Recognizing Dignity & Respect Champion: Lisa Strother Upsher

Lisa Strother Upsher, the Minority Organ Tissue   Transplant Education Program Director at the Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE), is faced with resistance everyday. It’s her job to inform and persuade, and sway opinions when possible. Paula K. Davis,  D&R Champion   previously recognized for her work with diversity recruitment at the University of Pittsburgh, says this about Lisa Strother Upsher, “Lisa must navigate people’s faith, tradition, beliefs about their very being, and their perceptions of death and dying in outlining why they should consider registering as donors.” “People sometimes can’t see past the misperceptions of being an organ donor,” Lisa states. She quells these concerns and raises awareness by conducting ongoing community-based education presentations.  Some people need to be approached six or seven times through presentations at work, school, community, and even church before they understand the value of being an  organ  donor.

Lisa has the persistence to do this, and she developed it early on. She was born in West Virginia, the baby of 13 children. With seven other girls and five boys, Lisa had to be persistent just to be heard. A self proclaimed “minister’s kid,” she grew up in a small but diverse area of Italian, Polish, and African-American ancestry.  Lisa feels that growing up in a small community where “everyone knows everyone,” provided her with a safety zone to develop into who she is. She has always worked in jobs related to health disparity in the multi-cultural community. She spent 15 years as a field manager for Healthy Start, Inc., another non-profit, where she developed and trained community outreach workers. Lisa has been working at CORE for five years, where she finds her work not only rewarding, but challenging in her everyday interactions with people. “When you treat others the way they want to be treated, then you make people feel valued and respected and you can change everything for the greater good”, Lisa states. She continues, “A greater diversity of donors can increase access to transplantation for everyone.”   Although people of different races frequently match one another, compatible blood types and tissue markers that are critical qualities for matching, are more likely to be found among members of the same ethnicity. Paula K. Davis, who nominated Upsher as a Dignity & Respect Champion says, “Under-represented individuals suffer disproportionately from illness that may result in the need for transplantation. Discussions of what may happen to our bodies after dying is very uncomfortable. Lisa must discuss the benefit to the living while respecting the individual.” Lisa does this as she communicates to people the importance of being an organ donor and as she educates people against the myths and  misperceptions  of  organ  donation.  “The number one negative myth is that if you put ‘Organ Donor’ on your license, people are going to let you die.” Lisa states.  “The public needs to be made aware that this is irrational. Sometimes they need to hear it numerous times from institutions they respect, and places they trust, before they realize this, “she adds. Lisa’s job is to educate people how untrue this myth is. And she will do just that, no matter how many times it takes.

Do you know an individual who makes a positive impact and promotes an environment of inclusion? If so,  nominate   the person in your life you feel has made a difference for the Dignity & Respect Champion Award! This prestigious award recognizes people who are engaged in their communities, live by the principles of dignity and respect, and promote an environment of inclusion.

A Special Holiday Thank You to Those That Lend a Hand!

Everyone needs help now and again.  We’ve all been there.  And when someone helps us out, it can mean the world.  It fills us with hope and inspires us to be better people in return.  This holiday season, let us celebrate selflessness and altruism by being grateful to all the helpers in our lives.  If someone lent a hand to you this year, now is the perfect time to say Thank You!

The Dignity & Respect Campaign invites you to post your stories about how someone lent a hand to you made all the difference.  This is your opportunity to thank those special people in your life and encourage our Fans and Followers to reach out and Lend a Hand this holiday season.  The smallest act of kindness just like the largest act of philanthropy, can change lives.  Have you ever received a greeting card or kind voicemail on the very day you needed a pick-me-up the most?  Maybe someone cooked you a meal without even knowing times were tough.  Or maybe you have a secret benefactor whose anonymous help changed your prospects and your attitude.  Whatever your story, large or small, share it with us!  Warm hearts by sharing your gratitude with us this holiday season.  Share your stories with us on our Facebook wall and remember Dignity & Respect Tip #5: Say Thank You!

Dignity & Respect Champion: Laurie MacDonald!

Laurie MacDonald, CEO and president of Center for Victims, was named the Dignity & Respect Champion of Greater Pittsburgh. She worked at Womansplace, a domestic violence center, for 10 years before the organization merged with the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime, this past July.

Nominated for the award by coworker Nicolas J. Hartman, Laurie has spent more than a decade working tirelessly toward the betterment of a diverse community.

“Through Laurie’s commitment to acknowledging the diversity of crime and victims of crime, we now have an agency providing services in a comprehensive fashion while appreciating and respecting the diversity of the victims it serves,” Hartman wrote in his nomination letter. “Laurie also has a personal approach to working with her employees, never shy to say hello and ask about our well-being,” Hartman wrote. “Laurie truly wants her staff to feel appreciated and enjoy the work that we do.”

Laurie said the most rewarding aspect of her work is getting to know so many different people. As a daughter of an Arab immigrant, she remembers her upbringing in McKeesport (she grew up two blocks from where Womansplace was established) as one marked by gender and racial discrimination.

“I learned a lot about discrimination and prejudice,” she said. “Female suppression was huge. You were expected to graduate high school and become a secretary.”

That atmosphere has changed, Laurie said, even if society still has a ways to go. As she knows, people are still hurting one another.

During the past 10 years, Laurie admits, she can’t say she’s seen even a modest decrease in the number of women seeking shelter from violence. But she has watched the population she’s served-first through Womansplace and now through the Center for Victims-become more diverse.

Abused women aren’t hiding in the shadows-at least not as often.

“Domestic violence happens to everyone, but the way it’s dealt with in the community is different,” Laurie said, adding that in some cultures, traditionally, women are more reluctant to use community resources. “It’s not as taboo to seek help [now].”
Womansplace, based in McKeesport, helped reach an underserved community that was less likely to access resources based in the city, Laurie said. Center for Victims casts the net wider, offering women and men in Allegheny County a 24-hour help line for “victim advocacy, crisis intervention, counseling, and community education programs to those impacted by all forms of violence and crime including, but not limited to: adult and child sexual assault; physical assault; child and elder abuse; homicide; robbery; and burglary,” according to the group’s website. “It’s good for our clients,” she said. “It’s more of a one-stop shop.”

Laurie’s optimism baffles some, she said. It’s not that she doesn’t see, first-hand, the casualties of abuse-indications that the values of dignity and respect haven’t taken hold in all of us.

Friends sometimes ask her how she can do the work she does without being depressed all the time. Her response is simple.

“If you think you’re not making progress– you are.”Do you know an individual who makes a positive impact and promotes an environment of inclusion? If so, nominate the person in your life you feel has made a difference for the Dignity & Respect Champion Award! This prestigious award recognizes people who are engaged in their communities, live by the principles of dignity and respect, and promote an environment of inclusion.

How Will You Lend a Hand?

The Dignity & Respect Campaign hopes you had a great Thanksgiving and wishes you the very best holiday season!  As we approach the winter holidays, giving back is on our minds.  How have you lent a hand to someone in need?  We want to be inspired by your ideas.  If you have a great story on how you helped someone out or how pitching in impacted your community, now is the time to share it with the world and encourage others to lend a hand for the holidays.How are you planning to give back this holiday season?  If you are planning a food drive, hosting a charity event, or cheering up a relative in a nursing home, tell us about it!  If you have an inventive way to spread Dignity & Respect during the holidays, let us know.   Share your ideas on how to lend a hand this holiday season and you may inspire others to do the same.  Share your stories with us on our Facebook wall and let’s make this the season of giving back!

Lend a Hand This Holiday Season

  One of the most beneficial and rewarding aspects of the Dignity & Respect Campaign is centered around Tip 29: Lend a Hand.  Whether it’s volunteering at a food shelter, helping a neighbor rake leaves or shovel snow,  or even donating clothing you don’t wear, it is usually the little things you do that can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Below are some examples of how you can lend a hand. If you have any ideas or personal success stories about lending a hand in your community, share them with us on our Facebook or Twitter pages!
Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway – Steeler Nation Joins Dignity & Respect Campaign to Help Families in Need Celebrate Thanksgiving  > Learn More
Clean-up Drives – Throughout the year, local Dignity & Respect Councils are involved in organized clean-up drives through community. Start a clean-up drive your community!
Donation Days or Days of Service – The Dignity & Respect Campaign encourages collaborations with United Way, schools, food banks, faith-based organizations, and community organizations. Participate in an existing day of service, collect some canned goods or gently worn items, select an organization, gather a few friends or colleagues, and lend a hand to an organization that needs you.

Holiday Drives – Partner with a shelter to donate food, gifts, or time. Bring others some holiday cheer this season!

Take Five: Nominate a Champion!

Nominate an individual or organization you believe reflects the qualities of a D&R Champion. You can nominate more than one D&R Champion. Nominations will be accepted from October 1- October 31, 2012 (11:59pm PST). Each individual and organization nominated will be featured on the D&R website and facebook page as a 2012 D&R Champion.

■Identify the individual and/or organization you would like to nominate.
■Submit nomination on facebook –
or via email –

To Nominate an Individual:
D&R Champion qualities of an INDIVIDUAL:
■             Practices the 30 Tips of Dignity & Respect
■             Models inclusive behaviors
■             Gives back to others

Nominate on Facebook
■             Post an appropriate photo of the nominee on facebook.
■             Please tag the nominee on facebook photo, if nominee is on facebook.
■             In the “write something…” box, please provide a brief example of how the individual exemplifies each of D&R Champion qualities for an individual listed above.

Nominate via email
■             Provide a brief example of how the individual exemplifies each of D&R Champion qualities of an individual listed above.
■             Attach an appropriate photo of the individual.
■             Please include (cc:) the nominee on your email submission, if you have email address.

To Nominate an Organization: 
D&R Champion qualities of an ORGANIZATION:
■             Demonstrates leadership commitment to maintain culture of dignity and respect
■             Creates an inclusive workplace
■             Practices its own organizational values

Nominate on Facebook
■             Post a logo or photo from the organization on facebook.
■             Please tag the nominee on facebook photo, if nominee is on facebook.
■             In the “write something…” box, please provide a brief example of how the organization exemplifies each of D&R Champion qualities of an organization listed above.

Nominate via email
■             Provide a brief example of how the individual exemplifies each of D&R Champion qualities of an organization listed above.
■             Attach logo or photo from the organization..
■             Please include (cc:) an organization contact on your email submission, if you have the email address.

Take Five: Request a D&R Month Proclamation

Request a D&R Proclamation. Create visibility about your city’s or county’s commitment to dignity and respect by submitting a proclamation. Consider your proclamation request an opportunity to identify yourself as a citizen committed to the principles of dignity and respect for your community. 

1. Contact a local city and council elected official to request a proclamation.
2. Create your D&R Proclamation request using our downloadable templates available here:
o   Draft a cover letter.
o   Include draft of 2012 D&R Proclamation.
o   Include supporting materials such as our 30 Tips Brochure and other Proclamations
3. Mail or hand deliver your cover letter, draft Proclamation and supporting materials. 
4. Once signed, pick up the Proclamation in person – that way, it can’t be damaged or lost in the mail and you can personally thank the person who helped you out – you may want to do this again. 
5. Submit proclamation to

August’s Dignity & Respect Champion: Rick Allison


Congratulations to Rick Allison, August’s Dignity & Respect Champion!

Growing up in a small town and working at the same place for thirty years might seem the height of convention. Rick Allison shatters that notion. Allison, who has worked at Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) for thirty years, grew up in Derry, Pennsylvania, a Westmoreland County community of less than 3,000 residents. He now lives in Point Breeze and helps organize a monthly bingo night in Oakland that is anything but traditional.

“I’ve been very out and gay at the college for all my professional career,” Allison said. “I’m out in everything that I do. I think that you have to lead by example and give people an opportunity to know you and trust you and understand.”

Allison was recently named a Dignity & Respect Champion of Greater Pittsburgh in recognition of his support of the local lesbian and gay community. In addition to supporting gay-straight alliances at CAC’s Boyce Campus, where he serves as Dean of Academic Affairs and Coordinating Dean of Allied Health, Allison has volunteered for the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, the Shepherd Wellness Community, and the Gay and Lesbian Community Center (GLCC), where he formerly served as the board chair.

Regarding the bingo night – OUTrageous Bingo, which is held monthly at Rodef Shalom in Oakland – Allison said “it ain’t your grandmother’s bingo.” The event, which features drag queen performances and other twists, draws nearly 500 people each month and has helped to raise almost half a million dollars for GLCC and Shepherd Wellness Community over the past 15 years.

“The interesting thing about it is that over the years it’s become so mainstream that almost half of our audience is straight people,” Allison said. “It’s really kind of neat, because people are comfortable on both sides.”

For Allison, the values of dignity and respect are ingrained in his work. As an academic administrator with a background in health care, and as a member of the gay community, Allison is keenly aware of the need for openness and inclusion in social environments.

“I think that’s the most important part – whether it’s my students or it’s a kid at the community center or somebody who’s going through an acknowledgement of their sexual orientation – just to know that there are other people like them and people that are willing to listen.”

People active in the local lesbian and gay community, such as Alan Jones of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, have praised Allison’s dedication. “He has done everything from cleaning and painting to fundraising for the [GLCC],” said Jones, who nominated Allison to be recognized as a Dignity & Respect Champion. “He has also personally donated money and needed items to the center … he is the greatest!”

Under Allison’s leadership, the GLCC was able to raise an additional $100,000 to move the center to the current location at 210 Grant Street providing more usable space, accessibility, better proximity to public transportation, and public visibility downtown Pittsburgh.

Allison, humbling himself, said he could think of plenty others more deserving of the award. He’s just happy to play a small part in a movement toward social acceptance for lesbian and gay people.

“It’s gotten better,” Allison said, “but we still have a long way to go. We still see bullying in the schools, but we also see adults who are bullying lesbian and gay kids. It’s just great to see that everybody seems to be pulling together to try to work against that now. I can’t help but be optimistic and think it’s going to get better.”

Do you know an individual who makes a positive impact and promotes an environment of inclusion? If so, nominate the person in your life you feel has made a difference for the Dignity & Respect Champion Award! This prestigious award recognizes people who are engaged in their communities, live by the principles of dignity and respect, and promote an environment of inclusion.

Make this School Year Bully-Free!


We are already in August, and that means school is just around the corner for people in certain parts of the country. As we prepare for another school year, here are a few ways you can help protect your children from being bullied in the upcoming year:

1. Ask school officials and teachers about what they do to prevent bullying and hold schools accountable for their anti-bullying policies.

2. Watch for warning signs in children at the start of the new school year, such as sudden changes in behavior and not eating.

3. When you see bullying behavior, call it bullying and tell your children that it’s unacceptable behavior.

4. Discuss bullying with your children. Use real situations, news stories, television programs and movies as opportunities to talk about bullying.

5. Regularly ask children about bullying and address any problem immediately.

6. If your child is being bullied, letting them know you understand and share their distress can help them feel better.

7. Discuss and/or role play possible responses to bullying, such as walking away, not showing emotion, staying in groups to avoid being singled out, and confronting a bully.

8. Do some self-assessment. If you use intimidation in your dealings with others, you may be setting a bullying example for your child. Or if you’re bullied by other adults and don’t put a stop to it, your child will believe that’s the way to respond to bullies.

Read more here:

July’s Dignity & Respect Champion: Gwen Watkins

Congratulations to Gwen Watkins, July’s Dignity & Respect Champion!  

At first, Gwen Watkins wasn’t clear on why she should be collecting pet food donations for people who might not be feeding themselves.
People for Pets, a University of Pittsburgh program Watkins helps coordinate, does just that. And while Watkins may have struggled with the concept at the start– thinking it more important to feed the people themselves–4,000 pounds of pet food later, she has a different perspective.
“When you think about it, sometimes people will go out of their way to buy food for their pet, and they’ll go without,” Watkins said. “And why do they do that? That pet may be their source of companionship or their source of protection. You learn to care about the dignity of a personwho is in need and be respectful of them. And I think it’s an honor to be asked to do that.”
Watkins, who is the events coordinator for community service in Pitt’s Office of Community and Governmental Affairs, was named a Dignity & Respect Champion this month. In her work at Pitt, she develops partnerships with community food banks, clothing drives and other initiatives such as People for Pets, mobilizing more than 400 university volunteers. Even with such a large volunteer base, she always sees the need for an extra pair of hands.
“The projects that I’ve had the privilege and the opportunity to work with–I don’t just coordinate them. I physically go and do it,” Watkins said. “I can talk about people being hungry. But unless I actually go down to the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and serve, then I really don’t get an understanding of what people [are going through.]”
According to Anne Franks, a coworker who nominated Watkins, she works tirelessly for the good of the community. “She is dedicated to helping others who need support,” Franks said. “Gwen shows her care and respect for others in everything she does, and encourages us to do the same.”
Watkins has been at Pitt for nearly 42 years. A Pittsburgh native, she currently lives in Penn Hills. She credits her faith as the bedrock of her community sensibility. 
 “I really count it a privilege that God used me in any way to help people,” she said, “and I count it a joy, too.” Beyond privilege and joy, Watkins said helping others is also a duty, something she feels compelled to do as one among many.
 “You can look away, if you want,” she said. “But when you don’t look away, and you look and really see the need that people have, it should do something to you. It should stir something up inside of us to help other people who are in need.”
Do you know an individual who makes a positive impact andpromotes an environment of inclusion? If so, nominate the person in your life you feel has made a difference for the Dignity & Respect Champion Award! This prestigious award recognizes people who are engaged in their communities, live by the principles of dignity and respect, and promote an environment of inclusion.