Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Introducing Our Hogwarts Staff

By Jessica Gray
Director of Faith Development Ministries
& Headmistress Iris Imaginoria of Hogwarts School of Magic & Fun

As the church year winds down, some families of the church are gearing up for Worcester’s first ever Hogwarts School of Magic and Fun.  I created the program eight years ago and have directed it for seven summers. I often describe it as the absolute coolest thing I do - and I do a lot of cool things :).

In 2011, I began a nonprofit organization called “The Imaginorium EducationalCollective” in order to share our Hogwarts program (and other programs) beyond its original boundaries.  I approached the Prudential Committee of First Unitarian in October, offering to create a new Hogwarts program here in summer 2012.  As directing a summer camp falls outside of my role and job description as Director of Faith Development Ministries, the church has contracted with the Imaginorium to offer this program separate from the regular faith development offerings.  The church is not paying for the program.  All program costs are generated through camp fees.  A significant amount of the budget will be used to pay staff.  To be completely transparent, I am getting paid extra to do this additional work.  I also wrote into the budget additional funds to pay for travel and stipends for some staff members.  Three of these are people I have worked with for many years in creating the Hogwarts camps in the past.  They bring with them valuable expertise and confidence that will help the camp begin strongly here.  We also have hired several local people with our staff funds, and the remainder of the staff are volunteers.  All staff members get a discount for their children if they have children attending the camp.

I am really excited about working with a new team to bring the world to life in a new way.  We are quite blessed to have a powerful group of people working as camp staff.  Many are from First Unitarian, some are from the local community, and a few are traveling from great distances to be a part of this program.  We have Unitarian Universalists from several congregations, Christians (Catholic and Protestant), Jews, Buddhists, Pagans, Wiccans, atheists, and nonreligious staff members.  This is specifically an interfaith program, and we have brought in campers from many different religious traditions. We do not teach any specific religious source, though we do encourage participants to share their own beliefs in an age-appropriate, cooperative way. Our focus is on the virtues of faith, hope, love and peace, virtues found in all religions. The underlying message is that the "real magic is helping others." And our overt theme this year is Alohomora - the HP spell of unlocking, opening, beginnings.

It's not too late for your family to be involved!  This program has a little bit of everything for kids of all ages (and you need not be a Harry Potter fan to enjoy it!).  We are still accepting student registrations, teenage volunteers, and adult guides and ghosts.  Register on our website: 

So, who are the people who will be running this camp?  And why are they giving of their time to do this?

Paid Core Staff
Our core staff members receive stipends (based on experience and travel needs) and/or complimentary student registrations.  The core staff include the Deputy Headmistress, Mistress of Magical Maladies, and two co-heads for each Hogwarts House.

Rachel Gurt of Baton Rouge, LA
Deputy Vesta Squill
Rachel began the first Hogwarts camp in 2005 as a student.  She worked with our junior staff ELFS program through high school, and for the past two years she has served as the Deputy Headmistress, an all-around assistant to the Headmistress.  This is the role she will fill this year.  She knows the structure of the camp quite well.  And (due to a fear of flying), she is planning to drive from Louisiana to be part of this Hogwarts.  Why?
“Because I've been doing it for 7 years and I can't wait to see what's in store for this one. =]”

Cindy Cordova of First Unitarian
Madame Compatior
Cindy has worked with the faith development program for many years, and she possesses the caregiving and maternal qualities we wanted for our Mistress of Magical Maladies.  The person in this important position takes care of our children’s first aid needs.  She applied for the job because:
“I want to experience the camp and love working with children.  I am especially good with children with needs.”

Erin Vignes of Baton Rouge, LA
Professor Irene Morgant
Erin has worked with my Hogwarts camps for three years, and she is dedicated and motivated as a Head of House and instructor.  She will be Head of House for Waverider and instructor of Care of Magical Creatures.  She homeschools her children and teaches Zumba.  She will be traveling here with her three children and one teenage volunteer.  Why? 
“Are you kidding - Hogwarts is the best thing going!  I would love, love, love to be able to start Hogwarts from the beginning!”

Sharice Styles, student at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester
Professor Wynnie Waters
Sharice has experience in babysitting and volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club of Worcester.  This will be her first Hogwarts experience, and she is jumping in with both feet as Head of House for Waverider and professor of Muggle Studies. Why?
“I would like to participate in this program because this program desires to help kids and teens expand their skills and challenge themselves, to encourage the growth of self-esteem, and to provide them with a sense of communal identity with their peers. Also, I would like more experience working with kids.“

Kate Davis of Jacksonville, FL
Professor Katydid Myriadfae
Kate has an MA in theatre from Florida State University and teaches acting.  She is a fantastic teacher and also performer.  She will be Head of House for Phoenixfire and instructor of Spell Play, a drama class we developed.  She also created a version of cooperative, dramatic dueling that works for children of all ages.  Why does she want to do this?
“Having taught Spell play for the last three years in Baton Rouge, I am excited to bring Hogwarts to a new group of kids.”

Charlotte Eckler of Grafton, MA
Professor Colmar Éclair
Member of the UU Society of Grafton-Upton
Charlotte has a lot of experience to offer, having been a teacher at children's summer camps.  She owned and operated a business (English editing and German to English translation) since 2003. Before that she was an English teacher. She often volunteers at her daughter's Montessori school and at her meeting house, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Grafton and Upton. She works occasionally as a substitute teacher in the Grafton schools, and volunteers as a Girl Scout co-leader.  She will be Head of House for Phoenixfire and instructor of Charms.  She wants to participate because:
“I want to be a part of this unique and wonderful-sounding camp! My daughter loves the Harry Potter character and she would consider it a blessing to attend the Hogwarts Camp.”

Nan A. Kaipainen Gibbons of Lancaster MA
Professor Veralyce Gibbons
This will be my first time working with Nan, but she has experience working with children of all ages.  Multi-talented in music and other arts, she is a choral music teacher at Worcester Arts Magnet School and a seminarian at Andover Newton Theological Seminary.  She will be Head of House for Windhorse and professor of Incantations.  She says: 
I think it's going to be a load of fun. Several of the campers will be my youngest students, and most of them believe already that I am not a muggle.

Linda C. Wyatt of First Unitarian of Worcester
Professor Lucineh
Linda gives so much of herself to this church in so many areas – choir, the Lay Leadership Council, the Caring Communities Task Force, organizing the winter gala…  She will be a Head of House for Windhorse and professor of Edible Transfiguration (a cooking class).  She wanted to participate because:
“I work with children of all ages as a speech-language pathologist, have been a creative dramatics teacher during summer school, have been in amateur theater.  Love being creative and bringing people together in harmony!”
Shari Belanger from First Unitarian of Worcester
Madame Daisy Terrabelle
Shari is a teacher by trade, having received her teacher certification out of college teaching high school French in NH.  She has 9 years of full-time teaching experience (French and Spanish at the middle school and high school levels) at both the Dana Hall School and more recently, 1996-2004, at Bancroft School here in Worcester.  She has a wide variety of experience (camp counselor, teaching assistant for study abroad programs, etc., etc.) working with kids of all ages and has been a full-time mom for my 3 kids since 2004.  She was also the President of an all-volunteer, non-profit community organization in Maynard, MA, called the Maynard Community Chest and is currently the President of the MOMS Club of Worcester South.  Shari will be a Head of House for Stonedragon and a class guide.  She wanted to be involved because:
“I was intrigued right away by the concept of the Hogwarts camp and was particularly drawn to the fact that it sounds so much more imaginative than the typical summer day camp.  It also sounds like it will be a true bonding experience for all involved.  I am looking forward to sharing this fun, bonding experience alongside my own kids.  All year long, they are off to school each day and this would be an experience I'd really get to share with them.” 

Janet Davis of Millville, MA
Madame Flora Bluestone
Janet serves as the Director of Religious Education at the Unitarian Universalist Congregational Society of Westborough.  She was part of the development team for the UU Galaxy Camp which was held at First Unitarian in 2009. She will be Head of House for Stonedragon.
“I really enjoyed bringing together children and youth from several UU congregations for a collective experience. My favorite parts - leading a daily worship with chalice lighting, singing, meditations, stories, and joys and concerns; the morning meeting during which we added beads to the 'Great Story - History of the Galaxy' bead strand; and the magical balloon galaxy. I believe Hogwarts will be another such experience of community and magic.” 

Paid Support Staff
The following staff members offer specific services for which we pay hourly.  We learned early on that certain roles are better filled when we can pay them.

Vicki Heidorn of the UU Society of Gardner (MA)
Madame Biscotti
Vicki is the RE coordinator and teacher for her congregation's two families of 6 children, ages newborn to age 9, in a one-room school for grades K-3 currently.  She has worked with families with children in mental health services, ages 3 to 18, for 6 years as a paraprofessional working with therapists for children needing tracking services between therapy appointments.  She will be working with our preschool Potter Tots group.  She says:
“I am honored to have been offered the paid position of full time Potter Tot leader. It feels like a good fit.  I was a little surprised at the offer because I am so accustomed to volunteering for no pay.” 
Victoriahope McAuliffe of First Unitarian Church of Worcester
Lady Ancora
Victoriahope grew up at First Unitarian.  She has worked in the nursery for several years and this year began teaching Sunday School.  She will also be working with our preschool Potter Tots group and in aftercare.  She says:
“I was in love with the Harry Potter books when I was little, I pretty much grew up with them. For myself, and probably many other avid Potter followers it felt like the end of an era when the series was finished. The idea that there are classes taken from the book and made to fit children's lives is so perfect to me. Especially Defense Against the Dark Arts, learning to conquer the evil within yourself and the rest of the world is such a key part of being a whole and well-rounded person.”

Azriel Richardson of Baton Rouge, LA
Sir Azzypants
Azriel also began Hogwarts in Baton Rouge as a camper.  He then worked through High School as an ELF, and last year he worked on staff as the Floo Network Director and Quidditch Coach.  As Floo Network Director he guides the parents and students sign in and out during drop-off and pick-up.  He will be traveling across the country to reprise these roles and assist with lunch care as a Kitchen Wizard.  Why?  “Magical Fun!” he says.

Erica Krenis-Peck of Marlborough, MA
Madame Veruca Flabibble
Erica was a Girl Scout Troop Leader for 2 years, an RE teacher at UCMH (UU church in Hudson) for 4 years, has taught children up at Ferry Beach during a multitude of summer conferences, has volunteered at Kane Elementary school in Marlborough for each of her children’s classrooms for multiple years, and has volunteered in the academic room at the Boys and Girls Club of Worcester for a year.  She will be a Kitchen Witch, working with lunch care.  Why?
“I love working with young energetic minds. I love creative imaginary play, and magic/mystical things.”

Diana Colon of the nursery staff of First Unitarian of Worcester     
Madame Diandra
Diana has worked with the childcare at First U for many years.  She will be working with before care and as a Kitchen Witch for lunch care.  She wants to participate because she “Loves kids.”

Gianna Bizzarro of First Unitarian of Worcester
Gianna just graduated from high school.  Two summers ago, she worked with third and fourth graders as a Counselor in Training at a 2-week summer day camp in Holden which was run by the Holden Recreation Department and was held at the Dawson Recreation Area. Currently, she tutors a fourth grade ESL student twice a week and help her with her reading and math home work. She also babysits for my neighbors once or twice a month. She will be an ELF and working with before care.  She says:
“I would like to be a part of the Hogwarts staff because I think that encouraging children and young adults to be imaginative and creative is of utmost importance, and I feel that by being a part of this program I could help foster that love of creativity and imagination in the people I work with. The Harry Potter books are amongst my favorite series, and I believe that being around others who share my interest in these books will prove an enjoyable experience. I also enjoy working with children.”

Chris O'Connor of Baton Rouge, LA
Sir Chris Windu
Chris has also been part of Hogwarts since its beginning.  He has about 8 years of experience, working with children of various ages.  He has primarily worked with Potter Tots and Phoenixfire House.  This year he will be working with aftercare.  Why is he willing to travel?
I have been a part of Hogwarts Baton Rouge before, and as I have free time over the summer, would like to continue to participate.

Aaron Bourgeois of Baton Rouge, LA
Sir Nugget
Aaron ("Nugget") is a high school junior who has also participated in the camp from its beginning in 2004.  As a member of the Junior Staff ELFS program, he has shown great competence and loyalty to the program. Aaron will be an ELF and will assist with the Floo Network. He says:
I have been part of this camp for the past seven years, and I have always enjoyed it very much. It has been the highlight of my summer for many years.

Drew Lanyon, Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester
Drew will be a first-time ELF and will also be working as an assistant with the Floo Network.  He says,
“I am applying to work as a Hogwarts staff because I have had experience working with small kids in my church nursery and I love it. I enjoy putting smiles on kids' faces because it makes me smile too. I would also be a good role model to them and show them how to do the right thing.  In addition I have read the Harry Potter books and dressed up like Harry Potter for Halloween a couple of times because I looked like him.”

Volunteer Professors & Guides
Unfortunately we cannot pay all of our staff. They receive discounts for their children and a free T-shirt.  The following are volunteers who will be planning and teaching lessons or guiding groups of children through their classes. Some are volunteering for the entire two weeks, while others will only volunteer for a few days.

Full-time Volunteers:

Abigail Hannaford-Ricardi of First Unitarian of Worcester
Professor Von Frogger
Abby is the Faith Development Assistant at First Unitarian and offers so much support and creativity to the Sunday School program.  She will be teaching Transfiguration (art).  Why did she apply for the staff?
“1. Loved all the books
2. Want James to attend
3. Greatly enjoy working with children
4. Jessica asked me to”

Rhye Gray of First Unitarian of Worcester
Professor Graystar
Rhye has volunteered at Hogwarts camp with me for six of the seven years, teaching Divination, which he teaches as a combination of meditation and storytellingHe has the amazing ability to get even very young children to concentrate and calm to a guided meditation.  He says,
“I like working with children, youth, and adults to help others expand their imagination and create magical environments, "to imagine what is not."

Ann Hyatt of Northborough MA
Madame Singularis
Ann has experience working with children in a library (one year in the children's department) a bookstore (one year, specializing in children's books) and a children's museum (three years.) She has also volunteered with kids in the library of our elementary school. She was a stay home mom to her kids until they were teenagers and has also done part time occasional babysitting for various ages for many years.  She will be a guide and camp photographer.  She wants to be part of this camp because:
“I adore everything Harry Potter. My kids are now 17 (girl) and 19 (boy). We have been through all the books and movies together. What a joy. My son was 7 when he read the first book and about to head off to college when the last movie came out last summer. All through his childhood people commented on his resemblance to Harry Potter. He and his sister dressed as Harry and Hermione for Halloween one year and enjoyed midnight book and movie events.  My kids are no longer involved in their summer theater communities, and I miss being around that wonderful creative energy. I especially miss doing photography for them.”

Elizabeth Nishan of First Unitarian of Worcester
Madame Oculus Gaze
Liz has worked in the nursery and has participated in church activities for many years.  She will be a guide at Hogwarts.  She says,
“I want to work at Hogwarts for many reasons. First I have been a big Harry Potter fan since I was in second grade. My mom read them to me when I was little, and once I was old enough I read them on my own and listened to the audio book a ridiculous amount of times. I’m excited to work at Hogwarts and be a part of this amazing camp.”

Ranya Gale of Needham MA
Madame Charlotte Weastengale
Ranya has assisted in three preschools over the past 9 year with facilitating circle time, outdoor play and other general tasks around the schools. She has also been a counselor at an overnight camp for 8-10 year old campers where she organized and facilitated dynamic group programs along with managing the camp photos on the website.  She says:
“Harry Potter is not just a universe inside the pages of a book, it is a complex world that makes an imagination soar. I loved reading and envisioning the characters grow up, mostly because I grew up when the books were still coming out. I was able to experience the story as it happened and I want to be able to share that joy with kids who are just starting to discover the world inside the pages as a real life experience. I am also on the executive board of my school's Quidditch Team/Club and, from experience, bringing the Harry Potter universe to life is one of the greatest things I have been a part of. It brings students together and creates a space that can be fun and explored.”

Tara Corcoran of Uxbridge, MA
Madame Lorelai McStrawgoh
Tara has two children participating.  She says, “It sounds like fun and I want to be around my children and know the program they are participating in.”  She will be a guide.

Part-time Volunteers

Ellen O’Neill-Waite of First Unitarian, Worcester
Professor Powletta Burrows-Skreetsch
Ellen is an actor and singer who derives great pleasure from teaching kids to act and sing. She was a founding member of Worcester Forum Theater Ensemble and a frequent performer in Anna Maria's theater.  She helped develop Children's Opera traveling shows and appeared in several Worcester Children's Theater productions. She has coached children and adults for competition monologues.  She is a regular guest reader for public schools.  She also has a strong background in costuming, set dressing and prop design.  Ellen will be teaching Potter Puppet Pals. 

Leah Rodriguez of Worcester, MA
Professor Wilhemina-Zoe
Leah has worked with students for seven years in different educational settings.  She has been a Tutor, Teaching Assistant, Afterschool Teaching Assistant, Substitute Teacher, General Biology Laboratory Professor and Bilingual (Spanish) Office Aide. She studied Biology in undergraduate university. She will be teaching Potions.  She says,
“I have read three Harry Potter Books. I enjoy the journey of a young man in the world of Magic.”

Amy Borg of First Unitarian of Worcester
Professor Fleur DeColores
Amy is currently the chair of our Faith Development team and a Spirit Play teacher.  She was a camp counselor for four summers, and trained counselors for one.  She will be teaching Herbology.  She says she wants to participate:
“For fun! Also to help out the church and be with my kids.”
Seth Popinchalk of First Unitarian of Worcester
Professor Throkmorton Helios
Seth is also very active at the church as Vice-Moderator and a Sunday School teacher.  He will be teaching Magical Forces, a class in physical sciences.  He says he wants to participate for:
“The opportunity to share something cool with these kids. And to see my kids in the summer.”

Amy Bedard of Spencer, MA
Professor Djunja Godopa
Amy has been teaching high school age children for the past two years in a vocational high school in the Health Services shop.  She has integrated drumming into the senior curriculum with great success. She did a tube drum building project with a local nonprofit org that serves people with disabilities and commenced with a concert for their family and friends.  She has, with the help of her children and husband, developed a program call, Kids in Rhythm.  She will be teaching a class called Rhythm Wizardry.  She says,
“Children are our future. I want to be a part of shaping, encouraging and empowering our future.  This is why I chose to become a High School Teacher. Drumming has been integral in my growth and development as a person and I would like to share this with the Hogwarts Camp.”

Corina Palmer of Worcester, MA
Professor Growth Infinitum
Corina is an eighth grade math teacher at Bancroft School.  She will be teaching Arithmancy, math magic.

Kattia Yauckoes of First Unitarian of Worcester
Madame Lea Ranita
Kattia’s children will be attending, and she will be a part-time guide.

David Webb of First Unitarian of Worcester
Master Jason Webb
David loves the Harry Potter storyline and world, and believes he will greatly enjoy assisting with this project. He will be a part-time guide.

Jessica Roche of Gardner, MA
Mad Joony
Jessica has a fair amount of experience working with children and is also a big HP fan.  She will be a part-time guide.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Dancing the Divine Feminine

By Jessica Gray
Director of Faith Development Ministries

All my life I knew my mother’s sister was beautiful and exotic, a dancer in India and Hawaii, and completely out of reach.  We had a photo of her in the hallway, and occasionally we got small cards or notes, but mostly she was a myth.  Even her name, Prema Dasara, was unusual and mysterious.

As a young adult, after my spiritual path diverted from that of my parents, I chose to reach out to my aunt.  I felt a longing for a spiritual connection with someone from my family, from my roots.  I sent a heartfelt plea to a stranger’s E-mail, and through cyberspace I formed one of the deepest connections in my life.

Prema was scheduled to be traveling near me that fall (1997), and Prema invited me to join her in the Tara Dance workshop.  As I was intensely connecting with Goddess spirituality, I seized the opportunity.  During that first workshop, I had a tremendous spiritual experience.  I had never heard of Tara and honestly had never had much interest in Buddhism at all.  I learned and grew so much.  However, once the workshop was over, I categorized it as a “special occasion” which had no real impact on my daily life.

After three years of visits and “special occasion” Tara workshops, I had time to process the information.  It was as if Tara’s blue lotus blossomed in my life.  The Tara Dance became a central part of my spiritual practice.  I made a commitment to the student/teacher program and the 2001 pilgrimage to India and Nepal.  While in my masters’ program at Florida State, I wrote my masters’ thesis Dancing as Tara about the development of the dance and its intercultural implications.  I learned so much through this study, about the dance, about Tantra, and about the thousands of amazing women and men this practice impacts.  I had the tremendous opportunity to meet 65 of these women on pilgrimage (the photo on the right shows me dancing in India).  In 2002, I was offered a position on the Tara Dhatu council, on which I’ve gladly served since then.  In 2004, I had the opportunity to attend a Tara Retreat in Brasil, and I found so many blessings in seeing how this dance translates beyond language.

I have brought the Tara Dance practices with me in each part of my journey.  From September to March we offered the weekly "Mandala Dance Circle" on Thursday evenings.  We had some interested participants, but many people found the day and time challenging.  We participated in the 11/11/11 project with the other spiritual practice groups and found great response.  I am still looking for the best way to share this spiritual practice with the First Unitarian Community. 

My aunt, Prema Dasara, will be travelling through Worcester to visit me in just a few weeks.  She has given so much to me, and I long to share what she has to offer with you.  So I have teamed up with the UU Sisterhood to offer a special program (see the details below).  It is open to all people, regardless of age, gender, or physical ability.  We are not asking an "entrance fee," but we will certainly accept donations (or dana) to help pay for their travel.

So if you are curious, please join us.  And if you are interested in how we can bring sacred dance into a more regular spiritual practice at First U, let me know.  Bright Blessings!

Dancing the Divine Feminine
In the spirit of the sacred dances of India, Nepal, and Tibet Prema Dasara and Myri Dakini will offer a feast for the senses

Friday, May 18
7-9 pm in Unity Hall
First Unitarian Church, 90 Main St.  Worcester, MA

Sinuous and inviting, profoundly meditative and exciting, these two professional dancers travel the world uplifting and inspiring audiences and students with the empowering movements and sentiments of the divine feminine.

This evening includes a performance by Prema and Myri, dharma teachings, and participatory dances.  All are welcome.  Donations will be collected to contribute to their travel from Hawaii and Brasilia.

Childcare will be available.

Sponsored by the UU Sisterhood & The Mandala Dance Circle