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The Fountain of Youth.

“You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”  - George Burns

This must be their credo, I thought to myself - as I arrived early one evening to help the Broome County Office for Aging

When I say early – I mean early. 

I was at least a half-hour ahead of schedule; yet - I walked into a building that was already teeming with people. . .and an infectious spirit.  What I thought might be a sleepy, fundraiser dinner for the annual Senior Games – presented more as a gigantic family gathering. . .you know – like a super fun one.

It seemed as if the whole of Broome was already present. . .say nothin’ about the 300 or so meals we later served to ticket-holding supporters. 

They Call This a Lull. . .

They Call This a Lull. . .

So - I’d barely made my way past the door when I was approached by both Sarah and Rita – two full-time employees at the Office.  Though much younger than the population they serve - these women love what they do so much - that they happily volunteered for this, the longest of days.  The chores were almost never-ending; and though I can’t say I had the opportunity to ‘grill’ either of them with too many personal questions (as I so love to do) – I can tell ya a few things. . .

They were both sweet as can be.  I could feel it in the way they welcomed me.

They set the example for compassion.  I could see this - by how they treated everyone

And they were slaving away in a hot kitchen – on their own time.

Yes.  Can you imagine working a whole day – in a capacity where you already help others – only to put in a busy night - still engaged in the mission - simply because you believe in it?

Thank you, Sarah and Rita – for inspiring me to ‘up my game’.

Sarah and Rita.  Sweet as They Are - It's a Tight Ship Back There!

Sarah and Rita.  Sweet as They Are - It's a Tight Ship Back There!

But it wasn’t just a two-woman show.  Countless Senior volunteers – all beneficiaries of the office – showed up to lend a hand and spread some joy.  They’re no strangers to these events, I’m told; they believe in the power of this program from both sides of engagement.  They were there – for community and with it.  And they were having a ton of fun.  So much, in fact, that - though I was low on energy after a hectic night - they all seemed to skip out the door. . .

Just a Few of the Folks Who Ran Circles Around Me.

Just a Few of the Folks Who Ran Circles Around Me.

As I took notice of that, I realized that my journey had proven once again – there’s a symbiosis that can be found - in our own backyards. . .

A connection there. . .

A meaning. . .

Oh yeah – and a very tangible energy, as I described earlier.  

Dare I liken this experience to a ‘fountain of youth’?  I’m not sure that giving back is the only secret to feeling young, but as my buddy George might suggest - and my new friends would prove:

It sure won’t make you get old.     

BatGirl IS Real. . .I Met Her in Ithaca.

It was dusk as I approached the drive. . .and besides the number on the mailbox – there was nothing that would indicate for certain that I was in the right place.  Really???  An animal rescue org???  Here???

I must have the address wrong.  And of course – there’s no cell reception. 

Only one way to find out if this was it.  So, I left Napoleon to guard our rig and I started hiking up the gravel through the trees. 

As I approached the house, it was a little more obvious (well, mostly); I had, in fact, arrived at Wild Things Sanctuary.  The bat sticker on the car should be a pretty good indicator, right?

I rapped on the door awhile, fighting back my mind’s visions of being greeted with a shotgun (hey – the place is kinda back there in the woods!); and - I was finally met by Victoria (‘V’, as I’ll call her from here on) . . .

. . . She’s lovely, enthusiastic, and hustling through the beginning of a long night. 

See, in V’s world – all the nights are long.  She’s a one-woman show on a nocturnal stage.  Oh – and she’s employed all day before going home to start the real work.  I don’t think sleep is a word she knows.    

Yes, she does this in her own time, at her own place - because she loves it. . .she loves the individuals under her care (Did I mention – they all have names?) . . . and if she didn’t do it – who else would?  

Still - in a hectic schedule - she graciously took a few minutes to sit down with me and talk about how she’d arrived - in this line of rescue work, with as many creatures, and as an up-and-coming authority for bat-friends everywhere.

Only Gettin' Started. . .The Headlight is Key!

Only Gettin' Started. . .The Headlight is Key!

Soon, the sun began to duck behind the horizon; and I found myself following V around the property - at a brisk pace, no doubt.  The next stop – a walk-in enclosure. 

I should mention at this point that as we approached - and I witnessed a bit of creepy fluttering – I experienced a terror that I’ve rarely known.  Regardless. . .ever the proponent of stepping outside comfort zones – I stepped inside the cage.  V says I hid it well, but as more of the ‘kids’ woke-up to fly – she must have heard the knocking at my knees.  Thanks, V – for not laughing at me. 

By the end of the evening, I was helping her hand-feed some of these flying furries, and I even came-around. . .fully

Are you sitting, Folks?  Bats are entirely adorable, if not magical.  There.  I’ve said it.

Told Ya!  Look at That Cute Little Dude.

Told Ya!  Look at That Cute Little Dude.

But what’s more important than the transformation I experienced myself. . .is the lesson I learned – to share with you all.  V – is an inspiring woman.  She saw a need and she followed her passion.  She didn’t wait for someone else to start.  She didn’t let the unknown hold her back.  She chose action.  And she single-handedly started an organization which, now in its tenth year, has saved and rehabilitated countless animals.

Self-Built Facilities. . .Skills to Rival Any Carpenter!

Self-Built Facilities. . .Skills to Rival Any Carpenter!

V - she's absolutely tireless.    

And it goes to show what any of us can accomplish if we follow the direction of our hearts.

Don’t wait, People.  Move when you’re inspired.  Answer what calls you. 

Just remember my story of BatGirl. . . She’s real.  And she is a superhero - in her own right.

No Boys Allowed. . .

. . .Or at least – that’s what they told me. 

But they made an exception – on this day, just for me. 

A firm disclosure followed by the warmest welcome – that’s how I started my day at Tanglewood Nature Center.  (OK, I'm not really that special.  In actuality - boys are allowed - just not in a particular program.)

I entered a class full of at-risk girls – all of whom applied to be a part of the Meg Lowman Treetops camp for the week. That's right - they applied.  Encouraged by some mentors in their lives - they all wrote essays explaining why they wanted to participate.

And here they sat.  Bright-eyed.  Bushy-tailed.  

The goal of the program – simple:  help them build confidence, character, and STEM skills.  Well, no sooner than I sat down – did I find myself following the class out the door and into the field – where I, too, would be challenged in the scientific realm. 

Notice that my hands aren't in there with the snake?

Notice that my hands aren't in there with the snake?

We were led by Elaine (a charming woman and fervent Director), Bridget (the enthusiastic, scholarly Community Manager), and Laine the Educator (her joyfulness is trumped only by her compassion). 

I kept to the back of the pack on this adventure. . .not for lack of interest, but - in utter astonishment.  (And besides – I didn’t want to trounce all over the inclusion they’d so graciously granted me earlier.  Now – I ask a lot of questions. . .and I tend to sidetrack.  Little did they know that this boy – can be a troublemaker.) 

Chasin' butterflies is for the boys; these girls came here to learn!

Chasin' butterflies is for the boys; these girls came here to learn!

So as the class learned from the staff – I kept my mouth shut (mostly) and learned from the class.  Never before have I been around such a passionate, engaged group of women – both younger and a tiny bit older. (Tiny-Bit-Older Ladies – is that an OK way to put it?) 

After a quick lunch – I spent the afternoon helping care for rescued wildlife and pets.  And as a fast day there drew to a close – I began reflecting upon what was so notable about a space like this.     

It didn’t take long to realize that everywhere - I was watching the future unfold before my very eyes.  See - not only is Tanglewood a beautiful place to be and just exist – it is an experience which plants and cultivates seeds; the fruits of which may be harvested in future generations.

Tiny-Bit-Older Ladies.  Planters.  Cultivators.  

Tiny-Bit-Older Ladies.  Planters.  Cultivators.  

It's a symbol of what is all too often lost in our world of concrete and cable wire.

Where GREAT people go. . .

. . .and GREAT people are born.

An opportunity to connect with who we really are. . .

. . .in our beautiful surroundings.

For Girls. 

For Boys. 

For Anyone. 

Hopefully for everyone.    

Participation IS the award.

Participation. . .

I just finished writing a college-talk on the subject.  (Hopefully – some profs will pay me to give it, so I can tackle a bit of ‘on-the-road overhead’ here.)

Participation is a choice.  As we grow older – we create dialogues which prevent us from doing things.  We sometimes choose not to do anything. . .

But, we should learn something from the littlest among us. 

See - there’s a beauty in being a kid - no fears, no emotional noise; it’s just a given that they show up.  Willing. . .eager. . .ready. . .(OK – maybe not always ready.)  The only question is – what do they show up for

In places like inner-city Syracuse – there ain’t a whole lot of options.  I don’t think I really need to elaborate on this.  You can go one way.  Or – you can go another. . .that is – if somebody is willing to provide ‘another’.

Tough call, right?  Especially for a child who is still learning how to make decisions. . . 

Well, Syracuse Silver Knight Foundation makes it a no-brainer – showing up to develop and inspire a group of kids who might otherwise know only one path.  They’ve teamed up with another local org – Hopeprint – on some summertime soccer clinics for underserved locals and resettled refugees.     

It's a bit like herding cats. . .

It's a bit like herding cats. . .

Refugees.

Just imagine for a moment what it would be like to flee a country where you aren’t welcome – only to arrive in another where you don’t belong. . .  

. . .I can’t quite wrap my head around that either. 

But Rick, Allen, Bo, and the team – they’re GREAT people - restoring that sense of inclusion for this group through coaching, friendly competition, and even a few hard kicks to the shins (oh wait – that was me out there getting pummeled on the field). 

Look - I’m a kid who grew up with a ball at my feet, so I get it.  But I don’t think it’s any mystery for anyone – how the things you learn on the field help shape who you become off it.

I broke out my coach’s voice.  I got juked by some 10-year-olds.  I had a blast. 

Though I only spent a quick evening with this crew, and there was more panting than talking – their mission was abundantly clear.    

It was just another reminder for me. . .and a lesson, I hope, for the impressionable – that:

Participation IS the award.

 

It's All in the Name.

Another new town. . .another parking lot layover.  I hit the phone and bang-out emails as if my life depends upon it.  And it does, really – because I’m out here to make the most of my time. . .to find ways to create the biggest impact on an organization, a locale, and the world at large.  Though many ‘get it’ – there are also those who don’t, and I sometimes find myself making the hard-sell. . .repeatedly. 

Well, today is one of those times. . .and surrounded by the same-ole Walmart pavement, I’m wondering a bit where the ‘collective’ is. . .what’s my real impact in each place. . .and if I am actually connecting anyone. . .

But it’s fortunate that this is a day when I must write. . .because I get to re-live my stop at The Root Farm – a place I didn’t want to leave. . .one with an extraordinary energy, and where I hope I made some lasting friends. 

After 2 days there, one thing was clear – this was a team who did more for me than I could possibly do for them.  But if you read about their mission – it’s no wonder.  You’ll see - the learning. . .the healing. . .they are real in this setting.  And outside of maybe an inner circle – I struggle to remember ever feeling as welcomed or included as I did with this bunch. . .

They’ve so much to offer everyone, and they’re in the process of adding even more awesome-ness; you’ll just have to pay ‘em a visit.  Potato-diggin’, animal care, ropes-course hi-jinx. . .the activities will certainly stick with me.  

Cooking Classes Too?!  What Can't I do Here?!?!?  

Cooking Classes Too?!  What Can't I do Here?!?!?

 

But what’s more – the people.  That’s why I went, and they are why I fell in love. . .

Becky seemed all for it from the start.  She was my first contact there, and if she hadn’t taken me seriously – I’d have truly missed out.  I’m not sure what she said or did to help organize such a welcome – but I’m grateful to her for that.  She’s a sweet, compassionate Lady and I wish we had spent more time together.  (Maybe next go-around, Becky???)  Until then, I’ll think of her every time I’m grocery shopping (that’s an inside reference, Folks – no time to explain!).

Not long after arriving – I met Alexis.  Who – I can only assume – must have somehow conspired with Becky to make a convincing case for my ‘invitation’ to the farm.  I hope she doesn’t regret it; she’s the one who babysat me most.  Now – where do I start with this woman?  Amazing personal stories aside – her professional role at the farm is no less impressive.  And though hard to define, exactly – let’s just say that her dedication to and passion for art, animals, people - is inspirational to say the least.  (But she’s wrong about chicken-herding, or maybe just no good at-it. . .) 

Doc the Horse, Alexis (Hiding), Some Volunteers, and Sal (Makin' the Mount Look Easy!)

Doc the Horse, Alexis (Hiding), Some Volunteers, and Sal (Makin' the Mount Look Easy!)

After pettin’ a few horsies – I spent the remainder of my first morning with Farmer Paul.  Newest to the crew – his humor and enthusiasm are what stood out most to me.  He taught me some things about dirt and a green-thumb, we shared stories of where we’ve been, and we whistled while we worked.  Try to get a hold of some of his carrots, btw – they’re delicious!  (Just not the purple ones, right Paul?)

Proud Farmer Paul with His CSA Display!  

Proud Farmer Paul with His CSA Display!

 

Next - we have Rodger.  They call him the horse-whisperer.  There were no horses around where we chatted, so I can’t exactly verify that.  Oh wait – I don’t think I’d know it if I saw it, anyway.  But what I did see is a kind and passionate guy who has been around the farm more than a little while now.  I envy him for what he gets to do every day.  On second thought – I envy everyone at the farm, really. . .

As the morning flew-by, I chatted with Adam – outdoor education expert, part-time adventurer, and rock-climber extraordinaire.  (Did I get that right, man?)  Once the rock-wall is built - I’m goin’ back, and I’m hoping maybe he can teach me a thing or two.

Then there was Dan – retired Veteran and all-around interesting dude.  I’m hoping he becomes instrumental in additional programs at the farm - for members of our armed forces.  (Maybe he could also teach a dance class or two?)

Up next is Shane.  Only one thing to say about him, ‘cause it’ll blow your mind.  This guy is paraplegic and rides a motorcycle.  Correction – this guy is paraplegic; he rides a motorcycle hard and fast. . .like he’s wringing every last drop out of life.  I got inspiration goosebumps just talking to him.  I’m hopin’ he bottles that and releases it in a TED Talk someday. . .

And so – we arrive at Jeremy – the leader of this GREAT clan. . .he was my grand-tour guide and positivity cohort.  We’re gonna work together on something, sometime. . .I just know it.   

Jeremy & I with LMV Leader Ann.  She Looks Worried, But it was Just the Ropes Course. . .

Jeremy & I with LMV Leader Ann.  She Looks Worried, But it was Just the Ropes Course. . .

I’ve written a bit about big thinking in my days on the road so far.  And if I continue to meet people like Jeremy – you guys might grow weary as I keep beating the big-thinking horse (no pun intended – this being an actual farm and all.). 

Jeremy’s vision is huge.  It’s communal.  It’s fun!  And when he’s not at the helm – he’s right there in it. . .a part of it. . .just as much a grateful guest as he is a gracious host.  He knows the power and beauty of this place.  He helped harness those and package them into an experience which, once shared, plants itself within your very being. 

Root Farm is a part of him.  A part of his team.  A part of anyone who visits.  A part of me, now. 

And with its namesake – should that come as any surprise?