Featuring a local Cape Cod woman giving back to those who have been isolating for medical reasons with a fun outdoor activity, a Quincy Police Officer who surprised a local family with a very special pizza delivery, and of course your weekly motivation with JT’s Positive 5!
When I was a little girl, Disney Princesses Jasmine & Ariel were ALWAYS my favorite. Growing up, everyone I knew had their own favorite character and while so much has changed in the world around us, this happy slice of childhood has remained the same for little ones growing up in today’s world. That’s what inspired Alyssa Banks, founder of The Princess Program Foundation, to find a way to bring ill children’s beloved favorite characters to life during a time of great need. Filling the hallways & patient rooms of local hospitals with joy, Banks and her team work to bring princesses like Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, and so many others to the bedsides of little patients. “I got this idea by volunteering with children battling serious illnesses, and I saw the way it affected them and their families and I wanted to make a difference in their world.” Yet with the global pandemic still looming, it’s become a challenge to continue her mission. “With the current world situation, we aren’t able to physically go into hospitals and visit children,” explains Banks. That’s why today, a $5 donation will go not only towards continuing to support the work of the Princess Program Foundation to help them continue their work, but also enter you to win this adorable custom Princess Program Foundation teddy bear for your favorite little one in your life! Here’s how to win:
- Donate $5 to The Princess Program Foundation here: https://princessprogram.foundation/
- Be sure to follow @princessprogramfoundation and @realEmmalynReid on Instagram!
Watch this video below to learn more and see the Princesses in action!
HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY WEEK!!! For those of you who don’t know, the Fourth of July is my absolute FAVORITE holiday of the year. Why?
It’s the one day a year where we all truly come together united as a country, take advantage of the warm weather and spend time with our family and friends. While this year may look different due to Coronavirus and we’re not celebrating in a normal fashion, I believe more than any other year this holiday is SO incredibly important as we take time to reflect on how we can be better as a nation. We are lifting up the voices of our fellow Americans as we not only just celebrated pride month, but to do our part to support the #BlackLivesMatter movement. We as a nation have work to do, and it’s going to take change to truly make us “indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.”
That being said, I couldn’t think of a better time to launch my new GIVEAWAY CAMPAIGN to benefit a local U.S. charity every Tuesday (think #GivingTuesday) and I’m kicking it off in support of FMP Production’s Social Distance Dash 2.0. By pledging to the charity of your choice (they have 13 to choose from!), you can not only run to receive a medal, help out a local charity, but also be entered to win this #BornToRun t-shirt! Check out my video below to learn how to win 🙂
Maybe she’s your co-worker that you know has a ton going on at home. Maybe she’s your mother or your sister, who you watch work hard on the front lines all day. Maybe she’s a friend who’s been home trying to raise her children, work from home, and be a school teacher to them all at once (and still manage to get food cooked and on the table!). Whoever she is, that woman in your life that you just keep thinking, ‘She needs a break!’: here’s your chance to give her one in the form of a gift card to Fashion Fun Pop.
Founder Ariel Koonce Fortes says the program, “Nominate Her”, started by chance when an old friend offered a donation to her small fashion boutique of $100 to keep things going after they were forced to close their doors due to COVID-19. “A friend reached out and was like, ‘Ariel, I know it’s not a lot, but I’d like to somehow donate $100 your way towards the business,” Ariel explained. While she was grateful for the donation to keep her boutique running, the pair immediately knew there was something larger they could do with this donation. “I started thinking, you know what, let’s throw it out to the community and have everyone say, I would like to nominate this person for a gift card. We find so many women in (our store) who just boost each other up during the events we have, share their stories and tell about their work, there’s so many connections made – and then COVID-19 hit. So it was a blow to the business, yes, but also to all those women who had been connecting with each other and loving on each other and boosting each other up, that now found themselves not having that space to connect. “
How does it work? The “Nominate Her” program is a no questions asked contest where you simply email a name and story to firstname.lastname@example.org . From there names will be put into a basket, and every Saturday evening Ariel and her young children will shuffle them and select a name. “You don’t have to share their personal information, just let us know who you’d like to nominate. The point is, we’d like to put smiles on these women’s faces.”
Outside of nominating a woman for a donation, you can also give a gift card to sponsor the next batch of giveaways, you can do that as well. Ariel’s own children have even stepped up in an adorable way to sponsor the next giveaway with their birthday money, a choice that she says makes her proud as a parent. “They heard what Mommy and Daddy were doing, and know they get to save half and spend half of their birthday money. My son came to me and said, ‘Me and Bella, we talked, and we want to give a $20 gift certificate’.”
Who are donations like these going to? Ariel described one entry she received that she says has been stuck on her mind every week. “A mom nominated daughter, who is a nurse on a COVID 19 unit and also she has 3 kids at home. She also has a part time job where she works at a nursing home,” Ariel explained. “She must go to work every day in anxiety, you know, ‘I don’t want to bring this home, I have to be super careful’, all the thoughts going through her head…then it’s the mental aspect of seeing these patients: Do they make it, do they not?” Stories like these have lead Ariel to, despite not even having met most of the nominees in person due to the pandemic, continue have personal relationships with her clients the same way she would if her doors were open. “I found myself praying for this woman, please let her win. She didn’t get nominated that week, but we keep the names for the random drawing every week and now that I know her name, I’m praying for her.”
To learn more about Fashion Fun Pop or shop online, visit their website at fashionfunpop.com and check out the full video below!
To say “it’s been a tough week” would be an understatement. Our nation has mourned the lives of many of our black brothers and sisters that have been taken from this world far too soon, far too long after a change protecting their lives should have come. While a bill is in progress to create change (click here for the Justice In Policing Act of 2020), racism is something that truly starts-and can end-at home. In our own home, I’ve spent this week documenting local protests, educating myself by watching movies like Selma (yup, I cried through 90% of the film), reaching out to local organizations such as the Black Lives Matter Boston chapter & @BlackOwnedBos on Instagram to learn how I can help uplift those that need it the very most right now, and reading my Bible. In doing so as a Christian woman, one message has kept repeating over and over to me all week : John 15:17. “This is my commandment: Love each other.” This week specifically, I wanted to hunt down an organization that celebrates this message, as the world cannot change until we look at ourselves individually and choose to change for the better. It was perfectly fitting that this week, I spoke with Mabel Valenzuela of House of Mercy in Lawrence: a woman who changed her life completely, dedicating it to uplifting the lives of others.
Looking on the House of Mercy website in doing research for today’s interview, I was nearly speechless at the amount of services they offered. From offering daily breakfast & lunch to clothing, a place to shower, health care and spiritual services, there is no basic need that goes ignored for those most desperate for it. When asked how the events of recent weeks from the pandemic to those on the front lines protesting in support of #BlackLivesMatter, Valenzuela had a positive response. “Because (our members) feel all equally treated, it’s not a subject that has come up to us. We don’t look at the race, and we try for them not to look at us as a race, as far as a human being: that’s what we are!” she explains. Yet the responsibility is on more than just saying all lives are equal: it is the action you take in your homes, in your hearts, and in the way you treat others in public. “You should have that respect all the time. It’s the message that needs to be sent for everyone, especially for the youth, is that everyone is equal and that we should not look at each person based on that skin color. Because that doesn’t define a human being.” This state of mind by all who enter House of Mercy has created a contagiously positive environment, Valenzuela says, that has made it so “you can’t tell the difference between who’s here for help and who is a volunteer.” That is the way, she says, that it’s supposed to be.
While the Coronavirus outbreak has had an impact on their services in term of limiting numbers of showers, creating a more socially distant way of serving their meals (currently, they are offering 500 meals a day on top of offering a food pantry) and has impacted their daily functionality, the need has remained the same. The most important need at this time, she says, is having someone to listen and guide those in the greatest need of direction or maybe just someone to talk to that can guide members on their path to improving their quality of life. “You become like a mother; it’s like seeing a kid growing,” she explains of the rewarding and unique experience available to those that come in to help others. “One of the couples, when they first came in, I was like, ‘Oh my God, they were about to die!’. They were extremely skinny and extremely damaged, and we took the time we sat with them and said, ‘What do you guys need to be able to come out of the streets?’ And they talked about their experiences in life.” This simple action was the first step in helping this couple to where they are today, living an entirely different life. “We helped them through finding a job, we sent them to a rehab. Now they have an apartment, they are working, they are stable. And just seeing those changes is very rewarding.”
To see my full interview with Mabel, watch the video below. To donate to House of Mercy, or if you would like to sign up to be someone to listen, visit their website at https://www.houseofmercylawrence.com/.
When Olivia Achtmeyer Boger was 20 years old, she experienced the heartbreaking loss of her mother to cancer – a battle she didn’t even know the strongest woman in her life was fighting. Her mother had elected to hide the fact that she was in the fight of her life from her children so they wouldn’t worry about her, a selfless decision that Olivia says inspired her to create the very foundation today that helps other families in need. “My mom was an exceptionally wonderful mother, and also a very private person. She fought breast cancer for 10 years without really telling anybody! When she passed away in 2001, I was one of four kids and we didn’t even really know that she had as serious an experience with breast cancer as she did. ”
While Olivia at first didn’t know where to begin in honoring her mother’s legacy, she knew she had to do something. “I wanted to start an organization that celebrated that essence of childhood that she fought so hard for herself,” she explains. At a Red Sox game talking with friends who owned local boutique clothing shop Maggie Taylor several years later, Olivia received her opportunity. “I had become really close friends with some people in Concord who owned their own clothing boutique and offered the clothes to be modeled as a fundraiser. Instead of finding professional models, we asked people who had survived breast cancer or had somebody in their life pass away from it be our models.” Open to all who wish to attend, the event holds a special meaning for anyone who has lost a loved one to or battled breast cancer. “You know, you could be at the end of your breast cancer journey, you could be in the middle of it, you could have just lost your mom, or your mom could have passed away 15 years ago. It kinda gives everybody a night to remember, celebrate and reflect.”
What started as a one-time event, Runway for Recovery is now celebrating its 13th year of raising money for families whose caregiver has passed away from cancer. “While many breast cancer organizations look to find the cure,” the company’s slogan reads, “I am looking to find ways to help those families for whom the cure does not come in time.” From helping families pay for a child’s extracurricular activities to providing tutoring & therapy services or sending a child to camp, Olivia’s mission is centered around wraparound services that “allow kids to be kids”. “We are financially taking the place of what a mother’s paycheck would have been paying for if she was still alive,” she explains, and believes each family the organization is able to help honors her mother’s own mission in life.
To learn more about Runway For Recovery, visit their website at https://runwayforrecovery.org/ or check out this video below!:
When Natasha Verma was in the thick of her fight with stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, she began to notice changes in her image. As her eyelashes, eyebrows, and hair began to disappear, she became desperate for a solution to help her feel like her strong, beautiful self through her battle. For Natasha, that started with finding a good wig. Yet the solution wasn’t as easy as she thought. “I couldn’t find a wig that I liked, and they’re expensive. They can be itchy and stuffy, or the hairline doesn’t look right. A real hair, nice wig, costs thousands of dollars.” Natasha turned to a synthetic wig that was a bit more reasonable, but noticed quickly if she applied any heat or got it wet, it was ruined. – which meant no styling or washing, and that definitely did not feel like the sense of normalcy she had been hoping to achieve. What she did find worked was putting a baseball cap on top of her wig. With the hairline hidden, she thought: why don’t we start making these? That’s when the Verma Foundation was born.
The Verma Foundation provides real hair cap wigs to cancer patients at no cost that are soft and comfortable while also manageable enough to be styled and washed. Launched in 2017, the family-lead foundation managed by Natasha’s brother, sister, and parents has provided close to 900 cap wigs to survivors nationwide thanks to donations from sponsors. Working as a family, Natasha says, is critical. “Cancer is a family affair. When one person fights, we all fight and it affected all of us – my family saw the impacts of hair loss and it’s devastating.”
“We’re still operating during the pandemic because a lot of patients don’t have resources to get wigs, and they’re losing their hair. Cancer doesn’t stop because of this pandemic, and women still need a resource.” From the time the pandemic started up until now, between 70-80 cap wigs have been donated by the Foundation.
One of those recipients of a custom-made wine colored velvet cap wig is a woman named Aurora, whose story touched Natasha. “Aurora reached out to me wanting a cap wig. I was on the phone with her talking to her and she was-much like I once was-really scared and just very unsure of what chemo held; what her future held.” These are the Verma Foundation founder remembered all too well. “I said, ‘This cap wig is going to help you on those tough days and then your hair is going to grow back, and it’s just going to be a beautiful reminder of everything you went through and how tough you are.'”
Aurora’s response that came next reminded Natasha of why the Verma Foundation is staying strong through this pandemic. “She said she ‘has arrived’ when she put the wig on,” smiled Natasha as she told the story. “It reminded her of who she was and I think that’s something that a lot of cancer patients like myself struggled with. You feel like sometimes cancer rips away your identity when you lose your hair.”
How can you help give someone that “I have arrived!” feeling? By making a donation to VermaFoundation.org, you are doing exactly that. Now more than ever these donations are critical, two of their largest fundraisers of the year held in Boston & Texas have just announced their cancellations due to the global pandemic. “We need the help now,” says Natasha. “There’s nothing normal about cancer. Your whole life turns upside down and your whole schedule and your life is revolved around fighting for your life. The cap wig brings back that sense of normalcy, and confidence. When you give a woman a cap wig you are giving her hope ,strength, confidence, and the power to lift up her head, and keep fighting.”
A couple’s wedding day is one they look forward to from the moment they realize they’ve found “the one”. The months (or for many couples, years) of planning leading up to the big day can be a whirlwind of emotions from excitement at the moment of proposal & celebrating milestones in selecting the perfect vendors, to the more stressful times in juggling family emotions, vendor contracts, finances, and somehow staying on the same page with your significant other. Yet no couple could have possible prepared for the shock of a global pandemic changing every detail they’ve worked so hard to perfect. For those couples going through the heartbreaking decision of cancelling, postponing or drastically changing the happiest day of their lives, it can take a heavy emotional toll. That’s where one wedding planner saw she had an opportunity to help.
When I first met Sandy Brooks of Timeless Event Planning on the steps of the Harborview Hotel in Edgartown, I somehow felt that I had not just hired a wedding planner, but was about to make a good friend. As we casually sipped mimosas overlooking Lighthouse Beach where my husband & my engagement photos were taken, Sandy and I went over every detail of what our dream wedding day would look like. By the end of our conversation, it was impossible to imagine that just an hour before our new wedding planner had been a total stranger and there was no doubt in my mind that she was the person I trusted to guide our wedding planning journey.
While you’d never know it based on the personal attention she gives to each and every client to make your wedding the only one just like mine did, Sandy Brooks had 12 weddings booked for 2020. Yet with the Coronavirus pandemic forcing the cancellation or postponement or all major events, the bi-coastal wedding planner is now down to just four left on the books: and she understands better than anyone how painful her clients’ decisions to cancel or postpone have truly been. Engaged to be married herself June 20th, 2020 on Martha’s Vineyard, Sandy too had that difficult decision to make. “I have a different perspective on what I think is going to happen because I am a bride-to-be myself,” she explains. “I’m living everything as well and so for me, it’s about my business, but it’s also about being fair to my clients.” With her wedding date right around the corner, Sandy knew that not only she but all of her other brides would have to act fast.” The second I moved my wedding, I promised my July brides I’d call them first and explain my decision and why. Even if the ban is lifted, there will most likely be restrictions on events and we just can’t see us having the wedding we have been creating the past two years. My fiance’s family, groomsmen and friends are coming from CA which makes us worried. His parents are 70 years old and my dad has been sick the past ten years, making this decision even harder.”
As she has been navigating the re-booking of her own wedding while continuing to guide her clients, Sandy began to receive message after message with brides-to-be all asking the same question: What do we do? “There’s a lot of brides on the island that were getting married on our same weekend, and people asked how I made my decision.” While normally consulting a wedding planner is a paid service, Sandy found she couldn’t turn away from the brides’ cries for help. “The first thing I had to ask is: Do you have a wedding planner? I didn’t want to step on any toes!” she explained. “I wanted to be a friend to these girls because if they can’t even afford a wedding planner, who do you come to? Your photographer or florist might have an answer of what they think based on their business, but I’m actually engaged and going through this with all my vendors, too.”
So, what advice did she give? “It’s really important to make a backup plan early and ask vendors to put a soft hold on those dates as couples will not only be competing with 2021 brides for dates, but other 2020 couples that are forced to reschedule,” explains Sandy, who was heartbroken to learn that one of her selected vendors wouldn’t be available for her new date once she rescheduled. Not only can it be stressful emotionally to lose a vendor, but there’s also the task of re-sending the stationary, re-working the guest list to adapt to any changes in who may or may not now be able to attend-all while facing any fees involved with these changes. Fees, Sandy says, can be a touchy subject with couples already spending a fortune on their dream day. Thankfully, Sandy has the unique perspective of both a bride and a vendor to help explain why some charges make sense-and others don’t. “My industry is suffering so much, which is why people are trying to keep their September and fall weddings in place,” she explains of how vendors are losing money as cancellation after cancellation of their summer events roll in. “Some want to keep waiting and waiting, but I think just being really honest on your perspective and having a plan will put their minds at ease.” For one of Sandy’s clients, a vendor had refused to move an already set wedding date. Yet suddenly, a grant became available and all move fees were able to be waived. While it can be frustrating to understand as a couple already experiencing a worst-case wedding scenario of a mandated cancellation, Sandy knows that while some clients can’t afford the extra fees, vendors are scrambling to salvage the little business they can. “I know what it feels like, so it’s really hard for me because I have to explain to my clients why they have to charge. Many vendors will need to pick up side jobs if this doesn’t end soon. Most of us live paycheck to paycheck. we are just coming out of our off-season and were really needing these events to survive.” The good news for brides? Some companies that are in a position to help are being very understanding, such as printing companies offering complimentary postcards to send out to guests with the new dates. “There are vendors out there that don’t just want money. I love talking to people and hearing stories, and telling mine. It’s a really hard time that people are going through.”
Being such a heavy subject, the reactions from those Sandy has talked to have been “extremely understandable,” she says. “The first bride I had to move, I got on the phone and she was like, ‘Wait your texts aren’t bubbly, whats going on?’ We talked it out, and she wanted to move the dates so I came to her with a plan. At first she was fine, but then she started bawling so I just knew we had to say ‘Okay, grab a glass of wine, we are going to do this together!’ ” How has Sandy advised her brides to cope with this stress? “You have to take it week by week. Start making guests lists of 50 people, then 100 people as there could be social gathering restrictions. Ask yourself, would even be the wedding you would want?” Yet moving the dates isn’t for everyone. For some brides, Sandy says, a 2020 wedding is taking on a whole new form. “Know that you can still get legally married this year, and party the following. One of my brides is also a wedding planner, and they decided to do a styled elopement in Palm Springs,” she explains. “Have your day to bawl your eyes out about these changes, make brownies, then the following morning make coffee and make a list of ten positive things happening in your life. You WILL get through this!!”
“How can I say thank you?”
It’s a question many of us have asked ourselves lately as we’ve watched our friends, family members, and so many others step up to save those fighting against the deadly Coronavirus. For each day a healthcare professional walks into their workplace, they do so to care for those who can no longer care for themselves only to leave at the end of their day exhausted mentally and physically, drained from a day of saving lives. For each and every one of them, we are a grateful nation. Yet how do you thank someone for doing a hero’s work? For one local Framingham woman, that answer was to donate her talent to create a special gift to be given by the grateful to those who deserve a reason to smile at the end of their day.
Trisha, the Founder of SDesign Jewelry that is handmade in Framingham, started her journey many years ago after discovering a new passion while running a successful boutique. “I began making jewelry for charities, and that kind of spun itself into something a little bit larger,” she explains. “As that was happening, my daughter was getting bigger and I thought, you know what I think I’m going to for now close the store and I’m going to for now make my jewelry company as big as I can while I was a stay a t home mom taking care of my child.” S Design, named after her daughter, was born.
While her work today has kept her incredibly busy, Trisha couldn’t help but notice as heroes day in and day out left their homes and families to help fight on the front lines of the Coronavirus outbreak-and knew she had to do something to help. So, she did what she does best: she got to work designing the perfect gift to not only give back herself, but encourage others to submit their own heroes to receive a gift. “I released our COVID 19 Strong bracelet program. We have a “Share Your Hero” tab on our website because number one, we want to know who YOU want us to donate to,” Trisha explains. “It’s really a spiritual armor bracelet initiative, and for every bracelet purchase a bracelet is donated to a local hero.”
What does the bracelet look like? A stunning sterling-silver bracelet, hematite was selected as the featured accent detail thanks to its reputation for healing qualities. “Hematite helps to absorb negative energy and be calming in times of stress or anxiety. It is widely coveted as a protective stone known for stabilizing a person’s energy with its grounding force and turning negative energy into positive vibrations to create hope.”
Even the packaging for the bracelet is unique, and has been designed specifically for the hero receiving it with a card thanking them for their service and reminding them that each bead serves as a pillar of strength to support them throughout their day: Community, Resilience, Courage, and Compassion. For those who opt to purchase the piece for themselves, a “COVID-19 STRONG” message is sent thanking the wearer and reminding them that their purchase has supported the donation of another piece to a local hero. From classic black and white boxes with bows to soft drawstring bags and even a glass case, the packaging itself is nearly as impressive as the pieces. Trisha says that’s for a reason: she specifically hand-picks the packaging based on the piece and to whom it is going.
Want to see what her work looks like? Check out my full video below to see an unboxing of S Design’s STUNNING pieces, and visit her website www.sdesignjewelry.com to nominate a local hero (and maybe get one for yourself, too!):
“It’s really a spiritual armor bracelet initiative, and for every bracelet purchase a bracelet is donated to a local hero. When we package it to go to the hero, we package it differently. ecaucse the most important thing tjhey need to know is that their braceltt was given to them by a grateful memeber of their community.