Good People Doing Good Things — Seeing A Need And Acting

I’m just featuring two ‘good people’ today, for my time and energy are low, but these two people saw a need and rose to the challenge to fill that need.  I think you’ll love them both!

We will feed you!

Classic American diners make money serving up hearty meals for a fair price, but one East Bay establishment has built its business giving away food for free.

It all started a few years ago when Collin Doran, owner of the Homemade Cafe in southwest Berkeley, decided to do something rather unusual in the restaurant business: offer anyone who is hungry a free breakfast, no questions asked.

“We would have people who would come by and they would usually panhandle or ask customers for extra food and my reaction was: ‘Hey, if you guys are hungry or in need of food, we will feed you,'” Doran said.

When the pandemic hit and food insecurity exploded, the need grew so much that Doran decided to make his unusual policy official, calling it the “Everybody Eats Program.”

“The typical Everybody Eats meal is a basic two-eggs breakfast: two eggs cooked however the customer likes it. You get a side of our delicious home fries and toast,” he said.

To qualify, one merely needs to grab a coupon from the diner bulletin board and find a seat. The only payment required is a thank you.

Samantha Akens, a neighborhood resident, has been relying on food assistance programs to get by. Being able to eat at the cafe free of charge is a godsend.

“I have to budget,” she said. “I have to find the people that can help out with little things financially and this is obviously a program that helps. Isn’t that amazing?” 

Paying customers can help by adding $5 to their bill, something many of his regulars, like Suzanne Skrivanich, are more than happy to do. “That just touches me in my heart,” she said. “I truly believe it’s part of human respect.” 

Duran’s program has become so popular, he’s now giving away about 200 meals a month.

“There was a small concern in the back of my mind that, if it got well known, it would be difficult to deal with a high volume of meals or keep up with everything,” he said. “But, I figured, if I’m going to get myself into trouble I’m going to get into good trouble.” 

Not only did he not get into “good trouble” but his business grew by 15 percent — a significant increase for any restaurant.

“Customers have reacted positively,” he said. “They’re contributing and helping us and, even if they don’t always contribute, they like the fact that we do it and they choose to come here more often.”

Now he hopes other businesses will follow suit.

“Doing it in a way that is socially responsible and trying to make the world a little better place,” he said.

Just go and do it!

Hana Fatima’s small pandemic gesture snowballed into a volunteer delivery network called the Good Neighbour Project.

While shopping with her father at an Ontario grocery store in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fatima noticed an elderly woman in the check-out line struggling with her groceries. She and her father offered to help carry her purchases to her car, and she had an idea to help others.

Fatima and her father shared their number with a few elderly neighbors. The idea was that those who needed help could provide them with a list of items that they would purchase so those most at risk didn’t have to be exposed to the virus in crowded stores.

They shared the idea with a few friends, and her father started a Facebook group to coordinate with others who wanted to help. Word spread, and within hours there were hundreds of people volunteering to do the same thing in their communities.

More than a year later, the project — called the Good Neighbour Project — has 6,000 volunteers who speak more than 30 languages with chapters in Toronto, London, and Ottawa.

Those who need assistance accessing groceries, essential supplies, and medication are connected via the Good Neighbour Hotline with a person who is able to purchase and deliver the items. The person making the request pays only for the cost of the groceries — delivery is free.

Since launching, the group has made more than 9,000 deliveries for vulnerable people including seniors, people with special needs, people who are pregnant, single parents, and others.

“When I saw the elderly person, I thought that was my opportunity to go and help somebody,” Fatima said. “Because whenever you get a chance to be helpful and kind, just go and do it without thinking about it. Everybody should do that. You see an opportunity? Somebody needs help? Just go and do it.”

Good People Doing Good Things — Young People Today!

“Young people today!”  I heard that in my own youth 70 years ago, heard it when my children were young, and we still hear it today.  And sure, some young people do make you shake your head and wonder where their brain is hiding, but on the flip side, there are an awful lot of young people out there working selflessly to make a difference in the lives of others, to be ‘good people.’  Every now and then I like to focus on those good young people, for they are our future and seeing the good works they are doing gives us hope for that future.

As the youngest volunteer with GlamourGals, a nonprofit aimed at building intergenerational relationships between teens and seniors in care facilities to end elder isolation, Spencer Murray at the ripe age of 9 years, was determined to show that even the youngest person can make an impact. When visitors were not allowed to visit nursing homes and care facilities at the height of the pandemic, Spencer thought how lonely older people were because they couldn’t be around their loved ones and couldn’t give others hugs or even high fives without being at risk. Although he couldn’t give someone a high five in person, Spencer could give them a high five in another way.

Spencer realized that he and his friends could make cards for those living in care facilities while ensuring the safety of seniors and volunteers. Each card features a note, pictures, and a “high five”: a colorful paint handprint. To help build a sense of community within the volunteers, especially those who lived in different states, Spencer would set up monthly Zoom calls with his peers to make cards and catch up with one another. Spencer didn’t stop at just asking his friends to volunteer; he’s also had support from area Girl Scout troops, dance studios, and students from all grades at his school.

Since starting this project, over 3,000 seniors across the country have received a high five card from Spencer and his friends! As he continues his work, Spencer hopes that people never underestimate the power of a child, but more importantly, that each person who receives a card has a smile, a laugh, and hopefully one day, maybe even a hug from him!

For Laiba Yusuf, age 10, serving one’s community is a family affair. After volunteering with her sister and mother, Laiba found that she was most passionate about supporting people impacted by hunger, poverty, homelessness, and mental health, especially seeing how interrelated these issues were. Wanting to ensure that people of all backgrounds had access to essential services and resources they may not have otherwise, Laiba created the Kindness for Buddies Campaign in the summer of 2019.

To best provide for her community, Laiba’s first step in her campaign was to create partnerships with organizations that work directly with large numbers of people in need. Through conversations with groups like the Canadian Mental Health Association360°Kids, and Inn from the Cold, Laiba was able to learn about items and services that were most needed by those she wanted to help. With this knowledge, Laiba began organizing fundraisers—selling flowers, fruit baskets, and holiday-themed gifts—and collection drives, including one of the only back-to-school drives in the region!

Over the last three-and-a-half years, Laiba has raised over $35,000 to support organizations as they provide essential services in areas of hunger, poverty, homelessness, and mental health, and her back-to-school drives provided over 1100 backpacks filled with school supplies for youth across Ontario! Kindness for Buddies has also given Laiba the opportunity to establish peer tutoring sessions in math and reading, host pet therapy mental health events, and donate hundreds of pounds of fresh produce through pop-up farmers markets!

Growing up outside of Philadelphia, 17-year-old Aditya Sirohi has seen the firsthand impact of hunger and homelessness. As someone who is easily able to empathize with others around him, Aditya began to think about ways he could be of service to those most in need, especially those—like many in Philadelphia—experiencing poverty, hunger, and homelessness. In 2020, he joined a TEDxYouth group where he and other area youth discussed issues they were most passionate about. Wanting to turn conversation into action, Aditya founded Hand4Hand.

Hand4Hand works to activate youth to bring positive change to the communities around them. Because the nonprofit was founded during the early days of the pandemic, food insecurity was rampant and nonprofits struggled with increasing costs, much of Aditya and his team’s initial focus was on making and distributing hot meals. Throughout the year, Hand4Hand serves hot meals in downtown Philadelphia on a bi-weekly basis, increasing their events to every week during the summer. They’ve also expanded their programming to making cards for people living in assisted care facilities, collecting at and school supplies for youth in foster care, and donating seasonal clothing in partnership with area shelters and nonprofits.

Since 2020, Aditya and the Hand4Hand team have supported over 10,000 people! Through Hand4Hand Aditya hopes to serve as a place where youth can volunteer, especially first-time volunteers, as well as to act as an inspiration for others who may want to launch their own initiatives. He believes volunteering not only makes communities more aware, empathetic, and inclusive, but that every act of service, no matter the size, creates a ripple effect and provides youth with the ability to make change in the area directly around them and support wider sustainable change.

These are just three examples of young people with a heart and a conscience.  With kids like this in charge, perhaps we really can build a better world!

Good People Doing Good Things — Team Rubicon Again! And Yet AGAIN!

In October 2017 in another ‘good people post I wrote about Team Rubicon, a group of veterans started by Jake Wood, in 2010, initially in response to the devastating earthquake that had hit Haiti, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and at least that many more homeless.    Wood convinced a former classmate and a few other former Marines to join him and starting off with a group of 8, they headed to Haiti with medical supplies and equipment.  But, the story didn’t end there.  After Haiti, Wood and his friend William McNulty did some brainstorming, realized that their group was pretty effective, and veterans had the skills and know-how to do such things.  In the years since, the group expanded to over 150,000 volunteers, 70% of them veterans, and have been all over the world providing assistance to people in the wake of natural disasters and regional conflicts.  In all, they have responded to more than 500 humanitarian crises in the past decade.

Then in July 2021, Team Rubicon crossed my radar once again when CNN reported on them for their response to the pandemic since 2020.  When the pandemic first hit, Wood knew there would be a need for their services, and they were there, supporting food banks, delivering groceries, setting up Covid testing sites, vaccination sites and much more.  And here we are, just over a year later, and Team Rubicon has volunteers helping people in three areas:

  • In Puerto Rico AND Prince Edward Island, Canada, helping to clean up in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona that hit both locales in late September
  • In Western Alaska where people are trying to recover from Typhoon Merbok that destroyed nearly all the food supply when it hit last month
  • In Florida, coordinating relief and clean-up efforts in the wake of Hurricane Ian that hit at the end of September

When I first wrote about Team Rubicon in 2017, they had 33,000 volunteers … today they have more than 150,000!  Here are a few tidbits from Team Rubicon’s website regarding their most recent efforts.

In Florida

One week after Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida, Team Rubicon is expanding its disaster response operations in the state. As of October 5, the veteran-led nonprofit’s route clearance teams had conducted 37 route clearance events, moved 6,680 cubic yards of debris, and removed 131 obstructions across the state. 

One week out, roadways remain covered in debris and home owners and residents are faced with extensive damage and flooding, and the overwhelming question of where to turn as they try to recover. To assist the survivors of Hurricane Ian, Team Rubicon has been expanding operations in multiple counties in Florida.

Currently, 67 Greyshirts are deployed in Charlotte County where they are clearing debris, mucking out flooded homes, performing chainsaw operations, and tarping roofs. Another 25 Greyshirts are currently deployed to Lee County and eight are on the ground in Polk County. The veteran-led disaster response organization hopes to deploy more than 300 volunteers to Florida to assist with Hurricane Ian disaster relief over the next month.

In Alaska

On September 16, remnants of Typhoon Merbok produced widespread damage to communities in Western Alaska, including Golovin. The storm flooded homes and businesses; damaged infrastructure—including the power grid and water supply system—and washed away roads and bridges. According to U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office, the 2022 typhoon damaged approximately 1,000 miles of coastline. 

Set along the Bering some 200 miles below the arctic circle and 500 miles from Anchorage, as the crow flies, Golovin was one of the areas most heavily damaged by Typhoon Merbok. Much of the village was under 6 feet of water, and all of it was without power for days. To assist in the village’s recovery, Team Rubicon is deploying a team of volunteers, or Greyshirts, to Golovin to provide muckout and expedient home repair services to the remote coastal village before winter freeze up. 

Over the course of the operation, which is expected to last until October 7, Greyshirts will muckout damaged homes and teach local volunteers how to perform muckouts. Due to the remoteness of the village and lack of local resources, all equipment, supplies, and food needed for the operation will be flown in from Anchorage with the Greyshirts who will be camping and working in primitive conditions for the duration of the operation. To support the community going forward, all excess or unused equipment and supplies will be left in Golovin at the end of the operation.

In Puerto Rico

Less than 20% of the island had electricity and 55% percent of Puerto Ricans were without water. “This is even bigger than it looks,” says Team Rubicon CEO Art delaCruz. “Any disaster that knocks out an entire power grid is a very big deal.”

The first dozen Greyshirts from the Continental U.S. are engaged in recon and establishing operating locations, then will begin assisting with recovery efforts. The organization expects to begin deploying numerous other Greyshirts soon.  

The deployment to Puerto Rico is not the veteran-led humanitarian aid organization’s first trip to the island: It responded to Hurricane Maria in 2017. Greyshirts then returned in 2018 to help with rebuild and recovery efforts, putting new roofs on 512 homes.

This is the third time I’ve written about Team Rubicon, but these guys deserve all the kudos we can give them, for these are people who drop everything to go thousands of miles to help others when the need arises.  They certainly get two thumbs up from me, and I suspect this won’t be the last time, either!

Good People Doing Good Things — Young Ones

This week’s good people are young people … the future of our world … who have discovered the value of giving, of caring, of sharing, and … well, of being good people.

First, please meet Lawrence Wang, age 16 who lives in Edison, New Jersey.  Lawrence has first-hand knowledge of the issues that asylum-seeking groups face, from facing delays in their documentation status to being incarcerated for unjust reasons. As a recent immigrant to the United States, he resonated with the precarious situation that groups such as refugees face on a daily basis. After doing some research, Lawrence found that there were few assistance organizations for refugees and asylum seekers, leaving these two vulnerable groups without easy access to information and resources. To ensure refugees and asylum seekers have adequate support in the community, Lawrence created the Refugee Youth Enrichment Initiative.

The Refugee Youth Enrichment Initiative is a nonprofit that directly works with and advocates for refugees in Edison, New Jersey. Lawrence and his team of youth volunteers also raise awareness about the unique challenges experienced by refugees and asylum seekers through a podcast where community leaders who work in the field speak about their experiences and how others can provide support. Because refugees and asylum seekers often arrive in a new country with limited funds, clothing, and other necessities, fundraisers are a key component of the Initiative’s work—their first event, a 5K walk, had over 100 participants.

Lawrence credits the Refugee Youth Enrichment Initiative’s success to a team of passionate and dedicated youth volunteers as well as local community-serving organizations, including resettlement centers, food banks, and shelters. Since New Jersey is one of the main hotspots for refugees, he hopes that other communal-minded youth will start their own refugee assistance organizations. Lawrence understands that there are other prominent issues that are present in society, so even if youth are interested in different issues, that they lead similar efforts in their own communities.

Arianna Fields, age 15, lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  For Arianna, community service is one of the best ways to teach empathy and, by extension, acceptance of others. When brainstorming ways to teach and show empathy to others, Arianna realized that when she didn’t feel well, having support from others always made her feel better. While Arianna’s experiences feeling unwell were brief, they led her to think about youth in hospitals who were undergoing long-term care and she knew she wanted to support others her age and younger who were regularly sick or suffering from severe illnesses.

With the support of a Hershey Heartwarming Young Hero grant and in partnerships with Prime Time Education, Putnam City High School, and John Glenn Elementary, Arianna launched the “Bee Kind” initiative this past Spring. Her project involved creating care packages for youth at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital and their families. After hosting a discussion about kindness, Arianna worked with 3rd grade students to create cards with messages of care and support that would be included in the packages. The cards, along with books, games, and a bee bracelet were packed by student-athletes at Arianna’s high school. In total, students made and delivered 120 care packages.

A few surprises popped up while Arianna and her peers were participating in her project. Once things were underway, Arianna found out from one of her school’s coaches that they had a friend whose son was a patient at the hospital the care packages were being donated to. The friend spoke about her son’s and their family’s story, giving the students a clear idea about the impact they were making and helping volunteers feel a closer connection to what they were doing. Additionally, Arianna initially planned on engaging her volleyball teammates as project volunteers. When other athletes learned about Arianna’s idea, they wanted to help and joined the Bee Kind project. The student athletes also shared that after participating, they were inspired and wanted to find other ways they could give pack to the community!

Although her Bee Kind project has been completed, Arianna is already looking to the future and planning new ways to give back while supporting ongoing initiatives across Oklahoma City.

And last but not least is Lena Franklin, 23, of Jamaica, New York.  Lena is a lover of books and was disappointed when she noticed that many of her fellow special education students did not have access to books that they wanted to read. Thinking about the books she had at home and how her peers might enjoy them as much as she did, Lena began sharing her books with her classmates. Shortly after, Lena was gifted a small bookshelf that was filled with books, kicking off Lena’s Library and her goal of distributing free books to ensure youth have books to read and help foster a love of reading for everyone.

Since Lena’s Library was started in 2015, Lena began to think of ways she could provide books for others even though she was no longer in the classroom where her idea began. With the help of her mom, Lena took Lena’s Library on the road, setting up at her church, parks, and local events. She even hosted a library at a New York Knicks game! Lena tries to pick books that are relevant to different age groups as well as those that connect to the events where her Library is. One of Lena’s favorite things about her work is that unlike a traditional library, youth get to keep their Lena’s Library books.

Over the past seven years, Lena’s Library has given away hundreds of books, magazines, and other reading materials to both youth and adults! Lena has also partnered with food distribution and COVID vaccination groups to provide books to people as they wait in line or as a means of relieving stress from the day-to-day. While Lena’s work has helped countless members of her community, she has also grown and become a better reader. As she continues to inspire readers, she hopes others with intellectual disabilities will find their confidence to take action and make a difference.

It should give us all some hope in these rather dark days to know that we are putting our future into the hands of young people like these … people who care about others and are willing to do something to make the world a little bit better place.

Good People Doing Good Things – The Older Generation

Today I have two really good people (doing good things) to share with you.  Both are what we sometimes refer to as ‘senior citizens,’ but that hasn’t stopped them or even slowed them down!

Every morning, Tracey Mason Sr. rises from the bed he keeps in the back room of his boxing gym and greets the day with optimism and determination.

Tracey grew up in this Wichita, Kansas, neighborhood, and like many area youths, he fell into a life of crime early on. He went to prison for 10 long years, so he knows firsthand how difficult it is to stay on track when you’re surrounded by bad influences. That’s why, after he was released, he returned to his hometown to become a good influence for other at-risk children.

“I became a granddad, so I had to look myself in the face and ask ‘is granddad going to be helping feed someone, helping clothe somebody, or is he going to be somebody taking food from somebody’s mouth?’”

So Tracey opened CHD (Condition, Heart, Discipline) Boxing Club, a safe place for both kids and adults, and began promoting his “gloves over guns” philosophy in his community.

Tracey looks back at his own difficult youth and realizes he threw away so much potential. He can’t sit back and let today’s teens follow in those same footsteps. He also recognizes the poverty and need in the people who visit his gym, and he strives to meet those needs in spite of financial hardships of his own.

Meeting needs is important to Tracey. When he started the gym, he noticed right away that youth often showed up hungry and without proper clothing or footwear. Now, every morning, Tracey wheels out a rack of used clothing that he’s collected from thrift shops and donations.

“It’s a horrible feeling to be without shoes and clothes and coats, especially coats in the wintertime.”

He also joined forces with a local food bank to provide a pantry for the hungry.

“I used to coach at other gyms and I would see youth come in all the time and they were hungry,” he added. “So I made up my mind that I would have food available for those that don’t have food at home, because it’s hard to be able to be a good human being, a sound-thinking human being, if you’re hungry.”

When he’s not working his regular full-time job or coaching at the gym, Tracey can be found wandering the neighborhood and picking up trash. Not only is he trying to instill pride in his community, but he’s also on the lookout for any trouble brewing. If he finds a fight in progress, he brings them back to CHD to duke it out in the ring. On the weekends, he’s often at local football games, hoping to intervene before gangs can recruit teens from the sidelines.

Everywhere he can, he places himself between the danger and youth. He doesn’t do it for money, praise, or recognition; he does it because he wants to help others avoid making the same mistakes he did.

“I just really believe that if we’re kind to each other, if we care for each other, that if we treat each other with mutual respect, that a lot of the things we have issue with will just go away.”

Tracey has done so much for the youths in his neighborhood.  I hope you’ll take a couple of minutes to watch this video … I think you’ll fall in love with Tracey Mason!

And now let’s hop across the big pond and meet Beryl Carr …

Eighteen years ago, Beryl Carr was picking up the pieces after losing her husband. She was in her late 70s at the time, so she moved to London, England, to start a new life closer to family. Her daughter began calling around in search of volunteer jobs to keep Beryl occupied and get her out of the house, settling on a cashier position at Friends Cafe in Ealing Hospital.

“I started volunteering here when I moved down to London after my husband died, and I didn’t know anyone or anything, and this was my lifeline.”

She fit in with the other volunteers and staff members right away, and she quickly became a fixture in the cafe. These days, people will come into the cafe just to see her and say hello, and she’s known for her cheery smile, endless energy, and spunky personality.

As for Beryl, she said the “friendship and the camaraderie” are her main reasons for sticking with the volunteer job for so long, but she also loves feeling like she’s helping others.  Says Dr. Pooja Dassan, a regular at the café …

“It’s absolutely amazing. I’ve been at Ealing Hospital coming up to nine years now, and Beryl has been there, and Beryl is always here when we come at lunch for a cup of coffee. And she’s always there with a smile, and pre-Covid, often a hug as well. And I think she’s a complete inspiration. Many of us look at her, she’s always got a smile on her face, a swagger as she walks.”

The cafe always makes a big deal out of celebrating Beryl’s birthday, and they went all out for her 100th in January! The grandma said she had “a big party,” followed by several smaller parties. “It’s been going nonstop for the past week,” she added with a laugh.

So far, one of the biggest thrills of turning 100 has been receiving a card from Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II.

Beryl has no interest in retiring any time soon. In fact, her volunteer job is a huge part of what’s keeping her so young and spry!

“I’m not ready to put my feet up yet, I’ve got a lot more volunteering to do.  I’ll be carrying on as long as I can.”

Good People Doing Good Things — Team Rubicon Again!

In October 2017 in another ‘good people post I wrote about Team Rubicon, a group of veterans started by Jake Wood, in 2010, initially in response to the devastating earthquake that had hit Haiti, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and at least that many more homeless.    Wood convinced a former classmate and a few other former Marines to join him and starting off with a group of 8, they headed to Haiti with medical supplies and equipment.  But, the story didn’t end there.  After Haiti, Wood and his friend William McNulty did some brainstorming, realized that their group was pretty effective, and veterans had the skills and know-how to do such things.  In the years since, the group expanded to around 120,000 volunteers, 70% of them veterans, and have been all over the world providing assistance to people in the wake of natural disasters and regional conflicts.  In all, they have responded to more than 500 humanitarian crises in the past decade.

This week, Team Rubicon crossed my radar once again when CNN reported on them for their response to the pandemic for the past year.  When the pandemic first hit, Wood knew there would be a need for their services …

“We immediately pivoted to get our volunteers doing work like supporting food banks, delivering groceries directly to people’s doorsteps, setting up Covid testing sites. I’m really proud of the contribution we’ve made.”

The group established a nationwide campaign, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, to help the most vulnerable members of society in a way that keeps at-risk populations safe and contains the spread of the virus.  This campaign offered volunteers many ways to get involved. While most Team Rubicon operations are highly organized, Wood encouraged volunteers to do what he calls “individual acts of service” — such as checking on an elderly neighbor or helping someone whose immune system is compromised.

Wood’s group also assisted with a number of large-scale operations across the United States. Veterans helped get food to those in need, often in conjunction with organizations like Feeding America and Meals on Wheels. Additionally, Team Rubicon’s volunteers helped operate critical health care efforts, such as a drive-thru testing site and a 250-bed federal medical station in Santa Clara, California.

For the past six months, the group has also been very involved with vaccination efforts in all 50 states.

“We’ve supported hundreds of sites across the country, doing the simple things like site setup and teardown, patient registration, optimizing patient flow. It’s been a modern-day medical wartime effort to get doses into the arms of Americans. And so, we’re really proud we’ve been able to support nearly two million doses across the country.”

During the pandemic alone, Team Rubicon says its volunteers have so far helped nearly 10 million people around the country.

“This was a whole of America emergency, and it required a whole of America response. This is a moment for all Americans to rise to the occasion by thinking about the greater good.”

CNN recently interviewed Wood regarding Team Rubicon’s efforts during the time of the pandemic.  Here is a brief snippet from that interview …

CNN: Your volunteers pitched in a lot with food distribution. Is that type of work usual for Team Rubicon?

Jake Wood: It’s certainly outside the norm of what we do, but we quickly saw that food banks and food security in general would become really important in this pandemic. Many food banks and pantries rely on volunteers, like we do, but many of those (volunteers) tend to be in the at-risk demographic of over 65. So, those services were grinding to a halt, just as they were becoming more needed. Our volunteers have been helping with the logistics of food sorting and getting meals to people’s doorsteps.

CNN: How has Team Rubicon been helping with the medical needs that have been sparked by this virus?

Wood: We have had volunteers on the front lines of all this — whether they’re running a testing site in North Carolina or a hospital center in California. We’ve also deployed members of our international medical team here domestically to help decompress health care systems that were overwhelmed.

One of my proudest accomplishments over the last year was the work that we did in the Navajo Nation. The people living there had one of the highest case rates and fatality rates of anywhere in America and Team Rubicon stepped in with hundreds of medical providers for nearly 300 days. I have no doubt that we were saving the lives of numerous people while we were there. And that’s now extended into the vaccine work.

We’ve supported over 12,000 vaccinations in the Navajo Nation, which has one of the highest vaccine uptake rates of anywhere across the country, which is a testament to the community-oriented approach that they have. It’s that mentality of, “We’re in this together” — and we need more of that across the country.

CNN: How do you think your group has handled all of the challenges posed by the pandemic?

Wood: Fifteen months ago, we were all faced with a choice: Were we going to retreat into our cave and hope that the pandemic would pass us by or were we going to help as many people as we could? And at Team Rubicon, we didn’t blink. We stretched ourselves into missions that we had never imagined doing before.

Our team was flexible, adaptive, innovative — and they were committed to helping their country during one of the greatest crises it’s ever faced. The one thing that I’d want people to know about Team Rubicon is that when you need us, we will be there.

I give Team Rubicon two thumbs up for their dedication and hard work.  To learn a bit more and see some of the other places they’ve been, people they’ve helped, check out their website!

Good People Doing Good Things — Luke Mickelson

I had to flip a coin tonight, for I was hard-pressed to decide between two good people, both of whom are dedicating their lives to helping children.  I didn’t want to leave either one behind, but there was only so much time, so after the coin flip, I promise to bring you the other next week.

Mickelson-2Luke Mickelson’s life changed back in 2012 when he was asked by his church to build a bed for a little girl who had none.  It was Christmas time, a cold and blustery winter in Twin Falls, Idaho where a little girl was sleeping on the floor on naught but a pile of clothes.

“This little girl had a nest of clothes, it looked like a little bird’s nest. And that’s what she slept on, that’s what her bed was. When we delivered the bed, she hugged it and just couldn’t let go. It was such an eye-opener to me. I sat there in silence thinking, ‘Is that really what’s going on?’ I had no clue about what the need was. There’s kids next door whose parents are struggling just to put food on the table, clothes on their back, a roof over their head. A bed was just a luxury. “

Using his daughter’s bunk bed as a template, Mickelson started buying wood and supplies to build beds with his own money. He recruited friends and family members to help around the holidays.  As word spread, interest and involvement from his and other communities surged — along with Mickelson’s bunk bed output.

Mickelson-3That first year, Luke and his team of volunteers built 11 bunk beds in his garage, and the next year it was 15. As their project became known around the community, the demand rose and before long, Luke had a dilemma … he had a lucrative job, with a six-figure income, but building beds was becoming more and more time-consuming.  What to do?  Luke did what few would likely have done … he quit his job to make beds!  He took a significantly lesser-paying part-time job to support his family and turned his attention toward the needs of his community.SHP-2Mickelson set up a non-profit called Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP) and their motto is “No kid sleeps on the floor in our town”.  With the help of volunteers and donations for materials, SHP in Twin Falls built and delivered 612 beds to children in 2017.

But the organization is no longer just in Twin Falls, Idaho. Mickelson began a training center where people interested in starting a chapter in their own community can come and learn how to make beds and how to organize their own chapter.  In February, Mickelson and SHP were featured in a Facebook video feature titled Returning the Favor and the response was so overwhelming that they increased their chapters from 14 in February to 100 today.  And per their website, they have more than 900 pending requests for new chapters.  This is an idea that is taking off like wildfire, and for such a good cause. mapIn September 2017, a storage unit used by SHP to store materials, mattresses, etc., was burglarized and over $2,000 worth of materials stolen.  From the Idaho State Journal …

CHUBBUCK — A local charity wants those who burglarized the storage unit that contained several mattresses and bedding supplies to know that their actions have kept eight children sleeping on the floor at night.

“It’s very heart-wrenching,” said Luke Mickelson, the founder of the non-profit Sleep in Heavenly Peace, or SHP, which builds and donates bunk beds to children and families who don’t have anywhere to sleep. “Anytime you have something stolen you feel very stripped. But in this case, when you think about it, those people just robbed eight children of a place to sleep.”

First reported to the Chubbuck Police Department on Sept. 1, Mickelson said the thieves stole eight Malouf Lucid twin-size mattresses, along with several boxes of sheets, pillows, pillowcases and custom handmade quilts from a storage unit located in Chubbuck.

Mickelson continued, “If someone is so desperate they have to steal bedding, I hope they were in dire need and they can put it to good use because the quilts were really priceless and were donated from these awesome elderly ladies that put a lot of time into making them. How do you put a price to their time?”

In June, Luke Mickelson and SHP were featured on CNN Heroes. From the SHP website:

We have grown a lot in just the last year. As you can imagine, we are still working out all our processes and bugs. We are currently a 100% volunteer board and staff. No one currently receives a dime from any of the donations.  

Where we didn’t expect such a torrent was in requests to start a new chapter. It was such a flood of requests to start up that we had to better define our processes. As of the writing of this post, we have have a total of 521 requests to start new chapters in 47 states, in 4 provinces of Canada, 1 in the Philippines, 1 in Kenya and 1 in Mexico.

Perhaps the most important thing we can give to others is our time.  Luke Mickelson gave up a lucrative job and countless hours of his time to do something for children.  He and his team of volunteers from coast-to-coast are bringing smiles to kids’ faces every day.  People like this, my friends, are the ‘real’ people in this world, the ones that restore our faith in humanity.

Good People Doing Good Things – Steven A. Culbertson & YSA

In the wake of last Saturday’s successful and inspiring March For Our Lives across the nation and beyond, I thought it appropriate to highlight some of the things that are being done by the nation’s young people to make the world a little bit better place for us all.  Rather than highlight specific members of our youth, I am shining a big, bright light on a man who has done more than perhaps any other to assist kids in finding their path to being a powerful force.  You may remember that one of my Good People posts last November highlighted an organization called Youth Service America.

Steven A. Culbertson is President & CEO of YSA (Youth Service America), a global nonprofit activating youth, 5–25, to find their voice, take action, and acquire powerful skills as they solve problems facing their communities. The Nonprofit Times twice named him to its list of “The 50 most powerful and influential leaders” in the sector, saying, “Steve Culbertson has helped to position volunteering and young people as an issue and a national priority.”

Mr. Culbertson began his work with YSA in 1996, and I will let him tell you a little about his experiences in his own words, for his words are powerful and wise..

“When I took over the helm of Youth Service America from its founders 20 years ago this spring, I thought my job was going to be all about motivating apathetic youth, more interested in video games than saving the world.

I could not have been more wrong. Young people are volunteering at record rates, more than any generation in history.

Instead, my biggest challenge has been skeptical adults.

I’ve spent a good deal of the last two decades encouraging adults to remember their own childhoods, reminding them how powerful they felt when they were trusted, heard, respected, counted on, and asked to contribute.

Countless times, I’ve made the case with doubtful elected officials that young people need to be at the decision-making table, especially when issues that affect youth are on the public-policy agenda. As they say, if you are not at the table, you’re on the menu.

The history of the world is the history of power, and there is no question that young people become powerful when they bring their energy, commitment, idealism, and creativity to bear on the world’s problems. As the history of people who are African-American, women, immigrants, disabled, or LGBT reminds us, those in power do not share it easily.

The United Nation’s has publicly stated that the Global Goals will not be achieved without the significant contributions of young people around the world, so we have a lot of hearts and minds to change. A 16-year-old African girl in Lesotho told me that I was the first adult to give her permission to change the world. Less than a month later, I heard the identical complaint from a 16-year-old American girl from New York. When commencement speakers tell graduates that they are tomorrow’s leaders and the hope of the future, we put young people “on hold” at their most creative time in life. For too many youth, the promise of leadership never surfaces.

As adults, we must raise our expectations for what youth can accomplish in the present — as players, not spectators; as actors, not recipients. We simply cannot afford to wait for young people to grow up before they start tackling the biggest problems facing the planet — we need them to be the leaders and the hope of today.

When teenagers across the country took the reins of the gun safety debate after the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, they reminded us that young people have always played a pivotal role in America’s common life, starting with the birth of our Nation. The average age of Founding Fathers like James Monroe and Alexander Hamilton was only 19 when they rebelled against the 38-year-old king of the most powerful empire in the world. The #NeverAgain students also honor other youth-led movements ranging from Women’s Suffrage, Voting Rights for 18-Year-Olds, Campus Free Speech, Ending the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement. In each case, youth leadership moved America forward, with some measure of kicking and screaming.

One question I’m constantly asked, often with skepticism, is “What do they actually do?”.

Well, if you’re pre-teens like Jackson Silverman, Katie Stagliano, and Will Lourcey, and you cared about hunger, you and your friends started nonprofits like I Heart Hungry Kids, Katies Krops, and Friends Reaching Our Goals. You then spend your adolescence feeding hundreds of thousands of people. Literally.

YSA also supports children and youth volunteering to end homelessness, climate change, illiteracy, gender inequality, middle school bullying, water scarcity, and just about every health, education, human service, human rights, and environmental issue on the planet. To measure our global impact in more than 100 countries, YSA aligns our outputs and outcomes with the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to build a better future for everyone.

When young people decide to tackle a problem, YSA suggests they do it ASAP. Yes, we want them contributing to the greater good today, long before they become adults. But we also recommend they change the world using one (or more) of the four ASAP strategies: Awareness, Service, Advocacy, Philanthropy.

Youth are powerful forces in raising awareness about big community problems. Consider their roles in successful public education campaigns to stop littering, start recycling, wear seat belts, and limit exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke. Today, YSA supports students raising awareness in their communities about everything from water conservation and clean energy, to the humane treatment of animals, childhood obesity, and the opioid addiction crisis.

The “S” in ASAP describes the traditional community service route many kids take. They clean beaches and parks, tutor younger students in English and math, teach seniors how to use technology, ladle soup in shelters, include their peers with disabilities in extra-curricular activities, deliver groceries to people The second “A” in ASAP is about advocacy and the common good. It may be the most difficult, but also the most sustainable contribution youth make, since it focuses on changing the rules of the game. It’s about inclusivity, fairness, and equality in policies and laws. Since it may buck tradition and age-old power structures, youth advocacy requires intense working sessions with public officials, as well as compromise and patience. One project YSA supported with a grant was the Texas Hunger Warriors. After studying the official hunger statistics, these third-grade students decided it was unfair that 1 in 5 of kids like them lived in food insecurity. So they donned orange t-shirts, rallied in front of the State Capitol in Austin, and worked with the Legislature to pass the Texas Breakfast Bill. Don’t tell them that 9-year-olds can’t change the world!

The “P” in ASAP is for philanthropy. Bake sales for the hungry, lemonade stands for the Tsunami victims, car washes to help refugee kids, and even 46 hour Danceathons at Penn State that raise more than $10 million for children’s cancer every year. Sometimes it just takes money to solve the problem.

When young people serve their community ASAP they gain experience and agency, but they also learn critical workplace skills valued by every employer on the planet — empathy, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. They become more likely to vote, give money to charity, and participate in the civic life of their community for a lifetime.

Congressman John Lewis, who was handcuffed and bashed on the head as a teenager trying to make “A More Perfect Union” describes student activism like the #NeverAgain movement as youth getting into “good trouble.” Oprah went so far as to compare the Parkland students to the white and black students who banded together as Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

The history of the world is the history of power, so it’s high praise to be compared to another generation of young people who succeeded in changing the world. It’s also a high bar. But armed with the courage to turn their unfathomable grief into something positive, plus their cell phones, social media accounts, lots of adult champions, and a natural dose of energy, commitment, idealism, and creativity, we must be optimistic they will succeed.”

This man has dedicated the last 22 years of his life to helping our youth to be all that they can be, and I think he deserves a huge round of applause.  Next week, I will shine the spotlight on some of the young people he mentioned who have done great things.  Thank you, Mr. Culbertson, for showing us just how much our kids are capable of, if we just give them the guidance and a little bit of encouragement.

Good People Doing Good Things — The Next Generation

Since the February 14th school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we have been applauding the young people who stepped up to the plate and said ENOUGH!  Those young people have protested both online and in person, demanding that stricter gun laws be put into place to keep our schools, our society safer.  We are all proud of these young people, and many of us have said that if there is hope for this nation to get back on track, that hope lies with this generation that is just now coming of age.  In keeping with those thoughts, I decided to make this generation the focus of today’s Good People post, for many of them are doing some truly wonderful things.

Meet Jessica Russo.  Jessica, age 20, lives in Staten Island, New York, and is a junior at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in Peace and Conflict Studies, as well as Latino and Latin American Studies.  During her freshman year, one of Jessica’s best friends was sexually assaulted.  Seeing what her friend went through fueled a desire in Jessica to both spread awareness and also provide resources to victims of sexual assault.

Among Jessica’s goals are to create a dialogue among peers, professors, and faculty on college campuses in order to increase the knowledge these individuals have about sexual assault.

Jessica knew that her goals were far too big to be accomplished alone. In response, she created an Executive Board made up of students at her school who share the same passion for ending sexual assault as she does. She also has created volunteer opportunities for those who want to be involved in her campaign, Silence to Sound, such as regional researcher, a position where students will be able to research resources for the campaign’s database. Interacting with student groups on campus in order to host events is part of the work that continues to further her mission.

She has created, using her own money, a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account.  Her website is equipped with school specific resources for sexual assault survivors at over 110 schools in four states. This includes Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin.  The group’s mission statement is:

“We at Silence to Sound seek to create a safe and resourceful space for a discussion of the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses. We aim to ensure gender equity and safety through dialogue and action. We advocate for survivors with resources for reporting and seeking emotional support. Furthermore, our end goal is the complete prevention of sexual assault through a changed societal attitude toward consent and safety for all.”

She has conducted webinars along with three other women from Zambia, Zimbabwe and Ghana where they speak about gender-related issues.  This is a young woman who saw a problem, saw a need, and is doing something to solve the problem and fill the need.  Another shining example of our next generation.

Levi Fallavollita was 11-years-old and living in Tucson the first time he was threatened with a gun.  It was indeed a frightening experience, but rather than let it change him, he decided to let it help him change the world.  Levi realized that he was not alone, that other kids were going through similar experiences of being bullied, and he wanted to reach out to them.

Levi began by writing a book, The Good The Bad and The Bullies. That spawned book signings in his local community and “Nights of Sharing” workshops, where kids and adults came to talk about their experiences. That inspired Fallavollita to publish another book, Be Courageous, featuring a collection of those shared stories — including a 73-year-old woman who still remembered the pain of being bullied as a youngster.

Word got around. Soon, Fallavollita was writing monthly columns for the local newspaper and appearing on television news. He collaborated with the Fund for Civility, which was founded by the family of Arizona Congressman Ron Barber after he and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords were shot in January 2011 outside a grocery store in Tucson. That earned him an invite to Washington, D.C., where he talked to members on the House floor about his “Be Courageous” project. He was also recognized for his efforts with a Daily Point of Light award that was established by former President George H.W. Bush.

Be sure to check out Levi’s Facebook page.

Before I introduce the third good young person, I want you to check to be sure you are sitting down, for the sheer energy of Miss Talar Terzian is going to knock your socks off!  Talar, 16 years of age, lives in Gainesville, Florida and attends Oak Hall school.  Her grandfather was a Vietnam War veteran, and through the years Talar met many of his combat comrades and heard their stories.  As she grew older, she began to notice that female veterans did not receive near the attention the males did, and the female vets’ stories went largely unheard, especially in the history books.

Talar started the Female Veterans Journaling Project. The Female Veterans Journaling Project aims to provide every woman veteran nationwide with a journal to write in. While the long-term goal of the project is to pair every woman veteran with a journal, Talar’s currently working on her short-term goal of providing every female veteran in Florida with a journal. Talar decided to approach the representation of women veterans through the journal project because she believes it has the potential to touch the lives of many women veterans, by helping them see that their voices and stories are valued. In addition to the journals, Talar is also developing an app to connect women veterans with one another so that they can share their experiences with one another on social media.

And while the Journaling Project is what initially brought this young woman onto my radar, the thing that qualified her for today’s ‘Good People’, in researching Talar, I found something else!

As Alejandro López, writing for the Gainesville Sun stated, “Talar Terzian boasts a loaded résumé that would make a college graduate blush. She’s traveled the world on the strength of her scientific acumen. She’s helped author a handful of research articles. She’s founded a volunteer organization to help female veterans, and sits as first-chair clarinetist with the Oak Hall Pit Orchestra.”


Recently named to the International Science Olympiad, Talar’s love for science stretches back to sixth grade. Motivated by her science teacher, she entered the science fair, creating a natural, organic laundry detergent that would eventually win her the regional title.

Last year, Talar was recognized for the portable washing machine she built from landfill-bound material and fitted with a biosand filter of her own design. Used in conjunction with steel-meshed screens, the resulting biofilm removes phosphates from the water before it is reused for irrigation.  Move over, Euell Gibbons!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am exhausted just from reading about all this girl has done in her short 16 years!!!

These three are but a small sample of the young people, our future scientists, politicos, doctors, lawyers and more, who are already making their mark on the world.  I think they give us good reason to hope for an even brighter future, don’t you?

Note to Readers:  You may remember my Good People post on February 7th  featuring Dr. Daniel Ivankovich?  Two weeks ago, much to my amazement, I received a message via Facebook Messenger from none other than Dr. Ivankovich himself!  This is the second time since I started the Good People feature that the subject of my post has contacted me to thank me.  It is such a heartwarming experience … beyond words!  I wanted to share our short conversation with you:


Good People Doing Good Things — Today’s Youth

We hear much negativity about the youth of today.  In reality, it has always been this way, for I remember hearing my parents say they just didn’t know what the world would come to when this next generation was in charge. They shook their heads at the love beads, Beatles music and bell-bottom pants. And even I am guilty of shaking my head and sighing a deep sigh when I see a young man with the waist of his pants midway to his knees, or a young woman who seems intent on “letting it all hang out”.  But, as with most anything else, the negative examples seem to be the ones we see, the ones getting all the attention.  Today, I would like to introduce you to some young people who are truly doing good things and making our future look just a little brighter..

delgado.jpgMelanie Delgado’s parents emigrated from Peru to the U.S., determined to find greater opportunities. Her father, who owns his own painting and construction company, along with her mother, who helps with secretarial and outreach work for the company, have sacrificed for years to allow their daughter to have more than they were given. Melanie wants to honor her parents’ determination, and she is certainly doing just that.

Melanie attends the American University in Washington, D.C., where she is scheduled to graduate next year … at age 20 … with a degree in Public Health.  Her ultimate goal is to earn a medical degree and open a medical clinic in a low-income Hispanic neighborhood. During her senior year at the Academy of the Holy Cross, she had an internship at National Institute of Health (NIH), a program typically reserved for college students.  All of which is admirable, but not what earned her a slot in this Good People post.

Melanie is a consummate volunteer.  She started while still in middle school, volunteering at Ardens Court nursing home in Kensington, visiting elderly residents there who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. “I love the people there. They’re so kind. They’ve seen me grow since I was young. I’ve grown a connection with each one of them… They call me their grandchild.”

On Saturday mornings, she volunteers as a tutor with the Latino Student Fund, teaching young children science, English and math, and helping them learn how to read. As a member of an immigrant family, she can relate to them. “When I’m working with them, when I see them catch onto a concept and just conquer it, I can see myself in their eyes.”

She also volunteers at the Next Step Public Charter school, working with immigrants who want to do everything from finish their G.E.D. to learn English. Melanie’s desire to give back centers on the needy Latino community. She knows the pressure Latino students feel to start work as soon as possible, and she wants them to know that college is possible, that they can achieve their loftiest goals. “A lot of the Latino community question themselves: Is it important to go to college? Or should I get a job? The Latino Student Fund showed me that Hispanics have the resources to go to college.”

Most recently, Melanie spent a semester working with HIV and AIDS patients in a slum in Kenya. This is a young woman whose heart is in the right place, whose energy seems to know no limits, and who is giving of herself every day.

nandalalMarco Nandalal may be only 17, but he and his brother Mario have made real differences in their community of Belcamp, Maryland. They collected books & book related “buddies” like stuffed toys, plastic animal figures, etc., and delivered them to hospitals and homeless shelters. Last Easter, they prepared Easter baskets for delivery to homeless, sick and foster children to show them that they have not been forgotten, that someone cares.  Marco’s goal is to work with like-minded youth who embrace community service as a means of building a better world for everyone. Marco realizes that each project, whether addressing literacy or hunger, empowers the youth-filled group and makes small positive changes in his community.

patel17-year-old Avni Patel of Pleasanton, California, was inspired by the stories her grandfather told her about his life and the hardships that people faced in Zambia. These stories made her aware of the tremendous need for health care in remote areas of the world. Avni discovered that the Mambalima Hospital had several volunteer orthopedic surgeons, but lacked the orthopedic instruments needed to complete essential surgeries.

Initially, Avni thought she would petition hospitals to donate their used surgical instruments, but she soon discovered that hospitals are not allowed, by law, to donate used equipment.  So Avni went on a massive fund-raising mission, contributing most of her own paycheck from her job as Pleasanton City Youth Commissioner. With teamwork and coordination among various individuals and organizations, Avni was able to raise the money to purchase and donate 96 sets of stainless steel instruments that will enable the surgeons at Mambalima Hospital to perform much-needed surgeries.

ennis.jpgJuli Ennis of Kennebunk, Maine may only be 16 years of age, but she is already doing much to help the elderly in her community. Along with two of her classmates, Juli started a community service project in 8th grade that has continued through their sophomore year in high school. They connect generations through music and provide seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s music therapy via customized playlists of their generation. Part of Juli’s mission is to help patients by triggering memories, bringing joy, and engaging people who might otherwise be completely withdrawn.

Juli and her two classmates, Jason and Colby, founded Project Playback with the goal of bridging the gap between today’s youth and seniors through music. Not only does this project help patients with dementia, but it also allows today’s youth to connect with a population and era that they may not have had a relationship with before. They visit a local nursing home 2 or 3 times a week to help them out through music. Juli is looking to enter the field of music therapy as a career and help others, as she has received such personal rewards from this project.

This is but a small sampling of young people whose compassion and humanitarianism know no bounds.  Granted, they may not be rescuing hurricane victims, building houses or adopting special needs kids, but they are, in their own way, moving mountains.  Give them time, and these kids are going to do their part to make this world a better place.