Dan is on my team but at least he'll meet some new people :)

This past Friday I went to the Yankees vs Orioles game. Unfortunately I left at the top of the 9th inning due to expected commuter traffic getting back to NJ. However, I heard that Beltran made a homer that won the game - went from 2-1 Orioles to 5-3 Yankees takes it! Sunday my Mom and I went into the city to see our friend Donald perform with Rev. Billy & Shop Stopper Choir at Joe's Pub in the village. I had some time to kill before and went to a hipster coffee shop near the 9th St PATH station called Joe The Art of Coffee - Disclaimer: creepy single guys make small talk and stare at young women from the street while smoking ICK! Walked to Washington Square Park before and after the show where everyone and their families were out including a wedding party. We were witnesses to this lovely couple getting married in the park - great and cheap idea!

Lastly, I we went back to the car in downtown Jersey City only to find the battery was dead. AAA is a godsend and was there in no time - good for me since I was super pissed that I might miss the USAvPOR game. Listened to the ESPN radio announcers in the car while it was running (leave it on for 30mins minimum) and then inside our house. I was screaming and on edge the whole time - reading Twitter feed, browsing the Internet for updates...and then Rolando kicked the goal making it a 2-2 final call. Ugh. But overall it was a pretty decent weekend!

Next week...PRIDE! Till then ;)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

March MADness

9March was definitely a busy month professionally, socially and otherwise. In honor of March Madness I can say it was quite madding at times. One of the niceities at work was that the whole office filled out brackets in light of the month's college basketball games. I was partial to Kansas - who I believe won last year - and St. Louis - because...well, just because they are the under-underdogs and my good friend Jay lives there. Neither of which got very far, especially St. Louis but it was something to follow outside of all the other craziness going on in my life.

My colleague who works with me on Sandy cases were happy that our months of outreach paid off. We now have a steady stream of clients calling that are referrals from various agencies we've met and worked with recently. The upside is that we're bound to make quota for the Sandy contract. The downside is there's no quick-fix cases, only complicated ones. It goes without saying that 15+ months after the storm there's a strong likelihood that they'll have a multitude of other needs. Our office had a "site visit" which is a fancy term to describe an occassional drop in visit by people from the Administration office to check our overall progress for each grant and the status on each employee's cases/files. We found out that as of April 1st my colleague and I are working full-time for Sandy so we can dedicate a little more time to these cases. With that we become salaried employees and get full benefits so YIPPEE!

Socially, well I feel like I've been such a social butterfly as my good friend Keith would say. Beginning-mid March was Hoboken's St. Patrick's Day celebration called LepreCon. Bascially yet another excuse for Hobokeians to get blastered for consectutive weekends, wait they already do that so I guess its in light of a holiday which calls for obsessive drinking to occur and publically accepted. My friend Dan and I hung out at the Panera on Washington to watch the drunk people stumble by. Two weeks later was Part 2 and my friend Jodie and I and later Dan came to bar hop, play darts against a funny and drunk bartender and create a coalition (see proof in picture below).

I also broke my music funk when I went to a 90s Shibuya-mei asian pop band Cibo Matto at a venue I'd been dying to go to, the Brooklyn Bowl. It's an interesting place that I thought would be a nice place to hang out with the JC gang. Later that same night I experienced the true "club scene" in Downtown Jersey City at O'Hara's. Basically the setting is a group of semi-diverse (mainly hispanic and blacks) of young (teens to 20-30 somethings) people stand around while a dj (no name) insists on playing horribly awkward, dancing unfreindly tunes. Meanwhile the bartender is giving wildly inappropriately named drinks on the house (Pink Pussy) out to our colleagues after they've all had waaaay too much to drink as it is but....it was a memoriable time so what the hecks (as some foreign friends say).

March was also the time for love! My Mom and I went back to our old church in Montclair, NJ to witness Mary Frances and Adrianna marriage after 20+ years being together and having raised a beautfiul daughter. Mia, their daughter, shocked me wearing these outrageously high stilettos and accompanied the pianst with her wonderful musical talent playing the violin to the popular love song "Thousand Years" by that Christina P....somebody. It was also a reunion of sorts because all the former congregates and our friends came to share in this happy day - long story short, there were issues with the choir ppl after the director left, and dispute about an organ, issues with a new rector...complications = people leave the church. Can you say DRAMA?!?!

The JC gang tried this happy hour/karaoke at VB3 near Newport. Happy hour wasn't bad, I even got a rejection from the bartender who I thought was available and turned out to be married, he was nice about it. But my friend Elizabeth and I were a bit pissed that the karaoke didn't start in a timely manner. It wasn't until about 11pm that there was even a test of the technical system. Adios to that.

The last event worth mentioning was the Women of Letters show. I went to a somewhat seedy area in Brooklyn - a bunch of warehouses, dimly lit, alleys, etc -to this place called the Bellhouse. My main draw was Edie Falco, famous for her roles as Carmella in The Sopranos and lead as and in Nurse Betty. I also was extremely pissed that NO ONE recognized Women's History Month.  I feel somewhat proud that I did support the historic and modern achievement of women in this country.

In Carmella Sopranos' honor my Mom and I went to Holsten's after the wedding in Montclair. I shared this decadent coffee ice cream sundae. It was so heavenly!

Till my lastest post about weekend brunches and the beginning spring....

Monday, February 3, 2014

JC Gang

I met my friend Bella a few summers ago through the Downtown Jersey City Meetup. Us single gals (then) seemed to have been magnetized to one another and spent the whole evening, into the wee hours of morning, together. After that we've stayed in contact with each other via Facebook and after almost 1 1/2 years now actually seeing each other we had a reunion. Only to find out that she was changing careers (corporate finance to graphic design) and moving to Australia. Although it was a lot to process I was happy and in awe of her. She has always been an inspiration to me. Someone who knows what she wants, feels comfortable with who she is and always open to possibilities. 

One of her best qualities is knowing people and connecting them through various groups she's associated with. And she did just that! She introduced me to her friend Hillary who then introduced me to her friends (who are also Bella's friends) when she invited me to her New Year's Eve shingig. They are forever known as the Jersey City Gang. They all know each other from school (high school or college or both), work or other groups (Zogsports, Meetup, etc). What's fasinating to me is how together and supportive they all are to one another. They're all looking to enjoy themselves and leave the drama at home. Its as if my goals for this year fell into my lap. So how can you ignore what is staring you in the face?

Its been so nice to have other people to rely on to get together and do stuff. It seems like that is so simple but I cannot tell you how difficult it has been to get ANYONE old friends of mine or new people I meet to do ANYTHING. It is sad and ridiculous but its taught me to continue to go out on my own. I have to be my own best friend and advocate. That doesn't mean I shouldn't continue to try and give others a chance but I don't want to get stuck or self-inflict sorrow unto myself. I need to keep in mind what I want and go after it. It comes back to the Bella mentality. You want it, go get it yourself.

Friday, January 10, 2014

New Beginnings into the New Year

Since the summer my main goal has been to find a job that fits my aspirations and attitude about how I can help make the world a better place...blah, blah blah. Pretty noble idea but in practice it takes hard work rather than just passion for what you ultimately want to happen = be employed!
I've heard and seen a lot of my colleagues before and after graduating college get in a funk. As much as I empathize I can't help but feel a twing of annoyance. There's is overwhelming mentality that nothing is possible when it should be the exact opposite. It derives from this idea that just because our economy and employee-employer dynampics has changed in the last decade that the world has turned against us. But the truth is this is how it is for those of us "starting out," the twenty-somethings, recent grads or high school educated that have been working for a fews years (or not).  In my experience I've seen and heard more excuses and haven't seen enough action. You do have to think outside the norm and it requires a little more effort than what is "obvious" to 'most people.' Sending out cover letters and resumes via email isn't going to cut it and neither is waiting for a inevitable negative response if you aren't doing something else of substance to elevate your applicable status. 

This is not to say that it isn't difficult and stressful because it is, VERY much so. In the last six months I've had quite a few outbursts of anger and tears but when I remember to put my situation into a broader perspective, I realize that I am really trying and putting myself out there, I'm trying everyday to make new contacts through networking or casual interactions with people OUTSIDE my HOUSE and BEDROOM, making endlesss cold calls, volunteering with organizations that are doing what I want to do professionally or have a mission I strongly believe in, etc, etc.

Its not going to be easy and I think for most young people or people who recently lost their jobs have no idea that they have pigeon holed themselves into thinking one particular way instead of being open to the bigger picture. It was challenging the first month out of school after embarking on an amazing two week 4,700 mile roadtrip cross-country to only ended up miserable in New Brunswick, shaking up with five immature college students in a "boarding house" and a job working with people a few years out of college who haven't experienced much outside of college. Poor management, lack of maturity, disrespectful attitudes and ill mannered behavior I was fed up and came home to Jersey City after two months. First "failure" post-graduation and it seemed to get perpetually worse after that. I kept applying for jobs the way I had been - online - and slowly branching to cold calling, sending my materials via mail, and other ways of connecting with organizations posting positions online. In the meantime I was writing and editor for a blog that I thought was a "hired" to help a start up magazine get exposure and maybe get paid to write. Didn't last long considering a number of the reasons I had left the job in New Brunswich seemed to reappear with this new "job" - turns out was an internship which was never brought to my attention in the interview process. So after two hits in a row that was reason to give up right? Wrong. 

I continued to seek other opportunities within my community. I volunteered with the League of Women Voters helping them with planning and organizing an event that led to meeting a contact that hooked me up with a temporary position at The Brennan Center for Justice. In addition to volunteering with the League, I applied for to be a member of a Development and Fundraising Committee with a Dress for Success affiliate called Suits for Success in Jersey City. The Development Director saw great potential and offered me the position immediately. The perk for her was that I helped them with their annual Gala before my official work for the Committee started. I also helped out at my church: teaching Sunday School, volunteered for the Silent Auction at the GCVV Cathedral Arts Festival, joined a small prayer group, serving the homeless and hungry at the Breakfast Plus Program and joined the choir for a few events. In the mist of doing all the craziness and constant changing/evolving/reinventing myself in the process, I landed an interview for a more permanent position and was offered the job. It did take them over two months to request an interview but the point is I never gave up. 

With all that being said my temp position as Development Associate with The Brennan Center for Justice (BC) was such a good experience both in the field and to see how a well organized and successful nonprofit works internally. Through my horrific experience canvassing over the summer opened my eyes to the need for people like myself that can get others to contribute financially. While at BC I pushed myself to overcome the uncomfortable feelings that araise when something is new and put myself out there. As a result, I learned a lot and proved that I am unique.  Luckily for me, within the 1 1/2 months I was conducting gift processing, "interviewing" staff, making new contacts and investigating both the general and specific aspects of fundraising I found my calling. Not to mention the working environment at BC helped solidify what I really need to succeed and be inspired to do what I want to do: supportive co-workers. I'm so gratefully to have met and work with everyone on the development team at BC: Thanks to Anna, Vivien, Jen, Jaemin, John, Diana and Charles for such a great experience!

Fortunately for me, I started my next job at the Community Health Law Project. Ironically - and unplanned or expected - I landed my first two positions within my field: political science. But the best part about the journey after graduation up to this point is that everything is really up to me. I have control over how I deal with my decisions and that I also learned that when I don't have control that if I'm open I can learn so much more than if I let fear steer the wheel.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Walk Through the Modern Day Pumpkin Patch

Two weeks ago was another trip to a new place: Sleepy Hallow.  Now, I've never read the book nor did I really remember all the details of Ichabod's story in the feature film with Johnny Depp. So although it was nice to visit this legendary and spooky town I wish I had done more research. However, we didn't end up spending time in the actual town.

The main motivation for our drive north into New York state was to go pumpkin picking and detour to Sleepy Hallow because it was along the way. I was excited to surprise my mom going to the Sleepy Hallow Lighthouse since its one of the only pleasantries I know she truly enjoys both in experience and decor. Luckily, I checked out the website and found that Sunday was the last day to tour the lighthouse until the end of spring next year. As expected she was touched I thought of such an activity and I was glad especially because of the view of all the fall colors on the trees throughout the park. Pictureque!

 Late in the afternoon and running empty from a meager breakfast we ate and watched some of NFL games at a local bar. Despite the menu's specials were pretty much out food never tasted that good! I was happy we ate least had some good times prior to getting to the pumpkin farm quite late...well, before it closed. I guess you can't have it all, but you can pout.

Pumpkin picking, going to the Christmas tree farm we've gone to since I was a toddler, Easter egg hunting...none of the childhood memories are brought to life in the same way anymore. It bothers me because I went through a lot of loss and challenging life experiences at a young age so holding onto the few events that bring a huge smile to my face and warmth in my heart are too important to "grow up" or "get over" as some care to phrase. They don't understand.

Hopefully I can come up with new traditions and find other activities that thrill me in the same way in the near future. We'll see what unfolds in the months to come.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Old Friends/Bookends

Time flies these days more quickly than I realize or I like but on a positive note, I get the opportunity to visit my friends more frequently. Well at least in theory. Its been over 1 1/2 years since I met Kristi during our semester at The Washington Center the Spring of 2012. She's been working in D.C. ever since and recently moved to Alexandria from her studio apartment in Columbia Heights. Despite the closeness to the city she expressed to me both on the phone and when I visited a few weeks ago that the old place was not as nice, roomy and comfortable as her current address.

Needing a break from my own stress and worries, I ventured south to the historic town of Alexandria. On what seemed like a deja vu moment, riding through the night in the mists of the threatening weather of Hurricane Irene, as we walked through a "monsoon of a storm" along the streets of Alexandria to her apartment. Drench in rain we took another adventure to restaurant known for their killer chili selection called Hard Times. Worth braving the weather, I think so! But right to bed once we returned.

 Sleeping in till 9am was usual for Ms. Cat but Kristi came downstairs ready to go outside for her daily run so I couldn't deny my own exercise goal. That week I had met with the Personal Training Manager at the Hoboken North NYSC gym, Nate, and was put to work doing total core and upper body strengthening circuits. So while Kristi hit the pavement I was breaking sweat in her apartment. And what is essential after a workout (besides a shower), food of course :P at a local joint up the street called Table Talk.

We walked down King Street to a place Kristi heard was great for fresh fish. It didn't disappoint especially the naunical decore. No meal is complete without dessert, so we made our way to the homemade ice cream shop next door. Mmmm yum! In addition to that delicious lunch we went out that evening to O'Connell's, an irish pub, and tried to do karoake at the Rock It Grill but due to my ill state we decided to call it a night. Next morning we spent hanging out, watching movies, painting our nails and vegging on the couch, with the exception of an evening walk and dinner at a bar downtown and a stop at a cake shop for dessert. So if you haven't already guessed, this 'vacation' was an excuse to stuff our faces the whole weekend.

I'm confident that Kristi and I will carry on the "Old Friends/Bookends" tradition, best told by the great Simon & Garfunkel. Never thought getting old could be so sweet. I mean as long as you got a friend to sit on a park bench with ya and grow old together what else do you need? .....donuts would be a nice touch :)