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Photo: Hyper Voisins.
A 705-foot banquet table meant to seat 648 people in a Paris neighborhood that’s seeking a more neighborly lifestyle.

It’s that time of year again — time for our valiant but hopeless block party, when we smile and reintroduce ourselves to neighbors that we will look right through when we bump into them in the market in January. If New England can’t make mutual support and cooperation work, how in the world can Paris?

Peter Yeung at the Guardian describes an experiment in France.

“It was a distinctly un-Parisian revolution although it began on an inner city street. No barricades were assembled to block the nearby boulevards and no radical students hurled cobblestones ripped from the pavement. …

“Instead, a 215-meter-long [about 705 feet] banquet table, lined with 648 chairs and laden with a home cooked produce, was set up along the Rue de l’Aude and those in attendance were urged to openly utter the most subversive of words: bonjour.

“For some, that greeting led to the first meaningful exchange between neighbors. ‘I’d never seen anything like it before,’ says Benjamin Zhong who runs a cafe in the area. ‘It felt like the street belonged to me, to all of us.’

“The revolutionaries pledged their allegiance that September day in 2017 to the self-styled République des Hyper Voisins, or Republic of Super Neighbors, a stretch of the 14th arrondissement on the Left Bank, encompassing roughly 50 streets and 15,000 residents. In the five years since, the republic – a ‘laboratory for social experimentation’ – has attempted to address the shortcomings of modern city living, which can be transactional, fast-paced, and lonely.

“The experiment encourages people not just to salute each other more in the street but to interact daily through mutual aid schemes, voluntary skills-sharing and organized meet ups.

“ ‘The stereotype of a Parisian is brusque and unfriendly,’ says Patrick Bernard, the former journalist and local resident who launched the project. ‘But city living doesn’t have to be unpleasant and anonymous. We want to create the atmosphere of a village in an urban space. [Conviviality] can become a powerful asset, an essential economic and social agent in the construction of tomorrow’s cities.’

“Nearly 2,000 people now attend weekly brunches and apéritifs in local restaurants, cultural outings, memory exchanges, children’s activities and more. During the pandemic, residents mobilized to make masks, deliver shopping to vulnerable neighbors and bake cakes to support a local charity. Crucial, too, is the digital aspect: dozens of WhatsApp groups include those dedicated to repairing broken devices, selling second-hand goods, and sharing healthcare resources. …

“Mireille Roberdeau, an 86-year-old widow who moved to the area in 2000, says the scheme has given her a reason to get up in the morning. ‘I was quite timid before,’ she adds. ‘I wouldn’t speak to anyone. I would scowl at people. But now I look forward to going out. It’s good because my doctor says I need to get out.’

“Roberdeau, now a keen user of the WhatsApp groups was hospitalized in March but says neighbors delivered her groceries when she got home. …

“Beyond the ‘eating, drinking and celebrating as social engineering,’ in the words of Bernard, that defined the initial stages of Hyper Voisins, the long-term targets – aimed at transforming the very nature and functioning of an urban neighborhood – come under four pillars: environment, healthcare, public spaces and mobility.

“It has, for example, collaborated with non-profit Les Alchimistes to install organic waste disposal points in former parking spaces and to turn the matter into compost. Perhaps more radically at a time of strained healthcare provision in France, it is launching a health clinic geared towards local needs. [It] will have a staff of 10 and offer extended opening hours, consultations without appointment and home visits. …

“To reduce local car use by residents and traders, Hyper Voisins plans to buy electric bikes with trailers and install a communal electric bike charger. It is also in talks with the mayor to potentially levy a local tax on unwanted businesses such as estate agents, banks and delivery hubs and give residents a vote on whether they can even move in. ‘We want to promote stores that improve our daily life,’ adds Bernard. ‘If not, like a polluter, they should pay.’ …

“A study by sociologist Camille Arnodin found that Hyper Voisins – and two other community volunteer projects in Paris – had reinforced pandemic resilience, transformed weak neighbourly links into strong bonds, improved social mixing and reduced social isolation. …

“[But it] noted issues over inclusion: the scheme could risk leaving out either those who don’t wish to participate in activities or those who ‘don’t feel included or informed.’ ”

What do you think? Several readers are more intimate with Paris than I am, having been there only once, decades ago. So I would love to hear what you think of the experiment. Good idea? Can’t possibly survive?

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Noah Robertson/The Christian Science Monitor.
“Trail maintainer Russell Riggs digs an impromptu drain in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, May 1, 2022. The drain helps water gently slope down the mountain and off the trail, limiting erosion,” CSM reports.

I grew up at the foot of the Ramapo Mountains and although I never became a serious hiker, I always loved walking in the woods there. The Ramapo Mountains are part of the Appalachians. Today we learn how volunteers maintain the famed Appalachian Trail. Even in a pandemic.

Noah Robertson has the story at the Christian Science Monitor. “The view from Jewell Hollow overlook is hard to beat. More than 3,000 feet above ground in Shenandoah National Park, it’s a 180-degree window into miles of valley and mountains. Surrounded by a mossy stone fence and hiking trails, the sight is one of the best in Virginia.

“But today, Kris English isn’t focused on that. Instead, she’s looking at dirt – grassy green to tan to gravelly brown. 

“She pauses when the ground gets dark. Telling her three-person crew to stop, she teaches them to study dirt like paint swatches (every artist needs a canvas). Darker dirt is wetter dirt. Wetter dirt means the trail will erode faster. 

“Then Ms. English, a technical trail specialist for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, shows them how to dig a drain. 

“Grabbing a 4-foot hybrid rake known as a McLeod, she clears debris in wide brushstrokes and carves a gentle slope. Five minutes later there’s a comet-shaped channel to guide water down the mountain. …

“Ms. English, leading a training session that morning in early May, helped add a few volunteers to the roster of those who routinely preserve the Appalachian Trail – the East Coast’s 85-year-old, 2,200-mile hikers’ paradise. Her role is professional, but each year a 14-state network of trail crews from Georgia to Maine volunteer hundreds of thousands of hours to keep the trail sustainable, accessible, and clean. 

The pandemic has made it harder. When indoor gatherings were off limits, people went outdoors in record numbers. And, not knowing basic hiking etiquette, they made a mess. 

“That hasn’t stopped the volunteers. Last fiscal year, the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, which oversees 240 miles of the trail – 101 of which are in Shenandoah National Park – amassed 2,000 more volunteer hours than it did the year before the pandemic. [To] Wayne Limberg, one of the PATC’s district managers in Shenandoah National Park, … the response shows that people understand the Appalachian Trail’s inherent contract. It offers humans an almost unrivaled opportunity to interact with nature. But that agreement takes preservation. 

“ ‘We want to make sure that it can be enjoyed by those of us living now and also future generations,’ says Mr. Limberg, who helped Ms. English lead the training session in May. ‘Trails need to be maintained.’ …

“Humans want to see nature. But nature doesn’t always appreciate the interest. Trails solve that problem by concentrating folks into a single, relatively small path, she says. The arrangement maximizes people’s exposure to nature and minimizes their impact. 

“But this is a fragile agreement. Humans – particularly new hikers – can disturb the forest with litter, graffiti, music, and millions of footprints. Nature, for its part, will always try to take the trail back with weeds, moving water that erodes the path, and fallen trees known as ‘blowdowns.’ 

“Hence, the need for trails creates a need for trail maintainers. And trail maintainers need training. 

“After a series of safety tips, Ms. English walks her group to a set of tools. … The fire rake’s harsh triangles help clear gravel and debris. The mattock’s two ends can dig earth and tear roots. …

“ ‘I could nerd out about tools for a minute,’ she says. And briefly she does, even posing in proper technique – like the relaxed stance of a surfer, not the hunch of an ‘old witch.’

“Maintainers follow several simple rules. Preserve a 4-foot-by-8-foot rectangular ‘trail prism’ free of weeds and fallen trees so hikers can freely walk. Gather litter. Report anything they can’t fix.

“And, perhaps most important of all, guide water. Rain needs to flow down the backslope and off the edge, not pool on the treadway. Otherwise, the path will erode, gather debris, or change shape entirely as months of nature junk accumulates. 

“Official policy is that the treadway should slope down at a 5-degree angle. The reality is almost never that precise. If they want an impromptu level, Ms. English says, a half-filled, transparent water bottle will work.

“Ms. English, Mr. Limberg, and the crew’s other two members remove a rickety log ‘water bar’ and replace it with a fresh channel. Pulling the log up, Ms. English finds two curled millipedes. Mr. Limberg finds a AA battery. 

“In the last two years, litter like that has only become more common. ​​… The motto for seasoned hikers is ‘leave no trace.’ But many of the new visitors during the pandemic hadn’t yet learned the code. The Appalachian Trail has many access points and can’t record each hiker. But the multiple trail maintainers interviewed by the Monitor described a clear increase in use over the last two years. With it, too, they found an increase in waste and degradation – from little bags of dog poop left in a stack at the trailhead to spray-painted boulders. 

“ ‘When you see stuff that frustrates you, you don’t like it, but you realize that’s why I’m here,’ says Jim Fetig, who manages the PATC’s program of paid seasonal trail ambassadors known as ‘ridgerunners.’ ‘You just rise to the occasion and take care of it and move on.’

“To Mr. Limberg, the good news is that trail maintenance is getting back to its natural state. When national and state parks closed at the beginning of the pandemic, his trail crew’s work stopped as well. Even when things reopened, there were capacity limits and required social distancing. …

“It’s been more than 20 years since Mr. Limberg joined the PATC. Two decades of maintenance have reminded him that ‘the mountain always wins.’ No matter how many times he digs drains, whacks weeds, and lifts litter, the trail will need more work. It’s humbling.  But it also gives him a connection to the land he might not otherwise have.”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: DeansBeans.
Dean Cycon of Dean’s Beans and his wife decided to go to Poland to help World Central Kitchen feed the influx of Ukrainian refugees. They both have forebears that were chased out of Europe by Russia.

Do you know the legend of the Jongleur de Notre Dame?

My francophone blogger friends should correct me if I get this wrong, but the way I remember it is that a man wanted to present a gift at the statue of the Virgin Mary but was desperately poor. He had a different kind of gift, though — a talent for juggling. The story goes that he juggled with all his heart and soul in front of the sculpture, and it gently bowed its head to him.

That’s the kind of miracle that feels real.

Today people are donating money and whatever talents they have in order to help Ukrainians invaded by Russia. First off, John, my son, who continues to employ optical engineers in Ukraine for remote work.

Another Massachusetts resident, Dean Cycon of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee, is going with his wife, Annette, to Poland to work with World Central Kitchen, which is feeding thousands of Ukrainian refugees. Dean and Annette both have forebears they say were chased out of Europe by Russia. Their story is detailed at the Greenfield Recorder, here.

Boston doctors, interviewed here, made YouTube videos to teach ordinary Ukrainians how to treat war wounds. According to the Washington Post, The video is less than 40 seconds long — but its creators say it could help save lives in Ukraine.

‘The data we know from the battlefield is that a significant amount of deaths are preventable with taking these steps,’ Eric Goralnick, an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. …

“Goralnick is the doctor shown acting out the tutorial in the short video, which provides a list of actionable steps written in Ukrainian. Another video, about 4½ minutes long, features a more detailed, step-by-step narration in Ukrainian by Nelya Melnitchouk, a Ukrainian-born oncology surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.” More.

The nonprofit group End Hunger New England is pivoting from mostly local needs to help Ukrainians, too, but according to the Christian Science Monitor, the group was stumped about how to deliver the meals so far away. Then a Boston-based shipping company, BOC International, stepped up. “It’s handling all the logistics,” the Monitor reports, No charge.”

Along with Asakiyume, I myself have joined a crowd of editor-types to help media people in Kyiv clean up translations of events so the Ukrainians can share the latest on Anglophone social media.

I am so grateful for this opportunity, which Asakiyume, a friend I met 25 years ago when we were both copyediting at a management magazine, offered me.

How it works: bilingual Ukrainians translate local news into English the best they can, then send it to colleagues to check as well as to “proofreaders,” mostly American. As proofreaders, we try to make the English sound more natural.

The organization we are helping works 24 hours a day. I know I’m getting more out of it than I am giving. Talk about real! If I want to sacrifice, I ought to sign up for the sparse 2 a.m. shift.

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Photo: Filip Mroz/Unsplash.
A coach told his team the day’s workout would be shoveling for old folks at no charge. Where were these guys when I needed them?

I don’t know if there are any coaches reading this blog, but I just had to spread an idea that a football coach at a Pittsburgh high school had after a snowstorm. Over the years, there have been several storms when I was home alone and really needed the kind of help described here. Once the snow was so high, I had to climb over my picket fence.

Cathy Free writes at the Washington Post, “Pearl Moss looked out her front window in Bethel Park, Pa., and was instantly worried. A major snowstorm that pummeled the Pittsburgh area and the East Coast over the weekend had dumped nearly a foot of snow in her driveway, and there was more on the way.

“ ‘I thought, “What am I going to do? There’s no way I can get out there and shovel myself out,” ‘ said Moss, 74, surveying the white landscape on Monday. …

“A few hours later, there was a knock on her door. Moss peeked out and was surprised to see two teenage boys standing on her porch with shovels.

“ ‘I couldn’t believe it — they were going to shovel me out,’ she said. ‘And they didn’t want a single penny to do it.’

“David Shelpman, 16, and Aidan Campbell, 17, live in the same neighborhood as Moss and are on the football team at Bethel Park High School. Head Coach Brian DeLallo had emailed them and other team members Sunday to inform them that their Martin Luther King Jr. Day workout in the school gym wasn’t going to happen.

“DeLallo also posted a notice on Twitter with some instructions. ‘Due to expected severe weather, Monday’s weightlifting workout has been cancelled,’ he wrote. ‘Find an elderly or disabled neighbor and shovel their driveway. Don’t accept any money — that’s our Monday workout.’

“Shelpman and about 40 other team members put on their snow gear and took their assignment seriously.

“ ‘I grabbed some shovels and drove over to pick up Aidan, and we spent the next eight hours shoveling driveways and sidewalks for people that we knew couldn’t do it for themselves,’ said Shelpman, an offensive and defensive lineman for the Bethel Park Black Hawks.

“ ‘It was a fun way to spend the day,’ he said. ‘We just kept going until we’d done six houses. We even skipped out on having lunch. It made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself.’ …

“Braedon Del Duca, a guard for the Black Hawks, shoveled out five houses with two of his friends, Colton Pfeuffer and his brother, Tanner Pfeuffer.

“ ‘I like helping other people, and I love the snow, so it was fun to get a workout outside,’ said Del Duca, 16. ‘It was cool to see how happy people were when we showed up.’ …

“ ‘My dad went to school here, and he also used to shovel snow around the community,’ he said. ‘Whenever there’s a snow day, it’s just what you do when you’re on the football team.’

“DeLallo, 51, said the ‘shovel day’ ritual was started in 2002 by former head coach Jeff Metheny, who is now retired.

“ ‘I was on staff as an assistant coach when he started it, and it’s something everyone is proud to keep going,’ he said.

“In Bethel Park, a Pittsburgh borough with about 32,000 residents, community support of the football team is strong, DeLallo noted.

“ ‘Our games are always well attended, so giving back is the right response,’ he said. ‘Most of our kids know the older people in their neighborhoods, and shoveling snow is a way to connect outside of the usual Friday night football game.’ …

“Other high schools in the area do similar service projects in the community, DeLallo said.

“ ‘The feedback has been awesome, but we’re not the only ones making a difference,’ he said. ‘When you get 11 inches of snow, this is something a lot of communities have stepped up to do.’

“Pearl Moss said she’s grateful for the teens, adding that if they hadn’t shown up when they did, she probably would have been stuck in her house for a while.

“ ‘Those kids did a fine job, and I’ll never forget it,’ she said.”

I believe many teens would like to help neighbors but don’t know where to start. Do you have online neighborhood bulletin boards in your area where people can post needs or trade services — say, a batch of homemade cookies for shoveling the front walk?

We have a pretty reliable paid service right now, but I had a new neighbor offer to help out with his snowblower in the last storm, and you can bet I will keep him in mind. I find it’s unusual for New Englanders to volunteer their help in this way. Please correct me if that has not been your expeience!

More at the Post, here.

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Photos: Ashleigh Whiffin.
Amateur nature recorders in the UK are providing vital data on beetles, soldierflies, and many lesser-known insects.

Britain’s long tradition of amateur scientists sets the stage for today’s enthusiastic volunteers mapping the nation’s insect population.

Isabella Kaminski writes at the Guardian, “Ashleigh Whiffin’s day job as assistant curator of entomology is to look after National Museums Scotland’s vast collection of preserved insects. But her passion for the creatures doesn’t end when she goes home; in her spare time she spends hours recording and verifying sightings of a specific group of large carrion beetles in the family silphidae.

“ ‘Silphidae are absolutely brilliant,’ Whiffin says from her Edinburgh office. ‘They’re decomposers, so they are really vital for recycling and also have forensic applications. Some of the members in the family are called burying beetles and they actually prepare a carcass, make a nest out of the corpse and then feed on the rotting flesh and regurgitate it for their kids. They’re quite a charming – but also grisly – insect.’

This banded burying beetle in the UK is a scavenger said to be able to smell a rotting carcass from two miles away. I’m thinking it’s a cousin of the endangered American Burying Beetle that John used to study in Rhode Island.

“Wanting to know more about the distribution of silphidae across the UK and how they were faring in conservation terms, Whiffin established what already exists for more charismatic species such as ladybirds: a national recording scheme. …

Whiffin is one of Britain’s tens of thousands of volunteer nature recorders, whose detailed sightings of flora and fauna, or key events in their lifecycles, are vital for keeping tabs on biodiversity as the climate warms, habitats shrink, and pesticides and pollution degrade the quality of land.

“It’s a hobby with a long history in the UK, where amateurs have been stuffing, pinning and pressing specimens for centuries. … These days, records are collated, verified and filtered through a patchwork of recording schemes and local environmental record centres. Many end up in the National Biodiversity Network’s Atlas, the country’s most comprehensive collection of biodiversity information. …

“The Biological Records Centre (BRC), a research institution in Oxfordshire set up in the 1960s, calculated a few years ago that about 70,000 people take part in biological recording each year, although Helen Roy, the BRC’s coordinator of zoological data and research, thinks that is probably an underestimate. Despite years of doom-mongering about the death of natural history as a pastime, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ State of Nature 2019 reports calculated that there had been a 46% increase in the time donated to nature recording since 2000.

“Martin Harvey, who also works at the BRC but runs a recording scheme for soldierflies and their allied families in his spare time, says most insect surveys are run by volunteers. …

“But while there is little concrete data on demographics, recorders admit there is a lack of diversity among those involved. … Says Whiffin. ‘I have to say for the beetle community, that is predominantly white men and that is something that I’m very keen to change.’

“Whiffin has been advertising her recording scheme on social media and running beetle identification courses online to try to reach a wider range of people.

“Biological recording has also benefited from apps such as iSpot and iRecord, which allow citizen scientists to snap a picture of their subject and quickly upload it. …

“Harvey notes that people get involved at different levels, from casual recorders to those who go to ‘extraordinary lengths’ to specialise in a subject or species. … ‘For most, if not all, insects there’s a lot we don’t know and a lot of areas that don’t get recorded very well,’ says Harvey. ‘There’s also basic natural history gaps in how they live, what they feed on, what their lifecycle and behaviour is, and individual volunteer naturalists can and do make an enormous contribution to finding out that sort of information.’ …

“There are now 30,000 records on large carrion beetles from the silphidae family recording scheme combined with historical data gleaned from dusty museum notebooks. This enabled Natural England to commission a recent study on the prevalence of silphidae in the UK, which showed that several species were critically endangered or vulnerable.”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: AP/Marta Lavandier.
Doramise Moreau is a part-time janitor at a technical school. She spends most of her time shopping for ingredients and helping to cook meals for 1,000 to 1,500 people a week that show up for food at Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church in Miami.

Last week, I finally felt safe enough to go get my hair trimmed and was glad to catch up on Tracie’s year. It was difficult at times, as it was for us all. Her teenage daughter had had a painfully lonely time at home, and her mother was relieved to see her back at in-person school, at least part time.

Tracie really lit up when she talked about giving free haircuts to residents of a nursing home. As she described the grateful things the seniors said to her, it was clear just how happy the volunteering made her.

Today’s story is about another volunteer who lights up when she can help people.

As reporter Cathy Free noted at the Washington Post earlier this month, “Miami Beach has declared a state of emergency because spring break partyers have overwhelmed the city, but across the causeway in Miami’s Little Haiti, a very different scene unfolds: Each Friday night, a school custodian finishes her day job, then spends 12 hours quietly cooking for the hungry.

“Doramise Moreau arrives at the Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church each Friday, where she stays on her feet deep into Saturday morning, pausing briefly for a nap. …

“Less than 10 miles from South Beach, Moreau, 60, lovingly turns bulk-size bags of rice and beans and hundreds of chicken and turkey drumsticks into about 1,500 meals for people in her Little Haiti neighborhood who might not have enough to eat. …

“ ‘I don’t need a lot of sleep. I would rather be here making food for the people. I ask every day for more strength to keep doing what I’m doing.’

“She first volunteered to buy groceries with church donations and prepare a feast once a week, she said, when her pastor, Reginald Jean-Marie, mentioned that he was concerned about hunger in the community.

“ ‘I told him, “Don’t worry, I can do this — I have the time,” ‘ Moreau said. ‘When people are hungry, it is our responsibility to help. I know how hard it can be out there.’

“Moreau grew up with nine siblings in Haiti and often took food from her family’s pantry to give to those who had less than her family did, she said. In 1980, she immigrated to the United States at age 19 and lived with her brother in Miami until she fell in love and started a family of her own.

“When the relationship didn’t work out and she became a single mother, Moreau said, she took two hotel jobs to pay the bills and keep her four kids fed. …

“For her first batch of meals last spring, Moreau made several enormous pots of rice and beans seasoned with her special blend of green and red peppers, onions, cilantro, bay leaves and garlic. She has never used a recipe, relying instead on instinct and what she remembers from watching her aunt and sister cook in Haiti, she said.

“ ‘Who has time to measure? I just chop everything up and toss it in,’ she said. …

“Although rice and beans are a mainstay, Moreau’s fried chicken, roast turkey, baked fish and fried plantains are also popular with the 1,000 to 1,500 people she feeds each week.

“The meals are loaded into two delivery trucks and distributed on Saturday afternoons by volunteers who cruise slowly through the neighborhood in Little Haiti and hand them out to people as they come out of their apartments.

‘Sometimes I go with them to deliver the meals, and it’s rewarding when you see how it helps,” Moreau said. “For some people, this might be the only meal they get for a while.’ …

” ‘American, Spanish, Haitian — I don’t want anyone to go hungry,’ Moreau said. ‘People are suffering during the pandemic. There’s no work, the rent is high, they might not have money to go to the store. This is just one meal, [but] it’s something I can do.’ …

“Jean-Marie, the pastor, urges Moreau to occasionally take off her apron and rest. ‘I ask myself all the time how she does it,’ he said. ‘Not once do I ever hear her complain. We have to beg Doramise to take a rest, but she keeps showing up, day after day. She gives everything she has.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Robert W. Hart / Dallas News contributor
Ron Olsen, who launched the rock art trail, holds one of the hundreds of painted rocks at Parr Park in Grapevine, Texas.

People like to paint rocks. It’s an art that’s simultaneously permanent and impermanent. In New Shoreham, for example, the beloved Painted Rock is like a mural or community bulletin board (there’s a real bulletin board, too, online). I’ve blogged about it often, including in 2015, here.

In the summer, you need to photograph your artwork quickly because the rock gets painted over faster than you can say Jack Robinson. But an archaeologist would find all the layers still underneath, and the rock itself has probably been there since the last Ice Age.

Similarly, there are small, smooth rocks people paint for sale, for charity, or for gifts. In a May post I wrote about local kids painting rocks during the pandemic and raising money for medical workers.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has a story on another pandemic-inspired rock project, one featuring thousands of painted rocks from around the country.

Cathy Free reports, “Chris Penny figures that his mail carrier must have spectacular biceps by now.

“Most every day for the past seven months, when the carrier arrives at Penny’s home in Grapevine, Tex., he unloads a few heavy bins and hauls them one by one up the driveway to Penny’s front porch.

“The boxes are filled with packages containing painted rocks, most of them intricate works of art, handmade and mailed from people all over the country. Since the beginning of the pandemic, people have been sending them to Penny so that he and his family can place them along the Parr Park Rock Art Trail — a mile-long public walking path that has become a wonderland of more than 4,000 art rocks. …

‘These aren’t just any rocks — they’re works of art,’ said Penny, 44. …

“The rocks — painted to resemble everything from the Beatles to Mickey Mouse to a face mask — started arriving at Penny’s house ever since he bought a bunch on eBay after noticing a dozen painted rocks scattered along a nature trail in Parr Park. Penny said he knew right away that he wanted to flood the trail with them and make it a destination.

“Penny learned that the colorful rocks he’d stumbled upon were painted by [Grapevine photographer and RV dealer] Ron Olsen and his three grown children in March, after Olsen returned from a trip to Iceland and discovered that Grapevine, a city of around 46,000 people, had practically become a ghost town due to the nationwide coronavirus shutdown. …

“Soon, he and Penny decided to join forces to transform the trail into an artsy attraction for anyone in Grapevine and beyond who wanted to escape the stress of covid-19 for a while.

“ ‘We wanted to make it a getaway for people and give parents something safe to do outdoors with their children,’ said Olsen, 62. …

“Penny, who runs the nonprofit Broken Crayon, focused on helping women and children living in poverty in the United States and Ghana, said the project has provided his family with something fun and positive to do close to home during the pandemic.

“In the early days in March, after he’d painted several dozen rocks with his daughters and bought dozens more online, Penny posted on Facebook, asking anyone who would like to contribute to the project to mail him their rocks and he’d pay for the shipping. …

“Penny said he’s contributed almost $10,000 of his own money for shipping costs (rocks are heavy), although many people now pay to ship their rock masterpieces on their own. …

“All along the nature trail, visitors will now find painted owls, unicorns, tigers and humpback whales, along with the emblems of favorite sports teams, salutes to fallen soldiers and paintings of beloved cartoon characters and classic cars. Somebody even mailed Penny a giant tic-tac-toe board. …

“Penny’s favorite part of the project is that every rock tells a story. ‘Some people have painted rocks in memory of family members who have died, and others have painted memories of high school, like a favorite teacher or a favorite song,’ he said. ‘One woman painted a rock to honor her daughter because she’s serving with the military in Afghanistan and she misses her.’ …

“Whether a rock is painted by a professional artist or a 2-year-old doesn’t matter, Penny said. ‘When it comes down to it, there’s really no such thing as a bad rock,’ he said.”

Check out photos of some beautiful rocks at the Washington Post, here.

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Photo: Irena Stein Photography/Immigrant Food
Chef Enrique Limardo says the “Columbia Road” bowl at his restaurant, Immigrant Food, combines elements of Salvadoran and Ethiopian cuisine. A special side dish: opportunities to help recent immigrants.

People say, “I’m upset, but I don’t know what to do.” Or, “I don’t have time to do anything extra.”

Look, when you shop, do you have time put a can in the food pantry bin? Do you have time to write a handful of postcards to voters once in a while? There is always time to put a can in a bin; there are always nonprofits that will accept a tiny bit of volunteering. It adds up.

And here’s the biggest benefit: you will feel better. Was it Ann Landers or Dear Abby who was always recommending helping someone worse off as a cure for nonclinical blues? You just need to find a volunteer gig that fits your interests.

This post is mostly about a cool restaurant in Washington, but be sure to note what the owners are trying to do in addition to presenting delicious, creative dishes.

In November, Catherine E. Shoichet reported at CNN about a new restaurant that opened up in the nation’s capital.

“It’s called ‘Immigrant Food,’ ” she wrote, “and it’s just a block from the White House. The fast-casual spot caters to a weekday lunchtime crowd, with bowls blending cuisines from different cultures around the globe — like a dish that combines Vietnamese spicy-rice noodles with pickled bananas in what the restaurant says is an ‘ode both to Central America’s favorite fruit and to German-style pickling.’

“It also gives diners a chance to donate to local immigrant advocacy groups, all under a slogan aiming to bridge the political divide and find common ground: ‘United at the Table.’

“[Co-founder Peter Schechter] wants people to feel at home here, and to hear the story he’s excited to tell. …

“As the child of immigrants from Austria and Germany, Schechter says he felt like he had to respond to the surge in anti-immigrant rhetoric across the United States.

” ‘This isn’t the America I recognize. … Immigrants have been the foundation of growth and vibrancy. This country has been great again and again and again because of immigrants. …

” ‘Immigrants are feeding America,’ he says. ‘All of the industries that make food, whether it is the picking or the shucking or the meatpacking or the slaughterhouses, (or) in restaurants, the servers, the bus boys, this is an industry that is dominated by immigrants.’ …

“At Immigrant Food, menus available by the door describe each of the nine fusion bowls and five vegan drinks on tap. They also encourage visitors to donate to and volunteer with local immigrant advocacy groups.

“Among the suggestions listed on the restaurant’s ‘engagement menu’: teaching English, visiting detention centers, staffing hotlines and helping with mock ICE interviews. …

“There’s also a photo booth featuring a world map. Diners can point to where their families are from, snap a selfie and get a text message with a frame around the image that says, ‘We are all immigrants!’ …

‘People say, “I’m really upset about what’s happening, but I don’t know what to do,” ‘ Schechter says. ‘And so, you come to this restaurant, we will give you stuff to do — concretely and easily.’

“Local immigrant advocacy groups will also be able to use the restaurant’s upstairs space for things like meetings and English classes, free of charge. And on its website, the restaurant will serve up bite-sized breakdowns of immigration policy issues, dubbed ‘The Think Table.’ …

“The location turned out to be a case of serendipity, Schechter says. ‘[But] I really think it goes beyond the political.’ …

As he sips on a drink called ‘Across the Border’ — which blends cacao, dates, peppers, allspice, vanilla and cashew milk — Robert Evans, 72, says he loves the concept but worries the restaurant might end up preaching to the choir rather than crossing political lines.

“But then again, he says, one day someone who works in the White House might stop by. … In Schechter’s view, immigration shouldn’t be a polarizing topic. He points to polls that show most Americans say immigration is a good thing. And he hopes Democrats and Republicans will dine at Immigrant Food together.

” ‘The table, the restaurant, has always been a place where people unite,’ he says.” More.

By the way, if you’re ever in Providence, the immigrant restaurant called Aleppo Sweets is just fantastic. An extra treat for me is running into one of my former ESL (English as a Second Language) students who’s working alongside her family members there.

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Photo: Parklands Primary School
Children from Parklands Primary School in the UK enjoyed a Christmas extravaganza at the ice rink of Leeds East Academy. And Parklands staff volunteered their time to serve a hot Christmas meal.

Here’s a Christmas dinner story from the UK, one that would be perfect if it weren’t so necessary.

Alex Evans writes at the Yorkshire Evening Post, “Staff at Parklands Primary School volunteered their time to serve up a hot meal for the school’s 328 pupils and their families [Monday] at its ‘Christmas Eve Eve’ party.

“Youngsters were able to meet Santa Claus at the party which was set up by headteacher Chris Dyson. He says he was left ‘heartbroken’ when he discovered some of his pupils had never met Father Christmas and many wouldn’t receive gifts. …

“Each child received a Christmas present to unwrap — likely to be the only one they will receive this year, Mr Dyson said.

“The school, in Leeds, West Yorkshire, serves one of the largest council estates in Europe and an area in the top 1 percent in England for deprivation.

“Only a third of working-age adults have jobs and three-quarters of pupils qualify for the pupil premium, extra money given to schools from the Government to support the poorest children.

“Headteacher Chris Dyson, hailed ‘an inspirational leader’ by Ofsted inspectors said: ‘It broke my heart when I started at the school five years ago and found out that some families don’t even go to visit Santa, which is something we all just take for granted. …

” ‘So I said I would bring Santa to Parklands and get every child at least one present to open.’ …

“Mr Dyson’s initiative saw 150 people attend the school’s first party six years ago. The number doubled the following year and continued to grow. [Today] 800 people benefited from the headteacher’s generosity, which has been helped by donations from local business who have given cash and gifts, as well as Leeds City Council who have provided food.

“Mr Dyson added: ‘We are in the middle of one of the biggest council estates in Europe, a lot of our families don’t even go off the estate. …

” ‘Christmas is a vulnerable time for families, its cold and for some people it is the only hot meal they will get this week. I’m blessed that I have had so many presents donated that those with a birthday coming up will get a birthday present as well.’

“Mr Dyson took over at the school in 2014, after it went through five headteachers in just one year and was rated inadequate by Ofsted, the government’s education watchdog. It had the country’s highest number of annual exclusions and a padded cell was used as a form of punishment. Mr Dyson said he wanted to bring ‘love and smiles’ back to the school and has extended that to the wider community. …

” ‘It’s for the entire community, anyone can come and they all do. Our first year we had a lot of kids who didn’t come to our school come round, and I said Santa doesn’t turn people away. So we just welcomed everyone. … It’s a vulnerable time, food isn’t as plentiful here as where I live. It’s important they get a hot meal.

‘These kids will ask why doesn’t Santa answer my letters like he does to people in those middle class areas. I want to make sure they feel Santa hasn’t forgotten about them.’

More.

Just a reminder about the miracle of great teachers.

Hat tip: @HertsLearning on twitter.

 

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Photo: Henry Gass/Christian Science Monitor
Volunteers like Luis Guerrero, pictured above, reach out to migrants — after they are released from federal custody and their cases are proceeding — and help them to reunite with families around the country and get legal assistance.

At the end of 7th grade, after we had had a half year each of Spanish and French to get a taste, the Spanish teacher took me aside and begged me to take Spanish in 8th grade and not French. I spouted what my parents told me about French having more great literature, and the teacher was shocked at my ignorance. Still, I wasn’t one to go against my mother.

Today I think if only I could speak Spanish, maybe I could actually be some help as a volunteer at the border — like the people in this story.

The Christian Science Monitor writes, “At the U.S.-Mexico border, our reporter found an army of everyday citizens compelled to offer help where officials cannot.”

Henry Gass, the reporter, writes, “Luis Guerrero has been going to the central bus station here for six years now. He still hasn’t bought himself a ticket.

“It started when he saw a nun trying to help newly arrived migrants passing through the station and offered to translate for her. The migrants have kept coming, so he has kept making the ride to the station.

“Of course, migrants are crossing into this part of Texas in numbers not seen in over a decade. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has already apprehended more migrants in the Rio Grande Valley sector this fiscal year than any other year this century besides 2014. Mr. Guerrero has responded to this latest surge with the calm enthusiasm of a retired firefighter who rescued children from a submerged school bus three decades ago. …

“The zero tolerance policy is no more, but the flow of migrants – primarily families from the Northern Triangle of Central America – has only increased. News and government reports of migrant deaths, as well as ‘dangerous’ and ‘squalid’ conditions in government holding centers, have thrust the issues back into the national spotlight in recent weeks. …

“Immigration lawyers, local officials, and volunteers across the border [have] been feeling the strain.

“Bus stations have been a consistent area of need, and that is where Juanita Salazar Lamb found herself this week after driving down to McAllen from Benton County in northwest Arkansas. She had been following the news coverage of the border crisis, unsure of whom to believe – people who say the migrants need asylum, or people who say they’re exploiting loopholes in immigration law; people who say they’re being treated horribly, or people who say they’re being treated well. …

“Thirteen months ago [Joyce Hamilton] and four friends formed a group, Angry Tias and Abuelas, focused on helping migrants on international bridges and reuniting separated families. The group expanded to a core of eight regular volunteers, and six months ago got a fiscal sponsorship from an Austin-based nonprofit (so it can attract donors even though it’s not yet recognized as a tax-exempt organization).

“ ‘By August [2018] I just really, I didn’t feel like I had a center. I was just shaky a lot,’ she says of the toll her work has taken over the past year.

“As government policies have changed, the group has had to shift where it devotes resources. … In January the administration began implementing Migrant Protection Protocols, a policy also being challenged in court in which migrants may be returned to Mexico while their immigration case is proceeding.

“International bridges are now mostly empty, while shelters in Mexican border cities are overwhelmed with migrants. Ms. Hamilton’s group is now focused on helping at the bus stations and sending money and supplies to shelters in Mexico. …

“Things have slowed down recently in her hometown of Harlingen, Texas. When she arrived at the local bus station on Monday morning – a station so busy on some days this summer she couldn’t hear herself talk – there was only one Guatemalan girl. It was her 18th birthday, so she had been released from the Norma Linda child detention center nearby and dropped off there.

“The girl’s bus ticket – to Georgia, where she says her uncle lives – was for the next day, so Ms. Hamilton arranged for her to spend the night at Loaves & Fishes, a homeless shelter in Harlingen. The 18-year-old says she hopes to work in the U.S. and send back money to support her parents still living in rural Guatemala. After she had crossed the border into Arizona, she spent eight months in Norma Linda, an experience she had only a few complaints about.

“ ‘There were lots of rules,’ she said in Spanish, fidgeting with a bracelet she had made at Norma Linda bearing the names of her grandparents.

“ ‘I made a couple of friends,’ she added. ‘I’m going to miss them.’ ”

As a colleague at my last job used to say about migrants who had made the trek, “People who go through all that sound like the kind of people I would like to know.”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: The Book Catapult
When a co-owner of the Book Catapult fell ill at the same time as the only full-time employee, rival bookstores in San Diego kept the shop open. (Pictured: The Book Catapult co-owners Seth Marko and Jennifer Powell, Marko’s wife.)

Never give up on humanity. In a February story at Publisher’s Weekly [PW], Claire Kirch reported on the selflessness of some booksellers in San Diego. Of course, we know that book people are remarkable folks, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that most people show kindness at some point in their lives.

Here’s what happened when a bookshop owner had emergency heart surgery while his only full-time employee was suffering from bird flu.

“The bad news coming out of the Book Catapult in San Diego’s South Park neighborhood,” wrote Kirch, “is that co-owner Seth Marko underwent emergency surgery immediately following his return home from Winter Institute 14 in Albuquerque, after suffering chest pains while there. Plus, the two-year-old store’s only full-time employee, Vanessa Diaz, came home from WI14 with a case of bird flu, or as she called it, ‘the Albuquerque swine flu.’

“The good news is that six booksellers from four other San Diego-area bookstores — The Library Shop, Warwick’s Bookshop, the University of California-San Diego’s bookstore, and Adventures by the Book — have volunteered their time for more than a week to keep the Book Catapult open during its regular hours, while Marko’s spouse, store co-owner Jennifer Powell, tends to him. (Marko left the hospital Wednesday). Another pair of booksellers, John Evans and Alison Reid, the two co-owners of Diesel: A Bookstore in Los Angeles, have committed to volunteering at the Book Catapult this weekend. [Ingram Publisher Services personnel pitched in later.]

 ‘It’s a story of redemption and hope,’ joked Library Shop manager Scott Ehrig-Burgess, who coordinated the volunteers and, he says, trained them on the store’s [Point of Sale] system. …

“ ‘I’ve had to turn away volunteers, from former booksellers to people who know nothing about books but want to help out,’ Ehrig-Burgess said. ‘We’re a close-knit community.’

“As for Evans, he says that he and Reid are driving down from L.A. to help out because Marko and Powell ‘are great people, fellow booksellers, [who] created a wonderful bookstore in their neighborhood and this health crisis just came out of nowhere. They are much-loved in the book community in Southern California, with Seth having various roles over the years in keeping the book culture vital, fun, and interesting.’

“Andrea Vuleta, the head of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association, told PW, ‘I am so pleased to see such warmth, community, and fellowship among our bookseller membership. I think it is one of best things about indies, the mutual support. Definitely something to be thankful for these days.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Katie Leigh

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Photo: Rebekah Welch, Missoulian
Two refugee children hurry to watch a soccer game at Fort Missoula in Montana.

I’m back volunteering with refugees and other immigrants, and it feels great. I took a hiatus to rethink my schedule after my sister was diagnosed with brain cancer. Now I’ll be doing only one day a week instead of three, assisting at a morning ESL class in a Providence resettlement agency and an afternoon class down the street. It makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile in retirement.

In today’s story, volunteers and staff at some unusually stable refugee programs in Montana feel the same. The article reminds me that my ignorance of much of the country has kept me from appreciating how every state has people with similar values.

In October, Kim Briggeman wrote at the Missoulian, “Montana’s lone resettlement office is just big enough to dodge the ax lowered by the [administration’s] slashed refugee cap, but small enough to escape the staff reductions others face.

“ ‘In Salt Lake City we were staffed to serve 600 arrivals (per year). Well, when you get half of that, you start losing staff,’ Patrick Poulin said in Missoula last week.

“Poulin is acting regional director of 13 International Rescue Committee [IRC] offices in seven Pacific Northwest states, and serves as executive director of the one that opened in Missoula two years ago. …

“The U.S. State Department has ‘pretty much told resettlement agencies’ that offices serving fewer than 100 refugees a year will be shuttered, Poulin added.

“Missoula’s IRC office received 115 refugees in fiscal year 2018, which ended Sept. 30. Poulin said that was up from 78 in the first full year, and included a welcome but unexpected rush of 26 Congolese in July and another 23 Congolese and Eritreans in August. Those represent the top two months for refugee arrivals since the IRC began receiving them in August 2016. …

“The U.S. Secretary of State [announced] in mid-September a proposal to lower the number of refugees allowed into the country from a maximum of 45,000 to 30,000 for fiscal-year 2019. Both are fractions of the 110,000 set by President Barack Obama in his final months of office in 2016, a cap that was ratified by Congress. …

“ ‘This is not only the lowest goal in the history of the U.S. program — the average has been 95,000 — but puts U.S. resettlement, as a proportion of population, well behind Sweden, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom,’ noted a guest commentary co-authored by Helena mayor Wilmot Collins that appeared last Monday in The Hill. Collins [is] a refugee from Liberia. …

“Missoula Federal Credit Union (MFCU) … donates roughly 7.5 percent of its annual net income to community programs like these. …

“[Mary Poole of volunteer-reliant Soft Landing Missoula] said it was another reminder of how Missoula Federal and its president, Jack Lawson, have supported local refugee resettlement from the start.

“ ‘We’ve had, I think, three or four meetings with Jack where he’s asking, “What’s next? What can we do beyond money to help?” And of course there’s always an answer for that,’ she said.

“The IRC works with schools and organizations to set up classes such as English language and computer literacy courses to help refugee families integrate into the community. In the credit union’s case, it’s financial literacy support. …

“[Gwen Landquist of Missoula Fed] said a ‘fantastic’ family of Congolese has agreed to be taken under the wing of a financial mentor from MFCU for a year.

“ ‘The husband and wife met at a refugee camp and moved here in July with their three children and one of their mothers,’ she said in an email. …’ The husband speaks about seven languages, including English, and his kids are learning Spanish in school. He has taken some prep classes to prepare for attending school. He is currently employed and is eager to get a car so they can get to church and work.’ …

“A study that came out in July found that the 4,600 refugees and other immigrants in the Missoula region generate more than $26 million in tax revenue each year and contribute disproportionately to goods produced and services provided.”

More at the Missoulian, here.

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Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Volunteers try to find housing and employment opportunities for asylum seekers in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville, Mass. Refugees have government-approved supports. Asylum seekers have nothing.

In the last couple years, since I’ve been volunteering in ESL classes, I have learned there is a differences between refugees, who arrive in this country fully vetted and eligible for official support, and asylum seekers.

Asylum seekers are generally fleeing persecution and danger. One woman I heard about knew that the government in her country intended to arrest her after disappearing her husband for his vocal opposition. When she arrived here, she had nothing.

Numerous groups of US citizens are now organizing to help such people.

Zipporah Osei reports at the Boston Globe, “With more attention than ever on the crisis and issues of immigration, Fowkes knew what he needed to do was to effect direct change. …

“Said Fowkes, “I wanted to do more than just mail a check to an organization. I wanted to have a hand in changing someone’s life.’

“Fowkes and his wife joined ArCS Cluster, a group of volunteers helping refugees and asylum seekers in Arlington, Cambridge, and Somerville. The group started in the spring of 2016 as an arm of the Malden-based nonprofit Refugee Immigration Ministry, with a mission of helping through person-to-person connection

“Asylum seekers come to the United States to escape issues such as war, persecution, or domestic violence. Once here, they must apply for asylum and then wait at least five months to apply for a work permit.

“While they wait to be approved, individuals can lack access to medical care and face housing insecurity and social barriers that make the process even more difficult. The group attempts to make the transition as smooth as possible. …

“The cluster, which has over 250 members with roughly 50 active volunteers, provides services to asylum seekers from countries including Saudi Arabia, Libya, Liberia, and Rwanda. It is the first explicitly LGBT-friendly cluster in the Refugee Immigration Ministry. Although the cluster was formed out of First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington, all volunteers are welcome whether or not they are affiliated with any religious organization. …

“For many of the volunteers, the connections made with asylum seekers are long-lasting.

“ ‘I have so enjoyed forming relationships with these people. We develop friendships together,’ said [Sarah Trilling, co-coordinator]. …

“The cluster helps the asylum seekers in seemingly small ways as well. After finding out that one of their guests was uncomfortable taking the bus late at night, volunteers took turns driving her home from appointments.

“ ‘They support me morally and financially. This is a blessed group,’ she said of the coordinating team. ‘I love them for all they do.’

“Fowkes and his wife, who live in Medford, have been members of First Parish for more than 20 years. He recently retired and felt he had more time to invest in charity work. The experience of housing an asylum seeker has also had a positive impact on him.

“ ‘This kind of work suits me,’ said Fowkes. ‘You can do a small thing for a great many people or you can do a huge thing for one person, and I just know I’m making a tremendous impact on someone’s life.’

“The couple took in an asylum seeker who had been living on the street. The guest has been living with the pair for more than a year now. The three have dinner together every night, and the couple has introduced him to his family and friends. Fowkes said they have formed a deep connection.

“ ‘He introduces me to people as his American dad,’ said Fowkes.”

More.

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Photo: Elissa Nadworny/NPR  
Cathy Meaney (right), a volunteer with International Neighbors, has befriended an Afghan refugee family in Charlottesville, Va.

Here’s a story of how one person can make a big difference. The one person I’m thinking of is a teacher who started a nonprofit to help refugees in Virginia. After launch, there was another “one person” and another and another.

In fact, quite a few kind Virginians were concerned to learn that refugees have to start taking care of their own needs in 90 days — a nearly impossible task in a strange place where you don’t know the language.

Elissa Nadworny has a report at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Here’s a number: 90. That’s how many days most refugees arriving in this country have before the basic resettlement money they get from the government runs out.

“But once that three months is over, there are still so many things recent arrivals need. That’s what Kari Miller saw over and over as a teacher in the public schools in Charlottesville, Va.

“In her classes, students who had recently arrived in the U.S. as refugees were struggling with all kinds of problems, like serious dental issues, or a lack of winter clothes or just the challenge of adjusting to life and school in a new land and a strange language. …

“She asked her principal for permission to take children to clinics, to buy them winter coats, to go home and meet their families. … Seeing them every day at school gave her an idea: Connect these families to their Charlottesville neighbors.

“Working out of her garage, Miller started the nonprofit International Neighbors. That was two years ago, and the organization has now grown to more than 200 volunteers. Many of them work full-time jobs but are ready to jump in to help families in that crucial period after the government aid runs out. …

“There are so many questions: Where can I get a car? Is school closed today? How do I turn on my shower? And, please, help me fill out all this paperwork!

“Paperwork, that’s the real currency in the United States, says Liza Fields, a member of International Neighbors’ board. … Fields helps refugees fill out those many, many forms — mostly for medical care but also dental work, school needs and, of course, paying bills. …

“The No. 1 request refugees make of International Neighbors is for a car. That’s usually followed closely by another related request: driving lessons. The organization provides money for lessons. But some volunteers like Helga Hiss are willing and able to give lessons. That, says Kari Miller, is the sweet spot. …

“Last fall, Hiss started giving driving lessons to a woman named Neegeeta, who moved to Charlottesville with her family from Afghanistan about 2 1/2 years ago.

” ‘It was very, very difficult life,’ Neegeeta says as her 18-month-old son, Musadiq, crawls into her lap. She asked that we use only her first name in order to protect family members who remain in Afghanistan.

“That first year in the U.S. was so hard, Neegeeta says, that they thought about moving back to Afghanistan. She felt isolated. She was working on her English, taking care of her three children, and dependent on a bus transfer to get her to appointments. …

“But, month by month, things got better. Her husband got a good job. The family got a car. They moved into an apartment downtown.

“Neegeeta credits much of this newfound confidence to volunteers like Hiss, who she says helped her feel welcome as she drove around her new city, laughing — and praying — in Hiss’s Toyota Camry.

“Those lessons, Neegeeta says, changed everything. Gave her freedom.”

Read about the nonprofit’s varied programs — including the one that pairs Charlottesville and refugee families who have similar characteristics — at NPR, here.

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Photo: Elisa Coltro/Facebook
Nonna Irma, of Noventa Vicentian, Italy, poses with some of the children in the Kenyan orphanage she supports.

News outlets around the world reposted this story about a 93-year-old’s outreach work as described by her granddaughter on Facebook. But I found that BrightSide dug for additional details.

The website reports, “This charming woman from Noventa Vicentina, Italy is Irma, and she is 93 years old. Despite her age, she’s full of energy and desire to change the world for the better. She decided to fly to Kenya to help children in the orphanage there. Her granddaughter shared her grandma’s photos on her Facebook page, which took over the Internet. …

” ‘Irma has always loved life and was never stopped by life’s obstacles,’ her granddaughter [Elisa Coltro] wrote. She knows what difficulties are like and has always tried to help others. Irma lost her husband at 26 and later one of her three children. Her life has not been easy, and she has always relied on her own strength to make it through.

“Many years ago she met Father Remigio, a [missionary] who has spent his life helping the people of Kenya. Irma has supported him for many years. Once she heard that Father Remigio was hospitalized, she made a decision to visit him and all the places he had built during his lifetime, such as hospitals, orphanages and kindergartens.

“Now being in Kenya, Irma helps children as much as she can. She teaches English and Math in the school of Malindi. … Her age never stops her from taking motorcycle rides. Despite all the difficulties she’s faced, she continues to enjoy life. Irma plans to stay in Africa for a few weeks, but there is a possibility that she will want to stay there for good.

“She has always taught her children and grandchildren to help others. Her granddaughter Elisa did volunteer work in refugee camps in Greece in 2016 and 2017.” More here.

One of the things I like best about the story is the sense of a network of fellow travelers. Irma’s daughter went to Kenya with her. Her granddaughter volunteers. And zillions of people loved what Irma is doing enough to share the news on social media. One and one and 50 …

Photo: Elisa Coltro / facebook   

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