The Good News

The title of this section is called "The Good News" because this blog is about the amazing things people do to help others, and isn't that good news? I now have a few helpers of my own to keep this blog going. Hopefully you can use this as a resource when you are looking for ways to help or share your talents.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Homeboy Industries

I had the pleasure of learning about Homeboy Industries through a book titled, Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle (2010).  The man behind this organization is the perfect example of the title of my blog:  Ripple Affect. Through his actions of unconditional love, compassion and genuine kinship, Father Greg has turned one of the biggest gang areas in L.A. into a place of hope for many.
The mottos for Homeboy Industries are “Jobs not Jail” and “Nothing stops a bullet like a job.”  Because the consequences of gang life are often incarceration or even death, Father Greg’s organization strives for different outcomes by providing the means for a change.  
The origin of Homeboy Industries was also an organization started by Father Greg called “Jobs For A Future.”  It began with Homeboy Bakery which gave hands-on job readiness skills to gang members who had the desire to leave their gang life.  Now, Homeboy Industries is comprised of the following:  Homeboy Bakery, Homeboy Silkscreen and Embroidery, Homeboy Merchandise, and Homegirl Café.  The ultimate goal is for the employees to learn the job readiness skills necessary for attaining and maintaining permanent employment.  Besides the case workers and other programs put into place to help employees succeed, Homeboy Industries also has a tattoo removal program … I’ll stop right there because I know how common it is to have a tattoo but I don’t think we’re talking about dolphins, shamrocks or moon tattoosJ
In the book Tattoos on the Heart (2010), Father Greg humbly states “though thousands have found assistance, it remains a tiny drop in a pretty deep bucket”(p.9).  Thank God for those drops.

If you would like to learn more about Homeboy Industries, check out their website:   
read the book! 

How can we get involved?:
I believe the majority of the proceeds (if not all) of the book, Tattoos on the Heart, goes to Homeboy Industries.  Also, if you live (or visit) in California, check out their bakery or café!  If you shop at Ralph’s, look for their chips and salsaJ  Homeboy merchandise is available for purchase on-line and if for some reason you need a lot of t-shirts made for your business, check out their silkscreen/embroidery business.  It all goes to a great cause!

“Compassion is always, at its most authentic, about a shift from the cramped world of self-preoccupation into a more expansive place of fellowship, of true kinship.”(Boyle, 2010, p. 77)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Karelian Scholarship Fund

The charity I’m highlighting this week is one very close to my heart for a couple of reasons.  First, I’ll give a brief explanation about Karelian Scholarship Fund along with who is behind this awesome organization.  Lastly, I’ll try really hard to briefly explain how I came to know about it, and why I will forever be grateful I responded to that forwarded email!
When I asked my friend and the founder of Karelian Scholarship Fund, Donald Gould, to give me a few sentences summarizing the purpose of his non-profit, he sent me the following: 
The Karelian Scholarship Fund, now in its 8th year, raises money to help Russian students realize their dream of going to college. By American standards, the cost of a university education in Russia is small, but is still beyond the reach of many young Russians. For a modest contribution, a person can help to change the futures for many young Russians, and to give them a chance at a rich and rewarding life.
As of today, eleven students are receiving an education solely on KSF.  Two students have already graduated because of the KSF and three students will be graduating this year!
Petrozavodsk is the capital of the Republic of Karelia and it is also where I was stationed while I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1999-2001.  I witnessed first-hand how the educational system worked and was often troubled by the discrimination students from the villages and the orphanages faced, especially regarding opportunities for higher education.  It was either Sasha or Nastia who told me one of their teachers said, “you are just an orphanage kid so we aren’t going to spend much time on you.”  As much as I know I shouldn’t use generalities, from my experience working in the Teacher Retraining Institute, thereby working with a lot of teachers from the villages and in the cities, I would have to say that philosophy rang true in many of the schools and with many of the teachers.  The KSF has truly been a Godsend for the students who wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to attend college.

How did I find out about this life changing organization?
In 2003, I got a forwarded email from one of my buddies (ShannonJ) who served with me and it was from Don Gould, looking for PC volunteers who served in Petrozavodsk.  He was hoping to find support from fellow Americans who knew the area of Russia he had visited (I think he visited Petrozavodsk for the first time after I had already left) and was compelled to help the Russian students in that area by creating a scholarship fund.  When I read his email, I had just recently qualified for the Boston Marathon so I thought maybe I could use my running to help his cause.  Coincidentally, Don is from Wayland, Massachusetts (close to the start of the race).  I told him I could try and raise money for his organization by running Boston, so in 2003 I ran and raised money for KSF for the first time.  But the story doesn’t stop there!
I met Don and his wife for dinner when I went to Boston that year and I told him about all of my mass emails I had written to my friends and family while I served in Petrozavodsk.  He is/was so fond of that area of Russia, he wanted to read my emails.  This is the best part … get ready for this because it still blows my mind.  So a month or so after I completed the marathon, Don calls me and tells me he finished reading my emails and inquired about Nastia and Sasha’s best friends who were still in the orphanage.  He then told me he and his wife had discussed the possibility of adopting Lena and Katya (Sasha and Nastia’s best friends) and had come to the decision they were going to go through with it!  Not only did I immediately start crying, I think I fell out of my chair.  It’s hard to explain why to this day, I still can’t believe what a miracle it all turned out to be.  When I adopted Sasha and Nastia, I will never forget the trip I made back to Russia to bring Sasha and Nastia home with me and how sad their friends were, especially their best friends.  Stupidly, I told Katya I would try and find someone to adopt her (Katya, if you’re reading this, do you remember that?).  So that’s why it hit me so hard…to this day I still get emotional.  The next year, I ran the Boston Marathon again, and that year, I stayed with Don and Dee…and Katya and Lena were there as well (and Sasha and Nastia were with me!).
KSF is close to my heart because I completely understand its necessity through personal experience.  It will forever be close to my heart because responding to that forwarded email set off a chain of events way beyond my control and led two Russian girls (now incredible young women) to an amazing family.  Thank You God for stopping me from deleting that email!

How can we get involved?: 
The website is great!  You not only get a nice geography lesson as to the whereabouts of the Republic of Karelia, but you can also learn about the differences between the educational systems of Russia versus the USA, why receiving a higher education is so important for Russians and lastly, just how much a little bit from here goes a long way there!
If you are able and interested, send a donation. 

The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.
~Sydney J. Harris
One of the reasons I adopted Sasha and Nastia (other than that I love them) is I felt they would have more educational opportunities here.  On the homepage of KSF you will see its mission simply put: “helping students help themselves.”

Monday, January 17, 2011

Native American Connections

Native American Connections (NAC) is the organization I’d like to highlight this week.  Like Angel Mamas and Achilles International, it started because of an idea and grew into an incredible organization. 
NAC has a really interesting history.  In 1972 five Native American men had the idea of helping out others in downtown Phoenix but ended up needing help themselves.  What started as a recovery program for one group of men, formerly called Indian Rehabilitation, NAC grew into a hugely successful organization now operating out of 15 sites. One of the many functions of NAC I find so awesome is how they serve their clients because it's much more than just performing a service.  NAC follows their clients from the day they enter their site until their clients get back on their feet … and then some!  By offering support through behavioral services as well as finding solutions for their clients' housing predicaments, NAC acts as a constant guide.  The fact that over two hundred employees at NAC were at one time clients and in need of help speaks volumes about the program. 
I feel so lucky to know one of the hearts and minds behind this remarkable organization ... the CEO of Native American Connections .. Diana Devine.  As silly as it sounds, I always find myself wanting to get Dede’s autograph whenever I see her because I feel like maybe if I did, her wonderful ways would magically rub off on me!  She truly is one of the neatest people I have ever met. 

Please check out their website as I didn’t even begin to describe how many wonderful programs they offer:

How can we get involved?: 
There are many volunteering opportunities.  On NAC's website, click on Jobs and then click on Volunteers.  There is an explanation for what volunteers can do as well as an application to fill out and submit. 
For a quick and fun way to help out, you're in luck!  Sign up for The Rising Stars 5K Run.  The event is on Sunday and all of the proceeds benefit NAC. 
To register,  (The Rising Stars 5K Run)
Packet pick-up is offered at a few of the NAC locations, which would be a cool way to check it out first-hand!
If you are not from the valley, there is a handy tab appropriately named “donate.”

Indian Blessing:
Let us walk softly on the Earth
with all living beings great and small
remembering as we go, that one God
kind and wise created all

Monday, January 10, 2011

Angel Mamas

This blog isn’t just about charities, but also the people behind them.  I dedicate this post to all of my girlfriends out there, as you came to mind when I learned about Shira’s charity, Angel Mamas.

Shira is a college friend of mine with whom I have just recently reconnected.  She still has one of the biggest, most beautiful smiles of anyone I know and has the heart to match.  She is currently a stay at home mom of three. Oh yeah, she is also the founder of an incredibly successful charity that started with a handful of her friends over two years ago and now has over 200 members and counting.
Shira’s story about how it all began is awesome because I know so many of us can relate.  I think I should start by stating the following:  In my experience, although a blessing, becoming a stay at home mom was a difficult transition for reasons I didn't expect.  I don't think it hit me until I had to leave the occupation line blank on some paperwork at the Dr.'s.  My career was a big part of my identity and although it was/is being temporarily replaced with being up to my eyeballs in God knows what kind of bodily function stickiness from my kids and all of the other beauties mommihood entails, I sometimes struggle with feeling like I am not being productive enough. Shira calls the feelings that moms have after all of the rushing around, changing diapers, etc., the "mommy grind."  After her second child, she too was feeling the "mommy grind" and felt that although she was grateful for her life, something was missing and she wanted to be doing something more to help others.  In 2008, after watching “Oprah’s Big Give," Shira came up with this amazing idea to give back to the community.  In Shira’s words, she actually had goose-bumps when she called her sister to tell her about her idea.
The first event Shira planned was a baby shower.  All of the gifts went to a charity and because it was such a success she and her friends started brainstorming and planning more events to help out the community.  Thus became the birth of Angel Mamas! 
This organization is mostly a third party organization as they are constantly doing activities, volunteering and hosting events for other non-profits who help children, women and families.  Shira told me one of her favorite events was when they treated the teenage girls from their “focus” charity to updos.  Even I will admit that having fancy hair is a good time...

Angel Mamas is an organization run solely by volunteers.  More information about Angel Mamas can be found on their website:

How can we get involved?  Locally, they make it super easy.  Their website gives “needs lists” for their “focus” charity and also displays volunteer opportunities available.  One can also become a member for $35. 
If you don't live in the valley, contact Shira and start an Angel Mamas in your area.  Shira loves the idea of having Angel Mamas chapters across the USA! 

If we don’t have time, what can we do?  We can give a donation or purchase their merchandise to support their organization. 

Shira, you're an inspiration!

God bless the Mamas who stay at home.  And God bless the working mamas, part-time and full-time.  But most of all, God bless our girlfriends without kids who graciously listen to us commiserate whenever we do get out of the house!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Achilles International

Achilles International is the first non-profit I’m going to highlight to kick off the “New Year” as it has been on my mind for over five years.
In 2005, I ran in the New York City Marathon.   About a week before I left for New York, a good friend of mine told me about the Achilles Track Club.  Her friend had run the NYC marathon the year before as a volunteer of Achilles.  He led one of members with a visual impairment throughout the course.   While in NY, I spotted the Achilles Track Club immediately at packet pick-up as the members and volunteers were all wearing their red shirts.  During the race I remember seeing so many members of the club and hearing the constant “Go Achilles!” from the crowd.  After the race, I don’t know how, but I found my way to the President of Achilles and told him I wanted to start an Arizona chapter.  Well, it has been over five years and there is no chapter in Arizona.  I haven’t forgotten my promise and have even been haunted by it as Achilles is often mentioned in Runner’s World.  After I decided to do this blog for 2011, I looked into Achilles again.  I have a few resolutions for this year, one being an already failed attempt to limit the amount of sugar I eat on a daily basis.  The major one is to start the Achilles Track Club: Scottsdale Chapter, before 2012 gets here.  Incidentally, it’s my same good friend who told me I should choose Achilles as my first post to make a commitment to finally start the team!   

This website gives loads of information about what Achilles is, how it got started AND what states/cities have a chapter.  I believe there are about 18 states that have an Achilles Track Club and over 80 clubs internationally.

How can we get involved?:  If you have any interest at all in exercising, check out the website and see if you can be a volunteer for your local chapter.  If you see that your area does not have one and you are feeling extra ambitious, start a chapter in your area.  The president of Achilles is a real hoot to talk to and gives an incredible amount of support by being so accessible (even though he’s in NY!).
If you live in the valley and are interested in helping me out…I’d love it! 

If we don’t have time, what can we do?:  Like most non-profits, Achilles International takes donations.

I'm pretty sure it was Eleanor Roosevelt who stated “it is not fair to ask of others what you are unwilling to do yourself.”  I think that will be my mantra as I write this over the next 52 weeks.

Update, 3/16/11:
Check out our progress:)