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Transformation and Excitement

This week’s talent show was so awesome it renewed my feeling that what the leader-volunteers do is beyond measure. It also showed us that our students grow. With no rehearsal, just an announcement the week before, about twenty adults shared their talents. One young man who for ten years has frozen in front of a group faced the audience and sang clearly into the karioke mike. A shy, stuttering  young woman became tongue-tied facing the audience until a leader put her arm on the woman’s shoulder, turned her around  making her back to the audience to sing her song. Some told jokes, and others had jokes lined out to them by the master of ceremonies. A big, well-prepared guy  passed out copies of his song, gave an accompaniment disc to the master of ceremonies, sang four verses and asked the audience to join him on the last.    The most touching for me was a very shy person, who had obviously been at war with herself over participating, stood up at the very end after the group was asked if anyone else wanted to do something. She reluctantly got to the front, faced the audience, and, unaccompanied, in a beautiful soprano voice sang “Silent Night.”

To read how our students grow in many ways see stories of spiritual growth.

Drums Were A Pounding Success

Last week’s drum concert showed the audience that drums are fun as a group and that individuals love to make their own patterns, and they want to continue with another course of drumming. Tom Jaber brought some choir members to join the drum groups in a song, and the audience joined in for the last chorus. It was a triumph of learning in class as the leaders watched some students with speech impairments learn to count out loud and beam with accomplishment, and it was a triumph of self esteem at the concert when each performer excelled.  The same evening featured a talent show, and we watched as students showed how they had matured in the last few years. Most rewarding was  how the audience showed respect and silence when someone goofed or chickened out. This group shows love and affection without reservation.

If you’re thinking of starting a drum group, remember that drums need safe storage. The bigger the djembe, the more space required.

Bullying and Unkind Words

Bullying and unkind words are on the menu everyday for students with disabilities. The words wound as much as the fists, and they also injure parents who are helpless to stop the source. Many parents report bullying to school officials who cannot be present for every incident, but who try to stop it. The bullying then becomes more subtle, often retreating to playgrounds and sidewalks where school officials are powerless.

Students who attend ARC, Circle of Friends, Joy programs and Friendship activities find a haven where love is spoken and people respect each other. These organizations become like caring families for students and parents.

If you have a heart for persons with any kind of special need, try volunteering some time with these organizations. Orientation will be provided, and you will soon be “hooked on helping.” Johns Hopkins University recently released findings on research that proved what they call “helpers high” that releases endorphins in the body that are not only good for your body but make you feel a good high after community service. Surprisingly, the high persists when you talk about it or remember it. Take note that volunteering with students with disabilities can be good for you. It’s a gift exchange. You help them; they help you.

Volunteer Appreciation Time

It’s official. We are all appreciated by our church, and the caring ministry is throwing a party for us! What a great opportunity for us to get together and talk on a personal basis. Anyone who has worked with persons with disabilities knows that when you are ‘working,’ you are not on personal visitation mode. You’re listening, checking, enabling, keeping safe. So now we get personal. Cathy just got married, so we get to meet her new spouse. Some leaders have new jobs and new grandchildren. It may be that we will start talking and never stop. I’ll let you know.

On other front: Drums! Noisy, fun, educational, grounding! Drums also take extra storage, but we found a niche for them. If you feel the ground shake in a couple of weeks, it is our drum concert that preceds our talent show.

Alzheimers and Old Memories

My sister has alzheimers. It is a low blow since with great courage she has survived cancer seven times. She has been sick so long her grandchildren didn’t know her at a time when she could tell them stories from her childhood, college, career and marriage, and they only know her as a sick person. They are now part of her caregiver team with possibly some very sad memories as her legacy. I’m writing my memories of her, things like how we climbed a certain tree every day, played circus, traded boy friends, marched in the band together along with stories of where she did her internship. So far, the stories have been read aloud by her family, and they seem to appreciate them. Thought I’d share this idea.

If you are wondering how the drum circle is going, I can say that it is first of all, FUN, and, second of all, LOUD, and is a very popular group. At the end of the month, they are planning a short performance. The leader and her assistants really know what they are doing.

Drums for Persons with Special Needs

The Circle of Friends adult group begins a new break out class tonight, and I can hardly wait to see the students  excitement when their hands first slap on to the djembes and bongos. Then hang on to your hats and maybe cover your ears if you are nearby. Joyous noise sounds like a din even if it’s organized.  The rhythm of drumming and the feeling of being centered with the earth make this an ideal outlet for many persons with disabilities, and it is ideal for persons who cannot speak but want to express themselves.

New research with children who had pre-birth trauma or post birth trauma such as abuse, major illness or violence either inflicted or witnessed have been shown to have an under-developed neuron. Researchers have had good success with improving this development using methods of rhythm including drums.

My first internet question about drum groups brought responses from Japan, Scotland, England and all across the US. Drumming is used in nursing homes and with persons with disabilities of all ages. Everyone was enthusiastic and felt that there was progress in expression and self esteem. Drumming with a group, often called a drum circle, awards a sense of belonging and being at one with others. Can’t ask for much more than that.

Tomorrow I will let you know how this group sounds, and we can chart the esteem factor.

Handicap Parking Complaint

Yesterday I went to – make that tried to – see a new doctor. Trouble was that when I arrived, there was no visible handicap parking.  Turned out there were two pavement-painted signs with cars parked on them and not a single slash line to accommodate walkers, caners or wheelchairs. When I called the doctors office reporting my plight, they suggested I park on the little, narrow street behind the parking garage. Two big ditches on each side of the street and lots of traffic. Sorry, folks, I’d be dead by now. When I got home, a message on my answering machine told me to please reschedule, and they would send someone down to park my van. Where? And do you think I’m going?

The sign handicap parking is right much of the time. Parking my van is when I feel VERY handicapped. (Yes, I hate the word, too, but it’s the government’s term.) It’s time for the committee serving persons with disabilities for the city of Houston to get on board, understand the parking needs, and translate that into information for builders who hire contractors to stripe parking lots and parking buildings. They need to know that wheelchair vans unload on the right side (a few from the back) and require eight feet for de-vanning. They need to know that if the slash lines are on the wrong side, you have to back into the parking slot, and this is very hard in traffic. I know because I do this, and you can still hear the honking from inpatient drivers waiting for me to squirm my van into that straight-on space.

I’m a writer and go to the post office a lot. The US post office in Town and Country does not now and never has had a van parking place despite my complaining to the management every time I go there.  After ten years, I actually quit complaining and just try to diagonal park using two spaces. This is a dangerous practice because to get to the ramp I have to wheel behind parked cars, some trying to back out.  I do this at the dentist’s office and many other places. Oh, well. I always like to live dangerously. Best places to park are Office Depot, Randalls, Rice Food and my church. Thank you.

The city either turns a blind eye to this issue or just doesn’t understand the problem.

Anyone else have this problem? What are you doing about it?

Books and Immigration

History can be fun when you read fiction with history as the setting. Teenagers can enjoy getting ready for history next year by reading The Reluctant Immigrant. It has romance, character and intrigue with threads of encouragement and faith woven into the plot. Personally, I’ve been an immigrant before, and I didn’t like it a bit. In fact, when our family moved to Houston from Tulsa, my fingernail scratches were left on the highway as I dug in all the way. Ah well! It turned out okay, just like Rika, because I am now a Houston fan. But it’s a real “trip” to take a trip to a new location. We loaded the moving van in a snow storm, and carried the goldfish, plants, dog, and three children in the station wagon. What a trip!  Imagine Rika coming from Germany on two ships and living on the beach then slogging her way north. I had it easy. By the time we got to Houston, we thawed out and had to use air conditioning.

I’m getting ready for the national conference of Church and Synagogue Library Association’s conference this month.  I’ll be an author on review as well as a vendor, so I’ve been getting books together for a display. If you’re there, stop by my table for a sweet treat as well as a peek at some of my books. There’s one for every age. The Reluctant Immigrant is young adult. Harps in the Willows is adult, and Get With It Spencer is for children.

An Encouraging Word

It would be nice if a cheerleader handed you a hot cup of coffee every morning as your feet hit the floor, and it would be even better if she cheered you on, “A great day! You can do it,” meaning whatever the it of the day is. Encouragement does a lot for us.

Encouragement is a thread running through my book The Reluctant Immigrant. Rika, the immigrant, found herself driving a team of oxen 200 miles to get her mother and sister to New Braunfels, Texas. Never in her wildest dreams did she consider she could do it. If ever anyone needed encouragement, she did. And several persons along the way saw potential in her and used it as encouragement. Frau Kellerman who had lost an arm but could cook and nurse told Rika, “You can do it! What is, is. What you must, you will!” And when Rika made a very difficult choice, Aunt Mathilde said, “A good choice . . . You are strong, and you will make it.”

We wish someone would say to us as they said to Rika, “You can do it. I know you can.” Or maybe we wish someone would just know that we are struggling or need an encouraging word. We need someone to notice, and maybe we can take on the pleasure of noticing the struggles of other people. Today you may have the opportunity to say to someone, “Good for you. Well done.” Or you might say, “You can do it. You have perseverance and talent or . . . ”

You may not think of yourself as an encourager, but you probably are. You can do it.

Wheelchairs and Floods

Someone should invent mud shoes for wheelchairs. Our cabin in the Hill Country of Texas was hit by a wall of water in a flash flood last week that left mud everywhere, driveway, ramps, steps, yard, inside the water pump. The pump is critical because you can’t use water to wash off the mud.  For a while, I and my wheelchair were parked, and all I could use was my mouth to call service people. Helping hands took up carpet, shoveled mud, etc., but it reminded me that everywhere across the United States are people in wheelchairs who get flooded or burned out or some other calamity, and often there is no one to help them.

Hurricane Katrina  evacuees in wheelchairs often found Red Cross Centers and other facilities ill equipped to handle them. Knowledge of the needs of these persons is often unclear, and they have no idea who is going to show up at their facility. Many churches and church camps came to the rescue, most of them having connections to persons who could provide access to battery chargers for electric wheelchairs (The battery is different from a car battery!), repair for manual wheel chairs and some for walking aids for persons with mobility problems.

During the flood of 2002 when I asked FEMA for a ramp, they allowed it wasn’t their jurisdiction, and they told me to contact the Office of Aging in Austin, Texas. That office had no idea what I was talking about. “Your ramp washed away? Talk to FEMA.” Disability issues fall through the crack of not belonging to everyone or anyone, so it’s important to advocate for ourselves and those we know. Meanwhile, help a person you know solve a ramp problem. In my case, my kids took  our bright blue, warped front door that had been ruined, and made it into a ramp. I loved that door and hated to give it up later.

Well informed churches and individuals can make a difference in times of crisis, especially if they have prepared in advance. For information about what your church can do to prepare internally for needs during a crisis, check out Emergency Planning for Special Needs on my site. The site gives you connections to national emergency help, and also tells you about an emergency Go Bag that you grab to take with you in case of an emergency. If you have disability and medication issues, this could save your life. If you are in a wheelchair, why not volunteer your expertise with the Red Cross or the disaster planning group in your community?

In my case, the mud got shoveled, and I am back on the precious ramps, can even get into the house. Life gets back to normal, and every day I am thankful for family and friends who help.