20 January 2018

Retreat: Helping With The Dishes

By: Jon Katz

Helping With The Dishes

The soccer team is special. Every one of them thanked me and Maria for inviting them to the retreat, after dinner, every one brought their plates and glasses and silverware up to the sink, and washed and dried and stacked it. They stayed at the sink until every dish was washed and dried, and all were clean and spotless.

It took them an hour to help clean up, and I offered to take over, they politely but firmly refused. These are not kids who are on Facebook or cell phones all day, they love to talk and listen, they are curious, shy as many of them are.

It is a gift to be working with these children, their stories are sometimes heart-breaking, but their spirits and hearts are pure and full of love and hope. We are all getting comfortable with each other, and some of the kids are asking me about books and writing, they are trying to figure me out.

I can only imagine how I must appear to them. I'll be taking more photos today in the daylight.

Thanks for your support. If you wish to support this work – the soccer season is looming, it will be a long and expensive year – you can donate to The Refugee Fund or Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816 or via Paypal, [email protected]

The soccer team is not really about sports, but about community, leadership, strength and hope. The team's unofficial motto is "walk together, sleep together, die together." They need one another in a sometimes hostile and indifferent world.

They are learning how to live in our country with grace and strength and love. To me, they are what America is all about. They need to succeed, for their sakes and our sakes.

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Settling In: The Soccer Team Cometh

By: Jon Katz

Settling In

The Bedlam Farm Warriors, the very determined RISSE (refugee immigrant and support center) soccer team arrived at the Pompanuck Farm Institute late last night for a two-day retreat on a 90-acre farm and retreat center.

They were hungry and tired. We fed them and they retreated upstairs to the Pompanuck Meeting Room where they are all sleeping (as I write this) on mats and sleeping bags in from of a warm wood stove. They had lasagna (meat and vegetable) and salad.

When Maria and I left, they were still up, reading, playing UNO and other games, and talking. Ali was sleeping right nearby. They are the nicest people, courteous, helpful and attentive. One would never know what they have endured.

This morning, I'm going over to help with breakfast and go out and buy supplies for lunch, which Maria and I are helping to prepared. the agenda today is up to them – they can sled, read, play games, go to a movie, rest. Tonight, i'm taking them out to a Chinese buffet dinner.

I gave everyone a copy of the YA edition of the best-selling book "Outcasts United" by New York Times reporter Warren St. John. It is the story of a group of outcast refugee kids who formed a soccer team in rural Georgia, and were taken in hand and trained by a compassionate and dedicated woman coach – she reminds me of Ali in so many ways.

The story is uplifting and inspiration, and I was very happy to see most of them were reading it when they went upstairs to get ready to sleep. Sunday, we are all going to meet and talk about the book, two people with the most interesting things to say about it will each get to take a tropical fish home in two special tanks with LED lights.

They also have some good DVD's to watch, including McFarland, USA, the story of immigrants who become champion runners in California.

I'm looking forward to today, and to the meeting. Late tonight, I am scheduled to read a scary story to them, I've chosen "The Tell-Tale Heart" from Poe. I don't think it will frighten them much, they've seen worse, but they love the idea of it, and they taunt me all the time about being unable to frighten them. I don't really wish to frighten them, if the truth be told.

They are a wonderful group of people and the more I know them, the more I have come to love them. Ali is my brother from another mother (as is Ed Gulley) and I am so lucky to know such people. I'm thinking turkey sandwiches for lunch, with chips and ice cream. This feels so good to me, and thanks once more to the Army of Good for helping to make this possible.

Red, Fate and Gus – they are all asking for them – are coming today. I've asked the kids not to feed Gus any food. It is heartwarming to see how devoted they are to Ali and how much he means to them.

I wish you could all see how much this means to these kids and how important it is for them to have this time together out in the country, free from the many pressures they face each day, and the sometimes horrific experiences they have experienced at much too early an age. They are already making great Americans.

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19 January 2018

The Cage In Its New Home

By: Jon Katz

The Cage In Its New Home

We got the birds into their new home in the activity room without too much drama, the white one did fly out in the wrong direction and race across the room before landing on Activity Director Julie Smith's hand. Julie just eased her inside the new cage, which they seemed to love immediately, riding the swings and staring in the new mirror.

Maria came with me and helped set up the new cage, the old one, on the right, has outlived its time an was a bit cramped and shabby.

The birds – named "frick" and "frack" at the moment, are important to the Mansion residents, they watch them, talk about them, sing to them and sit with them. They are a metaphor for the life they sometimes miss.

The cage moves around the Mansion, sometimes it stays in the Activity Room, sometimes it migrates into the hallways. The cage is part of my life project – the Geranium garden also – the people in the Mansion love to nurture and the animals keep a channel in their  hearts open.

I'm still talking with the residents about fish, but the negotiations are bogged down at the moment, everyone wants to see them but nobody is rushing to take care of them, and the staff has enough to do. We'll keep talking. Maria and I got a second goldfish for her – they are named Frida and Diego. More later, we are off soon to meet the refugee soccer team coming to Pompanuck for the weekend.

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At The Mansion: The New Parakeet Cage Is A Hit

By: Jon Katz

The New Parakeet Cage

I delivered the new multi-level parakeet cage to the Mansion residents at lunch time, they were shocked and delighted. The new cage is a kind of Magic Kingdom for parakeets, it has mirrors, ladders, perches and high seats with great views

Barb, sitting on the other side of the table in a white sweater, is the voluntary caretaker of the birds. Her biggest problem is a couple of residents who sometimes let the birds out. This cage has some special opening gates that will make it difficult to let them out by mistake, or even knowingly.

They were very excited, this was fun to do. I'm learning about thrift shops, women's underwear and bras, birds, fish, carpeting and chairs. The Mansion is making me a renaissance man.

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Dance With Me: Jean and Red At The Mansion

By: Jon Katz

"Dance With Me"

Jean misses three things in particular about her other life – her late husband, and housework and dancing. She loves doing housework and is always vacuuming and dusting and straightening out at the Mansion. She loves to dance with Red, and it is sweet to see the ballet that evolves between them.

Jean hums a tune in her head, sometimes out loud, the two sway back and forth a bit. Then Jean goes back to cleaning.

"Hello Red," Jean says, "will you dance with me?" Red always puts his ears back and holds out a paw, and he and Jean dance. It is quite a beautiful thing to see, wordless and full of feeling. My time at the Mansion is always filled with moments that stick.

Red has such a wonderful sense of what people want and need from him. He never fails them.

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