From Dave Bezaire & Susi Havens-Bezaire
Although the daily news all too frequently reports rather depressing events, we look forward to the new year with abundant hope because everywhere we go we meet wonderful, concerned citizens giving their time and talent to make our world better—people like you!
“Reaching out” continued to be a fitting phrase for us in 2014 as we volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and American Red Cross and rolled out a Matching Gift program to promote charitable donations, and Susi shared her artistic talent at North Church.
We feel fortunate in so many ways, and are continually blessed with wonderful opportunities, so it’s tempting to claim that we’re following a master plan that we devised long ago. But the truth is, we are thankful for all the amazing serendipities that seem to continually expose us to new adventures and enriching experiences in our lives.
Since 2010, we’ve been curious about the Red Cross after John and Bobby’s tragic house fire that claimed three of their family members. Then, on a Habitat project in Columbus in the fall of 2013, volunteers Sandy and Patty further inspired Dave with stories of their disaster relief experiences. We rather thoroughly confused the poor Red Cross administrative systems by signing up in Columbus late last December, training in Tucson throughout January and February, and then returning home in April to begin our volunteer work.
Both Dave and Susi assist people immediately after house fires as members of the Disaster Assistance Team (DAT) that provides funds to help with food, clothes, and a few nights in a hotel, and offers compassionate ears and encouraging words to nudge clients toward making recovery plans. Our experiences have ranged from relatively minor events, such as kitchen or basement fires, to large apartment fires that displaced scores and necessitated operating Red Cross shelters to house dozens for several days.
Most curious was Susi’s conversation with a DAT leader who asked how she got interested in Red Cross. She was astounded to learn that he led the DAT response that fateful night in 2010 when the Ropp’s house burned. Four years later, he was still very emotional, and raved about the unbelievably supportive friends who rallied around John and Bobby—people who we, too, have come to know and appreciate!
Dave and Susi also responded when spring tornadoes demolished a wide swath in Arkansas—80 miles long by 25 miles wide. Eight days in Little Rock gave us a dreadfully close-up view of nature’s destructive power as we helped people who had lost everything to get through the first few terrifying days and begin a path to rebuilding.
Arkansas also revealed the importance of advance preparation to enable the coordinated, community-wide response required after a major disaster. So, not surprisingly, Susi is now the Regional Lead Volunteer on the Community Mobilization Partners (CMP) team, organizing efforts to forge relationships with other charitable organizations, government agencies, and commercial enterprises throughout the 45 county region—and to systematically document them for ready access in time of need. She rather humorously became a supervisor via a “five minute emergency promotion” when her efforts brought her into a meeting with national-level bigwigs, which would be a no-no for a mere associate in this hierarchically-oriented organization.
Having seen Susi’s organizing prowess in action with CMP, the Red Cross also tapped her as volunteer Regional Manager for the implementation of a major national fire preparedness program. In just a few months, the region has mobilized teams of Red Cross volunteers and firefighters to visit residences in high-risk areas of three counties. They install (or test and renew batteries in) smoke alarms and coach residents about effective escape and recovery plans. Last Saturday she even got her first ride in a fire engine!
After chomping at the bit for 18 months since finishing the Jay Project, Dave devoted five months to lead, along with his friend Terry Baughman, the Parker Project to build a house in the South Linden neighborhood. He finished up in late November for a Dedication on December 13, and the Christmas tree picture he received the next day from the new homeowner exemplifies the joy of this work. Having finished this twelfth Habitat project as House Lead, Dave finds his appetite sharp, and already he’s looking forward to his next opportunity to do it all over again!
Another curiosity was the sense of déjà vu Dave experienced his first day on the Habitat build. Seeing a familiar looking burned-out carcass just three doors down the opposite side of the street, he realized he had worked with the former residents of that house on his first day as a Red Cross DAT member. Now, less than a year later, we are full of hope for all the people in this block where Habitat built five new houses this year, and continues to lobby the city to clean up of all the abandoned properties nearby.
Also new this year is a Matching Gift program we created to encourage our children, nieces, and nephews to contribute some of their time and/or treasure for the benefit of the community. Yet another serendipity, it is a side-effect of having established a tax-saving foundation several years ago to offset our IRA conversion. We hope that it stimulates meaningful conversation, and are eager to see how it functions and to fine-tune it over the coming years.
All of our children continue moving forward. Ben just graduated from OSU with a degree in International Relations, and is confident as he begins his job search. Luckily for us, he has agreed to house-sit as we take a few extended trips next year—Tucson in the winter and the Eastern coast of Canada in the summer. Rebecca, having just left Starbucks, is enthused and happy as she begins a new adventure working as an office specialist at a breast clinic within the Ohio Health system. She loves having her own apartment near downtown with many restaurants and activities to explore—and the company of Bev, her new pet cat. John purchased and settled into a new home this year. Bobby married Becca and her sweet daughter Caroline. It’s a wonderful world when all of them seem happy, healthy, and eagerly looking forward to bright futures.
Susi continued her passion for plein air art with flurries of painting in the Arizona desert during the winter, in Monterey California for ten days in April during the Plein Air Convention, in the Adirondacks for a week in June at the Publisher’s Invitational Paint Out, and on several of Ohio’s prairies throughout the year for an exhibition at the Springfield Art Museum organized by the Ohio Plein Air Society.
This fall, she expanded her artistic repertoire when our pastor gave her six leftover banners with the request, “Do something with this.” Via an online search for “felt”, she stumbled on the very old tradition of dry needle felting—which is essentially painting with colored wool and very sharp, barbed needles. Aided by a few books and online tutorials, Susi created two 7′ by 4′ Advent banners, including the one pictured at the top of this post. In her sharing way, she is currently teaching others the technique, and together they are doing an even more ambitious Lenten project.
And, as long as we are falling into things naturally, we have to admit that we find ourselves writing this note in the Bonaire airport because American Airlines granted us free travel vouchers when our flights to the Red Cross deployment to Arkansas in May were overbooked. We’ve enjoyed 10 days of wonderful warmth, snorkeling, painting, and scuba—yet another of the sweet serendipities that have punctuated our year.
We end this post as we end the year, wishing everyone abundant success in all the endeavors they undertake. May the spirit of this season bring moments of peace in these sometimes troubling times, and with them, respite that allows each of us to recognize and celebrate the good in the people in our lives. Merry Christmas!