Love bombing the world

One of Shannon Weber's many love notes, this one in Santa Monica; from LoveYou2 Facebook page

One of Shannon Weber’s many love notes, this one in Santa Monica; from LoveYou2 Facebook page

As Director of the National Perinatal HIV Hotline, based in San Francisco, Shannon Weber devotes her professional life to women’s health issues and community health disparities. But it was not for this good work she came to my attention. It was for her determination to spread love around the world, one note at a time.

She was in a major transition period when she began writing love notes to her kids when she had to be away for work. When the children told her sometimes they needed love notes even when she was around, she posted a love note to the refrigerator. It said simply, “I love you.” Below that note were pull tabs that said, “I love you too.” The children could pull one any time they needed it.

That was the beginning of LoveYou2.org, where the ephemeral artist posts photographs and stories of the love she is spreading. The updates from her “get love. give love.” revolution will warm your heart. Public Displays of Affection document the love signs she hangs around San Francisco. Guest Posts highlight love from around the world, from people who submit photos and stories of the love they are spreading, and the Love Note Map geotags them. Her SuperHero Hall of Gratitude honours “the ordinary and the unsung who offer to the world the very best parts of themselves without expectation.”

Drop by LoveYou2.org and be inspired to do your own love bombing. The world can never have too much love, and you will get back as much as you give…and more.

Find more love on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

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This 98-year-old keeps on giving

Evelyn, from BaasCreative's wonderful video below

Evelyn, from BaasCreative’s wonderful video below

My mother would have loved this woman. The place she lives looks very much like the cluster of apartments where my mother spent her last years. Each small unit was occupied by an older woman on her own. They knew each other’s habits. If Joyce (my mother) did not open her blinds by nine o’clock, her neighbours were checking on her. If Gertrude did not water her flowers by noon, she was cause for alarm.

In this sweet video from I Like Giving, a site I’ve just learned about (thank you, Kirsten McAlpine), 97-year-old Evelyn talks about her retirement community. They had a bus that gave people transportation and kept them connected. Then the bus service ended.

Evelyn’s neighbour Joyce (not my mother) was devastated. She was happy living in the community, but with no bus available, she was prepared to move and lose the social circle she had developed. Evelyn would have none of that so offered to drive her to shops.

Then Evelyn lost her license through some bureaucratic nonsense. She had no blemishes on her driving record, but someone decided she was just too old to be on the road.

Since driving Joyce and other residents around was one way she could still contribute, Evelyn decided to fight the decision. She took the required tests, got her license back, and resumed her service to the retirement community.

Evelyn understood one of the secrets of healthy aging: to look outward rather than focus only on herself. Giving service to her neighbours gave her life meaning. Driving Joyce and others was her path to joy.

One day Joyce will have to give up her keys. I hope when that happens one of her neighbours will take on the task. As for Joyce, I have a hunch she will always find ways to stay connected and be of service. When we reach the age of 100, may we all have a younger neighbour like Evelyn.

I Like Being 98. from ILikeGiving.com on Vimeo.

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Bad kids gone good

Teresa Goines with one of the youth staff of Old Skool Cafe; photo from Old Skool Cafe Facebook page

Teresa Goines with one of the youth staff of Old Skool Cafe; photo from Old Skool Cafe Facebook page

 

They are kids without a future. They are from San Francisco’s hardest neighbourhoods. Some know the foster system all too well. Others have spent time in juvenile detention. “Domestic violence” is more than a phrase to many of them.

When Teresa Goines was a juvenile corrections officer, she saw them cycle through a revolving door of crime, detention, and back again. Watching kids with real promise on the treadmill to nowhere broke her heart.

In 2005 she started Old Skool Cafe to give at-risk youth a place to learn work skills and earn some money. She started in her own kitchen and garden. Though she was not a trained chef, she taught kids to harvest, cook and cater.

Now Old Skool is a 1940s-themed supper club where young people learn professional and life skills. Churches, non-profit organizations, businesses, philanthropists, and volunteers weave supports around them.

Pulled off the nowhere treadmill, Old Skool youth don red shirts, black bowties, and fancy dresses. They cook. They serve. They busk. They perform. They become the successful young adults Goines knew they could be.

Old Skool Cafe’s full name starts with “Cora Jean”, named for the woman who inspired Goines: her mother. When Goines was ready to crumble under the weight of death and loss she experienced as a youth, Cora Jean shored her up with the promise Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in his poem, “In Memoriam”: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

That is a sentiment Goines shares with the young people who come through the doors of Old Skool. Whatever they have lost in their short lives, whatever heartaches they have endured, whatever guilt they may carry, they carry within them the seeds of love and the promise of success. In the accepting atmosphere of Old Skool, they learn to tend those seeds until they thrive.

You can follow Old Skool Cafe on Facebook and Twitter.

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Hurricane Hazel, a Canadian marvel

1024px-Mayor_Hazel_McCallion

Mayor Hazel McCallion; photo by Joey Coleman from Hamilton, Ontario, via Wikimedia Commons

When she was elected as mayor of  Canada’s sixth largest city, Hazel McCallion could not have known she would serve twelve terms. The Mississauga mayor was in that office from 1978 until 2014, and although officially retired she is actually serving as special advisor for strategic development at the University of Toronto Mississauga.

Born in 1921, McCallion worked for Kellogg until 1967, when she left the corporate world for politics. That was the year she won her first election, as deputy reeve of Streetsville. (A reeve is the term used in some parts of Canada for the head of a town council.) The next year she was appointed reeve and never looked back.

By the time she was elected mayor of Mississauga in 1978, McCallion was well on her way to earning her nickname, “Hurricane Hazel”. She worked tirelessly on behalf of her constituents. Even at 93, her last year in office, she was rising every day at 5 a.m., doing her exercises, reading reports over breakfast, and starting her work day before most people even began their commute.

McCallion earned her stripes early in her mayoral career. She was barely into her first term in Mississauga when, in November 1979, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed. In spite of an initial explosion visible 100 km away, quick acting on the part of the train’s brakeman avoided an even greater disaster. With fire still burning and the potential for the release of deadly chlorine gas from a ruptured tank, the city had to make a quick decision. Over 200,000 people were evacuated safely.

Mississaugans never forgot. Their leader had proven her mettle in a time of crisis. She kept reinforcing it throughout her long career. She also exhibited sound business sense, leaving behind a city completely debt free, with over $700 million in reserves.

People like Hazel McCallion are rare. They inspire us to live larger than we think we can.

Comedian Rick Mercer interviewed McCallion in 2009. Watch the video for a taste of her indomitable spirit. It will leave you smiling.

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New York’s original good-news man

Steve Kraus, publisher of The New York Good News; photo clip from video below

Steve Kraus, publisher of The New York Good News; photo clip from video below

Steve Kraus began delivering the good news to New York’s East Village in 1962. The Polish Jew had escaped Europe during World War II. He had written for the U.S. Information Agency and knew his way around both writing and bad news.

When DNAinfo interviewed then 82-year-old Kraus in 2011, he told them:

“Quite a few years ago I came to the conclusion that the mass media – newspapers, television – concentrated on dire, bad, sad news. The good news happens all the time, but it’s usually buried in the back pages.”

Kraus decided to dig it out, do a paste-up of the clippings, and circulate it as The New York Good News. When DNAinfo interviewed him, he had acquired enough clippings to put together his 13th issue.

His intent with The New York Good News was always to give people a little hope, perhaps help them trust each other better. He figured they might even be inspired to do a little good themselves.

While he is compiling it, he is also volunteering around East Village, keeping tabs on the neighbourhood, and being the sort of community fixture people appreciate.

A dozen issues in more than 50 years is a small stone dropped in the waters of bad news, but anything dropped in water ripples outward. When Huffington Post added its “Good News” vertical (section) in 2012, they honoured Kraus for being “one of Gotham’s original purveyors of the life-affirming and upbeat”. And East Villagers who have come across this small publication or the man who publishes it have had their lives made just a bit brighter by his determination to find light in darkness.

 

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Stray dogs come to funeral home to pay respects

Dogs saying farewell to an animal lover; photo from Patricia Urritia's Facebook page (click on the image to see others)

Dogs saying farewell to an animal lover; photo from Patricia Urritia’s Facebook page (click on the image to see others)

Every day for 20 years Margarita Suarez fed the stray dogs and cats in her neighbourhood in Cuernavaca Morelos, Mexico. When she died, they paid their respects.

The story went viral thanks to her daughter, Patricia Urritia, who shared the astonishing story on her Facebook page. She said when her mother’s casket arrived at the funeral chapel for the wake, a contingent of dogs followed it inside and kept vigil throughout the night. They left in the morning but returned shortly before Margarita Suarez was cremated.

One of the curious aspects of the story is that the animals Suarez fed were in Merida Yucatan, where she lived. She had only come to Cuernavaca when she became too ill to remain in her own home. Well over a thousand kilometers separate the two communities so the canine honour guard was made up of dogs who were strangers to Suarez.

Seeing the dogs follow her mother into the chapel, Urritia asked staff if that was normal. It was not. Urritia has no doubt they were there to honour her mother, somehow drawn to this woman who cared so deeply for animals. Perhaps they sensed the loving energy of Urritia, whose Facebook page shows her own compassion for animals. Whatever the case, the story is touching.

 

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Love those imperfect bodies

Shanti and Liz, co-creators of Perfect Imperfection; photo clip from video below

Shanti and Liz, co-creators of Perfect Imperfection; photo clip from video below

Media images of perfection aside, the people walking around our neighbourhoods represent all the variations of body types and insecurities. “I’m not good enough” is a phrase running on a loop through our minds.

Photographers Liz LaVorgna and Shanta Crowley of Brattleboro, Vermont want to break that loop with Perfect Imperfection, a photography and spoken word project they hope will start a movement. Defying societal pressures to be flawless physically and emotionally, they collaborated on a journey of discovery and acceptance.

According to the Brattleboro Reformer, the project began when the two friends were discussing liposuction. That led to their seeking volunteers willing to admit their own imperfections and allow Liz and Shanta to portray them photographically. Their first subjects were each other, being willing to share the kinds of insecurities we normally do our best to hide.

The photographs they took of volunteers were accompanied by the stories they were willing to share publicly. Each photograph was carefully planned, in collaboration with the subject. Figuring out how to portray deeply held insecurities, painful emotions and physical imperfections called on all the creativity both photographers and volunteers could bring to the project.

They took the results to Brattleboro’s 2014 Gallery Walk and brought it back in 2015. Visitors were deeply touched by the honesty and vulnerability of the photographs.

Their work deserves an audience well beyond their Vermont community. Check them out. Share their project, and be inspired to love your own imperfections.

You can see each of the photographer’s interpretations on their websites: Liz‘s and Shanta‘s.

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She did on one leg what most people can’t on two

Arumina Sinha

Arunima Sinha, winner of Dr. Patra’s Positive Health Awards 2014; clip from video below

When thieves attacked Arunima Sinha, one of India’s volleyball champions, in April 2011 she fought back. No one on the crowded train stepped forward to help her so they threw her out of the train. An oncoming train ran over her leg, crushing it below the knee.

As she described it in her INK Talk, she lay on the railroad bed, screaming for help, determined to live. Hours later villagers took her to the district hospital. No blood or anesthesia was available, but the gritty young woman insisted they amputate the crushed limb. Impressed by her courage, both the doctor and the pharmacist donated blood for her. Without pain killers, they removed the crushed limb.

She told police about the assault. Instead of believing her and going after the criminals, they accused her of attempting suicide or trying to avoid paying the fare. Once again she fought back, this time against the police. The high court believed her and ordered Indian Railways to pay her a settlement.

The Sports Ministry came to her aid while she was in the village hospital. She was transferred from Lucknow to the AIIMS Trauma Centre in Delhi.

Lying in her hospital bed, with no assurance she would ever walk again, she made a decision. Not only would she walk, she would climb Mount Everest. Most people were skeptical, but her family believed in her and took her to meet Bachendri Pal, the first Indian Woman to climb that peak. Pal encouraged her to go after her dream.

With an artificial limb and a determined heart, Arunima Sinha began training at Pal’s adventure foundation. After a year’s arduous training, she began a climb that took 52 days and steely will. On May 21, 2013, she stood on the 29,000 foot summit of Mount Everest.

But she was not done. Since then she has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Elbrus. She has set her sights on four more peaks and plans to become the first Indian amputee to climb all seven.

She believed she could do it. She prepared herself. She did it.

And so can we all.

You can follow Arunima Sinha on Facebook and Twitter and read her book, Born Again on the Mountain: How I Lost Everything and Found It Back

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Would you hug a strange Muslim?

"Big hug!" by Richard Lewis, via Flickr Creative Commons

“Big hug!” by Richard Lewis, via Flickr Creative Commons

That is what the Blind Trust Project set out to discover. If a blindfolded Muslim stranger stood on the street, arms outstretched, would you hug him? What if he had two signs explaining himself? One would read, “I am  Muslim. I am labelled as a terrorist.” The other would carry this simple message, “I trust you. Do you trust me? Give me a hug.”

Assam Galuta (Asoomii Jay) tested Canadians’ responses in a social media experiment on a busy Toronto street. With the help of Mustafa Mawla from TimeVision, they set things up and filmed the results. They were curious to see how Canadians would react. Their hope was to make people more aware of Islamophobia and allay fears.

The results were heartening. One after another, men and women of all ages and cultures walked up to the blindfolded Mawla, arms outstretched, and wrapped him in a hug.

A New York actor, Karim Metwaly learned of the experiment and decided to try it in New York. The passersby ignored him at first, but gradually one after another stepped into his arms and gave him a hug.

Jay was surprised to learn of the New York experiment, but she was also pleased. She told the CBC:

“It is a first step in helping educate people that not all Muslims are ‘bad people’ and a reminder for radical Muslims as well that if we want to defend Islam, we should do so in a way Islam teaches, not with acts of violence [which are] forbidden in Islam.”

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These neighbours are not just bystanders

Being neighbourly in Strathcona; photo by Leeann Cafferata, via Flickr Creative Commons

Being neighbourly in Strathcona; photo by Leeann Cafferata, via Flickr Creative Commons

The Strathcona neighbourhood in Vancouver, B.C. is the city’s oldest residential community. A mix of ages, cultures and incomes, it normally feels like a safe place to live, according to residents who spoke to CBC after a horrific rape occurred.

On March 26, 2015 that sense of safety was shattered. Shortly after noon that day a 25-year-old man barged into a young woman’s home, tied her up and began brutally assaulting her. She tried to fight him off, but he overpowered her.

This is where a bit of light begins to open in a harrowing story. A passerby heard the woman’s screams and ran to help her. As he fought off the attacker, others rushed to help. They held the rapist until the police arrived.

The victim was hospitalized with serious injuries. Her body will recover. Her sense of safety will take a longer time to heal. That she survived an attack by such a violent man may be due to her neighbours’ intervention.

Their concern, and their neighbourliness, did not stop there. One of her neighbours launched a GoFundMe campaign to show the victim how much her neighbourhood cares about her and to help fund her recovery. Within two days people had pitched in nearly the full $35,000 that was the goal of the fundraiser.

No one should have to endure what this woman has. What makes this story different from so many similar ones is how the neighbourhood responded. Strathcona has put monsters like this attacker on notice. They have also declared they will rally around in support of one of their own.

The “bystander effect” is well known and frequently researched. In Strathcona a group of neighbours refused to be bystanders, daring to intercede in spite of the danger, willing to pitch in to help in the aftermath.

As ugly as this story is on many levels, it is also a story of hope. We are each other’s keepers. What happens to you affects all of us. So let’s add another effect, the Strathcona effect, people who care enough about those who share their community they will step forward in time of danger or need.

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