A climate conscious alternative to the housing crisis

The housing crisis in the United States cannot be overstated. In 2021, home prices rose faster than ever. The median sales price for an existing home was $346,900, up a whopping 17% from the prior year.

People can’t find places to live and the market they’re diving into isn’t sustainable – that’s where Eclipse Cottages hopes to make a dent.

Eclipse Cottages is a sustainable home company focused on affordability and efficiency, environmental impact and community. 

“Having a family, having kids, and the way that we live our lives affects what my thinking is these days,” Eclipse founder and CEO Justin Draplin tells Smiley News. “Quite frankly, banks and government are making housing more difficult and more expensive, so we’re coming up with solutions to address that.”

A journey through New York City seeing and hearing the stories of homeless people who are struggling to meet the consistently growing demands of US metropolitan areas had a particular impact on the work he wanted to do. 

“They all had a heartbreaking story and most of them were straight up being ignored,” he says. “I get it, there are millions of people there and you can’t save everybody, but it was one of those things that greatly affected me as a person and the way I think about things.”

The biggest focus on making these affordable homes was making them with quality and sustainability in mind. To Justin, there are ways to make cheap houses but the final product is often much lower quality than it could be.

The houses themselves come in a few different models, each relatively small cottage size adobes around 400 square feet, that sit in small villages with a focus on community and accessibility. 

To craft these homes, they shirk a traditional homebuilding route looking for affordable alternatives that make the buildings more sustainable and just as structurally sound. 

The roofs are made with a solar-integrated material and the foundations are built with steel framing and a specific custom siding with insulation efficiency in mind. They claim that you can even live fully off the grid if you so please. 

“On every aspect of our build, we’re at the cutting edge of the existing technologies from a sustainability standpoint, and just from a construction quality standpoint,” Justin says.

Depending on the model you choose and potential upgrades to that model, Justin says that the homes can range anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000 dollars with the goal of getting their financing as low as $99 a month. 

“We’re going to make these phones so much more affordable than what currently exists,” Justin says. “No matter what you look at whether you’re looking at single-family homes, manufactured homes, housing, apartments, condos.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG No Poverty.

Culture Wellbeing

Band uses music to raise money for Ukraine

The Russian Invasion of, and subsequent war, in Ukraine is nearing its one-year anniversary. The people of Ukraine have been subjected to violence, displacement, and other awful things that come with war. 

The international support for Ukraine has been swift and vast with an outpouring of funding from individuals, organizations, and entire countries. One group that has aimed to support the people in Ukraine is the recording artists that makeup October Project

The band was formed in the 90s and is made up of members Emil Adler, Julie Flanders, and Marina Belica. October Project has been into advocacy for a while, supporting and raising funds for other international conflicts, and more recently bringing together 163 singers from around the world during the height of Covid in 2020 to sing in the award-winning “Virtual Choir of Joy.” 

“They were on that musical activism side – they had a song that was in keeping with that, and thinking about wartime children and Bosnia, that was called the eyes of Mercy back in the day,” October Project’s public relations consultant Katie Waldron tells Smiley News

Their newest project, in support of Ukraine, is called ANGELS FOR UKRAINE, and in partnership with collaboration with Kseniya Simonova, a globally-renowned sand artist and winner of Ukraine’s Got Talent. They are working to raise funds for the International Rescue Committee‘s “Crisis in Ukraine” Emergency Fund. 

As a part of the project, they released the song  “Angels in the Garden” with an accompanying music video featuring visuals from Kseniya.

“Over the years we’ve had listeners express the power of our music in their lives, especially in times of transition and hardship,” Flanders says. “The notion of music being a healing force is always there for us.”

“Humanitarian work is a natural aspect of that. The daily news of the horror and homelessness we see Ukrainians experience is unimaginable.”

Belica then added: “While we hope that what we have created will uplift people, we wanted to do something more to support Ukrainian women, children, and families.  As winter sets in and temperatures fall well below zero, the IRC is scaling up its efforts in Ukraine and its neighboring areas, distributing essential seasonal items such as blankets, sleeping bags, and heaters to cover the most basic needs of displaced families.”

They wanted to get this project done as the winter months rolled in and the weather in Ukraine got much colder. 

“Refugees and displaced families are already dealing with so much anyway, but then with the weather changes, there’s so much more blankets and you know, medical supplies and things that people need to help these families via the IRC,” Katie says. 

As for future efforts, the band is planning a choir piece to support mothers and children. 

“We are on the verge of producing another choir piece that has a theme of mothers and children (victims, innocents) being displaced from their homes by war and other forms of destruction – people who are seeking harbor,” Flanders says. “This is an important cause to us and we’ll be reviewing ways we can couple this piece with relief efforts in 2023.”

On the Ukraine effort, Flanders said that they wanted to highlight light and peace.

“At a time of year when angels are symbols of hope and peace, we want this song and our position as recognized artists to serve as angels, returning light and comfort to those less fortunate than we are,” says Flanders.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.


How this charity is ‘rewilding’ Scotland

In the last few years, the term ‘rewilding’ has been discussed more frequently. So what exactly does it mean? And why’s it so important in the fight against climate change?

“Rewilding is anything that counteracts more de-wilding,” says Peter Cairns. Peter is the Executive Director at Scotland: The Big Picture, a charity using rewilding as a tool for climate action. “Anything … that joins up and enriches habitat rather than further fragment and degrades them, and anything that leads to more nature.”

Scotland: The Big Picture has been using rewilding to fight climate change for a number of years by freeing up the Scottish landscape for nature to thrive.

Flowering heather moor and scattered pine and birch, Tulloch Moor, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

But, contrary to popular belief, creating room for nature to do its thing in no way means pushing out people. In fact, creating rewilding sites across Scotland has resulted in more jobs for people in local communities, helping people, as well as our planet.

“If you look at Scotland in particular, that land use pattern for the last 200 years has been farming, forestry, fishing and field sports. It’s the four Fs,” says Peter. “I understand that they have cultural significance, they have some economic significance. But … that model is not sustainable in the long term.

“We’ve got to reinvent the rural economy, or at least allow it to adapt to changing circumstances. And those circumstances include climate breakdown and global nature loss.”

So what do we need to do to create a more sustainable model of living? Well, that’s where Scotland: The Big Picture is making waves. 

Rewilding isn’t about cordoning off a plot of land and leaving it be – there’s much work that needs to be done before we can get to that point. The way to think about it, is as though the world we live in is one, big living organism.

“And … we’ve damaged that living organism. So at the moment we have to intervene – to patch it up as it were,” explains Peter, of the overall rewilding process. “But once that living organism is capable of living of its own accord, so to speak, you let it do it. And letting go … letting nature have its head as it were, is quite challenging for a lot of people.” 

Early morning mist over Rothiemurchus forest in the Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.

As part of the process of patching up our world, Scotland: The Big Picture is working to right the wrongs that humans committed centuries ago. One of the steps they are taking to do this is reintroducing native species that were once driven to extinction in Scotland.

Scotland: The Big Picture are working to bring these species back to life within the Scottish countryside, including putting out feelers to bring home the Eurasian Lynx. Headway was made on reintroducing Cairngorms Cranes – though sadly, due to the outbreak of avian flu across the UK, their return has been delayed.

As to the question of what rewilding ‘looks’ like – now, and in the future? That’s a complicated question to answer. The truth is, there isn’t an answer because rewilding is not a process with an end.

Like a wind up toy, rewilding is something that we, as humans, can get started, but at a certain point we must learn to let it go. The whole point of rewilding, says Scotland: The Big Picture, is to let nature take its course, and bring new, ungoverned life back into the world

“We’re trained to in our heads to kind of design an ideal landscape,” says Peter. “But the point about rewilding [is] … you’re intervening in the early years to capitalise on the natural process which will shape the landscape. In other words, it’s not what I envisage to be an ideal landscape. It’s what nature will do.”

He adds: “If not rewilding, then what? And if not, now, then when? Because change does have to happen.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.

Image credit: Scotland: The Big Picture


Street Art for Good: The story behind Withington Walls

Everyone who lives in a city knows the feeling of walking through town and seeing nothing but shutters and brick.

It’s boring at best, and downright depressing at worst – but one man has set out to change that, with the help of local graffiti artists.

Ed Wellard set out with one goal – to transform the way people see Withington. Just a few years ago he set up Withington Walls, a community street art project intending to turn Withington into the place he knew it could be: bright, vibrant, and good for everyone.

Based in a suburb of Greater Manchester in the North of England, Withington Walls is a charity that strives to clean up and improve its hometown. Full of red brick and shuttered shops, Ed wasn’t the first to notice that Withington needed a little brightening up, but he was the first to truly make a difference.

Initially funded by a pot of £5,000, raised through a Crowdfunder appeal and the generous donations of Withington residents, Withington Walls finally took off. 

“In the summer of 2020, when we started being able to do stuff again, we got out and started seeing what we could do with that initial pot of cash,” explains Ed, who now runs the charity as a one-man band. “And it’s just kind of grown up organically from there.” 

Now with pieces of art installed all over Withington, Withington Walls has truly become part of the DNA of the city, softening the industrial nature of years ago and even encouraging people to move into the area.

“I love it that I know … people are moving to the area or visiting the area, or starting businesses in the area, because it’s gotten a more positive vibe as a result of the street art,” says Ed. “There’s been a few businesses [that] definitely said that was part of the reason they decided to invest in Withington, it was because they were aware of Withington [Walls] and the street art project.”

Though there are a few naysayers, as there often are with graffiti-style art, ultimately the people of Withington have been enamoured by the art which has taken over their suburb.

“Overwhelmingly, it’s positive. It’s lovely when you’re out there,” says Ed of the public response. “Whether that’s actually doing some artwork or the tiresome parts, you get somebody thanking you or asking you to do their shutter too.

“There was the idea that we could create kind of a sense of character, through street art in Withington, that … we [could] make it a more vibrant or colourful place,” says Ed. “And that we could give it a sense of identity through this history. So it’s just kind of local people wanting something good to happen where they lived.”

One of Withington Wall’s most well known pieces is the Marcus Rashford mural that was created by artist Akse P19.

The five metre by 15 metre mural shows an image of Marcus, in black and white, and was painted in recognition of the work he did during the COVID-19 pandemic to tackle child poverty. The mural includes the quote ‘take pride in knowing that your struggle will play the biggest role in your purpose’, taken from a letter published as part of a campaign with Marcus and Burberry to fund youth centres.

“It’s become such a symbol of the project,” says Ed, of the Marcus Rashford mural, which became popular across the world when it was unveiled. “And it’s what’s made us known, hilariously, globally, when that wasn’t really what we set out to achieve. That really was just something that we were doing for local people, because it was a bit of local pride.”

Despite the global popularity that came with the Marcus Rashford mural, ultimately, Ed and Withington Walls are focused on their community at home.

“We want Withington to be a brighter, better place … we want it to be a nicer place to live,” says Ed. “We want it somewhere to be somewhere that people are proud of to be from.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Sustainable Cities and Communities.


A nonprofit hotline for kids in need

Home life isn’t always easy. Financial struggles, abuse, and a whole host of other circumstances can lead to kids and teenagers wanting to run away, to escape. Those kids often find themselves in dangerous situations away from home – going missing entirely.

The National Runaway Safeline is an organization that provides resources to those kids and extended families to keep them as safe as possible.

The safe line serves primarily as the national communication hotline for youth in crisis and homelessness across the country, but in its over 50 years of existence, it has evolved to bring other resources for parents and guardians of the youth in crisis as well. 

They run essentially in two mediums, their primary crisis hotline, 1-800-runaway, where people can call for instant crisis help, and their online portion which features multiple forums, and a live chat feature, which has become one of their most popular assets.

“We often see younger youth reaching out by our chat service versus hotline,” Jess Jasurda, Director of Crisis Services for National Runaway Safeline tells Smiley News. “I know, voicemails and talking on the phone is scary, for me personally, but especially when we think about how often young people are engaging online, texting with each other, etc. that really offers a low-barrier way to connect with a safe and supportive adult and a free and confidential way to so it’s a little bit of what we do there.”

The safe line is funded through the Family and Youth Service Bureau. Their primary demographic is from the ages of 12 to 21 but sees a much larger proportion of the people they serve between 15 to 17.

“Think about yourself when you’re 15 to 17,” Jess says. “That’s an age group where we know that a lot of young people are learning about themselves, establishing what it means to be independent from mom, dad, family, and really tried to navigate some tough situations.

“Just paying attention to the increase in younger youth reaching out is something that, that we’re really taking a look at. When we think specifically about young people who are 15 and under, we’ve seen a 53% increase over the past three years.”

The service has changed over the years and has really adapted to whatever time they were dealing with. “We’ve grown so much and have really added a lot of different facets to our programming to move towards the place where we know that young people are reaching out and getting support in this way,” Jess says.

“So each year, we impact and have the opportunity to connect with over 125,000 young people and so that’s across both of our hotline and our digital resources.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


Black Girls Hike – and they do it well

After an accident several years ago where she was nearly run over, Rhiane Fatinikun was diagnosed with PTSD. 

“After that, I just wanted to find something new to do – for my wellbeing more than anything,” she tells Smiley News, on a train journey through the Peak District.

Rhiane would have the idea to go hiking – and now, that idea has blossomed into Black Girls Hike.

“I made it a group for Black women because you don’t see much representation of us in the outdoors,” explains Rhiane. “What I really wanted to do was create a space where we can engage more of our community and inspire more people just to get outside and be that representation for people who are a little bit apprehensive.

“They talk about all of these barriers to the outdoors … our mission is to help overcome the barriers.”

Four years after their inception, Black Girls Hike has had success after success. From TED Talks to visits to Windsor Castle, to joining forces with the Duke of Edinburgh award, Black Girls Hike is opening up the countryside and proving that nature is there for everyone.

“There’s this assumed knowledge that everybody knows how to access the outdoors,” says Rhiane. “[But] if you’re from like inner city London for example, you’re not going to know.”

Though it started off as a hiking group, helping to educate people and engage them in the outdoors, Black Girls Hike has grown into something so much more. Members give career and personal advice and are committed to seeing each other succeed.

From a group about nature, they have built up a community of women who support and uplift each other.

“Initially when I started the group, it was just supposed to be a meet-up group,” says Rhiane. “But then I realised that it had the potential to be a community development organisation and wanted to make sure that we [were] reaching everybody.”

But why outdoors in nature? Rhaine has an answer for that, too.

“Nature’s like the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it?” laughs Rhiane. “You grow in the outdoors and not just physically – it’s mentally. It helps you overcome so many barriers in your mind and really brings you out of your comfort zone.”

Not only is getting out into nature great for your mental health, but creating a space – especially for Black women – has been incredibly freeing for everyone in the group.

“A lot of the time like most of the people that come to our group, work in a space where they’re not represented,” explains Rhiane. “[Black Girls Hike] is kind of like taking off a mask.

“You don’t have to contextualise things. It’s less exhausting.”

As for the future of Black Girls Hike – one of the things Rhiane is most passionate about is getting young people involved in the outdoors.

“I can see the young people are the future and the future of the outdoors,” she says. “They’re so impressionable – it’s a great opportunity for you to mould them, inspire them and to kind of like really open up their eyes and their aspiration.”

It is this passion that sparked the collaborations between Black Girls Hike and The Wildlife Trust, aimed at getting young people involved in the nature that is all around them.

“We’re working with young people in the London area aged 18 to 25. And we’re trying to … find new ways to engage them in nature in creative ways,” explains Rhiane. “We’re doing photography workshops, mindfulness sessions, drawing.”

For many young people of colour, Rhiane explains, the outdoors has an image she is desperate to dispel – that the outdoors is only for older, white men. 

“What we really want to do is we want to change that scrap that image. [The] outdoors is for everybody, and we really want to encourage people to see it as a space for them as well.”

You can see Black Girls Hike events on their webpage, and follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. You can support Black Girls Hike by making a donation, to help them support black women and youth in the outdoors.

This article aligns with the UN SDGs Gender Equality and Reduced Inequalities.


Maya van Rossum: the Delaware Riverkeeper making a difference

In environmental advocacy work, it’s hard to do enough. There are always more proverbial fires to put out than there are hands to put them out. And yet someone like Maya van Rossum seems to do the impossible: make positive change with whatever project she works on. 

Beyond anything, Maya wants to put out positive energy into the world, even signing off her emails “Smiling Maya.” When it comes to her environmental work, she traces everything back to her upbringing. 

“I had a wonderful mother that encouraged and nurtured my love of nature and my desire to stand up for justice whenever I could because that’s what she did,” Maya tells Smiley News. “She was an environmental activist, but when she saw something wrong in the world, she would work to fix it.”

Maya’s efforts have taken her far and wide and it’s hard to overstate the work that she’s done. She’s helped push legislation against fracking efforts, especially through Green Amendments For The Generations, a national nonprofit organization. She has also earned the title, the “Deleware Riverkeeper” for her work with the regional advocacy organization the Delaware Riverkeeper Network going back over 30 years. 

To succeed at much of the work she’s done, she puts her expertise in law to use, where she’s a licensed attorney in three states.

“When I was in college, I was trying to figure out my path, and what to do, and just by happenstance, I took a law course it was about contracts,” she says. “I found it very fascinating and of course, I loved the environment.

“And so I went to a college professor and I said, ‘Is there a way to marry the interests I have in the law with my interest in standing up for the environment’ and he said, ‘yes, there’s a thing called Environmental Law.’”

She didn’t want to be a lawyer though, she wanted to use her education to become a better activist. 

One of her primary focuses has been environmental racism, where there may be more environmental devastation and pollution in poorer areas often populated by people of color and other minorities. 

“The way it plays out is it’s actually easier for communities or for developers to place their operations nearby communities of color indigenous communities, because those people have less political influence and less money to fight back against whatever it is that’s being proposed,” Maya explains.

“And once they start getting all of these industrial operations placed around them, the environment is degraded. The argument that gets set up by the people with more money and affluence says, ‘well, that environments already harmed so just don’t put your industrial operation in this clean, pristine piece of nature. Put it over there where the damage is already happening.’”

Put bluntly, Maya just wanted to make a difference, and has in her decades in the environmental activism realm, fighting for active green legislation in all 50 states.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.


An enlightening project to change perceptions of mental illness

It’s only in recent years that the conversation surrounding mental health has changed from one of judgement to one of compassion. But even now there are exceptions – some mental illnesses are seen as more acceptable, while others are seen as more ‘taboo’.

For people who suffer from mental illnesses such as Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it can be incredibly isolating. While your healthcare professionals are there to help, they often talk about the That is why two friends decided to set up the nonprofit: ‘Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You’.

At Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You, also known as Lives Not Labels, Katja and her friend and co-founder Kay are dedicated to breaking down the negative stigma associated with mental illnesses. In particular, they focus on illnesses that either are rarely spoken of or get a lot of negative press – like personality disorders.

“I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in March 2021,” says Katja. “It was quite a long process to gain that diagnosis. And a lot of it was down to the fact that, although I have symptoms of BPD, it was quite difficult to tell what they actually were because I am what most people would probably describe as ‘high functioning’. I have a job, a family, I work full-time.”

Proving that mental health treatment is an ongoing process, Katja’s own diagnosis has recently changed. According to Mind UK, the mental health charity, it isn’t uncommon for people’s diagnoses to change throughout their lifetime – just one more thing that makes diagnosing and treating mental illnesses more complex.

“You don’t really ever hear about the unpleasant side of mental illness that people don’t like to talk about because there isn’t (at the moment) a very positive way that you can spin those,” explains Katja, about the name.

“So, we decided that if we were going to talk about mental illness and share lived experience, then it had to be across the board. And it had to include those mental illnesses that the media don’t find very sexy, so to speak.”

An image of Katja

Studies have shown just how media representation can affect public perception of mental illness. Whether it takes the form of a TV show or movie, an ill-informed documentary, or an article, what people see of mental illnesses in media directly affects their opinion. 

“In October 2021, me and my friend, Kay set up ‘Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You’. We’ve been friends for a really long time,” explains Katja. By sheer coincidence she, and best friend since age 11 Kay, both have personality disorders.

“We were talking about our diagnoses and saying … although it’s really easy to type BPD, or whatever mental illness into Google and see lots of information, you couldn’t really find any about lived experience. So because we couldn’t find much in the way of that kind of resource out there. We decided to set it off ourselves.”

Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You is a website where people are able to share their own stories and experiences of mental illness. Whether they themselves have a mental illness, or it’s their partner or family member, everyone is welcome to share their experience.

The stories are submitted anonymously, in both English and German, which Katja translates, to allow as many people as possible a safe space to talk about their experiences with mental illness.

An image of Katja

Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You has made huge waves online, with positive feedback from posters and readers alike. Katja has had feedback from those who know someone with a mental health problem, who have found greater understanding and empathy from using Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You; which is just the difference she was hoping to make. 

But, perhaps the biggest impact, was also the most unexpected.

“One of the really nice things for us has been that when we’ve looked through lists of subscribers, there’s a lot of mental health professionals that are using the site as well, to educate themselves and see what life is like for the people that they’re working with.

“And that for us is so important.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


We’re ‘UGLI’ and we work to end bullying

Bullies use the word ugly to demean and bring people down, intending to hurt or bring down someone’s self-worth or ego.

That was until Angela Garcia came along and wanted to reclaim the word ugly and how we use it. In came the UGLI Foundation.

Very quickly, you can tell that the spelling of the UGLI Foundation is different. That was intentional, as Angela, the founder, wanted to make an acronym people could connect with while still taking power from the word.

The word stands for a Unique Gifted Loved Individual.

“Our goal is that people anywhere in the United States and hopefully eventually in many other countries, see that word and are reminded of kindness and love,” Angela tells Smiley News.

“It’s a reminder that we’re all individuals and we have differences but the best thing to do is to listen to each other and respect those differences.”

Angela took her life experiences as inspiration for the foundation, highlighting her time bullied as an adolescent.

“I think after I had children, I realized that something needs to be done about this,” she says. “I thought starting a foundation and raising awareness would be a great thing.

“Then as we got more and more into it, I realized with my background in television, and with some of the people that I know some of my best friends, including Quan Cosby [a former NFL Player] who goes around and speaks to kids with me.”

After working in an online capacity Angela felt the need to get on the ground and speak to kids about bullying and how badly it can affect people.

“We just decided no, we actually need to be getting out there and speaking to kids and speaking to adults to the administrators, the counselors at school, their parents, aunts, uncles, and it’s just kind of evolved and we have so many great programs that we’re doing.”

The primary program that Angela is referencing is their UGLI Chats, where schools and organizations can request that the UGLI Foundation come out and speak to students, teachers, and whoever else needs it about the impact of bullying and ways to uplift people.

“Middle school is our target demographic, we’re finding that sixth graders especially are really suffering from bullying, and it’s starting as early as third, fourth, fifth grade,” Angela says.

“So, and again, I go and I speak with Quan Cosby and our goal with those chats is that Quan and I are best friends but we look really different. He is an African American male. I’m a Caucasian female. We have a lot of differences, we don’t agree on everything but we want the kids to see that, hey, we don’t agree on everything. We’re different. We’re unique, gifted, loved individuals, but here we are. We’re speaking to you together.”

Outside of the UGLI Chats, the foundation also helps empower student ambassadors to act as beacons of the work they’re trying to do. The ambassadors will wear clothes or bracelets or the like to show that they can serve as a safe place if someone just needs to talk.

Right now the UGLI Foundation has mostly served the Austin area in Texas, but is working on expanding to neighboring states. As they expand region they’re also looking to expand access, including looking at expanding the age range that they consider working with.

“I think the most important thing is, we just want to get awareness out there,” Angela says.

“We want people to know about our foundation to know about other foundations like ours and to know that there are people here who are trying to help and are trying to make a difference and don’t give up on schools.

“I think that a lot of times people say ‘oh, the school is not doing anything’ and I think sometimes the school either doesn’t know or they are not equipped with the tools that they need, and that’s another thing that we’re working on.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


The nonprofit on a mission to help people support their neighbors

Being able to come together at a moment’s notice and provide aid to our neighbors is incredibly important and uniting.

That’s something that Griffin Graham takes to heart, and something he created through his organization: Community Nest.

The organization, put simply, wants to help support disenfranchised people. It found its roots as an LGBTQ+ aid organization, and has since expanded to all different types of marginalized people.

Griffin started Community Nest partially as a tribute to his late brother as well as a place where people could experience more “humanity.”

“We empower our own community, to support someone next door or down the road – because we often forget the biggest part of all this and that’s that we’re all connected,” Griffin tells Smiley News. “So we have to take care and be of service for each other and do things for all community for all people.

“That’s something that Community Nest and our partners and supporters and, and loved ones share are because we’d like to make that a legacy. We’d like that to be something that the community has long after we personally are not here anymore.”

One of the recent programs Community Nest held was in conjecture with the LA Mission, during the Thanksgiving holiday. They worked to get 2,000 new pairs of shoes for people that need them, especially as the weather starts to cool down. 

“To know people have something on their feet, especially during the holiday time when the weather’s changing is something that brings me joy,” Griffin says. 

They also helped provide meals to those in need as part of their Thanksgiving drive.

“It was quite a day! It was exciting, inspiring, rewarding and you can still hear it in my voice because I’m still lifted off of it,” Griffin says. “It was phenomenal. So many people turned out. And when I say people, I’m not talking about people that were there for the spotlight, it was people that would help service and were ready to give.

“It was just a beautiful thing.”

As Christmas 2022 approached, Community Nest hosted its annual toy drive to bring in toys for local kids, also in partnership with the LA Mission. 

“Our staff is small, but it’s strong,” Griffin says. “So we’re always looking right now to make orders and obviously start getting busier and busier while getting toys.”

Before they partnered with the LA Mission a lot of the work that Community Nest did was in support of the local LGBTQ+ Center, holding galas and auctions to raise money for the center.

“The real inspiration for that is because [my] brother who passed away was in the LGBT community,” Griffin says.

“I’ve been asked before, ‘well you’re not gay, why are you doing something LGBT community?’ and I always tell them, ‘I never told you if I was gay or not, we never had that discussion,’ that’s number one, and number two is, ‘do you have to be anything in the community except for supporter?’ I mean, do you have to be gay to be in the community?”

Beyond anything else, Griffin wants to leave a legacy for the people coming after him, something that his potential grandkids and their community can appreciate. 

“This is where I’m pointing all my energies. That’s more important to me than anything in my soul. It’s doing something that my children’s and children’s children’s children can see and honor later on and still be a guiding light for them and other people.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Reduced Inequalities.