Morning Glory

Recently I discovered Kaga no Chiyo, a haiku poet from the 1700’s who stated to write at the age of seven. She did not know the word mentor at the time but she studied under two haiku masters who were also mentored by a great poet, Basho….I took this photo in Palos Verdes recently and I knew it had a message for me- I would like to introduce to you “Chiyo” When I was searching for words that would capture the beauty of this moment I found her and this amazing site that celebrated this woman of the 1700’s who mentored me many years later.

“One summer morning Chiyo the poetess got up early wishing to draw water from the well…She found the bucket entwined by the blooming morning glory vine. She was so struck…that she forgot all about her business and stood before it thoroughly absorbed in contemplation. The only words she could utter were ‘Oh, the morning glory!’ At the time, the poetess was not conscious of herself or of the morning glory as standing against [outside] her. Her mind was filled with the flower, the whole world turned into the flower, she was the flower itself…

Rick Dyer

Rick Dyer “right” paying tribute to his mentor Former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis at Over My Shoulder Foundation event

Dream Big, Boston

Rick Dyer, Stephen Powell, Patti Austin, Governor Michael Dukakis, Gary Greenberg, Dawn Carroll, Ted Fujimoto, Dave Connor, and Calvin Cherry.

I am proud to have been part of the amazing event “Designing the Next Generation” at the Liberty Hotel by the Over My Shoulder Foundation. The people attending represented the city’s best and brightest professionals representing the design community to the top lawyers and civic leaders. The very personal story of Rick Dyer was shared. Most people would write off that a boy so lost and pretty much a permanent resident of jail. Rick’s story is an inspiration about the power of not only being given a chance but the power of mentorship in giving him something powerful and positive to fight for. He is a prominent lawyer advocating for kids so they too can have something positive to fight for. There are so many different ways the story could have turned out if he was not given a chance, if he did not receive a pardon from then Governor Dukakis.

Kids like this are lost and wander our streets and in our school halls. They are smart and with amazing potential that have either been taken over by bad influences or snuffed out with uninspiring and non-engaging school environments. They have gone too long without any adult showing care or concern whether they do well or not. It is no wonder that every school day, about 7,000 students decide to drop out of school – a total of 1.2 million students each year – and only about 70% of entering high school freshman graduate every year. Approximately 2,000 of America’s high schools produce half of the nation’s dropouts. Without a high school diploma, young people are less likely to succeed in the workforce. Each year, our nation loses $319 billion in potential earnings associated with the dropout crisis. (Whitehouse Press Release, March 10, 2010).

Too much energy is focused exclusively on fighting what we are against–bad budgets, bad bureaucracy, bad teachers, and bad unions to a point that we do not know what we are fighting for. It’s time to fight to a great school in every neighborhood that prepares our children for the best opportunities in the world. It is time to fight for a great school in every neighborhood that knows how to inspire—and knows how to value mentorship not as a side program but integrated into the core of school. Schools like this will cut the dropout rate in half almost overnight. This may all seem like wishful thinking but there are nationally replicating school models. Around the country, communities are catching on and transforming and starting dozens of schools in a short period of time.

Imagine Boston in five years if the twice the number of children are successfully graduating with options to attend the best universities and colleges. Imagine Boston in five years if it were to double or even quadruple the number of students graduating with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) related degrees and entering the workforce. Boston would have to spend significantly less on social services and on the criminal justice system. Companies will have access to a larger qualified workforce to grow their business-making Boston an even more of an attractive place to locate and grow increasing revenues to the region.

We want schools that are truly modern and vibrant. Forget the boring lectures and teaching to test. Imagine where students are solving tough real world problems as part of their learning…where mentorship with industry professionals is not some add on program but integrated into their learning experience. At these schools, students will not only master the highest academic standards but also practice being leaders, using critical thinking skills to solve tough problems, develop a global perspective, and be master communicators…the skills needed to thrive in the best careers internationally.

This is achievable through the following specific actions:

1. Create or convert public schools into a cluster of 15 high performing STEM public middle and high schools using nationally replicating proven school models like New Tech Network, Big Picture Learning, Expeditionary Learning, International Baccalaureate schools. These models are capable of serving children with the toughest backgrounds and helping 90% or more graduating high school and getting them into college with double the rate entering STEM related degree programs and careers.

2. Provide these STEM cluster schools the autonomies and conditions on the ground that help these schools thrive and implement the models with high fidelity. Boston’s history of its Pilot Schools can be leveraged as a good start to provide this positive environment.

3. Create or leverage a strong community coalition to drive the creation of these schools, ensure the school models are delivering, create an education transformation fund, and to ensure that the District is providing an environment that supports and does not get in the way of implementing these models with fidelity.

Let’s dream big, Boston, and turn the dream into reality. Sometimes true transformation that creates the future and makes history requires bold action.

-Ted Fujimoto, Founder, Right to Succeed Foundation



Today we are pleased to present an exclusive Over My Shoulder Foundation interview with the two talented ladies from the UK who run the L Project, an anti-LGBT bullying campaign. This interview touches on a hot topic. Bullying. There is too much of it and not enough mentors speaking out against it.

Georgey Payne and Sofia Antonia Milone are currently promoting the release of the hit single “It Does Get Better” to raise awareness about the effects of LGBT bullying, to give hope to those suffering from it, and to raise money to help combat it.

We love the slogan on the L Project Facebook Page, “Because you don’t have to be a minority to support equality and reject discrimination.”

-Dawn Carroll, Over My Shoulder Foundation Co-Founder

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. At Over My Shoulder Foundation (OMSF), our mentoring organization uses the Jimi Hendrix quote “If there is something to be changed in this world…then it can only be done through music”. “It Does Get Better” is proof that music CAN change the world – its impact is much more than you’d anticipated, and you got Seventeen of the UK’s leading lesbian music artists appear on the track. How did you do it?

Sofia – Put simply, a lot of hard work and determination, coupled with passion and talent. Essentially the kernel of the first project all came from Georgey and the song she penned. The artists were approached, a recording studio was found at a great special rate, and then we had to convince some sponsors to fund it.

The creative part was the easiest in many ways, because every participant was a consummate professional. No time was wasted, and within a weekend the music and vocals were recorded.

By far the hardest part was marketing the project pre-release. What really helped with that was having a professional campaign and a great product, but what actually propelled us was the resulting backing from the gay press and some amazing online social media pages.

As people became aware of us they passed on the message, and trust was built with those big online pages like Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook. Nothing beats a personal recommendation. Once the press and related people became interested we secretly let them hear the song, and they too knew we had a great product, and so the sharing continued.

We also had exclusive pre-release listening days for all those who had joined the L Project Facebook page, it made them feel a real part of the project – and I’m confident that it was hearing the song that drove them all to share us like mad. Social Media has truly been the method of this campaign.

Sofia Antonia Milone
Sofia Antonia Milone, Photography by Katie Lamb

Can you talk a little about how you’ve noticed your music become a change-making catalyst? Is there fan feedback that really made an impact, or a time when you had your a-ha moment of realization that what you created was making the world a better place?

Sofia – We knew the message of the song would unite people, but it was only after its release when people came pouring to the page, that we started seeing just how personally affecting the song, and the supportive project page environment, was to people.

We started receiving fanmail, and each and every person had a significant story to tell. Some are very hard to read, but all of them end well in that they tell us that the song has renewed their strength, and given them the boost they needed when times were hard.

Music and words are certainly powerful, but I think it’s giving people a place to come and feel included after they’ve heard our message, a place where they can share things, even if that is just a page on Facebook, that has become just as important. And that place is molded by those who frequent it.

Georgey, you wrote “It Does Get Better” in an attempt to cheer up a young friend who had confided in you that he had been the subject of homophobic bullying in school. The attempt has cheered up many, and inspired us all. How did the idea for the song come to you? What was your inspiration?

Georgey – The idea for the song was born simply because I wanted to cheer my friend up, make him feel happy about being gay and not feel like it was something he needed to fear. Because when you’re being beaten up all the time as he was, I can imagine that being gay quickly becomes something you learn to dislike about yourself.

The tune for the song was buzzing around in my head, and when I write it’s always the music and feel of the song that comes first. So when I got in from work that day I started on it straight away. It took me about an hour from start to finish. Whilst I was writing I changed the second verse to appeal to the whole LGBT community, hoping to empower them to feel good about being LGBT as well.

Georgey Payne
Georgey Payne

And how about the L Project. That grew out of the song? Can you tell us about that process?

Sofia – It quickly became clear that the attention we had garnered for the song was greater than we thought possible, and we had a choice: Either The L Project was just about this song, or it was something bigger.

Georgey and I are highly driven people, and this caught us at a time when we both really wanted to get our teeth into something. Georgey did that by getting the ball rolling, I did it by joining it full force, and together we decided that we make a great team.

We barely see one another, but the internet has allowed us to create a campaign bigger and better than anything either of us could have dreamed. Why leave it there? So many people were asking ‘what next?’ that we had ask ourselves the same thing. The answer to that question is as boundless as this project hopes to be.

Another project, new charities to donate to, more artists to gather, and fantastically supportive community to help us move forward. That’s what this project is, the community that has stood behind it. The fact that they’re not merely fans, they have somehow been empowered, they have taken our song and shared it with the world, shouted about it everywhere. The L Project stopped being about just one song almost as soon as the song came out.

Instead it started being about a community filled with like-minded individuals, from all over the globe. It started inspiring people. And in turn, we too have been inspired.


At OMSF, we stake our foundations on our concept of Mentorology (the art and science of mentoring). Mentoring can move us all toward a society of greater inclusion, integrity and value. Mentoring also helps us get across messages that might otherwise go unheard. Can you tell us what mentoring is to you? And how it has affected your life?

Sofia – This idea, or concept, of mentoring is new to me. Obviously I understand what a mentor is, but it is not something I have consciously taken note of before. I have had many inspiring people in my life, people I have looked up to, who have undoubtedly guided my moral compass. Most of those people have been family members, most notably my mother who is sadly no longer with us.

I can’t honestly say as an adult I have anyone I would term a ‘mentor’ specifically, I am driven and supported by my peers and colleagues. I think in this respect we are all mentors to one another.

Are you currently a mentor? If not, do you have plans in the future to become a mentor yourself?

Sofia – I suppose the idea of a ‘mentor’ is not dissimilar to that of a ‘role model’ (a term I’m more familiar with personally) and if it means to be a good person, doing good things, to give advice, information and support when it is requested, and maybe instill hope or inspiration in others, then I’d say that’s exactly what I try to do and be on a daily basis.

I would also say that being a ‘mentor’ to an individual is not something you can decide to become, rather individuals decide to treat you as their mentor. I merely hope that what I do, and what I achieve in life is something people can aspire to. If I can help them, of course I will. And I think on a larger scale, that’s what The L Project is about – setting a good example, and encouraging others to do the same.

Thank you, again, Georgey and Sofia for the time you took to talk with us about the L Project, your music, and your experiences of Mentorology.

You’re welcome, we wish you lots of luck!

Sofia Antonia Milone (L) and Georgey Payne (R)
Sofia Antonia Milone (L) and Georgey Payne (R). Photography by Katie Lamb.

With Designer Denise Hajjar



Today we are pleased to present an exclusive Over My Shoulder Foundation interview with Denise Hajjar, Boston-based fashion designer, philanthropist and Designer-in-Residence atFairmont Copley Plaza Hotel. Fashion New England calls Denise “a favorite of the chic ladies in downtown Boston”. Denise was gracious enough to lend her talents to a benefit fashion show for the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston earlier this year in April. Here she reveals her inspirations, mentors and ideas about mentorology – the art and science of mentoring.

-Dawn Carroll, Over My Shoulder Foundation Co-Founder


Hi Denise. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today about mentoring, fashion and inspiration. You’ve certainly made a name for yourself, especially in Boston. What drives you to accomplish all that you have accomplished in the world of fashion and design?

My drive came from the fact I was given a talent from my grandmother who was a designer and taught me how to sew. Also believe it or not all the years of classical ballet training. I trained for 12 years 7 days a week as I thought I would be a dancer. This I feel is what gave me the discipline I needed to do what I do now. In the ballet world there is no room for wasting time. I had to grow up very fast and be very focused. I truly love what I do every day. And for that fact I always want to do better and be better. I get great joy in making women look and feel beautiful.


Denise Hajjar - Mentor, Designer, Fashion IconDenise Hajjar – Mentor, Designer, Fashion Icon


We love how early influences mold us into the people we are today. Do you credit certain individuals as mentors who have helped you really take advantage of the key qualities you picked up early on from your ballet practice and your grandmother?

I have several people who have helped me greatly and I still can go to. First, always my family and closest friends who never give up on me and are my main support in the good and bad times. Chuck Albert, who was the manager of Bonwit Tellers back in the 80′s. I sold to four Bonwit stores back then. VG Di Geronimo who owned a boutique on Newbury Street called Adornments Creative Clothing. I got to sell my pieces and it just grew from there. Today I would have to say Jon Crellin who was, at the time, the general manager of this Fairmont. He asked me to be their “designer-in-residence” 6 years ago! The rest is history. It has opened so many doors being here. Also I have to say, Amalie Canna, this incredible women whose knowledge of clothing construction is amazing. Whenever I am stuck on something I go to her. I am still learning after 30 years. So blessed to have her in my life!


On your website you write that your designs are a “reflection of the world…a combination of strength, sensitivity and imagination”. Strength, sensitivity and imagination are qualities that we think make mentors effective and successful. Can you think of some other qualities that befit an effective and successful mentor?

Well one must never forget who they are and where they started. Because at a moment’s notice, it can all be taken away. You must love what you do, almost to a fault. You have to want to keep learning from everyone around you. Helping along the way only will make you better at what you do, because you have to constantly be thinking outside the box. You never know who you will inspire OR who will inspire you!!!!

At Over My Shoulder Foundation (OMSF), we are convinced about the truth of our favorite Jimi Hendrix quote “If there is something to be changed in this world…then it can only be done through music”. Are you inspired by any music in particular? Do you listen to music when you work?

I ALWAYS listen to music, all kinds of music. It helps my creative juices going along with my fabrics that I work with. I think music and beautiful fabrics go hand in hand

How about you? Have you found yourself mentoring others? We’re thinking about Big Dreams Start Small benefit event for St. Jude’s Hospital and your philosophy “Giving back should be the rule, not the exception”. In these instances, do you think of yourself as a mentor?

I always have believed in mentoring. I have done it for so many years now. I get so excited when I see a student from the past or a young person who shadowed me come to me years later to say how I inspired them, how I motivated them to do what they went on to do. Or how a parent will come up to me to tell me their child was changed by what they saw and did when they were with me. You don’t realize the impact you make at the time.

Now let’s talk about the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston fashion show. How did the idea for the benefit fashion show come about? What made you decide to do it?

Well it’s not so much helping “Big Sisters” as it is helping women whether young or grown. To give them motivation and confidence to be or to do whatever you want. Not everyone has the support or skills in the beginning given to them like I did. So it is our job to give them a little help in getting started. In the fall I do my show for “Dress for Success”. This helps women who want to get back on their own. DFS helps them in many ways including providing job interview clothes.


Do you have any advice for youngsters out there yearning for a fashion career?

Advice? Be willing to do your due-diligence and work hard, very hard. Fashion and the world of design is not about making a lot of money BUT the love of doing your craft well. In this field we have to think the glass is half full always! Do not give up if you REALLY believe you are good and know you have something to offer. Go to school and take the classes needed to understand what you are going to do. Do internships. Volunteer to help out at shows or fashion events. Be happy at what you decide to do. If not, you will fail for sure.


Denise, thanks again for talking with us at Over My Shoulder Foundation about your fashion career and mentoring. It’s really clear that you LOVE what you do – and that is an inspiration to us all. We look forward to seeing what great things you’re going to do next!!!