Early On In Inner City: Keep on Loving, Keep on Believing

inner city post

Very early on in my inner city work, I was a volunteer buddy for a person in the projects.

It was East Palo Alto. My buddy was a 22 year old woman. She had five children from five different men. They lived in a two-bedroom apartment in a complex with wire grates on every window.

At the time I was 16. Fairly nascent in my volunteer work, I was eager to jump in and help. I was still shocked by all the poverty, only 2.1 miles away from my home. The word “UNACCEPTABLE”  was spelled foremost in my mind. It’s what drove me everyday.


We would meet to discuss life. To just spend time together. This time, I had made an effort to bring her a casserole that I had made for her family. We had agreed to the time. I figured as a busy mom that she would really appreciate the meal. I was now here and knocking on the door.


I knocked.


I waited.


I knocked again…. again.

The casserole rested warmly in my hands, as I shifted its weight to knock.


This time, I knocked a little bit louder. “Gloria”? I asked.


I waited a little bit more.

It was 6 p.m., and awfully silent around the projects. There was some blaring music coming from a far-end apartment. Then it would stop, silent…it was a bit eery. I wondered… were people sleeping? Working?

I waited some more.


I knocked again and called her name. I waited.


I knocked again and said, “Gloria, this is Pamela. I have our dinner… would you be able to open up?”


The response was silence. I left the lukewarm casserole on the doorstep, hoping that it would be received and walked away to my car.

I didn’t hear form her.

Every day I tried to call her.



Weeks later I heard from her. On this phone call, I learned a lot:

“Gloria, how are you? I stopped by for the dinner the other day as we agreed but you weren’t there?”

“No, I was there.”

“You were there?”


“Gloria, what happened? We decided that I was going to drop off dinner… I was excited to have that there for you.” There was silence.

“I didn’t feel like it,” said Gloria.

“I just didn’t want to open the door.”


Gloria taught me a lot that day.

When you are a volunteer, one of the most important things to do is to not to force a situation.

You are not there to make happen what you think should happen.

You are there to serve.

This is service in an entirely different way. Service does not always mean accomplishment of the task. Some of us Americans are very “doer-oriented.” We want to accomplish. That’s what our founding fathers based our society on: We had to conquer the West. We had to be very resilient and resourceful. In many ways, we still are.


With that resourcefulness comes a strong will. That will sometimes prevents us from listening to others or listening to the situation.

As a volunteer, you think, I am supposed to serve the meal. But we don’t know what was going on in Gloria’s mind. She was a mom, twenty years old, with five children. Her jobs went in and out — as did her family.  I can’t imagine how overwhelmed she must have been.

As volunteers we need not to focus “on our side of the story.” “I am doing a good thing. I made all this effort to make a meal. Why wasn’t she there?”

All those thoughts are wrong.

The thought we must have as volunteers everyday is:

“I am here to serve in a way that makes my buddy the most comfortable, with a sense of kindness, listening and love.”  

That does not always mean that you get to complete the delivery of a meal. That does not mean that you get to finish building the house, constructing the well or cleaning up the river.

Sometimes it means being present with someone. Sometimes it means making 6 phone calls before you get in touch with someone. Sometimes it means backing off and giving them space. Sometimes it means showing up on the doorstep with warm casserole, knocking, never hearing a response, and not knowing if they ever ate it. You leave your agenda behind.

To be a volunteer is precious. You listen, you serve, you focus on being present. You love, and don’t judge.

No matter what happens when you serve, you Keep on Loving and you Keep on Believing.

The Classic Pamela Positive: Should Our Work Make Us Happy?


Get inspired with a new audio version of this blog!


I find that so much of what is true ‘happiness’ in one’s job is how we conduct ourselves and our thinking.

For example, even if your job isn’t your exact ideal, there are elements that can bring full happiness. Being of service is not relegated to any one sector. Being professional, kind, courteous, and with a high “client service” attitude to external parties as well as to the internal team, can bring high “happiness” value.  Continue reading

Some of You Might Not Want to Vote This Year

Some of You Might Not Want to Vote This Year.   I understand. It’s not an easy landscape and can be daunting. Sometimes the people we want leading the country, won’t run. The candidates we want to stay in, drop out.   Or sometimes the candidates we like, change their views.
I’m hearing some people murmur, “I don’t even want to vote.”  iran-elections-ppl-voting.jpg
But we can’t take it for granted.
The Iranian women don’t.
In a landmark election, Iranians chose between President Hassan Rouhani, or other Iranian politicos tougher on the U.S. and the West.   This would determine the tone of Iranian leadership to come within the country.
55 million people in Iran are eligible to vote.
Women lined up around the polling site, nearly 80 miles south of the capitol.
And there was a 73% turnout rate.
The Iranian people care about their future.  So should we. Register to vote. And if you think you might be gone traveling, please get an absentee ballot. I do that just so I can stay on top of it.
Please don’t take it for granted…you have a voice. Please use it.  We have a freedom we should not dismiss.

The Grass Is Greenest Where You Water It

rice-field-387715_640“The grass is greenest where you water it. Successful couples have learned to resist the grass is greener myth – i.e. someone else will make me happy. They have learned to put their energy into making themselves and their marriage better.”

-Mitch Temple

Get inspired by the latest AUDIO version of this blog!

Let’s be focused on how green we can make our grass!

Truly wouldn’t that be lovely?  If we all focused on what we have — the wonderful family or our friends who are like family; the job, or the opportunity to explore something new; the husband or the opportunity to date and find the right person – what a joy-filled world we would have!  And a joyful world starts with each one of our own little worlds. Continue reading

“Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.”

When we were growing up, we watched The Sound of Music, as a Thanksgiving tradition every year after dinner. We still do!
Part of it because my mom is loyal, sweet fan of Julie Andrews who plays the staring role.  My mom also loves it because it is an inspiring story, and a perseverant story.
While The Sound of Music may not be mainstream today, it’s story of sticking to one’s values is timeless. If your country was taken over and your freedom was taken, you’d be perseverant to get these treasures back. We don’t take our country, culture our freedom for granted, especially when someone else tries to take it away from us.
Even more, Julie Andrews as a person faced tremendous challenges. Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 4.48.29 PM.pngNo matter how talented she was, she had to work so very hard and pursue relentlessly her desire to sing and act.  She was unjustly looked over for critical roles that she merited from an acting perspective.  And in a critical voice operation, she lost the ability to sing. Her beautiful voice was gone. She would never perform the same way again.
Yet positive Julie Andrews took up writing. She expressed her creativity through children’s books, such as The Very Fairy Princess series,  which garnered rave review from Publishers Weekly, Children’s Literature,and was #1 on the New York Times best seller list.
So whatever you are facing today, pick yourself up. You might have fallen down 3x.  It sounds like according to Julie you need to try another 13.  Get up and let’s go!  :)

“In Order to Help, We Must First Understand”

    A continuing pattern throughout my life is understanding and entrenching myself in different cultures, specifically low-income communities. It is a life-long desire to understand how people in different, impoverished situations approach and overcome obstacles, in order to better themselves as well as their community collectively. Along with this goal comes the need to understand different languages, political situations, economic structures, and histories which impact a community.

 My first memory of this desire came after a brief family vacation to Mazatlan, Mexico. At age 12, what impressed me was not the inundation of tables of silver, beads, sombreros, bartering voices, the strong smell of tortillas or wave-like, dried heat in the air. What immediately drew me were all the Mexican children, many misshapen and disfigured, most with sweet, dirty faces, pleading for money alongside their parents. It was clear I wanted to understand how community structures and resources, both native and exterior, could ameliorate these conditions.

 My first involvement in a low-income culture was not abroad. It was right across the street in East Palo Alto. I worked with Nevida Butler at the Ecumenical Hunger Program, answering phones, speaking with community members, and learning about the challenges—individually, socially, politically, legally. This type of community involvement continued throughout high school and college, at a time when volunteerism was not in vogue. Volunteerism also continued in my professional life, with a focus on homeless individuals and inner city teens in South-Central, Los-Angeles working with life skills training for alcoholics on Skid Row. When I returned to Palo Alto, I served at JobTrain and Free At Last, two organizations providing support, professional training, and classes.

    In conjunction with community service, I have focused on learning from well-established cultures. In junior high school I visited Germany, Austria and Holland; in high school I visited the UK, Paris, France and Italy. In my International Communications graduate program, I took a “marketing and media tour” through Prague, Geneva, London and Paris. In 1995, Prague was of especial interest due to its economic and political fragility and the resulting impact on the culture.

    During these visits I focused on a series of questions: How did people communicate? What laws and processes needed to be in place? How important was local versus national leadership in the ability to effect change? What type of physical infrastructure was necessary, and what type of support was quickest and most acceptable—government, self funding, private, outside capital? All of this was with the mindset of learning what positive elements could be adapted or replicated in other cultures. Each trip builds upon a long-term vision, learning about each culture, and what works.

    Most recently, I was able to combine the two objectives of service and international culture. In the barrios of Managua, Nicaragua, we focused on working with kids and their families in establishing a shelter and school. As the political situation has stabilized, and the 25 natural volcanoes have become more dormant, the area is beginning to reconstruct itself. This was a pivotal trip allowing me to see a war-ravaged community with unemployment at near 66%, rebuild itself. Instrumental in involving myself in this community was my study of languages, specifically Spanish. Languages allow me to communicate closely with local people, and in addition, teach me different ways to express ideas and concepts.

Before you start serving, really study the community.  What is it’s history? What are it’s past challenges, and strengths? Read about it, but also learn from the people.  Then, you will be able to serve.

Don’t Stop Doing the Right Thing – How Mexico Gained Greater Peace

Mexico’s People Experience Greater Safety!  It’s a wonderful new headline we are seeing these days.
Its Peace Index has improved nearly 14% in the last five years. That means people are safer. They can walk the streets at night, feel better about their families, and face less corruption in business.
So what happened? The drug war really set Mexico back for a time.  Drug lords could literally “own” a plaza, a neighborhood, a business. So President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels and brought in armed forces.
But it got worse. In 2011 there were nearly 20 deaths per 100,000 people due to violence.  But after a vigilant struggle, homicide and crime rates have gone down by more than 30%.   That tells us we need to keep at it!
When you take a stand for right, sometimes it gets worse. Don’t stop doing the right thing!  

Believe good will surge again. It will! 


Vive La Paz en Mexico!