Backpacks for Life

Brett, CPL. USMC   (Images in the article by Alexa Modero and the team at  Backpacks for Life ) 

Brett, CPL. USMC   (Images in the article by Alexa Modero and the team at Backpacks for Life

Brett D'Alessandro is a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps and a resident of Verona, NJ. After returning from active duty in Afghanistan and while working at his unit in Providence Rhode Island, Brett saw a homeless man who held a sign indicating that he was a Vietnam veteran.  That evening, Brett filled one of his own backpacks from his tour with some clothing and socks and gave it to the man the next morning. Some time later he saw a small child walking alongside the same man, wearing the backpack proudly. 

 "I stopped to say hello and the homeless man explained to me that his wife had become very sick and the warming layers were helping her tremendously. It was in this moment that I knew I wanted to help others get back on their feet and give them a second chance at life.”, Brett recounts.  And so Backpacks for Life was born. 

Supported by Co-Founders Alexa Modero and Kevin Clarke, the organization secures backpacks through donations and packs them with seasonal materials including toiletries, clothing, a notebook & pen, as well as resource pamphlets (where to find housing, insurance, jobs, etc.). Their mission is to provide homeless veterans with the basic life essentials that they cannot provide for themselves. With each backpack, they hope to not only provide homeless veterans with the things they need for daily living but also, give them hope and resources for the future. 

Founder Brett D'Alessandro and Co-Founders   Alexa Modero and Kevin Clarke at Stand Down Weekend in Rhode Island.

Founder Brett D'Alessandro and Co-Founders Alexa Modero and Kevin Clarke at Stand Down Weekend in Rhode Island.

Backpacks for Life is spreading their mission in the community. Since their launch in September, they've participated in Operation Stand Down's 'Stand Down Weekend' where they distributed 400 packs to veterans in need, hosted a Bocce Tournament raising $3,000 towards their mission, and packed backpacks with a troop of eager Brownies in New Jersey. Each and every pack distributed is distinct as it is marked with the Backpacks for Life patch, designed by Joanna Maher of Look North Inc. along with the logo, website, and branded identity materials. 

Co-founder Alexa Modero reflects on her journey thus far. "This experience of creating a nonprofit organization makes me realize everyone has the ability to leave this world better than how we found it. By supporting veterans who have fought for my freedom, I feel that this is my way of giving back to them. Its a truly humbling experience to see how appreciative and receptive homeless veterans are towards people willing to give them assistance."

While there is conflict and unrest at home and abroad, it is essential to remember the men and women who protect our nation and its people. We mustn't forget to support them after their formal duties have ended. The hardest battle for many is integrating back into civilian life. Backpacks for Life is providing a crucial service to forgotten veterans and we applaud them, but they need our help - to donate, visit their website. Interested in contributing materials, see what they provide in their packs.

& follow along with Backpacks for Life:

About Look North Inc. 

Look North is an award-winning creative and technology studio located in Montclair, New Jersey. What started as a curiousity of all things digital grew into a full-fledged obsession with modern communication tools and techniques. We encourage and actively participate in professional, community and personal organizations and initiatives including volunteer programs and non-profit work. 

We've been fortunate to work with alongside these three inspiring young people who are making an impact in the Veteran community.  Creative Director and Designer, Joanna Maher, was responsible for logo, website, identity, and collateral design. To work with Joanna and the team at Look North Inc, visit our website

Hello Trello

I love lists. Grocery lists especially, but really any kind of list will do. I enjoy the process of generating lists and crossing items off of them. When I complete something that was not on my list of to-do's, I scribble it in just so I can cross it off. It's not illegal in the list-making community. I have known others to do the same thing. 

List-making is integral to getting things done both personally and professionally for me. The research I have been doing at work on productivity supports this notion.  The main takeaway being I can only be as productive as my ability to identify, plan, and complete tasks. As anyone tackling a project ranging from planning a party to building a website can attest,  complex concepts can be broken down into digestible chunks that are more easily acted upon. We chip away, slowly but surely, until crossing off small tasks in succession equates to the completion of a greater whole. Where to maintain these lists, though, makes all the difference. 

While lists on scratch paper have never failed me, I needed something more robust to track to-do's and then complete them. My boss exposed me to Trello, a nifty application that allows you to manage projects in a space called a board. The boards are made of lists, and each list includes cards. Cards can move between lists by dragging.  They can be categorized, reordered, and assigned due dates. While Trello wasn't the perfect fit for organizing my work place, work spilled over into my personal life and it got me thinking about the list: a list of goals.

Writing goals down makes them real, and makes me accountable for achieving them. Not to forget before I can write them, I have to filter through the elaborate maze in my head and identify them...  I thought more realistically about it and came to the conclusion that if big changes are made of small tasks completed one after the other, I will just make a nice exhaustive list of the small stuff. The irony is one of my favorite reads of all time is "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff". A book of 100 useful tidbits for preventing small matters from taking over your life. But in this case, I want to be sweating the small stuff. Ah, the contradiction!! But as I said in this post, there is almost always a gray area. So, on to the small stuff.

I never really had concrete life goals. There were and are fundamental dreams I always hoped to come true, centered around family and contentment. Maslow's hierarchy with more embellishments. As for other spheres, I figured they would work themselves out. I took comfort in the notion that there was time in the abstract future to get it sorted. Having arrived at the great frontier that is young adulthood, I've had to take a new approach of making lists. 

I've taken to storing my lists in Trello. I have a list of Sentiments- little reminders about the things I believe and want to believe even when my perspective unravels. I have a Life list which will likely grow as I go, but at least the thoughts are stored somewhere. And I have Short term to-do's that will ideally help me complete the items on the life list. Some items on this list are just random but just as important like get an oil change, or as my mom would say, "get a haircut". I have a list called Doing, and my favorite list, Done. I move the cards throughout the lists as I am actively working on them, and then once they are finally completed. The cards in the Done list give me a sense of pride, and the cards yet to be done keep me focused on the journey ahead. 

While I will never abandon hand-written lists on dainty note paper, it's nice to know I have a backup.

HTML: How to make a living

"No matter how one may think himself accomplished, when he sets out to learn a new language, science, or the bicycle, he has entered a new realm as truly as if he were a child newly born into the world."  -Frances Willard, How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle

A quote lover, I found this a fitting one about the beauty of learning. There are many a splendid thing to explore in this world. If I channeled even an eighth of the energy I use worrying about nonsense and learned a new skill instead, I would probably be a force to reckon with! We all would.

I work with extremely capable web practitioners, and since joining the team I have been anxious to educate myself. Selfishly, I need to do so just to make sense of their conversations (totally foreign language), but more importantly, having been exposed to the ever changing fields of web design and development, I am uber curious as to how it all works.

My boss suggested an excellent resource called Codecademy so I could begin learning the fundamentals. Low and behold, the first course happens to be called, Web Fundamentals. In it, we cover elementary HTML and CSS. Grab your pencils (or Evernote)  because class is in session.

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. It is the primary coding language that makes up pages viewed in web browsers. Basically, everything that is viewed on the web exists as source code. You can think of HTML as being the skeleton that gives a website some structure. It is text that is governed by syntax, or the rules for communicating. The elements that make up HTML are tags and brackets. Tags are identifiers that tell the text that falls between them what to be and do. Typically tags come in pairs so there must be an opening and closing tag. 

What is super cool about HTML is that it can take boring, dreary text and turn it into other elements like images, links, lists, and tables. It must have a head and a body to operate. Thankfully, it is also very logical. It is essential that tags be open and closed in the right order. Think of it like LIFO, last in, first out. Use frequent line breaks and indents to organize the HTML file so that you are less likely to make errors. Guidelines and numbered lines make it like a long-running outline. No matter how complicated it becomes, you can maintain the structure.

I am only getting started, but already my Codecademy lessons coupled with much support from my colleagues have afforded me a solid foundation on the path to web competency. Just hoping not to exhaust my work friends as I make it a habit to bombard them with questions! I have this peculiar compulsion to understand how things work, or at least things that are relevant to me. And, since I spend quite a lot of time and mental energy at work, web development is definitely relevant. It’s going to be a long term investment in learning, partly because the field in itself is evolving literally everyday, but also because it is valuable if not necessary skillset to get acquainted with.

A Light from Ahead

Working for a passionate team of designers and developers, albeit a short while, has exposed me to a wealth of resources. Not only professionally enriching in nature (I have been taking lessons in HTML and CSS for the past few weeks now!), but also inspirational. A source I visit frequently, Happy Cog's Cognition, churned out this gem and I am so thankful for it that I must share: What I Wish I Had Known When I Graduated College.

It was affirming to hear calming words of reassurance from an established professional, who has already weathered the volatile years right out of school. She confirms that the unease myself and peers undeniably feel is quite prevalent, and that we are not alone in the fear that we have somehow failed, already. She provides a welcome light from ahead

I quit more than my fair share of jobs (3 to be exact. Yes 3, and don't you judge) Primarily, I quit because I knew I could not sustain something that  a) I was not passionate about or b) would not gradually lead to a state of contentment. I am well aware that good things take time and I am young, but in these positions I think I was going in reverse.  My dreams were somewhere far, far away atrophying. My brain was seemingly turning to mush while insensitive folks belittled my aspirations. Knowing what I do now, I would have lowered my expectations and concealed my emotions, but I am also quite pleased I left jobs that did not make me happy. For some, it is hard to walk away from something. I practically ran! And even in these jobs, I met some wonderful companions I keep in touch with to date and learned a lot about social constructs and life in general; there is always a silver lining. These lessons will serve me on into perpetuity. I vow to remember what it was like to be naive and afraid, as I proceed through my career.  

Beyond the work itself being poorly fitted to my strengths, I also thought I deserved to be treated with some degree of respect no matter how small my position was. Maybe I am too sensitive, or conversely some were way too insensitive. Either way, I cling tightly to the belief that all people share the sanctity of existence and should be treated as such. This is not always the case in our society, but I will maintain my position. 

An illness in my immediate family brought me from DC, home to New Jersey and I had the chance to start over in a way. A stint in nannying after these few hellish work experiences gave me some much needed reprieve from the aggression and misery I felt at work. I really quite enjoy adventures playing Mary Poppins. I got to dabble for a while and stumbled upon a Web Design firm looking for a Project Manager. It has been only a few months, but I could not be happier. The people I work with are passionate, capable, and supportive. They build me up rather than condemn ideas and fervor. They welcome my enthusiasm and desire to contribute, helping me develop new skills. The workplace is a collaborative environment and I am contented to be "working". I actually feel like a full-time learner. Furthermore, in web development and design there is a multitude to learn. So much, that this should keep me occupied for a long while, thankfully. My fancy degree in Marketing and Entrepreneurship taught me how to think strategically  and now it is time to hone a skill, to become a maker of something. Selling is important, but I want to create something new. It would also benefit me to patient and have respect for the winding road.

I know for a fact many of my peers can commiserate with me. Have a look at Sophie's article, andthank you Sophie for sharing your wisdom. It is a much appreciated and necessary message for my generation. College lessons, social pressures, and inflated expectations have bred us to expect success and prestige instantaneously. Instead if we commit to learning something new everyday, practice kindness, and endeavor to find the fulfillment we deserve, we can create our best selves. And maybe by committing to this sort of path, we are already a success. 

To echo Sophie, we'll be fine. 

An Apple a Day

Let’s be frank. I am as capable as any average computer using young adult of my generation. Word processing, spreadsheets, basic template adjustment, and Google apps. Yes, these things I can manage. A few college courses in Management Science and Information Systems have enabled me to be less than useless in using software to manipulate and present data. Proud to be able to teach my parents and grandparents some skills that were not really relevant during their youths, these are competencies I value. 

That being said though, there is quite a bit I certainly do not understand. I have always been a PC user. Not sure how that happened, but I would guess it was an arbitrary purchase when my parents decided it was time for me to have a laptop for doing schoolwork. I can carry out the essential functions in Microsoft well, and even fool an unsuspecting individual into believing I am savvy with certain suites. I can make a mean Powerpoint presentation. Although I have heard the broad appeal of Apple software, I have never been a Mac user myself, unless you count iPod and iPhone use.

Not one to back away from a challenge, I am enthusiastic to enter this environment. Let’s face it. To compete in our society. To cope at all really, it is essential to get somewhat familiar and comfortable with advancements in technology. Hence, my 85 year old grandpa and his proficiency in texting and Microsoft Publisher. Sure, he still asks my sister and I why we are always using Spacebook and My Face. And if Instagram is like a telegram. But that is to be expected. It’s a daunting undertaking to learn everything there is to know about anything, let alone something as complex as “technology”. Partly, because it is forever changing. Regardless, might as well endeavor to become more skilled or worse, miss the bandwidth wagon.

As luck would have it, this moderately skilled PC user has found herself in an Apple powered Creative and Technology studio. Despite an eagerness to learn and a sincere interest in the technology sector, I have gone through life quite successfully with limited awareness of things like Web design and development. Sure, I am a child of the Social Media age, but there is a huge difference between picking a blog theme and building a custom site from scratch. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. Before there is any ground breaking web work, I should probably learn how to use my Mac. 

I hope you enjoy this honest look at my journey, acclimating to a career in the Technology and Design sector. This is coming from a young lady that still writes to-do lists, rather than use a Smartphone task list, and sends a handmade greeting card in lieu of a Facebook message. I don’t tweet because I doubt anyone needs and/or even wants to know the every detail of my existence. Although maybe if my Nana used twitter, she would appreciate the immediate gratification of knowing where her loved ones were at all times. I am very fond of my Moleskin calendar and darling little stickers I use to highlight noteworthy events. Even if there is a Calendaring application that far exceeds pen and paper, I would hate to part with that day planner. I still read books. Actual books, like the ones with spines and pages, although I do have a Kindle I enjoy using in moderation. Cookbooks and magazines are other possessions I am hesitant to stop collecting. Just a look at what we are working with...