If you’re like many of us, you’re not sure what gifts to pick up for friends and family. Why not give a gift that will be sure to please the recipient and make life better for others? It’s easier than you think. The best way to help your local community is to buy local and buy products made in the USA. Another way to invest for the greater good is to purchase products from nonprofits. Either of these choices will make a positive impact in our communities and are sure to make your family and friends appreciate your thoughtfulness.
If you’d like to raise some eyebrows while making a difference, give a goat, a share of a goat or another animal through Heifer International. It doesn’t stop there. You can make this a family tradition, and get a different animal each year to celebrate the holidays or to remember and honor a loved one.
You can shop gift stores online at the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, Bread for Life, Best Friends Animal Society, Do Good Buy Us, Handcrafting Justice, Human Rights Campaign, NPR, National Wildlife Federation, PBS Sierra Club and St. Judes are just a few of the fine nonprofit gift shops to choose from, and all of their respective links are available here: Online Gift Stores That Benefit Nonprofits
Lastly, my thanks to ABC News for compiling an updated list of American-made products. To check out products made in the USA, click here: Made in America 2013: Gift Ideas
“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” ― Mother Teresa
Monday is Veterans Day, a day we honor those men and women whom at one time wore the uniform to defend our country. Veterans come in all shapes and sizes. Some served during times of peace, some during war. Some are combat veterans, some are not. Some came home whole, and others sacrificed parts of their body while serving our nation.
If you’re like many Americans, you’ve had enough with the politics of the day intruding upon and negatively impacting our daily lives. Some wonder why government and its elected officials don’t just do their jobs. At times like these, it’s important to remember that we are citizens who have a job to do as well – not unlike those before us. Each of us has to fight for what’s right in our country. Yes, citizenship doesn’t stop at voting.
Get involved with your local community boards and learn the facts about what is happening in your neighborhood. Then move up the ladder and investigate what is impacting your town, city, state, country, and our world.
Then see if you can you imagine…
a world where people make, at the very least, a living wage.
Then see if you can you imagine…
Then see if you can you imagine…
Then see if you can you imagine…
you and your family receiving proper healthcare.
Then see if you can you imagine…
Whether you can or can’t imagine these possibilities, contact your elected officials and tell them what you are for and against. If you are in a party, re-investigate what the party platform is and ask yourself if you still align with the party line. Remind your elected officials that they need to focus on what can be agreed upon. Advise them to stop the partisan bickering and find common ground. Ask them to consider citizens’ issues – not party politics. The influx of “artificial emergencies” over the debt ceiling, sequestration and government shut down spark real emergencies for the rest of us, and it has to stop. Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. If you don’t use your voice, then your elected officials are not hearing your concerns. Instead, they’re hearing the voices and concerns of others.
Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. - John F. Kennedy
If you’re uninsured, then tomorrow is the start of a new life. Online enrollment for healthcare is available on October 1st; insurance starts on January 1st. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes a Patient’s Bill of Rights for all of our citizens. It provides protective clauses for people with pre-existing conditions. It allows parents to insure their children up to the age of twenty-six. It ends life-time limits on coverage, and guarantees your right to an appeal. To review all of your rights, please review the Patient’s Bill of Rights, and for more information about ACA, please visit Healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596. This website will give you the opportunity to find out general information regarding your healthcare. Moreover, after you answer a few questions, it will direct you to your local state exchange to obtain specific information about your state healthcare exchange.
“He who has health, has hope. And he who has hope, has everything.”
We all have the ability to help others, and sometimes the smallest gesture can bring the greatest reward. I remember one day when I was waiting in the subway station for a train. There was an elderly woman who passed me by. She took the time to look around the subway platform when a disturbing look came across her face. I was compelled to see where she was looking and soon saw the graffiti that caught her attention. It was an insidious symbol; it was a swastika. She couldn’t take her eyes off of it and neither could I, which turned out to be a blessing. After a moment, I noticed the texture of the drawing. It became obvious to me that it was lipstick. I rummaged a napkin out of my bag, walked over to the symbol, and wiped it away. With that small action, I saw her smile. We never spoke, but I’ll never forget her grateful look and the feeling it gave me. It touches me to this day.
I’m sure others have had an experience when the smallest gesture brought the greatest reward, and I’d love to hear about it. Thanks so much for sharing.
“You know about a person who deeply interests you more than you can be told. A look, a gesture, an act, which to everybody else is insignificant tells you more about that one than words can.”
- Henry David Thoreau
After the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, I noticed posts from people who were upset about a perceived lack of outrage regarding the death of children that did not appear to receive national attention. I asked myself, “Is this what it comes to? Using one child’s senseless death to belittle another’s?” So far, I’ve read three sad, heartbreaking stories. I’ve seen three types of postings of white children where the poster is asking, “Where is the outrage?” They were posted and liked by people who don’t understand. They don’t understand what it’s like to explain to their son that they might not return from a candy store, school or the movies. They don’t understand what it would be like to consider that their baby might be perceived as dangerous. They’ve never had to have the “racism talk” with their child, yet there are those who have had the racism talk with their children and understand the implications of it – all too well.
There is no doubt that people do become upset over a child’s death. Sadly, this fact is proven time and time again. Whether it’s a mass killing or an individual killing – every life matters and the taking of any child’s life is especially tragic. So I was compelled to check for updates regarding the three different postings of murdered children. It did not take long, even though one posting only provided the child’s first name. I found her and the others too, because there was public outrage. There was community involvement. However, their cases haven’t come to trial yet. Their killers are still in jail. This is why there is increased outrage and solidarity by our communities regarding Trayvon Martin. He was just a kid who went to the store and cut through the neighbor’s yards on the way home. I can’t tell you how many times I did that as kid, and I’d bet you’ve done the same. Yet, we survived our childhood. Even though most of us never had the talk with our parents about racism and how it could kill you. That’s because a white child’s odds of survival are better than a black child’s odds.
So if you’re truly outraged, open your minds and change the laws. Open your minds to understand what it would be like to be in another parent’s shoes. Consider what it would be like if the children and men in your family were at an increased risk. Then do what you would do if this was your reality and bring on the outrage and change the laws for all of our children. Fight to increase funding for education and after-school programs. Fight for the homeless and the hungry. Fight child-trafficking. Fight the proliferation of prisons. Fight voter disenfranchisement. Fight for a living wage. Fight for universal background checks for guns. Fight systemic biases. Fight for equal opportunity. This is just a start, but advocating for these causes will benefit us all. Hopefully, fostering greater understanding will bring our communities together and provide a safer and just world for all of our children.
“But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling. You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African- American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that — that doesn’t go away.
… And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I just ask people to consider if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened?
… And then finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. You know, there has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven’t seen that to be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.
On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s a possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can; am I judging people, as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.”
-President Obama, July 19, 2013
PSA: Be a Citizen
We Need to Engage and Inspire our Citizenry
Over the years, I have spent much of my time advocating and volunteering on behalf of our communities. As our society developed technologically, this became easier to do—especially to advocate on behalf of others in the form of petitions and getting the word out via social media. Unfortunately, it appears my viewpoint regarding the ease and the benefits of advocacy and volunteering in our communities does not appear to resonate with all of our citizenry. Even so, my contention remains that our citizens need to advocate more as opposed to less for our communities, and we need to engage and inspire others to advocate and volunteer for the good of our nation.
As a nation, we do volunteer. In fact, according to Volunteering in America, we reached our highest level of activism over a five-year span ending in 2011 with 64.3 million volunteers donating their time to help others. This is great news; however, as a nation we were volunteering even more prior to this time frame. In fact, one of our highest levels came to fruition just after the attacks on 9/11, but we saw a steady decline starting in 2005 as the economy began its downturn, and we have not recovered since then. Furthermore, as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the volunteer rate declined .3 percentage points in 2012. Although many people do volunteer and advocate for worthy causes and issues, others appear to be apathetic or reluctant—resulting in a decline in volunteering. We need to change this outlook in order for us all to move forward in a positive world.
Unbelievably, there are those who are against the concept of volunteering as noted by ABC News in a segment called, “Are Volunteers Taking Jobs from Workers?” My first inkling of this sentiment occurred many years ago while volunteering with New York Cares on a painting project in a firehouse. In the ABC News segment, firefighters, school unions, and a service employees union made the argument that volunteer firefighters and local children who volunteered to clean up a local park took these jobs from workers. While the argument that volunteering can take jobs away may have some merit, there is an underlying issue to this argument, and additional advocacy as opposed to less volunteering should be the response.
Historically, advocates and volunteers have changed our communities for the better. Advocacy efforts brought forth the women’s vote, child labor laws, and anti-poverty measures. We need to keep up the momentum. We need to step up our efforts. We need to be true citizens. We have volunteer organizations, such as Volunteers of America, as well as activist speakers who are taking up the cause to inspire people to reach out, to advocate, and to volunteer. Dave Meslin, a TED speaker, speaks about overcoming the decline in volunteering with an “antidote to apathy.” Dave Eggers, a TED speaker with a dream to bring communities together to educate children, also notes systemic difficulties, but explains how we can overcome these issues and inspire each other in the process. In essence, it’s not difficult, and we need to do our part. We can help change people’s lives for the better, so please find an issue or a cause that’s important to you. If you’re interested in finding a cause to engage in, I invite you to review the Advocacy and Volunteering sections of this blog.
Lastly, there have been many calls to activist citizenship by many of our leaders, including former presidents; however, for the sake of brevity, I will choose only one quote for this post. John F. Kennedy, in a call to action, stated, “I want to pay tribute to those citizens North and South who have been working in their communities to make life better for all. They are acting not out of a sense of legal duty but out of a sense of human decency.” It is my hope that we will listen to all of our leaders, learn to work together, and fight for the common good of our nation and our world. Together, we can lead. Together, we can fight. Together, we can be the United States of advocates and volunteers.
“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” -Marjorie Moore, Habitat for Humanity Volunteer