Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Something 2 Eat

In teaching high schoolers about money, specifically how your values impact your spending, I’ve always wanted to help students understand about poverty. Many of the students I teach struggle with poverty themselves to some degree. When you struggle in poverty, it can be difficult to see past your own dire circumstances. That is why we wanted to help students see the kind of poverty that kids are struggling with in under-developed countries like the horn of Africa and hopefully encourage compassion in the students.

I am so in awe of what happened on December 3rd. I can’t stop thinking about how much people gave of themselves, their strength, energy, money and time to make such a beautiful thing happen.

130,000 meals were packed for kids and orphans in eastern Kenya who do not have “Something To Eat”. 300 students, teachers, volunteers, friends, neighbors, baseball players and fans, and people who just heard through word of mouth came together to pack these meals. Throughout the day we stopped periodically to learn about justice and poverty issues and reflect on the condition of the poor.

I want to brag on some of my teachers and students…

Mr. Caryotakis had just come from a memorial service, and said he wanted to spend his time doing something like this, which would have a lasting impact, after going to something like that.

“If we spent the day doing this again tomorrow, I would stay for that as well.”
Mr. Skillin was the first to come and last to leave. He was at the gym before the set up team, at 7am, making sure all the doors were open and ready for us. Then he stayed late, cleaning the gym floor. He gave so sacrificially of his time. He and the other basketball coaches even had their basketball teams participate in the event as their practice that day.
Ms. Henderson worked so fast with her tables that they were among the first to finish their stack of boxes at their table. They started helping other tables finish!

Coach Poulos and Coach Uhalde came to help throughout the day.

College Track sent a bunch of students. School Board Member, Sharifa Wilson, also CEO of College Track, came to encourage her students and is excited about East Palo Alto’s involvement in this next year.

Julie got a bunch of parents and kids together from her son’s baseball team to come. There were two tables full of baseball players packing meals.

Alex loaded up his Prius with kids from his youth group and drove all the way up from Visalia to have his kids pack. They were so focused that they didn’t get a lunch break until after 3! A couple of his boys came to help flatten the trash in the dumpsters so we could fit our trash in there.

Alejandro brought a group of students from Belle Haven Community School who stayed all day to serve.

My FutureProfits Volunteers were awesome! Randy, Brad, Marc, Steve, Emily, Marilyn and Dianna were there all day constantly giving 100%. Barbara faithfully served at the registration table. Geo took conceptual pictures of the event even after breaking his finger the day before. Ivan brought a friend to help. Many came throughout the day and gave what they could.

There were countless volunteers from Peninsula Covenant Church and Highway Community who came and gave their all.

And like Jeremy Affeldt said, the students who gave are my heroes. They worked faithfully throughout the day, and for those who had to leave early, they worked up until the last minute as hard as they could. FutureProfits students from Carlmont, Menlo-Atherton, and Sequoia High School all came and gave of their time. Morgan, Nehemiah, Kenia, Patrick, and Dalton are among those who came and stayed the whole day.

Here is a link from Comcast SportsNet who showed up and covered the event. SF Giants Pitcher Jeremy Affeldt was there the entire day and was wonderful as he interacted with the students.

And here are some of our in house publications...

NCUD's Youtube Video

NCUD's thank you newsletter

Pictures from the day of:
Album #1

Album #2

All in all, a total success! Thanks for your support! Many of you played a vital role... it wouldn't have happened without you.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Everyone Needs Somebody

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how difficult it is to persevere without family support.  So many people I know from our community are strong, but life seems to throw them curve ball, after curve ball.  I often wonder why they don’t give up.  How they find the motivation to keep their heads up.  Here are two stories of young ladies I know that didn’t have positive role models or support in their lives.

Maria’s Story:
Maria 21-years-old and lives with her mom, sister, brother and her 4-year-old son. She has been raising Jr. on her own since he was 6 months old, because her boyfriend was caught with drugs and was arrested. Ever since, Maria and Jr. haven’t had any communication with the dad.  

Maria finds it hard to raise Jr. without the support of her family.  She works two part time jobs (minimum wage) and she also receives money & food assistance from Welfare. She has to pay rent, a baby sitter and provide groceries for her brothers and mom. About 4 months ago Maria lost her part time job (working at a pizza place).   Now, she only has her job at the library (10 hours a week), and to top it off, she is receiving less money from food stamps. Her and her mom had been having a lot of problems lately because Maria can no longer pay rent money, so her mom kicked her out.  She’s been living at a shelter with her son ever since. About 2 months ago, her car got towed because she was driving on a suspended license. Lately, I’ve been seeing Maria with multiple guys and have heard a couple of rumors about her selling her body. I really want to help her yet I don’t know how to approach her about this situation. I’m scared to ask her if she’s been sleeping with men for money, because I don’t know how she will react. What would you do?

Olga’s Story:
Olga is a 21-year-old, and a close friend of mine. Olga also has a 5-year-old son. When I first met Olga she was 16-years-old and we became instant friends. Olga had been in and out of Jail since she was 15-years-old until she was 19-years-old. The main reason why Olga was in and out of jail was because she would hang out with the wrong crowd. She used to also fight a lot.

Loyalty is huge for Olga.  Her friends were the most important part of her life besides her son. Growing up she didn’t really have the support of her parents. Her parents were Christian and always blamed her for being a “bad girl” they would always put her down telling her how she was a bad influence to her younger brothers and sisters.  Her dad always treated her differently; it was as if he held a grudge towards her for not being who he wanted her to be. I knew exactly what she was going through, and knew I could help her if only she was willing to surrender it all to God.

One Sunday morning I was getting ready to go to church and Olga asked if she could come with me. I was so happy that she had finally decided to join me (I had invited her multiple times, but she never wanted to go) in our way there I asked her what made her want to come. She said, that she had been observing the way I was living my life now vs. how I used to live my life before.
She said, “ I always see you with a smile, yet you are going through a lot!” “How do you manage to stay happy?”

I felt like this was the perfect time to share with her how much God was doing in my life. I shared with her the reasons why I stopped hanging out with our mutual friends.  Because she was so loyal to her friends, I didn't think she would understand that I felt like being around them just made me want to get into trouble. We were always seeking to have a good time, yet never talked about our future plans. We were stuck in the same little box. I wanted to do different things I wanted to learn from someone that could teach me how to live my life better, healthier. Make better decisions that would impact my daughter and me in a positive way, rather then being the same ordinary girl from the “town”. Olga started attending church with me every Sunday. She went from having no type of relationship with God to actually attending a few bible study classes with me. I’m very happy to see how much she’s changed her old ways. I can see a different Olga now. An Olga that even though she goes through hard times, she still decides to make good choices.  Her relationship with her parents has improved as well.

Although both of these stories aren’t finished, Olga’s path has changed and Maria’s has not.  I think the major difference is that Olga has positive people in her life, friends she can depend on, and God.  In both Maria’s and Olga’s story, they didn’t make the best decisions, but they also didn’t have the support and role models to make better choices when they were young.  They both felt like huge disappointments.    What I think my friend’s need, and others in similar situations, are people to believe in them, to encourage them, and to support them through the hard times.

-Blanca Medina

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

“Stop The Traffik”, Daniel Bedingfield’s Fight Against Human Trafficking

In late October, I was privileged to attend The Global Forum on Human Trafficking sponsored by Not For Sale.  The conference was held to inform attendees about the new developments of anti-trafficking efforts around the world, as well as to discuss alternative and creative ways of combating this injustice. 

The conference had many amazing speakers including the Dutchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, and Twitter Founder, Jack Dorsey.  However, as a musician, I was most pleased by the unannounced arrival of Daniel Bedingfield.  For those of you who might not be familiar with Mr. Bedingfield, he arrived on the music scene in the early 2000’s with his hit “Gotta Get Thru This” followed by, “If Your Not The One.”  He originated in the UK dance scene, and quickly jumped the pond to the U.S. early in his career.  I was so excited to see him at the conference that I left a friend mid-conversation to run and listen to him perform.

When we broke for lunch, I had a chance to meet with Daniel and asked him about his involvement with this important issue and the organization Not For Sale.  He shared that after he first heard about the abuse and slavery of young girls and children, that he would use the platform he best understood, music, to further the cause. He shared with me that he was so passionate about stopping human trafficking that he decided his next album would be titled “Stop The Traffik.” When speaking to Music & Life about his new album, and whether this issue would hinder his creativity, he said, “I think that passion and music are so incredibly intertwined; if I didn't do something like this, we'd never have any good songs from me ever again."

Well Daniel, I couldn’t agree more.  I believe if music isn’t infused by passion and isn’t pointing to something beyond ourselves or looking or humanity straight in the eye, it’s just ear candy.  Music is the one thing that can capture my mind and my heart at the same time. Music is emotion-infused storytelling, and is capable to move people to action which is why I believe it is one of the best avenues to share about this heartbreaking injustice.

Sara Groves, Matisyahu, Natasha Beddingfield, Enation and many more musicians are using their creativity to bring awareness to the issue of modern day slavery.  My advice; check them out, support their music and become informed.  If you are a musician, write your thoughts and put them to music.  A life may be changed by your call to action and awareness.

To learn more about the issue of Human Trafficking, please check out the following website http://www.notforsalecampaign.org/about/slavery/

-Kirsten Devlin

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Week In The Life of A FutureProfits Teacher

For my first blog entry on Waking Awareness, I’d like to share some snapshots into my life over the past week. I interact with close to 450 students each week through teaching FutureProfits classes at local high schools. Often because of busy schedules I only get to develop relationships with a few students each semester, but the ones I do relate with impact me significantly.  Here are a few of their stories....

Johnny*: Last week, I was teaching a class right before lunchtime. Generally, as soon as the bell rings, most students rush out to soak up as much time with their friends during lunch, but on this particular day, Johnny didn't get up from his seat.  I took it as a cue to walk over and talk to him. I sat down and started making small talk, which quickly led to a deeper conversation. Johnny started sharing with me about his struggles with school, his struggle to pay attention in classes that weren’t interesting to him, and not being able to trust his friends. He expressed feelings of loneliness that came with not being able to trust anyone due to betrayal in his past.  I was reminded in that moment, that behind the mask a lot of high school students wear, there is often a much deeper story.

Jose*: The next day, I saw Jose, a boy who lives around the corner from me. He was in one of our FutureProfits classes 2 years ago as an 8th grader.  Again, I initiated a conversation that led to Jose sharing about his loneliness as well! He shared that he has a lot of friends, but still feels lonely and doesn’t feel like he belongs.  I remembered my conversation with Johnny and wondered if there was a pattern happening in the lives of young men.

Marie & Claire*: During this current unit of FutureProfits, we are teaching the students how to make a budget by giving each of them a job and asking them to pretend they are 25 years old.  This past Tuesday, Marie and Claire were sitting at the back of the class discussing what their imaginary life will be like when they are 25.  As I listened to their conversation, I discovered that they had decided to live as roommates in a 2-bedroom apartment.  I walked around listening to the other conversations, but wandered back to listen to Marie and Claire.  As they got further down the list of expenses in their budgets they hit the “pet” line item.  Marie was set on having a small dog. Claire was not.  After much discussion, during the rest of the class, they had still not come to an agreement about the pet, but it was clear they still wanted to live with each other.  It may be a small exercise, but these two girls are learning a lot about compromise and needs vs. wants.

Something 2 Eat Thursday of this past week, I walked around the Menlo-Atherton campus with two girls from my FutureProfits class as they asked anyone and everyone to donate to our Something 2 Eat campaign.  The generosity of the students was amazing, and the two girls raised  $43.13 for the campaign in under an hour. In light of Something 2 Eat, I have seen so much generosity erupt from these students as they plan and discuss ways to bring necessary food to those who don’t have it.  To find out more about their generosity and this student-led campaign, please check this blog later this week for an update.

These are just four snapshots of life interacting with students from this generation. They are generous, lonely, struggling to live life, and learning from activities and each other. Through our classes they are learning practical skills for their future. But through our relationships, they are impacting my life in deep ways.

-Jenni Ingram

FutureProfits Program Manager

*The names mentioned above are fictitious

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson & Generosity- Kirsten Post

Justin Bieber often compares his career to the late and great Michael Jackson (minus all legal mishaps).  One of the most compelling reasons Justin wishes to model his career after Jackson, is because in his lifetime Michael donated 300 million dollars to charity.  Justin wants to match or surpass that goal during his career.

Justin Bieber came from a small town in Canada, and grew up as the son of a single mom.  Many times growing up, especially during the holidays, Justin and his mother would receive food from a local food bank in their town.  This year with the release of his new Christmas album, Justin announced that he would donate $10,000 to the food bank of Stratford, the very one he received food from growing up.  He also announced that a percentage of CD sales would be donated to his other two favorite charities: Pencils of Promise and Make-A-Wish Foundation.

What I find amazing about Justin, is his power to catalyze others to get involved through every available avenue he has access to.  Like Michael Jackson, Justin actively promotes the charities he gives to.  In his new album "Under the Mistletoe," Justin invites his listeners to get involved this holiday with these words:

It's crazy how some people say they, say they don't care
When there's people on the street with no food, it's not fair
It's about time for you to act merrily
It's about time for you to give to charity

Justin Bieber is making it "cool" to give to charity.  Some people find this off-putting, and ascribe to the belief that generosity should be a selfless act.  I disagree.  I believe each of us wants to be aligned with something "cool", "hip", or "unique".  Generally, when people choose to give to an organization, they have been convinced or compelled by the mission or by well executed marketing.  Nobody wants to give to a charity that isn't having an impact.  Although some people will jump on any bandwagon that Justin Bieber promotes, I think many people (or should I say girls), will realize the joy and fulfillment from giving and they will be more compelled to give again.   I believe generosity is a learned trait, and I think Justin Bieber is this generations biggest teacher. 

P.S. Hey Biebs, can NCUD get some props?!

Be "cool" this holiday season and give generously,


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Introducing Our Contributors

NCUD is a non-profit organization based in East Palo Alto, California dedicated to the eradication of poverty in our community and other under-resourced communities in Northern California.  Our staff is dedicated and knowledgeable about issues of injustice, race and inequality, but most importantly we wish to celebrate the diverse perspectives on these subjects.  This blog will be our platform to share about how we view the world, and how we contribute to our goal of eradicating poverty and injustice.

Rev. John Liotti- John is the CEO of NCUD.  His contributions will address how political and socio-economic changes impact our community.   His opinions are his own, and he encourages healthy dialogue and discourse.

Zuzuki V. Sanchez- Zuzi is NCUD's Housing Counseling Manager, but she is also a mother of two and has lived in East Palo Alto since 1987.  Her posts will likely muse on motherhood, procrastination and other compelling issues around our community.

Jenni Ingram- Jenni is NCUD's FutureProfits Program Manager.  She is an encourager of the youth generation.  She seeks to ensure they have a place, platform and the confidence to share their voice.  Her contributions will likely focus on advocacy for students and affirmation of teachers.

Neil Fisher- A man of many talents, he is often seen helping housing clients and working construction on our housing projects in the same day.  Neil brings a unique perspective as a man who grew up in Palo Alto and has always understood and identified with the plight of lower income populations.  You don't want to miss his articles!

Blanca Medina- Blanca has been involved in every department in our organization, and currently resides in the Housing Department.  Blanca is a soon to be mother of two and has also grown up in East Palo Alto.   Blanca has more knowledge about our communities' culture than most of our staff, and her contributions will consist of musings about generational crime, women and girls and their roles in the community of East Palo Alto.

Carmen Reynaga- Carmen is the newest member to our staff, but packs a powerful punch!  She has taken on the role of lead teacher in our FutureProfits program, and is our primary community outreach coordinator.  In her short time on staff she has pole-vaulted NCUD into the Spanish media limelight.

Kirsten Devlin- I will be the moderator of this blog and will also share my contributions each Wednesday.  My primary focus will be on how poverty is the breeding ground for injustice and oppression, and also how I see the dissemination of information and awareness through pop culture, music, film and beyond.