Planting It Forward

*Image courtesy of Plant-It-Forward

If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves. ~Thomas Edison

A few years back, Teresa O’Donnell, a Houston resident and corporate executive who had co-founded a successful software company, was charged with finding a way for her company to invest in “community wellbeing.”

“Community wellbeing.”

A vague concept that could mean anything from roadside cleanup to an overhaul of public education.

She searched. And she thought.

Eventually she came across a newspaper article about refugees from war-torn countries that had settled in Houston. Intrigued, she contacted the refugee resettlement office, where she learned that many of the refugees were undereducated, could not speak English, and had few marketable job skills.

Daunted, Teresa couldn’t imagine there was much that her software company could offer to help these refugees. But the woman at the office asked her to come and greet a refugee family who was arriving at the Houston airport. Just come and see for yourself, the woman suggested.

Teresa said yes.

So one evening she greeted an exhausted and anxious blended family of 9 Somalis at the airport – two adults and seven children, four of whom were orphans. She marveled at the small government-issued satchels they each carried, which held all of their earthly possessions. And as she helped them acclimate to their new apartment – showing them how to flush the toilet, work the microwave and mix hot and cold water, she knew that her life had just changed. The one hour that she spent with them had done something to her heart, and she knew she’d never be the same.

But she didn’t know how, exactly, she could help them.

Inspiration struck while she was reading yet another article in the Houston Chronicle. The article was about “market gardening,” and was written by a local-food activist who believed that farming an acre of land and selling the produce at farmers’ markets could provide a sustainable living for a family.

She called her new friend at the refugee agency.

“Do any of these refugees happen to be farmers?” She asked.

“Actually, they’re all farmers.”

She got goosebumps.

And thus began her journey from corporate executive of a software company to the creator of Plant-It-Forward, which “secures land, selects, trains, and mentors farmers and establishes each on their own urban farm to sell under the Plant It Forward brand.”

She had no background in farming and no knowledge of agriculture. She had no specialized expertise, and when things went wrong (as things often do) she would ask herself “who did I think I was, anyway?”

Well, friends. She was one woman.

One woman who, tasked with finding a suitable corporate project, was inspired to create a groundbreaking program that today is feeding people’s bodies and minds. In the literal sense, Plant It Forward farms feed their customers – as well as their farmers and their families (who eat the produce that don’t sell or that aren’t market-worthy). But the farms also inspire other Houstonians – member of local schools, community groups, churches and colleges – who all come out to help create new farms and to learn about the work that Plant-It-Forward is doing.

Most importantly, Plant-It-Forward improves the lives of people who have had everything crushed. Having left their countries in fear for their lives, farming gives these refugees some control over their future, while returning them to something familiar – working the land.

And it gives them the power to dream again. One refugee farmer talks about his dreams of being able to save a few thousand dollars, not to buy something for himself, or even for his family. But because with that much money he can “do something for over there — for one village, for two villages, for water, for medicine, to dress people.” He talks about how he’s finally happy. And his wife is happy. And his children are happy. And now he wants to do something for others.

It all started with one woman.

One woman who was inspired.

One woman who saw a need, and didn’t just look away.

That one woman has changed so many others’ lives and fortunes, while inspiring so many more.

We’re all capable of such wonderful things.

I hope you see what you are capable of.

And that you don’t look away.

Let’s get to work.


Tuesday: Call Your Senators re: Special Counsel Independence & Integrity Act (S.2644)

On Thursday, the Senate’s Judiciary Committee will vote on the Special Counsel Independence & Integrity Act – which merges two different bills that had previously been introduced to protect the special counsel’s investigation. The bipartisan bill is sponsored by Republican Senators Lindsay Graham and Thom Tillis, and Democrats Cory Booker and Chris Coons.  Notably, all four of those sponsors are members of the Judiciary Committee!

The legislation:

  • Codifies existing Department of Justice regulations to ensure that the Special Counsel can only be fired for good cause by a senior Justice Department official, and the reason must be provided in writing.
  • Provides the Special Counsel a 10-day window in which he can seek expedited judicial review of his removal to determine whether the firing was for good cause. If the firing is ultimately determined to have violated the good-cause requirement, the removal will not take effect.
  • Preserves the staffing, documents, and materials of the investigation while the matter is pending.

Great piece of legislation, right? I know! So let’s get on the phone and make sure our Senators support it.

Wondering if your Senator is a member of the Committee? Here‘s a handy list. If he/she is part of the Judiciary Committee, call before Thursday and ensure he/she knows to support the bill. If not, you can still call your Senators and encourage them to publicly support the bill.

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m a constituent at ___. I’m calling to encourage the Senator to publicly support Senate Bill 2644- the bipartisan Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act. It’s sponsored by Senators Graham, Tillis, Coons and Booker, and would protect the Mueller investigation from interference. Now is the time for Senator ____ to publicly support the rule of law and ensure that special counsels are able to follow the facts where they lead.

Wednesday: Call Your Congressman/woman Re: HR3654

The House version of the bill to protect the Special Council is HR3654. You can determine whether your Congressman/woman is already supporting/co-sponsoring the legislation by going here and looking for his/her name.

But here’s a second request for you to make of your representative. A “discharge” petition forces a bill out of committee and onto the House floor for a vote. Without a discharge petition, which has to be signed by a majority of members, the bill will remain in committee until the chair schedules it. So a discharge petition is a way for Congress to force action on an important issue.

This is just such an issue.

So last week we saw a rash of Democrats signing the discharge petition for HR3654. There are now 150 signers to the discharge petition. Because 218 signatures are needed for the petition, that’s still a ways to go – but this certainly sends a much-needed message and we should encourage this kind of action to continue. Check this list to see if your Congressman/woman has signed on, and if not, give them a call and demand to know why.

Thursday: Get Ready, Bookmark Resources, RSVP for Protests

Let’s be clear – notwithstanding the insane news cycle that is almost impossible to keep up with, there is a very clear danger that Rosenstein or Mueller could be fired soon. Rosenstein has apparently told confidants that he is prepared to be fired, and that’s good reason to get ourselves ready too.

So here are two resources to bookmark:

Find a protest near you here.

Find out what you can do to pressure your MOCs to act here.

Friday: National Day of Action to Prevent Gun Violence In Schools

April 20 is the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, and has been organized as a national day of action in support of gun violence prevention. Although there have been conflicting actions (some calling for school walk outs, others calling for days of service and community involvement) the message is the same: show your support for common sense gun reform and safe schools.

Here are some ideas on how you can do that, courtesy of the Network for Public Education.

  • Wear orange (if you’re curious as to why orange is the color of gun advocacy, here’s an explanation).
  • Hand deliver your letter that asks for improved gun control laws in your state to the office of your local representatives.
  • Call your member of Congress and discuss what you believe should be done to reduce gun violence in schools.

You can also join one of the MOMs Demand Action for Gun Sense In America Voter Outreach teams, which contact voters in key states to educate them about bills to oppose, and then connect them with their legislators. There are teams active on different dates and at different times, so there’s a good chance that something fits your schedule.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together.

If you want one more quick action, make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

Lastly, if you’d like to support this work (thanks to those who have done so!), you can become a supporter here.

Have a thought? A small deed to suggest? Share it here!

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