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Inspired: What I learned about hunger in New York City from Total cereal and a baby stroller

“Do you think you could help us get a few things to eat at that grocery store until our food stamps for the month come in?” An elderly man pushing a baby in a stroller whispered this question to me two blocks from my apartment. After so many years in New York, I’ve grown used to people asking for help on the streets. So used to it that I can now *almost* get out a “sorry” with a smile and be on my way without feeling nauseous. Almost.

But this man was different. I’m not sure if it was his phrasing, tone of voice, simple request, or the baby carriage that did it. I just couldn’t walk away from him without helping. I was carrying two boxes of Total cereal that I had just bought and I handed one to him. “Does this help?” I asked. “It sure does,” he said with a smile. His cracked gold tooth gleamed in the late morning sun.

He’s haunting me now, even though I did help him. A box of cereal wasn’t enough. I know that. What he really needs is a job, a source of income that eliminates his need to beg at all, gets him off of food stamps, and helps him contribute whatever talents he has to the world. That’s a dignity we all deserve. I don’t have that job for him so all I could do in that moment was hand him a box of cereal. It feels woefully inadequate to look into another person’s eyes, see their need, and realize we can’t meet it. It leaves a hole, a crack in my well-crafted New York City armor, and perhaps that is the crack where the light will enter. Thanks, Leonard Cohen. I’m beginning to hear your Anthem.

Beautiful: Today I’m Live Tweeting High Water Women’s Investing for Impact Conference

Today I’ll be live tweeting High Water Women‘s Investing for Impact Conference. With an incredibly impressive line up of speakers from the investment, nonprofit, and NGO worlds, the conference will cover the triumphs and challenges of financial investing that is focused on making a positive impact on society.

High Water Women empowers women and youth in need by creating powerful volunteer opportunities that leverage the talents and aspirations of professional women. They focus their work in 3 main areas:
– Enriched education for at-risk youth
– Relieving the impact of family poverty
– Economic empowerment for women

You can follow the day via my Twitter feed, @christanyc, or through the High Water Women Twitter feed, @HighWaterWomen. The hashtag for the event is #HWW2013. I hope you’ll chime in, ask questions, and connect with others on this topic. I look forward to the conversation!

Beautiful: How to Help in Boston and West Texas

In the midst of the anxiety and horror of last week, the light is beginning to shine through and the very best of human goodness is driving out the darkness.

Boston
Mary, a dear yogi friend and loyal reader of this blog, told me about The One Fund. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino announced the formation of The One Fund Boston, Inc. to help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred in Boston on April 15, 2013. To learn more, click here. To donate, click here.

West Texas
The Waco / West Texas Fertilizer Plant explosion caused widespread destruction, loss of life, and severe injuries to many in this small town. There are many ways that you can help ease their pain. For a list of organizations that are offering support and assistance, click here.

And it goes without saying that your continued thoughts and prayers will be needed for a long time to come. Keep them going.

In a Spirit of Giving

Just another day on the Great Lawn in Central Park

Just another day on the Great Lawn in Central Park

“You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

The universe always rises up to support someone with a passion to do something of value for others.

I think about this quote a lot when people ask me about Compass Yoga‘s partnership with the New York Public Library. We offer 9 weekly classes at different library branches in Manhattan, all free of charge to anyone who walks through the door. Over the past two years since we began offering the classes, a number of people have asked me how I make sure the people who are in the class really need it. What they’re really asking is how do I feel about them coming to our classes for free while they have the means to pay for classes elsewhere.

We certainly do have students who could afford to pay something for a class – perhaps not the $20 or so it costs for many classes around the city, but certainly something. A few of our students have given donations to Compass Yoga because they are of means and support our work. I wish others who are of means would do the same. Perhaps in time they will. Other people have given their time and expertise to support our work. Other people don’t have the means at all, but they bring their energy and dedication to class every week.

There’s another New York-based charity that operates under the same circumstances as Compass Yoga: NYC Parks. Consider how often New Yorkers take advantage of the beauty of Central Park, or any of the other public parks in the city, on a  sunny day? How many of them have donated money to NYC Parks? Certainly not all of them, maybe not even most of them. I wish more people would donate, though the parks don’t discriminate. They don’t have a giant gate around them demanding payment before entry. Compass Yoga has the same philosophy as Central Park: to be free and open to all who enter.

I started Compass to bring more yoga to more people in more places, no strings attached. I also started it so that yoga teachers who are just starting out could get experience teaching. I wanted to build a bridge between the people who need what yoga has to offer and the people who have the training to teach. I know if we stay true to that goal and work hard at creative fundraising strategies, eventually the funding will flow. The trickle has already begun; now its our job to do our best to carve it into the Mississippi for the sake of all our students.

Leap: Help Compass Yoga Get More Yoga to More People in More Places in 2013

155022412144196817_GnjUJDhx_cYesterday Compass Yoga, the nonprofit I founded to provide the therapeutic benefits of yoga and meditation to people who otherwise would not have access to the practice, received its first completely unsolicited donation from one of our wonderful students.

In 2013, we are expanding programming to additional branches of the New York Public Library, creating Compass Guides, mini-publications that explain how to use yoga and meditation in a holistic treatment plan for a wide variety of health challenges, and crafting a community health clinic concept to help people discover, learn about, and access alternative care. Donations like the one from our student yesterday will make this work possible.

All donations are 100% tax-deductible and every penny helps. To make a donation of any size, please visit this link: https://www.wepay.com/donations/compass-yoga_1

From the entire team at Compass, we wish you a joyful, peaceful, and prosperous new year!

Leap: Quoth the IRS, “Compass Yoga, it’s official. You are a 501(c)3 charitable organization!”

Okay, so they actually said, “We are pleased to inform you that upon review of your application for tax exempt status we have determined that you are exempt from Federal income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to you are deductible under section 170 of the Code. You are also qualified to receive tax-deductible bequests, devises, transfers or gifts under section 2055, 2106 or 2522 of the Code.” But doesn’t my title for this post sound much more celebratory, aptly reflecting this enormous milestone?!

I couldn’t be happier with this recent turn of events for Compass Yoga. Actually, the moment I got the email from our attorneys I started doing a little victory dance to the song “Everybody Talks” by Neon Trees. How fitting!

This tax-exempt status sets in motion our opportunity to get the healing benefits of yoga to more people in more places. Great things are happening, and I can’t wait to share the progress with you. Now, the work really begins. If you want to be involved in this journey in any way, please contact me. We’d love to have you climb aboard our ship. There’s room for everyone who wants to be a warrior of wellness.

Leap: Google Teaches Us How to Create World Peace and Other Circumstances of Goodness

From Pinterest member http://pinterest.com/sconlon1978/

The New York Times ran a story over the weekend about Google’s efforts to increase mindfulness among its employees. The story, Ok, Google, Take a Deep Breath, featured Chade-Meng Tan (Meng), an engineer at Google and the creator of the Google team course, “Search Inside Yourself.” I clicked the link to watch a sample class on YouTube and I was both disappointed and annoyed.

Meng explains that he wanted to see a dramatic shift in world towards peace. Given the company’s policy to let all employees work on personal areas of research for a certain percentage of their work hours, Meng decided that the best investment of his time would come from figuring out how to generate world peace. It’s an insightful idea. What I hated about it was his conclusion that to get individuals and companies to care about world peace, we have to help them understand what’s in it for them. Meng went on to explain that no one is going to create peace just because it’s a good thing for society. They have to get something out of it on a personal level before they care about peace. We need to tap into people’s individual needs that make the objective of world peace an inevitable by-product. 

Gross.

I hate that conclusion. Is that what we’ve amounted to? A collection of 6 billion bodies who only care about themselves? I stewed on that as I ate my lunch, determined to prove that though Meng may be a very bright engineer, his conclusion on how to bring about peace was unfounded.

I couldn’t. I got more annoyed.

Thankfully, my post from yesterday on the value of having our personal philosophies unsettled was still top of mind. Why did Meng’s conclusion, one that I had a hard time refuting, bother me so much and what could I learn from it? Could I apply it to my own work? Was I already subconsciously already applying it to my own work?

A New York Times column that Thomas Friedman wrote for after 9/11. In it he explained that, If you don’t visit a bad neighborhood, it will visit you. “ In other words, get out there and do something that’s good for you and good for others. The trick we have to benefit individually as much as we do collectively in order to get community efforts and acts of goodwill to be sustainable.

Environmental sustainability and corporate social responsibility really took off when companies realized they could benefit financially and in terms of customer and employee loyalty. In these efforts, the win-win is what tipped the scales. We are beginning to see these same seeds planted in healthcare. Our current healthcare system is no longer sustainable, so we are beginning to see more emphasis on preventative health measures that give people a way to be well before they ever get sick. The same is true in education. We are beginning to see a proliferation of new channels for learning because entrepreneurs realized that they could profit from disrupting the traditional education system.

In all these examples, the answer to the question “what’s in it for me?” came into balance with the answer to the question “why is this good for society?” We need both side of the equation to really make an impact. Thanks, Meng, for stating the cold, hard facts, for not letting us let ourselves off the hook, and for showing us that we can make a positive impact on humanity by truly understanding humanity.

Incidentally, Fast Company ran an article this week with a similar conclusion, stated a little bit more diplomatically. Another solid, if philosophically unsettling, read. 3 Tips for Making an Abstract Idea Relatable to Everyone, Not Just Geeks. 

Beginning: Hear the Hungry Benefit with Featured Artist J.T. Liss Raises Funds to Provide A Supportive Community for New York City’s Homeless

On Monday night I attended a fundraiser at Webster Hall for a start-up nonprofit called Hear the Hungry. The group’s mission is to bring “food, companionship, and other basic necessities to the homeless in New York and L.A.” I am especially moved by their holistic mission because of a recent experience I had with the homeless in my own neighborhood while I was taking a walk with my pup, Phineas. Yes, we need food, but we also need a compassionate ear to hear us and a generous heart to sit with us for a while. Hear the Hungry is providing this unique and badly needed service in our city, for a population that is largely stepped over, ignored, or just plain invisible to too many of us.

Events like this are powerful reminders of how much of an impact we can have at every turn if only we recognize our own power in every exchange we have. The day after the event I walked through my usual activities much more conscious of my interactions with others, particularly those who I didn’t know. It made me think about how important it is to be present with others, to give them our full attention, and to recognize their unique value.

Two Ways You Can Help:

Hear the Hungry
In its one year, Hear the Hungry has changed the lives of the homeless through compassion, trust, and the firm belief that all people deserve the opportunity to belong to a supportive and loving community. If you’d like to learn more about them and get involved in their mission, find them on Twitter, Facebook, and at their blog.

Photography For Social Change
Through his initiative Photography for Social Change, photographer J.T. Liss creates stunning, poignant images with the goals of “inspiring advocacy, helping others in need, and allowing art to spread positivity.” 25% of the proceeds from all photos sold will go to unique nonprofit organizations that are striving to help others in need. Current partner organizations include Hear The Hungry (NYC), Hug It Forward (CA), and Saint Joseph Music Program (NYC).

For more information on J.T. and Photography for Social Change, please visit and “Like” his Facebook Page.

Beginning: Jade Yoga Becomes the First Charitable Sponsor of Compass Yoga

Jade Yoga is a charitable sponsor of Compass Yoga

I spend a good deal of time trying to improve Compass Yoga, the organization I started to bring yoga to under-served populations.
About a month ago, I announced the Compass Partnership with the New York Public Library. Many of my students are beginners or returning to yoga after many years away from the mat. Last week I started contacting yoga supply companies to see if any of them would be willing to donate mats and props to the class for my students to use.

Yesterday Jade Yoga, the maker of one of the very best yoga mats on the market, decided to become the first charitable sponsor of Compass Yoga. Jade donated 12 brand spanking new, eco-friendly Harmony Yoga Mats for the Compass Yoga class at the New York Public Library, a value of almost $800. I am overwhelmed by Jade Yoga’s generosity. On behalf of Compass, the New York Public Library, and my students, thank you, Jade Yoga, for your kind contribution in an effort to spread the benefits of yoga throughout our community. You just gained a customer and fan for life. Namaste!

My Year of Hopefulness – M.S. 223 One Year Later

“A writer – someone who is enormously taken by things anyone else would walk by.” ~ a quote found in the hallways on M.S. 223

Today I went to M.S. 223 in the South Bronx with Junior Achievement. It has been a year almost to the day that I first visited that school. One year later, I still felt excited and nervous, prepared and completely unprepared. My work with the organization, and others like it, make me feel more useful and alive than I feel anywhere else. Teaching is hard work – perhaps the hardest work I’ve ever done because it requires me to draw on every skill I have and then some. Every time I stand in front of a class, I learn something new about myself and about the world.

We spent the morning talking about international trade – how it works and its impact on our everyday lives. In one topic, we covered math, politics, economics, diplomacy, contract negotiations, sociology, and psychology. We didn’t even get to the prescribed activities because the students had so many questions, insights, and concerns. As usual, I had to summon my improvisation skills early and often.
When we talked about product imports and legal stipulations that often impact those imports, some students brought up a topic I was not at all expecting: guns. They knew about licensing, having a warrant to search a house, the relationships between the police and people in a community, and the damage that guns cause. They asked me about laws governing guns, in the U.S. and abroad, their sale, purchase, and sadly, their use in neighborhoods in New York City. It was a tough conversation – this is the reality of an inner-city middle school student.
After lunch, they were wound up. We reviewed the activities in their workbooks. Some were engaged, and some were not. Most couldn’t seem to sit still or focus or listen to one another. For the first time in a classroom I began to see the split between students who really embraced learning and those who did not, and I got very worried. I couldn’t leave some behind and feel good about the day. I had to find a way to bring them all with me. What I was doing wasn’t working and so for the last activity, we turned to the tool I love best – a blank sheet of paper.
On the back of their workbooks, I had them design and describe a product they would like to make and sell.
“How much money do we have?” they asked.
“Unlimited,” I responded.
“How do I make something?” they asked.
“Think of something in your life that you want to fix and develop a product or service that fixes it,” I said.
“Anything?” they asked.
“Yes, anything you want,” I replied.
The floodgates were open. Even the most disruptive students had a rush of ideas: a global communication device that translates your voice to another language so communication with others is easier across the globe; a machine that cures every disease known to man; a pocket-sized screen connected to a home security camera. There was no shortage of creativity in that room and I was able to relate what I do every day at work to what these students were doing in this exercise.
“You get paid to make things?” one student asked.
“I do,” I replied.
“Wow, you’re lucky,” another one said.
“It’s not about luck,” I said. “It’s about deciding to get a certain skill set and then working hard. You could do it, too.”
They raised their eyebrows as if to say, “Really?”
Our class ended in a rush and before I knew it, silence filled the classroom. Off they went out into the world, to circumstances that are more difficult than most people can ever imagine. I worry about them all the time. I’d like to think that years from now, one of them will create a product or service because of our 45 minute lesson on product development. Maybe it inspired a small dream that someday becomes a reality for one of them.
This is the most curious thing about teaching: you plant seeds with nothing but love and faith, hoping that somewhere down the line something you said resonates with someone, inspires them, encourages them, gives them a reason to believe.

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