The Sunday Series (67), with Mark Brodinsky

There are really only two true paths in life, go all in, or get left out. If you simply hang out in the middle, you don’t give much, or get much in return. But find your purpose, take pride in who you are and what gift you can bring to this dance of your existence – show courage, provide hope, lend inspiration – and now you are taking on life and taking others with you on the journey. Then you have a tale to tell.

Everyone has a story.

I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.

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The Sunday Series (67): For The Kids

They are our greatest resource, our finest gift, our future. Our children. And for most of her adult life, Arlene Streisand has devoted her time to making sure they are fulfilled.

arlene and kid

 

Ten years as a teacher. A devoted mother of two boys. A resource for caregivers and for the past twenty years making sure that parents and their children can slumber in peace and happiness.

Arlene is a specialist – for summer camps. But this is not a commercial for a business, it’s about a woman with a higher purpose, and an army of “mommies” helping families to figure it out. After all the right camp can change your life, especially a sleep away camp.

summer camp

“Camp makes an impact”, says Arlene. “My best friend is from camp. I’ve known my friend Susan since I was nine years old and I met her at camp. It’s a life experience you can’t get anywhere else. It’s 100 percent about friendship, independence and responsibility. It’s like a 24/7 play date.”

For Arlene is has been a life-long passion for children. “I’ve always worked with kids”, says Arlene. “I was a teacher for 10 years, had children, (two sons), and then I opened up a nanny placement service while living in Manhattan. I helped parents find caregivers for their kids. When my kids became camp age an interviewer came to our home and he asked me what I did. I told him I recruit nannies from the Midwest and place them with families in the Northeast. He asked me if I could recruit some men to work as staff at his sports camp in Massachusetts. That was my entrance into the camping world. I sold my nanny business and worked on the staff end of the camp business for eight years, building my knowledge and relationships with camp directors. Moms started asking me questions, and I said I think I have a new thing here and I started consulting with families.”

Arlene and her husband Lloyd

Arlene and her husband Lloyd

 

Not just consulting with families, Arlene started building her mommy army. She developed an organization of representatives, mothers in the various camp communities who could recruit the families interested in the Camp Specialists service. She currently has more than a dozen mothers who work with her and serve as reps in their communities. These are young mothers who are actively involved in their community through schools, places of worship, different social organizations… they bring in “leads”, the families who want to send their kids to overnight camps.  And for the families it is invaluable, after all the service to them is FREE.

girls at camp somewhere

 

Arlene says, “we like helping children find that perfect experience because the right camp can help them succeed in future life experiences. Camp makes an impact. I have relationships with camp directors and I know the camps. I know what your neighbor or relative doesn’t know, just because someone recommends a camp to you doesn’t mean it’s the right camp for your child. There are so many different options: number of weeks, elective vs traditional camps, price and location. We help to narrow down the choices and take the stress out of looking and the planning process.” (http://campspecialists.com/), (https://www.facebook.com/CampSpecialists?fref=ts)

camp poster

The mothers who assist Arlene have to be top-notch, with the same focus and dedication to the children and their families. “It’s very hard to find good people as reps”, says Arlene. “They have to be smart and savvy and very well-connected socially to their community. I’m looking for a very special person, she has to have it all.”

Arlene and some of her mommies

Arlene and some of her mommies

One of those “special” women, (and how I learned about this unique service and Arlene’s mission/business), is Dori Popkin Chait. Dori who was also a camper, says she loved camp, it was, as Dori describes, “my happy place. I gained the most independence, confidence and the best friends at camp.” Dori is ready to help others share that experience and she fits the profile Arlene is looking for… top-notch. Dori has degrees in finance and social work. Now a stay-at-home mother of two young children, (and let’s face it that is the world’s toughest job), Dori says being a camp rep and part of the mommy army who helps recruit is a natural fit, because she is a “helper by nature”. Not only working to recruit families to help them with camp, Dori is also one of the chairs for next week’s Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital Gala in Baltimore and the newly appointed secretary of the PTA for her boys school. Give back, get involved, be connected. It’s what Dori does and it’s what Arlene looks for in the mommies she hires to help.

dori popkin chait dori and husband

Arlene wants the best of the best because for her this work is seven days a week. “I’m always on it”, she says. “What drives me is I want to do right by my families. We have a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience and we have a lot of privileged information that the average person does not know. When you are dealing with something for your children and your family you should really explore it to the fullest. It’s hard to do on your own because there are so many choices and types of camps and different directors and so many possibilities of what could be right for your children. We know it all.”

spread the word about camp

And that knowledge and caring is what Arlene wants to make sure other people know about. She services families, for free all over the US and even internationally – placing kids from countries like Mexico, Spain, France, Latin America, just to name a few, some of them who come here to just to learn to speak English.

And it’s that language of love Arlene is looking to share and promote. It is in her blood to love, serve and care and she believes camp can be part of that experience for a child. “I have a lot of good memories about my camp”, says Arlene. “My first boyfriend, my first kiss was at camp. I did the swim mile test and got my first certificate for it, the athletics and being away from home. Gaining my independence and responsibility and friendships, the great friendships.”

friends

It is this same experience Arlene and the mommies who help her want others to share. They are the specialists and there is a reason you call it a service, it is about serving, helping, and caring all focused on a great outcome. When you can do that for a child, and put a parent’s mind at ease, everyone wins.

And every small victory in life matters, especially for our children.

camper

Until next time, thanks for taking the time.

Mark

Mark Brodinsky, Author, Blogger, Speaker, Speech Writer, Emmy Winner, Financial Services

Author: The #1 Amazon Best-Seller: It Takes Two. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
(http://www.spouses-story.com/)

For feedback, comments or suggestions for the Sunday Series, enter a comment on the blog, on social media or email markbrodinsky@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courage: It’s Just About… Life

the_wizard_of_oz-cowardly_lion-courage-001 (1)

Have the courage to live up to your potential, for without courage all is lost.

I heard this line just the other day as I listened to a discussion (and advice) about selling. Sales is a field, a job, a career where courage is a must, because rejection will rule most of your existence. You have to have the courage and the tenacity and the willingness to not give up and to not back down. As Zig Ziglar said, “timid salesman have skinny kids.”

But it goes much deeper and not just for those who sell (though we all sell something, especially to one another). The actual definition is the mental, or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.  Or to state it much more simply, as a friend of mine so eloquently does: “pack a set of nuts and keep on going.”

Whether you are selling something, are in some other career, not working at all, just starting out, or simply living life – and flying high, or feeling low – courage is a must. For without courage, all is lost.

Think about it. Or read about it if you like. Every Sunday Series on this blog is about someone demonstrating courage in the face of what sometimes seems like overwhelming obstacles, challenges, or heartbreak. Whether it is in their blood, or they developed the unbreakable spirit to persevere, it is courage that keeps them going.

Or it might be the story of someone doing what they were born to do, someone living up to their potential. This too takes tremendous courage. You know why?  Because they have found theirs. Their WHY. Have you?

On the surface it might seem like figuring out what your WHY is inconsequential, or even worthless.  After all you might be living just fine, work, family, fun, health – all in good harmony. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that scenario and maybe no changes need to happen. After all it’s your life, you should get to design it.

But are you, have you, do you want to? And are you living life at a level which truly matches what you believe to be your potential? Have you the courage to know what that is? Have you figured out what your WHY is and then HOW you could use it to help others to gain, to relieve pain, to enhance their lives and in doing so, enhance your won.

It takes courage. Be honest, most people don’t know what they are really capable of. Very few take the time to figure it out, reflect on it, plan a strategy, have the discipline to grind it out –  to live a life where the sky is truly the limit and then bask in the glow of the soulful rewards of having done just that – of giving back in a way that the world will long remember.

We each have that inside of us. It’s called your potential. Figuring out what it is you were born to do and then figuring out how you can use that “superpower” you harness to dent the universe. Believe me the universe needs some denting, and YOU are just the person to make it happen.

It’s not necessarily about making a name for yourself, it’s not about taking center stage, unless you choose to do so. Not everyone wants to stand out, some wish to stay in. That’s fine. But you are still cheating yourself out of the true possibilities of life, of significance and the ability to impact others in amazing ways,  if you don’t take the time to figure out how to live up to your potential.

It takes courage. Do you have it?  You know you do, you just have to reach deep inside and seize it.

For without it, all is lost.

Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
Mark

 

Mark Brodinsky, Author, Huffington Post Blogger, Speaker, Emmy Winner, Financial Services

Author: The #1 Amazon Best-Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
(http://www.spouses-story.com/)

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The Sunday Series (66), with Mark Brodinsky

If all the world is a stage, then such is life. So many of us want the world to see our front stage, the performance, sometimes raw and real, but so many times simply an act, as we conceal what is really going on behind the curtain, what is happening backstage. Because if you are truly living, everyone has been there.  Peek through the door, inside the curtain and there is likely something you could share to provide courage, hope or inspiration to another human being.

Everyone has a story.

I am Mark Brodinsky and this is the Sunday Series.

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The Sunday Series (66): Rare 

Erin and family

“It definitely opened my eyes and put me in tune to other people. Be nice and sensitive to everyone, cause we don’t know what they are going through.”- Erin Levitas

When you are in your 20’s it’s not always easy to go that deep with your thoughts. Life is egocentric, the world is your oyster. You are about to open it and dive in to the unchartered, but hopefully exhilarating waters of a career and a new, independent existence. One filled with questions which can only be answered by the experience of living your dream.

Until that dream is put on hold.

With college graduation on the horizon, and at the still tender age of 22, Erin Levitas and her dream are on standby.  It was back on March 5th, when Erin first felt the pain and the mass in her abdomen, she thought it really wasn’t a “big deal, she would be totally fine”. “I’m a healthy college senior, I didn’t think anything could happen to me”, says Erin, “but when I went into surgery, it felt a lot worse than I thought it would be. The doctors immediately knew it was cancer. They told my parents and then the next day the doctor came to talk to me. With my parents each holding my hand on either side of the bed, the doctor told me everything that had happened. He said they found a large tumor and it was cancerous and it had spread throughout my stomach. I didn’t really hear any of it. And then five minutes later I asked him, ‘you said I have cancer?’. He said ‘yes’, then I broke down. It was my turn to process it.”

It took nearly a month for the actual diagnosis. And it is Erin who explains it best in the journal on her Caringbridge page:

My diagnosis is called high-grade endometrial stroma sarcoma, not of the uterus. To put this in simpler terms (trust me, my PHD from Grey’s Anatomy has not prepared me to deal with all this medical jargon), I have a cancer that is created in the GYN region of the body, but it is located in my stomach instead of in my ovaries or uterus. This is extremely rare, I am one of only a handful of people to ever have this form of sarcoma but this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me well since I have always been very unique (I like to call myself the trendsetter of cancer).”

Any journey through illness can be tough, but as evidenced by the excerpt above, Erin is handling it with honesty, with humor and with the fight building inside her, to tackle this head-on. After her surgery, Erin notified the staff at Wake Forest University where she attends college, and they thought there was no way Erin would return.  But not long after going under the knife, where the doctors cut her entire stomach open to remove as much of the cancer as possible, Erin was back on campus.

friends at football game

It was a brave move, but also a somewhat unsettling one. Post-surgery Erin was having trouble walking, so she was making her way from class-to-class on a scooter, having someone help carry her books then sometimes popping pills in the middle of class when sitting for too long became uncomfortable. She says she could hear the comments from some of those around her that she looked too “normal” to be riding a scooter or taking pills in class. Erin says not everyone could understand, “just because I look normal on the outside, doesn’t mean I’m not fighting a battle on the inside.”

Remember, front stage vs back stage.

“I don’t look sick”, says Erin. “Even my friends said I can’t believe you had major surgery a week ago because you look so great. People don’t really know what is going on. It’s hard for my friends to comprehend because I look healthy and talk to them about everyday stuff, so it’s hard for them to believe someone like that could be sick.”

But whether she looks sick or not, Erin’s friends, especially those at Wake Forest and her Alpha Delta Pi sorority sisters have been unwavering in their support. “When I went back to school I couldn’t go to sorority formals, but my sisters have been so nice and accommodating, doing movie nights with me and other things to make me feel better.”

sorority sisters

And then there is the Gamma Omicron chapter of Theta Chi, a fraternity on campus.  In the next few weeks, as soon as the doctors create the proper “chemo cocktail”,  Erin will begin a long run of chemotherapy treatments, as much as six months to a year.  In a demonstration of compassion and support for Erin’s upcoming challenge, some of  the boys in Theta Chi shaved their heads as a show of solidarity with their “little sister”.

Theta Chi

And there are the friends from back home in Baltimore. Erin says her best friend Claire has been there every step of the way getting sarcoma awareness bracelets and belly-button rings to raise awareness. Her high school friends from St. Timothy’s have reached out to show their support as well.

claire (1) support from st_tims

And of course there is family. Erin says her older brother Harris (who is only two years older) has been, in her words, “absolutely amazing.” She says, “he takes me out a lot and makes me feel normal and not like the sick kid. He doesn’t live in our house anymore, but he stops by and hangs out. He sent me the cutest gift, flowers in the shape of a white dog, because we both love dogs.”

flowers from brother erin and harris

Erin says her parents have been dealing with all of this really well. “They have been there for me every step of the way”, she says. “My favorite thing they do is they don’t treat me any differently. When they found out I was sick they could have looked at me as if I was dying, but they don’t. We joke around about everything. But they will change their plans in a second for a new doctor appointment, or if I am not feeling well.

And my Mom, wow, my Mom. I don’t have children so I don’t know what it feels like, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to watch your daughter go through this and not be able to fix it. You can’t put a band-aid on it and fix it. But she just holds my hand and makes me laugh and smile. She is my best friend.”

mom and mask

And Erin’s “best friend” has already been on some interesting trips Among the numerous doctor visits, Mom and daughter have traveled to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and are expected to soon visit Sloan Kettering in New York. The specialists from both centers are now looking at tissue and tumor samples and trying to determine if the cancer matches the original diagnosis ,or perhaps, just perhaps, while still stage 3 and a sarcoma, it is not the rarest of cancers.

This coming week will tell the tale and it will be huge for another reason.

While Erin might not know what it’s like to be a mom, she knows one day she wants to have that chance. So, in a move that shows tremendous maturity and foresight for the 22-year-old, Erin has been going through fertility treatments. The goal is to harvest as many eggs as possible and freeze them for the future, so one day, Erin can have children of her own. The upcoming chemotherapy treatments could severely damage any chance Erin has for producing healthy eggs, so for weeks now Erin has been getting hormone injections and sonograms and everything looks positive. As many as 30 of the eggs look viable and tomorrow morning (Monday, April 20th), the egg retrieval process is expected to take place. It is Erin’s best shot at immortality, to one day become a mother.

The upcoming week  is also expected to bring the insertion of a port for the upcoming chemotherapy treatments (Wednesday) and sometime this week, word from the cancer specialists at Sloan Kettering and Dana Farber on the final cancer diagnosis. From harvesting the best chance to create life down the road, to finding out how to save her own, this is a week Erin won’t soon forget. And she is looking forward, not back and certainly not being overwhelmed with her current circumstance.

“I just feel like I have so much left to give to other people and to experience the world and what is ahead of me in my career and with my family. There is so much left to do, so much I haven’t done and haven’t said, and I look forward to the future.”

May 18th is graduation day from Wake Forest, Erin plans to be there. She will graduate with a bachelor of arts in psychology, with honors and has already been accepted by the University of Maryland Law School, but she is deferring for a year as she undergoes treatment. The coming months will be quite a ride.

 

And if you so choose, Erin is asking you to go along for that ride. You can share her journey in the journal on her Caringbridge page, (http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/erinlevitas). If I might be so bold as to stand in judgement, and not that any story deserves more attention than any other, but Erin is a terrific writer, taking you into her world with the perfect mix of emotion and humor. She is simply telling her story and when you do it in this way and speak from the heart, everyone who has one will buy in.

I’m sold.  Erin, I wish you all the best!

Erin levitas profile

Until next time, thanks for taking the time.

Mark

Mark Brodinsky, Author, Huffington Post Blogger, Speaker, Emmy Winner, Financial Services

Author: The #1 Amazon Best-Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
(http://www.spouses-story.com/)

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Heart to Heart: It’s Just About… Life

girl holding sign

It is forever about the children.

We are now just a few days removed from what is quickly becoming a signature event on the streets of Baltimore: The Red Shoe Shuffle to benefit the Ronald McDonald House. You can still feel the loving vibration of thousands footsteps focused on giving. Nearly three thousand people made their way through the streets of Baltimore to help those who cannot help themselves… as well as the families who stand by their side in the hopes of healing. Each year, more than 1,400 families arrive at the doorstep of the House in search of hope.

On a sun-kissed Sunday in April, and for the fourth year-in-a-row where the weather has been this divine, you start to believe there might just be some divine intervention to have a day this nice –  proof that God has a special place in his heart for children. And it’s the reason we walk, it’s always about the children.

kid high fives red shoe

The Ronald McDonald House of Baltimore is the home away from home for the families of children in need. Children being treated for serious illness, dealing with physical challenges, many from birth, or a host of other maladies or injuries in this journey we call life. Some heal, some don’t. For more than 30 years the House has been there, not to affect the outcome, but to provide whatever joy to the journey is possible for the children and the families that love them. A child can heal faster when his/her family is close at hand. And when a child is suffering, it’s the only place a parent wants to be… as close as they can get.

The Red Shoe Shuffle started four years ago as a way to help raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House, and is now quickly becoming a popular fund-raising event each April. Fittingly this year the 5-k run/walk wound its way through the heart of Downtown Baltimore, even along the promenade at the Inner Harbor, the place that more than 30 years ago put a struggling city back on the map.

red shoe socks

And you couldn’t ask for a more perfect morning to run, jog or stroll and to feel the power of love. All along the route there were volunteers to cheer you on – or even offer a free hug, sharing the love and making sure this would be the start to a perfect day for all who participated. The goal of this year’s Shuffle, to raise $300,000 for the Ronald McDonald House of Baltimore – the end total: $345,000!!

free hug multiple signs more red shoe signs

It’s all about community involvement, the incredible power of giving and it’s about the children, it is forever about the children. The late Nelson Mandela put it this way: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

There is little more inspiration you need in life than to look into the eyes of a child, sick, injured or simply in need of your love. Even the eyes and soul of the healthiest of children need the care and compassion we all can bring to life, for our future lies within them. It is our duty, responsibility and legacy to do the best we can to secure the path for those who will hopefully follow in our footsteps.

pallack and tiff and piper red shoe group photo

They say God gives you two hands in life, one to help yourself and one to help other people. This past Sunday thousands of people placed their hands on their hearts and reached out to touch the heart of a child in need.

Heart to heart.

new york life crew

Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
Mark

(To donate to The Ronald McDonald House: (https://secure3.4agoodcause.com/rmh-baltimore/gift.aspx?id=1)

Mark Brodinsky, Author, Huffington Post Blogger, Speaker, Emmy Winner, Financial Services

The #1 Amazon Best-Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
(http://www.spouses-story.com/)

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