Saturday, August 15, 2009

We graduated our Rosie's Girls yesterday and a prouder gaggle of grownups have rarely been seen ...

The girls were gathered in a circle at the head of the community room at the Coronado YMCA -- seated in beautiful chairs they'd constructed from scratch and painted in every shape and color imaginable after their introduction to the use of power tools. Such a proud collection of happy faces is rare, indeed.

There were proud parents (mostly moms), two of the NPS women equestriennes from Fort Mason who'd met with them during the session; several Sheroes who returned to be with them on this final day of the program; members of the City's Public Works Dept. who had been in on the project from the start; the director of YouthWorks, a city summer job's program into which many of the girls will transition for the rest of the summer; members of the Richmond Police Dept., YMCA staffers, some funders (including Chevron/Texaco and Wells Fargo Bank), and as many rangers as are in our management system. What a day! If grins were dollars we'd have made up the richest collection of wealth on the planet.

Our Rosie's Girls spent Thursday night aboard a submarine moored in the San Francisco harbor and were still excited! They wished for "just one more week." As for the adult leaders, immediate discussions were already initiated -- hints of plans for next year. Burned out? Hardly. Even Ms. Vanessa "Mom" Calloway," their intrepid program director, appeared ready for another round. The community came together to make this happen and is ready to roll up its sleeves to continue to develop its model.

As an aside, there were moments -- especially after being drawn in against my will to present as a shero last Thursday -- that I truly felt irrelevant and old. My age placed me so far beyond even the imaginations of these youngsters that I found it almost impossible to relate to them - at least not from that perspective. I was perfectly at ease as just another adult figure in the room; on human terms, which holds its own value. But when re-introduced to them as a "Shero" I stumbled and felt incoherent. The distance between was simply too great and the time line impossible to comprehend. I felt embarrassed standing before them . I could have been their great-grandmother, ferheavensake! Until that point, I'd been simply, "Miss Betty," a comfortable being in the room. We'd been together a number of times, but now I was setting myself apart -- or so it seemed. I'd become a "Shero," and it felt different somehow.

I know when my presence is relevant and contributes to events -- and when it does not. It's a feeling thing. Perception. Hard to explain without sounding self-deprecating. Yesterday I wanted to simply be in the room, uncelebrated, blending in -- and regretted being singled out in any way. Fortunately it was short-lived; a gesture of little consequence, after all. But it may have heralded a new phase in the aging process. Will I begin now to find myself in places where I've lost relevance, really? Was it because I have grandchildren in the middle school years and with whom my relationship is clearly-defined -- where their love and respect is unquestioned but -- are they impressed with Grandma's exploits? -- a little, maybe, but that's old stuff. My sons are far more taken with their park ranger mom and her derring-do. Maybe one generations is about as far back in time most of us can go before we lose focus.

Maybe that's it.

Photo: Victoria Jones, Vice-president of Clorox Corporation, who visited on Tuesday, August 13th.
Pamela Freund-Striplin, Violist for San Francisco Opera, Symphony, and Artistic Director for
the Gold Coast Chamber Music group of Lafayette, California.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Life is good ... no, not good ... sensational!

...and it is not because I've won the lottery (refuse to play on principle, actually), or, that I woke up this morning wrinkle-free and with hair follicles reactivated. Nah. It has simply been one of those stretches of time when even the smallest wishes have been granted, even those unspoken and deeply buried in my psyche.

Various segments of my past were reunited, starting with Paul and Shirley, but from my more recent past -- times from years of working with the community in other capacities. My world has always been nicely peopled, a fact that has enriched life considerably and added to the self confidence I now seem to have achieved.

Case in point: A brand new program, "Rosie's Girls" (a local version of a national program) was introduced into our daily park lives this summer that is so exciting and that called upon the wealth of years of contacts with some of the most exciting women one might wish for. The assignment meant going through my contacts list to gather together an impressive group of women with whom I'd shared segments of my own life over the years.

Rosie's Girls recruited 24 youngsters from two local middle schools to participate in a 3 week urban summer day camp which would broaden their horizons by introducing them to non-traditional work place roles in the tradition of "Rosie the Riveter". We (the park) would partner with the school district, the city's Dept. of Public Works, a local bank, private industries, public safety agencies, the YMCA, etc., which would sponsor exciting experiences in order to expand the choices of youngsters whose own life choices might be seriously limited by a number of challenges. During camp they would be given hands-on experiences with a variety of skills (simple electrical and plumbing repairs, carpentry, cement work, fire safety, landscaping, wall-climbing, an overnight on a submarine after dinner at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, visits to the Marine Headlands, to a fabrication studio where they would create concrete stepping stones for a victory garden planted by kids in another summer program. And all this would be experienced in jumpsuits with Rosie's Girls emblazoned on the backs and over a breast pocket, with matching baseball caps, work gloves, safety glasses; all items will be theirs to keep when the program ends. (How cool is that?)

My assignment was a relatively limited one. My outreach co-ranger, Carla, was acting as lead. I was to come up with a "Shero" (term coined by Maya Angelou for female heroes) to give a lunchtime presentation for each day; successful women from every walk of life who would share lunch and do a Q&A with these 12-14 year-olds. They were to bring along photos of themselves (maybe at their geekiest) at about those ages -- talk about what inspired them at that time and how those ambitions shifted over the years; if indeed they did change. They were asked to say something about the challenges they'd faced and how their current life measures up to those early dreams. The Sheroes were sensational!

They included the mayor of the city and two former mayors; a vice-president of an international corporation; a member of the California State Assembly; a violist from the San Francisco symphony and opera companies who also plays for soundtracks for video games and films at George Lucas's Skywalker Ranch; a popular R&B singer; the woman who heads the education committee of the Tellurite Film Festival in Colorado; a playwright with two productions currently on stage; two national park superintendents; two authors, a poet, and a publisher; a juvenile justice specialist, several feminist leaders, etc. It was an amazing collection of inspiring role models. I've already begun my list for next year's program, and we have plans to bring the original group together for an evaluation luncheon very soon. One note I do need to add is that there was not one refusal among the busily engaged women invited to participate. Some came from quite a distance away to share of themselves, and they did so with caring and enthusiasm. Something that I'm sure was contagious and filled the room to over-flowing each day.

I can hardly imagine the kind of impact such an exposure to strong and accomplished women will have on youngsters (and these were mostly children of color) in these formative years. I will provide links to the Rosie's Girls website as soon as I can figure out the process. Meanwhile, I'm anxious to share the good news.

Spent most of yesterday afternoon drafting a brief essay for an online website involved in African American tourism for the Convention and Visitor's Bureau of the City of Richmond. Since I was writing while riding high on the Rosie's Girls experience and Friday's installation of the beautiful stepping stones at Verde elementary school's victory garden -- the article wrote itself with minimal help from me.