Sunday, July 1, 2007

City Year

Hi group. Welcome back.

The blog took an unexpected hiatus, but I hope to be back here with more regularity.

In the next few days, I'll update you about some of what's been happening; for now, I wanted to pass along an opportunity for anyone who might be 17-24 or know someone that age who is looking for an exciting volunteer opportunity.

I took part in a work day in September with City Year Louisiana, part of a national Americorps project for young people who dedicate a year of their lives to an ongoing service project in a handful of cities. In New Orleans, the group was helping with the post-Katrina recovery. We were in town one day when they had a communitywide cleanup effort at a local school, and I was really impressed with them. In addition to doing some actual work, the group is intended as a leadership training. From what I saw, it's effective.

Anyway, here's the 411. This specific information is for the New Orleans project, but City Year also has projects in the following places: Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Columbia, SC; Columbus, OH; Detroit, Little Rock, Los Angeles, New Hampshire, New York City, Philly, Rhode Island, San Antonio, TX; San Jose, CA ; Seattle, South Africa, Washington, D.C.

More later.

As we head into the summer, we are on rolling admissions for applicants for next year. We have 35 positions open for 17-24 year olds and corps members earn a $4726 education scholarship and a weekly wage of $200 in the program. We are accepting applications from applicants across the United States. The positions start in September.

We welcome your referrals of individuals and also organizations that we should be contacting.

Thank you for your support, have a great week!

Kind regards,
ReneƩ Di Pietro

ReneƩ Di Pietro
Recruitment Manager
City Year Louisiana
161 N 3rd Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70801
Office: 225-389-0078
Fax: 225-389-0086

Make Something Real – A Difference.
Take a year to change lives.
Take a year to change your life.

To download an application, visit our website:

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Community Radio Begging

It's that time of year again in the Tampa Bay area. We just made it through another fundraising drive from our local NPR station; now it's the community station's turn.

Believe it or not, I used to enjoy listening to the pledge drives, though it can be painful to hear people with such dignified voices straining the bounds of co-worker chit-chat and scolding listeners to "do their part."

Last night, I was listening to the local community radio station on the way home from work. The various shows are responsible for raising a certain amount of money each year to stay on the air. I caught the tail end of one show that had not made its goal, and the hosts were pulling out all the stops in begging for those last few pledges, even promising to clean the homes for any "heroes" that might call in and put them over the top.

This particular show plays far-out experimental music, some of it local, gives away tickets to local shows and CDs of local bands, brings in local artists to chat about their music, etc. Some of the names they called out to thank for pledges turned out to be friends and longtime fans of the show. You could tell these guys had really connected with people over the years.

I suppose the reason I bring this up is because I was really awed by how much these guys had formed a bond with the community. In fact, that's true of a lot of the shows on that station. I was reminded of how important it is to nurture those community ties.

Pledging your time, money and talents to people and causes you feel close to is a lot easier than curing cancer or "feeding the poor." It's hard to save the world but far easier to sponsor a neighbor for a charity walk or cook at the local homeless shelter once a month.

A close second to the public radio pledge drives: the Sally Struthers, "Won't you please help?" appeals. Classic. And effective, based purely on anecdotal evidence.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Indiana Jones to the Rescue

Here's an interesting back story to yesterday's news about the Sudanese government allowing UN peacekeepers to deploy in Darfur.

If the UN troops are able to stop the genocide, people may have director Steven Spielberg to thank.

Spielberg is serving as an advisor to the Chinese government for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Schindler's List director has drawn criticism for not speaking out against the Darfur genocide and working with a government that has openly supported Sudan. In addition to providing military and economic aid, China has resisted efforts to sanction Sudan for the violence in its Darfur region.

Actress Mia Farrow started the campaign to pressure China into intervening to end the Darfur crisis, calling on corporate sponsors of the Beijing games and Spielberg to lobby Chinese officials to intervene.

Spielberg wrote Chinese President Hu Jintao, condemning the violence in Darfur and asking him to help bring an end to it.
Last week, a senior Chinese official went to Sudan and asked the Khartoum government to drop its opposition to the UN peacekeepers. China, it would seem, doesn't want anything to mar its moment in history.
I find this story remarkable on many levels.

It's easy to grow impatient at the pace of change, especially when people are being senselessly killed. What good does it do to have some Hollywood personality speak out? What good does it do to boycott Company X for some tangential link it has to a genocide? How does it help end the suffering for me to talk to friends and acquaintances about what's happening?

This sequence of events, which I have abridged for the sake of brevity, reminds of us several key lessons for dealing with any situation, especially ones that seem insurmountable:

- Real change takes time.

- Our creativity and intelligence can find solutions where none seem to exist.

- Violence isn't the only means to end violence.

- Everyone, no matter how intractable, is accountable to someone and has interests that may offer an opening for negotiation.

- It's important to stick by our convictions and to give our best efforts for noble causes, even when our efforts seem not to be effective.

I'm including a few links to relevant stories in case you want to read more about the "Spielberg back story."

"Stars Push China to Act: Campaign prompts Darfur diplomacy" (Chicago Tribune),1,4542626.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed

"Hollywood vs. China: The power of bad publicity may bring relief to refugees at Darfur" (Newsday)

"Darfur Collides with Olympics, and China Yields" (The New York Times)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Updated Darfur Q&A

The Manchester Evening News today published a good Q&A on the Darfur crisis that provides a good overview of what's happened in Sudan to date:

Personal Mission Statements

Last week was a tough one for people at my newspaper, which announced layoffs. If you have been following the newspaper industry even a little, you know that fewer people are reading them, turning instead to TV, the Internet or nothing at all for their news.

Anyway, as you might imagine, people were pretty bummed out, even the people who didn't lose their jobs. "How can we keep from looking over our shoulders?" people asked. "How can we stay focused?"

My answer, as it has been for the past couple of years, is to have a personal mission statement. Here's mine, though I've never actually written one out formally: My job is to help build a sense of community and give people the information they need to participate intelligently in the public process.

Pretty simple, right? If people don't feel like they belong to a community, they don't care about what happens around them - maybe about events that effect their personal quality of life or property values. And if they don't have the information to take part int he public process, they can't exercise their rights as members of a republic.

That sense of purpose was born of my experiences in the nonprofit sector. As part of my job, I would help organize fundraisers - pulling together committees, setting up the planning meetings, printing up information, etc. In the end, after months of work, we would usually raise 10, 20, 30 thousand dollars. Pretty good, I thought.

Then, one day, a board member came in. A colleague had mentioned the other day that he sat on a foundation board and that they needed to give away some money - I think it was $10,000. Our board member mentioned out agency, and a handshake sealed it: All we had to do was send a letter asking for the money. What took us months to raise took this guy all of 10 minutes.

Again, as I said yesterday, I think there's more to fundraising than just raising money. You also build a sense of shared purpose and raise awareness. At the end of the day, though, you need to bring in enough money to stay afloat.

That handshake deal helped propel me into journalism. I realized I could have a larger effect by shaping the public dialogue - hopefully, putting good ideas into the minds of kind souls with the money and influence to really make a difference - politicians, wealthy philanthropists, captains of industry, etc.

These days, I still believe we need to reach the decision-makers with such information. I've also learned we need to make believers of ordinary people, who buying power, votes and voices can move the decision-makers one way or another.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Final CROP Walk Update

I received a call last week from the Lakeland CROP Walk director, who told me we raised $25,000, with another $2,000 expected. Three-quarters of that will go to Church World Service to support its international hunger relief efforts; the rest will be split among three agencies here.

Cities across the country will be holding CROP Walks in the coming weeks; in fact, my old stomping grounds of Chapel Hill, where I first learned of CROP Walk, is holding its walk today.

As you probably know by now, I am fine with people "just sending a check." Money is an important contribution. I think there's a lot to be said for getting out there, too, even if it's just for an afternoon. When we walked here, it was so good to be among those 300 walkers and feed off their energy. The sight of that many people walking together, many wearing similar T-shirts, arouses questions. In this case, it's a good thing. As we were walking, I ran into a colleague, who asked, "What's CROP Walk?"

Raising money is important. So is raising awareness and feeding our souls.

Part of the Global Community

Well, you've probably noticed I haven't been back here in a while. My apologies for that. I've noticed that maintaining a blog either becomes a habit or doesn't; so far, this one has yet to take as a daily ritual, but I promise to keep trying.

I started this hoping to raise my own consciousness about ways to get involved locally and about causes we should be sending our support to elsewhere. In that respect, I have loved this effort. The RSS feeds that appear on the side of the blog have been really helpful in terms of putting news in front of me of the good that people are doing - also, sadly, of the bad.

As someone who works for the mainstream media, we are often accused of "only writing about bad things." Of course, that's not true. Yes. If someone robs a bank, abuses animals or shoots another person, we're going to cover it. But we also write about a lot of good things happening in our local communities.

One of things this blog has reminded me of, though, is that we're part of larger communities, and we can become part of communities we might not immediately identify with, virtual and real. When you read about Darfur or see those images of dead bodies on TV, it's easy to say, "Oh, how terrible. But what can I do?" When I see the news updates appear about what various relief agencies are doing to help, though, it inspires. me. I don't expect to be heading over to the Sudan anytime soon, but I can be part of the solution.