One Life Changed – One Simple Wish At A Time

We don’t know Danielle Gletow.  But a lot of people in need do.  She’s one of CNN’s top ten heroes of 2013 – and she JDSA’s everyday!

Trenton, New Jersey (CNN) — Many 16-year-olds might covet a smartphone, an Xbox, maybe some expensive new sneakers or even a car.

Ronald Hennig just wanted a suit so he could attend a relative’s funeral.

“I didn’t really own even a shirt and tie or dress shoes,” he said. “I was seeing some of my old family members, and it was kind of embarrassing to not have a suit when everyone else would have one.”

The teenager, who had been in and out of foster care for much of his childhood, was living in a group home at the time. His caseworker was unable to justify the nonessential expense.

But an anonymous benefactor stepped in to help Hennig through a website called One Simple Wish.

“I got custom-fitted for the suit and I was able to go to the funeral,” said Hennig, now 18. “I could pay the same respect as everyone else.”

One Simple Wish was started by Danielle Gletow to help grant the wishes of children in foster care. Each child’s wish is posted online, and anyone can pay to make that wish come true — from tangible items such as a bicycle, a varsity jacket or school supplies to an experience like music lessons or a trip to the theater.

Thanks to One Simple Wish, more foster children are able to do the things they’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t.  Since 2008, the nonprofit has granted more than 4,000 wishes for children living in 35 states.
“There are thousands of children in the foster-care system who go without those normal childhood experiences that many of us have had,” said Gletow, 34. “These kids are separated from their parents. They’re separated from their siblings. They really don’t have people to ask. … A lot of them decide that it’s not worth wishing anymore because it isn’t going to happen.”

Since 2006, Gletow and her husband, Joe, have been foster parents to several children, eventually adopting one of them. Over the years, many friends and family members expressed a desire to help other children in the system, short of becoming foster parents themselves.

“(They) would say, ‘I really wish there was something I could do, but I don’t want to be a foster parent,’ ” Gletow said. “I just felt like, this is my opportunity to create something that makes it possible for all of these children who need something to get connected to all of these wonderful people that are out there, that want to help them.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 400,000 children were living in the U.S. foster-care system in 2011. But Gletow fears that, too often, we don’t see what these numbers represent.

“These are individual children that have individual wishes and individual personalities and wants and needs and dislikes and likes,” she said. “And I wanted to share those with people so that … they could see that this wasn’t about nearly half a million children that are in foster care. This was about this young man who wanted to go to karate lessons with his friends at school.”

The most common wishes on One Simple Wish typically cost $10 to $100, and they generally do not exceed $500. Higher-priced wishes can be granted by pooling the resources of multiple donors.

“The wishes that don’t seem like the basic necessity are (often) the ones that are the most important,” Gletow said. “Because those are the wishes that are really just a kid being a kid, and asking for something that they want to have fun.

“We want them talking about fun things and happy things. We don’t want to constantly remind them of how sad or tragic or challenging their circumstances are. We want to remind them that, ‘Yeah, there’s a really cool new video game out there, and you can play it and there’s nothing wrong with that.’ ”

On rare occasions, there are wishes that exceed $500, such as flying a family member in to attend a graduation or continuing music lessons. These are granted through fundraising drives on the website.

“Anybody — anywhere, anytime — can go on our website, and they can look at hundreds of wishes that are posted on behalf of children in foster care and children in vulnerable family environments,” Gletow said. “These small things make an enormous difference in the life of a child who has spent their entire life wondering if anybody cares about them.”

All the wishes on One Simple Wish are submitted by approved social service agencies and caseworkers. Once the wishes are reviewed and posted to the website, donors can post funds to make a wish come true.

“It’s just like online shopping, but at the end you get to give a gift to a child who will thank you more than you could ever imagine,” Gletow said. “When a child’s wish is granted, we are reassuring them that their voices are being heard.”

Gletow also is constantly searching for ways to maximize a gift’s value, calling individuals or companies who might be in a position to donate the wish in-kind or provide an item or service at a discount.

“I’m here to be the mom to all of these kids out there who might not feel like they have one,” she said. “If I had an enormous house, I’d invite them all to live here. I can’t do that, but I know that what I’m doing is making a difference in their lives.”

Gletow’s nonprofit is also working in other ways to fill gaps in the foster community. Its office is home to several offshoot projects that have benefited thousands of foster youths and families in New Jersey.

The Ohana Project helps foster kids, foster-care workers and families by providing 24/7 access to new baby supplies, bed linens and blankets, pajamas and other items that can ease a child’s transition into a new placement or home.

The Wish to Work program targets older youth to help give them the skills needed in professional careers. Wish to Work provides job-training seminars, networking events, résumé feedback and other assistance.

“I’m now able to apply to college, and I know that I have a competitive résumé,” said Hennig, who participated in the program last year. “I know how to be just as equipped as every other teenager my age. And I’ve gotten all of the same skills that parents would pass down to their children.”

Gletow says this is what keeps her going.

“Our states take children out of their homes and say, ‘We can do a better job raising you,’ and then they don’t,” she said. “And we need to all step up as a society and do that.

“It’s up to every individual person to say all of our children deserve better. Not just the ones that are born into good circumstances. … That’s what I’m going to do with my life. I want my life to be a life of purpose.”

Want to get involved? Check out the One Simple Wish website atwww.onesimplewish.org and see how to help.

The Dishonor of Re-victimizing Victims of Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence – By the numbers:

  • Every 9 seconds in the U.S. a woman is assaulted or beaten
  • Number of U.S. Troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq: 6,614
  • Number of women, in the same period, killed as the result of domestic violence in the US: 11,766
  • Around the world, at least one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Most often, the abuser is a member of her own family
  • Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women—more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined
  • Number of people per minute who experience intimate partner violence in the U.S. – 24
  • Number of workplace violence incidents in the U.S. annually that are the result of current or past intimate partner assaults: 18,700
  • Number of women who will experience partner violence worldwide: 1 in 3
  • Order of causes of death for European women ages 16-44: domestic violence, cancer, traffic accidents

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By: Dan Beckmann

Judges wield a lot of power. And with that comes responsibility.

Domestic violence is on the rise in Central Florida. As are the stacks of cases inching toward the ceilings in judges’ chambers. Pressure to push through the overload quickly is, unfortunately, becoming a normal occurrence.

This is the 20th case I’ve read today,” Circuit Judge Jeffery Arnold said this past summer, as I sat in the back of his Osceola County courtroom. It’s not uncommon for dozens of injunctions to land on his docket daily.

No doubt, judges constantly hear frivolous arguments between squabbling spouses. “This isn’t a domestic-abuse case,” one might think. Which allows for the occasional flippant remark, as was heard in these exchanges with Arnold earlier this year.

Judge, he threatens to throw me against the wall … Instead of hitting me, he hits the wall and doors with his hands.” To which, Arnold replied to the husband, “Be careful, there are studs behind that drywall … You miss the air space and hit a stud [and] you’re going to break your wrist or hand.

Maybe Arnold was tired … another argument at the end of a long day. Perhaps he was going for a laugh, trying to lighten the mood. But I don’t find anything particularly light or humorous about domestic violence.

Neither do I find anything funny about this exchange a few minutes later: “When he wants to talk to me and I don’t want to pay attention to him, he grabs me by the arms.” Arnold’s response: “Well, you’re inviting that kind of response when you do that.”

Arnold has, in the past, demonstrated insight and delivered justice for victims of domestic violence. So how could someone who dedicates his life to making things right say things so wrong? Blame the destructive and desensitized remarks on his lack of training.

According to the Office of the State Courts Administrator, every three years judges are required to complete their continuing judiciary education. Training conferences are spread across Florida, enhancing legal knowledge by keeping judges informed and updated on changes in legislation. While those conferences offer more than 900 hours of instruction, the only mandated domestic-violence training required is for new judges.

And what little domestic-violence training does exist is primarily relegated to newly written laws. There is no mandated sensitivity training. And the administrator’s office couldn’t tell me how many, from the nearly 1,000 hours of instruction, are spent directly on domestic-violence-related issues at all.

Ongoing training for doctors in specialized areas of study is required. Which is why I wouldn’t ask a podiatrist to perform a colonoscopy.

Yet, judges are allowed a large arena to render verdicts in cases over which they preside. They have complete autonomy and sweeping authority. But without adequate training in specified areas, they risk setting the bar so low one can step on it. If judges, such as Arnold, continue treating robbery and embezzlement cases on the same footing as domestic abuse, survivors everywhere should demand the creation of mandatory mistreatment insurance policies — the judicial equivalent of medical malpractice.

For victims suffering at the hands of their abusers, the courtroom is their refuge. They look up to the bench. And while some cases filed as domestic violence may fall short of the legal definition, for judges to assume that from the start only discourages those who sit before them with legitimate complaints.

It’s not enough to be empowered by a robe. Judges must be equipped with knowledge enriched with fairness and dignity. If there aren’t any state-mandated domestic-violence training classes, then judges should speak up. Advocates everywhere will provide their expertise and help expand the tools judges bring to the bench.

In the meantime, Arnold should revisit the reservoir of grace. He sits where he does because society is disrespectful. He shouldn’t emulate it. He should fix it. Judges deal with messiness, and irreverent remarks and offhanded comments only act as verbal shrapnel.

Domestic abuse is physical and emotional, the latter, oftentimes greater. If judges don’t understand how words can outweigh physical injuries, perhaps they should step away from the bench until they do. There’s no shame in that. There is, in fact, honor.

Getting Nothing for Something: The Gambling Addiction

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By JDSA Intern/Arati M. Jambotkar

Intro-

It is one thing to anonymously unveil personal, deep and painful memories with strangers. But to sign your name in the hope your intimate stories can help change the course of the lives of others, is both brave and noble.

Over the past several months you’ve followed A.J. as she’s laid her soul before you.  She does this solely for the purpose of contributing to the cause of positive change.

Writing and sharing this article about her struggles of overcoming a gambling addiction, along with several other emotionally moving and powerful experiences is A.J.’s  way of,

 Just Doing Something…. Anything!

            A confession: When I was fourteen, I had a penchant for country music.  There was something about Clint Black’s Good Run of Bad Luck, a new song back in 1994, that was undeniably appealing to me.  And it still is.  Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve been to the table, and I’ve lost it all before.
I’m willing and able, always coming back for more.
Squeezing out a thin dime ’til there’s no one hanging on my arm.
I’ve gambled on a third time.
A fool will tell you it’s a charm.
If I’m betting on a loser, I’m going to have a devil to pay,
But it’s the only game I know to play.
It doesn’t matter anyway.

This past August, almost twenty years after the release of that song, I spent a pair of Friday and Saturday nights in a luxury room at the New Orleans Marriott – a room normally averaging $238.00 a night – making the grand total for the weekend a whopping $476.00…as far as hotel expenses are concerned.  Wow!  Almost five hundred bucks.  That’s the max payout on an old video poker machine at a truck stop casino, you know.  But the beautiful – and tragic – thing is that the room didn’t cost me a dime.

**********

I have to admit, my twenty-first birthday was fairly uneventful.  I was already indulging in alcohol and drugs at full-speed by then, so the legality of drinking brought me no level of excitement, whatsoever.  As far as being of “casino age” is concerned, that too, was shockingly unenticing – at the time.

Occasionally, I’d visit the small casino approximately fifteen miles from my hometown.  With four or five dollars in my pocket, I’d play for twenty minutes.  I wasn’t unhappy if I lost those handful of dollars…and I was only mildly happy if I’d won a few back.  I remember cashing out tickets for a couple dollars here and there, and having them add up to about twenty – ecstatic that dinner for the evening would be covered in full.  At twenty-one, I’d not yet experienced the feel of that “rush” that would soon become the greatest I have ever known.  Waiting, unbeknownst to me just around the corner, was a sense of hopelessness, defeat, and melancholy.

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Late in 2008, I spent the weekend at the largest casino in New Orleans with my now, ex-girlfriend.  The experience was nothing short of sheer Roman extravagance: a free luxury room, complimentary buffets, scintillating lights, and the type of sounds that make your breath stop short with a severe jolt.  But even then gambling still didn’t appeal to me.  After throwing ten or twenty dollars away, I’d sit next to my ex…bored. Yet again.

Regardless, she and I continued visiting the same casino, taking advantage of the luxury rooms and the complimentary meals.  Those scintillating lights and the jolting sounds were a bonus.  It was our weekend getaway…our escape from the mundane goings-on of our small town.  Slowly, the $10’s and $20’s became $40 and 50.  Then $60 and $80 in a single sitting.

I remember my first big win – the “win” I’d end up chasing over and over again for the rest of my gambling days.  I’d brought sixty dollars to a big casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, and hit enough money to buy a brand new, high-end, state-of-the-art laptop for grad school.  That’s when I discovered I could actually win at gambling.  I felt I’d just uncovered a secret about the world and life no one had ever known.  Trips to the casino started getting exciting!

I was introduced to bingo, a seemingly geriatric game, but actually not so much.  After winning $2,000 at a Super Extravaganza, I was hooked – frequenting the bingo hall every night and eventually spending more than three times the money I’d originally won.

I squandered my student loans just to break even.  When those dried up, I started borrowing from my ex.  Small increments at first – forty dollars here…fifty there.  It didn’t take long for hundreds, even  thousands of dollars, to change hands.  Each student loan check that arrived in the mail would be gone in a matter of weeks.  Once all of it vanished, I’d be left with an empty feeling and a running debt.  A debt I could only pay off when I won something big.  It was an endless pattern.

So how does gambling make me feel?  High.  Sky high.  It’s a rush.  A rush during…and rush beforehand.  Just knowing I’m about to play is greater than the rush of the win itself.  I remember those drives to the casino. The anticipation.  The nonstop talking.  The laughing.  All the while the money was still in my pocket.  I practically leapt out of my seat just thinking about walking under those bright lights.  What started off with a pull of a penny or video poker machine soon became an anticipation of better, more exciting things to come.  But after four or five hours of sitting at a machine, staring at numbers and cherries and diamonds spinning around, I became transfixed. I no longer knew what I was doing, or how much money I’d spent.  Often times I’d completely forgotten where I was, or even who I was.  I felt absolutely nothing.

Then, all at once, there it was! A feeling. A feeling of loss.  Losing filled me with a concoction of emotions; incomparable anger, shame, self-pity, and self-hatred.  But I felt something…finally.  And I kept going.  A few times, I thought about driving off the spillway bridge on the ride home from the casino, submerging myself and getting lost in the muddy water – not realizing I was already lost in a very different kind of muddy water.

Today, I know I’m powerless over gambling.  I can’t control the cycle once it begins to spin.  And it’s made my existence unmanageable.  I’ve allowed my addiction to turn me away from my God, my family, and my friends.  Everything I had ever known to be true, honorable, sacred and pure – all in favor of indulging those scintillating lights and those jolting sounds.  I knew what I was doing and what it was doing to me.  But the high…it was so undeniable.

I’ll never be able to catch back all the money I’ve lost, but it doesn’t matter.  The scariest thing about addiction is that the high feels stronger and seems better than anything money could ever bring.  That’s the high of gambling.  That’s its lie.  It’s ugly and baffling, and I never want to experience it again.  It’s the greatest price you’ll pay for something that, according to that country song back in 1994, doesn’t matter anyway.  Because today it doesn’t have to matter.

It’s not enough for me to realize that…knowing it is what makes it so priceless.

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