Mandela Day 2019 – #ActionAgainstPoverty

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July 18, is Mandela Day, a cause for celebration and gratitude. A day for looking for connection with others, not distance or difference. A day to honor and touch others.

Especially now. Especially in days so dark in so many parts of the world. A day we ALL need, desperately, with an eye toward building bridges between people, beliefs, parties, and privileges.

July 18 is the birthday of Nelson Mandela, “Madiba” as a name of respect from his clan heritage. The official Mandela Day recognition is now a decade old, since launching in 2009. In celebration of a decade, the next chapter (next ten years) are to be focused on five areas: education & literacy, food & nutrition, shelter, sanitation, and active citizenship.

For individuals and communities, it is a perfect day to look at how we respond to crisis, to disagreement, to discord. A shining opportunity to look at how we do for others and how we might do one thing more. A stunning day to look at how we sometimes retreat when chaos is too strong for us to navigate…when the exact opposite is the answer…to go forward and to reach out and do something for someone.

Mandela Day is a global call to action. Each of us has the power to change the world for the better. Each of us can make an impact on how we, as a global community, embrace peace, a shared sense of community, liberty, quality of life, and assured safety. Each of us can.

Human rights for every human, no one more than another–that is when we know we did it. We have a lot, still, to do. Many minds must open. Many hearts must open. Many conversations must open. Many hands must open.

Find listings of actions and activities and ways to get involved around the world here. Mandela worked for peace for 67 years–Mandela Day’s request is that we each start with just 67 minutes, especially in taking action against poverty. Got an hour for the rest of us? If not today, use this special date to commit yourself to doing something soon.

How will you open hand and heart today, to touch another? For Madiba? For yourself? For all of us?

Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter’s Anniversary – 73 Years in Service

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President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter have been married 73 years today. That’s a big long run, and a testament to willingness to discover fresh opportunities together.

Since his presidency, Carter has flourished for many years as a statesman and powerhouse in the charitable world. If you were so inclined, you could get involved in some volunteer opportunities driven by Carter.

Most of us have heard of Habitat for Humanity, the non-profit home building organization founded in 1976 and now working in all 50 states as well as more than 70 other countries, helping more than 22 million people so far. Jimmy and Rosalynn got involved early and rocketed awareness of Habitat with their ongoing work swinging hammers and building homes. Together with legions of volunteers (not requiring special skills, so any of us can get involved), they help families achieve strength, stability, and independence through safe, decent, and affordable shelter. Pop in your zip code to find your local Habitat here. You’ll find travel and build opportunities if you want to get busy on a volunteer vacation, women build options, programs specific to veterans, youth programs, college challenges, and emergency programs in disaster areas. At the end of a day volunteering, raising a wall on a new home or handing over the keys where a family can now make memories is the kind of payback we all crave.

Another of Carter’s major organizations is The Elders.

This auspicious group has been working since 2007  a group of global leaders, brought together originally by Nelson Mandela, to offer their influence and wisdom to the process of peace building and to address human suffering. In addition to Jimmy Carter, Ban Ki-moon, Graca Machel, Desmond Tutu, and Mary Robinson are a few others of the elders. The group was gathered and launched by Sir Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel.

There are so few cultures that still revere the wisdom that comes with age, the life spirit and lessons passed down through generations–it’s almost as if we move too quickly and are so desperate to reinvent and improve that we end up re-inventing the wheel instead of building upon the knowledge of those who have gone before us. What a loss.

The Elders focus on international rights issues and take on new challenges as they arise. Their collective plate is currently full with initiatives focused on: ethical leadership and multilateral cooperation; climate change, universal health, access to justice, conflict countries and regions, and refugees and migration.

Big, heady issues. Big heads taking them on. When was the last time you reached out to the generation before yours for guidance? Your parents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, family friends, business mentors, or anyone older needn’t be a world leader to have incredible gifts of wisdom that are yours for the asking.

What Would Jimmy Do?

Happy Birthday Dalai Lama — Volunteer to Celebrate

Dalai Lama quoteJuly 6, is the 84th birthday of His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

To celebrate, practice what HE preaches and find new ways to express compassion and connection in your world. One of his more famous quotes: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.

If you’re particularly inspired by him, here are a couple of Dalai Lama-specific volunteer opportunities to check out.

The Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education, in Vancouver, seeks volunteers for all of its expanding programs, including their renowned “Educating the Heart” program. Find out more here.

Traveling to India? (Lucky you!) The Dalai Lama Institute for Higher Education in Bangalore welcomes volunteers who, in return for their service, are able to learn the Tibetan language, Buddhist philosophy, and receive room and board while volunteering. Check out their needs and opportunities at this link.

Dalai Lama Fellows is a global program authorized by him, working with social innovators and those working toward worldwide peace, justice, and ecology. Several fellows of the program have developed and launched programs around the world that need dedicated volunteers. Find your perfect match here.

Comfort and Joy for the Fourth of July

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If you have pets or have ever lived with household animals, you already know the terror that neighborhood fireworks instill in the hearts of dogs and cats. With no way for us to explain our pyrotechnic traditions, and their heightened, excellent hearing, how could they imagine anything other than the end of the world? It is the number one day for runaways, and breaking down fences and leaping over gates that the rest of the year prove secure borders is not uncommon.

Think, now, of the huge numbers of dogs and cats in animal shelters around the country. Most don’t have overnight staff. Come the night of July Fourth, explosions rock the neighborhoods where they are kenneled, already stressed out by the living conditions, and you’ve got a recipe for true misery.

If you’ve got the night off and don’t have plans to be at someone’s barbecue, or spreading your picnic blanket on the golf course to watch fireworks…if you are more likely to be home…AND you don’t have your own animals that you have to comfort as they quake, consider volunteering at your local animal shelter to comfort some pups. Several facilities have programs for this particular night, “Calm the Canines” initiatives just for the peak hours of most municipal fireworks shows (dusk until 10:00pm or so). Check with your local shelter. (Try an internet search for “Fourth of July Animal Shelter Volunteer” or “Volunteer with dogs July 4” or similar–loads of results will pop up)

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They might be playing soft music, volunteers may be talking and cooing, sitting on the floor, reading softly, distracting animals with special treats, and giving tons fo pets and cuddles. Some shelters will even have programs set up for one-night fostering of a dog, taking it asa guest pet to your own home to calm and comfort it during this night of decibels and terror.

Of course, if you fall in love with the adoptable pet you’ve been petting through its panic–all the better–adopting a rescue is a brilliant outcome! Another win/win situation is if you come away from your one-night volunteer gig impressed enough to offer volunteer help other times throughout the year. The animals need you.

Giveback Box – Low Effort, High Impact

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There’s a particular type of giving and service I like to point out whenever I find it—I refer to it as “NO skin off my ass” giving or NO SOMA impact. These are the actions that don’t interfere with your everyday routines, yet can, with minimal effort, make a difference in the lives of others.

There are, of course, outstanding opportunities around the world to really dedicate your all—energy, time, sweat, and tears—and I hope you’ll find plenty of those options here and elsewhere. But how about something you can do on any old Tuesday afternoon…or Thursday morning…or any time at all. Actions so simple yet still impactful…the only question that remains, is “Why not…?

GIVEBACK BOX is such a simple yet ingenious idea it boggles my mind why we haven’t all been doing it for years.

Here’s the super-short version:

  1. You order from an online retailer (partners include most major online shops: Amazon, Overstock, LOFT, Levi’s/Dockers, Asics, New Egg, Ann Taylor, UncommonGoods, BonTon, Kenneth Cole, Hanes, REI Co-op, Jet.com, Nordstrom, David’s Bridal, Banana Republic, and so many more).
  2. Instead of throwing away the box or breaking it down for recycling (and PLEASE recycle packaging if you decide NOT to do the GIVEBACK BOX), you Fill the Box with items you want to donate from your home.
  3. Print out a pre-paid label, and mail (via United States Postal Service or UPS…drop off or have it picked up from your home) shipping to the charity you choose.

So simple. So good. No skin off my ass and yet impactful!

So…Why Not?

Praise vs. Thanks

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I’ve been wondering lately how clearly we hold the distinction between Praise and Thanks. Do we really know the difference? Does one of them, or the anticipation of receiving one, drive us more than another?

I’ve just returned from a 10-day exhausting and overwhelmingly fulfilling volunteer gig working with burn-injured children (Champ Camp of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation—it’s the largest and longest-running burn camp in the nation—reach out and I’ll tell you every little thing about it—you want to be a part of this, I promise)…and on the long drive home from the hot dusty foothills of Fresno, I reflected back on the week-and-a-half.

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I received a LOT of thanks for my work. I was often embarrassed, because it felt like praise and I, like so many of us, duck and deflect compliments…but I never want to avoid a thank you. A thank you deserves to be heard, received, and responded to (but NOT with that horrific reply “No problem”—Ooof how I want to thwack the head of every damn waiter and barista and service person who replies to “Thank you” with “No problem”…but that’s a rant for another day) with some grace. I also gave a lot of thanks to my fellow volunteers, not to slap them on the back as if to say, “Good on ya” but because I was (am) genuinely thankful for their hard and important work. It gets blurry in my own head which is which, but I know that praise is not important, gratitude expressed IS important.

If we functioned in a vacuum, with no one to witness our good deeds and service as volunteers, how much of this hard work would we still perform? I don’t mean to suggest that we do it selfishly to polish our halos and gain recognition for our selflessness—most of us are legit pretty darned selfless—there are MUCH easier ways to garner praise. If, however, we did a good deed in the forest and no one was there to hear it, might we just walk on by? Probably, at least some of the time. That’s hard for me to wrap my head around for my own self-image, but I think it is authentic.

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I wipe down the public restroom sink because I believe I should, not because someone is watching. I pick up the litter because it offends my sensibility to see it there, not because someone will clap for me. Those are tiny expressions. Will I, however, commit a week and a half to 24-hour-a-day service if I don’t get to humble brag about it on social media? Wow—I sure hope so. I have no sense of an audience for my service when I am in the midst of it all, but if I’m being honest, I sure do want you to notice afterward.

It’s not a peg on which everyone hangs their reputation, but the “being of service” thing is very much a part of who I am and who I say I will always be. How much of that is to feed my ego? I’m not sure. I’m probably being hard on myself with sleep deprivation and laundry and re-entry making my brain swirl. In the long run, what matters is that the good work is done and done well. If you volunteer because a spouse or parent or someone pressures you into it, or so you can include it on a resume or college app, or to get extra credit, does that matter? I say no. Do the work anyway. Sweat the sweat. Cry the tears. Laugh the belly laughs. Hug until it hurts. You might get some praise—big deal—but you WILL get thanks, and that IS a big deal.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the most important thanks is coming from you.

That seems like a trite statement but it is everything.

How Will You Spend Your MLK Day of Service?

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Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr has offered more quotable quotes to the zeitgeist than a boatload of news channel pundits, politicians, or presidents–perhaps because his public time in the spotlight was focused on realizing a greater future for all–a sentiment in shorter supply, today,than is healthy for us, I think. One of my favorites of his messages is…

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Today, many of us have a holiday from work, but it is not the Martin Luther King holiday we celebrate, rather the Martin Luther King Day of Service, a time to take a day ON instead of a day off. You should serve yourself as well–sleep in a bit, take some downtime to relax. Absolutely bask in rare extra hours with your family…won’t it be even more memorable if you, as a family, volunteer in your community? Kids are learning about MLK in their classes, but the lesson truly takes hold when they learn the spirit of the day by putting together care packages for the homeless, or cleaning up a public park, or shoveling the walk for a neighbor, or ladling stew at a soup kitchen, or, or, or…

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How can you creatively express your huge commitment to service? Without advance planning, perhaps you don’t have a volunteer project lined up for today–how about using the day to commit to action soon? Surf around to find a non-profit organization doing projects near you–there are so many resources for discovery, and SOOOO many organizations that need your assistance. When the new tax laws have most charities and non-profits quaking in their boots in anticipation of Americans donating RECORD LOW AMOUNTS to charitable causes, giving hours (in addition to) dollars becomes even more important.

There are web tools for you to use in your neighborhoods and towns, to find projects and programs that need your contribution. The MLKDay website has resources that are already serving the hundreds of thousands of people who will volunteer around the nation today, but the opportunity lasts long past midnight tonight. Use the website as a jumping off place. I promise there are other day of service events and tasks in your immediate region, school, place of worship, block, etc. What’s that? You already made plans for today you can’t break? You’ve got a little time coming up…Next weekend. On your birthday. On your anniversary. On the day a loved one passed to honor them. Or on an ongoing basis. What if today is the day you find a brand new, exciting passion project that completely fires you up? It is out there–I can promise you that, and they truly need you and what you bring. You don’t have to be a certain age, have expertise, have physical abilities, have endless free time–none of that is required for you to contribute.

Contribution can be a scary word–our brains go toward yet another request to open our wallets. What if you re-framed it and held the meaning of the word more closely to its intended use in language: the part played by a person or thing in bringing about a result or helping something to advance. What matters at the very root of it all is the contribution of your art, your passion, your enthusiasm, your voice, your ability to encourage and inspire others, your willingness to take a stand on an issue that matters to and moves you. Move things forward. Move our country forward, for you truly have the ability (without spending a cent).

“The time is always right to do what is right.
Martin Luther King, Jr.