INTERVIEW WITH GAYLE HARROD
Gayle Harrod: As a young girl I dreamed of being an artist, but I got the message loud and clear that I couldn’t make a decent living at that, so when I graduated high school I decided to study Architecture. I had to withdraw after the first year due to family and financial issues and landed a job drafting for a Civil Engineering firm. I quickly moved up to a position as a Designer and worked in that field for over 26 years.
I used to draw and paint, but hadn’t done it since high school, so I wanted to dabble a bit and see what I could do with that. My other great passion is the volunteer work I do with the kids in Peru. I wanted to do something to help them too, but I couldn’t see a way to do it all and I felt stuck again, unable to choose between the two. Then one night I was driving alone in my car and the idea for “The Come Together Café & Emporium”, came to me. (I always get the best ideas driving in my car!) It just seemed to make perfect sense and brought the things I love most together so that I really could have it all…and since I love cooking too, the idea of running a small restaurant appealed to me as well. From that point the ideas just kept coming and the vision continues to grow. Now I’m just trying to figure out the logistics of taking it from idea to reality.
MIW: As Alice enters Wonderland, she is not immediately accepted among the creatures there. In fact they believe that she is a threat and try to attack her in her overgrown state. Many youth in our society also feel different and feel socially isolated today. How does your vision address this issue for the youth in your community?
Gayle Harrod: What I envision is a place where young people can come together with others and express themselves creatively. My aim is to encourage creative expression in whatever form that may take. I plan to have art classes and art-centered play-groups during the day for younger kids (and Moms!) to explore their creative side and learn new mediums. I also plan to hold individual and collaborative writing workshops, dance exhibitions and open mic in the evening for teens and young adults as well as original performances of live music, comedy and gallery showings of local artists work, at night for the grown ups. By giving young people an open stage for their creative expression, they feel “heard” and valued. I also hope to provide scholarships for local students to help them pursue an education in the Arts. Eventually, I hope to address some of the obstacles that prevent many young people from pursuing a career in Arts, for example, creating a viable marketplace for their works to raise incomes and looking into the possibility of setting up an Artists and Musicians, Health Insurance Co-op. I want to create a real sense of community, a collective gathering place for creative minds to be nurtured and supported.
MIW: As an artist, with which alice in wonderland character do you most identify with and why?
Gayle Harrod: Oh, I definitely relate to Alice. So many of the quotes from the story just seem to mirror my own life and my search for self…the search for the meaning of things…finding the lesson or the “moral” in every situation. The age old question of “Who am I, really ?” I guess you could say I’ve had a run-in with my own sort of “Cheshire Cat” that pretty much turned life as I knew it on its head. After that, I don’t look at the world or myself, the same way…nothing will ever be the same, nor would I want it to be. It was the catalyst, the “magic potion” if you will, that forever changed me. This potion didn’t make me bigger or smaller, it let me see myself as I truly am, laid bare the flaws in my character that caused me to repeat unhealthy patterns and choices and allowed me to acknowledge them and work to change them. It also shattered all preconceived notions of security and in doing so, removed all fear of the unknown. It gave me the courage to walk away from what is safe and known, to finally start living the life I want.
MIW: In your mission statement you say, “We Create Social Change by imagining and implementing innovative, sustainable solutions to social problems, specifically targeting those affecting the Creative Community as well as at-risk and special needs populations of children and young adults.” Can you elaborate on how your center will involve children and youth who are at risk?
Gayle Harrod: I hope to address some other issues that typically effect youth and creative people. The Come Together Café & Emporium is a Non-profit social enterprise, so one of our main goals is to raise funds for other Non-profit groups who are addressing the challenges of special needs and at-risk youth, both here and abroad. One of the ways we will do this is by providing resources to our patrons and funding local programs that focus on drug and alcohol prevention and treatment. I’ve seen first hand the devastation addiction brings, not just upon the individual, but also upon friends, family and society at large. The creative community seems disproportionately affected by addiction, so I would like to support research that specifically addresses the question of “why” those statistics are so high among creative types and what can be done to change that. I also want to promote volunteering in the local community and abroad. When kids come face to face with the less fortunate, they gain a new perspective and an appreciation of the gifts they have in their own lives and when they feel empowered to make a real difference in the lives of others, it builds self esteem, gives them a sense of pride and purpose.
MIW: We loved the faces represented on your winning poster of the Mused Creativity Challenge “What’s Your Gift to the World?”. Can you tell us a little about those children and youth?
Gayle Harrod: The story behind the kids…I am just in love with these kids! I took a volunteer vacation to Peru with my son in 2004 that forever changed the way we both look at the world. I fell in love with the country and its people. I’ve returned 4 times since then and have continued to be involved with several programs for special needs and at-risk kids. One is Hogar de las Estrellas, http://www.chaskawasy.org/ a group home for children in Cusco, Peru who are considered to be physically or mentally, “Special Needs”, and those who have been orphaned, abused and/or abandoned. Hogar de las Estrellas has employed innovative programs and practices to contribute to its own sustainability and has strived to provide a nurturing home-like environment for special needs children who’s birth families do not have the resources to care for them. They believe that EVERY child deserves an education and have fought tirelessly for education rights for the disabled in Peru. They believe not in focusing on what a child cannot do, but in showing them what they can do, helping each child to achieve the fullest potential of their abilities. They have developed many vocational programs, in culinary, hospitality, jewelry making and woodworking to help the young adults who live there become independent to the maximum extent possible. They also have an onsite green house to insure healthy meals for their children and a guest hostal to provide lodging for volunteers and guests alike, to provide sustainable income and serve as a training ground for their hospitality vocational program. In spite of all their efforts they are still struggling in an adverse economy to meet even the basic needs for all these children and I hope to assist in providing a sustainable source of funding for their continued work.
The other is LAFF (Latin American Foundation for the Future), http://www.laffcharity.org.uk/ a program founded by an amazing young lady who served as my volunteer coordinator on my first trip to Peru. LAFF serves at-risk populations of children and young adults, in Cusco, Peru by funding Azul Wasi, a home for “street kids”, homeless or otherwise at-risk boys and Casa Mantay, a home for teenage mothers.
They too are focusing on improving the lives of these young people through education and vocational training and by promoting sustainability and independence. LAFF has provided equipment for leather making to Casa Mantay, enabling the young ladies of the home to support themselves through the fabrication and sale of leather bags. In addition to providing funding to LAFF’s programs, I also intend to feature these bags in my store.
To learn more about this artist, you can check out her FB page on this link: