“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
The moment you first hold your child you do not think about the moment that you will say goodbye. We never think that far ahead. Sure our children are born and we open a college savings account but we don’t actually think about college really. It is like a far off goal equivalent to someday I’ll have a (fill in the blank). It’s a someday thing.
As parents, we support our children, love them, encourage them to find what they love to do and hope they can someday put it on their college resume. We tell them that they need good grades if they are ever going to go to college…someday.
We go through the pressure of high school grades, college test prep, ACTs, SATs, college applications and even college acceptances and still it feels like a someday thing. In the last few weeks, we have been buying everything for the dorm room, enjoying college send-off dinners with different groups of friends and the reality has begun to come crashing down that someday is here. Someday is literally at the door and someday is this week.
You would think since this isn’t my first rodeo saying goodbye and sending off the last of my three sons to college would get easier? It’s not, it is actually harder.
It is not that I love any of our sons differently, it is just that this is the end of the road, the last one ever! Twenty-four years of being a parent to boys under my roof and poof someday snuck in and has taken my boys, my job and what’s left of my heart. Someday arrived and this dreaded moment is really happening.
Someday doesn’t care that time went by in a blink. Someday doesn’t care if your child is ready to go, how fantastic they are, or how much they will be missed? Someday doesn’t care but tomorrow does. Tomorrow brings with it the reality and the tears, that won’t seem to stop. Tomorrow also brings the heavy heart that feels so proud and is beyond sad in the same breath. Someday doesn’t have to walk by the empty bedroom or see the empty seat at the dinner table every day. Someday doesn’t worry about the silence at the end of the school day when no one comes bounding in asking for food full of joy. Tomorrow does.
So as I cling to the last precious moments of someday and hold my son so tight, I am deeply aware of the privilege it is to be his mom. How blessed am I to have had eighteen amazing years with this incredible human? How lucky is the world to have him? He was born to fly and born for this moment to leave the nest. If you love them set them free and so I will…..My nest will empty but just like the Dr. Seuss books I used to read him said, “Do not cry because its over, smile because it happened.”
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”
Almost a decade ago I made the most amazing friend through a wonderful happenstance. I was filming a fundraising video for my alma mater and the filmmaker, Noah Applebaum, was so talented, compassionate and smart that I asked him to help me with another nonprofit project, and then another and then another. Through the years Noah’s heart has shown through in a multitude of nonprofit videos we have worked on together and our friendship has been a wonderful gift. Last week Noah told me about this incredible documentary film that he is now fundraising to make for an Alzheimer’s program called OMA, which stands for Opening Minds Through Art.
Noah’s late grandfather had gone through the program and Noah wanted me to meet the nonprofit’s founder, Dr. Elizabeth Lokon. We had an incredible conversation and it became abundantly clear why Noah wants the world to know about this remarkable woman and her journey to give the elderly an opportunity to express themselves through art once dementia has left them without a voice. If anyone can tell their story it is Noah. Talking to Dr. Lokon was beyond inspirational and a privilege.
Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what OMA does?
Dr. Lokon: Opening Minds Through Art (OMA) is an intergenerational art making program for people with Alzheimers disease. The program provides opportunities for creative self expression for people with dementia.
Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to start OMA?
Dr. Lokon: I had my Master’s Degree in Fine Art and got my PhD in 1997. I had been teaching teachers in Japan from 2000 to 2006 and I had a student club called MICA where we did service for a number of causes. We cleaned beaches, bought toys and were very involved with an organization that prevented sex trafficking of Cambodian children through education. When my husband retired he said to me, “What do you want to do now? Our kids are grown.” I knew that I wanted to go back to school to make a difference and that my primary goal was to live a life of service.
In education I learned about the first half of life but I knew nothing about the second half, so I decided to study Gerontology. When I came back to the U.S., I moved into a nursing home to learn a new culture, it was like a whole new world and I approached it like an anthropologist. Then I saw people with dementia. They were kept clean, safe and ignored. They were zombies.
As an educator I knew this was not fair. Children have programs and advocates but with older people there is no one to speak for them. Even with dementia people can have joy. So, I went back to school and worked with a theater program that was for people with dementia. The program used photos to trigger memories to tell imaginary stories. So, in 2007 I asked if I could intern and I moved into a nursing home.
I quickly realized that art was a way of connecting with the patients, like the theater program. Verbal skills may have been impaired but people with dementia could flourish if there wasn’t any language, they could paint. In 2007, I had the idea for OMA.
Charity Matters: Did you grow up in a philanthropic Family?
Dr. Lokon: No! I did not. I am Chinese but grew up in Jakarta, Indonesia. When I grew up there was a large gap between the wealthy and the poor. I had to walk through the slums to get to school and I remember on my way home from school as an 8 year old bringing younger children home from the slums just to be bathed.
Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?
Dr. Lokon: Funding. While we are funded under the Scripps Gerontology Center, an Ohio Center of Excellence at Miami University.Scripps Gerontology Center, an Ohio Center of Excellence at Miami University for operations, the biggest challenge is trying to plan our work and the expansion of our work with extreme financial variability . The other challenge is that I know that our program works and we want to expand our work to other medical schools. We want them to be able to have OMA training. I want to give schools the opportunity to train students to be better health care providers. We need to create awareness to fund this work and it takes a lot of time and effort to make this happen.
Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?
Dr. Lokon: I continue to go to a site each week and I see the magic happen and it keeps me grounded and going.
Charity Matters: When do you know that you have made a difference?
Dr. Lokon: Students realize that it is a privilege to be with someone vulnerable with dementia. Students change and see a shift in themselves. The students begin to see themselves differently and value themselves. I know I have made a difference when I see a student put their arms around their partner with dementia and I see the connection between the two. From a distance you cannot tell that that there is dementia because the old and young person look “normal” and that is the power of human connection.
The patient feels normal and in return the student knows they have made a difference. This is something special. The students write in their journals about their experiences and you know you have made a difference.
Charity Matters: Tell us about your impact at OMA?
Dr. Lokon: We began the program in 2009 and since that time we have trained over 2,00o students from Miami Ohio alone. We have 150 locations in the United States and Canada that are using our program and are serving eight retirement programs locally. We are currently working with ten universities and their medical/nursing schools to ensure that their students know how to treat those with dementia and communicate with them. When I think of the ripple effect of just the 2,ooo plus students who become kinder to people with dementia. People who no longer dismiss the elderly, students who are more respectful. I think the measure of success is a cultural change within the aging world, one student at a time.
Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?
Dr. Lokon: I have learned there is value to everyone in any stage of life regardless of age, condition or disability. There is a reward in seeing that value and in making a human connection. I have learned the importance of social connection and seeing everyone as worthy of your time, attention and love. In the end, it is just what it means to be human.
Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?
Dr. Lokon: This journey has changed me by making me more aware of the deeper purpose of what it means to be together. What it means to connect and how much is really happening in that connection. We are so busy meditating and going to yoga that we are depriving ourselves of the very substance that makes us whole.
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“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
You are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” Dr. Seuss
It’s that time of year again and our children are all packing up and leaving the nest. Moments of sadness, joy and everything in between. Excited for them to fly and yet so sad to see them go… They say a parents job is never done but there is something about the process of packing and leaving that makes you feel that a large part of it is…
I could not be more proud of the men we have raised but watching them leave the nest, just never seems to get easier.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
At the end of the day, it is just that simple. What is it that you care about? Once you know the answer, the next step is finding out a way to show you care. With 1.9 million non-profits in the United States alone there are literally millions of ways to put your caring into action.
Dr. Seuss was right, unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, its not going to get better…its not.
Hearing these words from 9-year-old Tavan last week was pure joy!
“Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”
I was invited to see the opening of a new chapter of Reading Partners, a literacy program for elementary school children, here in town. You may remember the post on Reading Partners from last spring. It was so exciting to witness progress in action. When 9-year-old, Tavan got up and read Dr. Seuss in front of a group of strangers with pride, you can’t help but get excited.
Reading Partners began a decade ago, as three women noticed their local elementary school in trouble and wanted to help. Their goals were simple:
Focus on children from low-income communities.
Give one-on-one instruction at the student’s reading level.
Recruit and train community volunteers to work with children.
Partner with high-need elementary schools to offer an effective program on campus.
Provide a way for volunteers to give a small amount of their time to make a huge difference in a child’s life.
These three women started out with one school and today Reading Partners has over 5,000 volunteers in 65 schools in 5 states…all because a few women cared about their community and committed to making it better. Do you have an hour to spare a week? Maybe do you know someone who might? Simply click here and go under volunteers. You can change a child’s life simply by helping them read.