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Everyday Spirituality

This is the first of a series of blogs on warmth and sincerity:

Let’s talk about warmth and sincerity. Where they come from and how they bring us along to where they are going.

I believe warmth and sincerity come from a unified force. And they have an unstoppable momentum that brings us to its greater self-expansion. They bring us along, because they are inescapable.

We can’t escape warmth and sincerity.

Yes, I will admit, as soon as I walk out that door back there, all my surreal c onvictions here will appear contradicted. The holiday frenzies and dreadful circumstances will contradict my fancy inner thoughts.

But I’ve learned, whereas I can’t escape warmth and sincerity, I can escape their contradictions.

The first memorable contradiction I escaped, was that warmth and sincerity come from things or stuff.

When I was probably in the fourth grade. It was Christmas time and I was excited. The whole family was. Mom and Dad had built an addition onto our house and its size went from puny to not so puny.

Instead of us five kids sharing a bedroom, we now had a boy’s room and a girl’s room. The middle sister and I each had our own bed.

Near the Christmas tree, my sister and I unwrapped identical looking gifts. We unwrapped bedspreads.

Now, try to picture this: 2 bright, deep purple bedspreads with long shag textile.

I know. It’s hard to picture. I bet you never heard of such a thing, because I’ve never seen shag bedspreads on the market since 1970. These bedspreads were crazy. Shag this long. Longer than the 1970s shag carpet on our floors, but the exact same idea.

All we could think to say, was, “Thanks Mom and Dad.”

But I could see that stuff didn’t give, or take away, warmth and sincerity. I could feel a presence of warmth and sincerity. I grew up in a good family and was a happy child.

Published by The Daily Star in Oneonta, NY

November is National Adoption Month

By Cheryl Petersen

The 40th anniversary of National Adoption Month highlights the power to adopt new ideas; to celebrate adults and children alike, who adopt new thoughts, new dreams and new positions to bring stability to homes and communities.

In 1986, the initiative to increase awareness for the need of permanent families for children and youth in the foster care system, was put into effect in Massachusetts.

The program soon expanded to include the entire United States. November was deemed National Adoption Month. And with the advent of the internet came a national photo listing service. Those looking to adopt can find children and youth available for adoption, continuously posted online.

Aside from the mechanics of adoption, however, comes the essence of fostering and adoption. It can be a sensitive, complex, and confusing process.

From East Branch, Nikolas Bowker,18, said, “When I first entered a foster home, I was confused. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

Today, Bowker is unafraid to tell other children in state care, “It gets better.”

The “better” came about with the help of many people. It came about through efforts made to overcome snags and slip-ups.

Bowker admitted to acting out at first, and said, “I got into fights in school. I felt as though I was being treated differently from other kids who had parents.” But he and his sister, Briana, went on to be fostered by the Bowker family, who later adopted the siblings on Nikolas’ birthday.

Today, Bowker is finishing high school, with a goal to continue caring for his own family.

He said he appreciates the support he has received from family members, teachers, coaches and others. “It’s nice having a family that cares for us,” he said.

Briana Bowker, 13, is homeschooled and uses an online program managed by Liberty University Academy.

“Each Friday, I get to meet with other homeschoolers my age and from around the area. We play games,” said Briana, who also takes piano lessons.

Briana says she enjoys having a big family. She remarked, “I never thought I’d have so many brothers and sisters.”

Their parents are Jennifer and Health Bowker, also parents to 11-year-old Heath, 10-year-old Caeden, 8-year-old Wyatt, 6-year old Tessa, and “We adopted 2-year-old Finnegan last year,” said Jennifer.

Jennifer and Heath said they felt “blessed” to have four biological children and wanted to do something for children who didn’t start with a loving family. They live on a small farm and give the children morning and evening chores to teach them self-worth and responsibility.

“It’s God’s overwhelming love poured on us that compels us to share that love,” said Jennifer.

Jennifer summed her thoughts with a quote from the Gospel of Matthew: “Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”

The Bowker family worked closely with the Delaware County Department of Social Services, which is in charge of public foster care and adoptions.

Concurrent plans are established within the department to reach the goals of keeping children in a safe environment and returning the children to birth family members; and if that doesn’t work, freeing the children, legally and emotionally, to be adopted.

“The Social Services Department takes great pains to match children and families,” said Rebecca Hoyt, director of services.

Working with the department since 1999, Hoyt said she has seen trends come and go, but one thing stays the same. “We try to get families back on track and keep the children in homes with a sense of normalcy,” she said.

To deal with the growing drug epidemic, the county instituted a Family Treatment Court to deal with cases through the Department of Social Services.

 “The parents agree to be in the treatment program,” explained Hoyt. “It’s a step that assists their progress in sobriety, or if the parents can’t get it together, it allows the children to move on to adoption.”

Hoyt works with many case workers along with Commissioner Dana Scuderi-Hunter. Training programs are in place for case workers and parents.

The top reasons children are placed in state care are parental substance dependence, child neglect, and domestic violence. Knowing this, the department provides prevention services for families and children.

Scuderi-Hunter said, “It’s about making the children feel welcomed and integrating them into families and the community. We don’t try to erase their past, but work with who they are and where they are from to move on in a life of normalcy.”

Awareness and education are also used to remove the stigma that comes with being a foster child. “When we all embrace a healthy image of the children, they gain confidence,” Scuderi-Hunter said.

The department also assists foster children with higher education.

Scuderi-Hunter said she has also noticed that confidence allows the children to feel more secure to return to care after they turn 18 years old. “It’s the youth’s personal choice until they are 21 years old,” she said.

With the active synergy of state regulations, trainings, preventive services, treatment programs and education, the number of foster children has been decreasing in Delaware County.

“Many factors are involved, but in 2015 there were 97 children in foster care. As of September 2016, there were 68,” Scuderi-Hunter said.

Data also shows that 15 adoptions were recorded in 2014. The number increased to 17 in 2015. “This year to date, 15 children have been adopted with an anticipation of four more,” said Scuderi-Hunter.

To make adoption a special event for the children and families, Adoption Days are scheduled throughout the year. Scuderi-Hunter said, “I love going to adoption days. I love seeing the permanency. Because, when we make a positive difference in the life of all children, it affects the future.”

http://www.thedailystar.com/news/lifestyles/november-is-adoption-month/article_5625d233-ace3-57ec-9c48-729ed1d9d565.html

Published by The Daily Star Newspaper in Oneonta, NY

Memories invoke writing

By Cheryl Petersen

Conveying the word “veteran” in its broadest meanings, 97-year old, John Powers, talks about life and his recent online publication of two stories titled, “The good deed,” and “The redemptive omelet.”

The short stories are posted on the National American Legion website. They are historical fiction, complete with scents, noises, feelings, and imagery depicting war.

Written about ten years ago, Powers said, “I couldn’t have written them earlier in life. When I was younger, I wasn’t aware of what I was living. I didn’t know my feelings. I was immature. It required reflection and reminiscing to mature and be able to write what I did. I’m honored my stories got published.”

Born and raised in Oneonta, yet living half a century in Davenport Center, Powers’ memory is so clear, he can see right through it to what’s important.

Fortitude.

Always a lightweight, Powers didn’t have the size or speed to excel in sports when in high school. “I weighed 120 pound. But one noon hour at school, I got into a fight with a big guy. A crowd gathered and I knocked him out,” said Powers. “At the end of the year, the fight was voted by the students as the most exciting event of the year. The school officials didn’t want the vote in the yearbook, but the editor kept it there.”

Powers realized he liked to fight. To keep it legit, he started training as a boxer and went on to compete with other fighters in the New York southern tier region.

In 1944, Powers enlisted in the Army Coast Artillery. “I was stationed in San Diego, California, then shipped to Kiska Island in the Aleutian Islands as part of the campaign to keep the enemy out of the northern Pacific,” he said.

When the Pacific was secured, the Army shanghaied me into the 10th Mountain Division,” he said, with a sly humor that frequently enters his conversation.

Powers became a member of the 10th Mountain Division of the 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment of Company F.

“For 3 months, we trained at 7,000’ altitude in Colorado. Then I trained in Texas,” said Powers. “It was all the same to me. Walking.”

But, it was in Texas that Powers encountered lightweight boxer, Al (Bummy) Davis, who had earlier fought against welterweight champion, Fritzie (Croat Comet) Zivic, at Madison Square Garden.

“Davis was barred after the fight with Fritzie, and wanted to work his way back up to the title. That’s why he fought me. But the people were behind me,” said Power, who added. “I got to know Bummy personally. Nice guy, but tragic death. He was fearless and tried to stop a robbery. Shot dead in 1945.”

The 10th Mt. Division was shipped to Italy, where Powers served as a Lineman, stringing communication wire on the ground for miles upon miles, thus the walking. All wires convened, “In a cellar for a central communication,” said Powers, who also had to repair the wires damaged by foes.

It was constant danger. A target for snipers.

“The 10th Mt. Division broke all records. One in ten were killed and five in ten were wounded,” said Powers, who witnessed the worst and the best in humanity in the year before the war ended.

Gratitude.

Not only on Veteran’s Day, but every day, Powers, “Thinks about other veterans and our experiences. The army was a great experience. I’m a better person for having served. The 10th Mt. Division enlarged my scope of life outside of Oneonta.”

Powers recalled his fellow Division members. “At first I thought they were nuts. However, a deep respect for them grew in me. They endured hardship, never retreated, and got the job done,” he said.

After reflecting for a few seconds, Powers added, “Very real friendships develop when you are in combat.”

Powers reminisces with only one regret. “I didn’t say goodbye to all the men,” he explained.

When the Division sailed into New York City, the men were relieved and the public showered them with praise.  The excitement was distracting and the men got on with their lives. “The 10th Mt. Division was given a 30-day furlough and I didn’t think to tell the members a proper goodbye. I didn’t stay in contact with many of them,” said Powers, who still holds high regard for his mates.

Otherwise, he never dreams about the war. “I don’t even dream about being in the military. No nightmares,” he said.

Civilian Powers returned to Oneonta and married, Clarabelle. “Her sister introduced us. She was peeling potatoes when we met,” said Powers, with an enchanted smile. He’d discovered that Clarabelle had the hots for him. She had cut out Daily Star newspaper clippings announcing my receipt of military awards including two bronze awards: Meritorious Service and Heroic Achievement.

Feeling as though he always ran into good luck, Powers worked at Aspen Tree Company, Delaware Hudson Railroad, and then, “Thirty years at General Electric, a good place to work,” he said.

The key to his mastery of goodness and fortune?

“I affirm life,” Powers said.

Magnitude.

The talent to reflect on life through the eyes of life itself, rings throughout Powers’ way with words. A sentence from, “A Good Deed,” reads: “Their company commander, a stocky built, black bearded captain emitted power and enormous physical strength. He held a carbine like it was a toy gun and shook it in impotent rage. His anger at another senseless death galvanized the robotized men in the group who had gathered around the dead soldier.”

Words are familiar to Powers, as he is a prolific reader. When a child, Powers lived near the Huntington Library. “Our backyard was Huntington Park, and Mom sent us to the library all the time,” he said.

After retirement, numbers became important as Powers became an avid Bingo player. “I play at the American Legions in Oneonta and Delhi. I also play Bingo at the Elks in Oneonta and Cobleskill. Every chance I can get,” said Powers, offering another short story.

“At Cobleskill, it was the last game of the night, and I had to go to the bathroom. I told the guy sitting next to me that I only needed one more number to win. When I returned from the bathroom, I’d won $170. Yep, the number 72 was hollered when I was in the john and I got Bingo,” he said.

Unafraid to use his own first name as another word for the loo, Powers shows it’s the meaning behind the words that comes first.

The meaning behind the resolution to enact Veteran’s Day many years ago, is kept alive as Powers, and others, commemorate November 11, “with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.”

In his short stories, Powers also uses words from the Bible. He said, “Only because using Bible references is part of literature. I’m agnostic.”

True to the spirit though, when getting up to go our separate ways, Powers says with his whole heart, “Thanks for coming and God bless you.”

Powers’ stories can be read at: http://www.legion.org/stories/my-time-uniform/redemptive-omelet and http://www.legion.org/stories/my-time-uniform/good-deed

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016) scored big in imagination and ingenuity. The plotline follows Jacob, a young teen, to a faraway land of fantasy and chilling monsters.

My first thought: I would NEVER take my kids to this movie.

Second thought: Why, or why was a black man cast as the bad guy? Actor, Samuel Jackson portrayed Barron, a demonic twisted soul with white eyes. I don’t recall any other black people in the film.

I watched the film in a theater with no black people. I live in an embarrassingly homogenous white community. I couldn’t hardly sit through the film as I watched, not the film, but the audience’s children, staring at the massive screen images of a forbidding, menacing guy, black as ever.

At the end, I survived the film and will admit I got a kick out of the time-loop idea. Miss Peregrine and her household were in a 1934 time-loop that lasted 24 hours.

But, I give the casting director a bottom score for casting a black man as the bad guy. I give Samuel Jackson a thump for taking the part.

From 21st Century Science and Health, “Ignorance, arrogance, or prejudice closes the door to whatever is not stereotyped.

“All persons must fulfill their own mission without timidity and without putting on a show. Spiritual goals are successfully achieved when our work is done unselfishly, and as a result, arrogance, prejudice, bigotry, and envy cannot wash away its foundation, for it is built on the rock, Truth.

“At all times and under all circumstances, overcome evil with good. Know yourself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil. Love is a protective covering. Wear it! Wrapped up in love, human hatred can’t reach you. The confirmation of a higher humanity will unite all interests in the one divinity.”

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