Monday, July 27, 2009

Last Friday's field trip

I went to bed last Thursday night with a sense of foreboding due to the forecast. Friday we'd planned to take the B-SAFE campers to the Blue Hill Observatory and then to Houghton Pond afterward for swimming and a picnic.

As I was awakened Thursday night by the sound of howling winds and torrential downpours I realized my sense of foreboding was unfortuantely not for naught.

For a type A organizer like myself a last minute change of plan like this is -- well, less than ideal at the least.

But on to plan B it was - bowling at Boston Bowl.

Getting 75 kids into rental shoes and connecting them with the right size bowling balls was an interesting feat - but soon enough I saw 15 lanes of kids with big smiles on their faces, some flinging the ball (and occasionally themselves) down the lane at breakneck speed, while the smaller kids would have had time to run and grab a snack after rolling the ball and could have still been back to the lane in time to see it hit (or more accurately, gently nudge) a pin or 2.

Afterward we enjoyed that cure-all tonic known as the pizza lunch. You've never seen 25 cartons of pizza disappear so fast.

With Michael Theobald reporting that Houghton Pond was a pond even where it wasn't supposed to be a pond, it was on to plan C for the afternoon. We dumped all manner of balls, bats, frisbees, rackets etc. onto the parking lot and had at it.

Soon I found myself talking trash with Ranjit and 5 or 6 other kids in an entertaining game of touch football in the parking lot. (We all know Ranjit to be kind and considerate but trust me, football brings out his competitive side!)

As I looked at the faces of these kids throughout the day in the context of my own fretting about plans changed by weather I was reminded that the the point of B-SAFE isn't where you go or what you do - it's simply spending time with a lot of really great kids. For me the most fulfilling aspect of B-SAFE for both the kids and we volunteers are those simple and informal but important and direct personal encounters. I am certain that the kids won't remember or care that the way we spent our day was a plan B due to rain. But I like to believe they'll remember a lot of those personal encounters. I know I will.

Thank you so much to the very large group of enthusiastic and committed volunteers who gave their time to this week of St. Michael's B-SAFE support.

Randy Wambold

Friday, July 24, 2009

Thursday's B-Safe lunch at Church of the Holy Spirit

In your wildest dreams who would've thought mac and cheese could be so complicated! Well, when your serving it up as the main course for 65+ kids, volunteers and adults and need 75+ plates ready to go all at the same time and you've got " too many cooks in the kitchen" complicated it can turn out to be! Fortunately the master chefs took control, everyone else took their lead and the mission was gracefully accomplished! With a slice of confusion and a dash of chaos we did it perfectly! The executive decision in the heat of the moment to run out and get french bread to add to the menu was a tremendous hit. More bread please, more bread please was heard throughout the lunch room. The other huge hit was the peach idea- on the side of their mac and cheese they had celery sticks, tomato slices ( didn't hear much about them ) and one half of a huge peach, wow! delicious, ripe, sweet and fresh. They loved it! Dessert was an assortment of various flavored brownies and cookies baked fresh with lemonade to drink which topped off a perfect meal. These kids are so appreciative! These kids are so adorable, thankful, hungry and happy! Their spirits are definitely in the right place! When Thursday's lunch was all said and done and their tummy's were full we got a thunderously loud, in unison: " Thank you "!!
What a rewarding experience filled with enthusiasm, gratitude,
fellowship and love!
Stay tuned for the adventures of Friday's fieldtrip!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tuesday, June 21st---Church of the Holy Spirit

A rainy day but the children's faces are all sunshine. They clearly love being here. They are polite and sweet. and I wish I could think of more to do for them. We met earlier in the kitchen of Our Saviour and made ten pans of ziti with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil, a wonderful, chaotic group effort, bumping into each other and yelling directions. Sam had a messy twenty minutes grating mozzarella balls, while others stood over huge boiling pots of water and pasta, or tore up basil leaves and talked. The children liked the ziti (it really wasn't bad, if I do say so myself!). We served it to them with celery sticks and for dessert, great brownies baked by Judy Rice, Mary Stubbs and Barb Phinney. Some of the kids wanted seconds on the ziti, and some of them actually wanted more celery! I have never been thanked so enthusiastically for anything I have ever done. The children stood and screamed and waved and clapped. We were all grinning from ear to ear. A beautiful day. Sheila Monks

Monday, March 9, 2009

Heather Putnam's Mission Homily

Beacon of Hope

To say I was totally shocked to see the devastation in New Orleans three years after hurricane Katrina struck would be an understatement. When we arrived, we took a tour of the areas hardest hit by the hurricane from the 9th ward to the surrounding parishes. The 9th was hardest hit when the levees broke..all we could see there were slabs upon which homes once stood, a few green homes, built by Brad Pitts Make it Right Foundation and a few homes being repaired by homeowners themselves. We also toured the middle class parish of Gentilly Homes were still standing but in tremendous need of repair The polluted water rose fifteen feet and stayed for 3 weeks . On many doors we could see red Xes..that meant no one alive was still inside. These put there by the crew of rescue boat s who patrolled the area .Seeing the xes stays with you along time. Some homes were fully repaired but most were not. Many were boarded up and abandoned. The people had given up, had not received insurance money yet or couldn’t afford to rebuild as they had no place to stay while doing so Rents were sky high.
Five us were sent into this parish to work under the auspices of the Beacon Of Hope Resource Center. Founded on Valentines Day ,6months after Katrina, the purpose was to serve as a lifeline for all homeowners who seek information and resources to rebuild. Their mission is to provide a sanctuary to everyone looking for a way back home. 34,000 residents have used the services of thousands of volunteers who come to the city on a weekly basis. In one week alone, 2000 volunteers from Starbucks cleared and rebuilt a park complete with a new playground for children to enjoy.
Our first 2 days were spent finishing up a home that was to become in March a center where volunteers would stay. We painted, stained doors, scrubbed floors of paint and grime, cleared brush and overgrown vegetation and hung new blinds ( Sam’s an expert) At the end of the second day we began to move furniture in and help make it a welcoming place for new volunteers. On the third day we put in an instant garden for Raymond and Yvonne, an elderly black couple who had finally rebuilt their home but had never had a garden. A couple from Missouri helped as well They had driven down with a thousand volunteers Yvonne didn’t have enough flowers and so took Deb Rodman and myself to Lowes to pick out more. The look on her face was one of pure joyas she went from bench to bench We picked out a large holly tree and planted it in her garden-our gift from St Michaels..Her comment through tears was: I don’t need a tree to remind me of what yst Michaels has done for us!! The garden looked beautiful when done. A bright beacon of hope…as most homes surrounding hers were badly damaged and boarded up..just waiting for more volunteers like us to help them.
Our final assignment with the Beacon of Hope was to help rebuild a home of a pastor from the Assembly of God. He was in the direst of straights both monetarily and emotionally. He showed us all a video of what his home had looked like upon his arrival back It looked like a bomb had gone off..the house was standing but everything inside was totally destroyed. He was trying to clean out and rebuild alone while his wife and daughter had moved to Tennessee to stay with Relatives. He was lonely and alone.-until Beacon of Hope came along. He desperately needed to tell someone, anyone, his story. We just listened. We painted, put up paneling and helped him clear debris.Over lunch on his stoop, he told us he had been robbed of materials . 13 times This man was trying to move on but ever so slowly. He was tired, emotionally fragile and very very lonely. The Beacon of Hope is the only thing he has going for him right now. There are hundreds like him..all waiting to be helped. Many wanting to retell their story.This organization represents the very best of how volunteers can help others. My last day I worked with the crew who had been rebuilding a library in a new charter school. There was a sign hanging in the hall with a quote from Barack Obama that seems appropriate to all volunteers who come to help rebuild New Orleans. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. I am deeply grateful to have been sent to New Orleans to help make a change. St Michaels presence indeed made a difference.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sheila Monks mission homily

I'd like to tell you a little bit about what it was like to be part of that group of 15 who lived together in the parish house of St. Andrews Church in New Orleans the first week in February.
We were a pretty mixed group. Some of us knew each other pretty well, but there were a couple of brave souls who had barely met the rest of the group when they signed up. Few had been to New Orleans before, and none since the hurricane. You may remember that we weren't sure what we would find once we got there, or exactly what we were going to do each day. We had some real doubts about our capabilities, and most of all we wondered: what could we possibly do to help in the face of so much need?
It was a mixture of very different personalities, ages, and interests. But there wasn't anything particularly special about us. We were---and I'm really speaking for myself here---hopeful, but fallible and vulnerable: ordinary human beings.
By the end of the week in New Orleans, that motley crew, floundering and well out of their comfort zone, had come together and forged an extraordinary and powerful bond. I saw something wonderful happen: we were supporting each other in love. Because we were enabling each other, we had the strength
to go out and do much more than we ever imagined we could. And it was all through small acts of kindness.
Someone went to the store late at night after a long day of physical labor to buy bread so we could all make sandwiches for lunch the next day. Someone cleaned a bathtub the group before us had left dirty. We lent each other clothes, aspirin, shampoo—whatever was needed. When I was tired, someone carried my suitcase. I am an early riser, so I was among the first in the kitchen each morning. Someone had always filled the coffee maker the night before and left a note: “Plug In Coffee!” Can you imagine how wonderful that felt? Some figured out how to get around the city and some drove the vans and some swept the floor and some chopped onions for dinner. It was my favorite piece of scripture in action, from the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit, and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
When you stop to think about it, what we did for the people of New Orleans in our short week there were just small acts of kindness. It wasn’t a lot. In the words of George Stevens, the Assistant Rector at St. John’s Church in Beverly Farms, one of our early mentors, “You aren’t going down there to change the world.” We just tried to show some loving support to let people know they weren’t forgotten.
There are some other important acts of kindness—some small and some not so small---that I want to mention. I am referring of course to the loving support of this parish that enabled us to make the trip. Every pair of socks you bought, every donation you made, the t-shirts and the beignet mixes and the trips to the airport, every encouraging word you gave us, helped us to come together as a group and to stay focused and inspired because we knew you were with us. We all thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We couldn’t have done it without you.
That’s what it’s all about: small acts of kindness that are paid forward. I won’t forget the coffee pot ready to be plugged in or the suitcase taken out of my hand without my even asking. Hopefully some of the children whose library we renovated won’t forget and will do something like that for someone else some day. Each of us doing something for someone else with the gifts that God gave us. With all due respect to George Stevens, maybe that really is how you change the world.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

John Duff's Homily

It's been a couple of weeks since we returned from our mission trip to New Orleans. The many images of this trip are stilll fresh in my mind and will be for a long time. Yes' the Downtown area, The French Quarter, Garden District and other neighborhoods are in great shape, but there are still areas of devastation. It's been over three years since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and in some locations it looks like nothing much has been done.
I saw first hand of how sections of the city have been destroyed and how many people have lost everything they own. I can understand why people still have not come back to there homes. The State and Federal Government have let the people down. It's going to take years! Unfortunately it usually takes a tragedy to open people's eyes. Fortunately, that's not the case here at St. Michael's. I am very proud of all the people that went on this Mission Trip. Their dedication their hard work and their determination were amazing! It was a blessing to become even closer to these very special people.
I worked in a small two bed room home along with Lorraine and Joanna. Everything about the house was destroyed except for the cinder block foundation. The owner of the home had paid some contractors to do the work but they took the money and ran. The Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana has an organization that helps rebuild homes that were damaged and also people who were ripped off and therefore further delayed in getting back into their homes.
When we first arrived at the home, we didn't know what we were going to do. We were greeted by three young adults around 21 years old. There was Kelly from Texas, Gerard from Rhode Island and Molly from Los Angeles. They had all taken some time off from college to help with the disaster relief. Molly was in charge of this job site. Other volunteers working on this home were a couple in their late fifties from the Buffalo area and a man around thirty all the way from Holland. Working with volunteers from all over the country and even around the world gives me hope and joy. It shows me that people really care for each other and this is the world that God wants.
The exterior of the home was all done with a new roof and new siding by previous volunteers. Molly gave us some instructions on what we would be doing for the week. Our job was to plaster and sand the interior walls that had just been sheet rocked. Molly had one request, that we would be respectful and discreet about taking pictures of the house and the owner if she showed up.
The work got very tedious and boring as the week went on. About midday on Wednesday, the front door open, and there stood an elderly black woman in a long, bright colorful dress. We all stopped working and stood there covered in plaster dust. Molly greeted the woman and assisted her with walking around the house. As she passed everyone, she reached out and gave us all a hug and a kiss. When she was finished, her lips and face were covered in white dust. She didn't care. She was so happy and thankful. It was so special to actually meet the woman who would be living in this house that we had been working on. This was my highlight of the week! To me, that moment made the whole trip worthwhile.
It was an incredible experience that I will never forget. Thank you to the whole parish for your support. I hope we get the opportunity to do it again.

John Duff

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mission Trip Sunday

“Greetings to you from the Diocese of Louisiana. As you know, for the past three and a half years, we have been called into new and uncharted territory after Hurricane Katrina turned our lives upside down. Episcopal Relief & Development gave us grants to set up the Office of Disaster Response soon after that, and the Episcopal Church has become a leader and a trusted voice in the recovery. Our team of 25 staff does everything from gutting and rebuilding homes to organizing thousands of volunteers who continue to visit the Gulf Coast.”

These are words from Bishop Charles Jenkins of the Diocese of Louisiana and it pretty much sums up the work of the Episcopal Church down there. I have always been proud to be an Episcopalian but never more so then when I was in New Orleans. I saw first hand the impact the church is making there, not only by caring for the residents but also in providing support and work opportunities for the volunteers who come to assist. Some of the programs we were involved in such as the Rebuild Program and the Beacon of Hope are managed at the diocesan level but others are run by individual congregations throughout the city. All these programs rely on donations of time, talent, and treasure.

This was first evident at our arrival at the parish of St. Andrew’s which provides housing for different volunteer groups each week throughout the year. Not only did they put us up in their parish hall and make us welcome at Sunday services, they also invited us to Super Bowl parties at the homes of parishioners. Although St. Andrew’s is an active relatively well off parish much like St. Michael’s, they are still feeling the effects of losing one third of their parish family who have yet to return since Katrina.

For two days we helped at the Mobile Loaves and Fishes which is run out of Trinity Church. This program feeds over 2000 people a month 6 days a week bringing lunches to not only the homeless and needy but also to the many volunteers helping to rebuild homes. In addition Trinity provides pastoral counseling to those throughout the city who are trying to deal with the devastation of their lives. We also spent two evenings at the Dragon CafĂ©, a Monday Lunch type program run out of St. George’s church which feeds 150 poor and homeless as well as volunteers who may not have kitchen facilities where they are staying. This program gives people a chance to “relax, share a story” and be together in fellowship.

One evening we all went to the parish of St. Anna’s where we enjoyed a worship service, simple meal, and jazz by local musicians. This is a weekly event at St. Anna’s which also provides at the same time a clinic for medical and social assistance.

Archdeacon McManis of Louisiana says “We ask for your prayers as this will be a long journey as we serve Christ by serving those in need among us”. The journey has been and will continue to be long but thanks to the work of the church, there is still much hope and joy in New Orleans. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”. Thank you St. Michael’s for serving Christ through helping our neighbors in need.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Judy Rice Reflects on New Orleans

New Orleans was wonderful!  Such a beautiful city - I know now why the people are so proud of it and did not want to relocate after Katrina.  I was expecting sunny skies and warm(er) temperatures, but the green grass, blooming flowers, flowering trees, and palm trees were a wonderful surprise.  Everyone kept teasing me because I kept saying "this is so amazing!"  We were welcomed and thanked by all we met - even down to the clerk at the gift shop at Trinity Church.  They were so appreciative that we came - thanks to all of you we were able to.

I did a variety of things while we were there - the animal shelter, the charter school library, Loaves and Fishes (making and bringing lunches to both homeless and volunteers throughout the city) and the Dragon Cafe (think Monday lunch program except it's at night).  I can't wait to go back again. Despite all that has been done, there is still so much to do.  Everyone we met was affected in some way.  

The spirit of the city is still strong, despite all they have been through.  They are looking forward to Mardi Gras (decorations have been up for weeks) and they just love having tourists come as well as the many volunteers we met from all over the country.  Hope you can join us this Sunday to taste, see, and hear more about our trip.  Judy Rice

Green Charter School

Hi, Everyone,

I wanted to say a few words about my experiences in NOLA before I left for vacation. I won't be around for the special service next Sunday or the beignets & coffee with chicory afterward, unfortunately, so I can't share in person.

I chose to work in the Green Charter School, K through 8, my whole time in NOLA, since I am a librarian by profession, & a group was needed to get the school library up & running for its grand opening in a few weeks. I wound up sorting books & priming & painting two enormous bookcases with over a hundred shelves. Our group worked hard, along with two grad. students from Tulane, trying to find places to prop the shelves to dry, without spoiling the newly laid carpet. We also barcoded books & classified them according to reading level. There were scores of boxes of donated books to process.

I was really impressed by how well the children, all African-American, were cared for. There was much discipline, but much caring & affection shown by the teachers, who, for the most part, were white & under 40. The atmosphere was calm & felt safe. Although the school was built in the twenties', it was clean, brightly painted & pretty well maintained. The inspirational posters & children's artwork decorated the halls & classrooms, altogether a cheerful place. The children, in the afternoons, have choices for "enrichment," e.g. sports, arts, such as dance, & working in the beautiful, organic garden, which the teachers & students put in. They grow vegetables, which they get to eat in the cafeteria. The cafeteria doesn't serve "junk" food. Apparently, unlike other schools, they don't consider chicken nuggets "food." There aren't any soft drink vending machines about either.
Occasionally, the instructors take the children out on field trips. While we were there, a group went canoeing on a nearby bayou.

In this school, which, others from our group will describe in better detail, I saw hope for the future of New Orleans. I saw young adults from City Year, Tulane, the young teachers, working hard to give the children a better start in life. I hope the children noticed too, & will "pay it forward" when they grow up. I would love to return to see the new, improved library, & help where I'm needed. Thank all of you at St. Michael's and beyond, for making my contribution possible. I'll never forget the experience. Lana

Friday, February 6, 2009

Last Day in New Orleans

Good Evening All -

It seems impossible that this was our last full day in New Orleans. It was a great day. The weather was stunning - sunny, clear, and warm. We turned out early to our project sites and had the satisfaction of finishing the projects we had set out to do. Our satisfaction is seriously tempered by our understanding that there is so much more that needs to be done. But nonetheless, the organizations with whom we worked strucured our work well, so that we are leaving feeling that we have helped, if only a little.

Most of us had time this afternoon to take the streeetcar downtown and for the first time just be tourists and visit the French Quarter and do some shopping. But even there, at a very touristy (but great) bookstore, I heard a customer leave saying how much she looked forward to putting the book she had bought on a shelf in her den. The saleswoman who had helped her sighed and said "I can't wait until I can move back into my house and have bookshelves." The impact of Katrina displacement is everywhere, even where you least except to find it. Needless to say, I bought many books.

We gathered together for a final dinner at a local Lebanese restaurant (great food!) after stopping at the neighborhood RiteAid drugstore to buy several bottles of wine (passing by the full hard liquor selection across the aisle from the chapstick - the liquor distribution system in New Orleans is pretty bizarre!)

Wake up call tomorrow is at 6 AM and the group will leave by 8 AM to reach the airport in time for their flight home to Milton. I will hang out for a bit to wash towels and clean out the fridge and then drive north for a visit with my daughter Sarah, who is teaching writing skills to 7th and 8th graders in northwest rural Mississippi.

My suggestion to my travelling companions is that over the next few days they each compose a short message about what this trip has meant to them and either post it directly or send it to James to post for them.

Our thanks to all of you for you support!

love from us all, Anne

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Can it really be Thursday?

Good evening all -

this was maybe our hardest day - we were all aware that we had only two days left to finish the tasks we had committed to doing and (for many of us) the unaccustomed physical labor and uncomfortable beds are taking their toll.

We ordered pizza in for dinner tonight, but now our party people (Ranjit and Johanna, John and Diane) are out for local music.

So forgive us for this meager blog tonight. Thanks for all your encouraging notes. More tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

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From Sheila and everybody

Hello everybody,

We had a very busy day, we spread out across the city.
Lorraine, Johanna and John sanded at the Rebuild Project for five hours, they had the pleasure of meeting the homeowner, and even though
they were covered with dust, she insisted on hugging and kissing each of us.
Quite moving!

Meanwhile, back at the Beacon of Hope, Debbie, Sam, Heather, Diane and Ranjit
were cleaning, painting and hanging shades for a house for volunteers. They planted a magnolia tree, did some landscaping, etc. Because of our contributions this house was finished on time, so that other volunteers could move in on time.

At the Charter School, Cece, Sandy, Sheila, Lana and Anne and a couple of gorgeous hunks from Tulane, almost finished painting a huge bookcase and there 126 shelves.

We went to two new sites, "Loaves and Fishes and the Dragon Cafe,"
and at both sites, we made food to pass out to volunteers and to hungry folks.
Tonight, we attended a service at St. Anna's Episcopal Church where we heard Gospel Music.

And what is especially prominent is the way in which St. Anna's holds in prayer
the most recent victims of violence in New Orleans.

After the service, we took part in a meal that was for
the community but was directed towards the most needy. The evening was a carefully planned interplay of worship, jazz, free medical care and legal services that were provided by local professionals. As we entered, we noticed a sign that read 'Food pantry closed due to lack of food,' so we decided to make a cash donation.

We celebrated our hard work by going to the French Quarter and feasting on some beignets, coffee and cocoa and a glass of milk, (with some Zantacs by the fistful) at Cafe Du Monde. Mmm....yum.

We ended by reflecting on a spectacular day!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

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Greetings from John Duff

Working hard, representing St. Michaels in a big way. You are with us in every stroke of the paint brush, every plant we put in the ground, and every wall we sand. We are grateful for this opportunity to help people in need and thanks to your support, financially and spiritually this has been a great success so far. Last night we traveled into the city and listened to some incredible music from local musicians, we got a tip from our coordinator and found a great place for some great sound. Unfortunately, we worked so hard during the day we were back in bed by 11 p.m; and its a good thing.

There is no doubt without the parish being behind us, we wouldn't be able to make the impact that we have made. The people here are so grateful and so are we. Thank you so much.

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Monday, February 2, 2009