A Better Chicago’s Project Impact Finalists

I’m very excited to have served on the judging panel for A Better Chicago and congrats to the Project Impact finalists; Curt’s Café, The Dovetail Project, Foundations College Prep, Intrinsic Schools, VOCEL.. Here’s a quick summary from A Better Chicago!


Congratulations to the Project Impact finalists!  These six nonprofits will present at the Project Impact finals event for their chance to win up to $100K and become part of A Better Chicago’s portfolio for one year.  Learn more about the finalists’ inspiring work the community, and attend the finals event on 11/13 to cast your vote!  Buy $20 tickets here.

Project Impact is a social innovation competition awarding a total of $200K and 12 months of management support to three early-stage nonprofits using innovative strategies to improve the lives of low-income Chicagoans. MORE >

A Better Chicago

Make It Better Grows and Changes

Just keeping all of my readers and Make it Better Fans about changes going on. We are very grateful for your time. Please read and enjoy learning more about our organization!November 2014 Make it Better

Some Announcement,  with great pleasure:

On Monday, October 13, Michelle Morris joins Make It Better as our Associate Publisher.  We enticed her away from Conde Nast, where she served as Midwest Advertising Sales Director for Parade magazine.  She is the perfect person to help us grow into Chicago and beyond.

Michelle joins Mindy, Megan, Julie, Sandy, Lesley and me as a member of our Executive Committee.  Megan, as Ad Sales Manager, and the rest of the ad sales staff, will report to Michelle. She understands well and is excited about our company’s collaborative culture too.

As of tomorrow, Mindy and I job share the CEO role – insuring smooth management and a strong presence in our office while we also travel more to grow this precious business.

Our new site officially launches on November 18.  We celebrate this, our expansion into Chicago, our 2014 Philanthropy Award winners (who you will help notify during our November 14 live-blogged road show) and our magazine’s 5th Anniversary at the best party we’ve ever thrown – at 27 Live in Evanston.

Nancy Searle will be our first $10,000 sponsor of a Philanthropy Award! This is particularly spectacular news because Nancy is one of the most strategic thinking and well regarded philanthropists in Chicago. (You might remember her from the Education Innovators cover story.)

Thank You to All of the Amazing Make it Better Staffers;   Your talent and trustworthy, creative, hard work led to all this success – starting with John Lavine, the Kitchen Cabinet and Cheryl Berman.  You honored our worthy mission to be the most trusted, easiest to use community resource and helped grow Make It Better Media.

Mindy Fauntleroy. Everything Mindy touches succeeds and shines.  We wouldn’t have our first (and particularly fantastic) Philanthropy Award sponsor, super successful MIB events or outstanding new Associate Publisher hire but for Mindy’s work.  I’m forever in Mindy Faunteroyher debt for answering the Make It Better call and now for accepting the title of CoCEO.

Julie Chernoff.  She is not only a brilliant writer, editor and organizer, Julie is the consummate Make It Better woman.  She nurtures the best from our staff and her free lance writers – thereby growing our audience and community resource network. Julie works long, long hours for not Julie Chernoffenough pay and still finds time to make better every other community she touches too.

Megan Holbrook. Megan consistently proves that we hire winners with can do and always will Make It Better attitudes. Megan accepts every challenge and makes our business stronger in the process.  She watches out for, lifts up, and makes better the rest of our talented ad sales staff  – Patti, Julie, Denise – too.Megan Holbrook

Sandy Sandy TsuchidaTsuchida.  She has everyone’s back.  Our operations are complicated, but Sandy runs them all well and without complaint.  I suspect that each of you – like me – count Sandy’s work for you as a blessing.

Lesley Smith.  Want to know the definition of crazy hard work?  Be the Art Director for a community resource and magazine celebrating its 5th anniversary, launching a Chicago footprint and new website, while being charged with making all of our many activities easy to understood and look gorgeous – often on the weekend.

We outgrew our current site many, many months ago and she isn’t a full time social networker, but Lindsay still grows our stats and our uber valuable network.  She’s likely working double time bringing the new site to life too.

Lindsay RosemanLindsay Roseman.  We outgrew our current site many, many months ago and she isn’t a full time social networker, but Lindsay still grows our stats and our uber valuable network.  She’s likely working double time bringing the new site to life too.

Katy Nielsen.  Such a talented, connected videographer!  We will grow MIB TV because Katy cares and understands how to create and improve communities with compelling, problem solving video stories.

David Canada, Adam Rubin and SureCan Productions.  Despite the production demands of network tv, David answered our Make It Better call and sent Adam (the perfect person for the job) and team to bring to life our Philanthropy Award videos.  The rest is history.  And – like our website and company – the Philanthropy Awards will take a giant leap forward this coming year too.

Sharon Krone.  She’s been heaven sent to our family since her days as a student at Northwestern University – perfectly trained to grow philanthropic best practices and a business while nurturing a great family and community too.  A lesser woman than Sharon would have been made crazy by this journey long ago. She provides calm guidance and support instead.

Stacey McClenathan & Beeline.  Stacey et al are not only bringing our online vision to life, they suggest strategies that will quickly allow Make It Better to grow Shop For Good and become relevant to large businesses who take seriously their corporate social responsibility and employee relations.

I’m extremely proud and looking forward to the next round of making it better for everyone.



Applauding Evanston’s Y.O.U. Youth Initiatives

Evanston Philanthropists Invest Millions in New Center for Youthhttp://www.youevanston.org
We are thrilled to hear about Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.)’s received $2.5 million from Col. Jennifer N. Pritzker and the Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation in  land value and cash gifts. The funds will be used to develop a new headquarters for the Evanston youth activities. The headquarters at 1911 Church Street will offer transformative learning spaces for youth, office space for Y.O.U. staff, and exciting opportunities for collaboration among youth-serving agencies.
A few words about Y.O.U.;
Since 1971, Y.O.U. has provided services and leadership to meet the emerging needs of young people and their families. http://www.youevanston.orgEach year Y.O.U. serves over 1,000 youth and touch more than 3,000 family members through their services that include after-school enrichment, summer learning, mental health counseling, and mentorship. These services ensure youth success across all of their different environments – in school, at home, in the community, and in moments of crisis. Learn more about our impact at www.youevanston.org.

Col. Pritzker is providing a gift valued at $1.5 million in support for the project, including donating the land at 1911 Church Street to Y.O.U. along with making a generous cash gift. The Lewis-Sebring Family Foundation is providing $1 million in additional financial support.

Y.O.U. EvanstonY.O.U. says its next stage of utilizing these funds will be developing plans for the building and then construction.  Y.O.U. is planning an interactive and inclusive process moving forward, including focus groups with youth and staff, collaborative meetings with community stakeholders, and observational visits to peer agencies’ youth spaces as part of its design process. Y.O.U. will also be continuing to fundraise for this project with the hope to occupy the new building by the summer of 2016.

This is fantastic news and we wish Y.O.U. the best of luck in making these funds works best for the community. Please get involved with  Y.O.U. Evanston

How Interfaith Marriage Can Work

If you, like me, believe that life is a spiritual journey, you will love “Slowing Time” byInterfaith Marriage Slowing Time Barbara Mahany.  She’s deeply religious, as is her husband, Chicago Tribune Architecture Critic Blair Kamen.  She’s catholic, he’s jewish and their two sons have been raised to understand both religions.  Mahany blends her celebration of faith, family and food with her deep appreciation of the lessons and beauty of nature with her sumptuous writing.
I’ve been a fan of Mahany – as a person and a writer – for years. Her answers to my questions below should make you a fan too.  I recommend her favorite recipe too.

       1. What is difficult and what is delightful about an interfaith marriage?

Glorious question. What’s delightful is that a whole new universe is opened up to anyone who chooses to dive in: whole new thinkers, whole new text, whole new poetry and prayer. In the interweaving comes the glory — more angles to catch the light, more celebration to dive into, a deeper layered way to understand and see the world. I swoon at the language of Abraham JoshuaHeschel, a mystic and scholar whose words I’d not deeply learned in my years of Jesuit schooling. I love the agrarian roots of Judaism, the exquisite attention paid to the turning of the seasons, to the cycle of sowing and tilling and harvest. Shabbat — the holy pause that comes every Friday at sundown — is among the deepest treasures of my life, of our harried noisy lives where quiet comes only with concentrated effort, with a vow to slow the passing of time.

What’s difficult is the sometimes aching loneliness. When I go to Holy Thursday mass by myself. When I partake of the Washing of the Feet, and on both sides I’m pressed against the shoulders of strangers. What’s difficult is watching my children struggle to find their way, because the path at our house is not a sure shot through the woods. It doesn’t take long for a thinking child to see the stark differences between two religions, and as a parent you whisper what you know and then you stand back — within arm’s reach, but with a necessary distance — and watch that child wrestle. There’s an essay in Slowing Time called “Seed Scatterer,” and I write about how I’d once thought that passing along the flame of faith was as simple as turning to kindle a light. But I learned that really it’s sowing seeds along the way. “We scatter all life long, the bits of truth, of hope, the few scant things we know.” And then we stand back, and pray for rain and sunlight, for blossoming to come.http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/slowing-time?utm_source=MakeItBetter&utm_medium=affiliate

  1. What is the hardest question about God or faith that any child has asked you and how did you answer it?

One of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had is when one of my two sons, a thinking child from Day One, wrestled deeply and poignantly with the cognitive dissonance at the crux of Judaism and Catholicism. And in the absence of any resolution, he wondered if there was any God at all. And all I could think was, “I failed. Oh, my God, I failed at the one thing that mattered most.” In the hours of that conversation, and in the echoes afterward, I felt shrouded in darkness. But, I’ve learned, over time, that it’s a long and winding journey. And each chapter has its own inherent mystery and miracle. And today, he’s moved to a deeper, different understanding, and I love his candor all along. I love that he knows that ours is a kitchen table — and a home — where these truths can be spoken, these questions asked and wrestled with. And even when tears pour down my cheeks, I am listening. I am loving. How did I answer him? I answered him by listening, listening with all my heart, and allowing him to always  return to wherever we left off — in the conversation, in the journey. I answer him by bringing my prayers to the table, and by unswervingly living a life where I see the God in whomever we encounter.Interfaith Marriage

  1.  When – if ever – is your faith weakest and how do you best respond?

Oh, gosh, there’ve been some fallow years. It’s the fallout of two faiths rubbing up against each other, and critically examining the fault lines. And it’s partly the recent sad chapters in the Catholic Church, years when my mother’s wisdom, “Don’t let the Church get in the way of God,” served as a lifeline. All of it added up to a few years of extreme doubt and hollow whispers. Years where my deepest prayer was this: “Dear God, please don’t let the pilot light go out.” What I meant, of course, was even if it was merely a flickering, as long as there was some hint of flame, of godly spark, I had faith that I might emerge from the doubt and shadow and feel the upsurge of knowing. I’d say I’ve found that. I found it in the practice of slowing time, of carving out the quietude in my old house and my rambunctious garden, and in the places where I feel most infused with prayer. I’ve found it in immersing myself in what I call the Holiness Within, and the Holiness All Around. It’s finding the sacred in the messy, noisy ordinariness of our everyday over-scheduled lives.

You can purchase the Slowing Time e-book on Kobo here.

Bonus question: What is your favorite recipe?  

My favorite recipe would have to be the one I write about in an essay called, “Turn and Return,” a Middle Eastern lamb stew that I refer to as “the page most splattered,” pages 82 and 83 of “The Jewish Holiday Cookbook: An International Collection of Recipes and Customs,” (Times Books, 1985) by Gloria Kaufer Greene. Isn’t the most splattered page of any of our cookbooks or recipe cards, the one that marks it as a family heirloom? It’s cubes of lamb with brown rice and chick peas, chunks of apple and raisins, and cinnamon and thyme and allspice. My husband first made it for Rosh Hashanah right after we got home from our honeymoon in 1991 — and we’ve made it every year since. We chop, we stir, we remember. Isn’t that the recipe for all that’s most delicious in our lives?

Here’s the recipe:

Blair’s lamb stew, a recipe…..

BLAIR’S LAMB AND BROWN RICE PILAF (from “The Jewish Holiday Cookbook: an international collection of recipes and customs”)

Barbara Mahany6 TBSP margarine

2 lg onions

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

4 celery stalks, chopped

3 C long-grain brown rice

2 to 3# boneless lamb, trimmed of fat and gristle, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

6 C beef broth or bouillon made from cubes or powder

2 15- to16-ounce can chick peas, drained

1 1/2 C dark or light raisins

1 apple, chopped

1 c finely chopped fresh parsley

1 tsp ground allspice

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp black pepper, preferably freshly ground

1/4 tsp salt

In 5- to 6-qt pot or dutch oven, over medium high heat, melt the
margarine; then cook onions, garlic, celery, stirring til tender.

Add rice and cook, stirring, one minute longer.

Then add lamb cubes, and stir til brown on all sides.

Stir in broth, chickpeas, raisins, apple, parsley, allspice, cinnamon, thyme, pepper and salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower heat. Simmer covered, for about 45 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

Toss with a fork before serving.


Invite people you love. Lick the plate.

Note: we use more garlic, apple, raisins and lamb than called for, just to make it yummier. although i think this time we followed the garlic, apple and raisin amounts. i think we were closer to 3 pounds of lamb.unnamed-1




12 Ways to Maximize Your Brain’s Potential

Brain Rules by John Medina
Neuroscience Meets Common Sense With These 12 Principles To Help Babies, Children And Adults Thrive from John Medina’s Brain Rules. 

Developmental molecular biologist John Medina rocks!  His research into and deep understanding about how brains develop led him to write one of the best books I’ve ever read on human development.  Common sense intersects with good science to create the following 12 principles. Watch a video on the book here.

Parents, educators and entrepreneurs will all benefit from this excellent advise.

Brain Rules: 12 Principles For Surviving And Thriving At Work, Home and School

1.     The human brain evolved to solve problems, related to survival, in an outdoor setting, in almost constant motion.  It’s not wired to thrive when people are stuck at a desk doing rout work for long periods of time or leading the life of a couch potato.

2.     Exercise boosts brain power. Kids need recess/exercise at least twice per day. Employers should encourage use of excise equipment – like bikes and treadmills – during the work daBrain Rules' John Medinay. Adults who get aerobic exercise as seldom as twice per week reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s by 60%.

3.     Sleep well, think well.  Good sleep is fundamental to good learning and maximum thinking power. All humans function best when they take a short nap too.

4.     Brains suffering chronic stress don’t learn well.Emotional stress has huge impact on society – it affects children’s ability to learn and adults productivity at work.

A little stress is good; our bodies respond to it by releasing cortisol and adrenaline.  But chronic stress – like ongoing problems at home, school, work – damage brain function. Society benefits enormously by encouraging/teaching parents, schools and employers to deal with emotional problems that create long-term stress.

John Medina's Brain Rules5.     All brains are all wired differently and this wiring changes as we continue to learn. Nurture lifelong learners.

Encourage development of multiple intelligences; don’t just teach to IQ tests and reading & writing scores. Customize workplaces to draw on employees strengths too.

6.     Humans don’t pay attention to boring things and ten minutes is the average maximum time we can pay attention to any one point. Emotions always capture our attention. In presentations, bait the emotional hook every 10 minutes by referencing something relevant to others.

7.  Repetition aids memory, as does a compelling introduction.

Brain Rules for Babies8. Brains learn more when multiple senses are stimulated at the same time. But smell has a uniquely powerful way to elicit emotions.

9. Vision tops all senses.  It uses ½ of our brainresources. A picture really is worth 1000 words.

Communicate with pictures more than words. Use animation and video.  Movement and color particularly capture our attention.

10.  Study or listen to music to boost brain power from infancy through older adulthood. It improves language skills, listening skills, social skills. It teaches us to better detect emotions and be more empathetic.

Even infants become more social with music training (Thank God I took my kids to all those Mommy & Me Music classes!).  Also, it  makes us happier, because when we hear music that we enjoy, our brain releases dopamine, cortisone and oxytocin.

Music therapy works wonders too.The Babie's Brain Rules

11.    Male and female brains are structurally, biochemically and genetically different.  X (female) chromosomes have 1500 genes which include the control of cognitive brain function.  Y chromosomes only have 100 genes.

They respond to acute stress differently.  Women activate the left hemisphere’s amygdala and remember the emotional details of stress; men activate the right hemisphere’s amygdala and remember the gist.

Schools should teach to those differences and employers should organizers workers into teams that will maximize the strengths caused by those differences.

12.     Humans are powerful and natural explorers. Babies aren’t a blank slate mentally, as was originally believed.  They are powerful exploration and learning machines – the model of how humans learn their entire lives.

Some parts of our brains stay as malleable as a baby so that we can create neurons and learn new things throughout our lives.

Encourage exploration of every individuals passions.

Give employees free time at work to experiment with what interests them.  Create more problem solving and exploration opportunities at schools too.

Purchase this e-book on KOBO and benefit your local book store here.

Imperfect Marriage, History Making Parents; The Kennedy’s 100 years later

Joseph and Rose Kennedy

Today is the 100th Anniversary of Joe and Rose Kennedy’s marriage. As Wilmette author Jim Graham explains in this TIME Magazine article, although the marriage was imperfect – including his infidelities – their values and parenting of 10 children changed our country for the better. It’s worth taking a moment to consider the greatness that emerged from this marriage.