The United States was facing it’s greatest economical challenge since the Great Depression. Banks closing, fortunes lost, and corporate crooks convicted. The belief in the American “dream” became more about survival for millions. Worrying about having enough food to feed their families and keeping a roof over their head were real concerns for millions. Factories shut-down, pink-slips emailed out, and to top that off two wars. This was the year of 2009-2010.
As a person, who enjoyed journaling and photography, I was fascinated watching and witnessing these things taking place. Was the world ending and were humanities wheels on a high-speed wobble? Having hit a writers block, on a million different other projects, I needed to feel the passion of writing again. Why not record, in different ways, what was taking place in our own backyard. What would we find? To make it more interesting our family decided to add a social experiment to the project. We would pick, each week, one random stranger(s) or nonprofit organization to help in some way. We decided to call it The Sequoia Project. The smallest seed on earth that grows to be one of the mightiest trees.
We wanted to remain nameless during this time, something that proved to be difficult. How did the people in the city we live in, Wausau, Wisconsin, respond during the toughest times? A population of over 100,000 lived and worked in the county. Industry, manufacturing, paper-mills, dot the landscape. It seemed like the morning local news had one story after another about job lay-offs. My wife, Bobbi, who’s worked in the healthcare field over 30-year, watched her retirement goals fade into only a hope. Before the economy went south we were looking pretty good. We have three children and four grandchildren. In 2006 we closed the doors on a small family business, learning that the “recession” was a factor long before the government announced it to be. We could have kept at the grind-stone, with 16-hour work days, 7-days a week. Had a calling to accomplish other goals. The business was a tattoo studio. Just a simple little business that we weren’t that disappointed in letting go.
Stories written are from 2009 through the middle of 2010. There are many more. The things learned during the last 18-months, about the community we live in, are interesting. I was going to write what I seen, felt, and experienced. I wanted to see how this community in general would respond. Would food pantry doors overflow? Would the less fortunate be “labeled” in some fashion? Like the lives impacted, who were hit hard, during the Great Depression. Would the poor be labeled again as hobo’s and bums?
In order to write about what was taking place I had to go into the area’s of the city where signs-of-the-times were taking place. I had to visit the homeless shelters, food banks, and charity centers. I had to see and feel the stories. We also wanted to try and inspire others to do what they could do when it came to helping others.
What I witnessed during the time on the project has been interesting. Many of the stories went linked out to different online websites. Mostly HelpingOthers.Com, The Good News Network, and CNN news. Some stories simply sat on this blog. When I first started to journal this project, this way, I had no clue what a “blog” was. I just knew it was a form of communicating. I was curious to see how a major news outlet ranked at sharing not only the negative news but also the positive. It was difficult to keep this project under wraps, in the middle of it, when CNN asked to do a feature of their own on my life. I knew my story could help inspire others but we didn’t want it to draw attention to the things we were doing in our community. It was a little tricky, but everything went fine. Today our family does one project a week, hoping to inspire others to help make for a better world.
What is the Sequoia project?
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
The drive to the small town took about an hour. In the car with me was Tim. He had screwed up and found himself sitting in jail. This was nothing new. The only thing he knew was one incident after another of trouble. Tim is only 19 and his future looks bleak. Something has to click inside him.
The town we were traveling had a special project put on by a small elementary school taking place. A four-year project finally was coming to life. In Washington D.C., the Vietnam Wall has a replica of it that moved town to town. The Traveling Wall it was named. This Wall had every soldier fatally taken in the war America had in Vietnam. Over 50,000 lives lost.
About 15 people were needed in setting things up. Tim and I planned to get there at noon. The travel time gave us a chance to talk about things taking place in his life. He had been in trouble all his life. The trip in helping to construct this Wall would be good for him. It would show him how fragile and quick our paths in life can and do change.
When we arrived, the entire project was already set up. Many more showed up to help than expected. The Wall stood about 4 feet tall and looked to be a hundred yards long. Tents were set up sharing information of soldiers from the state. We walked the Wall and looked at all the names. When we arrived to the tents, Tim kept commenting about the ages of the lives lost in this war. He was surprised that many, many, were his age. We talked about this and how he was lucky to have this new chance at his life. A second chance to do things right and claim a happiness that was his for the taking. We talked about small steps and simply trying new things.
I shared with Tim the we all screw up. Do we make things worse and try to buck the system? Play the blame game and victim. No one has lived a life free of injustice. It is not fair to be struck down with illness, or any of the million other things that are not fair. Why do we think that life is about “fairness” and complain so much when it does not exist?
Tim didn’t try the blame game though. He was honest about his mistakes and trying to take responsibility for them. He didn’t have to come on this trip. He did because he really wanted to change. I respected this. I did not feel bad for him, but did in the odds of his actually learning, while so young. Society throws at everyone that fun has to come first with a beer or a party. Products are designed to make you feel like you missed out on something if not bought.
The sides these products do not show you is the pain related to over use. It is all about going “up” and doesn’t concern itself with the truth of the “downs”. Tim knew the downs. When he used substances to feel good things quickly would get out of hand. Not because he was a jerk or because of being a “bad” guy. To the contrary- he was actually a nice guy.
Tim admitted on the trip back that he thought he was going to cry while walking the Wall. It impacted him. I believed him.. Did the time taken (all day) working with him matter when it was all said and done? I have no clue. Certainly don’t expect him to suddenly change into someone he isn’t. What I want to encourage most is him to just look at the one life he has been given. Each day can never be repeated. Its gone forever. What control he did have was in the 24-hours he had when his eyes opened each morning.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
We had $30 left over after doing bills. We decided to put these funds to good use on a sequoia project. There is a little bakery in town that sells bread and cookie dough. Years ago, I use to ride motorcycles with the owners. Never took the time to stop in and actually see their business.
When Sandi and I got there, it was clear business was treating our friend well. There was hardly any room to move.
Everything looked good. We finally decided on loafs of four different types of breads. Names of them I have not a clue. After a hand shake with Al (owner) we paid up. Came to about what we planned.
We bought the bread in dough form and Sandi spent the next day baking it. The baked bread filled our home with a wonderful smell. Each loaf looked good. What we did though was seal them in wrap and put them aside. The bread was not for us. It was to give away. The car ride, when delivering the bread, filled the car with this great smell. The car still had a smell of apples in it from a different project. Now it smelled like newly baked apple pie. When we were done, it felt good to have helped others in this very small way. Many of the lives eating it were operating on only hope. We had a little extra and could share it. Nothing was past-due and many had it far worse.
A nice surprise came when we got home. Sandi brought out a loaf she made and put aside. Was it ever good! No wonder Al’s shop was doing so well. Simple bread can mean so much.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Spent the last couple of weeks at a homeless shelter giving a group called “Life on Life’s terms”. The shelter has a year long program that people can take advantage of. It gives them a chance to think and put together their often shattered pasts. This shelter dealt mostly in helping Vets who were homeless. They recently started to let ex-offenders through their doors. This caused many to want to back away from helping. Just say that word and many are turned off.
Anyways, one of the founders of this program asked me if I’d come down and start a group. Talk to people and see where it went. Maybe I could help them believe that they are there, that exact moment, for a reason. The choices they make today is what matters most.
These are lives that have known and experienced some of the worst things life can dish out. Many fought for their country and then had mental health issues go unattended. Some found themselves sleeping under bridges and over heat vents. Many stayed drunk and simply stayed alive.
The group went well. Can’t share the things we talked about but it did matter. Lives were lifted up and at times put on the carpet. People were called out for their bullshit. They needed to be. Everyone around them seen that they had a problem except them (not everyone but a few). I wasn’t there because I wanted to convince them to change. I was there to simply offer a little advice and compassion. I did feel bad for their situations but knew they were the batters in their own lives. You swing at the pitches and either recover from a wild pitch or stay on the ground. What do they do? What do they do when laying on the ground is a lot more safer and easier? They have to get back up or will cheat themselves out of the rest of their lives. A future that will come from learning basic new rules to live by. Be kind to people and do the right thing. that’s it. It’s really not that hard and comes with many perks. Doing the right thing and being kind to people off springs amazing things.
One particular gentleman met was named Dennis. A large man whose past showed in his face. I’ve known him about 6 months. We first looked cautiously to one another. I wasn’t there to play any games or have my time wasted. He was the house manager of the place and felt the same way. As time passed he and I would have a lot of deep talks about choices made and climbing back up after being smacked by the ball. Getting back up is where the core of our real character is molded. We either have to or die. I once heard a phrase in the movie “Shawshank Redemption”. A prison movie. Morgan freeman said something about either get busy living or get busy dieing. He said this while being covered in steel and cement for a home. That saying has always stuck with me for years since. How true it is. We don’t have a clue what’s going to take place in our lives tomorrow. The earthquake written about in the past was an example. We also can’t live our lives in the past. If we stand with one leg in both the past and future we end up pissing all over today. An old and wise man named Leroy told me this once.
Monday, January 18, 2010
A 7.0 earthquake violently changed the lives of millions. In a blink of an eye life changed that quick. Loved ones are thought about and sometimes the news only gets worse. What is believed in most, at this exact time, is hope. Faith is used in the delivery of this hope.
What could one family do, 2000 miles away, that could make any difference at all? We could give money but not much of it around so were there other ways? What was the “status” of the help needed? What was actually being done? All this information was quickly known. We emailed different agencies and learned first hand what could be done on a local level. There was a blood drive planned, to replenish the shelves, and to be prepared for the next natural disaster.
We were sent an “official” news release about this event and made flyers out of it. Stacks were left off where people gathered in town. Stores, bars, sledding hills were targeted. Many responded and said they would make copies and pass the information to the people they knew.
On the internet names and pictures started to come in at a shocking rate. People were all seeking information about missing loved ones. Fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, uncles, nieces with faces attached. Cries for help in locating these loved ones seemed endless. We had information that would be helpful but they probably would come across it anyways.
That’s when we decided to be part of the chain of people getting information out the door. We sent quick notes and letters to hundreds. Sending links to where there was possible news on the people they were desperately searching for. We had no idea if any of it would help. We had no clue what the results would be. None at all. Something just drove us to do what we could. It was doing the same to million, and maybe billions, of people. Certain events bring world attention. This was one of them. Te place that was struck already was experiencing hardships unimaginable. Before the earthquake many were making cake from dirt. Simply to trick their stomach into thinking it was full.
We wish we knew why faith is used after events that question its core beliefs of love. Why would this happen, along with the suffering of others across the world, if there was a “loving” God?
Don’t know the answer to these things. The answers will come….. Someday. Have to have faith.
We received an email that read this, in response to information passed on to them. You really never know how far a kind act can travel.
"My mother says thank you because since this happened my mother couldnt sleep or eat.She cried everyday and kept praying everyday for everyone and for our relative marie danielle janvier and her brother.Today around 1:30pm est we revieced the wonderful news that they were alive and alright.May jehovah bless america & the other counties for their efforts and haiti in this time In the name of jesus christ i pray amen. Keep HopeNprayer alive."
Monday, January 11, 2010
What was I doing picking this kid up at the jail on a Holiday? Didn’t Sandi and I have better things to do with our time. What about spending it with family and friends. Let the kid sit. He chose to do what he did, to end up in jail, so why should I care?
The reason we picked Karl up is because it was important. Where I was taking him was back into a community that he had once harmed. I’ve learned that a community isn’t just a name but its neighbors. Some know each other and some don’t. His actions put him into the “clink”. What he see’s and learns now will follow him the rest of his life.
The justice system is broke. It has been for many years. Do I want Karl to be my future “neighbor” after his getting out? A person that is worse off now, than when he went in. Its not like jail actually waves this magical stick and people are suddenly rehabilitated. Doesn’t work that way. America can strive for justice but it takes place in every courtroom in every town. That's where the roots are steeped. The correctional part, where the housing of people both convicted and awaiting trial are warehoused, is completely broken.
Karl didn’t see why compassion was shown to him by our family. I didn’t feel sorry for him. We wanted him to see that there were some people who believed in him. They would give him a chance to at least start making the right choices. We didn’t do this so he could have a great meal an check back in telling his buddies what a super time he had.
Karl washed dishes and passed out food an drink to others. He met people and was judged for the work and person he was today. A good kid who made some stupid decisions. When he walked back into the concrete cell he would feel proud of what he did. This is where change first takes place. Learning that we don’t have to be the screw up or the person who is most likely to fail.
This was an excellent project. Don’t be naïve in who you help and first do your research. Find out where they are with their journey of hitting dead end roads. Do what your heart tells you. Ours told us to do this. Does it matter? Some answers never are known. The goal of this project is not to really be concerned about all the “If’s”. Simply a seed.