Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Antidote to being pulled down by the 2016 political campaigns: Reach out!

Last year a friend asked me whether I knew of any volunteer opportunities in the East Bay, a question that I was delighted to hear!  I compiled a list for her of some of the opportunities of which I was aware, sent it to her, and planned to post it here, but never got around to it.  Then a couple of weeks ago this same topic came up in conversation with another friend, and I promised to send my list from last year...but of course, when I took a look at the list, I figured it could be improved upon, so I spent an afternoon -- interestingly enough, it was an afternoon when I was supposed to go to a Volunteer Appreciation Party -- revising and updating the list*.  And here it is:

Elizabeth House
  Provides services and shelter to women in difficult situations... (located next to St Augustine's in what I think is the former convent.)  There are a variety of opportunities here.

Berkeley Food and Housing Project  Among other things, they have a Women's Center that serves homeless women and families and women with disabilities through a temporary shelter, transitional housing and other services.

Night on the Streets Catholic Worker -- lots of services (click here for a comprehensive list) for the neediest residents of the East Bay, especially around Berkeley.  [I have worked with the Sunday morning breakfast for the homeless (starts at 7:15 am in People's Park every Sunday) and the soup and hot chocolate delivery which happens several nights each week in the winter months.  Contact JC Orton (info at link above) to get involved, or just show up on Sunday morning :-) ] 

Oakland Catholic Worker -- primarily serving the migrant community -- opportunities to tutor English and work with the clients in other ways and I don't know what all else-- they always need people to help!

International Rescue Committee  Oakland branch -- helps resettle refugees and provides other services for refugees

Planting Justice-- urban farming resource, food justice, etc., also teaches permaculture skills to local prisoners with the goal of hiring them when they are released and volunteers teach high school students about gardening and food justice issues... a very interesting grassroots group

St. Anthony Foundation in SF has a variety of ministries (meals, clothing, employment counseling, etc.) that always need volunteers.

This organization holds workshops every few months, usually on a Saturday (but sometimes on Sunday) where people who are trying to become naturalized citizens can come and get help filling out their paperwork, talk to a lawyer, etc.  [I really enjoyed helping out at this.]

Bay Area Literacy looks like a great program -- I volunteered in a similar program in Charlotte, NC, and enjoyed the work very much.  (And I'm thinking this might be a good place for me to plug in to help someone with GED prep -- I promised a friend I would do this so I'd better make good on my promise...)

Also, here are some websites that have volunteer opportunities databases or lists:
There is also a list of opportunities in and near Berkeley here.

*if you don't live in the Bay Area, I hope this list will give you some ideas about what you can do in your own community to reach out and get involved!

How did the constant pi get its name?

It's always a good idea for a math tutor to know everything (it's almost like being a mother!)  Yesterday a student asked me why π [the mathematical constant] is named with the Greek letter π.  Of course I didn't know offhand, though I guessed that since π had an important connection with the perimeter of a circle, that somebody along the way decided to use the Greek letter for "p" as the name for the constant.  I was mostly correct, as it turns out, but the actual history is much more interesting...
Read more here:
William Jones and his Circle: The Man who Invented Pi

p.s. While writing this post, I found this:


Saturday, October 24, 2015

Social Justice, anyone?

Last weekend I went to a one-day conference of Pax Christi an international organization (also PaxChristiUSAwith several local chapters, including the Bay Area Pax Christi.  (Here is a link to the program.) The focus was Social Justice, and there was a very interesting panel to begin the day.  Here's more about the panel members:

I also went to an excellent workshop in the morning entitled "The Housing Crisis, a Catholic Perspective". It was presented by Tim Iglesia, JD, a professor at the University of San Francisco.  He not only gave a very informative and well-organized talk, but he followed it with a very helpful guide to becoming involved, entitled "Steps for Effective Advocacy", which I am already beginning to implement!  For more information on Affordable Housing Resources, go to EBHO.org  And Dr. Iglesias is available as a speaker around the Bay Area if you know of a group who would like to hear his presentation.

Lunch was catered by a local non-profit, Kitchen of Champions.  One of the workers did a short presentation on her experience and the organization.  The food was delicious (Foodies take note!) and I was very impressed by the presentation and the presenter.  I might just have to make my way down to the St. Vincent de Paul kitchen to sample more of their great food... and make a donation to the KofC!

In the afternoon I attended the workshop presented by Elizabeth Murray, entitled, "When Following the Principalities and Powers Becomes a Call to Conversion".  This was partly about Ms. Murray's own experience, but we also spent a good deal of time in the workshop sharing our own experiences of activism and devising ways to promote activism and social justice in our lives.  I left this workshop humbled by the hundreds of years of combined experience in activism among the attendees, and inspired to become more aware and involved, and to spread the word!  

At the end of the day, we gathered again to share our workshop experiences in small groups.  This was very helpful, as the limited one-day schedule permitted each person to attend (completely) at most two of the eleven workshops.  After we shared our experiences, we had one last consciousness-raising event: the awarding of the [I think annual] Pax Christi Northern California Peacemaker Award, and a short talk by the recipient of the award.  The recipient was Lorrain Franklin-Taylor, the founder of 1000 Mothers to Prevent Violence, a wonderful organization formed to serve families who have been directly impacted by violence.  Ms. Franklin-Taylor told her own story about her twin sons being murdered, which you can find here.  I was, for the umpteenth time that day, speechless with admiration and humbled and energized by the words of a person who is now one of my heroes.  

I left with a renewed commitment to finding ways to become active in social justice efforts here in the Bay Area.  As a start, I am creating this post in hopes that my excitement about the Conference will be contagious and inspire others to become involved!  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Food Justice: Community Gardens and other projects

A friend asked me recently about what I thought was a Community Garden at Dover Park.  I discovered that this garden is run by Phat Beets to benefit the community.  The Garden, known as Healthy Hearts Youth Garden, is an ongoing and evolving project, and the organizers welcome community volunteers who can help out on Wednesdays and Sundays.  There is also breakfast at the garden once a month, and other activities are planned throughout the year.  

More about Community Gardens and some related local resources:

list of Community Gardens in Oakland run by the Oakland Parks and Rec -- the volunteer hours for them are here.

A local organization that is connected to Community Gardening (but has other gardening-related projects as well) is Planting Justice.  I keep running into their volunteers, spreading the word and collecting donations, at Berkeley Bowl.  
  • One of the efforts of Planting Justice is to create a 5-acre farm in El Sobrante. I received a very informative email this week about a work day coming up on Tuesday, September 22, with the focus on building swales*. (Email them at plantjustice@gmail.com or call 510-290-4049 for more info.)  
  • Another project is their collaboration with the Insight Garden Project at San Quentin Prison.  (There are similar programs in other places -- see this article and this one, for some examples.  
  • Planting Justice's "Transform your Yard" program, for people who are interested in back yard gardening but need help getting started, is another of their efforts to weave together many strands to build a better community.

*not a link to PJ, just information about swales.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I just found this blog by a math prof in Minnesota, and wanted to share it with any readers I have who might be interested in math pedagogy and in Talking Math with Kids, about which the same prof has a website.

Just FYI.  And trying to keep track myself for future reference.

Friday, January 02, 2015

My 2014 Lists

[Please check back again soon!  I am in the process of creating and annotating these lists but I'm not at all finished yet...]

Some of my favorite books this year:  
  • Mercy without Borders: The Catholic Worker and Immigration, by Mark and Louise Zwick.  The Zwicks started the Casa Juan Diego House of Hospitality in 1980 in Houston, TX, in response to the flood of homeless refugees from Central America.   This is a powerful story of authentic Christian witness in action and an excellent in-depth discussion and explanation of the connections between poverty, illegal immigration, and fair-trade policies.   
  • Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino, by Joyce Rupp.  Joyce Rupp and a friend walked the Camino de Santiago some years ago, and this book describes in a very readable and beautiful manner what walking the Camino meant to her, and the many valuable lessons she and her friend learned while walking.  The Walk changed her way of living in the world, and reading this book helped me to see ways that I need to grow and change.  
  • *The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie King.  A young woman meets the famous Sherlock Holmes, who is in retirement, and they begin to solve crimes together.  (That's leaving out a lot!) This is the first in a series of books; I can't wait to get started on the next one!
  • *The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, by Tom Rachman
  • All Clear, by Connie Willis (the last book in a trilogy)
  • Land Grabbing: Journeys in the New Colonialism, by Stefano Liberti
  • The Latehomecomer, by Kao Kalia Yang (actually from Dec. 2013 but too good to leave out)
* indicates book on CD -- I do a lot of my "reading" while driving!


A selection of new places I visited in the Bay Area this year:  
    In San Francisco:             Elsewhere
    Baker Beach                           The Botanical Gardens at Tilden Park
    Crissy Field                             The overlooks on Grizzly Peak Rd.  (excellent views of the Bay)
    The Cable Car Museum        Corte Madera and Mill Valley
    Fort Funston Park                 The Oakland Zoo

The list of places I want to visit next year is growing!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Resource list -- current immigration situation/crisis in the U.S.

In response to the lack of solid information (and over-abundance of inflammatory postings) on social media sites, I am in the process of compiling a list of links to reputable sources of information about the immigration crisis and large numbers of child immigrants who are coming to the U.S.  This is not a comprehensive list but should be enough to get a thoughtful person started on a search for the truth behind the stories that are out there...  Please let me know if you have any additions to this list.
[Note: I have, as much as possible, linked not only to the articles themselves, but also to bios of the authors of the articles, so the reader might get some idea of who the author is and why he or she is writing the article.]

No Childhood Here: Why Central American Children are Fleeing Their Homes
A thorough and very recent report by Elizabeth Kennedy, a Fulbright Fellow who has been doing research in this area for a number of years.

Babies in the River: “Urgent Humanitarian Situation,” Part I, by Dawn McCarty, PhD, LMSW
Dawn McCarty, a social worker and professor in Houston, writes from her own experience at the Houston Catholic Worker House, Casa Juan Diego, and from her search in Mexico of the root cause of the mass migration of children and families from Central America. (Part II has not been posted as of this writing, but presumably it will be posted soon at the Houston Catholic Worker website.)

Mission to Central America: The Flight of Unaccompanied Children to the United States
The result of a USCCB-sponsored fact-finding mission in November 2013 to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to find out what the situation is there and what might be behind the greatly increased numbers of people from those countries seeking to get to the U.S.

Unaccompanied Children: Something Is Not Right in our Hemisphere, by Christopher Kerr  (from Ignatian Solidarity Network)

The Facebook page of Misioneros Padre Tomas, a grassroots organization working with youth at risk of gang participation and helping them to get an education.  Of course the children and families who are leaving would prefer to be able to live in their own countries!  This is a great example of a program that is helping children to remain in place and better their lives.

A short BBC story from May, 2014, about violence against children in Honduras

A story in The Guardian about villagers leaving Honduras for the U.S. A q=uote from the article:
"If youths want to go out to play, they kill them … If they want to study, they face threats. It is overwhelming them," said Ana Zelaya, secretary of a rights group in El Salvador that helps relatives of dead and missing migrants.
[How many of us in the U.S. would not take drastic action if our children were threatened with death for wanting to play outside or to study?  And what if our goverment was turning a blind eye to the situation?  Then what?]

Turning away children at the U.S. border who are fleeing poverty and violence in Central America is cruel, by Albor Ruiz An interesting comparison of the current situation and an incident that took place some years ago...

Three Myths about Central American Migration to the United States
More documentation on the situation from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

More mythbusting

More links to some of the problems behind the situation  -- some of the reasons people are desperately leaving Central America and other countries around the world -- can be found in my previous post of June 14, 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Resources on Free Trade and Globalization

In a recent post I made on Facebook, I offered to share some book and web resources with people who might be interested in learning more about the effects of Free Trade Agreements and Globalization on the people of Central and South America, Africa, and other regions around the world.   So, I have to make good on my offer!  This is a work in progress -- I'm still learning, and will be continuing to search for more print and web resources on these issues.  Please send me suggestions!



The two books that have particularly helped me to understand the issues are:

Mark and Louise Zwick, Mercy Without Borders: The Catholic Worker and Immigration. Paulist Press, November 2010
      The Zwicks founded the Houston Catholic Worker House, Casa Juan Diego, in 1980.  This is their story of their journey, but more importantly the journey of the people they serve - primarily refugees from Central and South America who have risked their lives to come to the United States.  Mercy Without Borders is easily one of the top ten books I have ever read.  (Also, the Casa Juan Diego website is an excellent resource, with many links to articles and other sources of information on issues related to the topics of this post.)   

Stefano Liberti, Land Grabbing: Journeys In The New Colonialism. Verso, November 2013 
      Mr. Liberti delves into the background of what is going on with large corporations leasing or buying large tracts of land in countries around the world, and the effect on the local economies and the people of those countries.   (At this writing, I am only part way through the book; I understand he addresses issues in Latin America but I am still on the section about Ethiopia and Africa.) 

I will be continuing to search for more print and web resources on these issues.  Please send me suggestions!


Web Resources:

Their publication, NewsNotes, has helped me become aware of what is really going on in the countries of the world that are most adversely affected by globalization and free trade agreements.  They also report on conflicts in Syria and other countries, the horrible problems faced by the Palestinians and so forth.
Documents like these, full of information gathered from the people on the ground in these countries, can be found in the resources section:

International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF

ELDIS - I am not sure of the agenda of this organization, but it does have a wealth of  information, particularly this article:  

OXFAM (description, from their website: “Oxfam works with partner organizations and alongside vulnerable women and men to end the injustices that cause poverty.” )
NISGUA: The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala
GlobaLex - a resource on the NYU Law School website that has links to the actual text of NAFTA and CAFTA and other legal documents as well as to some analysis of NAFTA and CAFTA.  It appears that most of the latter are from the governmental/corporate perspective, but I haven't made an exhaustive search through the links provided.

* Disclaimer:  I work for Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers (in the Western Region Mission House) and have since October 2012.  I credit Maryknoll, and particularly the Office for Global Concerns and Fr. John “Jack” Moynihan, with raising my consciousness about the devastating effects of globalization and free trade agreements in Central and South America.