Surrogate Grandparent in the Children's Village

Becoming a Surrogate Grandparent in the Children’s Village

It may add twenty years to my life or it may lead me to an early grave but this grandpa will soon be living in a village with twenty-four kids. On August 1st. of this year, the Children’s Village of Sonoma County will be opening its doors to provide four homes for abused and neglected children, six to twelve years of age in an intergenerational setting. House parents will live in at each of the four homes currently completed, but the village, located on a two-acre site in Santa Rosa, also features on-site apartments for surrogate grandparents. Initially, that includes two grandmas and me. Ultimately, when the second phase of construction is completed, there will be six grandparent apartment units on the property and homes for forty-eight children.

Lia Rowley, the Founder and Executive Director of Children’s Village, is a believer in the influence grandparents can exert in the lives of children. “Kids, especially those from abusive backgrounds, have had little experience with the kind of unconditional love that grandparents can provide,” says Rowley, “Having older folks living right on the village property will add a homey touch to village life. I’m betting that the presence of elders will do more to de-institutionalize the village than anything else we can do.”

Village grandparents will not receive a salary. We will be volunteers who, in return for a discount on the cost of our rental units, commit to giving ten to twelve hours per week volunteering in a variety of ways with the kids. We can help kids with their homework, read stories to the little ones, and maybe take them out for an ice cream. Our biggest gift will be simply spending time with the kids, giving them someone to talk to, to pay attention to them. It’s a gramma/grandpa thing and it adds an intangible something extra to a kid’s life.

Although we are volunteers, grandparents will be very much a part of the village staff.

We will undergo training with the house parents and other paid staff, “because.” says Rowley, “grandparents are considered staff and it’s important that we all be on the same page with our rules and policies.” I suspect, however, that Lia, being a grandmother herself and knowing the tendency of grandparent types to spoil their grandchildren, will also give us a little slack.

In addition to integrating grandparents into village life, the Children’s Village is also committed to keeping brothers and sisters together. Too often in the foster care system, siblings are broken up because it is too difficult for a foster parent to take on several kids at once. The Children’s Village will keep members of the same family together.

Children’s Village of Sonoma County is not the first inter-generational facility for abused or neglected kids. Hope Meadows in Rantoul, Illinois is operating a similar program using the services of “honorary” grandparents who also live on site. But this will be a first for the west coast.

The Children’s Village is accepting children for long-term placement from all over California. Priority will be given to children six to twelve and every effort will be made to keep siblings together, even if one sibling in a family is slightly older or younger.

Please say a prayer for me as I instantly add twenty-four new grandchildren to the two I have already. May the kids have patience with me, survive my shortcomings and even learn something from an old guy who was actually living in a world before television or ii-pods.

To learn more about Children’s Village, call 707-566-7044, give me a call at 544-3763 or check our website at

Where Have All the Sundays Gone?

Sunday Sunday

“Where have all our Sundays gone, long time passing ?

Where have all our Sundays gone, long time ago ?”

Pardon my stealing from the anti-war song of the 60’s but I’ve been grieving lately for the loss of the Sundays of my childhood. Remember when stores and businesses were mostly closed? Folks went to Church and then gathered for Sunday breakfast afterwards. Sometimes we took a Sunday afternoon walk or went on a family picnic in the park or a Sunday drive in the family car? Sometimes, Mom and Dad would even take a “nap.” We kids weren’t sure about that one. We just knew to stay out of my parent’s bedroom for an hour or so on Sunday afternoons. Thinking back on those restful Sabbaths, I wonder to myself how did we allow this wonderful, civilized custom to get away from us? Because, make no mistake. We’ve lost our day of rest. The Sundays we knew are gone,gone, gone.

Now Sunday seamlessly blends in with the rest of the week. A lot of us are working. After all, someone has to staff those stores where we shop for groceries or the latest sales on “stuff.” Our kids and grandkids are participating is a soccer league or some other organized activity. God forbid we give them time just to hang out with other kids. The number of families attending church has fallen dramatically. At home, we play catch-up, running around doing errands or the laundry or cleaning up the clutter we never had time to take care of during the week. We arrive at Sunday evening tired from our day off, wondering what happened to that day of rest we were supposed to enjoy.

“Keeping holy the Sabbath” is the forgotten commandment and, whether you are a religious person or not, when this commandment is ignored, our quality of life is diminished. Humanly, emotionally, we crave a day when our work is to rest from work, a day within every week when we take the time to reflect on where we are going and why, a day to give thanks, to ask forgiveness, to renew our relationships with the people who matter most in our lives.

The Jewish tradition of keeping holy the Sabbath has much to teach us. I love Rabbi Bernard Raskas’s words, “The Sabbath is much more than cessation from work. Its real purpose is to teach us that every human being has a soul. If we rush and push and hurry all week, how are we to discover that we have a soul?”

Isn’t that what it’s about? We are so intent on keeping busy with making money, keeping fit, losing weight, getting our kitchens remodeled, keeping the kids active, going on trips, that we have lost the capacity to go inwards and figure out who we are and what we believe. Our lives may be full of activity but they are missing something important, the spirit that gives life to our days.

I don’t expect that the local K-Mart or Safeway will accommodate us by closing their stores on Sunday any day soon. Not gonna happen. But, rather than bitching and moaning about it, we can do something about how we personally spend our Sundays.

We don’t have to follow the crowd to the mall do we? Wouldn’t it be cool if we could make Sunday “family day?” Try calling your brother in Texas who you never get a chance to talk with, read a good book, listen quietly to music, meditate, go for a bike ride. I don’t know. Figure out your own way to spend your Sunday so it doesn’t seem so much like Monday and Tuesday and the rest of the week. You know what I’m talking about?

Happy Sunday to you.

Conversion starts with yourself

Conversion Begins With Yourself

“In my youth, I thought I would convert the whole world to God. But soon

I discovered that it would be enough to convert the people who lived in my

town. Then I realized that my program was still too ambitious, and I concentrated

on the persons in my own household. Finally, it dawned on me; I must work on myself, so that I may give true service to God.”

Hayim Halbertstan

At one time in my young life, I had the grandiose ambitions referred to by the legendary Jewish Rabbi I quote above. With the missionary fervor of a young man convinced of his truth, I traveled to Japan to convert the “pagans” to Christianity.

In my memoirs, I tell the story of my missionary days in Japan, passing out pamphlets on Christianity. Most of the Japanese accepted my flyers with the politeness and grace for which they are famous. One lady however gave me the Japanese equivalent of a kick in the ……… uh, pants when she dismissed me with an icy “My tea is getting cold.” It was a classic put down and one I deserved.

Eventually, life experience taught me that my zeal to convert others to my way of thinking had more than a trace of good old-fashioned arrogance. Like Halberstan, it dawned on me that any “saving” I was going to do had to start with myself.

I’ve found that it’s mostly the young and innocent who are zealous to save the rest of us. By the time we have reached our “golden years” (Don’t you just love that phony expression?), most of us have figured out that saving our own souls is challenge enough. We have worked out a way of relating or not relating to a Divine Being that makes sense for us.

Whether we have become atheists or agnostics or firm believers, our beliefs have become part of our identity to such an extent that we are not good candidates to undergo conversion, or even less, to go around trying to convert anyone else to our beliefs. We definitely are not keen on entering into dialogue with that earnest young Mormon missionary or Jehovah Witness at our door. I’ve known otherwise polite people slam the door in the face of nice young people who are convinced they are there to save us. The poor lads should get hazard pay for their work.

Me? I don’t slam the door in anyone’s face. The folks who come knocking at my door mean well. They really do. At least they have convictions and are willing to stand up for them. I try to respect them for who they are. My wife always accused me of being way too kind with them. Nah, it’s not that I’m that kind. It’s just that I can empathize with them because I was doing the same knocking on doors years ago in Japan.

My hope is that some day those young missionaries and all of us will “get” that a successful life is lived not so much by the dogmas we profess as by the way we live our lives. Don’t tell me what you believe. All the main religions profess a variation of love of God and neighbor. Show me your compassion and kindness and love by the way you act. That’s the way you save your own soul and that’s a good place for all of us to start. Don’t you think?

Why I Write

Why I Write

My calling, my gift, my passion is being a writer. Writing is the way I communicate the ideals that live within me. It’s God in me speaking to God in my readers. As Brenda Ueland would have it, we write, “Because the best way to know beauty and truth is to try to express it. And what is the purpose of existence here or yonder but to discover truth and beauty and express it, i.e. share it with others.”

We rarely reach in conversation the kind of intimacy that flows easily from the pen of a good writer. How many times do we find ourselves tongue-tied, unable to verbally express our deepest thoughts and emotions? With his written words, a writer can console the suffering; lift the pain from the grief-stricken. It’s his gift and, if he is wise, a gift he holds in trembling hands.

As a writer, I am acutely conscious of the power of the written word to help or to hurt another human being. I try always to hold my gift in humility and in gratitude, because such a gift could only come from God. By virtue of this talent, God has called upon me to be a prophet, (not one of those major league prophets but a little league one,) calling on people to be true to their best selves.

God knew exactly what He was doing when He gave me my gift. Knowing all along how disorganized I am, He didn’t waste his breath urging me to organize the poor or march on the School of the Americas. Recognizing my shyness, He/She did not choose me to be a media evangelist or (God forbid) a Bishop. Nope; writing is my ministry. I am most fulfilled when a reader of my newspaper column writes me that she was touched with my words on forgiveness or that my words reached a Mom and helped her find a way to rekindle the love she once had for her mate. It’s not me. It’s the God in me speaking to the God in them.

Happily, we live in a time when the avenues of communication have expanded beyond belief. A writer can be read by people all over the world. I write for a small city newspaper with a circulation of 25,000. But that column can be picked up by a googler in Spain or Japan. My blogsite is accessible to a student in France or a retiree in Ireland. Oh, I don’t flatter myself that I’m getting a million hits a week but, what’s the Jewish saying ? “You save one person, you save the world entire.”

So, I make my connections, one by one, or by the thousands. I know only that I’ve been called to write. It’s my vocation to write honestly, with caring and integrity, to connect with my readers on their most human level, to say out loud things they don’t know how to express, dreams they don’t know how to put into words. That’s what writers do; it’s what I do.