Non-profit provides free pianos for underprivileged community

Alex Townsend was, in the words of his father, Tom Townsend, a “round peg in a square hole”.

“Alex was like a lot of young, creative kids,” Townsend told the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “Not being an athlete and not being a straight-A student, his world was creating things.”

Townsend’s life was tragically taken from him in a fatal car crash. He was 21, a student of graphic design and an avid player of the piano and the drums.

Having seen how music allowed his son who was never quite able to fit in to express himself in imaginative ways, Townsend and his wife started the non-profit Pianos for People in their hometown of St. Louis, Missouri as a way to honor their son by continuing his legacy of music and art.

“There are a lot of pianos out there not in use,” Townsend said, “and there are a lot of families without music in the house.”

Established in 2012, Pianos for People collects old pianos, refurbishing and delivering them to reach people who yearn to get their hands on the instrument, but whose circumstances forbid them from doing so. As of late 2016, Pianos for People has donated over 175 pianos to homeless shelters, under-resourced schools and homes of low-income families.

16-year-old Royce Martin attends a school that draws youths with interest in visual and performing arts. He taught himself the basics by watching videos online and was coming to school playing songs he had memorized over the weekend. He wanted a piano at home to practice, but his mother told him they didn’t “have that kind of money”.

It was Martin’s orchestra teacher who found out about Pianos for People and encouraged him to apply. His request was honored, and Martin now has a Janssen piano in his home.

“He is one of the few students here who has a real gift. Prodigy status,” Royce Martin, his orchestra teacher, said.

Pianos for People also provides group and individual group and individual piano lessons at their studio during afterschool hours and on Saturdays. Like the piano donation program, eligibility for lessons is based on household income and is free of charge. To accommodate demand, they opened a second location at a nearby church. Special events like recitals, “Piano Slams” and “Super Theory Saturdays” are also held by the non-profit. To date, over 80 children have benefitted – and continue to benefit – from their program.

According to Townsend, some of the students who are homeless or near-homeless see their regular Pianos for People appointment as something they can count on. The program also keeps students off the streets; instead of turning to other influences, they’re channeling their time and passion into music.

“These instruments can provide discernible effects for children in school settings. “[Music practice] can have a very direct impact on grades, on academics, especially on math scores,” Townsend told the River Front Times.

Sisters Aaliyah and Alisha had a piano delivered to their home courtesy of Pianos for People. Ever since, they’ve been spending their free time playing, mimicking the latest Top 40 hits and mastering classical overtures.

“Both of them absolutely love it,” their mother, Carla, told St. Louis Parent. The piano is always going when they’re home. And what music has done for them is amazing. Alisha’s always been shy, but through piano, she’s gained a lot more confidence – even performing at her school talent show. It’s helped Aaliyah improve her concentration and her self-esteem as well!”

Pianos for People has been well-received in the St. Louis community, and has been selected as Arts Innovator of the Year for the 2017 by the city’s arts and education council.

Townsend, for whom the piano was a large part of his life growing up, continues to be touched by the stories he hears.

“We have one family at the school who is homeless and has to move from location to location. But their three kids are some of our most loyal and dedicated students. Their mom tells us we’re the main constant in their lives. Something like this goes beyond music – it really shows that when people come together, lives can change for the better.”

All images via Pianos for People Facebook page

University students bring a moment of magic to hospitalized children

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Shara Moskowitz’s daughter, Avery, was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma in 2013. On Avery’s 6th birthday, she was visited by a group of very special princesses, who her mother said allowed her to forget about her illness and just focus on being a kid that day.

Among the princesses, all university students, are Kylee McGrane and Maggie McAndrew from the Bronx, New York. Together, the two started A Moment of Magic (AMOM), themselves and other volunteers dressing up as movie characters to visit sick children at hospital wards, fundraisers, and in Avery’s case, their homes.

“We’ve never said no to a visit, so any time a parent or a patient or a hospital reaches out to us, we do whatever we can to make it happen,” said McGrane.

AMOM began when McGrane and McAndrew, watching the movie Frozen, were hit with the realization that the two resemble the main characters, Elsa and Anna. Inspired by their passion of helping people, they came up with the idea of bringing a little bit of hope to children who, diagnosed with severe illnesses, find it hard to be the happy and carefree kids they should be.

he pair have recruited over 40 students within their college to be volunteers, providing around five visits per week in the New York area. But they aren’t stopping here; they’re working to set up chapters of AMOM at universities across America so more children can experience these special visits.

"For me, making these lasting connections with kids and their families is super important," McAndrew told TODAY Parents. "We get to make this really awesome, personal memory with the kids, and then, in a lot of cases, the parents keep us updated and we get to keep up with the kids on their journeys."

Image via A Moment of Magic Facebook page

Garden rehabilitation project proves benefits of horticultural therapy for the incarcerated

At the San Quentin State Prison just outside of San Francisco, inmates are working hard at a simple but well-maintained garden; they are digging soil, planting seeds and watering the crops. The plants they harvest are donated to local non-profits.

“Our mission is to rehabilitate people by connecting them back to the earth. By doing the garden we’re building community, and they’re also getting an environmental education as well,” said Beth Waitkus, the founder of Insight Garden Program.

Waitkus started the project after the September 11 attacks with the hope of recovering her faith in humanity. A series of conversations led her to work at San Quentin State Prison under the Insight Prison Project, a rehabilitation project for the incarcerated, and later, taking her love of the natural world, began what is today known as the Insight Garden Program.

 

Horticultural therapy has long been used at institutions such as hospitals and retirement homes to help with the physical and mental health of residents. The Insight Garden Program, by facilitating “inner gardener classes” on meditation and emotional process work and “outer gardening” in which men are given the responsibility of working in the gardens, gives the incarcerated a renewed purpose in life.

“Coming in this prison every week for the past eleven years, my faith in humanity – I get my faith time and time again because of the transformation I see these men go through,” said Waitkus.

California has the largest number of incarcerated individuals in America, and the rate of re-offence is high. Less than 10% of those who are paroled or finish their time return to jail, showing that the program is successful.  

“When I’m doing it, I’m able to focus on my thoughts,” said one inmate. “On how, you know, we have to give the plants care, and we have to give ourselves care as well.”

Images via Washington Post

NGO uses basketball for empowerment and education in Chennai, India

Research has shown that athletics and education intertwine; the soft skills learnt in the field or on the court – hard work, resilience and goal-setting – translate into the walls of a classroom. It is with this philosophy that Shaun Jayachandran, an educator and basketball coach in America, started Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy in Chennai, India.

“Basketball is the perfect sport for India – it’s high energy, low space, low cost, ten people can play with one ball and basket – and it is constantly associated with education in the US from the high school and college level,” said Shaun.

Crossover provides free basketball programs to low-income students in Chennai, where less than 7% graduate high school. The program emphasises four main pillars: leadership, communication, character and teamwork. Every year, Crossover runs a fortnightly camp in the summer, giving students activities to look forward to and motivation to continue on at school when the holidays end.

Volunteers are professional basketball players, college students and college- or high school-age athletes. Most are from the US, while some hail locally from India.

“When I first heard about Crossover, it seemed like an incredible organization that combined my interest in education reform, my love for playing basketball—a sport that I have been playing since I could walk—and my cultural ties to India,” Shila Agarwal, a volunteer who had recently graduated from MIT, said.

Since its establishment in 2012 when the program hosted 45 children, Crossover has grown in popularity and have had to cap its attendance in order to ensure the quality of instruction. Positive impacts such as fewer violent tendencies of students, increased empathy and higher interest in learning have been observed.

Further along the line, Crossover hopes to establish Crossover Corps, a program in which young recent college graduates will spend a year or two in India, following up with student participants and conducting weekend sessions for them throughout the year.

“This will further create sustained lasting impact as we track each alum of our program and ensure that they have support in their pursuits,” said Shaun. “Establishing this will allow us to therefore expand our model to other cities with confidence in our impact on education.”

Images via Crossover Basketball Facebook page

Free classes empower survivors of trauma through yoga

Image via Exhale to Inhale Facebook page

 

“It took a long time of just showing up on my yoga mat, practicing through the shape and the forms. I noticed that the breath work was really helping me with my fear and anxiety, like I was coming back into the real me,” Tara Tohini told NationSwell.

Tohini spent months in a violent relationship. The abuse started off verbal, then turned physical when her abuser started threatening her life. After he was arrested, Tohini embarked on recovery, trying out yoga and finding it especially therapeutical.

“The practice of yoga physically helped me,” Tohini said.

Program director Tara Tohini. Image via NY Mag

 

Now, Tohini is the program director of NYC-based Exhale to Inhale, a charity that seeks to help women who, like herself, are survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Exhale to Inhale was founded by Zoë LePage, who was then a senior in college brainstorming a social action project as part of a leadership program.

“I knew I wanted to do something with yoga because of how much it made me feel strong, safe and beautiful in my body,” LePage told The Huffington Post.

Exhale to Inhale brings free classes to shelters that house survivors of abuse. They are taught by certified yoga teachers who have been trained in teaching yoga to those who have experienced trauma. The classes run at a slower pace, and the students face the door at all times so the point of entry and exit is always visible to them.

The goal of Exhale to Inhale’s classes is to use the healing practice of trauma-informed yoga to help participants obtain relief and serenity, and to reduce lingering anxiety and depression as a result of their trauma. The results, it’s been noted, have been clear.

“I come to yoga classes because they make me feel better,” one participant said. “Yoga is a way to release and be free.”



 

Bay Area catering company offers fair employment and entrepreneurial training for low-income youth

Image via FastCoexist

 

Growing up in a low-income family, Sabrina Mutuskina’s parents worked a dry cleaning business around the clock. Mutuskina spent most weekends there as a child, helping out by scrubbing collars, greeting customers and sending out mail.

Childhood experiences at her parents’ dry cleaners instilled in her a strong work ethic and a love for entrepreneurship. At university, Mutuskina realized that working from a young age had shaped much of her identity and made her passionate about connecting youth from financially needy families with jobs that valued their potential.

And thus, The Town Kitchen, a community-driven food company that employs low-income youth in Oakland, California, was born.

“I created The Town Kitchen to combine all of my passions: youth employment, small business and my love of food,” Mutuskina said.

The Bay Area-based company makes and delivers locally-sourced boxed lunches to consumers. But offering employment at a fair wage isn’t the only way the youth benefit; they’re also given social justice and entrepreneurial training through education partnerships.

Roger Dvalos, who The Town Kitchen named ‘employee of the month’ in October, joined the company in May 2015. Soon, Dvalos will be starting college at San Francisco State University.

“The Town Kitchen is a job where I constantly feel myself learning. I take the work seriously, but it’s more than a job, we all take care of one another inside and outside of the kitchen,” said Dvalos. “I have love for everybody at The Town Kitchen, it’s like a family to me.”

Mutuskina’s passion for inspiring an entrepreneurial spirit in youth stands loud and clear.

“Youth employment is important,” said Mutuskina. “We know that hiring low income, high potential youth means they are less likely to be incarcerated and more likely to graduate from high school.”

“We believe that building youth entrepreneurs means we’ll be bettering our community for years to come.”

Mothers run allergy-friendly food pantry for families with special diets

“When my oldest daughter was diagnosed with multiple food allergies, it really hit us in the pocketbook,” Emily Brown, the co-founder of Food Equality Initiative, told Nation Swell.

Food Equality Initiative, which runs ReNewed Health, an allergy-friendly food pantry in Kansas City, is the brainchild of Emily Brown and Amy Goode. The pair was prompted by their own struggles in finding affordable food for their children, who have severe allergies, to open the pantry. According to Brown, allergy-friendly and gluten-free food can be two to four times the cost of shopping for a regular diet.

“We realized there were a lot of people in the same boat as we were who couldn’t afford these foods,” said Goode.

Food Equality Initiative strives to create a safety net for low-income families who, on top of paying other bills, have the additional burden of budgeting for allergy-friendly foods. Often, federal assistance does not pay for these foods, making it hard for financially needy families to comply with the exorbitant cost of catering to a special diet.

The pantry serves clients who have one or more family members that are diagnosed with food allergies or celiac disease. In order to qualify, they must also demonstrate financial need.

Stocked by donations from food drives, manufacturers and the public, the pantry has distributed more than 12,350 pounds of allergy-friendly food since its inception in 2015.

Brown’s daughter was diagnosed with allergies to peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat and soy. Trips to the supermarket, where everything was expensive, and trips to the food pantry, where almost nothing fit her daughter’s diet, left her feeling frustrated.

“I work relentlessly to make sure that nobody in my city has to experience what I experienced,” said Brown.

“We would love to see our pantry model replicate all across the nation because we know this is a need that exists in every community, not just Kansas City,” said Brown.

Visually impaired dancers find passion at Brazil ballet school

Photo Credits: Cia Ballet De Cegos

“I learn everyday to close the eyes of the sight, which are extremely full of preconception, and to open the eyes of the heart.”

 

Such are the words of Fernanda Bianchini, the founder of Fernanda Bianchini Ballet Company. The dance school is the only one in Brazil, and one of the few in the world, to cater to visually impaired dancers. Since its inception in 1995, the school has been offering free classes that are mainly funded through donations.

 

Bianchini says that the school's main goal is for students to improve their posture, balance, spatial sense and self-esteem, in addition to breaking barriers and prejudices about people with handicaps.

 

Without the aid of sight, the process of learning dance is very different for the visually impaired, and comes with a much steeper learning curve.

 

“The method is all through touch and body perception. The students touch my body, feel the movement and afterwards try to reproduce it in their own bodies,” Bianchini told AJ+.

 

Geysa Pereira, an instructor at the school and herself visually impaired, acknowledges the difficulties of dancing as a visually impaired person.

 

 “Since the beginning, my biggest difficulty is to turn. It still is today.” - Geysa Pereira

 

Nevertheless, the dancers at Fernanda Bianchini’s school have proven that their passions can – and do – triumph over these hardships. They stage regular performances, and in 2012, four dancers were selected to dance with the Royal Ballet in London during the closing ceremony of the London Paralympics in 2012.


“It was a wonderful and unforgettable experience for us, an opportunity that I could never imagine,” said Marina Guimarães, one of the dancers who performed in the ceremony.

Acrobat instructor brings people with disabilities to new heights

IG: @pitublazquez

IG: @pitublazquez

At Pitu Blazquez’s acrobatics school in Argentina, students are hanging from trapezes, walking on balance beams and cooling down with a stretch. But the school is a little different from what you might expect: it offers free classes for people with disabilities.

“These people are doing something incredible, which is extremely difficult, being five meters high and giving their soul and their art,” Blazquez told AJ+.

People who live with disabilities are a marginalized community in Argentina; most do not have medical insurance and only one in 10 are employed.

“Nothing is built with disabled people in mind. They don’t think [about it],” one of Blasquez’s students said.

Through offering people with disabilities classes free of charge, Blazquez hopes to give them a chance to engage in an activity they otherwise wouldn’t have the chance to. Instead of specifically setting aside sessions for people with disabilities, he integrates them with other students in class to help everyone understand the challenges these people face.

“It teaches my other students to work with people who can’t walk, people who can’t see, but can do a lot of things,” said Blasquez.


“What I see inside them is a fight, is a courage that is an example for everyone. It’s very rewarding.”

 

Former refugee boats give cruisers a tour of Amsterdam through the eyes of migrants

Photo Credits: UNHCR

Once upon a time, ‘Meneer Vrijdag’ and ‘Klein Boot’ were boats that were previously used to smuggle asylum seekers across the Mediterranean in search for a better life.

Now, the vessels are traversing much calmer waters: they’ve been taken in by Lampedusa Cruises, a tour company in Amsterdam that invites residents and tourists alike to take in the city’s history, much of which has been shaped by refugees and migrants.

The skippers, from countries including Eritrea, Libya and Syria, all have one thing in common – they themselves were refugees who came to Amsterdam on a boat not unlike the vessel they now sit at the helm of.

“Our guides tell you the hidden history of Amsterdam through the eyes of its immigrants and outsiders, including their personal migration story,” the company’s website reads.

The company takes its name from the island of Lampedusa, which is a symbol of Europe’s migrant crisis due to it being a popular destination for refugees sailing from Africa. What the cruises hope to do is to provide an alternative, less traditional insight into Amsterdam that isn’t necessarily what first comes to mind when one thinks about the city.

“The beauty of this project is that while Amsterdam is so shiny, we dive into some issues that aren’t so clean,” said Sahand, a tour guide. “Most tour companies talk about the Golden Age of the Netherlands and point out the old buildings. We talk about the immigrants who built them.”

Korean taekwondo masters teach refugee children compassion and discipline

Children at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan are learning the art of Taekwondo, thanks to a team of passionate Korean trainers who are teaching the sport as a means of instilling discipline and self-respect in kids who have faced trauma in their lifetime.

Charles Lee, who has lived in Jordan for over 10 years working as an acupuncturist, believes in the power of taekwondo in fostering the development of the refugee children, many of whom do not attend school or have any sort of mentor to guide them.

“I want to teach them to have more sportsmanship and to change how they think. I want them to be peaceful and to help their neighbors and communities,” -Lee, the founder of Zaatari Taekwondo Academy, told the Times of Israel.

The taekwondo program took off with the support of UN relief agencies. Lee also trained adult refugees, many of them sports coaches, so that they could run classes themselves and reach more children through the program.

According to Lee, the child refugees are often prone to violence, having grown up around it majority of their lives. Their favorite “game” to play is throwing stones at each other.

From the taekwondo classes, the trainers are seeing remarkable growth in the children.

“It has changed the character of the boys. They rely on themselves now, and the girls have stronger personalities,” - Mohammad Rashid, a physical education teacher, told AJ+.

“Taekwondo is what I like the most here,” said a Syrian girl. “Because I can defend myself, get to learn many things and care about my friends. I really like training a lot.”

Nine-year-old runs library for children in slums of India

Photo Credits: Pratham Books

Photo Credits: Pratham Books

Muskaan Ahirwar just might be the youngest librarian in the world: this nine-year-old girl, who lives in a slum in Bhopal, runs a library for children just outside her house.

When the state’s education center realized that children lacked interest in and access to books outside of school, they decided to do something to promote reading in the slum area. The education center held a quiz to create interest among the children, and Muskaan’s high score and enthusiasm impressed all the members of the center. They asked her for ideas on how they could educate the children living in the slum, and from then on, Muskaan’s library idea was born.

"I love doing this. Other children in slum area take books and then return other day. Some stay back to read here with me and ask questions where they don't understand," Muskaan told Times of India.

The library now has over 700 books donated from elsewhere in India and overseas, and has become a popular hangout spot for the children.

“Once I started the library, children who used to roam around have found new interest in reading and come regularly,” Muskaan told AJ+.

Children also play trivia games and have discussions about the books they’ve read at the library.

“Whoever has the drive to learn, they should start their own library and start learning, and study like us and get ahead in life,” Muskaan said.

 

Photo Credits: Pratham Books

Cinema for the visually impaired gives moviegoers new sights

Inside a small cinema in Jakarta, Indonesia, muffled back-and-forth conversation can be heard as movie watchers talk quietly amongst each other.

 

No – they aren’t being rude. This is a typical night at Bioskop Bisik, a “whisper cinema” designated to help visually impaired people enjoy a movie with the help of volunteers describing the scene.

 

“I want people to accept that people with disabilities, especially people with visual impairments are part of society,” the mastermind behind the cinema, Cici Suciati, told AJ+.

 

Screenings are held in the second week of every month at an alternative cafe space that deems itself as a “culinary cinema”. Volunteers are recruited through social media, many of whom help out regularly.

 

“This is a new and fun way of volunteering. I can give something to others in a way that’s never been done before and I’m able to see differently from their perspective,” Dina, a volunteer, told The Jakarta Post.

 

While listening to the audio can give visually impaired moviegoers a good idea of what’s going on, it often is not enough to set the provide all the information needed to understand a scene. An out-of-context scream, for example, can be interpreted as one of joy or frustration.

 

“This helps me a lot in terms of widening my horizons as a visually impaired person who likes movies very much,” said Siswanto of the initiative.

 

Photo Credits: The Jakarta Post

NYC restaurant hires grandmothers to recreate taste of home

Hawa Jimiez hails from Liberia. She used to work a cleaning job, but now, she’s a chef at a restaurant in Staten Island, where she cooks up Liberian dishes and shares a taste of her country with the New York City crowd.

 

“I love cooking,” said Hawa Jimiez, a Liberian grandmother.

 

The restaurant she works at is called Enoteca Maria. Originally serving just Italian cuisine, Jody Scaravella, an Italian himself, started the restaurant when his mother and grandmother passed away, and he was left missing the comfort food he had grown up with.

 

Scaravella then put an advertisement out for Italian “nonnas” – or grandmothers – to cook at the restaurant. The response was overwhelming; seeing the concept take off and the joy it brought to diners knowing the food they’re eating is as authentic as they come, Scaravella began hiring “nonnas” from other countries too.

 

The main kitchen is staffed by at least one Italian “nonna”; downstairs, grandmothers from other countries take turns on a rotating basis, cooking up a storm when it’s their evening to shine.

 

On one night, the hearty dishes of Liberia – courtesy of Jimiez – might be on the menu. The next, diners may have their pick among Polish, Syrian or Nigerian specialties.

 

Since 2007, Enoteca Maria has proven itself to be a popular concept for diners longing for a simpler time; it’s also giving grandmothers employment in a skill they’ve honed with experience – dishing up food that’s straight from the heart.

Trees, not fees: School in India encourages parents to plant tree saplings instead of paying tuition

A primary school in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh is making education more inclusive while raising awareness for environmental concern: it’s asking parents not to pay tuition, but to plant trees instead. For more on #TreesNotFees check out our blog, 

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The initiative was set up by local professionals and business owners in response to the rising unaffordability of education. Little of the Indian government’s budget is allocated to education, leaving parents responsible for forking out high fees. As a result, many children cannot afford to go to school, and the consequences are evident: an education report in 2014 found that nearly 20% of children in grade two cannot recognize the numbers between one and nine.

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While not a means to an end, this school’s initiative is opening its classroom doors to children who otherwise would not have access to education, therefore giving them a chance at a brighter future and raising the country’s literacy rate.

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So far, the school has received an overwhelming response, and 700 saplings have been planted across the village over the last year.

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At the same time, parents being encouraged to plant trees is also educating the next generation on the importance of environmental care. This is especially needed in India, where air pollution is becoming a worsening problem.

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It is hoped that this school’s initiative will inspire others to follow suit to promote heightened accessibility of education for all and awareness of the country’s environmental issues.

A Year in Review [IG Top Posts]

A Year in Review of some of best stories! Missed them and don’t want to scroll to find these - not to worry, we have a summarised list on www.givo.global/news for your happy perusing :) 

 

1. Skatistan   - a story of inspiration through play. Leadership training, education, and skateboarding, what’s not to love about this empowering NGO. 

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2. France's Food Affair - all the need-to-know about France’s law passed this year retiring supermarkets to donate unsold food to charities. A yummy inspiring story.

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3. @littlecloverbigcity  , need I say more? 

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4. Timeless wise words from Maya Angelou

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5. A quick snippet of the #HOWRU campaign created by #SamaritansOfSingapore for Suicide Prevention Day.

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6. Toys R Us tries out“quiet hours” for kids affected by the autism spectrum in an initiative, and it isn’t a surprise that people are pressing more companies to do this on the regular. 

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7. Street Books - our first longer feature! Read up on an organisation changing a neighbourhood, and perceptions of the homeless, one paperback at a time. 

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8. Throw Kindness Like confetti - more confetti please we say! A story on the NGO Modest Needs. 

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9. Good Vibes Only - @alexjfowkes  reminding people near and far. What better way to enter the new year, goodness knows good vibes will always have a place with us at Givo. 

Back on My Feet helps the homeless move forward, one step at a time

What he likes best about running? Finishing.

“The best part is when we’re all done and you feel that rush. You feel nice and relaxed. It does something to your body when you finish a run like that,” said Maurice. “It’s like medication, my favorite part is when I get my medicine.”

Maurice is a member at the Philadelphia chapter of non-profit organization Back On My Feet (BoMF). Founded in 2007 by Anne Mahlum, who started a running club for men at a shelter near her home, BoMF aims to empower those who are homeless through the power of running.

Across 12 cities in the U.S. including Chicago, New York City and its newest addition, San Francisco, members commit to 5:30 early morning runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Some have families and some are working on their high school equivalent diploma, but they’ve all got one thing in common: the desire to achieve new goals, one step at a time.

BoMF believes that running offers powerful lessons for life, teaching us that we have to run miles one through nine to get to 10. Recognizing that homelessness isolates individuals from the norms of everyday life and leaves them distanced from the people around them, the early morning runs with others affected by homelessness and volunteers who believe in the cause give members support and a sense of community.

 

Running gets members active and more conscious about their health, though the ultimate aim of BoMF is much more than that. Members with 90% attendance in their first month with BoMF, showing commitment to the program, move into its second phase: Next Steps. From then on, members are provided access to educational support, employment opportunities and housing resources, giving them the help they need to restart their lives.

In particular, BoMF’s employment program helps many of its members find work. Gaps in employment and a lack of critical workforce training are just some of the barriers that make it difficult for the homeless to find long-term, sustainable jobs. To make up for this, BoMF partners with companies across the country to provide training in areas including customer service, financial literacy and Microsoft Office. Members can also work to get qualifications such as food handling and forklift operator certifications.

Established organizations including Marriott Hotels, Macy’s department store and CVS pharmacy partner with BoMF, provide employment opportunities to members when qualified. BoMF continually invites business owners seeking hardworking and committed employees to contact them for potential partnership. With a regular job and a stable income, members find independence and new meaning in their lives.

Mark, also a member of the Philadelphia chapter, took part in the programs offered by BoMF, among them a forklift certification, Bank of America financial courses, AT&T technology training and an Accenture workshop in resume building and mock interviewing.

“I took advantage of all the classes because they all benefit me. I wanted everything that I could get out of Back on My Feet, that’s why I apply myself. I’m motivated and I’m trying to achieve my goals and what I want to do in my life right now, so I took advantage of the program and it’s working for me,” Mark explains.

 

BoMF recruits members at homeless and residential facilities around the country. Many of its members are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions, some have spent time in jail, and they are in general at a low point in their lives. The discipline it takes to stick to an early morning regime three times a week encourages members to believe that the goals they set for themselves are within reach. Many find passion in the sport, doing training on their own and signing up for runs in their community.

Thanks to BoMF, Donna managed to kick a 28-year addiction of cocaine. The first time Donna joined a run, she thought she was too sick and old to do it. Members and volunteers recognized her struggle and motivated her to keep going. Her father’s passing turned into a hard battle against turning to drugs again, but she was determined not to let her new friends down. Donna pressed on, showing up at all her runs and doing her best. Her newfound confidence inspired her to set a goal to complete a 13.1-mile run, and she did it.

 

“That was the beginning of my life. I finally found a job working for Kirkbride Rehab Center, where I am very happy. This job keeps me grounded. It reminds me everyday where I came from and helps me not to go back.”

 

“I’m doing everything in life that I always wanted to do,” said Donna. 

Image Credits: Back on My Feet and Back on My Feet Philadelphia's Facebook Page

Second Chances

Janet here owns her own floristry business and sells a beautiful array of flowers. Little would anyone guess that, as a side fact, Janet is an ex-offender.

Janet’s flower shop stemmed from an interest which then later blossomed into a career, mind the puns, with the help of “Startup”. Based in the UK, the charity Startup offers what very few public systems do - a belief that prisoners, too, have great potential and can thrive as entrepreneurs in their own right. The work that Startup had done have significantly reduced recidivism by having ex-offenders turn towards entrepreneurialism as opposed to back towards a criminal system.

In an interview with the BBC, Juliet Hope, the founder of Startup, says “They [the prisoners] have faced that, come out, and want to turn their lives around.”  Juliet believes everyone deserves a second chance - we couldn’t agree more.

This concept isn’t limited to the UK, or Startup’s work. The LEAP (Ladies Empowerment Action Program) (Instagram handle: @leapforladies) in the US also works for a similar cause. Entrepreneurial skills are shared with prisoners, especially women, to encourage them to pursue their dreams - not just with the right tools but the right support.

We should never judge anyone based only on their past or background, as Juliet says, everyone deserves a chance and has potential to achieve. More on their work on their site

Image Credits: BBC

One woman’s mission to light up her town for Christmas

This Christmas, one American town is shining a little brighter – thanks to Victoria Coakley and her project to “light up” the west end of Louisville, Kentucky.

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Coakley told local news station WLKY that it is her mission to bring more decorations to West Louisville.

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“Instead of seeing the abandoned houses with cardboard on them and graffiti, I want them to see Christmas lights,” Coakley said.

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Since the beginning of December, Coakley has been collecting decorations and stringing them around the neighborhood with the help of volunteers. Coakley received enough to decorate about 100 homes.

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Coakley’s efforts to light up the this part of Louisville have been well received by the people of the neighborhood, who agree that this gives the town some much needed positivity.

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“It is all about the kids, just trying to give them some kind of inspiration,” Stallard, a local resident, said.

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As captioned in a Facebook post, the west end of Louisville doesn’t have many Christmas lights. Children deserve to see Christmas spirit, regardless of the neighborhood they live in.

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"It changes the atmosphere of everything. There's not really a lot of activity or positive things going on that you can visually see. So the lights are something that you can see," Coakley said.

Flowers plant seeds in the lives of Australia’s migrant women

“For a a lot of women, flowers play an important role in their lives,” says Sophea Chea. “What I want them to feel is happiness and joy. I want to use flowers as a tool.”

Angkor Flowers and Crafts is a social enterprise based in Cabramatta, Sydney. Founded by Chea in 2014, the business employs women from migrant backgrounds who have low levels of education and have been raised with the belief that their sole purpose is to be a stay-at-home housewife.

Originally from Cambodia, Chea has seen many of her female family members being made to finish their education as soon as possible and the stigma associated with women promoting professional careers.

Many women who migrate to Australia are of similar backgrounds, and therefore have little work opportunities when they arrive. Chea hopes to help these women out: by teaching them how to create flower arrangements and liaise with clients, their confidence, language skills and employment prospects when they eventually want to find work elsewhere are increased.

When Angkor Flowers & Crafts began, it only worked with migrants from Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Thailand, but today women from as far as Peru, Iran and Chad are benefiting from their employment with the social enterprise.

The universal appeal of flowers and its ability to be a “positive emotion inducer”, according to research, has made a difference in the lives of these women whose needs are often marginalized by public policy.

Photo Credits to Angkor Flowers & Crafts