Posts Tagged ‘Success’

*This was originally posted on the blog Exhale is Pro-Voice*

On Friday, June 17th, Exhale Executive Director Aspen Baker participated in a panel presentation at Netroots Nation entitled “FTW: Social Networks, Down & Dirty for Change.” Assembled by 16 & Loved architect Deanna Zandt, the panel also included Cheryl Contee from Fission Strategy, Anita Jackson from Moms Rising, and Rachel LaBruyere from Mobile Commons and explored case studied of social media successes. Aspen Baker presented the 16 & Loved campaign to a standing-room only crowd, exploring campaign goals, media reaction, and lessons learned. You can watch the whole panel discussion below [a new browser window will open]:

Panel attendees also helped generate quite a bit of buzz on social media about the presentation while it was happening, and you can read some of their Tweets below:

Thank you to all who attended and helped us grow the conversation through social media and beyond! If you’re not already following Exhale on Twitter and Facebook, we hope you’ll join us there in the Pro-Voice

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*This post first appeared on the blog for MAG-Net.org, the Media Action Grassroots Network, a project of the Center for Media Justice.

After an abortion, women who want to connect personally with others who share their experience face incredible social and political challenges, such as stigma, judgment and manipulation. They risk losing their job or straining relationships with friends and family.

Yet, the desire to share stories and feel connected to others who understand is so strong that a woman will take great risks with the hope that her voice will be heard and that she will no longer feel alone.

At the recent National Conference on Media Reform, Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice spoke in a workshop on how to use mobile phones for social change. She shared with us that technology is so much more than a tool for organizing or politics.  When a woman living as an inmate in a federal prison pays $7.00 every time she calls home to hear her daughter’s voice; or an African immigrant in New York pays $5 for a phone card he’s promised will give him twenty minutes with his family back home, only to have his time cut short after 5 minutes, technology becomes a matter of human dignity. Malkia reminded all of us attending the workshop that we love technology because “we love to connect.” We call, text, tweet, and email not because we love our gadgets, but because our gadgets help us meet a deep, human need for personal connection.

Exhale, an organization created by and for women who have had abortions, uses technology to facilitate connection and communication between women who have had abortions; and to shape public conversations about our personal experiences with abortion. Our pro-voice programs offer women who have had abortions the opportunity to speak for themselves – to tell their own stories, in their own words and in the forums of their choice – and feel heard with dignity and respect. (more…)

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I was honored to be invited by the Development Executives Roundtable to share Exhale’s experiences with major donor fundraising on April 20, 2010.

In this edited video, I share the challenges that Exhale faces and what it looks like when we do major donor fundraising right.

I was honored to receive the following feedback:

“I hope you could feel the energy and admiration in the room yesterday, as I did, as you described the work you do with EXHALE.  Many of those who attended yesterday were from small organizations, and you were an especially uplifting and encouraging force for them.  But you were for me, too.  Especially when I heard that Rush Limbaugh ranted against you!  One attendee told me how much it meant to her to finally hear from someone who works and raises money in very challenging circumstances and for a very challenging mission.  And who is succeeding. You are an inspiration.” – Marjorie Winkler, ACFRE
Fundraising Consulting & Interim Management

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I founded Exhale in 2000 with four other women. I was 24-years old and a recent college graduate with a resume that included 14-years worth of jobs doing newspaper delivery, babysitting, waitressing, hostessing, baristing, bartending, housekeeping, and a short stint running the front office of an Alaskan bush-flying service. After completing 5-years of college (from three schools in two states), I was ready to continue with my life’s adventures and was working on landing a new job in Antarctica.

But, then, something I did not expect happened. I got pregnant. Then, I had an abortion. And I personally experienced how the politics of the debate had left women and their loved ones behind. The debate seemed less to do with exploring the role of abortion in our lives and more about trying to prove the other side wrong. I wondered what was possible if this trend was abandoned and replaced by efforts to build something positive and life-affirming.

I decided to try. The something eventually became Exhale and ten years later I am proud to continue serving as its Executive Director.

The story of my abortion and how it led me to found Exhale is well-documented, but this story is just one small piece of what has led me to build an effective organization with such a unique mission. The last ten years have been filled with enormous challenge, breathtaking inspiration, rigorous work and intense self-reflection towards my goal of practicing sustainable leadership with impact.

I have learned a lot about leadership. Leadership is not a paid position, a reward for doing something special, or another way to describe being in charge. Leadership is earned when we take responsibility and give top performance in everything we do. It has been a rewarding ten years of leadership at Exhale and I am thrilled to share some of what I’ve learned, overcome and celebrated.

Here are my Top 10 Leadership Highlights at Exhale in the 000’s.


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On November 28, 2009, the New York Times Sunday edition featured an editorial “In Support of Abortion, It’s Personal vs. Political” in the Week in Review. While there were some things I liked about this editorial, there was much to dislike. First and foremost being the fact that Post-Roe women are defined only by what we have NOT experienced, not defined by what we have experienced. Instead of going on and on about what bugged me about this article, I decided instead to re-write it, the way that I believe it should be written. This article reflects elements of my vision for how the changing landscape of the abortion debate should be investigated and reported. This is a work of fiction, which means I have created new lines of dialogue and quotes from actual people listed in the original article – what I wish they would say from a strength and asset-based perspective, instead of the deficit-approach featured.


“In Support of Wellbeing, Abortion Matters to Women & Families”
By Cheryl Straight Stobilt

In 1999, an airline pilot’s daughter named Aspen Baker was attending college in Northern California when she had a safe and legal abortion at a local hospital. She had been raised a pro-life Christian in Southern California and while she never believed she could make a pregnancy decision for another person, she never believed she would have an abortion herself, until she did. While she was relieved when the procedure was finally over, she found herself with a lot of difficult emotions about the experience and because of the stigma and politics surrounding her decision she was unable to find someone who would listen to her, without judgment or bias.

Today, Aspen Baker is the Founder and Executive Director of Exhale, an organization whose mission is to create a more supportive and respectful social climate around personal experiences with abortion and which runs a national, multilingual post-abortion talkline. At 33-years old, Baker is a member of what many feminist leaders call the “Third Wave,” though Ms. Baker rarely uses the term herself.


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A woman who has had an abortion and who goes online in search of support and connection will undoubtedly find everything that is wrong with the abortion debate in this country. Shame, stigma, anger, violence, and judgment around abortion are the status quo online. Imagine if instead each woman found what she really needs: respect and understanding. Exhale envisions a better online world for women and their loved ones post-abortion and we need your help!

Exhale is in the running to receive a free, new website through the Free Range Youtopia Grant program, worth $15,000! There are more than 400 great ideas competing for the prize, and we need your vote!

Vote for Exhale today and you will take us one-step further towards our goal of a new social website that champions listening, promotes storytelling and builds empathy for every woman who has had an abortion.


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One of my Exhale co-founders, Carolina De Robertis, started working on her first novel about the same time we founded the organization. Nine years later, that novel, The Invisible Mountain, is now available. It’s getting great reviews from Elle, Publisher’s Weekly and more. It’s a story about 3 generations of Uruguayan women and I was lucky to be one of the first readers on the first draft many years ago.

“Marvelous…bold…filled with songs both ecstatic and tragic.”
– Cristina García, author of Dreaming in Cuban

“Incantatory…This visionary book beautifully, bravely opens all the old secrets.”
– Lisa Shea, Elle

“Enchanting, funny, and heartbreaking…extraordinary”
– Publishers Weekly

“Lush…lyrical…beautifully wrought”
– Kirkus Reviews

– Booklist

I cannot be more proud and excited for Carolina’s tremendous accomplishment. I’ve never met a more disciplined writer, confident in her craft, lyrical in her approach, and thoughtful with her characters. I cannot imagine the huge challenge of writing such a beautiful novel and the thrill of success that I hope she is able to experience in every moment.

I hope you buy it, read it and love it!

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I couldn’t agree more.

Glamour Magazine is well on its way to becoming my favorite magazine of all time. It was just a few short months ago that they featured the stories of women post-abortion. Now, they seek advice from experts on conflict resolution in order to create a more “thoughtful and productive dialogue” in a special editorial on page 207 of their September issue (featuring Jessica Simpson on the cover).

Glamour Mag’s Top 5 Tips for Productive Dialouge include:

Respect the Other Side. Believe others care like you do.
Go Ahead. Make it About You. Tell a Personal Story.
Wait. Listen Really Listen (not just wait to talk).
Don’t Let it Escalate No Hate Speech.
Realize the Debate Is Worth It. We can all grow from these experiences.

Sure looks to me like Glamour Magazine is practicing a Pro-Voice approach to their abortion coverage.

But not all dialogue happens in person. These days more dialogue is taking place online. That’s why back in April, Exhale published 5 Tips to be Pro-Voice Online to support the online organizing of peace-makers and pro-voice advocates.

If you agree with me and Glamour Magazine that its time to create abortion peace, then practice the 5-steps for peace outlined by Glamour, and head online with these 5-tips to be Pro-Voice from Exhale:

Be Authentic
Be Respectful
Avoid Jargon
Remember Your Readers
Practice Self-Care

Together, we can, as Glamour Magazine says, “learn to talk about our differences.”

Michael John Aloi, the President-elect of the Assocation for Conflict Resolution, wisely asserts that “being able to have meaningful discussions with someone whose beliefs are the opposite of yours can be rewarding. You can grow from it. You can become more tolerant – just be listening. And that’s its own reward.”

Thanks Glamour. Keep it up! Can’t wait for the next Pro-Voice article.


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Ten years ago this week, I had an abortion.

At the time, as most of my readers know by now, there was very little attention paid to the emotional experiences of women post-abortion. Some clinics provided counseling sometimes, but there was no universally-accepted standard of emotional care being promoted or adopted by abortion or other reproductive health providers. Some research on women’s emotions around abortion had been done, but mostly it was done to determine if abortion alone could cause mental illness. It doesn’t. There was basically no political discussion, public message or communications strategy intended to honor or reflect the diverse emotional experiences women have with abortion. Instead, most pro-choice political advocates, when called to comment on women’s emotional experiences said some version of: “most women feel relief.” Not untrue. But not enough.

This was the landscape into which I entered the “world of all things abortion-related” when me and my co-founders decided to start Exhale. These were the problems we saw. We addressed them with a three-tiered strategic response:

1) to provide direct emotional support to women post-abortion and help others do the same;

2) advocate for increased research on women’s emotional experiences with abortion to create more understanding and acceptance and;

3) to shift the public and political discussion around abortion so that it is based in women’s real, lived experiences.

As advocates and leaders, it can often be hard to see, or document, your impact on the mission you set out to achieve. Over the last 10-years, there are many things that I can look back upon and say, that as a result of Exhale, something has changed. I can think about all the women and men who found someone to listen when no one else would by calling Exhale. I think about all the amazing volunteers who have been a part of growing our organization and the personal and professional rewards they have experienced as a result of their contributions. I think about every pro-voice article and blog post that let women know they matter, that their voices, feelings and experiences matter. I think about the chills I get every time I hear someone else say “pro-voice” or “women who have had abortions” or “the emotional experience of abortion” because none of these things were accepted, understood or important topics of public conversation. All of these things help me see the difference Exhale has made over the last 10-years since I had my abortion.

Exhale was able to make this difference because so many people cared to be a part of making change. Women and men from all walks of life saw the value – or personally experienced the need for – listening to the voices of women after abortion. These people came to Exhale to serve as volunteers, board members, staff, consultants, donors, allies, advocates and ambassadors. Or perhaps, they never came directly to Exhale because they found a way to carry the message in their own way because it was their message all along. The idea of pro-voice – of listening to the voices of those most impacted by an issue, of those who have lived it – is not a new concept, it just hadn’t been applied to abortion recently.

I am also proud of how Exhale has become a place for kindred spirits to gather together in order to use our individual strengths and talents to pursue a shared mission, a shared goal. Together, we have truly become champions for women who have had abortions and for their voices to shape the debate.

And, there is one thing, one change, one impact, in particular that makes me downright giddy. There is one thing that feels big, big, big and super duper important. Its exactly the kind of thing I had hoped would happen and didn’t know exactly how to make it happen. It helps me see that change is always possible.

The Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health Program at UCSF has launched a whole research program area on the “Social and Emotional Aspects of Abortion.” Under this umbrella they have a number of different research projects designed to “contextualize and depolarize the debate around women’s emotional responses to abortion.”

This is how ANSIRH describes the program:

The Social and Emotional Aspects of Abortion (SEAA) Program is a collection of research projects aimed at understanding how women’s lived experiences of abortion are influenced by their own life situations; by the attitudes and actions of others; by viewpoints women encounter or expect to find in their immediate communities, in the media, or on the internet; and by judicial, political, religious, and scientific debates regarding abortion.

Projects in the SEAA program utilize both qualitative and quantitative research methods to investigate women’s anticipated feelings about having an abortion, the feelings they experience during their abortion care and afterward, the availability, timing and types of social and emotional support for women who have abortions, and the challenges that abortion providers face in meeting women’s social and emotional needs related to abortion care. Projects in the SEAA program are also concerned with social stigma surrounding abortion and how women experience and manage stigma when they have had an abortion.

Ten years after my abortion, the emotional experience of women who have had abortions is front and center in reproductive health research.

Yeeee hawwwww!!!!

Ten years from now, I look forward to pointing out how women’s voices are front and center in the abortion discussion.

Double Yeee Hawwww!!!

Celebrate with me!

This celebration would not be complete without recognizing one person in particular: Tracy Weitz, the Director of ANSIRH. You can’t run a program if you can’t fund it, and you can’t fund it unless you fundraise for it, and you won’t fundraise for it unless you prioritize it. To Tracy – thank you for making it a priority!

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I am beyond thrilled to announce that Exhale has earned the Excellence in Nonprofit Volunteer Management Award from the Volunteer Center of the Bay Area. We are honored to share the distinction with another fabulous organization, Reading Partners.

I will publish an interview with Kristen Schultz Oliver, Exhale’s Lead Trainer, and volunteer coordinator extraordinaire next week. Kristen can fill us all in on what it takes to run an award-winning volunteer program!

What a great way to cap off Exhale’s weeklong celebration of National Volunteer Week!

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