An Award

When I received a call a few weeks ago notifying me that I had been selected as one of three finalists for the 2017 Cincinnati Rotary Jefferson Award, I was honored.  I had heard of the award the past 4 years after receiving a letter saying I had been nominated but not selected as a finalist.  I wasn’t sure who nominated me but told Bill from the Rotary that I was excited and looking forward to learning more about being a finalist.  Over the next two weeks, I was contacted by Selena Reder from WKRC who was producing the videos for the finalists that would be shown at the lunch.  I thought, how exciting, I will have a video that depicts what I do.  What I didn’t realize is that in three to four minutes you can’t even cover a 24 hour period of what I or volunteers at Heartfelt Tidbits do.  You can gain an understanding of the overall mission but the work would take a few days to describe.  

You’d have to begin with getting to know the 16,000 people that have come to rely on Heartfelt Tidbits for some type of support.  To put this into perspective, in 2008, year one, we supported a hundred or so people and at the end of 2015, we were supporting 12,000.  Growth is an understatement.  This support could be English, citizenship, acculturation support, art, sewing, driving lessons, gardening, hospital visits, wedding celebrations, school assistance, assisting with a car accident, college visits, referrals to our partners for services that they provide or just a phone call to say hi.

Next, you’d have to spend time in your car visiting the partner sites where we hold programs and classes.  Trust me when I say this is the best part.  When I walk into a partner site, I tell myself that if I ever give this role up, I want to work or volunteer for each one of them.  Who are these great partners?  Wave Pool Art Center, Tikkun Farms, Northminster Presbyterian Church, Roberts Elementary, Education and Community Matters, Academy of World Language, Reading Lockland Presbyterian Church, Ascension Lutheran Church, Franciscan Community Garden, Turner Farms, Win4Work, RefugeeConnect, ArtWorks, Ohio State Extension, countless galleries, parks, etc.

Then there are the volunteers and the volunteer groups.  How many volunteers do we have?  I’m not sure of the exact number because tracking those names and number on a single spreadsheet has fallen to the bottom of my “to do” list.  For our Friday English and citizenship class we have 17 volunteers that show up every week to help 45-65 students.  We have volunteers that coordinate in neighborhoods, tutoring in libraries, driving kids and adults to the multitude of places they need to get to, adopting families, visiting hospital patients, advocating for refugee and immigrant rights, fundraising, teaching art, quilting and sewing.

When I attended the Cint. Rotary Clubs luncheon on March 2, 2017 with my family I couldn’t wait to see the video.  My husband asked why, I said “I want to see how Selena managed to take the 25 minutes or so of me talking and then reducing it to a 5 minute or less video to tell my story about Heartfelt Tidbits.”  When I saw the video, it brought me to tears.  Selena did a fantastic job in condensing a story that’s larger than life, so many moving pieces and parts and at times quite overwhelming, into a beautiful narrative that made sense.

While I didn’t win the local award I found myself satisfied to be considered and reminded of what brought me to this point.  One single family, with a story that moved and transformed mine and my families life forever.  For this I’ll be forever grateful.

Volunteering with Local Refugees by Carol Gates

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If you asked me a year ago what I thought I’d be spending most of my time and energy on right now – my answer would have been totally wrong. But, as always, God works in mysterious ways- and as always His plan is better than our own. Harder? Maybe. But so, so much better. In light of what is going on in the U.S and around the world, I have been urged to share a bit about my experience.
Over a year ago when the Syrian crisis really hit the news, I felt that I should be doing something. I began learning about the refugee resettlement process and discovered how complicated and slow it is. First, they did not want to be refugees. They loved their homes and their countries and only left because they were in danger of being killed at the hands of the government or by the violence literally surrounding their homes. One of the families I know only left when their 3 year old was almost hit by shrapnel! They have waited for years for their chance to come. Terrorists are not sitting in refugee camps waiting for their turn. My Syrian friends waited for 3 years. My Bhutanese friends waited for 20 years !!! Our vetting process works. Not one person in the US has been killed by a refugee. (Compared to 27 people each day dying by a drunk driver.) Continue reading “Volunteering with Local Refugees by Carol Gates”

2016 Reflection

What a year it’s been for Heartfelt Tidbits. We experienced a great deal of antagonism towards our agency and the clients that we support along with an outpouring of love. To say it was an easy year would be lying. As the executive director, it was one of the toughest we’ve experienced and yet the most fulfilling. Continue reading “2016 Reflection”

Art – The Universal Language

A few months ago I received an email from Calcagno (Cal) Cullen asking to meet with me to discuss refugees living in Cincinnati. She stated that she was an artist, art teacher, and owner of the Wave Pool Art Gallery. She had recently finished a collaborative project with refugees living in a camp in Southern Italy. She did several art projects related to their hopes, dreams, and memories and worked to turn some of their art into a wallpaper design that now benefits the UNHCR (read more here: http://www.telephoneheart.com/#/wearehere/). We arranged a meeting in late March and the creative adventure began.

Many resettled refugee adults and youth are natural artists and spent their days drawing and creating art to pass the time in refugee camps. Upon arriving in America, art falls to back burner while they try to manage and acclimate to their new life. We noticed their passion for creating and were using art as a way to expand their vocabulary and friendships along with feeding their soul. After meeting Cal there was a new excitement.

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Ram Rai’s acrylic painting depicting life in the refugee camp.

I wondered what could we create when led by a true artist? Little did I know that creating art with her would be the tip of the iceberg. The relationship blossomed into so much more. Continue reading “Art – The Universal Language”

Memories

During my recent road trip out west with my family I was able to share many childhood memories with my kids. As we were driving towards Illinois, I shared the multiple visits I made to my great-grandmother’s home along the same highway while being cramped in the back of a ’63 Barracuda with my brother and uncle. While in Mt. Rainier National Park, I asked my children if the mountain landscape reminded them of our visit to Nepal and the Himalayan mountains they had seen there. Over the course of 7,000 miles in the car we had ample opportunity to share stories about my childhood memories and theirs.

After arriving in Seattle my mother inquired if we had seen a newscast where they had highlighted a local community garden filled with refugees, called the Namaste Community Garden:

http://www.king5.com/news/local/community-garden-helps-refugees-rebuild-their-lives/272514804

I told her that I hadn’t but while we were there we had to visit. I wanted to compare it to the community garden that we have locally, The Franciscan Ministries Community Garden at 110 Compton Rd.

We planned the visit during a day we would be sightseeing in the area. I looked up the address for the Namaste Community Garden. We drove through a suburb and found it nestled neatly at the end of a road on the property of St. Thomas Catholic Church. Upon arriving, the entrance opened up to a large green area, with the garden being on the left and a brick building and parking lot further up the road. The kids asked if I was sure this was place, since there wasn’t a sign. I quickly replied, “Of course, see the sticks?” The sticks used for trellising are a signature technique for Bhutanese gardeners.

We entered the gate and were quickly greeted by an elderly Bhutanese man, Jit, the garden caretaker and shed key holder. He couldn’t speak English but was able to share information about it with my husband who speaks Nepali. He was so excited, as were the other gardeners that we stopped to visit. Everyone shared their gardens and offered us produce.

Jit went and summoned Paul Hardin, a part of the St. Thomas ministry, to meet us. As Paul and I were discussing both community gardens and our work with refugees, I realized how similar the issues and benefits were. We both recognized that the garden is what reminds refugees of home. Many refugees from Bhutan, Africa, Burma, and Laos were avid gardeners. Working in the soil, growing the food that they are familiar with, participating with their neighbors and harvesting with their family are their memories from home that they can share. Gardening becomes their social event, a mental connection to memories they left behind and a way to share with the community one of the many gifts they brought with them. Paul shared that they had expanded to add 30 more crops to their garden this year. I laughed and said yes, we could have 5 acres tilled and it still wouldn’t be enough.

I spoke with other gardeners about their experience in the U.S. and Seattle in particular, and asked if they knew anyone in Cincinnati. The gardeners took the time to answer my questions related to composting, gardening and fencing techniques – and I answered theirs related to cost of living in Cincinnati. In a short hour a lasting friendship was formed. People started asking if we had a place to stay, if we needed dinner or anything else. I was amazed – strangers an hour ago and now friends, because of far away connections.

They were curious if I saw the similarities between Nepal and Washington. I explained that this was the first thing I thought of when I saw the mountain range near Mt. Rainier and the green that surrounded us. Some shared that seeing the mountain range comforted them and others said it made them sad because it was a reminder to the home they had left behind.

As I reflect on this trip and the memories that were made with my family, I pray that my children will be able to share this same journey with their families. For refugees and immigrants that have been forced to leave their homelands behind, my heartaches for them. I am glad that community gardens provide a way to fill a void in their lives that is needed.

In Cincinnati at the Franciscan Ministries Community Garden, refugees are given opportunity to participate in gardening education with Turner Farms and have become community crop plot garden leaders and members of the community garden committee. Their enthusiasm and knowledge of gardening has been instrumental in the success of the garden that coincidentally began the year that Bhutanese refugees began arriving in Cincinnati, 2008. The refugee population now makes up over 50% of the garden plots and the garden donates an average of 1000 pounds of produce to community food pantries.

Each ethnic gardener takes so much pride in the crops they produce and boast how they are able to not only feed their family but their extended families. On a rainy day you can drive by and notice an umbrella with a man or woman underneath tending to the soil. As they tell me, the dirt provides them comfort and reminds them of home. I often see their children sitting in the garden or helping them while their parents quickly speak their native tongue and I wonder if they’re sharing their childhood stories and memories with them.

 

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Sorting and preparing the vegetables at Namaste

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Namaste Community Garden in Seattle
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Jit – The Garden Manager
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Franciscan Community Garden
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Organizing a volunteer workday at the Franciscan Community Garden
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Managing paths in Cincinnati

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Compost overload.
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Creating a trellis for the beans.

 

 

How Did I Get Here …

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If you’re a subscriber to our blog you’ve probably been wondering why hasn’t there been a posting? It’s simple. This post is from me, Sheryl Rajbhandari, the founder and executive director of Heartfelt Tidbits.

For 19 days writing this blog post has been on the top of my “to do” list yet it never had the black line marked through it. I would be lying if I said I just didn’t know what to say. If you know me, you know that I never have a shortage of stories to share. I have struggled a bit with where to begin but I solved that while brushing my teeth this morning.

So how did I found and become an executive director of Heartfelt Tidbits? I believe it was always meant to be. As a young girl I would travel downtown and was fascinated with the homeless. I wanted to understand who were they, where they lived and share their brown bag lunches. When I left for college my fascination of people that were different than me grew. I lived in an international dorm. I was the girl that played the 30-question game with everyone I met. Not to be nosy, but because I was amazed at how my dorm mates left their safety net and traveled alone on an airplane to a foreign country to go to school. My mind wondered what would entice someone to do this. Four years later while meeting with my advisor to make sure I had what I needed to graduate with my computer science degree, she told me that while she loved having me as a student she just couldn’t picture me sitting at a computer and programming for a living. If I saw her today I would let her know she was correct. Don’t get me wrong – I loved my corporate life in computer science. I was successful, I climbed the ladder and rose to the role I had dreamt of – but deep down I was always searching for more.

Continue reading “How Did I Get Here …”