Friday, December 31, 2010

Chatting With The 6 a.m. Sage- part 2

May all your troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions!
Joey Adams

For the end of year blogs, I've been temporarily refocusing from shining a light outward to the community to shining the light within, with a more introspective look at New Year's resolutions and personal change. So I'll just launch into part 2 of the sage advice of the accidental 'guru with a microphone',  John Meaney; if you missed yesterday's blog start there for the background info.

So in that off-air conversation, John shared how, like many of us, two years previously he had set a goal to lose a certain number of pounds. The year started with healthy food choices, exercise... and impressive, steady progress for about 6 months. Then life happened. Busy workdays with quick meals gobbled in front of the computer, unplanned munches while doing shows at remote locations and soon his resolution was careening wildly down that slippery slope. That's when most of us give up, discouraged and haunted by a sense of failure...even after 6 full months of success.

And John admits he initially felt that sense of defeat and started to pick up old habits... then  a realization dawned on him-- he was already halfway to his goal. Even if he totally stopped any more progress, he was in much better shape than when the year had started! Isn't that success? How many of us have hit a roadblock where our resolve stops-- we proclaim our inability to finish the race, and backpedal right back to the start line rather than pausing to enjoy the scenery mid-course? Is the finish line the only important thing? Pondering what motivates (or demotivates) us is probably as important to success as choosing the goal. Which do I enjoy more about hiking, the walk in the woods or the view from the summit? Process or product? (Or is it the time spent on the trail with my dog?)

Back in college, I studied organizational psychology and was always intrigued by different management philosophies. The Japanese have an efficiency and waste reduction philosophy used in factories, called Kaizen. In very basic terms it's a philosophy of continually making small changes that lead to improved performance-- continually unfolding and evolving toward a goal.

So here's how it works:
Identify a goal/problem and start by doing something easy on the path toward that goal-- make the smallest possible change to improve performance, but make this a habit. Once, and only when, that improvement is fully integrated, move on to the next small change. Make sure the changes bring you personal well-being -- this practice isn't embraced because it benefits management, but because it benefits the employee also. Include others in the change and together celebrate all your small successes.

It always stuck me how in the US we tackle change with the swagger and stance of John Wayne, strong, confident, and ambitious...we do it alone and take pride in that independence. While no one can question Asian drive and tenacity in the workplace, their philosophy has a more communal and process-oriented feel to it. Perfection reveals itself not with fanfare; but rather, like a plain sheet of paper lying flat on the table, when patiently and precisely folded... one simple step followed by another... an origami crane emerges and takes flight.

So between now and March 1st, I've got my first resolution strategy to ponder- will I saddle up and gallop into my goal (and enjoy the thrill that brings) or will I gently and methodically unfold toward a new way of being? Or is there a common ground where West meets East? 

"Wishing you a Kaizen New Year?" ... "Partner?"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Chatting with the Six a.m. Sage

“When the student is ready the teacher will appear,” is a common phrase adapted from an ancient Buddhist Proverb.  In cartoons gurus sit static perched atop mountains, visited by devotees who have braved the mountain hoping to receive a pearl of wisdom that will instantaneously enlighten and transform their life. In reality, I think, most sage advice comes to us casually and we don’t even notice or appreciate the proffered wisdom. (For more than 25 years my husband has been muttering, “If only I’d listened to my mother!”)
Last January I had the opportunity to appear on Star101.3’s Morning Show with Brianne Young and John Meaney to talk about the upcoming Bartender’s Ball (by the way mark your calendars for this year’s Ball on February 12, 2011). During the breaks we began talking about the New Year’s resolutions made about 3 weeks earlier and how so many people ‘fail’ at their resolutions within just weeks of the ambitious January 1st proclamation. John offered an alternative approach to resolutions. Decide what you want to change… but don’t actually start work on the resolution right away. Pick a date in the future, e.g., June 1st when you’ll actually begin the resolution. In the meantime totally devote yourself to preparing for this important change, and:
·         Think about why you’re doing it.
·         Think about how success will feel.
·         Think about each little step you’ll take toward your goal.
·         Think about the challenges and obstacles.
·         Think about how if that obstacle cropped up today you’d find a way to still keep with the goal.
·         Think about what you’ll do if you slip on the path.
·         Truly consider if you really honestly want to work on this goal and if you’re not truly committed to working on the goal give yourself permission not to-- no one’s perfect! If you are still invested in this goal then make a commitment to yourself to be successful… and like a tri-athlete in training prepare yourself for the challenge and for the successful completion…
but don’t actually start ‘doing’ the goal until your selected date.
I hadn’t thought much about John’s words until the New Year approached again, when I reflected that perhaps I had stumbled upon a wise man on the mountain without realizing it. So this year, no last minute resolutions on December 31st (and no guilt on January 16th when I’ve already slipped irretrievably). I’m going to choose one change that will really make a difference in my life and 'try it on' until, say March 1st-- that’s my chosen start date.
And in my mind I’ll now forever envision John atop a mountain, enswathed in windswept robes, imparting wisdom through a large studio microphone, punctuated by the music of his amiable laugh. Stay tuned for part 2 in my next blog while I share his New Year’s resolution wisdom about failure-- ahem, “redefining success”.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Finding Time For What Counts

If my life were a sheet of paper, you could spot it from across the room-- no white space, lots of writing, multicolored reminders and doodles in the margins, dogeared corners...but not a hint of white space. I have a habit of overfilling my life.

A couple of years ago I signed up for day-long volunteer job. At the time I was raising two teenagers, caring for my mother in her final years of life, and working a job that is decidedly not 9-5. My husband tried to inject common sense into my decisions as he asked, “You complain you don't have time to finish all you need to do, why in the world are you taking on one more volunteer commitment?” I told him to join me for the day and find out. To his credit he did. We spent the day tearing out carpet and testing the electrical circuits in a mobile home being refurbished for EOC's House to Home program. The renovated unit would help one formerly homeless person attain a dream of home ownership. As the day ended he said, “Now I understand why you volunteer.” For me it's important that some of the busy-ness on the page of my life is about helping others... that grounds me. While I used to have long-term volunteer commitments, these days I find giving a day here and there is the best way for me to work community service into my schedule. If one of your goals for 2011 is to make an impact in your community here's some suggestions to get you started:

Donate blood. For an commitment of less than an hour, you can save a life. That's a grand return on a 60 minute investment of time. For the record, of all the places I've donated, the Shenendehowa Adult Community Center had the best post-donation conversations with their volunteers... and home-baked cookies too!

Volunteer with a friend. Find an activity you both enjoy or a cause you care about and do it together. Relay for Life gives lots of opportunities to catch up with friends while also remembering lost loved ones or cheering as those who have courageously battled cancer, from children to silver-haired seniors, walk the survivors' lap. My son's friend, Trish, has been doing the Relay every year for the past 9 years in memory of Mrs. Weisman, a Shenendehowa 5th grade teacher. Trish's personal tribute to a mentor through participation in the Relay has inspired dozens of other friends to join her in raising much-needed funds and awareness to save lives from cancer.

Make it a family event. When you include your children in your volunteer activities, you aren't only instilling a value of community involvement but also creating wonderful moments of bonding around activities that are out of the ordinary. My youngest son and I laugh whenever we see our lime green Rebuilding Together tee shirts and remember the day we got them. Hours later they were totally covered with pine pitch from installing rustic sawmill pine siding on a home for a family with a seriously disabled 4 year old and a father who was injured and out of work. We also recall the joy we felt as the family told us their son's medical tests had just returned with the unexpected positive news that he was not going to be confined to a wheelchair. They shared the news because the crew no longer needed to build a wheelchair ramp that day. I could talk to my kids about being grateful for what we have, but helping others and seeing the challenges they face brought that lesson home far better than any Mom lecture. (Here's one of my rare housekeeping tips: Lestoil is terrific for removing pine pitch. I thought we'd have to throw away the shirts, but a soak in Lestoil and they were like new, so now we have the shirts that preserve that day's memory.)

Help a senior. Care Links volunteers help to keep people living independently in their homes as long as possible by visiting, buying groceries, or transporting someone to a medical appointment. Just a couple of hours of your time will bring a friendship that touches your heart. For more information call Care Links at CHS 518-399-4624 or email csilvera@chsny.org.

Schedule it. My eldest son says having a regular day and time for volunteering is the best way to incorporate good works into your life. Pick what makes you happy. Like animals? Volunteer at the Saratoga County animal shelter as a dog walker, or in their Clifton Park location caring for the cats & kittens waiting to be adopted.

Go to your recycling bin and pick out a glass jar. Each night empty the loose change (or even the occasional dollar bill) from your pockets or purse into the jar. When it's full, donate the money to a charity. It's surprising how fast it adds up. (Check out Betsy DeMars' December 24th Media Moms blog for her account of how, with a not-so-gentle nudge from God, her coin jar blessed one man this Christmas.) http://2mediamoms.blogspot.com/2010/12/its-not-just-change-in-jar.html

Multitask- help a charity while reconnecting with friends. At DVRC we have several generous donors who host a party as a fundraiser to support our victim service programs. Friends are invited to the party and invited to give a donation to this charity that their host/hostess cares deeply about. One kind donor said at first she was a little apprehensive when she asked friends to a fundraising party, but everyone had a terrific time and many friends called the following morning to thank her for giving them the opportunity to help a local charity. I know of another group of women who opt for a potluck dinner at someone's home instead going out as a group. The money they saved on the fancy restaurant meal is donated to the hostess' chosen charity. Busy lives call for creative solutions!

Looking for social and networking opportunities as well as community investment? Join a service organization...These groups connect you with other people of similar interests and offer myriad opportunities to make a difference. Interested in helping women and girls? Check out Soroptimist International of Saratoga County. No it's not a sorority-- Soroptimist means Best for Women and that's what this group is all about. http://www.soroptimistsaratoga.org//

Check out the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce's Volunteer JobZone to find hundreds of other ways to make a difference in our community. http://www.saratoga.org/jobs/jobzone-volunteer-index.asp

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Shining a Light in the Rearview Mirror

Did you ever notice that endings always make us reflect on beginnings? Leaving a long-term job, you reminisce wistfully on your early days there. As the children grow up and leave home, you think about how just yesterday they were swaddled in your arms, or learning to walk, or heading off to kindergarten. As we near December 31st I’d like to recognize two true leaders who were visionaries who brought remarkable improvements to our local community. They’ve both moved on to a well-deserved retirement (which I can imagine they’ll find even busier than full time work.)

A Builder of Bridges - On June 30th, Judy Ekman retired from the Prevention Council after serving for 17 years as their executive director. I’ve had the honor of working with Judy and have always been impressed not just with her honesty, knowledge, insightfulness and character, but even more with her ability to pull together diverse people to create and build a shared vision. We all see the problems in our community, but somehow get stuck on how to make change happen so energy and enthusiasm dwindle. When that happened in a group she was leading, Judy would say a few simple words that created an “Ahh Ha” moment and the solution became clear and attainable. Judy worked passionately and tirelessly for families for many years; I’m glad she’s taking the time to enjoy her own family. Thanks, Judy, for helping all of us to see your dream, but more importantly for giving us the skills we need to keep the work going. There’s a Welsh proverb, “He that would be a leader must also be a bridge.” Judy you’ve built many bridges in Saratoga County… bridges between people and bridges from problems toward solutions. Thank you.

Mr. Saratoga- Compared to today, Saratoga Springs in the 1970‘s was a one-horse town. Off track betting detracted from track attendance, the downtown business district was teetering, vacant lots were strewn with rubble and as for tourism-- does this sound like a fun place to vacation? And about that time an ambitious and determined Irish lad named Joe Dalton took over the helm at the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce. While he didn’t do it alone, unquestionably he was in the center of the mix as the town became a prime destination for shopping, racing, history, arts and tourism. Under his leadership the Chamber membership increased from 330 to 2,800. While always championing the downtown businesses and promotion of economic growth throughout the county, under Joe’s leadership the nonprofit community also thrived. The Bartender’s Ball, coordinated by the Chamber and representatives from the local hospitality industry, has raised over $350,000 for local nonprofits over the past 13 years (mark your calendars so you don’t miss this year’s Ball on January 12, 2011-- more info to come in a future blog). In 1986 the Chamber founded Leadership Saratoga, dedicated to the development of leaders who will serve their communities today and in the future; graduates serve on the Boards of Directors of 135 non-profit organizations from Corinth to Clifton Park. The Chamber has a volunteer job zone to link community members with volunteer opportunities. Thanks Joe for your vision, your tenacity and your true passion for our community.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Compassion and Community- the real bottom line in business

Dedicating my entire career to local not-for-profit organizations, the value of caring for those less fortunate in our community is a fundamental to our work. It’s the very reason human service organizations exist. Conversely, one might assume the for profit sector has a very different investment in community… but I’ve learned that most good businesses, from Mom and Pop shops to corporate mega-businesses make stewardship of good works part of their business plan. And in doing so their employees seem energized and deeply committed to their workplace. At DVRC, we are so fortunate to have so many caring people in the community who organize workplace initiatives to provide money, services and needed items for the families we assist. While I’m not going to spend this blog thanking all of them, I would occasionally like to highlight an organization that make good works part of its bottom line. So if you don’t already know about them, here’s a little info on Snap Fitness in Gansevoort (and soon to open another fitness center in Clifton Park.)  I love that their commitment to community is so strong that it’s the focal point of their owners’ welcome on their webpage http://www.snapfitness.com/gansevoortny. Below is an excerpt from that welcome… and an opportunity to start the New Year by donating $10 that will help orphaned pets find loving families… and one lucky donor will win 5 months free membership at Snap Fitness …a great way to give back and jump start your New Year’s resolution to be more healthy. So here’s some how Tina and Jim Marzano make community part of their bottom line:
“We love getting involved in the community. Right now we're celebrating my 50th birthday by helping to raise funds for H.O.P.E. (Homes for Orphaned Pets Exist).  H.O.P.E.'s mission is to match homeless animals with forever homes as well as to save animals from needless euthanasia procedures due to overpopulation. To this end they are in the process of building a low-cost spay/neuter clinic which is scheduled to open in Wilton in the spring of 2011.Each member or non-member is eligible to win 5 FREE MONTHS MEMBERSHIP  at our club with a minimum donation of just $10.00. 
·         We also recently held our annual winter coat drive where we collected over 60 warm winter coats and jackets which were donated to the Salvation Army Community Center located in Glens Falls. The Community Center does not charge a fee for these coats. Without our members help many families would not be able to afford suitable warm clothing this winter.
·         In October the Snap Fitness team raised almost $1700 for the American Cancer Society's Breast Cancer cause. Our team proudly walked on a very rainy day in Queensbury hoping to help more women celebrate more birthdays. 
·         Lastly the Snap Fitness club in Gansevoort is proud to support the efforts of Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County (DVRC). We recognize each October as Domestic Violence Awareness month by collecting used cell phones and printer cartridges and toners. The cell phones are cleared and reprogrammed for victims to use in case they need to dial 911. The toners and cartridges are turned in for cash.”

My own experience about all the blessings I've had in my life is that the more I give away, the more that comes back. That is the way life works, and that is the way energy works.
Ken Blanchard

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Can a quarter and a nickel really make a difference in a child’s life?

Last week, four days of early morning meetings combined with late night work obligations rendered this typically decaf tea gal in need of stopping at Stewart’s en route to work for a large caffeinated coffee. Without a boost I doubted there was any chance of me making it through the workday. At the counter there was a container to drop off my change to help local kids all year long.
We all think about how to help those in need at the holidays, but when I think about the scope of need throughout the year-- kids without food… or warm clothes… homeless families… kids with mental and physical disabilities… teens with eating disorders or addictions… runaways who don’t know where to turn for help-- I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of need. Can the little bit I give really make any difference?
Since 1986, Stewart’s Shops has shown us that yes a little bit from each of us adds up to a big impact. The Holiday Match program has contributed over $13.5 million dollars to help kids in our communities. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Stewart’s matches individual contributions dollar for dollar and gives 100% of the money to local organizations helping children. Last year Stewart’s, with the help of their media partners and customers, donated $1.26 million. In Saratoga County alone, 125 organizations received donations to support their children’s programs.
So yes, my quarter and nickel can absolutely help and I enthusiastically dropped them into the container (along with an extra dollar in my pocket). And looking at my schedule in the next couple of weeks I may just need coffee every morning… and what a great way to start each day, helping others a couple of coins at a time. Please stop in to Stewart’s today for a fill up, whether it’s coffee, gasoline, eggnog or milk and bread is up to you… we’ve got 10 days left to  fill up that countertop collection container!               

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Tee Shirt Says It All

Teens all wear tee shirts to express who they are and the members of youth2-youth helping youth are no exception. But when you read the quotation on these teens’ shirts you immediately know these kids have picked a pretty admirable role model:
 “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service to others.” Gandhi
On Saturday youth2 organized the second annual “Youth for Change:  Community Giving Fair.” These youth are looking to transform how we view holiday giving. Their challenge, “Let’s create opportunities to give meaningful life-giving gifts to change the world.” And they offered fairgoers the opportunity to do just that. Participants could bring gifts to help local organizations such as food for the Child Advocacy Center, pajamas for families in the domestic violence shelter, blankets and toiletries for the Backstretch Employee Service Team, hats and gloves for the teens at the Ballston Area Community Center. The focus didn’t end with Saratoga County though. There were opportunities to help the Heifer Project, purchase garden tools for Hospice Africa, and support drilling of wells so children can have safe drinking water in Africa. While many of us feel that the world’s needs are too great these kids emphasized that no contribution is insignificant. Even a nickel can purchase seeds so  our local organization Seeds for Peace can provide seeds for Haitian families to grow food and become self-sustaining.

Throughout the fair the youth inspired us with messages of how giving builds a community. An old familiar story, Stone Soup, took on new meaning when fairgoers lunched on delicious homemade stone soup from bowls crafted by Skidmore’s pottery class… and then took the bowl home as a reminder to keep the day’s theme of helping others in mind throughout the year. The Saratoga Performing Youth Artists wowed the group with their performance of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree (in fact they were brought back by very popular demand later in the day for an encore performance of the play.) Fairgoers were challenged to pick up a 5 gallon container of water. For those who basked in pride with well exercised biceps, the glory was short-lived when they learned that young girls in third world countries don’t go to school, but instead spend eight-hour days carting vessels with this amount of water from the river up mountains so their family can have water. Eight hours a day they carry the equivalent of 5 gallons of water (that’s 41.8 lbs) on their heads up a mountain and climb back down and do it all over again-- every day!

Did you miss the Giving Fair? No problem, check out the Youth2 website  www.youthsquared.org  to view their Book of Good Deeds and find out about local volunteer and social action opportunities. Here’s a suggestion from the fair to get you started:
Take the H20 Challenge.  For 2 weeks drink only water, no soda, juice, etc. Save the money you would normally have spent on soda, juice, etc. Donate this money to drill wells in Africa so children and their families will have safe drinking water.

Just Another Dark and Stormy Night

Let’s start with the hackneyed cliche, “It was a dark and stormy night” to describe the setting for last week’s Homelessness Awareness Vigil in Congress Park. It was dark, it was stormy, and windy and unexpectedly cold as a hundred concerned citizens gathered in recognition of homeless persons in our community. We huddled a bit deeper in our jackets, digging our hands into our pockets for warmth, spattered by raindrops, but hoping that the imminent downpour would hold out until the end of the vigil. Before the vigil began we all commented on the nasty weather, but we commented sheepishly because in the back of everyone’s mind was the thought that for the homeless this is just another night living on the street.
Once the vigil began we heard Theresa Taylor’s moving account of a childhood characterized by domestic violence, mental illness and substance abuse and how this experience contributed to struggling as an adult and eventually finding herself homeless, desperate and terrified living in this very park where the vigil participants were gathered tonight. Her life transformed by the assistance provided by Shelters of Saratoga where she found not only shelter, food and warmth, but the support to change her life. In shelter her perception of who the homeless are changed as she met working people and professionals who were homeless. The experience contributed to her decision to go back to school. She now attends college and is working towards a degree in human services. So as we huddled in the park buffeted by wind, we found warmth and hope in Theresa’s story… and raised awareness of the need to help others who call these streets their home. We left the vigil without lighting our candles as the wind blew too hard, yet we each carried that light within us as we left knowing that while Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week was ending, the Saratoga County Housing Alliance and organizations like Shelters of Saratoga, CAPTAIN’s Youth Shelter, Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services and Guardian House need our support all year long.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why 'Shine a Light'?

As this is the first post to the Shine a Light blog, please let me introduce myself ... and invite you to join me in this blogging adventure.  I'm Maggie Fronk and I am the executive director of Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services of Saratoga County. While this blog represents my personal musings and not those of the agency, I find that the work I do every day influences the issues I care about even after I’ve left work. While the title of the blog originated from a fantastic campaign launched in 2009 by the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence to Shine a Light on Domestic Violence, the focus of the blog will be to not only discuss issues associated with domestic violence and sexual assault but also to shine a light on the great work being done by people in our community to make this a better place to live.  We often focus on what’s wrong with the world (and that’s important if we want to make positive changes), but every day people are doing good things to help others…right here in Saratoga County. Let’s support their efforts and celebrate their successes.

There are two ways of spreading light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
                                                                                    Edith Wharton