Discover more from Release and Gather
The Gumbo + a side of cornbread
another update on Van's cancer, Jonah's recovery, our business, and more
I’ve been enjoying Substack’s Notes feature this week. Although I was initially resistant to another something to suck me into scrolling, I discovered several wonderful posts there, restacked a couple, and shared more photos of Maxine because who doesn’t need more images of an adorable kitten in their life? You can find notes I’ve posted by selecting the Notes category at the top of Release and Gather’s home page.
Before I dive into updates, I’m sending a warm welcome (and I do mean warm—it’s been over 100 degrees here in Woodville, Mississippi every day this week) to several new subscribers: Miguel, Dawn, pgwatson, John B., Elspeth, Barry, Britta, INTEL for INVESTORS (←although I suspect that one is only following me to get that name in the oh-so-bright lights here), Uzma, georgemaria, and Colin. I’m glad you joined this corner of the Internet and hope you’ll read something that makes you feel like you’re having coffee with an old friend. And if you run across some words that make you think, “Me, too!”—please share your thoughts or story in the comments. We routinely have wonderful discussions there.
I’m working on some posts that will land later this month, including how I felt when my granddaughter said she wanted to take me to see the Barbie movie for my birthday earlier this week…
…but today I wanted to update you on some stories many of you have followed for a while. If you’re new here, you can find the last update here.
Nine days ago, my brother hit his one-year transplant anniversary and celebrated with a biopsy and other tests (I almost typed “routine tests” because they’re just part of his life now, but they are anything but routine). Van was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Acute Myeloid Leukemia over two years ago, and last summer I was able to donate perfectly matched stem cells to him. All results from his biopsy aren’t in yet, but so far what’s been returned has been good!
He’s far from his “old self,” but he’s thankful to be alive to spend time with his new grandson. He’s continuing maintenance chemo treatments and working to regain his strength. Thank you for all your prayers and well wishes this past year!
Jonah continues to make progress in “adulting” and living his life without substances. He is no longer in sober living, but he connects with his recovery community often. He’s sponsoring a young man who came into the program earlier in the year, he still sees his same counselor there (we worked out private pay with her before he graduated), and he attends group meetings with some of his recovery friends.
One of the biggest factors in the success of his transition into the “real world” is his job. Jonah works in the paint shop at a family-owned custom paint and body shop. Early in his recovery, he was talking with a guy he’d gotten to know at an early-morning group he attended on Saturdays. Jonah shared with him that he was looking for a job, and he introduced Jonah to a friend who owned a local shop.
The owner’s son, Will, has been in recovery for a number of years and manages the paint shop. He instantly took Jonah under his wing. A couple of weeks ago, Will was out of town for most of the week, so Jonah and the other painter were on their own. They passed the test with flying colors, and the owner is sending them on an all-expenses-paid trip to attend a paint class.
All that to say—yes, attending groups and meeting with his sponsor and counselor are important. But having a job he loves, a place where he can see his future, and having a boss who cares about Jonah and his recovery has been key. I recognize what seems to be the serendipity of it all, except that I believe God has been right there all along helping my son along.
For more on Jonah’s recovery, start with this post about his graduation in April from a long-term rehabilitation program. You’ll find lots of links there to other posts I’ve written about his experience (shared with his permission) and my experience as his mom.
We own an old building in our small town’s historic district and run it as an event venue. I encourage you to catch up on my last business update here if you’re not familiar with past posts about our vision for the place. So much has happened in four months!
First, I began offering design services. I realized that clients were spending more money on decorations and specialty furniture than they were on the venue, and a friend asked me to decorate for his birthday party. Not only did I knock it out of the park, I absolutely loved the experience! Designing a party woke up a new area of creativity, and now I’m a maniac! I began offering design packages and business is booming.
As of July, I’ve exceeded last year’s revenue and am on target to double it by the end of the year. This is huge since the last two years we’ve questioned whether or not this place would ever become self-sustaining. I’ve invested most of this year’s profit into specialty chairs, table linens, backdrop stands, and other decor needs, but we will finally break even in 2023! (For reference, we were tens of thousands in the hole the last two years but mostly because of renovations).
You’ll remember that some of our goals for The Historic Planters Building are to see it used to support the young people of our community and to bring the arts to this area. In May, we were able to host our public school’s graduating class, their guests, class sponsors, and school administrators for Senior Breakfast. We spent most of Mother’s Day preparing the space so the kids and their invited guests would feel honored and celebrated. Was I exhausted at the end of the day? Yes! Did the whole place smell like pancake syrup the rest of the week? Also, yes! But it was rewarding to know our venue was being used for good and 140+ people were able to enjoy it that day.
Also in May, I received a call from Margaret Porter Troupe inquiring about our space for The Gloster Arts Project. Who was this woman in New York who wanted to come to rural southwest Mississippi? I found the following on a now-closed Indigogo campaign when she started the project:
Margaret Porter Troupe is the founder of the Gloster Project. She was born and raised and educated in the public school in Gloster [Mississippi]. She left Gloster and went to college in Mississippi before transferring to Iona College in New York from where she got her degree in English. She began her professional career in advertising at The New York Times, met and married her husband the poet and writer, Quincy Troupe, and moved to Harlem where she began producing cultural events. She owned a successful art gallery in La Jolla, California where she lived for thirteen years, and started an arts education program there by sending professional artists to teach after-school arts workshops to middle schoolers and apprenticing high school kids with professional artists.
She moved back to Harlem in 2003 and started the Harlem Arts Salon, intimate gatherings of poets and writers, visual artists and musicians for book signings, conversations, performances and exhibitions in the private setting of her home in one of Harlem's premier landmark buildings. Usually, a home-cooked meal is served and the price of admission includes a signed copy of an author's book. We also have a small staff based in New York who are all deeply committed to promoting arts education.
The non-profit operates through grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Mississippi Arts Commission, Mississippi Center for Cultural Production (SippCulture), Peter N. G. Schwartz Foundation, Save the Children, Scone Foundation, Phillips-Murray Foundation, Lucy Goldman Fund, San Diego Community Foundation, Price Family Foundation, other private foundations, and from individual donors.
For the last few years, the classes had been held in neighboring Gloster and Brookhaven, but Margaret wanted to bring the program to Woodville this year. Of course, we said yes! We asked for a small daily fee to help cover utilities since cooling the space can be quite expensive, but for two and a half weeks in July, instructors Kelvyn Bell and Jeremy Gaines taught filmmaking and music to several area youth in our building. We look forward to offering the space again next year and seeing even more teenagers take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.
Finally (and this seems so minor in comparison to that last part!), I created listings on The Knot and WeddingWire and published my website last weekend. I kept telling myself that I needed to hire a designer to update my branding and create a really clean website, but at the end of the day, I’m just a fledgling small business that needed a web presence ASAP. So I threw aside the perfectionist in me and just created one. I’m not totally happy with it, but it works for now. I’d love for you to check it out!
So much is happening with this business, and if I stopped to really think about it I would totally suffer from imposter syndrome because who am I to think I can run a business?! I don’t like math. I know nothing about profit and loss and forecasting. But here I am doing it. Over the last four years, I’ve learned and tweaked things. I’m sure the next year will bring more lessons. But I. Am. Doing. The. Thing.
And if I can do it, so can you (not sure who needed to read that today).
Last night Mike and I attended a party to celebrate the grand opening of a new, much-needed business in our little town: Community Grocery. Katie McCurley and Whitney Seal never dreamed they’d be opening a storefront in Woodville, Mississippi (I feel that!), but here they are! I’m so excited about this cafe that will offer dine-in services for lunch and take-out dinners. And the menu is a culinary delight! (Our current dine-in options include three gas stations and Subway. I mean, you can get some great fried chicken at the gas station, but this is something we’ve needed for a long time.) The store will also offer gifts, souvenirs, and specialty grocery items.
I was blown away when we stepped inside. The ladies commissioned portraits of local figures who made their marks on the town, and I can’t wait to contact the artist to see if I can commission her to paint a mural on the side of my building.
Another exciting development is that they are renovating a space above the cafe to be a Bed & Breakfast. I’m selfishly ecstatic because we have little to offer here in terms of accommodations, and now I’ll have a place to point brides-to-be who may want to secure my venue for their big day.
Our community is growing, and that’s a great thing!
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