In the midst of all this talk about health care, I find myself wishing I had done one thing different in my life: when I was a Program Coordinator and then an Assistant Director at the Ocean Institute in California, I wish I had raised a bigger stink about better benefits for the instructors.
You see, these instructors are talented and intelligent people—often fresh out of school—who dynamically educate hundreds of students (germ factories, mind you!) each week on the merits of California state history, ocean science and responsible marine stewardship. Lets pause right there and recognize the true depth of what they do: they are the ones who inspire your children to care about learning; to care about history; to care about science; to care about the planet, the ocean and mother nature; and to, basically, use that caring nature and appreciation to become better human beings. Ultimately, they are the cool field trip teachers who are real marine biologists and living history characters that act as the catalyst to spark those AHA! moments for children who will, in the future, stop global warming, save the whales in the southern ocean, protect endangered species, eliminate plastics and find the cure for cancer. That’s how much I believe in what they do, because of their talents and skills and because of what the Ocean Institute represents. And, yes, that sure is a ridiculous amount of pressure and hope but it’s real.
In this day and age of our world, nonprofits exist as pillars to what we believe to be our basic morals; or what is the right thing to do. Whether it’s for the environment or world health care or a specific endangered species, nonprofits raise money and awareness for these causes. Nonprofits are also held to the highest standards in other areas as well. And for this specific blog, I am talking about how we treat people and more pointedly how a company treats its employees.
Nonprofits—or not-for-profits if you prefer—by nature, are poor. Or, at least, constantly struggling for money. I know this to be true at my current company as much as the Ocean Institute, only the Ocean Institute struggles further because they rely on schools in part for funding and the California school districts constantly and continuously cut funding not only for school field trips but also to their teachers’ salaries and school supplies. It’s not a pretty picture and it begets a situation in which many of the most talented employees—instructors and coordinators and up—are working harder and on more projects but for less money in an already expensive-to-live-in state with an inflation-based world economy. In a nut-shell, all the people I call my extended family, who were there when I began my post-college career as one of those talented and intelligent instructors, are working so hard with so little. And they deserve so much more for all that they do. Living and breathing and teaching morals to future generations can be a thankless job; but they do it because it is what is right.
Do you know how exhausting it is to teach? To teach children? To teach children an entire lesson plan in two hours? To be captivating? While making sure they do not cut off their fingers chopping onions on the Brig Pilgrim? Or to make sure the first graders don’t shove the bendy camera into the sea urchin as the kids learn about classification? Or to make sure they don’t slip and fall on the rocks while tide-pooling? Or imagine this: these instructors are expected to take 20 sassy sixth graders on a hike in the dry chaparral climate of southern California to teach them about using humidity to classify ecosystems while making sure the kids listen, don’t fight and don’t flirt, while making sure the chaperones are assisting and not having their own conversations, while making sure the kids don’t pass out from dehydration, while applying band-aids to the kid who fell, while watching for bees because one kid has en epi-pen-severe allergy, while watching for mountain lions and rattle snakes, while making sure they are back on time for snack? CAN WE SAY MULTI-TASKING RENAISSANCE-MEN-ESQUE INSTRUCTORS?!
And a side note to any instructor reading this, before your head explodes on how impressed with yourself you are and before you go ruffling any unnecessary feathers, we shall all stop to recognize that every person is capable of working hard, doing their jobs well and being the change they wish to see in the world. I use this blog to single this job category out because I was there once and I know how it feels to be bright eyed and hopeful of the world and to work so hard doing a job that makes you feel good about your impact on the world at large but still feel like you’re not making any financial headway. I would say I have been doing just that since I graduated college with my allotted pile o’ debt in student loans and subsequent credit card bills. And only recently, with some blessings, have I made major progress with squashing down that rearing angry debt.
My cancer diagnosis in March and my following chemo treatment that began in early June has been the most difficult chapter in my life to date. But it has been a blessing too. Mortality knocked at my door and I am hopeful in saying that I will beat this but I hesitate to commit fully to that statement. Being so young, my cancer is aggressive and its origins or cause are a complete unknown; it could come back at any time. With cancer, it’s tricky: we’re never “out of the woods.” It will be constant screening for me and a very in-tune self awareness, watching out for when my body is being a weird-o or listening to my intuition if it tells me something just seems off. But it is also an opportunity. In the last few weeks, all the clouds cleared for me and all of a sudden the crap that wasn’t important melted away and life became alomost easy. I know exactly what is important to me, and more importantly who is important to me.
Put other people first (then whales and endangered species and elephants because they’re cool and smart; just teasing! We’ll work on this list another time!). Take care of each other. Cultivate a sense of community. Protect what you love. Teach future generations to appreciate what is rare and beautiful and vital to our survival and our appreciation of life. Care for the environment because it supports us. Keep the ocean clean because water is life and we have explored our moon more than our oceans. That’s it. If you take nothing else from here, just take that. I even made it bold so you can skim the whole blog and stop here.
I am going to ask you all to do something in a moment; yes, more homework. I am not going to ask you to yell at Japan to stop whaling in the southern ocean (but you can if you want, we’ve got a petition at Pacific Whale Foundation online). I am not going to ask you to pick up trash on the beach (but please do). I am not going to ask you to stop supporting every single company—of the 50 or so there are—that is owned by Monsanto (though, do consider this). I am going to ask you to financially support the people that inspire all of the children who will help to accomplish the above-mentioned tasks.
And, Daniel Stetson, I am asking YOU, as the president of the Ocean Institute, to consider your employees. I am asking YOU to look at them differently. Not because you did it wrong when I was there but because they deserve so much more. Whether you determine it to be improved health care available to every single employee who works 20+ hours per week for four consecutive weeks from their start date (by Hawaiian State law, this is why I have the health insurance plan that saved not only my life but also prevented me from having $50,000 in debt from my surgeries alone; this is my personal request and crusade); or an allotment of paid sick days for each instructor for when they have been coughed on by 30 children and they just need a day of rest and a prescription of antibiotics; or a kinder clause with financial safety in the employee handbook about time off to care for a sick or injured family member; or paid vacation for your instructors because not only do they deserve it but after some of those students, they need it!; or raises for employees because, hell, most—if not, all—of them have college degrees or equal work experience and they sure would like to reassure mom and dad that it was worth it; or a group trip to Disneyland (it is so close).
I know what you’re thinking: money. Big hurdle. Don’t worry, I have a plan so hear it out, everyone.
First, Ocean Institute is in southern California and that means it’s surrounded by extreme class division that includes Hollywood celebrities and folks made wealthy by other means. Ask them for their money. Inevitably, they have kids and grandkids for whom they would like an ocean to be around for. And you need an “in” with those celebrities? Jaden Smith of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith fame attended the Lazy W Time Capsule Program; remind them of that and start there. Diane Keaton brought her son to summer camp a few summers ago; I know because I called her on her cell phone once to come pick him up early (yes, I was starstruck and yes, she asked me for advice; you read it here first, TMZ); contact her and tell her we need her. INDIANA JONES—that’s right, Harrison Ford himself, the man, the legend—attended as a chaperone to his son very recently; he bore witness as an unaware instructor used his Indiana Jones persona as a reference during the artifact and archaeology section of our living history program. If that man doesn’t donate, I would be shocked and disappointed. I will come personally knock on his door.
Look, I know how budgets work. I know how pay cuts up top work. I know how grants work. Move some things around. Find the money. I also know how to live frugally. And that a few dollars shaved off one person’s salary can make a big difference to many people below. I recognize that no one likes their hard earned cash taken away from them but do you remember how it felt to have your first job? To be bright-eyed and hopeful? To come running full gait out of college, filled with knowledge and eagerness and drive only to be knocked down time and time again because of financial struggle? Let me tell you, if you don’t remember or you buried the memory, it sucks; and it sucks the beautiful hopeful we-can-do-anything inspirational naivete right out of a person.
I also know that within those instructors and employees, you have all that under-utilized creative energy. You have on-hand a new generation that operates differently than any generation before. Yes, my generation loves trophies and needs to be patted on the head more but we also know how to use technology and to network… look at me, doing just that right now. If you opened the forum to your instructors and invited them in for coffee and said, “look, team, we need new ideas on how to get money into the Ocean Institute.” I guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised. You’re instructors are just waiting to be asked! That’s it. Literally, I am telling you, they just want to know that you care about them and that they are important; and you show them that by asking them for their input. I know in my heart that this is true because I was once in their shoes!
But that’s not enough. I’m gonna see you one further.
The great Harry Helling told the great Gregory Hermann who told the working-toward-greatness Serena Neff, “Don’t come to me with a problem if you haven’t at least considered the solutions.” Best management advice. Ever. Hell, best life advice ever.
OK, readers, here’s the moment I promised you where I am going to ask you to do me a favor. You have supported me in my battle with breast cancer from the beginning; when I couldn’t find hope, you kept the candle burning for me. You sent cards and flowers, food and teddy bears, phone calls, emails and texts filled with love, positivity, happiness, prayers and hope, hope, hope. Some of you said to let you know if there’s anything you can do just ask; some of you even blatantly offered money (some of you just sent it!). Through a blessing of my own family (and health insurance and disability insurance through my supportive company), I have not needed financial support. But now I am asking—requesting that—you donate that money to the Ocean Institute. I believe in that place SO MUCH that that is where I want it to go. Only, when you call, you must request it in my name so that we may track the impact of my generation’s talents in technology and networking (you know me, always doing research; I will clarify momentarily).
Here’s what you need to do right now:
1. Call the Ocean Institute at (949) 496-2274 and ask for Dan Stetson. Tell him you want to make a donation to the Instructors Financial Improvement Fund on behalf of Serena Neff (or if you want this done in 9 minutes instead of 10, simply say that you want to make a donation on behalf of Serena Neff). Have your credit card ready. I don’t care if it $5, $20, $50, $100 or more. Just do it. If you have to cancel your $60 dinner for 2 Saturday night and spend $10 on spaghetti and meatballs so you can give the $50 to Ocean Institute, just do it. If you have to spend Saturday collecting cans for redemption, do it. If you have to take used clothes in to the thrift shop for cash, just do it. Don’t think about it; just get it done. If Dan doesn’t answer, you leave a message with a phone number. No excuses.
2. If Dan’s voicemail is full, call Sue Winterhoff. She’s not only awesome but she’s also HR. She knows OI inside and out. She’ll know what to do.
3. When her voicemail is full, call Rick Baker. He loves rocks and geology, chat it up. But make your donation.
4. Once you have made a donation—or if you are truly financially strapped, in lieu of a donation—copy this blog link into your Facebook, re-post it, email it to every contact you have who cares about the ocean and the planet and tell them how much you support this idea. Action speaks loudly. Immediate action screams. Take your spoonful of passion (it’s lemon sorbet flavored, perfect for summer heat) and will it onward.
5. Lastly, and at your discretion, email me. If you simply write “I donated” and nothing more, that’s fine. If you are willing to disclose the amount, even better (so I can track how many people donate and out much we accumulate). I can track how many people click on my blog page but that’s the extent of it so help a sister out on this. My email is email@example.com and no spam please.
Dan, call me in a week and we’ll chat numbers, we’ll see where we’re at. Don’t call me today or this weekend. Don’t call me Monday because I have chemo. Next Friday. You can email me though, I can handle email during chemo.
Folks, I am trusting you with the power to change people’s lives. I am asking you to do something for someone else because it means something to me and it will have long-term positive global repercussions. I am asking you, as my generation so eloquently tends to put it, blow this shit up. (You know me, had to throw a curse word in there!) I am asking you to use your power of connection and networking to spread this thing across the world, because we are also testing a theory. The theory that my generation is vital to this country because of our commitment to and understanding of technology and social media and networking; we need to set the Baby Boomers at ease, as they reach retirement, that there is hope for the future. And that we will protect the oceans for their grandchildren and so forth.
If you are unclear in any way as to whether this blog applies too you, let me cover a few groups of people:
Mom and Dad: you are the only ones I will name from the herd because you are the ones who set in me the difference between right and wrong. You taught me to fight for what I believe in. You taught me to appreciate nature. Now I ask you to be the example and be the first to call Ocean Institute and make a donation.
My family that lives in California, Colorado, Wisconsin, Florida, Massachusetts, Vermont, etc: you have to do this because I am your sister, neice, cousin, second cousin, etc. This is what families do: they pass on traditions. Welcome to our newest tradition.
Anyone I went to high school with; anyone I went to college with; any friend and/or neighbor from Lake Winnipesaukee; anyone I went to Australia with or met in Australia (we share oceans); anyone who is overseas, I do not know how to call overseas but since you read English, I will assume you speak it and that you have some connection to the US and that, therefore, you know how to make a call to California!
Anyone I have ever worked for or with: we’re all connected on this planet, make it happen.
Anyone who loves the ocean, Maui, Hawaii, whales, dolphins, children; anyone who has children; anyone who has grandchildren; anyone who every met and/or saw a child.
Anyone who ever had a teacher that changed their lives for the better.
Anyone who wants to leave a legacy that is steeped in protection and love and not destruction and waste.
Any and every single human being.
The only people who are not advised to donate are the instructors. Whether you’re starting out at OI or elsewhere. Listen to me, you’re time will come but it is probably not now (unless you happen to be independently wealthy). Save your money for bills. When you are financially stable, then it will be your turn to help the next round of wonderful instructors, For now, donate your time where you can, take a break when you need it. You’re human. And you deserve a massage every now and the; kids are exhausting!
Let me be 100% clear: this money is not for a new dock or a new boat or upgrades to the facilities. It’s not even for the inner-city kids who need funding; we’ll do that another way (remember, Indiana Jones, his donation can go to the inner-city kids). This is for the employees, the catalysts of inspiration.
If you need to make sure this place is legitimate, or you want more information on why I love this place so much, check out the web site: http://www.ocean-institute.org
My life goal is conservation in action. This is how we do it. I finally figured it out. I just need your help.
Plus, my birthday is June 30 (tomorrow!) so this doubles as your birthday gift to me, on top of your cozy feel good feeing of doing the right thing.
Thank you and mahalo.
P.S. Pick up your phone. Now.