Friday, August 30, 2013

Salad Bars 2 Schools in Concrete

So here is a cool thing that my mother-in-law alerted me to. A group called Salad Bars 2 Schools provides grants for schools to upgrade their cafeteria equipment to include a salad bar. The grants are crowd funded, so you can support a school salad bar in your own neighborhood (or my mother-in-law's neighborhood).

Brief platitudes: Nutrition matters, especially during childhood and adolescence. Plenty of evidence connects consumption of vegetables with lower levels of obesity, and the related health and performance problems that come with it. Want kids to be successful at school? Help them get vegetables at school.  You can learn more here.

Go here, look for Concrete School District and make it happen.

Other updates, Project Save the World needs to take a brief back seat to my latest endeavor: Find a Job! I'll be a free agent come November, but I'm hoping to find something new before then. I apologize if updates get fewer and farther between for a while, but I will continue to update the thermometer. I might need more help from guest bloggers and volunteers/donors in the meantime. Please let me know if you can help! We're so close to the halfway mark!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Donor's Choose Project Funded!

The first of the three Donor's Choose  projects I've highlighted was funded! If you have never had a chance to participate in funding a project, you should totally try it. I backed a project to provide school supplies to a low income Seattle School. For starters, it's pretty righteous to be able to track down your neighbors, and just feel like, yeah, I'm going to help them with this need.  The teacher immediately sent a thank you note to me personally, which makes me feel good. And then when the entire project was funded, she posted this note:
Thank you so much for your donations toward school supplies for my students! Wow, I'm so delighted that my students will have supplies on their desks just for them when they arrive back at school in September. Students will have backpacks for carrying their homework to and from school. Each child will have pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, markers, clipboards, rulers, and a mobile work organizer to organize student work. Thank you everyone for your generous donations!

With gratitude,
Ms. Savage

Remember, this is a high poverty school, where huge numbers of students are on free meals. They aren't going to the store to buy new backpacks and pencils before school starts. Just having these supplies available to them makes the job of all of their teachers that much easier. It's a pretty cool give for a teacher to give to her students, and I'm really pleased I go to participate in it.

It's not too late for you to participate. Schools across the country (even in Seattle and Pittsburgh) are looking for ways to give their students a strong start at the year, and you can step up, help out, and get that really good feeling of helping.

I just donated to support this project: Ms. Ralston want to fill her Pittsburgh Student Achievement Center classroom with pencils, folders, and notebooks so her middle school students have the supplies to get to learning from day 1. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dinner to the Shelter

Just another note that my Mom and I made dinner for the Landing, the Friends of Youth Emergency Shelter. The calendar of people taking dinner has a lot more gaps this month; I dropped off a gift card for groceries, so they can pick up dinner for another night.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Guest Post: Austin Partners in Education

From time to time, I' like to hear from the folks I've coerced into helping me with this goal. My big brother was one of the first people to jump on board with this project, and he spent the spring volunteering in Austin public schools as a math tutor/educator. Here are his thoughts on the volunteer experience he has had at Austin Partners in Education.
My favorite destination for my volunteer money or time has always been education. As near as I can tell, it solves every problem. It lifts people from poverty, helps them make better decisions, opens up opportunities for further growth, and helps build communities in healthy and sustainable ways. It solves energy problems, medical problems, social problems, and even educational problems! It's the best. Education is really just the best. We should do more of it.

Education has also been the first area where I've donated more time than money this year. It's been a long, long time since I volunteered any time, but after looking for a while for a reason to periodically get out of the house, I stumbled upon a volunteer opportunity that was perfect for me. It involved helping teach kids math, one of my favorite and best fields. It was near my work, near lunchtime, and afforded me the opportunity to not only get out of the house for a while, but also work with kids who could really use my help.

The volunteer opportunity I tried was called Austin Partners in Education. It's a pretty big organization, boasting something like 2000 volunteers. Once a week, I would go in and work in very small groups (nearly one-on-one) with kids who were having trouble with math. It was all pretty straightforward stuff, but getting to do teaching, math, and volunteering all at once? Sounded like a great time to me. What they mostly needed from potential volunteers wasn't a lot of crazy experience or anything, mostly just enthusiasm and a willingness to be patient with kids who needed it. I could do that. (Hint: so can you!)

For the most part, it wasn't too bad. I was perfectly willing to give them a lot of patience: my usual math student was less than 2 at the time, and he still hasn't picked up counting yet. The fact that it took the other students a couple of tries to pick complex fractions was a welcome change of pace. Each day we'd do a little more work, sometimes offering encouragement as they worked, sometimes dragging them through the exercises, and sometimes failing even to do that. But you do what you can, and though the kids I was working with were in middle school, and already too cool to appreciate anything, we were continuously reminded by the teachers that they could really see improvement in their students. And the kids did appreciate it, even if they didn't say so with, you know, words. Or actions. Or facial expressions.

I enjoyed it, and being as school is starting up soon I'm planning on volunteering again when the program starts up for the new year. Every year there's a new crew of kids that need help with math, and by Jove! I just might be the incredibly dorky math nerd to help them. If this sounds like the sort of thing you might want to try, here's some little tips you may want to consider:

  1. Bring your own pencils and/or pens. The kids often don't have their own, or are willing to fake it so they don't have to work.
  2. Bring neat stuff. I got a lot of mileage out of my cool and unique backpack.
  3. It's okay to talk about your interests, especially if it's stuff like video games or (hurk) pop music that they can get into as well. You have to let them come out of their shell in their own way.
  4. But do remember that you are an authority as well, and it's your main goal to get them to do work. You can't force them to do anything, of course, but you might be surprised how well telling them 'it's time to work' will just make it so.

Now get out there and change some lives!

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Really, who doesn't love metrics? There is lots of pithy wisdom about the importance of measurement in success, but let's not beat around the bush. I love graphs.

Here is a graph that shows how the thermometer has been moving over time.
Fig 1. Dollars raised over time. This is what rocking looks like.

It's ok to be impressed by the increasing pace that it moves at. It's cool to wonder what the big gaps or wide leaps are about. I've got this all in Excel so I can look at exactly that. It's a little dizzying to try to project when we might just bust the thermometer. Assuming the month of my actual birthday was an anomoly, I think I will probably be hitting about 10% a month- or be meeting my goal in about 6 months. SIX MONTHS. That's like.... well, that's a bridge we will cross when we get there.

In the meantime, I've been pitching in hours to get HiveBio going, and enjoying the heck out of that. puts me in touch with lots of ambitious, energetic folks with great ideas. That is one wonderful thing that this project has brought to my life.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

It's back to school time!

Education is important to me. Education has been a primary theme of my life; In 2011, I graduated from 22nd grade, I currently work as an educator. It's no secret that education matters to me. Education gives students opportunities that matter, that allow them to become productive members of society. Going to school is where students learn not only their core subjects, but also social skills that help them get along with others, connect with mentors who can guide them through the many transitions from childhood to graduation. This is the time of year when all those "Back To School" Ads trigger my desire to support teachers in their classroom. We are going to be talking about education a lot this month.

And while financial support for education in this country remains a complex political problem, it's clear that there are certain things that make it easier for a teacher to teach. No one knows their students better than a teacher, and they are fantastic and identifying the resources that can help students master challenges- whether it's encouragement to read more complex material, or new pencils to facilitate writing. One of my favorite charities of all time is Donor's Choose, a crowd funder that allows you to pick a classroom to support directly. Teachers post their materials lists, and you kick in as much or as little as you like to help them and their students get the year started out right.

Here are a few projects you might consider supporting (based on my estimation of the geography of my current readership), but you can search them all at

Ms. Savage wants to give her Seattle students backpacks with school supplies they can't afford. Gawd, the thought of teaching students who cannot afford the pencils to learn to write with just chokes me up.

Ms. Milligan's class at the Juneau Charter School wants an iPad for use in their literary workshops. Yes, her 4th and 5th graders publish the school's website.

Ms. Ralston want to fill her Pittsburgh Student Achievement Center classroom with pencils, folders, and notebooks so her middle school students have the supplies to get to learning from day 1.

Please let me know if you end up supporting a project at Donor's Choose. Next time, I may guilt you into it by posting the hand written Thank you Notes I got from a classroom in Pittsburgh last spring.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

HiveBio: Where did all the hours go?

I should have started explaining all the time I've been spending on HiveBio things earlier, but here is the long overdue update. In March, I heard about an enthusiastic group of people who wanted to start a biohackerspace: a community lab where people can come to explore biology by doing experiments and collaborating on projects. Lab spaces like this have been successful in other cities, especially areas with a biotech community, so it seems like time that Seattle had our own. A couple years ago, I went to a conference called "Design, Make, Play" where professionals in non-formal and informal education got together to share best practices, so I was quickly convinced that 1) This is a great way for people to get to experience science, 2) this type of community can be successful, despite the challenges of starting a lab with a tiny budget.

I pitched in a few bucks to the Microryza campaign, and decided to go to one of their meet-ups. I had met with one of the founders, but I wanted to know what type of people were involved in the project. At the first meeting, I introduced myself as someone who had a lot of bench experience, but had no interest in designing my own research projects anymore. Since I'm a curriculum writer though, I might be able to lend a hand with education? A few weeks later, I was approached to the be the Executive Director of their Education Programs. Although this sounded like something I should jump at the chance to do, I hesitated. What did they think education would look like at HiveBio? And did they know that I've only been thinking seriously about instructional design for about a year now? And that I am NOT supremely well connected to the science community in Seattle? The fun and scary thing about hanging around with hackers is that they necessarily have crazy ambition, are used to working with very limited resources, and are successful because they make unexpected connections. So yes, they wanted me to build a program from scratch, but there weren't too many constraints, and they have basically started aligning all the key people of Seattle to the project already. This outsized ambition in contagious.

As an aside, when I finished graduate school, I spent some time volunteering that Carnegie Science Center of Pittsburgh. It was super fun, but it felt more like fun than working for a good cause. When I mentioned this to my supervisor, he corrected me. No, actually, providing students the opportunity to develop a passion for science is a matter of economic equality. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) jobs pay more than the average American job, women in STEM have a smaller pay gap with men, and the same is true of minorities who work in STEM. In fact, there is a great need for STEM workers, which can be be more easily filled by increasing the number of talented women and minorities working in STEM. Further, having diversity in STEM is was provides us the opportunity for innovations that will solve problems like world hunger, homelessness, climate change, and our changing energy needs. Basically, if you worry about the future of our youth, giving them access to STEM can help them to level their own playing field. At Design, Make, Play, I saw research that demonstrated that learning in informal and nonformal learning environments plays an important role in cultivating an interest and pathway to success in STEM, and this liberated me to believe that the hours I was spending shooting rockets with 4 year-olds was actually making a long term difference.

This encouraged me to find a position in nonformal or informal learning environments, but nothing presented itself. However, during that time, I found work developing content for a nontraditional, formal learning environment, and I thought this might be a good step. It also left me with plenty of time to pursue my outlandish philanthropy goals.
Since I agreed to lead Ed programs at HiveBio, there has been a lot to do. There are meetings with the leadership, and potential instructors. There are documents to create (guidelines for instructors, protocols to format), and plans to create. One of my greatest feats so far has been securing the donation of some unwanted equipment from my office, which was moving to a new, smaller location. The old computers and office equipment I estimated had a value of about $1500 for the thermometer. All the computers had password protected copies of office on them, so my husband spent hours wiping them, reinstalling Linux, and assessing the value of their respective parts. I am going to be spending much more than 20 hours a month working on this program.

I'm really excited to have somewhere to apply my ambition, and I'm excited about what HiveBio will do for the community.

If you are excited about this too, I highly recommend you join us for our lab warming party, August 17 at HiveBio. (Update: Soon)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Something Amazing: 40%!!

Saturday morning, we somehow talk ourselves, our friends, their parents and my parents to get get up early and go to a small 5K, the Bridge to Adoption 5K. It had been quite a hectic week, since both Matt and I have been busy with HiveBio stuff, but we wanted to run this event.
Fig 1. Before the Race. Matt and Julie are saving every ounce of energy.
1) It's super close.
2) Jeffrey and Matt ran last year, and came in 1 and 2.
3) Adoption is even more on everyone's minds of late.... and this event is fundraising for the adoption of a second child in the organizers family.
4) As always, the multi-person multiplier seemed in my favor here.
Since I was with my parents as I was registering, they agreed to come and walk, under the condition that we would all have breakfast together afterwards. It's a nice run through Blyth Park, and although Matt and Jeffrey both put up better times than last year, someone else beat them.  But, hey, we won gift cards in the raffle, and Julie even won a pair of new shoes in the raffle.  How great is that!
Fig 2. Post-race, and post-breakfast. A good time was had by all.

And then I came home, and added the tally to the spreadsheet. 7 people at the 5K, my time at HiveBio, Matt's time with the HiveBio computers, the value of the computer themselves...., and holy cats! We just hit 40%!! Seriously, more than $12,000 raised for charity.

While it is obvious to me now that I need to spend some time explaining what I am doing with HiveBio, I also want to spend some time reflecting on the momentum we have currently. I've mentioned this before; the best ways to volunteer time are the ways that a most compatible with your lifestyle. I can easily ask my mom and grandmother to help me make dinner for the shelter because they like to cook. I can easily convince Jeffrey to run a 5K (who in turn can get the rest of his family to tag along), since he loves running anyway. I filled up our garage with old computers, and Matt was keen to get fixing them. My plan for the rest of the year is to highlight diferent causes that I like to support, and hopefully this will help spring to mind ways that others can help as well.