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Losing My Virginity – Richard Branson September 3, 2012

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A few people who follow me on Twitter may have already seen that I am completely engrossed in a biography by Richard Branson called “Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way.”

This is not a new book. It was first published in 1998 and the last copyright was updated in 2007. Nonetheless, I can only recommend it. It is an easy read with plenty of action.

But let’s get to the points I wanted to share. While I am not quite through with the book yet, I learned quite a bit and was also surprised that no matter who we are, we still struggle with the essential questions of what are we doing here on earth.

When Richard Branson was 40, he asked himself questions about what comes next, what is the purpose of my life, what is it that I am doing…

That’s why I like biographies of people whom we look up to. He truly lives life to the fullest. He wasn’t born into wealth, but worked himself to where he is in life. Yet, the book is not as much about making a fortune as it is about setting challenges and meeting them.

It reminds me of another biography of a man whom, besides my own Dad, I see as one of my role models, even though I will never meet him – Nelson Mandela. He had a cause and he risked everything for this cause. It was also a challenge that he set for himself.

Our heroes in life are men and women who set goals and go about achieving them. Yet, when they get there, then what?

I like the honesty that I find in the pages of this current biography. There are doubts, there are issues that bother me (why are there not many women he mentions in his business dealings, etc.), but they show that nobody is immune to being human.

No matter how big or little our struggle, the main goal for us is to set a challenge that allows us to grow. It ought not to be just a game to show our own power, but truly see what we can do to make a difference.

I’ve been raised with the belief that to be humble is to not believe in one’s own abilities and certainly not tout about them. To a degree, I know where that attitude comes from and I even agree. But it took me 40 years to acknowledge that there are certain gifts that I was given by the higher power I believe in. To not acknowledge these gifts is to not use them to my fullest abilities.

Interestingly enough I am an individualist and tend to be a loner – no one in my vicinity would consider me to be a social butterfly. What brought me to the United States is to be me. I wanted to escape the burden of living up to everybody else’s expectations. I believe my expectations of myself were already big enough. Once I felt I got my freedom, I changed my focus. I wanted to be the best that I could be at what I was doing at the moment, be it a waitress, a student, a journalist, or an advocate. The point for me is to leave the world around me in a little bit better shape than when I entered it. Yet, I am by no mean someone who would ever be able to compare myself with a Richard Branson or a Nelson Mandela.

However, what I get out of these books is that even I can make a difference. I have always believed that I can be engaged in a small way at the local level.

While I won’t fly a balloon across the Pacific, lead an underground political party, build a business emporium, set up a challenge to develop a private spaceship, or lead an entire nation peacefully one step further to democracy – I can make a difference in my community.

Reading about the challenges people face who are in the public eye gives me the courage to battle on and fight for the goals I believe in.




Art for Change, a street art competition August 29, 2012

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Art for Change, a street art competition in Downtown Nashville to raise homeless awareness is postponed until Oct. 6 http://ow.ly/dkyuL

Rescued dogs and homelessness – it’s all in the budgeting August 25, 2012

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Everyone who knows me personally is aware of the amount of animals I harbor at my home.

Most of them are rescues – thrown away or ending up at a shelter for some reason or other. I generally cannot afford to take in strays because I do not want to bring an undiagnosed disease into the house.

Having a bunch of animals requires careful budgeting. Now, I am by no means a budgeting guru. I’m good with money and live within my means. I also have a good indication of what, in an ideal process, I would like to set aside for retirement, savings, necessities, etc.

However, as so many other people, I tell myself that I do not want to be shackled down by a budget. Unfortunately, in real life, that attitude will not get us far anymore.

Unless you are wealthy, you have to follow some form of a budget. In other words, even though I may cheat myself into thinking that I do not restrain my lifestyle by constant planning and worrying about money, in reality I do make sure I don’t spend more than I bring in and set some aside for later.

That’s why I budget for the dogs, cats, birds and other critters that are occupying pretty much every room in my home.

It is irresponsible, in my view, not to plan ahead and then blame the debtors for trying to collect what you promised them to begin with.

Having said that, I work in the field of homelessness. When people ask me what the cause of homelessness is, I give them the standard answer of – “There are many causes. But the number one underlying cause of homelessness is poverty – unless someone who has means is dealing with a mental health issues that does not allow him or her to access said means.”

In other words, I can be a drunk or drug addict when I have money and not be homeless. It eventually could lead there, but as long as I have money and choose to have a house, I won’t be homeless. In addition, how many of you know of people you suspect are alcoholics, but they have a job and function quite well during the day? And if you cannot think of anyone, then think of Elton John. He’s been addicted on pretty much anything and as far as I know, he’s had enough money throughout many of the years of his addictions that allowed him to stay housed and live in comfort.

I think about poverty and homelessness about 14-16 hours of my day (I sleep 6-8 hours a day and then I won’t think about it when I read a book or watch a movie). It is not right that in a developed country like the United States, there are people who are homeless.

I believe we can end chronic homelessness in this country (but that opinion will be examined in other blogs).

I believe that this country is wasting resources to manage homelessness and help people survive. This is a harsh statement, especially since I also believe that it is necessary to help people survive by feeding, clothing and sheltering them.  Yet, a significant portion of the resources that we spend on homelessness needs to be diverted toward ending homelessness.

There are many models across the country that have shown success in ending chronic homelessness. We need to examine how we can expand these programs. Once we end homelessness, resources will be freed to go toward prevention.

While government funding is needed to help create momentum and keep momentum going, we will only achieve true results through outcome-focused public-private partnerships.

What does all that have to do with my rescued dogs?

It is easier for me to find a quick fix in rescuing a dog or other animal. It provides me with short-term satisfaction.

In the long-term, however, I am focused on doing my part in helping implement solutions to homelessness.

Both of these activities, I found, are based on cost analysis and careful budgeting, connected activities that focus on sustainability.

I cannot take home a dog and then not be able to care for him. The result would undoubtedly be that I would have to give him up again or euthanize him.

The same goes with ending homelessness. We cannot expect to create a lot of good programs without long-term planning on how we would like to sustain these programs and what our desired outcomes out to be.

Specifically, that means that we work together in partnerships where each partner has a stake and interest to hold the other partners accountable. In addition, while it is easy to plan without peer input, we won’t be successful unless we hear from individuals who are or have been homeless. We need to learn from people who have experienced homelessness about what is doable and what is realistic. These answers need to be sought out during our planning process. Are our expectations to high? What do we have to plan for to gain the expected outcomes?

I’ve been learning about homelessness issues for more than 10 years now and can tell you with my full conviction – in the end it is all about budgeting.

Outcomes and sustainability is what matters.

And to end this blog, I only want to mention one more thing. Too many people in the field of homelessness have confused outcomes with output.

I can easily provide 3,000 meals a year to feed the homeless – and it is a great contribution to helping people survive. I budget for that and I deliver. The resulting numbers will impress everyone who hears about them. This is an example of output.

However, what is the outcome? The outcome is that a certain amount of people have received 3,000 meals this year. Their bellies are full, but they are still homeless.




Preventable Crises: Iran, Climate Change and Homelessness January 10, 2012

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As we are bombarded in the media by news about the bad relationship between Iran and the US, I can’t but wonder what will come our way and how we, as regular middle class residents can protect ourselves if this tension is not diffused.

When I grew up, I remember that in my Swiss education in the mid-1980s, we learned about the war between Iraq and Iran. We were taught to think of Iraq as the good guys then, with Saddam, even though a dictator, holding the balance of that region in his hands. 

It turns out that the money spent on my education may not have been wasted on me. But then, we also learned in elementary school that by the year 2000, there will be climate problems facing Mother Earth if we in our generation don’t  come together on a global level and rethink our behavior.

In other words, we knew all of what we’re facing was coming our way. We knew it 20, 30 years ago. Yet, we did not prepare, did not change our behavior because at the time it was inconvenient. 

Now I’m working in the field of homelessness and still observe the same pattern. It seems easier for some people to work in their silos and protect their own organizations rather than collaborate and end homelessness in one of the richest countries on earth.

We know we will face the consequences of homelessness – lack of education, health crises, etc. – in the next generation. I’ll keep on fighting. But will it be enough?

Happy Fourth of July! Get involved in yo July 4, 2011

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Happy Fourth of July! Get involved in your community – it’s the American way. Thank you to all volunteers!!!

Birthday Gift List July 3, 2011

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My Birthday is July 5.

It is a big one – and my husband has planned a surprise party for me. Considering that it didn’t quite work out as planned, I have taken over. As part of my detailed planning skills, I do not want to omit a list of possible surprise gifts, which follows here:

1. A Starbucks Gift Card – $5

2. A Starbucks Gift Card – $10

3. A Starbucks Gift Card – $15

4. A Starbucks Gift Card – $25 (If you were so nice to dish out $20 for my birthday – thanks, you can do so, but why not throw in the extra five bucks and really surprise me?)

5. A subscription to Foreign Affairs magazine (this is a politically inspired blog, after all).

6. A donation to Lovie’s Legacy; please include a note that you learned about this wonderful organization through me. I am currently on the board of Lovie’s Legacy. I believe in this nonprofit because it wants to change animal welfare by teaching children how to deal with animals, especially dogs. My belief is that true change happens when we teach our future generations how to care about and respect other living beings.

Thank you for being my friends!

P.S. Any stranger is welcome to join in the happy giving. Just leave me a comment, and it will be my pleasure to help you make sure I receive your gift.

And NO ONE seems upset! Students are hom December 27, 2010

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And NO ONE seems upset!

Students are homeless in basically every larger community. This article from the Washington Post confirms what I’ve observed in our local youth homelessness situation in Nashville. Teenagers who deal with homelessness are a very hidden population and hard to reach.

One of the problems helping homeless teenagers who are still in school is that federal dollars given to schools for homelessness liaison programs cannot be utilized for housing. At the same time, the definition of homelessness that the Education Department goes by is much broader than the one that the Department for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) uses. HUD moneys can go toward housing, but HUD mainly views people as being homeless if they live in the streets or in shelters.
Many teenagers crash on the couches of a friend, move from location to location, stay in motels, etc. Unless they finally go to a shelter, where they are a high target population for victimization, or sleep in a a car, it is hard to find federal dollars to put them in a habitable situation.

Here is a link to a Washington Post article that explains things better

If you want to get involved locally, support Housing First. As we get more funding, we can look at expanding the programs to families and youth. But first we need the community to come together and support us. Join The Key Alliance at http://www.thekeyalliance.org

Sustainable Housing for Chronically Home December 23, 2010

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Sustainable Housing for Chronically Homeless Individuals

When communities come together and work together, when systems are examined and changed to fulfill the needs of the poorest of the poor, then we seed hope. And where plans are built on ideas that sprung out of hope, results will follow.

I just wrote a brief blog on the 100,000 Homes Campaign, of which The Key Alliance, the fundraising arm of the Metrpolitan Homelessness Commission in Nashville, is a part of. I work for that organization because I believe we can obtain solutions to homelessness. We still have ways to go, but I believe we are on the right track.
Here is a link to the blog I posted for The Key Alliance: http://wp.me/pPMtg-2E

I’m now working fulltime as communicati November 23, 2010

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I’m now working fulltime as communications coordinator for The Key Alliance, the nonprofit fundraising arm of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission in Nashville, Tennessee. It is a busy and very exciting time right now.
Our goal at The Key Alliance is to end chronic homelessness and reduce overall homelessness in Nashville. To do so, we believe the entire community has to come together.
Homelessness is not a government issue. It is a community issue.
Together we can make a difference by taking one homeless person off the streets of Nashville at a time. We believe in changing lives.
As a society, we have been looking the other way for the past 20 years when it came to dealing with homelessness. But now, one by one, cities across the nation realize that it costs more to manage homelessness by providing services in an unconnected manner (one service agency at a time) than to end homelessness through Housing First. The high costs many chronically homeless individuals acrue stems from ER visits, detox and jail.
We at The Key Alliance promote Housing First, which offers permanent housing to homeless individuals coupled with intensive, individualized case management. Our case management is provided by master’s level social workers at a ratio of 1:12 (which compares to regular case management ratios that can be as high as 1:35 or more).
Our formula for success is: Housing + Case Management + Income = Reduction in Homelessness.
The Key Alliance is not a direct service provider. Instead, this non-traditional nonprofit is all about awareness and fundraising. As funding becomes available, we will contract with existing service providers to take Housing First to a larger scale. Therefore, we are not competing with existing agencies serving homelessness in our community. On the contrary, we are seeking partnerships and will re-allocate the funding we raise.
So why give to The Key Alliance instead of giving directly to a service provider agency? The Key Alliance will hold service providers accountable for the outcomes. We are seeking permanent solutions rather than band aids. If that were already the approach of all service providers, then we would not have seen stagnant and increasing homelessness numbers in our cities. In addition, The Key Alliance does not have much overhead costs. Our staff is paid for by the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission. We’re working for both organizations. Thus, every dollar raised will be utilized to go back out to the community towards solutions to homelessness and awareness to bring us together as a community to tackle homelessness.
You can make a difference today. Join The Key Alliance at http://www.thekeyalliance.org.

The Black Hawk pilots of Troop D, deploy November 22, 2010

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The Black Hawk pilots of Troop D, deployed to Iraq last year, were named “Unit of the Year”. Congrats Ricky!