Monday, October 29, 2012

Where do the homeless go in an emergency?

As people are flocking to the banks and grocery stores in preparation for our expected dumping from Hurricane Sandy, there's an entire population of folks who don't even have basic shelter over their heads, must less funds for emergency food, blankets or other necessities.

I was shocked to say the least, as I started calling local shelters and emergency management hotlines this afternoon trying to find places for some of my homeless friends to sleep tonight. There seem to be very few plans in place for what to do in cases of extreme weather when the Out of the Cold shelters aren't open yet.

Come on Region of Waterloo, as many good people as there are out there helping these folks on the front lines, we can't do it alone.

It's time to make sure we have emergency plans in place for all citizens, not just the housed.

**Thankfully, we were able to find shelter for every single person that we were helping today. Some are with family and some are in shelters. It pains me to think of where they'd have been if our team wasn't patrolling the streets to make sure everyone had a safe place to go to weather out the storm.**

Monday, October 22, 2012

Excuse me SIr, can you spare some (virtual) change?

ChangeIt® is revolutionizing the way we donate to charity. 

When I came across this company a few weeks ago I immediately knew that I had to contact the company and learn more.

Dave Beaton was pumping gas one day and watched another customer slowly pumping gas to get up to the nearest dollar, much like most of us do. The thing that struck him as odd was that the customer was paying with a credit card, surely it didn't matter if his bill wasn't an even number. And so, the idea of ChangeIt® was born.

ChangeIt® allows you to donate to charity on a daily basis, in small increments that you likely won't ever miss. Go to the grocery store and spend $14.89 and ChangeIt® will round your purchase up to the nearest dollar. While 11 cents may not be much, add those small amounts up over a month and you'll be making big changes to the charities you choose.

These are just a few of the hundreds of charities already on board!

So each month, your Virtual Change® from all your debit purchases gets added up and just one monthly charge is debited from your account. The money is filtered through ChangeIt® to your chosen charities (the full amount you donated) and later, the charity pays ChangeIt® a small 6.9% administrative fee. That's it!

ChangeIt® is currently working with all five major banks and hopes to have them all on board as soon as possible so that all Canadian citizens can start participating. There are a number of credit unions across the country already participating, check here to see if you're already eligible to start using ChangeIt® and changing the way we give.

ChangeIt® is a Waterloo Region start up with huge potential... to make good for their own company and to change the world. How many start ups can claim that? I'm excited to watch this company grow and to see all of you realize how simple giving can really be...

We all have the power to ChangeIt®!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Great Canadian Food Fight

The results from the Great Canadian Food Fight are in!

The Regina Food Bank came out on top with 167,784 lbs of food.

The Food Bank of Waterloo Region came in with 135, 014 lbs.

FEED Nova Scotia collected 98, 635 lbs of food.

The Mustard Seed in Victoria, BC collected 99,067.

Although it may sound cliche, in the end, we all won because we're all helping families and people in need. That 500, 500 lbs of food will feed a lot of hungry people in our country.

If you missed the food fight, don't worry. Fall food drives are still going strong and your local food bank NEVER stops collecting food.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Guilt is not the answer!

On Friday I received an email that went like so:

Dear Melissa,

We hope October is finding you well. We're so thrilled that the _(insert project name here)    is going so well and we hope to be up and running with it early in the new year.

This morning a memo came across my desk about another important program.    (insert another project name here)    has done great work connecting vulnerable teens with mentors and we have committed to funding the project for another 5 years. We have hit a serious snag as WE HAVE NO VOLUNTEERS and NO MORE FUNDING though. We'd love if you could feature us on your blog to make an appeal for volunteers BEFORE THE PROGRAM GETS CANCELLED and also for you to volunteer as a mentor SO THE PROJECT DOESN'T GET CANCELLED. Also, we need funds. How can you help us?



**all emphasis is copied verbatim.**

First thought: Sweet mother, why are you shouting at me?

Second thought: Why are you guilting me?

Third thought: How can you promise to fund a program for another 5 years when you have no money?

Fourth thought: Since we've never met nor worked together, why not email me and request a lunch or phone date so we can discuss the needs your organization has and how I can help? 

I'm no ace when it comes to professional correspondence.  My emails are filled with smiley faces, winkys and most likely, severe grammatical errors. To my untrained eye, this letter reeks of unprofessionalism, from the shouty capitals to the expectance of my help to save your program. In order to lure me to your cause, I need a few things:

- Information about your program
     Mentoring vulnerable teens is great but who are some of your mentors, what are your goals for the project and how many teens have you worked with so far?

- Track record
     You've just finished telling me your new program is off to a great start, without giving me any links or information to what it is. Then you tell me that the other program you have running is failing miserably. Do you have any record of great programs that have had any continued success or am I going to be jumping onto a sinking ship?

- Volunteer Recruitment Strategies
     Please don't tell me this is the only way you recruit volunteers. I imagine that 98% of these emails ended up in the trash before being read. I need you to tell me why you don't feel you have enough volunteers and what your volunteer recruitment and retention strategies are. 

- Why should I help you
     You've told me your programs are failing. You have no money and no volunteers. Now tell me WHY exactly I should put my time towards your organization when there are so many that need help.

Which all brings me to my final point: Guilt is the worst possible way to recruit volunteers. I rarely see guilt used in secular social profit agencies but often see it used in faith-based ones. Heck, I've even *tried* to employ it myself a time or two.  It's a recruitment process that's used a lot in churches;


You may gain a few volunteers using this strategy in the short-term but in my experience, volunteers who have been "coerced" have the shelf life of milk... your volunteers will sign up because you've made them feel guilty that they're not doing more but will often quit soon after when they realize the job isn't for them (because if it was, they probably would have already been volunteering with you).

Before you do any call for volunteers it is imperative that you have a job description for each position and if you are doing personal appeals to professionals, what that person's area of expertise is. Last year I was on the receiving end of a mass email call for mentors specifically for troubled teens. 6 of the others also on the list were philanthropists who were born into money and had never "worked" a day in their lives. While these people are great volunteers in other organizations, 4 of them told me that they'd have no idea how to relate to teens battling addiction, abuse and prostitution.

In short, I need you to appeal to my volunteer spirit. Tell me why I'll be making such a huge difference, who I'll be affecting. Give me ways to help you if I can't give you my time. You need money? Give me the link to donate. You have other specific volunteer needs, such as accountants or web developers? Let me know that and ask me for referrals. Ask me to tweet a link or publish an article to Facebook. I may be a unpaid worker, but I do expect you to value my money and my time and frankly, I'd loved to be "wined and dined" a little.... even if that means you taking just a few more minutes with your email campaign so I don't feel like I'm just another body in your volunteer machine.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Are feminists failing? My favourite Upworthy video of the day.

Upworthy is the only website I visit on a daily basis (twitter and facebook excluded, of course).

Today, we visit the factuary and talk about feminism. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012


PHOTO CREDIT: The Food Bank of Waterloo region website

Meet Mayors Carl Zehr and Brenda Halloran. Now, now don't be alarmed... although our two fine cities of Kitchener and Waterloo may disagree at times, this isn't just a regular meeting... our Mayors are prepping themselves for battle.

They're not fighting over rapid transit, amalgamation or any of those other pesky issues however, they're entering the battlegrounds as teammates for the Great Canadian Food Fight.

There will be no wasting of food in Waterloo Region though, our Food Bank of Waterloo Region been pitted against FEED Nova Scotia, the Regina Food Bank and the Mustard Seed in Victoria, BC to collect the greatest amount of food possible in 48 hours. The battle is simple:

From 6 pm October 11 (today!) until 6 pm Oct 13, food can be dropped off at the Food Bank, at grocery stores, many workplaces, Kitchener, City Hall, Kitchener Fire Headquarters or any Waterloo fire station. The food will be collected and weighed and the city that collects the most food, wins!

900,000 people a MONTH use food banks in Canada. 

13,000 children in Waterloo Region alone go to school hungry every day.

38% of food bank clients are children and youth

So while we have fun battling for food donation supremacy, there are too many Canadians who are counting on the food collected in order to live.

It's staggering. It's unacceptable. It's heartbreaking.

This morning, as I volunteered at the Nutrition for Learning breakfast club at Highland Baptist Church in Kitchener, one of the girls told me she didn't have a lunch. While we searched the church coffers for something to send with her, I thought about the fact that if it wasn't for the breakfast club, she wouldn't have eaten all day. She's 8 years old.

If you're friends with me on facebook or twitter, you'll see the #GCFF hashtag flying around as we start a game of food tag. I take a picture of food I am donating to the food bank. By tagging you in it, you've officially been challenged to make your own donation and challenge some of your friends. It doesn't have to be big or expensive, any little bit helps.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The White Ribbon Campaign

On Friday I blogged about the Take Back The Night march. This poster made its way onto my desk this morning and it's the perfect illustration for the point I was trying to make!

The White Ribbon campaign is the premier place to educate and get educated about violence against women. In some countries, White Ribbon is run exclusively by men, in others it is a joint collaboration of men and women.  This is MEN taking a stand, teaching their younger generation of men and pledging to never condone or remain silent when it comes to violence against women.

I've been warned since my Take Back The Night blog post to never use the phrase "REAL MEN" but frankly... 


Join the fight, take the pledge and raise your voice in the fight against violence.

**The definition of MEN by me is as such: if you were born a man, if you were born a woman who feels like she should be a man, if you are not sure what gender you identify with or feel people are genderless.... BASICALLY, if you want to be a man, be a man. Regardless of where you started from.**

Habitweet for Humanity

Who doesn't love a little competition?

This month, Habitat for Humanity Waterloo Region is facing off against Habitat for Humanity Wellington County in a friendly competition to see which team can raise the most funds for the month of October.

There's still time to put together a team... 10 people or more who raise $1000 will be scheduled in for a build event this year. Don't want to build? Find a team and donate a product or service that can be auctioned off.  Don't have a product or service? Donate cold, hard cash right here.

So, go on and tweet it, facebook it, pin it, do whatever you do in your little space of the interwebs and let's help families get into homes.

You can find the official Habitweet website here (thanks to SpikeMobile) and can connect with them on twitter @Habitweet2012.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Taking Back The Night

On Saturday September 29, about 250 women, children and trans* folks (along with a handful of men, allowed to walk only along the sidelines) gathered to Take Back The Night and march down King St to call attention to and call for action against violence aimed at these groups.

There's something about being part of a group of empowered women. We yell louder than we would if we were alone, we feel stronger just by being part of the sisterhood. Although I have very few female friends, it's something that I really enjoy and it makes me wonder each and every time why I don't try to curate more female friendships.

Something sat oddly with me this year, however. Me, being a straight female with children, felt left out. Remember this song?

I felt like the boot. Part of the reason was because the crowd was strongly LGTBQ-identifying, which, as much as I support them, I don't identify with; the other part because I was missing something... my partner.

I don't believe that public awareness or political events should be exclusive of any group. A men's bible study, sure. A women's book club, sure. But if there's a group marching to raise awareness of aboriginal rights, I feel I should be allowed to join to support my fellow citizens, even though I'm not aboriginal. Same here, if my husband wants to join me in a march that's protesting violence against women as a man who would never do such a thing, he should have the right.

Sadly, we as women, cannot change the way we are treated by men or even by other women. What we can do is educate ourselves and other women and provide a resting place, a shoulder and love to those who are fleeing abuse or have been abused.

We cannot change their behaviour. We can only change our own.

So why not let men, smart, respectable, loving men, join us in our march? Or even better, let our men march in protest of violence, showing the world that they would never hurt a woman, while WE march beside them showing our support?

There were a number of women marching with their children, both male and female. As a mother to 2 young boys, I could not, in good conscience, have them march with me knowing that eventually they'll have to stop marching because they've become too old and are therefore, now the men who we are excluding from our demonstration.

I did pass off some of the questions I had to Ethan Jackson, one of the planning committee members of Take Back The Night Waterloo Region but did not receive a response.

Exclusion aside, the march was a great success, with people joining in along the march route and more joining at the rally at Kitchener City Hall. We were treated to some kick-ass vegan chili (never thought I'd say that but seriously, if anyone wants to share the recipe I'd be grateful), information from community groups and poetry by KW's first slam poetry team, The Flying V's. I met some great women and had sighting of both Catherine Fife, newly elected MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo and Sara Casselman, the Operations Director of SASC.

A great event and truly, a cause worth fighting for. Let's all work toward a world where no one has to be scared, whether they are man, woman, child or trans*.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Heartwarmer of the Day - Accessible Van

Family needs accessible van. Man has one he no longer needs since his wife died. Sells van to family for $1.

Goodness prevails!

Read the entire story here.

What Inspires You To Do Good?

In the end, Ignite Charity was a call to action. Almost every speaker challenged us, every speaker moved us and every speaker gave us insight into the kind of leaders they are, will become and who we should aspire to be.

Jim Moss challenged us to smile more. To appreciate all the small things that life has to offer.

Maddie Cranston challenged us to do more for the environment, even if it is as simple as becoming better friends with our blue bins.

Phil Noelting challenged us to become better leaders by contributing to another person's 1 minute education.

Mayor Brenda Halloran challenged us to get our hands dirty. Don't just talk... DO.

Sara Casselman challenged to be more proactive and look for the source of issues rather than just treating the aftereffects.

Carson Kolberg challenged us to be role models at all stages of life, whether we are teenage camp counsellors or business leaders.

Brendan Sheehan challenged us to step back, look at our priorities and say no sometimes.

Carlos Benevides challenged us to volunteer. To give 1 hour of every week over to someone else.

TK Azaglo challenged us to make change at home, regardless of how far away our home may be.

Kelly-Sue Labus challenged us to value the children in Waterloo Region and fight for a nutrition program that will leave none of our kids hungry.

Madi MacIntyre challenged us to think of someone else and to make small changes that collectively, can turn into really big changes.

Mac Graham challenged us to contribute financially instead of just emotionally or physically.

Alicia Raimundo challenged us to end the stigma of mental illness and to help young people help themselves.

Debb  Bodkin challenged us to be grateful for what we have in our beautiful country and to be a part of making change for others who weren't born in prosperity.

It's a big list. It's also a do-able list.

Robb Farago and Popy Dimoulas-Graham were the amazing co-leaders of the Ignite Charity team. From conception, they have been leading a team of more than 20 volunteers to bring their vision to life. Robb told me that initially the idea for Ignite Charity was just a pipe dream but "We felt confident that this event would be a success. Especially if launched in Waterloo Region."

Oh Waterloo Region, how I love you. From small ideas to big dreams, to pulling together like a small town in times of crisis, you are truly unique. I asked both Robb and Popy why they felt Waterloo Region is such a great place for new ideas and what makes our community spirit so strong.

Creativity and innovation is in the air. It's a part of life and encouraged in our community. - Popy

We live in a very inclusive community where new ideas are embraced, where people can share and develop without fear of rejection. The amount of innovation that is bred in this community certainly helps foster this attitude, to the point where we all feel that anything is truly possible. - Robb

If you're interested in any of the speakers from Ignite Charity, getting involved in any of their programs or finding out other great places you can lend your expertise to in Waterloo Region you can find Ignite Charity on twitter, facebook and the web. The team there will be happy to point you in the right direction.

The next Ignite Charity in Waterloo Region won't be until Fall of 2013 but don't despair, Robb and Popy are in talks with other communities to host their own Ignite Charity events. Road trip, anyone?

Want more? The Ignite Charity videos are now online, check them out here.

*This is part 15 in a series of 15 blogs detailing the amazing projects presented in the world's first ever Ignite Charity: Waterloo. Amazing job, Robb and Popy and the rest of the Ignite Charity team. It was truly a fantastic event!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Debb Bodkin - Global Citizenship

A police officer for almost 24 years, Debb Bodkin rose to the rant of Sergeant in the Waterloo Regional Police Services and won numerous awards, including two Officer of the Year distinctions. While working for the WRPS, Debb also lent her talents to the United Nations as a Scene of Crime officer in Kosovo, as an investigator for the UN Commission of Inquiry in Darfur and as an Investigator for the Coalition for International Justice in Sudan.

She believes that we won the lottery by being born in Canada and we owe it to the world to share the wealth.

Debb doesn't subscribe quite so much to my charity begins at home philosophy and knowing only a tiny part of what she's seen in her life, I can't blame her.

As Debb worked in Darfur, she saw the worst that humans had to offer. The suffering. The cruelty. The lack of basic human necessities. And among that, she still saw hope, generosity, strength and love among the victims and survivors. She returned to Canada with a conviction, to educate everyone she could about the situation in Darfur and how it is our responsibility as citizens of humanity to help others who aren't as fortunate as we are to be living in Canada.


Debb's website is completely devoted to Darfur. Once there, you can find background information on the genocide in Darfur, other blogs and websites devoted to the situation in Darfur and ways you can get involved by encouraging our own government to take action against the crisis in Darfur. There are many "take action" options to choose from with the 1-800-GENOCIDE campaign being the biggest, most likely easiest and probably the most effective that there is. Click the link to find out more about this unique, ready-made advocacy campaign.

As I repeat over and over, we all have different talents and we all have something we can give to make our world a better place. Debb used her outstanding skills as a police officer to serve in other countries which in turn, gave her a passion to follow for the rest of her life. Who knows where your next volunteer experience could take you?

*This is part 14 in a series of 15 blogs detailing the amazing projects presented in the world's first ever Ignite Charity: Waterloo. For more info on Ignite Charity visit and follow the conversation on twitter @IgniteCharity.