Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Gift of Alone Time

I've been playing catch-up all week. Every spring, my hubby and I work together to keep our garden in some semblance of order. This year, though, we'd both been busy working on our own pet projects. Weeds sprouted, willy-nilly, throughout our garden. Needless to say, my fingers were itchy to restore order.

As I stood in the hot sun, alternately rubbing my aching back and swatting away persistent horseflies, I had a moment of clarity. It's amazing how things become clearer when you step away from your daily routine and give yourself the gift of alone time.

I chose to weed so I could give myself permission to sit in silence, so to speak. To listen to my inner voice, and, hopefully, bring order to my life, in much the same way I was attempting to bring order to my unkempt garden. Like sticking to the same old exercises over and over again, I had created a set of daily tasks that no longer served me well. My creative muscle had become flabby.

I read somewhere that we need to "practice the discipline of periodic unavailability."

Susan Florence said, "Our lives are so busy - so full of people, and things to do. By spending time alone we can discover who we really are. We will see the things that are most precious and meaningful to our lives, and we will find a sense of calm and renewal."

As I weeded, I let my voice speak in the silence. It's as if clarity was waiting in the wings. Waiting for me to slow down... and listen. Ironically, it was in this solitary state that I thought a lot about the power of collaborating with others.

"The old saying "two heads are better than one" is most often true. I find collaboration not only stimulating to my own creative thinking but also empowering," said Bunnie Riedel in Nonprofit Conversation.

Over the past few years, research has focused on "improving the ability of the entire nonprofit/civil society to work together to achieve common social goals."

"For the first time, the Heart and Stroke Foundation joined with the Canadian Mental Health Association of Peterborough to host a charity golf tournament." "Homelessness charities that usually compete for funds are working together to help get their clients into jobs."

By coming together, providing the combined resources of many organizations, nonprofits can "provide a richer environment for the people they serve."

I walked away from my time alone fired up - and more than willing to work my creative muscle. A bonus gift was that I learned the power of gratitude. I’m grateful that more and more nonprofits are reaching out to other organizations of like mind, collaborating, merging, and sharing fundraisers. Our combined efforts will only benefit the intellectually disabled community.

Do you have any ideas on how nonprofits can more effectively work together?


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's on Your Wish List?

When was the last time you made a wish list? The kind you made when you were a child, spending hours, days and months fine-tuning it. Then you’d leave the list in the most conspicuous place in the house (in our house, anything propped against the kettle was found within minutes). The man with the white beard and red suit was ostensibly the recipient, but by the ripe old age of eight, you knew better.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent the last 20 years reading wish lists (my kids are in their 20s, but they still send me their Christmas lists) rather than putting my visions down on paper.

Why talk about wish lists in June? Well, recently, I was cooling my heels in a dentist’s office. An abscessed tooth extraction was looming over me like the proverbial black cloud and I needed something to distract me. As usual, I made my way over to the familiar sanctuary of the magazine table in the corner. The cover of April’s issue of Reader’s Digest caught my eye (hey, I was in a dentist’s office – if you prefer to read the current issue of your favourite magazine, avoid a doctor's or dentist's office like the plague). It was hard to resist the cover story, It’s a Wonderful Life (How You Can Make It Better). A good portion of the magazine was dedicated to showcasing global heroes who are championing the cause of environmental protection.

“In small ways and big, global citizens are making a difference. Regular citizens are doing their bit to make our world a better place. They’re pitching in to help the planet.”

Page after page catalogued the various heroes working tirelessly to save our planet. It got me thinking: If Reader’s Digest were to showcase people and organizations that are making a difference in the lives of the intellectually disabled, who would be on their list?

And that’s when my wish list sprang to mind fully-formed. I wanted to create a list of global heroes who are championing the rights of the intellectually disabled community (which would then appear in a mainstream magazine).

A neat fantasy, but the list was in need of a trim job. One blog post couldn’t hope to contain even a fraction of the heroes who are working on behalf of the disabled community, so I wrote the names of organizations, or individuals, on post-it notes and threw them into a hat. Then I pulled out the first five notes. (No one can accuse me of an in-depth research approach, but then my wish list will not appear in the next issue of Reader’s Digest, or any magazine for that matter.)


Photojournalist Dan Habib rarely thought about inclusion before he had his son Samuel seven years ago. Now he thinks about inclusion every day. Habib’s documentary film Including Samuel examines the educational and social inclusion of youth with disabilities as a civil rights issue.

Journalist Patricia Bauer’s News & Commentary on Disability Issues blog: "More than 50 million people in the United States have disabilities, a number that is growing rapidly as the population ages. Experts say disability will soon affect the lives of most Americans. This website attempts to aggregate news and commentary about disability, and to document the efforts of people who are seeking new ways to address familiar challenges. Join journalist Patricia E. Bauer as she seeks to bring you the best information about what's happening now and what it may mean for you and your loved ones."

I’m Tyler: Tyler is a typical high school student who happens to have cerebral palsy and some other challenges. He has taken on a mission to educate the world about Ability Awareness. He believes that what a person, any person, CAN do is much more important than what he/she can't.


Best Buddies® is the world's largest nonprofit organization for the intellectually disabled. Best Buddies Canada is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing our communities through one-to-one friendships between individuals with intellectual disabilities and students.

L’Arche is a place of belonging for people living with a disability and those who share life with them. Since 1964, men and women of good will, with and without intellectual disability, are commiting to each other in L'Arche to break down the barriers of fears that separate us and to create new places of belonging where everyone is important and can contribute. L'Arche is an international movement.

Film documentary:

Living Proof: The Right to Live in the Community - Living Proof provides a voice for members of society who are all too often ignored. Stigma and discrimination perpetuate a social welfare system that keeps people with intellectual disabilities from realizing their fundamental right to live independently. By describing the experiences and presenting opinions of people with intellectual disabilities, this film demonstrates the importance of achieving change in the social welfare system and in society as a whole.

Before Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975, millions of children received inadequate special education services, and at least one million children were prevented from attending public schools altogether. Going to School, a film documentary, details the effort of the Los Angeles Unified School District to include students with disabilities in the curriculum and provide them with the same educational opportunities as other students.

Film Festivals:

Sprout Film Festival: People with developmental disabilities as subjects and performers remain marginalized in the media. The Sprout Film Festival aims to raise their profile by showcasing works in all genres featuring this population.

8th International Disability Film Festival – A short of the films that were presented in 2008. Launched in 1999, the London Disability Film Festival has grown in size, quality and impact every year. The festival has served as a model for other disability film festivals in Finland, Canada, Greece and Turkey. Its insistence on accessible premises and access facilities and programming has resulted in its becoming a beacon of best practice.

Toronto Special Olympics (Local: Toronto, ON) The organization's primary objective is to contribute to the physical, social, and psychological development of people who have a mental disability through positive, successful experiences in sports.

Ok, so I didn’t limit my wish list to five. Frankly, the list is endless – a fact that leaves me deeply grateful.

What about you? Who is on your wish list? Who would you like to see showcased in a mainstream magazine?

Oh, and here’s one more person I couldn’t resist adding to the list:


Monday, June 1, 2009

You've Always Had the Power

Today is Just Show Up's first anniversary. I wanted to celebrate with a cake, streamers, and a ticker-tape parade, because it's really the first anniversary of putting my fears to bed. In June of 2008, I was an online newbie, my white knuckles a testament to the level of anxiety I felt about starting a blog. Especially since it would not be a personal blog, but rather, a blog for a nonprofit organization. Gulp. Enter sweaty palms, flying monkeys, and The Wicked Witch of the West.

Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, the past year has had its share of "false evidence appearing real". Fear has reared its ugly head, time and again, and many times I felt more like the Cowardly Lion. But, one year later, I sit a little taller in my chair as I plug away at my keyboard.

The journey was a slow but steady process. There was no defining moment, when a Good Witch of the North helped me to discover that the power to change was always within me. It didn't happen overnight, but the good news is that I'm learning (by and large) not to shrink back from challenges. And, more importantly, only I have the power to activate change within myself.

MacKenna Pefley, an 8th-grader, didn't have to wait over 50 years to learn this lesson. Last year, she "suffered from serious anxiety, which made her physically and emotionally unable to attend classes." But with the help of family, friends, teachers and staff, MacKenna Pefley overcame her fears and now attends classes regularly.
MacKenna used her first-hand knowledge of anxiety to "help other students with similar special challenges." She is a peer assistant in an autism focus program and works hand-in-hand with the teachers to assist students in the program who need help focusing on goals and life skills.

When trained adults are unable to reach the students, MacKenna steps in and "holds the student's hand, whispers in his or her ear and talks the student into calmness. The students don't hesitate to follow her lead."
MacKenna discovered that she "likes to help others and it makes me feel good to know I can make a difference."

It struck me then. Is the key to unlocking our potential as simple as acknowledging that the power to make a difference is within each of us?

What do you think? I'd love to hear your take on this. And while you're at it, do you know someone who faced their worst fears and, in the process, was able to transform other people's lives?

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