It's Always Something

loose threads from a tightly wound mind.

Nikki Stern

Nikki Stern
Princeton, New Jersey, USA
April 10
whatever sounds good
Sure, come on in
Author of "Because I Say So: The Dangerous Appeal of Moral Authority" ( and "Hope in Small Doses" and busy blogger at


Editor’s Pick
APRIL 19, 2011 2:54PM

A Stronger Cup of Tea

Rate: 36 Flag

You probably didn’t know Sally Goodrich. She was, among other things, a teacher and school administrator; a cancer survivor; wife of a small-town lawyer from North Adams, Massachusetts;  the mother of a young man killed on 9/11; and eventually, a dedicated advocate for Afghan civilians, particularly for girls and young women.

It was in this last role that Sally attained a modicum of notoriety. Not nearly as much as Greg Mortenson, the internationally acclaimed humanitarian and author of Three Cups of Tea. This week, in a devastating article published online and in a “60 Minutes” interview, author Jon Krakauer accused Mortenson of falsifying his memoir and worse, of ripping off the charitable foundation he established.

We’re going to be hearing a lot about this story; we already are--which is why I’ve been thinking of Sally. The accusations against Mortensen, if true, present a depressing “teacup half empty” view of relief efforts in Afghanistan. Sally’s story, heartbreaking though it is, fills the cup again.

Immediately after 9/11, Sally started, along with her husband Don and a few others, Families of September 11 (FOS11), an organization that worked on behalf of 9/11 relatives around the globe. I got to know Sally  when I worked with the organization, first on the board and then as its executive director. She was a gracious and giving, with a sharp New England wit. Like all of us, she was suffering. Worse, on top of the delayed grief and depression, she had to deal with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer which came in 2002. It was a difficult time.

In 2004, Sally heard from a Marine in Afghanistan, a friend of her late son Peter, who asked her to collect supplies for school children. It was then that Sally found her calling, a way to lift herself out of depression and create something positive to honor her son’s spirit. In 2005, Sally and Don founded the Peter M Goodrich Memorial Foundation.

img_h0158h The organization has raised over a million dollars, some of which was used to build a 500-student coed school. It also supports an orphanage in the Pashtun and raises money for, among other projects, disabled landmine victims, a dental clinic, exchange students in the United States, victims of natural disasters and other school projects.

Sally made several trips to Afghanistan beginning in 2005. That year, she was ABC’s “Person of the Week” because she “turned personal loss into hope for hundreds.” She traveled back in 2007 and again in 2009. Then her cancer returned. In December of last year, Sally died at the age of 65.

Sally was an eloquent woman but she never wrote a book, never went on a speaking tour, never took any money from the foundation. The projects gave her back her life, she said, and that was enough. For the hundreds she’s helped, it’s more than enough.

Filmmaker Rick Derby has created a short film—Axis of Good-- about Sally’s work. I hope this might take some attention away from the Mortensen story. Of course, big scandal and big money make up a bigger story, but sometimes a small tale holds a big heart.

image: Axis of Good

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Afghan relief isn't all about scandal, as Sally Goodrich proved
Eloquently written, Nikki.
Thank you for this, Nikki. There must be many unknown heroes who should be remembered and celebrated. Now I'm off to read the Axis of
Good link and all else I can about Sally.

Heartwarming, inspiring, faith-in-humanity-restoring piece, Nikki.
Thanks for letting us know about a quiet determined woman making a big difference, it's much appreciated. How sad cancer has ravaged yet another good life.

I haven't written off 'Three Cups of Tea' yet-- that anyone is paying attention to children in Afghanistan is a good thing, we'll see how bad it gets for Mr. Mortensen.
He alluded to opposition in his book because he wasn't following a US agenda with those schools...
I do hope it's not total BS as so much turns out to be.
I've nearly completed the Krakauer article (it's 77 pages), but the evidence is damning. Thanks for this, Nikki.
Thanks for this uplifting look at a wonderful, courageous person. RRRR
Nikki, work and words from the heart find the light when people like you speak out and remind us, just how much good there is in the world.Thanks for writing about this.
Sudden thought -- Didn't Mr. Krakauer's book 'Into Thin Air' run into some trouble with integrity as well a few years ago? I thought so, anyway...
As you can see, I'm distressed at this situation, if only more people like Sally Goodrich were only interested in being there for these children...I'm concerned about all this distraction from what is really needed for these children...the future adults of Afghanistan.

There is also the Afghan Child Project doing very good things for these children-- they collect books, computers, clothing, bedding. They help with renewable energy projects, lifesaving medical operations, literacy clinics for women:
Excellent Nikki. Sorry it took so long to get here..Darn site
Congrats on the Ep
Congratulations on the EP!
Well told story. Thanks for introducing her amazing life to us. It was a great tribute.
Nikki, it is really sad how many of these 'non-profit' relief organizations are showing up after tragedies. It is clear they only have one kind of help in mind: helping their own pocketbooks to get fatter. Just after the earthquake in Japan, another wave of supposed do-gooders were up and running within a few days. I also have a couple of friends who are in for heartbreak when they discover the organizations they are so devoted to are scams. I always like to do a plug for UNICEF and the great work they do worldwide on fine posts such as this one...thank you for letting me do the commercial. xox
Thanks, Nikki! I too am concerned about the fallout surrounding Greg Mortenson (see my post: "Time for Divinations: Seeing Lessons in Three Cups of Tea") . Thank you for highlighting a woman doing excellent work in this region. The more we can highlight our friends and families doing good work in Afghanistan, the less expectation we place on one individual alone to 'save' it.
You get tired of hearing of greed and selfishness. This is a welcome relief. Afghanistan, though. That's a tough gig. It must take years of education to provide a counter balance to strong currents of religious conservatism that characterize the country. Though I seem to remember that Afghanistan had quite a number of educated women in jobs and public positions before the Taliban. There may be some hope for Afghanistan after all.
Oh Nikki, I'm always so glad to see your avatar in my blog feed. You always uplift, inform, and make me glad to know you. One of these days I will shake your hand (and send you that photo, I love yours).
Nikki, a wonderful story about Sally's many efforts to help others. It was very sad to read that she passed on last year, the world certainly needs many more like her!
Beautifully written, Nikki. Now I miss Sally too, knowing the world was so lucky to have her goodness and strength.
Congratulations on the well deserved EP! So glad you shared this story at this time. Makes all the difference. I do hope the negativity surrounding Mortenson is not true.
i haven't read the krakauer article yet, though i will. but i'm glad i saw this first, nikki, since i agree that we (prompted by the media) focus on the bad/sensational news while the stories about people like ms. goodrich stay on the back pages. terrific write-up. it must be very, very hard to lose a friend like her.
I just heard about the controversy surrounding Greg Mortenson on NPR; it is troublesome especially because his book was required reading for a class my son took. I haven't read it and now I'm not sure I want to. Thanks for writing about Sally Goodrich. I hope her story attracts the attention his did.
Thank you for this, Nikki. ~r
Hey this is lovely and such good alternative to the Mortenson mess which kind of turned my stomach. I read that book and believed in that guy. We should all learn more about Sally and others like her.
i haven't read the krakauer article yet, though i will. but i'm glad i saw this first, nikki, since i agree that we (prompted by the media) focus on the bad/sensational news while the stories about people like ms. goodrich stay on the back pages. terrific write-up. it must be very, very hard to lose a friend like her.
This was very heartening. We need more people like Sally. Thank you fro telling us about her.
A way to make sense of suffering is to reach out and help someone else who is suffering. I would bet that Sally received at least as much as she gave. It's a cliche, but it is really true. I'm glad to learn about her and glad that she was here.
Thank you so much for this. Mortenson has been one of my heroes, and he must get credit for some great accomplishments. But I am sorely disappointed and dismayed by the scandal and his actions. Now I have somewhere else to turn.
What a beautiful piece, Nikki. If I were her, I would rather have you write about me, rather than all the media put together. R
I don't know why, but I was surprised and saddened to hear that Sally had just recently died. I didn't expect to read that in your post. There are so many good people in the world. I would much rather focus on them than the ones who take away from others and in doing so, harm them. Good post.
What a beautiful tribute Nikki. It's always heartening to hear of people doing such good work for the benefit of others. There's a surprisingly large number of them who help soften the blows of society's savageries.
Terrific and needed. I hope she can be seen absent that other, tainted lens.
Thanks for sharing this story. Well said.
There are all sorts of relatively unsung efforts like this, on the part of individuals reaching out: I remember hearing about one woman who was setting up a beauty school, so that Afghan women could learn a useful trade that they could practice without running afoul of the Taliban, another who was setting up a boutique cosmetic line using pomegranite seed oil, which was once a very popular and profitable export for small farmers. IIRC, in reading about Afghanistan in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the women were formerly very independent - it was said, by Kipling, I think - that the farther north you went, the less trammeled by purdah that the women were.
On another blog I follow, someone had posted pictures taken in Kabul in the 1950s and 1960s - women all over the place in western dress, not a burka in sight. One of them was of a Girl Guide rally in one of the main parks in Kabul; all the little Afghan Girl Guides in their uniforms ... one hopes that kind of life can come back for them, in Kabul, at least.
What an example for us all - thank you for sharing her story. I hope this scandal does not detract from all the good that has been done by Sally and others.
The Sally Goodriches of this world prove much to me.

First, that much good is to be found among most human beings.

Second, that privately organized charity is still possible – both in American and outside of it.

Third, that there are better ways to help others than relying on governments for the distribution network to the beneficiaries.

Thanks for writing this. It’s sad to lose a Sally Goodrich.
Thanks for this. I've researched non-profits.
The 501 c-3 can be integral and humanitarian.
I've always opted to farm at a meagre existence.
I say`
I'd rather eek out a honest existence and be of conscience.
I once browsed a book about how some (not all) abuse 'it'`
But, that's another topic.
I wonder what's in the cup?
Raw pure milk with honey.
Elderberry-Dandelion wine.
I was told the FDA outlawed`
Sassafras mountain root is a`tea.
I've been innocently a lawbreaker.

What will DOD outlaw next? War!
If I may? I fill cup Ay Honey Wine!
If Ya write book Ya got pants down!

There was a woman who wrote that.
So -
It be wise for women to wear a skirt.
If folks write a silly comment Ya kilt.
Maybe I'll try to get across a border.
Thank You.
In DC they shake hands in a odd manner.
Politico's make a fist and tap the knuckles.
If Ya ever visit a country bumpkin? O, my.
But, I am just conveying a shy hick smiles.
You be You. I See You in anywhere in DC?
Have Ya read that book Ya wrote yet, huh?
I hope to but one at a Flea Market and itch.
I'd ride you `round in a wheelbarrow. Gaud.
EP - Yippee!
Ya get mead!
Mead no bah!
If the Mass Media paid more attention to these things they could run periodical stories about some of the sincere people that do work like this so those that are misusing funds are less likely to get all the attention and funds. then those who are concerned about putting their money were it would do the most good would know where to send it if they want to do so and those that do good work wouldn't need to spend too much time fund raising.
She's a very strong cuppa, to emerge from such loss and personal pain and to focus on the pain and struggle for others. I haven't been following the controversy closely, but I hope that it doesn't send a cloud of skepticism over the efforts of those who are trying to do good.
I admire your persistence in responding to the bad with the good.