Monday, December 11, 2006

Food for Fines

I don’t often toot my own horn. No, honestly. But I want to share the story of a program I started that is now run all around the country. I will admit that similar programs began around the same time, so I suppose I really can’t say mine was the original. However, it was one of the first, and I did come up with it on my own. By the way, did I mention that I was 10?

In the late fall of 1989, a lot of people were being laid off. Where I lived, in southern NH, things seemed particularly tough. Many people in the area worked for the computer company Digital, and in the struggling economy, whole groups were let go at one time. My parents were among the lucky ones who made it through with jobs intact.

In those days, I spent a good deal of time at the public library. Mondays and Thursdays it was open until 8, so I could walk over after school and my parents could pick me up when they got out of work. One afternoon, right around this time of year, I was sitting in the children’s area and for whatever reason was thinking about the local food pantry. There had recently been a lot of publicity about the need for donations as the number of families using their resources had increased. Suddenly, it hit me: why couldn’t the library collect non-perishable food items in placeof fines for overdue books? It would benefit both parties. The library would get their books back, and the food pantry would get their shelves filled. The children’s librarian agreed, and so did the library director. I named it “Food for Fines,” we set up a huge box for donations, and the local newspaper even did a story on me. And if you Google the phrase“Food for Fines,” you’ll get about 1.8 million results.

It was such a small thing, and yet I'm sure has helped thousands of people around the country. I try to remember the Food for Fines program whenever I try to come up with some big idea that will change the world. Maybe it doesn't have to be a big idea. Small, simple changes can make big impacts too. There are two quotes from Mother Teresa (one of my heroes) that I think really get this idea: "If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one," and "In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love." Yup, I think that about sums it up.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

New Orleans rising...or is it?

There's big excitement in New Orleans today. The hometown football team, the Saints, are returning to play in the Superdome, an arena that during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina last year became a symbol of all that went wrong during the disaster. People were going without food or clean water, or bathroom facilities. People were dying in a place that was supposed to be their salvation.

And now the Superdome has undergone a $186 million renovation, is sparkling with newness and rebirth, and will re-open today with roaring crowds and music groups including U2 and Green Day. Great, right? What was a symbol of devastation and tragedy is now a symbol of hope and renewal. Right?

Well, I'm not quite sure. Something just doesn't sit right with me. While all that money (not public, to be sure) was poured into a sports arena, people are still trying to just get their homes gutted, nevermind trying to rebuild. Money is slow to come from government agencies, and I'd guess that money to charitable agencies has slown down as well. Sure, re-opening the Superdome means jobs, and income to the area, and people filling up empty hotel rooms.

But who gets to enjoy those games? Who gets to go and cheer in that brand new stadium? Not the people who are still trying to piece their lives together, the people whose homes still look as they did a year ago. Not the people who live in New Orleans (hence filling hotel rooms). And from the looks of the news report I saw last night, not any person of color.

So while the renovation and re-opening of the Superdome is a light of the promise of New Orlean's return to its former glory, I'm still asking myself if indeed everything will go back to the way it was before Katrina. Because I don't think that's a something to aspire to.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

What's in a name?

I've decided to change my name.

This is not a decision I'm taking lightly, or making spontaneously. This is something that I've been mulling over for a few months now. I've spoken to someone who did it herself last year. I've spoken to my family (who all think it's weird, but are supportive of me). From other people, the reactions have ranged from, "Huh, that's interesting," to "Really?!? WHY??" So, why am I doing it?

Well, to start off, it's my last name I'm changing, not my first. I think Elizabeth/Beth/Bethy fits me quite well. And I'm not going crazy with the new last name, I'm actually just changing it back to what it was a few generations ago--Boisvert (for you non-French speakers, it's pronounce bwah- VAIR). So I'm reclaiming that French-Canadian heritage. Although it has been argued that my family has very little, if any, French-Canadian culture left (my ancestor forbade speaking French and pushed for total assimilation into American society), I feel that it's a start to at least have to stop explaining how my last name is really French.

Although my family does not know this yet (though of course they may now), I am also adding my mother's family name, Cates, as a second middle name. I've considered at some point using both (hyphenated or not), but at the moment I'll just revel in having a slightly shorter (though much harder to spell and pronounce) last name.

This was a very interesting summer for me. While not eventful in the traditional sense--my days mostly consisted of babysitting, reading, and working in the library--it was hugely significant to my sense of self. I inadvertently set out on a journey of self-discovery, and whoa, did I discover myself. I'll save all those details for another blog, but suffice to say that by the end of June, I already was feeling not quite like my old self, and by August, I felt like I was just not the same person that had started out 2006. So this is one way to embrace that new self.

Re-naming is not something really new or different or trendy. The Bible places a lot of emphasis on names and naming, and there are quite a few instances of people being given new names at significant points in their lives. Take for example, Abraham and Sarah (formerly Abram and Sarai), Israel (formerly Jacob), and Peter (formerly Simon). There are also many places when God calls a person by his or her name, like he did to Samuel. Think, too, on all the names Isaiah gives to the coming king: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Now, although I am assuredly excited about claiming my new name (though not the paperwork that goes with it), I have moments, too, where I know I will miss my old name, and it certainly will always sound a part of me. But that happens with change, doesn't it? While we may be thrilled and ready to move on to our next place, or challenge, or journey, there is usually a part of us that is saddened at leaving the old behind, for we know we can never it will never be that way again. Even if we go back to visit, even if we are with the same people, life continues to push on, continues moving forward, and nothing is the same.

So even as I embrace my new self, and new name, I also look back on who I have been. I am not so much leaving it behind as packing it up to take with me as I too push on and continue moving forward.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

In the beginning...

So I'm biting the bullet and falling in with this whole blog trend. It's Barbara's fault, really. She gets paid to blog. As a poor seminary student, I'd love that to happen to me! (Besides the fact that having to blog would be a great excuse to put off reading Kant.)

In this space I'll try my best to avoid the inane chronicles of what I had for breakfast and what the weather was and instead focus on the struggles and triumphs of my late 20-something progressive female seminary student life. Hopefully that should be at least a bit more interesting.

Until the next time...

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