This past weekend, I joined a few of my Days of Our Lives co-stars as we celebrated the grand opening of Cardio Barre Las Vegas, which was recently opened by Eric Martsolf and his wife, Lisa (you may recall a previous blog about their business). In addition to getting our butts kicked by Lisa in the workout, we also had a great time supporting our friends in their business venture and meeting some fabulous fans who came out to join in on the fun. And all of it helped raise funds for a great cause – Arrow Heart Adventure Camps.
Recently, I was talking with Mandy, my PLANK editor, about our experiences as advocates with CASA of Los Angeles. She recounted a recent experience and I was so moved by the story that I asked her to share it with you.
THE UNEXPECTED ROLE MODEL by Mandy Denaux
I remember when I was 8 years old I had a teacher named Mrs. Pickens. She was pretty and smart … and I wanted to be just like her. In the (many) years since then, my role models have come in many forms – teachers, bosses, friends … even an actress or two. Each of them serving to inspire and motivate me … or perhaps demonstrating a trait or position to which I aspired. Typical stuff from the people you’d expect. But, a few weeks ago, I found a role model in the unlikeliest of places.
As I’ve shared many times, acting is something I’ve always known I wanted to do. From my earliest days in school – where I was lucky enough to take acting and performing arts classes – to the Taco Bell job I got when I was just 14 so I could pay for my after school acting classes, I’ve always managed to find ways to pursue this love.
I started PLANK as a place to discuss things I enjoy … activities that enhance my life, like entertaining, gardening and cooking; as well as topics related to love, life and family. A platform for inspired living … that’s what I hoped to create.
But this week, as I considered recipes, holiday decorations and other typical topics, my heart and mind just weren’t in it. Instead, my heart and mind were with the families and victims of last week’s shooting in San Bernardino. How could I write about my favorite holiday stuffing, or how I plan celebrate the holidays, when so many families won’t be celebrating at all?
When I started this blog, I imagined it being a platform for discussion on many topics; but I never intended for it to be anything close to political. And that’s still the case, but this week I just can’t pretend that this isn’t a preventable situation or that politics won’t play a vital role in such prevention. This doesn’t have to be our new normal. We absolutely can do something about innocent people being gunned down every single day. We must do better.
In July, I shared with you the story of my “niece,” Hannah, who is spending six months as a volunteer in a rural village in Ethiopia. Now four months into her amazing journey, Hannah is continuing to share her experiences via her blog, Hannah in Ethiopia. I am so proud of and inspired by Hannah, and her recent account of the elderly in her village is so moving that I had to share it.
THE HIDDEN AMOUNG US
As my departure date approaches at an ever-increasing speed, I have also begun a new phase of my work here. While I am still teaching English at the school, I have also started doing what we might call “senior outreach.” Growing old here is truly a remarkable thing—you are considered lucky if you make it past 50, and that number is decreasing as living conditions worsen. So for those who have somehow made it to 80 or even 90 years old, well, they are far and few between. Because of their rarity, you would think that the community would treasure them and show them the respect they deserve, and then some. But here in the Sidamo region of Ethiopia, they are seen as worse than nothing. In fact, to even say that they are seen is a stretch. They are too traditional, too outdated, and a waste of resources. If one is lucky enough to have family nearby who care enough to help take care of them, then they might be okay, but most are sitting alone in their dilapidated huts, day in day out, starving and freezing up until their unacknowledged deaths. To call it tragic and inhumane is completely inadequate.
I know that I am lucky – not only to have been given the opportunity to raise three wonderful children, but also to have been raised in a loving home by my mother, alongside my siblings.
Unfortunately, too many children do not have that opportunity, and instead grow up in the foster care system. As I shared in my previous blog post, The Power of Giving Back, this fact, and many of the tragic circumstances that surround it, is what inspired me to become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in foster care.