All posts filed under: Do Good

The Day I Decided to Clean Up My Hometown

I live in Des Moines, Iowa. Once known mostly as a “fly-over” state, we are now a fast growing city whose inhabitants strut around with intense pride for their thriving cultural accoutrements and affluent economy. Des Moines is often described as mid-sized, safe, clean and accessible — a place where you can make an impact, see the ripple effect and still leave your front door unlocked in the event a friend wants to deliver a homemade pie. But this spring as the snow melted, I started to see that my prideful perception of my perfect little town wasn’t quite accurate: The “clean” landscape I frequently boasted about now appeared trashy and unkempt. And I was embarrassed. En route to a favorite brewery one day, I happened to glance out the window, acutely tuned in to the surroundings. One side of the road was a big lot filled with semi truck trailers. The other side was lined with trees and brush — and should have been the side of the street that harkened to nature and …

The Tyranny and Terror of Proper Recyling

I live in fear throughout the year. I live in fear of trash. And trash receptacles. The refuse chute. Trash cans. Garbage bags. Those misleadingly cheery green and blue plastic bins with imprinted arrows, infinitely chasing each other in a relationship that will never be consummated, forever and ever and ever. This phobia began when recycling laws went into effect in our hometown. My mother took the rules very seriously. We’d hear her asides about the trash habits of our neighbors, who, without a care in the world, would cavalierly fling empty pizza boxes into the bins marked “Glass Only.” There were only a half-dozen bins marked “Paper Only” waiting to accept their refuse, but no, these thoughtless yuppies tossed their artisan Otto’s Pizza boxes into the bins reserved for glass. Every evening, for as long as I could remember, newspapers, plastic, boxes, cardboard and metal bric-a-brac were separated and dutifully carried to the green square cans labeled “Paper,” “Metal” or “Plastic” on the curb, first by my Father, and then, later, by us kids. …

I Invited a Refugee Family Home to Dinner, and It Changed My Life

Over the course of the past election cycle, I was taken aback at the backlash against refugees. I also realized I didn’t personally know any refugees. I decided that if this was an important issue I was going to care about, I needed to better understand and know the refugee community. My family, if polled, would likely say I have never met a cause I didn’t support. I fell into working at a nonprofit in my early 20’s. I was unsettled and without a career path when a mentor suggested I would make a good fundraiser and offered me a job. I took her advice and flourished. I spent most of my career in a variety of nonprofit roles but took a sharp turn this past fall when I decided that I wanted to work directly with refugees. I started with a fairly basic understanding of refugees being people who were forced to flee their homes and their countries because of persecution or danger to their lives. As a researcher, I like learning and knowing …

Vital Organizations That Need Your Help After the 2016 Election

We can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch as our country sways in a direction few of us desire. As an entrepreneur and a woman who runs a consultancy focusing on social good and corporate responsibility, I personally know that we can all make a difference. And no, you don’t need to be wealthy to support those causes near and dear. Even small donations can make a HUGE difference to NGOs and advocacy groups. And if you cannot part with funds at this time, you can volunteer your time, sign petitions, share on your various social channels and certainly pick up the phone and contact your legislative leaders. Here are some vital organizations that could use a boost given the new political era we are entering. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but ones to spark ideas and get your creativity flowing. 1. Help stop hate speech and actions via The Southern Poverty Law Center. 2. Become an abortion clinic escort. Having had to cross a picket line 27 years ago when I …

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Being Black at School: A Teacher Creates a Better Classroom

I was born in Chicago, raised on the south side and Hyde Park, and finished high school in the south suburbs. My upbringing was so diverse that there didn’t appear to be a dominant culture. It wasn’t until we went to the suburbs that I asked my white mother, “Where did all these white people come from?” My dad is Black, and all our friends were a blend of countless cultures. In that very white environment, I found myself searching for any kind of color and I also began to hear, for the first time, about how proud the people were for being colorblind. It’s funny that I’ve only ever heard this expression from white people who use it as a way to let others know how great they are for not considering color. It’s even funnier that they never notice the absence of color when they’re surrounded by homogenous populations. After graduation, I continued south to college and then again to start my career as a high school teacher. My first professional job came …

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Why I Took a Trip to Greece to Help Syrian Refugees

Only once — when an overcrowded night ferry backed into Gate E7 at Athens’ Port of Piraeus — did my emotions consume me. My breath grew fast and shallow. I squinted through my tears and stammered, “There are so many of them. There are just so many.” There were more than 2,000 refugees on that ferry alone, 35 percent of them children. As a volunteer with the nonprofit Carry the Future, my job was to approach arriving families with babies and toddlers and offer them free baby carriers to ease their journey along the Balkan Route to Western Europe. The families I met were primarily Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans bound for Germany — as long as the borders stayed open. Over the course of their journey, they would cover 1,000 miles on buses, trains and foot. A structured backpack-style carrier or a cozy infant pouch would make an enormous difference to those toting children along with garbage bags and duffels of their belongings. There are just so many. “One baby at a time. That’s all …

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The Story of the Rescued Giraffe

As I headed down Broadway toward the gym, I passed a woman pushing a stroller. Its occupant, a boy of about two, was pitching a fit, crying, straining at the straps and attempting a jailbreak with all his might. His mother cooed at him, but he was not to be comforted. I smiled to myself; I’d been in her shoes. As the mother of two sons myself, I know that sometimes nothing can soothe a savage little beast in the midst of a howl fest. But a block later, I spied the actual cause of the boy’s conniption. There, in the middle of the sidewalk, lay a small stuffed giraffe. I scooped him up and turned to call after the mother, but she was gone. I trotted back to the corner and looked around. No sign of them. But something pointed me eastward, and I jogged across Broadway and up 93rd Street. There! A block ahead, I spied them. My jog became a sprint as I took off, my big gym bag bouncing against my …

The Rebirth and Reuse of Great Global Cities

“Vital cities have marvelous innate abilities for understanding, communicating, contriving, and inventing what is required to combat their difficulties… Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration, with energy enough to carry over for problems and needs outside themselves.” — Jane Jacobs Whenever I take a stroll on New York’s Highline, I think about the creativity, ingenuity, money, politics and gumption it took to bring it to life. What some might have seen as an old, decrepit railroad trestle, others had the vision to retrofit it into a lush, elevated park that has added immeasurable pleasure to Manhattan dwellers and visitors alike. This is sustainability in action: an urban infrastructure turned urban green machine, improving air quality, affording new views of the city and providing a happy respite from the hustle. Why is this so important? The environment that surrounds you is the quality of your life. It’s as simple — and as incredibly hard — as that. During its upcoming summit on September 25, the United Nations is adding “Sustainable Cities …

Anatomy of a Working Relationship (and a Sustainable Skateboard)

The first time my husband told me his idea, I wanted to throw up. Not because it was a bad idea — but because it was an idea that I could envision really, truly coming to life. My husband Mac is an artist who has spent the last two decades building with junk, er, found objects. He shows in a Chelsea gallery that features collage art, and he recently turned a 30-yard dumpster into a traveling collage. So when he was approached by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to create a piece of art out of trash, it wasn’t totally surprising. The WWF’s “Do The Green Thing “ campaign, in conjunction with Earth Hour, invited 15 artists to create something to inspire conscious, sustainable living, and he was one of them. We were standing in our kitchen, arms folded and leaning against the counter, and Mac told me he didn’t want to make art out of trash, he wanted to make a thing to use: a skateboard. (Isn’t it funny how many important conversations happen in the kitchen, …

Why I Give: Angel Investor Susan McPherson on Social Good

Susan McPherson was only 21 when her mother died in a tragic hotel fire. Rather than allowing the grief to define her, Susan has dedicated her life — and funds — to giving back to the world. I met Susan only about a year ago, but in that time I’ve been awed to watch how often she gives, in ways both large and small. From her work as founder and CEO of McPherson Strategies, consulting with brands on corporate responsibility to advising several women-run start-ups and serving on the boards of Girl Rising and Business Council for Peace, she even finds time to host #CSRChat, a bi-weekly chat on Twitter. Last month she wrote a great piece for Medium about her path to becoming an angel investor. She writes, “Through angel investing, I could harness my passion for helping other women make change, while supporting the wider movement to increase the number of women providing capital and expertise to early-stage companies.” Freshly 50, Susan McPherson is a petite powerhouse; she’s got more energy, buoyancy and …

How a Community of Drug-Users Saved Us From Violence

In the mid-1990s, I worked for Philadelphia’s needle exchange program, Prevention Point. Twenty-plus years later, I cherish the community that the needle exchange created — that odd and random assortment of people of all ages, races, economic strati and degrees of addiction. The ties that bound us seemed so tenuous. Hundreds of people would line up at the sites — street corners in Kensington or Germantown known for open-air drug markets, sex work and gun violence. And we, the “helpers,” would arrive in a van to distribute supplies that would prevent the spread of HIV, Hepatitis C and other infectious diseases. I didn’t know then that I would be helped at least as much as I helped others. Many of the exchangers (people who used the needle exchange) were extremely tense when they arrived at a site because they were jonesing and had been waiting for a clean needle. To an outsider, our safety may have seemed at risk though those of us who volunteered or worked at the needle exchange rarely gave it a …

Q&A: Rachel Sklar, Entrepreneur and Diehard Camper

If Rachel Sklar is putting on a show, you’d probably find yourself asking, where do I sign up? The co-founder of Change the Ratio and The Li.st, a “visbility” network for professional women, has a knack for rallying colleagues. The same is true for motivating campers. This summer, after an 18-year hiatus, she returned to her beloved Camp Winnebagoe to direct two plays and assist with the Ontario-based camp’s overall Drama program. We chatted about what it was like to get back to a summer of sing-a-longs and s’mores, and the life lessons Rachel’s learned on the campground. Why do you love camp? Camp was a huge part of my life growing up, and a huge part of shaping me into who I am today. I spent 12 summers at Camp Winnebagoe — four as a camper and eight as a staff member. Camp was the locus of all my early creativity — it was my musical theater school, my songwriting lab (I wrote the opening summer theme songs, all day program songs) and gave me intense training in interpersonal skills. It …

8 Charities We Love and Why We Give

Most of us have at least one, if not a handful, of charities that we contribute to. All of them provide wonderful services, but some are particularly special as a result of how we relate (or are related) to them. We asked our trusted TueNight contributors to share some of the causes that are close to their hearts.   1. The Liz Logelin Foundation “The Liz Logelin Foundation was started by blogger Matt Logelin, who lost his wife 72 hours after she gave birth to their first daughter, Madeline. Logelin took the outpouring of support for him and his newborn daughter and turned it into a nonprofit that helps widows and widowers with young families in need.” –Rachel Kramer Bussel [hr] 2. Head for the Cure “Inspired by a loved one who died of brain cancer in July 2013, I volunteered at two Head for the Cure 5k fundraisers in the Kansas City area. Contributing to the non-profit helped me through the grieving process, and donating money to help find a cure is one way …

Manju and Me: Finding Gratitude in an Unlikely Friendship

Her name was Manju and she’d come to us on a rainy afternoon from an employment agency that specialized in hiring out domestic help. She wore a faded orange ‘salwar-kameez,’ the baggy pants and tunic that are the everyday dress of scores of women across India, and she’d covered her head to protect it from the spattering rain with an even more faded ‘dupatta,’ or scarf. She wore chunky-heeled sandals, her toenails were painted red, and although she looked tired, she smiled, her eyes sparkling. It was the summer of 2006 and I was over the moon about moving to India, the country of my birth, to spend two years during which my husband conducted his doctoral research. But I was also terrified. I had visited India many times, but I’d never stayed there for more than six weeks at a stretch, I’d never run my own household or managed — dare I use the common Indian term —“servants.” The word itself made me cringe, but in India, servants are part and parcel of most …

How Working on a 100-Year-Old Boat Gave Me New Life

If you’ve ever driven on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway between the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the Gowanus Canal you know that construction is an ever-present reality. The deck of this elevated section of roadway is being replaced with new reinforcement bars, concrete, wooden timbers and metal sheeting because it’s basically falling apart. I know this not because I’m an engineer or a construction worker, but because I collected piles and piles of scrap wood from the site as part of a volunteer job I had for five months. After being unemployed for the better part of a year, I was desperate to work and engage with people again. Searching through New York City’s government volunteer website I found a museum on a barge docked in Red Hook, Brooklyn that was looking for a museum docent. As a lover of that neighborhood and boats, it felt potentially like the perfect place to be. On top of that, I had recently been raped and needed to normalize my life. The water felt like a natural healing environment so I …

Give It Up for the Giving Circle

It’s hard to believe how long it’s lasted. We may not have given away millions, but we’ve kept it going. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, I reached out via email to fifteen friends I knew from different spheres of my life – my fellow elementary school moms, friends from church, old college buddies who lived nearby. “Between Katrina, Rita, the earthquake in Pakistan, the melting polar ice cap, the war in Iraq and, and, and … I’ve been feeling kinda gloomy and hopeless.” I wrote. I knew my friends did too. I wondered, in the email, if they might want to join me to set up a social meet up once a month, where we would pool our funds—the suggested donation was whatever you would have spent on a girl’s night out—in support of a non-profit organization selected by the group. Pretty simple. We had no bigger ambition than to spend time with friends and throw a tiny bit of good karma back into the world. Those first few meetings were rough. In …