January 29, 2009

American Women and the Great Recession Series, Part 1 of 4

Among many Americans, especially lower-income women and families, hopes are high for the economic stimulus and recovery package, which now feels long-anticipated in the run-up to President Obama and the 111th Congress’ transition to power.


In the swirl of rumors and speculation that bind new expectations for modern economic stimulation with social recovery reminiscent of FDR’s New Deal, many advocates for women and families have been weighing in heavily and hoping to affect the economic policies that are currently being considered in Washington.


This week, predictions were rampant in the mainstream political discourse about what the outcomes of the House debate on the economy would look like, and whether or not the resulting legislation would make the everyday needs of women visible again.


Today, the US House of Representatives passed an economic stimulus and recovery package, which carries with it a total cost of $819 billion dollars. Although the recovery package now makes its way to the Senate, critics of the package have mounted strong opposition, and the provisions currently contained in the bill, which relate mostly to new and increased spending, are likely to be modified in the Senate.


As the current package stands however, it creates new opportunities within the areas of employment, social services, healthcare, education, and workforce development for middle and lower-income women and families to better navigate the current economic crisis and stagnant job market. The package expands benefits and eligibility for unemployment insurance programs, and increases aid to states in order to help government agencies modernize their unemployment rules and cover more people in need on the state level.


These changes to unemployment will address the current inequities in the unemployment insurance system, which does not take into account the needs of individuals who work part-time, particularly women, in order to care for family members and children.


The package also expands the Medicaid program, and dedicates new funding which will help meet the needs of individuals and families who have lost their jobs, those who experience gaps in coverage, and those who cannot afford healthcare in the private market. While preserving access to healthcare for individuals currently covered under the program, the package also creates an increased two-year funding stream to states, in order to allow state Medicaid programs to provide more comprehensive services to recipients, many of whom are the most vulnerable in our society.


Increased funding is also expected for family planning clinics that serve lower income women.


While the future of the economic stimulus and recovery package is still uncertain, and the political and ideological battle in the Congress will continue to be fought over the spending and tightening of funds, the future of many women and families, and the fabric of many communities, will be shaped and determined by the economic policies that emerge from this historic debate.


Will women and families become visible again and get a “new deal” with the provisions contained in this legislation? Check back with Making Social Change a Reality as we find out more…


Written by Emily J. Kronenberger, Policy Analyst at the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities and founder of New Wave Grrrl, a health information and resource sharing blog for women. Emily is a volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project, serves on the Board of Trustees at the Alice Paul Institute and volunteers as the Director of Policy Initiatives at the Younger Women’s Task Force of New Jersey.

January 27, 2009

Every Little Bit Helps: Start A Composting Pile

It doesn’t take much to make changes in your community. Recently, I started watching a new channel devoted to cleaning up your environment and lessening your global footprint. There are many interesting shows and someday I hope to use their suggestions when I purchase my own home, but for now, I have to settle for some of the smaller changes I can make in my daily life.


I like plants. I always have. Living in the Northeast means having to bring plants inside in the winter months and hope they survive the winter, which right now is touch and go. However, once spring rolls around, I plan to put my plants outside again and let them enjoy their time in the sun. Until then, I’ve decided to start a small composting pile so that when the weather gets warmer, I can provide my plants with this new recycled form of nourishment.


It’s very simple, I simply searched the web for ways I can recycle my waste and found multiple websites. Going further, my city has a link on their website where I can purchase a compost bin for just $25. All of our vegetable, fruit, tea bags and coffee waste go right in the bin, and I mix it with dead leaves and soil and in a few months, I’ll have new soil for my plants.


It was so simple! One day when I mentioned what I was doing to some co-workers, they asked how they could get started, and just recently I was informed that there are several people in my office that have their own composting bins.


It’s amazing, how something so simple can catch on. Change starts from a small group of individuals until it blossoms and grows into reality.


What are some small ways you are starting change in your lives or in your community?


Written by Matthew Reid, volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. A native New Yorker, Matthew now lives in Boston and works for a math curriculum development company.

January 26, 2009

Christa Avampato: Random Acts of Kindness

A few weeks ago I was taking the bus cross town, or at least attempting to, in the pouring rain. I was dashing down the flooded streets, chasing after the bus I needed to catch. Thankfully another person was in the same boat, or so I thought. He banged on the door of the bus to stop it. For me. And he continued on his way under a half sagging umbrella. I breathlessly thanked him. "No problem." he said.


In the late summer, I was walking a few blocks to meet my friends at the Boat Basin. A "Not in Service" bus stopped and asked me how far I had to go. He offered to take me over there. "But you're out of service," I said. "Don't worry about it," he replied, "I don't mind." He dropped me off as close to the Boat Basin as possible and didn't even ask me to swipe my Metrocard.


Today I walked outside, very early in the morning and more than a little grumpy. An older woman was struggling to scrape off the thick ice that coated her car. A stranger pulled up to the curb and offered to scrape the car for her. The woman was overwhelmed with the offer of help. I smiled and felt a little more hopeful about the world.


I was saying good-bye and happy holidays to some of my co-workers just before Christmas. I was quite speechless to have one of them say to me, "You, Christa, were the bright spot of 2008 for me. In a year that is so challenging on every front, I am so thankful for you." I didn't even know how to respond. I never would have expected to have made any kind of impact close to that.


Yesterday, I returned home from the airport at 1am after being awake since 4am the morning before, dealing with quite possibly one of the worst days of my life in-between. I arrived at my apartment door frustrated, deeply saddened, and full of disappointment. I looked back at the cab that had dropped me at the curb outside and he waited for me to make sure that I got into my front door okay. Can you believe that? A New York cabbie concerned that some no-name lady got into her apartment building without trouble. His small act erased my sadness.


It's these small acts of kindness and concern that make all the difference in our existence in our experience of life. While grand gestures are certainly well-received, I always find that it's the small and heartfelt moments that I retain and cherish most. My new year's resolution is very simple - it is to celebrate and savor these small gifts, understand how little effort it really takes to make someone else's day, and to recognize that I can create those moments for others on a continuous basis. In short, I'd like to feel more hopeful and generate more hope for others.


This post was written by Christa Avampato, a product developer in the financial services industry. In the future, she would like to parlay her product and service development experience into the world of social entrepreneurship. She is a volunteer blogger with the Literacy 'n' Poverty Project and publishes her own blog on creativity at http://www.christainnewyork.blogspot.com. Please leave your comments or email christa.avampato[@]gmail.com with your questions.

January 22, 2009

American Red Cross Commemorates MLK with a National Day of Service

On January 16, the American Red Cross celebrated Martin Luther King Day with a National Day of Service, calling on citizens everywhere to volunteer their time to the ARC's many initiatives.


Every year, the ARC helps tens of thousands of people cope with the aftermath of disaster and prepare for future emergencies. Local Disaster Action Teams are often first responders to natural and man-made disasters, such as the recent plane crash in the Hudson river.


In 2007, I was certified as a disaster action team member in the Washington DC metro area and can personally certify that the American Red Cross is one of the most effective and efficient humanitarian organizations in the country. Volunteers are on-call to respond to emergencies where they provide services such as sheltering, grief counseling, tracing services, and first aid. They have chapters in every state and almost every city, which you can easily find through their website.


If you are looking for an established organization to volunteer your time with you should look into taking their free training classes and becoming a Disaster Action Team member in your area.


Written by Leah Bush, a freelance writer and aspiring Guru whose past involvement includes the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Recovery Project and volunteerism in Honduras and the Dominican Republic. She is currently a volunteer blogger for the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. Questions regarding this post may be forwarded to ultraEchelon@gmail.com.

January 21, 2009

Policy Priorities to Reduce Poverty in the New Administration

As we celebrate an immensely historic election and inauguration this week, with President Barack Obama’s transition to the White House and Presidency complete, a sense of duty and great undertaking must motivate us all to work towards ending poverty and suffering in the U.S.


Until now, this goal has been long-absent from a serious national conversation surrounding our priorities and direction in the 21st Century, with the exception of Hurricane Katrina’s dramatic, albeit short-lived, media spotlight on the poverty that persists in our country.


With a jagged economic road looming ahead and predictions for a slow recovery reaching possibly into 2011, the great needs of impoverished communities, individuals, and families has never been more apparent. We must work on all fronts, including education, employment, and programs that will strengthen families, to generate solutions that will address the stagnant situations that many Americans continue to find themselves in, despite their efforts to better their lives. This will be a huge task, and one that will not realistically end within the next four, or even eight years.


Nevertheless, if we begin to address these issues of poverty that have for so long been neglected, we will improve the quality of life in America for all people, not just those who are now struggling, and we will have already won. The big picture is that we have big opportunities to change the way in which we are stratified in American society into the have’s, the have-a-little’s, and the have-not’s. The policy priorities below give just a snapshot of the big picture we currently see, and the chance we have at making things better.

Education

For too long, the issue of education has been used as a political football in the most local of municipalities, all the way up through the federal level. Sadly, children, young people, and indeed our entire country, suffer as a result of systematic underfunding of education programs and plans that deliver big on promises and little on outcomes. We must re-think and re-tool our educational system so that it not only serves youth, but that it also creates opportunities for working adults who have educational needs, in order to fill the modern workforce and support themselves economically.


This includes vocational and job training programs, an emphasis on literacy throughout the age spectrum in all competencies, including reading, mathematics, technology, and other basic skills. Possibly most importantly, we must also rebuild a crumbling and outdated educational infrastructure so that it will equally and appropriately serve all children, despite where they live or how much money their parents make, as this is their guaranteed right under the law.

Employment

In order to strengthen America’s position in the world and the ability for its people to compete and live happier and fuller lives, jobs must not only be created, but must be well planned and conceived to meet the needs of a changing global economy and workforce. This entails raising and developing fair pay structures that allow for living wages, so that individuals and families can support themselves and afford essential services such as healthcare.


In addition, it will reduce the strain on our social safety nets in order to ensure that these programs will be there to catch the most vulnerable in our society. By paying working people what they are worth, and equitably across gender lines, we can ensure that more poor and working Americans will be better able to meet the costs of living and support their families, which will produce better outcomes for individual households as well as whole communities.

Family-Friendly Policies

Compared to the rest of the industrialized world, the United States surely has some catching up to do in terms of creating policies in the workplace, in our communities, and even within our homes, that support families and build healthier and stronger outcomes for children and adults. These policies include, but are not limited to:
  • support and respite for caregivers of family members who are seriously ill, disabled and/or elderly;
  • childcare and after-school programs for children of working parents; and
  • modern workplace policies that offer greater work-life balance to both women and men, such as flex-time, shared scheduling, and telecommuting, in order to enable them to share familial responsibilities and strengthen their families.

Policies of this kind would ease social hardships and ensure that lower income and working-class individuals and families have access to opportunities that will mobilize people upward and out of poverty, creating better outcomes for cities and communities across the U.S.


For now, let’s enjoy the revelry of what feels like a new dawn in America in which anything is possible, and for tomorrow, let’s make this feeling a reality.


For more information on these topics, please visit the links below…
Whitehouse.gov (All topics)
http://www.whitehouse.gov/

Center for Education Policy (Education/ Employment Policy)
http://www.cep-dc.org/

Children’s Defense Fund (Education and Children’s Health Policy)
http://www.childrensdefense.org/site/PageServer?pagename=homepage

Economic Policy Institute (Economic/ Employment Policy)
http://www.epi.org/

Robert Reich’s Blog, Former Labor Secretary, Economist, and Professor (Economic and Employment Policy)
http://robertreich.blogspot.com/

National Women’s Law Center (Education, Employment, and Workplace Policy)
http://www.nwlc.org/


Written by Emily J. Kronenberger, Policy Analyst at the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities and founder of New Wave Grrrl, a health information and resource sharing blog for women. Emily is a volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project, serves on the Board of Trustees at the Alice Paul Institute and volunteers as the Director of Policy Initiatives at the Younger Women’s Task Force of New Jersey.

January 20, 2009

Reflecting on Obama's Inauguration

Last weekend I was in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center for a conference and stood in the auditorium where Obama delivered his famous speech on race. I thought that the auditorium didn't do him justice—it was small and ordinary looking, lacking the grandeur of his speech. However, someone pointed out to me that while the auditorium looked inconspicuous it was actually an example of magnificent architecture. Everything from the walls to the number and placement of seats is designed to enhance the quality of sound in addition to overall comfort. Everything in that room was deliberate and well coordinated.


When I learned this information I realized how perfect that space was for Obama. The intimacy of the space reflects his desire to build a stronger, closer country while the architecture reflects the effort and coordination necessary to sustain and enhance a strong country. And the Constitution Center, while honoring the past is most remarkable for its ability to connect the past with the present, celebrating how far we have come and acknowledging how much farther we need to go.


Obama's greatest contribution to social change is his understanding that it is not a singular immediate act. It requires thought, dedication, and an understanding of the past and present to create a place that delivers the greatest good. Even more so it requires that people feel enough ownership of this country to even roll up their sleeves and get involved in the first place. And this feeling of ownership—that he is my president and that this is my country—will be validated on his inauguration.


From my usage of social media to actually punching the ticket, he is truly my president. During the election I was challenged for my support and forced to think carefully about my political decisions making my support of him and this country even stronger. In his speech after winning the election he asks that people who didn't vote for him still join him in making American stronger. We are marching into an era in which people feel invited to the table to discuss and bring about social change.



This post was written by Allison Jones, a development and communications professional in New York City and volunteer blogger with the Literacy 'n' Poverty Project. She is a writer, advocate, and educator focusing on empowering young people to change the world. Please leave your comments or email ajlovesya [at] gmail.com.

January 19, 2009

The Meaning of Social Change

All around us, there are changes happening; the calendar changed from 2008 to 2009, a new president was elected, and for many us, we have decided to do things differently and make changes in our diet, our lifestyles, or in our overall well being.


Social change is something that I plan to be involved with this year in many different ways: volunteering, reading, attending events and sharing ideas. Social change means different things to different people. To me, social change means being involved in making things better for your community. Doing something instead of just saying something. Raising money instead of just donating to a cause. Working with others to make sure that the change we desire is attainable.


I have been involved with a variety of organizations that make social change a focus of their organization. This is important to me because I am a firm believer that through social change and helping each other and supporting one another, we as a people can right all the wrongs in the world from war, homelessness, poor education and global warming.


Making social change a reality is not going to be easy, in fact, it’s going to be hard and take a lot of work. But as we saw with the election of our new president, if enough people support what they think is right, and do what little they can as individuals, we can begin to make things happen.


What does social change mean to you?




Written by Matthew Reid, volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. A native New Yorker, Matthew now lives in Boston and works for a math curriculum development company.

January 15, 2009

2009 Goals for Making Social Change A Reality

In the strategic planning process, the management team and leaders of any business and/or social venture must ask themselves three important questions:

1) Where are we now?

2) Where do we want to be?

3) How will we get there?


I think the same applies to blogging, which is why we at the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project have taken some time to come up with our own blog strategy for Making Social Change A Reality.


In creating this blog strategy, we’ve come up with a set of goals and objectives to accomplish over the next year that will not only create greater awareness for our organization and this blog but also to ensure we are expanding to new markets and advocating on behalf of the very people we believe will benefit from our programs and services.


Here’s a list of some of things we’ll be doing throughout the year:
    1) Expanding our base of discussion topics to include various social issues that are of concern to the GLOBAL community
    2) NETWORKING with writers and bloggers already established in the blogosphere who can offer guidance and support that will enable us to take Making Social Change A Reality to the next stage
    3) Inviting more GUEST POSTS from the general community
    4) Adding tons more streaming VIDEO and audio content
    5) There will be NEW sections to the site. Sorry, we can’t tell you now…it’s a surprise!!!
    6) And INFORMING our readers of more ways they can get involved with our organization via volunteer opportunities, internships and much more!

Some specific goals:
    1. To have written at least 300 posts by then end of 2009
    2. To recruit and retain 15 to 20 volunteer bloggers for our team
    3. To publish new blog posts at least three times per week

As of January 15, 2009 I can already tell you we are well ahead in achieving our goals. Just think how much farther along we’ll be come June! However...


We cannot succeed without your support and feedback.


Do you have any suggestions on how we can make this blog better? What topics are you interested in seeing discussed here?



This post was written by Chanelle Carver, freelance writer, nonprofit consultant, and founder of the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project.

January 14, 2009

Volunteerism on the Go: A quick guide to Making your Minutes Count!

Don’t have the time to head down to the community center? Is the nearest soup kitchen 45 miles out of town? Never fear – there are a million and one easy ways to volunteer, often right from your own home!

GIVE a Little Bit

Put a jar at home or the office, for loose change. Instead of buying something for yourself, donate that which would have probably gotten lost in the couch cushions anyway. Companies can give back to the local community. Parents, get your kids involved. Teach them about giving to others by choosing a charity together.

GET a Little

Are you an online shopper? Register with GreaterGood or iGive to donate a portion of your spending to charity. Zine fan? Good magazine is a socially conscious reader that donates your entire subscription fee to the charity of your choice.

THINK Green

All of this talk about global warming and carbon footprints keeping you up at night? You know the drill. Turn your thermostat down a couple of degrees, or wash your clothes with cold water. Express yourself by getting a cool cloth bag to carry your groceries home in. Carpool.

BE Digital:

The internet is the best resource for using your days’ wasted minutes to make the world a better place. Amnesty International makes activism easy with their Online Action Center. Set your preferences to alert you as often as you want about the causes you choose. Amnesty will send you an email about issues or petitions that you may be interested in. If you have more time to give, mentor a child online through ICouldBe or Vmentor.


Or find your own way to think outside of the box. Philanthropy is not only for the rich, nor is giving only for those who have an abundance to give. This year, add volunteerism to your to-do list. It barely takes a minute.


Have your own ideas? Let's hear them!



This post was written by Allison Tritt, a former high school English teacher, volunteer for Oxfam Japan and blogger with Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. She blogs to foster global awareness and remind others that there is always a way to get involved. Please leave your comments or email Allison at ajtritt@gmail.com with any questions.

January 13, 2009

GLWD to Deliver its 10,000,000th Meal

Last Fall, I volunteered at a disorganized event for a nonprofit. I was griping to one of the other volunteers and she told me about a nonprofit that she works with that runs like a well-oiled machine: God's Love We Deliver (GLWD).

I looked into the organization and learned that they deliver handmade, nutritious meals to people in New York City and Hudson County, NJ who are home bound due to serious illnesses like cancer, MS, and HIV/AIDS. I love to cook and figured that this might be a match, so I went to an orientation last week. I left after the hour session with more energy than I've had in weeks.

In 1985, Ganga Stone was volunteering at a hospice and she brought ingredients for a meal to one of her clients who had HIV / AIDS. Unfortunately, he was too ill to prepare even the simplest of meals. Seeing this desperate need in her community, she joined forces with Jane Best and Restaurant Claire to form GLWD in 1986. Restaurant Claire prepared meals that Ganga and volunteers delivered to people living with HIV/AIDS in Manhattan. They started delivering about 50 meals per week, mostly by bicycle. One year later, they expanded and set up shop in West Park Presbyterian Church on the Upper West Side. By that point they delivered 50 meals per day.

Today, God's Love We Deliver is a modern day success story in the social change world that inspires all of us to seek out and create positive change in our communities. They have an 80-person full-time staff, a French-trained culinary team, a fleet of delivery vans, and 1,800 volunteers who give 7,000 hours of service per month. On staff, there is a dietary/nutrition department and they provide nutrition counseling tailored to each individual. This entire GLWD crew cooks, laughs, and plays together, and that joy and care comes through in the taste of the food. They are saving lives, literally.

What could we ever do that would be more hopeful? And what's even more impressive, they think about the whole person. On Thanksgiving and Christmas each client is given an extra meal so they can invite a friend to spend the holiday with them. They receive special baskets on Thanksgiving with sparkling cider, cheese, nuts, and candies. They receive a blackout box and a blizzard box each year that has nonperishable items so they can get by for a few days if for some reason GLWD can't deliver to them. Each client receives a birthday cake on their birthday along with a card made by a local school child.

The compassion and care of the organization is incredible. One of the volunteers has an incredible story that he shares: He was wearing his GLWD jacket as he did his errands about town. Someone grabbed his elbow and spun him around. With extreme gratefulness in her eyes she said to him, "You saved my life. I would have starved to death without the food you made for me. Thank you!" Ganga and her team have accomplished and will continue to accomplish what they set out to do - they make a difference.

This spring, God's Love We Deliver will deliver its 10,000,000th meal. There are all kinds of opportunities available from meal delivery, to baking, to packing, to prep, to office work. The shifts are available from 6:30am - 9pm every week day with some opportunities on Saturdays and Sundays as well. If you live in the New York City area, I hope you'll join me in creating social change through GLWD!



"This post was written by Christa Avampato, a product developer in the financial services industry. In the future, she would like to parlay her product and service development experience into the world of social entrepreneurship. She is a volunteer blogger with the Literacy 'n' Poverty Project and publishes her own blog on creativity at http://www.christainnewyork.blogspot.com . Please leave your comments or email christa.avampato@gmail.com with your questions."

January 12, 2009

The Poor Get Poorer

Since I’m new to this blog, I’d like to open up with a post about why I feel personally vested in its mission. I’ve been laid off, twice. The first time was with two years notice, the second time was at 5:00 pm on a Monday with not even a sideways glance as warning.

I received a severance package the first time, a pretty generous sum that gave me a nice cushion while I looked for my next job, enough to pay rent, groceries, maybe even take some time off. I put on my sneakers and corduroys and checked out for the next month. I figured I’d apply for a few jobs and temp once my severance ran out.

The severance ran out in three weeks and I had clocked a total of four hours of temp time. No one replied to my solicitations, and my rent was due.

So I decided to move back to mom’s house in New York. I should mention that I had conjured a formidable debt monster while living on my own (mostly resulting from three $1000 mattresses that I bought after each failed to conquer insomnia).

In New York, I had no luck finding the job of my dreams so I started waitressing, but I still wasn’t able to meet my credit card bills...so I missed a payment. STOP THE PRESS. My interest ballooned overnight to 30%, my minimum payment jumped to almost $400. This was the beginning of having nothing and owing what I didn’t yet have to someone else.

Fast forward to March 2008, I finally land a job at a law firm. I start earning, I start spending. I realize I won’t be able join the Peace Corps if I don’t get out of the debt death-grip. Chase recommends a company called NOVA Debt who could put me on a debt management plan. My interest rates were lowered to 6% within a week and I began to put serious money toward my debt, problem solved, more to come.

September rolls around and I get the boot from the law firm with $600 as a farewell gift. This time I call the unemployment office as soon as I get home. I’m approved. I start calling friends, bosses, writing emails, whoever can get me a job, quick. Nothing pans out.

One morning, a cop comes to my house before I’m about to go to a temp assignment and says he has to take my car. Now I can’t get to work. Now I lose my health insurance and can’t afford COBRA. Now I don’t qualify for Medicaid because I make too much money. Now it’s just too much.

One wrong step, one little tip in the scale against my favor and I slip, I’m pulled down, I’m muffled and drowned. I’m in poverty.

It’s not too far to fall. It could happen to anyone. Just ask that man you see sleeping on the street, he never thought he’d be there.



This post was written by Leah Bush, a freelance writer and aspiring Guru whose past involvement includes the American Red Cross Hurricane Katrina Recovery Project and volunteerism in Honduras and the Dominican Republic. She is currently a volunteer blogger for the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. Questions regarding this post may be forwarded to ultraEchelon@gmail.com.

January 6, 2009

Create Postive Social Change in Your Local Community

Making social change a reality can be tough work especially when you don't know where to start and what to do. Luckily, one of our readers has shared a fabulous resource with us for all you activists that want to create positive social change in your community.


In Russell Cavanagh's article titled, "A Guide to Campaigning for Positive Change in Your Local Community", he addresses key elements of starting a development campaign:

  1. Taking Inventory of Your Local Community
  2. Suggestions to Kick-Start Ideas
  3. What to do After the Meeting
  4. Outcomes

Thank you Russell for sharing your guide with us. We hope you - our readers - find this resource of value as you exercise your entrepreneurial skills to create positive social change in your community.


What are your thoughts?