Must! Charities Youth Board Gives Back

On Saturday, February 25th the must! charities youth board took time out of their busy schedules to give back by volunteering at the Food Bank Coalition of SLO County. This group of high school students not only gave up a Saturday, but also got up early to give back. Raising two teenagers myself I can assure you, this is a huge commitment from them, and there was not a single complaint.

Prior to the actual volunteer time, the group was given a personal tour of The Food Bank’s new digs. The best part of the tour was the tour guide herself, Caroline. Not only was Caroline super informative and knowledgeable about the Food Bank, but also her history of volunteering with a food bank in Nebraska while attending college was something each of these students could relate to. You see, half of these students are seniors in high school and will be going off to college next year and all of them have a heart for philanthropy. You could see their eyes light up as they were processing internally what that might look like for them next year.

Caroline did a fantastic job relating to our youth board. Caroline had attended high school on the central coast, and I had to ask her to share how she ended up working for the Food Bank. I’m always curious how people end up where they are, and Caroline’s story did not disappoint. Her story was one of a willingness to volunteer, not wanting to just sit around and do nothing, while looking for a full time job after graduating from college. One thing led to another upon an initial inquiry meeting about volunteering opportunities and she happened to be a perfect candidate for a job opening at The Food Bank. Boom! This lesson alone was so valuable for our youth to hear.

The tour consisted of a walk through the new office space, and every so often a stop to chat about the many programs our food bank offers, the people in our community who are being served (over 46,000).  The obstacles of serving people in need, as well as over a million pounds of food our Food Bank gives out each year. So much information was given and it was all AMAZING to hear about.  Members of our youth board had questions for Caroline, and she addressed each question with detail in a way that made sense for each of them. Trust me, she nailed it including questions referring to government regulations which she delivered eloquently, concise and with ease.

Then it was off to the rather chilly warehouse, where we connected with other community volunteers to give of our time. We had several tasks that were to be done. I was super excited to hear about a new program at the Food Bank for the homeless – this was our first task, to prep mini bags of ready to consume, healthy products for our own homeless population. Our team gathered the items and had an assembly line going and the task was done in an efficient amount of time, all while having fun together.

From there we were given the task of sorting items that had been donated from the community. So many “teachable moments” given to our youth about how sorting for one person looks different than sorting to another. Lots of conversations taking place about how people live differently and probably all sort their kitchen items differently too. The team sorted and re-sorted someone else’s prior effort to sort (is salad dressing and pasta sauce used the same in someone’s house… maybe?) Albeit the crew worked hard and guidance from Caroline was key – as they asked a million questions wanting to be certain they were sorting correctly to her standards. The best part of sorting was when one of our team came across a boxed cake mix. Caroline stopped the crew and educated us on the standards of healthy food choices that our local Food Bank lives by. Cue the applause, because not all Food Banks have the same standards and my hat goes off to ours for their efforts in this area.  In fact, Caroline pointed out a bin labeled with another county’s name on it (I’m not going to rat them out in this blog), but it was filled with a bunch of non-healthy food choices. The best part… our food bank trades with them. They get the junk and we get fresh produce in exchange. That’s a huge WIN in my book.

As our time came to an end, much faster than we anticipated because time flies when you are having fun. We posed for a photo out with the Food Bank’s Cow. Then we went to lunch, because when you are volunteering around food for several hours, you get hungry. We chatted over a meal about everything the team learned that day and we discussed how amazing our local food bank really is and how fortunate our community is to have them operate the way they do. We also talked about how much joy can be found in giving back. It feels good to give. Several members of the youth board asked if we could come back. I assured them they didn’t need me to come back, now that they know what to do they have the tools to make it happen on their own. A smile crept ear to ear as I overheard them chatting about how they should get together once a month and drive down and make it happen. I was stoked to hear them plan their next day of volunteering together at The Food Bank… the seed was planted and I can’t wait to see it grow.

Bottom line. I would highly recommend volunteering at The Food Bank Coalition. You will not only walk away with knowledge about our community and The Food Bank, but you will feel good about giving back. Grab a friend and put in a couple hours there, you won’t regret it. Opportunities to volunteer are always there for anyone 16 years or older, and sometimes family days are available too. Check out more about The Food Bank Coalition at

If you know of a high school student who might be interested in serving on our youth board, direct them to our website at  Applications for 2017-18 school year will be available in April.

Match Story: Little Brother Blye and Big Brother Steve

Big Brother Stephen and Little Brother Blye love to shoot archery together. They like to visit the San Luis Obispo Sportsman’s Association, or SLOSA, to practice their aim while having a good time together.  Want to make a difference?  Consider being a Big Brothers Big Sister – find out more HERE.


CASA Volunteers: Who Are They?

A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) is a trained volunteer community member who is appointed by a judge to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in juvenile court proceedings. These children have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect or abandonment.  Read about a few of the heroes advocating for children:

Andrew Reynolds has a very unusual situation in his case. Andrew began working with this teenager when he was placed in San Luis Obispo County and was able to visit him a few times before he was moved out of the County to a residential treatment facility. Through it all, Andrew has remained steadfast and maintains in contact with the young man in anticipation of his return to the County in spite of not being able to visit in person. The boy has limited contacts in this community and Andrew has remained in his life ready to provide a connection when he returns.

Gerry Robertson started working with an older teen and is still mentoring him even though he has turned 18 and moved out of the County. Gerry has been a steadfast friend for this young person and they call on her when they have a need. Gerry has been creative with solutions and utilized the resources AB12 offers as well as other community resources to ensure the young adult has a place to live and something to eat. Gerry is quick to encourage and compliment and through thick and thin she has never wavered in her dedication to the best outcome possible for the young person.

Sherri Danoff is currently working with the sibling that Gerry is working with. Sherri began working with this family long ago with a younger sibling. As she got to know the siblings better Sherri opted to work with the older sibling along with the younger. When the case closed for the younger sibling, Sherri continued working with the older and still is on the case after the young person turned 18. Sherri is consistent and committed and ready to do what she can even when the communication is sporadic.

The CASA volunteer serves as the “eyes and ears of the court,” making sure that the needs of each child are met, with the goal of ensuring that these children grow up in a safe, caring environment. For more information on becoming a volunteers, contact CASA.

NEW! BIGS in Blue Program

What is Bigs in BlueSM?

Bigs in BlueSM is a one-to-one mentoring program that connects youth with police in communities throughout our nation, building strong, trusting, lasting relationships. These relationships can help build stronger bonds between law enforcement and the families they serve. We are pleased to roll out this initiative across the nation and looking for your support. Learn more or give a gift to support Bigs in BlueSM by selecting one of the options below. Thank you for your support.

Bigs in Blue in San Luis Obispo

Meet our first match! Big Brother Thomas and Little Brother Zachary were paired in December as our first Bigs in Blue match program. Zachary has been waiting 8 months for a mentor and is excited to have Thomas take him to fun places!

Bigs in Blue creates one-to-one mentor relationships that positively impact the children in our program. Strong, trusting, lasting relationships are built in return between law enforcement and families. Learn more here.

must! charities made this match and a total of 56 mentoring relationships in North County possible in 2016!

10 Things About Childhood Trauma Every Teacher Needs to Know

CASA of San Luis Obispo posted a great article sponsored by the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children.  Please consider these things when interacting with children who have experienced trauma. No child is inherently “bad”. We are all products of our environment. CASA volunteers have a very special role to play while advocating for these vulnerable children.

With grief, sadness is obvious. With trauma, the symptoms can go largely unrecognized because it shows up looking like other problems: frustration, acting out, difficulty concentrating, following directions or working in a group. Often students are misdiagnosed with anxiety, behavior disorders or attention disorders, rather than understanding the trauma that’s driving those symptoms and reactions.

For children who have experienced trauma, learning can be a big struggle. But once trauma is identified as the root of the behavior, we can adapt our approach to help kids cope when they’re at school. Detroit-based clinical director of the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children, a program of the Starr Global Learning Network, Caelan Kuban Soma offers these tips for understanding kids who have been through trauma, plus strategies for helping them. You can also check out our video: What Every Teacher Needs to Know About Childhood Trauma.

1. Kids who have experienced trauma aren’t trying to push your buttons.
If a child is having trouble with transitions or turning in a folder at the beginning of the day, remember that children may be distracted because of a situation at home that is causing them to worry. Instead of reprimanding children for being late or forgetting homework, be affirming and accommodating by establishing a visual cue or verbal reminder to help that child. “Switch your mind-set and remember the kid who has experienced trauma is not trying to push your buttons,” says Soma.

2. Kids who have been through trauma worry about what’s going to happen next.
A daily routine in the classroom can be calming, so try to provide structure and predictability whenever possible. Since words may not sink in for children who go through trauma, they need other sensory cues, says Soma. Besides explaining how the day will unfold, have signs or a storyboard that shows which activity—math, reading, lunch, recess, etc.—the class will do when.

3. Even if the situation doesn’t seem that bad to you, it’s how the child feels that matters.
Try not to judge the trauma. As caring teachers, we may unintentionally project that a situation isn’t really that bad, but how the child feels about the stress is what matters most. “We have to remember it’s the perception of the child … the situation is something they have no control over, feeling that their life or safety is at risk,” says Soma. It may not even be just one event, but the culmination of chronic stress—for example, a child who lives in poverty may worry about the family being able to pay rent on time, keep their jobs or have enough food. Those ongoing stressors can cause trauma. “Anything that keeps our nervous system activated for longer than four to six weeks is defined as post-traumatic stress,” says Soma.

4. Trauma isn’t always associated with violence.
Trauma is often associated with violence, but kids also can suffer trauma from a variety of situations—like divorce, a move, or being overscheduled or bullied. “All kids, especially in this day and age, experience extreme stress from time to time,” says Soma. “It is more common than we think.”

5. You don’t need to know exactly what caused the trauma to be able to help.
Instead of focusing on the specifics of a traumatic situation, concentrate on the support you can give children who are suffering. “Stick with what you are seeing now—the hurt, the anger, the worry,” Soma says, rather than getting every detail of the child’s story. Privacy is a big issue in working with students suffering from trauma, and schools often have a confidentiality protocol that teachers follow. You don’t have to dig deep into the trauma to be able to effectively respond with empathy and flexibility.

6. Kids who experience trauma need to feel they’re good at something and can influence the world.
Find opportunities that allow kids to set and achieve goals, and they’ll feel a sense of mastery and control, suggests Soma. Assign them jobs in the classroom that they can do well or let them be a peer helper to someone else. “It is very empowering,” says Soma. “Set them up to succeed and keep that bar in the zone where you know they are able to accomplish it and move forward.” Rather than saying a student is good at math, find experiences to let him or her feel it. Because trauma is such a sensory experience, kids need more than encouragement—they need to feel their worth through concrete tasks.

7. There’s a direct connection between stress and learning.
When kids are stressed, it’s tough for them to learn. Create a safe, accepting environment in your classroom by letting children know you understand their situation and support them. “Kids who have experienced trauma have difficulty learning unless they feel safe and supported,” says Soma. “The more the teacher can do to make the child less anxious and have the child focus on the task at hand, the better the performance you are going to see out of that child. There is a direct connection between lowering stress and academic outcomes.”

8. Self-regulation can be a major challenge for students suffering from trauma.
Some kids with trauma are growing up with emotionally unavailable parents and haven’t learned to self-soothe, so they may develop distracting behaviors and have trouble staying focused for long periods. To help them cope, schedule regular brain breaks. Tell the class at the beginning of the day when there will be breaks—for free time, to play a game or to stretch. “If you build it in before the behavior gets out of whack, you set the child up for success,” says Soma. A child may be able to make it through a 20-minute block of work if it’s understood there will be a break to recharge before the next task.

9. It’s OK to ask kids point-blank what you can do to help them make it through the day.
For all students with trauma, you can ask them directly what you can do to help. They may ask to listen to music with headphones or put their head on their desk for a few minutes. Soma says, “We have to step back and ask them, ‘How can I help? Is there something I can do to make you feel even a little bit better?’”

10. You can support kids with trauma even when they’re outside your classroom.
Loop in the larger school. Share trauma-informed strategies with all staff, from bus drivers to parent volunteers to crossing guards. Remind everyone: “The child is not his or her behavior,” says Soma. “Typically there is something underneath that driving that to happen, so be sensitive. Ask yourself, ‘I wonder what’s going on with that kid?’ rather than saying, ‘What’s wrong with the kid?’ That’s a huge shift in the way we view kids.”

Jog a Thon Raises $4,900 for must! charities

The Children’s House Montessori Jog A Thon was held on November 18th – this annual event teaches the kids about giving back to their community while also getting them outdoors jogging! CHMS has a built in buddy system at their school where younger kids are partnered with older kids on campus. This year the students wanted to partner with must! charities to support their Big Brother’s Big Sister’s Project, so they could be sure those kids who needed a “Big Buddy” in their community had the opportunity to get one because they know the value of what it means to have or be a Big Buddy.
When asked what having a “Big Buddy” is like for them, here were some of the students’ responses:
“It feels good to know that someone cares about me.”
“It’s nice to have a friend who looks out for me.”
“It feels good to help others.”
“I feel safe and cared for around my Big Buddy.”
“My Big Buddy helps me with things I need help with.”
“They are always there when I need them.”
“He gives me good advice.”
“I like being a Big Buddy because it feels good to be there for someone else and care about them.”
These kids at CHMS have the benefit of having a Big Buddy system and they experience the same things that those Bigs and Littles involved in our Big Brothers Big Sisters Community Mentor Program experience.
Thanks Children’s House Montessori School for working so hard on the Jog-a-Thon and for Giving Back to others in our community!

Tablas Creek’s Must! Month = $38k Over Five Years

For five consecutive years, Tablas Creek Vineyard has committed to must! Month during December and as a result has raised $38,000 over the course of the promotion. 100% of these funds go directly to programs that benefit the youth in Northern San Luis Obispo County. Thank YOU to partners like Tablas Creek Vineyard who make a difference!

What is Mentoring Month?

You see it everywhere, but what is National Mentoring Month and why should we care?  Let’s start with the basics: National Mentoring Month is a campaign held each January to promote youth mentoring in the United States. It was inaugurated in 2002, and is spearheaded by the Harvard School of Public Health, MENTOR, and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Now for the WHY we should care.  One in three people are growing up in America without a mentor.  That means a third of our youth are growing up without a mentor to offer real-life guidance.  With a mentor, at risk youth are:

  • 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school
  • 55% more likely to be enrolled in college
  • 46% less likely than their peers to start using drugs
  • 81% more likely to participate regularly in sports or extracurricular activities
  • 78% more likely to volunteer regularly to their communities
  • 130% more than twice as likely to say that they held a leadership position in a club or sports team
  • 90% are interested in becoming mentors themselves

must! charities currently supports two mentoring projects: Big Brothers Big Sisters and CASA.

Big Brothers Big Sisters – Big Brothers Big Sisters’ one-to-one mentoring services are proven to help children overcome adversity and beat the odds. Big Brothers Big Sisters is the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network. The University of Colorado’s Center for Study and Prevention of Violence found that Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program is one of 11 outstanding violence and drug prevention programs that meet a high scientific standard of effectiveness.

CASA – Although CASA of San Luis Obispo County serves abused and neglected children throughout San Luis Obispo County, the need in the North County continues to be significant in terms of the number of children being served and the number on the waitlist to be assigned a CASA volunteer.Of the 460 children under the jurisdiction of the court countywide, 180 are from the North County (40%). CASA currently serves 60 of these children, with 120 remaining on the waitlist.

So now we know the what and why.  If you are interested in helping must! charities support mentoring projects in Northern San Luis Obispo, 100% of your donation goes directly to projects.  Call 805.226.5788 for more information or donate today.

Success Story: Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Luis Obispo

Big Brother Lucas and Little Brother Anthony

Anthony knows his father lives in SLO County, but he has never met him. His mom, a pre-school teacher, hoped a Big Brother would teach him how to make friends and be more social. Big Brother Lucas made a positive impact on Anthony from the first moment they met. “This is how you shake hands,” he said, “give me a firm grip, stand up straight and look me in the eye like you mean it.”

From that moment on, Anthony has tried to imitate Lucas in every way. Anthony feels honored to be having such an influence. Whether they are talking to a waitress, volunteering at a beach clean-up or visiting the Big Brother’s office, Anthony always tries to show Lucas how to be considerate of others and proud of himself.

Just 7 months into the match, Anthony no longer gets in trouble for being disruptive in class. He is excelling in school, especially in Spanish, which he practices with his bilingual Big Brother. When Lucas picked Anthony up from study group the other day, he found him playing a board game with another student, instead of reading in the corner by himself as usual. Anthony explains, “When I’m not sure what to do in a situation, I just think of Lucas saying ‘This is how cowboys do it’ and then I try to do what he would do.”

*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of both the child and volunteer

Why Pasadena outranked 32 major U.S. cities in reducing homelessness

A great read on homelessness in the Pasadena Star:

Pasadena reduced its homeless population by nearly 54 percent between 2009 and 2016, the highest percentage among 32 large cities studied by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, according to a report from the organization.

Pasadena had the largest percent decreases in total homelessness and in the amount of homeless families, the study reported. The city counted 1,216 as homeless in 2011, but only 530 in 2016. Officials in the Housing and Career Services Department say three times as many people would be homeless today if the city had ignored the problem.

“We’ve been focusing on expanding our efforts for homeless prevention and permanent supportive housing, and that has been bearing good results,” said William Huang, Pasadena’s director of housing. “But there is still a lot more work to do.”

The city has helped house hundreds of people in the past few years, through rental subsidy vouchers and building permanent supportive housing.

Marv’s Place, a 20-unit apartment complex built in partnership with Union Station Homeless Services, opened earlier this year after years of fighting for funding.

“That project has 62 people living in it — 62 people who are no longer homeless, including 36 children,” Huang said. “This is what ends homelessness.”

A change in policy in 2011 has helped reduce homelessness by shifting the city into a more proactive role, Huang said. The city previously operated an intake center where the homeless could come to get help but that method hinged on someone seeking assistance. Now, outreach teams make contact with homeless individuals daily in an attempt to build trust so they are more likely to use the city’s resources. It can take months of contacts before someone comes around to accepting help, Huang said.

The city is closely watching ballot measures to increase funding for homelessness in Los Angeles and L.A. County because the fight is a regional one, not something Pasadena can solve alone, Huang said.

“The better L.A. does and the better L.A. County does, the better Pasadena will do,” Huang said.

Despite the decline, Pasadena has a homeless rate of 37.3 per 10,000 people, nearly double the national rate of 16.9 per 10,000. Many of those who remain are chronically homeless — a category Pasadena saw an increase in last year — and are resistant to services.

Pasadena enacted more aggressive panhandling ordinances this year, including a law that makes it easier for the city to confiscate belongings left in public spaces. Advocates say these new laws criminalize the homeless, but city officials argue they are trying to prevent intimidation and blocked right-of-ways.

The report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors and National Alliance to End Homelessness analyzed data from 32 cities across 24 states. Cities included New York, Washington, D.C., Long Beach, Lincoln, Wichita, Austin, Atlanta, Chicago and others. The selected cities represent 32 percent of the more than 544,000 people experiencing homelessness in the nation.

Two-thirds of the cities saw decreases between 2009 and 2016. Long Beach, for example, saw a reduction of 1,659 people or 43 percent, while other cities like Los Angeles, Wichita, Honolulu and Washington D.C. experienced double digit increases in the same time frame.

Though Los Angeles had an overall increase, it was less than 15 percent and in some subcategories, homelessness was on the decline, according to Chris Ko, director of systems and innovation for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

The cities are interconnected with the light rail, but Pasadena’s reduction isn’t directly related to Los Angeles’ increase, Ko said. New counting methods, rather than people migrating from Pasadena or Long Beach, are more likely to blame for the uptick.

“This is not an accident, this is the result of intentional choices that Pasadena has made,” Ko said. “You’re starting to see some of the things that Pasadena did five years ago finally come to fruition,”

United Way partners with Pasadena and other cities on programs for the homeless. Ko said the success seen in Pasadena is in part because the city is aggressive in pursuing funding and innovation with the proceeds. An abundance of private organizations, like Union Station Homeless Services, help further the city’s goals.

Still, Pasadena must stay vigilant if it wants the progress to continue, Ko warned. Other cities, such as Denver, have seen reductions only to backslide in later years because of changes in politics that favored enforcement over assistance.

“We’ve seen this go backwards,” Ko said. “We’re all hoping for Pasadena to continue showing leadership.”