Coins in the Ashes

Understanding the Importance of Early Childgivers

Joe McHugh

In 2002, Joe McHugh, a writer, musician, and award-winning public radio journalist, set out to find the family of an African-American woman named Helen who cared for him when he was a child and who helped his family survive a terrible tragedy. No one remaining in his family, however, knew Helen’s last name or where she had moved after leaving his home when Joe was five. His only clue was a passing reference to a house fire in a letter written in 1952. His quest took years but against all odds he found Helen’s family. He also learned a great deal about his own family and the vital role caregivers play in the brain development of young children. He even discovered how Helen influenced the style of music he would later love and play.

Multimedia Presentation

Coins in the Ashes is a one-hour multimedia presentation.

Coins in the Ashes is a fascinating and engaging presentation that chronicles this remarkable quest. Drawing upon his skills as a storyteller and musician while using projected images of family photographs, McHugh brings to life the experiences of two unique families, one white and one black, and examines how race and class have influenced families and society in the United States through much of the twentieth century. Coins in the Ashes also explores the mysterious and dynamic role spirit plays in our lives, often through the agency of serendipity, and the painful separation that comes to most of us in the course of time. This is a one-hour presentation.

“First 5 Nevada County is a public commission created to administer tobacco tax dollars set aside for childhood development. We hired Joe McHugh to consult with the Commission on parent education in today’s world. Joe was able to explain cultural norms and changes, while offering innovative strategies that have allowed us to reach and educate the parents least likely to be ‘joiners’ and yet most in need or our services.”

~Jean Soliz-Conklin, Executive Director, First Five Nevada County, Children and Families First Commission