the grandma magda guide to building relationships

the grandma magda guide to building relationships

My grandmother, Magda Brown, excels at building and cultivating relationships. This is inherent in her nature, but she is also driven by a personal mission. She is determined to share her story of surviving the Holocaust with as many people as possible. Through telling her story, she hopes to make future generations conscious of the signs of genocide so they can prevent future atrocities.

Grandma Magda has reached tens of thousands of people through her speeches at schools, synagogues, churches, and events, podcasts and media interviews, and the website I created to share her story. “God blessed me with a positive personality. I love people. I love to communicate,” she said. “I feel that my message should be heard and it is being heard, so I take full advantage of that.”

I recently sat down with my grandmother to talk more about her approach to relationships – lessons I strive to apply in my own life.

1. Sit by someone you don’t know.

“I tell my friends, ‘Don’t save me a seat. I like to sit with people I’ve never met before.’ It took a while for my friends not to be offended,” Grandma Magda joked.

Years ago, my grandmother struck up a conversation with Jonathan, a young man sitting next to her at a concert. He was a Methodist pastor and invited my grandmother to speak at his church. Jonathan went on to become a professor at Aurora University, and my grandmother spoke to his class year after year. She became so involved with the university that they gave her an honorary degree. And Jonathan became such a close family friend that he officiated my sister’s wedding. That stranger you sit next to could be end up having a large impact on your life.

2. Be open to new opportunities.

You never know what an experience may lead to. For example, one woman heard my grandmother speak at an event at the state capital, then suggested her as a guest to a Catholic radio station. The radio station interviewed my grandmother, then decided to distribute her testimony to all of the Catholic schools in the area. “This is how the message spreads,” she said.

3. Follow up and follow through.

When my grandmother meets people through her travel and speaking engagements, they often talk about visiting each other when they’re in town or bringing her in to speak at their school or congregation. The thing that astounds me (and this may be a reflection of my generation’s flakiness) is that everyone follows up and follow through on these discussions. There are no empty gestures. “I try to keep my refrigerator packed with homemade goodies so I can serve my visitors,” she said.

4. Know your audience.

My grandmother stays up to date on technology and trends to ensure she can relate to her audience when speaking and get her message across. “I have to know their language to connect with these children,” Grandma Magda said. She happily poses for selfies with middle-schoolers (she briefly called them “sophies,” until my mom corrected her) and has started to do Skype Q&As with classes around the country.

5. Find a great mentor.

As a young woman who had recently immigrated to the United States, my grandmother came down with pneumonia. The doctor who treated my grandmother – a fellow Hungarian Jew – saw great potential in her and offered to train her to work in his doctor’s office. My grandmother seized the opportunity. She went on to become a medical assistant and worked with Dr. Schwartz for 40 years.

My grandmother said that Dr. Schwartz taught her the importance of treating all patients – and all people – as equals, a lesson that continues to influence her approach to relationships today.

kind of a big deal

kind of a big deal

We’re thrilled over here in Aggregate land to announce that we’re working with Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker David France to develop and run the social impact campaign in support of his new film about trans rights pioneers Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. We’re super fans of David’s first film, How to Survive a Plague, and it was our fandom that – in part – contributed to having this opportunity. David knew we were a passionate group and that we understand what he is trying to do: tell stories about those who are not widely known, but should be because they changed the world – for all of us and for the better. Plus, we wrote a kick ass proposal.

The film is still in production; they will begin editing this spring. Aggregate’s work will involve working with the Sylvia & Marsha (working title) team – which includes producers Kim Reed (Prodigal Sons) and L.A. Teodosio (Love is Strange) – to create and implement the social impact outreach strategy, develop and manage the film’s advisory group and organizational partnerships, raise funding for the campaign, and more.

We’ll keep you posted on our progress and look forward to seeing you when the film premieres.

worthy in your eyes

worthy in your eyes

Aggregate celebrated four years of being in business this October and today we celebrate four years of showing our gratitude by giving back. We donate approximately 10 percent of our profits each year.

Selecting the organizations to which we make donations is a collaborative process, with staff proposing their ideas for organizations that reflect Aggregate’s values as a company: committed to social justice and equity, unapologetic about their passion, and believers in storytelling – in its many forms – as a tool for social change.

Every day in our work, we must pitch ideas to clients and make effective arguments as to why they should be embraced. And we must develop and execute upon communications strategies that impel people to take actions that will help our clients achieve their missions. So these pitches are also an opportunity for staff to hone their skills. In this case, they need to convince ME to write a check.

Wait…WHAT? Subjective decision-making?


Just as many of our “worthy” ideas never see the light of day because we have failed to convince a client to embrace them, only a few among the many that are worthy of our support ultimately make the list.

Once again I am proud of the team for their ideas. We share these organizations with you in the hopes that you will consider joining us in supporting them. But if we don’t convince you, we hope you’ll still share your good fortune with other organizations that are worthy in your eyes.

We remained loyal.
We made our fourth annual donation to the Southern Center for Human Rights. The Center provides legal representation to people facing the death penalty, improves legal representation for people who are low-income, and challenges human rights violations in prisons and jails. This year was also the fourth year we made a donation to the Ali Forney Center in New York City, which provides services to homeless LGBTQ youth. And for the fourth year in a row, we made the donation in honor of Spencer Cox, who gave so much to all of us in his efforts to end the AIDS pandemic.

We did something we never did before.
We maintain a strict line between our charitable donations and our business development efforts (i.e., we’re sincere), so we’ve never made a donation to a client organization. But then we had the honor of working with the Abortion Care Network. At the end of a year during which women’s access to their constitutional right to plan their families was attacked repeatedly, we think it’s an imperative to support providers who literally risk their lives every day to provide exceptional care to their patients. The Abortion Care Network is small in size, but enormous in ambition and their value to the abortion care community. We want them to succeed.

We believe in justice – in all its manifestations.
We’re heading into an election year and we need to be prepared to ensure that those who want to go to the polls are not impeded and their votes are counted, so we made the decision to support Common Cause. We appreciate how the Campaign for Youth Justice uses storytelling in their effort to end the practice of prosecuting, sentencing, and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system, so we made a donation to them to help them to continue to do so. We made a donation to Girls Who Code to help bridge the gender gap and inspire, educate, and equip more girls to have the computing skills they need to succeed. We donated to The Marshall Project, a nonprofit media organization focused on reporting on the American criminal justice system, because they help to make us smarter every day. We donated to Seattle’s Splash to support their efforts to provide clean water to kids around the world and, specifically, in response to the earthquake in Nepal this past April. And we made a donation to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project to better enable the organization to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression, regardless of income or race, and without facing harassment, discrimination or violence. And because we love Sylvia.

We’re good friends.
We made a donation to The Lowline in New York to support our friend Dan Barasch to build an underground park in an historic trolley terminal on the Lower East Side. We supported Kat Galasso’s Kickstarter campaign to relaunch The Floatones at La Mama. And we supported another friend to show support to HIS friend by riding in DC’s Ride to Conquer Cancer.

We (still) love filmmakers.
For the third year in a row we are supporting the True/False Pay the Artists Program to enable the festival to financially support the filmmakers who screen their films at the fest (beyond travel costs) and to encourage others to invest in independent documentary filmmaking.

We attended Good Pitch this October and made donations to two of the films presented that day: Whose Streets and Canary in a Coal Mine. Whose Streets is the Ferguson MO story as told by the activists who took to the streets when Michael Brown is murdered by the police. It is “a first-hand look at how the murder of one teenage boy became the last straw for a community under siege.” Canary in a Coal Mine brings attention to Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), which disproportionately impacts women. (And is being executive produced by our hero Debby Hoffman.)

We love Seattle.
Last year we gave money to KEXP (for the second year in a row) to help them to move into their new studio at the Seattle Center. They made that move this month. This year we’re making our third annual donation to make sure they know how grateful we are to them for helping to make Seattle a great place to call home.

Unfortunately, calling Seattle home continues to become a greater and greater challenge to too many people. For the second year in a row we have made a donation to the Tenants Union of Washington State to support their ability to advocate on behalf of tenants.

We made a donation to the International Rescue Committee in Seattle to welcome refugees who have come to our fair city and allow them to rebuild their lives by providing housing, health care, food, education, and legal and social services.

Finally, we made a donation to our local YWCA, supporting their efforts to empower women who are facing poverty, violence and discrimination in our backyard.

Thank you to everyone who makes our giving possible. Best wishes for the new year.

the power of food and potential of people: a visit from robert egger

the power of food and potential of people: a visit from robert egger

Earlier this month Robert Egger—Founder and President of L.A. Kitchen—dropped by our offices in Seattle for a visit. Over a tequila and tonic (his signature drink, for anyone who might be hosting him soon), he talked to our team about a lot of things—from economic sexism and the expanding constructs of what it means to be a refugee, to nutritional imperialism and aging. What struck me most is the number of issues Robert and his organization are addressing through their work, including “lovingly disrupting senior meals.”

Food waste, unemployment, poverty, senior nutrition—these are all treated as “solvable issues” within the L.A. Kitchen ecosystem. Considering the number of organizations focused on addressing any of these single issues, it’s especially impressive to see how L.A. Kitchen is addressing them all as part of one interconnected system.

They reclaim nutritious, local food that would otherwise be discarded (primarily due to cosmetic issues); provide culinary training to men and women (most whom are coming out of foster care or the criminal justice system) who turn those ingredients into healthy, delicious meals; then distribute those meals to social service agencies serving the city’s most vulnerable, particularly low-income seniors, who are so often provided with processed foods. It’s an impressive cycle all aimed at “ensuring that neither food nor people go to waste,” and one that was noticed by the AARP Foundation, who awarded them a founding grant of $1 million, the largest single AARP grant in its history.

Tapping into the power of food and potential of people, I’d say Robert is disrupting more than just senior meals. L.A. Kitchen has also started a for-profit subsidiary—Strong Food—which will compete for food service contracts, employ graduates of the organization’s training program, and ultimately support L.A. Kitchen to be self-sustaining. That’s important to Robert not just from a financial perspective, but from an advocacy perspective as well. Too often the organizations best positioned to advocate for policy changes are prevented from doing so because of their funding models (most grants specifically state that funding cannot be used for advocacy) or their 501(c)3 status.

I’ve seen the power of culinary training programs with my own eyes–someone close to me, who’s faced their share of challenges, is currently enrolled (and thriving) in one—but L.A. Kitchen takes this to a whole new level, in a way that truly inspires my farmer’s-market-shopping-foodie heart. If you ever have a chance to meet Robert Egger or hear him speak, do. And be sure to check out the amazing work that L.A. Kitchen and D.C. Central Kitchen (the organization Robert founded and ran for 25 years before heading to Los Angeles) are doing.


do it yourself: a q&a with david wilson

do it yourself: a q&a with david wilson

I recently had a chance to chat with David Wilson, founder of the True/False Film Festival and our creative director here at Aggregate. We talked about the DC punk rock scene of the 80s, the Do It Yourself (DIY) culture it fostered, and the influence these things have had on the way he works.


Melissa Duque
Hi David! Let’s start by talking about what DIY culture is.

David Wilson
DIY culture is an outgrowth of punk rock and came about in the U.S. in the mid 80s. It was a distillation of the spirit of punk—positioning music as just one of many forms of expression that could be “punk” and recentering the movement around an ethos of Do It Yourself energy and enthusiasm. The idea was to value and prioritize individual (or small group) creation and expression, rather than assuming that things (art, culture, objects) had to come from a top-down economy.

This includes selling your own music instead of being part of a record studio and the focus of playing in garages instead of “typical” establishments?

Right. The emphasis was on not only writing the music, but taking control of every aspect—where you played, where you recorded, making your own records. In doing so, one could reject the gatekeepers and create whatever inspires you.

“reject the gatekeepers and create whatever inspires you” 

I love that.  So how has that played out for you? Is that part of everything you do?

I think I steeped in that culture long enough to have it permeate my bones. So yeah, anything I do now, I tend to think of the entire pipeline. And, if I’m passing off parts of a project to others (which happens often—DIY is really all about collaboration), I try to be extra mindful of how all those pieces fit together.

“DIY is really all about collaboration”

How hard has it been to get to a place where you think that way? Do you see it as something anyone can do?

Yeah, there’s nothing exclusive about DIY culture. If anything, it’s the opposite. But, be warned, it’s a very “active” mode of creation. It’s more work, and more things to worry about. But the end result is worth it, I think.

And even when we’re not actually creating things ourselves, we can apply these tenets to lots of aspects of daily life. I may decide that I don’t want to make my own shoes, but I’m going to be more inclined to buy shoes from a company that gives me a clear sense of its manufacturing process and demonstrates a high regard for ethics and the rights of its workers in that process.

What are some iconic examples of DIY culture?

For me, DC punk was my first exposure to this culture. Dischord records started to put out albums by their friends—by the early 90s they were selling hundreds of thousands of albums, while still staying true to that ethos. They were followed by Simple Machines, run by two women who not only got their label off the ground, but wrote a booklet that contained step-by-step instructions for how to start your own. They legitimately inspired hundreds of small labels to get off the ground.

The confluence of DIY culture and small-town culture is really important to me, too. In a small town, there are far fewer opportunities, so if you want something (a skate park, a concert space, a movie theater) you have to create it yourself.

This really helps me understand True/False…

You’re totally right. True/False exists because a group of people—first small, then bigger and bigger—decided that there was no reason there couldn’t be a world class film festival in the middle of Missouri. One of my favorite T/F moments came in the second or third year, when a friend (a writer) typed personal welcome letters to each filmmaker and put them in handmade envelopes. It blew our guests away that we’d devote that much individual attention to them.

Fantastic.  How do you see DIY culture and Aggregate?

Aggregate rose up out of the bloated corpses of big agencies. They’d built an unsustainable model, and it crashed. By being light on our feet and working instead with a dynamic and ever-shifting pool of collaborators, we are able to do world-class work without the excess of a bigger agency.

Also, Aggregate cares, legitimately, about our clients and their missions. And that spirit, that energy—you can’t match that, no matter how much money you throw at something. We’re going to always be working to find the most elegant, efficient solutions to problems. And we’re never going to be afraid to turn away from something that’s not working.

“that spirit, that energy – you can’t match that, no matter how much money you throw at something” 

How do we embrace this culture?

I think it takes a certain confidence to be willing to step outside the usual systems. And once outside, it takes more work. You’ve got to marry the boldness to find new solutions with the roll-up-your-sleeves determination to realize them.

“you’ve got to marry the boldness to find new solutions with the roll-up-your-sleeves determination to realize them” 

Interested in learning more about DIY Culture? Check out these sources!

creating connectedness

creating connectedness


Moments of connectedness can feel unfortunately rare in a place that is known for the “Seattle freeze.” But I get the sense more and more that Seattleites are craving that connectedness and seeking to build stronger relationships with their neighbors. The Buy Nothing Project, which began on Bainbridge Island, Washington, is a prime example. People request and share free goods and services—everything from furniture to kids’ clothing to lasagna—in hyper-local Facebook groups. You send fewer items to landfills, and you get to meet people in your community while you’re doing it. My neighborhood group is so active that it’s hard to keep up with all of the posts.

I also felt this spirit of connectedness during PARK(ing) Day last month. Held as part of the Seattle Design Festival, PARK(ing) Day is an annual worldwide event where artists, designers and citizens transform parking spots into temporary public parks. My Aggregate teammates and I ventured out to explore the pop-up parks around Pioneer Square, the historic Seattle neighborhood in which our office is located. I was struck by the mood at each spot—people were happy and smiling and chatting. The frivolity of the parks helped create a lighter mood and drive curiosity. You wanted to talk to the people who had organized the space to find out what their park was about and to learn more about their organization or company.

PARK(ing) Day aims to raise awareness about the importance of walkable, livable, and healthy cities and help people re-think how our streets can be used. I’d say it succeeds in doing so. Creating a flower crown in the middle of First Street felt way better than sitting in traffic on First Street.

Designing for Equity

Seattle Design Festival panel

Gaining a stronger understanding of the issues affecting Seattle—and hearing diverse perspectives on the potential solutions—also helps me feel more connected to other residents and to our city. I enjoyed hearing from designers, architects, community organizers and activists and discussing ways to design for equity at the Seattle Design Festival’s conference. It was refreshing to see a conference focused on equity live up to that ideal—it was free, open to the public, held at the public library in downtown Seattle, and the panelists were fairly diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity.

The discussions featured grassroots organizers and activists who are working every day to tackle social justice issues in Seattle. I learned about the recommendations that came out of Seattle’s Housing and Livability Agenda, which seeks to address our city’s dire lack of affordable housing.

I also learned more about efforts to stop King County from building a new $210 million youth jail in the Central District and a City Council resolution to ban youth detention (which has since passed). I appreciated the panelists’ honesty and directness. They named the three architecture firms signed on to build the new jail—one of which was a sponsor of the conference—and asked them to step down from the project. The panel was effective—I gained a deeper understanding of a crucial local issue, and I was compelled to act. I went home and emailed each City Council member about the resolution.

We need more events and programs like the Design Festival and the Buy Nothing Project. We need to bring people together in public spaces and break down the barriers that prevent us from talking to our neighbors. What events and programs help you connect? I’d love to hear about them.