Posts Tagged ‘Mentor Artists’

When Volunteering Feels Like Coming Home

highway sign for Lapwai Idaho Nez Perce Indian ReservationI am in Lapwai, Idaho, on the Nez Perce reservation (the tribe is more correctly referred to as “Nimiipuu“–the people), working with kids on the rez, mentoring genius and agile young minds who gain confidence in their voices and stories right before my eyes. It is some of the most rewarding work I have ever done, and I’ve been blessed to return four years. This program of Mentor Artists—MAPP, is a huge force in my life.

In the program–a one-week, short burst of intensive learning where teens, many of whom have never seen live theatre, by the end of five after-school days and all day Saturday, will have written a two-character, one-act play. In a culture that honors storytelling, astounding imagery and characters as varied as the wind, Coyote, a gun, river grass, a silver necklace, a lunchbox, a wolf fighting for pack dominance, a diamondback, mother and daughter songbirds, and so many more come to vivid life.

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day, and one of the most inspiring vets I know, Tony Johnson, my brother here, passed up the big tribal community center event honoring vets for their service to instead build the fire, heat the stones, and prepare the herbs/medicine to sweat with us. This connection, these shared prayers and songs, this fraternal bond, cracks open my heart. Tony is one of many here that are truly my family, and every time I am lucky enough to travel here, they welcome me home. I am often hugged and told, “We’ve been waiting for you, Brother” even after two years between trips.

I wish this feeling on every single one of you. May you have the joy of watching young minds push boundaries beyond what they previously knew, ushering stunning story into being…may you discover a place where community connection is everything…may you take such a strong stand for young people that you will do everything you can to assure their burgeoning pride and success…may you know the feeling of having so much respect for another that it brings tears to your eyes…may you travel far from home to feel the joyous intensity of coming home…I wish this on every single one of you.

What Price Irony? Rich Potato Salad

483170_75337697So…I don’t blame the dude. The dude was just having fun. The dude was hungry.

Kickstarter went viral with the fundraising campaign of Zack Danger Brown who, being an irreverent fella, decided to start a fundraiser to crowd fund ten bucks so he could make some mediocre potato salad. Kickstarter and similar crowd-funding sites (like Indiegogo) are the life’s blood of many creative projects…and this guy has earned (thus far) over $45,000 from 5,571 donors. People jumped on the irony bandwagon, perhaps donation plea exhausted, like we all are, and threw money at this joke project. His total had actually been about $70K but then dropped 30 thousand to the low/mid forties…not sure what’s up with that–quite possibly people revoking their pledged donations.

The cynicism of this whole thing kind of weirds me out.

I get it. I get that it’s funny to fund potato salad. Having run projects through fundraising obstacle courses and angst pits myself, I wish I’d thought of it and just called a youth education program “Potato Salad” or similar…but that’s just it. Those five- and ten-dollar donations from around the country could make a real difference for some truly world-bettering work. If it is so inconsequential to us that we can toss a twenty at irony, why is it like pulling teeth to get $20 to fund a program for mentoring youth living on Native American reservations ( summer fundraiser for creative arts education for underserved youth–an organization I am proud to work with and support) or educational supplies to displaced kids in Haiti? These are just two examples of funding efforts I have personally undertaken.

I in no way mean to devalue the incredibly generous folks who have supported my efforts and the millions of other worthy causes out there. They truly make a huge difference, no question about it. Cynicism isn’t the guiding principle of most of us…and yet…here we are.

That potato salad thing really puts a burr under my saddle. There are rules that prevent Zac from donating the funds raised to charity, but that’s not his fault. I don’t blame him and have read he is looking for ways to give back and get around the bylaws of Kickstarter (maybe making tons of actual potato salad to donate to homeless shelters, or similar). This will assuage my rankled sensibilities…but that double-edged money is nothing haha vs. money is too tight to give to good causes dynamic has me perplexed and challenged.

Throwing money at a problem doesn’t often solve the problem, but funding worthy causes and tirelessly working service groups to empower them to do great work, essentially on our behalf, means the world to so many cash-strapped charitable and philanthropic organizations who are trying to keep the doors open. I know I’m preaching to the choir with readers of this blog…but isn’t that a little more profound than Russets and mayo and vinegar for a joke?

….annnnnd…now I’m hungry.

Mentor Artists–Getting the Word Out

Mentor Artists Playwrights Project

Mentor Artists Playwrights Project

This is the group with which I have worked in Native American communities for these past years–and what gave birth to my Native Youth Documentary film project. These kids have voices that they don’t even recognize as powerful, stories they don’t realize the world needs to hear. The work is unlocking all of that pent up brilliance. If I could give you even the tiniest nugget of what it is to sit down and mentor, one-on-one with these young people, you, too, would recognize it as priceless.

Even as the financial and housing markets begin to revive, let me assure you, what hasn’t come back is federal funding…for anything. While most of us haven’t noticed the sequester as anything other than media bluster….except for a day or two of delayed flights that was quickly remedied…the Native American population continues to have dollars dry up for important resources. The resource with which I most concern myself is education. The challenges for a kid finishing high school on a reservation can be enormous, so when a project comes along like the Mentor Artists Playwrights Project (MAPP), that specifically addresses the most marginalized among an already marginalized community, and sparks tremendous passion and creativity, we must pay attention.

Please click on the link and visit the MAPP fundraising campaign, and learn more. Also check out the website and facebook page. Consider a donation to support this huge work. Even if your wallet is a bit light these days, “like” the facebook page, re-post the information to your community, spread the word. This is about you becoming a part of a community that refuses to let young people fall through the cracks. Be the net by helping others grow aware.