Homeboy Industries, Food Truck, and Getting Involved

Homegirl Cafe worker, woman making espresso, tattoos

Photo: Homegirl Cafe

Are you familiar with Homeboy Industries? The organization is well known in Los Angeles but has developed a national profile for their innovative work serving high-risk, formerly gang-involved men and women, providing them services, programs, and job training at several very cool social enterprises. They’ve got products you can find in grocery stores (tortilla strips, salsas, and more), a restaurant and bakery (Homegirl Cafe), catering business that serves many film and TV studios, and now a food truck.

The model is great and the popularity makes their considerable reach grow more and more. A busy, bustling restaurant (which Homegirl Cafe DEFINITELY was last time I was there) is much better on-the-job training than a sleepy lunch counter. The gourmet food truck is new and already has fans following the social media feeds to discover where they will park and set up from day to day, inspiring buzzy word-of-mouth.

The job training at these great businesses is just the most forward facing element of the work the organization does. They also provide employment counseling and mentoring, tattoo removal (they remove about 745 tattoos every month, for free), case management to develop goal planning and accountability, legal services and referrals, educational services and classes, mental health/substance abuse/domestic violence services, and a solar panel installation and certification training program.

There are plenty of reasons young people step into gang life, but one of the most pernicious is the lack of alternatives. Homeboy Industries provides a rich array of opportunities to delve deeply into other options.

Volunteers keep much of this amazing work going…some of the most rewarding opportunities are GED course prep teachers and tutors, tattoo removal (30 volunteer doctors currently help out with this critical area), and Homeboy Heals program volunteer therapists, social workers, and counselors. Check it out, and jump in if you’ve got the skills needed.

Travel in the Buy-One-Give-One Mode: Elevate Destinations

Maasai Mara group standing in village settingI’ve blogged before, and likely will again, about companies like Warby Parker glasses and TOMS shoes, who have implemented the business model of buy-one-give-one. They are set up so that for each item a customer purchases, a similar item is donated to a community in need. It’s a good model, and is being more readily adopted by more companies, and provides the opportunity for customer loyalty to extend to cause-based issues, education about a chosen problem that can be addressed, and chance for retail to do well while doing good. Bottom line for a business needn’t be exclusively profit.

Since my normal stomping grounds include the travel industry, I am pleased to see footholds being made with this model in this arena as well. Elevate Destinations has launched a new Buy a Trip, Give a Trip model, where every client trip booked through this philanthropic travel company triggers a parallel experience for a child in a developing world destination. Working with local, on-the-ground NGOs, Elevate sponsors outings for youth groups that would otherwise not have access to the sites (and sights) that draw tourists from around the world. Children of Cape Town communities getting to visit Robben Island, for example, or Peruvian youth finally seeing Machu Picchu…it expands the experiences and understanding of marginalized young people.

For a while now, we’ve been aware of responsible travel practices and tools, like carbon offsets, that counter some of the impact we have on the planet as we engage with it…now, with this new Buy One Give One (#B1G1) model for travel…it could be seen as cultural offset, where your visit to a new community or destination leaves something more than footprints.

Changers Profile: Scott Fifer, GO Campaign

Scott Fifer GO CampaignI was recently e-introduced to Scott Fifer by a dear friend with whom I have traveled to Haiti, because she said her friend Scott was headed to Haiti again soon, setting up some grassroots volunteer programs generated from within the community, and we both shared a fascination with Haitian voodoo (vodoun) art, including the sometimes disturbing genre that includes plastic babydoll heads. Quirky and committed to service are a couple of high benchmarks in my estimation of folks, so I was looking forward to the conversation.

I, like so many of us would, figured I had to do an internet search ahead of time so I’d know more about who I was going to meet, and quickly became smitten with Scott’s huge undertaking, GO Campaign. Fifer is the founder and executive director of the organization whose mission he sums up: “We partner with grassroots Local Heroes to give opportunity to orphans and vulnerable children around the world.”

Now, tourism and orphanages uttered in the same breath become dangerous territory these days as it has become somehow cynically cool on the web to bash volunteer travel, especially in relation to kids. That’s an argument for which I have little patience, though it is true that there are some nefarious folks out there trying to capitalize on best intentions of travelers and who are creating a nasty “orphanage tourism” scam business model. While I don’t let that dampen my commitment to serving young people around the world, due diligence should be done before any of us lend our dollars or hours to any organization.

GO Campaign, established in 2006, is the real deal. The key is Scott and company’s commitment to work only with vetted “local heroes” who are already fighting the good fight in the communities where they live. This assures there is no foreign “savior” coming in and imposing outsider will on a local problem or issue. This is EXACTLY the sort of project initiative you should look for when volunteering anywhere—locally-generated solutions. The fact that this ethos is built into GO Campaign is a great sign. With GO Campaign, you can fund high impact projects from home, or you can go and volunteer with the hero projects in some amazing locations. The volunteer opportunities pages of the website share links to projects, and define the need for volunteers who might visit.

After the jump, find Scott’s answers to a bunch of Changers Profile questions: Continue reading

What Price Fashion–Rainforest Wreckage for Style

1168175_87597514Fashion Week just started in New York–the Mercedes Benz-sponsored high holy days for many, when it is impossible to get a cab or a table at hip eateries (ironic since so many at the forefront of fashion are known for eating so little). In addition to the swirling, whirling, paparazzi flashing chaos of couture celebrations, there is, as with most industries, an underbelly that is less appealing.

Clothing today, its manufacture and materials, is, in many instances, decimating our environment. To make the popular fabrics that drape beautifully and flow effortlessly, including rayon and viscose, is a pretty rough-on-the-world process. Rainforests in Indonesia, Canada, Brazil, and more, are clear cut to make way for “monocrop” plantations. The new monocrop trees are then cut down and their material put through a labor-intensive and highly toxic chemical bath process to create “dissolving pulp” that can then be spun out and woven into cloth. The chemicals used are brutal and high impact, and the destruction of the rainforest ecosphere adds to the loss of endangered species, like threatened orangutans, rhinoceros, and others. 

The fabric created is used by global brands like Gap, Forever 21, Louis Vuitton, Prada, and legions of others. Of course there are plenty of responsible, sustainable replacement options.

The Rainforest Action Network is calling upon the fashion industry, especially now during high profile fashion celebrations and showcases for designers, to find environment-sparing alternatives. They’ve got a petition going to bring attention to the cause and state that “there’s nothing fashionable about rainforest destruction.” Sign here and leaner more about awareness events happening this month with which you may want to participate. Sources report that an average of 137 species of rainforest life form go extinct EVERY DAY! Help curb those numbers with how you spend your clothing dollars, and volunteer to spread the word.


Volunteer to Work at the Olympics in Rio 2016

14-rio-2016Volunteer application opportunities have just opened up for those who want to work at the Olympic Games and/or the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016. Applications will be accepted from today through November November 15, so act now if you want to be one of the many, many dedicated souls who make Olympic magic happen.

Volunteers are needed for myriad roles, including Ceremonies Production, Customer Service, Health Services, Operational Support, Press & Communication, Protocol and Languages, Sports, Technology, and Transport. The volunteer squad will number about 70,000 individuals! 

It’s kind of a big deal, with many steps and interviews and training along the way, but what a hoot to be able to say at your next get together with friends that YOU are going to be helping make the Olympics happen. They even need volunteers to be in the “cast” of performers/dancers/marchers/etc for the opening ceremonies!

There is online training, then later, in-person training, and you get a full uniform specific to your volunteer placement, certificate of appreciation, local transportation, meals on days you work, exclusive gifts, and a whole slew of international friends and colleagues. You must be 18 years old by February 28, 2016, and be available for ten days during the Olympic or Paralympic Games. You are responsible for your own travel and housing during your stay, so start your planning early…like today! Full information and Frequently Asked Questions here

Happy National Dog Day!

Today, August 26, is National Dog Day.

I am re-posting from 2010 when we adopted our perfect rescued companion, Cooper, from a shelter we love in Connecticut. Since then, we also adopted Finn, the big blond bruiser whose picture follows (also from the same Connecticut shelter–links below). They are the best wrestling-tumbling-chasing-did-I-mention-wrestling-love-buckets on the planet.

Shelter Dog

This weekend, we went and adopted our own magnificent Black Dog from the amazing volunteers at the Danbury Animal Welfare Society. DAWS is a non-profit (they could sure use your support/donations–easy to do at the link here), no kill shelter, and is truly run by the most loving, caring volunteers. They made every individual and family member who came over the weekend (and it was super busy–the first spring-like weekend of the year with warm weather and sunshine) feel that among the busy buzz, they were important and maybe the perfect home for one of their adult dogs or puppies.

Our boy, Cooper, is a 2-year-old lab/shepherd…and Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Scooby Doo, and Snoopy combined ain’t got nothing on him. He is brilliant, and has found his last, forever home…and has truly honored us by being part of our pack.

I promise you there is a shelter near you that needs volunteer help. It is unheard of to have too many volunteers and regulars tend to be spread awfully thin. Wouldn’t it be a brilliant way to spend a morning or afternoon, bringing families together?


Burning Man Volunteering

BurningManIn spite of some mean rainstorms keeping today’s gates closed on the launch of this year’s Burning Man happening (the weather is supposed to be nice for the rest of the time the masses will be on the Playa), this is THAT season.

I’ve never been to Burning Man–I suspect I will one year, but haven’t yet. There is so much I find endlessly intriguing–especially about the systems and non-systems set up as a for community agreement. No money changes hands, barter agreements, specializing in something great to give regardless of whether you receive anything in return. These are concepts I like.

As you might guess, if you know a little or a lot about Burning Man, it takes more than a village to make it all happen. So much is user-generated, but there is much behind the scenes that occurs–only the most careful planning can make so much feel so spontaneous.

Toward that end–they need legions of volunteers. There are year-round volunteers handling logistics and planning leading up to the late summer shindig in Black Rock City, and there are volunteers at-event. Cleanup, the “Gazette” staff, security, rangers, greeters, lamplighters, temple guardians, technology teams, earth guardians, the Department of Mutant Vehicles, and so many other roles are filled by volunteers. Once the dust settles (literally) and ash disappears from this year’s event, it’s not too soon to plan on Playa service for 2015. Find out more how to take your community giving, and commitment to the crowds, to the next level–volunteer to make the magic happen.


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