Newsletter March 2023

Smitha Nishant

For Malayalees who grew up in Kerala, March brings back bucket-loads of childhood memories. Among those, the much dreaded final examinations and the much awaited end of school year, the beginning of venalavadhi, and the ushering in of our very own March Madness – the nostalgic maambazhakkaalam.

March in the United States is the start of longer and warmer days. With spring breaks for schools and colleges, parents and children begin to realize the end of academic year is nearing. For families who are planning on spring break vacations, I hope you enjoy a carefree and relaxed schedule and come back refreshed and renewed!

COMA has been supporting the Meals on Wheels program for several years now, helping with their mission to deliver meals and friendly greetings to homebound seniors. Gayatri Thampy, one of our volunteers, has very graciously contributed a detailed writeup of her experience. If you were curious about what is involved in Meals on Wheels volunteering, her writeup gives you every little detail you will ever need to know.

I hope all of our families have a safe and relaxing time during the upcoming spring break. For my friends who are observing Lent or Ramadan, I wish you all a blessed and fulfilling fasting season.

Sreejith Chandran

Sreejith Chandran’s Random Ramblings

(One half of his brain has gone nomad and the other has gone in search of the first. Glorifying his random ramblings and packaging it is his main hobby! Otherwise sane and grounded.)

എന്തിനോ വേണ്ടി തിളയ്ക്കുന്ന സാമ്പാർ

പിന്നിട്ടവഴികളിലൂടെ തിരിച്ചുപോകുമ്പോൾ …
പുനർജനിക്കുന്ന പുൽക്കൊടികൾ …
വീണ്ടും വിരിയുന്ന പൂക്കൾ …
പതിയെ തളിർക്കുന്ന ഇലകൾ…
പറയാൻ മറന്ന വാക്കുകൾ…
നിസ്സംഗമായ നിന്റെ മന്ദഹാസം ….
നഷ്ടസ്വപ്നങ്ങൾ …
ഒരു ജന്മത്തിന്റെ കാത്തിരുപ്പു …
വരുമോ നിന്റെ നിശ്വാസം.

Volunteering for Meals on Wheels – Gayatri Thampy

(Dr. Gayatri Thampy is a former economic anthropologist and taught at Denison university until 2020.)

My family and I decided to volunteer for Meals on Wheels after Nish Nishant created a WhatsApp group to organize volunteers. Our daughter Sumitra needed volunteer hours for her school service record. We thought this would be a great opportunity to cover this school requirement.

We drove our first route on 25th of December, 2022. It took about 4.5 hours as the weather and driving conditions were really bad. Because of our experience in December, we decided to volunteer again in February. This time, it only took about 3.5 hours.

The task is quite simple. COMA delivers Meals on Wheels two Sundays per month. The volunteering family goes to the Meals on Wheels pick-up location at 670 Harmon Ave around 10:30 am. You drive into the farther parking lot and pick up a folder that lists your route number. Inside this folder, you will find sheets with addresses of the clients, along with details of meals each client is supposed to get. You then pick up two cases that have the same route number listed on them. One of them contains hot lunches and the other contains cold lunches, snacks, juice, and milk. These cases easily fit into the trunk of a sedan. It is a good idea to do a quick count of the lunches, juices, and milk and make sure they tally with what you expect based on your list. Both the times we volunteered, we found that there was a mismatch.

Now, you follow the order of the list from the beginning and drive to the corresponding addresses and deliver the appropriate items. Make sure you knock loudly and wait for 5-7 minutes as many individuals have mobility and hearing issues. If no one comes to the door, try to call the listed phone number. If no one answers, mark the entry as “undelivered”. You will need to fill out an online form at the end of your route for these individuals.

Deliveries may be to houses or to apartments. If the door was visible from our car, we allowed our kids to deliver to the house. For apartments, we went in with one of the kids. In some cases, either my husband or I delivered to an apartment. At the end of the route, you return the cases and folder back to the MoW location. I recommend taking some snacks and drinks along with you in case you get hungry or tired. You may need to use nearby gas stations if kids need a bathroom break.

This was an eye-opening experience. Most of the individuals in both our routes were white. I had read and watched documentaries about white poverty in USA. This was the first time I confronted it. Some of the cold lunches we delivered only had a couple of slices of bread and some cheese in it. We were astonished by this, but realized that basic groceries like a loaf of bread and bags of cheese were inaccessible to many people. Due to the nature of urban development and dominance of cars for transportation, these areas are food deserts for people who are poor, unwell, and living alone.

People in apartments seemed worse off than those in houses. In some apartments, the building windows were broken and was covered with a thin sheet of plastic wrap. The inside of some of the buildings were dank and dark, and several apartments had eviction notices posted on the doors. Note that the temperatures in December were less than 5 degrees with strong winds.

I felt that more than volunteer hours, it was really important for our kids to understand their privileges and be exposed to the lives of less fortunate people. Volunteering for Meals on Wheels helped them become curious about the causes of such poverty and isolation in our society. They now avidly watch John Oliver’s segments on various issues in “Last Week Tonight” and express an interest in reading more about some of these topics. After covering our routes, I decided to research this program a bit more.

Meals on Wheels is a program based on public-private partnership. It is designed to deliver meals to senior individuals who are unable to purchase or prepare their own meals. It is largely funded through community contributions, though it does receive some federal support through the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program of 1972, Medicaid, and USDA grants. They sometimes also commission studies on hunger and other needs among seniors.

According to these studies, before the pandemic, 9.7 million seniors were threatened by hunger and 25% of seniors lived alone. A volunteer delivering a meal is often the only person an individual in this program may see over the course of the day. Thus, a Meals on Wheels volunteer does the added function of serving as a wellness check on a senior and alerting the organization if they were unable to deliver the meal to the person. So this program also helps reduce the public costs of hospitalizations from falls and illnesses.

In 2017, federal funding for the program was cut by 1.5 million dollars and the Community Services, Community Development and Social Services Block Grants, upon which some Meals on Wheels programs rely for funding were also eliminated. It is therefore imperative to support this program through volunteering and donations. If you are undecided about whether this activity is for you and your family, I recommend riding along with a volunteer family so you can see for yourself what it’s like. It is a small time commitment, without much strenuous physical activity, and you would be contributing to making our society caring and compassionate.

My experience travelling with Tuskers – Anoop Nair

(Anoop Nair is a Software Engineer living in Delaware Ohio. He loves to scribble, paint, and travel when he is away from coding. Following cricket and experimenting with his culinary skills are other pastimes.)

One fine evening during a fireside chat, after being a little jingled, Pradeesh told me about Columbus Tuskers travelling to Miami, Florida for their next Malayalee Soccer league. He casually asked me if I am interested to join them, of course only to cheer and support. My first reaction was “what the heck will I be doing there; I am nowhere into soccer”? But then for a moment, I was carried away by thoughts of sunshine, beaches and delicious sea food (touchings), away from the pesters of gloomy Ohioan winter and most importantly with no strings attached. When I told my wife about this conversation I had with Pradeesh, to my surprise she told me I should go (I saw in her eyes as if she is getting a blank cheque to be cashed later). Whatever it be, I booked my airplane tickets along with other folks. Team’s itinerary was – A day of soccer (leagues, knockouts and the finale) and a day and half to recover (don’t think too much into the recovery, poor guys are fighting out the scorching heat of Miami!).

It is the day of travel and my phone hooted at 3 AM (economic flights always come with a price), got dressed up and reached the CMH airport. Met other team members of Columbus Tuskers, led by our own dynamic president Shibu Nair. Most of them were familiar faces in COMA, except for couple of guys whom I was meeting for the first time. All of them ardent lovers of soccer and passionate for playing. Their body language, enthusiasm and zeal said it all. I forgot to mention that there were couple of other guys too travelling with the team like I was, to cheer and boost. The excitement started building up and I recollected my last guys-only trip I had with a such big group – may be in my college! Huh!!

After exchanging all pleasantries, Tuskers flew out of Columbus and landed in Orlando. We took some pictures with the cabin crew and went to rent the cars (thanks to Aslam Ikka, preferred customer of Avis for taking care of all bookings even though wait time for the preferred customer was more than the flight time to Orlando). Finally, we drove to Miami and checked into an Airbnb property. It was a decent house that could accommodate all 15 of us, with a beautiful patio looking into a sprawling swimming pool. For a moment, it felt like I landed in Kerala – warm and beautiful weather, Palm and Coconut trees lining the horizon, Mango trees in the backyard adorned in their flowers and all tropical fauna you habitually see in Kerala.

After sprucing up into their summer attire, Tuskers headed for some game day eve practice. As the team was busy fine tuning their skills, we cheerleaders slugged some drinks. It is truly an amazing mood gulping some cold beer in the month of February roaming around in your shorts – something you can just dream about in Columbus. But hats off to the dedication and passion of Tuskers for restraining themselves and just focusing and thinking about the game next day. They were engaged in making game plans and strategies, rectifying mistakes, helping each other in correcting their game, practicing their shots and what not. I was completely moved by their sincerity and devotion for the game.

It’s the Game Day! Guys woke up as early as 5 AM and geared up for the D-day, adorned in their Tuskers yellow and black jerseys. We reached Flamingo Park, Cooper City where 12 Malayalee teams from different parts of the US had assembled to fight for the MASC (Malayalee Arts and Sports Club) Miami Soccer trophy. What a festive atmosphere it was; like an Ulsavam (temple fest) back in Kerala. The hospitality by MASC Miami was paramount. Boiled organic Kozhi Mutta and Tharavu Mutta straight from the MASC president’s farm were the highlights of the breakfast.

Getting into the game, Tuskers were facing the hosts, MASC Miami, in the event opener. Our boys were keen to conquer the home team and announce their arrival to the other soccer giants of US Malayalee leagues. Being an early morning game, we were surprised to see a lot of dew. Ref blew his whistle, and the ball was set into motion. The game progressed and soon our striker Subash struck the first goal of the tournament. It was a moment in the tournament, and I must admire MASC commentators for their superb Malayalam commentary laced with all kinds of wits and humors throughout the tournament. Though Tuskers had an initial lead, there seemed to be a lack of coordination and communication between the players which was quite evident. Wet ground was certainly a factor resulting in some misjudgments. Soon the home team struck back, and we lost our lead, but somehow, we did manage to score a second goal and maintain the lead. It was just 20 seconds for the final hooter and some of us among the spectators had already started blowing the victory bugle. Alas, Miami scored an equalizer! Tuskers had to settle for a draw against the home team who were never at par with us. We could see a lull in our side, dropped shoulders and agony on their faces summed it up.

Soon, Tuskers were back to the strategy table analyzing what went wrong and how they can do better; after all it was not a defeat, and the first game is always a lesson in learning. Luckily, we had a break of 3 hours before our next group game and that was enough to rejuvenate and revive. On the other side, more group games were in progress, I was thrilled to see some fantastic game of soccer by teams like New York, Philly, Atlanta etc. while I was scouting around. Florida sun was now sweltering, and we could see other teams getting tired out, cramping and all. Hydration was the mantra and again MASC had done a great job with supplying more than adequate water and other sports drinks to all teams. Me and my fellow spectators ensured we too kept ourselves hydrated and chilled with some beer and cocktails in our car bar. Meanwhile, in the other group match Miami was thrashed by Minnal Charlotte 5-2 and the Tuskers were next up against Minnals on a turf blistered by the noon sun.

Tuskers were now facing an upbeat Minnals, there was a better coordination between our players this time and within 10 minutes into the play, we were able to draw first blood with a superb strike by Geeno. We maintained our lead until after the half time but were equalized by Minnals in the second half. The equation was simple – a draw or a win will take us to the Quarter Finals and our defenders stood like a wall. Game had moved into its final minute when Basil Jacob hit the ball into the top left corner of Minnals’ post from a lobbied corner kick, giving Tuskers their first victory. It was not just a victory for Tuskers, they emerged as the group toppers. That was a terrific game with a right finishing touch, helping Tuskers to get back into their rhythm.

Mood was high and lively in our camp, and we had a sumptuous lunch provided by MASC. The overall event management by MASC was commendable – from the grand opening ceremony by the city mayor to the food, the medical services, timeliness and the closing ceremony – everything was well planned.

Tuskers moved into their Quarterfinal battle against Houston United, who were a reputed side playing as an organized team for the last 10 years in various US leagues. We could now feel the heat on the field and of course Florida’s sun triggering frequent dehydration and cramps to our players. Houston had a tough goalkeeper taking down all chances that our strikers fancied. Tuskers fought their heart out and our defenders along with the Goalkeeper Anil sealed our post and we ended up with a goal-less draw. The game moved into a penalty shootout, which was a first for the tournament and attracted a lot of spectators. Soon, 5 strikers lined up from each team ready to take a hit on the post. Houston with their super skilled goalie had an upper hand and were the favorites. The first bout of 5 penalty shoots ended in 3-3, thanks to a flying save by our goalie Anil. It looked like neither team was ready to budge. Another set of 3 penalty shoots began and the final shot by a Houston player went over the post and we stormed into the semifinal. By the end of this game, Tuskers who looked rookie in their opening game were posing serious threats to some of the Malayalee soccer giants. They were thrilled but at the same time remained calm and composed for the semifinal.

Tuskers entered their semifinal bout against Arsenal Philadelphia who were a much younger side and had already stamped their authority in the tournament by thrashing their opponents by huge margins in group stages and Quarters. Apart from young legs, they seemed to be a bit rough too and as a result we were soon at the receiving end of a tough penalty call by the ref which was a surprise to the opponents too. They converted the penalty and took a lead. It was a fiery game, and we were at the receiving end again with another penalty which was nicely saved by our goalie. Our players started getting cramps and medical staff were frequently seen on the field. Battling all odds, our striker Geeno breached Philly’s defense and levelled the scores, but he himself went down with a muscle cramp. There were some intense battles of shots before Philly struck again, taking a lead and eventually Tuskers went down 2-1 fighting valiantly. We lost the semifinal, but the effort we put in, the coordination and skill we displayed were supreme.

We stayed up in the park to watch the thrilling Finale between the defending champions New York and Arsenal Philadelphia. Eventually New York were crowned as the champions yet again. MASC put a tremendous effort organizing this event and it was nothing less than a pooram with a festive Malayali atmosphere and Chendamelam.

Next day and a half were a much-needed break for the team when we all enjoyed some wonderful time together exploring beaches, sunshine and cocktails before boarding back to reality in Columbus!

Columbus Tuskers is not just a soccer team, it’s a bonding of individuals playing out their passion, displaying dedication and sincerity on the field, and outside of the field they are a bunch of jovial, fun loving, buoyant individuals with never ending jokes and banters, who are the best to hang out with. I thoroughly enjoyed this trip with Tuskers and wish them success in all their future leagues!

Member Achievements and Milestones

Dr. Soumya Mary Kurian

Congratulations to Dr. Soumya Mary Kurian for earning her doctorate in Nursing Practice from Indiana State University, Terre Haute, IN.

Dr. Kurian has been practicing as a Nurse Practitioner in an outpatient opioid treatment clinic for over six years. She started her career as a registered nurse . She immigrated to United States in 2005. She earned her Masters in Nursing from Indiana State University, and is board certified as a Family Nurse Practitioner by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. She is also certified through SAMHSA to provide substance use disorder treatment. She completed her BSN degree from MG University, Kerala.

While working as a nurse practitioner at an urgent care clinic in Mansfield, she discovered that her true passion is to fight the opioid crisis, and to serve a population that is so vulnerable to opioid misuse and risk for overdose related mortality. Opioid overdose epidemic is a public health concern. Her Doctoral dissertation was titled “Overdose Response Education and Take- Home Naloxone“. The objective of this project was to analyze the effectiveness of overdose response education and distributed take-home naloxone kits on improving knowledge and attitude among opioid dependent individuals towards the utilization of Naloxone while witnessing opioid overdoses.

She finds great satisfaction in serving patients with substance use disorders and leading them to a path of recovery. Her interests include eliminating the stigma of addiction, and raising awareness that drug addiction is not a moral issue and rather a chronic disease of the brain causing impairment in judgment.

Dr. Kurian is a resident of Powell, and lives with her husband Anup Kurian and their two sons Alex and Ben.

Vindhya Cultural Association – Karaoke Competition 2023

Vindhya Cultural Association conducted their annual Karaoke Competition on March 4th Saturday at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington, Ohio. COMA members won the top prizes in the adult and junior competitions.

Ravi Hariharan and Ramya Janaki won the first prize for their beautiful rendition of Tu Hi Re from the movie Bombay, composed by A.R.Rahman. Arun Davis and Anup Kurian won the second prize for their energetic rendition of Raja Raja Sozhan from the movie Rettai Vaal Kuruvi, composed by Maestro Ilaiyaraaja. COMA youth members Shreya Girish and Sahana Ravi won the first prize in the junior competition, for singing Kannodu Kaanbadhellam from the movie Jeans (music by A.R.Rahman). This is a very proud moment for COMA Malayalees and lovers of karaoke singing!

There was a grand finale band performance directed by COMA’s very own musical virtuoso Lloyd George, which included four young members from COMA – Aanjali Maria John (vocals), Alex Kurian (guitar), Ben Kurian (keyboard), and Rohan Nishant (drums). They were supported by their friends from outside COMA – Prateek Kunchala (viola) and Arnav Edamadaka (saxophone and backing vocals).

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