Category Archives: Uncategorized

“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.

We Miss You Lawrence!


This is from our sweet Shanghai intern, Lawrence.  We are so grateful to have him! Lawrence we miss you!  Come back!
I’m so lucky for working with you during the two months. I will never forget this fabulous experience, and miss you guys so much! Thanks again for your help, kindness and everything.
I wish all the best to you and UG, and See you again in someday.

Inline image 2

谢谢! (thank you):)

Who Helped You Get There? Part 1

passion led us here

Team Living and Giving, you may have done something good today.

Maybe you helped someone …. that shows you are a good person.

Uplifted a spirit with an encouraging word

Or motivated another person to finish the 5k (or a walk around the block!)

Picked out weeds from a garden, cleaned the dishes, drove someone to the airport.

Or maybe you even flew across the world to volunteer!

You might have started a company, served as mayor, or fundraised $10,000 for a nonprofit.


But in all the good we do… there is one thing we know for sure…


Stay tuned to find out!


what led you here post

Help A Youth Speak!

I run a website for online giving and volunteering, but there’s nothing like getting in there on the ground!
Youth Speaks is active in helping youth get their voices heard.  They train young people in writing, advocating, speaking out, and competing in poetry slams all over the nation. This is all geared towards making a change in society, all while building their skills and self-esteem.
What a joy to visit with Ashley Smiley and Gabriel Cortez at Youth Speaks. Ashley is the Production Manager and supervises facilitators and keeps the Youth Speaks shows running smoothly. Gabriel is a spoken word poet and teaching artist. There is such devotion by the staff. Gabriel’s pure heart shines through in his work!
Youth Speaks has a wide variety of programs.  What I liked the most is it was not just about creativity, but the program also creates a long-term community, a life network.
They make a commitment to the children through all their chapters in life. While it starts off with training in writing, the children are also exposed to numerous events on living positively and making job connections. As Ashley said, “We create a true family.”
Here are some of the programs with which I was very impressed: First, they have After School Programs all over the U.S. They are in nearly every state and in multiple places across the Bay Area, including San Francisco, The Mission, Berkeley, and Oakland. In these after school programs they focus on writing.
Next, there is Open Mic. Open Mic allows people to practice their poetry and get up on stage. There is no grading system and no pressure. It is an opportunity for one to put forth his voice.  What a great skill for anyone to learn, at anytime in life!
When participants feel ready, they can go into formal competitions. At each stage, one must have new original content, which is graded. With continued progress, one may be chosen to be a part of a team called Brave New Voices. Brave New Voices usually consists of five poetry creators who create three minute and thirty second long poems. There is a coach and the team goes to a national competition.
There is a clear way to express yourself in a low-pressure, supportive community. There is also a way to continue to ascend and become more advanced if you choose. I like this: It doesn’t put pressure on the kids, but shows them that there is a pathway to greater success if they want it.
Then, they really get into life. The annual event Life is Living features dance classes, sustainable foods, a petting zoo, and keynote speakers. The goal is to expose guests to all of the positive things in life; to show how you can live a life that is connected to the earth and doing good. It is an example of how to make choices in your day to day, such as choosing organic foods or composting.
Most impressive is their work with accomplished authors. Last summer Ashley worked with Anna Deavere Smith at some of the poetry competitions. They also work closely with the San Francisco Jazz Festival.
One of the most appealing aspects of Youth Speaks is its incredible balance of informality and elegance. You can simply take a class or you can participate in a celebration at the Opera House with high level authors and speakers. It is essential that our youth experience both of the following: 1) comfort and ease of involvement and 2) access to experiences that they would never have otherwise. If you have the former, then introducing the latter is much easier.
Youth Speaks opens up the children’s minds as to how special they are and what they can accomplish. They should be going to the Opera House just like everyone else.   Let’s support them — go hear their voice!

“It Was Because of My Daughter”

And he said: “It was because of my daughter.”

It was a speech at the conference on social entrepreneurship in Ontario. Wally Hawley, venture capitalist, was presenting about partnerships, contacts, and networking — so that likeminded individuals, such as himself, could channel their resources to philanthropic ventures. And more importantly, invest themselves in these community endeavors.

The speech is coming to an end. He has presented the information well.

“And I would not be up here today were it not for one special person in this room. And that is my daughter. For she taught me about giving in the community.”

Pamela’s jaw drops slightly, eyes cast slowly down as a warmth spreads in her heart throughout her body. That is my Father, her soul speaks to her.

He has loved me forever. 

I have never known such a love…




What Makes You Feel Better About Yourself?

Dear Living and Giving readers,

What makes you feel better about yourself?

For some of it is quiet time, cherishing our gratitudes, or time with family. Perhaps it’s a hot meal, or warming our toes by a fire. Or a kind, unexpected compliment from a friend, or even someone you don’t know.

Here’s what our intern from India, Prithvi Mattur, has to say about what makes her feel better. It’s volunteering.

Below she answered one of our Intern interview questions:

Things that makes UniversalGiving Unique:

Clarity and understanding of how change happens in the lives of the poor: UniversalGiving believes that helping people in need:

 Makes you feel better about yourself;

Connects you with another person, at least for a moment, if not for life;

Improves the life of another, at least a little;

Makes the world a better place,

And if that kindness is passed on, it can multiply, and multiply.

What a beautiful statement on how giving of ourselves can change — if not save — the world! All of her beautiful statements will make us feel better.

p2Thank you Prithvi, for enlightening our days.

From Hindu Sacred Writings

This must be one of the world’s oldest prayers:
O God
Let us be united;
Let us speak in harmony;
Let our minds apprehend alike.
Common be our prayer;
Common be the end of our assembly;
Common be our resolution;
Common be our deliberations.
Alike be our feelings;
Unified be our hearts;
Common be our intentions;
Perfect be our unity.