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Fighting Poverty- Tom Vanderwell



Blog Action Day

Today marks the second annual Blog Action Day in which the goal is for all bloggers to be focusing for one day on a single cause, this year it’s fighting poverty in an effort to raise awareness and encourage a global discussion.

Tom Vanderwell

Tom Vanderwell is a mortgage lender by day but is on the board of the God’s Littlest Angels Haitian Orphanage by night (and well, probably any other time he’s not at the office). Just talking over Twitter about the Orphanage, its needs and Tom’s involvement, we both got emotional- Haiti, an already poverty stricken nation is in worse shape than it has been in years having been destroyed and re-destroyed by hurricanes.

Tom wrote about his involvement on his site (please scroll to the bottom of the page to see the pictures of living conditions right now in Haiti) and I was blown away by how connected he is with the pain of others. He told me today, “they have 97 kids at the main house in an area about 3000 sq. ft and another 74 kids at the toddler house. They really need $2 million to get an orphanage that’s big enough. Why I work for God’s Littlest Angels – more kids need to have the opportunity to experience the love of a family. I could go on…

THAT MANY CHILDREN live in 3000sf? That’s a standard sized house here, that seems barely possible to me. Tom says it best, “When I think about what we have and how blessed we are and how much we complain about the mess in the mortgage and housing markets, and then I look at the pictures below and it makes me realize how good we’ve got it.” Please consider asking anyone you know in a corporate position to consider helping them build a new building and help feed the children, Haiti is a very poor country that needs all the help it can get, especially the innocent babies. Tom, the AG readers and writers thank you sincerely for all of your fundraising and hard work for the God’s Littlest Angels Haitian Orphanage.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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  1. Drew Meyers from Zillow

    October 15, 2008 at 10:34 am

    I read Mountains beyond mountains, the story of Paul Farmer’s life (much of which involves his work in Haiti) and it was eye-opening to say the least. Haiti is definitely a country that needs as much exposure and help as possible. Thank you for your work Tom.

  2. Tom Vanderwell

    October 15, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Hey Lani,

    Thanks for the write up. I didn’t tell you this before, but the little girl sitting on my lap in that picture became my daughter 4 1/2 years ago and she’s now a bouncy, noisy, excited 1st grader……


  3. Benn Rosales

    October 15, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Tom, you’re a lucky pop indeed, and although you probably don’t like the spotlight as much as you prefer it on your cause, I’d like to say thank you, sincerely.

  4. Tom Vanderwell

    October 15, 2008 at 10:45 am


    Paul Farmer is just an incredible man. What he’s done is truly mind boggling. I met two people from his organization last week in Seattle. His descriptions of Haiti are “right on” with what I’ve seen there. You’re right, Haiti and it’s people need a lot of help.

    Thank you!


  5. Tom Vanderwell

    October 15, 2008 at 10:47 am


    You’re right, it’s not about me, it’s about the kids. However, I’ve learned that when you are a “vanilla” dad with two “chocolate” kids (and three more vanilla ones) you learn very early that you don’t blend into the crowds very well. The way that God has used this whole adventure to bless us and to help us begin to see and meet other great people has been a wonderful ride.

    Thank you.


  6. Drew Meyers from Zillow

    October 15, 2008 at 11:45 am

    You mean you were in seattle and we didn’t grab coffee or a drink? Next time…

  7. Drew Meyers from Zillow

    October 15, 2008 at 11:47 am

    And I totally agree. People like paul farmer are mind-boggling — the amount of work they do for others is truly amazing. It’s a lead more people should follow. My hunch is that for those that meet paul in person, saying no to helping others is all but impossible.

  8. Tom Vanderwell

    October 15, 2008 at 11:52 am


    Next time. I got in Thursday afternoon and literally didn’t have a spare 20 minutes before I left Sunday morning. Meetings and fundraiser opportunities at Microsoft and others.

    You are right on about Paul……


  9. Ginger Wilcox

    October 15, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    That many children in 3000 square feet is insane and heart wrenching. This story brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful baby girl you adopted Tom. She is lucky to have a dad with a heart of gold.

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Opinion Editorials

4 ways to stand out against the competition in today’s job market

(EDITORIAL) Are you trying to figure out how you can stand out to recruiters and hiring managers in this job market? Look no further than these 4 steps.



Woman doing a job search on laptop in the hot job market.

Are you trying to figure out how you can stand out to recruiters and hiring managers in this job market?

Recruiters often have aggressive hiring goals and are sorting through many resumes to discover the hidden gems that will help organizations achieve their business transformation and growth goals. If you have had a non-traditional education or career path, or have a resume gap due to a layoff, being a caregiver, or any of a multitude of other reasons, it’s important that you know how to share your story in a way that will empower recruiters to advocate on your behalf in this job market.

When I’ve mentored diverse job seekers through the years, these are the four key steps I recommend they follow:

  1. Develop your personal brand

Do you have a LinkedIn profile? If so, when is the last time you audited it? Is it telling the story of who you are now and where you want to go?

It’s important to make the most of the eight (8) seconds that recruiters are spending on your profile. Because, on average, and as lazy as ‘we’ recruiters sound, unless in that time we can tell what you do, who you are, etc., we might not keep reading on.

  1. Tell your story

You have probably heard the phrase “elevator pitch,” but did you know this doesn’t just apply to businesses? As a job seeker, you need to know your story and how it aligns with the roles you are looking to get hired for. If you were to record yourself and tell YOU how great YOU are, would you hire you? If not, remember what value and experience you bring (no matter how seemingly small), your story is you and some of the best stories can be told badly, and some of the most challenging stories can become the most inspirational. Only you have the power to decide what you want your story to be.

  1. Build your network

Your network is your net worth. The more contacts you have, the more chances you create, and the single hardest part of the journey is just to start. Have you built a network in the job market that has the type of job you want? If not, how do you? First, go and find hiring managers. Start by searching on Linkedin, use “job title” and “hiring” in the search bar. Then connect with the people who have posted that they are hiring, sending them a message about your interest, and/or asking them for help (industry tips, thought leaders to follow, who else is hiring). People are generally very open and friendly, and in this landscape, they will be willing to either hire or connect you with someone else. If they don’t, is that someone you would want to be connected with anyway?

  1. Focus on your goals, your “why”

The most important thing! Focus on your WHY. No matter what, job searching can be one of the most challenging things in the world! So don’t just focus on the results, because you will get a job; focus on why you are doing this. Remember you are going through a journey and that you will have a good day, and you will have a bad day, and the best advice I can give (which I repeat to myself ALL the time!) is this… “You either WIN or you LEARN.” Make sure you remind yourself of this and remember WHY you are doing this because the why will keep you going and the experience is something you should embrace, no matter what.

Job seeking can often be all about the numbers and let the saying “Your network is your net worth” be inspirational to build your personal brand and grow your network daily. You will be amazed to see the kinds of opportunities that the network will open for you!

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Opinion Editorials

Finances in my 20s: What I wish I knew then that I know now

(EDITORIAL) They say money makes the world go round. So, let’s discuss how to be smart with finances before it’s too late.




Being in my early twenties, something I’m still getting used to is the fact that I’m making my own money. This is not to be confused with the babysitting money I was making 10 years ago. Twice a month is the same routine: I get my paycheck and think, “Wooo! We goin’ out tonight!” but then I snap back to reality and think about what that money needs to be put towards. The smallest part of it going towards fun. It’s been tricky to really start learning the ins and outs of finances. So, I do what I usually do in any type of learning process? I ask for advice. I used to be fixated on asking those more advanced in age than I what they wish they knew when they were my age. Now that I’m determined to learn about finances, that question has been altered.

I reached out to a few professionals I know and trust and they gave me solid feedback to keep in mind about building my finances, about what they wish they had known in their 20s. However, I don’t think this only applies to those just starting out, and may be helpful for all of us.

“It’s important to simply know the value of money,” says human resource expert, Nicole Clark. “I think once you start earning your own money and are responsible for your housing, food, etc. you realize how valuable money is and how important it is to budget appropriately and make sure you’re watching your spending.”

Law firm executive director, Michael John, agrees with Clark’s sentiments. “I wish I had kept the value of saving in mind when I was younger,” explains John. “But, still remembering to balance savings while rewarding yourself and enjoying what your efforts produce.”

There are so many aspects of finance to keep in mind – saving, investing, budgeting, retirement plans, and so on and so forth.

In addition to suggesting to spend less than you make and to pay off your credit card in full each month, Kentucky-based attorney, Christopher Groeschen, explained the importance of a 401k.

“Every employee in America should be contributing everything they can into a 401k every year, up to the current $18,000 maximum per person,” suggests Groeschen.

“401ks present an opportunity for young investors to 1) learn about investing and 2) enter the market through a relatively low-risk vehicle (depending on your allocations),” he observes.

“An additional benefit is that 401ks also allow employees to earn FREE MONEY through employer matches,” he continues. “At the very least, every employee should contribute the amount necessary to earn the employer match (usually up to 4%) otherwise, you are giving up the opportunity to earn FREE MONEY. Earning FREE MONEY from your employer that is TAX FREE is much more important than having an extra Starbucks latte every day.”

Whether we like it or not, money is a core aspect of our daily lives. It should never be the most important thing, but we cannot deny that it is, in fact, an important thing. It’s tricky to learn, but investing in my future has become a priority.

This editorial was first published in May 2018.

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Opinion Editorials

Dopamine detox to rewire your brain from internet addiction (it’s common!)

(EDITORIAL) So, you’re addicted to the internet. Whether your drug of choice is scrolling, posting, or interacting – it’s time for a dopamine detox.



Upside down photo of man holding iphone case saying "social media seriously harms your mental health" representing dopamine.

Ah, smartphones. The best friend we can carry around in our pockets. This small device that’s nearly glued to our hands gives us instant access to many worlds.

It’s exciting to see what’s up on Instagram, take up to six stabs at Wordle, and scroll recipes you’ll never make on Pinterest. It’s also a place where we can share the highlights of our life and, in return, get validation through likes.

With that validation comes a small rush of dopamine, something we’ve all become accustomed – and some of us addicted – to.

While I’m not addicted to posting, I would say I have an addiction to scrolling. I can’t make it through a 50-minute episode of “Dexter” without picking up my phone to check an app or two.

And there is that dopamine rush with it, where you feel like you’re the most up-to-date you’ve ever been. But what about when this becomes too much and we’re overloaded with information and feel bogged down by the constant updates?

First, we need to understand what dopamine is.

It’s a neurotransmitter that works in two spots in the brain: first, its production helps us begin movement and speech. Second, we feel it when we receive or expect a reward. It even creates a kind of “high” similar to what’s found in nicotine and cocaine.

So, if we expect these dopamine hits from social media and we don’t get those results, the dopamine crashes to the ground creating burnout.

Well, this can cause burnout. And, while tempting, the solution isn’t as easy as just deleting all of your social media and walking away clean. Additionally, “take a break” features are too easy to swipe away.

So what can you do?

Mana Ionescu at Lightspan Digital recommends a Dopamine Detox.

While breaking an addiction takes longer than a day, Ionescu recommends starting there and tailoring it to your needs.

Here is what she describes is necessary for a detox:

  1. Turn off all notifications on your phone. ALL of them. You will be looking at your phone every 10 minutes as it is. You won’t miss anything. We lose endless hours of productivity because of those pings.
  2. Tell people to call you if it’s urgent. And teach them the difference between urgent and important. So do keep call notifications on.
  3. Stop over-messaging. The more you message, the more you’ll get responses.
  4. Shed the pressure to respond right away to messages that don’t need a response right away.
  5. Take detox days. Nothing but calls, confirming meetings, and using the GPS is allowed on those days.
  6. Put your phone on sleep mode at night. You can, at least on iPhone, set permissions so that certain phone numbers can get through, in case you’re worried about mom.
  7. If you’re dating, remember that texting is for laughing, flirting, and confirming plans. Please pick up the phone and talk to that person to get to know them. I will not take you seriously if you just keep texting.
  8. And yes, we all know the game, whoever looks at their phone first over dinner picks up the bill.

This won’t be easy, but your brain will likely thank you in the long run. And, when you’re back online, hit up the comments and let us know how the detox went!

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