Make Giving a Path to a More Meaningful Life

By Atashi Chakravarty

Like many of us in Marin, I woke up in the middle of the night on Sunday, Oct. 8 to the intense smell of smoke and fire coming from the North Bay wildfires. For me, the smell brought on a flood of memories — I suffered third-degree burns on more than 50 percent of my body as a toddler. The hint of smoke in the air took me back to that moment more than 40 years ago.

That Monday after the start of the wildfires, the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership announced they were opening an Emergency Volunteer Center to shelter evacuees and funnel volunteer support. Since 9/11, EVCs have been put in place to manage the Spontaneous Unaffiliated Volunteers (SUVs) who show up to help in disasters. As I saw posts explode on social media about the hordes of donations being taken to the Marin center, I was glad to be able to know where I could plug in to help the community.

I spent Monday through Sunday at the evacuation shelter and was blown away by the sheer number of people who wanted to help. In the end, we were able to direct 1,500 volunteers to help at the shelter for six days, 24 hours a day. From serving meals to sorting donations, volunteers helped to do it all. More than 12,000 people registered in six days to help — it was mind-boggling. But there was a downside: people were desperate to help but did not know HOW to plug in. Read about the EVC from an AmeriCorps member.

Extrafood.org, the Marin Humane Society and the Marin Medical Reserve Corps were active nonprofit partners at the shelter. Each of them functioned seamlessly with teams of volunteers coming in at regular intervals to help in very specific ways. It was amazing to watch the community come together in a coordinated effort through these agencies. Much like I felt with CVNL, these volunteers were glad to have a directive on how to help with this large-scale disaster.

As a Community Heroes board member and site leader, I was reminded that this is what we teach our kids every week at our lunch meetings — how to give back on a daily and ongoing basis. We talk to our kids and families about connecting with an agency and giving back regularly — essentially to become affiliated with an agency. Another disaster may be just around the corner, whether it occurs literally around the corner or across the world.

I urge all of you to take a moment, connect with a local agency and start helping. Volunteering, donating money, goods and services and being on-call for that agency is the best way to plug in when a disaster strikes. Community Heroes has helped me deepen my relationship with local nonprofits by creating meaningful paths and projects to engage my kids. Reach out to Kala Shah if you need any suggestions on issue areas and agencies that help.

Atashi Chakravarty is a Community Heroes board member and facilitator, the development and volunteer coordinator at Trips for Kids Marin, a lifelong volunteer and nonprofit consultant.

Day of Giving Does It Again!

 

What happens when you bring together more than 300 kids and parents from 14 school communities on a Sunday morning to do random acts of kindness, create care kits for the homeless, make superhero capes for sick kids, beautify local parks and much, much more? MAGIC, I tell you, just pure MAGIC! And JOY. And INSPIRATION.

On par with my 2017 motto, “Believe in the magic,” once I truly started believing that serendipity and coincidence really are just the universe guiding you to where you need to be, things have started to flow. No more doubts, just a deep belief that this Community Heroes path, with its twists and turns along the way, is the one on which I’m meant to be.

This past Sunday, March 5, we held our 4th Annual Community Heroes Day of Giving (hosted again by Marin County Office of Education and Superintendent Mary Jane Burke) with a standing room-only crowd eager to take part in a fun-filled day of giving back. People love this day and look forward to it all year. Like many others have expressed, Sun Valley School principal Julie Harris calls it one of her “favorite days of the year.” What a testimonial!

The Tangible Impacts

  • 120 shelter comfort kits assembled for domestic violence and homeless shelter residents benefiting Center for Domestic Peace, Downtown Streets Team, Marin County Veterans Service Office, St. Vincent’s, and California Reentry Institute. Speakers from Downtown Streets Team, Marin Veterans rep Sean Stephens and Gina Vucci of Joy Love Serve shared stories to shed light about the intricacies of homelessness. Marin Academy student and project partner Macie Millstein also shared about how her family-run organization, The Backpack Project, works to provide local homeless with supplies and make in-person, human connections on the street.
  • 150 colorful superhero capes made for hospitalized youth at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals of San Francisco and Oakland. This project was led by Marin Academy junior Kathryn Ezeoha who planned, fund-raised and implemented this smoothly-run project. She was joined by a team of Marin Academy friends (Maggie Alter, Ingrid De La Rosa De Leon, Devi Johnson, Katie Sisson, Audrey Whitten) who assisted younger students in making capes and thoughtful accompanying cards and also helped fill in for other projects as needed.
  • Random Acts of Kindness — More than 200 beautiful paper flowers were created and delivered to unsuspecting senior citizens living at AlmaVia of San Rafael. Students interviewed the residents about their lives and made their day brighter! Turns out one of the residents, Joe Saccone, 103, was brought to tears. He also happens to be the founder of United Markets, one of our loyal Community Heroes sponsors these past several years. A true full circle moment!!!
  • A dozen reading mats created from recycled T-shirts to donate to Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center.
  • More than 70 volunteers braved the storm clouds and spent two hours doing tough, physical work restoring habitat and cleaning up at McInnis Park, in cooperation with Marin County Parks.
  • 40 volunteers assisted Global Book Exchange to sort, label and help distribute thousands of books to benefit underserved children.

Beyond the many service activities that exposed our participants to an even richer array of ways to give back, this year we also featured two wonderful social enterprises:

Moeloco, an awesome Australian company run by Kathy Wong, an entrepreneur with a huge heart, uses the BUY ONE, GIVE ONE model. Buy a pair of their flip-flops that leave inspirational messages in the sand and they donate a pair of sneakers to an impoverished child so they can go to school.

Catch Some Air, the happiest clothing brand on earth that “helps kids feel happy when they’re feeling crappy,” started in a hospital room by sister-founders Kristine and Brianna Tesauro.

As Community Heroes grows into our next phase, we will continue to build partnerships with these innovative social enterprise companies and welcome new partners to join us!

Event and post-event RIPPLES

Too many to count! A couple of examples:

After the event, two Sun Valley Elementary students, Angela and Elena, urged their mom to go to Target the very next day to purchase care kit supplies to keep in their car to offer to anyone they see on the street who might need a little help.

Then this lovely story from Sofia, a seventh grader who was among our first class of ComHeroes five years ago:

“When I was in kindergarten, I met my pen pal Emma, a girl two years older than me living in rural Kenya. We’ve kept in touch over the years and now email regularly. Emma shares so much of her life with me and recently told me something troubling. Her family is split up because they can’t afford to live together. Because of this, Emma was not able to afford her school fees. This made me very sad so my family and I wanted to find a solution. I found out about a company called Asante, which finds sponsors to help smart, capable students living in Kenya and Tanzania attend school they couldn’t afford themselves. Because of Asante, my family is now sponsoring Emma, securing her an education. But although our story is inspirational, there are still millions of kids who are not at school because they can’t afford it. That’s why I was so excited to meet Kathy Wong at the Community Heroes’ Day of Giving. Kathy works with Moeloco, a company doing good in India. Moeloco sells uniquely designed flip-flops that when purchased, provide a pair of shoes for a kid in India, something children need to go to school. I’m excited to see what good we can do together.”

The Intangible Impacts

There were so many smiles, connections and ripples at this joyous, one-of-a-kind community event that brought together preschoolers, elementary, middle and high school students from public AND private schools, their families, teachers, principals, administrators, cool companies and about a dozen local nonprofits. After all our hard work, we see a path forward to get to our next phase. To do so successfully, we now need YOUR HELP!

What’s Next and How You Can Help

We’ve been building a beautiful movement, all of which started five years ago with one pilot school lunch club and has now grown into so much more. To go any further, we really need to focus on building our infrastructure as an organization so we can:

1. Build out our communications platform sharing stories and impact;
2. Develop a flexible curriculum framework and toolkit for facilitators and
3. Expand our partnerships with educational, service and corporate partners.

That’s where you come in. Please help in any of the following ways:

  • VOLUNTEER your professional services through grant writing, donor development, branding and marketing, or lead our upcoming crowd-funding campaign
  • CONNECT with corporate sponsors or foundations with aligned missions to become a SPONSOR
  • DONATE to help support our work to groom the next generation of compassionate community heroes

Please help us keep our momentum going to bring more of the Community Heroes magic into this world.

Yours in kindness,

Kala

Community Heroes Benefit Rouses Spirits of Compassion and Action

Our Community Heroes “Rouse the Spirit” benefit on Tuesday, Feb. 7, was a rousing success!

One hundred fifty adults and kids came together at the Tamalpais Valley Community Center in Mill Valley, Calif., to be lifted and shifted by the power of kindness, compassion and action.

The evening began with the crowd captivated by the inspirational Bay Area premiere of Love at Second Sight, an award-winning educational film that transforms attitudes about differences, belonging, judgment and inclusion. Check out the trailer of their wonderful film, a must-see for all students!

 
Executive Producers Marlena Blavin and David Roche thanked the film production team and Mill Valley Middle School students, who were featured in the film and at the event.

Marlena Blavin and David Roche

Abundant “THANK YOUS!” to our wonderful hosts David and Marlena for their generosity in sharing their film premiere as a benefit for our organization. I look forward to growing our partnership with “Love at Second Sight” to spread our shared vision of a kinder, more compassionate and service-oriented world.

The audience then heard testimonials from our Community Heroes family about what the program has meant to them. After describing how they love performing random acts of kindness for teachers and seniors and how the Buddy Bench has impacted school culture, students from Sun Valley School in San Rafael cheered, “It’s cool to be kind!”

A second grader from Mary Silveira Elementary in San Rafael outlined her favorite projects: collecting shoes for the nonprofit group Mission Atletica, adopting families for the holidays and hiding bookmarks with positive messages in the school library, and ended by saying, “I love Community Heroes.”

Community Heroes participants, past and present, shared about the program’s impact.

Finally, middle school students who were part of Community Heroes when it first launched when they were in third grade outlined their year-long project to create a mural to promote art and unity in their school. “Without the experience of Community Heroes, we wouldn’t have been able to do this project,” they said. No greater testimonial than THAT!

Through our middle school after-school program, two Community Heroes students built upon their previous experience participating in elementary school, creating and implementing a service project of their own choosing. The product: this mural at Davidson Middle School.

With his usual flair, our special guest, the lion-hearted Michael Pritchard, shared many pearls of wisdom about the importance of teaching compassion to our children, who are our wisest teachers.

“We want our kids to see with their hearts. The minute you teach a child compassion,” Pritchard said, “you’re blessing our future. We want that great future here in our community. They’ll come back and be the greatest blessing.”

Marlena Blavin, David Roche, Michael Pritchard, Kala Shah and Toan Lam.

Shifting to what we envision for Community Heroes, I shared our plans to scale our efforts, including:

  • Building out an interactive communications platform to share inspiring stories and impact, starring our Community Hero kids
  • Building upon our “Sowing the Seeds of Compassion” impact study by Suzanne Lettrick, a Harvard-educated researcher
  • Building an engaging and flexible curriculum with videos, training modules and tools for facilitators to adopt at schools and community organizations
  • Building a sustainable organization and expanding our partnerships with educational, service and corporate partners

To reach our goals, we need your help! There are many ways you can pitch in:

  • VOLUNTEER to start a club, participate in events, join our board of directors or advisory board
  • CONNECT with corporate sponsors or foundations with aligned missions to become a SPONSOR
  • DONATE to help support our work to groom the next generation of compassionate community heroes

Many thanks also to our generous event sponsors who provided wonderful prizes for our raffle and helped kick-start our fundraising campaign. We’re just getting started to build our movement and promote a culture where it’s cool to be kind and fun to serve others. Please JOIN US and support us, however you can!

I hope these pictures convey the enormous sense of kindness, love and compassion that filled the room. It was pure MAGIC.

“I’m so glad I came tonight,” said one fifth-grade boy who had earlier thought he’d rather stay at home to play.

“I feel so light and happy. That was FUN!” remarked a fourth grader to her mom as she left our event.

It’s exactly these tingly, exhilarating emotions we hope to propagate much more of in this world, together. Our future is BRIGHT, I assure you.

In kindness and solidarity,
Kala

News coverage of Community Heroes.
Suzanne Lettrick (center), a Harvard-educated researcher, conducted a research study on kids and compassion that focused on the Community Heroes program.

Join Our Community Heroes Benefit in Mill Valley on Feb. 7

Kala and Toan with superhero capes
Community Heroes founders Kala Shah and Toan Lam deliver superhero capes to the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital.

Witness the impact of Community Heroes through heartfelt stories shared by kids and parents who are part of this life-changing, school-based program started in Marin County. We will also feature the Mill Valley premiere of “Love At Second Sight,” an award-winning educational film that transforms attitudes and encourages students to accept themselves and others (featuring inspirational humorist David Roche and his wife Marlena Blavin).
Continue reading “Join Our Community Heroes Benefit in Mill Valley on Feb. 7”

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