A former co-worker and I had a running joke. When one of us complained about stuff or spoke of being really excited about something, the other would lean over and chime in, “Umm, it’s not all about you.”
Even though we were kidding around, the truth is that life is definitely not about any one person.
I’ve been so inspired lately by friends giving back to the community. A big group of friends participated in or donated to the March of Dimes March for Babies this past weekend, a friend ran the half marathon for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital April 27 and another is running to raise money for ALS research at Johns Hopkins this weekend.
Today, my friend Leigh organized a small group of us to volunteer to serve breakfast at the Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore. I’ve always admired Leigh’s sense of enthusiasm and her leadership when it comes to rallying, organizing and giving back. We brought our assigned breakfast food and came in and prepared sausage, scrambled eggs, pancakes, biscuits and gravy and pastries … all with a sense of camaraderie.
Every person who ate was so courteous and thankful, and we were particularly charmed by one young man, Zeq, whose story you can find on his Facebook page
As we were standing in the kitchen, another friend commented that your problems suddenly don’t seem so significant when you hear about the situations some people are facing, such as trying to raise $15,000 for a therapy dog so your child can attend school.
I’m often in awe of people who dedicate so much of their time to volunteering, and I hope to follow in the footsteps of people like Leigh, who always seem to do so with such boundless energy.
It reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite books, “tuesdays with Morrie.”
“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” – Mitch Albom
So as you go through this week and those to come, try to do something to give back. And remember that it's not all about you.
May 03, 2013 09:46
By Jennifer Williams
I’ve read inspirational blogs or articles from life coaches that say when it comes to success - just as important as talent, smarts and having the right people in your corner - is attitude.
Positive people put forth a more attractive energy and according to research, seem to stay healthier, have better relationships and do well in their careers.
What I like about this approach is that it applies to all levels of people and all arenas of work. Whether you’re a sanitation worker or a CEO, your attitude can contribute to the level of success you enjoy in your career. The level of energy and enthusiasm you put into your work can directly impact your own career and also inspire those around you.
If you’re looking for a little motivation/inspiration to help your attitude, check out this story by Dave Kerpen
, chairman of Likeable Media and see how he transformed a seemingly mundane job into one worthy of celebrity status.
April 30, 2013 02:00
By Jennifer Williams
In the media industry, creativity is paramount. Successfully executing/packaging creative thoughts, messages, ideas and stories is what we strive to do.
This week, CRMedia launched a Mother’s Day contest
inviting people to nominate a deserving mom in their life to win a bouquet of flowers. To complement our promotional campaign we produced a 30-second video spot. Thirty seconds may not seem like much, but to produce a video of that length required writing copy, collecting photos for B-roll, having our art director design images, recording voice overs, selecting background music and then having our photographer artistically package it together .
That experience is why I have so much appreciation for what Boston Magazine did with its latest issue. The staff at the publication was tremendously affected by what happened in their city
and they knew they had a huge challenge ahead of them to completely scrap their existing cover and feature story and replace them with something truly meaningful.
And they did it.
In just three days, staffers came up with the powerful concept of collecting 120 pairs of running shoes worn in the marathon and telling the stories of those runners. Everyone on staff chipped in to solicit shoes, interview all 120 runners and even drive the shoes to New York for a photo shoot. What evolved is moving and inspiring.
Read this blog
by the editor to find out how and why they did it. What do you think?
April 26, 2013 12:01
By Jennifer Williams
David Stevenson was on a bus on the way to his hotel when the bombs went off in Boston.
An avid runner, Stevenson had completed the 26.2-mile trek in 3 hours and 14 minutes.
His feet had already pounded down the streets of Boston and across the finish line. The 37-year-old had already flashed a jubilant smile as he and a friend posed for a picture with a bottle of champagne.
The 1993 John Carroll graduate was looking forward to attending the post-race celebration with friends later that night.
That all changed when he heard the tragic news, and Stevenson instead spent the remainder of his day in his hotel room watching the news and attempting to reach out to friends and family.
Prior to the race, someone had posted a note of congratulations and good luck on Stevenson’s Facebook page. It was addressed to a group who would be running the marathon and it said: “It’s a gift to be running on those hallowed roads.”
Those words struck me as particularly poignant. They are just roads – pavement after all. But thinking of all they have absorbed – the hopes, dreams and determination of hundreds of thousands of runners – and now the blood, tears and anguish of those involved in the tragedy – I feel they are hallowed roads indeed.
Runners such as Stevenson know the Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest and most prestigious annual marathon.
“It is the ultimate focus of many a runner to achieve a BQ (Boston Qualifier) and truly earn the opportunity to run these streets on the third Monday in April,” Stevenson said in a written message to The Catholic Review. “It is the only race where you absolutely must qualify. Individuals are often overcome with emotion just knowing that they have finally achieved this goal through tremendous hard work and sacrifice.”
Stevenson was quick to point out that “Nothing will change that.” He was also quick to say that the tragedy will not tear people apart.
“I feel for those who had their dream of running down Boylston Street to the finish line shattered,” he said. “For many it was likely a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am heartbroken for those who had their lives altered, ruined, or taken away from them. The perpetrators of this disgusting act and others like it think they can bring us down and tear us apart. They have yet to realize that it only serves to bolster our unity.”
April 18, 2013 02:19
By Jennifer Williams
Before I came to the Catholic Review and worked under the immensely insightful direction of the late writer and editor Christopher Gaul, I had another mentor.
Baltimore Sun editor Mary Corey spoke on a career panel at what is now Notre Dame of Maryland University. I was a senior, and it was her alma mater. Afterward, I scheduled a day to shadow Mary in her job as features editor for the Baltimore Sun. Impressed with her and my experience there, I took to writing letters and making phone calls to try and secure an internship at the newspaper. Much to my delight - after numerous phone calls - I was finally granted permission to work with Mary. I was 22 at the time, and she was 36.
I can still picture my work area on the fifth floor, where I was stationed near food editor Suzanne Loudermilk, the copyeditors and sports reporters.
For me, it was an internship dream come true. Under Mary’s watchful eye, I had the opportunity to craft stories on topics ranging from a twist on traditional prom attire to Maryland wineries to landscape architecture.
Her voice may have been soft spoken, but Mary’s message was strong. She expected the best out of me and pored over my copy line by line, asking questions and making suggestions.
Occasionally I would write articles for the food section, and Suzanne was the same way. I’ll never forget that after interviewing Kevin Atticks, a journalism teacher at Loyola University who had recently written “Discovering Maryland Wineries,” they both had the same question.
I had written that Atticks adjusted his glasses. “What type of glasses were they?” they wanted to know. I paused to think and recalled, “They were wire-rimmed glasses.” Then one of them asked, “silver, gold, brown?” I remember feeling as though I had let them down when I didn’t know the answer, but it was an invaluable teaching moment for me. Pay attention to detail.
About a year later, I did a freelance piece for the Sun on a local candy maker. In addition to the sights and smells of the shop, I of course noted the owner’s blue eyes and gray wire-rimmed glasses.
One of the more interesting articles Mary had me do was to track down the origins of the popular Baz Luhrmann song, “Wear Sunscreen.” (Did I mention this was 1999?)
Turns out, it was a mock graduation speech written by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, that just happened to become one the most requested songs on alternative radio stations.
At Mary’s suggestion, I compared the words to the lyrics of “Desiderata.”
At the end of the article, I wrote “Desiderata advises: ‘If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.’
Or, as Schmich counsels, ‘Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.’ ”
I was stunned when I read that Mary died Feb. 26, at the age of 49, following a battle with breast cancer.
Comments I read about her on Twitter and following a Baltimore Sun article
included, “Mary was a class act all the way,” and “What a loss of a shining star.”
After my internship was complete, Mary forged ahead in her career, becoming the first woman to lead the Sun’s newsroom.
For Mary, the race was great indeed.
February 27, 2013 02:08
By Jennifer Williams
My Aunt Cheryl has developed an increasingly huge soft spot for animals and has been serving as a foster parent to a menagerie of creatures.
It’s no easy feat, considering many of the animals must be bottle fed and require hourly care. And with no mother cat to care for kittens, it often requires quite a bit of cleaning as well.
But my aunt (and my uncle too), seem blissfully content caring for these creatures.
In late October, my aunt brought a box with one tiny kitten to a family reunion. As the tiny tan and white kitty stumbled weakly around on his heated blanket looking for just the right spot to nestle in, I asked “Will he live?” My aunt said she didn’t know and that only time would tell.
Well after months of tediously tending to the kitty, my aunt just reported that “Pumpkin” not only survived, but was recently adopted into his “forever home.”
So a big thank you to all those who open their homes and hearts to animals in need.
Speaking of which, when I interviewed Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker in early October, he told me that his family had two pugs growing up and that at any time they usually had four cats. Justin spoke with particular pride about his cat, which was rescued from flood waters.
“Mom took him to the shelter and they said they were going to put him down, so I actually named him after my friend who passed away,” Tucker said. “Andrew is a good little tailless cat.”
With a big grin, Tucker spoke about Andrew’s agility when it comes to scaling great heights. “He’s got some pretty serious hops,” he said.
Hopefully Pumpkin will as well. Check out some pics of Pumpkin's progress.
Also see: Ravens Justin Tucker big on football and faith
January 28, 2013 03:37
By Jennifer Williams
I feel extremely fortunate to have ever been introduced to Patrick “Scunny” McCusker. A gregarious, fun-loving man with a huge heart, his life was sadly cut short at the age of 49. There is definitely a palpable sadness in the air in Canton – a real feeling of loss. But I like to try to think of the positive as well, so I compiled a list of life lessons we might learn from this Baltimore icon.
Live life to the fullest. One thing you could tell as you looked at a video of Scunny’s life, is that he embraced it all. His family, his work, his friends, his community …. He threw himself into every aspect of life, whether it was dressing as Santa, or a pumpkin or Elvis, putting in flowers at his restaurant, Mama’s on the Half Shell, or supporting the Believe in Tomorrow Foundation. Whether he was spending time with his family or goofing around with friends, this man looked genuinely happy.
Be good to people. The line to get in the Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home on the first day of viewings was lengthy, and inside, it was packed. Scunny made so many friends and was so generous, that people wanted to come pay their respects. As one of his friends said, “Nobody has a bad word to say about him.” After Scunny died, people from a Target store in White Marsh to bars and restaurants throughout Ocean City and Delaware stopped to talk about Scunny and what he meant to them and the community. It is truly amazing the number of lives he touched. Try to live your life in such a way that people will have good things to say about you.
Laugh. The first day I met Scunny, he was cracking jokes. His smile is contagious, and when it came to being silly or goofy, it seemed he was always up to the task. Someone commented on a family photo, “You could practically hear the laughter.”
Be generous. To say Scunny supported charities seems to be an understatement. Scunny seemed to do exceptional things when it came to helping others. If he promised a sick child he would get them on the Raven’s Field before a game, well then he would call in every favor he had to make it happen. I mentioned I was interested in volunteering with Believe in Tomorrow, and he took 30 minutes of his time to talk about it. His eyes lit up and he was clearly passionate about the organization. He said he used to be quiet about it, but now he tells everyone about it. He has even involved his children in the volunteer work. What a great spirit of giving back. We should all strive to help others and to give back to our communities.
Love your family. One thing that struck me at the viewing were all the portraits and snapshots of Scunny, his wife, Jackie, and their kids. As you looked at all the hugging and giggling in photos, his love for his family is clear. Show the same love for your family.
Love your work. Scunny was a regular fixture at the Canton establishments he owned. He always took the time to smile, laugh and chat with patrons. He was devoted to running successful restaurants with happy customers. I have befriended a few of his employees, and they have nothing but love for their former boss. He loved what he did, and it showed.
I am grateful to have known such a fun-loving, generous person, and hopefully I can incorporate some of these lessons as well … beginning with filling out the volunteer form for Believe in Tomorrow. RIP Scunny.
Support Scunny and Believe in Tomorrow this Wednesday, Aug. 29 by having dinner in Canton or in Fells Point.
August 29, 2012 10:16
By Jennifer Williams
In September 2002, I was assigned to cover a Mass at St. Gregory the Great Church on North Gilmor Street near North Avenue. I had never been to Mass at a predominantly black Catholic parish, and I had no idea what I was about to experience.
Parishioners from northern Baltimore County’s Catholic Community of St. Francis Xavier in Hunt Valley had formed a partnership with St. Gregory and wanted to celebrate Mass with the community.
It was a Sunday that I will never forget. Attending Mass at St. Gregory was unlike any Catholic Mass I had ever experienced. The church was packed. There was a special place for the “elders” of the community in the front pews. You couldn’t help but be moved and inspired by the gospel choir. There was so much clapping and singing and genuine enthusiasm for worship.
Carla Waller, a St. Francis Xavier parishioner who was in attendance said, “I can’t really express it with words. It was very uplifting and moving. I think it was a wonderful, cultural experience.”
The leadership behind that joyful liturgy was Monsignor Damien Nalepa – a Pittsburgh native who served as pastor of the inner-city church since 1981. He was small in stature, with a distinctive voice and rather large glasses.
But what I learned that day and would come to discover in many moments over the next decade, is that Monsingor Nalepa had a huge heart for his parish and the surrounding community.
Outreach has been a hallmark at St. Gregory, which also receives generous support from suburban parishes. That support is vital, because the need in the community is great.
“Many people are unemployed, there are a lot of single parents, housing is an issue and drug addiction is a major problem, so our ministries are determined and fashioned by the needs of the community,” said Monsignor Nalepa in a 2009 interview, the same year the parish celebrated its 125th anniversary.
“Our own people are not the richest in the world, but they respond to that appeal to reach out, and I think that’s my greatest pride in this,” Monsignor Nalepa said. “The people really understand that no matter how much we have, we are called to share that. Our people respond very generously to any appeal. What little they have, they are willing to give.”
Monsignor Nalepa gave too. From participating in peace vigils to supporting a gun buy back program, the pastor of 31 years and priest of more than 40 years gave all that he had to support his parish and community. Monsignor Nalepa died Aug. 4. He celebrated a funeral Mass earlier and then passed away while resting in his chair. St. Gregory and the city of Baltimore have lost a great leader. May he rest in peace.
August 06, 2012 01:22
By Jennifer Williams
Christopher Schardt, husband of the late Ginny Schardt; Joan Worthington, sister of Ginny; and Henry Mitchell and Rebecca Berger, friends of the late Jessica Cowling; continue to support The Red Devils, an organization started 10 years ago in honor of the two women. The group is pictured at Goucher College, the location of The Red Devils 5K Run and Stroll June 10 to support families of those with breast cancer.(Courtesy Liz Chuday)
Well before Virginia “Ginny” Schardt was diagnosed with breast cancer, the St. Mary of the Assumption, Govans, parishioner and 1975 graduate of the Institute of Notre Dame shared with her younger sister a lesson.
“Every day before I get out of bed, I think of three things I’m happy for,” she said.
Those words have stuck with Joan Worthington, one of Ginny’s five sisters, for years.
“To this day, I still think of three things I’m happy for,” Worthington said. “You have a much better life when you’re happy and more positive about your life.”
Many people have positive memories of Ginny, an engaging and caring wife, step-mother, sister and teacher who continued working as a professor of kinesiology, travelling and living her life as she underwent treatment for breast cancer.
Ginny died Aug. 16, 2002 at the age of 44, but her spirit has carried on, in a big way, through an organization called The Red Devils.
During her treatment, Ginny befriended Jessica Cowling, a young woman with cancer that had metastasized. Ginny’s husband, Christopher Schardt, and Jessica’s parents became friends during this time as well, and after the death of their loved ones, needed somewhere to channel their energy. So they launched The Red Devils, an organization which seeks to improve the quality of life of families living with breast cancer. The Red Devils help cover the cost of transportation to and from treatments, house cleaning and meals, as well as emergency needs that may arise.
(The name Red Devil was inspired by Katherine Russell Rich, author of “The Red Devil: To Hell With Cancer and Back.” Red Devil is a common name for a chemotherapy drug known to many breast cancer survivors for its bright red color.)
It’s been nine years since I interviewed Christopher Schardt, 10 years since the creation of The Red Devils, and nearly 10 years since the anniversary of Ginny’s death.
The Red Devils have been going strong and help cancer patients in more than 38 Maryland hospitals, according to their website.
This weekend The Red Devils are holding their largest annual fundraiser, a 5K Run & Stroll June 10 at Goucher College (on-site registration begins at 7 a.m.).
Christopher Schardt, who is now general manager of Harbor Place and the Gallery in downtown Baltimore, said he doesn’t think they ever envisioned that 10 years down the road, “we’d still be as actively involved in it and that there’d unfortunately still be a huge need for the services we provide.”
Schardt, who is active on the board and in the organization, said the model they developed 10 years ago to help people as they are fighting breast cancer has proven to be very effective. The top three services the Red Devils offer through third party partners are food, housecleaning and transportation to and from treatments, he said.
The annual run raised $110,000 in 2011 and The Red Devils hope to grow that amount this year, he said.
“What keeps us going is the difference we’ve been able to make,” said Schardt. “We’re not out there trying to cure breast cancer or make huge strides in that regard. We’re out there to make a difference in their lives during the process. And when you see that our efforts, as small as they may seem and be, have made such an impact on these people’s lives and allowed them to cope a little bit better with this terrible disease, it keeps you going. “
Worthington, who has served on The Red Devils board for six years and will serve as president next year, became emotional as she recounted the letters from women and families they have helped.
“It’s usually the moms or the caretaker of the family who has breast cancer, so they can’t do those day-to-day things to keep moving along, such as make dinner and clean the house,” Worthington said. “That just makes everything more off balance. We want to give them something that’s normal. Housecleaning for six months helps them out so much. It seems like such a small thing.”
She said with their family, everyone was able to take a day with Ginny, to drive her to appointments, drive her to class or whatever she needed.
“We were lucky that we could provide that to Ginny,” Worthington said. “So many other families don’t have that.”
A big support for The Red Devils has come from Ginny’s IND classmates and alumni. Ginny and four of her sisters attended the Baltimore City school.
“The strong ties with Ginny’s IND friends have really helped make the Red Devils a huge success,” Worthington said. “The new president of the school already made a donation this year.”
Tricia Hayden, a 1980 graduate of the school is the services manager for The Red Devils, and past board member Jeanne Backof and board member and treasurer Tricia Thomas also attended IND.
Schardt recalled nine years ago how his wife, who was baptized, confirmed and married at St. Mary’s, continued teaching throughout her cancer and packed her life full of activity.
“Cancer is a club you don’t want to join, but all of the sudden, you realize there are plenty of members,” he said then. “But as I saw with my wife, your mental attitude, your faith and your determination can work just as strong as chemotherapy.”
To make a donation to the Red Devils, visit http://www.the-red-devils.org/wp3/.
June 07, 2012 04:11
By Jennifer Williams
I met John Petrovick at a backyard barbecue in May of last year. Five minutes after we met, he flashed a bright, genuine smile and asked me if I wanted a cheeseburger. Of course I replied with a resounding “yes please!” and promptly devoured it.
I was so intrigued with this cool new person in my life, that I hadn’t even noticed, as a close friend pointed out later, that John had a scar on his head from surgery after having a brain tumor removed. He was just 27 at the time. I remember thinking “Wow, that’s a lot to go through at such a young age. I’m glad he is doing well and happy now though.”
Barely one month later, John was out running and had a seizure. A new tumor had taken residence in his brain.
Right from the start, John had a positive outlook.
This is part of an entry from a blog he wrote in June 2011:
“But what I will say is that I am convinced I will come through this fine and for anyone who has ever had an argument or a conversation with me you know that once I am convinced of something I won’t be talked out of it. I don’t plan on starting now!”
Sadly, despite this great attitude and the tremendous support of family and so many friends, John lost his battle with cancer this Saturday. He died in the early morning hours of April 28, at the age of 28.
My heart broke for his family and for all of his close friends who had loved him and cheered him on throughout.
It’s so hard to imagine that just six months ago, he was running the Baltimore half-marathon, beside his doctor and friends.
Life is unfair and it can be cruel.
As I sat in church this weekend, praying for John’s family and friends, I thought about what you are supposed to take away from something like this.
Things don’t always work out the way we think. I appreciated John’s blog because it was so filled with honesty and emotion, about what it has been like to go through chemotherapy, radiation, a clincial trial, severe headaches, losing the ability to walk, then regaining the ability to walk. It spoke about anger and fear, pain and humility – about how he didn’t necessarily want to be anyone’s hero or inspiration … he simply wanted to live.
As I watched the 10 beaming children preparing to receive their First Communion at St. Casimir, I thought about the fact that right now, I have what John so desperately wanted and for which he fought so valiantly. I have good health and the chance to live. I don’t know why I have this opportunity and someone as wonderful as John had it taken from him.
As I watched Conventual Franciscan Father Dennis Grumsey tell the children what an important day this is for them, and as they renewed their baptismal promises, I found myself making a promise of my own.
I have decided that every single day, I will do one really good thing. I will probably end up doing a lot of crappy things too, but just as valiantly as John tried to live, I will try to do an act of good or kindness each day.
This will be my tribute to John and a reminder to myself of how short our life here on earth is and how important it is to truly live, to truly enjoy it and to truly make the most of it. I'm glad you're free from pain, John. Rest in peace.
To learn more about John Petrovick, visit:
April 30, 2012 05:00
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