STARRY NIGHT PROM 2017

2016-04-30 11.27.07

This kid right here? He’s having a blast, dancing his heart out at the Starry Night Prom last year.

2017 will mark our TENTH ANNUAL STARRY NIGHT PROM! Can you believe we’ve been doing this for an entire decade? We decided to celebrate that fact by throwing an even better prom this year than we did last year. But in order to do that, we need your help. This prom is run entirely on donations. Yes, that’s right. The invitations, corsages and boutonnieres, decorations, food, DJ, desserts, photography, commemorative t-shirts, swag bags and everything in them: ALL donated or paid for with your donations. Even the people who provide service on this night- all volunteers.

And throwing an event like STARRY NIGHT PROM each year is not cheap. So we’re calling on you to help us out. Please donate to help us reach our $6000 goal and make this magical night a reality for these kids within the Arlington ISD. Just click on the highlighted link below and you’ll be directed to our crowd-sourcing fundraiser site.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE TO STARRY NIGHT PROM 2017!

If you own a business and would like to donate logo-bearing in-kind donation for swag bags, please contact our Vice-President of Donations by emailing her here: starrynightprom@outlook.com

If you have other in-kind donations that you’d like to donate, such as gently used prom dresses or tuxedoes, or if you’d like to purchase and donate food items or gift cards to local grocery or department stores, swagbag items, etc., also please contact our Vice-President of Donations via email: starrynightprom@outlook.com.

Remember EVERY donation is appreciated and we will provide  you with a tax-deductible receipt.

**STARRY NIGHT PROM is a registered 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization.

6 Days Left

Starry Night Prom 2015 SWAG BAGS

These are STARRY NIGHT PROM goodie bags from our 2015 prom. These customized backpacks were donated to us by the Elks Lodge #2114 in Arlington, Texas. We stuffed them full of swag for each of our attendees; AISD High School students with significant disabilities. The swag included a customized Starry Night Prom 20-ounce cup, pens, pencils, keychains, compact mirrors, coupons and gift certificates from many local businesses, toys, stickers, magnets, and other cool items. Each backpack also contained a STARRY NIGHT PROM commemorative t-shirt with all of our big sponsors printed on the back.

So all of that stuff inside the goodie bags? FREE for our students who attend. You know what else is free? The meal for each of them (and for one attending chaperone guest per student,) the prom portrait photography, the prom fun photo booth style photography, the boutonnieres and corsages, the beautiful custom made invitations, the dessert fountain, the DJ and big dance floor where they can dance and have a wonderful time. All of this is paid for by the donations of kind and generous people who want to see these kids have a magical Starry Night Prom.

And even though a lot of the swag, backpacks, venue, services including cooking and catering are donated as in-kind donations, we still need money to pay for the photography, DJ, printing of invitations, shirts, cups, decorations, additional swag, and a large portion of the food items that are purchased each year.

Our ongoing FACEBOOK fundraiser event is still active for 5 more days! Facebook has waived all of their usual fees for registered  501 (C) (3) nonprofit organizations with Facebook pages during the #GivingTuesday fundraiser drive. This means that 100% of all donations made via the Starry Night Prom Facebook page will be donated to our noble cause.

Won’t you please consider donating to Starry Night Prom and give these kids their magical night this Spring 2017? All donations are 100% appreciated. Thank you for your support.

 

 

Starry Night Prom Fundraiser in Progress

Randa and Hamo Prom 2014

So, what’s it been? About 12 minutes since I wrote about Starry Night Prom? I can’t help it. These kids are so stinkin’ precious and seeing them celebrating their prom in a safe and accepting environment is just a truly moving experience.

We are currently in the middle of a Facebook fundraising drive. What’s awesome about this one is that Facebook has waived all of the usual fees they collect during their #GivingTuesday campaign. This means that 100% of all donations contributed through the Facebook fundraiser through 15 December 2016 will go directly to Starry Night Prom. And since Starry Night Prom is completely run on the generosity of others, this is HUGE.

As some of you are not already aware, I’ll explain a little about Starry Night Prom. We are a registered 501-C3 nonprofit organization serving Arlington ISD high school students with significant disabilities. We host an annual prom for these kids and a chaperone and all of it is paid for 100% with donations. So their invitations, corsages and boutonnieres, photographs, food, deejay, and goodie bags complete with commemorative t-shirt (sponsors printed on back) are all FREE. A lot of these kids would have to miss out on their high school prom. There’s usually not a lot of accommodations for those who have feeding tubes, oxygen tanks, wheelchairs, or need for assistance in the bathroom, etc. Starry Night Prom takes all of that kind of stuff and makes it the norm. The social playing field is leveled and everyone is “at home” in their gorgeous ball gowns and tuxedos. Spring 2017 will be our tenth year hosting Starry Night Prom.

Won’t you consider making your #GivingTuesday contribution to Starry Night Prom? Please follow this link for our Facebook Fundraising Campaign———–> CLICK HERE

And if you don’t have a Facebook account or would prefer to donate through a different site, you could follow this link for our YouCaring.com account* by clicking –> HERE. (*Donations to the YouCaring site will have transaction fees added by YouCaring, but will remain open through May 2017.)

Thank you so much for your sponsorship. We also accept In-Kind donations, so please drop me a line in the comments section and I can provide information on how to sponsor us in this way. And for those of you who are in Texas and Louisiana, you can link your Kroger Plus shopping card to Starry Night Prom under their Community Rewards program, so that Kroger will donate to Starry Night Prom with every swipe!

(ALL donations, big and small, money and in-kind, are GREATLY appreciated and tax-deductible.)

THIS IS ONLY A TEST!

Like most of the “popular vote,” our family mourned the election results on November 9, 2016. My 11 year old niece was in tears, asking my sister, “But how could HE be elected? He’s mean. How could America elect a bully to be our next President?” Indeed.

She wasn’t the only kid to react this way. I have friends in Florida, North Dakota, Wisconsin, California, Maryland, New York, Georgia, Arizona and everywhere in between who held their children on Wednesday morning, wiping away tears of confusion and disappointment that someone who bullies others in public and on television and LIVES the example of what they are NOT supposed to be, could be elected to lead our country.

I gave myself that Wednesday (and honestly, the following Thursday and Friday, too) to grieve Hillary Clinton’s loss of the election. And then I chose happy.

My sister has a sign in her kitchen that says: Happiness is a Choice. Of course, she keeps that sign on the counter right next to the knife block. So, I guess if you can’t choose happiness, you can always choose the butcher knife. Still, it’s a choice. I chose happy.

Am I happy that Donald Trump is our President-elect? Hell, no. But I am happy to have the next four years to find someone better to run against him in 2020. (Sidetrack: Wouldn’t that be an awesome campaign slogan? JOAQUIN CASTRO FOR PRESIDENT- Because hindsight is 20/20. I digress.)

Look, I am an American Muslim of Irish descent, married to a naturalized Egyptian. We have a disabled daughter and we live under the poverty level and we don’t have health insurance because it’s not offered at my husband’s job and we fall through the cracks of ACA because our dumbass state officials in Texas decided to “show them” and not expand Medicaid….EVEN THOUGH Texans are still federally taxed. So we’re paying for Medicaid in other states and not insuring the poor in our own. I had EVERYTHING to lose in this election. But I’m choosing happy.

My faith teaches me that I must be PATIENT. I can be patient for 4  years of a Trump administration. I can USE that patient 4 years to write letters, investigate and research better qualified Democrat candidates and help to promote them. If we move NOW and are patient through the next 4 years, we can help put forth far better qualified candidates to win in 202o. Hey, you third party voters. PLEASE, do the same. If you in the Green Party and in the Libertarian Party work hard at finding a better candidate NOW….start fund-raising NOW….to get better candidates than Stein and Johnson…..get the monies needed to build up a great campaign 4 years from now…..I’ll bet you have a shot. Hell, you guys come up with someone better than the Democrat nominee and I’ll vote for him or her. But
ALL of you, Democrats, Greenies, and Libertarians: Let’s start NOW. Let’s get out in front
of whatever is coming down the 2020 Republican turnpike and make some serious changes in our government. Start finding mid-term candidates for your congressional representatives now. Put some effort in early so that you can all make our Congress more honest; more representative of US, the voters. They work for us. Make them earn their pay.

This is a test. ONLY a test. Somebody wanted a big shake up and change to the status quo. They got their wish. Let’s take their wish for change a step further and use the next 4 years to work toward true greatness. We’ll have a lot of pieces to pick up. Maybe we can build something new instead of just putting it all back together again. It’s not over. It’s a bump in the road. We can do this.

It’s NOT a Tantrum

Walking through a supermarket, the severely Autistic person wears gun-range headphones to help block excess noise to protect her highly sensitive hearing from the overwhelming barrage of clanking, banging, muzak, baby cries, squeaky buggy wheels and blips and bloops from cash registers. A woman getting over a cold coughs into her elbow, and the Autistic person’s face grows dark. Her mother notices the scowl and the wincing on her non-verbal daughter’s face. She puts the Cheerios back on the shelf and grabs her daughter’s hands and softly speaks into her face, “Poor lady. She’s sick. Sick people cannot help coughing, honey. It’s okay.”

The mom gently guides her daughter from the cereal aisle and the cussing begins followed by screaming and crying. “Ears hurt! STUPID WOMAN!” People begin to stare. Some people whisper and make angry faces. The screaming continues while the mom gives deep pressure hugs and wipes away tears, speaking gently about good choices and soft voices.

An angry woman walks by with her nearly full buggy with the squeaky wheel and stops to SHUSH! the girl. The mother spins around on her heel and tells the woman she is out of line. “You should shut her up! It’s incredibly rude to the other shoppers for her to be throwing a tantrum in the middle of the supermarket! What is she? Retarded?”

“First, she’s got Autism and she is in distress, NOT that we owe you an explanation. A tantrum is a fit thrown in order to get what one wants. This is an Autistic Meltdown which is brought on by environmental situations. What makes them continue is rude judgmental people like you! Secondly, this is Kroger. If you want quiet, go to the fucking library!” The mother turns her back on the sputtering woman, who has now become just another bit of background noise. The girl continues to cry and loudly repeat the same line from her favorite movie, as though stuck on a loop.

The store manager walks up and smiles. He knows the woman and the daughter, as they are regular shoppers here. He asks if everything is all right. The woman nods that it is. The girl notices the manager’s very large mustache and points at his face. “It’s big whiskers!” she says, wiping away her tears. The man laughs and agrees that they are. The girl smiles and says, “Bye. Come on, Mommy. It’s Cheerios.” The mom grabs the hand of her 20-year old girl and mouths a quick thank you over her shoulder to the manager. She returns to the cereal aisle and adds the Cheerios to the buggy while the girl happily pushes beside her.

 

Now That I Can Breathe Without Tears

This was my post on Facebook the day following the tragic and brutal assassination of five police officers just 20 miles east of me in Dallas. I thought I would share it here and then expand:

“I spent the better part of last night with my ear glued to the radio. I feel like a giant rock is on my chest, I am so heartbroken that this happened here. And I am bracing myself to hear what weak attempt to link this cowardly and brutal assassination of our police officers to either the “open carry” side or the “stricter gun restrictions” side of the argument.
Our police force is NOT a means to anyone’s political end. These were good people who were hunted by a sniper’s rifle while they protected peaceful demonstrators who were exercising their 1st Amendment rights to express their solidarity with people of the other communities who lost young black men in violent deaths at the hands of a few bad cops.
That said, I also firmly believe that every one of those black men who were killed by police officers throughout this country were also good men whose lives were taken out of the fear, prejudice, bad judgment, overzealousness, incompetence, or power-drunken arrogance of a select group of police officers. Just as black criminals do not represent the entire black population, those bad cops do not represent law enforcement as a whole.
My heart hurts today and I just do not want to deal with Trump or Clinton or anyone else’s politically motivated soundbites to further their own campaigns on the backs of Blue or Black coffins.
‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬
‪#‎BackTheBlue‬
‪#‎UnitedWeStand‬

I am still “in the feels” about all of this. I have been since Trayvon Martin was shot four years ago. I’ve watched from the sidelines and spoken my peace in support of my fellow citizens from within the African-American community. I cannot ever understand how they must feel, having to worry every time their young men step outside the safety of their own homes.

I can only imagine that it is similar to how I feel every September 11th; how I go about my day with my butt cheeks clenched and acid burning a hole in my stomach as I wait for all my children and my husband to return home at the end of that day. How every time there is a shooting, hostage situation, or explosion within our borders the first thing that pops into my mind is, “Dear God. Please don’t let it be a Muslim that is committing this terrible act.” Only this anxiety for my black friends is one that they must endure in the backs of their minds EVERY day and not just annually or during some heinous event.

I want to cry out for them and I want to hug them and I want to scream. I want to be the one who organizes some sort of training program to run through all of the law enforcement academies from coast to coast and make sure that our police officers can learn to see our human sides and not affiliate skin color with criminal capability that crosses all racial lines. How do we turn off that hate? Is there an app for THAT?

I am the person who sees the good in others. I am excited that at my children’s high school on the lower socio-economic side of town, there is a police academy training program where the local community college and police academy choose from our predominately minority population to eventually protect and serve our community. This is affecting positive change in our city. I want this for all the cities. I want to see communities working together to improve the economy; opening and supporting small businesses within the poorer neighborhoods so that money is put back into the community and helping to cut unemployment rates, increase local spending, create pride.

I am not Pollyanna. I know that these things will not solve prejudicial views of all or fear due to racial misunderstandings by law enforcement agents. I know that there is no magic wand to “fix it” in the short term. But I know that what I would like to see happen would definitely contribute to a long-term fix of what’s broke in our country. I will continue to push for education opportunities within my own community. I will continue to teach my own kids empathy, fairness, and to stand on the side of right. I know that the genuinely good people of the United States will continue to do the same. And we can support our brothers and sisters of all skin colors, backgrounds, religions, cultures, and still support our law enforcement officials. I’m going to keep doing my part.

Appreciation for Those Who Tolerate

The list of people in my life (or who, more accurately WERE in my life) who hurt me and my family by using hateful remarks, posting misinformation and bigoted memes on social media, or worse, forward those same “helpful” gems to me and my husband via email, is a ridiculously long list. And the volume of crap that has been said/written/posted that truly hurts us to our cores is pretty substantial and would leave me with enough material to write about for at least another century. You know, if I chose to wallow in pain and past and the sins of others. Occasionally, I have done this and let’s face it:  Blogging is far less expensive than therapy at $350 per session. But I’m trying to not make this blog just another “bitch session” about family or those who I thought were my friends in some giant passive-aggressive public forum for lambasting those who are inconsiderate or rude or “holier-than-I.”

Instead, I’m cutting caustic relationships from my life. That does not mean that I hate these people. Hate is an emotion that would simply eat up too much of my time and energy. It means that I “nothing them” and will no longer allow them any place of value in my head or heart. I have tried to “bring them around” to the tolerant side of humanity but now that I have a headache from banging my forehead into that proverbial brick wall, I’m done. “Cling to your convictions of judging others and damning those of us who think or believe or look or worship or live differently from you! I’ll just go on doing what I do and thinking and believing and looking and worshiping and living differently and ya know what? I’ll still be happy. Happier in fact, because I ACCEPT that we are never going to agree and I’ve let go,” I shout now from the rooftops of this blog (but without all caps because that’s just annoying.)

I have no prejudices against religions. I grew up Catholic. Most of my family still is Catholic. Some are various forms of Protestant- Methodist, Presbytarian, Unitarian, Evangelical, Nazarene, Baptist, and whatever else is under the sun. (I have a huge family.) I have friends who fall under all of these groups and more. I have Jewish friends, Buddhist friends, Wiccan friends, Atheist friends and Agnostic friends. The key to my getting along with all of these friends and family is the operative words FRIEND. The ones who judge me the most are the family members who are Christian. This is NOT a slight against Christianity. Absolutely not. I have no problems with Christianity. I have many friends who ARE both Christian and Family members. But those loudmouth rude people who claim to speak on behalf of all Christendom by interchangeably using the word Terrorist with Muslim and slamming ethnic/religious groups specifically those who are REFUGEES (that means people who don’t really want to leave their own homelands but don’t have a choice because they fear for the lives and safety of their children and selves) and claiming that they are attempting to take over the world and force them into Islam?????? What is WRONG with you? Do you honestly believe that my Syrian sister who is now widowed and hiding in rubble in her city with her 4 children and WALKS thousands of miles over the course of months or maybe even years to get to a bordering country and then has to sell her belongings, borrow, beg, plead in order to be smuggled across it and continue this journey to a European country and then wait for months on a list to get asylum in order to be brought to the U.S, fearful that her children will be separated from her or worse once she arrives here…..is seriously intent on forcing anyone to become Muslim by force and take over our country?????!

I’ll just let that silliness go right there because you cannot argue with crazy.

Here’s where I tell those of you who are Christian and Buddhist and Jewish and Wiccan and Agnostic and Muslim and Atheist and still not really sure THANK YOU. Thank you for accepting me and my family as we are for who we are. Complete with the flaws and imperfections that design humanity. Thank you for loving us and allowing us to love you. Thank you for defending our rights granted by the same Constitution and Bill of Rights that grant you yours. Thank you for tolerating that which you do not always understand or even agree with. Thank you for continuing to hold doors open and wave your appreciation when I let you merge in front of me when the lane on the freeway you are in is blocked. Thank you for asking about my kids and sending graduation cards and appreciating my asking about your sick child in the hospital or about how your new business is doing. Thank you for allowing me to just be me without all the conditional love and acceptance that is sometimes attached to hidden agendas in relationships. Thank you for your tolerance. Thank you for continuing to teach me to keep living my beliefs, my faith.

THANK YOU

Being Used

I have a “friend” who only calls when she needs something. She never calls to just say hello or to check up on me or the family. I have known her for about a year and a half. I offered to help her fill out some paperwork for immigration because her English is not very good and my Arabic is nearly fluent. She came back the following week and asked me to help her at her bank. She had an account at one of those Mega-Banks that was overcharging her for everything. A teller also printed up and gave her a copy of another customer’s account by mistake. I interpreted for her when she explained to the bank manager that this was a huge problem, both for her and for the other customer whose privacy was violated. She withdrew her money and closed the account. I drove her to my credit union and interpreted for her while she opened her account there.

And so it went. Her child’s medical insurance was in need of updating so she called me three months later for help. Another month went by and she called for help filling out visa information for her husband to join her here from overseas. I didn’t hear from her again until April of this year, when the person who did her taxes inflated the numbers and the IRS contacted her for verification of income. This time I drove her to the IRS and sat in the waiting room with her for over 6 hours. They gave her a form to file a correction. We then met the next day while I re-figured her taxes properly and filled out all of the forms. Of course, she was at work and I just mailed the forms after she signed them and provided her with the copies.

We invited her to our oldest son’s graduation. She never responded, showed up or even acknowledged his graduation. We invited her and her daughter to a religious celebration (Eid al-Fitr, following Ramadan) and they did not come or call. In fact, she did not contact us again until she needed to fill out an application for a passport in order that she and her daughter could visit her husband who is still awaiting his visa. I helped her with the form which required a trip to the library in order to print all of the documents for a visa application that I wasn’t even told about until after I had completed the passport forms. My printer was on the fritz. It still is.

Anyway, I didn’t hear from her again until yesterday, a month after the last time, she called and I didn’t hear the phone ring. My son brought me the cell phone and told me who’d called. I just erased the voice mail as I am tired and busy with a life of my own. My husband came home and said that she’d asked if I could help  her print out her eTicket and he told her to go do it at the library.

I know that she was using me from the start. I guess what kept me helping was that I remember being alone with my children in a foreign country and how difficult it was not knowing how or where to do things and having to figure it out on my own. I suppose I was just trying to pay it forward and help her to not have to go through that frustration. I also believe that whatever help I provide others is a blessing to me and not just them. But last night, I decided that I didn’t want anymore blessings through her. I cut the string and walked away.

And look. The sun came out today and I’m still blessed.

STAAR Testing as Seen by a Teenager

He sighs heavily and shoves the books and papers forward across the table as he drops his head in their place, arms outstretched. “I’m never going to pass this stupid test!”

His mother puts the lid back on the pot and wipes her hands on a tea towel. “Sure, you will,” she says encouragingly. “You’re going to go in there and take that test tomorrow and do the very best that you can. You’ll remember everything that your teacher taught you last year, everything the tutor taught you last month, everything that your big brother and I have helped you with. You’re going to be fine.” Inside her head she pushes back the fear that she shares with her son; the WHAT IF?

“But Mom,” he half-whispers with a look of panic on his face, “I don’t get most of these practice questions STILL and I’ve been working on this all summer. I’m not going to be able to do it. I should just focus on getting a job.” His mother runs her hand through his unruly curls and then sits down at the kitchen table next to him.

“Sounds like you already failed and you haven’t even arrived at the testing site yet,” she says. He rolls his eyes.

“You know what I mean. This is the fourth time I’ve taken this dumb test and I don’t want to take it. It just makes me feel stupid!”

“Honey,” his mother says in a serious tone. “This test does not define you. It is not a measuring stick for how smart you are or how talented you are. It’s not even a good measuring stick for seeing how much you learned over the course of a school year. I’ve had teachers tell me that only about 40-50% of the questions are even covered during the curriculum. It’s not really even a good indicator for what the state thinks it’s measuring.”

“What does the state think it’s measuring?” he asks. His mother explains how someone thought that these standardized tests would be a good way to evaluate the ability of teachers based on the number of correct answers chosen by students.
“But what if a student has been absent a lot? That’s not the fault of the teacher. And what about in my situation where I lived in another country my whole life and missed 2 years of school altogether between moves and English lessons once I got here?” The boy brings up valid points that are missed on most politicians.

“Exactly,” his mother agrees. “So, do you think that this test is something that determines how smart you are or how good a person you are or how far you are going to go in life?”

“No,” the boy replies with a look of understanding on his face. “It’s just another stepping stone on my way to graduation. And if I don’t pass it this time, you’ll help me find another way to learn this stuff and I’ll pass it the next time.” Mother hugs son and fusses for him to go back to studying so she can complete the cooking, and prays silently that this will be the time he passes.