28 June

Helping Lisa, Now And For Several Months

by Jon Katz
Helping Lisa Cont.

it is almost impossible to get Lisa to smile, except when she mentions her late husband or is with her two very charming and lively sons, Mudasir, 7, and Baseer, 5. You may recall that Lisa is a 27-year-old Afghan refugee, her husband was killed by a roadside bomb as he was driving food to American soldiers at an Afghan airbase.

Her comfortable life went to pieces.

You may recall the heartbreaking story of Lisa.

She became a target herself, as did her sons, and she fled her village to a United Nations refugee camp in Pakistan, where she spent several years before coming to America. She and her sons are living in a filthy, roach-infested apartment in a rundown part of Albany, and she has little money as she learns English and looks for work.

Lisa is shy and independent, she very much hates to ask for help, in fact, Ali and I have to pry out of her what she needs. We believe we have found her a new apartment that is clean and safe, but it will be a month or so before the paperwork is processed and she can move in.

Ali persuaded her to come to me for help, and he also persuaded her to agree to be photographed, this was very difficult for her. She is getting more comfortable with it, especially when Mudasir agreed to pose with her and Baseer.

He is going to do very well in America, he’s got the sparkle in his eyes.

She may need some help with the deposit, and we discovered today that she needs just about everything – money for laundry, for clothes for herself and for Mudasir and Baseer, soap, deodorant. There is a gaping hole in her sofa.

She admitted for the first time that her food stamps are not enough for her and the boys, she needs help with groceries. I gave her $500 last week, and $400 today.

We found a state housing authority that will pay all of her rent, we believe, in the new apartment. She also hopes to have work by then, her English is getting very good, she and I were able to talk to one another throughout our meeting today. Soap and deodorant and food are tied to dignity and peace of mind. A rational government would have helped her by now.

Mudasir reads my blog and says he will make sure I don’t misspell any of their names. He misses nothing, and is fearless. We connected pretty quickly, and were thumb wrestling by the end of our visit. I won.

I gave each of the boys $20 to get a toy or anything they want. Lisa nearly cried when she thanked me for that, she said it has been a very long time since either of them had a toy.

Lisa’s Children, Mudasir and Baseer

Her sons were remarkable, bright and courteous and lively. I got them each a “blue” donut, which they happily gulfed down and they made fun of my big black camera and suggested I get a smaller and lighter one. I told them I just got this one. I’d like to get to know these two boys better and help them if I can.

Lisa very much wanted me to meet them, her eyes remain the saddest eyes I  have seen, and she misses her husband dearly, she said he always made all of them laugh. I hope we can help return some laughter to her life.

So our plan is to meet with Lisa weekly and help stabilize her life with personal items like soap and clothes for her and the boys. We will see her through the bureaucratic hurdles involved in getting to her new apartment, the one she is in is dreadful, tiny and poorly kept. That is not her fault, the entire building is a mess.

She and the kids need to get out of there. If you wish to help Lisa get through this to an open field – we are close – you can help by continuing your generosity by sending a donation to the Gus Fund, c/o Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com. Small donations are welcome. Bigger ones too, of course.

Lisa and her family are quite special. She is bright and honest and eager to work and find independence. Asking for help and receiving it have been very difficult for her, but she and I and Ali are getting much more comfortable, she even gave me a warm handshake today and a smile when we said goodbye.

Thanks for helping her, this will take a month or so, but  Ali and I talked about it, and we agreed she is very much worthy of our help. We will stay with her and help  her get where she needs to go, and she will do the rest.

This family needs our help, they are our brothers and sisters in America, no matter what any politician says.

28 June

Tonight, A Family Meeting Is Called At The Gulley’s.

by Jon Katz
Struggles In Gulleyland

Today, fear and depression at the Gulley farm. Carol reports on their blog that Ed had a very difficult night, and is suffering from severe anxiety and depression. A hospice nurse is coming to the farm this afternoon, hospice is bring a hospital bed for Ed, a wheelchair and some other equipment he will need.

Ed is saying he doesn’t want to be bed bound, Carol says, and he is crying and she sees the fear in his face. This is not uncommon for patients to react sharply when Hospice appears, they do wonderful work but it is never really good news.

I was supposed to bring lunch to Ed, but he asked me instead to come to a hurriedly called family meeting tonight. He wants me to be present as an observer, not a participant to take notes and keep a record of any major decisions made by the family.

I scrupulously avoid injecting myself into family decisions, and this is the first time Ed has asked me to do this. And I agreed. He asks me for very little.

If appropriate and he requests it, I will write about it. Otherwise, not. it is a very closely knit family and I will respect their privacy as much as they want me to.

Carol says Ed was not able to sketch today, and can’t sit at the computer at all. She is hoping the hospital bed will permit him to sit up and draw and sketch as much as he wants.

It feels like something has changed since yesterday. He seemed serious, but calm and reflective in our video talk.

I notice Ed is losing weight and retreating from walking and moving around unless necessary. He can laugh when prompted but much less than before, all of which is understandable.

Carol wrote on her blog that the hospice nurses are providing medication for fear and anxiety.

Carol wrote another angry post this morning, “My Farmer and Me…Not Just Me…” She is under a great deal of pressure. She is still struggling with the role of the caregiver versus the role of the wife and partner. Anyone would be.

Hospice is making its presence felt, they will work hard to get Ed comfortable and keep him comfortable and also keep him at home, where he wants to be.  Contrary to some popular opinion, hospice is not about death, but about independence and quality of life. They will faithfully carry out Ed’s wishes.

This often takes a great deal of pressure off of the family. I hope that is the case with the Gulley’s.  I will be there tonight to listen and observe and otherwise be silent.

I am relieved that they have trained nurses and social workers to call, I know hospice will get them ready for what is coming, whatever it is. The equipment they are bring in is very necessary.

I look forward to seeing Ed tonight and getting a better understanding of what is happening.

28 June

GOOD News. Ali Has Been Named Albany’s “Star” Citizen of 2018

by Jon Katz

The news from the outside world sometimes appears shaky, but the news in my world was a great joy. Today, Ali (Amjad Mohammed Abdulla) was notified by the Albany Times-Union, the region’s biggest and most influential newspaper, that he has been chosen as the “Star Citizen of the Capital Region” for the year.

This is the paper’s highest recognition of a citizen who has best served the community. Reporters there have come out to see Ali in action coaching the team, and have followed some of our work together on the blog.

Ali and I work together almost every day and have for a year, he is my brother from a different mother,  and I can happily testify that this award is richly deserved.

I have been given a rich and first hand view of the wonderful work he has done with a group of refugee children as a coach of the Albany Warriors Soccer Team, and as a friend, teacher and sometimes, a father figure, to these remarkable children. Working with Ali is one of the great privileges of my life.

When these kids first came to America a few years ago, many were in trouble. They spoke little English, struggled in school, were drawn into the streets out of boredom, and were often friendless and isolated. No more.

Ali is tireless, compassionate and fiercely committed to a life of service and good deeds. He makes sure the members of the team have everything they need, and will come flying to their teachers if there is any hint of a problem. He makes sure they are growing and learning and acclimating all the time.

The stories of these children are often heartbreaking, their struggles continuous, they face great language and social and cultural challenges, and in the past couple of years, increasing hostility from their American-born peers, fellow classmates, and sometimes, opposing soccer team players. People tell them all the time that our leaders don’t want them here.

Great News! Ali Is A Star! Right after getting the news.

Ali has socially adopted these children – mostly boys but some young women –  in a cloud love and concern, but also insisted that they get excellent grades, behave with civility and dignity, love one another and play hard and fairly on the field. He builds character and security with children who have often experienced real horror and trauma.

I know he was spending a lot of his own money to buy them clothes and get them cell phones and video games as well as books and learning tools. We met one day at a local refugee and immigrant center, where officials there tried to shoo me away with my camera, and Ali swooped in and introduced me to the kids and their families.

Thus, our work together was born.

This year, six of the soccer team members graduated from  junior high school with honors, and one, Sakler Moo, had the highest GPA of anyone in the graduating class.  We got Sakler an IWatch as a recognition of this accomplishment (Ali managed some great deal with a retailer.)

The family lives of these children are often complex. Most have single mothers who work one or more jobs, there is rarely a care or any extra money for fees and uniforms. The Army Of Good has stepped into this void, the team  has new uniforms, sneakers, T-shirts,  headbands, soccer balls and baseball caps.

it is very rare for any parent to be able to attend a game.

The team can stand tall now with the much richer and bigger suburban teams they face.

Many have lost a parent or grandparents and been pulled from their roots, and from everything familiar. Ali stands over them with great love and attention, he is always protecting them, supporting them, teaching them. When their teachers have a problem, they usually call Ali.

It has been my privilege to be the main sponsor of the soccer team for more than six months now, and it has been one of the joys of my life. I am also committed to these young people, they no longer compete in flip-flops and rag-tag uniforms, the Army Of Good has taken them under its wing.

Six months ago, they had to be other teams for worn-out soccer balls, they had no money for the high fees and expenses of American soccer, an upper-middle class sport. Back home, they played soccer barefoot and in the street.

Ali wanted me to make sure to thank all of you for the support you have given the team. He thanks you in the video above.

We go beyond the games, we sponsor outings, practice sessions, boat rides, trek’s to the movies, hikes, pizza dinners, birthday celebrations, visits to our farm, the Mansion Assisted Care Facility, various state parks and lakes, and the Powell House Youth Retreat program.

Ali spearheaded a drive for us to get our own van to take the team for practices, games and outings. Tomorrow, we have sponsored a trip to the Adirondack Farm Land, and next week, a trip to the video game centers and swimming beaches in Lake George, as well as Bedlam Farm.

Ali is a modest man, and he insists he isn’t looking for recognition, but he seemed pleased to me.She should be. He works like a demon to help these kids. Ali had to overcome many obstacles to pull the team together and keep them together. He never stopped fighting for them.

This turned out to be a great news day for Ali, for me, for these children, and hopefully for the Army Of Good. You made all of this possible.

28 June

Letter To The Army Of Good: Hope And Promise

by Jon Katz
Letter, Army Of Good

Dear AOG,

This is my first letter to you, and I won’t make a habit out of it. I’m writing this because I know so many of you are upset over the news this week, the messages I am receiving are full of anger, concern and mostly fear about our country.

I am not here to tell you how to think or feel about things, we each have to make our own choices.

Pain and disappointment are unavoidable, suffering is a choice for me. I will tell you that this morning, I woke up with much concern, but with even more of a sense of hope and promise.

The future belongs to the young, and I believe, to the young people and the women who are rising, not to me.

I have one hand in the past and one in the present, and a few fingers in the grave.

My future is much shorter than my past, I will not live to see the outcome of the conflicts and struggles now underway.

First off, I would suggest  this morning that you go and look at the remarkable campaign video of 28-year-old Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez of New York City, the charismatic 28-year-old who won a stunning primary election Tuesday, defeating an accomplished elderly white man, one of the most powerful people in Congress.

His time, like mine, was up.

The media completely missed what was happening in this radically fresh and simple campaign – she had no money and no staff, and they are still missing it.

Whether you agree with  her or not, is besides the point. She is not a freak, or a geographic accident. She is very important.

She is honest and very real, and as yet uncorrupted by the money and corruption that has overwhelmed our political system.

We have the people, she said in her campaign, they have the money.

That has always been the story of political power, and we are now engaged in a great and long and difficult struggle to see which will prevail – the needs of people versus the power of money.

My first editor told me there is only one story in American politics, and that is the rich always screw the poor until the poor have had enough and rise up, and for a few brief moments in time, the money is driven back, and the people win, at least for a while.

Here we are. There is nothing new in history.

I don’t know Alexandria, but she has give me great hope, I see the revolution is underway, the great wave of change is stirring and gathering speed. She is the future, not me, or those hoary and angry old men in Washington.

I am not discouraged or  frightened, I am hopeful and excited. Every day, I will try to do good, and the more bad news I hear and see, the more good i will set out to do. That is our revolution, our response, I believe, at least is is mine.

If I can’t dance to it, said the anarchist Emma Goldman, it’s not my revolution. I can dance to Alexandria Orcasio-Cortez’s song, I believe she is the most important political figure in America right now, not because she is always right, or because she is left or right, or because she is Democrat or Republican, but because she comes from the people.

She knows them and cares for them, and has a purity of spirit and fierce idealism that I will will ultimately carry the day. She reminds us how rare it now is for a politician in America to come from the people or know them. They responded to her, in great and surprising numbers. They call to us to wake up and be hopeful and determined, not small and angry.

I know enough to get out of the way and work on the outside of this, I am not joining that scrum, we do good every single day now, you and me. One life at a time, one small act of great kindness at a time, one refugee mother and child at a time.

I’m going to see Lisa in Albany this morning.

i believe it is better to go down fighting for good then be a prisoner all the days of my life. R. Buckminister Fuller said you never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, one must build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.

Alexandria Orcasio-Ortez is building a new model, almost all by herself she made the existing model obsolete. She is the future, she is full of hope and promise, not jaded or tired or bitter as so many people have become.

As happened in 2016, no mainstream media journalist saw what she was doing, or grasped its significance. Why on earth should be believe their hysterical alarms and prophesies of doom? They sit in their offices and hide behind their podcasts and cable news slots. They are yesterday. She is tomorrow.

This work we do purifies and uplifts us and gives us that hope and promise. It’s my revolution, and I hope you will join me in it. The future does belong to the young, and Orcasio-Ortez has given us notice that they are on the march, and will cast their own future and make their own new revolution.

Jefferson warned us that it would take more than one revolution to bring freedom and equality,  and we are seeing that he is right. I would have joined the first one, I’m happy to jump into this one. I think I already have.

I do not get my faith from the news, they are thrilled to be able to spread fear and division for the rest of the year at least, they will make a lot of money from it. But they are not my news, and have lost their compass for truth,  I don’t have to accept theirs.

It was Franklin Roosevelt who asked us to remember that all of us are descendent from immigrants and revolutionaries. You don’t have to shoot people or shout at them to make a revolution.

We are doing it right here every day. Just ask the Mansion residents and the refugee mothers and their children.

My wish for you is that you not succumb to panic and fear, both are pointless and off the mark. I’m not playing the games of the left or the right or their media.

I don’t care to live like that. I choose to not live in despair or fear.

When I open my eyes, I see a lot to rejoice over. There is good news, right under our noses.

28 June

Magical Day In Lake George Tuesday For The Soccer Team

by Jon Katz
Magical Day

The stories of these refugee children are difficult to bear sometimes, but their story yesterday was a joy. I wasn’t there, I couldn’t make it, but we gave these kids a magical day in Lake George, N.Y., Ali called me this morning, he was exhausted, they left for Lake George at 9 a.m., they got home to Albany at 8 p.m.

They went swimming for two hours, had lunch at Pizza Hut, went on the boat ride for more than hour, went swimming for two more hours, played games in a game parlor for two hours or so, and then went and had hamburgers for dinner at a restaurant.

Many of these kids had never been on water before, never been on a boat before, never played in a razzle-dazzle game parlor before. They had so much fun I suggested they go again next week and just swim and cut loose in a game parlor with a special pass, if we can afford it.

Ali and I are meeting in Albany later this morning to plan for next week, the last week of their school vacation. I’m accepting some Rocket Donations – small donations from lots of people – to get them there. I’d like to give them at least one more magical day.

Next week, they are also coming to Bedlam Farm, and we’ve found some state parks to visit. It gives me great joy to hear about the fun they are having, otherwise, there is little for them to do, and no money or people with cars and time to do it with.

Their parents, mostly single mothers, are busy working and have little to spare. If you wish to contribute – Rocket Donations are  small amounts, anywhere from $5 to $25 or $50, for specific events. These kids are a huge success story, they are all honor students and some of the nicest people I have ever meet.

If you can on this gloomy news day, feel better, send your contribution to the Gus Fund, c/o Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y, 12816, or via Paypal, jon@bedlamfarm.com.

Thanks for giving them this magical day, and thanks in advance for helping to give them another one next week. Tomorrow, they are going to Animal Land in th Adirondacks.

I’m thinking I might go with them next week to see them in the game place, that really blew their minds.

Much live, it is better to do good that argue about good or worry about it.

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