WCW: LONDON WOOLMAN pt 2.

So two…very long…weeks ago. I introduced my friend London Woolman (Nebraska Aids Project) as part of my #WCW blog series. When I asked London to be a part of the blog she was more than happy to oblige, but also, she had MORE to share. More to say. About her personal growth and journey that not only led her to NAP, but also to London 2.0.

The phoenix rising story has become somewhat cliche, now that some of us have tattoos of fiery birds rising off the smalls of our backs. Thanks 2004. But holy shit, does it resonate. From the wreckage of personal loss and emotional abolition do we find our true selves. The same selves that once could “never imagine–” made new. Stronger and ready to face the next challenge with a cocked chin and warrior mind. The resilience of women transcends geography and birthright. Our problems are varying in degree but so often the same at the core. Respect. Worth. Rights. Oh my god, Women amaze me.

So London, shedding the skin of her last life and moving full speed ahead to the new one, feeling raw and living vulnerable asked to share in her own words what working with NAP has done for her life. And share something with the world that she could “never imagine” doing before.

LONDON WOOLMAN-“STRIPPED”

When Beaufield Berry contacted me asking if I’d be interested in submitting to an interview on “Women in Leadership Positions at Omaha Non-Profits”, I had a real moment. I’ve held a leadershiprole at the Nebraska AIDS Project for about 8 months now, but I’d never really thought of myself as a person who fit the description of the article, even though it is technically accurate. She sent me a list of questions that included things like “What is your motto/mantra?” and “What are your personal core values?” and it all started to hit me. I am reforming an identity (I’ll get to this in a second) and I literally spent the next 72 hours trying to ponder just exactly how I got here and why I’ll always be grateful for the role I hold at NAP, and why it’ll stick with me for life even if I leave my employment there. Let me back up.

unnamed-1This is a very accurate illustration (drawn by me by the way) of who London Woolman was on June 1, 2015. Each box represented a layer of my life and personal journey, and each layer had a certain level of comfortability and routine. I wouldn’t describe myself as “cocky” per se, but “comfortable” and “confident in my place in life” would be accurate descriptions. A few days later, I listed my home for sale. It was my first home, I bought it on my own in 2005, and I’d lived in it for the past 10-ish years (9 of those with my partner). My home was small and charming, located in Benson, and it seemed like a good time to sell, and we (my partner and I) would move on to something a bit bigger – with upgrades like “a garage that could fit an actual car in it”. Big life event, but it felt like the right time and listing the house happened very smoothly and intentionally. A week later, I interviewed for and received a job offer to work as the Accounting & HR Manager at NAP. A job that I truly wanted, which would also afford me the opportunity to invest some personal funds into a business I owned at the time, which needed capital to fulfill its growth needs. Another life event, as I’d been a solo entrepreneur for about 4 years at that point and hadn’t had to do things like have a boss, or be prepared to fulfill the expectations of other people, etc. I had about a month to wait before my start date, which gave me plenty of time to tie up loose ends at my business, and make sure I had adequate staff to work all the hours I wouldn’t be spending there. Another week later, I received an offer on the house. Big changes all lining up! My world was changing in an exciting way. I started work at NAP on July 13th, 2015. New place, new people! I didn’t have a carved out space in the office just yet, but it felt ok and exciting. I felt no fear since I had a business I was still running on the side that would be easy to fall back on if it didn’t work out at NAP. Fast forward to July 28th. My partner of the past 11 years returned from a project (his work was as a contract employee in the IT world) in Austin and abruptly changed the future of my comfortability by announcing he would be returning to Austin permanently. And alone. I know that break-ups in the adult world are nothing novel, but this was a blow for sure.  “WWWHHHHYYYY is this happening to me?” was a thought that ran through my mind for most of that evening and well into the morning hours. On July 29th, I woke up, bleary-eyed and reluctant to face the world, and I traveled with co-workers I barely knew yet at the time to a place called Camp Kindle. Camp Kindle serves youth impacted by HIV/AIDS. I probably won’t forget that day because it made me realize that my personal struggles aren’t the only thing happening in the world, which is both an awful and refreshingly humbling realization to have. Over the next few weeks, as I adapted to my role as a team member at NAP, I went through the process of moving out of my home, abandoning the love of a partner I’d had for many years, and I inherited a new boss (one that hadn’t hired me) which are all life experiences that happen, although most of them don’t happen in the course of about 14 days. Since most of my co-workers didn’t really know me yet, they didn’t realize the personal smorgasborg of change I was juggling, yet because of what they all do for a living, they offered me support and inclusion anyway. I spent about 90 days juggling a new job, a new home (living in some friends’ converted carriage house, just trying to figure out how to get my shit together) and owning and operating a business. I closed the business on October 9th, and I did so intentionally, in order to save my own sanity. Remember the photo of London from June 1, 2015? Here’s London from October 10th, 2015 (ok, the pink hair actually came in November).

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What I can say about NAP is that it’s been far more impactful to me on a personal level than any set of interview questions could ever get to the bottom of. I received a boss who tells me when I do great work and offers support daily (I speak on behalf of about 99% of solo entrepreneurs when I say that this is something I hadn’t received in a minimum of 4 years prior), I got to know the people that work at NAP but also those who both support and utilize the services that NAP provides. A former NAP client who regularly volunteers at the office has literally brought tears to my eyes by offering his perspective on life (I’m not a crier, so this shows impact), and I have some of the best co-workers in the entire world. I often refer to them as “my tribe”, not because we all agree on how things should go at all times, but because they’re genuinely inclusive, they are caretakers, and they are like-minded – all here to fight for the greater good. HIV/AIDS is not necessarily uplifting work, and these individuals do not receive million dollar salaries. These people are here because they believe in inclusion and eliminating stigma around the disease. But more importantly to my story, they gave me a reason to get up in the morning during a period of my life in which I would have preferred to abandon hope and cave into depression. I crash landed into NAP, and the folks there unknowingly saved me. I am not HIV positive, so just imagine the impact they have on those they’re intentionally there to serve.

Today, I’m launching a fundraising campaign called #stripped. I peeled away all the layers of my identity and my job at NAP has been truly impactful in helping me to reinvent myself. No matter where I end up, I will always be grateful to those at NAP (past, present, and future) who helped me get here and beyond. So what is my motto/mantra? It’s “reinvent the future”. We can all contribute. Get #stripped. #gettested

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Want to donate to the #stripped cause? Do so here now: https://14770.thankyou4caring.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=298 (feel free to type #stripped in the comments)

How it works: keep the body positivity rolling – you are challenged to either a) post a naked selfie to generate awareness to the cause or b) make a $25 donation to the Nebraska AIDS Project, #stripped fundraiser.

Impacted by HIV/AIDS or know someone who is? The Nebraska AIDS Project is the only AIDS Service Organization serving all of the state of Nebraska, portions of Southwest Iowa, and portions of Southeast Wyoming. NAP has office locations in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney, Norfolk, and Scottsbluff serving those in all parts of the state. For more information, please visit www.nap.org to help reinvent the future of HIV/AIDS.

 

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To the woman in line at Walmart-an essay

Once upon a time there was a woman.

A human woman with friends and favorite foods, great parents who loved her, two small children who needed her, and a husband who worked hard to provide for her.

They had a lot of material things, given over holidays and anniversaries. Surpises and items they saved for. Their house wasn’t ever spotless, but it was warm. Her friends went out on Thursdays for drinks, he golfed on Saturdays. They donated their clothes and sometimes remembered to volunteer.

They were black, and white, or Mexican, or Asian. They lived in California, or Nebraska, or Florida or Ohio. They were the Smiths, or the Jacksons, or the Hernandez’s or the Wu’s. They were us.

One day, her husband lost his job. It was a surprise. Something they hadn’t saved for. It was a lay-off, a cutback, a restructuring…the factory moved, the market dipped. Here is what we can give you. Good luck out there. Goodbye.

And weeks past, or months, or years. They measured them in cold nights, monthly bills, crockpot meals, the cost of childcare, the market dipped, growing kids, red stamps on mortgage papers, boxes in her parents garage, fights, broken leads on maybe jobs.

One day-the end of the line. Her milk isn’t coming in right. There’s a baby now. A surprise. One they didn’t save for. Do you know the cost of formula? Do you remember the cost of diapers? He’s out with resumes and a smile and she’s in line at Walmart with her new WIC card-two cans of formula-and glasses pulled down over her eyes. Her old friends don’t come here–but still. She used to have opinions about these kind of things.

She got up early, pulled on her old Uggs. The $400 dollar shoes she HAD to have that year with the good bonus. Her Michael Kors purse, a gift from her Mother who won it at a fundraiser. Things that reminded her of when she was still Rachel, or Tanisha, or Marguerite or Lin. Things that reminded her that they would pull through. That reminded her to be grateful they still had each other.

Her baby crying on her hip. She hands the blue card over and shhh’s him. “You’re going to eat so soon, my baby,” ignoring her own growling stomach. Thinking of fast food and quarters in her bag. “We will never let you know hunger,” she thinks but doesn’t say. She just whispers it in a kiss on his temple and takes her bags.

So many people live this story. Countless of families that have been thrown from the comfort of their lives, caught in an American middle class struggle for survival.

But this story isn’t about her. Rachel, or Tanisha, or Marguerite, or Lin.

It’s about the woman behind her. Watching her with slanted eyes, a disapproving scowl, shaking her head, immediately formulating an opinion to share on Facebook. Stripping her down to the barest of bones. Looking at her Uggs with disgust and her bag with judgment. The WIC card sends a chill up her spine along with all the words her limited vocabulary can muster. “Eww.” “Gross” “Barf.” “Mooch.” “White Trash.” “Nigger.” “Spic” “Chink” “Loser.” “Poor bitch.” She grips her cigarette pack tighter in her coffin nailed hand. She pets her childs head and vows he’ll never know “welfare food.” She hurriedly throws her cheetos and oreos on the belt and won’t make eye contact. “Can’t wait to share this bullshit.”

Devoid of experience and real world struggle the word Humanity is a four letter one. Forgetting that you are them and they are you. You are always one call away from being “other.” Be grateful for what you have been given and what you get to keep. When it becomes more about politics, about competition, suspicion–than about people–the world becomes more dangerous. More violent. Even in passing. Your thoughts become things.

Compassion, Empathy, Understanding, Solidarity, Kindness…

WCW: London Woolman-Nebraska Aids Project

Nebraska Aids Project was founded in 1984 as a response to the AIDS crisis sweeping the nation at the time. People were full of fear and misinformation and NAP served as one of the few statewide AIDS organizations in the country and the only one in Nebraska.

NAP provides HIV prevention education and works tirelessly in the community (and beyond) in the fight for comprehensive sex education and as a safe haven to people who are looking for answers. Sworn to protect client confidentiality, the NAP team consists of dedicated people from diverse and wide-ranging backgrounds.

Including, one of my closest friends, London Woolman.

Joining the team last year London has been very open about her journey to work with this incredible organization and how in so many ways, it saved her life. Through her emotional honesty, courage to try new things and hilarious take on life-London, is not just a friend to many, but also an inspiration. I have watched her tackle this past year of personal adversity and change with a strong spirit and forward momentum. A constitution that is no doubt needed in the world of tackling HIV and AIDS in Nebraska. Being confronted by the melee of life and persevering, is an incredible trait and one so vital to the work she’s in.

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As part of her contribution to this Blog and her work at NAP, London-entrepreneurial as she is, decided to take things a step further and create a campaign built around transformation and self love. That campaign will be revealed here next Wednesday–complete with an essay from the woman herself as well as…well, I’ll just say…if you’ve never been to London, now’s the time to buy your ticket.

LONDON WOOLMAN, NEBRASKA AIDS PROJECT

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What gets you out of bed in the morning? Basic love of life and the possibilities that are out there to do better each day.

What is your motto/mantra? Reinvent the future.

Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life when it comes to what you do? My co-workers, for sure. I’m in awe of what they do and how they work and advocate for the greater good of HIV/AIDS

What are your personal core values? Honesty and Integrity – I have to live with the person in the mirror and she insists on no bullshit

Why do you do what you do? Great question with an ever-changing answer

3 Things you can’t live without. Food from Amigo’s, an occasional (ok frequent) pair of new shoes, and the love and support of all my homies.

What do you want people to know about your job? That it’s terrific and that it saved me, please read my story here.

Who is your rock? If you’re reading this and we’ve had any kind of raw or intimate conversation in the past 9-ish months about life, you’re on the list! I probably haven’t said thank you enough to all of you, but sometimes it takes a village.

Working at a Non-Profit in Omaha is: the shit? Is that word ok to use here?

What is the biggest unfairness in your world? HIV/AIDS still faces massive amounts of stigma and misinformation in the general public – please take the time to get educated on the subject and help us fulfill our mission to make those unfair attributes less of a burden on those infected or affected by HIV.

Quote that just “gets you.” “You don’t know the new me. I put the pieces back differently.” Credit: @HighPoetsSociety

What is your theme song? Glamazon by RuPaul

How can people be involved in your organization and why is it so important? Read along next week PLEASE.

If you’re interested in learning more about volunteering with NAP please, click here. 

WCW: AUBREY MANCUSO, VOICES FOR CHILDREN

When I think of Voices for Children I think of my mother. The primary photographer for many of their early years my mother would tarry us from location to location shooting single mothers and their children on black and white film, in the late 80’s. She spoke of this place often, but I didn’t know what it was. Later, in adulthood, I was brought on to do some video work for their yearly gala fundraiser–and I learned quite a lot about the what it is Voices does for the children of Nebraska. And it was staggering. Now, as a mother, I truly understand the necessity of this work-and want to share it with as many people as I can reach.

Voices for Children in Nebraska

VFC becomes the voice for children on the legislative floor and across health, safety and educational policies, where the people who are most affected, go unheard. They are there, in Lincoln, holding court with our state’s decision makers to ensure that children in this state are heard, accounted for and taken care of. I couldn’t possibly list everything that is needed from Voices for Children, nor everything that they do. The list is long and hard to understand. In a nation as wealthy as ours and a state so robust with agriculture, why any child would go without, is an anomaly. But unfortunately, NOT uncommon.

Only a handful of women have headed this group since it’s inception in 1987 by Kathy Bigsby Moore.  And right now, leading the team is Aubrey Mancuso, Executive Director. Aubrey has this communicative style that is both forthright and accessible. She’s straight to the point, focused, but also quick to crack a smile. It’s that dichotomy unique to people who share both East Coast and Midwest sensibilities–something I relate to and enjoy. Aubrey has stepped into the role determined to continue the fight to have the voice of Nebraska’s most vulnerable, recognized and respected.

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Aubrey Mancuso, Voices for Children, Executive Director

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I think the biggest thing is knowing that the work that were doing makes a difference for kids that’s my primary motivation.

What is your motto/mantra?

I like “Be Kind, Work Hard, Stay Humble.”

Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life when it comes to what you do?

My kids. I look at them and think of what I want for their lives and I think that all kids in Nebraska deserve every opportunity to succeed.

What are your personal core values?

Honesty and fairness.

Why do you do what you do?

I think I’m struck by the fact that  Nebraska is such a great place to be a kid and to grow up and have a career, but that’s not true for all of our kids.  We try to do the work we do to give kids a voice among policy makers so that their needs are given the attention they deserve and to level the playing field, so that kids who aren’t as fortunate in their birthrights succeed also. So thats why we do what we do.

3 Things you can’t live without.

Coffee, my family and vacation

What do you want people to know about your job?

We just hope that more people will find out about the work that we’re doing and share our collective responsibility for the next-generation of Nebraska kids. It’s up to adults to make the decisions that will have an impact on their future and we need to be consciousness about how we do that.

Who is your rock?

My husband.

Working at a Non-Profit in Omaha is:

Full of lots of opportunities and challenges.

What is the biggest unfairness in your world?

To me its that a child’s zip code or race has such an impact on their future. Kids can’t control the circumstances that they’re brought into and it shouldn’t control their future.

What is the biggest joy?

When we see a policy change that we’ve been working on for a long time and see that policy actually pass its an exciting moment.

Something you think but never say.

I probably say most of the things I’m generally thinking, but if I’m not saying what I’m thinking– I usually say “Thats interesting” which means I totally disagree with what you just said.

Quote that just “gets you.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

What is your theme song?

Hit me with your best shot by Pat Benatar.

How can people be involved in your organization and why is it so important?

New Jersey senator Cory Booker said “Our kids are our states greatest natural resources.”  There are lots of ways to be involved. Get our emails and like us on Facebook. Follow legislature and reach out to your own state senator. We have our gala every year and we ask people to join us at that!

Children don’t work on political campaigns, rarely talk to the media or testify in the judicial or legislative process and often can’t keep themselves safe, nurtured and healthy. Many children don’t even have a significant adult in their life capable of meeting their daily needs, much less speaking out for them. Voices for Children in Nebraska gathers information about those areas of need and disseminates that information to people who can make a difference in the lives of all Nebraska children.

– Kathy Bigsby Moore, Founder

If you are interested in some of the policies that Voices for Children have been a part of here is a list!