To the lake!

At Counter Tools we believe in doing good work for public health — and we include our own health and wellbeing in that mix. It’s so important! And too often it eludes us.

We are still a nonprofit, living on a shoe string, but we do what we can! We are a Living Wage Certified Company, we pay our people market rate rather than peanuts, we encourage flexible work schedules and locations, we offer five weeks of paid vacation and close down on holidays…

AND, yet, there is always, always, always room to improve. Do I get 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per day? Not really. Do I eat too many salty, greasy things? Maayyyyybe.

But every day is a chance to let go and begin again. As a leader I am committed to setting a good example… so here Eric and I go to the lake.

GASP. I’m using my vacation time.

Wish me luck! And please let’s help each other take good breaks, eh? xoxo

KerrLakeNutbush18_3KerrLakeNutbush18_2KerrLakeNutbush18_1

 

 

 

Ousman killed a black snake in my office

I’d love to hear from other Returned Peace Corps Volunteers who have had the incredible privilege and joy to see their host-country people again after so many years. I feel so lucky to be ‘seen’ for who I am, all these years later, when so much has changed and really nothing has changed.

I had a moment when Mint was at our house in Hillsborough that is worth writing down and sharing. We’d been out for the day, maybe, I’m not sure, perhaps at the office. It was 5ish, almost 6 pm. Late winter/early spring dusk. I was on duty to make dinner, puttering in the kitchen with spinach ravioli. An Indigo Girls circa ~2001 song came on the radio (a Peace Corps year for me, and a Peace Corps song) — the acoustic version. It’s like the heavens break through or time stops or really it’s that time circles in a vortex where points of life merge again in the ether…  Eric, MY HUSBAND (I have one of those now!) was napping on the couch. Dear sister Mint was praying in her bedroom. Raw, sweet feelings on the radio. Spinach ravioli boiling in the water. And me sort of open handed, open hearted in the kitchen in awe.

So later I posted the story on Facebook, which strikes me as so strange.

FB post spinach ravioli

Anyway. All this inspiration and I’m digging through photos and letters for gems. Here’s a good one. Mint, probably 2001 or so.

 

img_5295.jpg

And several of us cousins and sisters, also probably 2001 when my parents came to visit and we had a party. My mother made traditional southern (US) fried chicken. Later that night Stinky (the dog) drank the entire pan full of used post-chicken palm oil and had a series of GI emergencies throughout the house. Mom found it pre-dawn but went back to sleep. Dad stepped in it and we woke up to shouted expletives and a lot of work with a bucket, bottle of bleach, thick piece of fabric (called a “surpieds” – under foot) and broom. No pictures of that, sadly.

IMG_5294

But here’s the game. My family saved the letters I wrote home. I’ll pick one from the stack at random and share it. EEEK.

IMG_5296

Aha! The kind of letter that went home with someone and then got mailed in the US. Nice. Also worth nothing that I’d been living in Gabon for something like 18 months at this point (11/23/2001), so I never felt like I had any real “news” to report. No culture shock, no explaining to do, just regular life.

IMG_5298.JPG

As evidenced by the three stories I tell…

img_5304.jpg

“Not a lot of news considering we spoke yesterday and tomorrow I plan on spending the morning at the email place… Went out this morning early and enjoyed a plate of beans with Sylviane at Mamero’s stand (Mom- where you ate). … Sylviane’s sister Pemba from Mouanda gave birth two weeks ago and now the baby is with Jamila in Franceville. Ramadan starts tomorrow.”

img_5301.jpg

“Ousman (my neighbor) killed a black snake in my office while I was gone. SCARY! Got all the grass around the house cut – to avoid snakes coming too close.”

Fascinating life of a Peace Corps Volunteer, y’all. (Little did I know that Ebola would arrive mid-February 2002 and the bottom would drop out, but…)

IMG_5302

And, lastly, an enclosure! A report about our GAD conference. “The goal of the seminar was to encourage and empower young women and men, who had already become parents, to stay in school and take an active role in determining their futures.”

IMG_5303

Okay, that’s all. xo

 

 

Early Saturday morning Peace Corps reflections

I graduated from college when I was 21, an artifact of doing kindergarten and first grade in the same year. Finishing college “early” meant, to me, like I got an extra year to do whatever I wanted to do, rather than joining the job market and a gray cubicle, or transitioning to graduate school. After transferring from George Washington University to Penn State after my first year, I needed all the credits I could get to stay on track to graduate in just four years. In addition to studying (and partying) I worked a cooking job (or deli counter job) to make ends meet financially, and so my Spring Break travel was by car if at all, and I never studied abroad although the possibilities intrigued me.

Peace Corps service was a strong post-grad option because it would give me the opportunity to avoid traditional (potentially soul-sucking) work and to live in Africa which had long been a dream of mine. I grew up on National Geographic magazines and was fascinated by studying population/environment interaction and related HIV transmission in the PSU Sociology Department. Also let’s face it, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life except the sense that I needed to study public health – and my mediocre grades were not going to get me into a reputable graduate program.

I loved my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon. I arrived in country in March 2000 (I think) and landed at my new home in Franceville that summer. My concrete block house was at the end of a long dirt lane behind the Poubara Hotel.

50

At the time, the hotel was closed – that’s it there in the trees — looking towards the hotel from my house. Now, L’Hotel Poubara appears to be open and check-in-able on Facebook.

51

Here’s a view of walking towards the house, hotel behind you. It was a palace. Three bedrooms, one bathroom. Cold running water. Kitchen, living room, mosaic tile floors.

53

I sat on that step a lot.

55

Same step, other direction.

54

Living room.

56

Kitchen. That’s ma belle Console, and we’d just wrapped up making several jars of mango jam. Ah, memories.

If I tell the story this slowly I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the part where my Peace Corps sister, Mint, and I get to tour Washington, DC 17 years later, last week. But here’s us as near baby humans, making lunch at her house. That’s Mint on the left, me on the right, and Sylviane (aka Kady) in the middle.

43

xo

 

 

 

 

 

Viola Sourbeer Stickell’s Jewelry Box

Aunt Mary you’ve done so much work, writing and making notes, and wrapping and securing. Thank you so much for your generosity. In this post, I’ve got photos of Viola Frances Sourbeer Stickell’s sewing box with jewelry.

Ms. Viola was born on March 22nd, 1889 in Harrisburg, PA. She married Ira Guy Stickell, born October 5th, 1890, in Williamson PA. They were married August 13th, 1913 in Harrisburg, PA. (For those of you doing the math — I know I do — She was a little bit older than him and got married at age 23.)

An aside, let’s be clear that when Viola married Ira, women were not yet allowed to vote. That didn’t happen until August 18th, 1920 with the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution but even then it was only white women. Black women (Viola was white, but this is important) were not allowed to vote in some states until the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Here’s the unveiling of Viola’s sewing box:

 

img_5006

Here’s a better view.

img_5008

With the markings inside… Some googling tells me that these Standard Specialty Company products are from the 40’s and 50’s. I’ll have to ask Aunt Mary what she knows about the container. Viola passed in 1942, so there is more to this story! Nonetheless, this box holds some really special things.

img_5007

This is amazing:

img_5009

And this:

img_5010

AND THIS:

img_5012

And this:

img_5017

And have you EVER seen anything this beautiful? (You had great taste, Viola!)

img_5015

And this beauty of a bracelet that actually fits my wrist:

img_5013

And what on earth is this? Dare I post this publicly? It comes apart.

img_5020img_5021

Lemme know if you recognize this ^ thing, okay? Also, I clearly need a manicure.

xo

Biographical Sketch of Father, 1886

Henry Theodore Myers was my great great grandfather, also born on January 15th, but in 1836. Here is a bit about him, as recorded by Laura Myers Latsbaugh in 1886.

Where it says “1865 he at once located in Centerville”, that’s the house I grew up in on Walnut Bottom Road near Newville, PA. He was a tanner! An entreprenuer. And a lifelong Democrat.

myers1

New project: The Sea Chest

[Aside: AllisonEMyers.com, the website (this one), is a hybrid space where I document my life. Personal, professional, thoughts, gratitudes, in-between. For the purely professional, a research profile is here or visit these two websites. For the purely personal, call me.]

Eric and I went to Maine in June 2016 after we got married. It was a post-PhD-graduation trip and also a honeymoon. We spent several wonderfully quiet days with my Aunt Mary (Myers) and Uncle Rick Bury in Machiasport, along the Machias River. It. was. glorious.

The tiny stones I (sorry) gathered at Jasper Beach are perched on the kitchen counter as a reminder of our trip. Even Mint in Algeria has one of them because apparently smooth stones like the ones from Jasper Beach, in the absence of water, can be used for ablution prior to prayer.

During our visit I got to see first hand the “Sea Chest”, a wooden trunk with rope handles and two secret drawers, safely kept by my Aunt Mary until it was time for the chest to be passed to me.

Now, I have the trunk. Eric and I drove to Winchester, Virginia last weekend to retrieve it from the garage of a family friend who so generously hauled it from Machiasport south. We rented a black Dodge Grand Caravan with Stow-N-Go seats and booked ourselves a room at the Hampton Inn.

Here’s the trunk, properly secured thanks to Mr. Vandervort:

img_4992

 

 

The Sea Chest has been passed down through the women on my Dad’s side of the family – I can call them “the Myers women” – but that isn’t the full story. The Sea Chest comes to me from the Myers, Stickell, Sourbier, and Wells women. Here is the possession of the trunk, if we were a chain letter:

  1. Allison Elizabeth Myers, born 1978
  2. Mary Lee Myers Bury, born 1949
  3. Mary Elizabeth Stickell, born 1914 (who, by the way, was 32 when she married)
  4. Viola Francis Sourbier, born 1889
  5. Mary Elizabeth Wells, born 1859

I can’t wait to learn more about these women! Here is the first treat:

img_5005

Ready?

Parrots, anyone?

img_4996img_4995

This is amazing:

img_4997

 

And here are two pins, with a note to “Mr. Jacob Sourbeer & Wife” (her name was Mary Elizabeth Wells but times were different then – she was born 157 years before this writing).

img_5001

And these beauties:

img_5004img_5003

So far I have only opened up two boxes. There is so much to treasure! Stay tuned.

xo

 

 

 

 

 

Set up to fail? Reverse is also true.

I am grateful to see this truth telling about what it can mean to have an idea and start a nonprofit. The gist of the story is that a talented well-intentioned person had an idea, won a pitch contest and secured $1 Million in seed funding, and now, three years later, is closing down the nonprofit they started because they have “been unable to identify a sustainable financial model for (the) broad vision”.

I totally get it.

nplessons

We launched Counter Tools in 2012 with an idea and an opportunity: A $50,000 contract with a nonprofit organization in one midwestern state. Months later we secured 501c(3) status on a fee-for-service educational services contracting model.

Over the years we fixed software bugs, added software functionality, tweaked our training materials, revamped our training materials, revitalized our software… all the time alternately disappointing and delighting ourselves and our loyal and growing tribe.  We almost sank. We swam. We worried about sinking. We swam harder. Today we keep swimming.

Today we work in 18 states. Our FY16 tax return will show $1.1 Million in revenue. We aim each day to never lose sight of the value of the partnerships we have created. We have people who believe in us, and they show it by navigating bureaucracy to secure contracts and book training schedules.

What’s the difference between Counter Tools and any other fledgling nonprofit? One could say we are all set up to fail from the start. One could also say we are all set up to succeed from the start.

I’m going with the latter. And, I’m going back to work now. Today is the day I settle on a pricing strategy for our newest software tool: asking our tribe to support what it really costs to break new ground and make an impact.

Onward for health!