Friday, November 30, 2018

Feel Good Friday - Smithsonian Institution

I've spent this week at a conference in DC, which inspired today's Feel Good Friday, the Smithsonian Institution.

The purpose of the Smithsonian Institution, as explained on their website, is a simple one: "The increase and diffusion of knowledge."

Founded in 1846 using funds donated by British scientist James Smithson, "the Smithsonian has become the world's largest museum, education, and research complex, with 19 museums, the National zoo, and nine research facilities."

I'm hoping to go to one or more of the museums tomorrow but it will be hard to decide which ones. A visit to the website is a great place to see samples of the collections and learn about the options, some of which include:
If you're not in DC, you can still learn about and explore your interests. The Smithsonian website has a section with activities and resources for educators, researchers and kids. You can also visit the Smithsonian Channel on YouTube to watch videos about national parks, history, bugs and more!

Inspired by what the Smithsonian is doing? Get involved by becoming one of the 13,000 volunteers. There are opportunities to become a docent, citizen scientist or help with transcribing historical documents. Learn about them all in this short video.

If you don't have time to volunteer, you can still support the Smithsonian by making a donation, liking their Facebook page and following them on Twitter @smithsonian.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Feel Good Friday - Sacramento Tree Foundation

Happy day after Thanksgiving, known in my world as Feel Good Friday! I'm in Sacramento this weekend and want to let you know about a local organization, the Sacramento Tree Foundation.

The mission of the Sacramento Tree Foundation is "building healthy, livable communities in the Sacramento region by growing the best urban forest possible."

Founded on Arbor Day in 1982, the Sacramento Tree Foundation (SacTree) is similar to Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco because they both offer education, advice, training and support for people planting trees in the community. Watch this short intro video for an overview.

As they explain on their website, "a healthy tree canopy provides cleaner air and cooler temperatures, replenishes groundwater, enhances public health, and creates vibrant, livable neighborhoods."

There are a variety of programs including: a seedling growing program for 3rd and 4th graders, an urban wood rescue program that salvages urban trees and mills them into usable lumber and the Save The Elms Program which trains citizen scientists to identify Dutch elm disease and provide monitoring data to City of Sacramento staff.

Of everything SacTree does, my favorite is the Free Shade Tree Program. In partnership with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), residents of Sacramento County are eligible to receive up to 10 free shade trees to plant on their property. After meeting with a community forester, residents get to choose from over 30 deciduous trees. To date SMUD and SacTree have given out 450,000 free shade trees!

If you don't live in the county you can check the Shady Eighty list to see what trees are good for the area and watch an instructional video on how to plant a tree.

With the goal of planting 5 million new trees in the region the Sacramento Tree Foundation can use your help. You can become a tree planting and care volunteer, a citizen scientist or if you don't live in the area make a donation and share the social media love by liking their Facebook page and following them on Twitter @SacTree.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Feel Good Friday - American Red Cross

This week California has been devastated by the Camp fire in the north and Woolsey fire in the south. Providing disaster relief services to people affected in both ends of the state is the American Red Cross. That's why they are today's Feel Good Friday organization.

Founded by Clara Barton in 1881, the American Red Cross "prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors."

With 21,000 employees and 300,000 volunteers in the U.S., the American Red Cross responds to approximately 64,000 disasters each year. In California, they've up set up evacuation centers for people displaced by the fires as well as shelters for animals. They're also operating a free public reunification tool, the Safe and Well website, where you can post your status as safe and search for loved ones.

While the American Red Cross may be most well known for their disaster relief efforts and blood drives that mobilize 2.8 million volunteer blood donors annually, those are just two areas of focus. Each year, the American Red Cross provides first aid, caregiving and water safety skills training to 5.9 million students. That's a lot of CPR!

They also provide services for military families including emergency communications and financial assistance and partner with a global network of 200 Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to administer vaccinations, reconnect families and provide relief for millions of international disaster survivors. With over 17 million volunteers worldwide, Red Cross and Red Crescent societies help 1 in 25 people around the world each year. You can watch an overview of their work in this video, "We Are the American Red Cross".

Exploring their website will give you many opportunities of ways to get involved including getting CPR certified, hosting a blood drive, and educating yourself on emergency preparedness and what belongs in your survival kit.

There are also the usual ways to support the American Red Cross: become a volunteerdonate money directed to the California wildfires and show your love on social media by liking their Facebook page and following them on Twitter @redcross.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Feel Good Friday - Code for America

Code for America founder, Jennifer Pahlka spoke at a conference I attended on Monday and given the organization's mission "to make government work in the digital age", they are my Feel Good Friday pick of the week.

Founded in 2011, Code for America explains their work as follows: "We partner with governments to redesign public services in three high-impact focus areas. Together, we work on projects to better serve communities and transform how governments use technology."

Those three areas are healthy communities, criminal justice and economic development. One example is the GetCalFresh app. It's a service that makes it easier for people to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). There are 2 million people in California who are eligible for the program but not receiving the benefits. GetCalFresh allows them to apply from their mobile phones, get their questions answered via text, online chat or email and upload photos of documents instead of faxing them. See the demo here.

Other programs include Clear My Record, a free online tool that helps people with eligible convictions navigate the complicated process of clearing their records and The Integrated Benefits Initiative. That focuses on creating application systems where user experience and user needs are put at the center of what gets built. Pilot programs are currently running in Michigan, Colorado, Alaska, Vermont and Louisiana.

If you like what Code for America is doing and you've got the skills to help, you can apply for a job in government or volunteer on a local project at one of the 77 brigades around the U.S. My local brigade, Open Oakland is having a Civic Hack Night on November 13th.

No matter what your skills are you can always show your support with a donation or by liking their Facebook page and following them on Twitter @codeforamerica.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Feel Good Friday - Bend the Arc

The past week has not given us a lot to feel good about. The murder of 11 people in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue is what inspired today's Feel Good Friday organization, Bend the Arc.

After the 2016 election, I wrote about the Anti-Defamation League and their fight against anti-Semitism. Clearly there is more work to be done.

As explained on their Facebook page, "Bend the Arc's political advocacy arm harnesses the collective power of progressive American Jews to change policy and build a more just and equal nation."

You may have seen them in the news recently because they organized a unity march during Trump's visit to Pittsburgh and sent him a letter demanding he and the Republican Party:
  • fully denounce white nationalism
  • stop targeting and endangering all minorities
  • cease your assault on immigrants and refugees
  • commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity in all of us
As of Thursday night when writing this post, 85,163 people had signed the letter - you can add your name at this link.

Standing with communities under attack, whether Jewish, Muslim, or immigrants is one of the ways Bend the Arc resists the current administration and political climate. They also mobilize to win progressive legislation and polices. Current campaigns include fights for racial justice, immigration reform and economic equity.

On their website, Bend the Arc provides tools and resources to help you organize a phone bank, rally, or letter writing event and instructions on how to hold a town hall meeting. If you live near one of their 15 locations nationwide, you can volunteer with other people in your community to make a difference. 

At times of tragedy, it's easy to get discouraged, especially if you don't live close enough to provide immediate assistance. What helps me is supporting organizations that are fighting the good fight on behalf of the people who have been affected. If you'd like to support Bend the Arc you can do so by signing the letter, volunteering, donating and spreading the word on social media by liking their Facebook page and following them on Twitter @jewishaction.

One more action you can take... #vote.