Respecting the Roses and the Violets

Roses are red,

Violets are blue.

Though we may disagree,

I respect you.

IMG_9848

 

I’m a Coordinator for Better Angels which is a citizens’ organization uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America.

The group’s mission is to:

  • Try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it
  • Engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together
  • Support principles that bring us together rather than divide us

To learn more about Better Angels click here.

Strengthening our Social Fabric

‘Twas the night before Flag Day

And all through the pub.

Not a soldier was stirring,

Just the Chef and her grub!

 

The food was amazing,

The stories were grand.

Our fabric was strengthened,

We all loved the band!

I wrote the poem above after the contents of this blog were published in the Opinion section of my local newspaper, the Ahwatukee Foothill News and on the website Legiontown.org.

Here’s the original post.

Some would say that the fabric of American society is fraying due to decreased civic engagement and increased political polarization.  Last week I witnessed the complete opposite.

It was the night before Flag Day and I saw the strengthening of social bonds in a local restaurant where thirteen veterans and their spouses came together to share fun, stories and some delicious Irish stew.

shutterstock_797280226

 

This positive and festive social gathering brought together US veterans from three generations to share in the spirit of camaraderie and strengthening community involvement.

 

Members from the Charles Schwab Military Veterans Network and Ahwatukee American Legion Post 64 met at the Irish Hare Pub and Restaurant in Phoenix for some fun, food and story telling.

MVNSocial_Flagday2019

Here our common values rallied about an important piece of cloth that symbolizes the unity and strength of our country- the flag that we have all pledged allegiance to.  The red, white and blue fabric on our table reminded us that we are Americans first.

We came together and toasted to our freedom which none of us will ever take for granted.

FlagFlowercemetary

 

It warmed my heart and gave me hope that people from different generations, professions, political leanings and walks of life can come together in a spirit of positive bonds of affection and shared experiences.

 

The Irish Hare is a great venue for social events, dinner and music and we all appreciated the support from the Proprietor Heidi Hamor who thanked us for our service and contributed to the raffle prizes with a snazzy, green shirt.  Other fun raffle prizes from the American Legion Post 64 included a US Flag and fun, patriotic cowboy hats.

FlagdayMVNSocialHat

It was a simple yet spirited event that renewed my faith in the strength of local community bonds that are the underlying support for the fabric of our society.  I was happily reminded that I live in the United States of America where our flag is appreciated and rallied around in times of peace and war and serves as a common symbol of our shared principles and values.

 

The Courage to Communicate: From Bowling Alone to Better Angels

Being Aware

Bowling Alone

Bold Action

Better Angels

Add a “Q” and I give you Brenda’s Audacious Quest!

I now have the courage to communicate an important message and mission that I hope will resonate with you.

I feel that my 25 years as an active Toastmaster member has prepared me for this moment and I’m happy and excited to get started on a new and somewhat scary endeavor.

Written as a full sentence:

Over the course of time I became aware of the bold action needed to go from Bowling Alone to Better Angels.

At this point you may be asking-  what the hell am I talking about?

How much time?

What bold action?

What is Better Angels?

Simply put, my goal and quest is to help depolarize America.

What?

I want to improve our country’s health, one conversation at a time.

Why? 

Like many of you, I am saddened and tired of how divided we have become as a country.

Other reasons include my desire to:

  • Reduce our collective stress
  • Make our communities stronger
  • Increase civic engagement and bridging social capital

How?

I am an Organizer for Better Angels, a citizens’ organization that is uniting red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America. 

art-artwork-blue-68510

So what does Bowling Alone have to do with this?

It all started in the early 1990s when I joined a bowling team called the Misfits.

I was living in northwest Arkansas in a town called Bentonville, the location of the world headquarters of my employer, Wal-Mart. 

To blow off some steam from my intense data center operations job, I joined a local bowling league and happily knocked down some pins every week with total strangers.  We named our team the Misfits and we proudly wore dorky, self- designed black T-shirts with a cheesy silk-screened logo. I had nothing in common with my teammates except the love of the game and the fact that we lived in the same state.  I didn’t remain in Arkansas for more than a few years but I have fond memories of the strong and happy social connections we shared.  Although we may have differed politically, religiously and socio-economically, we bonded and cared for each other.   To this day, I still love to bowl and miss my Misfit friends in Arkansas.

Bowling

The other major thing I did while living in Arkansas was join Toastmasters International.

My first experience was in a club called “Words R Us”. It was a diverse and jovial group ranging from southern Baptist preachers to Italian-American transplants from New York.  We all learned from each other and developed a wonderfully supportive culture of tolerance and inclusion.  The club was a true melting pot of ideas, styles and perspectives where everyone was welcomed and all views considered.  I remember enjoying the nights when we held actual debates in a point-counterpoint format.  Pastor Willie Brown was my favorite club member and I always enjoyed listening to his impassioned speeches even though I often disagreed with his point of view. His big smile and hearty laugh were many times the highlight of my week.

Another important and impactful memory I have is from a speech I gave in 2005 while I living in San Diego.   I was the Test Speaker at a Toastmaster Evaluation contest and the title of my speech was called “Bowling Alone”.  I remember using my bowling ball as a prop and discussing the importance and benefits of participating in bowling leagues and other community groups.  While stressing the importance of bridging social capital and community involvement, I lamented the fact that fewer and fewer people were joining and attending local clubs and events and this was having a negative effect on our country’s civic engagement.  My speech was inspired by the book by Robert D. Putnam titled “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” and focused how the reduction in all forms of in person social activities has caused a decline in social capital.   My message was powerful and I recall many people coming up to me after the speech to express their thoughts and concerns on the topic.

 

Five years after giving the “Bowling Alone” speech, I found myself living in Littleton, CO and a member of the Columbine Communicators Toastmasters club.   There I was again impacted and inspired by the events and people in the local community. The opening words of my presentation that cold day in 2010 were “another school shooting”.   My husband filmed this sober speech with its bold call to action and shared it on YouTube where it has been viewed 3,935 times.  The title of that speech was “Bowling Alone: How to Rebuild our Communities”.

SONY DSC

Fast forward nine years, two more moves and I’m living in Phoenix, Arizona.

It’s 2019 and our country’s civil discourse is at crisis levels. 

The intense amount of polarization is startling to this socially engaged joiner of Toastmasters clubs across the county.  I never imagined that the United States of America would become so divided that friends and family members are not speaking to each because they support different political parties or candidates.

So here I am with my bowling background and public speaking experience, ready to try to bring people together to learn how to communicate again.

My audacious quest is simple yet lofty.

I want to help build bridges and real live connections to overcome our culture of contempt.

I want to help people to see the human faces of their family, friends and neighbors.

I want to help provide a safe environment and forum so people can begin to listen to the shared values and stories of those with whom they disagree.

I want to provide the skills and training for people to have productive conversations.

I want to bring together reasonable people of goodwill to have a sincere dialogue and a healthy competition of ideas.

I want to face fear and contempt with jovial strength and warm heartedness.

I want to listen and find common ground.

I want to disagree without being disagreeable.

I want to live up to Abraham Lincoln’s words below and be a Better Angel. 

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

My name is Brenda Smull and I am organizing a free Communication Skills Workshop in Phoenix, AZ on June 15th, 2019.

Please spread the word and let me know your thoughts on my audacious goal.

shutterstock_224953552

 

 

 

Capturing the Moment

Capturing the Moment

Lights, Camera and the Community in Action

As part of the Toastmasters in the Community series in my Ahwatukee club blog, I published this article last week.

SteveNewCameraKenosha2013

Sharing the emotion and meaning of a moment in unique and creative ways, Steve Smull has been behind the scenes with his camera and flash at countless Toastmasters, veteran and community events chronicling important occasions, messages and achievements.

IMG_0208

At a Veterans Day parade in Denver, CO

He considers himself an Image Documentarian who enjoys recording milestones and experiences with an eye to aesthetics where angle, context, composition and lighting are all continually considered and calculated.

Brendaspeaking_Vettalk

Speaking at a Career Fair for Veterans in  Phoenix, AZ

 

 

Steve learned the art of the craft from his father who was a professional photographer specializing in black and white prints.  Filming in Super 8 was also a skill he learned in his youth and drives his passion for videography today.

120528_vfw47

Presenting a wreath at a Memorial Day service in Denver, CO

Steve gets the shot that helps share and promote the perspective and meaning of the scene.  By saving memories and images he helps memorialize and remember our past and the sacrifices many have made.  By reporting and educating, he honors our history and traditions one frozen moment at a time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The winners of a Poppy Queen contest

 

By documenting the impact, action and faces in the community, Steve aids his fellow volunteers in promoting and increasing awareness on their important causes.

IMG_5060

The Ahwatukee American Legion Color Guard in Arizona

 

Whether it’s a speech contest, a fundraiser gala, a  bike race or a solemn memorial service, Steve has a knack for artfully capturing the action, passion and beauty of the scene.

CyclocrossNationals2014_Steveaction

At the Cyclocross Nationals Race in Boulder, CO

 

My Compelling Blog: Part 3 (GHI)

 

Welcome to Part 3 of my compelling blog where the letters GHI stand for Giving Heroes Inspire.

fireman-100722_1920

My first role models were in my home and were my hard working and humble parents.

My next role models were in my school and were my inspiring teachers and supportive, caring coaches.

Soccerteam

My high school soccer coach, Jean Puf

The other amazing role models were in my community and were the volunteer members of my small town’s first aid squad and fire department.  They didn’t get paid but always responded to the loud siren call to help someone in need.

aid-care-close-up-1516645

These giving heroes inspired me to be a better person and I dedicate this blog to them.

The brave first responders in our community deserve our upmost respect and support.

The many selfless teachers and coaches in our schools should be appreciated, well paid and celebrated.

I am so grateful to my parents, siblings and extended family in NJ who instilled in me the importance of giving, helping and supporting others.

Let us never forget the sacrifice that the many Heroes in our midst make every day.

The Spirit of Giving

The spirit of giving is alive and well in Phoenix, Arizona and it reminds of the many special people who shaped my life.

My mother, Virginia, was a jolly and generous woman whose smile could brighten any room. As an active member of the Ladies Auxiliary in VFW Post 4589 in our hometown and she brought joy to many sick veterans during weekend visits to the local VA hospitals.  She brought the patients treats, books and most importantly, she brought them her loving spirit and warming laugh.

MomChristmasTree

My Mom, Virginia Nason

Although my Mom is no longer on this earth, it comforts me to know that her warm spirit of giving is still alive through me, my siblings and other auxiliary and veteran group members.

This past year, I joined American Legion Post 64 in Ahwatukee, AZ for a host of reasons:

One- It is important to me to honor those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Two- My parents instilled in me a strong sense of obligation to help others in the community.

The foundation of the American Legion’s values is based on four pillars and this holiday season, I was delighted to see two of them demonstrated so clearly by the generous actions of fellow members of Post 64.

The two pillars of Veteran Affairs & Rehabilitation and Children & Youth were shown and strengthened by the kind deeds of Deb & Roger Munchbach and Kris & Jim Cetone.  Like my parents did years ago, they visited the Phoenix VAMC and livened up the dreary, white hallways with festive Christmas trees and boxes of goodies that were free to anyone who wanted them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Deb Munchbach with Jim and Kris Cetone

Another heartwarming holiday project that was spearheaded by the Munchbachs and supported by members of Post 64 involved supporting the Christmas Sponsorship Program at Save The Family in Mesa, AZ.  In this program, participating family members are asked to submit “wish lists” that are shared with the sponsors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The gifts for our Christmas family

Post 64 sponsored a local veteran family and used the money donated from the distribution of poppies (hand crafted by Roger) along with cash gifts from post members to purchase a sleigh-full of presents (toys and household items).

It is this spirit of giving and caring for others that makes we most proud to be a member of American Legion Post 64.

 

During this Christmas season I feel merrier knowing that my Mom is looking down at us with her big smile and saying:

“Ho, Ho, Ho! 

Good job on keeping them smiling and laughing!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jim, Kris and Roger brightened the Phoenix VAMC

 

 

 

 

Appreciation and Thanks

IMG_7949

I am thankful for organizations that are motivated, dedicated and committed to helping those less fortunate in the local community.  One such group is American Legion Post 64 in Ahwatukee, Arizona which continues to be recognized for its good work in the Phoenix area.

Post 64 was recently awarded three plaques to recognize its efforts and good works including: Outstanding Post History, Outstanding Color Guard and the 2018  Commanders Award for Community Service.

IMG_5060

Post 64 Color Guard in action.  Photo by Steve Smull

It’s no wonder that this fine Post has received the Membership award for the last 3 years.

2016Post64award

 

I so appreciate the positive acknowledgment of the generous and patriotic service of the members of Ahwatukee Post 64 and I am proud to call myself an active member.

Click here for the Post 64 Website