Giving Back: A Tale of Community Service

It’s an oft-told tale around my office. Kids come from far and wide to hear me tell the Barbie Story.  They knock on the door and , when beckoned in, timidly ask, “Mrs. Lewis, will you tell us the Barbie Story? Pleeeeeeeeeeese.” they smile or offer puppy dog eyes for effect. They need a laugh today.

I look at them, 16, 17 years of age, most towering over me, roll my eyes, smile, and invite them in. They sit in the guest chairs in my office, on the floor, or stand, and listen, with rapt attention as I spin my yarn.

Awhile back, a woman with whom I work and for whom I have the utmost respect, invited me to attend, along with her and at her expense, a breakfast event at a local, fancy-schmancy hotel.  The purpose of the get-together, she stated, was for meeting with like-minded professional women, eating some great chow, and networking.  Being only a horse hair away from agoraphobic, I wasn’t interested in networking. However, she said, “This’ll be fun.” In postmodernity, fun is relative.

I arrived on time and was to meet my breakfast companion there.  I signed in and waited. She was late.  I hate to be late.

After a bit, she arrived, and we entered the breakfast, which was already well underway. There was only one table which had two, empty seats available. Right in the front. Great.  See, the thing about being anti-social is the whole fear of being the center of attention.  My companion, who has no such fear, forged ahead, me in tow.

We took our seats and got settled. You know, purse here, chair here, 15 pieces of silverware here, handouts galore. Who can mange all this stuff without clanging forks or bumping the table?

After we were settled, I looked around at my table mates.  My companion to my right. A lady my mom’s age to my left.  Nice-Looking Lady. And there, across the table, starting from the other side of the Nice-Looking Lady and continuing around the circle to the other side of my companion, were four of the most Barbie-doll-like women I have ever seen in my life. They were stunning.

It is, after all, Southern California.

We began introductions.  Barbie C (I later couldn’t remember their names, so I lettered them.  To the left of the Nice-Looking Lady was Barbie A and continuing clockwise were B, C and D.) asked my companion what her occupation was.  She complied with her request by telling her what we did: she the driving force behind a district-wide, K-12 academic program and me, the overseer of academics in the junior high and high school. Each of us with numerous degrees, though we didn’t share that with the Barbies.

My companion, a networking sensei, returned the question to Barbie C, who was the representative speaker for the group.  C responded that she was “a stylist”.

“Oh,” my companion replied, sweetly “Hair? Nails?”

C says, “Yes.  I work both here and in LA, so I commute back and forth.”  Then she introduces her friends: A, who is a corporate massage therapist (for a fee, she can come to your place of business and de-stress you and your employees), B, whose husband is a professional athlete (oh, perhaps she watches him lift weights all day?), and D, who is an image consultant, which, as it turns out, means that if I give her some of my hard-earned money, she will tell me what she thinks of me.


Now, breakfast is served.  There’s some good news.

The Barbies chow down. They eat all their food with wild abandon and still have trouble keeping their size zeroes up.  I, on the other hand, pick at my food and gain 5 pounds of water weight in my face alone.  I can feel my eyes swelling from the salt in the potatoes and my window of vision is closing steadily.

We continue the conversation.  My companion asks them how they know each other.

Their response: Oh, my gosh, girl! They’re so glad she asked!

As it turns out, they’ve just recently finished a project related to helping homeless women.  No000w, I’m sincerely and suprisingly impressed, not because of who they are, but because I am rarely impressed.  I’ll give you your size 0 body if you’re helping the homeless.  That’s a wonderful ministry, I think, eyebrows lifted to my hairline, head nodding approvingly.

Then they begin to explain their project.

According to them, they rounded up a number of homeless women in the area, and Barbie C gave them a talk on having confidence.  The others agree that it was the most awe-inspiring talk ever (like, eeeeveeerrrr, girl!) and that C really has a nack for this sort of thing.  They applaud her brilliance and are teary-eyed just talking about it. They’ve found their true, ministry calling.

C continues that she has been so blessed and wants to give back to the community by teaching women how to have confidence. They note that, after the talk, they gave the homeless women full makeovers, then loaded them back up in a van and returned them to the street corners from whence they came.

At this point, I’m seeing a bunch of homeless women standing on the street corner in full hair and make-up with the passers-by looking at them wondering if they are walking or working. My companion kicks me under the table because she knows what I’m thinking.

Let’s take a time out and think about this, shall we?

It must be easy to have confidence when you have perfect skin, wear a 0, and have extensions that Jessica Simpson would scrap for.  What would help women have confidence is if somebody who looks like, well, me, gave them the talk. Talk about your overcoming adversity. I’ve got the body of a linebacker, thanks to my Irish grandmother, and the skin of a freckle-faced kid.  My hair?  We won’t even go there.

Secondarily, I wonder whether what homeless women need is more confidence. Because I was sure they’d probably appreciate a place to live and/or food to eat. But that’s just me.

“Cynic, get thee behind me,” I say to myself. “This can’t be all there is to the story.”

But it was.

Now, back to my office.  The kids caught wind of this story because I relayed it to another dear friend with whom I work. She asked me to tell it to the kids to get their take on the thing.  I told them the story and asked them what they thought because I thought I was way off in my reading of the situation. Kids always help me gain perspective.

One boy’s kneejerk reaction, “Mrs. Lewis, you can’t teach homeless people anything until you’ve met their basic needs.”

He gets it.

I love working with good kids.

Now, back to the rest of the story (this part’s just funny): the speaker, dressed in a red suit, begins to talk about chasing your dreams.  She asks us to divide up into groups of 2 or 3 and share our dreams.  Yeah, right.  You think me, the agoraphobe, is sharing my dream with people I don’t know?  Uh, no.  My companion shares her dream, which shows evidence of education, poise, and true goals.  Nice-Looking Lady shares her dream, as well.  As it turns out, she and her husband live in Montana and only winter in SoCal.  I’m having breakfast with the kind of people who use the word winter as a verb.  Aliens, really.  Her dream?  To become a better horseback rider. Oy.  I’m in the wrong room.

After our share time, the speaker continues talking, now about obstacles to “us” chasing our dreams. As she talks, she takes off her (red) heels and puts on socks and running shoes.  Picture a blond Mr. Rogers (the shoe-changing routine) in a red suit.  She stands and notes that, sometimes, the obstacle is “this suit,” symbolic of being chained to a dead-end career.  The evil suit is then ripped off (it Velcroes all down the back; you know she had that special-made), and the theme from Rocky (the one that plays as he jogs up the steps in the snow) plays in the background as she takes a lap around the room throwing gold medals at executive women. I can’t make this stuff up.

The Barbies are clapping and in tears over the scene. They’re moved.

She made her point.  I’ll never forget it.

We leave the breakfast, and I’m speechless. I replay the incident in my mind over and over, trying to determine an appropriate response.  My companion, so much more well-versed in conversation than I, says that, when C told us about giving a confidence talk to the homeless women, I should have responded, “Oh, are you able to draw from personal experience of being homeless?”

I, however, can’t think that fast.

I do have some take-aways from the breakfast, though.

(1)”Ministry” looks different to all of us.  While my post may seem judgmental, I applaud them for putting forth effort. More people should follow their example.

(2) “Community Service” looks different to all of us. Follow my logic here.  We’re gonna do one of those “If A = B and B=C, the A = C” things. Geometry, anyone?  If serving my community means teaching people how to have confidence, and having confidence comes naturally when you look like a supermodel, then community service must be looking like a supermodel.  Simply looking gorgeous is, in effect, a service to the community.

And here I thought educating children was where it’s at.  I’m in the complete wrong business.

I’d write more, but I’m out of time.  I need to go and make appointments to have my hair, nails, skin, and eyebrows done and join a gym. Oh, and there’s that matter of quitting my job to focus, full-time, on community service. You know, giving back.

Finding the Funny,

Update 2/26/10: Met with the blogging guru today.  She taught me this little trick.  Add an update to an original post telling readers (if there are any.  Hello?) about my journey since the initial post.

“Oh, my gosh!” I said. ” That allows me to be myself initially and not edit (so much) my original thoughts ‘cuz I can always go back and update them.”

She smiled the knowing smile of the all-knowing master.

So here’s the thing: the Barbies are actually loving people who’d not like to be judged by their outward appearance anymore than I’d like to be judged for mine.  I get that.  Isn’t life just a little easier when you’re beautiful, though?  Come on…

Give back to your community by letting me know.

Update to the update 2/28/10: Rethinking the whole post. After more than a month of thought about the entire situation, I’ve moved on.  It was, as it turns out, all related to the fact that I have to decompress the SNL-like parts of my life, breaking them down into reality. Reality is this: God is blessed by our efforts. Period.


8 thoughts on “Giving Back: A Tale of Community Service

  1. Pingback: …but I love lima beans! « Adventuresinwomanland's Blog

  2. Maria made me to read this while we were at Barnes and Noble’s today. She’s so persuasive. “Here, read this, you’ll laugh really hard.”

    I laughed so hard I snorted. I don’t think anyone heard, which is amazing because it was a loud one. I only snort when I’m laughing really hard in public and trying to be unobtrusive. So much for unobtrusive.

    I’ve decided you’re the Erma Bombeck of the 21st century. Keep writing, please! I’m sharing this with my sister and mom, and I’m going to make sure I hear them snort so I can laugh at them.



  3. Pingback: AinW’s Newest Feature: Humor Me, Lord « Adventures In Womanland

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