I was asked by members of my church to give a Testimony of Service on November 17th.  At first I knew exactly what to say, but as the weeks went by I couldn't get clear on how.  I gave it over to God and asked him to help me.  I had never done this before.  I am an actor, yes, and use to speaking on stage, but this was different.  I sat down one night and started writing and three hours later felt good about what I wanted to say.  I texted Matt, "Done with my testimony.  Maybe 5-7 minutes.  Not counting holding for laughs."  I wanted to share it with you and I wanted to thank you for giving me something to write about.  I am grateful for your support. 
Happy Thanksgiving!
November 17, 2013
OSA
Testimony of Service
Lesley Carlson

When I graduated from grad school in 2011 I was ready to receive all my rewards.  After all, I had worked hard, sacrificed, chosen the path less taken.  I was brave, talented, hot, and ready to be successful.  Ready to be recognized and validated.  What followed were six months of depression, fear, and anxiety.  I watched as my peers received great gifts, one after the other.  Audition after audition came and went and still I watched.   My sister-in-law texted me Isaiah 40:31 so I committed it to memory and repeated it over and over through gritted teeth.  It went through many versions. (Hopefully) Yet those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength;  (weeping) They will mount up on wings like eagles;  (exhausted) They will run and not get tired.  (Angry) They will walk and not get weary.  Then on October 17th, a week before her 5th birthday, my niece Zoe was diagnosed with Leukemia.  98% of her bone marrow was cancerous.  At Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, TN, where Zoe began treatment, in the children’s playroom my mother took a picture of a wall.  A sign read, “Hats off to you…Please take one!”  Below the sign were just two little hats hanging on an otherwise empty clothesline.  Two little hats on a big empty wall.  I decided I was going to fill that wall with hats.  I sent out an email to friends and colleagues about a party I was having at my apartment to make hats for Zoe and the other children at Vanderbilt who would be going through chemo and losing their hair.  Email sent, party planning underway…and then on my way to work one day I answered a call from a number I didn’t know.  Actors do that.  Where a civilian would think, “Telemarketer!” we think, “IT’S A JOB!”  I answered and a woman said, “Hi.  I’m in The Children’s Place with my son and we were calling about sizes.”  I said, “Excuse me?”  She responded, “Is this Lesley, Hats for Zoe?”  Now here is where you need to know my family is all Army Special Forces/Special Ops.  And that Zoe’s dad is one of those soldiers.  My little invite had gone viral through the Special Forces Association.  In two weeks we had over $1,500 and more than 250 hats coming in from all over the United States.  A family who lost a child to Leukemia, an old Vet who had beaten cancer himself, a little girl who was Zoe’s age who’s mom explained what had happened and who had then wanted to send Zoe a gift.  God moved and today Hats for Zoe has brought hats, crafts, toys, and full dvd libraries to hospitals in Boise, ID, Salt Lake City, UT, Boston, Massachusetts, Portland, Maine, St. Lois, MO, all cities where my husband and I have worked as actors.  We have given yearly to our home base at Vanderbilt and will visit Birmingham, AL, Cleveland, OH, Lansing, MI, and NYC before the New Year. 

Zoe is in remission.  In May she walked down this very aisle as a flower girl in our wedding, and in February 2014 she will end treatment. 

Now why am I telling you this? 

Service.  SERVICE.  Getting yourself off your own mind.  Being a servant taught me to seek God’s face and not his hand.  It loosened my grip on things I never had any control over in the first place and caused those held, tight places in my life to blossom in ways I could have never imagined.  It humbled me.  It stilled me.

If you are weary and reciting the same hopeful bible verse over and over…

If you are waiting for God to show up in your situation…

If you are angry about what you haven’t received…

I urge you today to lay that down at God’s feet and go be of service to someone else.  Get yourself off your mind.  Be of service in whatever way you can.

If you can give money GIVE.

If you can give time GIVE.

There isn’t anything too small.

There isn’t anything meager in what ever God calls you to turn over to someone else.

Be of service and get yourself off your own mind.

Thank you.

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photo by Arnie Adler
Stay tuned for pictures from recent HFZ trips!  

More to come...
 
 
Hello.  (It's been a while.)  Hats for Zoe is on it's way to Cleveland where our Friend Vanessa Wasche is starring in Venus in Fur at Cleveland Playhouse.  She will be distributing hats and gift cards to two children's hospital in the area.  Pictures from the lovely Vanessa to come.

In the meantime how about a photo catch up to add to your holiday cheer!  

This past year HFZ has done some fun stuff.  Starting with...BOSTON!
While working on a play at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Massachusetts last September HFZ hopped the train into Boston to donate Hats and arts and crafts to the children's hospital.
The show moved to Portland, Maine and HFZ made another stop at the Barbara Bush Children's Hospital!
Arts and crafts, hats and gift cards were happily donated. 
More to come...
 
 
Giving can be a bit tougher than maybe some would like, but if you don't even try to cast your net you will never catch anything.  The steps that brought me to Primary Children's Medical Center were not as swift as they were in Boise, ID. There wasn't a former theatre board member to call.  Instead I posed a question in the women's dressing room of Pioneer Theatre Company.  Does anyone know someone who is involved with the children's hospital?  My castmate and new friend Cheryl Gaysunas Williams emailed someone who knew someone who might know someone.  I was sent an email that was cc'd to a person who could help which led to another email that was cc'd to a person who could help.  Finally, after several days I landed in the inbox of Marie Hendriksen who is in charge of the Primary Children’s Foundation.  
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Marie Hendriksen, Primary Children’s Foundation
A day before I ended up in Marie's inbox a colleague of hers expressed a need to replace VHS tapes with DVDs.  These videos would be used in recovery.  Even though HATS FOR ZOE has a bit of a specialty we offer any help that we can.  If a hospital is not in need of hats then we supply care in other areas.  So if it's DVDs you need then it's DVDs you get.  
With the generous donations from HFZ supportes we were able to supply the following:


X-Men Trilogy
Glee: Season 1
Super 8
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Cars
Cars 2
Dolphin Tale
The Muppets
Toy Story 1
Toy Story 2
Toy Story 3
Soul Surfer
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 1
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
We Are Marshall

So, about the red tape.  Is it time consuming?  Yes.  Is it a little frustrating at times because all you want to do is give?  Yes.  Is it worth it?  YES.  YES.  YES.  And in this case the time that was used helped place us exactly where we were needed.  

Again and always, a huge thank you to all of our contributors.  Whether you give financial gifts, hats, advice, love or connect us to people through emails we appreciate you greatly.  We are excited about what lies ahead for HATS FOR ZOE.  

A special thank you to Cheryl Gaysunas Williams.  We are lucky to know you. 

More to come...  
 
 
If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.  Matthew 5:41 

Recently  I discovered a bible verse that is the essence of what HATS FOR ZOE is all about.  When i looked the verse up again for this blog post the New Living Translation had replaced "someone"  with "a soldier".  How appropriate since we are honoring a soldier.  

Many of you know how HATS FOR ZOE began.  One email about a party to make hats for my niece went out on the Special Forces Association email list and I ended up with hundreds of hats and dollars and a bit of a new calling.  Bill Joyner and his wife Mila are contributors to HATS FOR ZOE. I am sad to say Bill lost his battle with prostate cancer on April 15th, 2012 at the age of 48.  I never met Bill.  I received a donation from him in an envelope post marked November 4, 2011, the day of the party for Zoe.  

The gift we have been given through HATS FOR ZOE is the ability to bless others.  Not only was Bill asked to carry his own sickness, but he decided to go another mile and help carry Zoe's as well.  Thank you Bill for blessing us blindly, for opening your heart to Zoe and other children struggling with something you understood too well.  Peace be with you now.   To Mila, Bill's son's Thomas and Edward and his sister Nita: our prayers and love are with you.  Bill, you are our hero!
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Bill Joyner, a hero of HATS FOR ZOE
 
 
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I am an actor.  As per my profession I travel a bit.  The first stop I made after graduating in May of 2011 was Boise Contemporary Theater to work on a play called Gruesome Playground Injuries.  I flew into Boise on January 1st and was picked up at the airport by the theater's artistic director, Matthew Cameron Clark.  On the way to my apartment we stopped at the intersection of  East Warm Springs Avenue and Broadway.  Right in front of us a building was lit up with lettering and colors exactly like Vanderbilt.  The building was St. Luke's Children's Hospital.  So it was a sign, literally that called HATS FOR ZOE into another hospital to help more children.  

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Celeste Keller and Kimberly White
Celeste Keller is the Director of Major and Planned Gifts at St. Luke's.  She is also a theater supporter!  I explained to Celeste over the phone why I started HATS FOR ZOE and what we were hoping to do through our organization.  Celeste was wonderfully supportive and helpful.  She immediately called Kimberly White, Child Life Specialist in Pediatric Oncology/Hematology, to ask if HATS FOR ZOE could help in any way.  The holidays had brought them a surplus of hats, but a few toys were requested.  The kids were also putting on a Mardi Gras parade and needed small gifts as prizes for games.  
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Requested toys for the children at St. Luke's
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Army Paratroopers for the kids to play with. When I saw these at Target I thought it a great tribute to our SF men and woman who have supported HATS FOR ZOE.
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For the older kids itunes gift cards were a requested item.
HATS FOR ZOE was able to donate all these wonderful gifts to the children of St. Luke's Oncology/Hematology ward.  The hospital cares for more than 200 new pediatric patients each year.  Celeste Keller and her associates have worked hard to improve and expand the waiting and treatment areas.  
This beautiful and bright waiting room is a very recent addition to the facility.  There is also glass walls that provide natural light,  which is very helpful when kids are not allowed outside, and a court yard for when they are.  Comfort for patients and families during this time is so important and St. Luke's has done wonders, making a place that is inviting, warm, and inspiring.  

Thank you Celeste and Kim for welcoming HATS FOR ZOE to St. Luke's.  Congratulations on all the wonderful accomplishments you have made and continue to make.  You are an inspiration to us.  Please contact us if we can be of any help in the future.  And thank you Matthew Cameron Clark for putting HATS FOR ZOE in touch with these lovely ladies.

If you would like to help St. Luke's in any way click here.
You can also go to the website of the hospital nearest you and look for ways to give.  

HATS FOR ZOE started out with a mission to fill a wall with hats at Vanderbilt Hospital.  We accomplished that and then some by shipping over 200 hats to them over the holidays.   Through God's grace we are being led to other areas of the country.  I am now in Salt Lake City, Utah doing another play and when the rehearsal process finishes I will be seeking out a place to be of service here.  This is a long term goal for us.  It is my hope to continue giving in conjunction with my work as an actor and to incorporate more friends in the business to help me.  To take the focus off myself and put it onto people who are hurting and need assistance has been a great gift to me.  I am grateful for this opportunity and look forward to sharing more with you.

Zoe started a two year treatment on February 20 2012. February 20, 2014 will mark the day she will no longer need treatments.  
More to come...
 
 
Matt and I returned to Nashville on the evening of December 29th.  Jacklyn was past due and the doctor's told her and Stephen to come in the next morning and they would assess the situation.  Flash to 8am the next day.  I get a call from my brother Brian saying we are all to get to the hospital, that the c-section is scheduled for 10am!  WE'RE HAVING A BABY PEOPLE!  EVERYONE IN THE CAR!  YOU CAN DO YOUR MAKE UP ON THE WAY THERE!  

What followed was a great experience.  Four generations of family awaiting the birth of a new blessing.  In a time of trial, pain and uncertainty we were all given hope, possibility and more life.  The final part of this blog series is not the final installment of HATS FOR ZOE.  It is not the last trial for Zoe or other kid's with cancer.  But for our family this day was a great breath and slow exhale. 

I have said this before and I will repeat it now...Sometimes I think that the reason for incredible hardship is to see the immense good that comes in response.   All of you in your support of HATS FOR ZOE have shown that to be true again and again.  I am more grateful than you will ever know.

Below are pictures of the joy of the day.  Enjoy.  Bless you.
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Zoe on PaPa Toney's knee arriving at Vanderbilt in Nashville
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Big Sister
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Actors waiting...
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Isabella Victoria Shires born December 30, 2011 9 lbs 5 onces
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Great Grand
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AnnaBelle says hello to her new cousin
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PaPa waits to see her again
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Zoe and Gram
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Uncle Matt and Aunt Lesley
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Uncle Brian and Aunt Keri
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Zoe and Pop
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Bev bought cigars! Great idea!
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I love the men in my family!
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Brothers
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Four Generations
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Gram, Zoe and Izzy
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Sisters
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Beautiful Mother
As I was writing this blog post I received some amazing news that could not wait to be shared!  ZOE IS IN REMISSION!  HALLELUJAH!  PRAISE GOD!  THANK YOU!  YES!
As always...
More to come...
 
 
On Friday night Zoe was bopping around with all her new loot.  I was putting together her tea cart and tea set with my Mom.  The men folk were at Lowes.  Jacklyn took Zoe's temperature and it was high.  She felt fine, but the doctor's told Jacklyn and Stephen that if it gets above 101 she has to come into the hospital.  It was 101.4.  Jacklyn called the hospital and sure enough they said to come in.  With Zoe's immune system low a small fever can be bad news.  When Stephen got home we packed Zoe, Stephen and Jacklyn into the car and off they went.  These night trips were no strange thing for them and all went off like a routine.  They called later to say they would be staying overnight, but were praying to be home Christmas Eve.  The next day the doctors made rounds and informed Jacklyn and Stephen that Zoe would not be released until Christmas morning.  Matt and I were leaving Christmas day for his parent's home in Michighan.  Oh, and did I mention Jacklyn was supposed to have a baby the Friday of Zoe's celebration at Clarksville Athletic Club!!!  Saturday night Matt and I went to Nashville International Airport to pick up our rental car, but before that, as fate would have it, we ended up at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.
Since we were leaving Christmas morning we wanted to give Zoe her presents from us and spend more time with her.  There were only a few children in her area so we were both allowed back.  Usually the number of people allowed into rooms is strictly regulated because of the air filtration system and to minimize the spreading of germs.  I have never put so much hand sanitizer on in my life.  

We were greeted by a happy Zoe!  People had come by all day delivering gifts to the children who had to remain in the hospital on Christmas.  Faith Hill and Tim McGraw who live near by sent gifts and gift cards.  

Zoe opened our gift to her, but had to pay Matt with a smooch.
She loved her dog guitar.  She had hinted to Matt she wanted one.
Uncle Matt loved it too.
We played games and goofed off.
Zoe showed us the lay of the land.
Visiting hours were well over, but because it was Christmas a bit of an exception was made.  Finally, we said goodbye to a happy Zoe.  
The next day was a Merry Christmas indeed.  Zoe came home to family and more surprises.  The men had put together a wonderful playground set from Jacklyn's family in Florida.  
Matt and I were on our way to Michigan, soon to return for more Zoe adventures.

Stayed tuned for the last installment of So Much Goodness and updates from the staff at Vanderbilt.

More to come...
 
 
Hello Lovely Hats for Zoe supporters!  I have news!  So much news in fact that I am breaking it down into three different blog posts in the hopes of not overwhelming you and for fear of leaving any of the good stuff out by trying to condense it all into one post!  

Part One:  Zo-Zo and the Magical Christmas

Matthew and I arrived into Nashville on Wednesday December 21st.  When we got to Stephen and Jacklyn's house we found a happy and energetic Zoe.  She immediately hugged me and then took Matt away to play.  She had Matt read her an amazing children's book that explained her cancer.  It was just as much for him as for her.  It was almost her way of saying, "This is what is happening to me and it's ok."   I have never thought about such a book existing until Zoe's diagnosis.  It amazes me!  Children are so smart!  

Thursday morning Matt and Zoe made pancakes for the family.  
After breakfast we finished some Christmas shopping.  We had to get everything done because Friday was going to be a BIG day for Zoe.  

On Friday morning we had a quick breakfast and we all rushed to get ready.  Zoe and her story had been given to Clarksville Athletic Club, a local gym owned and operated by Nathan and Dawn Deer.  They were giving Zoe and two other children a Christmas to remember.  Clarksville, TN is right by Fort Campbell, KY,  home of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) which is Stephen's unit.  The athletic club wanted to honor the families of those who serve. 
Zoe received wonderful toys that will keep her occupied during treatments and recovery.  The smash hit...Disney Princess dress up clothes complete with matching heels!  Her  baby sister and mom and Stephen also received gifts. 

 Santa made an appearance!
But the big guy was overshadowed by another guest...
It's Belle from Beauty and the Beast!  Zoe was so excited she wanted to put on her Belle dress too!

Zoe had a magical Christmas and it wasn't even Christmas Day yet.  Matt and I had canceled our plans to visit Vanderbilt because of this special day.  We didn't want to miss it and we were informed that our access to the Children's Hospital would be greatly limited.  We would not be allowed in the area where the Christmas "shopping" would take place.  With 200 hats and several scarves and blankets in the safe hands of volunteer services we decided to stayed in Clarksville with Zo.  As I said though, it wasn't even Christmas day yet and Friday night brought a change of plans.

It was Nathan and Dawn Deer's, (the couple on the left), first year celebrating families like this at Christmas.  Hats for Zoe hopes to help them continue to help others as the years go by.  A young boy named Andrew who had an inoperable brain tumor was being celebrated that day too.  His face was so content and he was a little gentleman.  It wasn't about the gifts, but the happiness and the opportunity to be a child at Christmas.  Thank you Clarksville Athletic Club for your grace.
If you would like to help make Christmas magic for children next year contact me or Dawn.

Dawn Deer 
Clarskville Athletic Club , Office Manager
220 Dunlop Lane
Clarksville, TN 37040
(931) 645-4313
fax (931) 551-3699

Also, wanted to say sorry for the tardiness of this post.  I am in Idaho doing a play.  We just opened and I will have more free time to share in the coming days.  

More to come...
 
 
Today the volunteer services department of Vanderbilt Children's Hospital received 200 hats from HATS FOR ZOE (scarves, blankets and gloves too)!  They arrived just in time for the hospital's holiday fair, which takes place on the 23rd and 24th.  These two days are set up for the kids to go "shopping" since some of them can't leave the hospital during treatment.  I am beyond thrilled that they will have so many wonderful choices in fashionable and fun head ware.  Matt and I are flying to Nashville on Wednesday and are setting up a day to go see the kids.  There are restrictions on where we can go and what we can photograph, but we promise a full report is coming.  

Zo-Zo is doing well.  Her energy has been up and she is very interested in making Christmas cookies.  Mom helped her bake some for the nurses who work on the floor where Zoe receives chemo.  She is starting to get sick and lose weight, but keeps smiling.  Along with donations sent in for the kids, specific items were sent to Zoe.  She received her box on Saturday and insisted on Skyping with Aunt Lesley and Uncle Matt to say thanks and model for us.  Below are some pictures of her love infused treasures.

When Matt and I went to mail the boxes we had a wonderful Christmas treat!  Tony Burgos is the man behind the Tiger Lily U.S.P.S Contract Station, your neighborhood mail and parcel center.  He started a fund for soldiers who are overseas to have boxes shipped to them free of charge.  All the soldiers in our Brooklyn neighborhood are home.  Tony saw my USAA check card (the military banking service) and made the connection.  After asking about Hats for Zoe and seeing the destination on the boxes, he told us he was paying for one of our boxes to be shipped himself.  He said, "I want a piece of this."  He can definitely have it.  Thank you Tony!  For those of you living in the area, here is a little information about Tony's business.  Use him.  He is a good man.

Tiger Lily
U.S.P.S
442-D Lorimer Street
Brooklyn, NY 11206
(718) 599-5700

Donations and prayers are still coming in.  In the new year we are going to be expanding to more hospitals and are going to create faster ways for you to give.  I cannot tell you what a blessing you have been to Zoe, me and my family.  The power of the human heart is astounding.  

Happy Holidays and God Bless you all.

More to come...
 
 
Hello wonderful supporters of HATS FOR ZOE and new friends.  The day I emailed you about long ago has come and our website is launched.  This amazing site was designed by my boyfriend, Matthew Carlson.  To date we have raised $1755 for materials and shipping costs and collected over 300 hats!  Contact with Vanderbilt has progressed and hats are being shipped next week, just in time for the holidays.  We are doing good work!  The variety we are able to offer these children is fantastic.  We have Spider Man, Hello Kitty, Lightning Steve McQueen, Disney Princesses, assorted animal hats and wonderfully designed hats made out of tee shirt fabric and fleece.  I will be traveling to Tennessee for the holiday and am looking forward to visiting the hospital and sharing pictures with you.  
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This is the only time I have not minded being cluttered in my Brooklyn apartment! Hats for Zoe has taken over!
Zoe has started a more intense chemotherapy.  It is commonly called Consolidation Therapy which lasts approximately 8 weeks.  She has been placed in the high risk category due to genetic testing on her bone marrow.  Please continue to pray for her strength and spirit. 

So many blessings have come from this diagnosis.  Hats for Zoe is just one effort.  Hiller Plumbing Heating and Cooling in TN installed an air filtration system, similar to the one in Vanderbilt Hospital, in my brother and sister's house for Zoe.  All materials and labor were generously donated.  The list of good work goes on and on.  The display of grace and generosity are a testament to the wonderful people my brother  Stephen and his wife Jacklyn are and to who you are.  Thank you for all your continued support.  We are doing important work.  

More to come...