The old saying ‘couples that play together, stay together’ rings true in the case of Carla and Dan Weiss. Carla, a telephone triage nurse for Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics primary care offices, and Dan, a retired guidance counselor and amateur photographer, have enjoyed a recent collaboration on a children’s book called “Denali Visits the National Parks”. Written by Carla, with photos by Dan and illustrations by local elementary school art teacher, Anita Souders, the book is about a dog that visits 11 national parks/memorials and tells about his adventures. The inspiration behind the book’s canine protagonist is a dog of the same name that just happens to belong to the couple’s son.
“The real life Denali has always been very animated and verbal,” said Carla. “It’s like you always know what he’s thinking by the sounds he makes and his facial expressions. I knew he would make a great character.”
To date, Carla and Dan have visited 23 national parks/memorials and chose 11 to feature in the book. Carla purposely designed the book to be interactive after reading articles about parents not being attentive when their child read to them.
“The book was written to be both educational and interactive. It’s unique because it features both photos and illustrations of the parks,” she said. “I was bothered by the thought of adults being distracted by things like their phones when a child was reading to them so I put questions in the book for kids to ask them to ensure they were paying attention.”
The subject of the national parks resonated with Carla as a theme for her book, which is geared to kids in grades 1-4, because she wanted to share with children the beauty of nature.
“When people ask me how I came up with the idea for the book, my response is this was a God-given idea,” she said. “I hope to give honor and glory to God through His beautiful creation. Having visited these awesome places with my husband, I wanted to share them with others.”
In addition to being a nurse and book author, Carla is also part of a number of faith-based missions and volunteer projects. She was recently named Woman of the Year, in the category of faith, by the Summit County Historical Society. Six years ago, Dan and Carla began taking Archbishop Hoban High School students out on Wednesday nights to feed the homeless in downtown Akron through a school service project called Project HOPE.
“We spend an hour preparing hot meals and bagged food and then go out for about 3 hours,” explained Carla. “It’s not just about handing out food – that’s a very small part of it. It’s mostly about spending time talking to people who live on the margins of life and being respectful to someone in spite of what they look like or the clothes they have on. Every person has a story and most importantly, they have a name.”
Carla makes it a point to honor God in whatever she does – whether it’s the prayer shawls she makes for women going through chemotherapy or the praise and worship dances and children’s liturgy programs she coordinates at her church. She and Dan have tried to instill that same sense of service and giving back in their 3 children.
“All 3 of our kids volunteered at Children’s during their high school years and our daughter worked summers at the hospital during college helping coordinate Asthma Camp,” said Carla. “She now works at the Cleveland Clinic in asthma research.”
As for future books, Carla says she hopes to write about more of Denali’s adventures. She may even find inspiration in a trip she and Dan have planned to Alaska in August.
“I want to share the beauty of this country and hope to encourage both adults and children to be active and enjoy the outdoors.”
Over her 39-years in nursing, Carla says she feels humbled to have touched so many lives. She currently works part-time, but even full retirement one of these days will likely not slow her down.
“I want to continue to remain fruitful and productive, not just busy,” she said. “I used to bake chocolate chip cookies for a coffee shop, but had to stop so I could finish the book. I hope to pick this up again soon. It is my grandmother’s recipe and very unique – most people say ‘it’s not just a cookie.’”