Doing Community: What It Means To Me

We live hard and fast every day, rising each morning to the job, home life and the in-between. Where did we ever find the time to be on the computer as much as we are? Yet here we are scrolling away!

Recently we sold our Southington home of twelve years and wanted to give kudos to a few Southington people and organizations that helped us transition. First and foremost, Facebook’s Southington Talks (ST) group  has become a valuable resource to anyone living there. I found a post that asked for donations for The Southington Historical Society‘s part in a Town Wide Tag Sale scheduled Sept. 24 – 25 from 9am – 2pm at Old South End Schoolhouse.

Two angels named Morgan and Lisa, removed furniture, personal treasures, and cleaning supplies from our home with willingness and a smile. This came at a stressful time trying when we were preparing to downsize a 5 bedroom house into a 2 bedroom rental. We simply had too much stuff and were unwilling to store stuff we hadn’t used in years.

Morgan, a volunteer, picked up furniture and supplies for Southington Historical Society tag sale.

Morgan, a volunteer, picked up furniture and supplies for Southington Historical Society tag sale.

Morgan ties a wrought iron bench I purchased in Maine and loved dearly, was now a 'move' casualty.

Morgan ties a wrought iron bench I purchased in Maine and loved dearly, was now a ‘move’ casualty.

The Southington Magazine, a Facebook page I manage, also helped big time. Roger Dietz, publisher, works hard at getting small business advertisers into the magazine.

Dee's Cleaning Service

Dee’s Cleaning Service

I hired one such business, Dee’s Cleaning Service, where Denise Buttie, (owner) and Kelly Krajewski provided a super one-time/moving cleaning service I’d highly recommend.

Being part of a town where people help people, thank you Southington for your assist. To those who are reading this: hire local businesses and donate when you can, whether it’s your time, food from your pantry or your smile. That’s what doing community means…. be where you are and look for the good that is around you. It will come back to you ten times more in love and good feelings!

Giving Thanks To Volunteers

May 24th, 2016 the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford honored companies and individuals for their continued volunteerism at 2015-2016 Campaign Award and Recognition Program ceremony hosted and sponsored by MidState Medical Center in Meriden.

The first Corporate and Employee donations described as Diamond, Platinum and Gold levels were recognized followed by Silver and Bronze level donations, Loyal Community Partners, Exceptional Agency Partners, Outstanding Community Partners, Outstanding Campaign Leadership and Outstanding Campaign Coordinators and lastly, Shining Star and Rising Star volunteers.

Imagine how wide a net volunteerism expands for each category, as each company participated in specific campaigns whose efforts impacted many needing assistance.

While many who volunteer don’t do so for recognition, it was great to see the faces behind the companies that sponsor workplace volunteer programs. Participants give of their time and efforts truly do so for the needs exist.

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Diana Reilly, Associate Director of United Way of Meriden and Wallingford, confirmed there’s been steady growth in company involvement as seen in Week of Action, Day of Caring and holiday programs. Some companies such as The Marlin Company (TMC), did something different for Week of Action June’15 campaign. TMC breakfast cereal fundraiser collected healthy cereals that had limited amounts of sugar. This concept both addressed the need to come up with donations, and considered the health benefits of the collections raised.

The 2016 United Way NFL Player’s Weekend is another unique giving opportunity that incorporates tons of excitement for sports enthusiasts of all ages. Families meet players and participate in silent and live auctions of signed and authenticated jerseys of favorite teams in addition to youth sports clinics.

To learn about the different ways you can give and which organizations benefit from campaigns, visit United Way of Meriden and Wallingford at https://www.unitedwaymw.org/default.asp.

If you are an individual who’d like to volunteer, or a Wallingford/Meriden company that would like to participate in a campaign, contact: Diana Reilly at (203) 235-4403.

 

For Many Veterans Wounds Still Hurt

On Veterans Day it’s hard to miss the recognition many deserving troops and individuals received. Social media played its part with Walmart’s Green Light A Vet campaign. A simple idea: replace a front porch light bulb with a green one, to signify support. Walmart provided what the symbolism represents: to “Greenlight” is to forward movement, and by showing with the first sign of a home, a lit green porch light, is (hopefully), ‘greenlighting’  and signifying veterans forward, as valued members of every community.

Every other week I anticipate seeing Dana (first name), a sergeant who served in the Vietnam War, (due to HIPPA last name is omitted). Dana, age 65, lives in a skilled nursing facility where he gets help for ongoing PTSD, COPD and other physical limitations.

The nursing facility planned special festivities for Veterans Day, as Dana wasn’t the only resident veteran. This was to be their day, beginning with a celebratory special breakfast followed by activities planned throughout the day. I envisioned Dana enjoying the commemorations, after all it is a day of thanks for those who served.

Dana shares his experiences of fighting and rescuing fellow soldiers during his service in the Vietnam War.

Dana shares his experiences of fighting in doing rescue missions during his service in the Vietnam War.

I’d become accustomed to hearing animated stories where I learned much about Dana. Besides sharing his terrific sense of humor, Dana shared war stories, some of which were quite gruesome. Sgt. Dana was part of  a specialized training group, called The Studies and Observations Group, or (SOG) and fought on Hamburger Hill. He’s one of the lucky few who lived to tell his story.

Dana enjoyed breakfast but insisted on steering clear from the music and socializing activities at The Summit. I asked why he preferred not to be recognized and he replied, “I don’t want to remember the bad things that happened.” Not meaning to be different, Dana’s response is one of self-preservation.

Reflecting back on being in the jungle, carrying out fallen soldiers while escaping the enemy is as fresh a memory as yesterday for Dana. He is proud of his service but broadcasting those tough times isn’t his style.

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Dana shares war stories and shows me a framed collection of medals he earned from serving in the Vietnam War.

While companies such as Walmart bring attention to veterans, some prefer to choose when and where to talk, not on any particular day or place. The results of the Green Light A Vet campaign recorded 3,433,638 clicks as of December 15th at 11:20 a.m., EST. According to the Walmart campaign site “Every click counts as a social act of support in honor of our veterans, and will be displayed on The Greenlight Beacon, a glowing installation symbolizing our united support for veterans.”

The American Legion Kiltonic Post 72 in Southington, CT promoted Green Light A Vet although I didn’t see too many home porch lights go from yellow to green, albeit one, who kept it up past November and into December where it can easily be mistaken as a Christmas decoration.

Dana's service cap from the Vietnam War.

Dana’s service cap from the Vietnam War.

I couldn’t be more thankful for Dana’s service and for meeting him through the Adopt-A-Veteran program at The Summit At Plantsville. Conversation, story sharing and spending time are ways to show others we care.

If you would like volunteer for this program, please call 860 628-0364. If Southington, CT isn’t convenient, reach out to a nursing home where you live. The experience is something you’ll wind up cherishing. What you give comes back bigger in heart and spirit.

Creative Generosity Builds Communities

Help-Portrait, an annual photography event, commemorated their eighth year December 5th, 2015. Though not an official Help-Portrait event, New Haven’s Mothers For Justice group members were invited to participate in a holiday portrait event the same day, organized by photojournalist volunteer, Margaret Wage, with the idea of giving back.

Help-Portrait was founded by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart and Kyle Chowning in 2008. Their mission is to empower photographers, hairstylists and makeup artists to use their skills, tools and expertise to give back to their local community.

The Mothers For Justice (MFJ) is a grass-roots women’s advocacy group that seeks to support one another and empower themselves and their families to improve their lives and their communities. MFJ was founded in 1933 and is dedicated to using their collective voice to change the systems that perpetuate poverty and injustice. Our issues and concerns are Welfare Reform, Prison Re-entry, Housing, Healthcare & Domestic Violence among many other things. A similarity MFJ shares with the Help-Portrait community is they both recognize giving back to the local community is one way to effect positive change.

There are great folks working with organizations year-round to make things better for those in need. Ginger Grant, a.k.a. Ginger Lee Originals, is a Connecticut art photographer and sees art as a way to enrich those living in Bristol, CT. Grant recently opened  The Studio, an art studio space where she hosts painting, stitching, stamping and numerous craft project classes. What’s the connection between creativity and hunger, you might ask. For Grant, the connection lies in building up an underserved community where residents might not have even considered taking a pencil or brush to paper to express feelings or life perspective. Grant advocates any growth must first come from willingness to try. It’s only then that a person can see possibility and from that, change can occur.

In October The Studio hosted a ‘Photo Feel Good’ event, inviting the public at large to have a photograph made, free of charge, and like Help-Portrait, a print was made and given to each participant. Nearby business neighbor Marisela Severino of Joamar Hair Salon volunteered her salon and services for the all day event. A photo session included  make-up by Dori Green and contributed to making each person ‘Feel Good’ for the occasion. Grant collected (business attire) clothing  donations and  in turn, participants selected  whatever they needed for a job interview. Sweaters, blouses, dresses, slacks, jackets and winter coats were made available free to take home. That generosity of spirit is what creativity is about.

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Many who attended were inspired as conversations began and people opened up about their situations. Some attendees were in transitional housing and the access to free clothing was appreciated as they took the time visit each table-full of gently used garments and racks of formal wear that were placed on hangers throughout The Studio. The clothing that remained was donated to Christian Fellowship Center on Prospect St. in Bristol.

Merryl Eaton, of MFJ, was gracious and allowed the use of the building space to do portraits. Eaton organizes monthly MFJ meetings and keeps members aware of legislative events for MFJ to attend and speak to issues they wish to impact.

Surprisingly, half the people who signed up didn’t come due to lack of transportation. The following images are of the members that came, some with their family. With hope and the strength that comes from support networks such as these, changes for the better can be made.

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Artists Honor Vets in Give Back Event

Ginger Grant shows family their portrait during 'Thank You Photo Shoot' event at Artist Tree Tea House & Gallery 156 in Bristol.

Ginger Grant shows Van Houten family their portrait during ‘Thank You Photo Shoot’ event at Artist Tree Tea House & Gallery 156 in Bristol.

If you do what you love enjoyment follows. That sentiment is the driving force behind the Artist Tree Tea House’s totally free ‘Thank You Photo Shoot,’ event held at the studio to honor veterans and their families.

Dori Green, proprietor of Bristol’s Artist Tree Tea House & Gallery 156, (ATTH&G156), sponsored the event in conjunction with volunteer photographers Ginger Grant of Ginger Lee Originals, G.L.O. Photography and Lynn Keeler Fisher, who is also a veteran.

The idea to pay it forward comes naturally to all three women, each of whom shared perspectives why they give their time and talents. Green, a relatively new entrepreneur in this brick and mortar space, brings a multitude of skills to her business, which opened in 2013. Green’s creativity encompasses painting, event production, catering, hairstylist, make-up and massage therapy.

ATTH&G156 brings Bristol and nearby surrounding towns a community-minded destination for arts and crafts exploration, a live venue for music performance and poetry readings and a cozy vintage styled tearoom with offerings of fine loose-leaf teas, coffee and sweet treats.

Additionally, lunches are served consisting of salads, wraps and hearty soups. ATTH&G156 is available to host receptions and business meetings.

Green is active in the Bristol Rising momentum and has advocated for improvements to the building to expand the rear outdoor space. Green hopes to accommodate yoga classes or meetings on the deck overlooking the Pequabuck River.

Dori Green applies a touch up to volunteer photographer and veteran Lynn Keeler Fisher on right.

Dori Green applies a touch up to volunteer photographer and veteran Lynn Keeler Fisher on right.

Ginger Grant’s work consists of jewelry design, fine art photography, painting and knitting arts. Grant’s unique hand made necklace and earring designs and photography are for sale in ATTH&G156.

Lynn Keeler Fisher is active in arts advocacy. Fisher’s photography of Hartford Artspace and Meriden Gallery 153 events touts each organization’s arts activities.

Lynn Keeler Fisher gives in to laughter during her turn at sitting for portrait.

Lynn Keeler Fisher gives in to laughter during her turn at sitting for portrait.

Three busy people recognize giving time nourishes the very creativity that feeds their spirits. Green worked as volunteer Massage Emergence Response Team (MERT), member during the 9/11 crisis through the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) helping first responders cope with fatigue and exhaustion from hours of search and rescue efforts. “As objective a person could be, it stills upsets me remembering how disappointed rescue workers were after realizing they couldn’t get to people in time to save them.”

Grant describes photography as a life passion, “It gives me the chance to feel good giving back.” Choosing veterans to thank is an easy choice because they are the kind of people who put others before themselves.

For Fisher, volunteering for ‘Thank You Photo Shoot’ presented an opportunity to connect with veterans, to practice posing techniques and to have her own portrait taken, “Portrait photography is different than event photography.” Fisher chose to enlist in the Navy and served four years from 1978-1982.

During that time Fisher held Engineman status and worked as a diesel mechanic. “Most friends were just getting out of college when I returned from service. I travelled to Hawaii, Singapore, Somalia and Philippines. I never regretted the choice I made – it provided me with a solid education and great life experience,” said Fisher.

Ginger Grant photographs officers Jodie and Ken Fay who serve in CT Governors Horse Company and work with canine Comfort Dog Maggie of Christ The King LutheranChurch in Newtown, CT.

Ginger Grant photographs veterans Jodi and Ken Fay. Ken works with the CT Governor’s Horse Guard and both work with Comfort Dog Maggie of Christ The King Lutheran Church in Newtown, CT.

Green hopes more people will come to Artist Tree Tea House & Gallery 156 to check out the goings on there. “It’s all about creating opportunities to nourish the good within each of us.”

Lynn Keeler Fisher photographs Naval officer with family. Fisher also is a veteran and sat for photo.

Lynn Keeler Fisher photographs Travis Van Houten, Naval officer HM2, wife Ali and baby daughter Leah. Fisher, is also a veteran.