Good people do good things right under our noses

Have you ever looked for someone and couldn’t find him or her. I mean, one minute he or she is in your life and then, poof, it’s as if he or she has vanished. You don’t know where to look or even how.

Have you ever looked for someone and couldn’t find him or her. I mean, one minute he or she is in your life and then, poof, it’s as if he or she has vanished.

You don’t know where to look or even how.

One thing that is important to your searching is to have a reasonably good reason to be looking for the person in the first place. You must know why you need to find him or her and what you will say to him or her when you do.

Sometimes your search, like your humor or your words, can fall short. And other times you discover that the person you were looking for was never lost at all. He or she has been hiding right before your eyes.

So, it was with Suanne Martin-Smith. I have been looking for her ever since she left Amy Epstein’s little school and art studio on Bay Street to take a job as a full-time art teacher with the Gig Harbor Academy.

Extremely creative and immensely talented, I had hoped that she could help me turn a pile of broken pottery into a beautiful mosaic masterpiece. Whenever I passed the pottery sitting forlornly on a shelf in my workshop, I’d wonder where and when I would find her.

I didn’t realize she was just down the street working at South Kitsap Helpline, teaching classes and creating amazing programs.

Suanne met Jennifer Hardison, the director of Helpline, when their oldest daughters were small. Together they emit a never-ceasing explosion of ideas, big and small, grandiose and manageable with a central theme – a determination to make the South Kitsap community a better place to live, one kinder and more responsive to the needs of all.

They find ways to craft the programs that we need, filling in the gaps as they arise.

They don’t wait around for the leaders who don’t really lead. With their hearty band of supporters, Jennifer and Suanne push forward, ever forward.

They manage to pull rainbows out of the sky and make magic for kids, seniors and families on but a shoestring budget.

In the process, they teach others what is possible. As I write this, they are in Shoreline presenting at a statewide conference to representatives of nonprofit food banks.

Carrying a storyboard complete with pictures, they’ll explain how they took an idea of providing free lunches for children over the summer and spring breaks and turned it into an educational endeavor, a camp centered on the theme of art and literature.

They may wonder out loud, expressing fears, “Sometimes I feel as if our town doesn’t have a heart. We have so much talent here, why don’t we pull together? I just wish we could pull together. I wish we could get to know our neighbors, so we can make sure they aren’t starving alone.”

They don’t dwell on these fears, though. Instead, the two, one who feels so deeply that she cries even more easily than I and the other, who would spread her wings and mother the entire world if she could, have set upon a goal of “one well-fed child at a time.”

They don’t have to look far to find children to feed. When school lets out for the summer and for winter and spring breaks, a source of breakfast and lunch meals disappears.

Children who have grown accustomed to a paltry fare of Top Ramen, hot dogs and macaroni and cheese need a steady and more nutritious diet.

Started two years ago as a two-day-a-week feeding program serving 25 to 35 children, Jennifer and Suanne’s efforts have led to a five-day-a-week, four-hour-a-day art and literature camp for kids that gives children a chance to play, learn, eat and grow, while giving their caregivers a much needed break.

Suanne designs art projects using recycled materials. She loves to offer fresh fruits and vegetables, doing sensory, hands-on activities around the foods, like opening pineapples, mixing up vats of pudding and making homemade spaghetti and garlic bread.

She believes kids need to have a positive choice in what they eat and can learn to respect and enjoy what they put into their bodies.

While the success of the initial program secured a $5,000 grant from Food Lifeline, Suanne says she always has need for supplies and volunteers, especially volunteers.

“We’re only limited in how many children we can serve at the camp based on how many volunteers we have,” she explained. “The more volunteers, the more children can stay and play and eat.”

Last year, Suanne recalled, she had an elderly gentleman volunteer.

“He started off reading to the kids,” she said, “but it was obvious his gifts were in building. Before long, he became the ‘Lego Master,’ building wonderful Lego creations with the kids.”

Suanne and Jennifer dream of connecting the kids with other seniors to create an “Adopt a Grandparent” Program.

They run background checks on all volunteers, but their only major rule (after screening) is for a volunteer to “be kind.”

Besides volunteers, Suanne is looking for more old silverware, Styrofoam meat trays and balls, clothes pins, children’s books, plastic table cloths, unpainted ceramics, canvas to paint, broken electronic toys, cars, trucks, etc., hand held mirrors, carpenter tools, telephone wire, stickers, craft paper, paint brushes, buttons, feathers, old broken jewelry, beads, dress-up clothes, disposable cameras — and cash, of course.

Contact Suanne or Jennifer at 876-4089 if you can volunteer or donate supplies, or if you would like to have your child take part in the Spring Art (and food) Camp to be held from March 31 to April 4, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m each day at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Mitchell Avenue.

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.