Sunday, November 27, 2016

The little known Sharp's War

I've read a lot of Nazi-era history in the last 10 years, both fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes I think I've heard it all before. Then I stumble across a story of people who did right in the face of that evil, a tale of personal sacrifice and courage which seems to be forgotten by history. The story of an American couple, Waitstill and Martha Sharp, falls into that group.

In 1938, Waistill Sharp was a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts. He and his wife Martha, a social worker, had a full, busy life caring for their congregation and their community, as well as their own two young children. One night, Waistill received a call from Robert Dexter, the director the Department of Social Relations of the American Unitarian Association. The newly signed Munich Accord gave Hitler control of the Sudetenland. This piece of Czechoslovakia had strong ties to the Unitarian Church, and as Dexter recalled later, “I knew there would be untold suffering in the Nazi-occupied territories, and I was equally convinced that something should be done about it by those of us who felt we had an obligation to aid our friends who had been so betrayed.”

Seventeen people had already turned down Dexter's request for someone on the ground in Europe. Waistill and Martha talked about it and agreed. They'd go to Europe and do what they could.

So in February 1939, the Sharps traveled to occupied Czechoslovakia and later to occupied France. They stayed one step ahead of the Nazis to rescue dozens of at-risk Czechs and get them abroad. Later, they returned to Europe and shepherded people out of occupied France to safety and transport via Lisbon. The number of people saved by their efforts is unknown, in part because they destroyed all records of their travels and those involved. The estimate is in the hundreds. Because their efforts included Jews, the Sharps were posthumously awarded The Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. 

A new PBS documentary by Ken Burns starring the voices of Tom Hanks and Marina Goldman now shares the Sharp's story with the world. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

An article and two events

This week, one of my articles was published in Advance for Physical Therapy - this month's cover article no less! I'm delighted with the response it has received. 
Tomorrow November 26th, I'll join Mrs. Claus as B.R. Books in Lancaster for a Small Business Saturday event from 12-2. I'll have kid-friendly activity sheets and my books ready to sign, so stop by if you're out and about. I'm told there will be cookies 😊

On Tuesday November 29th, I'll be reading Mikey and the Swamp Monster to the Pre-K and Kindergarten classes at Robert Morris Elementary in Scranton. I can't wait to hear their giggles! This event was arranged by my dear friend Joanne. 

My school and library visits, readings, and presentations are still free of charge. I schedule events weeks or months in advance, so please contact me by email if you're interested at authorjeannemoran (at symbol) gmail or use the scheduling form on my website 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Inclusion at Starbucks

Ibby Piracha frequents a Starbucks in Leesburg, VA several times a week. Because he is deaf and has limited ability to communicate verbally, Ibby texts his order for the barista to read. It's certainly different than the way other customers place their order. But it works. Ibby has accepted this as part of his routine, the way he manages his hearing disability in a hearing world.

One female barista didn't accept it. Krystal Payne wanted Ibby to have the same experience as other customers. She took it upon herself to watch YouTube videos and learn the basics of American Sign Language.

Next time Ibby came in to place his order, Krystal gave him this note. True to her word, she used ASL to ask what he wanted to drink. Ibby was touched by her effort to include him and others in the deaf community in this most basic of human experiences. He shared the photo and the story on his Facebook page, and the post was shared over 5800 times.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Empathy, by design

In my decades-long career as a physical therapist, I witnessed and celebrated the evolution of what has become Universal Design.  Everything from a cushioned handle on a potato peeler to wheelchair-accessible sinks in public restrooms came about because someone identified a need and cared enough to act.

One of those people is Patricia Moore. As a young industrial designer in the 1970s, Patricia was the only woman in her workplace. Frustrated by her colleagues' emphasis on creating products for healthy, average men, she struck out on her own. She borrowed her grandmother's clothes and some clunky shoes, put in earplugs and got some glasses that distorted her vision. And she hit the streets.

In three years, she visited over 100 cities in the US and Canada disguised as an elderly woman. Sometimes she used a walker or a cane. Sometimes she dressed as if homeless, other times as if quite wealthy. She learned a lot, not just about the difficulties of normal aging or accessing the world with a physical disability. She also experienced first-hand the ugly truths of how people of different social classes are valued.

Her experiment yielded results. She started her own design firm and pushed for what she called 'empathetic design.' Patricia is now hailed as one of the founders of Universal Design, the industry standard.

Her unconventional approach has improved the lives of millions of people around the world. All because she cared enough to act.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

She turned grief into action

Candy Lightner, a divorced mother of three, endured the unthinkable. Her 13-year-old daughter Cari was walking with a friend when she was struck by a car and killed. The driver didn't stop.

Later, it was learned that he'd been drunk when he hit Cari, and that it wasn't his first accident while driving drunk. The police told this grieving mother that the driver's punishment would probably be light. The driver was literally getting away with murder. 

Why? Because it was 1980.

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) hadn't yet been formed. That organization hadn't yet pushed for reform of our laws against driving under the influence.

Candy was understandably enraged. Remarkably, she channeled her grief and anger. Within days of Cari's death, she decided to act. She gathered like-minded folks in her own home and they started to organize and develop a plan. They worked to raise awareness of the problem and pushed for changes to our laws. And so began a movement which has made an undeniable difference in our country. In 1980, the year Cari was killed, drunk drivers killed about 25,000 Americans. Today, the number has been cut by half. 

And the movement has expanded. Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) was founded 30 years ago. That organization has since expanded its mission and changed its name to Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Team Rubicon continues to serve

When a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook Haiti early in 2010, hundreds of thousands of people were killed and almost a million left homeless. Water and medical help were cut off; food lines and tent cities sprang up amid the rubble. 

Two US Marines decided to help. Jake Wood and William McNulty rounded up six other veterans and first responders. With money and medical supplies donated by friends and family, they flew to the Dominican Republic and drove into Haiti in a rented truck. 

Relief agencies were already in place, helping many thousands of people. This group of ex-military and first responders decided their mission was to get to the people outside the reach of the other aid agencies. They voluntarily crossed into 'unsafe' areas, crossing their Rubicon and committing themselves to do what they could to help. And help they did. 

Since then, the non-profit Team Rubicon has grown exponentially. Team Rubicon USA alone has 35,000 volunteers who stand ready to be deployed to disaster areas. Teams have been deployed around the world to help victims of floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, and to provide humanitarian aid. Their mission is to unite "the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams."

 The men and women of Team Rubicon have been getting some good press for their service, including this video on Sunday TODAY with Willie Geist. They even have their own YouTube channel. 

Obviously, the folks receiving the generous help from Team Rubicon are incredibly grateful. And it works both ways - those who do the giving are also blessed. As one community leader said, "I support Team Rubicon not only for the important job they are fulfilling by getting experienced first responders on the ground to disaster areas, but what they provide in allowing our veterans to use the leadership, operational, and technical skills they honed in the military to serve their fellow citizens in times of desperate need."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

An autism-friendly vacation

Becky Large knows the struggles first-hand. Traveling and vacationing with a family member who is autistic, like her son Harley, is the complete opposite of relaxation. Airports and vacation spots are filled with sensory overload, which sends the person with autism into a meltdown.

Becky decided to do something about it. She created the Champion Autism Network (CAN) and has worked with Surfside Beach, South Carolina to become the first autism-friendly vacation spot anywhere.

Becky worked with the TSA at the Myrtle Beach airport to create a quiet room. She engaged the cooperation of local hotels, and compiled lists of restaurants, attractions, even grocery stores which offer autism-friendly options.

Becky and her efforts have been showcased on NBC Nightly News.

Although Surfside Beach is not the only vacation spot deemed suitable for families with a child who has special needs, it is currently the only autism-friendly location because of its comprehensive sensitivity to the whole families' needs.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Vote today. Live in peace tomorrow.

Want to do one right thing today? Vote. About two million people around the world don't have that right. Millions of people have fought for your right to speak your mind. This is your chance. Use it.

Want to do one right thing tomorrow? Accept the results with grace and live in peace with your fellow Americans. End the vitriol. No more name-calling and finger-pointing. Certainly no sore losers, threats of retribution, or violence. Just enough already. 

Sure, we've got issues, big ones. We won't solve them by infighting. We won't develop solutions unless we talk openly about the problems. Blame gets us nowhere. 

We're better than this, America. We can't let this campaign's animosity define us or divide us further. We must be united to truly be the United States.

Our only way out is forward. Together. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

One doctor's ingenious fake epidemic

When the Nazis moved into Poland in 1939, Eugene Lazowski had just finished medical school. He was made an officer in the Polish army and stationed in the town of Rozwadow where he worked for the Red Cross. The fence which marked the border of the town's Jewish ghetto was right behind his house.

Dr. Lazowski had heard of recent discoveries by fellow Pole Dr. Stanislaw Matulewicz. It seems that a certain strain of the typhus bacteria, when killed and injected, will allow the patient to test positive for the deadly epidemic disease while remaining symptom-free. Dr. Lazowski tried it, and sent the patient's blood sample to a German lab for testing. 

The response was a red telegram - the patient has epidemic typhus and must be quarantined.

The patient was not ill.  

So Dr. Lazoswki came up with a plan. Whenever a patient came to him, be it a villager or a Jew from the ghetto (who he was forbidden to treat but did so anyway), he injected them with the bacteria. Blood samples left the village, red telegrams returned.

Soon the village and the ghetto seemed to be a hotbed of epidemic typhus. Nazis avoided the area - Germany had not had an outbreak of typhus in a generation, and officials worried about their soldiers' vulnerability. When a medical inspection team was sent to check on the epidemic's status, Dr. Lazowski planted ragged, dirty villagers in the hospital. The nervous doctors took one look and left quickly. The village quarantine was official.

The Nazis stayed away from Rozwadow for the duration of the war. Over 8,000 villagers and ghetto residents were spared the fate of other Polish villages, all because of one doctor's kind heart and his ingenuity.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

4-year-old girl visits her 82-year-old best friend on Halloween

The story of 4-year-old Norah Wood and her new friend has gone viral.

As Norah's mother Tara explained it, in late September, she and Norah were grocery shopping when Norah waved at a stranger. "Hi, old person," she said. "It's my birthday today!" The man and Norah chatted for a few minutes then parted. 

A few minutes later, Norah asked her mom if she could get a picture with the man since it was her birthday. The man, Mr. Dan as Norah now called him, was taken aback but delighted. They posed together like they'd known one another for years. 

Since meeting in late September, the two new friends have visited weekly for play dates.
Norah stopped over on Dan's 82nd birthday, and on Monday, stopped by again to show off her Minnie Mouse costume.  

It seems that Dan's wife passed away a few months ago, and he'd been feeling pretty low. 
The chance meeting with Norah and her kind heart was just what he needed to lift his spirits. Mr. Dan later told CBS News, “There were other old people [at the grocery store], and she saw me and I was the ‘old people’ she had to talk to.”

Norah's mom added her own thoughts. "I can only assume there was some divine intervention or stars aligning or she was nudged by the universe. I know we’re all better because of it." 
Mr. Dan's perspective cuts to the chase. “If I didn’t have anything else to do the rest of my life, I have her to love.”