Climb Wyoming Breaking Multi-Generational Single Mom Cycle of Poverty

In a state like Wyoming where poverty is pervasive19 and often invisible,20 permanently interrupting the multi-generational cycle of impoverishment for single moms is a big goal.

Yet one woman at a time the chain is being broken at Climb Wyoming.

Reaching the top of the stairs in the Laramie office, I could have been entering an urban law firm or a boutique medical suite.

“Poverty can inhibit executive function, so by providing resources, counseling, life and communication skills, our moms are supported in becoming successful.” — Katie Hogarty

“The setting is intentional,” said Katie Hogarty, Climb Wyoming program director and lawyer by training.

“We want our space to mirror the environment our moms will be working in.”

Twice a year groups of women move together through the program, and on average 130 will graduate from six sites throughout the state.

“So much magic happens when the women are together,” Katie said.

“Poverty can inhibit executive function,21, 22 so by providing resources, counseling, life and communication skills, our moms are supported in becoming successful.”

“People can say, ‘Just put one foot in front of the other,’ but if you’re not practiced at knowing your priorities and how to get form a to b to c, you feel stuck — you’re just spinning.”

Katie Hogarty, Climb Wyoming program director in Laramie.

Remarkably, graduates typically double their pre-program wages, and the up-front investment yields tangible savings for the state of Wyoming.

And the business model of lean site offices supported by experts at the headquarters in Cheyenne permits Katie to stay focused on what she loves.

“I just want to be working with these moms,” she said.

———–

Take Action!

•  Watch a short Climb Wyoming video intended for the women they serve. “This is a judgment-free zone.” “You’re amazing, mom.” “You already have your gifts inside of you.”

 •  Donate to Climb Wyoming

•  Read about Hole Food Rescue in Jackson and community and school gardens supported by Rooted in Wyoming in Sheridan.

• Check out Columbia University’s statistics on Wyoming at the National Center for Children in Poverty


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Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West

Rooted in Wyoming Supports School and Community Gardens, Fresh Air, and Digging in Dirt

At Rooted in Wyoming, where school and community gardens grow, there’s no substitute for kids being outside in fresh air and digging in the dirt.

“It gives them keen self-awareness,” said Bonnie Gregory, volunteer executive director of this Sheridan-based nonprofit that funds and encourages school and community gardens.

“The problems of the world could be solved at the dinner table.”

And  gardens are laboratories and classrooms combined. “We get to explore history, math, science, and critical thinking skills,” she explained.

Building a garden in Sheridan, Wyoming

“We’re trying to hold onto the historical appreciation for our agricultural state while we teach self-sufficiency.”

Rooted in Wyoming offers support and momentum, but the gardens themselves belong to the students.

“They design and name them.

“They decide what to plant and how they’re going to water and maintain them through the summer.

“Do they share crop or take the produce to farmers’ markets? It’s up to them,” she said.

Even early-education students get to take home grow kits and work alongside elders as multiple generations frequently tend the gardens together.

“The problems of the world could be solved at the dinner table,” Bonnie said.

Yet she’s amazed at how many children aren’t sitting with their families, eating healthy food and getting asked, “How was your day?”

In this northern Wyoming town, moms and dads, grandparents, teachers and children work to give community members something to be proud of.

“When you get people invested and working toward a goal, that’s where you effect change,” Bonnie said.

Rooted in Wyoming

Take Action!


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Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West

Kate Muir Welsh and the Social Justice Research Center at the University of Wyoming

social justice research centerThe Center for Social Justice Research at the University of Wyoming was founded 10 years ago.

And its creation emerged from an endowment set up after Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie in 1998.

Kate Muir Welsh directs the Center.

While her public talks often begin with the Pledge of Allegiance, they linger on, “. . . and justice for all.”

“What, exactly, is ‘justice for all?'” she asks.

“Is it equitable access?

“Equitable resources?

“Assurance that needs will be met?”

She points to examples of campus-wide justice projects: the Martin Luther King Days of Dialogue, the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, and the student-led Good Mule Project.

Likewise, social justice is strong at Muir’s home. She said she and her husband share the same beliefs.

“We do small acts of kindness.

“We donate money to causes we believe in.

“And we engage politically.”

“What, exactly, is ‘justice for all’? Is it equitable access? Equitable resources? Assurance that everyone’s needs will be met?”

Current Research Areas

Regarding critical issues in Wyoming, Welsh says the wage gap is front and center.

As recently as 2017, Fortune found that Wyoming ranks lowest for female/male wage equality.

Sadly, women earn 64¢ to a man’s dollar15 compared to the national average of 80¢ on the dollar.

kate muir welsh
Kate Muir Welsh directs the Social Justice Research Center at the University of Wyoming.

And adding to the concerns, Muir pointed to momentum gaining for immigration issues.

Ironically, Wyoming is the only state without a refugee resettlement program16 and yet is considering hosting an immigration prison17.

With a primarily white population (about 92%), race and intolerance are also perennial concerns.18

Currently the Center awards research grants based on individual applications.


 

Take Action!

•  See video highlights from the Shepard Symposium on Social Justice is April 11-14, 2018 in Laramie, including talks and panels that feature Matthew Shepard’s parents, Judy and Dennis Shepard.

Matthew Shepard Foundation, in its 20th year of  striving “to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance.”

•  Watch any of 165 Ted Talks on Social Justice.

•  Likewise, read about Safe Zone training at the University of Wyoming


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Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West


 

Cambodian Sex Trafficking and Child Exploitation: Heart Mothers Support Survivors

Ruth Williams founded Heart Mothers to support children rescued from sex trafficking and exploitation in Cambodia.

The faces of Cambodian survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation compelled her to action.

Twelve years ago Ruth Williams had just moved to Laramie. “I was sitting in a salon and saw a picture of a rescued child.”

“’Her eyes pierced me . . . I couldn’t forget her,” she said.

Within 24 hours she had emailed and heard back from Somany Mam, the woman from the article responsible for saving 6,000+ children.

And so began Williams’ journey to support young girls through her nonprofit organization, Heart Mothers.

It’s a story of frequent trips to Cambodia, fund-raising to help sustain Mam’s Center that’s home to 62 girls as young as 14 months, and enlisting the help of nearly 90 women to write letters, send gifts and bring hope to children with few life options.

“Social justice is protecting somebody’s dignity,” Ruth said. “And yet there’s so much injustice in the world.”

“Nothing will change until people realize that
pornography is epidemic.”

According to Equality Now, an activism group working to protect women’s rights around the world, trafficking is a $99 billion business and the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Ninety-six percent of its victims are women and girls.13

Ruth says the underlying issues are poverty14 and the way we view pornography and women.

Asked how this problem will end, Ruth said, “I don’t think it will.”

“Nothing will change until people realize that pornography is epidemic,” she said.

Yet the girls themselves bring her hope.  “They are happy, confident, loving, amazing young women who have been through hell and back,” she said.

Sugar Mouse Cupcakes are a feature of the Laramie Farmer’s Market.

Financial support for Heart Mothers comes from donations and profits from thousands of Sugar Mouse Cupcakes made by Ruth and sold at Laramie’s Farmer’s Market each summer.

 

Take Action!


•  •  •


Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West

 

Lindy Westenhoff Leads Wyoming’s Safe Zone LBGTQ Ally Trainings with Vulnerability and Empathy

Lindy Westenhoff, coordinator of University of Wyoming’s Safe Zone LGBTQ ally trainings.

As coordinator of the University’s Safe Zone LGBTQ ally trainings, Lindy Westenhoff models vulnerability and empathy.

Lindy prefers “they and them” pronouns to my “she and her” and my husband’s “he and him.”

Why is that important?

Because, as I learned in Safe Zone classes, respectful communication in the LGBTQ community is easy.

“Just ask,” Lindy said. “You can say, ‘I go by they and them. What pronouns do you go by?’”

Safe Zone is a campus educational program geared to allies of the LGBTQIA+* community.

“Social justice is about access and changing the status quo to something that’s fair for everyone.”

Lindy defines an ally as “someone who supports, uplifts, and advocates for a marginalized person or community without taking on that marginalized identity as their own.”

And some of us need help knowing how to be good allies.

The classes, combined with Lindy’s willingness to answer uncomfortable questions, helps ensure that we have ways to support members of this community.

Lindy says, “Social justice is about access and changing the status quo to something that’s fair for everyone.”

Which is why Safe Zone’s role is to give participants the knowledge needed to go out and make those changes is so important.

LGBTQIA+ is often abbreviated LGBTQ. It stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexuality and all of the other sexualities, sexes, and genders that aren’t included in these few letters.8

Lindy Westenhoff’s LGBTQ-Friendly Campus
and So Much more

Don’t miss this interview with Lindy that includes:
•  her vision of LBGTQ-friendly campuses
•  the biggest LGBTQ stumbling block in Wyoming
• and her own story 

 

Take Action!

•  Attend live Safe Zone trainings: Offered as three, 1-hour free luncheon classes twice a semester on the University of Wyoming campus (including free lunch). Class details.

Class 1: LBG 101
Where empathy is established. Check for next date.
Class 2: Gender Identity
Becoming more comfortable with complex terms.
April 4 – 12:00 p.m. in Big Horn (Union 203)
Class 3: Visible Ally
How to be both aware and supportive
April 11 – 12:00 p.m. in Big Horn (Union 203)
Additional class
Navigating Academia as an Underrepresented Student
April 25 – 12:00 p.m. in Big Horn (Union 203)

•  Watch Safe Zone classes online
Free from anywhere in the world. Includes downloadable handouts.
Suitable for individual and group learning.

•  Attend the Shepard Symposium for Social Justice
April 11-14, 2018 in Laramie

•  Additional Resources


•  •  •


Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  — C. West

 

Sweet Melissa Vegetarian Café in Laramie: Few Plastic Straws and No Animals Sacrificed

Sweet Melissa vegetarian cafeIn 1999 Melissa Murphy didn’t know if a Wyoming vegetarian restaurant would last.

Nineteen years later on a family visit to Laramie, the first, second and even third food recommendations we solicited unanimously pointed to Sweet Melissa.

“And I’m not even a vegetarian! . . .” punctuated each endorsement.

Researchers at Carnegie Melon University found that eliminating meat one day a week has the same effect on greenhouse gas emissions as cutting 1,000 miles of driving a year.5

Vegetarian and no straws – environmental act

“A vegetarian restaurant is an environmental act,” Melissa said.

And in a similar way, so are her recent efforts to reduce plastic straws and water use.

One straw at a time, Melissa is cutting back on the 500 million plastic straws used and discarded each day in the United States.

Yet weaning café customers and staff off plastic straws has been a three-year process, she noted.*

Still, one straw at a time, Melissa is cutting back on the 500 million plastic straws used and discarded each day in the United States. 6

Other environmental acts at Sweet Melissa include a commitment to recycling that began in 1999.

Additionally, they participate in composting through the Acres Student Farm7 at the University of Wyoming.

And take-out cups and food containers are now corn-based versus petroleum.

When asked to define social justice, Melissa quoted a Unitarian Universalist principle: “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

“. . . and animals,” she added.

Melissa Murphy owner of vegetarian restaurant
Sweet Melissa Vegetarian Cafe owner, Melissa Murphy.

 

no straw, thanks!

For more information on plastic straws
please see the blog resource page.

Read about food rescue in Jackson.

*for now plastic straws are used on the Tavern side.


•  •  •


Ellen Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming.
Her website is EllenSynakowski.com


“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.1  Cornell West


 

Hole Food Rescue Feeds 1,000 Hungry People Weekly in Jackson, Wyoming

Hole Food Rescue logo

Hole Food Rescue (HFR) founder and co-executive director, Ali Dunford,, is joy personified as she describes the one million pounds of food saved by her organization since 2013.

“It’s just the right thing to do. The right way to treat each other and the planet,” she said.

Her early days in Jackson included dumpster diving for goods discarded by grocery stores.

And what she found was high quality and plentiful. “It was an injustice,” she said.

“The flip side of waste is using something fully and respecting the planet and all the resources that go into the things we eat.”

With the support of 90 volunteers working seven days a week, HFR collects more than 5,000 pounds of edible items a week from local grocery stores and bakeries.

In turn, 31 recipient organizations take the fruit, vegetables, breads and dairy products and prepare or distribute this nutrients to at-risk and in-need clients including seniors, youth and families.

What can’t be used is given to a local pig farm.

“The flip side of waste is using something fully
and respecting the planet and all the resources
that go into the things we eat.”

Food insecurity in Teton

A 2015 Teton Public Health report2 found nearly 3,000 (13.5%) food insecure residents, a term that means “lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.”3

In Wyoming, 1 in 8 adults experience hunger and 1 in 6 children are food insecure.4

Though Teton is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation, much of its population works in the service industry. Between the high cost of housing, low hourly wages and off-season layoffs, families struggle.

Dunford said any town — small or large — that has a grocery store has waste, and you can be sure there’s also food insecurity, though it’s not always obvious.

She says HFR’s part in social justice isn’t just about providing food; it’s about offering nutritious food.

“We don’t rescue highly-processed nor junk food,” she said. “It’s not going to serve our clients, and our goal is to empower them.”

Ali Dunford
Ali Dunford, founder and co-executive director, at Hole Food Rescue in Jackson, WY

More About Hole Food Rescue and Additional Resources
•  HFR is a 501(C)3 nonprofit organization
•  They welcomes volunteers and donations
•  Their website is beautiful and fun
•  You can see Ali and HFR featured in a public television story
•  Interested in rescue in your town? Here’s the guidebook Ali used.
•  See if there’s a rescue organization near you.
•  Read the blog post, Rooted in Wyoming, that looks at school gardens in Sheridan.


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Ellen Webster Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is:  EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”1  Cornell West

Witnessing Childhood Injustices Part 2: Bullying and Isolation — Two Sides of the Same Coin

Bullying and isolation are really two sides of the same coin.

Liza Thomas was in fourth grade when she brought a beer to school in her lunch box. As you might expect, all hell broke loose.

When isolation is used to bully

As a third grader I stood by and witnessed the cruelty that met her each day. On one extreme was the merciless taunting she had to endure, and when attention swung in the other direction she was socially isolated.

I wish I had a single memory of walking up to her and saying “hello” or “want to swing at recess?” but I don’t.

Sometimes I alter the images of her battling these injustices all alone and imagine her fists softening and a hint of a smile appearing. This older me wishes I’d been able to give her a moment’s peace at school.

Liza Thomas and Alvin before her are two of the reasons I created this blog.

The courage to take risks

I want to meet people around the state of Wyoming who have the clarity of mind to know what they believe in, work hard to correct what they see may be headed in the wrong direction, and have the courage to take risks in ways I never did with Liza.

This blog will be looking at these and more topics:

•   aging                         •   animals                   •  bullying
•  care of the planet    •   crime                       •   disability
•  education                  •  race                           •  healthcare
•  environment            •  domestic violence  •   fire arms
•  free speech               •  gender                      •  human trafficking
•  immigration             •  income disparity    •  LBGTQIA+
•  laws                           •  opioids                      •  politicking
•  poverty                     •  native Americans   •  water and land
•  children in foster and alternative care
•  loneliness and isolation

Please email me with names of organizations and people working for justice in Wyoming.

Also of interest:  Why I Care: Witnessing childhood injustices

•  •  •

Ellen Webster Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is:  EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”1 – Cornell West

Why I Care: Witnessing Childhood Injustice

 

Lincoln, MaineI care. But why?

Third grade was dull though welcome. Compared, that is, to the previous year when the teacher took a ruler to Alvin’s* knuckles.

Mostly, though, stressful interruptions were infrequent and easy to push aside.

Week-ends were spent at big family pot lucks and traveling the neighborhood with a gaggle of friends. Belonging and community in this northern Maine town shaped me.

Where was the care?

Life wasn’t so easy for Alvin, already well into his short unhappy life, nor for Liza Thomas,* then a class or two ahead of me in school.

She lived somewhere poor. Without noticeable care. Maybe in a cabin without running water and sufficient heat, and surely without someone keeping her safe.

Things only got worse for Liza the day she brought beer
in her lunch box.

And similar to Alvin, misery at home followed her to school.

Where was the care?

What I remember of Liza is pain and rage — her face twisted in defiance and her fists raised like shields against the cruelty she faced daily.

She was taunted then isolated for being poor, for standing up for herself and for not fitting in. Collective kindness was withheld.

Overt cruelty came from the boys, but girls had their ways, too.

Liza’s screaming was a raspy, hoarse voice cussing those who hurt her. These outbursts led to shame and punishment while the guilty and complicit walked free.

Things only got worse for Liza the day she brought beer in her lunch box.

She was chided by adults then mocked by her peers, and for the first time her temper receded into tears.

I have no memory of Liza Thomas after that day, yet decades later I still wonder what social justice might have looked like through my 3rd grade eyes.

*names changed

•   •   •

Posts and resources of interest

•  Wyoming Social Justice in Action: Witnessing Childhood Injustices Part 2

•  Connecting: When needs are met in a simple thank you

•  Bullying in the ’60s

Ellen Webster Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is:  EllenSynakowski.com

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”1 – Cornell West

 

Wyoming Social Justice in Action: What, exactly, does love look like in public?

Cornel West said, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

This blog is a celebration of justice as Professor West defines it.

Here’s what I know to be true: What we give attention to reflects what we care deeply about. Being new to Wyoming I want to understand life here and what people are passionate about.

•   In what ways do Wyomingites bring important issues to life, whether their endeavors impact Wyoming exclusively or have a wider reach?

•   How do human needs such as empathy, compassion, contribution and belonging show up with concerns that crisscross the state?

“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

Big intentions as well as small acts of kindness will be explored. Likewise, well publicized state programs and surreptitious ones all have a place in this forum.

And when helpful, resistance to justice — or conflicting tenets about justice — will respectfully be considered with an eye to understanding versus judging.

What connects us and motivates action will always be the focus.

Along the way I’ll interview people, and I’ll ask them to explain in their own words what this concept means.

And I’ll share the wisdom I hear and what I learn.

•  •  •

Other posts and links of interest

•  Why I care: Witnessing childhood injustices

•  Cornel West talk on youtube

Ellen Webster Synakowski lives in Laramie, Wyoming. Her website is:  EllenSynakowski.com

Please send ideas for inclusion in this blog to:  ellen@ellensynakowski.com


“Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”1   – Cornel West