Pulitzer Prize winner, ex-Hiller, reflects on career

by Barbara Sherf

Famed Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer political cartoonist Signe Wilkinson was the first female political cartoonist to receive the Pulitzer Prize, which was awarded in 1992. These days, though, Wilkinson is more interested in learning how to navigate her 9-month-old granddaughter’s SUV-sized stroller along Philly’s none-too-even sidewalks.

The Center City resident, who lived in Chestnut Hill from 1985 to 2006, has raised two “perfect” daughters with her husband, Jon Landau, an immigration attorney, and now helps to care for her first “perfect” grandchild. These are among the major life feats that give her the most pride.

When asked her age and home town, Signe said she was “a baby boomer born in Wichita Falls, Texas.” Sometimes ideas for her political cartoons, which appear on Philly.com as well as in print, come to her while she rows on the Schuylkill River. But more often it is while she reads three newspapers and a myriad of websites each morning that ideas occur. After sketching several ideas, she runs her favorites by editors and then hits the drawing board, literally.

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Board chairperson arrested in protest at PECO: Hill Friends’ author can teach you all about ‘Activism’

by Barbara Sherf

For the fifth time since the 2016 presidential election, award-winning author of three books, nationally recognized speaker, and 25-year activist Eileen Flanagan will be offering another online course in May titled “We Were Made for this Moment: Finding Your Role in Strategic Activism.”

Flanagan, a member of Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting, currently resides in East Falls with her husband, their dog, Spud, and “the stuff our two kids left behind when they went to college.”

A graduate of Duke and Yale Universities, Flanagan considers herself a lifelong learner from her writing, speaking, activism, weekly walks in the Wissahickon Valley and gardening. Flanagan is on a mission to help people make their activism more effective and spiritually grounded through her online courses.

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Wyndmoor therapist dealing with 50 years of seizures

by Barbara Sherf

Grace Moses, 63, has had epilepsy since she was 13. “It was awful as a teenager trying to balance out the meds, having seizures in front of friends and just not knowing when one was coming,” said the Wyndmoor resident. “Eventually, I was able to control the seizures and for many years have had seizures irregularly.”

That was until five years ago, when she had five seizures in one day. Moses, who received her master’s degree in occupational therapy from Philadelphia University and had been working as a hand therapist at the Upper Extremity Institute (in Blue Bell) for five years, then began to experience life “on the other side” – as a patient.

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Shell-shocked by election? ‘Make America Kind Again!’

by Barbara Sherf

Labcorp Technician Kathy Moody and Chestnut Hill resident Laura Flandreau are all smiles after receiving their free hugs.

Labcorp Technician Kathy Moody and Chestnut Hill resident Laura Flandreau are all smiles after receiving their free hugs.

My husband and I traveled to our ‘happy place’ in mid-October, a week before my father passed away and three weeks before the presidential election. Instead of telling people I was going on vacation, I used the term “retreat” as I wanted to tune out the nasty news cycles, get back to nature and pre-mourn my father’s pending death.

Walking along the beach of Assateague Island in Maryland, where the wild horses roam, I started looking for seashells; however due to the ravages of Hurricane Michael, what I found were simply shards of shells.

Now that my father has passed away and as my way of dealing with the election results, I now take these remaining shell shards around with me wearing my “Make American Kind Again” button that Mt. Airy Dumpster Diver artist Ellen Benson made, and I hold a handmade “FREE HUGS” sign, doubling down on kindness.

Last Friday I gave and received 12 hugs in 15 minutes at the LabCorp facility in Wyndmoor. Chestnut Hill resident Laura Flandreau and technician Kathy Moody were the first two to receive the free hugs.

“We don’t get enough hugs. It was wonderful, warm and a great way to start the day,” said Moody as a fellow technician liked the idea but had “a thing with personal space.”  I respected that.

“It was a wonderful brightening up of my day,” echoed Flandreau as I hugged her and each person in the waiting room. Nobody declined.

From there I went to Camden in an attempt to probate my father’s will. Turns out I was in the wrong county, but along the way I met a bus full of blind people who asked for and received more than one hug.

Walking up to the burly security guards at the courthouse, one looked at the sign and acquiesced. “Sure, we can all use hugs,” said Bob Fenton as his co-workers lined up behind him for more hugs.

Smokers outside of the building received hugs; a hot dog vendor received a hug; construction workers received hugs; a woman in a wheelchair, members of the Hispanic, African American and Caucasian populations gave and received hugs. Children with mucus running down their little noses got and received hugs. A man coming out of Wawa who initially declined because he was sick broke down and agreed to a hug. Even the gas station attendant, with the heavy smell of petroleum on him, took two hugs and vowed to make a sign of his own.

Of all four dozen prospective huggers, there was just one man who outwardly declined.

“I’d rather have a gun,” he said as he hopped into his pickup truck and sped off.

As I gave and received the hugs, I whispered “Make American Kind Again.”

“Amen” was the word most responded with.

When I finally got to the right building and department for surrogate court, the security guard, the receptionist and my contact for the will, Ameenah Rasheed, wearing a Muslim head covering, gave and received hugs.

As Rasheed proceeded to look at the paperwork, a look of concern came over her face. She explained that since I had my father’s mailing address changed to mine several years ago, the will needed to be processed in Norristown, Montgomery County, a mere 20 minutes from our Flourtown home, even though he was living in South Jersey at the time of his death.

“I’m so sorry you had to come all of this way,” she apologized.

“I’m not,” I responded. “The people in Camden welcomed me with open arms, and in no way was this a wasted trip.”

On Saturday I proceeded to do the “free hugs” thing at the Chestnut Hill Library and to the five attendees of the Patchwork Storytelling Guild.

“My reaction was mixed,” said Ray Tackett of Germantown. “I thought it was a sweet idea, but some could consider you a weirdo. I liked that it was relatively spontaneous, and I didn’t have to think too much about the decision as you walked toward me with the sign and open arms.”

Later in the afternoon I made my way to Germantown to sit with a dozen area residents at a post-election support group for individuals having difficulty dealing with the election results. Claudia Apfelbaum of ClaudiaListens.me, a Germantown-based psychotherapist specializing in healing from personal and interpersonal trauma, led a workshop called “A Time of Mourning.”

She said that many people are experiencing fear and despair since the election. Apfelbaum suggests that doing progressive things together with others is a major way of combatting the fear and feelings of isolation. “I am encouraging people to put their energy out there in a positive way, whether it’s taking up a cause, being creative or simply being kind to another.”

As I got back in the car, I looked again at the dwindling number of shell shards and again saw the beauty in their imperfections. May we all see the beauty in our imperfections and in this imperfect world.

Barbara Sherf can be reached at 215-990-9317 or Barb@CommunicationsPro.com.

ORIGINAL SOURCE: Chestnuthilllocal.com

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‘Free hug mobster’ spreading love in Hill and suburbs

by Barbara Sherf

J. William Baxter of Glenside receives hugs from Barbara Sherf at Trader Joe’s.

J. William Baxter of Glenside receives hugs from Barbara Sherf at Trader Joe’s.

For those of you who missed my Dec. 8 article about using kindness as my form of activism and carrying a “free hugs” sign around wherever I go, let me share where the idea came from:

My therapist, Edie Weinstein, suggested this idea to me at one of our sessions.

Following the death of my father and the elections, I saw a clear need to get back into therapy, and I’m told that the mental health business is booming right now.

Weinstein started doing the free hugs thing on Valentines’ Day weekend of 2014.

“I brought a group of friends to 30th Street Station for a Free Hugs Flash Mob,” said Weinstein, who had a heart attack in June, 2014. “Our intention was for people to remember that every day is a good one to express love. We walked around the train station for an hour or so and hugged a few hundred people between the 12 of us. Friends started calling us ‘Hug Mobsters.’

“Shortly afterward, in the midst of cardiac rehab, I ‘took it on the road,’ so to speak, since walking was part of my recovery and I realized that hugs are heart-healthy, not just for the cardiac muscle, but for the common emotional heart we all share. Since then, I have done Free Hugs events in the Philly area, as well as D.C. I hugged people on Election Day and several times post-election. I have done them at parades, community gatherings, festivals and rallies, as well as nursing homes and in the Phoenix airport while waiting for a plane.”

I too keep my “Free Hugs” sign in the car, but one difference is that as I give and receive hugs, I whisper “Make America Kind Again.” Those four little words, placed on a button made by Mt. Airy artist Ellen Benson, have opened up arms and conversations.

At Harston Hall, a nursing home in Flourtown where my neighbor Ginny Ashenfelter is, the free hugs turned into a support group meeting with a half dozen mostly African American men. Bruce Nichols, 61, a permanent resident there, lost his mother around the same time I lost my father in October, so we have a special bond. “I think you’re on the right track with the hugs,” said Nichols.

I sat with him for a half hour or so and let him visit with our dog, Tucker, a sweet golden retriever whose age we guess is 12 and who I fear will pass over the Rainbow Bridge soon. “He’s a sweet boy. I love animals and hugs, so you pretty well made my day, my week, my life,” Nichols exclaimed.

I then proceeded to hug another two dozen patients and staff members within the facility and enjoyed a visit with Mrs. Ashenfelter, former owner of The Happy Butterfly store in Chestnut Hill. “Thank you for the hug, and thank you for coming,” said Ashenfelter, noting that she had few visitors and would welcome visits from area residents who knew her. “People say they’ll get in to visit, but they don’t. Everyone’s too busy. We need more hugs.”

I received a free hug from a Muslim African American woman I’ll call Mina who did not want to be identified for security reasons. “I have no fear,” she said. “It’s all in God’s hands. People don’t understand how we are all interconnected in this universe. People should learn to treat each other with kindness and respect more, and your idea of the ‘free hugs’ sign just kind of put it in their face.”

She shared with me that the issue of racism is not new and that the idea of Donald Trump in the White House is something she has come to accept. “We’ve fought the fight before, and still there is evil among us. There is greed and superiority and sexism added to the mix, and it is painful at times to watch … I’ve learned to love people, even the ugly side, and also take pity on them … I won’t walk in fear.”

As I sat in the meeting room at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church before my “A Course on Love” book discussion group, a man from Tibet, Sonam Kun Tso, saw my sign, and we exchanged hugs and ideas. I had seen this landscaper/handyman on several occasions but never connected with him until he saw the sign.

My “Free Hugs” sign is getting a bit tattered since I hugged 100 seniors at a Holiday Concert at the Center on the Hill in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill last Thursday. Geneva Ashworth of Mt. Airy was there and initially didn’t recognize me as I was giving out free hugs at the Trader Joe’s in Abington the following day. “I just received a hug yesterday, but I’ll take another,” said Ashworth.

Over the weekend I hit the Flourtown Giant, Dollar Store, Hallmark store and even the Planet Fitness gym. “Oh I’m too sweaty,” said Jane Prosser of Lafayette Hill. “I am too; let’s hug,” I responded, and we did hug.

Flourtown resident Barbara Sherf can be reached at 215-990-9317, or visit her blog at CommunicationsPro.com. She is looking to sit down and have a conversation with a Trump supporter to better understand her fellow humans. 

ORIGINAL SOURCE: ChestnutHillLocal.com

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