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Design for Change USA Challenge: the 2015 Winners Take on Recycling

February 10th, 2016

DESIGN FOR CHANGE (USA) is a global movement of young people who are changing the world! One of the opportunities that DFC offers youth groups is outlined below:

  • Who: Any group of young people (K-8) with an adult mentor e.g., teacher, parent, youth leader, coach.
  • How: Teams dream up and lead social change projects in their own schools/communities using DFC curriculum and training, along with the web portal and other resources.
  • What: Teams are expected to fully implement, present and submit their social change project to DFC USA by the deadline: May 15, 2016.
  • Winners will be announced May 30, 2016.  (Learn more about contest rules here.)

We are pleased to share with you one of the Design for Change USA projects from young people across the nation. We hope you will join them in BEING THE CHANGE!

DFC USA Winners 2015

John Winthorp Elementary School, Boston

Middle School Girls Tackle Disconnect

February 1st, 2016

Guest post by Christi Terefenko

When we asked a group of sixth and seventh grade girls what was important to them, their answer was, not surprisingly, their family and friends. When asked what got in the way of good relationships with their family and friends, their answer was, however, somewhat surprising: technology.

This simple question started a great conversation and initiated a very creative project with an inner-city middle school service-learning club. The girls in the club, who call themselves G-POP (short for Girls Project of Peace), attend Southwest Middle School in Reading, PA. The club is part of the Junior League of Reading’s Youth Empowered initiative designed to raise the self-esteem of youth and empower them to lead through service-learning.

This small – but mighty – group of 12 girls decided to address, in a very interesting way, the issue of societal disconnect resulting from overuse of technology. Seeing that “disconnect” was a very important issue to them, they created a day called “LOOK UP Day” along with a pledge for peers, family and friends to sign. The pledge was simple enough:

On this LOOK UP Day, I pledge to say,

I shall use technology less today

And talk to the people I do adore

And listen to people just a little bit more!

“Heads up, phones down” was the G-POP mantra and their goal was have their family and friends pledge to use technology less on LOOK UP Day so as to connect more with the people around them. In an effort explain their project and get people to sign the pledge to take part in LOOK UP Day, the girls spoke to their principal, set up informational tables for their peers in the cafeteria during lunch time, spoke on morning announcements, and even took the pledge home to their families to sign.

Look up day t-shirt back-page

After two weeks of campaigning, the middle school celebrated LOOK UP Day together with great success. In the end, this small group of girls raised awareness in a whole community about a very relevant issue and got over 350 individuals to sign their pledge. LOOK UP Day was a huge success and made a lasting impact on all those involved…especially the girls who created it. They leaned that they have the power to impact others and create change around them, perhaps the most valuable lesson of all.

Kickstart Your Creativity

January 4th, 2016

Try one of these activities to kickstart your creativity:

  1. Go on an imaginary hike with a friend. Close your eyes and take turns describing the sights and sounds you experience.
  2. Go on an imaginary river rafting trip with a friend. Close your eyes and take turns describing the sights and sounds you experience.
  3. Go on an imaginary rock climbing trip with a friend. Close your eyes and take turns describing the sights and sounds you experience.
  4. Go on an imaginary swimming excursion with a friend. Close your eyes and take turns describing the sights and sounds you experience.

MLK Spoken Word Contest

November 4th, 2015

The Metro Human Relations Commission (Nashville, TN)  is co-sponsoring the first annual Youth Spoken Word Competition for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  There are cash scholarship prizes.  Please pass this on to your staff so they may share it with churches, synagogues, mosques, and civic and community groups they are involved with.

High school and college students (or people between the ages of 14 and 22) are invited to start creating and uploading their videos. They can submit their videos now until December 1st. Participants can win cash prizes based on different categories as individuals or in groups.

The MHRC would like to give a big thank you to Neal & Harwell Law Firm and Meharry Medical Center for sponsoring the scholarships.

Find more information about the competition here:

The videos will be posted on the MLK Day YouTube page.

Enhancing the Brain through Meditation

September 23rd, 2015

One of the most fascinating books I read on brain development was written by Andrew Newberg, MD, and Mark Robert Waldman, authors of How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. I’d recommend their book to anyone interested in learning more about how the brain works and the impact that meditation has on the brain.


The impact of meditation on the brain was the happy jewel I found in their well-written, easy-to-read book. Consider their findings:


Newberg and Waldman’s research proves that meditation can help change brain pathways and enhance brain functions. In one of the researchers’ groups, participants who meditated only 12 minutes a day for 8 weeks showed improvements in cognitive skills. They were able to alter the normal function of their brains. The group was specifically focused on memory recall, concentration, and verbal fluency. These results indicate that the practice of meditation is worth sharing with young people, who can benefit from strategies for relaxation, focus, memory retention, and learning to control emotions in times of conflict. Newberg and Waldman shared that research supports the use of meditation techniques with youth to improve academic performance through “decreased test anxiety, nervousness, self-doubt, and concentration loss,” as well as impacting “absenteeism, school rule infractions, and suspension days.” And, as can be expected, youth reported an increased sense of well-being and in one study even showed improvement in spatial memory.


Want to learn more about meditation? Our book, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms, The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, offers tips and supportive video clips to back-up this useful youth development and brain development strategy.



Kids are Just Kids – A Lens for Looking at our Different Abilities

September 2nd, 2015

Recently I was asked by two different groups to research strategies for working with youth who have learning differences. As I sat for coffee with a counselor friend, I was curious to hear what she would say – if she had strategies she recommended that was different from what I would suggest. She didn’t. In fact, she echoed much of what Ann and I wrote about in Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.


Since I encountered two different groups (within a week’s time) who wanted the same thing, I thought I’d share an excerpt from our book here for reflection:


No matter what the issue or difficulty, they don’t want to be treated or seen as different. A child with a mental illness is just a child. A child with a physical challenge is just a child. A child with a learning difference is just a child. They have special needs (we all do!), but they just want to be seen as normal people. Keep them in mind first: see them, not the issues they are struggling with. Don’t let a person be defined by their circumstances or their challenges. Look past the exterior casing to focus on the heart, the core of who each person really is.


My friend, in our chat, unprompted, reiterated the importance of seeing them as kids and treating them as kids – no different than anyone else because “different” is what they’re very aware of and experience from peers. The gift of being able to be a person is the greatest gift we can give them.

Teaching Philosophy

July 6th, 2015

A friend asked me the other day to define my teaching philosophy.  Such a big question!

I answered something like this:

“I believe that  teaching should  engage the heart, brain and body, so I’m a big fan of practices such as service-learning,  problem-based learning,  peer teaching  hands-on learning, and learning through play.”

What is your teaching philosophy?  What are the beliefs that undergird the way you engage youth in your classroom and programs?

Good thoughts to ponder!

One Person. One Moment. A Lifetime of Change.

June 24th, 2015

Repost from

We tend to think of profound change as a process that happens over time.

Sometimes, that’s true. But other times, deep, lasting change can happen in a moment. I have no idea if there’s a clinical name for it, but I’ve seen it happen so many times, I just started calling it “snapping.” As in something snaps you into a new awakening or state of being.

It could be a deed, a word, an experience. Seconds long. Something that shifts your belief and empowers faith and action. Sometimes that new state is negative or destructive. I’m more fascinated with positive or constructive snapping.

In this week’s episode of Good Life Project™, iconic designer and founder of New York magazine, Milton Glaser, shared just such a moment. Something happened more than 50 years earlier in his life. A moment that lasted no more than a few minutes. Yet, he’s never forgotten it. The impact was that deep.

The story gave me chills as he told it. So, I felt I had to share it here with all of you:

Keep reading the story here:

Powerful People

January 15th, 2015

“Every citizen with a mobile phone or computer with an Internet connection has the capability to become a citizen journalist, create advocacy groups, organize public gatherings, connect with people across the globe, and accomplish tasks without face-to-face interaction” (Mandarano et al. 2010) – See more at:

Summer Days 12

October 20th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

Summer, our tail wagging, body wiggling, four-pawed bundle of pure joy, showed up in our lives, in our opinion, to share with us how to live from a deeper place of gratitude and to enjoy life’s moments happily.

Summer, a beautiful black and white border collie/lab, has been THE Gratitude Coach for 12 ½ years of our lives who was sent to teach us personally. When you are daily confronted with unconditional love, acceptance and enthusiastic eagerness just because you exist, you tend to pay attention to what that person – or dog – has to communicate.

To date, Summer’s time with us has passed on these lessons:

  1. Show love first thing each morning.
  2. Be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love.
  3. Delight in the now.
  4. Always show appreciation to others.
  5. Work and contribute.
  6. Presume friendship.
  7. Just be.IMG_3955
  8. Sleep and eat regularly.
  9. Offer presence.
  10. Be patient.
  11. Play. Always play.

And it was only in a traumatic, life-changing event that Pete and I were able to articulate a final parting lesson from Summer . . .

Lesson #12: Enjoy everything, no matter what.

It was on a Tuesday, after a long weekend of Summer being sick (unusual for her because she always bounced back after a max of two days), that we went into the vet and were shocked with the news that no dog owners want to hear: our sweet dog was terminally ill and the kindest thing we could do was let her go. I won’t belabor the particulars, only enough to make her lesson point. Summer gave no indication that she was doing poorly over the weeks or months leading to her passing. She followed all the rules of the lessons she had taught us, although some days might have been slightly slower and she did sleep a little bit more (both of which we chalked up to the nearing of her thirteenth birthday). Regardless, she religiously continued to show enthusiasm for each moment and to live each moment to the fullest that she was capable of doing.

It was on her last day – armed with the new knowledge that she had probably been sick for awhile – that we were struck at how she exemplified enjoy everything, no matter what. Never did she show pain in the time leading up to this Tuesday. And on this Tuesday, while lethargic in the morning and obviously not feeling well, she enthusiastically got into the car for every trip we made that day (four total including two to the vet – a lot of jumping in and out!).

Knowing it was her last day, we made sure we had one more play day together so that she could enjoy her favorite dogs, places and things to do. At the park, she explored and made her own path off the beaten trail. At our friends’ house, she exchanged sniffs and licks with her doggie friends and received head rubs from her human friends. Tired afterwards, she pulled away to herself to rest but allowed me to read to her and be near her while we waited for the time to go back to the vet. And going back to the vet? She eagerly looked out the windows and showed every sign of enjoying the ride and being with us. Even at the vet’s, she showed interest in other dogs and humans who were around.

And then she called it a day. But it was a great day. Despite feeling awful. Despite having given up eating a couple of days before. Despite the cancer eating away inside her which was causing her to waste away. Despite it all, Summer lived her life out to the fullest, and it was in this last day that we shook our heads with amazement at how long she had been showing us how to enjoy everything, no matter what.

No matter what physical pain may grab you; no matter what disease may try to ravish your body; no matter what age you may be; no matter what job you may have or not have; no matter what obstacles life may hand you . . . you can still enjoy the life you have. You can be in each moment and savor it or devour it or inhale it. You can choose. It’s your choice. It’s within you to do it.

And that may be the best example of grateful living in action that I’ve ever seen lived out. The challenge now is to follow that example. Evidently Summer thought we were ready. Are you?

Today, live in answer to her challenge. Follow her example.

Summer, July 9, 2002 – June 17, 2014

If you need a dog in your life or want to support abandoned dogs and cats, consider one of the agencies that help support strays and abandoned animals. We got Summer from Freedom Farms who set up at Pet Smart in Rivergate on Saturdays. Good people who are doing heroic work in caring for animals.


What Experts Say about “Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth”

September 10th, 2014

We promised to share more about our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  This is what the experts from youth development and educational fields are saying…

This book is inspiring, well-researched, and immensely practical. I love how it views young people as leaders to be empowered rather than problems to be fixed. A highly useful tool for people who work with youth.”—.” Dr. Eboo Patel, Founder and President, Interfaith Youth Core

An invaluable guide to bringing out the best in all young people. Whether you work in a school, a youth program, or are an engaged neighbor or family member, this book provides tips, tricks, and insights on how to help all young people thrive.” John S. Gomperts, President and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance

Everyone who cares about youth knows that connecting with them is critical. Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor have written the book that shows how. This indispensable resource, brimming with practical ideas, will be read, re-read, and dog eared by teachers, coaches, youth workers. and anyone working with youth.” David Walsh, Ph.D., author of Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen

In order for young people to thrive, they need three champions: family, school, and community.  This book is a valuable, practical guide to help youth thrive over time.” Cathy Tisdale, President and CEO, Camp Fire National Headquarters

If you are ready to truly adopt a strength-based approach in your work with young people, this book will help you lay a solid foundation.” Dan Dummermuth, President and CEO, YMCA of Middle Tennessee

The tools and resources in this book provide adults with concrete approaches to support young people as they become leaders and thriving community members.

Elizabeth Kaeser, Senior Manager, generationOn

Summer Days 2

August 11th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude –  so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

Summer, the four-pawed Gratitude Coach, who came into our home over a decade ago, has taught us many lessons in being happy every day. Last blog we shared her value in showing love first thing every day (lick, nuzzle, thumping of tail in pure excitement . . .) with greeting and showing affection.

IMG_2245Lesson #2 as we look at a chronological snapshot of her day is this: Be joyfully exuberant when you get to do the things you love.

I’m not sure why, but Summer chose the act of me brushing my teeth to be her signal that we were going to get ready to go for a walk. I can’t begin to tell you how tough that choice has been. Why not when I put on my running shoes? Or pick up her leash? But, brushing teeth in the morning?

Philosophically, I could read into that choice as her nudging to say, “You’ve got your teeth done, now it’s time to take care of the rest of your body. Good choice! Let’s go for a walk.” I could but . . .

Whatever was going on in that doggie brain, the fact remains that she has always LOVED going for a walk. When she knows we’re going, she talks, she dances around and it’s the only time she EVER shows impatience. Once the decision is made, she is simply mad to get going and is so excited she’ll run from human to human to dog . . . or from dog to human to human – depending on where one is standing.

In other words, she is joyfully exuberant and shows extreme gratitude for getting to do the thing she loves.

What do you love to do? Do you include it in your day? Do you take it for granted, or do you show gratitude for “the thing” you love doing facially, verbally or with full body wag and dance?

Today, remember to express thanks in some form (we recommend the full body wag just for the heck of it) for the things you do that you enjoy. Those things – be it sipping coffee, drawing, running, building, making a pie or shooting hoops on lunch break – are the very things that add life to the day and are worth noting and giving thanks for every time. . . because you just never know if some day they may slip away from your life and then you’ll miss them.

If you missed the first lesson, click here to read about the importance of showing love first thing each day.

Shoeing in El Salvador

June 12th, 2014

Meet 15-year-old Diego Alvarez, founder of Shoeing, a nonprofit that provides footwear to shoeless youth in El Salvador. Diego and some of his friends decided to address this need in their local community.  In less than a year and 2,000 shoes later, what started as a local high school service project has spread to high schools throughout El Salvador and now Honduras.

Read more:  Shoeing in El Salvador

Sharing a Love for Books

June 5th, 2014

I love the 4 ideas shared in this blog!  Click through the article to read more about each idea:

1. Send your books on a journey

2. Make your library mobile

3. Build a tiny library

4. Have a book exchange party

Here’s the full article:  Love Your Books? 4 Ways to Share Them With Others

The Daffodil Principle

May 30th, 2014
Several times my daughter had telephoned to say, ‘Mother, you must come to see the daffodils before they are over.’ I wanted
to go, but it was a two-hour drive from Laguna to Lake Arrowhead. ‘I will come next Tuesday’, I promised a little reluctantly on her third call.

Next Tuesday dawned cold and rainy. Still, I had promised, and reluctantly I drove there. When I finally walked into Carolyn’s house, I was welcomed by the joyful sounds of happy children. I delightedly hugged and greeted my grandchildren.‘Forget the daffodils, Carolyn!The road is invisible in these clouds and fog, and there is nothing in the world except you and these children that I want to see badly enough to drive another inch!’
My daughter smiled calmly and said, ‘We drive in this all the time, Mother.’
‘Well, you won’t get me back on the road until it clears, and then I’m heading for home!’ I assured her.
‘But first we’re going to see the daffodils. It’s just a few blocks,’ Carolyn said. ‘I’ll drive. I’m used to this.’
‘Carolyn,’ I said sternly, ‘Please turn around.’
‘It’s all right, Mother, I promise. You will never forgive yourself if you miss this experience.’
After about twenty minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road and I saw a small church. On the far side of the church, I saw a hand lettered sign with an arrow that read, ‘ Daffodil Garden .’ We got out of the car, each took a child’s hand, and I followed Carolyn down the path. Then, as we turned a corner, I looked up and gasped. Before me lay the most glorious sight.

It looked as though someone had taken a great vat of gold and poured it over the mountain peak and its surrounding slopes. The flowers were planted in majestic, swirling patterns, great ribbons and swathes of deep orange, creamy white, lemon yellow, salmon pink, and saffron and butter yellow. Each different-colored variety was planted in large groups so that it swirled and flowed like its own river with its own unique hue. There were five acres of flowers.
‘Who did this?’ I asked Carolyn.
‘Just one woman,’ Carolyn answered. ‘She lives on the property. That’s her home.’ Carolyn pointed to a well-kept A-frame house, small and modestly sitting in the midst of all that glory. We walked up to the house.
On the patio, we saw a poster. ‘Answers to the Questions I Know You Are Asking’, was the headline. The first answer was a simple one.’ 50,000 bulbs,’ it read. The second answer was, ‘One at a time, by one woman. Two hands, two feet, and one brain.’ The third answer was, ‘Began in 1958.’
For me, that moment was a life-changing experience. I thought of this woman whom I had never met, who, more than forty years before, had begun, one bulb at a time, to bring her vision of beauty and joy to an obscure mountaintop. Planting one bulb at a time, year after year, this unknown woman had forever changed the world in which she lived. One day at a time, she had created something of extraordinary magnificence, beauty, and inspiration The principle her daffodil garden taught is one of the greatest principles of celebration.
That is, learning to move toward our goals and desires one step at a time–often just one baby-step at a time–and learning to love the doing, learning to use the accumulation of time. When we multiply tiny pieces of time with small increments of daily effort, we too will find we can accomplish magnificent things. We can change the world .

‘It makes me sad in a way,’ I admitted to Carolyn. ‘What might I have accomplished if I had thought of a wonderful goal thirty-five or forty years ago and had worked away at it ‘one bulb at a time’ through all those years? Just think what I might have been able to achieve!’

My daughter summed up the message of the day in her usual direct way. ‘Start tomorrow,’ she said.
She was right. It’s so pointless to think of the lost hours of yesterdays. The way to make learning a lesson of celebration instead of a cause for regret is to only ask, ‘How can I put this to use today?’
Use the Daffodil Principle. Stop waiting…Until your car or home is paid off Until you get a new car or home Until your kids leave the house Until you go back to school Until you finish school Until you clean the house Until you organize the garage Until you clean off your desk Until you lose 10 lbs. Until you gain 10 lbs. Until you get married Until you get a divorce Until you have kids Until the kids go to school Until you retire Until summer Until spring Until winter Until fall Until you die…

There is no better time than right now to be happy.
Happinessisa journey,nota destination.
Soworklike youdon’tneed money.
Lovelikeyou’ve neverbeenhurt.
Dancelikeno one’swatching. Ifyouwanttobrightensomeone’sday,passthisontosomeonespecial.I just did! Wishing you a beautiful, daffodil day! Happy SPRING!