When we were ten years old, our greatest struggle was trying to pick between Pikachu and Charmander. For a young Tani Adewumi, his tenth birthday party was anything but normal! The Nigerian refugee and his family would celebrate an enormous accomplishment this year when Tami scored a rating of 2223 en route to becoming a Chess National Master. One of the highest achievements a young chess player can pursue, Tani’s ascent to Chess Master has been years in the making if you can believe it!
Let’s go back in time a few years to see where Tani’s story first began, how he found momentum, and what led the refugee to such success in competition.
New York State Championship
While Tani is enjoying global headlines for his success, the work for the young man began a couple of years prior. Tani had made headlines for the first time while competing in the New York State Chess Championship — while living in a homeless shelter. At the time of his first competition, Tani had only been competing in the game of chess for a year.
Tani’s success would garner attention from a columnist for The New York Times by the name of Nicholas Kristof. Kristof would cover the young chess master in a column following Tani’s win in New York. The column would highlight a bit of Tani’s story while creating interest throughout the region. It wouldn’t take long for readers to get another dose of their favorite young chess master.
In 2021, social media users online would find out that Tani won another championship, this time in Fairfield, CT. As a fifth-grader, Tani would score a rating of 2223, landing himself a Chess National Master rating. Kristoff had continued to share updates about the young man, commenting that “talent is universal, but opportunity is not.”
Opportunity and Success are Not Always Equal
Tani’s story really highlights the need for social services at a foundational level. Kristoff pointed out in his column that Tani was able to succeed in chess not just because of his natural talent and hard work, but also because he was located in a shelter that had a school district offering chess programs.
When Tani’s teacher at school realized that the young boy was without family resources, the teacher waived the fees. This would allow Tani to explore an opportunity that might not have otherwise been available. Kristoff says of this chess teacher’s decision, “We need more of that!”
On Kristoff’s Facebook page, social media users shared overwhelming support for Tani. One user suggested that Tani’s success was indicative of America’s promise to the world, that everyone can have an opportunity. Another user wrote that a true sadness plaguing developing countries is the loss of talent that gets overlooked without the ability to develop.
Asylum and Reinvention
Tani hadn’t made his way to the United States out of choice. His family had fled Nigeria in 2017 upon becoming targets of the Boko Haram terrorists. After obtaining asylum, Tani and his family would flee to Manhattan where they would begin living in a shelter. After moving to the city, Tani would get the opportunity to unlock his potential by joining the local chess program.
Since finding public fame and attention for his efforts in school and chess, Tani’s fans have raised more than $250k in support for his family. Granted another chance at life through hard work and dedication, Tani and his family have finally settled into their own home in New York City and the future is wide open and waiting for them to embrace!
Young Teen Uses Make-a-Wish to Help Feed Homeless For a Year
Talk about the latest gaming consoles or smartphones, and teenagers will go over the moon. You’d be surprised to know that there are a few exceptions, or at least one. Just recently, an ailing young boy had the opportunity to choose something exceptional.
What did he choose? He chose to ensure that, at least for the next year, as many street people as possible could have a nice, tasty, and healthy hot meal. Here’s the story of a 13-year-old Mississippi boy named Abraham Olafbegi, with a big heart.
A bone marrow transplant was necessary for Abraham last year after he learned he had a rare blood disorder that required it. His transplant had been successful, and he was eligible for Make-A-Wish, an institution that gifts wishes to kids with chronic conditions, within a year of the transplant.
A lengthy wish was what Abraham desired, and he came up with a plan that he discussed with his mother. On the way home from a medical checkup, Abraham told his mother, Miriam Olagbegi, “Mother, I considered it deeply, and I’d like to help the starving,” Olagbegi said. “Are you sure, Abraham?’ His mom asked him. “There’s a great deal you can accomplish; are you sure the PlayStation isn’t an option for you?”
Abraham, unlike most teenagers, was not enthralled by the PlayStation. He was sure that he wanted to help homeless people.
Miriam said that Abraham’s father agreed that it was a great idea. That’s why we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to teach our children the virtue of generosity.
During September, Make-A-Wish worked with Abraham to plan a free food distribution day in Jackson, Mississippi, using donated necessities. Abraham estimated that they fed approximately 80 people that first day.
“A few of the homeless people had returned to the area to spread joy by singing to Abraham and his family and thanking everyone after receiving a meal,” he said. “The experience warms our hearts. Our parents taught us it is a blessing to serve others.”
Still, Abraham’s desire remains unfulfilled. Each month for one year, Make-A-Wish will grant Abraham’s request to feed the homeless.
To feed up to 80 needy people on the 3rd Saturday of every month, the Mississippi chapter of the charitable organization is partnering with Abraham to identify local sponsors who can keep supplying the food they require. Two portions have already been provided by a local church and business, according to the narrator.
Abraham intends to continue feeding the homeless after his August 2022 has reached fruition. As he sees it, this effort could become a 501(c)(3) non-profit called “Abraham’s Table.”
The fact that we can carry on with this project excites us greatly. Because it’s just so gratifying,” Abraham’s mother stated. “If I were living on the streets, I would hope that someone would remember me and then do something exceptional for me at some moment in time. My goal is to ingrain in my children a sense of gratitude for what they’ve received, and we do our best to do the same,” she added.
Fathers Clean up a Violent High School
Fights in high school have always been present. In fact, the myth of the high school fight after the last class of the day has been embellished in Hollywood movies for decades. That said, when a school ends up having 23 students getting criminally arrested for violence in less than three days, something is seriously wrong. That was the case at Southwood High School, and the parents of the students realized the school couldn’t handle the situation. So, they got involved.
Some of the parents, the fathers, decided to take a more hands-on approach to the problem. Forming a group titled, Dads on Duty, the parents formed a team of about 40 fathers, splitting coverage in shifts at the affected high school. They were present in the morning as the students arrived, maintained a presence in the hallways during the day, and were visible and close to the student floor in the afternoon as school got out. All of the focus was on pointing the students to learning, solving issues with communication and avoiding fighting. As cheesy as the idea sounded, in practice it worked. The students confirmed it verbally, and the statistics on incidents went down, hard. Since the fathers started their shifts, the violence at Southwood High School stopped completely.
Interestingly, no specialization or professional skills were involved. None of the fathers had any background in criminal justice or law enforcement, and none were professional counselors. Instead, they simply applied what they knew best, how to be a parent of kids and teens. Granted, there were still characters who were going to push buttons and trying to get to the edge of the envelope. However, the sense of stability and safety as well as a parental presence that wasn’t going to take any lip seemed to make a big difference, even for the worst of the culprits. Students started getting back to learning, going to class and avoiding fights.
For the dads involved, it’s been an eye-opener as well. They’ve become far more in tune with current teenage issues as well as connecting with the students as well. The presence is not just about giving a look or imposing an authority presence when needed. A lot of times, the students are being joked with the same way a parent would do so at home. And it’s making a difference.
For Southwood High School, the help was a needed relief. Instead of dealing with a teenage warzone every day, the administration and the teachers could finally get back to do what they do best, teaching. Sometimes it does really take a village to raise a child.
Bear, the Koala-Saving Rescue Dog Awarded!
Heroes come in all sizes and shapes, and some of them show up with tails and four legs as well. That was the case with one dog named Bear, who did his duty to save other animals that had been injured by Australia’s ferocious bush fires in 2019-20.
The recognition was made public by the International Fund for Animal Welfare or IFAW, which wanted to provide public identification and recognition for the work that was done during the fire disasters in Australia, particularly for vulnerable wildlife in the region. In particular, the work done by Bear was tremendous, saving multiple endangered Koala bears, marsupials that tend to end up in extreme risk during fires because they move up in trees for safety and cannot travel on the ground fast.
While Bear was not able to attend the primary ceremony itself in the Australian House of Lords, the canine hero was represented digitally and honored for his selfless actions. Bear had been instrumental in the chaos of the fires, pinning down the location of endangered koalas so rescuers could remove them safely. In many cases, it was Bear’s keen sense of smell that flushed out the marsupials trying to hide in the trees above the flames and heat or squirreled into tight locations to avoid being burned anymore.
Because of the dog’s actions and hard work staying dedicated to finding koalas, Bear was given a major recognition and award by the IFAW as well as permanently honored in the organization’s hall of fame. And when Bear is not out in the field trying to help searchers solve problems, he still gets plenty of attention and extra hugs from his handler, Dr. Romane Christescu, back at his home at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
The entire story is a huge turnaround for the dog. Only a few years earlier, Bear was in a rescue situation where he was not doing well with placement. Families that tried to adopt the dog couldn’t handle his intense amount of energy and desire to almost constantly want to play. As it turned out, these were exactly the skills the dog needed for his true role in rescue, but no one had figured that out yet. However, once the dog had been identified by the University of the Sunshine Coast’s team developing a program for disaster animal recovery, Bear found an ideal home. His exuberant nature was ideal for persistent work in the field, and Bear took to finding endangered animals easily, being a keen hunter and savvy canine sniffer even in the chaos of fire smells.
Just in one year alone in a very bad season, Bear was able to save over 100 different koalas either trapped by the fires or injured and needing help. All of the found animals survived thanks to Bear’s tenacity and keen ability to hunt and locate the koala victims quickly in a wildfire situation. Instead of dying from their burns and dehydration, all of the koalas lived and were reintroduced to the wild again to thrive.
So, while Bear probably doesn’t understand much about the IFAW award, his owners and search program are amazed at his performance and proud of the canine’s recognition. It justifies all the work that was done training Bear and provides a great result from a story that started off worrisome about how Bear was going to find his way.
Spanx CEO Goes Big-Time Saying Thanks
Running a major company in the black is an accomplishment already, but when one manages to push the company so successfully that it gets a significant stake investment by a major player and provides the big payoff folks worked so hard for, that’s another leap entirely. And, while Sara Blakely, as Spanx’s CEO, could have kept that investment to herself, becoming another one of those outrageously paid executives, she chose instead to share the reward with her staff as a major thank you for all their commitment to her.
As the investment group, Blackstone, finalized their majority stake in Spanx, Blakely decided to make sure her employees, each and every one of them, got to realize some piece of that amazing transition to the next level of their company. Via social media, Blakely made it clear to everyone involved that each Spanx employee was not only going to get $10,000 as a bonus, no strings attached, each person would also get a pair of first-class tickets to fly anywhere they wanted to go for traveling. The gift was huge just in the scale and number of recipients alone. However, more importantly, Blakely wanted the gift to be personal in a way that each employee could decide what would reward him or her the best. It was a culmination of 21 years of hard work and opened a new chapter to the next level of Spanx as a company.
For Blakely, the new achievement of investment is a dream come true as well as a validation of all the goals she had for Spanx, including those that many laughed at and commented wasn’t going to happen. Blakely and her team proved all the critics wrong. Standing on the other side of that fence now, realizing the $20 million investment worth and the culmination of a lot of long nights and endless weekends working, it’s all come true for Spanx.
Many of the Spanx employees who responded to the social media notice by Blakely were completely shocked and surprised. Most had no expectation that the company growth via major investment was going to directly impact them in such a clear way of gratitude for their work. Almost all immediately started commenting on where they were going to go for a trip as a result of the airplane tickets. All in all, whether one goes to Hawaii, Disneyland or South Africa, Blakely just wanted everyone to know how much she appreciated their commitment to getting Spanx to where it is today. The gesture was definitely noticed.
Pink Dolphins Are Being Saved by, Wait For It, Fishermen
There was a time when pink dolphins were a prized catch. Fishermen off the coast of Bolivia and in the Amazon would hunt them, show off a catch to friends and competitors as the mark of a skilled fisherman on the water. However, today, the pink-colored mammal in the water has now become one of the most protected animals in the Amazon by the very same humans that used to hunt it.
To understand the movement of pink, bottle-nosed dolphins in the region’s waterways, researchers managed to tag four of the big animals with tags that signaled off beacons via satellite. The signals in turn provide data on the movement of the dolphins, which allows scientists to see how their populations move, flourish, ebb and interact with different parts of the Amazon’s water environment. Hardly anything is known at this time, but the computerized data from tracking is opening up an entire library of information previously inaccessible.
For the local fishermen, they are participating in an entirely different perspective regarding the pink dolphin they used to hunt for food and sport. Instead, working with the Bolivian government and scientific community, the fishermen now feel they are part of something bigger. There are plenty of other fish to catch in the water for food and personal achievement. The pink dolphin won’t be a vacuum by any means.
Interestingly, the fishermen are very astute about the relationship that the dolphin has with its environment as well. What harms the local pink dolphin also eventually harms the locals as well. So, if there’s something bad in the water or feeding into it, eventually the fishermen and their families are going to be harmed by the cause as well. That makes the related dolphin research and its findings personal and important to the locals, reframing their attitudes towards the dolphin research work.
The Bolivian pink dolphins have become the practical canary in the coal mines for the local people who live off of and depend on the Amazonian waters for their own livelihood. That makes them important and precious to protect as a species. No surprise, the changed paradigm has become a win-win for everyone involved, and the research side of things is enjoying the added benefits of the boots on the ground working in tandem with their efforts versus against them and the pink bottle-nosed dolphin.
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