Coming Home

For all the adventure, the beauty, the excitement of an expedition, for me nothing compares to opening the door to your home and having that instantaneous deep appreciation for the people and pets who waited for us and the life that will resume after the gear has been scrubbed, the laundry done and the fourth shower completed. As I often say to people who ask about summits, if you get to the top and you don’t come back, it’s simply not a success.

For the 2017 RMI Elbrus Northside Team, it was indeed a success, in all its forms. A success because once again mountaineering proved that complete strangers can mesh together in the most uncomfortable and challenging of environments to work as a cohesive unit. A success because despite the very “Type A” personality traits that are associated with climbing there is also time and again the need to accept what is in fact beyond control, to roll with the punches, to see one’s own imperfections and strive to be the best version of oneself. A success because there is time yet again to prove life without a cell phone and a computer, or constant noise is a life worth living and maybe it will be sensible to hold onto that feeling, even a little bit, even as we all re-enter daily routines.

On August 10, 2017 it was extremely satisfying to have every teammate make it to the top of Europe’s highest summit, smiling, on a day so picture perfect, warm and void of wind that the danger one least expected was to overheat! Our team included a dairy farmer from Iowa, and his son from Texas, a North Carolina man newly retired, but still pushing limits, A technology guru from Seattle on his first expedition, an outdoorsman and media producer from Fargo, ND. Me, with my love of big open spaces and lastly, my dear friend and climbing partner Robin, who trained so hard in the lead up to the climb that she literally crushed it the whole way.

Standing with the Robin Hood flag and “carrying” all the friends and family who made it possible for me and Robin to raise $27,000 for Robin Hood’s fight against poverty was something to really smile about. oing what you love while helping others is a way to live because there can only be upside!

So now, as summer on the East End of Long Island draws to a close, and the crowds fade, and the light shifts on the water, I see new adventures ahead. They are local, they are at sea level, but they will require of me the same traits up high: to persevere, to grow, to adapt, to be part of a community, to work hard and to embrace what is good.

Special thanks to RMI Guides Pete Van Deventer and Mike Uchal for their exceptional skills and leadership.

https://www.rmiguides.com/blog/summit-registry/summit/elbrus

 

 

Climb on!
Lisa

 

 

Away We Go!

Stoked! Bags are packed,  hearts are beating and Elbrus is calling. It is time to breathe in, breathe out, take one step, then another.

Thank you for the suppport you have shown me and my dear friend and climbing partner Robin Doyle.  Together we have, thus far, raised over $21,000 for The Robin Hood Foundation on this expedition! Gratitude abounds.

Follow us on the climb and through Russia!

Visit the RMI Blog https://www.rmiguides.com/blog/

Select the Mt. Elbrus North Side Expedition with Pete Van Deventer   It should come up as a option on July 31 or August 1

See you on the other side of this thing

Lisa

xoxo

 

 

 

 

Getting Unstuck

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Kilimanjaro Rainforest July 2001

A few years ago I read a social science piece by David Brooks in the NY Times covering Canadian Scott H. Young’s research on how people learn and just how unsteady the learning process can be. The article stayed with me.  I’ve recommended it to friends over the years because I find it so spot on. I ‘ve also reflected on it from to time, as relates to mountaineering.

My first climb ever was Kilimanjaro in 2001. Kilimanjaro was billed then, as it is today, as a “walk to the roof of Africa”. Seemed pleasant enough! There was no shortage of smiling tourists in new hiking boots merrily marching upward in online brochures. The reality of the trek was somewhat different as I quickly discovered in the lower portions of the rainforest, thick with mud and offering a nice slide downward if you weren’t careful where you step.

We were a small group, hiking up the less traveled Machame Route. I remember the feeling of ineptitude as I struggled. No marathon or adventure at sea level had prepared this city girl for where I was and how I was feeling. I quickly manifested serious doubts about my ability to get through the week ahead. As I struggled, Betty, an amazingly elegant and more experienced hiker from New Zealand, not to mention prize gardener who know the Latin name of every plant we passed, said to me, “Lisa! Just stop avoiding the holes! Find the deepest one, stick your foot straight in the mud and you’ll be fine!” Her words made me look at what was in front of me with different eyes. I could see the streaks and slide marks in the mud where so many others struggled to avoid the holes, increasing their chances of falling when in fact a hole was the best place to be! Sure-footed and stable with each step I could feel my mind turning on in a new way saying, “I can do this. It is not scary”. What you fear can in fact be your friend. Sometimes you just need another friend to help you achieve a more positive perspective.

And so would go this conversation in-between my ears with every climb forward. Outside Durango, Colorado in 2002 I would migrate from treks to more serious rock climbs, with Wham Ridge on Vestal Peak being a formidable challenge. But the voice was always there. Telling me to move forward. Commit to the process. SEE it differently.

The truth is that learning in the mountains is the same as the rest of life – it never really ends. Personally I have always found it comfortable and preferable to gravitate toward people who can help me grow in new ways. They’ve come from every walk of life, every place on the map. If you want to be an interesting human, spend time with many different types of humans and remember ego is a killjoy. How do you grow if you always have a front on? I have learned many things from many types of people in my lifetime and now, closer to fifty than forty I find people come to me with varying interests to help them on their own odysseys. I am more than happy to reciprocate with some nibble of knowledge at altitude or at home that has been helpful. Perhaps more insightful for them and more honest for me, is where I failed or where I could have done better.

We are all trekking through our lives and sometimes caught in the mud. This need not be insurmountable. A little structure and a path forward make the difference.

Getting “unstuck” in job training

Story: Kimberly is a remarkably hard-working immigrant from Haiti who earned a bachelor’s degree while also working full-time and raising her five-year-old brother on her own. After graduating from Brooklyn College she had trouble landing a good job because she was never able to take any of the unpaid internships that employers were looking for. She was able to break through that barrier thanks to COOP, an innovative Robin Hood-funded job training program that teaches participants digital marketing and tech skills. She is now a search engine marketing assistant at Generator Media.

Outcomes: Robin Hood job training programs boost wages for participants who find and keep work for a year by $15,000 annually.

We have a little over a week to go till Expedition Elbrus begins. Thanks for your support of Robin Hood!

xo

 

 

Comfort in Transition

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For all we carry, it is often the smallest, most personal items that give us comfort and motivation.

On June 14, 1977 our family home caught fire. It started in the upstairs tenant apartment and the resulting smoke and water damage decimated our own apartment one floor below. My parents had just bought the house three months prior so it had up till this moment still smelled of fresh paint and future happiness.

A friend of the family appeared at my classroom door that afternoon to take me out of school and walk me home, explaining that everyone was OK. Still, being eight years old turning the corner of our block to see the crowds and fire engines was a lot to take in. My father, 6’5” had the saddest expression I had ever seen on him up to that point, as he carried out our fish tank, its own residents floating at the surface. Others carried our books and papers. A lamp. Photo albums. My friend’s mother marched up the block with a bag of clothes for me and for my five-year-old brother.

The few toys that were saved smelled of smoke, but I happily clung to them as we moved around from place to place that summer. After weeks with various relatives we eventually settled into a small ground floor flat to wait out the rebuilding of our home. So began my education on what we carry and how even a few saved precious possessions provided comfort and offered continuity during a period of great instability in our lives.

As an adult that feeling of “comfort while in transition” has stuck with me and translates into my expeditions. There is of course a very real, very long list of essentials that climbers take with us when spending days and weeks in remote areas, but other choices are personal and meant to offer some internal motivation, scent from home, thought of loved ones. Perhaps because of the remoteness and isolation of our destinations the sensations we get from these things we carry is elevated the higher we climb.

For me this list includes:

  • My softest socks – always kept clean in the bottom of my sleeping bag so I can get into them a night when we turn in.
  • A small bottle of essential oils (lavender) – The smell is calming and the skin welcomes something other than sunblock and baby wipes.
  • A golf ball – yes it does have a use! Small enough to fit inside my coffee mug but can be used as a massager for the underside of feet and the lower back after a long tiring day of carrying loads. It also helps me play “mental golf” when held up in the tent for extended periods during a storm.
  • Movies – now that we can bring them on our iPhones I stick with a few that I know well because there is something about the familiarity of the scripts that is so pleasing: The Godfather (I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse”), A River Runs Through it (“Half as Long”), Defending Your Life (‘How many days you looking at?”)
  • Swedish Fish – This candy may as well just be a food group as far as I’m concerned. They just taste happy.

Each thing on my list offers me some sensory satisfaction that makes me a happier person and at the same time connects me to other people, places and spaces that are important in my life. There is a lot of time for personal reflection up high – so helping that reflection along in a safe and comfortable manner helps each climber motivate in our individual ways when times are hard.

The Things They Carry

The sentiments expressed above can only be magnified for the homeless. When you have lost everything, what can you fight to keep? Why does it mean so much to you?

Story: Dawn, Hector, Donna, Nikki and William are formerly homeless New Yorkers who have been served by Robin Hood. In the The Things They Carry video series, they present the precious keepsakes they kept to help them remember who they are and why they should never give up.

Outcomes: In 2016, Robin Hood helped nearly 11,000 vulnerable New Yorkers avoid eviction, find emergency shelter, or move into permanent housing.

With 24 days to go, please consider supporting our Expedition Elbrus to Help New Yorks carry a brighter future into safe homes. Thank you…

 

 

 

 

Robin on Being Brave

Yes! I drank the “Kool-Aid”. Last summer when Lisa asked me to consider an expedition with her, I had never climbed anything near a mountain. A year later I’ve stood atop three 14’ers in Telluride Colorado training for the 18.5k elevation if Russia’s Elbrus.

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It’s been a long road to get this 55-year old body in shape for this. Hiking, running, biking, thousands of push-ups, then more and more hiking!!  Forty-five pounds on my back is feeling pretty good! Then there are the new friends… I love my hiking group at Wild Earth Adventures!  Thanks to Charlie Cook who owns Wild Earth for providing the opportunity for folks like me to enjoy great East coast hiking.  Thanks also to Jaycee, my terrific guide from San Juan Outdoor Adventures in Telluride, who I have now climbed those three peaks with! (photo insert)

Great things have come to me from this adventure. It’s been so amazing to experience that even at my age, I still can get stronger, faster and braver (I consider living in a tent for 12 days brave).  I am especially gratified that Lisa and I are doing this in support of the Robin Hood Foundation – bringing support and some means of stability into the lives of people such as Dennis Rivera braving struggles and seeking their own higher ground.

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Robin Hood and Breaking Ground

THE STORY: Dennis Rivera is a Desert Storm veteran who started using heroin to cope with combat trauma, which led to the rapid unraveling of his entire life. It was Breaking Ground, a RH-funded affordable housing provider, that helped him enroll in drug counseling and find permanent housing. His family has accepted him back into their lives, and he’s enrolled in the New York College of Technology.

OUTCOMES: All of the housing programs funded by Robin Hood have housing retention rates of over 90 percent, with the majority of providers reporting that more than 95 percent of their clients have remained stably housed for at least a year after placement.

Thanks again for your support of this climb and of Robin Hood.

Climb on!
Robin

 

Elbrus Awaits!

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Hello Again Friends and Family!

It has been a little over a year since my challenging and rewarding expedition up Denali. The time has gone fast and somewhere in the midst of much change in my life at work and at home, (to include the addition of one very awesome puppy!) I am excited to announce my next climbing expedition is in the works.

On July 31, 2017, I depart NYC for Russia to climb Elbrus, Europe’s highest peak and I am super excited to say I have a great friend and climbing partner in Robin Doyle. Robin drank the climbing Kool-Aid upon my return from Denali last year and she has been working seriously hard for this expedition. She will be a force of nature on her own!

Both Robin and I hope you will enjoy checking in here as we share our thoughts ahead of the climb. You’ll also be able to follow along on the expedition itself via the climbing blog of our great guides at RMI.

In keeping with last year’s Denali expedition I am climbing to support the Robin Hood Foundation. If it felt good to read these blogs and support my climb for Robin Hood in 2016, please don’t refrain from that feeling for 2017! Just click the Crowdrise link on the right of this page and remember, the Robin Hood board covers all operating expenses, so 100% of your donation goes towards doing good and fighting poverty.

Stay tuned and as always, my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for your support.

Climb on!
Lisa

 

 

 

 

Denali Imagined, Denali Realized

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I am home, having arrived at JFK Monday morning, June 6th, just in time to battle LIE traffic into mid-town. The shock of car horns surprised me as I realized I hadn’t heard those uninviting tones in almost four weeks! Still, home has my heart singing and after more snow and ice than I’ll need for a good long while the warmth of June on my face and the promise of green fairways excites me to no end.

It may be a bit longer until  I am able to reflect on and write-up a trip summary representative of all that happened during our team’s 24-day expedition on Denali.  It certainly lived up to what I imagined and beyond! The challenges mentally, emotionally and physically were some of the truest tests of my humanity. I like that. I think the thing about mountains and mountaineering is that climbers must come to ultimately understand that expeditions are intensely beautiful to experience, but you have to be willing to suffer for them. If you can manage that and still have a sense of humor you’ll come out the other side loving it and wanting to go back.

DSCN0433Summits, when achieved, represent a fraction – a few brief minutes really – of what goes into a successful expedition. They are never promised and at times very low probability so I tend to have managed expectations around them. When they happen, awesome. If not, there is so much else rewarding about a good climb. That said, we were privileged to find a hole in bad weather during what seemed like our endless journey to stand on the top of North America on June 1, 2016. Plenty of luck, plenty of determination and there we were!

Many of you have followed up asking how things went and I’d like to take this time to share some images of the experience. Also, to once again thank so many of you who supported this journey. You supported it with $44,000 for Robin Hood and trusted in me that I would give this climb my best efforts. Every one of you came up and down that mountain with me. Thanks for the motivation.

I’d also like to thank my fellow teammates, as well as our absolutely incredible guides from Rainier Mountaineering Inc. http://www.rmiguides.com  (“RMI”): Lead guide Pete Van Deventer, guide Robbie Young and guide Jess Matthews. Amazingly skilled one and all (plus a heck of a lot of fun to be around!). Not once did I ever have reason to doubt their process, their decisions, thier objective to put the safety of our team above all else as a model for true success. I was privileged to climb with them. I will look forward to when I am able to do so again. But for now, I need to putt.

Happy Summer,
Lisa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going Off the Grid

Packing it UpWell, it nearly here. Monday I am off. I’ll spend the next few days packing (and repacking) the gear strewn across my apartment into the packs and duffels that will come with me. For the next few weeks, everything I need, I carry either in the bags, in my heart or in my head. Needless to say, I plan to just bring the good stuff.

Over the past six weeks I’ve enjoyed blogging about the correlation between survival in the mountains and survival in the city as a way to introduce people to both my passion for climbing and also to the Robin Hood Foundation’s mission to fight poverty in NYC. I hope the stories have been insightful and that will you stay tuned for more updates and my post-trip summary. I plan to take whatever Denali offers minute-by-minute, day-by-day and week-by-week. It’s too great an adventure to look at any other way!

I am so very appreciative of the support everyone has shown for this climb and for Robin Hood! To date your support has generated over $42,000 in contributions for “Lisa’s Destination Denali”.  Please don’t stop here!  I’d love to reach my goal of $50,000 and if I can continue to motivate you through the expedition that would be really fantastic. If you feel it, please contribute at https://www.crowdrise.com/lisasdenailsummit/fundraiser/lisaruiz

Those interested in following the expedition can visit https://www.rmiguides.com/blog/entries Click on the link for expedition dispatches by selecting the “May 10, 2016 Denali – West Buttress Expedition with Pete Van Deventer”.

As I head westward and upward, I’d like to impart on you exactly how your contributions are put to work.  Robin Hood’s board pays administrative and fundraising expenses so 100% of your donation goes directly to fighting poverty. They make grant decisions to maximize impact, much like a financial manager chooses investments to maximize profit. The upshot: a 15:1 return on your investment dollar.

Last year, Robin Hood Invested $132 million in more than 210 of the most effective poverty-fighting programs in NYC. To do so, Robin Hood’s relies on a unique analytical tool called “Relentless Monetization”. This is a data driven formula that translates into spending donor money in a manner that cuts poverty as deeply as possible by helping program officers analyze cost-benefit ratios across grants of various form or purpose. While all this data is important, fighting poverty is ultimately about human beings. Robin Hood layers into their due diligence detailed knowledge about the programs and the people who run them. This results in long term commitments to top performing organizations, with wide and lasting positive impacts.

Learn more about Robin Hood’s approach and impact at www.robinhood.org.

I’ll look forward to updating you all upon my return. I wish everyone who has followed along the best of health, happiness, friendship and peace. Thanks for coming with me!

Climb on!
Lisa

Working for a Living

IMG_1697I naturally embark on a climbing expedition with the same enthusiasm and attention to detail as I do my job. On the surface that may not seem “fun” to some readers but as the saying goes, “Love what you do and never work a day in your life!” With that frame of mind I take all the hard work as something to embrace and I show up expecting to do my fair share. I climb for my own sense of self-satisfaction but that is not achieved in a vacuum. There are very legitimate obligations I hold to my climbing partners that are manifest in hard physical labor, mental fortitude and a dose of good humor!

Depending on the day and the weather sometimes the team is really “on the clock”. Weather windows need to be taken advantage of when they present themselves. When it is go-time you need to be packed up, roped in, crampons on and ready to move into the next phase of the climb. Our team will likely be broken down into rope teams of four and climbers are ever mindful that you are only as solid as the weakest person on your rope. Everyone needs to dial in to a rhythm that is smooth and steady, minimizing the likelihood of damage to the rope, too much slack or poor transitions over diverse terrain.

On active rest days we put a lot of effort into shoring up campsites, dividing up gear, re-packing gear. We are constantly doing this as we leave things behind for our return at the end of the climb or we identify what needs to go on ahead in a cache up high. Unlike trips that will come later in the season, we won’t have the benefit of repairing existing snow walls left behind by other teams so we will build them all from scratch. Environmental stewardship and Leave No Trace practices on Denali are absolutely required in order to leave the mountain as pristine as you found it. This is more than a job, it is a requirement.The National Parks Service rightfully demands it because it benefits everyone.

Generally speaking a lot of fine-tuning around my approach to climbs has come from observing the skills of very talented guides and more experiences climbers. Those who are willing to share their own successes and challenges add to the collective knowledge base of the climbing community and that in turn generates the kind of job security so precisely needed up high. Then of course there is the beer waiting in the cache at base camp for when it is all done…

JOBS AND ECONOMIC SECURITY

The PROBLEM
Despite rising employment rates and the economy’s recovery, nearly half of New Yorkers are living at or near the poverty line. Roughly 200,000 New Yorkers are still looking for jobs on any given day. Entrepreneurs from low-income communities lack access to capital to launch their businesses. And more than 800,000 New Yorkers do not have bank accounts. Rising rents, stagnant wages, and dwindling benefits programs have made life even more precarious for New Yorkers already on the edge.

The APPROACH
Robin Hood helps unemployed and underemployed adults achieve self-sufficiency and financial independence by funding groups that train and place New Yorkers in jobs, provide access to credit and banking services, or offer financial counseling.

Robin Hood’s job-placement programs teach participants how to make a favorable impression at job interviews and how to prepare an effective resume. In general, its grantees connect participants to entry-level positions. Some of the training programs teach “hard” skills that are relevant to specific industries like health care, technology, or services. Economic-security grants help New Yorkers open bank accounts, gain financial literacy, and provide loans or technical assistance to entrepreneurs launching or expanding their businesses.

The IMPACT
In 2015, Robin Hood helped more than 10,000 New Yorkers secure jobs in a range of fields including retail, health care, construction, and hospitality. In addition, Robin Hood invested $3.5 million last year in financial-empowerment programs, which made over 135,000 microloans to help fund fledgling businesses in low-income communities.

GET INVOLVED
Upwardly Global works to eliminate employment barriers for skilled immigrants and refugees and integrate this population into the professional U.S. workforce. Volunteers play a meaningful role in transforming job seekers’ lives by sharing knowledge of U.S. workplace culture and expectations, industry insight, and lessons learned. Volunteers support job seekers through interview coaching and by encouraging and mentoring them through what can be a challenging time. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing job seekers gain confidence as they achieve their goals and come to believe they can succeed professionally here. To learn more, please visit their website.

 

 

An Ounce of Prevention….

GlassesExternalities will easily compromise health and threaten climbers on expedition; therefore any good healthcare system focuses on preventative care as a top priority.

On any given day climbers experience the spectrum of what nature has on the menu. We can go from the risk of sunburn to the risk of frostbite in as little as an hour. On the sunny side, skin is extremely sensitive at altitude and we are unlikely to feel the sun’s radiation burning us with cold temperatures. I plan to use 70SPF sunblock for the duration of the Denali expedition. Snow blindness is also a possibility – a temporary loss of vision due to overexposure from the sun’s UV rays –  and it’s quite painful. We’ll all have glacier glasses on our faces regardless of whether or not the sun chooses to come out. In fact, eye protection is so important backups glasses are crucial in case of loss or breakage.

On flip side of “hot”, “cold” is just as problematic and extremities are the most vulnerable to frostbite. One of the guides on my Rainer winter seminar explained the involuntary process our bodies employ when deciding what to save. He said, “The human body is smart. The body knows it needs the brain, the heart, the lungs…. the toes and fingers, not so much”. That may be true but I 100% plan to return to NYC with all of my fingers and toes intact! Learning how to swing a golf club (or do anything!) without them is a price I am never willing to pay. On a positive note avoiding frostbite is directly correlated to good hydration, so water is the key to keeping what we’ve got. Drink up!

The biggest health concerns for climbers revolve around acute mountain sickness (“AMS”) and at some point almost everyone will succumb to at least mild symptoms (headache, nausea, insomnia) on the trip. As we climb higher, the body does what it can to adapt to the altitude change by increasing heart rate, increasing the rate of breathing and generating more red blood cells. Water, warmth, food and rest all are essential to these changes. In addition, we’ll employ a climbing itinerary with acclimatization in mind. The act of “climbing high, sleeping low” means we carry and cache gear at higher altitudes and then drop down to rest before an official advance up to our next camp. So, when we climb a mountain, we don’t climb it once, but many times over (and over) again. In worst case scenarios, if adaptation to altitude fails, common sense prevails and the single smart solution to help any climber in danger is his or her immediate descent.

What all this means is that a climber’s goal is above all, to stay healthy, which in turn helps keep us safe. With these two goals in tact we are able to open up possibilities for all other measures of success. This logic applies to people in general and struggling New Yorkers could stand a similar approach to preventive healthcare, and opportunities to better manage chronic conditions. This is possible with accessible and affordable health care centers and clinics.

ROBIN HOOD & HEALTH

The PROBLEM

The harsh reality is that poor New Yorkers live four years less than wealthy New Yorkers. Those living in poverty suffer disproportionally from diabetes, H.I.V./AIDS, hypertension, asthma, and other chronic health conditions. These medical conditions are exacerbated by the fact that struggling families are often uninsured or underinsured and therefore more likely to skip treatment.

The APPROACH

Robin Hood’s approach is two-fold: ensure low-income New Yorkers, many of whom are uninsured, have access to primary care and help those with chronic diseases treat and manage their conditions.

To ensure all New Yorkers have access to health care, Robin Hood invests in first-rate health centers and hospitals that treat New Yorkers regardless of their insurance status. Robin Hood also works to connect uninsured, low-income New Yorkers with low-cost insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare. For those ineligible for insurance, like undocumented immigrants, Robin Hood invests in free clinics and health centers. Finally, to treat chronic diseases, Robin Hood invests in organizations that provide care for the conditions most prevalent in impoverished communities like asthma, diabetes, and hypertension as well as programs that help those struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, and cancer.

 The IMPACT

Last year Robin Hood’s investment helped improve the health of more than 43,000 low-income individuals in 2015, which made it possible to provide primary and mental health care to over 11,000 adults and children while over 32,000 individuals received treatment for chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, asthma, H.I.V./AIDS, and hepatitis B and C.

GET INVOLVED

The Live Light Live Right program at Brookdale Hospital inspires, educates and transforms children suffering from obesity so they can lead productive, healthy lives. Childhood obesity is an epidemic in America. But it is a crisis in poor communities like Brownsville, where two-thirds of kids ages 5 to 11 are overweight. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, please visit their website.