Friday, April 25, 2008

Beyond FAMILY: Help Women, Help the World

Matt over at Empathy and Britt over at Have Fun * Do Good continue to teach me about inspiring organizations across the country and around the world. Two recent articles on their sites led me to discover the award-winning Women Thrive Worldwide (which is celebrating ten years of service) and one of its unique partners, Global Fund for Women (which is celebrating 20 years of service). I hope both WTW and the GFW will be helping women for many more years to come:

Women Thrive Worldwide “develops, shapes, and advocates for U.S. policies that foster economic opportunity for women living in poverty.” Due to its immense impact on international assistance and trade policies on women in poor countries, the United States is encouraged by WTW and its partners to create concrete, long-term results for women living in poverty.

While helping to ensure that U.S. international assistance and trade programs prioritize women, Women Thrive Worldwide also pushes U.S. legislators to address barriers such as unequal social and economic hardships that prevent women in poverty from earning a decent living and supporting their families. According to the WTW, women in poor countries use most of their income for food, healthcare, and education for children, efforts which—when supported—can lift entire communities out of poverty. As the WTW puts it: “By prioritizing women in programs the U.S. is already running—often by changing a few words in a piece of legislation—we can spread opportunity to millions of women and families living in poverty and help end poverty for good.”

Women Thrive Worldwide operates via a coalition of more than 25,000 individuals and more than 50 organizations such as CARE, Amnesty International, and the Global Fund for Women.

With offices in San Francisco and New York, the Global Fund for Women promotes women’s economic security, health, education, and leadership via “an international network of women and men committed to a world of equality and social justice.” It also “advocates for and defends women’s human rights by making grants to support women’s groups around the world.”

The GFW uses a flexible, responsive style of grantmaking that considers the varied challenges faced by women in different communities, cultures, religions, traditions, and countries. By taking into account a woman’s personal experiences, the GFW not only supports each client but honors her understanding of her needs as well as her ideas for potential solutions. This inherent appreciation for the individuals they serve and their unique situations allows the Global Fund for Women to achieve lasting change in the lives of many women and their families.

While donations are certainly sought by Women Thrive Worldwide and the Global Fund for Women, you can also help by shopping with these organizations’ on-line shopping supporters here and here.

Consider this terrific line from the WTW site: “When you teach a woman to fish, everybody eats.” Long-term poverty ends when women in poverty are empowered. Thanks to organizations like Women Thrive Worldwide and the Global Fund for Women, more women are receiving the assistance they need than they otherwise ever would. And thanks to thoughtful bloggers like Matt and Britt, more of us know what’s happening on these critical fronts—and how to help.

Photo © Monia Sbreni

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Beyond FINESSE: Drama Mama at Like a Shark

So I’m scanning my favorite blogs, catching up on everyone’s news, and Drama Mama—also known as lovely Miss M’s mom—stops me short with more than one recent heartfelt, knock-your-socks-off post despite the fact she’s been working herself ragged and relishing the fruits of her exhaustion the way only a phenomenally inspired and creative educator can.

What I read over again, realizing I had to feature it here, was her Hot Button Issue post. When a student gave Drama Mama the button pictured above, Drama Mama not only wore it all day, she taught a few of her other students—as well as some co-workers and various strangers—an important lesson…and gave many others a reason to smile. A few gave her confused looks and said “But you’re not black;” or “Is that a new group?” Others, thankfully, said simply “I like your button.”

To the latter folks, Drama Mama notes: “I suppose anyone who feels different, who experiences challenge and overcomes it, who is proud and righteous and wants to make a change feels ‘black.’ That is not to diminish what it truly means to be black.… We are a tribe, and we look out for each other.”

To those who were confused, she explains:

“I was not conducting an experiment, or trying to get a rise out of folks. My student gave me a gift, and I, touched by her gesture of inclusion, wore it proudly. I mean, I am honored that she considers me an honorary member of her tribe.…

“The message to me [from this student] was this: You see me. You feel what I feel. You appreciate my difference, as well as our similarities. I’m proud of myself, and you’re proud of me.”

Would that every student felt so understood, in and out of school. Rock on, Drama Mama. I’m glad you’re in my tribe, too.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Beyond FINALLY: A Long-Overdue Spring Overview

And suddenly we’re halfway through April. Can someone please tell me how that happened?! After two weeks of flukey snowfalls, it seems Denver’s heading into the 60s today with at least a few days of warmer weather in the immediate forecast. We’re getting there!

I’ve been amassing and reading some unique books lately:

Earthly Fathers by Scott Sawyer. I met Scott last year via his wife Joy, a Denver poet and fellow 2007-2008 associate of the Rocky Mountain Women’s Institute. Scott’s memoir is a tribute not only to his father who died when Scott was a baby and his beloved step-father, but to many members of his immediate and extended Texan families who cared deeply for young Scotty and his brother. Surprising turns and tragedies as well as the challenge of reconciling oneself with the demands of a difficult past are explored throughout Earthly Fathers with honest emotion and an ultimate sense of acceptance and relief. Kudos, Scotty!

I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven. I wrap up the Junior Great Books Program at my girls’ school next week with a discussion of this young adult classic. Margaret Craven wrote this first novel in 1973 at the age of 69. A tribute to a British Columbian Native American tribe and its fading unique way of life, I Heard the Owl Call My Name tells the story of a young Christian vicar and his experiences living among the tribe. While this story has been criticized for its portrayal of the white man invading an indigenous people and imposing his religion, I read it as a realistic portrayal of historical events. I agree native people all over the world would have been better off living without the intrusion of foreigners and foreign ways. But missionaries did what they did and various cultures intermixed; by documenting the ways this particular vicar respected and learned so much from the people he’d been sent to serve, Margaret Craven provided us with a lovely, bittersweet remembrance.

Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number by Carleen Brice. So, I have this birthday coming up next week. Not a big decade-changing birthday, but a 40-something one. In preparation for this pending birthday (and hopefully many more) I finally bought Carleen’s classic anthology of essays by treasured African American women writers, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number. AND I got it signed on the spot. How cool is that? Essays by the likes of Nikki Giovanni, Alice Walker, Rita Dove, Terry McMillan, Gloria Naylor, Maya Angelou, Pearl Cleage and many more debunk archaic assumptions about black women in particular and all women in general; embrace the challenges and freedoms of the mid-years; and celebrate the many joys and surprises that accompany them. A classic in its own rite, Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number has just become a birthday month tradition for yours truly. What a great gift! Thanks, Carleen!

Searching for Paradise in Parker, PA by Kris Radish. I also have Carleen to thank for introducing me to Kris Radish, an inspiring writer who kindly provided the front-cover author blurb for Carleen’s novel, Orange Mint and Honey. Kris visited the south suburban Tattered Cover Book Store last week, and I’m very, very glad I made it to her signing. Check out Carleen’s terrific post on Kris’s presentation as well as her overview of Searching for Paradise in Parker, PA, one of my upcoming summer reads. Did someone say summer?!

Also this spring I’ve become more and more aware of families who need a lot of immediate TLC in the form of prayers and/or virtual hugs and/or cards and well wishes. These are the two on my current radar: Tyler, a little boy in Rochester NY with Down Syndrome who was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this year; and Joey, a little boy in Westchester NY who has Leigh’s disease, a rare, terminal condition that causes the degeneration of the central nervous system. If you’re inclined to help spread some extra spring warmth by reaching out to these families, please do! Joey’s family is asking for a “storm” of prayers this Saturday, April 19, at 4:30 pm EST, when Joey will meet the pope at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers with 49 other children. As Joey’s mom, Gaby, wrote in a recent e-mail, “We are hopeful that all people of different faiths come together to pray for our 4-year-old boy. Faith knows no boundaries and prayer, no matter what religion, is a powerful thing.”

Photo: Tulip on a Spring Morning (near Denver, of course!) by peapicker

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Beyond FACTS: Emotional Start to Autism Awareness Month

Some folks who’ve learned from the mass media that April is Autism Awareness Month assert autism has become very trendy these days. Meanwhile parents of children with autism—children who will some day become adults with autism—hope increased awareness will lead to concrete developments in the not-so-far future, developments that will help much more than any new label the general public would like to apply to their loved ones.

I learn something new every day on Kristina Chew’s Autism Vox blog. Kristina offers an intriguing mix of personal stories about her son, Charlie, as well as professional takes on current developments in the growing (and often confusing) network of autism organizations. Kristina lays it all out, states her stand, and ties it all back to life with Charlie. This recent post “Not a Fairy Tale and Not a Tragedy” includes references to a ton of terrific resources, including an April 2 World Autism Day speech by Ari Ne’eman, a college student and president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. You read that right: Self-Advocacy. In his address, Ne’eman confronted the widely held assumption that a diagnosis of any form of autism is tragic:

“The true tragedy is the persistent discrimination, abuse and lack of access that continues to govern society’s approach to us. On this, the first ever World Autism Day, we assert that it is this prejudice—not autism itself—that we have a true interest in combating, in the interest of ensuring for every person the rights of communication, inclusion, self-determination and respect.”

Many, many thanks to Kristina for her tireless and forthcoming writings on the people at the forefront of the drive for increased autism awareness. This issue deserves all the attention it’s getting, as do the folks spearheading the drive.

Another prolific blogger, Kristen at From Here to There and Back, shares insights that don’t include professional analyses of current trends but knock me over with their blunt honesty and emotional intensity. Her recent post, “All I Have to Say” is one of my favorites. What Kristen questions…the reality behind all the hoopla of world awareness days or months…reveals what’s most important to her and what ought to be most important to all of us: “changing the way we think, changing our fundamental approach to respect and acceptance and differences.” Kristen is another mom-writer who reminds me of the critical need to raise awareness of diversity and tolerance issues despite so many questions about where it all leads and what it all truly means, despite so many reservations. Kristen closes her post with what she truly knows, the fact that she’s mom to a wonderful boy who’s impacted and changed her life in wondrous ways.

Other moms of kids with special needs whose blogs teach me more than they’ll ever know, regardless of what the world’s celebrating: Jen, Jodie, Drama Mama, Niksmom, Jennifer, Pam, Vicki, Susan, Kyra, Jenn, Marla, MOM-NOS, Gayle, and Michelle (to name just a few!). Kudos and thanks to you all, ladies. You amaze me every day, all year long.

Beloved photo from From Here to There and Back

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


I spent some wonderful time this evening at the Tattered Cover Book Store in my neck of the woods (there are three in the Denver area and I love them all for different reasons). After ordering Carleen Brice’s Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number from one of the other TC stores; pulling a copy of Patry Francis’s The Liar’s Diary out so it’s more visible on its shelf in the Mystery Section; plucking a nifty copy of The Kids’ Yoga Book of Feelings off a display to bring home for my girls; and following a salesperson back to the front of the store where a huge display of Alison Larkin’s debut novel, The English American, could be seen for miles away by any other shopper but yours truly who’d walked right by it…I doled out some cash, perused some displays, and parked in a chair to wait for Alison Larkin’s presentation to begin.

And I started reading…and laughing…and reading some more of The English American, a book I know I’m going to tear through because it’s just so much fun. As is Alison Larkin, an actress and stand-up comedienne. Alison’s successful one-woman show, also called The English American, pokes fun at the contrasts of her own life, contrasts that formed the basis of her novel’s story and informed its important message regarding the restricted rights of adopted people.

The English American tells the story of a British woman named Pippa Dunn who strives to discover her true roots despite significant emotional, administrative, and other obstacles she’s forced to face throughout the ordeal of researching her birth mother. Pippa’s discovery that her birth mother is American and hails from the Mid-South parallels Alison Larkin’s own fascinating discovery of her birth mother’s identity and background. Alison states clearly, however, that The English American is not a memoir; that she’d have been bored writing a memoir because, frankly, she already knew the story. She wanted to write a novel that would be fun to read; a book paced like the thrillers she loves. So she opted for succinct chapters and direct language and threw in a boatload of humor for good measure. What she created is a work of fiction that packs a wallop of a message: the Draconian (yes, her word; and her accent makes it sound all the more impressive!) laws in America regarding closed adoption files make the process of researching one’s family a daunting if not impossible task for adopted people, many of whom devote much of their lives to this quest. British laws changed in the 1970s, she explained, making the files regarding adoptions there open despite concerns that such laws would result in fewer birth mothers choosing the adoption option, skyrocketing abortion rates, and tremendous emotional distress among all parties involved throughout England….none of which happened.

In fact, Alison Larkin insists, the process of discovering and meeting one’s birth parents is a healing process many need to undertake, a process that is essential for them to ever feel whole, discover where they belong, and have a true chance at happiness. For the emotional sake of their adopted children—and due to the need for biological family medical records—more adoptive parents are voicing concern regarding American adoption laws. Meanwhile birth mothers who desire contact with their grown children are also cheated by their legal limitations.

The emotions experienced and expressed by Pippa, her adoptive parents, and her birth mother throughout the pages of The English American reflect those experienced by Alison Larkin and both her families. While Pippa’s search takes much less time than Alison’s, the red tape and dead ends she encounters frustrate and anger her as they upset Alison. By writing and now promoting this book, Alison Larkin is spreading the word about America’s adoption laws, realizing as she does so that many Americans are unaware of the limited rights of adopted people. As she put it, adopted people are the only people in the U.S. who are forced to change their names—outside of people in the Witness Protection Program—and who are refused access to their own birth certificates. This sort of treatment would make anyone feel like a second-rate citizen. “It’s discrimination,” Alison noted, pausing for a moment from her typically jovial celebration of her story to shed some light on the political—and emotional—issues at the heart of her debut novel. “These laws hurt the people they’re designed to protect.”