A Crucial Catch: Breast Cancer and the NFL

My latest for TNGG — as originally posted here.

Breast Cancer Cupcakes

Whether it is your mom, grandmother, aunt, niece, neighbor, friend, daughter, spouse, or yourself, almost every person knows someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. This is not surprising, as statistics tell us that every three minutes a woman is diagnosed and every 13 minutes a woman dies of breast cancer in this country. These alarming rates have caused an increased call for breast cancer awareness — hence slogans like “I Heart Boobies” and “save the ta-tas” popping up all over. The latest catch phrase to inundate us is “A Crucial Catch” — NFL’s slogan for the month.

The month of October is officially National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) and the NFL is currently in its third season of a partnership with the American Cancer Society. The NFL, teams and players are spreading the word and trying to focus on getting women to know the importance of getting a yearly screening, especially those if you are over 40. Fields have pink ribbons stenciled on them, game balls and coins are turning pink and you can even find pink cleats, towels, gloves and more on the players to spread the message. Not only are they wearing and painting things pink, but all the pink you see is being auctioned off and the proceeds are going to charity.

While the league has been doing this for three years now, some teams, like the Giants, have been supporting the cause for much longer. And they’re not the only ones. Many players in the NFL have been affected by breast cancer and the support comes pouring out from more than just the league. The Redskins’s tight end, Chris Cooley, whose mother is a survivor, works with the team’s community relation department to host the Chris Cooley All-Star Survivors Celebration, an afternoon to give to and support survivors.

But there are still some out there who only see this as a marketing ploy. Our friends over at the Good Men Project think this is purely a way to get more female fans — last year they pointed out that more fans are affected by heart disease than breast cancer. Some females even think this is just a way to show us that we matter. With these skepticisms, I have yet to see an official reason from the NFL to say why they’re doing it. But does it really matter why? They’re doing something great for women (and men) and they are showing us that they haven’t forgotten us. Plus it’s a lot more than we see the NBA, NHL or MLB doing.

What do you think? Whether it’s a marketing ploy or not, does it really matter? Or is the NFL supporting the cause enough that the reason behind it doesn’t matter much?

Bike for a Cause: How an Adventure sparked a Movement

I present my latest piece for TNGG.

“The biggest thing to fear in life is settling and not chasing your dreams,” says Fred Piumelli, 25, of New York City. “Because life is too good not to make things happen.

It all started with six men with six things in common. They’re all recent college grads, they’ve got time on their hands, a sense of adventure, good hearts, a love of biking and they’re all looking for a little more out of life.

The group, consisting of high school classmates and Bentley University swimmers, graduated college in 2008, and decided to take on an adventure most people wouldn’t dream of. They biked across America, partnered with ACCION International, to spread the word about how valuable microfinance is to fighting poverty.

For the non-business minded folk, you are probably asking yourself, what is microfinance? It is a way to give the poor an opportunity to help themselves and promote human rights and human dignity.

As Keith Kolakowski, 25, of Orlando, FL describes it, microfinance is “a fantastic means of progress” for the developing world. “The cool thing is that microfinance isn’t the only sustainable means of helping the poor.” Kolakowski thinks the model is translatable to other forms of generosity and charity. It values empowerment and accountability and personal story, which ascribes worth to people; it acknowledges the universal dignity of being human.

While most of the developing world does not have access to a banking system as we know it, it still have entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs are trying to make money to support their families and communities, but don’t necessarily have the startup capital to do so.

In today’s economy, anyone studying economics or the effects of micro finance can understand just how valuable the concept can be. When the boys graduated from college in May, 2008, they didn’t realize just how soon it would become a necessity to help keep the global economy alive.

After college graduations wrapped up, Mike Belorenzo, Tyler Heishamn, Keith Kolakowski, Fred Piumelli, Bryan Stinchfield and James Watson departed Darien, CT, headed for San Francisco, CA. As they prepared to bike, they raised $34,000 for an ACCION project in Ghana. Their journey lasted only 63 days.

All six knew they shared the same passion to help bring an end to poverty. What they didn’t know was how this ride would change their outlook on life. (And as any good Millennial would do, they blogged their experience along the way.)

As the guys planned their nine -week adventure across the good ol’ U.S. of A., Heishman, 25, recalled that “it seemed selfish to not connect our plans to a broader goal.” They brainstormed ideas and decided on “searching for a charitable cause that we could relate to and thought would have the greatest potential.” Enter microfinance. “The fact that it was fairly unheard of motivated us to become advocates for the cause,” he said.

A group of six guys biking across the country with just the packs on their backs and not even a help van seems, well, “ludicrous,” as Kolakowski puts it. While he was looking for a ludicrous adventure, Kolakowski also wanted “to do it for the very poor of the earth, who deserve a dignified helping hand.”

While Kolakowski set out peddling for an adventure, he got an experience that taught him so much more. “We received an amazing experiential education in American culture, American hospitality, and American spirit of people when we would tell them what we were doing, and they instantly wanted to be part of it.”

Kolakowski isn’t as active with the cause today, but he’s excited that microfinance is gaining in popularity in the mainstream.

It’s becoming such a mainstream thing that Bryan Stinchfield, 25, has recently left the states, and his job, to join the Peace Corps in Madagascar as a Small Enterprise Development Volunteer. Stinchfield now works “with small groups of fisherman, weavers and farmers trying to educate them on money management and entrepreneurship while encouraging the use of [micro-finance] if, and only if, they understand the terms of the agreement upfront.”

Looking back, Stinchfield sees the trip as “a chance to reflect on our lives, when up to that point the only thing we had been accustomed to doing was being a sponge within the great educational system of America. We finally had an opportunity to give back in term of begin a teacher instead of a student on the journey.”

The bikers’ journey didn’t end in San Francisco. Not only has Stinchfield taken to keeping the cause alive, but so has MicroBike USA. Today, just as the original crew put together their ride, anyone can take on a ride of their choice of length to ride for the cause.

These guys wanted an adventure. They began a movement.

What have you done to make an impact on today’s society?

Photos by MicroBikeUSA, Michael Kuhn.

Millennials & Charity Work

As you probably know, I write for a site TNGG. This article was originally written for them, but instead became the inspiration for my new themed articles that will be coming out about once a month on Millennials and charity work.

“It’s not how much money you make or whether you’re able to gain the approval of your peers. Inspiring hope by aiding those lacking the very essentials we take for granted every day is something that actually makes a constructive impact not only to yourself but to those impacted by your generosity. Only through helping those less fortunate than yourself can a person truly gain perspective on how lucky they really are.” — Mary June Olson

Mary, 25, volunteers with Denver’s Habitat for Humanity because she believes that “far too often members of our generation lack perspective on what really matters in life at the end of the day,” and she wants to make a difference. Olson is not the only millennial working with charities and helping raise money to make our world, and the world our children will live in one day, a better place.

Millennials are stepping up and volunteering in many ways to give back to the community as a whole. The number of volunteers for the Peace Corps and Teach for America has increased since the economy took a turn for the worse, but even millennials in college and the working world are volunteering daily around the world. A very common cause that millennials, and everyone, supports is cancer, but there are other smaller charities and causes that we support as well.

If we’re talking smaller, let’s talk micro — micro finance that is. As many business people, and anyone who studies the effects micro finance can have on the economy, know, this is a spectacular cause, especially these days. Little did a group of 2008 grads realize just how important micro finance would become as they graduated college in May 2008 and embarked on a 9-week trek to travel across the US by bicycle.

The group partnered with ACCION International to spread the word about how valuable micro finance was to fight poverty. When asked why they decided to undertake this challenge, Tyler Heishman, one of the creators of the plan says “the fact that it was fairly unheard of motivated us to become advocates for the cause, and we really liked the sustainable model that many organizations were striving for.”

Tyler and his friends aren’t the only crazy millennials biking the country to raise money and awareness. Every year since 2002, 25 college students bike from Baltimore to San Fransisco for the Hopkins 4K. Biking 4,000 miles may seem daunting to most, but the experience to help support such a great cause has left some wanting to bike 4,000 miles twice! The summer of 2007 Greg Gotimer “did not know what to expect from the trip and only hoped that (he) would be able to make a difference in the life of someone who was battling cancer. What (he) was not expecting was the magnitude of support we would get throughout the country for (the) ride.” That support left him wanting more — another 4,000 miles the following summer as well.

Not all of us have the time it takes to dedicate to training and biking across the US, but we’re going out to support good causes on our feet as well. More and more people are running marathons to support causes. Tim Loher ran the Boston Marathon in 2010 for two reasons. One, because he “wanted to achieve something that (he) never thought (he) would be able to do. Having never run more than 4 or 5 miles at a time, 26.2 seemed unfathomable.” And two, because he ran for the Boston Fund for Parks & Recreation to raise money for a program to help keep Boston teens off the streets by giving them “a source of income and the pride and self-respect that comes from holding a job.” Running the marathon and raising money for a cause left Tim with one of his greatest memories from his life.

The support that Greg felt biking across the States and the sense of accomplishment that Tim felt crossing the finish line are similar to what so many others feel when they are doing something for a good cause. Millennials have found other ways to reach out and give back as well. Specifically through mentoring and working with the younger generations. Organizations like Big Brother/Big Sister, Mentoring USA and the Mentoring Partnership of New York provide great places for millennials to get hands-on with the younger generations and help give back. Kristina Sorfozo mentors with Prime Time Through Urban Impact in Connecticut as a way to use her talents to “to love on these kids, break racial barriers and to teach them that love and correct conflict resolution wins outs in the end.” While these ideals seem simple enough to pass along to the younger generations, it’s a goal many of us have seem fit to take on ourselves.

How have you gone out to make a difference for tomorrow?