Peter Taylor’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Peter Taylor, Boston, USA, 19 November 2018

I am grateful for the influence of ICA Toronto. ICA has informed and inspired my running of events that affirm Ordinary-People-Making-a-Difference principles, especially: “There is insight in every response. We know more than we are, at first, prepared or able to acknowledge. When we are heard, we can better hear others and hear ourselves.” Here are two relevant stories; both about processes that followed the death of a family member.

Twenty years ago, at a wake for a family member who suicided, I took the opportunity to lead a go-around in which everyone said one thing they appreciated about the person and one thing they had difficulty with. Even the youngest relative there, a 9-year old, had clear things to say on both counts. Speaking and listening allowed us to acknowledge the ambiguity of losing someone whose mental health issues had challenged each of us: when and how do we stay involved and when do we step back and care for ourselves?

Three years ago, after my wife, Ann, died from ovarian cancer, we had a pot-luck party, which is what she had requested instead of a funeral. I asked guests to “introduce yourself to someone you don’t know and share what it meant to have Ann in your lives.” Each hour, starting at 11 in the morning and going into the evening, I rang a bell and for ten minutes people took turns to reflect or share a simple story “that captures how having Ann in your life has influenced you.” I had actually started this process nine months earlier so friends and family members could write when visits weren’t possible. But Ann thought the notes sounded like eulogies—“I am not dead yet!” was her retort—so I archived them on a private blog. After her death, I asked for permission to make the blog contributions public then added condolence notes and audio recordings from the party and two memorial events. At some point I wondered if blogs could be downloaded into a word file—yes. I realized the steady assembling of small contributions was adding up to material for a book. A few months later, audio recordings transcribed, cover and interior style designed by a former student, photos selected, and copies scanned of 14 years of letters Ann had written to a friend as young adults while they both worked to become writers (and etc.) became Ann(ie) Blum in Our Liveshttp://bit.ly/ABIOL2016).

At first, I called it a “memorial book” for Ann, but then I saw that the blog from which the book emerged was my way of allowing many people to have their voice. And for that voice to be one heard by a community, not only by the immediate family receiving the condolence notes. But why do people need to have their voice heard in a community? At first I thought I was giving recognition to the fact that many people were grieving Ann, not just me, her partner of 30 years.

But then I saw that the value of people having their voice heard in a community is that we—this includes me—have very partial narratives about what the loss of someone means for their lives. We say something—such as “I so miss her” or “Cancer sucks” or “I’m doing as well as can be expected”—but we know there’s more to what we are feeling. Things that are hard to articulate, things that are hard to know whether this is the person and the time to explore it with. So those things often get left un(der) explored; we just carry on. The book allowed, however, readers to bring their own thoughts to the surface through hearing the partial things others were able to say, to give voice to. And also to learn more, which adds to those thoughts. In that way, there is more play, more processing of what each reader wants to carry forward as part of their own lives.

Although these two stories revolve around deaths, they are also stories in which allowing everyone’s voices to be raised contributes to people making a difference to the life-direction-making of themselves and others.

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Nadine Bell’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Linda Evans got involved in organ donation efforts when her husband needed a transplant 10 years ago or he would die. The hospital he was in said they could not get him the organ he needed and he should write his will and make funeral arrangements . Rather than stand by and let that happen, Linda moved heaven and earth to find a viable alternative. Mayo Clinic in Florida gave Gary a second chance at life and the transplant was successful. Ever since that time, Linda has dedicated some of her efforts to enlisting people to donate organs so that no one ever has to go through what she and Gary did.

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 are 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.

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Melody Scherubel’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

This is a story one of my hospice clients told me.

She and her husband took in a young (around 7-8 yrs old) multi-racial boy.  He was around the age of her grandchildren, so she told him he was one of her grandsons.

She found out he was being made fun of and bullied on the school bus.   So the next day she escorted him to the school bus and got on with him.  She faced the children and said:  “hi kids (small town, they all knew her)—this is my grandson, Johnny (not real name).   Will you all be friends with him and include him in your games.”

No more problems.  A beautiful solution.

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 are 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.

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Mireille Menard’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Three Stories from Sudbury, Ontario

Léo Therrien

I first met Léo when I was in High School. I was volunteering for the Red Cross and he was working with Development et Paix, a faith based social justice organisation whose aim is to improve living and working conditions of people around the world. With a team of volunteers, we organised the first Rich Man Poor Man Dinner in Sudbury.

After that, he worked with Contact Interculturel Sudbury, an organisation that works on welcoming and helping newcomers to the community. He also started Village International; Sudbury’s equivalent to Ten Thousand Villages.

In 2000, he moved on to Maison La Paix; a supervised housing unit for people living with HIV-AIDS. He accompanied a few of his clients in their last days and was deeply touched by this experience. Seeing a great need for a Palliative care facility in Northeastern Ontario, in 2007, he gathered community support and spearheaded a project to create a Hospice for those at the end of their lives. Since 2008, he has been Executive Director of the only Palliative care facility in Sudbury. His next project is adding a space for respite care to the facility.

Léo is recognised for his dedication to the community and to those in need. He is a soft spoken man who can convince anyone to participate in any initiative he undertakes.

Suzanne and Denis Benard

Suzanne and Denis are central members in our parish. But they are so humble and discrete that you woudn’t know it. And that pretty much describes all of their life together. Over the past 30 years, they significantly touched the lives of dozen’s of children. But to look at them and speak with them, you woudn’t know it because they don’t think of themselves as exceptional. They just do what needs to be done. Here is their story.

Suzanne was one of the oldest of a large family in our parish. I went to school with her youngest sister. When I was about 11 or 12, Suzanne asked me to babysit her three girls and that’s when I got the priviledge to meet one of the most amazing and inspiring couples I know.

While raising their daughters, Suzanne and Denis opened their home and arms to other children who needed love and stability. Thirty years ago, they became a foster-family. They even adopted one of the children who came to them.

This little girl had suffered severe neglect as an infant and toddler. At almost four years of age, she could hardly walk, she didn’t speak, she was malnourished and was still in diapers. If you saw this confident 30 year old today, you would never know the hardships she went through. Yes, she is intellectually challenged and has significant health issues. And thanks to the love and patience of this family unit, she has flourished. Today, this girl who coudn’t speak is fluently bilingual and is an active volunteer in her community. This is only one example of how this family significantly touched a life. But there are many more stories of children they touched and transformed.   

It wasn’t always easy. They overcame great difficulties. At 10, their middle child developed anorexia, Suzanne struggled with a recurring cancer and more recently, Denis was operated for cancer also. But regardless of all of these hardships, they persevere. They are in their 60s and have three foster children as well as their adopted daughter living with them. And at Christmas, the table is always full as many of the foster children come back to be with family.  

Lucy Labelle-Clarke

I’m not sure what was in the well water on their farm, but Lucy is one of Suzanne’s younger sisters. Now in her 50’s, as a young woman, she trained as a pediatric nurse specializing in critical care.

Knowing that many children were not adopted because of health problems, she and her husband decided to give a permanent home to some of these children instead of having their own. They adopted three children with disabilities who are now caring and responsible teenagers and young adults. Fifteen years ago, she and her husband also became a foster home for preemies and newborns with mild to severe health issues.   

Imagine what that entails. As young parents, we are told that the sleepless nights only last a little while because babies grow. But they always had a newborn in their midst. Not only getting up at all hours for feedings and diaper changes, and colics, but also getting attached to these little beings and then having to let them go. Driving from Sudbury to Toronto or Ottawa for endless medical appointments and operations with pediatric specialists.  

Two years ago, Lucy’s husband passed away. Her 85 year old mother moved in with her and together, they keep on caring for babies and young children with health issues.   

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 are 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.

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Marci Sharle’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

One happened just this morning as I was driving my daughter to school. Marena is my 15 year old daughter and we were on our way to school and work, driving slowly on the icy roads after a major over night snow fall that continued through the day today. As we slowed to a real crawl we exclaimed ‘ok what the heck is the problem up there??!!’  It turned out to be a fellow in a Jeep that had spun around half way and hit the curb. He had one tire on the curb and was trying to back up. Both our lanes of traffic stopped and gave him plenty of room to try and back up on his own. It appeared he wasn’t going to get very far as his wheels were spinning. Marena and I watched this unfold, and I said ‘oh someone just needs to give him a little push’ and just like that, a fellow who was walking down the street toward the bus stop began pushing. Soon another fellow joined him and the Jeep was back on the road, heading the correct direction, and everyone was on the move again slowly and carefully. Marena and I cheered and she said to me, ‘Mom, I love Canada!  That was the most Canadian thing I have ever seen!’  This warmed our hearts today – and it was SO simple!!!

The other story I have is from the most recent Facilitation exercise I have been involved with. Our Unit is part of the process design and facilitation of the Alberta PDD Review (persons with developmental disabilities). Meaning that we are going around the province with the Panel (independent people appointed by the Minister) to review the PDD program, listen to stakeholders and draft recommendations for improving the PDD system (engagement sessions are being held all across the province for the month of November and into December; we are talking with service providers, parents/caregivers, government workers and people who are PDD recipients and as such have developmental disabilities. We planned a process that can work for listening to all these groups). Anyhow, the other day while in one of the rural Alberta communities, there was a fellow who receives PDD assistance from the province who attended one of our sessions. He was SO thrilled with the opportunity to share his ideas. He engaged in each and every activity we had designed to make sure that his voice was heard. And his special idea that he emphasized throughout the process was: ‘talk to me. I have ideas. We all need to work together. And people just want their needs to be met.’  There was no more powerful input than that in all the people within the system. This said it all and said everything. From someone who receives the PDD program assistance. Now we just need to make that simple request happen – listen to the people and meet their needs. That’s all. 

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Linda Zahrt’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

My favourite person these years is Kenny Furlong, Carson City and County Nevada Sheriff. This man goes way beyond his official duties to assist whomever and wherever he is needed.  Kenny, as he is known by all, loves his hometown and knows its gifts and problems, and it shows.

Here are some examples:  Kenny shows up at Pioneer High to learn the names and encourage these alternative students to strive for heir goals, and he is always there at their graduation.  He does the same for the Capitol City C.i.R.C.L.E.S. Inititave, which is “Building Self-Sufficiency, One Family at a Time”.  And, I have encountered Kenny late at night checking on the volunteers who are sheltering the homeless in their churches during the winter.

For many years Carson City citizens have been attending the Sheriff’s Academy, a ten-week course which is held once or twice a year.  The mission is to keep the sheriff’s office transparent and bring personal and community safety awareness to the fore.

Kenny is very approachable for anyone to bring a complaint or suggestion.  One goal has been finding alternative places for the mentally ill rather than the jail.  Concerned social and medical groups worked with him over several years, and now we have a new behavioral crisis center.

This year Kenny brought in an expert on working with female inmates to assist the whole Sheriff’s Department to better understand the disparity between men and women when confronted by the law.  The instructor gave stories from her practice of the kinds of abuse and desperation the women have had.  She answered the deputies’ questions, such as what helps to calm the situation when a woman must be arrested.

These are just some of the examples that I know about my friend, who, by the way, is a Republican.

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 are 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.

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Joan Knutsen’s Story: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

The Paradise (CA) girls’ volleyball team had a championship game set for Saturday, the 10th, but had lost all of their uniforms and equipment in the fire. The girls said they still wanted to attend the game up in Auburn, CA regardless of not having the proper equipment.

Upon arrival, the opposing Auburn team had made each of the girls uniforms, purchased them new shoes and pads! Not only that, they made them a meal after the game, provided each girl with a $300 gift card, gave each girl a large bag of supplies and clothing. Then they presented the team with $16,000 they had raised for them!!!

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 are 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.

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Jeanette Stanfield’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

Nunavut

Inuit students are learning how to monitor climate shifts in their homeland.  They work with researchers over a number of years to see the change in ………. Over a number of years.  They are learning skills they can use in jobs in the future.

Cape Town – a very segregated city

Young people are taking children from a very poor black housing district to the beach and ocean.  They are teaching them to surf and swim.  Most of these students have never been out of their community and have never been by the ocean or downtown Cape Town.  Opens up vision of future possibilities and learn new skllls.

Brazil – Amazon

Young adults becoming caretakers of the UNESCO Reserve (huge area) – They patrol waters and there are special projects by young veterinarians to care for endangered species.

South Africa – remote corners

Wildlife census  with loads of live cameras, citizen scientists around the world – students etc. are analyzing videos to learn about the large animals in particular habitats

This is 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 are 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.

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Jane Stallman’s Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

A Taste of Ecuador or should I say Ecuadorians

I want to share a bit about my experience in Ecuador, a few things that seem to capture the spirit of the people, the country. There are many more I could easily add.

Acts of Kindness

Yesterday, a bit weakened from a flu bug, I lugged a 50 lb suitcase up the street to a corner where it was easier to get a taxi. My goal was to put a few things in my new apartment that would make it more like a Jane home. Taxis were busy but it taken me too long to flag one down. The taxi driver opens his trunk but was positioned in a way he couldn’t easily get out of the cab to help me. I go to put the behemoth into the trunk when a man appears to help. He was standing by the corner tiende just behind me, someone I had not  noticed. He puts the suitcase in the trunk, smiles at me and goes back to the tienda. No request on my part. No looking totally helpless. Just an observant Ecuadorian aware that I needed help and graciously giving it. 

When I get to my apartment, the taxi stops and the rather old taxi driver gets out and takes my suitcase out before I could do it. As he does, the guard at the gate of the apartment unlocks the gate and comes out and gets the suitcase. He walks me into the apartment to the elevator and makes certain that I know how to get to my apartment, “Seis Say” or 6 C. 

Shortly after I get into the apartment, open the windows and begin to unpack the suitcase, the doorbell rings. Such a thrill to hear my doorbell ring. It was the man mopping the building entrance floor. He is in charge of building maintenance. He introduced himself. I invited him in. He checked to make certain the gas in the stove was working and that I knew how to use the stove (not an easy thing) and then he checked to make certain that I had water in the apartment, particularly hot water. He left letting me know to contact him if I needed him. 

In the midst of the craziness and divisiveness in the US, I was grateful for so many simple acts of kindness I experienced in just one morning in Cuenca, Ecuador. I think I will like my new home. 

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 are 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.

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Jan Sanders’ Stories: Ordinary People Making a Positive Difference

The Jon S. Randal Peace Page

On July 31, 1968, a young, black man was reading the newspaper when he saw something that he had never seen before. With tears in his eyes, he started running and screaming throughout the house, calling for his mom. He would show his mom, and, she would gasp, seeing something she thought she would never see in her lifetime. Throughout the nation, there were similar reactions.

What they saw was Franklin Armstrong’s first appearance on the iconic comic strip “Peanuts.” Franklin would be 50 years old this year.

Franklin was “born” after a school teacher, Harriet Glickman, had written a letter to creator Charles M. Schulz after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot to death outside his Memphis hotel room.

Glickman, who had kids of her own and having worked with kids, was especially aware of the power of comics among the young. “And my feeling at the time was that I realized that black kids and white kids never saw themselves [depicted] together in the classroom,” she would say.

She would write, “Since the death of Martin Luther King, ‘I’ve been asking myself what I can do to help change those conditions in our society which led to the assassination and which contribute to the vast sea of misunderstanding, hate, fear and violence.’”

Glickman asked Schulz if he could consider adding a black character to his popular comic strip, which she hoped would bring the country together and show people of color that they are not excluded from American society.

She had written to others as well, but the others feared it was too soon, that it may be costly to their careers, that the syndicate would drop them if they dared do something like that.

Charles Schulz did not have to respond to her letter, he could have just completely ignored it, and everyone would have forgotten about it. But, Schulz did take the time to respond, saying he was intrigued with the idea, but wasn’t sure whether it would be right, coming from him, he didn’t want to make matters worse, he felt that it may sound condescending to people of color.

Glickman did not give up, and continued communicating with Schulz, with Schulz surprisingly responding each time. She would even have black friends write to Schulz and explain to him what it would mean to them and gave him some suggestions on how to introduce such a character without offending anyone. This conversation would continue until one day, Schulz would tell Glickman to check her newspaper on July 31, 1968.

On that date, the cartoon, as created by Schulz, shows Charlie Brown meeting a new character, named Franklin. Other than his color, Franklin was just an ordinary kid who befriends and helps Charlie Brown. Franklin also mentions that his father was “over at Vietnam.” At the end of the series, which lasted three strips, Charlie invites Franklin to spend the night one day so they can continue their friendship. [The original comic strip of Charlie Brown meeting Franklin is attached in the initial comments below, the picture attached here is Franklin meeting the rest of the Peanuts, including Linus. I just thought this was a good re-introduction of Franklin to the rest of the world – “I’m very glad to know you.”

There was no big announcement, there was no big deal, it was just a natural conversation between two kids, whose obvious differences did not matter to them. And, the fact that Franklin’s father was fighting for this country was also a very strong statement by Schulz.

Although Schulz never made a big deal over the inclusion of Franklin, there were many fans, especially in the South, who were very upset by it and that made national news. One Southern editor even said, “I don’t mind you having a black character, but please don’t show them in school together.”

It would eventually lead to a conversation between Schulz and the president of the comic’s distribution company, who was concerned about the introduction of Franklin and how it might affect Schulz’ popularity. Many newspapers during that time had threatened to cut the strip.

Schulz’ response: “I remember telling Larry at the time about Franklin — he wanted me to change it, and we talked about it for a long while on the phone, and I finally sighed and said, “Well, Larry, let’s put it this way: Either you print it just the way I draw it or I quit. How’s that?”

Eventually, Franklin became a regular character in the comic strips, and, despite complaints, Franklin would be shown sitting in front of Peppermint Patty at school and playing center field on her baseball team.

More recently, Franklin is brought up on social media around Thanksgiving time, when the animated 1973 special “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” appears. Some people have blamed Schulz for showing Franklin sitting alone on the Thanksgiving table, while the other characters sit across him. But, Schulz did not have the same control over the animated cartoon on a television network that he did on his own comic strip in the newspapers.

But, he did have control over his own comic strip, and, he courageously decided to make a statement because of one brave school teacher who decided to ask a simple question.

Glickman would explain later that her parents were “concerned about others, and the values that they instilled in us about caring for and appreciating everyone of all colors and backgrounds — this is what we knew when we were growing up, that you cared about other people . . . And so, during the years, we were very aware of the issues of racism and civil rights in this country [when] black people had to sit at the back of the bus, black people couldn’t sit in the same seats in the restaurants that you could sit . . . Every day I would see, or read, about black children trying to get into school and seeing crowds of white people standing around spitting at them or yelling at them . . . and the beatings and the dogs and the hosings and the courage of so many people in that time.”

Because of Glickman, because of Schulz, people around the world were introduced to a little boy named Franklin.

Bill Belcamino

November 22 at 10:05 AM ·

So I have to share this story. As the fire engulfed my hometown of Paradise, this 93 yr old woman lost power and phone and the fire was about to overtake her. Her garbage man, despite being told by his route supervisor to evacuate immediately, decided to drive back into the flames and run his route and see if any of his elderly customers were in trouble. She was pretty immobile, recovering from a broken back and she stood in front of her house, waiting to die. Then she saw, out of the smoke, her garbage truck driver come into view (her words) – “in his giant green monster” racing to check on the people along his normal route. He stopped and knew he would probably lose his job for letting someone ride in his truck as that violated company policy, but despite that he gently helped her climb in. As they raced to safety through the flames (her words) – “It was like we were entering the bowels of Hell.” He found out that she had no family nearby and had nowhere to go. His supervisor heard this story and refused to let her go to a shelter. She now lives with him and his wife and their four kids… and that ain’t changing any time soon.. Her words to him on inside edition “You are the most wonderful creature that God produced” Say what you want, but he is hero. As a friend commented below… “this is the America that I believe in.” Love 1 – Hate 0. Love wins. #paradise

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 are 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.

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