Best Way to Respond to a Disaster

By Katherine Kerr, APR

The photos, videos and stories coming out of the Texas Gulf Coast are doubtless going to be heartbreaking and devastating. Homes, businesses, schools and government property will be damaged and destroyed and lives will be lost.

As a generous country, often the first impulses of people seeing those images are two things: 1) to donate stuff to help those affected, and 2) to rush into the disaster zone.

As a former reporter who covered several hurricanes, tropical depressions, tornados and floods and later a communicator for social service organizations that responded to disaster, please do not do either.

First, organizing a clothing, toy and food drive at your church or with your civic group becomes a logistical problem. It means someone has to transport the stuff to the disaster zone, which means it needs to be delivered some place and then someone has to assume responsibility for storage, sorting and distribution. That can become a problem in the midst of an already major problem. The folks reeling from the shock of a disaster don’t need more problems.

Also, clothing is personal. Not everyone shares your fashion taste. Or your size. People who have lost everything need underwear. New. And they want to choose clothes that will fit them and help get them through the next few days and weeks. Choosing their own clothes gives them some measure of control when their lives have spun out of control.

Donating toys and especially stuffed animals is a sweet and kind gesture. But storage and distribution are problematic.

Instead of donating food, water and toys, consider donating money to existing agencies have a track record in responding to disasters, such as the United Way, the Red Cross, Salvation Army Habitat for Humanity and various faith-based disaster organizations like Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Lutheran Disaster Response.

Online, cash and check donations don’t require transportation and storage and are more efficient ways to help people.

If you don’t want to give money, consider gift cards from big box stores such as Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, HomeDepot and smaller retailers like Ace Hardware and McCoy’s. Again, this gives flexibility to people who are trying to recover and rebuild to buy exactly what they need. Send those to agencies and churches in the disaster zone to distribute to people on the ground. And, it contributes to rebuilding the local economy.

Second, please don’t rush into the disaster zone equipped only with good intentions and a trunk full of bottled water. You will probably take up a hotel or motel room needed by a family who has lost their home. You might run out of gas, food and water and because the disaster zone is lacking utilities, now you’ve become part of the problem.

Instead, connect with disaster agencies as recommended before for guidance on how you can best help. If you are skilled at construction, electricity and plumbing, your gifts of labor will be needed in the long-term disaster response because recovery will take months and years.

Finally, while most of the media attention will be focused on the primary disaster zone along the coast, Harvey’s impact will cover a huge part of Texas including Williamson County. There is still a family in Taylor, Texas waiting for their home to be rebuilt  after the 2015 Memorial Day flooding. That was over three years ago!

People living in other areas that are ignored by the news media are likely to experience flooding with the predicted sustained rainfall. Trees might fall on homes and high winds or tornados could damage or destroy homes. These individuals and families will be just as devastated and traumatized spotlighted by the news media. They deserve and will need your help.

In most every community there is a coalition of organizations known as VOADs, Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters. They are comprised of local agencies that are organized to respond to disaster and need your support and labor. Find one in or near your community or a community that is hammered by the storm.

If shelters are opened up at schools and churches, evacuees will need your help. But, check with those operating the shelters to see how you can best assist. Don’t assume you know what is needed and show up with stuff.

Many people will bring their pets, which creates an additional challenge. Pet crates and food will be needed to take care of four-legged evacuees. Again, ask how you can help.

Your good intentions are appreciated. You don’t want to  create more difficulties for those trying to help people struggling to figure out their futures.

Be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Please.

Faith Communities Shouldn’t Be Part of the Storm

Lakewood Church, Houston, TX

By Katherine Kerr, APR

Since Lakewood Church Pastor Joel Osteen’s jaw-dropping response to Hurricane Harvey by initially not opening up his megachurch to Houstonians seeking refuge from the storm, he has been all the talk on religion news and mainstream media websites.

As a public relations practitioner who has taught crisis communications training to various faith communities, I have been asked what could have and should have been done differently.

Commandment #1: “As a faith-based organization, you WILL be held to a higher standard than other organizations.”

That is because faith organizations profess to operate under a high moral code that we teach and preach and, to avoid being hypocrites, should adhere to. Always. It might not be fair, but we are not promised fairness in the secular or religious realms.

If you claim to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ who commanded his followers to take care of the hungry, the sick, the poor, the incarcerated, then you better do exactly that. Every day and especially during and after a major disaster.

Always lying in wait are the “Gotchas,” the people (and often the media) who are just waiting for a teacher, a preacher, a scout leader or a law officer to screw up. These are the folks who gleefully leap up, point fingers and shriek, “Hypocrites! Can’t be trusted! They’re all in it for the glory/power/money, etc.”

So, knowing that the Gotchas are lurking, I cannot understand how Pastor Osteen, who has taken lobs for years for his humongous worship center, multi-million dollar mansion and astronomical net worth, did not see this coming.

Pastor Osteen has singularly created his own eye of a hurricane that will continue to strike over and again. Or at least until he “gets” that the optics during a disaster are just as important as the optics on Christmas and Easter when we all want to feel warm and fuzzy and dazzled by over-the-top production values.

An amendment to Commandment #1 is to quickly, humbly and genuinely admit when you make a mistake. Acknowledge the error in judgement or action; don’t try to spin it. And, then, say what you are doing now to rectify the situation and what you will do in the future to make sure the crisis doesn’t reoccur.

Commandment #2 is “Have a plan.” God has a plan. As a faith leader, you should too.

“Leaving it up to God,” is lazy and an insult to God, who has blessed us with brains and resources and expects us to use them. You’ve heard the oft-told joke about the foolish man who clung to a tree while waters rose above him and he kept waiting for God to take care of him. Several people’s attempts to rescue him were rebuffed because he expected God to make an appearance. The fool did not see God in them.

Yet how often do we hear and say that God is within each of us and that we are His hands and feet? He has granted us powers, albeit limited, to fulfill our work here on Earth. So get to it!

Every faith community should plan for natural and human disasters of all types. Pastors, governing boards and lay leaders should at least once a year spend time playing “what if” and work through various scenarios. Take a page from current events and ask, “what if this happens to us?”

  • “If our community floods and our facility is operational, can we be a shelter?”
  • “If our community floods and our facility is not operational, what process can we implement to help those who might show up at our door?”
  • “How do we help our members, our neighbors?”
  • “Are we prepared to house people overnight? Feed people? Collect and distribute food, clothing, etc. How would we manage it?”

The plans should not have specific names assigned to them, but rather positions with responsibilities. If your plan says the head pastor will make the call in a disaster, that doesn’t take into account that the head pastor might not be accessible when a call needs to be made. If her own house has been swept away like Dorothy’s in the Wizard of Oz, who is next in line?

Third Commandment: “Have a communications plan and execute it.”

First, leadership should come together and determine what the message is for every audience and every channel. The message should be consistent. The level of detail might differ from what you share with your governing board compared to the local media, but the basics should be the same. And, you should always be truthful.

That plan should cover every possible channel your organization uses including a phone tree, your website, social media, newsletters and media outreach. You should prioritize your audiences and channels and designate and equip people to carry out the communications with specific deadlines.

You shouldn’t be telling your members that if their homes are flooded they can come hang out at your church and then turn away the neighbor-who-is-not-a-member across the street. That is bad form. And, it is hypocritical.

Folks will remember longer the bad stuff you did or failed to do than the fact that you opened your doors in their time of need. Do you want to be the Joel Osteen of your community trying to rehabilitate your reputation?

Fourth Commandment: “Evaluate what you did before, during and after the disaster and improve your plan for the next time.”

It’s tempting to think that whatever you’ve just been through will never happen again. Tell that to congregations who live in hurricane zones, tornado alleys and wildfire regions. Make notes during the disaster and convene a debrief when the worst has passed. Have a plan for when, not if, the next crisis occurs.

Good luck and God bless.

Helping in a Disaster Should Not Be About You

Credit to CNN

By Katherine Kerr, APR

Before going to help in a disaster zone, here are some things you should know.

First, it isn’t about YOU. Being a volunteer in a disaster zone should not be about YOU. Don’t plan on taking selfies of yourself doing hard work and posting them on social media. Don’t exploit disaster victims to make yourself feel better. Don’t go because you want to talk about how hard it was, how God called you to do it and to let other people know what a good person you are. None of those are good reasons to go into a disaster zone.

Disaster response work is hard. And nasty. And difficult. And dangerous. And expensive. It requires you to be flexible and adaptable. If you’re worried about breaking your nails and make-up or you have special dietary needs, you probably are not cut out for disaster work.

If you decide to go into a disaster zone, get a tetanus shot.

The reason is that you are going into a place where there is ALL kinds of nastiness. That water you’ve seen people wading through on TV? It is full of gasoline and a stew of other chemicals, sewage and critters including fire ants, snakes and other live and dead creatures including human beings.

That cute video of the guy catching the catfish in his living room? My first thought was “Ewww! I hope to he doesn’t plan to eat it because who knows what that catfish is contaminated with.”

You will not be staying in a five-star hotel or even a one-star hotel unless you are really, really lucky. All the people who are now homeless are in those places. They deserve to be there.

So you need to plan to be self-sufficient. That means staying in your own car, RV or tent in whatever dry spot you can find and figuring out how you’re going to feed yourself, keep yourself hydrated. Don’t expect to have access to Starbucks or Wifi. This is really roughing it.

Right now in disaster zones that is what people who live there 24/7/365 are trying to figure out. The last thing they need to worry about is how to “host” you.

If you have friends or family in the disaster zone, first ask if they want you there. Or, could you be of greater help by giving them a place to stay far outside of where flood waters have made their living room furniture float and their roofs have been bashed in by trees. Really listen to what they say and how they respond. Remember, they are in shock and are trying to determine how they are going to make it through the next few days and weeks. You might be more helpful later.

And, since it is Texas during August/September and beyond, expect it to be hot. Very hot. And humid. And there will be mosquitoes and all kinds of discomfort. And since you’ll be self sufficient, that means you need to accept that you are not likely to get daily showers or be able to wash your clothes on a regular basis. \

If you really feel like you need to go into the disaster zone, please connect with one of the many experienced and established disaster response organizations, including the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and various faith-based organizations sponsored by many of the Christian denominations and other faith traditions. While it might seem bureaucratic to fill out forms and wait for assignments, they know what they are doing.

Go knowing that you will be moving heavy soggy furniture and refrigerators and freezers full of rotting food. You’ll be busting out water-damaged sheetrock and insulation and shoveling out several feet of nasty silt and icky stuff that has floated into homes and businesses. If you’re not physically able to do that, please think carefully about whether you can help or if you’ll be a hindrance.

If you’re convinced you can help by cooking and making sandwiches for volunteers, first responders and disaster victims, check to see if there is a place for you to do that kind of work and if your help is really wanted or needed. Can you bring your own food and cooking equipment? Do you have a health certificate required for people who work in food service? The last thing that is needed is for a bunch of people to come down with food poisoning.

Disasters bring out the best and worst in people. Right now, there are sham fundraising sites promising to raise money to help disaster victims and instead the money is going into the pockets of unscrupulous individuals. While Harvey was still churning in the Gulf, people were buying up domain names for Hurricane Harvey disaster response because they knew that most of us would be moved to respond to the heartbreaking images now streaming across our TVs, computers and cell phones. If you really want to help, your best bet is to donate to established disaster agencies.

Also, unscrupulous people move into disaster zones and further victimize people already traumatized by disaster. You’ve probably heard about the fly-by-night contractors. They will be heading into the impacted areas offering their “services” to help people move, clean out and repair their homes. Too often they require payment for services ahead of time and they and their trucks move on to another neighborhood without doing any work.

Also, sexual predators show up in these kinds of events. These are people who prey on naïve volunteers and disaster victims. If you are not asked to complete a form that requires a background check, you should avoid aligning yourself with that group. Legitimate organizations invest in checking out volunteers to protect all volunteers and clients.

If, for whatever reason you think you need to go, please go well prepared.

Gas up your car as close to the disaster zone as possible. And, take additional fuel with you, which is dangerous to transport. Take nonperishable food that can be easily opened and is packaged for maximum protection for two or three weeks. Take lots of bottled water. Some for you and some to share with others. Take a first aid kit and stock up on your medications.

Take tools that will be needed like shovels to muck out homes that have been flooded, gas-fueled chainsaws to cut tree limbs, wheelbarrows, trashbags, trashcans and cleaning supplies. Take gloves, galoshes, masks to protect yourself from mold and other germs. Take heavy-duty rain gear. Wearing all that stuff will be extra warm, but you need that protection.

Take cash. With all the flooding, electricity is out. Credit and debit cards will not work. Cash is always good. That, of course, creates a different type of risk of which to be mindful.

Even though you are a volunteer and people will be grateful for your help, no one is likely to pick up the tab for your room and board. The reason is simple: that money is needed to help people get back on their feet. If you really want credit, keep your receipts and claim it on your itemized tax form. If you’ve decided by now that boots-on-the-ground volunteering is not for you, thank you for recognizing that your gifts lie elsewhere.

Cash, checks and online donations are what is needed most now. Or, buy up some gift cards from HomeDepot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware, McCoys, Walmart, Target and grocery stores and send them to churches and social service agencies in the affected areas. Giving disaster victims flexibility to determine for themselves what they need most is important.

Please do not collect clothes, toys and food to send to the disaster zone as getting that into the hands of people in need is a logistical nightmare. Tons of donated clothing sent to New Orleans were burned in parking lots because there was no plan for storage, sorting and distribution. That was a waste of effort for all involved and cash donations would have been more beneficial.

Don’t focus just on the major metro areas; remember the small rural towns that are outside the media spotlight. Go to Google Maps and find a county that you haven’t heard of and send them some help.

Thanks for giving of yourself for all the right reasons.

Editor’s Note:  Katherine is a former newspaper reporter who covered numerous disasters in her 11 years of journalism experience.  While working for nonprofit social service organizations, she oversaw communications efforts for flooding in Central Texas and Hurricanes Katrina and Ike and the long-term disaster response for each of those events.

Right Strategic Plan Makes Measuring Success Easier

By Tim Kubatzky, CFRE

Non-profits are faced with the task of measuring success, a concept that has grown in response to competition in the independent sector and a generational shift in funders’ sense of, and desire for, greater accountability.

Consequently, strategic planning and measurable goals and objectives derived from it are important tools for nonprofits to report progress and justify funders’ investments.

The model of strategic planning an organization chooses needs to align with its reason for planning so that any tasks and objectives from the work plan ultimately feed into progress toward goals that can be reported to funders and other stakeholders.

Creating and following a plan makes reporting progress easier. An organization can choose monthly or quarterly check-ins, for example, and avoid the stressful search for data to validate their grant funding when annual reports to funders are due.

Regular check-ins to measure progress have the added benefit of informing decisions on resource allocation and program direction. Mid-stream adjustments take less effort than full-course corrections made in annual planning sessions.

Letting everyone in the organization know that the goals set during the strategic planning session will define the measure of success for the coming year(s) creates buy-in and authentic interest in the process. It also ensures the work plan will not be shelved until the next long-range planning effort.

Public, Nonprofit Sectors: We Have a Failure to Communicate with Clients

By Katherine Kerr, APR

Nonprofit communicators spend a lot of time trying to figure out the right message and channels for reaching donors, volunteers and the ill-defined “general public.”

But how much time is spent trying to communicate with potential and existing clients? You know, the ones who are supposed to benefit from our services?

When it comes to human service nonprofits and governmental agencies, we often fail to use public relations best practices:  Research, Plan, Implement and Evaluate.

Two recent examples I’ve encountered involve a school district trying to inform the community about proposed rezoning and a government program to provide low-income individuals with vehicle repair and replacement grants so they can continue to work.

In both instances, the clients or customers are blamed for not participating and/or accessing services.

For example, a school district with over 11,000 students sends fliers home in folders to parents about a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. on a weekday at one particular school. Only a couple dozen people showed up. In addition to the small turnout, many of those attending are Latino/a and either don’t speak English or English is their second language. The fliers were not translated nor was a translator available to speak to those constituents during the meeting.

When questioned about the low turnout, district staff defended the use of the fliers, adding the information was posted on the website and in the district’s e-newsletter. And, a story had been placed in the local newspaper.

It was up to the parents to get that information and get to the event. That was the expectation on the part of the district.

A big-box store that pays its marketing staff or agency would not accept that explanation  (excuse) for customers failing to come through the door. That is a poor return on investment.

For-profit marketing staff would be expected to figure out why the message didn’t work and what channels are appropriate. They also would be expected to examine whether the timing and location for such events are appropriate for the target audience.

In this case, the marketing staff should know that since nearly 44 percent of the students are Hispanic, one side of the homebound flier and the on-site handouts should have been translated into Spanish.

Since 44 percent of all children in the district are also eligible for the federal free lunch program, marketing staff should be mindful of the reading and verbal comprehension levels of parents. In print pieces and in public presentations, district staff should avoid education jargon that is confusing and possibly intimidating.

The school district staff should have tested the messaging and explored the best channels for reaching parents and taxpayers. They also should have researched whether having a community meeting on a week night at a school on one side of town was the best time, date and location.

Planning based on the research would have dictated a refined message, the appropriate channels and the time, date and location of a single or multiple forums if the district truly wanted and valued citizen engagement.

After Implementation of the plan grounded in the research, the district would want to evaluate whether the district achieved its goal of effectively informing the public about its plans for rezoning. Metrics for success would include turnout and feedback surveys of attendees.  The results of the evaluation would inform future efforts and help the district examine its existing message and channels and refine them as needed.

In the second case,  I learned during a county commissioners court session of a program that was started at the federal level and has trickled down to local levels that would provide low-income individuals with grants to repair or replace vehicles so they can continue to get to work.

It was the first I had heard of the program and I know several nonprofits that serve individuals who would benefit from the assistance.

I set to trying to find out more about the program. The first challenge was its name: the Low-Income Repair Assistance, Retrofit and Accelerated Vehicle Retirement Program or (LIRAP). That is a mouthful of a title and even college-educated citizens are going to have a tough time grasping what that means.

To add insult to injury, in Texas the program is known as “AirCheckTexas Drive a Clean Machine -Vehicle Assistance Program.”

If a client is fortunate enough to secure the equivalent of a Golden Ticket that reveals the name du jour of a program a computer search takes you to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality where information is even more confusing.

There,  the webpage instructions casually drop that adjusted gross income is a factor and states that eligible vehicles “Must be certified to a federal Tier 2 Bin 5 or cleaner Tier 2 Bin standard or to a federal Tier 3 Bin 160 or cleaner Tier 3 Bin standard (see the list: model year 2017201620152014).” What?!:!

In other words, to even figure out if a person is eligible for the funds, she has to spend a significant amount of gathering data and documents.

Bear in mind that the possible clients for this program is likely to be a working mother juggling two minimum wage jobs, transportation, childcare and life. She is just trying to get by each and every day.

She does not have the luxury of spending a lot of time on the phone or sitting in offices with government employees to figure out what she needs to bring to get funds so she has reliable transportation to get to work, kids to school and to buy groceries for her family.

In doing informal research, I learned that there is almost no effort dedicated to getting this information out to social service agencies that serve clients who would benefit.

Couple that with a high rate of staff turnover in the nonprofit and public sectors, institutional knowledge about the program is lost.

For a relatively small investment by the public and/or nonprofit sectors on marketing and refining messaging, this program could make a dramatic impact on the ability of low-income workers to stay off public assistance rolls.

Professional communicators for nonprofits and governmental agencies have just as great a responsibility to communicate effectively with their clients as they do to other stakeholders, including donors, volunteers, partner agencies and voters.

Otherwise, we continue to have “a failure to communicate.”

Spokespersons are Nurtured

Do you have a comment?

By Katherine Kerr, APR

It is a rare soul who wants to grow up and be a spokesperson. However, many people are thrust into that role by necessity. If you’re fortunate, it’s because something good has happened. If something negative has happened, the experience can be downright awful.

The goal in the latter situation is to do no further harm. In other words, you want to do what is right and do what you can to protect your organization’s reputation and financial standing.

The first step is being prepared, as in the Boy Scout motto. That doesn’t mean you have a contingency plan for every possible situation. Rather it means you have a broad strategy for addressing a variety of negative scenarios.

Recently I spent a day in Washington, D.C., helping train every-day American Muslims on how to speak up for their faith. They know too well how much misinformation has been spread about their religion and how hostile members of the media have been toward people who identify as Muslims. The result has created a deep and unwarranted fear of Muslims and rampant Islamophobia.

During the workshop, I started by discussing about what and who the media are, what they want and how to “feed the beast.” We talked about the importance of responding promptly to media inquiries and about having prepared talking points to address Frequently Asked Questions (and Allegations).

I gave them a six-point rubric for addressing potential crises. We also talked about the need to remain calm, to ask for time to gather thoughts and to prepare. And, since we were in Washington, we discussed and practiced the tactic of pivoting when a question is asked in a way that doesn’t allow for a fair response.

While working through a case study, members of the group quickly realized they need to prepare for potential crises within their own communities. They can’t wait for the news vans to roll up before having a plan in place.

I divided the participants into pairs and assigned them to respond to “what ifs,” based on some real-life scenarios that had been discussed throughout the workshop. At the end of that exercise, they practiced interviewing each other using the tactics I had taught.

When the workshop concluded, each each of the individuals felt empowered to be a more effective spokesperson for their religion.

The same process can be adapted for other organizations and movements. Success depends on nurturing communications skills, personally and as a group.

Are you ready to step up as a spokesperson?

 

Why I Marched

By Katherine Kerr

There’s a Facebook post going around where women oppose the Women’s Marches across the world.

I respect your opinions AND I invite you to read my responses to your cut-and-paste post.

I don’t think you are a “disgrace to women” because you didn’t support the march. You have every right to choose what to support.

I’m glad you don’t feel like a “second class citizen” because you are a woman. There are many women who feel differently they are because our patriarchal government and institutions have made sure they know their places. Remember, we’ve only been able to vote since 1920 and we still don’t have equal representation in Congress, the state legislatures and most city and county and school entities.

I am glad that you feel you have access to opportunities in America — in spite of a woman. Not every woman feels that way.

When I was searching for my first job, I was told by an editor at a newspaper in southeast Texas that even though I was better educated and had more experience than any of the other applicants, he wasn’t going to offer me the job because he thought the job of police reporter was no place for a young female. BTW – about five years later I was covering night police in Houston.

I am glad you feel you have control of your body and choices. But many women do not.

Some women grow up in families, cultures and religious traditions that tell them their role is to submit to men, to support men and to bear and raise children. I remember a youth-led Bible study in high school when that point was driven home. I was among the few kids whose mother worked outside the home and I always dreamed of a career outside the home. That was the first wedge that drove me from the church for about 20 years.

Too many girls and women have been misinformed and are uneducated about their reproductive systems. When they have an unplanned pregnancy, there are laws on the books and proposed laws in the pipeline that dictate even if they are impregnated by a rapist they will have to carry that child to term. There are also laws that require women to bear a child who medical professionals say is unviable, or as we recently saw here in Texas, dead. Imagine the trauma for those women. Do we really expect them to “deal with it,” or “get over it?”

Then there’s the economic impact of bearing children, especially for those who are undereducated and/or are working minimum wage or low-income jobs where health insurance is nonexistent. Even though child development science proves that having maternal contact is imperative for those first formative months, women who are on the edges of society often face with the prospect of losing their low-paying jobs if they do not return to work quickly. And, try finding good child care for an infant when you’re working a minimum wage job. It was hard enough as a middle- to upper-middle income family.

I am impressed that you do not feel that you are “not respected or undermined” because you are a woman. I am surprised that you have never been called sexist names or had parts of your body grabbed, poked, prodded or ogled. I’m glad you’ve never worked someplace where the dress code for females was different than the one for males and that you were never required to wear heels, pantyhose and not barred from wearing slacks. If you are a woman of a certain age (like mine or older), that is quite an accomplishment!

I’m also fascinated you’ve never been in a business meeting where you could propose an idea and have it dismissed or ignored, yet when a male colleague says the same thing, he is credited for his brilliant thinking. I’m amazed that you’ve been in a workplace where you weren’t expected to make the coffee and clean up the office kitchen and the nasty office refrigerator (or that you did so) because no men would do it.

I’m happy you believe you can make your own choices, speak and be heard, work if you want and that nothing is stopping you except yourself.

For most of my life, I would have agreed with you.

Thanks to the family I was born into, I lived a pretty stable life. I had a mother and a father. I always had a roof over my head, food to eat, clothes to wear and family around to love and care for me. I attended four good public schools.  I was blessed that my parents could send me to college and I graduated without student debt.

But after nearly 40 years of adulting, I’ve learned not all families follow the same paths. Divorces happen, jobs are lost, families get evicted, cars can’t be repaired, illnesses decimate finances and families, not all schools have the same resources, and not all parents are good parents.

I have worked with and on behalf of women who are victims of domestic violence. I have worked with and on behalf of children who have been physically, emotionally and sexually abused. Trust me, he trauma doesn’t go away with the snap of a finger. Too often, those mothers and children have little or no access to mental health services that could help them get better and, in some cases, just get functional.

I have advocated for kids whose unstable family lives and entry into the foster care systems mean their education is repeatedly disrupted. Remember how hard those tween and teen years were? Imagine if every few months you’re the new kid in school. And, since you’re in foster care, some counselors and teachers won’t spend much time with you because who knows if you’ll be in class tomorrow?

I have African American friends who were the only African Americans in their neighborhoods and schools and were ignored and/or bullied by students and parents who used racist terms against them and school officials who turned the other way.

I know Asian American friends whose kids were called racist names and ridiculed for their appearance.

I have Latino friends who have been told “you lost the war, go back to Mexico,” even though their families have lived here for generations. A friend who is the mom in a biracial family told me that her darker skinned daughter was called a “bastard wetback” by a neighbor’s child. The parents of the offending and offensive child did nothing.

I have Muslims friends who have been verbally assaulted and told to go back to where they came from, accused of being terrorists and told they were not real Americans.

Science (yes, I believe in science), shows the impact of trauma I’ve described on the brain development of children. It affects their ability to learn, reason, cope and control. It also erodes self esteem, which you are blessed to have in abundance.

I have come to learn that institutional racism and oppression over generations has an impact on people’s abilities to realize the American dream regardless of how hard they work and how much they hope and dream. We will always find the exceptions who overcame adversity, but wouldn’t it be nice if we worked together to eliminate barriers of isms?

My ancestors enslaved people who were kidnapped from Africa and brought to America against their will. I think it is fair to assume that these same ancestors split families; treated men, women and children like or worse than livestock; and brutally punished those who tried to escape, who didn’t breed in accordance with the masters’ instructions and who tried to learn to read and write.

When emancipated, these formerly enslaved people had nowhere to go and no resources. They and their descendants were likely hounded and threatened everywhere they went. Later they suffered under Jim Crow laws, which limited upward mobility. Doubtless they were forced into segregated neighborhoods and schools where resources were definitely not equal. Despite Civil Rights legislation, their descendants have probably lived under institutional and systemic racism, which is real and which continues to exist.

Exhibit A:  Take a look at Mr. Trump’s cabinet, corporate leadership and political systems. They do not reflect our demographics and it isn’t because of lack of talent, education or experience.

Since you and I grew up in relatively healthy situations, you’re correct, it isn’t right that WE blame our circumstance or problems on anything other than our choices or that we didn’t get what we want. But not everyone is as lucky as we are.

Frankly, I think it is okay to blame disease if your life isn’t perfect. Whether that is a disease you suffer, or a disease, or accident or tragedy that devastated your family or deprived you of your parents. Either way it’s likely to really screw up your life and affect how you see the world and whether you have the energy to fight for a fair shake or save your energy to just get through the day.

I do not equate explaining with blaming. I believe context matters. Every person’s life is different, which means circumstances shape lives and outcomes. Some walls, virtual and physical, are real and cannot be climbed over alone or even when someone tries to give you a hand up.

I take responsibility for myself AND I take responsibility for others whose voices are not heard, whose lives are marginalized, who are struggling just to survive. I do so because my faith calls me to do so. And because of my privilege.

I’m not trying to impress you when I say I do speak about and try in some small way to address real injustices and tragedies that affect women, children and other human beings in so many ways.

I would love to talk and work with you about effective solutions to domestic violence, latch-key kids, living wages, teen pregnancies, affordable housing, mental health issues, the environment and any other issues you want to discuss.

And, as a citizen of a nation with a great deal of power in the world, I think we also should address oppression of women and other vulnerable groups around the world.

And, I’d really like to have an honest dialogue about how together we can work toward a civil discourse, even though we come from totally different ends of the political spectrum.

I do not hate you, nor do I love you less than I love people I’ve never met who live in other countries. I believe we are all children of God (or a creator or higher power known by the name you choose). I believe with my whole heart, soul and being that each and every human being deserves to have our basic needs met and opportunities, not barriers, to realize our potential.

Like you, I am a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister, a friend. I also am an aunt and soon to be a grandmother.

I wasn’t wearing one of the pink hats on my head during the march, nor did I scream profanities or bash men. (After all, I am married to a great guy and have three amazing sons.) Those who did the latter two were among the minority. Most of us were pretty laid back, coming together to peacefully share our concerns, frustrations, and grief because we are deeply concerned about the future of our great country.

I hope that I have responded in what you consider to be a kind manner because many of those who posted this meme are friends whom I love and respect.

Yes, I joined many sisters, brothers and children and youth. I did not hear whining. I heard and sensed an energy and desire to protect the fundamental ideals of our country. We feel our basic freedoms – speech, press, religion, assembly and the right to petition our government to address our concerns – are under attack.  I We believe we have grounds such fear because of the rhetoric of Mr. Trump and his cabinet.

I march for truth because integrity matters. And, Mr. Trump seems to have a complete contempt for the truth.

I marched, not for myself, but for my children, my grandchildren (of which I hope there will be many!), my nieces and the children of my cousins and all their descendants. I speak for those who I have not met, that I will never encounter nor who will have any biological connection to me.

I marched because women still earn 78 cents compared to the full dollar that men make. I marched because
“traditionally female” important and difficult careers like education, health care and social work, are grossly undervalued. I don’t want today’s women or others who have been oppressed to be subjected to further discriminatory and exploitive circumstances.

I marched and will continue to march for kids who need education so they can be contributing members of our society and they have a greater shot at realizing their dreams. I march for those who have historically been marginalized because of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age and ability. I marched for the homeless, the hungry, the impoverished, the sick and the incarcerated. I marched because I can give a voice to those who cannot or are afraid to speak.

And today, and every day, I will pray for wisdom, empathy and discernment for all of our leaders, elected or not, and regardless of whether I voted for them. Just as I have for most of my adult life.

Change Pews (and Perspectives)!

By Katherine Kerr, APR

Every Sunday my curmudgeonly great uncle and my great aunt got up an hour and a half early to get the prime parking space at their church, the handicapped spot right next to the sanctuary entrance. The space one over, or two over, wasn’t good enough (we’re talking 6-8 feet for heaven’s sake!). If someone beat him to “their” space he would grumble all day.

Even worse, though, was if somebody was sitting in “their” place in “their” pew. In most churches, there are no assigned seats or reserved spots. But if you go week after week, you see the same folks sitting in the same places. And if someone new has the audacity to inadvertently sit in someone’s seat, it tends to cause a shift in the universe. Or so you would think.

The same phenomenon happens in the workplace. You see employees occupy the same seats during staff meetings. Occasionally, I would break ranks and sit on the opposite side of the table or room. Or, shift from the front to the back, or a combination of the two. That decision would cause a bit of stir, often accompanied with jokes about going to the “dark side.”

… if someone new has the audacity to inadvertently sit in someone’s seat, it tends to cause a shift in the universe. Or so you would think.

That small change would mean I’d learn that the staff member I thought was diligently responding to emails was really playing Candy Crush on her phone or checking out the latest pics of the grandkids. Or the person scribbling away wasn’t taking notes, but instead was doodling three-dimensional boxes.

Changing places not only gave me a different view in the meetings, it also gave me opportunities to build relationships with colleagues I didn’t usually sit by in these gatherings.

At professional development and networking meetings, people from the same company or agency tend to sit together at a table.

Recently I was at a professional association meeting in which five people from the same department at a company sat together at an eight-top. Other than cursory introductions, I didn’t have a conversation with any of them. Throughout the lunch they talked among themselves, which not only is rude but defeats the primary purpose of such meetings, which is to get to know other colleagues in your field.

When I supervised a staff of three (plus an intern on occasion), I had a rule that we were not to sit together at these outside meetings. We represented a nonprofit agency and our role as communicators was to increase awareness of our brand and the services we provided. Staff members understood that talking up our agency was part of their jobs at the rubber chicken lunches.

As a small business owner, I intentionally look to sit with people I don’t know so I can build my brand and seek out the types of clients I serve. Why pay for an overpriced lunch or a training session if you don’t meet new people? Making quickie introductions and exchanging cards on the way out the door is much less effective than actually getting to know someone during the program.

Why pay for an overpriced lunch or a training session if you don’t meet new people?

I heard of a pastor, who was a disrupter before the label became ubiquitous, preached in one of those multi-functional spaces where there were no pews bolted the floor. Rather, chairs were set up in rows and a pulpit rolled out to the “front” of the worship space.

One day at the beginning of the service, he rolled the pulpit to the back of the room and instructed everyone to turn their chairs around. This provided a new perspective for both the pastor and the congregants. Those who clung to the back row were now nearly face to face with the pastor. People who were normally behind certain parishioners were now in front of them. Instead of being on the right side of the room, they now had a left-side angle on the action.

Not only did the pastor shake things up, he forced people into a new way of seeing the service and created opportunities for new interactions.

I get that it is fun to catch up with your friends and is less threatening to sit with people you know. And, it can be enlightening if you choose to be bold, be smart and, despite what your parents told you, it’s okay to talk to strangers.

Kiss and Tell (or Be Straight With Your Donors)

By Katherine Kerr, APR

One ritual of the holiday season is kissing under the mistletoe as prescribed by the late, great Burl Ives.

Growing up in the Texas Panhandle, going to college in Missouri and then living 11 years in Houston, we didn’t see mistletoe except as small pricey packaged sprigs around this time of year. Buying those dried-out suggestions of romance and tacking them over a doorway with the hope of snagging a kiss was fun.

Now that I live in Central Texas, my attitude toward mistletoe has altered significantly.

I’m not trying to be a Grinch, but you see, the sweet little plant is a parasite that kills trees.mistletoe tree We’ve already lost two trees to this invasive plant and the last three are slowly dying. This symbol of fertility really is a deadly nuisance.

When I first realized the harm that mistletoe does I felt like I had been bamboozled, like I was the subject of a bait and switch.

How many times have you been duped? You thought you were getting one thing and instead it was something else completely, maybe even something bad.

When communicating to your stakeholders, make sure you provide the straight story. Fact check what you’re saying about your mission and what you do with the precious dollars that donors give you. You want donors to love you so that when they kiss and tell, they say you deliver.

Recognizing Veterans in Your Midst Can Bring Attention to Your Nonprofit

By Katherine Kerr, APR

Are any of your volunteers or staff military veterans? If so, you can highlight their continued service on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, and raise awareness for your nonprofit.

Your organization can single out a veteran who is also a volunteer or staff member to recognize on Veterans Day. Or, you can showcase several involved with your organization.

Think strategically about the needs of your organization when deciding who you want to use as an example of continued service. Do you have a veteran of color who might open doors in the minority community and who you might introduce to the minority press in your community? If you have female veteran working with your nonprofit, her story can break down gender stereotypes in addition to garnering attention for your agency.

By talking about continued service to their community and country, you give the media a new angle on traditional Veterans Day stories, which they always appreciate.

You also can help contradict unfortunate stereotypes that combat veterans are debilitated by psychological trauma. Most adjust and are raising families, working and volunteering in their communities.

In addition to pitching this angle to your local media, be sure and give a shout out to veterans in your community on Veterans Day. We owe them much.