The Power of Everyone

The PoeTreeThe last week has amazed me. If any of you reading this have visited Studio PAUSE, you know exactly how tiny 400 sq. ft. is. Yet, events in the last week have proved that a small space is no excuse to hold you back.

But let me start at the beginning.

When I was planning to open the Studio seven months ago my 7-year old had wanted me to invite her first-grade teacher. When the teacher came to the opening, (where, by the way, we have 107 people visit over 3 hours!!) she told me she wanted to bring her students there on a field trip and I had to plan a lesson. When I shared the lesson with her, The Blossom Walk & The PoeTree Project to celebrate National Poetry Month, she shared it with her first-grade team and they all wanted to come! 140 first-graders, plus 35 chaperones and teachers!

I did pre-lessons in each classroom the week before telling the students how a Japanese painting of a cherry blossom tree full of poetry slips inspired me to do this project to celebrate all the trees blossoming in our neighborhoods. And then I taught them about Haiku. I gave the teachers slips of handmade Korean paper for the children to write their poems on.

So we planned 3 trips with two classes each—50 kids and about 13 adults. They walked from school and it was a gorgeous Spring day. The PoeTree was generously created by David Leggett, master cabinetmaker and my friend’s brother who had heard us worry about creating a tree indoors that would hold 140 poems. Sharmila Karamchandani, professor of graphic design at Art Institute and a dear friend was curious and offered to help out as it was her spring break week. She made 30 origami cherry blossoms out of coupon books to decorate The PoeTree. Inspired by the children’s poetry as she hung up the poems after the children read them aloud, she also learned how to write Haikus.

At the Studio the first thing the students noticed was how small the space was! “How many of you think this Studio is too small?” I asked. A whole lot of little arms went up. “And how many ideas do you think we can fit in here?”

“Hundreds! Thousands! Millions!” the kids replied looking around at my artwork on the walls, the exhibit Branching Out—Found and Lost by John Heyward Smith and David Leggett, the handmade storybooks, and the art and writing on the PAUSE Wall shared by visitors.

The PoeTree goes to Oakridge Elementary School at the end of the month so families can enjoy the creativity in the community decorating a lifeless branch transformed into The PoeTree.

PAUSErsThen, last Sunday, The PoeTree witnessed the Indian Dinner Fundraiser we did to raise a scholarship for EWI. Marga Fripp, founder of EWI and an amazing mentor to me, suggested I try fundraising as an Ambassador of EWI and I was on board. I knew that without the support of the wonderful staff and volunteers of EWI I and their training program I would never have been able to do any of this.

I got inspired at an EWI event I went to with my friend and long-time buddy of Studio PAUSE, Colleen Moore. There, I heard Aida Mady speak about her journey in cooking and how her catering business took off because people love to eat—and it is the easiest fundraiser. The crowd chuckled, as we ourselves were soon going to eat her delicious Egyptian cooking.

I told Colleen, “I’ll cook Indian food and do a fundraiser to raise a scholarship at the Studio! What do you think?”

Colleen said, “I can cook Indian food too, so I’ll cook my famous Saag Chicken and join you!” Her recipe—gluten-free and dairy-free—was up on her blog and I checked it out. Others who have enjoyed the Studio wanted to help out too—in so many different ways—and the PAUSErs for a CAUSE Indian Dinner Fundraiser idea happened.

As I got cold feet, Colleen’s emails and texts about “I’m so excited!”, “Chicken is on sale at Harris Teeter!”, and “I got Indian clothes to wear to the event!” warmed me up. I went and got the chicken and the greens and pulled out my mom’s recipe.

As I thought there is no way I will be able to raise enough money, Cecilia decided to donate the proceeds from the sale of her artwork in the March show to start off the fundraiser! My friend Anne Marie and her daughter Meghan—the power bakers—baked cupcakes with mango frosting and coconut (I kept all the extra frosting… be right back…) She also went with me for 10:30 pm shopping trip to get tablecloths, plates and cups etc. Then my friend Partap offered to create a special Bollywood playlist for the event and bring in his awesome speakers. Amar wanted to come down from Annapolis and cook with me and so he put all the ingredients and his big blue pot in his car and drove down and cooked Chana at my house. Andy said he’s make his special Chana Masala and tea-flavoured rice which was yummy. Doler, seasoned restraunter and EWI graduate herself, took charge of the vegetable biriyani and salad. I got the samosas from our trusty old India A-1 Grocery and the owner donated big foil trays and take-out boxes to the cause. The Mango Spritzer with mint was the beverage of the day, a recipe that is my son’s favorite. And then I got so excited I also made my special paneer dish, (not available in any restaurant), raita, naan, and a cucumber-tomato salad.

Twenty-two people came and ate, many friends who couldn’t make it donated online, and even as I write this today, my friends are donating to the cause and coming down to get the leftovers! (Thankfully, Indian food does great as leftovers :)) Many friends who stopped by had not had a chance to visit the Studio before. There were even friends of friends who I had never met before—thanks, Loredana for inviting them! Guests got dinner, art, read poems on The PoeTree written by the children in the neighborhood, and bought wooden creations by David, some of which he created collaborating with his 92 year-old mother who visited just the other day when we had the reception. There was also a future EWI artist and her cameraman reporting on the event for a middle eastern TV channel.

There was spontaneous Bollywood and Latin dancing, interviews, donations being taken in by EWI intern Lauren Spengler, and to top it all, as we were winding down someone noticed faces in the window. When I ran out to see who it was, it was a family of a little girl whose poem was on The PoeTree and she had brought her family and visiting grandma to show them the new Studio in their neighborhood!

Yes, I know. It sounds frantic, hectic, and almost crazy. But isn’t it awesome? It is my Studio but really it is the Power of Everyone. Everyone makes a difference. Everyone wants to help and contribute. Everyone has something special to share. And its a tiny space where Everyone is welcome!

As my twelve year-old son made me sit down to watch his favorite Dr. Who show  one evening it struck me that in some ways, the Studio is just like the TARDIS (I know, I know, but read on…)—Small on the Outside but really Big on the Inside. Big enough for every idea you might have, big enough for our entire community, big enough for everybody’s imagination, creativity, and generosity. And I couldn’t have done any of this without the Power of Everyone. So I thank you all from the very bottom of my heart.

If you’d like to donate today, one day to give to PAUSErs for a Cause, please click here.

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