Fat. Worthless. Not pretty.

Thousands of women from all walks of life tell themselves these words every day. “I berated myself every day for not being perfect,” summarized Caitlin Boyle, creator of the Operation Beautiful project and author of the newly released book Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-it Note at a Time.

“I spontaneously scribbled ‘You are beautiful!’ on a scrap of notebook paper and stuck it on the mirror,” described Caitlin. When she realized how good the spontaneous act made her feel, she posted a photo of the note on her blog with a call for others to join the project. The reaction was quick and startling: emails flooded in from across the country, then across the globe. She received pictures of Operation Beautiful notes in Chinese, German and Spanish. She even received a photo of a note posted in a soldier’s barracks in Iraq. Soon after, emails began arriving from women who had found the notes. “For each woman, it seemed like the Operation Beautiful note was divine intervention. Women found an Operation Beautiful note when they needed it the most.”

Operation Beautiful has evolved into a volunteer grassroots movement to impact women’s perception of body image, health, and self worth. “I hope it helps readers realize how truly toxic negative self-talk is  — it hurts you emotionally, spiritually, and physically,” wrote Caitlin.

Participants send in photos and descriptions of their experiences to Caitlin, who posts new ones each day to http://operationbeautiful.com/.

“One day I made about 100 little slips of paper that said ‘Hey you, yeah you. You’re absolutely beautiful. Don’t forget it,’ and posted them in the bathrooms of my school. About an hour later, I found a girl sitting on the floor in a bathroom crying and holding one of the papers I had made. I asked her what was wrong and she said she’d never been called beautiful in her life. She couldn’t stop smiling.”

Operation Beautiful "protest" in Nevada

“I’m always looking in my mental mirror… Why can’t I have a flat stomach? Why can’t I have perfect skin? Why can’t I wear clothes that make me feel beautiful? I don’t want my daughters to see this… That’s not something I want them to learn. I don’t want them to learn to cause themselves pain on a daily basis by not believing in how beautiful they are… Operation Beautiful is, well, there’s no better, more obvious description than “beautiful”. I promise that because you ALL are so determined to help someone feel worth it and beautiful on a daily basis…I will help you by doing the same. I’ll be carrying around a post it pad wherever I go…”

Operation Beautiful note: "This # doesn't change who you are. You are BEAUTIFUL!"

“I’ve suffered from anorexia for five years. I was sexually assaulted three times in my short life. I’m only 18. I found Operation Beautiful on Facebook and it makes my day every time I visit it. I realize that it’s not worth hurting my body because somebody hurt me. I grow stronger every day because of the things I’ve been through. I’ve been told that I’m emotionally the strongest person some people know. I never used to feel that way. I’ve always told myself that it all was my fault. Thanks to Operation Beautiful, I realized I am not the only one going through these things.

Operation Beautiful note: "You have a beautiful smile!"

To accompany the book release, Caitlin is encouraging bloggers to write about issues related to self perception, fitness, and health as part of a “Virtual Book Tour” that will run August 2-7. To join the Operation Beautiful movement or explore the Virtual Book Tour, check out http://www.operationbeautiful.com.

Know a great volunteer or volunteer organization? Leave me a comment or email me through this link to let me know!


We’ll be returning to regular articles next week! In the interim, this is a wonderful discussion of how a volunteer project/organization can grow. Watch the video, or read the short writeup below. The video is 25 minutes, but highly entertaining and informative.

Dave Eggers, a writer, heard a lot about the challenges of teaching in city schools from his teaching family and friends. In particular, they stressed the need for one-on-one attention to help students with their English and writing skills.

Eggers and his colleagues came together to create a unique tutoring center in San Francisco – located in a pirate supply store and connected to a magazine editing office – that offers free one-on-one tutoring. The project has grown to help thousands of kids each week, host daily writing field trips, run an in-school writing lab, and guide students in writing and publishing books. The tutoring center model has been replicated in Brooklyn, L.A., and other cities in the U.S.

The volunteer core has likewise grown, starting with 12 and quickly growing to 1,400.

This project has led to a website, Once Upon A School, which challenges and guides individuals and groups in to engage with their local public schools and create positive change.

“It can be fun. That’s the point of this talk – it needn’t be sterile. It needn’t be bureaucratically untenable. You can do and use the skills that you have. The schools need you. The teachers need you. Students and parents need you. They need your actual person. Your physical personhood and your open minds and open ears and boundless compassion. Sitting next to them, listening and nodding and asking questions… Some of these kids just don’t plain know how good they are. How smart and how much they have to say. You can tell them. You can shine that light on them one human interaction at a time. So we hope you’ll join us.”

For more information on projects to support your local public school, check out: http://onceuponaschool.org/

For more TEDtalks, check out: http://www.ted.com/index.php

Know a great volunteer or volunteer organization? Leave me a comment or email me through this link to let me know!

Steve Larosiliere had his life-changing moment in Vancouver, looking out at the mountains at the end of a snowboarding trip. “On my last run of my last day, I thought about my 18-year-old mentee… he spent a better part of 14 years of his life in over 100 foster homes in New York City. He never left his neighborhood, never saw other parts of his city or did anything active. I thought, ‘if he saw these mountains he would lose his mind.’ He would be in complete awe and I knew he would love it.”

Just a year before, Steve had left his job running a successful marketing business to work for Mentoring USA in New York City. In that year Steve had helped build Mentoring USA into New York City’s largest site-based mentoring program. He was contemplating his next career phase when the idea came to him: What about a snowboard mentoring program? The idea developed quickly: Pair mentors and under-served youth to go snowboarding together. “Ideally they would both be beginners so that they could see each others’ strengths, weaknesses, fears, and joys over the course of a snow season,” Steve described his thoughts. “They would develop a strong connection and bond and as a result have a better relationship. They would acquire resiliency, determination, and success while snowboarding.”

Steve decided to make it happen. That Fall, he left his job and a long-term relationship, sold most of his possessions, and moved back in with his family. He had enough money and consulting jobs to last him three months. With the help of friends and supporters, Steve raised money, arranged for supplies, recruited volunteers and developed a life skills curriculum that taught kids how to set goals, overcome obstacles, and develop positive relationships. The first program participants came from Martin Luther King High School in Manhattan. The program, named Snow Mentor, launched in January 2005 with nine mentoring pairs. Over the next few months, Steve and his new partner, Sal Masekela, created an umbrella organization named Stoked Mentoring that would make all action sports accessible to inner-city youth.

Stoked Mentoring grew quickly; within a year, they had expanded from just snowboarding to a year-round program including snowboarding, skateboarding and surfing. A year later, they added a Los Angeles program. Stoked has since added an after-school program focusing on career skills, an action photography program that ends in a personal art show, and a workshop focused on building female participants’ self-esteem and self-confidence through action sports. Stoked, although still a mentoring-based organization, now considers their focus “youth development in the framework of action sports culture.” In other words, they are here to create Successful Teens with Opportunity, Knowledge, Experience & Determination (STOKED).

“Instead of being an inner city high school dropout, they can be a snowboarder from the inner city who wants to work in advertising, has a mentor, and is a high school graduate,” Steve explained. “Action sports are the perfect framework for allowing various forms of self-expression, creativity, communication and interpersonal skills. Action sports teach healthy risk taking, perseverance, resiliency, and working hard for what you want – be it designing a skateboard, riding a wave, or doing well in math.”

Stoked Surf Mentor participants

Participant comments bear him out. Ontae, who is in the Surf Mentor program, has learned better coping skills from surfing: “Every time there’s something like an obstacle… don’t look at it as something big. It’s just a wave, you ride it.” Leti, in the Skate Mentor program, has found both support and inner growth through Stoked: “I can open up with anyone [in Stoked] because it’s almost a family now, and we can easily trust each other. [From being in Stoked] I learned that I trust myself, I learned how to listen.”

NYC Snow Mentor Participants. 2009.

“In 5 years, we’ve worked with hundreds of youth in New York and L.A. and taught them valuable life skills in the process. Life skills such as goal-setting, networking, trust, patience, and how to overcome obstacles… There is a generation of 12-21-year-old at-risk youths who are growing up without options in life,” Steve wrote in The Huffington Post. “Many of them come from single parent households, live in low income communities, and have no skills to contribute to their community or their family. Often times, because of the lack of stability, family structure, and positive roles models, these youths turn to crime, gangs, and drop out of school because of lack of options. Programs like Stoked get kids out of their neighborhood for a day, surround them with positive role models for a year, and give them the resources to think and dream big for their life. Our aim is to pass on hope and opportunity to these kids so that they believe in a having a better life. They not only believe it, but they end up becoming the people they set out to be in our program.”

“What if someone told you that you could save the world by skateboarding?” the Stoked website challenges. “It’s really easy to live in your box or within your block,” expounded co-founder Sal Masekala. “But if you have got the stones to step out of that and try something new and become a part of Stoked… a kid’s life could be enriched in ways that he doesn’t even imagine… not to mention he’s not going to have more fun at anything else that he does than being a part of Stoked.”

Check out Stoked at: http://www.stoked.org

To follow Steve Larosiliere on The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steve-larosiliere

All images used courtesy Stoked

Know a great volunteer or volunteer organization? Leave me a comment or email me through this link to let me know!

“Without a doubt, Tuesday night is my favorite part of the week,” Avishua Stein, age 15, told me. “The overall feeling of being there makes me feel amazing,” agreed David Storfer, age 19, a fellow Chabad Teen Network member.

These teens – on average 25-30 each week, with an overall membership around 100 – meet weekly, led by Rabbi Michoel Goldin, to hang out, eat pizza – and volunteer.

“I started off with six teens – two I knew, and they brought friends. They were shocked, excited, they had never seen something like this. A Rabbi to them is this big guy who doesn’t really relate down to their level, talk their language.” The teens testify to Rabbi Goldin’s skill: “Michoel Goldin is such an amazing person. He really is the cause for teens wanting to do good deeds, and feeling great about themselves afterwards. He is the reason for the good feelings, good times, and strong friendships that come from doing good,” said Yona McGraw, also age 15. Avishua Stein put it simply: “He’s the coolest Rabbi ever.”

Their volunteer project locations agree: “Rabbi Goldin is awesome, has so much energy,” said Sharon Horn of the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities (JADD). There is no lack of praise for the teens, either: “The thing that’s so beautiful about it is they bring inclusion into the community for these people [living in a developmentally disabled home]… Everyone benefits – the teens get to understand people that are different and have challenges, and the people who live in our home are shown that people are interested in them,” continued Sharon Horn.

Chabad Teens with children at an Englewood homeless shelter.  Photo used courtesy Michoel Goldin.

Chabad Teens with children at an Englewood homeless shelter. Photo used courtesy Michoel Goldin.

“They were wonderful, they were exciting, they were fun – they were great. They were lovely people, the kids loved them and so did I,” said Nancy Woods of the Interreligious Fellowship for the Homeless of Bergen County, where the teens ran a carnival for homeless children, complete with a cotton candy machine and prizes.

The children’s carnival has been David Storfer’s favorite volunteer project so far. He’s had amazing times with all of the projects, though. “We were visiting folks in the hospital and giving them Rosh Hashana [Jewish New Year] gift baskets and prayers. While we were there this one patient asked me and one of my friends to see a dance because she heard we were really good. So on the spot me and my good friend Phil just started dancing together to absolutely no music and we looked ridiculous but the smile on her face and the joy in her heart made it one of the best experiences of my life!”

Chabad Teens making Jewish New Year cards with developmentally disabled=

Chabad Teens making Jewish New Year cards with developmentally disabled residents. Photo used courtesy Michoel Goldin.

It’s these relationships – with one another, and with the people they help – that keep bringing the teens back. “I got involved with Chabad through some friends, and I’m glad I did because it really transforms you, and makes you think about all the things that you could do to make different people smile, for different reasons,” Yona McGraw explained. She continued, “I go to Chabad because of the people- those whom you work with, and those whom you work for… When you go to Chabad for the first time, you’re welcomed warmly by people your age, your peers, who are there for the same reason as you are. You become so close to these people, and you have fun with them, while brightening someone’s day, who might not have had their day brightened in a long time. It’s hard to explain, as you can see, and maybe imagine, because it’s just such a great feeling. Chabad is a great place.”

David Storfer agrees, and also sees Chabad as a way of developing a lifestyle: “I do Chabad because I think if teens get involved with chessed [acts of kindness] now it will become a very normal part their everyday lives and because of how our joy makes others joyful – it’s just so contagious!”

Chabad Teens distributing matzah at Hackensack Hospital. Photo used courtesy Michoel Goldin.

Chabad Teens distributing matzah at Hackensack Hospital. Photo used courtesy Michoel Goldin.

Rabbi Goldin hopes that all the teens will come away with this lifestyle impact: “The goals are to make the world a better place and to instill self-esteem. One day [these teens will] grow up and create their own clubs or somehow inspire others and create this chain reaction.”

For more information on the C-Teen Network, go to: http://www.chabadhouse.com or contact Chabad of Teaneck at: 201-907-0686.

Know a great volunteer or volunteer organization? Leave me a comment or email me through this link to let me know!