AwareNow™: Issue 44: 'The Service Edition'

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AwareNow Magazine is a monthly publication produced by AwareNow Media™, a storytelling platform dedicated to creating and sustaining positive social change with content that inspires and informs, while raising awareness for causes one story at a time.






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The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. Mahatma Gandhi

Words have a way of escaping me, sometimes even more than memories do. Yet, there's a language that transcends words, one etched in the sacrifices of our veterans. Their commitment echoes through time forging bonds that extend far beyond. In AwareNow, we recognize veterans not only for their service but for the qualities that unite us as a society. Veterans exemplify resilience, demonstrating that strength lies not just in muscle but in the ability to endure, adapt, and rise above challenges. Their diverse backgrounds and experiences enrich the fabric of our collective narrative, weaving a story of unity through diversity. Equality and inclusion are not just buzzwords; they are guiding principles for a society that aspires to be truly great. Our veterans, embodying these ideals, remind us that regardless of race, gender, or background, we are bound by a shared humanity. In celebrating their accomplishments, we celebrate a commitment to a world where everyone's story is acknowledged, respected, and valued. “We will no longer ask for permission to change the world.” The veterans we honor embody this spirit, showcasing that each individual has the power to make a difference. Through their stories we find inspiration to embrace the richness of diversity, promote equality, and build a future where the sacrifices of the few pave the way for the prosperity of many. One story at a time, let us make a path where empathy, intelligence, and inclusion guide our shared journey forward.

ALLIÉ McGUIRE Co-Director of AwareNow Media, CEO & Co-Founder of Awareness Ties Allié started her career in performance poetry, then switched gears to wine where she made a name for herself as an online wine personality and content producer. She then focused on content production under her own label The Allié Way™ before marrying the love of her life, Jack, and switching gears yet again to a pursue a higher calling to raise awareness and funds for causes with Awareness Ties and AwareNow Media.

JACK McGUIRE Co-Director of AwareNow Media, President & Co-Founder of Awareness Ties Jack got his start in the Navy before his acting and modeling career. Jack then got into hospitality, focusing on excellence in service and efficiency in operations and management. After establishing himself with years of experience in the F&B industry, he sought to establish something different… something that would allow him to serve others in a greater way. With his wife, Allié, Awareness Ties and AwareNow Media were born.


The views and opinions expressed in AwareNow are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of AwareNow Media. Any content provided by our columnists or interviewees is of their opinion and not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, political group, organization, company, or individual. In fact, its intent is not to vilify anyone or anything. Its intent is to make you think.



Sans Précédent ‘Without Precedent’

USS Comete de Grasse DD974

When that opportunity comes, you have to take it. KEASTON WILLIS

DIVISION 1 MEN’S BASKETBALL PLAYER Photo Courtesy: Keaston Willis 8



A COLLEGE ATHLETE’S OPPORTUNITY TO SERVE & SUPPORT Keaston Willis is from Sulpher Springs, TX. He’s a 4 year letterman in Division 1 Men’s Basketball. He is currently in his last season of eligibility at a university in the state of Oklahoma. After this season his plan is to declare for the NBA draft or play professional basketball overseas. When he’s not supporting his team on the court, he’s supporting causes off the court with TEAM NILO. With great influence comes a great opportunity to serve. ALLIÉ: There's a lot that can be learned from fishing, a hobby you've enjoyed for so many years of your life alongside your grandfather. I want to start our conversation by getting really deep. What lessons have you learned about life while fishing with your grandfather? KEASTON: Probably the most obvious one would be patience, especially on a slow day fishing. If you're not just reeling them in every cast, you got to be patient, you got to wait on the fish. They might be biting; they may not be biting. So, patience is definitely something I learned. That's the obvious one. Another one would be, in fishing, there's a bobber and for fishermen, everybody will know what a bobber is, but it's the floaty on top to where it holds the bait at the bottom. And when a fish takes the bait, the bobber will go under, so you know a fish is on it. Waiting and being patient when that bobber goes under, that's your opportunity. And to translate that into life, certain people get certain





It’s just taking advantage of the moment that’s given to you. KEASTON WILLIS

DIVISION 1 MEN’S BASKETBALL PLAYER Photo Courtesy: Keaston Willis 10

KEASTON: (continued) opportunities and when that opportunity comes, you have to take it. It’s just taking advantage of the moment that's given to you. ALLIÉ: As much fishing as I've done in my life, I've never thought about it that way with the bobber and that representation of an opportunity. So excited to share that with my kids when I go home today. KEASTON: Yeah, you can get real deep. ALLIÉ: Absolutely. Okay. So, fishing is of course not your only passion. Let's talk about basketball now. As a four-year letterman in Division 1 Basketball, you are now in your senior season at the University of Tulsa. As you prepare for a professional career in the sport, let's pause a moment. When was it, Keaston, that you knew you wanted to make a career out of basketball? KEASTON: Growing up, playing sports in general was fun to me, but basketball just had a different feeling. It's just what I really loved to do. I played and got deeper into it. I started playing for teams in the summer, and things like that. But I would say really, it was my eighth grade year when I really started taking it serious. It wasn't just a game to me anymore. I wanted to start working out and trying to make a career out of this. So that's pretty much led me to where I am now. ALLIÉ: I love that you knew what you wanted so long ago. One thing we all know or have heard is that ‘practice makes perfect’. That's what they say. But as you mentioned just a moment ago, even with all the practice in the world, patience is important. Patience is required. This is true when it comes to fishing, basketball, and just life in general. Can you share a personal story of when you had to practice patience? KEASTON: A big moment in my life where I had to practice patience relates to basketball. I've always been somewhat good at basketball. I've been blessed to play the game, but for some reason in high school, I wasn't on anyone's radar. College coaches, they knew I could play, they would tell me I'm good and very talented, but they didn't want to take that chance on me for some reason and I could never figure that out. So, leading up to my senior year, things started to get a little nerve wracking. No offers. I'm starting to think like, this is what I want to do but I might have to start thinking about Plan B. And that's never really what I wanted to do. Luckily, I was blessed to get a last-minute offer from the University of the Incarnate Word. They took a chance on me, and I had to be real patient in that. It was tough during that time. Patience sucks sometimes. When there's something you really want, you kind of want it now, but patience teaches you a lot of things, and (for me) it worked out for the better. ALLIÉ: Thank goodness that you held on to Plan A. So, let's go back to the topic of passion. Off the court, you are passionate about giving back. When it comes to causes, Keaston, what cause are you passionate about and why? KEASTON: There's a couple. I love giving back to kids and especially kids with cancer and special needs. With the influence that athletes have, it means a lot coming from us to give back to these kids and put a smile on their face. To be personal, I lean more towards the special needs side. I have a brother that passed away when he was nine, I believe. So, it was a little while back… I think I was 12. He was born with some disease. It's a super long name. It's kind of hard to pronounce. He was born with a special need. And seeing when he would smile… it just means a lot. They value things that we would just walk over sometimes. So, it means a lot to give back to special needs kids and put a smile on their face. ALLIÉ: Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate that. KEASTON: Yeah, for sure. ALLIÉ: So, you have a unique opportunity in working with TEAM NILO to use your personal platform to be of service to causes and nonprofits. Why do you think this kind of work is so important? 11

AwareNow Podcast

GREAT INFLUENCE Exclusive Interview with Keaston Willis


KEASTON: I was blessed with the game, and like I've stated before, I was blessed with the skill to play this game at a high level. Not everybody gets to do that. So with the influence I have, it means a lot coming from me to somebody else. Sometimes people view us as on top of other people, but we're normal people just like everybody else. Really just giving back to the community and to these kids, it means a lot. It's super important to me. ALLIÉ: I love that. You are out there and getting lots of wins to be able to give a win to someone else. It's awesome. KEASTON: Hundred percent. ALLIÉ: One more question for you today is this. What is it that you would like to say to other student athletes like yourself? What do you want to say to them? KEASTON: Get involved. Like I've said, we have a special influence that we were blessed with that comes along with being a student athlete. Take initiative in those things and give back to the community because with our influence that we have, it means a lot. While you're doing the work on the court or on the field or in whatever sport you may play, there are people that are watching you. Not only are they watching your performance, they're watching you as a person as well and what you do. You have a huge influence. Just take the initiative in your community. ALLIÉ: I love that, Keaston. And as you're sharing that, I'm thinking of your awesome bobber analogy and the opportunities that we have in our life that include the opportunities to give back. So, when you see that bobber go down, set the hook. Do it. KEASTON: Yeah, for sure. ∎

Follow Keaston on Instagram: @keastonnnn TEAM NILO Creating Authentic Connections TEAM NILO connects student-athletes to causes, capturing the essence of the impact that student-athletes have in and around the communities they represent.


Once we find our truth, stay in it. ELIZABETH BLAKE-THOMAS




“Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” - Helen Keller The dictionary definition of purpose is “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.” I’m going to share a secret with you. Nobody knows how, and what life should be. Yet we are taught from a young age that we “should” know certain things. Between age 16 and 18 we are made to choose school subjects based on the next few years of our education that will then lead us to what we will have as a career. A career that is supposed to last a lifetime. We are also influenced by family, friends, strangers, and the media that success, happiness, and purpose mean getting married, having children, buying a house, buying a car. The list goes on, outlined by society. I myself bought into this view of purpose. I had a full time job. I got married. I bought a house, and then had a daughter. I have no regrets about this, as each day I lived my purpose of being a good mother, earning money to help support my family, and enjoying being with my friends and family. I’m not saying any of these “reasons for living” were wrong. I just didn’t realize I was living an optical illusion of purpose. Almost everyone is influenced from a young age to live a certain way. We are led to believe the illusion of what happiness, success, and purpose should look like. With the right mindfulness tools, this illusion can be broken down and altered, so that we can all live a healthier, more truthful lifestyle. To begin, one must look at their own life and what they feel called to do. Purpose can be represented in different aspects of your life: • Career/Vocation • Family or Friends • Spirituality or Religious Beliefs • A combination or all of the above ”Purpose is a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once personally meaningful, and at the same time, leads to productive engagement with some aspect of the world beyond the self.” - Anonymous Here is an example of a couple of careers leading a person to finding their purpose: • an actor is in the entertainment industry because they personally love the craft, but their purpose extends to impacting the viewer of their films and TV shows beyond themselves • a gardener personally loves nature and feels happy when surrounded by it, but their purpose extends to impacting the environment and giving back to others But what if we don’t already live our purpose truthfully? How do we find out how to live ours? How do we go against society and the optical illusion of what is “right”? When looking at our own life, it is simplest to look at what we love. Love can be an immeasurable, irrational bond that has the power to break through society’s illusion of “right” and point us towards our true purpose. But what if we don’t have any form of clarity? Does that mean we’re less than? Does that mean we are never going to find it? If we can’t find it, will society treat us differently? Everyone’s timeline for finding their truth and living it is different. It can be hard to fight the societal need of “I want it now”, but good things often take time. The optical illusion often lies in the materialistic. The more things we have, the more successful we are, as that means we must have money, right? People like a tangible way to measure things, and materials are easy to see. Illusion is not the actuality of a tangible item, it is often what the item represents. For example, a white picket fence gives the illusion of a safe environment/home, when in reality it is just some painted wood nailed together. 15

AwareNow Podcast

WE ARE ALL PURPOSEFUL Written and Narrated by Elizabeth Blake-Thomas


So how do we actually break down that illusion? First, with self reflection on happiness, purpose and our idea of success. Thinking about what truly makes us happy, what we feel called to do with our uninfluenced heart, and what success we want to achieve along our ever-changing journey. Our purpose doesn’t always correlate with something we’re “good” at. Part of the optical illusion is that our purpose should be something that society has told us we’re good at, something we started to follow by a certain age, and/or something specific in the way that we do it. We may be a natural talent with our purpose, but don’t write off the true purpose if we aren’t. When we know our truthful purpose, it might then be hard to accept and pursue that inner desire when our outer life is out of sync/does not reflect it. Try to adjust life, even in the smallest of ways. This can be hard. There is a possible risk to shifting one’s life, but the reward can be greater than the risk. The more interwoven with others and outside aspects, the harder the adjustment will be. Some shifts might not be visible to others, but can still have a profound impact on your life. A life adjustment could be anything from a career change to telling someone “no”. Again, there is no time limit/deadline for this. Once we have found our purpose and have adjusted our life to live in that purpose, take more mental check-ins as time passes. Constant check-ins are necessary to ensure you keep perspective by not placing unattainable expectations on ourselves or being drawn back into society’s illusion. Take a moment to reflect on life. It may not always be easy if our purpose is far from society’s illusion, but we will live a happier, more truthful life living in our purpose. If we only have this life, why let an illusion trick us into being anyone but ourselves? The optical illusion of purpose can be altered. Once we find our truth, stay in it. Hold tight to our reason for getting up in the morning. It may not always be easy if our purpose is far from society’s illusion, but we will live a happier, more truthful life living in our purpose. If we only have this life, why let an illusion trick us into being anyone but ourselves? ∎

ELIZABETH BLAKE-THOMAS Storyteller, Philanthropist & Official Ambassador for Human Trafficking Awareness Elizabeth Blake-Thomas is a British award-winning storyteller and philanthropist based in Los Angeles. She is the founder and resident director of entertainment company Mother & Daughter Entertainment, whose motto is “Making Content That Matters”, putting focus on each project starting a conversation amongst viewers. She is also the creator of the healing methodology Medicine with Words which is designed to help “spring clean” your mind and help free yourself from unnecessary noise so that you can live a more purposeful, peaceful life. She is the author of Filmmaking Without Fear which is a multi-medium resource curated for indie filmmakers. Her FWF podcast is available on all streaming platforms, and the book of the same name is available on Amazon. She is a regular on panels at Sundance, Cannes and Toronto International Film Festival, Elizabeth mentors wherever possible, ensuring she sends the elevator back down to all other female storytellers.


When in doubt, be kind. CAPTAIN BRETT CROZIER




LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF HONOR, SERVICE & LEADERSHIP Brett Elliott Crozier is a retired captain in the United States Navy. A US Naval Academy graduate, he became a naval aviator, first flying helicopters and then switching to fighters. After completing naval nuclear training, he served as an officer on several aircraft carriers. In the spring of 2020, he was the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt when COVID-19 broke out among the crew. He was relieved of command after sending a letter to Navy leaders asking that most of the crew be taken ashore which was subsequently leaked to the press. Crozier retired from the Navy in March 2022. He now lives in San Diego and works with veteran nonprofits, where he continues to serve those who have served. ALLIÉ: All careers of service are noble ones. You chose to be of service with a career in the Navy. What is it that drew you to the Navy? BRETT: Yeah, because my dad was actually in the Air Force, people would assume that that's where I would've gravitated to. He did a couple years in the early seventies in the Air Force. He wanted to fly, but he couldn't because he was colorblind. But that exposed me to aviation at a really young age that I think kind of planted the seed that I





I look back and am glad that seed was planted… CAPTAIN BRETT CROZIER

RETIRED US NAVY CAPTAIN & AUTHOR Photo Credit: Rich Soublet II 20

BRETT: (continued) carried with me the rest of my life. So, I knew I wanted to fly airplanes, and I wanted them to be loud and fast. And so then, we lived up in northern California a town called Santa Rosa, and I spent a lot of time on the water. I was a lifeguard. I was a sailing instructor. So, I had this affinity for water and eventually the ocean and surfing. But I also wanted to fly. I knew that was something I wanted to do. And then, almost embarrassed to admit it, but in 1986, this incredible movie came out that we all know, it's called Top Gun. And that was something that helped me understand a little bit about, “Hey, you like being on the water. You like flying. In the Navy, you can do all of that. So, that set me down a path onto the Naval Academy after I graduated high school and then onto flight school. And it met every goal and aspiration I ever had about it. It was exciting, it was fun, and there was a lot of travel. You got to see the world. You have some challenging times, obviously, but I look back and am glad that the seed was planted many, many, many years ago. It grew, and I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do. I feel lucky in that regard. It was as fulfilling as I had hoped it would be. ALLIÉ: Careers of service require sacrifices, but they also offer rewards. What was your hardest sacrifice that you had to make in your career, and then what was your greatest reward? BRETT: So, the hardest sacrifice is always when you have to leave home and leave your family and friends behind. You know you'll come back. I mean, there were times when we left to head out to combat and we were war footing as a nation for many decades. So there was some uncertainty, but in general, you knew you'd come back, but you knew you were going to be leaving for not just a week or two, but months, maybe even a year at a time, and in some cases more. So, I always found those the hardest moments in my career, initially when it's just my wife and I and later when we had kids. But anytime you're gone and you're out there for 6, 8, 10, 12 months at a time, it's a challenge and you have to kind of move on and you learn how to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand, so you're not distracted but those are always hard times. It was also equally rewarding when you came back and got a chance to get reacquainted and a chance to grow. They say in the military, your relationships outside of the military are really strong, if you nurture them well, or they become really problematic because it's hard to be gone that long. And I think I was lucky enough to pick the right person. My wife was super supportive, and my kids were super supportive. So, it ended up being that, I think, in many ways our life got stronger and our relationship got stronger even with that long absence. But it was never fun. For any ship that ever goes to sea, it's that first day underway when you're leaving home for months on end. There's just that kind of depressing feeling across the ship. You're excited about what you're doing, but you've left your family behind, and it will be many months until you come back. I don't forget those moments. And I think, for me, the rewards were, as you got more senior, I was entrusted with a lot of things. It was both flying multimillion dollar helicopters and million dollar fighters, but also the leadership opportunities that were the biggest rewards for me. I was having so much fun doing what I was doing, but also getting those chances to lead, in my case sailors. Whether it was small groups to eventually a squadron size, it was 250 people and eventually an entire ship and an aircraft carrier with 5,000. Those were extremely rewarding moments. And not only are you doing well and being rewarded for your performance, but you also have a chance to make a positive impact. And I found those moments the most rewarding by far, as a chance to lead and make a positive difference on the folks you've been trusted to take care of. ALLIÉ: I can't imagine what that must have felt like, especially when you're talking that scale. That’s wild to me. BRETT: Yeah, it's like a city. I mean, an aircraft carrier is like a city with all regards. But it was also exciting and fun. Like I said, it’s rewarding when things are going well. ALLIÉ: Let’s talk about lessons. A lesson your dad taught you was this. “When you borrow somebody's truck, you have to fill up the gas tank, clean it, and bring it back in better shape.” How did you apply this lesson to your own life and career? BRETT: I think for my career and my life, what I learned from that was the importance of making a positive difference and to use that time to do just that. The reference to the car was if you're going to borrow something, make sure you return it in a better condition. But in the military, I saw that to mean that, you've been entrusted with an airplane or a helicopter or leading a large group of people. How do you make it better than when you found it? Now, in the military, we rotate quite a bit. We rotate our jobs every couple of years. So, you're not with some organization for 10 or 20 21

I’m not just here to keep the ship floating… I’m here to make the ship better. CAPTAIN BRETT CROZIER

RETIRED US NAVY CAPTAIN & AUTHOR Photo Courtesy: Brett Crozier 22

“I knew that I had to do all I could to prevent those things from happening and make sure we had the care available for sailors when they were struggling.” BRETT: (continued) years. Even though I was in the Navy for 30 years, I served in 20 different capacities within those 30 years. You’re always rotating every couple years, and the goal is always to make a positive difference. You go into it with a mindset of, I'm not just here to keep the ship floating… I'm here to make the ship better or the squadron better, and leave it in better hands. That way, when you turn it over to somebody that's going to be equally capable, you can be confident and proud of the fact that it's in a better place. Maybe it's better trained, maybe it's better condition, maybe the crew's in a better place with their morale, or whatever it might be. But find those things to make a positive difference, and then turn it over to your relief in that way. ALLIÉ: When you were the Commanding Officer on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, you knew there would be challenging days ahead but more rewarding days beyond them. What was your most challenging day onboard? What was your most rewarding? BRETT: During that tour on the Roosevelt, like we said, there's 5,000 people. It's a city, and there's a lot of young sailors. I mean, the reality is your average age of a sailor on an aircraft carrier is about 22 years old. So, it's a young city and they're eager. You’re giving incredible responsibility to them, whether it's working on a flight deck, which is one of the most dangerous places in the world to work, or driving the aircraft carrier. I'd only been there a couple months, and I think that the hardest day, looking back, was actually Christmas Day that first year when I found out that one of my young sailors had taken his own life on the base. The day started out exciting. We were getting ready for deployment. We had this big Christmas festival on board. It was this big deal. I actually brought a lot of my family on board. Then I got the call that one of our sailors that was just off the ship and living in the barracks had taken his life. I hadn't been there long enough to know him, but obviously, it was a reminder of the fact that we have a lot of folks on board and everybody can be struggling at times. There's going to be good days, there's going to be bad days. Particularly for that sailor, obviously, it was a bad day, and there's a lot of things that led up to that. But it reminds you of the responsibility you have as a commanding officer, as a captain of the ship. You're responsible for all of them. And I knew I wanted to do all I could to prevent things like that from happening. Because it was a large city, but it was also a large family. And I felt responsible in many ways, not necessarily for that incident, but I knew that I had to do all I could to prevent those things from happening and make sure we had the care available for sailors when they were struggling. So I won't forget that day. That was a tough day. ALLIÉ: Absolutely… What was the most rewarding day on board? BRETT: There was a lot of them, and that's the good news. Despite all the responsibility and the pressure at times, there were many, many rewarding days. I mean, the day I took over the ship, there's was lot of fanfare. There was a band and the whole pomp and circumstance you get that only the military can do so epically. That was an incredible day. Every time you the ship get underway, there are so many things that go into it, from an engineering standpoint to navigation to operations. Those in themselves were rewarding days. You'd do a big operation that might be high risk, where you're alongside another ship and you're transferring millions of gallons of fuel. One of the things was that at the end of the day, you were tired, you were exhausted in many regards, but you were also extremely proud. And I found the days that were the most rewarding were those when I could look back and be proud of the crew and all they 23

I wasn’t willing to accept the risk to the crew… CAPTAIN BRETT CROZIER

RETIRED US NAVY CAPTAIN & AUTHOR Photo Courtesy: Brett Crozier 24

BRETT: (continued) had accomplished. Because it is such a large organization with so many young sailors that are trying to do great things, it's great to see it all come together. I had many rewarding days. I remember my birthday when I turned 50, I got to go fly a helicopter. I used to fly quite a bit. Because I was a pilot, I got to fly. I could still fly a helicopter, and I could still go fly a fighter jet. I remember when I got to go launch off of my own aircraft carrier in a Super Hornet and go fly around the South China Sea. On my birthday, I got to go fly a helicopter and check out the ship. So, were many, many rewarding days. In fact, there were way more rewarding days than there were negative days. And when I look back, I almost have to think hard about the hard days because to me, they were trumped by the positive days and all the great things we got to do. ALLIÉ: I’ve not served in the military, but my husband Jack was. He was in the Navy. He tells me stories of times at sea when the right decisions, often hard decisions, had to be made quickly and confidently onboard to save the lives of his crew members. Let’s talk about the decision you made when COVID-19 came onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The decision you made cost you your career as you chose your people over protocol. At that time, COVID-19 was only surrounded by fear and unknowns. How did you know the decision you made was the right one? BRETT: It’s a great question. I mean, I think the reality is there's very little in life that’s black and white. And as the commanding officer, captain of a ship, there are times when you make decisions quickly, navigating or maneuvering the ship. There are decisions about operations that if not made correctly, will lead to some kind of tragedy. It doesn't mean the decisions are always black and white. You're just going to use your judgment, your experience, and your wisdom. When COVID 19 hit, and we were dealing with this now on board the ship, which is a confined area, we were watching this positive spread that was exponential in terms of it spreading across the ship. For anyone who whose been on the ship, it’s obviously close confines, and you can't socially distance. There's no way to separate yourself. And so, it was just going to get worse. It still wasn't a black and white decision though. I think the reality is, you do the best you can, and you listen to the advice of everybody around you. We had complete medical teams on board. We had an epidemiology team on board that helped analyze information. We had experts in medical fields, supply fields, and engineering fields, and everybody's advising you. At the end of the day, the decision's going to rest with me, as the captain on the ship. And I was faced with a situation where I could just continue the status quo and hope that it got better. But as we know, hope's not a great strategy. Or I could do something where I feel like at the end of the day, I know I will have done all I could to protect the crew. I go back to previous times in my career when unfortunate circumstances happen to ships, and I know there are captains out there who wish they had taken some action. I'm always someone that's going to bias towards action. I'm going to bias towards making a difference and not sitting back just hoping things work out. So, in that case, it felt like there was a big log jam in terms of information flow and an awareness, not just across the Navy or the Department of Defense, but the entire nation, maybe the whole world. We were all trying to figure this out. I just knew that I wasn't willing to accept the risk to the crew as we tried to figure it out. And I knew that by taking some kind of action, at least making everybody aware of the problem, then at least I’d know that everybody had the same information I did and they knew how concerned I was. I knew that even though everybody else out there wanted what was best for the crew, no one wanted it as much as I did. And I knew then, as captain of the ship, if I'm responsible as a leader for my folks, if I wasn't willing to risk my career and bring attention to it, then I probably didn't deserve to lead them anyway. And so, I did what I thought I needed to do, but it wasn't black and white. I never felt like it was going to solve the problem. I just knew that it was going to at least tilt the needle in the direction I needed to get things moving. But I also knew at the end of the day I could live with it. I knew that whether it was a week, a month, a year, or 10 years… Now, we are going on three and a half years. I could still live with it. And I do. It wasn't an easy decision at the time, but I'm glad I made the decision I did to at least make sure we got all the help we could, because I didn't want to leave anything on the table. The crew was too important to me. ALLIÉ: Well, thank you for making the decision that you did. I think it inspired a lot of people. It inspired me. Do you feel taking a stand like you did will lead to different policies or protocol that will put the safety of those who serve first? 25

BRETT: I hope so. I think the military is a learning organization. I think to be good in the business of war fighting, you have to be able to adapt quickly and adjust as we say. It's still a large bureaucracy. The Department of Defense is the largest institution we have in the US, when you think about active duty and civilians. So, it's hard to make changes. But I do think that they've learned a lot from it. I think we've learned how to deal with pandemics. I think that they've made changes. I also think that future leaders will look at the situation and hopefully in looking at and studying the case now think about how they might make those same decisions in the future or not. And maybe you'd be okay with the fact that, if you're going to do it for the right reasons, it's okay to make those decisions. If you're doing it for the right reasons for your crew, then maybe they're going to be inspired by the decision I had to make, and that can be my only hope. I had a son that was active duty, another one that is active duty now, and I do hope that whoever's leading them will be willing to take risks to take care of them. I mean, I hope that's the case now, not just as a retired naval officer, but as a father. It’d be important to me to know leaders out there are willing to take risk on behalf of their crew because that's what leaders are supposed to do. ALLIÉ: Agreed. Let’s now talk about not just those who lead, but all who serve. Everyone who serves and transitions from military service to civilian life has a story to share. After 30 years of serving your country, you retired from the Navy. What was transitioning from captain to civilian like for you? BRETT: I'm probably still figuring that out, to be honest. It's enjoyable. I mean, I loved everything I did, but I'm glad that I'm healthy. I'm glad that we're in a position where we can take on new challenges and new adventures, and I really like the freedom. I like the freedom to grow my hair a little bit or to travel when you want to and go surfing when you feel like you need to, and you don't always have that. I mean, that's true with any job, really but I've really learned to create a positive life and work balance in a way that I probably wasn't able to do in the military. I strive to and I’ve tried to find those moments. It was important to me to have a good life and work balance when I was in. But now that I'm out, I have more free time to do that. So, that part I enjoy. Less than about 6% of the nation is serving or has ever served. It's a pretty small number. And I think when you come from the military where everyone around you is in the service, you don't realize it's still a small number, which means that there's a language barrier. There's a lot you have to explain, and a lot of people who just don't understand what you did. I mean, we know that people go out and serve, they go on deployment, or they go into combat. But I don't think the other 94% of the nation really understands what that means, and that's not a bad thing. I don't want them always worried about it. But it means that you have to help translate your skills. You have to understand there's a language barrier. I made a joke once at my last job. I made the comment that I was going to go ‘PT’, which in the military means you're going to go work out. It's physical training not physical therapy, which is what they assumed. They also just didn't understand the term. And this was a veteran focused non-profit. I just took for granted that the language that I was used to after 30 years wasn't understood by everybody. So, there's definitely a transition piece to it, but I find it exciting, adventurous. I like that you can choose your path, so to speak. And in the military, you have to give up a lot of that. Your career path and what you do is often dictated. It certainly was for me, not just for my 30 years in the Navy, but for my Naval Academy time too. It was over three decades of time spent, almost all my entire adult life. So, I've found it exciting, adventurous, and challenging in some ways, but I'm still excited by the fact that I can choose my own adventure like those books we read when we were kids. ALLIÉ: Yes! Those were my favorites. So now, even after retiring, Brett, you are still in service. Let's talk now about how you serve veterans with the work that you do. BRETT: Sure. When you leave the military, you try to find another team to be part of, and there's a lot of similarities in the nonprofit world as the military. Nonprofits are focused on a mission, but they also don't pay a lot. So, there's a lot of similarities there with the military. But in that, I found an organization that I was able to come be a part of and run operations for -- a veteran focused nonprofit that helps veterans that struggle with mental health, homelessness and employment. And that's a big challenge, I think, that the entire nation is facing. And it's a way for me here in Southern California to get involved in community issues. Most of my focus in the military had been on a global scale, and I was worried about things in foreign countries all over the world. Now it's a chance to focus on some more regional issues or local issues, and I think that's important for all of us. I think people should get involved in their local community 26

“Again, you don’t get rich doing it, at least financially, but maybe you get rich and rewarded in different ways.” BRETT: (continued) issues, whatever they might be, and find a way they can help out. I did it full-time in the nonprofit world, but you don't have to do it full-time. There are many non-profits that would love to have people just come by and help out, and I think it would make people more aware of those challenges. Homelessness is a big one. I mean, we see it all up and down the coast. It's magnified by drug problems that we have, and there's no easy solution. I spent the last year working with the organization. Now, I'm going to move on to the board of directors with Veterans Village of San Diego, helping guide them. And then I'm helping out with another group called STEP, which is Support The Enlisted Project, and that helps active duty servicemen and women and their families that struggle financially who might just be in a situation because of financial decisions they've made or challenges based on a high cost of living area, like San Diego where I'm at. They just might need a little bit of help to get over those bumps in the road to get through a month of payments or whatever the case may be. We provide grants to them and financial training with the idea that you don't come back. The goal is, we give you a little bit of money to help you get through this month or next, but then we're going to force you to take on some financial training to prevent it from happening again. We’ve had a huge success rate. 94% of them never need assistance again. That’s the kind of the proactive approach to preventing the homeless piece. So right now, I guess I've got a bracket in between the front end being proactive and helping folks that are struggling, as well as the backend of the problem when they're homeless and they struggle. And that's on the other side, the more reactive approach. So, that's what I've been doing for the last year. I find it rewarding and challenging in a way I hadn't expected. I’m inspired as well by the number of people that do this full-time or for their entire lives because they're passionate about some of these projects. Again, you don't get rich doing it, at least financially, but maybe you get rich and rewarded in different ways. ALLIÉ: Absolutely. So not only do you enjoy serving, you also enjoy surfing. Let’s talk about this book of yours, ‘Surf When You Can’, and let's talk about surfing. How long have you been a surfer and what do you enjoy most about it? BRETT: I think I probably started surfing up in northern California when I was a young kid, which is not a great place to learn to surf. It's cold. There are big sharks… It's really, really cold. But I was exposed to it. And obviously, in the military you move all over the world. There were times that I would be in San Diego or Hawaii, which isn't a bad place to surf. There were other times when I lived in Tennessee near Memphis, which wasn't a great place to surf, or even Italy wasn't a great place to surf either. So, it's kind of been sporadic, I guess. I've enjoyed it. I like doing anything outdoors, to be honest, whether it's hiking, camping, sailing, fishing or surfing. But surfing has been one that I enjoy a lot. It's for many reasons. One, I like being on the water. I mean, that's the Navy blood in me, I guess. I like to be out on the ocean to take all that in, even if the surfing isn't great, it's just nice to paddle out and be in the water. Maybe you have some seals or dolphins swim by you, as you wait for the next set to come in. I mean, the reality is when you're surfing, you're not actually standing up on a wave very long. It’s a small portion of it. The rest of the time you're either maneuvering or you're waiting. But I enjoy the solitude. I enjoy getting away from today where you're just in this data rich environment with cell phones and iWatches and information overload. It's a chance to get away from it all because you generally don't have that out there. If you're out on a wave with a cell phone, you're probably doing something wrong. I enjoy the ritual aspect too. I have three boys, and they've all surfed at times. My wife surfed when she was younger. So when we go to the beach, it's fun to load up the car and go check out the surf, egg each other on, and then get in the water. That’s been part of the fun too. As I get older and the kids are getting older, it's become a family activity for us to spend a couple hours. And that's enjoyable. 27

No wave’s the same, and I always learn something. CAPTAIN BRETT CROZIER

RETIRED US NAVY CAPTAIN & AUTHOR Photo Courtesy: Brett Crozier 28

“Know that it’s not weakness to be kind. It’s actually strength.” BRETT: (continued) I think as a leader too, I found that… This is why it became the title of the book. The book is really based on everything I learned over the last 30 plus years of my Navy career. It’s really about leadership in life. There's only a small chapter on the Roosevelt and Covid. There are many things I learned along the way that helped me make the decisions I did when I was on board the Roosevelt. One of those is surfing. I think it’s important for anybody, particularly a leader, to find that time to get away and think… And maybe even think strategically about the big picture of where you're trying to go as an organization or where you're trying to go as a ship. As a company, where do you want to be in the next couple years? And I think in today's environment, we don't give ourselves enough time as leaders to do that. We need to find ways to do that, and it doesn't have to be surfing. It can be hiking or skiing or yoga or whatever the case may be, but a way to get away from all the distractions and think the big thoughts. I think that's important. As a leader, you might be the only person looking down range on where the organization needs to go, and you need to provide yourself time to do that. So, surfing is one of many things I try to capture in this book, but it's not a book about surfing. If you're trying to learn to surf, you should read that chapter. And you should probably go take a lesson somewhere because I'm still a very mediocre surfer. But I enjoy it. No wave's the same, and I always learn something. I always have a good experience. No bad day gets worse by surfing, as they say. ALLIÉ: That's beautiful. So in your book, again, of lessons in life, loyalty, leadership, in all the many lessons that are shared, is there a specific lesson that you say, okay, if you're going to remember this one thing, remember this? BRETT: One that stands out that I try to share with people is when in doubt, be kind. I think there's this misunderstanding that by being kind, you're showing weakness. I think being kind is an attribution of strength. I think when you're strong as a leader and as a person, you're actually in a better position to be kind. And by being kind, in many ways, you strengthen your own position. It’s not a reciprocal thing. It just means that, when you can help somebody out, it should make you feel good about yourself. It’s also a chance to help them out, and that makes the organization stronger. It makes your community stronger. I think many people sometimes misinterpret that… But when you're strong and can stand in a position of strength, you can magnify that. In the military, we're in the business of war fighting. I mean, I learned how to drive ships, run big organizations, fly helicopters, and fly fighters. I did some pretty cool things. But I always liked when I could be kind to people. I found that was a good kind of balance to this hard edge, very strong lifestyle that you lead in the military. A chance to be kind… I think that we can all benefit from that. Know that it's not weakness to be kind. It's actually strength. It makes you stronger. ALLIÉ: Awesome. So I do have one more question for you, and it is this… For those who have a hard decision to make and they're trying to make the right one as best as they can, what advice do you have for them? BRETT: Be able to make a decision you can live with, not just in the moment, but in the future as well. And if you remind yourself of the importance of not just right here and right now, but the long-term impact of that… I think that applies to leadership, it applies to governance. It applies to communities. We all want to solve problems right now, but how do you make a decision to help solve a long-term problem? Again, life is not black and white. We know that. There's a difference of opinions and everything else and so there are no real easy decisions in most cases when it comes to being a leader faced with these kind of challenges. But I think it’s make a decision you can live with. Make a decision that you know that 10 years from now, you're going to be okay with. Make the best decision you can. If you're not one to risk your job as a leader, then you shouldn't be leading anyway, because at the end of the day, that's just your job. And in the military, it's a career and it's a calling. I get that. But at the end of the day, leaders are there to take care of people, to make an organization better, to empower and inspire and motivate. And if you're not 29

AwareNow Podcast

PEOPLE BEFORE PROTOCOL Exclusive Interview with Captain Brett Crozier


“Know that if you make the right decision, it doesn’t matter what happens with your job. At the end of the day, you’re going to be able to live with it.” BRETT: (continued) willing to take a risk to do that and make sure you're doing it on their behalf, then you're probably not the right person to lead. So, don't be afraid of that. Know that if you make the right decision, it doesn't matter what happens with your job. At the end of the day, you're going to be able to live by it. And those were things that, obviously, I went through in my particular situation. It was knowing it wasn't a black and white. But at the end of the day, I feel like I could still live with that, and I made my decision for the right reasons. And at the end of the day, it was just a job that I was willing to take risk with because leaders are there to take care of people. ∎

Follow Captain Brett Crozier on Instagram:



Check. Don’t guess. LACY KUEHL




RACING TO RAISE AWARENESS Seventeen-year-old Lacy Kuehl a driver, a musher, and spokesperson for Drive for Diabetes Awareness. She’s been racing since 2014. She races in honor of Rocco, her baby brother who lost his life to DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis). She races to raise awareness and to promote prevention. ALLIÉ: Let's start our conversation with your brother. Losing your baby brother, Rocco, to DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) must have been incredibly difficult. Could you share some memories or moments and how his passing influenced your mission to raise awareness for DKA? LACY: When my little brother went into diabetic ketoacidosis, I was only about three and a half, four years old. I don't have many memories about that. My mom and dad do, but for me, all I see are pictures and videos. It's hard not really knowing. I mean, I see pictures on the walls, but I don't have many memories per se. It's really hard on my family, especially me not knowing. That really drives me as well because I really wish I had a little brother, you know?





We wanted to channel the drive into something else… LACY KUEHL


“I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was determined to work hard and persevere.” ALLIÉ: Absolutely. I can see how it does drive you. When people experience a profound loss, some go into depression. You, on the other hand, got into the driver's seat. Can you tell us about your journey as a driver? How did you get into driving and use it to raise awareness for DKA?

LACY: After my little brother passed away from Diabetic Ketoacidosis, we went to a JDRF event, and there was a diabetic race car driver with Team Vienni. My family was invited to Daytona, but unfortunately, I couldn't go due to school and work. My dad went and got hooked on racing. We went to our local racetrack, De Soto Speedway, now the Freedom Factory, five weekends in a row. On the sixth weekend, I told my dad I wanted to go to the racetrack. We tried to buy a street stock, but we met a female race car driver selling a different type of car and go-karts. I said, "Dad, I want to race." So, we bought go-karts, and here we are. We wanted to channel the drive into something else, especially for my dad after my little brother passed away. He was angry and wanted to put his frustration into something else, like a race car. That's where it all came together to spread awareness of diabetes.

ALLIÉ: It’s incredible how you were inspired and driven from such a young age. To raise awareness, driving cars wasn't enough; you got into driving dog sleds. You are not just a driver; you are a musher. Your mushing journey began with Team Petit racing in Alaska for the junior Iditarod. How did this happen, and do you love it?

LACY: Yes, I love it. I've always had a passion for dogs. When I went to Alaska Raceway Park in 2022, we tried to get a race in but got rained out. Nicholas Petite, an Iditarod musher, invited us to his kennel for dry land mushing. I didn't know what mushing was, having never seen snow in Florida. After spending a few days with the kennel, I grew fond of the dogs and mushing. At dinner, Nicholas asked me and another girl if we wanted to run the junior Iditarod. I thought he was crazy, but I said yes. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was determined to work hard and persevere.

ALLIÉ: An incredible start to this part of your journey. Let's talk about twin brothers, Nicholas and Christopher Pilan, who produced a documentary about your journey entitled "Driven." Why was producing your story as a film important to you, and what do you hope people take away from it when they watch it?

LACY: Honestly, it was truly an amazing experience to have Chris and Nick there to film the experience and get some behind the scenes action as well. They came up with the idea of putting this into a film to help raise awareness. They've been with our charity Drive for Diabetes Awareness for about a year and a half. The documentary shows how we all started with my little brother, Rocco, Drive 4 Diabetes Awareness and how everything's come together throughout the past 11 years. It really shows the true authenticity of what we do to help spread awareness of diabetes. 35

AwareNow Podcast

DRIVEN Exclusive Interview with Lacy Kuehl


ALLIÉ: Let’s talk about advice. Can you share some advice for parents and families who may not be familiar with diabetes, but want to be more informed about its symptoms and how they can take preventative measures? What advice do you have? LACY: Our slogan for Drive For Diabetes Awareness ( is “Check Don't Guess.” My little brother Rocco would still be here if they would've just checked him instead of guessing that he had the flu. A lot of the symptoms for diabetes are super close to the flu. You have frequent urination, fatigue, sudden weight loss, um, fruity breath, vision changes… Those are just a few of the symptoms that we really try to put out there. Check. Don’t guess. Get tested with your A1C about like once or once a year. That's all you need. It'll be able to tell you your past couple months on your blood glucose, and then you'll know your level and if you’re borderline diabetic. Some more advice is to persevere for the families that do have to deal with diabetes on the daily. It is a struggle for families all over the world. Diabetes is becoming an epidemic. Keep your heads up, keep moving forward. Don't let diabetes stop you. Keep going. ALLIÉ: Thank you for bringing us up to speed. Looking ahead, what are your future goals and aspirations in terms of your role as a driver, musher, and spokesperson for diabetes awareness? What do you hope to achieve? LACY: My future goals involve moving forward with spreading diabetes awareness, reaching higher platforms, and connecting with more people worldwide. This is my first time on the West Coast; usually, I'm on the East Coast or in Alaska. We're expanding and trying to reach more people. It's amazing to have these opportunities, made possible by the charity. Honestly, I don't have specific goals; I love where I am now and will see where this journey takes me. My main focus is on spreading diabetes awareness to even more people globally. We haven't reached even a quarter of the world yet, so the more people we can reach, the better for everyone. ∎

Follow Lacy on Instagram: @driverlacykuehl Learn more about Drive for Diabetes Awareness online: Photo Credit: Whitney McLaren Photography 36

I learned that now and then I should be my brother’s or my sister’s keeper. CRAIG NEWMARK




Best known as the founder of the classifieds ad site craigslist, Craig Newmark showed tens of millions of Americans that the Internet could be reasonably useful and easy to use. Now, he engages in full time philanthropy, focusing on helping and protecting the people who help and protect our country. That includes cybersecurity, trustworthy journalism, and support for military families and veterans. ALLIÉ: Craig, your dedication to supporting veterans is admirable. Can you share a personal experience or connection that has fueled your passion to support those who have served? CRAIG: Well, I'm heavily supporting both veterans, but also active service military families. The deal is that I actually grew up during the Vietnam War, and I was very, very politically naive, but I do remember soldiers, specifically Army, coming back from the war and being treated badly. And in my naivete, I really didn't understand the issues around the war, but I did see that soldiers were being abused, and it was just not fair. It was wrong. That kind of stayed dormant in my head until 10, 15 years ago, I was at a lunch thing sitting next to a volunteer for the Iraq and Afghanistan





They set my moral compass in general telling me that I should treat people like I want to be treated… CRAIG NEWMARK


“Speaking in a very personal way, I just want to be able to subscribe to news services that I can trust that I know are not going to lie to me…” CRAIG: (continued) Veterans of America, things clicked in, I got involved with a lot more of that group and then with a lot of other veterans organizations, and I'm highly involved even now, regarding military families. I've been working with Blue Star Families for some time, and they've been telling me that active service families have to sometimes choose between getting food for their families or good housing, and that's just not right. And that just finally sank in several months ago after a visit to the Pentagon and after an effort where I was helping pack food as a photo op at God's Love We Deliver, which serves veterans who can't get out of the house as well as a lot of other people. So military families and vets. It's been a long time on the vets side, although a shorter effort on the family side. ALLIÉ: Well, for the work that you do and the support that you give, let that be a reminder to all of us that there is so much need there and the current situation shouldn't be what it is. So, supporting veterans and those military families isn't the only cause that you're passionate about. You have a strong commitment to trustworthy journalism and combating disinformation. Craig, what do you hope the future of news and information integrity looks like? CRAIG: Speaking in a very personal way, I just want to be able to subscribe to news services that I can trust that I know are not going to lie to me, or let's say repeat the lies of other people. That's pretty simplistic, but that was set in motion in Sunday school where Mr. and Mrs. Levin taught me about this ninth commandment thing about bearing false witness. They set my moral compass in general telling me that I should treat people like I want to be treated, and also knowing when enough is enough, which is the bottom-line answer to my monetization strategy for Craigslist going back to ’99. ALLIÉ: To have that compass at such a young age and to carry that with you all this time… Let’s switch gears another moment here. Let's talk Girls Who Code and women's rights. These have been close to your heart as well. Was there a moment or a story that connects you to this cause of closing that gender gap in technology? CRAIG: It's a bunch of moving parts coming together. On the most important level, well, if you're going to treat people like you want to be treated, that means being fair to everyone regardless of a gender or ethnicity or anything. And when I was in college for computer sciences in the early seventies, a lot of women were getting into the field and a lot of women got jobs. But slowly women started leaving the field and I didn't notice that until 10, 15 years ago. And eventually I did figure it out and decided that I should talk to people who knew something about the matter and then support them. Girls Who Code, is the exemplar of that group. I’m working with other groups now with a great focus on cybersecurity since that’s an area of urgent need in our country and it's something I actually know something about. For example, my knowledge of the active service families experience is from people who support them on an 41

Basically, I’d like to make the world a little better for everyone… CRAIG NEWMARK

FOUNDER OF CRAIGLIST & PHILANTHROPIST Photo Credit: Bleacher + Everard 42

“Frankly, any success I’ve had financially has been by accidentally being in the right time in the right place.” CRAIG: (continued) everyday basis. But when it comes to cybersecurity and technology, and people of all sorts in the field, those are things I have firsthand knowledge of, and I guess I’m playing to my strengths. ALLIÉ: I love the way that you’re using your strengths to support others in so many in so many ways. Education and civic engagement are areas where you’ve made a significant impact, what specific outcomes or changes do you hope to see in these areas? How do your personal values guide your philanthropic choices? CRAIG: Well, again, it’s the idea that I want to treat people like I want to be treated and well, I got lucky in a lot of regards, and I had the benefit of a lot of programs, governmental or otherwise. And I figured since I've been lucky enough to do well, I should share that with lots of other people. And that's what I'm doing in a number of fields, for the most part, you've identified. I'm now thinking about the issues around the CUNY School of Journalism, which I support, reflecting that the City University of New York, that's CUNY, for 175 years or so, has been helping people growing up with no money get the educational background to get into the middle class or do even better. And I'm wondering what I should do about that. It reflects my own history growing up with no money and then getting a good education and on top of that, getting lucky. Frankly, any success I've had financially has been by accidentally being in the right time in the right place. That makes me like the Forrest Gump of the internet, and I figure I should go from there, and again, the moral compass my Sunday school set. ALLIÉ: Yeah, so very much the golden rule there that you’ve employed in your own personal and professional life. Regarding your dedication to underserved communities, can you share a personal experience that strengthened your commitment, specifically, to equity and inclusion? CRAIG: I guess it starts with my own background where I grew up in a neighborhood which had a couple of junkyards in it, truck maintenance, industrial glass repair. And it was only when I turned 60, about 10 years ago, that I realized that wasn't the common American experience. But I grew up with people including myself, who needed a break. And I figure now I'm doing some things that people should do to give other people a break. I learned that now and then I should be my brother's or my sister's keeper. And having been set in that regards over 60 years ago, I'm just following through with that. I figure other people who've been fortunate should follow through with that. And I'm struggling with how I can persuade more people with real money to do that. By real money, I mean in the billions. Those are not my normal social circles, but now and then, I'll stumble onto someone who could be encouraged. ALLIÉ: I appreciate you leading by example and hoping that others will follow suit in the service of others. Looking ahead, when you reflect back, Craig, on all your life's work, what do you hope your legacy will be? CRAIG: Basically, I'd like to make the world a little better for everyone, which is kind of vague, but that on a gut level is what I'm going after. And I've identified a few specific areas where I can help towards in that direction. I'm still 43

If I influence a few other people, that aint bad. CRAIG NEWMARK

FOUNDER OF CRAIGLIST & PHILANTHROPIST Photo Credit: Getty Images Provided by IAVA 44

AwareNow Podcast

DO UNTO OTHERS Exclusive Interview with Craig Newmark


CRAIG: (continued) exploring things, still figuring out how we can do better for our military families and vets, how we can do better in cybersecurity and other areas. Now, in all this, I do have a sense of humor. For example, my support for pigeon rescue has to do with - well, I love birds and I have a sense of humor, but I actually am seriously following through on that, although that's not an area where I'm contributing a hundred million. It's a smaller amount but the deal is that I have a moral compass and I'm just following through with that. And if I influence a few other people, that ain't bad. ALLIÉ: That's not bad at all. Well, thank you so much, Craig, for taking the time to share your story, and just for helping all of us become a bit more aware now. Thank you so much. CRAIG: Hey, it's my pleasure. It's basically a nerd's got to do what a nerd's got to do. ALLIÉ: I love it. ∎

Learn more about Craig and his philanthropic work:




FACE VALUE I decided to take things at face value,

I once had a dog,

but when appropriate; like standing

Pierre. In his life of fetch and sit,

in line to talk to a butcher about the weather,

he eventually became deaf and blind.

or watching a child at a petting zoo

I remember the milky amoeba cataracts

approach a goat chewing on dead grass.

scraping his eyes like vapor slowly

There’s nothing more intoxicating

rising from a nuclear reactor’s cooling

than my day unfolding like dime

tower. Pierre never had many worries

store novels or black napkins already aware

after his face value lowered.

of endings. I don’t worry about climate

All I’ve ever wanted in those moments

change, children with magical eyes

with Pierre, carving

after a landmine incident, sad-eyed

his name on a bathroom stall

looks from dogs at a shelter, or

or on the side of a diseased elm

those secret passageways tinged in spooky

was to stop worrying about my own

greens and yellows that lead to a diabolical

unfolding, my own thoughts

villain surrounded by beakers, skulls, equations,

eventually hurtling and spewing

and a pet, generally a sphinx cat. My friend

out into darkness.

told me that he found one of these passages in a cemetery, but all he discovered

After hours of watching animal documentaries

was a hooded blackness, spider ash, fly bones,

about a bull frog’s mating ritual, and a sperm

and topaz vapor. Nothing, not a single idea

whale breaking the surface, light

or thought came from the darkness. He now

all over its face, I try holding

takes things at face value. I can’t think

my breath until I turn blue, until I get dizzy

of Wittgenstein or Kant anymore, but I

on my couch, until I need to let go,

do consider the way in which a woman stuffs

and then take in the air the room affords me.

a poodle in a large black bag

I try to sleep the way fish never can. They, like me,

as she crosses an intersection.

are caught in the blackness, always thinking, and never quite sure if what they see glinting

What about trout?

is either food or food on a sharpened

They must have much time to dwell

hook ready to pull them up, toward a light.

on a thought or certain philosophies as they look up from river rocks to a surface folding in and out like a surging hand after being smashed in a door.


In this situation, what is life expecting of me? PAUL S. ROGERS




LOOKING DOWN THE WRONG END OF THE TELESCOPE Release The Genie Fact: A Genie knows if a tree makes a falling sound when no one is around. One of our common pursuits, as human, is to strive to find a purpose and meaning to life. In times of hardship and adversity, this becomes, in some cases, life and death struggle. In my own recovery from severe TBI and PTSD, the journey to find purpose and an identity again has been, and continues to be, a struggle. I am a great fan of Viktor Frankl’s work and logotherapy. The following quote, with regards to purpose and meaning of life, changes everything. We have been looking down the wrong end of the telescope. We have been asking the wrong question.

“It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly.” - Viktor Frankl When we stop expecting life to magically give us the answer, and instead become curious and question what is expected of us from life, it gives us a different view on the daily, even hourly, challenges that we face. Give it a try right now. Think of a problem, or problems, you are facing. Now turn the telescope around and see how much smaller the problems are when you ask yourself this: “In this situation, what is life expecting of me?” A personal example is that I have live with chronic head pain, which strikes at various points throughout the day, everyday, since my accident five and a half years ago. My relationship with pain has changed in that, now, I question what is life expecting or what is this trying to teach or show me. I have come to a few conclusions; one being that I take the pain and suffering so my family and loved ones do not have to endure the same. For that purpose, I accept it willingly.

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” - Dalai Lama Shifting the focus from “I” to “life’s values” means the focus moves to your existence, the role you play, the service you give and the value you bring just by occupying the unique space which is you.

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth!” - Muhammad Ali If you think of all the famous people who have given their lives to service of others you will likely think of people like Mother Teresa, Mohammad Ali, Gandhi, Martin Luther King etc. They led with kindness and love, which are the hallmarks of anything truly done in service. They seek neither reward nor praise. This type of service to others is very different from service in a business context. The basic premise of business is to supply a service or a solution to a problem in return for remuneration. However, even in business, service has become so important that even a fantastic product can be ruined by poor customer service. We have all experienced having that fantastic meal at a restaurant, which is then totally ruined and obscured by poor service. 49

AwareNow Podcast

THE WRONG END Written and Narrated by Paul S. Rogers


I came across an interesting article about famous people saving lives. Here are some examples: Dolly Parton pulled a 9 year old co-star out of the path of an oncoming vehicle on set. Tom cruise, whilst shooting a scene on Cocktail, saved Elizabeth Shue’s life, stopping her from walking into spinning helicopter blades. Then, in 1996, assisting a hit and run victim. Idris Elba assisted an audience member who was having a seizure during his play. Tom Holland rescued a fan from being crushed by a crowd seeking his autograph. Benedict Cumberbatch intervened to assist a delivery cyclist from muggers. Kate Winslet helped save Richard Branson’s mother from a fire. Harrison Ford volunteered as a search and rescue pilot. Zoe Saldana helped a women who was injured in a car accident. The interesting thing here is that there is nothing in the above actions that any one of us wouldn't do ourselves. Service and using the space we occupy in this world to help others doesn't have to be great overtures. It is a hardwired instinct to assist. As individuals, we can all make a difference for someone or something. This could be as simple as saying good morning to someone you cross on the street. A thank you, or holding the door for them. It may not be a big deal to you, but it may mean the world to someone else. The wonderful thing is that you can start today, right now, by doing an act of service motivated out of kindness and love. And by doing so, we teach kids to do the same, and build a better world. ∎ PAUL S. ROGERS Transformation Expert, Awareness Hellraiser & Public Speaker PAUL S. ROGERS is a keynote public speaking coach, “Adversity to hope, opportunity and prosperity. “ Transformation expert, awareness Hellraiser, life coach, Trauma TBI, CPTSD mentor, train crash and cancer survivor, public speaking coach, Podcast host “Release the Genie” & Best-selling author. His journey has taken him from from corporate leader to kitesurfer to teacher on first nations reserve to today. Paul’s goal is to inspire others to find their true purpose and passion.




Photo Courtesy: Four Branches Bourbon 52



The first spirits company founded by veterans from the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force, Four Branches Bourbon is dedicated to delivering exceptional expressions of Bourbon to honor the extraordinary sacrifices of those who serve in the shadows and to share their stories with all generations. Today, the four founders, Mike Trott, Rick Franco, RJ Casey and Harold Underwood share the story behind Four Branches Bourbon. ALLIÉ: Let's start this way. Before you became founders, how did you four find each other? RICK: I guess I'll take that because this was, I guess, my idea originally. So, Allié, we've told a lot of people, the seeds for Four Branches Bourbon were planted 25 years ago. When I went to VMI and became good friends with another cadet, we became marine officers. I got out and I recruited Greg into a branch of the CIA, which I was contracting for at the time. And Greg's first mission, he goes out and he is a true hero, saves everyone's life. Unfortunately, he lost his, and I had to bring him home. And then I was held accountable to answer to the friends and family of how things happened. So those were the seeds, and it took 25 years for those seeds to germinate into Four Branches, or into what has now become Four Branches.





RICK: (continued) About three years ago, I was driving home from work and literally a voice in my head said, "Hey, you should do a barrel of bourbon for the guys in the old unit." And at that point, I was like, yeah, that sounds great. I'll sell on Facebook and we can do that. A, you can't do it, you can't sell bourbon on Facebook or any sort of alcohol on Facebook, so we've learned. Anyway, I called Mike and told Mike about this idea, and then it kind of grew from there. Mike and I was like, "Well, we need to call Harold." And then the three of us started talking. Mike being in the Air Force, the smart guy, pointy pencil and eraser. Myself in the Marine and Crayons didn't really come together that well. He's like, "You know what? We got Marine, we've got a Navy guy. I'm the Air Force guy. We should call RJ, he's in the army.” So, that’s how Four Branches came together. And it came together to a point where it's bigger than wanting to do one barrel. Obviously, we're well past that. It's the idea of honoring the unsung shadows. And as we get through it, you'll hear more about drinking honorably, serving honorably and, and how we're changing the narrative. That's how we became from four guys and four separate branches of the military coming together, ALLIÉ: Coming together… And here we are having this conversation today. Before we go further, let's talk about four, one of my favorite numbers. Each part of the four on your logo, on your label represents one of the branches. So, can we take turns with each of you sharing how your branch is represented in the four on your label? RJ: Definitely, I'll kick it off. As you see the four, there's a foundational piece that the four sits on. Rick's got it there on the screen, but that foundation represents the Army because that was the first branch. So all the other branches get built after that and that's my piece. HAROLD: Awesome, RJ. And from my side, I'm the Navy component. So looking at the four, if you take the foundational piece of the army and move straight up through the center with a little bit of a slant on the top, that represents a Navy War fighting vessel mast, or a submarine coming out of the water with the cell. On the horizon, you can see that very distinctively. That's the Navy piece. RICK: All right. I'll speak for the Marines. Marines are Department of the Navy. We are the leanest of the branches. We're also the smallest, but arguably we're the deadliest, often represented by a spear bayonet. And that spear 54

Photo Courtesy: Four Branches Bourbon

“Well, it just simply means that we’re not going to drink to forget anymore. We’re going to sip to remember.” RICK: (continued) bayonet is represented by the lean thin crossbar that comes across through the Navy because we're part of it. And I'll turn it over to Mike. MIKE: Following that up, you have the Air Force, which controls the skies over all branches. So that big sweeping motion towards the sky represents the Air Force. And while we are the Four Branches, there's actually a fifth element, and we'll let Harold talk about that. HAROLD: And the fifth element is, you can see coming down from the far right moving downward, you see a spearhead. Special Operation uses that as a tip of the spear because we're usually the first ones in, last one's out. But as you can see, you can see half of the spear. The spear piece that you can see at the tip is the one we're paying honor to our men and women who are deployed across the globe protecting us today. The piece that is missing is for our fallen, for those who are no longer with us. ALLIÉ: I don't know that I'm ever going to look at the number four the same way. It's really awesome. So we looked at the number. Now, let's talk about some words here. "Serve honorably, drink honorably." RJ, when we spoke the other day, you literally gave me goosebumps when you shared this. Very simply stated, "Don't drink to forget, sip to remember.” RJ: Yeah. About a year into this, we looked at each other and we were like, "Man with all the veteran suicide and all the self-medication," not just in the military community, but first responder and other communities out there, we just said, "Look, we don't want to ignore it. We still want to keep going forward, but we're going to have to address this." Rick had already come up with Serve Honorably, and we gave it about 24 hours. We were like, "How are we going to address this?" And the next phone call was the next day and we were like, "Hey, we serve honorably, let's drink honorably." The old phrase of drink responsibly, everyone knows what that means, but I haven't heard that in like over a decade. We wanted to bring something back that represented us, that talked to our communities. And after we said drink honorably, people were like, "That's good. It's kind of like the other one, but what does that mean to you guys as a company?" We were like, "Well, it just simply means that we're not going to drink to forget anymore. We're going to sip to remember." And they were like, "Oh, yeah, now I got you. Now I know exactly what you're saying.” So between all those phrases, we just want to make sure we're looking out for each other. A lot of my friends and even some of us back in the day, used to self-medicate. So we want to get past all that and sip to remember the good times and toast to everyone we worked with, whether it was a female that kept the internet up and running during a sandstorm for a couple of weeks so we could talk to our families, or the guys that kept the helicopters in the air and the trucks moving. We just wanted to thank everybody because for every guy on the X, there's a lot of people behind them. We really appreciate everything they all do. 55

ALLIÉ: Again, such simple words, but so incredibly powerful. What an amazing reminder of what we are to do and not to do. So let's shift gears a bit, because while rum is fun and gin is good, tequila is, well... trouble. Bourbon was your spirit of choice, gentlemen. So when you decided to make a spirit of your own, what was it that was so special about bourbon that made it your selection of choice? RICK: I think bourbon, as you said, rum is fun, and gin is good, and we know what tequila is. Bourbon, by nature, is a reflective spirit, we feel. When you sit down with bourbon, you're sitting down to tell stories and to remember the good times and to sip to remember. And that's why we chose bourbon. It's a very reflective spirit. It's also a very iconic American spirit that runs through the fabric of our nation. And we chose a four grain, which was very important to us because we wanted to represent one grain for each branch of the military that was represented by us. This is why we chose bourbon. ALLIÉ: Well, as one who enjoys bourbon very much, I'm very glad that you did. So thank you for that. I appreciate it. Let’s now talk more about Four Branches and your four grains. Let's talk about the Founder's Blend. Who wants to take this one? Who wants to talk about the kiss that comes with it? Specifically, I want to hear about the Kentucky kiss, because I'm familiar with a butterfly kiss. I'm familiar with an Eskimo kiss. I got that. But a Kentucky kiss? Please explain. HAROLD: Well, I'm going to say go Navy, and I'm going to take this one because it was a very humbling experience we all had when we were out at the Bardstown Bourbon Company, and we went in to sit down with Dan, who is the blender at Bardstown, to actually come up with our mash bill. And this was very important. We were getting ready to pick the taste and the proof of our juice.

Photo Courtesy: Four Branches Bourbon 56

HAROLD: (continued) We were all standing around in a room. It looked like a chemist lab. I'm a medic along with RJ. I've seen a lot of test tubes and stuff. They were little tiny glasses in there, little thermal sized glasses, a lot of eye drop deals, and they were mixing all of this stuff up. And we had a pretty good 70-20-10 blend. 70 corn, 20 rye, 10... But a lot of people have that. So with us, it was all about the Four Branches. Our bottle's got four sides to it, the diamond bottle. Now we have four grains. And as we were walking through the early stages of this process, in walks Steve Nally, who's a master distiller, used to be a master distiller for Maker's Mark for eons, over 35 years. And he walks in. He was supposed to just come in, shake some hands, bump some fists, and out he goes. But he stayed. He stayed and we were having some conversations with him, and we were getting to the point where we were mixing up these little thimbles and dropping a little bit of this in there. And all of a sudden, the decision was made, "Hey, we want to add another grain. We want to be four because we really like our four mojo." So we bring in Steve. He said, "Okay, let's go go 5% wheat with this." And he made the little thimbles, they were dropping these drops, and he tasted it. And Steve is kind of works it. So he puts it in his tongue and he is looking up at the ceiling, and we're all standing around looking at him going, okay, are you going to talk to us, or what's going on? And he keeps looking up and he goes, "Let's go five more." So we went five more. And after he did that, Dan blended it and got everything mixed up. So he hands it over to me and he goes, "Okay, this is for the four of you." I didn't receive that. So what I did was I got a good smell of it and I knocked it back. But I didn't shoot it. I kept it in my mouth and I worked it a little bit and swallowed, and I was like, "Wow, that's really good." And everybody's staring at me going, Hey, hold on a minute... Dan was saying, "Hey, Harold, that was supposed to be for all four of you guys to taste." And I'm like, "Oh, I'm sorry." But anyway… MIKE: Typical Navy. RJ: Actually, what Harold said was, "Man, this is really good. You guys have got to try this.” HAROLD: But after getting that, and we all pretty much looked at each other and said, "Hey, this is really, really good." And then that's when Steve who is the bourbon hall of famer along with his wife. His wife was had a lot to do with the establishment of the Bourbon Trail. So, what a great honor it was for us to be there. We were very blessed to have Steve in the room with us. He stayed for over an hour and he really helped us to push our mash bill across the finish line. MIKE: Allié, to your point, we refer to the Kentucky Kiss, as Harold was talking about sipping it and letting it go down the back of the tongue, you get this little burn. The little burn lets you know that you're drinking bourbon. It's not a hard burn. It's not a harsh burn. As Rick says, it's a very drinkable, very smooth bourbon, but it's enough that we call it the Kentucky Kiss, and that's just inside the tongue going down the back and just lets you know that you're drinking bourbon. ALLIÉ: That is awesome. And makes me eager for it. There's something else I want to talk about here before I let you guys go today. Bourbon, it's about more than what you sip in your glass. It's about what you share in good company. This bourbon has a story as you shared. Thank you. And each of you has a story. And every veteran who has served this country has a story. Four Branches, as I have read, is committed to supporting veterans, their families, and their stories. So my last question for today is, for this mission supporting veterans and their stories, what's your strategy? MIKE: I think you described it really well, Allie, because it was part of our motivation. We talked about doing Four Branches as RJ mentioned. We almost took a step back and didn't. And then we decided, how do we make the best 57

DRINK HONORABLY Exclusive Interview with the Founders of Four Branches Bourbon


MIKE: (continued) use out of what we're getting ready to be involved with? And part of that is we decided we have to have a big give-back portion to the community where we came from. So immediately, we partnered with Folds of Honor and Third Option Foundation. Those are two foundations that we respect and they're doing great job for the community. Not only veterans, but the first responder community. So we are partnered with both of them, that we give back a portion of our profits to both of those organizations. But it goes beyond that, like you said. It's recognizing veterans. Rick, in a couple of weeks is going to be at a nursing home where we're paying honor to a 102-year-old lady who was in World War II and she is still with it. So Rick is going to be going, doing a tasting with a bunch of veterans of that age group, and it's about telling their story. My dad was in the Korean War, my grandfather was in World War I, my son was in the second Iraq war. So it's stories, it's telling these kinds of stories and these generational stories. So giving back to the community is not just financially, it's also getting these stories out that RJ talked about. It's a lot of people that stay in the shadows that we want to tell their story. So there's a big give-back component and it continues to grow. We weren't even aware that in the last four months, we've been asked to go to different charities and donate some of our bourbon. And some of our bourbon are signed bottles by us and our brand champion, Randy Couture, which has a good name in the industry, a good veteran. And those bottles and our attendance at these functions have raised over $68,000 in just four months for three different charity organizations. So, we're always looking for other ways to give back to the community. We can't be everywhere. We're a new company. But that is one of our main motivations is to give back to the communities and tell their stories. ∎

Visit Four Branches Bourbon online: Follow along on Instagram: @fourbranchesbourbon





What might have been lost All the things we will never know What if I could see in your dark What if my hand fit yours perfectly What if my kiss whispered your name What if my sea calmed your storm What if my moon was only visible to you What if I liked playing with your hair As it lost color and gained beauty What if you never hear my voice say your name What if this isn’t the first time We lost each other


I won’t take a cheap laugh. CJ FRANCO




Cj Franco, is an actress, content creator, standup comedian, vegan and LGBTQ+ rights activist from Santa Cruz, California. In her spare time, she likes to write, walk her dogs, and volunteer. Just as funny as she is pretty, Cj uses her comedy to uplift and elevate others. ALLIÉ: Cj, you are a very interesting multi-talented individual. If you had to create a stand-up comedy show about your life as an actress, content creator and activist, what would that title be and why? CJ: Oh my gosh… ALLIÉ: You can have a moment. It's an improv test, in addition to an interview. CJ: I mean… I think my show would be called, ‘The Obvious Ally’. ALLIÉ: The Obvious Ally. I like that. And we can dive into that as we go through here, because comedy is more than entertaining. It's a genre that can be sustaining. Laughter can preserve relationships, ease tension, and help us manage our own mental health. So much can be done with comedy. What do you use it to do, Cj?





I think my show would be called, ‘The Obvious Ally’. CJ FRANCO


“It broke my heart… It broke my heart, because I loved gay people.” CJ: Currently, I use my comedy to share stories about more unconventional, modern, family dynamics. I like to talk about my father. He’s been gay my entire life. And that is just an option that people have. It’s always so, so normal. And so I don't really spend a lot of time explaining that to people because it's normal, and we're gonna keep it going. I share the stories, things that are silly and self-deprecating. I try to use comedy to uplift people because when they are going to shows, they usually need to get their mind off of what's going on in their normal life. I think that standup comedy can be for shock value, but I would prefer to be somebody that's a little bit more uplifting and that makes people feel good. I won't take a cheap laugh. ALLIÉ: I can very much appreciate that. Absolutely. So, here's the thing. When people think ‘pretty’, they don't usually pair it with ‘funny’. However, you, my dear, are proof that the two can coexist. In the same way, when people think ‘LA’ they don't usually think ‘hiking’. However, there are a lot of amazing places to hike in Los Angeles. And while you are in New York right now, if you were in LA, where would you be hiking? Of all the trendy trails, Cj, what is your favorite and why? CJ: My favorite hiking trail in Los Angeles is Runyon Canyon, which is a pretty, if not the most, popular trail, but simply because it is walking distance from my house. And it's a paved road. I like to take my dogs in a stroller. So, a paved road is essential for our success and survival. ALLIÉ: And I can't blame you. I mean, if it's walking distance, yes. We know LA, and what it’s like to drive anywhere. My goodness. So, walking for the win for sure. So, outside of LA, let's talk about other letters. You identify as Cj. Others identify with the letters LGBTQ, and this is a community for which you are an ally and an advocate. Please share the story behind your passion for the protection of LGBTQ+ rights. CJ: Well, I am an ally, and I'm an advocate. It comes from just the basic right that people have to be loved, accepted, treated fairly, and not discriminated against for who they love and how they feel inside. That should just be something that I believe is personal to them. My first experience realizing that people were not being treated the same… because I had my father and he was gay, and his friends were gay, and they were the people that I looked up to most as a child. They were the life of the party. We would do these little runway shows. And maybe I was doing drag… <laugh> I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. So when I got to school and I didn't realize that this was anything different than what anybody else did… These are just options that you have - who you love. When I was in third grade, that was the first time that I heard somebody say… Well, they were complaining about something. They're like, “Oh, I don't like that. That's gay.” And I was very confused as to what that meant because I could understand the tone was negative. What they were saying was something that was bad. I forget what it was… “I don't wanna play with the tether ball. That's gay.” I'm an overthinker. I've always been an overthinker, but I was just like, how is that even related? What is that? And why are they using it (the word ‘gay’) in a negative way? So, I asked. I'm like, “Why are you saying that?” And this little kid said to me, “It's gay. It's stupid. It's bad. It's dumb.” And I was like, whoa... Those are a lot of negative words about something that I only associate with fun and positivity and embracing your individualism. When you are different than people… hearing that having that uniqueness was something that was bad… it broke my heart… It broke my heart, because I loved gay people. I was like, “Does that mean that I'm gay and that I'm bad and I'm dumb and I'm stupid?” And so I developed shame because I was so


I do have a part of myself that I want to give to creatures that are helpless. CJ FRANCO


“…I wanted to be a voice for them and an advocate.” CJ: (continued) confused. Then as I got older, I started like saying, “Hey, you know, you're associating this word with bad and dumb and stupid. How would you like if it was your name instead? If someone was saying, ‘That's so Tim’, you wouldn't enjoy that.” That's not just a silly way of expressing yourself. If you want to say something bad, then say it's bad. But associating with something that people identify with isn't okay. And so I tried advocating as this little third grader. I didn't know what I was doing out there, but I was trying my best. But over time I got quiet because arguing with people is not fun. Being a young advocate was not fun. I didn't tell my parents because they have enough to deal with. When I got a little bit older, I saw the effect that this discrimination, this judgment, and these hateful words had on people. I realized that it wasn't just their hurt feelings… People were killing themselves. They didn't think that they were worthy. And it was so… I mean, it still makes me choke me up because I just had no idea of the effect it could have on people. Once I realized that was how people felt and that's what it did to people, I wanted to be a voice for them and an advocate. I'm not gay. I don't identify as gay, but I want to be able to talk to people that are so shut off to even listening to that conversation and approaching it with so much love. I want to show the pain that it causes and how simple it is to take away that pain and that hurt from people just with being a little bit more careful with your words and a little more patient with how people love and how they view themselves. ALLIÉ: Thank you so much for sharing that story. How beautiful that your advocacy started at such a young age. Thank you, Cj. Not only do you honestly give of yourself to your audience with your stories, even stories of saving squirrels which I've enjoyed reading recently, but you also sincerely give of your time volunteering. Can you share a particular experience that you've had while being of service to others that's been especially special to you? CJ: As you said, I've gotten pretty into squirrels right now. And this sounds so niche. I'm out on my own little island sometimes. But I have pet squirrels at home. I like to feed the little animals. They come to me. I just love all the little creatures. So, I was driving down the street, and I saw this little kitten crawling in the middle of the road that was 40 miles an hour. The cars were driving around it and over it. No one was stopping. And so, I'm crazy. I jumped out of my car, and I left it in the middle of the road, with the keys and everything. And I ran to it and found that it was a baby squirrel. I didn't have a lot of tools with me, but I had a little napkin. And so I caught the little guy. He was a fighter though. He didn't want to… He wasn't trying to become a tame squirrel. I took him to the nearest house. So, I'm in the middle of Beverly Hills, and it's the Beverly Hills flats. And I am a person <laugh> with a squirrel just knocking on doors. I'm like, “Hey, I just found this squirrel. Do you have a box or something?” And the people are looking at me. They're like, “I'll see if I have a box.” I’m thinking we all use Amazon 400 times a day. So, you know you have a box. You know you have a box. And so I got a little box. I took this guy, but I didn't know what to do. I love all the little animals, but this is wild life. I didn't know how to care for that. And I didn't know the resources. And so I ended up posting it immediately just so I could get some attention on it, because I don't want to be the reason that that little squirrel doesn't survive. And so I got hundreds of responses from people… I had a wildlife rehabber at my house within 30 minutes, bottle feeding this little guy. We went back and we found two more baby squirrels that had been abandoned in the nest. We illegally had the nest cut down because we had to go inside and pull out the little ones who were completely rigid. It looked like they were gone, but we nursed them back to health. And now they're big squirrels. And so I've been looking into doing more rescue work, but from a safe distance. Not hoarding animals at home, but realizing that I do have a part of myself that I want to give to creatures that are helpless. 67

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TO BE FRANCO Exclusive Interview with Cj Franco


ALLIÉ: I love this story. And you know, here's the thing. If there are crazy cat ladies. There can be crazy squirrel ladies. Why not? That’s just fine. So, if all the world is a stage, for those who want to stand in the spotlight, to be seen for who they really are as opposed to who they pretend to be, for those with a bit of stage fright in that, Cj, what advice do you have? CJ: The actual best advice, which doesn't sound uplifting and positive, is figure out everything that you don't like first. It’s hard sometimes to say, “Hey, I wanna stand up for… something. I wanna speak about… something. It's deciding what you don't like, what doesn't work, what you don't support. It's really easy to start crossing those things off. And then the things that are important to you, hopefully, really stand out. And if you're passionate, it's not that hard to talk about the things are important to you. I think people get in their head. I get in my head. Oh my God, I love being all the way in my head… Sometimes I feel like I do have stage fright, and then I get on stage. I start talking and connecting with people, and that connection is so recharging. And when you can reach somebody and they come up after to say they feel seen… That has touched me in a way that… I've had problems. I've struggled. I've suffered. I haven't felt seen. So when that person can now go and do something because you've inspired them, because you weren't afraid to put yourself in a position to speak up, then you're like, “Oh, good. If I die, I know that I have done a tiny thing in one moment to make somebody else want to do more good things.” ALLIÉ: That's beautiful advice. Thank you for sharing all of this. I wonder if you would share one more thing, because I did see that you do on occasion, enjoy wine. I'm just curious, what's your favorite? I'm a wine girl. CJ: What's my favorite? I don't discriminate. You know me. I mean, I love a dry white. I like a Sauvignon Blanc. Very safe. I like like a Cabernet. Again, safe. A nice Pinot Noir. I just eant wine tasting with my friends. After a while, they all taste pretty similar. ALLIÉ: This is true. Well, again, thank you for sharing these stories and a bit more about yourself than perhaps we did know before. And thank you for helping all of us become just a bit more aware now. Thank you so much. CJ: Thank you. You're so lovely. So appreciate this opportunity. ALLIÉ: Appreciate you, Cj. Wine tasting sometime shall we? CJ: You tell me when you wanna go, and I'll be there. ∎

Find and follow Cj on Instagram: @cjfranco


If we want to help people, we help the family… DR. JENNIFER BYRNE




Co-founder of Shields and Stripes, Owner of 5by5 Performance Therapy, Boston University academic mentor, passionate occupational therapist, yoga instructor, certified mental health integrative medicine provider, Air Force Veteran, special operations military spouse, mom, daughter, little sister of a Blackhawk pilot and big sister of an awesome human with disabilities, Dr. Jennifer Byrne’s mission in life is simple: to save lives and foster happiness. She focuses on providing the care that Veterans, Law Enforcement, First Responders AND their families deserve and need. ALLIÉ: In choosing a career of service, you were influenced early on in your life by your brothers. You cared for your younger brother who had special needs. Jen, can you share this story and how that guided you in the way it did in your career of choice? JENN: I absolutely can. And I'm very excited to do so because Ricky is his name. Ricky has had such a huge impact on my life from a very early phase. My parents were very specific in telling us, "Ricky is with our family for a reason.





We had to grow up early, and the military was a beautiful path for us… DR. JENNIFER BYRNE


“…not only did I protect my brother, but I needed to learn from him.” JENN: (continued) He’s here to teach you, you can teach him, but make sure that you learn lessons from one another." So it was really embedded in me at a very young age that not only did I protect my brother, but I needed to learn from him. He is less than two years younger than me, so very close. We are very close. Ricky was born with microcephaly in 1992. So, if you remember back when the Zika virus was a big conversation, a lot of babies were being born with microcephaly because of the Zika virus. Well, back in 1992, my parents were in their thirties. Ricky was their third kid, and they had no idea what microcephaly was or how to care for a child with significant disabilities. Ricky was born and came into our life, and my parents did an incredible job early on, getting him set up with all the support he needed to participate in life with his siblings and friends at school. He had a team of therapists—speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists. I didn't know what OT was when I was younger. I just remember this woman coming in and inviting me to do art projects with Ricky and almost teaching me how to be an OT as his sister without me even knowing what OT was. Adapting his environment involved making buttons so instead of turning on the radio, he could just press it in his room. It was all these things to be super creative, to maximize Ricky's life, and make him happy. I didn't know what OT was until later. So, I went to my college orientation, met one of my now-best friends, and asked her what she was majoring in. She said, "Occupational therapy." I asked her to tell me about it, and she said, "You can be creative. It's in the medical field, and you get to help people live happy lives." That sounded very familiar, so I asked my mom if Sharon was an occupational therapist, and she said she was. I was influenced early on without even knowing what OT was. ALLIÉ: I love how organically that happened. It wasn’t you seeking it out; it almost sought you out. Now let's talk about your other brother, your older brother who joined the Army. He influenced you as well. Can you tell us about your call to serve that led you to join the ROTC while attending the University of New Hampshire? JENN: I can. So, as much as Ricky was an influence, my older brother absolutely was as well. Both of them remain two of the best friends I'll ever have. Now, this is going to be interesting. Life got a little messy when I was 10, 11, 12 when my parents decided to divorce, and my brother and I had too much freedom as teenagers. This will circle back. He ended up getting into a bit of trouble, and I was rebelling at a young age. In our teenage years, we were troublemakers. I was still able to get good grades and care for my brother, but I wasn't really doing what I needed to be doing as a teenager. I was drinking at a very young age. My brother decided college wasn't for him and joined the Army when I was 14. He became a Black Hawk pilot and found structure and mentorship, pulling him out of a challenging phase. He got his direction early on. I was a bit crazy and thought, "I'll just enlist in the Army like you, Jeff.” He caught wind of that, sat on it for a day, and then pulled me out of a day of high school, my senior year, and made me shadow him. He made me shadow one of the enlisted technicians and sat me down, saying, "I agree that you would do very well in the military, but you're going to college. You're going to be an officer, and you're going to be an officer in the Air Force because I want you to go somewhere where I know they will take care of my little sister. The Air Force takes care of their people very well." I agreed, and that's where my brother's influence came from. We both didn't come from military parents, but we had drive and motivation. We had to grow up early, and the military was a beautiful path for us to put our intelligence and energy in the right place. ALLIÉ: Thank you for sharing those stories about your brothers, Jenn. Now let's talk about you. Your background as an Air Force veteran and special operations military spouse is quite unique. How have these experiences influenced your approach to providing care for Veterans, Law Enforcement, and First Responders, as well as their families through Shields and Stripes and 5by5 Performance Therapy? 73

You can’t ask someone to make a lifestyle change without involving their partner in the conversation. DR. JENNIFER BYRNE


“My philosophy is finding loopholes and ways to say yes, bending rules to help someone.” JENN: Oh, I mean, the answer to that is everything. My experience as a veteran practicing occupational therapy in the Air Force gave me a unique perspective on the challenges and strengths of the system. I served as an executive officer for a group commander at a hospital, peering behind the curtains and understanding the military medicine system down to how they get their funding. From the spouse perspective, I understand how spouses are left out of the conversation when it comes to healthcare. Spouses should not be left out of any conversation, especially when asking people to make lifestyle changes. You can't ask someone to make a lifestyle change without involving their partner in the conversation. It has to be a change for the whole family unit. I had amazing experiences working with different people in the military, and a couple of individuals stood out because they were really struggling, and I had to be creative in how I approached their treatment. My philosophy is finding loopholes and ways to say yes, bending rules to help someone. Healthcare should be governed by what works, not by money or insurance companies. It should be about getting the person the best care around, period. ALLIÉ: I love how you find those loopholes to say yes. So, you are a certified mental health integrative medicine provider. Could you share more about this role and how it complements your work in occupational therapy in your mission to save lives and foster happiness? JENN: Absolutely. The certification is a bit different now, but early on, I realized that, no matter the discipline, no one has all the answers all the time. Gathering qualifications, education, perspectives, and resources from different disciplines is beautiful for treating individuals comprehensively. In the military, I was trying to get various certifications to broaden my perspective and qualifications to treat my heroes. When I found the certified mental health integrative certification, it helped me be more confident in OT's role with things like nutrition. While we're not dietitians, we can inspire healthy eating habits and patterns, help with food preparation, and understand aspects like gut health and natural supplementation. It offered a different perspective to allow me to treat more holistically, addressing the knowledge gap that I felt existed. ALLIÉ: That's awesome. I love that you see and address that with your career and work. What's also great is that you're not only a healthcare professional but also a yoga instructor. How do you incorporate the principles of yoga and mental wellness into your holistic approach to providing healthcare and therapy to those you serve? JENN: That's a good question. It is integrated. I love yoga, and while I may not be the best instructor, I found it incredibly valuable for certain populations, especially those who struggle with being present. Many special operators don't know how to sit still, and meditation and being present are significant challenges. I value meditation and anything that requires someone to be in their own heads for a bit. Yoga has been specifically helpful for populations that don't know how to sit, allowing me to introduce movement as a way to activate present thoughts and practice being present. It's a way to get type-A individuals to meditate using movement. ALLIÉ: Yes, you are the queen of loopholes. Can we just add that title? JENN: Yes, you can. 75

There is no role more important when talking about the military member than the military spouse. DR. JENNIFER BYRNE


AwareNow Podcast

SERVE TO SUPPORT Exclusive Interview with Dr. Jennifer Byrne


ALLIÉ: There is one more question. Many who sacrifice to serve our country have families that sacrifice in their own way. The work you do is dedicated not only to those who serve but also to their families. Can you share why this part of care is so important and how you support these families? JENN: Absolutely. I'll share a story. I have many friends in the military community, mostly special operations. I invited five girlfriends for a girl's night, and three couldn't make it because they lacked childcare, as their husbands were on a mission or deployed last minute. Obviously, the children are coming, but that's beside the point. I also had a friend text me needing support because her husband had to leave within 12 hours for an overseas mission. The strength required to be a military spouse is beyond what we can accurately describe to friends who aren't military spouses. Military spouses often come last, even if they want to put themselves first. They are the silent professionals supporting this country just as much. There is no role more important when talking about the military member and the military spouse. Both are equally important. Bringing the spouse into the conversation and saying, "We serve you too; we are here for you too," is not just something we should do. It’s, to me, just common sense. It’s not above and beyond. It’s just common sense. If we want to help people, you don’t just help the individual, you help the family unite. That's very much an occupational therapy principle and my understanding as a spouse myself. ALLIÉ: Thank you for sharing that powerful perspective and for your dedication to serving families. Thank you for taking the time to share your stories and help us become more aware. JENN: I appreciate the questions. It was nice to dig back and share how much of a troublemaker I used to be. ALLIÉ: And the queen of loopholes that you've become. Thank you so much for your time. JENN: It's been fun. Thank you for having me. Thank you for asking those questions. ALLIÉ: Absolutely. Thank you for your service. ∎

Follow Dr. Jennifer Byrne’s and her work with Shields & Stripes on Instagram: @shields_and_stripes


I can live happily with uncertainty but never indifference. BURT KEMPNER



THE FIRST CHURCH OF I DON’T KNOW I am a high priest in the First Church of I Don’t Know. Is there life after death? I have no idea. Will my world be turned upside down every time Mercury is in retrograde? Beats me. Is homo sapiens the summit of the evolutionary ladder or will someone or something replace us? Your guess is as good as mine. The older I get the less certain I am about so many things, but this I believe is true: we are each of us born with a spark of the divine within us. My saintly Hungarian grandmother had one. So did Ivan the Terrible, Mozart, Virginia Woolf, Charles Manson, Taylor Swift, Mahatma Gandhi, you and I. It is present without exception, but what we do with it is up to us. Some allow it to dwindle to the point of extinction. Some tend it irregularly, mostly in times of great stress. I watch a third group nurse that spark with love and attention until it becomes a blaze that lights the way for all of us. I aspire to join them. I can live happily with uncertainty but never indifference. ∎

AwareNow Podcast

THE FIRST CHURCH OF I DON’T KNOW Written and Narrated by Burt Kempner


BURT KEMPNER Writer & Producer BURT KEMPNER is a writer-producer who has worked professionally in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Florida. His work has won numerous major awards, and has been seen by groups ranging in size from a national television audience in the United States to a half-dozen Maori chieftains in New Zealand. Spurred by his love for inspiring young people, he started writing children's books in 2015. Learn more about Burt and his books at his website:


Everyone wants a win. GREG KING




Greg King has a passion for connecting college athletes to causes. As the CEO of TEAM NILO, he works to educate and empower collegiate teams and athletes to use their platforms with the purpose of serving the causes they care about. ALLIÉ: Let's get started with where you started. You grew up in Southern California with your parents divorcing rather early in your life. You were raised by your mother, who exposed you to a lot of opportunities, a lot of culture. As you were growing up, what was one of your favorite and most memorable experiences with your mother as a kid? GREG: There was quite a bit. At that time, I didn't know what an entrepreneur was, but looking back, my mother was very creative about making money. And one of the things she did is we would go to garage sales, and she would buy kids' beds. She would repurpose those kids' beds. But as a kid, I saw all these different cool beds. And so, I probably had five or six beds as an elementary kid. But the first time she bought a bunk bed, I'll never forget. We were watching tv. She was on the top bunk, and I was on the bottom bunk. And lo and behold, the top bunk fell. It fell on top of me. And we just laughed. Fortunately, I was already getting ready to get out of the bed, so my head was out. It was just times like that looking back, my mom was always doing something to keep us in a position where I didn't know that we didn't have it, because she always found a way to repurpose it or just make things happen.





Anything else from there is just a blessing… GREG KING


“We felt education was the gateway to having an opportunity, especially in this country, to be successful.” ALLIÉ: After seven years you graduated from college and established a successful career in a dental field, that success, it seems was not enough, not for you. What was missing, Greg? What was missing? Why did you shift? GREG: I think it's always the pursuit of not having enough or thinking that you don't have enough. For me you know, it was more of prove yourself, right? And, unfortunately, I got hurt. So, I didn't get to play college football. And that was my way of thinking that I was going to get to college and be a famous professional. But I started thinking about how could prove myself at the business level. Growing up, it was about seeing how other people had success in a form of material things, right? Cars, money, and the big house, you know, that brought girls and made you more attractive. and, you know, buy a big house. And so I always wanted more. But I didn't ever define what success really looked like for me. And I can just say, if success is built off a moving target of things, those things will come and go. But it’s really defining who you are as a person, and then being able to say what success now looks like. And so when you get to that point, you can be comfortable, right? Maybe you can even be okay. I'm not saying you have to be content, but anything else from there is just a blessing. Or it's, as they say, gravy on top of it all. ALLIÉ: What a great point. If you're always aiming for this moving target of success, that can never be enough in some regard. So, is it two and a half years ago that you started a nonprofit. What is it that inspired you to venture into the nonprofit sector? Please tell us about your nonprofit. GREG: The nonprofit is Changing Our Perspective. There's a a well-known gentleman that I was blessed to be connected with. The world definitely knows him as someone that on the field was a giant, but off the field, he had a heart of gold and has done a lot of great things. And so, when I met him, it was during Covid. You had political unrest, calls for social justice with Floyd, and there was a lot of brokenness, right? And being a young African American man, you know, I've experienced the racism and the stereotyping. And when it was all about me, my head was down, and I was building my kingdom. It was, “I gotta get mine, and I'm sorry about everybody else.” I wasn't going to protest. I wasn’t going to fight anybody. I was just taking care of mine. Then it was really my sisters, Asia and Jade, that woke me up and woke my spirit up to say that there are challenges, there is social injustice, there are hurts, and everyone's broken. Everyone's searching for something. There is data and stats that can tell the story... but at the end of the day, who's going to actually do something about it? Who will not just do something about it, but put together the architecture? It’s not about you as a person putting this together. It's about how this architectural design could enable people from all walks of life and colors and backgrounds, to have an opportunity to be successful. We settled our focus on education. We felt education was the gateway to having an opportunity, especially in this country, to be successful. And so Changing Our Perspective focused on tackling some of the barriers for access to educational tools and resources and social emotional tools and resources for college and career readiness for communities that don't have those resources. ALLIÉ: How true it is that education empowers. It’s so important to provide those resources where they're scarce or not available. Let's talk about another organization. TEAM NILO, your latest venture that you began earlier this year. Tell us about TEAM NILO. 83

GREG: For TEAM NILO, first ‘TEAM’ stands for Technology Empowering All Missions. NILO refers to this new era of college sports that everyone knows as NIL, referring to name, image, and likeness. And so ‘NILO’ is Name, Image and Likeness Opportunities. But going back to the acronym TEAM and empowering all missions, in my journey while coming across people and working in the corporate world and with nonprofits, everyone has a mission. For a college athlete, that mission could be to get a degree, have a family, and be successful. A corporation's mission could be to do more good. They may not know how, but they know they can do better. Universities have a mission to educate. Coaches and athletic directors, have a mission of winning games, but also educating and equipping young men and women for life after sports. Back to college athletes, they are on a mission these days for a lot of different things. It’s not just to monetize in this new era. They know there's life after sports and they're searching for something that can give them a pathway -- not to tell them what to do, but to empower them on how they can take their own course. What TEAM NILO does is create impact campaigns that connect college athletes to causes. When NIL came out, there were a lot of ways that fans and brands could engage with athletes. That still is happening, and it'll always happen. And it is a good thing. But we looked at NIL as a way that we could further the reach of causes, using these influential athletes as a way to do more good for more social impact. What the campaigns we create consist of are services that are very defined. Together with the nonprofit, we create these opportunities or NILOS that allow these athletes to serve. But ultimately, these athletes are helping those nonprofits advance their mission, their vision, and amplify the work that these organizations are doing. I know firsthand that fundraising, even with a famous individual is tough. You can't just say, gimme money and you get money. When we started raising money, it was about the effectiveness of what we were doing and how we were helping to actually make an impact. And that's what corporate donors cared about. This is a new way to re-engineer serving people, serving communities, using the influence of these athletes to highlight the work that's already being done. And now the hook is that these athletes can be paid just like anyone else that does contract work. ALLIÉ: Right. If you've already got a platform, why don't you make it a platform that has purpose that serves not only you, but others as well while helping student athletes navigate that space with integrity, with authenticity what you're doing, the work you're doing is really important. In a prior conversation you had mentioned what it's like to be the misunderstood or the oddball in the room. How has this personal experience and resulting empathy influenced your approach to leadership and working with others? GREG: It’s the intersection of the three P's. There's passion, purpose, and, and profit. And TEAM NILO is a for-profit company. We do good, and because of that we can be compensated for the work that we do. But for me, I have to be passionate about what I do. And it's probably an understatement for those that know me, that if I'm passionate about something, I am very passionate and you will know it. What I see is an opportunity to equip, educate, and empower these athletes to be these ‘champions of change’. It all goes back to my first coach, Dave Berry. At nine-years-old I quit the football team, and he showed up at our apartment. He knocked on the door and said, “You know, King, I want you to come back out to practice.” And that was that. Never give up. Life is hard. You will get knocked down. Everyone's not your friend, and that's okay. But when life knocks you down, get back in the ring and keep swinging. But more importantly, if I didn't have that exposure, Allie, that my mother gave me of just seeing other things, even though we didn't have those things, I wouldn't have had a vision because I would've been stuck in a box… a stereotype narrative of this is only how good it can be because you have a single mom, your parents are divorced and, you know, all those things. I've prided myself to say, well, I want to be the 1%. I think the purpose in this about a generation that will be the leaders of tomorrow. So, we can either give them money and tell them to go figure it out. Or we can allow them to be empowered by giving them the tools and the resources that they need to be successful. ALLIÉ: Well, I love the work that you're doing, teaching these college athletes just what to do, but how to do it. The ‘how’ is important. And the ‘why’ is perhaps the most important of all. Why do we do this? What is your why? And to help them figure it out. The earlier we can understand that about ourselves, the better. Speaking of ‘why’, can you discuss for a moment why caring for others is important in your life and work? How has it shaped your journey, especially considering your past experiences? 84

AwareNow Podcast

THERE IS NO ‘I’ IN TEAM Exclusive Interview with Greg King


GREG: That’s a good one… I think everybody at the core wants to be loved, cared for, affirmed and complimented. So much, everyone is isolated or apart. We've forgotten how to care for people. Going through a journey where I was about myself and going through a valley where that humbled me. I started thinking about somebody else in my time of need, thinking about how can I help them? And ultimately, I was serving them, whether it was connecting, listening, or just caring about another person more than my needs. When you serve another person, when you see a child battling cancer that may not go home, you come back to your craft (in this case the field or the locker room) and you hope for wins in different ways. Everyone wants to win. That young child wants to win, they want to go home. That's a win. But it doesn't always work out that way, you know. The ball doesn't always bounce that way for a victory. But I think the power of this is it's going to enable people to come together. It's going to enable college athletes to serve a cause that's bigger than them. It may be one of those, aha moments. Or it may be something 25 or 30 years from now that you remember that experience when you go through something… “I remember that I told that young child battling cancer to never, ever give up. So guess what? I gotta tell those words back to myself when times get tough to never, ever give up.” ALLIÉ: It's that caring for others that starts with caring for yourself. One more question for you today. What advice would you give to young individuals who may be faced with similar challenges that you had in your upbringing. For these young people who are looking to make a positive impact in the world, but have no idea where to start, what advice do you have? GREG: For TEAM NILO, whether you're a team or an individual athlete, if you want to do something that's legacy driven we are here. I'm here. And I would love to figure out a way to allow you to tell your story by serving a cause that's personal to you. The second thing that I would tell a young man or woman is don't hold it in. Don't think that you have to be stronger than the circumstance and that you will just brush it off. You may brush it off, but there may be something that is at the core. You may not know it's there, but it's there. And at some point it's going to get exposed and come out. So, I think the best thing you can do is talk to somebody. If you don't like to talk, shed tears. Shed tears, and let someone else see you shed tears. Because there's nothing wrong with being vulnerable. Everyone's going to be vulnerable at some point in time. But I think what it did for me was it just allowed me to get it out. And now, I have a story, just like everyone else has a story. And I'm not defined by any of my past or any of my future, because I know who I am. I know how I wake up every day to try to make this opportunity, these people, and this world, a little bit better than what it was yesterday. But if you try to keep it, then you already know that you're not all right because you're trying to keep it in because you don't want people to think any less than you. I was like that, but now I care. I care for others and myself. I'm good with myself, and now I can do good for others. ∎ Learn more about TEAM NILO online:


By embracing sustainability, we paint a canvas of hope and promise for the generations that follow. ERFAN FIROUZI




Erfan Firouzi is a distinguished environmentalist and biodiversity advocate with a multifaceted profile. Currently a high school student, Erfan's academic journey is characterised by a profound dedication to the natural world. He has pursued extensive scientific research, particularly in the field of biodiversity, accumulating over eight years of hands-on experience. This relentless pursuit of knowledge led him to become a Student Researcher at Heriot-Watt University, where he has further expanded his expertise and contributed to the scientific community's understanding of our planet's intricate ecosystems. TANITH: Erfan you are so passionate about the environment and biodiversity, where does your passion come from? ERFAN: My passion for the environment and biodiversity is deeply rooted in my early experiences and the wonder I've felt for the natural world since I was a child. Growing up, I was fortunate to spend a lot of time outdoors, exploring, observing wildlife, and immersing myself in the beauty of nature. I came to realise that nature is all around, we must just be able to see it, to accept it. I also recall my grandfather telling his wildlife stories and I also had most of my nature expeditions with him. I recall witnessing an Iranian Tortoise (Testudo graeca) crossing the road, with my grandfather, we got out of the car and helped it cross the road. This was at least 12 years ago, and I have not seen even one of those tortoises since. Experiences such as this made me start what I am doing today.





The natural world I used to see began to disappear… ERFAN FIROUZI


ERFAN: (continued) One of the key inspirations for my passion has been the works of environmental pioneers like Sir David Attenborough. His documentaries and books opened up a whole new world for me, showing the incredible diversity of life on Earth and the intricate web of ecosystems that support it. I've always seen Attenborough as a role model, someone who has dedicated his life to environmental conservation and education. His ability to communicate complex scientific ideas in an engaging and accessible way left a profound impact on me. As I grew older, I became more aware of the challenges our planet faces. The natural world I used to see began to disappear, species vanished and reduced, this was us interfering with the intricate web of life. These challenges weighed heavily on my heart, and I knew I wanted to be part of the solution. I always was curious about the world of science, especially life on our planet, I soon realised that my passion for the environment wasn't just a personal interest; it was a calling to take action. I was aged 10, when I officially began researching, and delving into the world of biodiversity. Researching and then soon spreading action and awareness for the natural world. My passion was further fuelled by the incredible experiences I've had in the field, whether it's tracking wildlife in a rainforest, studying marine ecosystems, or simply sitting quietly in nature, observing its wonders. Each of these moments reinforced my belief in the importance of protecting our planet and its biodiversity. So with all my experiences and studies, I came to realise that every single species, from microscopic soil organisms to the largest whales, each species is connected and plays a pivotal role in our planets health and wellbeing. As I worked with many individuals around the world, I became more motivated that when we join hands together when we hear each other’s melodies we create something truly remarkable, a sustainable world. TANITH: You are currently the Biodiversity storytelling leader for Green youth Majlis of AbuDhabi Environmental Agency, and a WWF Leader of Change. What do the roles entail? ERFAN: As the Biodiversity Storytelling Leader for the Green Youth Majlis of the Abu Dhabi Environmental Agency, its me and 10 other committee members, and there are around 400 members part of this team. The green youth majlis is a youth led group, the leaders such as myself inspire UAE youth to share ideas and make changes by becoming proactive in taking action for environmental protection and conservation and interconnect with other youth members. It is under the Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi that is the Middle East's largest environmental regulator committed to protecting and enhancing air quality, groundwater and the biodiversity of Abu Dhabi's environment. So in my role as the biodiversity storytelling leader, one of the primary responsibilities is to design and conduct educational programs and initiatives aimed at raising awareness about biodiversity and the importance of conservation. This is something I am an expert at and involves developing content, organising workshops, and engaging with schools and communities to share knowledge about local ecosystems and wildlife. I am an awardwinning storyteller. Using the power of storytelling, I work to communicate complex scientific concepts and environmental issues in an accessible and engaging manner. This could involve creating narratives, videos, or presentations that captivate the audience and inspire them to take action for biodiversity preservation. Through this, I play a crucial role in advocating for biodiversity conservation. This includes collaborating with local communities, decision-makers, and stakeholders to promote policies and actions that protect the environment. It may involve participating in environmental campaigns, attending conferences, and engaging with policymakers. Emirates Nature WWF is a non profit organization. The organisation was founded in 2001 under the Honorary Founder and President of Emirates Nature-WWF, H.H. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan as a legacy of the late Sheikh Zayed’s vision for the UAE. Leader of Change, is a program under Emirates Nature WWF, and Every activity in this programme contributes directly to environmental conservation in the UAE. my roles and responsibilities are centred around environmental advocacy, education, and raising awareness about biodiversity and conservation. The WWF Leader of Change program focuses on empowering young leaders to drive environmental change. In this role, I'm expected to be a proactive youth leader in addressing environmental challenges, particularly those related to WWF's conservation goals. As a Leader of Change, I might be involved in leading or participating in action-oriented projects aimed at addressing specific environmental issues. These projects could range from wildlife conservation to climate action. Like when we planted 2,500 mangrove trees in a day. Both roles are highly dynamic and require a deep commitment to environmental conservation. They offer the chance to be at the forefront of efforts to protect our planet's biodiversity and ecosystems while also empowering and educating others to join in these crucial endeavours. TANITH: You have recently written a book ‘The Year Earth Changed’ tell us what it is about? ERFAN: My book, overall focuses on the topics of biodiversity loss, climate change, and the concept of rewilding the world. It explores the impact of human activities on the environment and the need to address these issues in order to restore and protect the planet's ecosystems. 89

If I could change just one thing in the world, it would be to transform how people perceive the natural world… ERFAN FIROUZI


ERFAN: (continued) The first chapter delves into the history of Earth, highlighting its extraordinary natural forces that have allowed life to thrive. It discusses the importance of factors such as the distance from the sun, the magnetic field, the ozone layer, volcanoes, and weather patterns in sustaining life on Earth. However, it also shows the development of life on earth from the first cell to humans, it also emphasises the fragility of this system and the threat posed by human activities. One of the most wonderful aspects of this book is that I share shares my personal experiences as a young naturalist, recounting adventures and encounters with various species of animals and plants. As a result the solutions, and scientific finding are based exclusively on the changes I have witnessed over the years, such as the decline in certain species and the need to take action to protect biodiversity. The concept of rewilding is a central theme in the book. Here I argue that by working with nature, humans can help restore and revive ecosystems that have been damaged or destroyed. I present the idea that it is possible to switch off the destructive forces and instead focus on healing the planet. Throughout the book, I emphasise the importance of understanding and appreciating the natural world. I encourage readers, especially young people, to become aware of the threats facing the environment and to take action to protect and preserve it. Overall, the book aims to raise awareness about the urgent need to address biodiversity loss and how it is this biodiversity loss that’s the main driver of climate change, and it offers insights and suggestions on how individuals and society as a whole can contribute to rewilding the world and creating a sustainable future. I recount my childhood memories of visiting museums that inspired my curiosity about the natural world. These museum experiences motivated me to take action and start collecting animal specimens at a young age. Growing up in the 21st century, I witnessed the loss of biodiversity and the impacts of climate change firsthand. In my book I reflect on how the natural world has been disappearing around me, and I express my deep love and fascination for nature. I share stories of my encounters with various wildlife, from giant crayfish in the lakes of Shiraz to the Arabian Oryx. I believe that by sharing my experiences and raising awareness, people can develop a deeper appreciation for nature and take action to preserve it. Overall, my adventures in the book provide personal anecdotes that illustrate the beauty and fragility of the natural world, while also highlighting the urgent need for conservation efforts. I provide a framework for rewilding the planet, which I present as an acronym: REWILD. Each letter represents a distinct solution towards restoring and preserving biodiversity. Regeneration, Evolution, Welcoming Wildlife, Innovation, Learning and Discontinue. Overall my book is a more detailed version of my TEDx speech. TANITH: Are you currently working on any new projects and what are your plans for the future? ERFAN: In my final year of school, I'm indeed juggling a few significant commitments. One project that's particularly close to my heart is a research paper that I'm collaborating on with a group of dedicated scientists. We're delving deep into the profound impact of plastic pollution on sea turtles, a critical issue that requires global attention and action. Simultaneously, I'm excited to be part of an international collaborative documentary project titled "The Symphony of Life." This documentary spans six compelling episodes and serves as a heartfelt message to the world about the urgent need to protect our planet. From addressing the heartbreaking realities of biodiversity loss to the pressing concerns of planetary boundaries, this project aims to inspire change and spark meaningful conversations. Looking ahead, I'm gearing up for some exciting opportunities at COP28. These include sharing my experiences at the Youth Hub. Additionally, I'm hosting a session titled "Harmonizing Nature's Symphony: Biodiversity Loss, Climate Change, and the Path to Rewilding." At greening education hub. In terms of future plans, I'm not slowing down. I'm in the early stages of drafting another book, a project that I'm deeply passionate about. Simultaneously, I'm working hard to secure a place at a university where I can further develop my knowledge and skills. Furthermore, I'm determined to publish our research paper on plastic's impact on sea turtles, adding to the scientific discourse and advocating for change. TANITH: If you could change just one thing in the world, what would it be and why? ERFAN: If I could change just one thing in the world, it would be to transform how people perceive the natural world, particularly the importance of biodiversity. Imagine a world where this understanding is widespread, where the significance of every species and ecosystem is not just known but deeply felt. 91

ERFAN: (continued) In this vision, something incredible happens. People from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs find a common cause - saving our planet. We set aside our differences, unite for a shared goal, and work hand in hand to protect the Earth. It's the return of a lost sense of humanity. What follows is the blueprint for a sustainable future. Our cities become vibrant hubs of innovation and creativity. Everywhere you go, you're serenaded by the mesmerizing symphony of biodiversity. Hunger and poverty are distant memories, replaced by an era of equality and social progress. Our lives are powered by renewable energy, and the air we breathe is cleaner than ever. But the most exciting part is the world we create for our children and future generations. They get to explore and immerse themselves in the natural world like never before. The message of this tale is simple: we have the power to shape our future. By embracing sustainability, we paint a canvas of hope and promise for the generations that follow. This is the world I dream of and the change I would make if I could. ∎

Learn more about Erfan and his work: Find ‘The Year The Earth Changed’ on Amazon: TANITH HARDING Director of International Development, The Legacy Project, RoundTable Global Tanith is leading change management through commitment to the RoundTable Global Three Global Goals of: Educational Reform, Environmental Rejuvenation & Empowerment for All. She delivers innovative and transformational leadership and development programmes in over 30 different countries and is also lead on the international development of philanthropic programmes and projects. This includes working with a growing team of extraordinary Global Change Ambassadors and putting together the Global Youth Awards which celebrate the amazing things our young people are doing to change the world.





I knew that because I am passionate about it, I would be fine moving forward. MAREA OLAFSON

OWNER OF FREBA POTTERY Photo Courtesy: Marea Olafson 94



In days and times of doubt in humanity, Marea Olafson leads with trust in perfect strangers, conducing business for her pottery studio with the honour system. The next time you’re in Saskatchewan, Canada, stop by Freba Pottery on Highway 16. If you see something you want, take it home with you and just leave cash or a cheque. ALLIÉ: We often talk about acts of kindness. Today, let’s talk about acts of trust. Marea, let’s go back to 2003 and the trip you took to Denman Island in British Columbia. Please share the story of the studio you found at the top of a winding driveway that inspired Freba Pottery. MAREA: I was traveling with my two cousins, exploring pottery studios and we went up this long winding driveway and at the end was this building and parking. We were in the building with a few others when we realized it was ran on the honour system. There were three rooms…the third being where there was instructions to pay by cash, or credit card and a book to explain what you purchased. I had to buy something just to experience and also support the artist. Also on that week on Denman Island, I decided that when I returned to Saskatchewan I would take up wheel throwing pottery.





I love the feel of clay in my hands. MAREA OLAFSON

OWNER OF FREBA POTTERY Photo Courtesy: Marea Olafson 96

“I feel that using handmade items allows the user to connect with the artist.” ALLIÉ: What is it about making pottery that you love, Marea? MAREA: I love the feel of the clay in my hands, but more importantly I love that I can create something from raw clay and turn it into something I can eat or drink out of it! I feel that using handmade items allows the user to connect with the artist. ALLIÉ: What started as a pottery pop-up stand on Highway 16 became a highway store with the purchase of your Amma’s 1919 Heritage Farm House, the home of Freba Pottery. Will you talk for a moment about your sales goals that you set and met that have nothing to do with figures? MAREA: My three goals the first year were 1) to have someone stop when I wasn’t around and purchase a piece of pottery, 2) to have a motorcyclist stop and purchase something, and 3) to have a semi stop and purchase. Highway 16 is one of the main highways through Saskatchewan, and in the first week of having the highway store built I had someone stop, write on a napkin from their vehicle and leave cash under the napkin in the spot where they took the piece. That same summer I had two gentlemen on motorbikes stopped and the one bought something to take home to his wife. The other guy said when he saw the signs he knew they were turning in. The semi driver stopped about year three. So all my beginning goals were accomplished.


AwareNow Podcast

ON MY HONOUR Exclusive Interview with Marea Olafson


ALLIÉ: You run Freba Pottery on the honour system. You trust people to pay for the pottery they wish to purchase by leaving cash, a cheque or sending you an etransfers. What has been most rewarding about conducting business this way? MAREA: I can work in my studio while having people stop in and shop. When I get notes from the customers is the best…I had a lady from Alaska stop early on and if I would have had set hours or a locked door she wouldn’t have been able to shop. I have also had pottery purchased that has traveled to Italy, Australia and Harvard University. I got a call at the end of one summer and it was a guy from New York that had stopped on his travels…but unfortunately he was in a car accident in Hay River, NWT and his car was totalled, but he was really upset that his pottery broke and stopping at my store was such a highlight and he hoped he could buy some more. I did get out of him that he broke his ankle in the accident but he was so worried about his pottery. ALLIÉ: A teacher of arts education for 25 years, you spent the last 4 years of teaching half time and pursuing your passion the other half in your pottery studio in Saskatchewan, Canada. Doing what you’re doing the way you’re doing it takes a lot of trust, not only for others but for yourself. For those who have a passion they want to pursue but are having a hard time trusting their ability to successfully pursue it, Marea, what advice do you have? MAREA: in June 2021, I decided that I needed to step away from the security of the teaching profession to follow my pottery profession. I knew that because I am passionate about it, I would be fine moving forward. When I started teaching in 1996, I was passionate about teaching and that is what carried me through my career. I would say to my students…”What are you doing right now? Don’t wait til you graduate to start doing it!” So, I took my own advice, don’t wait until I retire from teaching to pursue my pottery passion. I stepped up and haven’t looked back! ∎

If you can’t make it to Saskatchewan to purchase pottery in person, pick out a piece online:


It was just a passion of mine to give back & serve. BLAINE HEDGES




Blaine Hedges and his wife, Alison, are the founders of GS2, a company who serves as the biggest advocate for the underdogs, the dreamers, the visionaries and the forces of change. With ‘Service To A Higher Standard’ as their motto, they are dedicated to helping veterans in need. EDDIE: So when I start these interviews, I like to start by asking, who are you guys? Not what is your name, but who are you? BLAINE: Well, I guess I'll kick it off. I guess I'm a family man. I'm a father of three. I'm a wrestler, a break-dancer, and my name is Hedges and I'm a soldier for life. Those are some of the stepping stones or milestones that I went through in my life that has ultimately made me the man I am today. And this is my lovely bride and the CFO for our organization and so I'll turn it over to Ali. ALISON: My name's Allison. I'm first and foremost a wife and a mother. Like you said, we've got three kids. I was a military spouse for a long time, so that kind of defined me for quite some time. I was a cheerleader back in the day, so that was a big part of what shaped me as well, the most important things to me anyhow. EDDIE: Okay. Are you both from Louisville? ALISON: We are. Born and raised.





There were things that I had to do on my own that I never thought I could do. ALISON HEDGES CFO OF GS2 102

“And so most folks that served have come into some sort of scenario where they’ve got a disability when they get out.” EDDIE: Where'd you go to high school? BLAINE: Well, I went to Mayme S. Waggener High School, a traditional high school, and my wife went toALISON: I went to Sacred Heart Academy. EDDIE: Great. I went to Trinity. So now we've gotten that out of the way. ALISON: There you go. BLAINE: Well, actually, tying into Trinity, we sent both of our girls to Mercy, but Austin, my son, graduated from Trinity. EDDIE: Nice. Go shamrocks. ALISON: That's right. EDDIE: Okay, so this is a service edition and I thought it'd be perfect to grab you guys and talk a little bit about this venture that you have, GS2. Why don't you tell us what it is? BLAINE: GS2, the big reason we started, it's because we wanted to give back to folks currently serving, veterans, retirees, government, civilians, and their families. The gist of what GS2 does is we help businesses grow by connecting them to state and federal contracts if they're not in that space or by getting them grants and foundational funding, and then we help them scale by connecting them to a quality workforce of transitioning service member and veterans, which is really where our passion of giving back comes into place. EDDIE: I saw something on your website about disabled vets. Tell me about that. BLAINE: A lot of times when you join military service, and there's a bunch of different disabilities out there, but as you probably know, suicide, as it relates to folks that have served, is at a number that needs to stop. It's actually horrible. And so most folks that served have come into some sort of scenario where they've got a disability when they get out. I am a service-disabled veteran-owned small business owner, so I'm 51% owner of the company. Allison's the other 49, we're the founders of the company. But there's everything out there from traumatic brain injury to PTSD, to folks that lost limbs, to just things as simple as now you got flat feet or you got three tears in your shoulder, or you had a stick go through your face on an airborne operation, which, if you can see the scar right there, it was a bad airborne day, but we survived. And so it comes with a bunch of different challenges. So yeah, we are a service-disabled veteranowned small business. EDDIE: And you guys offer solution and access to those vets that are looking for solutions, correct? BLAINE: Oh, yeah. If there's folks that we run across, we try to help veterans, their families, their kids, in any possible way we can. There's a ton of nonprofits out there that can help folks that may be in need, whether it's counseling, whether it's support financially, whether it's therapy, even medical stuff, quite frankly. So yeah, definitely we can and do connect them to folks that can help them continuously. EDDIE: You guys are national, correct? BLAINE: We are, actually. We're trying to go global, so I'm working on my first global venture right now, which will be basically manufacturing and installations of EV charging stations. 103

There was a piece that was missing. And so we started this business to continue to give back. BLAINE HEDGES


EDDIE: Okay, that's great. You know what comes to mind? When we were out here during festival season with Artists For Trauma this year, we had numerous veterans come up to us looking for resources. And we didn't think of EV. We should have because we had some guys that had some serious issues that just couldn't put it together, how to find the solution, and they weren't getting the help they needed from their primary care physicians. So I'm glad to hear that and I wish we knew that before and maybe we can double back on that because we had some real sad stories out there in the field, this festival season. We can connect you guys. BLAINE: Yeah. If we can't help them personally, we know an organization that can. EDDIE: Where to point them to, yeah. Yeah. We call those fellow travelers. It's Artists For Trauma, anyone that's going through something. I think everyone on the earth is a fellow traveler in one way or another because we all have something, but we come across a lot of vets and we try to honor them by helping them as much as we can. So now we know we have a partner and friends in the field. BLAINE: Absolutely. EDDIE: I mean, it sounds to me like being of services has been your entire life, to others, your country. BLAINE: Yeah. I was in the wrestling room, which the foundation for my wrestling was laid by break dancing, which I think you got a little background there on what we used to get into, but was a professional break-dancer, got in a high school wrestling. I was a leader in the wrestling room and at that point in time, my grandfather and my uncle had served in the Navy and it was just a passion of mine to give back and to serve. My original plan was to try to get into the Naval Academy. Of course, I was a little late on the application process, so I went a different route and ended up going Army ROTC. But after going through that, getting in and serving for, quite frankly, the majority of my life, still today, and then coming out and continuing to serve in the state government for another two and a half years, when we stepped away with Merrill Lynch, that's what we lost. There was a piece that was missing. And so we started this business to continue to give back. And so yeah, service is everything to us, trying to just make a difference. ALISON: That's us. EDDIE: That's admirable. It's like I was watching something today on Instagram, obviously, social media and it was like we all just need to help each other. It's Kanye West actually, I just figured out. He's like, "We all need to help each other. We're one race, we're the human race and we all need to help each other." BLAINE: Absolutely. EDDIE: I think the world would be a better place if there was more Blaine and Alison Hedges out there, really leaning in and using your talents and your skillset to help others. It's admirable. So kudos to you guys for that. Each of you, I'd like both of you to do this. Is there any quotes that you guys, I probably should have told this before, but is there anything you've heard out there in your life that sticks to you that's about being of service? Is there any quotes you can think of? Any leaders that you think of when you're out there charging your charge? Who do you look up to? How about that? Who do you think of as you create your own legacy? BLAINE: For me, and I'll kick this off and let her think about, from a military spouse perspective, but it was the folks that I served under in the military that took me under their wing and they truly believed into teach, coach and mentor. And so there's a lady out there that I actually just visited when I was in California, Major General, retired, Peggy Combs was one of my mentors. Another one was a guy, Major General Jim Bonner. And I would tell you both of those folks, totally different leadership styles, both of them extremely very demanding, and they both taught me a tremendous amount as it relates to leadership and to giving back. But then you got folks out there like Colin Powell, just a phenomenal leader that of course did his military time and then continued on to serve the country. You got guys out there like General Shinseki who I took him all over the world, but he gets done with his military time and he's head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. And so it's folks like that, the folks that taught you, that brought you along, that mentored you and that helped you become the professional that you wanted to be. Those are the folks there. And that's just to name but a few. Allie, is there anybody in particular that stood out to you? ALISON: Actually, one of the people that you just mentioned, General Peggy Combs, she used to say, "Nice matters." And I still think about that all the time. Anytime that anybody is just doing silly things and cutting on people and you think, why? Why? Nice matters. If we were all just nice to each other. So that's one. Another one, I would have to say, as being a military spouse and traveling around and being by myself a lot, quite frankly, I'm going to go back to a Bible 105

“If you can hire a veteran, hire one..” ALISON: (continued) verse. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." I mean, that was a big thing. I mean, there were things that I had to do on my own that I never thought I could do. So I think that's a big one. EDDIE: That's great. I'm so glad you said that. I mean, I don't know if you guys know, but I think you do. I was away from God since my mom died in '16 until two years ago. And it took Louisville and coming back to Louisville and going to the church where we had her funeral, and I confronted my anger and my frustration with the Lord, and I walked out of there and I went to Cave Hill and I had the most joyous experience for the first time ever. I felt good and happy to be in the cemetery, and I surrendered and I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. And I think nice matters is great, too, because if we all were just nice to each other, shit would be completely different out here. ALISON: That is the truth. EDDIE: I think people are lost and I'm going to remember that, nice matters. Thank you for that one because I'm going to use that actually. I'm going to have to remember her name so that I can give her credit because I don't want to give you credit for it. ALISON: She's a fantastic lady. EDDIE: Yeah, I mean, that's great. So now I'm going to go off-topic and I'm going to talk about break-dancing for a second. Blaine used to come to my house and spin on his head in my living room like 50 times. How does this guy do this? I guess you could see the gusto in you when you were that kid. I mean, you had that spunk. I mean, you would just get on your head and spin and it made me want to be a break-dancer. I just couldn't do it. He tried to teach me. I was just too [inaudible 00:13:41]. Is there just something about certain people that are just born to lead? BLAINE: Yeah, honestly, I think it's in your DNA. Now, does that mean that folks can't be mentored to lead? No, I think they can, but I think that individual overwhelming desire to lead and to win, to give back. I mean, I honestly believe it's in your DNA, but then I think it's brought out of you by the folks that either you're raised by or the folks that your coaches or your good friends or your aunts or your uncles, so absolutely. EDDIE: Yeah, I mean, you're a natural-born leader, I believe. You inspired me as a kid. As a basketball and football player, you're always looking up to the biggest dude in the room because that's the symbol of strength when you're young and you're in sports. But to see a kid your size that just had a smile on his face doing what you did, it was amazing, because at Trinity, they were teaching us to be mean motherf*ckers. "Go get it!" And the coach is hitting you in the head with your helmet. So yeah, I mean now that I look back on our early days, you had it then and you still have it now, and I'm proud to be able to call you my friend. And you, too, Alison. BLAINE: Well, thank you. EDDIE: Is there anything you want to leave us with today? BLAINE: Yeah, I guess the advice that I would have is think of it. Those folks, and quite frankly when I say veteran, it's all-inclusive of the family, but they have been through and seen things that, quite frankly, they don't want to share with others. They volunteered to do it. They knew what they were getting into or they thought they knew what they were getting into. But if you can hire a veteran, hire one. If you can hire a military spouse, find a way to reach out, say hello, bring them into your family. Most people don't know but the suicide among veterans is just simply out of control right now. Military spouses are unemployed at eight times the national average. The ones that are employed are underemployed. They've got to move every one to three years. It is hard to have a profession when you're moving state to state and every state's got a different requirement and regulation. One state may say, "Hey, you got to get licensed through us," or even for children, like, "Hey, you need to have four math credits or three." And then you go to the next state, it says you got to have four. Well, you got there your junior year, and so guess what? You don't have time to fix it because you didn't take one your freshman year. Anyway, I would tell you that military folks speak a different language, and I'm not just talking about the acronyms, but the way that... Well, I guess a lot of it is acronyms, but it's a lot of folks are recognized by their rank or they're recognized by their ranger tab or they're recognized by their military occupational specialty. So it's a 74 Alpha, a 31 Kilo, or 11 Bravo, and most of America just don't know what they're talking. I mean, they don't know what that means. And so if you're short personnel in your company, on 106

BLAINE: (continued) your staff, find a veteran. And to help you find a veteran, you ought to have some sort of what I would call liaison officer that can help you, or interpreter that can help you understand who these folks are, how their experiences and backgrounds relate to what the company needs. And it's organizations like ours that can be that interpreter or that liaison officer, that connector. And so that's one of the things that I would like to leave you with. And, Alison, I don't know if you've got some parting thoughts. ALISON: No, you actually covered it all. And he's right. Military spouses are undervalued, usually, because nobody really understands what they're going through. So I think that just understanding and thanking the whole family is a big thing. And then how to reach us is really just through our website would be the best way, just because you can go straight to it and contact us through that, which is It's a pretty simple website and there's a Contact Us button on it, and we monitor that all the time. EDDIE: I'm going to ask you guys a lightning round of questions, so quick answers, okay? ALISON: Uh-oh. EDDIE: Favorite restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky? ALISON: I'm going to go with, what's the Italian one that starts with a P? Porcini's. BLAINE: I'm going to go with Jade Palace. I worked there when I was 14 years old. EDDIE: All right. Blaine, favorite bourbon? BLAINE: I'm going to go with Buffalo Trace Distilleries mash bill #3, which is your Pappy Van Winkle & your Wellers. EDDIE: Alison, are you a bourbon drinker? ALISON: I am not. I wish I was. I love the idea of it, but I don't like it.


AwareNow Podcast

NICE MATTERS Exclusive Interview with Blaine & Alison Hedges


EDDIE: Okay. Alison, what's your favorite band? ALISON: Right now I'm going to say Chris Stapleton. It's not really band, but it'sEDDIE: No, it's the same. And I'm there with you. I love me some Chris Stapleton. Blaine, who's your favorite band? BLAINE: Well, we listen to a lot of the same music, but if I had to throw one out there, I guess it would be Chris Stapleton, too. I mean, she stole my thunder on that one. EDDIE: So when you were break-dancing, what was your favorite song to break to? BLAINE: Oh, man. I would probably have to do some Run DMC. ALISON: That's good. EDDIE: Yeah. The first unique breakers little thing we did was to Rock Box, I think, wasn't it? I think it was the first one we did was Rock Box, but you know mine was Planet Rock. BLAINE: Oh, there you go. EDDIE: I want to thank you guys for coming today, and if anyone's listening, you obviously heard the facts, so go hire a vet. Call these guys and do what's right. And nice matters. Nice matters. ∎

Learn more about GS2:

EDDIE DONALDSON GuerillaOne x The Seventh Letter Louisville, Kentucky native Eddie Donaldson moved to Los Angeles in 1986 and became involved with the graffiti movement as an alternative to the turbulent gang activity of his generation. Immersed first as an artist amongst diverse L.A. crews like TCF, AWR, and The Seventh Letter, Donaldson had the vision to develop their homegrown graffiti movement into something beyond the streets. His loyalty and business sensibility transformed the graffiti scene and he evolved into the point person for producing art events and exhibitions that inspire and spread the stylistic of southern California art into the world.


These inequities are not just injustices. DR. TODD BROWN




CLAUDIA GOLDIN'S WORK ON GENDER EQUALITY IN THE LABOR MARKET The 2023 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences, often called the ‘Economics Nobel’, has been given to the remarkable economic historian Claudia Goldin from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her groundbreaking work is nothing short of a beacon of inspiration and transformation. Goldin has been honored for her exceptional contributions to our understanding of women's labor market outcomes. In a world where gender disparities persist, Goldin's research lights the path toward positive change and economic enlightenment. Women have grappled with under-representation and unequal pay in the labor market for over two centuries, perplexing society and economists alike. These inequities are not just injustices. They are glaring inefficiencies in our markets. Despite attaining higher educational levels in many high-income countries, women are still underutilized and under-incentivized in the workforce.

Claudia Goldin's unique strength lies in her ability to meld meticulous historical analysis with the profound insights of economic theories, delving into wage determination, employment dynamics, discrimination, and political economy. She stands as an unwavering inspiration for women and young researchers, encouraging them to be courageous in pursuing the most profound questions of our time.

Before Goldin's pioneering studies, it was commonly believed that the rise in the number of working women in the 20th century was merely a byproduct of economic growth. However, Goldin's careful examination of historical records has shattered this myth. She unveiled the hidden history of married women actively participating in paid work, dating back to the late 18th century when economic growth was significantly lower. This astonishing revelation dismantles the simplistic link between female labor participation and economic expansion.

Goldin also exposed how women did not fully exploit their potential despite gaining more work opportunities in the 20th century. This was due to the influence of past expectations and a lack of foresight regarding future career prospects. It wasn't until the 1970s, catalyzed by access to the contraceptive pill that women began to anticipate their true potential and invest their efforts accordingly.

Furthermore, Goldin's research has unveiled the intricate relationship between gender pay gaps and economic growth. The pay gap was smaller during the Industrial Revolution of 1820–1850 and yet remained stagnant between 1930 and 1980, fostering wage discrimination due to uninterrupted career rewards. As highlighted by Goldin and her collaborators, parenthood has played a pivotal role in perpetuating pay inequality, primarily through women's earnings loss during periods of childcare. 111

“Claudia Goldin’s work has paved the way for a brighter future, challenging conventional wisdom…” In essence, Claudia Goldin's research has shattered simplistic notions about the evolution of gender inequalities in labor markets and the complex factors influencing these changes. While she refrains from offering explicit policy recommendations, her meticulous historical lens provides valuable insights into which interventions are more likely to succeed. Her work underscores the pressing need to reorganize work practices in female-unfriendly professions, sparking company transformations through flexible, family-friendly work arrangements and on-site childcare facilities.

However, it's essential to recognize that not all solutions are universally applicable. Goldin's U-shaped curve in female labor-force participation does not hold globally, considering the rapid shifts brought about by globalization. This underscores the necessity of adapting policies and practices to the unique circumstances of each region. Claudia Goldin's work has paved the way for a brighter future, challenging conventional wisdom and propelling us toward a world where women's potential is fully realized in the labor market. ∎

DR. TODD BROWN Awareness Ties Columnist Dr. Todd Brown is a winner of multiple education awards, including the U.S. Congressional Teacher of the Year Award, U.S. Henry Ford Innovator Award, Education Foundation Innovator of the Year, and Air Force Association STEM Teacher of the Year. Dr. Brown is the creator and founder of the Inspire Project and cocreator of Operation Outbreak, which was named the Reimagine Education Award for Best Hybrid Program in the world. He is also an Education Ambassador for the United Nations and an Educational Ambassador of the Center for Disease Control (CDC).


We love to help the communities we serve and the veteran community is one of my favorites. JOEL BEECK




BANKING THAT GOES ABOVE & BEYOND FOR VETERANS Joel Beeck has been with The Huntington National Bank for over 24 years. As a Mortgage Sales Manager, Joel is dedicated to going above and beyond in the service of his customers. Chairing several boards and committees, Joel Beeck is committed to the community, dedicated especially to those who have served our country. ALLIÉ: You’ve made a career in banking and a life of serving your customers and your community. Through banking, you’ve found ways to give back. What is it that brought you to banking in the first place? And what has kept you passionate about the work that you do? JOEL: I graduated from Northwood University with a bachelors in Business – Marketing/Management. I stayed in retail management for a bit while I determined what I wanted to do. A branch manager came into my store one day and suggested I apply at their bank. He mentioned they wanted to talk to me about a newly created role of management trainee. They just found a spot for me after having me work in all types of departments. I landed in branch management and mortgage and here I have stayed since. I stay in this business because it is amazing to help people achieve home ownership and finance their dreams. ALLIÉ: Let’s get specific about serving those who have served. Huntington offers VA loans and goes above and beyond to thank our veterans and active service members by helping with closing costs and appraisal fees. Can you share details here?





JOEL: Absolutely. At Huntington we really want to thank our veterans for their service to our country. As our way of saying thanks, we’re offering additional discounts to those who have served or are currently serving our country. We’ll limit Huntington’s closing costs to 500 on VA loans and if you choose another mortgage loan type, we’ll pay the appraisal fee for qualified borrowers*. ALLIÉ: From what I’ve come to understand, Joel, you were instrumental in getting this support for veterans not only started but continued. Please share the story of your personal dedication for those who have served. JOEL: I was new to Huntington at the time as a manager transitioned from a bank that was acquired by Huntington. My team had a lot of passion for VA lending and I wanted to make sure we continued that. It was early fall and I went to the National sales leader at the time and asked if I could present something as a promotion for Veterans Day in November. I prepped and did my research and really found the opportunity for how many veterans we could help with this type of promotion. It went over very well, the promotion was approved, and that 60-day-ask has now been about 6 years. We love to help the communities we serve and the veteran community is one of my favorites. My dad was a Navy veteran and I am just so thankful for those who commit their lives to serving our country and fighting for our freedoms. 116

AwareNow Podcast

SERVING THOSE WHO SERVED Exclusive Interview with Joel Beeck


ALLIÉ: Could you share a success story where Huntington Bank has made something possible that may otherwise not have been for a veteran or service member? JOEL: There are so many stories of how this has helped. We often talk about our customers being a family and not just another file on your desk. We share success stories about this all the time and so many have happened that were Veterans. A couple I can remember are one that was a purchase for a gentleman that struggled for such a long time to acquire a home and the VA loan helped him get into a home without the huge down payment required by other products. In another scenario we helped a veteran save hundreds a month with a refinance that made such a financial impact on his monthly budget that he was emotional at the closing. These are just a few of the stories where we were really able to IMPACT and improve the lives of the clients with this promotion. It takes away some of the financial struggle of wondering where that money is coming from. ALLIÉ: You and Huntington are leading by example, Joel, setting a new standard in service for those who have served. To management in other industries outside of banking who want to do more for veterans but don’t know where to begin, what advice do you have? JOEL: We don’t just want to help our veterans with their mortgages and their banking needs. We are dedicated to helping the community as a whole. We have an internal group that focuses just on veterans and how we can help our colleagues who are veterans and our clients who are veterans by making a difference in their life. We volunteer at military events such as Honor Flight etc. This “boots on the ground” drive to help just grows our passion as an organization for helping our communities thrive and making a difference in the places we live. Get involved, join a board, help your neighbor, volunteer. Just make a difference. ∎ *Subject to any loan program minimum borrower contribution requirements and/or maximum cashback allowances, and to origination, processing and administrative fees charged in connection with certain government loan programs. The closing cost discount will not apply to prepaid interest, borrowerelected discount points, hazard and/or flood insurance premiums, initial escrow account payments, escrow waiver fees, construction-related fees, or to other closing costs for items not required by Huntington, including but not limited to those for owner’s title insurance, homebuyer education, government fees such as property taxes, transfer taxes, and revenue stamps, Veterans Affairs funding and guarantee fees, and real estate closing fees, such as brokerage fees, homeowner’s or condominium association and/or certification fees, and inspection fees. Seller’s credits to pay itemized fees and other promotional credits will be applied to any waived fees first before the closing cost waiver is applied. Example loan payment calculation: $150,000 loan amount at a fixed rate of 4.99% (5.081% APR) with 0.00 rate buy-down points, 360-month term, 80% loan to value, and customer-paid closing costs of $500 results in $804.32 P&I monthly payment (payment amount does not include amounts for escrow of taxes or insurance so actual payment obligation will be greater). All lending products are subject to application and credit approval. VA loans require a VA certificate of eligibility. Huntington is not acting on behalf of, or at the direction of, the VA, FHA, the USDA or the Federal Government.

Learn more about VA Loans from Huntington: 117

I saw that my own decisions and investment in my intellectual passions was a service to myself and eventually others… JIN CHOW




Polygence is an education company that cultivates multi-faceted intelligence by connecting students with mentors across all disciplines in humanities and STEM. It’s a virtual space where students personalize their passion by designing a research experience with their mentor. Currently, there are several companies that offer a similar service to students. However, Polygence is different. They don’t offer grades, evaluations, assessments, recommendations or any kind of metrics. In a field where education and access to higher education seems dependent on measurable standards, Polygence has decided to go against the status quo. The ability to maintain their stance of providing no measurable outputs is due to its people and their courage to advocate for a different kind of educational experience for students. Meet Jin Chow, COO and Cofounder of Polygence. Jin was born and raised in Hong Kong, speaking three languages – Cantonese, Mandarin and English. During her school years, she felt different from other students who were driven to pursue business, law, finance or technology. Jin fell in love with the humanities. She remembers the judgement she received when she claimed her interest. “People made me feel like a failure,” she recalls. However, the negative reception couldn’t sway Jin otherwise. After graduating from high school in Hong Kong, she attended Princeton, where she majored in the most glorious major despite others calling it the most useless subject ever. Jin studied comparative literature, picked up French, German, Latin, and fell in love with the humanities and languages even more deeply than before. Indeed, Jin was a rebel for her cause of what it means to be a lifelong learner in a culture saturated with a narrative that STEM was the only way. She remains grateful that the most important adults in her life, her parents, were also counter culture, supporting Jin every step of the way. After undergraduate school, Jin was earning a PhD in comparative literature at Stanford adding Arabic to her list of languages learned. She delved into North African French literature, captivated by the relationship between Arabic and French in novels. Being able to stand her ground to her own intellectual curiosities modeled what it meant to serve others in the realm of education. Jin shared, “I saw that my own decisions and investment in my intellectual passions was a service to myself and eventually others because I witnessed only a few people in my life ending up in careers that brought them joy.” During Jin’s graduate school years, she discovered that teaching was a calling for her. She imagined what her young life would be like to have someone like her in graduate school to nurture curiosity and interest. She wouldn’t have had to spend energy defending her thoughts and ideas, but instead have the space, time and expertise to explore, be creative and truly see learning as a playground. Jin was determined to create opportunities for young students to play with their passions without any consequences. This vision was shared with Dr. Janos Perczel, where together they founded Polygence which “believes there is value in just nourishing the mind and feeling excited about learning.” Polygence was born in 2019, right before the pandemic. Jin shares, “Eerily, it really was perfect timing. We didn't plan it to be that way, but also, it just made virtual learning so much more accepted.” 121

Research is about pushing that needle of development a bit further… DR. GEORGE PHILIP LEBOURDAIS (GP)


At the same time, Jin was aware of the continued culture of raising hyper-achievers, those who chase accolades, grades and test scores for the sake of feeling valued. Jin felt compelled to reeducate the world when it came to success and achievements. She knew that so many people were living the lie that if they collected things to simply lengthen their resumes, they would reach the success they hoped for. Jin shares, “Passion and intrinsic motivation are the pillars where dreams and success stand on.” At first, when Polygence launched, Jin noticed that people, especially parents, were gravitating to their programs to get their children competitive for college. To ensure that families understood the intention and purpose of Polygence, her team decided to do something bold. They removed grades and any other kind of metrics. She said, “The only criteria we evaluate students on is their curiosity and how authentic and excited they are. We don't have traditional assignments. Instead, the learning project is negotiated between the student and the mentor. It truly is a collaborative experience within their relationship, and what we consider the ‘intellectual spark’.” Today, Polygence is the education solution helping people navigate watershed moments in their lifelong learning journey, whether they are in middle school trying to understand different kinds of majors, high school wanting to dive deep into an interest, or professionals looking for a career change. The Polygence team are listening to what people want in their learning experiences, creating products that ignite passion and adapt to the changing educational framework and job market.

Meet Dr. George Philip LeBourdais (GP), Head of Strategic Initiatives. When GP reflects on his greatest learning experiences, he is taken back to his childhood helping his father build wooden boats. He recalls how the “kids were in charge of building things, scraping the bottom of the boat, and painting it before the boat would go in the water every summer on the coast of Maine.” If he wasn’t getting blisters from the hard labor of building boats, he was constantly hearing the voice of his mother, a former college admissions officer at Bowdoin College and a musician, who reminded GP that every person’s voice is meant to be heard. Today, that’s how GP views the change needed in how students learn. He shares that “changing anything is actual labor that takes investment, time and effort, and even sweat equity, to activate change, especially in entrenched systems like education.” GP became curious in how Polygence could help students break free and explore their interests beyond the structure they find themselves in attending school. Using technology to provide access to all students to engage in their curiosity on an equitable playing field, GP believed Polygence would provide the resources and platform for students to, as he puts it, “unlock their unique contribution to the world.” His personal mission is to ensure that all students have access to Polygence programs. As GP reflects, he shares, “Coming from a privileged background, I understand that the world was built for me in many ways. My reinvestment in education is to make sure that school isn't serving just people that look like me, but everyone and everywhere.” Although GP recognizes that he has a long way to go to fulfilling the aspirations and commitments to represent every student globally, he knows that he can begin with creating spaces of belonging, inspired by his graduate work. While earning his PhD in the History of Art and Architecture, GP wrote his dissertation on the first photographic survey of the Arctic that addressed climate change and the local indigenous knowledge of Inuit peoples that were directing white explorers in the 19th century. GP recalls, “One important mentor during my dissertation was Robin Kelsey, who's a professor of photography at Harvard. His scholarship argued that landscapes are like machines for belonging. I just love that idea of representing the world to everyone in such a way where they can see themselves in a landscape of learning, that they deserve to be there.” Polygence has a mantra to Dream Big. If the theoretical stuff doesn't appeal to students, they have students jump right into research experience. Like any other new skill, learning how to research takes time and practice. GP adds, “Research is about pushing that needle of development a bit further to improve technologies, improve medical advancements, improve lives. Why would we not want to start doing that at a younger age? Why would we not want to equip students to actually achieve the things that we are hoping that they will achieve?” 123

AwareNow Podcast

PLAYGROUND FOR PASSION Written and Narrated by Sonja Montiel


In addition to offering young people the time, resources and mentorship to students, Polygence offers another priceless benefit, which is to experience patience, grit and endurance during their exploration. GP shares, “Polygence is about intellectual resilience. It's all about what students do when they discover unplanned insights, reach dead ends and find some way around it whether it’s tunneling underneath it, climbing over it, backtracking and taking a different path that allows them to keep going. We want them to develop a kind of intellectual authenticity that will last for a lifetime.” In an exciting, ever-changing marketplace that requires innovation, how students take on intellectual challenges and respond to obstacles means everything. There is no better service than what Polygence offers to its students. Thank you Polygence for your courage to see another way. ∎

Learn more about Polygence: SONJA MONTIEL Co-Founder of The Decided Heart Effect SONJA MONTIEL has served more than twenty-one years in the college admissions profession, having extensive experience in the areas of freshman, transfer, and international admissions. During her time working with thousands of teens and young adults worldwide, she began to witness many societies creating an unhealthy college-bound culture that misguides our young people in their pursuit of living a life of fulfillment. In 2021, Sonja met Hilary Bilbrey to begin something amazing. They created The DH Effect – The Decided Heart Effect with a mission to guide individuals, schools, and organizations to build high-trust relationships and belonging through self-discovery and personal accountability.


I’ve learned to give myself grace. THI NGUYEN




The greatest gift a human can give is the gift of time. It is the one thing we can’t have back once it’s gone. It’s the one thing we can give that truly belongs to us. Time is precious, and with only 86,400 seconds in a day, it seems to slip by incredibly fast. These last few years, my use of time has shifted. I went from go-go-go to slow-slow-slow. I shifted from filling every waking second doing stuff nonstop to finding peace in doing nothing and from constantly moving to learning to pause. And in the end, I'm grateful for all this.

I’ve learned a most important lesson. I’ve learned to give myself grace. Take in all the flaws, focus on rebuilding and actively allow myself to rest. It is difficult to do but a must in order to survive the madness of life. I'm learning it's OK to not feel ok at times, to treat yourself, give yourself and spend quality time to yourself. This may sound simple for some but for me, it's been very difficult. I tend to put myself last, usually focusing on the endless laundry list, doing things for others, hustling and entertaining. Now I truly enjoy self-development, self-growth but most importantly self-love. I've learned the importance of inner focus to continue the gift of giving my time to others.

Giving to others is something I truly believe in. It is something I actively take part in on a regular basis. We feel that giving can equate to financial contributions, but to me the greatest gift is your time. It doesn’t cost anything, and everyone can gift it. There are so many ways to be of service that can positively impact someone's life.

I personally enjoy spending time with seniors. There are countless stories and life lessons you can learn from them. The best part is the glimmer in their eyes as they reminisce about the good old days. A smile so bright, it causes your curiosity to churn as you wait for the next few words to flow and with every encounter the story will continue as it did before. Spending time with elders help remind me of the importance of life, usage of time and the joy in which stories bring to the old and young alike.

Through this process, I've gained a great appreciation for the curated stories my own mother shares, the patience in listening to them and the understanding in the memory of how she conveys her experiences.

I've learned that memory is fickle and as humans our individual beliefs in one instance can morph based on how impactful it was mentally, emotionally, and physically to our well-being at that time. Through these memories we curate the story that best fits the experience and through time it is cemented into our core memory, frozen in time as how it had impacted our lives then. The reality is, who are we to question someone else's memory? This was a very important lesson I am reminded of and one I actively practice when listening to someone retell an experience. We must celebrate, show compassion, or laugh when the time comes with these stories. 127

Photo Courtesy: Thi Nguyen 128

Photo Courtesy: Thi Nguyen 129

Photo Courtesy: Thi Nguyen 130

Photo Courtesy: Thi Nguyen 131

To survive, change is inevitable. THI NGUYEN


“I’ve learned to live in the moment as tomorrow is uncertain…” Spending time with seniors has reminded me the importance of time and helped me slow down. I’ve learned o be in the present and not take things for granted. I've learned to live in the moment as tomorrow is uncertain but what you have control of is right now, this moment and things will come as they may. I used to think that by spending time with seniors I gave them more with my time, but I've realized that I'm gaining much more than I can give.

As I continue to explore life, I work on giving myself the space and time to reconnect with the old and embrace the new. I pause, enjoy the sunset, dip my feet in the sand, take in the scenery and be grateful for the opportunities. I realize this shift has hindered my progress in output but understanding deadlines is what I must set for myself.

To survive, change is inevitable. I'm just grateful for the realization of it in order to thrive. ∎

Follow my journey on Instagram @GoGreenDress as I continue as a caterpillar hoping to one day spread my wings as a magnificent butterfly.

THI NGUYEN Nonprofit Consultant, Entrepreneur & Philanthropist THI NGUYEN brings with her over 2 decades of non profit experience as a participant, advisor, board member, consultant, volunteer and research and development specialist. Her expertise combining technology to further advance the vision and mission for philanthropic causes has allowed her to serve as a trusted partner with many notable organizations large and small. Thi has experience working with organizations focusing on combating various global issues such as: human sex trafficking, homelessness, poverty, fair wages, global warming, malnutrition, gender equality, humanitarian assistance and human rights. She's currently developing an app to connect individuals and corporations to assist nonprofits in furthering their vision and mission.


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