You Never Know The Difference You Are Making

in the lives of others. That lesson was clearly demonstrated to me yesterday. I’ve been teaching Security Management courses at Webster University both in the classroom and online for 15 years. While a few students have stood out over those years, most have blended in over time to names on a class roster.

A few weeks ago at the security conference I attend each year, I met a young man I thought I was meeting for the first time. But he shared with me that we had in fact met, in 2005 when he was a student in one of my Webster University classes held at Joint Base Bolling. I felt bad that I didn’t remember him, but as our conversation continued he thanked me for “changing his life” and shared that my passion for and commitment to the security management profession spurred him to “aim high” in his career as well.

In the nine years since the young man was in my class, he had indeed “aimed high” and achieved mightily!! He’s now a high ranking security person in the U.S. Capitol! Wow!! He offered to give me a “behind the scenes tour” of the Capitol and yesterday afternoon was the day we selected.

We met in the Capitol Visitors Center, which I confess I hadn’t been to previously (it opened a few years ago). The tour was simply fabulous and I was shown some amazing things!! Every person we passed, my former student introduced me as the “professor who had changed his life”. He seemed so proud to be showing me around his “fancy office building”, but not nearly as proud as I was of him!!

I thought a lot last night about the lives we all touch on a daily basis and how we may never know the impact we have on others!! I no longer feel bad about the fact that I didn’t remember my student because I did the job I committed to doing when I began teaching. I treat all my students the same and give the same level of energy and enthusiasm in every class. The fact that something I said or did during a class stuck with this student and pushed him to the level of success he’s achieved, thrills me to no end!!

How many lives will you touch today? We should all “aim high” in our interaction with others because you never know the difference you might be making in someone’s life!

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An Extraordinary End To A Sad Beginning

Yesterday’s beginning was one to forget. Whenever your phone rings prior to 7 am, it’s typically not a good thing!!! I learned via phone at 6:35 am that a man I’d worked with on a training program for the Department of Homeland Security had died suddenly on Thursday evening. I had just talked to him on Tuesday and we made plans to get together next week to make updates to our training class. I was mortified after the call. I’m not sure how old he was, but he was definitely younger than forty. Later in the day, I learned that he had died of a massive heart attack. I was beyond sad!!

On my flight to Chicago I thought a lot about my friend and the fun we’d had over the past two years delivering training. As the plane landed I wasn’t too excited about giving the book presentation for Arden Courts that had been rescheduled from last month. I got to the hotel and worked for a few hours prior to the event. As I put on my purple clothes for Alzheimer’s awareness, which have become my trademark for all my presentations, I began to get excited. I headed the three miles to the event location almost an hour early. As I drove onto the road where Arden Courts is located, I saw something I’d not seen before… A banner announcing my presentation!!! What???? WOW!!

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When I arrived in the lobby of the Memory Care Community it was almost pandemonium. Someone yelled “Loretta’s here!!!” over the loudspeaker. The locked doors to ensure residents couldn’t wander off began to click open and staff members came from everywhere. Choruses of “Hi Loretta” began. I was hugging people I’d never met as if we’d known each other for our entire lives. In reality, I had known them for exactly one month, when we had talked via phone for hours as the flight delays from a fire in the FAA Tower dragged on for hours and I was unable to get to the event.

After all the hugging, Pat, the wonderful Director at Arden Courts, ushered me outside to the banner and instructed a selected camera person to take photos of me and the banner for the Chicago Tribune. There is a Manor Care facility next to the Arden Courts (they are owned by the same company) and some of their staff members also came out to wave and snap photos!!! Holy Cow!!!

We then arrived in the community room where I’d be speaking, and you could immediately smell the wonderful meal being prepared for the attendees of the event. There was more hugging of the staff members I hadn’t met, and a special hug was given to Van, the woman who is the head chef for the facility!! Her meal was beyond awesome and I felt special!!

As we set up my laptop for the presentation, we noticed that we needed a HDMI cord to make it work, but the facility had misplaced their cord and I didn’t have one with me. But not to fear, since it was still 45 minutes until the start of the dinner I said I’d drive to the Radio Shack just two blocks away to get one.

Just then three people simultaneously volunteered to drive me and a very friendly ruckus broke out to see who was going to get the honor!! This was sooooo much fun!! Kathy was selected to drive and we were back with the cord in less than 15 minutes. There was more talking, laughing and hugging as setup continued and attendees began to arrive. There was something really special about this Arden Courts staff. They were of all ethnicities and ages, yet they didn’t just work together they seem to REALLY love each other too. What wonderful warmth filled the room!!!

As I signed books that Pat had ordered in advance from the Manor Care warehouse for the attendees, Pat began to give me the names of all of her staff members so they could receive copies of my book as well.

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Many of them were surprised and seemed just overjoyed to receive a personally signed copy the book. As the meal started, Chef Van hugged her book and didn’t put it down. Tears came to my eyes as the entire scene was almost overwhelming.

The presentation went incredibly well. Instead of the fifty people who were scheduled to attend the September presentation, more than 60 people were in attendance, which they attributed to the banner they had hung outside. I learned later that it was the FIRST time ever that Arden Courts had used a banner in their marketing. Again, WOW!! Pat said that the other Chicago area locations that had hosted me earlier in the year had encouraged her to host me as well. She said she was overjoyed she did. Attendees left full of food, information, and hope for the future, all of which they said they attributed to me. As Pat and I read through the evaluations, they all were perfect fives and everyone wrote comments about how great I was! One person wrote “Best presentation ever! So worth the 50 miles I drove to get here!” Reading the comments people had written inspired me to keep doing what I’m doing!!

After the presentation Pat and I sat in her office for more than an hour and just talked about life, our jobs and families and it was one of the best times of my career. To top it off, she gave me a special gift. It’s the 20th
anniversary of Arden Courts and they had special tea cups made for special clients and Pat gave one to me!!! She also promised to mail me the banner next week. They are going to leave it up for a few more days to hopefully spur more book sales for me. How cool is that?? All of the Arden Courts are special, with special people who work in an amazing culture of love and care, but the Palos Heights Illinois group seems to be the most extraordinary of all!!

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I had given everything I had to that presentation and was so exhausted by the time I arrived back at the hotel that I immediately went to bed!! When I woke up this morning, I realized that of all the books I has signed last night, I hadn’t signed one for Pat, the most special person of all!! So I drove back to Arden Courts before heading to the airport and put Pat’s signed copy of the book under the door to her office. I think she’ll be surprised, but there was no way I could leave her out as she’s an outstanding person!! Pat and her group had helped to turn a really sad day into an extraordinary one! I’m truly blessed and beyond grateful for the experience!! My Mom would be so proud of me!!

You Really Can Blend Work and Play in a Meaningful Way!!

For almost a year I’ve been collecting and building LEGO sets that I believed could really bring to life the tabletop exercises I participate in with my clients in emergency and disaster planning. One of my goals for 2014 was to blend my work and my LEGO hobby together as much as possible.

I began by assembling a “town” of people, vehicles and buildings that could be used as part of the exercises. Because there would need to be EMTs, fire, security and police response in many situations, my LEGO town also includes a mobile police command center, fire engines and ambulances (complete with stretchers), police cars, motorcycles, helicopters, boats and even a K-9 unit with two police dogs (in honor of Tim and Bear’s career).

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I pay a special thanks to Tim and Paul Roberts Abernathy, my Constructionists (as the LEGO Group calls them), who spent hours helping me to put these kits together. I recently added two LEGO Architecture structures which could easily serve as corporate or government office buildings. So once my building projects were all finished, then what?? Would my plan really work as I had intended?

To test out my theory that I could use my passion for LEGO bricks in my actual work, I used my “town” as part of a security class I was teaching this week at Prince George’s Community College. Tim and I packed all of the required parts of the “town” into containers lined with bubble wrap and I prayed that all of the parts would stay together during the 20 minute ride in the car!!

We were covering emergency planning and disaster response that night, so I downloaded the college’s emergency plan and built our class exercise from that plan. Each student had a specific role in the exercise, as spelled out in the actual plan.

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None of these students had ever participated in an emergency exercise, but a soon as I took the cover off the LEGO town, they were excited and ready to play and learn!! They played their roles in our active shooter situation to perfection, opening and closing college buildings as required, working as a team and calling in appropriate resources as they needed them. I had the response people and vehicles hidden, and didn’t add them to the exercise until the students requested them, exactly as a real exercise would work. One of the students commented “we need a helicopter so we can see where the shooter is hiding!” When I reached into the container and pulled out the LEGO police helicopter, the students went wild with excitement!!!

To say that the exercise was a success would be an understatement!! We all had a blast!! But the students recognized how hard it is to do everything correctly and as planned during an emergency or crisis! They concluded that the college’s emergency plan is a good one and would work if followed by all parties involved!!

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We even ended the exercise in real fashion with one of the students giving a live press conference on the event to a LEGO reporter and cameraman. It doesn’t get much better than that!! They learned so much during this exercise and I certainly did too!! You really can blend work and play in a meaningful way!!

What A Difference 20 Minutes Could Make!!

Caregivers are Special people!! I speak with first-hand knowledge because I know some incredible caregivers, and I’m in my eighth year as my Mom’s caregiver. You may know that caregiving can have harmful mental and physical health consequences. These consequences can include depression, fatigue, stress and even chronic illness. What you may not know is that the latest research shows that caregiving can take as much as 10 years off a family caregiver’s life. Cruel right??

Many of you know I am a member of the Facebook Support Group called US Against Alzheimer’s, and I’m one of the groups moderators. It’s an amazing place where caregivers can vent when they need to, get questions answered and find comfort and support as well. That site also allows members to read about new research and studies and Alzheimer’s data. One of these studies is the reason I need the help of my caregiving friends!!

How do you know if you’re a Caregiver? You’re a caregiver if you

  • are a daughter supporting your mom with memory problems – and mom lives in another state.
  • missed your son’s last football game to deal with a crisis with your parent who has memory issues.
  • are a working woman who has to take time off work to drive your dad (who has memory issues) to doctor appointments.
  • are a mom trying to raise your children and support your parent with memory issues at the same time.
  • are a dad who gave up a fishing trip with your kids this summer to support a parent with memory issues.

If you are a Caregiver, all I need is a mere 20 minutes of your time. Why is this important? Because the 20 minutes you’d spend on this online survey would help researchers focus on the cognitive toll of caregiving. It’s important because what would happen to our loved ones if something happens to us?? Taking this survey shows the research community that caregivers can be valuable research partners. With this survey we’re creating the largest virtual cohort of caregivers to join together on the front lines of research without ever leaving home.

The 21CBT / Health e-Brain Study invites caregivers to complete a quick lifestyle survey and take a Lumosity brain performance test. And the results will be shared to help you protect your health for the future. Those of you who know me well know that my number one fear when I was younger was dying from my fairly long illness and leaving my Mom alone. My other fear, getting Alzheimer’s disease myself… If I was that unlucky, I’d want my caregiver family and friends to take a study like the one in the link below, especially if it could be something that helps them in the long run.

Click here to learn more and participate in the 21CBT/Health e-Brain Study. Your participation will contribute to critical Alzheimer’s prevention studies.

I hate Alzheimer’s disease with a passion and I hate it even more knowing that it doesn’t just destroy our loved ones, it can destroy us too!! Since we can’t do anything about preserving our loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease, Anything I can do to help preserve the health of caregivers I’m more willing to do. Please help if you’re a caregiver or share this link if you know someone who is. If my Mom could understand the work I’m doing in the fight against the disease that’s slowly taking her from me, she’d be proud. It’s ALL for you Mom, Love you!!

Not All Memories Are Memorable!

It’s hard to believe we’ve only been camping for a little over nine weeks, taking a total of seven trips, including a one night trip in the huge park and campground in our neighborhood and two three night stays over holiday weekends. We feel like pros already and are in this camping venture as true partners. We share equally in camper setup and breakdown, campfire maintenance and kitchen cleanup, though Tim is definitely our primary chef and driver. We’ve yet to have any mechanical problems and have learned much more about our travel trailer than I thought we possibly could in such a short period of time.

We’ve named our travel trailer correctly (Memory Maker) because the memories we’ve made thus far have been amazing!! We met up with some new friends at Natural Bridge and reconnected with one of my oldest friends and her family last weekend at a beautiful marina. In the two nights Kendal has spent with us, particularly when she, Kim and Herb came with us to PA for a Thomas the Train event, the memories we made were too numerous to count. Some of these fun times rank up there with the best times of our lives thus far.

Of course we knew that not all memories we’d make would be great, and an experience we had this weekend confirmed that. When we purchased our camper we vowed to get out and explore every town we stayed in, and particularly that we would eat out and contribute to the local economy. You never know what you’re going to experience when you do venture out, so I knew we needed to be ready for anything. After a very rainy Saturday that we spent building Lego projects, we were looking forward to seeing the town on Sunday. We loved our campground, as it was beautiful, and nicely decorated for Halloween too! But we had also seen signs for another campground in the area that we wanted to check out for a potential future visit because we liked the town so much. So after a beautiful morning in the beach town, we headed to check out the other local camping option.

Driving onto the property the first thing we noticed was how crowded it was. I mean we’ve been to crowded campgrounds, but each site is usually at least a picnic table apart. In some of the spots in this place, it appeared that the “neighbor” wasn’t even able to open the door of their camper without hitting the camper next to them. We parked anyway and went to what we thought was the “office” and met a very friendly young woman who shared that her location was only the “camp store” and that even though the office shack we passed looked empty, the worker was indeed in there probably “laying back in his chair”…. “Hmmm”, Tim and I both thought, but were determined to check it out. If you know Tim at all, you know he is the same with everyone he meets. We opened the door and saw a gentlemen sitting at a small desk who clearly was NOT excited to see us. Tim said “Hi!! we’d like to get some pricing info on your campground”. From where he was seated the man practically “tossed” a map and brochure at us and invited us to “look around” if we wanted to. I immediately felt like tossing the brochure back at him, but refrained. Poor Tim kept trying to be pleasant and engaging but to no avail.

We got back in our SUV to drive around and take a look in spite of what we were both feeling. I was grateful right away that we were driving around the campground as opposed to walking. It turns out that the “campground” was actually a trailer park for 150 or so residents, with maybe 30 spots for “campers”. It looked more like a permanent little city (I’ll refrain from calling it what I believe it looked like) in the middle of the woods. There were huge refrigerators and sofas outside the trailers, clothes hanging on clothes lines going in all directions and broken down cars (ok, you get the picture)… Lots of folks were out enjoying the day, but unlike most “campers” not one person waved at us as we drove by. The looks we got were more like “you MUST be lost”!! Then we saw the scariest sight of all and they weren’t Halloween decorations, they were Confederate flags! The flags were hanging from almost on every other trailer. Some of the folks who were out on their DIY ” decks were even wearing confederate flag bandanas. “Uh oh, definitely time to go!”…..

I’m thinking maybe we could turn around and quickly leave. But unfortunately it was a huge one way circle requiring that we continue the journey, though it was the last thing we wanted to do. I felt Really uncomfortable…..and would have been flat out scared if I had been by myself. I prayed that our vehicle not break down before we could get out of there because who knows what would have happened.

I had read about places that advertise themselves as campgrounds but are actually trailer parks with a few spaces for actual overnight campers, but hadn’t seen one until yesterday. Tim and I talked right away about what we would do if we arrived at a campground where we felt too uncomfortable or unsafe to stay. Without hesitation we decided we would simply drive away and give up our full deposit, as most campgrounds charge your credit card in full when you make reservations and typically don’t give refunds. But peace of mind was why we wanted to resume camping in the first place, so we’d never compromise that over a few dollars.

It was Amazing to me how vastly different the two campgrounds were, though just a few miles from each other. In the campground Tim reserved for us, the people were friendly, inviting, and waved and had a kind word every single time we walked by…. On all the trips we’ve taken thus far, except for one Scoutmaster we saw at a Hagerstown, MD campground we’ve been the only African-Americans in residence. Yet, if people cared about our ethnicity, no one showed it. At the campground we visited yesterday, the residents clearly “cared” about our ethnicity and let the looks they gave us convey their feelings. If we had made reservations there, we would gladly have given up our reservation for a place we would had felt welcome, even if it was just a Walmart parking lot (many Walmarts allow and even encourage campers to use their parking lots overnight for free). Because we’ve chosen a “travel hobby” where we are typically going to be in the minority, some of the memories that may be thrust upon us may be those we’d like to forget.

One of Tim’s favorite sayings when something isn’t up to our liking is “moving on”…. And that’s what we did from the other campground we visited as quickly as we could. Thankfully our fabulous camping memories far outweigh the experience we had on our “other campground tour”, but I have to admit that the experience gave me a chill down my spine that I hadn’t felt in years. As I write this post on our short trip home, I’m beyond grateful for the all of wonderful folks we’ve met along the way who’ve given us camping and RV tips, traded barbs about sports teams, or shared their favorite travel locations with us. Our camping neighbors last weekend even gave us homemade zucchini bread and egg rolls to share with our friends who came to visit us. Those are the camping memories we want to remember, the ones I’ll be writing about in my journal, and the rest I’d just as soon toss in the campfire.

When Everyone Knows Your Name!!!

The last week was quite the week!! I almost went to Chicago. I attended a birthday party for someone I didn’t know, I participated in a fabulous dedication service at church and I attended my beloved annual ASIS security seminar and exhibits, though only a shortened version. Tim convinced me to drive the ten hour trip as opposed to our original plan to fly after all our flights were canceled due to the ongoing problem in Chicago. Throughout the last 7 days, I felt a lot like Norm from the old television show Cheers,where every day after work he’d walk into a bar named Cheers and everyone would simultaneously yell “Norm!!” He’d smile, head straight to his barstool and order his favorite beer.

When everyone knows your name you feel special and at home even if you don’t know the people all that well. Last Friday September 26th I spent most of the day at National Airport with thousands of other people who were trying to get to Chicago after a suicidal man purposely started a fire in a FAA tower stranding thousands of passengers for days. A woman named Cheryl was supposed to sit across from me on our original flight so we had boarded, then unboarded the plane together. Cheryl and I hung out at the airport the entire day, hoping and praying together that we’d get to our destinations, though neither of us did. We plugged in our laptops and got work done during the long hours of waiting. We watched each other’s phones and laptops when we purchased food, went for short walks or used the restrooms. We held each other’s spot in line as we tried to get a flight any way possible. When we finally departed the airports for our homes, we hugged goodbye as if we had known each other forever. I’ll never forget Cheryl or her name.

The very next day I represented the Alzheimer’s Association at a 50th birthday party for a gentleman with early onset Alzheimer’s. It was such fun and his wife really made what could have been a really depressing occasion into a joyous celebration. I distributed Alzheimer’s literature and answered questions and enjoyed the loving family atmosphere for four hours, which lasted way past my bedtime! I never got tired because I was excited to be part of the experience of a night to remember for Gerald. His wife is an extraordinary woman who has much hope for Gerald’s future and is convinced that they will have more joyous days than sad ones. As I was leaving for the night, Gerald yelled out after me, “thanks Loretta”. The fact that there were more than 100 people in attendance at his party that he knew well, even with his struggle with a horrible disease, he remembered my name! It’s a moment I’ll remember forever.

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Then last Sunday at St Mark’s we had a glorious service to dedicate the completion of the Parish House. With my co-vergers Jan and David, we served with our Rector Paul and Associate Rector Justi and Mariann, the Bishop of Washington to dedicate all of the new rooms and areas in the Parish House. I haven’t had that much fun in a service in a long time. So many amazing people worked tirelessly over the last few years to make last Sunday come to fruition. For much of the pre-service preparation, people were constantly calling my name in order to ask questions or raise concerns. It was organized chaos…. but a truly emotional and unforgettable day!

Tim and I rushed from church immediately after the church photo and made the drive down 95 south to Atlanta. I was really dreading the drive but it was so much fun!! Thanks to Tim I arrived in time enough to get a great night’s sleep to be ready for the whirlwind ride also know as the ASIS Seminar and Exhibits!!! The two days we spent there were awesome. Lots of work and interacting with so many folks who ALL know my name and are constantly calling on me for introductions, advice and just to catch up. It can be hard to catch my breath sometimes but it was amazing fun, though overwhelming at times too. There were two highlights of the seminar for me. One of them was pure fun at the Atlanta Aquarium where we ran around like little kids all night….

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The other involved meeting two extraordinary women at the Tuesday ASIS luncheon. They were the security management team of the Georgia World Congress Center where the ASIS Seminar was being held. Not only did these two women NOT know my name, they had never even heard of me, which by Tuesday afternoon was refreshing!!!!! I asked to sit with them for lunch because for an hour I just wanted to be with folks who would engage in great lunch conversation as opposed to talking about ASIS. Selecting their table was an excellent decision and we had  a very special time. Because the luncheon featured recognition of current and former ASIS Leadership, my background was revealed. My two new friends were so impressed when they learned I was the first African-American ASIS Board member and they commented right away about the fact that everyone who passed our lunch table “knew my name!”. They came to my session after lunch and I introduced them to everyone so they would feel included and valued, because they were tremendous women. The next day, they both sent me individual emails thanking me for being such gracious to them and for making them feel special!! It was the best time ever and I plan to stay in touch with them.

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Bottom line is that we all feel special when folks know and use our names….. It’s confirming of our identity and recognition that people care enough for us enough to address us by name. There are times that I love it when people know my name and other times when I prefer to blend in and remain anonymous. Do you ever wish you could be anonymous? And how does it feel when others don’t call you by your correct name? That used to be a huge pet peeve for me, especially when someone confused me with another African-American because we all “look alike”, but as I’ve gotten older I just correct the person and let it go.

There is one person I wish I could share last week’s adventures and accomplishments with and have a laugh and smile together about them, and that person of course is my Mom Doris. She’s been on my mind all week, because as we all know, sometimes you just want your Mom. After the trauma and the many, many flight cancellations my Mom surely would have had words of consolation if she could understand what had occurred. After my presentations and much fun at ASIS my Mom would have been so proud of me and would have given me words of wisdom too, but with the invasion of dementia in our lives, a normal conversation is not to be. It’s funny how the one person I’d give anything to hear her call me by the name she gave me, probably never will call my name again…..and my name is a word, a sound I truly miss hearing from my Mom so much more than I can really explain. Thankfully, though many other people know my name and for that, I’m grateful!