On a Sunday morning in the fall of 2001 I listened to an Old Testament reading from the book of Jeremiah. As a ten year potter at that time I was moved by the following passage: I went down to the potter’s house and there he was working at his wheel….The vessel he was making was spoiled in the potter’s hand and he reworked it into another vessel that seemed good to him…then the Lord said, “just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.” That passage inspired me to help create an arts ministry at the First Congregational Church of Winter Park, one that reached across the economic and racial divide of Park Avenue to the west side of Winter Park. We called this program, The Jeremiah Project, so inspired were we at the prospect of molding and shaping lives through this outreach effort. Ten years hence, The Jeremiah Project provides pottery, digital and performing arts programming for at risk middle school aged children from Boys and Girls Clubs throughout Central Florida.
“Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand”. That line has served as such a wonderful metaphor for all that this program has accomplished. Clay comes from the ground and grounds those who touch it; clay requires centering on the potter’s wheel before it can be shaped; clay is forgiving, it can be remolded if we make a mistake; shaping a vessel is similar to the power we have to shape our own lives; “opening” the clay, a step in the process of clay creation is similar to “opening to God’s grace” and opening ourselves to possibilities. These are the messages we hope, ever so subtly to convey to kids who tend not to have access to art programs like many of our children enjoy.
We just finished our summer program. We served well over a hundred children during the course of our seven week program. Wonderful staff and volunteers provided the kind of attention and training these kids rarely receive. Building self esteem is a goal of this program as well as encouraging them to think bigger than the narrow experiences that have made up their lives. Many of the kids we serve have never been out of their poverty communities. There is symbolism in crossing that Park Avenue line (the main street leading into wealthy Winter Park) and welcoming them into our church where they come to feel they belong and have a sense of place.
I just turned 59 this week. As I approach the 60 mark, I guess I’m starting to reflect a bit on my life. Much research has been conducted supporting the notion that giving to or doing for others contributes to one’s overall happiness and sense of well-being. Theoretically I appear to be the one “giving” to these kids, but in reality they have given so much more to me, and my life has been immeasurably enriched as a result.
The title of my blog is Be Brave. Lose the Beige. While Be Brave. Lose the Beige is not just about color, (it’s really focused upon women’s empowerment) I am absolutely crazy about color. I believe color can even serve as a metaphor in our quest for self discovery. I was recently certified as a True Colors facilitator. True Colors is a personality assessment modeled after the Myers Briggs indicator.
So, I was delighted to see and hear a story on CBS Sunday morning last week about Fiesta Ware. Are you familiar with Fiesta Ware? It is a line of dinnerware in a rainbow of colors which flooded into homes during the Great Depression. In 1936, William Wells thought America’s spirits needed a boost. He went to his designers and said, “This is what’s going to be good for the Depression: People need to brighten up their table, people need something to be happy about.” And that is how Fiesta got started.
I can’t help but feel we are in a similar situation in 2012. So many families have been hurt by the economy. I’m not suggesting fiesta ware or color will solve all our problems, but just as William Wells suggested, maybe it can make us a little happier or even more optimistic. I know color has that effect on my life. I hope it can for yours as well.
I recently finished two weeks of my Jeremiah summer program. As I sit drinking my coffee and writing in my journal my heart is filled to the brim with gratitude for the children we served and the staff who served them.
This was the ninth year of our summer Jeremiah Project, which is a pottery, digital and performing arts program for at-risk middle school aged students. This year, as part of our performing arts segment, we hosted our first Reality Cooking show. While clad in chef hats and aprons our middle schoolers were supplied with nuggets of nutritional information and fitness strategies. I was thrilled on the last day when they could recite the fact half their plates should be filled with fruits and vegetables. Considering there are virtually no grocery stores, certainly no Publix, in the poverty communities where they reside, it will be interesting to see how our eager students might apply their newfound knowledge.
A crew from a local film school spent three full days with us, patiently holding booms and cameras as they filmed nervous, giggling teens creating such treats as tortilla soup, guacamole, bean salsa and guava pastries. Hand decorated folders housed recipes and Photoshop projects. The children appeared to tolerate daily diatribes about the benefits of creativity in their lives and futures.
Our participants came from Boys and Girls Clubs throughout Central Florida. This was our first occasion to host children from the Coalition for the Homeless. It was simultaneously wonderful and heartbreaking. Two sisters from this group have been living at the homeless shelter for three months, their mother missing from their young lives. At least three of the teens currently reside in group foster homes. Each day, following the preparation of the food, participants and staff gathered for a meal. Kids were instructed in proper place setting etiquette, while others donned aprons to serve as wait staff. The constant and consistent insistence upon hand washing might have seemed elemental but kids were receptive to the notion of germ and illness prevention. A gratitude blessing was held before each meal at which kids and adults were encouraged to share stories of thankfulness. I felt grateful these children seemed to feel a sense of place and belonging at our center which is located in tony Winter Park, Florida. One of the goals of the Jeremiah Project is to help breach the ethnic and racial divide existing between east and west Winter Park in my community. Stay tuned for Park 2 of our summer Jeremiah Project when the kids will “go down to the potter’s house” (a reference to Jeremiah chapter 18:2 for which this project is named) to create vessels on the pottery wheels.
Each Friday I like to post tips/suggestions for ideal ways to live your weekend. This week it’s about doing good works.
I founded a program called The Jeremiah Project which is an after school and summer pottery, drama, and digital arts program for at-risk middle school aged kids. Last Friday was the culmination of a summer of artistic and theatrical activities. A musical performance and art exhibit was held at the Walt Disney World Boys and Girls Club in a predominantly lower income community near Orlando, Florida. Kids lip synced and moon-walked to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Beat It; they tumbled and stilt walked under the direction of Cirque du Soleil instruction, and exhibited the ceramics and photographs they created in our summer Jeremiah program.
The pride these kids experienced as a standing room only crowed cheered and whistled at their accomplishments, was palpable. One little girl, who has been in five different foster homes this summer, cried when she beheld the beautiful ceramic tray she had painstakingly glazed, saying “I can’t believe I made something this beautiful”. Another eighth grade girl said, “You know when you compliment me it helps my self esteem”.
Not all of these kids are going to pursue art as they grow older, but the experience has expanded them in ways they did not know were possible. They never knew they could throw a bowl on a pottery wheel or walk upright on stilts. One boy commented as he manipulated a digital image on his computer, “You know, I’m thinking I might become a doctor when I grow up.”
Yeah, I think helping kids think bigger, is a great way to spend a weekend.