Monday, April 6, 2015

Volunteers Get More Than They Give!

“The best thing about giving is that the reaction
is always greater than the action.”

The other night I opened a fortune cookie and found that quote. I didn't care that my fortune didn't specify an exotic vacation or added wisdom. This fortune cookie provided a nice thought about life and giving.

Those who make giving part of their lives already know that they receive as much benefit as the person or persons that are being served. In academic and behavioral science, research has shown that serving others has measurable mental and physical health benefits. For example, volunteerism boosts self-confidence and life satisfaction, both of which combat depression.1 Volunteering is good for physical health at any age.

Throughout the years Rising Star Outreach has welcomed countless volunteers and has greatly benefited from their service. These volunteers have sacrificed time and money for the opportunity to serve others. The volunteers come from many different countries and from all walks of life—individuals, couples, friends, siblings, and families—ready to roll up their sleeves and share their body muscles as well as their heart muscles to assist the ‘least among us’—those affected by leprosy.

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Because of their experience volunteers want to become more deeply involved in Rising Star Outreach's programs. They return home with a commitment to further the mission of Rising Star Outreach. Sometimes they sponsor students or encourage members of their family and friends to sponsor students. Sometimes they bring their friends and families back to India to volunteer. Volunteers have raised money in a variety of ways, such as sponsoring cross-country bike rides, by selling baked goods, or hosting an event in their homes. Recently, an entire elementary school raised money for educational materials by having “Penny Wars.” The classes challenged each other to see which class could bring in the most pennies. These volunteers not only raised money for Rising Star Outreach's programs, but also spread awareness that leprosy still exists in the 21st century!

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Some volunteers support our micro-grant program or the medical program. Others contribute to building programs, such as the new medical building and girls’ hostel. Others fund programs that help students learn basic life skills. It is thrilling for me when I receive a phone call from those who feel passionate about helping Rising Star Outreach's work go forward in meaningful and positive ways!

This past year Lon and Rebecca Young have been in India as the Volunteer Program Manager and Sponsorship Manager, respectively, on the campus of Rising Star Outreach. Their five children accompanied them to India, and Lon and Rebecca have seen the benefits of "doing something different" as a family. Lon shares some insights about this experience:

“In traveling to India our family has crossed many borders.  But stamped passports don't tell the tale. The real journey, the one that has made this experience so trans-formative for us, has been the move outwards, the reaching beyond the borders of our family's own self-interest to what Einstein termed ever-widening "circles of compassion." As parents when we have witnessed our children gently peeling bandages off oozing sores or massaging oil into cracked skin; when we have watched them being jostled along bumpy roads in sweltering heat for the privilege of digging a latrine for a far-flung villager; when we have seen them teaching a child to read who would otherwise be begging in the streets, or leading them in choir, or teaching them piano or violin or lathering de-lousing gel into their scalp on a Sunday night—then we know it was worth it.  Asking them to leave good friends and french fries, giving up a spot on the basketball team, deferring scholarships. Asking them to leave their individual islands of self-concern to become citizens of the wider world. They left old boundaries behind and widened their circles of compassion.  And it was all worth it. Even for the daughter who locked herself in her room a few months ago and slid us a note under the door that said, 'COME GET ME WHEN WE'RE GOING BACK TO AMERICA!!!'

And now we are going back to America. 

How much will stick? If we have come to find Jesus in the faces of the leprosy-affected, will we recognize Him back home in the face of the grimy man holding a cardboard sign, the obnoxious neighbor, the surly skateboarder loitering in the school parking lot? As the Volunteer Program Director, I've told departing volunteers that after their experiences here in India, they'll probably want to keep helping Rising Star Outreach in its mission to serve leprosy-affected communities, but that from our standpoint, we will have been just as successful if their deepened compassion finds expression by reaching out to the hungry, the homeless, the heartbroken in their own communities. And I think after nearly a year, our own family has come to understand that reaching out doesn't require traveling to some exotic place. Yes, India is the fabled land of altruists—we get to walk in the footsteps of Gandhi and Mother Teresa and the Buddha—but it really doesn't matter where we live or where we serve. Someone beautiful is always within reach, someone who needs exactly what we can share.” 
Lon Young

As I read Lon’s words, I was transported over the miles to India and thought of the love each volunteer brings to Rising Star Outreach. I express sincere appreciation to the Young family and to the long-term coordinators: Ashley Ward, Volunteer Program Officer; Brooklyn Young, Sponsorship Program Assistant; Berlyn Slemboski, Community Outreach Coordinator; Saychelle Youngberg, Education Coordinator; Brian Youngberg, Medical Coordinator; Ashlyn Stead, Digital Media Coordinator; Caroline Kane, VPO Assistant; and Teesa Alvis, Dance Master from Promethean Spark. What an amazing group of volunteers!

At Rising Star Outreach we believe the experience of serving in India creates the opportunity to become a life-long humanitarian. Volunteers have profound experiences, and they return home with a greater ability to share their love at school, in their neighborhoods, in their communities, and in their own families, as Lon so beautifully said.

Mother Teresa once said, "You can accomplish the extraordinary in the ordinary, one day at a time with love."

Every volunteer, whether they stay in India for a few weeks or much longer, may think they leave ordinary hand prints in India, but these hand prints are extraordinary expressions of love and compassion to the hearts and souls of countless individuals.

Thank you volunteers, sponsors, and donors for contributing your time, talent, and resources to the programs at Rising Star Outreach!

If you have not yet been a volunteer and are interested in having a life-transforming experience as an individual or with your family, visit our website and click VOLUNTEER. You’ll see the program in action and the dates for each session. Come join us!

And, the next time you open a cookie and read your fortune, think of Rising Star Outreach! Your desire to become part of the vision and mission of Rising Star Outreach will improve your fortune and the fortune of those you serve.

Happy April,

Rising Star Outreach

[1] Volunteering: The happiness effect
Helping others kindles happiness, as many studies have demonstrated. When researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were, according to a study in Social Science and Medicine. Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000, say the researchers.

(Adapted with permission from Simple Changes, Big Rewards: A Practical, Easy Guide for Healthy, Happy Living, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

President's Letter: Education Illuminates the Soul

 “Education is the movement from darkness to light.” -Allan Bloom
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The above statement is certainly relevant to Rising Star Outreach.  Education illuminates the lives of our students and compassionate service brings light to lives darkened by the physical and social disease of leprosy. Starting a small business through micro-grants ignites a light within a mother or father, giving them the opportunity to support a family rather than begging in the streets. Light is a powerful symbol of the love, optimism and hope Rising Star Outreach brings to the lives it touches.
March is a busy month on our campus in India as teachers prepare the students for annual exams, and the 5th, 8th, 10th, and 12th standard students are preparing to sit for the annual government exams. It’s a time when our students buckle down and focus on the exams in an environment of encouragement and support.

Another reference to light says, “A good teacher is like a candle –it consumes itself to light the way for others.” —Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

The Peery Matriculation School prides itself on high educational standards through dedicated teachers and administrators that provide an exceptional learning environment. We recognize Mr. Hirudayanathan A., education adviser; Mr. Richards V.S., headmaster for the high school; Mr. Sanakaranamasivayam B., headmaster for primary school; and all the extraordinary teachers who bring light and knowledge to each Rising Star Outreach student.

Dr. Nancy Sorensen, an educator from the United States, visited the campus in January to share her knowledge and insights with teachers at the Peery Matriculation School.

Dr. Sorensen presented workshops on teaching techniques that enhance activity-based learning and higher level thinking skills. I greatly appreciate Dr. Sorensen’s efforts to spread the light of knowledge.
Light and hope symbolize the expansion of our work in the Trichy area in southern Tamil Nadu. Through the generous support of The Order of St. Lazarus and other organizations, we are serving colonies there that have been in darkness and despair for years.  Last year Dr. Susan and I visited several of these colonies.  We were shocked by the level of desperation we saw, especially in the 21st Century. It was heart wrenching.

Dr. Susan comments, “When I first visited the place, the people looked grim and gloomy. Their clothes were filthy. The children were malnourished. The inhabitants earned a living by begging, crime, brewing illicit liquor, and soliciting. There were frequent quarrels among them. They were very angry and wanted the vehicle driver and me to leave immediately. The dogs were all barking. We left a business card, then called again after a month and asked if they would let us help. They said, ‘Yes, come.’”

Dr. Susan and our team have been working in the Trichy colony for the past year. The residents were literally in darkness and asked for light—the light of simple electricity. After seven months of diligent effort, Rising Star Outreach was able to get electric power to the colony. Dr. Susan continues, “We started to send our team, and the health of the patients improved dramatically. They started to bathe and wear clean clothes. Then Rising Star Outreach built a community shed. This was used for our medical work and their social needs. A welfare committee was organized. They are united now. Perpetual Education Grants were given for three children. They want to send one child to our school and are sending in application forms.”
While on campus in January I walked into Dr. Susan’s office and was pleasantly surprised to meet leaders from the Panchapur Colony. I barely recognized them! Dr. Susan and I were astonished at their physical transformation. Instead of the darkness and despair we had seen months before, their faces glowed with the light of hope! They had travel all night to reach the campus to express gratitude for the assistance they received from Rising Star Outreach. “It is a miraculous transformation by God working through weak and frail human beings using the age-old panacea of all ills: kindness," said Dr. Susan Hilton.
This is the essence of Rising Star Outreach’s mission—to assist the "least among us", who are enshrouded in darkness, to find illumination through light: light of knowledge through education, light of the restoration of health and healing, light through the grants to individuals or families who want a hand up not a hand out.

You have my sincere appreciation for supporting this remarkable work. Because of your constant support of Rising Star Outreach, you make the saying at the beginning of this letter true: “Compassion and kindness are the movement from darkness to light.
Sally Gardner Read
Rising Star Outreach
P.S. I love this photo of one of our sweet couples in the Bhararthapuram colony. Rising Star Outreach build an outhouse for them. They wanted to thank us, so they invited us to their home. Gigi, one of our volunteers, let them take some ‘selfies!’ Priceless!

Monday, February 9, 2015

President's Letter: For Good

“I've heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason bringing something we must learn, and we are led to those who help us most to grow if we let them and we help them in return. Who can say if I've been changed for the better, but, because I knew you I have been changed for good.” 
Stephen Swartz, playwright of “Wicked”

These poignant words reflect the feelings of Rising Star Outreach participants. Throughout the years their lives have changed for the better by working with those affected by leprosy. It saddens us that in the past few months many dear friends have died, but we are touched by their goodness and legacy.

Our beloved Chairman of the Indian Board of Directors and Co-Founder of Rising Star Outreach, Ms. Padma Venkataraman lost her husband, Dr. K. Venkataraman, on January 16, 2015. He was an avid supporter for those affected by leprosy. Through his support of Padma, he touched and improved many lives. We express our deepest sympathy to Padma and her family.

We are also saddened at the passing of our patient and dear friend from the Mogolvadi Leprosy Colony, Saroja. Saroja contracted leprosy when she was very young and lived with this disease for over thirty years. She lived with the incredible challenges and struggles caused by leprosy, but found the strength to share her love, which touched the lives of her friends in profound ways.

Saroja was known as the "bird lady" because she shared her meager supply of food with birds, squirrels, and other animals. Her fragile body was ravaged by leprosy and she constantly suffered from pain and discomfort. Despite this, she greeted all with a contagious, bright smile. Many medical workers and volunteers went to Mogolvadi to lift Saroja, yet she was the one that lifted our spirits and touched our souls.


Karupiah, a patient in the Kalvarinagar Leprosy Colony, also passed away this year. He finally had his eyesight restored after 20 years of blindness. He lifted others by his devotion to praise God for His goodness and mercy.

Muthushah, the carpenter in the Bharathapuram Leprosy Colony also passed away this year. His beautiful woodwork was well known throughout the area near the colony, and because of him the stigma associated with leprosy was lessened.


Muniyamma, another patient living in the Bharathapuram Leprosy Colony, passed away in January. I have known Muniyamma for over eight years and always looked forward to my visits with her. She was a strong woman who faced the disease of leprosy with a positive attitude and quiet strength. I appreciate her friendship and will miss our visits together.

We express our sympathy to the families of these dear friends and to all others that have passed this year. Their legacy of resilience and love lives on, and we honor them by helping others.

I am writing this newsletter from the Rising Star Outreach campus in India. It is after-school playtime, and I can hear the gleeful voices of the children on the track and the playground. The sound of their happy voices is music to my ears because I know how diligent they are in their studies, not only during the day, but also in the evening.  Playtime is a wonderful way for them to develop their creativity and imagination, which in turn invigorates their bodies and enlivens their brains. The Rising Star Outreach campus is a center for learning. We want our students to be in an environment of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual growth and development. We also believe that value-based learning is integral to a child’s education. I am grateful to the professionals and staff at Rising Star Outreach for their hard work and dedication in changing these lives for good.

In January I had the opportunity to attend the second annual Women to Women Session (W2W) on our beautiful Rising Star Outreach campus. Volunteers come from all over the world to share their skills and talents with Rising Star Outreach. It’s humbling and exciting to watch as they immerse themselves in this remarkable work, gain an understanding of a new culture, and experience the heat and humidity. As many of you know, they experience emotions that range from heart wrenching to joyous, and as they witness the extremes of India they don't spend time asking why, but rather how? How can I help? It’s heart-warming that volunteers focus on the positive aspects of this work, rather than dwelling on the aspects that could be perceived as overwhelming.

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Volunteers are humbled when a patient's face lights up with gratitude as their ulcers are washed and cleaned. Volunteers are gratified when they work on a colony project and realize how significant these projects are to those living in the colony. Volunteers thrill to see the delight on a child’s face when a new concept is understood or mastered. They feel these heartfelt emotions because their help makes a huge difference in the lives of the students and the patients they assist.

If the words from the above song resonate with you in being led to those who help us most to grow, come join us as a volunteer. It truly is life changing. Ask a volunteer to share their story!

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Your continued support of Rising Star Outreach is deeply appreciated. Because of you, Rising Star Outreach has been changed for the good.


Sally Read
Rising Star Outreach

Thursday, January 1, 2015

President's Letter: New Year

“I have the opportunity, once more to right some wrongs,
to pray for peace, to plant some trees,
and sing more joyful songs.” 
—William Arthur Ward

Peery School Student, Sathya K., Assistant in Sapphire House. 2014 Photo Credit: Berlyn Slemboski

As a New Year begins I want to express sincere gratitude for your support of Rising Star Outreach. Supporting our programs is a vote of confidence in what we are doing, and we look forward to another year of providing the very best assistance to those affected by leprosy through these remarkable programs.

The mission of Rising Star–to help the leprosy colonies become thriving, self-sufficient communities–is accomplished with three major initiatives:

  • Using micro-grants to provide economic rehabilitation
  • Providing medical care
  • Giving opportunities to students to become productive citizens of India through education

    This month Tyler Vigue, Executive Director at Rising Star Outreach, prepared a report about these initiatives and included information about the Sponsorship and Volunteer programs. Click here to see the report! Because of the diligence and hard work of our amazing India and USA staff, Rising Star continues to be an effective and efficient organization!

    If you've ever wondered about who the students are that we help at Rising Star Outreach, here's a brief message from one of our students!

    Krishnamoorthy's School Photo

    "This is me :) I am Krishnamoorthy. I'm in 10th Standard in Rising Star Outreach. My family lives in Krishnagiri district. My sister is married, and my younger brother is doing his 7th Std with me in Rising Star Outreach. My favorite subjects are Science and Math. My ambition is to become a doctor because I like to serve the society. I always look forward to learning something new. I also participate in all the sports events conducted in school. My favorite games are volleyball and cricket. I am a good opening batsman in the cricket team. I love playing musical instruments like the guitar and the drums. My favorite hobby is listening to music. I have also started learning classical music because of my interest in it."

    January 25 is World Leprosy Day! This special day raises awareness of leprosy as a 21st century disease and helps those around the world focus on the needs of some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the world—those affected by leprosy. Share the mission of Rising Star with your friends, sponsor a child, donate to one of our initiatives, or sign up to volunteer with us this year! With your assistance Rising Star can continue its work of transforming and lifting lives. You make it possible to“right some wrongs, pray for peace, plant some trees, and sing more joyful songs.”   

    Happy 2015!