An NBA Team With A Kind Voice

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A Kind Voice on Sports was honored to talk with Dan Mahoney, Vice President of Corporate Communications and Community Relations with the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. In his interview with host Demetrius Means, Dan shared the remarkable story of Lorelei Decker and her victory in her battle with cancer. Please click here to read the full story of how she has been inspired by the Oklahoma City Thunder and how she has inspired them. You don’t want to miss the very touching video at the bottom of the story.

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He also discussed the wonderful community of Oklahoma City and their special relationship with the team. To spite being the third smallest market in the NBA, their season ticket sales and renewals are among the highest in the league. The organization is never satisfied with where they are and is always trying to get better. As a community Oklahoma City has been through a lot of disasters, which have helped bring the community closer together.

What jumped out at me, during the interview is his desire to get every detail right and give credit to others. When discussing the Lorelei Decker story, Dan was quick to point out that all the other NBA teams do great work and talked about the NBA Cares program. As we work to tell the stories of people and organizations doing positive work, we have invited other professional sports teams to come on our program and tell us about how they help in their community. A few have accepted our invitation, but the Thunder was the first. If you listen to the interview (below) you will hear an authentic kind voice who is part of an amazing organization that is a source of positive energy both on and off the court.

Thanks to Dan Mahoney and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

 

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The Alchemy of Kindness

Alchemy is to separate and to join together. Alchemists combined common metals into gold. The transmutation of common metals into gold symbolized evolution from an imperfect state towards a perfect state. At A Kind Voice we believe in the Alchemy of Kindness. Two strangers joining in a conversation, with the intention of sharing and being kind to the other are practicing the Alchemy of Kindness.

Alchemy is turning common metals into gold. Kindness on Russian Dashboard Cameras contains examples of people who responded to the odd shaped circumstances life offers us, with the kindness in their hearts and created something better than gold.

 

If there was an Anthem that captured the spirit of The Alchemy of Kindness this would be it.

It is inspiring how one lone kind voice can transform an entire arena into a beautiful symphony of kind voices. Using the kindness in our hearts to connect with strangers in their moment of need, large or small, could have an amazing impact on that moment as well as a ripple effect impacting future moments.

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The Alchemy of Kindness
 

 

Games

Games are played for fun and the challenge of doing our best. The processes used by games, such as Scrabble, can be transplanted into other endeavors making those endeavors more fun and efficient. In Scrabble the objective of each turn is to take the random letters on your tray and create a word that connects with the pattern on the Scrabble board in a way that scores the most points.

The tiles on each player’s tray can be metaphor for the thoughts and energy that live inside him or her. Each day we try to connect those thoughts and energy with other patterns, say business patterns, just as the Scrabble players try to connect his tiles with the pattern on Scrabble board.
 
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By connecting with a business pattern we get dollars instead of points. Learning new skills places higher valued tiles on our trays, that when connected with a business patterns will get us more money. More lucrative businesses leverage our energy, as placing ones tiles on a triple word score multiples ones points in Scrabble. IBM’s Serious Games uses processes found in games to make businesses more efficient.

At A Kind Voice we are creating a kind of Scrabble board. The shared experiences of movies, books, sports, music, etc… create a common frame of reference for people to connect their tiles with. Volunteers available to discuss personal issues or experiences also create a place for those who need to talk, to connect with. Our game has been designed to create a bridge allowing callers to connect with a pattern of hope, love and kind energy.

It also has the randomness of some of our favorite games. A call can connect a school teacher in Portland with a construction worker in Albuquerque. Speaking with a stranger from a different place, can be both fun and a good learning experience.

When people connect to share the kindness in their heart, no individual scores need to be kept as the objective is to create community prosperity, so that everyone who plays wins. Each call fulfills our mission of making the world a kinder, more connected place, one conversation at a time.

A Kind Voice is just getting started, each conversation, radio program, song created, piece of social media content shared, is helping to create a web of kind voices. The end game is for there to be a kind voice will be available whenever and wherever one is needed.
 

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Travels with Charley

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Travels with Charley was one of John Steinbeck’s final novels. It’s about a journey he made across America with his dog named Charley in a vehicle called Rocinante, named after Don Quixote’s horse. He wanted to see America first hand, so he could write from experience. He aimed to “tell the small diagnostic truths which are the foundations of the larger truth.”

His journey starts in New York, heads up to Maine, then West to Washington State. He is a master story teller, telling us of the colorful people he met along the way, brilliantly mixing interesting conversation with insightful narration. It is a warm book, with some humor mixed in.
 
One of the most thought provoking sections of the book occurs in New Orleans. He arrived there during the Fall of 1960 to attend a demonstration against Ruby Bridges, a six year old girl who was courageously becoming the first African American to attend an all white elementary school in the South. He was sickened by the hateful words and actions during the demonstration, but would “not let illness blind me after I came so far to look and to hear”.

He acknowledged that there are many haters in the world, but asked “Where were the others?” and concluded “I don’t know where they were. Perhaps they felt as helpless as I did, but they left New Orleans misrepresented to the world. The crowd, no doubt rushed home to see themselves on television, and what they saw went out all over the world, unchallenged by the other things I know are there.”
 
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Writing so beautifully in the America of 1960, was his way of challenging the hatred, that was left unchallenged on that day in New Orleans. His words inspired some of the other things he “knew were there” to materialize.
 
His words continue to inspire today and are one of the inspirations for starting A Kind Voice. His question, ‘Where were the others?’, can be extracted from the circumstance he was writing about and placed into the circumstances many of us encounter in our everyday lives.
 
At A Kind Voice we share stories about people using their kind voice to make our world a kinder, more connected place, one act at a time. We share these stories to honor those who lived them and to inspire others to use their stories as source material, to create their own stories.

 

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John Steinbeck and his Travels with Charlie are there for all to read. Rocinante and some of the authentic articles from their journey are in a museum. His thoughts, their journey, live on and continue to inspire new stories. The story of A Kind Voice is one of the living stories their journey has inspired. We hope that you join us on this journey.

 
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Eva Csejtey, Repair Café

On December 31st, A Kind Voice talked to Eva Csejtey, program director for the Windham Area Hour Exchange and fellow organizer of the Repair Café in Willimantic, CT. Eva uses her kind voice to strengthen community bonds through happenings like the Repair Café. The Repair Café is a free, community-wide event that has volunteer repairers– known as ‘fixers’– who mend broken items. Not only does it create community, it also saves people money and helps them become more environmentally conscious.

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The Willimantic branch is one of many Cafés worldwide. The idea for Repair Café originated in Amsterdam, but grew to provide global support to those who want to establish one in their neighborhoods. Eva believes that grassroots initiatives, like Repair Café, are the key to sustainable communities.

There is a certain beauty in not being afraid to ask your neighbor to help you. In these times, our society seems fractured and disconnected. Repair Café shows us that it doesn’t have to be like this. We can mend things in our own small way– including our neighborhoods. As a matter of fact, it goes beyond repairs: people can watch and learn how to repair items themselves, as well as bond with fellow neighbors. This type of system is beneficial to the community. Some people are low-income and can’t afford to buy new things, while others have an emotional connection to items. It all fosters a sense of solidarity and community pride.

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Something wonderful is happening… it is the power of community. One of Repair Cafe’s goals is to create a vibrant community. It certainly does, and goes beyond that to create social unity and harmony. Eva shares the mission of Repair Cafe during our conversation.

A Kind Voice Conversation with Dr. Everette Penn, Teen and Police Service Academy (TAPS)

On December 24th, A Kind Voice talked to Dr. Everette Penn, Director of Teen and Police Service (TAPS) Academy. Dr. Penn uses his kind voice to restore and build relationships between at-risk teens and police. TAPS is an 11-week academy for youth and mentor police officers that address topics such as bullying, gang life, drug usage, and anger management.

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In our current social climate, the relationship between the police and at-risk teens is practically non-existent. The distrust, hatred and fear are so heightened that it goes beyond individual areas: it is a national epidemic. How do we start healing as a country if the ones sworn to protect us are perceived as enemies? Enter TAPS Academy. TAPS Academy takes the best of its predecessors’ initiatives– like DARE, Citizens Police Academy, and school/community-based initiatives– and transforms the lessons into common ground for both teens and police.

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TAPS is instrumental in creating understanding and trust between teens and police. As a matter of fact, just cordially knowing an officer helps teens feel more at ease. They are more likely to report crime or ask for help when they get in trouble. For these reasons, Dr. Penn is adamant about effective research. A persistent state of unease and disconnection exist between teens and police. One way TAPS breaks down walls and builds trust is through interviews and pre-and post-testing of teens and officers. It is a foundation for relationship-building and understanding the other person’s point of view.

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The incredible thing about TAPS is that it doesn’t give up on teens. The police mentors are listening to what they are saying. Some of it isn’t pretty; in fact, it can be downright harsh and scary. When TAPS reach out to teens, some students express outright disdain. On the first day of class, for example, it’s not unusual for teens to share that ‘I would shoot an officer if I had the chance.’

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Yes, the words are scary, but TAPS wants the youth to have a voice. The police are genuinely interested in how the teens feel. Dr. Penn believes a kind voice at this time is essential: it’s needed to understand how people decide that they can’t get along. He says the root stems from negative interactions with the police. In fact, on the first day of training, Dr. Penn tells the police mentors that the small percentage of officers doing negative things affect ALL of them.

TAPS Academy is onto something special, no doubt about it. Dr. Penn is a man with a vision and a crystal-clear plan. Instead of creating division, TAPS is creating unity and understanding. Dr. Penn is very well versed in this because it’s all rooted in facts. He articulates his vision and shares his plans for the future during our conversation.

 

A Kind Voice Conversation with Matt Halley, Cookie Cart

On December 17th, A Kind Voice talked with Matt Halley, Executive Director of Cookie Cart. Matt uses his kind voice to raise awareness about Cookie Cart’s mission. Cookie Cart is a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that employs motivated, at-risk youth and gives them the opportunity to step up, take responsibility, and become leaders. It provides teens with employment, networking, and leadership opportunities. The teens, ages 15 to 18, are usually referred to Cookie Cart through word of mouth in the community. Instead of ignoring or pitying at-risk teens, Cookie Cart creates meaningful work and opportunities for them. The result is confident and outgoing teens who are productive citizens of our society. It demonstrates that, yes, there is a place for youth and they are wanted in our communities.

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The genesis of Cookie Cart is compelling. It all began when Sister Jean Therauf identified a need to create a safe alternative to the streets for the at-risk teenagers in North Minneapolis– an area challenged by poverty, crime, education rates and lack of opportunities. She actually did street outreach to save the youth and saw first-hand the streets were paths to self-destruction that offered crime, violence, and gang involvement. Sister Jean’s path provided not only a safe environment; it also offered friendships, tutoring sessions, and baking skills. Soon there were more kids than space, and Cookie Cart took the steps to become an official nonprofit. All it took was one person– one compassionate soul– to share her generosity with the teens. Her kind act continued to grow and flourish, cultivating Cookie Cart’s mission to take the kids off the streets and create leaders of the future.

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We see the results of Sister Jean’s work today with Josh, the youth employee. He exemplifies leadership; in fact, he is a Cart Captain. He showed his blossoming leadership skills during orientation. While the other new hires were intimidated and unsure what to say, Josh took the lead and talked. He also wanted to make his new fellow employees feel comfortable. Josh believes you have to be a good follower before you are a good leader. He also says Cookie Cart is a great place to work. Matt attributes this to the organization being youth-centered. He believes Cookie Cart is like camp: it’s a shared intense new experience and new relationships blossom from it.

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While Cookie Cart preserves Sister Jean’s original vision, the team has broadened its mission to serve more teens. It’s important to Matt personally because it’s a social justice issue. He believes the best solutions to social challenges are often simple ones, like Sister Jean’s. One example is Cookie Cart teaching interpersonal skills and broadening the worldview of North Minneapolis teens. It shows there are opportunities and gives teens the confidence to go forth in the world.

We need to invest in our future, and our future is young people. If we don’t take an active interest in them, who will? Matt goes into more detail about the vision of Cookie Cart during our conversation (below).

 

A Kind Voice Conversation with Mark Hecker, Reach Incorporated

On December 10th, Mark Hecker, founder of Reach Incorporated, joined us for a heartfelt conversation about his organization’s mission. Mark uses his kind voice to improve the literacy rates of school-age children in the Washington, DC area. Reach Incorporated is an afterschool tutoring program that approaches education in a unique fashion: it hires at-risk teenagers reading on a third-grade level to tutor elementary school children.

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Once employment is offered to teens, it is unconditional commitment: whether or not the teen is scared of the responsibility, there is no differentiation once they are onboard. It is up to Mark and his team to figure out how to encourage the teen to take the first step. Both the tutor and student benefit from this program. Not only does this particular system create positive responsibility, but it also fosters connections. In a time where literacy rates are abysmal, Reach Incorporated goes beyond the norm to enrich minds and spirits of the at-risk teens.

It is very heartbreaking to discover young people feel they are ‘bad’ and nobody wants them. What makes them bad– their environment? The socioeconomic status? Their family life? Kids are not inherently ‘bad;’ they need a supportive environment to build love and trust, and to ‘step up’ their game. In this case, it means taking the responsibility given to them very seriously. Mark shares an interesting observation: teenagers feel like they told what to do a lot by adults. Reach does not adhere to that formula. If teens have a problem, the adults reflect the questions back to them. The tutors have to find their own solutions or offer ideas to fix the problem.

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Not only are are the teens expressing their talents in education, they also are pursuing literary endeavors. The books that the tutors use during sessions did not reflect their daily lives, so they did something about it– they started writing stories. Published by Shoutmouse Press, the teens collectively authored seventeen children’s books. They also do author events around the community. These events allow other young people to see those ‘unwanted kids’ are published authors. It also exposes young readers to a wider range of possibilities; the sky’s the limit. Some of the teen authors’ books are integrated into the curriculum, making

Love and trust are key ingredients in Reach’s successful model. In fact, they are part of the organization’s core beliefs. Reach comes with love and trust first, not after tutors have established themselves. It helps them to build relationships, and building relationships allow Reach to grow its mission. It acts as a type of mirror: Reach helps removes the smudges so the teens can see themselves clearly. One of the most powerful things people can do is reach out to the next generation, because no kid can ever feel too loved. In his well-thought and passionate responses, Mark shares more about Reach’s vision and mission with us.

 

A Kind Voice Conversation with Issa Rae

Awkward Black Girl, did just that; it’s a platform for well-written characters in wacky situations. ABG’s rise in popularity is due to people of color being shown in a universal light. And people want more: Awkward Black Girl’s Kickstarter campaign successfully exceeded its $30,000 goal (it raised over $56,000). Since the campaign, Issa has authored a book called The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and her production company (Issa Rae Productions) now showcases various shows. Currently, Issa has a new series on HBO called Insecure. Here is a conversation with Issa about her web series and the challenges in mainstream media.

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Describe the premise of Awkward Black Girl.

The show is about an insecure girl, who goes through social situations and overanalyzes them. But they’re everyday situations—everybody has been through something in the show.

What prompted you to create ABG?

I had the idea two years ago, but I didn’t have the resources at the time. At the time I wanted it to be animated, so I sat on the idea and tried to find animators. I told one of my friends, who is an artist, about my idea. She thought it was really funny, but she couldn’t do it. Then a couple of months later, she sent me a link to an article asking where the black Liz Lemon is. I really identified with that character… it was similar to my idea, like Where are the awkward Black girls? Someone’s putting it out there and asking for it. I need to stop sitting on it, take action, and do it.

Why should people watch ABG?

Everybody should watch because it’s so relatable. Sure it’s called ABG, but you can relate to what she’s going through, been through, and thinking because we’ve all been there at some point. It takes life’s trivial moments and interactions, and amplifies them in comedic situations.

What’s the secret to ABG’s success?

Well, the fact it’s relatable and people have been through those moments helps. The word of mouth has been huge; it’s pretty much the success of the show so far. Also the fact that it’s different—it makes people excited and want to see other things that are different. People are tired of seeing limited characters on screen. They are demanding more diverse characters and I think that helps too.

Does casting yourself—a dark-skinned woman with a natural hairstyle— in the lead role impacts women and men?

Yes, it makes a huge impact. I got a letter from a father and it really touched me. It said, “Thank you for being natural on the show. It really helps my 13-year-old daughter fight the perm monster.” I mean… here’s this Black father trying to teach his young daughter about natural beauty. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with perming your hair or pressing it. But there is something wrong with thinking that your own hair is disgusting and nappy or unkempt. That’s when it’s problematic. Do what you want with your hair, but don’t hate what you’ve been born with. If we have more characters that embrace and love their natural hair, it would definitely boost the confidence of a lot of young women.

One of the quotes from one of Awkward Black Girl’s episodes was “Television has a very limited scope and range in its depiction of people of color. We want to change that.” From your perspective, why does television have limited options for people of color?

That’s a great question. Because Black people are still grouped together. America has a black president, but we’re still not varied in our depictions of people. There’s no acknowledgment that we are different people. Even on the special reports, it’s like, What’s going on with Black women as a whole? There’s no separation and we’re not all the same. We share a culture, but we’re not the same people. That’s not understood, especially in mainstream Hollywood or in television in general. Hollywood people think that they know what we like and what we want to see—and that’s a limited a group of people. Once Hollywood figures out we’re not the same group, the same woman, or the same man… then we’ll start to see more diverse depictions. Until then, we’re going to see the same characters.

So we see limited images of ourselves on TV and film. How much do we limit ourselves as people of color?

We play a role—and it’s a vicious cycle. If we see what we’re supposed to be… then we’re going to call other people out on not being what we’re supposed to be. So if this image is constantly projected of us, we believe it. If someone challenges that image—and we’re so used to it—we’re gonna call people out.

If TV is limited in scope and range, how is ABG helping to change the TV landscape?

I think it’s helping to change it just by offering different views of minorities. Sujata Day (who plays CeCe) mentions that she gets typecast a lot. With her being Indian, we’re changing that. We don’t necessarily acknowledge race all the time, and do poke fun at stereotypes. We’re changing the landscape that way.

In a Clutch interview, it was asked how you deal with adversity in a predominately white male industry. You said you thrived on being ‘the other’ because it helps you to stand out. How does being ‘the other’ drive your storytelling?

I think being ‘the other’ helps me tell stories because they’re not told. If someone wants to keep on telling the same story, fine—bore people. But I’m telling a different story and calling attention away from that. So being ‘the other’ helps. Maybe BET wants to keep putting out the same thing… fine—limit yourself. But I rather do the other because at least I’ll be telling somebody’s story. Or speaking on behalf of somebody’s voice, and that’s worth it to me. I don’t need to be like everybody else in that sense, because it’s boring.

To learn more about Issa Rae’s various projects, visit www.issarae.com

A Kind Voice Conversation with Robert Lee, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine

On November 19th, A Kind Voice Radio talked with Robert Lee, Co-Founder/CEO of Rescuing Leftover Cuisine. Robert uses his kind voice by taking unwanted, unused restaurant food and delivering it to homeless shelters. Rescuing Leftover Cuisine is an organization dedicated to curbing food waste. It achieves its mission by working with companies and individuals and taking extra food to homeless shelters. It also provides services like food waste consulting and excess food delivery. Originated in New York City, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine now has branches in twelve cities across the United States. To date, over a million pounds in food have been rescued thanks to Rescuing Leftover Cuisine.

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Sometimes, we take for granted how much food goes to waste that could benefit others. The statistics are very chilling. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, one in seven people were food insecure in 2014. The United States wastes 40 percent of food every year, resulting in $162 billion dollars in waste according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Although Robert is passionate about what he does, he employs very practical approaches. There are three main ways Rescuing Leftover Cuisine tackle the issue of food waste and hunger. First, it helps local communities tackle food issues and guide them to become self-sustaining. They also actively recruit volunteers, seek out local homeless shelters, and identify businesses with excess food to help. Second, it utilizes technology to identify excess food waste in the area. Third, it locates and digs to the root of the food waste problem in order to eliminate it.

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Robert understands what it is like to be food insecure. While growing up, food was not always abundant in his household. Gandhi once said, ‘Poverty is a form of violence.’ This saying has the ring of truth. If you’ve ever seen homeless people or the kid in class who can’t concentrate on lessons, then you’ve seen how poverty affect people. Robert explains more about Rescuing Leftover Cuisine’s mission and his vision for the future during our conversation.

 

A Kind Voice Conversation with Dug Feltch, Bob Kramer’s Marionnettes

On November 12th, A Kind Voice Radio talked to Dug Feltch, one of the master puppeteers at Bob Kramer’s Marionnettes. Dug uses his kind voice, creativity, and imagination to bring joy to kids of all ages. Bob Kramer’s Marionnettes has been in operation since 1963. Over time, Bob has created more than 1000 puppets in exquisite detail. Puppetry is not just work… it’s a passion. Dug and Bob work countless hours crafting puppets just to put smiles on children’s faces. But that’s not the only thing they do. They also spend time planning elaborate performances that involve singing, dancing, and acting. Dug feels these elements are important and just as valid as ‘legitimate’ theater; they are authentic platforms for people to express themselves.

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Before a performance, Dug talks warmly to the audience. Bob and Dug are genuinely interested in every person they meet. They also take the audience through the journey of puppet-making. It isn’t a dry presentation. Just like one of their performances, they infuse a lot of life and involve everyone in it. They also encourage active participation from the audience; most notably, they want the audience to use their imagination. At the end, there’s also a chance to take pictures and look at some of their puppets up close and personal.

Imagination, creativity, and genuine living are the biggest takeaways from their performances. They are genuinely interested in living beings, and nothing can substitute that. Admittedly, Dug is not big on technology. Although technology has made our lives easier– and in some ways more connected– we have disconnected in other ways. Some people substitute online activity for social lives; they abhor activities like going to a live performance, or socializing in person. Dug encourages people to get out, talk to one another, and experience life.

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Dug and Bob strive to create awareness about puppetry and theater arts. They dedicate their lives to the art of puppetry so future generations can enjoy. Dug shares more about his hopes and dreams with us during a high-spirited conversation.

 

A Kind Voice Conversation with Abby Guyer, Children’s Cancer Association

On November 5th, A Kind Voice talked to Abby Guyer, the Vice President of Brand for the Children’s Cancer Association (CCA). Abby uses her kind voice to raise awareness of the various programs and events of the CCA. The CCA focuses on the transformative moments for the children’s cancer. They want the children to experience a momentous life, no matter how long they have to live.They use music and friendship to create high-impact moments of joy. CCA differs greatly from other cancer organizations: while some strive to find a cure for cancer, CCA lives in the moment. It is all about creating joy in the present.

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CCA has three staple programs. One is Chemo Pal, a program that provides kids with compassionate adult mentors to accompany them on treatments. To acknowledge the diversity in our country, the mentors includes bilingual individuals. Chemo Pal volunteers often become members of the families; they are often included in graduation celebrations. Abby feels that kindness motivates them to volunteer.

Another staple program is Caring Cabin, a getaway from hospital stays. It provides children and teens in treatment, along with families, with a place to rest, relax, and create special moments outside of the hospital environment. It is a holistic space focused on creating connections with each other.

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The third program is MyMusicRx. MyMusicRx is comprised of specialists that play music for hospitalized children, to reduce stress and anxiety. It uses the healing force of music. One of its many services is Song Prescriptions, an on-camera interview with kids to talk about songs that bring them comfort. One of MyMusicRx’s biggest events of the year is Bedstock, an online music festival featuring bands performing in bed to show solidarity with kids hospitalized during the holidays, for Giving Tuesday. Bedstock raises money and awareness for MyMusicRx and its no-cost music programs for hospitalized kids across the United States.

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The CCA strives to give terminally ill children and their families respite. Abby shares that one goal for CCA is be recognized as Best Practice in Pediatrics Health Care Settings across the countries and around the world. She shares more about the future of CCA during with us.

 

A Kind Voice Conversation with Cathy King

On October 29th, A Kind Voice talked with Cathy King, founder of Canines With A Cause. Cathy uses her kind voice to connect and heal veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with shelter dogs. Before creating Canines With A Cause, Cathy worked in animal rescue for 20 years; she always looked for ways to save dogs in high-kill shelters. She found it disturbing that 3-4 million dogs a year were being euthanized. She views Canines With A Cause as a ‘Match.com’ for pets; where they can find their forever home with humans.

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Pets can certainly enhance people’s lives, especially those who are suffering. The average person can not tell who suffers from PTSD because it is often invisible. Veterans may be out in public and begin to have an episode. The specially-trained dogs can help move veterans to a safer public space by licking their faces and bringing them into the present. The dogs can help them connect with their feelings and manage their day-to-day activities.

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Canines With A Cause is unique because its help is threefold: it saves the lives of the veterans, dogs, and prisoners. Women inmates in Utah train the dogs. This opportunity gives them responsible roles and a chance to feel redeemed. This can be therapeutic especially if the women can not see their own loved ones: they nurture and give love to the dogs, and the dogs love them back. It can be a very enriching experience; the inmates are giving back and feel better about themselves. There is a lot less fighting in the prisons and more smiling since ‘Penitentiary Pups’ have been adopted.

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Sometimes, the most loving thing someone can do is to be there for others. Most living beings yearn for connection, and compassion goes a long way. In 2016, Canines With A Cause launched a new program called Pals With Paws, which places trained dogs with children suffering from long-term illnesses. Cathy candidly shares more about her programs and vision with us.

 

Play Well Africa: Giving Underprivileged Children the Gift of Childhood

Dolls, action figures, teddy bears… these things all seem like an integral part of your life when you’re a kid. However, not all children have the means or even know what they are. In some parts of the world, some children are destitute. Most of the time, toys are not a factor in developing countries. Yes, there are basic needs to be met, like food, shelter, and medical… but what about play?

Play Well Africa fills that need. It’s mission is twofold: to recycle used Legos by donating them to children in Uganda so they can play. Recently, Dennis Hong, CEO of Play Well Africa talked with us about the organization’s mission.

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AKV: Why is there a need for Play Well Africa?

DH: There is a big deficiency for kids in Africa. There are very important items going to Africa like clothes, clean food, water, etc. But one thing that is not going to Africa is toys. Children are playing with toys made out of mud. A tin can is a toy to them. There was a stick with a torn piece of fabric on it. They’re playing with whatever they have on hand. So having toys like Legos over there helps the kids’ creative minds; they play with something tangible.

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AKV: There are a lot of organizations that are in existence that address the basic needs. That’s what makes Play Well Africa different: most people don’t really think about playing being a critical part of childhood.

DH: It’s really important. There is a lot for kids to develop at a young age. They need to develop their minds for education, creative thought… everything.

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AKV: On your website, it says that “Lego is a language.” Could you go into more detail as to how Lego is a language? What do we understand by playing with Legos?

DH: Well…maybe it’s not so much a language like English than it is a good communication tool. It’s easy to communicate with the kids. These toys are very intuitive. It doesn’t make a difference whether they’re live in the United States, Africa, or Europe. Kids understand how to play with these toys. It’s a shared interest.

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AKV: How do the children benefit from playing with Legos?

DH: They’re using more of their creative minds. Kids want to play. Play is beneficial for kids. It’s a very social thing… a lot of kids play with them together. They look forward to it.

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AKV: Do you have any stories about toys built with the Play Well Africa’s Legos?

DH: Kids build what they see… they build what they see around them. So one of the things that the kids would build is a cellphone tower. One kid built a house, just like the ones in the village. The way this Lego house was built, the roof wasn’t straight– it was built like housing they see in their world. It’s interesting. With Lego bricks, you can make perfect right angles. But they don’t see that… they don’t know stuff like that. It’s just building, just putting the Legos together, so they’re trying to understand what to do with them. First you have to teach the kids a little bit. Most kids build with the bumpy sides up. But they put the bumpy sides down and build it that way. They understood how it worked… it just interesting how they thought the opposite.

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AKV: Will Play Well Africa plan an exhibition to showcase the children’s creations?

DH: I’d like to do that at one point. It would be nice to bring some of this stuff from Africa back to show what these kids are doing with them. It’s something that we’d have to plan. I’d even like to bring back some of the toys they played with– like a mud car– and show people this is what they play with before Legos came in. One thing that excites me is one of the kids now inspires to be an engineer. Now kids there have a goal. That inspires me too.

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AKV: What are some of the biggest challenges that Play Well Africa faces?

DH: The biggest challenge we face are getting funds, getting donations. It is really expensive to get the Legos to Africa. Shipping UPS, 50 pounds of Legos to Uganda is $1200. So our biggest thing is expenses– getting Legos over there. Our biggest challenge is getting money just to operate what goes on. We also need a storage place to store Legos, and that takes money. We have to process, store, and get them ready to go to Africa. Getting Legos is one of the easiest things to do. I think for any nonprofit, it’s securing funds.

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AKV: What are you learning during your time with Play Well Africa?

DH: That there are a lot of challenges. There’s just a lot stuff that I’m learning as I’m going about charities and with business. Charities are a bit of a different animal, so there’s a learning curve to operating it. I’m starting to understand that finding the right people to put a good team together is essential. I’m learning I can’t do it all… which I feel like I’m trying to do but is not very effective. So I’m starting to let go of the other stuff and distribute it out. One thing I did learn is there are a lot of generous people out there. People really want to help. It’s good to be in a realm where you see that.

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AKV: In what ways has Play Well Africa made you a better person?

DH: It brings out the better in me. I just want to help people. It fosters compassion… I just don’t want to help Play Well Africa, I want to help other people surrounding me too. It brings out the philanthropist in me, I guess. There’s a little girl who is our new ambassador. She motivates me because she’s done so much already as a 10 year old, probably more than I’ve done in my lifetime. I get inspired from other people. Right now kids inspire me. There’s a lot of good to be done out there. There’s more things I want provide…and donate my time to.

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AKV: How will you take what you have learned with Play Well Africa and pay it forward?

DH: It gets me going a little bit more. I want to help more people. I’m glad to be with people that give up a lot of their time to help with something they believe in. Being with Play Well Africa, I now have the mindset of trying to help because I believe that’s more important. What I learned in my short time with Play Well Africa is to be more mindful, and also try to help people.

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AKV: Any final thoughts you want to share us?

DH: If you like, help Play Well Africa. If not, go out and do something just as impactful in your community. Help your neighbor… lend a helping hand.

To learn more about Play Well Africa, please visit PlayWellAfrica.org