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.” 

Teachers need a rebirth between school years

Last week, a friend said, “with the majority of women now in the work force, schools will probably move to a year round model, don’t you think?”

Year-round school. When I really let that sink in, it makes me queasy… the same queasy I get on one of  those spinning rides at a small-town pop-up carnival. It starts off as a little gurgle, then progresses into more of a dizzy, green, sweating, ear-ringing cry. Teachers do not get in to the profession because of summer, yet, once we are in, these precious eight weeks become our necessary rebirth each year.

I use the term rebirth with purpose. No matter how bad a school year is, the summer has a way of washing away the memories of the difficult days, weeks, and months spent with those out of control students, those hundreds of punctuation-less essays, and that annoying, self-promoting co-worker. A mother, for instance, can suffer for hours and hours in excruciating childbirth pain, but the smile of her offspring washes away most memory of the suffering. (If it didn’t, women would never have multiple children!) Summer does this for teachers. It allows us to forget the bad and focus on the hope of the future. We forget the perpetual eleven hour days, mandatory state testing, and stacks of essays. We sleep. We remember moments of laughter and inspiration. We are reborn and ready for the new year.

Teachers need summer. Yes, I said NEED. I say this not because I don’t enjoy my job- quite the contrary!  My students and co-workers are truly remarkable. I anticipate these breaks because teaching is, honestly, an exhausting profession. The only people who truly understand this need for the eight week respite are teachers themselves. Often times, a teacher is shunned when they refer to a “needed break”. Naysayers roll their eyes and utter “must be nice” comments about “getting the whole summer off.”  Make no mistake, we often do not “get the whole summer off”. We are asked to return to school for staff development, new teacher orientations, coaching responsibilities, summer school, and meetings to plan for the coming year, a year in which we inevitably teach something new. Most teachers bring home a bin of books and materials to read in preparing for the next year. These aren’t your average beach reads- these are books about content and curriculum.

If summer break was to become a mere memory, the teacher retention crisis would be elevated to the catastrophe level. I already see young teachers leaving the profession in droves because they don’t get enough time with their families. The workload doesn’t just end when the bell rings. In fact, I work longer hours in the current educational arena than I did 22 years ago, mostly because of the 3 D’s: documentation, differentiation, and disruptions. The 3 D’s require time, energy, and a constant ability to recreate the proverbial wheel, and I’m not sure any other professions require this kind of after-hours time. In essence, we get paid in the summer for all the extra hours we work during the school year. (Our summer pay is not some sort of additional bonus, by the way. Our contractual, yearly salary is simply divided by twelve months.)

As I look to the months of “unnecessary” laundry that never made it to the top of the priority basket, I realize that I do have some time now to complete these tasks. This is time I am owed, since I donated that time earlier in my year. I plan to spend a big chunk of my summer hours creating a new class, reading some potential literature that might encourage my students to enjoy something other than twitter, and looking at my pacing charts and calendars for the fall. Of course, I’ll also clean out the garage, a few closets, and the laundry room. I refuse, however, to feel guilty when I just sit and stare peacefully at the rising tide. Summer is the time to collect for hours already worked.

The idea of year-round school needs to go away. I understand that teachers would still get several weeks of vacation sprinkled throughout the year, but a couple weeks is not enough time for teachers to wash the previous year out of their hair. We need the time to plan, prepare, and forget.

Maybe another day I’ll write a part two to this titled: “Students need summer, too”.

Remember the time we lost our 12 year old in the Swiss Alps?

Remember the time we lost our 12 year old in the Swiss Alps?

Zermatt, Switzerland: the alps most famous, carless ski town

We left our Paris hotel early, and opted to utilize Uber, once again, to get us to the rental car company at Orly. While we had all eagerly wheeled our baggage on the train from the airport to the hotel, we were not as eager to do that first thing in the morning during rush hour!

I decided months ago that I’d rather take off in a car for the French countryside from the airport and not from the city center. We reserved a minivan for our seven hour journey to Zermatt, but, as our luck would have it, they were out of mini vans. They were apologetic, and assured us that all five of us and our five suitcases (filled with our normal clothes AND ski gear) and our carry-on bags would all fit in the Ford Mendeo station wagon… the modern, low riding, wood-panel-free version of the station wagons of the road tripping 1970s. It was touch and go and a lot of cramming, but the car rental people were right- everything fit. It was a tight fit, with no view out the back and only foot room for the feet of an imp, but it all fit! I explained to the kids how lucky they were to spend the next 7 hours snuggled up together in the backseat, we took the discount they offered us for our downgrade, and off we zoomed! We were bound for the Swiss Alps!

We stopped for a fabulous lunch in a town called Poligny. We ate in a wonderful historic restaurant, called La Sergenterie, which is built into a cave! We enjoyed dinner, and Noah, not to be outdone by his old man, ordered and finished his steak tartar. I enjoyed my first of three days of cheese fondue! After what proved to be our “big meal” for the day, we continued our journey to Zermatt, Switzerland.

It is important to realize that you cannot reach Zermatt by car- visitors must park in Tasche and take a train into Zermatt. After parking in the train station parking deck, we purchased round trip tickets on the Matterhorn Glacier Express. The ride up was little more than fifteen minutes and the train dropped us in the middle of a bustling Swiss alpine town.

We rolled our luggage down the car-less streets to our hotel- the Best Western Alpen resort, where we had reserved a family style room. We checked in and we’re thrilled with the accommodations. Our room had two twins and a pullout downstairs and a loft with two twins. The best part was the balcony, which offered us a view of the peak that makes Zermatt famous: the Matterhorn!

We awoke the next morning eager to hit the slopes! We opted for a shop next to the gondola, “Intersport Rent”and were impressed with the friendliness of the staff. With gear ready, and lift tickets in our pockets (the left tickets were magnetic cards that let you through the lifts by scanning them through your jacket pockets), we loaded into the “Matterhorn Express” gondola and rode up the mountain.

It took two gondolas and a five-person chair lift to reach the top. We skied off the lift and around the building before we truly beheld the snow capped Alps around us, all lapping the snowy sides of the iconic Matterhorn. It didn’t even look real, if I’m being honest- it looked like a backdrop painted by the most talented painter in the world. I tried to snap as many photos as I could, but none of the photos captured the absolute majesty of that scene. I could have sat and stared at that backdrop forever.

We spent the day skiing the Gorgenaut side of Zermatt- happily exploring the long, powdery runs. All the trails were clearly marked by level, and most were delightfully wide and uncrowded. In fact, many times I was alone on the run- as my family raced to the bottom!

We stopped for lunch at a buffet on the mountain called the buffet and bar Riffelberg, before realizing we lost Noah!  Jim and Hannah skied back to the chairlift, and I waited with Molly in case he might find his way to the restaurant. Hannah and Jim found Noah- he had no idea we were stoping for lunch so he had gone up to the top again- by himself- and come back down- not the least bit concerned. Boys!

The buffet offered plenty of hot and cold options, but they charge for everything- including ketchup packets and NAPKINS!? Use your sleeve, kids!

We skied until the 4:30pm closing forced us from the slopes! My forty-five year old muscles were burning and pulsating, and I cursed them for not being better sports! Given my aching body, and Molly’s overall lackluster feelings about skiing (she was an excellent sport about this adventure however), she and I decided we would spend the next day exploring Zermatt. We returned our equipment to the rental store and felt excited to take on the morrow!

The evening ended with a dip in the hotel hot tub and a visit to the sauna!

Molly and I slept in the next morning to a glorious 10:00am. The other three were out early- headed for their adventure- skiing down into Italy! As soon a I got out of bed, my muscles assured me that I’d made the right decision in not skiing another day…

We wandered the streets of Zermatt, exploring shops and eateries, and talking with local shopkeepers about everything from Swiss Army knives to cuckoo clocks. I quickly realized that my name is quite popular in the Swiss Alps- and lots of products bare my moniker!

By early evening, the rest of the family returned from their day on the slopes. They were eager to share the adventure stories of their days- their faces ruddy from the wind and sun of the Alps.

We shared experiences at a neat little restaurant in Zermatt called the Restaurant du Pont, where I enjoyed my final cheese fondue.

The next morning, Saturday, we were packed and headed to the train station by 7:00am. Our flight was leaving Orly at 7pm, so we traveled back to the city.

We flew from Orly to Heathrow, and checked into the Heathrow Marriott for one final evening. We ate a late dinner of fish and chips- maintaining the mantra of “when in Rome”… and hit the proverbial hay! The final morning, we opted to Uber to Hyde Park, where we wandered in and out, then walked up the side of Green Park all the way to Buckingham Palace, where we waited with the crowds to see the Changing of the Guards!  From there, we went to Westminster Abbey and Big Ben before heading back to the hotel to check out.

We made it back to Heathrow with time to spare. Our flight took off for Atlanta at 3:55pm. I will say, the flight back to reality never offers the same excitement as the flight that sweeps you off on an adventure…

Skulls and femurs and bones, oh my! Our last day in Paris 2017

Skulls and femurs and bones, oh my! Our last day in Paris 2017

Some folks like to begin their day sipping slowly from a cup of coffee… we, however, preferred to wake up amidst the femurs and skulls of 6 million dead Parisians. 

We opted to skip my original plan, which was to ride the elevator to the top of Monparnasse- the tallest skyscraper in Paris, in order to catch up on some sleep. (The view from the top might have been redundant since we already took photos atop the Eiffel Tower)! We did not, however, intend to sleep until 10:45am! The hotel’s electricity had been out all night, and not only did we not get our wake up call, but none of our alarms went off- again! Our tickets for the Catacombs, pre purchased online, were from 11:00am-1:30pm. We didn’t have any idea if that meant we had to be there at 11:00am or if that was just a range. My optimism began to sing my favorite raegae tune… “every little thing… is gonna be alright…” a tune I tend to sing to myself in times of worry.

Once again we found ourselves flying out of the hotel toward our metro station.

When we arrived at the Catacombs, the Denfert-Rochereau stop on the metro- we saw that the line to get in was wrapped around the next block. With a sinking spirit I took our tickets to the man at the door to inquire about whether or not we should get in line or if we were too late. He looked at our tickets, unlatched the canvas barrier, and motioned for us to enter! Perhaps the curse of our comedy of errors was nearing a finish! The fates were on our side!

We entered, put on the headsets provided with the self guided audio tour, and descended the winding stairs- hundreds of them, spiraling down, down, down! We ended up what seemed like like miles below the bustling Paris streets, where we began to follow the winding passages leading to the ossuary. As we approached the halls of the dead, a sign warned, “Arrete! C’est ici l’empire de la mort!” (Stop! This here is the empire of the dead!) But how could we stop now? Isn’t morbid curiosity inherit in all humans? We had to press on and witness the bones of over 6 million dead Parisians.

The tunnels were used, from 1786-88, as a nightly depository for the dead. The cemeteries of Paris were filled beyond their rims, so the tunnels below served as a convenient final resting place for these poor souls. Years following the body build-up, the bones became a tangled mess- falling all over visitors and even occasionally blocking an entrance.

Finally, in the early 1800s, the Paris Authorities decided to organize the underground mausoleum. Workers spent months sorting and organizing the bones. They stacked them in patterns and rows- sometimes even making heart shapes with the skulls. According to the informative “audio tour”, they have to realign the bones here and there as some settle and fall out of the walls. I was thankful I wasn’t knocked out by a falling femur.

The walk back up the winding stairs was brutal, but, after what we’d seen, we were happy to be granted another day of life on earth!

After finding the “sortie”, we wandered down the street, where I happened upon a tailor who was willing to fix the strap on my backpack for two euros. He spoke no English, and it was rewarding to use my years of French classes to speak with him! His shop was a tiny place- not much bigger than a closet, and he put my bag’s strap into his sewing machine and had it secured and good as new in minutes!

At this point, we hopped back on the metro and headed for the Arc de Triomphe, at the top of the Champs Elysees! We got a family photo, then began to wander down to the Rue de la Paris, just outside the Tuillery Gardens. As we meandered the famous Champs Elysees, we watched a gypsy play her game on a poor gal. The clipboard-toting gypsy approached the unsuspecting gal whilst her partner in crime reached in the victim’s bag, grabbed a wallet, and ran! It happened as quick as a wink! I was glad I had taken the extra precaution of using a luggage lock on my little day back pack!

After wandering in and out of a few places, we stopped at a crepe stand in the Place de la Concord to enjoy crepes and a drink and watch the people pass us by. Once we were refueled, we headed past Le Grand Palais and over the bridge toward Les Invalides. Inside the gates, we passed oozie- toting guards and purchased our tickets to visit the Musee de l’Armee, home to over 500,000 artifacts dating from the the 12th century up to World War II. I was thrilled to see- close-up- the chainmail armor worn by the Anglo saxons- described in such detail in Beowulf. I also enjoyed the weapons, armor for even tiny kids, and paintings of ages and ages of historical battles.

The exhibits were amazing and ended in the famous gold-domed Invalides- which is home to the tomb of Napoleon. The tomb is massive and symbolizes the enormity of this tiny man’s place in French history. Visitors can look down to it from the main level or walk below for a closer look.

 After leaving Les Invalides, we made our way back to the Champs Elysees, and continued to the giant Paris ferris wheel. (While nowhere near the enormity and height of the London Eye, I prefer its more intimate feel) There was no line, and we enjoyed pointing out all of the easily recognized Paris landmarks.

Behind the Rue de la Paris were a few little trinket shops and a macaroon stand. I insisted that everyone try a Paris macaroon. We bought six- raspberry, caramel, mint, mint chocolate chip, and two Nutella. I could not BELIEVE that I was the only one who enjoyed them!?

We wandered through the Tuillery Gardens and back up to the Louvre, enjoying the beautiful daffodils and tulips lining the walkways. Ahhhh… Paris in April.

We caught the train to Bastille- where I thought we would be able to see some sort of rebuilt fortress!? All we saw, however, was the monument marking the famous “Storming” that the French celebrate each year! I was glad I had not made this a bigger deal in our day!

Our final supper in Paris was quite memorable. We all enjoyed wine and fromage… and watched as Jim ate an entire plate of “Steak Tartar”… which is pretty much a raw hamburger topped with a raw egg and raw onions. Wow. Gross.

We took the train back to our hotel, walking past the Gallery de Lafayette which was a block down, and tucked in for the last night in France.

A British Comedy of Errors, Indeed

A British Comedy of Errors, Indeed

I suppose it’s appropriate that our day in London, home of the Bard himself, should begin with a complete comedy of errors! Our alarm for 5:45am did not go off. We awoke at 6:20am to the kids banging on our door! The irony of my sleep-crazed teenagers waking us up was not lost on me!   

This was the day we took the Eurostar train over to London for the day. In order to save money on the train tickets, we found we saved over $500 by going with a Viator one-day tour package, which included the 5 round trip train tickets, 5 “hop on hop off” bus passes, 5 one hour walking tour tickets (which we didn’t use), and and 5 tickets for a river cruise down the Thames river. 

We skipped breakfast and arrived at the Gare de Nord train station, where we were told to meet our local guide at the base of the escalator near a meeting area. When we got to the station we quickly realized that there were at least four escalators… so we got a bit nervous. (When you book a tour online, and you can’t find your guide right away, there is a little voice in your head that starts clicking its tongue and admonishing you with reminders of the Internet scammers who are always scamming people over!)

Fortunately, I asked an official looking employee where we needed to be and she directed us to the right place! Viator (who was bought out by trip advisor several years back) uses local tour groups to provide the local services, and our guide was wearing a red vest and holding up a sign: Paris Vision Tours. She handed over all of our tickets, and bid us adieu!

We found our way through security and onto the Eurostar train. The train took off at 8:30am and arrived in London at 10:00am- after dashing under the English Chanel at 187 miles per hour! The Eurostar train is an awesome way to travel, particularly with families. The seats are comfortable and there are tables with the seats facing each other so it is easy to play cards during the trip! Train car #9 had the snack bar, where we purchased Croque-monsiers and Caesar wraps, drinks, and chips. The ride was only two hours and twenty minutes, and it was exciting to realize we were speeding along at 187 mph as we plunged under the English Channel! 

We arrived at the St. Pancreas station in London, cleared customs, and were greeted by our “CityView Tour” rep. He was a nice enough fellow. He provided us with a map of bus stops and told us which blue, open top busses were included on our tour. We thanked him and hopped on the first blue double decker we saw, climbing immediately to the open-air top floor.  

We got off what would be our only bus for the day about one block from Trafalgar Square. We began walking toward the “Floating Yoda” who was performing when I’d been here in June of 2016. We wandered through the square, where passionate activists were yelling into loudspeakers in front of the National Art Museum. We made our way toward the 169 foot Nelson Column guarded by four giant lions, where we got some good photos. The photos continued as we passed the iconic red phone booths on our way to Piccadilly Circus! The kids were truly able to enjoy the British pride that flew on flags and was marked on every bit of merchandise imaginable! We enjoyed the shops and general heartbeat of the area before making our next move which would be to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

After realizing we would have to back track to wait for the next bus, and believing it would take up too much of our precious day, we opted to travel like the Americans we are-we “Ubered” to our next stop- a mere £9 for all five of us! (A small price to pay to ensure we got to see all the stops on my list!) We ordered an Uber to take us to St. Paul’s Cathedral! The Uber driver, adding to our comedic theme, missed us in the Piccadilly madness, then was stopped by the police trying to pull a fast turn!

He finally connected with us and dropped us off at the foot of the stairs at the breathtaking St. Paul’s cathedral. The kids didn’t care about going in, so we told them to sit on the steps and watch the pigeons for a bit- we were going in! I was thrilled to have a look inside St. Paul’s, as I didn’t get to go in when I was last in London. As a teacher of British Literature- with a particular soft spot for the Romantic poets who often reference this church- I was thrilled to take a self guided tour complete with headsets. The dome ceiling gave way to a breathtaking ceiling of artwork. I can now imagine the entrance of the poor children of London who were paraded in to the church each Easter- the flowers of London as William Blake liked to refer to them… I enjoyed going below the church to see Blake’s memorial, as well as the crypt of Horacio Nelson.

Once we left St. Paul’s, we set out on foot to the Thames River- passing the London School for Boys and crossing the Millennium Bridge. This is the bridge that Simon- my EF Tourguide from June of 2016- said was famous for the “gum art”! My kids got a kick out of that! Halfway across the bridge we stopped and bought some hot, caramelized almonds from a street vendor…. they were to die for! They were gobbled up before we made it to the other side of the Thames!

On the other side of the bridge we made our way to the Globe theater! We took the museum tour and enjoyed seeing the history of Shakespeare’s theater, as well as costumes, props, and instruments!

After leaving the Globe, we walked all the way down past London Bridge to Tower Bridge. I was tempted along the way by a spooky theatrical opportunity to learn “the history of London Bridge”, but opted to continue on our days journey! We crossed the beautiful Tower bridge and stopped for lunch at a place right next to the walls of the Tower of London! We enjoyed a local beer and traditional fish and chips!

After lunch, we made our way down to the Tower pier- where we got on our Thames river cruise down to the London Eye. I hardly call this thing a cruise- it is really a water taxi! Unless you sat outside you couldn’t’ see anything out of the completely fogged windows! As we cruised down the Thames, however, we got great views of Big Ben and Parliament.

We departed the river boat at the London Eye. We made our way to the ticket center, got tickets, and got in line. The line moved pretty quick- we were in our little capsule within twenty minutes. The views were really quite spectacular! You could see Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the Shard, the Thames, Whitehall Court and so much more! The ride lasted about thirty minutes- really pushing our time limit in the city.

After departing the Eye, we opted to Uber our way back to the train station- where we were an hour later than they recommended.

When we got dropped off at St Pancras, we walked in- and my priority was to find the WC! Hannah insisted that I look at the tickets and tell her the train number. It was 9054. We all looked up at the screen and it said- “Final boarding!” What!!?? The comedy ensued!

The five of us took off running through the station. Noah, my youngest, was behind me yelling, “Mom! I’ve never seen you run like that! I’m going to video tape you!!” And he did. I’m sure that embarrassing bit of footage will rear its head somewhere soon…

Luckily, we made it three minutes before they closed the gate. Phew! We would make it back to Paris after all!

When we got back to our hotel, we found the final act of our comedy of errors was in full production… our hotel has no electricity until 7am. So- I am typing this blog on my cell phone, with the hope that my battery will see it to its finish! And it has. The sounds of the city will now lull me to sleep until tomorrow! 

European Vacation: First day in Paris…

European Vacation: First day in Paris…

We arrived in Paris last night after an overnight journey from Atlanta to Heathrow… British air was quite an impressive airline- feeding us dinner, free wine, and breakfast! 

Our hotel is beautiful, but the front desk seems a bit crabby. Monique looked at me like I was from Mars when I asked about the air conditioner in the room. “Madame, here we do not have air conditioning this time of year.”  What!? The French doors to the balcony are chained and  will only open an inch, so the fresh air only trickles in…

We have two rooms at the Marriott Ambassador Opera Hotel, which is in a fabulous location- with a metro station one to the right and another one block to the left. 

Our dinner last night was at a cafe down the street called the Cordial Cafe… the place had the perfect menu for our family of teenagers… burgers, crepes, pizza, French onion soup, and cheese! The family liked the Cantal cheese, but only I enjoyed the Camembert! Yummm! The waiter was full of good humor- for example,  when we asked him to take a photo for us, he took the iPhone and put it in his pocket and pretended to walk away! 

We rose early to enjoy a quick hotel breakfast of eggs, breakfast meats, fruit and coffee. With full bellies, we hit the metro and headed for 8:30am mass at the Notre Dame cathedral. There was no line to get in, and we even beat the gypsies! The pipe organs echoing through the cathedral during mass were majestic, and I’m sure the kids got a lot out of the priest’s sermon- all en francsaise! Haha

After exploring the cathedral we made our way to the toilets (WC), where they charge one euro per person to pee. The line was 50 yards long by the time we left! 

Next stop was the Eiffel Tower- the symbol of Paris since 1889. Jim and the three kids climbed the stairs to the first level- I went with the Chmielarskis on the elevator. After taking photos, we took the elevator to the summit which reaches 1063 feet! It was a clear day and we could see for 40 miles! We were able to see Montparnasse, Invalides, the Seine,  all the great Paris cathedrals, and so much more! The lines were long, but the views were worth it! I did manage to walk the stairs back down to avaoid the elevator lines. (Which was the start of my close relationship with stairs for the day!)

We walked from the Eiffel Tower to Trocadero- which is home to the Palais de Chaillot which was built in 1937. We stopped off at a local crepe stand to grab a quick lunch of French bread sandwiches and crepes, and sat down to eat on park benches outside of the Palais. 

We passed some local entrepreneurs who were “renting” opportunities to drive Lamborghini sports cars! Noah was chomping at the bit! We walked up and over the Musee de l’homme, (loads more stairs!) stopping to watch some street performers.  

The next stop was The Louvre- where we were eager to spend a few hours exploring the paintings, sculptures and exhibits! The kids got in free, so we only had to pay for two adults, which was a nice surprise! We were all blown away by the ancient art- particularly the Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo… Noah was ecstatic to have his picture taken with none other than the Mona Lisa! 

The Egyptian and Roman exhibits were fascinating-  some of the art dating back to 4,000 years before Christ! I was thrilled to wander the museum and its 30,000 works of art- as it was closed because of the floods when I was in Paris during the summer of 2016.  We walked a good percentage of the 200,000 square feet of the Louvre. The kids may even blushed at a few of the paintings which may have had rather “adult themes”! 

After closing down the Louvre, we made our way to Montmartre. Half took the stairs- half took the elevator up. At the top, we enjoyed more gorgeous city views and more street entertainment before heading in to tour the Sacre Coeur Basilica built in 1873 to atone for the lack of religious faith typical of the century. The ceiling fresco upon entering the church is truly breathtaking. It actually makes you catch your breath. 

After wandering through the church, we wandered over to Montmartre. Here we wandered the shops and the kids used their own money to buy MORE Eiffel Tower  trinkets… they just can’t get enough! 

We finally settled in to dinner at  a restaurant right in the middle of the artists area. What a romantic place with local artists carrying on the tradition of their craft that began with great artists like Degas!

We ordered dinner and decided that everyone in the family would try a French tradition: escargot! I had fun talking with the The flavor at first was delicious, and I was relieved that they were cooked. When the pesto gave way to the actual flavor of the snail, however, my pallet wasn’t pleased…a strong taste of mud invaded! I wish I could have filmed Molly’s reaction! Haha! Thank goodness the French love bread! 

The Conferment

I learned today that my short story made it on to round 2 in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2017, placing 3rd in my heat. This is an international writing challenge, where writers are given a genre, a subject, and a character and they have a set amount of time to enter their stories. (8 days for round 1, 3 days for round 2, and 24 hours for the final round). My assignments was:
Genre: Political Satire
Subject: Guns
Character: a middle man
Here is my short story.

The Conferment

Forty-six year old Eddy Young was exhausted. His wife had nagged him until close to two a.m. and it took him three hours to get to his assigned elementary school. He was tired of everyone telling him what to do. He hated being assigned to the “resister” schools. They were so unreceptive, and sometimes downright rude. He much preferred the “cooperative” schools. They made him feel like a hero. Several weeks earlier he had been assigned to a school in Texas where they had a parade in honor of the occasion. Kids were dressed in pro-gun t-shirts and hats shaped like bullets. They carried signs with slogans written in heart bubbles- slogans like “Safety 4 Kids” and “Babies Need Bullets”. That principal had ordered pizza for all the new gun conferees, and the day was a true celebration- a rite of passage.

This one would not be like this. He would be greeted with cold judgment. He would not be welcome. They would fail to realize that he was just the intermediary. He didn’t set policy. He just delivered the goods. The Boss made the decisions.

He pulled up to Sunshine Elementary school, and a sliver of dread strangled a beat from his heart. He was only three months into this new role as the middleman between the government agency and the schools.  While he really didn’t like having to give these guns to the kids, he didn’t feel passionately either way, and he needed the money. He really didn’t feel passionately about anything. He was not a particularly kind or polished man, and he relied heavily on the scripts provided by the Boss in order to make it through these deliveries and presentations.  The Boss told him to “just be fast and professional- in and out”, and that “there would always be people who would resist the new laws. They just needed time to adjust.”

Eddy needed to simply ignore the day’s disapproval.  As the Boss explained, this was the law. Every child deserved to have the same level of security, and every child had to be trained as young as possible. The voters obviously agreed that it was far better to prepare our children than to leave them helpless. This was for everyone’s safety. Really, he was doing a great service.

Eddy opened the back hatch to his government-issued van and lifted out the dolly. He loaded the eight massive black bins onto the base, shut the hatch, and began wheeling the cargo to the front door. He got to the security panel and pressed the red button in order to have the doors opened for him. A woman’s voice came over the speaker. “State your name and business, please.”

“I’m Eddy Young with the Department of Youth Artillery Training. I have the new weapons for the five- year olds.”

He imagined her sucking in her breath. Although it had been almost a year since the new laws passed, the anti-gun fanatics were still in disbelief that all public school children were now required to carry handguns. “When you hear the chime, you may open the door,” the woman responded flatly.

The chime sounded and he entered the lobby. A faded mural of children playing hopscotch was barely visible on the left-hand wall, indicating days when recess allowed for such mindless, physical activities.  The opposite wall was peppered with security monitors recording every hallway in the building. Facing the screens sat the doorkeeper, a round-faced woman with stringy, gray hair, in a desk surrounded by tempered glass. Her eyes continually scanned the monitors. She leaned toward the glass and pushed a button. “Mr. Hope will be right with you,” she said, her eyes steady on the screens.

Eddy was greeted by Principal Hope in less than five minutes. “Hello,” Mr. Hope said in a formal welcome, one devoid of any pleasure. “Please follow me to the lunchroom, and we’ll prepare for the afternoon demonstration and conferment.”

Once they were in the cafeteria, Mr. Hope told Eddy that the seventy-eight children would be coming in at 2:00pm. “Many of these kids are very uneasy about today,” Mr. Hope told Eddy. “Hopefully you will ease their minds a bit before you hand out the guns. They are practically babies, after all.”

Eddy looked at this principal, who’s oversized bifocals and pleated pants placed him in another time, and told him exactly what he was trained to say when these resistant school officials tried to steer his focus.“ I will provide very clear instructions before distributing the weapons. They will be trained with the utmost detail to ensure safety for all,” said Eddy. He realized how sterile his words sounded, but didn’t attempt to nurture when he added, “There is no reason to create sentimentality, Mr. Hope. These are guns, not teddy bears. The point of the guns is for protection and safety, Mr. Hope.  I will make sure they understand that.”

Mr. Hope tilted his head to the right and looked critically at Eddy Young. “How do you do it?”

“How do I do what?” Eddy asked, dreading any questions that strayed from his script.

“How do you sleep at night knowing that you are perpetuating violence in our youngest citizens? You deliver these couriers of death, these guns, to our babies! I just don’t know how you live with yourself.” Principal Hope shook his head and frowned, his face reddening.

“It is my job. I don’t make the laws, Mr. Hope,” Eddy explained with all the confidence he could muster. “I’m just the middle man. I follow orders and do what I’m told.”

“Just do what you need to do. They’ll be in here in about 30 minutes,” Mr. Hope said, with an audible sigh of distaste. “I’ve got to make sure the paramedics are on their way. Last week, three kids were shot during a conferment down at Elks Elementary. I’m not taking any chances.”  He turned and walked out of the cafeteria with his head down.

“Well,” Eddy yelled to him, “I haven’t lost one yet. The safety is our main concern. I trust our training so much I don’t even worry about my own safety! Kids learn quicker than adults!”

Eddy opened his black cargo bins and carefully removed the small, sealed gun boxes that were inside. He unsealed each box with his box cutter, and placed one box at each seat along the cafeteria tables. He set up his projector and connected his laptop. He opened his presentation and took his notes out of his laptop bag.

Mr. Hope returned first. Then the five year olds began to filter in behind their teachers in perfect lines. They stood behind the seats at their respective lunch table and only sat once their teacher permitted it.  Once all four of the kindergarten classes were in and seated, Mr. Hope greeted them and introduced Eddy.

“Good afternoon, boys and girls,” Eddy said to them with a practiced smile. “I’m Mr. Young, and I’m here to walk you through the important steps of owning your first handgun. Before we start, I need to go over some safety precautions.”

`One girl shot her hand in the air and waved her arm to get his attention.

“Yes?” Eddy asked, staring at the little girl.

“My name is Cindy, and my mom said I might could have a pink one! Can I have a pink one? I want it to match my dresses!” She smiled at him with her best tooth-missing grin.

“I can’t promise you a pink one, young lady, but I promise you a gun that will work and protect you,” explained Eddy with a superficial grin.

“Now boys and girls,” Eddy asked his audience of kindergarten kids, “How many of you have shot a play gun before?”

Nearly every hand shot in the air.

“Great!” Eddy responded with encouragement. “And how many of you are excited to get your very own, brand new 9mm Glock pistol today?”

Again, nearly every hand shot in the air.

“Fantastic,” Eddy said, clearly ready to move past the introductory rah-rah. “Please look at the screen, as I walk you through some important safety information. The first thing you need to know is that these guns are not toys. They are real, and if you pull the trigger, a real bullet comes out. These are meant to protect you, so they will kill a person if you aim at their heart or their head.”

“You must never use the guns unless an adult tells you to. You must wear your guns in the security holster that is provided, and you must wear it anytime you are out of your home.”

Three hands shot up in the air. Eddy called on a tiny freckle-faced boy with curly golden hair. “Yes?”

“Even when I go to my fwen’s house?” he asked.

“Yes. All the time. It is for your protection,” said Eddy. “Now, let’s save questions for the end. I want you all to go ahead and remove the cover from your boxes. You’ve all passed the oral exam over the gun terminology, so you know what I mean when I say we will be using hollow-point projectile ammunition. Who can tell me why we use that type of ammunition?”

He looked at his audience and saw several little boys wiggling in their seats, debating whether or not to venture guesses. He opted to tell them the answer. “We use this type of ammunition because it does the most damage. These bullets have little air pockets inside that cause the bullet to expand when it hits something. The idea is to make sure you shoot to kill someone who is threatening your personal safety.”

After instructing them in how to clean and lubricate their guns, he said, “Here is a short video to show you step by step how to release the magazine and load the ammunition into your pistols. By the way, the children who made this video were the winners of the nationwide ‘Guns for Kids Safety’ contest last summer. They got to go to Camp Glock, where they helped create educational materials, and learned to fire more powerful guns, like AK-47 assault rifles. Some of you may be interested in this opportunity for next summer. You have to be at least six years old to apply.”

Eddy pushed play on the video.  The children watched in silence, some with fear in their eyes, others with the excitement of Christmas morning.  When the video ended, Eddy asked that each child proceed to press the side button on their guns to release their magazines. He instructed them to load two rounds of ammunition, rounded side first, then click the magazine back into the handgrip, and secure the orange safety lever on the back left side.  Clicks began to echo throughout the cafeteria. Several girls with particularly tiny fingers struggled to press hard enough to produce the “click”, so their teachers had to help them.

Once every student had a loaded gun, Eddy told them it was time to head outside for their test-fire training. He instructed them to secure their pistols in the provided holsters, butt end down. The children lined up, filed out the door to the adjacent playground, and stood in ready position. Eddy directed them to remove their guns from the holsters.

“Now push in the safety lever to disengage the safety function,” Eddy instructed the seventy-eight youngsters. “And raise your gun in the air, careful not to touch the trigger until I tell you. It is going to be loud. We purposely train you without earmuffs so you will be prepared for the real world.”

The children raised their guns. Two unplanned shots fired their deafening pop, causing a parade of screams to pierce the silence.

“Do not shoot until you’ve been instructed,” yelled Eddie. He was agitated, but used to this. There were always a few kids who didn’t listen.

“Now, with the gun pointing straight up, put your index finger on the trigger, and, when I say shoot, you will pull the trigger and shoot into the sky. Ready… set… SHOOT!”

Shots fired from their tiny hands, causing many of the children to stagger at the powerful kick back. A couple of little girls began to cry. Teachers helped a few individual children with guns that didn’t fire properly. When the shots were rendered, Eddy told the children they would next shoot their second round, which should have automatically loaded, since these were premium semi-automatic Glocks.

The children lifted their arms again, preparing to shoot. Before Eddy could say “shoot”, however, a stray bullet flew from what must have been one of the children’s guns. Eddy felt it penetrate the soft spot between one of his left ribs. Then there was blackness.

The next morning, Principal Hope looked at the front page headline in the newspaper on his desk. It read, “Local Kindergartener Wipes Out the Middle Man.” No one was in his office to see the hint of a smile that crept across his lips.

A unique, special “kneads” bakery in Lawrenceville, GA is making a world of difference

Here is another article I wrote in the OUR TOWN MARCH 2017 – GREEN edition. (https://issuu.com/ourtownmag/docs/otm_mar2017_green_web) This is an article about a VERY unique, non-profit bakery that hires only special needs adults.

Special Kneads & Treats bakery offers employment to adults with special needs

By Heidi Campbell

“Everyone kneads to be kneaded.” Those words are stenciled across the wall inside Lawrenceville’s most important and inspiring bakery: Special Kneads and Treats bakery. Numerous magazines, newspapers, and even the Today Show told of the January 2014 opening of this unique, delicious eatery. The non-profit bakery, opened by Michael and Tempa Kohler, was their vision for not only helping the less fortunate, but also securing job opportunities for special needs adults. “Our twenty-seven year old son has special needs,” explains Tempa. “He has Fragile X Syndrome, so we moved to Gwinnett County for their great schools. After he graduated from Grayson High School, he completed his four years in the Strive program, and then there was nothing. There are so few job opportunities for these special adults, and so we decided we’d open this bakery and he could work there!”

While hiring adult special needs employees is their business model, the heart of the Special Knead’s mission  is to provide a birthday cake for any child in the area who wouldn’t otherwise have one. They provide gift certificates to numerous local food banks, as well as organizations including Rainbow Village, DEFACS, Uniting Hope for Children, Bethany Christian Services, C.C. Services, Wishes for Me Foundation, and, most recently, the Partnership Against Domestic Violence. The organizations then give the gift certificates to clients who call the bakery, with twenty-four hour notice, to order their birthday cakes. They receive a 9×13 sheet cake with their choice of four different designs.

The bakery’s donations don’t stop with the birthday cakes, however. They reach out to as many charitable organizations as their donation intake allows. They recently donated four hundred cupcakes to the Village of Hope, which is a non-profit organization that helps the homeless in Lawrenceville.  They also donate cupcakes to several events honoring veterans, they donate to Night to Shine, which is the Special Needs Prom program that Tim Tebow developed, and they donate to Gwinnett County’s  sherriff, police, and fire departments.

The shop features a delectable selection of cakes, cheesecakes, cupcakes, cookies, and “choc-corn”. Their cupcake selection includes twenty-six heavenly flavors, including salted caramel, Mississippi Mud, and German chocolate, with options for vegan, gluten free, and sugar-free dietary needs. They have eight flavors which they change out monthly. This month, they featured a “New Year’s Resolution” cupcake for those watching their calories. One regular customer, Justin, a special needs adult who works at Kroger, helps them create new cupcake ideas. His sixth and most recent idea, the Peppermint Bark Cupcake, is currently in the mix, and it features a vanilla cupcake with a mint chocolate ganache center, topped with white chocolate cream cheese icing and red and white chocolate shavings on top.

The “choc-corn”, available in small, large, and even a $100 bag, may be their most unique and popular item. People rarely leave without a bag of the white chocolate coated corn puffs. “We had a customer who was here from out of town,” recalls Tempa. “He tried our choc-corn and loved it so much that he went and bought a suitcase so he could bring home twenty bags!”

The bakery employs twelve special needs adults, ages twenty-two and up, who begin as volunteers.  They also welcome seven volunteers who come in to help out with the large special orders. According to Tempa, they have a waiting list of 130 special needs adults who would like to secure a job at the bakery. “We are actually in the process of opening a new, larger location,” shares Tempa. “This will be off of Scenic Highway, and we plan to move in by the end of April. Once we have more space, we hope to really work down that list of 130 special needs adults looking for work.”

The bakery’s employees do all sorts of jobs in the shop, with the exception of using the ovens. They fold boxes, greet and help customers, attach date stickers to liners, decorate cakes, sweep, bag choc-corn, and chop pecans. “To see the expression on their faces when they do something they’ve never done before is amazing,” beams Tempa. “They are so proud of what they can do. One of our employees, Scott, who uses a walker, was 52 years old when he started working here. He’s now 54 and lives with his parents.  When he got his first paycheck, he was so excited that he cashed it and took his dad out to lunch.”

This bakery truly has it all: heart, a higher purpose, and delicious sweets. The bakery is equipped to handle all orders large and small. Along with normal cake orders, they also do multi-tiered wedding cakes and have successfully filled numerous large orders; the Pigs and Peaches BBQ event in Kennesaw ordered 1,000 cupcakes. “The adults who work here are amazing employees. They take pride in what they do, they are always on time, and they love their paychecks!” explains Tempa. “We need to educate the public that these adults can do so many jobs- all they need is a chance.”

Visit http://specialkneadsandtreats.com/index.html to learn more about this special bakery or to donate to their worthy cause.