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Photo Courtesy of the New York Times

Why This Fashion Entrepreneur Works With Homeless Girl Scouts

People

In March of this year, The ANDI Brand donated over 100 bags in an effort to support survivors of domestic violence. It wasn’t simply a donation, but actually a coordinated effort between additional sponsors (who provided goods such as feminine hygiene products, notebooks, health and beauty products and water bottles) and volunteers who helped us actually prep the bags to be sent to Sanctuary for Families. The warehouse that we used to gather all of the supplies and prep the donations was a dark dingy place, but there, we had the team’s best day of 2017; it was our chance to use our own resources to help others. We felt great. I felt great. Everyone who participated walked out of the dingy warehouse glowing and with an extra pep in our step.


Shortly after our initiative with Sanctuary for Families, I read about the formation of Troop 6000; comprised of homeless girls in Queens. I teared up reading the article, moved by the potential of these young women coming together around the values of scouting. I immediately wanted to help, and not long after, Alexandra Ostrow of WhyWhisper Collective put me in touch with the Girl Scouts of New York City.

A month later, I sat down with troop leader Giselle (who also works at headquarters for Girl Scouts of NYC) and we came up with a plan – I would help the girls get their “Innovation Badge”, and in the process of doing so, I would gift them my invention (an ANDI bag) which seemed like a great fit for their upcoming adventures at camp. To help them earn their badge, we would engage around the process of innovation, using my personal experience with ANDI to touch on the Innovation badge requirements for the various Girl Scout levels; “Inventor” for Daisies, “Product Designer” for Brownies, “Entrepreneur” for Juniors and “Social Innovator” for Cadets. I was to meet them at their usual Friday evening meeting spot, a hotel in Queens.

Girl Scouts, Queens

On the day of my session with Troop 6000, I was so nervous. I unfortunately don’t have the opportunity to spend much time with young women under the age of 18, and I was so scared that they wouldn’t think I was cool. I prepped the bags (The ANDI Small for the girls and The ANDI for the troop leaders) with a notebook, pen and pencil (an innovator’s necessities) and headed to Queens where several members of the ANDI Team including our photographer, our head of design and director of customer experience joined me. Everyone was unbelievably excited to be a part of this.

The girls began to trickle into the meeting room slowly and eventually they gathered around me. They seemed genuinely excited for me to be there. They seemed very excited to be there themselves. There was immediate evidence of the bonds they had built with each other, as girls aged 5 to 16 came in with massive smiles and hugs for each other. One of the girls even brought cookies to share with her fellow troop members. These girls very much reminded me of myself in my young scouting days; bubbly and goofy with my friends.

As I began to talk through invention and product design, I was shocked at how well behaved the girls were; everyone was completely silent with a sharp focus on myself and the story that I was telling. They were very engaged, with many questions and ideas, which came in the form of rocket-fast hands in the air. After each section (inventor, product designer, entrepreneur), I handed each group of girls (sectioned by age range) their ANDI and their notebook. The girls got started right away with very creative ideas around inventions, many of which followed my initial inspiration; a hands-free alternative to the umbrella which also protected one’s handbag.

Girl Scouts, Queens

I was most moved by an idea that came about during our discussion of social innovation (i.e. ideas that help communities). Earlier in the year, I ended up in conversation with a man named Paul after buying him some food to help with his frighteningly low blood sugar from being a diabetic. We talked about his situation for a bit, and Paul asked me “Do you know where I could get a shower?” Paul explained to me that he felt he was truly unfit to be around other people because he was afraid that he smelled, as he did not have access to a shower. He told me it made him feel like an outcast. I didn’t know the answer to his question, and so I quickly searched Google to find something along the lines of public showers. I found nothing. Moved by my conversation with Paul, I volunteered for an hour the next day at a St. Luke’s soup kitchen (an easy and wonderful experience which I would recommend!!).

There is a woman named Anne who always works there along with a shelter in the Bronx. She is an amazing woman who has dedicated her life to helping New York’s homeless population. I asked her about the shower situation.

She told me that there used to be a shower near St. Luke’s but it was closed down several years ago, and that truly, there isn’t an option for public showers. I followed up on this inquiry with an old friend’s husband who was the commissioner of homeless services under Mayor Bloomberg. We actually had dinner the night before I met with Troop 6000 and he explained to me that there are only showers at the shelters, an OK situation for homeless families (i.e. those with children), but a much more nuanced situation for those on their own.

When I explained the idea behind social innovators, one of the brownies sprang out of her seat on the floor and began her diagram in a frenzy. As soon as she finished, about five minutes later, she got up to show me; it said, “We need more water” and had a picture of showers. Showers at schools, showers at parks, showers at daycare, hotels and the Grocery store. She came up with a truly brilliant idea to address a need in our community.

Girl Scouts, Queens

Every single one of the girls was very engaged with the activity. They were so excited to show the ANDI team the ideas that they came up with. They really grasped the concepts of innovation.

Our session concluded with a fashion show whereby the girls modeling various ways-to-wear their new ANDIs. ANDIs fashion photographer and Art Director directed it.

They also showed us some of their best dance moves. I shared with them how nervous I was to come and talk to them, fearing that they wouldn’t think I was cool. They then piled on top of me with the most massive hug and told me they thought I was totally cool!! I took some selfies with the amazing troop leaders (shout out to @GSTroop6000 and @Jamalphillydc) and then I gave the girls their well-deserved badges.

Girl Scouts, Queens

My Friday evening with Troop 6000 was such an incredible experience for me and for the ANDI team. I loved being with these vibrant young girls. I believe that an opportunity to help someone else is actually a gift to ourselves. I believe that we find meaning in our own lives by positively affecting the lives of others. Along these lines, the ANDI team is in discussions with Troop 6000 for follow-up programming. Troop 6000 is expanding – earlier this year they started with 6.

When I worked with them last month they were at 32 and by the end of this year, they will top 200! We are going to continue to help the new girls with their innovation badges and we also aim to help with their “Stay Fit” badges. If you are an entrepreneur yourself or if you are a trainer and are interested in participating, please reach out to us. Additionally, Giselle and I are putting together a mentorship program. Stay tuned on this!

Photo credit: Alessandro Russino

3 Min Read
Health

7 Must-have Tips to Keep You Healthy and Fit for the Unpredictable COVID Future

With a lack of certainty surrounding the future, being and feeling healthy may help bring the security that you need during these unpredictable times.

When it comes to your health, there is a direct relationship between nutrition and physical activity that play an enormous part in physical, mental, and social well-being. As COVID-19 continues to impact almost every aspect of our lives, the uncertainty of the future may seem looming. Sometimes improvisation is necessary, and understanding how to stay healthy and fit can significantly help you manage your well-being during these times.

Tip 1: Communicate with your current wellness providers and set a plan

Gyms, group fitness studios, trainers, and professionals can help you to lay out a plan that will either keep you on track through all of the changes and restrictions or help you to get back on the ball so that all of your health objectives are met.

Most facilities and providers are setting plans to provide for their clients and customers to accommodate the unpredictable future. The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C. An enormous amount is on the table for this coming fall and winter; if your gym closes again, what is your plan? If outdoor exercising is not an option due to the weather, what is your plan? Leaving things to chance will significantly increase your chances of falling off of your regimen and will make consistency a big problem.

The key to remaining consistent is to have solid plans in place. This means setting a plan A, plan B, and perhaps even a plan C.

Tip 2: Stay active for both mental and physical health benefits

The rise of stress and anxiety as a result of the uncertainty around COVID-19 has affected everyone in some way. Staying active by exercising helps alleviate stress by releasing chemicals like serotonin and endorphins in your brain. In turn, these released chemicals can help improve your mood and even reduce risk of depression and cognitive decline. Additionally, physical activity can help boost your immune system and provide long term health benefits.

With the new work-from-home norm, it can be easy to bypass how much time you are spending sedentary. Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity. Struggling to find ways to stay active? Start simple with activities like going for a walk outside, doing a few reps in exchange for extra Netflix time, or even setting an alarm to move during your workday.

Tip 3: Start slow and strong

If you, like many others during the pandemic shift, have taken some time off of your normal fitness routine, don't push yourself to dive in head first, as this may lead to burnout, injury, and soreness. Plan to start at 50 percent of the volume and intensity of prior workouts when you return to the gym. Inactivity eats away at muscle mass, so rather than focusing on cardio, head to the weights or resistance bands and work on rebuilding your strength.

Be aware of your sitting time and balance it with activity.

Tip 4: If your gym is open, prepare to sanitize

In a study published earlier this year, researchers found drug-resistant bacteria, the flu virus, and other pathogens on about 25 percent of the surfaces they tested in multiple athletic training facilities. Even with heightened gym cleaning procedures in place for many facilities, if you are returning to the gym, ensuring that you disinfect any surfaces before and after using them is key.

When spraying disinfectant, wait a few minutes to kill the germs before wiping down the equipment. Also, don't forget to wash your hands frequently. In an enclosed space where many people are breathing heavier than usual, this can allow for a possible increase in virus droplets, so make sure to wear a mask and practice social distancing. Staying in the know and preparing for new gym policies will make it easy to return to these types of facilities as protocols and mutual respect can be agreed upon.

Tip 5: Have a good routine that extends outside of just your fitness

From work to working out, many routines have faltered during the COVID pandemic. If getting back into the routine seems daunting, investing in a new exercise machine, trainer, or small gadget can help to motivate you. Whether it's a larger investment such as a Peloton, a smaller device such as a Fitbit, or simply a great trainer, something new and fresh is always a great stimulus and motivator.

Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine.

Just because you are working from home with a computer available 24/7 doesn't mean you have to sacrifice your entire day to work. Setting work hours, just as you would in the office, can help you to stay focused and productive.

A good night's sleep is also integral to obtaining and maintaining a healthy and effective routine. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night for their best health and wellbeing, so prioritizing your sleep schedule can drastically improve your day and is an important factor to staying healthy. Make sure that when you do wake up well-rested, you are getting out of your pajamas and starting your day with a morning routine. This can help the rest of your day feel normal while the uncertainty of working from home continues.

Tip 6: Focus on food and nutrition

In addition to having a well-rounded daily routine, eating at scheduled times throughout the day can help decrease poor food choices and unhealthy cravings. Understanding the nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy can help you stay more alert, but they do vary from person to person. If you are unsure of your suggested nutritional intake, check out a nutrition calculator.

If you are someone that prefers smaller meals and more snacks throughout the day, make sure you have plenty of healthy options, like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins available (an apple a day keeps the hospital away). While you may spend most of your time from home, meal prepping and planning can make your day flow easier without having to take a break to make an entire meal in the middle of your work day. Most importantly, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.

Tip 7: Don't forget about your mental health

While focusing on daily habits and routines to improve your physical health is important, it is also a great time to turn inward and check in with yourself. Perhaps your anxiety has increased and it's impacting your work or day-to-day life. Determining the cause and taking proactive steps toward mitigating these occurrences are important.

For example, with the increase in handwashing, this can also be a great time to practice mini meditation sessions by focusing on taking deep breaths. This can reduce anxiety and even lower your blood pressure. Keeping a journal and writing out your daily thoughts or worries can also help manage stress during unpredictable times, too.

While the future of COVI9-19 and our lives may be unpredictable, you can manage your personal uncertainties by focusing on improving the lifestyle factors you can control—from staying active to having a routine and focusing on your mental health—to make sure that you emerge from this pandemic as your same old self or maybe even better.