Category Archives: heroes

Frey Freyday- make a difference

(Frey Freyday is simply a bunch of inspirational, motivational and other quotes meant to make you think, reflect, smile, even laugh a bit. Hopefully helpful, useful stuff..)

When you encourage others, you in the process are encouraged because you’re making a commitment and difference in that person’s life. Encouragement really does make a difference.-Zig Ziglar

Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.Barbara de Angelis

I think one of the best words in the English language is ‘compassion.’ I think it holds everything. It holds love, it holds care… and if everybody just did something. We all make a difference.-Michael Crawford

For a successful entrepreneur it can mean extreme wealth. But with extreme wealth comes extreme responsibility. And the responsibility for me is to invest in creating new businesses, create jobs, employ people, and to put money aside to tackle issues where we can make a difference.-Richard Branson

It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.-Tom Brokaw

That’s the beauty of coaching. You get to touch lives, you get to make a difference. You get to do things for people who will never pay you back and they say you never have had a perfect day until you’ve done something for someone who will never pay you back.-Morgan Wootten

When your heart speaks to you about what you need to do to sustain life on this planet, listen to it, make a difference, and be an inspiration for generations to come. Be inspired by people like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Christopher Reeve, Albert Schweitzer, Helen Keller, and many others.-Bernie Siegel

No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world and make a difference.-Robin Williams

Simple Stuff

(Simple stuff is simply a bunch of inspirational, motivational and other quotes meant to make you think, reflect, smile, even laugh a bit. Hopefully helpful, useful stuff….)

The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker. –Helen Keller  <!–[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]–> <!–[endif]–>

My heroes are and were my parents. I can’t see having anyone else as my heroes. –Michael Jordan  <!–[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]–> <!–[endif]–>We’re our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves. –Tony Robbins

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom. –Bob Dylan

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.-Christopher Reeve  <!–[if !supportLineBreakNewLine]–> <!–[endif]–>

Being a hero means being your real self, doing what you really want to do, going got ‘it’ whatever it is, not trying to appease others – Jim Frey

My belt holds my pants up, but the belt loops hold my belt up. I don’t really know what’s happening down there. Who is the real hero? –Mitch Hedberg


CNN revealed the 2013 Top 10 CNN Heroes — now it’s time to let them know which inspire you the most. Vote for the CNN Hero of the Year at — once a day, EVERY DAY thru 11/17.

Fear as an Excuse


Did you ever notice that when you’re at a family get together, or some other social event where you’re with friends or people that you know really well, you can sometimes notice others making excuses?

Sometimes we see others making excuses for not doing/trying/being/living, right?

Often times the excuses are based on FEAR.

I have some people in my life that are great people, and I love them a lot, but they are controlled by, and limited by their Fears.

It is easy to sit there and look at those people, almost in a judgmental way, and that’s not good, typically, nor is it what I want to point out or what I want you to do. We can always learn from watching others – but my point is this:

We ALL use Fear as an Excuse!

If you’re looking at your relatives or your friends and you see them making excuses and using Fear to hold them back in some way – If you’re really HONEST with yourself and aware, you can often see yourself in others.

I was at a nice picnic this weekend and a few of the ladies were there and just full of fear for so many things and they were talking about many things in their lives that they just didn’t want to do or “just couldn’t”.

At first I got a little judgmental and thought “Tsk!”, then I stopped myself. I tried to look at them and see what I didn’t like – and what it was in me.

I saw how I use Fear as an excuse. Recently I’ve had various opportunities in my career and with real estate. In the past I had a bad real estate experience, so I chose to pass on this opportunity. Looking back, it wasn’t a great decision to pass like I did – I at least needed to spend more time researching – but my fears about the past clouded my current-day decision.

How are you using Fear to hold you back, consciously or unconsciously?

What can you do to wipe out fear so you can make better decisions?
What can you do to wipe out fear so that you can live your life?

What kinds of questions can you ask yourself to change this habit?

What kinds of things can you do to interrupt the pattern of fear?

Look at all of the times, the opportunities, the ‘stuff of life’ that you may have missed.

Could you be better off if you were less fearful?
Live Life and Drop Fear.

Independence, Freedom, Life

snowbunniesA quick story……

As you may have guessed I have been self-employed before and I enjoyed it. Even when I worked at two banks, I had lots of self-autonomy and acted as if I was running my own business or profit center…….

….I believe that we all should have freedom to be with our family or friends as we choose, to do things as we want, to make as much as we want, to spend quality time with those we want to, to be creative, to exercise and do healthy things, and so on…..

I really relish what working for oneself has to offer – whether it is inside a larger corporation or actually self-employed. I gravitate to these sorts of things….I wish more people knew what it felt like too…..

In any case, we all know that the Internet is full of so many gurus, gadgets and ‘opportunities’ that appear to offer freedom, income, etc. etc. I confess that I’ve tried a blog and business before. I had a CD-set of information, advice and references that I sold. I had podcasts. I sold books written by others on the same subjects. I’ve tried things and failed. I’ve also had a few successes.

I think many of us would like to work from home, or be able to do something like that. I believe that it is possible.

So, my point is, that I’ve come upon a couple interesting things. Really just two. I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on many others. I have found many useful items, many scams, and things in between. Many items were actually good but perhaps something not what I wanted to do. There are many items out there that one can actually make money or do. It is about committment.

Anyhow, I’m in the process of checking out these few things. If they seem to be reasonable, realistic, and worthwhile, I’ll tell you. Then you can check them out and see if you think it is worth it.

I respect the fact that you read this blog, I respect that visited this once or maybe visit each day. I promise that I won’t abuse your trust and the relationship that we have. This blog is primarily  here to share good ideas, information and have fun. Deep down I believe that if I find something that is really good, it will still fulfill these things.

Until then. Enjoy and take care.

For more, click here




The Dog That Cornered Osama Bin Laden

The Dog That Cornered Osama Bin Laden… not your standard K9.

When U.S. President Barack Obama went to Fort Campbell , Kentucky ,
for a highly publicized, but very private meeting with the commando
that killed Osama bin Laden, only one of the 81 members of the
SEAL DevGru unit was identified by name:
Cairo, the war dog.

Cairo, like most canine members of the elite U.S. Navy SEALs, is a
Malinois. The Malinois breed is similar to German shepherds
but smaller and
more compact, with an adult male weighing in the
30-kilo range.

(German shepherds are still used as war dogs by the American military
the lighter, stubbier Malinois is considered better for the tandem
parachute jumping and rappelling operations often undertaken by
SEAL teams.
Labrador retrievers are also favored by various military
organizations around the world

Like their human counterparts, the dog SEALs are highly trained, highly

skilled, highly motivated special ops experts, able to perform

extraordinary military missions by
a, Air and Land (thus the acronym SEAL).

The dogs carry out a wide range of specialized duties for the military

teams to which they are attached: With a sense of smell 40 times greater

than a human’s, the dogs are trained to detect and identify both explosive

material and hostile or hiding humans.

The dogs are twice as fast as a fit human, so anyone trying to escape is

not likely to outrun Cairo or his buddies.

The dogs, equipped with video cameras, also enter certain danger zones

first, allowing their handlers to see what’s ahead before humans follow.

As I mentioned before, SEAL dogs are even trained parachutists,
either in tandem with their handlers or solo, if the jump is into
Last year canine parachute instructor Mike Forsythe and his dog
Cara set
the world record for highest man-dog parachute deployment,
jumping from
more than 30,100 feet up – the altitude transoceanic
passenger jets fly at.
Both Forsythe and Cara were wearing oxygen
masks and skin protectors for
the jump.

Here’s a photo from that jump, taken by Andy Anderson for K9 Storm Inc.

(more about those folks shortly).

As well, the dogs are faithful, fearless and ferocious “incredibly

frightening” and efficient attackers.

When the SEAL DevGru team (usually known by its old designation,
Team 6)
hit bin Laden’s Pakistan compound on May 2, Cairo ‘s feet would
have been
four of the first on the ground.

And like the human SEALs, Cairo was wearing super-strong, flexible body

Armor and outfitted with high-tech equipment that included “doggles” –

specially designed and fitted dog goggles with night-vision and infrared

capability that would even allow Cairo to see human heat forms through

concrete walls.

Now where on earth would anyone get that kind of incredibly niche
doggie gear?
From Winnipeg, of all places.

Jim and Gloria Slater’s Manitoba hi-tech mom-and-pop business,
K9 Storm
Inc., has a deserved worldwide reputation for designing and
probably the best body Armor available for police and
military dogs.
Working dogs in 15 countries around the world are
currently protected by
their K9 Storm body Armor.


The art of life can be simply to simplify…

This month is the 40th anniversary of Enter The Dragon, starring the one and only Bruce Lee.

Of course, Bruce Lee is best known for his martial arts and movies. He was one of the best and in some ways, still is. Bruce Lee inspired so many people in the ways of martial arts and fitness.

However, all too often, people stop there – they think that Bruce was just about movies; specifically action movies with violence – or that he was just a “martial arts/karate guy”.

Like almost anyone, putting Bruce in one small niche was incorrect and incomplete; ‘to label is to negate’ (Kierkegaard)

Bruce Lee went to college and studied philosophy. He was lifelong student of philosophy and wrote and spoke about it often.

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.” – Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee developed an art that was particular to him and he called it Jeet Kune Do (JKD). Translated Jeet Kune Do means the “Way of the Intercepting Fist” .

One of the key things about Bruce’s philosophy and martial arts was “Using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation”.

The basic principles of JKD are 1.) Directness, 2.) Simplicity, 3.) Non-classical form or the form of no form.

The techniques of JKD apply to real life situations and real combat. You can apply the philosophy to life, to investing, to fitness, art, etc. There is an inherent harmony or balance in the philosophy.

There are still countless websites, books, and tributes to Bruce Lee years after his 1973 death. Men’s Health magazine named him the 2nd all-time fittest man in history. The Giants paid tribute to him this year. The U.S. Congress honored Bruce this year. (

“There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”–Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee was a small business owner; starting martial arts studios. He was an action hero and movie star. His philosophy encouraged simplicity and simple systems as well as a quest and the pursuit of perfection and mastery.

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”– Bruce Lee

One of the most important influences on Bruce was his exposure to Taoist philosophy. Taoist philosophy is the development of the Chinese sage Lao Tzu, who in the sixth century BC wrote the definitive work on the subject, the Tao Te Ching.

In 1963 Bruce published a book titled Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense. The book expressed his views on gung fu as well as his deep interest in the philosophical aspects of martial arts training.

Another big influence on Bruce Lee, philosophically, was the Brahmin philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. Bruce found that Krishnamurti’s viewpoints on life ran parallel to his own. In his book Freedom from the Know, Krishnamurti writes: “You cannot look through an ideology, through a screen of words, through hopes and fears. The man who is really serious, with the urge to find out what truth is has no concept at all. He lives only in what is.” Bruce adapted this idea in forming his martial art philosophy: “You cannot express and be alive through static put-together form, through stylized movement. The man who is really serious, with the urge to find out what truth is, has no style at all. He lives only in what is.”

“A classicist or traditionalist will only do what the teacher tells him and that’s it. The teacher is pedestalized and you do what he says and you don’t question him,” says John Little, the historian of the Bruce Lee Estate, “but Bruce was drawing from some very diverse sources, such as gestalt therapy, Krishnamurti, etc. Not that these people were necessarily creators either, but they saw a certain truth that they wrote about. Bruce saw that same truth.” -

The below is from

Top 10 Greatest Quotes from Striking Thoughts (A book Bruce Lee wrote):

#10 “Be a practical dreamer backed by action”.

There are a lot of dreamers out there, and countless people working their hard at their job. But it’s only those who do both, dream big AND act big that really shine and change the world. Choose to be one of them.

#9 “If you love life, then do not waste time, for time is what life is made of.”

Time-management & Personal Productivity are hot topic these days. If you haven’t already, I urge you to make this something you strive to get better at.   

#8 “Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a state of constant learning.”

This is one of the utmost principles of Optimal Living. Learning is not something we do only in a classroom. It’s something we do everyday, as we try new things, analyse the results, and constantly tweak how we think and act. And that’s how we evolve and get better at life.

#7 “The power of will is the Supreme Court of my mind.”

Willpower is the engine behind living a great life and making things happen. The good news, it can trained and developed. In new his book aptly named “Willpower”, Florida State University Professor Roy Baumeister tells us: “If you exercise it, you can make it stronger. There’s nothing magical about it.’’ How do we do that? Best way I’ve found: take on The 30 Day Cold Shower Challenge.

#6 “Remember my friend, that is is not what happen that counts, it’s what you make of it. It can be stumbling block or a stepping stone.”

Everyday, stuff happens. Some is awesome, some… not so much.  I’ve personally developed a strong faith that everything happens for a reason, and as Steve Jobs says, we simply can’t connect the dots forward. When something bad happens to me, I make it a game of seeing how quickly I can start looking at it in a positive lights, and even turn it into an opportunity.

#5 “There is no such thing as defeat until you admit so yourself.”

Persistence, persistence, persistence. It’s without a doubt one of the most essential human traits for life excellence. It’s a better predictor than talent and intelligence in the quality of the life we create. Whenever I get scared about my plans to start a business next year, I remind myself that failure is impossible because I simply won’t give up until I make it work and achieve my goals. Plain and simple.

#4″When I look around, I learn one thing: to be yourself, and express yourself.”

We each can offer wonderful gifts to the world but do so, we need to let our through colours shine through. Sadly, we live in a society that makes this way harder than it should be, but the truth is that we’re all unique beings, and we should embrace our uniqueness, not hide it. So live for yourself, do what feels right to you, and don’t worry about what other think.

#3 “Concentration is the root of all higher abilities in men.”

Concentration is a lost art in today’s world. Distractions come in more shape and forms than ever before, and this is affecting many of us. But without concentration, nothing great gets done. In my opinion, the best way to build our concentration ability is without a doubt the daily practice of meditation.

#2 “Real Living is living for others”

We all have these phases when we get all caught up in our own stuff (I’m certainly prone to that), but we need to keep remembering ourselves that, happiness is rooted in helping others“. Sometimes, it’s good to pause and reflect on how we’re living, and whether we’re really offering our full gifts to the world.

A little bonus: It’s been shown that whenever we help someone, it significantly boosts our levels of serotonin, one of the main feel good neurotransmitters in our brain). It also boost the serotonin of the person we help, AND anyone watching our good deed. How cool is that! 

#1 “I’ve come to discover through earnest experience and dedicated learning that ultimately, the greatest help is self-help. It is the only help.”

We are in control of our life. We write our own story, and and everyday, through all the small decisions we make, we shape ourselves into the best version of ourself, or a diluted version of it.


Bruce’s philosophy can be summarized here well…..

The core philosophy of Bruce Lee was to “know yourself.” It is clear that all the avenues Lee took in life were in pursuit of self-cultivation, which leads to the ultimate destination: self-knowledge. His art and philosophy were the vehicles he used to gain an understanding of himself, to feel and fully appreciate the experience of what it means to be a human being. To achieve that, he spent countless hours learning, training, reading and researching.
The biggest adversary in our life is ourselves. We are what we are, in a sense, because of the dominating thoughts we allow to gather in our head. All concepts of self-improvement, all actions and paths we take, relate solely to our abstract image of ourselves. Life is limited only by how we really see ourselves and feel about our being. A great deal of pure self-knowledge and inner understanding allows us to lay an all-important foundation for the structure of our life from which we can perceive and take the right avenues.
Fear comes from uncertainty; we can eliminate the fear within us when we know ourselves better. As the great Sun Tzu said: “When you know yourself and your opponent, you will win every time. When you know yourself but not your opponent, you will win one and lose one. However, when you do not know yourself or your opponent, you will be imperiled every time.”
Krishnamurti, the great philosopher who influenced Lee, said: “We must first understand ourselves in order to know anything and to understand and solve problems.”–FROM

Bruce Lee had so many great strategies and wisdom; most ahead of his time. He inspires hedge fund managers, movie stars, teachers, fitness coaches, leaders, children, young and old.

·    Jeet Kune Do does not beat around the bush. It does not take winding detours. It follows a straight line to the objective. Simplicity is the shortest distance between two points.
·    The art of Jeet Kune Do is simply to simplify.
·    The man who is really serious, with the urge to find out what truth is, has no style at all. He lives only in what is.
So, like you should with anyone, the next time you see Bruce Lee on TV, remember not to limit him and be inspired by his work at bettering himself, at his quest for self-actualization, his leadership, his faith in himself and others, his growth, his belief systems, his constant proactive nature, his philosophy and commitment to follow his own way.
Wishes to you for finding simplicity and balance in your life.

CNN Heroes – Great stories!

CNN holds their annual HEROES award show. I always try to watch it.

More info available at

This week I have already shared SOME of the many hero stories, in no order, to remind us, inspire us, and encourage us all to do a little more.

Today’s story is the winner of the show, another great story. I encourage you to visit CNN’s Heroes site and read more!

Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN) — Pushpa Basnet doesn’t need an alarm clock. Every morning, the sounds of 40 children wake her up in the two-story home she shares with them.

As she helps the children dress for school, Basnet might appear to be a housemother of sorts. But the real story is more complicated.

All of these children once lived in Nepal’s prisons. This 28-year-old woman has saved every one of them from a life behind bars.

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world — according to UNICEF, 55% of the population lives below the international poverty line — so it lacks the social safety net that exists in most Western nations. Space is extremely limited in the few children’s homes affiliated with the government.

So when no local guardian is available, an arrested parent often must choose between bringing their children to jail with them or letting them live on the streets. Nepal’s Department of Prison Management estimates 80 children live in the nation’s prisons.

“It’s not fair for (these) children to live in the prison because they haven’t done anything wrong,” said Basnet, who started a nongovernmental organization to help. “My mission is to make sure no child grows up behind prison walls.”

Basnet is one of several in Nepal who have started groups to get children out of prison. Since 2005, she has assisted more than 100 children of incarcerated parents. She runs a day care program for children under 6 and a residential home where mostly older children receive education, food, medical care and a chance to live a more normal life.

Since 2005, Pushpa Basnet has assisted more than 100 children of incarcerated parents.
Since 2005, Pushpa Basnet has assisted more than 100 children of incarcerated parents.

“I had a very fortunate life, with a good education,” Basnet said. “I should give it to somebody else.”

Basnet was just 21 when she discovered her calling, she said. While her family ran a successful business, she was studying social work in college. As part of her studies, she visited a women’s prison and was appalled by the dire conditions. She also was shocked to discover children living behind bars.

One baby girl grabbed Basnet’s shawl and gave her a big smile.

“I felt she was calling me,” Basnet said. “I went back home and told my parents about it. They told me it was a normal thing and that in a couple of days I’d forget it. But I couldn’t forget.”

Basnet decided to start a day care to get incarcerated children out from behind the prison walls. While her parents were against the idea at first — she had no job or way to sustain it financially — eventually they helped support her. But prison officials, government workers and even some of the imprisoned mothers she approached doubted that someone her age could handle such a project.

“When I started, nobody believed in me,” Basnet said. “People thought I was crazy. They laughed at me.”

But Basnet was undaunted. She got friends to donate money, and she rented a building in Kathmandu to house her new organization, the Early Childhood Development Center. She furnished it largely by convincing her parents that they needed a new refrigerator or kitchen table; when her parents’ replacement would arrive, she’d whisk the old one to her center.

Watch this video


Saved from a life behind bars

Just two months after she first visited the prison, Basnet began to care for five children. She picked them up at the prison every weekday morning, brought them to her center and then returned them in the afternoon. Basnet’s program was the first of its kind in Kathmandu; when she started, some of the children in her care had never been outside a prison.

Two years later, Basnet established the Butterfly Home, a children’s home where she herself has lived for the past five years. While she now has a few staff members who help her, Basnet is still very hands on.

“We do cooking, washing, shopping,” she said. “It’s amazing, I never get tired. (The children) give me the energy. … The smiles of my children keep me motivated.”

Coordinating all of this is no easy task. But at the Butterfly Home, the older kids help care for the younger ones and everyone pitches in with household chores. The atmosphere feels like an extremely large family, a feeling that’s fostered by Basnet, who smothers the children with love. The children reciprocate by calling her “Mamu,” which means “Mommy.”

“I don’t ever get a day off, but if I [didn’t] have the children around me, it would be hard,” she said. “When I’m with them, I’m happy.”

Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2013 CNN Heroes

All the children are at the Butterfly Home with the consent of the imprisoned parent. When Basnet hears about an imprisoned child, she’ll visit the prison — even in remote areas of the country — and tell the parent what she can provide. If the parent agrees, Basnet brings the child back.

She is still eager, however, for the children to maintain relationships with their parents. During school holidays, she sends the younger children to the prisons to visit, and she brings them food, clothing and fresh water during their stay. Ultimately, Basnet wants the families to reunite outside prison, and 60 of her children have been able to do just that.

My life would have been dark without (Pushpa). I would’ve probably always had a sad life.
Laxmi, 14 years old

Parents like Kum Maya Tamang are grateful for Basnet’s efforts. Tamang has spent the last seven years in a women’s prison in Kathmandu. When she was convicted on drug charges, she had no other options for child care, so she brought her two daughters to jail with her. When she heard about Basnet’s program, she decided to let them go live with her.

“If Pushpa wasn’t around, (they) could have never gotten an education … (they) would have probably had to live on the streets,” she said. “I feel she treats (them) the way I would.”

Tamang’s oldest daughter, Laxmi, said she can’t imagine life without Basnet.

“My life would have been dark without her,” said Laxmi, 14. “I would’ve probably always had a sad life. But now I won’t, because of Pushpa.”

In 2009, Basnet started a program to teach the parents how to make handicrafts, which she sells to raise money for the children’s care. Both mothers and fathers participate. It not only gives them skills that might help them support themselves when they’re released, but it also helps them feel connected to their children.

“Often, they think that they’re useless because they’re in prison,” Basnet said. “I want to make them feel that they are contributing back to us.”

Making ends meet is always a struggle, though. The children help by making greeting cards that Basnet sells as part of her handicraft business. In the past, she has sold her own jewelry and possessions to keep the center going.

Her biggest concern is trying to find ways to do more to give the children a better future. She recently set up a bank account to save for their higher educations, and one day she hopes to buy or build a house so they’ll always have a place to call home. Their happiness is always foremost in her thoughts.

“This is what I want to do with my life,” she said. “It makes me feel (good) when I see that they are happy, but it makes me want to work harder. … I want to fulfill all their dreams.”

Want to get involved? Check out the Early Childhood Development Center website at and see how to help.

Heroes Inspire #4

CNN holds their annual HEROES award show. I always try to watch it.

More info available at

This week I’d like to share SOME of the many hero stories, in no order, to remind us, inspire us, and encourage us all to do a little more.

Today’s story….

Boca Raton, Florida (CNN) — At 13 years old, Nickolaus Dent is his mother’s primary caregiver.

He’s responsible for the grocery shopping and cooking. He cleans the house. He does all the laundry.

His mother, Janine Helms, has been battling HIV for as long as Nickolaus can recall, and her health has deteriorated in the last couple of years. Nickolaus makes sure she takes her medication. He often helps her get dressed, and at times, he has helped her bathe.

Nickolaus’ father died two years ago. Since then, ensuring Helms’ well-being has been a full-time job for Nickolaus, leaving him with little energy to socialize or study.

“It does make it hard to pay attention in class,” he said. “Helping her out is a bigger priority than going to school and getting (an) education, because I feel if I don’t have her, I don’t want to go to school. Whatever happens to her happens to me.”

Nickolaus is just one of the estimated 10,000 youth caregivers living in Palm Beach County, Florida, according to the American Association of Caregiving Youth. The nonprofit, founded by county resident Connie Siskowski, was instrumental in bringing this previously unrecognized population to light in 2002, and it has since provided support to more than 500 area youths who are caring for an ill, disabled or aging family member.

Connie Siskowski knows firsthand what it\'s like to be a child and take care of a loved one.
Connie Siskowski knows firsthand what it’s like to be a child and take care of a loved one.

“No child in the United States should have to drop out of school because of caregiving,” said Siskowski, 65. “These children suffer silently behind closed doors. … They don’t have the help and the support and the recognition that they need.”

According to a 2006 study conducted by Civic Enterprises for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 22% of high school dropouts in the United States leave school to care for a family member (PDF).

It’s these children who Siskowski had in mind when her group started the Caregiving Youth Project at Boca Raton Middle School. The project, the first of its kind in the nation, aims to intervene early on in the academic lives of youth caregivers.

Special classes, led by a mental-health professional or social worker, cover topics such as coping with stress and anger, managing finances and setting goals.

Periodic field trips and overnight camps offer recreational, social and educational activities. There are home-care demonstrations and workshops.

The program also makes teachers and school administrators more aware of the children’s extenuating circumstances and how they can lead to truancy, absenteeism and dips in academic performance.

The hope is to reduce the negative effects — anxiety, depression and feelings of isolation — that caregiving responsibilities can have on a child’s mental, physical and emotional health.

Watch this video


CNN Hero helps teen who cares for mom

“We can’t change the health condition of the person (receiving care),” Siskowski said. “But what we can do is provide the skills and the resources and the value to the children so that they can have a little more balance in their life. And also so that they know that they’re not alone.”

Since 2006, the program has been introduced into eight area middle schools and followed hundreds of students into 17 area high schools.

“We stay with them to graduation, and it’s amazing,” Siskowski said. “We’ve watched these kids grow up before our eyes. It’s nothing that happens overnight, but it’s very gratifying. It’s like, ‘OK, there’s one more kid that’s going to make it.’ ”

Nickolaus joined the program last year. The group provided him with a computer, a bed, clothing and tutoring. Now, he has raised his grades and aims to make the honor roll. He was also able to attend the group’s overnight camp while a nurse’s aide stayed with his mom.

“I found out there are more people that do the things I do, and some do more,” he said. “Now I’m getting As and Bs, and I feel more confident in school.”

Children in the program are also offered a home study by a medically licensed staff member or contractor who assesses what skills and resources are most needed to support a child. Working with dozens of community partners, Siskowski’s group helps families with unique needs.

“We’ve provided clean-water systems and enlisted the support of community members to build wheelchair ramps or relocate a family from a moldy environment,” said Siskowski, whose group relies solely on donations and grants. “We’ve provided in-home tutoring, light cleaning, translation and transportation support, counseling, access to medical care, financial assistance and food resources.

“We’ve donated computers and printers. And slow cookers, as we’ve had several fires in homes where children are cooking for their families.”

Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2013 CNN Heroes

Siskowski knows the toll that caring for a loved one can take. As an 11-year-old, she cared for her grandfather until his death two years later. She remembers waking up at 2 a.m. to give him his medication and finding that he had died.

“I don’t think I realized he was going to die. No one prepared me for that,” she said. “It was very traumatic. But way back then, nobody really appreciated the trauma or the impact of losing someone.”

Siskowski became a registered nurse in 1967 and has worked in Florida’s health-care community for decades. Over the years, she has witnessed how technological advances have affected aging baby boomers and their families.

“People are living longer,” she said. “We have much more technology and electronics that are available. … More and more people who maybe yesterday would’ve been in a nursing home are being cared for at home. And so that puts a burden on a family.

“The hospital is in a unique situation. … Technically, they’re supposed to be able to give instruction to a caregiver. But sometimes that caregiver is a child.”

The tasks can be sophisticated, too, from monitoring respiratory devices to cleaning catheters and preparing syringes. And not all of the children are caring for just one parent like Nickolaus. Others have to care for multiple family members, including siblings.

A report released in 2005 (PDF) by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the United Hospital Fund said there were at least 1.3 million caregiving youths, ages 8 to 18, nationwide. It’s a population that has been virtually hidden for several reasons, including the reluctance of many sick parents to go public with their infirmity.

“Parents are embarrassed to tell school members, or the principal, that they have medical problems. … Their pride goes out the window, and most feel more vulnerable,” Helms said.

Children also fear trouble for themselves and for their families. While they might know that too many truancies and absences could land them in court, they’re often more fearful that a parent could be deemed incapacitated and the family split up.

“Children are afraid to reach out because they don’t want to be taken away from the parent,” Helms said. “It’s scary. And people don’t want to be near you when you have an illness. It’s just as hard on the disabled parent as it is the child, to open up. That’s why it’s kept like under the table.”

Siskowski and her group are determined to create other options and provide other solutions. She says the first step is acknowledging youth caregivers and telling them they are not alone.

“We have definitely turned around lives and kept kids in school because they feel valued,” she said. “They never knew anyone noticed or cared.

“It can turn their frustration and anger and flip it around to feel valued and supported in the role they are having for the family as well as society. If they weren’t doing some of the things they are doing, who would be?”

Want to get involved? Check out the American Association of Caregiving Youth website at and see how to help

Heroes Inspire #3

CNN holds their annual HEROES award show. I always try to watch it.

More info available at

This week I’d like to share SOME of the many hero stories, in no order, to remind us, inspire us, and encourage us all to do a little more.

Today’s story….

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (CNN) — Three days after a massive earthquake threw Haiti into chaos, Alvana was homeless, along with her two children.

But her nightmare was just beginning.

“I was gang-raped while I was sleeping in the middle of the street,” she said. “And I got pregnant.”

Alvana did not know her attackers. Depressed and unsure of what to do next, she was directed by a friend to a clinic run by KOFAVIV, a Creole acronym that translates into the Commission of Women Victims for Victims.

“By the time I got to them, my belly was already big,” she said. “But they took care of me.”

Alvana was given food, water, housing and prenatal care. She decided to keep her daughter, even though the psychological pain could be difficult — and still is, two years later.

“It’s terrible,” said Alvana, 33. “I love my daughter … (but) I look at myself and see that I have a child that is a product of a gang rape.”

Malya Villard-Appolon, right, knows what it\'s like to be a victim of sexual violence. She has been raped twice.
Malya Villard-Appolon, right, knows what it’s like to be a victim of sexual violence. She has been raped twice.

Her story is, unfortunately, all too common in Haiti, said Malya Villard-Appolon, one of KOFAVIV’s co-founders.

“After (the earthquake), the situation was inhumane and degrading,” Villard-Appolon said. “There was no security in the (displacement) camps. There was no food; there was no work. And now there is a rampant problem.”

Accurate numbers are difficult, if not impossible, to find in the aftermath of such devastation, but KOFAVIV and other groups say they have seen a definite increase in rape cases after the January 2010 earthquake.

“Victims became more vulnerable due to a range of things,” said Brian Concannon Jr., director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. “They lost their houses; there were no locked doors anymore. People lost family members who were a source of protection.”

Terrible living conditions, including a shortage of food and water, contribute to the problem as well, said Charity Tooze, a senior communications officer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Washington office.

Watch this video

Culture of rape in Haiti

“The conditions are so dehumanizing,” Tooze said. “Over months and months, it increases all forms of violence, including sexual violence.”

There has also been a lack of prosecution in the country. In the first two years after the quake, not one person in Haiti has been convicted of rape, according to the UNHCR.

“The big problem is, you can’t find justice,” said Villard-Appolon, 52.

Even before the quake, she says, rape was an issue in Haiti, historically underreported because of social stigma, retaliation from perpetrators and a lack of legal support. That is what led her and Marie Eramithe Delva to start KOFAVIV in 2004. Since the group’s inception, it has helped more than 4,000 rape survivors find safety, psychological support and/or legal aid.

“We tell people to come out of silence,” she said. “Do not be afraid to say that you have been victimized.”

Villard-Appolon knows what it’s like to be a victim of sexual violence. She has been raped twice, and her husband died as a result of beatings he endured trying to save her from being raped. In 2010, her 14-year-old daughter was raped in a displacement camp.

“I can’t describe to you how I felt when I heard about that, because I was a victim,” she said. “I started asking myself what kind of generation I came from. Am I cursed?”

Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2013 CNN Heroes

She escorted her daughter to two police stations and received no assistance, she said, just a lot of talk. One police officer told her that “girls are so promiscuous” and indicated that many young girls are asking for sex.

But she carries on, “fighting with hope that I know there will be a change,” she said. Internationally, she has testified before the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling for increased security within the displacement camps and asking that women’s groups be included in decision-making processes.

“I was a victim, and I did not find justice. But know I will get it for other women,” she told CNN.

When the earthquake hit Haiti, KOFAVIV’s founders watched their clinic and their offices collapse along with their homes.

Villard-Appolon lived in the dangerous Champ de Mars displacement camp for half a year. There, she said, she watched as conditions deteriorated.

“It was all kinds of people who ended up in one area,” she said. “The jails were not destroyed, but their doors were opened, and all prisoners went free. Many of them … were armed, and they were notorious murderers.”

One criminal held Villard-Appolon at gunpoint, demanding money. The police never showed up, she said, but she managed to escape after a group of supporters arrived to fight.

Villard-Appolon said many single women had to leave their children with strangers in order to search for food, water or work. In some cases, the children were raped. The youngest victim, she says, was a 17-month-old.

“I spent six months witnessing it,” she said. “Babies are not spared; adults are not spared; mothers are not spared; sisters are not spared.”

Despite the escalating violence and the loss of its clinic, KOFAVIV regrouped to help victims in Haiti’s “tent city” camps, where about 500,000 people still live today. The group has 66 female outreach agents and 25 male security guards who work within the camps, organizing nighttime community watch groups and providing whistles and flashlights to women. All of them have been affected by gender-based violence, whether personally or through a family member or loved one, Villard-Appolon said.

KOFAVIV also relies on more than 1,000 members to help share their stories, support the victims and urge them to come forward and fight for justice.

It usually starts by accompanying the victims to the hospital within 72 hours of being raped. Once they undergo a test, they receive the medical certificate they must have to begin legal proceedings.

“After that, we assign a lawyer to her,” Villard-Appolon said. There is no cost to the victims, and they receive support from KOFAVIV through the trial.

Villard-Appolon says she is determined to keep fighting for a brighter future, even though justice has been elusive.

“My dream is that we will get to a place where we stop talking about the number of rape cases,” she said. “We will stop talking about Haiti as a country where people are committing violence against others. One day, we have to be able to say that we have a country with people who respect each other.”

Want to get involved? Check out and see how to help.

Heroes Inspire #2

CNN holds their annual HEROES award show. I always try to watch it.

More info available at

This week I’d like to share SOME of the many hero stories, in no order, to remind us, inspire us, and encourage us all to do a little more.

Today’s story….

Butte, Montana (CNN) — Five years ago, Leo McCarthy lost his 14-year-old daughter, Mariah, when a drunken driver hit her and two of her friends as they walked down a sidewalk near her home.

But he refused to let her tragic death become just another statistic.

Knowing that the driver was 20 years old — not even old enough to drink legally — McCarthy made an unusual promise to the teenagers attending Mariah’s memorial service in Butte, Montana.

“If you stick with me for four years,” he said during her eulogy, “don’t use alcohol, don’t use illicit drugs but give back to your community, work with your parents and talk to your parents, I’ll be there with a bunch of other people to give you money.”

McCarthy has lived up to his end of the bargain. Along with Jimm Kilmer and Chad Okrusch, the fathers of Mariah’s two friends who survived the accident, McCarthy has given $1,000 scholarships to more than 140 high-school graduates who have taken Mariah’s Challenge.

“I wanted to give them encouragement and to tell them that … you can be better and always be greater in the situation,” said McCarthy, whose nonprofit raises the money through private donations.

Mariah’s Challenge is simple. Teens can go online and sign a pledge to not drink until they are 21 and not get into a car with someone who has been drinking. Toward the end of their senior year, if they have not been convicted of underage possession of alcohol, they are eligible to submit a scholarship application, which includes a 300-word essay explaining how Mariah’s Challenge has affected their life.

Watch this video


Mariah’s Challenge fights teen drinking

Recipients are selected by McCarthy, Kilmer and Okrusch based on the essay and an interview.

“Mariah’s Challenge stands for integrity, character and honesty and living a life of simple self-respect,” said McCarthy, 52.

The message is something that is sorely needed in Butte, he said, one of a few places in the country where people can drink in public.

“Butte has an apathetic attitude in some ways to underage drinking,” McCarthy said. “And it has a somewhat acceptance of drinking and driving. … It’s generational.”

The city’s drinking culture dates back to its history as a major mining town in the late 1800s, when it attracted boatloads of Europeans seeking better opportunities and a new life. Miners often went as deep as one mile underground to dig iron ore. It was tough work, and many of them often liked to drink at the end of the day.

“This town has such a hard history of living,” McCarthy said. “It’s a humbling town … a town of integrity and character. But Butte allows certain things to continue, and drinking underage and drinking and driving is a situation that’s continued. It has to be acknowledged, and it has to be stopped.”

Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2013 CNN Heroes

It’s not just Butte, however, that is struggling with the problem. Nationwide, Montana routinely ranks in the top five per capita for drunken-driving fatalities. Those troublesome statistics, along with Mariah’s story and other high-profile deaths, have led legislators to seek more aggressive ways to address the issue.

One example is the 24/7 Sobriety Program, which has been implemented in 16 counties, including Butte’s, since last year. It requires anyone arrested for a second drunken-driving charge to submit to two alcohol breath tests daily.

“Montana finally has had enough,” said Steve Bullock, the state’s attorney general. “Tired of opening the newspaper, reading about somebody getting their sixth or seventh DUI. Tired of community losses. We’re addressing it both through law enforcement, through legislation and through awareness.

“One of the great things about Mariah’s Challenge is changing people’s behavior and the positive awareness of it.”

Mariah is forever 14. I can’t get her back, but I can help other parents keep their kids safe.
CNN Hero Leo McCarthy

Courtney Cashell, a recent scholarship recipient, says she has noticed the culture starting to change in Butte.

“People are coming up with alternatives,” she said. “I know of a group of kids that got everyone together and said, ‘Just bring soda. We’re going to have pizza and music. Don’t bring any alcohol.’ … It’s changing gradually, in little steps.”

Josh Panasuk, one of 42 students to receive a scholarship this year, said Mariah’s story inspired him to do something with his life other than just drink and party it up. He works two jobs, plays sports and plans to attend Montana State University Billings this fall.

“I kind of looked around and saw a lot of people I knew — a lot of friends, for that matter — just going down that path, and I never wanted to,” he said. “It never appealed to me.”

Mariah’s Challenge started in Butte, but it has expanded over the years to other parts of Montana as well as four other states: Washington, Idaho, Iowa and North Carolina.

About 8,000 young people have accepted the challenge. But they’re not the only ones.

“I have parents taking Mariah’s Challenge. I have grandmothers taking Mariah’s Challenge, not because they have a drinking problem or anything else like that, but they understand what it’s about,” McCarthy said. “They have the opportunity and the sage advice of looking back to people and looking at their future and their grandkids and saying, ‘Hey, I’m the first one to acknowledge I’ve done some goofy stuff. But you know what, Mariah’s Challenge is a great way for you to enjoy life … to be something, to be somebody unique.’ ”

For him, seeing kids make responsible choices means Mariah’s memory will live on.

“Mariah is forever 14,” McCarthy said. “I can’t get her back, but I can help other parents keep their kids safe.

“We save one child, we save a generation, and that makes me encouraged to continue what we’re doing every day.”

Want to get involved? Check out the Mariah’s Challenge website at and see how to help

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