Tuesday, July 31, 2012

India (Changed Times)

Ever since our first summer in existence, our youth have consistently inspired us with the depth of their thinking. We are moved by the physical voices of those who visit our seniors in class, and the virtual voices of those who send us their responses to our seniors’ stories via email and Facebook. 

Our new Teen Outreach Manager Jul and I agree that these responses are too powerful to not to share, so I would like to dedicate a series of blog posts to our youth.  I would love to hear what you think and if you would like to see more blog posts like this. OR, IF YOU ARE A TEEN (yay!!), pick a story from our blog and send us your response to be considered for an upcoming blog post – I would be thrilled to hear from you. Chat with me via Facebook or email me at benita@bestdayofmylifesofar.org.

Here to kick off our youth series is India. Thank you, India, for your submission - keep writing!

By India Shivers, 20
April 17, 2012
Changed Times

In response to “Changed Minds” by Missouri Grier, 92

The changed minds for the changed times
Living life of riches, as if everything is fine.

Loving thy neighbor, I am my brother’s keeper,
Enjoying my life, and avoiding the reaper.

With no hate in my heart and love in the air,
Showing the ones I love that I truly care.

India is a high school graduate and and Achieving Independence Center youth member. Her coach is Nicole Sonsini. Click Here to re-read the story that inspired India to write her response.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Grateful, Surprised, and Proud

Beatrice Newkirk
Our Writing Teacher

Our writing teacher’s birthday was last week. She went away so we had to have something for her this week. She is a good person. We love having her for our teacher. We have learned so much from her and she is learning a lot from us. Everyone in this class enjoys her. We all hope she has lots more birthdays to come. We want her to know we really love her. We all look forward to seeing her every Thursday from one o’clock until two. Madi (our teacher’s teen intern) has been helping out a lot. We love her too. We all love to work together.

The seniors couldn’t contain their own excitement. When I walked into the classroom last week (dashed in, really – that’s just my usual speed of walking – with my purse, laptop bag, and a big tote with all the notebooks and pens), they already began singing “Happy Birthday.” I looked that our writing table, and it was filled to the edges with cakes, sweets, drinks, and Loretta’s fried chicken.

The cake was huge, and the drinks were heavy. I couldn’t believe the seniors had brought all that in from their houses or from the store, not to mention hauling all the weight up two floors, in order to get everything to the classroom.

Even for those of them who took the elevator, maneuvering big wide boxes must not have been an easy balancing act. Many of them walk with canes.

A whole sea of happy emotions washed over me as they sang. And most of all, I felt grateful, surprised and proud. And I realized those feelings weren’t just my feelings at that particular moment, but something I feel when I am with my senior buds every week.

Grateful. Because I am surrounded by such beautiful people in my life. This project, “The Best Day of My Life So Far” has become much, much more than just this class. But at the same time, this class, and my time every week with my best buds, is so much more to me than this project.

Surprised. Because not only did the seniors self-organize this extravaganza, they have stepped up and up and up through the time I have known them. As individuals, yes, I have seen than in their stories and their smiles, I know that in my heart. But as a team, even more so, they to me signify unbelievable heights, unbelievable strength.

Proud. Because I started this project with a dream, that one by one seniors around me would open up and feel free to be themselves and through their individuality inspire younger people. But reality has surpassed my dreams. And it’s in the little things I notice it –

Every week, Beatrice coordinates the reading order in class; “Mommy” makes sure the table is quiet during writing time so everyone can focus; Norman stays after class to scan the handwritings; Mo stays after to straighten out the room; Henrietta brings a rolling luggage full of snacks; Mr. Robert asks if anyone has a birthday that week; and all of them take turns walking Joe, who is blind, downstairs to help him catch the van after class.

I still remember one of the first field trips I ever took them on, to the public TV and radio station WHYY. I was so worried about all the logistics, like how they were going on and off our van. And they turned out totally fine, beyond fine. We had a blast presenting to reporters and journalist at a state-of-the-art conference room with a huge screen, and just as much of a blast singing goofy songs on the way there and back. I remember wondering why I had worried so much. Realizing that they were capable of great things and all I needed to do was to let them be, and motivate them.

The seniors burst into Happy Birthday song mode 4 more times during the hour of my surprise party. One time Robert started it, giggling; one time Joe started it, with a jazzy vibe; one time Greta started it, laughing out loud. And one time, just everyone, somehow, altogether, spontaneously, at the same time.

I am writing this story so that I can read it to my senior buds in class tomorrow, right off the blog. I hope they like it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Miss Mo (Chickens)

Ever wonder how Little Miss Mo (Missouri) got her name?  Not what you might think…

Having lived in cities almost all my life, I always wonder how it is like to live on a farm. Here is a bittersweet and very funny peek I don’t think I would get anywhere else… oh, Miss Mo!!

Missouri Grier

Missouri was the name of my chicken.  My mother raised chickens in the back yard. 

Everyone had a chicken in the household.  When their chicken was to be sacrificed, we would have a little party.  I was happy at all the parties but my own.  I cried and my mother hugged me and I was sad for a week.

My aunt bought me another one.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gloria (Magic Circle)

A simple thought occurred to me on my 32nd birthday yesterday, and it made me happy. My senior buds' stories aren't just about being old. But about ALL of life's experiences. The thought reminds me of this story which “Daughter” wrote a few weeks ago. For those of you newer to the blog, Gloria is actually close in age to me, and my buds and I all call her “Daughter” because she always, and always lovingly, accompanies Aileen, whom we all call “Mommy, to class.

Gloria Washington
Magic Circle

Every time I sit at the oval table in our sun drenched, book laden room I am transported.

The myriad voices enthrall me.  Tales of history, pathos, and ingenuity…Nuggets of golden stories I would never know of otherwise. 

Secrets of the entertainment business, Philly’s diverse ethnic stories from the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s are offered as well as true moments of accomplishment from my fellow literary travelers.  I am in awe and silenced.  I think about these stories often while traversing the city or in quiet moments alone. 

They move me and make me think.  I am adding a new dimension to my “lens” on the cities multi-ethnic neighborhoods. 

Sometimes the musings are quite cerebral, a nod to my fellow theatre member.  Other times they are funny, poignant, who knew these things about Atlantic City?

Each voice carries weight.  Separately they are strong reminders of our past.  Together they are a unified crescendo of what makes this city and country great.

And hovering incandescently is the fairy that facilitates it all.

I am honored to be a part of this ritual of words.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Loretta (Progress)

Madi and Loretta, summer 2010
Madi and Loretta, summer 2012
Hey everyone, hope you had a good Fourth yesterday!

July 4th means summer break is in full swing. And summer break means visitors of all ages, including our teens, are back in our classroom to listen to our seniors’ stories! Yay!

What makes me the happiest is seeing the same teens return. Did you know that our program has been in existence through 3 summers, and Madi has been with us for every single one of them?

First, in 2010, Madi joined us as a visitor, taking the train all the way from the suburbs. Then, in 2011, as our teen intern and lead blogger for our satellite class (www.ourbestdaysofar.com). And now, in 2012, as a full-fledged core volunteer, taking up a whole range of responsibilities: organizing our thousands of seniors’ stories by theme (so you all can one day search them on an interactive website... stay tuned for more on that...!!), helping our program reach out to even more teens, in Philly and beyond, and assisting me at our original class – where she and I first met and where she will always belong.

Like the good old days, Madi handwrites Loretta’s stories for her – it is hard for Loretta to hold a pen for the length of a page because of her arthritis.
Loretta Gaither

A funny thing happened today when I came to the center. My train malfunctioned and I was the only person on the train. I went to the store to get some snacks. After that someone tried to rob me – but I used my cane to fend him off. Yesterday I found out that the social worker is going to try to make me homeless again, but I will not let it happen. I have faith because I know that God will help me find a new apartment. I will keep on praying because I know that God has my back. They can’t stop my progress – I will get back into housing.

Click Here for Madi’s reflections as a visitor, including the impact of Loretta's stories on her life.

Click Here for Madi's reflections as our intern and satellite blogger.

Thank you Madi  – your commitment is an inspiration to us all!