Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Anti-Poverty Mom's 2015 Gift Picks

Another season of giving, another search to cross items off the gift list for loved ones and people we don't know so well...
Is it possible to turn shopping into an opportunity to do good and help others instead of just checking off a chore list?
Of course! For 2015, here are my suggestions of three companies with great gifts that also help people in need. Family and friends can take note that I currently own none of the the items listed here...hint, hint... :)

1) Noonday Accessories
I had the good fortune to meet Julia Jenkins, a Noonday representative, at dinner when she was wearing some absolutely stunning jewelry. I was even more stunned by the stories behind the pieces. All of the Noonday Collection is made from artisans - mostly women - in developing nations who need a chance at empowerment. A partnership with his company offers them work with dignity and create beautiful things! I'm particularly fond of the Emebet Necklace for $42, which is made by a group of HIV+ women in Ethiopia. Julia told me that when these women lost hope struggling with the disease and the stigma of it, they left their families to travel up a particular mountain where the sick have traditionally gone to die. But instead, they found both free, life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and an opportunity to make a living by crafting with dignity. The metal comes from spent artillery shells that they retrieve and mold. I also love the delicate Calypso earrings for $30 which are made from ethically harvested water buffalo horn in Ethiopia. There are many beautiful bags, scarves, and jewelry pieces which support the artisans, plus 10% of every sale helps support adoptive families as well.
Calypso Earrings
Emebet Necklace

2) Cyberoptix
Folks that know me are aware that I've got a strong geeky side to me. I love t-shirts with maps of stars, retro library references, and other tech things. I also love pretty things, too! Cyberoptix understand this and have used geeky inspiration to create lovely fashions that everyone can enjoy! All styles can be ordered as ties or pashminas. Ties are $30 and pashmina scarves are $44.

The folks at Cyberoptix also give back plenty to their community of Detroit where they create their fashions. They work with several local charities that benefit youth employment, schools, and transitional work programs.
Radiation Warning Pashmina

Dinosaur Bones Tie
Constellation Tie

Library Stamp Card Pashmina

3) LifeStraw
This is a great gift for the camper, hiker, germaphobe, or survivalist on your list! LifeStraw is a pocket-sized, personal water filter capable of filtering 1,000 liters of water, which is enough water for a person for an entire year. It uses a hollow fiber technology for filtration that uses no chlorine nor iodine. It traps 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria - including E. coli - and 99.9% of waterborne protozoan parasites. PLUS, for each one sold. a year's wroth of clean drinking water is provided to those in need.

A standard LifeStraw is $19.99, but you can get one with a water bottle attached for $34.95  or one made of steel for $54.95.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Gift of RESULTS

We are on the threshold of a season of giving. Thanksgiving is coming up quickly followed by #GivingTuesday, Chanukah, Christmas, and a general time when folks figure out how to allocate end of year giving to charities. Many of us are making choices about what organizations we'll support and for how much. So at this time, I'd like to share a bit about myself and why RESULTS is at the top of my annual donation list of poverty-fighting organizations in the hopes that you might like to join in and donate to my RESULTS Virtual Thanksgiving Feast online donation page.

My story
I started my poverty-fighting in a soup kitchen. I loved to help people in that way, but there came a time in my early days of motherhood when a hands-on, direct service soup kitchen was not the right way for me to volunteer anymore. I was a new stay-at-home mother having quit my job as an engineer. In brutally cold Chicago winters, I stayed inside a lot and listened to news about all the problems of the world and thought about all the mothers who couldn’t feed or vaccinate their babies the way I could. But I felt very disconnected and utterly powerless to change any of it.

When I started advocating with RESULTS, all of that feeling of futility was turned completely around. 

RESULTS is a movement of passionate, committed everyday people. Together, we use our voices to influence political decisions that will bring an end to poverty. Volunteers receive training, support, and inspiration to become skilled advocates. In time, we learn to effectively advise policy makers, guiding them towards decisions that improve access to education, health, and economic opportunity. Together we realize the incredible power we possess to use our voices to change the world.

This smart, effective organization taught me about the main causes of poverty (malnutrition, lack of education, etc.) and real strategies to end poverty in our country and around the world. More importantly, they showed me how to raise my voice and ask for those solutions on behalf of those in poverty who can't ask for themselves. I learned to write letters to the editor that actually got published from my local paper to The New York Times. I learned to sit down face-to-face with my Congresswoman. I learned how to speak up at town hall meetings. I learned how to inspire others to write letters to Congress.

Advocating with RESULTS made me feel relevant, professional, powerful, and - above all - hopeful. So, I give to RESULTS not only because of the far-reaching impact I'm able to give to other mothers and children around the world. I give to RESULTS because of the incredible effect it has right in my home when I can be the person I want to be, when I can create the change I want to see in the world, and when I can invite my own daughters to do this work with me and model the kind of strength I hope each of my children will find within themselves.

My vision

I envision that day when no more children are dying from treatable and preventable diseases. I look towards the day when we can move from fighting to keep babies alive and move onto other things like furthering education worldwide. And not just fighting for basic primary education for all, but high-quality education and maybe even universal secondary education. It sounds kind of crazy dream now, but I think RESULTS has always been full of dreamers who know how to make our visions into reality. 
I invite you now to dream with us.
Please make a donation of any amount online by clicking on my Virtual Thanksgiving Feast to benefit RESULTS at 

You'll give the gift of survival and education to children and moms around the world! 

You'll give the gift of security to Americans struggling to make ends meet! 

You'll give the gift of empowerment to hundreds of everyday people turned advocates like me! 

What more can a single donation do? I'm grateful for all the support you can give toward my goal of raising $800 this November. Thank you.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Does Your Leadership (Parenting) Match Your Followers (Children)?

Last week, my family had an interaction that caused us to reflect a bit on leadership. My sixth grade daughter had to pack for an overnight retreat. This was the first time she had been on a trip of this kind and she was very excited! She had a list of things she needed and was eager to put it all together the night before the trip. Meanwhile, her sister was having a difficulty studying for a test. No problem! We've got two parents. I took on the science test study and I asked my husband to help with the packing.

This is an example of how not to pack a suitcase.
I came back to the packing party a few hours later and was surprised to see that my visiting sister had actually taken a bigger role in the packing task. My husband - not knowing there were potentially confusing choices or tricky words on the list - had delegated the packing to the 11 year old by saying, "You get started and come get me if you have problems." Nothing wrong with that at all! Except that she was such a beginner in packing that she had questions like, "What are toiletries?" This led to my sister stepping in to provide definitions and suggestions about how to choose items that would fit well in a bag and how to efficiently pack them in there.
Actually, Sarah Miller is a good RESULTS leader
and knows exactly what she's doing. She's just
posing a question to a group in this pic.

Later, we mused over the incident and how it reminded us of leadership modeling. The sixth grader was just too much of a packing novice to succeed with only a delegation. Even though she's an extremely mature kid, she doesn't have the experience needed for this particular "task maturity." Pure delegation wasn't working for her yet on that job. Just like it doesn't work with many activists I have led who don't have much experience advocating. So, what theory can help us see what people need so that we don't leave them wondering what in the world to do?

The situational leadership model is a theory developed by Paul Hersey, professor and author of the book "The Situational Leader," and Ken Blanchard, leadership trainer and author of "The One Minute Manager." I'm certainly no expert in it, but some the basics of it ring true to me.

As I understand situational leadership theory, there isn't really a "best" style of leadership. Effective leadership is specific to the task at hand and the person doing the task. Flexible leaders adapt their leadership style to the maturity and skill of the one(s) who are being led. Here are examples of different follower types you might be leading as a parent or a community organizer.

  • Enthusiastic BeginnerFollower is an enthusiastic beginner and with low competence but very high commitment to the task. This was my overnighting 6th grader. Or, think of the volunteer who wants to help advocate, but doesn't know how to write a letter to Congress...this volunteer might be 10 yrs old or 50 yrs old. Needs a Directing leader.
  • Disillusioned LearnerFollower is a disillusioned learner with limited competence and low commitment to the task. I think of the pre-schooler who doesn't know how to clean his room well and really doesn't want you to show them how. In activism terms, this person probably won't show up to meetings much, but when they do, they need a Coaching leader to answer questions about how to do something and why it matters.
  • Capable but Cautious Contributor; Follower is capable of performing task but is bit cautious with varying degree of commitment toward task. Kind of like an elementary school kid who knows how to rake leaves, but isn't sure what the benefit will be. Or the volunteer who knows how to make a phone call to Congress or write a letter, but isn't sure it will make a difference in the world. Needs a Supporting leader to help followers come to decisions on their own.
  • Self-Reliant Achiever; Follower is a self-reliant achiever with high competence and high commitment to the task. This is the kid taking the lead on her own science project. Or the volunteer organizing an event for a group. Needs a Delegating leader to sit back and let the person own the task and feel good about owning it.
So, what are these different kinds of leadership styles? What characteristics make up these different kinds of leaders?

  • Directing leader; "Telling" leader defines the roles/tasks and supervises closely; leader makes the decision; the communication is mostly going to be one-way 
  • Coaching leader; "Selling" leader involves follower in action planning, promotes independent thinking; seeks suggestions; leader still makes final decision; more two way communication
  • Supporting leader;  "Participating" leader listens, encourages to take lead, facilitates, participate in decision making but follower makes the decision
  • Delegating leader; "Delegating" leader allows goal setting, planning, decision making; rewards follower for good performance; leader’s involvement is dependent of follower
Do you have different kinds of people in your advocacy group who need different kinds of leadership for different types of tasks? If so, can you adapt your leadership style to give each follower what they need? Or, so you need a co-leader who can take over for specific tasks or supervise certain people in your group?