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 email@example.com . 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/.
With all of this gorgeous weather, it’s nearly impossible to fight the urge to get outside and enjoy the sunshine! Finding safe, fun summer activities is on all of our minds right now, and earlier this week I found one that I just HAD to share that is not only safe, it makes for some seriously awesome Instagram pictures, too. Grab your favorite beach blanket-we’re going to go have a picnic on the beach!
Step one is making sure you scope out an isolated area to adhere to social distancing rules. My mom and I wanted to have a mother-daughter picnic, so we went to a local private beach where we knew we’d have enough space to spread out without inconveniencing anyone else. Once you have your location, you can start thinking of how you’re going to style your picnic!
The theme we chose since our picnic would be seaside is..yup, you guessed it, nautical! We wanted to go with a very teal & beachy vibe, and luckily there are so many decor sales going on right now that this was easy and fairly inexpensive to accomplish. While everyone’s look can be completely different, here’s what we used to get that light and airy beachside vibe: