Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Soup's On!

It began (like many scathingly brilliant ideas) as a short conversation in the hallway at Song and Spirit. Bro. Al was carrying a large can of powdered chicken bouillon and stopped for a moment to talk about a new initiative he had in mind.

"Chicken soup for the hungry!" he said with great enthusiasm. 

 He continued, "A fellow I used to work with downtown found a recipe that uses canned chicken and chicken bouillon and we just have to add water, noodles and a little seasonings and we're good to go."

Hmmm... he'd lost us at 'canned chicken'....

"Don't we have friends at area synagogues who might want to pitch in to make"real" chicken soup? Who better to make chicken soup than our Jewish friends! All the Temples have such active Social Action committees and Teen Youth Groups - maybe they'd like to pitch in?"

Within hours, we had firm commitments from two area Temples with whom we had worked on many other projects. Both were delighted to find volunteers of all ages who wanted to participate in making homemade soups of all kinds to help their neighbors in need.

So nearly every week - for more than 4 months now - Song and Spirit picks up 5-gallon containers of hot, homemade soup made by volunteers at Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy and Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park. (A third Temple is coming on board soon!)

Outreach Coordinator, Greg Allen, works tirelessly with Bro. Al to deliver the huge, heavy pots to area shelters struggling to find enough to feed lunch to the many in our area who are in need.

And Greg never ceases to be amazed at the sincere gratitude of those he serves. "You know," he said after returning from a soup run on a frigid, winter afternoon, "All they had to offer for lunch today at the shelter was a single hotdog on a bun, and then we came in with five gallons of piping hot soup. Honestly, I don't know who was more excited - the people who got to serve the soup or the people who got to eat it."

He paused, thinking, "Then again - maybe it was ME!"

What's so important about having an Outreach program at the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace? We allow everyday people the opportunity to act as the hands of God - and they become people who make a difference in the world.

Monday, March 30, 2015

I AM... an Artist!

On any given day, the volunteers who create art in the Mosaic Studio at Song and Spirit might enter our work space in different ways - happy, anticipating a fun, creative experience, or preoccupied with worry about a sick friend or relative. They might come full of ideas or with little artistic motivation; embracing  a new project or pulling out one they've struggled with for several weeks. Some come in practically skipping(!), we've had others come during and after arduous cancer treatments, weak, but thrilled to see friends old and new.

And a few, like J., arrive with... nothing.

We were approached awhile back by a small nonprofit that assists young women who find themselves alone with an unplanned pregnancy. Might a few young ladies join our art tile volunteers for a morning or two each month while they await the birth of their babies?

And, that's how we met J.

She arrived a few weeks ago to a room full of strangers all laughing, snapping glass, discussing everything from the art in front of them to the news of the world. A very quiet 'hello' and a tour of the gift shop for inspiration and J. sat down to tackle an art form she'd known nothing about 15 minutes earlier.

She is an artist, choosing her colors carefully, afraid to make a mistake, but drawn by something she feels very deeply. When she sees her first effort grouted, buffed and polished - she sees a 6-inch square like every other piece in the room, but HER OWN in a way that is deeply important, even spiritual....  This first effort is given as a gift to her and she takes it back to the residence to share with the others - setting it in a place of honor where everyone can see.

She's back a week later - and selects a complicated Spanish tile image for her inspiration. Long-time volunteers have not tackled such a tile, but she was so excited to try that we didn't have the heart to suggest something else. She came back each week - for three weeks(!) - cutting tiny bits of glass, learning about contrast and color placement, growing more and more comfortable as an artist and, well, just as herself.

Finally, the last tiny piece of glass was dropped into place and the tile was put in a pile of others awaiting grout. Knowing how important this piece had become to its creator, at least six of us weighed in before we chose the grout color.... No one wanted to make a mistake....

J. arrived in the studio last Wednesday morning with two other young women in her program. She knows more people now - and took a few minutes to say hello. I was at my work table when I noticed someone coming toward me. I looked up to see J. - not the timid girl who had arrived a month ago, but a smiling - no, beaming(!) - confident, young woman who embraced me and cried out, "I AM an Artist! I am an ARTIST."

And, knowing that the sale of her tile would help support the mission and the people served by Song and Spirit touched J. in a way so deep, so powerful - the idea that she, who thought she had nothing to give - had something so precious to share after all....

What's so important about having an art program at the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace? We discover ARTISTS in everyday people - and they become people who make a difference in the world.