Category Archives: Civic Duty

Community Volunteers: Teach English as a Second Language (ESL)

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In today’s entry, Julian Omidi discusses the rewards of volunteering to be an English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor in your community.

One of the most rewarding pursuits for community-based volunteers is teaching. Every major U.S. city offers dozens of such positions through the public library system. Whether you live in Miami or Anchorage or anywhere in between, there is almost certainly a library volunteer program that could use your help as an ESL teacher/volunteer.

Teaching English as a second language to foreign immigrants, most of whom are newly arrived, is a great way to help those in need and to make your community more productive. For the majority of immigrants, job choices are extremely limited when they don’t speak functional English. Fluency is usually not the goal of these programs, but what linguists call “functional literacy” is.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to take on the challenging and exciting task of becoming an ESL volunteer teacher/tutor.

• Libraries will train you. You do not need to be a certified teacher in your state to work as an ESL volunteer. Just be ready to take about 10 to 20 hours of prep classes (some online) before you are allowed to step into the classroom.

• Your classes will include a mix of people from various countries. Typical groups you might end up teaching will include recent arrivals from Mexico, Somalia, China, Korea, and India.

• It generally takes about two or three months from the time you sign up until you are in the classroom teaching.

• Expect very small classes, most of which will not have more than six students.

• Library volunteer programs will give you everything you need in the way of books and supplies, but you might want to invest in a few inexpensive pocket dictionaries to cover the various languages your students speak. That way, you will be able to look up a word or phrase now and then when the course materials are insufficient.

• Learn to speak slowly and clearly so your students can understand and hear the words they already know. Practice using simple sentence structure and common words.

Helping immigrants adapt to their new country is a rewarding way to invest your time as a volunteer. As a bonus, you will likely acquire many new friends during your stint as an ESL teacher, and you’ll learn a great deal about other cultures. Sign up at your local library if you are interested in this kind of volunteer work.

Be good to each other,

Julian Omidi

Julian Omidi, along with his brother Dr. Michael Omidi and mother Cindy Omidi, are advocates and co-founders of numerous nonprofit organizations, including Civic Duty and many others.

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Facts for Prospective AmeriCorps Volunteers

julianIn today’s blog, Julian Omidi, co-founder of Civic Duty, discusses AmeriCorps, the U.S.-based community volunteer agency.

If you have ever considered joining up with America’s largest and most effective national volunteer organization, AmeriCorps, learn some of the key facts so you’ll be able to choose your niche within the vast network. AmeriCorps is indeed huge, with volunteers able to donate their time among various causes like, education, environmental cleanup, public safety, health care and others.

Since it began in 1994, AmeriCorps has witnessed rapid growth. Currently, about 80,000 people participate each year. If you think AmeriCorps is for you, here are some points to help you decide, as well as information about signing up:

• There are three parts to AmeriCorps; State/National, National Community Civilian Corps, and VISTA. Each has a different focus.

• State/National volunteers donate about 1,700 hours over an 11-month period, and receive a living allowance, child care assistance, tuition awards, and health benefits. Most work in their local communities doing a wide range of activities, from after-school tutoring to home building.

• National Community Civilian Corps volunteers is a full-time, residential program for people between the ages of 18 and 24. There are five campuses around the U.S., each of which serves as a staging ground for a vast array of team-oriented volunteer tasks.

• VISTA (volunteers in service to America) used to be a stand-alone organization before it was incorporated into AmeriCorps in 1993. The focus of Vista is poverty. Right now, about 5,000 Vista workers do their best to bring low-income families out of poverty.

If you would like to know more, or better yet sign up for AmeriCorps, visit the organization’s official website. People who are serious about community service and civic duty often end up in either AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps, two of the most famous, and effective, volunteer entities that have ever existed.

Be good to each other,
Julian Omidi
Julian Omidi, is co-founder of Civic Duty, a nonprofit that works to encourage community volunteering.

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Je Suis Charlie?

Omidi Family Je Suis Charlie

Julian Omidi writes about the recent shooting in Paris, France. The victims were journalists and cartoonists from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

In the wake of shooting at the Charlie Hebdo office, emotions are stirring in France and around the world. The shooting in Paris occurred on Wednesday. Two masked, heavily armed men entered the office during an editorial meeting and opened fire, killing two policemen and ten journalists.

The satirical magazine is notorious for offending religious communities. Muslims around the world protested several cartoon depictions of their prophet that Charlie Hebdo published. The shooting was allegedly in response to the way the magazine has portrayed Muslims. Witnesses told police one of the gunmen shouted, “We have avenged the prophet. We killed Charlie Hebdo.”

Earlier today, the two men responsible for the Charlie Hebdo shooting and another were killed after taking a hostage. They can no longer instill fear into the communities of Paris.

Words and violence

Charlie Hebdo tried hard to offend nearly any group of people. Self-described as “Journal irresponsable” (irresponsible magazine), it is an equal opportunity offender. They have taken shots at the right, the left, Catholics, Muslims, Jews, and nearly any other group you can think of. They used words and symbols, which can hurt, but words never require a violent response.

The old nursery rhyme, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” comes to mind. It is used to convince taunting victims to refrain from physical retaliation. It reminds them that words do not physically harm anyone and to choose appropriate responses to provocation.

Charlie Hebdo certainly is guilty of provocation. But civilized societies have no place for this type of response to cartoons. Are the remarks and cartoons of Charlie Hebdo civil? That is certainly up for debate, but the actions of these murderers are most certainly not.

Where do we go from here?

You’ll probably see articles and comments from your friends on Facebook about this most recent tragedy and the events that inspired it. People are claiming the magazine has some responsibility in the shooting because of the nature of the views they expressed.

Should people in free societies be allowed to publicly humiliate large groups based on their beliefs? That, too is up for debate. One thing is certain: Free societies cannot let murderers dictate what can and can’t be said. The fear of violence should not determine what people can or cannot say.

How do we go on from here? Do we put an end to offensive speech? In an ideal world, maybe. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We should aim for the standard of knowing what we say could attract violence, but speaking out as though there is no threat. This is the nature of courage.

Be good to each other,

Julian Omidi

Julian Omidi and the Omidi family, Cindy Omidi and Dr. Michael Omidi, are founders of several charities aimed at improving lives for humans and animals around the world.

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Leslye Borden – Founder of Handmade Especially for You

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Julian Omidi profiles the founder of Handmade Especially for You, Leslye Borden.

Sometimes, having someone make a kind and thoughtful gesture, even if it is small, can make all the difference in our feelings of self worth.  People who have suffered years of abuse might have been conditioned to believe that simple kindness is something they will never either experience or deserve, but one organization, Handmade Especially for You, seeks to give people without hope a ray of handmade sunshine.[1]

Leslye Borden’s organization Handmade Especially for You, gives battered and abused women heartfelt, hand-knitted comfort scarves, which might be one of the few pieces of clothing the women have managed to retain after fleeing their dangerous conditions.  These scarves are colorful, lovingly packaged and created by groups of volunteers from all over the world.  Ms. Borden works with legions of recruits from church groups, retirement communities and community centers in order to produce the brightly patterned, cheerful scarves.  Since the organization’s inception in 2008, more than 57,000 scarves have been knitted and distributed to women in abuse shelters all over the United States.

Ms. Borden’s organization was founded shortly after she sold her stock photo business in 2007.  An avid knitting enthusiast, she spent her days knitting gifts for her grandchildren.  Scarves, sweaters, slippers, mittens, hats; any item of clothing that could be fabricated with yarn and needles.  When the number of articles began to overwhelm her family, she began donating the items to local shelters, and actively seeking organizations that needed knitted clothing.  When she found a Chicago shelter looking for knitted scarves for the rape survivors it helped, the concept of Handmade Especially for You was born.

Many of the volunteers are abuse survivors themselves.  Domestic abuse survivors are underrepresented members of society; they have little political or economic clout, so they are woefully unserved.  Organizations such as Handmade Especially for You bring the problem of domestic violence to the fore by encouraging survivors, witnesses of domestic abuse and those who haven’t been personally affected to work together to give a neglected segment of society a gift and a helping hand.

Handmade Especially for You is currently seeking facilities to house the supplies and scarves, as well as serve as a workshop for volunteers.  Currently, Ms. Borden keeps the supplies and donations in her home, which, thanks to the generosity of benefactors and volunteers, is becoming overwhelmed.

There are several satellite workshops where people can gather to knit and inspect scarves in accordance with Handmade’s specifications.  However, for those whose schedules or obligations do not allow them to visit one of the organized workshops, Handmade has patterns and kits for people to use when working on their own.  The organization has been highlighted by Oprah.com, as being a worthy volunteer opportunity for people who want to serve a charity from home.

We at Civic Duty would like to applaud Ms. Borden and her organization, not only for the invaluable service they provide to a vulnerable segment of the population, but also for bringing the problem of domestic abuse to greater public consciousness.  Handmade Especially for You also gives survivors as well as people untouched by domestic violence the opportunity to gather together and learn about each other, which is essential if we are going to increase empathy and understanding of this tragic problem.

By Julian Omidi

 

[1] Lubinskey, Annie: Local ‘Hero’ Offers Comfort to Abused Women Palos Verdes Peninsula News 3/5/2014 http://www.pvnews.com/news/local-hero-offers-comfort-to-abused-women/article_c9640b6e-a492-11e3-a0f4-0019bb2963f4.html

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Doctors Without Borders Removed from Myanmar

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Myanmar Protesters surround Sittwe in Rakhine late February – Photo credited to CNN.com

In the following article, Julian Omidi discusses the expulsion of Doctors Without Borders from the Rakhine region of Myanmar.  The organization was dismantled due to the government’s assertion that Rohingya Muslims were being favored over the Rakhine Buddhists, but tensions between the two groups extends far beyond access to medical services.  Julian Omidi is cofounder of the organization No More Poverty with his brother, Dr. Michael Omidi.


The activities of the nonprofit organization Doctors Without Borders have been suspended in Myanmar, due to governmental accusations that Rohingya Muslims were receiving preferential treatment over Rakhine Buddhists.  The two ethnic groups have been in conflict since the British colonial era, and the hatred of the Muslim population is widespread and generally accepted.  It has been theorized that, by shutting down Doctors Without Borders, there will be fewer international witnesses to violent outbursts against Rohingya Muslims.[1]


The medical services provided by Doctors Without Borders are the only treatments available to the Rohingya Muslims.  They have been denied citizenship in Myanmar by order of law, and in 2012 were forced to relocate to internment camps and ethnic ghettos.  Although Doctors Without Borders has been accused of giving Muslims special favor, there are no medical facilities available to the Rohingya Muslim population, as the government-run clinics are situated outside of the districts in which the Muslims are allowed to live.


Although the International Red Cross is still permitted to operate, Doctors Without Borders is the largest healthcare provider in the Rakhine region.  More than a quarter million people receive treatment from Doctors Without Borders facilities.  Since the restriction of services began, it has been estimated that 150 people have died due to having been denied medical care.


Doctors Without Borders was the only resource for chronically ill Rohingya Muslims.  Those with tuberculosis, malaria and H.I.V. who have depended upon medications supplied by Doctors Without Borders might not have a reliable supply for the foreseeable future.  Government officials have stated that medications donated by Doctors Without Borders will continue to be distributed, but exactly how this is to be achieved has not been made clear.


For the past several years, anti-Muslim actions have been intensifying.  Monks regularly include anti-Muslim rhetoric in their sermons; local politicians are lobbying to prohibit the Rohingya from identifying themselves as such on the national census for fear of confirming the numbers are higher than governmental estimates.  However, the most disturbing trend is the violence against whole families – including children.  One gruesome incident involved the slaughter and decapitation of 10 Rohingya men, whose heads were left in a water tank.  While the violence is not technically sanctioned by the government, little has been done to prevent it or punish those who have perpetrated it.


Because Myanmar is working to gain international acceptance, it is critical that the United Nations as well as both western and eastern governments make it perfectly clear that ethnic cleansing will neither be encouraged nor tolerated.  The lessons of Rwanda, Bosnia and Sudan have been recently learned – we can only hope that they have also not been quickly forg [1] Perlez, Jane: Ban on Doctors’ Group Imperils Muslim Minority in Myanmar New York Times 3/13/2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/14/world/asia/myanmar-bans-doctors-without-borders.html?src=recg&module=Ribbon&version=context&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Recommended&pgtype=article&_r=0 By Julian Omidi

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In the Spotlight: Dan Wallrath – Founder of Operation Finally Home

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Julian Omidi discusses the work of Dan Wallrath, founder of Operation Finally Home, an organization that builds and remodels homes for United States Service men and women.

United States armed forces men and women face unimaginable challenges every day of their services.  The stress and anxiety of performing their duties along with the terror of realizing that every new day might bring some circumstance that might forever change – or even end – their lives, is more than many of us could bear.  However, if a soldier finds himself seriously injured, he could face a series of difficulties for which he might not be prepared.  This is where Dan Wallrath comes in.[1]

For three decades, Mr. Wallrath build and remodeled the homes of wealthy clients.  When Mr. Wallrath met the father of a 20-year-old injured marine in 2005, he saw first hand the struggles of American veterans with coping with day-to-day realities.  The veteran had once been a large, hale, and hearty marine, but his injuries had depleted him to the point where he weighed approximately half of what he did when he enlisted.

The veteran’s father wanted to construct a wheelchair ramp and other amenities so that his son could access the family home more easily, but he didn’t have the money to do so.  Mr. Wallrath volunteered his services, and convinced several other contractors to contribute their resources to the effort.  After the project was finished, Mr. Wallrath decided that there were service men and women all over the country that could be facing the same thing, and Operation Finally Home was born.

To date, Operation Finally Home has built 44 homes for injured veterans.  The homes are mortgage-free, and the organization even pays the taxes and insurance fees for one year, while the veteran goes back to school, or establish new careers.  The time allows the veterans to become financially stable enough to take the reigns, and begin whole new lives.

In addition to the 44 homes already built, Operation Finally Home has 42 homes currently under construction.  The organization works with carpenters, plumbers, electricians and builders’ associations in 17 states.  The economic downturn has made the home building and remodeling services even more vital.

Mr. Wallrath has retired from his home building profession in order to devote all of his time and effort to his crusade.  According to Mr. Wallrath, “It really broke my heart to think (about) these young men and women.  It was like someone hit me upside the head with a 2×4. … I just felt like this is what God wants me to do.”

Mr. Wallrath’s contribution to these men and women is more than just material – it gives them the chance to give their lives a much-needed boost.  We at Civic Duty salute Mr. Wallrath and his organization, and we hope that his efforts continue to bring hope and stability to these men and women who couldn’t be more deserving.

By Julian Omidi


[1] Toner, Kathleen: Building Free Homes for Wounded Vets CNN.com 12/18/2013 http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/06/us/cnnheroes-wallrath-operation-finally-home/index.html

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In the Spotlight: The Heroes Project

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Julian Omidi spotlights The Heroes Project, an organization that takes United States Armed Forces veterans – many of whom have suffered life-altering injuries – on mountain climbing expeditions in order to help them recover their sense of purpose and determination.

The world needs heroes – we also need to endeavor to deserve them.  The United States Armed Forces men and women perform heroic duties every day.  They put their lives on the line in inhospitable countries for our protection and freedom, and we must pay them back by doing everything we can to make their transition back to civilian life welcoming, harmonious and prosperous.

The Heroes Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving veterans the support they have earned throughout their difficult service.  It is a wonderful organization, and it was born out of a deep respect and admiration for every man and woman who has given him/herself over to dedicated, selfless service.

The Heroes Project was started by Tim Medvetz, a former Hell’s Angel who spent many years engaging in high-adrenaline sports and activities.  After he crashed his motorcycle in 2000 and spent years in physical therapy and recovery, he decided to challenge his physical and emotional limits by climbing Mt. Everest.  After 4 years of training and one aborted attempt, he reached his goal in May of 2007.  His experience recovering from his almost crippling injuries coupled with the purpose and thrill of achieving his goal led him to want to share it with the members of the community that he strongly felt deserved to have the feeling of vitality and determination restored to them: Injured U.S. veterans.

The Heroes Project has so far sponsored mountain climbing expeditions for several veterans – two in 2009 that were filmed in order to show other veterans what they are capable of.  The expeditions were up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mt. Elbrus in Russia.

In addition to sponsoring, training and guiding veterans on climbing expeditions, The Heroes Project also acts as a lobbying and advocacy organization for veteran’s rights and services, including educational opportunities, empowerment programs and programs for military families.

Civic Duty is honored to sponsor the Heroes Project and its upcoming Everest Climb event.  The Everest Climb will take place in March of 2014.

We are truly blessed to have a group of people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for our safety and security.  We at Civic Duty cannot offer these men and women enough praise, and we hope that our support of The Heroes Project will help it to continue to offer these spectacular, life-changing opportunities for many years into the future.

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