A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN: NONPROFITS & CREATIVE MATTERS


By Ryan Naghi
workingtogether Since I started working here at Creative Matters, I’ve heard many people tell me that despite our cutting-edge work, we are at an inherent disadvantage as a nonprofit ad agency. There’s a reason why no place like us exists—nonprofit and ad agency just don’t go together. Yet, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only are we surviving; we’re thriving. While bigger for profit companies like Fatburger and Wells Fargo are starting to put their brands in our hands, our work remains centered around other nonprofits. But why?

To understand this, I’ll put myself in the shoes of people who fund nonprofits, because they ultimately decide which missions to power. What do they want? They want to do as much good as efficiently as possible. And what does one nonprofit working with another such as ourselves do; more good per dollar spent. If a need is present, why not purchase it through another nonprofit’s earned income service? They will get the service they want, while allowing another organization to do what they specialize in, and the payments will go towards helping another cause. Working together gets better results, and makes both more worthy of support. As long as people know the extra good they are doing, funding will likely increase. But how you inform a support base is an art in itself, and smart non-profits hire outside support to maximize their impact.

That’s why Creative Matters makes the perfect fit. We are a nonprofit who provides marketing services to raise money for our mission. Since we are both the noteworthy partner and the marketers, our clients fully capitalize on the benefits of collaboration. Letting us manage their brand boosts their nonprofit’s credibility and appeal, because hiring us proves their commitment to bettering society. The beauty of this relationship is elegantly simple. They are more marketable by the very act of purchasing our marketing services, part of which goes towards promoting this new aspect of their brand to the public; it’s a perfect match!

And who exactly are they helping by hiring us? The same people designing the product, because our creative work not only funds our mission, it is our mission. Participating in the creative work itself helps people like me get the job skills, mentorship, and experience that make life exciting again, while making drugs now seem unappealing. Our innovative way of fighting addiction is proven to be 15 times more effective in maintaining sobriety than the dominant form of treatment. Our cause therefore, is one that spells out efficiency and societal impact as well as any, one that donors are more than happy to know they are supporting through our clients’ marketing needs.

Being a nonprofit gives us another advantage. It allows us to better understand their needs, goals, and values, giving the quality of our work a unique boost. For profit companies may still hold some advantages, but they can’t offer the symbiotic relationship that creates this kind of virtuous cycle we share with our clients.

So, here lies my answer to the people with doubts. We fill a tough niche, no doubt about that. It takes a lot for a place like this to exist. It takes persistence and outside support to start up, creativity and ingenuity to grow, and an intrinsic drive for meaning and purpose to manage. Above all else, it takes an understanding of the system at large and how we fit into it. That’s the reason we’re one of a kind. Since these things have all come together, our previous handicaps have transformed into competitive advantages that only we possess. The next step is to continue pointing this out to other nonprofits. It will take some great marketing on our part, but then again, great marketing is what we do.

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On “Bullet in the Brain” – A Story from Shavuot


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By Michael Fallon

It was three in the morning at Beit T’Shuvah on Shavuot when I started reading aloud the story “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff, eager to share it with those members of the audience hardy enough to stay up that long. There were several people dead asleep on the couches in front of me, but if Wolff’s sharp, funny and startling story didn’t wake them up, at least it would entertain and inspire those still alert.

“Bullet in the Brain” is the story of a man standing in line at the bank for the last minutes of his life. Anders is a book critic, and his cutting and supercilious remarks are interrupted by two bank robbers who take the customers hostage. Anders is so superior and oblivious to the danger he faces that he ends up repeatedly insulting one of the robbers, who shoots him in the head.

The rest of the story concerns the last memory to which Anders flashes back as the bullet travels through his brain. Wolff makes clear Anders was not always a joyless, judgmental curmudgeon, but started out with a love of words, of language, that curdled into a desperate infatuation with his own vitriol.

The story recalls what Anders doesn’t, reeling backwards through his life, like a time-lapse film in reverse: through the years of disappointment with his dull wife and indifferent daughter, his love and affection toward that same daughter when she was a child, the honest horror with which he reacts to a tragedy he witnesses shortly after her birth, the pang of jealously he feels at a colleague’s first published work, and finally his respect toward its worthiness, long before he came to “regard the heap of books on his desk with boredom and dread.”

Finally we come to the moment he does remember: on a baseball field, in the waning daylight, when he was captivated by what a boy from Mississippi said when asked what position he wanted to play: “‘Shortstop,’ the boy says. ‘Short’s the best position they is.’ …Anders is strangely roused, elated, by those final words, their pure unexpectedness and their music.”

Anders leaves this world basking in a memory of his youth, of a time when he stood in a baseball field smacking his “sweat-blackened glove and chant(ing), They is, they is, they is.”

I had timed the story out at 9 and ½ minutes, but by the time I finished reading it, I had left only a couple minutes of my allotted time, and so was unable, until this blog, to share my thoughts on this trenchant work, and some of the questions it raises.

Why is Anders so cavalier about the lethal threat he faces? Does Anders, on some level, want to end his life? Or maybe the scene is simply unreal to Anders, for whom everything has begun “to remind him of something else.” He reacts to the unfolding bank robbery as if it were in a movie, and even compares it to “The Killers” – a movie, and a short story by Ernest Hemingway. Only when he is eye to eye with one of the robbers, and can smell the man’s breath, does the situation grow real for him.

Is there an aspect to Anders to which we can relate? Do we never judge people instantaneously, according to preconceptions about their class, how they look, dress, sound, their accent, their tattoos, or lack of tattoos?

Do we take, if you will, everybody’s inventory? When I see a new client at BTS, do I think “Ah, another jerk-off?” Or do I see a human being, frightened, uncertain, defensive, hopeful, wounded…but nonetheless a child of God?

As we experience life, weather harsh experience, compromise and loss, must we become jaded and bored?
Where are we in that trajectory from innocence to fatigue, from awe to cynicism, from tolerance to indifference, disdain and intolerance?

A saying credited to the Talmudist Yisreol Salanter states that most people “worry about their own bellies, and other people’s souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls, and other people’s bellies.”

Must we grow tired of life? Become childish: petulant, stubborn, entitled? Or can we remain child-like? Is there a way for us to see the world with new eyes every day, with a sense of wonder and possibility?

I think they is.

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Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body


By Eliot Godwin

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The modern marathon as a sporting event was inspired by the fabled story of Philipedes, who ran from the battlefield at Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persians. After uttering his last words, “joy to you,” he promptly collapsed and died. When I ran the L.A. Marathon earlier this month, I wasn’t bringing any news to anyone in particular, but I certainly felt like collapsing and death was probably in play at some point.

You see, I took the marathon lightly. I went to the weekly training sessions because my counselor suggested I get involved in any and all physical activities offered at Beit T’Shuvah. Running a few miles on Sunday mornings seemed like a logical extension of that. I’d train for the half-marathon and just run the full on race day like no big deal. I rarely considered the marathon as an actual task; in my mind it felt more like just the end of my Sunday running appointments.

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Even on race day I complained about having to get up so early (4:30 A.M.) and tried to sleep as everyone else stretched and got excited for the race. When the race finally started, I felt great and decided I’d have no problem keeping pace with my friend who had been training seriously for months. This went against everything our coaches had repeated week after week, but I was a lifelong athlete, I’d played a Division I sport in college (12 years ago, mind you) and how long is 26.2 miles, really?

It’s long. By mile eight, I’d given up on keeping pace with my friend but I still thought I’d be able to finish no problem. At mile ten the five-hour pace runner had come and gone and I started feeling…a little less confident. At the halfway point I was supposed to stop and take a van to the block party at mile 19 but something about that just felt wrong. Get in a van while my fellow runners continued to suffer? Quit halfway and go party? It seemed like a metaphor for how I had lived my life thus far. I’d take a passion project lightly so when I inevitably quit halfway through, my lack of follow through wouldn’t carry much sting.

I was drawn to gambling because there was little effort and/or preparation required but lucrative, tangible results were attainable. No effort, cash reward? Sign me up! But I soon found out the principles of life don’t change just because you’re in a casino. Add compulsive addiction to the mix and I was licked. Preparation and discipline are key to any type of success, they just manifest in different, sometimes more subtle ways. I thought I could get by on my wits and guile, like a college student who shows up to a sociology midterm half-drunk expecting to ace it. But college and casinos aren’t real life until you leave.

At Beit T’Shuvah I’ve learned that pain and hardship are inevitable. Our impulses can often be damaging and will always be there, but preparing accordingly to deal with them will afford us a healthy, balanced life. Sitting with discomfort is possibly the most important part of overcoming addiction. My sojourns to the casino were attempts to not only completely escape the difficulty of life but to live life on my own terms, without the pain. And what did I eventually find in the casino? Pain, destruction and misery on a whole new level.

At mile 15 the pain was so great that I convinced myself I wouldn’t be able to finish. After all, I had only trained for the half-marathon, was it so bad if I stopped at mile 19? 19 miles was a lot, a terrific accomplishment. But when I scoffed my way through the halfway point I had committed to finishing. They say running a marathon is more mental than anything. At that point my body was telling me to stop and my mind was agreeing wholeheartedly. I was convinced I would need a wheelchair for months and that my knees would be irreparably injured. But something inside of me kept whispering, “finish.” At the 19th mile block party, stopping was never a real option as my friends cheered me on with hugs and high fives. The surge of confidence and adrenaline I got from this brief interlude carried me until my mind again intervened with the realization that “you’re almost there!” really meant, “you have more than seven more miles left.”

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Through miles 20-23 I saw multiple people carried away on stretchers, heard people talking about a 28-year old male who had a heart attack (I’m 34), and was passed by the older brother of Rip Van Winkle on one crutch. Still I persisted. The pain was unbearable but I bore it proudly like the medal of supreme achievement that would soon hang on my neck. After a few more miles, I could see the finish line! When I finally finished and obtained one of the few remaining medals, a race volunteer promptly removed it from my neck and replaced it with the half-marathon medal that matched my special yellow bib. The look of confusion and exasperation on my face must have been enough to persuade one of the blithe, less-experienced volunteers to give it back.

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I’ve always thought my shortcomings were the result of my refusal to finish what I’d started, not a lack of confidence. I thought I had confidence in spades and I just didn’t care enough to follow though on anything meaningful. But really I didn’t believe in myself enough to allow myself to fail. I was scared of what would happen if I finished something I cared about and it wasn’t all that good. I finished the marathon in six hours and 45 minutes. Over that span, the winner of the race could have run three marathons and still have time left over for a shower, a shave, and a leisurely cab ride to the airport. Instead of being upset with myself for taking so long, I am filled with confidence because I finally committed to something and I followed through to the end. It may not have been the Greeks defeating the Persians, but it was definitely a joyous occasion for me.

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Does Facebook Reflect Your True Self?


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Special Thanks to Susan B Krevoy Eating Disorder Program Blog for providing us with this material.

By Eliot Godwin

The Internet is not real. In real life, much less choice is involved in how we present ourselves. We are who we are, and even if we try to hide our secrets, they have a way of surfacing in subtle ways. Online, we can pick and choose exactly what we present to our ‘friends’ and how we present it. Our online selves are mostly trim and tidy, we allow sloppiness if it’s tasteful and mildly self-deprecating. Even the most blithe Facebook user has removed an unflattering tag or two.

But for young people who’ve never known a world without Facebook, the Internet is very real. A recent study conducted by Florida State University found a correlation between time spent on Facebook and eating disorders. Facebook combines peer influence with popular media, both of which are tied to self-worth. Instead of seeing only models in magazines and on television, now women can see their skinnier peers in swimsuits on their Facebook pages.

“Your friends are posting carefully curated photos of themselves on their Facebook page that you’re being exposed to constantly. It represents a very unique merging of two things that we already knew could increase risk for eating disorders,” Dr. Pamela K. Keel explains. Dr. Keel and other psychologists at Florida State studied 960 college women in their study and outlined their findings in a paper, “Do You ‘Like’ My Photo? Facebook Use Maintains Eating Disorder Risk”.

Just as Facebook and other forms of social media have contributed to increased and more tortuous bullying of adolescents, this study shows that it clearly contributes to what the National Eating Disorder Association calls “unprecedented growth of eating disorders in the past two decades.”

The problem is that we see our Facebook pages as parts of ourselves instead of what they are: pictures. Facebook is a brilliant concept, executed with precision and clean simplicity. But it’s not an accurate representation of who we are. For young people whose identities are often inextricably tied to Facebook, it’s hard to take a step back and see the chasm that exists between who they really are and their Facebook page. Dr. Keel reminds us to “consider what you are pursuing when you post on Facebook. You are a whole person and not an object, so don’t display yourself as a commodity that then can be approved or not approved.”

How we’re perceived, especially as it pertains to images of ourselves posted on the Internet, is not who we are. Feeling secure has to do with actions, deeds and life. Not pictures. It’s shallow and destructive to tie our self-worth to photographs. My Facebook page shows some pictures of me and that I ‘like’ broccoli, The Wire and Daft Punk. Is that who I am? Broccoli and Daft Punk? More revealing than my ‘likes’ is that I chose to post them on Facebook. I am the choices I make, not what I choose to reveal on a website. Are the choices you’ve made lately posted on your Facebook page? Is it a detailed representation of who you are, or an e-scrapbook with comments?

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The Mind of a Marathon Runner


By Eliot Godwin

Beep beep beep beep…

shutterstock_152330102I can’t say for sure why I hate my alarm clock. It’s an inanimate object. I’m definitely smarter than my alarm clock and it does exactly what I tell it. Perhaps I really just hate myself for committing to getting up early and running miles upon miles every Sunday morning. More likely it’s that I love myself enough to commit to something that makes me physically healthier and mentally stronger, and follow through on that commitment each week. Clearly, it’s tough love.

The perspective from under my comforter is bleak. A snoring, farting roommate. Accruing laundry. Clouds and rain. Once I get up, however, the world doesn’t look so intimidating. How quickly the body responds to the act of going from horizontal to vertical in the morning. The brain needs blood to operate, and getting vertical denies my brain the blood it needs to make bad decisions like ‘stay in bed’ or ‘do drugs’ or ‘gamble.’ I leave my room! I interact with people! I eat bagels!

When I start running, the endorphins start to flow and life is good. Invariably, I wonder how I ever considered not getting out of bed. With the unwavering support and infectious enthusiasm of Stephanie Cullen and Craig Miller, along with everyone else on the team, I feel a part of something. We train on our own during the week, and every Sunday the team meets at the Santa Monica Pier for our weekly runs, some as long as 20 miles.

In so many ways, my weekly marathon training is a microcosm of rehabilitation. Arresting my addiction is difficult because it is uncomfortable, like getting out of bed. Training for a marathon is hard and daunting, but the road is paved with success and encouragement, along with the inevitable difficulties. My team is supportive and present; we look out for each other and hold each other accountable.

Once training ends, the real thing awaits. Hopefully we’ve been present in our preparation and have amassed a toolbox of the strategies and skills necessary to succeed. Like life, the marathon is fraught with peril and unexpected complications will certainly arise. But failure is much less an option than a choice we simply cannot make.

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Sacred Space: Our First Shabbos in the New Building


By Eliot Godwin

Steve Jobs said, “A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” Our leader and CEO, Harriet Rossetto, didn’t know what she was supposed to do with her life. A small advertisement in the paper was the spark that ignited Beit T’Shuvah, our singular organization which has blossomed into a diverse and expansive community. Last Friday, the doors of our beautiful new sanctuary were opened for an incredibly moving service, the continued realization of a vision that has spanned four decades.

The building is bright and modern; its lofty, vaulted ceilings an ideal symbol of the freedom Beit T’Shuvah residents feel from the struggle of their addiction. Nearly 400 people attended and witnessed the Hachnasas Sefer Torah (moving of the Torah) before the service. Members of the board, along with several dedicated community members, performed the ceremony under the fresh lights and celebratory applause, and the night was off and running.

Rabbi Mark and Yeshaia opened the service, which was anything but usual. In an earnest sermon, Rabbi Yeshaia expressed the importance of how this is our synagogue; a holy place where we gather together to observe Shabbos and celebrate each other. Rabbi Mark echoed that sentiment in his delightful sermon, preceded by an extended gratitude in which he expressed how grateful he is to the board and everyone who helped create this new space. Atop that list was the lovely Joyce Brandman, who gave a heartfelt speech and thanked the community for inspiring her in so many ways. It was a generous gift from the Saul and Joyce Brandman Foundation that made this new building a reality.

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Several other board members contributed with gifts of their own to ensure the completion of the new campus. Dr. Bill Resnick and Annette Shapiro, who conveyed their excitement and gratitude, also acknowledged the entire board for their leadership and generosity. The event became transcendent, so many people giving so much gratitude; it was truly an awe-inspiring experience listening to generous, soulful people thanking the very people whom they’ve helped immeasurably.

Rabbis Matt and Shira also spoke from the bima, offering their take on why Beit T’Shuvah is truly a holy place unlike any other. New residents were welcomed in and families were recognized for their participation in a family weekend that serendipitously coincided with the grand opening. Sober birthday celebrants were overcome with emotion inspired by the occasion, their success made sweeter by the remarkable setting.

A Torah is considered pasul (void) if a single brushstroke is missing or out of place. This evening was a collection of individuals, unique brushstrokes who comprise something larger than themselves. Without each of them, the community is not whole. On this night, as we gathered outside for Kiddush (taking no risks with the new carpet!), holiness and wholeness was achieved. It was clearly a special night for an extraordinary community. As Harriet found years ago, what she wanted and what G-d wanted for her were one and the same. Someone just had to show it to her.

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JUDAISM AND THE ARTS BLOG: BEIT T’SHUVAH THEATRE ARTS DEPARTMENT


By: Matthew Greenwald

The formal unveiling of Beit T’Shuvah’s Theatre Arts Department has finally arrived. Spearheaded by artistic director James Fuchs, the program is a crucial extension of recovery through artistic expression, an innovative and dynamic component of our highly unique treatment model. Residents develop and take a production from the ground-up, becoming involved in all facets of theatre; writing, acting, staging, technical support, promoting the production, and ultimately, the performance. Along the way they not only develop unique skills, but also learn valuble lessons about themselves through self-expression and teamwork.

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 The theatre department, in concept, actually started ten years ago, when James went to Harriet’s office, and told her about a play he developed called Figaro’s Divorce. He wanted to use half professionals and half Beit T’Shuvah residents for the production, and Harriet loved the idea. “Over three months we found rehearsal space, held auditions, built sets,” recalls James, “Not only did we get a play done, but we took people who had no experience in theatre through a process. Normally you might achieve this after you had a program, this was really before…we were building the program in its infancy. Once we did the performances, and were successful, Rabbi Mark was hot on the trail of something Beit T’Shuvah could write, produce and perform.”

 Ironically, around this time renown Los Angeles Cantor and songwriter Craig Taubman called before Passover of that year and requested a performance of some kind, not necessarily a musical, but a short play. So, Cantor Rebekah Mirsky and James got together to write a couple of songs that might work. A month later, they brought in playwright/composer Stuart Robinson, and Freedom Song was born…and the rest is history. “Freedom Song can be overwhelming to some people,” comments Tricia Nykon, who has been brought aboard as a department intern to assist James, “but it can also be the thing that holds them to the community. My thing is to get people involved in the groups and programs, because they don’t know what moves them, or what they feel passionate about until they actually do them.”

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Aside from existing groups such as Theatre Junkies and the ongoing production of Freedom Song, the theatre department has partnered with the USC Applied Theatre Arts Program for Theatre of the Oppressed, which includes some of their students who are in the Masters’ Theatre program, doing groups at Beit T’Shuvah once a week. “We’re also starting to work with Cornerstone Theatre Company,” adds Tricia  “and we’re putting on a play with them called Bliss Point. We’re talking to other theatre companies about doing similar productions, in order for this department to grow. I’m very, very excited.”

 In terms of recovery, there is a natural consequence to involvement in theatre that is similar to music: you acquire the means to express yourself. “I think for myself in recovery,” observes James “my most cherished thing is self-expression. I wish that for myself and for others; that’s a part of life that people need for themselves. Some people get in careers where that ends; and for 40 years they live in a different ideology.”

 In a way, theatre is more accessible for people than music. Also, people don’t necessarily have to be actors; there’s always need for technical support: lighting, staging, sound, etc. The ultimate goal is to introduce people to theatre, and to the community aspect of theatre. “We’re also introducing method acting,” offers Tricia, “which is drawing upon your own experiences to feel for a character, and this is a central element in recovery. I think this is a great way to show people how to feel about their own experiences.”

 It’s been James’ mission now for the past year and a half to make this happen. It’s been a slow build, but it’s gathering momentum. When people go through the production process, they find out something else about themselves. They learn about the tradition of theatre, but more importantly, teamwork interaction and self-expression. It’s a great way to show people how to feel about their own experiences…and ultimately, recover in a group setting. “We all feel like outsiders so much of the time,” concludes Tricia, “and the relationships here in the Theatre Arts department forge an even greater sense of community.”

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