Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Home at last

Everyone has made it safely home - the plane from Chicago got in on time at 12:41pm Tuesday. Many were weary, sick, and ready for rest, but spirits were still high and reports out of Belmont High School today had UUs grouping together throughout the school like no tomorrow.

Hope to see y'all at our Youth Services on March 25 at 9:00 and 11:00.

Over and out,Dan

Monday, February 26, 2007

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

While the excitement certainly seems to be in Chicago, those of us who made it back home have lots to report on, too. Two of our super-chaperones added a great deal to the parents' experience yesterday: Marilyn put together a slide show of photos on the new kiosk screen in the upper hall, and many parents stood huddled around it at coffee hour, eagerly viewing the scenes from our journey. Then at our parents meeting, Martha told tales from the trip and gave a rundown of what we did and how everything went. Parents were enraptured and enjoyed hearing more about the trip than they ever thought they'd get to hear.

Lanier is in her car, on her way from San Antonio to the Gulf Coast, where she was prior to the trip and will continue to do relief work out there over the next week.

Some members of the "Northwest Six" have been in touch with friends who are still in Chicago and are planning to greet the crew at the airport tomorrow.

Henry returned home safely this afternoon and will make his triumphant return to Belmont Hill tomorrow.

I've been playing liaison between parents and the Chicago bunch, which has been a true joy. I'm so honored to be a part of this community. It's been amazing to see the way that everyone has rallied in this situation and I think it's brought all of us - both here in and Chicago - closer together.

See you at Logan,

An update from Richard

We made plans to stay in 16 rooms at a nearby hotel while simultaneously attempting to get on any last flight out. One group of nine was preparing to get on a shuttle to the hotel when we learned the rooms had already been sold. We had asked about giving them credit card info but "first come, first serve" had beaten out our slow-moving herd to this nearby hotel. We wound up chartering a bus to a new Holiday Inn Express 45 minutes away, stopping at a CVS to pick up meds as we went. The bus driver, Olig, was fabulous on the slushy taxi-weaving highway and it was good to be all safely together and warm. Some of us were still wearing flip-flops and tank tops from San Antonio.

The Holiday Inn Express is in Palatine, Illinois near Countryside Church, UU. Kate busied herself putting together a master list of all immediate requests: boxers, t-shirts, athletic shorts, sweatpants, toothbrushes, and toothpaste (we are without our luggage) and Nancy, a wonderful woman from the Social Action Committee at Countryside, drove Kate to Target for supplies. Meanwhile, Curt organized a cell phone-rechargizing campaign so that we could keep our communication flowing both within our group and to people back home. Conference calls to the "Desolate Nine" who had already returned to their families on the Northwest flight had a calming effect on both sides of the wires.

Bev invoked a little-known clause in our service trip contract that allowed for an extension of good behavior requirements and dubbed this "The Palatine Contract." With the myriad dizzying detail of the trip bearing down on her shoulders, Bev finally succumbed to gravity when trying to take her pants off in her room the first night and keeling over. She and roommate Kate lay on the floor laughing quite a while.

Oscar night was upon us and as we watched in various rooms, the chaperones, now referred to as "Chappies," began to congregate in Bev and Kate's room, drawn by the hope of a foot massage from Richard. It was, as Bev put it, "a little piece of heaven."

Henry left us this morning at 5:00 in an effort to not miss any more school, and phoned midway to say he was making good progress. We had endless amounts of breakfast foods - yogurts, juices, eggs, cereal - in the Gold Room, which had been given to us, free of charge, by the hotel to conduct our large-scale gatherings.

Today we are creating a number of offerings throughout the hotel, much like a conference would operate. It will be a "gym day" and those who know yoga are organizing yoga classes. Haley may do some sort of dance workshop and chaperones will talk about their work experiences in the world. We will put up an easel indicating which activities are going on in which rooms.

500 flights were cancelled at O'Hare yesterday, with 1500 people sleeping at the airport over the weekend - in nooks and crannies of the baggage claim areas and the link - which made me think again of homeless people we had spent time with in San Antonio.

I woke to the sound of geese honking across the sky. Many of us are now wistful for home.

-Richard (dictated to Dan over the phone at 12:30pm Monday)

Youth Group Trip: Part 2 (by Nina...or one of her roommies?)

It all started as we were preparing to exit the plane and heard the announcement regarding the storm. Nothing makes the group of 55 kids more excited than the prospect of being stuck in an airport for several days. The feeling soon subsided, however, when the realization that a massive amount of schoolwork would have to be made up. It was with bittersweet emotion that our group left the plane. On the bright side, our whole group now had an extra three days to bond EVEN MORE.

-Nina (??) via Richard over the phone

Reply from Belmont High administration

Dear Ms. Oaklander,

We have sent the list of students’ names out to all the teachers. They will be Absent Excused for Monday, 2/26 and Tuesday 2/27. You do not need to call them into the attendance office.

Thanks you for informing us. Please let us know if there are any complications.


Dan Richards

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Letter to Belmont High administration

The following letter was written by Sara Oaklander and emailed to BHS administration:

Dear Mr. Harvey, Mr. Millington, and Mr. Richards:

I am contacting you on behalf of a group of parents of BHS students. Here is the story.

Last week, nearly 60 members of the First Church in Belmont, Unitarian Universalist youth group – along with ten chaperones – traveled to San Antonio, Texas for a week of community service. They were scheduled to return home on Saturday. A small group of kids and chaperones were on a flight through Detroit Boston on Saturday night. The rest arrived in Chicago only to find that their flight to Boston had been cancelled. To make a (very) long story short, the group is still stuck in Chicago and they are not scheduled to return to Boston until Tuesday midday. I am attaching a list of the BHS students – by grade – who were on this trip. Six of them are noted as having returned. It is possible that there are a couple of students included on this list who do not attend BHS and I apologize for any confusion that may cause. As parents, we are tremendously appreciative of the rich and expansive experience our kids had while in San Antonio, and proud of the community service they performed while there. We are also tremendously relieved to know our kids are safe in Chicago with their chaperones, continuing their adventure in unexpected ways! We also eagerly anticipate their arrival home on Tuesday. In the meantime, we are concerned that they will be missing two days of school. The purpose of this message is to:

1) Inform you that these students will be absent on Monday and Tuesday. While most of the parents will likely call their kids in as absent on Monday and Tuesday, it is possible that some may overlook the need to do this. By sending you this list we hope to avoid any unexcused absences appearing on these students’ records.

2) Seek your assistance with ensuring that all teachers at BHS are informed that 43 of your students are in this predicament. We hope and trust that we can count on the cooperation and assistance of all of the teachers involved with regard to catching these students up on assignments, exams, and anything else they miss as a result of being absent on Monday and Tuesday.

3) Make sure that you are aware that a number of students involved in this adventure are also part of the cast and crew of Chess. Although they will have to miss school on Tuesday, I imagine most – if not all – of them will be attending Tuesday’s dress rehearsal. They will already have missed rehearsals on Sunday and Monday and with the show opening on Thursday, we know they will be anxious to catch up with the rest of the cast and crew with regard to preparations for the show and we trust they will not be prevented from doing so.

On behalf of all of the parents, please accept my appreciation for your responsiveness to this unusual situation. If you require confirmation of any of this from the church, please contact Dan Glenn, Acting Director of Religious Education, or on his cell phone # is 617-875-1402.

Many thanks,

Sara Oaklander
(Michael Allen’s mother)

617-504-3369 (best daytime number)

Sunday afternoon update (4:00pm)

After looking into the possibility of taking a Greyhound back, the group has determined that the best course of action is to stay in Chicago until Tuesday morning. They will depart on United flight 528, leaving Chicago O'Hare at 9:30am and arriving at Logan airport at 12:41pm.

Until then, the group is staying at the Holiday Inn Express in Palatine, IL. The phone # is 847-934-4900.

We held an impromptu parents meeting at the church today at 12:30, after seeing how many parents from the youth group were in attendance at the 11:00 service. Apologies to parents who didn't know about the meeting - it was a very spontaneous decision. Parents who were at this meeting arranged to call all parents who were not at this meeting to relay information. Also, this entry here will contain everything you need to know.

The chaperones are charging hotel (roughly $20 per person per night), food, and clothing expenses to their credit cards, and these expenses will all be figured out when the group returns. At the meeting today, parents committed to reimbursing chaperones for all of these expenses and will likely just divide up the costs evenly once it is all figured out. We recognize that there are some families for whom the additional cost is a financial burden, and anyone who needs assistance will be covered by the Youth Group fundraising budget. A number of parents at today's meeting also generously offered to have their children get cash from the ATM and share it with anyone who has run out. These kids will keep track of reimbursements as necessary. Of course, as I said above, chaperones are charging meals etc to their credit cards, but some parents felt that kids having at least few dollars cash on hand would be nice.

The report from Bev, Richard, and Kate, all of whom I talked with on the phone today multiple times, is that the kids are in good spirits, better-rested after sleeping in comfortable hotel beds last night, and are being well-fed. Thanks to help from Rev. Edmund and Susan Gonzalez (Ben Bauer’s wife), the group connected with the UU church in Chicago who is helping them to arrange for caterers for future meals. A clothing run to TJ Maxx or Marshalls is imminent, and the plan is to get underwear, t-shirts, and socks for all who need them, as well as fabric pens to decorate the new shirts! Also, anyone who needs long pants or warmer shirts will have the opportunity to get those items, and those who want bathing suits for the hotel pool can purchase inexpensive ones as well. A CVS run has already been made and $300 worth of toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other toiletry necessities have been purchased for the group. Bev has said that the hotel has been "fabulous" in assisting the group with any needs and being very accomodating "without blinking an eye."

Because no one has winter coats, the plan is not to venture into the city at all, but essentially to spend the rest of the time until their flight at the hotel. The chaperones have drawn up a new "Palatine Contract," a combination of the YG behavior contract that all the kids agree to at the beginning of the year and hotel rules.

Parents are asked to create new carpool groups because the ones previously arranged may no longer be feasible for this new midday pickup for people who work. A number of parents have offered to pick up, so if your child needs a ride, please call Roger Christopher, Jeanne Mooney, Sara Oaklander, Martha Gallagher, or Rubin Cassanova. Their #s are listed on the phone tree.

Last but not least, if you have questions about detail or want to relay any information to Bev and the chaperones, the best thing is to touch base with your child through cell phone, or call or email me. My email address is and I will be checking it regularly, and my cell phone # is 617-875-1402. Please relay any questions to me, unless it's an emergency, rather than calling the chaperones, because their cell phone batteries are dying and most of them don't have their chargers on them. I will touch base regularly with the chaperones, so it's just easier if I relay multiple questions rather than them receiving multiple phone calls.

The final piece of news is that the Unitarian Universalist Association has officially decided to name the first six saints in the history of the tradition: St. Bev Gillette, St. Ben Bauer, St. Richard Waring, St. Will Smith, St. Kate Gillette-Hesel, and St. John Keller.

Thanks to all the parents for all of your many offers to assist in whatever way is needed, and for the hard work you have done with communication and organization.