Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
Brothers Alex and Ivan Antropov-Kalashnikov, ages 7 and 8, perform during the Garden of Dreams Talent Show rehearsal on May 28. Photo by Amanda Schwab/Starpix.
Nearly two years ago, Victoria Ledeneva and her family lost everything they owned in Hurricane Sandy. In the thick of the storm, their Staten Island neighborhood was flooded in 8 feet of water and Victoria, her husband, and her two young sons, Alex and Ivan, were forced to evacuate their ground-floor apartment to seek shelter with an upstairs neighbor. The family was rescued by boat the following day and spent the next 2 months living in a shelter before being moved into housing in Connecticut.
Following the trauma of the super storm, the young boys were plagued by stress and nightmares, and in hopes of taking their minds off of the family’s ordeal their father began giving the boys guitar lessons. In the year since playing their first riff, the brother’s nightmares have vanished and their newfound musical talent has brought them to the stage at Radio City Music Hall to perform in the annual Garden of Dreams Talent Show.
Garden of Dreams is a non-profit organization that works with notable teams including the New York Knicks, Rangers, and Liberty to help dreams come true for local kids facing challenges of homelessness, poverty, illness, foster care issues, or tragedy. The talent show, which takes place June 17 at Radio City Music Hall for no cost, is an annual event with kids ages 6-18 who are members of Garden of Dreams partner organizations. Along with the opportunity to perform on the legendary Radio City Music Hall stage, participants in the talent show are given the chance to work with celebrity mentors like model and dancer Damaris Lewis, who attended the May 28 rehearsal and is excited to watch Alex, Ivan, and their fellow performers grace the legendary stage.
“It’s Radio City. These kids are all from this area, and it’s kind of like growing up and finally going to the Empire State Building,” said Damaris. “You grow up and you see the Rockettes and you grow up and you see the Christmas Spectacular and you never think that you’re actually going to be the person who’s on the stage. This is actually happening, and it’s going to be epic.”
Other guest mentors for this rehearsal included Disney Channel’s Ryan McCartan, New York Liberty player Essence Carson, Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC, and two of Radio City’s own Rockettes, Dani Betchel and Danelle Morgan, who was returning as a mentor for a third year and was happy to share her home stage with visitors from around the city.
“It’s really cool because that’s how we started. We were these little kids with these ideas of some day doing it big on the great stage,” she said. “You see how hard they work and how innately talented they are. It’s so inspiring.”
When their names were called, the young brothers from Staten Island took their place in the center of the rehearsal room and performed the classical guitar duet “La Partida” for their peers and mentors. As their performance ended, the crowd applauded, mentors offered feedback, and their proud mother watched on as she saw how far her sons had come since their family’s harrowing experience 2 years prior.
The brothers may be young now, but the experience and memories provided by Garden of Dreams of performing on a legendary stage and meeting with celebrity mentors will surely last long past the final curtain call.
“When they’re 20-something, they can never say they never accomplished anything, because when they were a teenager or younger than that, they were on the Radio City stage. It’s pretty awesome.”
For more information about Garden of Dreams, visit their website at gardenofdreamsfoundation.org.
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Thursday, May 29th, 2014
No matter the circumstances, death is never an easy topic of conversation, but for parents facing a terminal illness the topic is all too real. Thru My Eyes is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide these families with the resources they need to leave their legacy with their children and loved ones.
By providing professional filming and editing services free of charge, Thru My Eyes allows families to capture and save special moments of all types, from simple moments like reading books or gathering around the dinner table to more intimate taped video messages delivering words of wisdom. The organization also provides counseling services to help the family work through their emotions during this trying time, making sure to capture on film the moments participants feel are most important to their family.
Thru My Eyes provides a simple process of working directly with a counselor and video crew to ensure participants are getting exactly what they’re looking for when the edited and finalized DVD is delivered to their home within one month.
“Everybody should do something like this. You hear the voice, you see the smile, you see the gestures. I thought it was really important that my girls have that. It’s a special moment,” said a participant named Amy in her video testimonial. “There’s some things you never were able to say, and it’s easier to talk to a camera.”
If you’re interested in reaching out to Thru My Eyes, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.thrumyeyes.org for more information.
Image: Medical doctor holding hand of patient on light background via Shutterstock.
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Thursday, May 8th, 2014
There’s a running joke in my family about my siblings giving our mom one of the worst Mother’s Day presents of all time. When my older siblings were both under the age of 3, my well-meaning dad thought it would be great to give my mom gifts my brother and sister had picked out just for her. Good idea in theory, but not so much in practice seeing as the resulting presents were a 200-pack of neon straws and a potato peeler. To this day, my mom still rolls her eyes anytime someone tells this story.
As it turns out, by taking my siblings out of the house for the shopping trip, my dad actually gave my mom the most in-demand Mother’s Day gift in the world: alone time. An informal poll of my mommy friends revealed what they’re craving most is time away from their everyday responsibilities. One friend even confessed, “Sleep and an entire day of no whining would be perfect.” To help give mom the time off she deserves, try one of these creative alternatives to classic Mother’s Day gifts.
Netflix in bed. Breakfast in bed is a classic, lovely way to celebrate mom, but popcorn in bed and free-reign to binge watch a show that doesn’t burst into song every other minute is the modern definition of bliss.
Ditch the bouquet. Take mom to the gardening store and let her pick a few of her favorite spring blooms, then spend the day planting them to create a beautiful garden for her while she’s enjoying some peace and quiet inside.
Dinner for one. Instead of a family dinner, fix mom her favorite meal and vacate the house, letting her enjoy a nice meal without worrying about who’s not eating their veggies or who’s making the biggest mess.
Image: Young girl offering flowers to her mom via Shutterstock.
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Thursday, March 6th, 2014
For the past two years I’ve been working for a family as a regular babysitter for their now 3-year-old son, Mason, and this past weekend I was called in to hang out with him while his parents went to a friend’s party. As a surprise I brought him a few new books to read that I figured would get tucked away on a shelf and occasionally looked at before bedtime, but I could not have been more wrong.
From the second I pulled the big, colorful kids’ books out of my bag, Mason couldn’t take his eyes off of them. Once he got his hands on them, he ran over to the couch and asked that we started reading them, making sure to go through each detail from cover to cover. Normally our time together is spent eating pizza, throwing dance parties, and playing with Legos, so the change of pace caught me off guard. Aside from the 20 minutes or so spent breaking for dinner, we were on the couch the entire night reading the same three stories and looking at their pictures.
I have to say; I was really impressed with Mason (seen above in his early reading days). He genuinely enjoyed spending his time flipping through these pages, pointing out details of the illustrations and asking questions about things that were unfamiliar to him. Sure, I remember loving books as a kid, but my ability to get lost in the pages of a good story has dwindled after my college years of scouring studies and analyzing classic literature. Truth be told, I got kind of jealous as I thought about the (overdue) library book that has been sitting on my shelf untouched for weeks. Whatever happened to kicking back on a Saturday night to read a good book with your babysitter?
I was feeling the sting of my freshly wounded ego when I came across a post today from Rewire Me that reminded me of why kids, unlike some adults, find reading to be so much fun. The article outlines major reasons that explained why reading to your child sets them up for a better future. Aside from the quality time you get to spend bonding with your little one, the article mentions that reading to kids also helps foster imagination, builds language skills, and helps them establish a connection between pictures and words. It also delves into the importance of repetition while reading to your child, explaining that reading the same story and looking at the same pictures multiple times can strengthen fragile neural connections. And just think: all of this before bedtime.
As it turns out, I was doing a lot more for Mason than just humoring him when he insisted on reading the same new books over and over again. What I simply thought was a case of being excited about new books was actually an exercise in strengthening a 3-year-old’s brain. Talk about being babysitter of the year.
After reading through the article I started thinking about reading books with my parents growing up, and how I eventually became a book-worm who would camp out on the living room sofa for hours at a time. My parents reading to me instilled an excitement about books, stories, and information that I’d seemingly lost until my friend Mason found it and returned it to me. Thanks for the help, Mase. I’m looking forward to our next story time together, but promise you’ll let me pick one of the books this time, ok?
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Thursday, February 20th, 2014
Parents, we get it. You sometimes feel guilty. You want to be there to drop us off at every little league practice and watch us perform at every dance recital, but sometimes there’s just no way for that to happen. As agonizing as it can be to miss what you see as a major moment in your child’s life, take it from me on this one: it’s OK if you’re not always there.
How do I know this? I’m the product of a workaholic father, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My dad works in academia and all of my life has put in long hours at the office, sometimes working on weekends on never-ending projects. From time to time he missed a swim meet because he was travelling or maybe he couldn’t make it to an orchestra concert because of some work thing or another. Sure, I missed him when he couldn’t be there, but that’s not what first comes to mind when I think about my dad. In fact, until I sat down to write this post I hadn’t thought of any of his absences in years.
That’s because my dad was there for me then, and is still there for me now. We currently live 1,000 miles apart, and I still get a goodnight text before bed every night, emails reminding me about the current countdown to Christmas (it’s “our thing”), and phone calls telling me that I’m loved. He’s one of my best friends, and his work schedule, no matter how hectic it may be, didn’t affect our relationship, but it did teach me a few lessons along the way.
Find your own work-life balance
No book, TV show, news segment, or Parents.com blogger (Hi!) can tell you what works for you. It may take some trial and error, but eventually you’ll figure out a mix between work and family that allows you to get the best of both worlds. In the meantime, don’t stress it.
Memories can be made anywhere, anytime
One of my favorite stories to tell about my dad is how dedicated he was when I struggled with math in school. Even if he worked a long day, he would spend hours with me at our dinning room table working practice problems until the concept finally clicked with me, even if it meant he’d be putting up with my teenage attitude and calculus book-throwing episodes (I’m still really sorry about that, dad). This beloved memory didn’t come from a planned family trip or a scheduled performance, but just from us being together for some one-on-one time.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
We’re all human, and one of the unfortunate side-effects is that we all have bad days. Getting caught up in the negativity of making a mistake or missing out on your child’s big game won’t do anything to change what’s already happened. Instead of worrying, focus on what you can do to be the best parent that your child needs right now. Is he hopelessly bored? Be his playmate. Stressing about a science project? Work through it together with him. There will be lots of moments for you to be there for your child, so don’t worry about one missed opportunity. Or, as my dad would say, “Take it easy, greasy. You’ve got a long way to slide.”
What’s your parenting style? Click here to find out!
Image: Father and baby in dining room with laptop via Shutterstock.
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