vulnerable path

Make yourself a stronger woman.


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Stop and enjoy the olives

Last Saturday, I met a child who took tremendous delight in a green olive.  Actually, he enjoyed lots of green olives, devouring as many as I would give him.

I was serving food at a picnic for bike riders from the Community Bike Works, an organization in Allentown that mentors inner-city children through their bicycle maintenance program.  The riders, nine children and five adults, met up with us at Sand Island in Bethlehem.  They were riding along the Canal Towpath, a section of the D & L Trail, from their start in Allentown’s Canal Park.  My employer, EZ Micro Solutions, sponsored the lunch.

Bike Riders from Community Bike Works enjoyed a picnic at Sand Island in Bethlehem on Saturday, July 25, 2015.  Christine Reber, far left, and David Dooley, second from left, provided the lunch on behalf of EZ Micro Solutions.  Kim Schaffer, Executive Director of Community Bike Works, far right, led the group on the ride, starting at Allentown's Canal Park.

Bike Riders from Community Bike Works enjoyed a picnic at Sand Island in Bethlehem on Saturday, July 25, 2015. Christine Reber, far left, and David Dooley, second from left, provided the lunch on behalf of EZ Micro Solutions. Kim Schaffer, Executive Director of Community Bike Works, far right, led the group on the ride, starting at Allentown’s Canal Park.

Among the spread of wrap sandwiches, chips, cookies, and drinks was a very large container of green olives.  I love olives, but I wasn’t sure that this group would eat them.  I had forgotten to bring a serving spoon, but that was no deterrent.  Young and old alike were pouring them onto their plates or simply grabbing a handful.  And there was much appreciation for all that was offered.  We must have heard a hundred thank-yous that day.

bike_editedThese children brought a warm and infectiously happy attitude to an already beautiful, sunny day.  “Wow, I’m really ready for this!” one child announced.  “I know what’s in this box,” said another as he hovered over the cookies.  A few others kept riding in circles around the path, having too much fun to stop for food.  One of the older boys managed to climb a nearby tree.  We finally corralled all of them for a prayer before digging in.  A young hand shot up, “Oh, may I say the prayer?” he begged.  Absolutely!  We bowed our heads as he asked God to bless the food we were about to eat and thanked Him for the many blessings in our lives.

It brought tears to my eyes.  I wanted to drink up the boundless energy that poured from these kids, taking it in like a much needed antidote to the worries of my adult life.  Will my car make it through at least one month without needing repair?  Can we solve a big software issue at work?  But seeing the joy these kids took in something as simple as an olive, or a bike ride, or a tree, made me think.  Have I forgotten the importance of play in my own life?  Lately, it seems that my commitments have filled up too much space on my to-do list.  I need to make time for pure, un-obliged fun.

Community Bike Works has found a way to encourage kids to have fun while also sneaking in lessons in work ethic and responsibility.  Their youth development programs provide kids with mentors who serve as experienced friends and role models.  Students who regularly meet with mentors are less likely to skip school, or abuse alcohol or illegal drugs.  Children gain companionship and supervision.  They learn leadership skills and build their self-esteem.  But let’s not overlook one of the most fundamental elements of a program like Community Bike Works — it helps kids benefit from play.

tire_editedThere is much research that supports the belief that play is vital to a child’s growth and development.  It’s through play that children learn about their world.  Play helps kids learn to read, solve problems, understand math, and build social skills.  So it’s not hard to imagine what these children are learning at Community Bike Works.  CBW has been teaching bike maintenance to kids for 20 years — four or more nights per week, all year long, 16 kids per night “play” with bikes.  Maybe some former students have gained employment because of their training, or earned a college degree.  Maybe some have become teachers, businessmen, or engineers.

I hope all of them, no matter how old, are still going on bike rides.  Because as adults, we still need the benefits of play.  We focus so much on work and family commitments, that we end up leaving little room for some pure fun.  Work may keep food on the table and a roof over our heads.  But it’s the childlike bliss of play that will keep us healthy, happy, and peaceful.  Make time in your life for a bike ride.  Play tag with the neighborhood kids or fetch with the dog.  Climb a tree!

No kids or dogs at home?  No problem!  Community Bike Works would love to have you join their ranks as a volunteer.  They are always looking for adults to mentor their students, help out with bike mechanics classes, or chaperone bike rides.  If biking isn’t your thing, there are lots of other organizations in our community that support children and animals.  Consider becoming a volunteer.  Volunteering can be a great way to spend leisure time with individuals who enjoy the same activities that you do.  But it can also give you a sense of fulfillment beyond the play – the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you have helped to improve the lives of others.

Whether you volunteer or just simply make time to have fun, you are bound to reap the rewards.  Play may be vital to a child’s growth and development, but it’s essential to an adult’s sanity.  In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”   I think the young boy I met on Saturday would say, “Stop and enjoy the olives!”

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


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An Overwhelming Sensation

Do you ever get that overwhelming sensation?  It’s not a physical one, like exhaustion or hunger.  I’m talking about an emotional one.  It has been happening to me a lot in the last few years.  It’s the emotional response that rises up inside me when I hear about a young person’s success or when I read an article about how someone has improved their local community.  I am overcome with the feeling that I must help make the world a better place.

Alan Jennings knows that feeling.  He is the executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, an organization he has been a part of for more than 30 years.  I don’t know Jennings personally, but I can certainly relate to him.  He was featured recently in an article in The Morning Call, saying that he had the “overwhelming sensation” as a young child that he was “born to save the world.”  Jennings joined CACLV fresh out of college.  He has been instrumental in not only saving it from shutdown, but growing it into an organization with a $20 million a year budget.  CACLV is the engine behind numerous neighborhood improvement programs, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens throughout the Lehigh Valley.

Few of us are fortunate enough to realize our calling at such a young age.  For some, it may take 50 years.  For others, it may never come.  For me, it’s finally arrived and has been transformative.  I believe this passion was born out of my role as a parent, to help my daughter become the best person she can be.  I have seen this evolution taking place, that my hope to improve people’s lives has grown beyond just she and I.  If I make this effort for my child, I can take many others along on the journey.

A few weeks ago, I received an email from the Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley, advertising a “speed networking” event geared to help local non-profits find volunteers.  I had barely finished reading the first few lines when I knew I needed to participate.  This was an opportunity that I simply could not pass up.  It was a way for me to act as a liaison — to bridge the gap between Girl Scouts and the larger world of service organizations for the girls and adults that I work with.  Because if I am to support the mission of Girl Scouting, which is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place, then I have to help girls to connect to the community and world beyond Girl Scouting.

I was utterly overwhelmed at the speed networking event.  There were about 25 organizations represented, and I had to choose five to meet with.  It was difficult to narrow it down to five!  I chose Community Bike Works, The Center for Humanistic Change, The Lehigh Conference of Churches, the Third Street Alliance, and Gress Mountain Ranch.  I was able to meet the executive directors of all of these organizations, present them with my resume, and talk about the passions that we have in common.  My goal now is to get to know these groups better, introduce others to them, and find ways to help them expand their own missions.

Clockwise from top right, the ceiling of the parlor, one of many stained glass windows, a close up of a tile surrounding the fireplace in Mr. Simon's office, a mosaic in the lobby.

Clockwise from top right, the ceiling of the parlor, one of many stained glass windows, a close up of a tile surrounding the fireplace in Mr. Simon’s office, a mosaic in the lobby.

I began last weekend by taking my daughter for a tour of the Third Street Alliance in Easton, PA.  They are based in the Simon mansion, a beautifully restored building in the heart of downtown Easton.  You cannot tell by looking at the French revival façade of this building that it houses a homeless shelter for women and children.  Additionally, this dynamic organization provides the community with a Keystone Stars accredited child care program and an adult care program for seniors with special needs.  It’s a stunning mash-up of art, architecture, and social service.  We learned that they need help to sort donations, to make care packages for clients, and to garner additional funding to make their swimming pool ADA compliant, just to name a few.

I left there with my mind reeling, mulling over the many possible ways to help them.  And I could see that it made an impression on my daughter as well.  She’s 13, and yet she wasn’t underwhelmed, as is so often the case at this age.  She was intrigued by the interior design and the art work, and listened intently to our tour guide’s stories.  There’s a world outside of herself, and she’s beginning to open her eyes to it.

Our next stop will be at the Community Bike Works.  We are visiting them this week, donating an old bike and taking a tour.  I can’t wait!

I have tremendous respect for the individuals that serve at the heart of these organizations.  They often dedicate many hours of overtime and accept less than adequate wages.  They are all “saving the world” in their own unique ways.  Jennings states in the Morning Call article, “Let’s face it, I’ve been at this a long time and the world is still really screwed up. I’ve failed a lot.”

I have to disagree.  Mr. Jennings, you have not failed.  I am certain that you have changed the lives of many individuals for the better.  In fact, even if you have only changed one life, you have still left the world better than you found it.  That’s accomplishing your mission.  That’s leaving a legacy.  That’s making lives better beyond your own.

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The purpose of life is not to be happy.  It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, and to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  That’s my new motto.

© Vulnerable Path, 2015

 

 

 

 

 


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Lights, Camera, Confidence!

It was that moment when the spark ignites, the moment I look for all year long as a Girl Scout Leader.  “Miss Chris”, said one of my Scouts, “I think that people who are bullies really feel bad about themselves.  And maybe if we try to help people have more self-confidence, then there would be fewer bullies.”  Then another one added, “If people had more self-confidence, bullies and cliques wouldn’t bother them so much.”  These kids were on to something, and I knew we had the ingredients for a great Take Action Project.

Award_editedIn case you are unfamiliar, a Take Action Project culminates a Girl Scout Journey.  Journeys are an integral part of the Girl Scout Leadership experience.  It’s the heart of the National Program, and Journey curriculum is available for every age level in Girl Scouting.  It focuses on three core themes — It’s Your World, Change It; It’s Your Planet, Love It; and It’s Your Story, Tell It.  Journeys teach girls the three keys to leadership — Discover, Connect, and Take Action.  Discover something about yourself or an issue that is important to you.  Connect with others in your community who hold those same beliefs.  And Take Action to create a sustainable solution to that problem.   The ultimate mission in all this is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character that make the world a better place!

The Journey our Cadette troop (6-8 grade) did this year is called aMAZE, and it focuses on how teenagers can improve their relationships with their peers.  I knew how much my girls needed to have the chance to talk about what they are going through in school.  I knew that several of them had already suffered bullying.  And I knew some of them struggled with self-esteem.  They needed tools to navigate “the twists and turns of getting along,” as the Journey book calls it.

As adults, we sometimes forget.  But being a teenager is not easy!  I wanted to encourage some heart to heart discussions about peer pressure, gossiping, cliques, stereotypes, first impressions, bullying, and more.  But in the end, my girls pinpointed one root cause of many of these issues — a lack of confidence and self-esteem.  And they decided to throw a “Confidence Rocks Party” to help solve it.

pop rocks_editedThe girls created a playlist of confidence boosting songs that they felt would uplift and inspire others.  We decided that a good place for a party is our local roller-skating rink, and the Skateaway was more than happy to partner with us on this project.  We designed a flyer to promote the event and emailed it to all the Girl Scouts troops in our community.  We pulled inspirational quotes from the songs on the playlist and made party favors with Pop Rocks candy, attaching the quotes.  We created some awesome decorations by “tie dying” coffee filters!  And we set up a photo booth with a backdrop, costumes, and props to encourage Party-goers to let their Confidence shine.

When I plan Journey sessions, I go on a Journey myself.  I learn just as much, probably more, than my girls do!  I find amazing resources on the Internet that I use in my lesson plans.  This year, I found so much good stuff that I decided to put it all in a blog post so I could share it with parents and other Girl Scout leaders.  Here’s how my journey began.

ConfidenceOne day last summer, I received an email from my niece.  She sent me information about a group called Lehigh Valley Girls Rock.  She thought my daughter would be interested in their program.  What this group does is pretty amazing.  They teach girls how to play instruments, help them write music, form bands, and perform — all in a week long camp setting.  But if that wasn’t cool enough, it was through their website that I discovered some other very inspiring women who have a thing or two to say about self-confidence and self-love.  A whole bunch of inspiration just fell into my lap!

First there is Gala Darling and her Radical Self Love Manifesto.   Gala started out as a fashion blogger, but soon discovered her true calling and devoted herself to helping other women fall in love with themselves.  Admitting that her teenage years were full of turmoil, she found a way to overcome her struggles and turn her life around.  She is now a very successful entrepreneur.  Her website is just chock full of inspiring essays and activities such as her “Radical Self Love Bible School” which is an art journaling self-discovery program.  I recommend watching her TedEX talk on You Tube.

Then there is Jaime Karpovich.  Jaime is a Vegan, produces a cable TV Show called Save The Kales that airs in several markets, and keeps a blog of the same name.  She’s a freelance writer and public speaker and loves to talk about vegan cooking and lifestyle, body positivity and self-esteem, and personal empowerment to name a few.  I tried to arrange for her to speak to my Girl Scouts, but it didn’t work out this year.  I still have my fingers crossed that we can work together soon!  I think she would really impress upon them how important it is to be true to yourself and follow your dreams.

crafted with beautySomewhere along the line I stumbled upon a gem of an article by Anna Lind Thomas called, “Life is too short for crappy friends,”   Thomas is a writer and comedian who really nails it when it comes to explaining to girls why being “popular” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  She also has some hilarious things to say for us grown-up women.  Here’s a link to her blog.

Oh, and I cannot leave out Brene’ Brown.  I am absolutely obsessed with her book The Gifts of Imperfection.  I carried it around for months on end.  I read and re-read it, marking it up with pencil and highlighter.  I preached it to anyone who would listen.  Her guideposts for wholehearted living resonated with me like nothing else ever has.  It just makes so much sense.  It was inspiration from her research that led me to create this blog and name it Vulnerable Path.  If you follow my blog, you know I have talked about her A LOT in previous posts.

The one thing that Brown has to say that I felt was very important to convey to my Girl Scouts was this:

You are WORTHY now, right this minute, AS IS!!!!!

Brown has an amazing TedEX Talk and other videos on her website– even one about empathy that I recommend for kids.  You can find all of them on here.

The thing is, confidence and self-esteem isn’t just a teen issue.  There are many times throughout our lives that we struggle with a lack of self-confidence.  If we feel bad about ourselves, we are performing that script for our children.  Their young eyes are on us every day as we make choices and navigate our own complicated lives.  We are in the spotlight, the camera is focused on us.  So it’s up to us, first and foremost, to be a good role-model for our children.  As I’ve said before, we can’t give our children something that we don’t have.  (Actually, I think Brene’ Brown said that!)

hero_editedTo help our children gain self-esteem, we have to change the script.  We have to be willing to look in the mirror and say, “I look great today!” instead of “Do you think I look fat in this dress?”  We have to show them that it’s OK to walk out the door with no makeup on.  We have to make positive changes in our lives when we are unhappy.  We have to stand up for ourselves when others treat us poorly.  You can tell them everyday how awesome they are.  But what they really need to see, in addition to all that, is how awesome you think you are!

All I want for my daughter, all any of us want for our children, is that they do better than us — be wiser, smarter, stronger.  We want them to discover their talents and ignite that spark that leads them to their dreams.  The first step in helping them is to help ourselves.

This is a Journey for all of us, young and old alike.  I hope you rock your confidence!

You can download our Playlist and our confidence activity calendar from these links:

Playlist for Confidence Rocks Party

Confidence Rocks Calendar

© Vulnerable Path, 2015

 

 


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Welcome to May

It’s been a long 5 months.  Back in January, I was sending up my wishes for the new year in bird seed, peanut butter, and pine cones.  Let’s see — I wished to embrace my failures.  Check!  It feels like that’s all I’ve managed to accomplish since New Year’s Day.  All the other wishes — well, life got in the way.  But there is still hope! Welcome to May!

bush 2_editedMay makes me happy.  The days are getting longer.  It’s warm enough to get outside and take a walk, go bicycling, or head to the trail for a hike.  Thank God for May!  It had gotten to the point where I could not set foot in the gym and bear that treadmill one more time.  I NEEDED to get outdoors!

I finally had the opportunity to break open the shed and dust off my bike last weekend.  I missed her so much!  “You and me, Bike, we are going to have a really nice ride today!  Let’s get you spiffed up!”  Put a little air in those tires and we are ready to roll.

Until I was out there, cruising down the road, I had not realized just how much I missed this activity.  It’s the way I keep my sanity.  It restores my balance.  It clears my head of all the gunk of everyday.  I was so thirsty for a bike ride.  And it quenched my soul!

cherry blossom 3_editedI feel so blessed to live in a community that has such a wonderful network of recreational trails.  We have the Delaware and Lehigh Rail Trail running straight through the heart of our area.  It’s actually a 165 mile trail system that runs from Wilke-Barre, PA all the way past New Hope along the Lehigh and Delaware Rivers.  I haven’t ridden the whole trail — yet!  You can read all about it here.

May ushers in the downhill run toward the end of the school year.  And this is a good thing for me.  Not because I’m a teacher, and I look forward to my summers off.  Actually, in some respects, I am a teacher.  I’m a Girl Scout leader, and we teach lots of things.  At least we try to.  And while I love my volunteer work more than my paying gig, I’m still ready for a break.  Summer re-charges my batteries.

White hearts_editedMy plan is to get re-connected to nature this summer, and in the process, re-connect to those wishes I made on January 1.  Maybe I will explore a new section of the Rail Trail.  Or perhaps I will brave a kayaking trip on the river.  It would also be awesome just to sit on my back porch, under my umbrella, with a drink in one hand and a good book in the other.

The explosion of new life in springtime is revitalizing.  Gone are the browns, grays, whites of winter.  The trees burst with blossoms and colors.  Things turn GREEN again!  I had to take along my camera and capture nature showing itself off today.

violets_editedI’ve noticed that not all wild plants are weeds.  How can you argue when you find these delightful violets popping up in your grass?  When I was a kid, I always looked forward to finding violets in my yard.  I would carefully pick them, place them in a tiny vase, and present them to my Mom.  Being a Mom myself now, I know that is the best gift!  I also picked Dandelions, clover, butter cups, and wild strawberries.  Did you ever hold a butter cup up to your chin?  A yellow reflection is supposed to indicate a fondness for butter!

bleeding heart_editedRalph Waldo Emerson said that a weed is a plant whose virtues have never been discovered.  Maybe this is true of ourselves sometimes too.  When we are unsure of who we are or where we want to go in life, we doubt our virtues.  But they are waiting to be discovered.  When we are criticized or bullied by others, we may feel as worthless as a weed.  But weeds are survivors.  Pulled out, cut down, poisoned, yet somehow finding persistence, power, roots, and new growth again.  Perhaps the weed sees the beauty in itself, refusing to let go of it’s wild confidence.

I’m refusing to let go of my New Year’s wishes.  I still wish to grow in spirit, strengthen my will, change those failures into opportunities, and improve my forward fold.  There is still time.  There is always a new day and a new chance to blossom.


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Where are you at this moment?

Sometimes the ongoing chatter in my mind is like a constant whir of a fan, a muffled, incessant hum. Like white noise, I’m used to it. It’s always there. It keeps me company when I have no other distractions. Or more aptly, it refuses to leave me alone. And sometimes, when the chatter is all about my problems or worries, it’s easy to become consumed and overwhelmed.

I had an appointment with my massage therapist yesterday. After a stressful week, I was looking forward to the chance to relax and take some much needed time for self-care. As I lay there, my thoughts wandered to all kinds of places. It raced into the future to the problems I will need to solve at work next week, and to the plans I’m making for an extended trip with my Girl Scouts. As my therapist’s hands attempted to find and relieve the tight muscles in my shoulders and neck, I realized I wasn’t present on her table. I wasn’t in the moment.

I have been using massage for more than a year to help reduce muscle tightness and pain. When I first visited Susan (who is also a wonderful yoga instructor), I had a huge knot at the top of my left shoulder. I had pain in my neck that stabbed me whenever I turned my head to the left. And I had tightness across my left pectoral muscle that caused constant discomfort. I had been ignoring all this for about six months before I decided to do something about it. That was my New Year’s Resolution in 2014.

I felt some immediate relief with a stretching exercise that Susan recommended for the pectoral muscle. Hallelujah! But the shoulder and neck were stubborn, so I decided that I should rule out any kind of injury. I visited an orthopedic doctor and had X-rays and an MRI of my neck. After examining the images, the doctor could find nothing more than minor arthritis beginning to form between the vertebrae in my neck, which is normal for someone my age. She recommended physical therapy. So I worked with a physical therapist for about six weeks. I faithfully did the exercises she gave me. I saw very little improvement.

But I kept up regular visits with my massage therapist, who was able to explain more to me about how my muscle groups are all connected and affect one another. She warned me that it can take a long time to “re-train” muscles that have spent so much time in a contracted state.  We also talked about how stress can manifest in the physical body. After ruling out everything else, it was clear that I was experiencing a physical reaction to emotional stress. This realization was part of what motivated me to take a hard look at where I am at in my life. It was also the impetus for starting my Vulnerable Path blog.

I am happy to report that, with Susan’s help, I no longer have a huge knot in my shoulder, and most days are pain free.  Yet after more than a year of serious work to improve my mind, body, and spirit, I still haven’t figured out how to just “be in the moment.” It sounds like the simplest thing, yet for me it is actually a struggle.

I wrote a previous blog post about Pema Chodron’s advice to take three breaths. This basic principle of meditation, to focus on your breathing, is a tool to use whenever we feel overwhelmed, stressed-out, worried, or scared. It’s a way to push out the clutter in your mind. It helps to even visualize it, imagining all the junk being blown away with your exhales.

I have read and re-read Brene’ Brown’s book about wholehearted living. I connected with her guideposts about cultivating calm and stillness, authenticity, self-compassion. Yet it is an ongoing process to let go of perfectionism, to be slow to judge myself and others, and to choose a mind-set of sufficiency.

So there I was, physically on that massage table, but my mind wasn’t even in the building, let alone the room. The good news is that I realized it. And I immediately shut down the chatter. I took a few deep breaths. I focused on the soft music playing and the physical feeling of the massage. And I also realized one other thing in that moment. I couldn’t remember the last time I was bothered by that stabbing pain in my neck. A second Hallelujah!

I’m making progress. I feel more in touch than ever with my own consciousness and the way I want to grow and transform. I want to work harder at being in the moment, to appreciate fully the here and now, rather than waste any more time worrying about the past or the future. I’ve had a book on my shelf that I’ve intended to read for many months: Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. In the introduction, Tolle says that people come up to him and say, “I want what you have. Can you give it to me, or show me how to get it?”  And his response is, “You have it already. You just can’t feel it because your mind is making too much noise.”

I think Tolle and I are going to become good friends.

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


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Cookie of Hope – learning about homelessness in Philadelpha

He was wrapped in plastic from head to toe.  He had layer upon layer of plastic tied around each foot, tightly secured somehow, as though he was wearing spaceman boots.  He blanketed himself in several huge sheets of plastic, pulled up over his head, and he held them in place with a hand under his chin.

PhillyHe was the first homeless person I saw last month when I arrived at Philadelphia’s Suburban Station at 5:45am in the heart of the city’s downtown.  We came to sell Girl Scout cookies in the station.  And we undoubtedly were going home with quite an education in city life.

As we unloaded our cookie stock, a fight erupted nearby between several men.  SEPTA workers and police descended immediately to break it up.  A minute later I was greeted by Robert.  He introduced himself, and at first I wasn’t sure if Robert was a homeless person or simply on his way to work at that hour.  Robert said that someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the dry cleaning business around the corner last Friday, injuring the Asian couple who own it.  Robert said the couple is not coming back.

From above us in a stairwell, a woman began screaming and cursing.  It seemed as though she was arguing with someone, but we could not hear anyone respond to her.  This went on for 20 minutes or longer before she became silent.  But she erupted in a stream of profanities several more times throughout the day.  At one point, the woman was carrying on an argument right behind us.  It was then that I realized her adversary was invisible.

A police officer stopped by our cookie booth, and I asked him why the screaming woman hadn’t been arrested.  He just chuckled and said, “You can’t lock up a crazy person.”

boothPlastic man milled around the loading dock area, while other folks wandered by to see what we were doing.  We brought about 60 cases of cookies.  That’s a veritable smorgasbord when you are used to fishing scraps out of trash cans.  We built ourselves a fort with cookies and camp chairs.  By 6am, we were smiling and greeting commuters with a chipper “Good Morning!”  As the day wore on, there were a few homeless folks that approached us and asked for cookies.  There were a few who lingered for a long time by our booth, just observing.

For two single moms from the suburbs and their 12 year old daughters, this was a whole new world.  Witnessing this issue made selling cookies seem trivial.  But, on the other hand, if a cookie helps to bring an important issue to a determined girl’s attention, you never know how that cookie might change someone’s future.

The Girl Scout program teaches girls to look for the root causes of problems in their communities and find ways to take action to address these issues.  In Philadelphia’s Suburban Station, our girls came face to face with a serious community issue.  And it’s overwhelming.  Where could we possibly begin?  Our girls are still learning how to address small problems in their own communities.  For them, this could mean finding ways to teach their school mates about bullying or the harmful effects of smoking.  Tackling homelessness is one issue they will need to grow into.

I wanted to learn more about homelessness in Philadelphia, so I took to the Internet and found an organization called Project HOME.  Their mission is to help break the cycle of homelessness through street outreach, supportive housing, and other community development activities.

According to Projecthome.org, a May 2013 street census counted approximately 494 individuals living on the street in Philadelphia. It is difficult to calculate the exact number of homeless people living on the street, considering the number of individuals that live in obscure park areas, vehicles, or abandoned houses.  Project HOME also estimates that, on any given night, about 6,000 people live in city-funded shelters or transitional housing.   Many of these individuals face economic hardship, lack of education and jobs, or may be victims of racial or ethnic discrimination.  But estimates run from between 34 to 53 percent of the homeless population suffers with addiction and mental illness.  This has been exacerbated by the removal of institutional support for people with severe mental illness and lack of universal health care.

As I read more about Project HOME, I learned that this organization has a service center in Suburban Station. It’s called Hub of Hope, and it was shut down without warning in November of 2014.  You can read the story of the Hub of Hope here.  But I am happy to report that the Hub is once again open and assisting the homeless in Suburban Station.  Next time we have the opportunity to sell cookies in Philadelphia, we will also take along some donations for the Hub of Hope.

There is one other fact I learned about Project HOME — eight of its top executives are women.  I wonder, were they Girl Scouts?

© Vulnerable Path, 2015


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Why am I doing this?

It’s only the fourth day of our Girl Scout cookie sale, and I am already wondering what I was thinking. I am our troop leader and cookie mom. So for the next eight weeks, I will not only be planning our meeting activities, but also running a more than $10,000.00 business. It’s a second full-time job. In the last four days, I have spent over 25 hours working the cookie business. That is in addition to working my full-time job and taking care of my home and family.

While fighting off a cranky mood yesterday, I realized I needed to re-acquaint myself with the reasons I made this commitment.

vest_editedI have always held a strong belief in the mission of Girl Scouting. But so do a lot of adults who have their children involved in Scouting. We grew up being Girl Scouts ourselves. We have fond memories of our Girl Scout experiences. But the reasons that I am a Girl Scout volunteer go well beyond my belief that it will give my daughter courage, confidence, and character.

If I won’t do it, who will?

There is a saying that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. That sounds egotistical. Maybe a better way to phrase it would be to say, if you want a particular result, you have to be willing to put in the work to see that result materialize. That doesn’t just pertain to the Girl Scout organization. That’s a life-in-general thing. It occurred to me a very long time ago that if I wanted my daughter to grow up to be a smart, confident, capable human being, I needed to do the work to make that happen. It wasn’t something to leave to other people. Not to other family members, or teachers, or coaches, or activity volunteers.

If I wanted my daughter to get the most out of her Girl Scout experience, I knew I needed to be actively involved. It wasn’t enough to drop her off at weekly meetings. I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first volunteered. But I can tell you now that I see a very clear corollary between successful girl outcomes and the involvement of girls’ parents. For example, the girls in my troop who earned Bronze Awards as Junior Girl Scouts had parents who involved themselves in the process. They not only brought their girls to special Bronze Award planning sessions, they stayed and participated. They strongly encouraged their girls to make a commitment to a project and stood with them every step of the way.

If I won’t set an example, who will?

Children are very observant of their surroundings. Everything that happens to them has the power to become a teaching experience. Every person they come in contact with has influence. I want to be a positive influence. And, as I said before, if I want my daughter to be smart, confident, and capable, then I have to model that. Whatever expectations I have for her, I need to be willing to live up to myself. Some days, that is no easy task!

The Girl Scout cookie program intends to teach girls these five skills — goal-setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. Most people think the cookie sale is a fund-raiser. There is so much more to it than that. If I am going to teach these skills, then I have to demonstrate them. As a leader, a parent, and a role model, it’s my job to set realistic goals and show girls how to meet them. I am a trustee of their money; therefore, I am obligated to manage it appropriately. They are watching, so I need to be friendly, helpful and respectful toward everyone I work with. I need to show my girls how to do what’s right.

My kid isn’t entitled to anything. And I don’t ever want her to think she is. The most rewarding things in life come to us because we worked hard to earn them. It’s a lesson kids ultimately need to learn on their own. But there has to be a role model there, someone who kids can look up to and say, “She did it, and I can too.” It is possible for our troop to earn the money to travel domestically and even internationally. It’s my job to show them that this goal can be reached. I can’t give up. I can’t quit. When I’m tired, there is still one more order of cookies to sort, one more inventory count to do.  This is the work ethic I hope to see my daughter emulate.

If I can’t motivate her, who will?

Let’s face it, most kids would be perfectly happy to spend the whole day sitting on the couch, watching You Tube videos on their iPads.  There are some amazingly motivated young people in this world.  But I can guarantee that every one of them has an equally motivated parent standing right next to them.  I bet Katie Francis is one of them.  She is a 12 year old from Oklahoma that sold over 21,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies in one season!  You can learn more about her amazing story here.

There have been many times when my daughter did not want to do something that I was encouraging her to do.  Whether it was trying a new food or learning to ride a bike, more often than not, she ended up thankful that I kept pushing her.  I want my child to discover activities that she enjoys.  I want her to find her passion.  Yet sometimes she needs a good shove in the right direction.  I can’t let that up to anyone else either.

Why am I doing this?  I’m doing it all for you, my child.  I am committed to being your teacher, role model, and motivator.  And I am more than happy to do the same for every Girl Scout I meet.

© Vulnerable Path, 2015