L. David Mech "Dave"

Improving the Human Condition

Sometimes when one sees poverty, homelessness, untreated mental illness, chemical dependency, and so much other human suffering, it is easy to be overwhelmed by hopelessness, to think it useless to try to help overcome a particular problem. How can one person ever make any kind of difference?

Well, here's how. This page is devoted to showcasing such accomplishments, and in the future will offer suggestions to foster more such deeds. It is not only gratifying to see what single citizens can accomplish, but it is also instructive for inspiring similar ventures.

There are many ways you can amplify your influence to bring improvements:

  1. Join organizations that promote your viewpoint,
  2. Start such an organization,
  3. Contribute time and/or funds (Crowdrise, Hands On Network or Volunteermatch),
  4. Start a website or a blog (example: http://oneworldrunning.blogspot.com/),
  5. Write letters to newspapers,
  6. Contact your legislators, local and national,
  7. Vote,
  8. Write articles, columns, or books (including on-line books),
  9. Read articles and books about amplifying your influence, for example:
    • The Cathedral Within by Bill Shore. By the originator of state festivals, such as "The Taste of Minnesota" that supply food for the needy, this book gives several examples of what a single individual can do.
    • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. This book explains how movements, fads, and other epidemic-like trends get started and perpetuated.
    • Giving by Bill Clinton. Tells more ways of helping others and motivates people to do so.

There are many worthwhile causes waiting for champions, among them the following:

  1. Homelessness
  2. Racial profiling
  3. Prison reform
  4. Native American assistance
  5. Congressional reform

Below are examples of folks who have figured out how to make a difference for others.

For an interesting look at people who are making a difference, see:

Irene Fernando (.pdf)

Bill McKibben who organized Step it Up, an organization dedicated to grass roots action to help deal with global warming.

Al Veitch, a former grad student of mine, who organized the Terry Fox Run and has thus raised $13,665 for cancer research so far.

Nancy Jo Tubbs, columnist.


I am not allowed to link to all of the following articles or post pdfs of them, so I have summarized some.  Anyone further interested could try Googling them.

Star Tribune

Singing some of the unsung
Delma J. Francis, Star Tribune,  December 17, 2005, p. E-12  

Ruth Volk - Imagine being alone, pregnant and poor with nothing for your baby but shabby hand-me-downs. Enter Ruth Volk and Bundles of Love, a Minnesota nonprofit whose members crochet, knit and sew layette items for underprivileged new moms and moms-to-be. The items include a blanket, quilt, crib sheets, shirts and nightshirts, as well as a diaper bag to hold the bundle. The group assembles boy, girl or neutral bundles tied with blue, pink or white ribbons. Volk, 44, of Eagan, has always loved to crochet, and when she took a year off after the birth of her fourth child, Tommy, now 6, she had no outlet for her passion. "I was crocheting up a storm -- doilies that I just put in a drawer," she said. "I was so lucky -- I had everything I needed for my kids, but I knew some people weren't so lucky." So Volk became coordinator for the south metro Bundles of Love group, which makes about 50 bundles a month. They distribute them through Dakota County Social Services, pregnancy counseling centers, women's shelters and the Visiting Nurse Association. The north metro group makes 40 to 50 bundles a month, and the Rochester group supplies 10 to 30 a month. Last year, the three groups produced 1,322 bundles. As of this October, they had made 1,187. Once a month, the groups meet individually to assemble the bundles. "It's really fun, and the women love to get together. You just get hooked on this," Volk said. She typically spends about 100 hours a month crocheting and sewing for Bundles of Love, during which she can also be with her family. Her reward? Hearing about the recipients' reactions when they receive their bundles. "They just cry when they get these bundles," she said. "Usually, they get the leftovers, but these things are brand new, just for them."

Delma J. Francis - 612-673-1717

Learn Now To Lend a Hand. Tom Salonek. Dec. 26, 2004.

There’s the philosophy that says, “teach someone to fish and they’ll eat for a lifetime,” but some families are so upsidedown that they can’t fish. That’s what Tom Salonek thought when the founder and CEO of Intertech Software and Intertech Training set out to spread life’s blessings. Tom suggested he and his wife start a foundation to help families with terminally ill children. He persevered through the start-up hassles, and the foundation will begin awarding grants by 2006. 

He also joined Social Venture Partners, a group of business people who give time and money to help fledgling nonprofits. Members contribute $5,000 a year to help organizations develop a business plan or learn fundraising skills. Tom is chair of the membership committee, ready to hear from others who think it’s more blessed to give than receive. His email address is tsalonek@intertechsoftware.com.

Volunteers Forgo Surf, Sand For Good Works. Joe Kimball. Feb. 14, 2004. B1 & B9

Want an offbeat but highly meaningful vacation to some exotic locale? A trip that might even change your life? Then click on www.globalvolunteers.org. This site, a brainchild of Michele Gran and Bud Philbrook, arranges working vacations to 20 countries such as Romania, Ghana, Ecuador, and China, where you can volunteer on projects that help needy children. Past volunteers have ranged from age 5 to 92. On this 1-3-week "Peace Corp" type vacation, you might teach English in Hungary, make bricks in Tanzania, or paint houses in an indigenous community of Australia.

Womenade Helps One Needy Person At a Time. Brigid Schulte. May 4, 2004.

Six women in Washington, DC turned their annual potluck into a fundraiser – bring a dish and donate $35. It was the beginning of a small, powerful force to change the lives of the poor. After four years, Womenade groups around the country are raising funds to do the simple things such as pay for dentures for the guy on the subway grate, bus fare to a job interview, rent, ambulance supplies and insulin for shelter residents.

Amy Kossoff of Chevy Chase started the project with her women’s book club, it was featured in Real Simple magazine, and now 18 little yellow lemon shaped pins dot her US map where Womenade groups flourish. In Salt Lake City the group helped a Somalian refugee, victims of domestic violence and a nursing student down on her luck. Check Google on line to see how women in Florida, Wisconsin and Indiana participate.

Recently, Wanda, the first homeless woman Amy helped, turned the tables and threw a Womenade party. She said of Amy, “I never understood why this white lady was talking to this back drug addict. She just made me feel like I wanted to do better for myself.” Now Wanda has her children back, works at a homeless shelter and has been drug-free for 10 years. Wanda’s party benefited the homeless shelter. She raised $3,200.

Lawyer Left Legacy Of Home For Area's Homeless Teens. Neil St. Anthony. Sept. 18, 2004. D1 & D10.

37 Cold Nights Outside Raise $1.25 Million For Charity. Donna Halversen. Dec. 23, 2004.
By Sleeping Outside, He Offers the Homeless Help. Margaret Terry. Nov. 17, 2002. AA9.

Bob Fisher made a difference –a huge difference.  This 56-year-old shoe repairman from Wayzata, a suburb of Minneapolis, slept outside in a tent on his front lawn for 37 nights during winter to call attention to homelessness and raise funds for needy families.   Until donations to the non-profit Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners totaled Bob’s 2004 goal of $1.25 million, he slept out each night in his tent, despite several nights of below-zero temps.    

Each year since at least 2000, Bob has inspired local citizens to help him achieve his goal.  Boy Scouts and others interested in Bob’s work often have emulated him for a night or two, sleeping out in parking lots, in front of their businesses, in cardboard boxes, etc.  The resulting funds help as many as 650 families find warm and safe places to stay.

Global Poverty: The one percent solution. (Editorial) Dec. 18, 2004.

“I’m just one person. The plight of the world’s desperately poor is too overwhelming. There is nothing I can do.” How many times has each of us thought this – or said it? Before you convince yourself that it’s true, visit www.theonecampaign.org. You may change your mind. The One Campaign – an effort by 11 U.S. groups committed to helping the poor help themselves – asks every American to demand that the world’s richest nation take the steps necessary to fight world poverty. An impossible dream? No. The solutions are evident. The only missing ingredient is convincing the world’s wealthy that it’s time to invest in easing human suffering. The One Campaign, launched by a $3 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, challenges Americans to insist that an additional 1 percent of the U. S. budget be used to ease the world’s poverty crisis. The Web site petition to President Bush begins with these words: “We believe that in the best American tradition of helping others help themselves, now is the time to join with other countries in a historic pact for compassion and justice to help the poorest people of the world overcome AIDS and extreme poverty.” Here is a chance to prove that one by one, every citizen can “make fighting world poverty a national preoccupation.”

No, It's Not a Dream: The Poor Get Free Beds. Robert Franklin. Dec. 13, 2004. P. B1 & B5.

Individuals can make a positive difference in the lives of others – and so can corporations and businesses.  Instead of liquidating surplus products or adding them to burgeoning landfills, companies can recycle products in a new way – by making them available to people in need. Non-profits, charities and individuals can contact businesses and serve as distributors for useful things that might otherwise be wasted or simply destroyed. The donation of surplus beds by Radisson Hotels is an example of this new trend called “product philanthropy.”

The Thao-Her family, newly-arrived immigrants to the U.S., are beneficiaries of product philanthropy. Until late 2004, the family lived in a Thai refugee camp with none of the comforts most Americans take for granted. The parents, Toua Thao and his wife True Her, grew up and spent nearly 30 years in huts with no running water or electricity. Thanks to the welcoming spirit of the Twin Cities United Way and the local charity Hope for the City, the Thao-Her family received a comfortable bed for their apartment  – courtesy of Radisson Hotels’ giveaway of phased-out beds to non-profits that commit to taking at least 200 of them. Lauren Segal, chief executive of the Twin Cities United Way, believes the product philanthropy idea will catch on and grow. Megan Doyle, founder of Hope for the City, agrees. “I think we’re just starting to tap in with the market,” she said. “There’s so much (in surplus products) out there that gets wasted.” Non-cash donations bring tax breaks for companies, but the big benefits come with the building of community spirit by reaching out to help others. One person can indeed make a difference – and so can one business.

Honeymoon Continues. Dick Parker. Nov. 30, 2004.

In 1980 newlyweds Bud Philbrook and Michele Gran spent their honeymoon volunteering in Guatemala. They came home and formed Global Volunteers which, over 20 years, has offered 16,000 Americans the chance to donate one to three weeks performing service projects in the US and abroad. Child care, tutoring, teaching English, environmental work, construction and health care are on the menu.

Volunteers join a team with a task that interests them, then pay their own way. The costs are tax deductible. From Bud and Michele, one couple’s love has spread around the world. For information, contact www.globalvolunteers.org.

John Hartwell Gave a Bolder Option To Kids. Neal St. Anthony. Dec. 14, 2004. D1-2.

A Gift of Yourself: Join in spreading holiday care. Nov. 27, 2004.

No doubt you've heard of Meals on Wheels, a program that delivers hot meals to shut-ins of various types. Last Thanksgiving, hundreds of volunteers assembled to produce 20,000 turkey dinners for this program in St. Paul, MN.

This Thanksgiving the need for such meals will probably be greater. And the need for volunteers (and donations) will also increase. What a great way to really make a difference. If interested, check www.volunteertwincities.org.

Nonprofit Rehabs Used Cars For Those In Need. Neal St. Anthony. Sept. 10, 2004. D1 & D6.

Dream To Make a Difference Is Realized. Tim McGuire. June 12, 2004.

Andy Wilson, a mid-level manager with Abbott Laboratories, described himself as “just a guy” with a job to do. He was successful by most definitions of success, but it took a trip to Kenya to open his eyes to extreme poverty and to “put a face on hardship.” For awhile, Wilson thought about quitting his job, but instead, he spent a year researching the HIV/AIDS pandemic. He also discovered that his company had established a philanthropic organization called Global Care Initiative whose mission is to use Abbott’s resources in humanitarian efforts. Wilson proposed to the company that he work through Abbott to ease the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Tanzania. His plan worked. Wilson is now program manager for Tanzania Care, and his challenge is to modernize Tanzania’s public health care infrastructure. He knows the task is daunting, but he insists that his work is helping to save lives.

Wilson’s experience can be a model for anyone in any job. For people who want to contribute to the greater good and who want to make a difference for others, article author Tim McGuire has some suggestions worth considering. Talk to an advisor. Research the problem or issue that has caught your attention. Assess the existing or the potential involvement of your employer or company. Develop a plan and dig deep to find the courage necessary to make your plan a reality. As a resource for your search, McGuire recommends the book Do What You Are by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger.

Brother, Can You Spare 12 Bucks? Peg Meier. Mar. 21, 2004. E1 & E8.

Some Comfort For Children In Distress. Karen Gail Jostad. Jan. 24, 2004. B8.

Name a common item of soothing comfort and consolation for almost any child in distress.  A soft blanket, of course.  Yet, many children in poverty or those involved in fires, tornadoes, and other natural disasters lack such an item that can become extremely important to them in critical times. 

Enter the “Binky Patrol.”  This group of volunteers craft small, warm blankets for such children.  With 160 chapters and 3,000 volunteers,  the Binky Patrol has expanded nationwide and has served many thousands of children.  See www.binkypatrol.org

Country Christmas. Curt Brown. Date Unknown. A1 & A18.

Ragtime: Shoeshining gets Londoners off dole. Heather West. June 1, 2005. E7.


USA Weekend

Feeding Frenzy: Wasted Green Beans Propelled this Financial Adviser and Fomer Professional Tennis Player into a New Realm: Fighting Hunger. Rene Syler. September 24-26, 2004. p. 18.


TwinCities.com  (Pioneer Press)

Can One City Reduce U.S. Drug Law Madness. Neal Peirce. Jan. 3, 2005.

Syracuse, N.Y. recently analyzed its illegal-drug-use problem and is considering a more rational approach that focuses on harm reduction and prevention efforts which, the city feels, should greatly reduce the secondary social effects of the problem. To see the full article, merely Google the title.


People Incorporated: Intouch

Robert Van Zadt: Giving Back. Volume 8. Issue 3. Winter 2003. p. 1 & 4.


There’s No Place Like Home. Volume 8. Issue 3. Winter 2003. p. 2 & Back cover.

Housing With Services: A Little Help Goes a Long Way. M. Tim Burkett Ph. D. Volume 8. Issue 3. Winter 2003. p. 3.