Category Archives: Uncategorized

Beauty in the Unexpected

Sometimes it’s the unexpected that leaves the lasting impression on an event—something that even the best PR pro or special events planner couldn’t coordinate, script or direct.

Such was the case during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Harris County’s Matzke Park. (See related blog post below). It was a day that was heaven-made — bright sun, temperatures in the 70s and the sweet smell of spring flowers in the air. A crowd of 125 people turned out to hear local officials and community leaders, including Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole, laud the newest addition to the park – a barrier-free playground built by Be An Angel. The all-inclusive playground for kids of all ages and abilities was created in partnership with the county and the Association for Better Community Schools, a community group that I have led for the past 15 years. This is the 22nd barrier-free playground built in Harris County by Be An Angel.

County officials and local residents signed in, got their nametags and made their way to chairs under a large tent. Special needs students, including many in wheelchairs, from adjacent Matzke Elementary School and from Aldine ISD, were waiting to give the playground its first try.

After numerous speeches in which everyone responsible for this beautiful park and its newest playground structure were recognized and thanked, Commissioner Eversole stood at the podium for closing remarks. He admitted right off that he wasn’t going to try to make an inspirational speech or thank those who had already been recognized by the preceding speakers. Jokingly, he asked, “Is there anyone here today who hasn’t been thanked?”

A little special needs boy on the front row raised his hand to the delight of the crowd, which applauded enthusiastically as the young boy stood. Then, he slowly made his way to the podium and stood by the Commissioner smiling. “Do you want to say something?” the Commissioner asked. As the young boy moved to the podium and looked out into the crowd, there was a pause that seemed to last an eternity as we collectively wondered what this young boy would say.

And then he spoke these words into the microphone: “I want to thank my mom for all the nice things she does for me and to say I love her.”

Priceless.

 

A Labor of Love

[The following is the text of a speech I gave on April 3, 2009, at the ribbon cutting of a barrier-free Be An Angel playground at Matzke Park. As president of the Association for Better Community Schools (ABCS), I’ve worked with members of the community for the past 15 years to save a 20-acre green space from commercial development. Today, it is a Harris County Precinct 4 park.]

For 15 years, Matzke Park has been a labor of love for many residents in this community. There are a few of us who have been dedicated to this project from the very beginning – I call them my suburban commandos – and I’d like to recognize Joan Fitzgerald, Martin Heemer, Susan Greenwade, Kathy Vawter and Margaret Buchanan.

Carol Bennett and the Butterfly Garden at Matzke Park.

Carol Bennett and the Butterfly Garden at Matzke Park.

As head of a volunteer organization, you are always excited when a new volunteer joins the team. So several years into our effort, a woman who had recently retired from Compaq Computer started coming to our monthly meetings. And we are so thankful for Carol Bennet, a master gardener who took charge of the Butterfly Garden development. Thanks to Carol, her husband Chuck and the Norchester Garden Club, our community can enjoy and our children can benefit from the educational value of this unique beautiful setting. It’s truly been a labor of love for Carol. In fact, on the Monday after Hurricane Ike, I ventured out to check on friends in this area and drove by the park to find Carol, Chuck and their family cleaning up debris in the garden. That’s a true labor of love.

And so it was two years ago, when we decided we wanted the playground at Matzke Park to be something special – something that all children could experience and enjoy – that another volunteer stepped forward. She simply wanted to donate a swing set in memory of her late son, Tanner, who was confined to a wheel chair during his short eight years of life. She understood what it was like to go to the playground with her two able-bodied daughters and see her son not be able to play with his older sisters or the other children.

Maura Hanlon and her two daughters officially cut the ribbon on the barrier-free playground.

Maura Hanlon and her two daughters officially cut the ribbon on the barrier-free playground.

So when Maura Hanlon learned we were considering building a barrier-free playground and stepped forward to make a donation, we said, “Have we got a job for you!” We asked Maura to spearhead the project on behalf of ABCS in coordination with Be An Angel, and she’s been a driving force for getting us to where we are today. She should actually be here at the podium addressing you, but in her quiet and unassuming way, she deferred the job to me. So I want to acknowledge and thank Maura Hanlon for this labor of love.

And to all the community residents who are here today who have given money over the years, supported the Garden Club’s efforts to create the butterfly garden, attended fundraisers for the playground, read years and years of park update articles in the Norchester Times submitted by Joan Fitzgerald – to all of you who have kept the faith, look around you ¬– this is the result of our collective labor of love. And for this, I say thank you.

This student from Matzke Elementary told me, "This is the best playground ever."

This student from Matzke Elementary told me, "This is the best playground ever."

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The Be An Angel playground at Matzke Park is accessible to all children, even those in wheelchairs.

 

 

Me and the suburban commandos who helped bring Matzke Park to reality.

Me and the suburban commandos who helped bring Matzke Park to reality.

Never Again, to the Fifth Degree!!

I know. I know. I say it every year. Never again will I do the MS150, the 180-mile bike ride from Houston to Austin to raise money to find a cure for multiple sclerosis. Yet, once again, I’m getting ready to make the two-day trek to Austin on April 18 and 19 – for the FIFTH time.

Me and my biking buddies.

Me and my biking buddies.

I first began this quest as a personal challenge the year after I turned 50. But after months of training and several major hills outside of LaGrange and in Austin, I vowed never again. Then my son, Patrick, met me at the finish line in Austin with a dozen red roses and said, “Mom, I want to do this next year with you.” But that was going to be the last time for sure. Now it’s five years later and I’m spinning and weight training and road riding.

I guess I continue to ride because there is something about the physical challenge of riding a bike 180 miles. Just when you don’t think you can peddle another stroke, you round the corner and see a person sitting in a wheelchair by the side of the road holding a big “Thank You” sign. I continue to ride for Doris Rosenbaum, who died this past December after a 26-year battle with MS. Although I never met Doris, I kept up with her battle with MS each year from my friend and MS supporter Joan Fitzgerald. Joan tells me that although Doris’ poor body was so compromised at the end, her mind and attitude were an inspiration to all who knew and loved her.

Perhaps I keep signing up for this event for the two brothers who grew up across the road from me in northeast Texas who today both suffer from MS or the father of a young boy on my son Byron’s soccer team. Although he looks like the picture of health today, he woke up one morning paralyzed and was later diagnosed with MS, ending his own ability to do the long-distance cycling events that he loved, including the Hotter Than Hell Ride in West Texas.

So here I am again seeking donations from you to support the MS Society of Texas. Here is my fundraising link for easy and secure online giving:

http://main.nationalmssociety.org/site/TR/Bike/TXHBikeEvents?px=1946092&pg=personal&fr_id=10222

If you prefer to mail a check, you can send donations to the National MS Society, Lone Star Chapter, 8111 N. Stadium Dr., Suite 100, Houston, TX 77054. Be sure and put my name in the memo section.

Last year, I matched all donations dollar for dollar, raising a total of more than $2,200. This year, I’ll match donations up to a total of $500. (Hey, there’s a recession going on!) And remember, this is my last ride. I won’t be coming back to you for donations ever again. (Maybe.)

 

Celebrating a successful Day 1 ride with Patrick.

Celebrating a successful Day 1 ride with Patrick.

Blame It On Facebook!

 

Pam Torma and Ike   

Nick Scroggins and Abbey

   TOP: Pam Torma and Ike  BOTTOM: Nick Scroggins and Abbey

I love the different types of connections the new social media allows. Thanks to Facebook, I’ve reconnected with friends from high school and college, not to mention former employees and current business colleagues. What can happen as a result of those connections is amazing. Consider this story:

“Tracy is going to pick up a Boston Terrier puppy for her son to surprise his wife on Christmas!” That was my status update on Facebook two days before Christmas.

Not too much later, my friend and business colleague, Charlotte Scroggins, replied that she loved Boston Terriers and that her family had two of them. As it turned out, the puppy I had located was in Sugar Land, where Charlotte lives, so one thing led to another and I picked up Charlotte to go look at the puppies with me on Christmas Eve. It just happened to be her son Nick’s 24th birthday and he was home visiting with his Boston Terrier, so I guess you can guess the end of the story! As we got into my car with two of the cutest little Boston Terrier puppies you’ll ever see, I told Charlotte to blame it on Facebook!

Confessions of a NimTwit

NimTwit. That’s my word for a person still new to the whole social media phenomenon. And that’s me. A play on the words “nim wit” and “Twitter,” as a NimTwit, I’m still struggling to determine the relevance of social networking tools like Twitter in my business. But I’m game for the change. After all, social media is our future.

In 30 years of corporate communications, I’ve learned the one constant in this industry is change. When I started out as a freelance writer in 1983, computers were just emerging as the must-have technology. After purchasing a Texas Instruments PC, I moved on to Mac in the early 1990s. I’ve been an Apple fanatic ever since, in recent years adding an iPhone and iPod to the mix.

My early PC gave me the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of another communications phenomenon at the time: desktop publishing. Though, these days, I leave design to my colleague, Susan Diemont-Conwell, and to several favorite Houston design firms, I’m glad I embraced the communications advancement as it opened up a world of business opportunities for me. Then came the World Wide Web and a whole new learning curve. Today, like millions of people around the world, I can’t imagine life without the Internet and e-mail. (My once well-used fax machine now collects dust!)

This summer, my business colleagues in the Houston chapter of IABC decided it was time we “old timers” learned the new social media that a new generation of employees is using to communicate. I took the Facebook plunge and I love it.

And what you’re reading now is my very first official blog post!

My Torma colleagues, Susan and Theresa Parker, will also share their thoughts and insights on this monthly blog. And you may even hear from my son, Patrick, a University of Houston business student, who is working as our marketing intern this semester.

Most of my posts on this blog will be confessions of a NimTwit as I share my experiences in learning the ropes of communicating via social media. So stay tuned! While I may be a bit slow, don’t count me out. Today I text; tomorrow I tweet.