Reflections on Equality

Posted by Jayda Bonarrigo on

When I reflect on my own past experiences to where I am today, I am lucky enough to say I have an unconditionally loving father, along with supportive friends and teammates, by my side. Although I have been blessed with a great support system today, I cannot say my life has always been this way. Growing up, coming to terms with my own identity has never been something  simple or plain. I, along with many other individuals in the LGBT community, are not estranged from the feelings of shame, not belonging, or bullying. When you think of 2017 and how progressive the United States has come with LGBT rights and our movement toward equality, most people will think that this type of discrimination is for the most part, a thing of the past.

On Mother’s Day evening, a family of five came into my job to what I thought would be a nice family dinner, but to my surprise, it turned out to be something more appalling. When I approached the table after taking their drink order, one of the young preteen daughters, explained to the two older women at the table that she was “coming out” about her sexuality. From this, the two older women begin to belittle the daughter in complete shock that those words would ever come out of her mouth. “That is disgusting. How do I explain this to the church? And family?,do you know what you've just done? I don’t even want to be sitting at this table with you!” The daughter tried to go back on what she had said, in embarrassment, however the two older ladies did not care for what she had to say after that.

No matter how forward we come with LGBT equality, when one struggles, we cannot help but feel the pain. As hard as it is to share these type of stories, they need to be heard, they need to be felt, they need to change. After having heard the older ladies berate the young daughter solely for who she is, I could not help but see my younger self sitting in that same chair, enduring that same criticism. I immediately broke down in tears and refused to continue serving the table. A co-worker of mine tried to explain that the situation is not mine to deal with, that it is purely a family issue, but I believe it IS my issue. It is EVERYONES issue. No one should have to be discriminated against for being who they are. Unfortunately it happens everyday.

This type of hurt did not last in the moment, but prolonged into something deeper than that for me. It does not create hate in my heart for those older ladies, but a compassion that so many people are ignorant to the things they do not understand, and it is our job to educate them. My heart breaks for that girl, and every person who goes through horrible situations similar when they come to terms with their own identity. Sexuality is a small piece of who you are, and that small piece should not determine whether or not you matter. Everyone matters, everyone is deserving of a life full of love and peace.

Each leap and bound toward LGBT equality should be celebrated, but it is important to not forget the struggles we endured and the ones who are still struggling. 77 countries in this world still criminalize homosexuality and it is even punishable by death. Being so heavily involved in my LGBT community in Albany, it is easy to disassociate your personal  movements to the movements of others. Equal rights are no different then human rights and it is something I will not ever stop fighting for. With my own efforts, as well as efforts from others around the world to spread awareness, demanding legalization and full equality rights will be something of the past. For now, I am destined to influence the minds of those around me and create a positive change for anyone struggling, or anyone who knows nothing about the LGBT community.

To any and every single person who is struggling with their identity, living in fear, getting or have gotten physically or mentally abused for being themselves, or have lost their lives in the efforts of living out, you are so loved beyond words, and I appreciate who you are.

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All about Dad

Posted by Kristen Suraci on

I'm sure many of you can guess what this blog is going to be about considering the holiday... dads. To all you father's out there...cheers to you today! Whether it's your own dad, an uncle, grandfather, brother, or maybe it's your mom, I think we all have a special person that plays the role of "dad" in our life. They're the ones that support us, guide us, and lead us during the good, bad, and ugly moments of life. They're the people screaming your name at your soccer game, high-fiving you when you get an A on an exam, or in my case, telling me day in and day out: "focus on your career. boys are a waste of time" or my favorite "here's 20 bucks, have fun tonight". 

Before I move on can I just add in one thing? The picture below is one of about 1,000 that my dad has made me take while out to eat together...gotta love dads, am I right?

Side note: my dad makes me take a picture with him EVERY time we go out to eat somewhere together.



I've talked a lot about my relationship with my dad and what we've been through the past year.. so I reached out to the Twill team to hear what they loved about the dads in their life! The pictures are too good not to share...


Shaina: "My dad has taught me the power of unconditional love and the strength that comes from believing in the good in people. For that I am forever grateful!"


Zach (HB): "He inspires me because of his work ethic and how he treats others people.  He is always willing to go out of his way to help when he can.  He makes sure he does the job well every time."



Emily: "My dad has not only been who I look up to but he has been the one to show me values and practices, and more importantly, he's been able to make sure the best comes out of me. I fully believe I wouldn't be the person I am today if it wasn't for my dad, and every holiday the bottom of my card says - I know I will never be able to thank you enough for everything you've done for me."


Harrison: "My dad grew up with very little and spent his whole life working his way up in the world. To this day, he works relentlessly to provide for my future. His selflessness inspires me to never take anything for granted and help those around me."


Happy Father's Day from the Twill team!

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Trapped in a hospital

Posted by Kristen Suraci on

I’m surrounded by beige walls, beds separated by paper thin fabric curtains, latex gloves, and more wires and electrical equipment than anyone would care to count. If my description wasn’t good enough, I’m in a hospital. Sitting bedside next to my favorite guy, my dad. He’s sadly come accustom to the hospital the past year. He walks into the radiology center saying hello to particular doctors, nurses, and secretaries. As they put in the ever dreaded IV he tends to make the same jokes as he cringes (god bless the hearts of the nurses at Albany Medical’re the real MVP’s).

Today was a little bit different of a visit then the ones we’re used to. We were told about two months ago that today, my dad would have to get a metal device attached to his head by four screws in order to do his procedure. He’s getting radiation to prevent a future stroke, and remove the Arteriovernous Malformation (AVM) in his brain. If you’re as confused as I was the first time the doctor said that, it’s basically a ball of blood vessels that is floating around in his brain. Sounds harmless, but apparently if it reaches a certain part of the brain, he could have another stroke. So we’re here today to keep my dad healthy and the four screws in his head are here to help!

I had to sit in the waiting room as my dad got the headpiece attached to his head. I wasn’t too thrilled when the doctor told me I couldn’t be with him. To the normal person, getting four screws in your head sounds bad enough, then there’s my dad who’s scared to even get blood drawn, so you can imagine my hesitation of leaving him to go through something like this. I unwillingly walked out of the conference room we were in filling out paper work back to the waiting room, starting to tear up as I sat down next to a young boy and his dad.

Being the only three people in the waiting room, we got to talking a bit. I told him I liked his bright yellow and green shoes and he said “thanks, you have Nike’s too” (he may be young but he sure does know his shoe brands). A nurse came out and the little boy moved from his dads lap to a wheel chair and was brought to the back. His dad wasn’t allowed in the room with him, so we continued chatting. I quickly learned the little boy was only ten years old, and was going in for a radiation treatment. After complaining of headaches and walking funny, his parents made him a doctors appointment, only to discover he had a brain tumor. His dad explained it as a doctors appointment that lead to a “quick MRI” which led to them being in an ambulance rushed to the hospital. His son had surgery the next day. Talk about a whirlwind of a 24 hours. At this point, I wanted to continue to cry, but for completely different reasons. I’m sitting next to this man feeling angry they wont let me sit with my dad while he gets screws in his head, while a dad is waiting for his TEN YEAR OLD son to get back from radiation, just so they can go home and come right back to the hospital tomorrow for him to start chemo.

I was so wrapped up in the story of this adorable little guy, that I never even got the chance to ask his dad his name. But I guess that didn’t matter, because what I took away was so empowering, that ill remember much more about their family than just their names. As I told this young dad why I was at the hospital he said to me “well, at least my boy doesn’t really understand what’s happening..your dad knows exactly what he’s in for.” Can you believe that? His son has a brain tumor, he’s ten years old at the hospital to get radiation, and this dad feels bad for ME? I couldn’t believe it. He later told me that he would have to get chemo treatment once a month for the next year, and depending on his blood count, maybe he could start 5th grade in the fall. Sometimes when you think you have it bad, there’s someone sitting right next to you that has it way worse.

I walked into the hospital so worried and anxious, but hopeful that this would be our last trip here. Never did I think I would get the opportunity to meet an adorable 4th grader, who may I say, had such a bright and bubbly attitude, and completely change my outlook. I wasn’t sure I wanted to share this story, but the words came out almost effortlessly and I felt it was something we could all learn from. It’s moments like these that I remember why I wanted to join Twill in the first place. It’s moments like these I remember how important it is that I give back to my community and give back. Most importantly, its moments like these that I remember to always stay positive and keep a smile on my face, because you never know what the person next to you is facing.

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Posted by Zachary Halloran on

Record storms rolled through Lincoln that morning. Joanie recalled, “A woman in her 90’s was being rescued from her basement down the road. I’d never seen so much water.” Flash floods lapped the top of the grille on the family’s Mitsubishi Galant as she made her way to the highway, “Both my aunts’ homes flooded. We finally made our way out of the city for the hour drive to the hospital in Omaha. I thought my car would hydroplane off the road at any moment but we made it.”

That was one year ago today.

Emberlyn was born with Type 4 Caudal Regression Syndrome, the most severe. Because her spine ends at T-12, she has no hipbones, no tailbone, no pelvic bones. She has no feeling below the end of her spine, nor is she able to control her bladder or bowels. Because prosthetics must have a fulcrum, a hinge, something to connect to… it was immediately determined that prosthetics were not an option for her. And her legs, bent, bowed inwards, and painful – would never be useful, they were more or less fleshy sacks attached by skin.

Emberlyn’s legs were actually a health hazard. Joanie had met other older children with Type 4 CRS whose legs dragged behind them, causing infections or sores, presenting obstacles to their independence and mobility. Amputation surgery was quickly becoming her only option.

A kiss from her big sister, Ellyna, days before her surgery.

The anesthesiologist walked in the room. Uncharacteristically, she started to cry. “I’m sorry, this story really touches me. We’re going to make sure your baby is ok.” Two nurses entered to assist the prep and began crying as well. There is something about seeing a child like Emberlyn, crystal blue eyes, smiling. It can’t help but break your heart, knowing what was about to happen.

Surgery ended around noon. Emberlyn was exhausted. She only wanted to sleep, and sleep. When she woke up two days later. Her legs were blistered and swollen. Her mother, Joanie (pictured) has worked as an ER registrar for 5 years. She knew the road ahead would be difficult: Immediate Acute Hospital Postoperative Stage followed by post-operative recovery of lower extremities is 12-18 months. A long, stormy road lay in front of them. Joanie, a single mother of two, would brave it alone.

Emberlyn somehow understood what happened. After healing, mobility would be key.

A modified Bumbo seat helped the toddler get around at first.

Also, this might be the cutest darn thing I’ve ever seen.

Emberlyn, or Emmy, as she’s called by her family, has compensated for her missing limbs. She has incredible upper-body strength and loves to show off by climbing flights of stairs or doing hand stands and little flips. Because of her sister Ellyna’s help, she can navigate her wheelchair to get herself around. But most importantly, Emberlyn has courage, a constant source of joyful positivity that comes from within, that she might never have discovered if she weren’t challenged every day of her life. That’s what makes her a champion: The fact that she doesn’t believe she’s the underdog.

But the family still needed a lot of help.

That’s where Chive Charities stepped up.

For Emberlyn, transportation is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. Without it, she cannot travel comfortably or safely on her many road trips to Omaha for surgeries and appointments. She deserves to travel in a vehicle that is customized to fit her needs, soChive Charities responded with a $53,000 grant that purchased a 2016 wheelchair-accessible Dodge Caravan. A huge thank you to the folks from BraunAbility and Heartland Mobility for their help.

The bond between Emberlyn and her older sister, Ellyna, is a sibling bond stronger than most. The two were born only 16 months apart. Emberlyn wants to do everything that Ellyna does. Ellyna likes to jump on the couch at home. Emberlyn would watch, wanting so badly to play too. Then one day, Emberlyn reached for one of the cushions and flipped herself up on the couch and started bouncing, proud of her new accomplishment.

Ellyna is very protective of her sister, her tiny guardian. “On Ellyna’s 3rd birthday we were at McDonald’s Playland for lunch and some kids where making fun of Emberlyn. Ellyna stepped in front of them and calmly raised her finger, ‘That’s my sister.’ She stared the bullies down as they cowered away.”

Later that day, Ellyna had a princess-themed birthday. The girls are obsessed with Disney World. Ellyna loves Princess Elsa and Emberlyn is a Mickey Mouse Club girl.

“Every time a Disney World commercial airs, the sisters gather around the TV and Emberlyn exclaims, ‘Mickey!’ even if Mickey isn’t in the commercial. The two dream of Disney World.”

We asked Ellyna to make a wish and she wished for her sister to see Mickey. It was beautiful to hear a 3-year-old make such a selfless request but heartbreaking at the same time knowing I couldn’t grant Ellyna her wish.”

Joanie said a 'vacation' is a foreign idea to her family. "We get creative," she said. "Every few months, we travel to Omaha for Emberlyan’s treatments. Across the street from the children’s hospital is Westroads Mall. We go to the food court and toy stores, the girls call it vacation. Westroads Mall is the only vacation the girls have ever known.”

Last night, on the anniversary of her surgery, I called Joanie to see how everything was going. I like to call recipients the night before a flash campaign launches to make sure they’re ready. We all have our small rituals. Thunderstorms were moving though Lincoln again. “The rain is so bad they even closed the Wal-Mart. I had a couple free hours so I tried to go volunteer at my ER’s sister facility but I had to turn back.”

When it rains, Emberlyn often sleeps in her mother’s arms, maybe a lasting memory of a long night a year ago.

“John, I know what it is you do. But we don’t need much, just some happy time as a family. That would mean the world to us. There are so many days when I can’t imagine something good will ever happen again. But we have to keep going, keep believing.”

“We’re going to do everything we can.”

“Thank you. Emberlyn is finally asleep now. I hope the rain is over.”

So we have an idea and I’m sure you know where I’m going with this...

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”

– Walt Disney

After so much suffering it’s time to give the Hemmer family the vacation of their lives. The good people at Disney just learned of the family’s possible arrival and will make sure Mickey and Elsa greet the family at the front gates if we get them there.

The goal is set at $10,000 for all you knights in shining armor to come to the rescue for this courageous and deserving little princess. Anything raised past the goal will fund a wheelchair-accessible ramp for the family home. Emberlyn has struggled so mightily but continues to overcome all obstacles. Mother Joanie has the day off and they are watching the campaign go live as we speak with the local news station in Lincoln. Let’s show this family how Chive Charities grants a wish, shall we?


A special thank you to the Chive Fund members for your support. At Chive Charities, we always lead by example and these campaigns begin with you. Become a Green Member and help make the world 10% happier today.

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Saying Yes to Fear

Posted by Zachary Hasselbarth on

Spring time is the best time. It’s almost summer out and anything is possible. Except for maybe our new year’s resolutions that we have long forgot about, but hey that happens to everyone right? To me that is always something funny.  We (the majority of us) always fail on our new year’s resolutions and we really don’t beat ourselves up that much, because we know time moves on and that we have next new year’s to try again. Just like baseball, you get up to the plate, you aim for a hit but that doesn’t always happen. What happens is you get another shot next at bat.

Yet in business or anything related to the heart, we are so scared of failure. It blows my mind, and I am extremely guilty of this… I might be one of the worse offenders. My last blog post touched on this a little and plays into the fear of failure. I am telling you now regret is far worse. You talk to anyone at an older age and I bet you they will have a few if not a handful of regrets. The majority are on things that they didn’t pursue.

I know when I look back I question myself: did I really give school and baseball everything I had? Or was I more concerned about everything else, the fear of missing out, instead of being focused on what I truly wanted, even if it was silly to other people?

We had a meeting at Twill not too long ago and the main topic was fear of failure. I of course was working my other job so had to miss it and wished I could contribute to what was going on. This is one reason why I am writing right now because even though this may be my 4th blog, I am fearful still of my writing.  I feel as though I'm awful at it.  But I continue to do it, and am blessed enough to have people like Zac and Shaina on our Twill team who can give me criticism and help me improve. Usually for a small fee like some beers or a bottle of wine...

My writing isn’t a failure but it is a skill I need improvement on daily.  Everything that happens in life good or bad is just a learning experience, if we keep repeating the same mistake then apparently we aren’t learning the lesson taught and need to take a look at why this keeps happening.     

I have been in sales for some time now and I always dreaded it.  I always would think “great another denial, I feel as though I am bothering them by asking them something else.” It took time for me to stop being selfish and thinking that it was affecting me, when really it wasn’t at all. People understand you are doing your job and you are educating the customer. If they say no, big deal!  But I tend to stress and think oh man what did I do now!

I too often used to take it as something personal. I would then over think, “ahh man if I only said it a different way.” Or maybe if I spoke slower (still working on this) maybe they would understand with clarity.  All this isn’t failing, what is failing is obsessing over the past, something you cannot change no matter how badly you want to. You have to take the defeat, keep you chin up and move onto the next. It isn’t personal, and I repeated that for a reason, you never know where someone comes from or what they can offer, all life requires is that you do your best. So long as you have a positive attitude and show the effort, things will always work out and there is always opportunity.  There is a reason the past is the past, because it shouldn’t be going with you to the future, look back and learn but that’s it.  

I know that if you do your best, are kind, and work hard, doors will open for you.  I am saying this because for years and years I have wanted to do something on a massive scale.  I have continued to fail and fail and fail in many aspects of life.  I get discouraged but I don’t quit. I turn it into a joke, or motivation, anything to turn the negative to a positive. When you do that every once in awhile something catches, you have no clue how or why, maybe it is luck or that fact that you were too busy continuing forward to stop at every falter and mistake you made.  To quote Thomas Jefferson “I’m a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more luck I have.”  

I have been working on a few large accounts since I started with Twill, one is just about to hit. Will it be a huge success or possibly a flop? Who knows, I for sure am just happy that it got to the point at which it did.  It is validity that with hard work and a positive attitude you can accomplish great things.  

Keep positive people around you, they will motivate you to do better, push you to where you need to go... All those failures lead to something great, mainly great stories, and epic laughs to which I should put into a book (...I might actually have something here!). This will keep me going for the next few years until the next big thing comes along because that is what is so amazing about life and failures.You always have another chance, and it isn’t the end if you fail. Timing is everything!

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