Archive for ‘Featured stories’

January 5, 2014

EDDIE BAUER AND THE SWINGING STAR (A short story) – by Jeffrey Hillard

Editor’s note:  “Eddie Bauer and the Swinging Star” is a short story that will be part of a fiction writing workshop to be held in 2014 in an Ohio prison. It is a Young Adult short story

***

The girl behind the stage curtain was not anxious to perform her role tonight. Her name was Genine, and she looked over her shoulder to see if Eddie Bauer was nearby.

He was.

Eddie Bauer stood about ten feet behind Genine, staring into a small oval mirror, combing his thick brown hair. Much of the hair on the back of his head still stood up, as if frozen in place. He didn’t glance at Genine or anyone else. It was a case of Eddie- intent-on-Eddie in that mirror. Eddie played the role of one of the three Wise Men in the church’s performance of “The Christmas Story” for the community.

Genine played the role of Mary. Tonight was the first of three performances. Eddie already knew that he had made a lasting impression on the cast and especially Genine. He’d instilled his strange kind of presence; not only did he continually and jokingly taunt Genine, but he had been reprimanded three times just in the last week. Eddie had taken one of the large foam stars hanging from a thin rope – the largest star, the Star of Bethlehem – aimed it at Genine, and pushed the star into her Mary costume, knocking her slightly off balance.

“I’ll have none of that, Eddie,” said Mr. Stipple, the director. “Sit in that first row and don’t move until I tell you to. Do not look at Genine. Do not look at anyone. Look at me or at the pianist. Do not make faces. And be still. Got it?”

“Just joking, Mr. Stipple,” Eddie said. “It’s only a fake star.”

“It’s not a joke to Genine,” Mr. Stipple said. “It’s also the second time you’ve almost ripped one of the points on the star.”

Eddie looked back at Genine and saw her eyes tearing up. They were fourth-grade students at JohnHookElementary School and, unfortunately, they did sit close to each other in science and math class. Their teacher had warned last week that she would move Genine to another table if Eddie pinched her shoulder one more time on his way to the teacher’s desk.

Tonight, Genine stepped out from behind the curtain and paused. She looked out at the small crowd before sitting next to the manger. She became very confident all of the sudden. She loved the stage and any little acting role her school or church could offer. Then she saw Eddie next to the curtain, pointing upward to the largest foam star, nearly the size of a wide screen television. Eddie smiled at Genine. She did not smile back.

Eddie walked up to one of the other shepherds, Tony Gill. “Genine thinks I’ll pull down the star and toss it during the real performance,” Eddie said. “How funny is that? I can’t believe she thinks that.”

“I’ll give you my five dollars if you do,” Tony whispered.

“I can’t,” Eddie said. “I can’t mess with the star. My family’s here. I’d better not get in trouble.”

“I don’t have five dollars anyway,” Tony said.

In the car on the drive home, Eddie’s father patted him on the knee and complimented his performance. “Those Wise Men were really the stars of the show,” he said. “You guys hardly moved a muscle. The Wise Men were the only company Mary and Joseph had way back in that day, except for the animals. Imagine some Wise Men coming into a stable after all those miles of traveling and smelling those old animals.”

“I only have one line in the play, so I’m bored,” Eddie said.

“But that’s why you Wise Men are the stars,” his father said. “You don’t need to say anything. You just look important. A good actor has presence on stage.”

“I’d rather have stuff to say,” Eddie said.

“You don’t want to take chances,” his father said. “Look at cowboy John Wayne. He just preferred to sit high on his horse’s saddle and tilt his cowboy hat. He looked cool just sitting on a horse. John Wayne didn’t need to say a word.”

Eddie thought more about Genine, who played Mary. She had quite a few memorable lines, and she handled them gracefully, as though she had much acting experience. Genine was the best performer in their class, even though she was shy and polite. She never came off as seeming more important than others. She did not draw attention to herself. She was the vice president of elementary student council and would be president by the sixth grade, Eddie thought.

Eddie sensed, of course, that his playing practical jokes on Genine would bring her out of her shyness. Genine’s utter surprise at knowing the star was being flung right toward her made her jerk. When Eddie first tossed the foam star at her two weeks ago at rehearsal and realized that Genine did not see it coming, Eddie thought the sound of her shrieking was beautiful. The star had not been hung on a metal beam yet, although one star point was tied to the rope. Eddie tossed it from behind the stage curtain at a quiet dramatic moment, when the Joseph character was praying next to Mary. Eddie was warned then by Mr. Stipple not to do it again. But Eddie enjoyed hearing Genine’s voice and her shrieking, and he was not a boy to follow directions very carefully.

*  *   *

The morning after the first public performance, when Eddie went downstairs for breakfast, his mother told him to sit down. “I have news for you,” she said to him. Eddie listened to his mother describe an early morning phone call from Mr. Stipple. At first, Eddie thought he might be in trouble, but Mr. Stipple had the matter of a car accident on his mind.

Of course, it had been raining last night and the streets were slick, as Eddie could easily remember. But when his mother said that the car accident involved Genine and her mother, his mind became jammed with images of Genine: the foam star, the string, Genine crouching as the foam star Eddie tossed nicked her head, Genine in her Mary costume, and Mr. Stipple’s knobby finger pointed at him.

“Genine is ok,” his mother said. “She just got bruised up and probably broke her arm.”

“Will she still be Mary?”

“That I don’t know,” his mother said. “I doubt it.”

“Her mother ok?”

“Her mother got pretty banged up. She’s going to be in the hospital a few days. She had severe whiplash.”

“I guess they couldn’t get out of the way of the other car,” Eddie said.

“The other car skidded into them,” his mother said. “The driver ran a stop sign, according to Mr. Stipple.”

After Eddie put his dishes in the sink, a strange moment occurred. He looked up and saw his father in the doorway with his car keys. To Eddie, his father seemed to be reading his mind. Quietly standing there, dangling the keys on his thumbs, his father smiled. Eddie immediately felt as if he knew what his father’s next move would be. He felt drawn toward his father’s calmness and Eddie’s eyes focused on the car keys.

“Let’s go see Genine for five minutes and cheer her up,” his father said.

“I was thinking something like that,” Eddie said. “It’s funny you were sort of thinking the same thing.”

“And then you can say, ‘Sorry about the star tossing, and I hope you get better real fast.’ You got that?” his father said.

“Sure.”

Genine looked groggy when Eddie and his father first walked in the hospital room. Her mother was in the room next to her. She said a polite hello and looked mildly shocked that she had visitors this early in the day. His father had stopped by the grocery store to get her a rose and Eddie placed it in a narrow vase they brought from home.

“It’s pretty, and I’ll take it home,” Genine said.

“Sorry about tossing those stars at you during practice,” Eddie said. He looked over toward the silent television and nearly felt the urge to leave.

“I guess we all did a good job last night,” Genine said. “Did you sign any autographs on the programs?”

“One. It was my mother’s program.”

Eddie’s father brought Genine a glass of water and said he hoped the family could sign her arm cast one day soon. When they left Genine’s room, Eddie and his father looked in to see if Genine’s mother was awake, but she was sleeping.

*   *   *

The small church auditorium was full to capacity for the third night’s performance two days after the car accident. Baby Jesus in the manger tonight was a doll wrapped in a white blanket. Genine shifted the doll a few inches with here her right hand. She was careful not to jostle her left arm which was in a cast and sling. No one had yet signed her cast, as Eddie had detected before the show.

Each of the cast members seemed even more attentive to their roles than the night before. They’d gained energy with this second performance. No one forgot his or her lines. No one stumbled. Joseph’s character did not giggle tonight. One of the shepherds did not sneeze as he had done last night. Their Christmas songs were sung clearly and the carolers stayed in rhythm with the piano melodies.

And as Eddie Bauer, a Wise Man, looked up at the shiny foam star on a rope above the manger, Eddie could see the ten or twelve very large ‘G’s he had inscribed all around the thick side of the star. Eddie had asked his parents to drive him to the church auditorium a half-hour early. He explained that he wanted to write the initial ‘G’ around the side of the star, the same way baseball players write the jersey number of an injured player who’s not playing on their jersey sleeves or ball caps.

“It will be a nice surprise for her,” he had told his parents and Mr. Stipple.

“Here’s a thick black marker,” Mr. Stipple said. “Go to it. But don’t ruin the star’s face, Edward.” Mr. Stipple paced nervously around the stage, adjusting ornaments and the set features, only half-paying attention to Eddie or his parents.

After the performance, Genine handed the star to her father who waited for her by the stage. “Let’s go take this to mom,” she said. “Eddie said his father will make a new star for the last show tomorrow.”

“We can hang it above your mother’s bed,” her father said. “It’s a pretty big one.”

The star was so awkward that Genine’s father needed two hands to carry it. Eddie followed them out to the car and helped Genine’s father maneuver the foam star neatly into the trunk.

“We’ll sign your cast tomorrow, right?” Eddie said.

“Right. But don’t forget to bring that new star,” Genine said. “Try to make it as big as this one in the trunk.”

Copyright © 2009 by Jeffrey Hillard

____________

Jeffrey Hillard’s new book is ICE SCULPTURE IN THE DESERT: Short Stories to Enrich Your Prayer Life.  It is available at http://www.amazon.com

He has also recently published STORY’S TRIUMPH: Mining Your Creative Writing for Its Deepest Riches.  It is also available at http://www.amazon.com

 

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December 11, 2013

Maurice Clarett: ESPN Interview

This excellent interview with former football star for The Ohio State University, Maurice Clarett, aired on ESPN radio’s SVP & Russillo Show on Wednesday, December 11, 2013.

Here’s the link to the program: SVP & Russillo.

It was heartening to hear Clarett describe the positive life changes he has adopted since his prison sentence ended not long ago. Talk about transformation and healthy life-choices made in recent years: the former thug and potential N.F.L. star spelled out the positive changes he’s embraced that can be traced back to the sequence of infractions and crimes that culminated in his prison sentence.

During his football heyday at O.S.U., Clarett was involved in multiple questionable life-choices, which endangered not only the lives of others around him but his own life.

Clarett very capably describes the moments when the fortress of collegiate stardom came tumbling down. This is a must-listen-to segment. Cudos to Scott Van Pelt and Ryan Russillo for inviting Clarett into the ESPN studio.

Clarett is featured in the upcoming ESPN 30 for 30 series documentary, “Youngstown Boys.”  The documentary airs Saturday, December 14.

 

December 10, 2013

The Irrepressible Line in Your Poetry (by Jeffrey Hillard)

** The following is also a free bonus article for those that purchased my ebook, STORY’S TRIUMPH: Mining Your Creative Writing for Its Deepest Riches on http://www.Amazon.com.

Several years ago, I taught this session to female inmates at Franklin Pre-Release Center, a prison that formerly housed female inmates.

______________________

Breaks Away

The kind of attention that poets give to a poem’s individual lines is often a source of great frustration. We write the poem. We “get it all out.” We hurry to write. We think the poem contains most all of what it intends to say. Maybe we’ve spent hours on it. Perhaps even days. And we stare at the poem repeatedly and think, “These lines don’t seem right. They’re lacking in something. They don’t feel true to the poem. How can this poem get more from its individual lines?”

There is not an easy answer to this question.

The options for line lengths and breaks are many. The way a poem “appears” on the page becomes a subjective decision, especially if you’re writing in free verse, with no dependency on a particular form.

With the free verse line – which is what we’ll focus on here – there are seemingly unlimited ways to arrange a line. Still, in getting the most out of your lines, you must ask: what does this poem want? What does this poem need?

Since Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, and so many others proved that a poem’s strength can be derived from close attention to the poetic line, let’s examine several ways that a poem can achieve more interesting energy and fluidity.

Free Verse

When writing free verse, for example, it’s easy to get lost in the over-arching feel of the poem, in its grand, free development. But, as some poets have complained, their subject matter may not be that interesting because there lines have “the blahs.”

John Hollander writes in “Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse” that “since a line may be determined in almost any way, and since lines may be grouped on the page in any fashion, it is the mode of variation itself which is significant.” I strongly agree. Let’s look at this variation in poems by three poets who give major attention to energizing a poem’s lines.

I like to use the phrase, “manipulating the line.” Two basic options for “manipulating” rise to the forefront: one is allowing poetic lines to achieve immediacy. By immediacy, I mean that a poetic line reflects a sort of spontaneity. It may put the reader’s attention greatly on the line’s end word(s). A second option is to emphasize more rhythm; this is especially true with longer lines.

The lines that achieve immediacy, where momentum can gather quickly from the middle to end of the line, are usually short lines. Take this excerpt from the poem, “Money,” from the book Split Horizon by Thomas Lux. Look at the energy his lines generate. Look at Lux’s attention toward the end word in these lines:

“A paper product. We say it’s green

but it’s not, it’s slate green, drained green.

New, it smells bad

but we like to sniff it

and when we have a relative pile

we not only want to inhale it but also look at it,

hear it buzz

as we work with our thumbs

its corners like a deck of cards.”

There is no mistaking the energy in these lines. The breaks seem arbitrary, and maybe they are, but notice how the senses of sight and smell are emphasized. The references to money as “smells bad,” “it,” “pile,” and “it” create an urgent image – and not a positive one – in the reader’s mind. The “paper product” itself presented here almost has an eerie human feel to it. These nine lines contain only one full sentence (“A paper product” being a fragment). But it’s not a sentence that drones on. It is crisp and controlled, and it has the freshness of spontaneity.

The same can be said of this excerpt from the poem, “The Winged Eye,” by Beckian Fritz Goldberg. She goes for a similar immediacy, although her line lengths are not as jagged. Consider these lines:

“We sit in the garden where lips

purse in the snapdragons. A chicken

lands on his arm leaving its claw

print in his skin like creases in the cardboard

seal of a cereal box

pressed beneath a thumb.”

In this poem, the speaker imagines being cast into hell. In the poem the devil actually reads a book to the speaker. The speaker is entranced by the devil’s calmness. In these lines, notice how the poem emphasizes the chicken, claw, cardboard, box, and thumb. The mystery of the devil’s physical presence is expressed in the way one simple sentence is broken: “A chicken/lands….” To break the subject and verb here energizes those lines and keeps momentum happening. The break of “cardboard/seal” is a poetic strategy called “enjambment,” which means jamming one line, basically, into the next line. This mostly occurs when end-words presented as subjects and verbs or adjectives and nouns are broken.

Rhythm of the Night – and Day

Other than for immediacy and abruptness, shape your lines for rhythm. You may want to mix line lengths, for example, to vary a certain rhythm in a poem. The poet Belle Waring concentrates on blending long lines with short lines in most of her poems in her book, “Dark Blonde.”  Here is an excerpt from her poem, “Shots”:

“…but in the ambulance, he codes, and then, in the ER

with the furious swirl of personnel, crash cart rumbling up, curtains

snatched to shield him from the drive-bys and the drunks,

the boy expired.

Measles encephalitis.

He never got his shots.”

Waring shows how the longer line more often depends on lucid sound. In this case, the alliteration of “crash cart” and “curtains,” and “drive-bys” and “drunks.” There’s a focus on long-vowel sounds in those first three lines that add to the mystery of what’s happening to the boy. But the staccato rhythm of the last three lines signals the boy’s fate. It is explicit. It’s not pretty. The poem’s lines are etched in a lyrical music.

It’s true that most anything can happen in a poem when it’s written in free verse. But if you find that your poem is lacking in energy, momentum, or even interest, you might try “manipulating” your lines for maximum effect. A poem is so beholden to language, and because of that, the poet owes it to his or her poem to pay attention to the individual lines, to sculpt them in a way that benefits the poem.

__________________________________

Editor’s Note: This article stems from a workshop session at Franklin Pre-Release Center in Ohio in which some of this material was covered. 

July 20, 2013

MY TIME – Column by Melissa Vanover

 

Before my incarceration, I was not very educated. I dropped out of school in the eighth grade to give birth to my daughter. After that, my life eventually spiraled out of control and into a life of organized crime: fast cars and even faster men.

All I had wanted was a better life for my children than I had at that time. I seemed to make all the wrong choices. I put myself and my children in dangerous situations. I simply wasn’t thinking! I was too caught up in the “good life,” the life of the world. That world ended up being not so good afterall. It was a lifestyle that led me to prison to serve a sentence of 25-years to life.

Since my incarceration, I have grown up a lot in these past 15 years. I finally earned my G.E.D. and completed several group programs to help better understand myself; these programs included topics and experiences covering “Who am I,” depression, self-discipline, victim’s awareness, eating disorders, “Cage of Rage,” and “Thinking for a Change.”

I have also increased my occupational skills. Although not licensed, I have become quite the “handywoman.” I have done plumbing and general maintenance, such as building things and repairing just about anything, painting, and laying tile. I can drive a forklift and I can weld.

For the past year and a half, I’ve had on-the-job training as an electrician, which is something I absolutely love. My crew saved the state of Ohio thousands of dollars by taking on the project of wiring and putting up security cameras in all the housing units. It has been great experiences to have under my belt.

I can also operate a ‘scissor lift’ and I have had the exhausting opportunity of using a jack hammer when tearing up and replacing a concrete step. Doing all this hard work has humbled me.

I attended church at home years ago. But I was never serious about it. Again, as I’ve written before, I had my spiritual breakthrough in 2001. Now, I’m serious about my salvation, and I know I’m not perfect and I do fall short sometimes. I fight it, but God knows I’m worth it. And I’m so thankful that He will never give up on me. I just need to learn to be more like Him and less like “myself,” and that I should never give up on Him.

February 11, 2013

WOOF! (by Patricia N. Wernert)

“How would you like a puppy?” I was asked. Sounds like a pretty straightforward question that is posed everywhere. I would like to share why that very question was anything but ordinary when I was asked it in the early 1990s.

In 1993, I had been incarcerated 18 years and certainly had not experienced the touch of silky ears or big brown eyes looking at me during this time. I was being offered the unique opportunity of helping to start a prison program of raising puppies for “Pilot Dog.” As puppy raisers, we receive eight-week-old to raise as potential service dogs for visually impaired individuals. In my mind, gosh, what a great opportunity to give back to others.

Puppies require care, love, and gentle direction in learning basic commands. Prison rules put a good deal of added structure into what is usually easy. My puppy may need to “go potty,” but if it is “count time” the puppy has to wait. Try explaining that to an eight-week-old puppy in the middle of the night.

The upside of doing something like this is watching and guiding the tiny puppy as it grows into a beautiful dog. Your time and hard work develop before your eyes. No matter how bad a day you may have, you have to smile at the antics of a puppy. You start smiling, your mood improves, and you respond in a positive manner with other inmates or staff.

One of the few things a person in prison has any control over is how she or he reacts to any situation. Inmates are told when to go to bed, to get up, to perform bodily functions, to go eat, what to eat, what to wear, and what to do in about all aspects of life. I have found that keeping a positive mindset, even when adversity abounds makes a situation easier to get through. Having that puppy trip over its feet or run up to you makes you smile and it defuses whatever negative event that may have transpired earlier.

I am still training dogs in 2012 and 2013, and no one could have told me that I would still be doing it in prison. The incarceration sentence of 20-years-to-life is now approaching 38-to-life. Yeah, that is pretty depressing if I dwell on the negative aspect of this time. I look down on the nine-week-old black Lab I named “Cricket” curled up at my feet and see the positive. I am privileged to raise this puppy and she will eventually give a person freedom.

When a dog is partnered, we see the letter that Pilot Dog sends to the institution, and I feel a ssense of helping another person. We never know the actual name of the person, only if it is a man or woman.

I have worked with training other service disciplines in another prison-based program. This is very worthwhile, too.

Dogs are so much more than pets and capable of doing a wide variety of tasts to help humans live a fuller and safer life. If you happen to see a service dog guiding its person along, it just might be a dog that began its service in a prison. People in prison can begin to their future, too. We just need a chance.

 

 

Editor’s Note:  Patricia N. Wernert is incarcerated at Dayton Correctional Institution. She is one of the leaders in a special program that helps raise dogs that provide future assistance to visually impaired individuals.

 

 

February 11, 2013

ENCOUNTERING THE OTHER (story by Jessica Baltzersen)

“In our society, we don’t know what to do with people that become other,” says Dr. Kate Lassiter, assistant professor of Religious and Pastoral Studies at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The “other” she is referring to are the men and women incarcerated whose voices go unheard and who, as some people perceive, become permanently identified as a delinquent or criminal. When she was 21-years old, Lassiter found herself working with inmates inside a correctional institution. She did not commit a crime, nor was she incarcerated. Instead, she spent her time inside prison walls dedicating her summer to prison ministry work.

It was the summer of 2000, in Hagerstown, Maryland. Lassiter divided her time working at Roxbury Correctional Institution, Maryland Correctional Institution, and Maryland Correctional Training Center. She entered the facilities not knowing what experiences she would encounter.

Lassiter never expected to be working in prison ministry. “It was just something I stumbled into,” she said.

She worked with a Catholic nun in a male correctional facility where she was known as “Sister Kate,” and for three days a week she performed counseling sessions, organized prayer and worship groups, and led church services. The other two days a week she spent in after-prison ministry at a social service agency that helped those individuals who were no longer incarcerated. This service provided basic needs, food, and also housing referrals.

“Prisons were originally religious institutions intended for solitude and reflection,” says Lassiter. Through counseling inmates, she was able to witness the metanoia or spiritual transformation of men who wanted to turn their lives around for the better.

“It was hard, though, because I was never there 24/7,” she says. “There’s no way I could fully grasp or understand what it would be like to be in solitude all of the time.” She came to this realization on July 4, 2000. As she was walking out of the prison she glanced back at the barbed wire surrounding the facility and then looked up at the dark night sky being lit up with fireworks. Seeing the two elements, one symbolizing freedom and the other oppression, she realized how contrary the two were and how she was simply an outsider trying to understand what the people inside the walls were going through.

“Religion sets up guidelines for our lives,” says Lassiter, “and religion has an ability to empower one person.”

She remembered one man in particular, who at the time weighed over 400 pounds. After he began to accept Jesus into his life, he was inspired to not only turn his life around spiritually, but mentally and physically as well. He taught himself to run and lost nearly 200 pounds. He also went back and pursued his GED. After he allowed God into his life it inspired him to change his entire self.

The justice system uses incarceration to keep people oppressed. But to some of those who are incarcerated it is a “community to call home, where they encourage each other,” says Lassiter. In experiencing incarceration, an inmate can view it as a punishment or it can be viewed as a second chance to look within oneself and realize that through spirituality one has the ability to change his or her life.

Twelve years ago, Lassiter worked with what she describes as “people on the edge.” Now, as an assistant professor in the Department of Religious and Pastoral Studies, she still keeps in touch with her mentor and continues research around social justice issues to “support, guide and  nourish those who find themselves incarcerated.

Lassiter believes that she positively influenced men’s lives through her ministry work and counseling.

Humbly, she says, “I don’t want to claim that I changed anyone’s life. It is just something I was called to do.”

September 29, 2012

The World Without Me – An Interview with Sherrie Kleinholz

The following exclusive interview with Sherrie Kleinholz, author and advocate for the homeless, appears on the eve of the publication of her first book, The World Without Me.  The book is an anthology of stories by homeless individuals in Greater Cincinnati, compiled and edited by Ms. Kleinholz over a number of years.

Interview by Jordan Bailey

RED! – What sparked your interest to begin researching such a major crisis in society today
such as homelessness?

S.K. – My interest in those who are without has been growing within me since my teenage years
and has peaked greatly in my adult years. I look around and I see so many beautiful
people who are disconsolate and suffering deeply with no one to help guide them
through it. I watch as there is no one sharing love with them and I am heartbroken.

RED! – Have you done any volunteer work – for instance, in shelters or in a food pantry – in
terms of assisting the homeless?  What were any of those experiences like and what are
some things you have learned being around them?

S.K. – I have worked at a homeless shelter doing counseling as part of my internship and this
has been very rewarding. It gave me a great sense of being a part of something so much
greater and my heart would be filled with a little more respect, humility, and love for
those I interacted with each time I left. I also enjoy making lunches to pass out to those
on the streets or take to the soup kitchen and have developed meaningful relationships
with these I interact with.

RED! – Tell us a little about your book and how it came about.

S.K.The World Without Me is a compilation of stories told by those who live them
every day. Stories about what it is like to be on the streets without your basic
needs readily available such as food, shelter, clean clothes, medical care, and
love. A great deal of the stories are written in dialogue form. This is done so that
the reader can get a better understanding of what the person being interviewed is
feeling, thinking and seeing from their perspective. The book came about because
it has been a part of my life for many years and to watch as others spit at,
degrade, and ridicule those who have to live it deeply saddens me. It saddens me
for the person on the street, as well as the person who is ridiculing and the world
as a whole.

RED! – You and RED! technical assistant, William Lambers, also a legendary advocate of
global food assistance, have worked together recently on issues of homelessness and
food advocacy. How successful have you been?

S.K. – I cannot say enough about William Lambers. What a kind hearted, giving, intelligent,
talented, and genuine man he is! My work with William began in my undergrad years at
Mount St. Joe when we held a fund raiser for international charities on hunger to which
was a success. He has also shown me how to help feed those who are hungry by playing
a game for free that donates rice for international hunger. We have also done an honorary
food drive in his mom’s name which helped three local pantries, and he has been a
profound help in the writing of this book. I’d be lost without him! I am quite certain that
we will be working together for a long time to come.

RED! – What kind of impact would you like your book to make?

S.K. – It is with my deepest hope that the stories inside this book grab the reader’s heart to help
them realize that the person behind the story is just like the person who is reading it.
They have feelings that hurt, thoughts that are important, needs to be met, & wants that
are forgotten. I hope that the reader can see that more often than not the person behind
the story had it all once and lost it because of reasons that could happen to anyone
including the person reading the book. These reasons consisting things such as physical
illness, death of a loved one, tragedy and mental illness. I want the reader to close the
book with tears in their eyes and love in their heart and realize that not every person on
the streets is trying to scam them and if they are trying to scam them to ask “why?” I
hope that the reader sees that person on the street are just people who are not lucky
enough to have the social support or means that others who are not on the streets have
had. If a person believes that it could not happen to them then they need to open their
eyes and see life for what it is. It can happen to anyone at any given moment and it can
break you.

RED! – What are some things you believe the city of Cincinnati, or the region on the whole, can
do to better address homelessness, especially as indicators suggest it is on the rise in
this particular U.S. economy?

S.K. – Sometimes when we look at a problem we feel alone and overwhelmed and we cut
ourselves off emotionally in order to protect our overall wellbeing. More often than not
we just don’t understand something and we fear what we do not understand. Therefore,
I encourage each person to educate themselves in understanding homelessness for what
it is.

Many times we create comforting self-soothing stories about those who are homeless
such as “they’re just lazy, a drug addict, and/or worthless criminals. I believe we do this
because we have to fill the void of “not knowing”. We simply cannot see a person who
is in need and drive by them because we would feel bad so we put a spin on our thinking
to justify driving by. Does this mean that the person on the street is not plagued by
mental illness, addiction, the loss of desire to help themselves, or is not a criminal?
Absolutely not!  However, keep in mind that inside each of us is our own personal evil
wolf lying in wait that could break free when pushed to our own thresholds. So maybe
ask yourself, “If this person really is one of those things then why and how did it come to
this and how can I help stop it or prevent it?” Remind yourself that you to could lose your
job have someone you love die and take your spirit with you, get a debilitating mental
illness, or lose your health and can’t work. You too could be pushed to your threshold
and wake up with nothing.

Therefore, to best address homelessness educate yourself to get a better understanding
of it, know it could happen to you, realize how powerful you are in the fight against it, and
advocate! As individuals we often do not understand how powerful we are. One person
can reach many people but they underestimate their own power and think to themselves,
“What I have to offer and contribute is not really making a difference.” That thought is
incorrect. Trust me; you are powerful in the lives of others. Inside each of us is a hero.

July 5, 2012

Carriers of Hope: Ohio Justice & Policy Center (by Jennifer Von Gries)

 

What is unique about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati: current Vice President of Recruitment, Lynn Cameron, at this point in his life had once been a juvenile probation officer for eight years. He was working with a few kids on probation and there was boy, 13-years old, who seemed bright, but he had a chip on his shoulder and was in trouble.

Since Cameron, at that time, was a volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati and knew about the organization, he told the boy that he could sign him up. This young man didn’t believe that it would work out for him; he came to tears and told Cameron that if they would have met a couple years ago it might have worked. But, to the young man, it was too late now. 

Two years later, this 13-year old boy died from an overdose by mixing the wrong combination of illegal substances. “If we could only work with kids to help prevent this kind of situation from happening. If these kids don’t find a role model who is positive and appropriate, they could find them anywhere, such as with a gang member or someone off the streets, and potentially get them into trouble. I feel like we need these positive volunteers be role models,” says Cameron.  

When you walk into the offices of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati, the first feeling you experience is that of compassion and at home. In the hallways of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati you can observe pictures of organizations best matches. “These photos help represent who we are as an organization,” says Cameron.

His journey for the last 23-plus years explains why the impact from positive figures has an effect on teenagers. Cameron, immediately out of college, started working for the Juvenile Probation Department where a co-worker mentioned the Big Brothers Big Sisters program to him in 1988.

According to the Big Brothers Big Sisters website, each time Big Brothers Big Sisters pairs a child with a role model, they start something incredible: a one-to-one relationship built on trust and friendship that can blossom into a future of unlimited potential. And thanks to the first-ever nationwide impact study of a mentoring organization, they have the facts to prove it.

Corey Strauss, a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph, says, “I got involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters because a friend had mentioned it to me. I have always been interested in working with young children as a future career. Having been with my little brother made me a better mentor and a better person because I know I am helping him follow the right path. I want to be the role model that he can look up to by graduating from college and staying off the streets. I can give him the advice that he needs.”

At Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati there are core programs and special programs.  The special programs include the Amachi program, which, in the West African tradition means, “Who knows but what God has brought us through the child.” 

Statistics say that, currently, there are approximately 2.4 million children that have one or more incarcerated parents in the United States. This statistic puts the child in an overwhelming state of mind and with that Big Brothers Big Sisters committed themselves to identify and help the children of incarcerated parents with one-to-one mentoring that will match the child with volunteers from the community. 

Cameron states that 30 to 40 percent of the children involved at Big Brothers Big Sisters are in the Amachi program. In his words, this saying means, “Look at the gift that God has given us through this child.”  Cameron says that the children do not know that they are in the Amachi program. Parents will put their child in this program to give the child a positive role model.

Cameron has been the Vice President of Recruitment for the past five years; however, he has been involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters for well over 10 years now as a case manager who interviews volunteers and matches them up with youths. 

“A very recent year was the toughest with our being short of our goal of matches of about 18 matches out of 500,” he says. In the first half of 2010, on the other hand, 110-plus individuals applied for goal matching in terms of fundraising.

Cameron says eighty percent of mentors have had good experiences. Twenty percent of the mentors will be lost in the first six months because of connection and pair-up issues. “This is something worthwhile. I want the recruiters to know that it is worthwhile, a good experience, and that they will enjoy being a Big Brother or Big Sister. They will build a good relationship and attachment,” he says.

“The reason why some pair-ups don’t click is because parents aren’t communicating. Some may feel like their mentors are upper class; however, our goal is to tell the parents and volunteers to not focus on materialistic things but on being a role model for the child.” 

Parents need to give permission to each activity that the mentor plans for their little brother or sister. That includes taking them to sports games or going to a salon to get nails done. Parents are always involved.

Some children are struggling with grades in school; however, every year a survey is conducted and the results come in stating that about 75 to 80 percent of the children have improved their grades. There are a variety of surveys conducted that focus on several different components of a person’s life including school, personal and relationships with others especially with self-confident and social skills.

Cameron says that children may not talk at first with their mentor, but after about three weeks they will socially improve for an example while speaking look in the eye of the person they are speaking to.

According to their community-based program, most of the relationships formed and the one-to-one outings and activities include going to parks, museums, listening to one another, and engaging into each other’s interests, and going to sports games. 

“A lot of the children really enjoy going to the Reds’ games. Being able to sit in the ball park and enjoy the game is something they always continue to ask to do in the spring. Sometimes, Big Brothers Big Sisters meets with their little ones on the weekends, and sometimes in the evenings. It is what works with the child and the mentor. Each pair is unique,” says Cameron.

Cameron didn’t receive his love and compassion from recruiting. As stated earlier he joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters when a coworker expressed how it would change his life. During Cameron’s journey he became a mentor for four little brothers. Describing his little brother’s experiences brought joy to his face, because he knows deeply that he made a difference in their lives. 

He has pride in the work which he does. Cameron described his first little brother as a boy who struggled with making friends in school and outside of school, just as he’s overcome the death of his father a year and a half before Cameron came into his life. The young man had suffered from physical and emotional disabilities and had a tough time prior to his adoption with his birth family. This little brother was with Cameron for seven years until he was 18.

“He was difficult to open up at first, but the more he and I got to know one another and hang out, he opened up a lot more,” says Cameron. “After I was done being his big brother I was given another individual whose life situation was different.”

Cameron’s second little brother had no father figure, missed school, and his mom was making excuses. “I got in involved with him in the 7th grade and knew that it wasn’t acceptable for him to be missing a lot of school. I wanted to see him get good grades. He improved his attendance the next year and from 9th through 12th grade he didn’t miss a single day.”

“My third brother also did not have a father figure. He was a good kid but had the lack of opportunity and lived in a rough area neighborhood. We went to Reds’ games and to the parks,” he says.

Cameron is currently still working with his fourth little brother. He describes him as a 15-year old boy in the 9th grade who has suffered from a lot loss.

Big Brothers Big Sisters has several fundraising events that go on each year. They have a Golf Outing, Bowl For Kid’s Sake, 5K Run, and Gold Ball Drop. To gather more information about these events and others, such as the annual Golf Outing and Golf Ball Drop, visit the impressive Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cincinnati website.  

“To get involved, you don’t need to be an expert with children,” says Cameron.

July 3, 2012

Point Man – by Karyn B. Alexander

I have a friend who was in the military for many years. His position was “point man.” The point man is the tip of the triangle with the company of soldiers spread out behind in a triangular shape. The point man needs to be agile, small, quick, and obedient unto death.

The point man is not the commander, but the leader of troops for a directive operation. He is the first to scope out the enemy, and the first to be picked off if he fails to stay hidden or obey.

My friend was a successful point man. He could obey, lead and stay alive. He remained calm and quick in the face of the unknown.

Staying alive meant hearing the commanding officer, doing exactly as told-no matter what, and then leading the way through either a very tough terrain or challenging situation. The point man is a little like a spy and a warrior all at one time. This position takes immense trust; that is, trust in the commander (C.O.) and trust in the troops. A very precarious situation emerges if either is not in cooperation with one another. The point man can be caught between a bad plan or an unwilling company of soldiers. This could mean certain death for all. On the other hand, what a powerful fighting machine if executed properly; all flowing with the same mission, using their training and skills at the same time.

My friend is now a pastor. He is much like the warrior of old. He is out in front, listening and moving in obedience as he hears the commander speak.

The agility to avoid the enemy is important, as it is in tough fighting territory where the enemy can be disguised or hidden.

I would imagine leading a congregation would be almost more difficult than a company of soldiers, due to many Christians’ self -perception. Most do not see themselves as warriors or part of a larger vision.

They can miss their purpose by not understanding the commander’s mission.

Think about it: if we all listened to the commander and chief, and we were humble enough to follow the point man, what a beautiful army we would make, all flowing with the same vision using our gifts and talents to achieve the ultimate goal—Eternal life for so many.

Onward Christian Soldiers!

Karyn B. Alexander

Executive Director, Winfield House.org

Winfield House brings the good news of Jesus in practical ways to God’s people.

Voice of the Nations, Rev. 5: 11,”With your blood you purchased men from God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

March 15, 2012

Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Mark Curnutte joins RED! editor at college course

Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Mark Curnutte (left) recently joined RED! publisher and editor Jeffrey Hillard in a literature course called “Cincinnati Authors” at the College of Mount St. Joseph, which Jeff has been teaching periodically since 1993.  Mr. Curnutte visited the class to talk about his new book, A Promise in Haiti: A Reporter’s Notes on Families and Daily Lives. The book of journalism involves Mr. Curnutte’s sequence of trips to the island of Haiti over several years, as he immersed himself in several homes of families in the Haitian city of Gonaives.

Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Mark Curnutte