Monday, March 28, 2011

The Wisdom of Harriet Corn

Somebody, not Oscar Wilde, but somebody once said, "Our lives are the sum total of our experiences." But it's not the experiences. It's the people. Not just the ones in our lives, but those who play through. The Amanda's. The Marty's. All the fly-by, small, but rich relationships. Sometimes they're the most special of all. It's why we always promise to keep in touch. If only we did...if only we did.

~Harriet Corn, Harry's Law

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Meet CityWalk

I met Annice and her girlfriend at the first CrimeWatch meeting I attended. They had only been in the apartments about a month at that time.

I didn't see either of them again until last week. Annice came to our weekly meeting with the residents and the leasing office. During the meeting, Annice offered to connect with residents and find out how many people in the building have internet. We exchanged information and she said she would come talk to me.

I saw her the following week and found out her apartment is directly beside the room that I have been using as an office.

As we talked, I learned that Annice and her girlfriend live in one of the market-rate apartments. She is a vocal major who graduated from the University of Central Arkansas. (Her musical interest caught my attention because there are so many other musicians in the building.)

Each person adds a new dimension to the CityWalk neighborhood. To be proactive and maintain a solutions-based approach, Annice and her girlfriend have started writing potential job descriptions to help us create an even more welcoming environment. I am also looking to connect her to the other musicians in the building as well as another parent in the building who has just started home schooling her teenage son as well.

Limitless possibilities.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

CityWalk Stories

After our Ideal Community meeting on Thursday, I asked a volunteer to connect with Sharon so we could start working on some of the suggestions she mentioned in the meeting. As I was driving home that evening, I finally had the opportunity to listen to my voice mail. It was Sharon. She talked about how much she enjoyed the meeting and went on to say:
I was calling you to tell you to give me something else to do. My assignment is finished! I gave the information to Denise. Give me something else!
I called her back and we brainstormed on my drive home. Sharon wants to get people connected with their community. She had the idea of having pot luck gatherings for each floor so that people could get to know who is on their floor. Because there are such a diversity of cultures, she suggested that each person bring a traditional dish. I'm so excited about the possibilities!

Our Community Life team is great...and has already done some great things. But to truly create community life, we need the help of the community. Sharon said something that struck me in her interview. "A lot of times when you're homeless, you forget about all of the strengths you have." Sharon Patterson has a lot of strengths. She has utilized her strengths in the past as you can see in the Part 2 video below. Our job as a Community Life team is to help people discover (or re-discover) their strengths.

Monday, March 21, 2011

CityWalk, The Ideal Community

I absolutely love our CityWalk community! I'm amazed at the diversity--cultural, educational, interests, skills, socioeconomic, ethnic. It's an amazing mix of people.

Since I've been there, I've met

  • a saxophone player who goes from church to church to play...and who is trying to get something going for an Easter celebration
  • a New Orleans jazz player who has his own non-profit (Inner-City All Stars) and write grants to be able to perform and interact with kids and get them interested in music
  • an audio engineer who is helping us figure out how to make our music room soundproof so the musicians in our building can practice
  • a retired nurse who helps with our weekly clinic
  • a photographer who feels strongly about providing a great environment for his son
  • a script writer who didn't have enough money for an attorney so he did his own research and won his first hearing and is now getting ready for his second one
  • a man who loves to read and worked hard to get the library community room in order
I'm sure there are more I've forgotten...and I know I will get to know more amazing people. 

In the attempt to capitalize on these strengths, last Thursday we had our first Ideal Community meeting. As we began talking, people seemed hesitant at first. But once the we started writing down ideas, more people chimed in.
  • Better relationship with the Arts District
  • Programs for teenagers
  • Transportation to the grocery store...and more ideas came about how to chip in for gas money (like a co-op) so that we could take the van instead of each individual taking the DART bus
  • Connection with the Angel Food Ministries 
  • Health Fair connected with the Walgreens Wellness Tour
  • VITA tax preparation site
  • Group counseling for domestic violence and incest recovery
  • CityWalk Night Out where everyone dresses up and goes out
Several people got assignments. Ms. Ophelia and Ms. Annie agreed to set up a health fair around the wellness tour. They started meeting and planning as soon as the meeting was over. Ms. Sharon offered to help connect us with resources she's connected with in the past. She quickly did her job and, before the day was over, was asking for her next assignment. As I brainstormed with her later, we came up with the Citywalk Greeters that we're hoping to implement soon (get ready to come visit us!).

I was so impressed by everyone's excitement and enthusiasm that I interviewed Ms. Sharon later. I'll post her interview on Tuesday.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Formerly Homeless Families Engage...Will We?

I am a type A personality. I like for kids to behave and people to be respectful. If people say they're going to do something, I expect that they will follow through on their word. Sometimes those expectations work for me and sometimes I have to deal with a new understanding.

Since I've taken on the position as Director of Community Life at CityWalk@Akard, I have had the opportunity to connect with and get to know a lot of new people. As a part of the "community life" there at CityWalk, there are sometimes outings that people can sign up for and attend...most of which are geared toward adults.

As one of the ladies signed up recently, she explained she was taking her child. My initial, internal reaction was, "Oh goodness! This isn't a kid event!" I wanted to discourage her...well, not really her, I wanted to discourage her from taking her child. But I also thought about the fact that she's a single parent who wants to be a part of what's happening. Despite her overly active child, I had to adjust my thinking.

  • Sarah* follows through. If she signs up, she shows up.
  • Sarah engages. She is seeking out a community. These activities are part of our effort to help provide that community so who are we to exclude her from that?
  • Sarah wants to raise her child in the best way possible. What better way to demonstrate to her child how to get involved in every opportunity available??
I was talking to Sarah one day and she explained to me that she knows she has let her little boy get away with too much. She explained that she felt bad for what he's had to deal with in his short, three years of life. But she also understands that her actions and interaction with him hasn't necessarily helped him. She seized the first opportunity available at CityWalk just so she could provide a stable environment for her son...even though the only thing available was a very small (less that 1000 sq. ft), economy apartment. 

Every time I talk to her, I am always impressed at how she communicates with her son. When one of us asks him to do something or disciplines him in some way, she explains to him that everyone in CityWalk loves him and wants the best for him and so he has to mind all of us. She really believes in the "it-takes-a-village" concept...and she really believes in CityWalk.

When we're at the different outings, I see the frustration and disdain on other peoples' faces as she constantly tries to remind her child to be quiet (usually without much luck...or without much consequence to the child). As I watch peoples' faces and reactions, I realize we are not really a kid-friendly society. We (well, let me just speak for myself) get impatient with people who don't follow those hidden rules of not taking kids to certain events. 

But what happens when a single parent wants desperately to learn and be involved? Should we really expect her (or him) to stay isolated and out-of-sight? Who is that helping?? A poor, single parent doesn't have the luxury of hiring a babysitter for the day. Therefore, they are really only left with two choices. 1) Take the child with them, or 2) Stay at home. 

Despite my type A personality that likes for adult events to be nice and quiet, I want for Sarah to benefit from the knowledge and relationships that develop as a part of being involved. It is not my right to exclude her, nor is it my hope that she will exclude herself. What we have to offer her and what she has to offer us can only make us all better.

I am glad she is coming. I am thankful that she has been so willing to be as transparent as she has been in such a short time of knowing me. I have a lot to learn.

*Names have been changed

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Community Hunger Day

I committed to Community Hunger Day this week.

The goal was to go without food for a day and, while doing so, reflect on the situation of our many friends and neighbors who often go hungry.

I wasn't too excited about going without food (I really like food and I don't like being hungry). I also was a little concerned because Community Hunger Day was on a Wednesday. My biggest workout of the week is on Wednesday nights. It's a class that I attend so I have no control on how long it lasts or how hard the workout is.

I've often thought that working out would be hard on an empty stomach...and I don't understand how we can expect poor people to have this holistic view of health when there are so many other factors that prevent them from being healthy.

So, as I thought about it, my mind said, "I could skip the Wednesday night class since I won't have eaten." That didn't seem fair. If my goal was to reflect on the difficulties of poverty, I needed to try to go about life as usual and see how it affects me.

At about 10:00 p.m. the night before Community Hunger Day, I realized I hadn't eaten dinner. Thinking that my fast would be much more challenging if I hadn't eaten since 1:00 the day before, I hurried to grab a banana and peanut butter before going to bed (which isn't real either, considering that many people don't get to choose to eat something before they decidedly go hungry).

The next morning I went ahead and had my two cups of coffee, but no other breakfast. By about 11:00, my stomach was growling and I kept almost getting up from the computer to go find something to eat. By about 3:00, I had settled into work and had kind of let the hunger go because of the many other things I had to do. At 6:30, I left for my martial arts class.

Once in class, I was fine for about the first 30 minutes. Martial arts takes a lot of concentration. As I worked on my forms, my mind wandered. I kept thinking about how hungry I was and hoping that class would be over early so I could go home, go to bed, and forget about being hungry until the morning when I could wake up and eat.

After about 45 minutes of working on forms, I was placed on the mat with a higher ranking belt to practice sparring. Of all nights, I was left on that mat to spar for about 45 extremely long time that takes an enormous amount of energy. I was completely zapped by the time we were told to stop. I thought sure the class would be over by then, but it wasn't. We then began working on a drill that I thought I would get left out of because I had been sparring for so long. However, luck wasn't on my side that night. I continued to have to expend energy on drills that weren't normally that difficult, but without any food in my stomach had become very physically and mentally challenging. I kept hoping, praying, pleading in my mind that he would end the class, but no such luck. Of all nights, our class went on for 3 1/2 hours! Toward the end, I had finally gotten to the point where I felt dizzy and weak to the point I couldn't stand. I'm guessing my body could only afford to expend so many calories without taking some in. Three times, I had to sit off to the side to recover.

On the way home, I had to break my fast. I had absolutely no energy and was feeling pretty sick. I stopped at a gas station to pick up a protein bar. Sure enough, just that small snack made me feel much better.

The next morning I woke up and couldn't wait to eat something. I started thinking about how I could eat more because I had eaten nothing the day before. I had to straighten myself out a few times as I told myself that eating more today wasn't going to help anything. Eating regular portion sizes would be just fine.

It made me think about kids and families I know who seem to way overeat every time they get a plate of food. I had just watched a young boy come into one of our gatherings at CityWalk and refill his plate three times, heaping over each time. I wondered if he might have been like me...thinking he might as well take advantage of having food while it's there...even if it doesn't fix yesterday and won't keep you full until tomorrow.

It wasn't a fun day for me and has made me completely hesitant about signing up for the Food Stamp Challenge after watching the FoodStamped documentary. Going hungry for a day or living on a food stamp allocation for a week and professing that I now know what that's like seems like it could be a little insulting to someone who has to deal with hunger on a regular basis. Hunger is a on-going problem that needs to be solved systemically so that my annual hunger fasts aren't a slap in the face to my friends and neighbors who don't have the luxury of only fasting one day out of the year.

(You can check out a petition generated by the FoodStamped people here)

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

"You're not scared of black people"

After my lunch meeting, I parked my car in the CityWalk@Akard parking lot and began walking to the front door. A guy at the bus stop hollered out at me that I looked good. Humored and ego a little bit inflated, I smiled, said thanks, and kept walking. He asked me where I was going. I slowed my pace and said I was going into the building. He asked about the building. I stopped and walked closer to him so I could explain.

"It's an apartment complex," I told him.

"For homeless people?" he asked.

Though I wasn't sure where he got that idea, I explained that CityWalk@Akard offers housing to people who are formerly homeless and people with lower incomes.

He asked what my job was. I explained that I am the Director of Community Life and told him that I am supposed to help create activities and services in the building in order to create a vertical community.

By this point, he asked me if I was from here.

"Here?" I asked, wondering if he was talking about my current physical location, my neighborhood, Dallas, or Texas, in general. "No, where are you from?" he continued.

While I was still trying to figure out what location he was referring to, he continued, "Because you must like black people. ...I mean, you didn't keep on walking, gripping your purse close to your side," he demonstrated.

I laughed with him over that comment.

But six hours later, I'm still bothered by it.

From what I can tell, he was a friendly guy who was interested in having a conversation. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to talk to him. However, I'm disturbed by the fact that Q knows the society he lives in is not always friendly toward him. In less than 30-seconds, Q is able to pick up on how someone feels about him and others who look like him. I would like to believe that there's no need for him to make that judgment call on whether or not a certain ethnicity is friendly to people of his skin color. The reality is, it *is* reality. Q was just pointing out the obvious. That's a wake up call.