With one flip of the calendar, I am in an autumnal mood! I become giddy with the thought of cozy sweaters and crisp air. While many folks are thinking about the start of the school year, my mind immediately fast forwards to Thanksgiving — that marvelous food-centered American holiday.
Every year, whether spent in the company of friends, family or simply with Lenny the Pug, I silently give thanks for all my blessings.
In the fall of 2011, while this company was in its infancy, I lost what little financial security I had. I was shaken to my core and terrified of how I would survive. Luckily, I had an incredible support system who offered me everything I needed to keep my head above water and Lenny in kibble. They refused to let me falter and in return I promised that I would do everything possible to make this company successful.
It is terrifying to start over. It takes a leap of faith to dive into the unknown. And I’ll be honest, there were many times my faith wavered. Sometimes it was a kind word or hug, others it was looking at Lenny and knowing I needed to do everything I could to provide for him, and still others were pure determination to not allow “them” to beat me. Whatever it was, I managed to break through the haze and find the light each time things grew dim. Three years and many ups and downs later, Lenny and I still have a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs, clothing on our backs, and the “little company that could” is steadily growing and making its mark not only in people’s tummies, but in their hearts as well. But what of those who are not as lucky?
It has been an honor and a privilege to work with the amazing folks at Coalition for the Homeless during the past year and a half. The First Step Job Training Program is near and dear to my heart not only because the program director, Elizabeth Henderson, is one of my closest friends, but because it “gives homeless and low-income women the training, social support, education and work experience they need to overcome a tremendous array of stability obstacles, empowering them to build a better life for themselves and their families.” If starting over WITH a support system in place is terrifying, I can’t begin to imagine what it feels like to begin anew with nothing.
These women choose to stand up and take control. They choose to make a difference in their lives — their families lives. They are able to meet the challenges these changes present with confidence gained through the First Step program.
I admire each and every one of them for taking the risk because I cannot say for sure that I would be as brave as they if the tables were turned.
And so that brings me to my annual “giving thanks.” I am proud to announce that we have partnered with Coalition for the Homeless for our first annual “Pie-giving” benefitting the amazing ladies of the First Step Training Program.
Thanks to our generous and compassionate fans, every woman in Class #126 will be receiving an Alecia Bakery NYC Pumpkin-Gingersnap pie this Thanksgiving! Let’s do it again next year!
One week ago as Lenny and I were out for our evening walk, a toddler no more than 18 months old ran towards us on the sidewalk with his parents closely following. The child, his cheeks puffed from his giant smile, had one end of a ribbon tied around his wrist attaching a large round mylar balloon to him like a bouncing tail as he toddled towards us as fast as his chubbly little legs seemed to allow. I couldn’t help but smile and think to myslf, “We should all experience life with such joyful abandonment!” However, for many, this is sadly not the case.
“The number of New Yorkers without homes has reached an all-time high. Tonight, more than 50,000 of our neighbors — including 21,000 children — will sleep in emergency shelters. The Coalition provides hot meals, crisis services, job training, permanent housing and special youth programs to 3,500 men, women and children each day while fighting for long-term solutions.”
Okay, okay! You’ve heard the numbers. You’re tired of being shown sad faces and despicable living conditions. Let me, instead, tell you about a magical night in Central Park where children and families were able to play until their cheeks hurt from smiling and bellies ached from laughter. A night that kids were free to be kids with one another — no matter what their socioeconomic status — and how that single evening helped set the stage for more smiles, more laughter and more happy memories.
According to Accuweather, “New York City has its seventh-wettest June on record.” Considering I’ve worn my wellies and dressed Lenny in his raincoat more times than not this month, I believe it. I would be a liar if I said I hadn’t been nervous tracking the weather forecast in the days preceding the Coalition for the Homeless’ Carnival Night for Kids. Mother Nature, however, sandwiched one perfect evening between two full of drenching rain. I’ve learned to be thankful for small miracles and this was definitely one.
My guests for the evening were New York Times bestselling author, Jerome Preisler, and his lovely wife (& Alecia Bakery NYC assistant), Suzanne. We were joined by the Director of First Step Job Training Program, my friend Liz Henderson, who introduced us to her co-workers and engaged us in thought-provoking discussions about our society while answering questions about the evening’s event and the Coalition.
“Camp Homeward Bound — The nation’s first summer sleep-away camp for homeless children. Located in beautiful Harriman State Park CHB provides hundres of boys and girls with a fun and safe summer.”
“Bound for Success — Gives homeless students the educational support they need to succeed in school through afterschool and summer day camp programs.”
Little could have pulled me away from meeting such hard-working and dedicated people, but the gleeful squeals and children’s chatter that swirled around us captured my attention.
Cheering wildly as they took turns soaking the camp counselors in the dunk tank…
Skipping gleefully through random puddles with their faces brightly painted…
Giddily wearing balloon corsages…
Eating chicken fingers and cotton candy until their tummies were full…
Singing camp songs with a stage full of counselors…
Nothing I could say or write could fully express the joy that filled Victorian Gardens last night, but I believe these pictures captured some of the magic…
(*click on the thumbnail to view the photo in its entirety)
“Every summer since 1984, Camp Homeward Bound has given homeless youngsters the chance to escape crowded shelters and sweltering city streets to enjoy swimming, music, arts + crafts and learn cooking and computer skills. It’s a rare chance to forget the stress and insecurity of shelter life and just be a kid. Camp fosters self-esteem and confidence to build upon when summer ends. You can give a homeless boy or girl and opportunity to enjoy a summer he or she won’t forget by sponsoring a camper today!”
We have all heard the word and many have discussed the plight of the homeless, but few of us have truly experienced what it is like to have no place to call home. No place for a moment of solace. No place for a shred of privacy. No place for safety. No place to shelter ourselves let alone our family. When tough times strike, most of us are fortunate enough to have family and friends upon which to lean.
In the fall of 2011, while this company was in its infancy, I lost what little financial security I had. I was shaken to my core and terrified of how I would survive. Luckily, I had an incredible support system who offered me everything I needed to keep my head above water and Lenny in kibble. They refused to let me falter and in return I promised that I would do everything possible to make this company successful. Two years and many ups and downs later, Lenny and I still have a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs, clothing on our backs and the “little company that could” is steadily growing and making its mark not only in people’s tummies, but in their hearts as well. But what of those who are not as lucky as we?
I have been blessed with an amazing circle of family and friends who make the world a better place daily by reaching out to those less fortunate and offering them a helping hand. One of those people is my dear friend, Liz Henderson. Liz is one of the kindest, gentlest, most considerate people you will ever meet. She has an infectious laugh and her fiance, Kevin, and their pug, Lennon, make me smile daily knowing that they are out there making the world a better place. You see, Liz is the Director of the Coalition for the Homeless First Step Job Training Program.
“A record 10,000 families sleep each night in New York City’s emergency shelter system. Thousands more live doubled- or tripled-up with friends or relatives, unable to afford housing in one of the country’s tightest real estate markets. The overwhelming majority of these homeless families are headed by single mothers who want to provide their children with safe and stable homes. Many lack the career skills necessary to find and maintain living wage employment. Others suffer from low-self esteem and self-worth, usually caused by years of domestic abuse. That’s why the Coalition’s First Step Job Training Program is so vital. By empowering homeless women to reach self-sufficiency through hands on job training, internships, mentoring, job placement and social service support, First Step benefits every member of the family.
“First Step’s innovative 14-week curriculum includes over 75 hours of computer instruction, along with literacy workshops, communication and interpersonal skills development, and other hands-on activities that give students a thorough and practical understanding of the job market and workplace. First Step also places students in internships with major corporations or non-profit organizations, and offers mentoring by experienced professional women. We also provide a lifetime of post-graduate services, including job placement assistance, ongoing mentoring from staff and volunteers, support groups, additional training seminars, and numerous networking opportunities with alumni and business professionals.
“Each year First Step helps hundreds of women achieve a new found sense of self-esteem and direction. The program has proven to be highly effective. Last year, of those enrolled, approximately two-thirds graduated, successfully completing both the classroom and internship portions of the program, of which 75 percent secured full-time employment.
“Coalition for the Homeless is the nation’s oldest advocacy and direct service organization helping homeless men, women, and children. We are dedicated to the principle that affordable housing, sufficient food, and the chance to work for a living wage are fundamental rights in a civilized society. Since our inception in 1981, the Coalition has worked through litigation, public education, and direct services to ensure that these goals are realized.
When Liz, in her quiet way, approached me about sponsoring this year’s Women Mean Business Luncheon it wasn’t a question of whether we would participate, but how. We couldn’t afford to buy a table (but one day we will) so, we went about making caramels to fill 350 organza pouches which would be included in the event gift bags. As I worked silently in the kitchen cutting and wrapping each confection one day, I reflected on the small community of homeless and near-homeless men who inhabit a corner of my block.
I often rely on Lenny to gauge the character of a person so when he immediately took to one of the men who sold newspapers at the subway entrance, I made a point to learn his name. Roy has never asked for money or food. He and his boys sit on milk crates most days chatting and watching the goings on of the public housing buildings across the way. On days when the sun is shining, Lenny stops and sits amongst the men letting them pet him while they tell me about the dogs they used to have. One man calls him “Sandy,” but I’ve never corrected him because it’s not important. What is important is that for a few minutes each day a lady and her dog stop by to chat. We don’t walk by and turn a blind eye. We don’t treat the men like pariahs. We smile and ask how they are doing. Simply, we treat them like humans — with dignity and respect — just as we wish to be treated.
It was my honor to be seated with Liz, Corporate Partnership Award recipients of Deutsch and Class 112 graduate Marlene Romero at this year’s luncheon. It was an amazing two hours in which I was inspired by the strength, perseverance and words of hope, spoken by President & CEO of Coalition for the Homeless Mary Brosnahan, Class 111 graduate Shakira Kennedy, Class 106 graduate Jessie Garcia and Ms. Romero. Many tears were shed and 350+ attendees walked out of the Grand Ballroom at The Pierre on Wednesday, April 17, 2013, with a renewed energy for change.
As Deutsch stated in the event program, “The difference between wanting change and creating change starts with standing up. Here’s to empty seats.”