vulnerable path

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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