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Volunteer Vacations: Citizen Science and Brain Health

12 Dec

My husband and I, still buzzing from our recent experience with Citizen Science in Belize, are looking for our next meaningful adventure and a way to challenge ourselves to learn and serve our purpose as part of our leisure time. That means a volunteer vacation where we can contribute to the world in general, and scientific understanding of the planet in particular.

As I started looking, I discovered that there are many Citizen Science Projects out there and some are part of volunteer vacations. Unlike many people our age however, we have not accumulated tons of vacation time — we are both serial entrepreneurs and have been working for companies we owned and operated since the late 1980’s and that means no paid vacations – nor are we in even semi-retirement so we need to find a trip that fits in our lives. With that in mind, we decided to go back to what we knew worked for us before see what else PoD Volunteer – the company that coordinated our trip to the Reef Preservation Project in Belize with ReefCI – had to offer.

Libby’s crew
New friends from so many places. Yeah, we did lots of laughing :)!
On PoD’s site I found the section that described the type of volunteering we could do. Within that drop-down, I found a selection called Short Projects (1 to 3 weeks). No sense falling in love with a project that requires more than a 2 week commitment…. I found 21 projects, all over the world, that were 1 to 3 weeks stay…. Pretty cool.

PoD Volunteering

Now to choose the type of volunteering: Animals, Conservation, Child Care, Teaching, or Community. As I dug in more I found a wide variety of tasks and purposes for each of the trips ranging from sports coaching to habitat restoration to construction to teaching to animal reintroduction!

Next choice is location. What an amazing variety of locations. After much consideration and a conversation on Twitter with Gemma from PoD (follow them on Twitter @PoDVolunteer) we are looking seriously at a conservation project in Peru. This is a 2 to 4 week project that involves learning about and collecting data in the Amazon rain forest and includes so many cool activities – all based out of an award winning eco-lodge….

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Time to do a little more exploring and a bit of comparing! More to come!

Traveling Life: Purpose and Puzzles

16 Nov

A really wise person told me once that if you want a task to get done, give it to the busiest person in the room. There is more than a grain of truth in that and maybe busy people get more things done because they have to multi-task well. I am a firm believer in multi-tasking and think that it, much like stress, has gotten a bad rap.

When you change the lens and look at multi-tasking as a fact of life, one thing pops to the surface. All this talk about multi-tasking being bad for performance is task oriented, not brain oriented! Our brains crave activity and are continually problem solving. All of the processes that are chugging away every moment of every day rarely happen in isolation.

Even when we are sleeping our brains are working on multiple levels — healthy brains just don’t turn off.

So, in the name of multi-tasking, here are some puzzles from the first week of my recent trip to Peru. And yes, I used a whole lot of words to justify using very few when describing the photos in the puzzles :)!

Find the 3 differences in the following picture sets. The first one was taken in Lima where it is all about the hats, the materials, and the bright colors!

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In the next set there are again 3 differences. The photo was taken in a school house in a little village less than 2 miles from the headwaters of the Amazon River. Powerful, powerful place.

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The last set of photos was taken while on a tiny boat on the river. This was the largest port in the area, just down the river from the Iquitos airport. Find the 3 changes in the second photo.

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ANSWER #1

ANSWER #2

ANSWER #3

There is so much left to study about multi-taksing but the bottom line just might be that singular focus and attention to one task at a time could be over-rated and not a very effective way to function in today’s information heavy world. Maybe the best way to process information is on multiple channels in the context of everyday life.

How do you feel about multi-tasking?

Inspiration, History, Independence, & The Message of One Charismatic Women

16 Mar

This is the third in a series of pieces on how volunteering in Anse la Raye, St. Lucia with Global Volunteers, working toward raising the IQ of a nation, fundamentally changed my husband Dan and me. The two weeks we spent on the island in this village made us reach well beyond where we thought we were capable of going and moved us so far outside our comfort zones that we had to change how we “saw” the world. P1170064 (2)

Each morning of my service program I walked through the gates of the Primary School in Anse la Raye. Each day the students were lined up on the concrete walk leading to their classrooms. Each morning I was greeted by the powerful voices of staff members delivering the messages of the day or honoring students.

In the middle of my first week, one that ended in St. Lucia’s Independence Day, I walked up as the third grade teacher, Ms. Aleen Edward, was delivering the morning messages.  Ms. Edward, by her presence, her posture and her attitude, commands respect like no one I have ever met. When she speaks, everyone in earshot feels compelled to absolutely pay attention.

In her powerful voice she delivered this question: “What does it mean to be independent?”  And then, after the most perfectly timed pause, “Independence does not mean doing your own thing. Independence means doing the right thing, your own way.”

She went on to deliver the most soul stirring summary of the importance of independence from slavery and outside rule.  And then, just when I thought I could not be more moved, Ms. Edward took my breath away.

“Do the right thing, the positive thing, the good thing in your own way.”

This hard driving, young woman went on with such passion. “Learn from those who are working hard to do the right thing. They learn, they study, they respect,” she said.

She took a deep breath and in a calm but firm voice continued, “Be independent thinkers and independent learners.”

Ms. Edward turned up the volume just a bit and repeated, “Independence is not doing your thing. Independence is doing the right thing your own way.”

Up another notch and, “Read it and say it confidently.”

The whole school – students, teachers, staff, and I – repeated after her:

Independence is not doing your own thing. Independence is doing the right thing your own way.

“Say it again,” she said.

Independence is not doing your own thing. Independence is doing the right thing your own way.

And then louder and louder and louder with each recital.

In the classroom Ms. Edward commands this same respect and moves many of her students to action. She is passionate about teaching and leading and I felt that every time she was near.

Yes, Ms. Edward expects a lot from her students and she drives them very hard but Ms. Edward gets results. I watched student want to perform to get her approval. I watched postures and degree of intensity change simply because Ms. Edward asked a question. That is an amazing and awe-inspiring quality and one that I don’t see, or at least don’t recognize, in my day-to-day life.

As I listened to Ms. Edward that morning, every inch of my body filled with goose bumps, I knew I wanted to write about her and share the story of the impact of one powerful, charismatic woman on this one day on this little school in Anse la Raye.

And I thought about my recurring theme:

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.P1170083 (2)

Ms. Edward is moving the needle in a powerful direction. It may not be the right direction for every single child – nothing ever is – but she is a rare, motivating force who inspires those around her to aspire to maximize their personal potential. I remain in awe.

Again….

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.

How Channeling a Wise & Passionate Woman Helped Me Serve the Purpose of the Day

9 Mar

This is the second in a series of pieces on how volunteering in Anse la Raye, St. Lucia with Global Volunteers, working toward raising the IQ of a nation, fundamentally changed my husband Dan and me. The two weeks we spent on the island in this village made us reach well beyond where we thought we were capable of going and moved us so far outside our comfort zones that we had to change how we “saw” the world. 

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I walked into Day 2 at the Anse la Raye Primary School with my intention—to take small steps toward mutual understanding and to spread the power of positive – clearly in focus. With each breath I repeated my hope to work toward a genuine connection that might help break the cycle for the man with the power to shape lives at this school, and leave him a bit more open to the possibilities of how volunteers can help. 20150224_091219

I did not know that Day 2 had plans for me – ones I simply did not have anything to say about.

Mid-morning, two young men and I were reading If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (an outstanding book to work on rhyming words while smiling). I felt them both stiffen as the principal walked in with a man and woman, both professionally dressed and looking official. They just stood there, watching, for a few minutes.

“This is the woman from Global Volunteers,” the principal told his guests. And then he turned to me. “Miss, please tell these people (he pointed at the man) from the Ministry of Education and (he pointed at the women) UNICEF about all of this,” as he swept his arm across the room.

Holy crap…two hours into my first full day and I was making a presentation about the entire Global Volunteers program and involvement in the Primary School? Deep breath, a second of focus, and I heard and felt myself start to “channel” Chemida, the St. Lucia program manager. Chemida not only loves what Global Volunteers is doing for her community in general but also what is happening in this specific school.P1170052

All those things that I knew I loved about the philosophy of the program – all those hopes and dreams and all that passion we heard and felt in orientation – poured out. They questioned me intensely about the effectiveness of short term volunteer efforts. I continued, without hesitation, to explain the foundational communication system set up by Chemida and the international staff that allowed me personally to learn about each child before I set foot in the school and how the learning curve was not that steep because the pieces are all in place to make every team transition as smooth as possible – at least as far as the students were concerned….

Why, on Day 2 as I just started to figure out the hell I was doing, was it on me to carry this message and, more shockingly, how did I know exactly how to answer?

Again…

I made a promise to this program and to this village to observe and not interfere so I needed to shift, oh so quickly, and figure out what purpose my presence might best serve.

Again…

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.

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How Living Outside Our Comfort Zone Changed Our Perspective & Opened Our Possibilities

2 Mar

This is the first in a series of pieces on how volunteering in Anse la Raye, St. Lucia with Global Volunteers, working toward raising the IQ of a nation, fundamentally changed my husband Dan and me. The two weeks we spent on the island in this village made us reach well beyond where we thought we were capable of going and moved us so far outside our comfort zones that we had to change how we “saw” the world.

Before we decided to serve on the St. Lucia Project, we agreed to live within the people of Anse la Raye’s cultural norms. We agreed to observe and not interfere. We agreed to not impose our values on the situation and respect the way of the life in the village.P1170045 (2)

I read that there was corporal punishment in the schools. With that fact and the solid knowledge that I have never been very patient with other people’s grade school aged children (so much so that I actually have a name for them – OPCs) in mind, I listed teaching in the Primary School (3rd through 6th grade) as my very last choice assignment.P1170023 (2)

That, however, is where I was most needed and where I was reassigned. So that is where I went.
All the literature from Global Volunteers stresses to “expect the unexpected”.

Unexpected event #1: I was prepared to spend the two weeks digging in the dirt on the Earth Box project and I packed clothes appropriate specifically for that job. There is a dress code in the schools and female volunteers must wear neat looking, professional, loose shirts with sleeves and pants/skirts that come below the knee. So…first thing Monday morning, to move beyond my wardrobe malfunction, the Country Manager took me with her on her trip to the town 20 km away to buy a few shirts suitable for the classroom.

We got back from town and I walked in my room, the one where students would come in and look to me to help them with reading and writing, at 12:30.P1160833 (2)

A young man about 10 years old came in the room as I arrived. He asked if he could be first. Before I could smile or say a word an imposing man with a short belt draped over his shoulder, walked in and snatched the child out of the room. I was stunned. It was so sudden.

From next door: “What are you doing Boy?” And then I heard the crack of the belt.…

That was my introduction to the principal and my cue that 1) this man was solidly in charge; 2) I was, in no uncertain terms, expected to follow his rules; and 3) if I did not someone, in this case a child asking what at the time felt like an innocent question, would pay the price.

Message sent and received. Loudly, clearly, and oh so chillingly. Could I really find the strength to swallow the words, all coated with a thick layer of bile, burning their way up my throat…?

Yes, I’d been told that they used the belt so, I guess that should not have been such a shock. I just did not expect that I would hear the snap as it made contact, feel the children hold their breath to brace themselves, and lose a bit of my soul with each crack.

I’ve been told it is better now. The government has regulated the length of the belt, narrowed significantly who can hand out/authorize punishment, and mercifully restricted contact to the hands (mostly the palms). Small steps and that is good.

I’d agreed to observe and not interfere. I’d agreed to not impose my values and respect the way of life in Anse la Raye. I’d agreed to go where I was needed and asked to serve. This moment was the symbol of the culture that I, like it or not, agreed to live within. I had agreed to do this and be here.P1160816 (2)

Right then I understood that I had to find a way to steel myself so I could figure out what I was supposed to do and how I could, as I knew I needed to do, leave this place better than I found it. My focus needed to remain on sharing a bit of joy with these students through positive interactions.

At the end of the day as I sat with Dan and we both processed the magnitude of the lifetime we had both experienced in one day, I decided to set an intention for the trip and a goal each day. My initial goal was to have a peaceful day with the principal and take a step toward my intention: making a real, mutually respectful connection with him.

I made a promise to this program and to this village to observe and not interfere so I needed to shift, oh so quickly, and figure out what purpose my presence might best serve.P1170068 (2)

To be completely fair, if someone else had written this and I was reading it as you are  now, I would most likely comment that I could not swallow those words and that I would never be able to establish a relationship with such a man. I might even go into a self-righteous speech about human rights and dignity. I might further deliver an impassioned monologue outlining how it is not possible to teach children about how to live peacefully with one another by beating them into submission. Yes, I bet I would…but

I made a promise to this program and to this village to observe and not interfere so I needed to shift, oh so quickly, and figure out what purpose my presence might best serve.P1160956 (2)

So I set that intention – to take small steps toward mutual understanding and to spread the power of positive – and I wrote it in stone. My hope was that working toward a genuine connection would help break the cycle for this man with the power to shape lives, and leave him a bit more open to the possibilities with each new volunteer. My deepest wish was that I could leave a good enough impression, one centered on the power of positive, that I might shift the momentum just a bit – maybe enough for the person to move the needle just a bit more.20150219_080446

One intention, one thought, one action, one moment, one person at a time is the only way to change the status quo.

We are exploring how to stretch our thinking, expand our world, and keep our brains firing through purposeful travel. 

From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: Daily Inspiration & Forming New Habits

26 Feb

It takes two weeks of repeated practice to establish a new habit.

Good thing because I absolutely love, and want to make a habit of, sharing a message of the day with those I am working with each and every day as we are doing each day to start our morning meeting for the St. Lucia Project.

We are taking turns sharing thoughts — some are quotes from others, some are our own thoughts, and some (those shared by the one who just can’t leave well enough alone…me) create a variation of the two.

Here are a few of our thoughts from this week and a few photos.

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MESSAGE OF THE DAY:  Barbara 

Challenges are what makes life interesting, and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.  Joshua J. Marine

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MESSAGE OF THE DAY: Dan 

Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for your uniqueness on this Earth, you would not be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in world come about. So be that one person!

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MESSAGE OF THE DAY: Ruth 

We spoke yesterday about not knowing what you can or might just love to do until you try. When you move beyond your comfort zone, you expand your horizons and your possibilities. 

I am the keeper of the Journal for Team 32 — it is my responsibility to make sure that everything gets typed in and turned in at the end of the trip. Last night as I was putting in the entries from earlier in day, I read through all the Message of the Day entries. Oh my how we have evolved and oh my how it shows in what we choose to share each day.

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From the Journal of St. Lucia Project Team 32: Little Things Catching My Attention

25 Feb

My entry from Monday, February 23 recapping my Friday activities as part of St. Lucia Project Team 32.

“Friday was a bit disjointed for both Barbara and me: RCP had planning meetings and the Primary School was pretty consumed with Independence Day activities. When I arrived at the school all of the children were outside, many dressed in the patriotic colors of the St. Lucian flag. The children answered questions, read passages about historical events, and several teachers spoke about national pride and patriotism. It was fascinating and uplifting to hear and feel the depth of the passion behind the words. There was one thing from the morning session that stuck with. One of the teachers asked the students to name patriotic acts—specific things that citizen might do to show they love their country. The first answer? Vote. It felt like the perfect answer and one I wished that every child would give, everywhere, first.Flag_of_Saint_Lucia

Chemida brought Barbara over to help at the Primary School so we got organized and started down our long list of students to see, ready to have a full day of one-on-one sessions in both literacy and math. On the way to meet Dan and Chemida for lunch, I snapped photos of the route we walked, the houses and buildings on the way, and an awesome pile of nuts drying in the sun. The little things continue to catch my attention. The father holding his child’s hand. How warmly people greet each other. The produce on the tables in the street. The detail of the braids and the care placed in the ribbons and clips in the girls’ at the Primary School’s hair. The trusting reception I continue to get from just about everyone I speak to—especially the children at the school.P1160801

When we got back from lunch Barbara and I found out that there was a competition—game show quiz style and all about Independence Day—that started at 1:15 and lasted the rest of the day. We went in and watched for a while as proud students representing the four “houses” in the school answered questions based on facts about St. Lucia.  I just love the national pride and deep understanding of the island’s history that is taught in the schools….

I seem to be on solid ground with the principal and am loving the one-on-one sessions with the students. Dan continues to be an inspirational rock star. And Barbara seems to be feeling more at ease with her role and appreciate the work she is doing with RCP. Bring on week 2 with all its bumps and disruptions! We are ready!”

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Hiking, Learning, and Honoring the Past in Travel Puzzles

3 Sep

When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture sometimes the world becomes clearer and you see how everything just seems to fit together.  This week’s exercise is a great example of  just that.  Random slices out of a whole scene don’t tell you the whole story and you don’t get the rich in depth view of the experience.

My bigger picture includes living a purposeful life and I try to push myself each day to amplify my experiences by including those things that are meaningful and important to me on a deeper level. I look for those things I love-what makes me happy and feel fulfilled-and turn the volume up on those experiences.  So, when planning a trip, even a two day train get away, my husband and I try to amplify our experience, and make our travel purposeful where ever possible.

We love to hike,  learn, and uncover pieces of the past so a trip to Painted Rock. Carrizo Plain National Monument via Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner to check out an ancient Native American Chumash site seemed to fit our needs perfectly.

Of course you must always pack the proper shoes for the occasion. This is a photo of me, in my natural environment.

hiking boots

Pre-planing served us well on this trip. Carrizo National Monument is open to the public and there is no admission fee however, Painted Rock is behind a locked gate in a protected area.  From March to mid-July you must get a guided a tour and those can be arranged at the Education Center. The rest of the year, you can do a self-guided tour but you must apply for access, get approved, and get a gate code to access the site.  The night before we left for our trip we got our access code via email!

One of the first things we saw was this rock cluster covered with different colored lichen-the stuff that rock art paint is made of! Orange, green, red, and, at this site, even purple lichen covered the rocks.

paint material

Of course, these creatures (Dan and me), in their natural element must take photos!

shaddow camera

The whole scene was a bit eerie. Here we were, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, completely alone. Or so we thought.  Check out what is coming over the hill.

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And here he is, in all his glory, at full glide, across the side of the hill. It always amazes me just how graceful full grown elk can be.

Elk 1

 

At the end of 3/4 mile hike and some serious exploring and wonder, we came to another rock formation just sitting in the middle of this huge plain.  The rocks formed a protected bowl and here is just a sampling of what we found in that bowl.

rock art chumash

The Chumash used this area for ceremonies and gatherings. Standing in the middle of the rocks, you can almost feel the ancients, hear the drums and the singing, see the dancers and painters, and experience the rich history this place holds.

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And some bonus photos of this amazing site!

The trail in…. Hot, dry, and completely civilization-free!P1130001 (2)

Across the Carrizo Plain is the dried up Soda Lake…. More on this next week but this shot of the vast plain gives you an idea just how alone we were on this site. Very powerful feeling.

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And there, in the distance, was the Painted Rock site.

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Rock art is a generic term for the images left behind by the ancients all over the world. There are two types of rock art: petroglyphs and pictographs.

This etching is one of the first images we saw as we walked.  Carvings are called petroglyphs.

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Paintings like this one are called pictographs. This particular, was mostly likely painting using lichen similar to what is still present on the rocks less than 1/3 of a mile away (see above).  We believe that this is a symbol that represents and a blanket but no one is really sure.

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Many of the stories, legends, and meanings were lost over the centuries but this one is pretty clearly a lizard!

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Purposeful travel is such a meaningful and enjoyable way to see the world.  Learn as you go, gain a deeper appreciation, and come out on the other side with a stronger, more connected appreciation of where you and those before you have been.

 

 

Photo Walks: Stories the World Tells When You Pay Attention

11 Jul

Sometimes my husband and I set out on a photo walk with no expectations — just see what we can find when we open our minds to paying attention to the details and open our senses to experiencing what is going on around us.   Recently we knew we set out to find very specific details.

approach to Gilla Bend site

The approach to the site…. Do you notice anything yet?

Above is the approach to the Painted Rock Petroglyph site.   If you look closely you can see some etching on the rocks.  Some ancient some not so ancient….  Now a closer look at that rock.

Petroglyph 3

 My initial reaction was disappointment and file this supposed spectacular native American site under “People can be real idiots”.   But after some thought, a quick attitude adjustment and a bit of research, both 1879 and 1907 have historical significance in the area — a different history but history none the less.  We pressed on and look what we found….

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Oh my….

And around the next corner….

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Oh the stories on these rocks…. staggering

We have been to quite a few Native American sites across the southwest.  Some absolutely breath taking but we have never seen a site where the carvings tell entire stories.   We follow the story of a hunt and the sun rising/seasons changing and a child growing up…all documented in stone more than 2,00o years ago.   We did not have a modern translator or a book to guide us — the stories were right there for us to see.   No doubt about it….

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Here are a few more images from this wonderful Hohokam site.  Enjoy, appreciate, and learn from the stories.  What do you see in these?

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Don’t forget to pay attention to the stories the world has waiting for you — right in front of your eyes.

Great Brains Don’t Just Happen: Dreaming of a World….

29 May

One of my favorite poets died yesterday. Woven in the flurry of memorial and tribute to truly creative and expressive people like Maya Angelou, is a story of life — one where a brain grows, develops, wires, re-wires, and adapts. Lurking beneath the surface we can find those factors that allowed this extraordinary brain to generate the work of this extraordinary person — a body of work that will outlast all of us.

I talk, a lot, about how to maximize well developed brains. Be active, be social, be engaged, and be purposeful and you continue the nourishing cycle that supports long-term brain functioning.

Here is what we don’t talk about enough…. What happens when a brain, from moment one, does not have the needed stimuli and nourishment to grow and develop? How many creators of spectacular written imagery like Maya Angelou or artistic visionaries like Judith Baca, creator of the Great Wall in LA or musicians who paint scenes with words and melody like Joni Mitchell never had the chance to develop because no one helped them nourish their brains?

That happens. A lot. All over the world. I started thinking about a conversation I had a couple months ago with Michele Gran from Global Volunteers.  Her organization is on the ground floor of a movement to change a condition.  The shift is this — create an environment where brains have the opportunity to reach potential and not  “by limiting factors that limit the growing mind.”  Here is that position – in a 100 second video.

As with just about everything else, once the process has started, we all have choices and we all have a path we walk.  What Michele and I spoke about was changing that basic condition and providing the building blocks for choice to take hold and that conversation changed how I viewed my role in all of this.

We can’t all do this kind of life changing work but we can all  find a way help in some small way to ensure that the next Maya Angelou has the building blocks for the brain she needs to make every life she touches better.  Find how you can make your impact.

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