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The Trouble with Valentines Day

by Gail Mooney
February 14 2012

This day, that is supposedly about “love” has actually lost the meaning of that word in all the hype and commerce that has attached itself to it.   In fact, I’d have to say that this particular day does more in the way of making people feel unloved than loved.

I suppose my feelings about Valentines Day started very early on when I was still in grade school.  Every year, no matter which school I was attending, ( I moved a lot when I was younger) the teacher would set aside some time for the students to make and trade valentines.  First we needed to make a box where our classmates could deposit their tokens of affection.  Being the creative type, I would take an ordinary shoebox and turn it into a work of art.  My classmates and I would either buy or make our valentines and then place them into each other’s elaborate or not so elaborate containers.

The day would finally arrive and we would all open up our boxes and dump our valentines out onto our desks.  Sadly, most years my box contained only a handful of cards, even though I always had at least 50 kids in my classroom! That’s the way it was back then. But I was the perpetual “new kid” because my family moved a lot.  And so,  that took it’s toll on Valentines Day because I  usually wasn’t on my classmates’ radar.

I look at the day now as an adult and I see that it still causes a lot of misplaced expectations on our loved ones, and worse yet, makes some of us feel like a total unloved misfit, if we don’t have a significant other or aren’t on the receiving end of someone’s affections.  All this angst created by a day that has turned love into commerce.

I decided to write about this today because I’m reflecting on pivotal moments in my life when I really felt true love – unconditional love.  One day in particular was the day after my daughter was born.  I held her in my arms and I felt a love that I had never known before.  I know that any parent reading this understands what I mean.  Love should always be unconditional.  We only truly “love” someone, when we love in that way – unconditionally. That only happens when we are able to think beyond ourselves.  When we love someone, regardless of what they’ve said or done in anger or sadness, we begin to know what love really is.  But we have to see past ourselves to get to that place.

Ronni Kahn, one of the subjects in our film said:  “Do something for the sake of doing – not for the money – not for the recognition – but just for the sake of doing”.  I think she was defining what true love really is.  If we can abandon our expectations of what we want or expect in return from our loved ones – then that’s when we really care about that person and really love them. It’s hard to do, because you have to let go of your ego and how you feel.  But when you truly love someone, you forgive their frailties and missteps and love them for who they are.

Forget the flowers, candy and cards today.  Reach out to someone who needs some love or maybe just needs a bit of attention.  Think beyond yourself.  When you do that, you will understand the real meaning of the word “love”.

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Introducing Our New Sponsor: CCI and Greenheart

by Erin Kelly
February 8 2012

Over a year ago, in October 2010, just a month after we had returned from our three-month journey to make the film, I wrote a blog about my new job that I had started just a few weeks before:

“I started a new job this month at the Center for Cultural Interchange – a nonprofit organization that facilitates cultural exchange programs for young people, mainly for high school students. I work in the Academic Year Programs department, which works with inbound foreign high school students coming to study and live in the U.S. You might think: “Wow! That job sounds perfect for you and makes so much sense, given your experience this summer.” And I would reply: “You’re right!” I’m very excited to be working there, and I feel fortunate that I am able to work in a field that I actually care about. I believe that it’s so important for everyone to have some kind of experience abroad, especially for young people, for it is through cultural exchange that we can learn to understand and respect others and ourselves. That is certainly something that I learned this summer.”

If you told me the same thing now, I would reply in the exact same way. In fact, I would have even more great things to say because I have learned so much about CCI (Center for Cultural Interchange) and all of its fantastic programs over the past 15 months. In addition to the Academic Year Program, which brings hundreds of international high school students to the U.S. each year to live with host families, attend school and participate in great cultural exchanges, CCI also brings university students to work, travel and have an internship in the U.S. through the Work Programs department. The Short-Term Programs department also offers a myriad of options for young people to participate in language clubs, direct school exchanges or stay with American host families for shorter periods of time.

Just as it’s important to bring international students here, so they can experience life in the U.S., it’s equally important to provide those opportunities to American students and send them abroad to learn about other cultures. CCI’s Greenheart Travel department provides such an opportunity, with programs for American citizens to teach abroad, volunteer abroad and attend high school abroad. Maggie Doyne is a perfect example of how someone could benefit from such a program – from her experience traveling and volunteering after high school, she was inspired to make a difference in Nepal and started the Kopila Valley Children’s Home.

Volunteering and giving back to one’s community is an important part of CCI’s mission as well through its Greenheart initiative. CCI is known as the “Greenheart of Cultural Exchange” because each of its programs offers all of its participants grants and support to do environmental and social volunteering while abroad. CCI encourages participants to collaborate with their new host community and work on projects to make positive change in a sustainable way. These experiences not only enhance the participant’s program, but also help make a difference in communities around the world.

We are very proud to announce CCI and Greenheart as a sponsor of Opening Our Eyes. We feel that their mission is perfectly aligned with the project and we look forward to future collaboration in promoting the importance of cultural exchange and how one person can make a positive difference in the world.

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Please Steal This Idea

by Gail Mooney
January 20 2012

I was catching up with a filmmaker friend yesterday and he told me that he was going to be working on a pro bono piece for a non-profit charity in his area.  I was delighted to hear that because it was just one small sign that maybe – just maybe this idea of “making a difference” is catching on.

To be honest, there may have been a time in my life where I would have been protective of my creative ideas to a fault – but not any more and certainly not in terms of the focus of this film.  What would be the point anyway?  First of all this film was meant to motivate others to “do something” – anything really that could make our world a better place.  And secondly – it really has no bearing on what I am doing – meaning whether or not I will succeed or fail if they do.  I realize that someone does not need to lose in order for me to win and vice versa.  In fact I’m of the mind that we are all more powerful when we partner and collaborate with one another toward the same end – especially when it comes to sustaining our planet.

It has amused me from time to time when I have seen people click the “unlike” or  “dislike” button on this blog or other stories that I have posted on my Facebook Fan Page. Why on earth would someone dislike a story about a 14-year-old girl’s efforts in tutoring others at her school?  I wonder sometimes why someone even wants to use their energy in such a negative way and if that in fact brings them pleasure – especially when it is affixed to something that is positive.  Quite honestly I don’t check analytics much because I try not to let others negativity or negative opinions of who I am or what I am doing – determine my worth. Most times it’s merely a reflection of who they are or what they are dealing with in their own life. And so I do my best to understand.

But the simple fact is I’m just another human being – no better or worse than anyone else. I’m no saint – that’s for sure. I’m a passionate person and that is sure to rub people the wrong way. In fact there are times when I wish I could take a vacation from myself.  I am only human, with my own frailties. While it may sometimes seem like I’m fearless and that everything always goes my way – I can assure you that there have been many sleepless nights where I lie awake playing out all kinds of scenarios in my head that are fraught with peril.

And so these days, I try to accept who I am, and be mindful of how I may affect some people and try to look for the beauty in others instead of the bad.  There have been plenty of times I may have chosen to see only the negative side of things and have hurt others in the process but that has only brought more pain in my own life. So if I come across as an obnoxious goody goody at times – it’s because I try to be more compassionate of my fellow man.  Do I always succeed? No, I am not perfect.  I try to learn from past mistakes and do better the next time.

So please steal this idea  – of seeing the good in people – and try to be a better person yourself. Think beyond yourself and your own inner circle of family and friends and go out and make a positive difference in someone else’s life.  Imagine if more of us thought like that?  And it just might bring more gratification in your own life  – than hitting the “dislike” button.

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I AM

by Gail Mooney
January 14 2012

I saw the movie “I Am” last night.  I had been wanting to see it for some time because someone had told me that it carried the same message as Opening Our Eyes.  In fact, in one of the interviews in the film, a subject states numerous times the phrase “the power of one” – the power each one of us has in their actions and their thoughts.

The documentary, written and narrated by Tom Shadyac, Hollywood director known for movies like Ace Ventura and Liar Liar, questions “what’s wrong with our world?” Are aggression and competition really the natural order or is there a better way? Are we happier when we win?  Are we happier when we have more?  Does it make us feel better to beat out the other guy?

The film goes on to show that what humans really need is to connect with other humans and be loved.  Everything on our planet is connected through energy and the human mind plays a powerful force in either working toward a collective goal of harmony or selfish isolation. And that each one of us has a huge impact through our small actions that make our world what it is and how we interact with one another.

No doubt many will see this film as an idealistic quest for utopia.  They’ll cry  – it’s an unattainable dream because there will always be the opportunists who will seize control for their own gain.  Perhaps they may be right, but does that mean that we should stop caring for our fellow man and striving for  a better future for our planet? I spent the most rewarding summer of my life last year, around people who were living a fulfilling life by making a difference in the lives of others.  They lived rich lives of peace and contentment.

Some of us go to a church, synagogue, mosque or some other place of worship for an hour or two each week and feel good doing it.  But then we spend the rest of our week, interacting with people in all sorts of ways contrary to the preachings that we had taken to heart just a few days prior.  Sometimes, I think religions do more harm than good as far as “connecting” humans, by creating congregations that are too insular at the exclusion and detriment of others. Ultimately, this never breeds good will and will never lead to utopia.

In the film, the question is asked “who is responsible for what’s wrong with world?” One person replies “I am.”  I can echo that and say I am responsible too.  Every little thing I do can make a difference one way or another in someone else’s life. I try to remind myself of that daily in my dealings with people. I have found that when I love fully, without any expectations in return, I am at peace and only then can I be loved.

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Happy Birthday Erin

by Gail Mooney
January 5 2012

It’s hard to believe that it has been 25 years, today, since you were born.  My life changed that day I became your mother, in thousands of meaningful ways.  I cannot have imagined how life would have been without you in it.

I’m sure every parent reading this understands how profoundly life changes when they become a parent – and for the good.  The biggest change for me is that I became less selfish.  I had to consider that my actions not only affected just me anymore.  Of course couples should think like that anyway if they want to have a good relationship – but it’s a different type of selfless care when it comes to your child.

Today is another milestone.  It was two years ago that we started our journey together as far as this project.  We officially launched the Opening Our Eyes blog on Jan. 5, 2010.  Five months later we embarked on our travels around the world.  We not only completed the journey – we have completed a film.  A film that I hope will inspire others to do whatever small acts – or large acts – they can that can make our planet a better place.
It seems fitting that at midnight tonight our campaign on IndieGoGo is over – bringing this blog and project full circle.

I never would have imagined 25 years ago that we would have experienced such a wonderful and amazing project together.  But we did and we will have that connection for an eternity.  But to be honest, I value every other little moments in our lives that we’ve spent together just as priceless.

Happy Birthday

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Thinking of my Mom at Christmas

by Gail Mooney
December 23 2011

The last Christmas I spent with my mother was the Christmas of 2003. I didn’t know that would be our last Christmas together. She died very suddenly, less than two months later. I often wonder if I had known that Christmas was to be the last one that I’d spend with my mother, if I would have asked her the questions that I always wanted to ask. One thing I do remember about that Christmas was a moment during the evening when I caught a look in my mother’s face that I had seen before – a distant look where I felt as if she was somewhere else.

After my mother’s death, I learned a great deal about my mother – things I would have loved to have talked to her about. I was a perceptive and curious child, and there were always questions that I wanted to ask her, but I never did. I don’t know why. I could say that there was “never the right time” but I’ve grown to hate that expression or should I say excuse. I guess I was just too afraid.

I would not have been able to take the journey around the world with my daughter Erin and make this film if it hadn’t been for my mother. That’s why the name of the production company is Nola Productions, Nola was my mother’s name. When she died, she left me a bit of money and that helped finance Opening Our Eyes. That and airline miles, hotel points, crowd-funding and lots of help from my friends. But my mother gave me something even more important than money, that made this film happen. She gave me, belief in myself and compassion for others. If it hadn’t have been for my mom, I wouldn’t have had the desire to make a film that delivers the message, that we can all make a difference in how we choose to live our lives. And she always told me to believe in myself and my dreams and that anything was possible.

If you were to ask me (and many have) what was the best part of the trip – I’d would tell you that ii was spending time with my daughter. We not only explored the world together – we got to know each other as people – beyond the mother/daughter relationship. We’ll both remember the amazing places we went to and the extraordinary people that we met, but I think the memories that will linger the longest will be the conversations that we had along the way. We both asked the questions that we had been wanting to ask and shared the stories that we needed to share. Ultimately we “took the time” to get to know one another.

When I tell women about this trip and what I did with my daughter – they always say one of two things – or both – “Oh I would love to do that with my daughter” or “ I wish I had gotten to know my mother better”. I’m grateful that I had this time with my daughter and I know my mom was with us all the way. We couldn’t have done it without her.

Have a Merry Christmas everyone.

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Doing the Right Thing

by Gail Mooney
December 16 2011

I gave a TEDx talk in Sao Paulo, Brazil last week, which was an energizing experience on many levels. I also had the opportunity to screen the film for a non-US audience for the first time.  This has always been a very “global” project by the very nature that I’ts comprised of 11 stories on six continents. But it was the first time that I received a more “global” perspective and feedback on the film.

One young man from the audience asked a great question that had never been asked before in previous Q & A sessions.  He asked me if making this film had changed my life.  My answer was “yes, and it continues to change my life in many ways”.

Even though this was the first time anyone has asked me this question,

Maggie Doyne, Kopila Valley Children's Home, Nepal

I think about how my life has changed all the time.  Perhaps the biggest change was for me to really recognize what’s important and what’s not. I’ve come to realize that the thing that’s most important to me is for me to live my life doing the right thing.  By that I mean, recognizing the fact that while it may seem to get me a little further ahead, by beating out the “other guy” or their agendas – it really doesn’t.  Just because someone else “loses” doesn’t necessarily mean that I win.

When I returned to the US after being away for almost four months, I was struck by how we were behaving as a society.  It seemed to me like we were spending more time and energy focusing on how to stop “the other guy” than we were on focusing on what we wanted and what we can do. So for me, after spending four months with people who were living their lives according to their own doctrine and happy because of it, I decided to shift my way of thinking. I’m now much more focused on what I can achieve while doing the right thing without the detriment to others.  Perhaps if we all thought like that, everybody would win. Nowadays it seems like there are too many losers in our collective society.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since Erin and I returned from our round the world adventure, and I am very aware and grateful of how the making of this film has changed my life. I’d like to think that it has made me a better person.

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How a Film Can Make a Difference

by Gail Mooney
December 10 2011

I never fully realized the power that is within me to make a difference, until recently.  Last summer, my daughter and I spent time with extraordinary people who were providing homes for orphans, feeding the hungry and curing the ill.  They were all people we met while making a documentary about the change makers in our world – people who are making our planet a better place.

Our goal was to inspire and motivate others as to what they can do to make a difference in their own communities. Our goal was to cause a shift, in culture and in thought – from “what in it for me?” to “what can I do?” We’ve just begun to submit this documentary to film festivals and show sneak previews to small audiences but I can already tell that this film has affected change and the potential it has to move people to action.

From our first sneak preview at the beautiful State Theater in Traverse City, MI to a recent screening at MIS in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I feel the energy in the room and the collective desire to strive for a better world.  I feel the power of film and the power within me as a storyteller and filmmaker. I feel the time for this film is now and that people are hungry for hope.

Many documentaries take the critical point of view and certainly have more conflict. Opening Our Eyes is different from other docs in that it shines a light on what IS being done to create positive change by individuals all over the world.  Somehow by showing the small acts, this film makes all of us believe that we can create change as well. It empowers us to believe in the possibilities and gives us the hope we seem to be yearning for these days.

When I first conceived of the idea for this film, inspired by friend and neighbor Maggie Doyne, I was looking for some positive hope myself.  I was tired of listening to the hundreds of “experts” on TV talking and all of them needing to be “right” – and nothing was getting any better. That was long before the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements. What I was sensing was the rest of the world was feeling the same way I was and decided to do something about it.

Time will tell if the film continues to create awareness and moves people to action, but at least I’m hopeful again.

Please consider supporting our effort by making a contribution to our IndieGoGo campaign, which only has a few weeks, left to go. And it’s tax deductible.

We can’t do it without your help.

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TEDx, Kindred Spirits and Spreading Good Ideas

by Gail Mooney
December 6 2011

I’ve had an amazing week. I’ve been in Sao Paulo, Brazil for the last few days to do a TEDx talk and to screen Opening Our Eyes. It has been a remarkable time, in many ways.

As I listened to the many speakers of the day, talking about what they were doing in their life and in turn affecting other people’s lives, I couldn’t help but feel the common bond amongst this group. They were all thinking beyond themselves and that in itself was not only energizing but gave me great hope for the future. Most of the speakers were young – and it brought me back to when I was their age, so full of hope and believing that I could change the world. I suppose I am in the minority of people of my generation, because I’ve managed to hold on to those beliefs. If I hadn’t, I never would have embarked on this journey that I started with my daughter, almost two years ago.

Yesterday evening I screened the film for many of the same people that had attended the TEDx conference. While I may be from a different generation and cultural background – we were kindred spirits in our beliefs, and our concern for others and the planet that we live on. It was the first time that I showed the film outside the United States and even though that was part of our dream – to take this film globally – I wasn’t quite sure how it would be received. But during the Q&A, I realized what I had probably known all along – that no matter how different our cultures may be in so many ways – we had the common bonds of what connects all humanity. We all need food and shelter and the obvious needs of life – but there is something more that all humans need – the need to love and be loved. The need to know that someone cares.

I think sometimes we forget that basic human desire, overcome by our drive to be successful – sometimes thinking that someone surely has to lose in order for us to win. Last night someone asked me “Has your life changed since making this film?” I’ve had half a dozen screenings in the US and I think this was the first time that I was asked this question. I didn’t have to think much to answer the question, and I said “yes – I have changed mostly in what I place importance on in my life. The little things that used to bother me a great deal, don’t seem to matter anymore in the big picture of life.”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this morning and I think that even though my outlook has changed, I still basically remain the same person I have always been – meaning my fundamental character. I think what has really changed is that I’ve recognized the person who I have always been – and stopped living the dogma that others believe in.

The funny thing is, the people who are in my life now, tell me how young and energetic I look and how happy and content I appear. I think what they see is what I am feeling on the inside. I also think that because of that, I am attracting people who are meant to be in my life. I’m no longer concerned about people who I thought I wanted or needed in my life, but might not have felt the same way. I only wish that I had learned this a long time ago. But as many of the wonderful people who appear in our film told us “there is a time for everything.” Thank you to all the beautiful people in Sao Paulo who have made this a very special and memorable experience. Our hearts will remain connected even though the miles may separate us.

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“Your Mom Would be Proud”

by Gail Mooney
December 2 2011

This was a remark that someone made to me after the screening of Opening Our Eyes the other evening in Seattle. It was probably the nicest thing that anyone has said to me since I’ve been screening this film.

Most of you who have been reading this blog know that this film was created by my daughter Erin and I during our 99 days in the field on six continents while making this movie. We had a lot of “together time” and that was the best part of the experience. Our little two-person crews was able to work on a shoe-string budget made up of airline miles, hotel rewards and trades for gear and services. and create a 76 minute documentary.

During the Q & A after the screening, one attendee asked about the financing of the film. I told her that even though the shoot part of the production was financed with airline and hotel points and trades, there were still the costs of visas, vaccinations, and all the post-productions costs of editing, sound mixing, music rights and stock footage. When all was said and done, including buying the gear, it was just under $50,000 – and that doesn’t include film festival submissions, PR and marketing etc. going forward. I did raise $10,000 on Kickstarter and we are currently running a funding campaign on IndieGoGo, but where did the other money come from?

I answered her questions by telling her that when my mom died in 2004, she had left me a little money. I had never spent a penny of it until we began this project, when I set up a separate LLC, Nola Productions, named after my mother and placed my inheritance into that.

I think my mom would not only be proud of me, but also her granddaughter, my daughter, Erin. My mother always thought of others and their needs first – before she thought of her own needs. She taught me to think about how my actions could affect others. She also taught me to believe in myself and encouraged me to follow my dreams. She gave me everything I needed to accomplish this film – the courage to take action on my dreams and the means to make that happen. I think she would be proud of what I chose to do in her name.

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