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April 2006

Creating a Home Away From Home

The Daily Illini

In late February, about 200 Hindu families in Champaign-Urbana got together to celebrate Maha Shivratri, a Hindu high holiday that honors Shiva, the destroyer, one of the three Gods that comprise the Hindu Holy Trinity. Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu, the preserver, are the others.

On Maha Shivratri, families gather to mark the night Lord Shiva married. And while families joined together in temples across the globe, Hindu families here in Champaign-Urbana settled for the Urbana Civic Center. There is no Hindu temple in the area, but a concentrated group of Hindu families are trying to create a temple where they can worship.

The temple isn’t as crucial to Hinduism as a church is to Christians or a mosque to Muslims. Hinduism is a very personal religion. Most Hindu families in the area have shrines in their houses to which they pray to on a daily basis. But the temple is still considered a cultural center of Hindu life.

“There is still a certain communal aspect to (Hinduism),” said Rajmohan Gandhi, director of Global Crossroads and visiting professor.

The idea to build a temple began about three years ago among three University professors, including Professor Shiv Gopal Kapoor.

“We felt we had a critical mass of Hindu families in the area, and it was time,” he said.

During Kapoor’s early years in Champaign, he and his family would travel to Chicago to attend temple. There is a temple in Peoria, Ill., which is a 90-minute drive from Champaign-Urbana.

“We’re doing it for ourselves, but we’re also interested in helping the large number of Hindu students who come to the University from Chicago – where they had temples at home,” Kapoor said.

Akhil Shah is one of those students. The 22-year-old senior in LAS is the president of the Hindu Students Council. The group meets weekly at the office of Registered Student Organizations and holds bi-weekly discussions on cultural and religious topics. When the group wants to get together and celebrate a holiday, they usually end up at the McKinley Foundation.

“We have to bring in a Hindu priest from Peoria or Chicago whenever we want to celebrate a holiday,” he said.

The Board of Trustees of the Hindu Temple and Cultural Society of Central Illinois, the group organizing and funding the temple, estimates a total cost at just more than $700,000.

“We currently have about $300,000 in cash, with another $200,000 pledged,” Kapoor said.

They had a site picked out last year, but Champaign County officials never granted permits for land use, a 24-acre site on Airport Road in Urbana. The group was buying the land with a private investor, but the permit process took too long and he eventually dropped out.

This time, they’re doing things differently.

“We plan on first buying the land, then applying for a permit,” Kapoor said. “That way if we run into any problems, we’ll already have the land and not have to go back to step one.”

The group is looking at a 4.5-acre plot of land on Willow Road in Urbana. A basic design for the temple has been sketched out. The group has enlisted the help of HDC Engineering, a local firm. They also are working with a local architectural firm.

The temple will house offices, meeting halls, a fully functional kitchen, a 2,000 square-foot prayer hall, and what Kapoor considers to be the most important and unique additions: a cultural and community hall.

“We want this to be something for the community as well,” Kapoor said. The group’s Web site refers to this particular aspect of the temple as “the first of its kind in temple-building in America.”

“We want to make education a core element of the temple,” said Professor Pallassana Balgopal, another founding member of the temple’s board.

The group has Lord Ganesha, remover of obstacles, and the Goddess Saraswathi, goddess of knowledge, as their central deities.

“Since education is such a core aspect of life in Champaign-Urbana, we wanted that reflected in our temple,” Balgopal said.

Kapoor also envisions classes being taught in the building.

“We would like to see everything from Yoga to mythology or language classes,” Kapoor said. “I used to have to teach Hindi classes out of my basement. Hopefully that’s something we could work on.”

Kapoor also envisions a community center that could be used to hold birthday parties and weddings. He also thinks it would be good place for elementary students to tour, just to learn a little about a culture and a religion with which they are unfamiliar.

“Hinduism is a very accepting religion overall,” Balgopal said. “We would like to see the temple and cultural center reflect that in our community.”

© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini

April 2006

Searching for Support

The Daily Illini

Stanley stood at the top of the stairs in his house, awkwardly pointing a gun to his head.

“I didn’t know the best way to do it, so I figured if I accidentally only grazed myself, the fall down the stairs would take care of the rest.”

It was 1971 in a rural Illinois farm town. Sixteen-year-old Stanley was “pretty sure” he was gay, but he didn’t know how to handle it. At that time, “gay” just wasn’t done. No one knew his secret. He couldn’t reach out to his family; they wouldn’t understand that, since the age of four, he had been attracted to men. They wouldn’t understand that the sight of a bare-chested man lifting a bale of hay made him feel something the “busty calendar babes at the fleet store” didn’t.

So he reached out to a friend’s father. The man convinced Stanley to join the conservative church on the edge of town. Stanley confessed his feelings to the pastor.

“Pray,” the pastor said.

Stanley prayed. He prayed to be straight, to find women attractive. It didn’t work. He went back to the pastor, ashamed, confused.

“Pray harder,” the pastor said.

Stanley knew his feelings for men were wrong; his church told him so. God wanted him to burn in hell.

He knew where his brother kept his pistol.

“He usually kept it loaded, but I didn’t check. I didn’t want to know. I wanted to let God decide,” he said. “I told myself, if the gun’s not loaded, that’s God’s way of telling me I’m all right. If it is … well, you know. My mom would be sad, but at least I wouldn’t have to tell her I was gay.”

He aimed. He pulled the trigger.

– Click –

The pistol wasn’t loaded. Stanley survived, and is now a 50-year-old, openly gay man living in Urbana with his partner of 24 years. Looking back, he finds it hard to believe he was that close to committing suicide.

He doesn’t attribute the episode directly to the church, “but when that pastor told me to ‘pray harder,’ that was it for me. I had nowhere left to turn,” he said.

Currently, there are churches that accept openly gay people. Stanley is actively involved in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Urbana, 309 W. Green St. It is a denomination that believes in the acceptance of everyone, regardless of age, race, or sexual orientation.

Many people approach ministries that are based on the notion that homosexuality can be changed through prayer, and ask for help in becoming what is now referred to as “ex-gay,” and succeeding. The largest and most powerful of these ministries is Exodus International, which claims to seek “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.”

Exodus encourages “transformational therapy.” It holds conferences and books speakers across the nation. Exodus’ Web site operates a referral service as well. If a gay person is interested in transformational ministry, he can find a church in his area that offers this form of therapy.

The Homewood Evangelical Church in Moline, Ill., houses one such ministry. Tim Buhler has been the Pastor of Single Adults at Homewood for a little more than three years. Buhler says he is working with 20 to 25 people in his program, and the program has about an 80 percent retention rate, meaning four out of every five people who approach the church with unwanted same-sex attraction remain in the program.

“I work with people who feel like they were born (gay) but know they weren’t,” he said.

At the core of Buhler’s beliefs is the notion that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on it is. He doesn’t try to change sexual orientation, just sexual behavior.

“That seems to be to be a very spiritually violent experience,” says Heidi Weatherford, minister at McKinley Presbyterian Church, 809 S. 5th St.

“I currently have two members of my congregation that have gone through this sort of ministry,” she said. “They’re basically told how awful they are and that they have to change; that they’re not worthy in God’s eyes. It’s a terrible misinterpretation of the scripture.”

Buhler says he’s not interpreting scripture; he takes the bible literally. He believes it’s the word of God and that there are passages in the text that specifically condemn homosexuality. For example, Leviticus 18:22: “Thou shalt not lay with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.”

There is no definitive, scientifically proven answer to the question of whether a gay person can overcome their sexual orientation, but a few things have been established.

In 1957, psychologist Evelyn Hooker published the first empirical work that challenged the then-accepted view of homosexuality: that it was a disorder. This research eventually led the American Psychiatric Association, in 1973, to drop homosexuality from the list of mental health disorders. Since that time, most mainstream mental health organizations have come to support the research. The organization that still prescribes to the original view is The National Organization for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality.

The organization’s president, Joseph Nicolosi, a clinical psychologist in Encino, Calif., has spent 25 years working with men who are unhappy with their homosexuality. Nicolosi’s contention, one that he came to believe after meeting with more than 1,000 gay men throughout his career, is that homosexuality is caused by a “deep grievance to the father.”

Anderson says Nicolosi points to one study, conducted by Robert Spitzer in 2001. Spitzer, a Columbia University scientist, conducted a survey of 200 men who claimed to be “ex-gay.” He measured their same-sex attraction levels a year before therapy and a year after. Spitzer found that 20 of the subjects exhibited changes in their sexual orientation.

“The study is suspect,” Anderson says. “First of all, it’s not a random sample.”

He said 65 percent of the subjects were referred by ex-gay ministries, hardly representative of the broader gay community.

Still, the study did show that it is possible for people to believe they have changed their sexual orientation.

John Powell, clinical counselor at the University, said his 22 years on the job vary greatly from Spitzer’s findings.

“I don’t think sexual orientation is a choice, or a result of some form of trauma,” Powell says. “The more I work with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people, people who don’t want to be gay, the more I realize the best thing for them to do is to just accept how they are, and who they are.”

Pastor Weatherford agrees: “When I talk to the two members of my congregation scarred by this therapy, I tell them the most important thing to remember in the bible is that God loves you, in all your variety. He made you in his image, and you’re good.”

© Copyright 2006 The Daily Illini

April 2007

It's a 'Miracle' With Something More

Quincy Patriot-Ledger

QUINCY – When the actors in Eastern Nazarene College’s theater department take the stage tomorrow night to perform William Gibson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, ‘‘The Miracle Worker,’’ they will be joined by some new faces: American Sign Language interpreters.

‘‘It’s our first experience with this kind of performance,’’ said producing artistic director Eunice Ferreira. ‘‘We’re very excited about it.’’

‘‘The Miracle Worker’’ tells the story of Helen Keller, the blind and deaf girl who, with the help of her tutor, Anne Sullivan, learned how to communicate with the world around her through touch. Ferreira said she thought the play provided a perfect opportunity to introduce American Sign Language into the theater, something she said she has long wanted to do.

She said interest in the play has spawned a new way of communicating on the Eastern Nazarene campus: TTY technology. TTY is short for teletypewriter, a device that allows deaf people to communicate by telephone.

She also said the college is considering making sign language an option for students seeking to meet their language requirement.

‘‘The Miracle Worker’’ will be performed tonight, tomorrow and Saturday, but American Sign Language interpretation will only be offered at tomorrow night’s show. Jacqueline Crosby and Crista Lambert, both recent graduates of local colleges, will be not only interpreting but performing.

‘‘As interpreters, it’s our job to not just convey the words spoken but also the tone and manner of speech,’’ Lambert said. ‘‘It helps give the viewer the complete theater-going experience.’’

The two women work within a team of five. Their two mentors, Christopher Robinson and Aimee Schiffman, both professional interpreters, recommended them for the job.

‘‘When Chris suggested two recent graduates do the interpreting, I realized it would be a wonderful learning experience for both the interpreters and the actors,’’ Ferreira said. Crosby has been a theater performer once before; this will be Lambert’s first time.

The fifth member of the team is Shira Grabelsky, a deaf woman who acts as an American Sign Language consultant.

‘‘Shira watched us rehearse and then assigned us voices based on our personality,’’ Crosby said. ‘‘So, for example, every time Helen speaks, I interpret her. Crista is always Helen’s father, Captain Keller. The rest of the time we split the parts, acting out the show for the deaf viewers in the audience.’’

‘‘They’ve been amazing,’’ Ferreira said. ‘‘I’d love to do this every year.’’

The show is directed by award-winning local actress and director Jacqui Parker. She and Ferreira have worked together in the past. The two women say they chose ‘‘The Miracle Worker’’ because they wanted to challenge their students – and their audiences – with a powerful, thought-provoking piece.

They considered ‘‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’’ They wanted ‘‘12 Angry Men’’ but couldn’t get the rights.

‘‘The whole time, my mind kept coming back to ‘Miracle Worker,’’’ Parker said. ‘‘It didn’t fit the social-change theme of the others, but I guess we were just drawn to it.’’

Ferreira said they were also focused on realism as this spring’s theme. After a lavish musical in the fall and a new-age production in the winter, Ferreira wanted to make sure that her students got a well-rounded theater education.

Parker said she wants the people in the audience to ‘‘step out of their comfort zones after watching this play. Watch the struggle these two women go through, and don’t be afraid to step outside of your own life and do the uncomfortable. You just might make a change, a miracle of your own.’’

Opening tonight

What: Eastern Nazarene College’s production of “The Miracle Worker.”
Where: Cove Fine Arts Center, 23 East Elm Ave., Quincy.
When: Tonight through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tomorrow’s show will have sign language interpreters.
Cost: Tickets cost $10; available at the school’s box office.

May 2007

Changing Views on Postpartum Depression

Quincy Patriot-Ledger

Actress Brooke Shields made headlines last year with her public battle against postpartum depression, a crippling form of depression that affects mothers – and sometimes fathers – after childbirth. She was back in the news last week, holding a press conference on Capitol Hill to support legislation that would direct federal research dollars toward postpartum depression.

While the disorder is not an officially recognized form of depression by the American Psychiatric Association, the APA has devoted time to the disorder, most recently presenting a study noting postpartum depression symptoms are routinely under-diagnosed and often go untreated. Healthcare workers in the Quincy area say they are now seeing postings for conferences on treatment and early diagnosis of postpartum depression popping up on bulletin boards all across hospital walls. And now a small group of nurses, doctors, midwives and social workers south of Boston is trying to bring home the message that postpartum depression is real – and treatable.

As part of that effort, a series of forums directed at families and healthcare workers has already begun in areas around the cape, with more planned in cities like Worcester and Rockland.

Rosemary Chrétien is Program Coordinator for the North River Collaborative Family Network. She said she was really impressed by the forums she attended and is looking to establish one in Rockland in early 2008.

“I liked it because people got up and shared their stories,” she said, referring to a March forum on the Cape. “Particularly, because I’m a mom and I remember having more than just the ‘baby blues.’”

“That’s a big distinction people need to make,” said Dr. Deborah Issokson, a licensed psychologist in Pembroke who has taken part in the series of forums.

“If you have the baby blues, you might cry, but you still socialize,” she said. “Your moods go up and down and your emotions are all over the map, but they are only ‘moments’ of mood.” Postpartum depression, she says, is much more serious. The mother is not sleeping, not eating, refusing to get out of bed, and simply not able to feel better.

“A woman suffering from postpartum depression is inconsolable,” she said. “There’s a big difference between that and the ‘baby blues,’ and we in the healthcare field need to do a better job of recognizing that difference.”

Issokson has spoken at two forums, most recently at a May 11 forum sponsored by Greater New Bedford COAST, which stands for community, opportunity, access, safety and trust. Judith Coykendall is the chairperson of COAST’s health access committee. She said the response to the forums has been positive.

“It’s important for us to increase awareness, and increase the ability to recognize and refer new mothers to the proper channels,” she said.

Issokson says 15-20 percent of women can have a diagnosable mental health disorder after birth, and that women need to know that if they have feelings of anxiety and uncontrollable depression, they are not alone.

“It’s important to get people to understand that this happens and, you know what? It’s OK. Nobody’s going to take your baby away,” Issokson said.

Postpartum depression can generally be characterized as a severe anxiety. Not so much feelings of “I’m going to hurt the baby,” but “something is going to hurt the baby.” It is not simple fret, Issokson says, it is obsessive fret.

“Babies bring about huge change. People need to realize that,” she said. “We need to expect it, prepare for it, and most of all, don’t be ashamed of it.”

New mothers are often surrounded by people telling her how wonderful she should be feeling, that this is the most beautiful time of her life. A lot of the time, Issokson says, that’s just not the case.

“A new mother can have feelings of sadness, of doubt, feelings that go against what everyone is saying,” she says. “She doesn’t want to tell anyone about these negative feelings so she internalizes it all, which only serves to compound the problem.”

Issokson says part of the reason for this surge in postpartum awareness could be attributed to the fact that more and more women are having children later in life, creating a new kind of mom.

“Often times we’ll see a mom who was pulling down $100,000 in the city, interacting with and often supervising other adults,” Issokson says. “Suddenly they’re transported into the middle of this new world of dirty diapers and sweatpants covered in spit-up. They’re alone in a new world, and if there’s nothing in the way of a support system, it can be quite a shock.”

Kathy Jones-McWilliams has been a midwife in the Quincy area for over 16 years.

“Having the proper support system around you is one of the most important things,” Jones-McWilliams said. “These women are going through a life-changing event. Sometimes they can feel like they’re all alone in the world. We’d like to see if we can change that.”

She also says one of the main obstacles in finding women who may be at risk for postpartum depression is the current structure of our healthcare system.

“Doctors and nurses are told to see more patients, which means less one-on-one time,” Jones-McWilliams said. “You’re lucky to get 15 minutes during a post-natal visit; it can be hard to determine who might be a candidate for postpartum depression.”

She says her years of practice have helped her to learn to recognize signs, but it is not something that is covered by basic medical schooling.

“We’re not saying OB-GYNs or midwives are to blame for not catching this,” Issokson said. “It’s simply not part of their training.”

New mothers have one, maybe two post-natal medical appointments and that’s it. After that, the OB-GYN is essentially out of the picture and pediatricians come in. Issokson says that’s why pediatricians are crucial to the success of these forums.

“That’s what these forums are all about,” Coykendall says. “They have been open to the public, but the main focus is toward healthcare workers, the people who surround mothers throughout this process.”

Attendees are told what they should watch for, how to tell the difference between the baby blues and actual depression.

“There are big gaping holes in the system. It’s easy for a woman who is experiencing postpartum depression to feel alone,” Issokson said.

Issokson says there are groups – though not many – for dealing with these issues, but often times moms and doctors don’t know where the groups are. These groups are there for women to meet with other women who had these same experiences.

Jones-McWilliams sees the growing awareness of postpartum depression and the new forums and conferences as a good thing.

“It’s good to see all the attention being paid to this disorder right now,” she said. “We need to be asking these questions and paying attention to the mother as a whole person. That’s really what healthcare is all about.”