Wednesday, December 5, 2012

West Oak Article in Seneca Journal

Students shine at West-Oak High



WESTMINSTER — Evan Wooding stands in his West-Oak High School “T-Warriors” classroom and carefully writes down the room numbers for his daily newspaper delivery.

After loading his cart full of that day’s edition of The Journal, he looks at his friends, classmates Victoria Dees and David Fisher, and peer tutor Levi Neave, and asks, “Are you ready to go?”

As they walk through the halls of their high school, they’re greeted by smiling faces and early morning greetings from teachers and students alike.

They stop by “F-Troop” teacher Bonita Jones’ classroom and hand her a stack of newspapers, and then they visit several other classrooms on the first floor,

knocking politely and entering quietly, before they make their way to the second floor to make more deliveries.

“T-Warriors” teacher JoAnn Decossas said her students have been delivering local newspapers to classrooms for several years — currently The Journal and The Westminster News — through Newspapers in Education, a national program that delivers newspapers to schools.

“Teachers love when my kids come into their classrooms to deliver the newspaper,” Decossas said. “They’ve told me it’s a joy to see their faces.”

Decossas has taught students with moderate and severe/profound intellectual and physical disabilities at West-Oak High for 11 years.

“We’ve worked hard to build our program, and our newspaper delivery service is just one of many reasons I love my job,” she said.

In her classroom, she pointed to several high school “peer tutors” helping her students decorate Christmas cards.

“We have peer tutors come in all day, every day. Any student can become a peer tutor in Mrs. Jones’ or my class. You can sign up for it as an elective, and most of our peer tutors sign up more than once,” she said, further mentioning that several peer tutors have gone on to receive college degrees in special education because of their experiences at West-Oak.

Neave, a 16-year-old junior, said this is his first semester as a peer tutor in Decossas’ class.

“I had an open class this semester and I wanted to try it out,” Neave said. “I’ve enjoyed it. When Evan (Wooding) came here earlier this year, he kind of latched on to me. I like delivering newspapers with him.”

Wooding is 15 years old and well over 6 feet tall; he said he goes to weightlifting class every other day with peer tutor Garrett Mason, 17.

“I take Evan to our class and we work out together,” Mason said.

Wooding put his arm around Mason’s shoulder and told him it was time for weightlifting, at which point they promptly left for class.

Decossas said the faculty and staff also work to include her students in activities outside the classroom, too.

“Several of my students cheered with our varsity cheerleading team at home football games this year. Keri Sutton, a peer tutor, spent time with the girls working on cheers during class,” she said.

Fisher, 16, said he plays the base drum for the marching band.

“The girls love me,” he said about wearing his uniform and marching on the football field.

Additionally, Decossas said most of her students attend West-Oak’s prom and there have been several students who have been elected to homecoming court.

“Peer tutors and other students fight over which one of our students they get to take to prom. It’s always a big deal; our kids love it,” she said.

Principal Kurt Kreuzberger said because of his students’ desire to build a relationship with the T-Warriors and F-Troop classes, he knows that West-Oak’s biggest attribute is its student body.

“The students in those classes are taken care of by the student body. They’re accepted and incorporated into the school just like any other student,” Kreuzberger said. “These programs, like peer tutoring and the newspaper delivery, translate later in the school day when kids come up and talk to them in the halls and during lunch.”

He mentioned another popular program that faculty, staff and students enjoy is Jones’ F-Troop café.

Jones, a teacher at West-Oak since 1991, and aides Cindy Thibodeaux, Jenny Driver, Rashaad Jackson and Arian Calhoun work with their F-Troop students every day to provide tasty treats for teachers and students.

“In addition to working on math and reading skills in the classroom, we use the café as a way to build students’ social and academic skills,” Jones said. “They make milkshakes, gourmet pretzels, and coffee … we bake and decorate cakes for teachers and make sandwiches for athletes before their games. It involves a lot of interaction and it’s a great way to bring the F-Troop into contact with teachers and students.”

Briana Coker, 18, made a mudslide milkshake for The Journal.

“I really like working in the café,” she said as she gave Jones a hug.

Jones said the goal for her students is to get them ready for the real world.

“By the time they graduate, our hope is that they are capable to work in the community. The café prepares them for work, and they also visit jobs in the area to find out what they like and dislike,” Jones said.

Other notable job skills that F-Troop students learn include sewing ripped athletic uniforms, landscaping in the school’s courtyard, at nursing homes and at Chau Ram County Park, among others.

“We do a lot in our community,” Jones said. “We like to let the community know we’re here.”

For information about Decossas’ T-Warriors class and Jones’ F-Troop class, call West-Oak, (864) 886-4530.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Chicago Tribune's Injun Summer

John T. McCutcheon
Chicago Tribune
September 30, 1907

Yep, sonny this is sure enough Injun summer. Don't know what that is, I reckon, do you? Well, that's when all the homesick Injuns come back to play; You know, a long time ago, long afore yer granddaddy was born even, there used to be heaps of Injuns around here—thousands—millions, I reckon, far as that's concerned. Reg'lar sure 'nough Injuns—none o' yer cigar store Injuns, not much. They wuz all around here—right here where you're standin'.

Don't be skeered—hain't none around here now, leastways no live ones. They been gone this many a year.

They all went away and died, so they ain't no more left.

But every year, 'long about now, they all come back, leastways their sperrits do. They're here now. You can see 'em off across the fields. Look real hard. See that kind o' hazy misty look out yonder? Well, them's Injuns—Injun sperrits marchin' along an' dancin' in the sunlight. That's what makes that kind o' haze that's everywhere—it's jest the sperrits of the Injuns all come back. They're all around us now.

See off yonder; see them tepees? They kind o' look like corn shocks from here, but them's Injun tents, sure as you're a foot high. See 'em now? Sure, I knowed you could. Smell that smoky sort o' smell in the air? That's the campfires a-burnin' and their pipes a-goin'.

Lots o' people say it's just leaves burnin', but it ain't. It's the campfires, an' th' Injuns are hoppin' 'round 'em t'beat the old Harry.

You jest come out here tonight when the moon is hangin' over the hill off yonder an' the harvest fields is all swimmin' in the moonlight, an' you can see the Injuns and the tepees jest as plain as kin be. You can, eh? I knowed you would after a little while.

Jever notice how the leaves turn red 'bout this time o' year? That's jest another sign o' redskins. That's when an old Injun sperrit gits tired dancin' an' goes up an' squats on a leaf t'rest. Why I kin hear 'em rustlin' an' whisper in' an' creepin' 'round among the leaves all the time; an' ever' once'n a while a leaf gives way under some fat old Injun ghost and comes floatin' down to the ground. See—here's one now. See how red it is? That's the war paint rubbed off'n an Injun ghost, sure's you're born.

Purty soon all the Injuns'll go marchin' away agin, back to the happy huntin' ground, but next year you'll see 'em troopin' back—th' sky jest hazy with 'em and their campfires smolderin' away jest like they are now.

From his pipe the smoke ascending
Filled the sky with haze and vapor
Filled the air with dreamy softness,
Gave a twinkle to the water,
Touched the rugged hills with smoothness,
Brought the tender Indian Summer
To the melancholy north-land,
In the dreary Moon of Snow-shoes.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Hiawatha 1855

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Bluebells For Grand Dad

Spring has come again, and with it the flood of new life and promise of beginnings.  This is a favorite time for many of us.  The extended Jones family is no exception.  We had an annual family reunion that brought us together from across the country in April.  It was a celebration of Roy H. Jones’ birthday but he never wanted it to be all about him.  He hoped that we would get together to celebrate each other as well, so we called it the April Birthday.

Grand Dad Jones was a popular man.  He was beloved by his family, treasured by his community and widely recognized as a friend well met, hale and hardy.  Part of Roy Jones’ legend was that he never said a negative thing about anyone.  He denied this to me once, admitting that he had made a disparaging comment about a woman who had demonstrated poor parenting decisions.  He called her in to his office and apologized, but felt badly about it years and years later.  Roy died two months prior to his 97th birthday.  Despite his advanced age, the outpouring of sympathy was overwhelming.  We received letters from Senators.  Newspapers told his story and the funeral was well attended.  Perhaps the most beautiful tribute, however, came from his fifth child, Beulah.

Beulah Williams and her father, Roy Jones

Spring came six weeks after her father’s death.  He had lived with her for the last several years of his life.  Beulah was a good daughter who was devoted, kind, patient and loving.  Her home was empty without the presence of Roy.  One mild spring day, she drove her car out to Allerton Park in search of emerging bluebells.  The Virginia Bluebell thrives throughout Illinois.  It was Roy Jones very favorite and Allerton was a family gathering place for several April birthdays.  Beulah loved the place and was fond of spending hours soaking in the beauty of the park.  Somewhere in the shady parts of Allerton, she found some good plants to dig.  They were placed in a bucket and carried to the place where her father was buried.  That late Spring, and for many thereafter, bluebells flowered on my grandfather’s grave.  They were the best and most appropriate memorial for Roy Jones.  When all was said and done, he was a simple, beautiful man who was born, grew to adulthood, raised his family, lived and died within a few miles.  His legacy is one of compassion and grace.  He passed it on to his children.  Beulah Williams was not only a recipient of those qualities, but one who continued to model them for the rest of the family.

Thanks Aunt Beulah.  I planted bluebells for you and Grand Dad this Spring.  You both live on in our hearts and, hopefully, in the way that we treat other people every day.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Light Where There Is Darkness

We have the ability to choose our attitude even in the worst moments of life. This truth was affirmed by Viktor Frankl who suffered interment at Auschwitz and other concentration camps. He lost his wife and parents while a prisoner in these places yet he found that the ‘salvation of man is through love and in love’. Viktor reached this conclusion, in part, by experiencing other prisoners who would walk through the barracks giving up their last piece of bread and offering kind words and hope. This powerful testimony to love helped him survive that which was practically unsurvivable.  Dr. Frankl became a renowned psychiatrist and author of at least 32 books (among them "Man's Search For Meaning").

We are given sparkling little glimmers of unselfish love and grace in everyday life as well. My dear life-long friend lost his father this week. Harry Cox was a great guy.  He was a high school and college track star whose records still stand.  More importantly, he was delightful company with a ready laugh, humble heart and gracious spirit.  There was no long suffering illness that had preceded his death and it was certainly unexpected. I called his son, my friend Gary, to offer the comfort of our friendship and to connect with him in his time of need. It was not long into our conversation that Gary began to tell me stories about my own father and mother and how grateful he was for their love and kindness. He talked about how welcomed he felt in our home and how much this meant to him.  He recounted the powerful impact of their generosity.  I suddenly realized that this wonderful friend was actually consoling me. He was sharing the joys of our childhood and ministering with compassion even at his own hour of deep personal grief.

This choice of attitude is not an acquired behavior or ‘second nature’ but rather comes from a broken heart that remains unselfish and called to love. It demonstrates that brokenness is the common bond. It is from our brokenness that we can offer hope. Gary’s closing words on the phone to me were “You are a blessing.” May we all find ways to share such light in the darkness.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Restoring Trust

The theme this week at our treatment center in Upstate South Carolina recently has been "trust".  This is not the easiest point of conversation for those of us who have betrayed ourselves, the ones that we love and almost everyone else with whom we are connected.  Recovery from alcohol, drug and other addictions forces us to face the fact that many of our daily interactions were laced with half truths and lies.  We could not really be trusted, nor could we trust.  Sacred promises were broken as a matter of course.  Alcoholics and addicts do not, however, have a corner on trust issues.  We have all experienced betrayal and the erosion of faith and belief in someone or something that follows.

Broken promises, lies, theft and abuse (physical, emotional or sexual) are the most common offenses perpetrated by people that we love and admire which diminish or destroy trust.  The remnants of relationships that survive these transgressions are fragile, dysfunctional or badly broken.  We are no longer able to go about our daily activities without worry, resentment, fear, anger or sadness.  It seems that nothing will ever be the same.

Living with the burden of violated trust can be as destructive as the offense that caused the problem in the first place. Both victim and perpetrator feel like they are walking on eggshells and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Tension is in the air to one degree or another most all of the time. We are afraid to talk about it because the arguments never end well. So there exists an elephant in the living room that everyone unsuccessfully tries to ignore. We are never fully comfortable with each other. This kind of situation cannot continue and there is no reason to let it do so. We must either take specific steps to resolve the issue or end the relationship once and for all.

Resolving the issue is always the best idea except in cases of abuse. Those who resort to physical or sexual abuse cannot be given another opportunity to offend. It is too dangerous and the chances of resuming a healthy relationship are practically impossible. Emotional abuse can be just as harmful and destructive. The best idea is to get out and get away from people who hurt us in these ways. It is easier said than done but must be carried out none-the-less. Our obligation is to forgive ourselves for staying around as long as we did and separate from the situation as soon as possible.

Resolution of non-abusive broken trust is something that requires the active participation of both victim and perpetrator.  The recipient of wrong-doing must consciously decide not to be a victim anymore.  This requires a recognition of the resentment that exists in the wake of betrayal.  Carrying around resentment does no good.  It is like dragging a garbage bag of decaying food everywhere we go.  It rots, smells and creates a health hazard.  We have to put it down and dispose of it if we want the relationship to continue.  We have the uncomfortable task of owning our part in the resentment.  It is not easy to see that we have participated in a failing of trust when it is so obvious that the other person has committed the offense.  The truth is, however, that there is always some part that we have played.  Sometimes it is just that we hang on to the resentment but usually is more than that.  Owning our part allows us to let go and move on.  We can change our behavior but we mostly spin our wheels when we try to change others.  Have we carried suspicions without openly confronting the problems?  Have we been so eager to please that we ignored the truth?  Do we tend to stick our head in the sand?  Have I made it difficult to tell the truth in the relationship by promoting guilt and shame?  Have I been judgmental and unapproachable?  These are all questions that might lead us to owning our part in the situation.  We have the opportunity to open up dialogue with the perpetrator, ask for forgiveness, offer forgiveness and make new vows of trust.  We must also confirm that we will not accept the offensive behavior in the future.  We will live in the present and put the past behind us but we will not be put in the situation again.

The perpetrator of betrayal has the burden of work to do in creating an environment of trust in a broken relationship.  We must openly admit our transgression, ask forgiveness and to do what is necessary to make amends.  Amends making is more than admitting our wrongs.  It requires direct and sometimes long term action.  Not only must we promise not to repeat the behavior but we must also make dramatic changes in the way that we operate.  I struggled with alcoholism for the first four years of our marriage.  My wife, Bonita, suffered through my lies, half truths and deceptions.  She watched as I lived a double life and continually supported and loved me through it all.  My offenses were many.  When I finally sought treatment and achieved sobriety, Bonita was left with the baggage of betrayal.  She had little reason to trust me and there was much work to do.  She did her part.  Mine was to make a vow to remain abstinent and to grow in recovery.  I also made a promise to myself that I would treat her like a princess for the rest of my life.  She would never have to do laundry again.  I would cook and clean for her.  I would remember to say 'I love you" and be a good listener.  I would not argue and would present the positive side of my perspective at every turn.  It has been almost twelve years and I'm still at it.  I try to maintain trust by actively 'telling on myself' to the best of my ability if I have been dishonest or otherwise injurious. Apologizing when mistakes are made and correcting missteps immediately is important in keeping the trust. My amends making has helped to make a happy home for us.  I cannot be more grateful.  This ongoing attitude of gratitude is necessary if we are to be responsible for betrayal and breaking trust.  We must be willing to do whatever it takes.

Trust may be fragile but it can also be mended.  It takes everyone involved to do so.  There is nothing more important than our relationships with family and friends.  They endure far beyond all of the things that we think are so valuable.

Friday, January 6, 2012

An Epiphany

Christmas ends with Epiphany. There is a mystical “Ah Ha” moment associated with Epiphany and it tends to come from the darkness. Many (if not most) of us have reached some point in life where hope seemed to be lost. The experience is sometimes described as a kind of bottomless black hole. I’ve been there and myself and can testify that there is never enough uplifting news or celebration to lift you from that dark place. What it does take is a total shift in consciousness. When this happens, God and nature actually create order out of what appeared to be chaos. The struggle that I was engaged in was pointless. I awakened one night to the realization that the only thing that really mattered was love. This generated a phone call to my wife, Bonita, who had been waiting for my return to the living. We were reunited. My consciousness radically shifted and my life changed forever. It was the perception change I needed to have the courage to face my inner dragons.

It is love that provides light and overcomes the impossible. Only love will do. Riches, power and fame are transient and turn to dust. The comfort and security we seek cannot be found in any of these. It can only be found in love. Love endures even beyond our lifetime. Everything else is a footnote.

It seems that we are in some kind of wrestling match with life. There is this tremendous struggle to conquer and win. If we could begin to devote only a fraction of that effort and energy to loving God, our neighbor and ourselves it would change the world. Imagine instead of criticizing, picking out the negative and trying to control everything and everybody that we exercised the power of love by listening, empathizing and offering support. What a difference it would make! Outcomes and bottom lines would become irrelevant.

Today is the feast day of Epiphany. Let go of the worry, hurry and hate. Reflect the love that shines inside of you and be an instrument of that love regardless of your circumstances. This is the true awakening for which you have been waiting. Nothing else matters. So let go of control and let your love light shine. If you persist in it nothing will ever be the same.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year 2012

May God give you...
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.