Monthly Archives: January 2012

Project 365 – Neighbors Helping Neighbors

In the heart of Oxford, Pennsylvania there is a place that offers a lifeline to people in need.

Neighborhood Services Center (NSC) is a small operation with a small staff but the service that it provides is big, especially to people living and working in this rural area and especially in the current economic times.

Founded in 1971, NSC doesn’t have counselors on staff; it doesn’t offer typical social service programs.  What NSC offers is far more valuable.  It offers connections – links between people who need services and people who provide them.

According to its website, this privately run, non-profit is still focused on its original goal of assisting people to achieve health, wholeness and stability in their lives by:

  • Establishing a link between people who want to reach out to help others.
  • Offering people with questions, problems or emergency needs a place to explore options and/or find answers.
  • Providing space for county agencies and community programs to deliver services directly to people.

People who come to NSC for help can also receive emergency assistance services like food, clothing, rent and utility assistance.

NSC relies on funding from 4 other regional agencies — United Way of Southern Chester County, Chester County’s Department of Human Services, the Health and Welfare Foundation of Southern Chester County and the Oxford Area Civic Association.  It also relies heavily on volunteers who put in thousands of hours a year to ensure help is available when and where it’s needed.

NSC is not sexy.  It’s not going to make headlines nor is it going to be featured on national television.  But it is going to continue its 40 year tradition of providing help, advice and resources to the people who live in and near its office.

From my chair, this agency and the people behind it belong on the list of 365 people who are helping to change the world.

Know any other people in your town or city who are helping others?  Send me the name of the group and any info you want to share and I will do the rest.

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Project 365: Education At The Frontlines

Sticking with education because it is so important to our children, to our lives and to our future, there are a man and a project in Harlem that deserve to join the ranks of those who are changing the world.

Like Sal KahnGeoffrey Canada believes in the power of education so much that he has given his life to it.  Unlike Kahn, who uses the internet to reach as many people as possible, Canada’s quest is more focused and more personal.

Canada is the man behind The Harlem Children’s Zone Project (HCZ).

Founded 20 years ago as a program to address problems that poor families in this drug-riddled neighborhood were facing —  crumbling apartments, failing schools, violent crime and chronic health problems, HCZ grew into a life-changing force.

At the outset, the project centered on classroom education but Geoffrey Canada recognized early that this approach was not working. What they were teaching children inside classrooms just couldn’t counter what those same children learned about in the street, every day — drugs, shooting deaths, dire poverty.

That realization led Canada to look at the whole picture, the child within the community. It also led to expanded efforts to include after school services to kids as well as programs on parenting, early-childhood development, mental health counseling and drug and alcohol counseling for parents and care givers.

Understanding that education alone would not save these children from repeating their parents’ history, one of the  primary objectives of the overall project became “…to create a critical mass of adults around them who understand what it takes to help children succeed.”

Dubbed, “…one of the most ambitious social experiments of our time” by the New York Times, The Harlem Children’s Zone Project started with one block in that city; today it covers 100 city blocks and touches the lives of 8,000 children and 6,000 parents.

Based on HCZ’s data that show that it’s  impossible to separate education in the classroom from education in the streets, Harlem Children’s Project has also become the template for President Obama’s Promise Neighborhoods program.

Geoffrey Canada is definitely changing the world, one child at a time.

On a personal note, as someone who pays an enormous amount of school taxes, as a person who is in the process of being disenfranchised by the autonomous school board in our district, I will say here, now, that I would gladly pay my school taxes to help support a Promise Neighborhood program.

I would even pay them to support HCZ because I know that the dollars going into these programs help teach children and adults how to live better, healthier lives.  The dollars in our district seem to go to larger administration buildings and bigger salaries for the people who work in them.

By they way, if you know a group or an individual that is helping to change our world for the better, please share their story with me so I can share it with my readers.

 

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Project 365: The Man Who Is Teaching The World

You gotta love this guy.  He’s literally a genius at math and science.  But he’s also a man who reached out to help his own cousin navigate these terrifying subjects.  Now, Salman Khan helps millions and millions of people learn, online at Kahn Academy.

And the topic list is amazing, ranging from Algebra (pretty much the subject that started the whole thing) to Venture Capitalism.  In between, users can learn about art, history, economics, information technology and health and wellness.  In fact, Kahn Academy now boasts more than 2700 video lessons that are offered free of charge to anyone who wants to watch and learn from them.

How did this happen?

As I mentioned, Khan started tutoring a young cousin remotely in 2004 after learning that she was struggling with math. They lived pretty far away from each other so Kahn decided to use the Internet and create some videos to help her.  Soon other relatives were asking him for help.  When he posted a series of lessons on YouTube, they went viral, and donors like Bill Gates offered to help him expand his efforts.

And Khan did just that!

Today, the academy has more than 250,000 YouTube subscribers and his videos have a total of 108, 697,000 upload views.  Khan Academy is the second most subscribed to non profit organization on YouTube.

This former hedge fund analyst quit his day job a few years ago to focus on teaching.  Now, he posts short video lessons to his site, khanacademy.org—where kids in dozens of countries learn about everything from Hubble’s Law to the French Revolution and get a chance to reinforce what they’ve seen with practice exercises designed for every level.

And Khan Academy isn’t just for kids.  Coaches and teachers who use this tool can access all of their students’ data. Summary data for the whole class is online as is data that allows teachers to dive into a particular student’s profile to figure out exactly which topics are problematic.  Again, it’s all free.

Running this enterprise is a lot of work and up until 2010, Khan was dipping into his own savings to help foot the bill.  Why do it?  Khan says he wants to provide extra help that kids  may not be getting at public schools like the ones he attended near New Orleans.  But he also wants to reach kids who don’t have access to schools, at all.

With $2 million from Google, Khan, who now has a small team (check out Ben Kamens who leads interns at Khan Academy) is translating his videos into languages like Mandarin, Hindi, and Spanish, broadening the base and extending the reach of his organization beyond the limitations of the English language.

For a  lifelong learner like me, Khan Academy is a bit like a candy shop – full of lovely things to learn and all of them free for the asking.  And I am not alone.  A whole lot of people are watching and learning using a teaching tool developed by one man to help one young girl.

Sal Kahn is helping millions of children and he is changing the world.  If you want to learn more about Sal and his mission, check out these FAQ’s or see what Oprah had to say about him in the October issue of her magazine.

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Project 365 – The Lowcountry Orphan Relief

Low Country, in South Carolina, is one of the most beautiful areas along the East coast.  It’s also a popular vacation spot with a rich history and some of the finest golf courses and resorts in the South.  It’s a place that makes you think of warm breezes and beautiful beaches.

It’s also home to a small but rapidly growing non profit that is focused on providing clothing and support to orphans – The Lowcountry Orphan Relief.

Orphans, in this country?  You don’t hear a whole lot about them, perhaps because the number of children orphaned in the United States in 2010, according to UNICEF, was  low – 2100.

That’s not a big number when compared to the more than 2 million children that are orphaned every year in Africa or the 31,000 orphaned in India last year according to UNICEF’s comprehensive report entitled The State of the World’s Children 2011.

So, why write about an organization named Lowcountry Orphan Relief (LOR)?

Simple.  This small but dedicated group of people doesn’t just help orphans; it helps abused and neglected children, too.   If you look at those numbers, you’ll understand why their work is even more important.

In 2010, there were more than 700,000 verified incidents of child abuse in this country, 85% of which involved either neglect or physical abuse.

The Lowcountry Orphan Relief is catching and caring for children in and around Charleston, as fast as they can.  Founded in 2003 by a woman whose job it was to speak for children caught in the court system, this organization provides clothing, toiletries, books and school supplies within 48 hours of a child’s removal from his or her home.

Two statistics define this mostly volunteer group that makes up Lowcountry Relief:

  1. They have clothed more than 10,000 needy children since 2008.
  2. 90% of all income given to this group is used to provide for the children’s needs.

LOR has also built libraries at emergency shelters and group homes in the tri-county area and continues to attract support of its neighbors and neighboring businesses in its quest to meet its mission statement:
…to provide services and aid to meet the meet the needs of abandoned, abused and neglected children in the Lowcountry and specifically intervene where government aid ends.

That’s why Lowcountry Orphan Relief is on my list of 365 organizations and people who are changing the world.  If you want to learn more about this wonderful organization, check out this article:  Guardian Angel.

My thanks to fellow WordPress blogger Andy who nominated Lowcountry Orphan Relief and whose posts make me grin.

If you have a group or a person who you think belongs in the list of world-changing people, please share it with me.  I will do the rest!

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Project 365 – Smile!

Maybe a smile is all you have to give but the power of that smile to lift up someone who is having a bad day or whose life is changing cannot be underestimated.  

And guess what? Smiling doesn’t just make you feel better; it makes the other person feel better, too according to researcher Ron Gutman.

Gutman says that smiling is also associated with reduced levels of stress hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, and dopamine, increased levels of mood-enhancing hormones like endorphins and lowered blood pressure.

Researchers at UC Berkeley demonstrated that smiles can yield information about the smiler including how fulfilling and long lasting their marriages would be, how highly they would score on standardized tests of well-being and general happiness, and how inspiring they would be to others.

In fact, UC Berkeley has created a new area of study centered on what it’s calling the science of happiness.

So next time you’re feeling down or a co-worker or friend is having a bad day, consider sharing your smile with someone else. It’s easy, it’s free and it’s just one way you can start changing yourself and your world.

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Project 365 – She’s Not Katharine Hepburn

Both women were actresses.   Both were slim, both beautiful.

But unlike the woman whose last name she shares,  Audrey Hepburn, the elegant, beautiful fashion plate, the woman who shared the screen with a Who’s Who of Hollywood’s leading men, turned away from acting in films to acting on a far larger stage – saving the lives of children around the world.

Her drive to do that may have come from her stint as the  goodwill ambassador for UNICEF but Hepburn didn’t just do her bit and walk off stage.  She used her name and fame to tell the world about the needs of children living in the United States and the half dozen continents she visited.

From 1989 until just before her death in 1993, Hepburn continued to travel, talk, testify before Congress and tell anyone she could reach just how important the work of saving children’s lives was.

Her dedication to this cause lives on today in the fund started by her sons and her long time companion –  the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund.

So, why write about a woman, an actress, long dead and no longer able to be heard?  Because she may be gone but her work, the personal investment that this one woman made in helping to save children continues 18 years later.

Sure, she had a leg up.  She had wealth, fame and a following but so did Katharine Hepburn.  Only one of these Hollywood legends used all of the weapons she had to make a difference in our world.   That’s why Audrey Hepburn made my list of 365 people and organizations who are changing the world.

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Project 365 – The Simple Act of Planting a Seed

Some people might think I’m talking about a metaphysical seed – the kind that germinates into a new life, a new business, a new charity, a new product.

Actually, I am talking about real seeds – lettuce seeds, tomato seeds, pepper – eggplant – pumpkin – vegetable seeds of all sizes and shapes.  An organic gardener for close to 30 years, I spend the cold, dark months of winter planning what will grow in my garden, when I will plant it, and how much I will need for my family.

Organic vegetables

My organic garden in June of 2011.

But then, I add a row or two extra of everything I plant; I grow food for the hungry.  So do millions of other gardeners across the country and around the world.

Don’t believe me?  Google “plant a row.”  You’ll get more than 27 million results.  A lot of the results are for programs that ask gardeners to Plant A Row (PAR), literally.  The PAR program began in Alaska almost 20 years ago to help feed the hungry but it has participants (couldn’t resist) all over the country.  (More on PAR in a later post.)

So there are a lot of people growing food to feed the hungry.  And there are a lot of organic gardeners like me who take the program just one step further.  We don’t buy just any vegetable seed; we buy seed that is locally grown, not genetically modified, and helps support other charitable programs.  I buy from a small but growing farm network — Hudson Valley Seed Library.

The farms that make up this group  raise seed you can trust, that’s a given.  But the partners who started this business, Ken Greene and Doug Muller, also use artists to create seed pack covers and donate free seeds to a school garden, community garden, or garden organization  in need.

One other program that really shows the power that a single gardener who has some seeds, some dirt and some determination has, is Ample Harvest.

Started in 2007 by a New Jersey gardener who grew more than he and his wife could eat, today you can find the gardeners who support this organization in all 50 states.  The first donation went to a shelter for battered women just 4 years ago.  Since then, Gary Oppenheimer’s “home grown” operation has drawn national attention including getting its founder named a CNN hero.

Ample Harvest has also gotten the support of some pretty heavy hitters including the US Department of Agriculture, Google, the National Council of Churches and the National Gardening Association in its quest to “…diminish hunger, improve nutrition and help the environment.”

Growing a garden this summer and want to help?  Ample Harvest offers an easy, zip code-based search tool that will help you turn up food pantries in your back yard that could use your extra veggies.

Got a food pantry that could use some fresh produce? You can also register at Ample Harvest so people in your neighborhood can find you.

Just one  small act, planting a seed, can make a huge difference in your neighborhood, your city, your state and  country….and yes, the world.

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Filed under Gardening, Inspiring People, Life & Death, Project 365, Religion, World Changing Ideas