Did you know 1 in 5 children in the United States don’t get enough to eat? That’s 18,000 school busses full of kids. Or if, in this season of gridiron rivalries, football metaphors do it for you, 223 football stadiums full of fans.

I live and work in cities —Bridgeport CT and New York — but most of the poverty I see in my daily commute is the adult variety. While I know that child hunger is a problem in America, it’s largely intellectual knowledge. For many, myself included, we aren’t as motivated to take action when something isn’t tangibly real. We give to the charities that impact the people around us, or that have helped personally at some time in our lives.

In our comfortable middle-class lives, it’s hard to even understand hunger. Real hunger. Not just “skipped lunch” or “fasting for a colonoscopy” hungry.

Unilever Project Sunlight aims to change all that by giving us both the tools we need to better understand childhood hunger, and with its downloadable #ShareAMeal toolkit, concrete suggestions for ways we can help, including:

  • help a family in your own neighborhood by hosting a community potluck or sending an extra lunch to school with your child;
  • volunteer at a local food bank;
  • host a virtual food drive;
  • make a donation to Feeding America.

Get your kids involved.

A good way to make hunger — real hunger — more tangible for them while you help families in need in your community is to do the same activity as the kids in the Hatch Project Hunger video above. Set a budget, say $40, and go food shopping for a family of four for a week, then donate the food to your local food bank. Be sure to check in advance for any restrictions; some organizations aren’t equipped to handle too many perishables, and may prefer dry or canned goods.

Start by watching the Hatch video with your kids, and downloading the #ShareAMeal toolkit, and then talk it over with them. How would they like to help?

In my family, we are going to start with a donation to Feeding America. If that’s all you have time for right now, please join us! It’s what we can do, right now, and that’s better than waiting to do anything until you have more time to volunteer. I’d love to hear what you’ve decided to do in my comments.

About SheKnows’ Hatch, the Hatch Hunger Project and Unilever Project Sunlight:

SheKnows’ Hatch teamed with Unilever Project Sunlight to help families build awareness and take action around child hunger in America. The facts are startling: 16 million kids living in the United States don’t know where their next meal is coming from. That equates to one in every five children – enough to fill 18,000 school buses and 223 football stadiums. On average, those who live in food-insecure households have only $36.50 to spend on groceries every week. That means that 80 percent of children may not understand the everyday struggle their peers – many of whom could be their own friends or neighbors – confront when there’s not enough food on the table. The Hatch Hunger and Project Sunlight video and workshop aims to create empathy by showing kids what it means to shop for healthy, filling meals for an entire week on a thrifty budget. It teaches important math and teamwork skills. Finally, it is about action, empowering kids to have a positive impact on their community to Share A Meal with a family in need and donating food and canned goods to local food banks.

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So. Mineorama, the Minecraft convention I wrote about in June, was “postponed” under quite dodgy circumstances a mere 5 days before it was scheduled to take place. And when I say postponed, the chances of it ever happening are (in my opinion) slightly less than a snowball’s in hell.

Cue lots of disappointed fans, many of whom had planned summer holidays in NYC just to attend the two-day convention, We were among the lucky locals who were potentially out our registration fees (although it looks like American Express has allowed my claim and refunded my payment) but not air tickets and potentially non-cancellable lodging reservations.

And then something amazing happened. A group of YouTube stars and server vendors who were scheduled to appear or exhibit at the conference put their heads and resources together and in a matter of days pulled together a one-day FREE meet-up for the fans, open to anyone who had proof of purchase of Mineorama tickets.

Space was limited so you had to register for the event, and bring both the YouCube Meetup Eventbrite registration and your proof of Mineorama tickets to the door, but on the day, everything went very smoothly. There was plenty of security managing the entry and meet-up lines, and volunteers kept everything moving to schedule.

Doug was more interested in meeting his favorite YouTube stars than the panels. Here he is with AntVenom:

DougwithAntvenom

 

And with JeromeASF.

Doug_CavemanFilms

I mostly hung around in the “parent lounge,” the floor near an outlet so I could get a little work done, or stood in line holding his place while he scouted the room looking for other stars to get photos with. That strategy ended up paying off big time; he was able to meet the guys slated for the last autograph session earlier in the day so we could scram and get lunch much earlier than we expected. WIN!

We both had a great time. He got to meet some of his favorite YouTubers as well as talk Minecraft with other fans as we waited in line. I loved seeing him have so much fun.

I also love the lesson that this whole affair provided the kids about the Internet — the good and the bad. Especially the good though. We get enough of the doom and gloom fear-mongering about safety and security of the Internet every day. While it is good to be cautious when purchasing anything over the Internet, Mineorama had all the trappings of a legitimate conference. Including relationships with STEM education initiatives and NYC schools. If it was fraud (and I am not saying it was), it wasn’t Internet fraud. It was just fraud. And honestly, I am inclined to believe that the organizers intentions were good, but their execution extremely poor.

But the good. That is the story that matters. The group of folks (MCProHosting, SkyDoesMinecraft and Mineplex) who came together and at their own expense put together the one-day meet-up exemplifies everything that I love about online community. Once you find your tribe, the tribe will be there for you. What could have been utter disappointment for the kids turned into a perfect example of how people can make a difference.

Sweet.

There has been some chatter on Twitter about the YouCube Meetup folks doing a Kickstarter to fund a 2015 meet up. I haven’t seen any details yet, but if they do it, I’m in.

 

Last month, I had the privilege to attend the New York Women in Communications (@nywici) Cocktails & Conversations panel on The Future of Communications. Moderated by the group’s outgoing president and NY PR agency head Liz Kaplow, the panel featured BlogHer CEO Lisa Stone, Dana Points from Parents and American Baby and Sarah Davanzo from ad agency Sparks & Honey. The conversation ranged across a number of topics, including a survey conducted jointly by BlogHer and NYWICI on women’s attitudes toward technology, but the panel really dug into to the issue of our children’s use of technology, with varying points of view about how to manage it and whether so much tech was good or bad for child development, interpersonal relationships and future success in life.

BlogHer CEO Lisa Stone during NYWICI panel

Lisa Stone during the NYWICI panel

I’m the parent of a 14 year old young man who is deeply engaged in the online gaming world and has been digitally active since he was barely out of diapers. I also have a professional background in the online safety industry; I worked at Cyber Patrol and SurfControl for 10 years (1994-2004), during which time I testified about online safety in Congress and at the FTC, represented my company at an OECD workshop in Paris, and was generally deeply involved in the discussion/debate about children’s use of the Internet. Safe to say I have strong, and I would say fairly well informed, opinions about children’s use of technology. None of which I try to impose on anyone but happy to share.

How much is too much? What is too much? Are we spending too much time in front of the screen? To the detriment of our personal relationships?

This is tricky, because how you answer depends on how you value your relationships, and specifically the differentiation you apply to online versus offline friends. As a society, we still tend to place more value on the people we know in the physical world, our “real life” friends, but why? Why is someone you’ve shaken the physical hand of inherently more valuable as a friend merely because you have been geographically co-located? The long tail when applied to personal relationships implies that we are now able to “meet” people “like us” from all over the world. Are these people any less our friends?

This has become a very robust and long lasting online conversation. Our rule at home is that Doug needs to spend some time every day with the family, and I regularly plan offline activities for us including day trips to NYC and other local attractions, but his online friends are just as much his friends as anyone he might meet in “meat space.” I feel the same way about quite a few friends that I have never actually met in person, but have been chatting with online for 10 years or more.

For some people, the safety of online is what permits friendships to develop, and not just when it comes to online dating. For folks who are even remotely socially awkward or uncomfortable in social situations, online is a safe haven for trying on personas and navigating the white water of developing friendships. For that alone, gaming is a gift. I firmly believe that the demands of these environments, including the need to understand the rules and social mores within the game, help kids develop many necessary social and coping skills. Far from preventing development, games foster it.

What about porn? 

What about it? Seriously, there is a ton of bad shit on the Internet, and as parents we do want to protect our kids from inadvertently accessing inappropriate material, at home and at school.

There are two lines of defense. Teach your children well is first and foremost. Your good relationship with your child, and mutual trust, is probably the best parenting tool we have in general. As a secondary safeguard, especially when your kids are young, there is no harm in using filtering software to block inappropriate content. Just know that even if it could find and block all the “bad” web content, it can’t protect your child from everything. Cyberbullying and sexting don’t have URLs that a filter can block. Teaching your child to recognize, avoid, handle and report these sorts of things is best defense. As an aside, know that while there are online predators who lure children in chat rooms and so forth, I firmly believe the bigger danger is bullying and bad behavior from the people we know, not the bogeyman under the bed.

Two other tips. Keep the Internet connected machines in family rooms, not in children’s bedrooms, and most important, be genuinely interested in what your kids do online. Even if it is not your cup of tea. The best thing that can happen to you is your kid WANTS to show you the mod he created for his game or the dumb thing he found on a video sharing site. Don’t squander that opportunity.

I’m not. This July 12 and 13, I will be spending the weekend with Doug at MineOrama in New York City. The minute he heard about the convention, he wanted to go so he could meet other Minecraft enthusiasts in person. I *have* to attend because he is less than 16 years old, so I can’t just drop and go, but I am actually looking forward to the opportunity to spend time with him in his world. It’ll be fun, and you can be sure I will tell you all about it.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my first exposure to Minecraft about three and a half years ago. My son was playing on his laptop and I was working at my desk when I heard this song emerging from his speakers. I thought for the life of me they were singing “Digging the whores. Diggy diggy whores.” Needless to say I was a little freaked out. Turns out it was “holes, Mom, holes.”

Spring has sprung, and I’m out and about

May 9, 2014

It’s finally spring in the Northeast. The relief on the faces you see on the street, in the subway, on the commuter rail platform is palpable. Even a little rain doesn’t seem to dampen the spirits. Last weekend, I was out and about in the glorious weather. Starting with a reception for the exhibit of […]

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Potato Galette Recipe

March 30, 2014

On today’s menu, Potato Galette. Super easy. All you need for 4 generous servings: 2 large potatoes, olive oil, salt and shredded cheese of your choice. Slice the potatoes very thin. I use a mandoline. Toss with olive oil and salt, some herbs if you wish, and then layer in a pie plate, alternating a […]

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