Setting sail, again: Navy vet returns to volunteer on retired submarine

Ron Bell is one of 10 U.S. Navy submarine veterans who volunteer to lead weekly visitor tours on the USS Blueback, a sub docked outside the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon. Retired from a career in scrap metal construction, Bell spoke with me about why he loves volunteering.

This post originally appeared on Next Avenue, a PBS website that informs and inspires the 50 + crowd. 

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Ron Bell below deck in the USS Blueback

I had been following the USS Blueback submarine since it was retired in 1990, because that’s what we submarine vets do. I was in the Navy for four years during two wars, and worked on a few submarines similar to this one, doing everything from maintenance to communications. When I heard the Blueback was coming to Portland, I had to see it and I had to be a part of it.

So in 1995, soon after it docked, I got involved in volunteering there. From giving tours of the sub to performing maintenance — whatever needs to be done, I do it.

I’m also here because submarines are the most beautiful pieces of machinery. Once you get bit by these things, you want to know all there is about them. You can’t quit.

Checking up on the sub

The Navy still owns the Blueback, but they’ve made it non-operational. For good reason, maybe. To be honest, I don’t think they trust us old sub vets not to take it for a spin. Every year or so, they visit to make sure it’s still up to par. Which, of course, it always is, since they’ve got us on deck.

I enjoy everything about what I do down here. I love telling our tours how we lived on a sub back then and sharing old stories. People like hearing them and I like telling ’em, so it works out nicely.

In the Navy, I was in Hawaii, Australia, the Philippines — during the Vietnam War — and then the coast of Europe, especially Russia, during the Cold War when I was in a nuclear sub. We got hit by Communist missiles a couple times.

You have to go through sub school, which is a rigorous, intensive type of training. Everyone on deck needs to know how to do everything, in case something goes wrong.

The USS Blueback docked outside of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (Photo credit: Meltedplastic on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/meltedplastic/8415091795)

The USS Blueback docked outside of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (Photo credit: Meltedplastic on Flickr)

The joy of volunteering with fellow vets

The point is, sub vets worked hard to get to where they are. We are all very proud of what we’ve done and deeply respect each other. That’s what makes it so rewarding to work together here. Being on a sub in the Navy is something that connects us all at a very deep level.

I’ll tell ya, if you get a bunch of sub vets together for a cup of coffee after our shift, you end up sharing a lot of laughs and old sea stories, which is just the Navy term for lies.

I’ve visited amazing places around the world while on patrol, but now all I want to do is stay in the states and see this beautiful country where my wife and I live. We make time for RV trips every year to do just that.

An opportunity for time traveling

And of course, I travel back in time when I’m on the sub. As soon as I first walked on board the USS Blueback, it was just like “Boom!” I was back. And I loved it.

And I think the rest of the vets here feel the same. Being here brings back so many fond memories; it’s good for the heart.

I have to say my favorite part of volunteering is when young sub sailors come down to look at the old machinery — it’s a piece of history. They respect us more than anyone, since they know they wouldn’t be where they are if it wasn’t for us guys. That’s why doing this matters.

Want to volunteer in your community? Search over 13,000 volunteer opportunities around the globe listed on Idealist. 

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Action Alert: How one woman is using yoga to support a good cause

A series where we highlight people using their passions to make a difference in their communities.

Once a month on Saturday evenings, yoga students walk into a dimly lit studio at The People’s Yoga in Portland, Oregon. They bring with them their mats, their water, and a desire to give back.

They drop however many dollars they can into a donation jar set out on a table with brochures from NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Then they assume child’s pose while a meditative guitar plays in the background.

The donation-based yoga class is taught by Melina Donalson, a former costume and fashion designer who turned to yoga almost two decades ago to calm her mind amidst the fast-paced life in Los Angeles.

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Melina welcoming students outside the The People’s Yoga on Killingsworth street in Portland, Oregon.

“I was totally burned out on all the ego and materialism in that world,” she says. “I was just too sensitive for it.”

While in California, Melina would teach yoga to friends in exchange for food, books, or anything else they felt like offering. When she moved to Portland in 2009, she knew she wanted to continue giving through teaching.

“The years of practicing have really helped me be kind to people and react in mindful ways to the world around me,” she says. “It’s an important part of yoga philosophy to be of service.”

Melina’s dad lives with a mental illness. Every other month she sends a check to NAMI as her small way of helping the cause. Sometimes it’s $30. Other times it’s a few hundred dollars. Grateful for the personal touch of support, the organization sends her a thank you letter each time, no matter the donation.

For Melina, everything seemed to fall into place once she knew what she wanted to do.

“It’s almost effortless,” she says. “It takes emails, it takes organizing, it takes being present and showing up.”

By creating a welcoming environment, she also hopes the class helps students who might be new to yoga and are nervous or afraid.

“It’s a beautiful feeling to see people leave class so relaxed. They feel good and they know where their donation is going,” she says. “That’s my whole intention with that class. To make people feel good.”

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Want to use your yoga skills for good? Melina would happily answer questions about everything from getting in contact with the right people to staying encouraged. Reach her at mndyoga@gmail.com.

Do you know someone who is taking a small step toward making their community better? Email celeste@idealist.org.

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Idea File: One City’s Guide to Giving

Year-end appeals may have ended, but it’s never too late to start planning for the next go-around.

The idea

In December, you most likely received a slew of emails from nonprofits near and far asking you to continue their support. If you’re anything like me, you probably felt overwhelmed.

Here in Portland, OR one alternative newspaper is trying to make shuffling through the noise of year-end giving easier. Willamette Week’s (WW) annual Give!Guide features 110 nonprofits in eight different categories from animals to youth to give your cash to at the end of the year.

It’s a win-win: Local organizations receive money to support all the awesome work they do, and you get incentives ranging from a free cup of Stumptown coffee to oh yes, an ice cream party for 200 of your closest friends at the best scoop in town.

While the guide is open to anyone to donate, the focus is on the 35 and under crowd.

“We have the least amount of money and most view philanthropy as something you do when you’re older or only if you’re wealthy,” says 27-year-old Nick Johnson, Give!Guide’s Executive Director. “We want to break through that barrier and make it clear to people that you are philanthropist even if you give $10.”

Recently completing its 9th year, Give!Guide has raised over seven million dollars in total, with nearly two million this past year alone. Complemented by the Skidmore Prize, which highlights four young nonprofit rockstars, and a volunteer guide one month later, WW is tapping into one of the many reasons why Portland is quickly becoming one of top cities in the U.S. to make a tangible difference.

“I can go through the list and name which groups from my life in Portland have affected and shaped me,” Nick says. “Anybody who lives here, even if they just moved, can’t avoid being influenced by one of them.”

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Makes giving easy. Instead of going to multiple websites or writing numerous checks, all the nonprofits are there on one web page for you to choose from. Nick has found that the average donor will give to three nonprofits at once.
  • Raises awareness of local nonprofits, especially smaller ones. While larger nonprofits are included, it’s the smaller nonprofits that seem to benefit the most. “We bring them in new people, they get the fundraising experience and connect with other nonprofits,” Nick says.
  • Kickstarts philanthropy in the young. The 65 and older group, which has traditionally been the biggest donor base, are increasingly less likely to increase donations. “We think that younger people need to begin stepping up,” Nick says.
  • Collective effort to help the sector as a whole. It can’t be denied that there’s power in numbers. “When you create a critical mass of 110 groups and all their marketing departments and volunteers and staff are promoting it, it becomes a bigger thing than if one group was doing their own Kickstarter thing,” Nick says.
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Give!Guide’s Executive Director Nick Johnson holding one of the lawn signs. (Photo via Willamette Week’s V.Kapoor.)

 

How you can replicate it

A version of the Give!Guide exists in some other places around the country, such as Colorado Springs, CO and Lexington, KY, but Nick would love to see the idea in even more cities. Already a handful of communities have reached out to WW for ideas.

If you’re thinking about doing something like this where you live, below are some tips from Nick on how to implement it. You don’t necessarily need newspaper backing; a group of nonprofits could easily create one.

Working with nonprofits

  • Choose the number or organizations based on capacity. Richard Meeker, the Willamette Week Publisher and Co-Owner, started the Give!Guide in 2004 with just 20 organizations, the number which has been increasing each year. Nick is now its only full-time employee, and feels 110 is a manageable number not only for him to be a dedicated resource for the organizations, but a way to keep the attention focused.
  • Have a selection committee that’s legitimate and has a wide reach in the nonprofit community. Last year,  WW’s publisher and accountant, staff from a local science museum and youth organization, and the former ED from the Nonprofit Association of Oregon chose which nonprofits appeared in the guide.
  • Include a variety of organizations. Have a balance of smaller and larger nonprofits (mammoth orgs are a good lure for the tiny ones), a range of categories, and fresh causes each year. “We want there to be some turnover so it doesn’t become a calcified thing and doesn’t shift,” says Nick, who tries to include 30% new orgs every year.
  • Encourage nonprofits to help you promote the guide. Ask them to push it on their social media channels, as well as in their community face-to-face. Give!Guide also ramps up the competitiveness by giving $500 to the nonprofits in each category who get the most individual donors under 35.
  • Pay attention to the small guys. Nick learned that nonprofits will have different expectations about what they want out of the Give!Guide. While the large orgs will usually not have a problem raising funds, the smaller ones might. So Nick put statistical reporting in place to make sure he was giving them equal attention. “If you want to manage a large group of nonprofits, you have to keep an eye on both the successes and the improvement areas,” he says. “I want these groups to walk away happy.”

Engaging the community

  • Provide incentives. Although Nick has found roughly 20% of people will opt out of receiving rewards such as discounted coupons  or a year-round show pass to local music venue or , he thinks it’s still a nice way to thank people and show appreciation. Working with businesses also helps their philanthropic image and brings in new customers, and on the flipside, introduces Give!Guide to an audience it may not have reached.
  • Consider the types of businesses you partner with. Be aware that nonprofits and businesses might have competing interests, and if the guide is part of a newspaper, keep the editorial separate.
  • Recognize local changemakers. The Skidmore Prize not only highlights the fact that many young people are involved with nonprofits, but helps the sector at large by keeping them motivated with a $4,000 prize. “If we can keep pushing them forward, that’s a huge asset for that organization and a huge asset for the city,” Nick says.
  • Be prepared for a slew of donations after the holidays. People will usually wait until the last minute to donate after they’re done with holiday shopping. This is an ideal time to encourage new donors.
  • Make donors feel they are a part of something. Whether it’s citizenship badge stickers or lawn signs, for example, having swag not only markets the guide, but helps people feel connected to a larger movement.

“People are bombarded so much. You can’t be passive,” Nick finally says. “That’s my biggest piece of advice.”

Inspired to create your own Give!Guide? Feel free to reach out to Nick Johnson for more advice: njohnson@wweek.com.

Do you know of other projects that are fun and potentially replicable? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, leave a comment below or email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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How one nonprofit pub is giving back, one pint at a time

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling budding social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

Photo of Ryan from ©Neighborhood Notes in Portland, Oregon: www.neighborhoodnotes.com.

Ryan Saari, an Oregon native, knows that Portlanders love their beer as much as they love helping others. But given the amount of nonprofits that already exist in the city, Ryan realized that another nonprofit, while wonderful, may not be needed. “Instead we thought, what can we do to partner with the existing nonprofits?” he says.

Three years ago what started off as a discussion between Ryan and his friends about what good they could do in their communities turned into something bigger: The Oregon Public House—a soon-to-open nonprofit pub that will serve local beer and seasonal, locally sourced food, pay employees fair wages, and donate all its profit to charities.

Ryan foresees The Oregon Public House growing and hopes after a year or two of running successfully they can open another in Portland, eventually with plans to brew their own beer and sell six packs in stores where 100% of the money goes to a charity.

Obstacles

Ryan’s first step was to bring a team on board and find a building to set up the brew pub. To buy an already existing business, the team would need a minimum of $200,000. Instead, they found a fix it up rental attached to a ballroom that was still used as an event space.

Now that they had the building, they took the next steps toward owning the first brew pub of it’s kind. Here are some of the many obstacles they encountered over the past few years to get this unique nonprofit up and running:

Obstacle: Community push back
Solution: Worried about bringing a bar into a community, Ryan didn’t want to contribute to the already existing problem of people abusing alcohol. “At first people questioned what we were doing. People wanted to change the idea into a coffee shop, or take the idea and brew craft root beer instead,” he says. He knew it was important to establish the nonprofit as a public house and not a bar, a place where friends and family can come together to enjoy a beer and food in a friendly environment.

Obstacle: Never been done before
Solution: Without a model to learn from, Ryan knew trust was key when opening a nonprofit like this, which is the first of its kind in the country. “Customers need to know where the money is going,” Ryan says. Their books are public so customers can see where the profits go to help combat any skepticism. With the idea to one day expand and turn the pub into a brewery, The Oregon Public House is continually aware of maintaining the balance between giving to local charities and the operational costs for the pub.

The ballroom. (Photo from ©Neighborhood Notes.)

Obstacle: Opening without debt
Solution: With the largest donation only being $2,500, there needed to be other ways to raise funds. One way was to start a ‘Founders’ program, where people give to the nonprofit and in return receive a free beer each day, or week, depending on their contribution level.

Another way they stayed debt-free was not building until the money was available, a strategy they plan on continuing. While they received a grant from the city of Portland for the store front, they also didn’t take out any loans.

They likewise relied on volunteers to help reconstruct the building: pour the cement, paint the walls, and do whatever they could to help. Opening with zero debt will allow them to immediately begin donating the profits to worthwhile charities and to positively influence the community around them.

Obstacle: Staying profitable
Solution: Ryan says there are lots of questions about how to make a public house a viable business while giving away most of the earnings. He and his team pay rent by renting out the event space attached to their brew pub location for weddings, movie screenings, and more. “An event space is extremely profitable,” he says. They also plan on having the leadership all-volunteer run, with paid staff to cut down costs.

Advice

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Future home of The Oregon Public House. (Photo from ©Neighborhood Notes.)

After two years of countless hours from 100 volunteers, The Oregon Public House is in the final stages of officially opening it’s doors to the community.

“We’ve received emails from people all over the country saying they’ve had the same idea, and asking how they can do this where they are to help their own city,” says Ryan. “We want people to steal this idea.”

Whether or not you plan on opening your own brew pub for charity, here’s how Ryan thinks you can move forward on your idea:

  • Don’t be afraid to share your ideas, even if they seem silly.
  • Take it one step-by-step, and don’t worry about the time it takes you. People will still be invested in your idea.
  • Be cautious with money. Debt-free is the way to be.
  • Take initiative. Helping the community you live in isn’t as hard as you think.

“Make a living,” Ryan finally says. “But instead of pocketing the extra cash, why not give back to your city?”

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Want to steal this idea? Feel free to reach out to Ryan at ryan@oregonpublichouse.com.

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Idea File: Would you live in a tiny house to help the environment?

The idea

The average home size in America is roughly 2,000 square feet. The average tiny house is less than one quarter of that size.

Tiny houses are literally what you might imagine: miniature dwellings complete with everything you need to live. (Think the adult version of a doll-house.) While most common in the U.S., tiny houses are gaining in popularity around the world, and can be found in countries from England to Japan.

The size may be less, but the options are many. You can buy a pre-fab home, or build your own. You can use straw, or wood. You can opt for a modern style, or a rustic one. Regardless of how you go about it, everyone who lives in a tiny house will agree: Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Ecologically sustainable. Tiny houses not only use less materials, but often try to be as ecologically sound as possible, from energy to water to light.
  • Increases self-awareness. The design is completely in your control. Every single decision has to be considered, which makes you examine how your choices align with your personal philosophy and needs.
  • Frees up time. Forget spending your weekends organizing the basement or mopping your kitchen. Smaller square footage means not only less clutter, but less time spent on the drudgery of cleaning, and more time to dedicate to family and friends, your hobbies and passions.
  • Intellectual challenge. Most tiny house advocates find there is a certain draw and excitement about making a small space perfectly functionally efficient.
  • Freedom of mobility. Tiny houses are often on wheels, and no matter where you are in the world, you always have a place to come home to.

How you can replicate it

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Portland, OR is one of the leading cities in the tiny house movement. (Photo from nicolas. boullosa via Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

Herbalist Karin Parramore in Portland, Oregon has recently started to build her own tiny house. As someone who’s always loved small things – her first doll named Tiny was two and half inches long – and traveled all over the globe, the idea of a miniature dwelling was immediately appealing.

Her future home will be built on wheels and include recycled materials. It will have solar power, an alcohol stove, electrical heater, and clear cabinets so she can see what she does and doesn’t use. For Karin, it aligns with her core values about ecological sustainability and fits with her nomadic lifestyle.

It’s been a three-year-process, from which she’s learned a lot from. Here’s what she has to say about building your own tiny house:

Philosophy

  1. Consider your relationship with personal space. From living all over the world, Karin has seen that there are radically varying ideas about what personal space means. Before you begin, examine your relationship with personal space, and know your limits. If you don’t like little spaces, then little spaces aren’t for you.
  2. Be willing to confront your philosophies. “It’s easy to say you believe in this or that,” Karin says. “But when you’re making the decision to live that philosophy, it really takes facing it head on and asking, Is it true? Do I really believe this? Is this how I want to live my life?”
  3. Set a minimum. Stop and reflect a moment. If there are amenities you absolutely have to have, or a certain amount of square footage to make you feel comfortable, it helps to know that from the beginning.
  4. Be open to the possibility of tossing physical memories. Some people give their memory boxes to family to keep. Others, like Karin, pick and choose which photos, objects, etc. to discard.

Building

  1. There’s always an answer to a problem. Because so many people have done this before you, there are a ton of ideas for you to steal. Don’t know what to do with your waste from the toilet? Try worm composting. Concerned about how to do laundry? Look into the Wonderwash. Perplexed about bathing? Consider a Japanese soaking tub, where you can store stuff when not in use.
  2. Know your zoning laws. Laws vary from state to state, county to county. Oregon, for example, prohibits dwellings less than 200 square feet. But because this is still a bit of a gray area, it’s a good opportunity for you to help influence the legal process from the start.
  3. Talk to your neighbors. To help lessen the chances that a neighbor will cause problems, go around and knock on doors to make sure there aren’t any issues.
  4. Don’t let cost deter you. Depending on what you want to do and your time constraints, expenses can range from next to nothing (if you use salvaged materials) to thousands of dollars.
  5. If you build it they will come. Karing found that once she started telling people about her idea, offers to help came out of the woodwork from friends, family, and the ever-growing tiny house community. Don’t be daunted by zero building experience; there are lots of resources already available from video blogs to networking events to books.

“This is my solution to despair about the state of the world,” Karin finally says.”It’s selfish. I want to feel better. I don’t want to feel like I’m hopelessly watching the world devolve. This is my way of remaining hopeful.”
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Interested in building a tiny house of your own? Feel free to reach out to Karin for advice: herbalearn@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

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Support Alex in rewriting Oregon’s tax law

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Alex

Alex Linsker has done a little bit of everything. He studied playwriting and business as an undergrad at NYU, did marketing for an online T.V. seller, created a software company, interviewed shoppers, and most recently, co-founded and acted as president of the democratic co-working space, Collective Agency in Portland, Oregon.

But one common theme threads his pursuits: the less he knows, the more he wants to do it. So when his time as Community Organizer of the Collective Agency was up, he turned to an issue he knew little about yet would affect any business choice he’d make: taxes.

“As a playwright, I really like figuring out what the false story is and finding what the true story is,” he says. “There’s a lot of mythology about how jobs are created. The truth is that a higher tax rate on people who are the richest grows jobs.”

The intention

Alex wants to introduce a progressive income tax in Oregon through a lobbying group called Tax and Conversation.

He envisions a diverse group that writes an Oregon constitutional amendment, acquires 100,000 signatures to get it on the ballot, and petitions people to vote. He also sees the group building community and promoting education about tax, government, and civics through workshops, meetups, and more. Similar to Collective Agency, the structure will be democratic with membership fees that go to representatives.

The hope of Tax and Conversation is two-fold: On a practical level, getting rid of tax breaks will mean more money for quality K-12 education, healthcare, and other basic services in Oregon. “There’s this scarcity mentality that’s been created and talked about in the news. But there’s more than enough to go around if we choose,” he says.

On a deeper level, Alex believes that a fair tax will help reduce income disparity and therefore generate more trust and empathy in society, a viewpoint he shares with the social researcher Richard Wilkinson.

Obstacles

Alex has been reading, networking, talking, and working with various people and groups such as Tax Fairness Oregon as much as he can. So far he’s created a website that includes a first draft of the amendment.

Here are some current challenges he’s facing:

  1. Alex finds that there is a general lack of awareness about how the tax system works and subsequently, myths about what government services our tax dollars go to.
  2. Communicating the value of the group can be tricky. Different people will read different things into the description.
  3. Some of the feedback he’s gotten from others is that it’s too big of a project given the scope, and they question whether or not will it make a difference.

How you can help

One of many public parks in Oregon Alex hopes more money can go to. (Photo from Ian Sane via Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

  • Do you know of any organizations and/or community organizers he could partner with to help him reach people of all ages, races, incomes, etc.?
  • How would you make the Tax and Conversation website even more relevant? What else do you want to learn about tax in Oregon and/or our government services?
  • What are the benefits of a project like this?
  • What issues and questions does it raise?
  • What would motivate you to become a member? What would you need?
  • What government services do you like, and what government services would you like to see improve?
  • Civics education, which promoted the idea of citizens having an active role in solving problems in their communities, was phased out of schools in the late 60’s. What specific examples of civics education are you aware of? What kind of optional civics education for adults would you value?
  • If you’re Oregon-based, would you like to get involved? (Alex is also open to support from outside the state.)

Leave a comment below or send him a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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Help Melanie empower youth through theatre

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Melanie

For Melanie Lockert, who grew up singing in the choir and performing high school plays in Los Angeles, theatre is the one place where she can really be herself. But the business side  — auditioning, networking, etc. —  has left Melanie feeling increasingly disenchanted as an adult. “I don’t believe the system functions in a way that is conducive to self-esteem and communication,” she says.

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Animal exercises with third graders at Harlem’s PS 175. (Photo via Melanie Lockert.)

So when she began practicing Theatre of the Oppressed with youth at Brooklyn’s Falconworks Artists Group, she knew the focus on individual experiences as a catalyst for social change would restore her faith in the art form.

“Theatre of the oppressed doesn’t shut out anyone. It doesn’t say your experience is wrong and my experience is right. Everyone can be an actor,” she says. “ It’’s a mobilizing tool for people who have never spoken in public and who have never expressed issues in a safe environment where they can feel comfortable playing.”

The intention

Melanie recently relocated to Portland, Oregon after getting a Masters in Performance Studies at NYU. While in New York, she taught theatre at PS 175 in Harlem with the New York City Mission Society and before that, managed art programs for underserved youth in Los Angeles. She wants to draw from her experiences teaching and work with this same population to create plays based on issues they or their communities face.

“It’s a way to open up a dialogue about what these young people want, and what they want out of their lives, addressing some of the things they want to see change in their community,” she says.

Obstacles

Melanie is currently in the planning stage. Here are some challenges she has identified:

  1. As a newcomer to Portland, Melanie is struggling to connect with organizations whose constituents could benefit from theatre of the oppressed.
  2. Finding people is one thing. Locating a space where they could practice and perform poses another logistical consideration.
  3. When she’s not playing with a local theatre company, Melanie is actively seeking full-time employment and volunteering opportunities with arts organizations, both of which have been difficult and detract her from focusing on the project.
  4. Like most people with an idea, Melanie continually fights the doubtful voice inside her head: What if this isn’t a good idea? Is such a program necessary? Give up the dream and focus on making a living instead?

How you can help

  • Do you have advice for overcoming paralyzing doubt?
  • How can Melanie start meeting the right people who would be interested in making this idea happen?
  • Do you know organizations in Portland working with youth (or women) that might be interested in having Melanie teach a workshop at night or on the weekends?
  • How she can find a free or low-cost community space that would host the program?
  • If she wanted to scratch working with organizations all together, how could she recruit youth by herself? What would be the legal logistics to consider?

Leave a comment below or send her a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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Idealist Grad Fairs coming to Denver, West Coast, South!

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See you Thursday, Denver. (Photo: Larry Johnson, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Thinking about going to graduate school to further your career and make a social impact?

We’re bringing Idealist Grad Fairs to 18 cities this fall. Here are the next six. Click on a city name for details and to RSVP:

All of the fairs are free, open to the public, and feature a free Q&A panel about admissions and financial aid from 6:00-7:00pm. See the rest of the season lineup at idealist.org/gradfairs.

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Idea File: Geezer Gallery paints new picture of ‘old’

Artists who happen to be age 60+ make money and feel good at a gallery just for them.

The idea
Frank Springer is a retired vice cop who lives alone. Every day he goes down to his basement kiln and creates plates made from colored fused glass. It provides a sense of purpose and helps him get up in the morning. He’s 99 years old.

His work is exhibited in the Geezer Gallery in Portland, OR, a space exclusively dedicated to senior-created professional art. You won’t find any macaroni designs here – everything from bronze sculptures to jewelry to acrylic paintings and pastels is on display and for sale. The artwork also appears in retirement communities and businesses around town, and owner Amy Henderson has also started bringing art programs to homebound and low-income seniors.

“Big Bang Theory” by Harriet Levi. “I am always growing and changing as an artist and as a person. Stagnation kills the soul,” she says.

Why “geezers”? Henderson frames it this way: it’s all about showing seniors like Frank that the aging process is full of creative possibilities and not to be feared. The gallery also helps combat ageist stereotypes.

“I love when younger people come in and go ‘Oh my gosh, I was expecting ducks and doilies,’” she says. “They’re starting to challenge in their own minds the paradigm we put forth about aging and the reality of it.”

Intentions to action

Henderson specifically recalls three experiences that helped her move from an abstract image in her mind to concrete paintings on the walls:

  1. A survivor of domestic abuse, Henderson started to see the striking parallels between the messages sent to the older population—that they’re worthless, a burden, and have no purpose—and domestic abuse victims after visiting a 96-year-old family friend in a nursing home.
  2. Every year Nike works with a handful of terminally ill children at a Portland hospital to design tennis shoes, which are then sold regionally. Henderson was struck by the tremendous positive impact the project had on the kids emotionally, physically, and mentally. If creativity and entrepreneurship could be so powerful at one end of the life course, why not the other?
  3. At a low-income housing project she visited one day, Henderson was incredulous at all the amazing artwork decorating the walls. Turns out it was all found in homes after elderly residents had passed away: yet another instance that showed that older adults aren’t just sipping on prune juice all day long.

After the idea was seeded, Henderson went to a local college and devoted her studies to developing a savvy business plan. A few years later, armed with a Master’s degree in gerontology, she collaborated with local nonprofits such as Loaves and Fishes and Elders in Action to bring the gallery to life.

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“Night Club Argument” by Martin Anderson. ““I have done art my whole life and becoming a senior doesn’t change that,” he says.

Replicability factor
The gallery isn’t without its challenges. Funding is a huge one, as is educating the public about just how beneficial art therapy is for seniors. Getting the word out about the space can be difficult as well.

Despite the challenges, the gallery has been a success in Portland so far. Henderson would love nothing more than to see geezer art wowing people everywhere. If you think you might want to try something like this where you live, here’s her advice to get started:

  • Float the idea to your community first. Who’s going to be supportive? What’s going to be a challenge?
  • Have a business plan. Foundations especially want to see this if they’re going to dole out cash.
  • Create a board. It’ll give your nonprofit street cred, not to mention potential avenues of funding.

Henderson is also willing to be a consultant. “We’ve done the legwork, we know the pitfalls,” she says. “We could really assist someone with this model. It would be easy to replicate somewhere else.”

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If you’re in the Portland area, the Geezer Gallery is currently looking for social media and administrative volunteers. They’re also seeking board members. Not in Oregon? Check out the 400+ volunteer opportunities listed on Idealist related to seniors and art.

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Idea File: Creative marketing? Think inside the (pizza) box.

Today’s idea sharing model

As a native New Yorker, loving pizza is part of my cultural DNA. Besides the delicious combination of cheese, sauce, and bread, it’s the only food that makes me think about both Sunday family dinners and late night grease-fests with friends.

And now I can add idea sharing to that list thanks to Lonesome’s, a pizza place in my new home of Portland, OR. With every pie I order, I’m guaranteed to find on the inside cover a story about a local artist – plus their CD or DVD. While chomping on a slice recently, I read about a funk band that was in the process of opening up a music charter school in Portland.

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The names of their pies make me giggle. I recommend “My dad vs. your dad.” Photo credit: Heather Zinger (www.heatherzinger.com).

I’ve ordered from Lonesome’s before, but it was this bit about the charter school that made me think about using pizza boxes to  get the word out about nonprofit programs, raise awareness around a particular issue, and/or highlight good ideas.

This idea doesn’t have to be limited to pizza. If you own a business or know someone who does, think creatively about how you can use your products or services to get the word out about all the awesome community work going on. Letting people know about an innovative bartering schoolis a much nicer use of space than, say, promoting the latest flavor of Mountain Dew.

Pros

  • Novelty. Create buzz for both the project and the pizza place.
  • Cost effective. All you need is photocopies, glue, and someone to spend the time attaching materials.
  • Community engagement. Local businesses + local efforts = a win-win connection.
  • Universality. Who doesn’t like pizza? According to Food Industry News, 93% of Americans eat pizza at least once a month. Maybe that number will increase once there’s some local do-gooderness in the box.

Cons

  • Buy in. Nonprofits might think it’s too weird, and navigating the bureaucracy of big chains might be challenging. Local mom and pop restaurants are probably the best bet.
  • Adding to the marketing clutter. More paper that might end up in the recycling bin.
  • Disinterest. “Please, I just want to eat my pizza in peace.”

What do you think – might delivery boxes be another way to communicate with your community? What’s the most creative partnership you’ve seen a local business strike with a local organization?

Read more Idea File posts here.

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