Tag Archives: Community


It’s been quiet around here, but that’s because there’s been a flurry of activity. From a little family vacation to working as hard as I could to keep up with client work, and now to prepare for Bolivia!

I would not be able to go on this adventure – to do good while learning and expanding my photography skills – if it weren’t for my husband who first supported my crazy idea. And, the neighbor who volunteered to help me launch the Indiegogo campaign. Then came the flood of support from family and friends!BoliviaBound


There have been two very good questions, though, from strong women I admire:
1. How will you?

When I first announced at a family gathering that I was going to do this, she asked how I would be able to – knowing that I didn’t have the funds to go right away. I said that I didn’t know exactly, but that with a vote of confidence and check from a cousin, I was sure I could ask for more help and earn the rest…the truth is that I’m almost there. I’ve put some of the trip on credit, which is a first for my business. This is a workshop/location/cause that fits into a place in my heart that I can’t quite explain. So, I’m taking a leap of faith and following.

And, I’m grateful for everyone who is helping to make this happen: from my Mother-In-Law who is going to fill my shoes for a week to the friend who referred a portrait client.

2. Why not teach the people photography instead?

This is an excellent question, and one that I think could be asked of any group or non-profit who needs to raise awareness. First, the non-profit is working on basic life needs like food and childhood nutrition education. While there may be one or two workers who know how to use a camera, photography is not just the process of pushing a button. The job of photography in this instance is to tell their story in a way that engages and encourages others to get involved. Second, there’s the technical issues with equipment in remote villages – if a camera breaks down it might not be cost effective to fix it or to buy another one. And, I could drone on about lack of Internet access and the other technical details.

There are some who are trying to help aid in educating and enabling those less fortunate to tell their story, but it’s not the most effective model yet*. That’s why non-profits need photographers and videographers. Think about it: You get a letter telling you about a situation so dire it sounds unbelievable, and it’s typed in size 10 font on a double-sided sheet – is that as effective as a short clip or few photos you see your friend share?

On a more personal note, I have had questions about inequality and lack of awareness since moving into the North Delridge neighborhood of West Seattle. The heritage of this part of West Seattle lies in depressing statistics and a bad reputation as a place where gentrification and inequality mix like a sick city experiment. Our neighborhood is home to the lowest life expectancy in the county. We have been labeled as a food desert for lack of a grocery story or farmer’s market.

Basically, I hope to bring back some understanding of how to better work in my own neighborhood to bring us together and work toward improving and changing the depressing statistics. For all the years of volunteering and photographing our happy community gatherings, I feel ineffective, like I’m not making a difference yet.



p.s. A short interview of Kevin Kubota, an instructor, explaining what Workshops With Purpose is all about.

* Brooke Shaden uses her photography skills to help survivors of human trafficking tell their story in India. Her Promoting Passion blog is what inspired me to apply for the Bolivia Workshop.

Indiegogo has hosted several campaigns aimed at teaching photography to youth in areas such as Africa to tell their story through photojournalism.

A SWAT team in my back yard

Thomas Train

Friday was a special day. My husband was taking a half day for work to spend the morning with the kids and I as we were going to ride the infamous, Thomas Train! We bought tickets to the special event as a gift for our son’s 5th Birthday. Since we had about an hours drive to make our train ride, we had a hectic morning trying to get the kids fed, dressed and everything packed (our lunch, water bottles, snacks, camera, etc). While making breakfast I stood at the kitchen window, which looks out at the street, and noticed a truck parked in the turn lane. Not too out of the ordinary for our neighborhood, but just something I noticed and wondered about for a moment.

Hurry, hurry, hurry out the door we scurried until we pulled to the end of the driveway and saw rows of parked, empty vehicles blocking our driveway. As I scanned the street, I got an eerie feeling, and wondered aloud if we’d missed the rapture. I was half trying to be funny and half seriously worried. As I spoke, my head panned down the street to see my answer: Cops stood at the corner, two SWAT vehicles blocked the intersection.  The idea of missing our long awaited special Birthday Thomas Train ride hit me, and I got out of the car and asked a Cop what was up. He said that the vehicles blocking us were staged for a gun situation, which they’d hoped would be resolved soon. Sorry, but if we couldn’t get through the parking mess, we’d just have to wait.

I racked my brain after telling my husband the scoop: how could we get out? Just then, our neighbor came out and said that his wife had made it through in her car. He guided my husband through and down the road we went, passing news cameras and police vehicles blocking the intersection away from the situation.  I was so thankful for our “angel” neighbor, and suddenly felt tears streaming down my face. I was unable to understand why waves of emotion crashed down on me. When my husband asked what was wrong, I had to just breathe and think, asking myself the same question. I got a text from my neighbor down the street, “Are you okay? Stay inside until it’s safe.” More tears streamed down my face.

Beautiful detail: Old Train seat arm rest.

When I was 6 years old, my single mother was unexpectedly interrupted during a normal morning at home. A loud banging on the door was unexpected. A vested man holding a gun said quickly, “Stay inside, we’re apprehending a suspect running through your backyard.” She sternly said to my little brother and I that we had to sit down in the living room away from the windows. I remember feeling fear. And confusion. She let us peek out our back kitchen window. Our yard rose up a hillside into a greenbelt overrun with blackberries, trees and ivy. We saw men in black with assault rifles drawn chasing a man half dressed as he scrambled through. A shot or two was fired, triggering a very deep sense of fear inside my little heart. I did not feel safe at home.

walking along rain tracks

Once the incident was over, I told my mom that I wanted to go to my Uncle Michael’s house. I wanted to sleep there. When she asked me why, I told her he could keep us safe. So, we went and visited my aunt and uncle’s house.  They let us sleep over.

What triggered my tears Friday was the disappointment I felt of not being able to shield my kids from ever experiencing a SWAT team situation. Unlike my experience, the kids didn’t have to sit in the living room away from the windows. They didn’t see or hear guns. All they knew is that we were probably going to arrive late to ride Thomas, and Mommy was upset. I never wanted to live in a place where they would ever feel unsafe. And they don’t. Their day was filled with memories of trains.

We’ve learned that the cause of the situation was domestic violence. While many neighbors complain about this neighborhood being the problem, they fail to see each incident as separate (compared to tagging, vandalism, robbery). Domestic Violence happens in every kind of social level across the world. It happens behind white picket fences, in pretty homes with perfect lawns. It happens in apartments, in neighborhoods like ours where low income housing is dispersed among single family homes. It’s a growing problem among younger couples, like the one in our neighborhood. Why? I don’t know. But I do know that it fuels my desire to keep volunteering in my neighborhood. To be active and not another anonymous commenter who vents about the problems around here and why they moved away. Moving away from the problems don’t solve them.

I don’t think that violent crimes like Domestic Violence are easily solved. But, they can only be solved if we start to try. To talk about it is a start.

Thinking back to my emotions on Friday, I am grateful for the positive distraction of a fun filled adventure with Trains and my family. But, I will not easily forget the reason why we almost missed out and stayed home, waiting.

Lost Art: Local Volunteer

Portraits of my children.

I was going to finish up a post to share why and when I think you should decide to “Go Organic” or become an independent food consumer. But, I have something else on my mind that I want to share while the glee is still in me. Anyone who has visited my home can tell that we love art. For Mother’s Day I got my gift yesterday: Silhouette Portraits of my kids. I have always admired this old art form – portraiture for the common folks.

I am delighted to have these portraits, and to see the artist, Karl Johnson making a living for himself with a “lost art.”

My mind took the thought further and made the connection to something else close to my heart: volunteering locally. I know many people who volunteer or lend a hand by sending money to worthy causes, but I see less who get out into the world face to face with their cause.  With social networking sites making it as easy as clicking a button to support these causes, there is less of a reason for people to leave their comfort zone. There is nothing wrong with this, but I think you may be missing out.

Me and my neighbors ready to work for a few hours on Saturday.

Last weekend our family was consumed by my cause – I am a volunteer with our neighborhood council. I helped plan and host a neighborhood clean up event. We had enough folks show up (with kids in tow) to fill an Adopt-A-Street Team to pick up trash on our main thoroughfare street, spruce up the park by pulling weeds and mulching, and refreshing the Welcome to Delridge Sign.

I coordinated a smaller event last year dedicated only to the Delridge Park, and it was cool to see that sprout into something bigger this year. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t have done this type of thing three years ago with a new baby and an almost 3-year-old. But, now that the kids are almost 3 and 5, I am finding the time to get involved and volunteer locally – An always helpful husband helps too! So, if you have kids or are doubting the benefits of being a local volunteer wherever you live, let me share why I think it’s better than an social networking.

Volunteering is better than Social Networking because:

– You engage with people face to face opening up a new horizon for friendships, and can really see who they are more than in a bio on the computer screen or a one minute introduction with a business card.

– You get those “warm fuzzy” feelings that last longer than clicking a “support” button.

– You can learn new things about yourself (like you may find that you LOVE pulling weeds to let off steam).

Refreshing the Welcome to Delridge sign.

How to choose where to volunteer:

1) What are you passionate about? Make a list of 5 things.

2) Look around your community for ways to apply those passions. For example, if you love animals, you may live near an animal shelter. You could walk those poor critters, comb their hair, pet them, etc. once a month or week.

3) Make some calls and if you walk into a wall, look for another venue. If you’re the animal lover and the animal shelter is booked with volunteers, maybe you could organize a fundraiser for the shelter instead.

Got Kids? No problem!

If you are in those first 3 months of “newborn honeymoon” just focus on getting your parental bearings…If you need to get out of the house and talk to adults, then start small.  Maybe you could bake cookies for a clean up event. Or attend a meeting for a local fundraiser and offer to create a flier.

Showing off "treasures" - trash found in the park.

If you have kids old enough to walk or help, you can find something to do together. Our clean up event last weekend was in a park. So, our 2-year-old spent time loading a bucket with weeds I was pulling, then would take breaks to swing on the swing-set. Our 4-year-old loved using a gardening claw and loosened the soil to pull weeds for me. Another mom recruited her 3-year-old to pick up trash around the park, kinda like hunting for Easter Eggs. The limitations with having kids can seem huge, but really if you can take the time to think creatively and look for opportunities to include them, you can have a lot of fun volunteering together.

Since getting out and volunteering locally, I’ve met amazing neighbors from a Lawyer, a Doula, and Small Business Coach to a DIY Hobby Girl. And I’ve learned that I love planning events!

One quote that rings true to this theme: “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” – J.F. Kennedy

Giving Back

We love books, both my husband, myself and our two kids.  While we have different tastes, my husband and I do share a love for books about business, and lifestyle design.  After reading Chris Guillebeu‘s book, The Art of Non-Conformity, in September, I felt inspired.  The message of his book is simple: Live the life you want and give back (paraphrasing).  It’s an easy read book full of interesting stories.  The book sparked an ongoing discussion about what we want for our lives and how we want to give back to the world.

For the following two months, I struggled to feel like what I’ve done or am doing to give back is really making a difference. After all, there are people building wells to destitute villages far away or starting schools or setting up amazing programs in our country.  Then, we met Chris during his book tour stop in Seattle. Meeting him was really enjoyable, but key to the event was meeting folks who had been reading his blog months before the book arrived on our doorstep.  His wife was charming and inviting. I found some inspiration from a chat with her.

Now, I’ve always been one to volunteer for projects no matter where I lived.  These have given me experience working on a documentary (basically updating an email list or researching news photos), an oral history project in rural NE Oregon (where I listened to 3rd generation farmers and their wives talk about change in the community) and now on a hyper local level in the North Delridge Neighborhood Council.

After I had my first baby, I wasn’t sure I had much time to give.  I could barely find time to brush my teeth. Then came baby number two.  Again, I thought, how can I get back to learning things that interest me and volunteer (notice the theme above, documentary, interviews, etc.).  About a year into being a mother of two kids, I got my opportunity to branch out in 2009.

By Mallory MacDonald


Our local park had a sorry looking playground.  Some bolts were visibly missing, and the equipment was not accessible to children under age 5 or anyone too short to reach the platform of a jungle gym.  I felt frustrated, and would drive to other playgrounds.  Then, an opportunity came for our neighborhood to build a new playground. Thanks to the Neighborhood Council, namely a Co-Chair (a Mommy), we secured a grant and the help of the non-profit playground builder, KaBoom! What followed was an amazing experience working with fellow neighbor volunteers.  In 6 hours, we build a new playground and gave the park a much needed maintenance overhaul with 275 volunteers!

By Doug Van Kampen

Believe it or not, the magnitude and satisfaction of that experience got lost. I still felt like I wasn’t doing much. Flash forward to meeting Chris and his wife.  The busy month of December didn’t leave me much time to digest everything.  But, what I found for myself was that indeed serving on the neighborhood council was good enough. I realized that maybe I needed an additional outlet to share some of my other interests and passions.  And that is how this blog was born.

Yesterday I enjoyed the natural high of giving back.  Our City Hall had an open house, and I represented the neighborhood council with the Co-Secretary as we toured the Mayor’s office and spoke with council members. It was a neat experience to get answers to questions that have plagued our council as we’ve waded through levels of government. It was a fresh reminder that I can make some difference and give back to my community, however small I feel sometimes.

I want to encourage everyone to give back. I’m not just talking about giving money to a pledge drive (totally worthy cause). Think about your passions, your interests or things you want to learn.  No matter what, you can find an outlet to volunteer to match one of those.  The Boys and Girls Club is a great example.  My friend, Cassie, is a Big Sister and she’s awesome!  Not babysitting much as a teen, this is giving her experience with kids (not that it’s the goal of her volunteering).  But, it could be if you’re thinking about becoming a parent. Or a teacher, or counselor or anything pertaining to kids.

I hope you go out there and give back in whatever method best suits you.