Monday, January 28, 2013

Looking Past the Bars

                Another form of isolation to look at this month is prison.  It’s a necessary thing to punish people when they do wrong.  But, everyone makes mistakes.  What makes the man or woman is what they do once the mistake is made.  Many need support to get through the tough times.  There are some churches or communities who have prison ministries.  These dedicated men and women write letters to people who are in prison to give them hope during their incarceration. 

                Once released, the former prisoners have to make a choice.  They can stay on the path that they chose before prison, or create a new path.  This new path takes hard work and dedication.  Many carry the stigma of having gone to prison.  Many need a leg up.  St. Leonard’s House in Chicago, Illinois offers that leg up, providing housing, life skills programs, substance abuse treatment and counseling, education and employment services and many other opportunities to begin their new life.  Volunteers can help out in a myriad of ways.  One important way is to share a meal with residents.  This breaks through the wall of isolation and lets some light through. 

I’ve said it before; just knowing that someone cares can be enough to turn someone’s life around.  Whether you choose to show that you care in person or through a letter does not matter.   What matters is that you show that you care. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Cup of Hot Cocoa to Warm Your Heart

                If you are in the Midwest, you are hunkering down in the warmth of your home, sometimes bravely stepping out to check the mail.  It is COLD.  But, that’s the hazard of living in this region of the United States.  One particularly cold Saturday morning, there was a young lady; I’m guessing Junior High age, selling hot chocolate in front of her house.  I stopped to buy a cup of the sweet elixir with marshmallows of course, and found out that all of the proceeds were going to the food pantry.   What a great idea!  The hot chocolate was the best I have ever had.  I wonder if it was because the young lady made it with such great intentions. 

                I love stories like this because as adults, we find ourselves thinking that we can’t help.  We don’t feel we have the resources to make a change.  Yet, here is a young lady who has fewer resources than the average working adult finding a way to help.  Every little bit counts.  On our township’s food pantry website, they have a quote from Mother Theresa.   “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”  Today let's think of ways to help those who are alone fighting hunger.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fresh Ears and Fresh Stories

                Two years ago, we were able to visit my father-in-law on the Fourth of July.  The Assisted Living Home where he stays had a picnic in their parking lot.  It was a great time and I remember realizing that most of the men there had served in the military during World War II.  I felt honored to celebrate the Fourth amongst such great company. 

I think too many times, we forget what interesting lives our elderly relatives have lived.  Maybe it’s because we’ve heard the same story over and over again.  Maybe we need fresh ears.  But, if it’s fresh stories you yearn for, there are volumes in the nursing homes. 

Often times, the residents of nursing homes feel isolated and alone.  Most nursing homes have activities such as Bingo or Birthday parties to try and curb those feelings.  These activities are a great volunteer opportunity for those who enjoy working with the elderly.  Meal times give residents an opportunity to socialize, but many of them need to be transported to the dining room by volunteers. 

Taking some time to let a resident “bend your ear” for a while, is a wonderful volunteer opportunity which enriches the lives of the resident as well as the volunteer.  The resident can tell a story that their family has stopped listening to and the volunteer will gain lasting memories.  It’s a win-win situation.  I’ll never forget the story a resident at a nursing home told me about taking the train to Chicago.  At the time, she was a teacher taking her class on a field trip.  One of her students lost their tooth on the train.  The description the teacher gave me of her “back end up in the air” looking under the seats for her student’s tooth was priceless.  We both laughed until our sides hurt.

In the month of January, please think about those who are sitting in the nursing home alone, waiting for someone to talk to.  If you have a story about your experience volunteering at a nursing home that you would like to share please email me at

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sleep Overs at the Shelter?

            Play dates and sleep-overs are things that children look forward to.  They get to hang out at their friend’s house, stay up all night, and eat junk food, play lots of games, and laugh and giggle the night (or afternoon) away.  But what if you don’t have a home to invite your friends to?  When we think of homeless, we think of the guy on the street corner asking for change.  But in reality, there are many children out there who are homeless.  What can we do to help them?

            One option is to help out in places such as Home of the Sparrow, an organization which supports homeless women and children.  There are many volunteer opportunities to find on their website   You can volunteer to work in their thrift shops.  You can volunteer as a childcare volunteer in the shelter-an opportunity to play games, do crafts, and just have fun with the children.  If you like to read, you can volunteer to be a book buddy and read to a child once a week. 

            Another worthwhile website to check out is  The site gives a list of ideas on ways in which you can help these children and their families.    If you join their mailing list, they will send you information on events and opportunities in your area to help.

            Homelessness not only isolates the people that we ignore as we walk down the street, it isolates the children who are affected too.  Let’s try to end it. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

One Last Word on Domestic Violence

            Not everyone can write a book.  But we all have things that we can do to help.  Continuing with the discussion on loneliness or isolation caused by abuse, there are many avenues that can be explored.  It can be as simple as collecting toys to fill the playroom of Life Span an organization that assists the victims of domestic violence.  This act was accomplished by a junior high student who heard about the organization’s need and was able to help create a safe environment for the children to play in while their mothers are being counseled. 

            Women in Need Growing Stronger (WINGS) is another organization which helps abused women.  There are many volunteer opportunities which include, but are not limited to, cooking, working in their resale shops, and assisting with their kid's group.  You can also help them by donating any of the items they are in need of as listed on their website.  Of course you can always donate your gently used items to one of their resale shops.  Every little bit helps.
            Above all, in any situation where someone feels alone and isolated, the knowledge that someone out there cares is great medicine.  This month continue to try to think of ways in which you can show you care and I will do the same.  Together we can make a difference in someone’s life

Thursday, January 10, 2013

An Interview With Pat LaPointe

                I had a chance to interview Pat LaPointe, author and editor of “The Woman I’ve Become,” an anthology of women who have overcome toxic relationships.  The stories in the anthology are an inspiration and I highly recommend the book.


D.  We’ll start with the obvious question:  What inspired you to create this anthology?

P.  There were several significant reasons for creating this anthology.  First, during my years of counseling with women, I found that some form of abuse often created the issues/pathology with which they presented.  Second, and relatedly, for most, meeting with a counselor was the first time in which they could “voice” their abuse.  Third, although society has become increasingly more open to acknowledging and addressing abuse, there was a lack of material available that was presented from the individual victim/survivors perspective.  Fourth, it was my intent to offer stories from women who have been in toxic relationships and survived/thrived as inspiration for those still struggling with the aftermath of these relationships.

D.  The anthology has a story for just about every relationship possible in a woman’s life.  How difficult was the process of finding a story for every woman?

P.  I received nearly one hundred submissions.  I used several factors in deciding which material would be used:  demographics such as age, geographical location, education and writing experience.  This allowed me to include women ages 17 to 80, from the United States, Canada and South Africa, and those that were published writers as well as those who had never submitted their writing for publication.  I also wanted to include essays that showed varying degrees of self empowerment achieved by these women.  That is, some have discovered empowerment some time ago and told of how they were thriving.  Others had just begun their journey to self empowerment.  Also in keeping with my intention for these women to share their “voices,” I did minimal editing to their work.

D.  As I read your anthology, I found myself taking time out for self-examination, wondering what affect my actions may have on others.  When you created this anthology, what did you hope to give your readers?

P.  I would have to say encouragement, hope, acknowledgement and inspiration.  Encouragement for those who may not yet begun their journeys.  Hope for those who worry that they may never be able to let go of the toxic relationships.  Acknowledgement of those who have journeyed this far, and inspiration to all women who find themselves in difficult situations.

D.  The most uplifting stories for me were those that honored the people who helped the women to see themselves as worth something.  Were you surprised to receive submissions of that nature?

P.  Not really.  There are so many ways in which a woman becomes who she was meant to be, being assisted in this process is just one of these ways.  Even when a woman gained self empowerment with the help of another, it was her readiness and willingness to embark on this journey that created an environment in which change could occur.

D.  The stories in your anthology are very inspiring.  What would you tell someone who is hesitant to read the book because they expect it to be full of “poor me” stories?

P.  If I had only included stories of their abuses, I would agree that they would appear to the reader as “poor me.”  But, the purpose was not to be voyeurs into troubled lives.  As a result the stories reflect positive attitudes, behavior and life changes.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Isolated by Pain

Pat LaPointe, author of “The Woman I’ve Become,” has brought to my attention yet another group of people who feel isolated and alone.  She writes, “In the 60’s and 70’s women began to fight for others to hear and listen to their voices.  And there were some significant changes for many women. There is one group of women, however, who often continue to remain silent. These are the women who have suffered abuse: incest, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. Not only weren’t their voices heard, but they often felt too embarrassed or responsible for the abuse to talk about it. They not only remained silent, but felt complete isolation, often believing they were the only ones who had these experiences.” 

Pat goes on to say, “In my work counseling women, they would present with other issues: anxiety, lack of self-confidence, negative self-images and loneliness. But in more than half the cases, the basis for the problems was some form of abuse they had suffered or were currently suffering.”

          Once these women found that they were not alone, the healing process could begin.  After years of hearing their stories Pat decided that she wanted to give the women a voice with the hope that their words would inspire other women and also reduce their feelings of loneliness.   So she put a call out to these women asking them to tell their stories.  Some brave women came forward and the book, “The Woman I’ve Become,” was written as a compilation of their inspirational stories.  

          I had a chance to speak with Pat about her book and the interview will be shared in my next post.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Helping the Homeless

           One cold December day I brought Christmas cookies to the day center which provides help to those who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.  A client asked if he could help me unload my car.  I come from a family that makes enough cookies to feed a small army, so I graciously accepted the help.  While we walked to my car, the young man mentioned that it was going to be a rough night with the winter storm rolling in.  I nodded as I would if a co-worker or friend had said the same thing to me.  Then I realized that this man would be looking for shelter against the storm that night.  I would be sitting in my warm home with my family, getting ready for the holidays. 

Isolation and loneliness can come from monetary situations, i.e., the homeless.  Many times, especially during the economic challenges of today, it is beyond their control.  But, there are many ways in which we can help.  You can take a hands-on approach and bring something to the day center.  Any kind of food is welcome and with the economy, the day centers are not receiving as many donations from the food service companies.  

Many churches have become involved with agencies such as PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter).  These churches offer shelter to the homeless during the rough Chicago winters.  If your church is involved, you can participate on different levels from preparing and/or serving food to volunteering as a shift monitor. 

Some people are on the verge of homelessness and only need a little help to stay on their feet.  This help comes in the form of a food pantry.  Donating to food pantries is easy and economical.  I’ve posted before that if everyone that could afford to put one item in the food pantry per week, there would be enough to go around.  I truly believe this because I believe in the power of many “ones.” 

We can’t do a lot alone, but a lot of people like you and me working together can.  So, as you go on through the year, hopefully attempting my challenge of doing a good deed per month, please remember you can make a change no matter how small your deed.  

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Supporting Students Abroad

            Imagine it is your first day of high school and you are competing against students that have had the best education available to this point.  Your early education was minimal at best.  While your fellow students go home at the end of every school day, you must stay in the dorms.  Your parents are far away working as subsistence farmers in a poor community.  You are isolated and the cards seemed stacked against you.

            There are many children in China who are going through this and more.  In China, the students must pay for education beyond the Junior High level.  Many families cannot afford to send their children to school and the poverty cycle continues.  But through the Peach foundation, generous people are able to sponsor these students and support them through their high school career.  A friend of mine W. is able to support a dozen such students and I recently had the opportunity to talk to him about it. 

            When W. first became involved with the foundation he had them choose which child he would sponsor.   As he became more involved and began to teach summer school classes in China, he chose students that he had met. 

            When the summer school begins, the students are immediately given a thorough exam.  Some are given their first pair of glasses and a whole new world opens up to them.  In camp, they learn proper hygiene and the teachers help build their confidence, and self-esteem.  The students are taught about the outside world.  Most of them have not been away from their villages and their world view is very limited.  The students are taught English and Chinese Common Language.  But the most important lesson is motivation. 

            The summer camp gives the students the tools they need to survive the next three years of their lives (China’s school system is split 6,3,3 where Junior High and High School are both three years in duration).  Motivation helps them to stay on task.  Confidence and self-esteem help them to get through the tough times and helps them to realize that they belong in the school as much as the more priveleged students do.

            The personal relationship built between student and sponsor is very important.  Letters from sponsors give the students the support they need to make it through high school and on to college.  W. is very proud of the students that he sponsors.  Some are now in college and have a bright future.  Their struggles are much more than we can imagine, but the victory over the struggle is inspiring. 

            If you would like to learn about the Peach Foundation and how they help, please visit their website at

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Stuck Inside in January

            Happy New Year.  It’s time to start thinking about how to make this a great year.  I’ve been thinking about January; a month that is considered to be a lonely time.  There are no more family get-togethers after today.  Tomorrow everyone will return to their normal lives. 

            It’s depressing for those who have to go back to work, but at least they have their co-workers to talk to.  There are those in our lives who return to the company of day time television.  Sure, the soaps are interesting, but they lack the personal contact that everyone needs.  In the part of the U.S. that I hail from, people who are shut-in are further isolated by weather.  Snow and ice make it difficult for some to get out.  Friends and family would rather visit on a warmer day.  

            This month let’s think about those friends and family that we know who are unable to get out.  A letter, phone call or even email could brighten their day.  If you feel so inclined, a flower of some sort would cheer up even the darkest room.