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Homelessness

Note: Chris DiRusso is a founding member of Formerly Incarcerated College Graduate Network and a recent graduate of Boston College. His determination is astonishing and his story, inspiring.

One of the biggest things that holds many of us back is being released with limited or nonexistent support system and nowhere to go. Homelessness can derail our hopes and dreams and suck the life out of plans.

Those that come home can find unity in our little network and an emotional support system that is here 24/7.

I don’t post as often so many of the new members may not know who I am. I am one of the cofounders and a current board member until January when my board term expires.

I think about you all everyday and am excited by the things many of you have accomplished after getting your degrees and overcoming the challenges that constantly get the way, as we try to navigate back into the world.

Homelessness is on the rise and more and more college students are being affected and this includes us. I battled homelessness when I came home for 22 months; I was living on the streets and sometimes in a shelter, which I believe are worse than any prison or jail where I have served time.

It also took 16 months to find a job, which I kept for two years. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Homelessness can be a returning citizen’s worst nightmare and I am grateful that many of us had the support we needed and did not have to experience not having a home at all.

Here in Boston, there was little hope, at the time, that I would find housing without an income or a job that paid more than a couple dollars above minimum wage. My barriers did not help either; it is hard to get any government support while having felonies and I found a new barrier that I did not know existed at the time – “Fulltime Student.” I was repeatedly turned down for services and I thought it was because I was going to a private school (Boston University) because my friend Kelley was getting services (minor CORI and attending public school Umass), but after reading, I had found out that fulltime student status is not entitled to services and some states restrict even food stamps.

Because I kept hitting road blocks due to what I later learned about my fulltime status, I decided that I was on my own. And I have struggled ever since. Some of it has to do with my CORI, some has to do with income, and some has to do with bad luck.

I am coming up to my six year anniversary of being released. I have seen friends with support make it with what seemed like magical ease, and I had had friends that came home and now own houses and the like. Succeeding is more than possible and we got this, believe me we got this. Some of us just take a longer journey, but what is borne out of such trials and tribulations will make us appreciate what we have all the more.

At the 22 month mark and being at my job for six months, I felt confident renting a room by the week, so I did. I could not have guests over at all, which limited social interactions but it worked. After six months a friend told me about a room where he lived; the room was 200 square feet compared to the ninety I had and in a much better neighborhood, as far as commute, stores and the like, so I moved. It was a couple weeks before I graduated with my bachelors in English.

Two days after Christmas the landlord asked me to move for in my opinion for no good reason but offered two months free rent so I did not fight it, but it had to do with my CORI. I started stressing because finding even a room with a CORI can take months. Here in Massachusetts landlords can disqualify you for your record, and they use your credit score. yes even for rooms.

It was stressful because that following January I started grad school. When moving time came I had yet to find a place but I lost my job due to letting stress hinder my progress. I was homeless again and remained homeless for 20 more months. Ag last I rented a full apartment with the aid of a grad plus loan from the government and freelance work. I took on a roommate, but the place was a dive and the gas bill cost me $500 per month, which ate into my reserves that I had built up. My lease was only for six months. I was fine with that and the lady said that is what the landlord does. Unfortunately my struggle wasn’t over–and it wasn’t the $500 dollar monthly gas bill either. In January of this year, I found out the landlord was selling the building and the new landlords would need to gut the building due to the numerous violations. It’s a pretty building now and expensive.

I checked the laws and talked with a few advocates and there was nothing I could do because I was given a written notice from the new landlords that my lease would not be renewed. They gave me more than the required advance warning. I had no money and I was graduating this year, so I had no more extra money to help move.

Yes, I became homeless for the third time in almost six years. And after about 2000 applications in my industry, I remain homeless. I make money but not enough and to add insult to injury, I was unable to maintain my bills and my credit is now too low and has charge offs, which will affect my chances of getting a place. I found that for us, at least here in mass, having great credit, especially a perfect payment score helped ease landlords apprehensions.

If anyone is suffering because they are experiencing homelessness, please reach out to me or someone you know. This last stint has made me aware of how important selfcare is and how it can affect us in ways that make no sense. I got a client to ghostwrite his novels in his series. I did that job but stressed the whole time about paying my bills. He gave me something else to prepare for and I stressed it out of existence.

Now I am trying to mend something that if I practiced selfcare would not be an issue. I self-sabotaged a decent income potential because I let stress of my bills and homelessness get in the way. Reach out to someone that you know, Share here. We got you. I got you. Emotional support is all most of us can offer but a job offer or lead could be a post away.

Please, if you need someone to talk to because you are experiencing homelessness, especially if your going to school, reach out to me or someone you trust. I am sharing this in hopes that if anyone is experiencing homelessness, they will know that they are not alone.

If you’re going to school and wonder if it is even possible to graduate while experiencing homelessness, I did twice. Reach out to me and I can tell you how I managed. The short answer though is this:  because of this group and the emotional support system I needed that included  Mrs. Obama—mostly for emotional support, but some monetary. It was the emotional support that kept me pushing forward.

I wish you the best. You got this!

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My late husband had a love affair with airplanes and learned to fly when he was nine years old. April 15 is the 5th anniversary of his death and I’m posting the first chapter of his unpublished book in his memory. He wrote this in prison and every month I would get a chapter about the summer that changed his life forever. This is the first plane he flew.Screen Shot 2012-10-07 at 12.37.14 PM

Chapter I

It was the beginning of summer and the first day out of school. It was the start of the first flirtation of my life. It was the summer of 1944 and I was nine years old.

Ever since school began, from the school windows and the school yard at recess, I’d watch the bright colored aircraft flying in the distance. They flew low across the fields of tomatoes and corn spraying the newly emerging crops. I’d convinced myself that as soon as school was over, I was going to see a real airplane up close and maybe even touch it.

I had been building model airplanes since I was six and there was not a vacant space to hang another plane from my ceiling. I’d watched the crop dusters flying their patterns over the field for as long as I could remember and now was the time for my promised adventure for the summer.

My grandparents wouldn’t miss me during the day because I always left after breakfast to play games on the beach or ball-field. I told myself that I could just get on my bike – ride across the causeway bridge and I’d be at the airfield. Then I could watch the planes take off and land and do whatever it was they do when they were on the ground. I was finally going to be close to a real airplane.

I thought it would take forever for the night to pass. I couldn’t go to sleep and I lay in bed looking at all of my airplanes, thinking how great it would be to fly one of them.

Finally morning came. I put on my dunagrees, shirt and tennis shoes, and dashed down the steps for breakfast. I guess I was early because my grandparents weren’t up yet and the sun was just breaking over the ocean.

I went outside to make sure my bicycle was all ready for the trip. I couldn’t take a chance that a tire might be flat or worse yet, that my friend Joey hadn’t brought it back after borrowing it last night.

There it was – all ready for me to start the most exciting day of my life.

I heard my grandmother in the kitchen fixing breakfast so I ran back inside. My excitement must have shown as she asked me why I was in such a hurry to eat. I just said it was the first full day out of school and I wanted to ride to the end of the boardwalk and watch the crab boats go out to sea. It wasn’t exactly a fib because I did have to go that way to get to the causeway bridge.

As soon as I finished breakfast, I kissed my grandmother goodbye and ran out the door to my bike. As luck would have it, I did watch the boats go out as I waited for the drawbridge to come down afte they all passed under it. I didn’t know there were that many boats in our little fishing harbor.

Finally, the last boat passed and the bridge slowly lowered itself back into place. There were only four cars going off the island, so I started crossing the bridge as soon as the gate went up, before any cars could start their engines.

It was a short bridge and I was across and on my way to the airfield before any cars came by. It was a small place and I was hoping there was no one in the cars who knew me and might wonder where I was going. No one blew a horn, so I was safe and on my way.

As I rode on to the dirt road that led to the airfield, a bright red two wing plane flew right over my head. I almost went into the ditch watching it go by. It was so low that I could see the pilot’s head sticking out of the cockpit. I just sat there and watched as it disappeared over the fields and dreamt that someday I would be sitting there like that pilot was.

I rode on down the road until I came to the hangers where several airplanes were out in front. There were men doing things like putting gas in one plane and checking the tires on another. Others were putting liquid in tanks under the wings. I later found out this was liquid spray for the fields. All the planes were used to spray crops.

I sat there on my bicycle and watched in wonder. These were real airplanes and here I was only a short distance from them. I could smell the gasoline and the funny smelling liquid spray. I could feel the excitement of flying although I had never even touched a real airplane. I knew then that this was something I had to do. I just didn’t know how I was going to go about it.

Finally, I worked up enough nerve to get off my bike and take a few steps toward the first plane. It was only about thirty feet away and it looked much larger than I’d thought they’d be. Just then a dog came up to me from inside the hanger. As I knelt down and rubbed its head, one of the men came out of the hangar, saw me and came over. He asked me who I was and what I was doing there. I told him where I lived, that my father was a pilot in the war and I just wanted to look at the planes.

Instead of making me leave, he asked me if I’d like to help him carry some tools to his (really his own) plane. He was a real pilot. I was the happiest boy in the world. I was going to get to go right up to a real airplane and maybe even touch it. I could not believe my adventure was turning out so well.

The pilot’s name was Hank and that’s what he told me to call him. We picked up some tools and rags, walked right out to that big shiny yellow airplane and stopped by its side. Hank asked me if I would like to help him clean up some dirt that had gotten on the bottom of the lower wing and under the body of the plane. WOULD I? I could hardly believe that I was going to help clean a real airplane.

He gave me some rags and a bucket of water and showed me how to wipe the fabric gently so as not to damage the material. I spent the next hour in a dream world kneeling under the wings and the body of the plane. I wiped every speck of dirt I could find at least twice. Finally, I went up to Hank who was on the wing doing something to the wires between the wings. I told him I was finished. I felt like I had just done the most important job in the world.

Hank asked me if I’d ever seen inside of a cockpit and I could not get NO out fast enough. My heart was beating so fast I could hardly speak. He helped me up on the wing and showed me where to step so as not to hurt the fabric. He took me over to the cockpit and helped me to look inside. It was a whole new world that I had pictured in my dreams for as long as I had known what an airplane was. I’d seen cockpits in the small model planes I had built, but here it was – a real cockpit in a real plane and I was standing looking into it.

Hank said, “How would you like to sit in it for a minute to see how it feels?” I’m not sure what I said, but the next thing I knew, I was sitting on the seat looking at the dials in front of me and the stick was right there for me to touch. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Hank told me what each of the few dials were for and what they told him. Then he told me how to move the stick and what each position made the plane do. I was a little short to see outside the plane, but that didn’t matter to me. All I wanted to see was the cockpit all around me.

Finally Hank said he had to get ready to go so he helped me out of the cockpit and off of the wing. He asked me if I’d like to help him again sometime and he’d tell me more about flying. I said “Oh yes, I’ll help you all summer if you like.”

He said that would be great. This was the busy time of the year and there was quite a bit of work and flying to do. Now that I knew how to clean the dirt off the plane, that could be my first job each day I was there.

I walked over to the hangar and stood by my bike as Hank started the engine and taxied the plane into position for take-off. As he took off, the plane passed right over my head and I could see Hank waving to me as he flew away. I watched until I could no longer see him in the sky and then I climbed on my bike. I headed home knowing that I would be back and I would someday be a pilot.

End of Chapter 1

This is the plane he flew in the Air Force. He was so happy up in the air.Screen Shot 2012-10-04 at 10.08.47 PM

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Recently at the White House, we had the privilege of listening to Hannah Jackson introduce the Vice President of the United States, Mike Pence. What’s unusual about that? Hannah is fourteen years old and the daughter of a formerly incarcerated father. Her courageous and articulate words inspired the entire East Room of the White House and
IMG_0249should inspire the country to support our need for prison reform.  Thank you, Hannah.

Here is the link to Hannah’s speech on c-span as well as the text below. https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4730399/saint-hilary-8th-grader-hannah-jackson

Good morning,

Thank you. It is an honor to be here today. Words cannot express how grateful I am to see everyone here today talking about a topic that is so close to my heart.

I used to have a dream – that I was with my dad – but we were surrounded by metal fences and metal tables. It wasn’t until I was 9 years old and my mom told me he had been in prison that I realized this wasn’t a dream, it was a childhood memory.

It turns out I’m not the only one with memories of having to visit a mom or a dad in prison. There are 10 million other kids in America who grew up with a mom or dad behind bars.

All these kids want, is to come home from school, eat a snack and talk about their day – to have their mom or dad at their ballgame – or hear them read a bedtime story and feel their kiss good night.

Incarceration has many negative impacts for children and families. And it often kicks off a vicious cycle. Children who grow up with parent behind bars are 6 times more likely to be incarcerated as adults. Children whose parents suffer from addiction are 8 times more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol themselves. You’re also much more likely to grow up in poverty.

It makes you wonder – how can we ever break this cycle?

As a kid, it is very confusing to watch grown-ups fighting over politics, instead of helping people and solving these problems. And that is exactly why it is so meaningful that we are all here today – to start focusing on the solutions. So we can break these cycles – people can get the help they need – and kids can be reunited with their moms and dads.

To continue that conversation, it is my honor to introduce to the stage –

The Vice President of the United States Mike Pence.

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This is Hannah listening to the President after Mike Pence spoke.

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 This is Hannah’s look-alike mother, Jessica Jackson Sloan, who has her own remarkable story. Jessica is co-founder with Van Jones of #cut50.  She is sharing the stage with another outstanding woman, Topeka Sam, the founder and ED of The Ladies of Hope Ministries. thelohm.org. They’re listening to Jared Kushner speak of the need for prison reform, a cause Jared supports passionately.  FYI, this is a bi-partisan effort that many people have been working on through the previous and current administrations. It is a cause we should all support as Americans and human beings. Don’t tell me we should only work with our own party. Let’s be grownups and work together.

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January 2016, I was privileged to  be a guest of Mrs. Obama in her box at the President’s final State of the Union address. While we watched the President make his way to the podium, everyone was clapping and smiling, while those close to the center aisle were maneuvering to shake his hand. It was very collegial and they seemed like they actually liked each other. It looked. . . hopeful.Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 8.05.34 PM.png

Then the President started talking and I couldn’t ignore the conduct of the Congress. We hear our congress is divided but when you are looking down at it physically and symbolically, it’s stunning. There’s an invisible line right down the middle of that historic, important chamber.

When the action started, the President would say something and the left side of the chamber (Dems) would stand up and loudly applaud; the right side (Reps) of the chamber sat silently on their hands. While half the room cheered, the other half looked at their email, Facebook or Twitter. We had to leave our cellphones in the motorcade. That rule didn’t apply to our leaders. And now with the change in administrations, the Dems sit on their hands and the Reps cheer loudly. Seems it’s tradition. What kind of crazy tradition is that?

For a long time I’ve lamented the lack of grownups in Congress. The name calling is disgraceful and the lack of mutual respect is shameful. We wouldn’t allow our children to behave the way Congress does. Even if they agree with an issue and want to support it, they are scolded if they don’t follow the the Party Line, because they don’t want the other party to get a win! Shouldn’t this be about human beings, about our country, not about winning and losing?

I believe in bipartisanship and civility. I believe we should be working across the aisles and Getting Things Done. Instead Congress is stuck in the muck.

May 18, 2018 was the White House Summit on Prison Reform. Space is limited in the East Room so this included a very small group of 150. This is the second time I’ve been to the Trump White House and I’ve received a myriad of reactions:

 How exciting! Wow! Can I come too? Are you kidding? How could you go there? How could you work wth them? You shouldn’t go!

Guess what…I went. IMG_0221

Suddenly I’m in the position of supporting a bipartisan bill, The First Step Act, HR 5682. www.FirstStepAct.com and being criticized for it.  Van Jones, cofounder of #cut50, and Jared Kushner and their teams have been working tirelessly on this. It’s a complex dance of up and down the Hill and across those deceptively ordinary looking yet deeply historic aisles to craft a prison reform bill that will start the first domino of the many that must be knocked down. IMG_0231They are walking through mine fields and everyone is getting heat for it. I’m getting heat for showing up at the White House and participating.  So are my other sisters who’ve either lived behind the wires or had a loved one there.

 

(Photo: Columnist Rebecca Hagelin, Me in my camouflage jacket, Jared Kushner (Yes, he’s very tall), Pamela Winn of Restore Her and Amy Cando, CEO of CAN-DO Foundation.)

Van Jones admits he’s as liberal as they come, but in one IMG_0238of our first conversations he surprised me with a comment I’ve never forgotten. I was voicing criticism of one of our political leaders and Van said, “It’s a big playground, Sue Ellen, and we all need to learn to play together.”

In his very intelligent book, Beyond The Messy Truth, he observes, “To fix America, progressives and conservatives need a better relationship, grounded in mutual respect and deepened by working together on tough problems.” He’s serious and he didn’t pay me to say that:)) You should read it. (Photo: Pouring rain in front of the White House with Van Jones, bipartisan leader par excellence.)

 

The First Step Act is just that, a first step, applicable only to inmates in federal prisons. I’ve included a summary of the bill below, a link to the bill and a link to the Marshall Project for a bipartisan analysis.

https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/5682

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2018/05/22/is-the-first-step-act-real-reform

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To answer my critics, I support this bill because no bill will ever be perfect, we are the grown ups in the room and must find ways to work in a bipartisan fashion. Jared Kushner’s father served prison time and, unlike most families, Jared had the means to visit his father often. He met other inmates and their families and he was appalled at how the system operates. He didn’t have to assume leadership on this issue and he’s gotten a lot of flak for it, but he knows how necessary it is.

So YES, I support the extremely difficult work that Jared and Van and their incredible teams have done to get this far. If not for their shared vision, none of this would have happened and I wouldn’t have been in the East Room of the White House last week to attend the WH Prison Reform Summit. Kudos to all who had the courage to show up. We’ve passed the House; now we must pass the Senate, a more formidable task.

For a very long time, not one formerly incarcerated human being was ever invited to the table, therefore our ideas and experiences went unheard. That’s counter productive because WE are the prison experts. Finally we are being included and our voices are being heard. All I can say is, let’s build a bigger table. We need each of you to show your support for this bill, the human beings, the families and communities it touches. That means all of us.

 

 

 

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Harvey Weinstein. Everyone in the world is posting expressions of shock, dismay, disgust and horror. Really? Suddenly American men are shocked and disgusted? Seriously, you never had any idea that this kind of sexual harassment and violence by rich, powerful, old and mostly unattractive, overweight men has been going on for CENTURIES?

I’m 72. I’ve been sexually harassed since I was in my 20s. Yes, by rich, powerful, much older, unattractive, overweight men who were pillars of their churches and had loving ‘showcase’ families. In corporate America, I often reported to the president or CEO of the company and had to travel with them. One of the ‘pillars of the church’ would sit by me on the plane, trying to put his arm through mine over the armrest so he could rub his arm against my breast. It was both disgusting and hypocritical from this tower of Christianity. I quickly learned to check us both in to different rows so we could both have aisle seats:))

I also learned to hop quickly out of the limo at the hotel and dash to the front desk. I would make sure we were checked in to rooms on different floors. and I never sat next to him at meals. It was a dance I did, a keep-away dance. It was exhausting and demeaning, but I needed the job. Good jobs in corporate America weren’t that common for young women in the 70s and 80s.

He wasn’t the first nor was he the last. I got quite adept at that keep-away dance, but it hurt my heart and angered me. No, I never considered going to HR. How could I complain about the CEO? We women talked about it amongst ourselves, but that’s as far as we could go.

So now let’s go a little farther. Did you have any idea that many of those same powerful men were also predators often against their own children? One of America’s other dirty not-so-secret secrets is incest. I met hundreds of women in prison who had been raped by their fathers, step-fathers, uncles, mother’s boyfriends. I met one young woman who gave birth to her father’s child when she was 12! Effectively that little boy was both her son and brother. At first, I though she was an anomaly but I quickly learned she was not.

If you visit any of our country’s juvenile facilities for girls, you will hear stories of incest that will chill you to the bone. So often these predators are pillars of very strict and fundamental religions. They are also powerful businessmen and feel untouchable. Often these girls turn to or are given drugs to ‘ease’ the pain. The next step is crime and then society condemns them as ‘bad girls’ and addicts. I dare you to go through what they’ve been through and not turn to some kind of escape from the horror.

Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes. They are just the tiny tip of an enormous world-wide iceberg. Yes, women are saying “Me, too,” but what is it going to take to put a stop to this? Some men may actually be worried, but mostly, they still feel untouchable. Many women are afraid to make waves, lose their jobs, and, yes, even hurt the wives and children of the predators.

It’s going to take a true cultural shift in America’s thought process to actually change this behavior. It’s going to take men talking openly against it in locker rooms and clubs, men supporting women as they speak out. It’s going to take true equality, equal pay, equal representation in Congress and our state governments and corporations, equal protection under the law. That means men will lose some power. Is that even possible? I haven’t seen any evidence that they’re willing to open up, speak up and stand up for their women: wives, mothers, aunts, cousins, girlfriends and, most important, daughters. That’s what it’s going to take to create that shift. What about it, men?

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screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-11-27-36-pmWhere were you fifteen years ago, Valentine’s Day 2002? Some of my young friends weren’t even born yet. Some of  my sisters and brothers in orange were inside. Some of you were celebrating Valentine’s Day and some of you were lamenting the lack of cards, chocolate and flowers.

I was sitting in a doctor’s office hearing the words, “You’ve got  stage 3B breast cancer.” What? No, that can’t be right. I’ve never smoked. No one in my family has had cancer. I eat my veggies and exercise. And what the hell, it’s Valentine’s Day. Seriously??

But it was right and none of that other stuff mattered. I was tapped on the breast by Breast cancer behind the wiresthe cancer demon and began a journey I never expected. Curiously, it almost paralleled with my prison journey. If I hadn’t been diagnosed on Valentine’s Day and started chemo and had my medical records, I wouldn’t be alive today because most of my treatment including my mastectomy was behind prison walls.

Although “they” told me I probably wouldn’t live five years, fifteen years later, here I am. Christine died; Gina died; Paula died; too many died; even David died, but I’m still here. Often I wonder why. And then I look at the book by my bed, The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

I first checked this book from the library, but after one chapter I knew I had to own it so I rushed to Costco where it sits amongst the latest book bargains, hot off the press. You might not notice it, but Pay Attention. Forget the best selling novels screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-11-32-38-pmand take this one instead.

It’s divided into three sections:

I    The Nature of True Joy

II   The Obstacles of Joy

III  The Eight Pillars of Joy

This book will open your eyes to the difference between joy and happiness. It will open your eyes to the incredible power and joy of LIFE, despite suffering and sorrow.

You’ve heard me say it a million times, “Everyone has a story.” Mostly those stories are about pain and suffering. You’ve also heard me say that there is great power in your willingness to be vulnerable and share your story with others.

The Book of Joy distills the power of our grief, pain and suffering and gives meaning to our stories.  I’m not going to give you a book report. Nope, you have to buy it  and keep it by the bed with a marker to highlight the meaningful parts. And then put a journal with it to write your own story so you’ll know why you’re here and what you’re meant to do.

What’s your story? Have you figured out your purpose? If you haven’t, no worries. I didn’t “get” mine until I walked into prison at fifty-seven years old. (Slow learner.) Judy Pearson calls finding your purpose your 2nd Act. 

Judy is a breast cancer survivor with an incredible story and a clear vision to make a difference in the world of cancer. She founded A 2nd Act to do just that. A 2nd Act: Survivorship Takes the Stage is a live, curated stage performance, featuring a cast of eight women survivors of ALL types of cancers, local to the city in which the show is being held. Professionally produced, each woman has auditioned for a slot to share her own story of how she’s using her post-diagnosis gifts of time and experience for the greater good.

I’m deeply honored to have been chosen to be part of the Phoenix cast for 2017 and Sunday we had our first table reading. At that table, The Book of Joy came to life. All of the women there realized the power of their stories while they were going through their suffering and from their pain, they have manifested extraordinary 2nd Acts. Their courage is humbling and inspiring.

The Phoenix event on Sunday, March 12th. I hope you will visit the website to get the details. If you know anyone who has battled cancer or if you have, I urge you to attend this event and bring your friends. You will laugh, cry, be outraged delighted and you may see yourself in one of the stories. Here’s the link to the site: https://a2ndact.org/the-2nd-act/

Meanwhile, back to Valentine’s Day. Maybe you have a marvelous date tonight. Maybe you’re sad because you’re alone. Consider this. In doctor’s offices all over the world women and men and children are hearing the words, “You’ve got cancer.” In a heart-beat, their lives are changed forever.

Here’s your chance for a really special Valentine’s Day. Instead of feeling blue, why not take some flowers to a senior center or a hospital or the VA? Why not invite your mother to dinner? Think outside the box and get creative. What wonderful thing can you do to brighten someone else’s Valentine’s Day? Who knows, it might feel so good it will become your 2nd Act!

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I haven’t been out on New Year’s Eve in about thirty years. David and I kept a wonderful tradition and once he was gone, our tradition became a treasured memory. There was no way I was ever going out again on NYE until my friend Betsy came up with a brilliant concept that grew organically as we all embraced it…a Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
celebration. (http://www.rmg.co.uk /discover/explore/greenwich-mean-time-gmt

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-10-24-45-pmThe theory was that we would celebrate the New Year on London (GMT) time, five o’clock in Phoenix. Evryone I talked to loved the idea. Betsy and I got more and more excited. She and her husband Ken ordered thirty-two balloons and streamers. I gotcool hats, important looking crowns and princess tiaras. Their daughter Daria planned a menu of the yummiest of treats lovingly purchased from Costco. After all, who wants to spend time New Year’s Eve slaving over any kind of stove? And we agreed to dress in our sparkly best.

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-10-38-58-pmWe gathered at three to start the festivities, an eclectic group of people who’d never met, yet felt as though we’d known each other forever. Three of our group went to the same high school. Diane discovered that her beloved mother had been the gynecologist for Mary and her mother and her grandmother. Mary’s words, I loved your mother, brought tears to all of us.

Francine and Diane began plotting how to take over the entrepreneurial world. Paul regaled us with a story of trying to impress his date by taking her to a drive-in movie without a car. It must have worked because they’ve been married over fifty years.  Ken and Tom solved the problems of the political world and have a can’t-lose presidential candidate to run for 2020. Nope, can’t tell. It’s a secret.

Everyone had a story or a connection that stunned, excited and inspired us as we grew closer to five pm, midnight GMT. Crowns and tiaras were tilted at just the right angles; streamers and poppers were poised as we counted down,
                                           5. 4. 3. 2. 1 . . . Happy New Year!!!
Cheers, hugs and pure joy to ring in the new year.

The rest of the world was just starting to prep for their celebrations, but for us, the Arizona sunset was gorgeous and we’d had a fantastic time. By six-thirty we were all safely on our way home, long before the traffic became dangerous with people who had over-celebrated. It was the best possible way to celebrate New Year’s Eve and we agreed it must become a tradition.
                                So here’s to a new way to bring in the New Year. . .
                                                         Greenwich Mean Time.
                                                     Happy New Year, Everyone.

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