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Addiction Among Us

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I’m learning a lot about addiction now that I’m working on a project for the Betty Ford Center Children’s Program.  I’m learning about the impact alcohol and drug abuse have on kids when there is addiction in the home.  I’m also learning that there is hope that a family can escape the clutches of addiction.  Healing is possible with the right kind of help.  According to the Surgeon General one in seven people in the U.S. will develop a substance disorder at some point but only one in ten will get help.  That’s a lot of people suffering and a lot of children affected by the chaos.

“It’s time to change how we view addiction,” said Dr. Vivek H. Murthy in his report. “Not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”  The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation has viewed addiction through this lens since it’s inception.  The Betty Ford Center Children’s Program helps kids ages 7 to 12 separate the disease from those that they love and understand it is not their fault when their grown ups are trapped by addiction.  Children who are the first hurt do not have to be the last helped.  Kate Snow with NBC Nightly News did a story recently to show the good the program does.

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10 Things I’ve Learned Being Friends With Elderly Women

When I was in my 20’s I had an elderly friend down the street in West Hartford, Connecticut named Eleanor. She loved me and adored my dog, Buddy. She also enjoyed drinking and when I got home from work around 11:30 p.m. she was always waiting up for me. We would have a nightcap and talk. She also watched Buddy for me when I went out of town. She was a neighbor and a special friend. When I moved away I eventually lost touch with El and then I learned she passed. That first friendship led to others. They started as mitzvahs (a meritorious or charitable act) then developed into so much more. I got to know Esther by delivering Meals on Wheels for Jewish Family Services. I got to know Ursula by volunteering at the nearby assisted living facility. Over the years I have learned many things from these women friends. These are my top 10.

1) They don’t want to be referred to as little old lady friends. They don’t want to be reminded that they are growing old. They just want to be called friends. This really is the deepest compliment.

2) Their pictures tell stories and they are eager to share them. The days before they grew old were full of family and accomplishments. They were not always infirm. They enjoy sharing their histories with you. They’ve had lives, sometimes hard lives. They are wise and engaging and I love our conversations.

3) They still want to look attractive. Every day Ursula puts on her makeup. She enjoys showing off her new outfits and bragging about how inexpensive they are. Even though she can move only one arm she is always dressed up. Esther was a shut in but she always looked nice. Every older woman I know takes pride in her appearance and wants to age gracefully.

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4) Even as their world becomes smaller they yearn to learn and socialize. Ursula threw a small party in her room at the assisted living facility on New Year’s Day. She bought food, beer and wine for whoever dropped by. Visits light up her life. She likes to shop and go to movies and during warm weather months we go to the nearby bar and have a beer. She still wants to eat good food. Her body is broken but her mind is clear. My elderly friends enjoy people bringing the world into their lives. They want to know what you do and meet your family. They want you to meet theirs too. They may be older, but they don’t want to be boring.

5) Sometimes they get cranky and they don’t want people to tell them to cheer up. Spending days as a shut in or in a nursing home is difficult. Like most of us they have hard days. But like most of us, it passes and they get positive again.

6) They want to have some things they can control. They are often at the mercy of institutions and their children. Having a say in their lives is important.

7) They want their children to be honest with them. They want their children to visit and be patient with them. They want to be able to reach them on the phone. They tell me about the ways their family doesn’t make them feel important.

8) They like to sit in the sun. Being inside all day can be dark and lonely. Going outside, even for a short time, is an automatic mood enhancer.

9) Even in their 80’s, elderly women still have things they want to accomplish. Supporting them in these dreams makes them feel things are possible.

10) The greatest gift you can give is to help someone die with dignity. When Esther was moved from her home she lost her will to live. Once in assisted living she stopped eating and drinking. No one could talk her out of it and she willed herself to die. In three weeks she was gone. My Nana had an accident and no longer could speak or feed herself. She did the same thing. Being there for them without judgment during their exit is a tremendous blessing to them.

Having close friendships with elderly women has helped me get a good look at what it’s like to age. It has taught me to be more vigilant about my health. I have also learned how limited the options are for the infirm and how frightfully expensive it is to be in assisted living. I have deepened my compassion for them and for my friends who are coping with elderly parents, especially those with dementia. Finally, it has taught me the blessings of wellness and the importance of accepting what comes your way with grace. And I have been extremely grateful to be considered extended family to those with so much love yet to give.

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I Support Kony2012

Joseph Kony is infamous for his atrocities and crimes against humanity in Uganda and neighboring countries and now the group Invisible Children is trying to make him famous.  Kony is one of the most sought after war criminals and the hope is by bringing attention to him the whole world will engage and finally hunt him down and let justice be served.  His Kony’s Lords Resistance Army brutalized the people of Northern Uganda for 25 years, abducting children and turning them into child soldiers and sex slaves.  An entire region and generation were brutalized and broken.  Now Kony has fled from Uganda and has escaped into the Congo.  He continues his senseless killing and the U.S. has even sent troops to help Uganda’s military track him down.  A couple of years ago we met some of the child soldiers who had escaped and were being prepared to return home at Worldvision’s Children of War Rehabilitation Center in Gulu, Uganda.  Their stories are painful but they are also hopeful. Here is the video we produced for HDNet World Report:

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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A Son Returns to the Agony of Somalia By K’NAAN

K’NAAN is one of my favorite musicians.  He inspired people around the globe with his rousing “Wavin’ Flag” during the World Cup in South Africa and now he has written a powerful op-ed piece for the New York Times about a journey he took home to his native Somalia.  It’s an urgent call to action in case we are forgetting the famine already.

A Son Returns to the Agony of Somalia

By K’NAAN
K’Naan is a musician and poet.

MOGADISHU, Somalia

ONE has to be careful about stories. Especially true ones. When a story is told the first time, it can find a place in the listener’s heart. If the same story is told over and over, it becomes less like a presence in that chest and more like an X-ray of it.

The beating heart of my story is this: I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. I had a brief but beautiful childhood filled with poetry from renowned relatives. Then came a bloody end to it, a lesson in life as a Somali: death approaching from the distance, walking into our lives in an experienced stroll.

At 12 years old, I lost three of the boys I grew up with in one burst of machine-gun fire — one pull from the misinformed finger of a boy probably not much older than we were.

But I was also unusually lucky. The bullets hit everyone but me.

Luck follows me through this story; so does my luckless homeland. A few harrowing months later, I found myself on the last commercial flight to leave Somalia before war closed in on the airport. And over the years, fortune turned me into Somalia’s loudest musical voice in the Western Hemisphere.

Meanwhile, my country festered, declining more and more. When I went on a tour of 86 countries last year, I could not perform in the one that mattered most to me. And when my song “Wavin’ Flag” became the theme song for the World Cup that year, the kids back home were not allowed to listen to it on the airwaves. Whatever melodious beauty I found, living in the spotlight, my country produced an opposing harmony in shadows, and the world hardly noticed. But I could still hear it.

And now this terrible year: The worst famine in decades pillages the flesh of the already wounded in Somalia. And the world’s collective humanitarian response has been a defeated shrug. If ever there was a best and worst time to return home, it was now.

So, 20 summers after I left as a child, I found myself on my way back to Somalia with some concerned friends and colleagues. I hoped that my presence would let me shine a light into this darkness. Maybe spare even one life, a life equal to mine, from indifferently wasting away. But I am no statesman, nor a soldier. Just a man made fortunate by the power of the spotlight. And to save someone’s life I am willing to spend some of that capricious currency called celebrity.

We had been told that Mogadishu was still among the most dangerous cities on the planet. So it was quiet on the 15-seat plane from Nairobi. We told nervous jokes at first, then looked to defuse the tension. The one book I had brought was Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.” I reached a chapter titled “Hunger Was Good Discipline” and stopped. That idea needed some contemplation. The very thing driving so many from their homes in Somalia was drawing me back there. I read on. Hemingway felt that paintings were more beautiful when he was “belly-empty, hollow-hungry.” But he was not speaking of the brutal and criminally organized hunger of East Africa. His hunger was beautiful. It made something of you. The one I was heading into only made ashes of you.

By now, the ride was bumpy. We were flying low, so I could see Baraawe and Merca, beauties of coastal towns that I had always dreamed of visiting. The pilot joked that he would try to fly low enough for my sightseeing, but high enough to avoid the rocket-propelled grenades.

FOR miles along that coast, all you see are paint-like blue water, beautiful sand dunes eroding, and an abandoned effort to cap them with concrete. Everything about Somalia feels like abandonment. The buildings, the peace initiatives, the hopes and dreams of greatness for a nation.

With the ocean to our backs, our wheels touch down in Mogadishu, at the airport I left 20 years before to the surround-sound of heavy artillery pounding the devil’s rhythm. Now there is an eerie calm. We clear immigration, passing citizens with AK-47’s slung over their shoulders.

It’s not a small task to be safe in Mogadishu. So we keep our arrival a secret until after we ride from the airport to the city, a ride on which they say life expectancy is about 17 minutes if you don’t have the kind of security that has been arranged for me.

Over breakfast at a “safe house,” I update my sense of taste with kidney and anjera (a bread), and a perfectly cooled grapefruit drink. Then we journey onto the city streets. It’s the most aesthetically contradictory place on earth — a paradise of paradox. The old Italian and locally inspired architecture is colored by American and Russian artillery paint. Everything stands proudly lopsided.

And then come the makeshift camps set up for the many hungering displaced Somalis. They are the reason I am here. If my voice was an instrument, then I needed it to be an amplifier this time. If my light was true, then I needed it to show its face here, where it counts. Nothing I have ever sung will matter much if I can’t be the mouth of the silenced. But will the world have ears for them, too?

I find the homeless Somalis’ arms open, waiting for the outside world and hoping for a second chance into its fenced heart. I meet a young woman watching over her dying mother, who has been struck by the bullet of famine. The daughter tells me about the journey to Mogadishu — a 200-mile trek across arid, parched land, with adults huddling around children to protect them first. This mother refused to eat her own food in order to feed abandoned children they had picked up along the way. And now she was dying because of that.

The final and most devastating stop for me was Banadir Hospital, where I was born. The doctors are like hostages of hopelessness, surrounded and outnumbered. Mothers hum lullabies holding the skeletal heads of their children. It seems eyes are the only ornament left of their beautiful faces; eyes like lanterns holding out a glimmer of faint hope. Volunteers are doing jobs they aren’t qualified for. The wards are over-crowded, mixing gun wound, malnutrition and cholera patients.

Death is in every corner of this place. It’s lying on the mattresses holding the tiny wrists of half-sleeping children. It’s near the exposed breasts of girls turned mothers too soon. It folds in the cots, all-knowing and silent; its mournful wind swells the black sheets. Here, each life ends sadly, too suddenly and casually to be memorialized.

In this somber and embittered forgotten place, at least they were happy to see I had come.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

To see Vicky’s photographs from Africa visit Vicky Collins Photography.


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Gone to the Dogs

My friend, Niza Knoll, has an art gallery in the Santa Fe Arts District in Denver.  Knoll Gallery is a fantastic array of creativity and is emerging as one of the best galleries in Denver (in my humble opinion.)  Each year Niza does a juried exhibit featuring art on dogs.  Gone to the Dogs 3 opens this Friday, August 19, and runs through September 17.  I asked Niza why she does this particular exhibit each year.

“I grew up with dogs and always loved their company when I came home.  They give us unconditional love.  They fill an empty spot in my life.  I like being needed.  It always fascinated me that a creature so different than us can connect with our feelings and moods and be able to live with us.  I have always connected more with people that like dogs or cats so I thought it would be fun to share my love for this amazing creature with others.  It really has been lots of fun and I have met some great dog lovers.”

A couple of springs ago I was fortunate to have an exhibit at Niza’s gallery and I had a couple of dog photos that I took on display.  The chihuahua on the sidewalk was taken at Union Square in San Francisco, California. I loved how this pampered pooch was in complete lockstep with her owner. She was a little diva of a dog.

The other photograph was taken in Talkeetna, Alaska.  Talk about a dog and master looking alike. What characters!

Hope you can make it to see Niza’s show.  Her gallery is at 915 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, Colorado, 80204.  The Denver Dumb Friends League will be there with adoptable dogs so maybe you’ll come away with art and a pup to love.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.

To see more photographs visit Vicky Collins Photography.

 


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New BeadforLife Party Video

We have just completed BeadforLife’s new party video. If you are not familiar with BeadforLife and the wonderful work this NGO does for women in Uganda go to http://beadforlife.org. BeadforLife is an income generating project which creates a circle of connection and compassion between women around the globe and women in Uganda who are trying to lift their families out of extreme poverty. Women in the slums of Kampala roll beads out of recycled paper and women in North America and Europe sell them. The money is returned to Uganda to help women care for their families, provide food, shelter, health care and education. BeadforLife has also launched an initiative in war torn Northern Uganda where women gather shea nuts for shea butter which is used in cosmetics. BeadforLife also offers a curriculum for middle and high school students to raise awareness and get them engaged in the fight to end extreme poverty.


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The Power of Words

As a writer I’m impressed by how powerful words can be.  As a producer I’m awed by the power of images to tell stories.  This little video about how words evoke compassion left me speechless and a bit teary eyed too.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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My Week in Detox

He told us his name was Ray Casados but on the street they called him Rah-Rah. He was a young tatted up heroin addict who was spending 90 days at the Hoy Recovery Program in Velarde, New Mexico, hoping he could finally kick the habit that had him by the balls, and move forward with a new life as a barber. He hailed from nearby Espanola, a drug trafficking corridor with multigenerational drug abuse and entrenched, life crushing poverty.  Rio Arriba County where he lives has the highest rate of heroin overdose deaths in the country.  Ray wanted to stop dealing drugs, to make money legitimately, and stay out of jail. He knew this was his last chance, that if he didn’t get his shit together he would probably spend the rest of his life in prison.

We met Ray and the other clients at Hoy while attending Ami Vitale’s multimedia course at the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops.  It was a five day intensive that taught us how to tell our stories using DSLR cameras and Final Cut Pro.  Neither my partner, Karsten Balsley, or I had shot or edited video before, and like Ray, our learning curve was incredibly steep.  I shot with a Nikon D7000, Karsten with a Nikon D3S.  We are both accomplished photographers but everything was different.  We were told out of the gate that we would learn from our failures and over the week there were many mistakes and setbacks.  Karsten was cracking up as he helped log the tape because he could hear me saying “shit, shit, shit” as things went to hell in a handbasket.

For me the biggest revelation was that with multimedia production I could get out of my news box and break rules that have been ingrained in my head for 30 years.  I was also forced to be aware of things I simply take for granted when working with professional photojournalists and, especially, sound men.  I count on my photographers to notice things like lighting and composition so I can pay attention to producing.  Now I was doing it all myself.  These days in news production, sound men are often left by the wayside, but you come to edit with screwed up audio and you’ll tear your hair out.  I can’t thank Ami enough for her creativity, Jake for his patience and Final Cut expertise, and my classmates for their support as they struggled through their own projects.  We completed our stories in four days. No one got much sleep.

The week of the course was one of the most intense of my life, but at the end Karsten and I returned to Hoy and showed our piece to Ray and the other men and women at the center.  Throughout my career I have not had many opportunities to sit in a room with people watching my work. For this audience, that has been through so much, there was laughter and back slapping and especially gratitude that we were able to look at them and see their humanity. I know I saw Ray sit up taller that afternoon.  I believe Ray, Karsten and I now have a skill set we can use to make a difference for ourselves and for others, all because of our time in detox.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit Teletrends Television Production and Development.


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The Tire Iron and the Tamale by Justin Horner

This powerful story by Justin Horner of Portland, Oregon appeared in the Lives section of the New York Times.  Hope it makes everyone look at the people around us with more tolerant eyes and think twice about looking away when someone is in need.

The Tire Iron and the Tamale
By JUSTIN HORNER

During this past year I’ve had three instances of car trouble: a blowout on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out-of-gas situation. They all happened while I was driving other people’s cars, which for some reason makes it worse on an emotional level. And on a practical level as well, what with the fact that I carry things like a jack and extra fuses in my own car, and know enough not to park on a steep incline with less than a gallon of fuel.

Each time, when these things happened, I was disgusted with the way people didn’t bother to help. I was stuck on the side of the freeway hoping my friend’s roadside service would show, just watching tow trucks cruise past me. The people at the gas stations where I asked for a gas can told me that they couldn’t lend them out “for safety reasons,” but that I could buy a really crappy one-gallon can, with no cap, for $15. It was enough to make me say stuff like “this country is going to hell in a handbasket,” which I actually said.

But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke any English.

One of those guys stopped to help me with the blowout even though he had his whole family of four in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to three hours with my friend’s big Jeep. I put signs in the windows, big signs that said, “NEED A JACK,” and offered money. Nothing. Right as I was about to give up and start hitching, a van pulled over, and the guy bounded out.

He sized up the situation and called for his daughter, who spoke English. He conveyed through her that he had a jack but that it was too small for the Jeep, so we would need to brace it. Then he got a saw from the van and cut a section out of a big log on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top and we were in business.

I started taking the wheel off, and then, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones, and I wasn’t careful, and I snapped the head clean off. Damn.

No worries: he ran to the van and handed it to his wife, and she was gone in a flash down the road to buy a new tire iron. She was back in 15 minutes. We finished the job with a little sweat and cussing (the log started to give), and I was a very happy man.

The two of us were filthy and sweaty. His wife produced a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man’s hand, but he wouldn’t take it, so instead I went up to the van and gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I’d send them a gift for being so awesome. She said they lived in Mexico. They were in Oregon so Mommy and Daddy could pick cherries for the next few weeks. Then they were going to pick peaches, then go back home.

After I said my goodbyes and started walking back to the Jeep, the girl called out and asked if I’d had lunch. When I told her no, she ran up and handed me a tamale.

This family, undoubtedly poorer than just about everyone else on that stretch of highway, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took a couple of hours out of their day to help a strange guy on the side of the road while people in tow trucks were just passing him by.

But we weren’t done yet. I thanked them again and walked back to my car and opened the foil on the tamale (I was starving by this point), and what did I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirled around and ran to the van and the guy rolled down his window. He saw the $20 in my hand and just started shaking his head no. All I could think to say was, “Por favor, por favor, por favor,” with my hands out. The guy just smiled and, with what looked like great concentration, said in English: “Today you, tomorrow me.”

Then he rolled up his window and drove away, with his daughter waving to me from the back. I sat in my car eating the best tamale I’ve ever had, and I just started to cry. It had been a rough year; nothing seemed to break my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn’t handle it.

In the several months since then I’ve changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and once drove 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. But every time I’m able to help, I feel as if I’m putting something in the bank.

Justin Horner is a graphic designer living in Portland, Ore. This essay was adapted from a message-board posting on reddit.com.

 

For more on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Blair’s First Filmmaking Job

My 12 year old son, Blair Ewalt, a budding filmmaker and 7th grade student at Denver School of the Arts, just produced his first professional film.  It is a two and a half minute promotional piece for an exhibit called “The 4000 Year Road Trip: Gathering Sparks” at Denver’s Mizel Museum. The exhibit opens on February 2, 2011.  

It took Blair less than two weeks to produce the video.  He shot it in high definition and edited it on Final Cut. He did the videotaping over Christmas break so he didn’t miss any school.  What makes me particularly proud about this is that his father and I didn’t get him the job.  The marketing manager of the Mizel Museum, Sue Stoveall, remembered his audition film for DSA, a short called “A Christmas Gift,” and thought he had the right stuff.

He will have his first paycheck soon and the museum is sending a press release out to the Denver Post and other media singing the praises of the middle school kid who they hired.  Congratulations, Blair.  Someday I’m sure we will all be working for you.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.