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    Posted April 13, 2010 by
    Pensacola, Florida
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
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    "People" who are changing the world - "The Art of Giving"


    “People” who are changing the world

    “The Art of Giving”

    This story is not about one person but an ever changing group of caring and wonderful people with positive energies that I have encountered over the years and became great friends with.

    Let me start off this story with recent events. As I was standing at our new stove, cooking dinner for my partner Jeff in our new house, it was then I first heard about the earthquake in Haiti and almost burned dinner because I was so spellbound by the images I saw on CNN. For days and weeks, we followed Anderson Cooper and Dr. Gupta as they told the world of the devastation and brought awareness about so many people who lost their lives and others who lost their homes. I couldn’t stop watching and looking at the faces of those people.

    I realized how lucky I was to be living in a new home, how lucky we both were. You see, we are lucky because the national weather service gave us time to get out of harm’s way by alerting everyone to the path of hurricane Ivan back in Sept of 2004, unlike the victims of an earthquake, who's only warning is the ground below them as it begins to move and their home starts to cave in. But even with our warning, it didn’t save our house or my salon where I make my living as a Hair Stylist. Like many of the people in our area, we found ourselves homeless, no place to work and with very few belongings.

    This is a strange statement to make, but losing my home and shop may have been one of the best things to ever happen to me, it changed my life and how I view things. It made me realize what is important, to be thankful for what I have and to be aware of what I am doing with my life. Thankful that we had the means to buy a camper in which we lived for the next two years as we rebuilt our home and thankful for the support of my family, friends and clients who did what they could to help put the shop back together again.

    As we settled into our new life in a 200 square foot camper with our two dogs, DJ and Fred, I can remember then, preparing another dinner, watching the footage and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina back in Aug of 2005. (And this is where the story really beings) I got a call from a client and a dear friend, Kathryn Miller, who knew people in a small community in southern Mississippi called Pearlington. There were so many people and townships that had been overlooked because of wide spread devastation all along the Gulf Coast and as soon as she could, she hopped into her husband’s truck and drove the 2 hours to check on folks there. Pearlington is just east of Biloxi where the eye of Katrina made landfall and if you don’t know already, you don’t want to be on the east side of the eye of a hurricane as that is where the strongest winds are. Needless to say, Kathryn found hell on earth and she took it upon herself to rally the troops. Within just a couple of days, we had gathered from others much needed food, clothing, medicine and anything else that we could put in a camper that one of our local dealerships let us barrow. Another dear friend of mine, Kimberly Blair who works for the Pensacola News Journal, also gathered a team of people who follow us over as we barged in and set up a cooking station in the middle of the football field at Pearlington’s high school. It was about the only place we could find a clear spot as the whole town was wiped out with at least a 25 foot serge of water. We found a nearby church in Diamond Head that let us camp over night in their parking lot where Kathryn cooked Chicken and Rice and Jeff and I made P&Js’ to add to the lunch bags of fruit and candy that we passed out the next day back in Pearlington. On that day, we set up our cook stations and fired up the grill, cooking over 50 lbs of sausage and serving cold ice tea. (Finding ice and sugar was like finding gold, hard to come by when the is no power for miles) We southerners love sweet tea and the smell of BBQ called out to everyone “come eat lunch!” But being in the middle of Aug, you can’t imagine the other smells that wafted though the air, the smell of salt water that had turned the ground into this slimy stinky sludge that stuck to everything and caked to the bottom of our shoes, so much so, we could have grown a couple of inches in height if not for scrapping it off with long sticks. You didn’t want to get this on your hands, Mississippi mud is like glue and it won’t come off. And combine that with the occasional smell of death, really, you know what it is when you smell it, there is no other scent like it in the world. Not everyone took the warnings from the national weather service as this area has been hit by hurricanes a lot and many lost their lives because they didn’t head for higher ground. Days had gone by and in the South, it gets hot and very humid during the summer, so you can imagine how hard it was for the crews that had to go through the crumbled homes and nearby ravaged woods to recover the dead. It was not just the people of Pearlington that we feed but the volunteers and crews that finally came to help. It was their job that was the hardest.

    This story is also about how positive energy brings positive people together to help others. It just so happened that I had another client and friend, Reese Foret Verschueren, who’s brother Teddy had a group of builders that called themselves the “Ft. Walton County Hurricane Helpers” and they were looking to help rebuild a community in need. So needless to say, Pearlington became their project. This is the point that I am trying to make, people helping people and paying it forward. And I am happy to say Pearlington looks pretty good now.

    Later and again watching Anderson Cooper reporting on the flooding of New Orleans, Jeff and I gather another group of friends that also included Kathryn and her dear sweet friend Camille; we headed off to Big N.O. (that is well after the storm had passed and the city was getting back on it’s feet) with a collection of paintings that I called “The Glamazons.” Johnny Chisholm, the owner of the “Oz” night club on Bourbon Street and the “Emerald City” night club in Pensacola Florida (I would like to point out that both of his clubs where hit very hard by Ivan and Katrina) Johnny offered his night club to us at no charge so we could host a fund raising auction event of my paintings with a portion of the proceeds going to the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. And with the help of many, many people, we were able to raise enough money to buy the materials for the roof of a “Katrina House.” These are houses built by NOAHfH and volunteers for the people who lost their homes to the floods after the levees broke.

    Jeff has also been moved and motivated to pay it forward at his work place with a team of co-workers from Home Depot called “Team Depot”. They find needy people or groups in our local areas, such as The Fricker Community Center for kids which they taught classes on how to plant seeds and grown you own garden with flowers and vegetables, to building ramps for the handicap and their latest project which is installing a large Japanese Meditation Garden for the patients of Covenant Hospice. Jeff and the people from Home Depot realize how important it is to give back.

    Now, here we are again! I have recently met more people with big hearts; Gina Cestaro and Marzia Pendergast, both are with the art department at the University of West Florida. After hearing about the earth quake in Haiti, we decided to do something and this time around I can’t believe how many people have stepped up to help. We are now hosting an online eBay event called “The Art of Giving” where we are auctioning off over 65 pieces of donated art and items, which we collected in less than 6 weeks, with 100% of the proceeds going to 3 charities that are still in Haiti helping them to recover. Those charities are Doctors Without Borders, Habitat for Humanity and Living waters. These three were chosen because of their long term commitment and they provide the basic needs for a good life, “home, health and water.” Gina set up our eBay store in which we have listed all the wonderful art work that so many artists gave without hesitating and even one iReporter, Janie Lambert, who follows me on face book. She asked me what she could do and was so kind to send a vintage vase that her dad once owned and it is already one of our most bid on pieces.

    Our local media has been great; WEAR 3, Fox 10 News, Pensacola News Journal, WUWF and Lamar Advertising have promoted our event to make as many people aware of it as possible. So much thanks goes out to them!

    Oh! I don’t want to forget the most important little people of our event, the kids from Jim Benny's 4th grade art class at the Creative Learning Academy and Mrs. Karleen Roll’s art class from Cordova Park Elementary, both have created their own collaborative pieces of art in which the kids donated to the event. One of the images has become our signature event poster and the other has been used on 2 billboards from Lamar. After our event is over, one of the billboards will be given to the students at CLA as a “thank you” for their efforts and the other will be sent to a school in Haiti with notes of support from the children attached to it in hopes it will inspire those kids to hang in there and to be aware that children here are doing something out of the ordinary to help the people there.

    This event has inspired so many others from teachers to artists and collectors to just the regular Joe. But I want to tell you about one last person, a small, curly headed French woman, Elisabeth Patriot-Bergamotto. She is a friend of a friend and she heard about what we were doing and with her broken English, she asked if she could share her talent of Classical Guitar at our pre-view event that we held at my shop just last week. It was there I learned she also lived in Haiti for 10 years and had lost family and friends to the earthquake. She wanted to do something to help and she did a great job of doing so. Thank you Elisabeth!

    Now! I am in hopes that CNN can “pay it forward” as well, by letting people know about our eBay store, “The Art of Giving” by sharing this link…. http://stores.ebay.com/theartofgivinghaiti2010 … and allowing me to tell this story of people who had never met before and now are great friends, by coming together to help and inspire others who they will never get chance to know.

    If for no other reason, I know why I lost my home, it was to find people with big hearts and a willingness to give of themselves for the sake of others. And to get them to do the same by paying it forward.

    When you send goodness out, greatness comes back.





    1. The art work from Creative Learning Academy

    2.  The art from Cordova Park Elementary

    3.  Matt Barrentine from Fox 10 news interviewing the kids

    4.  Before the Pre-veiw Gallery Show

    5.  During the show

    6.  Billboard for the event

    7.  Elisabeth Patriot-Bergamotto

    8.  CLA kids with thier art work

    9.  A donated piece of glass from artist Joe Hobbs

    10.  An oil paint that Sam Nettles donated.

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