Strengthen The Good

Using the power of weblogs for open-source charity. Don’t just fight evil: Strengthen the good.

Archive for the 'Charities' Category

Strengthening The Good: Susan Tom & The Tom Family Education Trust

Update (11/6/05): For those coming here for the first time (and after seeing the Extreme Makeover Home Edition about Susan), please visit this latest update after reading the post below, and please note that we’re currently accepting donations for the Red Cross Katrina Relief fund, not Susan’s education trust. If you’d like to contribute to Susan’s fund, the post below will send you there.


~ Alan


It’s been roughly one year since the post that started it all: My call to strengthen the good of Susan Tom, over at Command Post on May 11th, 2004. As I wrote then:

Tonight, I finished watching the HBO documentary My Flesh And Blood, which tells the story of Susan Tom, a 53-year-old single mother in Fairfield, California. Susan is the mother of 13 children, 11 of whom she has adopted, many of whom suffer from handicaps and diseases. Teenagers Hannah and Xenia were born without legs. Anthony has a degenerative and usually fatal skin disease. Eight-year-old Faith has disfiguring scars and no hair from being badly burned as an infant. Joe, 15, recently passed away from cystic fibrosis. Margaret, 18, helps Susan raise the family. (You can learn more about her story here, here, here and here, you can read about the documentary here and here.)

Hers is a powerful and wonderfully inspiring story. It left me moved by the grace, love, and caring Susan Tom exhibits to these children … her children … children whom, without her, may very well have gone throughout life without love, without tenderness, without a chance … without having really lived at all.

stc.jpgI turn from that documentary to The Command Post, where I see posted the photographs of Nick Berg’s beheading, and I’m struck bluntly by the complete antithesis of Susan Tom: murder, brutality, and disgusting inhumanity. In moments, I went from having tears in my eyes to having bile in my throat. And I’m left wondering, as I’m sure are most of us are, what exactly to make of it all.

Well, I’ve decided what to make of it all, and what I’m going to make is some good. Susan Tom is a hero … one of millions … waking each day with a commitment to make the lives of others better through love. Hers is an example to which humanity should aspire. So my response to the murder of Nick Berg and the inhumanity it represents is to use it as motivation to give to Susan Tom and the humanity she represents.

All of Susan Tom’s children save Katie plan to attend college. Susan will have education bills to pay, and toward that end she’s established the non-profit Tom Family Education Trust to assist the Tom children with college tuition and book expenses (according to the stipulation of the trust, the monies can not be used for any other purpose).

For the next three days, between the time stamp of this post and Midnight EDT Friday night, Michele and I will contribute all donations made to The Command Post PayPal account to the Tom Family Education Trust …

… How do you win the war of Good and Evil? You fight Evil, and you strengthen the Good. And it’s something we should always do: as we move to eradicate Evil, we should also move to strengthen the Good.

I’ve already given $50. In the name of strengthening what’s Good, let’s help send the Tom kids to college.

Those who remember that post also likely remember what happened next: The initial response was good enough that I set the bold goal of raising $10,000. It turns out I was off base in that goal: In three days we did not raise $10,000–we raised $15,000 for the education of Susan’s kids.

susanandalan.jpgIn the year since, some things have changed: Susan’s son, Anthony, finally lost his battle to cancer just days before Christmas, 2004. And some things have not: Susan continues to raise her family, giving these kids who would otherwise have no shot at all, all the shot in the world. (I also had opportunity to meet Susan last Summer … there’s a shot of me trying to get her to mug for the camera with Faith in the background.)

It was the experience of raising those $15,000, and the good they created for Susan, her kids, and the bloggers and readers who participated, that ultimately led to my creating Strengthen The Good. So, in a sense, Susan’s not just responsible for the good she’s done for her children–she’s also responsible for the creation of this nonprofit, and for the good it’s done for others … for the victims of Hurricane Charley, for Debi Faris, for the Brent Woodall Foundation, and for the students of Petrzalka.

So today, Strengthen The Good is pleased to profile Susan Tom and the Tom Family Education Trust, as I hope to do every May until all her kids have graduated college. She’s my hero.

The usual disclaimers: STG is not just an encouragement to donate; it’s also an attempt to create awareness. So to learn more about the Tom Family Education Trust, visit Susan’s site.

If you do choose to donate, you may do so via PayPal at her site, via our PayPal button in the right-hand column of this page (donations to STG are tax-deductible; as of my last inquiry donations directly to Susan’s Trust were not), or via check to:

The Tom Family Education Trust
P.O. Box 2236
Fairfield, Ca. 94533

Now … be responsible. Just because I’ve satisfied my qualification of this charity does not mean you’ve satisfied yours. You are responsible for satisfying your own qualification of this or any other charity STG may point to, and while I am profiling this charity, I do not guarantee its legitimacy, its use of whatever funds you might donate, or the accuracy or of the information on its web site.

Hopefully that’s satisfied the attorneys, and we can get back to the business at hand.

Thank you for reading about Susan. She’s a remarkable source of inspiration for me, I hope she is for you, and thank you for working to strengthen the good.

Tsunami Assistance

We’re not recognizing a specific tsunami charity here (help build that library in Bratislava, folks!), but we are getting questions about how to help. The most complete list I’ve seen (and likely the most complete list out there) is over at my other gig, The Command Post. It’s constantly updated, and you may visit it here.

Thanks for helping to strengthen the good.

Strengthening The Good: You, By Helping Build An English Library For Teenagers In Bratislava, Slovakia

12.17.04 UPDATE: The good just keeps getting stronger. We’ve collected over $200 in donations through the site (a LOT of books if you’re buying them used, which I am), and Douglas also sends this update:

[Any update?] Yes! We have received 30 books so far from the United States, Canada, Great Britain and France. Six or seven came through the folks at so give them a shout.

Again, thanks for all your help … this one just keeps getting stronger.

12.2.04 UPDATE: This today from Douglas:

Today in the mail came ten brand new copies of Animal Farm and a lovely used copy of A Christmas Carol. What fun to open the packages and begin the library. It felt like Christmas.

The first of many packages, I’m certain. Thanks to all who are helping to strengthen the good in Petrzalka.

11.27.04 UPDATE: Thanks to all who have helped so far in building the Petrzralka English-language library. Two updates to note: First, I’ve established STG as an Associate, so you can click on the links of books below, buy used copies, and have Amazon ship them to Slovakia. STG gets a cut if you do, and I’ll use those funds to buy more books.

Second, the post was picked up by the good people at You can see the thread here. Thanks to all the BC users who are sending books Douglas’ way.

Thanks for helping to strengthen the good,

~ Alan


First of all, thanks to all who have sent emails about the New York Times article, and to those who have joined the network since … I’m glad to see the idea of Strengthen The Good continues to have broad appeal (and if you’re here for the first time and are interested in helping to strengthen that which is good, go here).

Today I want to highlight something a bit different, and in the interest of full disclosure I want everyone to know that the main party involved, Douglas Dart, has been a friend of mine for decades. Douglas, his wife, and his three young daughters are currently spending a year living in Bratislava, Slovakia. Doug’s (unpaid) mission: teach English and American Studies to Slovakian high school students at a school called The C.S. Lewis Bilingual Gymnaziumin in Bratislava’s Petrzalka district.

It’s not easy duty, primarily because of the school’s setting and condition …. but I’ll let Douglas share that in his own words:

Dart Family Update #1, August 7, 2004

… Finally in Vienna at 10:30 A.M. with our body clocks telling us we should have gone to bed hours ago, we staggered into the waiting arms of Tom Johnson, a pastor from our church in Minnesota, and Miro Kocur, the headmaster of the school where I will be teaching. Ah–Help. They had two cars waiting to take us to Bratislava and as we put our bags in the back of Miro’s car, he said, “Oh, I thought you would have a lot more luggage!” Thanks Mom.

During the ride, Miro told the story of when the wall came down. He and his friends walked all the way to the Austrian border and then crossed over into a little village, their first steps into the free world, steps he never knew if he would take. The Austrians greeted the throng of Slovaks with cheers and bottles of beer. Everyone here has a story about when the wall came down, and of course, life before it did …

_1621184_bratislav150.jpg… Two days ago, I went to my first meeting at school and had my first big dose of culture shock. Across the river to the south is a huge compound of Soviet style high-rise apartments to the tune of 160,000 people in a few square miles. The area is called Petrzalka and it exudes a deep heaviness and sorrow. People trudge, grass doesn’t grow, and everything feels gray even in the sunlight. It is in a word ugly, a huge scar from the deep wound of communism on this country, one that in some ways still festers.

stahovanie2.jpgAnd right in the middle of it is a little school that I feel in my bones is going to make a huge difference. Their energy, innovation and passion in spite of truly daunting obstacles (brutal bureaucracy, lack of resources, tiny salaries, to name a few) is humbling and I feel a great honor in being able to come alongside these good people and join in their struggle. Thank you again to all of you who have made this possible through your prayers and generosity. It is a good thing.

There’s not a lot on Petrzalka on the web that’s not in Slovakian, but there is some background here and photos here and here.

So what does this have to do with STG? Is it a call to send cash to Douglas and his family? No. Here’s the chance to strengthen their good work, as written by Douglas’ wife:

Dart Family Update #1, August 24, 2004

We have been in Bratislava for a month now and are settling in. Thank you for your e-mails. It is like opening a letter having the “in” box full.

stah14.jpgDouglas began working this week at the CS Lewis School. The kids start next week and the school is in physical chaos, as this is its first year. Douglas came home a little surprised after the first day of work, and with sore hands. The teachers and administrators scrubbed the rooms, getting them ready for the students. Grass roots beginnings. Douglas is excited about teaching here. There is a cultural enthusiasm for learning English; it is a ticket to success in many ways. So, he will teach The Crucible, Lord of the Flies, To Kill A Mockingbird — in English. He does face one challenge in this endeavor; the school has no books and very little money. God willing, we are hoping to start a library here.

Douglas also writes:

I’ve struggled this year teaching literature from photocopies of short stories I’ve downloaded, and buying books out of my own pocket that I’m still awaiting delivery on.

And there’s the opportunity: to help Douglas and the CS Lewis school bring English–which the students call “the language of freedom”–and a bit of genuine America–which is still widely misunderstood in the former East Block–to the teenagers of Petrzalka. Together, with just a bit of time and energy, we can build an English-language library right in the center of a former Soviet-era apartment complex.

Here’s how we can help strengthen the good: Below is a list of books the school needs for the English and American Studies programs … the items with an asterisk are those for which they need several copies (as many as twenty each to use for literature classes). Anything else they will use to build the library.

Douglas also notes that:

… obviously, people shouldn’t feel limited by the list. If they have something in English that they think is worth sending, bring it on.

So if you’ve been waiting to get rid of that Baseball Almanac (Michele), here’s your chance.

Here’s Douglas’ list. UPDATE: I’ve registered STG as an Amazon Associate. If you want to order a book right away for the school, rather than donate one at home–not a bad idea as they have used books for pennies on the dollar and will also ship it for you–click on the link. Not only will you help by sending a book, STG will get a commission that I’ll use to buy even more books for the school. I’m updating the list with links to Amazon in stages, but hope to have all the links available over the course of today. Here’s the list:

* Any Anthology of American Literature
* 1984 by George Orwell*
* The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
* Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
* The American by Henry James
* American Dream by Norman Mailer*
* Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt*
* Animal Farm by George Orwell*
* Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
* Anthem by Ayn Rand*
* Beloved by Toni Morrison
* Boy by Roald Dahl*
* The Call of the Wild by Jack London
* The Canterrbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
* The Canterville Ghost and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde
* Catch 22 by Joseph Heller*
* Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger*
* Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
* A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens*
* Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau
* Color Purple by Alice Walker* The
* The Crucible by Arthur Miller*
* Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
* Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
* A Death in the Family James Agee
* The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank*
* Dubliners by James Joyce*
* Dune by Frank Herbert
* East of Eden by John Steinbeck
* Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
* The Fall of the House of Usher and Other Stories by Edgar Allen Poe
* Five One-Act Plays by Donn Byrne
* Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
* The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
* Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
* Gentian Hill by Elizabeth Goudge*
* Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
* The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
* The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis*
* Great Expectations by Charles Dickens*
* The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald*
* Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
* The Happy Prince and Other Stories by Oscar Wilde*
* Harvey by Mary Chase*
* The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy by Penelope Wilcox
* The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien*
* Holes by Louis Sachar*
* In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
* Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
* Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
* The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
* Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman*
* Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
* The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien*
* Maus (parts 1 and 2) by Art Spiegelman
* The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
* Moby Dick by Herman Melville
* The Natural by Bernard Malamud
* Night by Elie Wiesel
* Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck*
* Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway*
* Old Yeller by Fred Gibson
* The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde*
* Pilgrims Inn by Elizabeth Goudge
* Poetry by Emily Dickinson
* Poetry by T. S. Eliot
* A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry*
* The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane*
* Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
* The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
* Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally*
* The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis*
* The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett *
* Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
* Short Stories by Edgar Allen Poe*
* Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway
* The Sound and the Fur by William Faulkner
* Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
* Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome*
* To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee*
* Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
* The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
* Walden by Henry David Thoreau
* A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins
* The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot*
* Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls*
* Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
* Any English Language Dictionary
* Rand McNally Goode’s World Atlas by J. Paul Goode, John C. Hudson (Editor), Edward B., Jr. Espenshade (Editor)
* DK Atlas of World History by Jeremy Black
* The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2004 by Editors of World Almanac
* Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World’s Wildlife by David Burnie
* Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, Third Edition by Mayo Clinic
* Roget International Thesaurus Indexed Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer Random House Webster’s College Dictionary by Random House
* Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of Literature by Merriam-Webster
* Scientific American Science Desk Reference by Scientific American
* The Encyclopedia of Science and Technology by James S. Trefil
* Sister Wendy’s 1000 Masterpieces by Wendy Beckett
* Art: The World’s Greatest Paintings Explored and Explained by Robert Cumming
* Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
* Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
* Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary
* Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia by Bruce Murphy

One way to think of it: send your favorite (or two, or three, or five) from the list above … if it had an impact on your life, it will certainly have an impact on the life of a student in Petrzalka. Me, I’m sending The Fountainhead and The Killer Angels (because Howard Roark laughed, and because Laurence Chamberlain was the man).

You may send books to:

Douglas Dart
C.S. Lewis Bilingual High School
Benadicka 38
Bratislava 85106
Slovak Republic

To find shipping charges, go here (it costs less than $5 to send a package of a pound or less … plenty of weight for a book or two).

Don’t want to ship books? Then make a donation here and we’ll buy the books for you (in Slovakia, if possible, to save on shipping charges) … the donation through the STG PayPal account (the button is in the right-hand column) is tax deductible.

And finally, the usual disclaimer: Just because I’ve satisfied my qualification of this opportunity does not mean you’ve satisfied yours. You are responsible for satisfying your own qualification of this or any other charity STG may point to. But don’t take my word for it: you can correspond with Douglas yourself via email at douglasdart at yahoo dot com.

The Slovak Republic, while bursting with freedom compared to just 10 years ago, is still by no means a wide and open forum. As Douglas told me recently, “It was amazing reading Command Post and other blogs on election day … because stuff like that just couldn’t happen here. The government wouldn’t let it.” Personally, I like the thought of freedom of thought and expression, which has already taken hold in Bratislava, sending her roots deep under the Petrzalka soil, watered by a spring of English-language literature set amongst the concrete towers.

Thanks for reading … and thanks, as always, for helping to strengthen the good.

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