Lights, camera, action

Posted December 4, 2009 by dynamodena
Categories: Uncategorized

I got great news this week.

Rebuilding Together is about to get a whole bunch of free video cameras. I’m trying to spearhead a video diary project for the Gulf that will allow volunteers to be mini-Spielbergs, taping their experiences rebuilding post-Katrina homes. Then we’ll post the edited footage online, get fame, money, volunteers, you name it….

In the process of research for this I came across a spectacular deal provided by Flip cameras. Partnering non-profits who qualify get a two-for-one deal. Buy a $150 point and shoot, handheld unit and the company will give you one FREE to help you make the world a better place.

Long story short, we are now a partner!


Help shmelp

Posted December 2, 2009 by dynamodena
Categories: Uncategorized

Steppenwolf was wrong. It turns out we’re not born to be wild or bad..or even free so much.

According to an intriguing New York Times story I just got around to leafing through, we start off as humans aiming to help, innately altruistic. Born to help, if you will.

Not to get too touchy-feely, hippy-dippy or Kumbaya on you, but I think that fact is a tremendous scientific finding to support the work of non-profits and do-gooders everywhere. We should, dare I say, pat ourselves on teh back for trying to keeping this spirit alive.

The quality of wanting to be helpful from an early age — before we’re even taught to be polite because it’s socially acceptable — makes us humans and separates us even from the most intelligent animals.

So what happens? Where do we take our plunge toward selfishness? I guess the pivotal age, according to the scientists, is 3. That’s the time when we start to become more selective with our helping, being nice to others who have first shown some good traits and compassion towards us.

What help is this knowledge? Well, we should build on it, work to ensure that youngsters get this innate helpfulness reinforced early on, often. And I guess as adults it encourages us to keep in mind that we are naturally good. Compassion is our way. Or at least it should be.

Getting into print

Posted November 23, 2009 by dynamodena
Categories: Uncategorized

Last Sunday while reading  the Washington Post, I read a story that really got my juices flowing.

The opinion piece — in my beloved Outlook section — supplied the five “myths” of homeownership. Things like homeownership actually is not all that beneficial to society and does not produce more connected citizens.

I understand the temptation, given our housing collapse and the unimaginable surge in foreclosures, to blame the crisis on a national push for homeownership. But Rebuilding Together is devoted to the practice of preserving affordable homeownership and stabilizing communities.

So I felt compelled to respond…in print.

Doing so was not quite as easy as writing a letter to the editor as Jane Doe.

First I researched and plodded through studies and public information on housing, finding that there was proof that homeowners tend to vote more and have more educated children with lower rates of teen pregnancy.

Then I drafted and crafted a tight, 250-word selection.

The marketing director at Rebuilding Together was immediately supportive of something that would promote homeownership and respond to the Outlook-described myths. She soon approved my writing, which brought it to the top of the food chain, aka the organization’s chief executive officer.

He, too, gave it the green light.

And now I sit waiting to see if the Post will choose to feature my letter and present a differing side to the housing discussion.

Cross your fingers as I hold my breath.

Bank on networking

Posted November 20, 2009 by dynamodena
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m pretty sure networking is a word only really used in D.C.

What is it? Basically gathering, usually over drinks, to shmooze and generally try to make professional strides while being social too. Obviously other places take part in this practice but only workaholic, driven D.C. sets up specific networking groups, pointedly calls them networking opportunities and professionalizes the simple happy hour.

I say this to preface the fact that I ended up at one of these networking events yesterday  geared toward those employed in the affordable housing sector. Seemed super specific to me. Not to say I would refuse going, since I never refuse a good happy hour.

There were employees from HUD, from Victory (a mostly senior focused org), alums of Habitat and more than anything else job seekers looking for positions that are related in any way to housing. It was encouraging to see all the enthusiasm for affordable dwellings yet also discouraging that it’s difficult for these enthusiastic souls to get work.

By far the most interesting tidbit I learned is that Citibank announced earlier this month that it will “put the squeeze on small-fry customers,” in the words of the New York Post, who broke the story.

 Starting in February, if you don’t keep at least $1,500 in your checking account you’ll be charged a monthly $7.50 fee. That comes to close to $100 a year just because you’re not rolling in money.

According to the Post, it targets about half of existing customers. Which half? The poor half that wants to start saving and responsibly keeping their money in a national bank yet can’t always keep three- and four-figure amounts in their accounts.

I was pretty outraged to find this out. The head of the affordable housing networking group wants everyone she knows to pull out of CitiBank. I’m mulling it over yet also torn because Citibank tends to have excellent customer service.

In the meantime, I’m also thinking about something else she pointed out. If we stand idly by without taking action other banks will follow suit, thinking it’s perfectly acceptable to tack on extra charges to the non wealthy. It’s what happened in the airline business when they began charging to check bags.

Louisiana check-in

Posted November 19, 2009 by dynamodena
Categories: Uncategorized

To say our Acadiana affiliate is understaffed would be an understatement.

I was inspired today to hear that with just an executive director and two AmeriCorps members, the folks in Lafayette, La. are able to do a lot.

Barbara, one of the hard-working AmeriCorps members handling community partnerships, was busy sifting through 300 applications from homeowners requesting help on their homes. That’s right. 300! Once she has read through this massive stack it’s likely that less than half will be eligible for our service.

But the sheer volume of assistance requested in our struggling economy boggles the mind and melts the heart.

As Barbara said, she was surprised to learn that some affiliates at last week’s national conference struggle to find homeowners that can reap the benefits of rehab and were asking for suggestions about that specific type of outreach.

“That has never been our problem,” she told me.

It certainly gives inspiration to my hopes of raising sufficient funds for her affiliate and the other three Gulf Coast locations in our national network.

Definitely check out Acadiana’s new site at

What a Gala!

Posted November 18, 2009 by dynamodena
Categories: Uncategorized

Today the wheels started turning for what I hope will be our signature fundraising event.

One of the other AmeriCorps VISTAs, born and raised in Fairfax County near DC, has a connection with a soon-to-be-opened Virginia vineyard. So we’re using that connection to try to hold a winery gala in June that will raise money for Gulf Coast efforts while giving the vineyard exposure and a link to a great cause.

Just think: flowing cabarnet, a picturesque sunset over a lovely rural setting with supporters dressed to the nines feasting on Jambalaya.

I am deadset on making it happen.. and happy to report a productive and positive meeting about said event.

We’re on our way, baby. Details coming soon. Not to be cryptic, but I must get firm commitments before fully blabbing my mouth, a difficult feat for me.

Money, money, money

Posted November 17, 2009 by dynamodena
Categories: Uncategorized

Some good news out of Louisiana. Well, a teensy bit.

Thousands of homeowners affected by hurricanes Katrina and Rita are now eligible for more grant funds to protect their homes from loss in future storms.

Paul Rainwater, executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority (yes, I realize how funny his last name is given his job), announced yesterday this so-called Individual Mitigation Measures program.

What it amounts to is that families can get up to $7,500 to take “small scale measures” for the benefit of their residences. Installing roof tie-downs. Storm shutters. That level of project. The assumption is that we’re so far along in the recovery that we are at the last phase of the total effort — preventing future storm damage.

Having been to New Orleans this summer, I’m not sure we can say that with such certainty.

To put this in perspective, the Road Home Program (which, as the name applies, was designed to rebuild homes so that Louisiana residents could return from where they evacuted to) has provided almost $8 billion to about 125,000 homeowners in the state. But, according to research by Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Ca), the average award has been just over $60,000, nowhere close to what it takes to substantially repair damaged houses.

That gap is where Rebuilding Together fits in.

As Waters puts it, “It is high time to get serious and get beyond just talking about doing something to help these people: four years after Hurricane Katrina, we still have individuals living in trailers, seeking additional benefits, dispersed throughout the country in unfamiliar cities.”

And, although more money is terrific,  we have to consider who it’s helping, where it’s going.