How OHG Came to Bee

Our Heart Greeting began and continues as a journey ~ a journey of friendship, healing and empowerment. The exact moment when OHG came to be is difficult to name because we became OHG organically, over many months, through shared experiences, struggles and triumphs.

The founding members met at the MS World (MSW) Message Board forums, an online community resource of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). Over time, posts to the forums helped us develop trusting friendships, as we sought to improve our experience with the disabling disease we shared, multiple sclerosis (MS). Our posts naturally flowed between helping ourselves while helping others. If we had to pick the "beginning of OHG", it most surely would be found within the MS World ATC project threads, when our friendships merged with art.

ATC's, Artist Trading Cards, are small (2.5"x3.5") artistic works. They are most often artist originals meant to collect and/or give and trade. When someone posted about an ATC swap where all participants were MSW message board members, a few of us wanted to revive the project. However, nobody knew exactly how it worked, and the task management seemed daunting to us. It was about this time that we also had "windows" and "breezes" in our forum posts.

We were encouraging one another to try new things, learn new things, and renew old things, like hobbies and art projects. "Windows" symbolized opportunities. MS sometimes closes doors, but there is usually a window somewhere in the room.

"Breezes" are where ideas are born ~ where resources become available ~ where motivation becomes action ~ where life happens. When one door closes, you don't have to reopen that door for a fresh breeze, you can cross the room to the window ~ you don't have to leave the room to enjoy a fresh breeze ~ you can open the window wider for more of the breeze, or close the window for less ~ you can peek out, and you might even jump out to fly!

One of us (ania) was feeling the breezes of the ATC idea, so peeked out the window to learn more about ATC's, and how to manage a swap. She opened the window wide, jumped to fly on the breezes, volunteering herself as Host of the MS World ATC series #5, which she themed, "In My Shoes".

The "In My Shoes" theme was wholly embraced because of its simple yet poignant image. Who better to describe what it is like to be "in our shoes"? We were inspired to raise awareness and understanding for MS while reaping the benefits of creative challenge, camaraderie, and common purpose. What started as something to self-satisfy became something we were doing for the group and for all people with MS.

Organizing and creating 20, 2.5"x 3.5" Artist Trading Cards was a struggle for most of us due to our symptoms of fatigue, vision loss, weak hands and bodies, and many others that beheld us all. Deadlines became relative; a new MS time began: organic, slower than predicted, but triumphant in the end ~ perfect time! What an accomplishment!

The participants shared the story of their art; some posted online tearfully about how even just opening the envelope brought them such joy. The project of giving to each other and receiving from each other embodied what we enjoyed at the MSW message boards; the ATC's were fruit from the vine of giving, encouraging, support and awareness. The ATC's were the catalyst that led us to Our Heart Greeting.

One of us (cimmonz) was so inspired by the goodness of the ATC's, that she talked privately to a couple of board buddies to coordinate a new project. This new opportunity would seek to remove barriers of involvement.

If deadlines were a barrier in the ATC project for some people, then we would provide an opportunity to participate at any time. If finances were a barrier, or skill, or time, or number of people, or whatever the barriers that stopped people from participating in the original ATC swap, we hoped to eliminate those barriers.

This new project was different in that it was a non-swap ~ the participants would give without expectation of receiving in return (participants donate); and the project would be without obligation or deadline ~ we would give what we had, when we had it. If we made or collected 3 handcrafted aprons, or 10 greeting cards, or 15 gift cards, we would send them on with special care. The items would not be as important as the coordination, creativity, working for a common purpose, and acknowledging others to encourage their ability. The project would be a project of giving.

The question then became, who will receive what we give? Who do we acknowledge, who's ability do we encourage? We can't give to everybody, but if we send one gift, how do we select that receiver?

We decided receivers should be nominated based on their actions which should parallel our purpose; they should in some way be acting to improve the lives of people who live with MS. And receivers of our giving should not have added burden or obligation as a result of our giving ~ the greeting should be free, should lift spirit and renew energy; a receiver should never feel guilty, embarrassed or burdened by duty, to reply with thanks.

What do we name the project? We decided the name of the group project should be a verb, not a noun... it isn't about the greeting items, it is about the action of greeting. We named ourselves the Our Heart Greeting team. We were encouraged by each other, and inspired to again challenge ourselves with community creative giving.

At this point, we pretty much knew our "why" (an opportunity to do more), we were almost clear on our "who" (deserving nominees) and our "what" (donated items, easy to mail, like greeting cards), but still needed our "how". We reminded ourselves of the breezes, and felt confident that they would continue to carry and propel the idea to fruition; so we introduced the concept in a message board thread at MS World ~ we opened our window wide.

We expected the discussion in the thread to be fun, and fruitful ~ that it would provide not only our first receiver, but would also change our project from an idea, to an action! It would give others a chance to be involved, and to affect our direction.

We came up with the theme "Grateful Greetings" so that our first greeting would be one of appreciation for good works done. We hoped that this would be the first of many greetings, Grateful Greetings and other themes as they presented themselves in the breezes.

The introduction thread received few discussion replies; the concept was foreign to the members, and many details were still unknown and undecided. However, we received responses privately! Overwhelmingly, nominators wanted us to express their heartfelt gratitude to the volunteers who manage and moderate the MSW website. These nominees couldn't be publicly announced because it would spoil their surprise!

Anonymity was one of our original guideposts, so our little project became a top secret mission as we tried to spread the word without informing any of the MSW volunteers! And one greeting became 30 greetings instantly, because there were 30 volunteers. We privately emailed hundreds of invitations to message board members to invite them to participate. Dozens of people responded with enthusiastic interest and support; eventually 25 of these donated items, cards, messages, cash.... to the greetings.

It became obvious, quickly, that we needed a way to communicate information to all of these people in a more efficient manner. Had we prepared for a top secret mission, involving dozens of people, we would have maybe set up a website to centrally locate information. As it was, we grasped at a blog, and the beginnings of a website... we began jumping through windows as the breeze blew need and resources around us like a tornado. Not to mention that we were coming into the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season.

At some point we realized that the 30 volunteers destined to receive the greetings, all worked from home ~ we suddenly had 30 different locations to mail to, including the Philippines. This development required that we ask the staff manager at MS World for help. She agreed that divulging private home mailing addresses would be inappropriate, but allowed us to contact volunteers to ask for their mailing addresses.

What?! We spent weeks being secretive, and now we had to publicize? So many twists and turns tried to close the window on our journey.

Again, the project proved that it was breeze driven, had a life of its own, its own timing, route, and destination. Obstacles of inexperience, unknowns, secrets, mailing addresses, volume, and the occasional ice storm and flood, became our opportunities to learn, unify, and overcome.

Challenges and obstacles matured our patience, and purpose. And again, deadlines became relative; organic, slower than predicted, but triumphant in the end!

Here we are, at 6 months post idea. We have a formal name, logo, and statement of purpose. We established a website, a blog, and an online store for awareness items. We sent 30 grateful greetings(!), about a dozen 'other' greetings (sympathy, thinking of you, etc), and coordinated an awareness postcard campaign to recognize National MS Awareness & Education Month, mailing hundreds of postcards throughout March, 2008. We have more ideas than time and energy, more hopes than we could ever realize, and more confidence in the ability of our disability.

Wow, a bizzzy hive! Why are we a hive? The Our Heart Greeting image is that of a bee hive because we pollinate as we gather the small bits of sweetness offered by perfect flowers, we unite to defend the source of our life, and we create nourishment to not only survive, but to thrive.

Bees are often misunderstood, but if you know the truth of a honey bee, then you know that they have amazing strength, influence, unity, and resource. Each member of the hive is as important as the next and each one is perfectly designed to offer their unique gifts; all give what they have, when they have it, because that is their purpose.

Like multiple sclerosis, our journey as individuals and as Our Heart Greeting is unpredictable and dictated by much that is out of our control. We are confident though, that despite our varied disabilities, WE ARE ABLE to improve the lives of people who live with MS, including our own!

Keep your eye on the website and blog for more about our creative giving and awareness campaigns. We have a guestbook and puzzles page, a calendar page, and other interesting things to check out! If you would like to participate, donate, nominate, or receive, then we have an opportunity for you! Drop us a line any time.

# # # not The End, only The Beginning # # #