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.