Week 46 & 47: An Invisible Horse and some Visible kids

Project: Horse Farm St. Jude card recycling (Week 46)

and speaking at a high school (Week 47)

Actual Time Taken: 1.75 hours

Week 46

Our first week here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin I had every intention of getting up at 8:00 am to help clean stables at a horseback riding therapy charity. But life had other plans for me.

I woke up to a cold, snowy morning and a flat, flat tire. Whomp whomp.

So I had to cancel with these very nice horsey-type people. All I managed to get done for that week of volunteering was recycling all of my various plastic gift cards and forgotten hotel keys, and recycling card covers for St. Jude’s Hospital.

These two projects are super easy, and since the holidays are coming up where you’ll most likely get lots of both holiday cards and gift cards, here’s where to send them when you’re ready.

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Gift cards, hotel keys, keychain cards, oh my!

Why recycle those little plastic cards, you ask? Well, according to Earth911.com, these plastic cards are made up of PVC material, and the website states that 75 million pounds of PVC material enter the waste stream every year! While this material is infinitely recyclable, not many public recycling plants take them, so here’s what you can do!

When the gift cards are spent, wrap them up in an envelope and send them to :

Earthworks c/o Halprin Ind.
25840 Miles Rd.
Bedford, Oh 44146
As for all of those holiday cards, they are remade into new cards by the kids in the St. Jude’s hospitals and sold to “support our programs and services for abused, neglected and homeless children, young adults and families.” You don’t have to limit the kinds of cards you send to just holiday cards either- they take cards for all occasions and currently they specifically need birthday and thank you cards.
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I managed to get a few birthday covers in there too!
So rip off the fronts of all those cards you were just going to throw away after the holidays and send just the pretty front covers to:
St. Jude’s Ranch for Children Recycled Card Program
100 St. Jude’s Street
Boulder City, NV 89005

 

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 The end result

I did all of this in under 15 minutes, so I didn’t quite make my hour goal this week… but there’s still a few weeks left in this year to hit that mark!
Week 47
This week we got to speak at a performing arts high school here in Milwaukee. The kids were all super stoked to ask us all sorts of questions, as most were seniors about to go off to various arts schools. Most already knew they wanted to have a career in the arts, and at the end one guy came up to us and shook all of our hands saying “I’ll be seeing you in two years.” with all the confidence in the world.
I love it. And I don’t doubt it.
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As professional as we always are…
~ ~ ~
Thanks to Earth911.com for the info on recycling gift cards!
Thanks to St Jude’s for the info on the card recycling!
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Week 45: Kids and Kitties for one last week in Columbus

Project: Elementary School and Colony Cats

Actual Time Taken: 3 hours

It was our last week here in Columbus, and our last week is always a bit hectic. Between packing, finding a new place to live in the next city, and cramming all the things you meant to do before you left a city, I didn’t have enough time to hit all three places I’ve been volunteering here in Columbus. But the two I did get to were so much fun, and I’m so thankful that they were able to have me again!

I went back to visit my friend who teaches a class of autistic children at an elementary school in a Columbus suburb one last time. Her kids actually remembered me, which I didn’t expect, and one child said “Oh, the Lion King agaaaain?” when I walked in. I thought it was hilarious, replying that it was nice to see him too.

I didn’t have any coloring pages to bring, so I helped them with their afternoon activities on the iPad, played a few board games, made fun sand castles with some weird kinetic sand, and helped them with counting on the computer. I was so happy to see their completed Lion King gallery of watercolor works of art from the coloring pages I had brought them the last week. We had a great time, with one of them asking if I could “Come back in two days?” I replied that I so wish I could, and believe me, if I lived here, I would be in that class room every week. Those kids seriously stole my heart.

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Their Lion King watercolor art gallery

On the way out I got to pop into the teachers bathroom and was amused by the sensation that was clearly left over from my own elementary school years- I wasn’t supposed to be in there- only teachers are allowed in the teachers lounge! Oooooo, I’m gonna tell!!! (Some things never change, huh?) Hanging on the wall in the stalls were adorable white boards for the teachers to ‘talk’ to each other, which I found hilarious.

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Official teacher-bathroom ‘grafiti’

I also got to make one last trip to the Colony Cats, and I found that as I was cleaning, I kept looking out for that tiny little black kitten who was so in love with me last week.

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A fully occupied cat-tree-apartment

I made my way though the various rooms in the colony, cleaning as I subtly searched for Mario. I felt like a girl at a school dance, hoping that the boy I had a crush on was there, but not being overt in my search for him.

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No sign of Mario here in the nap room… (Who am I kidding- they’re all the ‘nap’ rooms)

As I went along I found evidence of the same shenanigans that my cat gets into at my house, including his fascination with rolls of paper, be it of the toilet or of the towel variety.

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<– Paper towel and toilet paper rolls

just aren’t safe here… —>

I still couldn’t find my little friend, so I went next door to where they keep the ill cats in quarantine, for their own healing and to mitigate their contagion from spreading though out the population. Each cage had a tag attached to it explaining the cat’s ailment or background and some of them were absolutely heart breaking. Some were ‘surrenders,’ from owners who no longer wanted the cat, and some had serious illnesses, such as one kitten who was battling cerebal palsy.

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  <— The quarantined kitties and their life stories —>

This side of the Colony was hard to see, but it was also really great to see what great care these cats are getting, even if they are being rescued while battling some kind of illness.

I looked high and low in both rooms of the Colony and couldn’t find the affectionate black kitten from last week. Finally, I asked one of the volunteers about his fate, and she cheerfully reported that he had been adopted out.

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Mario is at some loving home somewhere in Columbus now. What a lucky family to have such a love bug!

Part of me was terribly disappointed- I had already decided that if he was still at the Colony I would take him home. But another part of me was relieved. We really don’t have room in our lives for another pet right now, and I was so happy to hear that he had found a forever home with a  loving family. I mean, who could blame them- he was the cutest, most affectionate cat I had ever seen! Of course he was adopted. So I heaved a heavy sigh, perked up at the thought of him having a good home, and finished up cleaning the Colony one last time.

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Another super sweet kitty who needs a home!

I had such a great time volunteering at all the places I got to in Columbus- from petting bunnies to scooping litter to hanging out with some very special kids, Columbus was surprisingly fun for me, and I will definitely miss these very special non-profits when I leave at the end of the week!

All pictures by me!

Week 44: The week I almost made a huge life mistake…. (Or Bunnies, Kitties, and Kids, oh my!)

Project (s): Ohio Rabbit Rescue, Colony Cats, and an Elementary School visit

Time Taken: 4.5 hours

I went for the Volunteering in Columbus trifecta this week by hitting three non-profits in seven days.

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I really had my hands full this week. (See what I did there?)

I started the week off volunteering at the Ohio House Rabbit Rescue again by  socializing the bunnies, but this time I had backup. A couple of girls from the cast expressed interest in volunteering at the rabbit rescue with me, so I brought them along this week.

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Volunteering is a serious business. Clearly.

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Deidrea getting in some quality time with Snowball.

A total of four of us descended upon the Ohio Rabbit Rescue house that afternoon (trust me, it’s easy to round up people to pet bunnies for an hour) and spent a few hours petting, cooing, and giggling with the buns as they hopped around their pens happily. It was a win-win situation, for sure.

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Our PT Dionne doing some good!

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Cuddle time for Friar!

A few days later, I went to an elementary school where my friend teaches a special needs class. She has numerous assistants, but the more the merrier, so I came in for an hour at the end of a school day. I brought some Lion King coloring pages and we showed them the YouTube preview of the show, so they would understand why a strange lady showed up one day with coloring pages from an ‘ancient’ movie, as far as their five-year-old lives were concerned.

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A preview on YouTube of our show, projected on their awesome SmartBoard.

(It’s a white board that you can interact with computer programs on! We live in the future!)

I had so much fun playing with the kids, helping them move from station to station around their classroom. Each student had their own schedule to follow each day, which kept them on task for this free hour at the end of the school day. My coloring pages became a station unto itself and the watercolors were broken out, which is a rare treat for them. When they were done, they got to tape up their works of art on the wall for all to see, and it was so great to see them add their creations one by one.

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A few of their pieces of art.

To round out my week, I hit up the Colony Cats again. I started off this week cleaning the kitten room, which is exactly as heaven-like as it sounds- a room full of kittens, all clamoring for your love and attention.

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Kittens, kittens everywhere!

These kittens were very determined to not have me work. One kitten thought the brush was a toy and dueled with me the entire time I was brushing his cat tree.

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Hey. You. Human. Stop working and play with me.

After shooing away the first meddlesome kitten, I bent down for a hairball and I felt four paws land on my back. I looked up to find Rascal, an 8 month old orange tabby, who felt like going for a ride.

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Giddy up human!

While I was de-velcrowing Rascal from my sweater, another kitten had decided that the paper towel roll was the perfect size to be his sparring partner, and I turned around to find him wrapped around the roll, chewing up the towels with abandon.

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Not. Helpful.

Some kittys aren’t as meddlesome, but more lonely than anything. Certain cats just need some extra love, and they’re not afraid to ask for it.

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Kitty climbing up my leg for loves.

Most of these persistent kitties go away after a few pets, but one kitten did something I’ve never seen before. I bent down to clean the base a cat tree when a tiny 7 month old black kitten named Mario walked straight up to me and literally climbed up my chest. He wrapped his two little paw on either side of my neck, nestled his face into mine, and I melted. I let him have a little snuggle time, but when I tried to put him down to finish cleaning, he proceeded to climb right back into hugging-position.

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Hugz. I needs them.

“What are you doing??” I asked, slightly surprised. He was so in need of love and attention, he could not be deterred. I must have tried to put this kitten down about five times and five times he climbed me like a tree. At one point he realized that he could perch on my back as I cleaned, and decided that my back was where he wanted to stay for the rest of the time I was there.

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Mario taking a snuggle ride.

I was fully in love. Phillip came by to pick me up and I showed him this tiny ball of love. He picked Mario up to see what all the fuss was about and the kitten promptly fell asleep in his arms.

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Phillip is a popular napping spot for our furry kids too.

“We are taking him home.” Phillip declared with absolute finality.

We were so close to just throwing him in a box and walking out the door, but we forced ourselves to walk out of the Colony to clear our heads. But for a good hour or so, we were determined to get this cat.

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Mario loved the aquarium and would take breaks from my shoulders to paw at the glass.

As the day wore on, however, our senses returned. We absolutely cannot adopt another soul at this point in our lives. We just got an RV that we aren’t totally settled in yet, we have a dog who was away for training and hadn’t even seen his new house yet, and we have a cat who absolutely abhors the sight of other members of his own species. I mean DESPISES them. It’s to the point where Copeland literally goes straight for the jugular of the offending cat upon sight.

Yeah. No way. Can’t do it.

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I already have my hands full at home… we can’t adopt another one right now.

So I decided that we couldn’t get him.

(Unless he was still at the Colony next week….)

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Love bug.

All pictures taken by me!

If you want to help out at these amazing charities, visit their websites here:

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Week 33: DC Children’s Hospital Visit

Project: Children’s Hospital visit for the Lion King

Actual Time Taken: 1 hour

 

What do Chris Pratt and I have in common?

 

Probably a lot. 

 

But one thing that we both did a few weeks ago was visit Children’s Hospitals! (Granted, he went as Star Lord from Gaurdians of the Galaxy and I went as “That Little Asian Dancer in the Lion King Tour,” but still…)

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This post is Chris Pratt approved. (I assume.)

And I know it sounds strange, but I legitimately get excited to visit a Children’s Hospital. There are so many sad stories, difficult situations, and sick kids that it’s hard to imagine being excited to visit such a place. But every time we as a cast get a chance to visit, I look forward to it.

 

I’m excited to see the smiling faces of the kids facing seemingly insurmountable odds. I can’t wait to sit and talk to the weary parents and connect with them on such a human level though such a surreal theatrical show such as ours. I always hope to find someone who not only knows our show (as most everyone we meet as at least seen the animated movie once) but who is also passionate about dance, music, theater, or any of the arts.

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 2.53.38 PMMy cast mates making a difference! Love my co-workers!

This past visit did not disappoint. We arrived early in the morning (9:45 am is the crack of dawn for us night-owl entertainers!) and were ushered into a small arts and crafts room. Some of the patients were already coloring away on the lion masks that Disney had sent ahead, and stopped outlining the mane of the mask in purple and pink long enough to shoot us quick, shy smiles.

 

We navigated our way though the rolling IV stands, shin-high chair and table sets, and wheelchairs to meet the many mini-smiling faces on their level. One beautiful little girl I sat with was busy coloring in her hospital  gown, and finally placed her aqua and purple colored lion mask on her perfectly bald head with such pride that I couldn’t help but smile.

 

Another young girl I met was also going though some kind of treatment (we tend not to ask and try to keep it on the positive stuff- less diagnoses and doctors, more music and laughter helps to heal, me thinks.) talked to me so openly and happily about her love of singing and music. She said she needed to work on her dancing a bit, and once she was released from the hospital and free of her wheelchair, she would get right on it, to which I encouraged her to keep persuing her dream of being on stage no matter what.

 

But to be honest, my words felt so hollow. What inspiration could I give this strong, brave, beautiful girl who is battling her disease and yet still dreams of a life on stage? I feel like sometimes I get excited to go to these Children’s Hospital visits for a completely selfish reason- because these children always end up inspiring me in the most deep and profound way. People say that us visiting with them our stories of life on the road, giving out Lion King swag, and showing the videos of our show brings so much joy to the children and families dealing with serious illnesses, but the truth is the light that they bring to my life far eclipses anything I could ever offer them.

 

So thank you to the Children’s Hospitals, the Lion King, and the young children and families who are fighting for their health, and still allow a moment of joy to pass between us. These visits always affect me in the most profound way, and I am already excited for my next visit.

 

Maybe next time I’ll go as Gamora for extra fun-zies.

 

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Often mistaken for She-Hulk, I’m sure…

Weeks 29-30: The Hunter becomes the Hunted

Project: Lion King Talkbacks

 

Actual Time: 2 hours

To be honest, I’m usually scrambling weekly to find an hour of volunteer work every week in every city. It’s harder than you would think, given the fact that we travel full time. Most places want a month-to-month commitment, or lengthy trainings, or background checks, and for good reason. I wouldn’t trust transient strangers with my city’s children/elderly/homeless neighbors either.

But these two weeks, two opportunities literally fell into my lap.

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Outreaching in Baltimore

At the Lion King, we get lots of opportunities to give back to the community, if we so choose, though question and answer sessions after the show. Usually these are arranged by our PR department, but sometimes cast members arrange them on their own. This week’s particular session (Week 29, for those keeping count) was arranged by Russel Joel Brown, and featured 125 of his roommate’s church’s congregation members.

You read that right.

One hundred and twenty five.

Usually, large groups are accommodated by having them wait in their seats in the theater after the show lets out. Unfortunately, this arrangement is usually set up by the PR department, and since this session was set up by a cast member, having the hundred and twenty five guests stay in the house wasn’t an option.

So we trucked them all backstage, up an elevator (in groups of ten), into our rehearsal room, and into metal folding chairs. All onehundredandtwentyfive of them.

But the effort was totally worth it, as it always is. The group had wonderful questions and everyone was ever so thankful for the question and answer session, so as always, it was worth every elevatorherding, group-wrangling, metal-folding-chair-hauling moment.

The next week, (Week 30, as the moon follows the sun) was brought to me by our Shenzi, Rashada Dawan. 

She randomly ran into a former college classmate, Bresean Jenkins, at one of the numerous Smithsonian museums and, as it happened, he was currently running an arts camp at a local charter school. She offered to come talk to his students, and he jumped at the chance,  immediately booking her and a few cast members to stop by the camp.

Rashada, myself, and fellow ensemble dancer Leroy Church stopped by ConneXions Community Leadership Academy to lead a question and answer session for their first ever summer arts program and were promptly surprised by a full out performance! The kids had been working on scenes from “Once on this Island,” and performed with such enthusiasm, talent, and excitement, it literally brought us to tears.

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These kids were GIVING it!!!

It is always so humbling to see kids who just love to sing, dance, and move so excited to perform for us. They see it as such an honor for them, but to be honest, the honor is truly for us. Watching them and hearing their open and sincere questions after the performance reminded us of where we came from, when we were young students at summer arts camps, after-school dance programs, and theater intensives.

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Big Finish!

It reminded us of our younger selves– curious, hungry, driven, and passionate about art. When you dance this show six days a week, eight times every seven days, it can turn into a job that you punch into and out of very quickly. But seeing these kids and their passion reenergized all of us, and reminded us of how truly fortunate we are to do what we do every day.

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SANG Rashada!

So we told them how inspired we were, Rashada sang a few amazing songs, we answered a few questions, and were on our way. But the memory of these kids, their talent, their passion, is something I will never forget. I couldn’t believe how amazing their scenes were, even in the first year of existence of this arts camp. It was exhilarating to know that this was just the beginning for this incredible school and camp.

I can’t wait to see what they do in the upcoming years, and what special talents they foster and help to grow in the future.

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Silly faces!

After all, isn’t that what all of this volunteering, helping out , inspiring others and being inspired ourselves in turn… isn’t that what it’s all about? Changing our little corner of the world for the better?

Absolutely.

Week Three: Child labor for the Elderly?

Project: Love Letters for the Elderly

Actual Time Taken: One Hour

This week, my volunteering hour is relying on child labor.

Well, sorta.

See, I found myself running out of time in my first week here in Hawaii. It’s our opening six days at the Neil Blaisdell Center in downtown Honolulu and we have nine shows to perform, counting the dress rehearsal. Not that I have anything to complain about, working in paradise and all, but the usual “first-week-in-a-city” errands and my lack of housing were eating up all of my free time this week.

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The “errands” in this city included TWO separate blessing ceremonies. *bliss*

So I scoured the interwebs on Friday for a volunteering project I could do from my computer while sitting backstage between scenes. (We have four shows between Saturday and Sunday, so essentially I spend all weekend on or off stage in the theater.)

I found some good leads, but the one that both piqued my interest and was time sensitive was the Letters of Love campaign from a website called www.dosomething.org.

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This project focuses on making Valentines Day cards for elderly people in need. The website directs you to create three or more anonymous Valentines Day cards and send them to your local Meals on Wheels location. The cards should include three facts about yourself such as what your hobbies include, (so I would say dance) what your dream job is, (my current one, dancing in the Lion King! Easy! But for anonymity’s sake, I said hosting a show on TV, another dream of mine!) and what state your from (hard for me to answer right now, since I’m on tour full time…. So I just said Florida, where I grew up).

I was planning out what I wanted my cards to say when the thought occurred to me that we have kids sitting backstage during the show that need fun things to do too, so I approached our cubs (our young Nala and Simba actors) for some help. We have two sets of cubs, and they alternate every other show. So while one set of cubs is performing, the other sits backstage during the first act just in case something happens and they need to take their counterparts place on stage.

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Nya and Jordan helping with the cause!

Since I’m busy performing the majority of the show, I dropped some craft supplies off in the kids’ dressing room at the top of the show on Saturday and joined them during our 15-minute intermissions to make cards. During the rest of the show, while I was changing in and out of costumes, they continued to happily craft away without me.

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Nate and Zyasia helped out in costume too!

By Sunday night, the kids were so into it that one of them had created a chart to document how many they had made. They had a lofty goal of 165, and although they were determined, we topped out at 35 and called it a weekend. They were so excited by the project, however, that they were disappointed when I said I had to send them in this week to make sure that the program received them in time to distribute them all. However, to me, this simply means that I have their interest for other projects, like sending letters to service men, or doing my laundry. 

Ooook, maybe not my laundry….

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Success!