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Please contact us for additional samples of our work for nonprofits, including those more aligned with your project needs, or for more information on our writing and grant writing services.

We routinely collaborate with graphic designers to create full-service brochures, feature articles and other materials with graphics and images. Here we present only the text, versus bulky PDFs, for ease of viewing.


           Feature Article: The Isaiah House

           Feature Article: The International Rett Syndrome Foundation

           Brochure: Hospital Auxiliary Blood Drive

           Direct Mail: Safe Haven Animal Rescue

           Feature Article: Roofs Over Guatemala

           Feature Article: The Breast Cancer Survivors' Network




1. Feature Article, The Isaiah House, A Nonprofit Ministry

"Hired Gun’s feature article landed us a key publication. Afterwards, we saw our level of new support rise significantly. It will be an invaluable tool for our fundraising and outreach efforts for a long time." Carl Adcock, Director, The Isaiah House

What the client wanted: A full-length feature article to educate, generate support, and promote their public image—for print (magazine) publication and to be used throughout their fundraising and marketing materials.

Seeking shelter: The Isaiah House opens its doors, and opens the minds of recovering drug, alcohol addicts

          On a damp Tuesday, about 100 strangers walked across the windy darkness of an Aburdeen parking lot toward the glow of a meeting hall and a Cocaine Anonymous meeting.
          Spiky-haired teenagers, not yet old enough to buy beer, shoved their hands in their pockets and sat next to snowy-haired grandparents with decades of sobriety under their belts, their faces crisscrossed with the lines of hard living.
          Some were locals, some from farther away. Some stood and shared: Old friends can be an addict’s worst enemy; temptations lurk in every dollar bill; a single bad day can wipe out miles of progress on the slow slog to sobriety.
          Others silently picked up a white keychain — the color of relapse — or orange, pink, or green ones, representing various intervals of sobriety.
          Doctors and psychiatrists sat beside construction workers and ex-prostitutes — all of them the same in those chairs, all of them recovering addicts.
          Just how bad is the drug and alcohol problem here?
          Take just one drug, meth-amphetamine, a speed-like derivative that’s been sweeping the country. Officials estimated that one in ten here are habitual users.
          George Nan has been working with local addicts for decades. With 18 years as the pastor of Harvest Missionary, 15 years as a prison chaplain, 14 years as an addict and 26 years of sobriety, he’s seen, and ministered to, what must be thousands of people struggling with addiction. His congregation alone, he said, is about 90 percent addicts in recovery.
          “There’s not a family in the county that doesn’t know somebody who has some problems with [addiction],” Nan said. “It affects every class of people,” — including his own. Nan was an alcoholic by age 12, he said. “In my family, that’s just what we did.”
          To say it’s hard for an addict to get off drugs or alcohol is like saying summitting Everest is good exercise — a profound underestimate, and an insult to those who achieve it.
          Depending on one’s drug of choice, the detox process is a wrenching, sweaty, sickly ordeal. Cells seize in the absence of the substance they’ve been bathed in for months, maybe decades. It’s a series of agonizing minutes that stretch into hours, days if you’re lucky, in which the foggy minutia of life is lifted only by periods of painful withdrawal, punctuated by stabbing cravings.
          But as hard as it is to get off the stuff, it pales in comparison to how hard it is to stay off it.
          “Being an addict, you’re always just one step away from being it again — for the rest of your life,” said Nan, who still struggles to stay sober.
          Indeed, recidivism runs rampant regardless of drug of choice.
          The biggest contributing factor to relapse? Returning to a toxic environment, local experts say. Even if addicts have gone through rehab, they often lack the necessary resources to survive in the real world. Desperation, feeling adrift in their own lives, drives addicts back to drugs as much as the siren song of the substance.
          Imagine, for example, you’ve just finished a six to nine month stint in rehab — not the Malibu spa-treatment sort, but the real, full-time, highly-restrictive kind, in which almost all access to the outside world is cut off and the closest thing to a controlled substance is a cup of coffee, maybe a smoke.
          You collect your personal effects, shake hands with your doctors, and step through the doors that release you to the real world. You’re clean. But probably also unemployed, close to broke, and cut off from family members — with perhaps a criminal record, and a collection of friends who are users. What do you do? Where do you go in the wide, unwelcoming world?
          “The ability [for an addict] to pull out of that on their own is basically zero,” said Mike Arnold.
          Arnold is a substance abuse counselor with the Appalachian Circuit Drug Court Treatment Program. He also leads a support group called Lifeline. He’s been working with addicts for over 23 years. And he’s seen this scenario play out hundreds of times.
          “At that point,” Arnold said, “the only people who would even let you in their house are people living that lifestyle. Your options are so limited that turning over a new leaf is almost impossible. If they don’t get support after coming out of recovery or jail, they go right back to a life of crime and drugs.”
          Pastor Jeffrey Glass of a local Baptist Church, who’s been working with local addicts for several years, agrees. “If they go back to the same place they were living, and fall back into the same group, they start using all over again,” he said. “What we need is something local for local people.”
          Enter the Isaiah House.
          Located in a renovated assisted living facility in Ellijay, The Isaiah House is a new, nonprofit transitional housing facility (also known as a “halfway” house), founded to fill in the gap between rehab and the real world. It is the first of its kind in Cholkam County. And it is a dream realized for founders Carl and Julie Adcock—a couple on a mission to help local men stop the caustic cycle of addiction and relapse.
          The Adcocks will hold an open house January 17 for anyone who wants to visit.
          When it officially opens later in the month, Isaiah will house men from Cholkam, Fannin, and Pickens counties who have just finished a drug or alcohol recovery program. It will provide a safe, healthy environment, where men in recovery are held accountable for their actions while being gradually introduced to the outside world. Men can stay until they’re ready to live on their own, usually about a year. It will ultimately hold up to 13 men.
          “That’s 13 men who won’t be committing crimes or doing drugs,” said Van Cash with conviction.
          Cash — “like money” — now 46, first met the Adcocks at Promise Land Ministries, a 9-month “regeneration program” (they don’t participate in the 12-step system) at the Church of the Narrow Way in Cholkam. He was there to get help; they were there to give it. After Cash completed the program and had nowhere to go but back to his old life, the Jeffreys took him in (in fact, during one six-week period, they housed 24 men from the ministry) and helped carry him through recovery.
          “No matter what you’ve done in life, when somebody takes you in and believes in you, it changes your whole outlook on the world and yourself,” said Cash. “I just can’t express how much they’ve (the Adcocks) done for me, and a lot of other guys.”
          One reason transitional housing programs like the Isaiah House are so critical for turning addicts into productive citizens is that, while rehab teaches men how to live without drugs and alcohol, they may still not know how to live as adults.
          The Isaiah House has one of the most comprehensive programs around. Men will learn social skills, strategies for sober living, stress and money management, physical and spiritual fitness, how to find a job and conduct themselves at interviews — plus how to load a washing machine, cook meals, and clean up after themselves.
          “Basically how to be a man,” said Carl Adcock, who’ll serve as director. He and Julie will both live at the Isaiah House full-time, leading classes, providing guidance, and making sure the men stay on track.
          They are, perhaps, the ideal couple to take on the task. Julie is recovering from a previous marriage to an addict. Carl’s insights are even more intimate. He’s been working with men in recovery for 18 years. Before that, he was one. Twenty-five years of drug and alcohol abuse have given regrets, sure — but also a direct line into the minds of the men he aims to heal.
          “Addicts aren’t stupid,” he said of their frequent mistakes and false starts. “They’re sick.”
          After he finished rehab at age 43, Carl, like so many others, had used up his last chance with his family. He turned to his sponsor, who took him in, kept tabs on him, and supported him until he regained his footing in society.
          Leaning back in a chair in the Isaiah House kitchen on a cloudy December day, Carl recalled the career, the fortunes, and the family members he’d traded in for all those packets of white powder. He explained some aspects of the addict’s thought process — patterns that are perhaps still more comprehensible to him than those of the nonaddict.
          “Normal people, like Julie here, will have one drink and that’s it.”
          He turned to his wife, who explained: “If I have a glass of wine with dinner, I stop if I start to feel it.”
          Carl smiled and shook his head. “You’re a weird person,” he said, still bemused by the concept. “Addicts will have another, and another, and another. It doesn’t make any sense to have just one.”
          Having been through it all himself will give Carl a leg up on what the men are thinking. Anyone who shows they’re not serious about changing — “And some of them won’t be,” Carl said — will be dismissed to make room for someone who is.
          Carl also knows the criticality of getting men back in the work force — not an easy task. After years of living fix to fix, resumes are often thin, and recommendations from former employers may be less than complimentary. As a solution, Carl created his own nonprofit painting business. It will employ Isaiah House residents — thus teaching them on-the-job conduct, and providing a chance to prove they’re responsible, while also giving them a lifelong, marketable skill to help secure work in the real world.
          The business will also help fund the Isaiah House. Although residents must each pay $130 per week, as a nonprofit organization the Isaiah House is reliant on donations for continued success. The Adcocks are also hoping area churches and other organizations will band together to sponsor men who can’t afford the fees.
          “It will be a tremendous positive thing to make our efforts more meaningful,” said Pastor Glass, an Isaiah House board member.
          “There’s a lot of people like I was,” said Cash. “Nobody cared, and didn’t have any place to go. But this thing can be beat. You just have to have a place where people believe in you, and can help you. [Places like the Isaiah House] is one of the most important things the community can have to help recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. There’s just so many lives that need guidance and direction.”
          No doubt, the Adcocks have their work cut out for them — finding the financial support to stay afloat, and the spiritual stamina to guide the minds of battered men to the shores of sobriety — while knowing some will still be swallowed by the sea of addiction, the waves of temptation rising too strong to survive.
          “[Addiction]’s really a cancer that’s eating us and a lot of people just want to turn their head,” said Pastor Nan. “But I have hope for anybody I come across. You’re not going to be able to save them all, but it’s worth giving them a chance.”
          Said Isaiah: I’ve come to bind up the brokenhearted and set the captives free.
          Said Carl Adcock, “I don’t have any doubt about what we’re doing.”

           [End]

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2. Feature Article, The International Rett Syndrome Foundation

"This is without a doubt one of the best Rett Syndrome articles I have ever read. It’s not easy to cover all the science and symptoms of Rett in a single article, but you did a fantastic job, and it is very easy to read and understand. It has already generated a lot of support from our donors and I’m sure it will continue to help our cause and raise awareness. Thanks for a super job." Chuck Curley, Executive Director, International Rett Syndrome Foundation

What the client wanted: A full-length feature article for newspaper/magazine publication to inform and help raise support.

Defying the Odds: Rare neurological disorder changes lives near and far

          Jessalyn Heaton’s room says a lot about her. The walls surrounding her inviting pink bed are plastered with posters of shiny teen pop stars. Zac and Joe and Nick grin beneath swept-up hair. Miley Cyrus has the place surrounded, flashing her dimples and posing in various miniskirts on just about every wall.
          But for the cart in the corner piled with medical supplies, it is the room of a typical 14-year-old girl. And but for a tiny, genetic mutation, Jessalyn would have been that girl. The glossy photos of Miley would be idolized because she can sing and act and dance—not because she can talk.

          Rett Syndrome


          Jessalyn, the daughter of John and Cindy Heaton, was born with Rett Syndrome.
          If you’re a fan of this season’s Celebrity Apprentice, you may have heard Clint Black mention it (he’s playing for the International Rett Syndrome Foundation.) But most people know little or nothing about Rett.
          Rett Syndrome is a rare, debilitating neurodevelopmental disorder. It affects areas of the brain responsible for cognitive, sensory, emotional, motor and autonomic functions. This can lead to a number of mental and physical abnormalities, in things like learning ability, speech, sensation, mood, movement and gait, breathing, heart function, and digestion.
          Most babies born with Rett appear normal for their first 6-18 months, and may even progress through early developmental milestones.
          But by age 2 parents will almost certainly see a delay in development—particularly in talking, purposeful hand use, and other motor milestones. Often, as babies become toddlers and the syndrome sets in, affected children will regress. They may start to lose the social and motor skills they’d previously mastered, leaving parents to watch their children inexplicably slip away, receding into themselves, never to re-emerge.
          One of the most characteristic symptoms of Rett in children is repetitive wringing and clasping of hands as they lose the ability to control them. Apraxia--the inability to perform motor functions—eventually interferes with all body movements, including eye gaze and speech. Communication and social interaction are therefore extremely hampered.
          In general, individuals with Rett have no speech ability, no purposeful hand use and poor motor coordination overall. Many are wheelchair-bound from a young age.
          Due to some similarity of symptoms, Rett is most commonly misdiagnosed as cerebral palsy or autism. Indeed, Rett is one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders. But Rett stands out on the spectrum for a few key reasons.
          One, it falls at the far end as the most severe of the autism disorders. It is the most physically debilitating. And it’s the only one with a known genetic cause.

          The science of Rett


           Rett could be called a disorder of chance.
          In 1999, scientists discovered Rett is caused by mutations on the MECP2 gene, located on the X chromosome. It’s because of the location that male fetuses with the disorder rarely survive to term (as they have only a single X chromosome), and Rett Syndrome is seen almost exclusively in girls. The discovery also means doctors can now do a simple blood test to confirm a Rett diagnosis.
          Over 99 percent of the time, the genetic abnormality arises by spontaneous, random mutation—not genetic inheritance—in as little as a single base pair in a single gene. That’s one gene out of 25,000 in the human genome.
          Roughly 50 percent of the time the mutation occurs, it does so in a girl, and she will continue to develop. Rett is estimated to affect every 1 in 10,000-25,000 girls worldwide.
           For those girls who are unlucky enough to have the spontaneous, and yet painfully precise, Rett mutation, the severity of the disorder—the extent to which it will interfere with their lives—is also a matter of chance.
          Because females have two X chromosomes, one of the Xs is inactivated in every cell in the body. In girls with Rett—who have one normal X, and one which carries the faulty MECP2 gene—this means that the severity of their symptoms will depend on the proportion of cells which retain the good X, versus the damaged one.
          Brain cells that randomly inactivate the faulty X will have normal, healthy function. Girls who, by chance, have more healthy brain cells will have less severe symptoms.
          However, brain cells that inactivate the normal X chromosome, leaving the damaged one, will have impaired function. Girls who, by chance, have more of these neurons will be more severely impaired.
          Jessalyn, by chance, falls in the middle.

          "My first baby"


           The living room of the Heaton’s house is full of photographs. In one, a dark-haired toddler with enormous eyes sits in a frilly dress and laughs, revealing the edges of two erupting front teeth.
          “She was my first baby," said Cindy Heaton, recalling both the joy and the uncertainty of being a new mother.
          She points at the picture, at Jessalyn’s small hands. “We didn’t notice it then, but I can see it now," she says.
          In this and many of her other childhood photos, Jessalyn holds her hands at awkward angles or balls them up into fists, a symptom only apparent in retrospect.
          Jessalyn, like other girls with Rett, appeared normal at birth and for her first few months.
          But as Jessalyn grew she failed to reach several developmental milestones. By 10 months Jessalyn showed no signs she’d soon start crawling. She didn’t reach for toys or her mother. And she didn’t roll over.
          Doctors appointments were a frustrating affair, when the experts assured Cindy and John that Jessalyn was just late. That she’d catch up.
          But by age 2, their daughter still wouldn’t feed herself. And though she was walking and looked normal, she didn’t talk.
          After Cindy and John had their second child, Jared, born two years after Jessalyn, the differences were too obvious to ignore.
          “I’d take him for his check-ups and I’d say—But look at Jessalyn! He was passing her on all the milestones."
          When Jessalyn was 3, doctors diagnosed her with autism, a determination that never seemed right to Cindy. Jessalyn soon started to have uncontrollable crying spells and seizures. Then, when she was 5, a neurologist said Jessalyn might have Rett Syndrome.
          “I said ‘What’s that?" He gave me a list of symptoms to read and I just knew that was it. That was what she had. If you think something is wrong with your child, you have to keep pushing. You have to make them take you seriously."
          The diagnosis was bittersweet: A relief to finally have a name for Jessalyn’s differences, but a name that summoned the dark nightmare of devastating disability.
          “It pulls a little bit of your heart out--and it’s gone forever. And you walk around like that, with this piece missing--but somehow you learn to cope. You just learn to take it one day at a time."

          One in 25,000; one in a million.

           In a large frame designed to help Jessalyn maintain good posture and get some exercise, she stands in the living room and stares at the computer screen, bobbing her head to Taylor Swift’s latest video on YouTube.
          Music is one of Jessalyn’s greatest passions. Perhaps because it is moving, in a world outside the physical. In music, you can transcend the limitations of muscle and bone, of random mutations and discordant brain waves, and escape to the perfect rhythms and smooth movements of melody.
          In her special class at Ellijay Elementary, Jessalyn is one of the most interactive, affectionate students. Her morning ritual includes her own version of “hello" for teachers and students. At home, snuggling is a necessity.
          She can walk with assistance, unlike many girls with Rett. And though she has never spoken, she can communicate with her eyes, making clear choices between different foods, or pictures that correspond to different activities. “If she wants a bath," Cindy said, “she’ll walk into the bathroom."
          But Jessalyn suffers from frequent seizures—not a rare, but a potentially debilitating, aspect of Rett. Even as Cindy spoke of her daughter’s seizures, Jessalyn silently slipped into one. She didn’t shake, but lay still and rigid, her eyes wide open, her expression frozen. And then, after less than a minute, she was back.
          The powerful drugs pumped into Jessalyn’s 90-pound body to try to control these sporadic firings have taken a brutal toll. She has regressed some physically since starting the regime. Then, last summer, she spent almost a month in the hospital suffering from severe gastrointestinal problems, another common complication of Rett.
          But Jessalyn has refused to relinquish any more independence, and continues to walk. “She’s a fighter. Everything she does is harder than for other people," Cindy said.
          And yet, for all her struggles, making an impact on people comes natural to Jessalyn.
          “She brings out the best in people," said Cindy. “It’s amazing. We can’t go to McDonalds, and I can’t watch her run into school. If I could just hear my child’s voice I’d get down on my knees and praise God. But Jessalyn is here for a reason. She makes you see the things that really matter. She’s only 14, but she’s changed the world."

           The unknown and the immeasurable

          Immediately after introducing her daughter, Cindy pulled out a packet of papers and turned to a printout of a 2007 scientific study on Rett.
          Not just any study. But a groundbreaking one—the results of which rippled through the scientific community, and slammed into the Rett community like a welcomed tsunami.
          “They reversed it in mice," Cindy said with restrained excitement.
          She and the other parents must be careful not to let themselves be swept away by the siren-swell of hope the study has set off. And yet it’s almost impossible not to be somewhat encouraged by the results—if not for your own child then for future children with Rett.
          In the study, scientists took genetically engineered mice who were exhibiting severe Rett-like symptoms—and in some cases were even days away from death—and restored the faulty MECP2 gene.
          The result was a near complete reversal of symptoms. Tremors disappeared, breathing normalized, mobility and brain function were restored.
          While a similar treatment for humans is, if possible, still far-off, the study holds promise for more disorders than just Rett. The MECP2 gene has been implicated in schizophrenia, autism and other learning disabilities. That means the mouse reversal could open up new alleys for treatments for an array of debilitating disorders.
          Chuck Curley is the executive director of the International Rett Syndrome Foundation, and the father of Caroline, 13, who was diagnosed with Rett when she was 3. Though Curley is cautious when it comes to talking about treatments or a cure for Rett in the foreseeable future, he’s a strong supporter of scientific research and hopes to see research interest in Rett increase significantly in the coming years.
          “Progress in Rett opens doors and sheds light on other disorders, including autism. We can look at Rett as a window to other disorders, and a Rett cure as a window to other cures," Curley said.
          But for now there are no treatments for Rett. In addition, since the disorder is so rare and relatively new—it wasn’t officially named until 1983—little is known about life expectancy. It’s just one more uncertainty families must learn to cope with in the Rett game of chance.
          The good news is that Rett is not a progressive disorder. Most who have it, though they continue to require maximum care, live well into middle-age. Adults with Rett continue to learn, and (like other adults) may become more emotionally stable and communicative as they exit their teens.
          Though Cindy doesn’t like to look too far into the future, preferring to “take today as today," she has no reason to believe Jessalyn won’t continue to develop new skills.
          Even now, “She surprises us all the time," said Cindy. “You just don’t know what she knows."
          As if on cue, Jessalyn broke out in a smile, struck by something amusing, it seemed, in her internal world of one.
          “She’s in there," Cindy said, looking down at her daughter.
          “Some things you just don’t know how to measure."

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3. Brochure, Hospital Auxillary Blood Drive

What the client wanted: This hospital wanted an educational, promotional brochure to generate public awareness and participation in their quarterly blood drives.

Statewide Medical Center and The American Red Cross are rolling up their sleeves and teaming up for local blood drives.

          But what’s so special about blood?

  • Blood is the body’s river of life. It is our communications network, food supplier, waste removal system, and transportation superhighway.
  • Adults have about 8 pints of blood. Blood circulates the body in blood vessels called veins, arteries, and capillaries. If all our blood vessels were lined up end to end, they would circle the earth almost four times! Every pint makes this journey about 60 times an hour.
  • Blood carries oxygen to every cell in the body—over 100 trillion! Without fresh oxygen, our cells would suffocate and die.
  • Blood carries nutrients, like messages in a bottle, from the tips of our toes to the folds of the brain.
  • And blood carries the body’s own brand of Band-Aid. Sticky little cells that float in our blood seal up any cuts and keep little nicks from becoming big problems.

          Pretty amazing stuff, isn’t it?

          Now, imagine if you or a loved one needed blood...and there wasn’t any?

          It’s almost impossible to imagine, thanks to The American Red Cross and centers like Statewide. They’re working hard to make sure it doesn’t happen. But they can’t do it alone.

The need for new donations is rising every day...

  • Every two seconds someone in America will need a transfusion. These could be trauma victims, surgery patients, newborn babies, and patients receiving treatments for cancer and other diseases.
  • Victims of car accidents may need up to 100 units.
  • Premature babies may need four units.

That’s why it’s so important for hospitals to have enough on hand.

  • Last year, U.S. hospitals used an average of 80,000 units of blood a day.
  • The need for blood is increasing at about 6% a year.
  • New donations are needed every day.

Be someone’s hero.

Donate today to save a life tomorrow.

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4. Direct Mail: Safe Haven Animal Rescue

"We never thought hiring a writer would make so much difference. But after using Hired Gun’s direct mail piece the donations just started pouring in. We saw an unbelievable 600% return on our investment, and we’ll never go back to writing our own fundraising materials again." Kristen Branch, Marketing Director, Safe Haven

          After the bank took the house…

           Safe Haven made sure nobody took Sadie’s life.

          Sadly, Sadie’s story is becoming more common. When her owners lost their home in a foreclosure, they were forced to move to an apartment. No pets allowed. Sadie might have gone to the county animal shelter. The last thing she felt on her soft, sandy fur might have been a cold table and a stranger’s hands. The last thing she saw with her big brown eyes might have been a needle.

          But Safe Haven wouldn’t have it…

          “Sadie’s the best thing that's ever happened to me. I hate to think what would have happened to her without Safe Haven."

          For Sadie and Marie, it was love at first sight. “I wasn’t even really planning to get a dog,” said Marie, who found herself with an empty home for the first time. “But one look in those eyes, and I knew we were meant for each other.”

          Creating Companionship
           Safe Haven is Brevard County’s only No Kill animal shelter. Since 1993, we’ve saved the lives of thousands of loving pets, and paired them with new owners, like Marie, who are looking for a lifelong companion. Even if they don’t even know it yet.

The question for you is…Is your soul mate waiting?

There’s only one way to find out. Visit Safe Haven today.

Call 800/555-HOME to schedule a visit. We promise you’ll get a good welcome.

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5. Feature Article, Roofs Over Guatemala, A Non-governmental Organization

"The article Becky wrote for us got picked up for publication by a local newspaper, and we’ve used it, or sections of it, in just about every mailing, fundraising campaign and support letter since—and we’ll continue to use it. We’ve gotten terrific mileage out of it, and, best of all, a tremendous amount of support as a result. We never would have gotten our NGO off the ground this fast without Hired Gun." Glen Small, Founder, Roofs Over Guatemala

What the client wanted: A full-length feature article to inform and raise support.

Building houses, building futures in rural Guatemala

          Stroll along the rolling hills outside of Antigua, Guatemala, and you see the tiny, thatched huts of local villagers and farmers amid the cornfields and steep slopes of the emerald countryside.
          Huts are a single, square room. At one end sits a small stove. In the rest, parents and perhaps half-a-dozen young children spread out on the dirt floor to sleep.
          Most are made of mud, cornstalks and gap-toothed boards. When it rains, the floors turn to a soupy sludge, 6 inches deep. The walls weep wetness into the dark interior.
          But in those hills, one hut stands out. On a ledge overlooking lush farmlands, sits a house with metal roof, metal siding, concrete floor — and, most notably, a covered porch to come in out of the rain and wipe off the mud in which parasites thrive.
          That house, and some others like it in the hills near Jocotenango, wouldn’t exist without a man whose own house sits empty, miles away, in the hills of North Carolina.
          Glen Small and his wife Karen have made many trips from their home in Lampland to do humanitarian work in Guatemala. For the past year, they’ve been making the trek to build houses for local families living below the poverty line. And now they’ve started a new nonprofit, nongovernmental organization called Roofs Over Guatemala.
          The housing project began from humble beginnings. But in just a short time the Smalls, in conjunction with Health Ministries Association, raised enough money for materials for 10 houses in Guatemala. Five of those are already finished. When the couple left on another trip to the country last month, they were hopeful all 10 would be housing families by May.
          For every house that goes up, though, dozens more families make requests. The demand is a little daunting for the 66-year-old retiree who fell into the third-world construction business a bit by accident, after he watched some native workers haphazardly trying to erect a house.
          “They (the Guatemalans) didn’t even have tool belts,” Glen said, still befuddled. “They’d get to the top of a ladder and have to come right down because they’d forgotten something.”
          Their inefficiencies nagged at him. “I’m pretty methodical,” he said, eliciting a knowing chuckle from his wife. That night, he lay awake in bed and mentally “finished the house” — building it, from the ground up, as the epitome of efficiency. The next day, Glen put his mental plan into action. He organized the crew, helped them finish the house, and before he knew it he was the local expert.
          Glen drafted a design for a 12x16 foot house made of metal, solid wood, and cement that could be efficiently erected in the rural countryside. He put a divider down the middle and added a covered porch. He moved the cooking stove outside to keep homes free from soot and smoke. (Bathrooms are also an outdoors affair.)
          The entire house would cost around $2,000. As Glen, the soft-spoken and methodical man, told of the single donor who gave the funds for 10 houses up-front, his voice cracked and his eyes welled, still disbelieving, still overcome.
          “This family had eight children,” Glen said, as he scrolled through a slideshow from a previous trip. “All of them were sleeping in that one small room.” In the picture, the ten of them stood in a row in their new, 2-room house.
          In another, Glen, a white giant at 6 feet, towers over tan natives holding tools in the steamy Central America sun.
          The home building project operates through what’s called a “sweat equity” program. The family getting a house must first have their old house torn down, and are responsible for feeding the workers building the new one — as many as 4 Americans and 10 Guatemalans.
          Even though food is part of the deal, it’s not always easy to accept from people with so little, the Smalls said. Not to mention the fact that it could be “tilapia soup” — 2 whole fish in a puddle of broth.
          In addition to the culinary challenges, building houses in the rural highlands, where roads are sparse and unpaved, and electricity is an anachronism, comes with its share of technical challenges.
          For the most part, locals possess only hoes and machetes (the latter of which they use on everything from fingernails to fruit). So Glen takes his own tools to Guatemala — the saws and drills eliciting scrutiny from baggage handlers — and trucks the tools and other materials across two hours of uneven roads, to rural building sites.
          Workers mix cement on site by corralling the gritty goo in a man-made pit (no plastic tubs, etc.) and churning it about with hoes and hand-drawn water (no faucets or hoses). Each house takes one to two weeks to finish, depending on glitches and weather.
          “You learn to be real flexible,” said Glen.
          The ultimate goal is to train the local people to build the houses themselves. Glen hopes the ministry will raise enough to pay local workers, thereby creating jobs in a country where most men make $3 a day. He’s currently writing a construction manual, which will be translated to native dialects.
          “This process is an economical way for nations to build houses,” he said.
          “If we can improve their communities so they know they have a future if they stay [in Guatemala] they might be less likely to separate from their families to come here (the U.S.),” said Karen, who’s also involved with other outreach programs in the country.
          Guatemalans have openly embraced the help, and the demand for new houses continues to rise. If the interest around Antigua is any indication, the Smalls could find themselves doing construction across all of Guatemala, donations permitting.
          The thought is a bit daunting, admits the couple. But sometimes daunting is a good thing.
          In his own home in the hills, amid a mountain of bags laid out in his basement — 50 large suitcases full of stuffed bears, medical supplies, soap, tennis balls, shoes and clothes to cart to Guatemala on their next trip (American Airlines offers a baggage discount) — Glen can’t help but smile. He shakes his head, still a little disbelieving, and pictures the possibility that one day all the families in Guatemala will have cement floors to sleep on.

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6. Feature Article, The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Network

"Hired Gun’s staff are just such a pleasure to work with. Becky is attentive and professional—but also genuinely caring and creative. She does exactly what she says she’s going to do. That shouldn’t be a rare quality, but it is these days. And she’s got it." Lynn Garner, The Breast Cancer Survivor’s Network

What the client wanted: An engaging, informative article with a personal touch to educate and raise support.

Support Group Offers Breast Cancer Patients What Doctors Often Can't

           They say the day before, the day of, and the day after chemotherapy you feel great.
          Steroids course through the bloodstream, speeding toward tissues and organs, each molecule like a little shot of espresso for cells soon to come under attack. The body buzzes with the boost. The brain bursts with hope, renewed. Even if only for three days. Even if only as a precursor to the depletion to follow, like how a light bulb gets brighter right before it burns out.
          Because on day three, it hits you.
          “The tables turned after that," said Nancy Deal at the monthly meeting of the Breast Cancer Survivors' Network, a support group for breast cancer patients and survivors. “All of a sudden, I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other."
          Deal, diagnosed last January, was new to the patient role. The disease, though, was somewhat of a lifelong foe.
          As a registered nurse, she’d dressed the wounds of women whose cancer had gone untreated--women whose tumors had eaten away at the surrounding tissue and left weeping sores on their skin.
          Deal didn’t wait to seek treatment.
          But even with her experience, "I didn’t know what to expect going in," she said.
          Breast cancer strikes many, but each attack is personalized.
          Excluding skin cancers, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among American women. One in eight women who lives to be 85 will be diagnosed with the disease. Doctors diagnose about 180,000 new cases a year in women, and about 2,000 in men. Incidence is expected to increase in 2009.
          High incidence is one reason the Breast Cancer Survivors' Network, based in Peachtree City, has been forming new groups across Georgia. The nonprofit network offers free breast cancer supplies at six Georgia locations, assistance with medical referrals including help finding affordable mammograms, and provides a traveling library of literature. (The Internet, while potentially useful, can be a frightening world to navigate.)
          Fannin, Union, and Towns counties currently hold monthly Survivors' Network meetings. The Gilmer group, led by Lynn Garner, met for the first time in October.
          Though it’s just getting started, members bring wisdom that spans three decades of breast cancer research.
          At a recent meeting, discussions ranged from personal stories, to new treatments and studies, to what to expect (demand) during doctor visits.
          Words like MammoSite, molecular detection, globular counts, and platelets floated around the room and met with nods of familiarity.
          “I’m down to eight grams," said one woman whose cancer had returned three times.
          “If I had it to do over, I’d do a double mastectomy," said another, their words spoken beneath the buzz of florescent lights, amid the intimacy of strangers who share an implicit bond.
          “It’s the unknown that scares you," said Deal. “You have to educate yourself."
          Garner, diagnosed at age 46 (her doctor’s third diagnosis that morning) and now a survivor, is a strong advocate of self-empowerment. At a recent meeting, her face constricted as she told of a patient she once met who knew neither the type of breast cancer she had, nor her doctor’s name. Knowledge, Garner believes, must be wielded as both a weapon and a salve.
          Indeed a big part of what makes meetings beneficial is the dynamic mix of members, from long-term survivors to women still in the thick of the fight. Veterans help guide newcomers through the tunnel to the light of remission --offering invaluable insider information that even the best doctors don’t have access to.
          Truth is, some things only come by way of personal experience. Some things transcend medical technicalities: Like what it feels like to have your strength sapped, day after day. Like the thoughts that rob your sleep and try to sneak off with your hope. Like how to throw a proper head-shaving party; that wigs are itchy; chemotherapy is cold-blooded; and sometimes cake and ice cream are the best medicine.
          And, finally, what it feels like to beat the disease and reach out to others.
          Janet Leter, another group member, is a two-time breast cancer survivor. Her first diagnosis came 18 years ago, when she was only 39. Then, last year, doctors found a second tumor in the opposite breast.
          Leter’s experiences make her something of an expert in treatments and advancements --an intuitively unwanted title when it comes from personal experience, but one she’s nonetheless embraced to help others fight the disease.
           Indeed, besides the emotional toll, it’s the number of treatment options, individual variables, and endless unknowns that can make a breast cancer diagnosis so daunting.
           Lumpectomies, mastectomies, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone-blocking drugs, experimental treatments--maybe a combination of several. And yet, as daunting as it seems, group members are living proof that the spirit can conquer the injustices of the flesh.
           Today, Deal sports the fuzzy sprouts of remission on her 66-year-old head, and tells her story with the ease that acceptance eventually allows, her cancer fight now folded into the pages of her history.
           “You’ve got to take ahold of this disease," Garner said. “You’ve got to wrap your arms around it and be your own advocate."
           But however strong the grip, a group effort will be stronger.
           “Nobody should go through this alone."

           [End]

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