Hope is still alive…

I was inspired by a local non-profit organization that I had the pleasure of visiting. In these times of uncertainty, disappointment, greed, and ego, it is nice to be reminded that so many people do great things for people every day.    Here is an article I wrote in the June/July 2017 issue of OUR TOWN magazine about a local organization called HOME OF HOPE. If you read this and feel compelled to donate- information is at the end of the article!

Home of Hope offers lasting hope to homeless mothers and their children

By Heidi Campbell

Homelessness is a sad reality for too many families in the Gwinnett County area, and there are not nearly enough programs to help all of the people impacted by rough times. According to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, Gwinnett County has the 3rd highest total homeless population in the state of Georgia. The Gwinnett County Public Schools reported that, in May of 2016, there were over 1,900 homeless students enrolled in their school system. One program, Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, works to help young, homeless mothers in the Gwinnett area. “We transition homelessness into hope,” explains Executive Director Maureen Kornowa, “and turn hope into a home. This is a program that implements lasting change.”

The Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter is a transitional living program for homeless children and their moms between the ages of 18-25 years of age as well as young women who have aged out of the foster care system. By providing free room and board, the program is designed to keep the family unit together and end the cycle of homelessness two generations at a time. Since June of 2014, Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter has transitioned thirty-seven families out of homelessness by recognizing that just because a mother is homeless doesn’t mean she doesn’t love her children. The program provides love and life skills to mothers to help them live on their own. “We tell them when they come to live here that their past doesn’t define their future,” says Kornowa. “We let them know that they can do anything and be anything, and we are going to help them get there.”

The prospective families are interviewed carefully to ensure they are a fit for the program. The interview team looks for a spark of desire- someone who is willing to do hard work and be disciplined in working the program.  Kornowa explains that the plan is one of tough love, but it is also full of love. She says that while they “hold their feet to the fire”, the plan really works.  “One young woman came in and wanted to be a nurse,” recalls Kornowa. “She came in as a 21-year old with three children.  When she left here, she had graduated from a CNA program and was working in an assisted living community and transferred to stable housing.”

Once a family moves into the Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, a stay typically lasting anywhere from three to twelve months, they are quickly set up with an apartment in one of the houses. Within 72 hours, the children are enrolled in school or daycare and the mom is set up with a life plan. Within the first thirty days, the mothers are required to secure employment, and they must save 30-50% of each paycheck, which represents their eventual rent. Case managers help the mothers with school related issues, and moms are required to attend classes on weeknights covering topics like resume building, HIV awareness, and Finance 101. While moms are learning life skills, their children attend Kids Club, where they enjoy supervised activities with volunteers from the community.

The program requires $987,000 to keep its doors open each year, which makes raising money a continuing effort. In March, they had one of their annual fundraisers, the Sip and Swine BBQ festival which is a Kansas City BBQ Society cookoff at Coolray Field. This event raised more than $50,000.00 for the charity.   The President of the board of directors, Mr. Brand Morgan, hosts an annual wine auction to raise funds, and, in the fall each year, they host the “Power of One” luncheon to honor someone who gives to the community. “I like to recognize good people from other non-profits,” shares Kornowa. “It costs a candle nothing to lite another candle.”

The Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter is always in need of monetary donations, and Kornowa hopes to raise enough money this year to begin filling an additional twelve rooms that were recently renovated. In addition to monetary donations, they also welcome summer camp scholarships for their children, food drives, household supplies, “bed in a bag” sets, and volunteers to help with Kids Club and weekend meal donations.

The week before they opened the new program on the campus of Home of Hope at Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, Kornowa found a nest outside the front door. This nest, which actually sits on a table in her office, has become their logo which appears on brochures and signs. “We use the nest,” she explains, “because although masterfully built, nests are a transitional place to live. They are where fledglings learn how to fly before they leave the nest. It is a perfect metaphor for what we do here.”

Visit www.homeofhopegcs.org to make a donation or to learn more about this worthy non-profit organization. Help them make a difference for another young family.

Everyone enjoys a good story…

Here is an article I wrote  called “Try a New Genre: Top 6 Memoirs Provide Excellent Summer Reading” The article appeared in OUR TOWN JUNE 2017 – Blue (edition.https://issuu.com/ourtownmag/docs/otm_june2017_blue_web)

Autobiographies are now passé; the telling of one’s story is now done in a relatively new genre- the  memoir. Over the last decade, there have been some truly amazing memoirs published- many which have the power to completely change the reader. As an English teacher of nearly 23 years, I am always seeking high interest literature for my social-media crazed students. Here is a list of what I consider to be the top six, high-interest memoirs on the market.

  1. My Lobotomy (Howard Dully) As humans, we have a natural morbid curiosity that compels us to read stories involving traumatic content. This memoir is the heartbreaking story of Howard Dully, who was the youngest victim of Dr. Walter Freeman- a doctor who performed ice pick lobotomies out of the back of his “medical” van.  The proverbial evil stepmother comes to life in this tale of dysfunction, disappointment, and abandonment. This is a story that will enrage every reader, and one that is absolutely unforgettable.
  2. Look Me In the Eye (John Elder Robinson) This New York Times Bestseller is told by a man who grew up with Asperger’s Syndrome but didn’t know it until he was an adult. He is at once socially awkward and gifted, but wholly misunderstood. He was seen as a social deviant- a kid with major behavioral problems. His story, which includes a dysfunctional family life, is one that truly helps the reader better understand the mind of a person with Asperger’s. He was, for instance,  always expected to “look people in the eye”, but this is not something that came to him naturally. These are the kind of normalcies that he had to learn throughout his life, often times learning them too late. His life and talents eventually lead him into business with the rock band Kiss, where he worked to create their legendary exploding guitars. This is an endearing, eye-opening memoir, which, as a teacher, truly helped me to better understand this syndrome.
  3. Proof of Heaven (Eben Alexander) This New York Times #1 Bestseller is a fascinating read for anyone who has ever pondered what happens to us after we die. Dr. Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon who sees life slip away on a regular basis. In his scientific mind, he has always believed that life simply ends- there is no afterlife. This belief, however, changed when he had a near death experience. He describes what he recalls from this event in vivid detail. His descriptions of his tour of another universe is thought-provoking, and certainly solidifies the beliefs of those who believe in an afterlife.
  4. Same Kind of Different As Me (Ron Hall & Denver Moore). This memoir, also a New York Times Bestseller, is actually written by two men, offering their perspectives on a unique and unlikely friendship. Deborah Hall, the wife of Ron Hall, a wealthy Texas art dealer, runs a ministry for the homeless in Dallas, TX. She meets Denver Moore, a homeless man with a tormented past, and finds a way to bridge a lifelong relationship between this man and her family in a story that is poignant and uplifting. This is powerful, spiritual, and uplifting.
  5. Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust (Immaculee Ilibagiza) This is a memoir of one woman’s struggle to stay alive after her entire family was massacred. When I say massacred, I do not mince words. The mass murderers in Rwanda used machetes to kill close to one million Rwandans. As I read this story, about this modern day genocide occurring on our planet in 1994, I was embarrassed by the lack of media coverage this devastation received here in America. Ilibagiza’s bravery, as she hides in a tiny bathroom for over three months, will be a story I will never forget, particularly the tenacity of her human spirit. Parts of this story are very difficult to read, but it is a worthy, important read.
  6. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (Susannah Cahalan) This harrowing  New York Times Bestseller is a memoir about a journalist, in her mid-20s, who wakes up strapped to a hospital bed and labeled violent and psychotic. Cahalan recreates her story in journalistic fashion, relying almost solely on the medical staff and family members who witnessed her spiral into madness. She has no recollection of parts of the experience. She moves us through her horrifying tale with a perfect balance of science and compassion, and reminds all readers that we should never be satisfied with the opinion of one doctor.  This is a frightening and triumphant story.

Look for additional Top Book Recommendations in future issues of Our Town, including “Top Authors”, “Top Beach Reads”, “Top Humor” and more.

top 6 memoirs

Female heroines are the rage these days…

Here is a review I wrote about “Beauty & The Beast” for the OUR TOWN JUNE 2017 – Blue edition. (https://issuu.com/ourtownmag/docs/otm_june2017_blue_webbeauty and the beast review

Beauty and the Beast (2017) has it all: music, action, and a worthy heroine

By Heidi Campbell

Once in a while, a film comes along that crushes the barriers of critical reasoning and astounds audiences with heartwarming characters, hair raising action, beautiful music, magical sets, and epic romance.  Beauty and The Beast, released in March of 2017, was produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Mandeville Films. The film, which breathes new life into a timeworn fairy tale, raked in nearly half a billion dollars at the box office in its first month. The story incorporates all the elements that make fairy tales so engaging:  a heedless royal in need of moral overhaul, an enchantress who casts a spell, a virtuous hero, a host of personified inanimate objects, an evil villain, and a kind, single father who raises his daughter with unyielding love.  Transformations weave their way into nearly every ounce of the film, and beautiful music scores transition, adding magic and meaning to the scenes.

The film wastes no time in transforming a French Prince, played by Dan Stevens, into the Beast- a just dessert for a man who cruelly casts away an old woman seeking shelter.  The Beast, who struggles to adjust to his cursed, isolated castle life, becomes angry and withdrawn.  His previous subjects, who have all been transformed into household objects, are his only company: a talking candelabra named Lumiere, played by Ewan McGregor; Cogsworth the mantle clock, played by Ian McKellen; a motherly teapot, Mrs. Potts, played by Emma Thompson; and Mrs. Pott’s son Chip the teacup, played by Nathan Mack.  Like all good fairy tale curses, this one teaches a lesson, but thankfully doesn’t last forever.

The music in the film is at once beautiful, challenging, moving, and plot driven.  In a tiny French village, a girl named Belle, played by Emma Watson, lives with her father Maurice, played by Kevin Kline. The audience quickly learns of her reputation through the townspeople as they sing “Belle”, which highlights the fact that she’s a little different from the rest:  “But behind that fair façade/I’m afraid she’s rather odd/Very different from the rest of us/ She’s nothing like the rest of us/ Yes, different from the rest of us is Belle!”

Kudos to the producers of the film for creating a heroine in Belle; she is a self-proclaimed bibliophile and a fantastic role model for modern youth! She is a young woman who stands up for herself, loves her family, appreciates that beauty comes from within, and is proud of her intellect.  She is a strong-willed woman. When the evil Gunter, played by Luke Evans, tries to demand her hand in marriage, she’ll have none of it! “When we return to the village, you’ll marry me,” says Gaston. “Never!” she tells him boldly.

When Maurice returns from a delivery, he takes a wrong turn and ends up imprisoned by the Beast. Belle acts quickly to come to his aid, which is precisely how she finds herself in the castle of the Beast. The objects of the house quickly welcome her with excitement and humor. “Cogsworth, look! A beautiful girl!” says Lumiere. “Yes, I can see it’s a beautiful girl you fool! I’ve lost my hands, not my eyes!” responds Cogsworth. These two characters play off each other throughout the film with memorable wit.

Beauty befriends the castle’s characters and eventually the Beast as well. Belle begins to see a softer side of the Beast, and is overwhelmed by his enormous library and appreciation of Shakespeare. In her song “Something There”, Belle explores her emerging feelings singing, “There’s something sweet and almost kind/But he was mean and he was coarse and unrefined/And now he’s dear and so I’m sure/ I wonder why I didn’t see it there before?” She has the endearing ability to look beyond the physical monstrosity of the Beast.

Belle seems to naturally transition into the role of a princess, even before Madame Garderobe, played by Audra McDonald, whips her up a gown.  The Beast, who up to her arrival was harsh and angry, completely transitions into a softer character. Belle has the power to soften his entire demeanor, and he shares his feelings in “Evermore” singing, “Now I know she’ll never leave me/ Even as she runs away/ she will still torment me/ calm me, hurt me/ move me, come what may/ wasting in my lonely tower/ waiting by an open door/ I’ll fool myself, she’ll walk right in/ and be with me for evermore.”

The audience is completely enamored with the couple as their relationship develops. While the world knows how the age-old story ends, there are several surprises to this rendition that bring the action to a wild climax that will shock and excite even the most prepared viewer. Good battles evil, and lessons are learned. Even the anticipated happy ending is happier than one expects. Love wins. The Beast transitions back into the handsome Prince, the staff is reunited in human form, and Beauty is rewarded for her moral virtue with a life beyond her dreams.

Belle, earlier in the film, asked “How Does A Moment Last Forever?” In the end, the reprise of that song answers that question: “Sometimes our happiness is captured/ Somehow, our time and place stand still/Love lives on inside our hearts and always will/ Minutes turn to hours,/ days to years and gone/ But when all else has been forgotten/ Still our song lives on.”