This weekend, The RISSE soccer team is coming to my county and to my farm and Pompanuck Farm Institute for a two day retreat – Friday evening through Sunday afternoon.
There will be 14 kids, two counselors – Ali, center, and Molly, bottom. They will be staying in the beautiful old Round House, sleeping on mats and sleeping bags in the big gathering room on the second floor.
I've been negotiating with Pompanuck all week about the cost and food. We will pay $800 for the retreat space – a substantial discount for the refugees. Pompanuck will prepare dinner, and breakfast Saturday and Sunday. Maria, Ali and I will prepare lunch Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday night, I'm taking the kids out to a buffet dinner at a Chinese restaurant nearby. The Pompanuck Farm Institute and Retreat Center occupies 90 beautiful acres and adjoins a 900 acre state park.
I bought 7 plastic sleds for the team to sled on ($9 apiece). I've purchased 16 copies of the best-selling book "Outcasts United," which tells the very uplifting story of a group of refugee kids who formed a soccer team in Georgia and helped turn their small town around.
In the book, there is a remarkable woman who coaches and guides them, she reminds me much of Ali. And she will remind the soccer kids of Ali, they both devoted themselves to the welfare of these refugee children.
Soccer transforms and shapes the difficult lives of the children in the book in much the way Ali and the team shape the kids who are coming to Pompanuck. I got the books from Battenkill Books, they were $9 apiece and we got a 40 per cent discount.
I have a book for each person attending, and I've got to notes ready, we hope to all read some of the book and talk about it. I also got a CD called McFarlane, USA about some refugees and immigrants who turn to running as their way of acclimating to America.
I'm thinking of getting two small goldfish (and tanks) and offering them as prizes to the two kids who have the most interesting things to say about the book. Bribery yes, but in a good cause. And they love to care for animals.
Saturday morning, Ali and I will go food shopping for the lunches we are preparing. We're thinking turkey sandwiches with fruit and chips and an apple pie.
Saturday or Sunday, we'll go and see a movie of the team's choosing at a nearby cinema which has agreed to charge $5 for a matinee performance. The Chinese restaurant has agreed to charge $10 per person. Thanks to these kids, I am getting lots of chances to do something I always loved to do in my other life – negotiate. And I think I'm still pretty good at it.
Some people in Washington and elsewhere might not care for refugees, but many ordinary people and businesses want to welcome them in every possible way.
Maria and Fate have offered to take the kids on some snow hikes in the woods – Fate is a guide and tracker. Gus will guard the warm fire with Red, who will be with me. The kids always want me to tell scary stories at bedtime, but I don't think they really need scary stories, they have enough of their own.
Still, they will persist, and I will cave, and just in case, i have a collection of Edgar Allen Poe's scariest stories with me. The Tell-Tale Heart and the Cask of Amontillado should do the trick. They say they want the scariest possible stories.
Maria and I will be there much of the weekend – the kids are screaming for Gus, Fate and Red to come also. Red is the official team mascot. If I don't bring the dogs, there will be a rebellion.
Fate loves to chase the soccer ball – we will be cooking, and cleaning up and keeping an eye on things.
This time together, in a safe and beautiful place, is so important for them, their lives are often harsh and spare, and they face considerable indifference, poverty, trauma and hostility. A woman on Facebook today wrote that with our refugee work, we are "building a cathedral," and I love that idea.
At Pompanuck, they will be free, a heady thing for all of them. No hostile taunts, no acclimation struggles, no homework in a foreign tongue.
For these hard-pressed and very sweet and caring children, a window into the true America, a generous and loving place, and a chance to be free and unguarded and support. I am so lucky to be able to participate in this, and fortunate as well to have a wife and a partner who loves this kind of work as much as I do.
And on behalf of these kids, thanks, thanks, thanks, for your support and encouragement. The Army of Good is…well…good.
If you wish to support this work, you can do so by contributing via my post office box, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge,N.Y., 12816 or via Paypal, [email protected]
I will of course, be taking photos and will write about the weekend. I'm very excited. I hope this will be a special weekend for these worthy people, I will do everything in my power to make it memorable and soothing and uplifting.