Friday, May 22, 2015

The Marriott Courtyard Ahmedabad Auctioned Collector's Edition Cricket Bat for Rising Star Outreach

Our friends at the Courtyard Marriott in Ahmedabad, India recently auctioned off a collector's edition cricket bat to help serve those affected by leprosy by donating proceeds to Rising Star Outreach. The following is an excerpt from the official Marketwired Press Release:

The cricket bat, signed by the renowned international cricketers, including Rahul Dravid, Shane Watson, Steve Smith and James Faulkner, was won by Mrs. Aparna Garg. The signed bat was presented to Garg and her family at a high tea at the Satellite Road hotel. Her win is also a win for Rising Star Outreach, a US-based nonprofit organization that focuses on helping India's leprosy communities.

"Courtyard by Marriott is committed to achieving excellence, not only in hospitality and surpassing guest delight, but also in increasing its outreach to support community-based issues and their solutions," Gaurav Singh, General Manager of the Ahmedabad luxury hotel, says. "We have been actively involved in raising funds for the Rising Star Outreach, which supports the Marriott Home based out of Chennai."
Marriott Home is one of the pioneering efforts of Rising Star Outreach, which rented a small house in April 2004. The house became home to 27 children from surrounding leprosy colonies, and was the start of the organization's success with helping India's leprosy communities. Marriott Home can now accommodate nearly 400 children, who learn English, computer skills and other subjects at an onsite school. This is just part of helping the children reach the organization's goal: to see a day when those affected by leprosy are no longer consigned to begging on the streets, but can instead enjoy a life of dignity and productivity.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Dental Team Bring Smiles and Hope for Brighter Futures

“Aunty, tell us a ‘scady stody’.” A dozen boys sitting and laying on the cool cement floor surrounded me, the moonlight casting its silvery glow through the window. Homework done. Bucket showers taken. Teeth brushed. It was bedtime, which offered one of the favorite rituals of a volunteer’s day—story time.

“Oh I don’t like scary stories, I only like love stories.” I smiled.

“OK, tell us a love stody. And then tell us a scady stody!”

It’s true that I don’t like scary stories but since I’m from Texas I have plenty of stories about snakes and scorpions.  So I shared some of my personal favorites, which got so animated, I earned a reprimand from the house mom. 

Shhhh. Quiet again. 

Speaking in hushed tones, one of the boys told a story of his own. His brother, he said, walked down a dirt road and did not see a snake that was slithering right in his path. As he passed, the snake struck his leg, but his brother didn’t feel the bite. He continued to walk, unaware anything had happened, until suddenly he started feeling very dizzy. He stumbled ahead, zigzagging as he walked, and finally fell to the ground, unconscious.

I gasped. “Was your brother OK?”

“JES!” he exclaimed. “Of course he was OK. We prayed to God. Many times.”

Of course,” I thought to myself.

What better example is there of unshakable faith and infinite optimism? I wonder if that tiny, spirited, 10-year old Indian boy realized what a valuable life lesson he taught me that warm spring night? 

During our service at the March 2015 Dental Session, I learned many profound lessons—perhaps none greater than the fact that miracles surround us every day. It is our ability to recognize those miracles that give purpose and direction to our lives.

The dental clinic is a miracle in itself. Two years ago, during our first dental mission to Rising Star Outreach, we worked out of a tiny storage room with aged and unreliable equipment. We felt good about what we were able to accomplish but we knew there had to be a greater plan in store. 

Today there stands a beautiful new dental clinic housed within the newly built Kikindia Health Center for Rising Stars. The clinic is furnished with state of the art equipment. 232 children received dental care, more dental health professionals are asking to get involved, donors continue to give, and this is just the beginning.

Our family’s involvement with the dental clinic all started with it’s own miracle. Had we not recognized it, there is so much we would have missed. While miracles are usually the bi-product of work, true love is the bi-product of service, and since I like to tell love stories, here are a few of my favorites from this session. 

Two years ago I wrote about Marutha Rajamanikam. He was a frightened little boy who spoke almost no English. In an effort to distract him in the dental clinic, I blew up a glove and made him a “hand” balloon. He had no idea what to do with it.

This time he came bouncing into the clinic. The first thing he did is run up to me and exclaim, “Hello Aunty! I remember you.” Then we had a long conversation in English! Of course I made him another hand balloon. We both giggled as we talked about our time together two years before. After I cleaned his teeth, he got up from the chair, thanked me, stood there awkwardly for a moment, then impulsively gave me a giant bear hug. Even though this time we used words, it was evident that genuine love had transcended our former language barrier.  

Another student, Vasudevan, arrived at the clinic with his front teeth severely broken. Although he had no expectations of having them fixed, Dr. Collins had other plans. When Vasudevan saw his new teeth for the first time his face beamed with happiness and his thoughts went immediately to his mother. “My mom will be so happy!” I wish we could have seen her face when she saw her precious son’s new smile.

The night before Dr. Collins, aka “Adin” arrived, I was handed a few “love” letters to put on his pillow. The children counted days and then hours, waiting for him to come. Then more letters came. “Thank you for helping us by doing dental—you are so kind.” “We will miss your love and friendship…don’t forget me.” “I asked to Tara, did Erin know me so Tara said yes, Erin know you so I so happy.” “Thank you for being my best friend.” “Happy journey…I love you so, so, so, so, so, so much.”

There is a quote written in our home that reads,  “The meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away.” –William Shakespeare 

Our gift is dentistry so that’s what we give. 

But what we got in return holds no comparison. 

Each one of us has unique gifts. What a privilege it was to spend two amazing weeks at Rising Star Outreach witnessing volunteers sharing theirs: artists, musicians, writers, storytellers, dancers, photographers, healers, comforters, helpers, builders, teachers, singers, game players, and happiness spreaders. They each have their own stories to tell. But the key to it all, as this sign in the dental clinic reminds us, is giving the gift with love.

Friday, May 8, 2015

An Inspiration to Us All

One of Rising Star Outreach's most staunch supporters, Hayley Greer, won second attendant in the 2015 Miss Inspirational Pageant, a pageant to “honor and celebrate the lives of women with disabilities.” We asked her mother, Susan Greer, to write a short piece on Hayley and her success. Enjoy!

Hayley is 27. She's my 5th last child. She has a dog named Copper. She enjoys cooking, especially pasta. She has an obsession with cooking gadgets. She enjoys Healthy Choices class at TURN, as well as Toastmasters. Her all time favorite activity is talking. I joke with her that on my grave it will say, "Hayley talked me to death." This is funny because at one time, I worried that Hayley wouldn't be able to speak normally. 
Hayley inspires me when I think of all the hard things she has done in her life. The challenges she faces in life are helping her learn empathy. She cares about what happens to other people. A couple of years ago she said she wanted to help people with leprosy. I didn't even know she knew what leprosy was. Perhaps she had seen her sister crocheting a leprosy bandage almost 14 years previous to this conversation. 
We found an organization, and Hayley worked hard to raise funds through her cooking talents to sponsor the education of a young girl from the leprosy colonies in India. Since then she has been donating her checks so this girl she sponsors can keep going to school and have a better life. 
Everyday Hayley works on learning how to control her emotions by communicating her feelings through words. She has made huge improvements. Someday, I think expressing her feelings will be her greatest strength.
You should have heard her giving a lesson to Miss Salt Lake and the other queens during the pageant about leprosy and being shunned, having a micro business, going to school away from their families in the colonies. I remember when she was 5 sitting in the psychiatrist office and getting the diagnosis, not knowing what the future would be like for her or me. What a long way she has come and what happiness she brings!

We're happy to congratulate Hayley on her success! If you'd like to learn more about the pageant, click here.

Monday, May 4, 2015

President's Letter: School's Out for May Break!

“Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life. Silence is pushing the off button. Shutting it down. All of it.”
                                                             ― Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

In May the Rising Star Outreach campus is quieter than usual because the students, teachers, and some of the staff have returned to their homes for summer break. As the writing of Mr. Hosseini indicates, this break gives the students and the employees of Rising Star Outreach an opportunity to “[turn] down the volume knob of life” while spending time with their families, enjoying free reading time, and socializing with friends.

IMG_1178.JPGAlthough the laughter and squeals of happy children are absent this month, other sounds are heard on the campus. This is the time given to much needed maintenance of the hostels, the classrooms, and other buildings. Can you imagine the fingerprints of 240 students that dot the walls of the school and the hostels! A big thank you to the staff who continue working in May to oversee this work and take care of other important tasks for the continuous upkeep and care of the campus.

Another exciting development over the past few months is the groundbreaking of the new Ron and Joyce Hanson Girls’ Hostel. With an expanding school we’ve felt growing pains and subsequently the number of students a housemother cares for has dramatically increased. Having a "family" of 23-24 students is not optimal for the students or the housemother. (Because many of the students live away from their families for about ten months of the year, we divide them into family units, much like a traditional family with the older girls/boys helping with the younger children and a housemother overseeing and caring for those in their ‘family.’)

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Photo of the rendering of the hostel by Laura Cunningham
To honor the incredible service, dedication, and resources Ron and Joyce Hanson have given to Rising Star Outreach over the past 15 years, we are proud to name the new hostel the Ron and Joyce Hanson Girls’ Hostel. Construction will continue over the summer and into the fall and will be ready for use at the beginning of November 2015. It is remarkable that Rising Star Outreach continues giving more and more students the opportunity to have a quality education. Another big thank you to Ron and Joyce and all the generous donors for sharing their resources with Rising Star.

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Jeri Colton at Rising Star
In March a successful Rising Star Outreach event was held in Atlanta, Georgia at the home of Jeri and Steve Colton. Jeri volunteered during the Women to Women Session in January. She was deeply impressed by the effectiveness of the programs and wanted to get involved in the work of Rising Star Outreach. Board members Hugh and Ellen Morton, Mark and Christine Cronquist, Teresa Claugus, and Jeri invited a group of friends and acquaintances to learn more about supporting the mission of Rising Star Outreach.


Brooke Hunter, Barbara Snider, and Sharon Thompson were in attendance. They were part of the five women, who years ago had gathered around the kitchen table of Becky Douglas to start Rising Star Outreach. Sadly, Gillian Mason had passed away a few months earlier, and Becky Douglas is still serving in the Dominican Republic. They were missed at the event, but Brooke, Barbara, Sharon, Gillian, and Becky were honored by those in attendance for planting those first seedlings of hope, support, and love to begin the organization of Rising Star Outreach. Because of their vision, thousands of lives have been changed for the better.

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Adrienne and Kelly Cohen, Rising Star Outreach President Sally Read, Marci and Del Tanner (Former Chairman and Board Member of Rising Star Outreach)

Special guest recording artist, Bianca Merkley ( shared her music during the event and touched the hearts of everyone with her beautiful and poignant song, “Grateful.” Ember Hobi, who has volunteered with Rising Star Outreach several times over the years, used this song to make an inspirational video about Rising Star Outreach’s medical work. Little did Bianca know how meaningful her lyrics would be to those who have participated in the volunteer program.

Jean Shifrin in India

Another special guest at the event in Atlanta, photographer Jean Shifrin, was honored for her incredible service to Rising Star Outreach. Jean has traveled to India many times and her beautiful photography is featured on the Rising Star Outreach website, in brochures, and in much of the informational materials sharing the work of the organization. Her photography is inspiring and these photos have chronicled countless tender moments in the history of Rising Star Outreach. I can’t imagine what Rising Star Outreach would have done without Jean’s photos! Thank you, Jean.

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Hostess Jeri Colton, Marci Tanner, and Heather Greenburg

I express my sincere appreciation to Steve and Jeri Colton, Bianca, and to all in Atlanta that opened their hearts and wallets for the continued support and expansion of Rising Star Outreach.

A big thank you for the continued assistance we receive from YOU, our many supporters and donors, and for keeping Rising Star in your thoughts each month!

Maybe this month of May we can ‘turn down the volume knob of life’ and enjoy ‘quiet moments’ of introspection and appreciation for the reawakening of nature around us - the colorful blossoms and the buds on the trees and experience peace and gratitude for the beauty that surrounds us.


Rising Star Outreach

Monday, April 6, 2015

Volunteers Get More Than They Give!

“The best thing about giving is that the reaction
is always greater than the action.”

The other night I opened a fortune cookie and found that quote. I didn't care that my fortune didn't specify an exotic vacation or added wisdom. This fortune cookie provided a nice thought about life and giving.

Those who make giving part of their lives already know that they receive as much benefit as the person or persons that are being served. In academic and behavioral science, research has shown that serving others has measurable mental and physical health benefits. For example, volunteerism boosts self-confidence and life satisfaction, both of which combat depression.1 Volunteering is good for physical health at any age.

Throughout the years Rising Star Outreach has welcomed countless volunteers and has greatly benefited from their service. These volunteers have sacrificed time and money for the opportunity to serve others. The volunteers come from many different countries and from all walks of life—individuals, couples, friends, siblings, and families—ready to roll up their sleeves and share their body muscles as well as their heart muscles to assist the ‘least among us’—those affected by leprosy.

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Because of their experience volunteers want to become more deeply involved in Rising Star Outreach's programs. They return home with a commitment to further the mission of Rising Star Outreach. Sometimes they sponsor students or encourage members of their family and friends to sponsor students. Sometimes they bring their friends and families back to India to volunteer. Volunteers have raised money in a variety of ways, such as sponsoring cross-country bike rides, by selling baked goods, or hosting an event in their homes. Recently, an entire elementary school raised money for educational materials by having “Penny Wars.” The classes challenged each other to see which class could bring in the most pennies. These volunteers not only raised money for Rising Star Outreach's programs, but also spread awareness that leprosy still exists in the 21st century!

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Some volunteers support our micro-grant program or the medical program. Others contribute to building programs, such as the new medical building and girls’ hostel. Others fund programs that help students learn basic life skills. It is thrilling for me when I receive a phone call from those who feel passionate about helping Rising Star Outreach's work go forward in meaningful and positive ways!

This past year Lon and Rebecca Young have been in India as the Volunteer Program Manager and Sponsorship Manager, respectively, on the campus of Rising Star Outreach. Their five children accompanied them to India, and Lon and Rebecca have seen the benefits of "doing something different" as a family. Lon shares some insights about this experience:

“In traveling to India our family has crossed many borders.  But stamped passports don't tell the tale. The real journey, the one that has made this experience so trans-formative for us, has been the move outwards, the reaching beyond the borders of our family's own self-interest to what Einstein termed ever-widening "circles of compassion." As parents when we have witnessed our children gently peeling bandages off oozing sores or massaging oil into cracked skin; when we have watched them being jostled along bumpy roads in sweltering heat for the privilege of digging a latrine for a far-flung villager; when we have seen them teaching a child to read who would otherwise be begging in the streets, or leading them in choir, or teaching them piano or violin or lathering de-lousing gel into their scalp on a Sunday night—then we know it was worth it.  Asking them to leave good friends and french fries, giving up a spot on the basketball team, deferring scholarships. Asking them to leave their individual islands of self-concern to become citizens of the wider world. They left old boundaries behind and widened their circles of compassion.  And it was all worth it. Even for the daughter who locked herself in her room a few months ago and slid us a note under the door that said, 'COME GET ME WHEN WE'RE GOING BACK TO AMERICA!!!'

And now we are going back to America. 

How much will stick? If we have come to find Jesus in the faces of the leprosy-affected, will we recognize Him back home in the face of the grimy man holding a cardboard sign, the obnoxious neighbor, the surly skateboarder loitering in the school parking lot? As the Volunteer Program Director, I've told departing volunteers that after their experiences here in India, they'll probably want to keep helping Rising Star Outreach in its mission to serve leprosy-affected communities, but that from our standpoint, we will have been just as successful if their deepened compassion finds expression by reaching out to the hungry, the homeless, the heartbroken in their own communities. And I think after nearly a year, our own family has come to understand that reaching out doesn't require traveling to some exotic place. Yes, India is the fabled land of altruists—we get to walk in the footsteps of Gandhi and Mother Teresa and the Buddha—but it really doesn't matter where we live or where we serve. Someone beautiful is always within reach, someone who needs exactly what we can share.” 
Lon Young

As I read Lon’s words, I was transported over the miles to India and thought of the love each volunteer brings to Rising Star Outreach. I express sincere appreciation to the Young family and to the long-term coordinators: Ashley Ward, Volunteer Program Officer; Brooklyn Young, Sponsorship Program Assistant; Berlyn Slemboski, Community Outreach Coordinator; Saychelle Youngberg, Education Coordinator; Brian Youngberg, Medical Coordinator; Ashlyn Stead, Digital Media Coordinator; Caroline Kane, VPO Assistant; and Teesa Alvis, Dance Master from Promethean Spark. What an amazing group of volunteers!

At Rising Star Outreach we believe the experience of serving in India creates the opportunity to become a life-long humanitarian. Volunteers have profound experiences, and they return home with a greater ability to share their love at school, in their neighborhoods, in their communities, and in their own families, as Lon so beautifully said.

Mother Teresa once said, "You can accomplish the extraordinary in the ordinary, one day at a time with love."

Every volunteer, whether they stay in India for a few weeks or much longer, may think they leave ordinary hand prints in India, but these hand prints are extraordinary expressions of love and compassion to the hearts and souls of countless individuals.

Thank you volunteers, sponsors, and donors for contributing your time, talent, and resources to the programs at Rising Star Outreach!

If you have not yet been a volunteer and are interested in having a life-transforming experience as an individual or with your family, visit our website and click VOLUNTEER. You’ll see the program in action and the dates for each session. Come join us!

And, the next time you open a cookie and read your fortune, think of Rising Star Outreach! Your desire to become part of the vision and mission of Rising Star Outreach will improve your fortune and the fortune of those you serve.

Happy April,

Rising Star Outreach

[1] Volunteering: The happiness effect
Helping others kindles happiness, as many studies have demonstrated. When researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were, according to a study in Social Science and Medicine. Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000, say the researchers.

(Adapted with permission from Simple Changes, Big Rewards: A Practical, Easy Guide for Healthy, Happy Living, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

President's Letter: Education Illuminates the Soul

 “Education is the movement from darkness to light.” -Allan Bloom
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The above statement is certainly relevant to Rising Star Outreach.  Education illuminates the lives of our students and compassionate service brings light to lives darkened by the physical and social disease of leprosy. Starting a small business through micro-grants ignites a light within a mother or father, giving them the opportunity to support a family rather than begging in the streets. Light is a powerful symbol of the love, optimism and hope Rising Star Outreach brings to the lives it touches.
March is a busy month on our campus in India as teachers prepare the students for annual exams, and the 5th, 8th, 10th, and 12th standard students are preparing to sit for the annual government exams. It’s a time when our students buckle down and focus on the exams in an environment of encouragement and support.

Another reference to light says, “A good teacher is like a candle –it consumes itself to light the way for others.” —Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

The Peery Matriculation School prides itself on high educational standards through dedicated teachers and administrators that provide an exceptional learning environment. We recognize Mr. Hirudayanathan A., education adviser; Mr. Richards V.S., headmaster for the high school; Mr. Sanakaranamasivayam B., headmaster for primary school; and all the extraordinary teachers who bring light and knowledge to each Rising Star Outreach student.

Dr. Nancy Sorensen, an educator from the United States, visited the campus in January to share her knowledge and insights with teachers at the Peery Matriculation School.

Dr. Sorensen presented workshops on teaching techniques that enhance activity-based learning and higher level thinking skills. I greatly appreciate Dr. Sorensen’s efforts to spread the light of knowledge.
Light and hope symbolize the expansion of our work in the Trichy area in southern Tamil Nadu. Through the generous support of The Order of St. Lazarus and other organizations, we are serving colonies there that have been in darkness and despair for years.  Last year Dr. Susan and I visited several of these colonies.  We were shocked by the level of desperation we saw, especially in the 21st Century. It was heart wrenching.

Dr. Susan comments, “When I first visited the place, the people looked grim and gloomy. Their clothes were filthy. The children were malnourished. The inhabitants earned a living by begging, crime, brewing illicit liquor, and soliciting. There were frequent quarrels among them. They were very angry and wanted the vehicle driver and me to leave immediately. The dogs were all barking. We left a business card, then called again after a month and asked if they would let us help. They said, ‘Yes, come.’”

Dr. Susan and our team have been working in the Trichy colony for the past year. The residents were literally in darkness and asked for light—the light of simple electricity. After seven months of diligent effort, Rising Star Outreach was able to get electric power to the colony. Dr. Susan continues, “We started to send our team, and the health of the patients improved dramatically. They started to bathe and wear clean clothes. Then Rising Star Outreach built a community shed. This was used for our medical work and their social needs. A welfare committee was organized. They are united now. Perpetual Education Grants were given for three children. They want to send one child to our school and are sending in application forms.”
While on campus in January I walked into Dr. Susan’s office and was pleasantly surprised to meet leaders from the Panchapur Colony. I barely recognized them! Dr. Susan and I were astonished at their physical transformation. Instead of the darkness and despair we had seen months before, their faces glowed with the light of hope! They had travel all night to reach the campus to express gratitude for the assistance they received from Rising Star Outreach. “It is a miraculous transformation by God working through weak and frail human beings using the age-old panacea of all ills: kindness," said Dr. Susan Hilton.
This is the essence of Rising Star Outreach’s mission—to assist the "least among us", who are enshrouded in darkness, to find illumination through light: light of knowledge through education, light of the restoration of health and healing, light through the grants to individuals or families who want a hand up not a hand out.

You have my sincere appreciation for supporting this remarkable work. Because of your constant support of Rising Star Outreach, you make the saying at the beginning of this letter true: “Compassion and kindness are the movement from darkness to light.
Sally Gardner Read
Rising Star Outreach
P.S. I love this photo of one of our sweet couples in the Bhararthapuram colony. Rising Star Outreach build an outhouse for them. They wanted to thank us, so they invited us to their home. Gigi, one of our volunteers, let them take some ‘selfies!’ Priceless!