Clothes, Visit, GIrl's Team. Ali Is the coach of the new girl's basketball team.
The refugees have had a tough year in so many ways, it is a pleasure to pass along a chunk of good news.
First, Cheryl Lasser, the RISSE Development Director, told me today that the Army Of Good's Winter Clothing drive for the refugees and immigrants in and around Albany has been a big success. She said they have received many shipments of clothing from all over the country in great quantity, excellent condition and lots of variety.
And the clothes are still coming. They are, she says, of the highest quality.
She wanted me to thank those of you donating both used and new winter clothes. She asked me to remind people that in addition to clothes, people can also donate gift cards to affordable department stories and outlets like Amazon, Target or Wal Mart so the refugees can also purchase food or household items.
I am urging RISSE to set up an Amazon gift page so people can see the items that are needed and choose the ones they wish to donate. You can also donate directly to RISSE here. And thanks, the clothes continue to flood in, and are so appreciated and needed.
This was an important step in my efforts to engage with the immigrants and refugees at RISSE, many are wary of outside help, especially in this culture.
The RISSE address is 715 Morris Street, Albany, N.Y., 12208.
Also, nice news. Ali called today to report that the young RISSE women met and decided they wish to form a girl's basketball team in 2018. Ali is tickled – only one woman wanted to play soccer this past year – she was the goalie – and he will coach the team. I saw firsthand how complex and difficult this process was for him. Good for him for sticking it out.
The team's first meeting will be right after Christmas and I'll be there to take some photos.
I know they will need uniforms, just like the boys, but we'll wait on that. The girls also chose to name their basketball team "The Bedlam Farm Warriors," on the front of their jerseys and "RISSE" on the back, again despite my protests. The boy's uniforms cost $1,000 all told, but we can wait and deal with that after the holidays.
Word is the girls want more color than the black-and-white uniforms of the boys. And obviously, I need to do as well for them as we did for the boys.
Several people have expressed displeasure that they have not seen more photos and activities of the RISSE girls, but people who know this culture understand that dealing with the young women of RISSE is quite different from dealing with the men, especially for male strangers from the outside who are new to this country. These people have been through a lot and have suffered greatly, I respect their caution and will never pressure them.
The United States is very different in many of its customs and traditions.
I have met and spoken with a number of these girls and women now and am earning their trust and also learning to respect and understand the culture they come from. Taking their pictures is a very big deal sometimes.
One complexity is Red, who is universally adored in his therapy work but who terrifies so many of the refugees and immigrants when they see him. Many run and hide to get away from, or leave a room that he is in.
This is very new to him and also to me, and I am trying to figure out how to work through it. I think it puzzles Red to see people running from him, in many of the origin countries, where people starve all the time, it is inconceivable to feed and shelter a dog, or make one a pet.
As with the Mansion, I respect the boundaries of the institutions I work with, and I do not ever tell administrators or staff what to do, make decisions for them, impose my values, lecture them about our own cultural traditions or politics, or make choices about what activities are being offered.
And Ali is a saint, he works tirelessly with all of the children at RISSE seven days a week, day and night, all year-long. They are so lucky to have him, and they love him dearly. He cares for them as a mother or father would. He is a brother to me.
It took months for me to get permission to talk to these boys and photograph them, none of it would have happened without Ali.
It has been compelling for me to see the cultural differences among the refugees and immigrants. Many girls do not wish to play with or around boys, some don't want to be photographed, they have rejected dance programs and some other activities. Some parents are terrified of the Internet, and have never seen a blog.
Many of their parents object to American style competitive sports, there is no equivalent in their original countries.
So this is exciting and an opportunity for me.
Ali works closely with the girls as well as the boys, and brings the same spirit and devotion to them. Some of these kids are shy, but they love to win and compete with courage and determination.
The girl's basketball beam will offer another neat thing for me to photograph and write about it.
I'll have to work to earn some trust. The boys soccer team was my way into this tight and sometimes closed world, and they are in great need of support. I will continue to support them in any way I can.
Other good news:
Ali wants to take the boys on the soccer team for a one day trip to New York City, mostly to see Times Square and ride an Open Decker tour bust around Manhattan. This trip will be over the Xmas break. He will need some help in funding that trip, I'll start making inquiries about the cost – mostly parking food and tickets for the busses.
Beyond that, on their holiday break from school, it looks like the RISSE soccer team will be coming to the Mansion to meet with the residents, talk with them.
Mansion Director Morgan Jones is enthusiastic about this idea – I have to say she is great to work with – and wants to offer the boys a fudge sundae festival when they come. They will get to make their own fudge sundaes.
Ali is thrilled with the idea, so I am working with both of them to make it happen. How wonderful that would be.
They are excited on both sides, and it will be a powerful thing for these two groups to come together. The Army Of Good has supported both of them faithfully and generously. This will happen after Christmas.
So this is a great and successful work for this work, not and for the future. I feel we are just getting started on this idea of doing good, learning how best to do it, picking our movements thoughtfully and with restraint.
I am excited about 2018. I wish all of you great success and I wish us great and good work together.