Thursday, February 28, 2013

Raising Little Heroes: Project C.U.R.E./Kits for Kids

This past fall, Owen (my 2 year old) came down with a bad stomach bug and had to be taken to the emergency room because of dehydration.  It was relatively scary while in the midst of it, but in the end was a manageable experience because we are lucky enough to live in a country where we have access to medical care.  After this happened, I became slightly obsessed with the realization that if we had happened to live in another part of the world, it's more than possible that he would have died.

At some point in the months following this, I noticed that a Facebook friend "liked" an organization named  Project C.U.R.E. based here in Colorado (in Centennial, near Denver) that procures surplus medical supplies and sends them to 139 countries that desperately need them.  I looked over the website a bit and immediately emailed Megan Prentice, the name I saw as a contact in the volunteer section of the website, and told her about Raising Little Heroes and asked if there was something our group could do to support their work.  Megan wrote me back right away telling me that although our kids are too young to help out in the warehouse, they are the perfect age to help with their Kits for Kids program.  Basically, you pick up empty kit bags from the warehouse and fill them with items from a supply list and then return them to the warehouse to be shipped overseas to communities that need basic medicine cabinet items.  I agreed that the project sounded perfect for our group and I put it right on our calendar for the following month.

I knew we could pull this project off but also knew that it was going to take some creative thinking and planning.  Although many of the items on the supply list can be found at the dollar store, gathering the items would involve money--something I usually try to avoid while planning these projects.  Part of my vision for the group is that anyone, regardless of their financial situation, should be able to participate.  I don't want anyone opting out of a project because they don't have cash because that is something that happens to me ALL THE TIME.  In addition to the items, each kit had to be accompanied by a $5 donation to cover shipping costs.  So, I wasn't exactly worried that we wouldn't be able to pull it off but I did know I needed help figuring it out.  Luckily, four amazing RLH moms stepped up to the plate and offered to help me organize and plan:  Jessica Zeldner, Katie Volkmar, Amanda Murphy and Lesley Switendick.  The 5 of us got to brainstorming and came up with a plan.  We would set up a sign up sheet for the items (we used and get the word out right away that we needed help gathering items.  We also gave people the option of donating gift cards so that anyone wanting to have the shopping experience with their kids could still do so, even if they couldn't fit it into their budget.  We set a goal of raising all of the shipping costs through donations (directly to Project C.U.R.E.) so that we didn't have to ask families to cover that on top of whatever they were spending on items for the kits.

Thanks to Backflip Studios here in Boulder and Sandi and Gary Stith, we almost immediately surpassed our shipping cost goal by $100.  This not only meant that we didn't have to worry about that piece of the puzzle anymore but that in the end we would be able to make a donation to Project C.U.R.E. when we returned our full kits.  In the weeks following, the sign up sheet slowly started to fill up and I received gift card donations from several non-RLH friends/family (Jenny Mathias, Joelyn Wilkosz, Ivan Grabowski and Sandy Yoon, Maggie Briggs and Gretchen and Bryan Rech).  Despite this promising and heartwarming activity, my dream of filling 50 kits started to downsize into dreams of filling 20 or so because the sign up sheet was pretty daunting..there were just so many items on there!

The day of the event arrived and we had a great turnout and a lovely time.  The kids had fun choosing items for the kits and the parents all enjoyed chatting and getting to know each other.  Before we knew it, we had filled all of the kits and we called everyone together.  I got choked up as we all counted the bags together and realized we had reached our goal--in the end we were able to fill 53 kits!  I was so pleasantly shocked and touched by the effort put in by so many of our families.  It was a great project to do with our kids and they seemed to understand the impact, even if only in really basic terms.  As we were getting dinner ready at home later that day, Zoe (my 5 year old) came right up to me and said "Mommy, I wanted to say this earlier, but got nervous saying it in front of everyone...that was INCREDIBLE....all the people that came to help...everything that we was INCREDIBLE" and she gave me a huge hug.  Now, if that isn't proof that we are succeeding in our mission, I don't know what is.

A couple of days later, my kids and I drove the full kits down to the Project C.U.R.E. warehouse and Megan was kind enough to take a little time out of her day to show us around and tell us more about the work that they do.  The kids had a great time and were blown away by how HUGE the warehouse is.  It is absolutely jam packed with medical supplies all waiting to go to communities that need them.  The volunteers work tirelessly and were all really kind and friendly.  We felt so grateful to have a little window into their invaluable efforts.

Although our event has passed, there are many ways in which you can support Project C.U.R.E.:

1)  There are piles of Kits for Kids at the warehouse that were filled by other groups but were not accompanied by the $5 donation, waiting to be shipped.  If you would like to help those kits find a home, you can check out Megan's Fundly campaign and make a donation.  In fact, I set up my own Fundly campaign to help them reach their goal so check out mine too and feel free to hop on board.

2)  Hold your own Kits for Kids event with your child's school or a group of friends/neighbors.  I'd love to help you figure out how to organize your event so feel free to contact me if you would like my support.  I'd even pick up and drop of the kits at the warehouse for you if it helps.  To help raise your shipping costs, you can set up your own Fundly campaign.  If you don't live within driving distance of a Project C.U.R.E. warehouse but want to hold a Kits for Kids event, it IS possible, but you would have to talk with Megan about shipping the kits to and from the warehouse.

3)  If you are traveling to an underserved region of the world, you can contact Project C.U.R.E. and ask about their C.U.R.E. Kit program.  If you participate, you can bring along a prepackaged C.U.R.E. Kit with you as part of your luggage and deliver it to a clinic in need.

4)  You can volunteer in one of the warehouse locations (there are several around the country, including New York **hint hint**) or donate items to those or a distribution center.

5)  If you are a medical professional, you can be a  part of C.U.R.E. clinics and have an opportunity to work with a clinic that Project C.U.R.E. has delivered supplies to.  They offer 12-14 trips per year.

I urge you to go to Project C.U.R.E.'s website to learn more about what they do and dare you not to feel inspired and support them in some way.

Thank you to everyone who made this event possible, I look forward to doing it again next year!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

New Groove

For most of my life, all I've wanted to be was a mom.  I struggled (resisted) to find and settle on any sort of "career path" because I sort of resented the whole idea of it.  Why couldn't my "career" of choice be motherhood?  Of course I knew that in reality I had to do something to make money but I had a lot of trouble finding anything that didn't make me constantly think "Well, what I really want to do with my life is be a mom, so this just sucks."  In college I finally settled on theatre as a major because it was the only thing I really enjoyed spending time thinking about/working on.  I was never convinced I'd really make a career out of it, but I went with it knowing it was the closest thing to enjoying work I was ever going to get until I got to become a mother.  Turns out, I  did manage to make a pretty great career out of it and feel really grateful for my degree.  It won't make me millions, but I've always felt like it prepared me for any job that might come my too really.  I won't try to explain this theory in detail because this post I read the other day hits the nail on the head for me.

Anyway, once we moved out here and I left my once in a lifetime job at The Lion King, I knew that professional theatre was no longer my career of choice.  I do love it, but the schedule you have to keep is not one that lends itself to the kind of family life I want to have.  You are basically working when everyone else is not and when our kids are in school full time...well, I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd never see them.  We settled into a life here where I'm able to stay at home with the kids because of my Family Housing RM job, which is obviously completely temporary.  It's the perfect setup for us during this phase of our lives even though money is super super tight.  There's just  no way I could find a job working outside of the home that would cover childcare and then some, allowing us to actually make a profit.  Nathan's schedule changes semester to semester (actually week to week) so drastically that it's not even a matter of me being able to work nights or something because sometimes he's just not able to be home, night or day, for weeks on end.

So, two black clouds have been looming over my head in the last couple of years here:

1) When Nathan is done with school, I'm going to have to get an out-of-the-home job immediately.  We will have to start paying back the mountain of debt we are now buried under and also, I won't have this RM job so we'll have bills to pay again.  Now that I've been able to have my stay-at-home mother job for a few years, I feel much more picky about what kind of a job I'd want to pursue.  If I was bitter about the idea of a job before I even became a mother (because nothing seemed good enough), imagine how I'd feel with actual children at home that I love spending time with.  I have to admit that when Zoe was a baby and I worked at The Lion King, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I actually enjoyed going to work and felt good about how I was doing as a parent because of it.  However, I will not be returning to the life I had when Zoe was a baby so I couldn't help but dread the inevitable job search.

2)  I've had a difficult time accepting that we are really done having kids and feel a mix of sadness and joy whenever either of my kids reaches a new milestone.  I cried tears of joy/mourning the day Owen first walked because I knew I'd never have another little baby hanging around on my hip all day.  I made a melancholic mental note the day I took Owen to the store to pick out his first pair of big boy underwear.  I watched him proudly carry the package up to the cashier and thought to myself "Here's another precious moment I'll never experience again."  So yeah, I have a really hard time accepting that this phase I've waited for my whole life is coming to a close.  I know I'll be a mom forever, but I've always really enjoyed the toddler-kindergarten age in particular and will be sad to not have these little trouble makers around the house driving me crazy all of the time.

BUT somehow suddenly I've magically gained an entirely new point of view.  I don't know how it happened but here is what I do  know:

1)  I'm working really, really hard to develop and organize Raising Little Heroes and feel extremely proud of what we've accomplished and how much it's grown in such a short amount of time.  Although I don't  know yet if I'll be able to figure out a way to make this particular group my eventual career, I do know that I feel highly motivated to seek similar work with a nonprofit or to work towards turning this RLH concept into an actual job wherever we do end up after Nathan is done with school.  I don't  know where I'll start or what will happen but I find myself thinking things like "Oooo!  The kids will be in  school so I'll have time to actually go and pursue something I find really rewarding and not have to sacrifice time with them!  Yay!"  Let me be clear, I have never--NEVER--had thoughts like this.  Usually I think things like "Well, they will be in school so I'll have to go out and make money somehow and count the hours until I get to go home and that will be fine."  Mind you, I know this may happen despite my new found passion but it feels really good to at least have a spark there.

2)  I'm discovering the positive things that come with having "older" (not infants anyway) kids.  My friend Becca said once, when her youngest at the time was around Owen's age now: "There's something I love about the winter.  We are cozy in our house and we can bake and just hang out together"..and I honestly thought: "HUH??!"  I could not relate in the slightest.  I used to hate hate hate being stuck inside with no other adult to keep me company.  I felt like I was doing every single thing for the kids and nothing for myself.  Anything I wanted to take care of (cleaning the bathroom, cooking something) had to be done in little pockets of quiet (nap) time and if I tried to take care of it with them around, I felt like I had a time bomb strapped to my ass.  At any moment, this could all explode so get it done FAST!  Now though, I'm finding myself actually enjoying our quiet winter mornings in the house together.  Lately I've been baking and cooking more and have discovered that I really love baking bread--something I thought sounded totally impossible not long ago--I mean, there's no way I'd be able to knead the dough for 10 minutes without someone throwing a fit because I wasn't doing something for them.  I can also now take a shower after Nathan leaves for the day..not only take the shower, but not have to rush through it (this does not always go perfectly but still).  This alone is huge.  It seems like I've spent the last 5 years of my showering life either making sure it was okay with Nathan or rushing through it before someone started throwing a fit because I wasn't paying enough attention to them.  I can also now clean the bathroom while the kids play together..or they help me clean and it gets done even faster...changes like this have been grabbing my attention more and more these days...

So, I feel like a major shift has occurred.  I don't know if it's because the kids are getting older and this just sort of naturally happens or if I've somehow magically changed my own point of view but I feel this amazing sense of relief.  I can now enjoy watching my kids grow without those black clouds over my head.  That probably sounds dramatic but I'm being 100% sincere.  I feel hopeful and excited for the years ahead and I can't believe I was carrying around so much sadness and dread before.  I'm not sure how I did it but I'm glad to have found a way to lighten that load.