Person of the Week
Marjorie Russell: Light the Night
To help highlight the contributions that all members of the community can make if given a chance, Marjorie Russell is helping stage the Water Lantern Celebration to benefit A Little Compassion and the Nest Coffee House on Saturday, Oct. 5 at Plattwood Park, Winthrop Road, Deep River. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
On Saturday, Oct. 5 at dusk, Marjorie Russell will launch a lantern with a light inside and a special message written outside on the pond at Plattwood Park in Deep River. She hopes the entire pond will be filled with floating water lanterns in a fundraising event for A Little Compassion, the organization that sponsors The Nest Coffee House, the recently opened coffee shop in Deep River.
The Nest is not just another coffee shop; it is a place with both hot joe and a social mission. The shop is staffed by young adults with intellectual and emotional challenges.
Marjorie, chair of A Little Compassion’s board of trustees, explains the idea of The Nest was both to give meaningful employment to a population of young adults who have challenges in traditional employment situations, and equally important to provide a gathering place where members of the community could interact with the staff.
“Everyone needs to be included, to bring their special gifts to the table,” she says. “How much do we miss, how much is lost when we do not include these gifts? When we don’t include people, we are missing things we didn’t even know we were missing.”
Jane Moen of Deep River, the founder of A Little Compassion, suggested the water lantern celebration.
“We were searching for a fundraiser that would be an uplifting and inspiring event,” she notes. “Our hope was to draw attention to the fact that young adults, and all people, with a disability are valuable members of our community with much to offer.”
Marjorie sees the event in similar fashion.
“It is lighting the way to be a more inclusive community,” she says.
Every person who buys a ticket for the fundraiser will get a lantern and decorating materials. The lights inside the lanterns will be reusable LED candles.
“They are so realistic they even flicker,” Moen said.
The event includes an informal dinner of hot dogs, vegetarian chili, and music by Brad & Brian, a duo made up of Valley Regional High School social worker Brad Pitman and longtime friend Brian Kelly as well as another local combo, Acoustic Soup.
Marjorie already knows what she is writing on her lantern. One side will have the word “Be.” The other sides will have what Marjorie describes as a collage of complimentary words: patient, kind, accepting, positive, genuine, sincere, graceful, helpful, compassionate and yourself. Marjorie already has the word “Be” tattooed on her foot as a visual reminder of the virtues she wishes to encourage.
Marjorie, who grew up on the North Fork of Long Island, has been the school counselor at Essex Elementary School for the last 22 years, where advocating the kinds of qualities she plans to write on her lantern are a daily responsibility. She works with the entire student population on topics of adjustment and behavior as well as one-one with children experiencing challenging situations from parental divorce to homelessness.
“Yes, homelessness in Essex,” she says. “Sometimes the problems are just too big for children to deal with alone.”
Marjorie uses a model developed by Scarlett Lewis, the mother of Jesse Lewis, one of the 1st graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The program, Choose Love, emphasizes qualities like courage, gratitude forgiveness, and compassion in action. In addition, Marjorie works with elementary school staff to embed those qualities in classroom lessons, not only in programs she presents.
She emphasizes that studies have shown that focusing on emotional and behavioral lessons increases students’ overall academic performance.
“This improves focus and attention, eagerness to learn and self-confidence,” she says.
She often has a bit of advice for students that works well for people of any age: “Don’t say you can’t do it; just say you can’t do it yet.”
Marjorie, who describes herself as a wellness advocate, is an enthusiastic gardener and artist in watercolors.
“I like creating beauty,” she says, adding that for her the appeal of watercolors is showing the play of light.
Light, she emphasizes, is more than what streams through the windows.
“It is also the light within,” she says.
Her personal style includes an armful of bracelets with messages meaningful to her, including wristlets for both A Little Compassion and The Nest, as well as one that reads “Chose Love” and a silver cuff dating back to the Vietnam War with the name of a soldier missing in action on it.
“The theme, as you can see, is that my bracelets hold meaning and purpose—very much like I think every individual does,” she explains.
Marjorie will not only create a lantern at the upcoming festival; she will also be on call to make sure things go smoothly.
“I think I’ll be running all over the place from the musicians to the parking,” she says.
Attendance is limited by the number of cars that Plattwood Park can accommodate.
Still, there is at least one thing that Marjorie, nor anyone else, can control: the weather. The event goes on rain or shine.
“But I know the universe is going to work with us,” she says. “It’s going to be a great night.”
Water Lantern Celebration
The Water Lantern Celebration to benefit A Little Compassion and the Nest Coffee House is on Saturday, Oct. 5 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Plattwood Park, Winthrop Road, Deep River. For tickets, visit www.thenestcoffeehouse.org or The Nest Coffee House, 162 Main Street, Deep River.