We are very fortunate to live in a neighborhood with several of Addison’s friends. His best friend is across the street and another friend is just up the block. On any given weekend and throughout the summer these boys scooter back and forth between the houses. A couple of years ago they decided to give nicknames to the houses. Friend up the street was called “The Wedding House” because it is large enough to have a wedding (not really, but it has a tall entryway with a staircase so I guess they picture a bride and groom defending the stairs). Best friend’s house was called “The Party House” because it is perfect for a party. Our house was called…wait for it…”The Mouse House”. *sigh* Our house is far from the size of a mouse. Continue reading
This post could also be called “How in the world did you get all of those young moms to join a volunteer organization?!”
(look how cute we are…learning at Assistance League National Conference)
Two weeks ago I attended the Assistance League National Conference. (<– click to see all the fun pics from Disney World) 4 of the 6 of us attending from our chapter were “younger” women, meaning, we have school age children. I was the baby of the group at a ripe old age of 38. Continue reading
So apparently while I wasn’t looking August happened. One day I was lounging around, reading my Kindle, thinking we had the whole summer to watch PBS Kids, memorize every line from The Iron Giant and the witty songs from Veggie Tails and basically do nothing. Then I turned the page on my day planner (yes, I still use one that you actually write in) and it was August. Worse yet…school starts in 14 days. 14 DAYS. I’m not sure if I’m thrilled or terrified.
The great internal struggle that stay-at-home-moms understand all too well begins again. Same song, different verse. As the school year looms I realize that I didn’t do all the things with my precious cargo that I intended to. The Groupon for the museum hasn’t been used. Those laser tag certificates that I bought at last year’s school carnival silent auction are still in my wallet. We haven’t jumped off the high dive yet. And what about the Staycation? For the love of over-scheduling, we didn’t have an organized staycation! In my defense, my butt wasn’t totally lazy. We camped out in the back yard, went to art day-camp and visited the grandparents. It wasn’t all Mind Craft and Lego Star Wars.
Still, while I finished novels that are as thick as the Beijing phonebook (as my friend likes to say) childhood slips through my fingers. 14 short days and we start 3rd grade. 3rd grade is on the other side of the school as the younger grades. Gasp, we’re moving up to the big-kid side of the school. When did this happen? Addison is about 6 inches from being as tall as I am. Wha…who….when….how….my babies are inching away from me! It’s so bitter sweet. I already know how the first day of school will go; he’ll let us walk him to his class and take a picture but may not hold my hand. I’ll drive away and willingly torture myself by listening to Slipping Through My Fingers by ABBA. If you ever need a good cry…play that song on the first day of school and you’ll be a blubbering mess. It’s ridiculous.
On the flip side it will be nice to not hear the “I’m Bored” song anymore. That damn song can really test the patience of the most inventive and creative parent.
What really has me scared is my own schedule. As usual I’ve got myself involved in everything. I’m on the PTA board and chairing our school jog-a-thon this year. I’m on the Assistance League board (thankfully my position is stupid simple…knock on wood) and Operation School Bell starts in a few weeks. They only require 4 OSB shifts but I’ve probably signed up for about 20. I have big plans for my fabric mosaics, keep an eye out for that, and I’ve unofficially committed to make yarn wreaths for the church ladies bazaar. Oh geez. On top of all this I’ve agreed to be the interim youth director for the middle school kids at our church. *your mouth is hanging open* Yup, middle school kids. Please say a prayer for me. For the love, I have no idea what to do with gangly, pimply, overly emotional, socially awkward 13 and 14 year olds. Oh laud, help me. At least I put my foot down and said I could only do the middle school and not the high school too. But that’s only because the high school program would interfere with choir rehearsal and choir is closest to my heart.
I feel like Ado Annie, I just cain’t say “no”.
If I got a call tomorrow saying that the president of Egypt has been ousted and they need an interim until they figure out their political strife I would probably give a cheery yes. Only after I’ve committed to who knows what would I wonder afterward if they give job hazard pay as whoever takes the job as interim president will most certainly lose their life.
Am I insane? Don’t answer that.
Another season of volunteering at Assistance League is coming to a close (for me, anyway). I’ll take the summer to recharge and come back in August ready to serve our community’s children at Operation School Bell.
One of my last duties as the chair of my committee was to organize our annual membership luncheon. The theme of the lunch was inspired by the book Language of the Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. There are so many different purposes and personalities that make up Assistance League, I felt it appropriate to express the beauty of our diversity through the language of the flowers.
The flowers on the tables and in the flower arrangements were chosen for their meaning. Even the oranges and turnips in the arrangements were special; generosity and charity.
Last spring I talked about Assistance League and why it’s important to me. This week we finished up another fall season of Operation School Bell (OSB), Assistance League’s major project that clothes kids in our community who might otherwise fall through the cracks. In the past 3 months we clothed over 1300 and still have another 200 kids coming to OSB in January. Serving these precious souls is both humbling and rewarding. The women who become “personal shoppers” for the day are literally on their knees serving these children.
Here are just a few of the stories that came out of OSB this year.
Today at OSB Becky dressed a little girl who had some disabilities, including being blind! Becky came into the back work room looking for clothing items with TEXTURE! It was amazing to see this precious child. She was SO animated, and at times very sassy about her clothing choices. She loved our tops, jeans and sweatpants with BLING. She chose some with rhinestone butterflies, etc.
I had always known that our kids would love our clothing selections, but this angel put a whole new perspective on things. She needed to FEEL her items, and wanted to be able to know what cute top or jeans that she was choosing for the day.
It was one of those days that you won’t forget!
The following is a note sent from one of the school counselors:
I just wanted to publicly thank you guys for making my last trip so special. I took a 4 year old that doesn’t speak much English. I had her sister with us as well, in hopes that she could translate for me. This little girl began to cry when we walked in because she was so scared. I was doing the best I could be assuring her, in English, that this would be fun and we would help her pick new clothes.
Mitzi appeared and immediately began speaking Spanish to this little girl. WHAT A RELIEF!!!! The girl quit crying and then took her hand. Mitzi was great with my little friend. She left happy and had a lot of new clothes to take home. Not only was your organization a blessing to this family, but it was so nice to see this little girl’s worries be put to ease with a Spanish speaking guide.
One day a member told me that she just helped a little boy and said the thing he was most excited to receive that day was underwear. He was so happy to have new underwear and asked if he could have more than his allotted 5 pair. She gave him 10. He then asked if he could go ahead and put a pair on because he didn’t have any that day. He went back to school that day wearing new underwear because he didn’t have any to begin with. Hold the phone and read that again. He didn’t have any underwear.
We serve elementary through high school age children and sometimes the high school kids can be a tough sell. They are often quiet, down cast eyes and shy. Unlike the elementary age children who still may maintain a sense of innocence to their situation, high school kids understand why they are there. They know their parents can’t afford new stuff and that the school counselor has brought them to OSB because they are poor. They are embarrassed and feel like they are taking a hand out. One day I had a high school senior who wouldn’t say much and dutifully followed my orders and tried on everything I handed him. I wondered if he was ever going to crack a smile. By the end of our 45 minutes together he was finally talking about books he liked to read and he showed me a beautiful smile. He went home with a bag stuffed with new clothes and I went home with a full heart.
This is what Jesus was talking about when he said “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited in, I needed clothes and you clothed me.” These are children of God and deserve to be treated as such. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.”
Who are we to withhold our gifts and talents? To withhold the love of God? “If I have not love I am but a resounding gong.” These women are on their knees, putting away their clattering gongs for the day and handing out love. No strings, or tags, attached.
As promised, I took Addison to serve lunch at our local shelter (Food for Friends). He wasn’t excited about going and when he complained about having to go once a month I replied; They need help every single day and we can certainly be there that often if that’s your attitude. That shut him down pretty dern quick. However, I did bribe him to keep his complaining to a minimum by saying that I would buy the new Bad Piggies app (the latest and greatest from the creators of Angry Birds) if he could keep a positive attitude throughout the morning. I’m not quite sure if that promise totally negated the lesson I was trying to impart about abundance vs. poverty but a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do to maintain her sanity.
When we got there the kitchen was pretty packed with a bunch of college students who had also come to help serve. We were told that there wasn’t much we could do since they had more volunteers than needed. Addison didn’t comment but I’m pretty sure his little eyes lit up with the hope of escape. They did tell us that the natives were restless because they were out of cream and sugar for coffee. Since we couldn’t serve, the least we could do was make a Wal-Mart run. We returned with about 10 lbs of sugar and creamer and discovered that the over abundance of volunteers had vanished. They had room for us on the lunch line!
For an hour I helped Addison dish up ham. A few people tried to engage him but he isn’t an outgoing kid and shies away from conversation with a stranger. Heck, he will hardly tell us about his day so I didn’t expect him to win over the clients with any engaging repartee. About 30 minutes into it he started in about how his legs hurt from standing and he was becoming exhausted. Whatever, dude.
We were done by 12:15 and on our way to pick up Harry. I don’t have any tales of life changing experiences or hilarious mishaps. All in all it was pretty low-key but I would call it a success. He earned his new app and was at least able to mutter the words Food for Friends when asked later that day where he went. Addison has accepted the fact that this is going to become a monthly thing and I’m sure there will be lots of complaining, moaning and foot-dragging; he’s a gold medalist in foot-dragging and dilly-dallying.
For me it was a success because a seed of helping others was planted in his little soul. Now we need to keep watering it.
For a town our size I’m always amazed at how many people get hit by a train. That may sound weird but it seems like I’m reading in the paper every other week about another person who was killed on the train track. Do they not hear it coming for peets sake? And why were they on the track to begin with? If you really need to use the train track to be your guide at least walk along beside it, not on it. Geez.
About a month or so ago I read yet another story of a man who was hit by an on coming train. I went on to read that the man was a regular at the local shelter. I’m ashamed to admit that my gut reaction was “oh, he was homeless.” It was as if knowing that he might have been homeless explained why he was hit by a train. It’s so easy to dismiss the homeless in our community and write them off as koo-koo or an addict as a way to brush the problem under the rug. I’m going out on a limb here to admit how I really feel about the homeless. I have conflicting feelings of apathy, sadness and helplessness that I struggle with. I see them wandering the streets and my heart is torn in half. Half of my heart aches for them and wonders how in the world they got to such a desperate place in life. That part of my heart wants to buy them a meal. The other part of my heart is hardened. I wonder if they would even be able to hold down a job or stay in an apartment if one was provided. I never give money out any more because I’m afraid they will turn around and use it to get drunk or high. That part of my heart asks the other half of my heart… so what if you buy them a meal? Is that really going to help in the long run? What can you possibly do to make a difference? Nothing. Leave them alone.
The next week I read more about the man hit by the train. He was my age and when he was young he competed in the Special Olympics. Knowing that he competed in the Special Olympics made him so much more human to me. At some point in his life this man had a support system, people who loved him and helped him enter and compete in the Special Olympics. Obviously they felt him worthy enough for such an endeavour and encouraged him to be the best he could be. What happened between being in the Special Olympics and being a regular client of a homeless shelter? I have no idea but it made me realize…who am I to judge why someone is on the street? Some may be mentally handicapped and unable to care for themselves, some may be regular folks who were one paycheck away from losing their apartment, some are parents who don’t have a family support system to fall back on when times get tough. It doesn’t really matter what brought them to a place of desperation, what matters is that they are still children of God and I still need to treat them that way.
This summer Addison stormed out of the room and threw himself on the floor. He was pouting and groaning about not being able to pass a level on Super Mario Galaxy. Basically, his world was coming to an end and he could not go on because he couldn’t get past a level on a Wii game. My 7 year old was throwing a fit over a Wii game. No sir, I’m not having that. I told him to take a break from Wii and that we were going to rethink what it means to have everything we could ever want. We live in a big, beautiful house. Our pantry is overflowing with snacks and we have toys coming out our ears. We have no idea what it means to go without. I know he’s only 7 (8 is only a few weeks away), but this was the perfect opportunity for him to start learning that the world does not revolve around him.
As children become self-aware their world starts with them and expands out from there. They become aware of their family then introduce friends and other loved ones into their little universe. All of those people who care for them and love them and play with them revolve around them like planets around the sun (in their little minds). Slowly over time they start to understand that their actions effect others and they learn lessons of right and wrong but they are still the center of all things important and expect to be treated accordingly. This behavior continues through the teenage years and it’s up to the loving adults in their life to teach them that they indeed, are not the center of the universe. Lessons in self-esteem and positive self-image are important but it’s equally important to show them that there is more in this world than their own selfish wants and desires. This, of course, is my own observation. I’m not a professional but it doesn’t take a PhD to see that kids are selfish and it’s our job as parents to teach them empathy, love and respect for others.
After the Wii outburst I made an executive decision. We were going to start volunteering at the local shelter once a month by helping serve lunch. Our first volunteer day is this weekend. I don’t think he is very excited about it, but that’s just too bad. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I’m a member of my local chapter of Assistance League. If you’re not aware of what Assistance League is you might be saying Isn’t that for ladies who’s husbands are bankers and have nothing better to do with their time than be members of social organizations and mail checks to starving children in Africa? I’m here to tell you that, no, that is not what Assistance League is all about. That is what Junior League was all about in The Help and both organizations have come a very long way since 1967. Assistance League is a philanthropic organization that serves its communities through various projects and outreach campaigns. It does have a reputation of its membership being made up of “seasoned” ladies but our chapter is turning that reputation on its ear. Don’t get me wrong, I love ladies older than myself, they bring wisdom and experience to the table. Our chapter is made up of young mamas, professional working women, grandmas and everything in between. It’s a patchwork of beautiful, intelligent and empowering women. Oh, and one man. Our chapter is proud to have one man in our membership and I just love that. It told you our chapter was turning reputations on its ear.
So, what’s the point. The point is that the major project of Assistance League is called Operation School Bell (OSB). Each chapter works with the counselors in the school district to recognize at-risk children. Those kids are then brought in at the beginning of the school year and given clothes, coats, shoes, books, accessories, and hygiene kits. Not just old, hand me down clothes and tired, worn out tennis shoes. Brand new clothes and shoes in the latest styles that members have gone to market to pick out. The awesome thing about OSB (besides all the brand new stuff) is that the chapter owns its own OSB store. It is set up just like a small retail shop, the kids “shop” with their own personal shopper to make sure the jeans fit just right and they get shirts and a coat that they really like, not something someone tossed at them that is just okay.
So, what’s the point of that? Well, last fall I was volunteering for OSB by helping kids pick out and try on new shoes. One of the boy’s styles was a black Sketcher tennis shoe with a bright green sole. Hard to miss in a crowd. Sometime in October on Saturday I went to Wal-Mart. On my way out I see a grade school boy hanging out with his siblings in front of the entrance. He had on a dirty tank top and baggy sweatpants. He and his siblings looked like rag-a-muffins but one thing caught my eye. Brand new shoes with bright green soles. He looked happy as a clam. I then saw his mom. She looked tired and beat down. I wanted to go over and give her a hug and offer her a word of encouragement. I didn’t hug her or say anything to the boy, I just went home, moved by what I saw. What could I possibly say to that mom? If I told her that I helped her son pick those shoes out then I would have the upper hand. I would be the rich lady who has nothing better to do than be a member of an organization that helps poor people. I don’t want to be lumped into a stereotype that I don’t believe fits our organization. I guess I could have given her a squeeze and told her that God is watching over her and her kids. That He loves her and has a plan for her life. That’s a beautiful sentiment, in theory. It’s easy for me to imagine what God’s plan for my life is because in the grand scheme of things I’m living on easy street. If I were that mom…struggling to pay my bills, feed the kids and keep them in clean clothes…I would wonder when in the heck God’s plan was going to take shape because I’m about at my wit’s end and the kids that I so desperately want to feed something other than a Big Mac are driving me batty.
I have no idea if that mom ever feels that way or what her outlook on life is. I can only imagine how I would feel were I in her shoes.
And my point is? My point is that I have been given many, many gifts in my life. One of those gifts is being able to participate in Assistance League. I like to think that the OSB kids and their parents have also been given a gift. Who knows what their circumstances are or why their kids qualify for OSB but thank God there is an OSB in our community and so many other communities that care for these children. Our local OSB clothed 1,118 last fall. I don’t think God’s plan for those 1,118 kids was to be in a desperate situation or that He wanted those Mamas and Daddies to have to worry about how they were going to buy their kids new school clothes. I do think God’s plan for each of us is a complex tapestry and maybe Assistance League is a thread being woven throughout. At the core of that thread and the core of organizations like Assistance League is love and love always wins.
The women (and our one dude) of Assistance League want to see those kids go to school with their head held high and bright green shoes on their feet.
Thanks to Meals On Wheels in Norman for having me guest blog on their site. I love driving for them and I’m happy to blog for them too.
When I was a little girl my mom would take me on her Meals On Wheels route. The thing that I remember most was how happy those old people seemed to be to see me. They didn’t even know me but how they would gush and want to hold my hand and ask how old I was. In the few brief minutes we were guests in their home a shy little girl with auburn hair would bring them a breath of fresh air along with their lunch.
Fast forward a few decades and here I am with my very own route. When I was at a place in my life where I had the time to commit to community volunteer work the first thing I did was call up my local Meals On Wheels office to find out about driving a route. I’ve been doing it for four years and love every week. When my 1st grader was in pre-school I would take him on my route with me. Most of the time he would clam up and not say much but the clients loved seeing him.
Driving Meals On Wheels has been a life lesson for both me and my son. It teaches us to serve those in need. For the clients who are home bound and unable to make their own way to the grocery store this service is essential to their daily survival. It teaches us kindness and compassion. For some of these folks their driver may be the only other person they see all day long. No person is an island unto themselves and no one deserves to be left alone all day. We all need interaction with another human being even if it is as simple as a friendly smile, a pat on the hand or a quick chat. It teaches a sense of community. This service is a vital part of our community that would not survive without it’s volunteers. It’s important to give of yourself, your time and resources without expecting anything in return.
One of the most important life lessons for me has been humility. There were many times I had to explain to my tender little boy that not everybody lives in a big house with nice things and lots of toys to play with. Not everybody has someone to take care of them, cook them dinner everyday, play with them and kiss them goodnight every night. Not everybody can keep their house clean and smelling nice or have new, clean clothes. Not everybody can just hop in the car whenever they feel like it and go out to eat at their favorite restaurant or buy lots of groceries without worrying if they will have enough money. These are difficult life lessons for a little boy and sharp reminders for an adult. But one lesson that would follow up the “not every body has…” lesson is that even though many of the people we delivered to had less than we did, what they did have is the assurance that they could depend on us to bring them their lunch that day.
After all these years, Meals On Wheels means to me: Service, Kindness, Compassion, Community and Humility. I’m so glad my mom knew to haul me all over town with her.