Tag Archives: children

The Littlest of These

Last April, after attending a business function downtown, I was stopped by a woman as I approached my car. She was tousled and a bit unkempt, though clean. Strapped to her chest was an infant.

April weather here is incredibly unpredictable and on that day there were snow fluries in the air. She looked cold and desperate as she explained her situation. she asked for a few dollars to help her find shelter and food for her and her baby that night while she waited for her name to rise to the top of an affordable housing waiting list. Her baby slept peacefully on – unaware of his circumstances.

I ached to give her more than I had – a few dollars and a clean fleece blanket from my car’s emergency kit – yet she received them as if I had given her far more. Tears misted both of our eyes. I returned home that day deeply changed.

That incident has stayed with me the last seven months, especially since I gave birth to my second child in August. As the weather begins to turn cold again, I find my thoughts frequently turning to that young woman – so desperate to provide for her baby that a few dollar bills and a blanket were received as if they were life’s grandest treasures. I have since learned that with the economic turmoil of the last year, shelters, food banks and other providers of basic necessities are in dire need of supplies for infants and young children – formula, diapers, wipes, blankets and the like. As a group, babies are among the most overlooked by those donating items to emergency shelters and clinics – and yet they are among the most vulnerable, especially during the harsh winter months.

As a result of last spring’s experience,  my husband and I have decided this holiday season to provide some much-needed necessities to the local March of Dime’s Teddy Bear Den – a community based prenatal health program for low-income pregnant women – in lieu of gifts to family members. I cannot fathom the hollow ache that must fill one’s soul when the necessities are beyond one’s grasp.  I don’t want to have to meet another mother and her baby on a snowy afternoon with nothing to eat and nowhere to go.

As I put my children down to bed tonight – in a warm home, with their bellies full – I am thinking again of the woman and the baby who are wrapped up somewhere in my purple fleece blanket. This year, my Thanksgiving holiday is dedicated to them and others like them – may this winter bring better fortunes, a warm place to sleep and enough food to not have to put your little one to bed hungry.

If you have a warm place to sleep and enough food to satiate your hunger during this season of giving, count your blessings and join me in sharing what extra you might have with the littlest of those among us.

-Sara Brueck Nichols

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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

Keeping Children Safe

Now that kids are back in school, authorities are asking parents to be extra-vigilant about their children’s activities online and via text. Our local Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce reminded residents that “Back to School” also means a spike in Internet crime targeting children and teens.

“Every year when school starts back up and goes back in session, we always see a spike in crimes where children are targeted or children are contacted by individuals,” said ICAC Capt. Rhett McQuiston. “Sometimes they are other kids who are contacting them; a lot of times they are adults who are pretending to be kids.”

I mention this, because Sunday, September 27, is Internet Safety Day – a day set aside for parents to discuss Internet and texting safety with their children. This year, the organizers have a goal of getting 100,000 parents to pledge to talk with their child or teen about staying safe online.

One of the components of the “Whole Child” is safety – as an organization who has been close to several organizations and individuals involved in cases of missing and exploited children or Internet crimes against children, we are all-too-aware of how little information it takes for a predator to strike.

If you are a parent, or know a parent, Sunday is a good time to sit down and talk about safe boundaries online and via text. Talk about what information should not be shared, talk about photos and the impact that sharing a photo with someone – known or unknown – can have. Talk about blogging and “sexting” and social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Talk about where to turn if something seems “off” about an online friend or contact. Most importantly, just talk. Be aware of what is happening and what your children and teens are involved in.

Need more resources? You can download a free Internet Safety Parent’s Guide to get you started.

-Sara

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Filed under Initiative: Children's Issues, Uncategorized

Lessons from Ghana: Making a Difference

My recent trip to Africa reminded me of some of the finer points of delivering assistance and support in areas of great need. These are lessons learned from many years of being involved in areas like Thailand, New Orleans and other areas of unique and extraordinary need.

It is my experience and observation that generous people are drawn to certain areas and certain types of need. The conditions in many regions of Africa are a perfect example: Celebrity focus, news headlines and other media reports has created an awareness of living conditions in parts of Africa. That is good. However, awareness does not always represent a solution: sometimes action does not even represent a solution.  As we like to say within our organization, “Generosity is not the issue, effectiveness is.” Part of being effective is delivering what is truly needed in the eyes of the beneficiary.  

When delivering aid to a people, regions and cultures we may not fully understand, there are things to be aware of that, in context, easily explain why so many efforts do not work. I am going to try to articulate a couple of these important details and perhaps spark deeper thought and discussion when it comes to international giving.

Truthfully, we cannot underestimate cultural differences. We frequently see aid delivered in the form that the donor feels appropriate, rather than what the community in need really desires and recognizes. We saw this after the deadly Southeast Asian tsunami in 2004 when well-meaning groups shipped large quantities of coats and scarves to a hot, humid region of southern Thailand; the intentions were good, but the effort was lost on people with very different and specific needs. We see a similar dynamic in many international efforts: housing development for people who culturally would not live in the types of shelter being constructed; a failure to involve appropriate and respected leaders who can be the lubricant between those who want to help and those in need; Last but not least, trying to jump ahead of the process and bring people to a point we as donors feel they need to be, rather than a point they desire to be.

As donors, we need to consider the culture we seek to aid from a perspective of dignity and sustainability. Anthony Oliver-Smith writes,

“The best outcomes imaginable [are] systems in which people can materially sustain themselves while beginning their own process of social reconstruction.” 

Essentially his is the “Teach a man to fish …” philosophy. The sound bites and clips we see in the media, which serve a great purpose by bringing public attention to global need, often abbreviate the situations to the point where a generous and prosperous nation like the U.S. is compelled to react immediately. Again, it is with the best of intentions, but in ways that we see as appropriate from our perspective.

The fact is that when people are in desperate circumstances, you usually find that some sort of displacement is at the heart of the situation. Whether it is caused by political unrest or natural or man-made disasters, there is almost always a dual sense of disconnect from the things they hold dear and at the same time a pride in what they consider to be their heritage. In these stressful times, many look to religious tradition for identity; they seek to reestablish what is meaningful to them. They depend on those they trust the most. That is the starting point.  

We as donors and as caring global neighbors need to remember this. Again, quoting Oliver-Smith,

“We should approach the goals of reconstructing and reconstituting community with a certain humility and realism about the limits of our abilities. Such humility and realism have not characterized to any major extent, the planners dealing with uprooted peoples to date.”

Our usual American-driven focus on cost-containment and efficiency must be maintained to be sure, but not to the point of excluding the needs and wants of the very people we are trying to help. I cannot say it any better than Oliver-Smith:

“Donor-driven …designs [can] endanger the connection that people establish with their built environment, violate cultural norms of space and place, inhibit the reweaving of social networks and discourage the re-emergence of community identity.”

With this backdrop, the Forever Young School in Ghana (the dedication of which was my reason for traveling to Ghana in the first place) is a model. It was created in partnership with local leaders. It was built by local artisans. It is staffed by local teachers who received training from outside sources, but are allowed to teach in a manner relevant to their local community. The dignity and autonomy of tribal leaders is recognized and respected. Local culture was not considered an obstacle, but an asset from which to build. The project is well-designed and takes into account details in a variety of areas, including transportation needs, recreation, academics, health and medical support. It has become the cause of community celebration!

The day we arrived for a special ceremony opening the school, families and local leaders assembled at 4:00 am to prepare for our visit, which was not scheduled until 2:00 that afternoon! They sang for us, they danced, they provided food … the sense of gratitude was at a level that can only been seen when a proud and deserving community is helped to achieve what they need in a manner meaningful to them.

As a result, I left feeling like the donors and organizations that supported this school had created something they could feel proud of – both from a relief-of-needs perspective and a donor efficiency perspective.

It was truly inspiring.

-Rick

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Filed under Initiative: Charitable Giving & Accountability, Initiative: Nonprofit Operations

Charting Course for the Future

Herbert is a very quiet 8th grader.  He doesn’t talk much, but is always respectful and courteous, and good academically.  When New Orleans Outreach started offering the Power Ties career awareness workshops to Herbert and his classmates, he questioned whether it would be useful for him, and whether he’d have anything to contribute to his resume. 

“I haven’t done anything, so maybe this workshop is not for me…” he said. 

The Outreach coordinator probed a bit and discovered that Herbert has a passion for cooking.  In fact, he had cooked for many family gatherings and cooked dinner regularly at home.  He had no idea that this would be good fodder for his resume, or that his enjoyment of the cooking process could lead to a career. The coordinator helped Herbert document his cooking experience, and he walked out with his first professional resume

After that Herbert’s outlook on Power Ties and his own future changed dramatically.  He thoroughly enjoyed the remaining Power Ties workshops, was engaged in the mock interview practice sessions, and wrote our coordinator a beautiful thank-you  note about how much he appreciated the program and how it had changed his life.  Best of all, he was able to visit Emeril’s Delmonico restaurant on the day of jobsite visits and he showed a deep interest in the business and restaurant operations. 

Because the New Orleans Outreach Power Ties program helped crystallize his passion, Herbert now plans to go to culinary school after graduating high school.  He has a clear vision of having a successful career doing something he loves, and he now knows the steps to take to get there.  

As part of our “Back to School in New Orleans” campaign, this is the fourth in a series of short anecdotes about the children helped by one of our partner organization,  New Orleans Outreach and the volunteers and partners they utilize that are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of one – or thousands – of children each day.

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Changing Lives in New Orleans (Part III)

As part of our “Back to School in New Orleans” campaign, this is the third in a series of short anecdotes about the children helped by one of our partner organizations, New Orleans Outreach and the volunteers and partners they utilize that are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of one – or thousands – of children each day.

Rayshad. Rayshad is in the third grade.  He is a person who is very creative and sensitive, and to a great extent, seems to prefer to keep to himself. Academically, he is struggling. He has a difficult time keeping on task, and would much prefer to draw. In spite of his academic difficulties, many saw Rayshad shine last year at the school showcase that New Orleans Outreach coordinated. 

Rayshad and a few other students created a 3-D model of a city with pictures of themselves walking in the streets. This served as the set for a movie they made in an Outreach enrichment class, in which aliens are taking over the city. Rayshad was so excited to show us what he and his classmates had created, and it was easy to tell that he was proud of the film, and their model, and his contribution and connection to the project.

This project clearly gave Rayshad hope that he could contribute, and be part of something.  It also gave Rayshad a chance to explore another side of himself, one in which he could excel, and have every reason to feel good about himself.

Jenny (Outreach coordinator). Jenny, one of the experienced school New Orleans Outreach coordinators, had volunteered at one of the partner schools before coming to work with Outreach.  While helping out in a Girl Scouts class, she noticed a student named Ebony who continuously disrupted the class.  This student acted up and out, at high volume, making it hard for anyone to focus on the project at hand.  One day the class project was to make Mother’s Day place mats. Ebony, at first skeptical, discovered that she had real talent, and even more importantly, really enjoyed making art.  Not only that, but her art skills enabled her to help others with their art projects, giving her real opportunities to shine, grow, and be of service.  

Outreach helped to discover Ebony’s hidden talent, and gave her the tools to develop it.  We believe the product isn’t the placemat; it’s the student, growing and learning into her full potential.  Outreach provides experiences that are transformative.

Arts education is something that is often lacking in troubled city schools, especially in New Orleans. Many schools wouldn’t have arts or music programs without the aid of New Orleans Outreach. Seeing a child come alive through arts education, and recognize the contribution he or she could make to his or her peers, helps to illustrate why it is such a critical component of a child’s education.

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Changing New Orleans One Child at a Time, Part II

As part of our “Back to School in New Orleans” campaign, this is the second in a series of short anecdotes about the children helped by one of our partner organizations, New Orleans Outreach and the volunteers and partners they utilize that are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of one – or thousands – of children each day.

The New Orleans Charter Science and Math Academy (Sci Academy), a new high school that opened last year, focuses on preparing its students for college success.  Often students enter the 9th grade years behind academically, but they persevere.  They want to graduate from college and then change the world.  These are big goals. 

Arianna is an Outreach tutor who has been working one-on-one with a Sci Academy 9th grader who is learning to read.  This student worked hard all year on her reading skills and has advanced her reading level by years in just one school year.  Even with all the improvement she has made she continues to push herself.  Arianna is so committed that she has created special flash cards that meet the specific needs of this student to supplement the curriculum.

Outreach staff talked with this student recently about her reading abilities.  She is excited about her ability to read so much better than when she first started at school.  And what about her work with Arianna?  Our student thinks her tutor is “real good, and helps me learn.”  A few weeks ago, we saw this student in a summer class.  She was asked to read aloud, something that might be unnerving for someone who is only just learning to read.  Not this student.  She carefully opened her book.  She read aloud with pride and perfection, her confidence and poise inspiring to everyone in the room.  Her life has changed. 

 So has Arianna’s.   She plans to start her own reading group in the neighborhood where she lives.  Both of these young women will change the world, in part because of New Orleans Outreach.

Thanks to you, we have raised thousands of dollars for this wonderful organization over the last two weeks – and will continue to raise funds for them through late September. We encourage you to find out more about the “Back to School in New Orleans” campaign here.

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