Monday, May 16, 2011

George Dawson's Legacy: Never Too Old to Learn

The chapter, “Reader with McDuff,” in Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog tells about Steven and the Reading with Rover Program. Steven, a sandy-haired, chubby 5th grader with crippling reading difficulties, read to my remarkable Scottish terrier therapy dog every Saturday morning at the local library. He went from a D average to the honor roll after reading to McDuff for twelve weeks. Steven graduated from high school last year and is attending college. His mom told me he has a 4.0 grade point average. Learning to read well changed Steven’s life.

George Dawson didn’t experience Steven’s reading difficulties because he never learned how to read. Carl Henry, a literacy volunteer, knocked on his door and told him about adult education classes being taught nearby. At the age of 98, the grandson of slaves began to learn to read and write. He sat on his porch each morning eagerly waiting hours before time for Carl to pick him up and take him to class. At his 100th birthday party, he could sign his name and read his birthday cards for the first time in his life.

The 7th and 8th graders at the George Dawson Middle School realize the importance of reading because of Mr. Dawson’s legacy. I watched their comments about him and saw his inspiring story on The Oprah Show’s Greatest Lessons. By the time it ended, tears streamed down my cheeks.

In 2000, Mr. Dawson co-wrote his best-selling life story, Life Is So Good. He appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. His life has been profiled on The Discovery Channel, Nightline, People magazine and Good Morning America. Two universities awarded him honorary degrees before his death in 2001 at the age of 103.

George Dawson’s legacy lives on as inspiration to young and old alike. He proved that you are never too old to learn.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Healing Moose

The Healing Moose was well-known before I retired from the Clerk’s Office at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, to write my book, Life with McDuff: Lessons Learned from a Therapy Dog. He started on his journey in the winter of 2002 and is called by several names, Marty, Natasha, Natalie, Willard, and even “Magic Moose.” But, no matter the name or gender assigned, Healing Moose brought smiles, comfort, and moral support to colleagues and their families diagnosed with various cancers and other serious health problems. The Healing Moose represents well wishes, prayers, support and encouragement.

The moose is the official mascot of the courtroom clerks. We all contributed to the stuffed moose collection, and it grew over the years. Have you ever been “moosed?” Upon return to the office after vacation or illness, and for birthday celebrations, you’d find your work station buried under moose. On the computer, printer, desk, chair, file cabinet, everywhere imaginable, sat moose of all colors, sizes, and shapes.

It’s strange the effect a stuffed animal can have. I witnessed my son’s love for Teddy, a large stuffed, brown bear. He slept with him for years when he was a little boy. If he hurt himself playing or cried for other reasons, after I attended to him, I’d say, “Go get Teddy.” Off he’d dash. Teddy never failed to comfort him. One day he got mad at me and took it out on poor Teddy by giving him a swift kick in the rear.

My colleague, Cheryl Case, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Marty Moose went with her to doctor appointments, tests, chemo, radiation treatments, and surgery. He provided his special brand of comfort and helped to reduce her anxiety and stress. Today Cheryl is a Breast Cancer Survivor, my hero, and a source of inspiration. She participates in the annual Komen Race for the Cure and urges others to join her in the fight against breast cancer.

The Healing Moose is back with Cheryl. He deserves a rest and recognition for being a reminder of the moral support, prayers, and encouragement for colleagues, families, and friends.