Philanthropy – volunteers and nonprofits
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.
I have been sharing different perspectives on Kindness this week. Today I want to share the story of someone on the receiving end of kindness. Beth Crenshaw is vice chair of the Spina Bifida Coalition of Cincinnati, Inc., and she wants to remind us that kindness can have a great impact. In her words:
“I was in the hospital quite a bit last year due to medical problems. I have Spina Bifida. During my stay at the hospital, two friends came to visit me. One of them brought my fiancé, Chuck, BBQ for dinner. She brought so much that Chuck had BBQ for several nights in a row, when he left the hospital for the night.
After I left the hospital, I had follow up appointment with the two doctors that conducted the two surgeries. My friend picked me up at my home and took me to the doctors appointments.
My friends were the sunshine in my darkest hour. My friends are considerate, caring, and generous. In my opinion, this is the definition of kindness.”
Celebrating World Kindness Day all week this week, I am asking people the question, “What does kindness mean to you?”
This is what it means to Kristin Harmeyer, health & wellness coordinator for LADD, Inc. (Living Arrangements for the Developmentally Disabled),: “Being kind is about treating everyone with respect regardless of their ability, what they look like or what they have done. It is about being considerate and thoughtful. To me I think of it as just a really natural thing. Kindness is something I think about every day, and I am grateful to have a job that reminds of this.I have been told by some people that I am actually aggressively kind because if someone tells me they have something going on, I fill follow up with them. I just think that if someone tells you he/she is having a bad day, that it is important to ask about it and show you care. I feel like we should all leave our day or wherever we have been better than when we got there.”
I am very grateful too for the opportunity my work with LADD has given me to get to know incredible people like Kristin who inspire kindness in everything they do. Kristin is someone who makes me smile every time I talk to her. There have been times where her work has so moved her that I have heard a tear in her voice.
I first met Earl Edmonds at the Healthy Kids Triathlon Race of the Countryside YMCA (a public relations client of mine) and there was something about him that just stood out to me. I could tell he really enjoyed being among the young athletes. Later I got to talking with him and realized there was a lot more to discover in his life’s work.
Earl’s long career included being a teacher and high school basketball coach at his alma mater, Green Hills High School (his first head coaching job), at Tallawanda High School, and at Forest Park High School before becoming a principal first at Princeton High School followed Milford Main Middle School. He went on to be an administrator at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy before retiring in 2004 (although he still teaches Sunday school at his church). It has been a distinguished path that has earned him and his teams’ numerous accolades.
I wanted to know, where his inspiration came from. Let’s get to know more about Earl, one of Greater Cincinnati’s Hall of Fame basketball coaches.
Lisa: Who was someone who influenced the direction in your life?
Earl: “I was raised by my grandmother and grandfather who are both angels. We didn’t have a lot but what an education I got. I look back and give my grandmother so much credit for pointing me in the right direction. She taught me so much about how to treat people. I had a wonderful father who lived with us too, he just couldn’t take care of us on his own.
Lisa: Why did you become a teacher and a coach?
Earl: “The people I admired most in life were my coaches and so I always wanted to be a coach. I had a terrific English teacher who inspired me so I became a teacher. The people you admire in your life impact you. I also was always an athlete. I played football, baseball and basketball but loved basketball most. I loved teaching novels and grammar, but I also just love being around kids.
Lisa: What do you think it takes to be a good teacher and coach?
Earl: “I see coaching as teaching and teaching as coaching. To be a good coach, you need to break down the sport and teach the skills. You need to understand how to teach young people to achieve. In a classroom, I always felt like I had to coach and encourage kids.
As a coach and teacher, it is important to be positive, be truthful and honest with kids, get along with them but also you have to be in a position to make some tough decisions. You need to be able to relate to everyone, and create a genuine family feeling which involves loving one another like a family. It is the same with being the principal. Both students and staff have to feel that. Sometimes that human connection gets lost with all the paperwork but the most successful people make that a priority. You need to Instill respect for each other – similar on the basketball court and in a classroom. I am a believer in Johnny Wooden, who went on to win 10 championships at UCLA. I have read every one of his books.
Lisa: Of what are you most proud when looking back at your career?
Earl: “I had an opportunity to coach and teach both of my sons, which is a unique experience for a father to have and it was very rewarding personally. I loved being in that role as I got to know them in a way that I think many fathers don’t get to know their sons. I treasure that. My oldest boy is now the head basketball coach at Wyoming High School, and my younger boy just completed his 10th Louisville Ironman. I saw that toughness in him from being his coach.
When I was principal at Milford Main Middle School, the school was named to the Ohio Hall of Fame and that for me was like winning a state championship in basketball. I was there for five years.
Last April, I was named to the Greater Cincinnati Basketball Hall of Fame which was a huge honor. I got there from coaching some really great players and having a 70% winning career.
Lisa: Was there any advice you have received that you pass along to others?
Earl: “I remember hearing Lou Holtz speak once and he mentioned three rules to follow in life: Do the right thing. Do your best. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. Those three rules made a big impression on me and I try to bring that into my Sunday school class where I still teach, and in life.”