Saturday, December 26, 2009
So, as a gift to myself this Christmas, here is what I've done:
I took Promise House, all the runaway and homeless teens, all the problems with grantors, any personnel issues, building leaks, electrical problems, graffitti on the outside of the building, and anything else that has anything to do with my job, and put them all very neatly into a box. I then wrapped the box in shiny paper, put a beautiful bow on it, and put it on the top shelf of my closet....not to be opened until Monday, January 4, 2010.
So, if you see me over the holidays, don't ask me anything about PH or try to start a conversation about what I do for a living. If you do, I will look at you blankly and immediately change the subject--cause I'm REALLY good at compartmentalizing; and until Jan. 4, PH is in the compartment of "non-existent".
By doing this, I will be raring to go in January and will be ready to take on the world again.
Thanks for indulging me. Let me know if I can do anything for you.
Monday, December 14, 2009
- David Ross and his wife and huge dog for totally entertaining our teens on Thanksgiving Day
- Mike Scott and his wife, Ashley, and their friends for hosting a holiday party tomorrow for our shelter teens
- The Promise House Professionals for hosting a holiday party last Saturday and bringing gifts for 21 young transitional living women and their children
- Joyce Mazero and her daughter, Dom, for their contribution of winter coats and hosting a movie and popcorn night for the shelter teens
- Mountain View College for their upcoming annual holiday dinner and gift exchange with the girls and babies of Wesley Inn
- Jesuit High School for their food drive for our street outreach program
- Debi Moses for organizing the board of directors to host a holiday party for our shelter teens
- Angela Choquette for hosting a holiday party for her friends and donating proceeds from a trunk show to PH
- Kessler Park United Methodist Church for hosting a holiday party for our Wesley Inn girls
- Junior League of Dallas for hosting a slumber party for the Wesley Inn girls
- Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Plano Youth Group for hosting a holiday party for the shelter teens
- Carver Heights Church for donating blankets and toiletries for the girls at Wesley Inn
- Women of Sacrifice and Obedience for conducting clothing and food drives for PH
- First Presbyterian, Forney for blankets
- The Perfect Light for dressing up Wesley Inn with outdoor lights
- Greenhill School for collecting bath items and toiletries for Wesley Inn and our street outreach program
- Anytime Fitness, Oak Cliff for collecting clothing
- Mattel for donating toys for our babies and toddlers
- Amica Insurance for collecting items for our STAR wish list clients
- Dallas Chapter of Charms for hosting a holiday party for Wesley Inn
- Akita Group for donating clothing and food
- Dick Patrick Studios for food drive
- Fiserv for donating blankets for our street outreach program
- Dots Fashion for donating accessories from their store
- Delta Sigma Theta - TWU for hosting a holiday party for the shelter teens
- CC5 for their donation of Target and Walmart gift cards for Wesley Inn mothers
- Supreme Lending Mortgage for raffling a big screen TV and donating proceeds to PH
- The Promise House Development team for picking a STAR family to provide Christmas for
Whew! And I'm sure I have not gotten everyone. New donations and contributions are coming in daily. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has opened their heart and their wallets to give ALL of the teens and their family members at Promise House an outstanding 2009 holiday.
WE LOVE YOU!
Monday, December 7, 2009
There is a place
Where you can always go,
Come with me.
Where it’s alright to let your feelings show,
Come with me.
What a pleasant journey,
Isn’t very far.
We can go together,
Stay right where you are.
And now it’s time to start.
It’s right here in your heart.
There is a place
Where you can be yourself,
Come with me.
And it’s a place
Where you can free yourself,
Come with me.
And you know it’s waiting,
Not so far away.
Need no reservations,
We could go today.
Now it’s time to start.
It’s right here in your heart.
There is a place where every sorrow ends
Come with me.
Where every hope and every truth begins.
What a pleasant journey,
We can go together,
Stay right where you are
Now it’s time to start.
It’s right here in your heart.
When I first read the lyrics, I thought they were too smalzy. But as we rehearsed, and I continued to hear the music and listen to the lyrics, I fell in love with it. And I also realized that Promise House is that Place for many, many teens who have lost all hope, who hide their feelings behind steel walls, who have never been able to tell someone the truth of their lives.
What a beacon of light we are to those teens. Promise House is a place they can always go--with no reservations. We are a place where it’s alright to show their feelings. Where they can be themselves and start to free themselves. A place where their truth can begin.
And we are always waiting, not so far away.
Friday, December 4, 2009
So here's a lesson for all you people out there who think teens are incorrigible, rude, thoughtless, self-centered, etc. Here is a young man who has every right to be bitter, angry, belligerent, and rude; but instead, against all odds, is polite, well-mannered, grateful, positive, and a joy to be around. Lesson: stop stereotyping teens.
By the way, he starts at Mountain View Community College in January.
What a gift it is for me to be able to be around such miraculous young people.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Consequently, our shelter staff sprang into action to make sure she would NOT be on her own when she turned 18. Here is what they did before her birthday:
- Helped her talk to her aunt to see if she could stay with her temporarily
- Helped her take her GED test
- Assisted her in completing applications to community colleges
- Got her enrolled in Tyler Community College
- Got financial aid lined up for her through the college
- Helped her apply for the Promise House Blake Davis Memorial Scholarship for higher education
- Gave her school supplies, clothes, and hygiene products to take with her
- Got her signed up for mainstream services (Medicaid, SSI, etc.)
- Threw her a birthday party with a big cake
- Gave her a big hug and wished her luck when she left.
- Told her to call if and when she needed help.
She starts school in January. This is how we change lives at Promise House. One promising teen at a time.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
- How the richest nation in the world can have 24% of its children living in poverty
- How Texas can be ok being the 2nd highest state in the union for families at risk of hunger
- How advocates of abstinence only education can actually think it works
- How this country can allow 41,000,000 people to be without health insurance
- Why 6,000 teens run away every year in Dallas
- How we can spend a billion dollars on a new football stadium and let thousands of our neighbors remain hungry and homeless
- Why the Dallas Morning News puts the Cowboys on the front page
- How to get you to recognize, advocate for, and help homeless and runaway teens
- How to change your perspective about teens
- Why a 17 year old with a child would get pregnant again (I think I know how)
- Why some kids make it out of their horrible situations and some don't
- How one PH teen can do great in the program and another totally bomb out
- How a listening ear can change a young person's life
These are just a few of the puzzles I ruminate over. There are probably as many more that I could add as there are minutes in a day. But, I don't want your eyes to glaze over.
If you have any answers, let me know.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Texas is second-worst in hunger risk, U.S. says | News for Dallas, Texas | Dallas Morning News | Texas Regional News
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So, I hadn't been blogging very much and was feeling kinda guilty about it. But man, oh man, am I hot today. I found the above article on page 6 of the Metro section of the Dallas Morning News. Now some of you know that I have been griping about the newsworthiness of putting the outcome of Cowboys' games on the front page. My question was, "Surely there are more important stories than that!"
Well, here is one. As a Texan, I am appalled and embarrassed that number one, this article was stuffed back in the metro section, and number two that it seems to continue to be ok with our citizens and legislature that Texas cares very little about its most vulnerable citizens. We are SECOND WORST in the United States for hunger risk. That means that we have the second highest number of individuals, families, and children who are at risk of being hungry TODAY.
GEEZ, how can we sleep at night???
On EVERY indicator of social services and safety net services offered to Texas citizens, we are either DEAD LAST or very near the bottom of the ranking of all of the United States. Pitiful.
This article should be plastered all over the front page of the paper. And, along with that, there should many, many columnists, editors, and whoever else has a voice decrying the fact that we are so pathetic in our care of the people who need it the most.
HOW IS IT that we can spends literally billions of dollars on things like new football stadiums, arenas, shopping malls, etc., while our neighbors go hungry?
I challenge the Dallas Morning News to take the lead in making these kinds of stories front page news. I challenge you, the Editorial Board, to consider people going hungry a little more important than who won the Cowboys game.
WAKE UP TEXAS! Do we really want to continue to wear the badge of one of the least caring states in these United States?
Monday, November 9, 2009
5 teens charged in fatal beating of Wylie man | News for Dallas, Texas | Dallas Morning News | Latest News
5 teens charged in fatal beating of Wylie man News for Dallas, Texas Dallas Morning News Latest News
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Friday, November 6, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
Well, last night at rehearsal, when it came time to practice this piece, one of the male chorus members went up to the mic and told his story of being hungry as a child, having to fend for himself and his siblings while his parent disappeared for days at a time. Needless to say, it was quite moving, especially since this young man has become quite an accomplished musician and is doing very well in his life.
The reason I bring this up is this: 99% of our teens have gone hungry at some point in their lives. They are the boy in the song, they are his sister, they are his brother. They could be my fellow chorus member. If you’ve never been around PH during the holiday season and watched HOW MUCH food our teens consume, you have really missed something. They can’t believe they can have as much as they want, whenever they want it.
As Tim said last night: For those of us who have been privileged enough to be able to decide WHAT to eat, not IF we are going to eat, it is difficult to wrap our heads around a 10-year old boy trying to save his sister from being hungry. But we see it every day at PH.
And thank goodness, we are able to provide these kids with all the food they need and want whenever they want it—fittingly, in partnership with the North Texas Food Bank.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
I don't know if she is a resident with our transitional living program or if she is someone who came seeking help. What I do know is that she is definitely under 20 years of age, with a baby and a 2-year old in tow. I just can't even imagine. I see it every day, and yet I never get used to seeing young girls with babies and toddlers.....their adolescent years replaced by all too adult responsibility and burden.
When I ask the girls how being a teenage mother has changed their lives, they respond that they have had to grow up fast, that having a baby has made them more responsible, more caring. But when I ask them if they have regrets, each one cites getting pregnant as their biggest regret. They are quick to add that they wouldn't give up their child for anything, but that getting pregnant irrevocably changed everything--for a very long time.
I won't quote all the negative stats about teen pregnancy--most of the girls who come to Promise House defy them anyway and do very well. But that is with ALOT of help, support, education, mentoring, child care, and anything else they need to become good mothers. Without this help, young mothers have huge challenges ahead of them.
Hopefully, the young mother I saw just now will defy the odds and the stats. Hopefully, she will get the help she needs from us and become an incredible mother to her children. And hopefully, she won't give up the dreams she had before she got pregnant.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
You know, every time it rains or gets really cold or really hot or snows or ices, I can't help but think of the kids and teens that are on the street. It's not too bad right now, cause it's not cold. But in a month or two a Wet Wednesday is also going to be a very cold Wet Wednesday. And these young people are going to have to contend with the cold and the wet and finding some place to sleep for the night.
I went out with our Street Outreach team in January one year. Unbelievably cold and windy. I was totally miserable and could only imagine the misery of kids who were dealing with the weather every day and night. They sleep in cars, on church steps, with people they don't know, in places not fit for human habitation. The stories would curl your hair.
Some people love rain, cold weather, snow, ice. I was preconditioned against any wet or really cold weather, since my father couldn't work during bad weather. Add to that, me knowing that there are kids out there in it that need help and aren't getting it, and the cards are totally stacked against rain, etc.
So, on this Wet Wednesday, say a prayer for all those wet kids trying to make their way on the street. It is a brutal existence.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Moments such as these keep me plugging away for quite some time. We root and pull so hard for all our kids and many times never get to know how the story turns out. So to hear a story that is turning out well is that much more special.
All in all, I'd say a good day.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
So what am I thinking about? I'm thinking about the health care debacle and wishing congresspersons had to go without insurance for a while to experience what many of the families at Promise House experience every day. I'm thinking about the "troops" abroad in Iraq and Afganistan and how easy it is to depersonalize young men and women whose parents and loved ones are waiting with bated breath every day for them to get home safely. I'm also thinking that these young men and women are the same age as many of the older teens at Promise House--19, 21, 22, 23, 24--SO YOUNG.
I'm thinking that I am grateful to have a job, and if any of the higher ups in the financial world who say the recession is ending could talk to just the people I know who are unemployed, they might think something different. If they came to PH any day and listened in on the receptionist fielding requests for food, rent assistance, jobs, clothes, housing, they might change their tune.
I'm thinking about some of the kids who have come through Promise House--their challenges, their trauma, their victories, their triumphs. No matter how much I may gripe about my job, I can never get enough of seeing our kids in action. And I'm thinking about all of my staff who make my life easier and who make the lives of our teens easier.
Sitting and thinking helps me get things in order, put things in perspective, process current experiences, create new ideas. It helps me appreciate all the good things both in my lpersonal ife and in the life of PH and gives me time to better see the challenges in both arenas that I need to address. It helps me realize that the challenges I face are really miniscule in the face of the challenges every one of our teens face when they come to PH.
So today, I'm sitting here thinking. But next week I'll be moving fast. Let's hope the good thinking sticks.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
As crazy as the government makes me sometimes, Promise House could not function without its funding. Government grants are bigger dollar amounts and last longer than foundation, corporate, or individual contributions; and at the federal level anyway, they are fairly easy to manage. These grants will always be part of our diversified funding streams (unless the government nixes them), along with foundations, corporations, faith-based groups, and individuals.
So thanks, DHHS, for the vote of confidence and the funds. With your help, we will keep on truckin'.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
We have always viewed the shelter as the core of Promise House, and the program from which everything else grew. You would think, that as the core program, it would stay full; particularly with the statistic that over 6,000 teens run away from home every year in Dallas County. BUT, since its inception, there have been periods of time when the shelter has not been full. It was built as a 20-bed facility, and even now when we are using only 16 beds due to lack of funding, there are periods when it is not full. The question is: WHY?
The programs that stay full with waiting lists are our transitional living programs, particularly the programs for homeless young mothers and their children. We currently have a maternity group home, 15 apartments and two houses in the community for these programs; and we could easily double the size of bed space and stay full.
Here is the conundrum: do we keep supporting the shelter, knowing that kids are out there--but not knowing how to get them in--or do we transform that space into transitional living beds for the programs that are burgeoning? Could we raise as much money for TLP as we do for the Shelter?
We are embarking on a "marketing blitz" for the Shelter this fall to let people all over Dallas County know it is available. I'll be interested to see if it makes a difference. I still think emergency shelter for youth is a critically needed service for our community, and we need to get to the bottom of why kids aren't accessing it as much as they could.
Anyway, ideas, advice, feedback, are welcome. Sometimes new eyes bring great new solutions. And since I know anyone who reads this is brilliant, I'm confident you will come through with great stuff.
Monday, September 21, 2009
From the time I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mother. For one thing, I knew parenting could be done differently from the way I was parented. And somehow, I just knew that I would be great at it. I don't know if that turned out to be true, but I have loved every second--even when the seconds weren't that great.
Someone up there knew I needed girls.....there are so many things to love about little girls, not to mention being able to play dress-up again! Every stage brings new and delightful evolutions. Being able to witness their growth from little girls to beautiful, smart, creative, and yes, smart-mouthed young women has been the peak experience of my life. Whatever other accomplishments I have, they pale compared to witnessing the miracle that they are.
I have often said that my girls aren't mine. They came through me, and I was temporarily entrusted to bring them safely into adulthood. But both of them are soooo much more highly evolved than I could have ever hoped to be at their ages---they belong to the universe. I was just lucky enough to be chosen by them to walk through life with.
So, what is all this touchy-feely talk leading to? This: I will never have empathy for parents who are entrusted with the care and nurture of their children, but reject them; abuse them; neglect them; are too self-involved to hear them; are apathetic toward them.
We deal with the kids who are the brunt of this every day at PH. Kids who have been removed from their homes; kicked out of their homes; left alone in their homes; abused, neglected, ignored, used, thrown away. The ramifications are mind-boggling. Kids who can't connect; who can't trust anyone; who hate the world; who hate themselves; yet still long for their parents. Unbelievably, still long for their parents.....still long for their parents....still long for their parents.
I can't relate to these parents, don't want to relate, ever. I hope you won't either.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Oh, and on the other end of the spectrum, Texas repeatedly ranks 47th or 48th in the dollars spent on mental health services for our most vulnerable citizens. If we were playing golf, we'd surely win for lowest score! But we are not. These are peoples' lives we are playing with.
What is wrong with our legislators that they can look at this data year after year and do little to nothing to improve the health and well-being of our citizens?
I'm embarrassed by these headlines. I'm embarrassed that the people of this state don't care enough about these issues to rise up and demand change. I'm embarrassed what these headlines do to Texas' reputation.
With these headlines, it becomes harder and harder to justify to my out-of-state friends why I love my state and why I continue to live here.
Am I the only one??
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The kids at Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet seemed to fare pretty well watching the speech. Some even called it "inspiring". Go figure. And Laura Bush and Newt Gingrich were evidently embarrassed enough by their party's antics to admonish Republicans for throwing such a fit over the President addressing kids in his own country.
Now, I may be out of the loop on what sounds political, but I didn't hear anything that sounded like that to me. Sounded more like what my parents preached my entire life--stay in school; don't let obstacles stop you; you owe alot to your country; always try to improve yourself; it's nobody's job to make you succeed except yours. Where is the politics in that??
It's what we preach to Promise House teens. Make something of yourself, regardless of your circumstances. You can be upset, sad, angry, hurt, fearful, or depressed about your family situation or about why you are at Promise House, but you are not your circumstances; and you can overcome ANYTHING. Learn to make good choices. Stay in school, or learn a good trade. Become a productive, independent, adult. Give something back to your community and your country. Geez, was Obama listening in on some of our groups, or what?
So, if his speech was political, then so are we. You know, Gloria Steinem always said the personal is political, and we certainly get personal with our teens. Many times, it's the first time anyone has ever been interested in them, much less encouraged and cajoled them to make something of themselves. What better political statement can be made than breaking the cycle of poverty, teen pregnancy, violence toward women and children, and educational achievement??
So, Obama can make speeches like the one he made yesterday any time he wants (as far as I'm concerned). And you can bet that the teens at PH, along with staff will be watching.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Singing is a spiritual experience for me. It has always been one of the few activities in which I totally lose myself. Nothing else exists except the music, the conductor, and me. It is one of the joys that makes life worth living.
I have had the great fortune to sing some incredible pieces under the direction of Tim, but the one that I will always remember as the peak spiritual experience of my life was when we were recording John Rutter's "Requiem", for a CD. We were in the Myerson, which is itself a spiritual experience, and were performing the last movement, "Lux Aeterna", or "Light Forever".
Now, a Requiem, for those of you who don't know, is a body of music honoring the dead. There are many great "Requiems", Mozart's being my second favorite. But the important thing is that a Requiem is meant to console the living and lift the dead to a higher plane, or heaven, according to your beliefs.
My mother died when I was 29 and pregnant with my first child. We were not close, and I had alot of "unfinished business", as therapists would call it, with her.
It was during the recording of that last beautiful movement, Lux Aeterna, that I finally put my mother to rest. I'm not sure what happened or why, but the combination of that beautiful space and that beautiful music raised me to a level I had not before experienced, and I knew that she had been released from whatever pain she was still carrying. It was indescribable--I wanted to move into the Myerson--I wanted to never leave....
We recorded for three days, and it felt like such an incredibly warm and safe cocoon, I literally grieved when we had to leave.
Why do I bring this up and what does it have to do with PH? I bring it up, because I think it is a crime that arts programs are the first to get cut when budgets get tight....arts programs that give volatile and hurting teens venues through which to express their deepest feelings--whether it is visual arts, dance, music, or theatre.
When PH has been fortunate to offer any kind of arts to our kids, the transformation is palpable. They LOVE it. And yet, we can only do it sporadically due to lack of funding.
It makes me very sad to know that most of our teens will never have the opportunity to feel the transformation in their lives that music has caused in my life. They will not soar with the great and beautiful pieces that comfort, rouse, inspire, and move people so deeply.
The arts make life worth living.....and I want our teens to live and to have experiences that make them know that their lives are worth living...singing is just one.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Here's something I bet you don't know about kids in DISD. Over 4,000 of them are homeless, with about 1,300 of those being between the ages of 13 and 18. They live in shelters, in cars, under bridges, doubled or tripled up with family or friends, in cheap motels, as "sofa surfers" (moving from place to place). Many of the older kids live without parents or guardians, fending for themselves as best as they can.
The miracle is that they go to school at all. The barriers for them are gigantic before they even hit the front door of the school: transportation, child care, uniforms or clothes, shoes, school supplies, the list is endless. They arrive hungry, many having not slept the night before, mentally fragile, abused, disconnected. And they are supposed to be educated in that condition. Fat chance!
We had a young woman at Promise House last year who lived in parks in a Dallas suburb for over a year, while continuing to attend her home school. We had another young man who lived in his car, attended his home school, was involved in athletics, and came to us only when he ran out of options for help.
How do these teens do it? Why do they do it?
What we have heard over the years is that for many homeless and runaway teens, school is their anchor, the one place they can count on for routine, food, shelter during the day, and adults who care about them. They can get help with supplies and necessities, and they can hope for a way out of their situation through education.
That is pretty darn impressive.
I've said often that there are homeless and runaway teens in your very neighborhood, maybe on your own block; and they are certainly in your schools. Dallas, Richardson, Irving, Arlington, DeSoto, Duncanville, Lancaster, you name the city or school district they are there.....and it is a travesty.
The fastest growing homeless populations currently are women with children and unaccompanied teens. It's time for the government and funders who pay for support services to catch up with the trends and widen the safety net from chronically homeless adults to include women, children, families, and unaccompanied teens.
Or, as I say again and again, we will never end homelessness in Dallas or anywhere, unless we address the young people who are potentially the next generation of chronically homeless adults.
My hat is off to the homeless and runaway teens who are trying to stay in school. I hope you make it. I hope we help.
Friday, August 14, 2009
I am thrilled to report that we will end the year WITHOUT a deficit (unless some act of God happens) and maybe a small surplus. The outlook for next year is still not great, and to that end, we have adjusted the 2009 – 2010 Budget to reflect that. However, the Executive Team’s TOP priority in 2009 – 2010 is to begin restoring salaries, if possible.
The most incredible and awesome thing about this past year is that it looks like we will have served almost 1,000 more clients than last fiscal year, with less money, and with staff taking a salary cut. That is truly a mirror for what is going on in the economy and how many teens and families are in trouble because of it.
Everyone involved with PH played a significant role in getting us through this past year. I hope you will take at least a moment to compliment yourself and your colleagues for your Herculean efforts; and for the exemplary service you provided to our clients, in spite of these rough times.
You are truly the BEST, and I am honored and humbled to work with you.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Marriages, divorces, deaths, grandbabies (not me, of course--I'm too young-hah!), grown children, accomplishments, challenges, gossip, updates on mutual friends, reminisces about our younger years together.....and miraculously, none of us had aged a bit!!
It truly is hard to believe that we are the ages that we are, that we have lived so much of life. I still feel so much like a teenager so much of the time--unsure, awkward, self-centered, self-involved, ageless, self-conscious. I can't fathom grandkids (I'm just launching my youngest child!), and sometimes jump back in shock when I look in the mirror--who is that older woman??
I'm not sure if that means I'm developmentally arrested or something, but at least it comes in handy with the Promise House teens. I GET them. I know who they are, how they are feeling, what their fears are, how they cover them up, what their fights are about.
What I don't know is the trauma so many of them have suffered--shuffled through the foster care system, abused at the hands of parents or step-parents, kicked out of their homes for one thing or another, trying to make it on their own.
I know the effects of that trauma, but I can never say to any of them that I understand what they have been through. I can only sit and listen, create a holding environment in which they feel safe enough to walk back through it all. And hopefully, heal a little.
To me, one of the worst effects of their trauma and transience is the loss of history and long-term connections. I've talked about this alot, and it is the one thing that makes me want to take them all home and create a history and a family connection for them.
I feel extremely fortunate to have long-term connections such as my friends Peg and Marty; my next-door and across the street neighbors of 20 years; my siblings; my graduate school buddies. They are my history and I am theirs. Even if I don't see them for another 20 years, I know if I needed any of them, I could call and they would be there in an instant.
The lack of these connections for our kids makes working with them very poignant. What keeps me going is that hopefully, they see us as that long-term connection and a major part of their history; a friend they can call on anytime--even 20 years from now--if they need help; that we are their anchor in the turbulent waters of their lives.
Like Peg and Marty are to me, we are to them.
Amen for friends.
Monday, August 3, 2009
Someone on high from somewhere has dropped the hammer on every federal and state agency with whom we work and mandated that background checks must be done. Well, that’s not news to us—we’ve always done them. The problem is….EVERY agency wants a DIFFERENT background check. We currently do FOUR (count them, 4!) different background checks on every employee to satisfy ourselves, TDFPS, and whoever else is in the mix.
The latest grump-maker is Dallas County, with whom we have an agreement every year to accept referrals from their truancy courts. WELL, it seems that they don’t like our background checks and want yet ANOTHER one for those employees who would be working with their teens. THEY PAY US NOTHING FOR WORKING WITH THESE KIDS. And worst than that, the young woman with whom we have been dealing is one who can only repeat like a robot what the requirements are—that are due TODAY, by the way.
Thank goodness I know people in high places (that is a joke) and called Ron Stretcher, who is over all the truancy courts. We now have a reprieve until he can figure an easier way for us to do these checks.
Now, to date, here are the people who have been involved in trying to solve this issue: Keri, STAR program manager; Regina Levine, Parents with Promise manager; Alex Appiah, V.P. Programs; Judy Marshall, V.P. Internal Affairs, and little ole me!
And they had been trying to solve this issue for two weeks!!!
The other villain in this story is the company that the TDFPS STAR program uses to do their background checks. We submitted 15 employees back in June to be checked, and as of Wed., had not heard back any results—in spite of several phone calls and emails. So, we couldn’t even prove to the County that these folks have been cleared—until I emailed the Division Head of STAR and demanded that this be fixed.
We were talking in Leadership Retreat yesterday about things that rob our passion. Well, let me tell you, THIS IS IT!!!!
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE??? Why can’t they get their stuff together and use ONE background check for everyone? I guess that would be WAY too simple.
Thank you for listening to me vent. It was a VERY testy week, and I have become the shrew whose phone calls and emails the state and county are trying to valiantly avoid. BUT THEY WILL NEVER GET RID OF ME! And we will prevail (somehow!).
I hope I have a better week this week!
Thursday, July 23, 2009
- Our case managers make home visits--sometimes in pretty rough parts of town.
- We have new-borns and infants in our care and young mothers who have no idea how to raise them.
- We have pregnant teens who come to us having had NO prenatal care.
- We spend a good amount of time transporting kids in five vans--all over the place.
- Next week, 30 kids and 6 staff are taking a chartered bus to Colorado for a week's stay.
- Any one of our shelter teens could go OFF at any time--their CPS worker didn't call, their parent didn't come visit, another kid's hair is parted on the wrong side, someone touched them ("He touched me!" "Did not!" "Did too!", "Did not!", etc.)
- There are over 1,000 teens every night in Dallas who are either on the street or "sofa surfing" (moving from place to place).
- Like any parent, we wait up for the older transitional living teens to come home from God knows where (they are supposed to be working or in school, but if you have kids, you know how that goes sometimes).
- We have 15 homeless young mothers and their children living in apartments in the community, pretty much on their own.
And these are just the kid issues! How many liability issues can YOU count??
Luckily, one of the reasons I don't stay up at night, is the incredible competence and dedication of Promise House staff. They see their job as a mission. They do things like: sit beside a young woman in the hospital who is in labor, talk down a really upset shelter teen, rock babies, go buy clothes for a teen who has none, scour the streets looking for homeless teens, go on week-long trips with kids (they deserve a halo!), stay late to get a grant out, work weekends and holidays to make an event perfect, deal with irate parents, spend hours or days helping a teen find a relative to go home to, plan birthday parties for teens who have never had one, come to PH in the middle of the night when lightening has struck, and the list goes on and on.
So, you can understand now why I sleep very well at night. And you can also understand what I mean when I say that whatever a kid needs to grow up well, that is what we do.
And we do it better than anyone else.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
So far, I've had to cancel two meetings, reschedule another one (after I got everything ready for them), witness and try to help in a physical altercation between a mom and her daughter in the lobby (it was a bad one), figure out how to make coffee in this new space-age coffee maker (it took me an hour, and it wasn't even for me!), and attempt to look like I maintained some sanity.
And that was just this morning!
Most of you are probably thinking, what a wimp! But my point is this: today is my second day back from vacation; and the second day back from vacation (for me, anyway) is ALWAYS a total disaster.
WHY IS THAT??
Why can't I transition smoothly and calmly back into work? I even came in on Sunday for an hour or two to catch up on email and mail, so I would have an easier transition! Well, that didn't work.
If any of you out there understand what I am saying, I would appreciate a shout-out.
I would feel alot better if I knew I wasn't the only one who feels like they've been hit by a Mac truck on their second day back from vacation.
I am REALLY longing for the pool right about now.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Promise House has a great program called STAR (Services to At-Risk Youth) that provides in-home and community-based case management and counseling services to prevent teens from running away from home.
STAR is a state-wide program funded through the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, and is in every county in Texas. Like I said, it is a GREAT program.
TDFPS contracts with us to provide the above services in Dallas County and pays us about $825,000 per year. We are to serve 1074 individual teens, along with their family members. That comes out to about $700 per kid. Not too bad.
So, I heard that the agency that had previously served Collin and Rockwall Counties was not renewing their contract. Naturally, I was interested. When I inquired with the STAR folks in Austin, they sent me this info: the contract for Collin and Rockwall counties called for the agency to serve 1174 individual teens, plus family members. The amount of the contract was $323,000.
Do you see what I see???
Collin and Rockwall counties combined have a little over 800,000 people. Dallas county, of course, is much bigger than that. Yet, more teens for almost 1/3 of the $$ we get have to be served in those counties. Somebody do the math!
I think I may know now why they didn't renew!
So, when I again talked with the folks in Austin they said that those #s were negotiated at the beginning of the contract (sounds like someone needed a better negotiater!), and the $ amount was fixed.
Well, needless to say, Promise House is not going to enter into a contract that says we can only spend $104 per kid ($323,000 divided by 1174). I told Austin that at that $ amount we could possibly serve 600 teens, or if they wanted us to serve 1174, we would need at least $650,000.
We'll see what happens.
Ah, state government....don't ya just love 'em?
Sunday, July 12, 2009
It almost feels like I'm being lumped into this "syndrome" that could be part of the DSM IV (which is still very sexist):
"symptoms include depression, anxiety, and sadness at last child's departure from the home. Patient is unable to cope with ALL that time on her hands and becomes lonely and despondent. Affects women, primarily."
So here is what hit me last night. Do people ask men the same questions?? I have NEVER heard anyone ask those questions to a father. I may just not get around much, but I would bet that mothers are asked those questions at least twice as often as fathers.
The first assumption is that, as a mother, your child is your entire life, even if you have a career. Not so, with a man. No one EVER expects his child to be his whole life. In that same vane, have you ever heard men talk about work / life balance?? Rarely.
The second assumption is that a mother can't find anything besides children to fill up ALL that LONELY time. When fathers are included in the questions, they are framed around the premise that he is going to have time for ALOT more fun! More golf, more hunting, more, more, more. Poor mom, though, is going to be sitting on the couch depressed and anxious without her precious baby.
Give me a break!!
I love my children more than life itself. I have spent the last 29 years raising them; and loving EVERY minute. But they have never been my WHOLE life. I built a career, went to graduate school, participated in two singing groups, joined several book clubs, took voice lessons, etc., etc., all of which made my time and relationships with my children all that much better.
I find it insulting that people assume that women are nothing without their children--that assumption is never made about men.
So, if you want to ask me those questions, you have to find a father whose last child is leaving home and ask him the SAME questions!!
But......here are my answers: "I will do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it." "After literally running for the last 29 years, I will totally bask in 'all that time on my hands' '". "No, I won't be lonely. How can I be when both daughters have texting, email, facebook, twitter, etc., etc.? I love solitude and I need it. I have alot of "non-solitude" to make up for. So, no, I won't be lonely."
Yes, it will be different. But I have loved every stage in my girls' lives, and this will be no different.
It will be poignant, it may be a little sad for a bit. But, it will be an incredible journey, just as every step of our lives together has been.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Over 6,000 teens run away from home every year in Dallas. And on any given night, over 1,000 teens are on the street, "sofa surfing" (moving from place to place), or involuntarily out of their homes. Kicked out, abandoned, down and out, they come to Promise House for hope and healing. We give many of these teens not a second chance, but their ONLY chance for a better life.
I've been with Promise House 11 of those 25 years. I've met extraordinary young people who, inspite of horrific trauma, have perservered, maintained, healed, succeeded. And most extraordinary of all is the fact they can still smile, can still laugh, play, and be typical teens--if given the chance.
So, in our 25th year, here are 25 reasons to contribute to the continued success of Promise House and the thousands of teens who look to us every year as their safety net, their anchor:
- We need your help.
- It is a worthy cause.
- It could be your teen.
- They need your help.
- It will make you feel good.
- You were once a teen.
- We get results.
- You'll be contributing to a warm bed.
- You'll be contributing to 3 meals a day, every day.
- You'll be contributing to medical and dental care.
- You'll be contributing to shoes, socks, underwear, jeans, shirts, p.j.s.
- You'll be helping homeless young mothers like Sarah become outstanding parents.
- You'll be contributing to babies' and toddlers' well-being.
- You will help keep at-risk teens at home and off the street.
- We need to pay our passionate and dedicated staff.
- We need to keep the lights on.
- We need to be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
- You will feel happy.
- You will feel proud.
- You will feel useful.
- We will feel happy.
- Our teens will be happy.
- You will save a life.
- You will give hope.
- If it was your child, you would want all the help you could get.
Please help. To contribute, go to www.promisehouse.org.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Does anyone have any idea what Promise House could do with just ONE of those millions????? And WHY is it that the rich folks are so eager to support huge stadiums, huge football games, huge entertainment venues, huge hotels, but not huge problems like teens who live in cars, under bridges, on the street, on top of buildings??? Teens who have suffered unspeakable abuses and have chosen the streets as refuge??? Teens who will be the next generation of chronically homeless adults, cause NO ONE who can really ante up and put some serious money toward solving the problem is paying attention to them??
I used to say it made my head hurt. But now, it makes my heart hurt. Promise House struggles every year to meet the gap in funding between government dollars and the actual costs of providing critically needed services to these teens: emergency shelter, long-term housing, street outreach, crisis counseling. Not to mention basic needs of food, clothing, a bed to sleep in, toothpaste, socks, underwear, etc., etc. I often say that whatever it takes to raise a kid is what Promise House does.
But sometimes it seems that Dallas would rather raise a convention hotel, or a stadium, or fancy new condos that are now sitting empty, than raise these teens. But guess what? We will NEVER end homelessness in Dallas until these teens get the attention and help they need.
The last thing I always say is: "If it was your child on the street, you would want all the help you could get."
That is all we are asking--all the help we can get.
So, how about just one of those millions??
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
For instance, one of my favorites is to ask Leslie, "Do you remember when Sara tried to strangle you on the porch?" "OMG, Mom, do you HAVE to???" (she really loves hearing it, though).
"Of course I do," I say.
I then start retelling the story of the time I was sitting peacefully in the living room when Leslie (age 8 or 9) comes screaming and crying through the front door.
"What on earth???" I question her.
"Sara tried to STRANGLE me!!"
"Oh, come on Leslie, STRANGLE you??"
"YES! I'M SERIOUS!"
"I'm sure she didn't mean to REALLY strangle you, did she?"
"OH YES SHE DID!"
So, I call Sara into the house.
"Sara, Leslie said that you tried to strangle her. Is this true?"
"YOU REALLY TRIED TO STRANGLE HER???"
"What on earth for???"
"She made me mad."
"But you put your hands around her throat and actually tried to strangle her??"
"I already told you, yes. How many times are you going to ask me?"
Another favorite is one I tell my oldest daughter, Kat.
"So, do you remember when, any time you would do something great, you used to love for me to sing the 'I'm Proud of You' song from Mr. Rogers? "I'm proud of you, I'm proud of you, I hope that you are proud of you, too!"
"Oh, God, Mom. That was ages ago!"
"Then why, at age 29, do you still want me to sing it to you when you've done something great???"
"I don't know," she mumbles sheepishly. "I guess I still like it?"
"Want me to sing it to you now?"
Or this one. Kat had just gotten her drivers permit and was driving to school with me in the front seat. She had done a great job. So, she turns into the school parking lot, totally confident of the fabulous job she has done, and starts waving at all her friends......and forgot all about the fact that she was driving. She consequently side-swiped a brand new Lincoln Town Car.
The guy in the car JUMPS out of the car, and starts YELLING: "What's the matter with you!! Are you blind??? This is a brand new car!! You've ruined it!!"
Well, that ticked me off, so I got out of our car, walked over to him and asked, "Why are you in this parking lot?"
"Why do you think I'm in this parking lot? I have a kid in this school!"
"And does your kid have a driver's license??"
"Yes, so what?"
"Well, it could just as easily have been YOUR kid who side-swiped me as my kid side-swiping you. So chill out, or take a powder. I have insurance."
All of us have so many of these stories with our kids. And they NEVER tire of hearing them. These stories anchor them, give them their foundation of belongness to family, validate that they are seen, loved, important, remembered. They teach them that they matter--that they have made an impact on the world, on their parents and families.
SO MANY of the teens at Promise House have NO ONE to tell them "Do you remember?" stories. They've either been shuttled around the foster care system for years, or their parents were too abusive or drug addicted to care about family stories, or they've been on the streets with no parents. Their "Do you remember?" stories are stories they want to forget--stories of abuse, of transience, of incarceration, of lonliness, hurt, heartache.
People say you can't miss what you never had, but I don't believe that. These kids know what they are missing, what they have missed. And no matter how old they are, they long for family and connection.....for someone to tell them THEIR stories.
I think that's why so many stay in touch with us. We are their story tellers--we remember them--we love them--and they matter.
Monday, June 22, 2009
I've said so many times that we are an anchor for our kids, that we become their parents, and that like all kids, they leave and then they come back when they need us. Russell is a perfect illustration.
So, he met with Darrell, talked with Patrick. I have no idea what was settled or discussed, but what I do know is that he knew we would be here to help him or simply to talk to him, pat him on the back and send him back out into the world.
The Russells are what make my job worth all the headaches. And he didn't even bring his laundry to wash!!
Sunday, June 21, 2009
I continue to be shocked at his slight stature when I see him, because he has always been larger than life to me. There is a part of me that still believes he may beat the odds and be immortal. I just cannot imagine life without him.
He and I have often been at cross purposes, him being very critical of some of my life choices, me being highly critical of the way he treated me. There have been years when I didn't speak to him, there have been years when he "disowned"me for one thing or another. Thank goodness, that is water under the bridge now.
He is a staunch conservative, I'm a wild-eyed (in his words) liberal. The one thing that has brought us together is my work at Promise House. He is very proud of the work we do and is proud of me for heading it up.
He is the kind of parent who tells everyone he knows how proud he is of you, but he never says it to you. That used to really make me hot and hurt my feelings, but that's just who he is--he was never privvy to the "positive parenting" model of child-rearing.
The truly remarkable thing about my father is his total lack of martyrdom or sense of feeling burdened about life. And he's had plenty to feel burdened by--his older brother flew the coop to Brazil at age 19 and left him to deal with my very hard to deal with grandmother, his father died when he was 14-- he was then raised by a worse than Dickensonian step-father, left college to go to war, came back, got married and had six kids in six years, went bankrupt and had to move to Texas for work, got fired from that job for his inability to follow rules (a true entrepreneur), and finally built his own lime-stone crushing business.
He was hard on all of us, but especially hard on my oldest brother. He was uncompromising, rigid, abusive at times, loud, and obnoxious. But he was also fun, creative, hilarious, a softy if you talked to him just the right way, and loved music, film, live theatre, and fun. He was also the one who taught me that "no one is going to toot your horn for you but you", and that "10% of the population run the world, and the other 90% wonder what happened--don't be part of the 90%!"
He is also the reason I finished my doctorate--"Damn, I'll probably be dead before you finish that damn thing", and is the voice in my head (good or bad) that keeps me moving forward.
My stepmother, Pat, died suddenly last summer and very unexpectedly, and that has thrown him for a loop. He is quite a bit older than she was and the last thing either of them expected was that she would die first. He has finally aged this year, I'm sure from the grief and strain of her loss. I asked him the other day how he was and he said, "I've got about three years to live and about 10 years of work to finish--you do the math!" So like him.
The only up-side to her death is that he has allowed all of us to get much closer to him. And that is a joy. Kids never get tired of hearing their parents' stories, and I'm no different. I don't care if I've heard them a thousand times, I still love hearing him tell them.
So, Crusher Bill, happy Fathers Day. I gotta say, you did it your way, and we all are the better for it. I love you.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
What is the deal??
WHY is it that services to the most marginalized citizens are ALWAYS the first to be cut? And WHY doesn't anyone at the local, state, or federal level GET IT that paying for prevention services is SOOOO much cheaper than paying for treatment, incarceration, mental hospitals, etc. Prevention is ALWAYS on the chopping block--at every level. Instead, we put lots of money into prisons, the Texas Youth Commission (we all know how well THAT works), stadiums (monuments to society's and meglomaniacs' gluttony); and cut like crazy programs for kids, teens, and senior citizens. I'm sure they will understand the NEED for a convention center hotel over their need to EAT or have a HOUSE.
When are we going to be willing to take care of our own? Texas is unabashedly the WORST state in this regard, because we HAVE the money to help kids, to help seniors, to keep libraries open.....we just don't want to spend it there! Governor Perry is VERY proud of the fact that taxes are not raised (ever!) and consistently brags about "small government". Meanwhile, thousands of children and families have NO insurance, seniors get no Meals on Wheels,
families that work two or three jobs just to make ends meet have to leave their kids at home after school and in the summer, cause child care is either non-existent or too expensive. Makes me proud to be a Texan (NOT)!
I'm so tired of arguing about this. I wish Mary Suhm or Governor Perry had to live the life of Promise House families for just one week. Use public transportation to get anywhere, argue with case workers to get food stamps, stand in line forever to get anything done, use Parkland Hospital's emergency room as their doctor (and wait 18 hours to be seen)--or worse, live in a car or an emergency shelter or under a bridge. I think they might change their minds about some of these cuts or spending priorities.
So, back to the City of Dallas. The Dallas Police Department's First Offender Program is on the chopping block. That means that close to 1,000 additional teens per year will now be in the juvenile justice system, with criminal records, for a first offense--whereas, if they went through the First Offender Program, they would stay out of the system, and on successful completion of the program, have their records expunged. GO FIGURE!!
I'm so disappointed in the City of Dallas and in the State of Texas. I love both dearly, and it is really heart-wrenching to me to see them act so irresponsibly toward its most vulnerable citizens. I really don't know how Ms. Suhm and Governor Perry sleep at night.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
But, I had lunch with a delightful woman today who boosted my spirits. I was sharing information with her about Promise House and the help we need from the community; and she really got it. Now, I've been around long enough to know when someone doesn't get it at all, or somewhat gets it, or really gets it. And she REALLY got it. It was a joy to share my passion about our teens with her and see her passion spark as I talked.
Where are the rest of you??? I know there are many of you out there who, if given the chance, would really GET Promise House and what we are about and who we serve and the kind of help we need from the community (from you).
WE NEED YOU!! OUR TEENS NEED YOU!! YOU NEED US!!
Working with Promise House and our teens will change your life. There aren't many opportunities to really change someone's life for the better, but here is your chance.
Please help. We need your time, we need your money (yes, I'm actually begging), we need your passion. Go to www.promisehouse.org and check us out.
Our teens are worth your investment.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Six Promise House teens accomplished major milestones this Spring. Brittney, Anita, Ryan, and Anthony all graduated from high school with flying colors! Brittney graduated from Arbor Education Training, Anita from Lincoln High School, Ryan from Hillcrest, and Andrew from Kimball. On top of that, Andrew received a $5,000 scholarship per year from the Professional Golfers' Association! Congratulations to these incredible young people!
That's not all. Julie, a former Wesley Inn resident, graduated from Everest College in May; and Sarah, a current resident of Wesley Inn, just completed her first semester at El Centro with Straight "A's".
So, what is so special about these accomplishments? Only that each of these kids came to Promise House from the street. And more than that, while they were on the street, they were trying to stay in school--living in cars, in parks, sofa surfing, running from abuse, trying to survive--and in school. That is pretty miraculous.
We believe strongly at PH that education is a way out of poverty and homelessness. These kids truly embody WHY we believe what we believe. They have broken the cycle, they have stepped into life, they have demanded through their accomplishments that they be respected.
You can never know the extent of their tragedy, their sorrow, the unimaginable trauma they have experienced. But we know. And they know. And they also know that we will do anything for them except allow them to use their trauma as a barrier to their success. The trauma was real. The barrier is not. That is something we know before they know.
Brittney, Anita, Ryan, Anthony, Julie, and Sarah faced down their barriers and succeeded. Hallelujah!
I'm not sure, in their circumstances, I could have done the same.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
We stayed with Hattye every summer growing up. Our cousins (who we called foreigners, cause they were from Omaha, Nebraska and talked funny) and us would meet for two or three weeks at Hattye's house in Malvern. My mother, Aunt Ann, and Hattye would spend most of their time on the screen porch, smoking, working crossword puzzles, and just enjoying being. We would roam the neighborhood, walk downtown, go to the movie, or congregate on the porch. For at least a week of that time, we would all go to Lake Catherine and stay in a big old house with an upstairs sleeping porch. That's when the Dad's came with the boat.
But this is about Hattye, not the lake. She was THE BEST grandmother anyone could ever want. She was a tremendous cook and taught me how to make ham salad, chicken salad, turkey salad, southern potato salad, fried chicken with no burn spots (iron skillet and low heat), cocoons, divinity, cranberry-orange relish, ambrosia, brownies, home-made egg nog (with bourbon), and a million other things. She fixed us things like tea with lemonade, egg-salad sandwiches, ham baked in a paper bag, fresh tomatoes, pears and cottage cheese, canned peaches, etc., etc.
She always made you feel like you her favorite (a real trick with 10 grandchildren). When you'd call her on the phone, her response was always, "Well, Hi, Daaahhlin! I've missed hearing from you so much!" When we'd get ready to leave and go back home, her, "It's going to be so quiet around here, I just won't know what to do with myself" was both a testament of her love, and a heart-stabbing guilt trip.
She was the fun grandmother--loved our friends, our music, our dances, gave great presents, and always had mints or gum in her purse that we could raid. When she was at our house, there was never a day when a ton of our friends were not over visiting with her. She came every Xmas, and around Thanksgiving, everyone would start asking us, "When's Hattye coming??"
My sister Beth and I or my brother Ross and I often received the fantastic job of going to get her in Malvern and bringing her to Sherman. Now at that time, we (the kids) were driving a 59 brown Chevy Impala (The Brown Bomb). That thing would go 100 mpg in a heart-beat. So we would roar up to Malvern, stay at Hattye's a day or two and bring her back (much slower). And she loved it. She could catch up on all the music, gossip from Sherman, and goings on of all of us. It was great fun.
You just knew that she loved being a grandmother.
I was going to segue into the harsh realities that many of PH's grandmothers face, but I'll do that another time. Today, I want to be joyful.
So, Hattye, Happy Birthday! I miss you every day, especially around Christmas, cause I just am not going to bake all the wonderful stuff you used to. But I do still make cranberry-orange relish for my father--he loves it, and I will pass your recipes to my daughters, who actually like to cook.
I have so many incredible images of you, but the one that is most omnipresent is of your hands, somewhat gnarled from arthritis, mixing one of your fabulous salads--hands deep in the bowl to ensure it got mixed just right--wedding rings slipping around on your left finger, your index finger bringing up a great big blob for me to taste. "What does it need, Honey?"
Not a thing. It had you.