Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rachel (Reflections and Stories)

One of the volunteers I get to work with directly is Rachel, and what’s really cool is I get to work with her in more ways than one. Rachel is a pre-med creative writing major at Bryn Mawr College, age 22, and as you may guess from her major, yup it’s true, she is a perfect combo of smart and soulful, she sports a giant thinking cap and carries a giant heart. On Thursdays, I facilitate our group with her (that’s the official way of saying we get to hang out with our lovely senior buds and hear their stories and sometimes join in with our own); on the other days, I email and text with her to plan out our Story Letters, which she coordinates.

Our Story Letters are seasonal emails containing curated stories from our groups nationwide, all sharing an inspirational theme – our way of bringing some sunshine into your inbox! (Rachel and our team are hard at work on the next issue, which is coming out in a few weeks! In case you aren’t signed up yet, you can do it Here.)

As you can imagine, the conversations that I have had with Rachel span the practical (passing out pens and paper and handouts) and the visionary (the universe of Best Day groups that is forming), the silly (Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” videos) and philosophical (isolation being not just a senior problem). Rachel just has a beautiful, soulful, moving way of seeing the world. I think that every time I hear one of her stories, I think that often when I see a text from her, and I definitely thought that when she emailed me her reflections below a few days ago. Thank you Rachel – for being you!!

Rachel Hampton

I've been volunteering with Best Day for six months now. It seems like such a short amount of time - for how comfortable I feel in this community, for how much I care about everyone here, for the deep peace I feel every time I come into class. Through Best Day, I've learned how powerful a connection can become when two people simply decide to listen to each other. For me, that's the lesson of our group - if you go into an interaction with a person committed not only to respecting their story, but also to trusting them with your story, that interaction can always be a beautiful, worthwhile moment. I look forward to staying with Best Day and helping to build a huge network of people who get to create and experience those wonderful moments of trust together - a strong community that helps us all to live our lives fully and bravely.

Rachel Hampton
First Best Day

I just wanted to say that – I am so excited to meet everyone!  I love to write, but I’ve never really written stories with a group of people before.  I’m a little nervous – okay, I’m very nervous which is why I’m wearing my dinosaur sweatshirt that my brother Alex bought me for Christmas – the dinosaur makes feel brave because he’s so funny looking but he’s still roaring loudly.
I hope that we can all have fun writing together and that I can remember everyone’s names – Greta the glamorous singer, Joe who loves Jazz, Norman the one-man publisher, Sylvia who is so elegant and just as new as I am, Hazel with her wonderful smile, Joan who explained the class so well, Hattie who is so quick to marshal us all to help Beatrice, Brenda with her great hat pin, and Benita, Lea and Caitlin, who are so full of love and good ideas – this is all I know about you all right now, but I’m so excited to get to know everyone and listen to everyone’s stories.

Rachel Hampton
Children’s Zoo

I’ve been thinking about my birthday – I’m not sure why, it’s still months away – but I’ve been wondering I’m going to do this year. I usually don’t do much. I was very little one time when my mother brought me and some of my friends to the zoo. One of my friends was this boy named Brian, who was smarter than me and so I was always mad at him. But this day he convinced me to run away from everyone else with him and go to the part of the zoo that had a slide.

When my mother finally found us, I remember that she wasn’t very mad at me, which I thought was weird. I was glad she wasn’t mad, but the rest of that birthday was really bad. I thought one of my friends had stolen money from me, and I screamed at her. I was very dramatic. I remember my mother leaning over to one of the other mothers and saying, “Maybe we should have just left them at the zoo.”

Rachel Hampton
Telling Sadness

I really like my poetry class this semester.  We’ve been listening to the blues – to Paul Robeson and Mississippi John Hurt.  My oldest brother loves the blues, but I’ve never really listened to them before.  I’ve never heard anything like them.  Nothing so sad, and nothing that’s so tough beneath all that sadness.  Blues singers are sad, but they’re cheerful beneath it – determined to tell their story.  That’s the best thing for sadness I think – telling it.

I grew up in a family that’s from rural Oklahoma – we don’t really tell our sadness, which is hard sometimes.  But I think we’re getting better at it.  It’s a hard thing to learn.

Rachel Hampton
Fever Days

Yesterday, my poetry class came into Philly to go to a museum, the Barnes. I was starting to get sick, but I wanted to go so I went anyway. At first, this seemed like not my best idea. As I was looking around the museum, I started to get a fever, which was kind of funny because the paintings looked really vivid. But then we were walking around in the cold and my fever got higher and higher. My friends took care of me and got me food and then got me to the train. I felt very loved and also kind of awesome because I realized that even if I was sick I could still get around and have a good day. I feel like people are really afraid of sickness - we feel like if someone’s sick they should hide away and just be completely immobile and medicate themselves until they can’t feel anything - and all of that stuff is definitely necessary and can make us feel better. But, it’s also possible to live with sickness, with pain - and I think that’s something we don’t really like to think about anymore. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because my dad’s sick a lot and I’m sick a lot too, and it’s hard to live with that. But I think we can learn how.

Rachel Hampton
Going Outside

I haven’t been outside for a long time. I mean, I’ve gone outside to get to places, obviously, but I haven’t gone to the beach or to go hiking or anything like that for a while, because I’, usually in school or working. I used to go camping with my dad, when I was little. He likes to camp on this pieces of land in Maine that was very barren, no trees. But near a river and a forest. But one year we hadn’t gone back in a while and we went to visit and it was overgrown with new baby trees. We got there at night and we didn’t even recognize it. I remember feeling my way through the trees, all the sticky pine needles grabbing at me, tripping on roots. I was little and I thought a giant forest had sprung up overnight. In the morning, through, we could see it was all new growth. We went exploring. There were blueberry bushes, emptied of their berries because foxes had found them. Foxes have their very particular wet-fur smell and it was everywhere. They were living right under our noses. There were birds everywhere and all kinds of planes and even some wildcat and deer footprints/ I remember my father was so happy. I couldn’t really understand what was happening and was not impressed that a forest hadn’t just sprung up – but it was moving in. The forest was returning, to a place that humans had made barren with logging and mining. It was really a very beautiful thing. Next time, I’ll write about the day which a tent fell on me.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Hazel and Frances (School Yard Days)

And now, to round out our School Yard Days "jam session", here are Hazel and Frances! Next up, the moving stories and reflections of one of our dedicated volunteers, Rachel.

Hazel Nurse
Free Fun Days

With the current news concerning the possibility of schools opening late due to a lack of funds, my thoughts journeyed back to school yard days.

With a looming depression and no such thing as computer games, iphones and technical gaming devices, we still had fun.

Especially when our country was in a depression, we children played “Top Scotch” on the sidewalks of our rowhouses. But remember “Jumping Rope?” We were declared champions if we were able to jump “Double Dutch.” These activities along with “Roller Skating” were free of charge, with no batteries, no electricity needed. Have you ever played, “Simon Says?”

In those days, a late school opening would have been fun for all of us children.

Frances Bryce
Parents as Teachers

Parents as Teachers is a program that helps parents of young children (0-5) to understand how important their role is as the child’s first teacher, and that they are always teaching.

The early childhood program includes daily reading to the child, which can be the beginning of a love for books and reading. It also informs the parents of stages of development when the child is ready to learn (example: the window of opportunity, the last time to learn a skill, such as learning a language). The parent educator encourages the parent to talk to the child while out walking, telling the child about the environment or whatever is interesting. The brain takes in all that the child is exposed to, positive or negative. The brain is the recorder for the child and there is no erase button.

The program teaches discipline that is different than punishment. Discipline, Teache-Training and then Correction —whereas punishment sometimes results in denigrating restriction and sometimes physical.

I worked as a Parent Educator for 10 years. The program that helps the parent with parenting skills creates a long heart-full love-full relationship for both the child and the parent.
The child begins the program for a successful learning career, and the parents gets tools that are useful in insuring a successful and happy child.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Joe and Norman (School Yard Days)

Imagine this... a bunch of musicians just happen to be vibing with each other, and they start spontaneously to jam, and the resulting beat and melody is so in sync that you really couldn’t have planned it better. Have you seen this video on Youtube btw? It is kind of what I mean.

That video came to my mind when my awesome co-facilitators told me what happened a couple weeks ago when I was out of town: our seniors ended up telling stories about the same topic! This was a surprise because one of the things I believe in and speak at length about in our Facilitator Training Guide is that we never give out prompts to the group. Picking the topic is the first step to telling your story, and we want our seniors to express themselves with total and complete freedom every time they sit at our table. What happens every week is that we have quiet time when everyone writes, then one by one everyone reads out loud what has already been committed to paper – and it was during the read-out-loud time that the group slowly realized everyone had written about what Hazel calls "School Yard Days."

Enjoy stories from Joe and Norman from that beautifully unscriptable day. Stay tuned for two more to follow, by Hazel and Frances:

Joe Garrison
Double Dare

When I was in elementary school, I could get away with a lot of stuff. I always got along with all of my teachers and they would let me do stuff and not say anything. This went all the way into college. But in elementary school, there were two things I did that still stick out to me. When I was nine years old, I was quite the daredevil.

On Tuesdays, we would all go to the library to exchange books. One Tuesday, I saw a little girl named Nancy and, out of the clear blue sky, without provocation, I kissed her! I must have dared myself to do it. The whole school was talking about it and so a few days later I was called into the principal's office and lectured about it and told that I shouldn't just go kissing girls!

Another thing I did was in our classrooms we had these huge bookcases and one of them was empty. One of my friends dared me to crawl into that empty bookcase and stay there for a whole class period. And I did! The air in there wasn't that bad. At the end of the class, my teacher, Mr. Grey, pulled me out and told me to never, ever do something like that again.

Looking back, I can't believe I did those things. But I pity kids now who are trapped in such ridged structures at school, and get in so much trouble for just being kids.

Norman Cain
My Favorite Teacher

When I was a student at the Martha Washington Elementary School in West Phila between Jan 1946 and Jan 1954, I had three teachers.

My first teacher was Ms. Washington, a strict but fair kindergarten teacher who was known for her hugs and swift licks across the posteriors of the naughty.
My second teacher was Ms. Crowell who unlike Ms. Washington did not give out hugs. She specialized in cracking knuckles with rulers, whacking posteriors with yardsticks and occasionally stinging slaps across the face. Any of the preceding horrors could be administered for not knowing the correct answer to a math question.

In spite of my being on of the best readers in her class for four years, she attempted on several occasions to have me admitted to a school for incapable and/or slow learners. I admit that the only class I excelled in was reading. I failed all of the others. That was because of my constant daydreaming.

One of my favorite dreams was arresting Ms. Crowell when I became an adult, because then I would be a sheriff…like in the Cowboy pictures.
My last elementary school teacher, and favorite teacher of all time was Mrs. Carter. I was assigned to Mrs. Carter’s Special Ed class when I reached the fifth grade.
The class was much smaller than the other fifth grade classes. In the two years that I was a student of Mrs. Carter, we had no more than 14 students…other fifth grade classes had at least 30 students.

Mrs. Carter’s illuminating and loving spirit filled the classroom and was a relief that calmed her students who had the potential to become nervous.
Maybe that is why our class was in an isolated corner of the building and why students from the other classes did not bother us.

But, like I said, the class respected Mrs. Carter; therefore, we read in a tranquil atmosphere. Mrs. Carter built our confidence by starting each class with a show and tell session. Each year she would take us to her husband’s dental office, which was located across the street from the school. With a huge grin he would show us his equipment and give us a lecture on dental health. We found Dr. Carter to be as amiable as Mrs. Carter and we loved him as much as we loved Mrs. Carter.
Mrs. Carter was dedicated, compassionate, enthusiastic, patient, motivating and among many other positive attributes, understanding.

She understood how badly I felt when I was dismissed from the glee club for not being able to sing. She arranged for me to be the school messenger for the day.
I felt proud to have the job as messenger, which outranked erasing and cleaning the blackboard, sweeping the floor and emptying the wastebasket.
Being a messenger was just as important as being on the Safety Patrol…even if the position was merely a one-time deal.

The day that I was a messenger I was, in my opinion, dressed to kill. My shoes sparkled. I had on a white shirt, blue pants and a red jacket.
I was so cool. I felt a keen sense of elation when I entered each classroom with a message.

When I graduated from Elementary School, I felt a double sense of elation. Surprisingly, I won the honor of being the lead student in Mrs. Carter’s class. My mother was happy for me but she could not help saying with a smile, “If Norman was the best student in the class God help the school.”

Well God…through Mrs. Carter did help the rest of the class, including myself, for when several of Mrs. Carter’s students were assigned to an all boys class of so-called “delinquents” and “slow-achievers” in the eighth grade of high school, four of us became class officers.

In other words, we held every available office: President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. Incidentally I was class treasurer at some point.
We have all done relatively well. Mrs. Carter undoubtedly had a hand in our success. I am a life time student. I’ve had a multitude of teachers. Mrs. Carter is the best teacher that I have ever had. Thank God for Mrs. Carter.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Day Day Good

I gave myself an unprecedented two-week break from the blog – hope you guys aren’t too upset with me!! I had a good reason. I was in Seattle visiting my family including my amazing grandma who inspired me to start Best Day in the first place. For those of you who are just joining us, I talk about why, when and how I started this organization here: www.fooklingbenitacooper.com

My grandma and I speak in Cantonese, and I have translated “The Best Day of My Life So Far” generally for her many times over the years, but she and I have never really savored these words together, transporting them back and forth like delicate little packages between the English and Chinese vocabularies, and figuring out how to really recreate this sequence of words and retain their flavor in Chinese. What was really cool was how quickly my grandma came up with the perfect translation.

“Oh! Day Day Good,” she repeated a few times, nodding and smiling. “Day Day Good.”

In Chinese, “Day” spoken twice means every day. It’s that simple. That’s all we’re trying to do here. Here, inspired by my grandma, we tell stories in order to make every day good. I hope you guys are cool with that.

Mo McCooper
Dr. Jack

When I was in grade school, not yet playing basketball in any leagues yet, I was able to watch men play on teams in the Narberth Summery League. Many of the players had served in the World War including Jack Ramsay who played for St. Joseph's College after "Frog Man" duty in the US Navy.

My dad pointed him out to me along with other veterans. Some had been on three state championship teams from Lower Merion High School including the great Greer Heindfell who became captain of the University of Pennsylvania team.

Jack Ramsay coached local high schools before accepting the head coaching position at St. Joseph's College (soon to be University) which became nationally known as a small school with almost all Philadelphia area players which would upset large highly ranked national teams during the season or in the post season tournaments with pressured defense and patient offense.

Ramsay became general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers and they won the NBA Championship in the 1966-67 season with Wilt Chamberlain at the center position. Later as coach of the Portland Trail Blazers, Jack won the NBA Championship with Bill Walton at center position. They defeated the Phila team in the finals.

Jack Ramsay expired a few weeks ago. The funeral and services were in Florida.

Rochelle Tynes
The Person To Whom I'm Most Grateful

The person to whom I’m most grateful – Rather the human being to whom I am most grateful. 

I met my very good friend when we were in college together many years ago.

We have shared a great many experiences together since our meeting and during our talks have learned that we had a great many similar life experiences and worked at a similar work place.  Our children’s lives have crossed and they were/are friendly.  But mostly she has been my older sister friend, confidant, listening ear, advisor and health and black history information giver.  Yesterday, or rather last night, [I learned] that she has had breast cancer for six years and is in stage three of her condition.

My prayer and hope is that I will be as great a help to her during this time as she has been to me throughout our friendship and that she will live another six years, and that I don’t start crying because if I do I may not stop.  My friend is closer to me than anyone has been in my life.  This was God’s plan and I am also grateful to Him for letting us be friends.

Sergio Rossetti Morosini, Guest
One Moment

One moment that I will always remember is the winter of my 11th year. That entire winter was defined by one day, one hour in upstate New York. My father and I came across a frozen pond hidden in a nest of wooden hills. As the sun climbed over the canopy of the birches, we couldn’t resist the urge to cross the glittery, still water. The pond was not been deep, and the bottom was carpeted in leaves still a wash with all the colors of autumn. I stepped out onto the ice, and the still air was suddenly cracking filled with the sound of the very safe ice. Millimeter deep cracks raced before we scissoring out like forked lighting. Step after step the cold air was split with the ice’s mischief, almost like the lake was laughing. It only took 15 minutes to cross, but it felt like an hour. Even as I stepped onto the bank out the other side, I could already see the cracks that were part of my crossing disappearing – as if I’d never been there.

Cara Scharf, Volunteer

One of my favorite summer activities with my family is looking for satellites. You may not know this but you can see satellites in the night sky with your naked eye. They look just like stars, but they move slowly. To find satellites you have to wait until around 10 PM, prime viewing time. We have a hot tub in my parents’ backyard so we usually sit there and just put our heads back waiting. I like to be the first person to see one. “There!” I’ll shout pointing at the sky. It’s hard to get others to see the satellite so I try to explain how it’s moving. “Toward the big tree,” or “away from the house.” My dad always tries to make me orient myself -N,S,E,W, etc.- but I’m terrible with directions. Sometimes, the others pick up on the satellite, sometimes not, but we always have fun, and the important thing is that we are all together, outside, enjoying the warm night and the company.