Carpenter Maria Klemperer-Johnson is used to being the only woman on the construction site—but, thanks in part to her own work, that is beginning to change.
She's leading a class of eight women in the construction of a tiny house in upstate New York, and hopes that the growing number of similar classes around the country will lead to greater gender equality in the construction sector.
According to the US Department of Labor, carpentry jobs are expected to grow 20 percent between 2010 and 2020 (significantly more than the average job growth rate of 14 percent), with a median wage of $19 an hour.
But the sector is extraordinarily male-dominated. As of 2011, women held 1.4 percent of carpentry positions in the United States—a number that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics says has largely remained consistent over the last 35 years. Unless something changes, women will miss out on the almost 200,000 new carpentry jobs the bureau expects to see created in the next decade.
Women in construction often face harassment and discrimination, as well as limited networking opportunities that stunt career advancement.
"You're up against this assumption that you don't know anything," Klemperer-Johnson explains. "Many women are never taught those skill sets when they're young, and so they don't feel comfortable walking onto a construction site to ask for a job, the way many men do getting started."
Klemperer-Johnson, a master carpenter and contractor, got her start as an apprentice cabinet builder at Red Barn Cabinet Shop in Brooktondale, N.Y. There she learned joinery and traditional cabinet building before moving on to work in home construction. She took advanced classes in timber framing at the Heartwood School in Washington, Mass., where she says she was almost always the only female student.
In 2005 she and her partner, Scott, began construction of their highly sustainable timber frame and strawbale home in Hector, N.Y. The straw insulation came from a local farmer, and the timbers were cut and milled from trees on their land.
"It took us about two years to build," explained Klemperer-Johnson in an email, "but I was pregnant for the first nine months of that, and then went back to work full time while Scott finished the house." At the same time, she founded her contracting company, DoubleDog Timberworks, which is also the venue for her classes.
Klemperer-Johnson's classes in carpentry for women debuted in the spring of 2013. In the first one, eight women are collaboratively building the walls and infrastructure of a tiny house, repurposing a 1987 camper trailer for the base. The house will be about 165 square feet in size and should be complete by January 2014.
"We started with basic tool skills and measuring to build the floor and cut and measure the plywood walls," explained Elizabeth Coakley, a student in the class who also funded the construction of the house.
The women who enroll in Klemperer-Johnson's classes come from all different backgrounds and levels of experience, she says, and many have told her that the all-women environment made them feel more comfortable.
"Some women come with very little experience with this kind of physical work," she says, "and watching their bodily comfort increase is gratifying to see."
Klemperer-Johnson believes having an all-women's space for teaching carpentry skills is a step toward addressing the gender imbalance in this sector—and she's not the only one. All over the country, there are small signs of support for women in carpentry and other "nontraditional" occupations.
The Heartwood School, where Klemperer-Johnson studied, currently offers a class in carpentry for women, as does Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Warren, Vt., and the Workshop for Women in Denver.
In New York City, ReNEW, a branch of NEW Nontraditional Employment for Women is offering free, six-week intensive pre-apprenticeship programs for women who want to go into carpentry, solar panel installation, and other "green collar" jobs.
Support for women carpenters extends to the federal level. In 2012, the US Department of Labor announced its allocation of $1.8 million in grants for women in "nontraditional" occupations. The grant money is going to six different organizations aimed at better supporting women seeking long-term careers in manufacturing, transportation, and construction.
These federal grants "will better connect women with apprenticeships, helping them to gain skills in fields that offer long-term career opportunities," Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis wrote in a press release in June of 2012.
Despite these signs, there is still a long way to go. On Aug. 18, The New York Daily News reported that of the hundreds of hopefuls lined up outside the New York City District Council of Carpenters to land a spot in its carpenter's apprenticeship program, only one women, Gina Giuliano, applied.
Klemperer-Johnson hopes her carpentry classes will be an entrance point for women to become paid apprentices at DoubleDog Timberworks. It's her dream to build an organization supporting women learning carpentry skills by building tiny houses.
"Tiny houses are great for teaching," she says. "You can build them inside all year round, they use fewer resources, and teach a wide range of skills."
Encouraged by positive feedback from students, Klemperer-Johnson is excited to continue developing the series. It's just a matter of how.
"I'm currently pursuing funding options to expand the physical plant as well as our online presence," Klemperer-Johnson says. "The demand for these classes is there, and now it's a matter of developing the infrastructure to make them sustainable."
• Erika Lundahl wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Erika is an editorial intern at YES!
• This article originally appeared at YES! Magazine.
The Andes Mountains, the largest mountain range in the world, are home to 32 percent of Peru’s population, many of which rank among the poorest communities in the country. The struggle to keep crops and livestock alive in the harsh conditions brings many to either leave for hope of a better life in the city (which often fails to provide relief due to the mass amount of people with this same sentiment all unable to find work), or be stuck with little hope of creating a better life in their own community.
As I sat in the back of a taxi driving through these mountains, headed to Granja Porcón, a small farm town, I watched the landscape change from arid, grassy, cold plains to a beautiful forest of pine trees. I noticed that the trees were growing in perfectly straight lines, though. And then, I learned they are all planted by hand – all 13 million of them.
Forestry has saved this once desolate and poor area. It has created jobs, income, and resources for new businesses, all because of the trees.
Problem: Poverty in the Andes Mountains due to limited natural resources.
The people in this region were among the poorest in all of Peru and only had livestock as a source of income. There was no fuel. Freezing temperatures would kill their crops. There were no roads to connect them to the cities. And potable water was scarce. Work options were limited.
Solution: Plant trees and use forestry as a means to create jobs and income.
“Planting trees where opportunities exist can generate much-needed income, especially through the establishment of community-based enterprises,” states Chapter 3 of Better Forestry, Less Poverty (published in 2006 by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations).
In the 1950s, the Peruvian government began promoting the creation of cooperatives, farms, and businesses owned and operated by its members, who share the profits and benefits. An evangelical cooperative called The Workers Agrarian Cooperative Atahualpa Jerusalem (more commonly known by the city’s name, Granja Porcón) was created about 45 minutes outside of Cajamarca.
Its leader, Don Alejandro Quispe Chilón, believed that planting trees would be the means to lift his people out of poverty. However, the people did not believe in Chilón’s vision at first. In fact, he was deemed, crazy, in need of a doctor. This was an area known for straw grasses; no one wanted to wait 20 years to see trees mature.
“The people here would ask me, ‘So what, you’re going to give us sticks to eat?’ ” said Chilón. “‘We aren’t going to eat the sticks,’ I would tell them. ‘We will eat because of the sticks.’”
In the 1970s, he pushed forward. He planted 1,000 hectares (about 2,500 acres) of trees, which caught the attention of Belgian representatives, who were looking to invest in forestry in Peru. The Belgian corporation was impressed by what the people of Granja Porcón had done.
Subsequently, they decided to invest in this area. Why? They were drawn to the people: a hard-working community focused on creating a better life for themselves. Belgium helped provide training and resources, and invested in research to find which types of trees would work best in the harsh Andean environment, eventually settling on pines.
“They planted with the thought that in the future if they wanted to have a program that would have a successful economic and social impact, they would need to start from square one, using a very organized and ordered system,” said Charles Carton, the Belgium forester who has been working with Peru since the beginning of this program.
“The trees are all planted in rows, 3 feet by 3 feet apart. If the soil is good, you are able to harvest them by their 20th year. The cooperative has a strict rule of planting two trees for every one tree cut down,” Chilón said.The result: Job creation and a steady flow of income for the people of Granja Porcón.
The project hasn’t been without its struggles and failures, but overall the lives of the people in Granja Porcón have improved, and people from other areas in Peru have asked to become a part of the cooperative because of the stable and good life they can have here.
“The house, the log, the wood, completely changed the life of the women and the people,” said Carton. “They now have fuel to cook, a means to boil water, it gives them a way to have light in the evenings and meet up as a family because before this was not possible.”
Stand alone, solid structures have been erected; whereas before, mud and straw huts dotted the landscape. Roads have been built, and new businesses such as artisan shops, dairy production, restaurants, and even a hostel (for tourists to come and spend the night in) are now creating livelihoods.
“As a nurse, I have seen an improvement in the health of people,” said Manuel Quispe Chilón, one of the members of the cooperative who saw the program evolve from Day One. “Now there is even family planning, because before people were having 8 or 10, 12 children. With family planning they now have about 1 or 2. Potable water is also available now, and it wasn’t previously.”
Schools have also been constructed, whereas before people didn’t think they should have schools or education, for fear that education would make their children want to leave to find jobs and not herd the sheep, Chilón explained to me. He taught himself to read while tending to the sheep when he was young. He told me stories of how he would dig through trash cans to find old newspapers in order to learn how to read.
Could it work other places?
“Yes of course,” he answered when I asked him this question. “The only thing that I would say, which I’ve told those that have come here from other regions, is you have to be honest. You also have to have the goal to benefit the whole town, not only benefit yourself or a specific group.”
The opportunity to create other communities and resources such as this exists. However, the conditions of Granja Porcón make it a rare and exceptional case. This place is a cooperative full of people all willing to work together for the greater good and share the benefits and profits. They are all dedicated to the evangelical faith and made the joint decision to not allow drinking and drugs for any members of the cooperative, saving them a lot of money and creating a sense of responsibility and determination throughout the cooperative. They are incredibly hardworking and honest, all striving to create a better future.
“We’re getting there,” said Carton when asked how he felt the progress of the project was going. “Not everything is finished, and we are still far from being perfect. But the will and the work is here. It’s not a paradise without problems, but at least we can walk together with hope. I feel like this is a suitable solution.”
Fishing nets left behind in the sea twist and tangle, trapping fish and killing dolphins, sea lions, and other marine mammals.
Ghost Fishing, a global network of highly skilled volunteer divers, is working hard to clean up the underwater mess caused by abandoned fishing nets.
“It is very important to show the world how big the problem is that we are talking about,” says Pascal van Erp, founder of Ghost Fishing, which is based in the Netherlands. “There are lots of nets out in the oceans. For years, nobody cared about it.”
Mr. van Erp leads a team of 30 to 40 volunteer divers in the North Sea.
“In the last three years, we have made 100 dives and removed 10 tons of fishing gear from the sea,” he says. The nets are then recycled into socks and other textiles.
The vagaries of nature and fundraising pose challenges for the volunteer groups that make up Ghost Fishing. Mr. van Erp says that because of the North Sea’s strong waves, he and his volunteers can do the deep dives only from May to September.
Each dive costs between $2,000 and $2,700. So far, the North Sea group’s only source of support has come from the Dutch government: $530,400 from a pool created by the sale of lottery tickets.
And the work is dangerous.
“It’s the most difficult type of diving I’ve ever done,” says Heather Hamza, one of roughly 50 volunteer divers who make up Los Angeles Underwater Explorers.
Divers have to deal with silt limiting their visibility and the possibility of getting snared in the old nets. Perhaps the most serious threat: If divers get tangled in the lift bags they use to carry old nets to the surface, they could rocket out of the water too fast and become very ill or even die.
That’s why her Ghost Fishing-affiliated organization, which dives off southern California coasts, solicits help only from divers with advanced, almost military-like training.
The pace of progress can be frustrating.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m cleaning the beach with a teaspoon,” Ms. Hamza says.
Her group is pushing to pass a state law that would require fishing vessels to report lost nets immediately.
“If you can find these nets right away, it’s so much easier to clean up,” she says.
• This article originally appeared on the website of The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
It was 2007, and I was disillusioned with corporate life after building and starting up the world’s largest, fully automated cocoa-processing line.
My plans were to take the company to $1 billion in revenue. I had left a promising career at Hershey’s in 2005 to venture onto a playing field I thought I could control, but the investors accepted a purchase offer that would give that opportunity to the largest chocolate maker in the world – a Swiss company.
It had been a painful lesson, wanting me to leave the food industry behind. It left me feeling hopeless that I could do long-term good under another’s authority – as peoples’ motives seemed to change as time progressed.
So I embarked on a spiritual journey that led to self-reflection. It included an in-depth analysis on my motivated abilities from SIMA International. A 28-page report summarized to "Don likes to engineer and implement unique, comprehensive solutions to daunting multi-faceted problems."
As the journey progressed, I reflected on an instance that had been haunting me since 2004. I was in the Ghana airport back and had recently turned 40. I was moved into Commodities as Director of Cocoa Operations for Hershey to bring innovation and opportunity.
We had just surfaced from the African bush assessing the cocoa crop that would bring delicious chocolate to the mouths of millions. As we sat in the lounge, a conversation which had started with a group of college graduates turned uncomfortable when they discovered that I was one of the largest cocoa buyers in the world.
Looks of warmth and welcoming turned to looks of disgust as they remarked that people were in poverty because of the prices Hershey was paying for the cocoa.
Wait a minute! We were buying all that cocoa from these farmers through the commodities market. Hershey was the company providing income for millions of families. We were part of the solution, not part of the problem. It’s the market (the law of supply and demand) that dictates the price.
These graduates talked abou "Fair Trade" as the solution, but artificially raising the price of a good eventually creates an imbalance in supply that would lead the prices to come crashing down for lack of demand. I think "Fair Trade’"is an option at small scale for people willing to support the movement.
That airport conversation kept me unsettled because a long-term business model designed to eradicate poverty didn’t exist. Now it was 4 years later, and I had just been told my passion was to solve the most difficult of problems with comprehensive solutions.
Not many get to see the impoverished lives in Africa. It was something that was indelibly etched in my mind. It wasn’t long on my journey before the idea popped into my head “build food factories in third world nations to bring lasting economic transformation.”
The more I pondered this possibility, the more focused a concept became. The concept I have named “The Sunshine Approach.” It is a business model that brings hope, philanthropy, purpose, dignity, and competitive excellence. I would bring the elements of my past into this concept.
Those elements were high-performing teams, competence, competitiveness, leverage, scalability, and common sense.
I had staffed that cocoa -processing factory with a team of five multi-disciplined engineers instead of the average 20 employees in similar factories around the world. When you run equipment at peak efficiency with a lean team, and you make it fun to work there – it makes it hard for your competitors. There is nothing better than tapping into the unlimited potential of employees. People need to see their value in the chain, be appreciated for their contribution, and given the freedom to excel.
What is possible in rural Africa?
At a meat-processing company in my early 20s, I was the sole engineer for two factories and handled 37 capital-equipment installation projects involving 73 new pieces of production machinery over a span of five years. This also included the design and building of plant additions and a distribution center. This experience gave me the confidence to handle any project – especially in third world conditions.
When asked to help the Hershey plant in Mexico during the country’s devaluation in 1994, I moved the Giant Kiss production from an automated line in Hershey to a fully manual line in Mexico and was able to demonstrate significant savings using people instead of machines. This experience serves well for Africa, where my desire is to employ people. As an industrial engineer with a minor in automation, I have learned there is no machine or robot that has the versatility and capability of a human mind.
When a new CEO arrived at Hershey in 2001 and brought in his external team of purchasing consultants expecting to cut out millions of dollars, they found little because I had captured that opportunity five years earlier. Suddenly I was in a newly created position as Director of Global Sourcing with an edict to the entire company from that new CEO stating “I don’t want a penny spent without Don Larson approving the buying strategy.”
I had the time of my life those two years leveraging and negotiating over $100 million in savings to the company’s bottom line. That led to an annual oversight of $1.4 billion in another newly created position of Director of Strategic Sourcing.
It pains me to see the waste of resources in Africa. The process of volume aggregation and leverage can make a dollar seem like multiples of a dollar.
Back in 1997, Hershey had introduced boxed chocolates to the USA. The 75-year-old factory in Nova Scotia was unable to scale its production and was losing millions. I relocated in a month to manage operations and immediately stopped the hemorrhaging. Over the next three years, we went from 250 employees to over 700. It will be much easier to scale manual operations in Africa when growth occurs.
Common sense is needed in solutions. When you witness pallets of cheap liquor in tiny bottles arriving in remote villages at harvest time, while the children are hungry and diseased, you realize that giving the farmers additional money beyond the fair market price might not be the best plan.
I did some free consulting for the Tanzanian government in 2009. They toured me around the country looking at farms. Farmers didn’t need to know better techniques, as some were teaching them. Half of their crop was rotting in the fields. They needed a market. The consultants told them to export fresh produce to Europe, but they didn’t have the roads, ports, or discipline to be viable.
They needed food processing – the ability to convert their harvests to shelf stable. Food would then be good for years – allowing export and stopping hunger in periods of scarcity.
The Sunshine Approach incorporates the above elements and purposely focuses on Transformation. I knew about the triple bottom line model of financial, environmental, and social. But giving to the poor and needy wasn’t enough. It had to go beyond social to include transformational. That is why I coined the term "Quadruple Bottom Line’." The Sunshine Approach would incorporate financial, environmental, social, and transformational objectives.
This business model is built on a 90 percent distribution of the company’s net proceeds back to the poor and orphaned in Africa. The sale of products in the world’s finest retailers provides the engine for transformation. It would involve small farm holders in Africa and pay them fairly. We would locate food-processing factories near the farming communities to bring them a market and jobs. These world-class factories would be used to teach food processing at the local universities.
The 90 percent distribution would include 30 percent going back to the farmers through "hand-ups" not handouts – projects like clean water wells, nutritional supplements, and so on to raise the standard of living. We will leverage purchases of fertilizer, tree saplings, building materials, well-drilling, medical supplies, etc., with the allocated proceeds to make every dollar seem like multiples.
Another 30 percent would go to orphan care. Our factories would hire a large percentage of young adults leaving these orphanages, further educate them, and look to promote them into positions of leadership.
The final 30 percent would build food companies in other African nations in different food categories to spread the prosperity resulting from The Sunshine Approach.
So I am now on the road to execution of this model. That road led me to Mozambique where I have lived with my family the last two years building The Sunshine Nut Company. Our small roasting factory’s 50 employees will mean employment for over 1,000 employees in the shelling factories and 50,000 farming families receiving fair pricing for the cashews we purchase.
Look for the sale of these delicious products to be the engine to drive transformation among the poor, the orphaned, and those wanting opportunity.
Providing hope never tasted so good.
• Don Larson is founder and CEO of The Sunshine Nut Company.
• This article originally appeared at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, the premier international platform for accelerating entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues.
Cities are rife with sharing opportunities. That's kind of the point of cities, when you think about it. Shared infrastructure, culture, and space are what make cities dynamos of the global economy.
And when citizens and governments plan a city together, an even more shareable city is possible. Increased innovation, resilience, and prosperity can follow.
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Below are 12 policy ideas to consider for your city from Shareable and Sustainable Economies Law Center's just released 40-page guide, Policies for Shareable Cities: A Sharing Economy Policy Primer for Urban Leaders:
To paraphrase Rachel Botsman, you don't need a car, you need a ride. Enter the rise of access over ownership in the transportation sector. With car-sharing, ride-sharing, and bike-sharing taking hold, old-school public transit systems no longer have to bear so much of the burden of getting people around in cities.
Here are some policies that are taking shareable transportation to the next level:
1. DESIGNATED, DISCOUNTED, OR FREE PARKING FOR CARSHARING: Easy parking is consistently one of the most cited incentives by folks who share cars. They know they are special, and they appreciate it when cities acknowledge their effort. Washington, D.C., has had one of these programs in play since 2005, with San Francisco starting one this year.
2. CREATE ECONOMIC INCENTIVES FOR RIDE-SHARING: Sometimes cities need to wave a couple of carrots in order to get people to follow along. Ride-sharing is one of those instances. To overcome the presupposed inconveniences of the practice, economic incentives could be implemented, including high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, discounted parking, and reduced tolls.
3. ADOPT A CITYWIDE PUBLIC BIKE-SHARING PROGRAM: Quite a few cities have hopped on the bike-sharing bandwagon in recent years, and pretty much all of the other cities should, too. When access is noted as the biggest barrier to entry, fall back on the tried-and-true wisdom of Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come. Boston, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Washington, D.C., are all proof of that.
Food miles and security are two big issues facing cities today. How is Big Box Grocer going to feed the people down the line? It's not ... not completely, anyway. Local farms, community gardens, CSAs, and their ilk are picking up more and more of the local food slack. Cities can boost public health, build community, save energy, and reduce waste by supporting the local food movement.
4. FINANCIAL INCENTIVES TO ENCOURAGE URBAN AGRICULTURE ON VACANT LOTS: In every vacant lot, there is a community garden waiting to grow. Tax credits for the property owners could go a long way toward developing food sources, economic opportunity, and civic engagement in otherwise blighted areas. "Plus, you get strawberries," to quote urban agriculture hero Ron Finley. Philadelphia has already implemented a successful program in this category.
5. CREATE FOOD-GLEANING CENTERS AND PROGRAMS: The amount of food wasted from farm to grocer to table adds up to about 40 percent of the total. Why not encourage the food producers and distributors to redistribute the not-perfect products to those in need? Iowa City, Iowa, got some USDA funding to set up its food-gleaning operation.
6. MOBILE FOOD VENDING: Even though food trucks seem to be taking over some cities, the launching of such a venture is a really big deal. If restrictions were loosened a bit, those mobile vendors might be willing to serve a wider demographic and make food deserts a thing of the past. Look no further than Chicago and Austin, Texas, to see this idea in action.
Like food, housing is one of the basic necessities of life. We experience it from an early age through our families as something shared. Cities can extend shared housing beyond family and benefit greatly from stronger communities and more affordable housing.
7. SUPPORT THE DEVELOPMENT OF COOPERATIVE HOUSING: Rents in major metropolitan areas are, quite frankly, ridiculously high. By banding together, like-minded residents can usually get more bang for their buck. Cities should see that as a good thing.
8. ENCOURAGE THE DEVELOPMENT OF SMALL APARTMENTS AND “TINY” HOMES: Municipal codes often include size restrictions for housing units that prohibit things like micro-apartments, tiny houses, yurts, and container homes — all of which are affordable, sustainable, shareable options. San Francisco recently amended its public policy to allow these units.
9. FACTOR SHARING INTO THE DESIGN REVIEW OF NEW DEVELOPMENTS: Forward-thinking urban planning is vital to creating a Shareable City. Housing that encourages resident interaction and properties that include mixed-use units both start with a smart design, as evidenced in London Grove Township, Penn.
Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! The sharing economy has a lot of potential to create jobs if only cities would help with policies to "lower the cost of starting businesses by supporting innovations like shared workspaces, shared commercial kitchens, community-financed startups, community-owned commercial centers, and spaces for 'pop-up' businesses." Oh, and cooperatives ... they create high paying jobs that don't leave the community and are more resilient.
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10. EXPAND ALLOWABLE HOME OCCUPATIONS TO INCLUDE SHARING ECONOMY ENTERPRISE: The zoning codes that separate home life from commercial life — thereby making it illegal for many people to generate income at home — needs to go. Full stop.
11. USE IDLE COMMERCIAL SPACES FOR COMMUNITY BENEFIT: The ratio of empty houses to homeless people is enough of a problem. Let cities not run the same game on commercial spaces. Instead, how about policies that facilitate the use of empty commercial spaces by startups in order to test products and services without a huge overhead and lease? Newcastle, Australia, and Richmond, Calif., boast two examples of this policy.
12. ASSIST COOPERATIVES THROUGH CITY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENTS: Local jobs, local money — that's what cooperatives are all about. Every city should provide support staff and resources to help folks wanting to set up a co-op. It's just good business. Cleveland and Madison, Wis., agree.
Read or download the full report to get even more ideas to support sharing in your city.
Women are the fastest-growing segment of the veteran population, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, but they face unique barriers in life after active duty, including difficulty gaining access to veterans' services.
That's partly because many women who have served in the military do not identify as veterans, according to Rebecca Murch, executive director of an annual veteran advocacy event called Seattle Stand Down.
Murch, who served in the Navy during the Gulf War, says there are several reasons why women may not think of themselves as veterans. Some think combat service is required for veteran status. "Others may be survivors of military sexual trauma, have been alienated by the system, and do not want to associate with anything military, even the V.A.," Murch said in an email.
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According to the website of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, "a person who served in the active military service and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable is a Veteran."
If a female vet doesn’t know that, or feels alienated from the military, she may not ever access the various services the Department of Veterans Affairs provides. That means she’ll miss out on benefits ranging from medical care and mental health services to employment and housing assistance.
Murch and the others who organize the Seattle Stand Down are working to change that. The event, now in its third year, provides services and support to homeless and at-risk veterans. In military lingo, the term "stand down" refers to a break from training or combat to attend to safety and health.
The Seattle event got its start after Dr. Paul Killpatrick, the president of Seattle Central Community College, learned about a similar event in San Diego. That one, which started in 1988, was the nation’s first Stand Down and takes place over the course of three days every year.
Killpatrick decided Seattle needed its own Stand Down event, so he reached out to Sam Barrett, an Army vet and Seattle Central student liaison for veterans on campus. When Killpatrick asked him to organize a Stand Down, Barrett jumped at the chance.
"I put together a team and a plan, both of which expanded as the weeks turned into months, and just dove into it with everything I had," Barrett said in an email.
The first event attracted plenty of veterans, but almost all were men. Killpatrick and the other organizers knew it was vital to reach women, so they brought Murch on board to develop a plan. She proposed they set aside an area just for female veterans.
The event is open to all veterans, but this year, like last year, Seattle Central's Broadway Performance Hall was reserved for women. Staffed by female volunteers, it offered similar services to those available at the rest of the event, which took place in the Mitchell Activity Center.
Nonprofits such as the anti-poverty group Solid Ground and domestic violence support group New Beginnings attended, as well as representatives of the state and federal Departments of Veterans Affairs. Students from the University of Washington School of Dentistry and organizations such as King County Public Health provided medical and dental services, and a cosmetology school down the street offered haircuts and manicures.
In both locations, tables were piled high with free clothing, backpacks, and other essentials. There were also several private rooms where women had access to resources and counseling for sexual assault in the military.
Forty women attended in 2012, but this year there seemed to be far fewer. Murch says that homeless female vets are difficult to reach with traditional forms of outreach, since they typically don't hang out in the places frequented by male vets. "When it comes to women, they may not be staying in the shelters because those are pretty male-dominated," she said.
While bringing out women remains a challenge, it's clear that the Seattle Stand Down is growing. It's been operating under the umbrella of the college's foundation for the past three years, but It's' preparing to step out on its own as a full-fledged nonprofit. Murch says the event also received grant funding this year, and for the first time all the veterans enjoyed a hot meal courtesy of the retraining program FareStart.
The event was clearly appreciated by the veterans in attendance. At nine in the morning, they were already lined up down the block.
"I got some new gear and food," said Steven, a Vietnam veteran attending the event for the first time. "I have no complaints."
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Another, who did not give his name, noted the immediate access to services and said he preferred the Stand Down to the Veterans Administration., which he said "can be a pain in the rear." The V.A. has received criticism for inefficiency and a massive backlog of claims.
The Stand Down also showcased the unique sense of community that veterans from all walks of life bring to the event.
"Most veterans don't forget about the communal bonds that are shared with others who have served, and most are looking to continue serving something bigger than themselves," Barrett told me.
As Murch says, the rule in combat is to never leave a fellow soldier behind. In the fight to end homelessness in Seattle, the organizers of the Stand Down are determined to bring every veteran home.
Lillian had had many dogs. So when she moved to the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield, Conn., she was delighted to meet Comet, an 11-1/2-year-old therapy dog.
Once a week a staff person brought the golden retriever to visit Lillian. She’d pet him, brush him, talk to him, and give him treats.
When it came time to light the Shabbat candles each Friday evening at sundown, Comet waited patiently outside the candelabra room. Lillian (who asked not to use her real name) fed him a treat and petted him on her way into the room, and stopped to pet him and give him a treat on her way out.
“Comet was very special to her and she was very special to him,” says Ellen Ashkins, the home’s Director for Resident Life.
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Dogs such as Comet are a vital addition to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and rehabilitation centers, Ms. Ashkins says. Because therapy dogs help residents stay engaged, active, and communicative an increasing number of centers across the country encourage their use.
Ashkins decided to train a therapy dog after she realized how many residents had had their own pets before they moved into the retirement home. So she enrolled in a training session at East Coast Assistance Dogs Inc. in Westchester County, N.Y. Comet, then a 2-year-old puppy, bounded up to her. A match was made.
[Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the location of East Coast Assistance Dogs Inc.]
During his training Comet mastered 60 commands including “my lap,” “snuggle,” “watch me,” “dress,” “kiss,” “hold,” “drop it,” and “turn around.”
That was nearly 10 years ago. Today the pair is almost inseparable. Comet lives with Ashkins; they ride to and from work together. Each morning he dons his work clothes: an olive green bandana.
Labradors are among the commonly used breeds for therapy dogs. All therapy dogs must be well mannered, friendly, and neither aggressive nor shy, says Sandra Lok, who runs Tails of Joy Inc., an animal therapy organization based in Cromwell, Conn.
Ms. Lok often brings dogs to dementia units, rehabilitation units, and assisted living facilities.
“I’ve found that therapy dogs soothe even the most affected patients,” Lok says.
Therapy dogs can also help patients retain and improve certain gross motor skills. For those in rehab, simply brushing a dog can help improve arm extension. Talking to and petting a dog like Comet can help draw out residents who may feel isolated.
“The dogs offer residents and patients an opportunity to touch something soft and furry,” Lok says. “The dogs get them to make eye contact. The animal visits ease loneliness.”
Many organizations exist for people interested in training therapy dogs. The American Kennel Club’s website provides links to therapy groups across the country. It also provides information on training clubs and breeders.
Over his years of service Comet has also connected generations. One elderly gentleman lives in one area of the Jewish home while his wife lives in another area. When their great-granddaughter visits she always asks them to bring her to see Comet.
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“It is a wonderful intergenerational visit with the great-grandparents and their great-granddaughter visiting with Comet,” Ashkins says. “He enjoys their visits, and they enjoy his company. It enhances their visits with each other, seeing their smiles and engaging in conversation.”
At 97 pounds Comet resembles a giant teddy bear; and he’s got the sweet disposition to match.
“He’s a ball of love, that’s what he is,” Ashkins says.
Last month, a 20-year-old young man by the name of Michael Hill walked into an elementary school in Decatur, Ga., with an assault rifle, two bags filled with 500 rounds of ammunition, and a plan that would dump salt into an American wound that seems like it may never heal.
However, what ultimately occurred was an act of compassion that thwarted a potentially devastating loss of life. The difference? The brave and compassionate actions of Antoinette Tuff, a clerk at the school—an everyday woman who saw past Michael's violent posturing to see a tortured young man.
Recurring mass shootings point to a problem within the larger system.
When these types of all-too-common events occur, we often hear about the bravery of those involved—the victims, the families, the police, and other responders. But this is the first time we’ve heard about a brave and compassionate response to such a grave threat.
When things go wrong in this society, our first response is often to find and punish those involved. Perhaps it's to make an example of them. Or to satisfy a more basic impulse for revenge. We are good at doling out punishment in this country; just take a quick look at our prison and incarceration data.
Since 1982, this country has endured over 60 mass shootings. More than half of those shootings have occurred in the last 15 years, beginning with the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. Punishing an individual for a single crime may remove or discourage that individual public threat; however, when we are met with recurring tragic events, such as the recent rash of mass shooting, this points to a larger problem within the larger system, of which the individual only makes up one part.
In the media furor following such shootings, we begin to ask ourselves how this happened. This often sparks a somewhat superficial debate about guns or video games, with the usual political suspects taking their seemingly preordained sides—blindly pointing fingers and/or defending their standard political positions.
And instead of scrutinizing their own positions or wondering what else can be done, they stick to their political talking points, afraid of risking their own political party's favor in the service of their country. And so we (the American people) are left to endure months of political theater about gun laws and video game ratings, while our lawmakers pass vapid and toothless legislation, and pat themselves on the back for a "job well-done."
In order to prevent such occurrences in the future, we have to look beyond the furor of blame and punishment.
Meanwhile, young men continue to spiral out of control—killing our children in a process of what is clearly a last, desperate, and often fatal cry for help. And instead of answering that cry, we point at these young men as the archetypes of villainy.
Don't misunderstand. I do not condone their crimes. But as a scientist and student of psychology, I know that in order to prevent such occurrences in the future, we have to look beyond the furor of blame and punishment. We need to understand what motivates these young men to perpetrate such heinous acts and address the impetus for their motivations.
All too often we are infatuated with how something happened, without stopping to consider "why?" We content ourselves with the notion that these young men are just "sick" or "mentally unstable." Yet, these apathetic dismissals stagnate our ability as a society to understand why certain young men act out in this way. And such dismissals ultimately prevent us from finding real solutions that work.
Last month, trapped in a terrible situation and fearing for her life, Antoinette Tuff reached out to a would-be killer (that is, a young man) with compassion and empathy.
Here are a few of the words she said to Michael Hill and to dispatchers on the school intercom (the full transcript is available at CNN):
I can help you.
No, it does matter. I can let them know that you have not tried to harm me or do anything to me.
Well, don’t feel bad, baby, my husband just left me after 33 years.
We not gonna hate you, baby.
He wants me to go on the intercom and tell everybody that he’s sorry.
It’s going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know that I love you, though, and that I’m proud of you.
We all go through something in life.
If just one compassionate conversation with a stranger could compel this young man to lay down his arms and reconsider his violent intent, what might have occurred if this young man had felt this level of compassion from someone in his life days, weeks, or years earlier?
Beyond their demographic profile, the young men who commit these types of violent crimes tend to have one thing in common: they are socially isolated. The perpetrators of these crimes are often young men with few people in their lives who they believe truly care about them. They feel as though they have nothing and no one to live for.
What these young men really want and need is what all of us want and need: to know that we are truly loved and valued by someone—anyone.
They are (at the very least) intensely depressed. And often have additional pervasive cognitive or emotional disabilities such as schizophrenia or antisocial personality disorder. However, it is important to understand that it is the combination of these disturbances that can lead to the potential for violence.
Aggressive impulses are a common symptom of male depression. But the majority of otherwise stable men find ways to express their aggression without hurting others—playing sports, shouting at the television, even punching a wall.
But it is severe, longstanding depression, combined with additional serious mental deficits, that compel a few young men to extreme acts of violence. But what these young men really want and need is what all of us, as human beings, want and need: to know that we are truly loved and valued by someone.
Antoinette Tuff showed a young man this type of genuine compassion, even while he was in the midst of pursuing terrible acts. And having gotten the one, true thing that caused him to show up to that school in the first place—acknowledgement, love, and compassion from another person—Michael put down his gun and turned himself in.
• This article originally appeared in The Good Men Project. Dr. Aqualus Gordon earned his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas, Austin. He specializes in men's issues, male psychology, and human sexuality. He currently lives in New Hampshire, where he is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
San Francisco-based social enterprise d.light used to produce between 20,000 and 30,000 of its solar-powered lamps a month, selling them to people in rural Africa and India with limited access to electricity.
Today, it makes more than 500,000 per month, thanks to a very big customer: the French oil and gas company Total, which sells d.light's products as part of “Access to Energy Program” throughout Africa on a business-to-consumer basis.
The program brought challenges for both sides, according to Donn Tice, d.light’s chairman and CEO, and Robinson Alazraki, head of products development and purchase at Total's "Access to Energy Program," who discussed their collaboration during a September panel at SOCAP, a conference that aims to increase the flow of capital towards social good.
But the partnership worked because d.light and Total have a shared purpose: to get solar appliances into the hands of customers at an affordable price, Tice said.
To meet Total's standards, the for-profit social enterprise had to increase its production and the quality of its lamps, which charge on their own during the daytime, shine for at least four hours at night, and are designed to last more than five years.
Two years ago the company conducted a significant product recall, one that required a “seven-figure” commitment to make right, Tice said.
“If it goes wrong ... it goes wrong on a large scale,” he said.
Asked for his advice on partnering with a multinational, Tice said: “Fasten your seat belt low and tight around your waist and prepare for turbulence.”
Total's Alazraki said it was a tough task to convince senior management that partnering with d.light to supply its goods to consumers – both as a social benefit and as a business proposition – was worthwhile.
“[Terms like] base of the pyramid, ‘social entrepreneurship’– it was like speaking Chinese to senior management,” Alazraki said.
The standard model d.light lamp costs $30, a significant investment for d.light's core customers. But the company has sold about 3 million lamps in the last five years after it found out that people – even if they only earn a few dollars per day – are willing to pay for a product that improves their lives.
Solar lamps aren’t new but they will have a growing role to play in providing inexpensive and safe evening lights in parts of the world without the money or grid access for electricity, or in places looking for more sustainable sources of light, experts said.
Kerosene lamps, still in use in many parts of the developing world, can cost at least $10 to run, produce toxic fumes, and can cause burns if knocked over.
It was a kerosene lamp accident that gave birth to d.light.
In 2004, when d.light co-founder Sam Goldman was in Benin on a Peace Corps mission, his neighbor’s son was badly burned by an overturned kerosene lamp. This incident, along with the knowledge that 2.3 billion people in the world still do not have access to reliable electricity, inspired him to learn more about affordable design solutions and to develop his first prototype lamp with co-founder Ned Tozun.
• This article originally appeared at Thomson Reuters Foundation, a source of news, information, and connections for action. It provides programs that trigger change, empower people, and offer concrete solutions.
An American anti-chemical weapons advocate, a Palestinian human rights campaigner, a Congolese surgeon who helps wartime rape victims and a Swiss pioneer of pest control for sustainable agriculture have been named winners of this year's Right Livelihood Awards.
Paul Walker, the U.S. director of environmental security at Green Cross International, will share the 2 million Swedish kronor ($312,000) prize with Palestinian lawyer Raji Sourani, surgeon Denis Mukwege and Hans Rudolf Herren and the Biovision Foundation he founded 15 years ago. The prize is also known as the "alternative Nobels."
The awards jury on Thursday cited the 67-year-old Walker for "working tirelessly to rid the world of chemical weapons." It said since 1995, Walker has led the U.S. branch of an organization set up by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev aimed at safely securing and eliminating nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional weapons globally. The jury said his leadership has helped eliminate more than 55,000 tons of chemical weapons.
Sourani, the first Palestinian to receive the award, was praised for defending and promoting human rights in Palestine and the Arab world for 35 years "under exceptionally difficult circumstances." As leader of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, Sourani organized the first fact-finding mission to Libya after the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi and has recently been training lawyers and human rights advocates in Syria.
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Based in the Gaza Strip, the 59-year-old lawyer has been imprisoned several times by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
"This award means that we must continue to struggle to defend the rights of the victims," Sourani told the AP in Gaza. "We must continue to reject all forms of human rights abuses . to struggle for the development of a democratic society and the strengthening of Palestinian civil society."
Mukwege, 58, is a gynecologist who has treated more than 40,000 rape victims in Congo's war-torn Kivu region. He was credited for developing great expertise in the treatment of serious gynecological injuries and "speaking up about (rape's) root causes" despite attacks on his life.
Swiss agronomist Herren was cited for "his expertise and pioneering work in promoting a safe, secure and sustainable global food supply," helping farmers combat hunger, poverty and disease through his Switzerland-based foundation.
The first Swiss winner of the award, the 65-year-old was credited with helping to develop a pest control method using millions of wasps to eradicate a bug that had struck cassava, a staple crop that provides daily nutrition for about 200 million Africans.
"This year's group of laureates secure the fundamentals of human life," Ole von Uexkull, the director of the awards foundation, said. "They show that we have the knowledge and the tools to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, to secure respect for human rights, to end the war on women in Eastern Congo, and to feed the world with organic agriculture."
The Right Livelihood Awards were established in 1980 by Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull to recognize work he thought was ignored by the Nobel Foundation.
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Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.
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