December 5

Charlie K. (right) and reporter from local T.V. affiliate

Charlie K. (right) and reporter from local T.V. affiliate

Ho, Ho, Ho!!

Meet Charlie K.   Early on “Black” Friday, he and his son decided to do some Christmas shopping - but not for themselves, or anyone they know.  They drove to a local Toys R’ Us in Cherry Hill, NJ, intent on giving dozens of families in their area a big holiday surprise.  Presenting themselves at the customer service desk, they paid-in-full orders that shoppers put on lay-away.  Before their shopping spree was over, Charlie and son paid for 62 orders, totaling $10,780!!   “I had wanted to pay them all off," he confessed, “But I couldn’t afford it.” When asked why he’s feeling so generous, Charlie K. indicated that he’s simply giving back.  “I’m trying to bring happiness to a community that brings so much happiness to me and my family,” he said.   One woman heard about his kind deed on T.V. and immediately went to the store to see if she was among the lucky recipients.  Sure enough, she went home that day with the seven Christmas presents she had been planning to give her grandchildren.

But, Charlie wasn’t quite finished yet (and this part had to have been a blast! )  A voice came over the P.A. system instructing shoppers to stop what they were doing, pick out three toys and bring them to the customer service desk.  Charlie, A.K.A Secret Santa, was going to pay for all these toys as well, and donate them to Toys for Tots - a charity run by the U.S. Marine Corps reserve to provide gifts for kids whose parents can’t afford them. When this second shopping spree was over, Charlie was writing another check for $2.000.

What am amazing haul!!  And what an amazing inspiration to us about the Spirit of Giving!   Surely we can now say, “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  

November 27

Enrique Peña Nieto

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This week we recognize environmentalist Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico who recently guided legislation through the Mexican Congress that designates 57,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean as a protected wildlife refuge.  The sanctuary includes an archipelago known as the Revillagigedo Islands, located 242 miles south west of Baja California.  It is essentially a submerged volcanic mountain chain with four outcroppings.  It is often called the Galapagos of North America, or more affectionately as Mexico’s “crown jewel.”  The islands are home to hundreds of animal and plant species, including turtles, lizards and migratory birds.  The surrounding waters are central to the lives of 400 fish species, sharks, whales and rays.  It is also the breeding ground of tuna – a rapidly endangered species because it is commercially “harvested” faster than the population can reproduce.   The legislation also bans all mining and hotel construction on the islands.   Advancing this legislation has been characterized as an act of political courage, considering the overwhelming opposition it has received from the fishing industry.  In signing the bill, President Peña Nieto said, “We remain committed to the preservation not only of Mexico’s, but the world’s heritage.”

Only 6% of the global ocean surface currently has protected status.  And, it probably comes as no surprise that the current U.S. Administration is determined to undo America’s two marine national monuments:  the Rose Atoll in the Pacific and the Northeast Canyons off the coast of New England (considered vital if the Cod fish is to survive.)   Our thanks to Enrique Peña Nieto and the Mexican government for the courage and leadership required to protect our increasingly vulnerable planet.

November 20

 

Jacqueline Keeler

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Meet Jacqueline Keeler, author and educator.  Jacqueline has worked with Native American youth for many years.  She is a member of the Dineh Nation and the Yankton Dakota Sioux.  Today, she writes curriculum for organizations and schools on teaching tolerance.  And, she writes extensively about Thanksgiving and indigenous cultures.

“It may surprise those who wonder what a Native American thinks of the official celebration of the European invasion that culminated in the death of 10-30 million of their ancestors," she says,  "But, I do observe Thanksgiving!"  Jacqueline is quick to point out, however, that there is another whole side to the Pilgrim story and that we need to be certain that we get our holiday facts straight.

She reminds us that when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, they weren’t dressed in those crisp, clean costumes with polished buckles. They were poor, tired and starving to death.  Half of them died within a few months from disease and hunger.  Within the first year, all of their European crops had failed.  It was the local Wampanoag tribe who fed them and taught them how to grow food.  In fact, their training in native horticulture produced crops that were shared around the world.

“I sometimes wonder what they ate in Europe before they met us,” Jacqueline laughs, “Spaghetti, without tomatoes?   Meat and potatoes, without potatoes?   We must never forget that at the first Thanksgiving, it was the Wampanoags who provided the bulk of the food.  And what did the Europeans give in return?   Within 20 years, disease and treachery decimated the tribe.” 

Yes, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and sharing nature’s bounty.  But we must never forget who shared what with whom!  And who taught whom that it’s only in giving that we discover there is more than enough for all.

November 13

Frank Harper circa 1971

Frank Harper circa 1971

Frank Harper

This Veterans day weekend, we shared the story of Frank Harper, who served our country as a Navy See Bee in Vietnam.  Part of that service was building a road up Ta Hou Mountain,  242 miles south of Saigon.  During the construction, local children would hang out with the crew, looking for candy and other handouts.  The men would often spend time with the kids, playing soccer and other games.  “We were all in the conflict together,” Frank remembers, “And tried our best to keep our spirits up.  It would take our minds off the war.”  

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As a photographer, Frank has a knapsack of photos from his Vietnam Days.  Once home in San Jose, however, he did his best to move on with his life.  He confesses to harboring guilt for so much of the pain inflicted on the Vietnamese people.  “I spend my life being haunted by the war and trying to block it out of my mind.  But, my photographs always pull me back.”  There was one photo in particular that captures his interest.  It is the image of eight young boys (probably 7-8 years old ) sitting on a pile of sandbags.  They are all smiling and flashing the peace sign. 

And so, Frank made the decision to return to South Vietnam to find those eight boys -  to learn about their lives, their children, and perhaps stories of their own healing.  He rented a dilapidated motorcycle and traveled the Vietnamese countryside, trying to find someone who would recognize faces in a photo taken forty years ago.  It would take a return trip, however, before a woman approached him at a roadside water stand.  Tapping him on the shoulder, she motioned for him to follow her across a number of flooded rice paddies to a small tumbledown hut.  Sure enough, her husband was one of the boys in the photo.  Within hours, Frank had united with 6 of the 8 boys in the photo.  They are all middle-aged men now with kids and grandkids.  “I had to find out for myself,” Frank said, “If the Vietnamese still hated us.  To my amazement, I discovered that they do not.  It has gone a long way to erasing much of the guilt that I have carried.” 

Frank continues to maintain contact with the people of Vietnam.  He raises money for orphanages in Hue and Saigon.  He supports a non-profit organization that protects the primates on Ta Kou mountain.  And, has subsequently found the other 2 “boys” in the photo.  “Some of my buddies,”  Frank says, “Still have a tough time coming to terms with the war.  Some can’t even eat in a Vietnamese restaurant.  I decided to make peace with my past.” 

Well done, Frank Harper.  And thank you for your service.

November 6

Joseph Magnum and Mark Lamoureux

Joseph Magnum and Mark Lamoureux

 

Believe There Is Good

We are inspired this week by Joseph Magnum, owner of a solar energy business in West Brattleboro, Vermont.   Joseph recently started a “Go-Fund-Me” campaign to raise funds for water pump purifiers that can be connected to solar generators in order to bring fresh water to villages in the hardest hit areas of hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico.   His wife, Rose Marie, is of Puerto Rican descent with connections to the “forgotten ones,” rural Islanders who are completely cut off from society because roads and bridges were destroyed by the series of storms in September.  

Joseph left on October 27 with his friend Mark Lamoureux of Keen N.H. with enough supplies for five solar power systems with back-up generators.   They will also be installing two water purifiers.  Each system can deliver energy at $1 per watt - well below any current offer.  The first system was installed in a local handyman’s workshop so that power tools can be operated for essential repair work.  The other four systems will be installed in local shelters so that air conditioners can bring relief to evacuees.  The energy will also be used to power cell phones with WIFI connection to satellite systems, thereby restoring essential life-lines for daily needs.

Before leaving Vermont, Joseph said, “We are going into the mountains in the center of the Island, where the going will be tough.  We are prepared for on-the-fly decision making.  We’ll be on an island that is totally dark, with no safe water to drink and limited windows for email.  People are scared.  The mental anguish will be hard.  Seeing the devastating losses will hurt us, and the island that I love and know as ‘Borinquen’ (land of the valiant lord) will have to be accepted as totally wiped.” 

Our thoughts and prayers are with Joseph Magnum and all who are dedicated to getting the Land of the Valiant Lord back on its feet.

October 23

Believe There Is Good

Chef José Andrés

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On Tuesday, October 17, celebrity chef and restauranteur José  Andrés reported that his NGO “World Central Kitchen” has now distributed one million ready-to-eat meals in Puerto Rico for the victims of Hurricane Maria.  And, he assured those continuing to struggle in the wake of the storm that WCK is there for the long haul.  They will keep feeding Puerto Ricans until local authorities can once again provide essential services.  “When we establish contact with a community,” Chef Andrés said, “We take care of that place until they can sustain themselves.”

José Andrés has been in Puerto Rico since September 25, when he immediately teamed with Chef José Enrique, a popular San Juan chef who was already preparing a Puerto Rican beef stew for evacuees.  In the first few days, they were preparing around 2,000 meals.  Within a week, they were cranking out 25,000 meals!   Chef Adrés attributes the success to WCK organization and having access to a large facilitiy.  He is currently working out of the massive kitchen in Coliseo de Puerto Rico, the San Juan sports complex and convention center, where they can prepare 60,000 meals a day.  It wasn’t long before he was coordinating efforts with Homeland Security.  The U.S. Government contracted WCK for 20,000 meals per day.  That number was quickly raised to 40,000. 

When Andrés indicated that he has the capability of preparing 120,000 meals per day, FEMAsaid an arrangement of that magnitude would exceed their grant authority without putting the contract out for bid – a process which could take months. “My question is …” Chef asks, “If we don’t do it … who will?  And, the meals are needed NOW!”   Andrés is fond of quoting a passage from John Steinbeck’s novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.”  It’s the passage where Tom Joad says, “Where there’s a fight so hungry people can eat … I will be there.” We are inspired by Chef José Andrés and are grateful that he has joined the fight to help the ravaged island of Puerto Rico.       

 

October 15

Believe There is Good

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David Young

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The lower Ninth Ward was probably the hardest hit district in the City of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.   While it has never fully recovered, there are some amazing efforts underway that demonstrate triumph over adversity.   One such project is Capstone Community Gardens and its founder, David Young.   The volunteer organization has reclaimed thirty abandoned lots within the ward and provides free produce to its many low-income families.  Swiss chard, Brussel sprouts, mustard greens, kale, cucumbers, tomatoes are regularly harvested to supplement the diets of what local officials often refer to as the “poorest of the poor.”   In addition to urban farming, David is a beekeeper providing an environmentally friendly home for unwanted bees.   Because of the dilapidated condition of many of the abandoned buildings in the area, bees have become a major problem.  But instead of calling an exterminator, David comes in with a low-suction vacuum and collects the bees.  He then transports them to hives that he tends throughout the ward.  The bees give back to the community by pollinating the gardens’ plants.  Honey is collected and processed to provide revenue for the organization.  Captsone is also home to goats, who earn their keep by “moving” the weeds.  Chickens also supply fresh eggs for the residents.  Each week volunteers pack bags of harvested food for area shut-ins.

David Young is affectionately known as “Santa” because of his full white beard, the twinkle in his eyes and his merry dimples.  His generosity, however, is not limited to one night … but throughout the entire year.  “If we all did our part…” he says, “If we all did what we could to help one another and our environment …. imagine how peaceful and wonderful the world would be.”

October 8

Garden School Amateur Radio Club

Garden School Amateur Radio Club

Garden School "Hams"

This week, we applaud the members of the Amateur Radio Club at the Garden School in Jackson Heights, Queens and its faculty advisor, John Hale. Last year, the charter school received “ham radio’ equipment from the New York Hall of Science and launched an extracurricular club for kids in the sixth through twelfth grade.  Twenty students are currently enrolled.

This summer, Mr. Hale received emergency messaging training - the sending and receiving of 25-word messages that are transmitted through the “national traffic system.”  If someone is available to accept the “traffic,” these messages are often posted on large boards in a disaster area.  Reply messages can be “trafficked” out of these areas, as well.

A number of residents of Jackson Heights and Queens have roots in Puerto Rico.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, communication with their loved ones and friends has been completely cut off.  And so, the members of this enterprising Amateur Radio Club (Station K2GS) quickly saw an opportunity to be of service to their community.  They have identified two dozen “hams” on the island and sent their first messages last Thursday.  With the Red Cross sending 50 additional ham radio operators to Puerto Rico, the students anticipate the possibility of expanding their “lifeline” to isolated towns and villages.  It may not be the most ideal form of communication, but amateur radio continues to work and can be an effective tool in crisis situations. As one club member said, “There is no better feeling than to be able to make someone smile when you tell them their loved ones are safe.”

October 2

Julie Church

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As a marine biologist, Julie Church led a conservation and development program for the Kiunga National Reserve in northern Kenya.  Julie organized “blue teams” who comb Kenya’s shoreline for refuse from the Indian Ocean.  The debris is then sorted:  glass, plastic, aluminum and flip flops.  Yes, flip flops!!  In fact, over 2,000 pounds of discarded flip flops are collected on Kenyan beaches every week.

As an environmentalist, Julie Church has made it her life’s passion to “flip the flop,” which is to say raise consciousness about ocean health and protecting the fragile African eco-system

In 2005, Julie left her position at the Kiunga reserve to help establish a company known as “Ocean Sole.”  They have developed a process known as “upcycling” that buys flip-flops in 2,000 kilo increments and then washes, blocks, cuts and sculpts the material, into an array of colorful products.  Sales began to soar when the World Wildlife Federation ordered 15,000 sea turtle key-rings.  Today, they produce large sculptures of elephants, whales, dolphins, giraffes, lions, rhinos - a veritable safari of African wildlife sculptures.  These works of art adorn schools, malls, museums, airports, government buildings and hotels.   

“It would be ideal,” Julie says,” If we would do everything we can to prevent pollution in the first place. Meanwhile, it is critical that we create sustainable micro economies that facilitate effective waste management that in the process protect ecosystems and wildlife.”

Maruda Studios: Nairobi, Kenya

Maruda Studios: Nairobi, Kenya

September 24

Sister Margaret Ann

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Sister Margaret Ann, Principal of the Archbishop Carroll High School in West Miami, became a media sensation after Hurricane Irma tore through southern Florida.  As residents waited impatiently for Miami-Dade work crews to clear downed trees blocking access roads to their neighborhood, Sister Margaret Ann took matters into her own hand.  Obtaining a chainsaw and reading the instruction manual on-line, Sister hit the streets to get the job done.  

When police officers cautioned Sister Margaret Ann that crews would be sent to take care of the dangerous work, she said, “Look, east and west access is completely blocked off.  This is a matter of public safety!" Onlookers stood agog.  Temperatures soared over 100 degrees.  “I was sweating in shorts and a t-shirt,” someone remarked, “She was wearing a full habit and veil!”  It wasn’t long before others began helping and together they created enough space to allow cars to get in and out of the neighborhood.

Once video footage surfaced on-line, T.V. crews descended onto the scene to interview their new celebrity.  Sister Margaret Ann shrugged off the attention.  “We had a dangerous situation on our hands and I wanted to help.   If you can do something, don’t wait for someone else to do it!"