Image of plate with steak and fries from Medium Rare Restaurant in Washington, DC
Careers, Uncategorized, Working Professionals

Filling the Fridge, Feeding Our Friends

Care to take the challenge?!

I believe in Mark Bucher’s program, We Care, so much, that all my coaching fees for the next four months (till the end of the year) will be going to his GoFundMe campaign.  His fund was originally started to feed the elderly and first responders but has been expanded to feed the kids and their families too.  

The setting

On Thursday, I had my final session of three with Henry, a talented education researcher. He, like millions of Americans, was downsized as a result of the slowdown in our economy from COVID19.  For 23+ years I have been successfully placing really smart people with talented companies across the STEM professions, data scientists, economists, statisticians, and survey researchers.  People who know me have also enjoyed my career strategy sessions that focus on pitching, networking, and interviewing to identify opportunities.  These are really important skills for these unusual times when everything is in constant change and getting downsized or laid off can happen to anyone!

The players

This is not about my career strategy coaching, but about three recent experiences I have had with; an educator, a non-profit consultant, and a socially conscious restaurateur.  Sounds like the start of an interesting anecdote, right? These talented individuals motivated me to think about how I could support my neighbors more during these extremely stressful times.  (Believe me, there are many others out there that have motivated me too!) Let me introduce you.

Howard Ross, an author/trainer of diversity and inclusion, has led discussions about racial bias and the need for systemic change in recent seminars with Leadership Greater Washington.  Our discussions have pushed me to have tough conversations and listen to what people need and want.  Check out his book, “Every Day Bias.” 

Jeannie Engel, a long time non-profit consultant, founder of Neighbors Rising that gets requests from three non-profits for their clients they serve, LAYC, Identity, and Rodham Institute.  With the rising hatred in our country, Jeannie founded the organization to build bridges between communities and to let our immigrant neighbors know we care and we will support them. 

Mark Bucher, founder of Medium Rare Restaurant, who in his spare time has been working to address nutritious school meals, and is currently focused on respectfully meeting the hunger needs in our region for; children, families, and the elderly.  He inspires me.  Through mutual connections, we were drawn into a brainstorming session and I was able to connect him to ideas on how to obtain further funding so he can keep feeding our communities. 


My eureka moment came around 4:17 am on Friday… not ideal but I jotted it down for when I could think more clearly in the morning.  After several sessions of feedback from friends and family, here are my thoughts. Because of what I learned from Howard, and the model Jeannie created of neighbors helping neighbors, I was able to see Mark’s efforts as an ideal way to help on a more impactful level.  Mark believes in meeting the need across our region for food security as an imperative one that is growing each day as more and more people lose their livelihood.

Mark’s idea that I support

Mark Bucher has established a GoFundMe page and all donations are tax-deductible.  He has two plans, one to organize local mom & pop restaurants to feed the local communities in need.  He gets lots of requests and feels with the funding he can keep the entire local ecosystem more intact by supporting local restaurants to help with feeding communities so no one is hungry.  Part two of his plan is to place refrigerators across the region that will be filled daily with balanced lunches for all those kids who are not in school and who are now missing meals.  To date, he already has partnerships with DC Recreation Centers and DC Fire and EMS to place fridges with them. 

What I will do. Care to join me?

Between now and the end of the year, if you need career coaching, I am your person. Together, you will acquire career strategies that will make your professional life more rewarding, and all the proceeds of my coaching will go to Mark’s GoFundMe campaign. 

These funds will help fill the gap until Mark can bring in some foundation money or more individual donations.  By doing this together as a community we can help people retain their dignity, keep small businesses alive, and survive this challenge together.

  • Refer clients to me
  • Make donations to Mark’s We Care
  • Organize your neighbors, friends, work colleagues to contribute or buy meals from Medium Rare…but wait, there’s more!  

Adapt this idea for your business, double impact

Do you have a trade, a skill, a service that you can give a portion of to the relief effort?  Sometimes we have time to give and sometimes we have treasure. Even if we aren’t rich like Bezos, Musk, or Gates, we, as comfortable middle and upper-class people can give more…here’s how!

  • Entrepreneurs out there, companies out there, can you increase your giving?  
  • Can you reroute your service fees directly to charitable giving?  
  • Do it and tag several friends to take on the challenge as well
  • Instead of charging every client, maybe ask every 3rd one to support Mark’s GoFundMe or contribute to a charity of your choice that is having an impact. 
  • Instead of investing in your retirement today, give that extra bit to a neighbor who needs it now.  
  • Talk to your family and see what you can forgo today, so you can help our neighbors.  

We never know when we will be the ones who will need help.  

My daughter reminded me we have to do more, there needs to be action, we need to become “co-conspirators.”  Remember Henry?  Well, at the end of our third session he asked me where to send my payment and I was able to say, “Don’t send it to me, please give it to Mark Bucher’s GoFundMe page.  I want to support his efforts feeding people, and you get a tax write off!”  He was a little confused at first, but then became my first client to do this…hopefully it will start a trend and make a difference!

Let’s bring this home, because I know we all want to help.  Here’s a great article, written by Howard Ross’s sibling with “Five Bold Ways White Male Allies Can Step Up to Racism”, even though it’s addressed to “White Men” it’s meant for all of us. 


Tattoo on Melissa's arm
Careers, Jobs, Working Professionals

Mortality Smacks Many in the Face

My coaching clients grew exponentially as the pandemic continued to take its toll. People are taking a step back and thinking about who they are, what they do all day, and what really matters. There are also a lot of people getting laid off, not just from minimum wage jobs now, but from the “white color jobs” or more properly described office jobs. Now that unemployment is trickling upward, you would think it would get more attention. Congress failed to find a compromise to address this and now we have some executive orders that may or may not be binding. For me, our inability to respond to this crisis of unemployment on a moral level gives me great concern about social equity. This is a vulnerable time for many, and when we are vulnerable, we are more open to change.  How can we take advantage of this opportunity to make more meaningful career choices, think about more inclusive employment, and a healthier society?

Since the pandemic started our lives have shifted weekly. Just as we got used to one pattern, something would change, it feels like we are living inside a kaleidoscope, the same pieces just mixed around in different ways.

Fear not, because there’s a method to the madness.

Embrace Change

Pema Chödrön says that grasping for permanence will always leave us wanting more because it’s not possible. We have to learn to live with the natural cycle of things, coming together and falling apart.  It made such an impression on me that I have it tattooed on my body, “Embrace change.” It’s an important idea but really hard to hold onto each and every day, especially during a time of social upheaval. This idea has been percolating in my mind for years, what’s really important? How do I feel valued, needed, relevant? I hear pieces of this in my conversations with clients, and as we weather COVID and see the ugly face of racial injustice, I’m hearing/seeing people shaken to their core and talking about it more.  

Lean Into the Suck

It’s much easier to not have these difficult conversations. It would be easier to turn off the news. For some reason, I have always leaned into them. It’s another premise that Pema Chödrön writes about often, and my husband paraphrases as “Lean into the suck.” As I speak with my coaching clients, they are having more emotional conversations these days. Maybe I’m imagining it, but the issue of meaning on the job and in their careers seems to be a more powerful motivator. Also, balance in their work/life and the ability to make a difference in the world is another topic I hear more about. As most of us work from home, because kids are also home or entire families are trying to work from home, we are seeing places where we have gaps and places where we thrive. Think education, health, access.

The Stress of Life Compressed at Home

While we are at home and don’t have a daily commute to decompress, other things in life become more stressful: juggling children, working remotely, no school or camp, fear of eviction, lights turned out, or how we feed our kids. Typically we don’t have time for this kind of contemplation when we are super busy or in survival mode. But if you aren’t working, or working less, you do. You have too much time on your hands. And too many things to worry about. Some are “champagne problems,” others are life and death matters. My social equity study group met today via Zoom and we came to the conclusion that the most important thing is that we need to talk about race, equity, gender, and more. That by not discussing the tough stuff, we are actually contributing to the problem and being racist/sexist/biased. This goes for career satisfaction and personal fulfillment too. We must move the conversation to action.

Identifying Skills & Feeding Our Souls

After teaching my clients how to cut through the noise and identify their true talents, the next step is to describe where they want to contribute their skills. To think about the environment where you will thrive, the corporate culture really matters. The last step in creating a person’s “30 Second Elevator Pitch” or sometimes it’s a manifesto/mission statement, is talking about how you add value to an organization. These are the mechanics of creating a strong starting point, but now we can take this even further.  We can be more aware of what makes a company socially responsible, which makes a company diverse and inclusive, and how we really want to contribute our abilities to our next opportunity. Plus, we don’t have to find all our fulfillment at work, we can turn to volunteerism as a truly healthy outlet for ourselves and something we can do with loved ones. Sometimes, when we are shaken up from our beliefs and our regular routines, it can be a good thing. We can press the restart and make major changes in our lives, our careers, and divert energy to build more inclusive stronger communities as well.

Image includes image of political donkey and elephant combined into one animal with the text "small businesses - the backbone of America"

Collaboration Is No Joking Matter

With more than 50 million Americans out of work, something needs to be done. The other day I was watching a segment on MSNBC where Senators Michael Bennet (CO-D) and Todd Young (IN-R) shared their plan, the “Restart Act,” to help small business owners like myself. During difficult times like these, collaboration is a driving force that can bring about change.

Here’s how I think collaboration can help:

Politicians from both sides of the aisle

A Democrat and a Republican met in the Senate and forgot that they were from different political parties. They realized that the American people were struggling, and they also realized that those same Americans operate small businesses. While the first bipartisan PPP bill was passed quickly, unfortunately, there wasn’t enough oversight (see Trump refusing oversight of funds disclosure). Working together when opposing political ideologies are at play can be tough. Senators Bennet and Young are prime examples of how our politicians can work together to help small businesses.

Consumers and small business

Consumers are becoming more aware that they can select where they spend their money, and they are choosing minority-owned small businesses. Specifically, there has been a collective effort to support Black-owned businesses with campaigns like Blackout Day and websites like My Black Receipt. By supporting diverse businesses, we are building more diverse, healthy communities.  Each of us has a choice on where we do business and how we spend money.  Have you supported a local business? If so, which one(s)?

Small business and big business

I think of businesses as part of an ecosystem. Just like the Democrats and Republicans make up our political ecosystem that can be healthy or unhealthy. Presently, our country is dysfunctional, and until the two parties can collaborate it will continue this way. When a large business anchors a community or attracts more commerce, there is actually room for the small businesses around them to flourish.  Large businesses and small businesses are necessary parts of a healthy ecosystem. This is how communities become stronger. Young and Bennet know that we need to turn the tide and we can only do this by having the two political parties work together. Small and large businesses, women, Black, and Latino-owned small businesses, all of the businesses are important, you know like Lion King, the Circle of Life.  

For example, the courageous women I worked with at Empowered Women International were focused on launching micro-businesses. The entrepreneurial training we shared was aimed at giving each woman economic stability, growing self-confidence, and building strong communities for them and their families. Many of these women came from other countries or under-resourced communities and wanted something more for their families. If they gain economic strength, they become strong consumers and are all part of a healthier ecosystem we call home. If we don’t support the “Restart Act” or something similar all of these mom and pop shops will disappear…

Large businesses and social responsibility (CSR)

I listened to the two senators talk about their bill and what they had learned from other stimulus packages. I’ve also read about the ripple effect of giving stimulus to a small business that pays their people to come back to work (off unemployment), can pay their rent and vendors, thus putting the money right back into the economy. We need large businesses to think about the greater good, not just their shareholders.

ShakeShack announced they were returning the money they got from PPP, and then other socially responsible big businesses followed suit. This was another moment like senators Bennet and Young collaborating across the aisle. There are socially responsible businesses that realize that large businesses with reserves can weather this storm and the importance of supporting the small businesses (the intended program recipients) that desperately need the funds to survive. Again, it’s an ecosystem and we know that if the chain is broken all of us will suffer.

There was a point when business continued to be slow that I thought about applying for the small business relief programs, but they were no longer taking applications because the money was all gone. In a way it allowed me to retain my integrity and not take funds from another small business that was truly in need.

By putting new rules/regs in place, there’s a greater chance the money will actually get to the people who need it. If we want Americans to have a place to go back to work, we need those who have enough to share the pie.  Don’t apply for the loans/grants if you have a reserve of cashDon’t take the money from someone who needs it. There’s enough to go around if you act with compassion and respect your community.  Do the right thing, and reach across the aisle or the driveway to communicate with your neighbors even if they have different opinions or a different political party than you. And let’s all stop acting from a point of scarcity!

Have you seen any other examples of collaboration during a pandemic? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

A classroom on a ferry in New York City, circa 1915.

Education Al Fresco… An Alternative?

My daughter, who is a preschool teacher in Brooklyn, called me last night. With the recent debate surrounding the opening of schools, it’s only natural that I’m concerned about her safety and the safety of the children she teaches. 

While I’m not an educator, I have immense respect for the field, and I’m concerned about how everything will (or will not) work. I read in the New York Times the other day which suggested outdoor schooling during a time when an aggressive contagion is present.  This seems like a simple innovative way to keep teachers, students, and their families healthier.  While it may seem a bit outside the box, outdoor education has other benefits as well. Families juggling work and childcare have probably been relying more than normal on screen time.  Kids have been learning less and retaining less with virtual classes as well.  The opportunity to regain their attention, pull them from their handheld devices, and getting them moving outdoors is huge.  Plus, we know that COVID spreads less readily outside.   

We have no comprehensive national plan to stop the spread of this disease; we can’t even get everyone to agree to wear a mask, let alone keep people safe.  The brunt of this disease is falling on communities of color and essential workers (grocery store employees, pharmacy technicians, medical professionals, firemen, teachers) who are on the front lines, and to be honest, earning the lowest wages.  Both my adult daughter (in Brooklyn) and my adult son (a geriatric social worker in Harlem) fall into this category.  They are underpaid and doing essential work. 

It’s a mess.

In underserved communities with limited access to technology or the means to embrace alternatives like “pod schools”, what happens to them? Add to this picture 4 million people who are currently in uncertain circumstances – unemployed, worried they can’t feed their kids, or if they will be evicted.  

Congress went home for a week. They won’t be worried about where their next meal comes from or if they have a roof over their heads. They earn a good living.  What does the rest of the country do while they play around with the decision to extend unemployment support?  We will have to come up with local solutions. This article reminds us there are reasonable alternatives and while not perfect, they may bring some true positives to the field of education.  Fresh air is good for kids, and maybe we can actually improve learning by giving young kids the space they need to move around outside while learning about the natural world.  

We have been collecting a body of information around COVID that is full of confusion.  We have to sort through scientific facts to separate them from the falsehoods that are Tweeted on social media.  One of the facts is that the disease rarely spreads outside.  Instead of sending teachers and students back to school so the parents can keep their sanity and the kids don’t lose out on their education, let’s mobilize the great outdoors.  Let’s shift to a summer camp model with some learning sprinkled in.  We might just end up with better adjusted, healthier student bodies, keep our teachers from getting sick, and slow the spread of the disease to our families.