abuse and neglect, children, family, foster care, hope, Inspiration, philanthropy, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is… Sole Searching

For me, most of my earliest Back to School memories start in the same place… Rochester Shoe Store on the east end of Kmart Plaza in Mattydale, New York.

I loved school, and new school shoe shopping meant that I would soon be sitting at a desk again. Oh, joy of joys! I would skip into the store excited to step on that Brannock device (made in Syracuse, btw) to see how much my foot had grown since the year before.

For the period of time that spanned purchasing the shoes and the actual start of school, those beauties would remain tucked inside the shoebox, and at least once a day, I would open it up and shove my whole face in there, deeply breathing in the delicious smell of new leather.

There was one year, however, that came with more than a twinge of anxiety. About to enter Fourth Grade, I was feeling pretty grown up. My classroom would be at the end of the hallway, meaning we’d walk past all those babies in K-3 to take our place as the leaders of our wing.

The talk at the pool that summer was all about Earth shoes, so as we headed to Rochester Shoe Store, I told my mom that’s what I wanted.

We walked out with the most fabulous pair of navy Earth shoes. They had a huge rounded toe and a crazy-cool wavy rubber sole. I’d never seen anything like it.

They also had shoelaces.

Oh boy.

You see, the entire time I was one of those K-3 babies, I wore Mary Janes. I honestly can’t remember how I handled sneakers, as Velcro wasn’t even a thing yet, but I do know that I was not adept at tying shoelaces. Truth be told, more than 40 years later, I’m still not great at it. The double knot is my savior and best friend.

So yes, my mom would tie my shoes every morning. You want to make something of it? And one day, tragedy struck and my shoelace untied midday. I acted like I didn’t notice and just kept walking. The shoe got looser and looser until it was almost falling off. We were coming in from recess, and Miss Crader told me to tie my shoe. I can remember being bent over in the hallway going through the motions, feeling the redness creep up my neck, my throat tighten and tears start to well up, all the while thinking, “You can do this, Katie.”

A boy looked my way and said, “Do you NOT know how to tie your shoes, Katie?” And with tears still pooling at the edge of my lower lid, an angel named Lisa Demperio said, “Of course she does, Philip, now get out of here,” and with just the two of us remaining in the hall, Lisa tied my shoe.

I went home and practiced and practiced and practiced tying until I could at least fake it well enough to keep Philip Cooper off my back.

That memory came back to me this week as I went through photos of a very different kind of Back to School new shoe shopping.

A group of remarkable staff and volunteers took the boys who call Christ Child House their home to the Nike Store in Detroit to pick out new sneakers. Because of the generosity of a number of donors, these boys will be able to walk confidently into a new school year. Some had never picked out their own shoes before. Some had only ever had shoes handed down to them and were never able to bask in the glory of that new shoe smell.

The boys’ pictures would melt the heart of even the crustiest of curmudgeons, and their stories could bring you to your knees.

To protect their identities, the boys’ faces are never fully photographed.

I was reluctant to rejoin the Board of Christ Child after a multi-year hiatus because I was worried my own heart, broken by loss and further weakened by my empty nest, couldn’t bear to hear the atrocities committed against these boys.

I’m still not sure I can. And if self-preservation moves you to live with your head in the sand like I did, you’ll probably want to skip the next two paragraphs.

There is a boy who lives in the Christ Child House who is the same age I was when my greatest struggle was shoelaces, although his struggle involves being a witness to his mother’s murder as she lay sleeping next to him in bed. Shot dead by his father. Waiting and wondering if he would be next.

There is a boy who lives in the Christ Child House who was the same age as those K-3 babies who watched me walk down the hall in my super cool, big kid Earth shoes. Although this boy watched as a policeman walked up to a car parked on the side of the highway as he sat strapped in his car seat with both parents slumped in the front seat, overdosed on heroin.

To face the reality of the horrors of our society can be daunting. To shield ourselves from them is tempting. But to do something…even the smallest of somethings…is imperative to bring change to our world. If one of our actions can create even the smallest ripple of positive change, we must act.

And, so, it all circles back to those laces. For decades, I have been inspired by the many women of Christ Child Society who embody the answer to Beyoncé’s question, “Who runs the world?”   And, this year, they have assembled multiple teams of women who will not only figuratively, but literally run the world (or at least two countries of it) as part of the Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank Marathon, of which Christ Child House is a recipient charity.

I’ve been assigned my team’s first leg of the marathon. I will run 6.3 miles that include a run across the Ambassador Bridge into Canada. I have yet to disclose to anyone that I am afraid to drive over that bridge much less run over it, but the voice in my head is saying, “You can do this, Katie.”

If the shoe fits as part of your ability to give, Christ Child House would welcome your financial support by clicking here as we continue to move forward, one step at a time, to bring truth to the motto, “It’s never too late for a happy childhood.”

kmp

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abuse and neglect, art, art therapy, children, family, foster care, Inspiration, mental health

The Working Title Is…The Power of Art

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

“Art provides people with a vocabulary about things they can’t articulate.”

One quote is from, arguably, the most influential artist of the 20th century, the founder of Cubism, a master painter, sculptor, poet and playwright. The other is the musing of a rapper whose hits include “Ms. Fat Booty.”

Both Pablo Picasso and Mos Def understood the deep impact artistic expression has on the one who creates as well as those who admire, interpret and appreciate the piece, no matter what the medium.

So neither man would have been surprised to learn how I have been transfixed by a work of art and unable to think of little else than the story behind its creation.

The artist is a ten-year-old boy who is a resident of Christ Child House, an intensive residential treatment facility caring for as many as 31 boys, age five through 16. The young men who call Christ Child House their home suffer emotional, behavioral and physical impairment resulting from severe abuse and neglect. Located on Joy Road in Detroit, the philosophy of this very special home is “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

The dedicated professional treatment staff is supported by many volunteers and patrons who offer counsel, financial support and hands-on assistance.

One such program is weekly Art Therapy currently being organized by my friend Karen Kearns. Every Tuesday, Karen (sometimes with the assistance of volunteers and sometimes flying solo) will join the Art Therapists working with the boys of the Christ Child House on an art project.

On this particular Tuesday, Sadie, Christ Child’s Assistant Art Therapist, shared that ten-year-old Stephen* came into the art therapy session ready to chat about his difficult day at school. He talked about how upset he became when the teacher insisted that he button his shirt up to the neck even though it made him uncomfortable. Stephen’s response was to begin scratching his own face. He pointed to the scratch marks on his face and said that they hurt pretty badly. He wasn’t sure why he had reacted in that way other than because he felt upset.

As they sat and talked a bit more, Stephen asked Sadie how she handles things when she gets upset. Sadie shared that she likes to take deep breaths or go on a little walk. After Stephen took a couple of deep breaths, he agreed that sounded like a nice plan.

The project Karen was working on that week had the boys pick out an animal with which they identified…their “spirit animal” that they then colored in a way that reflected who they were as individuals. Stephen picked out a lion and gave the lion long claws and scratches on its face. As he continued to work, taking deep breaths, Stephen went on to draw band-aids over the scratches. Sadie asked Stephen what environment they should draw around the lion so the lion doesn’t hurt its face anymore, and Stephen decided he should make a protected path on which the lion would walk, surrounding it with things that would make the lion feel safe, and for Stephen that meant smiling friends and rain.

I can’t stop looking at that lion. I can’t stop thinking about Stephen and what path his life traveled that led him to Christ Child House. I can’t stop thinking about what he has seen and heard, been exposed to and endured over his ten short years on this earth. I take deep breaths and thank God for the commitment and dedication of each of the staff members who make it their mission to build these boys up again…and for the volunteers like Karen who lovingly attempt to bring truth to the decree that “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

While my thoughts have been focused on Stephen, this reminded me of a poignant art related moment I experienced decades ago when working for Hospice. I was planning an event to support our Children’s Hospice Program. In order to save money on a four-color invitation, I had them printed in black and white and corralled every volunteer I could find to help hand color the invites. As this quickly became a more daunting project than I originally surmised, I got creative and reached out to the Activities Directors of local nursing homes.

At one nursing home, I made my presentation IN A VERY LOUD VOICE to the elderly residents in the activities room and told them some of the heartbreaking stories from our children’s hospice, why our program so desperately needed the funding this event would raise and why I needed their help.

As I passed out the invitations and crayons, I approached a man named Matthew and the Activities Director called across the room, “Oh, Katie, Matthew has suffered a number of strokes and isn’t really able to participate.” So I smiled and told him I’d leave an invite to look at anyway because it was so adorable. I then left to visit other nursing homes and coerce additional elderly into my philanthropic sweatshop. When I returned at the end of the day, the Activities Director came toward me with a huge smile on her face. Matthew, although non-verbal, made it very clear that he wanted to color his invitation and spent hours working on the one I set in front of him.

I framed it so that I’d be forever inspired by Matthew’s desire to be in service to others despite his own challenges, so I’d never forget his perseverance, and so I would never question the power of art.

If Stephen’s story brings out your inner Matthew and you’d like to make a difference in the lives of the boys of the Christ Child House, there are many ways you can do that. Email Karen Kearns (karenkearns@me.com) and tell her you’d like to join her on a Tuesday and work with the boys on an art project. Or email Carol Roney (roneyfam@comcast.net) and tell her you’d like to support the Education program as a tutor. Or you might even consider making a financial contribution to Christ Child Society by clicking here.

It’s never too late….

kmp

 

*The boy’s name was changed to protect his identity.

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