Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankful for Gratitude


The Thanksgiving holiday can mean lots of things to lots of people. To some, it means traveling home to be with family. It might mean breaking out old recipes to cook, or dredging up old stories to retell around the table. For others, it might mean joining a significant other’s family dinner - meeting new relatives and learning new traditions. For some, it might mean cooking with friends, or even scrapping the kitchen altogether and dining out.  

Whatever your holiday means this year, it is bound to revolve around the notion of thankfulness. If someone were to ask you over a plate of turkey and gravy what you are thankful for, you could probably muster up a response - and many of us do. But what does being thankful mean to you year-round?

Recent studies show that feeling sincere gratitude is actually good for us. It might be pretty obvious that gratefulness can improve one’s mental health, but it can also lead to better overall health. According to research led by Paul Mills, people who are grateful also show significant improvement in heart wellness - including reduced risk for heart disease.

Some experts say that people are not born with the ability to be grateful though - it takes practice. The key to this practice comes in three stages: recognizing what you’re grateful for, acknowledging it, and appreciating it. So aside from a carefully crafted Turkey Day response, how can you practice these steps the other 364 days of the year?

Here are a few helpful ideas to get you started:

Keep a gratitude journal. Even if you only write down one or two things a day, this habit can greatly reduce any stress levels you may have. It can also help to reverse any bad days you might have, and keep things in perspective for you.

Distract yourself. If you find yourself focusing your attention on something negative that upsets you, find something around you that pleases you. Whether it’s a painting on the wall, the perfect blend of cream and sugar in your coffee at the moment, or a song playing through the speakers, force your mind to concentrate on it.   

Pass it on. Try to give at least one compliment a day. Answer the phone with genuine enthusiasm. Smile when you greet family or coworkers in the morning. By exhibiting an outward appearance of gratitude, it will help you remind yourself to feel grateful.  

Keeping gratitude and thankfulness present in your life will not only improve your physical and emotional health, but it can strengthen your relationships. But gratitude doesn’t always come naturally so start making it a habit now. Instead of naming one thing you’re thankful for this holiday, list three. Then list three more the next day. See how far you can get, and see how living a life of gratitude and appreciation can be transformative.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Ways to Communicate with Respect


Communication is an extremely important aspect of our everyday lives that is so easy to overlook. Whether you are in conversation with coworkers, with friends and acquaintances, or with your family members, practicing strong and honest communication is a key player in fostering good relationships.

Lately, it seems there are a slew of issues in the news that create divides between peers and loved ones. Politics and topical issues have a tendency of polarizing people who discuss them - and even sparking animosity and irritation.

At the Dignity & Respect Campaign, we know how important certain issues might be to you. We believe that everyone is entitled to their opinions and feelings, but we also believe in acceptance - which means respecting others’ opinions and feelings, even if they differ from yours. This concept corresponds directly with the Fourth pillar of our 7 Pillars: Finding Common Ground. This model for behavior focuses on the ability to work through differences and gain agreement, while maintaining dignity and respect. To help you better understand this concept, and maybe even work through some ways to foster it, we’ve created a list of helpful tips for you:

Practice active listening. When you are in conversation with someone, regardless of whether the topic is a heated one or not, it’s a good habit to practice active listening. This means to be intentional about listening and make sure you are giving your full attention to the speaker. Also be sure to listen without interruption, and provide feedback to the speaker. Let him/her know what you heard so you can clear up any misunderstandings right away before you contribute to the conversation.

Be self aware. Understand how your culture and background shape you. Understand the differences between you and the person you are communicating with. For the most part, misunderstandings between people of different cultures, generations, or backgrounds occur not because of what was said, but because of how one party said it. The best way to stop these mishaps from happening is to not assume sameness, and not assume that the other party immediately understands what you mean. Take the time to get on the same page.

Disagree. Conversations are not a game that you play. The point in a discussion is not to win - there is no right or wrong when it comes to opinions. It is very important to remember this, and especially important to remember that it is not your job to make someone agree with you. This is a key component in respect. It is okay to disagree. The purpose of conversing is to learn from someone else - not to sway them to believe what you believe. Hopefully, they can also learn from you.

These helpful tips can go a long way in creating healthy and respectful conversations. The more we effectively communicate with one another - even on sensitive issues - the more we can acknowledge our differences and promote acceptance of those differences.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Honoring Native American Heritage Month

 Photo courtesy of Pixabay

November brings with it a kaleidoscope of fall foliage, cooler temperatures, and our national Thanksgiving holiday, which usually calls to mind the image of golden turkeys, simmering casseroles, and loved ones around a table. November is also recognized as Native American Heritage Month. Because one of the goals of the Dignity & Respect Campaign is to model our 7 Pillars of behaviors, we’d like to focus on one of these principles in conjunction with this holiday: building cultural awareness.

The history of this month of remembrance actually began way back in May of 1916, when the governor of New York approved an American Indian Day. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush took this a step further and declared November “National American Indian Heritage Month” which has been ongoing since 1994.

The purpose of this month-long dedication is to recognize the historical contributions that Native Americans have made to the growth of the United States, and also to raise awareness about the tribes that still exist today. According to the 2010 census, there are over 5.2 million citizens who identified as American Indian and/or Alaska Native. Even though this number might seem small (around 9.7% of total American residents), it’s actually very significant because these citizens represent a rich community of culture and history that is woven into the tapestry of the United States.

What can you do?
Cultural awareness is founded in knowledge and education. In order to treat people the way they deserve to be treated, we need to educate ourselves about populations and cultures that are different from ours. So make this month all about learning! Read about the history of the Native Americans that inhabited our country long before it was ever the United States. Learn the differences between the various tribes and how many of them still honor the traditions of their ancestors.     

The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. - as well as the National Archives and the Smithsonian - is hosting a range of events throughout November. If you don’t live close to the D.C. area, you can read up on other ways to participate: trying new recipes, for instance, or watching an educational film. The Smithsonian Education group has also compiled a list of resources for teachers interested in educating their students on the history and heritage of Native Americans.

Dignity & Respect
The Dignity & Respect Campaign as a whole believes in working towards creating a better world for all of us to live in together. Regardless of whether or not you take an active stance in Native American Heritage Month, we hope that you will both appreciate and respect this special holiday. Your awareness will help to create a stronger and more compassionate America.  

To echo the sentiments of the United States Department of the Interior: “Many voices-- one journey-- join us!”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Dignity & Respect Champion Gives Voice to the City’s Unheard Stories

Growing up in Chicago, Jonas Chaney found himself bit by the radio bug at the young age of 12. “I heard the announcer, and I thought, ‘I could do that. That’s what I want’,” remembers Jonas. It took him just five years to get there. He started in radio at 17, while still in high school. Soon his passion for communications, bolstered by his Masters in Journalism, branched out to include television. It was there that Jonas hit his stride and it appears his calling as well. As the Public Affairs Director at WPXI he produces two shows, Impact and Talking Pittsburgh, both of which discuss issues of importance in the various diverse communities of Greater Pittsburgh.

“I have a very rewarding job. A lot of the stations in the country do not have a public affairs director. I’m happy to have the Position,” Jonas says. He continues, “I can delve into areas that highlight non-profits and feature stories from people who aren’t always heard from. I can tell people’s stories that otherwise wouldn’t be out there. Sometimes the news department will pick up stories I have on the public affairs shows and do further reporting on them, exposing these people and nonprofits to an even wider audience.”  Impact has featured shows on such varied topics as Muslim faith in Pittsburgh and POISE, an African American foundation focused on building sustainable black communities. Talking Pittsburgh has given voice to Community Options, an employment service for people with disabilities.

Carole Cohen was a coworker of Chaney’s at INROADS/Pittsburgh, a former local affiliate of the organization that trains and develops African-American, Latino, Native Americans and other minorities for corporate careers. She nominated Chaney as a Dignity & Respect Champion. While working at INROADS, Jonas lent his talents as a producer and editor for many projects. Carole says, “He lent his talents for these projects on his personal time. He also connected people to his vast network, helping them to further their causes. He still does that. As an advocate for many, he makes Pittsburgh a better, stronger place for all its residents. He achieves this by dispelling stereotypes, introducing people from diverse communities and showcasing the best the region has to offer.”

When asked how he feels about being recognized as a Dignity & Respect Champion, Jonas says he is “Very happy, I didn’t expect it. I recognize the importance of treating people well. It is the first step in opening people’s eyes to the need to be more inclusive, and that can only make life better for everyone. We should all see what we can do to give help and a voice to those who need it.”

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dignity & Respect Champion Uses His Talents to Bring Communities Together

Long before Pittsburgh started charting high on those desirable cities lists, some visitors were aware of its potential charms. Thirty-five years ago, Richard Parsakian came to Pittsburgh from his native Latham, New York as a Vista Volunteer in its architect’s workshop.  He came to provide architectural services for low income families and nonprofits. “The idea that I could contribute and help, this was very important to me in terms of my volunteerism,” Richard emphasizes. Richard decided to stay, and now he uses his study of architecture to provide event designs for nonprofits.

“I believe in the organizations I do work for. I believe in trying to help those organizations survive. They need funding and I have a talent that can help with that funding. I use the resources I have to help people,” Richard explains.  A former board member of Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, he still does work for them on a project by project basis. Other organizations that have benefitted from Richard’s  vision include PrideFest, Pittsburgh Dance Council, Persad Center, Pittsburgh Glass Center, Dance Alloy, Attack Theater, Quantum Theater, Planned Parenthood, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, and the Ellsworth Avenue Street Fair.

Larry Leahy, DDS, a friend who nominated Richard for this award, says, “Richard is truly inspirational and is a tremendous asset to the city. He works endlessly for the betterment of all communities in Pittsburgh. He is tireless in his organization of countless benefits and fundraisers.”  

The self-described “center of my universe” is Richard’s vintage fashion store, Eons. He says, “It seems that everything I do emanates from the store. There I meet the people from nonprofit organizations when they stop in for clothes and costumes for an event. It starts with that and I’m glad to supply further help.”

“I am moved to receive the Dignity & Respect Champion award,” Richard says. He continues, “It’s an unexpected honor. It parallels my thinking in how I treat people and how I want to be treated. I like to think of myself as a supportive person for people who don’t have a strong voice. As an openly gay man, I have always been there as a voice for the LGBT community. Now I’m also acknowledged as an advocate for women who need access to healthcare, kids who are coming out, and the arts community.”

Richard believes that treating people with esteem can help bring communities together, regardless how separate their subcultures might seem.  He describes how he saw a manifestation of this at his popular “Divas of Drag” event, “I looked out into a mixed audience and saw performers whose talents had been hidden in bars interacting with a new audience. There was a community of people having a great time in a non-threatening environment, a wonderful atmosphere of performance and acceptance between gay and straight cultures.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Believing in the Power of Art to Find Common Ground

Dignity & Respect Champion Informs Art with Socially Conscious Themes


Not many people realize their mission in life during their childhood years. The transformative power of art is a concept that Janet McCall grasped early in life. “The power of art enabled me to make sense of the world, deal with stress, process emotion, experience joy, and figure out who I was,” Janet explains. “As I got older I saw that so few of the other kids had that orientation. It became obvious to me that art is a birthright we should all have access to. My goal is to use my communication skills to make more people aware of the importance of this.”

As the Executive Director of the Society for Contemporary Craft, Janet strives to bring her inclusive view of art to people of all walks of life by exhibiting the work of artists from all different backgrounds. She says, “The purpose is to bring together a group of people to respond to the works of art and initiate a dialogue.”  In her time as director, Contemporary Craft has had installations dealing with gender identity and bullying, a Latino exhibition that emphasized art as a shared language, and an Alzheimer’s themed exhibition.  The upcoming exhibition Enough Violence : Artists Speak Out is slated for September.

Sarah Ceuvorst, a co worker at Contemporary Craft , who nominated Janet McCall, says, “Janet strives to encourage diversity of opinions and perspectives. Borders are crossed and preconceived notions and stigmas are overcome through the universal power of artistic expression under her leadership. “

“Receiving this award is an honor,” Janet states. She furthers, “I try to get people thinking how much of our artistic heritage has been informed by many different cultures and is a product of their shared journeys. This reflects a belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Keeping the Dream of Activism Alive

Sixties youth culture possessed so much political awareness that at the time it looked like everyone under eighteen was committed to a populist cause. Once the sea changed there were some people who maintained their idealism and continued their work in this area. Tracy Soska is one of these people. He is currently an Assistant Professor and Director of Continuing Education in the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh.

As a teenager Tracy marched against hunger and was an antiwar activist. He went to Pitt but dropped out to become a VISTA volunteer. When his tenure there ended, he went back to Pitt for social work study and realized then that he could make a career out of his passion—helping people and communities achieve their best.  Tracy recalls, “I couldn’t believe I could actually get a degree in something I enjoyed doing”.

Today, he is still doing it. He is involved in community organizing, social administration, workforce development, collaboration and coalition building, and university-community relations and partnerships. At the University of Pittsburgh he heads a program on Living Learning Communities. There students get hands on experience in community development. They can apply what they learn in an academic setting to real world issues the neighboring communities are facing, while employing respect and consideration for these communities.

Tracy explains the mutual benefits for the students and the community, “Too often a university can be criticized because we come in as experts, we do our studies and then leave. That’s changing. The community has knowledge. We can partner effectively with them and build long term relationships.”  He continues, “Students are learning and developing skills, and communities are learning from us. Simultaneously, students are getting that sense of partnership and collaboration. They are respectful of the expertise that the community has. We teach our students that and hopefully that’s the way my work is perceived in the community.”

Tracy was nominated as a Dignity & Respect Champion by Dr. Larry E. Davis who in his endorsement of  Tracy states, “Tracy Soska is not content to keep his work purely academic. He is more than just a scholar, he is an active member and a driving force of many neighborhood organizations.  Tracy’s hands-on approach not only demonstrates his commitment to the ideals he teaches, it inspires the students to look into community work themselves.”

When asked how he feels being recognized as a Dignity and Respect Champion, Tracy says, “Trying to emulate dignity and respect is one of the primary tenets of social work. I do that as a professor, but I also think I try to live that as a person.”