Sunday, December 02, 2007

I was heartened to read that Shelly received the wonderful gift from Manna from Heaven. I was talking to some friends and maybe Manna would take some orders for next Christmas. This would be a great way for the Mission to earn some money! I sent 490 yards of material, 25 yards of backing and 55 yards of batting to help with their sewing program. 55 yards of the material is Holiday themed.

I think that it is great that Focus America will assist more in their general community. It will be easier for Shelly to keep a handle on things and supervise.

I will continue to assist with the Manna from Heaven Seed Project. Shelly set up an excellent program and I will continue to support it.

Shelly sending the breadmakers to Myra is a brilliant idea and I have sent 10 bags of organic flour as well as some breadmakers mixes and 10 bags of sugar.

Hope all have a wonderful and safe Holiday!!

Monday, November 26, 2007

11/26/07: Myra Pulls Through!

I'm very excited and will update the blog with a photo later but, the day before Thanksgiving, I went to the post office box and there was a package for me. Inside the small box was a gift from Manna from Heaven...a festive table runner, four placemats, and four napkins. They had MADE these items. I'm so thrilled and so thankful.

It just goes to show that we often lose faith right before the very moment we were anticipating.

Just shipped out some more breadmachines and have some boxes of clothing to go out. Our funding for shipping is dwindling...

Friday, November 02, 2007

11/2/07: No news from Myra

I had a talk with Ellen about Myra. We have been sending so much stuff out there and we have been getting little feedback in return. Ellen did receive a hand-written note from Ralph but I, on the other hand, have received nothing. I called twice and asked for photos of the garden that my sister and I planted. I called and asked for Manna from Heaven to get an email address and let me know what it was (they have Internet access and I did send them an entire computer set-up which I saw working in action...with their lazy son listening to iTunes). I asked for 20 handmade birdhouse (which I was willing to pay for!) but, as in all the rest, nothing.

It is very upsetting because we spent a ton of time and money helping them but I'm afraid that we cannot teach them to fish because they are only looking for the final product.

I don't know where to go from here with Manna from Heaven. I'm leaning toward focusing on more local projects, projects that I can help oversee. But I'm waiting to hear what Ellen concludes with her Maryland support system.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

So Happy to be part of Focus America!

I am so excited that Shelly has asked me to post at her blog. Focus America has been and will continue to be a Godsend to the people in the Appalachia and especially to the Manna from Heaven Mission. Shelly has wonderful programs set up and I love the Project Seeds mission. This community can learn to help themselves by growing their own vegetables and canning them. Shelly also expanded the program by adding livestock....chickens and pigs. The members in the community can raise their own chickens for eggs and for meat. Shelly recently purchased a incubator that will aid them in increasing their "chick" population. I wanted to add that my children generously gave me the funds to purchase an additional incubator - a R Com 20 that Lois should have received. I was assured by the manufactirer that Lois can start in February with hatching her 'chicks' and handling them out to the people of Myra.

I spoke to Shelly about adding Turkey's to their livestock population and I am investigating the most economical way of doing this. More will follow.

Halloween is just around the corner. I have sent close to 900 Halloween coloring books. 200 regular coloring books, 300 Holiday coloring books and 1500 boxes of crayons. I continue to search for more Holiday coloring books.

I also sent them 17 boxes of toiletry items that include manicure/pedicure sets, nail polish, bath soaps, bath pillows, hair towels and 3 boxes of gift bags, wrap and tissue paper. Parents can make up "beauty bags" for the upcoming Holidays for their girls. As Shelly mentioned. shipping is a problem and she is looking for donations to off set the shipping costs of all the items that she has sent and for all future items.

I think for now, I will continue to focus on Project Seeds. I was able to purchase a few hundred pairs of gardening gloves that I will be sending them. I will continue to search for gardening tools and hoses etc. These items will give them the tools that they need to succeed in their efforts to better themselves.

Thank you so much Shelly for allowing me to be a part of your dream. I applaud you for starting Focus America.

Friday, September 28, 2007

09/28/07: Update

I haven't written for a while but we have been doing things quietly in the background.

Ellen M. from the MD area is going to take on the role of "Focus America, MD" as she has been actively collecting items for our Myra, KY folks including shipping 500+ Halloween coloring books and crayons to the children and doing some fund raising so that we could buy an egg incubator...allowing the Manna from Heaven folks to hatch their own flocks of chickens. They should be able to incubate at least 520 chickens (or more) each year. That means we don't have to send livestock anymore. I will be registering in MD so that fundraising is approved by the state.

My great-uncle John B. from Salunga, PA has been scouting around garage sales and the thrift shops for backpacks and breadmachines. We have shipped one machine out with four more sitting in my garage...waiting for a shipping donor. The cost of shipping goods is high and FedEx denied our request for donated shipping. No reason given...just denied. :( I'm going to reach out to corporations to help with shipping. I have depleted quite a bit of funds with shipping school supplies, gardening tools, clothing, coats, etc. I simply cannot do it anymore.

That's all for now. I'm hoping that Ellen will be able to post some additional items to the blog to keep everyone interested and up-to-date as to what we are doing.



Thursday, August 23, 2007

08/22/07: Shipment...

Shipped out seven boxes of school supplies donated by the Market Street Mission in Morristown as well as one breadmaker and some clothing. I have two more breadmakers to mail out. Want to see what they do with those before I investigate locating more. My great-uncle picked up two at garage sales in Lancaster, PA and my husband picked up one in Chester, NJ.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

07/18/07: Boys at Seaton Hackney

I'm so excited. We have arranged for two boys from disadvantaged families to participate in the Seaton Hackney Stables summer camp! Just another way that Focus America is helping children (and adults). These two boys will have memories to last a lifetime after spending a week riding horses, learning new skills, and meeting new friends. I'm thrilled about this and I am looking forward to more programs like this to help our local addition to helping the people in Kentucky.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

06/28/07: It's Official...

Thanks to Ellen who alerted me that my advance ruling for the 501(c)3 was expired, we are officially a permanent 501(c)3. I might have my verbiage wrong but the idea is right. After five years of doing our thing, the IRS has agreed that we are, indeed, a charitable organization. We have their stamp.

It was in a holding pattern but can now get back in the swing of things. I couldn't request any help from FedEx or send for grants with the expired 501(c)3 but...that has all changed. I'm looking forward to getting back in the swing of things.

Now, if I only had time! With the summer here, the kids are off school and must have made a pact to torture me for 10 weeks. Besides juggling my job-job which pays the bills with raising kids, doing endless laundry, and keeping the house, I'm trying to maintain my summer sanity. It's hard but...once September is here, we're back in business.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

06/21/07: Pembroke, IL Returns...

Interesting turn in events. I've had numerous calls from a church in St. Anne/Pembroke, IL. Apparently, someone took out a paid advertisement in a paper out in Chicago and printed a copy of a posting I had on the website about why we don't help Pembroke anymore. Whoever paid for the advertisement literally used a photocopy of our website! It must have made for interesting conversation because my phone started ringing, emails began flying, letters arrived begging for us to reconsider.

Even more importantly, I received a phone call from Rev. Dyson, the very man who was in charge of helping Pembroke, IL when I founded Focus America. I was quick to point out to him that it took five years for me to get a return phone call (sarcasm).

He was going to look into what happened and why we never received any acknowlegements of our donations. I haven't heard back yet (hopefully it won't take another five years!). It does appear that the advertisement created a firestorm of controversy in the area. If it helps the people, that's wonderful. However, my attention remains on Appalachia for now.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

06/16/07: The Colorado Crew

I've had several comments and requests from people about the Colorado crew who met us in Kentucky. I was trying to surprise them but, apprarently, I had accidentally emailed the teacher so she knew that we were racing the clock to meet them there.

They arrived and had a tour of the facility. My first reaction was that they all looked like deer caught in the headlights. During the tour, I gave them a "pep" speech, telling them all that Stacey and I had seen and heard. Then, even though they had just driven in from Tennessee, we set them to work.

They were helpful in finishing the garden and even the chicken coop, which was a big relief to Stacey and me as we were done, at this point. I will admit, though, that I felt as though a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders when those two vans of 12 high school seniors and their two teachers pulled in. It was almost cleansing to have companionship and help. While I never mind rolling up my sleeves to dive into the projects, it was nice to have new energy, especially after the emotional roller coaster we had been on in the preceeding days.

Besides cleaning up the inside and outside of the mission, they cleared out a backroom that had so much stuff in it, you couldn't see the floor or walls. When it was finally cleaned out, they washed the floor FIVE times to get it clean. I give them a lot of credit for that task...I'm not certain I could have done least not without complaining a bit.

The teacher, Anne Marie B., was truly wonderful with the kids. I'm sure that it wasn't easy to bring them to such a remote and disadvantaged community. But the kids were great sports, hard workers, and definitely "got it" when it came to why they were there helping these people. I was proud of them and only wished that I could have spent more time with them.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

06/11/07: Fleecing of Myra

I noticed that, on 6/4, Charles Wright posted a comment about someone being "fleeced" because he's lived 1/2 a mile from Myra, KY all of his life. Mr. Wright is not the only person that I have encountered who claims that to be the case. However, perhaps since he has lived there all of his life, he hasn't experienced how the rest of the civilized world lives.

I teach sociology courses in higher education and this attitude is predictable. Those who live near it are the first to deny it. Isn't it horrible that the help received by Manna from Heaven comes from Colorado, Indiana, and New Jersey while the very people in their backyards turn their heads and deny that the problem exists?

I'm offended by Mr. Wright's comments but I will not delete them. I want those comments to be there so that everyone can see what Manna from Heaven is fighting. I can attest that there is despicable poverty in Myra, KY. To deny that poverty exists in Myra, KY is to deny that every city has pockets of poverty. The difference, Mr. Wright, is that this community does not have the resources that is afforded to residence of New York City, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles or even Newark, NJ.

People can say they are lazy or don't want to work. But, truthfully, what is the incentive if you are making minimum wage for part-time work (because companies don't want to hire them full-time and be forced to pay benefits!) and need to drive 40 minutes to Pikeville, KY? You can earn the same amount through food stamps and Medicaid. Is that lazy or simply logical? Figure the math out: $28 in earning-$20 in gas=$8 a day...why bother?

Furthermore, who is willing to hire these folks? Many of the adults can't read and use poor grammar. A high percentage have dental problems, limited medical care, and are obese. They are the unskilled labor force, the invisible and uneducated poor. Who can show them how to improve their lifestyle? Who can help them rise above generational poverty?

But, of course, if Mr. Wright admitted the truth, wouldn't he (and the hundreds others like him) be forced to do something about it? Instead, they turn their backs and deny its existance. Interesting...

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. The Mr. Wrights' of the world will continue to deny it and think the worst of people who are in need. I can't change his opinion nor will I deny that there are some "fleecers" out there. But to think that Manna from Heaven staged this whole thing to "fleece" us? Give me a break. A simply drive into one of the hollows speaks louder than anything I can write on this blog.

Monday, May 21, 2007

05/21/07: Appalachia Part III

The day after we arrived, we began tilling the garden, building the coop, and acclimating ourselves to Appalachia. We were disappointed that the mountain folk did not come down to meet us but we were assured that they were "shy." Regardless, the chicks arrived and we continued building the coop out of boards and "things" that we found laying around the mission. Lois and Ralph both turned out to be amazing people and Stacey and I fell in love with their two granddaughter, Destiny and Kirsten, who were their permenant wards.
Kirsten is four and, at 32 months, came into the custody of the grandmother due to "circumstances" that are beyond our control and, for which, I refuse to discuss here but...use your imagination...or nightmare scope. Regardless, both girls are doing well and, while Kirsten was talking at the level of a 9 month old when she was almost 3 years old, she is so well adjusted that you'd never know the truth. In fact, she reminded me of my own daughter and, had Lois said, "Take this child and give her a good life...", that baby would be sitting beside me as I write.

Destiny was also a darling and I love this picture of her. She was posing for the camera because we were planting corn and beans. The beans are from the Bednarski's (friends) who gave them to Catherine for her birthday. It was really cool to see the actual beans from the party being planted in the ground.

I already mentioned that Stacey was an amazing sport. Here she is building a chicken coop with Ralph, the pastor guy. She never complained, even when the 50+ chicks arrived and were jumping around and she had to keep scooping them up and trying to contain them...which was hilarious. Like a comedy routine. Of course, there was also the moment when I found the 4-5 foot black snake hangin' in the mission, eyeballing our lunch...resulting in my screaming my butt off and running out of the building like a little girl who had seen a spider on my tuffet. Short story: snake is currently in 5-6 pieces and Stacey was trapped in the chicken coop, holding four chicks, yelling "Hey, if there's a creepy crawlie thing out there, can you please let me out of here????"

Sunday, May 20, 2007

05/20/07: The Mission

The drive was very dangerous, with single lane roads and steep mountains. But it was really pretty. From a community of hills and trees, we truly enjoyed the mountains and even called home to Kevin L. to ask if he knew the difference between a mountain and a hill. We finally settled on 1000 ft. makes a mountain, less than that makes a hill. Of course, we don't know for certain so feel free to advise otherwise.
And so we arrived at the mission. I must admit that, at first, I was most apprehensive and, frankly, disappointed when we arrived. The mission wasn't what I imagined...the building wasn't a clean, Florence Nightingale type building but a rectangular building built of cinderblock and full of so much crap that two dumpsters couldn't salvage it.

My sister kept a stiff upper lip and we dove right into the work. But we both thought that the pastor and his wife would be like "us"...well-to-do folks who cared about the poor...not actual members of the actual society in which we wanted to help! I have to confess that my sister was the most amazing travel companion. If we had thought that Leanne would give us the chuckles along the way, I tell you that Stacey kept me in stitches the entire journey, even during the darkest moments.

The journey itself was most interesting and beautiful. The hills are, indeed, beautiful as the man in the Shocky's Gas Station told us ("Dem mountains are be-u-t-ful but I prefer the beeches in Miami"). Of course, I asked Stacey for clarification: Did he say beaches or". We weren't sure but carried on our mission.

Once we arrived at the mission, we assessed their needs and began by buying supplies to build a garden (posts, wire, tools, irrigation hoses, seeds, and plants) as well as the chicken coop (wire, nails, hammers, boards, etc.). Within hours, I was tilling the garden soil and Stacey was building the chicken coop. It was truly amazing to dive right in and have these people that I have dealt with for over two years become more than friends...they became family.

In addition, I have to spend one moment to thank my Morris County friends who provided the funding for this excursion. I cannot thank Rosemary, Denise, and Brian enough for their donations were used 100% for these projects. My father and brother-in-law's company, Panurgy, paid for the gasoline, and my dear friend Ellen Murphy supplied twelve or so cases of gardening tools. There are many others to thank but I must thank these folks in particular (and my dear Leanne and Anne Marie for their behind-the-scenes support via parties or church associations!).

Regardless of the rest of the story, Stacey and I left Appalachia with a HUGE garden and very large chicken coop that was funded by these three Morristown residents. And we met the recipients of the goods who thanked us profusely for the donations. An entire community said GOD BLESS YOU.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

05/19/07: Appalacian 2007 Part II

I'm writing this entry after the fact so I'll be brief as I know that those supporters who are aware of what happened are simply anxious to get to the end of the story.

Stacey and I made it to Kentucky after a very, very long drive. The saving grace on the trip was her humor and Lisa Y.'s games that she sent along. Cow Poker was a big hit with 1 point per cow, 50 points for chimney's unattached to houses (i.e. the house burnt down), 500 points for peg-legged men, etc. If you saw a cemetary, your points were wiped out.

During the eighth hour of travel (as dilerium set in), we began to make up our own points...she who held a dirty child first won X points, she who contracted lice won Y points, she who was hit on first got Z points. Etc.

Needless to say, my sister won the pegged leg man contest (although the man was on MY side of the car so we have to ask Lisa Y. for a verdict). Yes, she was giggling in the car (after I was filling up gas and singing a not-so-good rendition of Johnny Cash's Burn of Fire) and made me shut the windows as she pointed out the pegged-leg guy, sitting in a van, wiggling his stump as he gave his prosthetic a breather. Of course, this was after we were scammed out of $5 from the massively obese woman in a car who saw our "Myra or Bust" on the car windows and asked us for money to help with her gas because she was empty and had to get to XYZ in Pennsylvania. Stacey talked me out of giving her ten but OK'd the $5 with the idea that, how can we be on a charity mission and deny this chick money for gas. Immediately after handing over the do-ray-me, the woman peeled out (so much for no gas) and headed for the Burger King next door!

But I digress...

We arrived in KY and, much to our chagrine, our hotel room was really "icky". We had also stopped at a police station to assess our safety status. The police man was quite kind in saying, "Everyone is poor in Pike County. Just stay out of dem hollows and you'll be OK. Once you go into those hollows, dat's when dem problems seem to arise." Stacey can do an aces impersonation of this guy. Hilarious.

Needless to say, my first comment was, "Whooo hoo, we are heading to dem dare hills!" which Stacey IXNAYED (but I won).

Up to this point, we had not been taken by the poverty and were actually asking, "Where's the poor folk?" as though looking for Amish in Lancaster. But we found them and boy-oh-boy, we should all hang our heads in shame that we live in this magnificient country and have so many people living beneath the poverty level.

Friday, May 18, 2007

05/18/07: The Road Trip (Part I)

Well, we are officially underway. Leanne hosted a kick-off gathering for collecting goods, packing the car, and sharing our story. So many friends have contributed to this mission. If I wasn't so tired, I'd write some more. But, I'm exhausted and we're pulling out at 5am so, the stories will have to wait.

I love this picture of the men trying to pack the car. :)

A special thanks to all who have given us support for this trip.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

05/17: Thelma and Louise

I noticed my sister's comment to the Road Trip posting. I deserve the noodle lashing for having forgotten to post that, indeed, I am not traveling alone. After I posted that message on 5/10, my sister agreed to go. For a while, we thought my friend Leanne would accompany us but she is going to be our home base support team(i.e. keep the kids and men in line) while we trek out to Myra, KY.

It's interesting to, once again, see who rises to the occasion of supporting our goodwill mission. Stacey's neighbors and friends from Assumption School have been fantastic. Anne Marie has been wonderful, arranging an announcement via email to her friend and through Assumption Church (once again, thanks to Fr. Martin!) for food donations so that we do not arrive empty-handed. Leanne has been the final piece of the triangle of strength, emailing her list of buddies and arranging to be the Friday evening drop-off point (complete with refreshments!).

I've also been very surprised the monetary donations which are greatly appreciated. Several folks from the kids' schools, a friend from Springbrook, my aunt in Florida, and my father's company, Panurgy, contributed toward gas money and expenses.

It's exciting to begin this adventure and to have the support and encouragement of my sister. So, in 36 hours begins a different type of Thelma and Louise style...only this one will be Stacey and Shelly style.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

05/09/07: Road Trip

Well, it's official. After speaking with Lois today and hearing how she is such a nervous wreck about the upcoming trip from the Colorado team, I knew the time had truly come:

...Road Trip.

The husband agreed I can go and, as I already posted, work gave me leave. Now, I have no choice but to pack up the truck and head out to KY. I hate leaving the kids for that long and I dread the thought of 10+ hours in a car each way but...Lois needs me and those Colorado kids are traveling to Myra to build chicken coops, create gardens, and repair houses because of my vision. If they believe in me, I can sacrifice five days without my babies and 20 hours in the car to be there for them. And for Lois...

Kentucky, here I come!

05/09/07: Boxes and Call

Received a call from Lois in KY that she received the computer and it is working. They should have Internet by the end of today. She was also a little jumpy, nervous about the upcoming visit from the Colorado team. I think she may have been crying. Anyway, I am biting the bullet and driving out there to help her through the visit. My dean gave me a leave from a conference and from work. Now, if only my husband will not get upset...

Six boxes of clothing, school supplies, and seeds mailed today. Ordered gardening tools, too.

Monday, April 30, 2007

04/30/07: Birthday Seeds

Catherine celebrated her birthday at the Stables with a pony party. Instead of gifts, she asked for vegetable seeds to send to KY.

An interesting response from the parents (including my own) who felt "sorry" for Catherine for not getting gifts. The bigger picture is that she gets a gift that you cannot see or touch or unwrap but it's a better gift: the gift of caring for humantity.

The following weekend, she attended another birthday and several moms asked if Catherine noticed that this child received so many gifts while Catherine only received a basketload of seeds (although a few people did bring her a wrapped My Lil Pony or figurine so she wasn't completely "giftless").

It's so interesting to see the perpetuation of focus on monetary gains while the more important gains...caring for each other...are ignored. No, Catherine didn't notice the difference and, if she had, I would have told her the truth. The gifts that Catherine received will help an entire town eat for a winter! How can you not think that is the most wonderful gift of all?

Monday, April 23, 2007

04/23/07: CollegeDonation

A great day for Focus America as I returned to the very place and to the very people for whom I founded the charity. Yes, I was invited back to the College of St. E's where the students presented Focus America with a donation. We are going to use this donation to help with the summer chicks that we are sending out. A donor in Maryland presented us with a donation, too, so now we can order 250 chicks (with shots) and good chick feed to get the peeps started.

It was interesting to return to St. E's. When I used to teach there, I loved those students so much and really wanted to help them change their lives by impacting others around them. Many of those students are first generation Americans and, even more so, the first females' in their family to go to college. Some of them come from similar backgrounds as the people we help. So, to have these students work so hard to help us is a blessing...under the guidance of their enthusiastic professor, Anne Marie Jarka.

It really gets me excited again about all of this work when I see the glow in students' eyes. I wish that I could still work with some of these college students the college administration wasn't as supportive of my efforts as I would have liked. I suppose they couldn't believe that someone would truly do this for the solitary selfish reason of simply helping others. Or perhaps their own community service director was upset because we offered the students a chance to really do something tangible and important that was all their own vs. simply volunteering to file papers or answer phones at some non-profit.

I suppose that sounds bitter. It is. I made a difference in those students' lives that resulted in great change for people in need. The ironic thing is that we have come full circle and returned there by invitation and, once again, impacted these students who now know that they can do anything that they put their minds to and make a difference in this world. The butterfly effect in action...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

04/15/07: Computer!

An almost-brand new computer was donated to us by a local family. It had all the current software, printer, and even a scanner. Panurgy, a local technology company, was kind enough to donate the packaging and shipping of the items to Myra, KY! It's a wonderful feeling when the pieces of the puzzle fit together!