Turning our Grief into Good – In honor of Robin Williams

In the afternoon of August 11th, my Facebook feed exploded with collective grief. Quotes from “Hook,” pictures of a big, blue genie, and personal recollections of what Robin Williams and his work meant to my friends filled my entire feed.

As I was scrolling though the virtual memorial that suddenly populated the internet, I felt so disappointed that such a brilliant man passed away in such a tragic, and ultimately preventable way. I started researching suicide prevention, mental illness stigma in society, and was beginning to feel inspired enough to try and make a difference for this cause.

I thought about all of my friends on Facebook who seemed to share my sadness, and began to formulate the idea for an article about how we could all help people with mental illness or suicidal thoughts in our community. Research ensued, and as I was talking to one of my friends about it, he quipped that the people on Facebook didn’t actually care. “Did any of them know him personally? No. They aren’t really that broken up about it, so they probably aren’t going to do anything about it either.”

This struck me as a strange, and possibly true statement. Yet somehow, I was deeply affected by Robin Williams’ passing, and I have to say, I do believe that my friends posting status updates of the deep emotional connection they had to the movie “Toys” were deeply affected too.

So I say: let’s prove my friend wrong. I believe… no I KNOW that there are those out there that were affected enough by his unexpected death and inspired enough to take one, five, even twenty minutes to make a difference in honor of one of our favorite fallen stars.

Robin Williams’ legacy of comedic genius will always remain, but now we have a chance to create another legacy- a legacy of good for the mental illness community to help prevent similar tragedies in the future. In fact, his wife released a beautiful statement just today stating that “Robin spent so much of his life helping others… It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid.”

So let’s honor the memory of this amazing man and do our part to make the world a little bit better. Let me know what you chose to do with your moment of good in the comments, and I’ll try to capture the look of shock on my friends’ face when I tell him how much good we all got done in Robin William’s honor.

Got just One Minute?

– Post something uplifting to your Facebook wall. You never know who is having a bad day (or worse) and the joy it may bring. Let your friends know that you are a safe place to come to if they are in need emotionally. (And if you aren’t, you know where to send them…)

– Send someone a quick, happy, loving text. Even if you haven’t spoken in years. (all the better!) Let them know they’re on your mind, that they’re special, that they smell good… whatever you think would spread some happiness. The more joy that is out there, the more good can be in the world as a whole.

Got Five Minutes? 

– Make a donation to one of the not-for-profit numerous charities that help people struggling with suicidal thoughts. Even a dollar makes a difference, and if you’re on a budget, I the good karma you get for your donation will help you live without your Starbucks fix for one day.

– Sign a pledge to stop stigmatizing mental disorders. Make a promise to yourself to help create a more open and inviting environment for people to come forward for the treatment of mental illnesses.

Got Twenty Minutes?

 Educate yourself about mental illness. Here’s a wonderful article on increasing the awareness of mental illness in the wake of this tragedy. The more you know and understand, the more you can help and stop ostracizing people (even unwittingly!) struggling with mental illness. (Cue shooting star with a rainbow tail to race above my head.)

– Gather supplies for a care package for the elderly. Depression among the elderly, especially in nursing homes, can be upwards of 50%. A Meals-on-Wheels chapter in San Diego combats this by collecting care packages for their clients’ birthdays and holidays. (Here’s some cool care package theme ideas!) You can send a small package to them, or find a local nursing home to drop off a sweet surprise. (Or better yet, go in and spend twenty minutes visiting! I promise the hilarious stories you will get in return will make it worth the visit!)

Got an Hour?

– Put up flyers around the neighborhood for iFred. This not-for-profit (whose full name is the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression.) is all about sharing a new, more positive perspective on depression to help eliminate the stigma associated with the disease.

– Garden for a Good Cause. Plant a sunflower, or an entire garden, and put up a sign in support of iFred. They use sunflowers as a symbol of a symbol of support for mental illness and depression, so plant your flower and signage in a nice, visible spot!

Ready to commit to the cause?

– Volunteer for a crisis center. This is not for the faint of heart or for the inconsistent. If you feel truly passionate about making a difference for the prevention of suicide, this is the most direct and immediate way to do so. There are so many places that are looking for volunteers, so find a center near you, and make a difference!

One small act really can make a difference, and no matter what you choose to do, let us know in the comments below so I can brag to my friend about how amazing our readers are!

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Week Seven: Random Acts of Kindness Weak (Week….)

Project: Love Letters for the Elderly and Random Acts of Kindness Week

Actual Time Taken: 35 minutes

Blast. Missed my weekly hour goal again. But at least that “A” for effort is there, right??

I finally finished up the Love Letters for the elderly program by dropping off our 300+ Valentines Day cards to the Meals on Wheels of Honolulu. (The entire campaign raised over 100,000 cards nationwide, which is nothing short of amazing!) I’m happy to report that they were completely taken aback by the volume of cards and were extremely appreciative. It felt so good to drop them off to the office and see the surprise on their faces at the sheer number of construction paper hearts.

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“Hearts” and crafts. Ha!

Also, Facebook, where I (sadly) ingest most of my breaking social news, informed me that it was Random Acts of Kindness Week. Feeling a bit lazy after such a concentrated effort on the Love Letters project for so many weeks, I decided to make this the focus of my hour of volunteering for the week.

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Random Acts of Kindness RAKS… apparently.

To kick off Random Act of Kindness (or RAK, as the graphic above calls it) week, I pulled out the ‘big guns,’ and bought a $10 Jamba Juice card (after purchasing my own Strawberry Raspberry Banana with energy booster, natch). I instructed the slightly confused cashier to give it to the next customer who came into the store. I was lucky enough to see this person come in as I waited for my order to be filled, and smiled quietly to myself into my matcha green tea shot as the woman receiving the card reacted with surprise and delight. She covered her mouth in shock and kept saying “No way, no way!

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My friend Hero and I downing our matcha green tea shots with our brave faces on…

Yes way, lady. It’s the power of the RAK.

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Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness. #6 is something weird like “try a new fruit,”

so I guess that falls under being kind to your… body?

The next day, I brought sushi to a friend at work (Ok, not so random… but still kindright?) because I know she loves it and it absolutely made her smile. Wednesday, I went on a scuba diving trip and ended up giving a ride to some people on the trip who I had just met but who were stranded at the dive shop, but that really felt like something I would do any given day, so I’m not sure how much that ‘counted.’ (Also, I’m not sure if I know who’s actually ‘counting,’ either. So there’s that…)

Thursday night, while grocery shopping with my boyfriend, I realized I hadn’t done a RAK Act (as I’ve now coined it, ahem…) for the day, so at the checkout register I bought the Kit Kats on sale, 4 for $3 (what a steal!) and gave one to the cashier, one to the person behind us in line, one to my boyfriend, and one to myself. (It’s kinda like the list says about trying new fruit, except I’m being nice to my tongue and not necessarily my body…)

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So this article came out yesterday. Timely! (And strange, what’s a Chicken Dinner candy bar?!)

Friday I fell behind and had planned to make up for it over the weekend, by doing lots of extra ‘acts,’ but by Saturday morning I found myself in the hospital, doped up on morphine for the first (and hopefully last) time of my life.

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Oh don’ t you worry. I checked in at the hospital on Facebook. Natch.

A little personal medical history: four years ago I herniated a disk in my neck. This is one of the many party gifts that a career in dance leaves you with- numerous, random, and sometimes serious injuries you get to nurse into your twilight years. Anywho, Friday night I felt something strange in my neck while I was dancing on stage, but ignored it, as we dancers are used to ignoring most pain… that is, until you can’t anymore. That moment came for me sometime around 6 am on Saturday morning, when I woke up in a full neck spasm and unable to move whatsoever.

Long story short, a trip to the ER and a litany of drugs knocked me out for the rest of the week, thereby stealing my chances to continue my RAK week (yes, lame excuse, going to the hospital. I know…) but I think I’ll try to sneak a few acts in this week (I think I’m about three behind?) to finish out my RAK week strong! (My neck, on the other hand, will be taking it nice and eeeeasy…)

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Week Six: Finishing up and starting a(new)

Project: Love Letters for the Elderly and Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind

Actual Time Taken: 30 minutes

 This week I made two realizations. One- I’m not technically behind on blogs. I can’t very well write about what I’ve done during the week before it’s over, now can I? So now I’m writing in retrospect– such as this week- since it’s currently Week 7,  I’ll write about Week 6. So now I won’t be so hard on myself for being ‘behind‘ anymore. (See my resolutions post on being nicer to myself in 2014)

Secondly, I realized that without proper motivation (i.e. money) I probably wouldn’t get close to the goal of 500 Valentines Day cards for the senior citizens with Meals on Wheels program in the greater Honolulu area. So after posting posters to entice my 100+ person cast to help out with the cause, I upped my ante (literally) and offered a reward for the most cards made and a random raffle that everyone who made a card would be entered into.

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Apparently, that did the trick.

By the end of the week, we were pushing 250 cards, and more were being made daily. On Sunday, our little cubs counted up the cards and found out that our grand total was 330 cards! Amazing!!!

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Unfortunately, making the incentive posters only took about 15 minutes, and I was feeling a bit run down, so I didn’t take too much time to make more cards. (I told you I would be honest about falling short of my hour goal every week!) To try make up for that lost time, I started on my next project, which is for the Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind.

This is a program I signed up for years ago when I was touring in the north east, but never got a chance to actually volunteer for them. They offer many services, such as interpreting for and reading to the blind. I randomly received an email newsletter a few weeks ago and realized it was perfect for this my mission this year!

I wrote to them about possibly helping out while I’m traveling and they wrote back with the perfect project for me. I will order a book (or get it from the library) that they choose and transcribe it into a Word document. It’s usually a children’s book, so it’s not too lengthy. After I send them the book in Word format, they feed it though a program that will turn it into braille form.

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So I guess I’ll be reading/typing this book for a few weeks…

I ordered the book off of Amazon (another 15 minutes worth of work) and expected it to come early next week. We’ll see how fast Two Day service can get to Hawaii…

I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t make my whole hour of service this week, but I am simply going to use that as motivation for next week. After all….

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Week Five: Behind on Blogs, Recruiting More Writers

Project: Love Letters for the Elderly and Outreach for the Lion King

Actual Time Taken: 2:15

It’s only week five of 2014, and I’m already a bit behind on this blog.

At the beginning of the year, I would have suspected that the hardest part of the experiment of volunteering an hour every week would be finding the projects to volunteer for, but not so… I’m finding that the hardest part is finding the time to write about it!

This week, for example, I have two, count them TWO, volunteering opportunities, and can barely find time to hit the keys about them. Ironic.

The first project I’m continuing is the Love Letters for the Elderly project from dosomething.org, but with a larger goal. We made 35 cards last week, a paltry sum after realizing that the Meals on Wheels in Honolulu services about 500 people.

(We’re gonna need a bigger boat….)

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So I recruited the entire cast.

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We travel about 115 people in the cast and crew of the Lion King. I’m thinking that if we all just made just five cards, we could be done lickity split. But I can’t count on every electrician or singer to have an iota of artistic motivation, so I’ll beg some of my more motivated co-workers to make a few extra cards for the cause.

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Sue in the Puppets Department made her own heart-shaped stamps!! Crafty!

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Our Nala Nia Holloway gets into the charity Valentines Day spirit!

The second volunteering event was a question and answer session with a local school. Our Shenzi, (hyena in the show, Rashada Dawan) organized this outreach, and I always love doing this kind of thing. Getting out of the theater, meeting local people, getting to actually talk to them instead of dancing at them is really fun for me.

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A thank you card from an earlier outreach effort. So cute!

A few of my fellow cast members and I showed up at Governor Wallace Rider Farrington High School at 2:30 on Thursday to talk to the local drama club, The T-Shirt Theater. This group seeks out the most promising talents from three local high schools and trains them in drama, dance, singing, and even backstage crafts. After receiving fragrent lei’s and welcoming hugs, we found ourselves in a large circle with 30 of these young thespians. They invited us to participate in their daily opening exercise of saying their name and something positive that happened to them that day. (Mine went something like “Hi, my name is Selena, and seeing as I was a bit lost and about 10 minutes late, the good thing that happened to me was finding this place!”)

The kids were incredibly attentive and excited to ask us questions about what it was like to live and perform on a real-life Broadway tour. They had great questions, like “When did you know you wanted to be in theater?” and “What was it like to audition?” Thankfully no one asked those awkward questions, that I have actually been asked in Q&A’s around the country, such as “How much money do you make?” and “Can you put a good word in with casting for me?”

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These kids rock!

After two hours of chatting with the group, we taught them Circle of Life, complete with lyrics (The REAL lyrics, not the “pink pajamas, penguins on the bottom” that we all sang as kids…) and choreography. We split the class into groups; one big group of prancing zebras, one group of flapping birds, one group of baby elephants, and one group of leaping gazelles. After we taught them movement and lyrics, we forced them to combine the two at the same time, just like we do every night on stage. As we all dissolved into giggles, I was thankful that such a wonderful volunteering opportunity fell into my lap, and felt good about how I spent my hour giving back this week

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!