All this rain lately has made the creek in Stair Park – so pretty!! Not to be upstaged by this sweet pair and their baby dog!! SO much cuteness!!!
Some of you may remember a photo series I did 2 years ago documenting the mighty Cara Paccio Green on the day she shaved her head before chemo could take her hair.
Cara has been cancer free for the past 2 years, but recently received some very bad news.
She went to the doctor with what she thought was a cold and instead found that her cancer has returned with a vengeance. She is stage 4 with metastatic breast cancer, that also spread to her femurs, hips, pelvis, spine, ribs, and neck. This is a spot on her liver and in her left lung. She has been told that it is treatable, but not curable. She attempted to start chemotherapy again, but was met with some very bad reactions that wound her up in the hospital for 12 days. She continues to fight and keep a positive attitude and her usual uplifted temperament.
Cara and her husband Matt have 2 small boys (ages 3 & 6). She is an amazing wife, sister, aunt and mother. I cannot think of a better way to celebrate motherhood than to do a raffle for a special photo session in her honor with ALL of the proceeds going to Cara’s family as they incur some huge expenses associated with her illness and treatment. Here’s how it works:
Each entry is $10 with discounts for multiple entries. You can donate/enter below until Monday at 8pm. At that time I will randomly draw 1 winner from all the entries to receive:
An all inclusive photo session for up to 8 people anywhere within 250 miles of Binghamton, NY. The package includes up to 2 hours of photography, all of the edited digital images with print release and a custom photo locket with 2 of your favorite images in it. This package is worth $850.
To enter/donate – click below!! I hope we can raise a bunch of money to help make things a bit easier for Cara. She’s amazing and her story, is our story. <3
Courtney & Chris’s wedding was full of the things they love – their friends, their family, great food and great fun! With the Cooperstown Farmers’ Museum as their venue, there was charm to spare! So many unique and personal touches to their wedding including on-site screen printing by Muckles Ink., sweet ring corsages for their moms and a reception strictly structured around: Eat, Dance, Drink, Repeat! We had such a great time with them!! Such a fantastic way to start off wedding season!
Safety. A better life. Kindness. Security. These are things that I take for granted every day. One of the things I love best about our community is that we help. We help our neighbors when they need a hand. We help shuttle each other’s kids around. If someone gets sick – a medical professional steps in and offers assistance. It’s something that is a core part of who I am – I have this burning desire to help and it’s so frustrating sometimes because I can’t. I see people suffering on the news. Tragedy, suffering, death – and here I sit in my warm, safe home with my bowl of ice cream and my kids playing nearby. Why did I get so lucky? Merely a matter of chance because I was born into a family who lives in the US. I stand on the shoulders of generations of ancestors who worked and sacrificed for their children and children’s children.
This is why taking in refugees is so important to me. They are drowning and we have a boat. It’s the right thing to do.
I am no expert in Russian history. So – please excuse flaws in my explanation. In March of 2014 Russia reclaimed the nation of Crimea as it’s own. That’s kind of like Mexico coming in and taking Texas back by force. And then saying well – the Texans wanted to be part of Mexico….so we are just giving them what they wanted. Since this happened – there has been wide speculation that Ukraine is next on the list to be reclaimed. Russia wants Ukraine for, amongst other things, it’s strategic advantage. It’s the small country that gets Russia one step closer to Eastern Europe. Once Crimea was taken – there was a great deal of fear and fighting in East Ukraine. Tanks, bombs and shooting in the streets and near the border. People from East Ukraine fled and moved West and soon – the west began to panic. Crime has gotten worse. There are no jobs. War was beginning. They saw Ukrainian soldiers in the streets preparing to defend their border with Russia. People were killed. And this huge power of a country was bearing down on a small, but feisty nation. The US sent in troops to help ensure that their border was protected and today – it seems to be ok. For now.
About 3 years ago Vitalii and Lidiia started to get really worried about their future in Ukraine. They have 3 children and things were not looking good. Stories of violence and coming war were heard abroad. It was then that they decided to apply for refugee status and try to bring their family to live in the United States. They applied and were vetted for 2.5 years and finally in December 2016 they arrived here – with very little, but the clothes on their backs and what they could carry on the plane. Lidiia’s sister is here – so they were very lucky. As soon as they landed – they dove in head first, learning English, trying to find work, getting their kids into school. They are so hard working. When I arrived at their house, I brought my son along and they welcomed us with amazing Ukrainian food – peroghis, borscht, holupki, a beautiful table of generosity. Their 3 children are awesome and despite a big language barrier (and thanks to google translate) their kids invited my son to play outside and they ran and jumped and played soccer and did what kids do. In safety. They are so impressed with how friendly people are here. They are so grateful to be here and are starting to breathe a little easier knowing that a good future is possible for their children. That they can find work and make their way in the world. Lidiia has a dream of becoming a nurse. They are both working relentlessly to improve their English. Studying every day while the kids are at school. The American Civic Association helped Vitalii find work and he is able to provide for his family. So greater Broome County – meet your new neighbors. They are amazing and are so happy to be here. Welcome home.
There is something that is hard for me to admit, but it needs to be said. When I went over to Mohaned & Zainab’s house – I kept hearing all of these negative things about refugees and Muslim people run through my head. The things we hear the media saying all the time. Their women are oppressed. They would be angry or not like Americans. They want to rule the US with Sharia Law. They would judge me for not covering my head or having short hair. In my logical mind, I know this information is wrong. I would say 50% of what I hear in the media is alarmist and just to get ratings. I have dear dear friends who are middle eastern. They are amazing, lovely people. I guess the unfamiliar provokes anxiety in me, and I was apprehensive.
I spend a lot of time spouting what I believe to be morally correct, righteous rhetoric about embracing those in need and not shunning those different from us. Remaining a welcoming country – and I truly truly with all my heart believe this. But I was still afraid. I am ashamed to admit this. But I am admitting it, because as I sat in their humble, simple home – embraced by their warmth and welcome – I felt truly and utterly humbled. Humbled because they were letting me in. Humbled because they were sharing their story and their lives with me. They were so happy. So content. SO grateful. Their lives have been upended. They have lost all of their worldly possessions. They live in a simple, spartan home. They are 1 month away from having a new baby and have nothing that they need and very little means to get it. They have lost their extended family. They have come to a foreign land – where they can’t even communicate for themselves. They have to start over. From scratch. And in the midst of all that, they are so GRATEFUL. So relieved. So happy. And they don’t care about me. The just want to live their lives in peace and safety. Mohaned said, “We are not here to get rich or pursue the American dream. We only want to live in peace and safety. We want our children to be safe and have a future.”
In Iraq, Mohaned was a taxi driver and he worked airport security. Zainab was a stay-at-home mom. And things were bad. Every day that Mohaned left home, every fare he picked up – he never knew who they were or what they would want from him. They could trust no one. While I was at their home, a relative from Iraq Facetimed with Abas, their interpreter, and let us know, that just that day a bomb went off in the supermarket. There were bodies laying everywhere, in the streets. Imagine living like that.
Mohaned said – they did not want to leave, but they had to. When he picked up taxi fares, sometimes they were bad people who wanted him to do things for them. Things that he wanted no part of. But if he refused them – he would be executed and they would go after their family. This was especially true because he also worked as security in the airport. His children could not go to school. There was constant random violence. You never knew when or where something would happen. Violence was in the school, in the streets, in public places. All he wanted was to live in peace and raise his family. But, just going to the grocery store could be fatal and that was their every day reality. The air is divisive there. People find out information about other people, and then tell the bad guys to keep themselves safe or to earn favor. You never know who you can trust. There was not future for them in Iraq, and despite it being their home and heritage – they knew they had to go.
Turkey was the closest place, so they packed a bag like they were going on a weekend vacation. A couple outfits, toiletries. Imagine you are going to Rochester for the weekend. Except you will never return. And that’s what they did. Once they got there, they sought asylum and stayed there for 4 years. Mohaned worked odd jobs, they were able to get a small apartment. But they were still not safe. They were still close to Iraq and needed to be in a place where their children could have a future. They applied for refugee status with the US and were accepted after 2+ years of intensive interviews, letters, documentation and background checks. They arrived in Binghamton at the end of September, with nothing, but knowing that someone from the local American Civic Association would meet them and get them set up. They have 60 days of support from the ACA. They helped them find a place to live, to get basic furniture and assistance set up. And then they are on their own. 60 days to assimilate to a new culture and a new country. To learn a language and start their lives over. I have thought about it in reverse. What if tomorrow I had to leave everything I know, everything I own and move to Iraq with my family. How foreign and scary.
They are private people and don’t want to make a lot of friends. They are still worried about who they can trust. I am so grateful that they trusted me to share their story in such a public way. It shows tremendous faith on their part.
Mohaned and Zainab want you to know that they are, “grateful for the American people for helping them. We are grateful to the department of Social Services for helping them get on their feet. Special thanks to the American Civic Association, especially to Abas for helping them communicate, arrange appointments and help them adjust. We are so grateful to be here in America. They gave us a new life.”
Mohaned & Zainab are expecting their 4th child next month – a girl. She will be born an American citizen and God willing, will never know the horrors of war and terrorism that the rest of their family endured. Thank you for following this family’s story.
I have had people ask me what they can do to help this family. On their very limited budget, they are having a hard time getting ready for their baby to arrive. Any donations of gently used baby items – a bassinet and car seat are the most critical at this point – would be very appreciated. Other items they said would be helpful are diapers & wipes, a crib, stroller and any various baby related items. They are extremely appreciative and do not want to ask for help. But according to their interpreter – it is greatly needed. If you have items that are in good condition, that you would like to donate – please contact me at email@example.com.
If you would like to make a financial contribution, with which I will purchase a Target gift card to help them get what they need, you can do so here:
This is Tiba – she exudes joy.
Tiba is the oldest – she’s 10. When her family left Iraq she was 6. She remembers living there very well.
In Iraq, she could hear explosions outside. She could not go to school because it was too dangerous to go out. She remembers feeling scared almost all the time. When she got to Turkey, she could go to school there, but it was still not safe. She had to walk over 2 miles to get there and then walk 2 miles back. I have a 6 year old – a 2 mile walk is not easy. Sometimes she had to walk by herself. Sometimes it would be pouring rain. Her parents would walk with her whenever they could. The road there was not always safe and there was no transportation. But she went, because it means that much to her and her parents. This is what courage looks like. She is inspiring.
Tiba speaks the best english out of all her family. Kids learn so fast! When I asked her what it was like to live in America – she said it’s beautiful and she feels very safe here. Her favorite things so far are getting to go to school and her teacher. She said that the kids in her class are all so nice to her – they are all her friends.
Her favorite things to do – besides go to school (which is #1 on the list), is to help her mom and to cook. She loves helping take care of her brother and sister and is excited to have a new baby coming soon.
From talking to the kids – one of the things that impressed me the most was how utterly grateful they are to go to school and how much they adore their teachers. So teachers – whoever you are – thank you. You are profoundly affecting these children’s lives and they are sure never to forget you. If you haven’t had the chance to meet Tiba’s sister and brother – please take a minute to see their stories.
Meet Sakina. She is 6 years old and in first grade. This is her first time ever getting to attend school and she LOVES it! She is a big sister to Mahommad and little sister to Tiba (you’ll meet her next).
I think she is the shy one when strangers are around – but just wait until she gets to know you. Then she’s a firecracker! Abas, our interpreter, kept teasing her because she was being so quiet. Usually she talks non-stop.
Like most middle children, she seems to kind of blend in and then pop! There she is!! She is so sweet and eager to please her parents.
She is SO excited to have a little sister!
Sakina’s favorite thing about being in America is that it is safe and she gets to go to school! She loves playing and making friends. She is super excited because she has made 3 friends in her class even though she speaks very little English. She loves her teacher and playing with her friends. One of her favorite things to do at home is to help cook. Especially if cookies or cake is on the menu. 🙂
She loves to help in the kitchen. She was the first to jump in and help get cookies ready.
This past weekend I had the pleasure to meet an amazing family who is new to our community. They do not speak much english at all, so I met with them along with fantastic gentleman from the American Civic Association who is their friend and interpreter.
This is Mahommad. He is 5 years old and just moved here in September. I want you to meet him first, because he was the first smiling face I saw as I walked up to their door and I instantly fell in love with him. He came from Turkey, but his first home was Bagdad, Iraq.
Mahommad came here with his mom, dad and 2 older sisters. When he was 2 years old, his family left Iraq with what they could carry. They boarded a bus for a trip to Turkey. In reality – they were fleeing their country. It was so dangerous there, he could not go outside most days. His mom and dad were afraid for their lives. They lived in Turkey for 3 years until they were granted refugee status and came here to the US.
Mahommad – loves playing on the computer, his teacher, climbing on his dad, going to preschool, bouncing around and being with his family. His eyes sparkle with curiosity and his smile is infectious.
Mahommad doesn’t have a lot of toys, but that’s ok with his mom and dad. They want him to spend his time learning English and studying. He will soon be a big brother too! Before I left, he snuck me a peanut butter cup, to make sure I took one home with me.
His favorite thing about America so far, is that it’s safe here and he gets to go to school. Over the next few days I will be sharing more of his family’s story.