Monday, November 28, 2011

"Ring a Ling... Tis the Season for the Salvation Army Bell Ringers and Hope "

With rising unemployment, draining governmental assistance, depleting donations for non-profits, and the strain upon our society and individuals, the call of giving will be back again by the Salvation Army bell ringers. And though most people put $1 or loose change into the iconic kettle it is the smallest amount(s) that add up to bigger things for those in need. Bigger things that not only can make a family or an individual's holiday brighter, yet bigger things for so many that need it throughout the year.

According to a USA TODAY article written by Nanci Hellmich, nationwide approximately 25,000 bell ringers will be working either by volunteering or by getting paid throughout the holiday season ringing those bells. Many of those who do the kettles for the Salvation Army are the homeless, the once homeless, youths trying to make money for their families, or the unemployed hoping to enrich the season for their family. And the many of those that do volunteer to work as a bell ringer are giving back for previous assistance that they have received, they know someone who has received help, or just volunteer in the spirit of the holidays. The Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign contributes millions of dollars to help fund not only the holidays each year, but it funds programs for both families and individuals in need each day.

As a child I still recall a woman in a wheelchair ringing a bell in front of the former Zayre's store in Beverly, MA. My mother explained why money was being dropped into a red kettle by shoppers entering and leaving the store. Though my own family did not have much my mom promised me that I could take the loose change and when we left the store I would be able to place the change into the kettle. The importance and the joy I experienced and still remember to this day is something I recall whenever I hear the clink and the jingle of donations and the chiming of the bells. It is a ring that has helped my own family growing up and it is a ring that has helped me as a mother with my own children.

The ring of the bells do certainly attract the attention of passersby, yet when Captain Joseph McFee wanted attention to fund a Christmas dinner for the poor of San Francisco in 1891 he devised an idea. The kettle program was conceived and since it has expanded across the United States, but also around the world including donations made via mail and on-line at Though the Salvation Army is a worldwide organization, each local community has their own independent branch of the Salvation Army that will distribute all monies collected within the communities that they are responsible for. The Salvation Army of the North Shore
 not only reaches people in need, but most importantly it helps those within our local community in Salem, MA and the North Shore area.

The gift of hope provided in large part by local bell ringers is a year round gift. Accepting help is something many of us now endure today and receiving often times can lead to giving; giving of yourself if not through a dollar amount, but in other ways through volunteering, or simply by just a kind gesture or a kind word to someone else. Locally during the holidays a family makes a choice to receive a Thanksgiving meal, a Christmas dinner certificate to purchase food for the holiday or instead to receive gifts for their children from the Angel Tree or Adopt a Family programs. And the Red Kettle Campaign is a crucial link to keeping the Salvation Army operating in order to continue to assist so many; it is a crucial link to the Salvation Army's Community Lunch Program, the Community Food Pantry, youth programs, rental assistance, utility assistance, and prescription assistance to those in need. A crucial link that began by a thoughtful man and that has grown today, "from the heart of one, into the hearts of two, into the hearts of everyone - Happy holidays to all and God bless you!
Salem Location:
93 North Street
Salem, MA 01970-3963

Phone: (978) 744-5181
Fax: (978) 741-1159

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Singing for the Troops

In 1941 a nonprofit was created for morale and recreation for our soldiers. This private organization soon began a tradition of entertainment that attracted the iconic stars from back home that populated the big screen during this era. One of the most renowned icons to entertain the troops was Bob Hope and in 1996 the U.S. Congress considered this iconic legend as an honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces. Bob Hope was a legend that truly believed in supporting our troops especially during times of war. In 1990 Bob Hope gave the gift of himself to our American servicepeople with a final Christmas show during Operation Desert Shield. His support even extended to all royalties being signed over to the United Service Organizations  Inc. (USO)  from his book, The Last Christmas Show. Today the final curtain may have been drawn for Bob Hope, yet his memory and his influence is still alive today - especially in the heart of a once local girl from Salem, MA Darlene Louf.

As a little girl Darlene shared many things with her grandmother. Perhaps, the most influential time was when the two of them hunkered down to watch the Bob Hope specials on television. A small girl, who already had the voice of an angel often she sang with her grandmother. Darlene recalled one very specific memory from that time, "Oh I must have been about 8 years old and I remember saying to my grandma I'm going to sing for the troops someday just like Bob Hope!" When Darlene was asked why she wanted to entertain and support the troops she told her grandmother that it was the happiness that Bob Hope was giving through music and through himself - a piece of home that he always gave to our armed servicepeople; a true inspiration for a young child to witness.

It is a part of Darlene still today as she honors both her grandfather and her aunt that served as well as all the troops in anyway that she can. Believing that anyone that either has served or that still serves us and our country, Darlene advocates to let troops always know they are not forgotten nor are their families forgotten either. Working with an organization called Guard Support( that is located in Beverly, MA as well as maintaining her own Facebook page called Voices for the Troops she is someone who sings locally for those who give so much for our freedom because through music it is a way of giving back and making others smile.

Making people smile and giving back is a gift that is within all of us. Though, it is your choice on whether you choose to keep this precious gift for yourself or to share this precious gift with others. Darlene Louf chooses to share like the USO still shares today providing a variety of programs and services to U.S. military personnel and their families. Bob Hope's legend still lives on as our nation's love and support will forever live on for our troops. Our prayers and our blessings always to those who have sacrificed and to those who do continue to sacrifice for us all.

Voices For our Troops on Facebook!/pages/Voices-for-the-Troops/151737034862132

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Place where people do share a Part of Them (North Shore Career Center)

I for the first time had taken a chance and entered into the world of Starbucks this morning in Salem, MA. It was a world of so many different varieties of beverages that my mind was temporarily boggled until I saw under the word "peppermint" on the wall menu the word "hot chocolate." Thankfully, my oldest daughter had rehearsed with me how to precisely order at the counter so I did not sound flustered when I placed my order. I was there to meet a special woman, a woman that I have yet to meet in the physical sense; she is my Audrey Hepburn and our correspondence during many past months has shown to me a beauty that has not only been in her words, but also must be inside of her soul. Having no idea as to what she really looked like I sat and for the first time since I can recall in a long, long time I actually relaxed at a sunny table near the window – way in the back so the chaos of those entering and leaving would not hinder Tammy’s time; my time for me and me alone. Though I was not really alone because the other patrons were either engrossed in conversations with others at their respective tables or working diligently on their laptops. As I made my way to my spot in the back I did smile at one woman in particular and her reaction was as if I had said an expletive to her; however not everyone chooses to share a part of them with another human being with even something as simple as a smile. Yet, another customer was laughing along with her little girl as childhood creativity allowed her to pretend she was a dancer on a stage full of life and full of fun while mom enjoyed her Starbucks treat.

My peppermint hot chocolate did taste heavenly and I savored the flavor as long as I was able. I did not meet with my Audrey Hepburn, but as I was leaving to continue my day I knew that eventually our paths will cross in the physical realm. The cold nip in the air nibbled at my nose and I automatically made my way to the North Shore Career Center in Salem where I often go to either try and find a job or to utilize the career center to help promote my writing which may eventually lead to a writing career that may pay me either as a staff writer or even as a freelance writer instead of just being a contributing columnist. Now, recently I had decided to stop writing if only temporarily as a contributor and truly that particular situation related to my exit had nothing at all with not getting paid; it was related to my principles - to what I consider loyalty that is shared by the editorial staff for their writers and always having a line of communication open between the staff and the writers no matter what. Though I truly believe things are not always done intentionally and yes even I can feel slighted for no particular reason except that is part of who I am.

I left a world at a coffee shop that was unfamiliar to me; however I instinctively ended up where I was comfortable at the North Shore Career Center in Salem, MA;comfort because of my long history with the center and its staff; comfort that stems from a time in my life when the center had a branch location on Congress Street. It was during this difficult time in the life of my family the job counselors, the receptionist, and even the director of the branch office made me know that they really did care - just like the staff does now at the Washington Street location. I recall when my job counselor at that time Rose knew I had no interview clothes to ensure that I had the edge needed to land a job. I felt so professional wearing the black dress pants she got for me and though I did not get that particular job, the kindness that was extended to me is now part of the kindness I try to extend to others. It is a kindness that is reflected when I go to the North Shore Career Center as I am always greeted with a helpful staff, as well as people who do choose to share a part of them with another human with even something as simple as a smile.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blessed Gifts

I drink my coffee waiting for the sun to rise. As I sit in the darkness my two small grandsons are mumbling their sleep stories as my thoughts begin to wander in the early dawn quietness. I remember my now grown children mumbling their sleep stories to me in the morning hours. Smiling as nostalgia envelops me, I am brought back even further to the time when as a little girl I too must have mumbled to my own parents my sleep stories; though my mother tells me to this day that my stories were not just in my dreams because as I grew up my stories were and are to this day a part of who I am.

Mom as usual was right, though as I grew older I wish I took her advice more seriously! Yet, as I reflect upon my life and my experiences in order for me to have become who I am today I had to make my own decisions. And it is because of past decisions, whether they were right or wrong, the events within my life have molded me into a sculpted piece of art that I consider each and every one of us to be - a unique person that gives to our world both good and bad. Not one of us is insignificant, nor obsolete in a place where all of our lives do intertwine. It does not matter what your background is, your financial status, your ethnicity, your sexual choice, or your gender. We are a diverse global world and each and everyone of us do matter.

Growing up one of my biggest dreams was to write to make a difference and to create awareness. Most importantly I write to let my readers know that no matter what their situation is they are not alone and where to get help - if help is what is needed. To this day as I am writing this column the most exciting thing is the phrase "my readers" and seeing my words in print. Print - oh I was an avid reader growing up and many a night I was lost in a book at times all night long stretched out on my parents couch, Print - oh the actual smell of print led me to the illustrated books I would read as a little girl and my own little girl like her mom loved to sniff at the newest books in the children's section of the library, Print - oh the feel and textures of books or newspapers in my hands was and still is a secure sensation; especially my sixth finger which is my pen writing these words first on paper before they are typed on a keyboard.

And it is with these words that I want to let people know that the past year of writing "From the Streets of Salem" or even updating my Facebook page has been a blessing given back to me; a blessing that the editorial staff at the Salem Gazette had given to me when they took a chance on a first-time columnist. I have met many people, people from my past, my present, and eventually my future, and as I have heard many stories from others the gift given back to me has been and is being able to do what I truly believe is my purpose in life - to write. And I would not be able to live my childhood dream if it were not for you - the people who share their stories with me and the people who read my columns.

I keep an ongoing list that contains my ideas for future columns. The "list" is valuable to me and gives me an outline of my own adult sleep stories - sleep stories that will eventually end up in print; stories written word by word, emotion by emotion, experience from experience, memory by memory, that I am truly blessed to write - stories that will lead me to meet more wonderful people, stories that evoke feelings within me that I may have forgotten about.

So, I am blessed as I sit in the darkness waiting for the sun to rise, drinking my coffee, listening to me grandsons mumbling their sleep stories to me. I am blessed with the gift of words, the gift of writing, and the gift of all of you my readres. Happy Holidays!!

P.S. The valuable "list" that I carry with my future column ideas will stay just that for now a list for things do happen for a reason. Most importantly, I want to thank everyone that has made my dream a reality by allowing me into your lives with either your own sleep stories or as a reader of my columns. Please enjoy my last two columns that will appear sometime in the Salem Gazette during the month of January - God Bless.