To Be Inspired — Volunteer

June 17, 2011

I went to be inspired, and I was.

Hands On Greater DC Cares held their annual conference, called the Impact Summit, on June 15 in Washington, DC. I think everyone has an obligation to give back, so I wanted a closer look at an organization and at people who live that philosophy every day. I wasn’t disappointed. Volunteerism and partnerships were the buzzwords of the day. The people I met are doing truly great work.

Although the opening session started with some not-so-good statistics, it was followed by an outline of issues facing the area, along with potential solutions and some success stories. I felt as if I was receiving an insider’s view of the District, and it was very interesting.

Washington, DC facts on file:

The poverty rate ranges from18 to 35 percent.

Unemployment rates are 15 to 23 percent.

Up to 21 percent do not have high school diplomas.

However, DC is a knowledge town. Unemployment is only 3 percent for the college-educated over the age of 25, according to Sylvia Benatti, University of the District of Columbia professor, who also listed the above stats. It was mentioned later that there used to be quite a few trade schools in the city, but the focus changed to information, and many of the schools closed. A number of people cited the need for a renewed focus on manufacturing and trades.

Tough issues facing the District include education, health and employment, as with most urban environments. Transportation was also raised.

Dr. Bruce Anthony Jones, University of South Florida professor, noted that urban school leadership is in a perpetual state of crisis. He said we need to focus on retaining our leaders and developing a collective purpose.

Dr. Pierre Vigilance, George Washington University professor, stressed that “health is not medical, it is social, and it is environmental”. He said that only 7 percent of the population lack health insurance, but we don’t have good health outcomes.

A later session focused on the economy. After identifying barriers, panelists were asked to identify solutions and emerging trends that are making a difference. All three panelists stressed the need for partnerships and working together.

Lindsey Buss, President of Martha’s Table, described how farms outside of DC are helping with the recent increase in need for food. He said we need to continue to look outside the region for solutions.

Stephen Glaude, Director of Community Affairs in the DC Mayor’s Office, said we need to recognize our interdependence on outside regions, as well as our interdependence within the city wards. Just five months into the new city administration, Glaude said that they are making progress in some areas, albeit all the problems in the news, but that some programs need review. He also stressed that government, as a rule, is not quick. (Don’t quote me on that; I can’t remember his exact words, but I do agree that governments are not known to be quick responders. That’s just the nature of the beast.)

Michael Ferrell, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Homeless, agreed. He noted the successes he’s had collaborating with other service providers, particularly in the area of moving people into transitional and permanent housing.

According to Buss, housing should come first. It’s very difficult to get people to focus on education or employment when they’re worrying about where they’re going to stay for the night.

Throughout the day, collaboration kept coming up. Many nonprofits partner with other groups for services they don’t or can’t provide. Most organizations also rely on volunteers, but volunteerism seems to have risen to a whole new level. Now we’re talking about the need for skilled volunteers. Rather than just coming in to do what’s needed, many volunteer positions now have an explicit work plan with goals. Many nonprofits couldn’t get by without these people, or at the least would have a difficult time.

That’s what I think is so interesting about Greater DC Cares. They’re connected all throughout the city, with the government, businesses and nonprofits. They train and steer volunteers to appropriate opportunities, and also help businesses either determine what type of volunteers they need or how to encourage employees to volunteer where needed. They do a lot of other stuff as well.

The people I met are doing such good work. When I asked, “what do you do?” responses included: “We provide vehicles for people.” “We run after-school programs for at-risk kids.” “We provide transitional housing.” “We support young people in high school and through their first two years of college.” “We feed people.” Wow.

A bunch of awards were given out, which I won’t mention here. You can go to their website: You should, because the winners have great stories.

What really struck me though throughout the whole conference was the attitude of those in attendance. I was delighted to be among such a large group of positive and happy people. Although they’re trying to solve daunting problems, I think they know they’re making a difference, and that’s what matters in the end.


Endangered Species Affect Our Ecosystems

February 17, 2011

Species on the brink of extinction affect us all more than we may realize. Sure, the pandas are cute, and the rhinos are fun to look at, but is there any more to it than that? Absolutely.

All animal and plant life is part of a complex ecosystem that also includes our lands and our waters. Remove one or more of those parts and you damage the ecosystems, sometimes beyond restoration. These ecosystems provide clean water, breathable air, fertile soils, climate control, food, medicine, energy, building materials, transportation, as well as recreational and spiritual uses. Many groups are working to protect endangered species and their habitats; they are mentioned throughout this post and at the end.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service:

415 species are endangered in the US

164 species are threatened in the US

541 species are endangered in other countries

50 species are threatened in other countries

In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Why should we save endangered species? The introduction recognizes that endangered and threatened wildlife and plants “are of esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.” The purpose of the ESA is to “protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems upon which they depend.” It is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) , “destructive human activities” have increased the rate of species extinction from 100 to 1000 times the natural rate. WWF lists the following 8 animals as flagship endangered species. Flagship species are used as icons to denote the broader problem. (All info on the 8 taken from


Tigers are one of the most threatened species in the world, with only about 3200 Tigers left in the wild. The biggest threats to these animals are growing human populations, habitat loss, illegal hunting, trade of tiger parts used in medicines.

Adopt a Tiger here. *

Although pandas are one of the most popular and famous animals on earth, there are only about 2500 pandas left in the wild. The biggest threats they face are habitat fragmentation and unsustainable development.

Adopt a Panda here. *

Sumatran Rhinoceroses
This smallest of the living rhinoceroses is critically endangered, with only 300 alive in the wilds. The biggest threats to these animals are habitat loss and poaching. The forests in which they live need to be saved.

Adopt a Rhino here. *

Polar Bears
Not endangered as yet, polar bears number between 20,000 to 25,000, perhaps due to the 1973 International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears and their Habitat. However, culture change and warming trends pose a very real threat to polar bears over the next century.

Adopt a Polar Bear here. *

Seven of thirteen whale species are endangered or vulnerable. The greatest threats include oil and gas development in feeding grounds, collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing lines, commercial killing, toxic contamination, climate change and habitat vulnerability.

Pygmy Elephants
Smaller than other Asian elephants, pygmy elephants number only about 1600 in the wild. Biggest threats to these elephants are habitat loss and human conflict.

Adopt an Elephant here. *

Marine Turtles
Many marine turtles are endangered and critically close to extinction.
“Having traveled the seas for over 100 million years, sea turtles have outlived almost all of the prehistoric animals with which they once shared the planet. Having survived the extinction of the dinosaurs, marine turtles still inhabit the oceans’ open waters and coastal habitats, feeding on jellyfish and other aquatic plants and animals.”**
Marine turtles can reproduce abundantly, but even under “natural” conditions, few young turtles survive, and it can take decades for turtles to reach maturity. Biggest threats include habitat destruction, egg collection, hunting, entanglement in fishing lines, and climate change.

Adopt a Sea Turtle here. *

Great Apes
This group includes gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees, and are all endangered, some critically so. They are also our closest wild relatives. Serious threats to the great apes include disease, hunting, trade, habitat loss and climate change.

Adopt a Gorilla here. *

What You Can Do

Humane Society Campaigns

National Wildlife Refuge System You Can Help

Endangered Species Program How You Can Help

Humane Society International

Humane Society of the US

World Wildlife Fund Act Now

*I am a big fan of the World Wildlife Fund, so I’ve included links to their “adopt an endangered species” program, simply because I think it’s a cool and fun idea.

** From

Note:  Pictures do not accurately represent species listed. They’re just cute pictures. And, yes, I went a little nuts with the bears. (

Issues that Matter: Obese Children, Malnourished Children, By the Numbers

February 5, 2011

More than 25 million children in the U.S. are overweight, but at least 3 million children worldwide died of hunger and malnutrition in 2008.* Obesity is the 2nd leading cause of preventable disease and death, preceded only by smoking.

Experts agree that in the last 30 years, childhood obesity has doubled or even tripled in many large countries such as the United States and Canada. Other countries on this list include Australia, Japan, Germany, Spain and the UK. Some lower and middle income countries, like Brazil, are battling both obesity and malnutrition. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes.

Adult obesity is also on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), none of the 50 states met the “Healthy People 2010” obesity target of 15 percent. CDC data shows that in 2007-2008, approximately 72.5 million adults in the United States were obese (CDC, unpublished data, 2010). A study from 1987 to 2001 showed a 27 percent increase in medical costs for diseases associated with obesity. Obesity medical costs exceed $147 billion. The CDC also estimates that obese persons have medical costs $1429 higher (2008) than people with normal weight.

On the flip side, Bread for the World estimates that worldwide, 178 million children under 5 have stunted growth, due to malnutrition. “Children who survive early childhood malnutrition suffer irreversible harm—including poor physical growth, compromised immune function, and impaired cognitive ability.” Many of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Central Asia. Bread for the World estimates economic losses in these countries as high as 2-3 percent of the GDP.

Obesity is the result of a calorie intake higher than a calorie output. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) estimates obesity commonly begins at age 5 or 6 and costs society about $100 billion per year. The chance a child will be obese is 50 percent with one obese parent and 80 percent with 2 obese parents. AACAP relates childhood obesity to:

poor eating habits

overeating or binging

lack of exercise

family history of obesity

medical illness


stressful events or life changes

family and peer problems

low self-esteem


Body Mass Index is an indicator of body fat, and may be used to determine overweight and obesity categories. The CDC BMI Calculator, shown here, is for adults over the age of 20. Check with your doctor for overweight and obesity indicators for kids.

BMI For Adults Widget

More statistics from the Clinton Foundation:

The current American generation may be the first in our history to have shorter lives than do their parents.

The average teen eats fast food twice a week.

Only 3 out of 10 of high school seniors report eating green vegetables nearly every day or more.

Almost one in four children does not participate in any free-time physical activity.

A typical American youth spends approximately four to five hours a day watching TV, using the computer or playing video games.

The indirect costs of obesity (such as missed work days and future earnings losses) have been estimated at $56 billion dollars per year.

Children treated for obesity are roughly three times more expensive for the health care system than children of normal weight.

Severely overweight people spend more on health care than smokers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, this can have both immediate and long-term health risks for children (and adults). Topping the list are risk factors for heart disease such as cholesterol and high blood pressure. Potential health problems are many: bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, social and psychological problems. Obese kids are more likely to become obese adults wither higher risks for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, arthritis and cancer.

AACAP makes the following suggestions to combat this problem.

Ways to manage obesity in children and adolescents include:

* start a weight-management program

* change eating habits (eat slowly, develop a routine)

* plan meals and make better food selections (eat less fatty foods, avoid junk and fast foods)

* control portions and consume less calories

* increase physical activity (especially walking) and have a more active lifestyle

* know what your child eats at school

* eat meals as a family instead of while watching television or at the computer

* do not use food as a reward

* limit snacking

* attend a support group (e.g., Overeaters Anonymous)

*Stats from Clinton Foundation and Bread for the World.

Issues that Matter: Illiteracy Costs Us All

December 12, 2010

On a typical day, many of us read the morning newspaper while waking up with coffee. Maybe we leave a short note for our spouse or kids before we leave the house. Perhaps we sign our child’s school paper. Maybe we read and write e-mails and texts from our smart phone. While driving to work, we read the road signs without even thinking about it.

When we reach work, many of us begin reading documents almost immediately, whether its instructions, reports or correspondence. If we go out to lunch, we peruse the menu before selecting. On the way home from work, we may stop at the grocery store, list in hand.

I take those routine tasks for granted, as I’m sure you do as well. Now imagine not being able to read or write. No newspaper. No smart phone. No notes or signing school papers. No work documents. Likely no driving. Ordering the same thing at lunch. No grocery list. The limitations are enormous.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 774 million adults are illiterate in their native language. The number in the US is 30 million; two thirds of those are women.

This is not a post about immigration. Undoubtedly, a certain percentage of the illiteracy rate is due to illegal immigration. This is not a post about human trafficking, although a large percentage of trafficking victims are also illiterate. (See my last post on human trafficking.)

This is a post about Americans who cannot read and write.

ProLiteracy defines literacy as “the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and communty member.”

UNESCO defines literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”

So why is the ability to read and write so important, other than the convenience and necessity of every day life? Many, if not most, socio-economic issues are connected to low literacy:

–More than half of our inmates can barely read or write. According to First Book, an American high school student drops out every 26 seconds. If we could increase the male graduation rate by just 5 percent, we could save up to $49 billion in costs related to crime.

–Illiteracy adds about $200 billion to the cost of health care annually. If you can’t read about disease prevention or even read how much medicine to take, it’s much more difficult to stay healthy. This increases hospital visits and stays as well as use of emergency services.

–Illiteracy contributes to problems of abuse. If you can’t read about your rights, how can you advocate for yourself? Literacy can play a major role in reducing gender inequity.

–Over $225 billion is spent on lost productivity and crime, directly related to literacy. First Book sites how the U.S. Department of Education “expects the literacy gap in America will produce a shortage of 12 million qualified workers in the next decade.”

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) sponsors the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) every decade or so. In the last assessment, undertaken in 2003, 1.1 million people couldn’t even take the test because they are NON-literate.

Monetary costs are, of course, much easier to quantify, but we don’t want to forget about the human cost. Illiteracy limits the capacity of adults and children in so many ways and makes them dependent on the government, their communities and even the kindness of strangers.

How can you get involved?

Find the literacy council nearest you.

Become a tutor. The councils will train you, and give you teaching materials.

Volunteer your time in other ways. Most have volunteer boards and largely volunteer staffs, and would welcome your expertise.

Attend a local fundraiser. Most are community events.

Donate money. Resources are always tight.

In September, the U.S. House of Representatives formed the Adult Literacy Caucus. Urge your member of Congress to join/support this Caucus.

Literacy Resources


First Book 

American Library Association

National Center for Family Literacy

Almanac of Policy Issues  –

America’s Literacy DirectoryNational Center for Education Statistics (NCES) National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) 

Issues that Matter: Human Trafficking

November 29, 2010

Human trafficking has always bothered me, but until I started researching it, I had no idea how prevalent it is, even in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 600,000 to 800,000 individuals are brought across international borders for human trafficking purposes annually. puts that estimate at 900,000 people, many of them children. That’s almost one million people a year. The regions of the world with the most severe trafficking are Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa.

Countries like the U.S. are often “destination countries”, the places to where the victims are brought. According to Sewa-aifw, up to 20,000 victims are brought to the United States annually, many of them young children. The women are usually forced to work in the sex trade or as unpaid, abused domestics. The men are most often forced into migrant farming or factory work, although they occasionally work in the sex trade. The children are used for any or all of those purposes.

Victims are either taken, sold by their families or lured away with false promises of a good job, a better life, a way to provide for their families back home, or a good marriage.

Once the victims are taken, the traffickers use force, threaten to kill the person or the person’s family if the victim doesn’t comply with their orders, or they falsely tell the victim they only have to pay off a certain amount of debt and then will be free. The victims are watched constantly and often kept under lock and key. Their documents are confiscated and they are kept isolated.

Victims are often brought to countries where they don’t speak the language. This encourages isolation and abuse. If they can’t communicate with those around them, how will they get help? Or better yet, how will they know where to go get help?

Sadly, many victims do not realize that they are victims. They may come from a country with a mistrust of government. Or, since they’re being fed and sheltered, they don’t perceive themselves as victims. They may be afraid of the authorities if the traffickers have convinced them they are in debt or otherwise in trouble.

We have our own problems with trafficking, not just as a destination country. Just a week ago, arrests were made in Florida for sex trafficking. In April, nine people in LA were convicted of sex trafficking, after bringing young women in from Guatamala to work as prostitutes. In February, a man in Alaska was arrested for forcing young women to work as prostitutes.

In fiscal year 2009, the FBI launched 167 human trafficking investigations and made 202 arrests. Human trafficking is second only to drug dealing and arms dealing (which are tied for first) as a criminal activity. And the problem is growing.

“It’s sad but true: here in this country, people are being bought, sold, and smuggled like modern-day slaves.” FBI website

The sewa-aifw web site has great information on how to identify victims of human trafficking, how to communicate with potential victims, and victims’ needs and rights.

It tells you how to potentially identify a victim of trafficking. Signs include living with employer, signs of abuse, submissiveness, inability to speak alone, fearfulness, being kept under surveillance.

HHS runs The Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking.  Their web site has loads of information on the issue and how they are working to combat it. It also tells you how you can become involved where you live.

If you come across someone you believe to be a victim of this, call 911.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) National Human Trafficking Resource Center 1-888-3737-888  Operates 24 hours.

U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force Line 1-888-428-7581  Only operates on weekdays, 9am-5pm EST. Call to report a potential case of human trafficking. This is a direct call to Federal law enforcement.

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 Operates 24 hours. Can make local referrals.

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