Home for the Holidays

I live in a teeny tiny town in a part of the state that’s largely ignored. For whatever reason, the south coast of Massachusetts has lagged far behind other areas in terms of commerce and development. Even tourism–which the region is prime for because of its beautiful landscape and miles of shoreline– is basically nonexistent in comparison to other parts of the state. We don’t get the crowds that flock to the cape. And we don’t have enough industry to support any significant growth in the year-round population. So that all translates into fewer amenities for those of us who call the South Coast home.

It’s pretty sleepy, but a few times a year our little community comes alive with a spirit that’s bigger and greater than anywhere else I’ve lived. There are three town events that bring us together- a town party in August, a big Halloween celebration in October, and my favorite by far, the Christmas Stroll in December.

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At the Stroll, Santa comes chugging in by boat, and then spends the rest of the afternoon spiriting kids through the village in a horse-drawn hay wagon. The town is packed with people of all ages milling in and out of the festively decorated little shops that are offering good cheer. Sounds of the season (in the form of the elementary school band) waft through the air as you greet friends and neighbors at every turn. Yes, it’s like a Norman Rockwell painting come alive. And I’m not even kidding.

I love to travel, and I often think longingly of all the years I lived in the city (and count the ones until I can return) but there’s no place I’d rather be on a cold December afternoon than in the middle of this picturesque little village, listening to my son pound out Jingle Bells with the rest of the 4th grade band, standing elbow to elbow with friends and neighbors as we sip spiked cider and watch our teenagers flit from here to there, arms linked and smiles wide. It’s like for one day, you can forget about everything else that’s happening outside of our 26 square miles and just be joyful.

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Hey there Jaime!  Always happy to see you!

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It’s called the Stroll because you do a lot of strolling.
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We’ve got a few pretty little shops like this. This is Kates Simple Eats. You can go there and eat, and it’s pretty simple. But also pretty great.

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The fourth-grade band plays first, followed by the more accomplished 5th & 6th graders. It’s kind of like when the Lumineers opened for U2 at Gillette this summer.
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The set is kind of interesting- they play all the Christmas classics like Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and Row Row Row Your Boat. But then they do end with a resounding rendition of Jingle Bells followed by the finale of the crowd pleasing Little Drummer Boy. Well, at least I think it was Little Drummer Boy.
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My son plays the drums. He practices at home a lot. It’s awesome.
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Hi Santa. We’ve all been pretty good this year. Ok, well not ALL of us. But most of us. Some of us. All right, honestly, NONE of us have been good this year. But 2017 was awful and brought out the worst in everyone. We promise to be better in 2018.
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I love decked halls.
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And I love Prosecco in my cider.
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Cocoa, cookies and Santa hats for all, except that guy. He didn’t get the memo, I guess.
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If you had cider or cocoa at every single shop you might just float away or at the very least feel like I do today (which is not so good).
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We draw all the big names in entertainment…
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Big names and holiday stars…even Rudolph! The Grinch comes too, but I avoid him because: good vibes only.
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It’s really amazing and wonderful to see so many people on Front Street. This is approximately 2000% more foot traffic than you see on a normal day.

This year it’s especially important to embrace the feel-good days.  The days filled with small moments that make your heart swell. A smile exchanged, a laugh shared, a warm hug- the little things that are actually bigger than you think.

Community matters and communities united in a common goal can do so much. If we all commit to focusing on making positive changes and respecting and supporting each other, the world will be a lovelier place for everyone. We can and should commit to core community values that instill in all generations the importance of inclusion, acceptance, tolerance and living joyfully. Yes, John Lennon- we can all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun.

Citizen Girl

map2Today I spent the day at Our Sisters School in New Bedford. I’ve been volunteering there as a grant writer and researcher for several months now, but rarely have the opportunity to spend an extended amount of time there during the school day. But today I made time. I knew it was special, but I didn’t realize how truly wonderful it was  or how good I would feel about being a part of it until today.

OSS is a tuition free, non secular, independent school whose mission is to educate and inspire economically challenged middle school girls from the Greater New Bedford area. The goal is to help them reach their full potential in a safe, supportive and academically rigorous environment. If left to navigate through the New Bedford public school system, many of the girls might fall victim to the current statistics- New Bedford has a dismal 60% graduation rate and 17% college matriculation rate, while OSS boasts a 100% graduation rate and 99% of their graduates are accepted at a higher education institution. Not only that, but without OSS the girls would probably not have tools and resources needed to help them manage tough living environments and compromising social situations.

What impressed me most was not that the girls LOVE their 11 hour school day, that the quality of the education they’re receiving is on par with the best our state has to offer, that the curriculum is innovative and challenging, that there is a focus on enrichment or that this small school has managed to acquire resources and support a talented staff completely via community and foundation support- though all of those in themselves are impressive and important.  No, what really left an impression on me was the sense of self the students have, the leadership qualities they emulate and the total and complete commitment to being an inclusive community that they all share. Not to mention the fact that all of the students embrace the idea of giving back- they are required to complete 10-15 hours of community service each year, depending on how old they are, but one student explained to me that most of the girls far exceed the required hours simply because they love volunteering in their community and they don’t see it as a chore.

At the end of the day I sat in on their community meeting. It was an interactive, lively hour with both students and faculty contributing stories and sharing ideas. It wrapped up with a shout out session where students were encouraged to give kudos to another student or teacher who had done something exceptional. Student after student stood to give props to someone else- mainly for things a lot of people either take for granted or don’t focus on. Simple things like being easy to work with, keeping cool in a tough situation, being brave enough to share a unique idea or making someone smile when they needed it most. The confidence that peer accolades help instill in an adolescent girl is immeasurable and you can tell that these girls benefit immensely from the positive reinforcement they get from their peers. These girls are building each other up, not tearing each other down. And all of them are completely invested in the core values of the school: Community, Citizenship, Leadership, and Excellence.

I love that the school is based on these values, because they are the essence of sustainability- the foundation we need to build and maintain successful local and global communities.

This school year OSS is providing an opportunity for 68 impoverished girls to empower themselves to become leaders in their school and their community and is giving them tools and experiences that will shape their future and the future of their families and our world. It’s giving them a chance to succeed. It is giving back to our community girls who can rule the world with knowledge, confidence, kindness and compassion.

This post is not an advertisement or request for support. And by no means do I think that OSS is the only school that emulates these values or graduates productive citizens- I know that so many schools now strive to educate the whole student and support their academic and social growth, just as they do at OSS. I see it in the schools my own kids attend. I just came away from my day with such a positive, hopeful, happy feeling that I felt I needed to share the good things that were happening there. And I know that these days lots of us need to feel hopeful for tomorrow. So, if you want to know more about this special little school and the important work happening there, click here: http://www.oursistersschool.org. Or if you want to share a story about a school you know, I’d love to hear it!