Listen

Listen

Jan 12

 

Earlier this week we had an outage at my residence.  We had no telephone service, internet capabilities, nor television for approximately ten hours.   Sometimes the silence can be deafening.  With several hobbies that do not include technology or even electricity, I found plenty of things to do.  What was interesting, though, were the everyday, ordinary sounds that are always in my world that I never really hear.  Technology is a wonderful thing and I certainly love my creature comforts.  However, we need to make certain that in our living, we do not forget to listen.  Listening is one of life’s most effective educational tools.  Once we listen, we become aware of so much more around ud than what we notice as we hurry through our busy lives.

 

“Hey there.  I’m Brandon.  I get really passionate about things.  At some time in my life, I’ve been obsessed or borderline-obsessed with saltwater aquariums, the baritone euphonium, reading, piano, filming, financial markets, New York City, and photography.  I studied History at the University of Georgia.  During my senior year of college, I took out $3,000 in student loans and bet it on Barack Obama to win the presidency.  A friend heard about this bet and got me a job trading bonds on the Chicago Board of Trade.  I traded for three years.  It went really well for awhile.  But then it went really bad. Whoops. After I lost my trading job, I decided to move to New York City and take portraits of strangers on the street. Mom wasn’t too happy about that decision, but so far it’s gone pretty well. I’ve taken nearly 5,000 portraits and written 50 stories. And I’ve met some amazing people along the way.”

 

This paragraph is on the home page of the website for Humans of New York.  Now a best-selling published book and the subject of a highly successful blog, Brandon Stanton’s intro doesn’t really tell the whole story.  In 2010 he had a goal to take ten thousand New Yorkers’ pictures and plot them on a map.  I have often had the same thought regarding pictures of my family.  The amazing thing about Brandon’s photography, though, is the story that each picture tells.  The Georgia native began taking pictures as a hobby while living in Chicago.  He has since traveled under the auspices of the United Nations, taking part in a fifty-day trip through ten nations.  Last year he did the same in Pakistan and Iran and crowd funded a project to help end bonded labor in Pakistan.

 

Stanton’s photographs are not technically perfect.  After all, he was a history major in college.  What they do, however, is bring the human condition into focus.  They capture a moment in time that is an entire book.  Not all of the minute portraits are completely candid shots. There are the critics as well.  Recently, Robert John Boyle published an article at salon.com regarding the sugarcoating of Brandon’s subjects and the presentation that Boyle called “sentimentality”.  I personally think a life well-lived has to include sentimentality but apparently Mr. Boyle does not consider it to be necessary in art.  Over the 2016 December holiday season, Brandon Stanton raised over half a million dollars to help Syrian refugees.  Boyle considers the “dumbing down” of the political aspect outweighs any good the money might accomplish.  It is a common debate in the world of humanitarian efforts.

 

The visual content of the pictures found within Humans of New York make us listen, not only to the subject of the photograph but to the world around us.  When all we hear is our own ego, we are unable to hear reality and the needs the world is calling us to repair.  “When my husband was dying, I said: Moe, how am I supposed to live without you? He told me: take the love you have for me and spread it around.”  This anecdote from Stanton’s blog and book is just one example of the truths found accompanying each picture.  One of my favorites is the young child Stanton saw.  Wanting to take her picture he started asking nearby adults “Does she belong to you?”  Suddenly the little girl responded “I belong to myself!”

 

What if we listened to the world as belonging to each of us?  Observe a group of mothers and you will learn that each seems to know her own baby’s cry and what that cry means.  When I was single I laughed at the thought of understanding a baby’s cry… and then I became a mother.  I soon became one of “those mothers’.  Most of us dog owners can recognize our own dog’s bark and usually what it means.  (My cats also speak to me but we all know that cats merely do that to get our attention.  After all, no human is smart enough to understand cat-speak!)

 

When we listen – not just hear but really listen – great things can happen.  Stephen Covey knew how often we fail to really listen: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  We each can be a humanitarian and help ourselves to be better people if we would just listen, really listen, to what the world is telling us, to what our neighbors are saying.  I think Leo Buscaglia, another best-selling author,  penned it succinctly:  “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

 

We have a very powerful winter storm approaching this weekend and while I sincerely hope there are no outages, I do plan to make use of the weather in listening to those around me.  Last night I went through some old photographs and learned a great deal listening to the story they told of family members now deceased.  We never grow too old or too smart to stop listening.  There is much we can hear and learn if we will just take the time to listen to the world around us.

 

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Gratitude

Gratitude

Jan 9

 

It is often said that “Home is where the heart is” but where exactly is our heart?  Earlier this week I asked you the reader how you wanted to be known.  What do your daily activities say about you?  How do they illustrate your beliefs?  We have discussed having a bountiful life and manifesting our faith in how we live.  Two year ago we peeked into the lives of many humanitarians through the use of verbs, those action words found in each and every sentence.  We talked about the comic genius of Tom Shadyac, the youngest writer to have ever worked for Bob Hope.  Then we discussed the comic genius himself, Mr. Bob Hope.

 

Long before Tom Shadyac was even born, Bob Hope had made a name for himself in Hollywood as an actor, singer, dancer, vaudeville performer, producer, comedian, and yes, even an athlete.  Hope appeared in over seventy films and countless television programs during his eighty-plus year career.  He also made over fifty USO tours to entertain United States military personnel overseas.  Bob Hope’s passion for living was illustrated in his unique ways of saying “Thank you”.  His popular and annual USO tours were his way of showing gratitude to military personnel who fought for freedom and peace worldwide.  An avid golfer, Hope appeared in over one hundred and fifty charity golf tournaments each year.  He and his wife Delores adopted four children and lived in the same house from 1937 until his death in 2003 at the age of 100 years.

 

Bob Hope is proof that one needs not be born into wealth in order to create it or spread it in gratitude to multiple agencies and people worldwide.  Born in London to a stonemason and opera singer who later worked at a dry cleaners business, Lesley Hope came to the United States with his six siblings and parents, arriving through the famed Ellis Island in 1908.  He worked as a butcher before signing up to take dance lessons with a girlfriend.  Hope then decided on a career in show business and began as a dancer on vaudeville.

 

Bob Hope actually flunked a screen test in the 1930’s but used the experience to better his skills.  His career began on radio and he became known for his comedic wit and timing.  While known for his support of the USO or United Service Organization, Bob Hope lent his name and efforts to various other charitable organizations.  It was because of his gratitude and support for the military that Congress awarded him an honorary veteran in the late 1960’s.

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson once advised “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”  With all of his talents and skills, perhaps the greatest one Bob Hope possessed was the ability to show gratitude.

 

Gratitude is simply saying “Thank you” to someone and yet, it is often overlooked.  How many times have we failed to tell a friend thank you or neglected to follow up with said friend when they are absent?  Once upon a time writing thank you notes was a common trend but somehow, we have detached ourselves from saying thank you. 

 

Many claim they are too busy and others just assume that the gratitude we feel in our hearts somehow gets known by others.  The truth is that most of us fail to show gratitude or express it.  There are no excuses.  I am not going to sugar-coat this.  We need to live an attitude of gratitude every minute and especially show it to our friends.  There is even an app to help us out, an app called the Art of Giving.

 

In her book “Eat, Pray, Love”, Elizabeth Gilbert writes:  “In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”

 

At the end of each performance, for over fifty years, Bob Hope expressed his own personal style and gratitude by his famous one-liner….”Thanks for the memories.” There will always be another job to do, another hill to climb, another dish to wash, or book to read.  This moment, this minute, though, will never come again.  We all live a bountiful life of some sort.  We also all are the recipient of someone else’s kindness.  Take a minute to show gratitude to someone.  Let them know…Thank you.

Dream Big

Dream Big

Jan 8

 

On August 17, 2015 at 6:31 AM a tweet was seen: “Make sure humanitarian efforts don’t go unnoticed this World Humanitarian Day”.  His simple tweet was seen by over eleven hundred people and retweeted hundreds of time.  That alone did a great deal for humanitarian efforts.   It got people thinking and talking and, as usual, led to action.  One tweet got people thinking and enabled others to dream big.

 

The use of twitter, a social media site that limits the amount of characters might seem fitting for a lad who suffered from dyslexia.  Most would not have expected him to try very hard to learn, especially since he was born with the proverbial silver spoon.  The little rich kid who sent that tweet on August 15th began his entrepreneurial ventures by buying American record manufacturers excess stock; you know, the stock nobody wanted.  He then sold the excess record albums out of the trunk of his car to anybody and everybody.  He soon was selling to retail markets in England and then started a mail order discount record business.  That led to opening his first store, the name chosen after being suggested by an employee to recognize the lack of experience they all had in what they were doing.

 

He was seeking to make a place in the world and our young man who had trouble in school suddenly found himself not having trouble in the business world.  He began opening other businesses, none of which he really was an expert in and all with the same name reflecting his lack of experience.  From records he branched out into an airline, a soft drink company, a liquor company, a mobile telephone company, a communications empire…the list goes on.

 

He also sought to achieve personally and in doing so has set some personal and world records by crossing the Atlantic in a sailboat alone and flying around the world in a hot air balloon.  All bore the name “Virgin” and were piloted by none other than Richard Branson, now Sir Richard Branson.

 

Branson started his first charity, “Student Valley Centre” at the age of seventeen.  It is difficult to find an area of life that his foundation and charitable giving does not support.  Among the causes he supports are Domestic Violence, Animal Abuse, Adoption, Fostering Orphans, AIDS and HIV, At-Risk/Disadvantaged Youth, Cancer Education and Research. Children’s Causes, Conservation Efforts, Disaster Relief, Education, Environment, Family/parent Support, Gender Equality, Health Rights, Physical Challenges, Homelessness, Human Rights, Hunger, LITERACY, Mental Health, Poverty, Clean Water, Weapons Reduction, Women’s Rights, and Global Warming. 

 

All of his causes affect the citizens of the world.  He was awarded the United Nations Correspondents Association Citizen of the World Award for his environmental and humanitarian efforts.  He was also awarded the Knight Bachelor (hence the title “Sir”) by the Queen of England.  Branson credits all this to his desire to seek new things and answers.  “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them…from the perspective of wanting to live life to the fullest.”

 

The beginning of the New Year gives us all a chance to ask what identity we want for ourselves.  Who do you want to become in 2018?  Branson thought himself “huge” and then set out to make it happen.  He defined living life to the fullest by giving as much as he could to help others be huge. 

 

Stop thinking small and give yourself a large identity.  We all can achieve great things when we work together.  The first step is to decide we want to make the world a better place and to individually make a difference in the world – no matter how small or how large that difference might be.    When we dream big, we seek to be a better person and help another.  By dreaming such big dreams, we will give ourselves a wonderful today and a better tomorrow.

Opportunity Awaits

Opportunity Awaits

January 5, 2018

 

For many people, today will be the actual last day of the Christmas season.  Today is the twelfth day after December 25th.   Many will have already taken down their holiday festive decorations while others will spend the weekend putting away Christmas.  The true meaning of the holiday should never be put away and the joy and charity of the Christmas season is, I fervently hope, just beginning.

 

Irony sometimes seems like it is my middle name.  Without getting into the age-old discussion, often loved by English instructors, about the difference between irony and sarcasm or any other of a number of words, let me clarify which definition to which I am referring:  “incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result”.  On the day that I planned to write about Bill Gates and his work in making technology available to the masses, my technological connections seemed to revolt.  Someday this week will make a really humorous anecdote. 

 

I first became aware of the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation when working at a public library.  I had prior computer experience and was picked to write training manuals for the staff.  The Gates Foundation had gifted the library a computer lab so that inner city children could have access to computers and the Internet.  Only three people on a staff of thirty had a personal computer so I ended up mentoring and teaching computer usage as well as drafting manuals.

 

The local library had, as most do, a foundation that provided monetary support.  At an unveiling of the new lab several days before it opened to the public, members of the foundation were invited to a reception and the computers were on display for the foundation members to try and appreciate.  I had been paired with the oldest member of the foundation, a 96-year-old architect who was not overly impressed.  He saw no need for computer educational support when we had three stories of books and were part of a national and international book exchange program.  Computer screens to him were blank nonsense that would not inspire nor provide opportunity or anyone.  In fact, he was certain they “would suck all opportunity from the children who sat in front of them”.

 

I walked over to the front desk and retrieved a blank piece of paper.  I then gave him a pencil and asked him to draw a simple outline of a three-story building or, for that matter, any object he saw on the paper.  He gave me back my pencil and proceeded to make a building using the ancient Japanese art of origami.  It took him about two minutes and we were all fascinated.

 

I then took his old, gnarled hands obviously showing signs of rheumatoid arthritis, in mine and said:  “I gave you nothing and you created wonderment.  With the resources available to a child on the Internet, just imagine what he or she could create.”  This stately, elderly gentle man then smiled and said: “Oh, you should then call the computer what it is – a box full of opportunity and potential.”  He served as a volunteer in the computer lab for two years until his passing, and then we learned of his bequeath to the computer lab which provided support for the computers long after the original grant had expired.

 

We all can create opportunity for another person.  The Gates Foundation has moved on to things beyond computers.  In 2016 they have made three resolutions or promises to serve as goals.  The first involves their continued efforts regarding vaccines for some of the world’s most deadly diseases, especially in underdeveloped countries in Africa and the Far East. 

 

They also have women and girls in their “hearts of our endeavors”.  They plan to invest time, funding, and efforts towards empowering women.  Better healthcare and wellbeing for girls and women means a better world.  Third, they plan to invest in innovation.  The future is all about science and technology and that includes drug therapies for such things as elephantiasis which alone affects over one hundred and twenty million people.

 

The world today is a world with poverty and the future will be dim until we all take steps to do our part.  We can do better.  “You never know how far reaching something you may think say or do today will affect the lives of millions tomorrow.”  B. J. Palmer’s words are very true and they are speaking directly to each of us.  We need to make poverty an opportunity for success by taking action.  This planet is our home and everyone living here needs you and me in order for us all to live a bountiful life.

Twelve Steps Forward Again

Twelve Steps Forward Again

Advent 16-19

Year in Review 2017

 

During Easter of this year we discussed mindfulness.  Mindfulness has become a trending buzzword these days but what does it really mean?  Simply put, mindfulness means being present in the moment, being an active participant in one’s life – moment by moment, awareness of each feeling, thought, and sensation.  It combines the external with the internal without judgment. 

 

Charles A. Francis published a book in 2015 about mindfulness entitled “Mindfulness Meditation Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding Inner peace”.  Mindfulness is an important lifestyle technique that I believe we all need but few of us truly understand it.  For that reason, I am publishing Francis’ summation he wrote about his book and the twelve steps he advocates.  His way is not the only path one can embark upon in being mindful but it is an excellent journey if you desire to engage in this journey of mindfulness.

 

I like Charles Francis’ book and highly recommend reading it as well as paying particular attention to his explanation of each step.   Trying one a day for the twelve days of Christmas would be a great exercise and introduction to mindfulness.   Of course, without having read the book, it might be difficult but you can get enough of an idea to try some rudimentary practices regarding each step from this synopsis of them. 

 

Step 1—“We became aware of the pain and suffering created by unmindful thoughts, speech, and actions.” Step 1 teaches you some important concepts to help you understand the practice. In this step, we’ll talk about the Four Noble Truths, which deal with suffering and how to overcome it. We will also talk about the Five Hindrances, which deal with things that get in the way of your meditation and spiritual development.

 

Step 2—“We learned how to develop our primary tools of observation: concentration and mindfulness.” Here you will learn how to use your two most important tools of observation. If we want to understand ourselves, and our relationships with others, then we need to learn how to observe the world with unbiased clarity.

We often make quick judgments based on preconceived ideas, because it’s easier than examining situations further and often less painful in the short-run. That is, we jump to conclusions without having many of the facts. So, to observe reality without bias, we need to develop our skills of observation. Like a journalist, we’re trying to get at the truth.

 

Step 3—“We sought to eliminate the things that agitate our mind, and prevent us from achieving inner peace and serenity.” A common challenge for beginners is dealing with a racing mind. We’re often unaware that many of our daily activities are agitating our mind. In this step, I’ll show you how to identify and eliminate the sources of agitation. I’ll also give you some effective tools for calming your mind.

 

Step 4—“We learned how to structure our meditation session for maximum effectiveness, and to fit our lifestyle.” In Step 4, we discuss our meditation environment. There is no best time or place that applies to everyone, because we all have different commitments and living situations. I’ll give you some guidelines for choosing the best time and place for you. We’ll also talk about sitting position and how long to meditate.

 

Step 5—“In order to enhance our spiritual evolution, we made mindfulness meditation a regular practice.” This step deals with the actual mechanics of meditation. You’ll learn exactly what to do during your meditation sessions. I’ll give you different formats, so you can choose the one that’s most suitable for your needs, and I will even guide you through a typical meditation session.

 

Step 6—“We remained vigilant in our meditation practice, so that we continued making steady progress.” In Step 6, you’ll learn how to track your progress by keeping a meditation journal. This will help you stay grounded in proper techniques by establishing goals and measuring your progress. It will also help you stay motivated.

 

Step 7—“We became aware that other people can provide us with the spiritual nourishment vital to our development.” Other people can be invaluable sources of spiritual nourishment that will dramatically speed up your development. I will show you how to connect with them, so that you not only enhance your own spiritual development, but also that of others.

 

Step 8—“We sought to cultivate peace and harmony in our relationships and interactions with others by practicing deep listening, mindful speech, non-judging, and forgiveness.” In this step, we’ll examine how our behavior impacts our spiritual development and our relationships, and I’ll share with you some powerful tools for improving them.

 

Step 9—“We sought to dwell deeply in our spiritual community in order to enhance our development, and that of others.” In Step 9, I’ll show you how to avail yourself of the healing power of your spiritual community. I will introduce you to some more useful tools for enhancing your practice, including loving-kindness meditation, and a new meditation technique we’ve developed—writing meditation. You will also learn about the most powerful tool of all—the mindfulness meditation retreat.

 

Step 10—“We became aware of how unmindful consumption perpetuates our suffering, and prevents us from achieving true inner peace.” In this step, we’ll discuss how your consumption of nutrients and other substances can either enhance or hinder your spiritual development. As you progress in your practice, you’ll develop the wisdom and inner strength to make healthier choices.

 

Step 11—“With the strength, courage, and mindfulness we attained through our meditation practice, we confronted and overcame the wounds from our past.” Many of us have wounds from long ago that have never healed. These are serious obstacles to our development. In Step 11, I will show you how to use your emerging mindfulness to overcome them, so you can be free of them once and for all.

 

Step 12—“Having found freedom from our suffering through mindfulness meditation, we shared this practice with others, and continued dwelling deeply in the present moment through mindful living.” One of the great gifts you will receive from this practice is a deep sense of caring and compassion for other people. In this step, you’ll learn how to help others achieve inner peace as you have, and how your mindful leadership can help create a more mindful society. You’ll also learn how to apply mindfulness to all your daily activities, so that you continue making progress.”

 

Remember, you only have to try one step per day.  It may seem like I am adding more onto your already busy schedule but once being mindful becomes a habit, it actually improves your schedule and your response to life itself.  The true purpose of mindfulness is to recognize the joy in living that is all around us.  What a great way to end this year and begin the next!

Faith Lived

Faith Lived

Advent 15

Year in Review 2017

 

During Epiphany 2017 we discussed ways people lived their life’s credo.  The season of Epiphany follows Christmas and while most people Christmas celebrate Christmas as the birth of a “king”, it is actually the season of Epiphany that celebrates the revelation that a small child born in a stable would become the king of a new religion.  This year during Epiphany we discussed people whose lives reflected their beliefs.

 

So what do a Harvard medical graduate, a social activist, a television actress, a movie actress, and an actor in music videos have in common?  First, the verb in that question is incorrect.  It should read “what does” because all those professions refer to just one person…a woman from Pakistan.  Seemi Raheel has a diversified acting portfolio playing everything from a devoted mother to a vamp and has won numerous awards for her acting.

 

What really interested me about Seemi Raheel, besides her views on being a mother, was her work in gender training.  She is, if one asks, an actress but she is also very proud of her heritage.  You might think, knowing she is from the sixth largest country in the world which is Pakistan, that she leans towards very traditional roles for women.  I did wonder when I first saw the term “gender training” if that was what it meant – the teaching of females to be only the historical roles they have been relegated to in ancient times.  Still, she did attend Harvard.  Hmmm….

 

Seemi Raheel does not do fluff roles.  Her acting roles as a mother are described as “energetic and dramatic”.  Her first film was about a woman abducted, forced into marriage and sexually molested and also addressed changes in Pakistan’s political scene as well as the US government’s role in Pakistani affairs.

 

Her social activism also benefits from her passionate approach to life.  Not only does Seemi Raheel boast an impressive resume, she really is a mother in real life.  Her daughter, Mehreen Raheel, studied in London and was a supermodel before she also turned to acting.  Both women are a part of their family’s production company but still find time to do humanitarian work.

 

Gender training, by the way, is teaching people of both genders to communicate better.  It may seem like nothing significant but just think of how many of the world’s problems are really from a lack of proper, respectful communication.  Mehreen Raheel has worked diligently for children not only in her native Pakistan but also in Thailand, a country where children are exploited at an alarming rate.

 

Today’s word is faith, I mentioned during Epiphany 2017, and I believed both of these women, this mother-daughter duo, were and are great examples of living their faith and having it propel them forward to live the best they can, not only for themselves but for others.

 

Seemi Raheel firmly believes in her role as a mother and is proud of it. “My daughter is a realization of a dream, a continuation of myself. I feel the best gift a mother can give to her daughter is independence – instead of mollycoddling and protecting her from the world, she must give her the freedom to discover who she is and be her own person.”

 

For me, faith gives us independence and if practiced as intended, can and should motivate us to discover who we are and what we have to offer the world.  Faith for me is synonymous with courage.  All of the practices of faith, attendance at worship, prayers, studies, etc., all are designed to make us better people and more productive neighbors.

 

The Latin “fidere” is the root of the word faith and it really has nothing to do with deities or religions.  It translates as “trust”.  Do we really live as if we trust our beliefs?  Do we really trust ourselves and our potential?

 

We cannot help others until we first help ourselves and that can be really difficult at times.  It means doing what we know we should and not just what we want to do.  I am as guilty of failing in that as most people.  Faith is not simple nor is it easy.  Neither is living.  What makes it easier is when we do it, practice it, live it. 

 

The Persian writer known as Hafez once said: ““And still, after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, “You owe me.”  Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”  J. R. R. Tolkien described it this way:  “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” 

 

Bring the optimist I am, of course, I will not leave you with the negative approach.  I like C. S. Lewis’ description of living faith: “I believe in [my faith] as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  Faith allows us to grow into who we are, into the potential we can achieve by showing us how to live as neighbors, activists, and caring individuals.  It is where humanitarianism begins. 

 

Embrace the Forgotten

Embrace the Forgotten

Advent 13

Year in Review 2017

 

What about Hale County, Alabama?  Football is big business, not just a popular sport and it is one of the things for which the state of Alabama is known.  This week’s election to complete the remainder of an open Senate term has become another.  Few people know anything about Hale County, even those living in the state.

 

The University of Alabama, a major university whose football team claims sixteen national championship titles will once again compete for the national number one slot in collegiate football on January 1st.  It is only forty-nine minutes away and the bustling metropolis of Birmingham is only one hundred miles away from Hale County, Alabama.  Yet, for the children of Hale County, Alabama, they might as well live on the other side of the country.  They live in one of the most rural and impoverished areas of Alabama in what is known as the Blackbelt region of the state. Residents of this are at an economic disadvantage with very limited resources. The high school graduation rate is only 34% with 74% of households earning less than $30,000 per year. Almost 200 families live without plumbing and healthcare is nonexistent for most.

 

According to the United Way of West Alabama, one in every four Alabamians is functionally illiterate, unable to read, write, or use basic math skills and technology in everyday life.   According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 60% of K-12 school children read below the level needed to proficiently process the written materials used in their grade levels.  Children who have not already developed basic literacy practices when they enter school are three to four times more likely to drop out of school.

 

According to the 2014 Alabama Kids Count Data Book, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 26% of Alabama children are living in poverty; 9.7% of Alabama teens are not in school and not employed; 25.8% of Alabama children are food insecure; 40.1% of Alabama fourth graders are not proficient in reading; 20% of Alabama’s students do not graduate from high school.

 

The Sawyerville Work Project is, on paper, a day camp. It is an outreach project sponsored by the Youth Department of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama & local community volunteers.  It takes place in the summer for just a few weeks, and for that camp session, the children that attend the camp are not framed in the light of the region’s poverty.  They are simply kids, having fun, in a place created solely for them.

 

The Sawyerville Day Camp’s location originated at the Head Start Center in the small town of Sawyerville, hence the name. Within a few years of hosting the camp, the Center could no longer accommodate the increased numbers of campers and staff volunteers. The elementary school in nearby Greensboro welcomed this project and the partnership has continued for a successful thirteen years.

 

Sawyerville Day Camp ministry began in 1993.  The Blackbelt Convocation knew they needed to embrace the residents of the area, not just those in their church pews and the Diocese of Alabama Youth Department needed an outreach program for senior high students.  The answer to both problems became the Sawyerville Work Project, now known as the Sawyerville Day Camp.  It is supported by many people.

 

People serve as prayer partners, staff members, organize book drives, gather paper products, provide meals and make financial gifts.  The Episcopal Diocese has committed substantial funds to this ministry.  The generous people of the Black Belt have opened up their homes and churches for staff housing and meals.  Volunteers from within and outside of the Episcopal circle lend time and talent.  High school, college, and adult staff come from all over the state to serve as counselors.  The Hale County School Board permits use of school facilities and buses.  This project is woven together by hundreds of different supporters, all working together to form the Sawyerville experience.

 

The mission of the Yellowhammer Literacy Project, born out of the Sawyerville Day Camp, is to help close the achievement gap and prevent summer learning loss in Greensboro, Alabama. The YLP works toward this mission by hosting a multi-week summer academic program in which students will participate in reading intervention, engage in creative writing, and strengthen their literacy skills. Additionally, the YLP is invested in helping students grow as scholars and citizens through participation in academic field trips, community engagement, and other enrichment opportunities.

 

Summer 2015 was a huge success for the Yellowhammer Literacy Project! When first assessed the students in April, 58% were performing below grade level. By the end of this program, 88% of students grew by at least one reading level. Of that 88%, 66% grew by at least two levels. Nine students saw growth by three to five levels in a mere three weeks!
Not only did these students grow academically, but what cannot be tested or shown through the results is that these kids were encouraged to enjoy reading, were praised for their efforts, and became more confident in their own abilities by the end of the program. One child said it best in his final reflection, “I really am smart.”

 

The Humanitarian efforts of the Sawyerville Day Camp are led by Leslie Manning but she would be the first to acknowledge the help of hundreds, both volunteer staff and interns as well as the volunteers who fed, donate, and serve as prayer partners.  Each child received a swimsuit, towel, and book as well as a backpack.  For many this is the first time they have owned any of these items which serve as outward, visible signs of the larger community of caring that supports them and embraces them.

 

Now over twenty years old, this day camp has counselors who were once campers.  They believed in the promise shown by the Sawyerville Day Camp of a brighter future and by those who embraced them and they have succeeded.  Kids who once had never heard of a college are now college graduates, having learned to believe in themselves to make a better world for themselves.  People of all ages, races, and stages of life create the humanitarian efforts that result in Sawyerville Day Camp.  They come together and embrace each other.

 

We can each make our own little reflection of this wonderful camp by embracing the forgotten in our own communities.  We all become champions when we do that.  I hope you are able to be a part of something like Sawyerville Day Camp.  Contact your local YMCA or YWCA or Salvation Army, Easter Seals, or local religious groups.  All will be able to put you in touch with a program that you can give aid to with your time and talents and, if possible, monetary assistance.

 

As we live these last days of 2017, we need to commit to make 2018 better.  When we embrace each other and ourselves, when we live out the true meaning of the word “cherish” which is the them for this blog series, we make the world a better place.  Sawyerville Day Camp is but one example.  For more information, they can be reached at www.sawyervilledaycamp.org.