26 June

Happy Days. Tuesday, The Refugee Retreat Begins

by Jon Katz
The Retreat Begins

Tuesday afternoon, a van load of refugee children from RISSE, the refugee and immigrant retreat center in Albany, will arrive at the Pompanuck Farm Institute outside of Cambridge, N.Y. There will be about 20 people all together, they will be staying until Thursday.

Most of the will sleep in a big yurt on the Pompanuck grounds.  The woman will sleep in rooms nearby.

There is a beautiful pond, hiking trails, a basketball hoop and a wonderful large round building with fireplaces  and sofas and tables for eating and drawing. Pompanuck has 90 beautiful acres of its and adjoins a vast state woods.

When they arrive, Scott and Lisa Carrino and Maria and I will greet the kids in a circle and explain Pompanuck the dining and the schedule to them. This retreat was made possible through the generosity of a wonderful woman named Helen who doesn’t wish to have her full name used. She is just happy, she says, to have been able to do it.

Tomorrow, a welcome dinner. Thursday, Maria will lead a  hike into the beautiful woods. Gordon McQuerry will come to work with the Bedlam Farm Musical Band taking shape in the group. Rachel Barlow will come to teach drawing and painting. Mandy Meyer-Hill will teach movements for  trust, athletics and for stress.

I will teach a story-telling class, hopefully they will each write down a story about their lives, I know some of their stories are just amazing. And their stories are important, they ought to be told and preserved.

So I am excited. I will be at Pompanuck much of the next few days and will  share images and words from the retreat. This is such a good thing to do and be a part of I believe, one of the shining moments of the Army of Good. These wonderful children need it and deserve it, I am proud to be a part of it. So is Maria. All three dogs are coming, by popular demand. They love Red and Fate, they want to meet Gus.

Thank you, Helen, you are an angel. More to come.

26 June

Connie Walked Today. A Small Journey, A Big Deal

by Jon Katz
Connie Walked

Connie walked today, in the scheme of things, it might seem like a small thing, but it was actually a very big thing.

Maria and Red and I stormed the Mansion Assisted Care Facility this afternoon and made a beeline for Connie’s room on the first floor. We had a plan, we were focused. Red was all business.

We walked in and I announced, “Connie, Maria and Red and I are her to take a walk with you. Let’s go.” I think it was Maria and  Red that did the trick. I had spoken to her the day before about it, but I wasn’t sure I was getting anywhere. I knew she wanted to walk, but I also saw how hard it was. It is easy to tell other people what they should do, it sometimes seems simple to us.

Connie gave me a withering look – she has many withering looks – and then started to get up.

And your many wonderful letters of encouragement, piled right  by her chair, inspired her so much, she reads every single one.

We had been hearing for several days that it was crucial that Connie get up and walk several times a day, for as far as she could go. The Mansion staff has been working with her, so has a physical therapist, and she has been in great pain from torn muscles. She also needs oxygen to breathe and the walks are not only painful but exhausting.

“She’s got to walk,” a staffer told us, “she has to.”

The walks Connie takes are short are essential if she is to recover her mobility and stay healthy. She knows that.

Connie looked at Red and glowered at me and nodded to Maria and up she got and she saw we weren’t kidding, and so we went for a fairly long walk together. I could see it was painful, and Connie had to pause and catch her breath, but she did it, and we pledged to return every day to walk with her again.

Connie is strong and brave. She pulled every muscle in her back a couple of weeks ago and is working her way back.

Connie asked me to thank all of you for writing to her, today, she gave us a letter to read, it was beautiful, single-spaced two page letter from Margaret Hanes of Davisburg, Michigan. The stack of letters next to her is almost a foot high. She reads every word.

It was a lovely letter, Margaret talked about her life, he illnesses, her family.

“I have a long time group of girlfriends that i worked with for many years and we get together every month or so to chat and catch up,” Margaret wrote. “One or two are married, one is single and never been married, two are “living in sin,” some have kids, some have none. In spite of all of this we manage to stay bonded over pets, travel, what we are reading (all retired librarians,), what we are cooking and eating, classes we are taking, but the one thing we try not to dwell on is our aches and pains. Several have survived cancer, 2 diabetics, a couple of thyroid issues, osteoporosis, and a broken bone or two.  Mainly because we figure if we are all there and not sick or in the hospital we are counting it as a good day. Sometimes we meet at a restaurant but our favorite place is each others home. We meet about 11:30 a.m., have lunch, sometimes made and other times catered in, and visit. We are lucky if everyone is heading home before its time for dinner.”

I was deeply affected by the idea of this thoughtful and generous woman taking the time and trouble to write such a helpful and encouraging letter.  In the age of Facebook messages and e-mail, this kind of letter is especially precious. You can’t just say a few word and hit send.

Margaret wrote that she is reading a book about community – Tribe by Sebastian Junger, it talks about how much we all need a community around us.

“Of course, dogs don’t speak English,” she wrote, “but if you look hard enough you can hear them. I am far from a dog expert but I do know that having a dog changes your life. I can say my dog and I walked my way through grief and right back into the world again.” She was glad, she said, that Red comes to visit Connie.

These letters played an enormous role in getting Connie to choose to get up and walk. The doctors say if she walks, she will heal and Maria and Red and I plan to be at the Mansion every afternoon to take a walk with Connie. Your messages and generosity of spirit walk along with us, and thanks. You can write to Connie c/o The Mansion, 11 S. Union Street, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816.

The Mansion residents will tell you that they miss community as much or more than anything, and people like Margaret have given community  back to them.  As long as there are people like Margaret in the world, there is hope for all of us.

Your letters are remarkable, they are much more valuable than money, you cannot imagine how much they mean to Connie and the other people who receive them.  Everyone inspires me.

Thank you. Connie walked today. It was a big deal.

26 June

Checked Out. Big Strong Men And Dogs, Cont.

by Jon Katz
Checked Out

Dr. Fariello (see below)  checked Gus out from head to toe, he was fascinated by the eye exam.

We talked about big strong men and their small dogs, and since I am not a big strong man, and my love has always been Labs and border collies, we talked about the nurturing instincts small dogs bring out. More about that later.

26 June

Gets Sees His Vet

by Jon Katz
Gus Sees His Vet

Gus had a check-in and check-up with our vet, Dr. Suzanne Fariello this morning, he got examined and one booster shot. She doesn’t want him being around other dogs until he’s 14 weeks old, but understands that he will be meeting a lot of people before thenn.

We agreed to have Gus neutered at nine months and he was wormed also – he slept for much of the afternoon. Gus’s breeder Robin Gibbons took the whole litter to Dr. Fariello, so she was no stranger to him. She was full of praise for Robin’s breeding, she said Gus was “perfect,” healthy and sound in every way.

We had a long talk about the lure of small dogs and I think Gus is grasping the importance of the camera in our household. Back in two weeks for another shot. Gus took it all well and was pleased with a couple of treats.

26 June

Refugee Children Retreat Week: The RISSE Dollar Campaign Soars

by Jon Katz
The RISSE Dollar Campaign: Red is the new soccer team mascot

Several weeks ago, I asked the readers of the blog to send $1 dollar to RISSE, the refugee and immigrant support center of Albany, as a statement of the support and welcome many Americans feel for refugees and immigrants to our country.

Nearly 1,000 of you responded. Wow. I am just getting started. I am sending RISSE $1 a day every day this month. I can’t think of a better payoff for $30 anywhere in the world.

As everyone knows, the issue of immigration has become intensely politicized and polarized in America.

The RISSE offices were burned down last year by arsonists, and there are numerous reports of hate speech and crimes around the country. These refugee and immigrant children are no threat to America, and many of us wish to show the true and generous spirit of our country.

RISSE has been doing extraordinary work on behalf of these vulnerable people with little money and almost no recognition.

I love the dollar idea, it is a way of standing up for our truth without spending a lot of money or arguing with anybody or putting up the awful hatred coming out of Washington. I reject our hateful two-party system of a paralyzed left and a right, I prefer to move beyond it to a place of doing good.

As these responses indicate, we are now an Army Of Good, and the RISSE staffers are reeling with gratitude and shock and appreciation.They are not used to this.

Many of these children have suffered unbearable trials and experiences, they are loving and eager to learn how to live in our country. I’d like to continue the RISSE $1 campaign and promote it regularly.

RISSE provides desperately needed support to refugee and immigrant children and adults – English  and accounting and job-hunting and form-filing, driver’s licenses, housing and tax assistance as well as day care and special classes for 100 children.

This week, some of these children are coming to Pompanuck Farms here in Cambridge for a three-day retreat paid for by you, the Army of Good. I’ll write more about that later.

But in celebration of this week, I’d like to resume the $1 campaign to RISSE, nearly 1,000 of you have already responded, and I thank you greatly and from my heart. You can donate directly to RISSE here, and you can donate more than $1 if you wish, but I like the symbolism of the dollar compaign – a small donation with a big message.

I want to keep mentioning it, it buoys good people in a time of need and sends a positive message in a time of anger.

If you wish, please say – you can donate through Facebook or major credit cards – that you welcome these refugees and immigrants to America and appreciate the hard and sometimes thankless job RISSE is doing.

My friend Ali, a teacher at RISSE, tells the children often that the venom and misinformation directed at them in recent months is not the real America. I believe his is correct and your dollar contributions say that more powerfully than anything.

(Note: Some of you have inquired about whether your donations to the refugee children or to RISSE are tax-deductible. My account says they are. Donations for refugee support that have come through me are also deductible in most cases, my accountant says, because RISSE is a 501.C non-profit. I am not seeking tax deductions for my support of things like soccer shirts or birthday parties, if you wish to seek deductions for  that, that is up to you. Contributions that go to RISSE are absolutely tax-deductible. That is good news, if you have any questions, please contact your accountant directly.)

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