Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Letter From NASDAQ: The Importance of Investing in Our Kids


Last Friday in NY, we rang the opening bell for trading on NASDAQ, as colorful, confetti-filled images were projected 10-20 stories high on Times Square video screens.

We participated in this great morning thanks to Ray Blanchette and Jim Mazany of Joe’s Crab Shack and The Ignite Restaurant Group (listed on NASDAQ.)  Instead of basking in their moment in the sun, they shared their strength by having the No Kid Hungry campaign and Dine Out take center stage. That generosity of spirit is characteristic of the leadership behind Dine Out’s growth. 

It may seem unusual for a nonprofit to be the focus at NASDAQ. But perhaps not in our case. NASDAQ is for entrepreneurs investing in the future.  Their goals are to create wealth and enhance innovation and economic competitiveness. That’s what Share Our Strength is about as well. We create “community wealth” to invest in the children representing our nation’s future. We can’t have a strong nation or strong economy without strong kids.

Earlier last week, USDA released new data showing food insecurity essentially unchanged from the 14.5 percent of Americans considered food insecure the year before, and still much worse than the 11.1 percent rate before the Great Recession. Hungry Americans never recovered even though the stock market did. In 2009, NASDAQ fell to 1958 points and the Dow to 9344. By 2014, NASDAQ had doubled to 4562 and the Dow nearly so to 17,069.

NASDAQ has nothing to feel bad about. It did what it’s supposed to do. Such growth directly benefits some and indirectly benefits many. On the other hand, our political leadership should feel sick-to-its-stomach awful. If you can’t come together to feed our hungriest kids while massive amounts of wealth is being created, when would you? 

The rebounding stock market shows that America knows how to create wealth. But the lack of progress in addressing hunger and food insecurity shows we are not as good at creating opportunity for all.

Hopefully other companies will be inspired by the commitment to community of Ignite and our many corporate partners like the Food Network, Williams-Sonoma, Corner Bakery and Arby’s just to name a few. (A more comprehensive list of Dine Out participants can be found at NoKidHungry.org.) This can help create the necessary political will to end hunger. Economic success gave us a lot to smile and cheer about at NASDAQ last week. We’ll have even more to celebrate when our collective efforts lead to economic justice.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Celebrating economic success, waiting for economic justice


            Last Friday in NY we rang the opening bell for trading on NASDAQ, as colorful confetti filled images were projected 10-20 stories high on Times Square video screens. See @ http://photos.nasdaq.com/2014/09OPENS/No-Kid-Hungry/n-P6ZRm/i-QN6KkVs/A  

 We participated thanks to Ray Blanchette and Jim Mazany of Joe’s Crab Shack and The Ignite Restaurant Group (listed on NASDAQ.)  Instead of basking in their moment in the sun, they shared their strength by having the No Kid Hungry campaign and Dine Out take center stage. That generosity of spirit is characteristic of the leadership behind Dine Out’s growth.  We reached a larger audience with our message and had board members (Wally and Joni Doolin, Mark Rodriguez) and Dine Out Partners (Marla Topliff, Tommy Bahama, the Food Network and others) participate. The professionalism of Molly Parker, Jen Kaleba, Kathryn Haskin, Jessie Sherrer and Alison Zayas and others on our team ensured a successful day.

It may seem unusual for a nonprofit to be the focus at NASDAQ. But perhaps not in our case. NASDAQ is for entrepreneurs investing in the future.  Their goals are to create wealth and enhance innovation and economic competitiveness. That’s what Share Our Strength is about as well. We create “community wealth” to invest in the children representing our nation’s future. We can’t have a strong nation or strong economy without strong kids.

Earlier last week, USDA released new data showing food insecurity essentially unchanged from the 14.5 percent of Americans considered food insecure the year before, and still much worse than the 11.1 percent rate before the Great Recession. Hungry Americans never recovered even though the stock market did. In 2009 NASDAQ fell to 1958 points and the Dow to 9344. By 2014 NASDAQ had doubled to 4562 and the Dow nearly so to 17,069.

NASDAQ has nothing to feel bad about. It did what it’s supposed to do. Such growth directly benefits some and indirectly benefits many. On the other hand, our political leadership should feel sick-to-its-stomach awful. If you can’t come together to feed our hungriest kids while massive amounts of wealth is being created, when would you? 

The rebounding stock market shows that America knows how to create wealth. But the lack of progress in addressing hunger and food insecurity shows we are not as good creating opportunity for all.

Hopefully other companies will be inspired by the commitment to community of Ignite and our many corporate partners. That can help create the necessary political will to end hunger. Economic success gave us a lot to smile and cheer about at NASDAQ last week. We’ll have even more to celebrate when we achieve economic justice.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Maryland success highlights need for American Meals For Achievement


Public-private partnerships just earned a new vote of confidence thanks to the achievements of our No Kid Hungry campaign.  Heading into the crucial last months of 2014, it affirms our hard work pays off for the children we serve.

Last week the Washington Post reported that Maryland awarded nearly $7 million in state funds to ensure more students could start the school day with a healthy breakfast.  See @ ow.ly/APRlP   The money will reach 481 schools across the state through the Maryland Meals for Achievement program (MMFA) which has been one of Governor O’Malley’s primary vehicles for advancing our goals.  MMFA enables all children, whether they can afford breakfast or not, to have breakfast together, in their own classroom, or on the way into class, as an alternative to traditional breakfast in the cafeteria which requires children to arrive early and suffer the stigma of being the kids who need assistance.

The program’s name says it all. Meals for achievement. Maryland was one of the first states to understand the strong and direct connection between well fed children and academic success. Because of the dramatic improvement in school breakfast participation that our campaign has achieved, Governor O’Malley consistently proposes boosts for MMFA funding.

From the time that Governor O’Malley embraced the goals of ending childhood hunger in Maryland in partnership with Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, the number of schools participating has increased 87%.   Those schools show a 7.2% lower rate of chronic absenteeism and are 12.5% more likely to achieve proficiency on standardized math tests.  For every dollar the state spends on MMFA, Maryland gets $4.75 in federal reimbursements for meals.  The winners: children, schools, taxpayers.

As satisfying as this may be, our response must go beyond celebration, to challenging ourselves to think even bigger.

Arkansas, inspired by Maryland Meals For Achievement, was first to create a similar program for its state. The challenge now is to enable other states to follow. If education is the priority we say it is, there ought to be an American Meals for Achievement so that every state’s students have an opportunity to succeed in school by starting the day with the nutrition they need.

In today’s economic and political environment, the threshold question is whether to accept traditional and incremental progress, or push for big and bold.  There’s comfort in the former, But not sufficient impact.  With big and bold, failure is always a risk, but one worth taking when the cost is low, the return is high, and our children’s future, perhaps our nation’s, hangs in the balance.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Letter From a Small Island in A Scary World



The world has been a fearsome place this summer. There’s no escaping the haunting horrors from Syria and Iraq, Israel and Gaza, Ferguson, Ebola plagued West Africa and Central America’s child refugees.  We’re safe at our parks, beaches, restaurants and pools, yet unable to feel safe in the world.  A senior Pentagon official says ISIS has an “apocalyptic end of days” strategy “unlike anything we’ve seen before.”  How does one make sense of it? How is what we do at Share Our Strength relevant, if at all?

            I’m looking for answers here on Monhegan Island, ten miles off the coast of Maine. A mile long by a mile wide, two inns and a handful of artists’ cottages, Monhegan gives new meaning to peaceful.  The summer population swells to several hundred but in winter it’s only about 40, mostly lobstermen. This is the 7th straight year our family has visited. Monhegan is about as far from the troubles of the world as one can get, yet three things here evoke how we must go about our work together.

First, Monhegan sits amidst a harsh, inhospitable environment, surrounded by often stormy seas. Islanders confront adversity with unity.  Lobstering season begins October 1, known as Trap Day. Notwithstanding their competitiveness and the race to drop traps in prime spots, no one goes until everyone goes. Everyone leaves the harbor together at an appointed time and has an equal chance for the most desirable places. If any boat is not ready, or a crew member is sick, all other boats wait, even if it means a day or more. 

Second, like Share Our Strength, their year depends heavily on this last quarter.  Unlike most Maine lobstermen who fish all summer, Monhegan’s lobstermen fish primarily in winter because in summer the lobsters migrate inland to warmer waters. They have to make the most of every day, and within each day the most of every hour. As we head into the all-important last quarter of the calendar year, responsible for so much of our revenue that funds our No Kid Hungry campaign, there’s not a moment to lose.

Third, in winter and summer, whether lobstermen or visiting artists, there is pride in craft and attention to detail. I’ve been thinking of something our colleague Dan Roge shared with me as he reflected on a recent visit he and his wife had with novelist, poet, farmer and environmental activist Wendell Berry.  He learned that they “never set out to make some kind of impact. They have tried to do things right”  It reminded me of Viktor Frankl the Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who in his book Man’s Search For Meaning writes: “Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself...”

As we head in to the crucial last few months of 2014, Monhegan’s lessons boil down to these three:

n  Stick together no matter what

n  Make every moment count

n  Do what’s right, the rest takes care of itself

I wish I had more wisdom about the convergence of so many complex and frightening problems around the globe.  The lessons above, and our work even at its best, can’t solve all of them. But, in the long run, what we stand for can: lifting up the dignity of every human being, investing in the next generation so that every child has an equal chance, demonstrating that we all have strengths to share.  There’s no shortcut to ameliorating the ignorance and hatred that cause so much suffering. In fact there is only the opposite: doubling down on strategy to make real the values we represent, recommitting for the long haul, and bringing to each and every action the faith that our own small acts done well inexorably yield transformational global impact.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Shaming Our Nation into Caring About Hunger


Last night NBC Nightly News used a newly released Feeding America report on hunger in America in 2014 as a jumping off point to report on the need of many military families to subsidize their income through visits to food banks.   See the story here @ ow.ly/AqR2R

The Feeding America report covered a lot of additional ground, showing that Feeding America’s network of emergency food assistance providers serves 5.4 million Americans each week and a total of 46.5 million over a year. It describes the choices that many have to make between food and medical, rent, utilities and transportation costs.

But NBC focused on one of the more surprising aspects of hunger in America which is the number of enlisted military families, defending our freedom, who are not free themselves from hunger and want.  You can’t watch the NBC report without feeling that something has gone terribly wrong not only for the families involved but for our entire society if we are not able to provide a basic level of support for even the soldiers who have volunteered to protect and defend us.

The NBC report reminded me of the way Martin Luther King advanced the struggle for civil rights by highlighting the gap between our ideals and our reality, by shaming once indifferent Americans for not living up to their own ideals.   

Sunday, August 17, 2014

On the 50th anniversary of LBJ's "war on poverty" bill


This week makes the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson signing the legislation that enacted his “war on poverty” into law.  During his remarks in the Rose Garden on that morning of August 20, 1964, LBJ said: “we will reach into all the pockets of poverty and help our people find their footing for a long climb toward a better way of life.”  That climb has turned out to be steeper than LBJ or anyone else might have imagined.  Today 46 million Americans live below the poverty line compared to 30 million Americans when Johnson was in office. Renewed presidential leadership is needed and awaited to complete the journey.

Friday, June 6, 2014

From last night's wreath laying ceremony at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on 70th anniversary of D-Day



            Today is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, one of those rare world-changing events that actually live up to such a phrase.  Last night, 70 years to the moment that our transports were approaching Normandy and paratroopers were dropping behind enemy lines; Share Our Strength was part of a small group participating in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. 

We were the only nonprofit included among Washington’s most prominent business leaders. We’d been invited by the Greater Washington Board of Trade, in no small part due to their great respect for our colleague Tamra McGraw.  I like to also think they recognize Share Our Strength for a different but important form of service to our nation. Our host was Major General Jeffrey Buchanan who served with both the 82nd Airborne Division and the 101 Airborne and is currently Commanding General of the Military District of Washington DC.

 

General Buchanan and his colleagues explained the rigorous commitment of the “tomb sentinels” who comprise the 24 hour a day honor guard. They volunteer for the assignment despite being held to almost impossibly high standards.  They are measured on more than 100 criteria from the crease in their slacks to the alignment of their eyes. If anything is more than 1/64th of an inch off they are cited for a deficiency. Two deficiencies means being taken off honor guard duty.

 

In 1984, on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, General Buchanan was then a young soldier selected to parachute on to Omaha beach in commemoration of the Americans who gave their lives to liberate France and turn the tide of World War II.  He paused to gaze at Arlington’s 400,000 graves behind him. “This really is sacred ground” he said with a sweep of his hand. He asked that we think about those men today.  And he reminded us that from General Eisenhower on down, no one had any idea or guarantee, how things would turn out.

When the ceremony ended around 6:00, I excused myself from dinner with General Buchanan and the Board of Trade and instead walked the deserted roads to Section 60 which is reserved for those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  On the other wide of the cemetery, far from the crowd of veterans, tourists and others who had gathered at our wreath laying ceremony, only two small families of four or five huddled together around gravestones about 50 yards apart.

From a distance they could barely be distinguished among the field of white headstones, but as one got closer you could see their arms around each other’s shoulders and heads bowed.   Sacrifice and faith and honoring memory were not history lessons for them, so much as the oxygen they breathe. I had walked over to visit one grave in particular, the son of a family friend, but two hours later as the sun set I was still standing among them all.