December 30, 2010

Community initiative aids children

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Health, Women at 12:45 am by dinaheng

It may take a village to raise a child, but the Children’s Bureau in Los Angeles, a non profit committed to strengthening at-risk families, knows it takes a whole community to create a better future for young children vulnerable to abuse.

Two years ago, the organization launched the Magnolia Place Community Initiative, an effort to support 500 blocks of low income families in the West Adams district of Los Angeles by pulling together resources from county government, community services, and businesses. Today, there are 75 organizations working on health, education, parenting and economic stability in the neighborhood.

This winter, in a season of economic discontent, the initiative got a huge boost with the opening of the neighborhood’s first banking center. While money can’t cure every social ill, Pan American Bank’s willingness to invest in a district long plagued by poverty, crime and child abuse is a beacon of hope that cannot be underestimated.

“In low income areas, there aren’t enough parks, grocery stores and banks,” explains Alex Morales, president and CEO of Children’s Bureau. “Half the community doesn’t have a banking relationship, making them vulnerable to exploitive situations.”

For example, check cashing operations that specialize in giving short term loans with high interest fees can ensnare customers in a cycle of constant debt.

“If your refrigerator breaks down, they’ll offer you a rent-to-buy option, and by the time you pay it off, you’ll have bought the equivalent of three refrigerators,” Morales says. “They may offer a cash advance on your IRS refund, and charge a high rate of interest for it. If you don’t have a credit card, or are short on cash, once you get into that cycle, you always need money because you’re always behind.”

Getting trapped in that kind of financial mire results from not being taught how to handle finances as a child, and not having a bank in your community.

Pan American Bank, the nation’s second oldest Latino-owned bank, has a mission to empower Latino communities through its banking relationships, and has designed its facility in West Adams toward that end.

The Pan American Bank Technical Assistance Center provides an ATM machine at the front of Magnolia Place Family Center, the initiative’s community hub, along with a service area inside the building. The bank will provide financial literacy training to community members, along with services to assist local customers and small businesses in the area.

“They’ve eliminated fees for checking, and are not requiring minimum balances,” Morales says. “They’re giving incentives like putting in $5 for every child who opens a bank account, so they really want to help the community.

“In this economic climate, it was even harder to attract a bank to come into this community. But this bank is part of our educational effort. We may not be able to give them all jobs, but we can help educate people about things like earned income tax credit, which pays people money if they’re working, but still earning below the poverty level.”

There are many projects going on around the country that provide comprehensive, preventative services to help low income families, and the Magnolia Place Community Initiative stands among them as a national model. It’s nice to see that despite an uncertain economy, there are financial institutions like Pan American Bank that are giving as much as they’re getting from their communities.

For it’s only when we think of all the nation’s children as our own that everyone’s future will truly be better.

 

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December 22, 2010

Open hearts for greater treasures

Posted in Between Us column, Employment, Relationships, Women at 9:53 pm by dinaheng

One of my dearest friends has suffered with clinical depression for years, going into periods when she is unable to get dressed and go out into the world to do anything. There are periods when she will sit at home, battling some unspoken fear, while her husband and family try to carry on with life around her, while taking care of her at the same time.

She fell into one of her funks a few weeks ago, canceling every walk, movie, or lunch date we tried to make. One day, she knocked on my door, and I opened it to find her standing there with a piece of cake, lit with a candle, on a elegant crystal plate. She wanted to wish me a happy birthday, and while she couldn’t say anything more than that before giving me a hug and leaving, I was so happy.

Despite her fear, her wish to share an act of love got her out of the house. I don’t know how long this period of depression will last, but I know she will come out of it because love and goodness is stronger than any fear we may hold.

This has been a difficult year for many of us. Industries of every ilk continue to change, the economy continues to seem uncertain, and friends we once worked with have moved on to other things. Many of us wonder how we can move forward to create something better for ourselves? How can we become innovators and entrepreneurs, and dream up ways to make more money?

The answer is very simple. We must remember that life is not just about us — it’s about ALL of us. To succeed at anything, we must live a life of service.

On the level of new product development and industry change, what do others need, and what can we do to meet that need?  On a personal level, what do the people around us  need, and what can we do to help them?  It’s all about how we look at the world, and give of ourselves.

The way we think, the things we say… it all has an affect on how Life then unfolds.

Want the economy to get better? Start thinking positively. Start talking as if things are already better, then do what you need to do to make it so. If you’re a business owner holding profits close to the vest, start hiring people. If you’re a consumer who’s been afraid to buy anything, buy something you may need and can afford… if not for yourself, then for someone else who needs it more.

One of my friends works for a company that has laid off many workers in the last year. The company cut her department down to two people and a temporary employee. Since there’s more work to be done among the three, my friend works overtime five days a week to get her share done.

She’s getting paid for the overtime, and is told that it’s less expensive for the company to pay the extra money to her than it is to hire another full-time employee and pay the benefits. But how long can anyone work under these kind of conditions?

Like everyone who’s employed these days, my friend is grateful to have a job. But from my point of view, companies that operate like this are practicing slave labor tactics, forcing employees to work more for fear of losing their jobs.

So what is my friend doing with her overtime salary? She’s saving it, and at the same time, has signed up to be a “Christmas Angel” for people who are less fortunate. In addition to family gifts for the holidays, she’s buying for strangers in need.

The holidays will be coming to a close before we know it. The season of giving thanks and sharing what we have comes to an end on December 31. But the spirit of the season can, and should, be with us year-round.

Wherever we are in life, there are always people who have more than we do, and people  who have less than we do. What matters is sharing what we have with others.

So share your time, your attention, your talents, your imagination, your patience, your encouragement, and your understanding with others. Open your heart to others, and you’ll discover that goodness has no bounds.

We have the power to overcome depression and fear… even when it’s called a recession.

 

 

December 16, 2010

Exhibit gives glimpses of China

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Entertainment at 11:18 pm by dinaheng

Two photography exhibitions that offer different viewpoints of life in China have opened at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center, in Los Angeles — “Felice Beato: A Photographer on the Eastern Road” and “Photography from the New China.”

The two exhibitions, which run concurrently through April 24, 2011, offer rare glimpses into a country that has long fascinated Americans because of its traditional closed doors to the West.

The “Felice Beato” exhibit shares work done by a British photographer who was among the first to record images of newly opened countries like China, Japan, India, Korea and Burma in the 1850s to 1871. He was one of the first global photographers, chronicling wars and life in foreign countries.

The “Beato” exhibit includes architectural views, costume studies and portraits, giving an historical perspective to life in Asia from the viewpoint of a Western photographer in the 19th Century. Beato’s work contrasts with “Photography from the New China,” which features contemporary art produced by Chinese photographers since the 1990s, when People’s Republic leader Deng Xiaoping introduced the current period of Opening and Reform.

“People are fascinated by art coming out of China because we’ve seen so little of it until now,” says Judith Keller, senior curator of photographs and curator of the exhibition. “The use of photography in producing art in China is playing a major role there. The artists there don’t have the same tradition of making black and white photos in the darkroom, thinking about how good the negative is.

“They’re thinking about digital photography, and are very adventurous with it, experimenting with size and technique. They have all these Western influences and new techniques, combined with their own traditional culture, to express their own ideas of what their art should be.”

The photographs in this exhibit show imagery from ancient Chinese culture and propaganda from the Cultural Revolution in ways that convey how repression has affected the human spirit, and how Western influences are changing values in the Chinese people today.

Models, in some cases, are staged in whimsical, theatrical or cynical scenes. Family portraits are juxtaposed against current photographs of people. The message is that China’s people are in transition from a rural, isolated society to an urban, industrial society that’s trying to catch up with the West on one level, yet poised to surpass it on the economic front.

Nudity, for example, was forbidden during the Cultural Revolution. There’s a lot of it in today’s photography as Chinese artists use the human form in their artwork, often as statements about publicly enduring pain of some sort.

“It’s about the impact of consumerism and global marketing,” Keller says, “and how money has become what people are worshipping now, instead of the Communist state. There’s greater freedom of expression than in the 1990s, when artists were trying to push the limits with performance art, and a lot of them were arrested.”

Today, she adds, artists acknowledge that the state feels free to censor their work and shut down exhibitions whenever officials decide to. But as long as photographs don’t represent or criticize current state officials, the images seem to be tolerated.

“There’s one artist who paints his own body and models with traditional landscapes,” Keller notes. “Painting landscape on one’s body is not a traditional art. Landscapes were done on rice paper mounted on silk in small scale. Now it’s seen on a man’s muscular torso.  Their work is very humanistic, and the art is about how current events are affecting people.

“I hope the people who see the exhibit will become even more fascinated by art from the East because of this show.”

December 9, 2010

Explore the power of your dreams…

Posted in Between Us column, Health, Spirituality at 4:55 am by dinaheng

Dreams are the messages our subconscious sends to wake us up about issues in our lives, to give guidance and comfort in times of need, and to connect us with others on the unseen side of life.

Most of the time, we wake up remembering fragments of our dreams, which quickly fade away unless we write the memory down. If we make the effort to remember and analyze what we dream each night, the insights can help to solve problems or spark creativity in the waking world.

Dream expert Cynthia Richmond, a board certified behavioral therapist and speaker, has put together an easy-to-follow guide to exploring your dreams in her new book, “The Dream Power Journal… A System for Organizing Your Dreams to Enhance Your Life” ($16.95, DreamPower Publishing).

“The original theory was that we dream around rapid eye movements in the sleep state, but studies show that we’re dreaming all the time,” says Richmond, who’s written dream columns for the Los Angeles Times and the Arizona Republic, and appeared on shows like “Oprah, “ “Dr. Phil,” and “The View.”

“Dreams are really another dimension that we can tap into while we’re waking. The Aborigines, for example, believe all time is happening now — that there’s no separation from past and future in time, and that dreams are just a dimension or energy frequency.”

Richmond says understanding our dreams can add so much to our waking lives. Thomas Edison, she notes, invented many things through his dreams by holding ball bearings in his hands when he’d go to sleep, sitting up in a chair. When he relaxed, the ball bearings would fall out of his hands and hit a steel pan, waking him up to new ideas.

Musicians like Billy Joel and Paul McCartney have talked about dreams that inspired  melodies and lyrics.

“Our grandmothers used to say, ‘You’re making a big decision. Why don’t you sleep on it?” Richmond says. “In the dream state, our  mind can show us different angles and solutions to problems. The  majority of people don’t remember our dreams because we’re busy, wake up, and start thinking about what we need to do that day. But you can learn to remember by reminding yourself every night that you’ll remember the dream when you wake up.”

The dreams will evaporate if we don’t write them down, though, which is why Richmond designed her new book with a method for recalling and cataloging our dreams.

The book talks about the anatomy of a dream, dream symbols and understanding your dreams. The journal gives an organized outline for noting main symbols and themes of dreams, how you felt when you woke up, insights and interpretations.

Richmond says we can set intentions for our dreams, asking for information and guidance, and even asking to communicate with those who have departed.

“I’ve worked with John Edward and James Van Praagh, and many people have dreamed about a loved one,” she says. “If you want to invite someone in, you can. Most of us would be startled or afraid if a ghost walked in on us, but it’s safe in the dream state. People should just be careful to surround themselves with white light if they do this.”

By recording our dreams in a journal, she adds, we get the most from our dreamwork.

“I usually wake up once a night, and before I get out of bed, I write my dreams down,” Richmond says. “I want to see what my dream source gives me. When we’re open to being guided, dreams are a great way to tap into our intuition.”

“The Dream Power Journal…A System for Organizing Your Dreams to Enhance Your Life” by Cynthia Richmond can be ordered on Amazon.com.