How Polio Shaped My LIfe

When I was growing up polio epidemics were frequent.  I lived in a small upstate NY town known for its beautiful mountains, cool stream waters and great summer weather making it the perfect vacation escape for thousands of people.  Combine the time and the place and families were careful to shield the children from this crush of visitors.

We were lucky that my grandparents owned property up in those mountains and every year our family left our hometown the day after school recessed for our summer place, returning the day before school started.  I remember eagerly packing the old station wagon with summer clothing, bathing suits, as many books as I could fit and games.

Those summers were bliss.  Acres of property to run and play, forts to build, mountains to climb and brooks to wade.  Although I was the only child around I never got lonely – too much to do, so much to explore.  My sister was a baby but eventually,over the years we spent on this summer trek, grew into a fun, if sometimes a pesky playmate.

In the evening we would go for walks to watch the sun go down, catch fireflies, read, play Uncle Wiggly or listen to the radio or get my grandmother to tell us stories about life in Scotland.

These years, life was a blank canvas filled with experiences and we were willing sponges. I learned the names of birds and trees, devised games to amuse myself, read my way through all the Bobbsey Twins, Cherry Ames, Nancy Drew, Pollyanna, and too many others to name, learned to swim, learned to enjoy being myself.

And then there were our only near neighbors, just a short walk up the hill.  They lived here all year round, farming the land, haying, milking the many cows that grazed on the hillside. She was what they used to call a maiden lady, never married, and the owner of the old house filled with antiques, mostly china and books.  She opened a new world of authors to me: Gene Stratton Porter, Albert Payson Terhune, Readers Digest Condensed book.  I still have all she gave me each summer and enjoy remembering and re-reading even today.  My secret wish was to go to Mackinaw Island and meet Freckles so he could teach me more about moths and butterflies and then I would marry him.

Her border, was an elderly man, blinded and scarred years earlier in a chemical fire.  Born in Ireland he had the greatest Irish brogue – sometimes we had to guess what he said.  He was jovial, friendly and fun to be around.  He would take us into the barns with the cows, let us play with his dog and was always laughing.

We learned about Belleek China, drank watery tea from those cups, ate cookies, listened to stories and tried on old hats.  It was an odd tea party but oh so delightful.

These years went on for a long time but then in the mid-50’s things changed.  The reason for leaving our hometown – the chance of contracting polio, was no longer a threat.  First the Salk vaccine and then the Sabin oral vaccine and polio epidemics died down and then out. Although we still continued to go to our summer place we were not so isolated and eventually we only drove up for long weekends.

I learned many years later that members of Rotary International made a promise to the children of the world to eradicate polio.  Now most of the world is polio-free with a final push to finish what was promised over 30 years ago.  I joined Rotary in 1997 and do my part in the eradication effort.

From-time-to-time I think about those summers, all the experiences and adventures, the life skills learned, the passion for literacy, the habits of mind and realize that if it hadn’t been for the polio scare my life might have turned out very differently.

I still visit that summer place the land now owned by others.  Our neighbors long gone, the barns in neglect.  But the trail down to the waterfall is still there, overgrown of course.  The entrance to the pasture hidden by encroaching trees and maybe I’m the only one who remembers where the secret mountain spring is located.  And I will see Rotary keep its promise.

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Thank You To Alex, One Special Guy

This blog is about people and organizations doing good in the world, making a difference, showing kindness and compassion in challenging situations and events.  I write from personal knowledge of the subjects.  But every once in a while something or someone grabs me and holds on.  This is what happened when I read about Alex and the East Orange NJ Animal Shelter on the Facebook page of Susie’s Senior Dogs .  SSD shines a spotlight on adopting senior dogs and I look forward to their photos and posts that help educate people on the joyful experience an older dog can bring to a home.  (Side note here:  we adopted a then-13 year old West Highland White Terrier two years ago, the love of my life.)

When I read about two dogs who were at the East Orange NJ  shelter, I cringed at what people can do to animals but then became immersed in the story about Alex, the animal control officer for the city and caretaker of the animals at the shelter.  Just the location of the shelter, literally behind the city dump – they share the parking lot – was attention-getting.  Then I read that Alex furnished his office by finding and repairing furniture he found at the dump  and painted with paint he found there too.  Wow! I thought there is someone who knows how to make the most out of any situation.

At the time I must share I was a little off my Pollyanna game: in pain from an injury, cold from a long, snow-filled winter, complaining about various and sundry, this story knocked me over with kindness, goodness, compassion and inspired me to write about this young man, Alex, someone I don’t know – but surely admire.

So who is Alex?  A hard worker for sure.  When Susie’s Senior Dog humans visited they found the shelter cleaner than most shelters and with no other staff besides Alex.  He also rescued the two dogs featured on Susie’s posting, from a life in a foreclosed house filled with dirt and filth.  Apparently the shelter’s reputation has not been the best but the prior staff is gone and Alex is turning things around.  The city provides little in the way of funding or other help which is very sad but hopefully when they see the outpouring of love for the work Alex is doing, they will find a few dollars to help these beautiful homeless animals.

Alex also must have that rare ability to see things as they could be, not as they are.  Check out the photo of the office with repurposed furniture and files from the dump!  He must also have a good heart to care for the cats and dogs with so little in the way of resources*.  And he must also enjoy a challenge – rebuilding a shelter’s reputation is no easy job.  The other thing I noticed is that, on a regular basis, he is the only human at the shelter so he must really enjoy his animal companions.  Alex has the dedication and other qualities I admire, that inspire me, that make me want to be a better person.  Thank you Alex.

As Eleanor H. Porter wrote in Pollyanna so many years ago, “When you know you will find the good-you will get that.”

alex and the dump furniture

 

 

 

*This story is to inspire and motivate others to step up and help when and where they can.  It is not a request for donations or contributions.  But do consider adopting an older dog, a rescue if possible, and perhaps volunteer or provide resources for a shelter that is home to so many of our animal friends.

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Rotarians Got Heart

Today is Valentine’s Day and many people are celebrating love and romance with gifts of candy, flowers, cards and special events.  We see the heart motif everywhere and for some reason this morning I wondered where we get the term ‘you got heart?’  According to many traditions, the heart chakra has important meaning – it’s the center of love, caring and compassion, selflessness.  According to Llewellyn attributes of the heart chakra are love, balance, relationship and compassion.  Well this gave me some information but I decided to leave the study of chakras to the experts and moved on to an area I knew a bit more about – sports.

You’ve seen the Rocky movies where Rocky just won’t give up; he digs deep down inside himself to find the strength.  Boxing is well-known for the use of the term ‘he has heart.’  In this context it seems to have meanings of motivation, spirit, energy, and perhaps, passion.  And of course the musical Damn Yankees belts it for us.

The Olympics are another place that continues to define ‘you got heart.’  Just think about Oscar Pitorius.  Speak of motivation, energy, effort and passion.  There are hundreds and thousands of stories that help define ‘you got heart.’

I think about Rotarians around the globe working so hard to make a difference and to change and save lives.  Here in our district Rotarians traveled to Haiti to install water filters in villages with no source of clean water.  A Volunteer Training Team traveled to the Dominican Republic to teach doctors and nurses there lifesaving techniques of heart operations for children in need.  Another Team just returned from Kumudini Hospital in Bangladesh where they trained nurses in midwifery skills.  All around the world, Rotary Clubs are seeking grants from The Rotary Foundation to provide clean water, sanitation, education, economic recovery and disease prevention in some of the most difficult and remote places on earth.  They do it with love, compassion, high spirit, great energy and they don’t give up.

To me, that’s a true definition of ‘You Got Heart.’  Happy Valentine’s Day Rotarians everywhere.

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Forty Pieces of Advice

As the new year approaches I offer this lovely slide show to you thanks to Charles and Alexandra and to Dennis Garner for his permission to use.  Happy and peaceful 2015 to all.  Remember just one act of kindness or compassion can travel many miles.

Forty Pieces of Advice

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Some Thoughts On Doing Good

“Everyone can be great because anyone can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t even have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve… You only need a heart full of  grace. A soul generated by love…”  so said the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.  This blog is full of stories about great people and organizations who give heart and soul – some in simple ways, others in big, bold strokes.  But the outcome is the same.  Helping or serving others – contributing time, effort and skill or talent.

I’ve been contributing wherever and whatever I could for many years.  From Scouting, to boards of directors for various organizations, fund-raising, administrative work, hands-on with youth groups and the Y, community groups and even a short stint as the chair of my town’s Zoning Board of Appeals (short because I found herding cats was not something I enjoyed or did particularly well).  And then one day I came to Rotary.

I attended my first Rotary meeting in Danville, Virginia in 1991.  I was visiting one of the company’s offices and the manager said he would like to take me to his Rotary meeting in the morning.  Of course I asked the proverbial question, “What’s Rotary?”  I was stunned when I meet this energetic, happy group of community leaders at 7 AM the next morning.  They were meeting in the Rotary conference room at the local library which they had helped fund and outfit.  There was such a sense of camaraderie and commitment that I made a note to myself that if I ever worked and lived in the same place I would find a Rotary Club.  (I’ve learned since that you can join where you work OR where you live.)

Why Rotary?  I simply love the philosophy of doing good in the world surrounded by others with the same values and commitment.  I also love the structure it provides.  From financial stewardship, to projects already vetted and with long histories of success, to the ability to follow my own dream or jump on board with someone else’s dream.

Rotary gave me the world of literacy, fighting disease, saving children,  feeding the hungry, and promoting peace and understanding…..and all within my abilities.  I can read to children at the local library, work at the local Ronald McDonald House, visit those who may be sick or lonely at the local nursing home or raise some funds to buy books or other equipment.  I can visit Haiti and explore ways to provide clean water to villages or, as several friends have done, give polio vaccine to children in faraway places.  I can encourage economic and community development and the Rotary network spans the globe.

Over the years many organizations have grown from their Rotary beginnings:  ShelterBox, Gift of Life, Operation Warm, Pure Water for the World come to mind.  There are probably thousands of others that can be traced back to a Rotarian’s dream.  Rotary’s history is also something else I celebrate.  When I think of the impact Rotary had on the forming of the United Nations and our continuing relationship with the UN I stand in awe.

I don’t always agree with Rotary procedures and policy but I love the fact that I can impact change in the organization. Over the years, I’ve seen many changes and improvements   I find respect for others at the heart of Rotary – we are a diverse organization, one of many cultures, religions, ages and vocations.

Yes, there certainly are other service clubs as well as many, many fraternal and community organizations and contributing your time and skill to any of these makes the world a better place. Thank you for all you do.

For me, Rotary’s strong service ideal, the ethics it strives for, its history and the Rotary spirit gives me inspiration, motivation and peace of mind.  I hope I given back as much.

To be entirely transparent – I joined Rotary in 1996, served as club president in 2001-2002, 2005-2006, 2014-2015, district governor in 2007-2008 as well as several other positions.  Although I rarely write about myself on this blog, I hope others will gain insight into ways to give and do good in the world.

 

 

 

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Just One

I follow a lot of blogs and read more but Susie’s Senior Dogs has rapidly become a real favorite.  First there is Susie, a face that launched a blog to help find aging dogs their forever homes.  As many people know, we adopted a then-thirteen year old rescued West Highland Terrier about 18 months ago and readily attest to the love and joy you can give and receive from these ‘second chance’ dogs.

However this isn’t just about SSD but a post by a reader of the blog who volunteers at a high-intake shelter in NYC.  What she has to say resonated with me on many levels:  it saddened me, it angered me, it inspired me, and on a deeper level heightened my belief that each of us has the key to do something for someone else. What you are about to read is the full article with a short introduction from Erin at SSD, all in quotes and italicized.  You too may feel the many emotions I felt and that is a good thing.  I’ve added  a few comments and thought of my own at the end.

“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Volunteers are heroes. Many volunteers put in full-time hours, yet they are still considered “volunteers” as their time is free and they do not get paid. They do it because they want to do it. The following story is from a volunteer at a high-intake city shelter. To avoid harsh comments and to keep our focus on the importance of volunteering rather than the politics of the shelter system, we have both decided to keep her story anonymous. An important difference to be aware of between a public, open admission shelter and a private “no-kill” shelter is that the public shelter is required to take in every animal (strays, owner surrenders, etc.) no matter what and a private “no kill” shelter has the option to turn animals away if they are too full. No-kill shelters may not be euthanizing animals, but they have the option to house homeless animals for however long it takes them to find a home. A public city shelter that has, say, only 50 kennels yet hundreds of animals pouring in each week, does not have the option to say “no” in the situation. The problem is deeper than just the shelter. This amazingly dedicated volunteer wrote,

“Hi, my name is […..] and I work as a full time advertising sales executive. I am married to the love of my life and am a proud mama to our rescue dog. I am also a dedicated volunteer at a high kill inner city shelter. The girl pictured is my best friend, who like a lot of people, comes from a family who always bought their dogs and had never considered adoption until she learned about how many great dogs there are in shelters. When Susie recently asked me to share my thoughts on volunteering, she asked that I open up about the good, the bad, and the ugly…but, most importantly, what keeps me going. I can attest that volunteering at an open admission, inner city shelter takes its toll. The first thing I usually notice is the smell, which lingers in your nose long after you’ve left the shelter. Then there’s the noise – the harrowing sounds of dogs begging, crying, and pleading for help.

Then there’s 12PM: The time everyday at which dogs you’ve fallen in love with are euthanized because they got sick with kennel cough, an all too common but highly treatable doggie cold. I’m not going to say that volunteering at a place like this is easy. Because it’s not. It keeps me up at night and haunts me during the day. But what other choice do I have? The emotions of volunteering at a place like this pale in comparison to the pain that would ensue if I looked the other way. I simply cannot and will not pretend that these dogs don’t need me. And that is precisely what keeps me going back. The dogs. It will always be about the dogs.

The 6 month old puppy who was surrendered because he has too much energy. The 8 year old family dog who is trembling in my arms after her devastated owners were forced to give her up because of housing bans. The 6 year old ‘throw away mama’ who was used solely as a breeding machine her entire life. The dogs who spend 23 hours a day locked inside small kennels with only their confused and frantic thoughts. To help demystify what volunteering at a high-kill shelter is like (note that all experiences vary and there are hundreds of no-kill rescues who also need help), I’ll share exactly what I do at the shelter. I walk dogs, clean their kennels, and make sure they have fresh water. For 15 minutes, the duration of each individual walk, I give my heart and sole and undivided attention to the dog in my care. I’ve been told that dogs live in the moment, so I like to think that the smell of fresh grass invigorates [Ryan]. I imagine that the warm sun on [Buddy’s] back reminds him that there is good in life. And I’m hopeful that the sights and sounds of people laughing in the park allow [Mabel] to forget – even if just for 15 minutes – that she is a homeless animal in a notorious high kill shelter.

With all that said, I guarantee that wherever you live, there is also a shelter or rescue in need. Go walk dogs. Offer to do laundry (shelters & rescues have mountains of dirty laundry). Clean kennels. Fill up water bowls. Fundraise. Advocate. If you have been thinking about volunteering, there is no better time than right now. Everyone has it in them to make a difference; all it takes is a desire to help.

‘I am only one. But still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I can not do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.’ In addition to the above quote, my other favorite one that keeps me going is as follows: ‘If not me, then who? If not now, then when?'”

It';s me, Pep, again.  Here are some of my thoughts:  if you are angry, advocate; if you feel challenged, accept it; if you are inspired, do one thing to make somone’s life better – you don’t have to travel to disaster areas unless you can, you can hold out your hand to someone in need or someone saddened by life; you can lend a hand to someone who needs to talk. It only takes 15 minutes.

I have long believed that the things we say and do make an impact – one we may never know about.  You may do some small kind gesture that is remembered forever or that impacts a person or family.  This is the message I take from this beautiful. compassionate woman.  Just do something.

The I Am Only One quote, widely associated with Helen Keller ( who said something similar) is attributed to  American author, Edward Everett Hale.  If Not Me attributed to many people is  associated to Hillel the Elder and more recently to Mikhail Gorbachev. My thanks to Susie Senior Dogs and Erin for her kind permission to use this article.

 

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Hats For A Purpose Year Four

Hat for a PurposeEven though it is far from chilly, I get excited when the first of the hand crafted hats for children start rolling in.  I can imagine the faces of the children who will wear these warm, cozy and colorful hats when the weather is cold and windy.  For the past several years we’ve collected and distributed over 1500 hats to children locally, and not so locally too.

My friend Cathy and the Northern Lake George Rotary Club just sent me 40 of her beautifully made hats.  I just love the colors and designs she selects.  We’ve also just received our preemie hats – tiny gems to keep the babies at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Albany Medical Center warm and safe.

For those of you reading about Hats For A Purpose for the first time, we collect and distribute handmade winter hats for children.  Who makes the hats?  Anyone who likes to knit, crochet or loom.  They come from as close as neighbors down the street to towns around the upstate New York area.  We’ve gotten hats from Arizona, Georgia and even Canada.  Where to the hats go?  Schools, churches, community centers and groups that clothe children for the winter.  If someone needs a hat for a child we are here to help.

I’d also like to find a more meaningful way to display the hats if anyone has any ideas.

Hats July 2014

 

 

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