Thursday, June 28, 2012

How I Ruined My Children's Summer Vacation

Summer is happy time, fun time, bubbles and sprinkler time. In my house, it's also Read About Starving Children In Somalia time.

One bright and sunny morning, I had been reading a newspaper article about Somalia and was absolutely shattered by the accompanying photo of a two-year-old boy. He was weeping and writhing on the ground, simply finished with being hungry. He had been standing up, in a food line with his mother, until he couldn't take it anymore.

I carried it to the table where my children were reading over breakfast and said, "I'm going to ruin your day."

I told them about Somalia's problems and showed them the picture. We talked about how important it is to know that these terrible situations exist in the world, and to figure out what we can do about them.

A short time later I noticed Theo kneeling on the floor and sort of dangling over the seat of his chair. I checked that he wasn't having a diabetic reaction, then let him be. Only later would I make the connection that the discussion had really devastated him, when he came to me and said, "Mom, I want to donate my prize money to Kids' Food Basket."

You may recall that Theo won a writing contest for his essay on living with diabetes. For this, he was expecting a $25 cash prize, a substantial amount of money for an eight-year-old.

And now he wanted to give it away.

Kids' Food Basket is a one-of-a-kind local nonprofit that provides take-home meals for children who otherwise would not have supper. During the school year, nearly 5,000 sack suppers are distributed at the end of each and every school day. Today their fiscal year ends; they've given out over 753,000 suppers to kids since last July.

We know this because the prize money came in, we bought some juice boxes, snack crackers and baggies, and today, we delivered them to Kids' Food Basket. They gave us a tour and showed us how this important organization runs.

And they weighed Theo's donation: 37 pounds of food. That's my boy. When I ruined his day, he was sure to brighten someone else's.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Please Help: Degage Ministries

Many of you have followed my work in a local homeless shelter through this blog (see "theatre with the homeless" and "homeless shelter" labels off to the right). In describing the theatre, though, I might not have given a full picture of the place. Degage Ministries, here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is unique in its approach to serving the homeless. Stop in the dining room, for example, and note that food is not simply handed out: It costs money. Not too much money, but something, and the point is to preserve the dignity of those who eat there.

I had the privilege of meeting recently with executive director Marge Palmerlee, who caught me up on the latest developments in the shelter. Over coffee at Panera, she explained that the numbers at the overnight shelter have increased dramatically; we cried together as she described a day in winter when she handed out the number 31 to a woman, who knew only 30 were allowed inside. Pure fear froze her where she stood.

But there were happy tears, too, for Degage is always moving forward and looking for the best ways to serve. The women who spend the night at The Open Door now have a case worker following them throughout the day. More effort has been put into getting long-term patrons into apartments, where appropriate. When I asked about one woman I remembered, who had a past in massage, Marge told me they bought her a table and she now has clients of her own.

You will not find "buy a massage table for an alcoholic homeless woman" in any guide book for running a shelter. That's what makes Degage so darn impressive and downright inspirational.

Their latest unique initiative is to build a roof-top garden and greenhouse on the roof of the shelter. Patrons will benefit from eating the healthy, locally-grown food as well as learning to grow it. This marvelous idea can take root if enough people vote online here:

You'll find a full description of the project under Degage Ministries. I'm getting worried, because there are many worthy organizations listed, and two animal agencies are surpassing Degage's vote.

Can you take a minute to register and vote? You can vote up to once each day 'til August 17.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

My Heart Will Not Sit Down

"In 1931, the city of New York received a gift of $3.77 to feed the hungry. It came from the African country of Cameroon."

So begins the author's note for the children's book My Heart Will Not Sit Down, written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Ann Tanksley.

An American missionary, most likely, had told the Africans about his country's great depression. The donation ultimately would not help much, but to those who sent it, $3.77 was a small fortune. Despite their own hardships, the villagers of Cameroon, touched deeply, gathered what they could and sent it on.

My heart will not sit down. What a marvelous phrase.

At the BuildaBridge Institute for Arts In Transformation last week, mealtime with fellow faculty members naturally saw conversations turning toward the reason we had all gathered: helping others.  

Kathryn Pannepacker, a brilliant textile artist whose weavings and murals brighten pockets of Philly everywhere you turn, mentioned that each time she comes to the Institute, she's challenged to do more. Other nodded in agreement. I added the thought that for me, the inclination to help travels in seasons--right now, I'm thankful to be able to teach others how to potentially change lives even while I'm unable to actively do so myself.

Not that I'm slacking too selfishly; my hands are in a few projects, and I'm starting a new venture. Remember the women from the homeless shelter? I'm going back in, but this time, for exercise. A group of the women trained to walk a 5K recently, and staff there want to build on their motivation to stay healthy.

This, too, is another season for me--fitness instead of theatre--but no matter: whatever I can offer to help, I will. Not all help need be an organized affair, I should add; taking the time to talk with my elderly neighbor up the street is just as important as spending an hour prepping an exercise class.

And your heart? Is it sitting, or standing?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dixie Cup Combos

D-Mom Amy is away, so Greg (Dad-D) is taking the liberty of guest posting.

Today was Theo's last day of school, and he wanted something special for dessert. Fair enough. He explained in great detail his recipe for "Dixie Cup Combos." (The detail mostly centered on whether the chocolate syrup should go on the bottom or top of the marshmallow.) And now, dear readers, I share it with you:

1 Marshmallow (5.5 carbs)
1 TB Chocolate syrup (10 carbs)
6 Chocolate chips (2 carbs)
1 Dixie Cup (0 carbs)

1. Put marshmallow dixie cup.
2. Pour chocolate syrup on top of marshmallow.
3. Place chocolate chips on top.
4. Eat.
5. Wash face.

That, my friends, is one insulin unit of pure joy.

Monday, June 4, 2012

BuildABridge Institute 2012

I'm off to Philadelphia in a couple of days to teach Transformational Drama at the BuildABridge Institute. BuildABridge does great work through the arts in the "tough places of the world," as they so eloquently explain their hard-earned success.