kindness activist

kindness activist

Saturday, February 25, 2017

YOUR Kindness Needed Now - Please Help Keep A Reading Mission Going

There are times in everyone’s life that are hard.  Difficult periods.  Rough patches.  And this is most certainly that time for the students, faculty and staff of Gomez Heritage Elementary School in Omaha, Nebraska. 

My sister Sherry is a para at Gomez.  It is an amazing school, full of kids who come from homes with very hard working families, many of whom have immigrated to the United States. They come from homes filled with hope and full of love.  The majority of the students do not speak in English at home.  School is a place where they not only learn subjects like math and art, but they also work hard to develop English as a second language.    

Gomez Heritage Elementary School
Gomez Elementary is FULL of caring, inspirational teachers and staff.  The adults at the school work very hard and are deeply committed to the children they work with.  They see the big difference they are making in the lives of these kids, and that gives them strength to continue through the tough times, like this week.

One of their own suddenly passed away.

Tanya Becker
Tanya Becker, the literacy coach at Gomez, was only 48 years old when she died in her sleep.  I can’t imagine how hard the loss must be for her children, her family, and her students.  She was a beloved teacher at the school, and touched the lives of many students and parents during her nine years working there.

My sister Sherry was understandably upset.  She explained how Tanya was the “sunshine” of the school.  She met the children at the front door when they arrived at Gomez every morning.  She often put her hands into a heart shape on her chest to show the kids how much she loved them.  And it was Tanya who rallied everyone at Gomez to become “Team Sherry” and help her get thru treatment when Sherry was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.   

Tanya and Sherry.  Team Sherry had her back all through treatment.
At times like this it is often difficult to know what to do or say – how to help.  I would like to ask for YOUR ASSISTANCE to do something to keep the mission of Mrs. Becker going, to remind her students of the importance of READING.  In honor of their reading coach, I would like to make sure each and every Gomez student has a new book to read.  I will place stickers in each book reminding them how loved they were by Mrs. Becker and how important it is to continue her mission of reading.    

Can you please help me out with this massive goal?  Gomez serves children pre-K – 4th grade.  We need 875 books for students, and 140 adult books for faculty and staff, who miss their colleague dearly.  Can you donate a few new (or gently used) books to this cause, or perhaps a gift card to a book store we can use to get enough books?  Is your child ordering through Scholastic at school and willing to share a couple of books with some “new friends” in Omaha?  Can you share this request for help with your circle of friends and family to get the word out??  I would be very appreciative of any help you can give. 

Please email me at:  kindnessactivist@gmail.com (email link here )  for a mailing address to send books or gift cards to.  If you are local to the DC metro area I will happily come to you to pick up whatever you can donate.  I hope to have all books collected and ready to hand out to the students by March 26, 2017. 

Tanya's "signature move" with the kids - hands of love
Here are some links to online ordering resources:


Again, please share this request with others.  The more people willing to pitch in and donate, the sooner those kids will have books honoring Mrs. Becker in their hands.  THANK YOU for reading, for caring, and for helping.

Here is the Gomez website:  Gomez Heritage Elementary School

If you would like a flyer to hang in your workplace, school, or place of worship to help bring in more donations, I have a flyer you can print.  This site will not let me attach files, so please email me at kindnessactivist@gmail.com and I will send you the flyer.  
  
The following is Tanya Becker’s obituary from the Omaha World Herald newspaper:

Beloved Gomez Heritage teacher Tanya Becker was devoted to increasing literacy, 'called everyone friend'
By Marcella Mercer / World-Herald staff writer
Feb 23, 2017 

Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Tanya Becker’s office at Gomez Heritage Elementary is a testament to her teaching.

The South Omaha school’s principal, John Campin, said the room is full of notes from students thanking their literacy coach. Sometimes, there’d be messages like “We love you Mrs. Becker” or “Thanks for teaching me how to read,” on her whiteboard.

Becker died unexpectedly in her sleep Monday. She was 48. The cause of death is unknown, said Tanya Becker’s father-in-law, Neil Becker.

Tanya Becker was born in Omaha and lived in the city most of her life. She left the area briefly to earn her bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and two master’s degrees followed, in literacy and academic leadership.

Becker used her education to further that of others, her father-in-law said. For 25 years, she taught at Omaha Public Schools and also served for some time as an adjunct professor at Concordia University in Seward. Then in 2009, she landed at Gomez-Heritage.

Her focus there was increasing literacy in a school where 58 percent of students learn English as their second language. It was a role she tackled with monthly reading nights, coaching for teachers on literacy strategies, and one-on-one work with students.

On top of these responsibilities, Becker organized literacy groups for her students’ parents. At these meetings, she sometimes helped adults who couldn’t read in English, or at all.
But Becker could connect with any student, Campin said.

“Our reading scores increased significantly because of her ability to teach students, teach teachers, teach parents,” Campin said.

Every morning, Becker stood by the doors of the school and greeted students and parents.

“She was always happy and energetic,” Campin said. “She just called everyone friend.”
When the students were smiling, she could be quick with hugs. And when people looked sad, Becker was known to fold her hands into a heart to show she cared.
“She was a defender of people, family, friends, students,” Neil Becker said.

The marquee outside of the school now shows how much Tanya Becker meant to those she met. Students helped make the sign read “We love Mrs. Becker our sunshine”

Becker is survived by her husband, Patrick Becker; children, Jason and Ellie; parents, Michael and Kathryn Farrens; siblings, Bryan Farrens and Scott Farrens; and father-in-law and mother-in-law, Neil and Paula Becker.

A mass of Christian burial is scheduled for Friday at 11 a.m. at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church.







Sunday, February 19, 2017

White Envelope Kindness

I love giving gifts.  I mean, like, I adore it.  I like thinking about what gift to get.  I really enjoy wrapping the gifts.  I like to think that finding just the “right gift” for my friends and family members is one of my special talents.  I sort of think that I inherited this whole trait from my mother, who was also really into giving gifts.  It might be odd, but in all honesty I like GIVING gifts much more than I like receiving them. 

Pretty pile of gifts from my recent birthday - thanks family!!  You spoiled me!
Anyway, this post has to do with GIFTS, specifically, Christmas gifts.  I noticed a friend’s Facebook posting about a special “gift exchange” around the holidays at her house, and it made me so happy.  I have been putting off writing about it because I plan to ask my family for the same “gift” for Christmas this year and didn’t want them to read this piece about it before I had put forth my request to them.  But it has become glaringly obvious that dusting the house isn’t the only thing I am behind on at the moment, so I am going to go ahead and tell EVERYONE about this special Kindness Activist in the hopes that sharing it publicly will be the nudge I need to also write letters to my family and tell them about it personally!  (And also with the hope that this Kindness Activist might inspire YOU to do the same thing for your holiday!)

The beautiful (inside and out) Kelly
Kelly Corbey comes from a large family – there are 12 children.  She said that one of the greatest gifts her parents taught the children was, “Do for others.  Volunteer because you can and there will always be a need.”  Kelly has obviously taken that lesson to heart, and instilled it in her own children (who are now sharing it with their children).  So, for Christmas last year, she decided to try something new that she had heard of: The White Envelope Project.  The project is an attempt to scale back the commercialism of the holidays and focus on what really matters, as she told me, “Giving of one's time or money to someone or some organization in another's honor might would be a better way of keeping the true meaning of Christmas alive.”

So she wrote this letter to each of her children:
"Hi Family - I am writing to suggest an idea for Christmas "gift giving" this year.  The true meaning of Christmas is about "giving" but I think we all get caught up in the commercial aspect and overly stress about the perfect gift.  I love giving gifts and I love the thoughtful gifts I've received from you over the years.  If you all are willing to do something different, I read a story about "The White Envelope".  The general idea was to get back to a different idea of "giving".

I would ask that in lieu of a gift for me (sorry to be presumptuous) that each of you pick a charity or a person(s) in need to give something to or do something for.  With some creativity - this doesn't need to cost anything.  Then on Christmas, write down what you did and put it in a white envelope and we will hang it on the Christmas tree where we gather.  

How much you donate or what you do is totally up to you.  Small gestures have great value.  We will read them on Christmas.”

WHITE ENVELOPES FOR CHRISTMAS!
Not surprisingly, everyone loved the idea!  Her children included their own kids into the activities, and the grandkids got really excited about what kind thing they would do to contribute.  The family did a traditional gift exchange for the children, and then everyone proudly got their envelope and read aloud  what they had done.  Kelly said, “I loved how proud they each were with what they had come up with.  They thanked me for the encouragement to change the focus of giving.”

Sharing KINDNESS for the holiday season
And from what I heard, the kind gestures that resulted from Kelly’s White Envelope Project were marvelous and varied!  One family member, who wanted Kelly to know how grateful she was that her parents had sacrificed and send her to private school, donated money to her high school. Another person reached out to someone she hadn't been in touch with to begin to repair a broken relationship.  Other people donated furniture to someone who had to start over from a broken marriage and someone else donated warm clothes to a homeless shelter. Someone made a donation to send food to Haiti, someone donated a warm comforter to a woman's shelter, and some of the children made food and brought it to a new neighbor.  Someone very consciously gave money to a homeless man, careful to give more than just “spare change”, and other family members committed to putting food together and distributing it to local homeless people.  The beauty about this project is that EVERYONE of any age can be inspired and involved – Kelly’s 5 year old grandson even made a special Christmas gift for his little neighbor.  

The whole family got involved
"My cup runneth over", Kelly told me.  “It was the most amazing feeling to hear the enthusiasm and see the creative things people came up with.  I loved hearing the discussion that followed about how cool it was to be constantly thinking of different ways to give in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Christmas.  I asked them to try and keep it going throughout the year.”

Such a perfect idea for the holidays - giving KINDNESS
THANK YOU for being a Kindness Activist Kelly!  The actions of your family, inspired by YOU, brought kindness to so many people!!  Your kindness obviously influences everyone in your family and, by being willing to share about it here, will influence many more people. 

So, to my family, be ready!  Letters will be arriving soon asking YOU to take part in a project like this for Christmas 2017!  Thanks for the inspiration Kelly.  Let’s keep the KINDNESS COMING!


(If you haven’t already, please “like” Kindness Activist on Facebook.  That way you can get notified when inspiring stories like Kelley’s get posted.  If Twitter is more your style, follow Kindness Activist at @KindActivist ) 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Auction Kindness

I am embarrassed to admit that the Kindness Activist I am going to tell you about now was nominated by her cousin Beth around 4 months ago…  And she is soooo deserving to be named a Kindness Activist, I cannot believe it has taken me this long to tell you about her!  It is just, well, I have not felt all that creative in the last few months, and to be blunt, maybe I haven’t felt all that kind either…   So, I have been neglecting this project, and for that I am sorry.  Not working on Kindness Activist is really wrong of me.  For one thing, it is wrong because by not writing about kindness, I am not reminding YOU about it, and not helping to spread it around the world at a time when we especially need more of it!  But it is also wrong because by not thinking about kindness, not looking for kindness, and not writing about it, I am only perpetuating my “unkind” mentality.  Sigh.  Today I choose to be kind.  I choose to open my eyes, my mind, and my heart, and be alert.  I will notice when kindness crosses my path.  And I will tell you about KATHE Hannauer, our newest Kindness Activist. 

If you read the story here about Kindness Activist Karen Hoyer ( Knit Hat Kindness ), you know I am not a knitter.  I couldn’t knit a sock if my life depended on it.  So, today’s Kindness Activist impresses me from the get go just by being able to create this like these, with her own 2 hands!!

Isn't this a BEAUTIFUL piece?


And check out how cute and COZY this set looks!!
But the KIND part, see, the really KIND part, is that Kathe is not knitting these beautiful pieces for herself.  And she is not even knitting them to sell at a craft show or on Etsy…  No, she is knitting them to auction off, to give the proceeds to CHARITIES.  100% of the proceeds!!  So, her time, her supplies, her talent – all poured into beautiful pieces which end up benefit very deserving organizations!!!  Isn’t that amazing? 

Here she is - the newest Kindness Activist Kathe!
Kathe told me it all started after Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  She lives in New York City, and she wanted to help out after the storm.  The Knights of Columbus in her Northern Manhattan neighborhood was looking on Facebook for volunteers to help affected people – they would rent vans and load them with food, cleaning supplies, and other necessities then deliver them to Staten Island.  Kathe said, “I knew that all money donated was going directly to help people (not disparaging the Red Cross or other large organizations, but nobody in this case was getting a salary, and the labor was 100% volunteer).  I spent a morning assisting them with logistics, and started to wonder how else I could help.  I looked at my embarrassingly large yarn stash, and figured I could probably turn ten bucks’ worth of yarn into something that someone would be willing to pay $40 or $50 for, especially if they knew the money was going to a good cause. I pitched the idea to the head of the chapter and he was more than willing to put a dedicated page on their website with a PayPal button to make donating easy, and we were off.  We raised aver $1500 that first year.”

See, it is actions like THAT that set Kindness Activists apart!!   They go above and beyond!  It is more than donating money, more than volunteering time.  Kathe developed a plan that is ongoing and sustainable to use her talents to make the world a better place!!  I love it. 

More of her amazing work
Katherine has a Facebook group called Small Things and that is where the KINDNESS happens!  She told me how it all works: “I knit something, post a photo of it in the group with an opening bid, and then people bid in the comments. I (more or less arbitrarily) decide when to end the auction.  There can be anywhere from 2 bidders to protracted bidding wars involving a half dozen people!  Once I get confirmation of their donation, I put the item in the mail to them. Sometimes, an auction is won by a local friend or colleague, which means I can avoid the post office-that’s the only part I don’t enjoy!”

And, like I mentioned earlier, 100% of the donation goes directly to the charity!  Kathe doesn’t take any of the money to buy supplies or pay herself for her time and work – it all goes to support the causes!  “I have a pinned post at the top of the page giving auction winners links to a few choices, and they make the donation directly so I don’t have to deal with handling funds at all,” she explained.

I asked her why she doesn’t SELL the beautiful items she creates instead of using them to get donations as she does.  I think her answer really shows how KIND her heart is, “I think that generally crafting is a pretty tough way to try to make money. I suspect people wouldn’t be willing to pay what I would have to charge to make it worth my time, and the idea of maintaining and promoting an online shop doesn’t appeal to me. It’s different if it’s going to a good cause-and the charities make it easy for me.”  So, think about that a second:  she doesn’t think people would be willing to pay what she would have to charge for the pieces to make it worth her time, yet essentially, she MAKES THEM NOW FOR ABSOLUTELY NO MONEY!  A heart of gold, I tell you!!! 

And look how pretty this one is!!!
Kathe, like me, roots for the “little guy” and says when choosing charities to donate to, “I prioritize groups where I have personal contacts:  it makes confirming donations easy, and I like supporting local efforts and smaller charities that don’t have the fundraising clout of the big guys. We’ve raised money for literacy and after-school programs in my neighborhood, as well as a local dog rescue and more recently, the Lelt Foundation, which was founded by a friend and colleague of mine.”

Lest you think that her life is all knitting, no work, let me explain something:  Kathe is a FREELANCE VIOLINIST.  I have not gotten to hear her play, but I am hoping that happens at some point!!  Because of her work, she says she, has, “…knitted in lots of venues, from Broadway pits to backstage at Carnegie Hall, and on the subway (small projects like hats and socks are the most portable) It also means I often take finished objects along to gigs and browbeat my colleagues into modeling them for me so I can grab photos!  Recently I started taking some classes at a local community college, and have been known to work on my sock-in-progress during a lecture.”  There you have it – if you win an auction at Small Things not only are you helping out a charity, but your gorgeous new scarf just might have seen the inside of a Broadway music pit!!

Kathe in action
Kathe estimates that this project brings in around $1000-$1500 per season (usually September through March).  And she has been doing this since 2012, so, whew, you do the math!  It is amazing!!  I asked about the YARN, where does she get it, because from what I have seen, that stuff isn’t cheap.  “The stash yarn I've been using is mostly stuff for which I didn't really have another use-stuff I picked up inexpensively at sales and on the internet with no projects in mind (any knitter will confess to having done this from time to time, and can attest to the fact that one's stash can grow rapidly out of control when one succumbs to Yarn Lust). That said, I haven’t really made much of a dent in the stash, because people keep donating yarn. I’m really trying to work my way through the stash, though, honest.”

I know from following her on Facebook that Kathe’s recent knitting has been focused on the infamous pink pussy hats made popular by the Women’s March.  Only, because of her musical talents, she not only makes human sized hats, she also knits INSTRUMENT SIZED HATS!!!  Isn’t this the most adorable activist violin you have ever seen???

Too sweet (and too nasty!  Go little violin go!)
To sum things up, Kathe told me a quote from Pema Chodron that inspires her, “We don't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts.” 

Well maam, YOUR ACTIONS definitely inspire my heart.  Thank you for putting your kindness out into the world – you make this a better place. 

You can join Kathe’s Small Things Facebook group and get in on the bidding action at:   https://www.facebook.com/groups/104470039721825/ (or search Small Things in FB) – send a join group request
You can check out the organizations currently featured in Small Things here:                
- The Bully Project, which rescues and finds homes for Pitbulls and Pitbull mixes -          http://www.bullyproject.com/
 - The Lelt Foundation, which provides nutrition, education, and jobs to severely malnourished and        impoverished families in Ethiopia - http://leltfoundation.org/

And if you want to see Kathe’s other passion, yoga, check out her website here:  http://www.yogadolce.com/