Thursday, December 8, 2011

Palo Alto Online : Paly students honored for community service

A Small Representation of Palo Alto High School's 162 Fall 2011 President's Award Recipients
Are there any other schools out there that run a similar program to ours at Palo Alto High School? What a cool job I have to document, verify, and share our students' service hours--with the essential help of our dynamic parent volunteers. About a third of our student body is actively involved in community service. I am so proud of our students' contributions, they make the world a better place while pursuing their interests and passions! Go Vikings, keep me smiling every day with your good works.

Palo Alto High School's Service-Learning Program
  • Living Skills Course (mandatory) Requirement: 15 service hours during class enrollment. Written reflection required by teacher.
  • Transcript Recognition (voluntary): Minimum of 100 service hours documented by mid-September of student's Senior year. Reflection required by Career Center.
  • President's Award: (PAHS is a certifying organization, sponsored by the Corporation for National & Community Service): Minimum 0f 100 service hours documented in 12 calendar months. 2 Award ceremonies, with over 200 student recipients each school year. Paly application deadlines, first Friday (school day) in October; first Friday (school day) in April. Written 1-2 page reflection required by Career Center.

Read some of our student's past reflections on service in Get Involved, Paly. Thanks to a generous grant from the Palo Alto Community Fund, the next edition is in the works.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Small Wish List Makes a Big Difference In East Palo Alto

My name is Monique Graves and I am the founder of, Lauren's House 4 Positive Change. We are a small nonprofit in East Palo Alto that uses the arena of education and sports to inspire and build character in the youths that Lauren's House serves.

We are looking for sponsors for our wish list:
(5) footballs, (2) basketballs (3) baby dolls (10) gift cards to Wal-Mart or Target to buy shirt and pants, (2) Scooters (5) Jamba Juice Cards and (2) Jackets (5) Games i.e.Twister, Mancala, Uno etc
This year Lauren's House is trying to give back to those that are less fortunate then the underprivileged youths.  The kids have been diligently working on bracelets and cards for the Seniors and Death Row inmates. For some this is the first time that they have experienced Christmas.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Monique Graves, Chief Executive Officer
994 Beech St
East Palo Alto, CA 94303
Tax I.D. 26-3809833
I am Fearless
I am Awesome

I am, Lauren's House 4 Positive Change Inc.

Mission Statement:

The mission of Lauren’s House 4 Positive Change is to prepare low income and or homeless youths between the ages of 7-18 in San Mateo County for success in life. We expose our clients to educational opportunities, the arts, culture and community service to demonstrate the beauty and possibility of their lives despite hardships.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bell Ringers and Abundance

Top: Los Altos Volunteer Bell Ringer Stephanie Tran and her young daughter. 
Bottom: Bell Ringer Keith and Saratoga High School Student Donor Patrick

Keith tells me that he is one of the paid bell ringers. His father, a volunteer bell ringer, sits on the local Salvation Army board of trustees. Keith's kettle at the Saratoga Safeway brings in about $200 per day during the holiday season. The organization provides year-round food and shelter to needy families in the community. Serendipitously, Patrick is one of my Sunday School students who took me up on the challenge to give a dollar this week--when I was interviewing Keith! Stephanie says she and her daughter volunteer for a 2-hour shift, and will be relieved by another set of volunteer holiday bell ringers outside Starbuck's in Los Altos, CA. It's a good volunteer experience for her to do with her young daughter on a sunny day.
I still take the morning newspaper, call me old-fashioned but I like to turn the pages and read--not click--at my leisure. Have you seen the Mercury News lately? The ad inserts are twice as heavy as the actual news. Holiday flyers and coupons are flung onto my driveway daily, with an extra dose on the weekends. The paper is buried somewhere, I guess that's what keeps the Knight-Ridder afloat for now. 

Years ago, as a thirty-something mom with four young children and a struggling small business, I decided the newspaper ads were causing me to feel stress that I didn't have a fraction of what was being promoted and my needs were growing faster than my bank account. At one point, sitting on my tattered blue sofa in a sparse living room in Salt Lake City I took my pile of inserts--with their money-saving coupons--and ditched them into the garbage. I never looked back and haven't missed their annoying presence as a reminder of all I don't have. 

The truth is, I have everything I need, as most of us do without realizing. It's the spirit of Abundance. Three years ago, shopping for Christmas gifts I walked from the parking lot toward Nordstrom. I found myself avoiding the Salvation Army bell ringer near the front door. While searching the store for something special I could hear the little bell constantly ringing outside, a faint accompaniment to the in-house pianist playing carols near the escalator. It was like a scene from "It's a Wonderful Life," trying not to hear the sound as it reached a crescendo in my heart and mind. 

Instead of buying a sixty-dollar gift that day, I spent thirty and then made a personal vow: To live in the spirit of abundance every holiday season, I would continue to avoid those pesky newspaper ads and instead I would give a single dollar bill to every Salvation Army bell ringer I encountered. I would not allow myself to shy away and take the other entrance, nor make excuses of how this might break the bank. Adding it up that first holiday season I gave just about $30 to the bell ringers, a dollar at a time and totaling no more than I would have spent on the gift I was shopping for that day. I don't remember who received the $30 gift instead of a $60 dollar one, and I'm sure they can't remember what I gave. But I know how incredibly blessed I felt by sharing my relative abundance with an organization that does much good for the truly needy in the community. It's my own little Christmas-time tradition, a reminder that we do have everything we need and by not over-consuming we can give to those with more pressing needs than what those glossy holiday advertisements would have us believe. 

Looking for fun ways to share your abundance this holiday?
Check these out!

Salvation Army Christmas Kettles: Aid for Needy Families, Seniors, & Homeless  

Help Children and Families: Give to the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund 

Help a Needy Child Provide Gifts for His or Her Own Family with Sunday Friends 

Fulfill a Child's Wish This Christmas with Family Giving Tree 

 San Jose Mercury News Wishbook 2011: To aid 25 deserving individuals & agencies

Give the Gift of Reading this holiday season: RAFT, Resource Area for Teachers Book Drive 

Help Local Families in Need (Goal $100K)
Christmas Bureau of Palo Alto:
P.O. Box 51874
Palo Alto, CA 94303

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cycling for a Cause

Palo Alto High School Students Pass Beads to Lap Walkers
Paly Student Volunteers + Mom Linda Serve Breakfast 
 Volunteer Benefit: A Cool Shirt!
Can You See Him? That's Greg LeMond! Rider/Fundraisers got to ride with the 3-time Tour de France winner

I'm a little naive when it comes to historical events such as the Tour de France. In the late summer of 1971 my dad, Carl Steffens, returned from a Fairchild business trip to Europe all fired up about some big bike race called the "tour-de-something," I recall. He couldn't stop talking about it, showing us photos and other memorabilia--a canvas cycling hat among his precious souvenirs. 

All I cared about was that my dad was not around to share the end of summer, and I tried to understand his reasoning about work and such. Knowing how he loved to play, I'm sure he scheduled lots of meetings around the stages of the race. The only consolation for an almost ten-year-old girl missing her father was the fact that he had special-ordered for me and my brother two Peugeot mini-ten-speed bikes. Mine was white and Bud's was yellow.

I found freedom on my new bike as a young girl in Los Altos Hills, and of course it was a different time. A little kid could ride for miles without supervision and nobody would ask questions. My brother and I rode ourselves to parent-mandated tennis lessons after school, I rode myself to the orthodontist nearly three miles away, across the busy Foothill Expressway. My best friend Roni and I rode--she on her Schwinn banana seat--to what was then Don's Ice Cream Parlor at Loyola Corners. Since my dad was gone a lot and my mom had been raised by very liberal parents, there was no concern about where we went on our bikes as long as we were home by dinnertime or dark, whichever came first. Sometimes, for special outings Dad would load up his Ford LTD--somehow--with his bike and our smaller versions for a trip to Golden Gate park, where we could ride for hours on a Sunday with no interruptions from traffic. It was pure and simple pleasure, with little expense!

Since those idyllic days as a mini-cyclist in the foothills of Los Altos, and later in high school riding back and forth from home to Stanford University "just for fun," my motivation for cycling has changed. My friend Sally recently challenged me to keep up with her on a century ride (100 miles) in San Luis Obispo. She had the luxury of training with friends in San Diego, and I merely prayed to keep up with them on the coastal ride. My husband also encourages me to find a niche by cycling near my new neighborhood, just around the ridge from that familiar Los Altos hillside. If my dad were still alive, I'm sure he would love to tease me into joining a women's group to race with a peloton. But I am happiest spinning at my own pace through the hills, without an agenda and thinking of that little Peugeot. 

Cycling doesn't have to be a competitive sport, and thanks to a group ride coming to Palo Alto this weekend anyone can feel the joy of speed, banking curves, and grueling climbs. A "Gran Fondo," I learned from one of the Echelon organizers, means a "big ride" in Italian. To celebrate the sport and to raise awareness and funds for seventeen local charities, more than 500 cyclists will ride the hills from the city to Skyline, the ridge overlooking the ocean and back. Community members are invited to both volunteer with the event and to ride in the fundraiser. Different levels of giving are designated by jersey colors. Palo Alto High School student volunteers are happily working with the race organizers to provide a seamless event, of course the incentive of food and a free t-shirt does help! As I work with our students behind the scenes at the downtown Challenge this weekend, wishing I were in shape to at least ride the 60-mile route, I will think of my dad who passed away long before my high school years. I'll thank his passionate spirit for sharing the pleasure of cycling just for fun!

Make a Difference with Sports and Cycling
Check out the Echelon Gran Fondo Charity Ride

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Serving the Community: Literacy

My granddaughter is turning one year old, and we had to make sure she had a copy of Goodnight Moon to help her fall asleep at night. As we browsed for the Margaret Wise Brown staple with the engaging mouse in Dolly's Bookstore in Park City, Utah I was warmly reminded of visiting that shop as a teenager on vacation, and even more of my mother reading picture books to me as a young child. My father was on a career fast-track in those days with Fairchild National Semiconductor so he was transferred almost yearly, sometimes leaving us with no immediately available housing. As we awaited permanent homes in places like Portland, Maine or Manhattan Beach, California, the company would often put us up in a very nice hotel.

As cooped up young children we drove my mom crazy, but she patiently read to us from our favorites--over, and over, and over. Curious George, Madeline, Ferdinand, The Little House, Mike Mulligan, and others became our constant friends as we anticipated a new neighborhood and the ensuing changes and uncertainty. We eventually progressed to Wind in the Willows and then reading on our own. The voracious reader that my mom is, I'm sure she was relieved when she was finally able to resume making her own literary choices. Young children can read the same book many times and still find magic in the story. Even though she's progressed to chapter books, my stepdaughter Taryn can be heard reciting King Bidgood to her pretend class as she "teaches" them after school.
We discovered even young adults and older children still enjoy revisiting those classics, as we presented Braelyn with her copy of Goodnight Moon to the delight of her parents.

One passionate student at Paly, was caught doing good while enjoying her old favorite at the end of the school year, while other teens were talking about summer plans or signing yearbooks in the library. Virginia caught my eye as she casually read aloud a Dr. Suess book near the librarians' desk. I knew she must have some affiliation with my friend Cathy's group who make videos of books for her literacy initiative in China. She told me she was a part of that, and she didn't mind posing for this photo to help more young people see how easy it is to get involved. Apple Tree Library Foundation's mission statement reads: "To p
romote reading and build English language capacity in China, through public or private US/China collaborations to establish public children's libraries."

When we moved this summer, I had a hard time parting with some of my childrens' classics and boxed up a few for Braelyn. Others will remain on the bookshelf for me to read to visiting young children and future grandchildren. That still leaves a few boxes of sweet stories to share with others, from the richly illustrated classics of Audrey and Don Wood, to the first-grade favorite The Boxcar Children. It will be easy to spread them around because of some highly efficient book donation programs in the Bay Area such as The Children's Book Project, sponsored by KOIT Radio (donate in August and September at Metro PCS) and Books for Charity, with countless donation bins in grocery store parking lots.

My mom inspired a love of reading during those weeks of my childhood in high-end hotels, waiting for our new home to be ready. My little granddaughter reminds me of the joy I later found in reading to my own children, including her mom who is now a passionate lover of literature. Grass roots initiatives and relatively new nonprofit organizations promote literacy by gathering donations and distributing to those who crave more stories. By sharing our abundance of children's books, we can promote literacy in our own community and the communities of our friends. Thanks to Cathy's charity which teaches English to children through books by networking American libraries and initiatives abroad, we can now even do good works in China!


Friday, August 19, 2011

Chocolate Chip Service

Today was about the most disappointing day I can remember, as I went back to work and found my entire office boxed and piled in the hallway of the school. We have run out of room, and with new hires and reorganization of space I am being moved into an already too noisy office with three other people. School starts in a few days, so custodians were scrambling to put us back together. "Time to go slowly," I thought, as nerves began to rattle. I did what I could to get the project moving along, knowing it's simply not enough space for all of our duties, then I forced myself to leave and enjoy one last summer weekend with my family. Thank goodness we already planned to go to the beach tomorrow--the soothing sound of waves will help me sort through challenges for the year ahead.

Sometimes I have resorted to retail therapy, but more often when things have been stressful and I'm on overload I choose one of three remedies: exercising in fresh air, blogging about community service, or baking oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. On the drive home today, watching the traffic back up on Highway 85 I knew this would be a night for all of the above. I arrived home with a sixteen-ounce bag of See's semi-sweet extra-large chips on stand-by, and relaxed reading the newspaper until falling asleep for a few minutes. Then I woke up ready to burn the last hours of daylight on my feel-good quest. I'll run off the calories this evening after chomping on some dough and a few of the silky chocolate chips. Now, the cookies are ready to go, made with fresh butter, whole-wheat pastry flour and lots of t.l.c. My step-daughter Taryn was entertained by making mounds with an ice cream scoop for our Mrs. Field's sized treats, and now we are ready for the service part. Tomorrow half our batch will be delivered to Lisa, the hardest-working single mom we know. We get the joy of baking, and the pleasure of sharing our craft. Nothing does "good work" as well as a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies for someone else on a Saturday morning, and come Monday maybe my woes at work will seem less significant. I'll be sure to take some cookies along, just in case!

Interested in Service by Cookies and Baking? Try these fun ways to share your passion
  • Host a bake sale for your favorite charity, donate the proceeds. Better yet, host a yard sale combined with a bake sale for charity. You're bound to get lots of traffic for a cause, and you get to donate the cash at the end.
  • Bake cookies or other treats for a family shelter in your community. Our church youth group discovered at the San Jose "Loaves and Fishes" kitchen back in December, "nothing beats homemade!"
  • Bake cookies and/or bread, and take a pot of soup to your local Ronald McDonald House. Call to schedule day and time when your service is most needed.
Bina's Favorite Recipe for Chocolate Chip Service
1 1/2 c. light brown sugar
1 c. fresh butter (salted)
1 t. vanilla
2 large eggs
1 3/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
2 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 1/2 c. regular rolled oats
1 pkg. See's chocolate chips
  1. Mix sugar and butter until just creamy, then mix in vanilla and eggs.
  2. Stir together flour, salt, and soda, then mix into above ingredients.
  3. Stir in oats and chips.
  4. Drop by scooper or tablespoon onto cookie sheet prepared with cooking spray.
  5. Bake cookies for approximately 10 minutes at 350 degrees, until bottoms begin to turn golden brown. Remove immediately from sheet onto paper towels or racks to cool.
  6. Keep in airtight container and share liberally, they are addicting!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Service by Composure

I've been under the weather since last Wednesday, and now my granddaughter--800 miles away--is sick too. A roller coaster of memories flooded my mind when her mom, my daughter Sheridan, texted me from the ER saying that our baby girl had a febrile seizure on Tuesday evening. I guess this runs in families, as my son had the same type of seizure when he was a toddler and my youngest daughter Grace had many of them before her fourth birthday. Paramedics always send the young victim to the ER by ambulance as a precaution, which seems to add even more stress to an already traumatic situation. After coming out of the febrile (induced by fever) seizure, the little patient most often returns to normal within a few hours.

I wish I could have been there, but Braelyn's parents are blessed with loving neighbors who were available and rushed to the scene. Their upstairs neighbor, Mindy, had come down just before the seizure to help get an accurate temperature reading. When the seizure began, she happened to recognize it, as she confided to Sheridan that she had her own medical condition. She ran to get another neighbor, a nurse, and they called 911 to get help for little Braelyn. Sheridan was so impressed with Mindy's always-giving nature and her ability to come to the rescue for anyone in the complex, never worrying about her own needs. She asked Mindy how she was able to maintain her composure. "Well, I've been diabetic all my life and I'm waiting for a kidney transplant. So I've had my share of medical emergencies," she said.

My family has been inspired by this young woman and her constant upbeat, unselfish nature; she is a light for the newly-married couples living in this little apartment complex. Her small act of service to my daughter and Braelyn made them feel cared for. Mindy continues to make a difference for other residents of her community by always being a cheerful presence, and by lovingly considering the needs of others regardless of her own dire health condition. Thanks to all of the Mindy's of the world for touching lives for good each day. We can make a difference for young moms like her by promoting organ and tissue donation, and by registering as donors ourselves. May this very special young mom live a long, happy, and healthy life to watch her daughter grow.

  • Register as an organ donor here, it will only take you 5 minutes to save someone's life.
  • Promote awareness of organ donation. Make posters, distribute organ donation cards.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Volunteers Make a Difference for Weekend Warrrior Athletes

They did refer to us as "athletes" yesterday at the Tri for Fun series in Pleasanton. I like to think of myself as an athlete, even if a late bloomer. Bob and I signed up for a sprint distance triathlon at Shadow Cliffs Regional Park, but as the event approached we both developed a respiratory bug and nearly backed out. I decided since it's supposed to be "for fun," nobody would fault me for skipping the 1/4 mile swim and I planned to jump into the 11 mile bike ride and 3 mile run, even if I wheezed and coughed the whole way--that's a weekend warrior, right? After 4 days of feeling lousy I was sure we were no longer contagious--just experiencing the after effects--so as long as my body could do this it would be fine.

When I saw the competitors riding old Schwinns and hard-tails, the endorphines started to pump and sick or not I wanted to at least beat my last-year's time. Bob had filled my tires to maximum capacity, so I whizzed past most of the ladies in my 29-49 age group, even some from the younger group who started five minutes earlier. To play fair, I hadn't started until the middle of my age-group pack transitioned to bikes. This event is made possible by dozens and dozens of volunteers all along the course. As I rode past the Palm Event Center and adjacent vineyard, a red light and stopped cars told my brain to wait. I reluctantly slowed a bit, but a yellow-vested race volunteer held the traffic, motioned me forward and sweetly called out, "We're doing this for you!" At the next intersection, an older gentleman pointed the way and told me and another rider, "Good job, ladies!"

The volunteers were generous in their comments, as most of us were really pushing ourselves at various forms of fitness and could barely respond. They kept encouraging anyway. Smiles came from the volunteer course monitors as I transitioned to the 3-mile run along trail at the park. I didn't know how I was going to be able to do this, with post illness and now tight calves from biking. I tried to eek out a "thank you" to some of the volunteer cheerleaders, remembering the last time I stood on the sidelines to inspire weekend athletes at the end of a half-marathon. Some volunteers just do the bare minimum and man their post; others go out of their way to call out a cheer or two, even when we don't respond. It's not that we don't want to thank them, we're just spent and trying to finish the race! Every On Your Mark race-day volunteer who encouraged me yesterday deserves a big hug. They told me "Great pace, you're almost there," or "You look strong," and even at the end, "It looks like you could do this race twice!" They had no idea of the bug I had battled just to show up, and to finish, but without their positive words I would have wondered why I even tried. Instead, it was a thrilling experience, and I will be back for another Tri for Fun next summer. Perhaps some of you looking for a fun way to get involved will give it a try and sign up as a race day volunteer to make a difference for us weekend warrior athletes!

Want to try community service helping with a triathlon or other sporting event?
  • Tri for Fun Series, by On Your Mark EventsPurpose: To further the sport of Triathlon.
  •, Mark and Kandee Aiton
  • List of 2011 Events,
  • Tri For Fun #1: 3rd Saturday in June, Tri For Fun #2: 3rd Saturday in July, Tri For Fun #3: 3rd Saturday in August
  • What: 400 yard swim, bike distance 11 miles, 3.1 mile run.
  • Shadow Cliffs Regional Park, Pleasanton.

Friday, July 8, 2011

3,150 Hours of Service and Counting

Each summer in Palo Alto and throughout the school year, hundreds and hundreds of high school students from every grade descend upon the community to offer their volunteer assistance as part of the Living Skills course. The class is a graduation requirement and somewhere along the way, community service entered the curriculum as a means for our students to make connections and to pursue their interests by giving of their time in areas such as:
  • Humanitarianism
  • Health and Safety
  • Animals and Environment
  • Education
  • Seniors and Disabled
  • Food and Shelter
  • Civic Engagement
  • Sports
  • General Community-Building
During the past three weeks I've worked with my twenty-nine Living Skills students to help facilitate meaningful projects that go beyond simply checking off the boxes and filling the time sheet. It was quite an adventure for some to realize the deadline to complete their service is now the last day of the three-week class. In the Summer School sign-ups, they are told they can start volunteering before the class begins but who reads the fine print these days? Some of my students were a little panicky during the first week of class but thanks to Linda Yeung, a dedicated Paly College and Career Center volunteer, we offer a comprehensive calendar of vetted local events with nonprofit organizations and community agencies at

It was incredibly rewarding to watch my students first focus on their sense of
purpose in life, through some of the studies of Dr. William Damon of Stanford University (The Path to Purpose, 2008). Next, they considered their interests and talents. With that in mind, they pursued the most appealing "matched" opportunities they could find within the time restraint. One student who is interested in the environment emailed me on the eve of the Fourth of July, earnestly hoping to fill his hours on the holiday with the deadline looming. Luckily, a few days before, the organizers of the Palo Alto Chili Cook-Off at Mitchell Park had sent out a volunteer request to help keep the grounds clean and free of debris. It was a stretch, but with one email introduction the student was able to make a difference by keeping the park clean during the event.

My class, I'm proud to say, were all able to fulfill the 15-hour community service requirement in their areas of interest. The reflections they wrote show the positive impact of this unique course requirement in Palo Alto Unified School District, helping our students find meaning and purpose in their lives. Since the "Get Involved" publication recently won a grant from the Palo Alto Community Fund, we will be able to include many of the PAUSD Summer School students' reflections in the Fall publication. Watch for it online at

By contributing a small amount of time to the surrounding community, our first session of summer school students have given over 3,150 hours of service in the past month or two. If they were each to be paid minimum wage for their time, this would be a $25,200 grant to the community on their behalf. That's the power of students who give back. I'm proud to work in a place where youth are seen as a valued community resource, and where they are willing to share their diverse talents and interests to make the world a better place!

Community agencies that benefited from my 29 students serving in the first session of PAUSD Summer School:
  • Acterra
  • Save the Bay
  • Lytton Gardens
  • Kwong Wah Church Kitchen
  • YMCA
  • Shady Shakespeare at Sanborn Park
  • Red White and Blue Parade
  • Lion's Club Car Show
  • Circle of Friends Preschool
  • Lucile Packard Foundation Summer Scamper
  • Resource Area for Teachers/RAFT
  • Second Harvest Food Bank
  • Me to We Humanitarian Mission
  • Mid-Peninsula Open Space
  • Humane Society/SPCA
  • Channing House
  • Stanford Soccer Club
  • AYSO
  • St. Anthony's Padua Dining Room

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Service in the Check-out Line

We are moving, just half a mile away but it entails every bit as much work as if we were relocating to Alaska. Gather boxes from every place I can think of between work and home, agree to disagree with my husband about furniture placement with what stays and what goes, try to get the kids to understand this move is for real and if they don't pack it doesn't go. In the middle of it all, I'm starting a new summer school job, Bob's son Cameron graduated from high school and looking for something to do, three teenagers are either in camp or leaving for camp this week. Oh, and it's Father's Day tomorrow.

I made a quick escape this afternoon to first get some gifts at Nordstrom Rack, and then some groceries for Father's Day breakfast-in-bed, and evening barbecue. The stereo speakers were blaring at The Rack and I tried to stay focused. The check-out line was deep and to be expected for a pre-holiday when all the women seemed to be picking out even more from the ladie's department than the men's. One teenager called her mom from her cell phone, "Mom, I just don't care enough about these things to wait in this line--it's pretty frustrating." I think she decided to come back another day. Another woman kept inching into my space in the queue. I tried to give her a friendly look as a patient reminder of personal space; it worked I think but I don't know how friendly it really was.

As my turn approached at the front of the line, a delicate Asian woman dressed in a plum silk suit walked right past me and stood next to a cashier. I was sure she wanted to put something on hold, but at The Rack you have to wait in line for that, too--at least I always do. With the loud music pounding and the impending stress of this week's move on my mind, I nearly snapped something like, "Excuse me, but we all have to wait in line." But lately I've given way to pushy people, since we are all fighting a hard battle and sometimes we should let the other guy (or girl) get ahead. As the next cashier flagged me over to her booth I quietly walked past the impatient woman to see that it was my soon-to-be ex next-door neighbor! Boy, was I relieved that had kept my cool...

The next stop was Trader Joe's, and again the pre-Father's Day lines were discouraging. I often seem to choose the slowest line, but this store and Costco are really good about opening up extra check stands. When an additional checker came along and invited the next customer, it was finally my turn. But a woman in the next lane complained that it should be her turn. Ugh, I didn't really feel like being sweet about this one. The checker must have read my mood, and she changed the tone by making pleasant conversation with about my weekend, the move, the kids, and dinner tonight. A bagger about my age joined and made jokes about their "masters degrees" in bagging and checking efficiency. We all laughed and I was thankful for people who can turn my frustration with checkout lines into a light moment. Their act of service required so little effort, I'm sure they won't remember how they affected this pre-Father's Day shopping experience. As soon as I wheeled away, I heard the same friendly conversation with the next customer. Service is just part of their demeanor. This time, I picked the perfect line to brighten my day, and it was worth the wait.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lemonade for a Cause

A couple of summers ago, I drove to my niece's Phoenix wedding by way of Southern California. It had been a hectic school year and I needed some time to myself. Along the way I was able to visit my best buddy Sally in Carlsbad, CA. She loaned me an extra bike one morning and we enjoyed a leisurely ride alo
ng the coast. Of course, I'm workin' even when I'm not and fundraisers always pique my interest. As we rode through the neighborhoods around Del Mar I was impressed with the cutest bunch of kids who had set up a lemonade stand for charity. It was a bit more decorative than the one our kids had recently, and with a fundraising twist. Instead of working to earn money for themselves, they were raising money for Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I didn't have my camera at the time--I've since learned to take it everywhere--so this photo of our little lemonade stand might inspire.

To take the concept further, one brave little eight-year-old-cancer patient enlisted the help her neighbors by starting a lemonade stand to fund treatment for other children with the same disease she had. Alexandra Scott did not survive cancer, but her first neighborhood lemonade stand earned $2,000 "to fight childhood cancer, one cup at a time." By the time she passed away, Alex's Lemonade Stand had raised over one million dollars to fund cancer research.

Now, Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation raises money every year, by hosting community-wide events all across the country. Through her unselfish effort, one young girl made a difference for other children in a very simple way. As I work this month to provide community service resources for 210 summer school students to fulfill a requirement for the Living Skills course in our school district, I think about the creative ideas of unassuming young children who go out and make a batch of lemonade, with cookies or banana bread, and let go of "what the neighbors will think." They ask for a little support from mom and dad to get poster-board for a sign, and off they go--right out of their comfort zones to the side of the road peddling an often too-sour or too-watery lemonade. But the rest of us don't care about the actual product, we want to support their work ethic and "the cause."

So, any of you students or other young people who are bored and think you can't do much to make a difference without signing up for a major event, give it a try. Put yourself out there with a sign and some tasty lemonade. Throw in homemade cookies, or a baked treat unique to your culture. Your neighbors will be inspired, and you can provide funding for the cause of your choice. Describe to your customers the efforts of the charity you are supporting, and at the end of your sale take the proceeds directly to the post office to request a money order payable to that charity. You can even make a big "thank you" sign and post it where your sale took place, reminding them of when your next sale will be held. With one successful sale, you may find that little Alex's idea was worth repeating.

Tasty Lemonade Trick:
Make powdered lemonade, and add the juice of some fresh lemons to taste. Slice a few for effect and leave in the pitcher.

Other Sales to Try:
My girls made loads of cashing selling Italian sodas when they were young. Mix 1/4 c. Torino syrup, 1/4 c. cream (keep cold!), and 6 oz. seltzer water for a refreshing roadside treat.

One caveat: This should only be done with parent approval and supervision, in the daylight hours and in a safe area or neighborhood.

Alex's Lemonade Stand is now a national organization sponsoring events in mid-June to end childhood cancer:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Joseph Biden Honors Students Who Serve

A you a true agent for social change? Would you do something good if no one was looking? Watch Vice President Joseph Biden's inspirational address to Parade Magazine's first All America Service Team Award winners at the White House on June 23, 2010.

Nominate a Student for the All America High School Service Team!
"It's about doing the right thing."

PARADE Magazine and generationOn, the global youth division of Points of Light Institute, are seeking nominations for The All-America High School Service Team, to recognize high school students who have made exemplary contributions in the service areas of: health, education, environment, economics or community. These students show service as a solution to solve community problems and the power of stories to inspire others to action.
The top 50 finalists, 10 per issue category, will receive certificates. The top 15 (3 per issue category), will receive a two-day paid trip to Washington, D.C. to receive their award and special recognition.
Deadline ends May 30. For more information on how to submit nominations, visit

Friday, May 13, 2011


I may have written about the good work of mercy once or twice before; I seem to need its presence in my life more lately. Due to stress, I'm not always at the top of my game. Exactly when I think I've mastered the art of juggling one more ball in the air, another two are thrown my way and I have to reach and stretch until my capacity increases. I suppose we should all be grateful for challenges that make us grow--I only wonder if I'll ever be able to coast in comfort or will I always feel like I'm trying to catch my breath. Time to take a few more things off my plate, to make it easier to focus on whatever it is that goes 'round and 'round in the air.

How to simplify a life that is already devoid of things such as movies, t.v., shopping, and ice cream? Answer email in chunks, don't check it so often. Let the voicemail handle the phone sometimes--especially when the cell phone breaks like mine did last week. I'm into a second week with no cell phone, and with an old broken one that I located in the garage (when it happens work). My daughter will be loaning me her old phone because I'm not willing to renew a contract for bad service in order to get the "deal" on a new phone. What does this have to do with mercy, you say? Everything. I'm not perfect--at keeping up with home, work, friends, or with life. Too much on my plate, as usual. I lost patience at home this week and had to ask forgiveness from my husband. I missed some email messages at work, due to a jammed inbox and a possessed junk mail folder, had to ask for re-sends and apologize for delays. I failed to check voicemail remotely for the broken phone and missed calls from people who are important to me, I'm still begging for mercy on that. And now, at the end of the week trying to stretch but still dropping balls along the way, I ask the Universe for mercy to help me grow into the demands on my life.

I am reminded that when we leave our hearts open to help, it finds us. Of course, the help that arrived this week was from countless volunteers, once again, at work. Mercy also came from kids and husband pitching in extra at home, and from friends giving me a second chance to connect. Some day I will "arrive," to a place where I can see that all this juggling of four-plus jobs at a high school made me the person who I will become. Today, I only wish to continue seeing this evidence of mercy in my life.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Abundant Helping Hands

My oldest
daughter Sheridan got married last weekend and it was one of the most memorable times of my life, a real "family affair". Grandparents, siblings, nieces, husbands, and my children all worked together to make decorations, food, and favors ahead of time; then we put it all together and took it back down in a matter of hours. It was the best kind of celebration, with my daughters and son with his girlfriend helping one another, and my stepchildren pitching in wherever they were asked. By the time we returned home after the special occasion, it was time to jump right into work and the usual routine the next morning with only a little time for reflection. I made it through the week until Friday, when I worked with two skilled parent volunteers to host our twice-annual community service fair at the school. Twenty five community organizations manned lunchtime booths to promote volunteer opportunities for our high school students.

As one might imagine, by that evening I started to run out of steam. I struggled to find the energy to even drive home, and realized Saturday's plans might go on without me. The one activity I had wanted to do was a California-wide annual community service project with my church congregation; I suppose celebrating a successful event here will have to by my contribution.

Bob and the boys got up at 7:30 on Saturday and met at the church, where dozens of volunteers were sent to their locations: Montalvo Center for the Arts, or Mount Umminum. Either way, it would be a job of weeding, heaving, lifting, and moving. From nine to noon, fifty people from our congregation completed a total of eight spring clean-up jobs assigned earlier by the Montalvo coordinators, and another group just as large did restoration work at Mount Umminum. The hardest part about our site, according to Bob and the boys, was staying clear of poison oak. Sometimes we take for granted all the trails and walkways that are cleared of this noxious weed. These volunteers had no fear, trusting their gloves and a post-cleanup shower to keep them from infection. They also worked on repairing an overhang, moving a giant woodpile, and clearing a ditch what would have taken a bulldozer to accomplish.

At church today, I heard accounts of some other Helping Hands activities around the area, as far away as San Diego; more than fifty thousand members of our faith from all ages came together in an effort to be of service to our communities and especially for our state parks. A nearby young adult congregation rebuilt fences at Calero Park, making an assembly line with their leader's instruction and competing with each other to see who could build the fastest fence. In San Diego, the church volunteers were asked to serve breakfast and to work as course monitors for a community-wide 10K race. In my experience, having run many 5-and-10Ks, a race can never have enough volunteers! I'm sorry I had to miss our annual community service event due to my own physical exhaustion, but I am blessed with the perspective of an observer which allows me to contemplate the service that is given all around me every day. Because of last weekend and my benefiting from helping hands of family and extended family in support of Sheridan's
Utah wedding, and after hearing about the monumental efforts of 50,000 church-member volunteers on one Saturday morning in support of parks and nonprofits in California, I feel blessed to be living in this time of abundant good works.

"By their fruits shall ye know them." (Matt. 7:16)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cranes for Healing Wishes

Last month our students, parents, teachers and I all wondered what could be done to show support for the tsunami and earthquake victims in Japan. With California's Ed Code, fundraising on high school campuses can be tricky. The parents decided to host a bake sale anyway across the street, and they also raised relief dollars by selling "Pray for Japan" bracelets. But what could the students initiate? From, I heard about a crane-folding project where the students could mail origami cranes to That organization would receive a two-dollar per crane donation from the Jeff Bezos Family Foundation (Jeff is the founder of Our goal: 1,000 cranes to send healing wishes for Japan, to be folded in one day, April 18th.

Our gifted Japanese teacher, Ms. Kamikihara, began to share the artful folding technique with all of her students, and by Spring Break our students were folding hundreds of cranes to bring on the day of the event. Last Monday, over one hundred energetic teenagers stood at ten tables near our student center during a rainy lunchtime, keeping their fingers and the little origami squares dry. I knew we would surpass 1,000 when I saw seven or eight bags full of cranes already made during Spring Break. The Japanese foreign language students wore red and white yarn on their wrists to designate their status as crane-folding mentors. The thirty-five-minute soggy lunch break passed quickly, and the origami artists were having so much fun that we had to remind them that the bell had rung and it was time to stop. Now came the hard part. How many cranes did we have? Mrs. Tajima, our stalwart parent volunteer, had a plan to place sets of 100 cranes in paper bags, then into the copy paper boxes we had gathered from the other departments.

As I ate a little bowl of soup to warm up, the parent volunteers counted the students' lunchtime effort. I finished the soup and had to get back to my class assignment. I left the parents to finish counting cranes into paper bags at the folding tables. An hour or so later, Mrs. Tajima sent word that not only had we wildly surpassed our goal of 1,000 cranes in one day; our students had made 6,000! She made the little 6,000 crane sticker above, so we could post it around the school to say thank you to all who participated. As it turns out, we just barely missed the deadline to sponsor the two-dollar-per-crane donation from the Bezos Family Foundation, but the foundation decided to double their overall donation from this promotion (thanks in part to groups like ours that came so close to the deadline).

In the process of mailing cranes to and Architecture for Humanity, Mrs. Tajima also discovered the lofty "1,000,000 Crane Project" going on at Princeton (coincidentally, Mr. Bezos' alma mater). They were sent some of our cranes as well. We sent the remaining cranes to Osh Kosh B'Gosh, for their program to donate clothing to thousands of children in Japan who have been affected by the devastation. With the deadline for mailing cranes to the original organization having passed while we were out on Spring Break, the activity turned out to be less fundraising and more raising awareness. Either way, our students felt empowered to finally be able to make a difference for Japan.

Cool Community Service Idea:
Folding Cranes to Help Japan
(These sites also have instructions)

Architecture of Humanity project

Clothing Donations for Crane Donations

Princetons Students' Healing Wishes

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cesar Chavez Day of Service

What a day we had, celebrating the core values of Cesar Chavez on his birthday, March 31st. After a stirring message from Karthik Prasad, a Fellow from Stanford University Haas Center for Public Service, a diverse group of 120 Paly students contributed 7200 hours in service-learning around Palo Alto and beyond. They chose from seven organizations based on their interests and the values of Cesar Chavez: Milpitas Food Pantry; Magic, Inc. at Stanford Dish; Half Moon Bay Restoration; Lytton Gardens Senior Community; Creative Montessori Preschool; InnVision; and Ecumenical Hunger Program. My daughter Grace and her best friend signed up for Ecumenical Hunger Program, but I was needed at Milpitas Food Pantry.

Once we got the four buses loaded, we headed to East Palo Alto for two of the sites, then to Milpitas with my group. Of course, the exciting part of community service is that you never know what you may be asked to do. Karen
Kolander, the director and one-woman-show thanked us for coming and informed us that our group of nineteen working four hours each, represented seventy-six man-hours--a feat she could never accomplish alone. She assigned us the task of emptying the storage closet and the storage unit of all donations made since the holidays and check each package or can for a valid expiration date. If a can was badly damaged or expired, we tossed it. The "would-I-eat-this" test was also applied, with permission to throw out rusty or aging cans with no dates. It is astounding to see how many food donations are inedible. At the food pantry, and earlier in the month at a food donation bin, I noticed someone's discarded "specialty diet food." Of course, if you wouldn't eat that yourself, why would a needy or homeless person find it appetizing?

Our students stayed focused on the job at hand, and I worked to keep them busy. There's nothing worse than a bored volunteer. When some students were standing around, I found a job inside sorting shelves in the "share area," where recently-expired foods and household goods can be taken, two per client. By the time the students were finished with that part of the project, the shelves looked as good as a Mom and Pop grocery store. Lots of organizational talent was contributed that day at the food pantry. My only regret was that I couldn't be in two places at once. Grace and her group ran out of things to do at the Ecumenical Hunger site. The overworked director wasn't quite the drill sergeant that Karen was at the food pantry, and they didn't have a parent ordering them around. Maybe next time, they kids will be bold enough take the initiative and find extra ways to fill the time and make a difference. As Karen said, "I'm the only paid employee for this facility, except for the janitor who works a few hours a week. I could never do it without dedicated volunteers." One of her regular volunteers even brought a platter of freshly cooked Afghan food while we were there, "For everyone to share," he beamed. Volunteering with kindhearted people is just one of the perks of giving back to the community!