Dock of the Bay
Volume VII Number 18
Mother Love: Foster Parent
Peggy Minner Opens Heart, Home
photo by Mary Catherine Ball Peggy Minner with foster daughters Amanda and Aubrey.
On New Year's Day in 1996, Peggy Minner and her husband, Henry III, had a talk that changed their lives.
"I told him I either wanted to be a nurse or I wanted to be a foster parent to help the community. My love is to help people," Minner said.
Learning there was a shortage of fostering families in Southern Anne Arundel County, Minner decided that's where she could make a difference.
Making that difference has not been easy for Minner, her husband or even their eight-year-old son, Henry IV. First came orientations and training sessions, where the Minners learned the ropes. Next, they were bombarded with paperwork.
"You have to open up your life and put it on a piece of paper. They want to know about your parents, your family life. You get fingerprinted and a background check. The fire department comes through your home. It's not easy and you have to be totally committed," Minner said.
The Minners have committed to opening their West River home and hearts, over the past three years, to 13 children. Some came with their families.
Minner welcomed a family into her home to learn the daily routines of a life with children. She taught the mother to prepare nutritious meals and to bathe her children. Minner was then able to watch them leave her home, prepared to survive as a family.
The Family-to-Family program, run by Social Services, allows foster and biological families to work together and learn from each other. Minner says some parents love their children but lack the skills they need to raise them properly.
Shortly after, a seven-year-old girl, full of hurt and hatred, arrived at their doorstep. Over the course of 15 months, the Minners watched as she opened up to them. They were able to play a role in her placement in the family that had adopted her two brothers.
"You have to have a willingness to want to help and a love that is deep for those children. A desire to help these children improve their lives, to be teachers to them, to be mentors to their parents," Minner said.
In a world where everything does not always work out for the best, not every fostering is a success.
photo courtesy of Peggy Minner The Minner children: Austin, Henry IV, Aubrey and Amanda.
The Minners gave their love to a baby girl who was removed from their home to be placed with her paternal family. Devastation crushed the hearts of the entire family.
"You have a grieving process. When your kids go, you're gonna miss them. You love them. They're gonna leave. You're gonna have to get through that," Minner said.
Hardest of all is translating the ideal of love into everyday life. Many children are placed in foster care because of physical or sexual abuse or neglect by their parents. Others are offspring of drug- and alcohol-addicted mothers. Foster parenting involves a constant round of therapy sessions to ease the pain that has been inflicted on these children.
"They don't come to you cutesy. Some of them come with no clothes. None of them are normal kids. There is a lot of work, and you will get tired and exhausted but it's all worth it if you love children and you really want to help."
The Minners worked hard and helped many children before siblings arrived at their home last summer. They saw the love-hungry faces of three children they are now waiting to adopt. Five-year-old Austin, three-year-old Aubrey and two-year-old Amanda will soon be the newest official members of the Minner household. But they became a part of the family 12 months ago.
Minner smiles as she talks about her eight-year-old son who dreads going anywhere without Austin and loves the girls to pieces. As she speaks, her hands point out pictures of the children together.
The struggles and successes of all her foster children are photographed. Minner chronicles their lives with pictures and words. A journal records the scraping of a knee, the arrival of a tooth and the wonder of a first visit to the circus.
"They can look through this book when they get older and say 'this is my life. It's not empty'," Minner said.
"Empty" is not a word that sits well in Minner's stomach. In January, her family held a fostering orientation at Cedar Grove Methodist Church in Deale, their home parish. Not one person showed up. Disheartened by the lack of support from the community, Minner is at a loss for an explanation.
"I thought, why isn't there anyone down here that has a heart big enough to take some of these kids in? Why aren't more people helping? It bothers me because I would like to know why people aren't coming forward. What can we do to try to make that happen?" Minner asked.
Minner and her family continue to provide a loving home to their foster children, hoping that volunteers will answer their call at the next orientation session in June. She is seeking out women and men in the community who are looking for a special child to share their future.
"There is nothing better than a mother's love. We need to be there for the child, we need to be home for the children. Out of all the jobs that I have ever had, this is my favorite. Sometimes I get a headache, but this is the job that I love the most. I would not trade it for anything," Minner said.
May is Foster Parent Appreciation Month. To learn more about becoming a foster parent in Anne Arundel County, call Social Services outreach coordinator Ann Dorsey: 410/222-7825 x 3032.
-Mary Catherine Ball
Tour of Champions: On the Road with Calvert's Big Trees
Calvert's champions reach toward the sky, embracing light and warmth. Spring finds them budding, flowering and leafing. Calvert's champion trees, most of them, have made it through another winter.
These big trees turn up everywhere: on private property, in parks and along county roads. If anybody knows where to find them, it's John Zyla, naturalist at Battle Creek Nature Center. He's so enthusiastic about trees that he compiles Calvert's champion tree list and hosts a yearly tour to show off his finds. Many of these big trees are off limits, so Zyla's guided, once-a-year adventure is your chance to legally troop across lawns and down out-of-the-way trails for a peek.
"Calvert has four national and 54 state champions," Zyla proudly points out. His list also locates 150 county champions.
A champion tree, the biggest of its kind in an area, is determined by three measurements: the circumference, measured four feet above the ground; the height and the spread.
Every two years American Forests - the organization planting trees along the Bay and benefiting from New Bay Times' Birthday Bash - revises and publishes The National Register of Big Trees. The next amended version is due out in February 2000.
"I update our list every April," explains Zyla. "I've measured 19 nominations this year. People send me notes or I come across some in my travels. Then I find them and do the measuring."
Calvert has no new national or state champions this year.
"The champions are the largest of their type. The national champion shining sumac grows right outside the back door of Battle Creek Nature Center. It's only nine feet in circumference, which isn't spectacular in size, but is large for a sumac."
Zyla's verified list is sent on to the state, where a state forester validates state champs. His documentation is accepted for the national list of big trees.
Trees come and go on the champion lists. People submit new trees; old trees die and are replaced on the list. Calvert County had the champion peach tree on the 1998-1999 national list, a peach tree that, along with a state champion pear tree, spread its branches on the same property in Lusby. This winter a storm toppled the peach tree. In February, another peach will take its place on the national list.
One of Calvert's prettiest national champion trees, an Eastern redbud, grows in the front yard of a private home in Prince Frederick. With its circumference over six feet, it stands 26 feet tall and spreads out 31 feet. The redbud is glorious throughout the year. In spring, its lavender flowers dip down from the branches; in fall, its leaves turn a hazy yellow. This native tree was planted in 1937 when the home was built. Rosalie Gross, the owner, remembers when "my father planted this tree and some dogwoods to line the driveway. What a pretty sight they are. I'd like to learn how to take care of the redbud so it'll stay healthy."
You too can enjoy Calvert's champions, trooping across lawns, gazing up at the big trees and listening to John Zyla's tree facts.
Sat. May 8 is the day to join the Fourth Annual Big Tree Champions of Calvert County tour, sponsored by the Calvert County Natural Resources Division and the Calvert County Forest Conservancy District Board. 9-3 from Flag Ponds Nature Park, Lusby. $15 includes lunch at Trinity Methodist Church, Prince Frederick. rsvp: room for only 47 people: 410/535-5327.
In Calvert, NAACP Keeps Young
photos by Carol Glover 37 youths gathered to hear NAACP speakers in Solomons.
"Our ancestors, who did not have the freedom to go to school, to learn in public, did it in secret when it was in violation of the law. Education is a legacy."
-Ruby Reubens, retired Montgomery County Schools ombudsman, welcoming NAACP youth leaders
Solomons Island spread out the welcome mat for the NAACP's Regional Leadership Training Conference. Youth and adult leaders from Maryland, Virginia and D.C. gathered for training, networking and some inspired speechmaking by Kweisi Mfume, CEO and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. A former congressman from Baltimore City, Mfume may well become Baltimore's next mayor.
The NAACP, headquartered in Baltimore, celebrates its 90th birthday this year. Formed in New York City in 1909, the NAACP is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States. It boasts 2,200 branches in 50 states, the District, Japan and Germany. Its 500,000 members are committed to non-violence, relying on the courts and public opinion to win its battles for equal rights.
In Solomons, the venerable organization sought to keep itself young by inspiring a new generation. Addressing 31 female and six male young leaders were three exhilarating speakers: Ruby Reubens; Woody Grant, Maryland Department of the Education director of Equity Assurance and Compliance; and the Rev. Cornell Hunter, assistant principal in Anne Arundel County Schools.
Echoing youth throughout the nation, these young people talked about how to manage their time and relationships; what to do about drugs and school gossip; and how good students can avoid being labeled nerds.
Reubens focused on educational achievement, while Grant spoke on stereotypes and prejudice. "Student leaders are aware of civil rights, but they need to know how to access them if they feel their rights are violated. They must learn the correct process and procedures," Grant said.
The young people listened attentively to Reubens and Grant, but the session really got rolling when they discussed personal issues.
In a dialogue with Grant, Reubens and each other, the students complained that the positive things they do are overlooked while the negatives are overblown.
"Network among yourselves, take the leadership role to give counsel and direction to students who need it. We've got to depend on each other," Reubens exhorted.
When asked if they felt safe in school, the floodgates opened and answers flew from every corner of the room. Students talked about guns and knives in schools, metal detectors and cops in the halls.
They talked about how many teachers don't care about them. "They're just there to pick up a paycheck," many complained.
A young leader from T.C. Williams High School in Virginia noted with great wisdom that, "a self-defeating attitude is as dangerous as teachers who don't care. If you don't care about yourself, nobody else will. You have to care about yourself first."
Around Town: A Day with the Circus
photo by Chris Heagy
What has three rings, an elephant, four jumping poodles, a European family flying through the rafters, a horse called Tequila, a fire-eater named El Diablo and a grown man who introduces himself as Jelly Bean?
Why, the circus, of course.
On May 2, the Roberts Brothers Circus arrived in Deale ready to thrill.
Judging from the oohs and ahhs, the crowd that assembled on the fairgrounds behind the Deale Volunteer Fire Department did not leave disappointed.
"The circus is the only form of entertainment that has never been rated. There is no sex or foul language. I am the most violent thing in the show," Jelly Bean the clown exclaimed before the show started.
The crowd was wowed with a variety of talents. Starting with a pair of jugglers, the show quickly picked up pace. A unicyclist jumped rope with his partner on his shoulders. A magician levitated his assistant. Animal trainers commanded elephants, horses, ponies, llamas and dogs. And no circus would be complete without the crowd pleasing antics of a clown or two.
The gymnastics of the Petrov family were the highlight of the show. Using amazing upper and lower body strength, the family delighted the crowd with tricks both in the air and on the ground. Petrov senior, juggling acrobats with his feet, was a stunner, and the aerial tricks of Daniel and Lilly kept the audience gasping.
1999 is the Roberts Brothers Circus 26th season. This year's tour, begun on March 11, takes the circus throughout the United States over the next eight months. The circus caravan of trucks, campers and rigs will go as far north as Maine and as far west as Ohio before returning to Florida at the end of October.
During its tour, the Roberts Brothers Circus performs seven days a week. A few times there'll be a two-day stop, but for the most part every day brings a different town.
"We wake up at 5am and travel 10 to 200 miles to get to work each day," explained J. B. Drew, a part-time tour guide, part-time crew member and full-time clown.
Life on tour can be tough. There is a lot of travel. It's hard to maintain relationships, and the accommodations are not the greatest. But for many of the performers, it is the only life.
Chris Connors, ring master, is traveling his first year with the Roberts Brothers. But the circus is in his blood. Fans of the circus, Chris' parents were friends with many performers. He remembers bouncing on a clown's leg after a show while the other clowns drank beer with his parents.
Chris learned how to clown as a teenager and went to work doing one-day stands and spot dates. When he went on to college, Chris tried to put the clown suit away. He worked for a few years, planning to leave the circus behind. But he couldn't do it.
"I have sawdust in my veins and no matter what I tried, I just couldn't get it out," Chris explained.
Like everyone at a small circus, Chris wears many hats. He is the ring master, performs a magic act, helps set up the big top and drives one of the circus rigs from town to town.
J.B. Drew retired to the circus.
For much of his life, Drew was a teacher, administrator and principal. He has also been Jelly Bean the clown part-time for 35 years. In 1990, when he retired from his job as a school administrator, Jelly Bean decided to tour with the circus for a year. It was something he had always wanted to do. In his ninth year on tour, he is having the time of his life.
"When I walk into the tent, everyone is happy," says Jelly Bean. "They forget about their problems and want to have fun. I get instant feedback from the laughter or applause of the audience. Share your joy and I'm happy with you. Share your tragedy and I feel your sadness, but the best thing you can do is let me entertain you."
The Roberts Brothers Circus played in Indian Head Saturday night and in Suttlersville on Monday. You'll find them on the Eastern Shore during the week. On Friday, the circus lands at Ocean Downs in Berlin, Maryland to perform as the host circus for the annual convention of the Circus Fans of America in Ocean City.
Having an itch to travel the country and live a circus life? The Roberts Brothers Circus is looking for crew members to help set up the big top and work with props during the show. It's hard work but, as ringmaster Chris Connors says, "It takes you to a magic place where you can stay."
Way Downstream ...
In Virginia, older is smarter. The state is joining forces with the Corporation for National Service and the Environmental Alliance for Senior Involvement to establish a Senior Environmental Corps that will train volunteers for local projects ...
Mexico City's air is among the most unbreathable, and dogs are part of the reason. Every day, the city's two million dogs produce 353 tons of feces, much of which bakes into dust and becomes airborne. Mix that with factory pollution and tailpipe emissions and you get "a vicious brew of particulates that darkens the skies and scars the lungs," the Los Angeles Times reports ...
In Britain, people wonder whatever happened to Andrew Ridgeley of that '80s' pop duo Wham! The Christian Science Monitor reports that he has combined his passion for surfing with his environmental advocacy to become the spokesman for a group called Surfers Against Sewage ...
In India, weavers are angry but antelopes are resting easier since the government has begun seizing shahtoosh shawls made from the wool of the endangered Tibetan antelope ...
Our Creature Feature comes to us from South Africa, where a policeman-turned-criminal picked the wrong hiding place. Escaping from the police, Isaac Mofokeng thought he was being slick when he jumped over a wall at the Johannesburg Zoo.
It turned out to be the gorilla den, where a big fellow named Max sized up the situation and pinned the intruder until police came. Unfortunately, Max took a bullet to the chest in the fight. Max is recovering, but Mofokeng will have some time to think about his misdeeds: He received an extra five years on his sentence for "malicious injury" to Max.
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Volume VII Number 18
May 6-12, 1999
New Bay Times
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