When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.

Mr. Rogers

Even with the helpers to help recover and heal, we still need to better protect communities in the first place so that the scary things on the news are reduced to those scary things out of our control.

Helpers aren’t always the people on the ground immediately following a scary thing. Often, they’re advocates. Be a helper TODAY. Because every day we don’t assume the role as helper, more scary things happen.

Interview: Will Sakran, Product Engineer / Inventor

When I moved to New York, I learned of a fun group of buddies calling themselves MetroMetro who, among other things, hosted Board Game Olympics, which clearly I attended often. This is how I met Will Sakran, who was among the organizers and who I also learned is also a thoughtful entrepreneur. I interviewed him about his new product Toobalink, a product manufactured through Metre Ideas and Design that connects together paper towel and toilet tissue tubes to build kid-sized structures. Here’s what I learned:

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Jen Bokoff: Toobalink’s so smart but so simple! What sparked this idea for you?

Will Sakran: I’m happy you feel that way about it, because we think that’s the real beauty of the idea.  It’s one of those ideas where people say, “I can’t believe no one thought of this earlier!” The initial concept came from a clever and talented industrial designer that I work with named Sara Ebert. As a student at Pratt, she took a class that focused on classic play and came up with the idea while observing children play with everyday objects around the house. It was around this time I left my job as an engineer in the toy industry to start my own product design company. I thought the concept was brilliant with lots of potential, so we teamed up with me handling the final design, productization, and manufacture.

JB: How did you settle on the final design and colors? Are you a Mets fan? 

WS: I do like the Mets, but that didn’t have any bearing on the color scheme. Sorry. [Editors note: As a Yankees fan, I’m relieved.] The very first prototypes were blue and orange and it felt right from the start. There’s definitely something about orange that feels “construction-y”. The final shade of blue is not quite at dark as what was originally planned, but it was always blue and orange together. As for the design itself, it’s quite different from where we started. The original concept used fixed parts that were more like pipe fittings – there was an elbow piece, a straight connector piece, a cross piece, and so on. I was concerned that this approach would limit what kids could actually build, and I didn’t want to manufacture ten different parts to make the product work, so I starting thinking about how to make it modular. In the end, there are five unique parts which can be put together in any combination to make the fittings that you need. Then you pop the paper tubes onto the fittings.

JB: What do you like to build with a Toobalink starter kit? Any favorite design or type of structure?

WS: Just putting the Toobalink pieces together is really fun, I think – seeing what combinations there are and what you can do with them. I also like the idea of building without a goal in mind, and I secretly hope that kids like this, too. You can absolutely make specific structures if you want to, but I like the abstract stuff. Just building.

JB: Toobalink tangibly feels to me like Tinkertoys, but recycling-friendly and more “DIY”.  How are you starting to market the product so it can reach the same scale?  

WS: Even though Toobalink is just hitting the market now, prototype versions have been shown at trade shows going back to January 2011. It’s been really well received, buyers are enthusiastic about it, and we got some great press. This gave the product a lot of early exposure and helped us build up a retailer base that was committed to stocking it once it became available. So it’s out there now in many specialty stores – gift shops, museum stores, that sort of thing. We’ll continue to do trade shows to reach more retailers, but now that Toobalink is out I’m turning my attention to reaching individual customers directly. This is mainly though online channels – the Toobalink.com site, Facebook, Twitter, and through really helpful people like you, Jen. [Editors Note: Awwwww!]

JB: If you had an afternoon to construct with Toobalink beyond your wildest dreams, what kids snack would best power you through? 

WS: Grilled cheese sandwiches and the occasional Hostess Ding Dong.

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A Toobalink starter package is available for purchase online now, so you should probably buy one. Or two. You can also find Will teaching at the Brooklyn Brainery, but that’s an interview for another day.

Chutes and Ladders: Not just a kids game anymore

Still playing Chutes and Ladders with the kids? Are you losing or feeling bored? Let math help you climb that ladder of enjoyment!

DataGenetics gives a fascinating mathematical breakdown of Chutes and Ladders. Learn what squares are most likely to land on, how many rolls will complete a game, and what would happen if you added more ladders.

Maybe it’s time for you host a game night with your buddies and throw this one back into the mix.

DataGenetics has other very cool board game analyses and more. Check it out.

Interview with Natalia Petrzela about intenSati, the Intrepid, and HealthClass 2.0

Natalia Mehlman Petrzela is an intenSati instructor, college professor, mom, and ambassador of awesome (just google her!). The next amazing event that she’s speaking at is less than two weeks away (March 11), and spots are filling up fast. I spoke with her about what it’s going to be like to celebrate our bodies and exercise in a high-powered workout-for-a-cause on the Intrepid.

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Jen Bokoff: I love that you’re having people sweat it out to benefit a good cause: HEALTHCLASS2.0. Can you share a bit about what makes this such an important cause?

Natalia Petrzela: HEALTHCLASS2.0 defines education and health broadly by focusing on learning about fitness and food as vectors to develop children’s reflective and decision-making capabilities, and to cultivate a strong sense of self. In each session, participants exercise, eat a healthy, locally-sourced snack, and engage in a thoughtful discussion of the food they are consuming. HC2.0 is a really interesting project because it brings together new work across the fitness, food and nutrition studies, and educational reform fields.

Supporting this kind of curriculum is crucial, because as schools have tighter budgets and increasing pressure to perform on high-stakes tests, programs that focus on wellness and social-emotional health are often dismissed as frills. Most HC2.0 sessions take place in Phys Ed classes during the school day, which sends a really important message about how this type of work is central to empowering students to do well in all areas of their lives, including academics. The concept that kids should work out and eat well is an old idea; plenty of programs support that notion. But, the fact that we teach intenSati and base our food curriculum around the 30 Project‘s philosophy is really different. Kids don’t just work out; they call out affirmations connected to a larger theme like making choices, or practicing self-care and appreciation. They don’t just learn some nutrition facts; they eat a healthful snack right there with us and talk about the experience, which is a real break from the common experience of mindlessly eating “whatever is there.” Discussions about food are related both to personal decisions and to bigger systemic issues, like the circumstances that make healthful food expensive and harder to access in certain neighborhoods. Finally, students are always equipped with strategies to integrate these lessons into their own lives through  the themes of the affirmations. By creating a really coherent learning experience, students will be engaged and empowered to be agents of change in their own lives and communities.

HC2.0 also provides a new model of the way higher education, private enterprise, and the public schools can partner in innovative ways. BlueprintJuice very generously provides the snacks and juice; The New School, where I teach, is where our college leaders are trained and get the intellectual foundation to be informed leaders; in working together with public school teachers, administrators, and students, it seems like we are really creating value in a new way.

JB: In intenSati, every workout begins with a conversation. What do you plan to talk about to kick off this event?

NP: HC2.0 co-founder Ellen Gustafson and I will kick off the event discussing the founding of HC2.0 and why an empowered approach to food and fitness is so crucial to changing ourselves and the world!

JB: The Intrepid is one of NYC’s most unique venues. How’d you lock it in for the biggest intenSati class ever?

NP: The director of events there had taken my class in the past and also knew I had done work on gender issues (the event is part of the boat’s “Salute to Women” celebration of Women’s History month), and asked me to teach the intenSati class to benefit a charity that had not yet been decided. I told her about HC2.0 and it seemed a perfect match!

JB: Can you give us a sneak peak of the affirmations we’ll be shouting out?

NP: Nope! It is a surprise that intenSati creator Patricia Moreno, who is teaching the class, will spring on us!

JB: As a university professor and intenSati leader, you clearly have a passion for helping people to realize their potential and be the best they can be. What’s the number one thing that motivates you?

NP: I adore my work as a scholar and an intenSati leader, and feel that this love pushes me not only to work very hard, but to feel exhilarated rather than exhausted by the process (most of the time!). If I can help others find their passions, and be a model of how the pursuit of excellence doesn’t have to be painful drudgery but instead, very exciting, then I feel I am adding something to the world!

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If you’re feeling amazing endorphins after reading this, come on March 11 and check out other intenSati classes, too! You can also follow Natalia on Twitter and ask to be put on her monthly email blasts.

There are too many songs about love. You never hear songs about beaches or cookies or peace or trees. Love is important, but I get a little sick of it.

Quinn, age 6ish

I couldn’t agree more.