Friday, December 30, 2016

The men behind the Miracle on 22nd Street

The first Christmas Jim Glaub and Dylan Parker lived in their Manhattan apartment, they received almost 400 letters addressed to Santa delivered right to their mailbox. They had no idea why kids' letters came their way - maybe a previous tenant had donated gifts or maybe the address mistakenly appeared on some website or school information. Regardless of why, they decided to do the right thing. With the help of friends, they answered the kids' wishes as Santa would. 

That was in 2010. Now six years later, the letters keep coming. The couple spreads the word along their social networks and arrange for the kids to get clothes, shoes, and sometimes even a Christmas turkey. And get this - they're in talks with Tina Fey to create a movie based on their experiences. It's called, what else, Miracle on 22nd Street. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

3500 pounds of steak donated for Christmas dinners

An anonymous donor made sure folks who eat at Union Gospel Mission's kitchen had a great Christmas dinner. The downtown Seattle mission serves about 1000 meals a day, and executive chef Jordan Fisher was 'in shock' when he was told of the donation: 3500 pounds of rib eye steaks. No doubt those who eat at the kitchen were delighted with the treat.

What a wonderful, generous Secret Santa gift.  

Monday, December 26, 2016

This English pub fed the homeless on Christmas Day

I've often heard of churches, social service agencies, and non-profits hosting holiday meals for the homeless. But I've not heard of a business doing that, especially a business that depends on food and drink purchases for its livelihood.

That's exactly what happened yesterday in Manchester, England. A pub leased by Sean Brett opened its doors to over 300 homeless people on Christmas Day. They enjoyed food and drink, and received donated haircuts and gifts. Helped by two staff volunteers, Brett reports that donated items kept rolling in all day while his patrons socialized and chatted in the friendly pub setting.

Brett was inspired to act when he happened upon a homeless woman on the sidewalk on his way to work one morning. He's realistic; he knows he's only giving folks one meal on one day. He hopes that the publicity his dinner has received will inspire other people to reach out and do something to help this vulnerable population.

Friday, December 23, 2016

This kid followed his heart and found FROGS

In 2010 when Will Lourcey of Forth Worth Texas was 7-years-old, he saw a man holding a sign that read, "Need a meal." He asked his parents Julie and Bill, a teacher and a financial adviser respectively, what he could do to help. Their answer and Will's passion to help led to the creation of the non-profit organization Friends Reaching Our Goals or FROGS.

Will encourages his friends to get involved to in the organization, with their mission being to "end hunger, raise money and awareness for the hungry, inspire youth to make positive change, and have fun while helping others."

Will's example has inspired many. His efforts have been lauded across the country. His story has been shared on Nickelodeon and CNN, in print and online, and even at the White House.

Since 2010, FROGS has helped provide more than half-a-million meals for those in need. 500,000 plus meals served, all because one kid wanted to help and his parents showed him how.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Berlin resident turns propaganda into expressions of love

Berlin resident Irmela Schramm is a septugenerian on a mission. Armed with a scraper, nail polish remover, and a can of red spray paint in her 'Anti-Nazi' bag, Schramm has turned hate-filled propaganda into words of love and support for more than 30 years. 

It all started for her one morning decades ago. A poster supporting convicted Nazi war criminal Rudolph Hess was plastered to a wall at her neighborhood bus stop. When it was still there on her return trip that evening, she was moved to act. She scraped it off with her house keys. She reports feeling fantastic afterward, knowing that she removed the 'mind pollution.' 

Since then she has single-handedly removed over 130,000 expressions of hate. She uses spray paint to turn swastikas into hearts. She changes the wording of posters and graffiti to include expressions of support and kindness. 

Her efforts has met with mixed support. She has been hugged by strangers and received threats from neo-Nazi groups. Police have at times been bemused and have at other times threatened charges for defacement of property. Some community members have decried her activities as destruction of free speech. 

Schramm doesn't see it that way. She told CNN, "Freedom of speech has limits. It ends where hatred and contempt for humanity begins."

Monday, December 19, 2016

Love thy neighbor - and become their landlord

Angie Tyma has lived in the same Hudson, Florida home for 35 years. Last month, she was served an eviction notice. Her overseas landlord had defaulted on the mortgage. The property went to auction and was purchased by an investment company.
Angie, an 89-year-old widow, had no choice. She was forced out onto the street. Her furniture and most of her belongings were literally out on the lawn.

Angie's neighbors were outraged. She'd been a fixture in that neighborhood for as long as anyone could remember, energetically walking her two small dogs and chatting with folks along the way. The whole situation seemed so unfair.

They sprang into action. A number of neighbors gathered up Angie's discarded possessions and stored them for her. One arranged for her to stay at the local Days Inn where he worked. One neighbor, Danielle Calder, had a bigger idea. Her husband agreed. The Calders bought Angie's old home from the investment company. They are now her landlords, and are charging her a rent she can afford.

Before Angie moved back in, the neighbors even spruced up the home with a fresh coat of paint.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Support for the minority Iraqi Christians during Christmas season

At his own expense, a Muslim businessman has erected an 85-foot tall artificial Christmas tree in an amusement park in Baghdad. Yassir Saad hopes the huge tree will show his solidarity with the Christian minority in his country during this Christmas season. The spirit behind his gift is, "joining our Christian brothers in their holiday celebrations and helping Iraqis forget their anguish, especially the war in Mosul," Saad says. What a gracious gesture in the midst of that country's violence and intolerance.

Over the last decade, the Christian community in Iraq has dwindled steadily from an estimated 1.5 million to only 200,000. Often targets of Islamic extremists, many have left the country for better religious freedoms and economic opportunities,

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What Best Buy employees noticed - and what they did about it

In the midst of the busy holiday season, employees at a Best Buy on Long Island noticed a pattern. One particular teenager stopped in the store every day to play the display model of the Nintendo Wii U.

Out of their own pockets, the staff got together the $300 needed to buy the game system for the young man. They presented the gift to him as an early Christmas gift, and captured the moment in this video. They also gave him a Super Smash Brothers game to go with it. The young man was stunned and practically speechless.

One of the employees then drove the teen home, where he shared the news with his delighted family. The following day, his parents brought him back to the store to again thank the employees for their kindness.

This Instagram post gives a bit more info about the story.

Monday, December 12, 2016

This school bus driver delivered the kids, and some hats and gloves

It is an astounding truth - right here in America, this land of wealth and bounty, some people face winter without a hat and gloves. John Lunceford, a school bus driver for the Kennewick School District in Washington state, noticed a child crying at a bus stop. His ears and hands were red from the bitter cold, so when he boarded Lunceford's bus, Lunceford removed his own gloves and put them on the child's hands. 

As soon as his route was finished, Lunceford stopped at the local dollar store. There he bought 10 knit hats and 10 pairs of gloves. He brought them to the school, and with the help of an administrator, delivered the child his own brand-new hat and gloves. The other items will be given free of charge to elementary school children who need them. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

This $8 kindness reaped a $10,000 harvest

The man in front of Tracy Warshal at Aldi's had forgotten his wallet. He had a small order, just some fruit, so Tracy paid for it and wished him a Merry Christmas. It was a small gesture of kindness for Tracy, and she promptly forgot about it.

A couple weeks later, Tracy was contacted by administrators at her place of employment, Piedmont Cancer Network. An anonymous donor had gifted the foundation $10,000 in her name. Apparently, the beneficiary of Tracy's small kindness noticed her company T-shirt with her first name printed near the logo.

Now, those receiving cancer care at Piedmont will reap the benefits of Tracy's small seed of generosity. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Holiday gifts that build a future

Millions of us spend December shopping for gifts. Malls and online stores offer great deals, coupon and member discounts, and a host of other enticements to get our dollars. Those dollars go into the pockets large corporations whose execs make big bucks and whose employees work their tails off and barely squeak by.

I recently found a number of websites which promote gift-giving with a social conscience. Forbes created a list of companies which donate 10% or more of their profits or match purchased items one-for-one. Some companies provide education, others clean water. Worth checking out.

American Express has promoted Small Business Saturday for years now, and they provide an online guide to help shoppers find local businesses with unique goods year round. This type of shopping allows jobs and dollars to stay local. Small businesses with their personalized service and unique goods provide a diverse, interesting landscape to our towns and cities. Without them, America would be one boring big box store.

Our Better World website provides links to unique goods made mostly overseas. Proceeds from the sales of these handmade items create a living wage for families below the poverty line.

Don't want to buy 'stuff?' Consider giving a gift certificate from a non-profit.

A personal favorite, Heifer International , takes your monetary gift and turns it into a flock of chickens or a goat. Those animals provide eggs or milk which can then be eaten or sold, creating both food and business opportunities for an impoverished family.

Kiva gives donors a chance to invest in a small business enterprise anywhere in the world. They coordinate micro-loans which can be used to purchase the goods needed to start a business. When the loan is repaid, the donor can choose a new business to support, so the same money is recycled over and over.

Interested in helping fellow Americans? Check out Society of St. Andrew's Potato and Produce Project. They organize teams who glean fields after the harvest. The produce gathered is then donated to food banks and shelters to feed the hungry fresh nutritious food.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Music to face down hate

About a month ago, the Juilliard School in NYC was notified that the Westboro Baptist Church planned to picket outside their school. This most un-Christian 'church' is well-known for its hate speech and is not affiliated with the American Baptist Church. They denounced Juilliard as a hub of pride and vanity.

Police were called and kept the picketers and the students about 50 feet apart.

The Juilliard students responded to the group's hate speech, not by shouting back, but by using their gifts. They brought their instruments right out onto the sidewalk and played selections of patriotic, sacred, and popular music. Vocal students from the nearby LaGuardia School for Performing Arts joined them.

Kudos to these young people for their classy response to hate.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

These coats for the homeless turn into sleeping bags ... and jobs

When Veronika Scott was a student at the College for Creative Studies in her hometown of Detroit, one of her classes presented a challenge: create a product to fill a community need. Veronika decided to help Detroit's homeless population. She designed a coat which converts to a sleeping bag for nighttime warmth. She brought her early designs to homeless shelters and tweaked the details based on feedback she got from those who used it.

One day, a homeless woman confronted her. She was angry, and told Veronika that she didn't need a coat - she needed a job. Veronika decided she was right. The coat and the sleeping bag were good ideas, but they were a band-aid. Secure employment was the real solution

So Veronika founded the non-profit The Empowerment Plan. Seamstresses are hired from Detroit's homeless shelters - 39 people who were once homeless have been given jobs. Over 15,000 coats which turn into sleeping bags have been produced and distributed, not just in Detroit but in 40 states and 7 Canadian provinces. Each coat take over an hour to sew and costs $100. Donations to sponsor a coat are taken on their website. Sponsors now include American Express and Madonna. 

You know the old adage: Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. Veronika and her team have put their own twist on it. Give a man a coat and he'll be warm for a day. Give him a job and he'll create a new life. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The little known Sharp's War

I've read a lot of Nazi-era history in the last 10 years, both fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes I think I've heard it all before. Then I stumble across a story of people who did right in the face of that evil, a tale of personal sacrifice and courage which seems to be forgotten by history. The story of an American couple, Waitstill and Martha Sharp, falls into that group.

In 1938, Waistill Sharp was a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts. He and his wife Martha, a social worker, had a full, busy life caring for their congregation and their community, as well as their own two young children. One night, Waistill received a call from Robert Dexter, the director the Department of Social Relations of the American Unitarian Association. The newly signed Munich Accord gave Hitler control of the Sudetenland. This piece of Czechoslovakia had strong ties to the Unitarian Church, and as Dexter recalled later, “I knew there would be untold suffering in the Nazi-occupied territories, and I was equally convinced that something should be done about it by those of us who felt we had an obligation to aid our friends who had been so betrayed.”

Seventeen people had already turned down Dexter's request for someone on the ground in Europe. Waistill and Martha talked about it and agreed. They'd go to Europe and do what they could.

So in February 1939, the Sharps traveled to occupied Czechoslovakia and later to occupied France. They stayed one step ahead of the Nazis to rescue dozens of at-risk Czechs and get them abroad. Later, they returned to Europe and shepherded people out of occupied France to safety and transport via Lisbon. The number of people saved by their efforts is unknown, in part because they destroyed all records of their travels and those involved. The estimate is in the hundreds. Because their efforts included Jews, the Sharps were posthumously awarded The Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. 

A new PBS documentary by Ken Burns starring the voices of Tom Hanks and Marina Goldman now shares the Sharp's story with the world. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

An article and two events

This week, one of my articles was published in Advance for Physical Therapy - this month's cover article no less! I'm delighted with the response it has received. 
Tomorrow November 26th, I'll join Mrs. Claus as B.R. Books in Lancaster for a Small Business Saturday event from 12-2. I'll have kid-friendly activity sheets and my books ready to sign, so stop by if you're out and about. I'm told there will be cookies 😊

On Tuesday November 29th, I'll be reading Mikey and the Swamp Monster to the Pre-K and Kindergarten classes at Robert Morris Elementary in Scranton. I can't wait to hear their giggles! This event was arranged by my dear friend Joanne. 

My school and library visits, readings, and presentations are still free of charge. I schedule events weeks or months in advance, so please contact me by email if you're interested at authorjeannemoran (at symbol) gmail or use the scheduling form on my website 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Inclusion at Starbucks

Ibby Piracha frequents a Starbucks in Leesburg, VA several times a week. Because he is deaf and has limited ability to communicate verbally, Ibby texts his order for the barista to read. It's certainly different than the way other customers place their order. But it works. Ibby has accepted this as part of his routine, the way he manages his hearing disability in a hearing world.

One female barista didn't accept it. Krystal Payne wanted Ibby to have the same experience as other customers. She took it upon herself to watch YouTube videos and learn the basics of American Sign Language.

Next time Ibby came in to place his order, Krystal gave him this note. True to her word, she used ASL to ask what he wanted to drink. Ibby was touched by her effort to include him and others in the deaf community in this most basic of human experiences. He shared the photo and the story on his Facebook page, and the post was shared over 5800 times.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Empathy, by design

In my decades-long career as a physical therapist, I witnessed and celebrated the evolution of what has become Universal Design.  Everything from a cushioned handle on a potato peeler to wheelchair-accessible sinks in public restrooms came about because someone identified a need and cared enough to act.

One of those people is Patricia Moore. As a young industrial designer in the 1970s, Patricia was the only woman in her workplace. Frustrated by her colleagues' emphasis on creating products for healthy, average men, she struck out on her own. She borrowed her grandmother's clothes and some clunky shoes, put in earplugs and got some glasses that distorted her vision. And she hit the streets.

In three years, she visited over 100 cities in the US and Canada disguised as an elderly woman. Sometimes she used a walker or a cane. Sometimes she dressed as if homeless, other times as if quite wealthy. She learned a lot, not just about the difficulties of normal aging or accessing the world with a physical disability. She also experienced first-hand the ugly truths of how people of different social classes are valued.

Her experiment yielded results. She started her own design firm and pushed for what she called 'empathetic design.' Patricia is now hailed as one of the founders of Universal Design, the industry standard.

Her unconventional approach has improved the lives of millions of people around the world. All because she cared enough to act.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

She turned grief into action

Candy Lightner, a divorced mother of three, endured the unthinkable. Her 13-year-old daughter Cari was walking with a friend when she was struck by a car and killed. The driver didn't stop.

Later, it was learned that he'd been drunk when he hit Cari, and that it wasn't his first accident while driving drunk. The police told this grieving mother that the driver's punishment would probably be light. The driver was literally getting away with murder. 

Why? Because it was 1980.

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) hadn't yet been formed. That organization hadn't yet pushed for reform of our laws against driving under the influence.

Candy was understandably enraged. Remarkably, she channeled her grief and anger. Within days of Cari's death, she decided to act. She gathered like-minded folks in her own home and they started to organize and develop a plan. They worked to raise awareness of the problem and pushed for changes to our laws. And so began a movement which has made an undeniable difference in our country. In 1980, the year Cari was killed, drunk drivers killed about 25,000 Americans. Today, the number has been cut by half. 

And the movement has expanded. Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) was founded 30 years ago. That organization has since expanded its mission and changed its name to Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Team Rubicon continues to serve

When a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook Haiti early in 2010, hundreds of thousands of people were killed and almost a million left homeless. Water and medical help were cut off; food lines and tent cities sprang up amid the rubble. 

Two US Marines decided to help. Jake Wood and William McNulty rounded up six other veterans and first responders. With money and medical supplies donated by friends and family, they flew to the Dominican Republic and drove into Haiti in a rented truck. 

Relief agencies were already in place, helping many thousands of people. This group of ex-military and first responders decided their mission was to get to the people outside the reach of the other aid agencies. They voluntarily crossed into 'unsafe' areas, crossing their Rubicon and committing themselves to do what they could to help. And help they did. 

Since then, the non-profit Team Rubicon has grown exponentially. Team Rubicon USA alone has 35,000 volunteers who stand ready to be deployed to disaster areas. Teams have been deployed around the world to help victims of floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, and to provide humanitarian aid. Their mission is to unite "the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams."

 The men and women of Team Rubicon have been getting some good press for their service, including this video on Sunday TODAY with Willie Geist. They even have their own YouTube channel. 

Obviously, the folks receiving the generous help from Team Rubicon are incredibly grateful. And it works both ways - those who do the giving are also blessed. As one community leader said, "I support Team Rubicon not only for the important job they are fulfilling by getting experienced first responders on the ground to disaster areas, but what they provide in allowing our veterans to use the leadership, operational, and technical skills they honed in the military to serve their fellow citizens in times of desperate need."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

An autism-friendly vacation

Becky Large knows the struggles first-hand. Traveling and vacationing with a family member who is autistic, like her son Harley, is the complete opposite of relaxation. Airports and vacation spots are filled with sensory overload, which sends the person with autism into a meltdown.

Becky decided to do something about it. She created the Champion Autism Network (CAN) and has worked with Surfside Beach, South Carolina to become the first autism-friendly vacation spot anywhere.

Becky worked with the TSA at the Myrtle Beach airport to create a quiet room. She engaged the cooperation of local hotels, and compiled lists of restaurants, attractions, even grocery stores which offer autism-friendly options.

Becky and her efforts have been showcased on NBC Nightly News.

Although Surfside Beach is not the only vacation spot deemed suitable for families with a child who has special needs, it is currently the only autism-friendly location because of its comprehensive sensitivity to the whole families' needs.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Vote today. Live in peace tomorrow.

Want to do one right thing today? Vote. About two million people around the world don't have that right. Millions of people have fought for your right to speak your mind. This is your chance. Use it.

Want to do one right thing tomorrow? Accept the results with grace and live in peace with your fellow Americans. End the vitriol. No more name-calling and finger-pointing. Certainly no sore losers, threats of retribution, or violence. Just enough already. 

Sure, we've got issues, big ones. We won't solve them by infighting. We won't develop solutions unless we talk openly about the problems. Blame gets us nowhere. 

We're better than this, America. We can't let this campaign's animosity define us or divide us further. We must be united to truly be the United States.

Our only way out is forward. Together. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

One doctor's ingenious fake epidemic

When the Nazis moved into Poland in 1939, Eugene Lazowski had just finished medical school. He was made an officer in the Polish army and stationed in the town of Rozwadow where he worked for the Red Cross. The fence which marked the border of the town's Jewish ghetto was right behind his house.

Dr. Lazowski had heard of recent discoveries by fellow Pole Dr. Stanislaw Matulewicz. It seems that a certain strain of the typhus bacteria, when killed and injected, will allow the patient to test positive for the deadly epidemic disease while remaining symptom-free. Dr. Lazowski tried it, and sent the patient's blood sample to a German lab for testing. 

The response was a red telegram - the patient has epidemic typhus and must be quarantined.

The patient was not ill.  

So Dr. Lazoswki came up with a plan. Whenever a patient came to him, be it a villager or a Jew from the ghetto (who he was forbidden to treat but did so anyway), he injected them with the bacteria. Blood samples left the village, red telegrams returned.

Soon the village and the ghetto seemed to be a hotbed of epidemic typhus. Nazis avoided the area - Germany had not had an outbreak of typhus in a generation, and officials worried about their soldiers' vulnerability. When a medical inspection team was sent to check on the epidemic's status, Dr. Lazowski planted ragged, dirty villagers in the hospital. The nervous doctors took one look and left quickly. The village quarantine was official.

The Nazis stayed away from Rozwadow for the duration of the war. Over 8,000 villagers and ghetto residents were spared the fate of other Polish villages, all because of one doctor's kind heart and his ingenuity.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

4-year-old girl visits her 82-year-old best friend on Halloween

The story of 4-year-old Norah Wood and her new friend has gone viral.

As Norah's mother Tara explained it, in late September, she and Norah were grocery shopping when Norah waved at a stranger. "Hi, old person," she said. "It's my birthday today!" The man and Norah chatted for a few minutes then parted. 

A few minutes later, Norah asked her mom if she could get a picture with the man since it was her birthday. The man, Mr. Dan as Norah now called him, was taken aback but delighted. They posed together like they'd known one another for years. 

Since meeting in late September, the two new friends have visited weekly for play dates.
Norah stopped over on Dan's 82nd birthday, and on Monday, stopped by again to show off her Minnie Mouse costume.  

It seems that Dan's wife passed away a few months ago, and he'd been feeling pretty low. 
The chance meeting with Norah and her kind heart was just what he needed to lift his spirits. Mr. Dan later told CBS News, “There were other old people [at the grocery store], and she saw me and I was the ‘old people’ she had to talk to.”

Norah's mom added her own thoughts. "I can only assume there was some divine intervention or stars aligning or she was nudged by the universe. I know we’re all better because of it." 
Mr. Dan's perspective cuts to the chase. “If I didn’t have anything else to do the rest of my life, I have her to love.”

Monday, October 31, 2016

Costume inclusion

Kids and Halloween go together. During my years as a pediatric physical therapist, our kids with special needs were included in Halloween celebrations but their bulky equipment made costumes a challenge.

Creative parents and teachers are figuring out ways to incorporate kids' mobility aids (and in one case, a service dog!) right into the costume. Here are some super cute ones.

Some charities now work with families to customize a costume for a kid with special needs. Magic Wheelchair is a non-profit founded by man whose own 3 children have spinal muscular atrophy, so he completely understands a child's need to combine safety and fun. At Oskaloosa Academy in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, art students have used their skills to create awesome costumes for today's celebrations. 
Another way kids with special needs get to be kids first, with their needs integrated right into their day.