Stories of Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference: Sadhana’s Story

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

Dean and the Doggies

Dean, a man with serious health issues, lives in our neighbourhood.  In spite of his health and finance issues he is the home of last respite for small dogs that have been mistreated or are on their last legs.  Over the years he has provided a loving home for them, and socialised dogs who had not been socialised before.   He lives with limited means but still some how manages to look after the dogs mostly cheerfully.

Dean is an example to the rest of us who have a lot going for them in life and can only look at life as a glass half full.

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Stories of Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference: Gary Forbes’ Story

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

Let me offer a very local and highly successful story of someone who is making a difference in their community.  In Tucson, we suffer, like many American cities, with shocking stories of senseless violence, where it seems the baser emotions and drug or alcohol-induced reactions seem to prevail at times.  We even had the murder of several staff and the serious wounding of a sitting national US Representative, Gabby Giffords, by a deranged individual several years ago.  She and her husband Mark Kelly are now leaders of an anti-gun advocacy group that claims credit for several key victories in this month’s election.


But I’d like to raise up a different individual, Jeannette Mare, who started Tucson’s “Ben’s Bells” about 10 years ago after the death of her toddler son.  She did it to respond to her deep grief and wanted to highlight all the goodness and kindness in our community.  Each week in the daily newspaper an individual is recognized with a picture, along with their nominator, and a brief write-up of why they were being recognized.  It reaches down into all the various organizations, schools, religious groups, and other approaches where individuals are acting out their care and concern for their local community, especially the individuals who are in need of such care and concern.  The mission of Ben'[s Bells is to “inspire people to understand that the practice of kindness is a lifetime endeavor.”  Other communities are following suit in this community-wide, non-partisan, non-religious approach.   Further information can be found at bensbells.org.

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Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference: the Wakefield Grannies Story from Rosemary Cairns

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

The Wakefield Grannies have been supporting grandmothers in one South African township since 2002. Wakefield is a small, historic village of about 4,000 people located in western Quebec just half an hour’s drive from the Canadian capital city, Ottawa. It began in 1830 as a village of immigrants – from Ireland, Scotland and England – and while its focus is now tourism and art, rather than timber, its well-traveled residents know they live in an interdependent world. Canadian prime minister Lester B. Pearson, whose invention of international peacekeeping in 1956 found a creative way to resolve world conflicts, is buried in the village. Like him, Wakefield’s grandmothers know that changing the world begins with small steps.

The story of how they developed a strong friendship with 40 South African grandmothers living in a crowded township near the South African capital of Johannesburg began with film-makers Brenda and Robert Rooney, who had worked with the Canadian International Development Agency and Vision TV in 2002 to make a documentary film entitled Condoms Fish and Circus Tricks. Shot in Malawi, South Africa, and Zambia, the film offered an intimate look at the people who are dying, those who are caring for them and why AIDS has had such a devastating impact on African society. They screened the film at Wakefield’s United Church and raised $1,000 for the church’s AIDS campaign.

In the audience was Thomas Minde, a doctor at Wakefield’s hospital, whose parents had just returned from a year in South Africa. His mother, Nina, a child psychologist, had volunteered at a children’s mental health clinic in Alexandra township, a tightly packed ghetto that is home to nearly 340,000 people. Shocked to see more and more children being brought to the clinic by their grandmothers because their parents were dead or dying from AIDS, and herself a grandmother, Nina offered to run a support group with clinic head nurse Rose Letwaba.

While not much attention was being paid to grandparents in 2002, Rose saw them as the silent victims of AIDS. She invited three grannies to a meeting and they told their stories and everyone cried a lot. The next week, there were five, and then there were 10 and there was no more room in Rose’s office. The grannies said they needed help in getting over the loss of their daughters and raising their grandchildren, who were often sad and angry; many of them had been plunged back into poverty. But as they met, and became more confident in their own abilities and shared their knowledge, they started to blossom and become more joyful.

Thomas told the story to minister Gisele Gilfillen, who invited Nina to speak at a morning service. She showed pictures of the East Bank Clinic and told the congregation about Rose, who soon would be attending a conference in Canada. Nina promised to bring Rose to Wakefield. And so, one Saturday night in October 2004, Rose painted a picture of a whole generation of South Africans lost to AIDS and grieving mothers left to carry the burden of raising their grandchildren to be healthy, educated, socially responsible adults. Rose described the 40 Grannies who were meeting at her clinic for sewing classes, gardening and moral support. An impromptu collection raised about $900, but that didn’t seem enough to 81-year-old Norma Geggie. She wanted to do more.

When Norma happened to meet Nina and Rose the next day, she asked “what if a group of women in Wakefield were to partner with these women?” They exchanged e-mail addresses, and Norma began making phone calls. When the Wakefield Grannies met for the first time in November 2004, each drew the name of an Alex Gogo – the Zulu word for grandmother – from a jar. It was the start of a relationship that was both personal, and collective.

The whole community was behind the grannies. They supported fundraising events, sent cheques, and businesses donated money, which was sent to Rose, who decided how it should be spent – for food, sewing equipment, winter blankets and track suits for HIV positive children who are highly susceptible to cold, and occasionally, overnight and weekend breaks for gogos and Alex teens who were heads of their households.

Knowing that grannies on the other side of the world cared so much about them gave the Alex Gogos tremendous hope, and helped dissolve the stigma that often affects such families. Within a year, as people heard about the Wakefield Grannies, other granny groups began in Canada and the United States. In the spring of 2006, the Stephen Lewis Foundation launched a Grandmother to Grandmother campaign that inspired the creation of hundreds of granny groups across Canada, and Lewis came to meet the Wakefield Grannies.

Robert Rooney had been filming the story from the start and soon realized it was a story about women, not about AIDS. In 2006, the Rooneys travelled to South Africa to film the Alex Gogos and then filmed several Wakefield Grannies at the Grandmother to Grandmother gathering. The story came full circle when Rose and three of the Alex gogos visited Wakefield on August 15, 2006. The resulting 80-minute documentary, The Great Granny Revolution, fittingly, had its world premiere in Wakefield on May 5, 2007.

This work is inspiring many younger people. Says one: “If grey-haired old women believe they can impact a change in the world, then why can’t our generation?” Near the end of the film, Rose Letwaba is speaking at the Wakefield United Church. “If everyone was like the people of Wakefield,” she says, “the world would be a better place to live in.”

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Stories of Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference: Kathy McGrane’s Story

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

I would like to tell a story about Jim, my 83-year-old brother in law, married to my oldest sister.  He is the father of six children and many grandchildren.  He has always worked hard to support his family and everyone else can count on him to listen if you need a listener. He is a good man!

Since his retirement he has taken over the pick-up, upkeep and training for his local food shelf. He actually built the shelving, organized the way food is stored, obtained freezers and brings forth volunteers. He is like the great leader and organizer of the food shelf and volunteers.

He personally visited local stores to get food that would otherwise have been sent to landfills. It reached the point that the stores would call him when they had food to be picked up. It was not always food — sometimes there were clothing and other items that had been returned to the stores or the seasonal change items that families might need.

This of course meant many hours sorting food, stocking shelves, obtaining boxes and bags for the food shelf clients. He also spent times in the food shelf assisting the clients. One of his daughters and her husband have picked up some of the work that Jim used to do. Yes, he has slowed down, so he has trained someone to take over.

You know the expiration dates on food? Well in most cases those are dates that it is best to sell the product by. Most products have a shelf life well beyond those dates. He made sure that no food was left without being used. There is a trailer court community not far from his home. Most of the people living there are Hispanic immigrants and low income or no income families. Jim made sure that if the food shelf had dented cans or food that would not be picked up by food shelf clients and to eliminate it from becoming garbage, he personally delivered it to the trailer court community with no questions asked. The food always disappeared.

Jim is not so healthy anymore. He actually has some severe heart problems. We will find out more about his health this week. He is big hearted, kind and caring about the world around him. He has definitely worked to help his local community. I just want to acknowledge this good man for all of his good work.

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Stories of Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference: Ashleigh Norment’s Story

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

My strongest impressions of ordinary people making a difference come from my life in Portland, Oregon as a senior citizen and as a lesbian woman.  Three years ago my partner and I decided it was time to move to a condo.  We were thrilled to find just the right unit – all on one level, perfect amount of space, great area.  Little did we know we were buying into a real community with a core group of people committed to making life better for each other.  We share monthly potlucks, meet together at the pool at 4pm during the season to share exercise, story-telling and laughter, and actively practice appreciating each other’s differences.

As winter approaches, I made a decision to try to become a bit of a gym rat during this period when it’s hard to be outside.  I attend senior fitness classes 3 times a week at our local gym and am so impressed with how many seniors are taking advantage of this benefit of our insurance policies.  It’s a diverse group of people, one man with Parkinson’s, some with fairly serious arthritis, but people truly help each other to put our aging bodies in perspective, to just do our best and accept what is happening to us.  Our very young instructor is so respectful of who we are and has an awesome playlist – our favorite tunes from our formative years.

The Queer Center here in Portland is a bustling locus of activities that respond to the needs and interests of our diverse community – writing groups, yoga classes, holiday dinners, coffee klatsches, dance classes of many genres, holiday dinners, structured conversations on race, on death and dying, etc.

It’s good to be alive and participate in this abundance.

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Stories of Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference: Alister Linton’s Story

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.  I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

My hero my mother Eudora Linton.

When I was growing up in Trinidad, she showed kindness for all people regardless of their ethnic background, colour, religion, character or their circumstances.  She had an incredible capacity for loving, teaching, serving others; also a deep sense of purpose to uplift and empower those around her.

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Ordinary People Making a Difference: sent in by Ann Epps

This is one of many stories from a wide variety of sources and a multitude of forms contributed by people upon request for my 70th birthday.   They will be posted without editing, with the attribution that was with them.   I will be posting these regularly until they run out next year sometime: if you have others to add, please send them to me.

Mi casa es su casa’: the American welcoming migrants into her home

by Olivia Solon in Denver, Colorado for The Guardian   Tue 16 Oct 2018 05.00 EDT Last modified on Sat 20 Oct 2018 10.30 EDT

At Casa de Paz, Sarah Jackson gives food, shelter, and support to people recently released from a nearby immigrant detention center.

Sarah Jackson of Denver, Colorado built a space for newly released detainees to get back on their feet.

Eight years ago, Sarah Jackson went on an all-expenses paid trip with her church to learn about immigration at the US-Mexico border. At the time, she knew nothing about why people migrate, and viewed it as an opportunity to indulge her wanderlust with a free vacation.

“I was just living my perfect little life,” said the 34-year-old. “I didn’t know immigrant detention centres existed. I didn’t know about families being separated. I didn’t think there were people who were fleeing danger coming to the United States. It was not even a blip on my radar.”

The people she met on that trip – including a man fleeing Mexico after his pregnant fiancee was killed by a gang and a father with no criminal history who was deported from the US after police pulled him over for driving too slowly in a school zone – had such a profound impact on her that she pledged to dedicate her life to helping migrants.

“Over and over the Bible talks about treating the sojourner or immigrant as one of your own,” she told the Guardian, recalling the desperation of those she met at the border. “That’s not how we treat our own.”

Two years later, Casa de Paz (Spanish for “House of Peace”) was born. The Denver-based not-for-profit helps newly released detainees and their families get their feet back on the ground after months of immigration detention – offering a place to stay as well as food, clothing and transportation. It is also Jackson’s home, and guests are treated like family.

“Most of us have a bad impression of America and are not expecting any good from anybody”    32-year-old asylum seeker

Every evening, volunteers make the 15-minute drive to the Aurora Ice detention centre to collect those who have been released, either on bond or because they have won their immigration case, and bring them to the Casa.

The two-story house looks exactly like every other in the tree-lined suburb. At the front door is a mat that reads “home”, with a heart in place of the “o”. Inside, it’s cosy and welcoming, with huge bowls of granola bars and fruit left out on the kitchen counter.

“Everything is ‘mi casa es su casa’,” Jackson said. “If you are hungry, eat. If you are thirsty, drink.”

When the Guardian visited in mid-September, one of the guests, a 32-year-old asylum seeker from central Africa, described his impressions of the Casa after spending seven months in Ice detention.

“Most of us who have passed through the border and the detention centre have a bad impression of America and are not expecting any good from anybody,” he said, over a bowl of chilli con carne that had been brought round by volunteers.

“You are released into this strange place with no money in a country that has treated you poorly. Then you have this home where there’s free food, clothes, everything,” he added. “It is really amazing.”

Downstairs there are two guest bedrooms – one for men and one for women – with brightly coloured quilts on top of bunk beds. Upstairs there’s a room for families. On each of the 12 beds is a handwritten welcome note from a Casa volunteer, as well as a bag of travel-sized toiletries, a backpack and a towel.

Since guests are released from the detention centre wearing the outfit they were arrested in, the Casa also has closets filled with donated clothes for them to choose from, as well as shoelaces to replace those confiscated at the detention centre as a suicide hazard.

So far, more than 1,400 people from 23 different countries have stayed at the Casa, the vast majority asylum seekers from Central America. They can stay for up to three days although most leave sooner, eager to meet up with family or friends elsewhere in the United States.

Jackson, who has a day job selling software to churches, came up with an unusual funding model: volleyball. Each season, between 70 and 80 teams of six pay $250 each to participate in the “Volleyball Internacional” league that Jackson, a keen player herself, founded in Denver. All proceeds go towards the Casa’s rent and running expenses.

Zero tolerance, the subject of a major Guardian investigation this week, hit the Casa de Paz hard. Typically guests are happy to be released from detention, but over the summer they would arrive distraught and desperate to track down the children they’d been separated from within a system that wasn’t effectively keeping track of them.

“It was extremely difficult to sit with people who were having a nervous breakdown over their missing children,” she added.

She recalls one Salvadoran mother who was trying to find her detained son by giving a physical description to a not-for-profit.

“She was saying, ‘He’s tall, he’s thin. He has dark hair and dark skin. He’s a quiet boy and he’s funny.’ That’s how they were trying to locate these children,” said Jackson.

During those months, the volunteers went into overdrive, raising money to bail parents out, connecting them with attorneys who could help track down their children and buying plane tickets to get them home.

Jackson found the lack of empathy for detainees among some members of her community troubling.

“If your response to hearing that we were putting babies in jail – babies – is to question whether they are here legally, then it’s going to be hard to find any common ground,” she said. “The majority of these people are not criminals. They are coming here to ask for their human right to asylum. They weren’t breaking the law.”

That doesn’t stop anti-immigration trolls from targeting Jackson and the Casa online. She doesn’t have a sign on the outside of the house to avoid any harassment from passersby.

She tries to educate people where she can, inviting them for dinner to meet with the guests. Still, it’s an uphill battle – a member of her church recently told her that a “solution” to immigration would be for the government to put crocodiles in the rivers at the border.

For those not moved by her appeals to Christian values, Jackson also calls on American values.

“It’s important for citizens of this country to understand that our government has had a direct impact on the instability of these countries. In a sense we’ve created a lot of these conditions forcing people to flee,” she said.

One silver lining to zero tolerance has been the surge in volunteers and donations, particularly as family separations hit the headlines. The Casa’s garage is stacked high with boxes of toiletries, clothes, cans of food, cellphones (which are topped up and given to guests) and bags.

On the evening the Guardian visited, at least 12 volunteers turned up at different points, some bringing food and groceries, others turning up to clean the bedrooms or assist the guests. When the Casa was filled to capacity over the summer, some of them even open up their homes to asylees.

Jackson is about third of the way through raising $400,000 to buy a bigger house next to the detention centre. Without rent to pay, the money from the volleyball league can go towards paying someone to staff the house all day, which will allow Casa de Paz to help more people.

Part of Jackson’s motivation comes from keeping and reading letters written by former guests, thanking her and the rest of the volunteers. “We read them to remember the impact our small acts of love can have on this world,” she said.

She translates part of one of the notes, handwritten on an A4 sheet of paper, surrounded by a border of hearts doodled in pink felt-tip pen. “I feel that God gave me Casa de Paz because he didn’t want me to get a bad impression of Americans.”

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