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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Raising Nice Kids- How Can We Do This?

I’m trying not to get overwhelmed by the fear and pessimism swirling around me because of news on ISIS, Ebola and climate change– three things on my mind now.

The monstrous acts of terrorism ISIS is doing makes me go back to the idea (or is it a fantasy?) that we should make it a priority to create kind, compassionate, and caring kids to be the next generation to stop this madness.

I hope I am raising my kids with these qualities.

My almost 9 year-old son came home from school the other day and when I asked him how the new kids in the class were doing, he said one of the kids was really shy and kept looking at his feet.

Me: “So what are you doing about it?”

Son: (shrugging his shoulders) I don’t know. He’s not really making an effort to get to know anyone.

Me: I wonder what he must be thinking, being in a new school, not knowing anyone and not having any friends. Do you think that might be hard for him?

Son: Yeah.

We didn’t get very far with the conversation, but I am hoping I planted in him the seeds of an idea, that maybe he could take it upon himself to be compassionate with this new classmate. I’ll have to check in with him soon about that.


Recently, his teacher shared with me something that he said in class:

“We were talking about class pets and [my son’s] comment was that we should include the other class somehow.  He pointed out how we also have the loft [the kids can climb up here to read or have quiet time] and the other class does not, and that it wouldn’t be fair if we had both a pet and the loft.  I thought this comment was a really nice example of how empathetic [my son] is and how he really sees things from another perspective.”

That really made my day.

A friend shared this article, which really lays it out nicely: 5 ways to raise your kids to be kind and some practical tips for how we can do this. But what got me was this finding from a study:

“The interviewees [youth] were also three times more likely to agree that ‘My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.'”

There’s something wrong with that. If we are not teaching our kids to be caring people, but rather focused on success and achievement, what does this mean for this generation’s future?

 “The topic of compassion is not at all religious business; it is important to know it is human business, it is a question of human survival.”  — Dalai Lama

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Yves Béhar: Philanthropist?

I was on a Delta Airlines plane recently and for the first time in forever (I am NOT quoting from the movie “Frozen” here), found myself without adequate reading material. It was horrible. Especially because flights to and from New York City are LONG. I rifled through the seat pocket and found the Delta Sky magazine. In it was an article on the obscure Yvés Béhar, a Swiss-Turkish design entrepreneur.

yves Behar

Yves Béhar (from Index Award website)

I don’t often read about designers who are quietly making a difference in the world and enjoyed learning just a little bit about this interesting man. Béhar started fuseproject, a design and branding firm in San Francisco and New York. He was quoted as saying, “Objects tell stories, so storytelling has been a really strong influence on my work.” which I found intriguing, being I love how storytelling can inspire people to take action.

Then of course the word “Philanthropy” in the article jumped out at me and I had to take a closer look. A few things he is involved with:

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Fitting in at Camp Goodtimes

Boy, this summer is flying by. I have found very little time to focus on my writing– most of my energy has been directed towards spending time with my kids and putting my hours in at work.

But I did have time to write this article about a neat camp for kids who are touched by cancer in some way. Take a look!images


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Talking about Philanthropy with Girl Scouts

I mentioned in a recent post that I had spent some time talking about philanthropy with a group of Girl Scouts. Here is the Parentmap article I finally wrote about that experience.  I’d love to do more of that sort of thing!

Girls Scout badge drawn by Sydney Vernon, 11

Girls Scout badge drawn by Sydney Vernon, 11

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Raising Awareness about Hearing Loss with Seattle Seahawk Derrick Coleman

And heeeeere it is! My post about meeting Derrick Coleman and the fabulous experience helping to run a fundraising event. Read it and enjoy!

ER Pix with Derrick

Elizabeth with Derrick Coleman. Photo credit: Corky Trewin, Seattle Seahawks Photographer

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An example of the work I do

So, by now you may know I am juggling a few things in my career. I am a blogger for Parentmap, a freelancer for nonprofit work (I recently helped coordinate volunteers for an event- but more on that in another post), and I work as the Volunteer Coordinator for FamilyWorks. This is probably why I haven’t been able to post on my blog as regularly as I’d like. There are so many cool things happening and I wish I had the time to blog about them, but I will have to be satisfied with whatever I can push out.

philanthropy_tree.png I’d like to share a post I wrote for the FamilyWorks blog. We wanted to demonstrate how easy it is to create meaningful opportunities for the community to become involved with a local nonprofit. And in this case, the John Stanford International School, which is located in the same neighborhood, chose FamilyWorks as the site for its “Community Action Project.” Through the process of working with staff at the school and helping them plan the logistics for collecting the donations and educating the student representatives about what we do, we learned that it really is not that difficult to do something like this.

The rewards for both sides are so great: for FamilyWorks, it is getting donations, developing a great relationship with a community partner, and creating awareness about the issues we care most deeply about and for the school, it is creating a culture of philanthropy and educating students and their families about hunger and how a nonprofit works to create resiliency in families.

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