Tuesday, January 29, 2013

#SNAPchallenge2013: Takeaway Week, Day 5

Still trying to find a way to wrap up this past month eloquently, and have no idea how I'm going to put it all together. In the meantime, I'll continue to post tidbits as they come to me. Please feel free to challenge me on my opinion of their eloquence :)

Takeaway #5: Food-Free Fun Time!

I want to work my way through this list. You with me?
When you want to catch up with a friend or a colleague, what's your default offer? "Let's go to dinner!" "Let's grab coffee!" Or, my personal all-time favorite, "Let's go to brunch!" But in the absence of those opportunities for the month, particularly with momentum rising from conference interactions the month before, what was I to do when asked to go eat with someone?

I have to say, beyond any hunger I felt over the course of this experience, my biggest fear was an appearance of being antisocial. Despite the rising profile of government assistance and its increasingly common nature, it still places its users under a tremendous level of scrutiny and judgement. In fact, as I explained to a friend more about the challenge, she blamed such a culture for the often reported "food stamp fraud".

While I haven't spoken about it during my coverage of this challenge, it is known that some users of SNAP assistance sell their benefits and use the money on other, non-SNAP approved items, or even non-food items. Based on her knowledge of friends and significant others whose families depended on these benefits, she saw a culture that emphasizes the newest, best thing as essential to being perceived as successful as a major factor in misuse of these benefits. I admittedly am not qualified to assess how often that happens or what the causes are, but I can say that I understand the stigma that she referenced.

But after some initial discomfort, I seized this opportunity to take advantage of some opportunities I hadn't before. In the absence of a default option, I got creative. I bowled with work friends, found free days to go to museums, went window shopping, encouraged bringing of lunches to meetings, and many other out-of-the-box hangouts. As I spoke with friends who didn't always have secure food growing up, a common thread emerged: in order to give them a good experience, their parents got creative. I followed that lead. And frankly, I want to keep doing that. When I think about some of my best memories over the past several years, some happened at tables. But more of them happened out in the world, when I did something out of the ordinary. I want to keep creating those memories. And challenging myself to do something more adventurous than just share a meal, even if its cooking a meal together or using a coupon to take an adventure on the cheap, will do so many things to help me appreciate the plight of those who don't have that "let's grab a bite!" option.

I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :)

#SNAPchallenge2013: Crunching Week 4 Numbers, and Week 5 Rule Shift.

So last night's trip to market (Trader Joe's) was the last one of the SNAP Challenge, but it is a partial week and the first week of a crazy travel season for me. So it had a slight rule change: the bill was kept to $30, but I am now incorporating some pantry items that have been on hand but I have abstained from using over the last several weeks. Again, with an impending move, using up bits of things has become a priority, and allowing for this will help with that.

I also want to share the costs from last week's bounty, so check it out!

Breakfast: Egg and Cheese Breakfast Sandwiches
1 egg ($0.19/serving)
1 serving Cheddar cheese ($0.43/serving)
1 gluten free English muffin ($0.87/serving)
TOTAL: $1.49/serving

Lunch: Turkey Sandwiches with Avocado and Tomato
2 slices Rudi's Gluten Free Bread (bought with a coupon- $0.89/serving)
1 serving sliced turkey ($0.62/serving)
avocado* ($0.14/serving)
tomato* ($0.11/serving)
*leftover from last week
TOTAL: $1.76/serving

Dinner: Corn Chowder
potatoes ($0.18/serving)
corn ($0.29/serving)
carrots ($0.14/serving)
celery ($0.19/serving)
chicken stock ($0.12/serving)
TOTAL: $0.92/serving

I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :)

Monday, January 28, 2013

#SNAPchallenge2013: Takeaway Week, Day 4 (Give a Little Bit (More))

Giving Tuesday, a holiday of selflessness to combat the materialism of Black Friday, was held the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Did you give?

My apologies for the radio silence on the challenge, folks. Things have been particularly busy, but I'm trucking right along and have four days to go on the challenge! I can't believe I've been doing it for nearly a month already! More recaps and reflection are yet to come (into February, based on my timeline), but I wanted to write about one really important takeaway from the month.

I've given a lot of thought to what I'll do once February hits and I go back to my standard operating procedure. How am I going to keep the lessons of this challenge close at hand? Sure, I'll have a better idea of the struggle that so many go through, but I can already tell that isn't going to be enough. Ultimately, I decided I want to give more. Not just give money, but time and effort.

As a newly licensed driver to the state of Massachusetts, I have the ability to overcome a few transportation challenges that I couldn't navigate before. Among the first of those challenges will be my ability to get myself to Greater Boston Food Bank on a fairly regular basis to help. I got so much out of volunteering at Second Harvest of the Big Bend when I was in Tallahassee, and I've missed that here in Boston. I plan to incorporate that regular volunteerism into my life up here, and am so excited to get to work again.

Another way I want to give is through patronage of Panera Cares. The fifth location of this Panera Bread concept is designed with a "pay what you can" model in mind. Suggested donation levels are given, and those who can afford to pay, do; those that can't are still able to eat. While many have expressed skepticism about the sustainability of such a model, I truly believe that the enthusiasm around it will help it to do what it is aiming to do. What's more, I plan to be one of the people who pays what they can, and then some. I'm good for it, and it will help someone else. While they were closed when I got there today, I hope to return and support the wonderful work they're doing there.

As you can imagine from my decision to dedicate a month of my life to the cause of combating food insecurity, this is an issue that I care about deeply. And I can tell you right now, my quest to understand and support this cause is far from over. I just won't be bugging you for money every day to support it after the end of the month :)

That said, I only have four days to go! Help me finish strong?

I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :)


Friday, January 25, 2013

#SNAPchallenge2013: Takeaway Week, Day 3

c. 2005. Disregard the husky face, it was college.
Who remembers the Visa commercial of the choreographed dance through the garden center which stops abruptly when someone stops to pay with a check? It seems so commonplace to pay with plastic, the idea of using anything else to make our daily purchases seems archaic and jarring and, well, not so graceful.

But I have dealt largely in cash this month, not just as it pertains to food but many other areas of life, and I'm finding that it may be a good way for me to go for a while.

Takeaway #3: Being a Cash Money Thousandaire (If That...)

Last week, I paid for conference fees and various other items associated with upcoming travels. Ask me how much money I spent, and I probably have no idea. But how much did I spend on groceries earlier this week? $26.30. The week before that? $29.41. How do I know that? Not just from the receipts, but because I used cash and was forced to look at it.

I'm at a point in my life where I have things I want to save for. Doctoral classes, paying off loans, paying off credit card bills, eventually buying a car...but the plastic life isn't so conducive to that. Even with apps like Mint.com (which I now use religiously), it's hard to really see how much you're spending until it's already gone. I don't like that. The opportunity to lose control is too great. I like having to think about where my money's going. And if walking around like that thuggish young lady above will help me do it, then I will. Albeit in a stylish, held-close-to-me wallet.

I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Prom Date Says I Can: Struggles with LinkedIn Endorsements

11 for Legal Marketing AND Social Media? Dang!
First, let me explain my alarmist title. I've been sitting on this post for a while, in some ways waiting for inspiration to strike on how I should approach it. And just like that, I was given an example.

To mask the personality of this person, I will refer to him as Q. Q became a good friend in his sophomore and my junior year of high school, was my prom date, but we parted ways (aside from occasional contact) after I left for college. So while we worked together in organizations such as Spanish Honor Society (si) and Amnesty International, we know little about each other as adults aside from what is broadcast on Facebook, LinkedIn and the like.

So when a little flag popped up yesterday saying "Q has endorsed you for a skill: Student Affairs.", I was understandably a little confused. While I appreciate Q's faith in my ability to do my job, and I apparently appear competent based on the things I post and talk about (woo!), he doesn't really know. Thus, my opening to talk about my concerns with LinkedIn's fairly new Endorsement feature.

Originally designed as something of a "lazy man's Recommendation", Endorsements allow you to state your agreement with someone's assessment of their own skills, or to suggest skills that you know that they have. As an example, some of my highest endorsed skills right now are Student Affairs, Event Planning, Higher Education, and Public Speaking. This has become the case by people visiting my page (or being prompted on their own) and clicking a plus sign next to the skills listed.

There are two potential, and in some cases, actual problems with this.

The first is what I mentioned, false recognition. I am endorsed in Higher Education by several colleagues and former supervisors, and even people with whom I have worked with on work-based projects outside of my office. But I am also endorsed for Higher Education by my neighbor, who I have only worked with in an unrelated event management capacity. And again, while I appreciate her confidence in me, she doesn't really know that I'm good at my job. When endorsements are given in a quid pro quo form (i.e. "If you endorse me for something, I'll endorse you back!"), they lose meaning. Similarly, to endorse someone's experiences based on their potential to do the work, while encouraging, can ultimately be misleading.

Up to this point, I have spoken of others falsely attributing competence or expertise to me. However, it could just as easily go in the opposite direction. My second concern surrounding LinkedIn endorsements is false attribution. That is to say, rather than someone falsely crediting me with competence in an area, I could falsely bestow it upon myself. As an example, I am very interested in career advising, enjoy helping students determine their route in life based on their interests and abilities, and even have been known to proofread resumes and cover letters. But I don't have "Career Advising" or "Career Counseling" listed as a skill on my page. Why? Because it's not true.

I became concerned with this flaw in the Endorsement concept when looking to recommend an undergraduate student that I worked with several years ago. Among skills listed on her page: Student Affairs, Higher Education, and Leadership Development. This was difficult for me to understand. Has she worked in these areas? Sure. Is she competent in some areas of them? Maybe. But does she have a level of understanding of any of them that allows her to be endorsed for it? That may depend on who you ask. And further, if someone was to patently fabricate skills on his or her profile (Great example: if I listed basketball or calculus as skills), where is the control to prevent that?

So what to do when refining our own pages, or when browsing the pages of others in hopes of commending their good (and, hopefully, actual) work?

  • Endorse what you could speak about. Think of it this way. If someone were to see your face next to someone's skill, call you, and ask you about it, could you speak well of the person in that area? If not, question if you take that moment to click.
  • If you can speak, recommend! If what you have to say about that person's skills in that area is strong enough or substantial enough, take the extra moment to write a recommendation. Even if it's short, it's a powerful way to help them build their career, and to show others who they are in the office or in the capacity in which you know them. With such a competitive job market, it helps to "see" someone in the role; your words could do just that for a friend or a colleague.
  • Stay humble. When listing your own skills, think about what YOU may have to speak on eloquently in a job interview. If you don't have an example of how you might tout your skills in an area of listed "expertise", think about if you want it on a profile.
  • "Phone a friend." If you have trouble determining what your skills are, speak with friends, colleagues and supervisors (who are familiar with your work!) to let you know where you excel. It's a nice way to know what others think of your skills, and gives you a story to tell in potential interviews. Showing the foresight to get contributions from others, and the grace to accept what they say, are strong qualities that many employers would appreciate.
What do you think of LinkedIn endorsements? How do you decide how to list your skills? Have I left out any tips on how to be authentic but complimentary at the same time?

#SNAPchallenge2013: Takeaway Week, Day 2

If I'm wearing a utility belt, it's going to be Batman's.
As I continue winding down this project, and think about what elements of this experiment will stay with me, I'm working to identify what skills and experiences will be added to my proverbial utility belt. This is the second in a series of posts this week that will shine a light on those things I want to take away from this project. 

Takeaway #2: Three Meals a Week
No, this does not mean that I'm picking three times during the week, going to town, and hoping that it sustains me until the next time I get to eat. This refers to the focus with which I went into this project. I automatically went into the SNAP Challenge, without a whole lot of consideration, deciding to have the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. I literally never thought of any other way to do it. But now that I think about it, this is not consistent with how I typically shop. More often than not, I get ingredients that are common to things I like to eat (beans, various vegetables, pasta and rice) and figure it out as I go. Sprinkled in there are things that I find that look cool, or might decide that I want to eat right then (more on that in a later post). 

But this month and the challenge that came along with it brought about an unprecedented level of self-control for me. For a recreational grocery shopper such as myself, I need that. I need something to keep me from the often-feared "checkout blackout"where I go to pay for items I don't remember picking up. This common condition is also suffered at IKEA and Target.   

In deciding on three meals a week, it allows me to settle into a routine of being thoughtful about my purchasing power. What's more, having a lot of everything can lead to waste. I have wasted precious little during this month because I literally could not afford to. I need to carry that mentality about waste with me, and that can start with buying fewer more heavily used items.

These reflections will continue, as will the challenge until the end of the month!

I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :)


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

#SNAPchallenge2013: Takeaway Week, Day 1

Well folks, this thing is winding down. I completed my fourth of five shopping trips Monday, a sure sign that February is nearly upon us. 
But I want to make sure that this little experiment has a lasting impact on how I live my day-to-day. It was a means to gain understanding, yes, but what else can I gain from it? How will it stick with me as I move forward in my life? Takeaway Week is designed to do just that. Reflecting on my experiences of the past month, I want to identify a few key things that will last beyond the confines of the calendar month.

Day 1: Cut The Fat (and Other Bad Stuff)
I am notorious for saying around the office, "I need peanut M&Ms." On any given day, the candy or snack of choice could be replaced with chips and salsa, gummy bears, coffee, or anything with peanut butter in it. And while there's nothing wrong with occasionally longing for those things, to classify them in the category of need is a little strong. It always has been, and I've always known that, but I know now that if I need to leave it off the shopping list for a trip (or four consecutive, as I have), I'll survive. 

Shopping with a clear picture of what I truly do need (i.e. this chowder will not work without potatoes) makes it easy to see what the extra pieces are. I came into this issue yesterday at the store: nervous about my dollar total, I stood in the checkout line trying to rapidly prioritize what was in my basket and what could stay behind if needed. Were there sweets, junk, appropriately labeled luxury items in that basket? They could have gone without a second thought. And I want to try to rein in that second thought significantly moving forward.

I've spoken a few times about the difficulty in ensuring that enough fruits and vegetables fall into my basket each week, both here on this blog and with others who lived a life much like the one I'm simulating. As the saying goes, "if it's important, you'll find a way." I like to think I've tried to do that. Even if it meant compromising freshness, reverting to canned or frozen forms, I have not constructed a menu over the course of this month that has not included those things. Sure, some breakfasts relied heavily on eggs but no vegetables, or on cereal without fruit. But for the most part, by the end of each day, I didn't feel as though I would have to stave off the threat of scurvy.

But more and more research is showing that Americans don't always understand the connection between what they eat and how they feel or look, and it takes an understanding of what "the right way" is, to live by it. One organization that is aiming to make changes in this regard is Shopping Matters. A division of Share Our Strength, they facilitate shopping and cooking classes in areas where people are in need of good food education, to arm them with the information to be well through food choices, even on limited means. I've signed up to facilitate these courses, and am hoping to be selected to take part in such an impactful program.

More takeaways will come as the week wears on- happy to be in the home stretch, but also eager to ensure that elements of this challenge never really end for me.

I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

#SNAPchallenge2013: Crunching Week 3 Numbers

Trader Joe's Bounty!
Week 3 was a fun one, because it allowed me to go to Trader Joe's. I love Trader Joe's. And because most of Florida is not yet able to sample its delightful bounty, getting to go is still a novelty for me. 

Beyond being affordable, it's great to find a grocery store that is so conscious of the product that they put out, and actively caters to a gluten sensitive or gluten free lifestyle. It has made living that way so much easier, and I always look forward to seeing what new things they have that I can eat with ease.

Anyhow, on to the results of this week's trip!

Breakfast: Honey Nut Trader Joe O's with Almond Milk (bonus of Trader Joe O's- while processed on similar equipment to wheat products, which doesn't tend to bother me, they do not contain gluten. Cheerios do!)

Honey Nut Trader Joe O's ($0.31/serving)
Trader Joe's Original Smooth Almond Milk ($0.21/serving)
1 banana ($0.19/each)
TOTAL: $0.71 

Lunch: "Greek" Salad with Cottage Cheesegarbanzo beans ($0.13/serving)
cucumber ($0.41/serving)
tomato ($0.13/serving)
avocado ($0.14/serving)
yellow pepper ($0.20/serving)
cottage cheese ($0.28/serving)
TOTAL: $1.29 

Dinner: Shrimp "Accidental Arrabiata" (so called because I accidentally got the tomatoes with the chiles in them) shrimp ($0.50/serving)
gluten free corn pasta ($0.20/serving)
canned tomatoes ($0.24/serving)   
TOTAL: $0.94

I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :)

Monday, January 21, 2013

#SNAPchallenge2013: The Dessert Dilemma

Two of my coworkers in residence life and I have started what I've been referring to as a supper club on Wednesday nights. I love it for the ability to build relationships with other coworkers, and for the chance to test new recipes with friends. But potlucks present a challenge when you're on a set budget, and as I expected it had some difficulty.

To start with, I forgot about it during my weekly shopping trip. I had some money left over, but a difficult amount of money. $2.99, to be exact.

Under normal circumstances, I would either dip into the pantry and whip up something with what was on hand, or go out to the store and pick up any number of ingredients to pull something together. But in keeping with authenticity with this whole project, I did neither of those things. 

So what was left? Find something that was within my admittedly limited means.  I searched high and low on Pinterest for recipes that incorporated inexpensive ingredients with what I had in the pantry, but came up short. What was I left with? Getting Jell-O chocolate mousse pudding. A product I've been wanting to try, but hadn't brought into the house because it qualifies as a junk food that I had been trying not to buy. 

In that moment, a lot of struggles became clearer than at any other point during the month. To the mom or dad that ends up bringing home blue box mac and cheese and chips over fresh fruits and vegetables, it may not be a matter of not knowing any better (Although it may be). Maybe, just maybe, there isn't the freedom of choice that we always assume there is. I felt that pressure of not being able to do what I wanted to do, or making my lifestyle fit within the confines of the challenge. I felt equal pressure to ensure that I could contribute to the dinner, not wanting to come empty handed because I "couldn't afford it". The pressure of the situation isn't just financial, but social as well. I made it work in a way that I wouldn't have normally, and that was difficult for me. But as I've said through this challenge- I like that it was difficult, because the difficulty is real.
There's a quote from the book (and later movie) Into the Wild: "Happiness is only real when shared." Similarly, the real challenge of SNAP comes when people other than yourself are being considered.
Moving forward, as I continue to plan to feed myself, I plan to think more about those who use their benefits to feed themselves and others. That's the reality of so many people, and my challenge admittedly excludes that in large part.

I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

#SNAPchallenge2013: Hiding in Plain Sight

Milford Academy: "neither seen nor heard"
To your right, you'll find the logo of the fictional boarding school on Arrested Development, the Milford Academy. The hallmark of the Milford Academy is that the students are trained to be "neither seen nor heard". It's a comical reference used to explain the youngest son Buster's ability to stay out of the way during arguments or disappear without being noticed. I've used this reference often lately to refer to my ability to stay out of the way of my roommate in my apartment, but I found a professional use of it this week.

I received my first email from a parent this week, and it took me somewhat off-guard for a few reasons. First, I'm not accustomed to getting contact with parents- in activities, we hear far less from parents than the groups with whom we share the student life suite (conduct and residence life). But this one struck me as particularly timely. I got an email from the mother of a commuter student on our campus, wondering what measures we have to help out students with limited means. I tried to help out, giving resources about our commuter meal plan and how to get a discounted T pass. But as I searched for resources to help students who aren't of our typical financially independent, less money-strapped profile, we came up wanting. She spoke of them not having too much money to afford food, and that understandably hit home for me. Given the journey that I'm on this month, that struck me as particularly difficult.

I've spoken up before about if some of our programs, such as our ticketed events (which each cost between $25 and $30) or Christmas Extravaganza raffle tickets (students spent up to $40 to buy raffle tickets for the chance to win expensive prizes), don't create a divide between students with expendable cash and those who have to guard their funds a little more closely. Honestly, I don't know how much we think about that.

A few weeks back, we had a great discussion about the Catholic Intellectual Tradition as professional development for student affairs staff. A major topic of discussion was the gap between the number of underrepresented and less affluent students the school used to accept, and the number that we serve now. It is considerably fewer. As I continued to correspond with this parent, and learned more about the family's financial constraints, I felt called to speak up for these students (however many there may be).

I'll be chronicling a few campus programs that are doing well to fight hunger and other problems of limited means, and I have loved learning more about institutions who are taking care of their own students. But I continue to wonder: what role can I play in advocating for the students among us who, while not always seen or heard, need our help?

I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Saying a Mouthful: Lessons in Leadership from Lance Armstrong

This past Tuesday, I had the opportunity to present to our Student Government Association about student leadership skills, and did a presentation based in large part on Patrick Lencioni's The Five Temptations of a CEO. The exercise started with them collecting their ideas on good and bad traits of leaders, and people who exemplified those qualities for better or worse. The choices varied widely: their good leaders included the Obamas, Oprah, and Angela Merkel of Germany (I was impressed by that one!); the bad included Lindsay Lohan, the Kardashians, and Tory Burch's husband (there's a story there, I won't go into it here). Had I to do it over today, I would have called to their minds Lance Armstrong. 

After looking over the admissions he made to Oprah last night, an interview I was unable to watch in the absence of cable at my apartment, I think that the testimony could be used for a lot of things- to invalidate his advocacy for cancer research, to vilify a man who has been previously seen as an upstanding inspiration, and any number of other opinions that are likely flooding talk radio this morning. But I think leadership educators have a powerful opportunity to show an example of how not to lead, and I hope to find a way to impart those "lessons learned the hard way" to our students. In this medium, I'll pull a few of the tenets from Lencioni's book and try to relate them to Armstrong's long-overdue confession.

A recurring theme in yesterday's admissions was the drive to win, no matter what it took. For many athletes that means putting in the work to train hard, but for Armstrong that meant using any means (legal or illegal) to get to the top and stay there. The result was seven Tour de France victories, but no fairly won ones. In this regard, Armstrong fell prey to Lencioni's first temptation: valuing status over results. He wanted to win, to be seen as a titan of his sport. But the non-victory related results, such as the people who would have to cover up his lies and those who may be hurt by his illicit methods, didn't matter as much. 

In choosing to be dishonest about all that he did, worrying how it would affect his image or the generosity toward his organization, two more temptations overtook him: the value of popularity over accountability, and the value of harmony over conflict. The latter becomes complicated when you consider the considerable legal defense he mounted, suing such a list of people who were being truthful that he can't remember everyone they attacked. Did he invite conflict in that regard? Absolutely, he did. A former massage therapist of his came forward; she was greeted with accusations of being "a liar" and "a whore". The wife of a teammate came forward; she was greeted with accusations of being "crazy" and "a bitch". Both of those accusations were paired with lawsuits. But that sort of conflict isn't the kind Lencioni is talking about. That is the conflict that is symptomatic of what the author believes is the most damaging of the temptations: valuing invulnerability over trust.

Armstrong admitted last night that he recognizes that it is "too late" now to admit to all that he's done. This is absolutely true. Perhaps the biggest question surrounding this sudden confession concerns just that: why now? And while this large question has gone unanswered to date, I can offer a potential reason based on Lencioni's reasoning. There is a fear of vulnerability in leadership that is gradually being broken down. In the position of power Armstrong has enjoyed, vulnerability is not encouraged. To that end, being able to admit wrongdoing (accidental or intentional) is difficult- at times seemingly impossible. While I suspect there are other, bigger and considerably more self-serving reasons for Armstrong's deception, the concern about vulnerability no doubt played some role.

So given all this, what can we do with students to help them avoid the trappings that have so mightily befallen this former champion? A few:
  • Encourage recognition of good work, however that applies. Don't just recognize work done well, recognize work that is conducted in a morally upstanding way. If that example is set and recognized, it will be followed.
  • Emphasize the learning nature of student leadership. Don't make mistakes seem insurmountable; rather, acknowledge that they happen and help students strategize to mitigate the fallout of missteps.
  • Encourage leaders to hold each other accountable. Students like to let things go when their peers do something wrong, fearing that they won't have friends if they force them to follow the rules. Stress with them that accountability means helping others do their best work, not punishing them when they do something wrong.
  • Your words and actions cannot be undone: Armstrong spoke of trying to make peace with some of the people who he wronged, but peace could not be made because they were hurt too badly. The actions that we take and the words that we say cannot be taken back, and in some cases the damage cannot be forgiven. That realization will hopefully help them to be thoughtful in their decisions.
What other lessons am I missing? What did you think about the interview last night? How else will you use this incident to educate students?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Few Notes on Thank Your Mentor Day

As I understand it, January 17th is National Thank Your Mentor Day. I had no idea that mentors had a powerful enough lobby to merit a holiday, but there you have it. I have a great many people to thank for the position that I'm in right now- both as a professional and as a person- but that's not what this blog is going to be about. Rather, I'd like to offer some guidance on my experience finding and sustaining mentor relationships.

So many of my friends are in job search mode right now, and it's a process that can be quite daunting in the absence of someone to guide you through it. Fellow classmates help, but many are in the same position and can't always provide the experiential advice you might be seeking. If you're in a graduate program, faculty can help, but they can only provide so much when they're working with an entire class of graduates. And supervisors can help, but I know that not all students are blessed with such a relationship with their boss. So what to do? Here's my two cents- and who knows, it may end up being worth even less than that!

Stretch. Mentors don't always have to serve a solely professional purpose, and they don't even have to be in the same field as you. Seek the mentorship of someone who goes about their life and their work in a manner that you admire, and seek their counsel. There is a wonderful freedom in talking to someone who has no idea what you do, but is still willing to be there for you :) And who knows? Maybe you could learn from their field and how they operate, and bring their methods into your own work.
A related point here: while a supervisor can be a mentor, that relationship is not an automatic one. If you have a supervisor that is willing to serve in that role for you, that is a wonderfully fortunate thing and you should develop that relationship to the fullest. But if that doesn't happen for you, it's okay! Not all supervisor/supervisee relationships will take that tone. And don't let a lack of mentorship in that role allow you to think you "won't have a mentor". Seek that guidance, perspective, and support from other sources.

Make it organic. The word is out on authenticity in networking, and I'd like to apply it here: trying to approach someone from nowhere asking them to be a mentor is inauthentic. When looking for a mentor, take your time establishing a relationship with the person before asking them to mentor you. And once you have a mentor, make sure to not just talk to them when you're having a problem or need something. Good mentor relationships come from openness, understanding, and a genuine desire to help. Even if the mentorship is arranged or formed in a somewhat inorganic manner, such as #SAgrow, it can grow to be a natural one if you and your mentor work at it.

Be ready to be mentored. That last point brought up an important additional thought: come into a mentor relationship with an attitude that will allow mentorship. Sometimes when you're being guided, it will mean deviating from the path that you're already on. Be open to that possibility, be understanding that the shift might not be easy, and be humble enough to know that a mentor may stir you from the idea that you're right. In the absence of such an attitude, the relationship likely won't work for either party.

Show gratitude. Everyone likes to be appreciated. And if someone is making you a part of their life with the goal of making you better, be sure to let them know you appreciate it. Even if it's a simple thank you at the end of a phone conversation or a Skype chat, it doesn't go unnoticed. 

What other tips do you have on effective mentor relationships? Who do you call a mentor? And have you thanked your mentor today?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

#SNAPchallenge2013: The Junk Food Defense

The "junk food defense", or "Twinkie defense", is an actual defense used by Dan White, the California supervisor who murdered Harvey Milk. For those not familiar, White's case stood on the fact that he'd had so much junk food in advance of the murder (which also included the killing of then-Mayor George Moscone), he was not in his right mind. And while I feel this is a stretch, I think most people are well aware of the danger that junk food poses to our health and well being. 

And yet, SNAP benefits have few restrictions as to what you can buy from a health standpoint. When I spoke to a few people about the challenge and what I would eat, many assumed that I would, in fact, be restricted to low cost but ultimately unhealthy fare. But the question remains, "Why?" Why is junk food permissible in a government funded program, the same government that is presently pushing healthful food initiatives through its First Lady? We're seeing that junk food is a major contributing factor to America's obesity epidemic- why should a federally funded (at least in part, it is also funded by state governments) program feed* that problem? 

*Pun not intended, but acknowledged.

I was curious too, curious enough to seek out an answer. And this is the answer that I found, courtesy of the Food and Nutrition Service section of the USDA:

The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 defines an eligible food as "any food or food product for home consumption and also includes seeds and plants which produce food for consumption by SNAP households." Any change to this definition would require a new law.

Some of Michael Pollan's "Food Rules"
So there it is. The definition of food that legislators are working with is broad enough to count many items our grandparents wouldn't recognize as food, as substantive enough to nourish those of reduced means. Thus, a culture is created where it is assumed that those receiving SNAP benefits don't have the "luxury" of following Michael Pollan's "food rules". But there is hope. Understanding that those of less considerable means should not be relegated to a diet and a lifestyle of a lesser quality than the rest of the country, changes are on the way:

FNS is also concerned about the health and nutrition of SNAP clients. We have several projects to encourage clients to buy more healthy foods. The Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) is one example. We are also trying to have more Farmers' Markets accept SNAP benefits.

One test market for the Healthy Incentives program, designed to offer a discount on healthy foods purchased with SNAP benefits, is being piloted in Hampden County, Massachusetts. While I don't know how the program is doing, I'm pleased to know that the USDA recognizes the need to make these options more affordable for a population that could easily pass over them.

For my part, I will say that I've made a conscious effort to make this endeavor a healthy one, in large part out of stubbornness; I was told that it couldn't be done. That has been difficult at times, but it's important to me- as important as it is to preserve the very integrity of this project- to do it healthfully. It is possible, but is not without challenge. I've often had to favor canned or frozen versions of fruits and vegetables for the sake of cost, and of course have had to rule out organics of any kind. And as you can imagine, I've eschewed most of the gluten-free substitutes I enjoy, instead choosing naturally gluten free alternatives such as rice. But as I move further into the challenge, I'm adjusting and learning what works best for me. After all this is done, I imagine many of those adjustments will stay with me.

The problem of good food choices, as well as so many others that I've tried to address over the course of this challenge, have sparked the need for a documentary in the same vein as Super Size Me or Food Inc. This March, A Place at the Table will try to shine a light on the problem of food insecurity in America, and I'm so pleased to see that.


I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :)


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

#SNAPchallenge2013: Crunching Week 2 Numbers

This week's grand total: $26.12
In week 2, I had the benefit of being able to build upon the meager remains of week 1. I bought wisely enough that many items ran out right when they should have. And what was left, I plan on making good use of in week 2.

Below you'll find listings of what I ate and approximate costs per serving.

Breakfast: Peanut Butter Waffle w/ Applesauce
1 frozen waffle ($0.57)
2 tbsp peanut butter ($0.16)
1 applesauce cup ($0.33)
TOTAL: $1.06/serving

Lunch: Tuna Salad
1/2 can tuna ($0.70)
1 1/2 c lettuce ($0.40)
1/2 Roma tomato ($0.31)
1 rib celery ($0.21)
juice of 1/3 lemon ($0.23)
TOTAL: $1.85/serving

Dinner: Veggie Rice Enchiladas (prepared and cooked in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes)
aforementioned bean/veggie rice ($0.55)
corn tortillas ($0.15)
refried beans ($0.18)
enchilada sauce ($0.16)
leftover cheese from last week ($0.31)
TOTAL: $1.35/serving 
I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :) http://www.crowdrise.com/SNAPchallenge0113/

Monday, January 14, 2013

#SNAPchallenge2013: Seeing Dollars and Cents as Dinners and Snacks

To your left, you'll find Julius Rock, the fictionalized version of Chris Rock's father portrayed on Everybody Hates Chris. The hallmarks of his existence that Chris chose to carry through to the show include a fear of rabbits, gout and, most openly, his thrift. Julius constantly goes around the house noting waste, complaining about "36 cents worth of plastic wrap" or "2 dollars worth of chicken". In fact, he urges the kids to unplug their clocks while they're asleep- "you can't tell time when you're asleep!"

I've taken on a Julius-like tendency over the course of this challenge. No, I have not ground all spending to a standstill, nor have I taken to collecting and reusing excess juice (as I believe is the case above). Rather, I look at prices of items, and see them in terms of how much food they could buy. For example, a few days before I started the challenge, I went out to dinner and had a bill of roughly 16 dollars. My first thought? "This is going to be about 4 days worth of food."

And now, nearly two weeks into the challenge, that reflex has only gotten worse. At Marshalls with a coworker, I saw a pair of shoes as a week and a half worth of food, a book as roughly 8 days worth. And when I think about the conversion rate given by the Greater Boston Food Bank ($1 equals 2.36 meals), just think about how many meals our daily purchases could provide, purchases that we generally think nothing of!

As I write this post, my friends and family have raised money to the tune of over 1000 meals through the Greater Boston Food Bank. I am astounded that this project has garnered that much support, and yet still ache to do more. How much further can we go? How many meals can we get by the end of the month? Time (and the support of those around me) will tell...

I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

#SNAPchallenge2013: Sharing SNAP with Students

Our training days never do end up this intense...
Training season is my favorite time of year. I absolutely love going to work with different groups, designing engaging training sessions for their specific needs, and seeing what they get from it and how they choose to implement what they learn. My first session of 2013 was this past Saturday with the 36 RAs of Emmanuel College Residence Life. And, given the timing of the challenge, this was the first group that I had the opportunity to share the SNAP Challenge with.

As I wrote about yesterday, I decided to hold something of a bake sale to allow students and coworkers to give to the project in a less structured manner. After our session on time management and relaxation techniques, I talked to them about the setup of the project, where their money would be going, and what their options were (banana bread or PB&J cupcakes). My coworker and the organizer of training had told them a bit about it ahead of time and asked them to bring money, but this was the first time I got to tell students: "This is what I'm doing, this is why, this is where the money goes- will you help me?"

The fruits of my baking fun!
I took the desserts over to where we all had lunch, and expected them to give a dollar here and there in exchange for a sweet treat after their pizza. But I was honestly blown away by their generosity. In a group of 36 students and 5 staff, and with leftovers I will be donating $51 to the Greater Boston Food Bank in their name. But I got something even more valuable from it.

As I was moving from the presentation space to the atrium where we had lunch, I got to chat with a student who wants to take on the challenge herself! Her awareness of Mayor Booker's project, combined with a few others she had seen doing it, made her interested in the process. What's more, she wants to use the project as a means to engage in a conversation about class on campus. Emmanuel College is admittedly a college that is populated largely by students of means, and this topic came up earlier this week as staff and administrators gathered to talk about the mission of the institution. But in talking to Kayla about facilitating dialogue on class, I realized that the students see it too. So as excited as I am about their generosity and willingness to help me, I'm even more excited that a student independently thought of it as a way to educate our students. I'm so encouraged to continue that conversation with her, and to see what will come of it moving forward. And I can't wait to talk to more students about the project as they return in droves on Wednesday, and am hoping to garner even more support as I tell them more about it.

I'm doing this in hopes to raise awareness about food instability, and money for the Greater Boston Food Bank. Should you feel compelled to give to the latter, please click the link below! I thank you, as will those who benefit from the money that you give :)

Previous Posts:

The Dilemma of "Found Food"

Transformers (Meals in Disguise)

Crunching Some Numbers

Pondering Privilege

The Pantry Problem

Oh SNAP! Introducing SNAP Challenge 2013