Life Lessons of Work

This has been a rough week for Illinois libraries. The North Suburban Library System, as all Illinois library systems, is in crisis – they have not received much of their funding for their fiscal year which ends in one month. We hear these stories in the news each night in our state, highlights of educational and social service organizations who face huge layoffs and reduction of services because our state is not able to fulfill its fiscal obligations.

No matter how many advocates our library community has, or how many politicians we urge to take action, or how many creative strategies we envision for reinventing our organizations and reduring reliance on state funding – we are stuck in the middle of a broken system.

It takes strong leaders to admit this reality and make hard decisioins that affect staff and members they serve. Those who refuse to compromise quality are commended.

The lessons: work hard, form partnerships, share expertise, and move on.

Best wishes to all my colleagues who will be contributing in new ventures soon – be proud of your legacy and start building the next.

Service & Social Learning – Mixing in the Mud

UVA ASB Argentina GroupSometimes it takes getting your hands dirty to make a difference. A group of University of Virginia students learned that “first hand” in January when they spent their winter break working outside of Buenos Aries, Argentina.

Their initial assignments seemed impossible for their two-week stay – build an adobe hut/bathroom, tame an overgrown space and prepare it for gardening, paint some buildings, and plant seedlings. But they accomplished their goals and within three months the fruit of their labor is growing abundantly. CNN’s feature “Kids in Argentina learn to grow their own food” shows the garden, the organization leaders they worked with, and most importantly the impact on the children.

From the article –

In January, a group of students from the University of Virginia spent two weeks
at the Semillas al Viento farm, working directly with children and instructors
to clear additional farming land and build adobe huts and bathrooms.
They also left a sizeable donation.

They have continued to stay connected via social networking, sharing pictures through flickr, communicating via facebook, email and gchat. When electricity and an Internet connection could be found, they provided an occassional blog entry during the trip.
Adobe hut

Ruben teaches us how to make adobe, which is made from dried grass and dirt. After gathering these things you mix them together with water using your hands. You then move on to mixing with your feet, a la “I Love Lucy”.

We also did some gardening work the first few days. One thing I found really interesting and admirable about Semillas al Viento is how resourceful they are. They recycle EVERYTHING and incorporate this into their gardening techniques. They
take a page of newspaper and wrap in around a toilet paper roll, fold the excess up, and make a mini cylinder. Soil will be put in the planter and plants in their first few weeks will grow there and eventually be transferred to the garden. They plant tomatoes, corn, acelga (chard), lettuce, flowers, and other things. They also use
cut up soda bottles to protect the trees from the lawn mower. All in all it was very interesting to see gardening in another country.

The hands-on learning extends into technical areas too. The site leader for the trip volunteers as Alternative Spring Break (ASB) webmaster. You can easily make a donation online. BellCow, Inc. helped the Argentina group by funding their daily transportation to the work site from their Buenos Aires hostel (which was without electricity for almost a week and lacked running water for a few days).

The original photos taken in January with inserts from the CNN report in April, show how far the community garden has developed in a short time. Good intentions, hard work, committed leaders and a little horse manure go a long way.

Zafen – It’s Our Business

Put this in the category of “Excellent people doing excellent work.”

DePaul University is commemorating the 350th anniversary of Vincent de Paul’s and Louis de Marillac’s deaths by creating opportunities to collaborate in support of microfinance programs geared towards Haitian development, with emphasis on direct funding for Haitian business and education initiatives.

The website,, provides a gateway for matching projects with donors.  Search for projects which match your passion and track progress to bring these initiatives to reality.

Special thanks and kudos to David Miller and Marty Kalin for writing the code to manage the matching and tracking process of projects.  Their minds are sharp and quick – they probably designed this on a napkin and wrote the code one weekend. While some of us were pulling weeds preparing for spring gardens, they planted seeds that will grow for lifetimes.

I just helped fund a “non-wood Charcoal Production” project. During the process I found some really neat networking features. It grabbed my gravatar image and it allows you to create teams. Ok, old DePaul ACS gang, I’m recruiting you to help.

©2010 BellCow Inc.