By Sallie Elkordy CJE – Thanks to Worldwide Hippies for asking me to share my story of activism. While I never realized that I was a Hippie, I’ve always known that I respected them. One day a conservative man, whom I had known for years, vehemently ‘accused’ me of being a Hippie. I thought, “Cool”. Proud am I to be counted among you!
My parents Mary and George Ottavino believe in helping others. They have always been active in their beliefs. My father was most particularly supportive of humanitarian causes, and my mother holds the firm belief that, “If you can, you must.” This belief stemmed from the fact that my sister, Mary Bess, who was mentally retarded, could not herself contribute.
I had wanted to volunteer for years, but was not sure how I could make a difference. I now recommend to everyone who wishes to contribute their efforts, to “follow their bliss”. I love to laugh and as a stand-up comic I had access to many other comics and performers who could help me fulfill my “mission of cheer to raise spirits, awareness and eyebrows!” and so I embarked on producing 250 comics, dancers and musicians in shows serving hospitals and homeless shelters throughout NYC. I liken my tale to the movie, “The Natural”, because it best describes being blindsided to the detriment of one’s goals, with a belated return to that pursuit, and a passion to make up for lost time. And so at the age of 33, I leaped forward (Sallied Forth, if you will) with reckless abandon to the merriment of many. I have produced 900 comedy shows thus far. We have a “Ludicrous Line-up” this April Fools Day in a Veterans’ shelter (8 comics, with special guest Professor Irwin Corey, “The World’s Foremost Authority”). At around our 400th show, we went non-profit as the Museum of Comedy. I did this so I could raise money to pay the many comics I had previously asked to volunteer. I refer to the Museum of Comedy as a “for-loss organization”. Some families go on vacation and others produce comedy shows in hospitals and homeless shelters. I owe a debt of gratitude to my husband Mohamed Elkordy and my helpful children Mary Elizabeth and Abbas (aka, Merry Mary and Joy Boy). Comics who have donated the most performances are Bill McCarty, Lorene Farnsworth and Brian Kiley. I could never have pulled off 900 shows of this nature without them. Highlights have come in the form of performances by Celeste Holm at the Lenox Hill Women’s Shelter, Carol Channing at the Veteran’s Hospital in NYC, Pat Cooper at Gilda’s Club, Joe Franklin at United Cerebral Palsy and Henny Youngman as the first Grand Jester in our “Parade of Fools!” We then had the privilege of honoring all of these stars at the United Nations for the first International Comedy Hall of Fame. We also honored Bob Hope, who returned the favor in abundance by choosing me to represent him on PBS for their retrospective of his comedic contributions to the troops during WW II.
You know, activism is often associated with protesting, but volunteerism is activism too. Don’t allow financial constraints to restrain your earnest desire to change the world for the better. Having only a limited budget forces one to be creative, which in the short run, is a good thing. A bit of advice, which applies to everything you may ever do as an activist: don’t expect gratitude; pursue your endeavors solely to improve the human condition, with ‘achieving your goal’ as the only compensation you anticipate receiving; expect setbacks to occur frequently, but don’t allow them to diminish your enthusiasm. Don’t forget the most basic tenet is:
If you have a good idea, act on it right away!
~ Relieve a homebound caretaker of their duties long enough for them to have some fun, as do normal folks, or to accomplish a task far greater than you, yourself can accomplish. [When I read that Sandra Day O’Conner announced that she would be stepping down due to her husband’s dementia, I wrote to her and offered to care for her husband so that she could remain on the Supreme Court. I never heard from Justice O’Conner, but I had offered the only thing within my power to affect the outcome I desired to see.]
~ Make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to distribute to hungry people in your travels and throw in a couple of York peppermint patties for the “after dinner mint” experience. [When Princess Diana and Mother Theresa died within days of one and other, I saw people lay flowers, as is the tradition, out of respect for the lives they had lived. I thought about what they stood for, having seen Princess Diana take her son William, future King of England to make-shift tents within London, so he would know how the homeless population lived and having watched a documentary of Mother Theresa’s life and the astonishing amount of good she generated and thought how can we pay tribute to the lives they led? Feeding people made sense and my kids and I would make 6 sandwiches every morning before I headed off to work. Sometimes I didn’t even make to the subway before the sandwiches were gone. A most unfortunate commentary on the need for it.]