Thursday, April 24, 2014

Happy Pay it Forward Day!


"If everyone thought a little bit more for another, that would be good."
Meda LeDoux

Today's quote is brought to you by one of the most wise and compassionate women I will ever know. Whispered from the lips of an eighty-eight year old woman lying sick in bed, she encourages us to eat more, take walks, and "be good to each other" despite the fact that we are there to spend time with her. From the moment we met, I knew we shared a special bond. Raising three children and then their seven children, Meda has spent her life paying it forward and she reminds me daily. Her words are simple, but couldn't be more true. I'd appreciate if everyone took a moment to close your eyes and think a happy thought for Meda or "another" now.

 Meda on her most recent birthday with cake and getting measured by her son and grandson.


I was excited today because I got to leave work early at 3pm. However with all the errands I had to run, I ended up en route home at the same time of day anyway. Regardless, I hopped on the freeway opting for a steady slow drive rather than stopping constantly at red lights on side streets. Getting off the freeway, there was a woman with a sign that read "Bella and I are hungry and homeless." I noticed a tiny little chihuahua peaking out of a body sling wrap. Before the light turned green, I realized I had a vegetarian burrito given to me as extra food from the event on campus today. I rolled down my window and held out the box.

"It's a vegetarian burrito."
"Thank you," she said.
"God bless." And I rolled up my window.

...God bless? I don't say "God bless." It's something I see on signs, it's something people have said to me, but never something I have ever said. I'm not a particularly religious person, but for some reason these words fell out of my mouth. I felt funny, as if I used something without having permission. But then it hit me. Meda says this. She says, "May God bless you." Almost every time she does, it reminds me of the lyric in the prayer song in Fiddler on the Roof. "May the Lord protect and defend you, may he always shield you from pain." I grew up on musical theatre, sue me, but half of you just sang that in your own head. Maybe in the one moment I had to speak to this homeless woman, I wanted her to know that she was loved. Maybe I imagined her umbrella-ed under a greater force for good. Maybe I just hoped she like avocado.

Pay it Forward day should be everyday and I think that's something on which we can all agree. You don't have to share the memes on facebook (some of them are really cute), but whether it's a happy thought, act of kindness, or generous deed, I hope you do a little good everyday. I hope it's something that is so second nature, you don't have to take the time to even think about. First nature. Is that a thing? Be a first nature pay-it-forwarder. Mm, yeah... I'm going with that.

Feel free to comment below (or on facebook/instagram) with something you did today to pay it forward or something you want to do tomorrow. If you can't think of anything right now, that's okay. If you follow this blog, I'll give you plenty of ideas every so often so you can fill your pay-it-forward personal quota.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention! The website has hit over 1,000 page views. Thank you to EVERYONE who has taken the time to make a difference in someone else's life. And if you haven't done a project yet, no worries-- we have some AWESOME ones coming up soon! I'm truly touched by people's support and generosity; I think we sometimes just need a little guidance on where to focus all that good energy. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. And HAPPY Pay it Forward day! :o)




Sunday, April 13, 2014

#ArtsDayLA 2014

What an exciting day! it's the little things (ITLT) ventured Downtown to participate in the third annual celebration of arts and culture in Los Angeles, ArtsDay! ArtsDay is one of the amazing events hosted by Arts for LA. Arts for LA is an incredible source of information for LA Artists (with a capital "A" -- to me, that means anyone who creates any type of art). They provide artist and organizational opportunities, jobs in the arts, arts in the news and community, and arts education. ArtsDay is an opportunity to unite the movers and shakers of LA Arts scene with the leaders who represent them in City Hall, "fostering stronger relationships between those crafting the vision of LA’s future and those who make it a reality." And on Friday, April 11th, 2014, we joined several other hundred people in celebrating.

Pictured: City Chambers, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Arts for LA Executive Director Danielle Brazell, 
and a pin of ITLT on the map - District 3, represent!

I knew I wanted to be involved in this huge, creative, amazing machine and ITLT fit in perfectly. At first I thought we might be an unorthodox organization to attend, but at our core we create artistic and powerful yet personal acts of kindness for our community in order to make a difference. Boom. Could we be more aligned? I get excited just TYPING about it.

I digress. Anyway, we met an amazing amount of Artists, advocates, and supporters of the Arts, and we were honored to be in their company. Everyone we talked to fell in love with ITLT; my heart grew at all the positive responses. Over the next few weeks, I'll be following up with these organizations to see if there's anything we can do to collaborate and brainstorm for new and exciting ITLT projects. Just so excited for what the future may hold!

The day was a success. We highlighted all the amazing things Artists have done and continue to do in our society, the importance of the organizations that mold our culture, and the need for support as these Creatives continue to create. Did you know that, according to the LA2050 Report, Los Angeles has the highest concentration of working artists and arts professionals in the nation. Also, the arts funnel $1.3 billion into the city in tax revenues (Otis Report on the Creative Economy). That's a lot of mula, so they need us as much as we need them. We thanked our elected officials for their investments in arts and culture and they pledged to continue to foster "healthy, vibrant, and prosperous communities" that allow the Arts to flourish.

My partner in crime played "find the little things" throughout the day... 
this was my favorite, especially such a great huge group of people there!

If you're not in LA, still check out the website to learn more about the National Arts and Arts Education budgets facing uphill battles in Congress.



Monday, April 7, 2014

Oh, the Wonder of Books! *Plus, our First FREE Interactive Project!*

After spending hours of research on this project, I've concluded that there is no one way to make a difference in the world of literacy. I knew I was going to run into this problem eventually, I just didn't realize it would be so soon! Most of my projects start with addressing the issue at hand; figuring out a craft that will have a direct and positive effect on said problem. Since Niki approached me about collaborating between our two organizations (Poetry Solves Problems & ITLT -- check out the previous post for more info), the craft was an afterthought. A fun activity that accompanied our real efforts, but an afterthought nonetheless.

The reality of the situation is that kids need books. What I've tried to do here is outline a number of things you can do to make a difference. Which one works best for you?
 
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If you want to organize a book drive, it would help a lot do a tiny bit of research first in order to find out your local situation*. And check out the ALA fact sheet! You may be able to donate to a library directly OR you may find an organization that will sort your books and facilitate the delivery to a school, shelter, or organization in need. In Los Angeles, I organized a book drive through BookEnds (also in previous post). You want to be sure to adhere to any and all requirements and procedures. These were super helpful guidelines from BookEnds:


...and it's great to share WHY donating gently used books is so important. Here's what I circulated via social media in the weeks leading up to the book drive:



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If you want to donate books, you can request that friends bring them to your next party! In lieu of birthday presents, ask for books. Consider for the following events:
  • Holiday parties
  • Graduation parties
  • Commitment ceremonies
  • Anniversaries
  • Retirement celebrations
  • Baby Showers
  • Bat/Bar Mitzvahs

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If you want to make bookmarks, we found this was a GREAT way to supplement a book donation. Pre-made packets of bookmarks are sold at education supply stores (35 for less that $3) so this is an AWESOME activity to do with a classroom or a group. Find some inspiration quotes or whip up your own witty sayings, and get creative! Try to stick to flat materials (washi tape, stickers, glitter, etc) and avoid 3D ones (foam stickers, thick string, buttons, etc.) so the bookmarks can lie flat without indenting the books. Also, it might be a good idea to laminate your bookmark so keep it in tip-top shape! (Examples of bookmarks can be found in previous post)

it's the little things WILL MAIL A *FREE* BOOKMARK
TO THE FIRST 25 PEOPLE THAT EMAIL
 DESIGN IT, MAIL IT BACK, 
WE WILL LAMINATE AND DONATE!

Please include your full name and mailing address.
You will be sent one white bookmark, unless more or colors are requested-- 
will do my best to accommodate!
All you need to do is email me and save a stamp for a return envelope.
JoanMarieHurwit@gmail.com  |  Subject title: ITLT Bookmark
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Check out Little Free Libraries! It's basically the tiniest kind of library for your community. Build, order, or sponsor a book box and encourage people to "take a book, return a book." I love it because it's a little thing that can make such a big difference.

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If you are a teacher, I found this to be a fantastic list of 25 ways to support reading. There are several incredibly clever and fun ideas to promote independent reading, so be sure to check it out and incorporate at your school!

And finally, if you don't have time to get hands on this round, Everyday Advocacy provides simple and effective ways for anyone to make a difference in their library community. They have step-by-step ways you can "be informed, engage, get inspired, share your story, and speak out." Take action!

Leave a comment with the method that works best for you! 
I'd love to hear what you end up doing :)
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Resources: American Library Association, American Libraries Magazine, Children's Book Project, Books for Kids, Los Angeles Public Library, Library Foundation of Los Angeles, Reach Out and Read, Raising a Reader, Room to Read, Learning Unlimited LLC, IBBY Children in Crisis Fund, Little Free Library, Everyday Advocacy

*Here is quick reference guide of a few five-star literacy charities (rated on Charity Navigator, borrowed from WhatDoWeDoAllDay.com in "Charities That Give Books and Promote Literacy")
  • Reading is Fundamental RIF supports literacy programs nationwide and aims to put books in the hands of underprivileged children in America. Sadly, in recent years, Congress decimated their budget.
  • Books for Africa‘s self professed goal is to “end the book famine in Africa.” Books for Africa is on Charity Navigator’s list of 10 Top Notch Charities, with almost all of the funds going towards program expenses. It only takes 50 cents to send a book to Africa.
  • First Book serves schools and libraries in underprivileged areas and delivers new books to children in need in the US and Canada.
  • The Pajama Program gives the gift of sleepwear and a bedtime book to children, with a large portion of donations going to children who have been, or are waiting to be, adopted.
  • Raising a Reader does more than just distribute books. Through nationwide programs, it works closely with children and their parents to help them develop literacy strategies like teaching them read aloud and communication techniques.
  • Room to Read focuses on literacy and gender equality in education in ten countries in Asia and Africa. One of my favorite things they do is promote the education of girls. As they state on the website, “Educating girls and women is widely acknowledged as the most powerful and effective way to address global poverty.”
  • Reach Out and Read serves at-risk children and “is an evidence-based nonprofit organization of medical providers who promote early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms nationwide by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud.”
  • Oxfam America earmarks donations to provide children in developing countries with much needed school books.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Book Drive, and Bookmarks, and Books-- oh my!

It's funny how time wraps around in swirly twirly loops. This time it brought me back around to Niki. Niki and I met when we were about 9 or 10 years old doing musical theatre, and we bumped into each other again just last year with mutual friends in the LA music scene. She's found a calling committing poetry shenanigans in public places, bookbinding her own works, writing poems for strangers, and volunteering in classrooms as a visiting poet. (I stole that from the website. She's the poet, not me.) She also started a literary and art initiative called Poetry Solves Problems with her dear friend Crystal. The group is a celebration of sorts and this time, on their 6th PSP night, they opened their arms to it's the little things (ITLT).
Crystal, Niki, and me at PSP#6

Niki had joined me for a Letters of Love craft night and wanted to find some way to collaborate as we are both, in titles, trying to solve problems by making a difference. ITLT focuses on anywhere/every day projects, but Niki asked if we could highlight a specific local organization. This was changing the game very early on in my own operation but I was excited for the challenge! The goal: to build awareness of literacy/illiteracy and emphasize the important of books and creative storytelling in young minds. Thus, the research began! After much browsing and inquiring within, I decided that we would highlight BookEnds, a SoCal non-profit that recycles children's books donated from book drives and places them in schools and youth organizations in need of books. By providing access to books, BookEnds gives children the resources to develop literacy skills and to experience the joy and imagination of reading. Perfect, that's exactly what we wanted! Established in 1998 by an eight year-old boy, BookEnds has donated more than two million books to engage 500,000 students in the joy and imagination of reading. Incredible!

Out of the blue, I called and happened to be speaking with Matt, the Director of Programs. (Mind you, BookEnds is a small four-employee company, but they make such a difference!) Matt emailed me a "Champion's Packet" which basically included guidelines for running a book drive, grade level book categories, the quality of acceptable books, and statistical facts. This information was wildly helpful in organizing our own book drive which we circulated via social media in the weeks leading up to the drive. At the event, we ALSO offered a unique ITLT *creative acts of kindness* opportunity. Upstairs, above the open mic and poetry/musical features, I set up a craft table complete with stamps, stickers, glitter, washi tape, markers, and colored pencils for people to create BOOKMARKS! A little way for our contributors to personally (and literally) put their stamp on why reading is so important, a little encouragement for continuing what may be a difficult book to read, a little love to the stranger opening their new book for the first time.

Craft supplies galore! 
Inspiration hangs from twine by gold glitter clothespins (obviously).

That night, the good people of PSP crafted 53 bookmarks and donated 36 books, totaling 50 books that we are now able to donate to BookEnds. 

Some hits included TitaniCat, the Bernstein Bears, and
(my personal 3rd grade favorite)
A Wrinkle in Time!

 The full photo album can be viewed HERE and on the Gallery page, but take a look at the fun we had that night! Thank you so much to everyone who participated!!








Making bookmarks is a GREAT way to supplement a book donation. Pre-made packets of bookmarks are sold at education supply stores (35 for less that $3) so this is an AWESOME activity to do with a classroom or a group. Find some inspiration quotes or whip up your own witty sayings, and get creative! Try to stick to flat materials (washi tape, stickers, glitter, etc) and avoid 3D ones (foam stickers, thick string, buttons, etc.) so the bookmarks can lie flat without indenting the books. Also, it might be a good idea to laminate your bookmark so keep it in tip-top shape! 
it's the little things will mail YOU a*FREE* BOOKMARK!
 DESIGN IT, MAIL IT BACK, 
and WE WILL DONATE IT!

Email us with your full name and mailing address.
You will be sent one white bookmark, unless more or colors are requested-- 
I will do my best to accommodate!
itsthelittlethingsdotme@gmail.com  |  Subject title: ITLT Bookmark