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Archive for April, 2011

Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

Today I was in Antigua.  I began the day with a zipline tour.  We had to drive inland for a half hour to reach our destination—the rainforest.  Our taxi driver introduced himself as Spice Man.  He was a big man with a good sense of humor.  He gave us a talking tour all the way there and back telling us many things about his island.  But I was mostly fascinated by the small, colorful houses we passed, many in a state of extreme disrepair, which began to appear as soon as we left the posh tourist harbor area.  This was the real Antigua.

The zipline experience was fun.  It felt very settling to be among all those trees after more than four days at sea.  The way it works is that you are strapped into a harness similar to what you wear when you parachute.  Then you are hooked with big metal hooks to cable wires that are strung between a series of trees.  Each tree has a platform built around it and a certified zipliner (although I don’t know what that means exactly; I was helped by one of these zipliners and she had acrylic nails that had to be two inches long) who makes sure you don’t fall off the platform into the forest below before sending you on to the next platform.

We ziplined through twelve different stations down to the bottom of the forest.  That was the grueling part because we then had to climb many, many steps back to the top.  There we were able to tip our certified zipliners, as well as buy a t-shirt or two.

Spice Man brought us back to the harbor.  I asked him if he could help me find some Cuban cigars.  My husband had asked me to smuggle some back into the country with me.  Spice Man took me to a liquor store owned by a friend who then directed us to another location.  This was a bonafide cigar store.  I was able to find John some Cuhios, Romeo y Julieta and a few others.

By then it was getting late and I was starting to run out of time.   I decided to run back to the ship and drop off the cigars, then come back to the edge of the harbor and enjoy one last coffee before leaving.  I wasn’t certain whether or not I would give away $10 today.  But as I walked towards the coffee shop I was moved by the site of a young girl in her school uniform leaning listlessly against a post, holding handmade jewelry in her hand.  Her mother was busily opening a suitcase, trying to get passersby interested in buying the trinkets.  I took a candid shot of them.  Then I decided I wanted to give that ten to them.

I began by asking to look at their jewelry.  While I browsed I asked the girl her name.  Euresha she replied before explaining that she was eleven years old and in grade six.  I couldn’t imagine what her life must be like, having to go to school all day and then work selling jewelry to help her family survive.  The mother told me her name was Brenda.  I found out she was the mother of ten, and Euresha was the youngest.  I was browsing very slowly, trying to work up my nerve to offer the ten.  Brenda didn’t take my hesitation as a good sign.  She started bargaining with me, lowering her prices more and more the longer I looked.

Then, wouldn’t you know it, it started to rain.  We moved under the awning of the coffee shop and sat down opposite a couple who were also on my cruise.  I could tell Brenda was getting antsy to move on, and worried I wouldn’t buy anything at all.   Finally I settled on a matching abalone necklace and bracelet.  I said, “Brenda, I’d like to buy this bracelet and necklace.  What would it cost?”

“Bracelet is five, necklace is twenty.  But I give you both for $20.”

“Well, I’d be happy to pay you twenty for them, but would you be insulted if I also gave you ten dollars for no reason at all?”

You should have seen the look on her face.  It was like she’d won the lottery.  But she didn’t miss a beat.  Immediately she responded, “Give it to my daughter.  She needs it for her science project.”

I said, “Oh that’s great, Brenda!  I’ll give it to you, and you can give it to your daughter.  Because I was going to ask you what you were going to do with it, and now I know.”  Then I went on to explain about the Year of Giving.  Frankly, I don’t think Brenda cared.  That ten dollars was manna from heaven, and the unexpected boon was all that mattered.
Meanwhile Euresha was grinning from ear to ear.  I doubt she’d had many experiences like this of sheer good luck.  I asked her to tell me about her science project.  She said she is writing a paper on the Fallow Deer, which is an endangered species.  Her mom explained she needed the money to pay for some computer fees so she could type up the project.  She then went on to boast about her daughter, saying she’d be sitting for an exam next year that would allow her to go on to the next level of school.  “I know she will do very, very well,” she proclaimed proudly.  Euresha told me she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up.

Euresha wrote down her address for me, and we all admired her lovely cursive handwriting.  The couple at the table with us who had witnessed this whole exchange asked me if this was part of a Christian ministry.  I explained to them about the Year of Giving website and suggested they check it out.  Then I took a picture of Euresha and Brenda, smiling broadly and looking hopeful, the worry and strain wiped away for a moment.

The rain had let up a little and now it really was time for me to get back on the boat.  I dashed between the drops, imagining the story Euresha and Brenda would have to tell the family that night.  It gave me such a good feeling, I thought, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to stop this after seven days!”

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Blog post by Rose M, a Kindness Investor from Forest Park, IL.

Hi, my name is Rose and I am this week’s Kindness Investor.  I am underemployed this year.  However, I had an opportunity to take a cruise recently to the British Virgin Islands as a Teaching Assistant to Donna Eden, by whom I am trained as an Eden Energy Medicine Clinical Practitioner.  So my first four opportunities to give away ten dollars a day began on the cruise.

I started my week of giving early here on the island of Tortola.  I spent the morning on a nature hike in the Sage Mountain National Park.  Then we went to some touristy beach the name of which I do not recall.  No, it was Cane Something.  Well, anyway.   It has a centuries old rum distillery on it that is still operating.  Samples were wasted on me since I don’t drink, but the distillery itself was fascinating and beautiful to photograph.

We had about an hour on the beach which was a bit crowded.  The pelicans here are to the locals what seagulls are to American beach-goers.  No, they don’t beg from you, but they are very tolerant of people and float in the water very close to shore.  I was lucky enough to get a shot of one flying up into the air.  However, I couldn’t get a reverse shot of any diving into the water to grab a fish.  It was fun watching them swallow their meals.  Just like in the cartoons, you can see the little lumps wiggling down their pouchy gullets.

When we finally got back to the area near the boat, I did some shopping.  There were two areas which sold “local crafts.”  The first area sold mostly cheap junk.  I didn’t even bother looking for anything here.  I just made off for the other area.  It was very close to the same.  However, I found one gem there.  An artist who is a fourth generation Tortolan had a little hut full of his artwork.  His ancestors came from West Africa, and art has been in their blood.  His dad, he said, was also a painter like him.  “But, when my parents divorced, I didn’t divorce the tradition.  So I kept on painting.”

I bought a small painting of slaves cutting sugar cane which touched me deeply with its sense of peace despite hardship.  Then, upon his recommendation, I headed down the street to Bamboushay, a coffee shop which also sold locally made pottery.

When I walked in there was an Asian woman—very pregnant—typing on her laptop, a Caucasian woman with long blonde hair I pegged for an ex-pat, and a beautiful slender black woman behind the counter.  A small array of cookies and muffins was on display, and—much to my relief—a long list of coffee specialties were available.

At first I ordered a large decaf iced latte.  Then I spied Chai latte on the board.  So I said, “Wait a sec, how’s your Chai tea?  Is it really, really good?”

I asked that because I don’t think Starbuck’s Chai is all that good, and I wanted a really good one.  She cut a smirky glance at her ex-Pat friend that looked just a little eye roll-ish, if you know what I mean.  Then, without looking at me, she said, “Yes, it’s really, really good.”  Her friend giggled a wry giggle.  The whole encounter made me feel a bit self-conscious, even though I knew I’d set myself up for it.  What was she going to say, after all?  “No, we make lousy Chai?”

“Well, I’ll take your word for it,” I said.  “I’ll take a large.”

Trying to adopt a sweeter attitude, she asked me to wait a few moments while she finished her friend’s order.  But I sensed she was feeling irritated and maybe sad.   I wondered if it was because she took me for a rich, white American girl out Island-hopping.  I wanted to protest my innocence, but what was the point?  In comparison to her world, I was exactly that.

Wandering around the shop I took the time to admire the local pottery.  Some of it was exquisite.  I would have bought something if it wasn’t such a fragile souvenir.  Eventually she finished making my chai.  Perhaps feeling a little bit of a need to please, I asked if the cookies and muffins in the case were fresh, and where did they come from.
“They are home-made,” she replied (in a lovely, soft BVI accent), adding, “I make them in my home.”

Well, I was sold.  So I also bought a small, whole wheat, carrot muffin.  The total bill was $6.95.   I handed her a twenty.  She started to make change when it hit me.  I could begin my week of giving with her!  Why not?

She handed me three dollars, a nickel and a ten.  I said thank you, and then I dove right in.  My explanation of the project was a little bumbling as I wasn’t prepared in the least.  I wish you could have seen the look on her face when I first told her I wanted to give her ten dollars, no strings attached.  It was a look of pure surprise.  Who was this weird stranger offering her money for nothing?  In fact, at first she thought I was describing a sort of “chain letter.”  I would give her ten dollars, and then she would be required to find seven other people to give ten dollars.  No wonder her look of surprise quickly changed to one of wariness.

I explained it again.  By that time a worker had come out from the back to find out what was going on.   They both got the gist of it finally.  I wished the worker had been out there earlier because I would have offered both of them $5, rather than $10 to just one of them.  It took her a few minutes to make up her mind, but she finally agreed and I handed her the ten.

The smiles that broke out on our faces at that moment were like two simultaneous sunrises peeking over the Caribbean horizon.

She told me her name was Susan (pronounced Suzanne) R.  She wasn’t the owner of the coffee shop, but its manager—and apparently its baker (the muffin was delicious, by the way).  When I asked her what she would do with the money, she hesitated for a long moment.  I sensed she was expected to do something altruistic with it.  So I offered, “Listen, you can drink a bottle of $10 rum with it if you want.”  That got a laugh from both of them.

Finally she said she thought she might by some all-natural juice for her daughter, Enya.  I asked if she was named for the singer, and she said yes.  This was another small moment of connection for us as Enya is one of my husband John’s all-time favorite musicians.  I told her so, and we both agreed it was a shame she hadn’t put out anything new lately.

We chatted for a few minutes more.  Susan told me Enya is five years old and is in the First Level of school.  I didn’t know what that meant, so she explained to me it would be analogous to our kindergarten.  Then she wanted to know if it would be possible for her to do this as well.  Only, she thought it would have to be for less than ten a day.  She couldn’t afford that much.  I was deeply touched by that.  I could see she had a big heart, and it would be in her nature to want to give more than receive.

It also brought to mind one of my favorite sayings:  God cannot be outdone in generosity, and it occurred to me I had already received much more than I had just given.

Finally, although she had protested earlier, she allowed me to take a picture of her.  I thought it caught something breathtaking about her, something I noticed earlier despite her slightly churlish mood.  It was a defiance and pride that made me like her instantly.  If I lived in Tortola, I would have to have known her better.  I think she’d make an inspiring friend.

Just about then an older couple came in, presumably looking to escape the heat as I had earlier.  I made my goodbyes quickly, making sure to leave the website address, my name and email.  At the door I turned and looked over my shoulder for one more glance.   Her mood was entirely different from when I had entered twenty minutes earlier.  It suddenly dawned on me then the real gift was not the ten dollar bill.

Bambooshay is a festive Virgin Islands dance performed to invoke good luck.  I hoped she would remember this day as one in which good luck danced her way.

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Name:

Rose M

Age?

54
Where do you live?

Forest Park, IL

Where were you born?

Salisbury MD

What’s the highest level of education you have completed?

Masters of Science
Do you have a family?

Married to my husband John for almost 16 years.  No kids.  One cat
How did you hear about the Year of Giving?

I was starting my own blog and was searching the web for blogs that sounded interesting and were well-written.  I ran across this one and fell in love!
How long have you been unemployed?

Not unemployed. Underemployed.  I would say off and on since 2005, although things got a bit better last year. But they bottomed out at the start of 2011.
What happened?

I don’t know.  I’ve been told that the “recession” which has been plaguing the nation has actually started to hit the midwest hard this year.  Maybe that’s just a comforting myth.

Do you currently volunteer?

Not in the traditional way.  I make meals about four times a year for our parish soup kitchen, and sometimes help out there.  I also volunteer for various parish activities on an as-needs basis.  Last year I volunteered a week of my time in New Orleans helping to rehab houses.   I plan on doing that again this year.

Who have been your biggest influences?

Jesus Christ, Mother Teresa and Donna Eden.  Also, I have a long list of strangers in my life who have said or done just the right thing when I’ve needed it most, and whom I’ve never seen again.

What is your favorite food?

Edible.
What is the most meaningful gift you have ever received?

A ring inscribed in Hebrew with the words “I am my beloved’s and he is mine.”

Describe your ideal job:

I LOVE the work I do.  I’m very grateful for that.  I am a psychotherapist and energy medicine practitioner, and what I do changes people’s lives for the better.  My ideal job would simply doing what I love to do more.

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San Francisco General

Photo: Troy Holden

Blog post by Reed S., a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC

Greetings from the foggy city by the bay, San Francisco.  This is the first time I have been on the West Coast since I lost my job in 2009.  It’s good to be back!  This city has been the incubator of some very cool philanthropic ventures.  The One Percent Foundation, with their bold approach to engaging young people in philanthropy,  held their first event here.  Kiva calls San Francisco home.  They’re the guys who made a seismic makeover of how we look at lending and alleviating poverty through the Internet.  Sparked, headquartered here too, is changing the way we look at volunteering by connecting organizations with volunteers on the Internet through micro-volunteering opportunities.  You get the idea.

Anyway, I am here for a special celebration of World Wildlife Fund’s 50th anniversary and their Spring Council meetings.  It should be an exciting few days celebrating the past and focusing on the future, especially looking at the intersection between technology and conservation.

Like all of these organizations, nonprofits across the country are driven by the desire to create social good rather than dollars.  These organizations work tirelessly to improve the world in which we live.  Whether it be protecting the biodiversity of our planet, reducing homelessness, or improving the education that our children receive, these organizations humbly push ahead toward their mission – often in spite of financial conditions that would be considered unacceptable in the private sector.

How do these cash-strapped organizations attract and retain top talent?  How do they use lessons learned from others in their field to solve their own problems efficiently?  How do they build partnerships with other organizations with aligned missions to progress their work?  Well, one of the ways is to take some of the sector’s brightest and most energetic leaders and bring them together in a dynamic exchange of experiences, ideas and contacts.  Few do this better than the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.

I was invited to attend their national conference in Grand Rapids, MI and speak to their members about the Year of Giving. I donated my time and services as a speaker and photographer for the conference at the end of March.

Over the Highway

Grand Rapids, MI at sunset (Photo: Eli Potter)

I touched down at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids just after seven, the glimmer of the late winter sunlight over the flat terrain quickly slipped into the night.  It’s a nice place to visit, possibly to live if you don’t mind winters that have overgrown their three month calendar season.  “You’re right here,” a woman sitting next to me on the plane explained while pointing to the palm of her right hand, just below where the little finger connects to the palm.  “You see Michigan is shaped like a mitt….we’re right here.”  I nodded and smiled at the novel way of showing someone where you lived and thought how I would shape my hand into the places I have lived.  No such luck for Brazil or Mexico, but maybe Pennsylvania works if I place my hand horizontally.

YNPN 2011.jpg

I was part of their speakers track titled Innovation. I’m not sure how innovating the Year of Giving is, after all it was Pierre on Day 359 who reminded me that certainly others had thought of this idea before.  “The difference,” he told me, “is that you did something.”  There is a tremendous difference between having an idea and implementing it.  Only one of the two really exists.  This conference was packed full of doers; my kind of people.

The conference went well, people even laughed at some of my attempts at humor which always makes me feel good.  That evening I put to work my photography “skills” to capture the nonprofit smackdown: a wild debate of sorts where nonprofit professionals from all different sectors defended their causes.  It was an interesting evening which was highlighted by an impromptu cash collection which I was told raised over a thousand dollars for the final two surviving nonprofits in the bout.

YNPN4

Impromptu cash donations totaled more than $1,000 for some of the terrific nonprofits represented at the smackdown!

There are 47 YNPN chapters across the US representing over 20,000 young nonprofit professionals working in a variety of capacities.  Check their website to see if there is a chapter near you!

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Blog post by Reed S., a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC.

A year ago this week I met a charismatic young post-grad student from Georgetown University: Alex S.  His story is one of my favorites and one that I tell over and over because I love how he thought outside the box and was creative and thoughtful with how he used the $10.

Here it is…

Originally posted on April 12, 2010

So this morning I heard the NPR story by Liane Hansen…it was great!  If you missed it, check it out here.

So I was walking around my neighborhood one night looking for someone to give my $10 to.  People often ask me how I choose the recipients.  There really isn’t any scientific method, but more of an instinctive gut reaction that I have.  Something about the person makes them interesting to me.  Maybe they are dressed in an interesting way, maybe a pan-handler says something clever, or perhaps it’s just a nice bus driver.

Alex is sitting in a small park on a bench reading a book at about 9:00pm.  The dim light from a nearby street lamp is just enough for him to read his book: Negotiating Across Culture by Raymond Cohen.

Alex is dressed in a suit sans tie.  He looks comfortable and at ease with me approaching and sitting down next to him.  He is reading the textbook for his post-grad coursework at Georgetown.  In addition to his schoolwork, Alex also has a part-time job at a DC think tank.  As I explain to him my year-long commitment I learn that his birthday is December 15th (the day I started the Year of Giving).  Somehow I feel that I was meant to meet Alex.

When Alex isn’t studying, working at the think tank or taking in a night at local art galleries (that’s what he was doing this night) he gives his time.  He helps out at shelters and kitchens around DC.  He has volunteered several times atLoaves and Fishes, a ministry of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church that has been serving lunch to the hungry and homeless on Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays since 1968.

Alex hopes to work in international development and policy in Africa.  This is no surprise given his vast international experience.  For a 24-year-old he has seen a lot of the world.  Check out the video where we talk a little about his experiences overseas.

The following is a letter that I received from Alex explaining how he used the $10.  Also, take note of the link to the study on kindness at the end…definitely worth a read.

Hey Reed,

I was really unexpected and nice meeting you the other night. I wanted to drop you a note to say that I really think your project is fantastic. I think it’s great that you have embraced the curiosity, generosity, and faith in other people that a lot of us aspire to. I too believe that there’s so many incredible and interesting people we encounter in our daily lives that we seldom take the time to stop and appreciate. I myself wish I did it more.

So, I told you I’d write you to tell you how I’d spend my money.  Basically, 10 bucks isn’t going to change what I can afford, or what some deserving NGO in the area could do if I gave the money to them.  But, what the gesture of yours can do is change something I do, particularly stopping to appreciate the people we see in our daily lives but maybe don’t stop to acknowledge or appreciate. So, what I decided to do was spend that money on some cookie supplies, bake some cookies and give them to people we don’t too often acknowledge – the guys who hand out the WaPo Express, the people who work at the Metro stations and the cleaning people and receptionist in my building on K Street.

Oh and I also thought you’d be interested in this article I came across on the kindness multiplier. Reminds you that an act of kindness has consequences you don’t see!

Cheers and best of luck,

Alex (109)

Thanks Alex.  What a thoughtful and creative use of the $10.  I would love to know how the people reacted!  If you haven’t already done it yet and can record it, it would be great to post here!  It was great to meet you…thanks for making this giving experience so special.

Update 4/9/2011

Alex attended the Year-End Celebration in December.  And he didn’t show up empty handed either.  Would you believe that he showed up with cookies to share?  What a thoughtful guy!

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Blog post by Reed S., a Kindness Investor from Washington, DC.

I’m looking for volunteers for four things.  Two of the items can be done anywhere in the world, so there’s something for everyone!

  1. On Saturday April 16th I am volunteering at DC Servathon, a city-wide volunteer movement.  I am leading a small team of people who will be working to make some improvements at the Maya Angelou Charter School.  We are in need of volunteers and donations.  If you are interested in volunteering making a financial contribution, click here.

    DSC_0043.jpg

    Volunteers from MLK Service Day!

  2. On Saturday April 30th I am involved in another service day called Hands-On-DC!  We’ll be tackling a DC public school and need more volunteers.  Click here to sign up or make a financial contribution to provide college scholarships for underprivileged kids in DC.
  3. We need a new Kindness Investor on Year of Giving!  If you or someone you know is unemployed or underemployed and wants to spend seven amazing days investing in kindness let me know.  Click here for more details.
  4. The Worldwide Day of Giving is back!  That’s right, this coming June 15th is the second annual Worldwide Day of Giving.  Last year over a thousand people from around the world participated by giving $10 to stranger.  This year, you have an additional option for those who would prefer to volunteer.  Both options are a lot of fun.  Details can be found here or on the Facebook Page.  I need your help in spreading the word so that we can make this another amazing day!  Use your Facebook, twitter, whatever…just spread the love!

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It was a slow week on the blog.  We are without a Kindness Investor to share a daily story of giving from some part of the world.  If you or someone you know are out of work or underemployed and would like to become a Kindness Investor for seven days, shoot me a message!

My blog today is a special one.  I recently was honored to be invited to visit Atlanta to speak at the 95th anniversary event for the Junior League of Atlanta (JLA).

In case you are not familiar with the Junior League, it’s an organization made up of outstanding women who are committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving the community through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable.  They have a little less than 2,000 active members in the Greater Atlanta region who last year collectively volunteered more than 90,000 hours at 95 different organizations saving them more than $1.8 million in labor related expenses.  That is awesome!

My speech was in the evening and so I had some time to visit first hand some of the work that JLA’s members are involved with.  I was met by Audra Dial, JLA’s current president.  She accompanied me to three spectacular organizations where JLA works.  Audra, a partner at a top law firm, is a truly inspiring individual.  In addition to her professional and philanthropic work, she’s married and is the mother of a handsome 18-month-old boy!  People often ask me how I do all that I do, well, I want to know how the heck she does everything that she does!

Atlanta Union Mission.jpgThe first organization we visited was My Sister’s House a 264 bed facility that offers overnight shelter and residential discipleship programs for homeless women and women with children.  Part of the Atltanta Mission, My Sister’s House also provides counselors, referrals to job training programs, and help in finding housing, medical and legal resources. For mothers, the organization has a fully developed childcare facility staffed with a behavioral specialists and social workers.

Melissa, the manager of volunteer services, greeted us and showed us around.  I was very impressed with the facilities, especially the part that houses single women and women with children for up to a year.  They have simple yet comfortable apartments that they call home.  The housing and services are provided free of charge to the women and their children, however, each woman is required to contribute in some way.  Some do laundry, others clean the general facility rooms or help provide the more than 500 meals that are served daily.

My Sisters House.jpg

My Sister's House facility.

“How can people help,” I asked Melissa.  She told me that they need volunteers, especially men.  “The children, in particular the boys, need positive male role models.”  They also need people who are able to provide child-care for the guests, mainly on Sunday mornings and evenings during the week.  “We also need volunteers who can help with adult literacy, serve meals and tutor the women on computer skills.”

This appears to be a very well run organization that is full of love.  It was sad to leave, but we had a few other places to visit.

NearlyNew.jpg

Nearly New Shop storefront

Next it was the Nearly New Shop, a store that is run by JLA as a source of fundraising for the organization.  “We’re somewhere between a thrift store and a consignment shop,” Scott, the store manager, explained to me.  I walked through the neatly organized store and wandered over to the men’s clothing.  A charcoal Brooks Brothers suit caught my eye, but it wasn’t my size!  Everyone working here is extremely warm and caring.  Jackie, a JLA volunteer, warmed my heart with her smile and calming voice.  “We are always in need of donation items in good condition,” Scott mentioned as he showed me around the storage area.  “Especially furniture and men’s clothing,” Jackie added.

NearlyNew2.jpg

Jackie, Reed and Audra at the Nearly New Shop.

My last stop was the Atlanta Speech School, one of the Southeast’s oldest therapeutic, educational centers for children and adults with hearing, speech, language or learning disabilities. Co-founded in 1938 by Katherine Hamm, the mother of a deaf son, and JLA, the school has the feel of a state-of-the-art learning center.  Comer Yates, the school’s executive director, manages to squeeze me in to chat for a few minutes.  He was full of awe-striking facts
about language and literacy that made me wish I had taken notes.  If you would like to support this vibrant learning facility please click here.

I ended up back at my hotel for a quick shower before heading over to the beautiful Ahavath Achim Synagogue where I delivered my speech.  The evening presented two “firsts” for me.  It marked the first time I have given a speech in a synagogue and the first time I have been the only man in a room with nearly 500 women!

I want to thank Audra, Sara, Deb and all the members of JLA.  I truly felt the southern hospitality!

If you want to learn more about JLA or support their terrific work, please click here.

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