#LemonadeForLakeHighlands

Tonight I started writing a Facebook post to share in a couple of moms groups in the Lake Highlands area of Dallas and realized it was turning into the longest post ever so I decided to really long form it and turn it into a mini-blog! (editor’s note {I’m my own editor so this is in first person, also I am sure this brackets inside a parenthesis thing is a grammatical mess, and now I have a run-on, in a bracket, inside a parenthesis, inside an editor’s note — when there is no editor} When I wrote this the intention was for it to be mini then I started talking and couldn’t stop! #storyofmylife)

While I am creating a call to action specifically for Lake Highlands and Dallas as a whole, there are some elements to this story that I think readers all over can get something from, and hopefully be inspired to help.

First of all, I want to tell you all a little bit about my friend Caren. She is one of the strongest and kindest people I have ever known, and that is saying something because I know some pretty kick-ass people. I won’t share her whole story with you- she wrote a book after all so she can tell it much better than me, you can check her out at www.carenbright.com. But among all the things that she has lived through (that woman shares my Survivor gene,) I think the hardest and the most un-imaginable to me is that she spent a period of time in a homeless shelter with a baby.

Now I have had more than my share of hardships, but I have to be real honest here and say that I was always privileged. There have been times when our budget was tighter, but that meant I couldn’t eat out whenever I wanted or get my hair colored as often as I would like. I have never had a day where I wondered if I would be able to make rent, or where my next meal was coming from, and certainly never a time when I couldn’t afford to buy diapers for my kids.

But Caren did. And then she fought her way out of generational poverty (with the help of an amazingly strong faith and a beautiful community.) And then, she started a non-profit organization, Pamper Lake Highlands, that provides free enriching classes for families, and motivates them to attend regularly by providing free diapers at the end of each week. Three days a week she serves 85 women and their children, all of whom are living in poverty, and offers programs like ESL, GED, parenting, financial literacy, counseling, assistance connecting into other community resources, and much more. AND their kids get to attend free high-quality pre-school. She calls it “Dual Generational Poverty Intervention,” and she does it so well because she has lived it herself.

She even designed her own curriculum, Bright Futures, which goes beyond the hard skills that people need to succeed, and addresses things like goal setting, positive mindset, accountability, and conflict resolution. She has said to me before, (and I paraphrase because my mind since kids is like a sieve) “People who have never been able to think beyond the next paycheck have probably never made a vision board. Because how can you spend time and energy imagining what you want your life to be if you don’t first believe there is a chance that can happen for you.” That, along with many other things she has taught me have blown my mind!

Bright Futures Graduate
Quote from Erika: “I started going to college and received my CDA because of Bright Futures. Pamper Lake Highlands has given me the opportunity to grow my vision for myself bigger to become an elementary school teacher and inspire the next generation.”

 

And now Caren’s in a jam. And we are going to help. That’s right I said we. If you have read this far you are contractually obligated to join in. You signed a very small contract with your eye movements without knowing it. (editor’s note: remind myself later to pitch this idea to some tech investors…)

I have already given Pamper Lake Highlands what I can financially right now. So that leaves me with the sometimes valuable and sometimes completely worthless currency of IDEAS (Imagine me saying this with lots of jazz hands!) Hopefully for them it is one of my winners.

So. A donor who had made a major commitment to the organization backed out at the last minute. I’m sure they had a reason but, note to donors, PLEASE DON’T DO THIS!! It really hurts small non-profits.

And that leaves them short for all the bills they need to pay on Tuesday. And I know it was just North Texas Giving Day but those checks don’t come until after Halloween and they need help now!

So here’s what we are going to do. We are going to get a bunch of people in Dallas to promote volunteerism in their kids and help them set up lemonade stands. Since we may finally have some fall-ish weather, people can also elect to do hot apple cider and pumpkin muffin stands. Whatever you want to sell- set up a table, grab your adorable kiddos and march to your front yard and start selling. My girls and I are doing one tomorrow afternoon and selling hot apple cider, rice krispy treats, and these things Emma has been making out of empty Kleenex boxes called “Sneaky Peaky boxes.” (editor’s note: this is also a great way to get rid of excess kid crafts you have lying around. People will pay a couple of bucks for them ’cause your kids are cute and they don’t want to crush their artistic dreams- your kids feel awesome because their art sold, you get it out of your house, and you raise money for a great cause that really needs it!)

All you need is some lemonade and crappy kid art, a jar for donations, a posterboard that says #LemonadeForLakeHighlands, and some kids! Then when people come by, tell them a little about why you are raising money and… here’s the key, encourage them to leave a donation in the jar but even better- go to their website and make a donation (www.pamperlakehighlands.org) or just shoot them some money on PayPal to accounting@pamperlakehighlands.org. The thing is that if people take the time to do that they will generally give a lot more than a dollar or two. That is how a “Sneaky Peaky Box” is going to sell for $20- well that and my mom will probably buy one!

I can see it now- an army of kids in their front lawns united in the quest to help bridge this gap so that this incredible organization can keep their programs going and so that my bestie Caren can stop stressing out for a minute. A wave of #LemonadeForLakeHighlands photos and posts showing Caren that we see her and the work she is doing. And a flood of donations (I really like how I mixed my metaphors here) that not only get Pamper Lake Highlands out of this tight spot, but give them confidence that if they keep serving their community, their community will show up for them.

***If you want more information about how to participate, feel free to email me at natalie@mommiesinneed.org.  If you would like to set up a stand, let us know and we can drop off some marketing materials about the cause as well as send you a short info sheet with a couple of “How to” tips. And if you don’t live in Dallas or can’t do a stand this weekend but want to help, please go to the Pamper Lake Highlands website and donate. As little as $5 makes a difference, but nobody is saying no to $500!***

 

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Mommies Day

Next Sunday is Mother’s Day… a day when we are supposed to honor moms. Because moms get stuff done. This world functions because of the millions of things that mothers do every single day.

If you have ever read this blog before you probably know a couple of things about me (if you need to catch up you can check out a brief timeline of crazy):

  1. I am a mom to twin 7-year old girls.
  2. I am a Survivor. I have lived through cancer, the removal of way too many organs, depression, panic attacks, so much surgery, and the loss of my 28-year old brother- all in the past seven years.
  3. I started a non-profit organization called Mommies In Need (kind of by accident.)
  4. I really enjoy maternity pants (even when not pregnant,) the use of parentheses, excessive exclamation points, and the Oxford comma!!!

Today I am going to focus on number 3. Short summary of a very long story: just as I was coming out of the worst of my health problems, my friend Annie got diagnosed with colon cancer and needed help with her small kids. I sent a nanny to her and started crowdfunding to pay for it and it wound up turning into Mommies In Need. When I started MIN, it was just me and a couple of people I suckered into being on a board of directors that met on my guest bed while all our kids ran around screaming. For some reference on how this all started, check out My Why.

And last Friday night, just four and a half years later, I found myself on a stage in front of a crowd of 250 people (next to Dale Hansen!!) announcing that Mommies In Need has now provided over 18,000 hours of free childcare to parents going through a health crisis.

Those who know me understand that I am always ready to hop on a stage. I was basically born with “jazz hands.” I routinely embarrass myself in public and online to raise money for MIN (check out our Facebook page to see the time I sang Mamma Mia at Target.)

And yet leading up to Friday I found myself extremely nervous.

Nat on Mike
Sweating so much under that cape!!

Because this thing, this little spark, this call that I felt years ago has grown into something I never could have imagined. Not only are we continuing to develop and expand our successful in-home program, but we have found an innovative way to serve exponentially more families, and those who need it the most.

On Friday we announced publicly for the first time that we would be building a drop-in center at Parkland Hospital to serve the children of patients while they receive necessary medical treatment. We are working with some amazing partners, like The Beck Group and Winstead, PC, who are donating their time and talents to this project.

And for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Parkland is kind of big deal.

Parkland Health & Hospital System is the safety-net for Dallas County and is there when you need them the most- for the most vulnerable among us and for the most complicated, traumatic injuries and illnesses. And the need is staggering: About 1 million residents in Dallas County are uninsured or on Medicaid and critical trauma patients arrive at their doors every day. It’s innovative approach to care afforded Parkland recognition as one of the top publicly funded hospitals in the nation. 

And if that previous paragraph looks like I cut and pasted it, that’s because I did. See that is the text of my speech that got cleared by their communications team so I’m sticking to that when I write about it- I have 2 lawyers on my board now!!!

So now you all know where I have been for the last year. When I never responded to your text or email, when I seemed super distracted and ran in everywhere 10 minutes late — oh wait, that’s just me all the time! I haven’t written since December, but it’s not because I didn’t have anything to write about… I had all the things (except time), I just wasn’t able to talk about them yet. But now I can!

This collaboration that we are doing with Parkland is the first of its kind. There have been childcare centers at hospitals for the employees, or even at children’s hospitals to care for siblings… but not a place to care for kids when the parent is the one getting treatment.

We are the first organization to offer free childcare for patients at a public hospital. Or any hospital really. Which is crazy! Because something I have learned in the last 5 years of working in this space is that you cannot address women’s health if childcare is not a part of the picture.

That seems like common sense, right?! Except no one has studied it…until now!

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that we are also working on a research study? When I say we, I mean Parkland and UT Southwestern Doctors, not just like, me with a clipboard.

And I haven’t even gotten to the big, big, picture part of this thing. We are building this whole center to be something that we can scale and replicate in hospitals throughout North Texas and eventually across the country.

I am so unbelievably excited, and also a little terrified. Because this beautiful thing that I created is growing. And with every day it gets a little bigger, and more self-sufficient, and I am proud, and in awe, and realizing that it is not just mine anymore. It is time for it to venture out into the bigger world.

So this is where I circle back to Mother’s Day… see how I did that? Because MIN is like a child… did I just ruin it by explaining the metaphor?

Anyways…I have always looked up to my mom. I just had no idea how much until I became a mother myself. Before that I didn’t really understand that to be a mom is to have your heart out walking around in the world.

Me and my mom
I love hanging out with her… especially at an off-Broadway show held in a bar!!

My mother taught me how to love well. And she did it under some pretty difficult circumstances.

She took care of me when I was little by making me a nest on the couch when I was sick (which I do for my girls now), and she took care of me when I was a grown woman with kids of my own who needed her Mommy. My mother spent months going back and forth between helping with my babies during the day and staying at the hospital with me at night. She helped feed, and bathe, and dress me when I was too weak to do it on my own. Not to mention the fact that she was the only person who could perfectly arrange a “nest” of pillows for me to get comfortable in a hospital bed.

Sometimes I get compliments on my resilience. On my ability to turn the worst things in life into a blessing for others. On my kindness. But to quote a late 1980’s PSA, “I learned it from watching you, Mom!”

I have written before about Annie, the mom that I started MIN to help, who sadly passed away in 2018. We are naming our new program “Annie’s Place” in her honor.

When we open Annie’s Place at Parkland, we will have a plaque on the wall that reads:

Mommies In Need was built by moms to care for moms. We celebrate the community of women that make everything possible. We dedicate this place, Annie’s Place, to them.

And the first name on it will be my mom, Connie Howe.

Happy Mommies Day!

** If you would like to honor a mom in your life, you can make a donation here.If you donate $200 or more OR sign up to be a monthly donor of $25 or more, we will inscribe your loved one’s name on the plaque and send a card on your behalf to a designated person with the message:

“In your honor (or in memory of your loved one), a donation has been made to sponsor a child at Annie’s Place at Parkland. This donation will give 8 days of safe and loving care to a child whose mom is getting necessary medical treatment at Parkland. Your name will be inscribed on a plaque that hangs at Annie’s Place that reads:

Mommies In Need was built by moms, to care for moms. We celebrate the community of women who make everything possible. We dedicate this place, Annie’s Place, to them.”

Once you have made your donation, please email info@mommiesinneed.org with the name as you would like it to read on the plaque which will hang in Annie’s Place as well as the address you would like to send the card to if applicable. If you would like the card to be received before Mother’s Day we will need all information emailed by Wednesday May 8- we will continue to send out cards after this, they just might not arrive by Sunday.

We welcome donations in loving memory of someone special to you.**