#ThanksObama #ThanksTrump

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We’re almost through our third week without a president named Barack Obama.

I miss his calm demeanor, self-deprecating humor and general air of respect.
But if there’s one thing President Obama left behind for Americans as he vacated the Oval Office, it was hope.

That was a theme President Obama never strayed from.

He spoke of it in 2004, when he addressed the Democratic convention. He led with that theme in 2008, when he first ran for president. And during his last speech to the nation, just days before Donald Trump assumed the office of president, President Obama spoke of the optimism he still harbors that the United States will continue to be a beacon of welcome and refuge and innovation and leadership for the rest of the world.

Like others, I was distraught as Jan. 20, 2017, drew near and we faced the reality of a Trump presidency. Ugly things were happening. Reports of hate crimes against immigrants and minorities peppered the news. Meanness and vulgarity abounded on social media. It felt like the progress of the last 50 years was quickly slipping away, like water down a drain.

But since Jan. 21, I’ve got to say, the Trump presidency has stimulated hope.

What’s she talking about? you’re wondering. Is she hitting the scotch again?

My friends, I’m merely choosing to look at the last three weeks with a different perspective.

I believe the hate-filled tweets and executive orders have led many folks not to fall into lockstep with our authoritarian leaders or to cower in fear, but to become empowered. They’ve inspired hope.

Consider this. The executive order that restricts immigration and halts the resettlement of refugees was signed on a Friday. By Saturday, there were massive protests all over the country. Attorneys descended on airports to offer services to immigrants legally trying to gain access to our country, many of them green-card holders who were swept up in the confusion over the order.

That night, a judge ordered a temporary stay, followed later in the week by another ruling against the order.

That’s hope – a desire for a particular outcome to happen.

Last week, as I watched and read about the immigration executive order, I thought of all the immigrants and refugees I know. Surprisingly, for a white girl living the middle of the country in a heavily white town, I know quite a few.

And I wanted to do something to help. But I’m not an attorney. I couldn’t do anything tangible by going to the airport. I’m not an interpreter. I’m wasn’t sure what I could do.

But I’m not one for hand-wringing, so I decided to find a way to use whatever skills I have to help immigrants and refugees.

So I did that Wednesday night when I attended a volunteer orientation at Jewish Vocational Services in Kansas City. And so did more than 20 other Kansas Citians.

There were so many folks there to learn about how they could help refugees that the JVS employees had to bring in extra chairs and copy more volunteer applications.

Martin Okpareke, the outreach manager, gave an overview of how the agency helps refugees. JVS began in the late 1940s to help resettle Holocaust survivors and WWII vets returning home. Since 2004, in Kansas City, the agency has worked with one of nine national volunteer agencies charged by the United Nations with resettling refugees.

Refugees are people who can no longer live in their homelands because of persecution or real or perceived threats of bodily harm. They don’t leave their homes because they want to – they have no choice, said Okpareke, himself a former refugee from Nigeria.

Eighty percent of refugees are women and children – often the men in their families have been killed. Close to 70 percent of refugees have spent about 17 years in United Nations refugee camps, waiting either to return to their homes or to get lucky in the lottery that chooses who gets to the leave the camp for a home in a safer country.

JVS aims to engage refugees in becoming integrated into the United States, educate them about their new home and empower them to take control of their futures by finding jobs and becoming settled.

It’s difficult, Okpareke said. Many suffer post-traumatic stress from what they have been through. Others find the cultural differences between their countries and the United States difficult to overcome. Most worry about their families pulling apart as everyone works toward building a new life in a foreign land.

JVS uses volunteers to mentor newly arrived families and to help others who have been here longer study for the citizenship exam, for example. There were many more volunteer opportunities before the executive order halted everything.

Now the future is uncertain, Okpareke said. Last year, JVS resettled 518 refugees in the Kansas City area. Since January, they’ve welcomed two families.

Still, Okpareke said as he surveyed the potential volunteers, he has hope. Because the people gathered in that room had compassion.

And that gives me hope, too.

In my despair at the ugliness that has been a staple of American life for the last year, I had to do something to help. And so did all the others sitting in the room with me.

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What should we do for MLK Jr. Day?

Last year, in an effort to make the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday count for something more than mid-January sales, the hubs, kids and I spent a few hours volunteering at Harvesters, the food bank. After a short presentation about food insecurity, we went to work boxing up food that would be delivered to food pantries.

Hey, we’re not saints, people. It’s a national initiative called the Day of Service. You’re supposed to keep Dr. King’s legacy alive, step outside your comfort zone and work to effect change in your community. Click here for more info.

My kids loved it, and the experience sort of led them to volunteer in similar areas over the last year. So this year, as the holiday approaches, they said they’d like to go back to Harvesters.

Only Harvesters told me today that it’s too late to sign up to volunteer there on Jan. 21. They’re fully booked, they said, but we could come back another day.

Well, we don’t have another weekday. So we’re looking for something else meaningful to do that day to commemorate Dr. King’s work and to expand our knowledge of the needs in our community. And we’re looking for suggestions.

If you’ve got some ideas — serious ones, please — leave them at the bottom of this post. I’ll let you know later this month what we end up doing.

And if you haven’t already, consider marking MLK Day yourself by doing something for others.

Why are all my PTA experiences the Harper Valley kind?

Today was Schedule-O-Rama in our household.

Three schools, three schedules. My legs are killing me.

And, as you know, you can’t pick up your schedule without passing the PTA table, where you get the whole parent-involvement spiel, yadda yadda yadda. So I’m now a member of three PTAs/PTSAs. Yippee.

I’m just not the joining type. I’m not the meeting type, the taking-notes type, the running-the-school-book fair type. Not to dis those who are. I think it’s great – for them. I just don’t like groups. I guess that’s why I’m a cat person.

So am I a hypocrite for joining the PTA/PTSA? Probably. I’m a big old hypocrite on lots of things. I’ll probably go to hell for it, too. But I think it’s my duty as a parent to join the PTA/PTSA as a visible cue to my kids that I’m all about their schooling. Not that they notice, but they might someday.

And frankly, when I die and someone’s writing my obit, I want them to be able to say I was a longtime PTA member. Because when you read that in someone’s obituary, don’t you just figure they’re Mom of the Year material?

OK, so before you start rolling your eyes and assuming I’m just sitting at home, watching reality TV and eating chocolates while my progeny are preparing to be the leaders of tomorrow, let me just say that I volunteer at school. I do all the crap jobs that no one else wants to do – reshelving library books, going to the food bank to pick up extras for our school program for needy kids, cutting apart laminated essays for the second-grade teacher. It’s not glamorous, but it’s the kind of thing I’d rather do than sit in a meeting and bitch about how last year’s PTA dropped the ball on the cookie-dough fundraiser.

However, I long ago gave up actually being involved in the running of any of these myriad PTAs I belong to. Like I said, groups and I don’t mix. I did, though, try my hand at this officer thing in the early days of my stay-at-home motherhood, with disastrous results.

Without going into much detail – I seriously can’t for legal reasons – I ended up in dog court, defending my pooches and my reputation against scurrilous allegations from none other than a fellow PTA member. The whole incident began in the PTA and spilled over into the neighborhood. And that’s all I can say about that in writing. If you want the whole story, you’ll have to buy me a beer.

Still, it’s been six years since that debacle, and those memories have softened somewhat around the edges. So last year, I eased back into a little PTA involvement, working at the fall book fair, doing whatever needed to be done that no one else wanted to do.

Then came spring and what should have been preparations for our school flower sale. It had been an annual event since 2004. It didn’t start as a PTA affair, but in the last few years the PTA had taken it over. But the spring wore on, and no information on the flower sale floated around.

So about two weeks before the date it should have happened – the Saturday before Mother’s Day – I ran into a former PTA officer at a hardware store. We both were buying annuals. I told her I was stocking up on flowers since it appeared our school wasn’t selling them this year. We agreed it was weird.

Then that night, I was at an end-of-the-year band concert when another friend told me she’d heard the flower sale was canceled because the PTA had never paid the grower for the flowers from the 2010 sale.

Whoa. How much money were we talking about? About $1,200. Not a ginormous amount, but seriously. They’d had the money. What did they do with it?

The word on the street was that the PTA tried and tried to reach the grower, but no one ever answered the phone. So they just kept all the money.

Geez. Every morning of the world, our school principal makes like a deejay on the morning announcements and implores students and staff to, “Do the Right Thing. Treat People Right.” Every. Single. Day.

I was livid. What did they do with the money? Supposedly, there wasn’t enough in the PTA coffers to send the school’s fourth graders to the state capital, but the PTA had apparently embezzled some money. Holy cow!

So I contacted the grower, who said he’d never received the money. I asked him to e-mail me an invoice.

Then I made an appointment with the principal and told him the whole thing, even the part about the PTA officers claiming that the principal had tried calling the grower but that his call had never been returned. Pure fiction, apparently.

The principal told me to get him the invoice and he’d personally drive it the 45 minutes to the country greenhouse. So I did. And he did. Somehow, the PTA coughed up the money.

And now, I’m a non-entity to the PTA again. By the end of May, the officers looked right through me. Stopped talking when I came anywhere near.

It kind of hurt. I mean, no one likes to be ostracized. But was I surprised? Not especially.

So, yeah. I’m a PTA member. Big whoop.