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Leaders Are Artists

Leaders Are Artists

written for Pebble Tossers by Denard Ash


Leaders are artists.
We (leaders) create new ways of seeing the world and living in it.
We are needed most during times of crisis. 

During crisis, people look to us to redefine reality. This is what the great ones do.

  • King
  • Churchill
  • Fauci
  • Greta
  • Malala
  • Teachers 
  • Healthcare workers

We all have the ability to create a new reality.
We create with our words.
We create with our attitudes.
We create with our service.

In the end, the question is never whether we succeeded or failed, but “What art did we create?”

Denard is a leadership coach and trainer with the John Maxwell Team and Movement Director for Be The Church Network. He lives in Atlanta with his wife, Chawanis, and their two rescue dogs, Brewster and Sasha.

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/denardash/

50 Years of Earth Day: The Health of Our Planet and Our Own Health are One and the Same

by Our Friends at LiveThrive Atlanta

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

On April 22, 1970 – the first Earth Day in history– over 20 million Americans took to the streets to protest America’s inaction to combat the damaging effects of 150 years of industrial development. It was a uniting cry for all Americans, regardless of zip code or political affiliation, realizing the health of our people mirrors the health of our planet. Today, Earth Day is celebrated in over 190 countries, connecting us globally to promote human behaviors and policies that protect and enrich our natural resources, combat our climate crisis and realize a zero-carbon future.

A series of events sparked the first Earth Day, galvanizing the nation into action. The 1962 publication of Rachel Carson’s New York Times bestseller ‘Silent Spring’ exposed the dangerous effects of pesticides to environmental and human health. Soon after, a 1969 record-breaking oil spill in California received national attention as it killed thousands of birds and sea mammals, leaving even more doused in oil. Later that same year, Cuyahoga River in Cleveland erupted into flames, exposing the dire state of the pollution of the waterway. Within six months, people all over the country were rallying for change on Earth Day.

Earth Day was the catalyst for the modern environmental movement. This directly led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in late 1970 as well as the Clean Air Act, Water Quality Improvement Act, Endangered Species Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, and Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act– all passed under a Republican administration in the 1970s.

On the 50th anniversary of this important day, Live Thrive and CHaRM are more committed than ever to create real, positive environmental change. Every item you bring to CHaRM helps ensure that hazardous materials do not poison our lands and waters. Every conversation you start about something you learned through Live Thrive ignites a fire in someone else to make a change, find a solution, and fight for stronger protections. As we celebrate this milestone in the environmental movement, it is a reminder that this is everyone’s fight – and that the health of our planet and our own health are one and the same.

Executive Functioning + Volunteering

“Executive Functioning + Volunteering”

written by Mary Ulmer-Jones, Pebble Tossers Board of Directors, Associate GC & SVP Bank of America

Shelter in Place provides us the time and energy to focus on meaningful things.  It is meaningful to me that Pebble Tossers has given my son a platform to practice executive functioning.  Jamie is a junior in high school and was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder in seventh grade. At the time of diagnosis, I didn’t worry too much. But, what I realize now is that I underestimated the impact ADD has on the brain’s ability to utilize executive functioning.

The ability to take an assignment and break it down into orderly, actionable steps is a critical skill that we all need. For instance, if you are planning a dinner party you make a to-do list that flows in a logical order. Upon completing each task, you will then be ready to host a successful dinner party. But, if your executive functioning ability is impaired by ADD, you might get overwhelmed by hosting such an event. You may forget to pick up flowers for the table. Or even worse, you fail to properly sequence the cooking of your side dishes and entrée. Oh Lord, your meal isn’t put on the table until 11 p.m. That is a result of your executive functioning not being fully developed. But, good news, if you practice executive functioning you can develop this skill to its fullest extent.

So, back to Jamie and Pebble Tossers. It took me until this spring to recognize that Pebble Tossers provides me the opportunity to help Jamie practice executive functioning.  From the Pebble Tossers website, Jamie chooses the organization he wants to support or the project that he wants to complete.  Together we read the service opportunity description.  Then we write down and verbally discuss each of the steps Jamie will need to accomplish to complete the service successfully.

For example, Jamie has provided meals to Kate’s Club on a regular basis. Now, let’s practice executive functioning. First, determine the menu. (sandwiches, chips, cookies and fruit) Second, decide how to shop for the items on the menu. (Amazon delivery, Publix, Walmart for paper products) Third, set a timeline for shopping. (Place Amazon order a week or so in advance, go to Publix and Walmart one day after school) Forth, set aside time for preparation of the lunches. (over a two or three-day period assembly line style prep on the dining room table, use the basement fridge to store the sandwiches, use old Amazon boxes to package the lunches for delivery) And, finally, deliver a complete meal on time for as many as one hundred Kate’s Club clients and volunteers. (leave for Kate’s club at 9:30 am Saturday morning so the meals are delivered by 11:00 am.)

So, thank you Pebble Tossers for giving me this opportunity. And, thank you Shelter in Place orders for giving me time to reflect on what is really important.



Ten Atlanta Teens Awarded $1,000 grants to help those in need due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Pebble Tossers announced grant recipients from a pool of nearly 50 applicants

(Atlanta, GA, April 7, 2020)…Pebble Tossers, Atlanta’s leading youth development nonprofit organization, awarded ten $1,000 grants to greater Atlanta teens. Each grant is being used to provide immediate assistance to low income/at-risk youth and their families in greater Atlanta affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pebble Tossers selected ten grant recipients from 48 applications and each winner developed a concept encompassing an innovative, goal-oriented project. Based on grant guidelines, each project will be developed and executed rapidly to ensure immediate impact on the community.

“The creativity and ingenuity presented in all of the projects was inspiring. This opportunity came up quickly and our local youth continue to amaze us with their passion and commitment to helping their community,” said Jennifer Guynn, Founder + Executive Director, Pebble Tossers. “Our youth want to have a voice in providing solutions during this COVID-19 crisis. These ten grants provide them with a platform and an opportunity to make a significant impact in their community.”

The winning projects range from creative food drives and care packages to 3-D printing of masks and software tutorials. All recipients of donated items are at-risk community members and organizations hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. A complete list of winning projects is available on the Pebble Tossers website, www.pebbletossers.org.

Announced only ten days prior to awarding the grant, Pebble Tossers quickly mobilized its community of nonprofits and youth volunteers to spread the word of the opportunity. The original $10,000 grant was provided to Pebble Tossers by Halle Tecco.

To learn more about the Pebble Tossers COVID-19 Youth Impact Grant and its winners please visit: www.pebbletossers.org/COVID19grant

About the Grant

The grant program, quickly organized by Halle Tecco beginning March 19th, started as an initial investment of $50,000 by Ms. Tecco and quickly grew to $400,000 as additional donations poured into the fund. Within days, 362 applications were submitted and Pebble Tossers was one of 36 nationwide recipients. The proposals were based on the following criteria:

  • The non-profit is solving an emergent problem created by COVID-19 vs. supporting ongoing operations stretched by COVID-19.
  • The use of funds is clear, compelling, efficient, and measurable.
  • The non-profit has a leadership team and board which is diverse and representative of the population they are serving.
  • The organization has already shown commitment to ameliorating the impact of COVID-19 (e.g. this isn’t a new program they invented to get a grant).
  • The non-profit is a registered 501(c)3 or is working with a registered fiscal sponsor.
  • More details: https://medium.com/@halletecco/supporting-the-helpers-during-covid-19-7cd506ec219d

About Pebble Tossers

Pebble Tossers is the premier local youth service organization focused on providing families with a comprehensive path to youth development through service to others, from preschool to graduation, or “nap to cap.” Customized programming empowers youth to lead by providing them with resources and age-appropriate opportunities. With Pebble Tossers, volunteers sign up, show up, and serve to start a ripple of giving® in their community.

Positivity Touch Points part 3

Positivity Touch Points

written by Michelle Schroeder – Lowrey for Pebble Tossers (part three of a three-part series)

Michelle Schroeder-Lowrey is an artist educator specializing in music, movement and drama at Columbus Academy. Michelle is a CAPP certified Positive Psychology Practitioner and recently completed certification as a Resiliency Trainer at The Flourishing Center in NYC. Her love of learning has taken her as far as Australia and as close as downtown Columbus. Michelle is passionate about educating people about the benefits of living life with purpose using the principles of PERMA-V and the VIA Character Strengths. She is a proud wife and mother and a founding member of Available Light Theatre and holds a BA in Theatre from The Ohio State University.


Part Three:

How do we stay grounded and in the present moment?

Right now, I am leaning a lot on GRATITUDE. There is a lot of research out there around how expressing gratitude effects your personal happiness. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s research shows that expressing our gratitude to others opens us up and “broadens” our capacity for positive emotions – and it feels so good we want to repeat that experience – so we “build” on that by expressing more gratitude. There are so many gratitude practices out there. Journaling is one way or sharing out-loud with family and friends at a meal or at bedtime. Asking our kids to talk about what is “sticky” for you today or what good or positive event is sticking in your thoughts from today and how did you contribute to making it good. Taking ownership of how “I” helped make it positive provides an extra boost and helps us to savor those moments or little things that are sticking with us.

Also, remember that connection and positive relationships are vital. During this time of “social distancing” we can still be connected through FaceTime, Zoom calls and Google Hangouts. Check-in with family and friends -often – and share your gratitude, humor (yes! It is okay to laugh. Remember ALL emotions are okay!), recipes and art. We are social beings with a need to feel belonging. Texts are good, but seeing each other’s faces and hearing each other’s voices will give us so much more of a boost.

And lastly – don’t forget the power of exercise or movement. Especially for our teens and littles. With sports practices canceled indefinitely and no scheduled PE they need our help to get motivated and moving. (And truly, I need it too. And that is hard to admit.) Learners need to talk AND move. There are myriad apps and websites offering dance, yoga, movement and even sports drills you can do at home. Bike riding, walking your dogs, roller skating outside – all of these will boost your positivity and resiliency.

We are not superheroes, we are humans. We are inherently resilient. These practices will not be easy for all of us to implement. They are “practices” meaning – they take time to master. And now we’ve got some time. Use it well.

Positivity Touch Points part 2

Positivity Touch Points

written by Michelle Schroeder – Lowrey for Pebble Tossers (part two of a three-part series)

Michelle Schroeder-Lowrey is an artist educator specializing in music, movement and drama at Columbus Academy. Michelle is a CAPP certified Positive Psychology Practitioner and recently completed certification as a Resiliency Trainer at The Flourishing Center in NYC. Her love of learning has taken her as far as Australia and as close as downtown Columbus. Michelle is passionate about educating people about the benefits of living life with purpose using the principles of PERMA-V and the VIA Character Strengths. She is a proud wife and mother and a founding member of Available Light Theatre and holds a BA in Theatre from The Ohio State University.


Part Two:

What do we do when our uncertainty, fear and anxiety start to overwhelm us?

In real-time when the big feelings start to overwhelm our brains and bodies we must start with calming – 3 Deep Breaths. It has to be 3 – it could be as many as 6 or 8, but always at least 3. Research tells us that these deep breaths send a signal to your brain that the “danger is passed” and we don’t need to fly, flee or freeze. (This kind of breathing is actually good for your brain and body on a regular daily basis, not just in times of crisis.)

Next: remind ourselves that all feelings are valid– this includes the painful emotions: fear, sadness, disappointment, anger, frustration, boredom and the more pleasant emotions: joy, awe, interest, pleasure, happiness. There are not “good” and “bad” emotions. Right now, the world is a roller coaster of emotions and it so important to notice and name how we are feeling and allow that emotion or emotions to flow through us – not get stuck in our brains and swirl around in an endless loop churning into anxiety. Often the simple act of NOTICING and NAMING an emotion allows us to get more in touch with the source of our discomfort and provides an opportunity to choose a strategy to NAVIGATE our emotions and remind ourselves what we can control (how I think, how I feel, what I do.)

For our children, they are definitely noticing the emotions and the discomfort that the uncertainty is bringing up – it’s the naming of the emotion that is tougher and then the navigating requires our help. The next steps might sound like this: “I see you. And I see in is moment these feelings are overwhelming you. What’s going on?  Tell me more.” And once you say “tell me more” JUST LISTEN. Don’t attempt to fix. Don’t attempt to add your own story. Just listen and say “tell me more.” This is hard for those of us who keep our cape handy for all circumstances – but I assure you, it is more helpful in this moment to listen. When my teen is sharing, I often have to put my hands up to cover my mouth as a reminder to me that it is not my turn to talk, fix or tell a story. I am listening. After a while, I might say “are you asking for help or venting?” And right now, the answer is almost always: “I’m venting. Thank you.” In fact, she often works out her own solution just in talking out loud. Offering to listen (and actually doing it!) allow our children and teens the opportunity to use their strengths and skills and feel a sense of agency and autonomy – which we are all looking for in these uncertain days.

Positivity Touch Points part 1

Positivity Touch Points

written by Michelle Schroeder – Lowrey for Pebble Tossers (part one of a three-part series)

Michelle Schroeder-Lowrey is an artist educator specializing in music, movement and drama at Columbus Academy. Michelle is a CAPP certified Positive Psychology Practitioner and recently completed certification as a Resiliency Trainer at The Flourishing Center in NYC. Her love of learning has taken her as far as Australia and as close as downtown Columbus. Michelle is passionate about educating people about the benefits of living life with purpose using the principles of PERMA-V and the VIA Character Strengths. She is a proud wife and mother and a founding member of Available Light Theatre and holds a BA in Theatre from The Ohio State University.


Part One:

It is something we often talk about in a longing way… “I wish we just had time to slow down and be together.”  Or “We are never all home at the same time!” And now, EVERYONE is home. Only, this isn’t the “slowing down” we were talking about, right? So, what do we do now that we are all home- TOGETHER- in new, uncertain, unplanned for circumstances with so many questions, feelings and fears running around in our heads and hearts?

In Positive Psychology we talk a lot about the parts of our life we can “control.” It’s a short list really – I can control: what I feel, what I think and what I do. That’s it. That is the list. Some research suggests that up to 40% of our overall happiness is controllable by what we feel, think, and do. Keep in mind that it’s not what happens to us that affects our thoughts, feelings and actions – it’s how we interpret what’s happening.  Our brains are wired to go negative. It’s how our species has survived thousands of years. Negativity bias keeps us questioning, it’s our “spidey sense” that reminds us that maybe walking into that dark, tiger infested forest or eating those red berries isn’t the best idea. In our modern world, there are fewer tigers and many apps that help us understand the dangers of our world – but our brains still want to protect us. So, reframing our natural tendency towards pessimistic thinking to an optimistic thinking style lays a foundation for positive problem-solving. Instead of: “We are all stuck at home forever and I’m never prepared for situations like this. I will never get any work done.”  SAY: “This is a tough, temporary situation. I’ve survived 100% of the stay at home, unexpected sick days in my life. I can handle this.”

Giving ourselves and others “permission to be human” is what positive psychology is all about. This may sound silly, but under extreme circumstances, many of us immediately put on our capes and fly around attempting to leap tall buildings (or teen angst) in a single bound – and the reality is: we are human not superheroes.  And humans have feelings. Humans make mistakes. Humans lose their patience. Humans cry. Humans need rest. Humans need exercise and good food. Humans are humans. So, start here: I give myself permission to be human. AND I give my child, partner, loved ones and others in my world the same permission. By granting ourselves this permission we are able to generate compassion for others and for ourselves. And boy howdy, do we need some compassion for ourselves and others right now. The others include our partners, children and loved ones as well as grocery store clerks, postal workers and healthcare providers. Patience with ourselves and others will go a long way right now.

Coronavirus + College

written by Lauren Alexander, Georgia Tech business student, Pebble Tossers Intern

Hi! My name is Lauren, and I am intern with Pebble Tossers this Spring helping with various initiatives like the new Teen Leadership Program. I am a third-year business student at Georgia Tech, and in the last two weeks I (like many others) have experienced my life turn completely upside down for the time being. I wanted to share some of the experiences and responses I have had thus far with you!


The last week and a half have been a whirlwind. One day I was attending class, engaging with friends over coffee and meals, participating in my normal activities, and looking forward to all of the plans I had made for the coming months. Quickly, I watched all of the expectations and certainties I clung so tightly to vanish one after the other. A slush of emotions followed, including fear, guilt, disappointment, inferiority, confusion, and anger. And yet, not all was wrong: I got to spend time self-quarantining with a loved one who lives far from me, my mom and I could cook and bake in our kitchen like we used to when I lived at home, and many leaders around me found incredible, innovative ways to adapt and carry on in the midst of social distancing.

Navigating your emotions, thoughts, and actions is hard on a regular day, not to mention in the middle of a global pandemic that is possibly the most impactful event of your lifetime. There are few important ideas that my friends and I are constantly reminding ourselves of. The first being that it is OK to feel afraid. There is so much unavoidable uncertainty in everyone’s lives that fear can feel inescapable. Along with this, though, it is important to TALK about your fear. I turn to my family, close friends, and mentors for a simple conversation, so that fear does not start to control my life. In doing so, I am able to stay grounded yet hopeful at the same time.

The second idea I keep reminding myself of is quite the opposite: it is OK to feel joy. Many people have expressed guilt to me about experiencing good things during this extremely challenging time globally. In a world filled with so much hurting and need, I say we need to relish in every joyful moment we can get our hands on (of course, we must also remain compassionate to all around us). Now is the time to find joy in the smallest of things: the chance to make blueberry scones with your mom, celebrating success in using unfamiliar virtual/ online tools, and extra time to catch up with people who feel incredibly distant. To acknowledge your joy is not to diminish the pandemic, but it is to bring a little light into this climate.

The final idea I will share is simply this: YOU MATTER. It is easy to feel small. Like nothing that you do has an impact. This could not be farther from the truth. We all must take responsibility for our responses to this crisis. We must choose to self-isolate when appropriate. We must choose to fill our extra time at home in a positive way: investing in family, completing at-home service projects, practicing self-care and love, and exploring new technologies and innovations that can benefit your community or the activities you normally partake in. You matter to your close loved ones and to the global population (and everyone in between) – and you cannot lose sight of the privilege and opportunity that comes with that.

Keeping all three of these concepts in mind, I find myself able to navigate my feelings and thoughts so that I can continue to lead and partake in the many initiatives that are important to me and those in my community.

The Opportunity for Growth, Found in the Instability of COVID-19

written by Amanda T. Parrott, MSW, LISW-CP for Pebble Tossers

“You have power over your mind – not outside events.
Realize this, and you will find strength.”
Marcus Aurelius

COVID-19…How will you show up for yourself during a monumental event in history?
I pose this question to remind you of the power that you hold when managing this and other stressful events you will encounter in life. Comfort and strength come from the awareness that you have control over your actions or response, not control over the situation itself. The truth of the matter is that by nature, life is uncertain. As humans, we fight this simple fact on a regular basis, as we prefer the illusion that we can somehow predict and control our circumstances.

During times like these, we face the uncertainty of life, our actual reality. We feel vulnerable with stress and worry resulting from the lack of predictability, security and familiarity we typically rely on. It is natural for our thoughts to turn to all of the negative consequences and to feel emotions of anger, overwhelm and anxiety/fear. However, if we allow our thoughts to fixate on the negative, then we will miss the opportunity to develop skills to cope with our world in its natural, unpredictable state. The strength from within is always with us, so it is imperative that we get to know our true capabilities by pushing beyond what we feel is possible when life gets tough.


“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”
Maya Angelou


I challenge you to consider the opportunity that presents itself now…choose to cope in a way that will serve as an example of strength and perseverance for years to come when you consider how you showed up for yourself during a difficult time. Resist remaining stuck and look for what may be possible. Consider the question “What good may come from my new reality?”


“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”
William James



What does it mean to choose one thought over another?
You begin by acknowledging your emotions and understanding that they are not good or bad, but simply neutral….and incredibly helpful! Your emotions are your data source. They provide you with the information necessary to understand what matters to you at any given time. When things around us feel uncertain, we naturally are more vulnerable to our emotions and can become stuck or overwhelmed. With curiosity, not a sense of judgment, ask yourself what emotions you are noticing, and check in with yourself often. “What is my emotion telling me is important?”

Once you know what is important, you free yourself to take action in a way that is meaningful to you. For example, if you notice feeling helpless, it may help you to consider what actions are within your area of control that would allow you to feel you are of help. You may decide to call elderly family members who are not able to receive visitors, or set up video calls with friends you are not able to see because of social distancing. We choose one thought over another, when we see opportunity amidst adversity. We choose one thought over another when we decide to acknowledge the power we hold in our response, the action we take. “How can I find benefit in my new situation?” To know what action is necessary, you must know your unique values and needs.

I would encourage you to consider reflection on your personal needs. Ask yourself “What are my needs in a given day-emotional, physical, spiritual, relational, academic, etc.?” How have these needs been impacted by COVID-19, the need for social distancing etc.? Are any of my personal needs completely ignored due to this disruption? What options could I consider to remove barriers to meet my needs? Am I able to problem solve and find resolutions on my own, or are there resources that may be able to help me? Do I need any supports to help me feel more secure? Identifying your personal needs and any current barriers, will allow you the opportunity to develop an understanding of the elements that will be necessary as you establish your new routine. Your needs will not be identical to those of your friends or family. You have to respect your individuality and create a support plan that provides you a sense of security, knowing it is unique to you. Routines are important because, once again, we humans like a sense of predictability. Make sure to incorporate positive activities during times of stress. See below for some beneficial activities to reduce stress.

During this unprecedented historical event, you have the opportunity to move beyond your perceived limitations. When you choose to pay attention to your emotions respectfully, you take power away from the event, and give it back to yourself. You begin to recognize, “I cannot control the world around me, but I can control how I respond by taking care of myself when times are challenging”. You have the ability to consider opportunities during times of adversity. What will you do with this opportunity?

How do you want to remember 2020 and your response to the stress of a global pandemic?
My hope is that, despite the disruption and undeniable fears associated with COVID-19, you will dare to seek opportunity, and develop fortitude, by challenging yourself to attend to your unique emotional needs with compassion and kindness, seeking support from others when challenges feel too cumbersome to manage alone. You are not alone, and if you feel you need support, talk to a friend or family member, or consider resources such as the Crisis Text Line, by texting TALK to 741741 or National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK. For additional information about how to cope, please check out NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) or the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). There are also many helpful apps, including Headspace, Mindshift, Breath2Relax and ReliefLink.

While respecting the need to have “social distance,” try your best to not close your hearts to others. Find ways to connect with friends, family and your community. We do not have to be in physical proximity to feel the power and benefit of social relationships. Get creative and remain united!


“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
J.K. Rowling


Activities to calm uneasiness during times of stress:

    • Journal about how you are feeling or coping with the recent changes in your life.
    • Get outside: Make an effort to notice your environment. Pay attention to your senses. What does the air feel like on your face? What does the air smell like? Can you describe your surroundings with descriptive words, as if you were a reporter?
    • Play a comforting or soothing playlist.
    • Have a screen-free day.
    • Limit how much you watch the news or mindlessly spend time on social media.
    • Go for a walk.
    • Take a bath or shower, adding essential oils or even bubbles.
    • Talk with a friend or family member.
    • Do something creative.
    • Learn a new skill (a new hobby or interest, or even a foreign language or instrument).
    • Focus on breathing.
      • Try the box breath technique: Breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4, and repeat.
      • Try belly breathing by placing one hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in, careful to only activate and fill your abdomen (your hand on your belly should rise, hand on chest should not move), exhale release with pursed lips (hand on your belly should lower and can gently push in to help release all the air). Repeat 3-10 times.