An overdue nonprofit round up

The last several weeks have featured a bevy of local non profit workshops and presentations.

Two of which happened last Wednesday night— the second in the Yes! Empowerment Series from the YWCA of Bethlehem and a panel on Quality of Life Women’s Issues hosted by American Association of University Women Easton Branch featuring Megan Lago (who coincidentally is my neighbor), the communications director for Lisa Boscola; Janice Thomas, homeless services director for Third Street Alliance for Women and Children; and my former colleague Antoinette Cavaliere (pictured below), program director for ProJeCt of Easton.

It’s energizing that local non profits can interact with each other and the public so fluidly and easily through social media and video conferencing platforms.

The focus of the AAUW panel was the problems facing families during the pandemic, which many of them seemed to revert to age old problems like lack of education and domestic violence.

This week’s YWCA session was on giving and receiving feedback, another interesting reflection on how we communicate and interact with others.

Then I opened my LinkedIn to discover that the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley featured a photo of me, my colleagues and one of our Women United supporters on their LinkedIn post to promote their upcoming Women United event.

That was certainly a wonderful start to the day.

Of mufflers and magic

The last few days have been emotional, challenging and at times full of mirth… so as expected, it is the full moon.

I attended a few trainings and meetings and will be (or was) on the county council meeting agenda to serve on the drug and alcohol task force. I also sat in on a meeting of the YWCA of Bethlehem’s Empowerment and Justice Committee.

Today was the first Friends of Pete mixer since the pandemic started!

But let me not get ahead of myself.

I did two loads of laundry, tended some pets, had coffee with a neighbor, vacuumed my room, tried to get information on my unemployment claim (tried two different agencies and could get through to neither), went for a walk with another neighbor… and learned some high school physics.

And then Sarah, my lead intern in the communications department at ASPIRE to Autonomy visited! It was our first in person meeting despite working virtually practically side by side since June.

She knows the delightful crazy in my house— the naughty cockatoo, the sibling grey cats, the visiting dogs, the foster kittens, marching band, teenagers 1 & 2, the blind poet friend, etc. She’s seen & heard a lot of silly and strange things via video chat.

And now she drove 90 miles to see the real thing. Maybe a should start my own reality television show… and then run for President.

Teenager #1 proclaimed that Sarah was “even prettier in real life.”

She tried to make friends with Nala, met lots of cats, and then I went to take her on a tour of my neighborhood.

And there was construction blocking on end of the street and no lie a MUFFLER and TAILPIPE at the other. To get out of my street, we had to move part of an exhaust system. To which Sarah merely said, “I am not even surprised.”

View from my garage

I drive her to the teenagers school, show her Easton Area High School (the size of which blew her mind), and (don’t judge) visited two Dunkin’ Donuts out of the six within 2.5 miles of my house. We only got drinks at one. Note: Sarah uses almond milk.

We drop the car off and take a walk around the neighborhood which she enjoys because she can’t go anywhere on foot at her house. And she asked a lot of good questions discovering the history of the Dixie cup along the way.

We return to the house because I told Sarah we were going to light a few candles. Apparently I had never mention to Sarah that I was an animist pagan (or in practical terms a witch).

Oops.

Luckily, she has a history as a Catholic and Catholics light as many candles, burn as much incense and if you consider a prayer a spell, then do as magic as witches do.

So around 4:15, we did a candle burning ritual to coincide with the 5:05 full moon. I gave teenager 1 a white candle to draw the positive light to us and keep our intentions pure. I gave teenager 2 a purple candle as I want her to draw peace, calm, and safety into her life. I gave Sarah a blue candle as her friend had cancer surgery today and we wanted to pray for her healing. My candle was green. I need money, a job or some sort of resources.

After Sarah’s first ritual, we left for the Friends of Pete mixer— the Pandemic Breakout Networking event— in downtown Easton. I also showed her my old office at ProJeCt of Easton and then we drove by the new office for ASPIRE.

I reconnected with some old acquaintances— including Gil Bean of InFlow Advisory and Pete Reinke. I met some new people and got to have drinks with my ASPIRE peers. And forgot to finish explaining to Amber, the co-founder of ASPIRE the difference between a Wiccan, a pagan and a witch.

I had a gin-elderberry-lime-berry cocktail and calamari at Ocean. I’d dined at all the other restaurants on the list so it was nice to finally try Ocean.

But let me back up and explain— Friends of Pete is a Lehigh Valley networking group that has a strong LinkedIn presence, a weekly Zoom check in and used to have monthly mixers.

It is how I met Darnell in August 2019.

And Sarah realized she’d been to Easton before— to visit The Crayola Factory. Which I had written the original press release when Binney & Smith first remodeled the old Orr’s store and launched that attraction more than 20 years ago.

Inspired by Vu Le, Nonprofit AF

I attended a Zoom Meeting today with Vu Le of Nonprofit AF hosted by The Gruvin Foundation. Now I know it seems odd for a writer and communicator from the Lehigh Valley to spend time with a foundation focused on Ocean County, N.J., but I had a hunch Vu Le would have a message that transcended geography.

But before I get how right I was, let me celebrate the fact that I attended the meeting in true 2020 remote work fashion—

My Zoom Face

While below the waist, I spotted pajamas.

Let me just say that Vu Le speaks the truth and boldly proclaims what those of us who rely on traditional nonprofit institutions to employ us cannot say.

It’s time for the nonprofit sector to be bolder and more assertive.

Vu Le, Nonprofit AF

He so eloquently described what could be improved about the nonprofit sector. From the basic concepts such as fundraisers should not be judged on how much money they bring in and we should reflect upon the greatest needs in the community versus pushing our own mission.

Le advocates for a change in the ecosystem so that nonprofits stop functioning in silos and foundations and philanthropists stop generating mistrust and wasting time and resources.

For instance, Le reminds us all that GRANT PROPOSALS are a WASTE OF TIME since most never get funded. He poses the question— what if nonprofits employed the same tactics as funders?

A hungry family comes to the food pantry. Before they receive food they have to prepare the following:

  1. Compose an essay detailing how hungry they are.
  2. Include a logic model of exactly how all food will be used.
  3. Prepare outcomes of how this food will benefit your children.

We don’t do that, right?

So, Le asks, why do funders do it to us?

He compares the current nonprofit environment to The Hunger Games and like the book series, he challenges those in the sector to end the game and take down the system.

Vu Le speaking, hosted by Gruvin Foundation

Some more of his simple but mind blowing, completely logical ideas to improve inequality in this country:

  • The “easiest” way to fix society is to elect more women of color. It’s the only way to balance the voice is old white men.
  • The wealthy need to pay their fair share of taxes.
  • Remove corporate influence from politics.
  • Change the two-sided narrative so it’s harder to argue.

Then he reminded us all of this fact: If most social injustice and issues that nonprofits seek to correct effect primarily people of color, why is it that typically…

Non profit boards are white

Non profit staff is white

Donors are white

So white people should allow more people of color decision-making capacity in programs to benefit them. To continue to paraphrase Le, white folks need to stop taking jobs as executive directors for programs that don’t have any impact on white people.

And if funders are only participating in philanthropy to receive the tax breaks, they need to accept that the money is no longer theirs. They need to allow those communities facing the issues at hand to make decisions on how it is spent.

And one of the best ways to promote change in the sector is to encourage funders to give general operating expense funds and let the people doing the work decide where it is needed.

Again, these ideas are not mine but belong to Vu Le of the blog “Nonprofit AF.”

Saturday morning silly

First, let me say— hats off to the legendary Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who passed away yesterday at the age of 87. Her time on the Supreme Court, her legacy and the documentary film on her life, RBG, have touched millions of people— male and female—who may or may not know how her thoughts and actions have influenced their lives.

My posting lately has been inconsistent because I have been finishing some grants and the annual report for ASPIRE to Autonomy, Inc. The former I must give credit to my amazing interns Kayla and Sarah, and the latter is in the hands of my talented graphic designer (and partner in crime) Gayle.

Who else would take it in stride when I jokingly send photos like this (below) for the annual report and understand my hastily scrawled notes?

In the midst of it all, I’m still looking for a job, dealing with paperwork, adapting to hybrid school and ever present teenagers (who truly bring laughter and vibrancy into my life), socializing the foster kittens, developing a routine for the sassy cockatoo, battling the teen-and-pet laundry mountain, and collecting hospital bills. And poorly trying to find time and energy to improve my own health and return to weight training.

But this is a Saturday Silly Post!

So random sillies…

Yesterday Darnell popped over to finalize some projects for ASPIRE. He got hungry for a sandwich so I recommended my non-downtown spot. If you are in downtown Easton, the best spot for a sandwich is Josie’s New York Deli.

But when you’re not downtown, the place to go for a sandwich is Park Avenue Market. But they are slow. It takes them forever to make a hoagie. But they are pieces of art.

Darnell had his mind blown by their Dietz and Watson Bacon Lovers Turkey Breast and Bacon Lovers cheddar.

I tried the seafood salad with the dill havarti and shared it with the teenager. But the teenager was in a bit of an impatient frenzy because her Universal Yums box from Colombia came. So, Darnell was kind enough to film our unboxing video.

Colombia Universal Yums unboxing

In addition, I got my Ipsy bag, which had a tiny Tarte mascara (the cutest mascara I’ve ever seen), some color correction crème, and a day-to-night eyeshadow palette very similar to my all time favorite but darker shades so I offered that to the teenager. Her skin tone is darker than mine and I thought it would suit her well.

I’m really tempted to upgrade to the Glam Bag Plus.

And finally, on Thursday, my creative friend Joan came over and asked Nan to join us, so when I went to get Nan we went to Dunkin Donuts since the weather has changed to brisk Autumn. And we got her opinion on the new stuffed bagel minis.

Nan’s review: Nan’s review of stuffed bagel minis

And if you missed the teenager and I in our earlier review: New Dunkin stuffed bagel minis

Remember folks— the fun is in the little things.

Communication and Creative Language

Last night, some of the team at ASPIRE to Autonomy Inc — myself, my amazing intern Sarah, and one of our founders, Amber— decided to support The YWCA of Bethlehem and improve our communication skills by attending the YW’s Yes! Empowerment Series sponsored by Provident Bank Foundation.

I had a great time and it sounded like my colleagues were having fun at this virtual workshop on building powerful communication skills.

The workshop was facilitated by Danielle Adams of QueenSuite Coaching. I enjoyed her style and approach as she deftly encouraged us to write our intentions, guided us through an exercise in drawing what we hear, and discussed listening, speaking and leading styles and how they intersect.

It reminded me of a story I like to tell— even though my husband and I know each other down to the minutest detail, we struggle to communicate. Our brains are much too different. So I can’t do projects with him.

Let’s say we were designing a logo. I could write specific instructions of what I wanted and when he finished it would not even resemble what I had in my head.

I can send the same exact directions to my friend Gayle, yes the same Gayle of walking adventures, and she will transform it into my vision.

Painlessly.

It happened again today as we are working together on ASPIRE’s annual report. I had some quirky ideas so I was nervous sending them to design. And then Darnell asked if Gayle could help.

I was ecstatic when he asked because I needed her. I knew she would be faster and give clean design on a short time frame.

And she sent me her first days’ progress— I’m giddy.

It’s been a long time since I had the freedom to implement my ideas.

And so far, I think Darnell is pleased too.

Anyway— point is— some people struggle to work together effectively and it’s not because one party is “wrong” or “inept” or “stubborn” or “hostile,” sometimes people have different styles and their brains don’t mesh.

What matters is how we respond to those difficulties.

Those days

Today was one of those days where I got a variety of outstanding projects done, slept better than usual, barely got any steps in and felt like I made an impact working on Aspire to Autonomy’s annual report for 2019-2020.

As I’ve mentioned it’s an exciting time to be part of this team and the interns working in my department bring so much enthusiasm and knowledge to the table that it is a joy to mentor them.

I even practiced my chopstick skills with the teenager’s tutelage so I would embarrass myself less at future sushi meetings. We used old toothbrushes and I could only master the “cheater” method.

The teenager rescued Buddy (the dog next door) from an empty house as his human has been spending a lot of time away from home.

It was a dreary day today— the weather hospitably cool— but my mood shifted later in the day, I think due to not eating enough.

I found myself irritable over things I have no right to be irritable about.

Large sodas at Wendy’s require a life jacket

I drove the teenager to marching band and then sneaked to Wendy’s for a vanilla Frostyccino and since they had a coupon for a $1 soft drink I got my neighbor a Diet Coke.

Of course, I already got a $2 iced coffee from Dunkin’ today. Buddy joined us for the ride and Darnell joined us for coffee.

So that means I’ve had three cups of coffee today.

But there is something soothing about being alone in the car. Even the long drive thru line wasn’t a bother. It allowed me to sit quietly and reflect, and to people-watch.

Sometimes a peaceful moment comes from what otherwise might be an annoyance.

Why I Aspire

It’s been an exciting week for Aspire to Autonomy, Inc., and an even more exciting Friday night!

As early as Monday, the communications team at Aspire will be sending out a press release talking about all of this excitement. If you are reading this, you are getting a taste of what the media will learn Monday.

On Monday, our new team of 6+ social work interns from the graduate programs of Kutztown and Marywood universities started work with Aspire. So it’s great to have new people with new energy and new voices.

In the middle of the week, as Darnell and I were trying to put the finishing touches on the organization’s 2019-2020 Annual Report, Amber let us know that Northampton County had approved Aspire’s grant application for more than $8,000 to provide masks and hand sanitizer to the underserved and unsheltered.

Today, Aspire learned that Just Born has awarded the Community Intervention Service pilot program a $2,500 grant.

On top of all of this, Aspire had the opportunity to host a hot meal distribution of quality vegetarian Indian food from Aman’s Artisanal Indian Cuisine on Northampton Street in downtown Easton.

Aman’s worked with Lehigh Valley Sikhs to pay for and prepare these generous meals that Aspire distributed to the elderly, disabled and other underserved individuals identified as part of the Communities Impacting Communities program, primarily in West Ward, Easton, but also in Wilson borough.

Bulk meal distributions happened at Third Street Alliance for Women and Children and other Lehigh Valley non-profits. I helped distribute some meals at Third Street, with teenager in tow, and delivered others to families in my own neighborhood who I know have been furloughed since the beginning of the pandemic.

As I was leaving, Darnell gave me one of the single person bags to give to my blind, senior citizen friend, Nan.

I hadn’t even thought about her— her fixed income, her disability, her reliance on friends for what she needs, and her age. To me, she’s just my good friend and partner in crime. I was touched that Darnell remembered Nan and wanted the outreach to help her too.

This is why I Aspire—the Lehigh Valley is one of the most populated regions in the state. Its transportation infrastructure makes every other region of the country super accessible. It has proximity to New York City, Philadelphia and the New Jersey shipping ports.

Human trafficking happens here and it may not look like what you expect it to look like.

Human trafficking is modern day slavery.

Aspire to Autonomy wants to find trafficking victims and give them the tools and support they need to rebuild an independent life. But they are forward-thinking and broad-reaching and grassroots in their vision.

They celebrated their second anniversary in July and they are gaining momentum every day.

Their anti-trafficking vision also helps strengthen our communities and forges partnerships and connections that hopefully will improve life for every underserved citizen. Because traffickers prey on the vulnerable, and if we strengthen our bonds in our neighborhoods, traffickers won’t have a place to hide. Or a place to hunt.

This is Why I Aspire. Anti-trafficking may sound like a niche, but helping our neighbors is not.

So, as I wrote this, Nan finished her first meal of the goodies from Aman’s that I brought her. As a blind person, she couldn’t quite recall what everything was but she offered strong reviews of the deliciousness.

She had some of the “cross between vegetable soup and vegetarian chili” (lentil and black bean curry) and loved the “cucumber salad” (cucumber salad with chick peas) and had to dip a spoon in the “fruity pudding” (sweet pudding). She reports that the individual bag is at least two meals, but the cucumber salad probably won’t last the night.

She confirmed that she has never had Indian food before and that she is now a fan.

And she asked me—after making me promise to thank Darnell, “is it okay to have Indian food for breakfast?”

Animals and astrology

Today was hard. In ways I didn’t expect.

It didn’t start that way as it started with all five FURR kittens from the Greek Pride coming to eat at the same time!!!

Starting with the black cat and moving clockwise: Hades, Apollo (you can’t see his head), Zeus, Hermes (not quite at the bowl) and Artemis

That was super exciting as the exclamation points denote.

I indulged in the self-care that usually helps, but instead I feel worse. Went for a walk. Still in a bad mood. But Sobaka followed me home and refused to leave my side.

So I indulged in stress eating, and that didn’t help.

My horoscope didn’t help as several different astrology sites, including my favorite astrology app Co-Star, warned me things wouldn’t be easy.

Of course, there has to be a reference to Fire/Mars. A friend I recently alienated is a Fire sign and oh so Mars.

So I tried retail therapy— and this was a totally stupid move because:

  1. I don’t have any income right now and my savings will only cover two months living expenses.
  2. I paused my Ipsy subscription yet I ordered cosmetics.
  3. I not only ordered cosmetics but I ordered Goth cosmetics so I’m probably not going to be able to pull off the look.

But in my defense, I ordered $60 worth of cosmetics, but found a 20% off discount code, and paid $5 shipping for a total of about $55. And I qualified for a $5 American Express statement credit for supporting small business.

I sent the teenager this photo to select a red lipstick for herself

That merely made me feel guilty.

And, as my last effort to revive my spirits, I walked down to Darnell’s house for a business meeting— both for Thrive Public Relations and for Aspire to Autonomy.

I brought the teenager along to meet The Household Dog.

Here is the two of them: The teenager and Baby Boy (video)

The energy of working with Darnell, Amber and Melanie (all members of the Aspire team) revived my energy. Darnell even invited me to stay for a fish sandwich but the teenager needed me to come home and med the kittens of our pride.

Then, she left for her dad’s and I came upstairs to share dinner with my cockatoo, Nala. She was super bratty and bitey so I put her on the floor. I was losing my temper.

And she walked to the budgie cage. Climbed it. Pulled out the newspaper on the bottom of the cage…

And pooped!

I’m about to continue on with my evening, but I had to give the animals credit for making me smile.

Aspire featured on Lehigh Valley with Love

I’m very excited to announce that my dear friend and colleague, Darnell Davis, from Aspire to Autonomy, Inc., “appeared” on George Wacker’s Lehigh Valley with Love.

Episode 113: Lehigh Valley with Love Podcast

George and I worked together at Lehigh Valley News Group in 2006, when he served as editor of the E… oh dear me I am old and senile… I know it was East Penn/Emmaus area, but I can’t remember what the newspaper’s name was… East Penn News sounds right because each paper was named after the school district and it’s the East Penn School District and Emmaus High School.

Sorry to babble like that but it was almost 15 years ago. My teenager was younger than his daughter is now.

I served as managing editor when those papers launched and George always had a certainty creativity and a penchant for thinking outside the box. We had a weekly entertainment column shared by all six of our papers and if I remember correctly George pitched most of our concepts.

So I was not surprised when George developed his own media company and that he’s scooped the main media outlets in town and created some phenomena— google “Lehigh Valley Snow Camel” and know that George broke that story.

Now, like George, Darnell has a big creative energy, vivacious speech, and will not shy away from what needs to be said.

So I wanted to get these two together. And George put a call out for potential guests on his podcast.

Today George shared with me the link for that final podcast. And I’ve very excited to share it. The content may get heavy at times but these guys kept the conversation going in a natural organic manner.

They reference some of the Valley’s food— I won’t spoil it here. But when it comes to cheesesteaks I vote for Joe’s Steak Shop in Phillipsburg and hot dogs would have to be from outside the Lehigh Valley and go with Hot Dog Johnny’s in Belvidere, N.J. A few years ago it would have had to be Charlie’s Pool Room in Alpha, N.J.

Walking Wednesday

Today starting with me reluctant to climb from my bed at 6 a.m. but the three-legged cat and the other old cat (Opie and Oz) had stayed in my room with me and Opie wanted out.

I fed everyone and started the dishes and the wash, only to discover later that I never turned on the water to the dishwasher. So had to restart that. We all have those early morning moments.

Since my daughter was with her dad, I took the rest of the mint chocolate chip ice cream to my room and ate it with an iced tea spoon (after all, recall my dishes were going).

And then I checked on the freshly neutered kittens and spent some time with the bird.

Meanwhile Nala, my Goffin’s cockatoo, and I, had a good cuddle but then she got rambunctious and started biting. So I took her back to her cage. Not in her cage. But away from me.

She did not like that.

Video of Nala’s tantrum: Angry Nala

This afternoon, I came to visit my friend Gayle in South Bethlehem to do a Volkssport walk. Volkssporting is a type of organized walking that allows family and friends to walk together on a organized route written by people from that area that want to show others the highlights. You can earn miles & collect events for, for lack of a better work, status in the club.

The South Bethlehem walk is a scenic spin through Lehigh University’s Campus (where I noticed a family of deer!) followed by a tour of the Greenway and then the ArtsQuest/former Bethlehem Steel properties.

And as if this fun wasn’t enough— Gayle made me a great light summer meal.

And then Gayle and I attended the Act 197 training sponsored by Aspire to Autonomy.