Creating Treasures; A Collaboration between Portrait Artist Marla Michele and Kay Bratt, Author and Advocate

Written by Kay on . Posted in Contests and Give-A-Ways, How You Can Help A Child

So for a week now I’ve been buzzing about a new project. Some of you may not know this but I’ve recently jumped on board with AOW, An Orphans Wish. I’m very excited to work with such a reputable and amazing organization to continue my work supporting and advocating for China’s children.

That leads me to my GREAT news.

Portrait Artist Marla Michele Must of ~Enchanted Photography~ by Marla Michele and Kay Bratt, child advocate and best selling author of “Silent Tears; A Journey Of Hope In A Chinese Orphanage” are joining forces to create a treasure for adoptive families.

Illuminating real-life stories, our book will be an unforgettable photographic expression of the life changing and inspiring journey adoption has for families all over the world. Adoption is not always a fairy tale story. This compelling project will give you a snapshot of tears, trauma, laughter and joys of the unforgettable gift of building a family.

Open casting calls for the project are in the works. If you are an adoptee from China, Russia, Korea, or elsewhere and would like to be a part of this project, or if you are the parent of an adoptee from China or another country and would like to enter your child in the project and share a small part of her story with the world, please contact Marla at MarlaMichele68@yahoo.com for details.  A portion of all future net proceeds will benefit AOW (An Orphans Wish).

All participating models will have a photo included in the book, and some models will also have aspects of their stories highlighted. Written pieces will be submitted to and edited by Kay Bratt, and will include memories of Forever Family Day and/or other special moments that should be captured in print for others to share. The sharing of the stories, however, is optional and up to the discretion of the family.

One of my online friends sent me a message and said, “I love the idea, but who is this Marla Michele?”  That’s a great point. If I’m going to ask you all to participate in such a project, I should give you a bird’s eye view of the woman leading it, right?

What I know is this. Portrait Artist Marla Michele Must of Enchanted Photography, is the proud mom of three remarkable children ages 12, 10, and 5 and lives in Metro Detroit. She is fluent in Hebrew and Mandarin (and her children speak Mandarin as well!). Her youngest cutie pie was adopted from China. I have to share a photo of her, get ready….

Marla has been a vegetarian since she was 11 years old. (33 years!). She loves photography because along with feeding her passion to find the beauty in everything, it allows her to bring awareness to adoption, parenting emotionally intelligent children, PTSD, and anti-bullying.

 And without further adieu, let me introduce you to Marla Michele in her own words:

 ~Planting Seeds~
Portrait Artist Marla Michele Must’s Story

When I was 13 years old I was given a camera by a family member who was someone I looked up to. She took an interest in showing me how to use the camera and how to properly compose a photograph (without shooting a tree growing out of the top of someone’s head, or a stop sign in the back-round of a portrait). Her encouraging words were very powerful to me at my young impressionable age when I was shy and not very sure of myself.

As I spent time getting to know my new camera, I realized that I had an innate habit of “composing” the world around me with my eyes long before ever picking up the camera. My new camera became my tool to capture all that I composed, all that I found to be truthful, meaningful, unique, precious, sacred, beautiful, enchanting, unusual and momentous in the world- and to capture it on film forever. It was magic!

I still feel that way today, much more so now that I’ve become a mom and have my precious three children to photograph. After years of hearing the question “do you do this professionally?” it occurred to me that the amount of time I was spending shooting, editing on the computer, and obsessing about photography might actually be translated into the practical world and perhaps something I get paid to do… so…. I hung up a shingle and things began to fall into place. The amazing part- all it took was for me to acknowledge and believe in myself enough to follow my passion wholeheartedly. I entered and won a photography contest and started to construct a website. I called a professional photographer in my area to learn more about the field, and now he is one of my mentors. I considered building out a studio space in my home and suddenly an opportunity for the Royal Oak studio came about. All of this leads me to the conclusion that following my intuition led me to my authentic path- and that path is lined with a higher purpose.

Life has a way of offering up opportunities to pay it forward… for example; in photographing children I’ve recently noticed a repetitive theme arising, especially with young girls. During our portrait sessions my young subjects will often confide in me and reveal something they are self-conscious about, or something they’ve been told is unflattering in their appearance. It’s at that moment that I recognize I have been given an opening to “plant a seed” of empowerment- either with a few words of encouragement or a sincere compliment. I strive to replace the negative thought with a positive empowering one instead. The words I offer are very powerful to the recipient, likely because they are perceived as coming from an “expert”, a stranger looking through the lens, someone aside from a friend or family member, someone with no perceivable motive. I can usually see a reaction following our exchange, sometimes its apparent in the softening of their body language, or an expression of relief, the renewed sparkle in their eyes.

The most exciting part of photography for me- it’s given me the ability to apply my passion towards a greater life purpose. I’m happy to be able to use my craft to support and endorse local businesses in Metro Detroit through a combination of my photography, social media, writing, and collaborating. The businesses and projects I am attracted to endorsing are those modeled on authenticity, integrity, driven by passion, and those that encourage giving back to the community. Causes I hold dear to my heart include bringing awareness to parenting emotionally intelligent children, anti-bullying, and parenting empathetic mindful children. I hope to bring awareness to therapeutic adoptive parenting, having just recently adopted my youngest daughter. I’m grateful for the medium of photography and the messages it allows me to send out into the world.

Hope to see you on the other side of the lens!
~Marla~

Web: www.MarlaMichelePhotography.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/EnchantedByMarlaMichele
Adoption Blog: www.MustLiveALifeLessOrdinary.com

”You may choose to spend your time and efforts raising your glass, raising your hopes, or raising your IQ.
You can raise the bar, raise your expectations, raise the roof, and raise hell if you decide to.
You can work hard to raise the bottom line of your bank account, or to raise a family in the most exclusive neighborhood with the most prestigious schools in order to raise other people’s perspective of you.
As for me, I choose to spend my time working on raising three remarkable children to be empathetic, emotionally intelligent, to live in the moment, and to be mindful. I am choosing to use my talent to raise awareness.”
~Marla Michele Must

There is hope for China’s Children!

Written by Kay on . Posted in How You Can Help A Child

This is the year of the dragon for China.

This year is held above others and the people celebrate in a huge way that it has come around again. We can help make this one of the best years ever for the children in China.

Recently I met a woman online who is coordinating amazing things for China’s children. At Grace and Hope organization and to help children with special needs, offering therapy, equipment & support for mothers fostering these kids.

Linda Anne Greenshields also told me about another program they coordinate called Hope 4 China’s children. Please take a look at their blog!

If you are looking for a child to sponsor this year, there are some beautiful faces waiting for you at this link. For only $39 a month, you can help get a child prepared for foster care and be a part of their ongoing life by receiving reports and updates. Another part of that project is raising funds to help mothers who would otherwise be forced to give up their child. They currently work with 4 mothers who refused to abandon their SN kids, some despite being thrown out of their homes. You can see those couragous moms here!

Mysterious Ways

Written by Kay on . Posted in A Bratt's Life, How You Can Help A Child

Some call it fate, I call it God working out his plans for Fu Ji through me.

Most of you know that I have been working behind the scenes for years to free Xiao Gou from her life sentence behind the cold walls of the orphanage.

Well, she was transferred from the orphanage that I knew her in to a very poor, isolated orphanage very far away. After some sleuth work and endless emails, inquiries, phone calls and prayers, we found her. However, this post isn’t about her–instead it is about meeting a silly, hilarous, happy little girl named Fu Ji

When I visited Xiao Gou last October, we were honored to meet her roomie. An adorable little girl about age 5 that was full of song and laughter, who when it was time for Amanda and I to leave, pleaded with us to “Hui Lai, hui lai..” [come back, come back] I can’t even find the words to describe how amazing her spirit was and how her disability didn’t seem to bother her. When I asked about her condition, I was told she was very fragile and could never go to school or even walk. That concerned me and if any of you know me by now– you know it was not to be the end of it for me.

Fast forward to a few months later and a man contacted me who had read my book. His name is Lou and he is a Chinese/American who lives in Texas. He wanted to know if I knew of other orphanages that could use his help. Lou is a very interesting man. He was born in China but came to the states many, many years ago. He never forgot his heritage and using his hard-earned financial means, he goes back to China often to do humanitarian projects; mostly in the Tibetan mountains for the really needy villages.

I told him about Xiao Gou and he and I have joined together to continue fighting for her rights. He went to personally meet her several weeks ago and I asked him to check on Fu Ji while he was there. It was my hope that he could get a better translation on what her actual disability is and what her prognosis is.

Lou came back with a report on Xiao Gou’s status, of which I still cannot discuss publicly, (But we are working on it!) and also was quite captivated by Fu Ji, just as we were.

Together we both tried to think of a way to help her. I remembered that I had once made the contact of an American doctor who came to operate on Xiao Gou while she was in China. Later, he was the doctor in America who did more for Xiao Gou when she came over to be fitted for her leg. I emailed him and told him about Fu Ji and asked his advice.

Coincidentally, when I discovered where Xiao Gou was last year, I had contacted him and he went to see her at her current orphanage to do a medical exam. While there, he got medical reports on many of the children. He looked through his files and located Fu Ji’s documents.

To make a long story short, Lou will be traveling back to China in May to again check on Xiao Gou, and the doctor will already be there with a foundation group to do some medical outreach in another region of China. The doctor has graciously offered to travel back to the SWI where Xiao Gou and Fu Ji live to meet Lou and examine both girls, and see if it is possible to set up a medical plan for Fu Ji.

Two little girls who would have never met if not for one fateful car accident several years ago. Without Xiao Gou coming to room with Fu Ji, who knows what heartbreak her future would hold.

As for me, it is just a miracle and a blessing to me that I am still able to find a way to make a difference from the laptop located on my table in my cozy kitchen in the beautiful countryside of Georgia, USA. And admittedly, I am really nothing but the simple conduit that brings remarkable people together who use their gifts to help children. And a huge thank you to the Children of China Pediatrics Foundation. They have already done so much for Xiao Gou and other children in China.

Chinese New Year Orphan project

Written by Kay on . Posted in How You Can Help A Child

The biggest holiday of the year in China is Chinese New Year. An extended time of visiting family, feasting, fireworks and gifts. Children look forward to CNY all year round! While other kids will be eating, playing, singing and receiving plenty of red envelopes and toys– I know 22 children who may not be a part of any celebration.

Recently I traveled to find Xiao Gou and re-confirm my intent to continue advocating for her. She is living in an orphanage that is much poorer than the one she originally landed in. I was told they receive no foreign assistance, which was evident by their frugal surroundings.

This year I would love to make the Chinese New Year a little more exciting for Xiao Gou and her mates. If you would like to participate, please comment below. I have a list of 22 children, 5 ayis, 2 male staff and 5 women staff. If you would like to contribute a CNY box of love, it would be a compassionate gesture for us to reach out, and to teach our children to support those who need it.

Some of their disabilities didn’t quite make translation but below is the list. I will give them names to make it easier to choose who you want to support:

Send a small box of love and $10 for shipping.

I will give you the address to send to me when you commit, then I’ll box them all together.

*Updated*

1. Xiao Gou sponsored by Kay Bratt (of course..lol)

2. Girl, 6 months old, waist problem: Annie sponsored by Jennifer S.

3. Boy, 6 months old, cleft lip: Josh sponsored by Heather V.

4. Girl, 2 months old, deaf in right ear: Sue sponsored by Patricia C.

5. Boy, 6 years old, Cerebral Palsy: Willie sponsored by Debbi L.

6. Boy, 7 years old, Cerebral Palsy: Michael sponsored by Diane C.

7. Girl, 16 years old, Cerebral Palsy: Alisha sponsored by Doyna U.

8. Girl, 6 months old, post polio syndrome: Sugar sponsored by Holly C.

9. Boy, 15 years old, mentally challenged: Liam sponsored by Elise G.

10. Boy, 17 years old, mentally challenged/post polio syndrome: Ryan sponsored by Stacy T.

11. Boy, 18 years old, mentally challenged: JJ sponsored by Marr C.

12. Boy, 17 years old, Blind: Tiger sponsored by Staci W.

13. Boy, 7 years old, left arm disabled: Will sponsored by Diane C.

14. Boy, 10 years old, hand and leg disabled: Justin sponsored by Shannon M.

15. Girl, 6 years old, fragile bone disease: Fu Ji sponsored by Michelle C.

16. Boy, 17 years old, Cleft lip: TJ sponsored by Sherri M.

17. Boy, 16 years old, Cleft lip: Corey sponsored by Stacey T.

18. Boy, 6 months old, left hand disabled: Elijah sponsored by Sheri Q.

19. Boy, 14 years old, mentally challenged: Richard sponsored by Catherine R.

20. Boy, 7 years old, anal atresia: Joey sponsored by Lynn S.

21. Boy, 5 years old, mentally challenged: Kevin sponsored by Roy C.

22. Girl, 15 years old, Blind: Lily sponsored by Lisa L.

The boxes should be packed with ‘light-weight’ items. Here are some ideas:  stuffed toy or doll, Candy, gloves, toothbrush, paste, comb/brush, yo-yo, toys cars, puzzles, chapstick. Of course, it depends on the disability. I also need adult boxes for the staff and one thing they could use is the gloves with finger cutouts– the SWI is frigid this time of year but they still have to do paper administration.

Thank you for continuing to support the Mei Mei Club with endeavors to assist China’s orphaned children.

Deadline for packages is Saturday, January 8.

Finding Peace by Finding Passion

Written by Kay on . Posted in How You Can Help A Child, Orphanage Flashbacks

I spoke at a church in Canton on Sunday night and it was a small group but the atmosphere was one of the best I’ve experienced. The people were so supportive and friendly—Ben and I felt comfortable from the start and would’ve loved even more time to chat at the end. This time, however, there were a few adopted children attending with their parents. I don’t know if seeing those little faces is what brought on my bout of melancholy, but I am once again missing my China life. Each time I stand in front of a crowd and work through my presentation, stories and pictures of the kids, I feel passionate at the moment but always sink into a quiet, pensive mood after it is over. Sometimes it’s hard to believe I spent almost five years living in China and working with the children I care so much about. At times when I am so wrapped up in my American life of chaos, my China memories feel almost like a dream, not quite real. I’m starting to understand how hard it is for people on this side of the world to be less passionate or excited about supporting orphans, if they’ve never been impacted by an experience that instills that goal. Honestly, if I am not looking at the faces I knew and loved, I can easily forget the hardships they endured and those behind them are enduring today—this very moment! For example, I checked the weather in the city I worked in and I know from experience that at this time of year the babies are starting to suffer from heat rash that is aggravated greatly by laying on bamboo mats in extremely muggy rooms. I know they are being attacked each night by hordes of mosquitoes that will leave welts on their tiny faces, arms and hands. I know the nannies are feeling over-whelmed because the volunteer team will be dropping off one by one to return to their home countries for summer visits, causing the workloads to get heavier, and impatience to soar.

Most of all, I know this for sure—I don’t want to lose the passion I cultivated and I want to use my story to inspire that fire in others to advocate for children—any and all children, China and everywhere. I need to work harder to be an example to the children in my own family so that one day they might take over and do more for the disadvantaged than our generation did. This world should not be about who gets ahead, who has the nicest car or the biggest house—We shouldn’t obsess about what colleges our kids will go to or how successful they will be if we just push them a little harder or force them to join one more sport or club. Wouldn’t this world be a better place if we concentrated more on molding the younger generation to be more compassionate to those around them, to reach out to people in their lives and give a helping hand? What if we gave equal time to community outreach that we do to organized sports and activities? The important thing to remember is that when the children become adults and find their passion, they will find their peace.

I Met A Girl

Written by Kay on . Posted in How You Can Help A Child

I met a girl.

A girl who has seen much more of the ugly world than she should have at the age of 13.

A girl who has a long road ahead to overcome the tragedies she has been forced to bear.

During the first five minutes of our conversation I thought what I had been told about her must be untrue, that the child who sat before me was not capable of her alleged actions and the smile that radiated across her face could not have hidden such anger and resentment at the world. When we began to talk and she started to unravel the story of her life to me, the flash of anger in her eyes did not go unnoticed—the wall of defensiveness around her was evident in the sudden tightness of her shoulders and the way she sat ready to pounce at any given moment. But still, the bits of the little girl she once was pulled me in and captivated me to believe that perhaps if I convinced her that I am on her side and will do what I can to help her, that she will be able to focus on a future that does not balance on a repetitive cycle of chaos and pain. After we got the ugly stuff out of the way and I assured her that I believed her and was outraged on her behalf, I guided her towards thoughts of ‘what can be’ instead of ‘what is.” We talked about her dreams and goals and I discovered she wants to be a nurse and desires to help people. Some might find that ironic, considering her history of lashing out at those around her, but I see her antics for what they are—a child screaming for someone to stand in her court and to believe her when she voices the crimes against her.

At our second meeting she was depressed and almost unreachable, but I knew somewhere underneath she was listening to me and waiting to see if I’d give up and walk away. I decided to avoid hard subjects and focus on putting her mind at ease. We talked—or at least I talked and she listened, with an emotionless expression on her face. But I continued to talk and told her about my morning with my cat who had gifted us with a baby rabbit and a baby mole at our doorstep that morning. Possibly a morbid story—but as I joked about my killer kitty’s adventures, the small smile I saw creeping across the face of the child before me was my reward. Just a few silly words but enough to pull her away from her dark world for a brief time before she shut me out again. As I said goodbye and reminded her that I’d be back to visit, I could see the doubt flicker across her face.

To learn more about the role of a CASA, see their website at www.casaforchildren.org

What Can You do?

Written by Kay on . Posted in How You Can Help A Child

Have you decided that given your circumstances in life, you can do something more for disadvantaged children? Do you want to be an advocate for children? I have some ideas for you!

First of all, if you have not become my facebook friend, please do so now here. I frequently post needs on my profile page and give people the opportunity to discuss issues and lend a helping hand.

If you want to read more about what it is like for children in a Chinese orphanage, which is similar in many institutes all over the world in regards to neglect and abuse, please order my book, Silent Tears.

When people ask me what they can do, my heart jumps at the chance to ask them to consider sponsoring foster care for Chinese orphans. With my own eyes I saw the way a child would change once being a part of a foster family for a short time–how a tiny bit of love and attention would bring out their little personalities and they would flourish. If you are interested in sponsoring a Chinese orphan for foster care, the average cost is $35 or so a month. I am a volunteer Director with AOW (An Orphans Wish) and know firsthand of the amazing projects they support–we would love to have your energy or resources there.

Some more reputable organizations you can work with that I’d recommend are Pearl River Outreach, Love Without Boundaries, and Half The Sky.

Find out how to start an orphan ministry in your church at Hope For Orphans.

If China does not tug on your heart but you still feel you would be an awesome advocate for children, do something for those in your community, church or school.

Zip Up A Smile Project:
This project was successful for me in a Chinese hospital as well as at an American family shelter. Collect gallon sized bags filled with ‘welcome’ items for a child. Toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, brush, small toy, small book and a snack. Punch holes in the top and thread ribbon through. Drop collections at your local shelter.

Zip Up the Warmth Project:
Collect warm coats for underprivileged children in your area or for the local children’s shelter. I coordinated this project for a neighborhood of children and the children were so grateful to receive new coats to wear.

Become a CASA volunteer: The mission of the National Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) Association, together with its state and local members, is to support and promote court-appointed volunteer advocacy for abused and neglected children so that they can thrive in safe, permanent homes.

Not all of us can do something huge, but no act of kindness is too small. Life can be cruel and throw a lot of curve balls at you, but speaking from experience I can tell you that when you focus on the needs of others, your own problems no longer seem so insurmountable. Most importantly, there are children all over the world who need your help. To turn away is to be part of the problem instead of the solution. We can all do something, big or small.

Thank you.

Kay Bratt

Mifan Mommy Club Update Feb 2010

Written by Kay on . Posted in How You Can Help A Child, Mifan Mommy Updates

Thank you to all who are a part of the Mifan Mommy Club. Your monthly donation of $9 is helping children and disadvantaged adults in several areas of China. I’ve attached some pictures from the Anhui Children’s home (check out the kitchen that feeds a LOT of children and adults!) as well as a short note from our volunteer, Julie, cut from her monthly report.

From Julie:
We are soon all heading towards the dining room where we hear music and as I strain to see over the top of heads I see two of the girls who are about 10 or 11 dancing with the Red Cross support group. As the music stops, Katja and I are grabbed and persuaded to sing for the children: we do our rendition of ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ along with the actions and then we join the support group and everyone else with the Chinese Happy New Year to You. It was wonderful, not a dry eye in the house, this is proving to be a very emotional day. No sooner had the music stopped and every one of the children are lining up for lunch. This is a very special lunch and one we can thank you our supporters for, as we, with your help have donated money for this special meal, which we all shared together as one very big happy family. After lunch it was time for MiFan MaMa to give red envelopes to the Mummies and Daddies on your behalf, what better way to let them know we really appreciate all they do on a daily basis for these children.

During all this time there wasn’t much time for game playing or painting with the children but the people from our bus were busy visiting those children that cannot get out of bed, those who stare at four walls and a ceiling all day and never complain. Thanks to King Koil these children are comfy in the mattresses they have especially made for them.

We then had a time of exploring and getting to know the children and where they live; a very precious time. These children have come to accept us as their family as have their Mummies and Daddies. Communication is always a small problem, just a feeling of small frustration on our part but love soon shows us there are no barriers – everyone wants a hug and very soon get it.

Everlasting friendships are forged, just as all from our bus will not forget these wonderful children; the children will never forget them and their love and kindness.

We all pose for photos – everyone wants to capture this very special moment.

The volunteer from the Red Cross tells Katja and myself about a family who are all very severely ill. We agree to supply food for this family as they have no money and their plight has already been shown on Chinese TV. (Roy has already investigated this, so we know there is a real need). We give the Red Cross Volunteer enough money to buy this family rice, flour and oil for 6 months. In addition we are able to give them a bag of rice, flour and a bottle of oil from Lao Wang’s supply. The man from the Red Cross asks that we deliver these items personally on the way home: he assures us it is on our way. So we agree and he joins us on our bus with 3 volunteers for our return journey.

All too soon it is time to say goodbye to everyone and lots of tears are shed on both sides. Although we will be back in one month and these children and everyone here has a place in our hearts it is still so sad. One of the Mummies is hugging me crying and thanking us for all we do. I tell her it is us who thank them as they are the ones who look after these children 24 hours a day, everyday. They are the one who teach these children love and caring by their example, how lucky these children are for although their possessions are few their hearts are bursting with LOVE and CARING and SHARING. We have the privilege to have been a part of this, to have experienced this, even if only for a short time.

Then we get on the bus some passengers are leaning out of the window sharing a last handshake with these wonderful people. Soon we are driving down the road, we wave, and they wave, and soon are just dots in the distance. The bus is silent: we have all had different experiences on this visit, each of us has our own treasured memories to take away until we visit the next time.

We now have the Red Cross volunteer and his helpers on the bus, but on further investigation we find it will take us an extra 5 hours to make this visit to this family. Unfortunately this is not possible, as lots of people on the bus must get to work the next day and even now we will not arrive home until 12.00 midnight. We agree to sort the Red Cross team out another car and further down the highway we stop and there is another car waiting, we all exchange hugs and greetings for this family, and then we part.

Happy New Year!

Written by Kay on . Posted in How You Can Help A Child

I want to wish you a Happy New Year and encourage you to make a New Year’s resolution to either continue to be or to become an advocate for children. It doesn’t have to be a huge step– here are some ways you can advocate:

1. Be a foster parent
2. Be a respite volunteer for foster parents
3. Sponsor a child to be in foster care overseas
4. Make a monetary donation to an orphan care organization
5. Do a fund-raising drive or volunteer your time for local children’s shelter
6. Adopt!
7. Join CASA
8. Start an orphan care ministry in your church or school
9. Teach YOUR children to reach out to other disadvantaged children in the community or overseas

There are many children out there who need someone to reach out to them or to be their voice. YOU can make a difference!

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