Connection

What are you doing for yourself, your community, young people? 

Below, you’ll find some information, inspiration and examples for getting yourself in shape, inside and outside, to become a more engaged part of the world — and even a more effective Kiwanian.

Stories by Kasey Jackson and Vicki Hermansen


Be mindful

Breathe, read, take chances and have fun.

Staying active typically means keeping physically fit with exercise or some kind of athletic endeavor. But there’s an important component to staying active that most people neglect: keeping your mind active.  

 In fact, exercising your brain may be one of the most important exercises a person can do.  

“Our brains continually change and build new connections throughout our lifetime,” explains Lori Desautels, assistant professor in the College of Education at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. “You’re never too old to do this because brains are built from experiences. And if there are no new experiences, brains will atrophy.” 

For Kiwanis club members who are devoted to service, Desautels says it’s important to remember to take time for yourself. Adults in the workforce with busy social and volunteer lives often put their needs last.  

“Compassion for yourself, selfcare, is anything but selfish,” she says, noting it’s important to keep yourself fresh. “If you’re too tired, you will have little to give.” 

Desautels suggests these methods to initiate self care for your mind and soul:  

Bring novelty to your life. When you step outside your comfort zone, you invite activities that stimulate thinking. That includes doing things that at first might feel uncomfortable. Activities could include art, needlework, crochet or music. These activities help to calm stress response systems. 

Read, study and learn. Read books of interest, study different places and try new technology. Curiosity and anticipation are important to keeping minds active, and because our brains are wired for survival, we are motivated for the next new experience. 

Take a breath. Breathing is one tool that can regulate your nervous system. We often take shallow breaths and don’t pay attention to our breathing. Take three deep breaths with an extended exhale and lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Desautels suggests this exercise twice a day.  

Try mindfulness. Use focused attention practices as mindful exercises and incorporate your breathing. Sit or lie quietly and focus on a stimulus such as music or even the sound of birds for 90 seconds. This exercise will cleanse your body of negative emotions. Don’t have a sound you like? Try it with the tastebuds, and put a grape, raisin or gum in your mouth. Focus on the taste and achieve the same results. 

Have fun! Fun comes from two things: interests and passion. Tap into what interests you and what you’re passionate about, something you love but don’t take the time to do. Try cooking or baking. 

Get out of your rut. Change up your routine. Humans are such habitual beings, doing the same things the same way, over and over. 

Lori Desautels

Live your dreams

Follow your dreams; go after your goals.

Janie Wright had a good life, and she knew it. But she also had a nagging feeling she could make it better if she could just find the courage within. 

Wright, an architect in her early 30s from a small town in the United States called Waverly, Tennessee, discovered a love of travel early when she studied abroad during college. Once she caught that travel bug, it never really went away. As time passed and friends were creating solid careers, getting married and having babies, she realized that wasn’t the life she wanted for herself — at least not yet. She had several years of work under her belt by this point, but she longed to somehow bring together her passions for travel, architecture, design and yoga to create an environment where she could finally truly thrive.

She knew she’d need to be bold and brave if she were to pull this off. 

And she was.

It started coming together after a yoga teacher training exercise in 2016.

“At the end of the training, I was asked to write down a five-year plan for myself,” she says. “They told us to really ‘reach for the stars.’ I wrote all about how I wanted to travel the world and lead yoga retreats, I wanted to use my design training for good and I wanted to help people see that a different life was possible.”

Janie Wright

Wright felt overwhelmed.

“I knew I had a story to tell,” she says. “When was I going to do it and how? I had to make it happen. I had been brainstorming for months at this point about how to do this, what I wanted to say, who I wanted to be. It was big, bigger than I could allow my little small-town heart to imagine, mostly for fear of dreaming too big and ultimately being let down.”

She decided to start small.

“I started by setting a somewhat attainable goal for myself,” Wright says. “I will leave the country once a year for an international trip. This was going to ensure that I got to experience the joy of traveling that I had missed for so many years.”

When a yoga retreat in Thailand was advertised, Wright decided to go, and add Bali as a side trip. She wanted to stay awhile, so she researched design firms in Bali to make it a bit of a work trip as well. Maybe she could land an internship, she thought.

“I came across a design firm called IBUKU, and the tagline was ‘magical spaces inspired by nature,’” she says. “I was quickly brought back to reality after finding out that it is very rare for foreigners to find work in Bali. I would have to enroll in an unpaid internship program. The thought of that was so scary. How could I go from having an eight-year career as a licensed architect to working for free? After much debate, I went for it. I still applied to IBUKU in hopes of something coming through, but I had resigned to the fact that I was going to do the internship for a different company and that was it. That was going to be my way of living in Bali for a few months.”

To add to the excitement, she also signed up for yoga training in Bali, because, as she says, “How can I go all the way to Bali and NOT do this?”

It’s now more than a year later, and life certainly has changed a lot for Wright.

The unpaid internship fell through.

But she was able to complete the Jai Wellness Ayurveda and Yoga Teacher Training in Bali.

And even as a foreigner, she was invited to an interview at IBUKU. That was followed by an 11-day training called Bamboo U, where she learned about sustainability, bamboo architecture and construction. 

And then she got the job.

Things were falling into place. But staying on course while chasing her dreams wasn’t always easy.

“I felt so far out of my comfort zone and also had the familiar voice of ‘Who are you to be here?’ and ‘Why do you deserve to be here?’ These voices are crippling.”

So how did she fight back against the forces trying to make her fail?

“I have to be honest when I say that every single day is a challenge,” she admits. “I’ve worked insanely hard to get to this point. I’ve taken huge risks to get here.

“I have days where I fight it and struggle, where I feel I don’t know myself anymore, because so much has changed that I barely recognize myself. Other days, I can’t imagine how I could ever go back to living the way I was before. I experience familiar anxiety and depression over missing my family and friends and not knowing what is coming next, or even what I want that to be. Again, the uncertainty is loud.

“My life here is anything but normal, which in a way is what I’ve always dreamt of. I continue to meet wonderful people from around the world and learn new things every day. I’m continuously challenged and have things to overcome on a daily basis.

“I’ve complained about not being able to meet people my age here, but honestly, in my life I’ve learned more about myself from people who aren’t like me than the ones I’ve met who are. I believe this is how we grow. I hope to spend the rest of my time in Bali finding people to connect with who aren’t at all like me, as that is the beauty of this place. People come from all over the world to feel the spirit of ‘Mama Bali’ and to heal for many different reasons.

“My advice for anyone who is pining over whether to chase a dream or goal is to ask yourself, ‘What does my soul crave?’ and ‘What am I willing to risk to find out if it’s possible?’

“In order to start living the life I’ve dreamt of, I had to give up everything that was comfortable to me. I had to take major risks and am still in the middle of writing my story. I’m not even close to stopping now and I’m doing my best to trust myself and let the universe guide me, as it has done so well over the past year.” 


Kiwanis and CKI volunteers at Second Harvest Food Bank and Clean Up Orlando.
Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

Youth

Get involved with SLP

Does your Kiwanis club sponsor youth in our Service Leadership Programs? If not, you should. Tremendous learning and growth occurs through this mentoring relationship, for both the youth and the adults. 

Here’s how to start a club:

Step 1: Decide where the club will be hosted. Most clubs are school-based; however, you can sponsor a community-based club by partnering with libraries, Boys & Girls Clubs and other organizations. 

Step 2: Ensure you have funds in your budget. Chartering fees range from US$300 to $600.

Step 3: Identify one or more members to be the Kiwanis advisor, someone who has an interest in service or leadership development and will be available for meetings. 

Step 4: Meet with the school or site administrators to introduce the program and see if they are willing to be a host. Ensure they understand their commitments, namely the appointment of a faculty or staff member to be the club advisor.

Step 5: Help the host site recruit charter members and officers.

Step 6: Complete the charter petition, membership roster (excludes K-Kids and Builders Club) and submit fees. The club can start meetings and projects while you wait for this to be processed.

Step 7: Have a ceremony once you receive your official charter.

Here are the basic expectations:

Become familiar with our Youth Protection Guidelines and make sure the advisor has fulfilled the background check requirement.

Maintain an expense line item in your budget and ensure all dues and fees are paid.

Ensure club officers receive proper training and offer access to  training opportunities.

Build a relationship by attending club meetings and events, hosting or participating in joint activities and inviting members to your organization’s meetings.

Build a relationship with the school/host site, which includes regular meetings with school leaders or facility staff.

Note: Kiwanis International is preparing for the unique 2020-21 school year and the challenges it brings, such as online learning and limited in-person activities. Visit kiwanis.org/clubs for links to SLP clubs, where you’ll find information about online meeting kits, online service projects and more. 


Community

Assess local needs and then make a big impact.

If you’re reading this, there’s a very good chance you’re already active in your community. Great job! But maybe you could do even more.

Has your club considered taking part in a community needs assessment? If you have, that’s great. 

If you haven’t, or if it’s been a while, we recommend that you take a look to see where your club could have the greatest impact in your community. 

 Kiwanis International offers the community needs assessment online at kiwanis.org/AceTools. 

Does your club have a signature project? Signature projects provide valuable and needed service to a community. They elevate awareness of Kiwanis, engage current members and remind them why they joined Kiwanis. Additionally, signature projects can increase membership. Don’t forget to invite and involve potential new members in your club’s next signature project.

A signature project is one that includes all of the following criteria:

Recurring: At a minimum, the project should take place annually.

Brand enhancing: The project should be designed to elevate the Kiwanis brand in the local community with opportunities for public relations activities, such as using the Kiwanis name on the project, media mentions, etc. 

High impact: The project should have a demonstrable positive impact on the community; this impact should be measurable in monies raised or children served.

Membership focused: The project should support opportunities to strengthen membership and develop new partnerships.

TIP: A good question to ask when identifying a signature project: “What community activity or event is my club known for?” 


Love your body

What are you waiting for? Get moving!

Now that we’ve addressed some ways to keep your mind fit and your spirit fresh, let’s get back to the body — and the ways physical fitness influences our mental strength. 

There are several ways to keep your body active — some you don’t even think about. While many of us, all over the world, are staying home more than usual due to the pandemic, we shouldn’t allow that to keep us from getting some exercise.

Try some of these simple ways to get moving. And remember, always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise plan.

Walk outside. Get in some steps around the neighborhood. Consider buying a pedometer. Or use your phone’s step-counting feature to track your progress. 

Take the stairs. If you have the option of stairs anywhere you happen to go, take them. Skip the elevator. If you have stairs in your home, set a goal to go up and down them a certain number of times a day. Safely, please.

Rely on the old classics. You don’t need a gym to work out. And you don’t want to push too hard. Start with what you can, whether it’s small sets of jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups, lunges or squats. Or try simple stretches. Every movement matters. The key is to make them all count.

Stretch and then stretch some more. Lie on the floor and stretch. Roll side to side. Pull your knees to your chest. Stretch your arms in the air. Stretch your ankles and wrists. Work your way from head to toe, stretching each part of your body slowly and smoothly. Pay attention to your breath. Relax.

Suck in that gut. Remember, your core strength determines the health of so many parts of your body. Doing the dishes? Suck in your gut and tighten those muscles. Sitting at your desk? Pull in your belly button. Put your shoulders back. Focus on your posture.

Take a hot bath. A recent study found that taking a hot bath can burn as many as 130 calories. Even if you don’t believe that, it still feels good and is a nice gift to yourself after a hard day of work and exercise. Relax. You’re worth it.


This story originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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