What is the Sequoia project?

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Wausau, Wisconsin, United States
The Sequoia tree is one of the largest in the world. The seed is the size of a grain of wheat. One kind act will often seem unimportant but has ripple effects across humanity.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rest in peace.

I know a 76-year old lady who has recently been having health issues. I don’t know much about her and learned what I have from others.

She knows that her time is near, yet refuses to tell the people she loves that they mattered in her life. This stranger may have a lot of guilt in her heart. She lived life keeping people at a distance and never opening herself up to love. I know she had a son that she has only seen once in 30 years. She never went out of her way to even meet her own grandchildren of this son. She traveled all about but yet these lives remained strangers.

This is the stranger whose life I will be touching today. She is my mother. As written, I've only met her a few times. The reasons why would make a book in itself. The point is that she will soon be passing on. Her body is starting to shut down and yet her mind is still crisp. Strokes have made her a prisoner of her own body.

I knew that I couldn't let her pass without telling her I forgive her. There were times in my past where I needed her more than anything else on earth, and she was no where to be found. She knew where I was, but wanted nothing to do with the lives she left behind. She left all of her kids in a situation to fend for themselves.

I wrote her a letter and said that I was sadden by the news of her health, and that I forgave her for actions made decades ago. As children we don’t always understand what’s taking place when a family is splitting up. We want to blame one or the other and scream ‘what about me!’. The letter was hard to write but it was the right thing to do.

We need to forgive the people who have hurt us the most. Not for them but for us. It was important to me to have this stranger know that she can forgive herself as well.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blue jeans and trust.

A local clothing store, here in our town, is helping to change the world one pair of jeans at a time! After learning about this project we drove down to the store and learned more. We talked with the store manager about how their store was taking part in collecting 100,000 pairs of blue jeans.

Why? What could they possibly do with all these jeans? This store (part of a national chain) teamed up with “Cotton Incorporated” to launch a drive to help rebuild communities adversely affected by hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters. The goal is to collect 100,000 pairs of donated jeans and have them recycled into environmental-friendly insulation. This will provide enough insulation for over 180 homes in the Gulf Coast region! That’s a lot of homes! When my wife was preparing a pile of blue jeans to take with us I wasn’t to sure about it. I cared about the cause but don’t mess with a man’s boots or old beat up jeans. I also was a little bitter about what role big business played in the hardships our country has dealt with these last two years.

Putting people, or business’s into the same classification by appearance isn’t fair and yet here I was balking at contributing. We had one experience where we donated money to help a little league baseball team travel out of state for a tournament, only to later learn that the coach skipped town with the money.

I wanted to make sure that it was legit and not a ploy to get people into their store. When the manager took us in the back of the store we learned they were for real. Boxes were overflowing with donated jeans. With each donation they also gave 25% off on all purchases on new jeans.

Big business does have a ways to go in Americans trusting them again, but after seeing this it was a good start for our household. Whoever knows if the items or money donated will actually end up going where they say it will. On the other side of the coin many less fortunate lives depend on the compassion of others to make it through their 24 hours. After visiting and talking with this business we felt comfortable helping them to meet their goal of 100,000 pairs of jeans. It was refreshing to see a project that really was going to something so positive.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New horizons for some.

This week I was able to do something that has always been on my “bucket list “. I wanted to someday help someone learn how to read. Why? As a writer I struggled in my youth with learning how to read. The highest grade ever completed was 7th grade. Life tossed to me some real fastballs and education became lost in the shuffle. When I accomplished my goals, as a writer, I wanted to give this gift back. Not as a teacher but maybe as a mentored. I didn’t know where I'd find the time but wanted to someday do this.

Before I knew it I was walking into a school and doing exactly what I had wished for. It wasn’t a “regular school” in any way. The young lives here didn’t fit in well with traditional classroom learning. I thought this was pretty cool. These are the people who need to learn the power of what reading can bring. A person can travel anywhere in the world all with one book. Not only to learn but for pleasure. As a kid I use to read Reader’s Digests and Life magazine like a little addict. To this day I spend hours a day reading.

When I first walked into the school I questioned what I had gotten myself into! It seems that each project has a point where I question this. I had spoken at the school a year earlier and was expecting kids about 14 to 18. What awaited me was 11 to 14 year olds! They are still rugrats in my eyes. Curtain climbers. When I thought about it I knew I was at the right place. These kids were at crossroads in their lives. This was the last stop before education can cease to exist for many.

I was able to squeeze in about 8 hours with the students. I watched as they had fun learning. The teachers tried to respond to what the students real needs were. It was a rowdy bunch at times! My elementary schooling had nuns who dished out a slap or a ruler if you got out of place. A student knew this so either learned or sat up straight pretending to. I think that was the way a lot of schools operated 40 years ago.

The experience was rewarding. I was able to work with two of the most disruptive kids. I spent about an hour listening and reading to one of them. He was “tough guy” who didn’t want to show that he was just a kid. I shared with them my story about why they had to make the right choices concerning education. Both were fascinated with gangs and looked up to the lifestyle. Kids that had no clue how these groups would chew them up and spit them out. No clue who would be taken by a bullet or locked away for a life time. These are the things I shared about that life.

I had to get back to my regular work so could only help out for awhile. Sandi went with me (wife) on one of the days. After she had tears in here eyes. They do bring out real lives and emotions. When asked why she was moved to tears she replied “ I felt so bad for them. Adults were the ones who let these kids down most and it felt good to show them that not all of them will”. I liked that and it was so true. I also had a new respect for the adults who chose to spend their lives teaching others. They love the challenge and were doing what they probably always wanted to be a teacher for. These are the students that need to be picked up the most. These are the lives that will be our neighbors and are already.

Did the time spent on this project matter? We think so. If one minute is spent making another strong, through knowledge, then that person might go on to later help 100 people, and then 200, and then maybe into the thousands. There really is no limit to how far learning how to read will go in another’s life.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What and why?

I had no idea what to expect. A pastor had called me and asked if I could visit a man who was in the hospital. He completely broke down and was threatening to shoot his entire family. I didn’t know what I would say to him. I had no magical wand or secret powers.

When we met he first looked at me with mistrust and bewilderment. His eyes looked tired and he was shaking. Who was I and what did I want? I simply introduced myself and sat down. We talked and in time he opened up to me about his feelings of failure. His job he had been laid off from and the bottle was giving him the relief something inside screamed for. It all came to a boiling point and the next thing he knew he woke up where he was. He said he was not serious about hurting his family, and that people over reacted. We talked about how this experience could be used as a powerful stepping stone forward. I knew a thing about bouncing back and that anything really is possible.

After he was released we kept in touch. I stressed the importance behind his children needing a father who was sober. He did well at first but soon called drunk. I told him that he first had to help himself before seeing the hand out to help him up.

I worked with him on moving forward with his life. Amends could be made but he had to forgive himself first. He had to get back up, dust his pants off, and try again. As humans we live our lives constantly falling down and failing. Its what we do with our failures that count. I shared some very personal information about my own life and bouncing back.

What happened next I will never forget. Instead of taking on these challenges he took his own life. I felt like I had failed and may be at fault for not having done more. Helping in these lives come at a price. I was hurt and angry with his choice.

My wife helped me understand that to stop this program would be failure. Was I basing my actions on success or on need?

I shared this post to show that all this program is not one that always has a happy ending. Did I fail? I know the answers today but not at that time. Who wants to walk into a county mental health hospital and connect with lives in the midst of hurt? I did not want to go, yet something inspired me to go forward. I thought of the lives that will choose the opposite paths ahead. Was it fair to them?

It took a bit for me to get back on the horse and move forward. I had to understand what happen and know that the dark side of life often needs the most light shown on it. I have used this situation as a reminder not to duck the phone or not return a call. I had ignored a call around the same time as his death, thinking he was just drunk and loaded.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Gimme Shelter.

Our family has had many different pets over the years. Dogs, cats, frogs, lizards, turtles, and even a snake once. CC (our 7-year old grandchild) has always had a compassionate heart to all of them. When we learned about a shelter in the area that was ran by just volunteers she couldn’t wait to get involved. This was an excellent opportunity for her to learn and care for many different animals. What made this shelter different than most is their policy to never have any of the animals put to sleep. The animals they tended to would live at the center until they were adopted. If it took a week or a year for them to find a home it didn’t matter.

When CC learned that many of the animals were there, because they had no home, it really bothered her. She couldn’t understand how that could be. When she asked if there were lots of other animals without a home we told her unfortunately yes. She knew I like to build things out of wood so asked if I could build homes for animals that couldn’t find the center. It made perfect sense to her.

So that’s what we did. About 3 weeks later (and $400 lighter) we had two large dog houses. She took part in just about every stage of building them. She helped sand, paint, and hammer on both. It was a project that she felt good about. When we were done she made a small sign and we put them in our front yard to sell (the money would then be donated to the shelter to help).

CC learned that it took a lot of work and dedication, from volunteers, in caring for the animals. It was a lot more work than she first expected. The mop used to clean the brushing rooms stood 3 feet taller than her. She didn’t mind. She learned how important it was to keep clean cages and fresh water for all of them. Her favorites were the cats. The dogs scared her but she didn’t shy away from doing what she could to help them either. We were proud to see such a caring side to her.

These two dog houses sat in our yard for a good month. When the economy went south nobody was buying any extra’s. It came at a time when many families were doing everything they could to keep their own homes. We decided to then donate them to the center for a fundraiser they were putting on. These actions helped out in two separate ways. One being shelter for two different family pets, and the other cash for the center to use at a time when there is not much around.

We wanted to show CC that her volunteer work at the center really was nice to do. When she outgrew her bicycle we decided to get her a new one. On the day we had planned to go down an work at the center we asked her if she first wanted to go get a new bike. It was on the way and we could quickly stop. Her response was that we could always get a bike but the animals needed to be tended to first. At a time when many children are written off as lazy and uncaring about the world they live in this made us smile. Children learn from what adults take the time to teach them. In turn they often teach us the things in life that really matter the most. A very rewarding experience.