Monthly Archives: October 2011

Dads Make a Difference

Today just happens to be my dad’s birthday!  My dad has been a great influence in my life – always encouraging me to be my best and to do what I enjoy.  My dad has made a huge difference in my life, so I thought it was appropriate to profile the Dads Make a Difference organization on his birthday.

The mission of Dads Make a Difference is to promote the positive involvement of fathers and to educate youth about responsible parenting.  They focus on the role of fathers in raising children; they educate young men and women about the emotional, physical, and financial responsibilities of having children and the challenges of becoming a parent before they are ready.  Healthy fatherhood complements and supports healthy motherhood and provides children with a rich experience and understanding of life.  Young people who understand parental responsibility are more likely to form strong families that are emotionally and financially secure, in turn these families become backbone of productive, nurturing communities.

In 1993, Dads Make a Difference was started collaboratively by the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota, the Family Tree Clinic of Saint Paul, Minnesota, the University of Minnesota Extension and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office when a group of women came together to discuss their common concerns.  The first outcome was focus groups with local 9th and 10th grade students which revealed that some teens did not make the connection between sexual activity and potential parenting.  The teens also lacked basic knowledge about the importance of paternity.  Other prevention curriculum was reviewed and information about males being important parents and planning to be a prepared and capable parent was missing.  So, with assistance from a consultant, the group developed Dads Make a Difference – a four lesson curriculum with video designed to be taught by trained high school age youth to middle school age youth in school and community settings.  In 1998, the “R Factor” curriculum was developed to reach young adults between ages 16 and 20. 

The University of Minnesota Extension administered Dads Make a Difference until February 2003 and then Concordia University in Saint Paul took over until 2006.  At that time a Dads Make a Difference Advisory Committee was formed and they became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit. 

Dads Make a Difference has trained almost 3,000 teen per educators from 169 schools and community agencies across the state of Minnesota.  In turn, these teens have taught the curriculum to about 72,000 middle school age youth in urban, suburban and rural settings.  In addition, 56 adults have been trained to teach the “R Factor” curriculum and have reached 1,850 high school students with the program.  Organization staff have also reached 1,755 youth in juvenile correction settings.  

Nationally, Dads Make a Difference has trained 205 teens from states including Massachusetts, Maryland, Oklahoma, California, Iowa, Wisconsin, and North Dakota.  They also have an international presence, having sold curriculum to Canada, the Bahamas, and Japan. 

So, how can you help?

Dads Make a Difference is implemented in local communities using volunteer teen peer educators and their adult advisors who have been trained to teach the Dads Make a Difference curriculum.  Dads Make a Difference has only one paid staff, so they utilize volunteer interns in the office to help with a variety of tasks including marketing, outreach, general office work, and training preparations.  Another opportunity to volunteer is as a member of the Board of Directors.

You can also make a monetary donation though the Dads Make a Difference page at

You can learn more about Dads Make a Difference at their website, or connect with them on Facebook.   You can also find a “Be There: Dads Matter” program shown on Twin Cities Public Television online through the Minnesota Video Vault at  

In addition, here some more facts about fatherhood provided by Dads Make a Difference:

  • Research shows children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers (Father Facts: Fourth Edition).
  • In most cases, children born outside of marriage live with their mothers.  If fathers don’t also live with them, their presence in the child’s life is often marginal, and even if actively involved for a time, the father-child relationship tends to be fragile over time (Responsible Fathering).
  • Statistics show that 80% of all Americans become parents. 
  • Research shows that the economic impact of teen pregnancy and father absence on children and families is significant.  A common consequence of father’s absence is a major decrease in the financial resources available to his children (Young Fathers). 
  • Two-thirds of families begun by young unmarried mothers are poor (National Campaign to Prevention Teen Pregnancy, analysis of Current Population survey), and almost 50% of all teen mothers, and over 75% of unmarried teen mothers, began receiving welfare within five years of the birth of their first child (U.S. Congressional Budget Office).
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Posted by on October 26, 2011 in Nonprofit Organization


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Volunteering in America

I recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions to Robert Velasco, the acting CEO of Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). This isn’t an organization or volunteer profile, but it does give you a glimpse at a recent study on volunteerism in America.  I hope you enjoy!

The Blogunteer: What trends are you seeing in volunteerism?

Robert Velasco: First of all, thank you for the opportunity to share with your readers why service and volunteering are so important to our country. The biggest takeaway from this year’s Volunteering in America research was Americans’ enduring commitment to use service to solve critical problems in their communities. From education to disaster relief to helping our veterans and military families, Americans are making a real difference. Last year, 62.8 million adults volunteered, contributing a total of more than 8 billion hours of service valued at nearly $173 billion to communities and the nation last year, using Independent Sector’s estimate of the dollar value of volunteer time.

The Blogunteer: What types of organizations are the most popular – for example an organization that serves one cause or an organization that benefits many different causes?

Robert Velasco: Across all regions, age groups, and genders, we’re seeing that people tend to volunteer – and stick with volunteering – when they’re focused on an issue that they care about and when they can see first-hand the impact they are making.  Most volunteers (35.0%) serve through religious institutions, which engage on a broad range of issues. Volunteers also frequently serve in education (26.7%), social services (14.0%) and hospitals (8.4%).

The Blogunteer: Are there certain age groups that volunteer at higher percentages than others?

Robert Velasco: One of the interesting findings from this year’s report was that Generation X – that is, Americans born from 1965 to 1981 – were among the most likely to volunteer. The data shows that in their younger years of 1989, Generation X members had an unusually low volunteering rate; however, they have increased their engagement dramatically. According to this year’s findings, 20.1 million members of Generation X served in 2010, providing 2.3 billion hours of service, an increase of almost 110 million hours over 2009. Moreover, Generation X members more than doubled their volunteer rate between 1989 and the present day, from 12.3 percent in 1989 to 29.2 percent in 2010.

This ties back into what researchers are seeing across the “volunteer lifecycle”—the arc of civic involvement that tends to increase as citizens feel a deeper connection to their communities through personal networks, their workplace, and their children’s schools.

The Blogunteer: In what ways do people tend to give back the most (money, in kind donations, or giving their time)?

Robert Velasco: The top four service activities we saw nationally were fundraising (26.5%); food collection, preparation, and distribution (23.5%); general labor or transportation (20.3%); and tutoring or teaching (18.5%). The full report is available online at so you can learn more about volunteering trends for your city, state, region, age group, and gender.


The Blogunteer: Did the study dig into what motivates individuals to volunteer?

Robert Velasco: Although this particular report doesn’t ask what motivates individuals to volunteer, other research has found that a big part of the answer is incredibly simple: People want their service to have an impact, to be meaningful, to make a difference.  We have also learned that volunteering is less a matter of how much time you have, but how you choose to spend your time.  Working mothers, for example, have the highest volunteer rates.   Finally, people volunteer when they are asked – by their friends, family, or coworkers – so social networks are an important driver of volunteer rates.

The Blogunteer: What is the most surprising finding from the study?

Robert Velasco: In addition to the finding about the increase in volunteer rates by Generation X, the research also found interesting patterns about volunteering by older adults.  The peak years for volunteering generally tend to occur between the mid-thirties to early forties. The volunteer rate then declines as volunteers grow older, but the decline in volunteer rates in older adulthood has become less severe over time. Some researchers believe this reflects the fact that more Americans are staying healthier longer and that volunteering has become a more recognized strategy for staying healthy in older adulthood. This reflects a larger idea about service – that service give back as much to the volunteer as it does to the direct beneficiary. Volunteers hone their skills, connect to their communities, make friends, and experience the joy and satisfaction that comes from serving others.

The Blogunteer: Any other information you would like to share with The Blogunteer?

Robert Velasco: There is no set profile of a volunteer. Whether you are introverted or extroverted, whether you like computers or art or the outdoors or cooking, whether you are 12 or 80, whether you have an hour per month or hours per day to volunteer, there is a service opportunity that is right for you. I ask everyone to go to, type in your zip code, and see how you can volunteer in your community. Thank you.

Robert Velasco, II, was designated Acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS)by President Obama on May 27, 2011. CNCS is the federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in results-driven service through its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs, and leads President Obama’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve. 


Posted by on October 19, 2011 in Other


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Sweet Dreams for Kids

I have only spent the night in a hospital twice – one time for the birth of each of my children.  The pajamas that they provided were not comfortable – I prefer a stretchy pajama that moves with me as I toss and turn in the night.  Today’s organization understands that hospital pajamas are not just uncomfortable, but they are also a sign of sickness.

Sweet Dreams for Kids is a non-profit organization started in 2008 by the Berezovsky family.  They are based in Minneapolis, Minnesota with a mission collect and donate new, cute, cozy, and comfortable sleepwear to children in the hospital.  According to Wendy Berezovsky, “I started Sweet Dreams for Kids, after my youngest, who is now eight years old, was born with cancer.  I knew I wanted to do something to help bring a little bit of comfort to other families going through difficult medical situations.”

So, why pajamas?  When Wendy was in the hospital’s oncology floor with her youngest child, she had time to think.  She felt a need to do something good, something to put a smile on the faces of the kids there.  When I asked about the founding of the organization Wendy told me, “Every time I looked at my little girl in those hospital pajamas, it was that constant reminder that she was sick.  It is an unbelievable change when you put cute, cozy, and comfortable pajamas on kids in the hospital; the difference is amazing.  Unfortunately, it does not make their tough medical situation go away, but my hope is it makes them feel a little bit more like every other kid.  Kids at home are tucked in bed with pajamas that they pick out, and I believe kids in the hospital should be able to do that as well.”

Sweet Dreams for Kids

The Berezovsky family held their first pajama party in December 2008 at their children’s school.  Wendy stated, “It is so amazing to see your own kids and their friends so excited about helping other kids.”  Since that first party, they have donated over 10,000 pairs of pajamas to hospitals locally and around the United States as of August 2013.    The family wants kids to feel the comfort of home, even when they are in the hospital.  They hope to bring a little extra smile to the children and hope it makes a difference in their recovery.

During one visit to a hospital to drop off a donation, Wendy heard a little girl screaming.  In the room, she saw the girl’s mom and a nurse right by her bed.  When they explained that Wendy was bringing her a new pair of pajamas, the girl stopped crying and calmed immediately.  Wendy says she gets so happy when she walks into her basement and sees it filled with pajamas ready to deliver.  She smiles knowing that each pair of pajamas means one child in the hospital will hopefully be smiling a little more.

Sweet Dreams for Kids collects new pajamas for kids from birth to teenagers.  They have a vision to fill every children’s hospital with pajamas for kids to choose from.  Volunteer opportunities include hosting a pajama party, assisting with pajama sorting, calling businesses and schools and fundraising.

You can learn more about Sweet Dreams for Kids on their website, or connect with them on Facebook or Twitter.


Posted by on October 12, 2011 in Nonprofit Organization


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Graham’s Foundation

According to the March of Dimes, 1 in 8 babies are born prematurely in the United States.  About 50,000 babies are micro-preemies or babies born at less than 29 weeks’ gestation and weighing less than three pounds.  Today’s organization provides support for the parents of micro-preemie babies.

Graham’s Foundation was founded in 2009 by Jennifer and Nick Hall in memory of their son, Graham.  Jennifer and Nick understand firsthand the joys and heartaches of having micro-preemies.  On Thanksgiving Day in 2006, their son Graham and daughter Reece were born at 25 weeks gestation.  Graham was with them for just 45 days while Reece spent four long months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before coming home.  Their experiences in the NICU and beyond that inspired them to begin helping others going through similar experiences.

The organization’s mission is to offer both practical and emotional support to parents of micro-preemie babies.  The support offered takes the form of free care packages to parents during their infant’s stay in the NICU as well as a website and Facebook page where parents can share stories and find support.  In addition, the organization provides care packages for parents who have lost a micro-preemie and they are in the process of developing a care package for moms and dads who are making the exciting and scary transition from the NICU to home with their baby.

Graham’s Foundation is based in Perrysburg, Ohio, but they serve parents all across the United States.  They have even sent care packages internationally as well.  Since their founding in 2009, they have sent almost 1300 care packages to 428 NICUs.

There are ways you can help!  The organization keeps an updated list of opportunities on the “Support Our Mission” page of their website.  Some ways you can help are:

  • Donate your Pampers Gifts To Grow Points to Graham’s Foundation
  • Donate products such as hand sanitizer, blankets, preemie hats, snacks, single use cameras and more for the care packages.
  • Become a NICU ambassador to help connect Graham’s Foundation with a NICU in your area.  You can learn more about the ambassador program here.
  • Make a monetary donation through the Graham’s Foundation website.

Graham’s Foundation is not just about providing support, it is also about awareness of micro-preemies.  They provided me with some facts to share with you about premature babies.

  • Globally, preterm birth accounts for over 9.5% of all births, which means that more than 13 million babies are born too early each year.
  • A micro-preemie is technically defined as any baby born at a birth weight of 1 ¾ pounds or less and before 26 weeks gestation, but this definition has been expanded to include babies weighing less than 3 pounds and delivered at less than 29 weeks gestation.
  • Every day a micro-preemie baby spends inside the womb increases her chances of survival, and every week that goes by pushes the survival percentage even higher.  Survival statistics for micro-preemies can range from 2% to over 80%, depending on gestational age at birth.
  • In the 1970s, fewer than 25% of micro-preemies survived; in the present, almost 90% are able to go home.
  • Very few micro-preemies born at 22 weeks survive, with research reporting rates of between 2% and 15%.  At 23 weeks gestation, reported survival rates fall between 15% and 40%, and at 25 weeks gestation, those rates rise to 55-70%. Survival rates for babies born at 26 to 28 weeks gestation fall between 75% and 85%.
  • Some of the medical intervention used in NICUs to stabilize and sustain micro-preemies includes isolettes, biliblankets, blood pressure and cardiac monitors, endotracheal tubes, IVs, nasal CPAPs and gastric tubes, oxyhoods and oxygen saturation monitors, respiratory monitors, ventilators, synthetic surfactant, temperature probes, and ultrasounds.
  • The majority of micro-preemies will contract at least one infection during their initial hospitalization, with the smallest infants having the highest infection and mortality rates.
  • Many micro-preemies are discharged from the hospital still needing medical monitoring equipment and breathing assistance.
  • Common difficulties that micro-preemies face include breathing problems due to immature lungs, digestive problems, cerebral hemorrhaging, chronic infections, severe anemia, physical handicaps, developmental and neurological delays, underdeveloped feeding reflexes, visual and auditory impairments, and long-term health issues.

You can learn more about Graham’s Foundation on their website,  You can also connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

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Posted by on October 5, 2011 in Nonprofit Organization


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