Archive for the ‘Community’ category

Walking through a life in the Dominican Republic

July 17, 2018

I’m always on the look-out for family events that are educational, free or low-cost, and nearby. I had never heard about The Compassion Experience before, but I was immediately drawn to the idea of showing people what it is like to live in poverty in another country.

 

When I told my family that I registered us for The Compassion Experience, they were skeptical. As we were walking through Chinatown in Honolulu, my husband told me, “We don’t need to go to the Experience. We can see poverty right here.”

 

Hawaii struggles with poverty and homelessness, but we also have strong social support programs and public assistance. I wanted to show my son what poverty could be like in developing countries. I told them it would take just 15 minutes of our time.

 

We pulled into the parking lot in mid-afternoon, immediately drawn to the large draped container emblazed with the logo. The tent was hot, even with a portable air conditioning unit running, and well-lit, with uniformed staff and volunteers. The tent walls featured information, photos, and maps of the Philippines and the Dominican Republic, where the two experiences take place.

 

As we waited, we learned that over 700 million people in developing countries live on less than $1.90 per day. In the Dominican Republic, 41% of people live in extreme poverty.

 

We checked in, received clean headphones and an iPod, and walked up the steps to through the curtain-draped opening to experience Jonathan’s Story of living in the Dominican Republic.

 

As we entered each room, which has a scene from his life, we listened to Jonathan’s words. He talked about selling fruit juice to earn money for himself and his mother (opening the small money box was one of the first things my son did), getting an education through Compassion International, pressure from local gangs to steal, and coping with his father’s anger and rejection. He highlighted the support of a special mentor who helped him turn his life around. We watched a video that showed Jonathan as an adult who has become a mentor himself.

 

The rooms re-create Jonathan’s childhood. There are worn shoes with cardboard soles, Dominican pesos in a money box, plates of beans and rice, posters in Spanish, and photographs. What really struck me was seeing hanging wall pockets filled – not with pencils or ID cards – but toothbrushes. It has some serious themes that may not be appropriate for young children.

 

I knew when I signed up that the Compassion Experience is a Christian organization with a child sponsorship program, but I was taken aback by how much Experience emphasizes God. I expected a stronger focus on poverty. The website tells us a little more – half of the country doesn’t have access to clean water or sanitary toilets. In rural areas, five out of ten children are school drop-outs. The poverty rate has been improving in recent years

 

As we left, I was a little uncomfortable by the push to sponsor a child. I think it would have been better to let the photos of children speak for themselves.

 

The Compassion Experience will be in Hawaii for the next few weeks. I think it’s a valuable way to teach children and remind ourselves that poverty is a global problem. We face the same struggles, have the same fears, and feel the same need to give and receive compassion. And with help, people can make their lives better.

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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?

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?

I left my sole at the charity walk

May 22, 2018

I left my sole at the Charity Walk.

We woke up early Saturday morning, packed our water bottles and sunblock, and joined the Visitor Industry Charity Walk at Ala Moana Beach Park. It was a beautiful day, with blue skies and a cool breeze. Ala Moana was filling with people leisurely converging on McCoy Pavilion.

This walk was a perfect event for our family. It gave us a chance to talk and enjoy the morning without television, smart phones, or computers. My husband could sample snacks and treats from hotels and restaurants. My son would be rewarded for reaching each checkpoint. And I could support an even that raises money for Hawaii nonprofits.

We picked up our walk bracelets and stamp cards, and listened to the music and welcome speeches. We were in the first “wave” of walkers, and strolled casually down Ala Moana Blvd., down Kalakaua Avenue, and back through Kalia Road to Ala Moana Blvd. No one was in a hurry.

“Be prepared to gain weight,” they warned us. They weren’t kidding. Along the 5.25 mile course, there were 17 stations with food and drinks. Hotels, restaurants, and businesses offered everything from water, POG, and cantaloupe tapioca to granola bars, fruit, cookies, SPAM musubi, and kalua pork tacos.

The most beautifully-presented treat was a paper tray with a crab salad slider and sweet pineapple cornbread dessert from the Halekulani and Waikiki Park Hotel.  The most elaborate offering was a small Chinese take-out box with fried rice from the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

There were some unexpected joys along the way: cold towels at the turn-around point from the Waikiki Resort Hotel, a plumeria flower from the Royal Hawaiian Center, and a Cool Zone that sprayed misty water from the Prince Waikiki.

Though they served us snacks along the way, they also offered us breakfast from the Hyatt Regency Waikiki before the walk (we went straight to the starting line) and lunch from Kyo-ya – sausage hotdogs with chili, salad, fruit, and a shortbread cookie or energy bar.

Mahalo to all the course marshals and volunteers, who prepared and served food, gave us directions and encouragement, handed out water and snacks, and entertained us along the way – live music, hula dancers, Kamehameha High School cheerleaders and the McKinley High School Band – and the police who looked out for us. I am so thankful to the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association for organizing this event every year to give back to the community.

I really enjoyed my first Visitor Industry Charity Walk. It was lively, entertaining, and very delicious, and I plan to make this an annual family event! Next year, I’ll remember to bring a plastic bag or container – and I hope to see recycle bins along the course.

So, how did I lose my sole? Not far from the starting line, before we even reached the first checkpoint, the sole of my shoe started to detach. By the time we reached the Ala Wai Promenade, it came off completely. I walked gingerly, with a slight limp, for the rest of the walk. But I made it through the checkpoints and to the finish line.

What is your favorite local race or walk? What other activities do you do as a family?

Talking about teen anxiety and depression

May 8, 2018

I work for a nonprofit mental health counseling center, and I was happy to realize that the Hawaii Book and Music Festival expanded their program to include Wellness in Hawaii. Books and music strengthen our mind and spirit, and it seems natural to include to mental and physical health.

Because my son is entering the teen years, I was drawn to a panel discussion on “Anxiety, Depression, Teenage Suicide.” It was moderated by University of Hawaii professor Maya Soetoro-Ng, who began the discussion by revealing how teen suicide has touched her personally.

There were five panel participants: psychologist and director at Waimanalo Health Center Sid Hermosura; child and adolescent psychiatrist Sonia Patel; author, professor, and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic Jon Kabat-Zinn; psychologist Julie Takashima-Lacasa; and professor Thao Le, who called for a sense of joy and excitement even when talking about serious issues.

Maya began the discussion by asking, “In a time of great connectedness, why are we so lonely?” Aside from genetic reasons, family situations, and financial circumstances, there was a general consensus that screen time and social media contribute to a sense of loneliness and disconnectedness.

With screen time, “[teens] get caught in their heads,” Sonia said, and parents don’t want to upset kids by limiting it. Julie added that screen time is highly associated with depression, and teens who use over five hours of screen time are 71% more likely to be depressed.

We need to teach teens tools to manage social media, Sid urged, because “likes” and number of followers can become tied to self-esteem. Thao added that we can become addicted to immediate responses and “likes,” and social media makes it too easy to compare and judge ourselves against others.

What solutions are out there? asked Maya. We need to teach mindfulness in schools, Jon recommended, “we need to cultivate emotional intelligence.” Julie agreed, saying that we need to “cultivate self-awareness” and teach emotional regulation so that we can make better decisions. “Anxiety and depression are not individual problems, it’s a collective problem,” Thao stated. She advocated aina-based learning, where we can connect to nature and each other.

Sonia offered three everyday suggestions: sleep, meals with family, and less screen time. Sid suggested that primary care physicians and pediatricians can screen for anxiety and depression.

There wasn’t much time for questions from the audience, but a family court judge asked about ways we can address trauma in teens. Sonia said that in her practice, she helps teens identify trauma, separate trauma from their self, re-write the way they respond to danger to make better choices, and learn what triggers will trick your brain into making poor choices.

The panel discussion opened and closed with performances by singer/songwriter PraiseJesus Artis.

I wish we had more time to discuss the programs that are already in place to help teens, and perhaps even hear from young adults who experienced teen anxiety and depression.

On this day, to the sounds of music and the murmur of readers, the conversation was just beginning.

Read more, go screen-free, and a book and music festival

May 1, 2018

When my son was young, I read to him every day, took him to storytime at libraries and bookstores, and signed him up for summer reading programs. In elementary school, he loved reading the “My Weird School” books. I thought he was well on his way to being a reader.

And then in middle school, things changed. A tablet, a smartphone, and YouTube began to overtake his reading time. One day I realized he hadn’t read a book in a few weeks. I casually suggested that he find a book to read, but inside I was at DEFCON 3.

This week, April 30-May 6, 2018, Children’s Book Week, the annual celebration of books and reading, is partnering with Screen Free Week, when children, families, schools, and communities rediscover the joys of life beyond the screen.

The theme of Children’s Book Week is “One World, Many Stories,” there’s a free downloadable Resources Kit with posters, bookmarks, activities, and more, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki.

Books become even more important when you realize that, including multitasking, children ages 8-18 spend an average of 4.5 hours per day watching TV, 1.5 hours using computers, and more than 1 hour playing video games, according to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study. These hours spent with screens can have a negative impact on learning.

Screen Free Week, sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, put together a persuasive and helpful Organizer’s Kit. I highly recommend the media literacy activities. One lesson is about needs vs. wants, in which kids count how many of the ads they see that are trying to get you to buy things that you really need. Another lesson is about being a product placement detective, challenging kids to spot the ads hidden inside television shows and electronic games. There’s also a pledge card, a certificate of achievement, and a list of 101 screen-free activities.

Crowning the week is the Hawaii Book and Music Festival, May 5-6, 2018, on the Frank F. Fasi Civic Grounds and Honolulu Hale. It’s a gathering that honors books, music, and story-telling, and promotes literacy and life-long learning. Beyond books, and music, there’s also a “Wellness in Hawaii” track with panel discussions about issues that affect our physical and mental health in the islands.

What was the last children’s book you read? Will you go screen-free this week?

Communicating is critical to first aid

February 13, 2018

One afternoon, a client came into the office. He said he just wanted to rest. He sat in a chair, and then did a controlled slide to the floor. He stretched out on the carpet and fell asleep. I could see and hear that he was breathing easily, and he didn’t seem to be in any distress. I thought I might let him sleep, because I didn’t feel unsafe, but after a while I decided I needed help. The pastor at the church came to wake him up and escort him out of the office.

That experience stayed with me. I didn’t know what to do, and eventually I went to get help. But I wanted to know what I could do, as well as what it’s okay not to do. So I signed up for an American Red Cross CPR/AED/First Aid class.

The class was a combination of videos, discussion, and practical skills. We had an experienced instructor who gave us practical advice. The steps we are asked to take are simpler and less intimidating. Instead of worrying, How will I remember those steps? I found myself thinking, I could do that.

The most important thing I learned is communication.

ASK someone in distress if they need help. ASK if they are in pain, have allergies, or take medication. ASK if it’s okay for you to help them – get their consent – or, if it’s a child, ASK if a parent or guardian is present and get their consent.

Next, INFORM them about what you are doing. INFORM them that you are going to apply pressure to a cut or check their head for a wound. If they are choking, INFORM them that you are putting your arm around the front of their shoulder to support them as they lean over, so you can do back blows. It can be scary for someone who doesn’t realize that you are trying to help.

Then, TELL bystanders exactly what they can do to help. TELL them to call 911 and why –there’s a leg injury from a bicycle accident or a head injury or an unresponsive person. TELL them to find an AED (automated external defibrillator) — and if they can’t find one, to come back quickly. TELL them to look for an ambulance and escort them to the patient, or keep the crowd back.

I am so glad that I took the class, because just reading a first aid manual can be overwhelming. It may tell you what to do, but not how to act. Even if I never use the things I learned, I feel a little more confident about handling myself in an emergency.

You, me, all of us are often the first responders in a crisis. It’s up to us to evaluate a scene, offer aid or comfort, and call 911.

Have you ever taken a CPR/First Aid class? Have you ever helped someone or been helped in an emergency? How do you react in a crisis?