Author Archives: k8mante

Going Wild with the New York WILD Film Festival

I’ll tell you how the sun rose that morning in Tsavo National Park, Kenya – just like all other mornings for days on end. There’s nothing casual about mid-February sun in Tsavo. It rises early and immediately unleashes an inescapable tsunami of heat across the land. Then, happy with its work, the sun stands guard in a cloudless sky, both like a fierce sentinel and a tyrannous explorer, relentlessly finding every tiny crevasse and crack in the parched land. Dancing heat along the horizon shimmers and sparkles as if in great celebration of the quest.

Photo 60040206 / Termite Mound © Volodymyr Byrdyak (subcription)

Across these southern plains of Kenya, communities of termites are building their mounds. They excavate nutrient-rich soil from deep underground and transport it to the surface, building their structures higher and higher, reaching to the sky, seeking fruitlessly to touch any possible breeze. But there is none. Not yet. Not until the deluge of the rains come in March.

The dirt the termites excavate is packed with minerals and nutrients not available otherwise in the surrounding soil of the plains. Over time, battered by seasonal rains, wind, heat and wildlife, the mounds eventually erode and leave large patches of bare soil filled with nutrients. These patches dot the landscape like freckles across the dusty plains.

They are a perfect visiting spot for families of elephants, who are drawn to the patches for the rich nutrients and salts in the clay…. minerals the elephants need for survival.

Photo 96834699 / Elephants © Klomsky | (subcription)

The elephant families come and dig into the patches, scraping up the nutrient-rich soil with their feet and tusks and leaving behind an indented area. Slowly, over time, the indented clay patch becomes deeper and deeper as more elephants visit. Then it rains.

Rainy season brings with it a deluge of life-giving water and the fine, mineral-rich clay of the patches becomes sticky mud. The elephants love it – they dig in it and spray the mud on themselves and each other. They wallow in it and roll in it and splash it all over themselves. The mud coats their bodies, head to toe, keeping them cool and protecting them from sunburn and biting flies.

Each elephant family carries away up to a ton of mud with them, so the indented freckle becomes a larger indented spot, and eventually a deeper hole that continues to widen and deepen with each visit. Within a few years, what the termites started, and the elephants created, becomes a full watering hole. An oasis in the plains, full of life….

This was part of the story shared in the independent documentary film “The Elephant and the Termite”- one of 35 powerful and exhilarating documentaries shown at the 9th Annual New York Wild Film Festival.

The Elephant and the Termite won the Best Cinematography award and it was easy to see why.

The film was enchanting and stunning – silhouettes of elephants against an orange sunset, the deep greens of chameleons poised perfectly on seasonal grasses, drinking crystal clear drops of water, underwater shots and close-ups of wildlife of all types (birds, insects, mammals). It was hard to pull myself away from the film!

Me at the “paparazzi” screen

The festival ran 4 days, and I was super-excited to be chosen to volunteer for a shift on Saturday, welcoming guests and generally helping guests however and wherever possible.

There were a team of volunteers who helped check people in, provided guidance to find film showings and reception areas, answered questions, helped usher people to their seats, organized gift baskets, helped set up and break-down, and more

While films were in process the volunteers had opportunity to watch some of the films from a separate viewing area. It was inspiring and emotional to watch parts of the films!

The NY WILD Film Festival is the first annual film festival in NY to showcase a spectrum of topics that bring attention to wildlife, conservation, exploration, and the environment. It is held every March.

2023 Event Poster

More than ever, people are fascinated with the natural world and phenomenon that affects it. There is a quickly-awakening awareness of human impact on our planet and a growing feeling of urgency to live differently in order to save it.

People want to connect with our planet and understand how to do better for the natural world.

The NY WILD Film Festival provides an active platform creating excitement around crucial issues, gives a voice to critical issues, builds important partnerships with key players in exploration and conservation, highlights dedicated scientists and explorers, celebrates filmmakers, and reaches growing audiences – spreading energy around protecting our planet. Films run anywhere between 5 and 90 minutes.

There were films by filmmakers from all over the world (USA, Brazil, France, China, Mexico, Kenya, Canada and more) and that diversity of experience and perspective was truly inspiring. The festival also includes Q&A sessions with filmmakers, explorers and experts.

It was exhilarating for ticket-holders to be able to watch the films, be moved by the powerful images and storytelling of the filmmakers, and then meet the heroes protecting our planet for Q&A sessions.

There were various receptions, award presentations, and on-line auction, and even a family program for children ages 7+.  

The festival presented an extraordinary opportunity to exchange ideas and effect change. Over 300 films were originally submitted, which were initially vetted by a group of pre-screeners, who chose a large number of films to go to a Final Jury for selection of the final 35.

The festival runs in partnership with The Explorers Club (the festival was held in its NYC location), the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), FujiFilm, Acr’teryx, Flite, and The New Yorker Documentary.

I left that day feeling that while there is much to do to save the planet, there is an extensive network of passionate, powerful, action-oriented teams of people looking to solve issues and make the world a better place for future generations! I am inspired to get more involved in making a difference and continuing to learn more about the synergistic human-wildlife-planet experience. Each of us already have impact – it’s up to us to make that impact positive or negative.

How do you celebrate the wild? What passions do you have for the planet? Leave me a comment below.

If you’re interested in learning more about the New York WILD Film Festival, to join their mailing list and to keep an eye out for tickets for next year’s festival, check out their site here:

This is the link to the inspiring and powerful trailer for the 2023 film festival here (you’ll be glad you watched it and I bet you can’t just watch it once):

If you’d like to learn more about my favorite film of the day I volunteered, The Elephant and the Termite, PBS has a learning media site with clips:

If you are a member of PBS Thirteen Passport, you can watch the film in entirety here:

External view of Explorer’s Club

A note about The Explorer’s Club – As hosting partner to the festival, The Explorers Club is a perfect location for the event. Founded in New York City in 1904 by a group of the world’s leading explorers of the time, the not-for-profit organization is dedicated to scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural and biological sciences.

The Club’s members have been responsible for an illustrious series of famous firsts: first to the North Pole, first to the South Pole, first to the summit of Mount Everest, first to the deepest point in the ocean, first to the surface of the moon.

The building is stunning – 5 floors filled with artifacts and photos from explorations and scientific breakthroughs. You can spend hours just looking around!

You can learn more about the Explorer’s Club and their programs and public events here:

Thank you for joining my journey! XO XO

Collaborative Consumption and the Sharing Economy: the Grassroots Efforts of the Sustainable Fashion Community Center

Clothing is more than functional. Our clothes tell our story. They offer clues about our personality and reflect the image we see in ourselves. They can symbolize our values, share our secrets, give us confidence to go out into the world, send silent messages, and even communicate rebellion or solidarity with others. Our clothes are an integral part of our identity, our self-image, our psyche.

Yet at the same time, the current mainstream clothing textile industry is neither sustainable nor future-oriented. Fashion is part of a linear economy that uses resources to make goods to be sold solely for profit, then disposes of anything not needed, from manufacturing scraps, materials and dyes… to the end product. The rise of “fast fashion” by brands such as Shein, Primark, and others, create profit margins by reducing costs (cheaper fabrics and quality) and speeding up production time, which can mean cutting environmental corners and unjust labor practices. In addition, the majority of the fashion industry pushes clothing designed to be replaced seasonally with updated fashion trends. Ultimately, the raw materials, and end products, end up burned or in the garbage dump. Wasted resources polluting our planet and adding to the environmental crises.

According to research by the American Chemical Society, since the 2000s, fashion production has doubled and it will likely triple by 2050. (1)  The production of polyester, used for cheap and fast fashion, as well as athleisure wear, has increased nine-fold in the last 50 years(2). Because some clothing lines have become so cheap, consumers find it easy to discard items after being worn only a few times. One survey found that 20 percent of clothing in the US is never worn.(3)  A study by Grow NYC found the average New Yorker tosses 46 pounds of clothing and other textiles in the trash each year, at a cost to taxpayers and our environment.(4)

Overall, the Fashion Industry is responsible for 10 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and 20 percent of global wastewater, using more energy than the aviation and shipping sectors combined.(5)

Sounds grim, right? Luckily, things are slowly changing. Many reputable brands are starting to take sustainability seriously and are making efforts to improve production methods. And there are tons of local grassroots efforts popping up across the country that focus on new methods of managing production, sale and use of textile and clothing.

The Sustainable Fashion Community Center (SFCC) in East Harlem is one of a growing group of these grassroots organizations offering a solution. A clothing swap shop, member-led pop-up, educational center, and clothing recycling center, the SFCC is a hive of activity within the vibrant East Harlem neighborhood.

Shoppers can shop in one of three ways – they can pay a $15 fee for 10 items, they can swap clothing items 1 to 1, or they can purchase items at bargain prices during shop days. I happened to be volunteering on a shop day when everything in the store was $1.

Lots of donated clothes to sort

Teams of volunteers work 3-hour shifts of sorting, hanging, organizing, and general housekeeping activities. As a thank you, volunteers can “straight-swap” up to 10 pieces (meaning swap out items you bring for new-to-you items you take from the store). On any given day, handfuls of volunteers keep the store stocked and check in new items.

The SFCC is an example of collaborative consumption, a socio-economic model which focuses on sharing access to products with the goal of increasing usage of unwanted or underutilized products. The sharing economy is an alternative to the contemporary marketplace, focusing on reducing new product acquisition, increasing product reuse, and extending product lifecycle.

The SFCC also hosts pop-up clothing swaps , in person and virtual workshops, has an educational program, and has a clothing recycling program where items donated but not sellable are gathered, weighed, and picked up by NYC as part of their clothing recycling program.

Designer items and brand-new items are sold on PoshMark to raise funds to run the SFCC, and they collect used sneakers for recycling and use by other non-profits who send shoes to the needy in the US and other countries.

On the day I volunteered, there were many clients in and out of the space, enjoying perusing the racks and chatting with Founder, Andrea Reyes, who is a fountain of knowledge about sustainable fashion. Her passion is inspiring from the moment you enter the door.

Jackets for sale

The second-hand clothing culture is designed for intimate interaction with the clothes and the community and the SFCC is fully immersed in providing a special client experience. It promotes a unique emotional connection to textiles, where participants first experience an emotional release from cleaning out and decluttering their closets, knowing that by doing so they are helping bring others joy and are helping the environment.

The children’s racks

The store itself is welcoming and designed for touch, try on, and conversation. There is a strong blend of somatic and emotional experiences as shoppers are encouraged to touch the fabrics and try on items, play dress up, and try new styles outside of their comfort zone.

There’s also a practical piece – monetary benefits of swapping out high-quality clothes you no longer wear for new-to-you wardrobe items. And Andrea ensures the experience is a positive one, reminding shoppers they are preventing clothing from going to the landfill and that they are reducing consumption of virgin resources by participating in the swap.

Many of the clients were repeat clients. One shopper said they loved the positive moral feeling – that they were reducing environmental pollution and they loved finding vintage and unusual items to add to their closet.

Swapping, in a way, helps people understand the benefits of the art of letting go and decluttering, while also helping them reflect on our capitalistic society’s psychological want to continuously acquire more. It expands perspectives around certain aspects of capitalism.

I also spoke with first-time shoppers curious about the uniqueness of the experience. One younger shopper loved the idea of engaging in anti-consumption, counter-cultural, behavior where consumers become both the supplier and the consumer.

Andrea spoke of the circular economy grassroots efforts like the SFCC promote – where the earth is understood as a vulnerable system with limited natural resources, and thus the importance of using as few raw materials as possible. An endless cycle of reuse and recycling for the benefit of all – keeping the value of raw materials and produced goods as high as possible for as long as possible.

It is an inspiring message and exchanging clothing extends the life of the item over and over again.

A study by Wrap (UK) found that when you decide to extend the life of your clothing for just nine months, you cause a 25-30% reduction of your water and carbon footprint and have other positive environmental impacts.(6) The SFCC, and organizations like it, is transforming the contemporary fashion marketplace model and people’s relationships with the products, as well as reshaping what consumers demand from brands (sustainable, environmentally low-impact clothing).

I traded in several items in an effort to reduce the amount of clothing I’ve collected in my closet, and traded it all in for a blouse I fell in love with on sight!

Want to learn more about the Sustainable Fashion Community Center? Check out their website through the NYC Fair Trade Coalition at:

Looking to get involved in the collaborative consumption culture? You can buy new-to-you and upcycled clothing on websites such as Etsy and PoshMark, and by shopping at vintage clothing stores, swap shops and even local government-agency and/or non-profit-run used clothing stores (Goodwill, etc.).

Want to get involved hyper-locally? Why not set up a clothing swap or fashion exchange with a group of friends or at your local school (children’s clothes are PERFECT for swapping). Not sure how to host one? I’ve put together some simple instructions here:

If you shop new-to-you clothing, share some photos with me and share your story. I’d love to hear about it!

Sources for Citations:

Textile Recycling – FabScrap Focuses on a Sustainable Future

I emerged from the 59th St. Subway station in Sunset Park, Brooklyn into a vibrant, energetic neighborhood. Blocks of 3-5 story, multi-tenant, walk-up brick apartment buildings lined the streets, many with small Asian or Hispanic shops, bakeries, and restaurants on the first level. A happy, multi-lingual chatter of families filled the air as parents escorted their children to morning drop-off at local elementary school PS 503/506.

Crossing 3rd Avenue, the sky was blocked by the elevated Gowanus Expressway. I could hear the muffled rumbling of traffic overhead. Busy delivery trucks and taxis carefully made their way up 3rd, dodging construction teams working on the underside of the Gowanus.

I was headed to volunteer with FabScrap – New York City’s largest fashion recycling organization – whose goal is to help end commercial textile waste by recycling waste generated during pre-production and production of consumer products.

Located in the Brooklyn Army Terminal, FabScrap works with teams of volunteers to help sort and recycle over 2,000 pounds of fabric a week – keeping it out of landfills.

Site photos are mine. Arial photo from Google Search

The Brooklyn Army Terminal is tucked against the edge of the community, along the NY Bay. During WWII it was the United States’ largest military supply base, a sprawling complex of two enormous warehouses and a spattering of other buildings, spanning 6 blocks, 9 floors, and 55 acres. The warehouses themselves completely dwarf the buildings in the surrounding neighborhood. Today, the complex is used for commercial and light industrial/manufacturing use, artist studios, and maker-spaces.

FabScrap is in Building B, at the far end of a long internal atrium that once was a busy hub for weapons and supplies, but now seems weary and out of place and time. The metal frame of a once-glass-ceilinged dome sits rusting to the elements and open to the sky. An old, WWII-era train sits decomposing on moss-covered rusty rails leading up either side of the atrium. Dozens of cantilevered concrete ledges run up and along both sides. Each ledge buts up against metal garage door entrances, some long defunct. Large, chicken-wire frosted windows line each floor.

This morning was grey and drizzling and stepping into the atrium I took in a sharp, deep, breath. I felt as if I had entered an apocalyptic dystopian movie set. The air felt weary. A musty smell and the sound of the drizzle on sets of metal chairs and tables added to the chill.

Hidden beyond the atrium are over three million square feet of renovated space. The Terminal is a highly functioning industrial complex that houses over 100 businesses and 4,000+ good manufacturing jobs!

On the far side across the atrium, up on the 5th floor, FabScrap takes in more fabric than it can process most weeks (up to 3,000 – 5,000 pounds). They work with well over 400 NYC clothing labels, designers, furniture companies, and costume studios to help recycle their manufacturing waste (642 brands between NY and their second location in Philly).

FabScrap provides these companies color-coded canvas bags into which excess fabrics are placed (brown for general waste and black for proprietary fabrics the brand indicates cannot be resold or reused). This can be fabric swatches they no longer need, or fabric scraps from making sample items. Sometimes clients send damaged or unfinished samples as well. Clients leave the paper/cardboard headers, tags, and stickers still attached so FabScrap can identify the type and composition of the fabric.

Some of the fabric I sorted (left) and one I found in the scrap room (right)

FabScrap charges a small, tax-deductible pickup fee and provides empty bags at every pickup. The bags are brought back to the warehouse for sorting and recycling by teams of volunteers. This morning the volunteers were a mix of artists, quilters, regular citizens, and students from FIT – whose programs mandate a certain number of hours volunteering so students are introduced to the often-unseen side of textile production.

Each volunteer had a table for sorting, surrounded by bins labeled for each type of material. Our job was to pull apart bundles of fabric then remove paper, pins, stickers, and staples, and sort the fabric into the bins.

It is a very manual, time-consuming, and tedious process and up to 11 volunteers help during any 3-hour session.

Behind us, across the length of the warehouse room, was a floor-to-ceiling hill of pristine textiles in trash bags, waiting to be sorted.

After sorting, the fabric has a variety of end uses. Proprietary material and small scraps are shredded to create a colorful pulp called shoddy, which will be used to create insulation, carpet padding, furniture lining and moving blankets. Non-proprietary material is used by students, artists, crafters, quilters, sewers, teachers, and even other clothing designers who focus on eco-wear.

How much commercial textile waste is generated each year in NYC alone? It’s hard to say as there is no current industry model for tracking and laws in most states are non-existent. NYC has passed a regulation that all businesses are required to recycle textiles if textiles are over 10% of the business’ waste.

According to Grow NYC, the average New Yorker tosses 46 pounds of clothing and other textiles in the trash each year. All told, that’s almost 200,000 tons of textiles every year.(1) It is estimated that commercial textile waste could be as high as 40x consumer/residential waste.

Designers have difficulty recycling their textile waste. There is a lack of recycling options, recycling partners, and infrastructure, and commercial fabric scraps do not fit into the current resell-at-thrift or donation models. FabScrap steps into this space to help NYC designers and brands recycle their waste.

An example of shoddy

They also provide each company an “Impact Report,” which includes the end use of all sorted materials, the total weight diverted from the landfill, and the overall environmental impact. FabScrap has another warehouse location in Philadelphia which they launched in 2021.

According to Fabscrap’s annual report from 2021, they saved 305,977 pounds of fabric, 90% of which was recycled or reused and only 3% ended up in a landfill. They saved over 1,400 tons of CO2 emissions – the equivalent of planting over 20,000 trees.(2)

After each 3-hour shift, volunteers are able to choose and take home up to 5 pounds of material for free, either from their own sorting piles or from the large fabric recycle room. There were so many choices it took a solid hour for me to decide what I wanted!

In the end I took home materials to make two throw pillows for my couch – and a great experience and story to share with others! On my subway ride back to Manhattan, I thought about fast fashion and how often I’ve “cleaned my closet” by tossing clothes. While I tend to donate ones in good condition, I had been throwing away certain well-worn items. I think I’ll be trying to figure out how to reuse the fabric instead for potholders, to make fabric-rope baskets, maybe for quilting… What would you do with your unwanted clothing going forward? Send me some suggestions!


Fighting Nursing Home Loneliness through Caring by Cards

For Seniors living in Nursing Homes, the experience can be both comforting and isolating.

Shutterstock: Image ID: 2125640579

Residents with health conditions who require daily oversight or medical care may need a skilled nursing facility, and there can be advantages to a Nursing Home such as providing physical safety and 24-hour access to trained physicians.

In some cases, nursing homes can provide seniors with a sense of community and engagement, helping provide cognitive stimulation, physical exercise, and daily connection to friends.

However, living in a nursing home can also be very challenging for residents.

Residents have been uprooted from the familiarity and comfort of their personal homes. They often feel a sense of loss from that. They may have been placed in a home far from family who cannot visit often and so they feel isolated or may not have the level of interaction with loved ones they had in the past. Dementia patients have a hard time adjusting to new, unfamiliar environments and so can become stressed and angry. Residents must also adjust to new schedules and routines with less flexibility, less freedom and less independence. They cannot leave when they want or go do what they may want to do. They have less choice (set menus, set activities, etc.).

No matter how wonderful the nursing home is, no matter how much the staff works to build a sense of community and trust with and among residents, no matter if the nursing home schedule and menus are beneficial to the overall mental and physical health of the patients, residents may lose self-esteem and feel depressed. They can become fearful, lonely, and feel isolated.

The prevalence of severe loneliness among older people living in care homes is at least double that of community-dwelling populations: 22% to 42% for the resident population compared with 10% for the community population.(1)  Such feelings can lead to a decline in physical health and quality of life. Cognitive abilities can be negatively impacted.

What can we do to help?

One way to help residents of Nursing Homes feel connected and loved and remind them that they are important, is by sending hand-created or hand-written cards and notes.

I know cards will not solve social isolation, depression, and loneliness, but sending cards is an accessible way to connect from a distance and send hugs to someone to brighten their day. Receiving hand-written cards and notes can provide happiness and a feeling of belonging. It is an easy way for you to reach out to support someone and share a hug across the miles. And the residents I’ve worked with LOVE receiving them!

The non-profit Caring by Cards lives in this space. They are focused on bringing joyful moments and smiles to residents of Nursing Homes. Their goal is to sharing love.

Caring by Cards rallies the public to send hand-made cards and letters to local Nursing Homes for distribution to the residents. They partner with a variety of homes in various States across the US but they also encourage participants to look up their local nursing homes and make cards for the residents there. They provide guidance on how to do that.

Sharing Valentine’s Day LOVE!

The week leading into Valentine’s Day my Firm’s group of new Spring Interns took a much-needed break from tax form preparation to partner with Caring by Cards.

We created over 80 Valentine’s Day cards for a New York City based assisted living and nursing home in Manhattan. One for each resident.

Because the Interns were newly hired and still bonding with each other and the Firm, it was an amazing opportunity for them to do something fun and meaningful while getting to know each other! And they jumped right into creating the cards!

It was very fun to see how they approached the project as individuals and as a team, and to see how wonderfully creative they were in creating the cards.

I was very proud of the team for their work!

They started with piles of the basics – colored card stock, stickers, colored markers and pens, etc.

And we discussed some suggestions and guidance on wording for the messages, format for the cards (simple and large).

It was a great way to de-stress from the work of the day and have some positive impact on members of our community.

The nursing home we chose was one connected to Caring by Cards and it was not far from our office.

As you see from the photos, we we have some very talented interns! However – Caring by Cards reminds us that the cards do not need to be fancy or extravagant. Just making something hand-made is special!

At the end of the day, I dropped the cards off at the facility. Each resident received a card on Valentine’s Day and our team had a lot of fun together making them.

But that’s not the end of the journey! This post is action-focused for YOU too!  

YOU can help bring smiles to local Nursing Home residents and it’s SUPER EASY to do it!

All you need to do is follow these steps:

  • STEP ONE: Find a Nursing Home and connect with them:
    • Caring by Cards partners with a variety of homes across the USA: or you can do a Google Search and find a local home.
    • Be sure call the nursing home and ask to speak with the Head of Recreation so you can tell them you are making cards to send to them so they can be on the lookout for them. Remember to get a person’s name to address the packet to, and to get a good mailing address.
  • STEP TWO: Make the cards (any number of them):
    • You do NOT have to make a card for every resident. You can send a few or many.
    • KEEP IT SIMPLE – you don’t have to go fancy. In fact, you want them to have large drawings and large print.
    • You can write notes in store-bought cards instead of creating cards, but creating simple cards goes the extra mile and always brings on smiles!
  • STEP THREE: Drop off or mail the cards to the destination:
    • Often you won’t be able to give your cards directly to the residents (for health reasons), but don’t worry – the team at the facility will make sure your cards are distributed.
    • You may want to take a photo of your card-makers and include that in the packet with the cards. The residents LOVE to see the photo! We included a photo of the Interns in the packet with our cards.

Any amount of cards goes a long way!

Don’t worry if there are not enough cards for every resident, the staff at the facility will use your cards as centerpieces for a meal, or hang them for display in a central area, or hang them on the shared room doors of the residents.

Want to try a simple Pop-up Card?

Want to get a little more creative? Pop-up cards are great for visual engagement. You can find step by step instructions here:

More tips:

It takes very little effort to bring a smile to a senior citizen at a Nursing Home!

I hope you will make a few cards and send them. It’s a great rainy day activity and it’s great for children’s parties, school/club activities, office lunch activities, etc.

If you do create cards, please post a photo in the comments – I would love to see your creations!

Want to learn more about Caring by Card?

Check out their website at:

Thank you for journeying along with me this week.

XO XO – Penny


1. Victor C.R. Loneliness in care homes: A neglected area of research? Aging Health. 2012;8:637–646. 

The Bowery Mission:

Loving Actively through Hospitality and Compassion

Concrete beds in cardboard houses line the city sidewalks.
Tattered blankets, fast food remnants,
The smell of rusty, wet scaffolding.
Black plastic trash bags hold all the Universe.
Watching with heavy eyes through subway grate steam
until the suffocation of invisibility settles in.
They turn away from the lights of the street,
turn their backs on the world and endure a restless sleep.

Cardboard cabins built by the homeless on 37th. The residents will remove them each morning and rebuild them each night.

Each night, thousands of unsheltered homeless sleep on the streets of NYC and over 65,000 sleep in city shelters.1 Often, homelessness is accepted as a ubiquitous and expected background of daily life in the city, just like taxi cabs and neon signs. Encounters with panhandling and outbursts from mental illness make homelessness and poverty visible and uncomfortable – something evoking fear.

The Bowery Mission steps directly and unquestioningly into this, fiercely bringing their core value of “Love Actively” to life. Since 1872 this organization has exemplified love as action through compassionate care – offering free meals, clothing, showers, and a place to sleep for anyone in need of hospitality.

From humble beginnings in a small wooden building, to multiple sites in New York City helping those in need, The Bowery Mission served over 250,000 meals, provided over 55,000 nights of shelter, and over 20,000 articles of clothing in 20222. Sweat equity that builds relationships and restores communities.

In addition to these emergency services, they offer residential and transitional programs such as long-term residential support, psychological counseling, addiction recovery, educational and life classes, vocational mentoring, job training, certification programs and more.

I had volunteered at both their Bowery and Tribeca campuses, helping serve meals to those in need. This particular morning we were serving a hot breakfast with eggs, bacon, French toast, fruit, pastry, and coffee, to both the residents in the Bowery program and hundreds of homeless who came regularly to get a solid meal.

Clients in their programs come from all walks of life and are all ages. They all have a common denominator – life’s circumstances brought them to very hard times. Some lost jobs and were unable to find new ones so were evicted, some battle alcoholism and drug addiction, some left abusive family situations, some battle mental illness. There are many stories of trauma and pain. The Bowery Mission promotes the flourishing of New Yorkers by helping work through that trauma and pain and overcoming homelessness and marginalization. Their programs care for the whole person – body, mind and spirit.

While serving breakfast we were able to speak and connect with the people who had come for a hot meal. One client told me the Bowery team members and I were the first people to have a conversation with them in over 24 hours. On the streets, they said, “…no one looks us in the eye or speaks to us.”  Another client told me they look forward to regular breakfast meals at The Bowery because… “It’s nice to know there’s someone who loves me.”

Building bridges through hospitality and compassion means the world becomes a little less brutal for the clients for that moment, and by getting to work with the homeless and build human relationships, I live with a little less fear because they are less invisible and unknown.

You can read more about the amazing history of The Bowery Mission, make a donation to support their programs, or find out how to volunteer here: Donate, Volunteer or Learn More to Help the Homeless & Hungry | The Bowery Mission


  1. Statistics for NYC Homeless comes from: How many total people are homeless in NYC? – Coalition For The Homeless
  2. Statistics come from The Bowery Mission’s site: Homelessness & Poverty in New York City | The Bowery Mission

The Powerful Possibilities of Community

Volunteering at the Actors Theatre Workshop in NYC

Human beings are storytellers. We use language, behavior, and actions to tell stories about who we are, what we believe, and what it means to be human. Live theater taps into the human need for storytelling in a way that provides experience in community. It nourishes collective imagination and inspiration. The actors and the audience create and experience a special reality together during the performance.

For Thurman E Scott the theater is both a place and a philosophy. His extensive experience on stage and in film as actor, producer, and director, awakened an indefatigable drive to develop new, unique, creative approaches to artistic theater which moved beyond a temporary shared experience and into an active, meaningful role within the community at large. His goal – – to open up creative problem-solving and drive positive change in communities.

He started working with incarcerated prisoners in several NY State prisons, developing and teaching creative expression techniques. What he found was flourishing imagination and new perspectives for possibility opening amongst the participants. New ways of expression and conflict resolution.

In order to expand on that experience, he founded the Actor’s Theatre Workshop in NYC, a non-profit organization where he has developed new, original techniques for students to write and perform their own work, focusing the creative process and the principles of drama towards dialog, expression, and conflict resolution of key personal and community challenges.

The programs provide individuals the tools to fulfill their potential through studying his original theatre and education techniques, then utilize that potential to imagine and bring to life changes within themselves and the community.

One of the programs includes Builders of the New World – an award-winning program created especially for homeless children dealing with the tremendous instability of living in temporary housing facilities. Over 29,000 homeless children currently live in New York City. Each are dealing with the critical issues of instability, transience, and lack of basic services and needs. The program is free for the children.

They learn to create original theater with new material and during that process they learn coping mechanisms as well as techniques with which to develop creative action. It teaches them to express themselves in meaningful ways, improves their reading, writing, and presentation skills, and promotes participation in the Democratic process of debate and dialog, leading to measurable personal, academic and professional success. It also builds hope by teaching them to push into their imagination and write about their visions for the future, then consider how to bring them to life. It’s a multi-class program and students are fed a hearty meal with each session.

Another of the Theatre’s programs, developed by Thurman Scott, is Life Stories for Veterans – a writing and performance program for veterans of the US military which gives them the opportunity to tell their stories through the creative, dramatic process, and share them with members of the community. In evening and weekend classes, veterans of all ages study the Theatre’s original writing technique and then write stories about the power of their unique experiences and journey. As the participants share their work in final performance, the audience gains important insights and the veterans experience their place in society being upheld and supported.

I was at the Theatre early in January as part of a team of volunteers cleaning up and packing away all the end of year holiday decorations and props and getting the facility ready for the new year’s activities.

We were greeted by the volunteer staff who gave us a tour of the facility and shared lots of information about the Theatre and the unique processes. We also watched a video sharing many scenes of various events, activities, and workshops.

Walking around the facility, it was easy to be inspired through the student-created stories and art, as well as the various props, awards, and artwork. It was an inspiring creative space.

The Theatre also holds acting courses and creative expression exploration workshops for various levels. A sign declares, “The first steps to do anything in life are to liberate the limitless possibilities that exist in every human being.”

The workshops are designed to challenge participants to move into imagination and become open to new perspectives. With training, the participant’s intuition and imagination start working together, creating a focus on possibility (not limited by pre-existing bias or belief). Liberating potential and opening up possibility. People can then respond to challenges and issues imaginatively, emotionally, and inspirationally. They are no longer locked in the confines of the factual intellect, but instead have the full range of creative intellect, with new insights.

The Theatre often works with business groups as well. They recognize members of the business community are often paralyzed or held into existing situations thinking they must maintain the structure that currently exists – one which upholds the collective status quo. This is because there is fear of change and an inability to see viable new possibilities. It is often not a natural part of business day to day to look for, probe, and try new expressions. The Theatre programs help to unlock that thinking and explore new possibilities in a safe, communal environment that can then translate out into real-world change.

The organization has an extensive volunteer program – from helping at events and courses/programs to marketing, design, video editing, carpentry, lighting, etc. If you have any passions or interests around theatre, theatre production, teaching expression, etc. – – there is a volunteer opportunity available!

The Theatre also holds monthly open mic nights, often with topics related to current events. Live theater is a perfect place to share conflicting viewpoints because they are expressed between characters on a stage and the audience does not feel threatened by it. Yet this type of open dialog often inspires creative thinking and new perspectives. It allows empathy, understanding, and truth to emerge.

Thurman E Scott believes theater should belong to everyone. That it must test, probe, and struggle to find new expressions, new forms and new ideas that will inspire and uplift the consciousness of our society. Theater can be aspiration-focused. A way of being together that nourishes in each individual the resilience, the hope, the joy, the courage, the focus, and the determination that we each need in order to create the world in which we want to live – both on stage and off. I left the volunteer shift motivated and inspired by the possibilities the Theatre opens to the community!

To read more about the Actors Theatre Workshop and their award-winning program, to donate to support their vision, or to learn about volunteer activities, please visit: Home – The Actors Theatre Workshop

Thank you for joining me on my journey this week!


Post-pandemic Call to Community: Volunteering to Build Hope

Organization: Habitat for Humanity, Tucson:

Location: Tucson, AZ (USA)

Backyard angel

We are still collectively emerging from the pandemic and many of us feel a sense of uncertainty… an unsettling. The ways of life we took for granted were shaken and we are struggling collectively to adapt to new patterns of work (where, when, how), community (sharing public space such as shopping & restaurants), family (holidays, celebrations, trips), and even a realignment of what we want for our lives and our families. In a way, we have been shaken awake from a life we may not have questioned enough. And we are not yet settled into what will be.

Adding to our sense of vulnerability are big-world challenges such as concern about the economy and inflation, the war in Ukraine, new rounds of COVID, seasonal flu. There may sense we have lost the control we thought we had over our lives and feel more vulnerable to the world’s ills.

But that’s not the full story of our collective experience. It does not reflect what we are capable of building as we emerge post-pandemic.

We need to rebuild and reclaim our agency over our lives. To work through the trauma of the past few years which has left us anxious.

We can do this by focusing on what is ours to do in the moment. We can ask ourselves, what is right in front of us, in the smaller spaces of life? Where can we have impact in our families? Our work? Our communities?

I’m not talking about anything big or splashy. There is magic in the subtle and the ordinary. We just need to tap into that energy. One such avenue is volunteering.

Volunteering is personally empowering and socially productive. Spending even a short amount of time surrounded with people who are dedicated to bettering the world, and participating with others in community to make a difference for others, strengthens our hope muscles and lessens our anxiety. It also boost our connection to others. We are part of a whole.

Volunteering even just one time, for a few hours, can give you a mental and emotional boost, while also helping members of the community in need. There is magic in working together with others focused on kindness…. and in what happens when you do that. It’s energizing.

It’s also a conscious choice to act, so it builds confidence and agency. The word volunteer comes from the Latin “voluntaries” meaning “willing or of one’s own choice.” Volunteering is a conscious decision to act. You choose to make the effort to volunteer. This is empowering!

Even when I travel, I look for an organization where I can volunteer. It is one of the best ways to get to know the local community. Instead of remaining at a tourist level, it is exciting to dig deeper and be part of something that sustains the local people.

Some types of organizations are better suited for one-time visitors. Habitat for Humanity is a great choice! They have chapters in every US State and 70 countries around the world. Habitat focuses on building or repairing homes for low-income families and they need regular teams of volunteers for a variety of projects.

My husband and I traveled to Tucson, Arizona, to visit his father over Thanksgiving weekend, and I spent one day volunteering with Habitat for Humanity Tucson’s “A Brush With Kindness” division.

We started painting but then it rained

A Brush with Kindness partners with low-income residents who struggle to maintain the exterior of their homes, allowing them to reclaim their homes with pride and dignity.

They help with outside painting, system repairs to electrical and heating, tree trimming and removal, repairs on roofing, siding, doors, and windows.

On this particular day we were there to install fences and gutters.

Tucson ended up experiencing an unusual day of rain so we did not get to do the gutters, so we focused on installing the fencing.  

I was one of about 10 volunteers that day. I met some inspiring people – among them a female long-haul truck driver who shared interesting stories of life on the road, a retired school principal who traveled the world on her bicycle and shared wonderful stories of towns visited around the world, and a seminary student getting ready to embark on the next phase of his journey.

Our team was across all ages – from college students to retirees. Most were local so I learned a lot about the local culture, local favorite hidden restaurants and activities, and about local, little-known hiking spots. Things I may never have learned had I remained in “tourist” mode and not volunteered for the day.

I have volunteered with several Habitat for Humanity chapters in a handful of States and love the organization. The site leaders are always very helpful, ensure you are properly trained and following safety protocols, and also ensure you are engaged and busy. It is always a wonderful experience!

Habitat for Humanity Tucson builds about 15 – 25 houses a year. Applicants undergo an application process where they are approved based on their income, willingness to partner to build the house (sweat equity) and need.

Families have to put in 200 hours of sweat-equity per adult per home. The typical home is about 1,200 sq ft, and is often one story, with 3 bedrooms and 1 ½ bathrooms. They will vary from that depending on location/need.

Volunteer activities vary based on needs of the day but can be tailored to each participant’s abilities so everyone has something meaningful to do. This makes it great for families (parents and adult children, siblings, etc.) and all different ages (teens through retirees). Please note – there are minimum age requirements so check your local Habitat for details.

Interested in finding a Habitat for Humanity near you so you can volunteer? 

Check out and you can search by your State.

Interested in learning more about Habitat for Humanity Tucson and their Brush with Kindness division? Check out:

Thank you for journeying with me! XO – Penny

Building a Clean Water Well in Guatemala

Organization: Living Water International:

Location: Aldea Almolonga, Tiquisate district, Guatemala….

Those of us at the drill site that morning were working hard to keep the mud out of the way of the drill pipe as it bored deeper and deeper into the earth. The extreme humidity challenged our energy levels as the drill slowly ticked its way down through the rock.

The steel tip of the drill was made up of 3 circular sets of teeth that worked together to powerfully grind its way through the rock and shale, looking for a water table deep enough for it to run clean.

A diesel pump about the size of a large suitcase drew water up a rubber hose from the water pit we’d dug and filled from a huge tank the first day.

The diesel pump drawing water

The pump powerfully pushed the water down and out the tip of the drill pipe, flushing the sludge and debris from drilling back up to the surface, where we needed to perpetually shovel it out of the way before our water pit, and the trough around the drill pipe, became peanut-butter-thick with sludge.

That would stop the drill and set us back while we cleaned up the area.

This was day 3 and we’d bore about 60 feet, stopping off and on for a myriad of reasons – to check the type of rock/mud (categorize the strata), dig the pipe free of sludge, and change the tip of the drill to a heavier one when the rock was too hard.

Muddy and exhausted, fending off the heat and 90% humidity with fresh juice from coconuts machete-chopped from a village tree by one of the elders, we kept each other going by sharing the heavy work and joking around.

Even though we all did not speak each others’ languages, it did not matter.

Hard work and community made us all feel close and we learned to communicate in our own way.

The equipment itself was both sturdy and old, so there always seemed to be a need to fix something – a jam in the chain gear that methodically and slowly moved the drill downward, a leak in the rubber hose that caused loss of pressure, a jam in the hose when some sort of debris got tangled up inside.

The rest of our crew were down the street, in the courtyard of one of the homes in the village, teaching hygiene lessons and working with the mommas and the children.

Although groups of homes throughout the village had hand-dug narrow, shallow wells they shared for water, and some homes used vats and plastic barrels to collect rainwater, the water was toxic, full of pesticide run-off from commercial sugar and plantain fields, livestock waste from the chickens, turkeys and pigs that ran free, and human waste run-off from outhouses.

Generations had been raised without running water and with no access to clean water, so members of the village were often sick with stomach and digestive issues from the toxic water and many had skin irritations because they hand-washed their clothing in the dirty water.

Children and the elderly were most affected, often getting sick and having life-threatening diarrhea. Children missed school often and both the youngest and oldest were at risk of death from illnesses brought on by the toxic water. The villagers knew the water was making them sick, but they had no options. There was no way to access clean water so they had to use what was available.

Education was necessary to ensure they knew how to stop the spread of germs. Proper handwashing techniques, teeth brushing, keeping the well pump clean, learning how to mix a quick solution to combat dehydration from diarrhea… These are some of the lessons the group taught over the week. After lessons the team often played soccer and other games with the children. For many of the families, we were the first Americans they’d ever seen.

The amazing in-country Living Water team!

We were there as part of a small team of volunteers from the USA to work alongside the villagers and the in-country Guatemalan team from Living Water International, a non-profit dedicated to creating clean-water wells in villages across the globe with no access to clean water.

Long before our trip, the village had spent almost two years going through a process with Living Water to determine if their village was not only a viable site for a clean-water well (geological studies), but if the village met all the other criteria required as well – such as having a dedicated local team to help drill, build, and maintain the well, solid geo-political and religious agreements and alliances so that everyone in the village had equal access to the clean water, and the villagers had to raise some of the funds for the well drilling, the parts, and future maintenance.

The well is a partnership between every member of the village and Living Water. As in every other country Living Water operates, there is a waiting list of villages in Guatemala hoping to get a clean water well.

Each day on site, the mommas of the village worked together to cook us all (the village drillers, the US volunteers, and the team from Living Water) a spectacular luncheon of traditional foods made with local foods.

These lunches were typically traditional chicken or pork stew with vegetables, or some sort of meat cooked on the open grill and served with rice and vegetables. And there were always fresh-made tortillas – so delicious! Everything was made in their traditional kitchens.

Each home had a kitchen as a separate structure, often with low or partial walls and a tin roof. Open to the elements and air without doors and full walls, they cooked with wood on open fire pits built on cinderblock platforms slightly lower than counter height. Sometimes they had a gas stove as well, although our lunches were always made on the open fire.

The food was always delicious!

This particular day was Tuesday and through the afternoon and long into dusk we would be working, looking for water.

That evening, as the past two evenings, we would leave exhausted, sore from the hard work, and covered in mud, not yet having hit water, but getting ever closer!

We would get back to where we we staying, quickly shower, crash for some sleep, and eagerly be ready to get back to the village early the next day.

When we hit clean water we had to let it
run for many hours to ensure it was coming up clean

By the end of the next day (Wednesday) we would be blessed – hitting clean water – and with it would come a joyous celebration to be remembered for generations!

Hitting water meant life would change in the village!

Before we would leave the village the final day, we would help line the new well with PVC piping and build a hand-pump for the entire village to use.

The Living Water in-country team made sure the village representatives were taught how to maintain and fix the pump so the village would be self-sufficient.

The villagers could, if desired, save up to put in an electric pump in the future. But the manual hand pump is a great start because it will always work!

The in-country Living Water Team will follow up with the village to see how the well is doing. There are villages who still use their hand pump up to 15 years after it’s installed!

Thank you for journeying along with me.

To learn more about Living Water International, please visit:

Wishes for 2021 – Spreading Kindness Collective Art Installation


What do you hope 2021 will bring? Unity? Love? Joy? Peace? Here at Wall, Einhorn & Chernitzer we want to send holiday cheer throughout the universe and we need your help!

Think of a positive wish for 2021 then print out this page (you can download below) and write your word on the ornament. Color or decorate your ornament and send it in (mail it in or email a photo). We’ll hang it on the positive wish tree!

We’ll be posting photos of the ornaments we receive to spread the love far and wide and share your wishes.

Mail your ornament to:

Wall, Einhorn & Chernitzer
Attn: Penny
150 West Main Street, Suite 1200
Norfolk, VA 23510

OR e-mail a photo of your ornament to:

Let’s share positive wishes the world over!

Click the “Download” button below for a printable version of the instructions and ornament.

« Older Entries Recent Entries »