Finding Gratitude ... And Keeping It

The view during Irma 

By Bob Knotts, Founder & President

The Humanity Project came through Hurricane Irma in fine shape. So did all of us who carry out the work of this organization, including Board members, Leadership Council members and volunteers. We were lucky. Very very lucky, especially considering that the original predicted path of Irma would have taken this catastrophic storm directly over us along the east coast of South Florida. The Humanity Project is based in Dania Beach, directly between Fort Lauderdale and Miami. I would not be writing this blog if nature had played out that way. We wouldn't be here at all.  

The Humanity Project even kept our power during the entire hurricane, which lasted about a day and half in these parts. In the summer heat, reliable electricity is a blessing, believe me. 

Naturally we feel a great sorrow over the terrible damage suffered by the Caribbean islands, the Florida Keys and parts of southwest Florida. And now in Puerto Rico and other islands as well from Maria. They are our neighbors ... and we encourage everyone to donate what they can to help the people of these areas to recover, just as we have donated to the effort. 

But let me make one more suggestion based on my recent brush with a potentially life-changing event. We all have much to feel grateful about in our lives ... and we benefit by remembering this as often as possible. The reality of gratitude and its typically fleeting presence in our hearts hit me again following Irma. I must have said the words dozens of times. So did my friends in the immediate wake of the storm: "I feel so grateful!" And we did. We knew our region had barely escaped the worst. I experienced intense gratitude -- and it lasted for about a week. Then as life felt increasingly normal, I began to get caught up in my own challenges and troubles once more. The gratitude that had seemed so powerful soon faded, little by little. 

That's how it often goes for us, doesn't it? Something happens that reminds us how much of the good we have in our lives: a near car crash, a potential diagnosis of illness that turns out to be nothing serious. Or a storm that could have destroyed everything we own, but didn't. It's easy to feel grateful at these times. What's hard, but I believe very important, is to find ways to hang on to those feelings. 

If you're reading this blog, you have many reasons for gratitude. Just as I do. Beyond the obvious things such as the ability to read, the luxury of electricity and computers and all the modern conveniences, we also have plenty of food and clean water in abundance. We probably have reasonably good health. And friends and family we care about. We have ready transportation and access to schools, universities and libraries. 

But I believe it goes deeper than these external things. Our reasons for regularly renewing feelings of gratitude can include the recognition of our own humanity, as a unique individual and as a member of an extraordinary species whose greatest potential remains yet unrealized. We are here, we are alive and we can make our society a wiser, healthier, fairer and more peaceful place. Every human being has the chance to contribute to this grand project called humanity. We are nature's great experiment, given self-knowledge and gifts both physical and mental unmatched by any other animals. Each of us is a unique combination of characteristics, with perspectives and experiences to share that are possessed by no one else. This is our time, right now. We are here, yes. We are alive. And we can make that existence purposeful and rich if we use it to help others. In the end, this may be our greatest asset -- the ability to become a genuine force for change in the lives of our fellow humans. It is a gift. And it is one important reason to rediscover gratitude each day.

Respect, Pride and Beyond

The Humanity Project at Westwood Heights Elementary as our Anti-bullying Through The Arts program begins ...

The Humanity Project is tackling the largest, most ambitious campaign in our 12-year history. And we've already begun ... Through at least the full 2017-18 school year, and perhaps longer, our nonprofit will work intensively at Westwood Heights Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In the very recent past, Westwood Heights was an F-grade school, rising now to a C-grade school through the efforts of their amazing principal, Jodi Washington, and her fine staff. But Mrs. Washington tells us much remains to be done in the school and in the neighborhood. 

Bullying is a major problem, affecting many students including LGBTQ children and others who may stand out as potential targets of hostility. Most of the school's kids struggle with inadequate food when not in school for free meals. Even school supplies such as backpacks are scarce. And the surrounding neighborhood is impoverished, rundown and struggling with crime and other problems. The school itself is sometimes a victim of these crimes. The Humanity Project hopes to change things. 

The Humanity Project delivers 315 backpacks to Westwood Heights Elementary, August 24, 2017 

We began by arranging a major donation of nearly 400 backpacks. More than 300 of these came from a generous contribution by our friends at Costco, others came through Trinity Lutheran Church, the New River Orchestra and members of the Humanity Project Board of Directors and Leadership Council. So far this year, every child who's needed a backpack has received one. Then we presented our acclaimed Anti-bullying Through The Arts program to the entire student population, grades K - 5. It went well. Next week, we begin our Humanity Club at Westwood Heights, teaching several handpicked all-girl student leaders about our Humanity Project core values of respect, diversity and self-worth ... then helping them create and present their own program about these values to the entire school. Every student will be asked to sign a pledge to treat all other students with respect for the full academic year, in and out of school. We'll follow up with contests, games, art projects, a planned Garden of Respect and much more. 

This is where our campaign will far exceed any previous work by the Humanity Project: We plan to hold parent workshops to teach good parenting skills and involve parents in their child's education. We will also approach local community leaders, including gang members, to bring them into our efforts with the goal of making Westwood Heights a focal point of neighborhood pride. We'll need lots of help from everyone at Westwood Heights and our South Florida friends, including additional funding from sponsors. As always, our programs are free to the schools. But we're already fortunate to have partners such as Our Fund, Lucky's Market, New River Orchestra, Children's Services Council of Broward County and others helping us in this sweeping project. As the year goes along, we'll keep you updated on our progress. And of course, we'll continue providing our anti-bullying, Humanity Club and unique I Care teen driver safety programs to the community at the same time. All for free. 

As we said, it's an ambitious campaign. But we are confident that with lots of committed assistance by our friends and colleagues, we can make a significant difference in both this school and in this community. 

Feeling Very Lucky

The Humanity Project is very proud to announce our newest major sponsor. Lucky's Market has arrived in Florida and brought with them their well-known commitment to community. We are glad to welcome this business to our region ... and to the growing Humanity Project family. 

Lucky's Market was created in 2003 by two chefs from Boulder, Colorado, Trish and Bo Sharon. They decided to offer something no other high quality grocery store was giving the public: the best food at an affordable price. That's what Lucky's Market is all about. And it's why they now have stores in 11 states, with several locations in Florida where the Humanity Project is based. Their latest opening comes in Oakland Park on Wednesday, August 30 at 10 a.m. -- and we'll be there with two other nonprofits to each collect a generous check from these community-minded folks. We hope you'll join us all at 1033 E. Oakland Park Boulevard. Then you may want to explore the fresh produce, meats, seafood and more ... As we said, the best food at an affordable price. You also may enjoy a visit to their website:

We are grateful to Lucky's Market for their support, with this new funding going toward our anti-bullying work in local schools. The money will make a real difference for Broward kids by allowing the Humanity Project to teach our acclaimed programs to many more students. Thank you, Trish and Bo, for joining our important work. And for bringing your own delicious contribution to South Florida kitchen tables. We look forward to a long partnership that will benefit our community in many ways. 


The Moral High Ground

Amid the violence and the hostile rhetoric, amid the disrespect and distortion of facts, the Humanity Project remains committed to our three core values: respect for all as well as the importance of diversity and self-worth. We teach these values to kids through our acclaimed programs, we work hard to practice them in daily life. But we see these values under attack. The United States is going through a highly challenging period just now. We have no doubt that in the end sane voices will be heard above the harsh din. We all will be okay. 

What seems more uncertain, though, is how long this attack will persist and how much suffering it will cause before greater respect prevails. As a nonpolitical and nonreligious organization by law, the Humanity Project is not preaching politics here. What we are doing is calling for everyone who shares our values to unite in a peaceful and yes respectful movement. Indeed, we have long felt that a movement of this type is needed worldwide -- a large group of people joined in a common call for respect as a foundation for meaningful dialogue, a solid base for improving our civilization. Fine groups and small movements of all kinds exist already, of course: They ask us to work together for compassion, for peace, for a better environment, for fair wages, for gender equality, for the right to love and marry whoever we choose. But surely underlying all those significant goals is a more basic prerequisite: respect. Respect for self, respect for all others. Without this, it's hard to make progress in other areas. 

With that in mind, then, we offer one more suggestion to those who might be sympathetic to a broad movement for respect. If these attacks on respect and decency continue for long in the U.S., we must consider a new approach in response. Nonviolence. No group that hopes to sway opinion within a modern society can hold the moral high ground by answering violence with rage or with more violence. No matter how understandable and justified such a response may feel. Gandhi, King and other great moral leaders -- they understood that nonviolence changes minds far more effectively than street battles ever can. We must as a nation, and as a world, find new ways to hold within us a fundamental respect for every human being. Even for those who want to harm us. That's not submission, not giving in. As history proves, it is the highest, most courageous and most persuasive form of resistance. 

Thank you, New River Orchestra

A big thank you today to the New River Orchestra, a South Florida organization of musicians who donate their time for charity concerts. NRO held a lovely event for the Humanity Project last Saturday, July 29, rewarding concertgoers with a delightful pops program of both classics and lighter favorites. This benefit for the Humanity Project also featured the St. Clements Children's Choir, a group of young people with Haitian roots, and it was hosted by the United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale. We can't thank all these wonderful folks enough. 

The New River Orchestra and St. Clements Children's Choir

Through this fundraiser, New River Orchestra becomes an official Humanity Project sponsor -- and we welcome them to the distinguished roster of our supporters. You'll find the full list on our Sponsors page: Visit the Humanity Project Sponsors page. So another round of applause, please, for NRO as they become part of the Humanity Project family. We are grateful. 

The Transgender Experience

The butterfly seems a good place to begin ... The transition, the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly has represented many inspiring things to many people over the centuries. At the Humanity Project, we think it's a fine symbol of the transgender experience ... as it ought to be: Human beings changing for the better, finding ways to be more of who they are. 

Unfortunately, it's rarely that easy and uncomplicated. The Transgender Experience is our latest podcast and we encourage you to listen. We talk with Tatiana Williams and Arianna Lint, two transgender women who also are community activists -- and the discussion about the challenges of transgender life is frank, wide-ranging and moving. It's all part of the Humanity Project's mission to create programs and materials that advance our core values of respect, diversity and self-worth. Please take the time to learn more about the transgender experience by going to our podcast page and listening: Go to the Humanity Project Podcast. 

Another Amazing New Board Member

Piper Spencer, Humanity Project Board Vice President

Today we welcome Piper Spencer to our Board of Directors. It was a short journey, in truth, as Ms. Spencer already was a valued member of our Leadership Council along with her fine son, Christian. Now she moves up to our Board, assuming more official responsibility for the progress of the Humanity Project. And another member of her family will take over Piper's spot on the Leadership Council with Christian: Rev. Dr. Keith Spencer, Piper's husband. Sons Luke and Thomas round out this wonderful family. 

Piper Spencer is an amazing person. We first met her during a rehearsal last year by the New River Orchestra, which will hold a July 29 benefit concert for the Humanity Project in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Piper was playing the double bass as the ensemble ran through a piece from the ballet "Romeo and Juliet" by Prokofiev. We were immediately impressed with her musicianship -- and even more impressed with her intelligence and warmth during a conversation later that evening. 

Let us tell you a bit about Piper's background. She's a graduate with distinction from the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and served seven years as a Naval Meteorological and Oceanographic Officer. These days Piper is a veteran teacher at Pembroke Pines Charter Middle School where she teaches space and earth science, coordinates the Science and Engineering Fair, coaches the Science Olympiad Team and advises the Builders Club. In addition to playing with the New River Orchestra and Broward Symphony Orchestra, she is active in several musical groups as leader and performer on ukulele, percussion, handchimes and as a vocalist. Her many other accomplishments include being a Team Member of BOLD Justice, an interfaith justice organization that works to solve critical community problems. 

Impressive indeed. So is her husband, Keith, who also is an Annapolis grad and now is pastor of the Trinity Lutheran Church of Pembroke Pines. Among his talents, Keith is a gifted photographer. We'll tell you more about Pastor Keith at another time. For now, we welcome him to our Leadership Council ... and welcome Piper Spencer to our distinguished Board of Directors.  We had a great Board already. Piper just makes it that much better. 

Classics & Kids

We have something very special to announce, a first-ever event of this type by the Humanity Project. And we're calling it, "Classics & Kids: A Musical Performance for the Humanity Project." If you're in South Florida during late July this year, you won't want to miss it. 

Classics & Kids will feature a Haitian children's choir and a full symphony orchestra in a delightful summery pops concert to benefit the Humanity Project. Proceeds will go to our programs for kids including our Anti-bullying Through The Arts, Humanity Club and I Care teen driver safety programs. The New River Orchestra will be joined by the St. Clements Children's Choir for works by Holst, Moussorgsky, Strauss, Rossini and others as well as pieces by Henry Mancini and selections from Pirates of the Caribbean. What fun on a warm afternoon. 

Tickets are only $20 in advance, $25 at the door. Mark your calendar for July 29 from 4-6 p.m. at the United Church of Christ Fort Lauderdale, our friends who are hosting the event for us. You can buy tickets safely online through Eventbrite, the respected Internet ticket agency. Here's the link to find out more about our concert: Visit the Humanity Project ticket site for more info and to buy tickets!

We're very excited by this fundraiser ... and we hope that many of you will want to join us. Classics & Kids on a languid South Florida weekend afternoon -- who could ask for anything more? 


Our Fund: Making A Difference

By Bob Knotts, Humanity Project Founder

I wanted to offer a more personal blog to our readers today. It's about bullying, about disrespect as a social issue ... and about an important partner that helps the Humanity Project to diminish these problems. 

Our Fund is an LGBT community foundation based in Wilton Manors, Florida, one of the nation's premier LGBT-friendly cities. This extraordinary organization has just partnered with the Humanity Project for a second consecutive year in our continuing efforts to stem school bullying and to encourage greater respect among both students and adults, whether in school or out in the world. Toward that end, Our Fund has awarded the Humanity Project $10,000 for 2017, part of $106,000 handed out to many fine nonprofits at a special presentation this week. We can't thank Our Fund enough for this assistance. 

At the Our Fund 2017 Spring check presentation, New River Fine Art Gallery

At the Our Fund 2017 Spring check presentation, New River Fine Art Gallery

Because we take this sponsorship money, and this cause, very seriously. At a time when bullying is on the rise again, in a period of history when disrespect is rampant in our society and right-wing ideas are regaining traction among a broad swath of people around the world, effective and innovative anti-bullying programs are more necessary than ever. Bullying, disrespectful behavior of all kinds -- they leave scars on children's psyches that never go away. The LGBT community is disproportionately affected by this problem. So Humanity Project programs do more than simply fight bullying. They also teach respect for all, the importance of diversity and the value of self-worth to young students, helping them to appreciate the humanity of every person.

And this is where a more personal story comes in. As a child, I was bullied in ways that I feel to this day. I was harassed, hit, humiliated ... and harmed emotionally. I felt alone. I felt something was wrong with me. I liked the other kids, so why didn't they all like me? I couldn't understand and, not understanding, I blamed myself. Remember, this was long before cyberbullying, decades before weapons in school became sadly common. It is much worse today. As a result of my childhood trauma, I carry personal experience with the pain of bullying and disrespect by my peers. These memories help to motivate me to fight ever harder, with even more innovative and effective methods, as the Humanity Project works with Our Fund to help build a more respectful society. I know the entire Humanity Project Board of Directors, Leadership Council and our volunteers feel the same way. We are committed to doing all we can to make sure every child feels he or she is valuable. In that work, we couldn't ask for a better partner than our remarkable friends at Our Fund. 

Welcoming GLLN (Gay & Lesbian Lawyers Network)

Today we officially welcome an important new sponsor to the Humanity Project family of supporters. The Gay & Lesbian Lawyers Network, based in Wilton Manors, Florida, just this week presented the Humanity Project with a check for nearly $5,700 to benefit our anti-bullying programs. At the same time, GLLN gave a check in the same amount to SunServe, a fine nonprofit that also works to end bullying. 


Fun at the GLLN Gala 

Fun at the GLLN Gala 

The money was raised through the utterly delightful GLLN Gala, where generous GLLN members and their friends last month bought every auction item to help fight bullying. Everyone at the Humanity Project is very grateful. As you may recall, all our funds go toward our programs -- and all our programs and other materials are free. The Humanity Project is an unusual nonprofit in these ways and we're proud of our focus on helping the community. 

Our founder, Bob Knotts, speaking at the GLLN Gala 

Our founder, Bob Knotts, speaking at the GLLN Gala 

We're also proud of our strong connections with the LGBT community, including the amazing Our Fund LGBT community foundation and now GLLN. The Humanity Project's core values of respect, diversity and self-worth align perfectly with the interests of the LGBT community in their struggle for full equality. Our anti-bullying work, our school programs that help kids to help other kids understand and live out those three core values ... these are important for all children but especially LGBT kids who are disproportionately bullied and ostracized. The LGBT community's support for our work allows us to do more -- and inspires us too. Thank you, Gay & Lesbian Lawyers Network. And welcome to the Humanity Project! We look forward to a long and meaningful partnership with you in the months and years ahead. 

Thank You, Thank You So Much!

We have just received wonderful news from our major sponsor, State Farm. This loyal and publicly spirited company has funded our I Care driver safety program for another year. Their $15,000 grant to us allows the Humanity Project to hold a series of live workshops to show parents how they can help their teen drivers to come home safely. This is a major expansion of our existing driver safety offerings: for teens, I Care: Just Let Me Drive ... and for parents, I Care: Just Help Them Drive. The workshops are called, appropriately enough, I Care Live!


We wrote a blog that gives a bit more info about I Care Live and you can find it at this link: 

The workshops for parents are fun, funny and memorable. 

But we'd like to focus here on our gratitude for State Farm -- and for Jose Soto, their great Community Public Affairs Specialist for Florida. State Farm's support has allowed the Humanity Project to create, improve and expand our I Care program since 2012. Jose Soto has been there each step to oversee and encourage our progress. Through experience, we've learned State Farm really is what it claims to be: a good neighbor to the community. A very good neighbor. We are grateful to this wonderful corporation for all they do, for the Humanity Project and for many other organizations and individuals around the United States. Thank you, State Farm and Jose ... Thank you so much! 

First Workshop Was A Hit

Our first I Care Live workshop attracted a full crowd of engaged parents on April 19 -- and the program was a hit. These intimate sessions have a simple message, delivered with humor and interactive exercises. That message: Parents must practice what they preach to their teenagers about safe driving.


Research clearly shows that parents are the key in reaching teen drivers. If the parents are distracted and careless drivers, their kids are more likely to behave the same way behind the wheel. If the parents are focused and careful, though, their teenage motorists stand a much better chance of driving safely too. The I Care Live workshops are free, sponsored by State Farm.

We were joined by State Farm agent, Jane Freilich, and her colleague, adding their experience to the comments and questions. The half-hour workshops feature all original videos, interactive games and demos along with information intended to inspire good driving, not to frighten parents. They're fun, funny and memorable evenings for mothers and fathers who care about the safety of their motoring children. To schedule your workshop, contact the Humanity Project at 954-205-2722. We look forward to hearing from you.