Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Is It a Dinosaur? Celebrate Australia Day by Helping Save Exotic Species

770003_61668665This Sunday, January 26, is Australia Day. It’s also known as National Day, and there are events around the entire country.

In honor of Australia Day, I want to bring attention to the plight of the Cassowary and efforts to try and save this prehistoric-looking giant bird from extinction. The vivid blue hue of its face, the ridged crown, the extremely powerful (and dangerous) clawed feet, are iconic in the nation. I’ve only ever seen them in captivity and they are outstanding and fascinating. Part ostrich or emu, part Jurassic Park escapee, they are only native to the wet tropics of Queensland, and the Daintree Rainforest, a truly stunning region that is being gobbled up by developers. Who wouldn’t want to live here with the lush rainforest and easy access to the beach and Great Barrier Reef all in one spot? Of course, to build homes, as is happening too quickly, you decimate the very things that make the area so appealing. This Rainforest Rescue project is buying back parcels of land and planting tens of thousands of  trees to restore the threatened bird’s habitat. There is also a rehab center that rescues, rehabilitates, and releases back to the wild, injured cassowaries. Estimates are that there are only about 1,000 of these astounding avians remaining in the wild, and their loss, like the extinction of any species, throws the entire bio balance off kilter. Help stop this particular expression of the march of progress. Progressing into a stripped planet is no way to go forward.

Break the Mold!

Image via Buzzfeed, John Goodwin/Getty Images

Image via Buzzfeed, John Goodwin/Getty Images

Defenders Lodge—A Haven for Our Heroes

1080262_92773081Yesterday, Veteran’s Day, was filled with such an outpouring of gratitude and pride across the media and social channels in which I wander. Truly inspiring touchstones were everywhere. It wasn’t until today, though, that I heard about this new project I think is amazing: The Lee and Penny Anderson Defenders Lodge has just completed construction and will be open by the end of this year. It is a hotel near the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs hospital that will provide free lodging for vets receiving medical treatment at the facility.

More than 63,000 veterans come to that particular VA hospital each year–it is the largest in the Western United States–and this brand new hotel will give nights free to patients and care givers. It’s a pretty fantastic way to honor those who have given themselves to the country, one of so, so many ways we can do what’s right. I encourage you to go to the website and explore, get to know what will be going on with the grand opening and beyond. What a great way to say, “Welcome back, and We’ve got your back.”

Hurricane Sandy Plus One Year—Volunteers Still Needed

SandyCoasterIt was a year ago today that the eastern shores of New York and New Jersey, as well as plenty of other wide expanses of land, were beaten mercilessly by nature when struck by Hurricane Sandy. It was the deadliest storm in the United States since Katrina in New Orleans, and cleanup and rebuilding efforts are still underway. As so often happens, our national attention evolves and moves on once we evolve from the stage of emergency into recovery, so, many who were not directly affected have not realized how much damage remains.

Weekends still find dedicated volunteers rebuilding, cleaning up, replanting, and recommitting to their neighbors. If you’re in the region, or visiting soon, the need for volunteers remains high–so jump in. A little sweat from a day’s hard work will do you good, and warm you against the late autumn chill. Here are just a few ways to find out how to be of good use in the storm recovery efforts:

Americorps (The Corporation for National and Community Service)—does tremendous work with post-disaster response and service. They can help you find a number of ways to be involved whether you can swing a hammer or not.

FEMA Corps—established by the office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, this partnership with Americorps is dedicated, with the efforts of 1,600 volunteers, directly to emergency response. There is a youth focus, even providing full-time housing for service workers ages 18-24, who help grow our nation’s disaster response capacity.

NYC Service—is the volunteer portal run by New York City, helping you find a project of need in response to Sandy (or any other category of volunteering you might want to explore).

New York Cares—will get you going volunteering on Sandy projects, or others in the area.

All Hands Volunteers—has to date helped more than 300 families via the efforts of more than 2,700 volunteers totaling donated volunteer hours representing nearly a million dollars.

New York Restoration Project—focuses on the green spaces and community gardens in communities of need, re-planting trees, renewing open spaces and parks, and restoring natural areas.

Hope for New York—is a faith-based organization, mobilizing hundreds of volunteers in Sandy relief efforts.

Spread Your Knowledge and Volunteer Commitment: Do Good As You Go

inukshukA little over a year ago I learned about The Muskoka Foundation and grew smitten with their mission, inspiring and equipping adventure travelers to “use what they know, to do good as they go” to create sustainable impact for the world, by using their own professional skills. In communities of need, when requested by the community and partners (a big deal for me, not “gifting” answers or charity upon communities based on our outsider “expertise,” but instead, responding to need and desire from within), the foundation provides workshops for children and adults, in entrepreneurship, IT, photography, arts, sports, music, and more.

They have nicely simplified and emboldened their message with the Do Good As You Go movement: to harness the energy and spirit of hundreds of volunteer explorers doing what they do best on behalf of communities round the world. The focus here is on experience: experienced travelers who are also experienced at some teachable and desirable skill. Muskoka is the connector, the liaison between inspired volunteers and individuals and groups in foreign countries right at the verge of huge breakthroughs. If you fit the profile–I’m guessing you want a piece of this. Reach out to the foundation and find out where they have active programs, or their target list for next dream nations to work in and impact in incredibly positive ways. Play the game big! The world is waiting for your gifts.

Social Tourism in Nicaragua

Teneriffa nov 2007Summer is over but the beach party doesn’t have to end. Keep your active travel fires burning in rural Northern Nicaragua where you can learn to surf, hike volcanoes, kayak among the mangroves, and help change the world. Monty’s Beach Lodge is a hip surf camp with a purpose. At this rustic lodge, guest rooms are mere steps from the beach, and they have terrific community service programs available for visiting volunteers. Try an “Adventure Volunteer” package including wonderfully fresh meals, and your fees will also help feed the children of this community in one of many programs centered around a poor population living in and around the local garbage dump (not where the resort is located). They have used semi truck-sized shipping containers and converted them into a community center, they’ve built a health clinic (and are building another), and with the help of dedicated volunteers, they erect classrooms for the kids in the area, they serve with the local volunteer fire department, they support neighboring vegetable garden projects and water purification systems, all of it in service to local community projects (and no top-down charity)… It’s recycling, it’s feeding the hungry, it’s learning and education-focused for the locals, and educational for you as well (not just learning to hang ten….but that, too). You choose what you want to work on–projects are all walking distance from the swaying hammocks and trade winds of the blissful downtime you’ll also enjoy on your beach vacation at the lodge.

National Public Lands Day—September 28

313768_6690Tomorrow, Saturday September 28, is National Public Lands Day and a chance for you to roll up your sleeves and get dirty for the greater good. More than 2,000 projects across the country are pledged to participate, so you can bet you won’t have to look too hard to find a volunteer opportunity near you. This is the 20th anniversary of what has become the single largest volunteer effort for public lands. In the U.S., public lands account for more than 600 million acres, and last year, over 175,000 volunteers did the following:

  • Collected an estimated 23,000 pounds of invasive plants
  • Built and maintained an estimated 1,500 miles of trails
  • Planted an estimated 100,000 trees, shrubs, and other native plants
  • Removed an estimated 500 tons of trash from trails and other places
  • Contributed an estimated $18 million through volunteer services to improve public lands across the country

It’s a celebration, it’s a good ol’ hearty work day, it’s great fun to do with your family or a group of friends, and it’s a great educational experience for young and not-as-young. We are all, whether we act this way responsibly or not, stewards of the land, and as the oft-repeated Native American proverb says:

“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

Use the event finder on the website to know where to show up tomorrow, work gloves in tow.

World Suicide Prevention Day

Today, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day. I was touched to read of the rather candid and vulnerable mention made by TV star Wentworth Miller recently, who, because of hiding the fact that he is gay, has considered suicide more than once over the years. The “Prison Break” star said this weekend, at an event for the Human Rights Campaign,

“Growing up I was a target. Speaking the right way, standing the right way, holding your wrist the right way. Every day was a test and there were a thousand ways to fail, a thousand ways to betray yourself, to not live up to someone else’s standards of what was accepted, of what was normal. … The first time I tried to kill myself I was 15. I waited until my family went away for the weekend and I was alone in the house, and I swallowed a bottle of pills. I don’t remember what happened over the next couple of days, but I’m pretty sure come Monday morning I was on the bus back to school, pretending everything was fine. And when someone asks me if that was a cry for help, I’d say, ‘No.’ You only cry for help if you believe there’s help to cry for. And I didn’t need it, I wanted out.”

Of course, people of all ages and all facets of life fit into the cross section of those who have attempted, successfully or not, taking their own lives. People, all of us, need to be able to talk and be heard. It is such a primal need, such a deep chunk of the foundation that has to be in place for us to build a life and face each day. We have to be heard. It means the rest of us, who are perhaps in better or just different places, MUST do the hearing. If someone can reach out to a family member, friend, teacher, spiritual leader, commanding officer, medical professional, trained hotline volunteer, or stranger anywhere–we have to be there, in the room or the other end of the line. There is always someone you can talk with.

Years ago, in the early days of the AIDS crisis, when I volunteered on an information hotline for AIDS Project Los Angeles, almost every call was of the variety of “Can I get it from kissing? From a doorknob? From a toilet seat? I did this action–was that safe?” with a few crank calls and giggly teens thrown into the mix on those long nights on the phone bank…until one night I had a suicide call. It gutted me emotionally, exhausted everything I had in me to keep the young man talking, eventually joking, while a colleague alerted supervisors. I’ll never know what became of that anonymous caller, but I went to bed late that night knowing that he was going to at least see the next morning, and, I suspect, with no intent of minimizing his fear and pain, he is probably still waking up each morning as, at least that night, he did not have an actual “plan.” He will never know who I am but he honored me with his story and his strength, when the last thing he would have considered himself was strong. He was/is fierce.

Many, however, do have plans, or unplanned extreme actions…and too many are successful who needn’t have gone down that road to its conclusion.

If you need to talk to someone–please do. If you are ever presented with the true honor of listening to someone who needs you to hear them–please do.

Some brilliant resources, doing incredible work in this arena:

The Trevor Project

To Write Love on Her Arms

International Association for Suicide Prevention

Suicide Hotlines (find one in your state/region–calls are toll-free, 24 hours)

From the World Suicide Prevention Day facebook page: Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It is ok to ask some one are they feeling suicidal, it will not put ideas in their head, it will not push them towards suicide. It will show them that there is hope, that some one is there for them, let them know its ok to talk. If you are suicidal please reach out, you are not a burden, you are not worthless, use your voice, fight for the life you deserve. It is not easy but I can tell you it is worth it.

September 11—Cycle for Heroes

20914_CYCLE-FOR-HEROES-2013_EMAIL_IMAGEI share numerous organizations and events here, every one of which would benefit from your support in both financial donations and volunteer effort…and sometimes even ask for your support for a charitable event in which I am participating. I don’t ever want to contribute to donor exhaustion, potentially numbing you to the need around every bend by hitting you up too often, so I am always very cautious about which fundraising events I invite you into on my behalf.

This is one of those, not because you are expected to whip out your wallet, but because so many of you express appreciation for learning about organizations that spark an interest or passion in you to engage on your own level, perhaps even participating alongside. I’d much prefer you actively involved over donating dollars.

Visit the website for more information about this event I will be doing on September 11, in honor of wounded veterans. Cycle for Heroes is a philanthropic stationary bike ride–a three-hour spin workout–outside on the Santa Monica pier, raising funds and awareness for The Heroes Project. This 100% volunteer-driven organization (another, higher profile wounded veteran support organization’s executive director drew more than $400,000 personal salary from the charity last year. Conversely, The Heroes Project has no paid staff–only volunteers) is dedicated to improving the care and protection of our returning heroes, while breaking boundaries by leading climbing expedition to the summits of the world’s largest mountains with wounded marines, soldiers, and veterans. In Addition to their “Climb for Heroes” initiative, there is also “Hope for Heroes” that expands and supports community service programs for veterans, and the “Voices for Heroes” project, that educates the public and media about caring for veterans and military families.

There is still time to reserve a bike for this rock n’ roll event on 9/11. There will be over 300 of us sweating under Santa Monica skies to thumping soundtracks, led by expert spin instructors, and pedaling side-by-side with wounded warriors, families, and celebrities (Cher was in the saddle last year).

If you can’t make it to the evening’s occasion, and would like to support the important work of this organization, my secure, personal fundraising page is here. Any donation of any size is a fantastic push forward.


Elevate Haiti–Summer Service Travel Opportunity

CIMG3411If you’ve lingered a bit around this blog, you know that I have had some earth-shifting service opportunities to travel and volunteer in Haiti. The organization with which I volunteered following the devastating 2010 earthquake, and then returned with last year as a group leader, is Elevate Destinations.

If you’ve ever had the itch to get to Haiti and get busy, they have a new trip going this summer, July 28-August 5 (If you are super dedicated, there is a potential extension for a second week of service work). “Elevate Haiti” puts a particular focus on sustainability and supporting local organizations on the ground–this way the mistake is never made (as too many voluntourism groups do) of providing “top down” charity. Nope, with Elevate, you are in service to the local partners–even when they do things in very different ways than you might. It is folly to try and impose our sensibilities–we actually don’t know better–and on this trip you are fully immersed, living and laughing and sweating (oh boy the sweating–you’ll love it. Your Bikram yoga class ain’t got nuthin’ on Haiti in July) with the local community. Your work will be largely youth-focused, working on education programs with the kids of the area (this year’s trip takes place on Ile-la-Vache, a small island off Haiti’s coast) and there is also a community-generated program, requested by the local community, that you will assist with (probably a construction or ecosystem project). There is plenty of downtime to see the slice of the world you are bettering, amazing Caribbean beaches being a highlight, and most importantly, bond with the Haitian kids and adults who are welcoming you. You start and finish your travels in Port-au-Prince, so you’ll get a tour and chance to see some of the capital as well. The earthquake was back in the beginning of 2010, and yet there are still so many displaced people living in tent villages–so much infrastructure has so far to go, but you’ll be overwhelmed with the inspiration you discover among your new friends.

Seriously–explore the website and try it on in your mind–see if it feels like a fit. If you have questions, don’t hesitate getting in touch with me directly, and reaching out to the folks at Elevate. They are Boston-based, so their time schedule likely aligns at least somewhat with yours for a call or call back. I had two great friends join me last year, plus all the friends I’ve made there (always a small group of a dozen or so, so you’ll get to know people and establish lifelong bonds with your fellow volunteers, too), and we can all tell you that you will not come home the same. That’s a promise. You want that change.