Thursday, May 28, 2020

Reopening Our Volunteer Recruitment Efforts

When we reopen our offices on June 8th, Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Texas will have been closed for 85 days. That’s nearly a quarter of the year! A quarter of the year that we have been unable to provide over half of our services.  We are excited to get back to work, but a little worried about what the new normal looks like.  In the month of April we received only 18 inquires from potential volunteers (which is down from our monthly average of 100).  

Our program depends on volunteers for our mentoring services. There are over 1,200 mentors currently matched with youth in our program, but there are also hundreds more in the queue to receive a mentor.  We have worked really hard over the past 2 years to decrease the time a child waits before being matched to a Big Brother or Big Sister, and we don’t want the pandemic to impact this wait time any more than it has already.

We just launched a campaign to recruit 100 mentors from the military ranks over the 100 days of summer.  Information on that campaign can be found here.  A big thanks goes out to retired Air Force 4 star General ED Rice for his help on that campaign.  A video message from the general can be found in the link. 

We recruit Bigs from all walks of life, though, so you don’t have to be in the military to mentor.  Please help us spread the word that we need volunteers now more than ever!  The pandemic has given us all a reminder of how much we need human connections, and the Big Brothers Big Sisters program is all about facilitating relationships for kids who need support and guidance to navigate all the challenges life throws at them. 

This is a link to the Big brothers Big Sisters training calendar – we have both virtual and in-person information sessions happening weekly where anyone can learn more about being a mentor.  Take a look.  

Monday, May 25, 2020

A curbside social distancing concert series in my neighborhood

Pre-concert snack tradition with Zoe 
I'm sitting in the lawn chair I brought to the front yard of my friend's Kelly & Billy Haynie's house (social distancing of course) inspired to write about how awesome it's been that the “After Hours Band” has been playing free neighborhood concerts every Thursday night during the pandemic. 

It’s a balmy night with a slight breeze. Cars line their street. This is my 4th time out, but I think it’s Thursday #7 for the band. There are lightening bugs in the trees, and kids running around with flashlights, weaving in and out of the little family and friend groups scattered across sidewalks and adjacent lawns. Lots of people are on lawn chairs, others on the curb, a few have brought Styrofoam coolers. There’s a dancing couple, 2 teenagers on a couch that’s clearly been dragged out for this special curbside concert, and a lighted stand holding someone’s smart phone recording everything on Facebook Live for those who can’t venture out. The band greets everyone who tunes in, physically and digitally. They’re clearly having a good time. We are too. Thanks, guys. You are everything America needs today.

The music is good, the instruments and speakers are set up carefully and effectively in the doorway of Bill and Kelly’s house. There are 5 band members and a sound guy, and Kelly is the Band Manager (official or unofficial I’m not sure, but Billy says she’s in charge). ;)

They cover lots of songs that are definitely of my generation, but my 18 year old daughter sings along to most of them. Here are ones I remember:
  • Lots of Eagles, which I love, like “Take it Easy,” what a great song 
  • Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way,” 
  • Tom Perry’s “Breakdown,” 
  • Many Elvis tunes (Blue Suede Shoes, Don’t Be Cruel)
  • Johnny Cash (Folsom Prison Blues), and 
  • Eddie Rabbit (I can't remember which song they played, but it was enjoyable.)
Zoë got very excited about “I Wanna be Sedated,” by The Remones, and the songs most likely to inspire couples to take to the street-dance-floor were “Amarillo by Morning,” or my personal theme song these days, “I’m Much Too Young (to feel this damn old).”  The band also usually plays “The Break-Up Song,” which has special meaning to them from when they started playing together, and “Suspicious Minds," Kelly’s favorite (I love that one too).

Every once in a while, an audience member goes up to guest sing. Tonight, someone did a wonderful, spirited rendition of “When Will I Be Loved,” by Linda Ronstadt. Last week, Zoë sang "Desperado," by the Eagles, another one of my favorites. 

They usually play from 6:30 or 7 til 8:30 or 9. It’s still light out when they start singing, but as the sun sets, the sky dims and the lights come on in the trees. It's beautiful. Tonight, even the pizza delivery guy slowed down to listen as he drove carefully down the street.  

Personally, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. Pandemic or no pandemic. 

This is just a small tribute to the After Hours Band: Thanks for coming out to play, to make our week a little better in these crazy times. I hope you enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed you. You guys are the best! 

See Video we took of the band here:

More on the band here:

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Imagine if my Mom and Dad had acted like our leaders today

I’m really stressed out about how our leadership can’t manage to work together even when there’s a life and death pandemic going on. Last night I heard one of our local leaders say in a press conference that one of our state leaders made a bad decision. It made me squirm. 

Shouldn't they have consulted first about what to tell us all!?  So as not to incite confusion?  Or division? 

Imagine what it might have looked like if my mom and dad had acted like that. Kind of like this, maybe? 

Me, to my 3 younger brothers and sister: “Let’s go out and play.”
My Brother: "Are we allowed?"
My Sister: "Let’s ask Dad."
Me: "OK." 

Us, to Dad: "Can we go out and play?"
Dad: "It’s not good. Lots of danger out there. Mom, what do you think?" 
Mom: "Oh, let them go out. What can happen?" 
Dad: "A lot. A lot can happen."*
Mom: "Oh go on kids, go play." 
Dad: "No, kids, don't go."

Me, and my siblings, looking at each other smugly: These people are idiots and know nothing. 

Us conferring in the front yard after this useless guidance: 
Me: "Let’s go out and play!"
Sister: "But Mom said..."
Brother: "But Dad said..." 
Me: "Let's go!" 
Siblings: "OK!"

And off we would go, for better or worse.

I’m thinking this whole thing could have looked much differently, if our leaders were more on the same page and could work together more effectively. Maybe it could go like this: 

Us, to Dad: "Can we go out?"
Parents (after consultation): "You can go out, but only to the end of the street, and here is why." 
Us:  "OK." **

Is it too much to ask that our elected leaders work together? Is it too much to ask them to put aside their differences, and stop with the finger-pointing and name-calling, and blaming each other for everything, and to help us all through this unprecedented crisis? Is it too much to ask for leaders I can be inspired by? Leaders who don’t call each other idiots? Leaders who don’t accuse each other of trying to kill Americans with bad policy, which I just cannot imagine is true on either side. 

Maybe I’m old and idealistic, and simplifying the issue, implying that people are like children, but this is how too much of our leadership feels to me today: like bad parents.  



*This was the 80's, and Stranger Danger fear was absolutely RAMPANT. 
**One of my brothers still might have ventured off the street despite being told not to. My sister may even have stayed home.  Because not everyone does what they are told, a lot of people are even more cautious than told to be, and with good leadership people feel more secure.  Also, Stranger Danger was not valid - look it up. This is not a political statement. And finally, actual good parenting is a much bigger topic than the pandemic, I'm afraid, and the subject of at least two prior blog posts of mine: one, two

Sunday, April 12, 2020

A bit of normalcy

Traditions have never been more important than today.  I started this blog 7 years and 115 posts ago specifically to write about family traditions.  I've shared how important photos and parties and presents and music and holidays and a really special stuffed animal are to our family over the years.

This is why when I finally found a reliable egg dealer* in these COVID times, I went there 3 days in a row to get enough eggs for Zoë to be able to dye them for Easter. It was great. Just wonderful. She, in her typically witty fashion, made Corona, Quarantine, Lysol and Wash Your Hands eggs along with the traditional family names.  I can't wait to make them into Rainbow Egg Salad next week. Zoë has had a really great attitude during this crisis, for which I am very grateful, but she has her sad and mad moments.  I really wanted Easter weekend to feel like a bit of normalcy in all the anxiousness. So we did all the things - bringing Bramble, the stuffed rabbit, in for egg dyeing, finding baskets on Easter morning, and over-eating chocolate for breakfast. Her dad was even dressed for church when he came over to pick her up for lunch.

As a high school senior, she has already missed so much, including her 18th birthday, her UIL One-Act play theater competition, senior directed plays (which she had been looking forward to doing for 3 years), senior superlatives, theater banquet, her Summa Cum Laude ceremony, and getting her braces off.  We also just heard that both colleges she is considering have canceled freshman orientation and are creating an on-line check in instead. So lame. We are still waiting to see if graduation will even happen, but her graduation trip to NYC to see the Broadway play, Beetlejuice is now off too as Broadway is closed through at least mid-June.**

It really is such a loss of so many important rights of passage.  Just when all the hard work was pretty much done and seniors could relax and enjoy their last few months of high school, they went on lock down, like prisoners.  No proms, no parties, no closure on a period of their life that lasted for 13 years. That closure of childhood is so important for embarking on the next phase - endless adulthood filled with overwhelming responsibility. I think I am even sadder than she is because I am more aware of the depth of the loss.

So today, we surrounded ourselves with chocolate and bunnies and family memories, which when all of this is over, we will still have, for years to come. I'm not sure how all this social distancing will end, but I have already started thinking about what I can do over the summer to provide that closure for Zoë.  For now, she is very distracted with Animal Crossing. I bought her a Switch for her birthday. At the time I thought I was wasting $200, because she never had time for video games before, but it has actually been worth ten times its weight in gold to distract her in the lock down.  She is also playing with her sister, Lacey, in Connecticut, which is really sweet.

I can't make up for everything she has missed, but I can do my best to create new memories and traditions and reasons to celebrate and be grateful for all the things we have in our lives to enjoy.  Yesterday she shared the memory of the time in elementary school when she first heard that she was in the Class of 2020. She said: "I thought that was so cool, but who knew it would be such a disaster." That is just too sad of an ending for me. I will figure something out once this is all over if I have to spend my savings to do so.

But for now, I am letting her eat chocolate, play Animal Crossing and stay up late as much her heart may desire.

Happy Easter.

Hard at work 

Most Witty
Bramble - this is his favorite holiday

Lacey and Ariel eggs

Easter morning


*Target at 281 & Bitters, San Antonio, TX always has eggs. Limit 1 per. 

**Although Eddie Perfect tweeted me when I expressed our sadness about the play's cancellation, which was way cool.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Reminiscing on my House Arrest with Toddler period

I’m reading all the posts from parents about how they’re coping with the pandemic, and I’m reminded of my life in 1989 in my first 6 months in England, with a toddler.

Ariel, my firstborn, was 9 months old on December 20, 1988 when we flew to live in England as a military family on Lakenheath Air Force Base, about an hour and a half north of London. My husband was assigned to a squadron that flew F-111’s there, and life was very exciting for him. For me, not so much.

First of all, it was the 80’s, hence no technology. No email, no Internet, no FaceTime, nothing. We didn’t even have TV because I couldn’t figure out how to make the plug situation work, and we heard there was a TV tax. I had a big green rotary dial phone that I could make extremely expensive overseas calls on, but obviously only did that about 3-4 times a year.

I knew no one when we first got there. We stayed in quarters on the base for about a month or so and I did meet someone who became a lifelong friend there. But mostly I remember being jet lagged and tired, and seriously cooped up in a small space with a cranky baby. This is when I started smoking cigarettes again (after quitting while pregnant).

Jet-lagged in Base quarters.  
At first we only had one car. We bought a little Capri which I wrecked immediately (that’s a whole other fun story) and it took a while to get another. So mostly I sat around holding a baby, trying to read, and smoking (probably all at the same time, at times.  It was the 80's). I don’t remember drinking at all. Maybe that would have helped. ;)

But the real isolation and depression set in when we moved into our house out in the middle of the woods. I finished unpacking in 2 days, there were no other houses or neighbors, I had no car and it rained constantly. I remember long, grey days on end with nothing to do and no human contact (unless you count a demanding toddler, which is debatable).

Our English Gatehouse
As Ariel grew into a toddler (she had started walking at 9 months) I did a lot of chasing after her to keep her from killing herself (another story). She could climb over a baby gate at 10 months old, and I thought this was normal. I also read all her books to her sixty thousand times each. I told her a million stories. I tried to keep her busy with her toys and turning all kinds of other things into new toys. I wrote another blog post about how Ariel craved input from the moment she was born, but this period in our lives probably contributed to her voracious thirst for knowledge because I was so attentive to feeding it. We didn’t have a lot of stuff - compared to my 2 younger kids who became overloaded with toys. Sometimes I would lock us up together in the guest room so I didn’t have to chase her around, and lay on the couch bed for hours feeling sad while she toddled innocently around the room. I took some pictures, but film and developing was expensive so not nearly as many as we take now.  I remember interminable gatherings of stuffed animals.  

I never told anyone I felt sad or depressed. Not that there was anyone to tell but my husband. He worked long hours and it was often dark when he left in the morning and dark when he got home at night. He was tired too, but energized and excited. He told me stories at night about his day, which was one of my main recreational outlets. The other 2 were reading and cross stitching. There was literally nothing else to do besides cooking and cleaning, and the house was only like 900 square feet. I probably did over a hundred cross stitch projects in our first year in England, and not much after that period. I have always been an avid reader though, and this is probably what kept me from losing my mind in those first few months in England. Much like in my childhood, reading was my savior during this period. Of course, as anyone with a toddler knows, it’s a struggle to read and still be attentive to them, but I persisted, as if my sanity depended on it.  

It was winter and cold and rainy, so I hardly ever even got out at first. Ariel and I both got ear infections when we got to England that persisted for the first few months. She also had pretty much every other thing babies get, so I also spent a fair amount of time at the base hospital, mostly at night after my husband got home from work.  Combine the fear of her getting sick with the fact that I hate the cold and wasn’t going to take a baby out in the endless rain, I was in a bit of self imposed House Arrest when it came to exploring the woods around our house. There was also the time I looked out my living room window to see a man with a scythe whacking away in my yard (another funny story).  I was a 23 year old terrified new mother at this time (another thing I didn’t tell people) and although the young tend to think they are invincible, I was somewhat freaked out by strange men in the woods.  

There’s a happy ending to this story though. After the first 6 months in England it got so much better. Eventually I got a job, started back in college, made friends and we started doing a lot of traveling all over the country and in Europe. I also think that all that reading to Ariel really grew her brain because she was a genius in school, and I never had to work that hard in my life again.

So, I feel for all the moms in quarantine these days. I totally know how you feel. I don’t recommend taking up smoking, but have you tried cross stitch?

Police Bear was very well read.  

I am from the south and this was not ok 

The guest room had the best heater and we spent a lot of time there

reading and reading and reading
I did my first 1000 piece puzzle in England and it hangs in my bedroom today

the sun finally came out and it was beautiful in the summer

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Tonight I tried to buy some toilet paper in America: I was unsuccessful.

I have purchased toilet paper so many times before.

Mind you, I didn’t try very hard, but why should I have to? My trusty, revered, hallowed HEB, was out. This has to be a sign of an impending apocalypse.  

That may sound flippant, but it got worse.  Toilet paper is relatively cheap. Scooping up all that inexpensive tissue can’t be too hard, but the hand sanitizer section was completely empty too. A much more expensive commodity. How can I explain this? 

Honestly, I do not take this pandemic lightly. I have children, one of whom is currently on a school trip to another state. I have parents and siblings, and friends who have recently visited other countries. I live in a city that has taken in cruise ship passengers and China evacuees.   My dad is actually in a hospital right now with a brain bleed from a fall on a trip.  I run a youth serving nonprofit.  I have spent the past week (Spring Break) fielding questions and demands about how to respond to this crisis, as if I am an infectious disease specialist.* I hope I am making good decisions, but who knows? 

It’s Spring Break, and I am supposed to be on vacation, but I won’t sleep well tonight.  I’m worried about the employee we sent home to quarantine today, and the one who comes back from Europe next week.  I’m worried about how the children and families we serve at my nonprofit will cope with this crisis.  Their schools haven’t closed yet, but it feels like that's only a matter of time, which will have devastating impacts on their lives, in so many ways.  I’m wondering how I can help, but considering I'm being compelled to figure out how to decrease, restrict, restrain and curtail our regular youth programming and operations, how can I possibly increase our assistance?  

I feel inadequate.  

If I can’t even buy toilet paper in America, how can I be useful in this epidemic?  To require a social worker (me, at the core) to stay home and "social distance" at a time when people need help more than ever feels somehow wrong, but the path forward for me, or for the social service organization I run, is unclear.  

I welcome and appreciate any advice. I can't even buy toilet paper effectively today. 
No toilet paper
No hand sanitizer

*Other duties as assigned. #nonprofitlife     

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Take a look, it’s in a book.

A lot of people came to see the LeVar Burton of Star Trek fame this past Friday at the 21st annual Congress on Children, but I was 100% there as a Reading Rainbow fan.  Although the show debuted on PBS in 1983 when I was 17 years old, I actually remember watching it. I was in high school, which is pretty extraordinary, even granting that we had so many fewer television choices back then.  I remember wishing he would read books for older kids. Years later, I starting having kids of my own and the show was one of the few I allowed them to watch. 

I was enthralled with Burton’s remarks at the Congress event.  I’m a big one for "live tweeting*" an event I’m really enjoying so it will come up every year in social media memories, but I couldn’t keep up with Burton.  It was just one amazing nugget of wisdom after another.  I had to resort to old school note taking, fast and furious.

Burton first did a reading of his children’s book "The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm." It’s a lovely story featuring a mouse called Mica (after Burton’s daughter), and a Rhino who is sad because a storm took away everything he loves.  Burton said he wrote the book in part to fill a gap left for children by the death of Mr. Rogers for helping kids learn how to deal with trauma.  The story follows the rhino as he meets all kinds of friends, a spider, a kangaroo, a tortoise, a whale, who help him heal.  The gentle, sweet moral of the story is that there are people who care about you and can help you when bad things happen.  The story guides children in expressing their feelings when coping with hard times.

After the reading, the audience got to ask questions and Burton shared stories about his personal life.  As a lifelong insatiable reader, I completely related to his description of the first book he read that helped him really understand the power and magic of reading:  "Captains Courageous" by Rudyard Kipling.  After finishing it, Burton said he felt sad and depressed because he missed the world he had been so completely immersed in.  I have had this experience countless times.  After that book, he said he learned to slow down in the last chapter of a good book in order to savor it.  I too, have tried this technique. 

He described the culture in his home growing up as one that required reading, and said his mother was a "voracious" reader.  "Reading was such a part of our lives. It was as normal as breathing.  In my house you either read a book or got hit in the head with one," he said, to much audience laughter. 

He grew up in a single parent home, and his mother was a social worker.  He said she knew that in order for him to survive and thrive, and to level the playing field for him as a black boy and eventually a black man, he needed an education.  She loved him "fiercely," and established firm expectations and goals, primary of which was reading.  She was his first teacher who knew that without opportunity for language and literature, children are not going to reach their full potential.  With a mom like that, and access to books like "Captains Courageous," reading soon became something he didn’t have to TRY to do, but something he HAD To do. 

Burton went on to describe how negatively children are affected by trauma, especially if they have no one to help them through it. "I was shaped by the trauma in my life. It’s informed the person I am," he shared.  He said that inevitably we all DEAL with the trauma we experience, but the question is do we deal with it in a healthy way - for a healthy recovery?  He worries that kids today lack a safety net of caring people around them, ready to catch them when they fall. 

"We used to live in communities of multi-generational families. There was a system, a net that held us up in times of trauma. Kids today don’t have that net. They have the TV and the internet. We need to be able to catch these kids, because the success of the community depends on the success of each individual. Life should be about making the world a better place."  This statement was obviously accompanied by a lot of head nodding from the crowd of youth serving professionals in attendance at the annual Congress. 

He also talked about how storytelling helps us cope with trauma.  "Humans are natural storytellers, they are storytelling machines" he said, "with every picture we take and every post we make.  And when we are reading a book, "we make the movie in our heads." He went on to say that storytelling used to be controlled by a small group of people, but we are living in the age of the "democratization of storytelling," where anyone can tell their story now, which he seemed to think is a good thing.  "The genie is out of the bottle," he described it. 

He said it is not only reading that is so instrumental in children’s learning today.  "What we watch, read, and consume, all shapes us."  He shared how transformational it was for him as a child to see Lt. O’Hara on the bridge of The Enterprise.*  That said to him that in the future there was a place for him, for people who look like him.

He went on about how children are shaped by media influences and need to see themselves represented in mainstream media for healthy development and positive self-esteem. Since kids have so much widespread exposure to media, it is inevitably a part of their education, but what it is teaching is not always positive. 

My absolute favorite part of Burton's remarks was when he shared his 4 Storytelling Mentors: "My mother, Alex Haley, creator of Roots, Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, and Mr Rogers."** 

Reading Rainbow aired for 26 years educating millions of children about the joys of reading and the power of the written word.  What an extraordinary achievement for LeVar Burton and how proud he must be.  I texted my daughters, aged 31, 26 and 17 asking what they remember about the show, and Lacey, the middle kid, texted back immediately:

"Take a Look, it’s in a Book."

"But…you don’t have to take MY word for it."    

*One of my favorite parts of his talk was when he said "We had iPads on the Enterprise." #LOL

** I did post a couple of tweets including this one that LeVar Burton LIKED!!!  :)