Feeding Kids over the Weekend

And here’s another post I enjoyed writing about a program with the schools that we have been partnering with at FamilyWorks. Check it out.

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Eating Granola for Good

I have been eating some really yummy granola. What’s the big deal about that?

Well, it makes me happy to indulge in my (mind you, infrequent) consumerist habits knowing that spending money on granola just gets donated right back to FamilyWorks!

Read my blog post on the FamilyWorks site and find out more!

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An Inspiring Post Gleaned from Facebook

I’m at home with a sick child, doing some work and decided to take a break and check Facebook. Yes, when I need a diversion, that’s what I sometimes do, I admit it. Although, I prefer to stand up after sitting down for way too long and work on peeling an orange to see if I can do it in just one long peel.

So I saw on Facebook that a friend had shared a really moving post written by a woman, a poet, who was stranded at an airport. She heard an announcement that someone who spoke Arabic was needed at her gate immediately (coincidence, huh?). Check it out.

It will make your day.

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Being a Do-gooder Can Potentially Get You Arrested

There’s been quite a buzz lately about 90-year-old Arnold Abbott’s efforts to feed homeless people through his nonprofit organization, Love Thy Neighbor, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Abbott, a”do-gooder”, as some call him, has been trying to help feed homeless people for the last 20 years and he has been cited several times (his third citation just happened the other day) for violating a city ordinance prohibiting food sharing in public spaces.

Arnold Abbott

Arnold Abbott

At first, when I read some brief Facebook posts about this and the ensuing comments, I felt pretty bummed out and even said so. I thought, instead of preventing crime and helping people in need, the police are arresting a 90-year-old man for helping homeless people?? What’s wrong with these people?

But then I stopped myself from jumping to conclusions and decided to find out more about the ordinance and why it was instituted in the first place.

And here is what I learned:

What is the Fort Lauderdale city ordinance that was passed?

Apparently, the city ordinance requires groups to provide portable toilets, hand washing stations, and a permit for handling the food in outdoor public spaces. The intent is to move these public feedings indoors for safety and sanitary reasons. Opponents say it is a “cleansing” of homelessness effort and part of a national effort to “criminalize homelessness”.

What articles shed information on the issue?

I suspect the reactions most people have (indignation, sadness) are from brief, skim-the surface articles that don’t really talk about the issue in depth. Of course one would be outraged if an elderly man trying to help homeless people would be arrested! For example, this Miami article really does not provide the whole story, so I had to dig further. And this ABC news article does provide a little more information but it doesn’t really address the whole reason why the ordinance exists and all the perspectives about the city’s approach to homelessness.

I found this blog post, which had a personal perspective I found interesting, on why the ordinance exists: charitable organizations leave messes on the street which attract rodents and therefore create a whole host of public health problems. Apparently, Fort Lauderdale is one of the 10 most rat-infested cities in the USA.

In a CBS Miami article, the city of Fort Lauderdale says it is working with churches as part of a plan to address homelessness. Reverend Mark Sims, one of the church leaders who was cited along with Abbott, believes the law is detrimental to homeless people and he said, “I think one of the things we can do is find a more comprehensive plan to be able to feed and house those people who are hungry and homeless and also to care for those people where we do not have enough beds,” Sims said.

Without knowing the whole story it seems that developing a proactive plan is a good course of action.

I am not an expert on homelessness issues, but I am guilty of jumping to conclusions, particularly when it comes to anything involving humanitarian actions. So as you can see, it is important to look at all sides of the story before reacting quickly. The media is pretty savvy with playing up issues without really providing the background information that is so necessary to have before making a judgment call.




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Educating About Gender Expression Through Children’s Books

I’ve read several children’s books about kids who express themselves in gender non-conforming ways or who are transgender. For example, My Princess Boy is written by a local author, Cheryl Kilodavis, who writes about her son who likes to wear pretty dresses and gets laughed at. Its theme really is about the importance of acceptance.

There really aren’t any books for K-2 elementary school children that show how a gender non-conforming child can handle challenges and how these can be resolved.

Then I learned about Sharon Mentyka’s soon-to-be published book, B in the World, which addresses this gap.

Ilustrated by Stephen Schlott

Ilustrated by Stephen Schlott

There are two things I really like about her book:

1. It is a realistic portrayal of what happens to B, a boy who likes to wear pink, wears his hair long, and wants to be a mermaid in the school play. It evokes emotions in the reader (I teared up several times) because it is so touching and so right on.

2. It is a great teaching tool for elementary-age children to introduce the concepts of compassion, acceptance, and practical strategies for dealing with bullies and unsupportive teachers.

Please take a look at my Parentmap article that explores this in greater depth and has an interview with the author.

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Reiki: Exploring a tool for healing

I took a Reiki workshop on a beautiful Saturday not too long ago. As I rode my bike there, I felt ambivalent about taking it and was not in the best mental space. A few troubling firestorms had occurred that week and were occupying some mental space, plus I am always reluctant to spend a beautiful day inside.

A friend had taken Terri Sandusky’s workshop and recommended it to me. It was close to where I lived (convenience is a big deal for me in this busy world of mine!) and lately I had been thinking about “what’s next” in terms of work/career stuff. It seemed like a good first step towards seeking clarity. And I’ve always been interested in health and how the body has an enormous capacity for self-healing.

So what is Reiki?

Reiki is a spiritual, healing practice, transmitted energetically through touch. It is great for stress reduction and induces a state of deep relaxation.

The class was small- there were three other folks. I like small classes- they  are more intimate and you get more one-on-one attention from the teacher. The teacher, Terri, was incredibly enthusiastic about what she was teaching and talked quite a lot. But when we got to the actual hands-on practicing of Reiki, that’s when things started to shift for me.

Each person in the class received Reiki at the same time from the others, which was pretty powerful. Imagine 3 pairs of hands gently placed on your body as you lie there in a state of extreme relaxation. The caring energy was palpable- you could really feel it. After my session I felt lighter and calmer, and my preoccupation with the week’s events was gone. The negative energy that had been bottled up inside me had just vanished.

Elizabeth having a Reiki session. Note the two pairs of hands. The third pair are down by my feet.  Credit: Terri Sandusky

Elizabeth having a Reiki session. Note the two pairs of hands. The third pair are down by my feet. Credit: Terri Sandusky

During the last Reiki session on one of the participants, the teacher had me encircling my hands around her head. A few minutes later, my eyes started tearing up.  The participant had been talking about a particularly troubling relationship and I think she had been feeling some sadness/anger/pain. Because my hands were on her head, I was able to sense the painful feelings behind her thoughts. I had no control over the tears that were flowing and actually felt detached from the emotion itself.

This type of intuition is no big surprise to me. I have noticed that when someone I am interacting with expresses grief or tells a painful story, I often find myself also feeling that emotion (which is why I would probably be a terrible therapist!). I think it runs deeper than just feeling compassion for someone– my body actually senses the emotion. This sense of intuition has allowed me to be compassionate as a listener and over the years I’ve been able to learn how to mute my reactions and somehow remain detached from the person’s emotions and feelings, while still being present and caring for the person.

Since I’ve taken the workshop, I have practiced Reiki on myself and my family with positive results. My daughter claimed her cough went away, my squirmy son relaxed quite a bit, and my husband fell asleep. What a great tool for self-healing and coping with stress!


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Bill Gates: Inspiring or Polarizing Philanthropist?

I’m a little fascinated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I’m not sure I can explain it, other than a) I always had a fleeting desire to work there, but apparently it is an intense environment with a high burnout rate and it is really not a friendly environment for working moms; b) it seems like a good area for MPH’s, a tribe which I have belonged to in the past and sometimes think wistfully about returning to; and c) it is funded by the richest man in the world– which kind of makes you wonder what goes on behind those walls? But don’t get me started at how I feel about all that money spent to build the new building.

The brand new Gates Foundation building

The brand new Gates Foundation building

This past Friday, twelve Gates Foundation employees came to spend the morning and part of the afternoon at the nonprofit, FamilyWorks, where I work as part of United Way’s Day of Caring, an annual event that sends employees of corporations and private companies to volunteer at nonprofits. Even Sue Desmond-Hellman, the new CEO of the Foundation, came by for about 45 minutes to help out. Bill Gates Sr. was supposed to make an appearance but couldn’t make it.

The Foundation employees helped to clean our resource center and worked at the food bank packaging food items and helping customers get food. It was fun coordinating the event and wish I had had more time to get to know some of the Gates employees a little better. I felt a little cynical about the whole Day of Caring premise. Sure, it’s great to get people involved in nonprofits, but it’s sort of an in and out approach with no real vision for continuing the relationship. And the fact that Desmond-Hellman was also in and out for her photo op… well, ok, she did contribute 45 minutes of her time.

An article in today’s Seattle Times articulated a lot of my thoughts about Bill Gates and his foundation. Basically, Gates, the richest man on the planet “intends to give away most of his wealth in his lifetime.” He has insisted that other billionaires (ie. Buffett) do the same through this “Giving Pledge”.  He is practically a full-time philanthropist and he has the power to put his money towards his interests (poverty, technology, education, etc. according to the article).

But here is the quote that got me nodding my head:

“Gates has a long running feud with Dambisa Moyo [an international economist], who questions whether billions in aid to poor nations actually deliver their promised results.”

Moyo is an outspoken critic of foreign aid– check out an article she wrote for the Wall Street Journal that outlines some examples of how it has hurt, rather than helped.

I’ve long wondered this myself and feel cynical of the propensity of rich countries like the U.S. to throwing money at programs in less developed countries which can enable them to remain dependent instead of focusing on sustainability.

I had a great conversation with one of my food bank volunteers who had also been in the Peace Corps. For both of us the experience was life-changing, but was it life-changing for the people we served? Probably not. I fully admit in many ways being a Peace Corps Volunteer is self-serving for so many people. It’s just so easy to go somewhere, “make a difference” for two years, then you get to leave the problems there and come back home. I will say though, no matter how self-serving it may have been for me, I still feel a) I made a difference for a few of my students who were able to pass their exams and go on to university (which opens up so many doors); and b) that because of the decisions and choices I’ve made in my career and the way I live my life have made a difference.

I do struggle with the premise that people volunteer to make themselves feel better or because they want to add it on to their resume. Granted, there are people who truly want to help because it is the right thing to do… but I am finding it challenging to find those pearls as I recruit new people to volunteer at my organization.


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