Friday, July 29, 2011

Art at the Skate Park - Encouraging the Youth of Las Vegas

If you live in the Las Vegas area there is only one place to be on Saturday, July 30th at 6pm.

Come hang out at Winchester Park (here is a map to get there) and enjoy Art at the Skate Park, a skateboarding contest and art sale to benefit the Winchester Skate Team.

When you get there you will meet an extraordinary group of kids and their mentor, Hektor Esparza. I met Hektor a few years ago. Our children are friends and we'd been invited to dinner at the Esparza's home. I was immediately impressed with Hektor and his wife, Amey. They are, in essence, what I would like to be - salt of the Earth, good folk who care more about people and the world around them than they do about making a fast buck and owning the biggest TV on the block. They live their values, which is something you can't always say about people these days.

Hektor's job reflects the values of his family. With 24 years experience as a skateboarder, he works with at risk youth by taking their (and his) passion for skateboarding and using it as a vehicle to move them toward a well-balanced, successful life. It's not easy to become a member of the Winchester Park Skate Team. Just because a kid has a tough life doesn't mean that they are Skate Team material. The 14 youth chosen to be on the team first have to try out, prove that they maintain at least a C average in school, and that they are actively studying an art form. Watch them skate here.

Once on the team, the youth learn that the mandatory weekly meetings are about much more than skating technique. They are exposed to some of the best artists and minds in Clark County, constantly encouraged to do well in school, and consistently shown that the path to a successful future is though education.

Since the programs inception in 2006, many of the alumni are finishing high school (a few are the first in their families to do so), attending college, and have moved on to greater success in skateboarding and other creative interests.

In March of last year, KNPR interviewed Hektor and a members of the skate team. It is well worth a listen to hear from the boys how this program has affected their lives in a positive way.

With the flagship event, the Las Vegas Good Games, an annual multimedia art event designed to expose youth in the area to the arts and promote education, Hecktor brought together skating professionals and thousands of young people and their families this past spring. There were skating competitions and art exhibitions.

In an article in the Las Vegas Weekly featuring the Good Games, Hektor said about kids in the Las Vegas skating culture, “They’re getting bad information from the streets. They think the only way to success is to turn pro at skateboarding or get a good construction or hotel job. They don’t understand that they can use their creativity and intellect in a career, that they don’t just have to be laborers."

Hektor goes on to say that as a teen he was semi-homeless during his high school years. “I succeeded because I learned I can communicate.”

This Saturday's event reflects all that the Winchester Skate Team stands for. There will be skating contests for all ages and levels ($5 entry fee), numerous works of art available for purchase from students of area magnet schools and the skaters on the Winchester Skate Team.

The funds raised will be used for field trips to skate parks, museums and galleries, tours of college campuses, and cultural events. The money will help pay for tuition and other expenses for skate team members pursuing their education. It will pay for art supplies and the removal of graffiti at the skate park.

In June of this year, Hektor and Amey launched a non-profit, the Push Forward Skate Mentor Program. Push Forward has partnered with the Metro Arts Council of Southern Nevada to expand the model of the Winchester Skate Team to the other 30 skate parks in the Las Vegas Valley. After learning about the positive affect on each year's team at Winchester, just imagine how many Las Vegas youth will be lifted up to a better life with this new program.

If you would like to offer your help to Push Forward or you know someone of influence who would be interested in hearing about the program, contact me and I will make sure you connect with Hektor and Amey to share your great ideas.

See you at the park this Saturday! It's going to be a blast!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Detour To Planet Cancer

This little blog used to be very important to me. I'd wake up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday filled with ideas I wanted to write about. It was my mission, my little corner of the universe where I could express myself and hopefully, in the process, expose my readers to people who were working to make the world a better place. Maybe even inspire them and myself.

Then everything stopped. I'll always remember July 27th, 2010. It's marked on my soul like the births of my children, my wedding, and the day my brother died. I think of it as my cancer sandwich day.

That morning (after two years of hard work) I turned over a completed manuscript to my literary agent. I was so proud of the work my husband and I had done collaborating on a unique vampire book. It was going to be a best-seller. It still could be!

At 11am my doctor told me I had stage 3A breast cancer. I thought I was handling the news like a pro then she said the words chemotherapy and mastectomy and large tumor and radiation. Clearly, Dr. Spotts and her nurse knew how these conversations went because before my first tear fell a box of tissue was placed in my lap. After, my husband I went to a coffee shop and stared at each other until I could look at him without crying. He just kept repeating, "We're going to get through this."

Several weeks prior, we'd bought tickets to a Billy Jonas concert. He was coming to Las Vegas for the first time. I was so excited. The concert was as much for my youngest son as it was for me. If you're 6 years old, Billy Jonas is the coolest of the cool. Now I didn't want to go. I wanted to curl up in a ball in the center of my bed and scream. I went anyway. It was the best thing I could have done for myself and my family. I sat on the second row, directly below the band and wept during one of the songs - an unusual reaction to What Kind of Cat Are You? And when I introduced myself to Billy and his band mates, Ashley Jo Farmer and Sherman Hoover, I'm sure they thought I was some sort of crazy stalker. Let's just say I was a little off-kilter that night.

So, cancer sandwich - God knew what he was doing when he cushioned the most devastating news of my life with two fluffy-and-soft-as-white-bread, wonderful events.

Fast forward slightly through surgeries and four months of Chemotherapy. I spent them, alternately, on my couch and in my bed, watching NetFlix and crocheting hats for other baldies like me. I read books, mostly books about cancer, until my brain burned from too much information about miracle cures, side effects, and breast cancer recurrence rates. All my favorite foods tasted like a mouthful of copper pennies. Everything I wanted to eat was white - popcorn, ice cream, puddings, oatmeal, soups and gravy.

My doctor and the staff of Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada celebrated my last chemo session in December by presenting me with a pink crown and balloons. I cried about that, too. Those were tears of joy.

More surgery to remove my portacath and the lump in my breast. Then more surgery because the lumpectomy was not enough. I choose to have reconstruction done at the same time as the mastectomy...there will be more surgeries to complete the process. This is a long process. I'm telling you this because I know there is a woman out there who needs to talk to someone who has been me. I'll listen.

I have to thank my family and friends. My husband, Todd, was there with me at every appointment, every hospital visit. He held me and felt all my pain. He's is so very strong and loving beyond measure. My mother and father in law flew out from Georgia every three weeks to be with me on the days I had chemotherapy. My parents (all 4 of them) called me constantly. I can't wait to see them in September. My friends supported me with meals for my family when I was too weak to do anything but say thank you. They drove my children to school and brought me gifts. They flew across the country to be with me after surgery. I am truly blessed.

My newest venture is radiation therapy. I'm two weeks into a six week course - five days a week. My radiation oncologist and her tech are my new best friends. Hi John!

I'm close to the end of my stay on Planet Cancer. It's been an interesting trip with memories and insight I'd never have gained any other way...but, I'm not going back there again. Once was enough and I pray someday no one ever has to go...maybe, as a species, we'll lose the map and forget how to get there.

Thanks to the constant support of my family and friends, I'm feeling much better, more like myself. Actually, I feel like a better version of myself. For me, cancer was a cleansing process. It stripped away everything superficial and useless. It left me with a sturdy foundation upon which to rebuild my post-cancer self.

I like her. She has salt and pepper hair instead of blonde. Of course, I like coloring my hair so who knows what it will be in a year! When I see her in the mirror she has depth in her expressions. Her smile is huge and welcoming. Her heart is open. She is strong willed, opinionated, and not afraid of anything. She's had her feet to the fire long enough to scorch her soles and she's still running.

So that's where I've been for the last year. Now it's time to get back to this little blog that means so much to me. If you're reading, send your ideas. Who do you know that's making the world around them a better place? Who's spreading love? Who's a bright light in their community? Tell me about them and we'll share it here...together. I've missed you.