Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2006
In the last 10 months the Mukilteo Food Bank has served 4,625 people in the Mukilteo School District. But that number is a mere fraction of the families fed in the 25-plus years that Mary Lou Robertson has volunteered with the food bank.
And now she has been honored by the food bank’s directors as Volunteer Of The Year.
Mary Lou Robertson began visiting Mukilteo in 1943, when her parents purchased land and built a cabin here.
“I was a teenager then – we came out every weekend,” she says. “And I thought it was the most terrible place in the world.”
But years later, in 1961, Mary Lou had a change of heart – and circumstances. And Mukilteo has been her home ever since.
After her husband Ted was deployed with the Navy, Mary Lou and her young son Jimmie “moved to be closer to my parents,” she says. (Mary Lou also has a daughter, Mary Kay Bouck, who lives in Utah; her son Jimmie presently lives in Bellingham.)
When Mary Lou got involved with the Mukilteo Presbyterian Church, she began her volunteer work with the food bank as a volunteer at the front desk. As a result she got to know everyone who walked in.
Today she is secretary of the board, and works on Tuesdays. However, the food bank is open from 4 to 5 p.m. the Monday before the second Tuesday of the month, as well as from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, she says.
The time Mary Lou spends at the food bank helps her realize a basic truth: “We do have a lot of people around here with nothing in their cupboards.”
Today, she says, the food bank is in dire need of supplies – “I’ve never seen the shelves as empty as they are now.”
Things in short supply include canned fruit and meat, juices, boxed dinners, peanut butter and jam, instant potatoes, pudding and Jell-O® mixes, Top Ramon®, soups and chili.
“Cake and frosting mixes are not a necessity, obviously, but they are nice to have,” she says. Other useful products are personal items like soaps, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
“Really and truly, my hope is that one day the food bank won’t be necessary,” says Mary Lou Robertson. But that day is not today.
“The food bank is a necessity,” she says. “I wish it were open longer hours and more often during the week.”
Before that can happen, she adds, more volunteers are needed.
Monday, Sep. 11, 2006
When a stray cat wanders into a backyard, possibly looking for something to eat, some people don’t take notice. However, when this happened to a Sacramento area woman nearly 10 years ago, it changed her life.
The backyard belongs to Ann Dickson, a woman who rescues stray and unwanted felines in her spare time. However, Dickson didn’t always have an interest in cats, and vice versa.
“Most cats I met prior to 1995 just didn’t seem to like me,” Dickson said with a laugh.
Dickson, a 52-year-old state employee at the Department of General Services in West Sacramento, said she was scratched, hissed at and almost spit on by other cats so “getting into cats must have been something a great power had planned for me.”
Dickson acknowledges that while she didn’t like cats at the time, she would never have thought to hurt one.
“I felt sorry for the skinny little boy and began to put a little leftover food along with the crumbs,” Dickson said. “I was warned by my husband that he would become our cat if I continued to feed him. Well, I didn’t think that would happen, especially with my plan to have him neutered.”
After her initial experience, Dickson said she knew she had to get involved in the protection and general health of defenseless cats.
Ann’s home became a foster retreat for various cats of different ages. She and her husband, Herman, eventually added a 700 square foot extension onto their home to make sure they had plenty of room to care for their rescued felines.
In 1998, the couple took their mission one step further and created their own organization called Cause For Paws, dedicated to the vaccination, spay/neuter and adoption of rescued cats.
“I’m responsible for taking care of all the kittens and cats in foster care. [This includes] vet care, food, litter and many other needed supplies.” Dickson said. “We have an adoption site which is run every Saturday and is a 50 mile round trip for me.”
Spay and neuter of feral and domesticated cats is an integral part of Cause For Paws. A female cat that is not sterile is capable of having three litters of kittens in a year, which is a heavy tax on her body. In turn, male cats will fight, disable and even kill other males when they are vying for the attention of females in heat, said Gerry Clark, a feline rescuer and fellow State employee.
The operations also keep the population of feral and domesticated cats in check.
“The clinic was sponsored by the Sacramento SPCA, and when I went in, Ann greeted me with enthusiasm,” said Josh Hicks, a coworker of Dickson’s. “She gave me shots for my kittens at her cost and she’s very knowledgeable.”
Dickson is equally vocal about the adoption of her foster cats, which are kept at her home as well as in a small network of other foster homes.
“To the best of my ability I work on placing the kitties in the best homes I can find,” Dickson said.
Anyone can adopt as long as they meet the following criteria: the cats must be ‘indoor only’ for life, no de-clawing of the cats, and the pet deposit must be paid if the owner of the cat rents their home, the owner must be willing to make a true commitment, and be willing to pay an adoption fee.
As long as Dickson knows her client is truly ready to accept the responsibility of adopting, she will go out of her way to find his or her feline match.
“My boyfriend and I were looking for a female orange tabby, because he had always wanted one,” said Sara Horr, a client of Dickson’s.
The couple got in touch with Dickson and she e-mailed them a picture of the exact cat they were looking for. However, “she was very careful about the health of the cat and said it needed its shots and to be spayed. She gave it its first set of kitten vaccinations,” Horr said.
Dickson’s cause is not always an easy or joyful one. Clark recalls a perilous occasion where “there was a cat trapped on a freeway onramp. Ann risked her life to save it.”
It was Halloween and Dickson was dressed as a nun that year.
“I don’t think [drivers on the freeway] knew if I was real nun or not and I just sort of walked across saying ‘Sorry, I need to get over here,’” Dickson said. “I don’t think I would have ever spotted [the cat]… the coloring of her fur blended into the pavement very well.”
Ann and Herman Dickson have dedicated themselves to feline rescue for 12 years and are planning to retire from fostering next year. In 2005, Clark nominated the couple for the SSPCA Humanitarian Award, which they won. They have also spayed and neutered approximately 1,800 feral cats and adopted out at least 1,200 friendly cats and kittens.
Dickson may never have expected to spend so many years of her life saving animals, but has improved the lives of thousands of feral and domestic cats as well as creating countless bonds of love between her clients and their perfect feline matches.
Monday, Sep. 4, 2006
A decent meal and friendly chat make a big difference to Melbourne’s many homeless and disadvantaged, writes Michael Lallo, a Margaret Oats Soup Van volunteer.
‘Mate, this is the first thing I’ve had all day,” says Frank, a hulking figure clad in a blue fleece top, as he gulps down a cup of steaming vegetable soup.
Judging by the speed at which the crowd descends on the table in Collingwood’s Smith Street, it seems Frank is not the only one who’s waited until 8pm for breakfast.
Volunteers busily dole out more food. As always, all of it is eagerly received. While some onlookers appear bemused by this scene, most are familiar with the nightly ritual.
Over the course of a typical week, about 70 volunteers – from students and young professionals to retirees – will hand out thousands of sandwiches, cups of soup and pieces of fruit to the homeless and housing commission residents of Collingwood and Richmond.
The scheme is the formal continuation of the work of Margaret Oats. Until her death in 1998, the “Angel of Collingwood” was a familiar sight on these streets, distributing much-needed food and clothes from her trolley.
And as I quickly discovered when I signed up as a volunteer last year, a sympathetic ear is just as sought after as a sandwich.
Tonight, Frank wants to talk about his health problems. Myself and Laura, another volunteer, simply listen and nod, and he seems to relax after unloading his woes.
But then Laura breaks the news that she’s leaving to spend a year doing charity work overseas. Frank’s face falls and he envelops her in a big bear hug. Only when she promises to write to him does he brighten.
As Laura says her goodbyes, the rest of us pack up and pile into two mini-vans, heading off to nearby housing commission units.
Kevin, a kindly man in his 50s, say this has been a particularly tough week. “Just ran out of money,” he admits.
Matt is more upbeat, inviting us in to show off his guitar.
Karen and Tom, who look to be barely out of their teens, emerge from a fog of pot smoke to request their usual – tuna rolls and apples.
Jack, who suffers both cancer and Parkinson’s disease, has a bowl ready for us to pour soup into. “Doc says I need to eat more vegies,” he explains.
As we leave, Jack produces a jar of lollies, proud to be offering us something in return.
“Take another one for the road,” he urges.
* Some names have been changed.
Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006
Bandit the rat terrier jumps out of the car, tail wagging and full of excitement.
“That’s my helper,” says Mike Hellberg, Red Cross Meals on Wheels volunteer.
Bandit and Hellberg are preparing to deliver 19 hot and cold meals to elderly La Salle residents. This particular Tuesday, Aug. 1 there happens to be a heat advisory, but that doesn’t scorch the spirits of Hellberg and his small, but energetic dog. They’re happy to help.
“You’ve got to give back,” Hellberg says. “I might be in their shoes one of these days and hope there are people who want to do that for me.”
Hellberg, a 54-year-old retired UPS worker, has been giving back to the community and around the country for the past two years since helping after the 2004 Utica tornado and really, all his life. He remembers growing up with parents who were constantly involved in the community.
“There’s always something to do when people find out you’re retired,” he said.
Hellberg and Bandit pull up to one of their first stops that afternoon, Minnie Carter’s house.
“Let’s go see Minnie” he says to Bandit as the two step into her kitchen.
“How’ve you been today?” Hellberg asks Carter as they chat. She points to a bag of dog treats and angel food cake, specifically meant for Bandit.
“Hey, you’re tail is wiggling,” she says to the dog while smiling.
Hellberg opts to take the cake.
“I prefer the angel food cake because I’m helping him,” he says.
Spending just enough time to catch up, but not too much because people are waiting for food, the meal delivery duo says goodbye.
“I really enjoy doing this,” Hellberg says as he drives with Bandit in the passenger seat. “A lot of these people are your friends after you do this for a while.”
Hellberg says volunteering is in his blood. He recalled times when his mother would get frustrated with his father because if anyone was in need, whether it be a flat tire or directions, he would stop to help. And Hellberg is following that family philosophy.
Aug. 1 was his first day back delivering meals after spending three weeks doing flood relief in Pennsylvania.
“There were some pretty hard hit areas out there,” he said, noting he worked in a warehouse unloading supplies in the southeast region of upstate New York and the upper east corner of Pennsylvania.
But it was nothing compared to his time spent picking up the pieces from Hurricane Katrina at the Civic Center in Mobile, Ala. He said he saw 900-1,400 people a day working on clients’ cases and at times there was nothing he could do if people didn’t qualify for help.
“There’ve people you can’t do things for and you can’t help,” he said. “You just have to try. It was hard, especially when they say, ‘Hey, I give to the Red Cross.’”
His favorite thing about volunteering both out of state and in La Salle, is the gratitude. When he would wear his Red Cross T-shirt down south people would pat him on the back and thank him.
And the gratitude is seen locally too.
Hellberg and Bandit pull up to the next stop and park. An elderly man sits in a shaded lawn chair on the side of his house.
“There’s Leo waiting for his meals” Hellberg says to Bandit as they jump out of the car.
“I’ll bring them back to you — enjoy your shade,” Hellberg calls to Leo Wieczorek who started to walk toward the Red Cross volunteer. He moves back the chair to sit down.
“You’ve got your friend with you today,” Wieczorek says as Bandit comes running up for a pet. The two chat about gardening for a while and Wieczorek offers his appreciation for a hot meal at his doorstep.
“You know years ago you never had this,” he says.
But thanks to volunteers like Hellberg, people in need are getting help.
“It just helps out the community a lot. There is a need there,” said Sarah Stasik, executive director of the Illinois Valley chapter of the American Red Cross.
Stasik is seeking more dedicated helpers like Hellberg. Most drivers pair up for the deliveries, Hellberg rides alone with Bandit.
The Red Cross needs about 12 drivers to start a route in Oglesby. So far, Stasik said, there are three people on the wait list in that town for meals. Drivers devote about 90 minutes of their time every other week delivering the meals.
Stasik noted some drivers are actually older than the recipients.
“It just gives you a good feeling,” she added.
Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2006
Nathan Brown stumbled into the shade of his supervisor’s tent, sweating and dehydrated from the summer heat at his company’s construction site with only one thing on his mind — “Super Mom.”
“That’s what I call her. Anybody who would do that for her kids is awesome. If she can make that kind of sacrifice, we can all make a sacrifice to help her,” Brown said.
Brown’s super mom is Amy Hawkins, a Hendersonville mother who has become a hero to many Americans. Hawkins saved the lives of her two sons, Jair, 6, and Cole, 3, by shielding their small bodies with her own when an F4 tornado literally flattened their house, tearing it down on top of them.
Brown is part of a 2,000 member team of trades people and volunteers headed up by reality show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Nashville-based Capitol Homes to rebuild the Hawkins’ home.
The Emmy-nominated, hit ABC television show picks a deserving family and gives them a complete home makeover in just seven days.
In the Hawkins’ case, the project means rebuilding the house from the ground up, and in time for the Friday unveiling when the family returns from a week-long vacation at Disneyland.
“A house is normally built in 90 to 120 days. The first two days were spent meeting the family, learning about their lifestyle and habits and designing the house around how they live their lives,” said Capitol Homes founder and president David Luecke. “Now the rest will be complete in less than five [days.] The hard part is making myself sleep — not because there’s so much to do. I have great people working for me, but because I am so excited.”
The construction site resembles a bustling anthill, swarming at all hours with blue shirts and white hard hats. Luecke said 60 masons laid 2,286 blocks for the foundation in four hours, a job normally done by a six-man crew in a day and a half. Another 60 house framers framed 126,000 board feet of lumber in 12 hours, a week and a half long job for 10 workers.
Spectators were welcomed to site, which could double as a Hollywood set. Buses brought on-lookers to the site who came from across the Southeast to watch as Extreme Makeover film crews documented both the work and the crowd.
One volunteer, a waitress at the nearby Texas Roadhouse restaurant, said she aspired to host her own home design show one day, while Nashville resident Tonya Lance said she made the 30-minute drive to introduce her son to “doing good things.”
The final product, estimated at $250,000, will be a drastic difference from the “war zone” local residents described as the tornado’s wake. Trees were snapped in half, cars thrown across yards and the land littered with personal belongs. A handful of houses, like the Hawkins’, were reduced to rubble.
“It was so sad. Your heart just broke for them. It was real emotional for anyone that saw it. Some homes were totally destroyed. You just saw the concrete pad that it was on,” said Wanda Gant, whose nearby home was untouched by the tornado. “It was real scary not knowing if there were any kids injured.”
Jair and Cole Hawkins were badly bruised and cut, but it was their mother who suffered the worst. Amy Hawkins was paralyzed from the waist down.
Everett Hawkins, her father-in-law, said that neighbors found the three of them buried in debris and fought quickly to free their bodies.
“They saw little Cole’s head sticking up from the brick area. They ran down there and started taking bricks off them. They could see Amy was in really bad shape. She had turned purple and was gasping for air. When they got Amy off the boys she was still cradling them with her arms around them,” Everett Hawkins said “My son went a long time not knowing if his family would be whole again.”
Amy Hawkins’ mind is whole again, and her spirits are high, Everett Hawkins said, but she faces a battle to walk again.
While the details of the house are being kept secret until Friday, people close to the project said a pool is being installed since swimming is part of Amy Hawkins’ physical therapy. The house will be wheelchair accessible with wider hallways and doorways so that she’s mobile room-to-room and the kitchen will be outfitted with lower amenities that she can reach, they said.
“One hundred percent is donated. The labor, the materials. This is the one time when cost is not even a concern,” Luecke said. “Amy is concerned it is too generous a gift, which is always the best gift to give.”
Sunday, Apr. 23, 2006
A young Irvine woman is scheduled to be recognized by President Bush for her extensive volunteer work when he arrives in Orange County on Monday.
Laura Chanan, 18, will meet the president and receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award when he lands at John Wayne Airport before giving a speech on immigration policy.
Chanan, a senior at Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School, began volunteering at age 12 as part of a bat mitzvah project, and decided to continue when she saw the impact she was making on people’s lives.
In one instance, she was the only one to show up for a resident’s birthday at the Regents Point retirement home in Irvine, where she was serving.
“You invest just a little of your time, and you can make someone’s week,” she said by phone from Stanford University, where she is considering attending college in the fall to study chemical engineering.
“I just realized I didn’t have to do that much to make a huge impact.”
Chanan is the youth member on the board of directors of Volunteer Center of Orange County.
She has helped organize the group’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service for the last three years, helped plan a youth service conference in 2004 and worked on community service projects that included sending more than 160 care packages to deployed U.S. troops.
Once a week, she tutors children at the Cambodian Family.
Bush has encouraged volunteering since early in his first term. “Laura has proven that you can answer President Bush’s call to service and make a tangible difference in your community at any age,” said Alyssa McClenning, a spokeswoman for USA Freedom Corps, a White House office created by Bush to expand volunteer services.
Chanan said she was nervous and excited about meeting the president.
“This is the president of the United States of America,” she said. “I hope that words will actually form in my mouth.”
Saturday, Apr. 22, 2006
The Rockingham Memorial Hospital Hospice has been providing care to terminally ill patients since 1981.
During that time, hundreds of volunteers have selflessly given up their time to make people’s lives better.
Though many volunteers have come and gone, one that has remained a constant is Ruth Batten.
The 75-year-old Batten grew up wanting to be a nurse. She always had a love of helping others.
While she never became a registered nurse, she did succeed in her desire to provide care to the sick.
Batten has spent time in nursing homes, hospital rooms and individual homes, caring for those who may have only months to live.
She and the hospice program celebrate their 25th anniversary of caring for the terminally ill.
Caring For Others
Batten, a Harrisonburg resident, has given 8,000 hours in her 25 years as a volunteer. She made home and hospital visits for 10 years before moving to the hospice office on Stone Spring Road.
Presently, she gives her time coordinating the RMH Hospice Foundation work as well as keeping track of volunteer’s hours for the Medicare program.
The way people’s attitudes have changed toward the program is what Batten remembers the most.
“There was a man who resorted to swinging his cane at us because he was so mad about being sent to the hospice,” she said. “But after he spent just one night there, he did not want to leave.”
The theme for the majority of the volunteers is that great love can be given in small doses.
“There are no small jobs,” said Phil Ewald, a volunteer of five months. “You can’t do this job without a lot of caring and a lot of love.”
Ewald commits his time to sending personalized birthday and anniversary cards.
Ready For Help
Batten has seen through the years that her efforts have enriched the lives of the hospice patients and their families. Although, she says, sometimes patients have a hard time letting the volunteers into their lives.
“Not a lot of people want strangers to come into their house,” she said. “But once they realize that we are they to help them, they invite us into their lives.”
The volunteers explained just knowing that someone cares is enough for a lot of people.
“Sometimes you don’t even need to say anything at all,” Batten said. “There are different ways of providing comfort to people.
Thursday, Mar. 16, 2006
Much of the attention on Louisiana’s recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita has focused on the role of politicians and professional bureaucrats in advancing the state’s comeback.
But scores of volunteers also are making significant contributions to the recovery effort, as we were recently reminded when President Bush honored a Southern University student for his service in the recovery effort.
During a recent trip to New Orleans, Bush presented Theo Richards of Baton Rouge with a National Service Award to acknowledge Richards’ work in City Year Louisiana.
City Year, a national youth service organization, unites youths 17 to 24 years old for a year of community service and leadership development. City Year Louisiana includes 50 volunteers from across the United States who are helping with Louisiana’s recovery by serving the needs of families affected by the hurricanes.
The 20-year-old Richards is enrolled at Southern, but he’s taken a year off to serve with City Year. As part of the organization, Richards has worked with displaced students and faculty at Scotlandville Middle School. He assists teachers and helps youngsters with academic tutoring and mentoring. Richards also has worked with community service projects in New Orleans such as building playgrounds and cleaning schools.
We commend Richards for his service to Louisiana and congratulate him on his honor. We are also grateful to the many other volunteers who are aiding this recovery.
Six local dentists will offer their services free of charge for one day, aiming to relieve plenty of pain in those who can’t afford to pay for time in the chair.
Calling it Dentistry With Heart, the event is coordinated by dentist Pat Clark, a graduate of the Dunn College of Dentistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, and a veteran of UT’s frequent dental community programs. He’s also a frequent participant in many overseas medical mission trips, some sponsored through Bellevue Baptist Church.
Other practitioners volunteering for Dentistry With Heart are: James Sexton, Barrett Sexton, Patrick Pearson, David Kizer and Medhi Sedeghi. Their focus will be on extractions and fillings to relieve pain. There’s also a desire to recruit more dentist to participate in the future and make this an annual event.
Sunday, Mar. 5, 2006
Organisers of Clean Up Australia Day estimate that up to 700,000 volunteers helped spruce up the environment by clearing it of more that 9,000 tonnes of rubbish.
Clean Up Australia chairman Ian Kiernan, who was helping a group clear rubbish in Sydney’s Botany Bay, said the 7,527 sites was a record since the clean-ups began in 1989.
“I’m immensely proud of my fellow Australians. They’re the ones who made the day the success that it is,” he told volunteers and media at the Botany Bay Collex clean-up site.
Mr Kiernan said the day was proving invaluable to the country’s parks, beaches, waterways and bushland, but said more needed to be done to improve Australia’s environment.
Joined by NSW Premier Morris Iemma, Mr Kiernan used the day to launch a program known as True Green, which will include year-round projects to fix environmental problems.
“There are more than eight million Australians who say they are concerned about the environment but don’t have the time or opportunity to get involved in Clean Up Australia Day,” he said.
“They no longer have an excuse for not taking action with the launch of the True Green campaign.”
Mr Iemma said Clean Up Australia had a become a national icon, but said protection of the environment required a day-to-day effort and urged Australians to join the new campaign.
Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell, snapping on rubber gloves in Perth to join the West Australian clean-up, used the day to call for increased penalties for people caught throwing cigarette butts.
Mr Campbell said fines should be doubled or tripled for people caught discarding butts anywhere but in a bin.
“The biggest stream of litter we have seen this year in the Clean Up Australia campaign has been cigarette butts,” Senator Campbell said.
“Most of us don’t like the smoke that gets blown in our faces but we sure as hell don’t like the butts that people are leaving lying around.
“I think the existing fines are clearly not working. I think we need a system that makes people think twice before they (throw out their butts).”
NSW accounted for almost half the country’s clean-ups, with more than 300,000 volunteers attending more than 3,000 sites.
Victoria provided the country’s second-biggest contribution to Clean-Up Australia Day, with a team of more than 109,500 volunteers at 1,329 sites.
Bad weather failed to stop a record 109,000 Queenslanders taking part in the day, while almost 70,000 turned out in South Australia, 51,000 in WA, 25,000 in Tasmania, and around 10,000 in both the ACT and the Northern Territory.
Thursday, Mar. 2, 2006
The red-faced woman barely rose above the wood podium in Mother of Good Counsel’s parish hall. Her words rushed from her mouth, with thoughts jumping from story to story, as she told engrossed auxiliary members of the Mission Doctors Association about her 29 years in an infamous Mexican prison.
Although she talked passionately of forgiveness, redemption and personal transformation, the former Granada Hills, Calif., housewife – who grew up in Beverly Hills with movie star neighbors like William Powell, Hedy Lamarr, John Barrymore and Dinah Shore – had not served serious time for running drugs, transporting illegals across the border or even murdering her husband.
No, Mother Antonia had voluntarily lived in a concrete cell at La Mesa state penitentiary almost 30 years ago for a radically different reason – to bring the good news of Christian hope and salvation to thousands of criminals.
During those three decades, which followed two failed marriages and seven children, the former Mary Clarke has brought prisoners food, clothing, pillows, blankets, bandages and medicine.
She has paid off their fines so they could be released and bought them bus tickets back to their hometowns and villages. She’s arranged for inmates to see a doctor or dentist. She has broken up brutal fights in the yard and kept aggressive guards from beating inmates.
Feeling good about giving
But most importantly, the gregarious 5’2″ nun has never stopped hugging prisoners, and telling them how much they are loved.
Living with thousands of men and women, day in and day out, has taught Mother Antonia a thing or two about giving, too.
To give is a joy; it is a joy,” she declared. “Everybody who goes out to work at the Red Cross or St. Vincent de Paul or at a church or in a prison comes back happy. Why not? They are giving of themselves to others
When I was in Washington recently, I took off my gloves and gave them to a woman who was cold,” she reported. “I felt so good about that. I mean, that warms your heart instead of your hands.”
The 79-year-old woman talked about being a teenager and visiting her father’s office one day in Hollywood. A hobo came by saying he had slept in a boxcar the night before and begging a quarter. The wife of a salesman present said nobody should give him money, but instead just buy a bottle of wine for the bum and his pals.
Seventeen-year-old Mary felt an overwhelming sense of embarrassment for the down-and-out interloper. It was lucky for the salesman’s wife that her father was not around, she thought to herself. Because the altruistic businessman, Joseph Clarke, would never allow anyone to “bring down” a poor person.
Inspired by Monsignor Brouwers
Mother Antonia also spoke of another major life influence: Msgr. Anthony Brouwers. In the 1950s, the director of the archdiocese’s Society for the Propagation of the Faith founded the Mission Doctors Association along with the Lay Mission-Helpers.
She read his column in The Tidings, and finally sought his counsel for a relief effort to feed Korean children she was working on. He became her friend as well as spiritual advisor until he died of bone cancer in early 1964.
“He was my inspiration, and I took his name,” she pointed out to the auxiliary members. “I think, all the time, that one of the reasons I’ve had so many wonderful things happen in my years in prison, where I experienced so much giving and loving, is because God has blessed me because I had monsignor’s name. I think he’s my advocate in heaven.”
She spoke of an 18-year-old boy who was shot on Good Friday, March 24, 1978, by a guard at La Mesa. After X-rays were taken, doctors said the spinal injury was so severe the prisoner would be paralyzed from the waist down.
She prayed to Monsignor Brouwers, pleading that because of his own debilitating bone cancer he knew what it was like to be a paraplegic and not be able to walk. By Easter Sunday, the inmate walked out of the hospital.
“I don’t know what you call a miracle,” she observed. “I’ve seen so many of them during my years in prison. But the fact was, that was a beautiful miracle that I believe came from heaven through Monsignor Brouwers.”
‘Mama’ still ministering
Going on 80, Mother Antonia is still living at La Mesa, seeking the intercession of the hard-working priest who inspired her all those years ago.
Her ministry – which was chronicled last year in the book “The Prison Angel” by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondents for The Washington Post – is pretty much the same. She focuses on both the practical and spiritual needs of the prisoners, who call out “Mama!” when she walks among them in her white veil and black-and-white habit.
In addition, she started a halfway house (Casa Campos de San Miguel) for newly-released women prisoners, and cancer victims.
And she often spends a night or two on weekends at the nearby convent of the small congregation she formed (Eudist Servants of the 11th hour) of like-minded older women who feel a late vocation to enter religious life. The foundress likes to refer to herself and the other women religious as “lay missionary sisters.”
What has been changed has been me,” she told The Tidings after her talk. “I’m going to be 80 this year, and the years take a toll on you. Now I can’t run from one section of the prison to the other like I used to. I have a heart condition, and when I get back from the prison, I have to lie down because I’m exhausted.”
But Mother Antonia is not ready to give up her cell, which was given to her by a Mexican governor. She sleeps on a fold-out bed.
“I only know that my presence is positive and does some good there,” she confides. “So as long as it does that, I remain. Because I know that I’m needed. I might be in my room, but, see, when you’re a person with love in your heart for God, it goes out. And the whole prison knows I’m there. They know ‘Mama’s here.'”
In terms of physical distance, there is a wide gulf separating Doris Crocker from Haiti — about 1,500 miles of it. But when it comes to helping people, the world is a lot smaller.
Crocker is executive director of New Jersey-Haiti Partnership of Partners of the Americas, and a recipient of the Partners of the Americas International Lifetime Achievement Award. She has been involved in the organization, first peripherally, then directly, since it was founded by her husband, Clinton, in 1976.
“They always say that Partners is the best kept secret,” she said.
Unlike other international volunteer organizations, Partners doesn’t just dole out money, Crocker said. Working in conjunction with its sister organization in Haiti, the Haiti-New Jersey Partnership, the group has developed over the years a variety of exchange programs providing training in areas such as agriculture and public health.
“There’s something very special about Doris,” Susan Rosenberg, president of New Jersey-Haiti Partners, said. “She is very soft-spoken, but she’s a giant of a person.”
The group has a core membership of about 20, Crocker said. But in keeping with its name, Partners works with several other organizations that deal with Haitians either in America or still on the island.
A social worker by profession, she worked for 25 years in the Tinton Falls and Eatontown school districts before retiring in 1991.
“At least one of the number one problems is lack of education,” she said. “There are not enough schools for the population.”
Some 48 percent of Haitians are illiterate, she said, and many of the country’s poorest children do not attend school.
Though neither she nor her husband are Haitian, Crocker said she has always been interested in international relations, and her work with Partners has taken her throughout much of the Western Hemisphere. She is also a member of Province II of the Episcopal Church USA, in which she serves as the chairwoman of the Haiti Network.
Her international involvement doesn’t stop there though. When she joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s Monmouth County Alumnae Chapter, she got involved with its International Awareness and Involvement Committee.
Describing Crocker as gracious and detail-oriented, Rosenberg said Crocker is a vital part of Partners’ success.
“If it weren’t for Doris Crocker, I couldn’t do what I do,” she said. “Nobody works alone in an organization. I feel it’s a privilege to work with her.”
Sunday, Feb. 26, 2006
It wasn’t long ago that 17-year-old William Jackson of Washington was on the receiving end of a Make-A-Wish gift.
During that difficult time four years ago, the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave Jackson a laptop and other computer components that allowed him to stay in touch with friends and continue his school work despite being sick. And on Dec. 30, 2003, Jackson had a kidney transplant.
Now Jackson wants to give back to the organization that helped him through a rough time in his young life. He plans to raise a steer and put it up for auction this summer to benefit Make-A-Wish. And he’s getting some assistance with that project from Aldermere Farm, where he is a member of the 4-H Club called Aldermere Achievers.
On Thursday, Aldermere Farm Manager Ron Howard presented Jackson with a belted Galloway steer named Razz. Aldermere Farm, now owned by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, is one of the world’s premier belted Galloway cattle breeders and a favorite scenic attraction in the Camden and Rockport area.
The 136-acre farm was founded by the late Albert H. Chatfield Jr. and is permanently protected by conservation easements. Chatfield bequeathed the farm to MCHT when he died in 1999.
Aldermere “Belties” are known to breeders around the world as some of the finest stock anywhere. Bred primarily for beef, Belties originated in the mountains of Southwest Scotland, where they became an exceptionally hardy breed, adapting to the severe conditions. Unlike many other breeds, the Belties were able to forage for themselves on the range during the winter and their development under severe conditions made the breed highly resistant to disease and genetic problems.
Nearly a year old, Razz weighs in at around 630 pounds. It will be Jackson’s job to care for the steer, a responsibility that will increase as the white stripe around Razz’s midsection grows over the next seven months. It’s that white stripe sandwiched between the black front and back ends that earned the Beltie its “Oreo Cookie Cow” nickname.
“There’s a lot of work to do getting ready for show day,” Jackson said. “Feeding, cleaning the pen, trimming the tail, shaving the hair on his head, trimming his coat, shampooing, blowing dry and leading, lots of leading.”
Jackson said he will spend as much time as possible leading Razz around, getting him comfortable with the halter and lead rope, and making sure he’s not fidgety or nervous around people, especially judges.
Jackson’s previous experience with livestock has been raising and showing pigs, but he said cattle are easier to work.
“You can’t put a halter on a pig and tie it to a post to work with it like you can cattle,” Jackson said.
Jackson and Aldermere Farm will enter Razz in at least three livestock shows this summer, including the Bangor State Fair (July 28-Aug. 6), the Union Fair (Aug. 20-26), and the Windsor Fair (Aug. 27-Sept. 4).
It’s at the Windsor Fair where Jackson plans to sell Razz at auction. And after seven months of hard work preparing the Beltie for show and ultimately market, he will donate the money he earns at the auction to Make-A-Wish.
Amy Theiss, communications director for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine, was on hand Thursday for the donation of Razz to Jackson. “It’s always a great honor for us when wish kids come back to help us,” she said.
And while Howard knows Jackson, who will take Razz to Washington to live at a nearby farm, has a big job ahead, the Aldermere Farm manager hopes the partnership of Beltie and boy will inspire buyers come August.
“The real coup will be if we can get enough buyers at the fair, as this is an auction and they could bring in a good price,” Howard said.
Saturday, Feb. 18, 2006
Willie Pham stoops a bit and dips his mop into the metal bucket. He swishes the rope head over tired hospital linoleum, humming barely loud enough for the woman in the bed a few feet away to hear. Amazing grace. How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me.
He sings a few words of the old hymn, just above a whisper, then goes back to humming.
The woman never moves.
If she were awake, and well enough, this patient might ask Willie about his job mopping and scrubbing in the intensive care unit.
“I’m here to do more important things,” he’d say in his deep, soothing voice.
The Medical Intensive Care Unit at University Hospitals of Cleveland is serious business.
Its huge nurses station is surrounded by 20 private rooms filled with IV drips and intimidating medical equipment.
Relatives sit silently at bedsides, waiting for eyes to open or a word to be spoken, for any small beacon of hope.
“When people come here, this is the worst time of their lives,” says Rachel Vanek, a nurse practitioner in the unit. “We get the sickest of the sick.”
Willie Pham loves his work.
“I don’t look at my job as a lower job,” he says. “I was placed here for a purpose.”
Pham is a janitor. But people who know him call him other things: Mr. Willie. Brother Willie. An inspiration, a blessing, a saint. An angel sent by God.
Or they’re like Nancy Randall. She met Pham when she awoke from a coma in May 2004 and saw nothing but white light and Pham praying.
And then, like most people who talk about Pham, she begins to cry, tears of gratitude for how he helped her recover from a bad bout of pneumonia.
“I was in the hospital 5 ½ months,” Randall says, “and … all the days that he worked, he would come and pray with me.
“You know how you give up? I was so sick, I just about gave up. It fills me up to think about he helped me come back.”
Kimberly Kotora, the unit’s acting head nurse, says, “I don’t know how he does it, but he can bring a family together and have them praying over a patient in minutes.
“We had an incident up here where we had three very, very sick patients and the Catholic priest was overextended and couldn’t help,” Kotora says.
Of course, Pham stepped in.
Abby Gretter, another nurse, says: “I’m not even sure what religion Willie is, but he makes you feel warm because he has such a kind heart. Willie just bellies up to the bedside and offers some incredible spiritual words.”
The people who spend days and months in intensive care have their stories, too. Pham never forces religion on anyone, they say. He waits, with great respect, for someone to ask him to pray.
“Willie can sense boundaries,” says Kathy Ellsworth, who became friends with Pham when her son, Jared, was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, back when Willie cleaned rooms there.
“He’s not like a pest,” says Chriss Slabaugh, whose baby daughter was admitted to that unit days after she was born.
“As far as him doing prayers in the room, that was … only when he felt like the family wanted them.
“When she was passing away, going through those last hours, we called and told him, and he came,” Slabaugh says.
“And then we asked him to be at the funeral. And he was.”
On that freezing winter day, Pham drove 50 miles from Cleveland to Wellington, Ohio, and read a letter from Chriss and Delila Slabaugh about their baby girl. Then he led the graveside service.
“I guess he’s just a good friend of ours now,” Chriss Slabaugh says.
A good friend is what Pham is to hundreds of people who’ve spent time in that place between life and death.
Years later, they talk about how he still calls and sends Christmas cards or letters.
When Jared Ellsworth died at age 12, his mother asked Pham to speak at the funeral.
“It just wouldn’t have been right not to have Willie,” Kathy Ellsworth says. “You can’t help but feel peace when you’re around him.”
What brought her that peace, she says, was watching the gentle love that developed between Willie and Jared.
“I don’t know if I was strong enough to teach my son about life and death,” she says. “God sent Willie to us to do that. I don’t think he’s human. I think he’s an angel.”
Pham has little to say about all this. He’s embarrassed by the attention.
“This is what I’m supposed to do,” he says in his quiet way, never mentioning that he’s head of deacons at Zion Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Cleveland; that he studied at night for more than four years at the Baptist Bible Institute, earning a master Bible diploma in 2003; that he spends his spare time visiting nursing homes and taking Communion to the homebound; that his back aches nearly every day; that he usually skips lunch at work to pray with patients who have gotten well enough to move to the hospitals’ other wings.
“I have an opportunity to be of help,” Willie says. “That’s all it’s about.”
Friday, Feb. 10, 2006
Sometimes people get involved with volunteer organizations because they simply want references to pad their resumes. It’s only with time that the experience becomes an end in itself.
But for17-year-old volunteer Stacey Bateman, helping others is its own reward — one that hasn’t lost its novelty over time.
“Her heart is in this direction,” says Judy Endecott, of Community Living Toronto, one of the many places at which Bateman volunteers.
“She likes to be busy and she likes to be helpful. She came here when she was 14 and she never left.”
When Bateman first began volunteering at Community Living Toronto she just wanted to keep busy by casually volunteering her time. She was open-minded and curious, and quickly absorbed everything she was taught.
Bateman took part in the adult literacy program for adults and has continued to do so consistently until this day. It is something she thoroughly enjoys.
“Someone mentioned Community Living, about people with intellectual disabilities, so I called up and I got placed in the literacy program,” says Bateman. “I loved it so much that I didn’t want to leave.”
Almost four years later, Bateman has volunteered at the Bob Rumball Centre for the Deaf and Blind, the Helen Keller Society and the Achilles Track Club. She has even has run her own events, and initiated and coordinated fundraisers. And it goes on — her history of volunteering is almost too long to list.
Bateman has received various awards for her community service, including two this year: The Violet Richardson Award and The East Toronto Rotary Club Award. She is also fluent in American Sign Language and is in the process of learning blind-deaf communication.
Not a bad track record for someone who just finished high school with an 80 percent average and an Ontario Scholarship.
So how does she manage it all and make it seem so easy?
“I’m up very early — every morning at 5 a.m.,” she says. “That’s the only way I’m able to do all that I do.”
That, of course, leads to the inevitable question: how does a teenager – or anyone for that matter – get up every morning at such an abominable hour?
“I like to keep to my commitments,” she says. “But, really, it’s because I love what I do.”
Bateman wants to turn her charitable acts into a career and plans to realize this dream at George Brown College this September. While she plans to study to become an intervenor — a guide and interpreter for individuals who are deaf and blind — she hopes to stay involved with Community Living Toronto.
Despite the prospect of a hectic study schedule and a job after that, Bateman says she’s sure about one thing — she’ll always be volunteering, as helping people is a lifelong priority, which is fun and enjoyable.
Endecott, who has known her for years, is still in awe.
“She’s unbelievable. She’s really great.”