Saturday, November 17, 2007
There are people within our community that bless us with their charity and good will towards humanity regularly, and Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to give them thanks. Rarely do they get their just recognition, but I'm happy to say that a dear friend of mine has received exactly that. I'm thankful that she was not only recognized, but she was empowered to continue her mission as well.
Wendi is actually my oldest friend, and I have known her for almost twenty years now. Since the moment I met her I thought she was very talented, and her skills with a paintbrush and color quite remarkable. As a person that grew up with a painter for a mother, I think I've had more exposure to art than most in the US - so I dare say that my opinion of Wendi's work carries some weight. I clearly recall art and music gradually leaving public education and my mother's concern about that. She sent my brother and I to art camps in the summertime because she firmly believed that the arts were an important part of education, regardless of whether or not we pursued it career wise - and I'd agree. When Wendi was in college she had an assignment that I believe was centered around bring art awareness. And although I can't remember the exact assignment, I will never forget what she did with it. She decided that since she had to go without art education in elementary school (we attended in different states, and she's a bit younger than I), that she would set about getting it into school somehow. She found out that teachers have a small amount of funds that they can work with, to take the kids on field trips or other activities they thought relevant or necessary. So she arranged a meeting with several teachers from a particular school and offered them an art class. All the teachers had to do was provide the art supplies, and Wendi went in there on a weekly basis to teach things as simple as the color wheel and how to mix colors. She made sure that the funds went far, and that they could get a fairly practical education in the arts as well - keeping in mind that it may be the only one they would ever have. Maybe I'm wrong, but I seriously doubt there was anybody in Wendi's class that dedicated that much time or put that kind of thoughtful effort into their assignments. The kids were grateful and had a great time with it. I thought it was pure brilliance, and a priceless gift. Now fast forward a few years...
Last year Wendi told me she was going to start her own charity called "The Giving Tree" - yep, after the book. When she told me that it was going to involve art, I was thrilled because I'd been wishing that her life would simply revolve around her talents for quite a while. I didn't understand it thoroughly at that time, but it's pretty diverse (and too much for me to keep up with!). It evolved out of a job she held with a charity just prior, where she created artistic projects for disabled and/or disadvantaged people (young and old). What I do understand about it is that she was empowering homeless graffiti-artists to turn their work into a career. She arranged art shows that would feature a known artist to draw a decent crowd, then helped the kids get their works together to show with that artist in the same gallery. That way they can share the success of having their work seen by the public, while having an opportunity to meet a real working artist. It not only helps bolster their self-esteem; but it also lets them see for themselves that using the talents they already have, they can create a legitimate career for themselves. Wendi is providing inspiration and hope by setting an example for these kids, while giving them the education and tools they need to make it actually happen.
Just a couple weeks ago, Wendi wrote to tell me about an award her charity had received. She won a bit of funds to further her cause, which was a relief after practically going into poverty in order to get it up and running. Better yet, she has gotten quite a bit of publicity on a local level, and we are hoping that will help too. There is a great organization in Portland Oregon (where she lives) that is dedicated to helping these types of charities along through recognition, and that is exactly who gave her the award. Part of what they do is give all kinds of incentives to the public to donate to the various organizations they represent. As an extension of the award that Wendi has received, came an extra bonus; if she can receive enough donations via this organization by the end of the year, she will be rewarded with even more funds for her charity. There is a list of things we can win when we donate that is practically endless too, most are for people living in Portland Oregon where she lives, but as you will see in her letter (below) she has figured out a beautiful way to give thanks to those that live outside Oregon as well:
My name is Wendi, and I run a nonprofit organization here in Portland, Oregon called The Giving Tree. The Giving Tree was born out of my job at a property management company working with low-income housing residents. When I saw that there was a steep drop off in services once an individual was housed off the streets and provided with the basic necessities to survive, I knew that I had to take action. You and I wouldn't be happy sitting in a tiny room wearing second-hand clothes and eating a can of peaches from a food box. Nobody would. Just because people are poor does not mean they can't lead rich lives. The Giving Tree helps people lead fuller lives by bringing them direct access to the arts (through trips to galleries, conversations with artists, and art classes), education (we run after school homework clubs at two low-income housing sites and a computer lab that is open to everyone), and recreation (imagine taking a group of kids from the city camping for the first time in their lives!).
I'm very excited to announce that on November 9 I was awarded the 2007 Skidmore Prize in the Community category for my work through The Giving Tree. As part of the prize, The Giving Tree is featured in this year's Willamette Week Give! Guide, which offers a number of incentives to donors. This is a huge opportunity for us, as we are a very new organization and are just now building our capacity and raising awareness about our programs.
It would be so wonderful if you could help me help others by donating to The Giving Tree through the Give! Guide. Donations can be as small as $10, and any donation of $25 and above will be handsomely rewarded with fabulous gifts and coupons. And, if you are capable of donating $250 or more (you rule!), there are even more delights in store. You can read about all of the sweet incentives at the Give! Guide website.
Your generous contribution through the Give! Guide will go toward our purchase of a 15 passenger van, which we will use for fun activities such as taking our young clients to Mt. Hood to go sledding (some of them for their very first time!), and our older clients to the Japanese Gardens to experience the cherry blossoms in the springtime. Even if you can only donate $25, if you can get three friends to each also donate the same amount, that's $100 toward enriching people's lives in ways they've never even dreamed of. That's pretty powerful.
As an added bonus to us, if we raise the most money we get an extra thousand dollars straight from the folks at Willamette Week There’s also $500 for the group in second place, and $300 and $200 for third and fourth, respectively. The same holds true if we are the organization that raises the greatest number of donations from people 35 and under! How awesome is that? So you win because you know you donated to an awesome cause and you get a fantastic packages of prizes in return, we win because we get the funds we need to run our programs, and our clients win because they get to participate in more creative, fun, educational activities!
If money is tight and you can't spare even $10 to help, please pass the word along to your friends and family by talking about The Giving Tree and the Give! Guide with them, emailing them and posting bulletins and blogs about us, and introducing as many people as you can to the work that I am doing through family newsletters etc. If you can reach just one person and influence them to give to the Giving Tree, you’ve made a positive impact!
Thanks so much for all of your help! You rock.
President and Founder
The Giving Tree
PS - I've come up with a cool incentive for out of state donors, too, since they probably won't really care much about all of those Portland-centric coupons. Any out of state folks who donate over $50 will be entered into a drawing to win art by amazing Portlanders such as Kim Hutchins (to view her work please go to http://www.genuineimitation.com/past.html), Barry Mack, and Troy Briggs. So go ahead and pass this on to your old college roommate in Moosejaw or your sister in Kalamazoo, because they too can be in the running for sweet prizes!
Sites you can access to learn more about The Giving Tree and to DONATE!
The Giving Tree website
Give! Guide website: www.wweek.com/giveguide
Give! Guide donation page
With every new day we are given an opportunity to right our wrongs, and it's good to give thanks to those that help make that possible, encourage us, or enable us to do so in some way. One of the greatest examples I know of on how just one person can make a real difference is the story of Cole Miller, who founded the non-profit "No More Victims.org" If you go to the "about Us page you won't see his name, but scroll all the way to the bottom and you will find a YouTube video where he introduces himself. The premise is so simple, yet very powerful and meaningful. Please visit the site to be inspired and maybe even take action yourself, that is precisely what this organization can help you do.
Another thing that I'm grateful for is the recent increase in service members that have decided to go AWOL, rather than serve a never ending and illegal war (IMO). Of course I cannot speak to their individual reasons, but I'm thankful nonetheless.
I wanted to refresh people's memory about a truly great patriot, one that we should be sincerely thankful for for. Please read about Lt. Ehren Watada's story if you are not already familiar with it.
Towards the end of this video below, Lt. Watada tells us we are needed by those that have chosen to refuse further service, and exactly how we can support them too; so I hope you will listen to his entire speech here.
On the same website I provided to read about this incredible patriot's story (above), they give an email address where you can write him a letter of thanks. I did just that, as I did last year. I invite you to read my letter below, and I hope it inspires you to do the same.
My letter to Lt. Watada:
Subject: Most honorable Lt. Ehren Watada...
Body: ...you have held my attention since you took your stance against the war. I'm hopeful that in light of the current reports of steep increases in AWOLs, that your fellow service members and Americans alike will turn to your story for strength if and when they have moments of weakness. Surely this is no easy task, no matter how right. I'm thankful that your story is there for all to turn to when faced with such difficult decisions, and the even more difficult challenge to follow through with them as honorably as you have. As having only lived a civilian life myself, I look to those with military experience to inform me. I know you are far from alone when it comes to officers that felt the need to leave their military career in order to get their message to us. I want you to know that I'm listening, and that I believe you have provided endless inspiration for all of us in this time of need.
Bless you for being a true leader; not as one that served under obligation, but with a real sense of duty to the troops that looked to you for leadership they knew they could trust. The fact that you were so close to being released from your contractual duties and chose this path instead, says volumes to me. To know that you would sooner spend six years in prison than bring dishonor to your service and leadership is just incredible. You have my deepest respects. Not only was your service distinguished, but your personal integrity is rare and practically unheard of within our civilian leadership in America today. I understand and know how you do your family proud too (all parents should be so lucky).
Person to person, you are simply my hero!
I think of you often, and I'm so grateful for your patriotism and your fearless fight for what is right. This Thanksgiving I give thanks for people like you; who provide honorable leadership, and have shown limitless conviction, strength and bravery when standing up for what you believe to be truly right. Most people learn best when solid examples are set, and I'm very thankful for the one you have set for our nation and for those looking to the US from abroad. When it comes to the appreciation that I have for your ability to speak so clearly about the illegality and unconstitutionality of the war, I just can't thank you enough. I have like-minded thoughts that I express and fight for regularly, but it would almost be meaningless or powerless if I didn't have people like you to point to with your kind of experience, expertise and excellence.
Thank you Lt. Ehren Watada.
I hope you have just as much to be thankful for (if not more) over the holidays. May you be blessed with the honor and justice you deserve.
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- I had been writing a News & Politics column for an online magazine for a little over three years, and just last fall opened this blog to continue publication. I also had the pleasure of being the associate producer for a progressive talk radio host for about a year. Alittle of everything... I've advised small businesses, and I paint all kinds of things (boxes, figurines, greeting cards, personalized children's and other dish-wares, decor...). I still paint when I can, but mainly I'm manage a wholesale company for a Fair Trade, eco-friendly Jewelry & Homewares designer/producer out of Bali called, Verlu. You can see a full catalog of our line on the website, and there is now a list of our retailers for you to visit too. "Wear in everybody's Good Health!"