December 30, 2008

Helping the homeless of Harrisburg

A quick Tuesday afternoon serving of inspiration:

Surviving on the streets: Woman goes on weekly crusade to help homeless by Mary Klaus of The Patriot-News

Kelly Shaffer spends her Sundays feeding and clothing the homeless on the streets of Harrisburg. What do you do on Sunday? Maybe we all need to head out and help Kelly change the world.

Take note of this excerpt from the article: "Kelly's Christian Crusade to help Harrisburg's homeless can use new or gently used items such as wool blankets, sweat shirts, sweat pants, jeans, long underwear, socks, sleeping bags, hats and gloves. It also needs toiletries such as nail clippers and travel sizes of deodorant, toothpaste and shampoo. To arrange a drop-off for donations, call Kelly Shaffer at 903-3262 or 367-8211 or e-mail her at"


December 28, 2008

Stoves for Women in Darfur

So, I was flipping through the television this weekend and came across a CNN story about a 17-year-old who is single-handedly doing what he can (a whole lot, it turns out) to change the world. His name is Spencer Brodsky and his story is truly inspiring.

Brodsky has been raising funds to purchase fuel-efficient stoves for women living in Darfur, where war is raging. To learn more about the situation in Darfur and what is being done by at least one group to stop it, click here.

The Maryland resident started his project in 2007. He has raised enough money to purchase more than 400 stoves, which go for $30 a piece. The importance of the stoves goes beyond face value. A little research (or a visit to Brodsky's Web site) shows that families in Darfur must travel far into dangerous territories to collect enough wood to build a fire and cook their food. The stoves Brodsky supports requires 75 percent less wood to cook the same amount of food.

So, I propose we help Brodsky out by contributing $30 to his project. He'll take care of the rest, which results in making life a tiny bit easier for women and children who are experiencing a kind of life that most of us only visit in our nightmares. Click here to buy a stove.

Brodsky purchases the stoves by partnering with CHF International - an organization that has worked to improve the social, economic and environmental conditions in more than 100 countries over the past 50+ years. To learn more and/or donate directly to CHF's fund for stoves for women in Darfur, click here. To read what CHF had to say about Brodsky, click here. And to find out how else you can change the world by partnering with CHF, click here.

Happy Changing,

December 22, 2008

Donate while you Celebrate the Season

Christmas is upon us, people. What does that entail? Tons and tons of food consumed during numerous parties and gatherings.

I've been attending a number of parties myself, and one recently took place that I thought I should share with the masses. While attending an event thrown by a couple of lovely ladies I graduated college with whom are now living in the Philadelphia area, I was struck by their cleverest of open-hearted ideas. Instead of asking their guests to bring along a dish or a beverage or anything else at all, they requested donations to pin to their Christmas tree.
Not just any donation, mind you, but a combined donation that would be split between two causes chosen by the hosts. It was a somewhat small gathering, but the pair managed to raise $250. I think this is awesome. I also think you should follow suit. It is Christmas, after all...and those resolutions of change are just around the corner. Start early. Begin making your changes now.

Already throw your holiday shindig? Not to worry. This is a great idea for any kind of party all year round. Tuck it in your back pocket, but don't leave it there. Do it.

Wishing you the kindest of holiday blessings,

December 15, 2008

Urban Poverty in Central PA - Part 2

The second half of The Invisible Workforce by Central Penn Business Journal reporter David Dagan published this past Friday. The series is focused on urban poverty and the resulting workforce issues in Central Pennsylvania.
Here is the second half of The Invisible Workforce:
--Redefining recruiting: Outreach, workforce-system changes target underemployment
--The skeptical view: Long odds and disputed assumptions
--Reporter's Notebook: In search of malaise – an enlightening walk

To read the first part of the series, please visit my previous post. New videos and other information are available here. My favorite piece of the series can be found here.

Read it. Educate yourself. Let it sink in. And let it motivate you to make a change.


December 5, 2008

Urban Poverty in Central PA

Today's post is made possible by the hard work of an esteemed reporter at the Central Penn Business Journal. David Dagan spent many months this year investigating the topic of urban poverty as it relates to workforce issues within the Central Pennsylvania region.

I invite you to take a close look at the results: The Invisible Workforce. You will find some compelling information about why change is necessary, not just in this region - but across the country and into the world.

Here is what published today:
--Uninspired: Communication gaps, apathy clog labor pipeline, advocates say
--A fragile Future: Between courts and jobs, a young man stumbles (FYI - this one made me cry.)Videos and more information on the series can be found by clicking here. The second part of the series is set to publish a week from today. Stay tuned.


November 28, 2008

My UnBlack Friday

Today is Black Friday. I could have went shopping today. But I didn’t. In fact, I did just the opposite.

I do not think it is insignificant that the color black is used to define this day. I have nothing against the color -- in fact, I’m wearing it right now -- but its symbolism is powerful.

Did you know that someone was killed by a crowd rushing the entrance to a Wal-Mart this morning? I don’t even know what to say to this. It completely blows my mind that our world has reached a point where we are so desperate for material items that we could take the life of a human being this way. This is what this blog is all about: we seriously need to wake up.

When I woke up this morning, instead of standing in line for a deeply discounted television I started packing garbage bags with old blankets, pillows and stuffed animals that my mom and I found in our attic last night. (Disclaimer: I'm not saying this was an easy decision or that you made a bad one if you were out shopping. There were a lot of good deals and I don't blame you for taking advantage of them. Plus, you can do what I did any day. That's the beauty of it.)

I began my adventure in giving by taking a car load of items to Safe Harbour in Carlisle. The nonprofit group provides an emergency shelter for those in need of a secure place to live. It also provides long-term housing and offers programming to help individuals master basic life skills so they may eventually live independently. A list of items you can donate to them can be found here. To give money directly to Safe Harbour, click here.

For those of you who don’t live near Carlisle, you’ll have to do a little research of your own. Google is a fantastic creation. Try typing in “where to donate [insert item you’d like to donate] in [insert city and state here]." A couple other midstate places I found were Delta Community Inc. at 2041 N. 2nd St. in Harrisburg and the Bethesda Mission at 611 Reily St. in Harrisburg. More later on those groups and any others I come across. No matter where you live, there are similar organizations out there. Go find them.

After dropping off my goods at the shelter, I returned home to refill my car -- this time with old comforter sets, curtains and clothing (oh yes, we have unbelievable amounts of stuff in our attic - I had no idea). I hauled this stuff over to The Salvation Army. Perhaps you read my recent post about their Red Kettle program. The group also operates thrift shops, the proceeds from which support their Adult Rehabilitation program. They accept clothing, furniture and many other items. To find a shop near you, click here. To donate directly to the Salvation Army, click here.

I hope my small amount of effort today brings some warmth and comfort into the lives of those in need. I invite you to give it a try.


November 22, 2008

The Red Kettle

Has the economic slump got you down? Feeling the need to pinch your pennies this year? I know the feeling. But like me, perhaps you also would still like to make a change here and there. This week I'm going to focus on some less expensive ways to make a difference.

First up,
The Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army has a variety of programs that help communities across the country in so many critical ways: disaster relief, prisoner rehabilitation, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, human-trafficking prevention, elderly services and much more. For more information on the various programs, click here.
And when the air becomes frigid and your thoughts begin to turn to the upcoming holiday season, out comes those easily recognizable red kettles. Ever wonder where the money you drop into the kettle goes? Through the group's Christmas Charity, your donations provides Christmas dinners, clothing and toys for needy families, seniors and the homeless. Volunteers distribute the gifts to shut-ins in hospitals, nursing homes and shelters that are open for sit-down dinners.

So the next time you pass by the man or woman ringing the bell outside the grocery store, why don't you take a moment to slip a few dollars into the kettle? Think of all of the food you were just able to buy, and find just a little bit more to give someone in need a warm meal this holiday season.

To volunteer with the organization, visit the group's main Web site and enter your zip code into the box at the upper right hand corner of the screen to find a location near you. Give them a call. Reach out your capable hand. Take some time and make a change.

To donate directly to The Salvation Army today, click here.


November 14, 2008

Gifts that give in Central PA

The Christmas shopping season is upon us. For some, this is a joy; for others, it is a frustrating, expensive time of year. I felt a wave of relief upon discovering the South Central Pennsylvania Alternative Gift Fair.

The fair is an opportunity to make donations (varying from $10 to $250) on behalf of someone you want to give a gift to. That person will receive a card telling them about the gift.

A number of local nonprofits use the donations to meet various community needs, including a hot meal for a homeless individual, clothes for someone in need, one hour of counseling for a survivor of sexual assault, and much, much more. For an example of the shopping list, click here.

And if you can’t make it out to a fair, I am told you will be able to shop on their Web site from Nov. 16 to Dec. 15.

Two fairs will take place this year:
The event is hosted by The Ladies Half, a women’s giving circle that provides funds and assistance to enhance the lives of families and organizations in south-central Pennsylvania. If you’re interested in joining the group, click here. To donate funds directly to the organization, click here.

See you at the fair,

Why should we change?

For those of you in need of a little motivation, I’d like to give you a good reason every now and then as to why our world is in need of change. Today, I ask you to click here and get a taste of what I mean.

These photos were taken in America. There are U.S. citizens living in tents as a result of the financial crisis that has shaken our economy to its core. This is just one example of why it’s so important that we do something to help turn our neighborhoods, our states, our country, our world and our entire society around.

So go ahead. Read through the rest of this blog. Check it regularly. Begin taking the baby steps necessary to change this world.


November 12, 2008

Protect youth from violence with lipstick


Purchase a tube of the perfect shade of lipstick and, in return, 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale will be donated to a charitable organization that supports women and children.

Sound too good to be true? Well, for once, it isn’t.

The profits from every $13 tube of Mary Kay Inc.’s Apple Berry lipstick sold will be given to charity. That may be a hefty price to pay for lipstick, but keep in mind it's for a good cause. It also helps to know that, according to Mary Kay, the Apple Berry color best suits all skin tones. Sold? If so, click here.

Mary Kay began this global initiative May 1st, but you only have until the end of the year to take advantage of it. The effort is part of the company’s corporate commitment to change the lives of women and children around the world. And I like it.

In the United States, the proceeds will be donated to Break the Cycle -- a nonprofit organization that engages, educates and empowers youth to build lives and communities free from domestic and dating violence.

Would you rather make a contribution directly to Break the Cycle? If so, click here. Go ahead, take some action.


Note: After you choose to purchase the lipstick, you will be prompted to choose an independent beauty consultant. If you don’t have one already, please take the time to search and find someone in your area. This is the person who will process your order and deliver your items. I know it’s a pain, but think about the outcome. You basically get the lipstick for free because your money goes to helping youth by fighting domestic violence. It’s worth it.

November 10, 2008

Feeding and educating children in need


It turns out that Toms sells more than just shoes. They also sell trendy hats and t-shirts, the proceeds from which also provide a pair of shoes for needy children. And at $28 each, they're a wee bit cheaper than the shoes.

And then there’s my favorite part. I recently discovered that Toms also is selling a hip-looking tote bag that is designed to raise awareness and funds for feeding hungry children and helping them get an education.

I won’t lie - these are pricey at $65 a pop, but think about it: Each “Feed Project Bag” sold provides one school year’s worth of meals for a child in need. Your $65 not only gets you a bag in return, but it gives a child the hope of an education and a regular meal.

Sign me up.


November 9, 2008

Shoes for needy children

“Shoes for a Better Tomorrow”

Here is something simple you can do within the next ten minutes or less to initiate change. For every pair of shoes purchased from Toms Shoes, the organization will give a second pair of shoes to a child who desperately needs them.

The lightweight shoes are simple and come in a variety of cool designs/colors/etc. The price for a pair is roughly $40-$60 a cost a good bit more. It's kind of pricey, but keep in mind that not only are you getting a pair of shoes - so is someone else who likely needs them more.

Since the group got started in May 2006, it has given more than 10,000 pairs of shoes to children in Argentina and 50,000 pairs of shoes to children in South Africa. During 2008, the group plans to give 200,000 pairs of shoes to children around the world. How awesome is that?

(Disclaimer: This photo was taken from The band has taken on Africa as their cause -- more on that later. The pictures were taken while helping with a Toms Shoes Shoe Drop in South Africa.)

One way Toms delivers the shoes is through Shoe Drops, which you can help out with if you’d like to take your commitment a bit further. More information on how to do that can be found at You can also help out at community events that are hosted across the country (or host your own). Click here for more on that.

The organization sells some of its shoes at retail outlets (click here to do a search), but you also can purchase items on their Web site, which is probably the easiest and fastest method.

Happy shopping (while changing our world),

PS: Stay tuned for more ways you can initiate change in partnership with Toms Shoes later this week...

November 8, 2008

I, too, propose a change.

This year’s election was covered with the marketing techniques of luring individuals in with the idea of initiating change. Everybody in our great nation appears to be interested in change. I know I am. But the biggest problem with all of this is that not many - or at least not enough - seem willing to step up and initiate that change. We complain, we cry, we struggle, we disagree, we feel frustrated, we rage…yet we remain silent or inactive - or both.

I feel challenged to help initiate change. To help individuals follow through with their words. Walk their talk. Change their world. I want to change my world. This is my first step, small as it may be. What will yours be?

The whole purpose of this blog (tentatively titled Change 101) is at least once a week to post some information about a cause. I hope to provide some insight into what the cause does and how you can help the cause, if you feel moved to do so. I hope that the information I provide you with will help you to speak up, reach out and take our world and our desire for change seriously. Do more than vote. Do more than complain. Do more than feel guilty. Do more than exist. Help. Contribute. Do something…do anything.

I will not deny that my motivation, inspiration and reason for all of this stems directly from the heart of my faith in God. However, I do not require you to have the same reasons as I for what you do. I am overwhelmingly ecstatic for you to do, period.

I will try to update this blog once a week - at the very least…perhaps each Sunday, so that come Monday morning, you will have a fresh piece of informational inspiration at your fingertips. And together, perhaps we can make a change.


January 14, 2008

Getting to know Jess

1. I can trace my family’s genealogy back to William Shakespeare. Yes, the William Shakespeare. Big Willy is something like my great, great, great, great, great uncle on my father’s side of the family. In fact, my great grandma’s maiden name was Shakespeare. I saw the tombstone when I was a little girl. The direct connection is through David Shakespeare, who was my five-times-great grandfather, as well as William’s brother. My father’s middle name was William. And my uncle’s name is David. They are family names. :o)

2. For my 16th birthday gift, my mom sent me on a three-week tour of Europe with American Music Abroad. (I played the clarinet for more than a decade of my life…and probably still could if I got it out and worked on my embouchure.) We visited Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and France. A lot of time was spent on a bus and playing concerts, but I did get to see some amazing sights – hanging out in Salzburg, where the Sound of Music was filmed (one of my favorite childhood movies); taking the long ride up to the top of the snow-covered Alps; partaking in a Tyrolean folk fest; viewing Paris from the Eiffel Tower; walking the cobblestone streets of Dusseldorf; floating in a gondola in Venice; and much, much more. It was three of the best weeks of my life, but I do wish I had been a bit older and mature so that I might have paid more attention to where I was rather than all of the new people I was traveling with (didn’t know a soul on the trip when we left). I have a big photo album filled with pictures taken by a 16-year-old girl if you’re ever interested. They’re not so great, but I’ve got stories!

3. More than two years ago I began volunteering at a no-kill animal shelter in York County. Why? Well, I had moved back to the Harrisburg area after graduating from college and I had few friends in the area. I thought that volunteering might be a good way to fill my time, so I went for it and fell in love. The Helen O. Krause Animal Foundation Inc. has fast become a second home for me. Twice a month, I wake up at the crack of dawn (7 a.m.) on Saturday to drive half an hour to Dillsburg and spend time playing with the puppies and cleaning their kennels. I use the time to clear my mind and to take care of any mental debating that needs to be done. There’s also something special about spending time caring for homeless animals. They are so eager for love and attention – and they’re not afraid to show it or accept it. Sometimes, when I’m having a really hard time, I like to head to the cat shelter and shut myself inside the kitten room. Once they’re awake, you’re likely to have seven or eight kittens fighting to sit on your lap or play with strings hanging from your clothing. It’s one of the most effective therapeutic concepts I’ve experienced. (I also took over as editor of the foundation’s newsletter about a year ago and am a member of its public-relations committee.)

4. I suppose it's not proper to just say these things, but I'm going to anyway. My dad passed away two weeks after my 14th birthday. I wouldn’t recommend asking me how unless you have a couple of hours to hear my story, but make sure you read #5 on this list. I will say that it was unexpected and unpleasant, but I would not be who I am if it had not taken place. I didn’t go to counseling until about three or four years ago (even then it was short-lived). I didn’t turn to drugs or alcohol to sort it all out, either, even though that’s what was expected of me. So how did I cope? I have the most wonderful friends that I am so grateful for. And I have penned some of the weirdest poems in the world.

5. I am writing a book/memoir. I’ve been thinking about it and planning it for as long as I can remember. Basically, it’s the story of my life, centered around my dad. I have spent years analyzing the nine months or so before he passed away, to the point where I have it memorized. The bulk of the book will focus on that, but it will include some earlier and more recent tidbits. I started the writing process more seriously when I graduated from college in 2006. It took me two years to write three pages. I'm up to 17 now. It’s a compilation of freestyle poetry, letters and chapters. I know that doesn't sound like much progress, but it’s been a painful, yet liberating process. I can't imagine what it will feel like when I've finished it, but I'm looking forward to it.

6. All I've ever wanted to do is write, but I never really intended or even wanted to write for a newspaper. However, I have somehow ended up working for 2.5 years as a reporter for a business journal in Harrisburg. I didn’t intend to stay there this long, but I do not regret it in any way. I have learned that the best stories are not the ones made from thin air, but the ones that are based on facts. Real life is far more interesting than fantasy, and much easier to write. I also think you can make more of an impact on the world telling a story that is true. So now I have a couple of book ideas and they are all steeped in truth. I would love to reach a point in my life where I could concentrate on that. My time with the paper has also made me a much, much better writer. I have worked with editors who have helped me begin to find my voice as a writer. If you want an example of my work, here is a story I wrote last summer that is nearest and dearest to my heart.

7. Last, but not least, I absolutely have an adoration for the outdoors, in particular the night sky. Living in the somewhat country blesses me with the opportunity to see some amazing star-filled sights after dark. I try to make a point each night to take a good look at the picture God has painted for me. I have a good friend who is always down for camping out in my front yard for some star action, even in the middle of January. She is the same friend who taught me how to smoke my first cigar a year ago. I know that may sound unappealing, but when you’re sitting on the rooftop of a row home in Allison Hill (the ‘hood, as we affectionately call it, of Harrisburg) in the middle of the night with a group of friends, gazing at the stars and the city lights…well, a cigar truly seals the deal. It became a tradition for the group of inspiring friends I made a year and a half ago at Habitat for Humanity of the Greater Harrisburg Area. I didn’t have any particular reason to begin volunteering for Habitat, but I felt that I should give it a go and it ended up completely changing my life. I met a group of individuals who became some of my closest, most favorite people in the entire world. We would spend a Saturday working on some houses, cleaning up trash or doing demolition work (my personal favorite), and follow it up with fresh-baked cookies, coffee, cigars and conversation on the back porch. Everyone sort of went their separate ways this past summer, but I will never forget the things that I learned and the connections I was so fortunate to have made last year. People are the essence of life, after all. And I would say that it was that group that directly led me to begin this blog.