#674 Turning something old into something new

Repurposed wagon

Repurposed wagon; photo by Wickerfurniture, via Flickr Creative Commons

Oh, repurposers, you make me determined to change my ways. You take creative recycling to new heights.

When I think of all the stuff I have shoveled out the door during my years, I am deeply embarrassed. And I am not even a very active consumer. I still drive a 1998 vehicle, which now has over 275,000 km on it, but mostly I walk. I live with my partner in a small condo. My clothing is secondhand, and I have only a small closet of it. I wear comfortable shoes and re-sole them when I can. I use the library a lot.

And still the stuff accumulates around me as if it were rabbits having sex while I sleep. So from time to time I weed it out and head off to the thrift store. Still, there are things I see no value in. I toss them in the recycling or, worse yet, into the garbage.

Repurposers show me how short sighted I am. Here are some recycling/repurposing sites and some of the creative reuses people have found for their old stuff:

Recyclelife Brasil (thanks to Nanette for telling me about them)

Aunt Peaches

DIY – Repurposing, Jess Gatto’s board on Pinterest

Repurpose household items, Gloriane Ross’s Pinterest board

I’m not a crafty person so the odds of my spending hours turning one thing into another are not great. I’m better off limiting what I bring into the house in the first place. But I’m tickled by these repurposers and occasionally inspired. They give me hope that more of us will stop tossing things and figure out ways of reusing them instead.


#673 Father Boyle’s circle of kinship

“I have never met a hopeful kid that joined a gang.” Fr. Gregory Boyle

Fr. Gregory Boyle

Photo clip of Fr. Gregory Boyle, from TED talk

Father Gregory Boyle traces the beginning of Homeboy Industries to an ex-con’s walking into his office in the Dolores Mission in Los Angeles. In his TED talk, Boyle says he was serving in the poorest parish in Los Angeles. Frank was two weeks out of Corcoran State Prison.

Frank told Fr. Boyle, “You know, I’m having a hard time finding a job.”

Across Frank’s forehead was a tattoo that posed an insurmountable barrier for potential employers: “Fuck the world.”

Boyle found a doctor willing to donate time to remove the tattoo. Frank’s journey became the impetus for Jobs for a Future. That was 1988, when Los Angeles had only 8 gangs. The jobs program’s success in helping gang members who wanted to leave street life led to the launch of Homeboy Bakery in 1992. Boyle was willing to try anything to provide a future for gang members. Some initiatives worked, some didn’t. He told the TED audience Homeboy plumbing was not a big success and laughed, ““Who knew people did not want former gang members in their homes?”

Today Homeboy Industries has seven social enterprises. In addition to providing jobs for former gang members, they offer services that include anger management, parenting, mental health and substance abuse counseling, tutoring, case management, job development and free tattoo removal.

Homeboy Industries is now the largest gang member rehabilitation and re-entry center in the U.S., working with 15,000 men and women each year. They have their work cut out for them. Los Angeles now has 1,100 gangs with 86,000 members.

In his TED talk, Boyle asks:

How can we achieve a certain kind of compassion that stands in awe of what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it? For the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them, in mutuality.

With his engaging stories, warm laugh and boundless love, Fr. Boyle invites all of us to join the circle of kinship, a circle of compassion where no one stands outside. Although he acknowledges evil in the world, he sees good in everyone and says:

Sometimes you have to reach in and dismantle messages that get in the way so that the soul can feel its worth.

We all have messages that get in the way. We all need the circle of kinship.

Fr. Gregory Boyle gives me hope.

Fr. Boyle’s memoir:

Listen to interviews with Fr. Boyle on Krista Tippett’s On Being and Mary Hynes’s Tapestry.

Follow HomeBoy Industries on Facebook and Twitter.

Check out this video on Homeboy Industries’ kinship of hope.


#672 Prodigal son’s gift to his mother

Aba Atlas

Aba Atlas, explaining his gift; photo clip from his video

Aba Atlas was the prodigal son. As a lot of young, disaffected and searching people do, he disappeared from his family’s life. He was gone two and a half years. When he showed up on his mother’s Ottawa doorstep, luggage in hand, she greeted him with a big smile of unconditional love and acceptance, and no questions.

For more than 20 years the Eritrean immigrant has worked as a housekeeper to support her five children. Aba Atlas did not always make her life easier. He told Michelle McQuigge of the Globe and Mail some of the things he tried in defiance of his parents’ wishes: drugs, alcohol, joining the military.

When Atlas’s father died at age 56, the young man turned his life around and decided to do something to show his mother his gratitude for her years of sacrifice. For several years he saved most of the pay he received as an army private. When he had enough, he chose a special day to present it: his birthday. It was the day she had given him life.

In the envelope he handed her was a cheque large enough to pay off her mortgage. She was so overwhelmed she told him she wouldn’t sleep, for fear of dying of happiness.

Part of Atlas’s gift was the video he made of his decision and his presenting the cheque to his mother. He posted it on Facebook and then decided to share it on Reddit, where it quickly went viral. As I type it has been viewed more than 1.8 million times.

In a guest post for CBC, Atlas wrote:

For me, this video isn’t about who I am. It isn’t even about my mother or the cheque I gave her. You know when you put religion, intention, money, age, ethnicity, and sex aside and you really look at what this video is about, I hope you come to realize that it’s about one thing: Love, and showing your appreciation for that bond by helping someone you care about.

Whether that person is your sister, your father, your grandparents — whoever it may be – I just hope that you do take the time to show your appreciation. I want to thank all the people who’ve taken the time to do just that, to help others find their smile.

A gift like this one from Aba Atlas shows a generosity of spirit most of us aspire to but few of us achieve. And his mother’s deep, unconditional love is the kind of acceptance we all need, the kind that welcomes us back, whatever the harm we have done or the guilt we may carry.

They give me hope.


#671 Principal fires security guards, hires art teachers

Andrew Bott

Photo clip of Andrew Bott from NBC Nightly News video

The National Rifle Association, which came out in favour of arming teachers in every school in America, must be vomiting bullets over this story. A school in one of the most violent neighbourhoods in the country shows arts, not guns, are better at ensuring school security.

The Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury, Massachusetts opened to high hopes in 2003. Designed with an arts focus that would turn children’s lives around, it became instead a violent, chaotic school where students were neither safe nor educated. By 2010 it had achieved the dubious distinction of being a “turnaround school”http://www2.ed.gov/programs/sif/index.html, eligible for special grants intended for schools scraping the bottom of the education barrel.

Then the school won the principal lottery. Andrew Bott decided to accept the post as the school’s 6th leader in 7 years, even though colleagues told him it would end his career. Before Bott became principal, backpacks had been banned because they could conceal weapons. Half of the teachers quit every year. The atmosphere was more like a prison than a school.

He told NBC’s Katy Tur the stunning decision that put Orchard Gardens back on the track toward achieving its initial vision: He replaced security guards with art teachers.http://dailynightly.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/01/18005192-principal-fires-security-guards-to-hire-art-teachers-and-transforms-elementary-school So what is the pilot school like in 2013? Tur reports:

But now, three years later, the school is almost unrecognizable. Brightly colored paintings, essays of achievement, and motivational posters line the halls. The dance studio has been resurrected, along with the band room, and an artists’ studio.

The end result? Orchard Gardens has one of the fastest student improvement rates statewide. And the students — once described as loud and unruly, have found their focus.

The school is not resting on the laurels of its new success. It is still working to improve students’ academic performance, still trying to move out of the ranks of low-performing schools. But students and faculty have a new sense of trust in each other. Students are gaining self-confidence and skills in dance, theatre, music and art. Along with that, they are gaining a sense of themselves as competent human beings, who can set their dreams high.

That is a huge turnaround in a short time and evidence of the power of believing in the intelligence and goodness within each child. Andrew Bott took a bold and controversial step. Thanks to his leadership, students and teachers at Orchard Gardens can concentrate on learning.

That gives me hope.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thanks to Raine Alten Gould for the tip on this story.


#670 What’s better than recycling? Fixing

Photo via Kozzi.com

Photo via Kozzi.com

They started with an old computer. With no manual and no idea how to go about repairing it, they tinkered until they got it right. That encouraged them to try fixing some other laptops. Parts were a problem, but a broken computer on eBay provided what they needed, which led to their deciding to sell parts.

Now the company they founded, iFixit, has moved a long way toward realizing its goal to “Bring an end to planned obsolescence.” So pull out those old phones, tablets and computers. Head over to iFixit and learn how to repair them yourself. Just as good: Learn how to thumb your nose at the companies that endlessly upgrade in ways that turn our current electronics into museum pieces by the time we get home with them.

In addition to the environmental advantages of adding life to the stuff we buy, the savings can be considerable. When iFixit surveyed members, they found people were spending about 69% less on maintenance than other Americans.

The iFixit repair manuals are free and user friendly. Site users are also encouraged to create and edit guides and to add their own repair stories to the site. If you need parts or tools, you can order them from iFixit. You can also ask or answer questions of the community.

Happy people weigh in after their experience with iFixit. One guy spilled beer on his laptop and was able to make some minor repairs, clean it out and eliminate the smell of ale from his trusty computer. Of course, this is the real world. Not every repair works out, though even those that don’t often have a happy twist, such as the one about replacing an LCD panel on a MacBook.

I checked out a few of guides and really appreciated the step-by-step photos and videos. I admit to being a technophobe when it comes to dismantling and fiddling with electronics. But with iFixit holding my hand and explaining in plain language how to maneuver around the complicated guts of my little machines, I just might overcome my phobia and plunge in.

With the planet awash in last year’s electronics, we have to stop taking the expensive and wasteful route, replacing our computers, cameras, appliances and cars rather than keeping them running.

iFixit has boldly stepped into the planned-obsolescence world and thrown out a challenge to manufacturers and consumers. They give me hope.

You can follow iFix on their blog and on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.


#669 The long walk of Nicky Gallas

Nicky Gallas

Photo clip of Nicky Gallas from her interview on Today Tonight

When suicide, murder and loss marred her childhood, Nicky Gallas turned to a friend she could always count on. That friend was food.

Food offered dependable comfort, year after year. With her 40th birthday nearing, she weighed a discouraging 212 kg. She had flirted with suicide, had tried dieting, and could not walk without crutches. She expected to be dead before she reached 41, the age her father was when he died.

The trigger for change is different for everyone. For Gallas it was twofold. She decided she did not want her family to go through what she had when her father died. And a friend told her about a strict diet that was working for people. Neither of those things was new to her, but this time the combination worked. With her family’s support she began losing weight and gradually lost 115 kg.

What she did not lose was her lifelong struggle with depression. She writes:

Today, I still struggle with my depression as unfortunately that was not the fix for me. I am focusing my life now on being an advocate for people who don’t believe in themselves or think they are not worth the hard work. The people who think they are not worth the effort or who think they do not deserve to be in this wonderful world because of their weight, depression and looks.

That’s what makes her a reason for hope to me. After the scare of a mild heart attack, and still grappling with despair, she stumbled onto the one thing that seems to work best in the face of depression or many of life’s reversals: extending a hand to other people. Knowing others experience the same challenges of depression and obesity, she decided to walk Australia’s Stuart Highway to draw attention to that lonely burden.

That is a trek of nearly 1600 km, from Alice Springs to Adelaide. Along the way and online, she is collecting donations for Australia’s Flying Doctor Service. An article about her work in Hospital & Aged Care says:

Ms Gallas says she is walking to Adelaide alone to demonstrate that depression is a solo disease and that while family and friends can help and offer encouragement, ultimately it is up to the person suffering the illness to make a positive change in their life.

Her proposed timeline is ambitious for a woman who walks with handicaps: extra weight, poor physical condition and the black cloud of depression. Her blog entries are candid about her struggle with the demons that have shadowed her life.

Will she make it to Adelaide by June 8? I believe she will. But Nicky Gallas has already succeeded in at least three ways: She has raised over $8,000 for the service that brings medical assistant to that vast country’s outback residents. She has lost a massive amount of weight in only 18 months. She has inspired others with her gumption and her willingness to go public with her struggle.

The longest walk Nicky Gallas is making is internal. I am cheering for her Alice Springs to Adelaide walk, but it is that inside journey that is even more inspiring. It is the hardest and the most hope-filled, for her and for all others who live with the black shadow of depression.

She gives me hope.

You can follow Nicky on her blog and on Facebook and Twitter.



#668 Proud to vote

681-Elections-barrelThe year my mother was born, 1917, American women did not have the right to vote. Three years later her mother cast her ballot in tiny Inman, Nebraska. On March 14, 2013 I voted in British Columbia’s provincial election because of the mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers who fought for my right to do so.

I don’t take my privilege as a voter for granted. I exercise it with pride and with thanks to the daring women who endured scorn, violence and ignorance as they fought for a right so many take for granted today.

Scrolling down Wikipedia’s list of countries and the year they first allowed women to vote at the national level, I was both encouraged and startled. I was encouraged because only a few countries continue to refuse to view women as full citizens. I was startled because I was reminded that when I was born in 1946, most countries still did not let women vote.

The timeline below is just a sampling. It is worthwhile looking at the complete list. Voting rights do not automatically confer gender equity, but the lack of them codifies discrimination. So voting always gives me hope.


1893 – New Zealand
1895 – South Australia
1902 – Australia
1906 – Finland
1913 – Norway
1917 – Canada (except Quebec, 1940)
1918 – Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland, Azerbaijan
1919 – Southern Rhodesia, Austria, Sweden
1920 – United States
1928 – United Kingdom
1930 – South Africa
1932 – Brazil
1934 – Turkey
1944 – France
1945 – Japan
1947 – India, Pakistan
1949 – Costa Rica
1948 – Belgium
1953 – Mexico
1957 – San Marino
1961 – Rwanda
1962 – Aboriginal women in Australia
1963 – Iran, Afghanistan
1970 – Andorra
1971 – Switzerland
1980 – Iraq
1984 – Liechtenstein
1986 – Central African Republic
1990 – Samoa
2002 – Bahrain
2003 – Oman
2005 – Kuwait
2015 – Saudi Arabia


#667 They bloom in America’s poorest, most dangerous city

Tawanda Jones

Photo clip of the amazing Tawanda Jones, from Michael DeLeon’s video below

They were smart and sassy, talented and confident. The Camden Sophisticated Sisters strutted their stuff with joy on Dancing With the Stars. Thanks to the dedication and determination of Tawanda Jones, the young members of this drill team had a chance to shine on a high-ratings TV show.

They also have a chance to complete school, see how beautiful they are, and know they can accomplish whatever they set out to do. That is not true for every child in Camden, New Jersey, the poorest and most dangerous city in America. The Sophisticated Sisters live in a town of 77,000 residents, where poverty is deep and soul sapping, where people are murdered in front of their homes, where crimes are committed within view of a hopelessly understaffed police force, where even the daylight hours are dangerous. They live across a river from some of the wealthiest families in the country but lack access to even the basics of safety and decent jobs.

Since 1986 Tawanda and Robert Jones have offered young people like these safe haven. Those who pass the tryouts for the Camden Sophisticated Sisters Drill Team and the Almighty Percussion Sound Drum Line have to maintain a C average to stay on the team. They also have to do 200 hours of community service each year and write an essay on “How Can I Improve Where I Live”. In exchange, they acquire discipline and skills, receive tutoring if they need it, and bask in the knowledge they are competent.

Their practice room is a concrete water tower with no windows and no mirrors. What they lack in amenities they make up for in enthusiasm and commitment. They know they are among the fortunate. Armed with a vision of what they can accomplish, all of them graduate from high school. Many go on to university.

Watch the videos, and you will see what an enormous feat that is. Camden is in ruins, but Tawanda Jones says she is optimistic it will turn around. She is not waiting for someone else to make that happen, and she is instilling pride in young people who could easily slide into despair.

They are all a testament to the human spirit. They give me hope.

You can follow these young people on Facebook

The first video is the Camden Sophisticated Sisters’ performance on Dancing With the Stars. The second is Michael DeLeon’s story of the history and impact of the group.

AT&T Spotlight Performance – Camden… by GrinyasEntertainment

Thank you, Donna Duke, for bringing this amazing initiative to my attention.


#666 Kelowna comes out swinging for drag queen contestant

Nathan Flavel

Nathan Flavel as Hannah; photo clip from “Cover Girl” video

You know times have changed when a conservative community goes to bat for a drag-queen contestant. Nathan Flavel, General Manager and Director of Kelowna, British Columbia’s Actors Studio entered Ru Paul’s Drag Race, a competition sponsored by OUT TV.

Flavel saw it as a chance to score some marketing points for his theatre, which had just mounted a production of La Cage aux Folles. His video garnered so many votes he shot to the top of the contest.

The fur began to fly, as some in the drag queen community and its supporters objected to his entering it on a lark. They berated Flavel for not being slender and pretty enough, for making his video as a publicity stunt instead of as an artist. The online pushback started immediately, and Flavel took the story to the media.

There were plenty of mean-spirited comments on the contest’s Facebook page and on Global TV’s site, but they just spurred on his fans, and he won the trip to Puerto Vallarta.

It was the community’s response I found encouraging. Kelowna is a stronghold of conservative sentiment. Although things have improved since I moved to the city in 2005, it can still be a challenging place for the LGBTQ community. The strong outpouring of support for Flavel’s performance as Hannah shows the city is making progress toward being a more accepting place to live. The video’s success is also a measure of the regard Flavel and his partner have earned as owners of a successful local theatre.

Flavel is gay, but he is not a professional drag queen. He showed courage and a sense of campy fun with his video and his character, Hannah. He also may have given a boost to those who bemoan the lack of a drag scene in Kelowna.

Whatever else results from Flavel’s controversial entry into Ru Paul’s Drag Race, he has shown that Kelowna is becoming a more open and tolerant community. That gives me hope.


#665 Jadav “Mulai” Payeng planted a forest

Jadav Payeng

Jadav Payeng, photo clip from video below

When there are so many problems in the world, what can one person do? As it turns out, quite a lot.

Jadav “Mulai” Payeng was only 16 when a 1979 flood in the middle of the Brahmaputra washed snakes onto a sandbar. The dead snakes galvanized him. He told the Times of India:

The snakes died in the heat, without any tree cover. I sat down and wept over their lifeless forms. It was carnage. I alerted the forest department and asked them if they could grow trees there. They said nothing would grow there. Instead, they asked me to try growing bamboo. It was painful, but I did it. There was nobody to help me. Nobody was interested.

Payeng, now 52, gave up his home, his education, his village. He moved to the sandbar and planted bamboo. Under his careful watering and pruning, it grew into a thicket. Then he began to gather seedlings and grow “proper trees”. Birds came. Wildlife inhabited Payeng’s forest.

Payeng was completely devoted to his conservation work. He married, fathered children, and supported his family through the sale of milk from his cows and buffaloes. And he tended his trees.

For 30 years the government knew nothing of his forest. Then in 2008 a heard of wild elephants smashed their way through nearby villages. Government officials investigating the rampage discovered Payeng’s dense forest.

The Mulai Kathoni or Mulai forest, named for Jadav “Mulai” Payeng, now spreads over what was once a 550-hectare barren sandbar. According to DNA India, “Payent now plans to upgrade another 500-hectare sandbar on the Brahmaputra into a forest.”

One man, with no education in forestry or conservation, has patiently transformed the world around him. The video below was shot by Amrit Nath on behalf of A Positive Media and may become part of a documentary. In it we see Payeng setting out to plant trees. When he returns home, he faces the camera and says, “Not me. It will depend on you.”

It will depend on all of us, but Jadav “Mulai” Payeng shows that our destruction of the environment can be reversed, one tree at a time. He gives me hope.

See photographs of Payeng’s forest on Flickr.