“Paddle Together” about the Paradise City Dragon Boat team of breast cancer survivors and supporters will stream July 13 – July 24. 

For the ninth year, the festival will come to all PBS digital platforms and will feature 25 short-form independent films presented in five categories: culture, environment, family, humanity and race. 

Survivorship and sportsmanship

Small Forces is excited to bring “Paddle Together” to the festival in the culture category. The story shows the intersection of survivorship and sportsmanship. Brought together by their experiences of fighting breast cancer, the Paradise City Dragon Boat team offers year-round support and camaraderie, while also providing necessary muscle-building fitness in an exciting and rewarding sport. 

Starting July 13, viewers can watch, share and vote for their favorite film to win the “Most Popular” award. In addition, a distinguished panel of eight jury members will select their favorite film of the festival for the “Juried Prize.”

There are several ways to cast a vote for our film, and you’re welcome to do them all!

  1. Visit pbs.org and click on the “Heart” button
  2. Visit youtube.com and click on the thumbs-up icon
  3. Follow PBS Short Film Festival on Facebook here: facebook.com/PBSFilmFest, and “like” or “love” Paddle Together when it goes live on July 18th
  4. Simply watch the film on all platforms!

Most Popular Film

Last year, Small Forces was honored to win the “Most Popular Film” award in this festival with our film “BT Lives in the Stitch.” The festival allowed us to reach new audiences and provide a national platform for the story, which led to an increase in donations and interest in the BT Lives in the Stitch program. 

We’re excited for the impact that the 2020 festival can have for the Paradise City Dragon Boat team.

Thank you for watching, sharing, and voting for Paddle Together. We appreciate your support and hope you enjoy the selection of films in the festival!

You can follow along at the Small Forces Facebook page for updates throughout the festival.

Small Forces has been selected as a Shorty Social Good Award Finalist for “Educating Outside the Lines” in the Accessibility category. This is Small Forces’ third nomination in its four year history, competing this year alongside entires from McCann, IBM and Microsoft.

The Shorty Social Good Awards honor the social good initiatives brands, agencies & nonprofits are taking to make our world a better place. While the Shorty Awards have long-honored the best of social media, this competition includes efforts made by organizations to improve sustainability and diversity internally, foster globally-minded business partnerships and increase employee community and civic engagement.

Finalists were selected by members of the Real Time Academy of Short Form Arts & Sciences, comprised of luminaries from advertising, media, entertainment and technology. The group includes Ogilvy Vice President of Social Change Kate Hull Fliflet, Matchfire Founder and CEO Chris Noble, Former White House Creative Director and Digital Strategist Ashleigh Axios, ATTN: Partner Brad Haugen, and more. Social Good Award winners will be announced and honored at the ceremony on Thursday, November 14th, in New York City.

We are honored to bring the story of Patty O’Machel’s immersive disability awareness program to a national audience.

Watch the story:

In partnership with Parents for Peace and Justice, Small Forces is sharing the stories of eight mothers who lost children to gun violence in Chicagoland.

In honor of Mother’s Day, Small Forces presents Stories for Peace and Justice. The eight-episode series features eight moms from across Chicagoland sharing their messages about loss and violence.  

The concept for this project was developed alongside our partner, Parents for Peace and Justice, a Chicago-based grassroots nonprofit organization working to mitigate the city’s violence epidemic. PPJ operates primarily in the Belmont Cragin, Humboldt Park, and Hermosa neighborhoods, where residents face a deep lack of supportive services to help prevent and cope with violence and the resulting trauma. PPJ provides anti-violence and mental health programming for those in need, as well as advocacy for victims and families affected by violence. The mothers who participated in this series are all part of the monthly support group hosted by PPJ.  

The mothers expressed a need for a platform to share their stories. Most of their cases are still unsolved. They all fight for justice. They want people to feel their pain and join them on the mission to both peace and justice.

You can watch the eight short films at this link: http://localhost:8888/sf2020/mothers.

Watch the story:

The new team to be created by Paradise City Dragon Boat will be the first-ever dragon boat team exclusively for military veterans in America.

Small Forces partner organization Paradise City Dragon Boat helped bring Donna Salo and Anna Symington together almost 8 years ago. The women, who have both felt the life-altering effects of a cancer diagnosis, paddle together on their team of breast cancer survivors and supporters. Amid lots of tough physical exercise and teamwork, the women of the Paradise City Dragon Boat inspire hope. They prove that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to limit your path. And, for Anna, a diagnosis was only the start of a legendary journey.

Since joining the Small Forces family in 2017, Anna and Donna have felt inspired to do more for their community. They saw the inner battles many of our brave military veterans face and saw a parallel with their own dragon boat team. Anna believes that military veterans could benefit significantly from the camaraderie and hard work associated with dragon boating. She believes a dragon boat team for military veterans could help them heal and grow once returning to civilian life.

In early November, Anna and Donna learned about New Holland Brewing’s Dragon’s Milk Share a Legend contest. The Michigan-based brewing company sought legendary tales from real-life dragons and promised a 5,000 dollar prize to one winner. Donna wanted to nominate Anna, but wanted more than words to convey Anna’s mission. That’s where Small Forces came in.

The Small Forces team helped guide the duo through filming their own storytelling video, then helped transform the footage into the tale of Anna the dragon boat legend. From there, Donna and Anna hit ‘Submit’ on the Dragon’s Milk contest page and crossed their fingers.

It wasn’t long before they found out they were one of the top 5 finalists. And it wasn’t much longer before Anna and Donna were voted the contest winners…with over 60 percent of the vote!

“It was similar to that feeling you get after an interview, when you’ve just been told you got the job you’ve always wanted,” Donna said.

Anna and Donna have won the 5,000 dollars to start their veteran dragon boat team. But that’s not all: Dragon’s Milk was so impressed with their cause that the brewing company is giving them a full 10,000 dollars to help create the team.

Their next steps are three-pronged. They prioritize learning from an established veteran dragon boat team in the U.K., reaching out to local veteran support organizations to ensure they’re meeting veterans’ needs, and establishing a home base from which to operate.

Anna and Donna are so thrilled to have won this contest for their cause. They thank their dragon boating & Small Forces communities for supporting them throughout the contest. “You can have a dream and a passion that drives you to make it happen,” they said. “Having a belief that you can create something to make a positive change, to make a difference, is a very powerful force.

“As we took this step and big leap of faith toward our dream, we drew strength from knowing Small Forces had faith in us, understanding how important this was for us to make this happen. We are grateful to share the joy of our vision with the Small Forces community and for all their support.”

Watch the story:

Our story about BT Lives in the Stitch played in Chicago’s Millennium Park Summer Film Series.

The Small Forces documentary short about BT Lives in the Stitch, a knitting program run by Dorothea Tobin at North Lawndale College Prep, was selected to screen as part of the ChicagoMade Shorts Festival.

The Chicago Film Office showcases locally-made short films before each summer film screening at Millennium Park in partnership with ChicagoMade. The ChicagoMade program is part of a collaboration between The City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Choose Chicago, and World Business Chicago.

The film played on August 7, 2018 before the feature presentation: School of Rock.

Dorothea attended the screening along with three graduates of the knitting program, named BT Lives in the Stitch in honor of her late son. 

 The Small Forces team was there too to capture the excitement of the screening.

We are honored to be selected and spread Dorothea’s message of leading with love in charge to a large and local audience.

Watch the story:

Seven high school students from the That’s My Child mentorship program travelled to Washington, D.C. for a week of tremendous learning, growth, mentorship and work.

After a rigorous application process, these students were selected as the participants for this year’s trip: Marching On: From Montgomery to D.C. This year was the seventh year of an annual all-expenses paid educational trip for students to the nation’s capital. Marching On is a non-profit created and led by Phillip Ensler, a civil rights lawyer in Montgomery and they partnered for the first time with That’s My Child: a Small Forces partner organization That’s My Child is a youth organization based in Montgomery, Alabama that teaches youth financial literacy, conflict resolution, and hosts programs to keep high school kids engaged and flourishing.

In a recent interview, we spoke to Charles Lee, founder of That’s My Child and Jonathan Peterson, the program director of the organization. They spoke so passionately about how impactful the trip was for both the students and them. Right from the beginning of the trip to the end of a week packed with significant activities, they were constantly growing and learning. They visited several significant landmarks such as the White House, the Capitol, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Holocaust museum, George Washington University, Howard University, the Supreme Court, and Google. They also had the opportunity to meet with several leaders such as local representatives at the state level, some of the members of Obama’s advisory board, and leaders in the Department of Education.

For Lee, two of the most inspiring places were the National Museum of African American History and Culture and Google. On the African American museum, he said: “It just had so much history.” He added: “To end any story or any chapter, you have to know the beginning.” He also said he admired just how much Google invests in their staff. For Peterson, one of the trips he enjoyed deeply was the behind the scenes tour of the Supreme Court. “We didn’t even know that above the Supreme Court was a basketball court. It blew the kids away,” he said. He also loved that the kids were able to speak to leaders in the Department of Education to voice the concerns and challenges they face in their schools as well as suggestions for how things can be improved.                

The trip was more than just educational. It was also an empowering and inspiring experience for the students and leaders alike. Upon meeting fellow African American students in college at Howard University, they were able to see people like themselves succeeding and recognizing that they too can build aspirations and dream big goals.

The whole journey from beginning to end did not come without any difficulty, though. It was quite challenging trying to get some of the youth to step out of their comfort zone and overcome self-doubt even from the application stage. Reflecting on the process, Peterson said: “If they don’t try, they’ll never get a shot, versus if you do try, at least you do get to take that shot and you can learn from that even if you don’t get what you want.”

The leaders, however, found it truly rewarding seeing them put in all the effort into applying and watching them get selected. Lee reflected on the joy he experienced watching the students come together to raise “spending money” for one of their fellow students who had indicated that he did not have enough. The students further expressed love and gratitude as they wrote letters to the leaders which they gave them on the plane ride back home.

Now that they are back, there is still work left to be done. Peterson and Lee spoke about how they were all inspired but they wanted to make sure the students remain as motivated back home as they were in D.C. Speaking on what drives them to keep going and persevere in being such a positive influence on students in Montgomery, they both agreed that they want to build a legacy as well as plant seeds now so that these students know from the start that they are loved and they have a purpose in life.  

Watch the story:

Harmony, Hope & Healing (HHH) has partnered with organizations from Santa Fe, Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore, San Diego, Richmond, Norfolk, and Indianapolis to create the first national collective of directors and leaders using music and choir programming to serve families and individuals experiencing homelessness.

“It was nice to know we aren’t alone in this work,” said Tina Villapando, Director of Programming for HHH.

The choir directors from across the country began to connect through the phone, and decided to arrange an in-person meeting. Dr. Jonathan Palant, founder and director of the Dallas Street Choir, organized the gathering in Dallas this month. In the first meeting, the group shared ideas and support for one another, enjoyed a Dallas Street Choir rehearsal, and discussed a study led by the School of Social Work from the University of Texas at Arlington called “The Effects of Communal Singing on Those Experiencing Homelessness.”

All of the organizations represented at the first meeting are at various stages – some just starting out, and others have been around for more than 5 years. HHH has been serving Chicago for 15 years. 

“Everyone was humble,” said Marge Nykaza, the Executive Director of HHH. “Let’s learn from each other, and celebrate. Let’s help bring music to our cities and country in this time of angst and fear.”

The choirs have a variety of approaches for serving those experiencing homelessness. Some are faith-based, others are professional choirs, and others function as a social service organization. These groups represent a true example of a Small Forces ripple effect; individuals using what they know best to make a difference in their communities.

The coalition will soon be establishing their goals and mission statement with the hope that other choirs will join.

Watch the story:

The Floured Apron has been hard at work growing their mission of empowering women from underserved communities with the training, knowledge, and support to forge a new and more economically-secure career path in the food industry.

“We’re the little engine that could,” said Emily Boling, founder of the organization.

Since their Small Forces story was released, they have forged new partnerships with Organic Valley and Guittard Chocolate, who donate all the necessary dairy and chocolate products, respectively.

“Larger brands are recognizing what we do and validating it,” Emily said.

These important partnerships have paved the way for what Emily describes as a pivotal point in their growth.

They have 10 new agency partners connecting them with prospective students. 85% of of their graduates have gone on to full time jobs, and 92% are still in those jobs 6-12 months later. Their products are sold at Lakeside Foods in Winnetka, and they are also partnering with local restaurants to make their desserts. The catering business is booming as well. They have hired some of their graduates to lead the catering side of The Floured Apron, and are officially one of the preferred catering partners for 1871, Chicago’s tech start up hub.

Supporting The Floured Apron is sweet. You can hire them to cater your next party, or buy their products, if you are in the Chicago area. If you have any connections with people working in the food industry, Emily is always looking for people to share their expertise with the highly-motivated students, either through a workshop or a speech. And of course, the organization always accepts donations at their website, which are used directly towards supporting the women in the program.

We are excited to watch The Floured Apron continue to grow.

Watch the story:

That’s My Child Provides Hundreds of Backpacks for Montgomery Youth

As part of their annual efforts to help the community during back-to-school season, That’s My Child rallied support from across Montgomery, AL for the “Backpack Block Party” event.

Local youth had the opportunity to receive a backpack, a haircut, and school supplies, all while enjoying a block party with live music and dance.

Charles Lee, founder of That’s My Child, said the organization provided 400 backpacks, and when more than 1,000 people showed up to the event, the community rallied together to ensure that every kid would have a backpack. In the end, 725 kids went home with backpacks and school supplies.

“It was an opportunity for the community to show the kids that they have your back,” Charles Lee said. “Everybody did a really good job coming together.”

Charles Lee remembers when back-to-school time was tough for him as a kid. He wants to make sure that all kids in his community have what they need to be successful at school, even if their families cannot afford the supplies.

Local supporters included the Montgomery Biscuits, 97.9 Jams, Alabama Power, Gump Jeep, and MetroPCS.

Watch the story:

Q&A With Susan Odom from Exodus

Small Forces: What have things at Exodus been like considering the changes to the refugee program?

Susan Odom: We are saddened that there’s been a decrease in the number of refugees coming to our country at this time. As a result in changes with U.S. policy, the global refugee resettlement is predicted to fall by 30%-40% in 2017 compared to 2016. So we see the impact of that, but on the other hand, we’ve also seen an outpouring of support from volunteers and communities in the Chicago area who want to continue to welcome refugees and help them adjust to a new life here.

SF: Tell us about the two new programs Exodus has started.

SO: We’ve begun to serve refugees who’ve already been here for a few months. Historically, Exodus programs have helped volunteers welcome refugees on their first day in the United States and their first several months as they’re just getting adjusted to their new communities. And now we’re adding two new programs that will help volunteers walk alongside refugees even further as they rebuild their lives in our communities.

The first new program is called Carepack, it’s similar to our Welcome Pack program, which provides needed, essential household items to recently arrived refugees, but also through a personal connection with a volunteer who becomes a friend, and a welcoming face of hospitality to refugees who are coming here literally with nothing- no family, friends, belongings.

The second program is called New Neighbor Conversations. These are volunteers who are helping refugees practice their English in conversation. There’s a curriculum, and workbook and things they use over a four month period. Exodus did a year of research and focus groups of refugees who were already here in our communities to find out what they needed, and it turns out they had many unmet needs, but at the root seemed to be one core issue, and that was the need for improved english language skills, so we launched New Neighbor Conversations to meet that need.

SF: Do you have any updates from your gala?

SO: We had one of our highest attendance ever, over 670 people came out in support of refugee ministry. We raised our highest amount yet of $207,000 that night towards our budget. We are so grateful and thankful for that outpouring of support of people who recognize that refugees are people who are forced to flee their homeland due to war and persecution. So many people here are opening their hearts and receiving them here as legal residents.

SF: Anything else we should know? 

SO: There continues to be a lot of misinformation about the plight of refugees and how they come to the United States so we continue to be so grateful for Small Forces. It has helped us tell the story of refugees so people can understand the refugee journey, and learn that refugees are actually very courageous survivors who have a lot to contribute to our community and we are so thankful for Small Forces for helping us tell our story.

Watch the story: