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Series Intro: Empowerment, Resiliency, and Connection Amid Crisis

By Angelica Lohr, EdS, April 15, 2020

…The world is on fire, or so it seems.

A cacophony of voices, surging through chaos…

Where do we go? What do we do?

How do we hold on to that which truly matters, when the routine that we know falls apart? If life seems a bit overwhelming right now, you’re not alone.  All across the globe, people are struggling in the midst of a pandemic.  For many, the disruptions to daily life are rough and difficult to navigate.  Adapting to abrupt change is…. well, many things.  Fear, anxiety, anger- all are natural responses to uncertainty and trauma.

We are physically isolated, and yet craving community more than ever.  How do we find, and keep, the connections that truly matter?

Fifteen years ago, my son struggled through childhood cancer.  I’ll never forget the moment I heard the diagnosis. Life ground to a halt. Nothing outside of that singularity existed; everything else became abstraction. The sun did not shine; the world was ending and there was no way out.

…I believed I would never laugh again.

In those moments of grief and loneliness, even in despair, there is a savage and raw joy.  This is the resilience of the soul as we keep moving.  It may not be one step at a time; it may be a clenched fist as we drag and crawl our way forward. The ability to survive, and even thrive, in the midst of unspeakable hardship is what makes us beautifully “human.”. 

Life in threadbare seams is the human spirit, and essence, distilled.

What remains is the critical element at our core:  the drive to provide meaningful, purpose-driven help to friends, communities, and strangers to propels us ahead. This is the time where we, as a collective momentum of humanity—the gathered power of all voices—dig deep.  We must harness our grit and tap into our organic resolve to move ahead with relentless forward motion.

Every action matters; each choice counts.  This is the time when making a real difference, means everything.

The meaning is you.

The potential: LIMITLESS.

(I did laugh again, and my son lived.  We will prevail in these times, as well.)

In Solidarity,

Angelica

I’m Angelica, and this is my 2nd year working for Walden. As a teacher for nearly 15 years, I’ve worked with students managing every conceivable life scenario in the midst of school, and I am perpetually inspired by the indomitable force of the human spirit. For me, “changemaking” is personal. My son’s battle to overcome childhood cancer inspires me daily, and I believe we, as individuals, have the ability to empower the people around us each and every day. Changemaking isn’t a singular action, it’s a holistic mindset.

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Introduction to Our Blog: Aspire

What are we hoping to accomplish with our blog? 

We Aspire to share meaningful stories of social change to provide connection, inspiration, and fruitful wisdom. 

The Center for Social Change at Walden University has two primary goals: building community and empowering changemakers.  We Aspire to remain aligned with our blog by bridging connections across boundaries through authentic, emotive, and inspiring stories about our community’s work in social change.   Stories provoke the empathy and connections which cultivate our sense of generosity and compassion.  

Paul Zak is a neuro-economist who has studied how oxytocin in the brain can facilitate our behaviors such as trust and empathy, specifically when listening to stories shared by other individuals. Zak’s research suggests that stories have the power to create empathy, generosity, and compassion among strangers and increase our willingness to take action to connect with one another. 

We Aspire to be a vessel for learning by humanizing the real everyday challenges and triumphs changemakers across the world experience as they pull up their sleeves and try to make a positive mark in a way most meaningful to them.   

We Aspire to learn from one another by discovering lessons that can be applied broadly, provoke growth, and deconstruct the complexity of social change with digestible stories and relevant resources. 

From your Center for Social Change Blog Team:  

What this blog means to us, and why we think you should read it

Angelica Lohr, Ed.S.

Stories are the true heart of human experience. In a busy world, it’s easy to just look at the surface of someone.  In a time when everyone seems busy and on the go, it can be hard to really connect.  In an age of instant connectivity, we are more isolated than ever in the ways that count.   I’m passionate about this blog, because sharing our stories is how we re-connect to what really matters in life. Within this website, we are doing more than just writing.  We are creating a community, through the common threads of our experiences. So let’s slow down.  Breathe deep.  Take an extra minute or two (or five or ten) to really see, hear, and feel the moments on the page.  Every person has a story.  What’s yours? 

Maggie Murphy, MS

Welcome to our anthology of inspiration. We are so excited to share stories of hope, connection, and social change. Everyone has a story, whether you think so or not. This platform has been created to share all stories, big and small, to create a community of people across the globe. Every day I find myself inspired by the stories I hear of people around me coming together because of shared passions.  I encourage you to take a moment and explore some stories that we’ve collected for you. Maybe you’ll laugh, or cry, or make some new connections. You might even walk away with a refreshed perspective on what matters most in your life. Enjoy! 

Molly Raymond, MSW

As I’ve “traveled” across the university discovering the various strengths, power, generosity and passion relating to social change that exists throughout our community, I’ve come to realize we need a space to allow these stories to come to life.  A space that illustrates the collective, beautiful tapestry which embodies who we are. Not just stories of triumph and success, but an authentic outlet to talk about the challenges, failures and barriers we face in sustaining change, justice, and service work. I’ve learned that we all see the world as a series of stories and narratives (not chapters in a textbook or lecture hall). This blog is an effort to embrace and harness this knowledge. Perhaps if we can shed more light on our emotional connections to the work of social change, we can unearth more understanding, empathy, hope and social connectedness for good.

On Charity and Change

When I was young, I remember hearing President Lyndon Johnson announce he was instituting the War on Poverty! The goal was to eliminate poverty in the United States. I clearly remember his optimism and belief this war could be won! I still recall being excited that we could truly be a country where everyone was valued and had the same opportunities.

Fifteen years later, as a young social worker, I wasn’t hearing leaders and policymakers talking about ending poverty anymore. Instead, there was much talk about how we would manage poverty through programs and services that would provide the poor with food, clothing, shelter, etc. The government and nonprofit sector created food shelves, battered women and homeless shelters, crisis counseling, and other programs to assist those struggling with hunger, homelessness, family violence and other issues.

In my late-twenties, I became the Director of a very small (5 staff) family crisis assistance agency. We had a food shelf, a clothes closet, short-term counseling, and a small amount of funding to assist individuals and families that needed short-term emergency housing. All of our services were free to those who needed them. I was proud of the services and assistance we provided because it did meet individuals and families’ immediate needs in a crisis. In addition to food, clothing, and 2-3 days of motel rent, our social worker provided referrals to county government social services and other resources. The goal is to be an important resource for immediate needs and a steppingstone to long-term help.

However, even though we were a short-term crisis assistance agency, I began seeing the same families repeatedly. They reported that after they received our assistance, they couldn’t gain government assistance in a reasonable time, couldn’t navigate the system or even find other local community resources to help them improve their situation. Many went back to living in their cars, parks, church basements, or temporary shelters (the very few at that time).

I was especially troubled by one group of clients who returned again and again. Our agency was located close to, and had a great working relationship with, what was then called a battered women’s shelter. We had an agreement with shelter staff that women and children who were leaving their very short term (and over-crowded) shelter, could come to us for food, clothing, and (very) short term motel vouchers.

When these women (most often with young children) couldn’t make the transition into a safe, stable environment, many felt their only option was to go home to their abuser.  We would see some of these families again and again as they fled from their abuser back to the battered women’s shelter, often only with the clothes they were wearing. Because they came back to our program on several occasions, we would get to know them. I clearly remember talking to one of the women who had left her abusive husband on many occasions and struggled with what to do next. Our staff spent significant time trying to advocate for her in a complex and overburdened social service system. She left us, thankful for the time, effort, and tangible assistance provided.

About a month later, our social worker came to me with tears in her eyes.  She reported the family we had recently worked with was unable to make that critical transition to affordable and safe housing. As she had done before, she and her family went back to the abuser. However, this time, our social worker had heard the abuser beat and killed her in front of their children.

She left the room, and I put my head on my desk and cried. I cried for the woman and her children. I cried out of guilt and shame that we were part of a system that failed her. I cried because we gave her hope when there wasn’t often much hope for women in this situation.

At that moment, I also pledged to myself…I would never again work for an organization or institution that didn’t address the root-cause, systemic problems (lack of affordable long-term housing, transportation, child care, among others) that must be addressed through movement-building, advocacy, education, changes in policy, and laws. While charity does provide essential resources for those with an immediate need, we will only see real, long-lasting social change — real social, racial, and economic justice, when we acknowledge and address the need for systemic change.

Thirty-plus years later, I continue to hold to that pledge. Within Walden University, faculty and students often study systemic issues and problems, with the goal of having the results of their research applied to make a real difference worldwide. Students, faculty, and staff are committed to advocacy and volunteerism for charity and systemic change. Walden’s Global Days of Service are a call-to-action for both charity and systemic social change.

I’d like to challenge our community (alongside the Center for Social Change) to be the systemic change we want to see!

Gary Kelsey, Ed.D.

Senior Core Faculty/Residency Coordinator

School of Public Policy and Administration

gary.kelsey@mail.waldenu.edu

What Do My Dad, Gary Coleman, and MLK Have in Common? My Path to Community Service

Growing up, my father generally discouraged us kids from watching TV with the exception of “educational” programs.  When planning for a family outing, he announced our departure time and stressed being ready on time.  However, we knew the drill.  At the stated time of departure, he would say to us, “Go ahead and watch a little bit of junk TV’”.  Junk TV was his nickname for television that was not of exceptional quality and thus was on par with junk food.  This was code for our father will delay our departure because he wants to hand write one or more letters to his elected officials.  When the first sitcom rerun ended he would then say, “Why don’t you watch Different Strokes now?”  We jokingly replied in the voice of the late actor Gary Coleman’s popular character, Arnold, “What-ch-you talking about, Father?”  This is how we garnered additional “screen time” of that era, the 1980’s. 

It seemed to me that my father felt that writing to his elected officials regarding issues of concern was an obligation in a participatory democracy.  His letters were carefully crafted, complete with exquisite penmanship.  Each letter of a word received multiple pen strokes so to command attention.  He continued writing those letters well into the ninth decade of his life, and only stopped because he passed on.  Simply put, my father walked the talk.  He cared about the world and lived his beliefs.  His favorite quote was, “Dream no small dreams, for they do not stir my blood” (author unknown).  Whether it was writing those letters or protesting the illegal slaughter of whales, his life was filled with purpose.  He also celebrated his friends who created a better world, whether they were prominent in Rotary’s global campaign to eradicate polio, or spent over a decade creating a marine sanctuary in Australia.  The mementos of their accomplishments were proudly displayed in the “Wall of Fame” he created in his kitchen.   

An important transition in my life came when I heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech for the first time as an undergraduate.  I was awestruck by the courage, coordination, and unwavering dedication of those advancing civil rights.  I was becoming keenly aware of the many who stood to overcome the impossible, whether it be Sojourner Truth, Alice Paul, or Malcolm X.

Upon becoming a credentialed healthcare provider, I was bestowed with the honor of walking into a patient’s life and helping them improve their health outcomes, whether it was someone with a bilateral knee amputation because of uncontrolled diabetes, or an immuno-compromised cancer patient.  It became clear to me then:  If you have the good fortune of good health, you should give back for the good fortune you have

While in my early 20’s and working in Boston, I decided to bypass the festivities of Thanksgiving Day and volunteer instead.  That is, to give on Thanksgiving Day.  I called every homeless shelter in Boston, cheerfully asking to volunteer—but nearly every one said they already had too many volunteers.  Finally, the program manager at the Boston Rescue Mission said, “Can you volunteer with us on another day?” That started my commitment to volunteer service, whether it be at the Boston Rescue Mission, the Montgomery County (Maryland) Weekend/Evening Volunteer program, or creating and leading a community service team for nearly a decade in my Seattle neighborhood where I stopped counting after we’d picked up our 1,000th bag of litter and the 300th bag of recyclable items.  In my role as a Native Plant Steward, I routinely engage in environmental restoration.  I faithfully participate in Walden University’s annual Global Days of Service.  In fact, I consider our Global Days of Service event with the reverence of a major holiday that I look forward to every year.

Overall, when examining the best decisions I’ve made in my life thus far, steadfast participation in community service ranks among them.  Additionally, I recently learned that I’m not the only one whose father would insist the family be ready to go at a declared time for a family outing—but then be tardy himself.  It was my second cousin Lorena who said her father (my cousin) does the same thing.  Before I knew she was visiting both Seattle and me for the first time, I’d planned to volunteer in my local old growth forest (Deadhorse Canyon) that weekend, removing invasive species.  I told her of my volunteer obligation but insisted I could skip it as there was much for her to see in and around Seattle…Pike Place Market… Mount Rainier National Park… the Hoh Rain Forest… Mount Baker.  She replied, “Let’s spend our time in Seattle—that way we can volunteer, too.” 

Irana W. Hawkins, PhD, MPH, RDN

Contributing Faculty, Doctoral Programs in Public Health College of Health Sciences

Neighborhood Networks Work to Save Lives

I did not mean to start a network of volunteers and make more than 2000 masks in 2 months. It just happened. A need arose and I saw a chance to give back. In my youth I was a seamstress and a cutter. In Baltimore worked for a small company sewing polar fleece hats. In Maine I cut piecework by hand for a small dressmaking company called Posies. I know how to turn out garments efficiently and I know how to sew. When a local network of hospitals put out a call for masks, I thought I would get a few neighbors to help. I thought maybe we could make a few dozen masks. I would be doing my part and using my talent.  I posted on Nextdoor, a neighborhood social media app, asking for help. I was unprepared for the response.

My message inbox lit up. Many people wanted to help. People saw our progress and then even more people wanted to help. When one network of hospitals had enough masks we started donating to another. We ran out of fabric. I posted on Nextdoor and bags of sheets arrived. Cutters volunteered. We ran out of elastic. Networks of neighbors helped me find more or donated. I organized at 50 person network. Fabric came in and went out to be cut. One person just cut elastic, almost 1000 yards total. Thread arrived in the mail from someone who could not sew, but wanted to help. Cut pieces came in, I bundled fabric and elastic into kits of 10-20 masks and put in bins on my front steps for contactless pickup. People came to pick up materials in snow and rain. I was truly humbled by the response.

Anytime I needed help or materials, people stepped up. The neighborhood cheered us on as I posted photos of almost every finished mask. When nurses needed headbands to save their ears, we made those too. One person sewed on over 400 buttons. We kept it up through April and most of May until masks were commercially available.

We suppled masks to eight hospitals, one nursing home, a school district, and almost every fire fighter in St. Paul. I worked 20-40 hours a week to keep the mask machine going, sourcing elastic, delivering masks, getting materials to the right people, contacting volunteers. It was exhausting on top of a full time job as a high school teacher, but I knew that we were saving lives. I learned that I can organize and lead in a time of need. My background as an Outward Bound Instructor came in handy as I understand logistics and morale. We as a neighborhood group are grateful to all the nurses and doctors who were risking their lives. I was amazed by how quickly people came together to do what needed to be done and I am truly grateful to all my neighbors who helped.

Resources

Nextdoor is a great organizing tool. It was a great way to recruit volunteers. Often organizers do not think about localized social media streams.

Sewgood.org had the patterns I used and is a local sewing for non-profits group. There are many non-profit groups that sew for people in need.

Sewing for Good: 9 Sewing Charities that Need Your Help

Dr. Beth Robelia is a contributing faculty member at Walden in Riley College of Education and Leadership. She lives in St. Paul, MN. She also works full time at an online high school teaching biology. In previous lives she has been a deckhand and a seamstress.

Addiction, Recovery, and Social Change: Creating a New Perspective

I’m about to embark on a topic that doesn’t come out of our mouths too often when we’re talking about social change. But for me it was the most pivotal change that I made in my life and also provided immensely for hundreds of others that I have worked with. This social change project is broadening the narrow perspective the world carries with regard to addiction and recovery. Of course, my inspiration was born from my own transitional journey where I engaged in what looks like our traditional treatment process to remove a physiological chemical addiction. When I completed this “standard protocol” I was sent back to my life still not knowing how to make that space fulfilling for me.

Sure, I had been stabilized, but the social supports of AA and women’s group were not going to give me the answers I needed. I was not provided effective tools to maneuver through the many stressors a wife and mother faces. So, I went to school where I learned about addiction, treatment, and the way that the evidence-based practices are structured. I identified coaching as a preferred method and used the Capstone for my research on coaching as an effective psychological practice. I obtained 11 certifications and my Degree in Psychology at Walden University where I studied chemical, behavioral, and process addictions.

I don’t want to bore you, so here is the deal. What I discovered is that there is an entire population of people that struggle with what can be considered the not-so-normal faces of addiction. These are people that feel held hostage by their habits yet they are highly functioning, so they do not meet criteria for our traditional treatments. Then there are the people who come out of treatment faced with the same job, the same spouse, the same kids, the same house, the same bills, the same everything, that they were originally trying to numb out, without the proper level of support to show them how to add, edit, and delete what they learned in treatment and incorporate it into their life effectively when the time is needed.

We stabilize the moderate to severe and send them home. We don’t teach, guide, or coach them on how to cultivate new tactics for coping, new ways to dream, new ways to inspire, new ways to attain with maintainability. In fact, this is what prompted my passion to create Turning Leaves® Recovery, Life, and Wellness Coaching and the Building Milestones® curriculum which is now a complete Learn to Live Free system offered as an assertive continuum of care post treatment or to those who don’t require standard protocol.

As a practitioner who focuses on serving the these not so normal faces of addiction, just like my personal story, one filled with 30+ years of negative attachment issues, I know firsthand how pivotal it is when you uncover the true issue.

I had to learn how those traumatic experiences from my younger years really made me a champion. I had to learn that my purpose in life was not to fulfill the needs of others at the expense of my own. I had to learn that there was nothing self-soothing about an article of clothing, a sugary treat, or altering my state of being with a chemical substance.  I had to realize that nothing could fix my issues except me.

So, I changed the way I perceived just about everything. I modified how I structured my activities. I adjusted the way I communicated. This, of course, meant that if I wanted to really be heard, I had to learn how to truly listen and seek clarity through the power of inquiry.

The point is there is suffering in areas that are just not given the due attention. My problem wasn’t just a chemical addiction to alcohol. That was just a piece of it.  I was addicted to being perceived as “good”… to rewards, to hiding, to not feeling, to doing… and there are many people struggling on similar levels.

So, here is my recommendation. If we want to set people up to win, we need to provide the right life skills. They need to be directed to the right help, someone that speaks their language, and has a broader perspective about addiction and recovery than the masses, and we need to lengthen the period a person can have access. By expanding the exit or discharge planning process to include an assertive continuum of care with a recovery life coach, a professional trained to teach effective life skills, we will greatly increase the efficacy of treatment, drastically reduce recidivism rates, and support relapse prevention goals.

For more information or to book an in-depth presentation you can schedule time with me here.

Tricia Parido

Tricia Parido, Walden University Alumni

Tricia currently serves as Founder/Director of Turning Leaves® Recovery, Life, and Wellness Coaching, a nationally certified coaching practice whose mission is to provide personalized, high-quality care that will guide individuals toward an empowered and improved quality of life and wellness. Her practice is built upon her personal attributes of passion, compassion, advocacy, objectivity, and honesty. Specializing in life transitions and post-treatment, Parido is ever committed to assuring that those whom she is entrusted with are motivated and empowered to conquer their life challenges and addictions.