This November the Heart to Heart: Conversations on Loving our LGBTQ Neighbors and Strengthening our Faith will be holding a series of discussions in the Roanoke area. These conversations will feature the internationally known speaker, author, and spiritual director, Susan Cottrell. Susan is a wife and mother to five children, two of whom are members of the LGBTQI community, and author of Mom, I’m Gay! Loving Your LGBTQ Child and Strengthening Your Faith and True Colors: Celebrating the Truth and Beauty of the Real You. She has also founded the organization, www.freedhearts.org, a nonprofit that aims to address LGBTQI issues theologically and religiously. Having recently been featured on ABC’S 20/20, Nightline and Good Morning America, Susan is a firm believer that the foundation of faith is based upon one’s love for God and all others.
The main purpose behind the Heart to Heart conversations is to create and promote serious discussion and support for the LGBTQ community. What once started as a one-day event, has now turned into a week-long series of events to promote discussion, love, and understanding. Among many topics discussed, some of the most prominent include curiosity and difficulty with sexual orientation, gender identity, and faith. The Heart to Heart events will be held November 8-12 with the main event, the Heart to Heart Conference, occurring November 11, 9am-2pm at the Christ Episcopal Church in Roanoke. A schedule of these events may be found at www.hearttoheartva.com. Most of these events, unless stated otherwise, are free and open to the public.
Donations can be made to the Heart to Heart foundation online at www.donate.hearttoheartva.com or checks can be made payable to the Roanoke Diversity Center and mailed to 806 Jamison Ave SE, Roanoke, VA 24013. All donations will go towards funding for these conversations that deepen our love and support for the LGBTQ community and featuring authors and leaders, such as Susan Cottrell.
When did you decide to start working for Imagination Station? I needed a fun part-time job, and I have a twelve-year-old so we spent a lot of time in the toy store in Blacksburg. The owner put up a notice and said she was looking for help, so I decided that was a sign! Then, about half a year after I started working for them we decided we were going to move to Roanoke so my daughter could go to school here. The owner asked if I wanted to manage a toy store in Roanoke if they opened one. I thought about it, and a couple months later I said I would do it.
What is one important lesson that you’ve learned along the way as a manager? Unlike some other retail businesses, you are growing up with the families and the kids. Establishing a relationship is really important. We are more than a place to come and shop. Upstairs we have a room that has toys, games, and books that we call our “chill out” room. You can just hang out; you don’t have to buy something. Go to Cups, grab a coffee, and bring your kids here.
With the technology we have available, why is this type of imaginative play still so important? We are passionate about helping parents, caregivers, and teachers find ways to keep children engaged. With the advent of technology, it is so easy for all of us as caregivers to just hand over the cell phone or the iPad. There needs to be more tactile person-to-person play. For example, building blocks used to be the core of play. Everybody had building blocks, but people don’t really buy them anymore because they have so many pieces. They say their child doesn’t really know what to do with them. However, they need to be bored and build something because it helps with learning physics, gravity, and trial and error.
Find Imagination Station at www.imaginationstoys.com.
The story begins with Mike Eaton, who lives in Southeast Roanoke with his family, contacting me about painting the interior of his home. A few days later, Joey Coakley, Bella publisher, is in a car with me driving to Mike’s home. Joey is to be their paint color consultant!
So, is it true you haven’t done any upgrades since you bought your home 9 years ago? Mike: Yes, with the exception of painting the kids’ rooms, we haven’t done much of anything in the house. And let me tell you it was a long nine years–did you see the hideous purple living room walls? From the Barney-colored living room to the pea green dining room, the house was in desperate need of fresh paint and modern upgrades to truly make it feel like a home.
We bought the house with the intention of updating and painting, but the reality was after we moved here–me, my wife, Armendia and our 10 year old son, Lewis–life became very busy for us and home improvements were put on the back burner. And before you know it 9 years have gone by.
What happened? Let me guess, more children? Mike: Yes. We started being foster parents. Our first one, Addy, was such a sweetheart. It breaks your heart learning of the environments and experiences these kids have lived through. We have the space and feel compelled to give a home to these children. We ended up adopting Addy.
Since then we have had numerous children stay with us, mostly for a brief period. In December of 2015 we received a call for two-day-old James. To make a long story short we ended up adopting James and his four-year-old brother, Donny. Now our home AND our hearts are full. As a matter of fact our home is so full we are planning on adding an additional master bedroom/bathroom to our home!
What’s it like, fostering children? Mike: We 100% love it but it can be emotionally hard. Armendia was working outside the home until recently but now she works full-time with the kids. She has the patience of a saint because it can be stressful at times but there are also tremendous amounts of joy with these precious little ones. The children have had rough backgrounds and like with any kids, life isn’t predictable with them. But truly we consider it a blessing and honor to be bringing them into our family. We wish we could have more.
How does someone become a foster parent? Mike: Start off by contacting your local Department of Social Services. Training consists of nine weeks of PRIDE classes. Basically, boot camp for prospective foster parents. The classes contain a lot of good information. There is tremendous need in the Roanoke Valley for qualified foster parents to provide a safe, loving home to these wonderful children.
Can I become a foster parent? Mike: Anyone can! But for you, I recommend adopting a cat or two first to “get your feet wet!”
Tell us a little bit about your background. Are you Roanoke natives? Mike: Armendia is, but I’m originally from New Jersey. After being stationed in Norfolk for five years with the U.S. Navy we moved to Roanoke to be closer to her family. I was fortunate to get a job as an electrician at Norfolk Southern. Our day to life is very routine. I pack my lunchbox, go to work, and clock in. When the bell rings, I leave and come home to my lovely family in a quiet neighborhood in Southeast Roanoke–just like in the movies!
At the time our budget led us to the Southeast section of Roanoke. We were able to find a bigger home on a smaller budget in the quaint Waverly Place neighborhood.
Moving to the present, you now have a beautifully colored interior for your home. How did you come up with this color combination? Mike: We knew we needed help! We wanted something timeless, yet trendy and modern. With Joey Coakley Beck’s guidance we now have wonderful new colors that highlight our home’s interior. It truly feels like a new place. The interior is bright and airy where before it seemed dark and cramped. It’s great! Thank you, Joey!
By way of closing, Armendia says, “Please contact me if you have any questions at all about foster parenting. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org”
Click here for more information on fostering a child within Roanoke.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Virginia will host their Over the Edge event on May 19-20. Participants will raise $1,000 for Big Brothers Big Sisters, rappel 11 stories over the side of the Patrick Henry Hotel, and raise money for local Big/Little matches. One hundred percent of the money raised will stay in our community. The participant who raises the most money will receive tickets to Disney World for themselves and their Little.
To understand how important this event is for those who will benefit from the fundraising, we spoke to participant and Big Sister Sara Guerry. This will be Sara’s first time participating in Over the Edge. She looks at it as a way to raise money while setting an example for her Little.
“I haven’t found out exactly how she might need me yet, because we haven’t been paired very long,” she explains. “I’m getting to a place where I’m learning that she can be a little shy and unsure about new experiences. What better way to show her that it’s okay to be scared, but also to be brave, than by launching myself off a building?”
On a lot of different levels, the Over the Edge event symbolically mirrors that first step into creating a Big Sister/Little Sister relationship.
“The match process for Big Brothers Big Sisters is an extraordinary process,” Sara says. “They take the time to make sure the fit is the right one for both the child and the adult. That helped alleviate a little bit of fear, but at the same time she is someone else’s daughter and her family loves her so much. There is this other person that comes into her world and wants to be there for her. I hope this will show her how much I care about her, and how successful I know she will be.”
Although Sara did some rappelling and rock climbing in high school, she still finds herself getting a bit nervous as the day approaches. The scariest part, she says, will be climbing over the wall of a perfectly good building and realizing that she is about to go over it. However, the reward in the end will be much greater than any of the fear she is facing now. Sara hopes to win the tickets to Disney World for her Little.
“I would love nothing more to give her an experience that she otherwise wouldn’t be able to have,” she adds.
Yet, even if she doesn’t win the fundraising portion of the event, the symbolic gesture of rappelling 11 stories for her Little, her community, and in the face of her fear, is an important example in their relationship. If you’d like to help Sara, or any of the other participants reach their fundraising goals, visit www.bigslittles.org/ote for more information. We wish all participants good luck in this adventure!
Little Free Libraries are steadily growing in number across the United States and the world. The movement began in 2010 with its creator, Todd H. Bol, giving away 30 Little Free Libraries. Over the next few years, he watched them multiply. Today, they number over 50,000 registered locations, with a goal to reach 100,000 by the end of this year.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, the Little Free Library is a place where one can take a book or leave a book in a common neighborhood area. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books.
There are several little libraries scattered throughout neighborhoods in our area. Although the exteriors are different, the overall sense that each library steward is not only fostering a love for reading, but also cultivating a sense of social responsibility emanates from each carefully crafted box.
At Oak Grove Elementary, for example, a small green and blue library greets parents, students, and visitors near the entrance to the school. Fourth grade students designed, painted, and built three libraries as part of a Children’s Engineering/Project Based learning project in 2013-14. They chose this library for the school, and organized a book drive to stock it. In the years to come, they have pledged to continue to care for the location. From a young age, this encourages students to nurture their reading habit, seek out new books to read on a regular basis, and share their favorites with neighbors and friends.
Just as the students poured their creative spirit into this design, artists, craftsmen and women, designers, and architects are all expressing themselves through the new medium. Locally, Marijke and Steven Barber spent the better part of a cold winter making one. The beautiful painted library is located on 31st street. They completed it as the weather turned warm, and it has attracted visitors ever since. Like many of the others we visited throughout Roanoke, the façade almost echoes the exterior of their home.
On Wax Myrtle Drive, a small red and white library accents a family home with similar features. The library was built by a grandfather and grandson as a birthday present. When families love to read, and share that love with their neighborhood, it becomes a gift for everyone around them. These locations make for quirky and unique family road trips around the county, but also serve as an opportunity for local groups to promote civic engagement, and awareness about social and environmental issues. In fact, several of the locations we visited contained copies of the Constitution, left by a local political outreach group.
Of course, each location offers something for everyone, and not just in the form of literature. Our favorite stop was located at the trailhead of the Chisom Trial in the Roanoke County community of Laurel Woods. There is a picnic bench just beyond the little library, and it is an easy stop for hikers and explorers. “The library was established in memory of Charlene Lenox Denton (1942-2012),” steward, Brian Chisom, explains. “Charlene enjoyed outdoor activities: gardening, hiking, camping, and walking with friends. And, in many settings, she found ways to help others. The Little Free Library that bears her name is a testament to Charlene’s devotion to service and community.”
There are six newspaper boxes, donated by the Roanoke Times, interspersed throughout the map. The Roanoke Arts Commission hired artist Dan Kuehl to transform them by covering the exterior with familiar landmarks from the Roanoke region. Each box has a steward that is responsible for its upkeep.
Although every library is different, they serve as a direct reflection of our community’s growing dedication to the arts, literature, and service. If you are interested in exploring the locations with family and friends, or simply looking for a new book to take you on an adventure, visit www.littlefreelibrary.org.
We believe that one of the most important things you can foster in your child’s life is a love for reading. It serves as the foundation for developing skills that will serve them in every facet of life. Recently, we were ecstatic to learn that Kathryn Starke, author and native of Richmond, Virginia, is helping parents and educators everywhere achieve that goal.
Starke has experience teaching multiple grades in elementary schools, and served as a literary specialist for over a decade in Richmond and Chesterfield’s public school systems. Her multicultural children’s book, Amy’s Travels, is used in schools in over twenty countries.
Tackle Reading, her most recent book, combines her expertise with advice from valuable community mentors and resources including NFL players, celebrities, and authors to inspire children, parents, and fellow educators. It includes lesson plans, activities, and guidance to improve literacy for all children.
The impact of this book is just beginning. Thousands of copies of Tackle Reading were donated to inner city elementary schools nationwide thanks to charitable giving and sponsorship. Regardless of your role in a child’s life, it can be a great tool to nurture their love for reading. To purchase your copy and learn more about Starke, visit www.creativemindspublications.com.
We are currently compiling our list of ways to give back in the coming months. Beginning in February, we will replace “Giving Back” with an active volunteering article. The goal is to promote a general understanding of the commitment many nonprofits need to survive and help those in need right here in Southwest and Central Virginia.
To begin this series, we want to tell you about smaller efforts we are making as a staff to brighten up the world around us. We hope that they will inspire you to complete random acts of kindness in your own life so we can all work together to make our community a better place.
We adore the girls over at Project Goodness (www.withgoodness.com). They are “a community dedicated to noticing and adding to the goodness in and around us.” Their interactive signs are popping up all over the country, and encourage passersby to take a random act of goodness to complete during their day. They send PDFS out for free, and you are welcome to contact them or us (email@example.com) for copies of your own! (Just make sure to ask permission before you hang them!)
We are also captivated by the Craftivist Collective community. Created by activist Sarah Corbett, it allows artists to approach activism in a gentle, respectful, yet target manner. Sarah’s goal is to explore global issues “using craft for critical thinking.” Check out some of their awesome projects like “Stitchable Change-makers” at www.craftivist-collective.com.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the information and resources available for the cause you want to support most, but don’t let it distract you from your purpose. A simple, random act of kindness or a moment spent learning and reflecting on the lives of others can help you achieve the personal growth you seek on a daily basis. Give one (or both!) of these a try and stay tuned for our volunteer adventures in 2017!
There are a lot of opinions floating around on social media about the donning of a safety pin on one’s apparel. Some would agree that it is a visible sign that the person wearing it will help provide a safe place for people who identify as a member of the many targeted groups who have experienced hate crimes throughout history. Others have argued that it is something of a shield—an easy way for the wearer to escape any real action helping the same marginalized groups while still identifying themselves as one of the “good guys.”
I would like to respectfully address the latter.
I understand the argument comes from a place of anger, and perhaps the writer’s own embarrassment. Believe me when I say, I’m embarrassed also. I’m embarrassed that, despite my belief that those in the LGBTQ community should always enjoy the same rights and freedoms I occasionally take for granted, I let their recent victory in the Supreme Court make me lazy.
I’m ashamed that I took my extra money over the last few months and bought coffee or treats for myself while women in more conservative states feared that key resources like Planned Parenthood would disappear because of the life-saving, professional services they offer to some patients who choose not to carry their pregnancy to term for whatever reason.
I’m furious with myself for not engaging with those on social media who posted memes about gun control, subtly and not-so-subtly identifying Muslims as the force behind the violence we’ve witnessed in recent months. Additionally, I’m horrified that pressing a “delete” button or demurring from the “sensitive” topic of immigration and violence against minorities was my choice approach for so long. It was such because I believed that we lived in a country where yes, fear has a voice, but compassion, kindness, and acceptance were so close to eradicating it.
I’m embarrassed, but not by my safety pin.
We are surrounded by distractions that let us fall into the monotony of modern life without considering the hate and discrimination befalling humans across this planet and across our nation. A tragedy occurs and we change our profile pictures to represent our sympathy, but by the following week things are back to normal unless you are directly affected by the incident. Nothing is ever going to change unless we realize that we have a responsibility, as humans, to stand up for one another. Even when it is uncomfortable. Even when our newsfeeds are filled with engagements, babies, and accomplishments.
If my safety pin tells you that I am a safe space, that is a wonderful thing. I will stand next to you, and I will give you a shoulder on which you can cry, lean, or use to climb up and achieve your dreams.
But that little silver trinket is not, nor will it ever be, a plea for recognition or a pat on the back.
It is a reminder that history, in fact, does repeat itself if we aren’t careful. The Emmett Tills and Matthew Shepards of this world are still out there suffering. And when I look at my wrist, I make a promise to them that I will never let myself get lazy again.