Category Archives: outreach

on playing and giving, winter spring summer and fall



These past couple of months I often heard people refer to “the season of giving.”  The holidays seem to bring this out in people more than at other times.  It made me wonder, why is there only one season for giving?  Why limit ourselves?  There are opportunities to give every single day, 365 days a year.  Sometimes I think people equate giving with money only.  Sure money helps a lot but money won’t keep an elementary school kid from being teased or a middle school kid from feeling lonely or a high school kid from feeling overwhelmed or a college student from feeling lost or a new mom from feeling exhausted or a father from feeling pressure or a teacher from feeling unvalued or a grandparent from feeling forgotten. Perhaps the most important thing we each can give is, simply, kindness.

Still, thinking kind thoughts, wonderful as they are, is not enough.  Your smile, your compliment, your acknowledgment of another is action, real action that you can take that will impact another.  Similarly, thinking about poverty, homelessness, gender violence, global warming, etc. isn’t enough.  It’s a place to start.  The issues sound so big and we’re left feeling that there is nothing we can do that will really make an impact.  There is this pervasive belief that we’re all too busy.  We’re already pulled in a thousand directions– who has time to take on world hunger?  Sometimes I hear from other parents that kids need to be kids and have more time to play and shouldn’t be burdened with the harsh realities of the world around them just yet.  So they play a lot of sports and a lot of electronic games.  I love play! Love, love, love sports! And I still think we have time to care about others and give.  Recently I was watching my son and his friend laugh together while sitting side by side on the couch playing games on their devices.  I so love hearing the laughter but after an hour of this they seemed caught in a zone. I asked them if they wanted to take on a challenge.  Knowing me and my ways, they were instantly suspicious!  They took a chance and said, sure– bring it on.  I placed 5 food items in front of them and asked them to create a winning appetizer. My son’s friend hasn’t cooked much and began to get agitated.  He had no idea what to make. He stared at the ingredients for a long time.  5 random things.  We started to talk about food choices and how many we have and how we take it for granted that meals come easily to us.  Most of us. I asked the boys if they had any idea how much money the 5 ingredients before them might cost.  They were shocked when we figured it out.  We started to talk about the poverty line and how people can possibly manage to live on $1.25 a day in this country. They asked how kids living below the poverty line get lunch at school.  Fact is, more than half of American kids who attend public school rely on a meal at school for the only one they’ll get.  As my son and his friend talked and had fun while creating their culinary masterpieces they were thinking about hunger and poverty.  Then we talked about action, what could they do, how could they give of themselves to someone who is cold, hungry, homeless in our own community.  And so it begins…

There ARE things we can do.  Kids can volunteer at local shelters for certain needs.  You know that laughter coming from the couch of two boys playing electronic games?  What if those boys went to the shelter with some hot chocolate and sat with someone there and  played with them for an hour?  It’s a simple act, requiring no real money.  What if that smile shared felt so good that they went back again another evening?  I can honestly tell you that giving from your heart is just as addictive as video games or the adrenaline rush from a perfect shot on the court.  We can play and learn.  We can play and think about others.  We can play with others who don’t have much of a chance for play.  We can play and give.

It’s the little bits of good that each of us can do that truly can overwhelm the world.  Every day, every season…

P.S. the boys made the most delicious crostini with toasted marshmallow, basalmic-infused sun dried tomatoes!


for the women: YOU ARE IMPORTANT!

So, why are we having a  thinkpeace workshop for women?

It has been a funky few weeks. Some people have said that Mercury is in retrograde. Others have said that humanity is slipping into an abyss and that there’s nothing that can be done about it. What I have seen and felt is that there’s a real negative energy vibe going on… and I think there is a way to break that and cultivate positivity in our own lives and that of others. Liz and I have frequently been asked to do a thinkpeace workshop for women. The time has arrived! Recently we’ve had conversations with some of our teen thinkpeace girls about issues they’re facing and have realized that we continue to deal with similar ones as adult women. This tells us that there are tools that we need to learn and utilize as adult women so that when we encounter road blocks on our life paths, we have the inner resources to face them. We believe that women continuously struggle with the idea that we are not enough. Because of that, we all too often cut each other down as a means of building our selves up. The simple truth is that YOU are important! Now, how can you get to a place of believing that truth?

Have you ever felt that if you put anything ‘out there’ that wasn’t facebook perfect, people would judge you?  So many of us are afraid to share our deepest selves. What if you had a place where you could be completely open with yourself, a place to shine light into the cracks of you? At the thinkpeace womens weekend workshop you’ll express yourself and let all those inner truths out through art and writing, sharing and movement. We’ll explore some Yin– a single still yoga posture which becomes a time of inner reflection, meditation and, hopefully, peace. The nervous system is calmed, the mind stilled, and in this state the body returns to its natural healthy rhythm. This type of yoga is how we will start our day, and close it. We’ll take this time to focus on breathwork, and self-compassion.  We will create vision boards and guidebooks– works of art that express what we hope to manifest in our lives. Sharing these ideas with other dynamic women will crack us open and inspire us to go deeper. Have you ever had moments where your mind just seems to spin around and never quiet down? Has this kept you from feeling capable and worthy and falling into the belief that that there is this magic something that you have to do or be before you can feel at peace? Yin and art expression will start you on a journey…

Welcome to thinkpeace workshop for women. The truth is EVERYONE IS VALUABLE; EVERYONE IS IMPORTANT. It is not a competition and you don’t get more points by dissing someone else.  What if we behaved as if we were as valuable as we think others are? What if we all treated each other with great respect? At our weekend workshop you will be met with kindness and the community of women around you will share of themselves and be curious about you. Through one-on-one sharing and small group interaction, we will break down the barriers that women inevitably put up. We will create an environment of trust and support as lifetime friendships are created.  Thinkpeace workshop for women is a place to allow yourself to be vulnerable, feel deeply, share and support in safety, and learn to trust yourself and others.

We are meant to feel peace. We are meant for joy, creativity and life… not the kind of life that you merely endure each day– the kind of life that makes you shine! If you are having difficulty finding ease in your life, and knowing how to provide it for yourself, it is time to hit the reset button!  Peace and ease aren’t found in the validation or acceptance of others, they aren’t found in acquiring things, and they aren’t found in breaking the glass ceiling or in the adoration of our children and their successes. It won’t be found after you have proven your worthiness in some way, or after you have given enough or worked enough or dieted enough or swallowed your own voice often enough. It is not found after you have been accepted into some social circle or relationship. We have created art projects for this workshop that will help us get our hearts and souls focused on things that are beautiful and light, colorful and deep. They will help us figure out what really is true for each of us and how to hold onto that when the going gets rough. The reality is that soul-deep peace is found in your very own truth… the real stuff. The stuff that we tend to keep in a closet because of fear– fear of acceptance, fear of rejection, fear of being seen as not being enough. It’s time to let it out and be who we are meant to be: joyful, creative sparks!

The truth is, you are important and are a gift to the world. When you hold your head up high, and walk through life knowing your truth, you give others hope and that they can do the same. We will share that strength with women around the world through our work on The Pad Project. It’s the thinkpeace philosophy: that our connection with ourselves makes us better equipped to reach out and give to others. Our common experience as women with cycles connects us and yet, women in developing countries are not as fortunate with sanitary options to protect their bodies and ensure opportunities for education and employment because of their periods. We will create reusable pads that will give them the freedom to pursue their hopes, needs, and dreams. You really can and will make a difference.

What if you could do the things that open your heart to the kind of woman you want to be,  the kind of person that you admire and respect and have an opportunity to support women less fortunate than you? What if you could think peace for a weekend that you then carry within you for a lifetime… Open your heart to it. Step into it. Hold hands with it. Dance with it. Sing out loud about it. You, yes you, are important! Bring your vulnerable, unsure, hurt, curious, brave, noble, unselfish, complicated self to thinkpeace workshop for women. Think it. Create it. Share it. Grow with us– the best is yet to be. Imagine!

it’s, you know… that time

Okay, this one may make some girls roll their eyes and not want to read past this sentence:  let’s talk about “that time of the month.”  Are you still with me?  I know, no one really wants to talk about it but it’s something all girls have in common and really should feel more comfortable talking about with one another.  All too often American girls seem to shy away from this topic and not realize that their girlfriends are the best source of support and understanding when it’s that dreaded time of month.  Most of us find this an uncomfortable subject here– one better addressed by commercials and hopefully with no brothers or fathers in the room.  In countries around the world, however, this is a subject that brings women and girls together, unfortunately usually outside of the classroom, back at home, where girls are stuck being just because it’s “that time of the month.”

thinkpeace workshop for girls recently handed over 3500 pairs of panties which are now on their way to Haiti.  Our goal with our Drop off Your Drawers campaign is 5000 so we’re still working at it but this was a fantastic donation that will ensure that girls in rural areas of Haiti can attend school and live comfortably, covered in a way that makes them feel safer and more protected.  In too many parts of the world, clean underwear and/or feminine hygiene products are simple  luxuries that most people cannot afford nor do they have access to them.  It’s something that we just take for granted.  We know our underwear drawers are full and we know that we have products to protect us.  Millions of women and girls will never know that kind of freedom.  We want to share a story with you written by a wonderful friend, Denise Stasik, who has done amazing work with women and girls in Zimbabwe and Uganda:

about underwear 

We are all the same. Women are all the same. So just like women in industrial countries, women in Africa also have monthly cycles and are in need of feminine hygiene products.

Why do I state the obvious? Because I have met many people who don’t understand that women, wherever we live, have the same basic health care needs. And this subject of feminine hygiene makes many people uncomfortable, as if to discuss it is taboo for some reason. Yet here it is – an ongoing monthly problem for many women worldwide.

This need was brought to my attention in an odd way when I was working in Zimbabwe.  During our feast day, a sudden wind sent our paper and plastic bags swirling across the sand. Quickly, young children jumped up and ran to retrieve them.  Rather than returning to our table, the children ran towards their homes, carrying the bags with them, big smiles on their faces.  I asked an elder woman what was happening. She explained that young women often cannot leave their homes for one week each month while they have their period, as they have no hygienic products. They use whatever they or their children can find – mixtures of dirt and grass, newspaper, plastic bags. They must wash and save these things to reuse month to month.  Not only are these materials irritating to the skin, they are unsanitary and can lead to dangerous infections.  In addition, I learned that no one could afford the equivalent of $1 US per pad when the daily wage earning, if any, was between $.50 to $1.00 US per day. If the cost alone is not prohibitive, the disposal of these products is. There is no weekly garbage pick-up. There are no garbage cans for disposal of waste.

I discussed this issue further with the school teachers and was made aware of the impact lack of feminine hygiene supplies has on most girls’ education.  By the time a girl reaches adolescence she is likely to drop out of school because missing a week of school each month is just too difficult for her to handle academically.  In addition, the anxiety of not knowing when Day 1 will start each month causes some girls to just stop trying to make the long walk to school.  Uneducated girls become socially and economically vulnerable young women with few options to safely and adequately provide for themselves and their families.

We were fortunate to learn about a wonderful disposable, reusable, durable feminine hygiene pad product. Made of unbleached Killington Flannel, this pad can be used with or without underwear (yes, many women have not even one pair of underwear).  With sewing patterns, thread and needles in hand, we laid out the cloth and prepared for our first class, which had been estimated by the elder women to be approximately 40 in attendance. Soon the women streamed in from their huts, and the total attendance was near 300 by day’s end. After the lesson on women’s health and hygiene, we distributed the bright orange and blue patterns. The women smiled, picked up the scissors and began to cut. No need for a pattern – these women could sew!

Such great joy of women working beside women filled the air. The excitement of this new product that would help make their lives a little less cumbersome was almost palpable. The female bonding was warm and wonderful as we embraced one another.  We are all the same.

At the end of this trip, we distributed underwear to all of the women who had participated in this project. I held the large bowl filled with the many colored panties, and offered the first pair to the oldest woman who participated in this project. She gleefully chose a bright yellow pair.  With a bright smile, she asked, “Now, how many women do I share this with and who are they?” It took a few seconds for me to understand that she thought this pair of underwear was hers for only one week each month and then would rotate through three other women before returning to her the following month.

I replied, “This is for you and only you.” She looked stunned as she clasped her undergarment to her chest.  Through tears, she slowly and sincerely said, “Never before have I been given such a precious gift.”  I was speechless.  No words could express the many mixed emotions that I was feeling.  This was a pair of women’s underwear, nothing more. But to her, it was a precious gift.  The remaining women were just as excited to choose their pair. The yellows and pinks quickly disappeared, followed by blue and white. Strangely to me, all of the purple ones were the last to be chosen. I asked why. The women replied that purple was a “royal” color, which they related to “rich and powerful.” They did not feel worthy of royal.

We repeated this project in other African villages. After completing this project in one such area and returning 10 months later, one young woman approached me outside of our first aid clinic. She asked to speak with me in private, behind the building. I followed her outside. I wondered what was on her mind as she slowly pulled up her skirt. She wanted to discreetly show me that she was wearing one of these reusable pads. This woman had walked 4 miles to tell me how much this had changed her life. She was now able to leave her hut every day, any day of the month. She was able to cook and care for her children without the worry of dealing with her body’s needs in more cumbersome ways. Like many of the women in the first project site, this woman had also formerly used a mixture of grass and mud, which caused great irritation to her skin. She smiled and said, “Now I am like you because I can be a moving woman all days.” We embraced, and I held on a little longer as I again thought, “Yes, we are all the same.”

In this same African district, we had presented the pad project to the young girls still in school. The headmaster was thrilled, as she too noted the unsettling drop in female retention rates in school as adolescence approached. But when we returned the following year, the headmaster excitedly described a 39% increase in female retention rate at the school.  She attributed this increase to the pad project and predicted that number would continue to grow. These young girls now have a realistic means to meet the needs of their changing bodies. The headmaster made several pads and stocked them in the first aid kit in her office. She communicated to her students that if a need arose during school hours, the girls should come to her office and she would assist them.

Some of you reading this might still be feeling uncomfortable with the subject of women’s menstruation and feminine hygiene.  But if you are a woman living in the United States, you have easy access to products that allow you to navigate freely at home, school, work and in the world (and if you are a man, you are realizing “I had no idea….”).  Let’s make what is a natural part of growing up more comfortable for girls in Uganda and make it possible for them to stay in school and build a better future.  And let’s give Ugandan women the freedom to “be a moving woman all days.”


We are excited that our friends at the Giving Circle will be teaching thinkpeace girls how to make pads this summer at camp.  These will go with our outreach packages for girls and women in Uganda.  If you would like to donate some Killington flannel to this project, please contact us!

creating change


From Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize speech (1986)–

[A boy] asked his father: “Can this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?”

And now the boy is turning to me. “Tell me,” he asks, “what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?” And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.”


Lately I’ve found myself explaining to people the latest thinkpeace focus:  the One Million Bones project.  The first reaction is one of total confusion.  “Bones?  Why are you making bones?”  When I talk about genocide, the expressions become ones of concern but also of only of distant recognition.  The fact is, most people I talk to have no idea that genocide has occurred in their lifetime.  Most believe that such atrocities have not happened since World War II.  If you ask most teenagers, they truly have no idea.   Yes, we know that wars have happened and still are… and we know that there is suffering in the world.  But genocide and displacement?  These concepts seem to go undiscussed at school and at the family dinner table.  The fact is, as a whole, we seem to have tuned out this news:  genocide and displacement are CURRENT events.

At our thinkGIRLUP monthly meetings, we’ve been discussing why these atrocities are still occurring, why world governments are not taking a stronger stand, why these issues are not talked about in social studies classes and more.  We talk about intolerance and acceptance.  From the school bus to the mall to our neighborhoods and communities and on into the world, intolerance is what creates conflict.  We talk about raising awareness and using the power of our voices and the creativity of our hands to enact change.  And we make bones.  Why bones?  The bones  are symbols of a couple of things.  First, we know this:  when you take away the things that make people different, the color of their skin, hair, eyes, their religious and cultural differences, etc., you see that we are all the same.  We are bones.  We all have the same ones, with the same shape, tone and texture.  We are one and the same.  Second, the bones signify the bodies of all those who have fallen victim to genocides around the world.  We have joined the One Million Bones campaign, in partnership with StudentsRebuild and CARE, to raise awareness and funds (for survivors and victims of ongoing displacement in Sudan, Burma, and the Democratic Republic of Congo) through art activism.  This is our way to spread our voices, combined with others, to create change, to insist on tolerance and to take a stand against genocide.

“It’s often too easy to feel that the problems of others who live far away in circumstances we cannot imagine are not ‘ours,’” said Leslie Thomas, curator and co-director of “Congo/Women” and the founding executive director of Art Works Projects. “But if we do our job right, the arts can help us come together and take that next step to support those with whom we share this earth.”  We are all connected on this planet, but so often we seem to forget our global brothers and sisters, making us accomplices to the crimes against humanity.  As a photographer, Marcus Bleasdale believes art is an empowering medium for activism. His photos  highlight the most extreme human rights abuses around the world.  He believes that “artists partnering with NGOs, advocacy groups, and individuals that lobby organizations and governments can learn about abuses, including sexualized violence used in conflict.”  The visual image goes a long way in illustrating the issues facing humanity.

Naomi Natale, founder of the One Million Bones project said, “is important to recognize that these atrocities are occurring today, and that intolerance is at the root of these conflicts. Equally important, however, is the message that there is hope for a better future, and through working together to learn about the mistake of intolerance and actively contributing to a collective movement, students can deal with genocide in a manner which allows them to be empowered.”  Students CAN learn.  Youth CAN be heard.  And collective action can make a real difference.

“At the end of the day, the job of all of us working in human rights is to let the story of individuals shine through our chosen mediums as storytellers,” said Leslie Thomas.  At thinkpeace workshop for girls, we believe the impact of one million bones being displayed on the National Mall in Washington, DC will open minds and hearts and get people talking… and ACTING.  thinkpeace girls are taking action.  They are talking to friends, neighbors, and family members, raising awareness and asking for action.  They are telling the stories of the victims and survivors with every bone they make, so that no one is forgotten.

“When we make something with our hands it changes the way we think; which changes the way we feel; which changes the way we act.” —Carl Wilkens

on water

World Water Day is Thursday, March 22.

3.575 million people die each year from a water related disease.                                            Women spend 200 million hours a day collecting water.

Water.  Humans are more than 60% water. Our blood is 92% water, the brain and muscles are 75% water, even our bones are about 22% water! Water cleanses our bodies, our belongings. Water keeps us alive. Today, nearly one billion people (that’s one in eight) lack access to clean water.  When we thinkpeace, we thinkwater.

The water we see and feel now is the same ancient water on the earth from the very beginning of time! Our atmosphere draws water into itself, and willingly, constantly gives it all back to the earth time after time after time. When we think of water, we might picture the churning of a beautiful green ocean, or a still quiet lake. Perhaps we see ourselves on the banks of a river that has carved the great canyons, or we feel the mist and see a rainbow appear by a tropical waterfall. We are water, water is us.  We are one and the same.

In her TED talk, Suddenly, My Body, Eve Ensler spoke on her relationship with water after her friend performed a healing ritual to help rid her body of cancer. She said, “It was energy, love and joy. It was all these things, it was all these things, it was all these things, in the water, in the world, in my body.” She felt the hurt, the pain, the healing. She felt the intense connectedness between her body and the earth.

On July 28th 2012, ThinkPeace Workshop’s 4th annual Summer Camp will commence. We couldn’t be more excited!  We have so many amazing things planned for you!  We have been busy this year making incredible connections and dreaming and scheming up rainbows of possibilities, from soulful art projects similar to our story boards last year to making bones for an installation on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to beginning writing our own stories, and finding our voices to performance art and multi media productions!  Again, this will all take place in Saratoga Springs, NY, a place known for it’s healing springs.  All around the city continual flowing springs are offered as places of healing.  Each one has a separate name and mineral content.  Each one claims to help heal specific ailments. Tasting them, or ‘taking the waters’ as Saratogians call it, is said to promote health, longevity and well being.  These endless springs well up from deep inside the earth and are a large part of what makes Saratoga Springs a special place. At ThinkPeace Workshop summer camp, you will have an opportunity to ‘take the waters’ as a part of connecting with the earth as begin to cultivate your voice, your life. We’ll talk bones and water and girl issues as we embark on our journey to be the change!

Mary Oliver wrote~                                                                                                               At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled

after a night of rain.

I dip my cupped hands. I drink

a long time. It tastes

like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold

into my body, waking the bones. I hear them

deep inside me, whispering

oh what is that beautiful thing

that just happened?

Come see what can happen at ThinkPeace Workshop for Girls this summer!

making a difference


Wednesday, January 18, 2012 – 13:58
“When news of the devastating tsunami and earthquake hit, many of our campers contacted us saying they wanted to DO SOMETHING. We learned of the Students Rebuild: Japan challenge and knew that we had to be a part of it; that we would bring our girls together to make as many as we could. One of our girls attends a school in the Bay Area which has a sister school, Tokiwagi, located in Sendai. The students at her school looked for ways to help their sisters across the universe. In addition to fundraisers they held, thinkpeace contacted them and asked them to join us in the crane making campaign. Having that direct connection made everything so real for them. Our kids created and sent over 2000 cranes. We were all so thrilled to be a part of something that had affected us so deeply and see it spread globally, creating more awareness and compassion.
Thinkpeace girls felt like they really could make a difference. We can’t thank you enough for that. When this new challenge came up, they were eager to jump all over it! We’re meeting this weekend to start creating bones. It’s a fascinating endeavor. We’re looking into ways to incorporate this message and the need for awareness of issues facing youth in Somalia and the Congo into this years’ workshops.” — Kelly Himsl Aruthr, Co-Director – Thinkpeace Workshops
Ready to take action? While registration for Paper Cranes for Japan has ended, you can carry forward the spirit of hope and healing embodied in every Students Rebuild challenge by taking a stand against humanitarian crises. Tap your creativity by making a handmade bone – out of any material you choose – which will raise awareness and critical funds for CARE International’s relief work in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Join A Path Forward today!