One of the gifts that Facebook has given me is the opportunity to get to know how truly special some people are from my past, to learn about a side of them that I never saw when we were growing up. One of those people is Mike Scheele. His father was one of my teachers at Wyoming High School, and the school’s tennis coach but I only really knew Mike as a boy I thought was cute but never spoke to.
If it weren’t for Facebook, I would never have known that Mike was adopted, that he struggled with shyness because of a learning disorder, and that he has this magnificent heart for empowering and rising young minds of kids with their own set of differences.
Mike recently shared a story with us of one little boy in particular who was not achieving in school and his family asked Mike to help their son…which Mike has done in a big way.
In Mike’s career, he taught special education in Tampa, Florida, and was named Teacher of the Year in 2000 as ALL of his students advanced to the ninth grade. These days he teaches English conversation skills to adults who do not speak fluent English, and reading to that little boy who has dyslexia and a brain injury. “I’m just honored they asked me to help their son. He calls me MAX, don’t know why but I love taking on Mike “Max” Scheele,” he told me.
The next year he began teaching at Riverview High School where he also announced all sports events on campus and emceed all sports banquets. He even coached tennis for a year, following in his dad’s footsteps.
It was at Riverview where Mike taught Kaycie Maines (now 30) television production and was the voice of her Lady Sharks softball team. By the way, Kaycie was a two-time state champ and a ten-time national champion. “He is one of the most enthusiastic people I know,” she said. “Mr. Scheele taught me to be the best that I can be and to reach for my full potential no matter how many times I might fail. I live by this daily, and because of him, I am a successful, strong and independent woman. He always said to just ‘be you’.”
When he is told how lucky his students are for having him come into their lives, Mike will tell you, “I am the fortunate one.”
In Mike’s Own Words…
“I flunked 3rd grade because I read from left to right. Mrs. Taylor, one of my teachers at Vermont Elementary School in Wyoming caught it and saved my life. It was full dyslexia. My parents got me a reading coach. Learning became fun once I learned how to read. The rest is history. I earned my bachelor’s degree in science education with a minor in special education. I love to read, love to have conversations with strangers and to public speak at school banquets and awards nights.”
If you are someone who is very attached to your non-human animals, you will appreciate Jenny Durbin’s story. I had asked her to recall a time when she was on the receiving end of kindness.
This is what she shared…
Jenny Durbin: in her own words…
After researching the care and feeding of chickens, I double checked my city’s ordinance and found it was legal to keep a small flock of the birds, so long as they were well housed and cared for. So, I ordered 6-day-old chicks which arrived in the mail. Two years later, however, now completely attached to and enamored of my darling hens, the city council changed the ordinance making chicken keeping illegal.
Heartbroken and more than a little miffed, a friend, with whom I’d only recently become acquainted, offered to take in my illegal chickens and to house them and their considerable coop in her yard.
It was such a huge thing, a selfless thing, kindly, heartfelt, charitable. Never has my need been so great and the answer so unlikely, but there it was, “Yes”, a willingness to help. It left me not only deeply, endlessly grateful, but ever more open and willing to also step up, to help when I might otherwise not. ♡
In her own words…
Lisa Jones, My Furry Valentine event manager, revisits a long journal entry written after returning from a mission trip to South Africa
Our last night in Mamelodi I’m asked at dinner “so Lisa did South Africa live up to the expectations you had before you came?” I hadn’t really thought about it. I heard “life-changing”, “you won‘t ever be the same again”. Perhaps I managed my expectations well by not forming many before I left.
At the Johannesburg Airport we are greeted by probably 20 women from Mamelodi. When I say greet, I mean they have whistles, horns, duck quackers and they grab me as soon as I’m out the sliding doors from baggage claim. They hug me and pass me on for more hugs. They are singing and dancing (making LOTS of noise) and throwing the biggest party ever and I’m crying like an idiot – exhaustion, right? Only the first of many times I saw immense joy radiating from South Africans.
Our first of two days of medical clinics starts out well enough. I volunteer for intake which entails asking the patients their name, living situation, HIV status, etc.. This seems easy and unemotional, or so I think. My first interpreter Mel is amazing. He is 18, smart, funny, mature and so sweet. I want to pack him in my suitcase and bring him home with me. But then he takes a break and I get Girly. Girly wants me to pray out loud for the patients. I don’t want to generalize so I’ll say that most (but probably all) South Africans like to (and are good at) praying out loud. I hate to pray out loud. After praying for about 15 people we intake an 84-year-old woman. She has no fingers on either hand, walks with a cane and wears a black knit GAP cap to cover all the scabs on her head. She is so sweet and full of smiles and she is the same age as my mother. After we pray with her I need to take a break to have a long cry, overwhelmed again. I play with some kids, do cartwheels with them and eventually go back to work with Girly.
That night I write in my journal “Thank you God for this unbelievable difficult day. Thank you for Mel, thank you for Girly. Thank you for filling me with enough of your holy spirit to reach out to these people. Thank you for my little old lady. She pulled me closer to you God, continue to open my ears, my heart and fill my mouth with the words You want me to say and I promise to continue to know more of you.”
Our second medical clinic was set up in Phomollongh which is essentially a squatter’s camp. Dwellings are made of whatever can be found. Metal rooftops are held down by rocks, overturned wheelbarrows, car seats, bikes, whatever. Conditions are far worse today, many more translators needed. The look on most faces is blank and empty. Far fewer smiles today, and shoes. And I am numb. I took blood pressures and tested blood sugar levels at triage. At the end of this day we meet the 5-year old girl that will haunt everyone on this trip. She lives alone with her younger sister, abandoned by their mother. A neighbor (who has brought them to the clinic) tries to look out for them but they mostly eat whatever they can find among the piles of garbage that seem to be everywhere. Her clothes are in shreds. Since it takes about 3 hours for a patient to be seen at our clinics, waiting in line, then intake, then triage, then nurses and doctors, everyone has seen this little girl.
You cannot not see this little girl. Her eyes are yellow and red and swollen and glassy. And they are vacant and dead. Something is seriously wrong with her. One of our doctors tells us later that night through tears that she has a Chlamydial eye infection which means she is being raped.
- And then there was the 11-year old pregnant girl.
- And then there was the woman who came to us directly from the hospital, with the EKG pads still attached to her!
- And then there was the epileptic woman who was carried in a chair to the clinic for treatment.
- And then there was the little boy with cerebral palsy cradled in his father’s arms, mother also by his side. Eyes rolling back into his head, no body control, being continually kissed on the forehead by his parents.
- And then there were all the children holding out their hands for our pizza at lunch or offering up empty soda bottles for us to refill with ours – and having to look the other way because we couldn’t start a feeding frenzy.
- And then there was the sweet little girl happily dancing in my arms to Bob Marley’s “One World” who 15 minutes later would fall fast asleep on my shoulder.
South Africa is a bit of a contradiction. I met people there who don’t just have faith in God they have complete dependence on Him. And I saw things there that might make some people question whether there is a God. In revisiting “expectations” about South Africa I would have to say there are a few things to safely expect on a visit to SA.
You will want to return there before you have even left the country.
You will see unending joy and abundance where you would expect hopelessness and despair.
You will want to pack up someone you meet and take them home with you.
Your transportation will break down, it is just a matter of time.
“No matter where you come from and where you start, singing brings you together in life,” KellyAnn Nelson told me.
Those words are KellyAnn’s passion and her driving force behind her career and her impact. Founder and Artistic Director of the Young Professionals Choral Collective of Cincinnati (with a roster now of about 1000 singers ages 21 to 45), she is also managing artistic director for the Cincinnati Boychoir and has served as a guest conductor, clinician, adjudicator and presenter at various National, All-State and Regional honors choir events, conferences and choral/vocal jazz workshops in Michigan, West Virginia, Ohio, New Jersey, North Carolina, Connecticut, Minnesota, Kentucky and Indiana.
The Cincinnati Boychoir’s annual Sing Me A Story: A Christmas Carol holiday extravaganza is tonight at the Aronoff Center and the more than 200 members will be singing holiday favorites plus new songs destined to be classics.
If you are unfamiliar with the Boychoir, it is a 53 year old organization that has grown to become one of the premiere professional boychoirs in the United States. Hundreds of students from more than 990 different schools come to the Aronoff Center for the Arts each week to prepare beautiful music, make friends, learn, and strengthen character values.
I asked KellyAnn to share how her work with the Cincinnati Boychoir has touched and inspired her.
In Her Own Words…
I have the privilege of watching these boys grow from squirrelly new singers into talented “big brothers”. I’m also able to craft experiences for them that allow them to work with incredible talent, travel to see incredible places and perform on incredible stages.
Most importantly, they get to see the power of music in action. They get to shake the hand of a nursing home resident whose eyes fill with tears as they listen to “Deck the Halls” and remember Christmases past. They get to sing “Carol of the Bells” for a few thousand people in the heart of downtown and watch the littlest kids stop running around for a moment to pretend like they are ringing their own bells. And they get to take music that they’ve been perfecting for months out into the community at large and share it. Our youngest humans learn to give and create happiness by sharing what they can – not money and gifts, but intangibles like songs and smiles.
At the Cincinnati Boychoir, we run every program decision through three lenses.
- Does the opportunity allow the boys to engage in their community?
- Does the opportunity allow the boys to grow as humans?
- Does the opportunity allow the boys to travel – either figuratively or literally?
This summer our Ambassadors are headed to South Africa, and this February our DeltaChor and JourneyMen hop on a bus for Philadelphia. But all of our boys travel – be it to a school gymnasium where they can show other boys that it’s “cool” to sing, show emotion and have fun, or to the stage of Music Hall with the Cincinnati Opera – because music lets you go places in time, in your city, or in the world like nothing else can.
My boys sing well. But I’m most proud when they sing Happy Birthday to an overtired friend in the choir, or smile at their neighbor as that chord they’ve worked on for so long finally locks. Our boys help each other, make friends who don’t live in their own neighborhood, and become great citizens who look out for each other while looking outward toward other people they meet at concerts, on trips or in rehearsals. I’m so proud of them. But I get a little emotional at this time of year when they are singing – a lot. It’s powerful to seem them realizing the power of sharing music with others.
Lucy May of WCPO tells the poignant stories of poverty, courage, determination, love, passion, diversity, and kindness. Every day people who collectively make up this place we call Greater Cincinnati. This week I am asking people to talk about an experience that has changed their life.
Lucy told me about one very special teacher, without whom, Lucy said, she may never have discovered her love for storytelling.
In Lucy’s Words
“When I was a junior in high school, my French teacher, Jacque VanHouten, started a conversation with me about college. I knew I wanted to go to college, but I hadn’t thought much about it. I told her that I liked to write, and she told me I should study journalism. Then she told me two or three places where I should apply to journalism school. Then she even took an Amtrak train with me to go visit the school that she thought would be best for me.
My parents were divorced, and my dad lived out of town. It never would have occurred to me to ask my mom to take time off work and leave my younger sister to go visit a college campus with me. But Mrs. VanHouten thought it was important so we went. And it was amazing. I fell in love with the campus, and we found out during the visit that I had been accepted. (Because Mrs. VanHouten marched me to the admissions office and demanded to know the status of my application after I told her how much I loved the school.)
I ended up going to that college. It’s where I learned the craft of journalism, and it’s where I met my husband. So much of what is important to me in my life might never have happened if it weren’t for Mrs. VanHouten and the fact that she cared enough to have that conversation with me. I remain forever grateful to her, and she will always hold a special place in my heart.”