Author Archives: Rick Larsen

About Rick Larsen

Rick B. Larsen was involved in the creation of Operation Kids and has been at its helm for eight years. He brings 30 years experience in media, live events and television/film production, as well as lengthy experience in strategic consulting, business plan development, image campaigns and cause marketing and sponsorship programs for dozens of national brands and charities. As an outspoken advocate for family-friendly entertainment, his career path led to a role as vice president production/acquisition for Feature Films for Families where he produced films that won top honors at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival and the Santa Clarita Children’s Film Festival. He went on to create Family Media Entertainment as a development house for the creation, acquisition and distribution of values-driven entertainment. Prior, he was head of marketing and development for Donny Osmond Entertainment and participated in the launch of the entertainment division at the investment banking firm of JP Michael & Associates. He served as an educational media advisor to the Salt Lake Bid Committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games where he produced a video/curriculum history of the winter games still in national distribution by the United States Olympic Committee. He has addressed audiences nationwide on media and philanthropy ranging from the International Year of the Family Global Conference and the 2001 Western States Conference on Crime, to various trade conventions, university classrooms and law enforcement training. Rick is certified in Leadership and Management through the University of Utah Non-Profit Institute.

New Home For Blog

Over the last quarter, we at Operation Kids have worked very hard to refine our mission and provide additional emphasis on our donor-led philanthropic services. As a result, many of you have seen several changes – both to our website and our blog – including additional regular blog authors and new perspectives.

And now we introduce one more change: after more than 2 years publishing on WordPress, A Voice for Children is moving over to our own, self-hosted page at http://blog.operationkids.org. This move is being done to provide you easy access to any Operation Kids resources, information and updates that are on our website, as well as allow us expanded custom options and the ability to provide additional functionality.

We sincerely appreciate the readership and resources a WordPress platform has brought us, and look forward to embarking on a new journey. We invite you to join us there, beginning today, Thursday, December 17, 2009.

If you have kudos, concerns or questions, we invite you to leave a comment or contact us.

Regards,

The Operation Kids Blogging Team

Rick B. Larsen
Don Stirling
Christopher Lindsay
Sara Brueck Nichols

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Filed under Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

Understanding Dissing

Note: Today’s post is written by guest author John A. (Jack) Calhoun, who directs the Network for the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families.

 It had been a long day, beginning with a crack of dawn speech to the Salinas/Monterey Community Alliance for Safety and Peace followed by day-long meetings with the mayor and chief, local academics and a two-hour training I led for Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteers.

I was in Salinas for a site visit.  Salinas participates in the California Cities Gang Prevention Network, a 13 city initiative designed and run by the National League of Cities and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.  In addition to Salinas, Network cities include Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Oxnard, Richmond, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton.

Toward the end of the day, two teenagers were shot in East Salinas.  One of them, 16-year old, Manuel Perez, a “B” student at Salinas High School, was gunned down while waiting for a ride to football practice. The other, 19-year old Santiago Ortiz, a known gang member, was shot and wounded.

The shootings affected me profoundly.  They shouldn’t have.   I’m a vet.  I was deeply moved, perhaps because I was tired after a cross-country trip coupled with a day packed with back-to-back meetings; perhaps because I know so many good, competent and caring people in this city, people from all key sectors of the Salinas community—police, schools, the faith community, the mayor’s office, social services and more—all  pledged  to stop violence and to build a Salinas that does not produce violence.  Perhaps because I witnessed first-hand the manifest hope and commitment early that morning, soon followed by the shootings and then by a collective sense of worry, of how daunting the task.

I needed a break before my evening dinner meeting. The cross-country flight, a day beginning at 7:00 a.m. and ending with training, had drained me. 

I took a brief bar break. Jacqui, who was cutting limes and plucking fresh mint leaves for my mojito, was, she told me, working at the bar to help support her fledgling music career.  Lydia from Western Siberia who served me appetizers, attended the local university in Monterey, where she was enrolled in the graduate linguists program.

The day before, a member of the hotel staff, Betsy, had given me a walk-though for our upcoming thirteen city conference, showing me the meeting rooms and other facilities.  A dietitian from Rochester New York, she, deciding to start over, packed up and moved to California.  She landed a job with the hotel, soon becoming its events planner.

It is future, a sense that you can take a street that leads out: Jacqui cutting limes to sing.  Lydia moving from table to table, gathering tips to pay for her university courses, her road having covered thousands of miles.  Betsy, freed from Rochester’s snows, coming across the country to settle in her sun-strewn home.

Each confident.  Each traveling well beyond the street where they began. Each striding confidently  into a new future.

Bryan Contreras who directs Salinas’ “2nd Chance Family and Youth Services,” a program for street kids told me later that night that most of the East Salinas kids rarely get out of their neighborhoods.  “Jack,” he said to me after the shootings, “Most of them have never been to the beach in Monterey.  And it’s only a few miles down the road.  Their ‘corner’ is where their world ends.  End it does—often too soon, tragically.”I thought this:  if Brian and I are walking in separate directions and we happen to bump into each other, we say a quick “Excuse me,” and move on.  Brian and I each have somewhere to go.

If I live in East Salinas and bump into someone on the way to my corner, it could be death for one of us, because, all-too-often, that is all there is, just the corner.  It is not an accidental bump.  It is “dissing”.  If all I have is the corner, I’ll defend it with my life.  Dissing is not the presence of something.  It is the absence of future. My corner.  My turf, which I will protect with my life.  Nothing beyond.

How desperately I want kids to know of long streets, streets that don’t kill, people that don’t u-turn at the end of the block, returning to spray bullets.

I want them to know stories of long streets, stories of people who have walked long streets, people who will walk with them down those streets, with them beyond the corner.

I want them to know they can be Jacqui, Lydia, Betsy, Brian.

-John A. (Jack) Calhoun

John Calhoun, who directs the Network for the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families, was former CEO, the National Crime Prevention Council, and under President Carter, Commissioner, Administration for Children, Youth and Families.

Jack also serves on the Operation Kids Whole Child Committee. You can read more about Jack here.

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Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues

What You Give Away

This past Friday I had the pleasure of attending an event where Amy Grant and Vince Gill received the Jack C. Massey Leadership Award for their substantial efforts in assisting the work of the Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee.

The evening was as emotional a gathering as I think I have ever attended. The reason being, as is often the case when people give so deeply, there was a personal connection for Amy and Vince that was beautifully conveyed.

Each of them have had experiences with mental illness in their family circles that they were generous enough to share. And they are not the only ones. According to the National Institutes of Health, An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. The holidays can be the toughest time of year for families who struggle with mental health issues, and it seems appropriate to comment.

I have always thought that songwriters must experience some outlet or release in expressing themselves in lyric and song. I can see that when it comes to Amy and Vince, this is indeed the case.  Each sang a couple of songs that were even more meaningful when the “back story” was revealed. One example (or maybe two):

Vince sang a beautiful song entitled “Bread and Water” chronicling the last hours of a homeless man. Vince said the song was inspired by his brother, who followed a downward trajectory after a near fatal car wreck and months in a coma, but according to Vince, “possessed more character than anyone he has ever known.”

He then revealed a great deal about himself with a song entitled “What You Give Away.” I must tell you this song takes on an entirely different emotional level when delivered in that beautiful tenor voice, but the lyrics are worth a visit regardless of your religious affiliations or lack thereof:

You read the business page
See how you did today
You live up on the hill
You’ve got a view that kills
Never wonder why

After you’ve counted everything you saved
Do you ever hit your knees and pray?
You know there’s gonna be a judgment day
So what will you say?

[Chorus:]
No matter what you make
All that you can take
Is what you give away
What you give away

There’s people on the street
Ain’t got enough to eat
You just shake your head
The measure of a man is one who lends a hand
That’s what my father said

No matter what you make
All that you can take
Is what you give away

A timely message as we approach the season of giving. As you rush about preparing for seasonal observances, be aware of those around who may be struggling. If you sense someone may need help, be the one to help. There are resources all around. You may want to check the website of your state or local mental health department, or here are a couple of suggested sources for you or a loved one, neighbor or co-worker, you can get information at:

The Mayo Clinic

National Mental Health Association

For highlights of the evening I would encourage you to visit TheLostLyrics.com and share in the stories.

-Rick B. Larsen

 

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Teaching Children to Give

Our founder and board chair Dennis Webb addressed an audience in Connecticut this past week hosted by the Family Office Association. The conference was designed for the benefit of high net-worth families, but Dennis addressed an issue that we should all consider, regardless of income level.

Whether we are wealthy or just getting by, it is quite typical that we as parents or perhaps grandparents, experienced struggles that our children have not. When parents or grandparents make the necessary sacrifices for education or to build wealth and security, the children and grandchildren are the beneficiaries without a full perspective of the efforts made on their behalf. Without dismissing the challenges of youth, many kids today live lives of relative ease, complete with cell phones, cars and laptops – sometimes failing to understand what it takes to be productive and independent or to act for the welfare of others. They are often spared the struggle and experience only the fruits.

A wise quote says, “We work so hard to give our children everything we didn’t have, that we sometimes forget to give them what we did have.” Dennis addressed this concept of instilling in our children the values that created the lives they now live. This includes a work ethic, a sense of caring and an ability to sacrifice for others. He spoke of personal experiences in taking his children on humanitarian aid missions and the differences in their lives as they experienced real need first-hand. As one of his then teen-aged sons said on a flight back from one such mission, “I had to go half way around the world to understand how blessed I am.”

There is hardly a parent who, in an effort to get a young child to finish their vegetables, has not used this line: “There are starving children who would love to have that food.” The fact is, there really are. About a third of all the children in the world would give anything for the leftovers we discard from our tables. Our children may know this, they may read about these things, but it is very easy to miss the point unless they have seen it first-hand.

The point is this: we have a great deal in this nation. Even if we are struggling at times, we are, relatively speaking, rich. I had the distinct privilege of spending some time with Marc Lubner, a gentleman and philanthropist in the truest sense of the word, from South Africa. As he so powerfully stated, “I have seen people in South Africa who are desperately poor, reach out to help others who are even poorer. That is their wealth; that is their method of coping – to reach out to another in even greater need.”

Wherever you may fall on the income spectrum, you and your children live better than most. We have so much, and while the current credit crunch may round some edges off of our self-indulgent society, we need to dig a little deeper and live with gratitude and awareness of those who have less. We need to teach this to our children so that we can have a hope of changing things. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is also the key to changing the circumstances of the less-fortunate. We would do well to teach our children that caring for others is less about “helping the poor” in the abstract, but more about our global community.

Lila Watson, part of an Australian Aboriginal group said (although she resists taking credit for a thought she claims was born of a collaborative process),

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, the let us work together.”

An interesting thought as we approach the Thanksgiving season.

-Rick Larsen

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Filed under Initiative: Charitable Giving & Accountability

Nickle and Dimed: A Review

I would like to recommend an eye-opening book that is important for anyone to read, but is an especially important read for those who are concerned about changing the world for the better. The book is called Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich.

I am not announcing this as the latest “must read.” In fact it has been around for a while, but it just came to my attention. Here is the backstory.

 Barbara is a writer. The genesis of this book took place over lunch with her editor at Harper’s. Their conversation “drifted” to the question, “How does anyone live on wages available to the unskilled?” In particular, they discussed the difficulties of the roughly four million women who were forced back into the labor market by welfare reform. Whatever your political stand on welfare (and that stand is NOT the point of this blog), this mass migration from public support to $6-7.00 an hour wages, had immediate, practical consequences.

The discussion progressed to the point where Barbara was asked, or told rather, to write about the experience by living it. She was take on the role of a single woman with no support system, in cities she did not know, and live on whatever wage she could secure. The experiment took her to waitressing at a restaurant, cleaning hotel rooms, home cleaning for a national service chain and a shelf-stocker for a major retail chain.

These stories are interesting on the surface, and had I read this book 10 years ago, I would have enjoyed it on merits and likely dismissed it. However, reading it now, with a decade of experience in the public sector, I realize how our misunderstandings of one another continue to sabotage our efforts to improve the lives of others. We still, all too often, do not know how to help because we do not understand the lives and circumstances of those we would choose to help.  

For instance, we view poverty as a choice that was somehow made by each and every person who lives it. While I am well aware of the qualifiers on this subject, and that issues of self-motivation and work ethic often come into play, this book will open your eyes as to how nearly impossible it is for a person living on minimum wage, with no other support, to get out of the cycle.

The author was, and is, a hard-working, intelligent woman who, stripped of her credentials and background, learned how exhausting and hopeless the plight of millions of the “working poor” really is. Her journey brought to light everything from transportation issues to housing, health care, minimum wage and drug testing; not from a public policy standpoint, but rather from a victimization standpoint – a standpoint of what it is like to live in a cycle of working to simply exist.

It is worth a read and it will have an impact on how you view those around you, and perhaps on the manner in which you choose to help others in the future. It will certainly change your view next time you are in a coffee shop, checking out of a hotel room and passing the maid in the hall, or shopping at the world’s largest retailer.

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The OK List of America’s Best

As we congratulate Bill and Kathy Magee and Senator Orrin Hatch on their well-deserved recognition in November’s U.S. News & World Report, we are mindful of other great leaders with whom we have had the privilege of working during the past year. With that, I’d like to contribute an “Operation Kids: America’s Best Leaders in 2009” by highlighting additional leaders who have made an enormous impact in their communities and, due to their commitment and influence, the world.

Anthony Kennedy Shriver: In 1989 Anthony created a mentoring program on his college campus. That project turned into a life’s work. Today, through his stewardship and entrepreneurial spirit, Best Buddies® has grown into a leading nonprofit entity with increasingly international reach across six continents. It has established a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They positively impact more than 400,000 participants every year.  The organization is active in each of the 50 United States, and operates accredited international programs in 44 countries.

Drew Brees:   When Drew left the San Diego Chargers and signed with the New Orleans Saints in 2006, he and his wife Brittany took a higher view of the situation. They believed that they were directed to New Orleans for a reason, and committed to become part of the community. They immediately sought way to help rebuild post-Katrina. Today, Drew and Brittany have rebuilt nearly a dozen successful projects including athletic facilities, day care centers and critical education programs. Their adopted city of New Orleans have hailed them as true “Saints” in the city.

Steve Young: With an NFL Hall of Fame career behind him, Steve maintains a broadcast career, participates in a private equity firm, and continues to provide leadership of the Forever Young Foundation. Forever Young Foundation is a non-profit organization that serves children facing significant physical, emotional, and financial challenges. They focus on efforts to provide academic, athletic, and therapeutic opportunities to at-risk youth. They have expanded beyond their historical focus on Northern California, Arizona and Utah, to include development projects like the Forever Young Zones, Youth Education Town Centers (YET Centers) in each Super Bowl city and now, international initiatives including the building and expansion of schools in Ghana, Africa.

John A. (Jack) Calhoun: In his “retirement,” Jack manages the 13-California City Gang Prevention Network for the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families. In 2007 and has published a book, Hope Matters: The Untold Story of How Faith Works in America. He has spent a lifetime attempting to improve the lot of children and families and the communities in which they live. President Carter appointed Jack to the nation’s top children’s job, Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families, where he oversaw such programs as Head Start, Child Welfare, The Center to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect, the Office of Domestic Violence and the Office for Families. For 20 years he served at the National Crime Prevention Council as its President and CEO. He also has served as Vice President of the Child Welfare League of America, was the Massachusetts Commissioner of the Department of Youth Services, and chair of both the Adolescent and the State of the Family Task Forces.

We give our deepest gratitude and respect to these great Americans who have truly made an enormous impact on their communities and the world around them.

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Filed under Initiative: Thought Leadership

America’s Best Leaders

The Nov 2009 issue of U.S. News and World Report listed its pick for America’s Best Leaders in 2009. We are pleased to recognize that three of the people named are also recipients of the Operation Kids Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dr. William Magee, his wife Kathy and U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch are individuals who indeed exemplify leadership. We applaud their inclusion in this list and congratulate them along with the other deserving leaders named, and encourage you to read more about their accomplishments.

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Filed under Initiative: Thought Leadership