Back to Basics

Hard to believe another month has gone by and we're already in April! Days move quickly when you've got a lot to keep busy with. March was filled with more training, adventuring to the ice caves in Bayfield, WI, and wrapping up a couple of chainmaille projects for some dear friends of mine. Plus, I got a new car! Pretty exciting stuff.

April is going to be another great month for improving my skills in parkour because I've signed up for Fight or Flight Academy's "Foundations Course". It's a program they just started offering to help new students get the basics down before jumping into FOFA's main class schedule.

Speaking from experience, it can be very daunting to start taking classes with students who have been around for a while. Even the easiest vaults pose a challenge if you're starting from scratch, especially if you're an adult with a mostly sedentary lifestyle. I think this new course will be a great way for people to explore what they learned in the Free Introduction Class more in depth and develop the skills they will need as they continue training.

I've been a dedicated student at FOFA for about a year (give or take a few months where I was a weiner and didn't show up),  and there are still a lot of basic moves I struggle with. Shoulder rolls are the bane of my existence and yet they're an integral landing that everyone needs to master, especially when you start jumping off of taller obstacles. I've taken the intro class at least a dozen times and I still just can't get it right consistently. I hate practicing it because I look silly. Then there are the two vaults I find absolutely terrifying: Kong and Dash vaults. I just can't convince myself that I'm physically capable of doing them. My brain is great at getting in the way. 

See examples of the 5 basic vaults in this video!

I'm hoping that after taking the Foundation Course, I will be more comfortable with all of the basics so I can focus on training the more interesting techniques they teach throughout the week. 

I know I've grown a lot in the past couple of months, but I've got a long way to go and a hell of a lot to learn. I'm looking forward to writing a review of the course at the end of the month to encourage others to give it a try. If I can do this stuff... anyone can!

We had a brief reprieve from winter's grasp so we did some training outside at Hidden Falls!

February Challenge Summary

We're getting close to the end of February and I'm happy to report that I finished my challenge ahead of schedule this month! I'd like to take some time to summarize how the experience has been for me and talk about what I think is next. 

Just to recap, my February goal was to go to a class at Fight or Flight Academy once for every day I could be there. This month, the gym was open for 24 days, so that meant 24 classes. In addition, I wanted to start going to open gyms to start focusing on specific skills on my own. You can read about the challenge and why I felt it was important in the original post, "Exorcising Weakness".

I completed my 24th class tonight, making this challenge a success in my book! There are multiple dimensions that were dramatically affected simply by showing up and they can be categorized as physical, mental, and social. 

Exorcising Weakness

Well, the new year buzz has died down and the jinx of new years resolutions is safely behind us. I spent some time in January reflecting on 2013; the things that I tried for the first time, things that I continued working on, and old hobbies that I rediscovered. After some consideration, I developed a challenge for myself that I would like to pursue over the month of February to help me overcome some pretty major mental roadblocks.

Links and Connections

Links and Connections

I've been spending a majority of my free time exploring a hobby I hadn't given much thought to for years. Chainmaille was something where I knew two weaves and could make two interesting, if basic, jewelry pieces out of. But in November when a friend asking me if I wanted to participate in her holiday art sale, I knew it would be a great opportunity and that I would have a lot of work ahead of me. 

An Open Letter to the TWS Board of Directors, Pt. 3

Dear Tammy, Gail, and the TWS Board of Directors,

You may be relieved to know that this is the third and final open letter that you will receive from me for the foreseeable future. Regretfully, I feel like this practice has been a significant waste of my time as I have yet to hear a respectable answer from anyone on your side. Based on my experience and what I have heard from others, silence has been your universal MO during this self-inflicted crisis you have brought to an organization many people, including myself, have come to love and value as a major part of their lives. 

Although my letters (part 1 and part 2) have not received responses, I feel like I have gotten to know each of you very well over the past 3 weeks. Your treatment of this situation says a lot about your personalities, your ethics, and your leadership abilities. I’d like to take this opportunity to give The Wildcat Sanctuary’s Board of Directors an unofficial performance review. 

I don’t really know where to start with this because your communication skills have been a disaster from the beginning, well before the KSTP report aired. Donors and Volunteers had a right to know about the allegations brought against Tammy the week the Dorsey & Whitney report was delivered to you. Since then, the silence has been deafening. Not only have questions gone unanswered, but you have supplied outright lies to the public, seeking to defame the former staff who were simply trying to protect the organization when they brought their concerns to the board. What else have you been lying about? 

Decision Making
By terminating the entire staff, you demonstrated that you are more interested in covering something up then admitting to the truth and seeking forgiveness through transparency, not to mention the best interest of the cats you claim to be serving so well. As this situation continues to evolve, you move farther and farther away from any hope of forgiveness and trust, thereby causing irreparable damage to the sanctuary’s image. When the truth is known, the rest of its supporters will leave in droves because they will have tied Tammy’s wrong-doings to TWS itself. I know many of you are new to the board, but even if you were not directly involved with these recent actions, you must be held at least partially accountable for them if you continue to ignore the questions that are being asked of you. How long can you hide the truth?

Using the TWS website to post propaganda seeking to clear Tammy’s name is truly low. You give a skewed perspective of a situation to hide what has actually happened. You are lying to supporters by sugar-coating problems that may have catastrophic repercussions if they are not handled correctly. Deleting comments and questions from concerned supporters is another one of those “no-nos” that they tell you about in Social Media 101. Not only did you leave the feeling of concern nagging at the back of everyone’s mind, allowing it to fester into uncertainty, but you personally insulted anyone whose comment you deleted. How long will the organization survive as you continue to disrespect everyone’s loyalty and intelligence like this?

People Skills
As a volunteer who has dedicated hundreds of hours to help TWS through on-site construction, off-site events and online resources, with both manual labor and professional services, I have never felt so devalued or insulted until you cut off all the volunteers without explanation. You poured salt on the wounds when you refused to answer my questions or the questions asked by my friends and fellow volunteers. Three weeks into this situation and we continue to be under the volunteer moratorium with no idea as to when it will be lifted. It is impossible to believe everything is going smoothly on the sanctuary grounds when you have cut off all of the experienced volunteers who made the organization what it is. When the volunteers finally are allowed back, I wonder how many of them will actually return after being treated with such complete disrespect. Can the sanctuary survive without a strong network of dedicated volunteers who unwaveringly support the mission and values of TWS?

At this point, I think you know where this is going to end. I feel like I have painted an adequate picture of how thoroughly you have failed all of us: the donors, the volunteers and the cats. In fact, your failure on this situation is almost so magnificent as to be applause-worthy. Quality leadership would have provided direction and sought to help supporters understand what the changes were and why certain decisions were made. Yet you all hide behind misdirection and lies. When was deception ever a respectable or desirable quality to have in leadership?

Overall Assessment
As it stands, I don’t see much hope for the current leadership and I definitely don’t see any action being taken on the promise of transparency. While you may be successful in putting off the inevitable, I only see your actions as having a poisonous result for the organization and the cats which it claims to protect. This situation can easily become an example of animals being harmed because of your human error. 

Recommendations for Improvement

  • Explain the entire situation from your perspective; if not publicly, at least provide it to the volunteers and key donors.
  • Host an open-forum “town hall” style event where volunteers, staff, and former staff may voice their concerns and receive answers without hostility or evasion.
  • Introduce yourselves and explain your qualifications and roles in the organization, be it in person or online via the still negligently empty Board of Directors web page.  
  • Above all, stop treating this situation so lightly in your public communications. After the coming extensive investigation, it could easily become the death of the sanctuary and should be treated with gravity.

We continue to wait for the answers we deserve as people who have donated time and money for something we passionately care about. I may be done bothering with you; however, I’m not done looking for the truth. I know the truth will be found soon; it’s just unfortunate that you were not wise enough to provide it yourself. 

Katherine Block

An Open Letter to the TWS Board of Directors, Pt. 2

To Tammy and the Board of Directors of The Wildcat Sanctuary,

It’s been over a week since the KSTP report aired. That has given you time to react to the situation and allowed the public a chance to assess your behavior. Instead of getting answers, the week has only inspired more questions. Because I have yet to receive a response to the first letter I sent you, I thought I’d follow up and give you an update on what I think. 

No answers
Unlike my first letter, I don’t think I’ll have many questions for you here because I think you’ve heard them all. You’ve heard, and chosen to ignore, all of the relevant questions that key supporters have asked. You have told us that all of your time is being spent taking care of the cats, and while I am grateful that there has been “no break in the continuity of their care”, I have to wonder why the board can’t draft a summary of the real situation and answer our questions. The board is not involved in the care of the animals. They are the leadership behind the organization and they are the key decision makers that have brought us to this point. 

Since the report aired last week, volunteers and donors have heard nothing but vague references to a "time of transition”, and “a team of professionals” who are dedicating “all time and energy” to the care of the cats. We still don’t know what the “transition” is or why the original staff is gone. We know that allegations have been brought against Tammy which state she has been embezzling funds from the Sanctuary and now it seems she once again has complete control of the TWS as Executive Director. These allegations have been backed by a Dorsey & Whitney report that has not been released to the public. Communications have refuted this claim by saying an undisclosed independent audit was done and it supposedly found nothing. However without the 2012 annual report, which has not been posted as it should be, we have no way of verifying any of these claims. 

We know that the board has experienced a 100% turn over in the past year and that dedicated members of the board have removed themselves one by one without explanation for their resignation, or recognition for their service. We also know that internships were terminated early and winter internships have been canceled. 

The professionals who have been brought in to care for the cats come from many non-accredited sanctuaries from out of state. We do not know what qualifies these individuals to take care of the cats at the Sanctuary, many of whom have very special needs and do not respond well to high stress situations. It is impossible for us to know whether the standards which were established by the former keepers are being maintained to the level that made TWS so admirable in the first place. 

Silencing Tactics
During the initial shock of learning about the report, many volunteers, donors, and supporters had questions about what was happening. They did what is natural to people these days and took to social media to get answers. These questions were not disrespectful, they were honest and concerned. Instead of being treated with dignity and respect, questions were promptly deleted and ignored. By deleting the comments, you not only showed that you would rather maintain the veneer of innocence than get the situation under control but that anyone that cares enough to dig deeper does not matter to you. 

There’s nothing like saying “There’s nothing to see here” to inspire curiosity. Hiding so many questions and concerns with such rabid ferocity only makes an already bad situation worse. 

Give to the Max Day
Because of the behavior which I have described above, I will not be donating to TWS for Give to the Max day this Thursday. Please know that it pains me to say this because I want the cats to continue receiving the absolute best care and I continue to believe in the stated mission of the Sanctuary. However I must put my money where my mouth is. I cannot support the leadership that has chosen to treat their supporters so poorly. I demand that serious consideration be given to management and that stakeholders (donors and volunteers) be given a chance to evaluate, nominate, and vote for leadership who truly represents the values of the organization. As of now, we still don’t know anything about the board members, other than their names. This is unacceptable given the current situation.

Instead of donating to TWS for Give to the Max day, I will be giving money to Renee Radziwon-Chapman’s memorial fund. She should not have been left alone at Wild Cat Haven and expected to maintain the sanctuary on her own while leadership helped TWS during this self-inflicted crisis. 

Tiger Fleet
Since late 2010, I have participated in what is known as the "Tiger Fleet", a group of supporters who promote TWS by having vinyl decals of the tigers Titan and Lilly attached to their car. I have faithfully answered questions and encouraged individuals to learn more about TWS. As this situation continues to unfold, I cannot condone the current leadership by continuing to support an organization that has treated people so poorly and used its mission to rescue animals to justify this behavior. I will be removing the decals from my car within the week. 

Finding the Truth
In a recent email from Tammy, she told me “It may be easy to make some assumptions given the silence and receiving only one side of the story…” but I want to take this opportunity to assure her and everyone on the board that my opinions are based not only on the news report, but also on the experiences of many individuals over the past year. My own experience during this crisis is enough to formulate my opinion on the current leadership. Please do not belittle our concerns by weakly deflecting the argument. 

I have heard many sides of this story and eagerly await hearing the full truth, be it from you or an investigation made public. 

It should be clear to you by now that those who have expressed concern during this crisis do so for the cats. Ultimately we want The Wildcat Sanctuary to succeed, but we question the current management and feel that a different kind of restructuring should be done to help TWS maintain its high standards and sustainability. 

~ Katherine

P.S. If you have an ounce of humanity in you, you will encourage your network of supporters to consider donating to Renee's family during their time of need... just a suggestion. 

An Open Letter to the The Wildcat Sanctuary Board of Directors

 To Gail Plewacki and the rest of the TWS Board of Directors,

As recent news articles and broadcasts have indicated, there have been allegations brought against The Wildcat Sanctuary that have caused a great deal of concern among volunteers, donors, and the general public. As this topic continues to evolve, I have questions that must be answered before I can, in good conscience, continue to support the organization. These questions focus on the management of the Sanctuary, specifically as it pertains to how leadership is selected, how issues are handled, and how we have come to this situation.

I have been a dedicated volunteer with the Sanctuary since February 2010. From the beginning, I became as involved as I possibly could because I supported the stated mission to provide a safe haven for exotic cats, most of whom have been purchased and raised by private owners who could not support the needs of such large and complex animals. 

My involvement has included Awareness and Outreach events, print and web design support, gift shop product creation, Domestic Animal Care support, enclosure building, Crisis Communication team on-site support, recruitment of new volunteers, and promoting the Sanctuary with my car by being part of the Tiger Fleet. I have seen firsthand the amazing care that is given to each and every animal. All of the residents have the respect they deserve after starting their lives with countless challenges. 

All of that being said, I have been extremely dissatisfied with how the leadership has handled this situation and I require answers to the following questions:

  • Are the results of the independent investigation available to the public? What were the specific allegations brought against the Sanctuary and how does the evidence support your public stance? 
  • What is the explanation for the rapid turn-over of board members over the past year? Almost the entire board has changed in the past 12 months and former board members have completely removed themselves from the organization.
  • What is the process for nominating and appointing new board members? Having been a volunteer for three years, I have never been aware of open positions, opportunities for nomination, voting arrangements or qualifications of current or potential members.
  • Are board meetings open to the public, and are agendas posted in advance to provide the opportunity for volunteers and donors to be involved?
  • After the snow crisis that occurred in late April, the Sanctuary claimed that “Approximately $100,000" in damages were sustained. As one of the volunteers that were the first to respond to the crisis, I helped repair many enclosures so that they could continue to be used by residents. Over two weeks, we restored at least 7 permanent enclosures and the quarantine enclosure to functional status. These repairs were made using many of the supplies that were already on hand. Very little had to be rebuilt from the ground up. How did the organization come to the $100,000 amount, how much was actually raised, and what specifically were those funds used for?

Volunteers, donors, and concerned citizens deserve transparency on these issues and your recent responses have lacked the detail needed to earn my trust back. 

Thank you and I look forward to your timely response,

Katherine Block

Follow up Information: 

Anyone with concerns is encouraged to contact the office of the MN Attorney General (651) 296-3353 or 1-800-657-3787.


Another Year of Happy

Yesterday was my 27th birthday. I spent Friday evening celebrating with friends at my favorite restaurant, Wok in the Park. After that, we saw Ender's Game for opening night. With over 20 people that came to dinner, I was blown away with the amount of love and awesomeness I have surrounded myself with over the past few years. I think birthdays are a great chance to remind me of the people that have come together to make my life amazing. 

Como Lake

Como Lake

Live your Legend

On Saturday, my actual birthday, I went to an event called "Live your Legend: Twin Cities" . The best way I can describe it is that it was a meetup of like-minded individuals who wanted to pursue their passions. It was based on some of the theories and practices of Scott Dinsmore (check out his TEDx talk). Having a group that can support, encourage and keep each other accountable seems like a great approach for entrepreneurial thinking.

I got some great feedback on my questions and struggles, along with some books, online resources, and activities that I can use to create goals for my professional development and potentially turn hobbies into something more. When I got home, I created a mind-map of where I am today to help visualize my current priorities. This might become a new tradition for each birthday to capture a snapshot in time every year. The next step is to identify what my priorities are, think about how I spend my time, and create a plan for advancing my goals. The idea of a personal renaissance intrigues me, I can't wait to see where this goes. 

Life at 27 Mind Map

Life at 27 Mind Map

October Progress Video

And with the beginning of a new month, that means one has just ended. Here is my progress video for October. This video is pretty much all vaults and momentum transfers because I was only able to go to 3 or 4 classes this month thanks to an angry ankle. Fortunately the ankle is better now, so it's time to beat it up again!  

This video really brings my knee issues to my attention. I'm favoring my knees by using my back to absorb landings...which is dumb and useless. Definitely have to work on healing/strengthening my knees.