#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 In Need Update- Spoiler Alert It’s A Good One!

I just want to take a quick moment to say I am truly astounded by the outpouring of support I have gotten since my last blog post about starting Mommies In Need.  In a little over a week, we have more than doubled our original goal for helping Annie and her family!!!

I was not sure if I could really do this thing, or if I was just being an (even more) insane person.  But you guys are backing me up and giving me the courage to keep going.  The amount of people who have shared the link, donated, or offered to help in some other way is incredible.  I think it has spoken to a real need in society. I have heard over and over again when I explain the idea to people, “I never really thought about it, but I don’t know what my family would do if I got that sick.”  Mommies In Need is growing at the rate that it is because it offers a tangible and relatable service to people who are in an unthinkable situation.

So just to keep you in the loop here are just a few things that have actually happened in the last week:

We have the beginnings of the 501(c)(3) paperwork done.  This is an extremely tedious process but I am hoping to have at the very least the articles of incorporation submitted to the state by tomorrow.   Once that goes through, I can get the rest of the forms to the IRS in the next few weeks.

We have a Secretary and Treasurer for the Board.  We will be having board meetings and voting on measures and all sorts of official stuff!

We have a Mommies In Need bank account where all of your incredibly generous donations are going.  And by bank account, I mean real bank account, not a bag with a dollar sign on it under a loose floorboard.

We now have a PO Box.  Send us something!  I recommend a check made out to Mommies In Need, but you could also send Annie a letter or card of encouragement, a sonnet you write about how generally awesome I am, or whatever else you feel inspired to pass along.  Our new address is:  Mommies In Need, PO Box 601562 Dallas, Tx 75360.

And most importantly, we have raised enough money to fund a Nannie for Annie (sounds like a Dr. Seuss book) for over 2 months!!!  I am amazed and overwhelmed by the generosity and enthusiasm that everyone has shown.

So please continue to donate or have people send checks to our new address.  You can also send me an email at supercrazymommy@gmail.com if there is some other way you want to get involved or just want to be on the mailing list for any and all Mommies In Need info.

I am so excited that we are able to help Annie and hopefully many more mommies like her in the future.  Thank you to all of you for listening, supporting, and sharing! And for jumping on board this crazy train with me!

Jumping for joy!  I'm not currently on the Great Wall of China but you get the idea!
Jumping for joy! I’m not currently on the Great Wall of China but you get the idea!

I’m In To Hire- and You Should Be Too

Some of you may have heard of #ImInToHire.  For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about you can click here.  Basically, Best Buddies is working on a program to get employers to pledge to hire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD.)  When I first heard of this I thought it sounded like a great idea, but now it has become a lot more important to me.  Why?

Because I made a new friend this weekend and her name is Annemarie and she is awesome and inspiring and an amazing writer.  And she has Down Syndrome.  I spent the whole day with her Saturday working on her speech for the Best Buddies Ambassador Program, where the Buddies learn public speaking so that they can help raise awareness for people with IDD by speaking at and attending events.  In essence to be an Ambassador for the program.  Hence the name…anyway…

I have written previously about another experience with Best Buddies that you can read here.  But today I want to really focus on just how much we as a society are missing when we don’t see all of the positive contributions that people with IDD can add to this world.  Part of the problem is that many of us don’t have any regular interactions with people like Annemarie.  Because 85% of people with developmental disabilities do not have a paid community job.  Let’s think about that for a moment.  85%.  And that is not because they are lazy or not looking.  I spoke to one very smart and articulate man who has been actively searching for a job for over a year.

Do you know what Annemarie said was one of her biggest goals in life?  Independence.  She wants to be able to be a part of the community just like the rest of us.  Who provides a service and gets paid for her work.  But it’s difficult, because when a person with Down Syndrome or Autism or Cerebral Palsy goes in for an interview, they are competing against people who don’t have a disability.  Even if they are completely capable of doing that job, they are at an automatic disadvantage.  Maybe their speech is a little difficult to understand, or they don’t make eye contact the way others do, or they just look different.  And the person doing the interview thinks, well, it would just be easier to hire the person without an IDD.  It’s not automatic for most people, we need to make an active effort at inclusion.

That is what is so cool about the I’m In To Hire program.  Employers pledge to try and find job opportunities that would be appropriate for individuals with IDD.  One of the speeches I heard on Saturday was from a young man who works at a gym.  He said that he greets people and folds towels and that every day he feels proud because his friends can see him working.  He is really happy to have that job, it makes him feel accepted and like he is a full member of the community.  Helping someone find self confidence and pride in themselves is an amazing thing.

That gym employer could have chosen to hire a college student without IDD who maybe was doing this for a side job and didn’t really care too much about it.  But instead they hired an intelligent, friendly, outgoing young man who happens to have a disability.  And that job gives meaning to his life in a very profound way.

So if you have a company, maybe spend a minute thinking about what positions you have that would be well suited to someone with IDD.  And then perhaps reach out to an organization like Best Buddies and ask them to recommend a few candidates who are looking for jobs in your area and would be a good fit for your needs. Or talk to your HR department and see if you can help facilitate the program at your workplace.

People with IDD are just that, people.  With individual hopes and dreams, and so much to offer to this world.  Please join with me in trying to help make our society one that welcomes them and their unique abilities and enthusiasm. And Annemarie, when you graduate if you are looking for a job, I’m hoping Mommies In Need will grow to the point that I can bring you or someone like you on to help.  Because I can say loudly and with great pride that I’m In To Hire!

Me and my new Buddy Annemarie!
Me and my new Buddy Annemarie!

Best Buddies and Brave October

I am continuing my campaign for people to participate in Brave October and as part of that I am trying to push myself to be courageous.  I am really skinny right now (seriously, I’m like all elbows and knees) but I am by no means in good shape.  It has been probably two years since I exercised and more like 3 and 1/2 since I did so regularly.  I have gotten cleared by my doctors to start working out again as I feel up to it (see A Brief Timeline of Crazy if you need to catch up on my many health issues) but with my severe anemia and exhaustion I have not felt like starting.  Also I don’t wanna.  I have never been one of those people who enjoys exercise- I strongly believe that running is only for when something big and snarling is chasing you.

And the truth is I have been frightened to start.  I know I am not very strong right now and actually going to the gym seems completely daunting, and an exercise class is so intimidating- I feel like everyone will stare at me and think I am a huge wuss when I am gasping for breath every 5 minutes.  Now, most people probably don’t really care what the person next to them in class is doing, but the reality doesn’t really matter-I have built this up in my head to a point where I am really anxious about it.

Full disclosure here so that no one thinks I am being sneaky and doing a puff piece review- about half my family is somehow involved in SpeedFlex, a workout facility that opened recently in Dallas.  SpeedFlex is supposed to be “revolutionary” because it is a high intensity workout (you only do each exercise for 20 seconds) and there are no weights, just these cool machines that go off your own resistance.  As my father has pointed out to me every time I said I was too weak or tired to go try it, the machines are even being used in clinical trials for chemo patients and in rehab facilities as well as with training for elite athletes.  I still resisted because a) I’m really tired, b) I’m scared that I won’t be able to do it, and c) I don’t wanna.

Then came the Best Buddies SpeedFlex-a-thon this past Saturday.  They did an all day workout event and for every calorie burned got sponsors to donate money to Best Buddies- they raised over $80,000 which is pretty incredible!  I love this organization (more on that later) and I figured I can’t be all #BraveOctober and then not do it myself.  So I put on my big girl yoga pants and started going in a few weeks ago to build up my strength to participate on my family’s team.  The first time I went, I had to bail after 7 minutes, but I actually felt pretty good about myself afterward.  And then I found that each time I could do more and more, and on Saturday, I did a whole 30 minute workout session and burned 347 calories!  I felt great that I helped raise money for Best Buddies, excited that I was actually strong enough to get through it, and really proud of myself that I was brave enough to workout in front of so many people (the place was packed for the event.)  I also felt a little annoyed because now my whole family gets to say “I told you so,” but that’s a separate issue.

Flexing my awesome chicken arms!
Flexing my awesome chicken arms!

The event was also eye opening for me in another way.  If you are unfamiliar with Best Buddies, please click on that link and learn about them, it is an awesome organization.  They pair people up (like a Big Brothers/Big Sisters thing) to help foster one-to-one friendships for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  They start pairing buddies in middle school and continue through high school, college, and with adults.  Having met and talked with a few of the Buddies on Saturday, I can absolutely see how much this program could enrich the lives of both the volunteers and the Buddies.  I spent a lot of time talking to Jeremy, who is a Best Buddies ambassador, and has been with the program for about 12 years.  He is interesting, articulate, and one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met- seriously his smile is the epitome of contagious!

Tyler was another Buddy who had worked out in an earlier session that day but stood to the side in the room when I was exercising.  Every time I was feeling exhausted or like I wanted to quit, I would look over at him and he would wave and clap and cheer me on, which was almost as good as another B12 shot!  I spoke to his mother and she told me how wonderful this program has been for him in the past few years.  When he came over I bragged to his mom about how helpful his cheering was and his response was, “Yeah, I’m the man!”  Yes, Tyler, yes you are!

Jeremy, me, and Tyler.  I am by far the least cool person in this pic! :)
Jeremy, me, and Tyler. I am by far the least cool person in this pic! 🙂

The Best Buddies program to me is an embodiment of my idea of #BraveOctober.  Sometimes just being yourself in a world where you are different is an incredibly courageous move.  I hope my girls get involved with the program when they are old enough, because, as I have mentioned before, I believe that the best way to raise children who are open-minded is to introduce them at a young age to the fact that people have differences and those are not frightening, they’re beautiful.  I want my kids to be brave enough to loudly stand up for someone with an intellectual or developmental disability because they know first hand what a great buddy that someone can be.