Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Time to Level Up!

New Tae Kwon Do belts are often celebrated in our 
house with manicures to match our levels
My daughter and I passed our Tae Kwon Do belt tests this weekend! I love setting challenges to do with my girls. The first time my little one took a Tae Kwon Do test with me, she traded in her white beginners' belt for a sunny yellow one and I now earned a blue stripe on my green belt. We both grinned like cheshire cats at each other as we received our new colors, bursting with pride both for our own accomplishments and the other's. Today, she's wearing the same level belt I did back then and I couldn't be prouder of her! Why does leveling up mean so much? And why do many grown-ups stop doing it?

When I was a kid, I was in a constant state of trying to move up to a next level. I remember how much I wanted to move to the next grade in school, move from a "tadpole" to a "frog" in swimming, move from Bluebirds to Discovery in Camp Fire, and progress through all sorts of other activities with definite achievement levels. The suburban American world just kind pushes kids along in that general upward direction. So, why do many adults tend to plateau and stop reaching for the next step? 
The good stuff happens just beyond your comfort zone!
Leveling up helps us appreciate milestones, see how far we have come, and prepare for even more great achievements. This is true in everything from sports to activism. Are you comfortable where you are as an advocate? Good! Then, maybe it's time to take the next step and push that comfort zone a little bit.

The RESULTS website has an activist toolkit with a list of activist milestones, effective actions that you can shoot for and take the next step in your advocacy. There are milestones for working with Congress, working with your community, working with the media, and empowering yourself. It even has links to instructions on how to achieve your new goals.

For example, here are a list of milestone advocacy actions to take with Congress starting with sending an email and ending with building a relationship such that your representative will respond to you within 24 hours about your specific request. 
  1. Send an e-mail to your member of Congress.
  2. Make a phone call to your member of Congress.
  3. Write a letter to your member of Congress.
  4. Establish a relationship with the congressional aide who handles your issue. (Also, see our PowerPoint for additional guidance on researching your member of Congress.)
  5. Get your member of Congress to take an action in response to your request. 
  6. Ask a question at a town hall meeting or a candidates forum. (Also see our PowerPoint for additional guidance.)
  7. Meet face-to-face with your member of Congress.  (Also, see our PowerPoint for additional guidance.)
  8. Establish regular conference call or video meetings with an aide or member of Congress.
  9. Arrange a site visit for your member of Congress to communities affected by poverty.
  10. Inspire your member of Congress to write an op-ed on our issues. (coming soon)
  11. Get your member of Congress to take leadership on one of our issues.
  12. Reach a level of relationship with your member of Congress that enables 24-hour turnaround on phone calls.
Wow! I know that last one sounds incredible, but there are real everyday people who achieve it. Most of the time, those people have worked diligently through many of the smaller steps...leveling up with increasing difficulty bit by bit.

Speaking as a mother, I see that when we're in the midst of helping our kids learn and grow, moms sometimes forget to purposely improve ourselves, too. It can seem like there's so much to do in order to provide for the little ones and make sure they develop life skills and character that we forget that we have a lot of room for growth as well. I struggle to make time for my own personal growth in the midst of encouraging theirs.

The funny thing is that when I do make the time to improve myself, my kids are watching. Leveling up in my activities naturally encourages them to do the same for their passions. I used to only do the "me-time" activities when they were in school or asleep. Lately, I've discovered that when I work hard to reach my goals in a visible way that impacts their lives, they start internalizing the idea that they should do it, too. 

Today, I encourage everyone to move past the status quo. Whatever you're doing...what is the next step? And remember...when you take a step to the next level in advocacy for underprivileged kids, you're giving a child in need a chance at a next step, too. A next school grade, a next birthday, and maybe even a pretty colored belt.

Me, receiving my orange belt, from Master Yoon at
North Shore Martial Arts in Morton Grove, IL

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I'm only one mom, but I am a ONE Mom

I am only ONE mom.

Eleven years ago, I sat in a rocking chair with my first newborn baby listening to lullabies from around the world with tears streaming down my face. I had just realized how delicate life is and how desperate I would feel should anything happen to my child. And I’d also realized that while every single mother in the world feels this way, many are powerless to provide food and basic needs for their children who are just as precious as mine.

This wasn’t new information, but it took dramatic change in my life to make me see it. Quitting my job and having my first baby during a winter in Chicago was both physically and emotionally isolating. I spent my days feeling tired and fragile, listening to the world's problems on NPR, and then feeling more disconnected and utterly powerless to do anything about those problems. I felt like I didn’t have a purpose and couldn’t make a difference. Since I was unwilling to take a baby to my former volunteer activities, I was frustrated and felt like I needed to find a new way to help.  But what could ONE person do?

Advocacy gave me a way to get involved. I could write to senators or submit letters to the editor in the middle of the night, when I couldn't sleep anyway after a baby woke me up for a feeding or a diaper change. I found I could write on my own time and on my own terms and actually be a part of the national conversation about poverty.

Visiting Rep. Jan Schakowksy with ONE
Chicago leader J.D. Bergeron
I got my first taste of success when I submitted my first letter to the editor in a local paper, and it was printed right away. I kept at it and one of my letters was even printed in the New York Times beneath a letter from then Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

I was excited and wanted to do more. I started writing op-eds and learned how to lobby in Washington D.C. It was a turning point for me when I walked into a Congressional office expecting to talk to an aide, and instead saw my U.S. representative sitting and waiting to talk to me!

My daughters with Senators Durbin and Kirk of IL
Since becoming an anti-poverty activist, one of the most startling things I've learned is that 25 years ago, over 40,000 children died every day from preventable diseases. Because of the efforts of dedicated grassroots volunteers, today that number has been reduced by more than half! And because of my personal experience fighting for the Lantos-Hyde Act — the largest piece of global health legislation ever passed in the U.S. — I know that I personally have a role in driving that number down even further.

Visiting Senator Claire McCaskill's aide
 with ONE St Louis leader, Jeff Seale
Eleven years after the rocking chair moment, I have two beautiful daughters – ages 9 and 11 – who are interested in my passion and want to “work” with me. They regularly write to Congress and know how to handle themselves in a DC lobby meeting. They have had a face-to-face lobbying session where they told both Senators Durbin and Kirk from Illinois together about why vaccines are important. On her own initiative, my eldest will sometimes tell people in conversation about how vaccines work and how Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, has helped save over 6 million lives. 

I am only one mom. But with my daughters and the ONE Campaign, we are going to take actions in 2015 to create a future for millions of mothers and their children…and a better future for us, too.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When It's Time to Come Clean About Santa

I rarely write blog posts directed toward a particular religious audience, but this post is directed at a subset of Christian parents out there. My Facebook feed has been a-flutter for weeks with distressed parents whose children - in the late stages of elementary school - are finally catching up to their peers and discovering the elaborate ruse that loving adults in their lives have created for them every year involving stockings, gifts, and the hotly-debated presence of a man from the North Pole. 

Every year, parents freak about at the discovery and the distress their kids are feeling. Just like I don't like to deliver bad news about poverty without a constructive solution involving kindness and generosity, I don't enjoy the idea of a parent delivering this harsh news about the Big Man and then just releasing kids to their own rooms to stew about it. 
Yes, Virginia...there is a Santa Claus...and it's YOU.
Did I blow your mind, Virginia?

Consider an invitation to be part of the magic as a way to ease your children from the "getter" state of mind to a higher level of expressing love as a "giver." In my interfaith home, we adapted the tradition early on, so that the children knew that they were as much Santa as anyone and had a role in filling stockings in a clandestine way on Christmas Eve. (They get to put the candy and clementine oranges in) Of course, the littlest one still didn't believe me when she was three and swore she heard sleigh bells on the roof, but she thanks me now as she helps her 3rd grade friends cope with their crumbling faith.
My appeal to you this Christmas...end the increasingly complex web of lies and transform the stress into something beautiful and constructive. Invite your children to be part of the magic of giving to children who are excluded from the Santa tradition because of economic struggles or other reasons.There are many ways to do it, but here are a few hands-on to consider:
  • Pack a Shoebox for Operation Christmas Child to send much needed toiletries, toys, and love to kids living in poverty overseas with Samaritan's Purse
  • Pick a name off of a local gift tree at a grocery store or your church and let your kids be Santa for young children in need in your community
  • Give to Toys for Tots at a local dropoff center
  • Send a Chanukah card or gift to the children of your Jewish friends. You probably didn't notice how carefully many of them kept your secret through the years anyway while hiding their own tears because the myth suggested that they were permanently on the "Naughty List." 

If you thought it was charming to see your little ones believing in the myth and the magic, wait until you see how beautiful the truth can be when you see your babies growing into giving and caring children fully participating in the spirit of Christmas!