Tag Archives: volunteer profile

Mookie’s Teeth

Student loans seem to be commonplace these days.  Tuition costs are rising and most jobs require a college degree to even be considered.  Many families struggle with funding a college education, but minority students may have a more difficult time due to language barriers and other factors.  Today’s profile is about someone trying to make a difference.

Cristina Oxtra is an Asian American who immigrated to the United States with her family when she was in high school.  She didn’t receive guidance from her school counselors or others who were supposed to teach and assist her in applying and obtaining financial help for college.  She attended community college for two years before transferring to a four-year university.  She lived at home and commuted to college in addition to working to pay her tuition.

Years later, Cristina now works for a school district in Shakopee, Minnesota and is involved with the local Leaders in Education And Diversity (LEAD) student group.  Through her work, she has seen a need in helping local minority students who wish to pursue a post-secondary education connect with financial assistance.  Cristina was inspired to create the Kaleidoscope Scholarship for students graduating from Shakopee High School.

She named it Kaleidoscope because the world is made up of people of all colors, races, cultures, languages, religions, and ethnic backgrounds.  Together these people all make an ever changing, beautiful image, like a kaleidoscope.  This scholarship is the first to be specifically offered for minority students in the Shakopee community.  In 2011, the scholarship was divided to help three deserving students.

To fund the scholarship, Cristina has held bake sales and solicited donations from local businesses.  In addition, Cristina has published a children’s book named “Mookie’s Teeth” that will also help fund the scholarship.  Mookie’s Teeth is a children’s story about a little monster with a big problem – he doesn’t have his monster teeth.  He must do good deeds to earn his teeth.

How can you help? 

  • You can purchase Mookie’s Teeth or any of the upcoming books from Christina’s Fairytale Hallow line.  “Teddy’s Travels” Will be available in fall 2012 and other upcoming titles include “A Knight’s Tail” and “Ace Fairy”.
  • You can also contact Cristina directly at to offer assistance with fundraising work that she currently does on her own or to make a donation.

You can learn more about Cristina and her Fairytale Hollow series on her website.  In addition, you can become a fan on Facebook.


Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Philanthropy


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Nisha Varghese

I am a lucky person…I have never had to wonder where my next meal or glass of water will come from.  Not everyone is that lucky.  Today I am profiling a volunteer that believes no human being should die because of lack of water or food.

Many of us have heard of The Water Project – they are an organization that brings relief to communities around the world who suffer needlessly from a lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation.  Nisha Varghese set a goal in March 2010 to raise $6,500 for The Water Project.  This is the average cost of building a well in Africa or India.  She created a fundraising site through to collect donations and has promoted her fundraising efforts on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.  She has already raised over $6,000 and with our help she can meet (and maybe even exceed) her goal.

Nisha doesn’t stop there.  She also created another project called Virginia’s Sandwich Run.  The idea is simple, raise enough money to put together 48 sandwiches a week for the people in her current housekeeper’s neighborhood.    This project is named for the housekeeper that Nisha’s family had as a child.  According to Nisha, Virginia was a person who gave her best to the world and the people around her.  You can make a donation to Nisha’s sandwich project here.

When I asked Nisha why she volunteers she said, “I believe that it is up to each and every one of us to create the world we want.”  Her most memorable volunteer experience is “knowing that 15-20 kids don’t go to bed hungry because I spent an hour every Saturday making sandwiches.”

Nisha recommends that those who are new to volunteering should contact their local homeless shelter for volunteer opportunities.  Nisha is an inspiring 20 year old who is wheelchair bound as a result of Cerebral Palsy.  She says, “if I can be of service to the world in spite of my ‘disability’, nobody else has an excuse not to be.”

Update: Nisha’s fundraiser is complete and the well has been built!  Stop by The Water Project to see photos of the well.


Posted by on December 28, 2011 in Volunteer Profile


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One More Generation

My daughter loves animals.  She reads about them, has animal toys, and enjoys visits to the zoo.  But like most young kids, that is as far as it goes.  The organization we profile today was started by two young kids that took their passion about animals to another level.

Carter (age 9.5) and his sister Olivia (age 8) are so passionate about wanting to make a difference that they started their own organization called One More Generation (OMG).

The two students have been adopting Cheetahs through the Ann Van Dyk Cheetah Centre in South Africa for years.  In the fall of 2009, the kids asked why some animals needed adopting, and they learned that there might not be any Cheetahs left in the wild by the time they had their own kids.  Well that was all it took for these two kids to spring into action.  They started the One More Generation organization in late 2009.

Since starting OMG, Carter and Olivia have been involved in numerous initiatives both locally and globally. 

  • The pair took a trip to the Gulf where they delivered badly needed Animal Rescue Supplies to the Marine Mammal & Sea Turtle Rescue Center in New Orleans.  You can read all about the trip and even watch a video on their website
  • They are working with the State Legislature of Georgia to change the legislative language in current law to help stop Rattlesnake Roundups in their state.  
  • They are working to raise $50,000 for a Cheetah Rescue program in South Africa run by the Ann Van Dyke Cheetah Center. 
  •  They are working with various organizations to help raise awareness to the plight of the many endangered species around the globe including an educational program that they present to the visitors of the Atlanta Zoo, The Fernbank Museum in Atlanta, the Georgia Aquarium, The Atlanta Botanical Garden, and the Cochran Mill Nature Center.
  • They recently hosted a “water event” where they discussed the importance of water on all living things.  They also partnered with the Ryan’s Well, an organization that helps build water wells for poor villages around the world to ensure everyone has access to clean drinking water.   

Carter and Olivia have also received great recognition for their work.  They recently won the Grand Prize in a Nestles Heroes Contest, they were honored as guest speakers at Kids Are Heroes Day 2010, and they were just invited to be guest speakers at the Caring for Creation 2011 Conference at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.

You can help the OMG Foundation by making a donation on the donation page of their website.  You can also support them by making a purchase of a mug or shirt from their online store.  In addition, you can help spread the word about their efforts by sharing this post (click here to tweet this post).

I have listed just some of Carter and Olivia’s recent accomplishments here, but you can learn more on the OMG Foundation website or by reading their profile on the Kids Are Heroes website.  You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.


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Jason O’Neill

The  Blogunteer recently profiled the Kids Are Heroes organization and has profiled many of their heroes in the past.  Today we profile another hero, Jason O’Neill, a young entrepreneur with a giving spirit!

When Jason was only nine years old, he wanted make a product to sell at a craft fair.  He wanted a product that could make homework more fun.  The idea of the Pencil Bug was born.  With the help of his parents, Jason made his first Pencil Bug.  The bugs caught on very quickly he was soon busy taking orders and making new bugs on a regular basis.  Since then, Jason has also added t-shirts, laminated bookmarks, and greeting cards to his product line up.

But, this isn’t the real reason that the Blogunteer has chosen to profile Jason.  Since he started his business in 2005, he has been making donations to help other kids.  The first charity he selected was the HUGS Foster Family Agency where he lives.  Since 2008, Jason has been donating to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, California.  Each quarter he makes a unique donation for the kids in the hospital, including activity bags, toys, board games, crayons, coloring books, books, teddy bears, puzzles, and more!

This past weekend, Jason delivered more bears to the Rady Children’s Hospital!  For a video, please check out Jason’s website.

When asked about why he is involved with the Children’s Hospital, Jason says, “Most people think that I was probably in the hospital for one reason or another and that’s why I chose them.  The truth is, I have always been healthy, never had a broken bone and have never been in the hospital.  But I know there are some kids who aren’t as fortunate and can’t help that they have illnesses or injuries so I thought I could do my part and buy toys, games, books, and other activities for the kids that might help their stay in the hospital not so bad.”

Jason describes the teddy bear collection he started in 2009 as his most rewarding volunteer experience.  “My goal was 250 bears.  By the beginning of November, I had raised enough money (including my own from my Pencil Bugs business) to buy 400 teddy bears.  I thought that was a lot and was really happy.  Then the week of Thanksgiving, I was interviewed on the NBC news station in San Diego.  The very next day, my story hit MSN’s home page and donations started pouring in from all over the world.  Within a week or so, I had raised over $5,000 which allowed me to buy 1800 teddy bears — just a few more than my original goal.  We tied a donation tag on EACH bear with the person’s name who donated money.  It was a lot of work but definitely worth it.”

You can help Jason with his cause by purchasing Pencil Bugs products or his book, “Bitten By the Business Bug” from his website,  You can also follow Jason’s blog or connect with him on Twitter or Facebook to keep up to date with his fundraisers and projects.

Jason not only makes his own donations, he also encourages others to give.  “I think donating is just a part of life. If you can help someone else in some way, then people should.  A lot of people think you need to give a lot in order for it to count so if they can’t, they don’t do anything. I always remind people that even the smallest effort can make a huge difference in someone else’s life and a lot of times, you may not even know how you affect them but it still counts.”

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Posted by on December 21, 2010 in Volunteer Profile


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Kids Are Heroes

Sometimes I hear stories about today’s youth that make me wonder how the world will survive when that generation grows up.  But more often lately I have been hearing stories that make me realize that those are just bad eggs and the majority of youth today are good.  What is even better is that many kids today have a great heart and a giving spirit!  For example, remember our recent profile of Nicole who started Neighbors-4-Neighbors to collect food for food pantries across the country?  Or  Simone who started St Louis Volunteen to share and promote volunteer opportunities for young people?  Or Maria who started the Read Indeed book drive to collect a million books for kids in need?     

One organization working to showcase kids who do amazing things for other people is Kids Are Heroes.  This organization promotes the act of giving back to our youth.  The heroes profiled on the organization’s website serve as an inspiration to other kids to make a difference, not by telling them what to do, but by helping them find their passion and supporting them along the way. 

According to a post that co-founder Gabe O’Neill wrote on his blog about the beginning of Kids Are Heroes, “The concept is that parents lead their children to the site and the kids form their own ideas on how they can get involved.  Once they see what other kids are doing and how easy it is, they also become inspired to help.  Case in point: one of our neighbors (his name is John and he is 8 years old) who saw the site told his mom that he wants to do something too.  He is a real animal lover but he inherently knew that lots of people are already helping animals.  There aren’t many kids helping families with premature babies (John was premature himself).  So that is his cause – he has started an aluminum can drive to buy gift bags for families at hospitals who have ‘preemies’.  He is going to solicit Boyd’s Bears for clothing and ask people to knit little hats.  This is exactly what the website was designed to do.”

Since the website began in 2008, they have profiled over 150 children from four different countries!  Some of the projects include collecting items, such as cell phones, food, or blankets; campaigns to stop using plastic bags; garage sale fundraisers; and many more!  In addition to the profiles, the organization also hosts an annual Kids Are Heroes Day.  To read about Kids Are Heroes Day 2010, check out this post on O’Neill’s blog.

You can help Kids Are Heroes by sharing their website with others – especially those who work with children or have children.  You can also support the causes of the heroes profiled on their site or nominate a hero yourself!

You can find the Kids Are Heroes website at  You can also follow them on Twitter, Facebook or You Tube

Watch for more of the Kids Are Heroes kids to be profiled on the Blogunteer in the future!


Posted by on November 30, 2010 in Nonprofit Organization, Volunteer Profile


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Quite frequently someone sees or reads something that triggers their desire to help.  Less frequently, that person decides to start an organization to meet a need because of that desire to help.  Neighbors-4-Neighbors is an example of one of those organizations.

Neighbors-4-Neighbors is a project started by a 16 year old Virginian high school junior named Nicole.  She read in her local paper that donations to the food bank in her town were down due to the poor economy while simultaneously the need for food bank services was increasing.  Nicole began simply by one act of kindness, deciding to collect food donations from her sub-division of 12.  When she delivered her 220 pounds of food to the local food bank, she was told the donation would help feed 178 hungry neighbors.  She could have said that she did her good deed and stopped there, but she didn’t. 

Instead, she set a goal of a ton of collected food in the name of a new organization named Neighbors-4-Neighbors.  By the end of 2009 (just four months after starting), she had secured more than 5 tons (10,000 pounds) of food,  including donations from as far away as Hawaii and from the Governor of Alaska’s office.  By the end of 2010 she set a goal to have involvement from all 50 states – and has already met that goal. 

When asked about her most memorable volunteer experience, Nicole describes, “while dropping off collected donations, someone at the food bank who was utilizing their services said, with tears in her eyes, God Bless You.”   Nicole also enjoys how she has inspired a now 8 year old who last year at 7 read her an article about Nicole’s project and decided that she HAD to help.  Nicole’s youngest volunteer, Ryleigh, now 8, has collected over a ton of food as part of Neighbors-4-Neighbors between her two food drives.

Nicole also serves as one of only four student leaders who will be running a national food drive campaign in schools across the United States in March 2011 as part of Schools Serve, an organization based out of Massachusetts.  (Schools Serve was also recently profiled by The Blogunteer).

Individuals, groups, businesses, offices, schools, or anyone can organize a food drive as part of Neighbors-4-Neighbors.  Nicole has a template for fliers that can be sent to people who might want to do an office or a neighborhood food drive.  She also has notices that can be included in food donations to alert the food bank that donations are being provided as part of her national initiative.  People, then, email her the amount of donations they have made so that she can register it on a national tally that she meticulously maintains to verify all donations made as part of Neighbors-4-Neighbors.

Update: As of October 2012, people have donated more than 372,000 pounds of food as part of Neighbors-4-Neighbors.  Nicole has set a goal of collecting a 1/2 million pounds of food by the end of 2012.  Each October she runs a nation-wide food drive and in March she continues to work with Schools Fight Hunger for school food drives.  In November of 2011, Nicole was honored by Glamour magazine as one of their Amazing Young Women

You can follow Neighbors-4-Neighbors on Facebook or contact Nicole via e-mail

The mission of The Blogunteer is to inspire volunteerism, Nicole has a very inspiring quote in a recent newspaper article, “There is no better feeling than to go to bed knowing that an action and a simple one at that has made life better for someone else.  Everyone should try volunteering.  You won’t be able to stop.”  Nicole shows people across our country the difference that a single individual can make by simply taking action and instead of closing eyes to a social problem, becoming part of the solution to it.

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Posted by on November 18, 2010 in Nonprofit Organization, Volunteer Profile


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St Louis Volunteen

Some kids are amazing!  I recently came across a website called Kids Are Heroes that profiles kids who have made a difference in their community.  Today’s profile is about one of those kids…Simone.

Simone started St Louis Volunteen with her brother Jake when they were finding it hard to find volunteer opportunities that would welcome youth without their guardian or parent on site.  They took the initiative to create a website for area youth and local nonprofits. No previous website or resource existed.  The success of the website inspired them to also organize the first St Louis Youth and Family Volunteer Fair on April 11, 2010.

St Louis Volunteen’s mission is to spread the spirit of youth volunteerism in the St Louis Metropolitan community by offering a comprehensive website for youth ages 10-17 and families to easily find volunteer opportunities in the St. Louis and surrounding communities.  St Louis Volunteen provides a vehicle for non-profit organizations to promote their cause with an annual Youth and Family Volunteer Fair.  Over 1200 youth have found volunteer opportunities through the site and fair. The website is also listed as a resource link on several area school district websites.

A recent accomplishment of St Louis Volunteen was their Youth and Family Volunteer Fair.  It brought over 25 family and youth volunteer friendly organizations to share their mission with over 550 guests. The local Children’s Museum hosted the event and plan to make it an annual event.  The entry fee for this year’s fair was a can a food.  Over 550 young people attended the event donating over 850 pounds of food to a local food bank.  The 2nd Youth and Family Volunteer Fair is scheduled for April 10, 2011.

When asked why she volunteers, Simone says, “My parents really encouraged community service. My dad is on the local school board and is in the Navy. My mom volunteers in the elementary school. When my dad was deployed, the community jumped in to help out my family. It meant the world to my mom that our community was there to help if we needed something. I was very touched by the kindness and outpouring of support we received. I wanted to volunteer at the local VA to show my appreciation for those that serve and served our country. I also wanted to volunteer to understand the problems that exist in our community. I am fortunate that I have a roof over my head, food on the table and an opportunity for an education. Not everyone is as fortunate. I wanted to step away from my neighborhood and see if I could try making an impact in the community.”  Simone goes on to describe her most memorable volunteer experience, “I also volunteer at a crisis nursery that is open 24/7 for children in need. I was truly inspired when I was able to comfort a child and help them adjust to their temporary situation. I realized that one person can make a difference.”

In addition to volunteering, Simone also encourages non-profit organizations to accept youth volunteers.  She is also currently working on creating a national database and encourages youth and non-profits to promote Youth and Family Volunteer Fairs throughout the nation.

St Louis Volunteen maintains a website to promote youth volunteer opportunities.  They also post many short term and one time opportunities via Twitter.

Update: In March 2012, St Louis Volunteen went national!  You can find their national organization at


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Tabitha DeGruy – A Five Oh 4 Uplifting

Some people have every reason in the world to be crabby but it seems like in many cases those are the people who appear the most happy!  One such woman is Tabitha DeGruy.  She was born without a right arm, a left hard that is half the length of a normal arm, and at 9 months old her right leg had to be amputated.  She spent the first three years of her life were spent living in Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana due to birth abnormalities.

In October 1992, Tabitha started an organization called The Second Wind Club.  In 2007 they re-organized.  Tabitha remembers, “After a few hours we had a new name for our mission and a stronger game plan.  My life has been a truly blessed one and it’s only fitting that I share my blessings with others.”  The new organization is called A Five Oh 4 Uplifting.  They create goody bags, cards and “uplifting mail” for children in hospitals, children and adults battling any illness or disability, and children and women living in homeless shelters.  “We uplift anyone in need,” describes Tabitha. 

In addition to the goody bags and mail sent through her own organization, Tabitha also uplifts spirits through other organizations such as Make A Child Smile, Spirit Jump, Send Love Today, and Chemo Angels.

You can help Tabitha reach her goal of uplifting spirits and making others smile by sending donations of postage.  She will also accept donations of goody bag items.  You can find her address listed on her website

Learn more about Tabitha and her organization Afiveoh4uplifting at her website.  You can also watch a news story about Tabitha from KSAT – San Antonio here.

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Posted by on November 2, 2010 in Nonprofit Organization, Volunteer Profile


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Kari Ulrich

Volunteers are compelled to make a difference for a variety of reasons.  One fairly common reason is an illness or disease that has impacted your life.  Sometimes this is because a friend or family member received a diagnosis or maybe even you received a diagnosis for yourself.  Today’s volunteer profile is of a woman who is making a difference for others who are impacted by the same diagnosis she received. 

In 2007, Kari Ulrich was diagnosed with a disease called Fibromuscular Dysplasia (FMD).  At the time there was not a lot of information for patients and she found out very quickly that most doctors had very little knowledge (if any) regarding FMD.

According to, “FMD is an uncommon disorder characterized by abnormal cellular growth in the walls of medium and large arteries. This abnormal cellular growth may lead to a beaded appearance of the affected artery and narrowing (stenosis) in some cases. Most cases – 60 to 75 percent – occur in the renal artery, the artery leading from the abdominal aorta to the kidneys. Approximately 30 percent of cases involve the carotid arteries, the arteries in the neck that connect the heart and the brain. FMD also can affect the arteries to the legs or, less frequently, arteries in other parts of the body. In many cases, there is FMD found in multiple arteries of the body.” 

Since her diagnosis, Ulrich has helped others impacted by this disease. She helped a young girl named Ashleigh Botha from South Africa who had a very progressive form FMD get the help for her disease at Cleveland Clinic.  Ashleigh was only 16 at the time.  Ulrich states “I found her love of life inspiring.”

Last year Ulrich met Jennifer Moreen, who at 39 had a heart attack from undiagnosed FMD, once again she inspired by her positive attitude with what she had faced at such a young age.  Ulrich continues, “Jennifer also lives in Minnesota, so I asked Jennifer if she would like to start a support group with me. She agreed and we both decided along with the support group aspect of the group we wanted an educational component.”  So the Midwest Women’s Vascular Advocates (MWVA) began, with their first meeting being held in April 2010.

MWVA gives support to women who have been diagnosed and their families.  They offer opportunities to learn how to they can improve their quality of life through peer support and an educational component with qualified speakers from the health care community.  They do not provide medical advice or medical information.  Ulrich explains, “One of our main goals is to make people feel welcome and safe to share their experiences.  Our feedback from our participants has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Ulrich goes on to describe the reason she volunteers, “To give is the greatest gift of all.  Volunteering gives you an opportunity to change lives and I have personally found that volunteering has always given back to me double in what I have contributed.” 

To learn more about Midwest Women’s Vascular Advocates, visit their website at or connect with them on Facebook.  You can also connect with Kari Ulrich on Twitter.  You can also read Ashleigh Botha’s story at

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Posted by on October 28, 2010 in Volunteer Profile


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Amy Nylander

The Blogunteer is a new blog to profile volunteers, volunteer organizations, and volunteer events.  Our goal is to inspire volunteering and to help promote volunteer organizations you may not have heard of yet. 

Our first profile is Amy Nylander, a volunteer with many organizations. 

Amy is currently involved with the Relay for Life of Eden Prairie as the co-teams coordinator and team captain co-organizer of a vendor boutique fundraiser; The PROP Shop of Eden Prairie as the Director of Community Relations; and with the State Services for the Blind as a textbook recorder for the visually impaired.  In the past, she has been involved with Eden Prairie Destination Imagination, the ABC House selection committee, the PROP Holiday and School Supplies programs and almost every Parent Teacher Organization in Eden Prairie.

Attracted to causes that build community, Amy states, “When I’m at the Relay or the PROP Shop and see volunteers of all ages, genders, and walks of life, I feel positive about the future.”

But, building community isn’t the only thing that attracts Amy to volunteering.  “Volunteering is the best way to get things to change for the better. It isn’t about legislation. It isn’t about cash (although that helps – a lot). It’s about grass roots movements and people with their boots on the ground getting the job done. It’s also the best way to meet the best people. And it’s the best way to avoid doing laundry.”

Amy’s most memorable volunteer experiences focus on lasting change.  “It’s pretty neat to start a program and see it still in place years later. I can’t possibly pick just one moment. In the running would be harassing my book club (12 of the most patient woman in the world) into bringing kids socks and underwear to book club one month to be donated to clients at the PROP Shop. From there I asked a couple of other friends with book clubs and now the PROP Shop has 36 local book clubs in the Book Club Action Network. These folks have never met, but we’re all working together toward a common goal helping other people we’ve never met. There is something pretty special about anonymous acts of kindness.”

What would Amy recommend for first time volunteers?  “Anywhere you feel comfortable or that speaks to you. I like to start off in small way until I learn more about the organization. Being a team captain for a Relay team is a great start, but if that’s too scary just coming to a Relay and walking a few laps will familiarize you with the way Relay works.”

Other ideas from Amy include signing up for a shift at the PROP Shop or other local thrift store, offering to help local teachers with behind the scenes tasks, volunteering with animal organizations, and helping at your library.  According to Amy, a great idea is to talk to your friends about where they volunteer. “There’s a reason they keep returning to a place to help out.”

So, what other tips does Amy have to offer?  “Get your kids volunteering while they still do what you say.  If you wait until they’re in high school, it’s a lot harder to work volunteering into their busy lives and a lot harder to convince them it’s a good idea. Start early and it will become a way of life for them.”

To learn more about the organizations that Amy volunteers with, visit their websites here:
Eden Prairie Relay for Life:
PROP Shop:
MN State Services for the Blind:


Posted by on August 8, 2010 in Volunteer Profile


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