Let’s Help Homeless Girls Change The World

By Antonio Gonzales

I once asked a room full of teenage girls at a NYC shelter, “what would you change in your city or country?” A twelve-year old girl, bearing a serious look on her face, immediately answered, “I want to see the number of teenage pregnancies [go down].” Another replied, “I want to create support groups for children who are bullied because they live in homeless shelters.” And, one more replied, “I want to help build gardens in poor neighborhoods across the U.S.”

There I sat, amazed and inspired by these thoughtful answers. These were no ordinary teenage girls. These were girls with ambitious visions to change the world! Moments, like these, are the reason volunteering with homeless teens has been, and still is, one of my most beautiful and rewarding experiences.  That’s not to say it’s been easy. Far from it! I have invested a lot of time and effort into earning the girls’ trust and respect. But, if I had given up on trying to connect with the girls, the conversation I described, above, may never have happened.

How, then, can we empower girls at homeless shelters to change the world? We can start by volunteering at local shelters to give these girls support and confidence. You can try some of these steps to get going:

Step 1: Recruit others to join you. Tell your friends about your interest in helping teen girls in homeless shelters, and ask whether they would like to join you. Perhaps, at some point, you may have shared a desire to “give back” or “make a difference” with others. Reach out to those people, tell them about your interest and solicit their help. Whoever you reach out to, keep in mind that we have to respect others’ fears and hesitations. Because we are eager to make a difference doesn’t mean others may be ready.

Step 2: Choose/Reach out to an organization. Once you have recruited a few people, who are ready to take the next step in volunteering, choose the organization/shelter you want to help. This organization should service homeless teens. Phone them and express your interest in volunteering.

Now, you may encounter little to no enthusiasm for your help. Or, you may be greeted with sheer excitement.  It all depends on the way the organization is set up, how it’s funded and its past experiences with volunteers. Some organizations, simply, may not be ready to bring in volunteers. But, don’t give up! When you do find one that needs volunteers, ask if you could come in and talk to them about areas the shelter may need support. This will help you better manage your expectations, as to what it means to help homeless girls. It will also give you valuable information to take back to your team of volunteers.

If the shelter is open to you volunteering, but cannot give you a specific area where you can help, then this is your time to get creative. Ask your group about their hobbies, like sewing, cooking, singing, public speaking and dancing. Think about how can you turn one of these into a project that the girls can work on or be a part of.

If you are still unsure of how you can help, then you and your group could put together some bags and ask the shelter to spend some time with the girls. Who does not like a cute bag with a gift? It’s a great icebreaker.  Fill the bags with small items, like nail polish, hand creams, face products and other items that girls love. Be honest with the girls. Say you’re new at this and wanted to meet and get to know them. Ask about their interests, in terms of hobbies or what they are passionate about. Ask about their ambitions, too: what do they want to become when they grow up? Any information you collect can be used to determine how you can best help.

If nothing else…

Step 4: Show the teens love and support. This is very important for the girls, who sometimes may have a hard time feeling accepted or understood. In those cases, your love and support may be the one thing that helps them get through the years to come. From my own experience with childhood poverty, I am thankful for the sincere attention given to me by other adults. They made me feel loved at a time of hardship.

All in all, it’s important to know that we all have something to offer. Only when you see, firsthand, the needs of others do you understand how much you have to give.

I hope this was helpful and has given you enough tips to ignite the fire we all have in us to make a difference in the lives of children, so that they may change the world.

I’m curious, do you have any tips you’d like to share?

Homeless, Yes. Beautiful, Absolutely!

By Antonio Gonzales

Feeling “less than” is a very common feeling. When the unthinkable happens, like losing one’s home or warm bed, we can feel even “less.” Throw in societal judgment, abuse and hunger, and we may altogether lose our sense of self. Sadly, I have met many women in the NYC shelter system who have come close to losing this sense.

When working with these women, I often ask, “what do you like most about yourself?” I never define the question too much, because I want the ladies to think deeply about its meaning. Often, my question is met with silence. Then, someone may ask, “what do you mean?” I typically add a few examples, maybe something physical or a personality trait. But, it’s when I take a step back and truly look at the women, that I see a room full of beautiful women, individually hand crafted from the inside out…from their heart, height, smile, eyes, even their lips!

As a beauty professional, over the years, I have refined this gift to instantly identify someone’s inner and outer beauty.

To help the women see what I see, I hand mirrors to each woman. “Look into the mirror, and tell me, what do you see?” Some are hesitant. Nonetheless, one by one, they take the mirrors, as I sit with each and point out what is so obvious to me. For example, I’ll say to one woman, “look at your eyes, the color, it’s yours; how special! Now your eyelashes and your eyebrows…it’s all you  Let’s not forget your energy; you light up the room!” To another woman, I will then say, “look at your cheek bones, how strong! Your skin color is flawless.” As if lights are being turned on from the inside, each woman slowly “gets it,” and starts shouting out what they like about themselves, “My personality! My height! My curves!” All of a sudden, the whole energy of the room has improved, and we are laughing and liking ourselves.

Now, it may be hard to understand that a lack of self-love can be this blinding, to the point that you can’t even see one thing you like about yourself. However, this blindness is real and is the reality of many women I work with. It was, in fact, my own reality for a long time. Growing up, I would often hear others making fun of my poverty, of my “big nose,” etc. Let’s also not forget that I was “bad,” because I appeared to be gay (long before I knew what that word meant or even knew I was gay). Though a long time ago, these childhood taunts continue to stay with me to this day. But, I am happy to say that they no longer blind me. Through volunteering with the women at the shelter, I have gradually gained “sight.” I have not only helped others see their beauty, but have also learned to see my own.

I encourage YOU, then, to see your own beauty and to help others less fortunate than you see theirs. We may come from different situations, and some of us may even be homeless, yes. But, we are all beautiful, absolutely!

What If Your Son Was Josh Duggar?

By Jennifer Hillman

Please note this video discusses males being sexual predators. However, keep in mind that females can also be sexual predators.

As we all have learned by now, Josh Duggar has admitted to molesting five girls (some of which are his own sisters). So, I have to ask, what if your son was Josh Duggar, would you know what to do? While this type of abuse is going on all around us, this particular case brings child sexual abuse to the forefront and advocates everywhere have the chance to chime in on how this could have been handled differently in order to protect the victims. It is also a chance to point out the crucial aspects society is somehow missing:

1) Child sexual abuse is most likely committed by someone your child knows – in fact, this is the case 90% of the time. Also, there is a rise on youth to youth child sexual abuse and this amounts to 40% of the cases.

2) Child sexual abuse is a crime. It does not matter of one’s religious beliefs. It does not matter how someone was raised to view sexuality. It does not matter if the abuse is committed by someone you love and trust. Nor does it matter if someone apologizes after the abuse has occurred – child sexual abuse is and will always be a crime. If you are aware of abuse, it is your moral and ethical responsibility to report the abuse immediately to the police and/or CPS.

3) Adults are responsible for protecting children being victimized – not protecting the sexual predator. Harboring a sexual predator’s secrets of child sexual abuse is not okay. If you truly love your child, spouse, cousin, uncle, brother, sister, father, grandpa, etc. that has sexually abused a child, then you should ensure the abuse is reported immediately, boundaries are set, and everyone involved receives proper counseling by educated professionals in the field.

4) Child sexual abuse can be prevented! Please educate yourself, your family, your friends, the facilities where your children participate, and by all means – educate your children. To learn more about grooming, please visit: http://baileybeebelieves.com/learn-more/. To learn more about our educational program, please visit: http://baileybeebelieves.com/store/bundle-set/.

Jennifer Hillman is a licensed speech-language pathologist, producer of the AWARD-WINNING educational DVD, “The Five B’s”, mother of two and an active advocate and speaker for sexual abuse prevention education in the home, churches and in schools.

For more information on this topic and the AWARD-WINNING educational DVD on empowering children about body safety in order to prevent sexual abuse, go to http://www.baileybeebelieves.com.

The Five B’s – Prevent Sexual Abuse Today

Most of the time when I speak to groups, talking about how to educate our children about the anatomical names for private parts can be such a daunting task for adults. Please watch this video on why we must start educating our children at very young ages about this to prevent sexual abuse. I promise, once you realize that is not a big deal, it won’t be – and your children won’t think it is either!

Also, stay tuned to see how you can win our AWARD-WINNING educational DVD program 🙂

And here is a sweet video of my baby initiating discussion about her private parts at a very early age – it’s pretty sweet, don’t miss.

Jennifer Hillman is a licensed speech-language pathologist, producer of the AWARD-WINNING educational DVD, “The Five B’s”, mother of two and an active advocate and speaker for sexual abuse prevention education in the home, churches and in schools.

For more information on this topic and the AWARD-WINNING educational DVD on empowering children about body safety in order to prevent sexual abuse, go to www.baileybeebelieves.com.

A Few Minutes to Zen with Rikki Alrutz

Spring Clean with Asparagus!

Written by: Rikki Alrutz

 

Spring is finally here! Though that may not seem the case here on the East coast, I did hear the first birds chirping outside my window and did see the first fresh baby asparagus at my local grocery store! Asparagus is one of my favorite veggies, and there’s something about those fresh, delicate, baby spears that precipitate thoughts of spring and spring cleaning—the detox cleaning of our bodies.

The benefits of asparagus are numerous. For example, it’s packed with antioxidants and nutrients. Asparagus is a very good source of fiber, folate, calcium, magnesium, vitamins A, B6, C, E and K, beta-carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, rutin, niacin, folic-acid, iron, phosphorus, copper, potassium, selenium, manganese, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells. Asparagus is a particularly rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds such as free radicals. This veggie may help protect against and fight certain forms of cancer, diabetes, kidney stones as well to include anti-aging properties. Asparagus is also a diuretic (helping reduce water weight in pregnant women).

Asparagus is rich in protein and fiber, but low in calories and carbohydrates, making it a wonderful addition to any meal or a great choice for a snack.

My current fav is drizzling the fresh spears in olive oil or coconut oil, sprinkling with black pepper and parmesan cheese, and baking them on a cookie sheet. Yum!

You can try grilling, baking, or sautéing this delicacy with anything such as a balsamic rub, a bit of garlic, butter, or just lemon.

Try adding it to pasta, risotto, salad, soup, or much on it raw.

And if you are brave, juice it for a wonderful energy boost! Try adding it to celery or carrot juice or for a sweet snack try just asparagus and green apple.

Enjoy!

How I Overcame My #Depression, One Haircut at a Time

By Antonio Gonzales

I was depressed for what seemed like a lifetime.  Around friends, I was the life of the party.  But, when alone, I felt desperate for love.  At times, I even felt suicidal.  Mostly, I felt alone, as though no one else could know what I was feeling. 

Indeed, not many around me understood.  After telling one close friend about my state, he just turned to me and said, “even in your depression, you’re so self absorbed!”  I was stunned.  How could he be so heartless, poor me!!  Though I was hurt by what he had said, he had a point.  I was tired not only of my depression, but of playing the ultimate victim.   

At the time, I was taking a break from hectic New York City and living in Miami.  Shortly after the conversation with my friend, I happened to pass a puzzling scene: a group of people, some in wheelchairs, begging for money in front of a building in glamorous South Beach.  Instead of walking on, curiosity led me into the building that this group stood in front of.

To my surprise, it was a nursing home/hospice.  As if by reflex, I immediately asked if they were looking for volunteers.  You can imagine my added joy when I stumbled upon an old sign, upstairs, that read, “Beauty Salon.”  (For those of you who don’t know, hairstyling is one of my passions.)

Apparently, years ago, when the economy was much better, there was a hair salon, upstairs, to cater to dying patients.  Since the economy took a turn for the worse, the salon turned into a storage room.  Before I could even realize what I was saying, I had blurted out to the hospice staff, “Can I do haircuts once a week, for free?”

You see, offering to do haircuts for free was an extension of my depression.  It was pure desperation, on my part, to break free of being the victim.  

On my first day at the hospice, I did not expect to see the long line of wheelchairs that awaited me, outside, for a haircut.  In these wheelchairs sat men and women of all ages and races, most of whom had been abandoned and had very little time left to live.

Some patients could talk, but had lost control of their legs.  Others, altogether, had lost their ability to speak or use their arms.  I will never forget my first client, an old Cuban man, who was nervous about getting his haircut.  Nor will I ever forget those clients whose smiles, alone, embodied so much gratitude.  Rarely did I hear these clients complain about or rely on their hairstyles to “change” them.  Most were at peace with themselves and their illnesses.

Of course, there were sad experiences, too.  I recall this sweet man, who had only one pair of pants.  Because he had no belt, his pants kept falling down.  Then there were those patients, who did not want to give up their Medicaid to this privately-owned hospice, because it was all they had left of their own.  One man even decided to leave the hospice to die on the streets.

Despite any differences, each patient showed me the same emotion in his/her eyes, one that I will treasure for life: love and appreciation.  Surprisingly, I had rarely seen this emotion before, not even from my paying clients (even though they loved their hair).

Though there were some sad experiences, all of my hospice experiences, happy and sad, transformed me.  Over time, I grew stronger and slowly emerged from my depression.  As I look back, I am glad that I passed the hospice when I did.  The patients showed me love and appreciation at a time when I so needed it.  The patients saved my life, one haircut at a time. 

A Few Minutes to Zen with Rikki Alrutz

Foot Ball
By Rikki Alrutz

Do you experience achy feet after a long day on the job or a little soreness after that great workout?  I am a firm believer in rolling out the body:  for pre-workout stretches, post workout relief and repair, as well as for everyday maintenance.  There are many ways to roll out your feet and countless products advertised to help get the job done, but all you really need is a tennis ball.  If that’s too hard to begin, then a simple small rubber ball will do.  I love the little green balls by the Franklin Method sold on Amazon, but you can use whatever you find around your house as well.

Rolling your feet will do wonders for your body; of course, your tootsies will feel better, but rolling out your soles can actually loosen tight hamstrings and relieve back pain, create better posture, hydrate scar tissue, help relieve plantar fasciitis, stimulate metabolism, prevent edema, and much more.   Not a believer?  Think about it.  When you release the bottom of your feet—the starting point of a network of connective tissue that goes all the way up your body to the top of your head—you are taking care of the literal base of your body.

Today, I want to mention three very simple and easy rolling exercises you can perform anywhere.  Enjoy!

  • Standing with your arms by your sides, or on your hips, place your right foot on the tennis ball. Begin by rolling your foot over the ball, almost as if you were rolling out some dough. You may go farther into a lunge position if your balance allows.  Make sure to roll the inner, outer, and middle areas of your foot, applying only light to moderate pressure, as you begin these exercises.  Keep the left leg straight and stable and keep going for 2-3 minutes.
  • Next, place your heel on the ground, behind the ball with the middle of the foot on the ball. It might take some practice before your heel goes down, but stick with it.  Turn your foot from side to side, left to right, trying to touch your foot to the floor.  Keep the left leg straight and stable and continue for 2-3 minutes.
  • Finally, push the ball out a tiny bit in front of you, again with the heel down and the ball of your foot on the ball. Keep both legs straight and hinge from your waist, folding down toward the floor, keeping your back flat.  Feel the stretch all the way up your leg.  Give me 6-8 hinges.

Repeat with the left foot.

Fighting #DomesticViolence Through Public Health Research

5 Questions with…Dr. Andrea Gielen, Director of Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy
 
Last time, we heard from Alyse Campbell and Kerry Hayes.  Today, we have the unique opportunity to hear from renowned researcher, Dr. Andrea Gielen, who has worked extensively to prevent domestic violence through a public health approach.  She is currently evaluating the impact of domestic violence programs in Maryland’s hospitals and community agencies.
1) What sparked your interest in domestic violence prevention?

I’ve always been interested in injury prevention as a field​,​ and domestic violence got on my radar when we were doing a women’s HIV and reproductive health study. When we saw high rates of I​ntimate ​P​artner ​V​iolence (IPV)​ among women getting care for their HIV, we started investigating it further and learned about how IPV could be both a risk factor for HIV and an outcome of HIV among the women we were seeing.

2) Could you elaborate on what a “public health” approach to domestic violence entails?  

We think of a public health approach as one that is focused on addressing the needs of populations, with an eye towards prevention (different from a medical approach of treating individuals when they are sick). It also means using a systematic approach to problem solving that includes​ surveillance, risk factor identification, intervention development, testing and evaluation, followed by broad scale dissemination.

3) Can you describe ​some of ​your current project​s? 

​My team is currently evaluating domestic violence programs based in six Maryland area hospitals.  We aim to describe the delivery, quality, and impact of services, as well as to identify avenues for enhancing the quality and impact of these programs.
 
Besides this project, my team is testing an individual counseling intervention for survivors of intimate partner violence at a community-based agency in Maryland.  We aim to evaluate the feasibility of this program, as well as assess the program’s potential impact on women’s confidence, IPV experiences and indicators of physical and mental health.

4) Who/what inspires you to continue your work in domestic violence prevention?
Women’s stories of survival inspire me.

5) What advice do you have for others who are interested in a public health approach to domestic violence prevention?

There are many paths depending on your particular interests and opportunities. I would suggest starting with your local domestic violence shelter or hospital program to find out what they are doing and what needs they have for either volunteers or technical assistance.

If you are looking for grant funding, I’d look to private foundations that support women and family causes, as well as the​ CDC, NIH, and NIJ who also fund research. Another strategy is to look at women’s health funding opportunities and add an Intimate ​Partner ​Violence (IPV)​ component; ​it’s often difficult to find funding that focuses exclusively on addressing IPV in women.

Dr. Andrea Gielen
is the Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy and Professor of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  Most of her work has addressed prevention needs of low income, urban families in the areas of domestic violence, home and motor vehicle injuries.  Among her many accomplishments, she has conducted some of the first research demonstrating the relationship between domestic violence and HIV risk.  More recently, she has examined risk and protective factors for survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV), evaluated hospital and community-based IPV services, and evaluated a community bullying prevention program.  Outside of her research, she has enjoyed serving on the Board of multiple violence and injury prevention agencies in Maryland.

9 Steps Parents Must Take If Sleepovers Are Allowed

By Jennifer Hillman

First, to any parent out there who has allowed their child to sleep over and had the unfortunate experience of enduring the pain of your child being sexually abused, I want to tell you, “I’m sorry.” If you were standing in front of me right at this moment with your eyes looking down as you shared your pain, I would want to lift your head back up, take your hands and look deep into the soul of your eyes. I would want to tell you that it’s not your fault, that you are an incredible parent, and that your child will work through this pain and be better off because of the parent your child has. I would then hug you and not let go until you were finished crying your heart out. I would repeat again and again, it’s not your fault…it’s not your fault.

If you have allowed your child to sleep over and your child has been safe, if your children aren’t at the age for sleepovers just yet, or if you are pregnant with your first baby, I want to say a few things to raise your awareness. Please understand that it is not my intent to scare you; however, I do want to gracefully give you a list to live by if and when your child gets to the age of sleepovers and if your family chooses to allow them. I would also like to add that sleepovers can be healthy and fun for children just like they were for me…but, as the protectors of our children, I have faith you would want this list, just in case.

  1. We must educate ourselves about child sexual abuse and what that looks like.  Please note that one out of ten children will be sexually abused by 18 years of age, 90% of the children who are abused are abused by someone they know, and that the majority of abuse cases happen between the hours of 3 pm – 4 pm (right after school) and 10 pm – 6 am (when the rest of the house is sleeping).
  2. We must educate our children about the Five B’s:
  • Body Parts: children must be able to verbally use the correct anatomical names for Body Parts (yes, this includes vagina and penis).
  • Boundaries: children must be able to understand their physical Boundaries and that no one is allowed to touch them on their private parts (or visa versa) without their permission.
  • Be Brave, Yell and Tell: children must be able to understand that if someone does touch them or asks to touch someone else inappropriately that they have permission to Be Brave, Yell and Tell another adult until someone believes them and makes it stop.
  • Bust Secrets: children need to be given permission to Bust Secrets and tell us anything that happens that made them feel uncomfortable.
  • Be Bold and Believe: children must be empowered through healthy parenting to believe in themselves.
  1. We must know the first and last name of the parents, have spent a lot of time with their family and be comfortable with their values, the child, and all siblings. We must also be on that same level with everyone that will be sleeping over at the same time as our child.
  2. We must give ourselves permission to pay attention to our instincts. Instincts are a gift and must be utilized without apology. It’s okay to allow our children to spend the night with one friend/family member and not another.
  3. We must give children a way out if they do feel uncomfortable at any given moment while attending a sleepover. A great way to make this possible is by giving our child a phone to take with them. We can give them a special password that they can text or call us during any moment of the night and they understand that we would be right over to take them back home, no questions asked. Of course, there would be a lot of questions that would need to be asked the days following.
  4. If our child does disclose that sexual abuse has occurred, we must always BELIEVE our child.
  5. After believing our child, then we must stay calm and ask open-ended questions to understand the story better. Please take note that when someone is sexually abused, the story might be hazy and unclear. Sometimes, the details of the time of day/night and the exact order of how it happened might be unclear due to the trauma; however, the details such as what the offender was wearing, the smell of the soap they used, etc. will be much clearer. This is normal and NOT an indication that the child is lying. So, once again…let’s BELIEVE our children.
  6. If abuse has been disclosed, then we must be ready, willing, and able to make a very difficult phone call; after all, it was a family we thought we knew well and trusted (and it might even be our own family). We must call Children’s Protective Services (CPS) and/or the police. The reporting agency will take the report and do the necessary investigation to ensure (in a perfect world) that the other child or adult that did the offending does not harm any other child in the future.
  7. If abuse has been disclosed, then the child will likely face depression and/or withdrawal for a period of time. It is our responsibility as a parent to seek professional care for our child to get through this difficult time.

My hope is that every parent understands it is our responsibility, as adults, to protect our children.  Even if you have decided that sleepovers are not a risk you are willing to take, it is still a must to follow these nine steps with your children. The statistics prove our children will need these guidelines to be taken seriously. Let’s do this together.

Jennifer Hillman is a licensed speech-language pathologist, producer of the award-winning educational DVD, “The Five B’s”, mother of two and an active advocate and speaker for sexual abuse prevention education in the home, churches and in schools.

For more information on this topic and Bailey Bee Believes® award-winning educational DVD on empowering children about body safety to prevent sexual abuse, go to www.baileybeebelieves.com.

Homeless for More Than 20 Years, Part 2

By Antonio Gonzales

In this second part of my story, let’s continue focusing on the plight of our homeless brothers and sisters, and how they are continuously misunderstood.

I want to talk a little more about Miss, the beautiful homeless woman I wrote about in my last post. What still baffles me is how someone, like Miss, can survive the streets without panhandling?  The first time I introduced myself to Miss, our conversation went something like this:

Can I get you anything?

No thanks, I’m ok.

Are you sure, it will be my absolute pleasure!

Well, a small bottle of laundry detergent would be helpful, so I can wash my clothes.

Her response floored me.  Although she needed food, she wanted to wash her belongings instead.  (Of course, I had to throw in a warm sandwich and a drink along with the detergent I gave her.)

Now this is just one person, one story that I just described.  Not every homeless person is like Miss; just like not every one is like you or me.  We are all unique, with our individualized experiences.

With that in mind, there seems to be a misconception that all homeless individuals use drugs and alcohol.  In fact, I often hear people say that they are afraid to give money to the homeless, for this very reason.  But, I have met many sober individuals living on the streets.  By sober, I mean that they don’t consume any alcohol or drugs.  Shocked?  You can look at each sober case as another miracle of someone holding on to what they can to feel human; and more importantly, to survive the extremely dangerous streets.

My last story takes place on one early morning (6am) in Manhattan.  I was handing out sandwiches, and encountered a young woman, maybe in her 20s.  She was lying in the middle of the pavement on 14th St., close to 8th Ave., on a flattened, cardboard box.  I approached her in my usual way:

Good morning. I have some warm fresh sandwiches and apple juice.  Would you like one?

I can’t. I have a gluten allergy.

In my ignorance, I had never thought of that.  How could I forget that these are real people with normal health issues?  

I am grateful for the amazing people I’ve met on the streets, who continue to change my life.  They inspire me to be a better person and fight my ongoing struggles with ego and need for unnecessary material things.  Most of all, they inspire me to spread the word to you all:

That the sooner we all address the homeless situation in our communities with personal interest, the sooner we can have an impact on these incredible individuals as they try to find their way.  In the process, we can also hopefully find our own way.