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October 2010

Infinite Family

In a recent email from VolunteerMatch (a match-making service for volunteers and people who need their help), I learned of a remarkable organization called Infinite Family, which uses the Internet to connect adults and families with parentless children in southern Africa.

In the wake of the AIDS epidemic, thousands of African children are orphaned every year, leaving the ratio of children to adults in many areas at 12:1. Infinite Family has made it easy for people to become virtual mentors to these kids, using video conferencing, email, and a secure Internet platform to span the physical distance.

Infinite Family

The VolunteerMatch newsletter tells the store of the Benedict family from Pennsylvania, who discovered Infinite Family's Video Mentor program and now regularly connects with an orphaned teenager at a computer lab in sub-Saharan Africa. Not only does this youth get much-needed attention and guidance from the adult parents of the family, but she also enjoys camaraderie (and help with homework!) from the Benedict children. And they, of course, get the chance to learn about a very different culture and make a life-long friend.

What a fantastic way to use technology.

Think you want to be a virtual mentor? Check out the Infinite Family page on VolunteerMatch. Mentors must be 21+ years old, have a high-speed Internet connection, and be approved through an application process. Once approved, they undergo an online training program to help understand the culture, the technology, and the children.

To learn more, visit the Infinite Family website and Youtube channel, or follow them on Twitter.

Don Draper and Jax Teller

Two of my favorite shows on television right now are Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy; I've been a fan of both since the beginning.

Unless you live under a rock, you know that Mad Men chronicles the wild and wooly days of a 1960s Madison Avenue ad agency; it's won numerous awards for its lead actors, writing, and spectacular costume and set design.

Sons, in contrast, is more of a sleeper hit. It follows the rough-and-tumble lives of a gun-running motorcycle club, and it's a great gangster show in same vein as The Sopranos and The Wire.

On the surface, these shows seem wildly different, but plot twists in both this week highlight how similar they actually are.

You see, they both have these wonderfully-complicated, brooding leading men (the dashing Don Draper and the rough-hewn Jax Teller, respectively).

Don draper Jax teller
And they both have equally-complicated, career-driven leading ladies who put up with all their partners' foibles (research director Faye, left, and surgeon Tara, right).

Faye Tara

And in both shows last week, the men betrayed their leading ladies by hooking up with younger, simpler, adoring girls. Don - in a singularly impulsive but not entirely unexpected move - proposed to his secretary (ick), and Jax turned to a stripper (double ick).

New York Magazine did a wonderful job analyzing what happened in Mad Men, noting that "Faye has so much to offer: smarts, sympathy, insight, lamp-rattling sex, genuine self-sacrifice." But in the end, she is "selling everyman comfort to a man who’s always craved his own unique drama." In the end, both men fulfilled their cliche, escapist fantasies, choosing uncomplicated, doe-eyed youth and admiration over pragmatic, mature love. What would Gloria Steinem say??

Mad Men critiques are quick to dismiss this as representative of the fate of women in 1965, but with SOA set in present-day California, it's a behavior that's all too familiar to modern women as well.

Maggie siff Interesting side note: before her turn as Dr. Tara Knowles on SOA, actress Maggie Siff played another career-oriented woman in Season 1 of Mad Men - department store owner Rachel Menken.




Pawley's Island

Pawley's Island sits between the Atlantic Ocean and the Waccamaw River in South Carolina. It is one of the oldest resort areas on the East Coast, and I had the good fortune to spend five sunny days there over Columbus Day weekend while attending a friend's wedding.

Unlike Myrtle Beach, its honky-tonk neighbor to the north, Pawley's prides itself on being quaint and "shabby chic." Less than 200 people live on the 3-mile stretch of land, but vacation homes abound. We stayed at this fabulous spot, with the ocean (complete with frolicking dolphins) out our back door:

Pawley's Island 002 
...and this picturesque view of the river (with lots of egrets and fishing literally jumping out of the water) out front:

Pawley's Island 011Gorgeous!

Highlights of the weekend included walking the expansive beach and taking in the wild life,Pawley's Island 052biking along the shore, shopping at the legendary Hammock Shops (yes, the hammock was created here 120 years ago) and antique shops of historic Georgetown,

Pawley's Island 029and dining on fabulous southern fare at Roz's Rice Mill Cafe (get the hot chicken salad on a croissant), Frank's Outback, and Hog Heaven BBQ.

But of course the real highlight of the trip was seeing our friends Anna & Jeremy tie the knot, and they did so at the beautiful Brookgreen Gardens and sculpture park (wish I could've explored more of this place).

 Pawley's Island 083
Here's the full photoset:

Join me at the Helping Hands Festivale

You're invited to an exciting evening of food, music, and art!

Helping Hands FestivaleIt's the Helping Hands Festivale, taking place on Saturday, November 6th at the WGBH Studios in Boston

Buy your tickets and join us for:

A portion of the proceeds will support the Monkey Helper Training and Placement Program at Helping Hands, a national nonprofit serving people with mobility-impairments by providing highly trained monkeys to assist with daily activities.

It's a wonderful organization, and the Festivale promises to be a great night.

Buy your tickets and/or sponsor the event on the Helping Hands web site, and please help us spread the word on Facebook.

I hope to see you there!


Helping Hands

Helpinghands I'm excited to announce that I've joined the board of Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled, a non-profit organization dedicated to training and placing Capuchin monkeys as in-home service animals to provide daily assistance to people living with spinal cord injury or other mobility impairments.

Monkey helper.org The Helping Hands monkeys facilitate a range of tasks, like getting a drink of water, picking up a dropped or out-of-reach object, turning the pages of a book, or assisting with a telephone or computer. It is amazing to see how the monkeys assist their human companions. What's more, the emotional bond between monkey and human is equally strong for both parties.


Early in the organization's history, Capuchin monkeythey determined that Capuchin monkeys are especially well suited to be monkey helpers, since they are small in size (6 - 10 pounds) and need only positive reinforcement to help them learn tasks. Training is accomplished by rewarding the monkeys for doing activities that already come naturally to them. Helping Hands runs a Monkey College in Boston which trains the monkeys on how to become part of a human companion's life.

Monkey helper donationMonkey helpers are placed free of cost to the recipient; all costs are underwritten by donations from individuals, foundation grants, and corporate partnerships (93 cents of every dollar directly supports their program and services).  On average, it costs $38K to train, place and support each monkey helper paired with its recipient. Monkeys get lifetime medical care overseen and paid for by Helping Hands, including all necessary care for chronic illnesses and geriatric care, by a specially selected network of veterinary and human doctors.

As a service to the larger community, Helping Hands also conducts public education programs that teach young people how to avoid risky behaviors that can lead to spinal cord injury, and how community service can be a powerful way to help others.

There are numerous ways to support this wonderful organization, including volunteering, donation, fundraising, providing a foster home, or simply sporting a Helping Hands tee or joining us on Facebook