“Teachers start off gung-ho and then they get bogged down by all the requirements they have to fill and all of the things they have to remember to complete,” says Terri Rivera, a Playmaker and 20-year preschool teacher at The Barnstable Early Learning Center on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. “Before they know it, all of their dreams of changing lives get thrown out the window.” Terri knows that feeling all too well because three years ago she was “feeling burned out and stressed” in her work. That’s when she discovered the Life is good Playmakers and attended her first training. She returned home feeling excited and ready to bring more of her playful self into her classroom. “There was just this igniting within me after that training,” she said, “Like I could take off.”
Like a rocket, Terri has indeed taken off since then. She has been a huge advocate for the Playmakers, recruiting many of her co-workers and other child care professionals in the Cape Cod area to attend Playmaker trainings as well as attending additional trainings herself. Even after long days that required all her energy and focus to be the best she can be with children, she still made the long trek from Hyannis to Boston several evenings over the next few months to attend monthly Booster trainings in Boston. Boosters provide Playmakers opportunities to reconnect, share challenges and successes, as well as learn new activities and techniques to improve their work with children.
When Terri realized that the growing number of Playmakers she had recruited were not attending the Boston Boosters due to distance and busy work schedules, she decided to take the initiative to organize several local gatherings for members of her Cape Cod community to ensure that their commitment to transforming lives through playful, joyful, loving relationships would not waver. “My goal is to attract more and more people to the Playmaker movement,” she says. “There needs to be more laughter and more joyfulness in the classroom. I can’t imagine teachers working with children who don’t smile.”
Terri Rivera, left, and fellow award-winner Whitney Dubois with Director of Community Playmaking Ant Toombs and Director of Programming Emily Saul.
Terri’s inspiring example in the classroom and leadership outside the classroom were chief reasons why she was a co-winner of the 2012 Jesse Howes Award. The award commemorates the late founding Playmaker Jesse Howes and is given each year to a Playmaker who, like Jesse, shows, “A deep love for, and commitment to children, and an unquenchably playful spirit.”
Terri has seen the difference a joyful approach can make, especially for those, like “Anna,” whose childhoods are filled with difficulties. Anna arrived at Terri’s classroom as an overweight child who spoke Spanish and understood no English. She lived with her mother and father in a very small attic apartment. Anna’s days were filled with little play and no interactions with other children. Her transition to the classroom was difficult, and the language barrier contributed to her isolation. Fortunately, Terri speaks Spanish and was able to communicate with her, but since she could not communicate with the other children, the girl resorted to frequent pinching and hitting to gain the other children’s attention. Terri called upon her Playmaker training, drawing Anna in through a variety of group activities such as parachute play, “Newsball” and other games. As a result, Anna has become much more engaged with the other children and now loves to share and play with them. Terri believes the active classroom and the love Anna now has for active play have contributed to her needed weight loss. Her desire to connect and participate has spurred her English development as well, and she is now beginning to converse in English with the other children. Socially, Anna’s approach with the others is now more playful, joyful and cooperative.
Successes like this have made Terri a passionate advocate for the Playmaker movement. She remains convinced that the approach benefits not only children, but teachers as well. She has taken the Playmaker mantra to heart, recognizing that, “you can’t spread what you don’t have” and that “nurturing one’s own joy and playfulness is essential to becoming an effective teacher in the long run.” In addition to this, she has gained a deeper respect for the work she does. “I have felt so appreciated as a teacher since I started going to Playmaker trainings. I feel like I am doing something special in my life. A lot of teachers need to feel that too.” Thanks to Terri’s leadership, that’s just what many more do feel. It’s a ripple effect that is reaching a growing number of engaged, joyful and healthy children in the Cape Cod community.
Photo of Dylan with Chief Playmaker, Steve Gross, at the Life is good Festival, September 24, 2011
By Dylan Gibbs, 12
With a little help from my mom, Hope Katz Gibbs.
For my 8th birthday, my grandparents bought me my first Life is good T-shirt. It was really soft, the color of the night sky, and featured a superhero named Jake—playing basketball, my favorite sport. I wanted to wear it to school every day that week. After day three, my dad just laughed as he put me into the car and took me to the nearest Life is good shop in Old Town, Alexandria, VA, to buy more.
I’m 12 now, and haven’t worn anything but a Life is good shirt ever since (I even wear them under my Boy Scout uniform). I recently checked, and I have 24 of these Ts in my dresser—including a few that I outgrew, plus two that I turned into pillows for my bed.
My heroes are Bert and John Jacobs, the founders of Life is good. What I like about them the most is that they make shirts that are really comfortable, and their optimistic message spreads good vibes. Plus, I love the fact that they created such a big company out of a simple idea, and that they work hard doing what they love. That’s what I want to do when I grow up.
So when I learned that on September 24-25 there would be a Life is Good Music Festival in Boston to benefit The Life is Playmakers, I wanted to support it. I created a fundraiser page, made fliers, sent emails to my friends and family, and by the time of the fundraiser, my friends, family, teachers, and neighbors helped me raise a grand total of $2,150. How did we do it? Click here for details about our big backyard fundraiser : http://inkandescentpr.com/article/?c=life-is-good
I have to admit that putting on this fundraiser made me a little nervous because I never took on a big project like this before. My parents helped a ton, and also convinced me that although I wanted this to be something we did as a family — the key was to get our friends and neighbors to help us so that it would be really extraordinary. They were right! My mom and I had a bunch of meetings, and made a ton of phone calls, and in the end a whopping 25 families worked with us (kids and grown-ups alike) to distribute flyers, make signs, and donate bottles of water, lemonade, and homemade cookies for our big refreshment stand. Others played music, organized our art project to createLife is good posters, helped with our backyard games and races, and made sure that the face painting and art projects went off without a hitch. Local businesses also were generous about donating prizes and supplies, too. And our friend Dana Schaffer took photos.
Best of all, everyone told us that they wanted to make this an even bigger festival next year. So take it from a 7th grader: No matter what happens, Life is good!
That popular line from Life is good really struck home for me recently. A couple of weeks ago, I was coming home from a vacation and flew into Logan airport in Boston. As my wife and I were going through Customs, we struck up a conversation with the Customs agent, and he asked what we did for a living. I told him about the Life is good Kids Foundation, and he quickly opened up. He told me he was quite familiar with Life is good, telling me about a loved one who was suffering from a brain tumor but lived the “Life is good way,” similar to folks you read about in the amazingly inspirational and moving Fuel letters that Life is good often receives (http://www.lifeisgood.com/about/inspiring-letters.aspx).
When I asked how his loved one was doing, the agent replied, “Not well.” But then he went on to say how this person, in living the “Life is good way,” really taught him something about the preciousness of life, and how he has pledged to do something – anything – that he loved, even if it was “only” 5 minutes a day. He went on – that’s how you really live, and make a difference in the world – pursuing your passions and spreading a little joy along the way. I was touched by his message. I thanked him for sharing his kind, thoughtful wisdom, and felt further refreshed and renewed to go back to work that following Monday.
Here’s to doing something you like, and liking what you do – everyday!
Just a few weeks ago Steve, Ant, and I took a road trip to Corning, NY. We weren’t going on a vacation or just hittin’ the road for fun…we were going for work. We had been asked by the Family Service Society of Corning to present a full-day workshop to a group of counselors, social workers, nurses, psychologists, family support workers, clinicians, therapeutic foster parents, shelter staff, and probably some other folks too. Most of these folks wanted to learn about joy, play, and playfulness as a way of enhancing their clinical practices, so we talked a lot about the theory behind play as a therapeutic, or healing, tool. We also shared a bunch of games with them that they could hopefully implement into their practices with young children up through adults. Overall the day was fun, and both the framework and tools that we shared with the people of Corning seemed to be well received.
But I digress to share another story. It’s a 6 ½ hour drive from Boston to Corning and thankfully, we had driven there the day before the training. We all knew that we would be looking forward to getting home and although Corning, NY has many touristic treasures (including Steve Gross’s birthplace), we were singing with Willie Nelson just about as soon as the training was over…”on the road again…” It made for a very long day—we finally arrived in Boston around midnight, but there was something special about that drive home that made the 414 miles seem different (and it wasn’t the stop at Denny’s for dinner). The time didn’t exactly fly…but it somehow felt a little richer as we pulled out old school games like 20 Questions and did our best to stump each other. And I don’t mean the new electronic 20Q game that asks you questions and you try to fool the “computer.” No, Steve thought of pizza and Ant and I asked him yes or no questions to try to decipher what exactly he was thinking of. We didn’t get pizza in 20 guesses…go figure. Ant had us guessing about Ellen DeGeneres. I thought of a toe ring for Steve and Ant to guess. We laughed, we shouted, and we cheered each other on as we competitively bantered. We had fun. I know I was ready to get out of that back seat after all those miles and hours, but that wasn’t what I remembered when I walked through my front door. I arrived home thinking about how neat (that’s such an old school word!) it is to feel silly, joyful, and connected to my co-workers—my friends—by playing such an incredibly simple, old school game like 20 Questions.
Going on that road trip was for work. But was the work, and the trip, fun? Yes, you may have guessed, it was definitely fun!
“Pay attention to the little things, because someday you realize that the little things really are the big things.”
So, we’re going to Denmark to do another training with the Danish Red Cross, this time at the Lynge School. We’ll be working with the entire staff of teachers at this school, which teaches asylum-seeking children how to speak Danish and some other basic education while they are awaiting their “answer” from the Danish government whether they are given refugee status or instructed to return to their country of origin. The psychologist we’re working with, Hanne, who organized this training in Lynge says that most of the children lately are coming from Afghanistan and Chechnya, and that the journeys for so many of these children are quite traumatizing. And we haven’t even begun to hear about what they experienced before they took those journeys. That’s what we’ll be doing for the next four days, but the story for today is about the first few moments in Boston Logan Airport’s International terminal. I arrived with our two HUGE yellow duffel bags with all our training equipment for the trip. Steve and Jodi had already checked in and gone through security, as they had arrived before me at the airport.
Because I can’t check in three bags of my own, I had to call Steve and have him come back out through security to check one of the bags on his ticket. We met at the ticket counter and waited for our turn. A happy-looking man waved us over. I handed him my passport to check in and said, “Hi.” Steve said, “How you doin’ brother?” Ismail replied politely and asked if I was checking in. He also explained to us about the number of bags we can check and how much it will cost for the number we have. Then he weighed the bags. There’s always a weight limit. And we always pack heavy! So, he prints my boarding pass and then shows us the ticket for the bags…and then he leans in over the counter and motions to us to do the same. He confidently whispered to us, with a genuine smile on his face, “Now, normally your bags cost $50 each, but if they are over the weight limit it is an additional $100 per bag. And both of your bags are way over the limit. But I’m only going to charge you for the cost of the bags and I’ll tell you why I’m going to do that. Because when you walked up here, this man said, ‘How you doin’ brother?’ That means something and it makes a connection. You called me brother, and I’ll do this for you.”
Hey, working for a non-profit, it’s nice to save a buck or two when the right person is able to waive a fee. But when we think about what really happened at that ticket counter, we didn’t just save some money—we made a connection. And our brothers and sisters are everywhere: behind ticket counters, serving food, working at asylum schools, leading NGOs, and a million other places where they can make a difference in our days in very significant ways. And all it takes sometimes to open that door and make a difference in their day is to ask, “How you doin’ brother?”