The Impact of Giving

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” — Unknown

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” -— Martin Luther King, Jr.

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By Dawn Onley

There are people who work tirelessly behind the scenes. They prepare food for the homeless. They knit blankets for disadvantaged, premature babies and sing for the elderly in nursing homes. They coach. They plant gardens to revitalize blighted inner city lots and clean up parks. They work in hospitals and libraries and use their proficiency in any number of subjects to tutor.

They are firefighters. They are EMT workers. They teach Sunday School. They take care of abandoned or neglected animals and help to maintain shelters.

They don’t crave the limelight. They are doing this purely out of love.

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They are volunteers. They freely give of their time, talents and resources to help make things better. The work they perform every day is vitally important in uplifting our neighborhoods, communities, schools, churches, hospitals, parks, non-profits, and countless other organizations and industries. They make things run smoothly.

This week (April 23-29) is National Volunteer Week. Back in 1974, President Richard Nixon established National Volunteer Week with an executive order. Since then, presidents have commemorated the day with proclamations to recognize and celebrate the importance of volunteers.

Let us all be guided by the example that volunteers give.

Let us all pick a cause that is near to our heart. Any cause will do. Let us commit to volunteering to that cause.

There are so many worthy initiatives, charities, programs, causes that are in desperate need of our time and efforts. Writing a check is great. Gathering clothes and food to donate is wonderful. But actually rolling up our sleeves, meeting people and developing relationships, is priceless. We need each other.

We may never fully grasp the impact we make when we volunteer, but to know that we are blessing others is the best gift of all.

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Protest with a Purpose: Wear Denim on Wednesday

By Samantha McKenzie

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Once upon a time, in a land not far away, women were no longer seen as princesses. Instead of happy endings, they lived their lives in perpetual fear. They were raped by strangers, abused by men who claimed they loved them, and objectified everywhere they went. There was no safe place to go. Their fathers and brothers had failed them. The police and justice system turned a blind eye. They lived on the edge of hopelessness. Until one day they accepted their fate. They realized that there were no heroes coming to save them. If they wanted a new life, they’d have to save themselves. They were forced to take a stand. Then it happened…

For the past 18 years, the organization Peace Over Violence hosts a Denim Day campaign on a Wednesday in April to bring attention to Sexual Violence Awareness Month.

The campaign grew out of a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court where a rape conviction was overturned because “the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped her rapist remove her jeans, thereby implying consent.” The following day, the women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans to show solidarity with the victim. Peace Over Violence created the Denim Day campaign in response to this case and the activism surrounding it.

Image result for women in jeans in protestSince then, wearing jeans on Denim Day has become a symbol of protest against the ongoing destructive attitudes about sexual assault. The campaign invites community members, elected officials, businesses and students to join in making a social statement by wearing jeans. But it takes individual commitment from everyone.

Dr. Nichole Lewis, director of the Women’s Center at North Carolina Central University, is leading the charge on our campus. She is bringing awareness every day to the violence against women. In her daily stride, she empowers women to believe in themselves. She helps guide their educational and professional goals and equips them with the skills to be successful in a world that isn’t often fair to them. She’s one individual changing the minds of many others.

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She invited me to wear jeans and now I’m inviting you.

This year’s Denim Day is Wednesday, April 26, 2017.

Join women all over the world in our protest against the misconceptions that surround sexual assault.

Until one day they accepted their fate. They realized that there were no heroes coming to save them. If they wanted a new life, they’d have to save themselves. They were forced to take a stand. Then it happened…they crossed borders and locked arms. They broke through barriers and united their voices. In the distance, you could see them coming, but more importantly, you could feel their power all around you. They rose up…together…as if they were one.

 

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Choose Bravely, Sisters

“Take a moment every day to look at the places, spaces and faces in your life and ask yourself if they are the ones you want there.” – Tim Storey

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By Dawn Onley

We get to choose.

Every day we wake up, we have a brand new set of options. We have the ability to decide where we’ll work, where we’ll live, who we’ll love and like, who we’ll spend time with, or even what we’ll have for dinner.

What a blessing that is!

In a good chunk of the world, sadly, people do not get to choose what religion they’ll practice or if their kids can go to school or who they’ll marry or even who they can be friends with. For women, the opportunity to choose in these places is even bleaker.

The consequences for violating these societal norms could range from being shunned to facing incarceration, or even death.

In America, we have so many options that we take for granted. Not only can we choose what we want, but we can choose what we don’t want. This includes, as Tim Storey says, the “places, spaces and faces” in our lives that are not benefitting us.

Sometimes we stay stuck in that dead end relationship, in that miserable job, with those unsupportive “friends,” or in the same area we spent our entire lives, because we fear the unknown. We fear starting over. We don’t trust our judgment. We think the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t. As if the devil is our only option.

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The truth is we often lack the courage to change.

This is fine if we don’t want different results. But if we are not satisfied with the “places, spaces and faces” in our lives, we can choose different. We can redirect our lives toward a path that is affirming and uplifting. We can find people who are kindred spirits. We can relocate to an area that feeds our souls. We can choose to not waste our time with things that don’t fulfill our highest calling or nurture our deepest passions.

It’s up to us.

But if we are set on staying stuck, we should do so in silence. What we shouldn’t do is complain to other people – or more importantly, to ourselves — if time after time, we show that we’re not willing to choose better. Because that’s the definition of insanity.

Choose bravely, sisters.

Choose love. Choose light.

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Beautifully You

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By Samantha McKenzie

You are beautiful. It’s true. You were born into a world that was ready and waiting for you. Your arrival was met with the warmth and love of others and your very presence filled the room with an unimaginable joy. Planned or unplanned, someone prepared for your coming. You were so special that others adjusted their thinking and made room in their lives for your entry. Your birth was the truest meaning of love at first sight.

101813-national-adoption-kids-children-group-school-class-girls-diversity-preschoolYou are unique. No need to compare yourself to others. You were born with your own distinct purpose that can’t be duplicated (although many will try). Just like your thumbprint, no one else can match what you came to do. Your only job is to search for your purpose and find the one thing that you were born to do.

You can admire others – entertainers, athletes, and people in the spotlight as much as you like. It won’t matter. You can surround yourself with people you want to be like. You can follow your parents’ dreams for you in hopes for their nod of approval, but the truth is, you will not be satisfied. You were meant to fulfill your own purpose.

You are gifted. Accept it. Your job is to find out what it is. There’s one particular thing you do ever so well. When you are doing it, you get excited. Your gift comes natural to you. It will challenge you some days, but you won’t have the courage to leave it alone. It has the power to light you up and to give you renewed energy, just when you think you want to quit. It was placed in you with great intention.

So go ahead. Be your beautiful, gifted self. No one else can.

8 Ways to Show Appreciation to Our Big, Beautiful Earth

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By Dawn Onley

A happy childhood memory for me was the apple tree in my grandparents’ backyard. I treasured the times that I got to help pick the apples because I knew before long I would be smacking my lips on some apple pie, stewed apples, applesauce, apple fritters, you name it. Near the apple tree, in their huge garden, grew a variety of vegetables, including tomatoes, onions and peppers, and the sweetest watermelon, which I would eagerly check on after I got home from school to see if any were ripe enough to pick.

I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, back when kids spent a lot of time outdoors. We loved riding our bikes, games of tag and hide and seek, kickball, jump rope and jacks. I loved seeing how high I could swing before jumping off. I would come inside and my mom would say “you smell like the Great Outdoors!”

Whenever Earth Day rolls around, it always conjures up these childhood memories. It also helps to center my thoughts on ways that I can help take better care of Mother Earth and promote healthy, sustainable living, today and in the future. For me, this means doing my part to take care of the environment, but it also means taking care of myself, offering up a smile and a nice word to people who I come in contact with, and striving to be a source of love and light in a sometimes dreary world.

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There are countless things that we can all do – small and large — to promote the value of our environment and preserve our Earth while uplifting its inhabitants. This Saturday, in honor of Earth Day, I’d like to suggest 8 ways we can celebrate and appreciate our big, beautiful Earth:

Avoid Driving Today. Get your exercise on by walking to your destination. Try to leave your car (and pollution) at home on this day. Or, if you can’t avoid it all together, reduce it. Next week, consider carpooling, taking the bus or train to work, biking in, or if you have a flexible work environment like I do, telecommute. The longer you can keep your car parked, the better.

Pay Online: Tell your bank, utilities, creditors, etc. to hold the paper statements and review/pay your accounts online. Think of all the trees you’ll save!

Volunteer: There are a ton of organizations that you can volunteer for on Earth Day. Check your local Sierra Club or newspaper events listings in your area for ideas. Or, you can commit to helping someone in a less formal way, say by blessing someone in the hospital with flowers, preparing a meal for a senior, reading a book to kids in your neighborhood, or planting a tree to beautify the Earth.

Donate: Gather up your excesses and bag ‘em. You know you have clothes, shoes, accessories, dishes, equipment, etc. that you no longer wear or use. Donate it to a worthy organization so that someone who really needs it can benefit.

Grow a Garden: Grow flowers. Grow shrubs. Grow food. You can even grow fresh herbs in your house. This is a sweet smooch to the Earth. I’ve recently decided to plant a few fruit bushes and I’m researching apple tree varieties. Because… childhood memories, organic eating and Earthly love!

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Recycle: It’s really important. Make the effort. Do it until it becomes a habit.

Consume Less Energy: Turn off the lights. Open up the windows and keep the air conditioning off as long as possible. Disconnect plugs from outlets when not in use.

Take a Nature Walk: It’s Spring! Flowers are starting to bloom. Birds are chirping. The weather is warming up. There is so much beauty to appreciate out there among the trees and the trails. Get out there and soak it up!

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We only have one Earth. Let’s keep it beautiful for our children and our children’s children. Let’s make every day, Earth Day.

Strike While Your Iron is Hot

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By Samantha McKenzie

There’s something to be said about a blacksmith’s grueling job of heating metals at the right temperature and hammering them into shape. She has to be strong, quick, focused, and determined to complete the task ahead. Experience has taught her that the temperature must be just right. If she strikes too soon or too late, she will fail. Her success comes from striking while the iron is hot.

We should apply the same principles in accomplishing our goals. The heat is that excitement we have when we come up with a new idea for a business, sign up for a class, learn a new trade, get an opportunity to travel, or meet a new love interest. This heat feeds our passion and drives us to want more.

Strike.

Sometimes we allow fear to enter into our thoughts and then doubt follows closely behind. We tell ourselves we can’t, or that we shouldn’t or that we might fail. But these are the moments in which we must act. These are the moments that take us to the next level and help us discover what we are made of.

Strike.

When we allow our dreams and desires to “cool off” our excitement fades away.  Like iron, we can’t bend or shape our ideas without the proper heat. I challenge myself to strike while the iron is hot. I drown out negative thoughts that creep in. Every time an obstacle presents itself, I commit to finding a solution. I limit who I share my ideas with. You know the people who think it’s their job to tell you why it’s impossible? The “ice” people I call them. They project their fears and failures onto you and with all of their good intentions, they aid in cooling you off.

Strike while the iron is hot. Take action. It doesn’t have to be a big act, small ones work just fine. Sometimes this means I make a telephone call, schedule a tour or do some research. Other actions cause me to make an appointment, make a date, or write a chapter.

Strike.

The point is that these ideas are the flames that fuel us into actions and toward our success. Remember to stay strong, quick, focused and determined.

Strike while your iron is hot.

Go in Search of Beauty and Light

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By Dawn Onley

At a basic level, the Easter story is one of hope. It’s about redemption and mercy, forgiveness and love. Christianity is not unique in this sense. Most religions are based on the concept of hope. The hope in an omnipotent and omnipresent God or higher power. The hope that there is more than this life. The hope of seeing loved ones again.

Hope is such a powerful thing. Hope is why we do what we do each day, rising at ungodly hours in the morning, getting dressed and trudging to work. The hope for a better life for our families. It is what keeps us going when all signs point to hopelessness. Hope and faith are sisters.

Once hope is gone, some people feel like there’s no reason to hang on. Suicide has always made me extremely sad, for the family and friends left behind but especially for the person who felt hopeless. The person who no longer could deal with the pain; who felt like life was worth ending.

Over the years, when despair and doubt started to rear their ugly heads my direction, I’ve become increasingly vigilant in protecting hope – in a better day and in a better outcome. Hope is really all we have. If we can’t have faith in an unknown outcome, we can’t be hopeful.

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I’d like to encourage you to go in search of beauty and light. There’s courage in clinging to hope despite our fears. It’s revolutionary. Pay attention to the smile from the stranger on the street or the compliment from a friend. Reconnect to what makes you feel alive – be it painting or writing or baking a special family recipe.

Cherish and protect the nuggets of joy in your life. Keep reaching for the sun. It’s still there, behind the clouds.

As long as we have hope, we have a fighting chance.