Monday, November 28, 2011

Faith. Pure and simple.

As the pastor read Luke 17 aloud, I saw something I hadn't noticed before. The sermon was on the ten men with leprosy. It was Thanksgiving weekend. The sermon was on being thankful. That's not what I noticed though. Read the scripture below (the underlining is mine).

 11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
 14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

The pastor pointed out that the Samaritan was an outsider. We read that often, right? The story of The Good Samaritan...the thankfulness of the Samaritan. It's pointed out to us, but yesterday it hit me differently. The Samaritan isn't of the faith practice they often refer to in the Bible. The Samaritan is someone different, an outsider, someone that others feel like couldn't possible be as religious and good as they are. As I read that, I thought, "Muslim."

Jesus didn't say, "In spite of you being a Samaritan, I'm going to have mercy on you anyway." He also didn't say, "Now go and become a Christian." He simply said, "Your faith has made you whole." Faith. That's it. 

Sometimes the people we least expect have more faith and believe in Jesus more than we Christians do (I'm sure that might have been painful to was painful the first time I realized it). 

People who are poor...people who are Muslim...people who make bad choices in life...all people of faith. I don't see any conditions here. He simply said "faith." Faith in something greater than themselves. Faith in the power to be healed. He didn't say the guy was less of a person or less deserving because his religion wasn't what the Bible (that would be produced later) would say was the "right" way. 

He acknowledged the man's faith. Now that's the Jesus I know!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Buy one, give one




The older I get, the more I feel the need to have those three things in my life. I'm not a big fan of "things" and I don't feel the need to spend lots of money to keep up with the Jones's or to be in with the most current trends. I had heard about Tom's but had also found them to be more expensive than my budget would allow. Besides, they were ugly!

I am a sucker for comfort, though, and a couple of my co-workers ranted and raved about how much they loved the comfort of their Tom's. I had also heard that Tom's gives away a pair of shoes for each pair purchased. So, when I saw Whole Foods was having a 20% off sale on their Tom's, I decided to invest. They're comfortable, trendy (despite their unattractive nature), *and* on sale. I had to try them.

Two days later, I'm absolutely sold on them--not only because they're so unbelievably comfortable that I keep them on even while I'm sitting around at home, but also because I love their concept. It's a for-profit company with giving built into the original business model. In other words, their charity is sustainable. The founder isn't saying, "If I make over a billion dollars this year, I'll give a few poor kids shoes." The founder isn't saying that he personally has to have X dollars in order to live to his comfort standard. The founder said from the beginning that the whole model would be built on giving away a pair of shoes for every pair sold. I guess he could go back on his word and say he wants all of the profit from those shoes he's giving away, but I don't see that as very likely...or very smart.

I decided to watch the documentary that Tom's encourages you to screen at your home with friends (it's the one at the top of this blog). I love documentaries so I truly enjoy the fact that my shoes are connected with something that is so meaningful and purposeful. Having been to Africa, I witnessed people without shoes who are exposed to the "jigger." You can read more about it and watch a short, but unsettling video of the explanation (scroll to the bottom) here: Many Africans die from jiggers, death which could be prevented.

Though shoes aren't the only solution, people without shoes are definitely more exposed to potential hazards. I am thankful for all of my material and non-material blessings that I'm granted on a daily basis. Hopefully with my new purchase, I can also be thankful that one more child somewhere on another continent is receiving something to be thankful for as well.

Facts from website:
Why Shoes? Many children in developing countries grow up barefoot. Whether at play, doing chores or going to school, these children are at risk:
  • A leading cause of disease in developing countries is soil-transmitted diseases, which can penetrate the skin through bare feet. Wearing shoes can help prevent these diseases, and the long-term physical and cognitive harm they cause. 
  • Wearing shoes also prevents feet from getting cuts and sores. Not only are these injuries painful, they also are dangerous when wounds become infected. 
  • Many times children can't attend school barefoot because shoes are a required part of their uniform. If they don't have shoes, they don't go to school. If they don't receive an education, they don't have the opportunity to realize their potential.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Everyone Deserves a little Cheering

Thanksgiving morning I received a text from my brother telling me that he, his wife, and my 6-year old nephew were getting ready to run a 5K. About an hour later, he sent a text that they had finished 4755th out of 8000. Impressive! :) The really cool thing was, my amazing nephew ran the entire way and they averaged a 12:01 minute mile (yes, even my nephew)! Absolutely amazing.

So, we created this video to congratulate them.

Which then created quite a bit of joy as we all watched it a few times.

As my dad came across the video on his iPad (the tool we used to create the video), his first reaction seemed to be a little annoyed with the fact that we had done something so ridiculous...until he watched the full 9-seconds of cheering...and couldn't help but smile...then push play again...and again...and again...getting tickled and chuckling every time he watched it.

I encouraged my nephew to take his dad's iPhone to school so he could play cheers every time he made an A on a test. (he didn't think that idea would go over too well with his teacher). We used the cheering video to give my 13-year old cousin's magic show the full applause it deserved. We used the video to cheer for people when we won the guys vs. girls game we played.

It makes me smile every time I watch it.

Feel free to play and re-play for yourself as needed. We all need to be cheered for every once in a while!

Note to the actors in the video: I realize that this video could potentially create embarrassment for those of us starring in it; however, it created so much joy, I just had to. :) Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

100,000 Homes Make a Difference

How do we save tax payer's dollars? We provide housing for the most vulnerable and most expensive homeless people.

How do we figure that out? By using a vulnerability index.

The Vulnerability Index is a tool for identifying individuals at risk of dying on the street and prioritizing them for housing. Dr. Jim O’Connell of Boston’s Healthcare for the Homeless conducted the original research on the health conditions of the homeless. He identified eight markers that place the street homeless at a heightened risk of mortality:
  • More than three hospitalizations or emergency room visits in a year
  • More than three emergency room visits in the previous three months
  • Aged 60 or older
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • End-stage renal disease
  • History of frostbite, immersion foot, or hypothermia
  • Tri-morbidity: co-occurring psychiatric, substance abuse, and chronic medical conditions

How does that help? Once people have homes, we can provide the wrap-around, supportive services needed to help them become healthier.

When someone is living on the street, it is much harder to get the services needed. Yes, the same services are available to someone without a home as someone who has a home but access and ability to obtain these services are much harder.

Perhaps someone has a mental issue. They would need a bus pass to get to their mental health provider. Because of their mental health issue, they may qualify for disability. However, because they're on the street, they have no place to receive that check, which could allow them to purchase their bus passes. Since they can't get to their appointments on a regular basis, they also cannot take the medication needed to manage the mental illness. Even if they have the medication, they have no place to store it. Living on the street also makes it challenging to have a set schedule of when, where, or how to take the medication.

The great thing about Housing First is that it offers people a home. It offers stability. It offers services...often right in the building. Many of the barriers are removed simply by housing people and partnering with services to offer some on site. Health can improve because a person now has a place to cook. They have an address where they can receive a check...which may come from tax dollars, but becomes a preventative solution to much bigger, reactive solutions like tax payers paying for 9-1-1 calls and ER visits when they were on the street. It allows them a place to bathe, which then allows people to look for jobs. It allows the mental health stability...sometimes from simply getting off of a stressful street corner...but also because those mental health services are often provided in the building.

Housing First is not a completely do-it-yourself model. There is usually a team of people on-site who help neighbors get connected with the resources they need. They help encourage some to take their medications. They help others look for jobs. Still others, they walk beside as they face their fears of untreated health issues that have developed during their time on the streets.

I'll admit, there is a part of me that is skeptical about paying for housing and services for someone who seemingly doesn't do anything for it. However, the more I get into my job as Director of Community Life at a Housing First model, permanent supportive housing program, the more I realize Tsemberis (founder of Housing First) really was right in his discovery. Not only do people change and improve, we are actually paying LESS to help them move in that direction. It's a win/win for all of us.

You can join the 100,000 Homes movement here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

CityWalk Offers Opportunity for Change

As I've mentioned before, CityWalk is comprised of 200 apartment units. 100 units are reserved for formerly or at-risk of homelessness. The other 100 units are income-based housing where you can't make more than $29,000/year. Part of Community Life's role in that is to ensure that the 100 units of people who are formerly or potentially homeless are moving forward and connecting to the resources they need, whether that be the doctor who visits our building once a week, the mental health services that come every other week, the "Discover You" class, Bible study, cooking classes and cooking socials, Cowboy games, Tenant's Association meetings, etc.
Three months ago, we created a plan for how we would do "case management" (we are working on a better "accompaniment" because people aren't a "case" and we're not lording over them to "manage" them...but right now it's the best we have). We ask people to tell us where they are on 10 aspects of their lives:
Motivation and Taking Responsibility Self-Care and Living Skills Managing Money Social Network and Relationships Drug and Alcohol Misuse Physical Health Emotional and Mental Health Meaningful Use of Time Managing Tenancy and Accommodation Offending
So far, we've met with 38 individuals who are either moving into CityWalk or are already there. That's nearly 40% of our goal, which is exciting!! More importantly than a numbers goal is what I'm learning and noticing as a result of our conversations with people.
As I waited for the next individual to arrive yesterday, I heard voices in the hallway. Conversation. Neighbors talking as they waited for the elevator. I knew at least one of the voices and, about two weeks ago, she wasn't willing to talk to many people. In fact, she seemed rather appalled by the people around her. Now she's participating in events and having conversations at the elevators. People are getting to know one another.
Once the person arrived, I was interested to talk to him. We've had a few incident reports on him, more so when I first got there about seven months ago. More recently, I have noticed he isn't as visible, nor as loud. Over the last few months, I have noticed the reports have decreased on him. I was anxious to get connected with him so we could know him better. He told us about going to school at the local community college and how that is his main focus. He explained that before he arrived at CityWalk, he was selling crack. He had gotten roughed up pretty bad and his parents had helped him get into CityWalk. Having his own place changed everything. He enrolled in school and is completely and totally dedicated to that. He's currently making a 3.8...though he's working to improve that this semester. He still has a beer or two a day, but only after classes are done for the day. He said he learned not to drink before classes after having a drink with his buddy before class and then ended up getting a pop quiz in class where he made a 44%. (I guess that gave him real live proof that alcohol impairs abilities.) He's aware of his triggers and the things that could bring him too much time on his hands and too much money in his pocket.
As we moved to the goal-setting portion, we talked about some things he had mentioned. It's obvious he has already made progress without us, but I was excited to hear him sound excited about working with us as he moved further along in his progression. Though I always speak to him and say hi as we come and go, as I left yesterday evening we had a little more substantial conversation. He said he was really excited about moving forward and having someone to walk alongside him to accomplish that. Then he jokingly (but halfway seriously) challenged me about what my goals were for the weekend and if I was going to accomplish my checklist and goals. I assured him I would try.
I'm excited to say that this weekend I *did* accomplish most of my goals...thanks to him pushing me a little as well. Sometimes that little extra accountability can do wonders. I look forward to telling him about it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hope: Never giving up

 Focus on the video from 6:45-8:45. As I watched this video I thought of our neighbors. I thought of people I know who come to us with that look of having given up hope. I thought of the people who we used to see come into the food pantry with hair uncombed, clothing wrinkled, and appearance unkempt. I thought of how much of a change we saw once people were asked to get involved and volunteer *with* us. I can look back and see the change. Their eyes began to have life. They began to smile more and were friendlier. They took ownership of something and made it great.

 When all odds seem to be against you, it's easy to get beat down and feel like whatever is ahead is impossible. However, hope can be revived. Sometimes that is an internal motivation to refuse to die...sometimes that is an external motivation prompted by someone willing to walk alongside, new friends, new resources, or one little "yes" where they all used to be "no."

What are we going to do to ensure we are not lions but are, instead, helping remove the lions before someone gives up completely?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Stereotypes are Incomplete Stories

Link TV has recently started showing TED Talks. I re-watched the TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie and remembered I had posted it on my blog at one time. Ends up, I posted it almost exactly two years ago. Her talk is important enough to look at and reflect on over and over again. Watching it the second time causes new reflections but I'll just go with I first wrote and let you think about it the way you want. Here is the original post from 11/1/09...

I often wonder why terrorists who fly planes through the Twin Towers cause us to hate and become skeptical of Muslims, but why two White men in the Oklahoma City bombing become two anti-government individuals that have never defined White America.

Listen to Chimamanda Adichie(below) as she describes what hearing a "single story" affected the way she saw her own life...and then her realization of how she looked at others.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Citizenship, Education, and Hope

I love this story. Every child deserves an opportunity. Every child...every person...deserves a reason to have hope.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Religious similarities and Idiosyncrasies

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indecision 2012: Hardcore Sects Edition - Mormonism
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Isn't it funny how 1) our religions are actually pretty similar, 2) we are all uncomfortable with the verses that say we should give our money to the poor and unwilling to acknowledge them?

(Look past the profanity...there's a great message here)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Are my tax dollars being wasted?

Each day I have individual meetings with residents who live at CityWalk, an income-based apartment complex in the middle of downtown Dallas. I visit with people who have very little to their name. I haven't had a person yet tell me that they have over $1000 in assets (one of the questions that's asked on the self-sufficiency calculator we  do with people).

As I find out about people, I have realized that my tax dollars are at work helping people. It's a very meager existence and very challenging to survive on that little, but without it, I can't imagine what would happen to so many. If people have any income at all, it might be disability due to an injury or health condition or it might be social security because they're past their prime of working. The benefits for that *might* be around $500. Many of these individuals receive up to about $200 in food stamps, depending on the situation. Finally, they receive housing (i.e. CityWalk) that allows them to pay 30% of their income instead of rent that would probably be close to double their income if they were living somewhere else.

Receiving $500/month isn't the lap of luxury (and many don't receive even that much). I constantly try to figure out how people survive with even their basic needs on that amount...especially if they have children! I know tax dollars are tax dollars. It's my money providing a "living" (if you can call it that) for someone else. The people I've talked to aren't sitting back and enjoying the good life on your dollar. Much to the contrary. They are working to be content with what they receive, but they're trying to find jobs to supplement...or replace...their current income stream from the government (even though most people who find minimum wage jobs will still need that extra help because it will only replace one of their benefits, but will still leave them in poverty).

The way I see it, each of us pay taxes to do greater good than we could do alone. Yes, someone with little or no income might be exempt or might be paying less than I am. I am ok with that because I recognize that $100 out of someone's paycheck of $500 is much different than $100 out of someone's paycheck of $1500.

Right now, I pay taxes *and* I donate money. If I weren't paying taxes, I honestly doubt my donations would increase very significantly. (just being honest) Instead, I would see that as more money going back into my pocket to spend. Plus, if the money were given back to me, I think I would be overwhelmed with wondering which one person to use my money to offset their rent and food expenses...or wondering if I should, instead, donate $10 here and $10 there to spread it out trying to help everyone...and then wonder if $10 would do any good for anyone. I would much rather the money be taken out of my paycheck each pay period so that I can be sure my small contribution can be put in with everyone else's small (or large) contribution in order to help a much larger constituent of people.

Trust me, I'm not naive. I've been working in the non-profit sector for over 16 years now. I understand that there are those who use the system. It's absurd for me to try to tell you differently. In your volunteer efforts, you will undoubtedly meet the handful of people who may explain to you the benefits they receive, which only ensures you (by their actions and decision making skills) that your tax dollars are being wasted. Let me put that into perspective.

Yes, there are some who receive the benefits and are ok with surviving on the little they receive from us and may even abuse it by continuing to use drugs or something. Those are the most visible examples of our tax dollars being "wasted." I would argue that even those tax dollars aren't being wasted, but that's for a different post.

The thing that I think about when I think about how much my government tax contribution is able to stretch in combination with everyone else in this country are the people who *do* need that extra help.

What would happen to my 55-year old friend who is on disability if he didn't have the assistance? He doesn't have family who can help him because they, too, are working at minimum wage jobs. Where would he live? How would he eat? What would happen if he had a heart attack on the street from his rough life? Would he just die because no hospital would be required to serve him? Who would care?

What would happen to my 32-year old friend who has a 6-year old son? She is constantly looking for a job...any job...but can't seem to find one who will hire her. She wants to go back to school to become a nurse. Without government assistance (i.e. financial aid), that dream would absolutely never be a reality because she has no job to pay for it to help her move further along. What would she eat? How would she feed her child? What happens when she gets some kind of treatable illness (like maybe thyroid issues...or diabetes), but can't take care of them? What happens to her son when she can't care for him any more? How does he (or she) get food? How does she feed her son healthy foods so that he doesn't get diabetes?

For those who want less (even minuscule) government and want people to provide for themselves, I have a hard time believing they have thought through these things and are willing to say, "Let them starve," or "Let them die." If they have and are still willing to say that, I am very concerned about their humanity. Does that kind of cruelty really exist in our country? Surely not. I have to believe that we are not that inhumane.

If my tax dollars can eek out survival for those I just mentioned, I truly am not as concerned about the much smaller but much more visible handful who convince us that our tax dollars are being wasted.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Contemplating Wealth

I just spent a week in Mexico at an all-inclusive resort. I made it through most of the week without thinking about anything except the book I was reading. Those thoughtless moments never seem to last long. By the end of the week, I was back in my processing/thinking/pondering mode. Yes, we had gotten a good deal on an all-inclusive resort...but the bottom line was that I was still spending a lot of money on myself. I tried to think about the fact that Mexico survives on tourism and me spending money there employs quite a few people. That is a true fact. However, I also thought about how much money I spend on myself and how little so many other people make who will never be able to enjoy the luxuries I do.

As I talked to our shuttle driver on the way back to the airport, he explained minimum wage in Mexico. He told me their minimum wage is per day. If you work an eight-hour day, you make $55 pesos. During spring break months (February-March), when he is working 14-16 hours a day, six days/week, they receive $110 pesos/day. I guess that's something like time and a half...except he's not just working 12 hours/day like he explained to me, he may work up to 16! While we were in Mexico, the exchange rate was $12.70. That's $4.33/day...or $8.66/day during the three high season months of spring break! That boggled my mind so I looked it up to make sure I understood him correctly. Yep. Here it is:

A friend of mine suggested maybe that smaller minimum wage was kind of ok because things are cheaper in Mexico. Maybe it's possible to rationalize that but with the amount we had to spend on things, I can't see it. My chair hammock cost me $20. I looked it up online and it would cost $77 here. So, yes, that's a lot cheaper...for me. My guess is it's the tourists and not the locals who are buying hammocks though. I also went out to eat at a local restaurant off the beaten path (not in the tourist area at all). Our meal cost about $30 (USD) for three of us (with tip). We each had a regular plate of food and a soda (one person had a beer instead of a soda). For someone in Mexico, that one meal would be two and a half days of work!

I mentioned the Mexican minimum wage to a friend of mine. He was just as baffled as I was. He said he wished more people realized how minuscule their wages are. He believed if they did, they would tip more. I'm not so sure. When I was in college, I took a mission trip to Africa. I remember the missionaries there telling us, "People only make about 75 cents/day so when you go to the market, don't let them fool you and talk you into paying more." It made sense to me at the time. I guess the rationale was to not throw the economy off by doing something like tripling or quadrupling someone's wage or lifestyle by being a clueless American tourist. I'm not so sure that rationale makes sense to me now. Why not pay for the services rendered and tip them adequately and why barter them down to nothing since they're barely surviving anyway? Why is the goal, in a third world or lower income country, for us to see how low we can bargain people down on their prices when the price is already cheap for us anyway?

When someone is making $4.33/day in a country we don't consider third world, is it any wonder why they might want to cross the border and hopefully do better for their family? Is it any wonder why Mexican people are willing to work the jobs no one else does in our country...even if they were engineers, attorneys, and business owners in their own country? We are willing to take advantage of what they offer us in their country. Why aren't we willing to return that favor by welcoming them into ours? It seems like a double standard to me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What is hope?

When I started working at CityWalk, I was still sad over losing our education program at Roseland. Working with kids providing me such hope. I loved seeing the gears turn in little brains and I loved watching lightbulbs go on when they figured out something new. As they grew up and went through high school and then college, they couldn't always identify why they did what they did but I know that some of the now young adults who are majoring in political science or communication once went through our summer program where they were introduced to politicians and exposed to civil rights. I know that the young adults who went on to become educators were once teachers in our summer and after-school programs. I could see the connections and knew what we did was impacting lives.

That reality has been much harder for me to see at CityWalk. All I could see were the adults who didn't have jobs or who struggled because they didn't have the education and skills needed as a child...things that we were providing in our after-school and summer programs. All I could see were mental health, substance abuse, and the inability to interact with people appropriately...and all I knew was that I didn't have the knowledge or resources to help them. Don't get me wrong, I knew and have always known that the majority of people are great people who are struggling. I just had a hard time seeing that we, the Community Life team, were any more than a group that provided activities to make the residents of CityWalk more comfortable and make life more enjoyable in spite of their circumstances.

Over the last couple of months, my mindset has shifted. I took a trip to Common Ground in New York to see their permanent supportive housing, the original pattern for CityWalk. I met with Roseanne Haggerty, the founder, and received some tips. I learned that case management, despite my past 16 years of trying to deny my social work background, was crucial to helping people improve their life. I came back and began working toward implementing the new ideas.

We put into place a system that uses the Self-Sufficiency Calculator to assess income and expenses and helps us identify other resources that might be available to people--like SNAP (food stamps), TANF, child health insurance, free phone, and other resources. We use this as a tool to help people shift their resources and begin to become more self-reliant. For example, if someone is paying $43 for a Metro PCS phone, they can apply for the free phone. They have to limit their talking to 250 minutes/month and no text messages, but they free up $43, which can now be used toward bus passes to help them look for a job or get to work. If they apply for and receive food stamps, they can purchase healthier food for their children that then allows their child's brain to develop better and allows them to focus more in school. We help them shift their resources and problem solve how to best capitalize on and utilize those resources.

The second thing we do with each resident/neighbor is the Outcomes Star. This is a tool that allows us to start the conversation with people about where they are on motivation and taking responsibility, self-care and living skills, managing money, social networks and relationships, drug and alcohol misues, physical health, emotional and mental health, meaningful use of time, managing tenancy, and offending. This is an opportunity to ask people, "Where do you think you are on this?" and starts a conversation that allows them to tell us without us making any judgment calls or assumptions. Once a person starts talking, we are able to think about resources, programs, and events that they may be able to access.

Enter: Hope.

After meeting with around 30 CityWalk neighbors over the past few months, I am beginning to see how hope can take over. Yesterday we met with one of our neighbors who had missed two of our appointments previously. Admittedly, I was frustrated with his lack of follow through. We had a cancellation, though, so we worked him in. I could sense his resistance when we first sat has also happened with a few other people. (no one wants to be "case managed") As we started the conversation, he insisted that he was at a "10" on each item we discussed...yet, he had no job, no income, and was struggling to stay in school because he had no bus pass to get there. The more we talked and gently redirected him to examine the "3" or "4" rating based on different conversations we'd had with him, he began to agree...until he, at one point frustratedly explained, "I'm stuck! Yeah, I'm just stuck!" It was at that point, I felt like, we were able to help him connect to the resources we had to offer.

Sometimes those meetings frustrate me, too. I don't have any jobs to give. I can't fix a childhood of inadequate education. I don't have money to pay rent or a childcare center that offers free daycare. But what's happening is once people tell us more about themselves, we are able to connect them with some resources that are at the root of their problems. For some who don't have access to health care, that has been the free medical resources available in the building through a doctor who comes once a week. For others, it's the Metrocare mental health services that can also be accessed within the building (instead of having to figure out transportation across town) to help with the depression that has set in. We are able to connect people to our bible studies, game days, and community meetings and, thus, connect them to each other. We are able to converse about adult literacy issues and how we can help them walk through that process. We are able to advocate with and for them on issues that have gotten so overwhelming and frustrating that they have nearly thrown up their hands and quit trying.

A person may originally agree to meet with us thinking that if they do they will get their rent paid. However, after sitting with us for a while, they walk out without any money in hand, but with a hope that they now might have medical care, friends, productive ways to spend their time, and the connections needed to help them move forward and at least get them started.

What is hope? defines is as, "the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best."

Hope is a start. Hope is the ability to look toward something. Hope is looking at my checklist in life and beginning to work through the small things in order to prepare me for the big things. Hope is knowing I'm not a lost cause.

Hope is CityWalk.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wham! Bam! Islam!

As I flipped through my DVR'd shows to find something to watch, I saw that I had a new PBS Independent Lens episode. These days I mostly look for lighter shows...something I can veg while I usually skip over the Independent Lens recordings. However, the Wham! Bam! Islam! title caught my eye.

I watched, intrigued by the efforts of an Islamic man who has/is creating superheroes and role models that allow kids (and adults) to reframe what we've come to believe is the crux of Islam. "The idea was to offer new role models of superheroes born of Middle East history and Islamic archetypes that possess values shared by the entire world."

The TED video (above) talks about how the superheroes we all ascribe to in the United States (Superman, Batman, Spiderman) stemmed from religious origins related to the Christian faith. Naif Al-Mutawa wanted to do the same with Islam. Creating Islamic superheroes will hopefully do a few things...shift our understandings to the true focus of Islam, help us to see how basic human values cross all cultures, and help us envision brown people as superheroes instead of villanizing brown people in our society and creating unfounded fears.

The website offers a free, downloadable comic book. I struggled with the names and certain references as I read through it. Some of the concepts went over my head. I want to double check the concept with some of my Islamic friends, but my guess is that the words and references in the comics make perfect sense to those who came from an Islamic background. Maybe it's time for the rest of us to move away from our own ethnocentricity, step out of our own comfort zone, and attempt to understand history and beliefs that are much like our own, but with a different heritage. I know it would be of benefit to me to read these comics and begin to gain an understanding of the story line, if for no other reason to be able to have more knowledge about a culture that is very foreign to me, yet one that has had amazing influence in our current society.

We are in a place in our society where I have no doubt that our conversations about Islam in our American society will continue. As we make judgments about the religion and the people who ascribe to it, it is only fair to have both sides of the story...just as those of us who are Christians hope people look at both sides of the story when people like the Norwegian man write 1500-page manifestos using his Christian faith as justification.

You can find more info in the New York Times article.

Here's a free sample comic book: The 99: Origins.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Life After Prison is Hard

I haven't written in a while...and this is not originally what I had planned to post on my first blog back. But, I "friended" one of my "kids" on Facebook when I saw that he made a comment on his brother's page. I haven't talked to him in quite some time. After he accepted my friendship, he wrote and asked me how I was doing. I gave him a quick response and asked about him. This is what I received in return:

Well i just relized... life as an adult is hard. I so missed the days at camp and comin to ur house to play around.everything now is just so complicated u know.i went to the pen. For sellin drugs. Did 3 & a half years. Now im out.have been 4 about 2 months and lookin 4 work. Its so hard u know.ur suppose to come out with this view of how the world is so beautiful and anything is possible when thats not the way it is at all. I want 2 work and no one will let me when i didnt want 2 work everyone offered me jobs!! For the first time since i was a kid im strugglin. I dont know what to do.i do know that if i return to my old methods of gettin money i will make plenty but at what most days i pray until i cant knees hurt and other days i think until my heart hurts.but pain is growth so im growin.but im bleesed and i know this just waitin 4 my miracle.and im full of joy it may not sound like it but i am. Ive seen a lot and didnt close my eyes heard a lot expanded my mind hurt a lot but grew stronger with time
He is probably in his mid-20s now. He grew up with a mother who was always either strung out on drugs, looking for drama, or looking for the next way to get drugs. He was raised by his dad. I don't know the full extent of his environment there, but I know it wasn't probably the best or easiest home situation either.

It is because of people like him that I feel second chances are important. It's because of statements like these that make me realize that being a part of a system that does everything in it's power to prevent people from voting, getting a job, living in an apartment, isn't a just system. It doesn't mean that after 15 years of doing the wrong thing, he would all of a sudden be the perfect citizen. But when he has paid his dues as deemed by the courts, he should at least get an opportunity to try to do it right. Unfortunately, our system makes it extremely hard to do that.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Child's Survival Three Years Later

Once a year, a friend of mine gives me a set of four tickets to the Texas Rangers baseball game. The seats, which are are not too far behind home plate and slightly down the first-base line are pretty cool and allow for a great, up-close view of the field. Though I have taken friends in the past, a lot of times my friends could really care less about baseball and are just there because I asked them to go. I would much rather take a kid or teenager who can enjoy a new experience and learn about the sport I grew up loving.

At the last minute, I had one ticket left and I thought to ask Aaron (not his real name) a 9-year old whose mother was killed three years ago. I hadn't spent time with him in quite a while and I thought a baseball game would be perfect.

As soon as I got to his house, he bounded out and gripped me in a strong, tight hug saying, "I missed you!!" We hurried into the car, hoping to get there in time to see Dirk throw out the first pitch. As we drove, Aaron talked non-stop. He told me that science is his favorite subject, that he was now doing martial arts a lot and has a purple belt, that his sister was home (she's stayed with her dad ever since her mother's death), that he's no longer in football, that he has a Big Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters, and that he gets in trouble because the teacher thinks it's always him causing the problems, but the teacher gets him confused with another boy in the class (which I thought was a very amusing way of looking at it!).

As we walked to the ballpark, he would periodically grab me to give me a big hug saying, "I miss you so much!" While we were in the seats, he put his arm around me and told me, "I just want to stay like this for a little while." When I told him I appreciated the hug but couldn't take the heat with him leaning on me, he responded with, "Yeah, I know. I'm hot, too. So just for one more minute...maybe less...and I'll be done."

Aaron has always been a hugger. He's also always been one to get in trouble and to be incredulous when you discipline him for something. He's always been active. And he's always very well behaved and listens well when we're together one-on-one. Tonight was no different...or so I thought.

We watched the game, tried to catch foul balls, and got fries after the 7th inning stretch. As the game was about to be over, Aaron turned to me and said, "I'll never forget this night," in his always very appreciative manner. He told me, "I know I won't see you again for a long time and I'm going to miss you soooo much!! I already know!" which drew a kind smile from the lady below us.

At the end of the game, we realized it was a fireworks night at the ballpark...and the Rangers have the best fireworks shows! So, excited to see it myself and to share it with the kids who were with me, I called their parents/grandparents and we stayed.

The fireworks show lasted about 20-30 minutes. We sang along with all of the current songs they played and bee-bopped in our chairs. I noticed Aaron had gotten really still. As the lights came back up, I looked over at him and his eyes were glossy with tears. I asked if he was ok. He said he was sad. He said he was thinking about his mom. My heart clenches and my eyes fill with tears thinking about it. He was six when he lost her. Three years later, he still longs for her presence.

As I reached out for him, he burst into tears. I had too much stuff in my lap. The seats were between us. I hugged him for a minute, but wanted to pull him closer and let him cry. By the time I emptied my lap and was ready to take him into my arms, he had composed himself.

I wanted to hold him. I wanted to let him cry. I wanted to be there for him if only for a minute. But he's a strong kid. He pulled himself together and showed no sign of breaking down again. It wasn't a toughened approach. He simply pulled himself together. He knew what he was feeling. He just wasn't crying about it. It breaks my heart to think he couldn't and probably won't ever get to empty himself of all of his tears.

As we walked up the stairs, he turned to me, "I'm sad." I asked if he wanted a hug and he nodded. I gave him a huge big it lifted him off the ground and carried him up a couple of stairs. He laughed and told me he could top that and proceeded to squeeze me beyond a 9-year old's strength. We laughed a little more but as we continued walking to the car, he told me a few more times that he was thinking of his mom.

I told him that my best friend lost her mom when she was nine and she's now 39 and she still thinks about her mom all of the time. (You can read her reflection about her mom here.) I wanted to comfort him, but didn't know how. He often says some violent things and referred to them then as he angrily talked about the "stupid idiot" who shot his mother. I wanted to agree with him, but tried to do it in a way that encouraged him to re-direct his anger in a way that wasn't violent so he could help other kids when he grows up.

Once in the car, he continued to tell me some things and I felt like if we spent more time together, he may confide in me more...which actually scares me a little since I don't know that I have the skills to deal with all that goes on in his mind. He talked about seeing his counselor each week, but I'm not sure he feels the same confidence in a counselor as he does in an adult who used to be his mom's friend.

I don't know how to help him. I know I need to spend more time with him. I know I need to love him. I know from his willingness to confide in me that he wants to talk about it. I want others to know him, too. I want his teachers to b able to act and re-act accordingly...without lowered expectations.

He lives with his granny and has an unwavering love and appreciation for her. But he still needs to feel the unconditional love that only a mother can give. I want him to know that her love is inside of him, even though I know that knowledge can't fill the void. I want him to feel complete so that he can grow and develop and be everything he ever or she ever wanted him to be.

I know there are other Aaron's all around me...and my prayers go for them as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Perfect Teacher

I often get frustrated about our education system. I am bothered by what our kids are forced to learn and what they aren't learning. I hate that kids miss out on so much experiential, meaningful learning because of the multiple choice bubbles they have to learn to fill in.

Reading this essay from Larry James' grand daughter gave me so much hope. My hope is that every teacher who reads this realizes what is important and meaningful to children and what even 3rd graders recognize is important to making our world a better place.

The Perfect Teacher
By: Gracie Toombs

There are many kinds of teachers. Some tall, some small. Some Teachers just speak matter of fact like. Some teachers just Teac the way Textbooks tell them to. But the best teacher’s lessons don’t come from a textbook. Her lessons come from her heart. If you were uneasy, mad or sad—the perfect teacher comforts you. She loves each and every child for who he or she is. This year, I am one of the 21 fortunate third graders who are in her class. I like all teachers, but this year, she has stood out to me. She opened up her heart to every student in my class. She has taught us sooo much this year. Sure, she’s taught us reading and math. But that’s not the most important thing. She has taught us about protests in the middle east and the struggle in Japan and how it effects us. For black history month, she had us memorice speeches about Seggregation and Women’s rights. While the other classes were just reading from textbooks, we were there—at theose freedom marches and protests. For earth day, We helped the world by making New paper from recycled paper. We also planted sprouts, While all the other classes jus colored bookmarks. We gave water to people in Africa through The water She has taught us life skills: kindess, love, Peace, organization, and sefl esteem. But those aren’t the most important thing she did for us. She has told us to stand up to injustice, that we could be anything we wanted, and the we can change the world. But it is not us. It’s her. The other classes may say they learn more then us but you can go up to any one of them and ask them about protests in the middle east, or the struggle in Japan or about changing lives in Africa or about life skills or about standing up for what we believe in and trust me, They won’t know as much as WE do. Sometimes it only takes ONE TEACHER tho change the whole world. And that teacher is my third grade teacher MISS CORNETT.

note: All writing and spelling was typed in just as Gracie had it on her paper.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Beware of Typos!

One of my big pet peeves is seeing grammar mistakes in professional arenas...whether that's billboards, websites, books, signs, menus, etc. It makes me wonder about the quality of the organization or company behind it. Do they not have spell check? Are they not competent enough to know they missspelled? If that company is willing to put something out without checking it, should I frequent that business? It makes me question their quality and truly turns me off. One of my friends and I call it PDI (Public Display of Incompetency).

Of course, I realize it makes me more susceptible to critique as well. But, personally, I would much rather someone tell me I have a grammar error so I can correct it and learn from it...and hopefully not do it again. So, when I saw these guys going across the country correcting, it made me smile. Maybe I can get my own correction kit the next time they're in town selling their book.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Do you have good religion?"

Ever since reading The Children, by David Halberstam, I've been a huge fan of Rev. James Lawson. (Did I mention huge?? Completely in awe of him, might be more accurate.) So, I was excited when I got to church last Sunday and noticed that he was the scheduled preacher of the day. As expected, he did not disappoint.

"Do you have good religion?" he started. The topic already interested me.

"I know God has a hand on my life, but I have questions about what religion has convinced me to believe," he continued. I'm quickly getting sucked in and started wondering, "How is he going to break this down...and what is he going to say that I can apply to my life?"

It was very apparent to me that Dr. Lawson doesn't live in his Civil-Rights-hero past. He is very much in the present. However, to illustrate his point, he told about his experience on the Freedom Ride. He explained that during the stop where they were beaten and then arrested and put in jail, they experienced a lot of hatred and terrible actions. While in jail, they dealt with one guard in particular who was terribly abusive. Yet, even while experiencing the hatred and evil that came from him, Dr. Lawson recognized, "This man is a neighbor according to Jesus."

Wow. My faith just came alive again! All of a sudden, I had a new realization of what I do and why I do it! In the incidents I briefly explained in my last post, the drug dealer is a neighbor. The guy who was so "out there" on drugs that he traumatized several people is a neighbor. The guy who jumped me a few years ago for a few dollars is a neighbor.

Dr. Lawson went on to explain how they approached the situation in the jail cell. "We will try to treat that man the way he did not treat himself," he told everyone and then explained to the guard, "You are still a child of God and we will still treat you as our neighbor."

Again, wow. That is powerful stuff!

And what was the result of their actions? 


Did it work for everyone? No. Was it over night? No. Is racial reconciliation perfect today? No. But by approaching everyone as a child of God, what Dr. Lawson realized was that, "We have the opportunity to help our neighbor and to help them come alive--NOT by asking them if they have been saved!"

Dr. Lawson realized that the most powerful way to demonstrate Christ is not to ask if they've been saved or to work on "saving" them. After all, we can't save someone else, anyway, can we? The most powerful demonstration of Christ is to treat the person like a neighbor who doesn't even treat himself that way.

Our world is different today because of what people like Dr. Lawson did back then. How can I do my part today to make the world different for the generation behind me? The lesson is no different and it is no small statement.

Treat even the seemingly most "untreatable" as my neighbor.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

"I bet that's a rewarding job!"

Often, when I tell people that I work for CitySquare, a non-profit, and explain the job I do either with kids or adults, a pretty common response is, "I bet that is such a rewarding job!"

Ninety percent of the time I whole-heartedly agree. It is a very rewarding job in many senses. However, what I often think people who say that have no idea of the challenges, time, and effort that it takes to get to those "rewarding" moments.

This has been one of those weeks where I believe there is no executive that has as much emotional and physical involvement in their work to deserve their million dollar salaries...and that if our society is to work, we truly should tip it on it's head. The people in direct service to the community deserve the million dollar salaries and the execs sitting in their comfortable, air conditioned offices dictating what happens so that they can increase their bottom line (i.e. their pockets) should be the ones making the salaries well under $100K. (And if any execs are out there reading this, I only half-heartedly apologize.). If you know me, I'm not a money person at all...and I don't think that upping our salaries would change anything about what we do. But the way we value people in "high places" is so absolutely backward!

But back to my week...

I always hesitate to tell anyone about the challenging side of my job because I know these one-time events usually create defining moments for people who like to tell others about why they don't live in low-income communities and why they're so scary. So, just to put perspective here, I have been at CityWalk for three months now and it has been a pretty calm community from everything I've been a part of. On the flip side, Keller, TX (a very wealthy suburb) recently had a fatal stabbing right in the middle of a street just last craziness happens everywhere...and drugs are irrespective of neighborhoods...and affect everyone around them. I could go on about the comparisons, but I'll save that for another post.

This week started by events that led to an intervention with a drug dealer/user who was conning people for money. I knew the dealer fairly well (though didn't realize he was dealing...or using). As that situation grew, I then ended up working to calm the people he had conned from doing harm to him, potentially causing them to risk their own housing and well-being. Later in the week, we were forced to confront a very serious situation where several people were nearly physically harmed and definitely emotionally harmed because of a man who decided to use a substance much more serious than alcohol or marijuana. There was definitely more to that situation and to the week, but I don't have the energy to retell it all. Just know it was a physically and emotionally challenging week.

As I ranted to a friend about my physically and emotionally trying week I became even more overwhelmed and more emotional when I realized that none of it included the regular job duties I still have to outcomes reports, grant reports, managing new interns, getting our webpage ready, and so much more that seems so trivial in the whole scheme of things, but that becomes so much more important to someone who wants to know what we're accomplishing. So, even though this week and these situations have brought out my own realizations of vulnerabilities that I need to process and deal with, by Monday I still have to get together those reports for the other entities involved.

Working "on the ground" is not for everyone. Events like those that have happened this week remind me  that good intentions, a soft heart, and a giving spirit is not enough...and not necessarily what our communities need. We must have a strong commitment to spotting leadership and working with people to equip them with the resources they need to fulfill their goals. We must believe in creating safe communities with and for the people in those communities as much as we want them for ourselves. We must listen to our neighbors to know which systems and activities in the community need to be challenged. We must work with them and for them to challenge broken systems that are in place...despite the resistance that I promise you will face if you are fighting with and for people in poverty. We must create relationships with all people so that those who have been hurt so long can trust us and those who are hurting themselves will understand that we have such a love and concern that we are here to help when they get ready...though also letting them know that may not mean they get to be a part of our stuff in the meantime. For some, we have to remove them from our programs until they are ready so that their behaviors don't hinder the majority who simply need resources, information, and guidance, and are so ready to access what is available. We must realize coddling and charity doesn't help long term progress.

After weeks, days, and/or moments like I've had this week, I could give up. I haven't quite felt like that, but I have contemplated getting to my bed, pulling the covers over my head, and curling up in a fetal position. First hand experience with these incidents definitely makes me realize how messed up our world is. It makes me realize how little I am in this world. I've had moments of being extremely irritated at God for this stupid idea of "free will." But these moments also makes me pray, reflect, and refocus.

Every time stuff like this happens, though, I am always reminded of the rest of the people in the community who have no choice but to deal with those kinds of things on a more regular basis than I do because of their income...because of the broken systems...because of their lack of connections.

It is because of them, I see hope.

This morning when Mr. McCoy's name popped up on my phone, I was very tempted not to answer. Yet, when I did, he simply wanted to know the time for the Financial Education classes that are starting in a few weeks. He and Ms. Leslie (who have already graduated from the class) are recruiting people...on a Saturday the lobby at CityWalk...without any of the rest of us there.

Now that's leadership!

That's progress!

That demonstrates what our community is all about.

That defines our community.

And that is what keeps me going.

It's the Mr. McCoy's and Ms. Leslie's of our community (and there are a lot of them) who deserve a safe community with lots of opportunities and activities. Because of them, this tough week is just a fading spot on the radar.

They are the reason I continue.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Write, children, write!

This week is the last week of our Education programs at CitySquare. Not just for the school year...but this time it's forever. Forever sounds so long and final, though. So, I refuse to believe that something else won't come along where we will be able to have a big impact on kids again. I simply refuse.

Regardless, though, for this season what we've done with children, teens, and college students comes to a close. It seems like things keep cropping up that make me realize why I love working with, being around, admonishing, and celebrating children...youth...young people.

As I watched Jill Scott do her poetry in this video, her piece about children particularly moved me (2:07-4:39). I pray that every child I've ever known and those I haven't will follow her pleading. Our kids have so much to say. We need to encourage them to write...for themselves...for us...for the world...for the youth around them that don't know to write...for the youth who will come behind them. Our kids have so much to say. Our kids have so much to say! I pray they all come in contact with at least someone who will convince them of how much they have to say and how important it is. And I pray we listen.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Tenderloin National Forest

I love anything that demonstrates true community spirit...something that develops from the approach to build on the richness that already exists in our low-income communities...exists to build on that richness...and adds more life to the community.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Woodcutter's Wisdom

I've always liked this story. It keeps me humble when I have a good day where I might get too excited about how things are going or a bad day where I might get frustrated about everything that's happening.

The Woodcutter's Wisdom

by Max Lucado
Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village. Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse. Even the king coveted his treasure. A horse like this had never been seen before—such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength.

People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused. “This horse is not a horse to me,” he would tell them. “It is a person. How could you sell a person? He is a friend, not a possession. How could you sell a friend?” The man was poor and the temptation was great. But he never sold the horse.

One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable. All the village came to see him. “You old fool,” they scoffed, “we told you that someone would steal your horse. We warned you that you would be robbed. You are so poor. How could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal? It would have been better to have sold him. You could have gotten whatever price you wanted. No amount would have been too high. Now the horse is gone, and you’ve been cursed with misfortune.”

The old man responded, “Don’t speak too quickly. Say only that the horse is not in the stable. That is all we know; the rest is judgment. If I’ve been cursed or not, how can you know? How can you judge?”
The people contested, “Don’t make us out to be fools! We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed. The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse.”

The old man spoke again. “All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone. The rest I don’t know. Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say. All we can see is a fragment. Who can say what will come next?”

The people of the village laughed. They thought that the man was crazy. They had always thought he was a fool; if he wasn’t, he would have sold the horse and lived off the money. But instead, he was a poor woodcutter, an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest and selling it. He lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty. Now he had proven that he was, indeed, a fool.
After fifteen days, the horse returned. He hadn’t been stolen; he had run away into the forest. Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him. Once again the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke. “Old man, you were right and we were wrong. What we thought was a curse was a blessing. Please forgive us.”

The man responded, “Once again, you go too far. Say only that the horse is back. State only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge. How do you know if this is a blessing or not? You see only a fragment. Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of a phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?

“Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word. All you have is a fragment! Don’t say that this is a blessing. No one knows. I am content with what I know. I am not perturbed by what I don’t.”

“Maybe the old man is right,” they said to one another. So they said little. But down deep, they knew he was wrong. They knew it was a blessing. Twelve wild horses had returned with one horse. With a little bit of work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money.
The old man had a son, an only son. The young man began to break the wild horses. After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs. Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments.

“You were right,” they said. “You proved you were right. The dozen horses were not a blessing. They were a curse. Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you. Now you are poorer than ever.”

The old man spoke again. “You people are obsessed with judging. Don’t go so far. Say only that my son broke his legs. Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse? No one knows. We only have a fragment. Life comes in fragments.”

It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country. All the young men of the village were required to join the army. Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured. Once again the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken. There was little chance that they would return. The enemy was strong, and the war would be a losing struggle. They would never see their sons again.

“You were right, old man,” they wept. “God knows you were right. This proves it. Your son’s accident was a blessing. His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you. Our sons are gone forever.”

The old man spoke again. “It is impossible to talk with you. You always draw conclusions. No one knows. Say only this: Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not. No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse. No one is wise enough to know. Only God knows.”

The old man was right. We only have a fragment. Life’s mishaps and horrors are only a page out of a grand book. We must be slow about drawing conclusions. We must reserve judgment on life’s storms until we know the whole story.

I don’t know where the woodcutter learned his patience. Perhaps from another woodcutter in Galilee. For it was the Carpenter who said it best:

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matthew 6:34)
He should know. He is the Author of our story. And he has already written the final chapter.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

A Portrait of Christ

A Portrait of Christ from Jeremy Cowart on Vimeo.

What does Christ look like? Is Christ male? What ethnicity?

All of these questions were very cut and dry for me as a child. It wasn't that anyone told me those answers, necessarily. We just knew. He's male. He's white. He has long, brown hair.

This video is a much better representation to me of who Christ really is. Christ is not a he or a she. Christ cannot be limited to a pronoun. Christ is Christ. Period. Christ represents us. And in representing us, Christ is a combination and compilation of every single person, no matter what color of skin, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic level, region of the world, etc.

I love that thought.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Getting rid of Stigma

I've mentioned that I love working at CityWalk@Akard. The diversity is amazing. To me, CityWalk is an ideal community because of it's diversity...something the large majority of communities don't have.

Ethnicities ranging from White to Black to Asian to African to Hispanic? Check.

Education levels from low adult literacy levels to college degrees? Check.

Talents from musicians to engineers to aspiring attorneys to nurses? Check.

Multiple socioeconomic levels...and multiple stages of life? Check.

Older, retired and/or disabled as well as young kids? Check.

It's a neat community to meet and connect with people. Every person I have met so far is trying to do matter what their situation. They're trying to help out, earn more money, manage what they have, get involved, build their community...

Yet, the part I hear a lot of people focus on most is, "So there are homeless people?" Sometimes it is said with the best of intentions. The person saying it seems to be excited that there are homeless people that can be "helped." Other times, it is a frustration by someone who maybe has moved into the building unaware that there are "homeless" people who also live there.

First of all, let's get one thing straight...

Someone who has a home is no longer called "homeless!"

Second of all...

"Homeless" does not equal "dumb," "irresponsible," "addict," "crazy." Homeless is just that... HOME-LESS..."One without a home."

A person who was teaching one of our classes the other day made a statement that truly bothered me. The person seems to be a truly wonderful person...and has done a great job with the class. As the class got started, the instructor explained to a new observer of the class, "These people are really smart!" and went on to say, "I don't know why they live here." More than a little offended at a comment that seemed to imply they didn't think the participants would be that smart and shouldn't have to live in a place like CityWalk if they were, I quickly responded with, "Because they want to!" Now, I know that this person did not intend any harm in that statement. In fact, this same person had even expressed the desire to move into the apartments themselves (I assume they were serious).

So how can I explain what we have at CityWalk and in many of our low-income communities?? Allow me to try...

Yes, some of the people who live at CityWalk are fighting addictions. Some are working on stabilizing their mental illness (which is fine once they can access and stay on the right kind of medication). Some are trying to overcome debt that has accumulated over the years. Some have health problems that exacerbated when they were on the street...or in an apartment that cost way more than they could afford because of their small income and, therefore, their health care took the cut instead.

I can't understand why these things are met with paternalism, condescension, or stigma. Yes, sometimes people have messed up. Other times...and for some people, that messing up has been entirely out of their control. CityWalk is and should be a place where anyone can come and be around "family" no matter what their situation.

I know rich people who have mental illnesses. The only difference is that they have a support system around them to help them take their medications on time and ensure they are as well as can be.

I know people of all ethnicities and socioeconomic levels who don't manage their money well and would be better off having taken our YWCA Financial Education class.

I know stubborn people of all sectors who refuse to see doctors when they should...and sometimes make things worse as a result. The only difference is that they have the insurance and money to pay for the care once they get to that point.

I know people in my own family who have used drugs and even got busted. They, too, had some tough life situations that led them down that path. The ultimate difference? They had a family structure with enough connections and credibility to keep them out of jail and help them feel loved and supported until they could turn their situation around.

The people at CityWalk are no different than any other place!

The only difference is that at CityWalk we are working to create a community and help build a support system for anyone who lives there. Oh wait...there is one other difference. The other difference is that at CityWalk, life is more visible. People are willing to admit that they need help...or maybe they're just not willing to cover up something that we've always tried to tuck away so that no one sees (like mental drug financial insecurities). And it's a vertical community so it's kinda hard to enjoy a few beers on your front porch without it getting attention. People see and hear everything you do because you are in a vertical apartment complex.

My frustration with the comments and the stigma people place on CityWalk is that there are still people who live in CityWalk who aren't willing to be vulnerable yet. They are trying to overcome different situations. They may not be as secure about who they are and where they are in life. They do not want or need any more stigma on their life. They have endured enough. They deserve that space...and they deserve the dignity and respect of others who don't patronize or talk down to them...which makes it much harder to suck up that pride.

It is for them that I ask people to please stop stigmatizing!! Please stop referring to people with homes as "homeless." Please stop snidely talking about those with drug addictions and, instead, talk with them (you'll find that they have similar interests and ambitions as you do!). Please stop rolling your eyes at and being scared of people who talk to themselves and, instead, learn more about their some research...attend some workshops...and learn how you can support the numerous people in our communities who are affected by these illnesses.

In my mind, what makes an ideal community ideal is when all of God's people...with all of our perfections, flaws, talents, and idiosyncracies...are all in one place and we love each other because of and in spite of them. That is CityWalk!