February 16, 2012

Bright Blessings - Celebrating Birthdays and Bringing Joy

Go Inspire Go (GIG) is proud to this month’s Social Good Spotlight, to raise awareness of individuals and organizations doing good in their communities in order to inspire others to take action and ultimately make real social change. GIG believes everyone can find inspiration in helping others, whether it’s through doing small acts of kindness or working at an organization dedicated to making a difference.  If you know of an individual or organization that you think should be featured, please contact Marcia and help us forward their stories to inspire the world.

GIG Social Good Spotlight:
BRIGHT BLESSINGS – Celebrating birthdays and bringing joy to homeless children and their families
by Marcia Estarija Silva

Credit: Lorayn DeLuca Photography

What is Bright Blessings?
Bright Blessings is a 100% volunteer-led nonprofit organization that brings joy and support to homeless children in the greater Charlotte region of North Carolina.  The programs of Bright Blessings serve over 3,000 children in need each year, celebrating birthdays and providing critical care essentials for homeless children and supporting the emergent needs of homeless babies.  

What is Bright Blessings’ mission?  What big changes is it trying to make?
Bright Blessings’ mission is to celebrate, inspire, and support homeless children, while offering fun and meaningful volunteer opportunities for both adults and youth. Charlotte, North Carolina saw a 36% rise in family homelessness in 2010, the second-highest increase among 26 cities studied. In February 2011, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the second-largest school district in North Carolina and the twentieth-largest in the nation, reported a record 3,564 identified homeless children enrolled in the county's schools.  The programs of Bright Blessings provide positive emotional experiences to homeless children and their families by lifting spirits, boosting confidence, broadening horizons and supporting critical needs.  

Volunteers at work
How is Bright Blessings using its power to help others?
The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that homeless families make up about 1/3 of the total homeless population and approximately 1.6 million children will experience homelessness over the course of a year. Forty two percent of children in homeless families are under the age of six.  Children experiencing homelessness have higher rates of health, emotional, and behavior problems and twice as likely to have learning disabilities as non-homeless children. 

Bright Blessings offers two programs, Bless-A-Birthday and Bless-A-Baby, that bring hope and boost confidence for homeless children ages tots to teens, and offer help for babies starting life when their families struggle with homelessness.  Each program incorporates education, enrichment and critical-care needs for the children. These two programs serve over 3,000 homeless children every year.

Bright Blessings began developing a national network in 2009, with pilot affiliate chapters now organizing and under way in multiple cities across the nation.

Blessing baskets

What inspires Bright Blessings to do this work?
Bright Blessings was founded in 2005 by Amy and John Cervantes of Mint Hill, North Carolina as a family service project to help needy children while instilling a love and commitment for community service in their own children.  It began as a monthly birthday party at one homeless shelter and grew into a nonprofit organization that operates numerous programs and supports projects for thousands of homeless children and families across the greater Charlotte region.  

When asked what inspires Amy Cervantes, Executive Director and Co-Founder, to do this work, she replied that it was “seeing the impact through the children and families we serve, and hearing the stories from social workers.” 

“We cry every week at Bright Blessings-- and it's a mixed bag of emotions because we are touched and happy to know that our programs are having such a positive impact on homeless children, yet we are saddened that so many families are continuing to struggling,” she said.

Celebrating a girl’s 8th birthday with her mom 
and other kids at a homeless shelter

What is Bright Blessings focusing on now?  
Bright Blessings continues to focus on its two core programs, Bless-A-Birthday and Bless-A-Baby:
o   Shelter Services - This program brings the joy of birthday parties to homeless children ages tots to teens--a first time experience for most—at area shelters while giving them a sense of recognition and value on their special days.
o   Student Services - Classroom birthday parties are provided anonymously for transient homeless elementary students, and ‘Fit to Celebrate’ backpacks are provided for transient middle and high school students.  The school children served through this program are transient; they do not live in area shelters but rather in motels, campgrounds, cars and other difficult situations. 
Bless-A-Baby - Hundreds of babies across the greater Charlotte region are born into homelessness every year.  Blessing Baskets bring help and hope to needy mothers while providing a healthy and positive start to life for babies living in transient conditions or shelters. Mothers are given a laundry basket filled with new clothing, blankets, food, diapers, baby care supplies and healthcare essentials, along with a few books and gifts to support the tiniest victims of homelessness in our community. 

Youth volunteers

How can GIGSTERS get involved and support Bright Blessings?  
Bright Blessings' current greatest need is support for its Student Services birthday program, due to the rise in number of transient homeless youth it is now serving (approximately 1,400 this year, as compared to 600 last year).  

1. Volunteer - Local GIGSTERS can volunteer at Bright Blessings to help prepare supplies and gift package for the kids.
2. Start your own support project - Bright Blessings offers many support projects that can be completed from any location by participants of all ages, including children, from filling treat bags or making 'goodie gulps' to preparing bags of hygiene essentials or filling birthday snack bags.  Find detailed project instruction sheets on the Bright Blessings website
3. Support and bring joy to a homeless child with a monetary sponsorship.  There are many levels of sponsorship - $35 will provide one homeless elementary student with a classroom party package for his/her birthday; $50 will provide a 'Baby Basics' set for a homeless infant (bottles, bibs, burp cloths, diapers, wipes, and bathing products); $75 will provide treat bags for 25 homeless children living at a shelter; $100 will supply a complete Blessing Basket for one homeless baby; $200 will provide party supplies, craft activities, meal and beverages and a cake for a birthday party at a homeless shelter.  Click here to find out how your donation will support Bright Blessings.

February 14, 2012

Tea With Toan: Inspiring Heart and Community Through Photos (VIDEO)

Welcome to Go Inspire Go’s first installment of “Tea with Toan” a program created for GoInspireGo.com (GIG). In the spirit of GIG’s mission to create a global platform to see and share inspirational stories and experiences, Toan Lam, GIG's Chief Inspirator, video chats with people with diverse experiences over a cup of tea. While sipping tea, guests pause, reflect and share how they're “using their personal power to help others.”

Name: Kat Sloma in Corvallis, Oregon, US
Occupation: Photographer
Power: Inspiring Presence and Heart Through Pictures
Catalyst: Living in Italy
Tea: Hot Cinnamon Spice

Just in time for Valentine’s day. Whether you’re in a relationship or planning a “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” themed party – take some time out to tell someone you love them. Life’s too short. Then set a date with yourself to appreciate yourself and the work you do. You make your life happen! So validate your world and share your love with the people who are in NOW! Don’t know how? Here’s a blog post that will inspire you to reflect and be present. NOW!

What do you do with your pictures after capturing the perfect landscape, loved one or moment? How many times have you snapped a photo, saved it – and then…nothing? If the picture perfect photos are still digitally archived, you have to watch my “Tea with Toan” interview with photographer Kat Sloma. Her Photo-Heart Connection project will give you a new appreciation of your Photography while connecting to other images around the world. No matter what type of art you’re creating, this short podcast will inspire you to pause, reflect and appreciate the people, and those special moments in your life. Learn a new skill and allow your love of your world to be captured in time. Share these moments with loved ones, friends and family, it may lead to a new passion or love of your very own.

Immerse Yourself:
1. Visit the kateyestudio.com website
2. Share: At the end of the month, review your images and identify those with the strongest connection to your heart and soul. Write about that connection in a blog post, or in a photo description on Flickr, then link into the monthly link up. You have the opportunity to know other photographers seeking the same connection, by visiting the links and reading their experiences.
3. Be inspired to regularly pause and reflect in your work – be present. It’s the journey that will pass you up if you’re not in the moment.

If you or someone you know wants to be considered for an interview:
Send us an email: info@goinspirego.com


February 7, 2012

Anti-Gay Bullying: Standing Up for Truth

Have you ever felt like your life did not matter? Your feelings not heard, seen or considered? How about feeling isolated without feeling like you could talk to anyone?

20-year-old Emerald Gwinner knows that feeling. She had a secret, but no one to confide in. Her story never would have been shared had Emerald put her fatal plans into action.

Emerald, who identifies as being bisexual, is a shy fourth-year Wayne State student. During high school she was teased and taunted relentlessly. The constant pecking led to plans of suicide. “I had a few plans…to end it,” she said.

“There would be whispers. In-between class, I would have to duck into the counselors office and wait until the bell rang just so I could make it to my next class,” Emerald recalled in a somber voice.

The whispers quickly escalated into shouting. “A kid in high school yelled across the hall and said if I slept with any guy, everyone would still know that I’m a lesbian,” Emerald said.

Thankfully, her plans didn’t go as designed. Music was not only an escape, it was her saving grace that, for the first time, gave her a sense of freedom. But what liberated her spirit to truthful heights was a complete stranger, Dr. Ron Holt.

Dr. Holt is an psychiatrist in San Francisco whose true passion lies in spreading his message of compassion by helping others better understand lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) sexuality through education. For the last 12 years, he’s traveled around the world, talking to more than 6,000 students and 1,000 physicians and psychologists.

“I firmly believe that education about sexuality can lead to better emotional and physical health,” Dr. Holt said adamantly. His talks cover a wide range of LGBT topics: religion, tips on how to come out, ways to react and support when someone comes out to you, and the science behind sexuality. He closes by peppering in his heartfelt personal story. A story which led him to his passion of educating others.

“My dad would say, ‘Look at the way you walk,’ and would call me names like ‘fag,’ ‘queer,’ ‘you’re never going to amount to anything in life,’ just horrible things,” Holt remembers sadly. He even went into hiding with his partner because of death threats from his father when Ron came out to him.

His courageous personal story resonated with Emerald. “The story about his dad made me realize that I was lying to myself and I realized it was ok to be bi,” she explained.

Dr. Holt admits when he first started presenting 12 years ago, he was afraid. Wayne is a conservative town of about 5,000 people. “I didn’t know if anyone would listen,” he said. Twelve years ago he would have about eight people attend his presentations. Last year most classes were standing room only.

Dr. Holt now works part-time so he can devote more hours to his passion project. Aside from spending his own money (to cover travel accommodations) and vacation time sharing his message, his inspiration goes beyond the audiences he enlightens. His community service work includes mentoring members of the LGBT PRIDE group at Wayne State College, working to endow scholarships for the Wayne State’s PRIDE group and donating money annually to help the group’s educational programs to raise awareness of homophobia’s impact on LGBT youth and beyond.

The impact — or ripple — can’t always be measured in time, money or any other metrics. However, you can witness change by meeting people he’s impacted — like the noticeable confidence you can see in Emerald, who is now a part of the Wayne State PRIDE group.

Although Emerald’s parents didn’t know about her sexual orientation, she volunteered to speak after I spent some time with the PRIDE group at a bowling alley during this shoot. She had only exchanged emails with Dr. Holt, who told her about my interest in covering this story. “If I can save one life, it will be worth it,” she said as she shook my hand and smiled.

I wonder how many Emeralds are out there — with so much life and such a valuable story to tell. I also wonder how many people are out there who have been bullied and don’t ever get to share their stories.

I hope this story inspires people not to judge and to think before you act. If you or someone you know would like to support or collaborate with Dr. Holt’s mission, visit his website at www.audacityofpride.com.

Take Action:

1. We judge because we don’t know. Your actions can help or harm others.
2. If you’re being bullied or have thoughts of suicide, there is hope. TheTrevorProject is a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBT youth.
3. If you’re an educator and want information and inspiration about bringing compassion to your school: National Educator Conference focused on LGBT youth: Cescal

February 6, 2012

GIG SPARK: Sweet Idea! Using Chocolate to Create Compassion (VIDEO)

For all of you who think doing a good deed takes too much time, money or energy – let me introduce you to Gretchen Burley’s latest GIG SPARK video. Gretchen shows us that warming up the hearts of strangers in our community is as simple as sharing a cup of hot chocolate.

Gretchen bundled up, made hot chocolate and battled the chilly conditions in Downtown Detroit, Michigan to warm up the hearts of the homeless.

Way to go Gretchen – thanks for showing us how simply sweet it is to give a little and get a lot in return.

We hope this video inspires you to do something nice for someone in your community in the next 24 hours.

*Several GIG SPARK participants told me that they witnessed a shift happen inside of them, an indescribable joy that comes with giving with no strings attached.

Gigster: Gretchen Burley
Where: Detroit, Michigan
Spark: Giving hot chocolate to the homeless on a cold winter’s day.
Your Turn: What thoughtful deed would warm the hearts of others? Do it and share with us. We may just share your GIG SPARK video with the world!

FEELING INSPIRED? Join the GIG SPARK movement! Make your own GIG SPARK:

WHAT’S A GIG Spark & CREATE your own!

As a part of GoInspireGo’s mission to inspire our viewers to discover their power, we've joined forces with Youth Service America (YSA), Lil' MDGs and Miley Cyrus' "Get Ur Good On" to bring you GIG Spark: A Lesson on Compassion.

A "GIG Spark" is a short 1-1:30 minute video that inspires viewers to take action and help others after they've watched the video. The video will feature you showing and telling viewers what you want them to do on video. It's simple, quick and can generate inspiration for others! The goal: a fun, easy way to inspire action.

We're inviting YOU and your community (school, organization, friends, etc.) to use your passion and creativity to produce a "GIG Spark" and inspire viewers with your story. This is for anyone who can shoot and edit short videos. Get Started on a GIG Spark now.

Inspiration can be fun and infectious! We believe in the power of small acts and using technology to crowdsource ideas, capture it on video, spread the word online, and inspire immediate action. We know that people (especially youth) care and want to do something good for others, but just don't know how. So why not teach compassion to kids and adults in your life? This is a quick way for you to use your power to spark civic engagement and inspire a small ripple of kindness that will create a domino effect…

We can't wait to see inspiring acts popping up all over the state, country, and world! What can YOU do?

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