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Getting There: An Immigrant Mom's Journey to Hope and Help, Through Early Head Start

As a single mother with an autistic seven-year-old, Marguerite already felt overwhelmed by life. So she was scared when her infant, Francis, started crying for 12 hours at a time. Then he stopped napping.  Then he stopped looking at people. He stopped looking at her. Marguerite froze.

A recent immigrant from a West African community where mental health challenges were stigmatized, Marguerite’s fear makes sense. “And she wasn’t sure of her English. She felt victimized by the system,” notes Dr. Irene Mazer, Sheltering Arms’ Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant. But beneath those reasons, Dr. Mazer and staff discovered a more trenchant challenge. “She didn’t want people to find out she was ‘a failure'”.

That fear had taken its toll. By the time Marguerite found Sheltering Arm’s Early Childhood Education program, Francis had been struggling almost half his young life. Even then, Dr. Mazer notes that just considering a home visit was progress. “We knew how to help, but needed her permission to give support. That first home-visit was terrifying. He was clearly struggling, and she was in denial.” Still, “just getting there was a success.”
After many false starts, “many texts and a combination of tools to gain her trust,” Marguerite and Francis met Dr. Mazer on the street corner by the building where he would be evaluated. Going in together, they found an explanation; Francis likely was “on the low-range of the autism spectrum.” They also found solutions at Sheltering Arms: Early Head Start programming for him and a Parents Group for her.

Getting to that Group was progress, too. In her first session, the woman next to Marguerite brought up her ten-year-old autistic son and his “special school.” A light went on. A door opened. Possibility dawned, “and suddenly she belonged.”

In fact, today, Marguerite is her child’s best advocate, according to Dr. Mazer. “Yesterday, she ran up to me before the Parent’s Group – breathless –  so excited. She’d made a leap as an advocate for her son and couldn’t wait to tell me.”

She told Dr. Mazer about how a local resource center had limited Francis’ special education time to 10 hours, how she’d been counting on 20 hours, how she’d summoned her best “Dr. Mazer” persona, insisting that “my Early Head Start Program is  going to say that 10 hours is not acceptable.” That’s what Dr. Mazer would say. Then she did what Dr. Mazer would do, and called the coordinator at the resource center, who agreed.

With Marguerite advocating for his every need, Francis has stopped crying for hours at a time. Now this little one, who had never taken a nap, takes them regularly, thanks to teachers at Sheltering Arms. Even mom was surprised by that. But the truest sign of progress for a young mom who once ran from fellowship is her self-regard. “I’m just running out to get a soda, and then I’m coming back for your group!” she told Dr. Mazer. The topic of the day was: How to enhance healthy relationships.

Marguerite stayed for the entire session.

The Girl at the Bottom of the Well: A Holiday Musing ©

Dear God, please put another holiday between Christmas and Easter. 
There is nothing good in there now.” 
- Eight-year-old, Ginny
Christmas.  Kwanzaa. Ramadan.  Hanukkah. 
A Post-Hurricane Sandy ImpulseThis time of year means more things to more people worldwide, than any other season.  But as a grant writer for nonprofit social service agencies, I want Ginny to know; there’s plenty to celebrate between Christmas and New Year’s.
  • It's a kind of Thanksgiving, when a pilot program levels the educational playing field in public schools.
  • It’s a celebration, when a once-illiterate adult is proud of his book report, instead of ashamed he can’t read.
It’s in the therapeutic programs and community outreach.  It’s in the executive teams working on the front lines of governmental advocacy to give unheard, vulnerable populations a voice.  Most certainly, it’s in the philanthropists; it’s nowhere, if not in them.
Some years ago, a child fell into an abandoned well, and the entire nation held its breath, as the frantic mother and throngs of firefighters battled to save her life.  And they did.  And we cheered.  But so many of our fellow citizens are at the bottom of the well of well-being.  So many barely survive the repercussions of addiction, abuse and skyrocketing unemployment.  No wonder Ginny thinks we need more holidays.
In this season of celebration, I applaud the human impulse to ask, advocate and answer the plight of those who have fallen through the cracks in this, the world’s wealthiest nation. What a difference we make, when we invest even a little attention in those who need us.  They are not so far from you and me; they’re as close as Christmas, and their healing is only a celebration away. 
So Happy New Year! And Thanks(for)giving!
And, Ginny, I hope you’re listening.

Women Who Give

Women Who Give
The Chronicle of Philanthropy Stages a Webinar on Female Giving Trends
When Lady Anne Radcliffe funded a scholarship fund at little college called “Harvard” in 1643, she probably didn’t see herself as a trend-setting philanthropist. 
Or maybe she did, to hear to hear experts, Kathleen Loehr and Beth M. Mann speak about the giving habits of this oddly “under the radar group,” at The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Webinar – “Fundraising and the Female Donor." 
Hosted by The Chronicle ‘s Maria Di Mento, development officers and communications directors heard surprising, useful news.  Women give more expansively – “along the lines of global empowerment,” according to Loehr (manager of Orr and Associates), when the money is their own.  The Ms.Foundation’s high concentration of women donors whose “lives were changed by the Women’s Movement,” is a prime example.  As Associate Vice President of the Jewish Federations of America, Mann offers further evidence of the importance of focusing on women as a demographic.  The Federation’s success with women’s philanthropy programs raises nearly $180 Million each year. 
Both offered metrics: women constitute the fastest growing sector of small business owners.  They are six times more likely to give from earned, rather than inherited funds.  Also, Loehr referenced Cornell and Princeton Universities’ abilities to engage women as leaders on boards and councils. By the end of the hour, the sea-change in giving was obvious. 
From pharmaceutical heiress Ruth Lilly’s $100 Million to Poetry magazine; to feminist Joan Palesky’s $200 Million bequest to the California Community Foundation; and Joan Kroc’s (widow of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc) Salvation Army gift - the largest bequest on record ($1.5 billion), Lady Anne would be proud.

WE NEED TO TALK: Mentorship Shines Both Ways

Mentor, Guru, Sage. Mentor, Guru, Sage.
The words evoke images of elders dropping gems into the palms of callow protégés.
But for all their well-earned honors and scars, you won’t find Women in Development/NY’s mentors on a mountaintop; they’re in a meeting.   “Whether you’ve just started or you’re an experienced professional in search of support, having a mentor is crucial for any woman working in development,” says Carol Ausubel Blumenfeld, CFRE. She and fellow Board member, Heidi Ihrig, co-chair WiD’sCareer Advancement and Coaching Committee. 
Terry Billie, WiD member and mentor, agrees. When she graduated, she stepped into a world where “Men far out-numbered women as professional fundraisers. We were all volunteers. You heard a lot of, ‘We can give you an internship, but we can’t pay you.’”
That’s changed. Blumenfeld is a Senior Major & Planned Giving Officer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center; Ihrig is Associate Director of Development at Parsons The New School for Design; and Billie is Director of Corporate & Foundation Relations at Goodwill of New York & New Jersey. They and a dozen other women form WiD’s mentoring program—one of the many benefits of membership. Volunteercoaches do this for fun and for free.
Breaking In
“Guidance on job challenges is significant at any time of life, but when you’re new to the field, it’s vital,” says Blumenfeld. Ihrig adds that member requests for coaching rose by one third last year. This growth was partly due to the increased ease of on-line registration, but also because “Our members are exploring a market that’s more competitive than ever.” That intense influx of interest makes networking matter, according to Billie, whose coaching recently helped a mentee land two clients.
Breaking Glass
"Let's face it. Women still make less than men and fall behind in holding top business, government, and nonprofit leadership positions,” says fellow WiD member and coach, Kelly Brennan. “Having a woman ahead of me on the journey breaks the glass ceiling, so to speak.” Brennan, the Associate Vice President of College Advancement for The College of New Rochelle, says unbiased peer perspective is worth more than gold; it’s worth grants. “We hold the fate of millions of dollars in our hands. It’s critically important to have this program.”
Climbing Higher
These pros won’t be lingering on a mountaintop any time soon, so sustained inspiration matters. Billie finds it in her own “brilliant and wacky, fun and successful coach. She’s doing what I want to do, when I’m almost ready to retire.” But even an excuse is proof that mentoring works.
In the words of one WiD member who couldn’t attend an event: “I have new clients. I’m so busy!  Blame it on my mentor.”                                                

A Non-Partisan Nod: It Takes a Mission.

Inauguration Day, 2009Welcome to my inaugural blog! 
Although I'd hoped to start on a high note, I'm starting on a soaring one, instead; it's the grown-up example of how it looks when everybody wins.
The left-hand photo has lived on the inside cover of every script I've memorized and every appeal idea I've had, since I saw it on the cover of The New York Times on inauguration day of 2009.
At the time, I wondered at the paper's choice to feature a picture of the president’s back on that day, of all days. Considering it further, I understood. On that day America was the exuberant, curious, excited child.  On that day, the kid was the point. The relaxed president and game first lady held the space.
Governor Chris Christie, President Barack Obama, New Jersey ResidentLast week, there was another picture  on the cover of The Times (to your right). Governor Christie, President Obama, and an older woman were looking for what she'd lost in the hurricane. I couldn’t miss the resonance.  These pictures speak to each other.

Time had changed the issue but not the composition. And what we hold as self-evident went from innocent awe, to defiant humility. 
It takes courage not to let Time change composition.  It takes a mission.  It seems to me.
Glad you're here,

EXPECT RESILIENCE: The Safety Net Weighs In.

October 29th, 2013: Hurricane Sandy takes out so many power grids, that children wear snowsuits at home in Breezy Point.
September 11, 2001: The Twin Tower collapse is so broadly felt,
that a nine-year-old in Colorado sends his entire $1 allowance to a Disaster Relief Fund in New York.
These two events have more than a decade between them, but the Robin Hood Foundation’s Emary Aronson drew on them equally, as a panelist at the Better Business Bureau’s Charity Effectiveness Symposium VII:  Resilient New York - How Nonprofit Leaders Are Managing the Unexpected
Hosted by Baruch College’s School of Public Affairs, the symposium drew more than 300 representatives of the foundations, social service agencies, and community organizations on the front lines of New York’s safety net.  Speaking of lessons learned and strategies gained, panelists told of managing the unexpected in visceral, technical and even humorous ways. They extolled collaboration.  They worked across sectors.  They praised fear, as the mother of invention.  Really.  They praised fear.
For Funders like David Okorn, Executive Director of Long Island Community Foundation, collaboration expressed in the“boots on the ground” work to house and feed the stranded. He noted its mandate, too, in working with long-term funders to address damage and destruction that affected over 100,000 homes.  The Brooklyn Community Foundation’s President, Marylyn Gelber, described social media’s catapult, from Luxury Good to Life-saver.  And Ms. Aronson’s remarks, as Managing Director of the Robin Hood Foundation’s Education & Relief Fund, completed the profile of engaged funders at work. 
They tweeted to hold on to overlooked regions; and their board members used personal cell phones to connect with isolated communities.  Above all, closer alignment with fellow foundations was key.
In the category of Leaders, panelists touted resilience from the inside, out.  Co-Director of Community Resource Exchange, Valerie K. Laedlein, extolled the virtues of transparency and of consultants who ask “hard questions in a very positive way.”  (Laughter in the hall.)   The brass tacks of grant-seeking in an increasingly metrics-conscious climate were discussed, too, as was the need to delegate authority (“There’s no shame in a leader not having all the answers...”).
The line between “funder” and “leader” became vague at best,  with a keynote by Sheena Wright, President & CEO of the United Way of New York.  Many who spoke, including Ms. Wright, have personal contexts for the source of resilience. Stories of challenges as parents, Peace Corps Volunteers and entrepreneurs abounded.  
And at the end of the morning, the vote was unanimous, as expressed by one of the Symposium's five moderators.  In the realm of the unexpected, “you can always count on heart and generosity.”

To win. To believe. To Heal. To Thrive. The right verbs for abused kids.

I’ve been thinking about an interview I did with kids called “the worst of the worst” – a term that made the executive director of their school wince, and I don’t blame him.
As is often the case with physically and emotionally abused kids like these, their stories were unforgettable.  They've been living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a diagnosis once limited to Vietnam veterans but now extended to children in an urban war which shakes the very foundation of their beliefs about safety and shatters their assumptions of trust.
So these interviewees were skittish.  They were exhausted and wound up simultaneously, heads down on their desks, or unable to sit in their chairs.  They were not happy to be in school in July, and so they were rebellious.  They would not, in effect, give this writer their names. 
Determined, I called this their great opportunity. “I write these things that are published, which means all of the grown-ups who believe in this place and who want you to do well will read what I write.”
“And they should hear from you, because you’re the guys who matter here.”
“This is your chance.”
“To be millionaires?”  One of them quips.
“That’s right, to be millionaires.  To be in the news.  To be heard.”
Interest was piqued.  Of my voice recorder, they wondered would they have a chance to hear themselves. “Absolutely. I would hate to have someone interview me and then not get to hear what I said.” 
Would they get to read about themselves? “Well, of course.”  The floodgates then opened – a torrent of sounds and laughter, and finally competing – not fighting, but competing – to be heard.
They had big plans. 
“I want to go to Africa!”
“I want to be a Fireman! No!  Can I change that? I want to be at least three things!” 
“I think we should have a drama club.” 
“I’m on the Student Council!” 
“Can you spell disestablishtentarianism?” 
“Well, that’s not how you pronounce it, but I‘m impressed that you asked.”  (Let me say right here, that when I went home, I had to check that to be sure.)
They made me laugh.  And then they made me laugh harder.
Begging for more time, as I shut off a voice recorder full of dreams the littlest of us didn’t get to have until now, they shouted over each other:  “I’m the teacher!  I’m the teacher!”  I wish I'd told them what I was thinking: “In fact, you are.”
Truly, I hope we grant writers ultimately activate new and creative ways to connect vulnerable populations to authentic possibility.  These stories redefine learning, and these kids graduate from despair, when they're noticed.   Notice them enough, and these particular students might make trauma look like, well, "history." 
PS:  Disestablishmentarianism: the longest word in the English Dictionary.  I looked it up.
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