Tag: "service"

For the Anniversary: Launching a Year of Service

For the Anniversary: Launching a Year of Service

This piece was in the Newtown Bee, November 14, 2013 in anticipation of the one year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook.

“The anniversary is approaching. Discussions have been going on across town about how best to approach the day. Taking the wishes of the families into account who have asked to not have a commemorative event that would repeat the media circus they lived through last year, there won’t be a townwide event on 12/14/13.

Instead of a single commemorative event that comes and goes, a much more carefully thought through vision and mission has been endorsed by families, our first selectman, the superintendent of schools, the Interfaith Council and civic leaders throughout our town. That is to set in motion a positive resilient momentum that will serve us for years to come. We are naming it A Year of Service. We have chosen kindness and compassion as the lessons we want to derive from the tragedy. Now we are manifesting that kindness in action in the form of a commitment to service to one another throughout the coming year and hopefully for many more years to come.

When we speak about resilience, we are talking about taking the power away from things that lead to bad outcomes and giving power to things that create growth.

On the one hand, a steady stream of beautiful, inspiring and unifying examples of kindness in action are occurring from an increasing number of individuals along with well established and newly minted organizations around Newtown. A town that has already been rich in the spirit of service to others has become much more so since 12/14/12. The “We Are Sandy Hook / We Choose Love” signs are still up. These many acts of kindness have begun to give form to that vision and mission. Over the past year, the number of people has mushroomed who want a more cooperative, compassionate and unifying style to take hold in town and who are taking action to make it so. Our innovations along this path have not only raised hopes here, but have already been an inspiration to communities across the country.

“On the other hand, we have all heard friends describe feeling physically exhausted, mentally spent and emotionally overtaxed. Perhaps it has been a desire to recapture a sense of control over all that was unleashed and what rendered us so powerless that ultimately resulted in an increase in bitterness and anger in conversations and in local social media. That helpless place in us can spawn a creeping suspicion that sours into negativity and leads to wrongly judging the motives of others and assigning unwarranted blame to those who don’t deserve it. But that’s not who we are.

We committed ourselves to not allow this terrible event and subsequent fear, anger and bitterness to define us. We committed ourselves to let compassion and kindness rule our lives. For such a commitment to kindness to mean anything, it has to take form in action. Kindness in action is service. It is a powerful force for personal rejuvenation and growth. Service to others provides a vision worth working toward. It mobilizes the best in us. It energizes our motivation. Service to others breaks the isolation and disempowerment that are the corrosive factors in dysfunctional grief. Service brings out the best in us and transforms our grief into commitment to the best in others. Ultimately, to be healthy, grief must become a commitment to be of help to others.

Click here to see the many organizations that have taken up this spirit of service in Newtown.

Click here to see the many organizations that have taken up this spirit of service in Newtown.

In that light, instead of a single commemorative event, 12/14/13 will be the first day of A Year of Service in town in which we all dedicate ourselves to transforming our sorrow, fear and anger into a commitment to a better way. As Lincoln said to another generation, “that we here highly resolve that these honored dead will not have died in vain.”

Let December 14, 2013, mark the first day of A Year of Service in which each of us commits to still the fearful and angry currents in our hearts. Let this Year of Service be a time when we practice more mature cooperative and respectful ways of speaking and problem solving. Let this Year of Service be a time to practice new habits that put the welfare of others before our own. A year will allow new personal and social habits to develop and for a new and elevated norm to emerge and solidify in the town culture that benefits us all. Obviously, the practice should extend beyond the year. But, this initial time frame shows our resolve to see our way through to a better way.

1386810470000-AP-CONNECTICUT-SCHOOL-SHOOTING-VIGIL-53299283How and where does it start? Start intimately, close to home and closer to the heart. Help those closest to you. A child can help a sibling with homework. Help a neighbor when convention says to turn away. Small acts or large, one time or long term, the point is to get started and keep going. We said we wanted to be known as the town that produced resilient role models and better citizens of the world as a result of the horror that visited us. This Year of Service will provide a context for that vision to take shape.

No one event or series of activities will be the balm we all seek. But, a web of people committed to bringing out the best in each other through repeated acts of service can set a new and elevated tone for the town. The legacy we leave for those who have left us will be our own lives richly lived in service to each other on their behalf.”

ReachUP! 2021 for the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

ReachUP! 2021 for the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

WHAT: In anticipation of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, young people across the country will demonstrate through service to others that they want  to live in a world of compassion and cooperation where the best of each person is brought out.  They are seizing the initiative to create the world they want to live in.  They want no part of the fear and extremism that have defined the last ten years.   Instead, they are acting to make real a vision of a united and compassionate world in 2021.

In the process, a new generation of leaders will be strengthened to learn self-reliance, personal responsibility and develop the resolve to make a positive impact in the global community.

Through the service they perform, and the Unity Project’s Transformation Exercises, they will be learning valuable lessons about their hidden strengths.  They will learn how to identify needs in their community.  Together, these will ignite a vision of what they are capable of and provide the motivation to finish school and pursue a career or trade.  They will forge friendships and working partnerships with their peers all over the world to knit a fabric of peace and stability out of the broken cords of despair and conflict they see around them.

They did not create the climate of fear and extremism they are growing up in.  They don’t want these negative themes to govern their lives.  They have a say in what they will do about it.   They want the next decade to be about compassion and cooperation, not fear and extremism.  Working together toward that vision of 2021, in thousands of places around the world, act by act, they are building that world.  This Unity Project initiative is called, “ReachUP! 2021.”

WHY: The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is an opportunity for this generation of young people to say that the lesson of 9/11 is not that we should fear each other or label each other as enemies.  We recognize that we have another choice.  We choose compassion and cooperation instead of fear and anger.  We want this choice to be demonstrated in countless acts of cooperative service throughout the country.

In this way, as media attention turns to the anniversary, we will be ready with dynamic positive examples of the future we are building now.   Young people will be role models for a positive future and set the tone for the national dialogue for the next decade.

HOW: The Unity Project will provide its service based resilience building training and programming to any community-based organization that wants to participate in ReachUP! USA.  These services will raise the caliber of skills of our partners so they can better help the kids they serve.

The Unity Project methods empower kids to identify and fix problems that affect their lives.   Since these problems are things the kids feel strongly about, they are committed to finding a solution and seeing it through.

At the same time, they elevate the culture of their schools and communities and learn problem solving and group cooperation skills guided by the highly innovative and effective Unity Project Transformation Process.  Kids develop a vision for their future, a sense of hope in a stronger community and the skills they need to have the confidence to move their lives forward in a positive way.  The more kids develop these core strengths, the less pull they feel to dysfunctional behaviors that cripple a young person’s growth.

We intend to highlight in the media specific youth projects across the country from now until the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  In this way, we intend to uplift the tone of the discussion in the country about the meaning of the anniversary and where we are going as a nation in the next decade.

WHEN: Trainings for participating community-based organizations in New York City began in November, 2010 and are continuing nationally since then.  Youth service activities were launched after January 1, 2011 and will continue through 9-11-2011.  There will be culminating events around the anniversary of 9/11.

After 9/11, the work will continue into the next phase of youth capacity building as project “2021” to raise the culture in schools and communities, improve high-school graduation rates and college matriculation as well as prepare graduates for the workforce.

WHO: The Unity Project (a 501(c)3 corporation) will host these activities.  Any community-based organization, school or after-school program across the country is eligible to participate.  The Department of Youth and Community Development of the City of New York and some of its contractees are among the first participants in this effort.

“Like” us on Facebook:  “Reach UP! 2021”

CONTACT: margodeselin@unityproject.org at (203) 241-5525.

DONATE: By PayPal at www.unityproject.org.

Please make checks payable to: “The Unity Project” sent to:

4 Still Hill Rd.

Sandy Hook, CT  06470

Related Posts:

Service as the Beginning, Middle and End of Self-Discovery and Learning.

Mobilizing the Dignity of a 16 Year Old.

Service as the beginning, middle and end of self-discovery and learning.

Service as the beginning, middle and end of self-discovery and learning.

“This is the most fun I’ve had in twelve years being a principal,” Mike said as we were watching the students in his high school go about their work in their Action Teams. “In four years, I have not even noticed this girl who is now completely transforming the menu in the cafeteria!  She was so quiet before!  Now, she turns out to be this amazing leader.”

How many kids are we missing like this?  They don’t relate to what activities we offer them in and after school.  So, we assume they have nothing to offer or that they need to be “led” by popular kids elected to student councils.  I think we underestimate these kids and need to use another lens to view them.

Creating a way for kids to contribute to something they care about is a phenomenal means of building their confidence, their competence and motivation to learning in general.  This kind of service is like a shovel that excavates the “gems” latent in us all.  It pulls out what was hidden in us.

Joy, Motivation and Enthusiasm naturally follow when we discover strengths we didn't know we had.

When we discover a strength we didn’t know we had our natural enthusiasm and creativity come to life.  We become naturally more self-motivated, curious and happy. Service is is the best way to discover these hidden capacities.

What appear to be sullen and self-absorbed teenagers turn out to be independent thinkers with highly creative goals that were just waiting to be tapped.  This newly found sense of competence then generalizes into other areas giving reason to do better and finish school, to consider college or training for a career.

Without the opportunity to challenge themselves and discover this latent potential a young person’s motivation sours.  They can become resentful and withdrawn.   Creating appropriate challenges that stretch the young person is the name of the game.  (See the series  on the “Five Stages of the Bowl” to see how the Unity Project creates the means to do this.)

When I do workshops with teen-agers we spend a lot of time talking about how school is mind numbing, unchallenging and demeaning.  All too often, the experience of kids is that school is what turns them off to self-discovery and growth.  What a tragedy!

We want to create the experience of real self-discovery through action.   The kids see for themselves how action brings out their best “gems.”   There’s no need to lecture about it.  It’s obvious.  Their own excitement and motivation is proof enough.

Then, having the time to disengage and reflect on the new self-discovery allows for the learning to be internalized, a more personal motivation to be enkindled and new forms of group identity to emerge.  Moving back and forth between this kind of action and reflection is highly creative and growth inducing.

Let’s hear of your experiences with kids involved in service learning activities.  What have you learned from this method you’d like to share with others?  Let’s hear what questions and comments you have.  Better yet, let’s hear what you have learned from your own action/service learning.

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