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Craig Wiesner

PEOPLE WHO INSPIRE

MEET Craig Wiesner

INTERVIEW #3

Craig, it has been a long time since we have come together. As you reminded me, we joined forces with you and the National Center on Family Homelessness. We tried to find ways to leverage some incredible videos they had created into some kind of curriculum. You reached out to Kids Can Make A Difference was such a great resource. Eventually, you published a book called Ivy Homeless in San Francisco along with a common core teacher guide. During this period you carried the KIDS Teacher Guide in your store.

LL-Let's start with where you are from and your background

CW-I was born in the housing projects of Rockaway New York, working class poor, surrounded by diversity, raised by a firecracker union organizer mother and a loving and generous father who spent most of his life schlepping coats up and down the 7th Avenue garment district in Manhattan. The victim of bullies for many of my school years and abused at home during some of my earliest years, I struggled in many ways as a teen. Secretly gay and failing in college, I finally ran away from home to join the Air Force where I spent 8 years as an intelligence analyst, linguist, and language trainer. In the military I excelled in everything I tackled, rose quickly through the ranks, and went back to college at night, eventually earning a degree from the University of San Francisco. Sadly I had to give up a career I loved and at which I thrived because I could no longer accept being in the closet, not having love in my life. I met a wonderful man when I was 28, we married at 30, and have been together ever since. Both of us were always passionate about social justice, working for LGBTQ rights but also recognizing that if anyone is oppressed none of us are free. Our faith community, First Presbyterian Church Palo Alto, was and continues to be guided by the 1st century prophet Micah's call to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God." For our day jobs we both worked in high tech, eventually having our own award-winning educational consulting company. We thrived in that industry until some life changing experiences, including being asked to be part of an interfaith peace delegation to Afghanistan after 9/11, caused us to reboot our lives working for peace, social justice, and a more sustainable planet. The biggest turning point happened after we had spoken about the war in Afghanistan at a school in Palo Alto the day before the United States invaded Iraq. It was "International Day" at the school and we filled two giant rooms of 100 kids each for our two presentations. As we were packing our car to go home, a student walked up to thank us. He ended by saying "I don't know what you both do for a living, but whatever it is, you should quit. What you just did in our school is what you should be doing." And so we did!

LL-What interested you in hunger and education

CW-When we started Reach And Teach in 2004, one of the ways we envisioned using our talents was to help non-profits do a better job of "reaching out and teaching" people about their causes. Two areas we cared about deeply were hunger, as we had been leading a homeless meal program for years, and education, because we had learned that the seeds planted in children as young as three could lead people to envision the world as being a place of abundance or one of scarcity, to share or to hoard. Children could learn to embrace others, or fear them, to hit or talk. Little by little, we created and gathered educational products that focused on making the world a better place until we had enough momentum to put them all under one roof in a brick and mortar and virtual shop for peace.

LL-What issues do you work on and why

CW-We work on so many issues, all of which we see as intersectional. We have a shop with books, toys, games, curriculum, fair-trade gifts, and lifestyle products, each of which has a story behind it on how, we believe, it helps people, communities and the world. Every time people open their wallets they are voting for the kind of world they wish to see. If you need paper plates you can buy bleached white plates made from recently cut trees or you can buy compostable plates made from 100% recycled materials. If you buy a scarf you can buy one that was made by children enslaved in factories in East Asia or you can buy one that was made by a women's cooperative in India, which pays a living wage to the workers and helps families in the community to thrive. If you buy a game for a child you can choose one that is competitive and involves blowing things up or you can buy a cooperative game that is equally fun but which also teaches kids how to better communicate with each other. If you need to do laundry, you can buy a new container of laundry soap or you can stop by our shop and we'll refill the container you already have. Every decision is a vote.

LL-What are the biggest challenges for the issues that you care most about today

CW-Hopelessness is our biggest challenge. People who want to see a more peaceful and sustainable world are feeling beaten down by the daily onslaught of news, most of which is negative. When folks come into the store feeling that way I try to share stories of the incredibly good things that are happening in the world. Most of the time I can pick up one thing in our shop and tell the story of the people who made it, how their lives are better now than they were before. The other day I held up a little beaded unicorn keychain from Guatemala and told someone about how people in the community where the keychains are made have been able to build good lives there, send their children to school, with the help of a non-profit that has stood by that community for over a decade. Because of that work some of those children have grown up and are now in college, learning to be doctors, nurses, lawyers, and teachers. Soon, they'll return to their community and make it even stronger. When we lament the nightmare journey of people trying to escape Central America, I can hold up a keychain and say that people from that community are staying put, not just because they have good work, but because they have a strong community, backed by people here in the US who will move heaven and earth to help them.

LL-What drives you

CW-I'm driven and encouraged by a child's laugh, a parent's smile, a realization that what I do every day does make a difference, here in our neighborhood and around the world. I'm also a County Commissioner, blessed to have been able to once again take an oath similar to the one I took when I joined the Air Force, to serve my community and country in new and amazing ways. In doing so I've gotten to work with wonderful people in city, county, state and federal governments, all doing everything in their power to improve people's lives every single day.

LL-In conclusion, what message do you want to deliver to our readers? What do you think your legacy should be.?

CW-You can make a difference through every action you take, big and small. You have superpowers if only you'll use them. There's someone out there, right now, starting a movement that can change the world. That person can't do it alone. It is always the second and third person who make a movement move. Greta Thunberg, the teen climate activist, sat against a wall by herself with a sign in her lonely hands a year ago. This year she spoke to the United Nations and millions of people stood with her. We can end hunger. We can save the planet. We can be kind to each other and in so doing move mountains.

What should my legacy be? I once sat on the floor with a gravely wounded Afghan boy who had to show people his scars on his legs to help his family get the money they needed to pay for his medication. Distraught by his story, and wishing I could find a way to make him feel better if even for a minute, I taught him how to play tic tac toe. Two days later, he spotted my outside a hospital in Kabul and came over with a gigantic smile, waving the paper I had given him, yelling TIC TAC TOE!!!!! That's enough of a legacy for me.

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About us

Kids Can Make a Difference is a program of iEARN (International Education and Resource Network), the world's largest non-profit global network. iEARN enables teachers and youth to use the Internet and other technologies to collaborate on projects that enhance learning and make a difference in the world.

Finding Solutions to Poverty & Inequality Alliance:

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