ROSES to Robin McMahon, a middle school French teacher who has done more to build connections and friendships between distant cultures than many career diplomats.McMahon, who teaches French at Smith Middle School, recently completed a 10-day exchange trip between students at Smith and 30 students from Belgium.Last year McMahon and her colleagues led a group of Smith students on a trip to the European Union, where students visited Paris and other sites and lived with host families in Belgium.This year, the Belgian students came here for 10 days. McMahon organized their stay, matched Belgian students with host families here and led the whole group on a four-day trip to Ocean Isle, where the students enjoyed the beach and learned about the coast, visited the North Carolina Aquarium, spoke Franglais with each other and cooked boeuf bourgignon. Next year, it will again be the local kids' turn to make the trip across the Atlantic. In an era when misunderstanding and lack of communication so frequently frustrate the goal of common purpose in the world, McMahon and the Smith families and staff are building real friendships and bonds between cultures. And that's a lesson worth learning.
ROSES to Tiffany Christensen, a Chapel Hill resident who, at only 34, has learned more about life and death than most, and who has dedicated herself to sharing what she's learned with others.Christensen was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was just six months old. She beat the odds and reached adulthood, but her condition deteriorated. A double-lung transplant at UNC Hospitals in 2000 bought her two years of good health before her body began to reject the new lungs.She fought, prayed, tried to will her body into wholeness. But it was in vain, and eventually she came not only to accept the inevitable but actually to embrace it. She felt a connection to the divine. She wrote her will and said her final goodbyes. She was at peace and prepared for the end.At that point, though, came word that she was eligible for a second transplant. She decided that, having been given a new chance, she would make the most of it.To Christensen, that meant doing all she could do to help other people facing serious illnesses and end of life issues. After recovering from the second transplant surgery, she trained with Hospice, took a position with Project Compassion, wrote a book called "Sick Girl Speaks" and launched a company by the same name -- all intended to lend encouragement and support to people in need.Christensen doesn't know how long she has. But while she's here, she said, she's learned that what's important isn't really how much time you have, but what you do with it.
ROSES to Rita Robbins, another local resident who has turned her personal pain into positive energy on behalf of other people.Robbins' twin granddaughters were born premature in August 2007, and neither lived more than a month. She and the rest of her family, of course, were overwhelmed with grief.But Robbins has since found a way to turn that anguish into action. She has thrown herself into the work of raising awareness and money for the research and prevention of premature births. She's become an active participant in the March of Dimes and has established a new fundraising model, the family team model, that has been so successful that the national organization is interested in emulating it elsewhere. Activity has long been known as a form of therapy. Activity in the cause of health and hope has to be about as good as it gets.