Reasons to be Thankful

It’s that time of year when we reflect upon all the blessings in our lives. While the “thankful” part of Thanksgiving seems to have taken a back seat to football, Black Friday specials starting in the afternoon and a general sense of malaise, it remains an important holiday in our American culture. It makes us stop whatever we are doing and think about all that we have, not what we don’t. Which is kind of an oxymoron with the commercialization of Christmas right around the corner, encouraging people to overspend, over consume and be sure to buy presents for themselves while shopping for others. With that in mind I started thinking about what I am thankful for this year, which by the way for reasons I will keep private, has not been an easy year. Nevertheless there is much for which I am grateful; here are a few of them:

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Family. We don’t always agree nor do we see each other much due to living all over the country. Even so, they are mine and I love them.

I’ve always looked at life through my own pair of rose-colored glasses. From an early age, these special glasses instilled in me the ability to see the proverbial “cup” as half-full, even when it isn’t. This is the source of my optimism.

I believe that people are essentially good and have good intentions, though their behavior indicates otherwise. Call me a Pollyanna. This viewpoint gives me an unwavering capacity to recognize the best in every situation, to be able to find the silver lining. It is that silver living that gives me hope for humanity.  I trust that a good heart will always prevail over one full of deceit or venom. Karma has a way of evening out the playing field.

Call me naïve — I’ve always maintained that given a choice, people will do what is right. Time and again I have witnessed the opposite; even so, that does not dampen my faith in humanity.

Taking the high road is always the best route. There’s something to be said for civility, grace and treating one another with the utmost respect, which these days seems to be a lost art. Even so I think it’s the best way to travel.

Trusting gut instincts and a keen intuition. Everyone has these abilities; we are all born with them. I am incredibly grateful that mine are still intact because they never fail me when I listen to them. If something feels wrong it’s because it usually is.

We all have voices in our heads, they are our conscience. I listen to mine, because my conscience usually perceives danger before I do; it’s sort of a warning signal. Those times that I’ve ignored my conscience, hoo-boy, have I gotten into a boatload of trouble.

I am thankful for the simplicity in my life, a conscious decision I made several years ago. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that life really isn’t that complicated unless you make it so. These days I make a daily effort to reel in what is simple and plain to the eye because that is the soul of a life worth living.

In closing I leave you with this — many years ago I read a quote by Maya Angelou. In paraphrasing she said ‘you may not always remember what someone did, you may not always remember what someone said, but you will never forget how someone made you feel.’

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Wishing all of you a safe and grateful Thanksgiving.

Until next time,

Jeffree Wyn

Logging Kindness in Albuquerque

kindness-kidsDuring an election year and especially as an important election approaches it is easy to get cynical about politicians. Despite the rancor and acrimony that has come out of this particular election there really are good politicians out there who genuinely care for their constituents. For example, consider the Kindness Initiative in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

It all started when Mayor Richard Berry of Albuquerque received a text message nine months ago from Mayor Tom Tait of Anaheim, California, challenging him to one million acts of kindness. Mayor Berry accepted the challenge right away and set out to collaborate with his Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council (MYAC) to launch the ABQKindness initiative which resulted in developing a mobile app to promote, track and celebrate acts of kindness across Albuquerque. It is modeled after the City of Kindness initiative, a virtual rising center of the “kind movement” consisting of organizations working to inspire kindness throughout the world. kindness-mayor-berryFast forward: MYAC and local organizations are now rolling out the “ABQKindness” app. It’s pretty cool. A lot of local schools, businesses and non-profits have collaborated in support of ABQKindness.

The kindness initiative momentum kicked into high gear during the 2016 US Conference of Mayors. Entrepreneur and Billionaire Philanthropist Philip Anschutz, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism and Lady Gaga, (who outside of her music career cofounded the Born This Way Foundation with her mother) discussed how kindness is critical to tackling today’s societal problems, leading to a discussion about the kindness initiative. They must have made a pretty good case for their idea because at the conference mayors from across the country signed a resolution to collectively reach one hundred billion acts of kindness. The movement is growing. Besides Albuquerque and Anaheim, 15 additional cities and organizations have launched similar campaigns, with the nonprofit City of Kindness supporting their efforts to spread kindness.

kindness-groceriesAlbuquerque’s mayor views this as an opportunity for Albuquerque residents to come together to accomplish the goal and spread the importance of kindness across the city. That’s a pretty big order. How does he plan to do it? Mayor Berry stated on the city’s website that “It is my belief that you are never too old or young to implement kindness in your everyday life. Albuquerque is already a great city with great, kind people, but you can never show too much kindness to your neighbor. We have exceptional youth in our community and I know they will lead the way to show adults just what it means to be kind.”

As of October 24th, the organization had logged 350 Acts of Kindness. If you live in Albuquerque and would like to submit an act of kindness visit Apple’s APP store or Google Play’s Android store. Search for “ABQKindness” and download the app. Once you’ve downloaded it, open, tap on the home screen and submit your act of kindness.

kindness-older-womanWhat constitutes an act of kindness? Probably things you do everyday such as holding the door open for the person behind you to enter a building first, assisting a pregnant woman unload her groceries into her car or walking your elderly neighbor’s dog. Maybe you tutor kids at your local school or read to people in nursing homes. It all counts and it all makes a difference.

 

Saving Pets One Life at a Time

saving-tansy-1It’s a tragedy experienced all too often by pet owners whose fur kids suffer a devastating illness or injury that’s treatable, yet must opt for euthanasia because they don’t have the funds to pay for treatment or surgery. The veterinary community even has a name for it – “economic euthanasia.” It means that it’s less expensive to put down a pet, even though the animal’s illness or injury is treatable with a high likelihood of recovery.

According to the San Diego Animal Welfare Coalition’s most recent statistics (7/2014 – 6/2015), 1,134 animals specifically categorized as “treatable” were euthanized. This heartrending number does not include private veterinary clinics, which if reported would significantly increase the number of economic euthanasia cases. Can you imagine? You don’t have the funds to pay for your sweet pet’s health crisis and you have to opt for euthanasia instead because it’s more affordable? If you think there’s something terribly wrong about this, you’re right. There is a silver lining to the story (after all this is The Goodness Principle), so stay with me.

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Veterinarians don’t like this situation any more than the pet owners who face this no-win scenario. That’s why a group of San Diego County veterinarians and concerned citizens formed a foundation 10 years ago to help out pet owners facing economic euthanasia. The Foundation for Animal Care and Education (FACE) was formed as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) public charity to provide financial grants for animal owners not able to afford the cost of their pet’s emergency or critical care. It’s called the Save a Life program. And saving pets they have. As of July 2016, almost to the 10 year anniversary day of their founding, they saved their 1,500th pet. Mostly they save dogs and cats, but there have been a few bunnies and an iguana too.

How does it work? According to Brooke Haggerty, Executive Director of the FACE Foundation™, they currently have over 100 hospital partners.

“We work with anyone (veterinary clinic) willing to work with us,” Brooke says. “All of our partners give us at least a 20% discount. If it’s a new clinic we haven’t worked with before we talk to the clinic and set it up. Our funds go directly to the clinics, not to the pet owner.”

saving-tansy-2FACE makes a compelling argument for new clinics to get involved: they help veterinarians save their patients’ lives and ensure they will never have to euthanize a healthy patient again. Patients like Tansy Star, a young kitten who was born with a congenital birth defect, a diaphragmatic hernia. Her major organs enveloped her heart sac, pressing on her lungs, a condition that makes it hard for her to breathe; it only gets worse as a cat ages. Her owner, a retired police officer, lives on disability which made it difficult to pay for the surgery Tansy needed.

Her owner says,I found Tansy’s pregnant mother living under a church building. I named her mother Luna and she gave birth to five kittens the day after I brought her home. Luna is an amazing mother, starving and weak, she gave everything she had to give birth to her kittens and cared for them until I found them all good homes. Turns out, Luna is also very young, we estimate around 12 to 14 months. Luna is healthy and has gained weight and is a permanent member of our family. I decided to also keep her beautiful and spunky daughter, Tansy Star.”

Sounds nice, right? Tansy’s idyllic world came to a raging halt.

saving-tansy-and-mom“I noticed Tansy had rapid breathing which seemed unusual,” her owner says. “I took her to the urgent care and she was evaluated with a congenital hernia. She has seen two surgeons, both say she is an excellent candidate for a corrective surgery and has a very good chance of survival and living a normal life.” As of this writing, Tansy is undergoing her surgery and is expected to have a full recovery.

And then there’s the story of a gorgeous, white German Shepard named Hero. He was a saving-heroyear and a half old when he got out of his yard and was hit by a car. He suffered a painful laceration that needed immediate care. His family had just welcomed a newborn baby into their home and was grappling with making ends meet on one income while his mom was out on maternity leave. A family member let them rent out a room at her house, which helped, but they were still having trouble making ends meet. They couldn’t pay the cost to treat Hero’s unexpected injury. Fortunately, Save-A-Life partner VCA Animal Medical Center of El Cajon told them to apply for FACE funding and they were approved for a grant which gave Hero the care he needed.

In a time when it’s easy to become cynical, and it seems that there are more and more disheartening stories around us, it’s inspiring to hear about good people doing the right thing for pets and people in need. Restores your faith in the human race, doesn’t it? For more info on FACE visit their website here.

Traveling Stories Build Literacy One Book at a Time

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If you live in the San Diego area, or some other regions, and you’re a frequent visitor to Farmers Markets you may have noticed a tent full of children listening intently to an adult or another child reading a story from a book. If you stepped closer you probably saw the mesmerized looks on the children’s faces as they soaked in the words and tales taking them to places they can only imagine.

Many of the children who visit the StoryTents are refugees whose families fled their war-torn home countries; children like seven year-old Abdullah and his four year-old brother, Abdulramah, who escaped Iraq in the fall of 2015.  Such children are fairly commonplace in this nirvana on the sea. San Diego absorbs approximately 3,000 refugees a year, many from Iraq seeking a better life, a safer life for their families.

traveling-stroies-abdullahWhen the boys’ family arrived in the U.S. the children didn’t know a word of English. And it didn’t help that the boys were exceedingly shy. The boys’ mom said that leaving friends and family in Iraq was hard on the brothers, sadness often filled their days. She told a friend who had also escaped Iraq years earlier about her boys’ difficulty with adjusting to life in America. The friend told Mrs. Aleze about the StoryTent at the Farmer’s Market in El Cajon, a small city east of San Diego. Mrs. Aleze took them to the Thursday market, found the tent and the boys sat down to listen to a story being read. For the first time since their arrival on American shores she observed a spark of happiness. No matter that they didn’t understand English, the boys were hooked. After that first visit, their mom made sure they attended every week and their perseverance has paid off. Over the past year Abdullah not only learned to speak and read English, he now insists on reading aloud to the adult volunteer and the other children.

So who started these StoryTents? The literacy program is the brain child of San Diegan, Emily Moberly. When she was 22 she taught English in a bilingual high school in Honduras. She discovered that the kids didn’t read books; she soon figured out why. There traveling-stories-emily-moberlywere few, if any, resources for kids to procure books. The town had just one insufficient library that rarely opened and a small, equally insufficient bookstore. On a visit home she bought as many books as she could stuff into her luggage, returned to the Honduran school and started a library. Over the next few weeks and months she watched the students connect with the books; she observed them fall in love with reading. Emily returned home and never forgot how unlocking the world of books to non-readers opened up a new chapter in kids’ lives, exposing them to new ideas, observations and insights. She decided to do the same in her home city, though not as a permanent structure. In 2010 she founded Traveling Stories as a 501c3 nonprofit operating primarily in farmers markets. Why tents?

“A tent allows us to be mobile and to fit in easily at a farmer’s market or other community hotspot. We want to make reading a part of everyday life,” Emily says. “We want to make reading more visible in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Kids in these neighborhoods have access to books through libraries and schools, but still the fact remains that 82% of low-income children in America are not reading at grade level by 4th grade.”

Emily is definitely onto something. According to the Literacy Project Foundation 50% of adults cannot read a book written at eighth grade level. 45 million adults are functionally illiterate. Among the 20 highest income countries the U.S. ranked 12th in literacy. That’s pretty astounding for a country as big and as sophisticated as the U.S. To combat illiteracy in adults, it must start with children; Emily gets it.

“Traveling Stories helps kids develop strong literacy skills, confidence in their ability to read out loud and a love of reading,” she says.

She chose the farmers markets because she saw that kids needed one-on-one reading support with people who love to read. She noticed children accompanying their parents to travelling-stories-taythe local farmers markets and decided to try out a tent at the City Heights farmer’s market in 2011. It was a huge success. Now they’re in markets across San Diego, in Long Beach, Turlock, and Canada with plans to expand to more communities in San Diego over the next five years which Emily surmises will enable them to reach 5,000 children, turning them into better readers. After that they plan to go nationwide.

Emily spends much of her time raising funds as it costs about $20,000 to operate each tent per year. Between private and corporate donations, special events, sponsorships, grants, merchandise sales on their website and in-kind donations, so far they’re making ends meet and building for the future.

“That’s how we’re able to serve 40-plus kids every week at every StoryTent,” she says.

These days the StoryTents pretty much attract their own following, occupying the same spots week after week, making it easy to find them. Plus there’s an incentive. When children visit a tent, they pick out a book and read it aloud to the adult volunteer who traveling-stories-girlsfollows up by asking questions that help the child build reading comprehension and crucial thinking skills. The children earn a “book buck” for every book they read. For particularly long or complex books they can barter with the volunteer for extra bucks, which can be used to “buy” prizes (like the in-kind donations). Not only do the kids learn invaluable reading and comprehension skills, they’re also learning basic finance. Earn a buck, spend a buck. Pretty basic stuff and pretty darn smart.

Interested in visiting a StoryTent or volunteering? Click here here to learn more.

 

First Lady

Every now and then I read a story that is both perfect for The Goodness Principle and perfect as is. That’s the case with this story about Bobbi Gibb, an extraordinary woman who back in the day broke the Boston Marathon restriction barring women from running. I love that she wouldn’t accept “no”. I came across her story in UCSD’s alumni magazine, Triton. Many thanks to Triton for allowing us to run the story.

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How Bobbi Gibb, Revelle ’69, broke the Boston Marathon’s gender barrier.

By Heather Buschman, Ph.D. ’08

Bobbi Gibb was just days off a plane from her native Boston when she began running long distances throughout San Diego. Though far from the wooded forest trails of her youth in Massachusetts, San Diego County offered ample space for the future philosophy major to think; it was her means of physical meditation,  letting her mind ponder the mysteries of the universe. As she settled into San Diego life, she routinely ran 30 miles in a day, around Balboa Park, Coronado, Imperial Beach—even accidentally wandering into Mexico.

In 1966, this was not exactly typical of a 23-year-old Navy wife, but Gibb was a woman well ahead of her time.

“Back then a woman was put straight into a box—you could be a wife, a mother and a homemaker, but that was it,” says Gibb. “I had no problem with getting married and having kids… but I had no intention of being a homemaker.”

A female runner was a definite anomaly in those days. Lacking true equipment, Gibb ran for miles in nurse’s shoes, a one-piece swimsuit and a pair of old  shorts. One day on a run from her cottage near Balboa Park up through La Jolla, Gibb passed Scripps Institution of Oceanography, running her hardest up the cliffs only to find the summit being carved by huge yellow earth movers. This was the beginning of Revelle College, and this first sight of UC San Diego spoke to her profoundly.

“I need to learn more,” Gibb recalls thinking in her 2011 memoir, Wind in the Fire. “I need to go back to school and to learn everything I can about biology, physics, matter and mind and philosophy… I have been a solitary thinker and now I want to know what other people have thought about these matters. As I look around in amazement at all this activity, I’m filled with the powerful sense that this is where I belong… this is where I’m supposed to go to college.”

Still sweaty from running, she walked into the admissions office—one of the few buildings then constructed—and signed up for classes that fall.

It was not the first time Gibb had witnessed something and felt a calling to become a part of it. Years prior, while on one of her regular runs through the woods outside Boston, Gibb recalls catching sight of a throng of runners treading down the street together, united in the effort she would later learn was the Boston Marathon.

“These are my people!” she thought. “Finally, other running adults. I can do this!” Just as committed as she was to join UC San Diego, she resolved then to run the Boston Marathon someday. It didn’t occur to her, however, that it was only men she’d seen running.

At home in La Jolla, with an academic career on the horizon, Gibb made plans to achieve this personal milestone before embarking on her educational one. She wrote a letter to the Boston Athletic Association requesting an application. Yet when their response arrived back, the message was devastating:

We have received your request for an application for the Boston Marathon and regret that we will not be able to send you an application. Women are not physiologically capable to run 26.2 miles and we would not want to take on the medical liability. Furthermore, the rules of International Sport and the Amateur Athletic Union do not allow women to run more than the sanctioned one and a half miles. Sorry we could not be of more help.

Gibb was outraged. She was infuriated. She was anything but daunted. Though she had always thought of the race as a challenge for herself, it was now something far bigger. She resolved to make a statement. She had to prove them wrong.

So when the week of the marathon arrived, she got on a cross-country bus headed back to Boston.

April 16, 1966
A firsthand account of Bobbi Gibb’s historic run.

Abridged from Wind in the Fire by Bobbi Gibb, Revelle ’69

Barren trees, still wrapped in winter gray, brush the April sky with pastel shades of mauve and lavender. Runners in brightly colored clothes mill among the trees, clustering and talking in groups. The reality hits me—this is a real race and real people; they really do not allow women. There are policemen here who can arrest me. I have no idea what I am getting into. My greatest fear is that I will be stopped, prevented from proving that a woman can run twenty-six miles.

I trot slowly around the town getting the lay of the land. Next to the common I find a little hollow, which smells dank and dusty with last year’s leaves. I crouch down, hidden in the bushes. The dead litter rustles under my shoes. My heart is beating fast inside my warm sweatshirt. I feel the restless energy in my legs and thighs. I wait, poised, ready to leap.

The bang of a gun drifts across the light spring air and a cheer goes up from the spectators. The mass of runners springs forward with a roar. I wait until about half the pack has gone and then leap out of the bushes. My legs unfold and my feet hit the pavement running hard. The physicality of other runners surrounds me—the flailing arms and legs, the intense concentration, the heat, the sound of soft, strong foot falls on the road.

I hear the men talking to each other in hushed tones.

gibb-2“Is that a girl?”

“It sure looks like one.”

I turn and smile.

“It is a girl!”

“A woman’s running!”

“Are you going the whole way?” asks the lanky man beside me.

“I hope so,” I respond, laughing.

The weight of responsibility presses on me. Failing to finish will end up setting women back. People will say, “This is why we don’t let women run. Women really are not capable of these things,” And the door will be slammed even more tightly.

The men are friendly and supportive. “We won’t let them throw you out,” they agree.

I reach my arms up and pull the sweatshirt over my head. For a second, the crowd is silent.

“It’s a girl!” a woman screams from the crowd.

“Hey, at a-go girly!” says a man. “Go get ’em!”

We speed on through Wellesley, where the women at the college have been listening to my progress on the radio. When they see me, the intensity of their screaming increases.

“There she is!”

“A woman is running!”

Some of them are crying. One woman has several children clinging to her ample overcoat. “Ave Maria!” she shouts, tears streaming down her face.

We run over the bridge across Route 128 like a herd of wild animals. People cheer and clap. “Heartbreak Hill,” I hear from another runner. “It’s a killer.” We’re on Route 30—seventeen miles. I feel great, though I’m not used to running on pavement and my shoes are chafing. We start to climb.

The incredible strength and endurance it takes to run a marathon, to live a life with integrity. You are surrounded by other people running, but no one else can do it for you. You have to do it yourself. I watch the patterns and sparkles in the pavement, and I am filled with a sense of their beauty.

The road goes up, as do we. Pace slows as runners strain. I feel the edge of fatigue for the first time, no longer reining in, but pushing to keep going. Finally the hill crests and a view of Boston opens up.

gibb-3The Prudential Tower is closer than I thought. Boston College slides by. Only five miles more to go.

I can run five miles in my sleep, I think. Such a feeling of elation and success! Yet the marathon is no place for smugness. The steep downhill slope rips apart my legs. The blisters on my feet have burst, the raw flesh is rubbing on my stiff boys’ running shoes, and running in the heat has left me seriously dehydrated.

Our ragged bunch of survivors pass into Boston, while busloads of men who have dropped out wave and cheer at us. Kenmore Square looms above everything else.

“One more mile!” the crowds chant. Yet my pace has dropped off. I am barely moving, tiptoeing along, each step sending a searing jolt to my brain. My blistered feet feel as if they are cut through to bone. The bottoms of my feet are on fire.

This is where I discover the real meaning of fortitude: to go on, to keep going in the face of disappointment, to see your hopes dashed but to keep on anyway, to finish what you set out to do even if it isn’t what you had hoped. This last mile takes me longer than the preceding five.

I turn back onto the brick canyon of Hereford Street, where so many people crowd into the street only a small passage is left.  I turn onto Boylston and suddenly the road opens up. Thousands of people line the streets. The press truck rolls along beside me, flash bulbs, the announcer and police. I pick up my pace and trot across the finish line in a time of three hours and twenty minutes, I’m told, ahead of two-thirds of the pack. Not bad, I think.

Those who kept my pace congratulate me. Some kind soul throws a wool blanket around my shoulders. I’m overcome by a  supreme happiness, having reached the end of a long journey which I hope will change the world for the better, and begin a new journey for our times toward a better world for all.

 

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Making It Through The Night

Chris Meyer is not having a good night. Tossing and turning, reliving nightmarish flashes, sometimes even uncomfortable night sweats—all a part of the PTSD which accompanies so many returning service men and women. If left unchecked, an alarming number fall into a depression which, tragically, ends for far too many in suicide.

But Chris is fortunate. Not only is he receiving good medical attention, but he has the constant attention of Jade, his partner, confidant, and safe to say, his love. When Chris is having another debilitating nightmare, Jade is right there to wake him from his torture, to assure him everything is all right and he is safe.

MITTN ChrisYou may be wondering what would be the best way to wake a PTSD suffering person without compounding their fright. Jade has perfected the process—first she nudges Chris a few times with her nose, then her long tongue starts bathing his face. Chris wakes up quickly; the terror abated.

You see, Jade is a service dog—a loving Golden Retriever/Shepherd mix, who was painstakingly trained by Graham Bloem, founder of Shelter to Soldier. But providing care-giving dogs to veterans is only part of the Shelter to Soldier story.

MITTN Jade at the park

Graham scours the many local shelters looking for 40 – 50 pound dogs who he can determine have the temperament and intelligence to respond to training as a service dog. MITTN GrahamAfter checking them for optimal health and getting a head x-ray, many of the dogs he tests don’t make the cut. Many of those who do test well were precariously existing on the euthanasia list because no one wanted to adopt them. Graham then saves them and begins their training.

You may rightly say that this process saves two lives at once: the dog’s and the veteran’s. Win-win! But there’s more to the story.

This isn’t one of those places that just finds a dog, then a veteran, and says “Here you go!” No, Shelter to Soldier spends several thousand dollars per dog for medical care and housing during the 12 to 18 months it takes to thoroughly train them as service dogs.

The veterans go through a careful screening process as well, starting with a doctor’s recommendation to the initial telephone interviews. Then the veteran visits the training facility to see how they interact with dogs—and vice versa. When Graham makes a suitable match, he trains the dog to be sensitive to those issues which plague the veteran.

According to 1st Sgt. Tomas Mondares, his dog Sandy (a female Shepherd/Labrador mix), senses when he gets anxious from seeing shadows after dark. Sometimes he gets easily irritated. That’s when she will side up next to him, ‘herding’ him away from the stimulus and de-escalating the situation. It’s like a friend reminding him that “it’s OK Tomas —just chill”.

MITTN Tomas & Sandy gradBut the training isn’t just for the dogs. No, Graham requires that the veteran actively participate in the training a couple of times a week over a period of months. That way the veteran becomes certified as a dog handler, and the dog intuitively learns about the needs of the veteran. At the end of training there is a graduation ceremony for each veteran and dog, concluding with certificates of completion and competency.

For Chris Meyer, knowing that Jade senses when he is in dire need, and has been taught to push a button to administer medication provides great peace of mind. For Tomas Mondares, who received severe injuries to his back and hip during a deployment, having Sandy help him get up when he can’t on his own is crucial.

Graham served a stint in a pet nutrition store, and then as a dog trainer at a large animal shelter. That’s when he discovered his innate talent for connecting with dogs and training them to be caregivers, and Shelter to Soldier began as a non-profit 2012. To date they have placed nine dogs with veterans, with eight more dogs now in training.

According to Graham’s wife, Kyrie, who takes care of the operating details of the organization, their objective is to train 20 dogs at a time. Clearly there’s a huge need; in fact there’s so many veterans in need of service dogs that they can’t keep up. Until they can get into a larger facility they can’t reach that twenty-in-training goal.

MITTN Jade Chris GradShelter to Soldier calls San Diego County home, where 1.2 million active duty, veterans and families of veterans live. Of the active and veteran ranks, a vast number suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome) and TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) due to their time in combat zones. Shelter to Soldier does not to treat the veterans—that’s left to the medical institutions. Graham’s approach focuses on preparing the dogs to perform care-giving functions that aid each veteran. He understands that dogs are non-judgmental and give unconditional love; the perfect candidates for the job.

After each dog has been trained and goes home with the veteran, the veteran can call Graham anytime with questions and give him an update on how they’re doing. Shelter to Soldier holds events and get-togethers for the veterans and dogs, as well as refresher courses and further training anytime a need arises.

MITTN Sandy & Tomas 2Does it work? Before he entered the program Tomas Mondares felt he was in a dark place, and just wanted to stay shut in by himself. Now with Sandy he feels so much better that they go out more often, enjoying life together. In fact, he claims that without Graham and Sandy, he would be in a much darker place—or maybe not here at all.

Chris Meyer looked into getting  a service dog from five other programs before settling on Shelter to Soldier. He found StS to be the only one that completely vetted each veteran and each dog’s capabilities to provide the best possible fit. As Chris continues in his rehabilitation, he says he wants to give back to Graham and do some volunteer work with the organization.

How did Graham Bloem decide on this path? Is he a veteran? Is he from a military family? Neither. He was born in South Africa, and immigrated to the US through Canada, later becoming a US citizen. He has never been in the military. He did, however, come to realize that he was really good at training dogs. With all the current and former military in the county having needs, his destiny was obvious.

Graham also runs West Coast K9, a professional dog training business to pay some bills, but the non-profit Shelter to Soldier operation is a labor of love and charity. The challenge to the Board of Directors is how to expand the operation to train more dogs, necessitating a larger facility.

Saving dogs, helping veterans, by someone who immigrated here—how’s that for goodness personified?

MITTN Jade

Tomas says that “family” is defined by love, not necessarily by blood. Using that criteria, then it is safe to say that Sandy is definitely family to Tomas, as Jade is to Chris. The unconditional love these family members give to their human counterparts is their own Goodness Principle.

You can learn more about Shelter to Soldier here.