Volunteer Guilt and Taking Pride in the Small Wins

Volunteer Guilt and Taking Pride in the Small Wins

Time is a funny creature.  The older I get, the faster it seems to go and the less of it I seem to have.   I never feel like I can find enough time to accomplish even the basic day-to-day tasks like cleaning the house, going grocery shopping, cooking a nutritious meal, hitting the gym, or walking the dogs.  I often find myself yearning for and craving more time; more time to travel, more time to spend with my husband, more time to visit friends, more time to read, and more time to give back.

Over the past year, especially, I have berated myself for not giving enough time to the causes I am most passionate about.  I have been overcome with what I call volunteer guilt, which I define as a feeling of inadequacy, culpability, or self-reproach for actual or perceived laziness or inaction in the service of others, usually resulting in a weariness of mind and a sense of hopelessness and futility.

volŸunŸteer guilt – noun –  vä-lən-ˈtir ’gilt

(1)  a feeling of inadequacy, culpability, or self-reproach for actual or perceived laziness or inaction in the service of others, usually resulting in a weariness of mind and a sense of hopelessness and futility.

Volunteer guilt generally accompanies a vicious cycle of internalized chastisement and excuse making.  After a relentless internal dialogue rebuking myself, I begin to tell myself how understandable my idleness has been.  That internal dialogue goes something like, “It’s okay, Carly.  You have had a big year.  You finished grad school, started a new job, planned a wedding, bought a house, adopted puppies, planned your best friend’s bridal shower and bachelorette party, and went to two out-of-state weddings.”  But I ultimately find a flaw in this rationale and the cycle starts again.

As I reflect on the past year and make goals for the coming year, I realize that I’m not alone.  Americans are consistently spread too thin in the busy, constantly on-the-go culture in which we live.  Rather than paralyze ourselves with volunteer guilt, we need to have realistic expectations; strive always to do everything in our power and within our emotional, physical, and mental capacity; and find pride in the small wins.

What are the small wins?  I think they will vary for each person and their unique circumstances, it just requires a little creativity and forethought.  But over the past year, my small wins have included the following:

1)   When my husband and I moved into our new house, we set aside some of our gently used furniture and household items (a blender, bookcase, sofa, luggage, etc.) because we knew we would replace those items with wedding gifts and new purchases.  I posted a photo of those items on Facebook and mentioned that I planned to donate them to the Welcome to America Project.  A friend of mine saw the post and called WTAP because her company (another local non-profit) had acquired some gently used furniture they wanted to get rid of.  It ended up being a huge donation of needed items for WTAP.

2)   In lieu of traditional wedding favors, my husband and I opted to donate money to the Welcome to America Project.  We gave our wedding guests bookmarks, designed by my husband’s sister and printed by his mother, telling them about our donation and about WTAP.

3)   I often shared WTAP’s social media posts with my social media network.  Although it doesn’t seem like much, a grassroots organization like WTAP depends on its volunteers to educate the community about its mission and its needs.  Oftentimes, both in-kind and money donations filter in because WTAP’s volunteer base share their passion with others.

4)   I wrote a blog about my experience at WTAP’s signature fundraiser, Prom.   But you could write about a million things: an ethnic recipe you’ve tried, an ethnic restaurant review, an experience volunteering on a delivery, how you budget and/or save money to contribute to volunteer organizations like WTAP, your experience at a WTAP event, etc.

5)   I was, and continue to be, a social media volunteer.  I posted various items throughout the year on Facebook.  This is such a great, non-time consuming way to consistently give back to WTAP.

Now that I feel like life is a little more predictable, my goal for 2014 is to volunteer on a delivery one time per quarter – because there is absolutely no feeling that can compare to seeing a barren apartment transformed into a warm and welcoming home for a refugee family.  There is nothing quite like watching a refugee child light up when presented with a book, stuffed animal, or game.  And nothing feels better than the gratitude, hospitality, and smiles from the refugee families we help.

What are your small wins?  Please share with us!


Prom 2013 Recap

“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, love like you’ll never be hurt, sing like there’s nobody listening, and live like it’s heaven on earth.” ― William W. Purkey

“It is one of those strange and magical nights where you are never quite sure what is going to happen.”  – Angie Combs


Prom 2013, Puttin’ on the Glitz, was a smashing success all thanks to you, our generous guests, volunteers, and even those who couldn’t make it to the event.  The Welcome to America Project not only met but exceeded our fundraising goal while also creating a fun and entertaining environment for prom-goers.

Our 2013 Prom King and Queen were obvious winners, picked for their unique outfits and enthusiastic and energetic personalities.  It was great to see all the prom attendees really getting into the spirit of the event and having a lot of fun in the process.

Enjoy our small preview of prom photos below and if you would like to view more:

  • Click here and visit our website’s gallery;
  • ‘Like’ us on Facebook and view our Facebook album;
  • Or purchase prints by clicking here, type in the password: glitznight

Reinventing Prom

Carly's Senior Prom, Circa 2005

Prom is an exciting time for most high school students – a veritable right-of-passage.  Girls eagerly await an invitation from their crush.  They fantasize over what creative method the boys will use to capture their attention and possibly their hearts.  The girls despair when prom draws near and no one has yet asked them to the dance.  They anxiously wonder if someone will ask them in time and lament any possibility that their fate might result in the shame of going stag.


Outside of the ritualistic angst, prom also represents the closing of an important chapter in life.  It is a time to make memories and spend cherished moments with friends before embarking on the journey to adulthood.


Carly's Junior Prom, Circa 2004

My prom memories include being serenaded by my guitar-playing friend during third-period choir.  Tyler surprised me by breezing into my class and singing to me before asking me to be his date.  He then cleverly devised a group date in which his parents dressed up as professional wait-staff and served us and two other couples a fancy meal of chicken cordon bleu.


The following year, I was asked to the dance by an underclassman.  With his friends, our pre-prom activity involved paintball.  I had a blast despite my worries about getting pegged in the arms and sustaining a giant bruise that would forever be memorialized in photos.


After meeting my soon-to-be husband during my senior year in college, I realized how much I wish I could have shared every moment of my life with him.  I wish he could have been part of the experiences that formed me into the person I am today.  Conversely, I wish I could have been part of his childhood.  I wanted to know the cute little kid I had seen in photos.  I wanted to observe the goofy, and somewhat nerdy, high school student he and his family could only tell me about.


I ultimately decided that while we couldn’t relive our past with each other in it, I could create new memories that might parallel those transformative life experiences.  The Welcome to America Project Prom presented the perfect opportunity to dress up and dance in a prom-like setting.


This time, I wouldn’t eagerly anticipate someone asking me to prom…I would do the asking!  I sent my then boyfriend half a dozen cupcakes with “Prom?” written on them.    I included a note that said, “They say the way to a man’s heart is through his tummy.  I hope I can entice you with something yummy!”


Of course he said yes!  Attending the WTAP Prom with the love of my life was absolutely more fun and exciting than my high school prom.  I was more confident in myself and I was able to share it with someone I truly loved.


WTAP Prom Circa 2011


A Taste of the World

Human experiences, when shared with others, can have a profound impact. One person’s personal account of struggle, strife, and sorrow can inspire, mobilize, and impel change. Christina Rini of Indonesia describes the one story that changed her life and ultimately the lives of eight other international students studying at SCC:

At “One night in Iraq”, an amazing evening with Welcome to America Project (WTAP), I heard one sad story. The woman was in the US military service in Iraq.  She witnessed every sorrow. People were without homes. Children were separated from their parents. People lost their entire families. Teens lost their innocence. You could trust no one.

My fellow international students and I, from eight different countries, have been deeply moved by the stories and experiences of refugee families we’ve met while delivering furniture or at events like One Night in Iraq. So we have decided to raise funds to support the great work of WTAP

Christina and her international friends were so moved by the stories they heard, the group resolved to plan, coordinate, and host an annual event benefitting the Welcome to American Project.  “A Taste of the World” is a project in collaboration with the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) and the Scottsdale Hospitality Club.

“A Taste of the World” will be held Saturday, March 23rd from 3:00-6:00 PM at the First Baptist Church Scottsdale.  This is the second annual “A Taste of the World” festival and will feature music, dance, food, and cultural presentations.  Tickets cost $20.00 per person.

To get your taste buds interested and your mind intrigued, Christina and her group shared a taste of some of the cuisine you might expect to try at the event.


Gajjar Ka Halwa (Carrot Pie) – India

Gajjar Ka Halwa – or Carrot Pie – is one of the most common desserts in India and is a particular favorite especially during the winter season. In addition, Gajjar Ka Halwa is part of almost any formal dinner.





2 Cups grated carrots
1 Tbsp ghee (Clarified Butter)
2 Tbsp milk
4 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp mava (khoya)**
1 Tbsp raisins
1 Tbsp chopped almonds
½ tsp cardamom powder
** Khoya Substitute: 2 Tbsp unsalted Ricotta cheese, 1 Tbsp Butter, 2 Tbsp Dry milk powder



  1. Heat the ghee in a pressure cooker: add carrots and sauté in a medium flame for 4 – 5 minutes. Stirring continuously.
  2. Add the milk, mix well and pressure cook for a while.
  3. Allow the steam to escape before opening the lid.
  4. Transfer into a broad non-stick pan. Add the sugar, mix well and cook on a high flame for 5 -7 minutes while stirring continuously.
  5. Add the raisins, almonds and cardamom and cook for another minute.
  6. Serve hot or warm.
  7. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes to reach a thick consistency.

About the Event:

A Taste of the World

Saturday, March 23

3:00–6:00 PM

First Baptist Church Scottsdale
7025 E. Osborn Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251


Admission is $20.00 per person and can be purchased in advance or at the door on the day of the event. If you cannot attend, please consider sponsoring a refugee to join the dinner for $20. For more information or to purchase a ticket in advance: http://www.wtap.org/events/

An International cookbook with over 40 recipes from around the world is also available for just $10.00. The cookbooks are available on-line at www.wtap.org, or at the event. The cookbook will also have a biography of the students involved in the project. This would make a great gift for family or friends.


FOR DONATIONS: Please make checks payable to: Scottsdale Community College. In Memo please write: WTAP fundraiser.

Please mail to:

ATTN:   Janelle Hoffman
Hospitality and Tourism, Office: AP-246
9000 East Chaparral Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85256-2626

All proceeds from the event and the cookbook sales will directly benefit refugee families served by WTAP.

About the Organizers:

Scottsdale Community College students: This project is a collaboration with the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) (international students) and the Scottsdale Hospitality Club.

The Community College Initiative Program (CCIP) provides an opportunity for international students from developing countries to attend U.S. community colleges for one year through a US State Department grant. The program is comprised of academic course work, cultural enrichment and exchange activities, community service and field experience. Students benefit from getting to know local host families, learning about American society and democratic values, and attending leadership development programs. After completing the one-year program, participants return home with new skills and expertise to help them contribute to the economic growth and development of their countries and societies.

Scottsdale Community College Hospitality Club: The club’s purpose is to engage hotel, restaurant management and culinary arts students who have a desire for building a career in the hospitality and tourism industry. Every year students participate in community service projects.

Arizona Gives Day

One Day Goes a Long Way:  Arizona Gives Day, March 20, 2013

The Welcome to America Project is pleased to announce our participation in the inaugural Arizona’s Gives Day. Join us on March 20, 2013 and help us continue to raise awareness for refugees fleeing war and persecution as well as providing them with tangible support in their new home here in Arizona.

Arizona Gives Day is a joint effort to leverage the collective energy of our nonprofit community. If you give a dollar on Arizona Gives Day, nonprofits will show you change. This is a first-ever statewide day of giving in Arizona and we are counting on you!

Your donation of $15 on Arizona Gives Day can provide a healthy home for refugees in the community. Mark your calendar and please help us by spreading the word and pledging to make a donation at www.azgives.org.

With your support, we hope to raise more than $1,000 on Arizona Gives Day! Follow us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheWelcometoAmericaProject) so you can join in on this exciting day of giving!

We need you to help us with these three things:

1) Mark March 20th on your calendar and add this link to your webpage (http://azgives.razoo.com/story/The-Welcome-To-America-Project)

2) Make sure to Like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheWelcometoAmericaProject)!

3) Finally, spread the word!  Start sharing our Facebook page and this blog with your family and friends along with a personal note as to why you believe in The Welcome to America Project mission and why they deserve support on March 20th.

Every day The Welcome to America Project is making a difference by providing basic necessities and support to newly arriving refugees. Now more than ever, your investment means the world to The Welcome to America Project and the funds would benefit this highly vulnerable population. Thanks for supporting WTAP!


Burmese Shrimp Curry

Burmese refugees began making Arizona their new home in 2001. The arrival of Burmese refugees reached their peak in 2009 when 908 were resettled in the state. While the number arriving each year has dropped off significantly (only 174 new Burmese refugees arrived in 2012), Arizona can boast about its significant and vibrant Burmese refugee community. In total, since 2001, Arizonans have welcomed 3,808 Burmese refugees into our communities. In terms of total number resettled, the Burmese population ranks sixth behind Vietnam (1), Iraq (2), Bosnia (3), Cuba (4), and Somalia (5).

In honor of Burmese culture, here is a Burmese recipe. If you try it out, tell us about your experience. Also, if you have a favorite ethnic recipe to share, send us a message! We love highlighting the stories of our volunteers.

Burmese Shrimp Curry
From Javaholic

Generous 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup minced shallots
1 small clove of garlic, peeled and minced
3 TBS peanut oil
1/8 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 cups chopped ripe tomatoes or canned crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup water
2 tsp fish sauce
2 green cayenne chiles, seeded and minced, or to taste
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
About 1/4 cup cilantro leaves (optional)
1 lime, cut into wedges (optional)

Rinse the shrimp and set aside. (I boil the shells in water, strain and reserve the water and use this in place of the water called for in the recipe.) With a mortar, pound the minced shallots and garlic to a paste.

Heat the oil in a wok or a wide heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turmeric and stir, then toss in the shallot and garlic paste. Lower the heat to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, about two minutes until softened but not browned. Add the tomatoes and cook for several minutes at a medium boil, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are well softened and the oil has risen to the surface.

Add the water and fish sauce, bring back to a medium boil, and add the shrimp. Cook just until the shrimp start to turn pink, then toss in the minced chiles, stir briefly, and remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Turn out into a bowl, top with the cilantro leaves, if using (and they certainly add to the dish), and put out lime wedges if you wish. Serve hot or at room temperature.

*Arizona resettlement data comes from the Arizona Department of Economic Security website.

Adopt-a-Family Reflections

Adopt-a-Family is an annual event hosted by the Welcome to America Project.  It aims to bring American families together with their new refugee neighbors.  Participants can share their favorite holiday traditions, bring gifts or treats, and talk about life in their respective countries.  This year’s event was held on December 15th.  The following is one volunteer family’s experience.

On Saturday, while it was wet and cold outside, my husband and our two teenaged boys went to visit a family of seven that fled Iraq and arrived in Phoenix only four months ago. We approached their modest home in North Phoenix just as the translator arrived, and emptied our car of the gifts that we had brought in hopes of bringing some comfort to this new family in their new home.

Immediately, we were ushered into the family’s living room where the grandmother and mother asked if they could bring us a warm drink. Shortly, coffee, tea and a plethora of home baked goods – including some Iraqi specialties – arrived in beautiful glass cups and on silver platters.

While we were nibbling on the goodies, the children came in to say hello. We mentioned that most of the packages were for them and that, if it was OK with the parents, they were welcome to open the presents. The two older girls dragged the boxes into their room and a few minutes later came out with big grins on their faces and kind words of thanks. They even helped the younger twins open their gifts – one of which was a noisy toy that was happily enjoyed for the rest of our visit!

The family had escaped Iraq due to safety concerns during and after the war. Thankfully, they had family already here in Phoenix and have been able to adjust quickly. The two older girls are thriving in school and the younger ones seem quite well adjusted. We talked about the differences between Iraq and America, and found that we had many interests in common despite the distance between the country in which we were raised.

For our family, reaching out to a neighbor, sitting and having coffee and tea, watching children open presents, and knowing that our small tokens made someone feel welcome in our country, helped us to celebrate the holiday season for what it truly is – a time to remember that Love came into the world to show us how to live with one another. We are grateful to Julia, Ophelia and The Welcome to America Project for giving us a chance to live our commitment to love and care for our neighbors.

– The Thomas Family

G’shur Purtaghal (Candied Citrus Peels)

Courtesy yumsugar.com

Candied Citrus Peel

If you’re interesting in trying something new to satiate your sweet tooth, look no further than G’shur Purtaghal, a treat popular among Iraqis.  G’shur Purtaghal, or Candied Citrus Peels, is easy to make and requires only fruit and sugar.  You can experiment with different varieties of citrus, including grapefruit, oranges, lemons, and limes.  Best of all, you can package them in a creative way and give them alongside your traditional cookies and Christmas goodies to friends, family, and neighbors.

If you give one of these recipes a try, let us know how they turned out.

Recipe #1


  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • 2 oranges
  • Water
  • 3½ cups sugar
  • Cooking spray


  1. Using a sharp knife or vegetable peeler, carefully peel thin strips of grapefruit and orange rind (peel). Remove only the colorful part of the peel, leaving as much pith (the bitter white skin just under the peel) as possible. Save fruit for another use.
  2. Place the peels into a saucepan and cover with water.
  3. Bring to a boil and cook over medium to high heat, about 10 minutes.
  4. Drain in a strainer. Repeat this procedure 2 more times to remove the bitterness of the peel.
  5. Pour 1¼ cups water into medium saucepan. Add 1½ cups of the sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce heat to medium and add peel.
  7. Simmer, stirring frequently, until the syrup is absorbed, about 45 minutes.
  8. Cover a cookie sheet with waxed paper and spray the waxed paper with the cooking spray.
  9. Arrange the peels on the papered cookie sheet and cool for at least 3 hours.
  10. Put remaining sugar into a plastic bag. Add the peels and shake until they are well covered.
  11. Place them an another piece of wax paper and let dry overnight.

Serves 6 to 8 as a snack.

Read more: http://www.foodbycountry.com/Germany-to-Japan/Iraq.html#ixzz2Ez9QclCU

Recipe #2


8 oranges, 10 lemons, or 6 grapefruits*
6 cups sugar, plus more for rolling


  1. Cut ends off fruit, and halve fruit lengthwise.
  2. Insert the tip of a small paring knife carefully between fruit and pith about 1/2 inch deep and cut, following the shape of the fruit and keeping skin in one piece. Turn fruit on other end and repeat.
  3. Using fingers, gently pull the peel away. Reserve fruit for another use.
  4. Place citrus peel in a 6-quart pot; fill with enough cold water to cover (about 3 quarts). Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer 20 minutes. Drain. Soak peel in cold water until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes.
  5. Using a melon baller, scrape the soft white pith from the peel, being careful not to tear or cut the skin.
  6. Slice each piece of peel lengthwise into thin strips 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide.
  7. Stir together sugar and 3 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, about 8 minutes.
  8. Add strips and reduce heat to medium-low. Using a pastry brush dipped in cold water, wash down any sugar crystals that form on the sides of the pan. Simmer until strips are translucent and syrup thickens, about 40 minutes. Let the strips cool completely in syrup for 3 hours (or overnight). Strips can be refrigerated in syrup in an airtight container up to 3 weeks.
  9. For sugared peel, remove strips with a slotted spoon. Using fingers, wipe off as much excess syrup as possible, and roll strips in sugar. Let dry.

Makes 1 1/2 cups.

*If using grapefruit, adapt the recipe since the fruit has more pith, which is bitter and must be completely removed. If making candied grapefruit, after scraping the pith from the peel (in Step 4), simmer peel for 20 minutes more, and repeat to remove remaining pith.

Read more and view photos:  http://www.yumsugar.com/12-Days-Edible-Gifts-Candied-Citrus-Peel-2618476


“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” – Maya Angelou


We are converging upon the special time of year when many Americans look forward to being “home for the holidays.”  This is a perfect time to reflect upon the meaning of home.  The volunteers who dedicate their time, talent, and love to the Welcome to America Project always seek to help our new refugee neighbors feel at home in their new country by providing furniture, other basic necessities, and a warm welcome.  What does home mean to you?

Five days before Thanksgiving, a group of approximately 13 volunteers came together to help furnish the homes of one Afghani and two Iraqi families.  Experience the delivery by viewing the below photos capturing the day.

The volunteers assembled at the storage units in Tempe early Saturday morning.  It was chilly before Arizona’s fall sun warmed up the air.  We were joined by a number of volunteers from St. Patrick’s Social Justice and Outreach Ministry.

The first home delivery was to a young man who is of Afghan descent but was born and raised in India. He has been in Arizona for one month. Although he arrived here on his own, his father, mother and younger brother are in the process of coming to join him.  Although they tried to seek Indian citizenship, the Indian government would not grant it to them. Without Indian citizenship, the family would have faced many struggles and forever would have been considered outsiders. The father applied to the Human Rights Commission for refugee status, which was granted, enabling him to come to the United States. The process took five years. The young man found his first two weeks in Arizona to be very tough. He was very lonely. However, he has visited the local library, obtained a library card and has taken out several books. Meeting a neighbor who was also from Afghanistan, eased the young man’s transition in Arizona.  Now he is learning his way around his new home in hopes of helping ease his family’s transition once they arrive.

The next family we visited was from Iraq. The family consists of the father (41), mother (40), son (12) and daughter (9). The daughter is attending school in Arizona. The son has not been cleared to attend school yet, so he is still spending his days at home. The family moved from Iraq to Syria in 2006 due to the war in Iraq. They still have family in Iraq, but no other family members live in Arizona. The father was a mechanical engineer in Iraq. The mother worked in a bank. In Syria, however, they were unable to work. The children did attend school in Syria. This family’s apartment is quite bare. Their only lighting is in the kitchen/dining area.

The third family we visited  is from Iraq. This family of four consists of the father (35), mother (35), and two sons (ages 5 and 2). The family has been in Arizona for only six weeks. In Iraq, the father was a painter; however, after the war began, the family felt unsafe and decided to leave for Syria in 2005.  In Syria he was able to obtain work as a restaurant supervisor.  He hopes to find work in Arizona in the restaurant business.  The family is concerned about their five-year-old son’s speech issue and would like help with this issue.  The mother hopes that their future in the United States will bring her family a better life


“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.” – Maya Angelou

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