Laugh When You Can

a small window into my life

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We Have To Listen


Listening matters. I think we sometimes forget that listening is a skill, and it can be developed over time. Being a good listener is not easy, and it doesn’t come naturally for everyone. Listening matters in our personal lives, but it also matters in the lives of our organizations. We do not always realize how we are perceived by the public, which makes listening essential–we have to be aware of how we are coming across to the community and we won’t know that unless we are listening to what people are saying about us.

Listening gives us the opportunity to enter into conversations with people about the things that matter to them. We find out what people care about, and that allows us to more actively engage them. We can also help shape the discourse around our organizations and social justice movements. If we don’t, someone else will.

Listening should change what we are talking about, and who we are saying it to. Listening helps us understand our supporters and why they want to be a part of our work. It also clues us to in why people might not want to support us, and helps us figure out how to make the necessary changes to get more people on board.

And if we don’t listen, we might have a full-blown crisis on our hands. Komen for the Cure learned this lesson the hard way. Check out this blog post by Kivi Miller about what happened when Komen failed to listen, understand and even reply.

“You are a brand whether you like it or not….you’re going to leave some impression in a person’s mind [and] it’s your choice whether you want to actively manage that impression or whether you want them to come to their own conclusions of what they think about you.”

–Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

How are you listening? And how does that affect the way you interact with your supporters, or the general public?



What Study Abroad Taught Me

5am St. Lucia’s Day Celebration

I got my undergraduate degree in International Affairs at Georgia Tech. When I applied there, I knew my options were fairly limited, because I don’t get particularly excited about math, science or engineering. Georgia Tech has about 10 liberal arts majors, and at the time, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in international community development, so International Affairs seemed like the logical choice. I also knew that I wanted to study abroad during college. Georgia Tech has a lot of really great study abroad programs in interesting places, but most of the courses they offered did not fit with my degree. My third year of college I heard about the Go ED. study abroad program in Rwanda and Uganda. It was sponsored by Food for the Hungry, an international relief and development agency, and students had the opportunity to take classes on topics like community development and peace building, and work in a local village with the agency. It sounded like the perfect fit, so I applied and August of my senior year I boarded a plane bound for Uganda.

Our awkward family photo

That semester was one of the best experiences of my life–I made some amazing friends, went white water rafting on the Nile, safaried from Uganda to Rwanda, and most importantly, experienced new cultures and different ways of viewing the world. And my study abroad program changed me. It challenged my views on poverty and development. I realized how messy development work is. I questioned my role in the cycle of poverty and wondered what the appropriate response was to everything. Because while I believe that my values and my faith call me to work towards a world where redemption and peace are a reality for everyone, I rarely know what that looks like in real life. After being home for a few months, I wrote this in an attempt to make some sense of everything:

“I’ve always been aware that injustice exists in our world. I hear all sorts of statistics about how many people live on less than a dollar a day, how many people do not have access to clean drinking water, and how many people don’t have enough food to survive. And I know that something must be done but honestly all those millions and billions are overwhelming and it’s hard to relate to those living in poverty because it’s not something I’ve ever had to experience myself. And then I went to East Africa and all of those things became much more tangible. I befriended people whose lives had been directly impacted by genocide and poverty. And I started asking a lot of questions but didn’t come up with very many answers. I realized that I play a role in poverty. I realized that my actions and my lifestyle impact other people in other countries. I realized that even though I desire justice and redemption, most of the time I’m selfish and would rather have fun than think about tragic events happening in another country. I realized that the brokenness in the world is really a reflection of the brokenness in me. But at the same time I realized that Africa is so much more than I thought it was. It’s more than grass huts and starving babies. There is beauty and hope amongst all the pain and suffering. And I realized that even though I am not a savior and cannot save anyone through my own strength, we all have a role to play in Christ’s work of redemption and restoration.”

Camping in Jinja

And I’m finding that a lot of those lessons I learned that semester and all those questions I came home with also apply to social work.

Things are rarely what I think they are, and I constantly have to re-evaluate my motives and attitudes and challenge myself to be more self-aware. Social work is a lot messier than I thought it was. I hardly ever know as much as I think I do. And I often find myself wondering what role I play in all of this. How do my actions contribute to cycles of injustice, whether or not I realize it?

What experiences have changed you? Was it a job, a relationship, travel? What makes you re-think things? What, or who, has challenged your views the most?

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Social Media & Communication



Social media has changed the way we communicate. In middle school, I remember I would ask my parents if it was okay to call one of my friends. They always said yes, and I would then use our landline to dial my friend’s home phone number (but never after 9pm!). More than likely, my friend’s parent or younger sibling would answer and I would say, “Hi, this is Allison, can I speak with so and so?”

Fast forward to today. I don’t even have a landline, and I doubt I ever will. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Skpe, email, blogs and texting are a part of our daily lives, for better or for worse.

Most of the time, I love social media. It helps me stay in touch with my friends who live far away–I love being able to see pictures of what they’re up to, and the Internet makes it so much easier for us to communicate. Being able to video chat through Skype is almost as good as seeing them in person. And when I don’t have time for a phone call, I can send a text or an email to stay updated.

Besides strengthening my relationships with my close friends, social media also helps me maintain connections with those people I don’t know quite as well.  There are lots of people I consider to be friends or acquaintances who I might not feel comfortable calling on the phone, but I do feel comfortable connecting with via social media. Social media is also great for networking with people in your professional world, and for reaching out to different groups or organizations. It allows large groups of people to stay in touch and communicate easily and efficiently–it’s much easier to post a message to a Facebook group, rather than having to call 20 people with the same message.

But on the other hand, sometimes I wonder if social media takes away some of the pressure to be authentic and vulnerable. I remember one of my supervisors years ago telling me that if she was exhausted and overwhelmed and just didn’t have the energy to be open and vulnerable with a friend, she would substitute a Facebook message instead of returning a phone call. I think it’s so easy to hide behind a funny Facebook status or whitty Tweet rather than telling our friends what’s really going on.

So maybe social media has increased our ability to communicate with a lot of different people, but it’s also made it easier for those connections to be shallow and inauthentic at times. Now don’t get me wrong, I think social media is really fantastic. I just think we need to be intentional about how we use it, and self-aware enough to know when we’re using it as something to hide behind.

Check out these articles on the way social media has changed how we communicate:

What do you think? What are the pros and cons of social media? Does it positively impact the way you communicate?


Igniting Justice & Inspiring Change at youthSpark

I would be remiss if I did not dedicate a blog post to youthSpark (plus I need to switch it up a little bit and do a blog post that doesn’t involve a list…).

As I came to the end of my senior year at Georgia Tech in 2009, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life post-college. I applied for a few internships, but for whatever reason I was not overly concerned with the fact that I had no plans after May 1st. That spring, a friend sent me some information about an AmeriCorps program that was focused on fighting child sex trafficking in the Atlanta area. I had been interested in that issue for some time, and I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the non-profit/social justice arena, so I decided to apply. (For any high school or college students out there who are about to graduate and unsure of what to do next, I highly recommend pursuing AmeriCorps or another service year program! It is a great learning and growing experience, and I would love to talk with you more about it if you’re interested.) I was accepted into the program, and spent the next year living in Peoplestown and interning at a few different non-profit organizations in the area.

One of the non-profit organizations I interned with was youthSpark. After a year of interning, they offered me a job as the Operations Coordinator, and earlier this year, I became the Program Coordinator. youthSpark is based at the Fulton County Juvenile Court and was created in 2000 by some of the Juvenile Court judges and other concerned community members who realized that a lot of really young girls–10, 11, 12 year olds–were coming through the Court on charges of prostitution. Considering that the legal age of consent for sex in Georgia is 16 years old, it is absolutely absurd that a child would be charged with prostitution. At that point, the laws around buying and selling a child were very lenient, so the victim would face harsh penalties, while the men buying and selling her were getting a slap on the wrist.

So the community came together and said, “enough is enough”. youthSpark was created so that there would be other options for victims besides sentencing them to prison or returning them to the adults who had failed to protect them, or even victimized them. We founded Angela’s House, the first safe house in the southeast United States, for girl victims of child sex trafficking. And in 2007, we created our A Future. Not A Past. program to focus on fighting demand for child sex trafficking. Unfortunately, child sex trafficking is an incredibly profitable business, and the law of supply and demand applies here–if there wasn’t a demand for these children, there would not be an available supply. If we truly want to change this from a systemic point of view, we must look at the demand side. So we commissioned research, worked to raise community awareness, trained law enforcement officers and advocated for stronger laws to protect victims and prosecute pimps and buyers. In Georgia, and Atlanta in particular, people from all different walks of life have banded together to fight this. We have so many legislators at the state-level who are committed to passing good laws, and we have some of the best laws in the nation around child sex trafficking. If you’re interested in the legislative response, check out Shared Hope International’s Protected Innocence Challenge. We are also the only state with a state-wide system of care for all girl and boy victims–the Georgia Care Connection Office. Considering what a conservative state Georgia is, and that sex is often a taboo subject, I am so proud of the work that so many people have done around this issue.

Today, youthSpark has transitioned to doing prevention work. We work with girls who are considered to be at extreme high risk for becoming victims, and we continue the work on the demand side of the issue. I am so thankful to be a part of this organization. I believe in the work we are doing, and I have seen the difference it makes, both in the lives of individuals, and from a systemic point of view. It makes it a lot easier in the morning to get up and go to work (particularly when I’ve been up late the night before finishing a paper for school!) knowing that what we do matters. This is probably a very “social work” thing to say, but I am motivated by things that call to my heart, and I am so passionate about what we do at youthSpark. I want these girls to know that they matter to me, and that I will do everything I can to make sure that they get to live a life free of abuse. If you want to know more about youthSpark or the issue of child sex trafficking in general, I would love to talk to you about it!

What motivates you? What calls to your heart? What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning?

And as a special treat for all of you, here’s a public service announcement that we made in which I agreed to play a starring role…


What Makes Good Story Telling?



I’ve actually been thinking about makes a good story for the past few weeks, ever since my awesome friend Diana participated in the Stand Up Comedy Open Mic Night at The Laughing Skull Lounge (sidenote: this was Diana’s first time doing stand up, and she was absolutely fantastic!). Almost all of the comedians’ sets were full of curse words and what my mom would call “inappropriate jokes”. Now, I don’t have a huge issue with cursing, and sometimes I think it can be very useful, but I do take issue when every other word is a curse word, or when it serves no purpose. And I do have a problem when jokes center around topics like rape and incest. But many of the comedians used these very topics, and got a lot of laughs from the audience. Why is that? Why are so many of our stories filled with curse words and topics like rape? Why are those automatic “go tos” for so many comedians, and why are they met with such success? Is it because they’re nervous and they know they’ll get an easy laugh with inappropriate subject matter? If so, why is that true? Is it because we don’t know how to tell better stories?

Personally, I am drawn to stories that make me laugh, that challenge me, that encourage me. I want to hear from authors whom I can relate to, who aren’t afraid to be vulnerable.

One of my favorite authors is Shauna Niequist. What I like about her is that she is really open about her struggles and fears and failures. It is so encouraging to know that you’re not alone in something. She often gives words to my own feelings and emotions that I’m not able to articulate. She has written three really great books, and I always enjoy reading her blog.

Brene Brown is wonderful. If you haven’t watched her TED talk, go do that right now. It’s on the side bar of my blog, but I’m going to put it below because it is that good, and I don’t want you to have any excuse not to watch it. It’ll change your life. She talks about the importance of vulnerability and daring greatly, and how that can change the way we live, love and lead. She’s also a social worker, which is pretty awesome in my opinion! I think when we are willing to be vulnerable, we’re able to live out better stories in our own lives.

“maybe stories are just data with a soul”
-Brene Brown

Speaking of living out better stories, I just read Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. He writes about how we can make sure that we are living out good stories, that we are living out the stories that we want to live out. So I wonder, if we are actually living out good stories, does that mean we’re more likely to be telling good stories?

One last author–for my Social Media Tools class at Georgia State, our professor assigned this blog post from Chris Brogan on depression and being brave. You need to read it. Mental health issues are very close to my heart, and I think Chris does an incredible job of making this relatable to his readers. And I love what he says here: “Bravery is a muscle, like love. You have to exercise it constantly or it will turn flabby. When I am depressed, it’s very easy to fall away from bravery. But because I’m working harder and harder to stop avoiding things, when I tell you about my depression, it’s because I have something to tell myself, and I just want you to hear so you can think about your own personal bravery.”

I think that good stories are made of vulnerability, fears, failures, bravery and things that bring us joy–not cheap laughs.

What do you think? Who are your favorite authors that are out there telling good stories?


Atlanta’s Best Parks

Piedmont Park, Source

Piedmont Park, Source

As you might have noticed already, I love Atlanta. For more information on my obsession, check out this list. Becca loves Atlanta too, and wrote a great post on our awesome city. One of the many things I appreciate about the ATL is how many parks it has. The city is so urban, and with all the traffic and people and everything going on, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle, but it seems like every where I turn, there is a new park to discover. I love how easy it is to find green space here, even in the heart of the city. Below are my favorite parks. Being outside always makes me feel more at peace and brings a sense of rest to my heart. I hope exploring some of these parks may do the same for you. Check them out!

Mason Mill Park: This one doesn’t get a lot of coverage unless you live near Emory/Decatur, but it is not to be missed. I was fortunate enough to live in the Clairmont Heights neighborhood for six months, which is within walking distance, and I went over there several times a week. The community is really committed to keeping the area clean and sponsors a lot of work days. There is a fantastic walking path that goes through the woods and along the railroad tracks, but the best part is the old Decatur Water Works. They haven’t been used for years, but several of the structures are still there and are covered in some great graffiti.

Deepdene Park: Again, not very well known, but definitely worth checking out. You’ve probably driven past it–it follows part of Ponce de Leon, and ends in that small walking circle on Ponce on the way to downtown Decatur. There’s an old Trolley stop on the edge of it, plus it claims to have the tallest tree in Atlanta (not sure that I believe that). Deepdene is really fun because it’s mostly a wooded area, with a small creek going through it, so it’s nice to traipse around the woods even though you’re right next to a major road.

Lake Claire Land Trust: Drum circles on Friday nights, a Jerry Garcia festival, community gardens, an emu, and two huge chairs that overlook DeKalb Ave. Need I say more?

The Beltline: This isn’t technically a park, but I love it so much I included it. The Beltline is a series of paths that wind through the heart of Atlanta. It’s a great way to see a lot of the city, and several great parks back up to it–there’s a fun skate park, and the Old Fourth Ward park is pretty cute.

Piedmont Park: Most people think of Piedmont Park when they think about parks in Atlanta, and for good reason. Piedmont Park is huge, and has a great green space, hosts tons of fun festivals (including Music Midtown happening next week, which I am SO excited for!), dog parks, farmers’ markets, sports fields, an awesome swimming pool, Park Tavern and it offers a spectacular view of the skyline.

Grant Park: Advantages to Grant Park include the Atlanta Zoo, the Cyclorama, a fun pool (although not as great as the one at Piedmont Park), several pavilions, good playgrounds, and lots of really awesome trees.

Candler Park: I like Candler Park, but I have to admit, it’s not my favorite. It’s got a pool, which I’ve never been too, but have heard good things about it. There’s a golf course, and of course it’s home to some awesome festivals (Sweetwater!), but for some reason, it just doesn’t have the same draw as some of these other places.

Lake Claire Park: Very small park, but they have a “dog party” every week night around 6pm!

I’d love to hear what your favorite park is! Did I miss one? I’m always excited to learn about new parks, so leave me a comment with the next one I need to go to!


Why I Love Athens, GA



I got my bachelor’s degree from Georgia Tech, so it feels wrong to write a blog with this title. When it comes down to it, I am definitely a Georgia Tech girl, but recently I have come to appreciate what Athens has to offer (sometimes I think I should have gone to UGA for my undergrad, but that’s a secret!).

My younger sister goes to UGA, so I go up there fairly often on the weekends to visit her. We always have a great time, and I’ve gotten to explore the town a bit, so here’s a list of ten of my favorite things about Athens (in no particular order).

1. Sandy Creek State Park. It’s $2 to get in, and there are lots of walking trails, a beach area, and you can rent canoes/kayaks/paddle boards.

2. The bars. Obviously, this is what most people think of when they picture Athens, and there is a great bar scene. Max Canada’s is fun for playing darts, Pawley’s has crepes and a beer club, and there’s a place that plays all 90’s music.

3. J and J Flea Market. The largest flea market in Georgia even offers authentic Mexican cooking.

4. Athens Botanical Gardens. It’s free to get in! Atlanta should take a hint. I’ve always thought our Botanical Gardens was far too expensive.

5. All the downtown shops. There are so many cute, fun boutiques and stores to browse. A lot of them are out of my price range, but it’s fun to look.

6. The dollar theatre. Atlanta doesn’t even have a cheap movie theater. C’mon.

7. Athens Farmers’ Market. I got the best vegan pumpkin bread and a delicious goat cheese sampler there.

8. Restaurants. Oh my goodness. Athens has an overabundance of tasty restaurants. The Grit, Trapeze, and Clocked are some of my recent favorites.

9. The Branded Butcher. This restaurant on top of the Georgia Theatre provides a great view of the city, and I ate a yummy pork belly sandwich.

10. The GymDawgs. I love gymnastics, and the GymDawgs are fun to watch, plus the tickets are pretty cheap.

What about you? I know there a lot of other Athens fans out there. What are your favorite things about the city?