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Monday, February 15, 2010

Power of Value

Alexa Valavanis

Our values are our greatest resource. They act as a compass in determining where we spend our time, money and energy. That is not to suggest that everything we give our resources to is valuable. It is simply to note the awesome power of our values.
My clients often share a list including: faith, family, financial security and freedom. Some share the value they place on health, happiness and goodwill - even love. Our values are unique and illustrate our beliefs, cultures and influences.

Recently, I heard the story of the doorman at the World Trade Center who calmly escorted people outside of the building, after the plane crashed into it, only to perish when the building collapsed. He had placed the value of saving others’ lives above even the value of his own. We call these people heroes, which they undoubtedly are, but what if they have figured out how to consciously and vigilantly move in accordance with their values?

We also have shared values or that which we lend our resources to as a community, as a region and as a state. We have the shared values we honor as a nation and as residents of this planet. We can identify those simply by looking at what receives our money and attention (or what does not).

In January, when the earth cracked open in Port-au-Prince our world sent a message to the people of Haiti that we valued their lives. With our collective voice we said, “If there is something we can do to save your lives or stop your suffering there is no distance too far and no mountain too high. We value your lives.”
As American citizens we offered hundreds of millions in federal aid; but even more, we found ways to pull $10, $50, $100 out of our pockets to make sure the Haitians knew they were not alone. In addition to our currency we offered countless thoughts and prayers.

As a human race we demonstrated our shared value for life by immediately transcending geography, religious beliefs, and political systems to help. Perhaps, it was most evident when we saw the search and rescue teams made up of people from every corner of the earth.

That’s the power I want to talk about. By moving in accordance with our values and using our resources accordingly we can have a massive impact.

As the CEO of the North Valley Community Foundation I work with more than 10,000 donors and close to 500 local and international nonprofits. I know we understand the correlation between what we value and how we use our resources. But, do we understand the power we could wield as a community if we had consensus regarding our shared values and prioritized our resources accordingly?

Here is the point.

The time is now, to prepare for a post-recession economy, a post-recession community, and a post-recession world.

Our resources are more limited than ever before yet the demand for them has never been greater. The nonprofits and agencies I work with represent the national and international reality that we need to do more with less and less. This is true in our personal lives as well as in the public sector.

So, what can we do to ensure the quality of our own lives and the protection of the “quality of life” in our community?

Let’s consider two things.

If we express our values by how we spend our resources, including everything from how much time we give to our families to where we give our greenbacks than imagine what increased mindfulness would yield.

If every time we used a dollar we used it as an opportunity to align with our values, social and/or personal, what would change? Is what we’re buying, where we’re shopping, and the charities we’re giving to aligned with our values? Is that also true with how we spend our time, our energy, even our thoughts?

The second thing is to develop a public – philanthropic partnership, a partnership that could identify and prioritize our shared values, with a mechanism to glean everyone’s input. One sector simply cannot solve these challenges alone.
For example, if we decided that keeping local control of the Chico Unified School District was a shared value, tell me, what distance would be too far, what mountain would be too high?

If we value having excellent educational institutions, thriving local businesses, safe streets to walk along, clean parks, quality health-care and we were willing to align our personal and public resources to achieve those ends - what could stop us?
It simply does not take the earth to break open or the towers to collapse in order for us to move in sync with our values. It takes understanding the power of our time, energy and money when we align it with our values.


[Originally Published in the Enterprise Record 2010]

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Why Marriage Equality Matters

By Alexa Valavanis

I know we have pressing matters to tend to. Our homeless need shelter, our sick need care, our schools need resources, and our children need to be left a world they can thrive in; a world with clean water and air, with art and innovation, with religious freedom and equality. In fact, these are the very objects of my affection and what I’ve dedicated my life’s work to insuring.

So, I understand busy. Each one of us is occupied in various and numerous ways. We have our “urgents” and our “importants” battling for every minute of our days. There is only so much we can get involved in. Perhaps, our gay friends and their fight for marriage equality will have to wait a bit longer for our attention? I say this and I am gay.

So, I can only imagine where this issue ranks in your to-do list. But, the truth is, marriage equality is no more a gay issue than slavery was a black issue. In 2010, hundreds of thousands of Americans are being treated as partial citizens. The very men and women we trust to fight our wars, protect our streets, teach our children and heal our sick can’t get married.

I can’t get married. I am an American citizen, living under the same constitution as you, abiding by the same tax laws as you, yet without the same rights as you. Doesn’t that matter?

Marriage matters. It matters in our society. It matters in our laws. It matters in our hearts. Equal rights and equality protection under the law - matters. For as long as we allow discrimination in our laws it will remain in our hearts.

I recently heard the story of a Missouri state trooper, Dennis Engelhard, who was killed on Christmas day. He was helping a motorist when a car driving past lost control, hitting and killing the 49-year old trooper.

Dennis was gay. He had committed his life to his partner of fifteen years. After his tragic death, the state denied the normal pension benefits that would have been given to any other spouse. In Missouri there is no legal way for same-sex couples to marry. They are not protected under the very laws that Dennis fought to defend day in and day out. Marriage matters.

There are countless stories like that of Dennis Engelhard being told in a small courtroom in Sacramento, during the Proposition 8 trials. If you haven’t read the arguments for both sides of this issue yet, please spend a few minutes at

Within the testimonies of each witness and expert one fact prevails. There are societal, psychological, emotional, and economic ramifications linked to marriage. Denying marriage to an entire class of people has negative consequences which extend beyond those individuals, and impact their families, their friends and their communities. Moreover, denying same-sex couples the right to marry has a negative impact our economy as a whole. Oppression is oppression no matter what way you look at it and is harmful to society.

I’m writing this editorial as a friend of this community and a firm believer in the values we built our nation’s democracy on. I also believe there is no greater foundation than that of our family, friends and faith. It is that foundation which led me to public service, and has provided the compass needed to negotiate the difficult waters I’ve faced. It is not easy to be gay in America.

But, I am not writing this as a victim. I’m not writing this to stand on a soup-box or run for office. It simply occurred to me that maybe no one has asked you yet; asked you to get involved. If that was the case, I wanted to be the first.

It will take all of us to abolish institutionalized discrimination from our state and federal laws. Only then will we have a nation worthy of our children.


[Published on, February 15, 2010; Republished in Upstate Business Journal Feb. 2010; Republished on Feb. 2010]