Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Change the Web Challenge and Change.org Job Opening

Hi Have Fun * Do Gooders -

Below are two things I thought might interest some of you:

*Change the Web Challenge*

Social Actions Change the Web Challenge will award cash prizes to developers who create the best web applications from the Social Actions API. The deadline to submit your application is April 3.

Social Actions (who I've been doing some Communications Consulting for) is a web-based nonprofit initiative committed to making it easier for people to find and share opportunities to make a difference. Social Actions' search engine connects people with a dataset of "social actions" from 50 websites like VolunteerMatch, Idealist.org, Kiva.org, and DonorsChoose.org. The Social Actions API allows developers to build tools to help people find opportunities to take action.

*Change.org is Hiring a Managing Editor*

Last fall, Change.org redesigned its site to revolve around a social action blog network. The network features 19 blogs covering a variety of causes:

Animal Rights by Stephanie Ernst

Autism by Kristina Chew
Criminal Justice by Matt Kelley
Education by Clay Burell
End Homelessness by Shannon Moriarty
End Human Trafficking by Amanda Kloer
Fair Trade by Zarah Patriana
Gay Rights by Michael Jones
Global Health by Alanna Shaikh
Humanitarian Relief by Michael Bear Kleinman
Immigrant Rights by Dave Bennion
Peace in the Middle East by Charles Lenchner
Poverty in America by Leigh Graham
Social Entrepreneurship by Nathaniel Whittemore
Stop Global Warming by Emily Gertz
Stop Genocide by Michell F.
Sustainable Food by Natasha Chart
Universal Healthcare by Timothy Foley
Women's Rights by Jen N.

They are looking for a Managing Editor so send your resume on over!

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Kiva.org for Native American Entrepreneurs?

"Our tribal colleges and universities teach sustainability in everything they do, proving American Indians have long been ahead of the curve. This is what we call 'Thinking Indian.' As our nation grapples with its problems, American Indians are uniquely situated to lead with finding solutions."
--Rick Williams, President & CEO of the American Indian College Fund on his blog, In a Good Way.

Flipping through the Sunday New York Times earlier this month, I noticed a public service announcement (left) for the American Indian College Fund, with the slogan, "Think Indian: To think Indian is to save a plant that can save a people."

For whatever reason, it started my thinking that there needs to be a Kiva.org like program for American Indian, Alaskan Native and Hawaiian Native entrepreneurs. Kiva.org facilitates ordinary people, like you and me, making loans online to entrepreneurs in the "developing" world. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2007 poverty rate of people who reported they were American Indian and Alaska Native, and no other race, was 25.3%.

As far as I know, nothing like it exists, although it could, now that Kiva has opened its API so that developers can build their own tools to fund entrepreneurs. Plus, according to a March 23rd article on CNNMoney.com, Micro-loans for Americans?, Kiva is going to be experimenting with loans to entrepreneurs living in the United States.

In April, PBS will air a new mini-series, We Shall Remain, about U.S. history from the Native American perspective. The series' site has lots of information on it, including a Native Now: Enterprise page with links and videos. One of the video clips highlights the success of the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation micro-loan program. I'm sure there are similar programs out there that could use a Kiva.org like tool to help get more loans out to their entrepreneurs.

Whaddya think? Good idea? Bad idea? Is there someone out there already doing it? Do you know anyone who would want to build it?

You can see images from the other "Think Indian" ads on In a Good Way, the blog of Rick Williams, President & CEO of the American Indian College Fund.

Cross-posted from BlogHer.com. Britt Bravo is a Big Vision Consultant.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

AWEARNESS by Kenneth Cole: Inspiring Stories About How to Make a Difference

"If someone says, 'I really want to serve humanity,' I'd say, 'Tell me what your dreams are. Tell me something in your childhood that you wished were different and go toward it."
--Rosie O'Donnell, AWEARNESS
Feeling blue? I've got the book to cheer you up--AWEARNESS: Inspiring Stories about How to Make a Difference by Kenneth Cole. It's my favorite read so far this year. Whether you are a college graduate, recently unemployed, or just want to figure out how to use your skills to make a difference, I think AWEARNESS will inspire you.

The collection of essays by changemakers (lots are celebrities) is organized by cause: political activism, human rights, civil liberties, homelessnes and poverty, well-being, HIV/AIDS, criminal justice, the environment, youth and education, and volunteerism. At the end of each section is a list of organizations related to each cause area, and ideas for how to give your time, expertise, dollars, and stuff to support the cause.

I was excited to see that Cristi Hegranes of the Press Institute for Women in the Developing World, who I interviewed in early 2008, was included in the Political Activism chapter.

The Youth and Education chapter was my personal favorite. The section's 12 essays include a conversation with John Sykes (VH1 Save the Music Foundation) and Barry Manilow (Manilow Fund for Health and Hope), "On Why Music Education Matters," as well as pieces by Invisible Children filmmakers, "On Youth Helping Youth," April Dinwoodie (AdoptMent), "On Mentoring Foster Children," and Rachel Ray (Yum-o!) "On Kids and Nutrition."

I also liked Pulitzer prize-winning author Dr. Robert Coles' advice in the Volunteerism section about how to avoid, "the dangers of smugness and self-importance that can come upon a person who sees himself as reaching out to others." He writes, "try to avoid all such moral and psychological hazards by a little bit of introspection--inquire into yourself, even as you try to learn about and be of help to others."

Each essay is a quick read. Perfect for 15 minutes of reading before you start your day, or before going to bed at night. Check out the AWEARNESS blog and AWEARNESS Twitter feed too for your daily dose of AWEARNESS.

Related blog posts
Cross-posted from BlogHer.com

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Coming to a Public School Near You: Hopefully, You as a Volunteer

Tuesday was my first day volunteering with the "reading partners" program at my neighborhood public elementary school. Every week I get to go in and read with the same two children for a half an hour each in the school library.

Because it was my first time meeting the students, part of the half hour was spent getting to know each other. I found out that the kindergartner I'll be working with likes pizza, the color green, pirates, sports and dinosaurs. We read a book together about tugboats before he went to lunch.

I had a blast, and hopefully it was a fun learning experience for him too. I highly recommend volunteering with young people, whether they are as little as a kindergartner, or as old as a college student. I find it helps keep life in perspective.

If you'd like to find an opportunity to work with young people, check out Dave Eggers' Once Upon a School site, which was built in response to his TED Prize wish. Users are encouraged to find volunteer opportunities, and to post stories about their volunteer experiences on the site.

In 2002, Eggers co-founded a writing center for young people, 826 Valencia, in San Francisco. Today, 826 has chapters in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Michigan, and Boston. You can find more information about the various chapters and how to volunteer with them at www.826national.org.

You can also find volunteer opportunities at your local public school by contacting a school district, a school, or a teacher and asking how you can help. If you're a parent, the local PTA may have ways for you to get involved as well. Some cities have organizations that can help you find a school volunteer opportunity. For example, in the Bay Area we have San Francisco School Volunteers, and Berkeley School Volunteers.

There are also tons of nonprofit organizations, like Streetside Stories (where the book cover image above is from), that work during the school day, and after school to supplement the schools' curriculum. Organizations like these teach everything from sports, to science, to the arts, to girl empowerment. You can find volunteer opportunities using sites like VolunteerMatch, Idealist, Social Actions, Network for Good, 1-800 Volunteer.org, Servenet.org, Volunteer Solutions, and GuideStar, or just look on the site of an organization that interests you.

A couple things to know about working in the public schools. If you are working directly with young people, you'll most likely have to get a TB test, and they may do a background check to make sure you're not in the sex offenders database. You'll probably need to go to some kind of orientation. Also, expect the unexpected: substitute teachers, sick children, field trips, special assemblies, and half days can all change the way you thought your day as a volunteer was going to go at a moment's notice. Be flexible.

Finally, if your schedule doesn't allow you to volunteer at a school, you can still support public schools with a donation through DonorsChoose. You can help fund everything from Gardening Club Supplies in Brooklyn, to a computer for a classroom in Alabama, or new recess equipment for a school in Indiana. Your donation can be of any size, but if you give $100 or more, you will receive a "thank-you" package in the mail with hand-written cards.

Even though the school year is almost over, find out now what you'll need to do to volunteer in the fall. That way, you'll have your TB test, background check, and orientation out of the way so that you're ready to go in September!

Related Sites and Blogs
Image credit: Cover from Streetside Stories' student anthology of autobiographical stories (I used to work there).

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bryant Terry: Eco-chef, Food Justice Activist, Author of Vegan Soul Kitchen

"I think, in the organizing, and in the activism what gets lost so often is what we're working for. What we want is for all people to have some delicious, amazing, banging food!"

Bryant Terry is an eco-chef, food justice activist, and author of Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, and Creative African-American Cuisine. He is currently a Fellow in the Food and Society Policy Fellows Program, which is a national project of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

His first book, Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen, which he co-authored with Anna Lappe, won a 2007 Nautilus Award for Social Change. He was also a co-host of the PBS series, Endless Feast.

I chatted with Bryant in early February about his new cookbook, food justice, how to eat cheaply in tough economic times, and course, the yumminess of food!

You can listen to the interview on the Big Vision Podcast's landing page, or on iTunes.  I've posted the edited transcript below.

You have a new book coming out, Vegan Soul Kitchen. Why did you decide to write a vegan cookbook? Personally, I really liked the mac and cheese recipe in Grub. It was really good, and I really like cheese. Why a vegan cookbook?

A couple of reasons. First of all, I'll say this. In terms of "vegan" being in the title, I was reluctant to put it there because I think that it brings up a lot. It has certain connotations that often push people away who don't embrace a plant-based diet. I wanted this to be a book that would appeal to people who are vegetarians, and who are vegans, but I also wanted it to appeal to omnivores, and really present it as a book that re-interprets, re-imagines, and remembers African-American cuisine, and makes it accessible for everyone, no matter what their diet is.

I thought it was important to create a book that did not include animal products, especially because it's African-American cuisine, or "soul food." To my knowledge, there aren't any vegan soul food cookbooks published by a major publisher. I thought that it was an important intervention into the literature to provide that. As I say in the book, the recipes are ripe for interpretation. If one wants to add some meat, or dairy, or milk to any of the recipes, I invite people to be creative and re-mix, and rework the recipes so that they work for the person cooking them.

What was the inspiration for the cookbook? Did you just wake up one day and say, "I want to do this!" or was there a particular path to it?

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and both sets of my grandparents came from rural Mississippi. I spent a lot of time with them when I was growing up. My parents were working, and they had a lot of agrarian knowledge. Both sets of my grandparents had backyard gardens. My paternal grandfather, his was practically an urban farm. It took up all the available space in the backyard. He grew all types of vegetables, and he had fruit trees, and he also raised chickens. I grew up very close to the earth and learned about gardening and farming from my family.

I think what has upset me over the past several years, just doing this work and thinking more about public health issues, especially the way in which health, food and agricultural issues relate to African-Americans, is the way that African-American cuisine has been vilified in the popular media by a lot of public health officials, physicians and the like.

I think when most people talk about African-American cuisine, they talk about it very narrowly. They are most often imagining the comfort foods: the fried chicken, deep-fried meats, overcooked vegetables, and sweet desserts. Those are part of African-American cuisine, and I certainly have enjoyed them, and still enjoy them occasionally, but as the food historian and cookbook author, Jessica B. Harris, often says, "African-American cuisine is simply what black folks ate."

When I think about what my grandparents ate, and what their parents ate, they ate food that was as fresh as being harvested that day, as local as their backyard garden, and as seasonal as whatever was in season. It was very simple, nutrient-dense, leafy greens, root vegetables, and fresh fruit from the trees in their front yards, and nuts from the trees in their yard and the neighbors' yards. They were sharing food and bartering. I think that there is a way in which this kind of communal way of eating healthy, local, nutrient-dense foods is forgotten about when we talk about African-American cuisine.

When you think about the origins of African-American cuisine, it's a confluence of African, obviously Caribbean, Native American and European cooking styles, staples and distinctive dishes. That's what I wanted to bring to the world, my interpretation of that, playing with those different things, and reminding people that African-American food can be very healthy. As with most ethnic cuisines, it has some of the decadent foods, but that's not the totality of it.

You're a Fellow at the Food and Society Policy Fellows Program. What projects are you working on right now?

At the end of 2008, I initiated a new project called the Grow. Cook. Grub Project. It is in response to the current economic crisis that we're in, and the reality that people are spending less money. In America, I think oftentimes one of the first things that gets cut are people's food budgets. We already spend fewer dollars on our food than -- I don't know about most -- but many industrial nations. I think that people are tightening up their belts and really searching for creative ways to continue to eat healthfully.

What I wanted to do is present recipes and ideas that will help people think about how they can eat locally, but eat inexpensively, and also have sustainable meals. The first thing that I often hear when I'm talking about the work that I do around health, food, and ag issues is, "You know, healthy food is more expensive. Organic food is so expensive, I don't think it's accessible for me, or for most people. It's just inaccessible." I think that there are so many creative ways that people can have sustainable, local food that's inexpensive; it's just a matter of understanding the different options that we have, being creative, and tapping into our community to help us create healthy meals, and grow food.

I'm going to be contributing to two blogs Civil Eats, and The Root, a new website that The Washington Post created, that is specifically geared towards African-American news and views. I'm contributing two posts per month that speak to the issues I just described.

Especially with the economic situation right now, I think a lot of people, even more than before, are saying, "I can't afford to eat locally, I can't afford to eat organically." What are some tips?

There are a couple of things. One, we have to think about the long-term vision that we want to create. For me there should always be an eye on creating community based food systems because I think that's going to be the way that we are going to feed more people in urban centers, and do it cheaply and efficiently. Then, there's the reality that there's a lot of work that needs to be done now. I often tell people that if you have them in your community, tap into local farms, farmers markets, and community supported agriculture. These are ways of getting really good food for really cheap.

I have a CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, which is when you buy shares from a farm and have a box delivered to you weekly, or you pick it up, that's full of produce. Sometimes nuts, legumes, depending on what the farm is. We spent $10 per week for a box that's overflowing and abundant. I mean, we have so much that we usually have to give it away to our neighbors and family.

I think if people default towards health food supermarkets, then of course it's going to be a lot more expensive. I mean, they're a business and their bottom line is generating capital. When we tap into sources that are more invested in creating sustainable food systems, and feeding communities, that's where we're going to get the food cheaply.

I always encourage people that if you have available green space, grow your own food. Even if it's just growing some fresh herbs in a kitchen box. If you have some land in the front or backyard, build a planter box, or grow some food from the ground. In more densely populated urban centers, reclaim green space, community gardens, and urban farms. There are a lot of them out there now. It's just a matter of people becoming more aware of them, supporting these spaces and helping them to proliferate so there will be more.

You talked a little bit about growing up with your grandparents and being close to the earth, but what more is there to the story of what brought you to being an eco-chef and food justice activist?

I always say that I'm doing the work that I'm doing because it's in my blood because I did grow up around grandparents and parents who valued growing food, eating nutrient dense food, and sharing it with community. But, as an adult, the moment that catalyzed my work was when I was in graduate school at NYU studying history, and I learned about the Black Panthers' Free Breakfast for Children program. I was really moved by their analysis that looked at the intersection between poverty, institutional racism, and malnutrition, or food insecurity. I don't know if they would have described it that way.

It was having that moment of "Wow, this isn't happening now, and I wish people were thinking more about these issues." Also, being active at that time in New York City around issues such as prison rights, prison industrial complex issues, immigrants' rights issues, and racial justice, and being in a very vibrant and active community of young activists in New York City, and realizing that in terms of the analysis of social justice, food justice wasn't being talked about. It wasn't being included in a lot of the conversations.

I felt that if we are going to have an overall vision of what social justice looks like, we have to talk about access to healthy food in low income communities, the state of health in many historically excluded communities, and how when you look at many of the indicators of material deprivation, whether it be failing infrastructure, bad schools, or high rates of illiteracy, most of the time those same communities are dealing with food insecurity and high rates of chronic illnesses. I just wanted to bring that to the conversation.

When I left graduate school, I went to cooking school with the express purpose of getting skills to start an organization that used cooking as a way to engage young people around these issues. So many of the young people in the communities that I wanted to impact are going to horrible schools and the last thing they wanted to come to in an after-school program was somebody talking more.

I thought that giving them something to do, getting them in a kitchen, and teaching them some skills would be a great entree into these conversations around food politics: how race, class and gender affect access to food, what's the state of food in their schools, and a number of issues that we were dealing with when we worked with young people in New York City in the organization I founded, Be Healthy, that no longer exists.

If there are listeners who are saying to themselves, "This is an issue I'm passionate about too. I want to be involved with changing food justice issues." What advice do you have for them if they're interested, but don't know what to do?

Well, it's important in my own life to always think about how am I making change personally? You know, I see so many people who have great ideas and want to create change in the world out there, but aren't really making that change within themselves. Whenever I'm thinking about affecting change in the world, I first ruminate on the best ways that I can make that change within myself. In terms of food issues, I really encourage people to think about how they can start with themselves and their families in terms of thinking differently about access to food, and their consumption and supporting of local food sources, or growing their own food.

Then, they can look at ways that they can actually create community wide change. I think it's always important for me to remind people that while we have to make individual change, we're dealing with these huge structural issues that prevent people from eating healthfully, and having access to healthy food.

As citizens, as people who care about our communities, we also have to work to change policy. We have to pressure our elected officials and let them know that we want dollars to support small farmers, or to create community based projects that work around nutrition, health and urban farming issues.

So, I think it has to be both. Both the personal, family, and community wide change and how can we make policy level change locally, on the state level, and nationally, as well.

You've been involved with a lot of community-based projects. You started your own organization. I think there are a lot of these kinds of projects that start on a dream, or an ideal, but they don't succeed. What are your tips for success?

I have seen a lot of well-meaning, brilliant projects fall flat on their faces, and one of the biggest issues that I've seen is not enough community buy in. I think that one of the ways that people who work in communities to create change can get community buy-in is by tapping into existing institutions that people in communities trust, and that they go to on a regular basis. I've thought about this since I started doing this work in 2000. Let's just talk about African-American communities. Let's be even more specific. If we're talking about historically excluded communities, low-income communities of color, African-American communities, there is this adage that, "There's a liquor store on every corner."

I often say that if there's liquor store on every corner, there's a church right across the street. I think that we should reach out to these churches. They often have land. They obviously have members, and oftentimes they have capital to start projects, such as remediating the land, starting to grow food, connecting with the local farm, bringing food into the city, or buying food in bulk so that you can sell it to members cheaply.

I think there are a number of ways that institutions that have power in communities can take the lead in creating community-based food systems, and ensure that people are eating healthy food, while they are helping to create more just and sustainable food systems.

Let's talk recipes. I love cooking and loved a lot of the recipes that you had in Grub. But, I am always in a rush. What are some yummy recipes from your new cookbook that don't take a long time to make?

One thing that I encourage people to think more about is making soups in these harsh economic times. In terms of this whole idea of getting community involved in helping us eat more healthfully, I always say that food parties are a great way to build community, connect with friends and family, and share food. You and I can make a bulk lasagna, or bulk soup, and we'll probably get tired of it after a couple of days. But, if you make some bulk lasagna, I make a bulk soup, and Sally makes a bulk casserole and then we all get together, we can split it up among ourselves. We take it home. We store some in the fridge, and we put some in the freezer. We can have a meal for every day of the week, or maybe longer.

One thing that I was thinking about when I was composing Vegan Soul Kitchen, is how I can create recipes that can be easily made in bulk, and stretched out. I have a lot of soups in the book. One of my favorites is actually Gumbo Z, which is my interpretation of Gumbo Zav, Gumbo Des Herbes or Gumbo Z'Herbes. It's called a number of things. It's a traditional Louisiana dish that's eaten during Lent.

It's said that some of the Gumbo Zavs use up to nine greens. The one I make, I think, uses four or five greens. It's a quick and easy way to have a nutrient-dense soup. You can have some, and you can freeze it. It's inexpensive. If you think about a bunch of kale, a bunch of collards, and a bunch of spinach, we're talking about a buck-fifty or two bucks at most for each bunch. Then, you can have a delicious soup that you can have for awhile.

In Grub, you paired music with recipes and meals. Did you do the pairing again in your newest book?

Oh, yeah. It's important for me. My mantra is, "Start with the visceral, move to the cerebral and then to the political." I think that people need to be moved on an emotional level. Throughout my eight years of engaging in these issues and doing work around these issues, the way that I've seen more people reconsider their relationship with food - thinking about eating more healthfully or buying food locally - hasn't been from writing a book, doing a lecture, or doing workshops. It's been from making people a delicious meal from local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients.

Then, I think it's easier to move into the conversation about the politics, and how people can be more active. I like to start with the food. I also like to include art, music, culture and a lot of things that I think get lost in the politics. Obviously one of my missions has been to engage in grass-roots activism, and work on all levels to create change. I think, in the organizing, and in the activism what gets lost so often is what we're working for. What we want is for all people to have some delicious, amazing, banging food!

That's why I write cookbooks. Whenever I contribute to websites or magazines, I insist that the editors allow me to include a recipe. I want people to leave with something that's practical, that's delicious, that's fun, and that's food.

Check out Bryant's blog on his website www.bryant-terry.com

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Cross-posted from BlogHer.com. Britt Bravo is a Big Vision Consultant.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Van Jones Will be Green Advisor in Obama Administration

According to this AP article on nytimes.com, Van Jones will be a green jobs adviser in the Obama administration. Wahoo!

Jones is the author of The Green Collar Economy and Founder of the Oakland-based, Green for All.

I had the opportunity to interview Van in the spring of 2007 as he was leaving the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which he co-founded, to start Green for All.

You can read a copy of the interview on Have Fun * Do Good, but I really recommend you listen to it on the Big Vision Podcast. He's an inspiring speaker:

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Giving When You're Unemployed: It Could Make You Happier and Wealthier

Americans tend to define themselves by their work. How many times have you gone to a party and been asked, "What do you do?" When you lose your job, you can lose not only your cash flow, but also your confidence.

What's one answer to the unemployment blues?


A September 2007 Ode magazine article, Giving Makes Us Happy, describes a 60-year study by Paul Wink of Wellesley College that followed the lives of about 200 people. One of the findings was that many of the people who said they were happy had, "generativity--the ability to give to others."

A March 2008 report in Science magazine, Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness, found that, "spending more of one's income on others predicted greater happiness both cross-sectionally (in a nationally representative survey study) and longitudinally (in a field study of windfall spending)."

Arthur Brooks' September 2007 article in the Journal of Economics and Finance, Does Giving Makes Us Prosperous?, concludes that giving can make you more prosperous.

According to the article's abstract:
"Nonprofit economists have always assumed that income is a precursor to giving. In contrast, many philosophical and religious teachings have asserted that it is giving that leads to prosperity. This article seeks to test the non-economic hypothesis, using data from the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey. It identifies strong evidence that money giving does, in fact, influence income."
There are so many ways to give. Even a small financial gift can make a big difference. For example, according to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, $15/month can provide, "20 packets of high energy biscuits specially developed for malnourished children."

Below are 10 low-cost ways to give. What would you add to the list?
  • Volunteer in your community, or virtually.
  • Listen to someone who needs an ear.
  • Visit someone who needs company.
  • Give away stuff (i.e. clothes, books, CDs, DVDs, furniture).
  • Double a recipe, put half in a tupperware, and share it.
  • Share the skills you get usually get paid to use for free.
  • Recommend someone on LinkedIn.
  • Send a card or letter to someone who would love to hear from you.
  • Give a loved one a shoulder, or foot rub.
  • Show appreciation for the people you love.
Cross-posted from BlogHer. Britt Bravo is a Big Vision Consultant.
Photo of Sunflower by me.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Creating Positive Change through Music: Interview with Christina Murray

Guest blogger Soha El-Borno is a freelance writer specializing in non-profit technology and web 2.0/social media. Her work has appeared in FundraisingRaising Success magazine, CSAE’s Association Agenda, CharityVillage, and the Wild Apricot nonprofit technology blog. She can be reached at soha_elborno@yahoo.ca. Follow her on twitter @soha.

For the last several years, Symphony Nova Scotia has been changing children’s lives with music. Through its Education and Community Outreach programs, the Symphony helps bring music into the lives of over 14,000 school children each year - students who may not otherwise have access to a symphony. These special initiatives promote the love of music and music-making in their community.

According to the Symphony's Education and Outreach Manager Christina Murray, “In the last few years, we’ve realized how critical it is for us to support music education and community music-making since music teachers and local conductors are overburdened and under-funded. We feel so passionate that it’s our responsibility to give kids the opportunity to tap into all that music can give them.”

In this interview, I spoke with Christina about the program’s work, the advantages of working with the community, and the advice she has for nonprofits interested in creating community engagement programs.

Soha: How does the program help build community and give children the gift of music?

Christina: You know, it’s funny because we hear orchestral music all the time in our culture – it’s playing in the background when we’re in a mall, it’s in the soundtrack of a movie, it’s even in video games. But these days, most people never actually see this music being made live.

We find that when kids get to see the symphony play live they are absolutely mesmerized by all the instruments and the excitement of watching 40 people play all at once. On a CD or a soundtrack, sometimes we think classical music is boring but when you see it played live, it is so interesting and exciting!

Parents and teachers frequently call or write to tell us that the kids who have seen the symphony or have worked with one of the musicians have been totally energized by the experience. Often we hear that they are inspired to start taking music lessons, or to use music listening as a way of exploring and expressing their feelings. Learning to really connect with music is like opening a door to a whole new side of yourself and kids are really primed for this kind of experience.

Making music with other people brings out some of the best parts of our humanity – it requires us to cooperate with others, to learn to concentrate and focus, to express emotions, to appreciate beauty. There have been so many studies that prove that kids who engage in music become the top students in their classes, get into less trouble during adolescence, and are key contributors to society. We feel so passionate that it’s our responsibility to give kids the opportunity to tap into all that music can give them.

Soha: What are some of the best ways you have seen the program build and evolve young audiences in the community?

Christina: I think the creation of the Adopt-a-Musician program has been especially wonderful. This gives a classroom, or group of kids the chance to cooperate with a symphony musician over a long period of time – 6 to 8 sessions – and when they’re done, they perform the piece they’ve created on the stage of the Cohn, the Symphony’s main theatre. This program has proven to be really magical because the children get to use their voice and express their own imaginations and feelings. The musicians who are “adopted” also talk about how meaningful the experience is.

What’s also great about it is that we can tailor the program to the needs of a wide variety of groups. This year, for instance, the Children’s Response Program at the IWK has adopted a musician. CRP is a residential program for children with early onset of mental illness, or severe conduct disorders. Having the chance to explore and channel their creativity is proving to be really rewarding for all involved. We also have another musician working with a brand new first nations school in Shubenacadie. That school is amazing – it’s offering students the chance to be immersed in the Mi’maq culture and language for 7 hours a day. The musician who’s working with that group feels as though she’s learning just as much if not more than the children are!

Soha: What are some of the challenges you experience from working with the community?

Christina: One of the difficult things about community engagement work and our education programs is that we need sustained financial support in order to make them go. The school systems have cut back on their music programs so drastically that music teachers just can’t offer as much as the children need in order to become well rounded, well balanced adults. As hard as we work to come up with great concerts that sell out, and many of them do, our tickets sales only cover about 30% of our costs so we rely on donations, grants, and corporate sponsorship to be able to do the work we do. It can be really stressful to have to dedicate so much of your time to finding the money to be able to do what you know is needed for the kids in your midst. Nevertheless, the hard work is worth it!

Soha: How do you feel the program and community engagement work has created a better rapport between the Symphony and the community?

Christina: One of the things we have noticed is that symphonic music is starting to be “cool” again. We are beginning to get younger and younger audiences as well as people from a much broader cultural background. We try really hard to listen to what the community is saying to us, and to program concerts and create opportunities that respond to what we hear. I think this is part of why CBC has been so keen to record and broadcast so many of our concerts, despite all their cuts to classical music, and I think it’s why we are able to keep our heads above water even during economically challenging times.

Soha: What would be your advice to nonprofits who would like to create community engagement programs?

Christina: One of the best things an organization can do is to allow their programs to grow organically. If a group comes and requests something, just do what you can to make it happen and then stay in touch with them to see how it can grow. The other important thing is to demonstrate to the community that you are open to their ideas, and that you want to build relationships with them.

For instance, we have started offering complimentary tickets to community groups that support economically disadvantaged children. We hope that this communicates our strong desire to offer them what we can and to open a conversation about how we can be involved in enriching these kids’ lives. Good community engagement programs really come down to one thing: listening.

Soha: Any interesting future projects in the works for you right now?

Christina: Of course! One of the areas we are exploring quite actively these days is the role that music has in creating health and well-being for people. There are some really interesting studies coming out about the impact of music on healing, recovery from illness, the reduction of stress, and other similar things. We have heard from our friends at Phoenix House, at the IWK, and from other health care groups that they would really love to have the symphony involved in their initiatives. We are trying to find funding and are working to build programs that will allow us to contribute what we can to the increased health and vitality of the people in our community.

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Nancy Wins Free Copy of Being the Difference

Last week I hosted a little contest to win a copy of Darius Graham's book, Being the Difference: True Stories of Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things to Change the World.

To enter, you had to write a comment on the post, Win a Copy of Being the Difference: True Stories of Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things to Change the World about an "ordinary" person you know who is doing extraordinary things to change the world.

I picked Nancy 's name out of a hat this morning ( I really did use a hat), so Darius will be mailing her a free copy of the book!

I wanted to share with all of you the wonderful stories folks left in the comments:

From Sonia of Hidden Phoenix - The Native's Guide to the Valley and The World Through Nala's Eyes.

After 34 years in the Navy, Rick Koca "retired" - and started StandUp For Kids (S4K), a nonprofit that works with homeless and street kids. I've known Rick for years and have met few people as inspirational as he. Since he started S4K in San Diego, it has grown to over 30 programs in over 20 states, powered by over 2,500 volunteers.

All because he saw an episode of 48 Hours on street kids and decided to do something about it. AARP did a great short video on Rick.

None of what he does is about him, ever. It's all about the kids. In every orientation and training he conducts, you'll hear him quote the line he asks his kids, "If I could do one thing for you today, what would that be?"

From Just_Kelly of The Hensley's:

My mentor, Marilyn, is an amazing women. She is a CEO of a nonprofit day program for adults with developmental disabilities. She grew her program so it now serves 700 people of varying abilities and allows them to express themselves through the art. While being CEO is her "job", the organization and it's mission is her passion. She lives for what she does and adds meaning to many individuals lives.

From Nancy of Sharing My Castle in the Clouds:

My sister Terri comes to mind, not to imply she is ordinary ~ She's successfully raised 3 children, attended Northeastern, and earned her degree as an adult working mother, and is an amazing photographer, for starters...

The "extraordinary" thing Terri has done to change the world is the successful implementation of a mentoring program called Stand and Deliver for teens in the challenged community of Lawrence, MA. Working for Raytheon full-time, Terri put countless hours into developing and growing the Stand and Deliver program, pairing Raytheon employees with at-risk but motivated teens, with significant positive results.

Stand and Deliver was started at a time when Corporate Social Responsibility was not a common term. Recently, Terri's paid position has come to include her work for Stand and Deliver ~ reflecting the change in corporate America to include and embrace the potential of true corporate social responsibility ~ to the benefit of all involved.

I may have gotten a few of the facts wrong ~ but the end result is right on, and a great example of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to change the world ~ in this case, one child at a time!

Here's a link to an article, including some quotes from Terri, written about the importance of mentoring and the potential for using mentoring in a variety of service organizations.

From Christopher of Sublime Goodness:

That book looks really cool. Working in the credit union movement, I'm surrounded by ordinary people "being the difference!"

But in my personal life, my wife constantly wows me. She is the mother of two little girls and works part-time (she stays home to watch them). In her little free time, she has taken on the hard task of rejuvenating the neighborhood association in our area in order to thwart the growing crime and other problems. In just over a year, she became president and after meeting after meeting, she is slowly making a difference. A few people that patronize her work even recognize her from the news!

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Nonprofits and NGOs Celebrate International Women's Day

Did you know that in some countries International Women's Day (March 8) is celebrated with flowers and gifts? For others, it is a day of political significance to raise awareness around women's rights.

Numerous nonprofits and NGOs are organizing events and campaign to celebrate. I've included a sampling below, and hope that you'll add other events in the comments.

One of the most highly publicized campaigns is the screening of the documentary about three women changemakers, A Powerful Noise, on Thursday, March 5th in select theaters. The film is being presented by Fathom Events, CARE, ONE, and the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

Fellow BlogHer Contributing Editor, Beth Kanter, writes about the fundraising Twitter campaign for CARE happening in conjunction with the film in her post, Tweetathon To Honor International Women's Day and To Spread The Word About A Powerful Noise Live. Nancy Schwartz, of the Getting Attention blog, also reflects on the campaign in her post, Brilliant Awareness Building & Micro-fundraising Campaign for Global Women's Rights -- Twitter Used to Spread the Word like Wildfire

Cory Doctorow writes about Amnesty UK's 1:10 campaign in his Boing Boing post, Amnesty UK's International Women's Day Campaign This Weekend. The organization is asking supporters to change their Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook avatars at 1:10 on Friday, March 6th to the "oneten" avatar. The campaign is trying to raise awareness that, "Each year, around 1 in 10 women in Britain experience rape, or other violence." For more information, go to www.oneten.org.uk.

The United Nations has chosen the theme of, "Women and Men United to End Violence Against Women and Girls," for this year's International Women's Day. You can find UN-related events on WomenWatch. One of the events listed is an exhibition of photos at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris from the book Celebrating Women by Paola Gianturco (who I interviewed in October 2007). 100% of the royalties from Celebrating Women go to the International Museum of Women.

The International Museum of Women will be hosting a live, online chat on Friday, March 6 at 9:30 AM PT with Zainab Salbi, the founder of Women for Women International, an organization that supports women survivors of war. To join the chat, go to www.imow.org on March 6th (you'll need to create, and be logged into your profile on imow.org). Check out Salbi's blog posts on the Huffington Post, and get more info about the chat on the imow Facebook page.

Women for Women International has a number of ways you can celebrate International Women's Day:
  • Join their March 5th conference call with Global Program Executive Director, Karen Sherman, and Agribusiness Specialist, Dr. Grace Fisiy, to talk about what participants in Women for Women International's programs are doing to eradicate hunger in their countries.
  • Post a Women for Women International digital badge on Facebook, MySpace, your blog, or your website.
  • "Donate your status" on Facebook to Women for Women International on March 5th with a special message they provide for you.
  • Host your own event.
The Global Fund for Women also has an online toolkit to help you host a house party.

You can find an International Women's Day event near you by searching the listings on http://www.internationalwomensday.com/events.asp, and find women's organizations to support by browsing www.wiserearth.org. If you live in the Bay Area (like me), the Global Fund for Women has created a calendar of local events.

Finally, why not celebrate by giving a micro-loan through Kiva.org to a woman entrepreneur, or join a Dining for Women giving circle in your community.

Full disclosure: I have donated to Amnesty International, have sponsored 2 women participating in Women for Women International's programs; have worked for, and donated to the Global Fund for Women; am on the Advisory Board of Dining for Women and am a member of one of their chapters; and I have made 3 loans to women entrepreneurs on Kiva.org.

Cross-posted from BlogHer.com. Britt Bravo is a Big Vision Consultant.

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