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Freelance Journalist

CONTACT:  pennydickersonwrites@gmail.com

Penny Dickerson is an independent journalist with a passion for cool people, extraordinary plaPenny in Daihikices, and good sushi.

She earned a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) and a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Lesley University (Cambridge, MA). 

Temple UniversityPassionate about words and writing, Penny has augmented her freelance writing life by working as an adjunct English professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville where she taught English composition and humanities courses. Continue Reading »

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“Thank you” Cancer Today Magazine!

Thank you immensely to Cancer Today Magazine (cancertodaymagazine.com) for featuring me in a triumphant section that illuminates both the survival and current pursuits of cancer survivors. You can view “In the Moment” on page 64.

For those outside of the editorial realm, magazines work three months in advance, so when I was sent the questions below with a request for photography, it was July 2019, and I was onboard the “Africa Mercy” in Tenerife, Spain. A crew member captured the breathtaking photos that were used for publication.

Life has since changed.

On October 5, 2019, I flew from from Senegal to Paris to Texas.

The language of leave is: Medical LOA (Leave of Absence).

The contrasting photos below show me on my last day in Spain, one week before leaving Africa where I shed 35 pounds and now in Texas where I am in the midst of being treated for some (but not all) of what kept me miserable while onboard the ship.

When the October issue of the magazine debuted, I was conflicted as to how to approach an update, and further, how to appropriately show gratitude. Today it hit me: the truth is always appropriate. The details are rarely appropriate.

I also made a conscious decision to include the actual responses sent to Cancer Today Magazine that were also shared with key Mercy Ships managment prior to publication: Jitze Kramer, VP of global branding; Mark Druesne, director of communications; and Meg Newell, global brand strategist. They loved the responses, and even in hindsight, I do too.

These responses now serve as a relevant reminder to me, and for me, that my heart for service was in the perfect place.

Please take a minute from your schedule to read the October issue of cancertodaymagazine.com The digital copy makes it easy for you to peruse and also subscribe!

 

 

  1. Where do you live? (city and state, please)

Penny Dickerson is currently a Tallahassee, Florida-based freelance journalist whose imminent address has morphed global: she departed Tallahassee in June; In July, On Boarding for Mercy Ships Africa Mercy in Texas was completed followed by a one-week  Washington, D.C. Holiday; she then flies to Las Palmas and Santa Cruz, Spain (Canary Islands) where she will meet the vessel and sail to Dakar, Senegal in August to begin a one-year field service. In jest, she tells friends, “My address is the wind!”

  1. Could you tell me what kind of cancer you were diagnosed with, when you were diagnosed, and your age at that time?

Cancer entered my life in a trifecta of medical mishaps. In April 2006, abdominal  discomfort prompted a surgeon to remove my gall bladder. The pain persisted. In June of the same year, an incidental finding on a CT scan during an emergency room visit revealed a tumor later confirmed as stage II (clear cell) renal cell carcinoma or kidney cancer. In August ─ on my 43rd birthday ─ I endured a partial left nephrectomy as the advised curative solution. Multiple complications and surgeries followed.

  1. What will you be doing as part of the Mercy Ships program?

My volunteer position for Mercy Ships Africa Mercy is defined as a “writer” for the communications team. In this capacity, I will take a journalistic approach in building relationships (working closely with a translator) to document a patient’s Mercy Ships journey and create narratives that amplify patient and crew life/work aboard the Ship for external and internal marketing priorities. Additionally, I will work in tandem with Mercy Ships national offices and the global brand director and global content strategist.

  1. What made you want to take part in the program?

The nephrectomy surgery to eradicate cancer altered my career. Three ribs were resected causing nerve damage that led to limited, left-limb range of  motion. A left-handed dual enrollment English teacher, returning to the classroom wasn’t a viable option, so in 2009, I launched a freelance journalism career that flourished.  I was a commercial success, but spiritually unfulfilled and longed to benefit the world in a more meaningful way. Mercy Ships undeniably aligned with the latter.

  1. Was an experience like this something you were eager to pursue as you were going through treatment, and the healing that followed?

Eagerness eluded me during my storied relationship with cancer. I was often medically dumbfounded and subsequent surgeries bred new dilemmas. The mental toll was tremendous, my body’s strength betrayed me, and I lived in anticipation of nothing-next. It took years to recalibrate, but a triumphant spirit emerged. I began to accept assignments that offered extreme happiness like Walt Disney World Resorts and arts/cultural events. Mercy Ships is a proud transition in a long line of life-altering gigs!

  1. Is the medical mandate of Mercy Ships particularly poignant for you, given what you’ve experienced as a result of cancer?

The Mercy Ships mission and vision statement envelops its own medical mandate as a global, charitable organization operating the Africa Mercy, a state-of-the-art hospital ship that provides free medical and surgical services in West Africa. For those with terminal illnesses, the Palliative Care Program offers information and understanding about how to cope with inoperable conditions.

As a U.S. citizen with cancer, I was able to both afford and access healthcare from world-class medical facilities including Wake Forest Baptist, Duke, Mayo Clinic and Shands. Some would call me lucky; I claim blessed. Mercy Ships follows the 2,000-year-old model of Jesus, bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor. I wanted to do the poignant-same by illuminating the human condition as a writer. Cancer was a formidable precursor ─ Mercy Ships is my new platform.

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Consumer Home Value: “Happy One-Year Anniversary!”

 

Image result for happy one year business anniversary

America loves a start-up business gone great, and Houstonian Gynell Vestal does not disappoint as she valiantly celebrated one-year of successful consumer advocacy with the advent of her national website: ConsumerHomeValue.com. Vestal established the cutting-edge platform on October 17, 2018 as a conduit designed to provide consumer information for citizens interested in buying, selling, renting, remodeling, refinancing, moving and more.

The tech-savvy site allows consumers to access blogs, podcasts and videos in an effort to make prudent real estate decisions. The primary goal is to demonstrate the varied ways people can save money, preserve time and avoid frustration as they navigate complex aspects of real estate transactions. Overarching themes of consumerhomevalue.com are ethics and trust.

“Extensive global travel has offered me a unique perspective of the consumer real estate market. From my native Dubai to the Washington, D.C. area and now Houston,” stated Vestal.

“I developed a relentless passion for consumer advocacy and chose to focus my efforts on the American market. So, I seized the opportunity to meet an industry need by self-funding an informative, user friendly website,” she added.

Sounds like Vestal is on-target and apace with women in the millennium who have become “movers and shakers” in their varied fields of choice: https://bestsmallventure.com/business-ideas-for-women/

Prior to relocating to Texas, Vestal held her own in the Maryland market as a successful appraiser. She holds nearly two decades of industry experience and is a Texas State licensed real estate appraiser who recently passed the state’s realtor’s exam.

Gynell Vestal

www.LeslieLernerProperties.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/gynellvestal/

She is married to Scott Vestal, a football coach for Rice University’s athletic program, and they reside in Houston with their five-year-old son.

A commemorative anniversary luncheon was held Thursday, October 17, 2019 at  Maggianos Little Italy in Houston where Vestal hosted an intimate gathering of colleagues and friends whose dedication and support have been integral to her annual success.See the source image

As previously stated, Vestal self-funds consumerhomevalue.com in addition to augmenting costs with a thriving sponsorship campaign that offers local, regional, and national industry professionals an opportunity to showcase their success as realtors, serves as blog features blogs and profile spotlights, and receive light- speed digital exposure in a space with a projected target audience of 10,000 views per month.

Who’s got next?

See the source image

(Contact Pauline Rick at 972-922-5442 for more information)

Bravo!

Maggiano’s customized the perfect menu for the anniversary gathering in the “Piedmont Room” of Houston’s “Galleria” 2019 Post Oak Blvd. location. https://locations.maggianos.com/texas/houston/

If you think the pictures were perfect, the appetizers and entrees were divine! And of course there was dessert, but we apparently ate those photographs! (Think Tiramisu and Chocolate Zucotto Cake).

 

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As guests filled the room, public relations manager, Pauline Rick, assured that every detail was in place and that each guest had appropriately sent an R.S.V.P. IMAG4463

Pauline is a consummate professional!

Among the supporters in attendance were realtors, appraisals, women in business, and the fellow wives of Rice University football coaches who work along side Gynell’s Rice University athletic coach spouse.

Without this core group and, a litany of others in the virtual world and beyond, Gynell would not have experienced this past year’s success.

While it may seem that “bigger is better,” the vivacious entreprenuer was strategic in both invites and numbers.

 

gynell with two girlsGynell and AdamGuests enjoyed “networking” and “networthing” during lunch while Gynell offered an impromptu speech outlining her motivation, drive, and advocacy that fuels the success of consumerhomevalue.com 

And of course there were prizes galore to be won, and Penny Dickerson happily served as a hostess who encouraged attendees to make this your social media status and win a prize.

 

And much to her surprise, Gynell was awarded a one-year anniversary crystal weight that was inscripted with three, keen adjectives that represent the hallmark of her success:

Tenacious

Passionate

Change Agent

And the afternoon ended on poignant note with Gynell reflecting on her success and enjoying a deserved glass of red wine in the Maggiano’s downstairs bar.

Yes Gynell, take that ELEVATOR stuck in your head. There’s only one place to go and that’s: UP!

The expression on her face is priceless:

“I came, I hosted, I slayed!”

consumerhomevalue.com

Penny Dickerson 2019
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Mercy Ships: Visiting the House of Hussein

Experiencing Africa extends far beyond the depth and reach of island tours, fabrique markets, and the more sophisticate relaxation modes that I’ve partaken in like a spa weekend at the Radisson’s “Buddatude” Spa. During my time in Dakar, Senegal, I’ve been blessed to indulge in a wide array of cross-cultural excursions, but none have blessed my heart as the magnitude of being invited to the house of “Hussein” and embracing an overwhelming, everending extension of hospitality that gives lift to the often mistaken and exploited living status of Senegeles people. I’ve said it before, African’s across the continent are resilient, confident, resourceful, exhuberant, and spiritual people with a work ethic that marvels global counterparts who may leave the gate with more fiscal muscle, and maybe even technology, but lose the race because they don’t have one necessary component: fortitude.

Sometimes my writing, pizzazz-pennnings, and social-scribes are meant to bless the masses and hopefully, those of you reading these words will, too, be enlighted. But most important, this one’s for me. The real lives, the cultures, the behind the scenes “nitty gritty” and “tried and true” aspects of what makes Africa great are the nucleus of who I am and also a driving force behind my current work with Mercy Ships Africa Mercy. 

Today, the Africa Mercy hospital onboard Deck 3 performed it’s first surgery: a two-year-old baby boy with a cleft palate who is undoubtedly first-ranked and one of many more who will receive hope and healing from our non-governmental, charitable organization whose vision is to transform lives one nation at a time and we can’t say it enough: bring hope and healing. We are doing just that, in West Africa, in Senegal, and today was a revelant reminder of the critical work that will be completed in Dakar throughout our field service that spans into 2020. Stay tuned and look for the updates on this surgical milestone. I will update this to direct you to the appropriate site!

As for me, I have been quarantined with a bug of sorts, and my cabin and I have held court together for the past 48-hours. While it is almost over, it has been a timely blessing on the Lord’s part as I have received much needed rest, communed with Him, enjoyed praise music (without earphones!) and of course gained enough strength to do my favorite activity: reflect and write. It’s a horrid photo of me ( I know, I know), but when has a stomach bug ever been kind to a photo’s lens? For me, never. Saturday and Monday. What a difference two days make!

The beautiful part is that I have an abundance of brilliantly, beautiful photos to share that exemplify my earlier Africa affirmations. Friends invited me to the home of a gentle man and a gentleman named “Hussein” whose paths cross our own on a daily basis, both figuratively and literally. An invitation to one’s home and an opportunity to witness hospitality firsthand is an honor unparalled to many, and my barometer stems from special occasions stateside in America to the far reaching corners of the earth: shanty, mansion, subdivision, projects, modest abode. It doesn’t matter. A man’s castle is his home and is to be honored for those whom dwell and the visitor as well.

A taxi ride, one goat, three goats, a horse and carriage and a “bold mama” totin’ a suitcase on her head and a baby upon her back opened the door for all of the imagery to come that day. Only goodness followed, but no more goats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These were the sights, smells, uncomfortable details of an African lifestyle that the Senegelese have grown accustomed to. It’s only foreign to us; their foreign is familiar. I loved seeing the women returning from their Saturday ongoings and chatting about as they traveled respective paths. In a juxtaposed scenic display, there were children whose Saturday plight quite differed from the bicycle riding, scooter races, and cul de sac games my grandchildren in Florida likely enjoyed several time-zones away. Nonetheless, they have each other, and if one picture tells one thousand words, this photo does not tell one million stories about their lives in totality. It is but one moment in time, sans judgment. Where there is dirt, there is destiny, and in the midst of plight, there is power and positivity.

As our walk progressed through winding streets and corridors of homes, I saw the ocean’s mouth ahead of us and was immediately “mouth agape” based upon my own waterfront living comparative to Florida’s Ponte Vedra Beach and Amellia Island.

The Atlantic Ocean’s price tag is a realtor’s dream and a coveted luxury choice to all whom can afford it. In this urban representation, the ocean is home. Waves are their backyard. Sand is the foundation of their castle. The breeze is a soft whistle from Jesus.

Hussein’s home was modern in every facet and quickly conjured a reminiscence of my grandmother’s East 28th street home filled with fancy upholstery sustained by decades, lace doilies situated just so, bric-a-brac hither and there, and a wall filled with photographs and photographs, and photographs that offered homage to uncles of household fame and aunts of distinction. Everyone had a place on the wall, children too, of course. They owned multiple televisions and every young person in residence was manipulating a smart phone!

 

We were fed in a community sense, and prior to, watched a “Sade” concert featuring the legendary sultress herself, portions of a futbol match, a series of Senegelese soulful videos, and talked amongst ourselves to Hussein with intermittent visits from his family. “Theiboudienne” the traditional Senegelese meal of rice and fish was our full entree and while I’d had it twice the week prior at Chez Fatou and a local eatery, nothing is like homecooked “Theiboudienne.” I could eat it every day.

 

Allow me to note that the family ate separate from us, as is custom. As guests, we were given our own community bowl. Following a cold drink and hot tea, we traveled a different route back to the main road that revealed the advanced grasp of urban renewal that Senegal has upheld. More than signs of wonder, there were bulldozers of proof with renderings of work in action instead of mere motives rooted in political deed.  I’ve seen the latter in action and it is a detriment to the people. It’s happening. In and around Senegal and within the confines of Hussein’s own neighborhood, the streets are improving, the housing is soon to reflect infrastructure that is affordable and accessible to all who fall prey to the statistics below which simply got the best of my journalistic pulse. I can’t help myself:

“With almost half of its population living in urban areas, Senegal is ahead of Sub-Saharan Africa’s average urbanization rate of 40%. Senegal’s urban population has almost doubled in the last few decades, rising from 23% in 1960 to 43% in 2013, and is projected to reach 60% by 2030.”  www.blogs/worldbank.org

And this from www.housingfinanceafrica.org 

“…Despite such positive outlook, housing affordability remains limited, given the high price of land, high cost of finance, price speculation and inadequate supply. Speculation becomes very high, especially in Dakar where rent can go up to US$ 2 800. This remains highly unaffordable for a vast majority of the population since about 60 percent of them earn less than US$ 3.10 a day.

However, the situation is changing due to the country’s urbanisation planning, infrastructure programme, various housing projects, and the government social housing programme which set the price of the cheapest house at US$22 598, requiring monthly payments of CFA 88 627 (US$154) for 15 years. Recently the government has initiated other measures to increase housing production, including a Social Housing Guidelines Act, the decree defining social housing, and the Prime Minister’s order establishing approval processes for production by private developers…”

I love growth: in people, in God, in community, in urban development. While Saturday’s experience was about dinner in a home, it fostered an opportunity to both see and appreciate the many sectors of Senegal. Regardless of the urban view, she is beautiful.

Penny Dickerson 2019

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Mercy Ships: navigating ship life.

When one lives onboard a ship, a private moment is coveted, extra sleep is supreme, and the mode of quiet is overrated…at least in my opine.

ShipCan you imagine how vastly different the Mercy Ships mission of hope and healing would be if God gave Mercy Ships founder, Don Stephens, a vision to use hospital ships to transform lives and serve nations in West Africa one at a time, but the crew stayed in condos on the beach? Would our sensibility to remain focused, energetic, and ethically carry-out our jobs be compromised?

As much as I am challenged by the humility and flexibility ship life forces upon me, the end result is that it keeps everyone aligned with the mission: “We follow the 2000-year-old model of Jesus, bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor.” So, now is a good time to bring Jesus into the equation.

cross culturePart of the global allure of serving onboard the Africa Mercy is being part of a community that celebrates unique cultures, and often sub-cultures within those cultures. There are linguistic meetings of the mind around every corner, and each crew member is admirably talented and purposed to serve in their assigned capacity. We are a “God-picked community of good folks.” 

Onboard, we need Jesus in every language and in every culture. If God is not the author of confusion and God owns the cattle on 1,000 hills, then how much more could he give us to sustain ourselves onboard a ship? The problem is not knowing he can give us more, but embracing the challenge to be content no matter your circumstances  (tough one, that one).be content

I have to often remind myself of the power of God, the redemption of Jesus, the Mercy Ships mission, and my purpose therein. I have to constantly remind myself of the fabulous mercy ships website I perused late at night (after night, after night) reading about “ship life” and all the exciting nuances that would come with living in a community of people, some of whom you will be spiritually like-minded and others, you will not. But God is no respecter of persons, so neither do I have a right to be. Right? Onboard the Africa Mercy, we were each “God-picked” for this Senegal season of mission, and yes, some mania too. But it’s okay. Really it is. 

But “man oh, man oh, man oh, man.”

Sometimes, that Jesus thing is hard. Some days, the symbolic “Cross” just can’t overcome there not being a few more cups of java when you need it NOW to make it through your next meeting, and sometimes, every assuring Psalm and New Testament zinger falls short when I am missing home, my daughter’s smile, my mama’s soul food, and my friends. My two older sisters will be peeved if I don’t include them, so: I miss my sisters too (Whew)!homesick

This was a necessary release to circle the block and zoom in on my own behavior. It has allowed me to remind myself that as we have increased the activity of screening patients on the dock, remind yourself of the mission, Penny. Remember your purpose, Penny. Keep your mind on Jesus, Penny.

As hard as it may be (sometimes) ship life onboard the Africa Mercy is far more comfortable and blessed than the impoverished life of those we are serving in Senegal and with that, I’m going to retreat to my own and meditate on those delicate things in life that ship-life sustain me.

Penny Dickerson 2019

Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships.

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Mercy Ships: The Gangway Descend

The relevance of ships in the context of race is not a subject I am ignorant of or prone to avoid. Yet, I have withheld the pen. Yes, I am on a ship, in Africa, and I endured a brief sea-sail to arrive that was a full insult to the dreadful length of the middle-passage. My people, big ships, the sea, conflict, pain, and lack of reparations are as culturally poignant as the Mayflower and pilgrims are to the European holiday-custom that was manufactured to honor thanks.

Today, September 2, 2019, Mercy Ships Africa Mercy welcomed our first patients to the dock for screening. Gone are the long lines of marketing promotion past. Today was dignified. A respectable number of hopefuls huddled together in the name of hope, and they each seemed to harbor a lifetime need for healing. It was culminating, for me. It was surreal, for me. For them, it was a pivotal day of reckoning and an invisible gamble to win an imagined golden ticket or perhaps the strong possibility of leaving empty-handed in the same pool of regret fashioned by an overcast morning wrought with symbolic rain. Continue Reading »

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Mercy Ships Senegal Arrival: “Penny’s Perspective.”

 

As often as we come, we arrive.

The latter is no known, recorded proverb, but it seems appropriate for my inspiration to finally chronicle the Mercy Ships Africa Mercy arrival ceremony in Senegal on August 14, 2019. The Africa Mercy crew is still hyped, so this is the arrival that keeps on giving!

Many of my supporters, friends, and family are not social media aficionados, so my numerous Facebook and LinkedIn posts have escaped their indulgence. This experience could not have been made possible without them, so it is appropriate, albeit one week late, that I invite them to enjoy the celebratory arrival ceremony from Penny’s Perspective.

More honest, there’s a second reason for the pursuit that reveals my inability to just walk away from a work day: I am being held hostage in a cabin by two crutches and a busted up foot! Wouldn’t you blog?penny on crutches

Following a meeting onboard the Africa Mercy with the communications team,  vice-president of global branding Jitze Kramer, global strategist Meg Newell, and global brand campaign director Ruben Plomp, I simply cannot stop thinking about SEO and a writer’s prescribed word count. To challenge myself, this composition is a test. If it fails, at least its at the expense of my own content!  Continue Reading »

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Penny-fly: growth beyond measure

Somewhere on this planet there is a baby photo of me exemplary of what my adult persona would one day become. It is dated and worn, yellowed from too many days relaxed under traveling suns, and each corner is peeled upward to form tiny flags comparative to red flags in life I should have never ignored.

This photo is likely boxed with many other polaroids archived by my mother (or oldest sister), that boast my six-year-old, front tooth gap; the teenaged skinny limbs; the early 30’s slim waistline that hasn’t made an appearance since 1998; and of course a multitude of high school memories that perpetually remind me that being in a marching band saved my life. That singular photo image serves as an apt precursor to how “wide-eyed of a woman” I was destined to become and the many facets of life I would endure, all of which ultimately bourgeoned into a journey that screams resilience, embraces trials, and celebrates triumph with a jubilant smile and robust laugh. That baby photo – where ever it is – most likely serves as the infancy stage of the formation of Penny who is also Merdis who is also, “Penny-fly.” Continue Reading »

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