The Powerful Impact a Teacher Can Make #IKEASoftToysEdu #CleverGirls


I remember asking Mrs. Stock, my high school English teacher, if I could read Jazz by Toni Morrison. The book had just come out. I had been reading books like Beloved, Sula, Their Eyes Were Watching God (by Zora Neale Hurston) and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (by Maya Angelou). I had an affinity for black female authors. Their words were strong and the subjects compelling. It was the first time I could put myself into the mind of a slave or an otherwise oppressed woman. I was sixteen years old, and I was riveted.

Mrs. Stock was hesitant when I asked to read the book because she wasn’t sure if the content was appropriate for me, not to mention the fact that she hadn’t read the book herself. I remember her explaining her concern and how I countered by telling her I could handle the book and the writing of a report. She agreed. I read the book and wrote a pretty darn good report, if I remember correctly.


A very small glimpse of my bookshelf.

That small vote of confidence made a huge difference in my life. And is part of the reason I am a writer today. The words that I read back then molded my love for writing. Something as simple as giving me the go ahead to read what my heart and mind yearned for showed me that I did not have to limit myself.

I mentioned to my friend the other day that my boys have yet to have a teacher that I haven’t loved. I have already seen the profound impact each one of them has had, in the smallest of ways, on my kids.

We often hear more about the bad experiences with teachers than the good ones. Those moments, the positive ones where a child is empowered in a new and exciting way, can stick with that child for a lifetime.

Soft Toy Image (Why) 2015_3

How’s that stat for a little perspective?

There are times I have stopped to think about where I would be without teachers like Mrs. Stock, or without the education I am fortunate to have had throughout my life.

Education can transform lives and is the most impactful way to help children escape poverty. Education had a direct impact on health and well-being. It also gives children the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to shape a better future for themselves. When a child begins, and stays in school, she not only changes the course of her own life, but that of future generations.

With that said, I’ve got another gift that gives back for you to consider this holiday season.

The Soft Toys for Education Campaign is a global initiative and involves the entire range of IKEA soft toys and children’s books. For every soft toy or children’s book purchased at IKEA from November 9 2014 until January 3 2015, the IKEA Foundation will donate $1.00 to Save the Children and UNICEF.  The money is donated to projects focusing on providing children in low and middle income countries a quality education in Europe, Africa and Asia.

More than 11 million children have been impacted through 99 projects in 46 countries since the Soft Toys for Education Campaign started in 2003. Each year, IKEA customers who buy a soft toy make a contribution to the vision of a world where each and every child can go to school. It is a good investment for children living in poverty, and it creates opportunities that impacts generations to come. The donations will help UNICEF and Save the Children train teachers in child-friendly teaching methods, improve child protection systems, supply educational materials in the schools, help rebuild schools, provide better water and toilet facilities, and increase school attendance rates.

The total amount donated so far is $90.4 million.

I’m a big fan of IKEA, along with the work of Save the Children and UNICEF. You really can’t go wrong with a soft toy purchase for the holidays.

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Philanthropy Friday: The #GivingTuesday Thirty-One Hope Kit (+ a giveaway!)

Each Friday, the another jennifer blog shares stories of those who incorporate philanthropy into their everyday lives – personally and professionally – in a creative and unique way. If you have a story you’d like to share, please contact Jennifer. Read past stories here.

Disclosure: I received a Thirty-One Hope Kit as a gift from Thirty-One Gifts to aid in the writing of this post. I will be donating the kit to a woman in substance abuse treatment who needs it more than I do. All thoughts and opinions expressed, as per usual, are my own.

Thirty-One Hope KitAs we head full force into the holiday season, I will be sharing more opportunities to make a true impact in your giving. Earlier this week, I mentioned that Hallie Tamez, WaterAid America’s Associate Director of Major Gifts, will  be carrying a 40-pound jerry can filled with water across Manhattan in solidarity with the women and girls across the globe who have no choice but to do this every day. She’s doing it today (November 21) in hopes to raise fund for WaterAid on #GivingTuesday.

World Vision and Thirty-One Gifts have also teamed up for the 3rd annual #GivingTuesday on Dec. 2, 2014. The two organizations are working together to send out personal hygiene supplies to women in need.

For the first 3,100 donations made to World Vision on #GivingTuesday, Thirty-One Gifts will donate a Hope Kit tote filled with hygiene supplies to a woman or girl in need in the U.S.

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the root causes of poverty and injustice. The organization works in nearly 100 countries around the world, and serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. You can find out more about World Vision on their website, Facebook page or Twitter.

The Hope Kit is a Thirty-One Gift’s Cosmetic Bag filled with essential hygiene supplies such as a toothbrush, shampoo, hairbrush, soap and a special note of encouragement. I received one of the bags and can tell you it is of far higher quality than any cosmetic bag I have ever owned. Filled with the everyday toiletries that we often take for granted, I particularly like the handwritten note from the person who packed the bag. My note said:

I hope this kit brings you encouragement in your time of need. My thoughts are with you for a better tomorrow.

I will be donating my Hope Kit to Crossroads, a behavioral health organization in Maine that I’ve worked with for about 8 years. They have two residential programs and toiletries are often needed by clients.

The Handle-It Cosmetic Bag comes in Paisley Day, Black Chevron or Plum Chevron. Thanks to Thirty-One, one lucky reader will have the chance to win a cosmetic bag, in her choice of color, with “hope” embroidered on the front. You can enter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

On #GivingTuesday every donation made to World Vision will make twice the impact by combatting poverty in one of the 100 countries where World Vision works. The donations on #GivingTuesday can be made by phone (1-888-511-6588) or online to World Vision on Giving Tuesday.

How will you celebrate #GivingTuesday? What will you do with your cosmetic bag? 

(Not at all) Wordless Wednesday: Happy World Toilet Day!


Toilets in Nicaragua. Photos by Jennifer Iacovelli

Is it weird that I’m excited for World Toilet Day? I mean, what other day allows for potty talk all day long? And you can get away with making a photo collage of latrines.

World Toilet Day was created by the United Nations to recognize the life-saving importance of toilets and sanitation and to raise awareness about the fact that one in three people around the world have no safe and sanitary place to “go” when nature calls.

If you follow me, you know clean water and sanitation are important causes for me. You also know that WaterAid America is an organization close to my heart.

I was honored to have traveled to Nicaragua back in March to see WaterAid’s work on the ground. I saw how women and teenage girls were being trained to build and maintain wells and toilets, giving them skills, income and a better way of life for their entire community. I stayed at Linda’s house where I ate dinner with a headlamp on, slept under a mosquito net, and climbed up rickety stairs to get to the outdoor toilet (pictured in the above collage on the left) while dodging livestock.

While there are times I wish I could go back to the simplicity of Nicaragua, the sheer lack of clean water, sanitation and infrastructure still boggles my mind.

WaterAid released the Child of Mine report today. The image below gives you a snapshot of the findings. The statistics are staggering. (Download the full 12-page report)


So what is WaterAid America doing to bring awareness to these issues on World Toilet Day? On Friday, November 21 Hallie Tamez, WaterAid America’s Associate Director of Major Gifts, will  be carrying a 40-pound jerry can filled with water across Manhattan in solidarity with the women and girls across the globe who have no choice but to do this every day.

How cool is that? (Actually, I told Hallie she was pretty badass. Because she is. Just look at that photo below.) Hallie says:

The #Steps4Water event will highlight the daily experiences of women and children living without clean water. As we shed light on this issue, we look forward to welcoming new supporters to help raise funds on #GivingTuesday, December 2, 2014.


Go, Hallie, go!

You can find Hallie’s route on WaterAid’s website. If you spot her and post a photo to Instagram, tagged with @WaterAidAmerica and #Steps4Water, you could win a dinner for two at Spasso NYC.

So what can you do? Here are some action steps for you on World Toilet Day:

  • Stay tuned for updates from WaterAid America CEO Sarina Prabasi on Twitter via @SPrabasi and @WaterAidAmerica on World Water Day as she talks about open defecation and the challenges for women and girls at a special UN panel alongside representatives from UN Water, the Republic of Singapore and more. The event will be webcast on United Nations Web TV from 1p.m. to 3p.m. EDT on November 19.
  • Ask Congress to support the Water for the World Act. The US House Foreign Affairs Committee will be debating the bill on November 20. It’s our last chance to get the bill passed before year end!
  • Celebrate the importance of toilets with WaterAid and their friends at Go Green Environmental Services at a World Toilet Day celebration (PDF, 300KB) with live music, free food and beer at 119 Rocky Point Road, Middle Island, New York on November 19 at 4p.m. EDT.
  • Test your toilet trivia and learn more about sanitation at the Eww! What’s Eating You? exhibit at Exploration Place in Wichita, Kansas.
  • Read more about the sanitation crisis
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