By Grace Maselli
There’s Rocco and his brother. And Chevy, Chance, and Blue. And don’t forget Goose. Goose is a dog. A dog who looks like an Irish Setter and has nine brothers and sisters. There’s Nyx the cat too, named for the Greek Goddess of Darkness—a nine lives cat who survives despite the strong odds of being eaten while living in an encampment in the woods.
What do these dignified, intelligent, and unconditional lovers of people have in common? They’ve all been rehomed by Ellen Paul, Founder and Executive Director of the Nature Coast Community Services Foundation, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit; NCCSF’s aim it is to do what it takes to get homeless people living in the subtropical backwoods out from the elements and snakes and into homes and jobs. More formally, NCCSF and its small coterie of devoted volunteers’ mission is to “identify and help fund social needs existing in Florida’s Nature Coast region that are not adequately addressed by existing governmental or private organizations.”
“To date,” the NCCSF’s website makes an important point of noting, “we are getting one person a month on average out of the woods, into a paying job, and into permanent housing. But for every person whom we help escape homelessness, another one or two [more] find us.” Ellen puts the approximate number of lives changed at 43 since NCCSF’s formalized founding in October 2018, two years after Ellen began her deeply spiritual—strategic, logistical—and compassionate work.
TBT learned more about Ellen and NCCSF at the recent Third Tuesday of the month meeting on July 21 with 30 people in attendance by Zoom and a focus on the topic of building community.
For Ellen, the community of homeless people she and her volunteers help all started with the Rocco’s and Chance’s of the world—homeless people’s dogs and Ellen’s passion for them: This mother of renewal and invention understood canine love from the get-go and what it continues to mean for homeless people on a deep, archetypal level. “The general public will often say, ‘Why do these people have pets? They can’t even take care of themselves. I get a lot of blow back,” Ellen says. “People just don’t understand that these animals are the only source of companionship, love, and protection many homeless people have. Whether an animal is trained or not, whether it’s a dog or a cat, it doesn’t matter. Everyone needs to be loved.”
Living in a Station Wagon with a Five-Year-Old
Things arguably got underway in Ellen’s world with a big woman we’ll call “Chauncey.” Chauncey is a middle-aged female described as 6 ft. tall, about 300 lbs., and living in a station wagon with her five-year-old grandson. “Everything they owned was in their car,” says Ellen of the family, including a 60 lb. dog—people and their beloved pet who were displaced when Chauncey lost her job because of illness. “When this happened, everything unraveled,” Ellen says. Ellen first met Chauncey in a homeless encampment in Hernando County’s Masaryktown woods (until the police threw the dispossessed off the site). “Nearly every person in those woods had a pet; some people had three or four,” Ellen says. She would know. Her job continues to be handing out clothing and food, “and talking with people, to understand where their heads are, to see what we can do to help them.”
One day after such a visit to the woods Ellen “got a strong sense” that Chauncey wanted to talk. “I asked her if there was anything she needed and what she asked for was dog food.” Chauncey’s dog hadn’t eaten in several days when Ellen encountered the family because Chauncey couldn’t afford the cost of the food, or gas for that matter; the whole family including the dog was hungry. “That morning we had met Chauncey she managed to scrape together enough money to get to the Hernando County pound to surrender her dog. But she couldn’t do it. She was crying all the way back to Masaryktown. She was crying and praying for a sign,” Ellen says. “And then I showed up with a 50 lb. bag of dog food. It was the first time I was called an angel. It’s way above my pay grade to be called that! But I understand the gratitude that comes with the remark.”
Four-Legged House Guests
“The dogs are deeply important to these people,” says Ellen, who has personally taken care of homeless people’s dogs in her house so people would agree to get surgical procedures done. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t go to clinics or hospitals,” she says of the deep attachments to animals. Ellen’s most recent canine house guest was Rocco, a puppy pit bull.
“Lyla” was about 62 years old and homeless in the Masaryktown woods when Ellen met her. Lyla was in love with her all-black cat, Nyx. So much so she wanted a better life for her. “Lyla said, ‘This is a special kitty. She follows me in the woods like a dog. She talks to me all the time; we talk together. I want her to have a long life and lots of friends.’ And then Lyla handed me the cat,” Ellen says.
Among the services Ellen and her volunteers provide through NCCSF is low-cost spaying and neutering through the PetLuv Spay & Neuter Clinic in Brooksville. “I’ve had dozens done,” she says. The day Ellen was taking Nyx to be spayed the vet told her the cat was pregnant. “Neutering would have killed the kittens in utero, and I couldn’t do that.” So instead Ellen kept two of Nyx’s babies and found reliable, loving, indoor homes for the other two kittens.
A third recipient of NCCSF’s efforts is a woman, “Charlene,” who the nonprofit had helped for a number of years. When Charlene ended up in jail, she asked her friends in the Masaryktown woods to take care of her three dogs. One of them, Chevy, was left without food or water and to fend unsuccessfully for himself. “Chevy looked like he’d just gotten out of Auschwitz,” as Ellen describes it. But even in his emaciated condition the fawn-colored Chevy was a big boy at 60 lbs. and anticipated to grow to 150 lbs., according to a veterinarian’s estimate. Despite her heartbreak over losing him, Charlene went to Ellen and said, “I need your help to get Chevy out of here.”
The Universe Is Listening
“So I put the word out to the universe and said, ‘I need a home for this dog,’” Ellen explains. Within a couple of hours the universe got back to her. Ellen got a phone call from another homeless woman, “Pam,” who told Ellen, “I need a large dog. I need him to be a service dog. I have seizures.” And as soon as Pam got word about Chevy, she immediately wanted him.
Most people living in the woods have jobs, Ellen says based on her years of experience. But these are routinely low-paying, part-time jobs that don’t generate enough money for even a modest rent and living expenses. “Corporations are not hiring for full-time work, so they don’t have to pay benefits,” in many cases, Ellen says. This reality leaves little choice than to live in the woods and participate in the gig economy—short-term contract work or day labor, let’s say, compared to permanent jobs—so people can survive.
And as the universe would also have it, Pam, who was continuously moving on foot or bicycle between Weeki Wachee and Brooksville, is a professional dog trainer. Within seconds of Charlene and Ellen introducing Chevy to his new owner, “Chevy focused like a laser beam on Pam,” Ellen remembers. “And within another five minutes Pam had him sitting on command”—the bent elbow, fist up, configuration in the dog training world. That first night together Pam had two seizures, and Chevy knew instinctively what to do without any training: He stretched out behind Pam to soften her fall and created as much cushioning as possible. “Two days later Pam had Chevy walking through Walmart—this is a dog who had never been on a leash before.”
Now Pam and Chevy are inseparable. In Pam’s meanderings across the nine miles between Weeki Wachee and Brooksville, Chevy is in heaven and in lockstep, jogging alongside the love of his life as she pumps the pedals of her bike through the subtropics. They stop at the halfway point where a store owner gives Chevy water and Pam also gets refreshed. “Chevy loves Pam and he loves the exercise,” says Ellen, who also helped Chevy go legit with the right service dog paperwork to confirm he’s the real deal. “We got Chevy rated as a service dog with the paper to prove it. So if Pam goes into the hospital, or jail, or Walmart, Chevy goes with her,” Ellen says. Chevy is an extension of Pam.
“The whole thing is a miracle,” says the Founder of NCCSF. Besides seizures, Pam grapples with depression too. “Chevy comes over and licks the tears off her face and leans into her for comfort,” Ellen says with a kind of childlike wonder. As of this writing, Ellen and NCCSF are gifting Pam and Chevy a four-man (one-dog) tent to give the wanderers a much-needed, deeply appreciated home base in the woods—a precious space to call their own. “There are so many incredible stories like this,” says Ellen. “They’re pure magic.”
In honor of this magic, donations of pet food, clothes, and towels for wet dogs in the woods and, of course, cash, are deeply and thankfully accepted by NCCSF at the organization’s website.
By Grace Maselli
Got uncertainty? Get some glue in the form of social adhesive. No argument that making life big and colorful and filled with art of all kinds requires more creativity in the days of COVID-19. Take member Robert McGinnis’s ingenious approach and arrangement of a mix of paid services and Tampa Bay Timebank resources—our characteristic offers and requests exchange model in action—to celebrate his lovely wife Debbie’s locked-down birthday. Robert hired violinist LaRon Hearst (classic and electric) accompanied by the violinist’s wife Angel’s (angelic!) singing voice. “He played an hour on our deck for the alligator and all of the neighbors on the other side of the pond,” Robert says, adding how groovy it would be, “to get musicians to show up at every members’ house to cheer them up with a song.”
Robert also commissioned some art from brilliant artist/educator/member Qinghong Wei to support the arts and honor the day. This includes a watercolor of a double rainbow taken by Qinghong, auspicious given its powerful symbolism for Robert and Debbie: “On our first real date there was a torrential downpour that broke with a double rainbow,” he says. Way to make it romantic and real and keep it safe, Robert!
For any of you reading, here’s a rolling echo from the TBT Leadership Team—reach out and touch someone by phone. Get on the TBT website and call a fellow member; check in, see how folks are doing. Spread the glue.
Speaking of social stickiness (think: reach out and touch someone in the metaphorical sense and by cell phone), here’s a local Community Resource and Referral Guide that may be of use to readers or someone you know who might benefit.
Assets: Everyone is an asset. We all have something to give.
Redefining Work: We redefine work to value whatever it takes to raise healthy children, build strong families, care for elders, revitalize neighborhoods, make democracy work, advance social justice, and make the planet sustainable.
Reciprocity: Helping works better as a two-way street.
Community: We need each other; networks are stronger than individuals. When people help each other, they reweave communities of support, strength, and trust.
Respect: Every human being matters. Respect for all means accountability to all.
Here here. Everyone matters.
By Grace Maselli
Invoking the recent words of former President Barack Obama to high schoolers and 2020 college grads, “If the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you.” Or in the case of our Florida Timebanks, which have always been about inclusivity and valuing all members of our society, it’s up to the collective community energy—the social adhesive and grassroots mobilization we strengthen and invigorate together—that can make a positive difference. And a critical and encompassing change in our neighborhoods and localities, particularly given the intense negative effects of COVID-19 on our most vulnerable populations.
TBT and its nearby timebank partners are forging organizational connections with groups dedicated to helping the Tampa Bay Area’s refugee populations; to reinforce the local social safety net, we’re taking citizen action for emergency responses and aiming to help expand refugee support programs. The locus of initial activity will begin around Tampa’s University of South Florida and Temple Terrace neighborhoods where concentrations of Congolese and Arabic-speaking refugee families live.
Organizational partners have joined TBT and surrounding timebanks to participate in the exchange “system” that uses time as its currency instead of money—welcoming refugee families to exchange “person hours.” Individuals and family members who sign up to do the things they love for other members, offering what they enjoy in a service exchange where every hour of time is equally valued.
To make it happen TBT is working closely with Tampa’s Radiant Hands, Inc. whose mission is to “empower women and families in the North-Central Florida region by providing them with spiritual, emotional, educational, and financial support with the goal of helping them to achieve independence in mind. In doing so, we hope to encourage and enable women and families to contribute individually and collectively in strengthening our community as a whole.”
Like Radiant Hands, we’re also collaborating with new organizational member Ramwi Refugee and Migrant Women’s Initiative, Inc. Based in Tampa, Ramwi (pronounced ram-wee) places emphasis on support with the potential to blossom into self-actualization that can come with being an independent and much-valued community member: “Our mission is to bring newly arrived refugee, migrant and other vulnerable women, children and their families residing in Tampa Bay together. Doing so, we hope to empower, engage, and support them during the difficult phases of resettlement and transition.”
Volunteers to Deliver Much-Needed Food
The unfolding community work means there’s an opportunity for timebank volunteers to help deliver food in the USF area and to donate storage space for canned food. Also in the planning phase for timebank exchanges:
• A community garden
• Help with Radiant Hands’ and Ramwi’s Thanksgiving dinner
• Mask sewing for healthcare workers in need of Personal Protective Equipment
Many of Ramwi’s female program participants will graduate from sewing classes and be given a sewing machine of their own. The graduate “collective” is talking about potential plans to sell the things they make, including possible wedding guest favors. But of course we’re all open to all kinds of creative ideas for goods that can be handmade and brought to market.
No pairing of timebanks and community stakeholders dedicated to serving refugees could fit the Tampa Bay Timebank mission and revitalization efforts with more symmetry than the work now underway with Radiant Hands and Ramwi. Increases in our 550+ membership is a telltale sign of interest as more organizational leaders and families join, welcoming all who come to our city and its surrounding area.
For donations, to volunteer for food delivery and storage, and ideas to share, contact TBT Coordinator Rita at 608.335.22382 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
By Grace Maselli
Today’s the day. Started in 1970, the global Earth Day event to honor environmental protection and the miracle of our abundant planet involves 193 countries worldwide. A lot has changed since 1970 and the inaugural Earth Day when Richard Nixon was at the helm of the U.S. government (and the year he created the Environmental Protection Agency). To put it in terms NPR’s using, “Earth Day at 50: Climate Activists Go Digital Amid Pandemic Shutdown”—the celebration and activism are forging ahead despite the effects of COVID-19.
A stunning “It Can Be Done” Earth Day message also honors Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author who was also Research Director at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the UK’s University of Cambridge. Hawking reminds viewers to take protective action in the precious time that remains. But you don’t need to be a theoretical physicist to make difference.
Teen Vogue prompts us to remember we can all become catalysts for positive change right here in our own Tampa Bay Area backyard. Take the lead from our youth and do some simple stuff: plant something, ride your bike, buy reusable bags, stop subscriptions to paper-made catalogs. And Tune into Earth Day Live for inspiration and emphasis on small steps with the power to add up to meaningful environmental impact.
In the renowned words of Rachael Carson, an American biologist who drove awareness of the dangers of pesticides and author of Silent Spring, a powerful book that influenced the environmental movement in the U.S.: “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
By Grace Maselli
The Tampa Bay Timebank values a good laugh as much as it values community connection. A TBT friend
shared a “NextDoor” social post, part of which is excerpted immediately below. NextDoor self-describes as the digital “neighborhood hub for trusted connections and the exchange of helpful information, goods, and services,” so we have something in common. A woman in a virtual NextDoor community penned this:
Isolation Can Be Tough
“Just seen a news report about the stresses and strains of self-isolation. It was reported that people are going crazy from being in lockdown in their homes. It was strange because I had just been talking about this with the microwave and toaster and all of us agreed that things are getting pretty bad. I didn’t mention anything to the washing machine as she always has to put a different spin on everything, and certainly not to the fridge as he is acting cold and distant again. In the end the iron calmed me down. She said everything will be fine, which surprised me because she’s usually the first one to apply unnecessary pressure and get steamed up over nothing!!!”
By Grace Maselli
Meet Mary. She’s an “Infection Preventionist” RN at Tampa General Hospital. See her mask? This was donated to her and some of her Infection Preventionist friends through the network of Florida Timebanks and its literal grassroots mobilization. Why? To assist healthcare workers not only in our immediate area, but other places. Take New York, for instance. Once again, Ground Zero for a crisis.
As of this writing, anti-coronavirus queen and TBT member Delphine Geraci has sewn 610 masks—with another 45 in line for completion today. Upwards of 75 of the beauties will be sent to a Brooklyn healthcare center described as a “war zone” by a hard-working physician there.
Delphine’s gotten some help from timebank elves across the region, not to mention timebankers’ neighbors, and the faith-based community. Our “runners” are buying and donating elastic bands and washed-and-cut fabric, bringing them to the drop-off table at Delphine’s house (and any other willing sewer who’s ready to come forward with her or his spools of thread!)
Staving Off Airborne Particles
The masks are intended to extend the lifespan of N95s, aka, “respirators and surgical masks (face masks) that are examples of personal protective equipment used to protect the wearer from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating the face.” In other words, a calculated barrier against Covid-19. No doubt you’ve heard that N95s are in short supply, with medical staff using them longer than they otherwise would. Supplemental timebank masks are designed to help lengthen the lives not only of N95s, but strengthen their precious and courageous wearers.
Llamas, Mustaches, and “PUL”
The timebank team’s fabric cutters, elastic gatherers, drivers, and sewers are using “The Turban Project” face mask pattern, though there are others among us also using a larger pattern. If you’re in the mood to explore, there’s lots to know and download from this site. Our fabrics are covered in llamas, polka dots, Haight-Ashbury tie dye, Star Wars memorabilia, and mustaches. Delphine, a Bariatric RN, is also making some out of “PUL,” or what’s described as a “disposable, breathable, and waterproof fabric, specially treated so that it is not harmful to the skin, both in adults and babies. PUL has a great variety of utilities and uses, such as the making of disposable masks and other sanitary covers.” According to Delphine, “PUL gives better protection when worn alone. Cotton is best when worn over an existing mask.”
In the meantime, we’ll keep on the move, aiming to help by being part of the larger community effort—part of the whole, as long as we’re able.
It’s true what they say: it takes an (underground) village to grow a heart to 50 times its normal size; this writer has never been more proud to be a member of a community that’s got one big enough to go around.
For donations of breathable cotton fabric and related supplies, contact Rita at 608.335.2382.
By Grace Maselli
Unless you’ve been under a rock, dear reader, then you know about the pandemic—Covid-19—and how it’s changed daily life. For reliable info, members of the Tampa Bay Timebank turn to recommendations from leading national public health institutes, namely the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And if you might be feeling “plague dread,” as coined by The Atlantic, you can find some tips here for staying sane.
But remember too, there’s still room for gratitude amidst the bewilderment of life gone topsy-turvy. (Think: “Hey, I may still be able to get food delivered to my door,” “I can take a walk,” [for those of us this may apply to], and “I can listen to a groovy podcast.”) About that last one, check out the Good News Network’s “Inspiring Corona Virus Kindness Updates” to blow some much-needed fresh air up your trousers.
Or for a quick pick-me-up, call a TBT friend or a neighbor to let them know they’re on your mind and in your heart. Because after all, we’re in this together. Even if (to varying degrees) we can’t be in the same room right now. And in the spirit of community and living life one day at a time, here’s to hygienic hand-washing and common sense for all of us.
By Grace Maselli
You are what you eat, yes? The idea is in the air and in the research, part of the cultural zeitgeist. (If you want to be healthy, live disease-free, manage symptoms, and stay sharp, the fuel you put into your body matters.) The importance of food choices is top of mind for the Tampa Bay Timebank; we’re hosting a nutrition class the first Thursday of every month at Tampa’s Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library, 4:30 to 6:30 PM.
The invaluable Nutrition and Wellness class is taught by member Heather Murray, RN and Licensed Massage Therapist who’s also a Certified Level 1 practitioner in Food Healing.
Every first Thursday Heather shares helpful resources like one of her go-to books, Conquering Any Disease, The Ultimate High-Phytochemical Food-Healing System by Jeff Primack, complete with real-life case studies of healing to inspire behavioral shifts and a strong dose of hope. Members receive timebank credits for attending. Got questions? Want the low-down on phytochemicals? Come to class! Reach Heather or TBT Coordinator Rita Cobbs at 608.335.2382. Check out the pic of below of this month’s inaugural class meeting.
By Grace Maselli
Check this out from the History Channel: “While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial—which probably occurred around A.D. 270—others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to ‘Christianize’ the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.”
So, in honor of paganalia and crop production, they’re’ll be a TBT Valentine’s Potluck on Sunday, February 16 from 3 to 6 PM. Wear your heart on your sleeve or on a special V-Day T-shirt! Bring your So-Easy Coq au Vin to share or other Vintage Valentine’s Day classics: Salmon Mousse Canapes, Baked Oysters with Tasso Cream (whatever Tasso Cream is), Crown Roast with Apricot Dressing, or luscious Fudge Tort. Or if it’s easier, bring Mac ‘n Cheese and black olives on all of your fingers and thumbs. They’ll go well with the paper plates and plasticware.
And while it’s true that the potluckaroo is five weeks and five days away from this writing, time flies. So mark your calendar for some conviviality and the making of a holiday in your image of what it means! Bring your favorite love poem or ballad to read aloud. Bring a haiku or an ode. A quatrain or free verse. We’re open to Roman gods, creative expression, and food.
|Date||Sunday, February 16, 2019|
|Time||3 to 6 PM|
|Address||2128 Park Crescent Drive
Land O Lakes, FL 34639
|Questions?||Contact Grace at (215) 834.4567 and reference the Valentine’s Potluck
By Grace Maselli
Timebankers helping people. That’s what it’s all about. Spring Hill FL Timebank member Gary Schineller cares about community. Founder and CEO of the nonprofit Hello, from My Heart, Gary’s mission is “To measurably create happier, healthier, & more peaceful communities,” which includes Gary’s healing energy work; a sampling of the modalities he uses includes Reiki, kinesiology, transactional analysis, and meditation.
I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to you for the help you’ve given me this year—energetically, advice-wise, time-wise, and through your book! It’s all been very helpful. You are a very kind soul. It was very cool how I met you because of the energy work I was eager to do! What a neat way that things worked out, although I’m not sure if I will pursue energy work in the same form—I definitely benefited a lot from your ‘energy’ and high vibe.
I am so glad to find like-minded people. Feeling not alone at times when my body won’t do what I want it to do has made all the difference. I’ve been able to get back to the kind of thinking that I learned before some (previous) relationship trauma. Also, some memory is coming back after 14 years of very little sleep nightly. (My pattern was often two to three hours, split up, with no *REM recovery.)Now I’m a living miracle! On average I’m up to about five to six hours a night of sleep. Some nights I still revert to the old pattern, but more rarely now. My life is very magical and I feel blessed. I just want you to know that your help is not lost on me.
I do still feel like my brain is damaged from the many years of no sleep. There are chunks of memories I sometimes ‘receive’ now. I want to feel it’s possible to recover anything, such as full use of my brain. And that’s when I reach for your book! So, anyway, I just wanted to say hello and a BIG thank you!
With love and much appreciation,
To learn more about Hello, from My Heart, visit Gary’s registration page here and find out how you too can get involved! Also check out our Florida Timebanks site for the nuts and bolts of connection to your community peeps through timebanking .
|* Rapid Eye Movement|