Saturday, July 25, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Vivienne Harr

Like many eight year-olds, Vivienne Harr decided to open a lemonade stand and make some money.  For an afternoon?  No, for 173 afternoons.  To make some fun money?  No, to end child slave labor.  Not your typical eight year-old.

Vivienne had happened to see a photograph of two boys about her age in Nepal.  They each had a huge slab of granite roped to their back, and were holding hands as they stood at the top of a hill.  They were slave laborers.

She figured out, with a little help, that it would take $100,000 to buy freedom for 500 children.  So, she set that as her goal.  On Monday June 25, 2012 Vivienne placed her little stand in the middle of the public park in her hometown of Fairfax, California, and got to work.  At first she charged money for her organic, homemade lemonade.  But soon she realized that if she let people give from their hearts, she’d do better.  So she simply asked for good-will donations.  The average profit per cup jumped from $2 to $18.  One person even donated $1,000 for a cup.

And day in and day out, rain or shine, Vivienne was at her stand raising money.  On Day #52 The New York Times wrote an article about her efforts, and that same day Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Nicholas Kristof retweeted the story to his million plus followers.  And “Make A Stand” became a movement.  Media outlets from around the world began to share the message.

Finally, at the request of Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, Vivienne set up her stand in Times Square on Day #173, and surpassed her goal of $100,000.  Her parents wrote a check to Not For Sale, a non-profit organization dedicated to ending child slave labor, in the amount of $101,320.  But this amazing young lady wasn’t through.  She continued to sell until she reached 365 days straight.  And on the 366th day, her stand moved from the park to the web, and “Make A Stand” Lemonade began selling in bottles.  Today you can also find Vivienne’s lemonade in over 150 stores.

There remain an estimated 30 million human being enslaved worldwide, half of them children.  And Vivienne won’t be satisfied until every one of them is freed.  To that end, Make A Stand contributes a percentage of its proceeds to charities committed to ending child slave labor.

"You don't have to be big or powerful to change the world,” says Vivienne, “you can be just like me." 

What a world that would be.

Vivienne Harr is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Ashley Rhodes-Courter

Ashley Rhodes was born to an unwed seventeen year-old mother.  And to make matters more difficult, the mother took in a drug-addicted boyfriend and became drug-addicted herself.  When the law pursued the couple, they fled with Ashley and her brother to another state where they were eventually apprehended.  Three year-old Ashley and her brother were placed in a foster home.  And over the next nine and a half years she’d find herself in 14 different homes, and attend nine different schools. 

The living conditions were hellish.  Ashley suffered physical abuse, starvation, and neglect.  She watched her brother almost beaten to death in one home.  Another home she lived in had a convicted pedophile living there.  A third was a three-bedroom trailer she shared with sixteen other children.  Several of the homes she was placed in were “parented” by adults with criminal records.  One would expect this in another century, perhaps in another country, but not in the 1990’s…in America.

And as Ashley was shuttled from home to home the courts continued to block her chances to be adopted, at the ongoing request of her biological mother, hoping the woman would pull her life together and take Ashley back.

By 12 she assumed she was too old to be adopted, and had begun resigning herself to the fact that she’d never have a stable home to grow up in.  And then a miracle happened.

Mary Miller, the guardian ad litem volunteer for another child in the group home Ashley and her brother were in, learned that the Rhodes children had gone five years without representation.  She asked and was appointed to Ashley’s case.  And she would eventually connect Ashley with Gay and Phil Courter.

The Courters were working on a documentary about how children are placed in permanent homes, asked Ashley to tell her story, and quickly decided they wanted to adopt her.  “I guess so”, was Ashley’s response.  By then she’d had eight foster moms, and countless caseworkers and therapists, and the transition was not easy.

But the Courters loved their new daughter through the understandable ups and downs, and eventually Ashley blossomed.  She won a scholarship to Eckerd College, became the Youth Advocate of the year for North America, and went on to earn a Master’s degree in Social Work from U.S.C.

Today Ashley is a guardian ad litem herself, having fostered twenty children and adopted one with her husband.  Her memoir is a best-seller, and she continues to work as an advocate for the roughly 500,000 children in America’s foster care system.

For some, surviving childhood is heroic enough.  But for this inspirational young woman, that was just the beginning.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: Sophie Scholl

The daughter of a mayor in 1930’s Germany, Sophie Scholl was caught up in the swirl of politics at an early age.  And with the rise of the Nazi party, the idealistic teen-ager and her older brother Hans quickly joined the Hitler Youth.  They, like so many, bought the lie that Adolph Hitler would bring hope and prosperity back to Germany.  But between her father’s early anti-Nazi stance and her own careful observations, Sophie soon realized that Nazism was utterly incompatible with her Christianity.

The letters Sophie received from her boyfriend, who had been conscripted into the army, which told of the atrocities the Nazis were committing further convinced her that she needed to act---and the truth needed to be told.

Simply leaving the Hitler Youth was not enough for Sophie, but open dissent in Nazi Germany was tantamount to signing your own death certificate.  So with her brother and four other friends, she formed The White Rose---an under-ground, non-violent resistance movement dedicated to educating German youths about the evils of Nazism.  

The White Rose studied theology, philosophy, and politics together, and initially Hans wanted that to be the extent of Sophie’s involvement.  But she insisted on being fully engaged in the activism, convincing the men that as a female she was far less likely to be stopped by the SS.

The group purchased a typewriter and a duplicating machine, and by 1942 had begun disseminating their leaflets around the campus of the University of Munich where Hans was a medical student and Sophie an undergrad.  They also initiated an anti-Nazi and anti-Hitler graffiti campaign.

As their mission grew, Sophie would buy the paper and stamps at several locations so as to not raise suspicion, and thousands of leaflets were mailed from different posts.  But in February of 1943 a utility man saw Sophie distributing the group’s literature on campus.  She was arrested by the Gestapo, tortured, and sentenced to death for high treason.  

As she was led to the guillotine, Sophie uttered her last words.

“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

She was 21 years-old.

Sophie Scholl is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Heroes You Should Know: John D’Eri

Inspiration can occur at any time, in any place…even a car wash.  That’s where John D’Eri got the idea of a business that could employee his son Andrew, who is autistic, and other young adults on the autism spectrum.

John formed CanDo Business Ventures in 2011, a non-profit focused on developing scalable businesses for people with autism.  As an entrepreneur himself, he understood how valuable work was to a healthy self-identity, but he also knew how difficult it was for his son, then approaching 22 years-old, to get a job. 

According to the government, about 1 in 68 people has autism spectrum disorder.  And unemployment rates for these adults range from 65-90%.  D’Eri believes this is largely due to negative stereotypes---stereotypes that will persist as long as more opportunities for success are not provided. 

The truth, of course, is that people on the autism spectrum can excel at work, especially where repetition and laser-focus is needed.  And with an estimated 500,000 more people with autism spectrum disorder joining the workforce in the next decade, this business plan comes at a most opportune time.

To insure success, D’Eri and his other son, who had just finished business school, did two years of research, and developed a training protocol in the process.

With the mission of making money by employing men and women on the autism spectrum, the D’Eri family opened the first Rising Tide car wash in 2013 in Parkland, Florida and employed 35 autistic men and women.  John has insisted the car wash be self-sustaining, to show that the model can be done without the assistance of foundations or the government.  People on the spectrum don’t need charity, they just need a chance.

The D’Eri family has the goal of three more for-profit Rising Tide car washes in the next year.

John D’Eri understands that dignity always trumps diagnosis, and ability comes in many different forms.  In a world that still struggles to understand that we are ALL special needs people, this is exceptional.

John D’Eri is a hero you should know.  And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.