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 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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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 Eight: Volunteering My Way Around Hawaii

Project: Workshop at Lanai Performing Arts Academy

Actual Time Taken: 5 hours

A few months before the Lion King made landfall in Hawaii, I received a Tweet from a mysterious man asking about a possible backstage tour or Q&A with his students. I forwarded this along the usual PR lines that Disney likes us to use, and didn’t think much about it…

That is until Andrew Gorell, our Zazu, mentioned that he received a similar message though this website. This guy is really web savvy, and determined to talk to us I thought to myself. I finally contacted the mysterious man myself and learned that the man in question, who’s named Matthew, is the leader of a performing arts program (The Lanai Academy of Performing Arts) at a school on the small island of Lanai. He and 25 of his students were flying over to the Oahu to see one of our shows and asked if we could set up a backstage tour for the group. We don’t usually set up tours for school groups ourselves, but Andrew and Thembe  (another singer in the ensemble) offered to help, so I figured we could pull it off for them.

The day of the show, the group descended on our stage door, a gaggle of excited middle schoolers whispering and pointing at all of our costumes, props, and set pieces in awe. At the end of the tour, as we said our goodbyes, Matthew revealed that the kids had something they wanted to perform for us as a thank you for the tour. He suddenly produced out a ukulele from a case and strummed along as the kids belted out their own rendition of “Can’t Wait to be King,” complete with choreography and blocking! Much to Andrew’s delight, there was even an adorable Zazu character played by a precocious little boy who quickly stole our hearts.

We gave them a well deserved standing ovation, and thought that would be the end of our interaction with the group. Little did we know that in a few weeks time, we would be boarding a plane to fly to Lanaii to teach the kids on their ‘home turf‘ of Lanaii! Matthew set up the trip with the help of local sponsors, covering every cost including the flights for myself, Andrew, and Thembe, meals, and a bed and breakfast for an overnight stay!

We left Oahu on a 6:00 am flight (an unspeakable hour for theater folk, such as us…) in a twin prop plane and landed in Lanaii a mere 20 minutes later. We deplaned and after a quick breakfast in the town square, which was delicious. The only real town on the island is Lanai City, which mostly consists of one small square ringed by about 10 stores total. It’s absolutely adorable! After breakfast, we immediately began our first activity of the day, a comprehensive island tour given to us by the Lanai Cultural and Historical Center.

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That’s us up at 5:02 AM folks….

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Aloha Oahu, Aloha Lanai! 

The island is tiny compared to Oahu, and most of the places we visited were only accessible by four wheel drive trucks or, in our case, vans. He took us to gorgeous vistas and historical sites, all of them seemingly more beautiful than the last. When we were done, we headed up to one of the two Four Seasons hotels on the island for lunch.

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The view of Maui from Lanai

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The mars-like terrain was as beautiful as it was formidable

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Thembe taking it all in!

The lodge was a palatial resort, complete with botanical gardens, golf courses, and croquet fields. We enjoyed a sumptuous lunch, which was sponsored by the Four Seasons as another surprise to us, and then headed over the school to begin our workshop.

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A posh lunch!

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Andrew squeezes in a quick game…

We met the kids, many of whom we recognized from their trip over to see us in the show, and after a quick ice breaker exercise, jumped right into the workshop. We started with Thembie teaching them “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in her native language of Zulu. They mastered it after a little bit of work, but we decided to make it even more challenging by introducing choreography, which was my section of the workshop. After learning the dance, I surprised them by asking them to sing the Zulu words while they performed the choreography, which is much like what we do every day on stage!

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Teaching time!

Finally Andrew taught his section, which was all about making puppets come to life. He had crafted a little turtle from cardboard and a paper bowl, and the kids took turns using the puppet. While one child got to operate the puppet, Thembe and I worked with the other kids to become living set pieces, which we also get to do every day on stage in the Lion King. One scene we are plants, and in the next we are animals wandering the pride lands, so we worked with the kids to create the turtle’s environment as Andrew worked with the junior puppeteers.

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Our teaching turtle, Honu!

At the end of the workshop, we got to help them clean up a production they were working on, which was an original play about bullying. They performed it once for us, and then I jumped in to help clean up the blocking and spacing, while Andrew stepped in to help them with motivation and projection… you know, actor stuff. At the end of the day, the kids were excited, inspired, and asked some wonderful, insightful questions in our Q&A section.

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We enjoyed the Q&A as much as the kids did! (Maybe more!)

Matthew let us take a quick nap in the B&B and then treated us to one last luxurious meal at the other Four Seasons hotel as we watched the sunset over the ocean. It was an absolutely wonderful trip, and I’m so thankful that our volunteering efforts are literally taking us places! I’ll never forget those kids at Lanai Acadamy of Performing Arts, and I hope to make it back someday to the beautiful island of Lanai!

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