06 September 2012

Getting by with a little help from friends, neighbors and even strangers

By PQ Contributing Editor Dawn Leas   

When bad things happen to good people it takes the wind out of summer sails. Dark clouds roil across a blue sky. You are left feeling flat, shivering in the shade, wondering if the sun will ever return, asking why. That is how I felt when I heard about what happened to the Czarnecki family and their business.
FootHills Publishing began in 1986, and is completely family-run. Michael Czarnecki oversees the editorial side. His wife Carolyn handles the business end of the press. Their sons, Grayson and Chapin, help with production.  Grayson also does some of the design work. It is a press that publishes books that are not only beautifully written, but are also hand-stitched, artistically designed and gorgeous to look at before a reader even turns to page one.
Michael is known as a poet, oral memoirist  and editor/publisher. He has traveled around the country giving readings and workshops. His calm peacefulness and passion for writing and for FootHills are evident from the first moment you meet him - I had the pleasure of meeting him briefly at AWP in Washington, DC in 2010.  His personality and passion are woven into the books he publishes and the connections he makes with his authors.

Mischelle Anthony, author of [LINE], a FootHills's book, said of Michael, “He is such an inspiring person; such a calm energy and creativity emanates from him.”
Jennifer Hill, another Foothills author (Book of Days) who has collaborated on several projects with Michael, added, “Michael pays close attention to detail and understands that it's the little things that matter..he connects with people because he is honest and kind, and he pays attention to what people have to say. He is not dismissive. He listens.”
In July, a devastating fire destroyed the Czarnecki's home, which was also the press's home – a double whammy for a family who lives and works simply in rural New York state. Many people might put plans on hold to rebuild a business and focus on family first. But, for  Michael, Carolyn, Grayson and Chapin, FootHills is a member of the family. Since the fire, they have been working on plans not only for rebuilding their home, but also to get Foothills reprinting current books and publishing new releases again. And they are doing it with the help of friends and neighbors and even strangers.
Currently, they are living and working in a pop-up camper, travel trailer and and silver bullet Airstream. The home they lost was built several years ago with the help of Amish neighbors in a house-raising. Their new home will be built in the same way. Since the Czarnecki's live “off the grid,” they were unable to get insurance. They are in the process of trying to raise the necessary funds for materials for the new house.
“I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the support we've received from so many people! From the friends who set up the flowers and "kitchen" before we returned to the people I've never met who have contributed to our rebuilding efforts,” Michael shared. “There are so many experiences that have already created new memories. Almost all we have left of our lives before the fire are memories. Part of my creative work is being an "Oral Memoirist" so I've always valued the memories. Now I do so even more than before.”

How can we help?

The Czarnecki's have received grants from Poets in Need, a non-profit organization based in California, and from the Book Rockwell Memorial Fund in Corning.  Several fundraising events have already taken place in Ithaca, Watkins Glen and Rochester. Another is planned for September 8th in Corning:

Never Stop Asking for Poems
Benefit for the Czarnecki Family
Saturday, September 8, 2012
7-10 p.m.
An evening of poetry readings, musical performances
and silent auction of artwork
171 Cedar Arts Center
Drake House Studio Theater
171 Cedar Street
Corning, NY 14830
An Indiegogo fundraising project called “Raise the Roof for the Czarnecki Family”  is in full swing at  http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/202058?a=1013758. Please consider donating and spread the word.  Also, please check out: http://foothillspublishing.com, and follow the progress of the rebuilding project at:  http://www.facebook.com/CzarneckiRebuilding.

If there is a ray of light in this dark event, it is the fact that Michael did not lose his laptops or a back-up drive in the fire.

"Obviously, our schedule has been totally disrupted. Immediate production will be of books just recently released or were scheduled to be. These include Mark Gibbons' Forgotten Dreams, the third book in the Montana Poets Series 2 (http://www.foothillspublishing.com/2012/id56.htm) and I Was Indian Volume 2 edited by Susan Deer Cloud. Other books that have been released and need to be reproduced are The Joe Poems by John Roche (http://www.foothillspublishing.com/2012/id55.htm) In the Spirit of T'ao Ch'ien edited by Charlie Rossiter and contains poems by Sam Hamill, David Budbill, Antler, Charlie Rossiter and me (http://www.foothillspublishing.com/2012/id53.htm),” Michael explained. “Beyond these there are numerous others than we'll be working on asap. We are limited in production capability until the house and FootHills space is rebuilt. But, we'll do what we can.”

Every day, we are bombarded with news of people committing horrible acts and saying hurtful things. It is stories like the one of the Cznarnecki family and FootHills that restore my optimism and rejuvenate my faith in humanity. Reading about friends, neighbors and strangers rallying around a family in need is simply inspiring.  I can feel the wind kicking up its heels again, filling the sails. The black clouds are dissolving. The sun is finding its way back into a cerulean sky.

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