Spotlight Saturday: Sheltering Grace

I hope you’re having a beautiful day. ♡
Today we are happy and excited to bring you a brand new story for:

¤ Spotlight Saturday ¤

"Courage is not the absence of fear.  It is the conquest of it."  William Danforth

Sheltering Grace Header Spotlight Saturday u1k

Sheltering Grace

…was founded in response to the alarming number of homeless women with unexpected pregnancies in the Atlanta Metro area.  Our goal is to interrupt the social and economic patterns that lead to homelessness and the resulting effects on a woman’s family and on her community. We resolve the initial crisis of homelessness by providing a safe place to live during pregnancy and by providing mothers with the tools they need to improve decision-making, to enhance employment options, and increase family income, to act responsibly as the head of their household, and to develop the self-reliance to progress to permanent independent living.

Serving the metropolitan Atlanta area, our two modest homes in Marietta provide housing for up to six women and each woman’s newborn child.  The typical participant is age 21-45, homeless, unemployed, no income, no transportation, and no support system.  She is given a stable and supportive environment to deliver and bond with her newborn.  During her stay, she receives counseling and a customized life plan including training in life skills, stress management, parenting, prenatal care & childbirth, finance, career building, spiritual development, and household management.  The goal is to break the generational bond of poverty and dysfunction and create a new legacy for her child.

Since our inception in 2006, Sheltering Grace has been busy building a strong program allowing our participants to grow as women, mothers, and become heads of households.

From the “About Us” section on the Sheltering Grace Ministry Ltd. website.




An Interview with Dr. Ralph Bell

This is approximately verbatim but there is some paraphrasing for clarity based on a much larger contextual conversation and notes.  Any errors you may see are exclusively mine.  -Niki Flow, under1000skies


under1000skies:               Thank you for taking time today to speak to me today, Dr. Bell.


Dr. Bell:                                I’m very happy to do so.


under1000skies:               Can you tell me a little about how a desire to create a safe place for a really vulnerable group of people grew in your heart? Did you have an epiphany moment?


Dr. Bell:                                Not exactly an epiphany moment, but I did have a big change in my life.  To give you some background, I didn’t start Sheltering Grace.  The ministry is 11-years old. I’ve been the Executive Director for six years.  Before that, I was the counselor.  Prior to getting into counseling, I worked in the private sector in insurance.  In 2004 I was diagnosed with cancer.  I asked the Lord to show me what I should be doing in my life.  I felt like there was extra capacity, and felt like I wasn’t doing what I should be doing. I know I am in the hand of Christ and the hand of Christ is in the Father’s hands.   So that being said, my question once diagnosed was, “How does the Lord get honor and glory by my having cancer?”  It was a North Star moment for me.  It revealed to me that my place in life was one of service.

I started a cancer-support group. Then one day in 2006, I was with a Sunday school class that did a service project for our ministry houses. I was on a ladder scraping one of the houses when Karen Lang, the Executive Director of Sheltering Grace at the time, said to our group, “Pray with me.  We need counselor.”   I handed her my business card.  Soon after that, I began counseling the women.  Two years later Karen walked into my counseling office and said, “I should step aside so that the ministry can go to the next level.”  I didn’t understand she was asking me to do until I conveyed the conversation to my wife.  She said, “It sounds like she was asking you to become the new Executive Director.”  So when I asked Karen about it, she said, “Yes, that’s what I meant.”  So I had a conversation with my wife, then I said yes the following week to Karen.


under1000skies:               You didn’t come to this service and an open-hearted devotion to Sheltering Grace from a blank page.  Can you tell me a little bit about the people who had the biggest influences on your life?


Dr. Bell:                                My earliest remembrances are that my mother introduced me to Jesus at a very young age.   My grandmother was also a big influence on my life.  My grandmother owned a corner store.  I’d hear her say to customers all the time, “Duty bound.”  She’d just write it in the ledger whenever they came in for supplies, and at end of month when they would come and pay they’d say, “Thank you Miss Cora,” and she’d say “Duty bound.”  I understand what it means to be duty bound.  Just prior to Christ’s ascension into heaven, he asked Peter three times, “Take care of my sheep — feed my lambs…” And I think, from my youth, I have been being prepared to do that.  I have always had a spirit that sort of was trusted.  In high school people would confide in me.  Often I knew things that I sort of wish I didn’t know.  I think It was because of my demeanor and because I held things in confidence. God has given me a level of wisdom that is surprising to me.  I say that because I sit across the table as a counselor, and I hear things come out of my mouth that I don’t know where they come from.   I know I am called to counsel because I am “duty bound until I am better paid.”  That’s another one of my grandmother’s sayings.  We would help her for the weekend, and sometimes she would give me a quarter.  But sometimes she’d say “until you’re better paid.”


under1000skies:                I’m guessing that your studies had a lot to do with the direction you took to finally one day become the director of Sheltering Grace.   What did you study at college?


Dr. Bell:                                Biblical Counseling.  The way that came about was, I was leading a cancer support group, talking on the phone for hours at a time, and people were blessed by what I did.  I did it in a volunteer capacity, but I had to work also.  I said to a friend, “I’m not sure I can continue to do this.”  My friend said, “Why don’t you make that your vocation?” Two weeks after that, I enrolled in seminary.  I don’t think going to seminary was essential to do what I do, but it was steadying and helped me in becoming familiar with counseling and the discipline.   I pray for everyone I speak with and ask God to speak through me, to let them hear what they really need to hear him.  My counsel comes from God’s word entirely. I use examples from the Bible.


under1000skies:                So you’re located in East Point, a suburb of Atlanta.  I read an article on “Curbed Atlanta” that claimed East Point was labeled the “most dangerous suburb” in the USA.  Just to let you know, my birth-city Camden, NJ is in second place, right under East Point.   So my question is, do you think this label is accurate?


Dr. Bell:                                No.  We have a maternity home in East Point.  Our office is in Marietta.  We were gifted the home from the Diocese.  The maternity home is a 10,000 square-foot, 16-bedroom, 10-bathroom facility on 5.7 acres.  We’re not a Catholic ministry.  We’re a non-denominational ministry, but the Diocese appreciates the work we do providing homes for homeless pregnant women.  Even though we’re not on the front lines when it comes from the Pro-Life Movement, like being part of the “40 Days,” we serve in other ways.  One of the things we decided was we were not going to get on the activist side of it because it would change our ministry.  It is a Christ-centered ministry.  We do preach Jesus to everyone regardless of who they are because we believe in salvation.   The day-to-day activism is important, but our ministry is just as, if not more, important.  If we don’t care for the moms, what happens to the babies?  We’ve got to get the mom stable, get her understanding her role as a daughter of God so she is raising young men and women who don’t become a burden to society



Under1000skies:              My mentor, Nipun Mehta, founded Service Space and a few years ago gave a TED talk called “Designing for Generosity.”  During his talk he spoke about Casa de Paz.  Have you heard about Nipun and Service Space, or Casa de Paz?


Dr. Bell:                                                I have not.


Under1000skies:              Casa de Paz is a home two “Love Warriors” as Nipun calls them bought in East Paulo Alto, California.  It’s located in between two gang territories.  They keep their doors always open, day and night, and it has become a sanctuary and a safe zone for the entire neighborhood.  So now when shots are heard on the street, instead of everyone hiding inside, they run out to help because it is their home, their neighborhood, and they have become a lot more united.   When you have people, like these two men who from Casa de Paz in in California, who have a big dream and a lot of faith, it seems to immediately start these beautiful ripples in their neighborhoods.    Have you found that to be the case with Sheltering Grace?


Dr. Bell:                                        Oh yes.  But understand, East Point’s location is open on a limited basis right now.  We thought we could open the facility, but it is a 10,000-square foot commercial building, and when you have participants in there, you have to have staff members in there at all times.  I’s a 24/7 operation.  Because of budget restraints, we are not able to operate it like we want to.  The ministry is 11-years old and, in those years, we have served 300 women and 175 babies.  We have tremendous success stories.


Under1000skies:              Do these women give their babies up for adoption?


Dr.  Bell:                               Of those 175 babies, only on one mother has chosen to give up her baby.  We help the mother all the way through pregnancy, then training after pregnancy, then we help her learn skills, get housing and help her get connected to both higher education and to a job.  One of our spokesperson’s for the ministry is a previous resident.  She has gone on to get a degree in accounting and now has an MBA.  Another former resident was a resident-manager for three years. Another has her own fitness store in Sandy Springs.  Several have gotten their lives together, are working; some have married and are living in their own home.


Under1000skies:              On your site I read that Sheltering Grace is the only dedicated maternity home serving homeless women over 21 in northern Georgia.   What happens to homeless moms who are under 21?


Dr.  Bell:                               The reason it is over 21 is we would have had to get a special use permit from East Point for moms under 21.  Also, laws in Georgia are very different for maternity homes that are for women under 21.  We partner with “Living Bind” which provides for services for pregnant girls and women under 21.


Under1000skies:              So in 2001 after 911, a friend of mine in New York City decided to start making handmade gifts for the families who lost loved ones.  She called it, “My Sister’s Keeper,” since there were especially so many widows and kids left behind when the rescue workers were killed.  She soon had volunteers from all over the country, so she divided it into states.  I was the Volunteer Coordinator for New Jersey and I remember getting lists from DV shelters about the amount of just basic supplies that were needed just in one month for each shelter.  My Sister’s Keeper* donated necessities, but we also donated handmade gifts for the mom’s and kids during the holidays.  Being in a shelter, no matter how well run it is or how loving the staff is, can be a bit of a struggle especially after losing a home.  I know because it happened to me, so this was close to my heart. So my question is, do you work with any groups in Atlanta like My Sisters Keeper who help you with basic needs every month and maybe help you also with little personal gifts?


Dr. Bell:                                                Yes, we have a very, very good relationship with several churches both Protestant and Catholic.  I’ll tell you one thing we are never in need of is diapers because both do diaper drives.  We have a large Transfiguration Church that has over 300 kids in their ministry and they prepare baskets for the moms. Many individuals and women’s group give us these necessities.  Even a sorority recently gave us 40 projects they packed.  With in-kind gifts we don’t have an issue.  Where we run into the issue is getting the money.   We are currently running a fundraising campaign called, “Be One of 5000.”  That would more than cover our operational expenses.  It’s a very, very slow process.


Under1000skies:              So what would someone do who signed up to be one of the 5000?


Dr. Bell:                                So instead of asking for big sums, $50,000 a month which is what it costs to run the East Point facility at full capacity, we are asking that 5000 people pledge to be one of 5000 that gives $10 a month.  It’s growing but it’s growing slowly.  Getting the word out about that campaign has probably been the biggest challenge for us.  Getting public service announcements over the radio is difficult for example.  They will talk about your program but not about fundraising.


Under1000skies:              Do you have any kind of “Day in the life” stories or series?


Dr. Bell:                                Four years ago we published a book called, A Story of Hope.  It was about one of our residents we called Maria.  She had lived for five years in tents and under bridges.  When she came to us, she was 41-years old and pregnant with her tenth child.  None of the others were in her custody.   She said,   “I think this is my last opportunity. I want to keep this baby.  I want to raise this baby.” I can tell you now that her real name is Samantha because she put her story on Facebook.  She had a traumatic brain injury at 16 from a car accident. So we’re talking about someone who is mentally challenged. When she came in, she didn’t have glasses, didn’t have a tooth in her mouth.  We got her glasses and dentures.  We enrolled her in adult education classes because she was not reading.  Seven months after that, she had the baby.  After a year, she was reading in morning devotions from the Bible.  DFCS took the 10th child, but we went to court with her and they gave her baby back.  She now lives in her own apartment and she is doing really well.  Her baby is 4-years old now.  She has such a testimony.  It warms my heart to know that our ministry – Sheltering Grace – helped to make this miracle possible.


Under1000skies:              Have you thought about doing a series of stories on YouTube or as podcasts or about doing a Thunderclap to get the word out?


Dr. Bell:                                We have not explored those avenues as yet.


Under1000skies:              I have a question about the third phase in your program, the one before re-entry back into society.  You said something about apprenticeships or work assistance?


Dr. Bell:                                Yes, the third phase is called Head of Household.  We have instituted the “Sheltering Grace Academy Collaborative Workforce Training Memorandum” which is outstanding.  It provides internships with our women.  We’ve partnered with Kennesaw State University  for continuing education. Our women are given a vocational assessment to determine where and what courses they should be taking.  We just started, but after six years it is very apparent that if we don’t raise the economic standards of these moms, they go back to the same situation.  So we want to raise their economic standards as much as possible.


Under1000skies:              I read that the “Womanhood” phase, the first phase, includes an “Assessment to determine barriers to attaining stable housing and employment.”  Are those barriers primarily substance abuse?”


Dr. Bell:                                We’re primarily talking about prior debt, because most have had apartments in their name but didn’t pay utilities or rent, and until they resolve those it is very hard for them to get into housing.  One of the first things our case manager does is pull their credit report and  help them make a debt-reduction plan.


Under1000skies:              That’s a life-skill a lot of us could benefit from.  So under the second  phase, “Motherhood” you write about “Pregnancy and labor education and support.”  Is that like Lamaz lessons? Breathing? Do the participants have coaches and birthing support?


Dr. Bell:                                Yes they have birth coaches.  Some of them are “Dulas” which is like a midwife.


Under1000skies:              You also provide “Weekly counseling?”


Dr. Bell:                                Yes we have an agreement with a private organization which hired a therapist to work with our women exclusively.  Twelve is our max, and that’s a full and better caseload for a counselor.


Under1000skies:              You also offer, “Education in the form of financial, employment, and life skills workshops.”  Can you tell me a little bit about the education?   What does a typical day look like for one of your participants?


Dr. Bell:                                The typical day (Monday to Friday) is breakfast is from 7-8.  From 9-10 we have a devotional hour.  Then from 10-12 we keep a class slot.  There’s not a class all five days, but we put that there so we can have a morning class.  That’s typically where we’ll have a finance class or a life-skill class like budgeting.  How many classes we have depends on how many volunteers we have at that time.  We have 25 or 26 different classes.


Under1000skies:              Do you offer online classes?


Dr. Bell:                                Yes we have online classes, particularly for those that need academic help.  One thing we require if they don’t have a high school diploma is we help them get their GED.  So we have online courses.  That way we’re able to customize specifically for a particular woman’s needs.  She may say, “Well, I already know this stuff.”  We’ve had women who have their Associate’s Degree stay with us.


Under1000skies:              Do you pay teacher salaries or is this donated time?


Dr. Bell:                                                It’s all volunteer.  We’d love to have an educator on staff, but again that’s one of those things that is secondary to housing the woman.



Under1000skies:              So three programs, “Womanhood,” “Motherhood“, and “Head of Household.”  So pre-delivery and post?


Dr.  Bell:                               Yes.


Under1000skies:              This is a really comprehensive plan.  No wonder you have so much success.  This one section under “Womanhood” includes, “Assistance in developing a one, three, and five year Strategic Life Plan.”  Anyone could use that.  Where do I sign up?


Dr. Bell:                                Yes! The Strategic Life Plan is a two-hour, three-session seminar I put together a couple of years ago.  It’s a process where we talk about values and they develop a personal vision statement, a personal mission statement and define what their goals are in one, three and five years.  We follow up with case management through their one-year goals, at least through those.  One thing that works in my life is something I have noticed very few people do which is to have written goals.  Without written goals your routine is interrupted by living and daily life because we don’t have a roadmap and written goals.  A Strategic Life Plan is one of those things that, if you are going to be productive and successful, you will need.


Under1000skies:              So you provide “Safe housing and delivery of her new baby.  A Life Plan developed to secure stable housing, employment, training and improved future economic status for the family.  A plan for the participant to receive the tools to begin taking steps toward her short- and long term-goals…”  So all that begins from whenever they come into the program until two weeks before delivery…”  Then they go to the “Womanhood” phase.  So are the moms moved to another part of the facility or just signing up for new classes?”


Dr. Bell:                They stay in the same place but I separated it as a program.  Before I took over, it was all one program.  We actually physically enroll them in the next stage because some of the women come to us because, when they have a baby, they have to have someplace else to go.  We have some women whose primary goal is to have the baby and get back to where they came from.  So this is difficult and we want to work to support the entire family.  We had, for instance, a prostitute talked out of having an abortion and she couldn’t wait to deliver and get back to her profession.  She loved it.  And when the women are not willing to participate it can be difficult.  She is the only mom who relinquished her baby.  We tell the moms, “You’re here because you’re pregnant, so when you have the baby we’ll help you find someplace else to go.”  Most of the time, we have had success.  Very rarely we have woman with violent tempers who are not allowed to come back.  Most have stayed through the program.


Under1000skies:              So the last phase is when you prepare the moms to be heads of households.


Dr. Bell:                                Yes.  Six weeks after baby is born they begin that phase.  It’s the most expensive time, the “Head of Household” phase.  It’s difficult for some to leave too.


Under1000skies:              How do you handle moms with substance abuse?


Dr. Bell:                               We’re not equipped to deal with substance-abuse issues – and I mean stuff beyond marijuana.  That’s very common.  Of 15 of the women we interviewed, 12 failed a drug test due to marijuana so we can’t worry about that.  But anything more we refer them to a partner to help those moms.


Under1000skies:              What is the average age of most of the moms?


Dr. Bell:                                It’s about 25, 26.


Under1000skies:              So I have to ask.  I did some research and found a couple of negative reviews about Sheltering Grace on Google by two women who claimed they stayed there.  Can you tell me about the ones that drop out or are asked to leave?


Dr. Bell:                                We’ve had six women walk away from the program because we don’t permit them to have their cell phones.  If we allow them to have their cell phones, they can scream at baby daddy all night and then they are really unpleasant the next day.  So we take away cell phones.  The scripture I use is one about changing a person’s environment.  God called Abraham to leave his father’s house where there was idol worship and to go to a land he did not know.  Because Abraham was obedient and could do that, God blessed him.  If he had stayed he wouldn’t have been able to overcome his surroundings.  So it is coming out of the dysfunctional environment that gives you the best opportunity to change.  So they have the opportunity, but some do not take it.

Another example is, I served in the Air Force for five years.  One thing that stood out to me was that we were in basic training for six weeks.  The guys got off the bus and no one knew anyone.  The drill instructor’s first command was “Line up and march.”  And everybody just walked to this barracks at their own pace.  Six weeks later, if you were watching that same squad, you would see that it moved like an arrow.  Everybody was in in step.  The way that they do that is they separate you from the environment, changing you from a civilian to a GI.  That’s sort of the model.  We’re not making soldiers, but the concept is the same.  You’re going to have a better opportunity to change old behaviors that did not serve you if you change your environment.

I have also had to dismiss two for smoking on the property.  There are three things we tell all the women when they come, three things that will get you removed from the program:  1. fighting with participants or staff; 2. bringing a man on the premises; and, 3. smoking on the property and, aside from the health risk for mom and baby it is an insurance issue.-


Under1000skies:              So I noticed that you have a deep faith and you speak a lot about the Bible and Bible study.  What if someone isn’t Christian?  Like suppose I’m a Buddhist mom-to-be, or an atheist, would I still be welcome?


Dr. Bell:                                Yes.  Our primary job is the mom and child’s safety for her physical needs and evangelism for her spiritual needs.  So you may be the only Jesus this person will ever know.  We will talk about Jesus, but you can’t force Christ on anyone.  Unless a person is drawn by their own calling, they will not come.

thank you

Under1000skies:              Dr. Bell, it has been such an honor and a privilege to speak to you today.  Thank you so much for the beautiful work you and everyone at Sheltering Grace are doing.  If there’s anything else I can do to serve you or the participants and their babies in the future please don’t hesitate to let me know.


Dr. Bell:                                Thank you so much.  I will.


Father's Day

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How to contact Sheltering Grace to help or if you are in need of help.

Sheltering Grace Ministry
797 Roswell Street
Marietta, GA 30060

Phone: 678.337.7858
Fax: 678.384.3466

Sheltering Grace Website

Sheltering Grace on Twitter

Sheltering Grace on Facebook


In-Spired (“Filled with Spirit”)

Just a quick postscript.  As I mentioned, safety, education, fully supporting the mom and baby together, these are close to my heart. I think that not only is the Sheltering Grace plan brilliant and inspired, but that Dr. Bell’s love and compassion for the women and babies he serves is at the very core of who they are.  It just filled me with so much joy to talk to Dr. Bell last week.  I wish him, the moms, staff and volunteers at Sheltering Grace every success.  Every city in the world needs a Sheltering Grace.  May theirs be the first one of many more!

So my husband and I talked about it and decided that we are going to be one of the 5000.  We signed up this morning.  Ten bucks a month – that’s about the price of two cups of coffee at Starbucks (not that we ever go there).  This is a small gift, but one that will bring big, big dividends in the years to come. I hope they get all 5000.   I’ll be writing to Dr. Bell too with some ideas I’ve had since we spoke last, and that includes sending enough artist packs, once we can get 12 together, for every mom currently in residence at Sheltering Grace.

Thank you for reading.  Have a wonderful weekend and may you find joy every day of your journey through life,

under1000skies logo 1
☼ A “Giftivism” Initiative ☼
We are photographers,
writers, artists & advocates
serving and connecting
homeless creatives.



Gems 3.60

I hope you’re having a beautiful day. ♡
Here’s another light-filled ¤ Gem ¤

silence macrina wiederkehr

Photo “LBI Jetty” by Niki Flow

I found this quote today while looking for a quote that combined vision (to go along with the photo ^_^) and “silence.” What a gift that search became! It not only led me to this beautiful excerpt from “Seven Sacred Pauses” (which is now on my “want to read” list) but it led me to Macrina’s website. This is how she describes herself in her about section which is so lovely I included the entire thing on today’s Gem on under1000skies:

About Macrina Wiederkehr

Windows are openings to life, providing scenic views for inspiration. If you come to my window I hope you will find the blessing of a scenic view that inspires you. Perhaps it will be a supportive message from my blog, a poem, a quote or a prayer. It could be the discovery of a good book to read, or a movie to view—perhaps an invitation to attend one of my retreats.

When someone asks where I’m from and who I am, this is how I like to introduce myself: I come from the meadows, vineyards and forests of Altus, Arkansas. The country is a cherished memory of what I call first home. My childhood companions were animals, birds, insects, trees, plants, wild flowers and angels. I come from a family that was not without flaws. By today’s standards we may even qualify as a bit dysfunctional yet in spite of our defects I have always felt a unique and beautiful bond with my family.

My second home is with my Benedictine community of sisters, St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas. We follow the rule of St. Benedict with the gospel as our guide.

from About Macrina on

Journey Notes and News

Monday June 19 to Saturday June 24, we’ll be offline (medical stuff).  We’ll return on Monday June 26th.  The theme for this last week in June is “silence,” “listening,” “stillness,” and “sacred space.”   If you have a favorite quote about any or all of those, please let us know.  Also, we don’t currently have a theme for July.  If you have any ideas, please let us know.

Your Creativity

As always, we would love to feature your creative visions! If you would like to contribute photos, art work, short poems/stories, quotes, time, etc., please see our “About Us” page for details.  When we show each other what we find beautiful, we get a glimpse into each others’ hearts.

May you find joy every day of your journey through life,

under1000skies logo 1
☼ A “Giftivism” Initiative ☼
We are photographers,
writers, artists & advocates
serving and connecting
homeless creatives.

Gems 3.59

I hope you’re having a beautiful day. ♡
Here’s another light-filled ¤ Gem ¤

closed mouth spoke silent rumi mick

Photo “Age of Silence” by Niki Flow

About Rumi

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī (Persian: جلال‌الدین محمد رومی‎‎) (30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273) was a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. Rumi’s influence transcends national borders and ethnic divisions.  His poems have been widely translated into many of the world’s languages and transposed into various formats. Rumi has been described as the “most popular poet”and the “best selling poet” in the United States.

Rumi’s works are written mostly in Persian, but occasionally he also used Turkish, Arabic, and Greek in his verse. His Masnavi (Mathnawi), composed in Konya, Turkey, is considered one of the greatest poems of the Persian language. His works are widely read today in their original language across Greater Iran and the Persian-speaking world. Translations of his works are very popular, most notably in Turkey, Azerbaijan, the United States, and South Asia.

His poetry has influenced Persian literature, but also Turkish, Ottoman Turkish, Azerbaijani, as well as the literature of some other Turkic, Iranian, and Indo-Aryan languages including Chagatai, Urdu, Pashto, and Bengali.

from “Rumi – Wikipedia”

Journey Notes

Our upcoming Spotlight Saturday will be really special. I had the chance to speak to Dr. Bell of Sheltering Grace in Georgia and can’t wait to tell you about that interview.  It just filled me with joy.


Monday June 19 to Saturday June 24, we’ll be offline (medical stuff).  We’ll return on Monday June 26th.  The theme for this last week in June is “silence,” “listening,” “stillness,” and “sacred space.”   If you have a favorite quote about any or all of those, please let us know.  Also, we don’t currently have a theme for July.  If you have any ideas, please let us know.

Radical Self-Expression ☼ Radical Acceptance

This is the first and probably last self-portrait I’ve ever done for under1000skies but this is a subject close to my heart. It’s ridiculously terrifying to post this all over the place which is why I knew I had to do it.

From today on, I’m practicing something my friend told me about recently, a Burning Man way of life that encompasses everyone and everything. It’s simple, wise and really beautiful:

* Radical Self-Expression
* Radical Acceptance

He wrote,

“Embracing those two principles starts with [‘Radical Self-Expression’] — being introspective to figure out how to be yourself. What do I want to do? To be? How can I express that? And then you try stuff on. And some of it fails miserably. And some of it is awesome. But all of it can be fun. You always learn something… “Meanwhile, ‘Radical Acceptance’ requires you to suspend judgement of others–to give them room to express themselves. It’s pretty hard to do that and to attempt ‘Radical Self-Expression’ without learning how to give yourself that same room…”

I love simple wisdom because it is the kind that sinks into your bones and extends across ages, cultures, all borders. Like Rumi’s poetry.

Your Creativity

As always, we would love to feature your creative visions! If you would like to contribute photos, art work, short poems/stories, quotes, time, etc., please see our “About Us” page for details.  When we show each other what we find beautiful, we get a glimpse into each others’ hearts.

May you find joy every day of your journey through life,

under1000skies logo 1
  ☼ A “Giftivism” Initiative ☼
We are photographers,
   writers, artists & advocates
   serving and connecting
   homeless creatives.

Gems 3.58

I hope you’re having a beautiful day. ♡
Here’s another light-filled ¤ Gem ¤

Silence AngelaLong Gems 3-5-8 Photos NikiFlow 2

Photos “Oh Beautiful,” “DC Sunset,” “LBI Gull” and “Son at Sunset” by Niki Flow.



About Angela Long

Angela Long is the author of Observations off the Grid.

Angela Long had never heard of “off-the-grid” until she found herself living there. In a cedar-log cabin on a remote archipelago, she collects rainwater and fuels her laptop with windpower. Here, a collection of poems has emerged – the product of twenty years spent wandering through different countries and cultures. From Chicacao to Varanasi, Milan to Haida Gwaii, Observations from Off-the-Grid explores life beyond conventional demarcations. Here reader meets author as English teacher in war-torn Guatemala, meditation student in India. The collection gives voice to victims of torture, beggars, the homeless. It gives voice to the heartache of a Sunday afternoon. With its simple language and universal insights, this is a collection that welcomes everyone.  –

Journey Notes

Special thanks to Mish or Wavingatyou for today’s quote (and all those submitted in the past). ♥ The theme for June is “silence,” “listening,” “stillness,” and “sacred space.”   If you have a favorite quote about any or all of those, please let us know!

Your Creativity

As always, we would love to feature your creative visions! If you would like to contribute photos, art work, short poems/stories, quotes, time, etc., please see our “About Us” page for details.  When we show each other what we find beautiful, we get a glimpse into each others’ hearts.

May you find joy every day of your journey through life,

under1000skies logo 1
  ☼ A “Giftivism” Initiative ☼
We are photographers,
   writers, artists & advocates
   serving and connecting
   homeless creatives.

Gems 3.57

I hope you’re having a beautiful day. ♡
Here’s another light-filled ¤ Gem ¤

silence J Francis leaves

Photo “Back Yard Mystery*” by Niki Flow.


Botany Question!

Check it out! I just found the coolest botany site. I uploaded ^ this photo and they identified my plant. How awesome is that? So now I’m going to do like I promised and share their site all over because I have been bugging everyone about this plant! 😀

So this is the site:

And this is what they said:

Dear jazztizz, your plant looks like a species of Ampelopsis (peppervine). In our part of the world, Amur peppervine (Ampelopsis glandulosa) is the most common species with lobed leaves. Best wishes.

About J. (John) Francis, Planet Walker.”

Journey Notes

Special thanks to Ann C. for today’s quote.  The theme for June is “silence,” “listening,” “stillness,” and “sacred space.”   If you have a favorite quote about any or all of those, please let us know!

Your Creativity

As always, we would love to feature your creative visions! If you would like to contribute photos, art work, short poems/stories, quotes, time, etc., please see our “About Us” page for details.  When we show each other what we find beautiful, we get a glimpse into each others’ hearts.

May you find joy every day of your journey through life,

under1000skies logo 1
  ☼ A “Giftivism” Initiative ☼
We are photographers,
   writers, artists & advocates
   serving and connecting
   homeless creatives.

Spotlight Saturday: Wild Dream Walks

I hope you’re having a beautiful day. ♡
Today we are happy and excited to bring you a brand new story for:

¤ Spotlight Saturday ¤

“Sing your song. Dance your dance. Tell your tale“. –Frank McCourt

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Today I had the privilege of speaking to my friend, mentor, and one of our first under1000skies photographers and co-creators, Nicole Huguenin, Chief Dream Architect of Wild Dream Walks. 

Wild Dream Walks began in 2015.  This is from the “Founders” page on the Wild Dream Walks website,

Nicole Huguenin:  A former high school teacher turned generosity entrepreneur. After a chance encounter and walk with a 72-year-old women, she founded Wild Dream Walks to bring more love and friendship to the world, on foot. She gifts most of her time and energy to individuals and organizations valuing people as their bottom line. In 2015, she committed to walking each day with a new person or group of people which resulted in 403 walks and a deep understanding of how connected we all are.

It was so great to get to talk to Nicole today.    We shared space for months in 2015 as part of‘s “Laddership Program.”  Being accepted into the program and connecting to other ladders and Service-Space coordinators around the world was one of the most humbling, beautiful and amazing experiences of my life.

∞ Wild Dream Walks is an investment company.

Nicole now does the Laddership Newsletter for Service Space, as well as all the walking, mentoring and dream-building support for Wild Dream Walks.  Her life, heart, and “heart song” as she calls Wild Dream Walks is all about service.  This is one of the many reasons why I love and admire Nicole so much.   Just by watching Nicole build Wild Dream Walks in the past two years, I have learned so much about the gift economy, service and living authentically and with “open-hearted vulnerability” as Brene’ Brown calls it, day after day.  Nicole quite literally “walks the (wild dream) walk.”

Today Nicole explained how Wild Dream Walks works.

Wild Dreams Walks is an alternate investment community like The Pollination Project except, where they invest 1000 dollars, I invest hours, time skill and connections into everyday people’s dreams.

Our pricing structure allows those dreams to stay priceless.

I charge $0, and I ask everyone that I end up working with to decide the value and pay it forward in whatever currency works for them.

I asked Nicole for some examples:

So over past three years have or so I’ve had some people pay it “backwards” — to me.  One lady for example paid me in a month of breakfasts.

She said, “I can’t do what you do, but what you do is important.  So I thought, I will look at Nicole’s life and make it better.   So I see you with bagel coffee every morning, and I knew right away how to make it better.”

So every morning for a month she made me delicious, high-protein vegan breakfasts!

“Wow! What a beautiful form of payment!” I said.  Nicole agreed, then continued:

Some people pay money for my time.  Some pay forward to others and also back to me by sharing their story.   So they pay it forward in their dream or by providing space for another person to dream in their lives.

There have also been about a third of the people who have done nothing, but something that is interesting about this is that I need to add “yet.”  Because what we do is not free, but it is freely given.  So it takes the “tit-for-tat” transaction away.

nicole walking

Photo by Nicole Huguenin.  Edited in PicArt by Niki Flow.

Wild Dream Walks on Instagram


Nicole went on to describe an example of this:

I had someone recently call me after three years and say, “I just wanted to let you know I finally found someone who really resonated with me and I was able to pay forward what you did for me.”

So even after three years, Nicole didn’t just chalk it off as an “unpaid account,” the way say a business would when a client defaults.  She went on to explain how she thinks of the “currency” in the gift-economy.

I could have said, “Wow!  I gave all that time, and that person didn’t value me!  They didn’t pay it forward.”   But I don’t do that.  I talk about it with everyone, though, because it’s important.  We talk about value, so it’s not this silent thing, and I trust it and I’m not going to find ways to distrust it.  So to have that person come back after three years proves the point.

I agreed that absolutely it does. You just never know when a seed will bloom.  Listening to Nicole, I realized at that moment that, from now on, this is exactly how I’m going to look at all my time investments.

I went on to ask Nicole how what a typical day looks like for her.

So on any given day, I’ve got maybe 10 or 15 folks or communities — people I am working with, walking with.  I rarely tell these stories though, because I rarely have the time to tell these stories.

In 2015 alone, Nicole shared 403 walks — 403 stories to tell.  I asked her what she thinks the total to date is and she replied with a laugh, “Oh, I’ve stopped counting.”

During our interview, Nicole was between two walks, and today in Denver it’s 95 degrees!  I can understand now why she doesn’t have time to tell or write about the Wild Dream Walks stories.  I told Nicole I was very excited to be part of the story-telling process today.

“Oh I love that you are doing this!  One of the biggest ways to pay it forward and to help create these dreams is to tell stories.  Then the dream has a life outside of me, outside of you.


Posted on Gems 2.66 – November 23, 2016.  Photo “Solvitur ambulando – It is Solved by Walking” by Niki Flow. Inspired by Nicole Huguenin, Chief Dream Architect, Wild Dream Walks


A “Wild Dream” – “Chilis On Wheels”

Nicole went on:

Sometimes I get really deep into a project because it’s what is needed.   Sometimes I just listen as a friend.  Most of the time that’s what I do.  Often I’m the first friend on the ground as this person with this dream that is bigger than they are is going through their inner and outer process.  I just listen, share space.  I’m building my community and connections, so I am more more able to invest in in their dreams.  Sometimes I hear something I can give personally, and I contribute outwardly to do that.  I probably spend most of my time on little projects like that.

Like for instance one of my dreamers is Chiles on Wheels, started by Michelle Carrera, Brooklyn, New York. Michelle called me a year ago and said,

“You won’t call me crazy, but I have a dream…”


Chiles on Wheels

Chiles on Wheels, started by Michelle Carrera, Brooklyn, New York

From the “Dream” section on Wild Dream Walks about Chilis on Wheels:

Activists on Vacation Podcast

The dream is a mother and son duo podcast highlighting change-makers and their community based project around the world.

As an activist and change-maker myself, (founder of Chilis on Wheels, a mobile vegan soup kitchen) I am now drawn to have conversations with other change-makers and discover what makes a person devote their life to making the world better.

I need to purchase an RV or van to serve as our home and podcast studio for 3 to 6 months as we tour around the U.S. volunteering at different programs and interviewing the change makers.

Challenges include funds to acquire an RV (used, small).

Michelle Carrera, Brooklyn, New York

From Wild Dream Walks – Dreams

∞ We invest in dreams that are bigger than any one person and, If Brought to Reality, would do a lot of good in the world.

“Wow!” I said to Nicole. “I just committed to being fully vegan as soon as I learn how to make vegan food I don’t hate.  I love this idea and I’d love to meet Michelle.”

Nicole responded,

I’d love to connect you.  Michelle told me a year ago that the pace of New York City, being a single mom, was getting to her.

Michelle told me, “I’m going to buy a van, drive around and make as much vegan food as I can and give it to whoever needs it the most.”

That’s exactly what she does, but it’s a lot harder than she thought it would be.  Every big city has a No-Camping Ordinance which means you can’t keep a van in one place for more than two days.  It takes a couple of days to get people to trust you.  So she is having to drive way more and almost spending the same amount on gas as she did for rent in New York City.

“So she lives in the van?” I asked.

“Yes.  She and her son and dog are living in van, and she has a re-purposed kitchen.  She’s been to Philly, Baltimore, New York…

“So — what — she just gives this vegan food away?  For free?” I asked.

Yes she gives it away.  Most of the time it’s to the homeless.  So what we’re working on now is Michelle needs to have a connection team in each city.  So if she goes to Boston, she’ll email the team member in Boston and say, “I’ll be in Boston on these dates.”  And then the person will say, “Okay, I know this person who can help,” or “I can do research, look up homeless shelters.”  So Michelle can show up and be introduced.

So one of the things I do with time is, for example, I had some extra miles so I flew out to spend three days with Michelle and her son.  I said, “I”m here — put me to work!  I’ll do whatever you need doing.”  While I was there, she took me to all the vegan restaurants and I had the juiciest (no-meat) burger I ever had.  She also made me this delicious all vegan chili-cheese mashed potatoes.

I told Nicole that I am really looking forward to meeting Michelle and her son and excited about their dream.  There may be some way I can personally help where I live.  I have to admit, I’d also love to try Michelle’s vegan chili.

∞ We might not always have money to invest but we do have other things that are just as valuable like: skills, ideas, support, friendship, mentorship and time.




Wild Dream Walks on Facebook

GEMS 1.67

A Wild Dream Walk – Nicole Huguenin

Wild Dream Walks on Twitter

∞ We’ve never met another human that doesn’t have some type of dream, big or small. thus we believe that dreamING IS priceless.

Wild Dream Walks on Tumblr


Whenever I talk to Nicole, I always notice what a gift she has for deep listening which has no doubt been honed over thousands of conversations since Wild Dream Walks began.  When we speak, I feel deeply valued and understood.

So Nicole, thank you.  You are one of my favorite folks in the world, one of my mentors and teachers, and my dear friend.  You have been one of our co-creators and contributing photographers for under1000skies since Day 1.  It’s hard to believe we haven’t met face-to-face (other than “FaceTime” and Skype) — but I hope we’ll get to remedy that this summer!

thank you

♥ Thank you Nicole and Wild Dream Walks


∞ We are rooted in the power of paying-it-forward.

For more information about Wild Dream Walks and Nicole, to support one of many beautiful dreams, or to submit a Wild Dream of your own, visit:

GEMS 1.70

An Engraved Morning by Nicole Huguenin, Wild Dream Walks