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ATBF Family Fun Day at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus

The Alan T Brown Foundation (ATBF) has served the spinal cord community for over 28 years and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis. ATBF provides information, resource referrals and peer support to paralyzed individuals and their families. ATBF strives to assist individuals in achieving the highest personal level of independence, sustaining a healthy lifestyle, managing daily and chronic health issues, and adjusting to their new life after paralysis.

This year, the Alan T Brown Foundation will be holding its Annual Family Fun Day at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus at the Barclays Center on Sunday, February 28th. This event will benefit the Foundation’s extensive outreach initiatives and the programs they support at hospitals and rehabilitation centers in the Tri-State area. Please click here to purchase your tickets or make your donation to this very worthy cause.


have you heard about my super cool business partner?

by Allison Schlanger

For anyone who reads this blog you know that my business partner Alison has done some pretty incredible things in the past few years.

In 2012 she did 15 yoga classes in 1 week.
In 2013 she completed a Half Ironman.
In 2014 she helped guide a blind athlete from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and back again -- nonstop.

This year she helped guide that same blind athlete from the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu -- nonstop.
The Grand Canyon and the Inca Trail had never been done by a blind athlete before, so not only were these challenges awe-inspiring, they also were history making.

What is this all about?

At first it was about turning 40 and challenging herself physically. The yoga classes, the Half Ironman…

But at the Half Ironman Alison met a guy named Dan Berlin.

Over the course of 20 years, Dan lost his sight to a rare eye disorder called cone rod dystrophy.

Alison was incredibly inspired that Dan focused on his ability to run, bike and swim and not his sight disability. Dan and Alison became fast friends. After the Half Ironman, Alison, Dan and Dan’s running guide (and Alison’s friend), Charles Scott, and Charles’ friend, Brad Graff, decided to do another fitness challenge together. That was the Grand Canyon.

After the Grand Canyon they decided to make things official.

First Alison, Dan, Charles and Brad created Team See Possibilities. Then they created a formula of 3 criteria that all future adventures had to meet.

Find X endurance challenge that a blind athlete has never accomplished
Set it in Y iconic location
Do it for Z charitable cause

They even got a sponsor – Intrepid Travel (check out their web site for immersive adventurous trips for normal folk) and they were off.

Anyone who reads about these adventures immediately can see that they are athletically amazing – mind blowing. But taking on these challenges is no longer about just daring and testing herself physically. Team See Possibilities has come to encompass everything Alison cares deeply about.

Alison loves children. Hers of course -- wholly and unconditionally. She is an incredible and devoted mother. But she lights up when she sees any child.

Alison loves travel. She loves seeing new places, meeting new people and diving into new cultures.

You can name any town in any country in the world and Alison can come up with someone she knows that lives there.

Alison loves helping people. She raises money for multiple causes at once and when she is not raising money she is finding ways to give back through time and effort.

Alison loves exercise. Any kind at all…but in particular yoga and in more recent years running.

When Alison left her job at UNICEF to start apple seeds (with me!) she knew it was right for her family but she did not want to completely lose her access to international travel or meeting and helping children of the world. For each of these adventures Alison has been worried about the time she has to take away from her kids to appropriately train. Getting her body and mind ready for these challenges takes real effort and time. She runs, she cross trains, she spins and she does yoga. That means missing school drop off, pick up or after school activities, at times, to exercise. It also means motivating to get out of bed and out of the house to go on group runs on Sunday mornings.

But today I saw it all come together for Alison.

Today, I sat in an audience of 5th and 6th graders. Two of the 5th graders were Alison’s daughters, Maddie and Sydney. I was at their school to see an assembly about adventure and possibilities. Alison and her Team See Possibilities teammate, Charles, led it. Alison and Charles were there to show the kids that by focusing on his abilities, not his disability, Dan, is showing each of us how to overcome the limits we often place on ourselves. But this assembly was not just about Dan. It was about all of us…with an emphasis on those 5th and 6th grade kids and what they can set their minds to accomplish.

Alison spoke about how she set goals of physical challenges (to encompass in her love of exercise). She showed gorgeous, sweeping pictures of the Grand Canyon and Macchu Picchu (to encompass her love of travel and this world we live in). She spoke about working with UNICEF to meet blind children in Lima and provide them with both inspiration, and a role model in Dan, and musical instruments sorely needed for their school (encompassing her need to connect with and help children). But the best part of the assembly was seeing that her deep, unconditional love for her children was reflecting right back at her as her daughters sat in the audience beaming at their role model for possibilities…their mom.


Team See Possibilities brings music to the Luis Braille School for the Blind

by Alison Qualter Berna

Three months ago, I sat at a UNICEF event at the Luis Braille School for the Blind in one of the poorest sections of Lima, Peru, and began to absorb what we had just accomplished. I was with my dear friends Dan Berlin, Charles Scott and Brad Graff, my partners on Team See Possibilities, a team we formed with the hope to inspire others to go beyond their perceived limitations and live a more adventurous life, despite the obstacles that stand in our way.

Only 3 days before, we ran the Inca Trail nonstop to Machu Picchu in just 13 hours. Typically a 4 day trek, we helped Dan make history as the first blind person to complete the trail in just one day. For more about our journey, see my earlier blog entry here and Charles’s article in the Huffington Post.

We raised money for the Blind Institute of Technology and UNICEF Peru, but after speaking at the event and playing soccer with the blind children, Dan immediately suggested a portion of UNICEF’s money go directly to Luis Braille School.

This week we received photos from our friends in Lima. With the funds, the Luis Braille School purchased brand new musical instruments, something the school lacked. 

Seeing these photos makes me want to put my sneakers on and keep running to raise money…

For those of you who donated, please see the direct impact you are making. THANK YOU for your continued support!


do you have too much stuff?

by Alison Qualter Berna

I had a moment of clarity as I was getting dressed one morning in early December. I had a big meeting at work, my kids were late for school, and I was sweating at the prospect of what to wear — trying things on, taking them off, racing the clock, stressed out for what I admittedly knew was for the most ridiculous reason…and then it hit me.

I have too much STUFF. Way too much of it. Too much jewelry, too many clothes, too many shoes, too many coats, too manyeverything. I was suddenly inhibited by my material things, though the world tells us our material things will do the opposite.

In that early morning moment, I felt an overwhelming desire to purge and cleanse and let go of it all. Pare down to only a few basics. Move into the new year with a practice that yogis call aparigraha, and then hold that within me. Aparigraha is the concept of non-possessiveness or non-greediness. It’s about letting go of things we simply don’t need to hold on to.

It’s not easy. I’m a sentimental girl. I’ve saved almost every scribble and handprint from all three of my kids since they day they could hold a crayon. I’ve saved clothes from my mom from the 60s, shoes I bought with friends while traveling abroad, things from college, shirts from my days playing soccer, I even saved my grade school gymnastics team uniform. I save everything.

I also sometimes buy things I don’t need. When my kids were in second grade, they learned about the difference between wants and needs. I overheard them discussing their Christmas list one night saying to one another, “Really! Is that a want or a need?” I stopped in my tracks and wondered if I ask myself that same question.

That day, I emailed my friend Elizabeth Kohn. Elizabeth is the not only the most loving soul, she is a fashion guru, a top notch interior designer and a closet / life organizer. Elizabeth came to my house and we spent an entire day watching me hold up all that STUFF one by one. She made suggestions on which pile each item would end up in — the things I’d keep, the things I’d give away to friends and the things I’d donate. Each time, I found myself making excuses to keep something. The “what if one day I want to wear this,” or “I’ve barely worn this! I can’t get rid of it!” or the hardest of all “I remember when I bought this...” It was the history of it, the sentimentality of it, the memories behind every single thing that made it so hard to let go.

Letting (most of) it go was an exercise in something much more powerful than releasing the objects and creating extra drawer space. It was an exercise in understanding that sometimes we hold on to things perhaps because we give objects too much meaning. I began to see that so much of what I was holding on to was already deep inside my head and my heart - in my memories, in my mind, and in my past - where much of it needed to stay.

Elizabeth teamed up with Rashia Bell, a fellow interior designer, former fashion executive and crystal healer, to create The Crystalline. They specialize in balancing and energizing your home by clearing, reconfiguring and crystalizing. They go beyond the faddy Kondo Method of just cleaning and organizing your homes, by offering interior design expertise from furniture placement, color, what to get rid of and suggestions on what to buy to pull it all together. Then help hold your hand through the whole process and sealing the process to help balance your life. Why wear something that doesn't fit or that you feel crappy in. Why live in a space that doesn't feel good because the sofa is in the wrong spot or the wall color is too dark. In the end neither feels good, so what's keeping us from feeling great and surrounding ourselves with beauty and having a beautiful life? Elizabeth & Rashia hold your hand through the process or just do it for you, getting us through the most overwhelming step of just doing it. They help design or redesign your home, to create better flow, increased lightness even amidst all the heaviness in our lives.

I have moved through the last few weeks feeling lighter, materially and emotionally. The proverbial “cleaning out the closet” proved to be more than I hoped for and I am grateful to Elizabeth for helping me through it. It was exactly what the yogis promised it would be. Dipping into what I hope will be a lifelong practice in simply letting go.

To contact Elizabeth and Rashia for your home needs and perhaps the best closet clean of your life, email them at thecristalline@gmail.com. You can also join Elizabeth's blog on all things beautiful, simple and YOU. http://elizabethkohndesign.com/elizabeth-kohn-creamcoloredpony/


Children of Bellevue

by Helen Stephan

My name is Helen Stephan and I have been involved with Children of Bellevue for a number of years and one of their programs, Reach Out and Read, is particularly very near and dear to my heart. 

The Reach Out and Read program helps promote early childhood literacy and school readiness in some of New York’s most vulnerable children by giving them books at regular checkups along with advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud to their children. When I first became involved with the charity I toured this fantastic program and I saw the children being thrilled to receive books at their doctors visit. I then knew I had to get involve. These books are often the only books these children have in their homes. Having two young children of my own who both love to read and have ample access to books made me realize how transformative this gift can be.

I am co-chairing two events at Books of Wonder in support of Bellevue Hospital’s Reach Out and Read Program for the 4th year and I would like to invite you to two events on Monday, December 7th, a children’s event from 3-5pm and an adult event from 6-8pm. Both events are free and you will receive 10% off any purchase on the day and Books of Wonder will donate an additional 10% to the program. Please see the invitation and details of both events below.

If you are unable to attend but would like to make a donation please click on this link. http://childrenofbellevue.org/donate/