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 week...so 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 accomplish...like 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 morning...in the lobby at CityWalk...without any of the rest of us there.
Now that's leadership!
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.