Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ultra run, art show, film to support Congo charity
SEACREST — Morning coffee was a special Congo blend as a crowd gathered in the offices of Amavida Coffee & Tea in Seacrest to hear about the company’s plans to aid destitute women in the region where the coffee originated.

“We’re hosting a 40-mile ultra run with On TheGround Global to raise funds for Project Congo, a gender equality and women’s empowerment initiative,” explained Casey Tindell-Trejo, Amavida’s marketing coordinator, in the lead-up to the meeting.

Amavida has long been associated with programs to educate and improve the quality of life of the coffee farmers with whom the company deals directly. Most of these have been in concert with On the Ground, a global charity founded by Chris Treter of Higher Grounds Trading Co.

Amavida has participated in On The Ground projects in Chiapas, Mexico, and Ethiopia, helping to provide potable water, financial training, and micro loans to those living in desperate conditions.

“We have the ability to take a very little amount of capital and do incredible stuff, see real impacts,” Treter said during a conference call. “We put in water projects (at Chiapas) at one-fifth the cost of what the Mexican government could do. This is real stuff. It works. It’s effective.”

The next projects on the agenda involve helping farmers and families in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where a constant state of war has lingered for decades, and where women — mostly widows — suffer the hardships. Several public events will take place locally to raise awareness and funds.

“The goal is to educate our community about what is going on abroad, and how we’re doing that through coffee — helping to create sustainable communities,” said Dan Bailey, founder and owner of Amavida.

The events planned through the fall and into the new year will include:

l Solstice Run: From sunrise to sunset Dec. 21, run 40 miles along Scenic 30A and nature trails around the towns to support Project Congo initiatives. No registration fees will be charged; instead, runners are asked to solicit pledges. Details:

Running a 5K for charity is laudable, Treter said, but “when you run 40 miles, you’re really bringing attention to something else.” In this case, he said, “Running is a bridge that provides an opportunity for people to pay attention to something that’s extremely important.”

l Paddle Run: Tentatively scheduled for Spring 2015, this will be a paddleboard event set on the coastal dune lakes of 30A.

l Project Congo Coffee: Amavida is bagging and selling a special blend of coffee grown in Congo; $5 per bag sold goes to Project Congo; each bag has photos from the region shot by Treter. Details:

l Art Show: Musician Cody Copeland is organizing an exhibit that will feature art created by locals on the theme of gender equality. (Date and location to be determined.)

l Screening “Virunga”: Amavida will host screenings of a documentary film about the Virunga National Park, one of the most bio-diverse locations on the planet, and home to the last of the mountain gorillas. (Dates and locations to be announced.) Park rangers protect this UNESCO world heritage site from armed militia, poachers and the dark corporate forces struggling to control Congo’s rich natural resources.

Treter, who has run ultra marathons for charity across Ethiopia, organized a Summer Solstice run in Travers City, Mich., that raised $30,000 for Project Congo. The money is being used at the coffee cooperative to boost education in gender equality and teach native women business skills. 

The money will also allow for micro-loans so the women can fund a business, raising their profile in their community.

The goal for Amavida’s Project Congo events is to raise $100,000.

On the Ground points to Zawadi Kaleura as an example of a real person the project will aid. Her husband drowned trying to cross a lake to Rwanda so he could buy sheet metal for the roof of their hut. Now she’s raising four boys in a region where constant conflict has destroyed the economy and killed nearly 6 million people.

Zawadi is a first year member of the Muungano coffee cooperative, but has only 700 trees from which she can harvest beans — not nearly enough to provide enough income to support her family.

Project Congo will provide a Gender Action Learning system and series of workshops for the area’s women to learn leadership, business and accounting skills, as well as micro-loans to help generate their own businesses and begin lifting themselves out of poverty. She said a micro-loan would allow her to buy and sell palm oil and soft drinks, making enough profit to maintain her home and send her children to school.

“If we could see the reality of our neighbors’ lives, we would take care of them — because we are a caring people,” Treter said.



Thursday, August 14, 2014

One last ‘na-nu’ before you go

Mork calling Orson. Come in, Orson.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — In June of last year, a supermoon was in the sky the night author and screenwriter Richard Matheson died. A supermoon painted the night in brilliant shades of blue last Sunday, as well, the night actor and comedian Robin Williams’ took his own life.

It’s getting to be that I dread the next supermoon, which will hang over us on Sept. 9, and wonder what its tides will wash to the heavens.

Among his many dramatic roles, Williams portrayed Chris, the lead character in a 1998 movie based on Matheson’s brilliant 1978 novel, “What Dreams May Come.” In the film, as in the book, Chris finds himself in heaven after a car crash, then descends into his wife’s self-imposed hell to rescue her soul after she commits suicide.

“It’s not about understanding,” Chris says in one scene, “it’s about not giving up!”

By Tuesday, social media was filled with lists of Williams’ roles that touched people — beginning with his antics as Mork from Ork and continuing through his recent TV series, “The Crazy Ones.” Many of them quoted from “Dead Poets Society” or “The World According to Garp” or even “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Many commented on “What Dreams May Come” and wondered how a man who starred in a film with such a transcendent message could fall victim to his own darkness.

It’s a valid question with a gaping hole in it that defies an easy explanation because it’s a darkness that defies logic. It’s almost more incredible that Williams was with us for so long, considering the depression with which he struggled throughout his life. He was the quintessential clown, laughing in public, crying in private. Victim of a disease that so many fail to understand, he tried to cope by turning his pain into other people’s laughter.

After a friend’s post on Facebook quoted a line of dialogue, I was reminded of a scene in Steven Spielberg’s “Hook,” in which Williams played an adult Peter Pan who returns to Neverland in search of his kidnapped children. He’s a sad man with a broken spirit, on his knees in the sanctuary of the Lost Boys. One of the children removes Peter’s glasses and touches his face, finally turning up the corners of his mouth. The child sees the ghost of a smile on the man’s face and says, “Oh, there you are, Peter!”

Or the scene in “Bicentennial Man,” an often overlooked gem of a movie in which Williams played a robot that longed to become human. “To be acknowledged for who and what I am, no more, no less. Not for acclaim, not for approval, but the simple truth of that recognition. This has been the elemental drive of my existence, and it must be achieved, if I am to live or die with dignity.”

In his too-short life, Williams earned the acclaim, the recognition, even the approval. So many times, the wonder of his talent, his lightning wit, his giving spirit were acknowledged. But the mystery and terror of his condition didn’t allow him to internalize the love, left him perhaps feeling like a sham, not even a whole human being.

He said in interviews that addiction robbed him of his dignity, and the manner of his death has robbed him of it once again. Just as it has robbed all of us who were children getting laughs in the classroom by repeating Mork’s jokes from the night before, or who laughed until we cried while listening to his album, “Reality: What a Concept,” or who were moved by his performance in “The Fisher King.”

If this loss is to mean anything, and though we may never understand, we must never give up.

Na-nu, Na-nu

Friday, August 08, 2014

Writers' Jargon (7)

Writers have their own language. A shorthand, if you will. Outsiders (non-writers) think they know what most of these words and phrases mean. But they don't. Here, in a continuing series of posts, I will divulge the SECRET MEANINGS OF WRITERS' JARGON.

Synopsis: (thought experiment) If you could have told the story in a couple of pages, you wouldn’t have spent years writing 90,000 words.

Exposition: (legal term) The position your ex-spouse takes when suing for half of the earnings from the book you finally published after she/he left, citing emotional, financial and other forms of support during your years of work on the manuscript.

Preface: (noun) The youthful, hopeful, unlined features a writer puts forward before beginning work, as compared to the old, tired, bitter, wrinkled face he ends up with. be continued ...

Thursday, August 07, 2014

GCSC summer program reworks ‘Miracle’

Cover Artwork
PANAMA CITY — Summer has found Gulf Coast State College students molding something new out of a “miracle” story.

The GCSC 2014 Summer Theatre Project, taught by Associate Professor of Music Scott Kirkman and Associate Professor of Theatre Jason Hedden, is called “From Page to Stage, the Making of a Musical.”

In the six-week course, students formed an artistic team to adapt the novel, “Miracle of the White Leaves,” by Dr. Stephen Dunnivant, dean of GCSC’s Advanced Technology Center, and his daughter, Gina Dunnivant, with art by Gina Ricci. Students were tasked to produce a play script, create original music and design concepts for costumes, sets and props with a goal of preparing a workshop production at GCSC in the autumn semester, as well as a “world premiere” in 2015 at the Marina Civic Center.

“We've been trying for years to have them perform a free show for our elementary grades at the Marina Civic Center,” said Jennifer Jones of Bay Arts Alliance, who has been sitting in on workshop presentations this summer. “I’m a big advocate for adding the ‘A’ for ‘Arts’ into the STEM curriculum.”

“Miracle of the White Leaves” is the tale of a monk, two children, and the youngest daughter of Europe’s greatest king, destined to bond with unexpected allies no larger than your finger. Together, these unlikely heroes plant the seeds to unite a continent and save civilization in its darkest hour. Originally a screenplay, the elder Dunnivant refashioned the tale into a novel.

“It’s really fantasy-oriented, set in the time of King Charlemagne, so it also has the historical element,” Jones said of the work.

The summer program was open to GCSC students and community members with interest and skills in writing, storytelling, singing, songwriting, instrumental music, acting, dance, choreography, design, photography, costuming, videography, sound recording and visual art. The entire process was documented on video.

“We had 18 students registered in the class and two community collaborators,” Hedden said. “We will do a workshop production for fourth- and fifth-grade ESE students from Bay District Schools, and then the world premiere for 2,000 third-graders in April 2015.”

The show at the Civic Center will be part of the Very Special Arts Festival, an annual enrichment activity for students with learning challenges, Jones said. The Civic Center will also host a finished, full-scale musical production for the general public.

“The 2014 Summer Theatre Project has been, by far, the most fascinating, exciting, memorable college experience I’ve ever had,” said participant Jenny Hammond, who received her associate of arts degree in Liberal Arts at GCSC this year, graduating Magna Cum Laude. “I am so happy to be a part of something that will touch so many others if only for 50 minutes of their lifetime. It will be something that stays with me for years to come.”

Jacob Walsingham, a Mosley High School student dual-enrolled at GCSC this summer, said the class taught him that it can take “a lot of trial and error to make your ideas come to life.”

The Dunnivant family lives in Panama City Beach. Before joining GCSC, Stephen Dunnivant taught middle school grades in Bay County, where he has lived for more than 35 years. He has worked at Gulf Coast for more than 17 years.

The son of a musician, his early years were spent traveling from the mountains of upstate New York to the cotton fields of Arkansas. He credits his mother, Evelyn Audrey Beardsley, with instilling in him the joy of reading.

“Like so many sons, he grew up listening to stories from his mother,” Stephen Dunnivant’s Amazon biography states. “One day, an uncle in Arkansas sat in awe watching Audrey read to her children. He told her later that he had never seen anyone do that before. While this was the 1960s, sadly, many parents still do not read to their kids.

“As it was in the 8th and 9th century so long ago, education is the only enduring escape from poverty and ignorance.”