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A Brooklyn gal in rural Mississippi - Hometown resident volunteers and has a big impact on Southern life

It’s upwards of 1,000 miles from Brooklyn, New York, population, 2.4 million, to Metcalfe, Mississippi, population, 1,100. But, for Park Slope resident Annie Cheng, the distance is measured less in miles than in life-altering experiences, seeing rural poverty up close, and doing something to help alter it. The 26-year-old Cheng went to Mississippi last fall as a member of a volunteer team put together by Global Volunteers, a not-for-profit organization that sends such groups to struggling communities in this country and abroad, to immerse themselves in the community, work and learn. Cheng was a member of the 37th such team sent by Global Volunteers to Metcalfe, and, as such, was easily recognizable by town residents who, she said, immediately made the team of eight volunteers feel welcome. “The town is pretty much 100 percent African-American, so they spotted us right away,” recalled Cheng. “Everyone said hi. It was really cool.” During her week’s stay, Cheng – who is a computer analyst with Goldman Sachs — helped out on a variety of tasks far removed from her daily work activities. With the volunteer team as well as local residents, she joined in constructing a gazebo for the town’s day care center, even though none of them had ever done anything like that before. “We figured it out while we were there,” Cheng reported. In addition, Cheng said she “painted some signs for Christmas,” as well as helping out at both the day care center, working with toddlers, and at the after-school center, working with school-age children. Why spend her vacation time working? “I’ve always wanted to go somewhere to volunteer,” explained Cheng. “I was looking for someplace not close to where I am.” Finding Global Volunteers on line, she added, she was intrigued by the fact that they send people back over and over to the same place. “I thought I could make a greater impact,” she noted. One of the benefits of the program, said Cheng, was the opportunity it provided for her to get to know not only her fellow volunteers but also area residents. “We actually developed a relationship with them,” she reported. “They made local food for us, and went to church with them.” While the church building was “really small, almost like a matchbox, the worship was really great,” Cheng recalled. “Everyone sang gospel songs.” Overall, she enthused, the week of volunteering was, “A really good learning experience, working with people and learning about a different environment. We’ve been lucky to have quite a lot. When you see people with a lot less can be happier, it’s quite an eye-opener. It was a lifetime experience, that I will always remember.” This was not the first time Cheng has done something like this. A couple of years back, working with Volunteers for Peace, Cheng went to Berlin and worked at renovating a summer camp site. Will she do it again? “”I might,” Cheng acknowledged, “but not this year.” St. Paul, Minnesota-based Global Volunteers was founded in 1984. A week-long program in the United States costs participants $795; abroad, the fee ranges from $1,460 to $2,650. According to the organization, the fee – which covers meals, lodging, ground transportation and project expenses – is tax-deductible. Airfare is additional. For further information, contact the organization at 800-487-1074, or through email @globalvolunteers. org. Further information can be found on the group’s website, www.

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