by Amal Easton
My family and I just got back from a trip to Alabama to volunteer at the Martial Arts Build-Vention. The trip was spearheaded by Tom Callos, and he took about 40 people to Greensboro, Alabama, to build a house for Ms. Latonia Williams, who was diagnosed with stage-three lung cancer. Through the combined efforts of all the volunteers, we raised a total of $20,000 toward building materials. Over the course of the Build-Vention, Jennifer Perez, Casey, Ella and I volunteered our time to work on various projects related to HERO Housing, a program run by Pam Dor.
Thanks to all of you, the Easton Academies and Easton Training Centers were able to contribute a total of $2000 to the building project. We raised our funds through donations, a raffle, and a silent auction. All auction and raffle items were generously donated by our instructors, students, and the academies. We really appreciate the overwhelming support of the community in this project. While raising the funds for this project was a great success, for me, the most important thing is trying to influence and set an example of community involvement and participation for our younger students. This year we hope to find a few local projects where we’ll be able to mobilize students from all of our programs to get out and participate. If you happen to know of a good project in the area, please let me know!
This was one of my first trips to the rural South, and it was an eye-opening experience. I was especially impressed by how welcoming people were. Everyone I met from the South was extremely friendly–right down to the police officer who pulled me over for speeding on my way to the airport heading out (oops). We were put up in a church, and one night we were fed by a Baptist church, and another night by a Mennonite church. Both were amazingly gracious hosts, and went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable and welcome.
Our days consisted of waking up early to eat and plan out the day, deciding which teams everyone would be on, and what each team would be responsible for. There were teams that went to volunteer at the animal shelter, gardening, painting, building, giving demonstrations at local schools, and helping plan meals and cook food for the group. The day’s work would start at 8:00 AM, and continue until about 3:00 PM, when we would regroup to talk about community activism and how to generally have a positive impact within our communities and our schools. Tom Callos was an inspiring leader and always had great ideas for how to make our martial arts schools more relevant in today’s society and have a greater community impact. Dinner followed these talks, and then usually some training and general socializing until lights out.
The act of building itself was an experience. We had a couple of awesome contractors, who were leading the charge, and a number of volunteers like me, who had little experience. We had to improvise on many occasions to make up for equipment, material, or building shortfalls, and the group really adapted well to the situations and charged on. Thanks to HERO Housing, I’m confident the house will be finished in short order as Pam brings different groups through and builds a significant number of houses and businesses to benefit the community. There are also several other businesses working in tandem with HERO Housing to empower and assist the residents of Greensboro. Among these are a bamboo bike company, the Pie Lab, and a business dedicated to teaching nutrition and exercise to the community.
One day we had a special guest speaker named Julia Butterfly Hill. I was not sure what to expect from her, and she ended up being incredibly inspiring and really left all of us feeling like we could make a difference fighting for what we believe in. Julia is most famous for climbing up in a redwood tree to protest logging and protect an ancient stand of redwoods from being clear-cut. Despite the lumber companies’ greatest efforts to get her down (amazing stories), she stayed in the tree for two years and eight days until the area became protected under federal law (now that’s commitment!). Her courageous stories were awe inspiring.
None of this would have been possible without the amazing support of Mike Tousignant, Eliot Marshall, Ian Lieberman, Casey Easton, all the staff, and especially the student body for sharing on social media, donating funds and efforts to the cause, and so much more. With everyone’s support we made a tremendous difference in someone’s life. Great work, team, and a big thank you!!!