Archive for June 2018

Growing up ALICE in Hawaii

June 26, 2018

Aloha United Way recently released the ALICE Report for Hawai‘i to raise awareness about the economic challenges faced by hardworking Hawai‘i families and individuals. ALICE households – an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – are employed, but can’t afford the cost of living in Hawaii, and lack a safety net for emergencies. Their income may be higher than the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), but their income falls short of basic necessities.

In Hawai‘i, 49% of households are ALICE or live below the poverty level. They are in every community, women and men, young and old, all races and ethnicities. They could be our neighbors. They could be us.

I grew up ALICE, but I didn’t know it.

We were three generations living in a house in Hawai’i, with three-and-a-half incomes contributing to the household – and me. And a scrappy dog.

We had four adults contributing to the household, and one child who didn’t know that there was anything unusual about it. For financial reasons, for childcare, for convenience, it made sense to live together, ALICE.

We were lucky that we inherited a home from my great-grandmother, so we just had to worry about property taxes and maintenance. We added security bars after our house was burglarized, and one year we all got together to paint the outside of the house, but we couldn’t afford major upgrades.

We didn’t go to farmer’s markets, but we had fruit trees in the yard. We didn’t buy organic food, but we stocked up on canned goods (and toilet paper). We didn’t go to a lot of restaurants, concerts, or plays, but we saved money to splurge on vacations a few times when I got older.

ALICE households are not new in Hawai‘i. What’s new is the spotlight we are shining on them. We’re acknowledging that we sometimes can’t live comfortably on a single or even dual income. We’re acknowledging that as childhood extends into the late teens (or early twenties), and people live longer, multi-generational families are a better solution than living and struggling alone.

In 2016, 8% of all family households in Hawaii were multi-generational (three or more generations), according to the US Census Bureau 2016 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.

The ALICE Report reminds us that it’s hard to thrive on our own.

Growing up, did you live in an ALICE household? Do you live in an ALICE household today, or do you have friends and family who live ALICE?

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Learning decisiveness in a no-merge area

June 19, 2018

Does this sound familiar: You take the most direct route and keep to the lane you need to be in, even if it’s slower. You get anxious when you need to cross multiple lanes of traffic or make a left-turn against on-coming traffic. You try to plan your route before you leave, because you need to know where you’re going.

That’s a description of my driving style. I’m a fairly cautious driver, and I usually take the same route to work every day. Because of the commute, I’ve become a lot more laid-back about waiting in traffic than I used to be.

Then one day I decided to take a different freeway onramp. And then I saw a worrying traffic sign: “No Merge Area.”

This caused me a small amount of panic. I watched the cars in front of me get stuck in traffic limbo, and nervously waited for my turn. But I wasn’t in a hurry, and rush hour was just getting started. I waited for a gap in traffic. And waited.  And waited. Only when I thought the “gap” between oncoming cars was safe enough did I step on the gas.

It was really stressful to accelerate to highway speed. I forgot that I was driving in “eco” mode, and felt the drag of the car as I accelerated. I kept looking in my rearview mirror, expecting to see the bumper of the car behind me. But I merged safely into traffic and everything was fine.

And because I was so anxious about it, and because my anxiety bothered me, I decided to take that onramp the next day. And the next, until I felt more comfortable with the onramp.

That “no-merge area” taught me a few things.

I learned to be patient, waiting for the cars ahead of me to safely enter the freeway, and waiting for an opening when it was my turn.

I learned to commit when I saw a safe opening, because merging too slowly is dangerous.

I learned that we can be decisive drivers and drive with aloha too.

Sometimes it’s good to challenge yourself to do things that make you nervous. I could have decided to never take that onramp again. But I kept going, and that onramp has helped me be a little more decisive in other ways.

Do you avoid any freeway onramps or offramps? Do you ignore any uncomfortable situations? How have you tried to challenge those uncomfortable situations?

Fishing and the art of compromise

June 12, 2018

My husband loves fishing (and poke), and he really looks forward to sharing his love of fishing with our now 11-year old son. They leave early in the morning, before sunrise, and return in the early evening. I am happy that they can spend time together – and I can have a relaxing day.

My son doesn’t love fishing. During spring break, when my son was facing another fishing trip, he came to me and asked me to intercede.

Instead of being a mediator, I thought this was a good opportunity for my son to practice his negotiation skills.

“Suggest a compromise,” I advised him.

I helped him come up with a series of compromises to convince my husband to put off a fishing trip (my husband was going fishing, with or without him). Then I gave him a few tips, like “speak calmly” and “don’t whine,” and I sent him to negotiate.

Here are the compromises my son proposed:

First, he offered to go fishing on another day without complaining. I wasn’t encouraging my son to procrastinate, because this solution would benefit both of them. My son would stay at home today, and my husband would not have to deal with a sullen fishing buddy. Offer: declined.

Then, he offered to limit his “screen time” on the iPad and not watch YouTube all day. I know that we shouldn’t have to bribe our son to turn off the computer and TV, but this reinforced the idea that limiting screen time is important to us. Offer: declined.

Finally, he offered to go fishing on another day without complaining, limit his “screen time” and YouTube, and help unload any fish that my husband catches without complaining. This was a big concession, because my son doesn’t enjoy carrying fish from cooler to fish bag. Offer: accepted.

I think the compromise worked out well – my son stayed home, he practiced his negotiation skills, and my husband will appreciate an uncomplaining fishing buddy the next time.

What kinds of “deals” did you make with your parents? Do you negotiate with your children – and what kinds of compromises worked best?

Lessons from a benefit dinner

June 5, 2018

I was nervous planning my first benefit dinner for our nonprofit organization. I’ve planned a few events before (family parties and a wedding, exhibit tables and trade shows), but never something that was supposed to raise money. I felt a lot of pressure to make the event memorable and successful.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to start from scratch. I could follow the event plan from previous events, with a few updates. The event taught me a lot about fundraising, planning, and expectations.

Here are five things I’ve learned from planning a benefit dinner:

Start planning earlier than you think you need to. The biggest thing I learned is that there is never as much time as you think. If you’re hosting a benefit dinner, you need to start “selling” tables, finding a Master of Ceremonies, and booking entertainment six to eight months in advance. We waited too long – not because we were over-confident, but because we had so much to do and limited staff. By that time, any organizations and groups already had plans, or could not make a commitment in such a short time.

“No” is not personal. At first, I was uncomfortable asking for silent auction donations. I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t asking for me, I was asking for my nonprofit. It was hard to learn that “no” (or no response at all) isn’t personal. I won’t lie – it was never easy, but it got easier to make the ask.

Make a connection between donors and beneficiaries. I was really anxious about making a short speech, and I spent a huge amount of time writing and re-writing it. I knew that I didn’t want the speech to be about me or the organization. I wanted to focus not on our organization’s achievements, but on how our donors and supporters make our work possible.

You can’t thank people enough. It was really important to thank people for supporting us. We thanked donors and sponsors in the welcome speech and in the dinner program. We also took some time to do a thank you video. We asked each of our staff to say a few words, and put it together in a short video. It was a nice way for staff members to remember why we were there that night. And after most people went home, I surprised our staff and volunteers with a small handmade gift to show my appreciation.

Expect that not everything will go as expected. Event planners follow checklists, make schedules, and plan for contingencies. But at some point, you have to expect that not everything will go as expected. And that’s okay. For example, our silent auction was successful – everyone paid, everyone went home with the right items, and no one was angry. Only I knew that it didn’t go as smoothly as I planned.

At the end of the night, we cleaned up, packed up, and headed home. I knew that I couldn’t rest yet – small nonprofits can’t take breaks – but I was thankful that we came together as a team, pleased our guests, and made a positive impact on our beneficiaries.

Have you attended a benefit dinner or gala event? What are the most memorable and enjoyable fundraisers you attended? What do you wish more fundraising events would do?

“Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers” by Sara Ackerman

June 2, 2018

A missing husband and father. A deadly secret. A gentle lion. A community under suspicion. A budding romance.

“Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers” (2018) by Sara Ackerman is a historical fiction novel that blends war, mystery, and romance into an engaging story about the effects of war, the anxiety of keeping secrets and living with uncertainty, standing up for your friends against racial prejudice, accepting that life is unfair, and trusting that things will turn out right.

Set in Honoka‘a on the Big Island in 1944, in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, school teacher Violet Iverson is still reeling over the disappearance of her husband and coping with her daughter’s anxiety. Soldiers move in at Honoka‘a School and change their lives, and Violet has second chance at love with Parker, an attentive marine sergeant stationed at the school.

Meanwhile, her 10-year old daughter Ella is anxious because she is hiding a deadly secret, and the only thing that helps her is spending time with animals. A gentle African lion named Roscoe distracts her from her secret and gives her the courage to set aside her fear.

With Parker’s help, Violet begins to accept that “life was far from fair, but if you followed love instead of fear, you would come out ahead. No matter what.” She starts to think about the future and enjoy life again.

I enjoyed seeing the dual perspectives of an adult and child about World War II and the racial tensions between Japanese-Americans and the police. The characters felt as if they were real people, even neighbors that you grew up with, with dynamic character growth. The portrayal of Hawaii feels authentic and personal, including the war-time food and gas rationing.

Interestingly, while Ella has a strong connection with nature and finds healing with animals, Violet is constantly challenged when she ventures into nature – by a sea urchin, a storm, and an underwater cave.

A historical note from the author: “Over 50,000 Marines, and mascot Roscoe the lion, lived at Camp Tarawa on the Big Island before sailing off to Iwo Jima and Saipan, two of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific.”