Welcome to Paddle for a Purpose!

Hello! I’m Barb Geiger. This site is dedicated to my memoir, Paddle for a Purpose. Feel free to browse around. If you enjoy what you see, check out my author site, www.barbgeiger.com. There you can get to know me better, contact me, and learn about my other projects, including my new poetry chapbook, Mississippi Meanderings, coming soon from Local Gems Press!

My husband, Gene, is a dreamer. Maybe you know someone like that – someone who has grand ideas of epic adventures. Maybe you are a little like that yourself. Or maybe, you’re more like me; you’d need a pretty good reason to hop into a twenty-foot boat for five months. Either way, my memoir, Paddle for a Purpose, has something for you. I hope you’ll join us for an amazing adventure!

“You want to WHAT?” I ask, when Gene suggests, after one practice run in the tandem wooden kayak we built ourselves, that we take her down the Mississippi. The WHOLE Mississippi. Our search for a meaningful journey leads to a faith-inspired paddle down one of the most scenic and powerful waterways in the United States, stopping in quaint river towns along the way to volunteer with 26 different charity organizations. Overcoming obstacles like stump fields, poison ivy, boating accidents and equipment failures, a sense of humor, love and trust in God help us remain committed to the service purpose of our journey.

This book will appeal to anyone who dreams of taking an epic journey and those who are inspired by stories of God working in the world today. Campers, boaters, and nature lovers will enjoy the picturesque settings, the wildlife and the river’s changing moods. Readers looking for inspiration will find hope in the people we meet along the way and the touching stories of everyday heroes who donate their time and talents to offer compassion, care and opportunity to others.

Paddle for a Purpose was released by eLectio Publishing, a small faith-based press, on April 3, 2018. I admire the work they do, and am delighted to join the eLectio family of authors! On this website, you can find a link to eLectio Publishing, where you can purchase the book for yourself or for your friends. We will post current information about appearances and signings. But even more, you can visit here to see photo galleries of our trip – the rivers, the wildlife, and the amazing people we met. You’ll also find an interactive map of the towns along the river where we stopped to work with charity organizations. Pop-ups explain about each organization and link you to their websites, where you can learn more, volunteer, or donate to their missions if you wish. Feel free to visit us often, as you read your way down the river!

One hundred percent of the author profits of the sale of this memoir, after taxes and expenses, will be donated to charities including, but not limited to, the organizations highlighted in this book. We hope you will enjoy our adventure as much as we did!

Gratefully,

Barb and Gene Geiger

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Charity Spotlight: East Coast Greenway Alliance

After our Mississippi paddle, we sought out a way to “give back” the hospitality we received from the many river angels who aided us along the way. Since we live only a block away from the Glacial Drumlin rail trail in Wisconsin, we joined a cycling organization called Warm Showers and became hosts to cyclists pedaling across our state, often on their way from coast to coast. (See my Charity Spotlight blog about Warm Showers, published Aug, 2019.) We heard stories of their exciting cross-country treks, gleaned priceless bits of information from their experiences and began to develop a network of cycling contacts across the country. Our focus shifted from paddling to pedaling ourselves and we began to dream of a next grand adventure on wheels rather than on water.

It was during one of Gene’s bike trail internet searches that he stumbled upon the East Coast Greenway. “This might be fun,” he said, showing me a map of the trail that extended up the entire east coast, from Key West to Calais, Maine. “How would you feel about riding the east coast?”

My first thoughts were of warm sand beaches, sun-kissed skin and enticing ocean views. My eyes followed the line on the map from start to finish, through areas rich in history, each deserving visitation on its own merit. And the clincher? No mountains! “I’d love to. Lets do it!” My answer may have shocked Gene, given the fact that I was quite the holdout on our last adventure. But this time, I was all in from the start.

Atlantic View from South Florida

The East Coast Greenway (ECG) Alliance is not new. It began 31 years ago, with a vision of creating the country’s longest linear park, offering a safe corridor for biking and walking, stretching from Florida to Maine. The Alliance leads the development of the trail network, connecting volunteers, partner organizations, and officials at the local, state and national levels. Today, the route is a little over a third complete, with over 1,000 miles of off-road trails connected by roadways determined to be the safest currently-available routes. It connects fifteen states and over 450 cities and towns, with a total of roughly 3000 miles.

Waccamaw Neck Bikeway, an 18.6 mile paved trail from Pawley’s Island to Garden City in South Carolina
Virginia Capital Trail, a 52 mile paved trail from Jamestown, Virginia’s first capital, to the current capital of Richmond

We began preparing for our trip in 2019, until Covid struck. We planned the trip first for 2020, then for 2021, but the timing still didn’t work out. In late March of this year, totally vaccinated and even boosted, we shipped our bikes ahead and flew down to Florida, heading north from Key West on March 31st. (I know…starting on April first would have made it easier to keep track of the number of days, but neither one of us was brave enough to start a 3000-mile bike ride on April Fool’s Day.)

Starting out from Key West with high hopes, fresh bikes and clean clothes

Waiting until 2022 turned out to be to our benefit, as 2021 was a record year for the ECG. The year before we rode, 18 additional trails were designated as part of the Greenway, 30 miles of new trails were built, and signage was placed on over 660 miles of existing trail. Revenue grew by over 50%, due to donations and the $550 million invested by cities to make the Greenway more available to their citizens. With all the new initiatives, staff grew as well, by over 40%. As touring cyclists, we got the benefit of the new trails and, due to better signage, I’m sure we got lost much less often than we would have otherwise!

Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, an 81.2 mile multi-use rail trail located in Connecticut and Massachusetts
It was always a relief to see signage like this. We were on the right track!

Our itinerary was built not on the desire to make record time, but with the hope of enjoying the ride and the people we met along the way. We savored spectacular views of azure waters in the Keys, beachside boardwalks along the Florida coast, miles of paved trails and historic areas like St. Augustine, Savannah, Jamestown, Mt. Vernon, Philadelphia, and Boston. We camped in state parks and small private campgrounds or stayed with hosts from Warm Showers, and when we couldn’t find either of those, sought out inexpensive hotels. We stayed in Williamsburg for a week and splurged for a few days of fancy digs in Washington, D.C. and Times Square. We even took time to go whale watching in Provincetown on Cape Cod. In mid-July, we finally rode into the little town of Calais, Maine, at the Canadian border and the end of our journey.

During our tour, we highlighted the work of the ECG Alliance and the Rails to Trails Conservancy in posts on our Facebook page, Barb and Gene’s Excellent East Coast Adventure, holding a fundraiser for each of these organizations. We called attention to the advantages of off-road trails and of safe bike lanes, both for riders and drivers. We also highlighted the role of the bicycle hosting organization, Warm Showers, mentioned above. We’re grateful to these trail organizations and to the generous hosts who offered us warm and dry accommodations, made us delicious meals and shared stories of their own adventures with us!

To find out more about the ECG Alliance, please check out their website at www.greenway.org. There, you’ll be able to read about their mission and their ongoing progress, view videos of beautiful new sections of trail, and find out about special community events such as runs, walks, rides and celebrations. If you’re interested in riding part or all of the trail yourself, don’t hesitate to reach out to us through comments here or on the contact page of my author website, barbgeiger.com.

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Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books

I first attended the SEWI Festival of Books in the fall of 2011. Over thirty years of teaching before this, my life revolved around young children and good books. I loved taking my students and my young son to imaginary worlds, learning about people and places, giggling at poems by Shel Silverstein and even curling up with a variety of genres myself in the evenings when I wasn’t busy planning or correcting student work. The summer before my retirement, I joined a workshop group to dip my toes in the waters of the writing community. I loved meeting published authors and other aspiring writers, honing my own craft and encouraging others. I found out about this free festival, right in town, where my writing teacher, Kathie Giorgio, would be discussing her own first novel, The Home for Wayward Clocks. I went to check it out. And I never looked back.

I walked wide-eyed through the halls, lined with tables of books, and listened to authors talking about their inspiration. The program brochure was filled with author panels comprised of various genres, and panels devoted to topics of interest to writers as well. Every time slot had more than one program I would have liked to attend. I listened to Kathie read from her new book. I felt her love for the characters and her pride at bringing them to life through her words. I talked with writers I knew from my class and met many more, most from right here in our corner of the state. I returned home with a pile books to read and to give as holiday gifts. But I returned with so much more: a joyful heart and the realization that I wanted to be a part of this world, the world of writers, readers, and books. For the past several years, in addition to pursuing my dream of writing, I’ve volunteered on the SEWI Festival of Books Program Committee, helping to plan festival programs, and to arrange author visits from festival authors to area middle school and high school classes.

Join us on Friday, Nov. 5th for a 7:00 pm Keynote Presentation by Elizabeth Berg. Register now!

This year, like last, will be held virtually. On Saturday, Nov. 6th, you can pop in at four different time slots between 10 am and 4:30 pm to see Author Panels featuring novelists, poets, memoir writers and writers of non-fiction discussing topics of Our Own Wisconsin, History, Travel, and Environment. Register for Author Panels here. Sessions will also be available for aspiring writers on topics of crossing over genres from memoir to poetry, using symbolism, writing memoir honestly with difficult subjects, and published authors of all ages. These sessions, sponsored by AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop. will be moderated by founder and owner, Kathie Giorgio. Register for AllWriters’ Panels here.

Author Jim Landwehr and I will be joining Kathie Giorgio at 10:00 am on Saturday, Nov. 6th for a panel discussion, Poetry: From Memories to Lyricism. You’ll hear how we both started writing memoir, became interested in poetry as well, and ended up publishing both. Jim has written several touching memoirs as well as excellent collections of poetry. I hope you’ll be able to join us virtually to meet him and to hear about our writing journeys. Register here if you can make it.

The SEWI Festival of Books is a contribution to the community through the UWM Waukesha Foundation, a charitable organization founded over fifty years ago. The foundation’s mission is “to support the campus and the academic activities of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee at Waukesha by raising, receiving, and distributing funds to benefit and assist the students, faculty, programs and community partners.”

Hope to see you there!

Blessings, Barb

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Third Year Thoughts

As the third publication anniversary of Paddle for a Purpose approaches, my thoughts turn to the difficulties of the past year, which far eclipse any satisfaction we get from reaching a personal benchmark date such as this one. So let me begin by saying that Gene and I send our best to each of you. We hope you and your families are healthy and safe, and that you are weathering this trying time. I’m sure you, as we, have strained to make sense of it all. We pray that you have occasionally been able to see glimmers of empathy, compassion and kindness to sustain your hope. God is at work, even in this, and will use ALL things for the good of those who love him.

When we decided to use the profits from the book to fund the charities we served during our trip, we committed to transparency and communication with you, our readers and friends. With the limitations of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to visit and write about the non-profit organizations I had lined up for Charity Spotlights. I’ll continue those posts as soon as I can. But here are a few book-related thoughts about our third year:

One of the joys of being an author (and a reader) is the chance to attend book festivals. Listening to panels and presentations helps keep the literacy flame alive. One of the things I truly enjoy most is meeting and chatting with other authors and readers who love books as much as I do. This year, both of the festivals I attended were virtual. The Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books, for which I serve on the Planning Committee, was abbreviated to be a series of Zoom presentations on different dates. Many of the authors who planned to participate were kind enough to postpone their participation until this fall’s festival. This spring was the first year I also attended the Deep Valley Book Festival. It’s held in Minnesota, so the fact that it was virtual this year made it easy for me to join in. I attended many of the presentations and even got a chance to be a participant on a panel about connecting with readers through social media and book clubs. I wouldn’t have missed either virtual festival, but am looking forward to attending in person next time around!

Book clubs are my absolute favorite way to connect! No two conversations are ever the same, as the members of the groups determine the topics and questions. I love that I don’t have to be the center of attention and that I get to meet people with such varied and interesting personalities! (If you are a member of a book club that would enjoy reading Paddle for a Purpose, feel free to get in touch with me.)

Nearly all of my book club meetings this past year were, of course, virtual. But during the summer, Gene and I were invited, by the sister of a past colleague, to stay as a guest in a camper in the driveway of her woodsy home in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. Linda and her husband treated us to a socially distanced get-together with friends, berry picking and pontoon boat rides on the lake. The book club met at a local park, where we gave the members and guests a chance to paddle Kupendana afterwards if they wished.

The other notable event of the past year was a chance to do something I’d never been asked to do. I was invited to give the keynote presentation for the annual convention of the Wisconsin Retired Educators’ Association. It was originally planned in person, turning virtual out of necessity. Maybe I lucked out, not having to get up in front of an auditorium, but it was actually lots of fun. Together with my writing teacher, Kathie Giorgio and with author Nancy Jorgensen, I also held a breakout session encouraging other teachers to write their own stories. When all was said and done, the convention was well-attended and resulted in new relationships across the state and presentations to smaller, local groups of the WREA.

With all of the virtual presentations, you may think our profits from sales might not have suffered this year. There was a decline, which may have been from the pandemic, or a natural consequence of a book that has turned three. We are thankful, though, to have made a little over $450 this year, which we were able to distribute to the nine organizations that didn’t get a share last year. Our grand total, for the three years so far, is $2,308.40. We really had no idea what to expect when we began this venture. But we have always felt that the meager financial help the book supplies is secondary to the message of kindness and charity that the book offers to those who read its stories. Many of them are YOUR stories. If they are, we thank you for sharing your lives with us as we paddled and for the honor of putting your stories in a memoir to bring encouragement and hope to others.

In closing, I’d like to honor the memory of two very special people, near and dear to us, who have left us this past year to be with Jesus. In March, we lost my mother, Fran, to Alzheimer’s Disease and in November, Gene’s mother, Delores, due to Covid-19. Both were women of strong faith and models of love and kindness. We are forever grateful to have known them and to have had the chance to call them Mom.

Blessings to you, friends,

Barb and Gene

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Second Year Lessons

It is hard to believe that it’s been two years since the release of Paddle for a Purpose, in April of 2018. And even harder to believe that we find ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic, the likes of which I’ve never seen during my lifetime. I hope that wherever you are and whatever you are doing, you and your loved ones are safe and well.

My friend, Kristine, and her family send a message of hope and love to neighbors passing by.

I know that the nearly constant negative news we hear can be daunting. Add to that the argumentative nature of conversation surrounding the issues it presents, and it’s tempting to fall into a paralysis of fear. Gene and I are doing our best to stay safe, devoting time to social connections in the absence of physical ones, and helping out wherever we can in small ways. Like Fred Rogers learned from his mother, we find that looking for acts of kindness and generosity help to fend off fear and to inspire hope. We have seen the heroic efforts of health care workers compassionately treating an onslaught of patients in overcrowded hospitals with a dearth of medical equipment and PPE. We’ve watched people in their communities line the streets and applaud from windows and doors as shifts change and exhausted doctors and nurses head home to get some rest before starting over again. Sewing machines, in closets everywhere, are dusted off to create masks for family, friends, and hospital staff. Companies change production lines to help make ventilators, shields, and meals for those in need. Grocers, restaurants, and small retail stores continue to show up, offering curbside service to keep others safe. And not without pain, some businesses close their doors and lose precious income, some even furloughing employees to help flatten the curve. Artists of all kinds record performances, providing entertainment, encouragement, inspiration, and sometimes just a good dose of relief. And efforts of those who govern around the world, disagree as they might, come from a desire to fend off a common invisible enemy. Gene and I hope that during this time, you are able to take comfort in the small gestures you see around you. We will get through this together!

As you can imagine, book promotion is taking a back seat to other, more pressing things right now. From the beginning, Gene and I had faith that God would use our story in God’s own way, and that our job was to be available and show up. Whatever book sale profits we receive are donated to the charities, but these are merely small supplements to large budgets. In our second year, we were able to divide $800 between nearly half of the organizations, and will donate next year’s profits to the rest. We have, however, been fascinated to see God working through connections between people to bring the stories of our journey to new reading audiences. Here are a few highlights:

After meeting with an area book club, Gene and I were invited to speak to the Waukesha Chapter of WREA, a retired teacher’s organization. As a result of that meeting, I became a member. Since the Waukesha WREA is hosting this fall’s State Convention, I volunteered to help present a breakout session to encourage retired teachers to publish their own stories. In addition to agreeing to that, the organizing committee asked me to be the keynote speaker. Hmm. Didn’t see that coming.

PenCraft Award for Literary Excellence

For my birthday, Gene bought me a promotional program to send information about Paddle for a Purpose to libraries around the country. But first, I needed to request some professional reviews. I sent the reviews to the promotional company and posted them on our website. One of the review companies entered my book in a contest and it was chosen as the first place winner of the 2019 PenCraft Award for Literary Excellence in the category of Memoir. It was fun to travel to Louisiana to accept the award, but in the end, it may help persuade librarians to order Paddle for the library shelves in their communities. Hmm. I had no idea.

As a member of the Planning Committee for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books, I help coordinate visits by published authors to area schools. Last fall, I had the opportunity to speak to the English classes at Pewaukee High School about writing and publishing. One of the students brought our bookmark back to his father, an avid kayaker himself. His dad, Jeff, already knew us, but didn’t know we kayaked. He recognized us, instead, through the volunteer work we did with the Outreach for Hope family bike ride, which he helps to coordinate. Jeff read Paddle, then asked to use our book and its mission for this year’s Outreach for Hope event, adopting the motto, “Pedal for a Purpose”. He invited us to do a presentation for the event volunteers and encouraged book clubs from Milwaukee Synod Lutheran churches to read and discuss Paddle for a Purpose. Hmm. I couldn’t have planned that if I tried.

As a result of the same Pewaukee connection, I developed a friendship with Christine Nekas-Thoma, one of the high school English teachers. When she discovered our kayak trip was a response to God’s call, she confided that she was working on a book about listening to God’s whispers. I read the manuscript she’d been working on for years, gave her feedback, and recommended AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop to help bring it to completion. She did just that, and is currently submitting her manuscript to publishers. Keep an eye out for “God’s Whispers: A Gateway to Hope.” I’m sure it’ll be published soon. Hmm. Often, it’s not about me at all!

Karletta Marie shares inspiring stories from her home in Cyprus

And one more example: In one of my online memoir groups, I read a post by Karletta Marie, a resident of Cyprus, looking for inspiring stories. I shared with her about our kayak journey and found we had a connection of mission, both endeavoring to encourage and inspire others by sharing stories of kindness, compassion and inner strength. She read Paddle, and published one of the stories from the book on her website. Check out her site, Daily Inspired Life. May you find stories of others that lift your spirits and offer motivation to keep on keepin’ on! May you then help inspire others by sharing the beautiful things you see!

 

 

Stay well and stay inspired,

Barb and Gene

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Charity Spotlight: Kick-Start Cooking for Kids

The Heritage Room, in the lower level of Waukesha’s First Congregational United Church of Christ, may seem like any other typical church gathering space. That is, until you see it abuzz with students from an area elementary school learning to prepare delicious and nutritious foods for themselves and their families. Should you visit on a Tuesday afternoon when Kick-Start Cooking for Kids is in session, you’ll be amazed at the learning that takes place, all in well-organized small groups at the hands of dedicated volunteers from the church and the community.

Apple fritters, anyone?

On one such Tuesday, I watched a group of students gathered around a table participating in food group activities. Eve, a community volunteer and owner of Martha Merrell’s Books, integrated literacy concepts into her lesson, which also included recognizing cooking terms and reading a recipe. Across the room, another group put their skills to practical use, working together to read an apple fritter recipe, paring and dicing apples, measuring and mixing ingredients to make batter, frying fritters and dusting them with powdered sugar. Cathy, an adult volunteer, ensured that everyone had a chance to participate in each step, taught them safe handling of cooking tools and techniques, and offered samples to the young chefs.

Filling cloth bags with recipes and ingredients for students to make at home

Volunteers at other tables packaged ingredients in single recipe portions and filled cloth bags, sewn by a community volunteer as gifts for the students. At the end of the evening, the bags would include all of the day’s recipes, as well as the ingredients each cook would need to prepare the foods at home during the week.

Preparing baked mac and cheese

In the adjacent renovated kitchen space, I watched groups preparing two other recipes for foods in the fruit and dairy groups. At one table, students were busy grating three kinds of cheeses, then making a cheese sauce and boiling noodles on the stovetop. A volunteer showed them how to tell which knob controlled each burner. Nearby, a student stirred the thickening cheese sauce, inhaled and sighed. “This is really satisfying.” Last, the young chefs combined it all into a Baked Mac and Cheese entree, popping it in the oven to be served later. Another group diced favorite fruits and layered them with yogurt and granola to make perfectly customized parfaits. As students finished activities and waited to begin others, they gathered at a large central table area, chatting, sampling fruits they may not have tried before, and noshing on the results of their after-school labor.

Sitting next to one young lady as she scraped the last of her parfait from her cup, I asked, “How do you eat all this and then go home and have supper?”

“Oh, I don’t,” she said with a smile. “I’m pretty full by the time I leave here.”

Fresh and healthy ingredients

The next week, when vegetables were the featured food, students tasted brightly colored peppers, cauliflower, sweet potato, butternut squash, jicama, brussel sprouts, parsnips and cucumbers, dipping them in hummus or ranch dressing. Eve introduced them to chips made from root vegetables, one of her favorite snacks.

Yarely, a fifth grader seated nearby, shared why she got involved in Kick-Start Cooking. “I wanted to learn how to cook for my family,” she explains. “I already bake with my mom. I wanted to learn how to cook, also.”

Heidi, age 11, sat at the table enjoying a vegetable wrap she made with beans, broccoli, lettuce and cheese. “I can’t stop eating it,” she said. “It tastes so good!”

Kick-Start Cooking Program Coordinators, Kris Fahje and Chris Keadle, took some time out to tell me more about the program. It began as a grass roots initiative by members of First Congregational UCC as “a first step to assist children and their families by teaching some cooking life skills as a means to break the cycle of poverty.” Goals of the program include exposing the children and their families to new and healthy foods, teaching them about balanced nutrition, exercise and food preparation skills, and providing fun with peers while building positive relationships with adults.

Five different four-week sessions are held during each school year. (The session I observed was the 29th session since the program began.) Schools are chosen based on the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced school lunches. Kris, a retired guidance counselor explained, “The decision about who participates from each school is entirely up to the school social workers. They know the students and their families. We try to keep the groups small by taking fifteen students. But, for this session, the permission slips were sent home on Friday, and by Monday we already had eighteen back! We couldn’t turn anyone away, so we have eighteen this time.”

Volunteers, Wendy and Cindy, prepare fruits for students to sample

Volunteers include church members, students from nearby Carroll University, and community members who hear about the program through civic presentations. They arrive a half-hour before the students, who are transported by bus after school. The volunteers busy themselves preparing samples of the food group of the day and organizing their stations for the activities they plan to lead. Cindy, a retired teacher and church member, volunteers because, as she says, “I just love working with kids.” She has high praise for the organization and the efficiency of the program.

Wendy, a community volunteer, found out about the program through a friend, who learned about it at a Practical Club presentation. She sees its potential to affect lives. “This is just such a great program. It could benefit so many people.”

 

Just some of the many ingredients needed for the recipes the young chefs learn each week

As you can imagine, the costs of a program like this one are considerable. “Expenses range between $1200 and $1500 for each four-week session,” said Kris. “We do five sessions each year and one during the summer, if we can.” At present, Kick-Start Cooking is funded without being a part of the church budget. The program relies heavily on individual donations and has benefitted from several large corporate donations and grants. Kris expressed gratitude for grants from the Waukesha County Community Foundation and from Neighbors in Need, as well as a generous gift card from the Meijer Foundation. The program is worth the price tag, however. At the Plowshare Gala last year, Kick-Start Cooking for Kids received the 2019 Peace Builders Award.

When picking up their children, parents get a chance to sample the results of the night. A mother of one participant told me, “This is a great program!” Then she shared that her son has always been interested in cooking shows, but since he’s been in Kick-Start Cooking, he has made some of the recipes for his family every week. He even went over to his great-grandma’s house to make one of his specialties! His sister isn’t old enough yet, but is looking forward to participating next year.

If you are interested in learning more about Kick-Start Cooking for Kids, have questions about the program, or would like to help, please contact Kris Fahje at kris.fahje@gmail.com or Chris Keadle at keadlec@gmail.com. Donations to help support this innovative program can be sent to First Congregational United Church of Christ, 100 E. Broadway, Waukesha, WI 53186. Please mark any donations “Attn: Kick-Start Cooking for Kids”.

Do you have a charitable organization that you’d like to see featured as a Charity Spotlight? Send any ideas my way, to bgeiger1@gmail.com. I’d love to learn more about what they are doing and help spread the word!

Wishing you peace and good eatin’,

Barb

 

 

 

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Charity Spotlight: Healing Hearts of Waukesha County, Inc.

Adults and children fill the tables and a buzz of conversation accompanies a dinner served by volunteers from one of many Community Partner organizations. Parents keep an eye on children, who greet their friends and help themselves to another dessert. Some find their way over to visit tonight’s service dog, lying on its side like a furry, oversized rug, waiting patiently for an after dinner hug. Seated around the tables are members of families living with grief, due to many different kinds of loss – death, divorce, abandonment, separation, military deployment, incarceration, deportation or other life-altering events. Seated with them are staff and trained volunteer facilitators, dedicated to companioning others in their time of loss – to break the isolation of grief and foster a sense of hope through a peer-to-peer support program called Healing Hearts.

After dinner, groups break off for peer discussion and activities. Adults, teens and elementary-aged children make their way to separate areas. Free child care is available for children younger than four. My co-facilitator and I meet with fourth and fifth graders, sharing first about how our week has gone. We share positives and negatives – our brags and bummers. Then we move into a story, an activity or game and conversation dealing with a theme for the week. Our curriculum supplies the themes and several choices for activities, so we tailor the plans to our groups. This particular day, we talk about ways to cope with loss, and we share positive memories. We tie buttons of different shapes and colors on a string to help us remember memories of our loved ones that help us smile. I’m struck by the empathy I see in a young man who listens so closely to his friend’s memory that he hands her a button he planned to use, but thinks she may want to go with her story.

Healing Hearts of Waukesha County, Inc. was established as a 501 (c) (3) public charity organization in 2010, their mission being “to serve and support grieving children and their families”. Since then, it has helped more than 900 participants representing over 349 families. It began with 12-week spring and fall sessions in Waukesha, and has grown to also offer shorter spring, summer and fall sessions in Oconomowoc. With the help of Carroll University, all materials have been translated into Spanish and Healing Hearts offers bilingual volunteers to serve our Spanish-speaking families.

I learned about Healing Hearts when my church became a Community Partner of the program, and was recruited as a volunteer facilitator by my friend, Chris Beck, the Executive Director at the time. Her eyes lit up at the mention of the organization so close to her heart and misted as she passionately recalled the struggles she saw families overcome. How could I say no? I was trained by Melissa Minkley, who has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has been with Healing Hearts since its inception. Melissa is following Chris’ capable footsteps as the current Executive Director of the organization. I’ve only volunteered as a facilitator for three sessions thus far, but the relationships I’ve made and the compassion I’ve witnessed have made me a lifetime advocate!

Here are some comments from some past participants (taken from the Healing Hearts brochure):

  • Healing Hearts takes my dark clouds away and brings the sun (8-year-old)
  • It helps me talk things through. I feel like I have more people to trust. (13-year-old)
  • On your worst day, you can look forward to going to Healing Hearts. It gives a little bit of light. (15-year-old)
  • Healing Hearts is a place to take these feelings of grief and sadness in a world that usually doesn’t want to hear about them. (Adult)

If you are interested in participating, volunteering, or becoming a Community Partner with Healing Hearts, you can click here to learn more about it at the Healing Hearts website.

If you have a charity you’d like me to highlight on a Charity Spotlight post, please comment below or email me at bgeiger1@gmail.com.

Peace,

Barb

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Charity Spotlight: Warmshowers

Jason, our host near Brainerd and our first honorary crew member, takes a test paddle before we head back out onto the Mississippi.

One of the special things I will always remember about our kayak trip down the Mississippi is the extreme kindness extended to us the entire way. We were just strangers, passing through towns we did not know, but received the kind of hospitality often reserved for loved and trusted friends. From warm meals to spare bedrooms, boat repairs to loaner vehicles, people we just met offered more than we ever expected. Launching from one town to paddle toward another, Gene or I would inevitably say, “When we get home, I want to be more like (insert River Angel name here).” We yearned to extend that kind of hospitality to others, not only to pay back to those who helped us, but to pay it forward as well.

Located over 150 miles from the Mississippi, we weren’t likely to have many river travelers stopping by. However, our home is a mere 100 yards from the Glacial Drumlin Bike Trail – which brings me to  the topic of this post, the non-profit organization known as Warmshowers!

Renee and Colleen pedaled from Portland, OR to Marion, MA at 29. Their goal? To pedal across the country before they turned 30 (while they were still young:)

If you like to bike, you’ve probably heard of Warmshowers – an organization which facilitates safe and reciprocal hospitality for bicyclists touring in 175 different countries and speaking any of 17 languages. As of this posting, the organization has 140,932 members and 80,322 are currently available to host cyclists who are looking for a place to stay tonight.

Bicyclists planning to travel and those currently on the road can search the database at www.warmshowers.org for hosts by name or location. Then they can visit the profile pages of prospective hosts to make sure they are currently available for hosting and to see if there is a good match between the host preferences and the cyclists’ needs. Using the contact method preferred by the host, cyclists email, call, or message in advance to ask whether or not the day they are looking for shelter is convenient. Hosts and cyclists have lists of reviews on the website from past hospitality matches, so it’s easy to do a quick check to make sure that a match is safe. However, hosts set the parameters for guests in their homes, and are under no obligation if anything feels uncomfortable.

 

Aaron rode from Maine to Minnesota in celebration of his mother-in-law’s life, raising money for two of her favorite charities, Horizons for Homeless Children and Rays of Hope. Read more about his trip at www.tourforbecky.org

Warmshowers has a part-time, paid Executive Director, but all other positions are filled with volunteers, including the international Board of Directors. The major cost is for software and systems; relatively little is spent on administrative fees. Most of the funds for Warmshowers operating expense come from member donations and from a major fundraiser each April. Len Bulmer, Board President, sums up the reason for all the effort: “We never lose focus on the WHY we’re doing this. And, the WHY is simple. We facilitate human connection and friendship for people who pedal and those who generously support them.”

In just a few years, Gene and I have hosted bicyclists with a variety of reasons to ride. To a rider, they  have been respectful, adventuresome, interesting, kind, and grateful. We’ve enjoyed conversations which meander from home and family to travel tales of planning, mishaps, and inspiring achievements. We’ve shared good food, visits to local spots of interest, our washer and dryer, hot shower and warm guest bed. We’ve gotten to give back a little of what we have been given. And, we’ve seen the best of our society – relationships built on kindness and trust.

If you’re interested in finding out more, Warmshowers has a public Facebook page (Facebook.com/warmshowersfoundation/) as well as a private group for registered users. They also have an Instagram presence, a Warmshowers Forum on their website and an email newsletter.

If you have an idea for a charity or non-profit organization you’d like to see highlighted with a Charity Spotlight, please contact me at bgeiger1@gmail.com to tell me more about it!

Blue Skies and Tailwinds,

Barb and Gene

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Charity Spotlight: Children’s Cancer Research Fund and the Great Cycle Challenge

Riding the Hoan Bridge during the June 2nd Ride for the Arts

In Paddle for a Purpose, we told you about over two dozen non-profit organizations and about what they do to help others. Since we returned home, we’ve become involved with several others. And, you readers have told us about your passion for helping others in even more ways! So, we’d like to occasionally feature nonprofit organizations on our site in posts we’ll call Charity Spotlights. Our first Spotlight will introduce you to a charity that has children at its heart – and one of its major fundraisers that gets us out on our bikes every June!

 

 

Fox River Trail winding through my favorite oak grove

I first learned about the Children’s Cancer Research Fund (CCRF) in the spring of 2015, when I saw an advertisement for a fundraiser that immediately caught my attention. They called it the Great Cycle Challenge. For the first time ever, participants all across the USA were invited to bicycle during the entire month of June, setting their own mileage and fundraising goals. And, the best part? Our collective efforts would benefit a fund to fight children’s cancer! What was this fund? What did they do? My first step was to check the data on charity rating sites. I learned that the CCRF meets the standards of the Charities Review Council, is an accredited charity of the BBB, and has the Guide Star Platinum Seal of Transparency. After a check of their website, https://childrenscancer.org, I was all in, and never looked back.

Resting with Gracie after our first week of riding

I signed up for a moderately challenging goal of 250 miles. I looked forward to a reason to get out and ride every day – doing it for kids who should be out living life instead of fighting for it. My bicycle, Gracie, was tired of being neglected, and was looking forward to more time on the trails, too. Thus began my tradition of posting Gracie’s adventures each day, along with photos and a link to ride maps on my fundraising page. Friends often asked how Gracie was doing before even noticing my bowlegged limp and biker’s tan. And then, they made generous donations to  give help and hope to the courageous kids and their families. Each year I rode, I heard the stories of more of the children for whom we rode, and learned more about the work of the CCRF.

View of Madison from the trail around beautiful Lake Monona

The Children’s Cancer Research Fund began at the University of Minnesota with a commitment to fund groundbreaking research into children’s cancers, as well as support services that enhance healing and care for these children and their families. A mere 4% of federal funding for cancer research is used specifically for childhood cancer. The CCRF has worked tirelessly since the late 1970’s to raise and distribute funds for this vulnerable and underrepresented group – our children.

 

 

 

 

Some of the many reasons we ride

What do they fund? The CCRF gives grants for innovative research that may not qualify yet for federal grants or larger funding. Some of these include:

  • work on developing a promising CD200 inhibitor vaccine for use on children’s brain tumors,
  • study of chemoresistant leukemia cells, with the aim of reducing cases of recurrence of the disease following remission,
  • developing less toxic treatments for AML (acute myeloid leukemia)
  • and clinical trials of antibody drug therapy to provide alternatives to chemo while drastically improving cancer survival rates.

These are only a few of the ongoing research projects currently being funded. You can find descriptions of these and many more exciting studies (with easy-to-understand explanations) here.

In addition to research, the CCRF also funds programs to improve the quality of life for children with cancer and their families. These include music therapy, a creative songwriting and video production program called Big Dreams Tour, Cure Cancer Bears, and support for organizations such as Care Partners and Caring Bridge.

What a view! Yep – the trail, too.

With Gene’s reduction in work hours as he nears retirement has come more free time to join me on the trails. This year was my fifth year of the GCC and his third. Each year, we’ve challenged ourselves to increase our mileage goals – now up to 500. It’s no longer enough to meander around our hometown of Waukesha. Gene and I, with our trusty two-wheeled companions, Gracie and Champion, can often be found riding scenic trails around our state and hopping on our bikes to get to all our appointments and errands as well. Most days, it’s a pleasure to pedal through God’s creation, and I whisper a thank you for the good health that enables me to be on the trail. Sometimes, we get soaked in an unexpected deluge. We slog through wet crushed limestone that grabs at our tires. We fight heat, leg cramps and soreness you-know-where. But, with most every challenge, I think of the kids for whom we ride, the kids who struggle with treatments, medication, fatigue, and hospitalization, and I pedal on with purpose. They are my inspiration.

This year, I rode in memory of my friend, Sue, who lost her courageous fight with colon cancer. Oh, how she loved to hear Gracie stories! We miss you, Sue.

Over eighty thousand cyclists participated in the Great Cycle Challenge this year, riding over four million miles and raising over eight million dollars for the CCRF. The riders are representative of all ages and abilities; their goals range from a few miles to thousands. Their reasons for participating are equally varied. One woman, diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, rode 128 miles for “those beautiful children.” Cancer survivors ride for others whose path they know only too well. Cyclists ride in memory of loved ones who lost their lives, and in support of those who continue to fight. One cyclist had to take time off during the month because his wife lost her battle with cancer. He wrote that, as long as it took, he would keep riding to meet his goal for her. Each year, the GCC staff helps to motivate us by sharing pictures and stories of some of the many brave kids who are currently “kicking cancer’s butt”.

8 seconds of fame in Times Square

The Great Cycle Challenge provides excellent support to the cyclists who volunteer during the month. An app tracks routes and calculates mileage and donation totals. Templates are provided for posting online and posters provided for fundraising efforts. Cycle volunteers are encouraged to ride in honor or memory of others, and a social media group encourages riders to share their stories and organize group rides. One day during the month, the GCC arranges for photos of the riders and those for whom they ride to be shown on the screen in Times Square.

 

The obligatory bike lift (Still recovering…Gracie’s not as light as she looks!)

If you like to ride, even a little bit, and want to know more about the Great Cycle Challenge, check it out here. You can check out my goals and maps of my rides at https://greatcyclechallenge.com/riders/barbarageiger or visit Gene’s page at https://greatcyclechallenge.com/riders/genegeiger3.

* Do you have a special charity you’d like me to visit and/or highlight in one of our Charity Spotlights? Write me a note telling me what they do and why it is a special passion of yours. Send it to me at bgeiger1@gmail.com.

Gratefully,

Barb

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First Year Lessons

Who is that? Why, it’s Lisa Garber in the garden, reading one of the first copies of Paddle for a Purpose.

A year has passed since I received word that the manuscript I struggled over and nurtured – alternately cherishing and despising the words that sounded gifted one moment and utterly ridiculous the next – would become a real book. It would be published! I still remember the excitement that set in. Then, the fear and the doubt. Would anyone want to read it? Would they like it? Did I tell the story, that meant so much to us, well enough to hold the interest of readers? Would it mean something?

This past year has been filled with even more questions and with many firsts – first launch, book tour, radio interview, royalty check, TV appearance, book club guest appearance, book review, and sales and use tax calculation. There have been thrills, disappointments, touching moments, and confusing times. But, I have finally settled on contentment.

Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Authors don’t do it for the money. At least not the ones I know. Writers have stories inside and feel compelled to put them on the page. It’s lots of work, but trying to keep an untold story inside is like keeping a song in one’s heart from passing through the lips or a dance in one’s soul from starting the feet a-tapping.

    Profits from 2018 book sales, sent to the charities described in the book.

  2. The difference between gross profit and net profit is indeed a difference. Net profit eluded us this year, due to business startup and travel costs. Nevertheless, we were delighted to distribute over $1550 between the charities in the book, which represents all our 2018 book sales, minus our cost for the actual books. We hope to be able to help for years to come!
  3. Wisconsin Sales and Use Tax are due at a different (and earlier) time than Income Taxes. Thank you, Wisconsin, for realizing this was a rookie mistake and giving us some grace!
  4. Metrics usually aren’t worth quoting. I occasionally get the question, “So, how’s the book going?” Rather than explain that it depends upon the metric used to judge, I usually defer to, “fine – I think.” It’s hard to know the number of books that Paddle has sold, but it’s somewhere over five hundred. In 2018, we sold 250 personally. More were sold online and through independent bookstores who ordered through a warehouse. Although the profit isn’t as great through those channels, we help to support our traditional small press, eLectio Publishing, and the bookstores that fulfill such an important role in our communities. Through Amazon Author Central, I can find out not only my Amazon sales, (292) but also the book ranking and author ranking each week. The first time I peeked, the sense of competition in the statistics felt overwhelming. I only checked occasionally after that – an exercise in humility, mostly. These rankings vary widely, depending on each week’s sales numbers. Suffice it to say, Paddle‘s book sales for most months rank in the top one million. “That would make a great T-shirt!” my son, Eric, suggested. I’ll think about that. Out of eight million books, it’s technically top 12.5 %, but a ways from a mic drop.

    Couldn’t do it without him!

  5. I’m thankful to Gene, who continues to be an essential member of this team and of our new venture. His role, now, is less in the spotlight than during the trip, but Gene joins me for presentations and provides staunch support. I’m grateful for his amazing bean counting skills that help us to stay organized and on top of all those pesky little numbers we need to manage for the sales and inventory side of this author business.
  6. My mom was right. Yep. Pretty much always. But especially when she told me, “Everyone is not going to like you, and as much as you want to, you can’t change that.” I remember the shock that coursed through me the first time I heard this message. And yes, I needed to hear it more than once.  As the middle child between two brothers, I learned the role of peacemaker early. My goals? Avoid conflict. Make everyone happy. The thicker skin she helped me to grow has prepared me to be more open to a variety of feedback. Thanks, Mom.

    Loved talking with these ladies of the Mount Hope Lutheran Church Book Club!

  7. The absolute best part of marketing is talking with readers! During the first year since publication, Gene and/or I had thirty-seven different appearances. (These are listed on the Appearances tab above.) Of all the different opportunities, I found the chance to talk with readers one-on-one or in small groups to be the most rewarding. I love getting to know more about each of you, hear about your passions, and learn what you thought and how you felt as you read Paddle for a Purpose. You are the reason I wrote it – to bring you along on our service adventure and share the amazing experiences we had along the way. I’ve learned from you and enjoyed every minute!
  8. “If the book is true, it will find an audience that is meant to read it.” – Wally Lamb I’m sticking with this wisdom. Our trip was God’s idea, and the book was written with my prayer that it might reach people with the encouragement that God wants them to receive. So, Gene and I will make ourselves available to any who want us to present, interview, or join them in discussion. We will trust. And then, we’ll see what God does.

Blessings to You,

Barb and Gene

 

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Canoecopia: World’s Largest Paddlesport Expo

Desperately searching for signs of spring? I think many of us in the Midwest are right there with you! Snowdrifts around here are so high, the streets already feel like an August corn maze in Iowa. And, another snowstorm is on the way! Our tandem kayak, Kupendana, hangs on the garage wall right above the snowblower’s winter parking spot, waiting patiently for some attention. Gene and I are more anxious, but have found the perfect treatment for our spring fever: Canoecopia, the world’s largest paddlesport expo!

Need a paddle? Come find out what’s new in paddle equipment and what will work best for your paddling style.

On March 8-10, paddle enthusiasts of all kinds will gather at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin. Hundreds of vendors will display boats, SUPs, paddles, fishing gear, paddle clothes and supplies. Over 180 speakers are set to offer presentations on everything from beautiful paddle locales, land ethics and safety to skills such as choosing equipment, paddle techniques, packing, cooking and photography. Over at the Clarion Hotel there will even be pool demonstrations of kayak rescues, paddle strokes and Greenland Style Rolling.

 

We discovered Canoecopia the spring before we launched on our kayak service trip in 2013. I’m not sure why we didn’t know about it before that – you’d think if the world’s largest anything were right in your backyard, you’d know about it. But a fellow paddler recommended it, so not knowing what to expect, off we went.

I was happy to meet Sue – my ex-roommate who helps organize yearly trips called The Great River Rumble. www.riverrumble.org

Our first time, we made the rookie mistake of assuming we’d be able to see everything in one day. Glassy-eyed, we navigated our way through hundreds of exhibits, trying with limited success to focus on what we still needed for our upcoming trip. We picked up some paddle grips and splurged on a pop-up sail, but most of the time was spent learning about the newest and greatest boats, paddles, clothing and supplies, and talking to outfitters, guides, and paddlers about the experiences they could offer. We didn’t even realize how many expert presenters were scheduled throughout the three-day event to offer information about things it wouldn’t have hurt us to know.

Sharing stories and dreams with our Pygmy Boats family (John Lockwood at right)

 

 

We were delighted to find that Pygmy Boats had a booth, and stopped by to meet John Lockwood, founder and owner of the company whose kit we used to build the tandem wooden kayak we planned to paddle the length of the Mississippi River. We also met adventurers who shared stories and tips from their journeys. One of the most memorable discussions was with a couple of guys who had tried three times to paddle the Mississippi, giving up each time due to “irreconcilable differences”. We laughed about it at the time, but their experiences prompted us to set some ground rules to be sure we didn’t suffer the same fate!

Gene meets author Kenny Salwey, modern-day, self-proclaimed “river rat”

 

In subsequent years, we learned to check the program or the website in advance, planning the presentations we wanted to attend and leaving plenty of time to see everything we wanted to see. We’ve gathered information on destinations that have become dreams for next adventures, listened to presenters share their stories and skills, and met authors who have written books on paddling topics. You can see the lists of this year’s presenters and exhibitors at www.canoecopia.com.

I think this would look good on me. Fishing, anyone?

 

This year, Gene and I are excited to be among the list of presenters. We’ll show some pictures of our service journey on the Mississippi and Tennessee/Tombigbee Waterway and share the process we used to dehydrate and vacuum pack one-pot nutritious meals for five months on the water. We’ll explain how we used Priority Mail to send ourselves boxes of food along the way and how we made a pot cozy to conserve cooking fuel while rehydrating meals. Our presentations will be on Friday, Mar. 8th at 6:30 PM and Saturday Mar. 9th at 9:30 AM. Please feel free to join us – we’d love to have your friendly faces in the room!

 

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