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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Virtual Internships Save Government, Students Money

Virtual Internships Save Government, Students Money

In response to federal office space reductions and the need for more creative workforce solutions, the federal government is expanding its use of virtual interns.

The term, “virtual intern” describes interns who provide services and perform a job for an agency or organization without being physically housed within the federal workspace. Whether they work from their own home, or out of a university, these individuals will have jobs which require a minimum amount of supervision, to include: research, writing, social media, editing, human resources, graphic arts, video creation and production, and numerous other tasks. 

The program isn’t a new phenomenon. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been offering virtual internships since 2001 and has found them to be a beneficial option for the agency and the intern. The ability to work while attending college, without having to be physically onsite enables more students to work on projects which would be geographically restrictive and create scheduling issues. The program also offers significant cost-savings compared to funding interns living in the Washington, D.C. area. 

See more here: 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Honor Flight: Spending a day with the Greatest Generation changed my life

2010 was not my best year.  I was going through tough times in my personal life and uncertainty in my job. When a friend called me and asked me if I wanted to be a volunteer for an Honor Flight in September, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to do something that would take my mind off my own worries and give me a chance to experience something quite special. There was no way I could begin to know how special that day would be and how it would truly touch my life.

If you don’t know what Honor Flight is all about, I strongly suggest you look into it and sign up for one. Time is running out. There aren’t many left from the Greatest Generation, and every year their numbers dwindle further. 

As I am thinking back on that day, I realize that I am not going to be able to do it justice with this one blog post. There is simply too much to capture. But there is a reason I am writing this now, almost three years later.  Recently, I found out that the man I spent that beautiful day with, recently passed away and I want to honor him once more.
My friend picked me up very early that morning and we headed out to Dulles to meet the “old guys” we would be assigned to escort that day. 

                                                        Waiting to greet the WWII veterans and be paired up. 

My friend had already volunteered at a few times and she explained the whole procedure and what to expect. Depending on the health of my designated veteran, I should expect to have to speak loudly, walk slowly, and patiently listen to war stories. No problem!  I was up for it and prepared for the worst. If my assigned veteran is in a wheel chair, I can push him all day long. I was just grateful to have the chance to interact and connect with one of these men. Little did I know that the man I would spend the day with was like no 89 year old I would have imagined. 

                                 They landed! Getting ready to greet them inside the terminal.

Robert B. Kalnitz. That’s the name I had on my piece of paper. He arrived with his group from Chicago. He was one of the last ones to disembark the plane. They allow the less mobile veterans off the plane first- those in wheel chairs and walkers. But Robert, or Bob as he asked me to call him, stood tall and capable.  

                                       Robert Kalnitz taking my photo as I took his. 

As he walked toward me, I got a deep sense of slight shyness and could see he felt a little uncomfortable with all the attention that was being given to the group. I would come to learn that he was a modest, humble, sensitive man who was deeply grateful for the opportunity to come to Washington, D.C. to see the World War II monument with his fellow Greatest Generation. Bob also was moved by the idea that all the volunteers had, in his words, “taken the day off from work and using their vacation time” to spend with strangers who had fought a war before many of them had even been born.

So we were given a chance to spend time together on the bus from Dulles to D.C. and Bob was so bright and sharp that I soon began to realize that he was unlike most of the others in the group. I asked him the usual “get to know you” questions about his life since the war, what he did in the service, and his family. He answered and engaged me about my life and experiences too. It was delightful and I wasn’t bored for a minute. We had really hit it off, and I felt so fortunate and blessed to have really hit the jackpot by being given this gentleman to spend the day with. 

                                                              Friends already! Enjoying our time at the WWII Memorial   

As I write these words, tears well up as I remember the sweetness of that day. It was perfection from start to finish. The weather in D.C. was simply amazing. Blue skies and lovely sunshine, with a light breeze. Once we got to the monument, we walked around and I took photos. Bob had a camera too and he took snaps of his state monument- Illinois. Seeing all of those old veterans, I couldn’t help but imagine them in their youth and what they had been through during the war. It was especially poignant, and a bit ironic, that Bob had been a flyer who flew missions from England to Germany. I shared with him that my mother had been there, a small child, living in Köln, Germany.
Perhaps Bob had flown over her town. You might imagine that fact may have been something that put some awkwardness between us, but it didn’t in the least. 

                                    Bob showing pride for his home state of Illinois.

There are no accidents. I could have easily been paired with a veteran of the South Pacific or France, but the universe has an interesting way of  teaching us lessons and in those difficult days of 2010, I needed to feel like life had a deeper meaning and that this experience was a gift I had been looking for. 

So we spent that beautiful day together, enjoying an outdoor lunch and talking for hours. We saw the sights and walked the steps of Mr. Lincoln’s memorial. Not all the veterans were able, but Bob was so strong and in such great shape, he was able to keep up very well. As the day wound down, we headed back to Dulles on the bus, and it started to get dark. I shared some of my personal woes with Bob, who was kind and thoughtful with his advice. 

He talked about his marriage and his daughters and grandchildren. That day we shared truly wonderful conversations and we really bonded.
Bob even mentioned me when he spoke to his wife, Shirlie, on the telephone. I felt special and appreciated. How did Bob know how much I needed that feeling? He just did; that’s the kind of man Bob Kalnitz was. 

When it was getting close to the time to say goodbye, I started to get a really big knot in my stomach. I didn’t want to cry, but I had a feeling I was going to do just that. So when they called the veterans to line up to board their plane, Bob and I exchanged contact information and we hugged goodbye. And we both had tears in our eyes. Just like I do right now remembering it. 

We are very fortunate to have things like Facebook and email to keep us connected. Imagine how thrilled I was a few weeks later to receive an email from Bob’s daughter, Leah.

Hi Diana,
I wanted to thank you for your kindness and sensitive attention to my Dad, Bob Kalnitz, during his time in Washington Tuesday. He got off the plane raving about you nonstop. His conversations with you and your interest in and sharing with him were more of an honor to him than the WWII Memorial. He was amazed that you would take a vacation day to spend with an elderly veteran. We are so touched by the generosity of spirit (not to mention time and thought) of all the Honor Flight volunteers. You made a great day even more special, and our family can't thank you enough. 
All the best,

So Leah and I would touch base from time to time.  I wrote to wish Bob a happy birthday when he turned 90. Life took off for me and I was distracted by my own issues, family, health concerns, and relationship. I changed jobs, got married, and just did all the things we do in our day to day lives. 

I thought of that day, and Bob, often. I encouraged my family and friends to sign up for Honor Flight and I told my mother about the day I spent with the lovely, kind, intelligent, Jewish man from Chicago; who just happened to be an Air Force pilot who flew a bomber over Germany during the war. She also appreciated the rich coincidence and how interesting it was for me to share a day with someone who had lived through a dangerous experience and time. She said I was fortunate to have had such a chance to hear firsthand what that must have been like. And I knew I was.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Leah. It may seem hard to believe, but her words brought me to tears that would resurface many times since. This is what she wrote:

Dear Diana,

It has been a long time since I've written to you, but it is not because I don't think of you often. I especially have been thinking of you every day recently and every day put off writing this particular e-mail.

I am very, very sad to tell you that my dad passed away on January 15th. He got the flu towards the end of December and then developed pneumonia and was hospitalized. It was a rampant infection and the doctors couldn't get rid of it and Dad couldn't fight it off. Despite the fact that he was 91.5 years old and we knew we wouldn't have him forever, we simply were not prepared to part with him quite yet. He was engaged, vital, independent, and wonderful--not at all like a man of his years. We all thought he was going to conquer the illness--and he especially did. 

I sit at my Dad's small writing desk just about every day, going through paperwork and helping my Mom. A note in his handwriting with your name and contact information is right there on the desk, sometimes covered in piles of bills and letters. It is a testament to the special place you had in my dad's heart and the impact you had on him that your name and address remained on his desk where he would always see it. I am so grateful for the day you shared together, and I want you to know how meaningful it was to him and to us.

I hope the New Year has begun well for you and that life will be very good to you always.

Sending warm hugs,

I wrote her back and let her know that I was so deeply and sincerely sorry to hear that Bob had died and how I understood the depth of their loss. You might think it presumptuous of me to think that I knew someone I had only known for a single day, but I believe I got to know the very best of him in those hours and I fully understood what his family meant to him, and what he meant to them. I have no doubt in my mind that his spirit will always be with them, as I feel it is still with me. Certain people in this world have that gift and Bob Kalnitz had it more than most. He was the most decent and righteous kind of man, who had the perfect combination of strength and tenderness, self-dignity and respect for others, and most of all, gratitude and humility for his blessings large and small.

If you ever find yourself losing faith in life or humanity, as I had in 2010, I hope you have the opportunity to reach outside of yourself and do something for someone else. In doing so, you may find- as I did, that in the end you will receive a lesson, a gift, an opportunity that changes you and your perspective on life. 

I challenge you to go out and find that person, or thing, that restores your faith in humanity and lets you see firsthand that good people, really, really, good people, exist and are among us. We just have to open our hearts and minds and invite them in. I did such a thing in September of 2010, and now I am one of the fortunate ones who can say that their life was deeply and profoundly changed by the most unlikely of people, in a completely random encounter.

Many, loving thanks to Bob Kalnitz for the wisdom and advice, and example, he gave me that day. I feel the bond and connection to him even now. I’ll never forget him and I honored to have had the chance to meet him and share a day with him. And thanks to Leah and Bob’s family for allowing me to share this remembrance with all of you.

In his daughter Leah’s own words:

Dad was a First Lieutenant in the Air Force, 305th Bomb Group. He was a B-17 pilot, and his plane was a Triangle G. He was an instructor in Ft. Myers for a year and then was sent to England, stationed at a base about an hour outside London, in Feb. 1945. He flew missions over Germany and perhaps other countries. After the war, he was kept overseas to help photograph Europe to create a map--and also to survey damage, I believe (can check on that). His love of planes preceded his service--he was determined to be a pilot--and continued until his death. Our childhood and even adulthood included going to air shows with him. His grandchildren went, too. He wore his Air Force ring proudly every day.

He and my mom (Shirlie) were married in Columbus, Ohio on Feb. 20, 1944. Next week would have been their 69th anniversary. When they got married, he hadn't yet received his orders and didn't know if he was shipping out overseas. But they heard either that day or right after that he was being sent to Ft. Myers to be an instructor, so Mom went with him and they were there together for a year. I think he left the U.S. right around their anniversary and came home a year later, right around their anniversary.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Funny Valentine? What's so funny about Valentine's Day?

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day. I know it is a day loaded with expectations- many unmet, excitement, anticipation, and even DREAD! Valentine's Day is that one day a year when people in love are celebrated with cards, gifts, poems, decorations, candy and songs. 

But let’s start from the beginning. What is this holiday that brings such strong reactions to so many? 

To make a long story short:  

"The 14th of February became a day for all lovers and Valentine became its patron saint. It began to be annually observed by young Romans who offered handwritten greetings of affection, known as Valentines, on this day to the women they admired. With the coming of Christianity, the day came to be known as St. Valentine's Day." - The Holiday Spot

So let’s examine Valentine’s Day and see where it went wrong.

Early Childhood:

Remember when you were a kid, and your class made those red construction paper valentine hearts with the white lace doily edge? That was really FUN! And don’t forget the candy and heart-shaped confections. Valentine’s Day was a great holiday to break up the nasty weather of February. Then things started to get complicated.

The Teen Years:

Once you hit puberty, Valentine’s Day became a bit more drama-rific. There were Valentine’s Day dances, cards, heart-shaped necklaces, boxes of chocolates, secret admirers, flowers and candy grams from pimple-faced young suitors. It was exciting and a little scary. Valentine’s Day was still fun.

The Grown Up Years:

Now is where the “Funny” completely leaves Valentine’s Day and it is a serious business indeed. The song, “My FunnyValentine”, by Rodgers and Hart, is anything but funny. It is actually a melancholy tune, and I can’t detect anything humorous about it. It reminds me of the “darker” side of Valentine’s Day- the broken hearts, the lost loves, the dashed dreams, and rejection. Hardly the right anthem for a day dedicated to lovers. 

For years I dreaded Valentine’s Day. Secretly, I hated it. February 14th taunted me and seemed to be that one day a year where I hated being single. 364 days a year, I was fine with it and actually enjoyed my independence and freedom, but on that day I felt very lonely.

There are such conflicting messages about Valentine’s Day. On the one hand, there is the group (mainly singles) who will preach about how artificial, meaningless, banal, and forced Valentine’s Day is, and will give eloquent speeches about the marvels of the empowering and independent single life. They hate on it mightily, and try to bring it down. Hey, I was one of those people once, and there is no reason to pretend that attitude doesn’t exist. 

On the other hand, there are those (mainly couples in love) who want to revel in the ooey, gooey, lovey dovey side of the day. This group unwittingly drives the stake into the hearts of the first group and may make them feel even worse about the day, because as we all know- misery loves company. If you don’t have a special someone in your life to share the day with, it is hard to be happy and excited for people who do. That’s just human nature.

Now the third group are those people who fall somewhere in between. They are either couples who just don’t “feel” the need to celebrate their love or relationship in the middle of February. Also, there are single people who have lots of fun celebrating the IDEA of LOVE without having to be in a relationship with one special person. Hey, whatever works! 

Personally, after spending many, many Valentine’s Days alone, some of them happier than others; I am ecstatic to have my husband to share it with. He’s not as enraptured with it as I am, but bears the strain as a testament to his love for me.

Valentine’s Day is like many holidays, you feel some of them more than others. Some people LOVE Halloween, others- not so much. The most important thing to remember is not to get completely wrapped up in something that only happens one day a year. 

So my advice to single people, please don’t hate on Valentine’s Day! No reason to have angst and misery on February 14th, and begrudge those who enjoy the day feel it isn’t a nice holiday. Single people can enjoy Valentine’s Day, or they can just ignore it.

My advice for couples- once a year you have a day designated especially for people in love, so why waste a great chance to make your special someone feel loved and appreciated by making Valentine’s Day really nice. Oh, and that doesn’t mean the rest of the year you don’t have to do nice things for your sweetheart. 

So for all who love- HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY! Enjoy it with someone special, even if that person is you!