The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Thursday, December 18

Christmas Jubilee

I want to tell you about a Christmas sharing program that got started some 29 years ago when I was director of the Lafayette Urban Ministry. It started with a question - why do well meaning people try to play hero with someone else's children and ignore parents in the process of gift giving?

During my 1st year at LaFayette Urban Ministry, we devised a model for Christmas sharing that celebrated and honored parents. Instead of well meaning people playing "hero" with someone else's kids, we invited parents to a party and shopping spree.

In the church social hall we set up tables, arranged for music and refreshments and a host/hostess for each invited guest. In another room donated new toys were laid out so that parents could make choices that were right for their kids. For the next several hours church people and low-income parents mingled and wrapped gifts and shared some genuine holiday spirit.

We called it JUBILEE...based on the idea that God decrees a JUBILEE every 50th year where debts are canceled and renewed time of equality is initiated. Christians believe that Jesus realized this prophetic vision in his life and resurrection.

If you want to check it out in the Bible, pick up Leviticus 25 and Luke 4:14-28.

Those early years set in place what has now become known as a JUBILEE spirit. Every year the program grows a little. Now more than 650 parents were honored guests as they selected gifts for more than 1800 kids. The number of volunteers engaged is well over 1500 in 26 different sites. One volunteer coordinator told me, "Sure it can get to be a lot of work, but it just would not be Christmas without JUBILEE."

I visited many of the sites this year. Needless to say I was overwhelmed by all the giving and sharing. Words can hardly express the joyous feelings. A reporter filed the article below....

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Lafayette Urban Ministry's Jubilee is 'what Christmas is all about'
12/14/2008 3:43:54 PM
POSTED: Sunday, December 14, 2008/JACH News Service
LAFAYETTE -- Jennifer Crouch shared smiles with other visitors at her table in the Central Presbyterian Church gymnasium Saturday morning. The hugs and smiles were warm despite the chilly temperatures outside.
She pulled out a large and showed Christmas gifts she just wrapped for her two children, one with a birthday on Christmas Eve.
Recently, Crouch said she had no idea how she would be able to find money for Christmas gifts with a bad economy and few resources herself. Then, she received a card in the mail from Lafayette Urban Ministry informing her she could pre-register for the 28th annual Jubilee Christmas, put on by the ministry.
"I got my taxes done at LUM this year," Crouch said. "When I got the card, I thought initially that now my kids can have a pretty good Christmas. I was pretty excited."
Crouch's excitement was shared with more than 700 families around the Greater Lafayette area Saturday, courtesy of several hundred volunteers and 34 churches. Lafayette Urban Ministry's Jubilee Christmas took place at 26 sites where parents from needy families were able to select Christmas presents for their children.
Joe Micon, executive director of LUM, said the concept of the Jubilee Christmas was established in a way to allow the parents to be the "hero" for their children and give the gifts instead of the church or agency directly handing out gifts to children.
Parents, like Crouch, attended one of the different sites and were able to select toys, books, food and stocking stuffers for their families. All the items were purchased and/or donated to the various sites for the Jubilee.
At the Central Presbyterian site, organizers also raffled off additional gifts to families.
Chip Goldsberry, one of the coordinators of the jubilee at Central Presbyterian, played the emcee, guiding groups of parents and their supports from room to room so they can select gifts and items for their families.
The gym looked more like Santa's Workshop between room changes as parents and church members busily wrapped the selected gifts and items to be opened only on Christmas Day. It was enough to bring a smile to even the Grinch as Crouch and others made their selections with the help of church members.

"What Christmas is all about"
One church member, Garry Smith, owner of Smith's Shoes, said his daughter Victoria, 18, a senior at Lafayette Jefferson High School, insisted that the family take part in the Jubilee Christmas. It was the second year the Smiths have participated.
"This is what Christmas is all about," Smith said. "It's good to see the looks on the faces of people as they pick presents for their kids and helping out those who may not be as fortunate," Smith said. "(Victoria) was adamant about coming here this year."
Victoria Smith said she sleeping in on a cold Saturday was never an option and the jubilee was something she looked forward to.
"I like to meet people and help them out," she said. "It gives me a feeling of accomplishment and knowing I've been able to help someone."
Another teenager, Tori Sauer, 16, a sophomore at Harrison High School, said she went shopping for presents to donate the night before and took several of her friends.
"They said (the shopping for gifts) was fun," Sauer said. "It was fun shopping for younger kids and remembering all the things you liked at that age. It feels good to know that you were helping other people. I go to this church (Central Presbyterian) so I've known about the jubilee since I was young. It's great to be a part of it."
Goldsberry said one of the indirect benefits of the event is what it does for the congregation. Goldsberry said the jubilee allows the congregation to put its faith into action and helps bring the members together for a common cause.
"They are here out of love," Goldsberry said. "They didn't have to get up and be here. The families are here because of their commitment to their children. Some of these families are going through some pretty hard times. They have to be pretty strong to come and do this.
Goldsberry said it cost about $6,000 for the church to put on the jubilee. He said over 100 volunteers took part behind the scenes and making sure the event ran like clockwork on Saturday.
"It takes time, money and devotion," Goldsberry said. "This is a joy. You always get more than you give. These families bring an excitement and love for their families and dedication to their faith that's awe inspiring."
Rita Tillett, a member of Central Presbyterian and Lafayette Urban Ministry's program director, said over 900 individuals volunteered their time for the jubilee this year.
"Jubilee Christmas is our community's largest Christmas assistance program," Tillett said in The Seed, the ministry's newsletter. "This is an important holiday tradition for so many in our community. We're grateful to each person who will contribute of their dollars and of their time so that Christmas morning will be bright for all of our community's children."
Central Presbyterian pastor Bill Smutz said his church has been involved with the Jubilee Christmas from the very beginning. He said his church members have been very good in giving of their time for others.
"We want to support the good work that (Lafayette Urban Ministry) does," Smutz said. "From my perspective, it's a question of faith. It's a tangible way to live out their faith, to serve others, care for others and share grace. I'm grateful for those who show up to be part of this. It's great to see that they take their kids serious enough to get involved in something like this."
Jennifer Crouch said she was more appreciative of the opportunity to see her children smile at Christmas time. She said she was equally pleased to know about organizations and churches that are willing to help families like hers.
"I think (the jubilee) is very valuable," Crouch said. "There are a lot of kids out there who may not get any presents. It's great to know that there are people out there who are willing to help and who care. It makes me very happy that I live in a community that's willing to step up and help people in need."

Thursday, December 4


Thanksgiving 2008 was full - brimming over – and I am not just talking turkey.

For weeks before, staff at the Lafayette Urban Ministry were coordinating donations and volunteers and the hundreds of arrangements. Like two days before the holiday, the TEXAS ROAD HOUSE, a local restaurant, called to donated sweet potatoes. Rita, staff member, thought she would pick up the donation on one of her last moment errands. But when she got there, the sweet potatoes were huge - about the size of a loaf of bread. She needed a truck – Texas size!!

More than a hundred volunteers from all walks of life signed up to help. One group of men at a local church got up early in the morning, like 3:00 am, to roast 32 turkeys in the church kitchen. They have been doing this for years and years. These turkeys were added to another 30 or so that were all donated anticipating a record number of guests.

Back in 1988 and the year after my divorce, I was feeling glum with Thanksgiving just round the corner. Someone said to me: "It's a shame there is no community celebration in Lafayette." I got to thinking…..why not and the planning began.

We made sure that the invitation was open to anyone who wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving with others. You did not have to be poor or alone. In fact we attracted professors and students from Purdue, entire families with kids, pastors, doctors, lawyers and many others. It was a grand gathering that made no economic or social distinction. It felt like a grand extended family – about 200 people participated that first year. It has grown every year since and still attracts people from all walks of life.

This year I was honored. Joe Micon, LUM Director, invited tme to share the Thanksgiving Blessing...

O God, hear our prayer of thankfulness and help us to remember others.
When I have plenty of food,
Help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work,
Help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home,
Help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain,
Help me to remember those tossing sleepless in hospital beds;
When I plan a life of bright tomorrows,
Help me to remember children who need care today.
When I am surrounded by my family,
Help me remember others mourning the loss of a loved one;
When I enjoy all my friendships,
Help me remember the lonely and depressed who may have little laughter in their lives;
And when I am feeling blessed in a hundred different ways,
Help me to remember that I too can be a blessing to others…if only I would act.
O God, on this glorious Thanksgiving Day
Destroy complacency and renew compassion within us.
May this day not pass without our daring to reach out to others
And through loving actions to lessen some of the pain in this broken world.
O God, hear our Thanksgiving prayer as we remember others.

A newspaper reporter came by and filed this report…

November 28, 2008
Serving about 800, LUM dinner 'bigger than ever'
Lafayette resident Olly Johnson was at Lafayette Urban Ministry's community dinner last year at Thanksgiving.
Johnson said Thursday that he had to come back again. "I wanted to come back this year because they have some nice food," Johnson said. "It's juicy turkey and everything."
Johnson was one of about 800 people who attended LUM's annual event Thursday at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Lafayette. The event was open to all who wanted to attend, not just those who were in need this year.
Anyone that wants to share a Thanksgiving with someone else can come," said Rita Tillett, a program director for LUM. "Lots of people that have family that live out of town, they find this to be a great place where they can volunteer and share Thanksgiving with a group of other people."
People who went to the dinner could listen to live music, chat with friends or just eat traditional Thanksgiving food.
Lafayette resident Andy Williams said he enjoyed the food and seeing old friends. "When you come out to events like this here you get a chance to see people," Williams said. "Some you ain't seen in a long time. Some you meet and you find out what's going on."
The tables at the church had placemats decorated with Thanksgiving themes by children. LUM has been hosting the community dinner every year since 1986.
About 100 volunteers served 65 turkeys and 100 pies.
Tillett said she was pleased with the outcome and is glad so many people showed up to share a Thanksgiving Day meal together.
"Everyone that was there that helped in the past said it was bigger than ever."

I was looking forward to Thanksgiving in Lafayette and I was not disappointed.

Peace Corps Aspiration Statement for Ukraine

A: The professional attributes that you plan to use, and what aspirations you hope to fulfill, during your Peace Corps service.

I bring to my Peace Corps placement a life-time of organizational development experience. I have contributed to the success of organizations at the local, regional and national levels. My leadership has enabled positive change in the areas of anti-poverty and hunger work, enrollment in social service programs, health care advocacy and senior services.

I find that I am an innovator who enjoys solving problems. I am most energized when faced with a situation that requires a creative solution. I am able to assess resources, involve other stake holders, and develop workable plans.

I have organized skill-building workshops and organizational conferences. I am comfortable as a presenter and I am known for my interactive style. I believe that to learn something new, most people need to be engaged beyond listening. I have developed workshops in team building, planning, communications and fundraising.

I have worked successfully with organizational leaders and volunteers in a variety of settings from start-up groups to large established organizations to governmental agencies. I prefer the challenges of start-up groups and enjoy adapting structures and processes to the needs of new groups.

During my Peace Corps service, I hope to use my experience and be able to mentor NGO colleagues in Ukraine. I look forward to being a teacher, team member and active participant in projects. I will learn from my Ukrainian colleagues, seek to encourage them in their important work and apply my skills.

I believe the Peace Corps service gives me opportunities to not only know an organization well, but also to be able to network. A powerful synergy happens when people find commonality and learn from one another. Throughout my career, I have brought people together and seen how it energizes each of their missions. I look forward to developing processes where my host organization can reach out and realize new possibilities.

Acceptance is not immediate in most situations. It takes time. I hope to apply my cultural awareness and patience to adapt to my colleagues’ patterns. I want them to know that I can be counted on to help them succeed. I expect I’ll be involved in listening, teaching and supporting them in a variety projects and collaborations. I suspect that some will challenge us both. And in time if we take on something that stretches our vision and improves the community, I will be quite satisfied.

I expect a positive experience through the Peace Corps that will stretch my comfort levels and give me a chance to learn and grow.

B: Your strategies for working effectively with host country partners to meet
expressed needs

Listen more than you speak. Appreciate what others are saying. Listen not only to words, but try to understand intent and feelings. I know this will be a challenge given differences in language, but even more reason to listen.

One tool that I will use is a daily journal. Here I can sort through what I am learning and note the questions that emerge. I will be able to test out my learning and build a foundation for engagement.

Another tool is to gather information through a series of colleague interviews. Understanding how individuals see their jobs and probing their own visions for success will be immensely useful. As a new-comer, I will become grounded in my colleagues concerns and build a foundation of trust.

At times these conversations can lead to more formal processes. I have conducted organizational audits. By gathering information from board and staff, I was able to customize agenda for strategic planning meetings and retreats. Results were quite positive. We were able to clarity roles and responsibilities and developed a renewal of enthusiasm for the mission.

I think working effectively takes time so patience will be important as well as a bit of humility. I am the new one joining a team that already has its own norms and practices. It is my job to adapt and find ways to fit in.

Finally, keeping a sense of history should prove helpful. I am part of a Peace Corps presence in Ukraine. Some have gone before and others will follow. While I may be placed alone, I am part of a larger history.

C: Your strategies for adapting to a new culture with respect to your own
cultural background.

Adopt an attitude of curiosity. I hope to suspend judgments and instead ask questions. What is familiar and different in each day? How does this or that tradition work? What does it mean? How does the activity benefit the people? Does it fit in or challenge my own cultural assumptions?

I am aware that I am in Ukraine to understand first. I want to declare myself to be a leaner and view Peace Corps service as a graduate degree in cross cultural awareness.

Prior to training I will read about Ukraine. I will take time to learn history and know why certain events and people are important. I want to begin to appreciate Ukraine’s cultural story.

I am certain that I will stumble. But I have learned over the years that those times are opportunities to look at things differently. For example, if I find myself impatient with a long line, I can grumble to myself or wonder about the life stories of those around me - maybe even start a conversation.

Finally, practicing good humor helps most situations. I am usually able to laugh at myself and present a positive outlook. The proverbial glass is half full, not half empty is an attitude I try to maintain. I do believe that we can and must take responsibility for how we process experience and
how we end up feeling. On most days I choose a positive outlook. Adapting to a new culture can be hard work, but I think it is exciting too

D: The skills and knowledge you hope to gain during pre-service training to best serve your future community and project.

I feel the need to learn and grow in the following areas:

Language. I hope to gain enough ability so that I can understand conversations and in time communicate. I would also be interested in some coaching on teaching English as a second language. I would like to develop this skill during my years of service.

Historical and Cultural Competency. I want to learn about the Ukrainian “story.” I want to learn practical information that can enhance my work and acceptance into the community. How do they understand themselves? What practices regarding civic engagement and community life are long standing? How is change viewed? What hope do they have for the future? What are the highs and lows of Peace Corps in Ukraine? What hurdles have Peace Corps identified and what strategies to deal with them?

Organizational Development Tools. Learning what survey, planning and management tools have been adapted to Ukraine would be helpful. I would be interested especially if these processes have been adapted for both small start-up and/or established organizations.

E: How you think Peace Corps service will influence your personal and
professional aspirations after your service ends.

Peace Corps service is an opportunity to give back. Working with emerging NGOs is a way for me to mentor others as I have been mentored. Personally I look forward to the adventure and challenge. It makes me feel like I am almost 25 years old again.

After Peace Corps service, I want to return to USA and continue working with non-profits. I believe skills and cross cultural experiences from the Peace Corps will add to my effectiveness. My hope is to continue to assist worthy causes well beyond traditional retirement years.