Fleeing Violence is Not a Crime: The Berks Kids & How To Help

Thank you, Amnesty International USA for sponsoring this post.

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The holidays are upon us.  And as we turn towards this season that means so much to many of us, it’s crucial to know that there are families in Pennsylvania merely hoping for freedom at Berks County Residential Center, where kids (yes children, teens, and even babies) alongside their mothers and fathers are being locked up in jail.  Parents are facing an impossible choice: stay and risk violence or flee to the U.S. and risk ending up behind bars with their children.  Berks is currently holding at least 60 parents and kids. Many of them are from Central America, where Amnesty International has documented horrific violence. If deported, many of these families will be facing incredibly dangerous situations, perhaps even death, upon their return.

Imagine fleeing for your life and the safety and security of your children, only to watch them learn how to walk and talk and have birthdays and holidays pass in jail.  How can leaving the only home you know to seek safety and freedom for your family, be punished as a crime right here in the United States? How can this happen in a country that agreed, decades ago, to treat people with compassion while respecting their human rights as their claims are considered?

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Alongside Amnesty International, dedicated lawyers, and global activists – there is an imperative to get involved right now.  Change takes time.  In August, four families were released after being held for nearly two years at Berks.

Two whole years.

730 days.  

Whether for two weeks or two years, no family should be jailed for seeking safety.

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Families have been forced to flee their homes because their lives are under threat and their human rights are being violated. We all share a responsibility to help people who have lost everything, and to give them a chance to rebuild their lives safely the same way all of us would need to if we were in this horrible situation.

HOW TO HELP

  • Amnesty International USA is fighting to ensure that people with asylum claims are given a fair hearing and humane treatment. Learn all of the details on their website, sign their petitions and encourage others to sign them too.
  • Call upon the U.S. administration to stop locking up children and their parents for seeking safety. Use your voice on social media demanding the immediate release of #TheBerksKids.
  • Watch the below video and share it with your friends, families, and networks.


We must do everything we can to end this human rights crisis and ensure protection for people who are fleeing violence.

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We must do everything we can to set children and their parents free.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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Meaningful Gifts That Give Back

We can’t think of a better way to approach the holidays and the end of 2016 than in a socially conscious way.  Many of us have a new perspective this holiday season and hope to make our gifting more meaningful than ever.  We have suggestions for ways to touch the hearts of friends and loved ones with charitable gifts that give back and carry lasting impact.

Instead of material gifts that may soon be forgotten – invest in making a difference by supporting the volunteer rescue workers in Syria rushing to the scenes of bombings to pull people out from under the rubble and carry them to safety by donating in a loved one’s name to The White Helmets. Contribute to the International Rescue Committee to help save refugee families in crisis. Give the gift of helping struggling families lift themselves out of hunger and poverty – and send a girl to school through Heifer International.  Help CARE continue to save lives with food and emergency assistance, education and economic opportunity in places that need it most – and your funds will be MATCHED if you donate by December 31st – doubling your gifted impact.

If you’re looking to wrap up a gift invested in making a difference – check out these great options that give back below:

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Help light the path out of poverty for adolescent mothers in Chicago by purchasing a handcrafted candle from Bright Endeavors – a paid job training program providing critical guidance to help young moms secure quality employment.

Assist in ensuring a safe pregnancy and safe birth to every mother, everywhere, by making a donation to Every Mother Counts in a loved one’s name – or purchase a gift from their shop.  100% of net proceeds from this lovely Flat Clutch will be donated to Every Mother Counts.

Purchase an adorable ethically produced hand-knit doll crafted by Peruvian artisans from Cuddle + Kind, and ten meals will be provided to food insecure children, through the World Food Program USA.

Give the gift of cozy socks from Bombas knowing that for every pair purchased a pair will be donated to a homeless person in need. Best of all, the donated socks are engineered to meet the specific needs of people who don’t have the luxury of a clean pair of socks every day.

Consider gifting from Mercado Global and helping indigenous Guatemalan women to overcome poverty and become agents of change in their communities. Check out this beautiful Amanecer Pillow that draws inspiration from traditional handwoven techniques that originate from Comalapa, an artisan village in the Central Highlands of Guatemala.

Gift a Mini Kane STATE Bag and let your teeny-recipient know that their gift also provides a hand-delivered STATE bag loaded with essential tools for success to a child in need in the U.S.

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Sharing a Sweet Future: How Truvia and The World Food Programme are Tackling Food Insecurity in Bolivia

A few years ago while trudging the kids to school in the aftermath of a massive snowstorm with our streets in abysmal shape, I learned of the critical reason why NYC public schools stay open during inclement winter weather. In poor city communities, the only chance for breakfast and a hot lunch for some children is at school.  With that knowledge, I gladly took the kids to and from school amidst snowstorms and ice-drenched streets.  If there’s anything that tugs at a mother’s heart, it’s children without access to nutritious foods necessary for a healthy life.

It’s hard to image an entire country where food-insecurity and lack of nutrition are the norm. Bolivia has been classified as one of Latin America’s poorest countries and one of the most-food insecure countries in the world. A few years ago we were thrilled to share the promising commitment that Truvia made on World Food Day 2012, in helping to support children and families in Bolivia.  Via a partnership with The United Nations World Food Programme, the Sharing a Sweet Future initiative is now wrapping up its third impactful year, successfully tackling food insecurity while planting the seeds for community self-sufficiency.

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Just take a look at the program’s remarkable longitudinal impact in only three years’ time, with nearly $1 million dollars in aid.

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67,330 Bolivian school children fed and so much more! Incredible, isn’t it? With nearly 40 percent of the Bolivian population unable to afford adequate food for a healthy life, and 65 percent of all rural household unable to afford the minimum recommended caloric intake, the Sharing a Sweet Future initiative has had a tremendous impact in improving the lives of the people of Bolivia.  As Sergio Torres, head of Bolivian operations for the WFP shared, “Truvia’s support came at a time when we didn’t have any resources, and were almost going to close this type of program.”

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Please join us in helping to raise awareness for this life-changing program by visiting the program’s website.  Here you’ll find first-hand glimpses of everyday life in Bolivia through a series of short documentary films capturing children, families, farm workers and more.  The stories are eye-open and raw, yet matched with the beautiful synergy of Sharing a Sweet Future, which carries tremendous hope rooted in sustainability.

Join us in getting involved at WFP.org.

This is a sponsored post and an initiative that is dear to our hearts.  Thank you for reading.

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Let’s Move!: An Invitation To The White House with First Lady, Michelle Obama

In a whirlwind trip, I recently traveled to Washington D.C. to visit the White House.  Thanks to Popsugar, I was honored to be among the parenting bloggers invited to join our First Lady, Michelle Obama, speak about her Let’s Move! initiative, and the health and well-being of our nation’s children.

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After navigating White House security, touring several rooms (and sipping coffee on exquisite White House china), we were escorted into the East Room and met by several leaders in the Let’s Move! campaign, including officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, The President’s Council of Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, The Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Partnership for Healthier America.  Encouraged to take part in the collective voices amplifying #LetsMove messages, I joined in tweeting away in real-time, in a conversation that was trending on twitter for hours that day.

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When the First Lady, Michelle Obama entered the room, the excitement was palpable.  She explained how after a routine visit to the pediatrician’s office, during an incredibly busy time, her girls’ meals underwent mass reform.  “Dessert in our house went from a basic human right to a treat.”  In completely relatable terms she described how she “was the one who decided what to buy at that grocery store” and those important decisions that we make for our children become “our secret weapons.”

No one plays a bigger, more important role in our kids’ health than we do as parents.  I came to this issue really as a mom.

Childhood obesity has severe longitudinal health consequences – and issues of food insecurity, health education, and nutritional change are complex. Six years after launching Let’s Move!, our nation has seen tremendous progress and our First Lady isnt stopping.  From MyPlate, healthier school meals, the implementation of grocery stores in food deserts and so much more, we’ve seen impressive accomplishments from the Let’s Move! programs:

  • Nearly 80 million people (1 in 4 Americans), now live in Let’s Move! comminutes, where kids can walk to school on new sidewalks, join in summer meal programs, and local athletic leagues.
  • 1.6 million kids attend healthier daycare centers.
  • Over 10 million kids attend Let’s Move! Active Schools where they strive to incorporate 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
  • 2 million kids now have Let’s Move! Salad Bars installed in their schools.
  • Over 30 million children have access to healthier school meals.
  • Thousands of chain restaurants have created healthier menus for children, and food and beverage companies cut 6.4 trillion calories from their products.
  • Junk food marketing has been eliminated in classrooms.

Michelle Obama said that someday we will look back on the sort of food that we used to feed our children, and it will be comparable “to not wearing seatbelts, bike helmets, or sunscreen.”  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), we’ve seen recent promising data showing significant drops in childhood obesity, and as our First Lady said, “we can’t afford not to give our kids nutritious food, because we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars treating obesity-related diseases, we simply don’t have the luxury to ignore this issue.”

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I’m certain that my words fail to adequately capture the magnitude of the overall experience. To hear the First Lady, Michelle Obama so eloquently speak with care and conviction on a topic of such importance, felt surreal. So down-to-earth and genuine, she mastered locking individual eyes in the excited crowd, as if truly inviting you into the conversation. And to have access to various rooms in the White House amongst tangible American history, right before my eyes – (the famous official portrait of John F. Kennedy – the green silk covered walls in the Green Room – the portraits of the First Ladies in the Vermile Room – Abraham Lincoln’s crystal in the China Room) – absolutely took my breath away.

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The whole experience was further elevated by a tour of the White House Kitchen Garden, formed by Michelle Obama in 2009, where the seeds for the Let’s Move! initiative were planted.  During the presentations, we were lucky enough to see the White House Executive Chef prepare a Tuscan kale salad using kale grown in the garden.

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Michelle Obama said that she has “no intentions of stopping this work, once my family leaves the White House.”

She is indeed passion and purpose personified.

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May we all join in the sea of voices echoing the importance of health for our next generations while making decisions that influence marketing demands.

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Coming from a public health background, and simply being a mom whose passionate about this pressing issue – wrapped this special invitation in tremendous meaning.

I’m so grateful for it all.

Special thank you to Popsugar and the White House Team.  I was not compensated for this post in any way. 

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A Must See Film: He Named Me Malala on National Geographic

In October of 2012, the world came to know fifteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai, targeted in an assassination attempt by the Taliban for daring to believe that all girls should have the right to an education.  The world rallied around her recovery, and she rose to carry on with her courageous and constant fight for girls education no matter where they are in the world.


The story of Nobel Laureate and activist, Malala Yousafai came to theaters last year, in the documentary film “He Named Me Malala.” Now, viewers globally can tune into the film’s television premiere, when it airs commercial-free on the National Geographic Channel, on Monday, February 29th, in the U.S., and globally, across 170 countries, in 45 languages.

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This powerful film moved my close friend and me to tears.  It shares an intimate glimpse of Malala’s life – both public and private – with her family, as a student, as a teenager, and as a courageous activist – inviting viewers to see the tremendous potential within themselves.

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Tune into the television premiere, access the film’s educational resources and join Malala’s movement to ensure that all girls have access to a quality secondary education.

This post is not sponsored in any way.  Images via Fox Searchlight.

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On Meaningful Giving

Have you all heard the recent literature on how gratitude is inextricably linked to positive changes in the brain and body? It makes sense that being thankful can have a direct effect on health.

Some days it feels like the sibling bickering ensues before we are all fully awake, and some days I can’t wait to have a motherhood-redo the next day.  But nearly every day we make time to combat the not so good with a simple gratitude practice.  Talking about what we are grateful for lifts us all up – and we tend to think that giving is a meaningful part of being thankful.

We’ll soon be rolling out our big Holiday gift guides, and I too couldn’t resist getting a great deal online yesterday – but there is something unsettling about the shift from Thanksgiving to consumerism at its best. Even my Kindergartner asked “Mommy, what does Black Friday mean?”

We recently learned about a foster care and family service agency in Queens NYC that is crunched for time to make Holiday wishes for 1,000 foster children come true.  There is something about that number that stuck with me. One thousand kids in foster care pinning for a specific gift this season.  If we all visit this Toys”R”Us wishlist, together we can make holiday dreams come true.

The kids decided to send registry gifts that they would want themselves. And I selected a little V-Tech cruiser that both of my own littles loved in toddlerhood. In addition to gifts, the agency welcomes cards too.

I think that all kids have an innate desire to help other children.

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With spilled paint on the floor and paper scraps beneath furniture, the kids made the best sort of mess that truly feels like gratitude in our home.

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