I recently attended two events, which brought home both the importance of counting our blessings, and giving to others during this holiday season.
This week, I was privileged to meet Marty Lyons at the grand opening of the new headquarters of the Marty Lyons Foundation in Commack. Marty Lyons, former NY Jets star, founded the Marty Lyons Foundation (www.martylyonsfoundation.org) in 1982 after the birth of his son, and the deaths of his father and a young boy to whom Lyons had been a Big Brother. Over the past 30 years the Marty Lyons Foundation has granted nearly 6,500 special wishes to children with life-threatening and terminal illnesses in 13 states. Marty is passionate about the foundation’s mission, and he takes a personal interest in the children and their families that are served.
Marty believes that by fulfilling a child’s special wish, the child and his/her family can be transported from the daily heartache of coping with illness.
“It is a joyous time that creates a wonderful memory and a better quality of life. Every child has a dream, and although we can’t promise a lifetime of happiness to these seriously ill children, we can make one dream a reality!”
The Marty Lyons Foundation has granted wishes, including: special trips to Disney World, meeting celebrities, throwing extraordinary birthday parties, renovating homes to enable children to live with their families while receiving treatment, purchasing computers, filling a swimming pool with spring water, and many more.
Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities
I was recently introduced by my friend, Ellen Spiegel, to another worthy charity, which inspires us to count our own blessings while giving to others. Ellen is a trustee of ACLD (Adults and Children with Learning and Developmental Disabilities http://www.acld.org/), a not-for-profit agency that serves the needs of individuals (and their families) who have developmental disabilities, are neurologically impaired, or are on the autism spectrum. The ACLD mission is to provide the opportunity for children, teens and adults with developmental disabilities to pursue enviable lives, increase their independence and improve the quality of their lives. At the fashion show, which I attended, the models included individuals who are served by ACLD as well as its supporters.
Ellen said that when her son, Fred, was born more than 40 years ago, there were practically no services for those with developmental disabilities on Long Island. Today he is one of 300 adults in ACLD residential placements, and he has a job. According to Ellen, ACLD now supports more than 3,000 children and adults in a variety of programs. One of these is fellow trustee Megan Gardner’s son, Brian, who is nine-years-old.
“When Brian entered ACLD’s Preschool program at the Kramer Learning Center he could not speak; he could only grunt,” Megan recalled. “He presented with no cognitive skills with the exception of touching his nose or stomping his feet on command – and those skills had taken nine months to achieve. But I knew Brian was in there, I knew my Brian was awake, aware, alive. And … the entire team at Kramer believed me and believed in Brian’s potential too. Over the course of three years at Kramer, Brian learned to take a bus to school; he learned to make eye contact, to stack blocks and then bam! He started to paint and color, he learned to write his name…he started to read. Now in third grade, he happily participates in ACLD’s Afterschool Program in Bay Shore.”
At this time of year, as we count our blessings, check out these two worthy organizations, which give to those who need it the most.
An article that I read yesterday on Huffington Post alerted me to the fact that the JFK Memorial Library is soliciting stories from people of how President Kennedy inspired them. In honor of the 50th anniversary of his assassination, “An Idea Lives On” website will feature people from all walks of life talking about the influence Kennedy had on them. The name is based on a 1963 quote from JFK, when he said: “A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.”
President Kennedy inspired me to read daily newspapers, watch the news on TV every evening, and become a fan of Meet the Press at age 13. It was easy to ace the weekly current events quizzes in junior high school. Kids today may be obsessed with the Kardashians. My friends and I were smitten with the Kennedy family. We kept scrapbooks, followed their every move, and couldn’t get enough of our handsome president, his beautiful wife Jackie, and their children, Caroline and John John.
But in becoming obsessed with the Kennedys, we not only followed their fashion and lifestyle, we learned about government and politics. I learned the name of every cabinet member he appointed, and consequently knew each cabinet department, and what it did. I learned about the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Peace Corps, James Meredith entering the University of Mississippi, and countless other happenings. It was all fascinating to me and inspired me to engage in school and community service.
When he was brutally assassinated on that beautiful November day, it was as if the wind was knocked out of our generation. We would never be so innocent, so idealistic, and so optimistic again. But his legacy continued to teach us about our country. We had a peaceful transition of power. We learned about the Constitution’s provisions for presidential succession as we watched Judge Sarah Hughes administer the oath to LBJ with Mrs. Kennedy standing by.
My fascination with government and politics continued. I majored in political science in college, got a masters degree in teaching, and became a high school American History and Government teacher.
Profiles in Courage is a book that I read when I was in high school, and it was one that I had my students read. Of all of President Kennedy’s legacies, I believe that this book is the one that is most sorely needed today. Kennedy writes about the courage of elected officials to do what they believe is right even when it meant going against public opinion, their constituents, and political action committees.
President Kennedy wrote:
“In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience – the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men – each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient – they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.”
What more fitting tribute could there be to President Kennedy than for our elected leaders to heed his call on this the 50th anniversary of his death? May each find it within him/herself to find that courage. In so doing, they can continue to make President Kennedy’s memory a blessing, and entrust the survival of our democracy.
Meryl Ain is the coauthor of The Living Memories Project, to be published in March 2014 by Little Miami Publishing Company. It demonstrates how grief can be transformed into positive action and living legacies. Follow on Twitter: @LivMemoriesProj
Last year, Halloween festivities were swept away on Long Island in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. It was difficult to celebrate with the massive devastation, loss of power, and overall misery engendered by this destructive superstorm. But it looks like Halloween is back in force in 2013. Here’s a blog I wrote about how to keep your kids safe during Halloween. It appeared in Huffington Post on October 23, 2012 – before Sandy!
There’s a nip in the air and pumpkins are everywhere: In patches, on porches, in stores and in schools. It’s hard to ignore the signals that Halloween is fast approaching.
Almost every store has aisles of costumes and candy. Elementary schools plan Halloween parades and high schools organize Safe Halloween festivities for pre-school and elementary school children. But I can’t help think that Halloween is not what it used to be, when armies of little kids combed the streets collecting goody bags from moms who had lovingly assembled them.
That was long before there were objections to Halloween on the grounds that as a religious holiday it shouldn’t be observed in public schools. A Seattle elementary school recently banned Halloween costumes on the grounds that the holiday interferes with learning. It was long before we knew sweet treats were taboo — and even dangerous for those with certain food allergies. It was long before deranged people inserted razor blades into candy and sexual predators prowled the streets. And it was long before the craze of candy-flavored tobacco in brightly colored packages. Cigarillos, cigars and such smokeless tobacco products as chew, snuff and dissolvable tobacco — considered by many the first step to tobacco addiction — compete with Halloween candy for shelf space in convenience stores.
As I recall, we got real about Halloween when schools began recommending that parents bring to school all of the candy their children collected to be X-rayed. When that happened, I thought for sure he holiday was doomed.
But it’s made a great resurgence in recent years. People now adorn their homes with Halloween lights and blow-up pumpkins, witches and scarecrows. It’s a bigger business than ever before.
And yet, Halloween has changed.
First, there are parents who object to Halloween celebrations being held in public schools. With children coming from so many religious and ethnic backgrounds, parents are opposed to celebrating holidays that are not part of their tradition.
On the other hand, it’s probably a good thing that much of the Halloween observance has moved off the streets and into the schools. It’s a lot safer. Every year it seems we get fewer and fewer youngsters trick or treating at our door.
Parents have to decide for themselves if and how their children celebrate Halloween. What do you think?
Here are some tips for a safe Halloween:
• If your child has a food issue, make sure you discuss it with the teacher and school nurse ahead of time.
• If you have an objection to a Halloween celebration on religious grounds, make sure you let your principal and teacher know about it well in advance of the holiday.
• Even if you take your children to a safe Halloween sponsored by your local high school, watch them carefully. It may seem like a very safe environment, but keep in mind that the school gym is full of strangers.
• It’s best to accompany your children if you allow them to trick or treat, including for UNICEF. And of course, discard any treats that are not pre-packaged or look like they have been tampered with.
• Honestly, it’s just a bad idea nowadays for children to go door to door — especially in the dark — to strangers’ homes.
• If you do allow your teenagers to go out, they should go to people they know — and in a group. Make sure they have cell phones with them and that you know their route. You should also stress the importance of obeying laws, respecting private property and not engaging in pranks or vandalism.
• Better yet, encourage your teens to volunteer at a Safe Halloween event at their school.
I shared the thoughts below in a blog that I wrote immediately following the 2012 Presidential Election. A week into the government shutdown with a looming debt crisis days away, it seems like a good time to implore our elected officials to follow a few rules that every teacher and student already knows!
Let’s also remember the example of our First President George Washington.
Washington was a model of the behavior we should expect from our elected officials. He was guided by civility throughout his political career. At 16-years-old, his tutor gave him the assignment of copying by hand 110 Rules of Civility, an exercise that influenced his life. These rules were composed by French Jesuits in 1595 and were disseminated in Washington’s era. While many of the rules are outdated and anachronistic, their purpose was to foster respect for others as well as self-respect. They provided a guide to Washington and others living at that time about how to get along with one another and work together for the common good.
Advice to teachers and parents always boils down to: Model the behavior you want to see. President Obama might wish to copy his own rules and distribute it to members of Congress, and let everyone know he plans to emulate them himself. Harry Truman’s sign on his desk, The Buck Stops Here, sent a message to the entire country. Perhaps President Obama would like to frame his own rules and place them on his desk. Successful teachers and parents know that by creating a sense of order, consistency, and trust, they send the message that respect, kindness, and accomplishment are paramount.
I don’t know of an elementary school teacher who does not begin the school year with a discussion of class rules. Secondary schools also have rules, and school districts are required to have Code of Conduct policies. Where is the Code of Conduct for our elected officials?
Here are a few “class” rules – gleaned from teachers and parents – that should help our representatives do the work of the people who elected them – and get to work solving our country’s daunting problems!
- Remember You Have Been Elected to Make Things Better
- Respect Your Colleagues
- Be Prepared To Compromise
- Stay On Task
- Complete Work On Time
- Respect Other People’s Opinions
- Stop thinking About The Next Election And Start Thinking About The Good Of The Country
The original blog was published in Huffington Post:
With the new school year in full swing, it’s a good time to emphasize the importance of parent involvement. This is the time to make a resolution to actively engage in your children’s education. One of the easiest and most accessible ways is to join and become active in the PTA.
Do you think PTA is synonymous with bake sales?
Think again — today’s PTA is about a lot more than cupcakes
We know that research indicates that students whose parents are actively involved in their schools have better grades, attendance, behavior, and graduation rates. But PTA membership is a personal investment you make not only for your child, but for yourself too.
Many opportunities await you at your next PTA meeting. Advocating for a worthwhile mission, having a positive impact on your schools, and supporting amazing events for students are the obvious benefits of PTA involvement. But I have also witnessed more subtle perks that may come to active parents.
Here are five things that you might not know about today’s PTA:
1. Volunteer and get access.
Being an active PTA member gives you legitimate reasons to have input and to be in your children’s school during the school day. For example, do you want to have a say in booking a children’s author, a play or a music or science program for your children’s school? Then join your PTA’s cultural arts committee. You will work closely with your principal and teachers to plan enriching events that PTA fundraising supports. As a member of the committee, you will be able to attend programs to assess their success.
By becoming a known quantity to school staff, you will get a birds-eye view of what’s going on and principal, faculty and staff will know you by name. This will come in handy should you ever have a question or concern. Similarly, you may be asked for your perspective as a parent when issues occur. It’s sort of like the classic Peter Sellers movie, Being There. Because you are there, you may become a go-to parent.
2. Contribute and make friends.
You will meet like-minded parents who have children of comparable ages, with whom you will share similar concerns, goals, and hopes for your children. You will form close friendships and you will help one another through the sharing of ideas. If you are new to an area or your first child is starting school, PTA is a good place to meet people.
3. Give and receive much more.
PTA provides you with a wonderful outlet and platform for your passions. For example, if you are passionate about healthy eating, you can join the PTA’s health and wellness committee, and exert influence not only on the school lunch program, but also on classroom practices, such as giving candy for rewards.
If you are a parent of a child with special needs, you are probably already a strong advocate for special education. It is essential that you join SEPTA, Special Education PTA. There you will meet like-minded parents and professionals who will provide you with a support network, cutting edge information and strategies to help your child succeed. You will have the benefit of attending presentations by outside experts. And you will be able to forge positive relationships with district special education administrators, who attend SEPTA meetings. This will give you easy access to these professionals, should you have questions or concerns.
4. Be a player and get the “skinny.”
You will reap enormous benefits if you rise to the highest levels of PTA leadership. If you are the PTA president of your school or a member of your District PTA Council, you will meet with your Superintendent of Schools on a regular basis. He or she will update you on news, issues and problems and ask for your support. If you are a person who likes to be in the know, you will be informed of everything from district accomplishments to drug busts. You will have the information first and will be the one to share it with your members. The superintendent will also solicit your opinion and may ask for you to poll your members on various issues, such as proposed budget cuts.
As a key stakeholder, you may also be asked to serve on interview committees, citizens’ advisory committees, and task forces. The superintendent may also recruit you to help plan district-wide events, and to request that PTA help sponsor them.
5. Hone your skills and show what you can do.
The more you give of yourself and the more you hone your skills, the more valuable you will become to your PTA, your school, your district and community. The seeds you plant may bear fruit in unexpected ways. Is your main job CEO of your household for the foreseeable future? Then why not put your accounting expertise to work as a treasurer? Or use your organizing skills to plan events? Utilizing your background and experience can help close gaps in your resume. Continue to dazzle everyone with your generous contribution of your talent, time and energy, and your volunteer experience could lead to paid employment!
Brian Biederman, 24, a middle school music teacher in Nashville, Tenn., fulfilled his lifetime dream of starting a music camp this summer. The Littlestone Summer Music Academy brought together 23 seventh through twelfth graders from diverse backgrounds to make music together.
As a youngster, Brian discovered his own niche when he attended music camp for the first time when he was 11-years-old. He later worked at music camp for several summers, and formed lifetime friendships as he honed his musical talent.
“My dad said that camp for me was what I did in between school.”
“I attended the same camp as my dad,” he recalled. “I didn’t want to go to band camp at first, but my dad told me to try it for two weeks. Within three days, I wanted to extend my stay for two weeks. I ended up staying four weeks. I knew immediately that I had to be part of the music camp community one day –as a patron, participant or to start my own camp.”
About 10 years ago, Brian, a 2010 graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville who holds a master’s degree from Vanderbilt’s Peabody School of Education, began planning how he would start his own music camp.
This year his dream came to fruition.
Brian comes from a family tradition of not only music, but also of community service. His parents, Debbie and Mitchell Biederman of Commack, N.Y., are co-presidents of Helping Hands, a Long Island based charity that provides essentials to struggling families. With the advice and support of his parents, Brian created an educational non-profit organization.
“I contacted everyone I knew,” Brian recalled. “I found a private school — Montgomery Bell Academy — which agreed to let me hold the camp there.”
Brian kept cutting the tuition until he got 23 students to sign up. He also made special arrangements for those who couldn’t afford to pay, and asked friends and professors from the Vanderbilt community for donations to help pay the staff.
“I wanted to let anyone come who wanted to,” he said. “I wanted to provide an opportunity for young people who don’t feel comfortable in a school environment. And I wanted to create a community where kids were comfortable and confident in looking at and playing music.”
Brian said he endeavored to blur the lines to have a mix of kids from diverse ethnic and socio-economic levels making music together.
“Let’s all make music together; it’s not where you come from,” he said. “Music is bigger than all of us.”
The finale of the summer season was a performance by Littlestone’s Festival Choir. Brian said the concert celebrated the diverse cultures of the students, and all students and staff participated.
For next year, Brian is looking to recruit more students, bring in guest artists, and raise money for more scholarships for students who would otherwise be unable to attend. He also hopes to start a community choir in Nashville.
When Anthony Weiner referred to George McDonald, his 69-year-old rival, as “Grandpa” in an AARP Mayoral Forum this week, it set off a firestorm. Beth Finkel, director of AARP in New York State, called the remark, “unfortunate,” saying that “a person’s age should not be a factor in politics, or anything else.”
As someone who does not vote in New York City, I have no dog in this fight. But as a grandparent, I have a big problem with this entire story line.
To begin with, ageism is nasty — just as racism, sexism, and all of the other “isms” demean us as human beings. It should have no place in politics, in the workplace, or in our lives. Our society still has a lot to learn from other cultures, which venerate the wisdom of age. When are we going to stop being so shallow?
In any case, 69 is not all that old nowadays, when people are living well into their eighties and nineties. Ronald Reagan was 69 when he was elected president in 1980; Queen Elizabeth is going strong at 87. And should Hillary Clinton run for president in 2016, she would be 69.
When did “Grandpa” become a pejorative word? As a young child, my Grandpa was the love of my life. He was a consistent nurturing and attentive companion to my brother and me during our weekly visits to my grandparents’ apartment. Although he did not have the benefit of higher education himself, he was a strong believer in life-long learning. He had us learn the capitals of every state in the U.S., all of the presidents and vice presidents, and the most difficult spelling words.
He would then test us on the assigned topics the following week, emulating the quiz shows of that era. For every correct answer, he would reward us with pocket change. He would take us to the local soda fountain and order cherry sodas for us. He died when I was 12 years old, leaving me bereft — but I keep him alive by remembering. The taste of cherry soda still brings back sweet memories of my grandpa.
Today, grandparents can be 42 or 92. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are “old” if you have a grandchild. It depends on what age you had your children, and then when your kids embark on childbearing.
Many grandparents nowadays are vigorous enough to be raising their grandchildren when their children can’t. And those who aren’t raising them – if they are fortunate – are involved in their grandchildren’s lives. Grandparents babysit; they read to their grandchildren, they play with them; some even travel with their grandchildren. And they pass on family stories and values.
I imagine that many – if not most — children and grandchildren are appreciative of the unconditional love, help and support they receive from grandparents. And if the grandparents are not young at heart, healthy, strong, and able to provide assistance, shouldn’t they still be respected, loved, and appreciated? I would hope so.
You have only to listen to grandparents to know that most of them live for their grandchildren, and relish them in a way they could not enjoy their own children when they were small. My three grandchildren enrich my life with their smiles, their insights, and their love. What a joy it is to see the world anew through their eyes!
I sincerely hope that Anthony Weiner becomes a grandpa one day, and learns that far from being an insult, being a grandparent is the ultimate reward and honor.
The Living Memories Project, by Meryl Ain and her co-authors, will be published this winter by Little Miami Publishing Company.