Wednesday, September 3, 2014

8 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Class

In 24 hours, my Marist College class covering journalism, PR, social media and life will meet for the first time this semester. With the new academic year now underway, here are some thoughts for students on what makes for a great classroom experience.

First, show up. Yes, my class meets at 6:30 p.m. and continues until 9 p.m. and I do not take a break in the middle. However, in all likelihood, you won't be too tired to go out after my class lets out. Heck, at 9 p.m., your evening is barely getting started. I put a lot of effort into each of my class sessions and I expect students to do the same.

Second, pay attention. That means not checking your email, looking at Facebook, or drafting your next tweet, unless it's about something going on in class. It's easy for me to find out whether or not you're paying attention. Just one example. You ask me a question about something someone else just asked and for which I gave a five minute response. There are other ways I know you're not paying attention, but I won't divulge those.

Third, following up on the point above, ask questions or give an opinion. I do not necessarily have to agree with you. We can have an honest discussion and perhaps learn from each other's point of view. However, be prepared to back up whatever point you're making. Your future bosses will expect that, too.

Fourth, hand in assignments on time. Hundreds of students over the past 20 years will tell you that I do not accept an assignment even one second late. A deadline is a deadline. If your boss asks where your work product is and you say, “Oh, I went out last night and didn't get home until 4 a.m.,” have your resume updated. You'll need it.

Fifth, get to know me and allow me to get to know you. You cannot ask me for a reference and I cannot recommend you for an internship or job if you are just a name on the roster, sit in the back, never look up, never speak, never offer an opinion, never answer a question in class, never even say hello or goodnight, or in any other way show you care about what you're suppose to learn in class.

Sixth, do a little bit extra. Are you involved in a club or organization? Write a story for the school paper or write a news release to send to the media. Attend meetings of PRSSA and the student chapter of SPJ. It's not just to pad your résumé. It's an opportunity to give me something to talk about should I get a phone call from a former student to whom you have applied for a job...and whom you don't even know is my former student. And yes, she or he will call me if they even suspect you are or were in my class, whether you list me as a reference or not.

Seventh, when I bring in alumni or bring you to places where alumni work, dress appropriately, show interest, ask questions, network, say thank you at the end and follow up with a handwritten note or an email. I have brought my students to dozens of PR and ad agencies, corporations, newspapers and magazines, even the headquarters of Major League Baseball. When the presenters, nearly all of whom were my students, finish their presentations and ask you a question, please don't just sit there staring at the floor. I'll let you in on a secret. They're evaluating you as prospective new employees. One of them could offer you a job. Treat this as an opportunity to meet an advocate for your hiring and get the inside scoop on a possible employer.

Eighth, stay in touch. I have placed more than 200 students in internships and jobs over the years. I understand I may not be your favorite person. However, if I don't hear from you for three years and you send me an email that only says, "Can you review my résumé?" I will be less inclined to respond as quickly as I do to those who keep in touch with me on a regular basis and don't just write to me when they need a favor.

Are there other suggestions professionals in the field would recommend to current students? Please feel free to comment below.

One last thing...I am so grateful to my former students who approach me with job openings for current students or recent grads as a way of saying thank you for helping them. Students who graduated 5, 10, 15 years ago are now in positions where they can hire and they remember when someone helped them. Now they want to pay that back. I tweet those openings and put them up on LinkedIn and Facebook. Some draw a lot of attention while others are ignored. Whatever the result, I ask my former students to keep sending those openings to me. You know I will only send and recommend someone who has done the things I mention in this post, those whom I know will succeed and not disappoint you. Thanks for giving back to your alma mater and those who follow in your footsteps.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Finding a Solution to a Criminal Justice Problem

Dutchess County (NY) Executive Marc Molinaro recently appointed me to be vice chair of an advisory committee to review plans for the development of the new Dutchess County Justice Transition Center in Poughkeepsie. The chair is former State Senator Steve Saland.

The DCJTC consists of the County Jail and other facilities and programs that provide alternatives to incarceration and help with the transition back into the community. 

Our group met on the evening of August 12 to get to know one another and learn what is expected of us. We were also presented with information about our role. We were unanimous about having our monthly meetings in the evening and open to the public. They will be held in the County Legislature Chambers on the sixth floor of the County Office Building at 22 Market Street, across from the Bardavon. A meeting schedule is being developed and will be publicized. The County will develop a Web site to keep the public informed and I will post information on this blog. All of us seek feedback from residents of Dutchess County, particularly the City of Poughkeepsie. Feel free to post a note here or at the end of other DCJTC blog posts.

There are several issues that need to be addressed. With an inmate population of 292, the current County Jail is full. The County spends more than $8 million a year to house additional inmates in other counties’ jails. Pods capable of housing an additional 200 inmates will soon be installed at the jail complex in the City of Poughkeepsie. Yet, that is still not enough to meet the need for the number of people currently incarcerated for anywhere from a few days up to just under a year.

This out-of-county housing of inmates, as much as four hours away, has additional costs, including transportation, staffing, scheduling issues with the courts and attempts at rehabilitation, and difficulties for family visits.

The current configuration of the County Jail is severely inefficient, cobbling together several buildings, including one with a zigzag design that caused the County to hire an inordinate number of corrections officers (COs). In Dutchess County, $27.5 million of the $40 million jail budget is spent on personnel. There are 223 COs, which equates to a ratio of 1.2 inmates for each CO. Warren County in Upstate New York, has a ratio of 3.4 to 1. At a typical cost of $110,000 per CO for salary and benefits, those expenses add up quickly and are borne by County taxpayers.

Our committee will review siting and design to provide adequate inmate capacity and address special populations, balancing the needs for incarceration and rehabilitation. This must be accomplished while ensuring public safety and enhancing the surrounding neighborhood. That last point is of particular interest to me, because I grew up and lived around the corner from the jail. The property under consideration includes the original site on North Hamilton Street and additional land along Parker Avenue near the Walkway Over The Hudson. This property is important to the city and we should think outside the box to incorporate open space and retail along the streets that serve as the gateway to the Walkway, which annually attracts 750,000 people from all over the world.

Another advisory group is looking at “special populations” housed at the current jail and how both physical space and programs, particularly alternatives to incarceration, can address them. A third committee was appointed by the County Legislature and will serve in an advisory role to them. This is why the new facility will be called the Dutchess County Justice Transition Center, because it will be more than a traditional “jail” in both construction and program.

I appreciate Marc's confidence in our panel and his desire to have wide-ranging input on such an important issue. We have a lot of work ahead of us over the next several months. Together, we can and will change the criminal justice system in Dutchess County and make it a model for New York and the nation.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

LinkedIn Etiquette: Woo Before You Pop the Question

It's again time for college seniors to send out résumés as part of the great job search. My most recent Marist PR class focused on branding oneself on social media. A student in the Marist PRSSA chapter, Tatiana Miranda, attended a talk I gave to the college's Emerging Leaders program a couple of months ago and asked me to expand on one of the areas I covered -- LinkedIn etiquette -- for the Marist PRSSA chapter's newsletter, "esPResso." Since I provided Tatiana more than she could include in her Real Advice column, I will share my thoughts on that topic here.

Think of LinkedIn as Facebook for professionals. That starts with your photo. It should be a head shot of you, professionally dressed. It should not be you at a party with your arm around a boyfriend or girlfriend, or worse, holding a beer. Your profile is your first impression upon a prospective employer. Think of yourself as a brand. What image do you want to project? Your name is your brand name. Your appearance, not just physical, but also written and photo representations, are your packaging. Always remain a professional.

You are transitioning from your current brand as a Marist student to what you want it to be: an account coordinator for a NYC PR firm, a cyber criminologist, or a media relations professional representing a nonprofit organization. Use your summary for that. That summary doesn't have to be in great detail, but it should create that bridge from your studies and internship experiences to the job or career you want after your graduate.Stay away from jargon and buzzwords. Be yourself. Again, remain professional.

Don't treat your LinkedIn updates like Facebook updates. Share information that is valuable and informative, not that you went to a great party or ate a bagel for breakfast. Have you read a blog post about job searches that you found was very helpful? Share it. Was there an article in the NY Times online that is in your field of interest? Share it. Are you attending an event that allows you to network with others in your field, or are you speaking at a workshop? Share that info. Don't just mention things, share links. People look at posts that include links more than they do when you just write a short statement.

Follow companies, agencies or organizations that are of interest to you. There are many, many groups of interest to public relations students and professionals. Connect to them. There is a PRSSA group, a Marist PR alumni and student group, and groups that discuss areas of personal interest. There are "influencers" you can follow. They often post great tips for students and people working in their fields of interest. For your first post in any group, start with a very brief introduction so others get to know you.

Link to classmates and friends outside of Marist. Link to alumni in your field. Link to people at companies or agencies or organizations at which you'd like to work. For some of these, you can connect because you share a common connection. For others, explain who you are and why you'd like to link to someone. People like to be flattered, but don't go overboard. Explain to your prospective connection that you are about to graduate from Marist and would like to expand your network of professionals to learn from practitioners who have become successful in their careers. If you have no connection to a person but are friends with someone who does, ask that friend to offer an introduction on your behalf.

Once you follow someone or some group, don't jump in right away. Observe before you participate. Get a flavor for the conversation before you join it. Share and be helpful before you ask for something. I'm pretty liberal about accepting requests for connections. However, if after accepting you start pitching me business or asking me for a job, I will delete you immediately. You don't introduce yourself to someone by asking him or her to marry you. You have to get to know someone first before you take the relationship to the next level.

Your profile will be viewed. With each passing day, LinkedIn becomes an increasingly valuable form of networking and job searches, not just for individuals, but for companies that look to hire people. Remember that your digital footprint is forever, so think before you post. Make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors. Ask yourself, would my boss -- or my grandmother -- be OK with what I wrote? One bad tweet, Facebook post, or LinkedIn update can undo years of image building and personal branding or destroy a career. Don't believe me? Google Justine Sacco.

One last thing...My husband Pete and I thank all who made donations to the Alzheimer's Association in memory of his mother, who passed away Christmas Eve. The national organization and local chapters, particularly the one in the Hudson Valley, report receiving thousands of dollars to support their work. We also received many letters and emails from friends who told us how their families have been touched by Alzheimer's. Together, we carry on and support those who will one day find a better way to treat, or better yet, prevent this dreaded affliction. Again, a deeply heart-felt thank you!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Remembering My Mother-In-Law

On this day after Christmas, my husband Pete and I laid to rest an incredible woman, whose accomplishments as a wife, mother and early pioneer for women in law were overshadowed the past 13 years by a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. Pete’s mom, Marjorie Clark, died Christmas Eve at age 96. For those 13 years, particularly the past four, Pete devoted his life to the care of his mom in selfless service that exemplifies a love that I doubt many others would endure.

Marj was born in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. Her father ran a feed store that served the horses in New York before automobiles and mass transit overtook the streets and subterranean tunnels of the City. She graduated from Hunter College, where she was the center on the women’s basketball team, then studied law at NYU. She wanted to become an attorney. The passing of her parents halted those plans, but not her love of the law. She was hired by the former Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Charles Evans Hughes, as a legal assistant at his law firm, Hughes Hubbard, and became the chief assistant to his son-in-law, William Gossett, general counsel at Bendix Aviation, then general counsel and executive vice president at Ford Motor Company. 

In the 1940s, Marj was often mistaken for Katharine Hepburn. Her beauty led to her being asked out on dates by well-known figures in the New York of that day. She enjoyed riding horses in Central Park and adored dogs of all types. She loved the color red, swimming in the cold waters off Cape Cod in September, and an occasional gimlet. Her smile lit up the room and it was easy to make her laugh. She married Joseph Clark, whose first wife was killed by a drunk driver, leaving him to care for five children. Pete was the only child from their marriage, but his step-brothers and sisters always considered him to be a "full sibling" and his mom as their own. Pete's father died in 1972, leaving Pete the "man of the house," a role he took on for the next 41 years.

Marj continued to work at law firms in Manhattan and in later years, New Jersey, retiring after a fall that broke her hip at age 84. Even then, she bounced back quickly, befitting a woman who worked out daily in the gym, lifting weights, swimming and running around the track.

We noticed Marj was starting to get a little forgetful, nothing serious at first, but we believed it was time for her to move in with us. For decades, Pete would travel to New Jersey to help his mom. Having her move in with us simplified that travel schedule, but the long decline in Marj’s physical health and cognitive abilities had already begun, each stage bringing its own fears and concerns.

Four years ago, Pete got laid off by his employer, Clear Channel, ending a 35-year full-time career in radio (he is still on air part-time at another station). While he is now a licensed real estate agent, his real job was being the 24-7 caregiver for his mother. I will spare you the details, but the physical and emotional toll was tremendous. He carried Marj from room to room, cut and styled her hair when she could no longer go to the salon, cleaned her, brushed her teeth, fed her and more. He constantly hugged and kissed his mom, telling her, “I love you,” dozens of times a day.

We both learned a lot about caring for someone with dementia. For example, winters were rough because of decreasing sunlight, so we put bright lights in fixtures that could accommodate them. When she became depressed, we’d sing to her, simple songs like, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.”

A woman who worked with the powerful in courts and commerce eventually became a dependent, confined to a wheelchair and a hospital bed at home. Her interactions became limited to the point of just looking at us longingly but blankly, until the warmest of smiles creased her lips and she said, “I love you.” She’d reach out for Pete or me and we would melt in her arms, smothering her in hugs and kisses. We didn’t want to let go of one another, knowing the day would come when we would no longer be afforded the privilege of being Marj’s caregivers and comforters. That day came the morning of Christmas Eve, after a very difficult last couple of weeks. Marj’s passing that day was her way of giving us a gift – the knowledge that she was no longer suffering and was finally at peace.

Seeing Pete turn his life over to the care of his mother confirmed something I’ve known for 33 years. I am married to the most loving, wonderful human being in the world. We’re not done with our caregiving, as my mother has lived with us for six years, too. At 94, she is in relatively good shape, physically and mentally, but Pete and I know the time will come when we will go through something like this again with my mom. We were fortunate “the Moms,” as they became known to our friends, were as close as sisters. My mother is in mourning, too, but already, Pete’s inner caregiver has come to the fore, showing my mother the same love and compassion he did with the woman who gave birth to and raised him.

I am grateful for the best Christmas present I could ever receive – a loving husband and partner, talented in so many fields, universally loved and admired by friends and clients, a model of patience and devotion, someone with whom I long to grow old and, in the paraphrased words of “our song,” I love more today than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow. Thank you, Marj, for the most wonderful gift of your son. We will always love and remember you. Rest in Peace.

One last thing...If you're looking for a cause to support, especially a last minute, end-of-year financial gift, please consider your local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. With advancements in healthcare and medicine, longer lives now bring the prospect of millions more people like Marj suffering this affliction. The Alzheimer's Association supports research and families who endure this long goodbye. 

Addendum: To read Pete's wonderful reflection on his mom, please visit his new blog.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Catholic Cardinal's Lesson on Chutzpah

Here's a definition of chutzpah: during an interview on Meet The Press, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan claimed the Catholic Church has been“outmarketed” on marriage equality and the Church has been “caricatured as being anti-gay.” Cardinal Dolan, as he often does, tries to have the Church portrayed as “the martyr,” attacked by the evil forces of Hollywood, politicians and “some opinion-molders.” Dolan claims, “We’re pro-marriage, we’re pro-traditional marriage, we’re not anti-anybody.”

Dolan's attempt at spin is easily shot down with examples of anti-gay animus too numerous to mention in one blog post, though I will list a few.

Let's start with 1986 and the paternal-sounding “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” It written by Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who 19 years later became Pope Benedict XVI. That document reaffirmed another from 1975 that called homosexual acts “intrinsically disorderd.” The 1986 Letter did not stop at sexual acts in and of themselves. “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” Ratzinger further declared that when “they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within them a disorderd sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.” (emphases mine)

Ratzinger and the Church equation of LGBT people as being objectively disordered is an assertion as ancient and not based in fact as the Church's once-held belief that the sun revolved around the earth. His belief, and thus the Church's, is that the only purpose of marriage is procreation. The Ratzinger proclamation shockingly declared, “when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any inconceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”

In other words, LGBT people who seek to achieve any form of dignity, human rights or equality should not be surprised by violence toward them because they bring it on themselves. Such an assertion is despicable and encourages attacks, including physical ones, against LGBT people.

By opposing marriage equality, the Catholic Church seeks to impose its narrow definition of such unions on all human beings, regardless of one's belief or no belief at all. Yet, not all religions share that narrow definition of marriage. In the United States and many other countries, marriage is a civil institution, a legal contract providing protections for and placing responsibilities on two people committing to one another with absolutely no requirement or promise of bearing children.

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church has spent millions of dollars and exerted significant pressure on political bodies in state capitals, Washington, DC and the United Nations to halt any advance in LGBT rights, believing any LGBT right relates back to marriage.

Five years ago, the Vatican vehemently opposed a UN resolution endorsing a universal declaration to decriminalize homosexuality. The Church, through its UN envoy, claimed discrimination – not against LGBT people, but toward the Church and countries that do not allow same-sex marriage. The Vatican was particularly opposed to any mention of “gender identity.” To the Catholic Church, punishment for being gay in 76 countries, five of which include the death penalty, is preferable to any attempt to decriminalize homosexuality because such decriminalization could be used to push for marriage equality and threatens "religious freedom," which has become code for the ability to discriminate on the basis of personal religious belief. The UN eventually adopted its first resolution in support of LGBT rights in 2011, but without Vatican support.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is opposed to any immigration reform that includes legally-married gay couples. For the Catholic Church, the inhumanity of keeping a binational gay or lesbian couple separated or living outside the United States is morally acceptable.

Millions have been spent by the Catholic Church and Catholic organizations like the Knights of Columbus in attempts to halt civil legislation in every state that has had a ballot measure on marriage equality. In 2009, the Diocese of Portland, Maine took up a second collection that raised $80,000 in what was then a successful attempt to overturn the state's marriage equality law. In 2012, another collection was taken up by parishes and congregations across Maine – on Father's Day no less – to oppose a ballot measure legalizing same-sex marriage. That attempt failed and Maine was one of three states to approve marriage equality last year.

Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin forbade Catholic family and friends from attending any same-sex marriage ceremony. “Catholics should examine their consciences very carefully before deciding whether or not to endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies, realizing that to do so might harm their relationship with God and cause significant scandal to others.” In other words, going to your son's or daughter's or classmate's wedding will bring you a step closer to hell.

Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt mailed 400,000 anti-gay DVDs to Minnesota Catholics in 2010 and went so far as to tell a mother that she had to reject her gay son or risk going to hell. “I urge you to reconsider the position that you expressed in your letter. Your eternal salvation may well depend upon a conversation (sic) of heart on this topic.”

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, IL, conducted an exorcism at his cathedral, not far from the state capitol, “in reparation” for the legislature passing a marriage equality law. He also went the eternal fire and damnation route, telling a reporter, “If you're voting for someone because you have the intention of trying to promote something that is gravely sinful then you are putting your salvation in jeopardy.”

Dolan's list of anti-gay actions and rhetoric could fill a book. He was co-host of an anti-gay, anti-same-sex-marriage forum in my city of Poughkeepsie in September 2011, shortly New York State's marriage equality law took effect. This past September, Dolan emceed a conference at Columbia University on The Manhattan Declaration, which calls upon “people of faith” to oppose all laws that offer marriage equality, likening same-sex marriage to “polyamorous partnerships, polygamous households, even adult brothers, sisters, or brothers and sisters living in incestuous relationships.” (pages 4-7 of link)

Dolan refused to speak up during last summer's LGBT bashings in his city and the death of Mark Carson, murdered solely because he was gay. Rather, as violence was being perpetrated against gay residents, Dolan, in his role as president of USCCB, was instrumental is providing anti-gay-marriage prayers and bulletin inserts to every Catholic parish in the country in advance of the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating. Cardinal's Dolan's claim of religious liberty does not trump an LGBT individual's or family's claim to civil rights and common human decency, including the protections offered by civil marriage. To say you are against my marriage and the protections it offers, solely on the basis of my sexual orientation, IS anti-gay, despite any spin by the Cardinal that denies it. Fortunately, the people in the pews ignore his protestations, as a majority of Catholics support marriage equality.

One last thing...While Pope Francis told his hierarchy a few months ago to stop obsessing on gays, abortion and contraception, last week he came out with his “Apostolic Exhortation” “Evangelii Gaudium.” While much of the media focus has been on Francis' call for greater social and economic equality, the document also reiterated the Church's stance that marriage's chief purpose is procreation. Those hoping for change in this area are in for a tremendous disappointment. The fight for LGBT rights must continue, without – and often against – the leadership of the Catholic Church. Dolan's assertion that the battle is not over, comparing the ongoing fight against the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, shows that the Cardinal and others in the Catholic hierarchy are in this for the long haul. So are we, the people on the right side of history.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Well There's No Place Like Rome for the Holidays

Twenty-eight years ago, I departed for studies at the Gregorian University in Rome, Italy, living in an American compound, the North American College in Vatican City. I was 27 years old, but had never been away from home for more than a month, and that was five years before when I studied in China. It would be two years before I could come back to the United States and unfortunately, I started out counting down the days until then, rather then throwing myself into the opportunity of a lifetime -- living abroad on someone else's dime, as I was there on the equivalent of a full scholarship, including room and board.

The first big test of homesickness would be Thanksgiving. In Italy, it was just another Thursday. In our five-story, walled-in hectares of America, it was a time of celebration. The fact that we had no classes on Thursdays (but did have them on Saturdays) helped start the day with that holiday feeling. While we were blessed to have an incredible house chef, Giovanni, we longed for the comfort foods with which we had grown up. It's amazing what you can whip up on a hot plate. Guys in a particular hallway would chip in. My parents once sent over bagels. The following year, I had access to the PX at the American Embassy because I had enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Reserves and served that summer as an officer with the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing in Bitburg, Germany. So, that meant buying Pop Tarts, "real" bacon (pancetta just didn't go well with eggs), American coffee (though nothing will compare to cappuccino from Tazza d'Oro), and tea (which you could then only get at Babbington's Tea Room in the Piazza di Spagna).

We'd gather for lunch in the refectory, properly dressed in suits and ties or high-end clerical garb, for a feast of roast turkey with all the trimmings and pumpkin pies baked over a 24-hour period by one of my classmates, Chuck, from Pittsburgh, who had graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, about a ten minute drive from where I live now in Poughkeepsie. We had other American guests join us, from ambassadors to students, and always started with three toasts: to the president, the pope, and the college. We would gather a couple of hours after the big meal for the annual "Spaghetti Bowl," a football game pitting the "new men," or first year students, against the "old men," or the rest of the house. The game featured live play-by-play. After I returned to the States, I recorded some radio commercials, including jingles,  for the college store -- KNAC -- and sent them over. I'm told they used them for years.

At night, after a VERY light dinner, we gathered in the magnificent auditorium, designed by MGM, to watch the original print of the film Ben Hur. Arrangements for much of the Rome-based filming were smoothed by the then-long-term-rector of the NAC, Archbishop Martin O'Connor from Scranton, PA. The viewing experience was a mix of Rocky Horror and Mystery Science Theater 3000. Some guys came dressed up in period garb, and we all shouted out commentary -- from the comedic to the sacrilegious. Then it was time for expensive calls home. We paid by the "click" -- a counter on the switchboard that went in intervals of ten seconds, which meant bills that could range from $25 to $150. I smartened up after getting some huge initial bills and would call my parents or Pete and ask them to call me right back, since it was much less expensive to call from the States. Even that brief call would be about $1. Remember, this was well before cell phones and global service and payment plans.

It was an opportunity to bond, to shorten the distance from home, and for some, to keep them from leaving because they couldn't deal with being away from family and friends. There would be other holidays that posed homesickness difficulties, most notably Christmas, but there was at least a festive air for those celebrations. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American (U.S. in November, Canada in October) holiday, and when you live in community with 150 countrymen, that shared experience bolstered morale and helped us march on toward exams, work, and travel.

I wonder if the students I've known from my 19 years at Marist (I still teach there) or other colleges and universities felt that same homesickness and how they dealt with is. Perhaps some will let me know in the comments section at the end of this post.

One last thing...I know I haven't posted in awhile, but I hope to be back tomorrow with another entry to reflect on Pope "Frankness" -- a man who is breaking the papal mold and is not afraid to challenge leadership in the church, in nations, and in corporate culture.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

So, You Want to Do Good?

No, that’s not a grammatical error in the title of this post. This is about breaking into a field that allows you to do good things on behalf of others, the field of corporate social responsibility, or CSR. 

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a discussion thread in the LinkedIn group “Corporate Community, Sustainability and Philanthropy” started by 25-year-old Erik Moss, who works for Catholic Charities in Dallas,Texas. Erik wrote, “I'm a nonprofit professional looking to get into the CSR field. Any tips on making that leap? Do most people start out in PR and then move over to CSR?It was a good question that elicited several responses, including a couple from me and, with Erik’s permission, I’m sharing my mine with you.

I told Erik I entered the CSR field as a paid professional after more than 30 years in journalism and public relations. What helped me was a long-term involvement with community and nonprofit organizations. My career also included high-profile PR positions, which led to me being asked to join some foundation boards.

All of these experiences developed a profile that led a pharmaceutical company, through a connection there, to reach out to me to start their corporate giving and global philanthropy program. That's the other important aspect of this, or any job search – networking and maintaining contacts.

To learn more about this field, visit Web sites like The Chronicle of Philanthropy and the Council on Foundations to learn about CSR, foundation work, and philanthropy. LinkedIn also provides job openings in the CSR field on a weekly basis to members of appropriate groups, including the one mentioned above.

I also recommend being involved as a volunteer or board member of a nonprofit organization. That will help you understand how they operate. That will assist you when, one day, you are in a CSR position as a donor, cause marketer, or provider of engaged employees to volunteer. Such participation in the nonprofit sector will also help connect you to like-minded individuals who will learn of your interest in this field and see what you have accomplished as a volunteer or board member.

Erik raised a question about his age, with a concern that he would be too young to be considered for nonprofit board positions. I told him at 25, he is a prime candidate to serve as a volunteer board member. From what I have come to learn about him, he has energy, insight into his age group (and others, judging by his current work with parents and children), and he can help breathe new life into an organization.

Daniel Torres, a student friend of mine who recently graduated from Marist College, where I still teach, was elected to his school board at 18 and he is running for the New Paltz Town Board this year at age 23. At 21, I was the chair of our city's transportation commission. Local chambers of commerce have young leaders groups that help develop skills and connect them to their communities.

A good writer is worth his or her weight in gold to a nonprofit organization. With extensive layoffs in newsrooms and a diminishing number of traditional news outlets, prospective newsmakers are fighting for a shrinking number of coverage opportunities. You can help an agency develop a blog, a Facebook presence, or a Twitter account if they don't already have those. You can help them with an online newsletter or enhance their Web site. You can lead them to understand how to pitch stories that will get picked up by media, or perhaps even bypass traditional channels by using your social media skills. I told Erik not to let his age or anyone’s perception of him being “too young” impede him from making a mark on the community in which he lives and works.

My advice: pick a cause about which you are passionate and find an agency that has that as part of its mission. Is there a disease that has impacted your family? What about literacy? Is there a set of social issues about which you have strong feelings? I provided links to groups with which I've been involved, but there are thousands more looking for volunteers.

Erik brings another major skill to the table. He’s bilingual. How many companies, agencies, foundations, or other groups lack the ability to offer services or assistance or information in Spanish as well as English? I have two students in my Marist class this semester who are fully bilingual. My advice to any young person – or anyone for that matter – play to your strengths. We all have much to offer.

Career development takes time and while we can plan for our future, there are twists and turns along life’s path that catch us by surprise. Three years ago, I had no idea I would be in the job I am today, nor did I plan my career to develop as it did. Opportunities arise and you have to be ready to accept and take advantage of them -- and I mean "take advantage" in a positive sense. I also believe in karma -- you do good for others and that good is returned to you. That should not be your expectation. One should do something that is good just because it is good. However, if that good is returned to you through an opportunity, accept it with gratitude and grow with that new experience.

One last thing…After less than two months as a program coordinator at Catholic Charities, Erik was promoted to program supervisor, overseeing a staff of eight. That’s a sign of both who he is and what he can do. Those two aspects of one’s professional and personal life are complementary, so I have no doubt that whenever he decides to make the job into corporate social responsibility of philanthropy, he will land on his own two feet.