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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Beacon Bits - Not Just Another MLK Day

This year's weather for the annual Martin Luther King Day Parade in Beacon was frigid cold but the warmth of the song, the signs and slogans touched hearts and souls and even puppy paws! I took Clara, my overnight visitor from the Puppies Behind Bars program at the local correctional facility, to the MLK Day Parade. Clara is in training to be a service dog for a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan war or for a first responder; she is exceptionally good with her commands and easy to handle, so I thought I would give it a try. 




Clara made my day even brighter than the strong mid-January sun that was shining on the diverse group of a hundred or so individuals who still know how to march for freedom, peace, social justice and sanity in these days of unrest and division with ongoing racism, sexism, ageism, and outright immorality in our contemporary society. While it is hard to believe it is over 50 years ago that MLK was killed, the issues remain, and so the marching and the singing continue.

Clara, the PBB puppy, got into the rhythm of the singing during the half hour walk amongst friends escorted by a fire truck and police car. Notwithstanding the politicians and religious leaders, the usual participants were notably present and are still going strong. Members of Beacon Sloop Club and Clearwater and Pete Seeger's daughter remain the standard bearers who are committed to this act of civil duty and responsibility to celebrate MLK's life and to increase awareness of current issues still in need of healing. The parade offers lessons of activism to the youth who were with their elders and the activity is congruent with the true spirit of volunteerism that is now widely promoted on MLK Day. 


Food for thought: Perhaps this year's MLK Day Parade felt very special because I had a furry companion by my side who represents an act of social justice that I engage in routinely since I have volunteered in what I call my prison ministry for over five years. And perhaps it was imperative to show up this year because of the impending impeachment trials in the Senate. But mostly, it is a source of pride to know that the Beacon community continues to hold the march and associated activities during the day while there are still some states that do not even honor the federal MLK holiday. Beacon stands out because of its right actions. It was and will continue to be a 'beacon' of hope and direction. May it be so!



Sunday, January 12, 2020

Beacon Bits -- Healing in Community

I recently chose to have a custom made handbag constructed from a deceased relative's unique Nepalese jacket by the women working in the local nonprofit 501c3 social enterprise, Unshattered. I had previously read about the newsworthy organization which focuses on meaningful work with purpose to prevent relapse and to aid in the recovery of women with opioid addition. I was intrigued about this nonprofit approach for recovery-related work training/apprenticeship and was quite impressed with its origins and steady progress since its inception. I was particularly pleased to see that the founder and CEO of Unshattered, Kelly Lyndgaard, was given a Women in Business award in December 2019 for creating and successfully managing this unique healing community. In addition, Unshattered was the 2019 recipient of the Innovation in Philanthropy Award from the Mid-Hudson Valley Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.  Both awards were well-earned within Dutchess County after Unshattered had previously received recognition from the White House in 2018 when increased funding for recovery initiatives was made into law.

So it was good timing for me to get more acquainted with Unshattered when making my custom design request and picking up the beautiful product right before New Year's. Despite the recent awards, it was business 'as usual' since production was ongoing and in full swing as the holidays approached; in addition, it was a perfect kick-off for another year of recovery for the women I met who designed and made my personal item of remembrance. 
Design and manufacture team, Lois (left) and Dea (right)
I love my special handbag and believe it might be the first of a very special collection I will continue to pursue! I was thoroughly touched by the attention to detail and the loving care that was placed into the finished project that I entrusted to workers who became personally known to me as they listened to why I chose to have the bag made in the first place and how pleased I was with the outcome. I sensed their overwhelming pride in their work and their appreciation for the well-deserved praise and genuine support I had made towards their recovery. It was a win-win proposition for all of us. And what women doesn't appreciate a new handbag? And who wouldn't be proud to wear the designer signature of the 'unshattered' logo on their shoulder when receiving compliments and then being able to share the back story of this amazing healing community?
One-of-a-kind messenger style handbag named "Molly" for a woman in recovery
Food for thought:  Hand-made items have always been close to my heart, both personally and professionally. I have witnessed firsthand the value of productive activity and how therapeutic goal-directed purposeful tasks work for the best interest of groups and for individuals. So the idea of Unshattered did not feel unfamiliar to me. But the scale and success and mission of this kind of work for the good of our society is the wow factor; it is not only timely, it is imperative for people to work together for personal healing and recovery. Handbags made at Unshattered are not only 'Made in America' and in step with the 'maker movement', this innovative nonprofit social enterprise is a business model of what could 'become' for so many individuals in our society that are looking for re-purposing, re-cycling, re-connecting and re-building. It is not about just about a product, it is about the process. A creative process. A process of healing in community. Unshattered points us in the right direction. 


Visit the shop in its current location at 1064 Route 82, Hopewell Junction, read more about Unshattered online and browse the handbags that can be ordered at www.unshattered.org

If you want to see Unshattered handbags carried in Beacon shops, tell them to get some in stock!




Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Beacon Bits - Creating Community

For years, I have passed the Eat Paint Love Studio on Main Street; its close proximity to Rite Aid, All You Knead Bread and Yanarella Dance Studio has made it an ideal parking spot, and despite its popularity, I've successfully parallel-parked there many times! (I owe the efficient parallel-parking skills to growing up, learning how to drive and passing my driver's test in Brooklyn.) So back in September during Pride of Beacon Day, I spoke to the women who run the studio and got a better idea about how the painting parties work and I decided that I would host a painting party for some of the local volunteers who work with Puppies Behind Bars at the local correctional facilities (namely, Downstate and Fishkill, both in Beacon.) Volunteering to spend time with Labrador retrievers who are being raised in the facilities to become service dogs for veterans and first responders is so rewarding, that I have done it for five years, while some of the volunteers have taken puppies into the community on outings for over a decade. I felt that we could connect and share some time together around the holidays and proceeded with planning the event with the studio and with the help of another volunteer. I made the decision to host the party so that we could paint multiple canvases filled with puppies and gift them to the office in New York City. It felt like it would be a gift all around -- time to relax with other like-minded volunteers and something to share with the staff at the organization who value volunteers and deserve some home-made holiday gifts to show how much they are thought of and appreciated.
While the plan was for seven volunteers to meet up on Sunday, December 1st, the event was sidelined because of snow and ice that would detract from the festivity. Luckily, we were able to come up with an alternate date of Saturday, December 21st and all the original attendees were still able to fit it into their existing pre-holiday rush schedules. The event was meant to be two hours, but lasted over three hours! The time was mostly spent on painting (and not eating the brunch-like goodies that were brought along for rewards in much the same way that puppies get kibble for following commands.) With the assistance of the capable instructions given by Lorelei, our teacher for the day, who used a model painting inspired by a photo of a puppy sent to demonstrate what the subject of the paintings would be, the group of seven amateur artists produced a rendering that was recognizable as a Lab puppy with a variety of colors, distinct style and character that each person brought to the canvas. It was a delight, despite the self-criticism and lack of confidence along the way, but when the party was over, everyone felt accomplished since the difficulty of the painting was rated a '9' on a 10-point scale. 
The festive spirit in the studio led to pondering what the office staff would think of the paintings, but our hope was that it could raise spirits for them as it did for us, and if the development officer chose to, he could feel inspired to use them as a fundraiser of sorts. The paintings were packed up and brought to the office in NYC before the end of the year in keeping with the season for holiday gifting. On a 10-point scale, the reception of the paintings and overall success of the painting party was at least a '9', on average, and in my eyes, a perfect 10!



Food for thought: A group of adults with a common purpose and a pre-established connection can be brought closer together during a painting party, like the one that was organized at Eat Paint Love Studio this holiday season for the PBB volunteers. I would hope that the 'real' artists or skeptics in town would not minimize the power of creativity for those who are not talented or destined to produce valuable art. I would also hope that more people who are curious would do as I did, and stop in and talk with the women about organizing an event; they are very helpful and always available throughout the preparation for the event and right up to the pick up of the paintings  Participating in a painting party is a reminder that free form play is good for adults. Art education and exploring new skills using the arts is not just apt curriculum for children. While painting studios may be filled with birthday party celebrations or completion of scouting projects for a badge for the younger crowd, the value of bringing together diverse neighbors, or city council members who do not know each other outside of the context of work meetings could be explored. The field of 'art therapy' does not need to be limited to clinical settings. The therapeutic art process of shared time and space of parallel play with other human beings is a gift all its own. Think about what painting party you would like to host this year -- what would your subject be, what would you do with the finished products, what community do you want to build? If you can think about it, you can paint it!