Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Small Boy...A Large Lesson

A few weeks ago I had to prepare a short talk on finding sparks of holiness. As I pondered where those sparks may exist in the ordinary moments of life, I thought about the remarkable young people whose stories I’ve shared via this blog. It is in the resilience of children that I find these sparks…sparks that set my soul ablaze with hope for the future.

One such spark is 12-year-old Jake Olson. When Jake was one-year old he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a condition that caused cancerous tumors to develop in both retinas. Jake’s left eye was removed, but with chemotherapy and radiation, doctors were able to save his right eye.

The cancer returned several times, and each time Jake beat it. However, in September 2009, the cancer returned for a ninth time, and this time the prognosis was grim. Jake was to lose his right eye, too. As ESPN’s Shelley Smith* reported, when asked by his mother how he was dealing with this, Jake replied, “This is just going to be a new stage of my life.”

Jake had a wish, however. What he longed to see one last time was a University of Southern California (USC) Trojans game. For Jake, football was his passion. He played center on his school’s football team, and the USC Trojans were his favorite team. His wish reached Trojan head coach, Pete Carroll.

In October, the Trojans invited Jake to practice. He was introduced to his favorite player, center Kris O’Dowd, and a bond was born. O’Dowd commented to Smith that he “felt a connection with him [Jake]…He gave us these words of wisdom. It’s amazing how a seventh-grader can make 100 guys dead quiet and just hear every word that comes out of his mouth….”

The Trojans gave Jake a lifetime of visual memories. “I got to sit next to Pete Carroll on the bus, which was awesome. I got to see them practice, which was awesome,” Jake said. “I got to go into the locker room and everyone was partying. It was just awesome.”

The night before surgery Jake attended a Trojans practice to get a last look at his “new teammates.” Coach Carroll made Jake promise that he would come back after his surgery Nov. 12.

On the day of surgery, the family sneaked O’Dowd into the hospital as “Uncle Kris.” When the nurse came to give Jake his IV, the young boy broke down. O’Dowd gave him a kiss on the head saying, “You’re the strongest kid I’ve ever known and keep being who you are and everything will work out.”

As Jake explained to Smith, “It wasn’t the fear of being blind; it was more like, all right, this is my last minute to see, last hours — that was the fear.”

Six days after the surgery, Jake fulfilled his promise. With the aid of a blind cane, he re-joined the Trojans at practice. Upon learning the team had lost to Stanford a few days earlier, Jake told them not to “feel bad. Guys, you lost, but we’ll get them next year and the year after that and year after that all right!”

View the video report on YouTube.

*Quotation reported in Shelley Smith’s article: USC Trojans’ No. 1 Fan ‘Fights On’ With Help From His Football Friends

Written for KidsTerrain.com. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

She Speaks To Inspire

A few months ago I had the honor of writing this article about a most inspiring woman for Chic Galleria. Enjoy... - Rita

When dire circumstances touch our lives the effects can be pervasive, can test areas of our lives we never quite imagined could be shaken. When Laurie Zieber’s husband was forced to close down his construction business, reducing his workforce from fourteen full-time employees plus subcontractors to just himself, neither she nor Dan, nor their children were prepared for the struggles that lie ahead.

On the day that we let our workforce go we had fourteen jobs that were incomplete. Our boys put their lives on hold, came home and helped Dan finish every single job.” For the next six months, the Ziebers lived without income. “We lost everything. We were so exhausted and felt so beat up, I was afraid we would not recover.”

Laurie began to seek a support system to help them cope. “There were plenty of avenues of support and mentoring for alcoholics, drug addicts, overeaters, for victims of domestic abuse, or people suffering from depression or anorexia. But the only things available to us were predatory bankruptcy attorneys and very simple consumer credit counseling programs.”

What Laurie never anticipated either was that these events would test her faith. “I was frustrated about my faith life. I’d been involved with the church my whole life, but there was no power in my faith life. So, I set out on a course to find out why.”She calls this time her “Search and Destroy Mission.”

“I set out to understand what and why I believe what I do. My childhood that was filled with opportunity; my environment was wholesome, principled, with many examples of high morals and integrity. Yet, somehow I missed that I was valuable amidst all my opportunity. A person who is not confident of their value often becomes self-absorbed and that can lead to a sense of entitlement. I believe that we need to live our lives transparently in front of each other, especially where our faith is concerned.”

As Laurie reflected on her family circumstances she realized that while she had lost so much, the one thing she had not forfeited was her integrity. “A true sense of value doesn’t come from one’s achievements. A deep assurance of value doesn’t demand that others recognize it. We often mistake the person with the title, who stands at the front of the room, the person with the loudest voice to be a positive leader. But leadership can be found throughout the various levels the workplace, the church, in schools, in our families. We all have opportunities to teach and opportunities to learn.”

Laurie founded Draw Away Retreats, a cross between a spa weekend and a spiritual quest. It’s a place for women to “get away from the noise in their lives so that they can hear God. Not what other people have to tell them about God, but to hear Him for themselves regarding their purpose and mission.” The retreats are limited to groups of twenty so that each woman may truly “draw away from their fast moving, me-focused world.”

In her quest to help women find their voice, Laurie refined her own skills and gifts for communication, teaching, encouragement, and leadership. Together with Lucinda “Lu” Wormsbaker, Laurie created the Blog Talk Radio show She Speaks To Inspire, a gathering place where women share their hopes and dreams, solutions and victories.

“All of the guests have been fascinating, but one story does stand out. A woman contacted me having listened to two of our shows: one on the Shiloh Home of Hope For Women in Emporia, Kansas which offers a home and an opportunity for women in crisis to change the direction of their lives; the second show featured Tracy Mallory Radford, who has multiple sclerosis. This listener had learned enough about MS symptoms to recognize that a homeless woman she knew was actually exhibiting MS symptoms. The shelters were forcing her, along with her 5-year-old daughter, back on the street because her MS was being mistaken for drug use. As a result, one woman with MS and her daughter now have an opportunity to be loved and valued by the women of Shiloh.”

So what does the future hold for Laurie Zieber? Her husband, Dan, recently purchased a small chapel in Dennison, Texas. The couple is renovating “The Little Chapel That Could” as a center for She Speaks To Inspire mentoring programs. They will offer volunteer mentor relationships to assist adult women who desire to “get out of debt, learn to play an instrument, find a better job, be a better parent, find a dream, or rekindle a forgotten dream.” The program will also bring writers together with schools, where volunteer writers will help kids learn to develop their imagination and learn how to write a story. “Volunteer artists will help the kids illustrate the story and the kids will learn by participating in the publishing process. We created a publishing company, DaZiL, specifically to publish books for kids by kids.”

In January 2010, Laurie will launch the She Speaks To Inspire Radio Network which, together with The Little Chapel, will host a series of expert mentor self-sufficiency training programs for adults wanting assistance with life skills issues such as finance, business start-up and development guidance, parenting, and work/life balance concerns. “Facebook folks can follow the development of this program on the She Speaks To Inspire Presents The Little Chapel That Could page.”

She Speaks To Inspire can be heard live on Blog Talk Radio. (Check the web site for show time.) All shows are available in the archives at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/She-Speaks. To learn more about Laurie Zieber, visit her web site: http://www.lauriezieber.com.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My UK Interview With Bernie Ritchie

I had the pleasure of being interview by UK brand expert and SME business strategist Bernie Ritchie. Out meeting is testament to the power of social media marketing. We met through LinkedIn when I posted the book trailer for Painting The Invisible Man on one of LinkedIn's writing groups.

Bernie contacted me about the book trailer, and we struck up an online acquaintance. I became interested in reading her blog, posted some comments; Bernie was fascinated by my novel and how I use social media to get the word out about it.

I was thrilled when she asked to do an online interview, which was published on her web site, Management Sushi. Bernie also created a rather humorous, tongue-in-cheek video version of the interview.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Making A Difference...

In 2004 after Hurricane Charlie swept through Florida, seven-year-old Zach Bonner went door to door with his little red wagon to collect water, tarps, and other supplies. He collected 27 pick-up truckloads of supplies for those in need. Moved by the generosity of others, Zach founded the Little Red Wagon Foundation in 2005 to help underprivileged children.

In 2006 and 2007, Zach threw holiday parties for kids living in hurricane FEMA trailers and filled 2,000 backpacks with food, toiletries, candy, and toys for homeless children. Inspired by a documentary about Mildred Norman, the “Peace Pilgrim,” who walked 25,000 miles during the last 28 years of her life to spread her anti-war message, Zach decided to raise awareness by walking from his house to the White House. The 1,225-mile journey would be completed in three segments.

In 2007, Zach walked from his home in Tampa to Florida’s capitol building in Tallahassee. He raised $25,000 in 23 days. In 2008, he walked from Tallahassee to Atlanta to raise $17,000 for a Habitat for Humanity home. “Although I did not raise as much money, I think I raised a lot more awareness to the plight of homeless youth in our country,” Zach commented.

According to Ellen Bassuk, president of The National Center on Family Homelessness, approximately “1.5 million children are homeless in the USA at some point each year.” And it’s getting worse due to the “depth of the economic recession and the staggering numbers of housing foreclosures nationally.”

In 2009 Zach completed the last segment, a 668-mile trek from Atlanta to Washington. D.C. Upon his arrival in Washington, Zach met with Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss and spoke with several other U.S. Senators on Capitol Hill. While in D.C., Zach slept at the Sasha Bruce emergency shelter.

“He is a very unusual young man,” said Deborah Shore, executive director of Sasha Bruce Youthwork in Washington, D.C., which provides services for runaway and homeless teenagers, including a shelter.

In 2010, Zach is planning a coast-to-coast walk where he hopes to involve kids across the country. To learn more about Zach and how you can assist in his efforts, visit his web site, http://littleredwagonfoundation.com.

Written for KidsTerrain.com. Reprinted with permission.