Barry Saunders

What you can do to make this year better – Saunders

Assistance dog JJ keeps Kaelyn Krawczyk company during one of her frequent hospital stays. Kaelyn has a rare disorder called mastocytosis and JJ keeps her company and alerts the hospital staff to impending reactions. JJ has even helped monitor Kaelyn's condition through surgical procedures.
Assistance dog JJ keeps Kaelyn Krawczyk company during one of her frequent hospital stays. Kaelyn has a rare disorder called mastocytosis and JJ keeps her company and alerts the hospital staff to impending reactions. JJ has even helped monitor Kaelyn's condition through surgical procedures. Eyes Ears Nose and Paws

I, like St. Francis – Sinatra, that is – don’t get my kicks stomping on other people’s dreams.

That’s why it grieves me to tell you that no, this is not the year you are going to lose that 40 pounds you vowed to drop just as soon as you polish off that last jug of eggnog that’s in the freezer. Nor, sad to say, is it the year in which you will get around to cleaning out the garage as you’ve been promising Sweet Thang you’d do since the Disco Era.

Neither, most likely, is this the year you learn to play “(Hold Me Closer) Tiny Dancer” on the pan flute.

This probably isn’t even the year you finally figure out what a pan flute is.

Fret not, though. This year can still be a positive experience even if we don’t stick the landing on all or any of the traditional New Year’s resolutions we make.

How? By resolving to be better people and to make the world around us just a wee bit better. It’s no less true for being trite: each of us can be a candle against the darkness.

If you’re such a misanthrope that the idea of working with human beings gives you pause, why not volunteer with organizations that work with animals?

You know how you can make the world better?

▪ You could call up and volunteer at a soup kitchen at some time other than Thanksgiving or Christmas. Everybody and their sister-in-law volunteer during those periods.

Both the Raleigh and Durham Meals on Wheels programs need volunteers to deliver food to home-bound people. In Durham, office manager Jamie Stewart said, you can make your own schedule by visiting the website www.durham.mowscheduler.com/jobs/available or calling 919-667-9424.

In Raleigh, visit www.wakemow.org or call 919-833-1749. When you knock on the door of some older man or woman who has probably not eaten or spoken to another human being all day, the feeling you’ll get inside will be warmer than whatever nutritious food you’re delivering. Just as surely as their stomachs will be filled, your soul will be, too.

▪ You could do something nice for someone who can’t do a danged thing for you, or by anonymously paying for the meal in a restaurant of a cop, soldier, student or someone who looks as though they could use a free meal. You could try giving one of those homeless dudes you see humming and bumming at the intersection enough money to make his day, with no judgment and without fretting that he’s going to blow it on blow, booze or hookers. That $5, $10 or $20 you give will do way more for him than it would for you.

▪ The hawk is swooping in, so you could pull from your closet some of those coats you keep waiting to come back into style – nope, that Superfly purple crushed velvet maxi isn’t coming back – and give them to somebody you see shivering on the street.

▪ You could volunteer with a group that works with prison inmates, helping to smooth their transition back to the world or even to make their time locked up more productive.

The last time I wrote about encouraging readers to volunteer at prisons, someone wrote in and asked why didn’t I volunteer. Was I afraid they might keep me? Yes.

That’s not why I don’t visit, though. For some reason unknown to me, I am persona non grata at area prisons. It is the supremest irony that 43 years ago, while fighting a losing battle to stay out of jail, forces seemed intent upon placing me there and everyone assured me I’d wind up there.

Years later, though, while trying to get permission to possibly help some of the incarcerated men and women who’ve made the same errors I made but who didn’t get the same breaks, I’ve been stymied.

My efforts to get into prison to talk with inmates or to teach them to read and write have been documented in this space. I detailed how my offers of assistance were rebuffed or ignored before I was granted entry about two years ago.

I visited about a dozen death row inmates at Central Prison with Sue Etheridge, who received the Dalai Lama’s Unsung Hero of Compassion Award in 2014 for her art therapy work in the prison system.

I thought our visit with the death row dudes was dandy, so imagine my dismay when one of the people who helped me get in assured me I wouldn’t be going back in. He essentially told me, as innumerable fathers before had, “You ain’t welcome around here.”

I have ceased seeking a reason, because prison is the last place you want to try to bogart your way into. Maybe, however, they’ll let y’all in.

▪ If you’re such a misanthrope that the idea of working with human beings gives you the D.T.s, why not volunteer with organizations that work with animals?

One such group is the Eyes Ears Nose and Paws dog training program in Carrboro. The EENP program, founded by Maria Ikenberry and Deb Cunningham, trains service dogs that will be available to people with disabilities. Among the EENP dog-training volunteers are inmates at local prisons who, volunteer Elizabeth Gregory told me, get as much out of the program as the animals or the human clients.

You probably would, too. You can reach them at www.eenp.org.

Barry Saunders: 919-836-2811, @BarrySaunders9

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