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  • September 13, 2022 3:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    KidsCareEverywhere Bridge and Dr. Ronald Dieckmann 

    Two decades ago most pediatricians in the developing nations relied on dog-eared textbooks and outdated medical journals to arrive at treatment plans and diagnoses for their young patients. Faced with a child feverish with pneumonia or sickened by contaminated water or insecticides, these doctors often did not have access to medical breakthroughs that could dramatically improve their patients’ prognoses. The gap between care for children in wealthy nations and those in impoverished lands seemed destined to widen further.

    In recent years, however, thousands of doctors in countries like Vietnam, Ghana and India have been able to call up the most recent medical findings while standing beside a patient’s bed by simply tapping an app on their cell phones, thanks to KidsCareEverywhere, a non-profit founded and led by Dr. Ron Dieckmann, a ClassAct HR73 Board Member. Dr. Dieckmann and his team have traveled the globe since 2006 to train doctors on four continents to use software that not only helps them treat patients in their struggling hospitals but also allows them to continue to grow as physicians and scientists through self-education. Offering a compendium of all the world’s most current medicine and scientific recommendations up to four weeks prior, the software also gives its users the level of validity for its recommendations about diagnosis and treatment.

    “Within seconds, they can use the search window in their own language to search for a topic, and then they will have a summary of all the current scientific information in the world,” said Dr. Dieckmann of DynaMed, the software KidsCareEverywhere now distributes for free. “It’s exactly the same software as what we use at the leading hospitals in the United States”.

    Interviewed in late August as he and his team prepared to travel to Cajamarca in northern Peru, Dr. Dieckmann said they expected to be met by a crush of doctors and other health care providers eager to learn how to use the software in a region burdened with poverty and isolation. “When people find out that we are at the hospital and we are giving away this software, we cannot keep people out of the room,” he said. “It’s amazing, we can’t shut the door because they keep opening and coming in. We have to station people at the door begging them to come to our next session.”

    Though pre-session estimates are 50 people, the crowds at these training programs quickly expand to 300. “They treat us like rock stars, and we’re training away and giving away when we are there,” says Dr. Dieckmann. “We want to give away as much software as we possibly can.” KidsCareEverywhere also hands out free tablets at these sessions to encourage doctors to make use of the app during rounds at their patients’ bedside.

    Dr. Dieckmann likes to ask his listeners to give him the most difficult case they have faced that week. “I will plug it into the software, and I will show them how to answer the important clinical questions,” he says. To provide an interactive experience as opposed to a lecture, the KidsCareEverywhere team prefers to keep the size of a training cohort small in order to do hands-on training, ideally at the bedside of a patient. When doctors see the recommendations for that particular pediatric case appear instantly, they become “believers,” Dr. Dieckmann said.

    “They leave the session and go out and tell all their friends ‘You can’t believe what they’re giving us for free in the auditorium down the hall. Sometimes they shut the hospital in order for everybody to be sure they got the software.”

    Dr. Sofía Huamani of Lima, Peru wrote on the KidsCareEverywhere website: “Thank you for this grand gesture towards the health personnel of 2 de Mayo Hospital, and particularly the residents. Having another year's subscription of DynaMed greatly helps us.”

    For the introduction of the software to succeed and for its use to be sustained, medical school deans and hospital administrators have to embrace this tool as well. The team’s on-site training sessions make acceptance on all levels much more likely, according to Dr. Dieckmann.

    Along with experiencing the joy of elevating the standard of care in these developing countries, Dr. Dieckmann and his team often confront risks such as disease and political instability. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo the civil war that ended the lives of millions took on personal meaning for the members of KidsCareEverywhere. The team had gone to a hospital in the southeast corner of the central African nation to train doctors in a hospital that then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had visited the year before when U.S. officials were trying to provide economic assistance. “We trained every doctor in the hospital, and the following year a rebel group came by and killed many of the doctors and actually destroyed much of the hospital,” Dr. Dieckmann recalled.

    India, with its three billion people, its extremes of wealth and education, and regions that are almost like separate countries, poses a different set of problems for the teams distributing the software to doctors working in some of the poorest public hospitals. Of those crumbling institutions on which so many Indians depend, Dr. Dieckmann said “They’re falling down. There are piles of rubble on the floor and animals grazing in the hallways. There are electrical wires hanging down in the hallways. The electricity often doesn’t work…It’s every imaginable obstacle that you can conjure up that presents itself to us.”

    Despite the failing infrastructure and the travelers’ illnesses that always seemed to plague the KidsCareEverywhere team there, India continues to compel Dr. Dieckmann to return. He is quick to praise its magnanimous and tech-oriented doctors, its rich culture and delicious food. He mourns the training projects there that were abruptly halted when the country suffered one of the world’s worst phases of the Covid pandemic. “India got hit really hard, and many of the people we were working with died,” Dr. Dieckmann said.

    Natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods add to the difficulties the KidsCareEverywhere team faces during many missions. Human obstacles come in the form of corruption or the sudden exit of an NGO or corporation from a fruitful partnership. In Dar es Salaam, the team successfully conducted training at the massive Muhimbili National Hospital until the hospital’s funding from Johnson & Johnson dried up. “Then they pulled the plug, and everything collapsed,” Dr. Dieckmann said.

    “It’s so disheartening that all of these essential programs and hospitals and services for people are hanging on by a thread and the least perturbation in the system, whether it’s from natural elements or from global instability or corruption, just completely destroys all the work that we do,” he added.

    Innate optimism and a talent for improvising that MacGyver would envy keep Ron Dieckmann from succumbing to despair. “We wonder what the next thing is going to be to come up against us, but that’s part of the challenge,” he said. “It’s part of the gratification of it.” He and his team have learned to bring battery-powered projectors, hotspots for web access, and other essentials in order to carry out training no matter what. “We are hellbent on making it happen.”

    When Covid hit in early 2020, KidsCareEverywhere, like non-profits around the world, had to scramble to find ways of sustaining its work during the isolation of the pandemic’s first years. In Ghana, their team of ten raced to complete software training as people started dying around them in a region with few medical facilities. A short time later KCE had to turn to a virtual mode of instruction that paled in comparison to the hands-on training mode their teams had previously employed. The number of doctors and nurses who received the pediatric software declined.

    Now Dr. Dieckmann and his crew are back on the road, scheduled to travel to Bhutan, Nepal and Cambodia after the training programs in Peru are finished. They hope to reach out to health- care providers beyond physicians such as hospital pharmacists, who often lack the sophisticated databases upon which their counterparts in the United States rely. By downloading and searching the app’s pharmacology database with its 2500 different drugs, these pharmacists can instantaneously determine side effects, complications, and incompatibilities with other drugs, Dr. Dieckmann explained.

    The roots of KidsCareEverywhere lie in Ron Dieckmann’s previous travels with his wife and three daughters to developing countries as well as in his own efforts to write and compile textbooks in pediatric emergency medicine. By the beginning of this century, he realized, “The textbook is dead. There is no future for the textbook in American medicine or medicine anywhere in the world…I thought I had to do something quite different.”

    With an Australian partner who had developed information services for the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, Dr. Dieckmann in 2003 founded the software company PEMSoft, which issued a decision-support product solely for pediatric emergency medicine. From its beginning he gave away free copies of its software to colleagues in developing countries, starting with Vietnam. When EBSCO Publishing in Ipswich, Ma. acquired the company in 2013, its president, Tim Collins, supported the work of KidsCareEverywhere by agreeing to continue their donations of medical software in low-income nations. Nearly a decade later Ron Dieckmann and his colleagues have given away the EBSCO product DynaMed, a clinical reference tool that encompasses about 15 languages, to their counterparts in 26 countries. Approximately 22,000 people used the software in July of this year alone.

    Harder to quantify are the multiplier effects that the software can have once a doctor or pharmacist repeatedly uses it to care for patients and to deepen his or her own education. KidsCare Everywhere has trained more than 10,000 doctors to rely on a free app that would cost them $399 a year if they were practicing in Boston or Tokyo. “If each doctor has used it to some extent and extended the benefits of this software to all his or her patients…and the doctor is seeing up to 10,000 to 20,000 kids a year, we’ve affected the health-care experience of many, many millions of children,” Dr. Dieckmann said.

    With the constant feedback KidsCareEverywhere receives from tracking app usage as well as reading reports from health care leaders in hospitals they have visited, the volunteers have come to realize the value of the software for raising the level of medical education. Like doctors everywhere who come away with questions after they treat their patients, practitioners can now return to their homes or offices to call up answers based on the most comprehensive and up-to-date research. For aspiring physicians, KidsCareEverywhere’s software can easily take the place of the weighty textbooks that medical students of Dr. Dieckmann’s generation studied.

    “They’re putting up a brand-new hospital in Hanoi, and we were doing some training there, and the doctor who was head of pediatrics said ‘Ron, we are using this program as our entire curriculum for training doctors in our new hospital,’” Dr. Dieckmann said. “By saving the life of a one-year-old through providing more current access to scientific information to the doctor, we are producing an asset to that society that is vastly greater than what we would be doing by working at the other end.” Dr Dieckmann said.

    The advances in pediatric care and medical education fostered by KidsCareEverywhere come at a time of dramatic improvements in the mortality rates and overall health of children in developing countries. Dr. Dieckmann attributes those gains to public health reforms like water purification and better sanitation systems. He credits Bill Gates for “really innovative projects” such as widespread mosquito netting distribution, which have decreased infant mortality especially in Africa.

    Ron Dieckmann’s own journey to teach pediatricians in some of the world’s poorest countries began in his hometown of Cincinnati, where he recalls having “a great childhood of my own.” Growing up in a working-class family, he said, “I didn’t even know anybody who went to college. I never knew a doctor.” At Harvard where he concentrated in History and Science and lived in Winthrop House, he realized how many things were possible.

    At Stanford University’s medical school Dr. Dieckmann said he became fascinated with pediatrics, a career path strongly encouraged by his parents “who really, really loved the idea that I would be taking care of children.” Dr. Dieckmann saw that same generosity of spirit in the “humanity of pediatrics, the kindness of pediatrics.” He went on to complete a residency in that specialty at the University of California, San Francisco.

    “When I finished my residency, I realized that what I really loved was emergency medicine and critical care and trauma care because it’s in my personality. I’ve always liked just being in the front lines in this type of situation,” Dr. Dieckmann said. He went on to become a professor of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at University of California, San Francisco and to serve as the Director of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital for 25 years. He also received a masters from the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

    Dr. Dieckmann’s education at Stanford and his proximity to Silicon Valley during the years when tech giants like Steve Jobs and Sergey Brin were imagining new worlds helped him envision digital possibilities in medical education. “I became very disenchanted with the written word and knew there had to be a better way of doing things through the virtual world,” he said. “And that was absolutely born of much exposure to technology.”

    His dissatisfaction with hard-cover textbooks “that got old and dusty” led him to tap the knowledge of friends and colleagues who were immersed in the software culture taking root in northern California. “I think I had the great fortune of being in the right place at the right time,” Dr. Dieckmann said.

    Having recently joined the Board of ClassACT HR73, Dr. Dieckmann hopes that his new role will help him expand the mission and scope of KidsCareEverywhere. One path for growth could involve connecting with Class of 1973 members, as well as other alumni, who can provide contacts with leaders in low-income countries. “There are lots of poor countries out there, there are lots of people at Harvard who know people who are running the governments there or the health systems or hospitals… who are really good, strong people that we can work with collegially and in training.”

    Dr. Dieckmann also sees KidsCareEverywhere as a model for providing clinical-decision software in other specialties to physicians in low-income countries. “There’s every reason in the world that any specialty could adopt all of our structures and methodologies,” he said. “I certainly would gladly share any of it, and all of it with anyone who is so inclined.”

    Classmates who would like to donate to KidsCareEverywhere to help Dr. Dieckmann and his team of volunteers widen the circle of health-care providers who have benefitted from receiving the free pediatric software and training can donate here

  • August 26, 2022 11:40 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    ClassACT associate Bob Livingston has created a digital version of the Radcliffe Freshman Register from 1973! In anticipation of our 50th reunion this spring, scroll through to look at pictures, ads, and memories. 


  • August 17, 2022 4:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The elimination of many polling places. The cancellation of early voting. The intimidation at the polls of voters and election workers. These are just a few of the signs of voter suppression that have sprouted in recent years as some members of the electorate attempt to attain or to hold on to power by preventing those they regard as potential opponents from voting.

    As the nation gears up for the 2022 midterm elections in November, ClassACT HR73 is hosting the forum “Voter Suppression: A Cancer in Our Body Politic” on September 12th from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm EDT. The forum will bring together journalists, activists and experts concerned with election integrity to discuss how repressing voting threatens our democracy. Class of 1973’s own E.J. Dionne, the renowned Washington Post columnist, will moderate a panel that includes  Congressman Joaquin Castro '2000, the Congressman for the 20th District of Texas, Cecile Scoon ’81, President of the FLA League of Women Voters, and Michael Waldman, President of the Brennan Center.

    ClassACT HR73 invites everyone to register above for this crucial forum. We also urge all of you to become involved in efforts to register new voters, to inspire those registered for all parties to cast their ballots, and to help safeguard the right of everyone to free and fair elections.

  • August 12, 2022 10:06 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Confronting a mental health crisis, whether suffered personally or by a loved one, is not only painful but lonely as well. Those who endure depression, anxiety or other conditions, as well as their family members often do not know where to find support from others who have experienced similar anguish. That loneliness can make the crisis seem more acute and can diminish faith in recovery.

    “People generally don’t learn how to deal with mental health situations. We don’t get trained in it. We find ourselves usually in a situation where somebody has had a problem, a crisis, even hospitalization. We’re unprepared, and it can be very isolating,” says Ellen Faran ‘73, the president and CFO of the Cole Resource Center, a non-profit in Belmont, Massachusetts, and ClassACT HR73’s newest Bridge Partner. At the CRC Ellen and other volunteers endeavor “to help those who are facing mental health challenges, both individuals in recovery and family members, live healthy and productive lives.”

    These volunteers are all “lay people” who have experienced mental health challenges themselves or have had a family member who has faced them, Ellen said, adding that she became involved in support work after an intense decade of caring for a family member in crisis. She describes Cole volunteers as people who know firsthand that “recovery is achievable and that open conversation and mutual support are invaluable in moving forward.”

    As part of a three-person leadership team, Ellen helps not only to manage the administrative tasks of the resource center but also to guide the seven or eight other volunteers who contribute to its activities. This small team helps an estimated 500 people a year through the Center’s resource referral services and its support groups and Workforce program.

    To patients and families, the chance to be heard and advised by people who have lived through similar experiences helps to banish the stigma too frequently attached to mental health crises. Peer support is particularly valuable immediately after a crisis, Ellen observed. “What we find is that the voice of lived experience is a very important and effective voice for people dealing with this.”

    Other fraught transitions such as discharge from a hospital, a return to college, or a move into independent housing can also be eased with involvement in a peer support group, Ellen explained. The empathy and practical advice that strengthens a person in transition comes from people who themselves have felt the fear and aloneness of embarking on the next phase of a recovery or watching a loved one take that step. What results from this circle of receiving help and then feeling knowledgeable and strong enough to pass it on is the spirit of community on which Cole Resource volunteers pride themselves.

    “We try to talk about ourselves as the community where you might enter the community in some state of crisis, but you end up staying and sharing with others and helping others, and that’s part of your journey toward recovery,” she explained.

    For family members of a person with a mental health crisis, this caring community often is a godsend. Many of them, Ellen said, have no background in mental health and are unfamiliar with the meaning of their child’s or their spouse’s diagnosis. “The symptoms are very overlapping,” she added. “It can take a very long time to get an accurate diagnosis, sometimes years.” Family members often are struggling to make sense of this medical information while caring for a beloved person who has just left the hospital or has had to interrupt a year of college because of a psychotic break, she added.

    Grief for the way one was before the onset of a mental health crisis or grief for lost dreams cherished for a child often befall someone who seeks out the Cole Resource Center. “You may have thought you were raising a professional lawyer, doctor, engineer, whatever, and it turns out they have a health condition that makes that overly stressful for them and they need to seek another path. You, the family member, have to let go of whatever expectation that was.” The task then is to embrace a new vision of what will be a healthy and productive life for your child, she added.

    On the Cole Resource Center website, one mother recalled the distress of those first days and months as well as the haven that the Cole Resource Center became. “The warm welcome and caring at the Cole Center has already had a profound impact on my life. As the mother of a child recently diagnosed, I have felt so alone, terrified, and confused...The time, attention, endless resources and guidance so freely offered by the volunteer staff have been of such value to me.” During such a crisis the Cole volunteers can provide referrals to outpatient treatment programs, housing options, and educational programs.

    “A number of women who have been part of our family support group have told us that they have moved on from just feeling helpless and hopeless to understanding how they can go forward,” Ellen said.

    Fewer men come to the Cole Resource Center seeking help than women, a trend frequently observed by mental health practitioners. Yet those who have joined the men’s peer support group, men in their 40s and 50s who have been dealing with mental health conditions for years, have found encouragement sharing hopes and fears with others who have experienced similar emotions. “They find that talking with other men is much more comfortable for them than joining a mixed support group,” Ellen said.

    An unexpected health crisis can cause a person to lose sight of who they are, of the vocation or skill that once shaped their identity. The Cole Resource Center’s Workforce Development Program helps to remind clients that they are more than a patient or a caregiver and supports them in finding a meaningful purpose in the workplace or elsewhere. When clients are ready to begin a job search, they often must contend with previously unforeseen challenges like the lingering effects of their illness, their loss of self-esteem or the unjust stigma of a mental health condition.

    “They face a particular challenge -- if you think about how difficult job hunting is for anybody, having to present yourself and sell yourself to people and then add the layer of a recent health crisis that has likely interrupted your career path,” Ellen said.

    Along with helping clients with job hunting skills like networking, resume writing, and interviewing, the Workforce program’s online Job Club includes discussions of disability rights, employee rights and whether it’s advisable at certain times or with certain employers to disclose a mental health condition. This counseling allows participants to regain a sense of purpose and confidence and to identify the right next step for them. “It’s a program for people in recovery who are ready and able to work,” Ellen said.

    Since its start more than 25 years ago, the Cole Resource Center has had an informal association with McLean Hospital, the renowned psychiatric institution affiliated with Harvard Medical School. McLean has provided the center with office space and remains one of its clinical partners. That partnership has helped Ellen and the other volunteer leaders refine their programs, build their model, and learn what is effective in helping patients and family on the path to recovery.

    As a non-profit offering customized, individual referrals for treatment programs, Cole volunteers have witnessed firsthand the critical shortage of clinical practitioners and other services like outpatient clinics and housing programs. During the pandemic, as depression and anxiety swelled throughout the general population, the situation worsened.

    But encouraging trends suggest to Ellen that the stigma of a mental health illness is fading as more and more people come to see it as a condition that needs to be managed like any other chronic health problem. “I have a lot of faith in young people who are talking more naturally about their own situations,” she said. Ellen is also heartened by progress in the ways that individuals and families are now included in treatment planning, and by the police departments that now provide training in behavioral health response to their members.

    In keeping with their determination to deliver peer support despite setbacks, the Cole Resource Center volunteers quickly adapted to the pandemic in 2020 by switching to virtual delivery of services by Zoom or phone. They discovered that many clients found online meetings easier in terms of time constraints or lengthy commutes. “Actually, we’re not making any immediate plans to return in person, and there’s no particular pressure to do that,” Ellen said.

    Nonetheless, the Cole Resource Center leaders continue to grow their community gradually, often by word of mouth. With their core knowledge of resources centered in Massachusetts and New England, they have no immediate plans to expand beyond that area. At the same time these professional volunteers have worked hard in the last year on administrative tasks like improving their database and honing their communications, including adopting a new logo designed by a client with graphic expertise. They have written a procedures manual and developed new training programs for the leaders who identify resources and point clients toward them. All of these efforts enhance the value of the Cole Resource Center as a model for other communities.

    As president Ellen draws on what she learned as a Winthrop House English concentrator and at Harvard Business School to guide the non-profit through a time of transformation. “Writing helps me think. I clarify my thoughts as I’m writing something,” she said. The Harvard MBA that helped her eventually become head of MIT Press before retiring also provided the accounting and management skills she uses now to buttress the Cole Resource Center.

    In summing up the impact of her Harvard education on her role at CRC, Ellen said “The main thing my Harvard education left me with is this enthusiasm for learning.” That zest, she said, has helped her figure out things like how to send bulk email through the database system and how to put an image on the website. “I’m 71 years old and I’m learning new little tricks all the time. It’s really fun.”

    As the Cole Resource Center stands poised for purposeful growth, the members of ClassACT HR73 can play a role by offering advice on legal, human resources and other structural issues faced by nonprofits. Working virtually, ClassACT volunteers can join as researchers who locate mental health resources or help with outreach efforts that expand the Center’s network of health care providers and other non-profits.

    Finally, by donating to the Cole Resource Center, ClassACT members can ensure that the extraordinary work done by Ellen and her fellow volunteers can continue to support patients and their families at times of great need. 

    The value of that work is evident in the words that one member of the Cole Resources community included on their website:

    “Yesterday I was living in the shadow of my illness in isolation, loneliness, and despair. Today within the safe, supportive, and compassionate harbor of the Cole Center, I am actively living my recovery. The Cole Center has been a powerful catalyst for a dramatic renewal of my confidence and self-worth.”

  • May 11, 2022 5:57 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    *Click here to watch the video profile on White Pony Express created by our own Rick Brotman '73!*

    As Americans watched in horror last March while Russian missiles slammed into Kievand other Ukrainian cities, the members of White Pony Express noticed that a neighbor had begun to collect supplies in his garage for the refugees who were now streaming into Poland. Volunteers and staff at the Pleasant Hill, Ca. non-profit, which delivers food, clothing and other essentials throughout Contra Costa County, began bringing canned food and diapers to the  neighbor to add to a hastily assembled supply line that managed to get necessities to Ukrainian troops and desperate civilians. Within a few weeks, WPE had grown its own network to deliver pallets of medical supplies, hygiene kits and clothing to Ukrainians on both sides of their country’s borders.

    “Our circle is large, the need was so dire,” said Eve Birge, executive director of WPE, which has become a model for repurposing food, reducing greenhouse gasses, and creating a “circle of giving” that honors those who receive as well as those who volunteer and donate.

    “We would never give out food or clothing that was not the best quality,” said Emily Karakashian ‘73, who connected the non-profit with ClassACT’s Bridge Program. “It is a sense of unity. We are one family.”

    Located in an area that embraces both affluent San Francisco bedroom communities and “food deserts” like Richmond, this Bridge Project began in 2013. Its founder, Dr Carol Weyland Connor, was searching for a way to offer to the homeless people she got to know on her daily walks the produce and baked goods she saw grocery stores dumping. The volunteers she helped organize soon began going from store to store seeking donations they could then deliver to a growing number of partner non-profits who would provide the food to those in need.

    Borrowing each other’s minivans and lugging ice chests, Karakashian and her fellow volunteers went from department to department in grocery stores seeking donations. Other service organizations helped them raise funds for refrigerated trucks, and a faith-based non-profit provided them with storage space and utilities. “We were all in,” Karakashian said. “We were so happy to do it. The need was so great.” She recalls calling on one butcher who catered to affluent customers. He told her, “I know what you are doing. My father is head of the Salvation Army in Mexico.” He then pulled out his best cuts of meat and put them in her basket.

    White Pony Express has delivered more than 18 million tons of fresh food to approximately 120,000 people who grapple with financial hardship compounded by the pandemic. The non-profit has created more than 15 million meals for Contra Costa residents. In a fleet of refrigerated vehicles, its 17 teams of about 400 volunteers speed to stores and restaurants and bring the surplus food back to the warehouse to be sorted and organized. Finally, they deliver the food to partner organizations like food banks and schools where it can be distributed.

    By rescuing fresh produce and other food stuffs that otherwise ends up in a landfill, WPE estimates it has prevented approximately 17,000 tons of greenhouse emissions. It has served as a model in a state that recently enacted a mandate that food- service businesses must donate surpluses to food-recovery organizations to combat both hunger and climate change. California has set the goal by 2025 of rescuing 20 percent of all edible food currently being discarded in order to help one in four Californians who don’t have enough to eat.

    In recent years WPE has expanded its recovery efforts to include the returned clothing and dead stock that stores discard or sell for a pittance. These items, as well as donated household goods and toys, make up the inventory of the WPE General Store where clients can choose what they want. Donors are told to ask themselves this question: “Would you give it to a loved one?” Karakashian explained. “It has to be that good.”

    With its ability to connect abundance to need, White Pony Express was able to step in when the Camp Fire ravaged parts of northern California in 2018. In the weeks and months after California’s worst wildfire in a century, WPE volunteers made two to three trips per week in vans packed with food. At Easter that year, volunteers prepared a brunch for the survivors, some of whom counted family members among the 85 souls who perished in that fire. “The intent was to make it a special day,” Karakashian said. “We prepared boxed meals, special treats, music. It was an uplifting day for everyone.”

    That ability to bring its forces to bear rapidly on a disaster allowed WPE to expand its efforts for Ukrainians as the crisis worsened. The non-profit began to “grow its own network,” Birge said. “We started delivering pallets of medical supplies, hygiene kits, warm clothing.” In addition to a page on their website for monetary donations, WPE  set up a link that directs donors to an Amazon page where they can purchase desperately needed supplies like tourniquets and baby formula.  WPE then bundles these necessities into pallets they are now sending at a steady pace.

    “The community has leaned in,” said Birge. “People are feeling that you don’t want to just sit and watch TV. You want to be part of something that helps the situation.” Of the supplies headed for the war zone, she said “We are making sure the way they are packaged and labeled will honor the people in Ukraine, and they will feel the love and respect we have for them.”

    From Contra Costa the pallets make their way to several destinations in Ukraine and its neighbors. In April, 500 medical kits went to medical training centers along the border with Poland where Ukrainians came to learn healing techniques and to pick up supplies for their besieged country. Relief workers in Poland loaded other pallets of food onto trucks that drove directly into Ukraine. Partnering with organizations like the Ukraine Freedom Fund, WPE tailors its work to meet priorities and needs that change with each new attack from the Russian army. “We are moving very quickly and learning as we go,” said Birge.

    Cash donations earmarked for WPE’s Ukrainian relief efforts can be made at For those who want to purchase priority items on Amazon to be sent to  WPE, the list is available at:;ref_=smi_se_cl_rd_ge

    White Pony Express is still dealing with a pandemic that has left an increasing number of families with food insecurity due to job loss and rising inflation. In the early months of the pandemic the non-profit scrambled to rescue 25,000 tons of food per day and then deliver it to a growing number of recipients, including 15 new partners. The demand “spiked and it has not gone back down,” said Birge. Now, however, with supply-chain problems, the amount of rescued food has dropped to 10,000 lbs. per day from 15,000 lbs.

    Covid protocols have necessitated coming up with new methods of distribution to reduce the risk of infection. Like many food banks across the nation, WPE organized a “touchless” drive-through operation to share the food and clothing people urgently needed. WPE partners who had designed pantries to enable people to select items now have had to box up everything.

    To cope with swelling demand, the staff came up with a “White Pony Express App” that allows volunteers to pick up and deliver small amounts of food in addition to the large quantities the organization continues to repurpose. When the non-profit workers receive word of available food, they immediately link that collection with a distribution partner and then send out a notification to all volunteers. Using the new app, a volunteer can claim the run, get the map on his or her phone, and pick up and deliver the food. “It’s so easy,” Emily said. “When I am free, I can say ‘Let me know.’”

    With a storehouse of experience and constant innovations, the folks at WPE are eager to share their model. Last year the United Nations Food Rescue Initiative selected the Contra Costa non-profit as one of the solutions for expanding food supplies and reducing greenhouse gasses. The climate action staff of California Governor Gavin Newsom have also applauded WPEs initiatives as they grapple with the state’s rising number of homeless citizens and the effects of a warming planet.

    The successes of  WPE can serve as a guide for ClassACT HR73 members beyond northern California who are looking for new ways to distribute fresh fruits and vegetables rather than watching produce be dumped into a landfill. “Back in the beginning when we became a bridge project, we hoped that classmates in other areas could take our model and reproduce it,” said Emily. With more and more Harvard College classes forming their own ClassACT groups, she is again optimistic that variations of WPE will soon be found in other locales.

    For those ClassACT members who live in the Bay Area, White Pony Express continues to welcome their volunteer efforts for food redistribution and for Ukraine relief. Cash donations can be made at:

  • April 18, 2022 11:41 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    A ClassACT Bridge founded in 2013, the White Pony Express networks with businesses and organizations in Contra Costa County, California to collect excess foods and goods and then distribute the items to neighbors in need. Utilizing these established connections, the community has responded with an outpouring of support for Ukrainian refugees in Poland and Ukraine. Classmate Emily Karakashian reports that the White Pony Express delivered several pallets of diapers, medical and hygiene kits, blankets, sleeping bags and warm clothing to a trusted partner organization that will ship the goods overseas. This is only the beginning as the effort to help during this crisis is ongoing. Click this link to donate.

    To learn more about the war in Ukraine click on this link to view ClassACT HR73’s recent zoom: A Conversation on Russia’s War on Ukraine. 

  • March 11, 2022 6:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    For young people who identify as LGBTQ, these are perilous times. Adolescence and young adulthood for them often mean conflicts with family, classmates, and community members who cannot accept who they are. The results of this intolerance can be depression and anxiety, homelessness, and even suicide. Now, along with these stresses, young trans and queer people are confronting a global pandemic and renewed assaults on their rights in states like Texas,Florida and Ohio.

    In our upcoming #ClassACTForum, we examine the challenges LGBTQ youth face and the ways that advocates, friends and families can offer support. Join us on Thursday, April 7 for LGBTQ Youth Rights: Protecting the Queer Frontier. Our co-sponsor for this ClassACT HR73 forum is JusticeAid, a non-profit founded by HR73 classmate Steve Milliken that raises money through music concerts to aid organizations working for justice and equality. This spring JusticeAid is focusing on SMYAL (Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocate Leaders), a Washington D.C. organization that mentors LGBTQ youth and provides housing and mental health services as well.

    Our moderator will be Tazewell Jones, a JusticeAid board member and an attorney who has fought against injustice since law school when he volunteered for Lambda Legal Alliance and the Innocence Project. Our panel will include Li Nowlin-Sohl, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ Rights team which works to ensure transparency, accountability and adequate mental health treatment in jails and prisons. Li will be joined by Jorge Membreño, a social worker who has helped to provide clinical services and housing for youth and families in Brookline and Washington, and who now serves as deputy executive director of SMYAL. Our final panelist is Alana Jochum, the executive director of Equality Ohio and a co-chair of Equality Federation’s Board of Directors, which advocates in State Houses across the country to safeguard LGBTQ rights.

    Register here!

  • March 11, 2022 6:11 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    ClassACT HR73 invites you to an in depth conversation about the Russian war against Ukraine on Wednesday, March 16 from 7:30 to 8:45 PM ET. Noted historian and former Washington Bureau Chief for Newsweek Evan Thomas '73 will lead a discussion with Nobel Prize winning economist Roger Myerson '73 and international security expert and retired Marine Colonel Mark Cancian '73.

    Drawing on their knowledge of Ukraine’s past tragedies and its immediate crisis, these panelists will analyze the current state of the war from military, political and economic perspectives. Questions they are likely to consider include: what were Vladimir Putin and his Russian Army’s objectives when they invaded this sovereign democratic nation? Why has the Russian Army performed so badly in the early stages of this war? Will Ukraine’s army and its citizens continue to resist despite the gap in air power and other resources? What are the prospects for peace and the dangers of a protracted war? What will the economic consequences of this war and unprecedented Western sanctions be for Russia, Europe, the United States and the rest of the world? The plight of the millions of Ukrainian refugees who have fled the bombing of their homes, schools and hospitals lies at the heart of concerns about the war’s impact, a humanitarian crisis the panelist are certain to address.

    After a 40 minute conversation these experts will open the floor to questions from the audience.

    This Zoom conversation is open to everyone. Please share this invitation with anyone you know who is deeply concerned about the fate of the Ukrainian people and global stability.

    Register here!

  • March 11, 2022 5:45 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    We provided an extensive update on Gerrymandering and Voter Suppression in the February ClassACT Newsletter through a video interview conducted by Rick Brotman '73 and Jacki Swearingen '73. Here are recent developments.

    As of the last week in February, 42 states had adopted their districting plans for the 2022 House race, although more than a dozen plans are facing challenges in court. With the 2022 state primaries close at hand, politicians have been scurrying to redraw voting districts to take into account the 2020 census numbers. They are focusing on the creation of new districts in areas with a growing population and the elimination of districts in areas where the number of voters has been shrinking. This has led to much creative use of the new tools that enable precise gerrymandering, down to the precinct level. 

    Not surprisingly, the overall trend has been that in states where the legislature carries out the redistricting (the case in most states), the gerrymandering has benefited the dominant political party. Since Republicans control more legislatures, you would expect that the net gains overall to be greater for the G.O.P.  than for Democrats. But in fact, the Democrats have been able to tilt things their way very effectively in the states where they call the shots, such as Illinois and New York. For their part, Republicans have used their redistricting power mostly to make existing Republican-controlled districts even more one-sided, to protect incumbents and keep those districts Republican-controlled well into the future, rather than trying to flip as many districts as possible in their favor right now.

    In New York, an advisory commission whose members were split 50/50 between the two parties deadlocked and failed to propose a unified redistricting plan. Instead, each side presented its own plan, one drawn to the Democrats’ advantage and the other to the Republicans’. The legislature, which is Democratic-controlled, ignored the two plans and drew up its own, which shifted three seats toward Democrats. Furthermore, the legislature did this in a rush, refusing to hold any public hearings to get input on the proposed maps.

    Pennsylvania is a 50-50 battleground state that, because of effective Republican gerrymandering after the 2010 census, has a decidedly Republican-leaning legislature. The legislature created a redistricting plan very favorable to Republicans and sent it to the governor for approval. When the governor, a Democrat, refused to approve the plan, the dispute went to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The court delegated the redistricting task to an independent expert from Stanford University. The expert created a much more equitable plan, which the state will use in the 2022 elections.

    We anticipated in our ClassACT HR73 Gerrymandering Primer that a lot of gerrymandering would take place in 2022 because of faster, cheaper tools available and less time for scrutiny, given COVID-related delays in releasing the 2020 census data. What is remarkable, however, is that now so much gerrymandering takes place in the open, blatantly. In the past politicians tried to keep the proceedings hidden from public scrutiny, behind closed doors.

    Each party seems proud of its prowess in gerrymandering and all but flaunts partisan map-drawing as a valuable tool for advancing its interests. Here is what is equally surprising: how much traction the analytics for detecting gerrymandering have been gaining. The Stanford expert who redrew the Pennsylvania voting districts proved to the court, based on his quantitative techniques and analysis of voter data, that his redistricting plan was fair and balanced.

    Furthermore, the State Supreme Court of Ohio has used such analytics to throw out the extremely gerrymandered plans created by the Republican-dominated legislature. North Carolina’s Supreme Court also rejected a voting map because of racial bias, basing its ruling on the results of analytical techniques similar to those we discussed in the Primer.

    There is another encouraging trend, despite the overall trend toward more abuse of gerrymandering tactics. The independent-commission model seems to be gaining some momentum. The model has produced fair maps in California since 2011. Colorado and Michigan implemented independent commissions last year, and they appear to be working well. Under this approach, which we favor, politicians do not appoint the members; the commissioners are balanced among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents; and the commission, not the legislature, has the power to draw up the voting maps.

    As we enter the primaries, and then the general elections, we will see what kind of effect these changes, both negative and positive, will have on voting results. Stay tuned.

     -Jim Harbison & Ryan O'Connell

  • February 14, 2022 2:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Video by Rick Brotman '73

    Last June, ClassACT HR73 presented an eye-opening forum on gerrymandering featuring our classmates Ryan O’Connell and Jim Harbison. Here is an 18-minute video update, shot by Rick Brotman ‘73, in which, interviewed by Jacki Swearingen ‘73, Jim and Ryan provide timely analysis on the current state of gerrymandering in the nation. Click the image of the video and you can watch it on our youtube page!

    If you missed the original forum, click on this link to view it.

    Also, here is the link to the Primer on Gerrymandering.

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