Godzilla Hits the Highways from Tampa to Stowe
June 10, 2021 — 10:19

 

By Grace Maselli

 

He’s back and he’s headed north to Stowe, VT. The legendary Godzilla monster has been reimagined in 5′ 2″ of medical fiberglass casting bandages (and covered in an arty cocktail of materials: paper “clay” made of bamboo toilet paper, good old-fashioned white glue, and some dry wall compound) concocted by artist and TBT member, Delphine Geraci. “I’m also a bariatric nurse, so that’s what I could think of to make him extra strong,” says the ingenious road warrior.

Delphine took some of her inspiration from a paper clay art class offered through TBT partner organization, the Life Enrichment Center.

Bringing the mythic giant to life—complete with Mom tattoo and intimidating teeth—has been a Geraci family affair involving Delphine’s husband, Dean, and 13-year-old daughter, Stella. “We bought a little trailer and Dean built it up to exactly fit the 5’2″ Godzilla,” she says. Stella is on the road with Delphine as they wend their way toward New England, 1,200 miles north of Tampa to Stowe; it’s here where Godzilla will take up residence at Delphine’s friend’s bar and restaurant—or what Delphine describes as a big après ski hangout and sushi bar called The Matterhorn, otherwise known as Stowe’s world famous party spot voted #1 après ski joint in North America by USA Today readers. (Of course, there’s a certain poetic symmetry here. Godzilla as radioactive pop culture icon invented by Japanese filmmakers and known the world over AND beloved sushi—traditional Japanese haute cuisine made with rice, seaweed, raw seafood, and veggies.)

To be sure he’s steady on his feet, Delphine gave Godzilla a set of concrete lower legs befitting the beautiful beast. “Then we bolted him through a large wooden board into the concrete legs and screwed the board onto the trailer floor. ” Voila!

“I thought a giant Godzilla holding the Stowe ski gondola would be appropriate,” Delphine says.

TBT concurs.

 

 

 

 

Happy Earth Day 2021! Buy a Stainless Steel Water Bottle, Plant a Plant (We Did)
April 22, 2021 — 10:14

By Grace Maselli

Earth Day. It’s an annual event that got kicked off in 1970. It’s a happening that beseeches us all to recognize our one-and-only precious planet beyond a single day. It’s an annual recognition that aims to appeal to our sense of community interconnection (think timebanking values!) and even small daily actions that can be taken by each of us to protect our faltering Big Blue Marble in the face of human-driven climate change and its dire and associated challenges.

Do One Small Thing to Make an Environmentally Positive Difference

Like EarthDay.org says, “As an individual, you yield real power and influence as a consumer, a voter, and a member of a community that can unite for change.” This can begin with small acts of environmentalism. For instance:

• Get on board with the #2minutesolution and spend two minutes a week collecting litter and recycling as much as possible
• Try eating one meat-free meal a week to lower the carbon emission associated with industrial livestock production to feed the 7.9 billion people on our planet
• Aim to go paperless: read the digital editions of your faves (magazines or newspapers), snap a pic of a poster instead of grabbing paper or a leaflet
• Conserve water and turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth
• Say no to single-use plastic water bottles whenever possible
• And if it’s realistic, take public transit or car pool—or better yet, walk to a store (the latter is a carbon-neutral activity and you’ll get some exercise to boot!)

Recently our community came together to help avid gardener and timebanker Richard Silverman—a disabled senior—in the Indian Rocks area of Largo, FL. Richard was being threatened with a two-week eviction notice from his trailer park after many years of residency if he did not remove his lush garden and glorious multitude of plants. Timebankers from far and wide across the Tampa Bay area came to the rescue, hoisting plants onto the backs of trucks and in cars and giving the green beauties new homes in yards and gardens, sustaining photosynthesis and helping a fellow human being to breathe more easily. It was a beautiful thing.

Take It A Step Further

Readers can also consider joining the EarthDay.com movement and find out about related events in their local area by visiting the event map here. Think too about boosting your environmental education by trying your hand at one or more of eight Earth Day quizzes: Upcycled Foods, Whale Conservation, Protect Our Species, Climate Change, Oceans and Plastic Pollution, Environmental Literacy, Deforestation and Biodiversity, and Clean Energy.

And if you want more, check out Sierra Club’s and Friends of the Earth United States’, “What World Leaders Can Learn from India and Global Grassroots Calls for Climate Action,” part of President Biden’s summit kick off that brings together world leaders to discuss global efforts to combat climate change. You can also jump into the action at EarthDay Live 2021!

 

Time, She’s Aflyin! It’s International Timebanking Day 2021 and Edgar Cahn’s Birthday
March 11, 2021 — 9:49

By Grace Maselli

We’ve nearly clocked another 365 days since last spring! Time to recognize International Timebanking Day, even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.  We’re also celebrating Father Timebank himself, Edgar S. Cahn whose birthday is on the same wonderful spring day, March 23.

No matter that we can’t gather easily and safely, we’re still reminded of timebanking’s core values and the history of timebanking with impressive international reach. Check out the video with thought leaders Dr. Cahn and his wife Dr. Chris Gray who discuss the sharing economy and new and emerging models therein. For soulful storytelling and inspiring excerpts on the beauty of timebanking, listen to Chris and Edgar in a recent podcast: “50 Stories in 50 Days!”

Please join everyone at TBT to make a collective wish for Edgar and Chris’s happy and healthy 2021!

The Five Core Values of Timebanking
Assets
We are all assets. We all have something to give.
Redefining Work
Some work is beyond price. Work has to be redefined. To create “the village” that raises healthy children, builds strong families, revitalizes neighborhoods, makes democracy work, advances social justice, and even makes the planet sustainable is valuable work. It needs to be honored, recorded, and rewarded.
Reciprocity
Helping works better as a two-way street. The question: “How can I help you?” needs to change so we ask: “How can we help each other build the world we all will live in?”
Social Networks
We need each other. People joined in shared purpose are stronger than individuals. Helping each other, we reweave communities of support, strength & trust. Community is built upon sinking roots, building trust, creating networks. Special relationships
are built on commitment.
Respect
Every human being matters. Respect underlies freedom of speech and religion and everything we value. Respect supplies the heart and soul of democracy. When respect is denied to anyone, we all are injured. We must respect where people are in the moment, not where we hope they will be at some future point.

 

 

 

 

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An Indelible Mark Left Behind
January 28, 2021 — 9:08

By Grace Maselli

It’s with heavy hearts and deep gratitude for her visionary work that we announce the death of Tampa Bay Timebank founder Marie Nelson. Marie died on January 21, the 21st day of the 21st year of 21st century. She was 78 years old.

Marie’s grassroots and tireless passion to structure and educate the community about timebanking—how it works and how it holds the potential to benefit intergenerational members of all communities—set the stage for a system of exchanges that continues to reach across Florida’s Tampa Bay Area, including more recent timebanks and timebank hubs in Hillsborough, Pasco, and Hernando Counties.

Petite in stature, Marie had Herculean energy for big picture strategy and hitting the pavement. She developed the inaugural Tampa Bay Area timebank, meeting with individuals, private businesses, and local government agencies in some cases to talk a blue streak about how to bring community members together to build timebanking alliances across counties and among neighbors.

“My mother was an exceptional woman,” says Naomi Nelson of Gainesville, FL. Marie is best described, Naomi says, as a person who dedicated her life professionally and privately to humanistic principles and ideas. “From the early 1960s, in every community she lived in, she was an activist and community organizer. She was not tied to a single ‘ism’ or oppression. [Her humanistic approach] was part of an integrated world view that encompassed her professional life in education, environmental and climate activism, racial and LGBTQ+ equality activism and, or course, the alternate economy work she did through the timebank.”

Fearless and Persevering

Marie was a bonafide academic who came from a long line of well-educated parents and grandparents. Her fearlessness and conviction is well demonstrated in a particular story Naomi shares. In the early 1960s Marie taught high school English at Furman College in Greenville, S.C. where she got her undergraduate degree. She taught for one year until she was fired from the job for leading interracial “meet and greets” in Greenville before desegregation, “so that black and white students could meet and talk to each other,” Naomi explains.  Marie also lived and taught at Columbia S.C.’s Benedict College, a small historically black college in Columbia where she was very active in the Women’s Rights Movement and served as one of the founding members of the city’s National Organization of Women’s chapter.

“Marie was a strong and spirited woman and always made sure there was a place at the table for anyone who wanted to be involved with what she was doing,” says B.J. Andryusky, coordinator of the St. Petersburg Timebank and longtime friend of Marie’s.

Marie was no stranger either to the founder of timebanking himself, Edgar Cahn, a distinguished legal professor and former counsel and speech writer to Robert F. Kennedy. Dr. Cahn is the author of Time Dollars (1992) and No More Throw-Away People: The Coproduction Imperative (2004), detailing how to mobilize a non-market economy that recognizes and rewards reciprocal contributions of service and caring.

“With Marie Nelson’s passing, the timebank community lost a dear and precious member of the family,” Edgar remarks. Marie believed that, as people who care about community, “We are here for each other,” Edgar says. And for Marie, “Community was not just an array of nonprofits and transactions by networks of do-gooders. Community was simply family, extended family, open-ended family…For Marie, Community was organic and alive.”

Dr. Chris Gray, Edgar’s wife and partner in timebanking, believes “Marie brought people together. She helped them think about the future and its possibilities—possibilities anchored in values of social justice and equity. On that, she was always crystal clear, she never wavered. Edgar and I so valued knowing her, sharing ideas with her, learning where her thinking was going.”

Wisdom to Share

For nearly four years Marie lived in Tampa with Karen Lowman, a member of the TBT Leadership Team, and Karen’s wife, Mandy O’Neil. “She was like family,” the two women remark. “She had an emotional impact and shared a lot of wisdom and stories,” says Mandy, adding “Marie was adventurous. I loved hearing stories about her rebel days growing up. She had a remarkably positive outlook on life even during the most difficult stretches of her health challenges. She always focused on perseverance.”

Marie’s efforts improved the lives of people in her orbit as she worked to create a safety net for some of the most vulnerable in our local communities. She acted on behalf of the greater good.

“Marie was fearless and liked to shed light on the darkest places; this was symbolic of her work with the Tampa Bay Timebank,” says Karen. “She was always patient and extremely diplomatic. She had a go-with-the-flow attitude. Marie truly loved groups and supporting an alternative economy, especially for aging populations whose physical abilities change over time,” Karen says.

A Laser Beam with Language

Marie’s love of language came as no surprise to anyone who knew her. She earned a Ph.D in Language Education and an M.Ed. in English Education from the University of Georgia. She studied French Literature at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. where she earned a Bachelor of Arts; she was also Emeritus Professor of Integrated Studies at National Louis University, Chicago, IL. In the late 1960s and early 1970s she taught English in Japan.

“Marie was always concerned about very specific words, their precise meaning, and how they sounded together to be sure a message was relayed absolutely perfectly,” B.J. recalls. “I remember spending hours with her to help create key documents for the Tampa Bay Timebank. She cared so deeply about people and about the message she had to share.”

From community activists and documentary film makers, to students and professionals, Marie loved and mentored many people across her nearly eight decades of life. For those who worked alongside her and became her dearest, closest friends, Marie’s death is a profound loss—even as she leaves behind a legacy of service and the results of her commitment to make the world a better place than the one she found.

Marie is survived by her daughter Naomi Nelson of Gainesville, FL, her son, Joshua Nelson of Beaufort, S.C., and a grandson, Elijah Nelson-Ehrsam of Gainesville, FL.

Celebrations of Life

This Saturday, January 30, 2021, interested friends are invited to an outdoor memorial for Marie at Philippe Park in Safety Harbor, FL, by/around Shelter 7.  Wearing masks and observing all social distancing recommendations, we will gather to celebrate Marie’s remarkable life. Plan to bring a chair and share a vegan potluck dish with a description of ingredients for those with dietary/allergen-related restrictions.

Event: Outdoor Celebration of Life for Marie Nelson
Day: Saturday, January 30, 2021
Location: Philippe Park, Safety Harbor, FL, near Shelter 7
Time: 11 AM to 1 PM EST
Questions: Contact TBT Coordinator Rita Cobbs at 608.335.2382

TBT will also hold a Celebration of Life for Marie via Zoom at its Third Tuesday meeting on February 16 at 6:30 PM EST. The Celebration will be facilitated by Karen Lowman with participants invited to speak for three to five minutes each to give all guests an opportunity to express their love and appreciation for our founder. Tampa Life Enrichment Center Executive Director and community partner Maureen Murphy is assembling a presentation to commemorate Marie’s life to be shared with Zoom participants.

Event: Zoom Memorial for Marie Nelson
Day: Tuesday, February 16, 2021
Time: 6:30 to 9 PM EST
Questions: Contact TBT Coordinator Rita Cobbs at 608.335.2382

 

A Walk on the Wild Side
December 24, 2020 — 10:34

By Grace Maselli

Wow: 2020. It wasn’t for the faint of heart. Adults, youth, essential workers, best friends—almost everybody’s lives got shaken by the wrath of COVID, an upside-down experience that turned “normal” living into strange and confined terrain in order to stay safe. Of course, the public health crisis continues and has even worsened in many states in the U.S., with infection rates spiking and hospital beds becoming more scarce.

Some people have turned away from the news. Or seriously limited the intake just to stay sane.

But there are rays of light breaking through. The soon-to-be Biden-Harris administration has a clear stance on safety and the pandemic, “A decisive public health response that ensures the wide availability of free testing; the elimination of all cost barriers to preventive care and treatment for COVID-19;…and the full deployment and operation of necessary supplies, personnel, and facilities,” according to the Biden-Harris camp. President-elect Joe Biden’s gotten his first of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

And even if we’re lonelier, the whirl of technology connects many of us, screen to screen. The pandemic of 1918 afforded no such luxury. People have been creative with social distancing. Virtual girls’ night out, Microsoft Teams holiday parties with a professional trivia host and cash prizes. Of course, there’s also getting away from a screen (screen, scream!) and going outside for a stroll, a bike ride (recumbent, too), and kayaking under safe conditions.

Maybe 2021 will bring us to the entryway to that tunnel, where we can see more light at the other end?

Here’s hoping we all have the capacity to appreciate some of those little miracles—like being able to breathe, and hear, and walk. Maybe we can turn the corner this year and build some momentum by looking at some of the things that go right?

From all of us at TBT to all of you, we wish you a slice of joy in the complex holiday season.

 

 

 

Getting Bookish with Art
November 9, 2020 — 14:46

By Grace Maselli

We’re starting a TBT book group with a focus on art in all its forms! The inaugural read: On Photography by Susan Sontag first published in 1973 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The group is open to our sister (and bro) timebanks and the community. Of course, to be Covid-compliant, we’re convening by Zoom. Here’s how it’s rolling:

  • First Zoom gathering is Monday, December 7, 2020 at 7 PM;
  • We’ll meet every two weeks to nosh on the text and partake of participants’ thoughts and dialogue;
  • (Because the next two-week interval lands during Xmas week, we’ll step out of the two-week rhythm just until the New Year and start again on Monday, January 11, 2021 at 7 PM);
  • Those interested should contact me at mgmwrite@gmail.com or 215.834.4567 so I can collect names and email addresses to send a Zoom link the day before each meeting time…
  • Group members will pitch ideas for the next book and we’ll take an informal vote on what to read next!

    You in?

 

Grief and Loss: A Way Through
October 22, 2020 — 10:16

By Grace Maselli

The Tampa Bay Timebank took on the subject of grief and loss in its Third Tuesday of the Month member and guest meeting on Tuesday, October 20. Psychotherapy and hospice-trained experts from the TBT leadership team—Nancy Wolf, Christina Bellamy, and Judith Rose—guided about 25 participants in a Zoom meeting to recognize and honor the various faces of grief. The tender examination of loss and its effects included disruption to mourning by Covid-19 and people forced to be separated from loved ones infected or killed by the virus. Grief was discussed in the context of the profoundly unsettling absence through death of someone loved and the painful adaptations necessary before adjustments can be fully integrated.

Giants in the field of grief and loss were invoked: psychiatrist, humanitarian, and hospice pioneer Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her five stages of non-linear grief—Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, and leading death educator and grief counselor, Dr. Alan Wolfelt at The Center for Loss & Life Transition.

Grief can cause a broad range of symptoms both emotional and physical, TBT’s presenters reminded us—from forgetfulness and detachment to everyday life, to fatigue and chest pains.

The discussion, inclusive of a small group Zoom breakout session, extended to the significance of rituals and their power to comfort people in deep emotional pain. Even within the context of Covid, family members, friends, and neighbors can reach out, safely drop food off for grieving families, and be present to another person’s pain with attentive, compassionate listening. Rituals can demonstrate that even in active mourning, we can still be surrounded and cared for by people who remain in our lives. With presenters drawing on Dr. Wolfelt’s work, we understand this can arguably happen (even now using masks and social distancing) through “companioning” with a person who has experienced a loss, being present to another person’s pain—going into the deep wilderness of the soul with another human being—and honoring the spirit, not the intellect.

Grief and its stages, our TBT experts offered, are ultimately a natural and adaptive response to deep loss. The experience is singular and personal and does not follow a prescribed path to reach a given level of adaptation.

The presenters also shared community resources. Following is a partial list of Tampa Bay Area organizations available to assist individuals and families:

 

 

 

Remembering 9/11
September 17, 2020 — 9:54

TBT welcome guest blogger Dr. Robert McGinnis, TBT Leadership Team member, professor, MBA, Ph.D, St. Leo University/St. Petersburg College

By Dr. Robert McGinnis

As we reflect on the tragedy of 9/11 19 years ago, we are reminded how connected all of humanity is. We are also reminded of the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

These immortal words are just as true and relevant today as they were during the Civil Rights Movement 70 years ago. Since that time, we have had many tragedies and challenges. They all have one thing in common: they bring out the best in us. The “Beloved Community” always picks up the gauntlet and rises to challenge.  During the pandemic of 2020 we are once again reminded how interdependent we are on so many: teachers, store clerks, first responders, students, caretakers, doctors, nurses, waste disposal workers. So many risking their lives on a daily basis to keep the “Beloved Community” alive.

“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls, as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us.

We are blessed to have many heroic individuals and organizations in the Tampa Bay area. one of which is the Tampa Bay Time Bank.

Many of us have shared Dr. King’s “Dream,” including Dr. Edgar S. Cahn.  In 1995, Edgar Cahn founded the Time Dollar Institute—now known as TimeBanks USA—to promote timebanking in the U.S. and around the world. Passionate about social justice, Edgar saw timebanking as a way to restore community and to recognize and reward civic engagement. In the decades that followed, he became its strong, persistent champion, promoting timebanking as a tool for creating a more just, more caring world. Today organized timebanking takes place in more than 30 countries—including China, Russia, and various countries in Africa, Europe, North America, and South America. In the United States, there are about 500 registered time banks, and together they have enrolled more than 37,000 members. ( Stanford Social Innovation Review, SSIR.org)

Universally, there are five core values underlying timebanking:

  1. Assets – We are all assets. We all have something to give.
  2. Redefining Work – Some work is beyond price.  Work has to be redefined.  Creating “the village” that raises healthy children, builds strong families, revitalizes neighborhoods, makes democracy work, advances social justice, and even makes the planet sustainable is valuable work and needs to be rewarded.
  3. Reciprocity – Helping works better as a two-way street.  The question: “How can I help you?” needs to changed so we ask: “How can we help each other build the world we all will live in?”
  4. Social Networks – We need each other. People joined in shared purpose are stronger than individuals. Helping each other, we reweave communities of support, strength & trust. Community is built upon establishing roots, building trust, and creating networks. Special relationships are built on commitment.
  5. Respect – Every human being matters. Respect underlies freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and everything we value. Respect supplies the heart and soul of democracy. When respect is denied to anyone, we all are injured. We must respect where people are in the moment, not where we hope they will be at some future point.  (timebanks.org)

Tampa Bay Time Bank is an integral part of the “Beloved Community” and has been actively engaged in Tampa Bay for more than 13 years.  When the news of the pandemic peaked in mid-March, Delphine Geraci, a Bariatric RN and dozens of other timebankers pulled together as a community of workers and immediately started making face masks.  They have distributed more 6,000 masks to individuals and communities in the Tampa Bay Area and beyond.  Many are made from “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.

My most current timebank project is working with two new member organizational members RAMWI and Radiant Hands, both of which provide support for Tampa Bay’s refuge population.  Tampa Bay Time Bank members are scheduled to be tutors for elementary math at teh start of school.

As we reflect and remember those who lost their lives in the many tragedies in our country’s history, let us also be reminded of those whose heroic efforts continue to build and heal our “Beloved Communities.”. Thank someone, anyone, today for their contributions to the quality of life that we enjoy today.

Fun! (Say What?)
September 3, 2020 — 10:41

By Grace Maselli

You’ve heard of it, right? Fun fun fun. To say the least, COVID’s put a kink in the pleasantries we took for granted—in the freedom to move around, pre-quarantine. All the more reason why the vital reminder to rip the Band-Aid off ho-hum and jump into some safe boisterousness, or amusements you’re personally stimulated and refreshed by, is so more important. We have Maureen Murphy, Executive Director of Tampa’s  Life Enrichment Center, to thank for a stellar Zoom talk to about 25 people during August’s Third Tuesday of the Month event on August 18.

Maureen’s exhaustive and inspiring presentation on the benefits of fun even in the context of lockdown stirred participants to share what they do to let their coiffs out of the hair net—get into “flow” where time effortlessly slips away— as it motivated others to amp up fun time and creativity in their daily lives. Maureen talked in depth about the psychological and physical health that fun can mean for the psyche and the body.  With pure enthusiasm she delighted us with factoids and substance: Fun reduces stress. It helps people cope better with stress. It trips the seratonin switch, a good brain chemical. It boosts energy and memory and concentration.  And when you make fun a habit, it’s relaxing, it pumps up positive feelings, it helps you sleep better, and it improves the relationships you care about. Whao!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The sky can still be the limit if you turn that box upside down and see things from a new angle! Here are some ideas:

  • Dress up your dog and snap some pix for fun…
  • Do cartwheels in your backyard
  • Go to the beach on a Wednesday when there are fewer people
  • Kayak
  • Make art with LEC
  • Get creative with cooking
  • Do 20 jumping jacks in your living room
  • Take the St. Pete’s Mural Walking Tour
  • Blow bubbles lakeside
  • Cut up some magazines and make a collage to tell a soul story
  • Join The Rumpus Book Club
  • Jump into The Sofa King Music Fest
  • Check out BroadwayHD shows for less than the cost of a standard Netflix subscription
  • Explore new podcasts that make you happy and inspired
Everyone Needs to Be Loved
July 25, 2020 — 9:23

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.