Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bri (Traveling Notes)

Something fun (!) as promised in the last blog post. The first sentence in the second note is the best part. And I gotta tell you how Bri delivered these notes to us too - that's a story in itself! One day I got this excited call from Arthur saying that Bri had left something in an envelop for the class in his door (they live the same building, which btw is how Bri heard about our class in the first place, through Arthur). And then, a few days later, I got another call from him. Knowing him, I knew he was loving the drama and suspense of it all, especially the fact that he'd been selected by Bri as the special deliverer of these "documents". You should have seen him when he walked in the next Thursday (class day) and immediately, ceremoniously handed me not one but two sealed envelops. The seniors all got such a kick out of the notes when I read them out loud. Everything about these notes was just so, so nice. And did I mention that this is only Bri's second month with our group? Now you know what I meant when in the last blog post I said, it feels like we've known Bri forever?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bri (I Am From)

Have you ever met someone and felt like you’ve known him or her forever? That’s how it feels with Bri. You know, it must be a little intimidating (a little, to put it lightly!) to walk into a seniors’ writing class expecting “class” in some form, only to see the most close-knit group of people, laughing, crying, hugging, clapping, calling each other their best friends. But with Bri, you get the feeling that she just belongs. She gets us right away. Some seniors take months to open up. Bri took no time. This poem is what she wrote the second time she ever joined.

And you know what she said yesterday? “I have only been here for a month, but I wish I had been here for years.” Of course she said this knowing we’ve only been around for just over a year. How perfect is she? I’ve got more to share… wait till you see what else she wrote in the next blog post…!

Bri Kurmue
I Am From…

1.  I Am From: Rats and mice and from roaches and flies and chinches and nightmares

2.  I Am From: An overly crowed two (2) bedroom house filled with nine (9) people, one (1) dog, one (1) cat and one (1) toilet

3.  I Am From: The deliciously cooked pots of pigtails and smoked meat, collard greens, the yam, baked candied and sweet. The taste still lingers on my tongue and in the crevices of my mind

4. I Am From: Bless your food before you eat. Wash your hands before you go into the refrig. Most definitely wash your hands after using the bathroom

5. I Am From: Nettie-Mae Spurell Spivey. And she was the MOTHER.  A strict disciplinarian.  And she had a humorist personality.  One of the best mommies that ever walked this earth.  I will never forget her goodness nor her love

6a. I Am From: The place of horrid existence, struggled living and continuous love, thrift store shopping with a practiced eye, searching for the best and finest clothing for her six (6) children, who were always the best dressed children in the neighborhood, public schools and Church.

6b. I Am From: Boys hair cuts, girls hair pressed/curled plus touched up every two (2) weeks

6c. From: Her Mantra.  If you lie, you will steal.  If you steal, you will take drugs and kill, then end up in the jail house. 

And: That we (my brother/sisters) should always remember and believe that Jesus loves you and holds you in the hollow of His hands.

7a. I Am From: A Christian background, Sunday school, Bible study and church all day Sunday

7b.  Having to renew my faith continuously as I journeyed thru this harried life

8a. I Am From: Prejudiced North America and I am an Afro-American female

8b: Two (2) foods that represent family: boxes of Argo starch and bottles of Pepsi Cola

9a: From the: Jimmy Martin. An absent father and a person whom, we (brothers/sisters) never recognized as father and never called daddy! He was only a shadow in our lives.
It took me many years to comprehend how my mom could even love such a man, let alone have children by him.

* But life’s journey has taught me about that emotion  – love – and how it can color your best intentions and shade your dreams.

9b. From the: Wonderful, sweet, loving maternal grandmother that was always there for Nettie-Mae. And her six (6) children.  Bringing food when the belly and the cupboard was empty.  Buying us comic books, jump ropes, skates and even a puppy for xmas. She also took us to the seashore in the summer time.  I was named after her.

10. I Am From: Nettie-Mae Spurell Spivey and Jimmy Martin.  Each has since died and now uses Heaven as an address.  Leaving on Planet Earth – Jimmy, Sandy, Cukie, Carl and Rickey.  The essence of their shared love.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Big Cheer for Madi

Some of you may remember Madi from our Facebook photos and Youtube video. It is my proud honor to announce that she has officially (re)joined our project as our Teen Intern!

Madi and I met last summer, during which she participated in our project first as a visitor, then regular attendee. Her internship, which begins this month and will be ongoing, includes a large leadership role in the summer that involves working with diverse teens in the city, and blogging about her experience to a public audience. More (very very very exciting) details to come – stay tuned. 
And now, please join me in a big cheer for Madi!

Madi Garvin
3/3/2011 via Facebook Message

I had already been volunteering at the Philadelphia Senior Center for a month when I attended my first The Best Day of My Life (So Far) class, and as soon as it was over, I was left wanting more. I was astounded that I had already missed out on the classes I could have attended. So, I made it my goal to go back the next week. And then the week after that. Soon enough, I was a regular attendee.

The most memorable moment, or moments, of my time in The Best Day of My Life So Far was spending time with Loretta and writing down her words. At the beginning I was a little timid, after all I can barely write quickly enough for my own words! But I was able to keep up and hear some quality stories in the meantime. Hearing about her misfortune with the Philadelphia Housing Authority and how she coped and kept positive without having a place to live was truly inspirational and heart-wrenching at the same time. This particular experience, and all of my time spent with the seniors, has gotten me thinking about things differently. When Loretta revealed that she was struggling with homelessness, people offered to let her stay with them. That taught me a real lesson on humanity and how the human spirit can heal even some of the worst situations.

The Best Day of My Life So Far has also greatly impacted my life during the school year. As a result of spending my time at the PSC over the summer, I have become more extroverted and academically determined. Because of my participation in the group, I now go to many more school events and fundraisers than I did last year. Academically, I was not doing bad last year, but now I have the pleasure to say that my grades have improved: instead of getting by with mostly A-s and Bs (and the occasional C), I now pride myself in getting As and a minority amount of Bs. The class impacted my grades because I truly learned the importance of continuing one's education in a prosperous manner. In ninth grade I went from having average grades with only one honors class to having good grades with three honors courses this year, and next year I have registered to take all honors and one advanced placement class. I am truly thankful for the class, and the people in it for fostering my academic and social development (all while having a great time!)

This class has helped me grow in so many ways and I am extremely excited (and a little scared) to start blogging. Bridging the gap between seniors and teens is extremely important. Every generation has something to say!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mo (The Parlor and The Movies)

The last two posts were on the heavy side – I know! I feel bad! So I owe you guys a couple lighter ones, don’t you think? Oh, you know whom we can always go to for that… my buddy Mo! I like these two posts together because they are different but similar: one is indoors, one is outdoors, but in both cases Mo associates memories of places with particular family members. BTW, happy super sunny day, Philly, and hope you are having a nice day wherever else you may be.
Mo McCooper
The Parlor

The Irish homes in my grandparents’ neighborhood, East Falls, were mostly row houses with two stone steps leading up to the porch. Behind the front door was a small hall which led to the stairs to the second floor. To the right were the entrances to the parlor with windows looking out onto the front porch and the steep street out front.

As many as a dozen grown-ups and big kids would squeeze into chairs and a couch in that little room. The little kids would sit or lie on the floor.

My grandparents called that room, “The Parlor.” Storytelling, singing, and a little dancing went on there. One of my favorite childhood songs was, “If You’re Irish, Come Into The Parlor.”

More To Come….

Mo McCooper
Double Features

Sometimes on a Friday or Saturday evening, Dad would drive me into a part of Philadelphia where two movies were being shown for the price of one.

Food before or after at a nearby restaurant would complete a great adventure.  Telling my mom and maybe later Uncle Tommy about the movies would be part of the fun.

They would not be children’s movies.  They were usually war movies or crime stories and sometimes the life stories of inventors or athletes.  They were not new movies.  I loved them.

Dad would point out stores, churches, theaters and ball fields in the neighborhoods we drove through in the pick-up truck.  Dad made sure that I’d be curious about the city as I grew older.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Arthur (Togetherness)

To you all reading in Japan, or those of you trying to get in touch with family and friends there, hang in there. I am so sorry to hear the shocking news of the tsunami. I can’t even begin to imagine how much you are dealing with. I am not sure the right words to say, and just hope today’s blog post can be uplifting in some tiny way.

Arthur Murray

It’s all about putting yourselves together with the lovely stories among each other…everyone can do this.

Just focus on whatever you want to, the good days, bad days and most important things in your life.  This is the best class at the senior center because all you have to do is be yourself. 

With so many things going on there’s so much to talk about.  Today, Thursday, I was in a play.  It was very interesting, set in the time when Martin Luther King gave his speech in Washington, D.C.  This is the 3rd play we have done so far.

 I just had a birthday March 2nd.  I am 71 years young now (smile).  I am enjoying each and every day now because it is “later than you think”.  Tomorrow might not ever get here.

There should be more classes like this one.  People like you and I – TOGETHER.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mr. Gordon (Trading Sorrow for Joy)

Here’s another perfect gift, this one in the form of a grateful story. Kind of like a giant verbal thank you card from Mr. Gordon, to Beatrice, Valerie and Brenda all at once.

Hallmark cards are fun to buy, but plain words can do their job, sometimes it’s easy to forget.

Our senior buddies Beatrice and Brenda were sitting right at the table when Dee read the story out loud for Mr. Gordon (because Mr. Gordon is blind, one of us usually writes down his words in advance then read them on his behalf to the group). When their names were called out, Beatrice and Brenda didn’t just smile. They beamed ear to ear.  And Valerie? Since she is an actual staff member at the kitchen, she wasn’t in our classroom. After class, Dee and I found her and made her a copy of this story. She was really overwhelmed. “Mr. Gordon wrote this? Mr. Gordon wrote this?” she kept saying. It was beautiful to see.

Arlin Gordon
Trading Sorrow for Joy

There are some days when some things seem to be bright and cheerful, so we never know what people are going through as they seem to be always smiling.

One day I came here at the senior center and found out that a friend of mine had passed away. It gave me a sad feeling because of our closeness. I was feeling kind of down that day. I walked into the cafeteria and the warm welcome I received when I walked in made me forget about things for that moment. The people who sit with me at the table, even though we all are going through some things, we seem to lift each other’s spirits.  The workers are always so joyful and make you feel so welcomed. Our friend Beatrice (who volunteers in the cafeteria to serve hot soups) and a young lady named Valerie (a kitchen staff member at the senior center) are always pleasant, smiling, joyful and cheerful. We must always try to remember that no matter what we are going through, that there are always good and cheerful people who have been placed in our lives. We don't have to dwell on the sorrowful things in life because joy is always around us.

I look forward to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and riding with the people on the Paratransit bus to the senior center because each one of us helps the others. There is always a joyful greeting as we ride the bus to the center. I thank God for placing these people in my life. I am thankful for Valerie who always greets me with a warm greeting when I enter in the cafeteria.

P.S. Brenda, I didn't forget you!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Beatrice and Loretta (What Almost Happened)

It gives me so much peace to know that our class is a place where even the most bitter things can turn sweet. Two weeks ago, I knew at some point I was going to have to share with you, our readers, about what happened to Bernice. I was so afraid that this was going to have to be another kind of blog post. But good news. Bernice is alright.

We had such a scare. Two weeks ago, Bernice and her twin sister Beatrice weren't in class, and no one (including the other seniors) knew what was up except there was gossip at the senior center that Bernice had a massive heart attack and got sent to the hospital. I had known Bernice since the very, very first day of this class. And it just so happens that we get along really well because we are very similar in personality. A lot of times Bernice likes to sit next to me, at the seat to my right. Every time in class, she draws a portrait because it's been our inside joke and she's determined to keep it going.

I was gone that day in Seattle, visiting my grandma and my family. And our wonderful co-leader Dee broke the news to me very gently on email. I freaked out. Dee had tried calling Beatrice but couldn't get a hold of her. The hospital said they couldn't release any information. Finally when I got home to Philly, I tried calling Beatrice again. I was afraid that if I had called from Seattle I couldn't have handled the bad news. When I got a hold of Beatrice, and she told me her sister is alright, I was so relieved. Bernice has to rest at home, probably can't come to class in a while.

Heart problems run in their family, and last Thursday right before class Bernice had intense chest pain. But luckily her daughter called an ambulance and rushed her to the hospital in time, and they did surgery on her and put in a medical device to keep her arteries open. She stayed in the hospital for 4 days. On the phone, Beatrice told me she had lost all her siblings and "my twin and I" are the only ones left, so she was really nervous, then in the same breath, she assured me she'd definitely be in class the next day - it just so happened that class was the next day. I think our class is where she feels the most relaxed and supported so she really wanted to be there especially because of what had happened. Said she had really missed being seeing everyone the past week. Meanwhile, Beatrice said all this in a super calm tone. Took a lot of time to ask me about my trip and everything.

In class the next day, everyone was so happy to see Beatrice and hear updates about Bernice directly from her. Everyone clapped and cheered when Beatrice walked into the room. And then, wow, Loretta. She walked in with a big smile and told Dee and me that she had a gift - on behalf of the class - for Bernice. When we saw what it was, Dee and I just looked at each other and our eyes simultaneously welled up. We both went speechless for an entire minute. Loretta had put together the most thoughtful gift anyone can ever give Bernice. It had 3 parts: a card plus 2 very special things, one hidden as a mini surprise inside another. I will let Loretta tell you what they are in her story below. Beatrice was very moved, and told us she couldn't wait to bring them to her sister's house right after class.

We miss you Bernice!! Rest up and come back soon!! Our class is not the same without you. Love, The Writing Class.

Beatrice Newkirk
What Almost Happened

I almost lost my twin sister. I was so afraid. It was 9 of us. Six brothers and three sisters. Now there are just me and my twin Bonnie. I lost two brother’s and a sister. The rest I lost through the years. I did not want to be left here alone without them. We have kids and all that. But we are the last of the older people in the family. We started the family tree – because of God she is still here. No one lives forever. We have to take one day at a time. Everyday is a birthday. I think of everyone here in this center and here at the writing class.  She said she misses coming to the class. She sends her love.
Beatrice Newkirk

Loretta Gaither
Worth It

Every Thursday I used to attend an exercise class, Silver Sneakers here at the Centre. We would exercise to music and use weights. I would go to this class before the writing began. Now, I would rather go to this writing class. I was worried about Bernice since she was in the hospital and was thinking about something to make her laugh. I found a pocketbook and a toy bus which is perfect since she always writes about her experiences on the bus. I thought that would be nice and make her laugh.

I believe that being nice to others and volunteer work makes me feel better and is the only way I know to cope with things in my life. Sometimes it is hard, but it is worth it.

Click Here to read some of Bernice's latest stories on the bus. Browse our story archive for more stories and drawings ;) by our special friend. Click Here to read her tribute to her twin sister Beatrice.