Making Halloween count

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Lorin isn’t sure why Halloween used to scare her so much.

It was something about the masks.

By the time she was 27 months old, Lorin was in her fourth foster home. She was born toxic.

Those who know the confident, beautiful and accomplished 15-year-old Lafayette High sophomore struggle to believe the circumstances of her beginnings.

She is first chair clarinet in Lafayette High’s symphonic band. She’s a volleyball standout. She’s in all honors classes (except one) — but more than all of that, she is kind and gentle.

“My birth mom was on drugs through most of her pregnancy. It’s a wonder I’m alive, but then, to have been given talents like music and sports — it’s such a privilege,” she said. “I was adopted.”

And in that last sentence, Lorin believes her blessings began.

She doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her. She credits her parents, Katherine and Keith Prejean, with making the difference in her life. Both of her parents have built their careers on serving others. Katherine earned a Masters in psychology and works with the Louisiana Office of Behavioral Health. Keith works with women and children with HIV AIDS at Acadiana Cares.

“My parents support me, sometimes even when they don’t agree with me,” Lorin said. “They help me — not just because of their jobs. Even outside of their work, they just help people. They care about people. They take care of people in general.

Being around them has shown me how to treat people and what I’m supposed to be as a person.”

Katherine says that when little Lorin came to live with them, she was traumatized for reasons they’ll never fully know or understand. Keith and Katherine fell in love with the little girl and began the process of adoption, which takes a while. When Lorin was 4 and a half, her adoption was final. The one thing she wanted to do to celebrate was go to Chuck E. Cheese. Once there, Lorin was terrified of Chuck E. Cheese.

“She was so afraid of the mouse in the mask,” Katherine said.

Masks in general scared her a lot, but it was Halloween that really got to Lorin most.

“She wanted to celebrate the fun of Halloween, but in the first five years she was with us, she only went trick or treating to two houses,” her mother said. “She wanted to imagine and pretend and be a part of it, but she just couldn’t.”

Years passed and the fun of Halloween eluded Lorin through her trick or treat years.

And then a young brother and sister came along. Lorin was 12, too old to trick or treat, but she was just getting comfortable with the whole scenario.

Her resourceful mom developed a plan. Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF raises funds to help save children’s lives in more than 190 countries and territories by providing immunizations, education, health care, nutrition, clean water and sanitation.

After all trick or treat donations have been submitted, UNICEF identifies the countries where these needs are the greatest and reports on the specific programs to which the money has been allocated. All of UNICEF’s work “springs from the belief that we can reach a day when zero children die from preventable causes,” according to their website.

“When Lorin was ready, Trick or Treat for UNICEF was a perfect win-win-win situation for her,” Katherine said.

This Halloween will be her fourth effort to collect funds for UNICEF.

“My mom’s friend was thinking about Halloween ideas. She remembered the UNICEF box and said she would donate $100 if I did it again this year,” Lorin said.

Katherine said her daughter’s shy nature makes the whole experience slightly challenging, but Lorin couldn’t pass up $100 for kids in need.

“My needs are met. I even have extra stuff like volleyball and band. But other people don’t have their basic needs met,” Lorin said. “Collecting money and sending it to children who are struggling — like I could have struggled — makes me feel good. I look at my life and their lives. I know if I could do something to make their lives happier, then that’s what I need to do.”

Katherine said that in the week before Halloween she and Lorin pass out cards in their neighborhood that explain what UNICEF is and that Lorin will be collecting money for them — even pennies. Many of the people 35 and over remember the UNICEF Halloween boxes from their childhood, which also makes the experience easier and more fun.

If Lorin gets change, the family takes it to a CoinStar location. “Lorin puts in her account number and it goes straight to UNICEF. I don’t have to roll or count, and we don’t even have to send it in,” Katherine said.

All Trick or Treat for UNICEF money counted at CoinStar automatically goes to the charitable organization.

“I do this because people who aren’t as privileged as me need help,” Lorin said. “It’s for a good cause. It helps children — and nobody has to donate a lot. A single dollar will go far.”

And in the act of helping others, Halloween isn’t so scary for Lorin anymore.

 

For more information about Trick or Treat for UNICEF, go to trickortreatforunicef.org.

 

 

 

Can’t we just all get along?

Can we find a better way?

Republicans. Democrats.

Truth. Lies.

Black. White.

Good. Evil.

One side or the other.

Love. Hate.

Friend. Enemy.

No in-between.

My biggest frustration with American politics has been our tendency to polarize the most basic issues rather than finding and building on common ground. I realize that’s easier said than done, but if we continue the political mindset of winning at all costs rather than doing what’s best for our country at large; I wonder where the situation will take us.

As I’ve thought about our country’s political dilemma this week, I remembered a student I met when I was teaching English in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s. He was a refugee living in Slovakia. He was originally from Sarajevo, which at that time was a city in between countries. In 1984, Sarajevo had hosted the Winter Olympics. It had been the picture postcard of global unity and peace.

A mere nine years changed everything.

The student tried in his broken English to tell me his personal story of what was happening in his country, beyond the big fact that the Serbs and Croats were waging a horrible war against each other. To be honest, I can’t remember which side he was on, but at any rate, he was a man without a country.

Thinking that a visual aid might help him with his struggle to explain things, I pulled out a map of his homeland. The moment I unfolded it and he realized what it was, tears began to run down his face. The new European map I had nonchalantly stuffed in my backpack was the first one he had seen of the former Yugoslavia, broken into so many different pieces.

What had been a unified place, even though it was under dire circumstances, was at that point a broken place. He looked at the map a long time before he spoke.

“Here is the strange thing,” he said. “For the first 20 years of my life, we all lived there with no real problems. In one house lived a Serbian family. In the next house was a family of Croatians. Christian. Muslim. It didn’t matter. We were different, but we were one place. Then it all fell apart, and the same neighbors who had lived beside each other and borrowed each other’s sugar were killing each other. I still don’t understand it.”

Neither did I.

Twenty years later, though the scars of war are still there, Sarajevo is lovely again. Wars end. People move on. What was once an issue that caused one countryman to hate another passes.

I wonder if we as Americans have the capacity to work through our differences and move on to a better, more productive place. Turning everyone with different views into an enemy isn’t working out so well for us.

How do we turn this thing around? We’re all here. One side of the political spectrum is not going to persuade the other to join them — just like the people in Sarajevo weren’t going to convert from one religion to another. Do we have to wage war against the other side to work through to an end? Hate, name-calling and mockery are not helping. Is it possible to focus on the common ground more than the differences?

Getting personal, many of us are able to look past the differences we have with people we love, focusing on the reasons we care about them more than we focus on the reasons they drive us crazy. Could we do that on a bigger level?

Can we at least try?

 

 

 

 

Don’t mind the gap…

willgapITV_428x269_to_468x312Never mind that it was good enough for Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, there are plenty of other reasons I believe the United States and the vast majority of its students are missing out on the mega-growth opportunity a planned and programmed gap year of service would offer. Gap years between high school and college are standard practice for many in England, though they could occur at the end of college too.

A select few American universities, including Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, applaud the practice and have formal policies and allow students to defer admission. According to the university’s admissions web page, Harvard encourages admitted students to take a year off “to travel, pursue a special project or activity, work, or spend time in another meaningful way,” and has done so for nearly 40 years.

In fact, Harvard’s dean of admissions, William R. Fitzsimmons, has written an article called, Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation. He writes, “It is common to encounter even the most successful students, who have won all the ‘prizes,’ stepping back and wondering if it was all worth it. Professionals in their thirties and forties – physicians, lawyers, academics, business people and others – sometimes give the impression that they are dazed survivors of some bewildering life-long boot-camp. Some say they ended up in their profession because of someone else’s expectations, or that they simply drifted into it without pausing to think whether they really loved their work. Often they say they missed their youth entirely, never living in the present, always pursuing some ill-defined future goal.”

Fitzsimmons goes on to say that the results of having growing numbers of Harvard students take a year off to volunteer, serve others or work on a project have been “uniformly positive.” There are plenty of programs that help match students with volunteer opportunities, which aren’t expensive — certainly much less that the standard first year of college, no matter the college. My point is that taking a year off to go some place different and serve others shouldn’t be limited to fancy-schmacey schools in the Northeast. There is plenty of evidence to show that gap years between high school and college are linked to higher motivation once the student enters higher education.

I believe most students most anywhere would do well to take some time outside the classroom to learn more about the world and how it works — and doing so doesn’t have to break the bank. It just requires planning and the courage to think in a different way. Even of the students heading to Harvard, not all can afford to travel to exotic, far-away places — there are plenty of service opportunities not so far from home too.

If more colleges, counselors and parents encouraged students to take a structured year to serve others between high school and college, who knows what differences it could make? According to the 2013-2014 TOPS Questions and Answers for High School Students and Counselors (revised August 28, 2013), presented by the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, even TOPS offers qualifying students the opportunity to wait until “the first semester following the first anniversary of the date you graduated high school” to enter college until.

Of course, every student entering college is not going to choose to do a gap year, but if colleges made the process easier, more could — and we can’t estimate the difference creating a spirit of service and building stronger work ethics in more students could make.

Furthermore, a gap year doesn’t have to occur the year between high school and college. It could happen any time — after college and before a job, in-between jobs or after your youngest child graduates from high school. Whenever someone chooses to do it, I believe a year of serving others is an opportunity for growth and the chance to make the world a better place.

Florida Water, anyone?

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Last weekend I found myself volunteering near the finish line at a local crosscountry meet. As teens crossed the finish line, they were exhausted, and some collapsed. Even so, my hat is off to them — running multiple miles in the best of conditions is grueling, but doing so in Louisiana’s heat and humidity is mind boggling to me.
Midway through the fifth and final race of the day, two men connected to St. Thomas More High School came to the finish line area, their arms full of faded pink strips of damp looking towels. They were clearly excited and were discussing their girls finishing the race strong. In fact, one of their girls won the race. When she did, one of the men handed her a light pink piece of towel and said, “Put that around your neck. It will feel good and cool you down.”
The exchange occurred less than four feet from me. I wasn’t sure what those towels had been soaked in, but I knew it was something that these fellows considered special and seemed to help the worn out runners. I asked one of them, “What are those towels soaked in?”
One of the gentlemen said, “Florida Water,” in a manner that assured me I was the only one around who had no idea what Florida Water was.
In perfect timing, a lady standing beside me said, “I thought that’s what it was. My grandmother always used it.”
Having spent 12 years in Cajunland, I’ve learned when to keep my mouth shut and when to ask questions. Something about the way they were acting made me think this was some really old something, and for some reason the smell reminded me of my grandmother. I suspected whatever Florida Water was that I’d be better off learning in the privacy of my laptop. The distinctive and mysterious aroma of the towels stayed with me. When I got home, I did some research.
Turns out, there was much to learn about Florida Water. It was, according to Lanman and Kemp, the makers of Florida Water, first produced way back in 1808. In fact, it’s the oldest American cologne still being sold. Florida Water is the American version of Eau de Cologne or Cologne Water. “It has the same citrus basis as Cologne Water, but shifts the emphasis to sweet orange (rather than the lemon and neroli of the original Cologne Water) and adds spicy notes including lavender and clove. The name refers to the fabled Fountain of Youth, which was said to be located in Florida, as well as the ‘flowery’ nature of the scent,” according to Wikipedia.
I wondered where one might find Florida Water, and it turns out that it’s at most every pharmacy. In fact, it’s in a box right on the counter by the register at the one I visited — less than $4 a bottle. The packaging and label are the same design they used back in 1808 (other than the bottle being plastic). I bought some. If it could help the crosscountry runners, I figured I could use some refreshing myself.
In my opinon, it’s heavier on the clove aroma than the floral.
The Internet was full of references to baseball teams in the South using small coolers of ice water with a couple of capfuls of Florida Water to soak towels. They then apply the towels to their pulse points and necks to refresh and cool down — just like they did at the crosscountry meet.
But wait there’s more.
A little more research reveals that Florida Water is also used as a cleanser, as in spirit cleanser. As in, voodoo and other magical practices “spiritual perfume” and in practices of lighting it in a fireproof container and allowing the flame to warm hands to “call money.”
I did not see that coming.
I asked an array of friends if they knew or had used Florida Water. Many of them are big believers in the Florida Water in a cooler with ice water and towels to cool down after tennis, soccer or baseball.
Thankfully, not a one of them mentioned voodoo.