Welcoming Two New Board Members

Natalia and Simone: New Humanity Project Board members

Today we are extremely pleased to introduce two new Humanity Project Board of Directors members. Simone Finnis and her daughter, Natalia Finnis-Smart, become our latest vice presidents. And Natalia now is the Humanity Project's second student to become part of our official governing body. 

If their names and faces seem familiar, there's a reason for that. Both have been part of our Leadership Council for the past year and a half. They contributed so much to this organization that we asked them to take on more formal roles. They're amazing folks. Simone is a licensed family and marriage therapist. Natalia is a high school senior and past member of Youth Leadership Broward. Each is a passionate community activist. When there's work to be done at the Humanity Project, when there's someone to help or an event to attend, we can count on these two women to be there for us. Actually, both were at the Humanity Project's huge 2008 anti-bullying march in downtown Fort Lauderdale, the nation's first mass children's march against bullying. More than 2,100 people attended that event. These days, Natalia helps to present many of our I Care Live teen/parent driver safety workshops. 

For the first time, the Humanity Project Board of Directors boasts more women than men. As our nonprofit works toward a goal of respect for all in society, we think this is a positive change. We also are strengthening our Leadership Council, recently adding Fernando M. Perez and his daughter, Valentina, to that body. Fernando is an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Barry University. Valentina has served in student government and is an avid reader and ballet dancer. And the Rev. Dr. Keith Spencer also joined our council not long ago, taking over for his wife, Piper Spencer, who moved up to our board. Keith serves with his talented son, Christian. 

Fernando and Valentina of our Leadership Council

Keith and Christian, Leadership Council members

To all of these good folks, thank you. And welcome! You are an important part of the reason the Humanity Project is helping more kids than ever before in ways that make our world a bit more respectful. 

A Busy Humanity

We'll be brief today. The photos tell this story better than the words.

Our Humanity Club at Westwood Heights Elementary School, Fort Lauderdale

The Humanity Project is reaching record numbers of kids this fall semester. That's our message in a nutshell. Our Anti-bullying Through The Arts is on a blistering pace. Our Humanity Club is working with all-girl student leaders on the values of respect, diversity and self-worth, aiming toward a schoolwide presentation late this autumn by these girls. Their goal: to teach the same values to all students at Westwood Heights Elementary School -- and help stop the bullying that is such a problem there.

Anti-bullying Through The Arts

Our I Care Live teen driver safety program also is in full swing, reaching many teens and parents with an innovative message about safe driving and respect on the roads. 

I Care Live

In just the past seven days, we held two anti-bullying presentations, two I Care Live events and our weekly Humanity Club.

None of this would happen without our generous community-minded sponsors, who provide the necessary funding for us to connect with so many young people. These loyal Humanity Project supporters include State Farm, Our Fund, Lucky's Market, Children's Services Council of Broward County, Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, Gay & Lesbian Lawyers Network, ELE USAL Florida, Google and many others. We can't thank them enough -- and we know our kids and their parents and schools also are deeply grateful. 

Having fun as we help ...

The Humanity Project is busy indeed this Fall 2017. A good kind of busy, doing the things we should be doing. We are busy helping our fellow human beings. 

Thank you, Stephanie!

The amazing Stephanie Wong

By Bob Knotts, Founder & President

I offer a personal blog today with very mixed emotions. Both gladness and sadness. Gladness because the wonderful young woman named Stephanie Wong is moving on to new adventures in life. Sadness because, well, Stephanie is moving on -- of necessity. And I can't tell you how much I regret seeing her leave our Board of Directors. 

In the Humanity Project's 12-year existence I've never once posted a word when any board member had to resign for whatever reason. Usually these good folks left because they didn't have the time to devote to our work and felt they were letting down other board members. But it always seemed best to let them slip away from our organization with as little fuss as possible ... and with our gratitude for their efforts. 

It's different with Stephanie. More than two years ago she joined as our very first student member of the board. Since then she helped create our now-thriving Humanity Club program and completely redesigned our website. Wow ... The look of this very modern, very lovely website is all her work, completed over a full year. As you can see with a few clicks, the Humanity Project has an unusually large and content-heavy main website that's linked to two other Humanity Project websites we created for young people: www.thp4kids.com and www.thehumanityproject.com/icare. The task of redesigning thehumanityproject.com was enormous. You can see the results for yourself, all carried out with Stephanie's typical commitment, hard work, good humor and intelligence ... at no cost to the Humanity Project. 

Wow, again. 

Now Stephanie is no longer a student. Her title is Program Director, TRIO Educational Opportunity Center at Miami-Dade College - InterAmerican Campus. She lives in Miami-Dade County, a lengthy traffic-choked drive from the Humanity Project headquarters in Broward County, Florida where much of our hands-on work in the schools takes place. And before long, Stephanie will tackle graduate school, likely out of state. Reluctantly I agreed with her decision that it was time to leave us. 

I asked Stephanie for a brief comment to include in this blog. As usual, she went above and beyond. These are her remarks about the Humanity Project: "I couldn’t be more grateful to have served alongside such an experienced and dedicated Board of local leaders. The team behind the Humanity Project truly embodies its core values of diversity and respect for all as each program is uniquely designed to support youth development, with inclusivity and a deeper understanding of characterized differences as its focus. During my time as Board Member, I was given the opportunity to work with middle and high school students directly. Whether the students were from South Florida or the Caribbean, I was able to impart the Humanity Project values through arts-based programming and by taking our THP4Kids program from an online format to a person-to-person model. Not only was I able to experience the unique approach the Humanity Project brought to the communities we serve, I also was allowed to learn about the ways that I may continue to develop as a member of our shared human experience. The Humanity Project also permitted me to take on the challenge of redesigning our organization’s website and bringing it to a mobile-friendly platform. This lets us share our programs with a wider audience. At every step of the way, I have been allowed to imagine, create and implement for the benefit of our local and global community. If there is one key take away that I have learned during my time with my friends at THP, it has been that no matter what we do or how we feel in life, we are always stronger together with unity at the fore. Thank you for the opportunity to be of service."

No, Stephanie. Thank you!

We love you! 

Technology vs. Nature: Why Outdoor Activities are Essential for Kids

By Hilary Smith

(Editor’s Note: This blog was written especially for the Humanity Project by Hilary Smith, who writes about the challenges of parenting in the digital age. She is the mother of two children, ages 5 and 10, and lives in Chicago.)

Gone are the days of being sent outside to play in the morning and staying outdoors exploring with friends until dinner time. School recesses have been greatly minimized or eliminated completely. Child obesity rates are through the roof, with interpersonal and communication skills on the decline. Too often children are glued to the TV, mesmerized by their iPads or tuned out with a multitude of other electronic devices. While technology provides today’s children with many benefits and learning advantages, it also can pose some hindrances to their overall development as well-rounded individuals if it consumes too much of their time and attention. But parents can find a perfect blend of technology and outdoor play by using the “everything in moderation” concept.

Playing outside and exploring nature have been proven to reap many benefits for children. The most obvious of these is the positive impact on physical development. Running, jumping, swinging and all other kinds of outdoor physical play help develop motor skills, improve balance and coordination, increase flexibility and develop muscle strength. All of these benefits have a powerful effect on developing a healthy self-confidence and positive self image.

The wellness benefits of playing outside go beyond just the physical aspects. For example, interacting with other children at the park promotes social skills and cooperation. Learning to take turns, playing games or creating imaginative outdoor activities together encourages friendships and healthy relationships. Spending time in the garden with Mom and Dad creates powerful bonding and lasting memories, all while learning about healthy eating, caring for other living things and providing countless opportunities for teachable moments. Being outdoors also increases Vitamin D intake, essential for bone strength and effective for preventing diabetes and heart disease. Physical activity reduces stress and burns energy, which have been shown to increase attention spans and allow children to focus better when they are indoors in a learning environment.

All that being said, technology and nature can peacefully coexist. For the child who never wants to be disconnected, parents may consider bringing the technology outside. This can simply involve sitting on a blanket in the yard while playing online instead of indoors in an artificially lighted room. Or perhaps the cellphone or digital camera can be used to capture pictures or video of your outdoor adventures. For the child who lacks interest in the great outdoors, make it more desirable by tying the outdoor world to technology. Create an electronic journal of your excursions. Or use the Internet to help plan your next big outdoor adventure. Research the national parks in your region as well as water parks, local fishing areas or farms with pick-your-own opportunities. Get creative. You can find methods to blend these two very different ways for kids to learn, grow and explore. Providing a healthy balance of outdoor play and exercise with reasonable screen time is a great way for them to gain the benefits of both. Set limits on the amount of time allowed using TV, the Internet and online games. Mix this with plenty of sunshine and outdoor time to provide a well-rounded, balanced learning environment for your child.

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: www.luckysmarket.com

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?