The Power of Positivity: Tapping Into the Bright Side of Social Media

There’s a lot of negativity surrounding social networking these days, from its effects on kids — and elections — to the time it can (admittedly) suck from our already full lives. But all of that pales in comparison to what a powerful force for good it can be when used appropriately. Positive posts, comments, shares and likes serve as a welcome antidote to the angst and anger of our current public dialogue — and, let’s be honest, much of our media. By amplifying your voice and focusing on the good, you inspire those around you to do the same.

A poignant example of this is the post Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg wrote expressing the unbearable grief and pain she experienced in the wake of her 47-year-old husband’s sudden death — and the warm embrace of love, help and kindness that met her on the other end. That outpouring of support paved the way for her book, “Option B,” co-authored with Adam Grant, and her nonprofit,, which aims to help others develop resiliency in their most difficult times.


Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant speak with Mellody Hobson at the Chicago Humanities Festival. (Photo by Ben Gonzales.)

Social networks expedite the growth of powerful ideas while amplifying good intentions. Make It Better’s Executive Editor, Cara Sullivan, organized a children’s peace march, Lights for Love, in response to racist and anti-Semitic graffiti at her children’s public elementary school last summer. News of the march, which Make It Better promoted, quickly spread, and it was replicated across Chicagoland and around the country too.


One of many Chicago neighborhoods that gathered for the Lights for Love march in August. (Photo by Lauren Weiss.)

Further illustrating the ways social networking can be used to inspire change and give back, the Hanley Family Foundation — in partnership with innovative businesses, other family foundations, and Make It Better — recently launched a digital matching grant campaign to raise $20,000 to purchase LuminAID solar lanterns, which provide light to families without electricity in Puerto Rico. The campaign was five times more successful than planned, raising $100,000 — the equivalent of 10,000 lanterns.


LuminAID founders Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta distribute lanterns in Puerto Rico with their humanitarian partner, Convoy of Hope. (Photo courtesy of LuminAID.)

Closer to home, our annual “Best Of” voting provides an opportunity for our audience to proudly promote the local and family-owned businesses they love to others via their social networks, and our many media sponsorships give each of our beloved nonprofits a pedestal from which to share their mission and earn more support. As a result, the businesses report a boost in sales, the nonprofits gain real traction — both on a local and national level — and everybody wins.


Make It Better Dining Dditor Julie Chernoff, actress Sarah Paulson, and Editor-in-Chief Brooke McDonald at Steppenwolf’s ninth annual Women in the Arts luncheon, one of our many media sponsorships. (Photo by Kyle Flubacker.)

As for the negative effects this brave new world of social media can have on our kids? We have the power to turn that around, and just like everything else, it all comes back to leading by example. Kids always know — and like — when their parents post something good about them. Our publisher Michelle O’Rourke Morris’ triplets just turned 18, and as Morris frequently celebrates on her Facebook and Instagram accounts, they (and her youngest daughter) are #greatkids and #collegeready. The pride and positive energy she consistently shares online about her four children is downright inspiring: The next generation is the future, and by teaching them to use their voices in positive, powerful ways, we will most certainly be #bettertogether.


Make It Better Publisher Michelle O’Rourke Morris’ triplets, then and now. (Photos courtesy of Michelle O’Rourke Morris.)

Adult Suicide: Let’s Talk About It

Suicide. The willful taking of one’s own life.

This happens with stunning frequency in affluent communities like ours (update: in fact, it happened again on the day this post published, when a Gold Coast man jumped to his death in a confirmed suicide). But, sadly, this is not well known because it’s almost never publicly discussed – particularly suicides by adults.

We need to talk about adult suicide as a community more for many reasons. Most important, public discussion raises awareness – the first step toward fixing a problem. But also, we need to make it easier to publicly celebrate the lives of people who commit suicide too. The press doesn’t cover them unless they are celebrities, no matter how much good they accomplished before succumbing to an unbearable pain.

Those who commit suicide aren’t bad people to be shielded from public view and condemned for the pain they cause others. They’re pained people who couldn’t find a better way to cope. Often they’ve contributed substantially to society too.

Many experts agree with me. Please see the four Ted Talks entitled “Lets End The Silence Around Suicide.”

Fortunately, there is a growing body of work and opportunities to help around teen suicides. This has been particularly prompted in recent years by teen suicide clusters in affluent communities. Lake Forest/Lake Bluff launched a brilliant program called “Text A Tip” which makes it easy and safe for someone feeling suicidal or concerned that another might be to send a text and receive immediate help from a licensed professional. Palo Alto has recently endured yet another teen suicide cluster, prompting the US Center For Disease Control to send a team to help.

So, I particularly write to encourage our community and our culture to break the adult suicide discussion taboo.

We need to more openly discuss the lives of the deceased. We need to celebrate the many gifts they likely contributed to the world, as well as the issues which led to their final fatal decision.

We need to do the same for the survivors of attempted suicide, too. Photographer, writer, survivor, suicide awareness activist Dese’Rae L. Stage hosts a compelling collection of photographs and names of suicide survivors on

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The American Association of Suicidology (No, I did not make up this name) offers a plethora of “talk about it and break the taboo” resources, including another excellent Ted Talk by comedian Frank King, a writer for Jay Leno.

I know of at least three adults who recently committed suicide. That’s horrifying. So my contribution to this “Talk About It – Adult Suicide” article is also a public celebration of the one I knew best. This person lived with a large heart, wicked wit and a special gift with children. Sounds like Robin Williams, right?

As we know, Williams suffered a depression in recent years so deep that he took his own life. My friend and Robin must have shared similar genes. (S)He was that funny and lived with a similar empathy for children too. (S)He not only raised four great kids, (s)he continually created ways to support other youth too, including unexpectedly calling parents to share a thoughtful story about their child.

This person also created two of our funniest ever Make It Better videos: spoofs on yoga class and the town of Kenilworth:

(S)he stunned family and friends by finishing a routine phone call with a long-time friend, then driving to the Kenilworth Train Station, parking, calmly walking onto the tracks, and laying down in front of a fast-approaching train.

The family asked that this person not be named though. They’re suffering extraordinarily. Unfortunately, this is the norm too. It takes great strength to publicly discuss a suicide in your family, as Marion Kahle did in this Make It Better article one year after her son killed himself and another.

This means that if we work to find ways to help/stop those considering suicide, the impact will be even broader than the numbers below, because we save families from enduring pain too.

Each year in America:

  • 8,000,000 think about committing suicide
  • 1,000,000 attempt it
  • 39,000 achieve it

Please, help reduce these numbers.

Don’t whisper about suicide or condemn those who attempt or commit it. Instead recognize and try to heal the pain that pushes people to this point. Celebrate the their strengths and contributions too. Encourage people and organizations to work together to find solutions for the adult suicide issue similar to the community response in Lake Forest/Lake Bluff that led to Text A Tip.

Talk more about it please.

Thank you.


Vote YES for New Trier High School Referendum Request on November 4th

 “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin
An investment in 21st Century facilities for New Trier High School will pay the best long-term interest for our community.

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  • A YES vote means 25 badly needed new classrooms, three new science labs, and replacing our too small library and cafeteria – all within the existing footprint.
  • A YES vote means energy efficiency and safety enhancements, instead of throwing away $6 million in band-aid fixes over the next five years.
  • A YES vote means taking advantage of low borrowing rates, allowing for a $250 average tax impact annually — which is half of the size for the last bond effort.
  • A YES vote means more and better opportunities for our youth to explore arts, music, theatre, design and other creative fields which are likely to better prepare them for engaging employment in life.
Learn more here:

Part 1; Best Annual MIB Supported Chicago Fundraisers

2013 MIB Philanthropy Awards

North Shore philanthropists use their love of big ideas, unique experiences, family fun, great home design, fashion, drop-dead glamour and ladies lunches to support a plethora of excellent causes. Over the next eight days, I’ll give you a sneak peak at Make It Better’s list of top annual fundraisers supported by our audience.  Of course, we’re starting with the annual events for the nonprofits who won our 2013 Philanthropy Awards.

See the full list of winners here. Please click on each organization to view their fantastic work and see the video we awarded each organization, within each links;

(Watch our Video of the 2013 MIB Philanthropy Awards Here)

If you are looking for a special experience tied to a good cause to support, we recommend any of them to you too. Stay tuned over for the next seven posts to cover fabulous NFP organizations in the following categories;

Service & Schools

Ladies Luncheons

Top25 Galas Supported by the North Shore

For Fashionistas

For Families

Art, Antiques & Home Decor

Fabulous Experience Auctions

Please subscribe to the blog to be sure you don’t miss this series. Thanks!

Safe, valued, worthy too – thanks to Designs 4 Dignity

Design 4 Dignity Ride for FidgnityFortunately, you and I inherently feel safe, valued, worthy. And we know that we matter.  But not everyone is as fortunate. Thanks to Designs 4 Dignity many who are struggling in life now find help in places that let them feel safe, valued, worthy and as though they matter too.

Enjoy a great day out and learn more at the first ever Ride with Dignity (north shore) bus tour.

Board the Designs for Dignity bus at the Wilmette train station onThursday, September 18 at 11 a.m. for this wonderful opportunity to see some completed Designs 4 Dignity projects first-hand.

Please click on the link below to order tickets (via the Events tab) and register by September 15.  I can’t wait to see you there!

Board President Diane Falanaga and her family Blake, Bianca & Mark

Board President Diane Falanaga and her family Blake, Bianca & Mark

Diane Falanaga, D4D President explains “We exist to provide positive and transformative environments to non-profits in need.  Our hope is that the people served in these spaces grow, thrive and feel inspired.  See for yourself that healing design communicates:  “You are safe, valued, worthy.  You matter.” Take a look at the before and after pictures below.

Design 4 dignity Before Pictures of warming houseDesign 4 dignity After Pictures of warming house

MLB Take Note of Jackie Robinson West

In a recent article interview about Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West winning the US Little League World Series Championship, Cubs President Theo Epstein wisely observed that the smartest thing Major League Baseball could do to reinviCubs owner Theo Epstein on MLBgorate interest in baseball is actively nurture more opportunities for kids like the JRW team. Theo is right.  And then some. Not only would MLB start developing the next generation of fans in the stands, it would immediately give more kids in difficult urban environments inspiring, safe places to put their time and energy.

And it would earn the League immense love within the communities where their teams play.Giving back to the cities that support their multimillion dollar businesses – by helping more kids play their sport and providing thoughtful additional resources like good information on nutrition and fitness – is the kind of virtuous circle that Make It Better loves to amplify.

If you can make this happen Theo – with just the Cubs or through all of MLB – we will help.

To learn more, please read this reprint of Theo’s interview with
| Get In Touch: @GDubCub | of the Chicago Sun Times:

I wanted to re-post the fantastic interview with the Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein and he view on the importance of the accomplishment by Jackie Robinson West on the the city of Chicago and the sport of baseball as a whole.

Jackie Robinson West Little League BaseballRePrint of Chicago Sun-Times Interview with Theo Epstein. I fully support his efforts and we will be involved in all initiatives moving forward.

Cubs’ Theo Epstein on JRW success: “It’s an important moment” for baseball

 Cubs president Theo Epstein, who joined other dignitaries and city officials at a rally honoring the Jackie Robinson West Little League champs at Millennium Park on Wednesday, sounded as caught up in the grip of their story as the rest of the city – and called it an “important moment” for professional baseball to heed.

“Just watching the whole city come together in support of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team was remarkable,” Epstein said. “I think anyone who watched that team play for an inning or two probably couldn’t help but watch the whole rest of the tournament. There was a sort of magnetic quality to that team.

“Probably the best thing to happen to the whole city of Chicago this summer – clearly from a baseball standpoint – was put together by 13-, 12-year-old kids from the South Side of Chicago.”

And he hopes that’s not lost on professional baseball officials who have spent years debating and brainstorming ways to reverse a generations-long trend of declining interest and participation in the sport among American kids, particularly African-Americans.

“At industry meetings and in lots of front offices around the game people ask the question how we can get young kids playing baseball again, especially in cities, especially in the inner city,” Epstein said. “And there’s nothing that a bunch of suits in a boardroom can do that will be as powerful as what those 12-year-old kids did to demonstrate how compelling the game of baseball can be, to make baseball cool again for young kids.”

MLB should take notice, he said.

“We really have to support them and capitalize on this moment and learn from what the Jackie Robinson West Little League has been doing effectively for four decades now—plus,” Epstein said. “Which is proactively go out to schools, find kids and sell them on the game of baseball, get them off the streets, get them learning from great mentors, playing together, learning about sportsmanship and competition and hard work and discipline and make them better people.

“The Jackie Robinson West Little League has made a positive impact on tens of thousands of kids over the years, and it’s really a model organization. We can all go to school on how they built their program.

“The more programs like that in cities across the country the better off we’ll be and the better off our industry will be.”

Ode To Charlie Trotter’s Mother – Dona-Lee Trotter

Behind every accomplished man is a great mother. Case in point – Charlie and Dona-Lee Trotter.

Pictured: Charlie TrotterAnnie Trotter Hinkamp (sister), Dona-Lee Trotter, Scott Trotter (brother)

Charlie Trotter was a visionary – his relentless pursuit of excellence put Chicago on the international culinary map. Trotter accomplished so much in his life. He was the first Chicago chef to create haute cuisine from locally sourced, organic food, the first to serve a Michelin starred vegetarian meal, the first to host his own tv show, and the first to put a table for diners in the kitchen.

His drive for excellence and mercurial temperment were balanced by a deep commitment to serve those who most needed it – students, homeless, police, firefighters and many others. The Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation raised over $1 million for culinary school scholarships.

Those who know Charlie’s history will also know that his mother fostered, and quietly facilitated, the best of Charlie Trotter. The elegant but unassuming North Shore matron and mother of four encouraged Charlie to pursue his passion for cooking at a time when North Shore boys just didn’t do that. Dona-Lee and her husband (now deceased) hosted dinners in their home for friends so that Charlie could test recipes for his eponymous restaurant in development.

Dona-Lee didn’t just help her son get his start, she also worked the hostess stand at the restaurant Saturday nights until it closed. It’s easy to imagine that while working she quietly calmed angst caused by her son’s demanding drive for perfection, too.

Charlie died much to young; but thanks in part to his mother, he leaves behind a magnificent legacy.

Church Rummage Sales: Community Meets Venture Philanthropy

A great rummage sale means a great community and venture philanthropy.

The North Shore Church Rummage Sale season kicks off this Saturday, at Kenilworth Union Church

Good people, treasures galore, 100% of the proceeds benefit the church’s outreach programs.  

Find a calendar of all the 2013 Rummage Sales here.