My heart broke when I read the news this morning of Jim Laurita’s death. As the founder of Hope Elephants, his story inspired and informed my work with the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine this summer.
I spent the day with Jim back in early May. Brent and I drove up there and watched him give tour after tour after tour. It was a rainy day and we spent the entire day in the barn with Jim, the elephants and group after group after group. I remember the pungent smell of elephant dung, and feeling the love when Jim gave Rosie a bath. Jim sent us off to Camden for coffee because “the girls needed a break”. Opal reacted to my voice, and Jim said that I sounded like his sister. I have a recording of our forty minute interview still on my ipad. I was struck by his attentive love to those two elephants, his care and understanding and his ultimate commitment to them and to educating the world about them. There’s some people that exist on a higher plane of consciousness and care. I believe that Jim Laurita was one of those people. I am grateful for few interactions I had with him.
Introducing the cast of “The Road to Hope” to Jim in late June was one of the most rewarding days of my career. The caravans up to Hope, and seeing all of them meet Rosie, Opal and Jim for the first time was pure magic. They all knew the story, and they saw the reality and put it in context. I could see each of them spark up with inspiration and ideas.
I’m so glad we had the opportunity to perform the play in Camden this summer. Though Jim didn’t attend the play, I’m sure he heard about it and I’m sure he was proud of us and happy that we were helping him carry his message of conservation and the sanctity of life and caring for others. I will always remember how closely the town of Camden listened that day, and their trumpets instead of applause.
Jim created a safe place for Rosie and Opal. I believe the Hope Elephant Sanctuary will live on and thrive in his memory as a sanctuary and beacon of education and respect for these beautiful creatures. I will have Hope Elephants in my prayers over the next few weeks as the community grieves the loss of truly amazing human.
If you visited the Museum & Theatre this spring on Tuesday mornings, you may have noticed some tunes coming out of our Dress-Up Theatre. With generous funding from the Frances R. Dewing Foundation, we were able to hire local singer-songwriter Sorcha Cribben-Merrill to work with myself to develop a series of music programs and performances. We partnered with Youth and Family Outreach, a non-profit preschool a stone’s throw from the Museum & Theatre, and they brought their three classrooms of fabulous students over to the museum once a week to join in. On the last Tuesday of each month, we brought three additional local musicians for a full-blown Folk Music Sing-along, where we sang familiar songs everyone loves but also gave the musicians a chance to play a few of their originals. As a big fan of the music scene here in Portland, I loved seeing two of my favorite groups of people – preschoolers and folk musicians – singing, dancing, hooting, and hollering together. Check out video evidence of this happening here:
If you’re watching this and feeling melancholy about having missed it – don’t worry! All of the super fun lesson plans Sorcha and I developed together have been documented in PDF form. We want to share them, so download for free here.
If you’re a preschool or childcare center and are interested in a hard copy, please email me at email@example.com. With grant funding, we printed a limited series of books with all kinds of easy music literacy ideas to use with your children. These are designed for any adult who wants to incorporate music into time with children – with absolutely no talent or experience required!
One of the biggest takeaways from this entire, wonderful project was that music is as universal as sunshine or ice cream – pretty much everyone loves it and can bond over it. It’s also an incredible tool for teaching your child invaluable literacy skills – not just reading, but practicing verbal skills like rhyming, sentence structure, and phonetics. So get out those pots, pans, and wooden spoons – you’ve got some music making to do!