By Jan Eliot
Stone Soup cartoonist
Since its debut in 1995, my comic strip Stone Soup has grown from 25 newspapers in the U.S. to 250 around the world. When I started the strip, I was a working mother looking for a way to support her kids from home.
Eventually I found myself standing in my studio amazed to see what has come from that dream. A sustainable career doing something I love. Daughters who’ve gone to college and now have families of their own.
Folksinger Susan Werner wrote a song with the line “I’ve got plenty and then some…what shall I do?” As Stone Soup became more successful, I began to wonder if there was a way I could use its success for a higher purpose.
My job is to entertain, but my public position in newspapers is an irresistible soapbox. While it’s definitely not my job to preach, I can certainly create a world within Stone Soup that reflects what I’d like our real world to be: fair, feminist, compassionate, charitable, among other things.
The Stone Soup family includes a middle-school character, Holly. She’s 13 and often fairly self-centered. Once in a while I get irritated with her and decide to create an opportunity for her to stretch and grow. A little awareness of the plight of others is a good thing to give someone who is overly concerned with her own reflection and the contents of her closet.
It was this thinking that led me to send Holly and her sister Alix on a spring-break trip to Southern California. Once there, they discover that it’s not the beach vacation they envisioned. They’ve been conscripted to help on a build. (I know that kids can’t work on build sites, but it’s a comic strip, and I had a point to make.)
Her first day on site, a disgruntled Holly meets another young team member and asks why she’s “Happy to waste a vacation building a charity house for some loser family?” When I first wrote that line, I was afraid it was too harsh. But this was Holly’s opportunity for a lesson, and she soon discovers that the girl is part of the “loser” family. Oops. And while you might chalk that line up to 13-year-old self-importance, there are adults in the world who have on occasion had that very thought.
By the end of the week, Holly is changed forever by her experience and utters the phrase, “Who knew blisters could feel so good?” My sentiments exactly. Every experience I’ve had with Habitat (still too few, more to come) leaves me feeling this way.
Since Holly and Alix Stone’s experience with Habitat, their Gramma Evie has helped build in Uganda and Thailand. I was lucky enough to accompany her there — participating in Habitat’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project in Chiang Mai was an experience I’ll never forget. Two thousand volunteers from all over the world, the wonderful families we were building in partnership with, our amazing Thai hosts, a full neighborhood springing up from bare land.
“Stone soup” is a hearty dish somehow conjured from stones and water. The magic ingredient? Community. To me, that sounds just like Habitat for Humanity.