Sunday, May 31, 2009


Today is my grandmother Hattye's, birthday. She would have been 110 years old. Born in 1899 in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, she grew up with one sister, Bessie (Aunt Bessie to us), married Jesse Ross McCormack in 1919 or 1920 and moved to Malvern. She and Ross had two daughters, Jane (my mother) and Ann (my aunt). Ross ran a lumber mill that my oldest sister, also Ann, loved to visit with him.

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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Can Hearts Really Break?

Can hearts really be broken?

It seems that if a heart is broken, it doesn't work anymore. So, I tend to think that, unless you've had a heart attack or a heart transplant, that your heart hurts, but is not broken. I've seen many, many kids with bruised, battered, and hurt hearts come into Promise House. Their hearts still work, but not very well. They pump and everything, but they can't hold much joy or sadness because they're just not very strong. Hopefully, while they are with us, their hearts will mend a bit and become able to hold alot more feelings.

Sometimes when we get a rough kid in, we know that connecting with him or her is going to hurt their heart. Because for these kids, kindness triggers lots of hurt and pain that they try to protect by being tough. So we have to go slow, so their heart has time to adjust to feeling good.

How can a heart hold great joy along with great sadness all at the same time?

Like this weekend--incredible, undefinable joy at seeing my daughter graduate from high school and at the same time, deeper than deep sadness over the loss of a long-time friendship. Or, many years ago, my mother dying while I was pregnant with my oldest daughter--the unabashed joy I felt when giving birth existing right along with my terrible grief at not having my mother with me. How can a heart hold that much? Does the joy help it not be so hurt, or does the sadness minimize the joy? I don't think so. It is awesome to me that both states co-exist in the same heart and somehow enhance the other.

How many hurts can a heart take before it breaks? Does sadness, grief, anger, loss, cause physical heart problems? Who knows. But I know that my heart can hurt with joy just as much as it hurts with sadness and grief. What is that about? Are they the same in some way? Is that what they mean by poignant---joy and sadness mixed up?

If so, this weekend was a poignant time. My heart hurt---from joy and sadness---but it's not broken. It still works very well, pumping right along. And I am ever grateful that it is big enough and strong enough to hold seemingly polar opposite states at the same time.

Would that we could give our teens that gift.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Memorial Day

Memorial Day. Honoring those who have died in wars. My father was a fighter pilot in the Navy in WWII in the South Pacific. He didn't fact, he was shot down by enemy fire and miraculously picked up by a submarine. How lucky can you get??? I've never thought much about Memorial Day until Iraq. Seeing the kids who have died over there has been so terribly sad.

When I think about it, my father was a kid when he went to war--age 19. I can't imagine. He doesn't like to talk about the War, but I do remember once when I asked him how he survived the fear, he said, "You would look around you at the other guys in the transport plane and know that half wouldn't come back--but you NEVER put yourself in that thought." Wow.

At Promise House, we've had a few young veterans in our transitional living program. And we've had several who joined the Armed Forces upon leaving our program. We've had a staff member's son in Iraq, and we now have a staff member in Iraq. So far, we've had no casualties. It gets closer and closer to home.

I can't help thinking of other "war" casualties closer to home. Kids who die at the hands of abusive adults, women who are beaten to death by spouse or boyfriend, teens who are sold into prostitution, teens who die on the streets from drug overdoses. I'd like to have an army to fight those wars....

But this Monday, we honor those who died in battle on our behalf. Whether we agree with war or not, think we should be engaged in wars or not, the fact that there are men and women willing to protect us from peril is pretty awesome.

I am also awed by the men and women who fight for kids--sometimes a seemingly hopeless battle. I am grateful for them, particularly when there is no end in sight. It takes alot of fortitude to keep fighting under those circumstances.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Running the Gauntlet for Money

Why does it have to be so hard to get money to serve our clients?

This latest stimulus money, although wonderful to be able to access, is like giving your first-born child. How many people will you serve (reasonable), how many hours of case management (bordering on not reasonable), and break down case management hours into levels of case management given (totally ridiculous). How will you prioritize who gets funds (fairly reasonable). Describe unmet needs, target population, poverty rates, coordination of mainstream services, your history, services currently offered, address of building, square feet of building (???), types of services currently offered, total # of persons served annually, target group currently served, case management services currently ofered, staff positions providing direct services, plan for prioritizing services, unmet need data, needs and gaps in services, method to determine client eligibility, plan to develop policy and procedure manual and timeline for doing so, current system of evaluation, proposed evaluation of this project----all in three (3!), double-spaced, 1" margins, 11 font (smallest) pages (totally unreasonable) with headings and sub-headings (which take up space)! It's better than Saturday Night Live.

Somehow, I doubt President Obama has seen these RFPs (Requests for Proposals). And, my eternal bane, we get only 2.5% of the grant money to administer the grant.

Despite my groanings and moanings, we will once again run the gauntlet, with no guarantee of funding, and hope for the best.

Our young families need the help, and we cannot let them down.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Fancy

Sometimes I think I should make my blog fancier. You know, all the pictures, links, bells and whistles that other blogs have. I have no idea how to do any of that. But then I got to thinking. Why do I love reading so much? Because you have to use your mind's eye to visualize characters, places, motives. You have to imagine what a castle looks like or how the Secret Garden looks. That's why a great book can never really be a great movie. Movies just don't cut it like your imagination does.

These days, we don't have to think much, or use our imagination. Everything is so RIGHT IN OUR FACE. Pictures, videos, text, Twitter, Facebook, 24-hour news (ugh!). You don't have to wonder how someone looks or conjure up the motives and passions of characters in a story. It's all there ALL the time.

So, maybe it's ok with me that you actually have to read and think and conjure up images and imagine if you're going to read this blog.

So today I'd like you to imagine. I'd like you to read something instead of watching something. I'd like you to sit and ponder the fate of the world instead of listening to 24-hour CNN with banners running on both the top and the bottom, cause Lord knows having someone talking isn't enough!

See if you can go an evening without texting, without checking your email, Facebook, or whatever else you're hooked up to, or hooked on. And read a book--not on a Kindle--but a real paper book. Let yourself get lost.

You might be surprised at what you find!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Friend Mitch

I'm thinking about my friend Mitch. He lives in Austin and has been in this business of saving kids alot longer than I have. Way back in the 70's, when he was a real hippy, he went to work for a small emergency shelter called "Middle Earth". And over 30 years later, he's still at it, having served as a direct-care worker, manager, executive director, and now COO of the agency that was created when Middle Earth merged with five other agencies in Austin.

He was involved in the early years of the creation of the National Network for Youth, the Southwest Network of Youth Services, and the Texas Network of Youth Services. And probably most importantly, he has served as the auctioneer at the annual TNOYS conference for as long as I've known him. He wears his history lightly, seeming to never age and to never stop loving his work.

I'm thinking about Mitch because of something he said in his acceptance speech when he was awarded the "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the National Network for Youth a couple of years ago. He said he doesn't believe in burnout. But he does believe in "rust-out"--that is, when we let ourselves stop learning, stop being curious, stop wanting to hear the stories of our teens, get boring, start thinking of our work as a burden, or worse, just a job.

I'm thinking about this, because right now I am really tired and somewhat overwhelmed with the work ahead of me this month. And because I have suffered with "burnout" or "compassion fatigue" or "rust-out" periodically throughout my career. And then when I hear Mitch, after over 30 years, talk excitedly about plans for his agency, I am pretty humbled.

I'm really glad there are people like Mitch in our field. And people like Doris and Sonjia and Peggy at Promise House, whose many years of service have not diminished their commitment to teens and who still love teens and all their wacky ways.

I want to be like them when I grow up.

Friday, May 8, 2009

These Old Houses

So, I'm having to have all the plumbing in my house re-done. When I moved in 20 years ago, I failed to notice that it had that crummy Quest (plastic) plumbing. I also failed to notice that a class-action law suit had been filed two years before I moved in against them for their leaking plumbing.

So, for 20 years, I've been plugging the dyke, one leak at a time, cause insurance won't cover replacement. Finally, though, after three major leaks this year, my plumber said, "So, are you going to wait til the ceiling falls in to fix this stuff?"

Then, I go through my self-recrimination ritual of, "I never should have bought this house--I shouldn't even be in a house--I hate maintenance, yard work, etc., whatever possessed me in the first place??? I've got to get out of here!!"

Then I look around my house and remember how much I love old houses. The stories they hold, the families they knew, the lives and deaths they witness. When we were about to close on this house, I was sitting in my daughter's room on her new bed imagining all the history that came before us--were there children, were people happy? And then I imagined all the history we would bring to the house. And that we did. Weddings, births, divorce, coming of age ceremonies, tears, laughter, the animal graveyard (Duncan, my golden running buddy; Amy, my angel cat; Zac, the flat-faced Persian that Leslie wrote funny poetry about; the bird Zac ate, gerbils, etc.). We have LIVED in that house.

I don't know how I will be able to leave this house. At one point I really wanted to pass it on to my daughters, like families used to do. That doesn't happen anymore. Staying in a house as long as I have is almost aberrant now.

So, what does this have to do with Promise House? Well, we have an Old House--the original PH, which is now Wesley Inn, our group home for homeless young mothers and their children. It is a money pit, just like my house. It is drafty, creaky, needs constant repair and maintenance, etc., etc. The expedient thing to do would be to tear it down and build a modern structure.

But that is our HOME. And it is homey, and cozy, and has character, and has history, and has stories to tell. How can we demolish that?? It has a soul and a heart--it was the heart of Promise House for many years.

I can't do it. It hurts just to think about it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

One More Lament

So the mayors of the largest cities in Texas have gotten together to get $50,000,000 from the state to deal with homelessness--to be more exact, chronic homelessness. The Dallas Morning News is behind it, as stated in the leading editorial this morning.

Where is the $50m coming from? Who knows, but trust me, some prevention $$ somewhere will be cut to make it happen. The $3m that Dallas hopes to get will go primarily to The Bridge, the homeless assistance center, which has a $7million annual budget, which already gets $3.5million from the City of Dallas, which is also now going to get ALL of the County Emergency Shelter Grants funds (which used to be divided between 6 or 7 agencies that serve different homeless populations), which is also getting substantial funding from large foundations, which also does NOT serve familes or unaccompanied teens, which also serves only 10% of the homeless population, but which gets the lion's share of city, county, and now state funds allocated to the homeless.

Promise House receives $40,000 from the city through the Emergency Shelter Grant fund, none from the County (now that the Bridge gets it all--we used to get about $25,000 to pay utilities for our group home for homeless teen mothers), and none from the state. We serve over 7,000 teens and family members annually through prevention, intervention, and outreach services.

But the sqeaky wheel gets the grease, the loudest baby gets the most food, the important people get the ear of the king. And I mean the Bridge is a BIG baby that is in constant need of ALOT of food to keep it running and has many important people supporting it. Meanwhile, the rest of us who serve the majority of the homeless population (women with children, teens, families, battered women), are forgotten.

I am NOT saying we don't need the Bridge. What I AM saying is that we need attention paid to the entire homeless population, not just the chronically homeless. And we need to be honest about the impact of the Bridge on the funding that is available for the rest of us. If you have a never-ending $7million mouth to feed added to the already existing mouths to feed, and the $7million mouth is louder and more important than the others, someone will go hungry! And it won't be the Bridge!

The irony is this: as I continuously lament, we will never end chronic homelessness in Dallas or anywhere else until we provide intensive help to the thousands of young people aging out of foster care, the juvenile system, or who have been separated from their homes through no fault of their own. THEY ARE THE NEXT GENERATION OF CHRONICALLY HOMELESS ADULTS. It makes me want to pull every hair on my head out THAT NO ONE IN HIGH PLACES GETS THAT!!!

Somebody in a high place PLEASE get that, and PLEASE get that it takes money to help these kids.

I am getting pretty hoarse.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Family Stories

I had dinner last night with my 87 year-old father. Unlike many 87 year-olds, my father has more energy than all of his kids combined. He is a horse breeder in Louisiana, has race horses, and still drives all over Louisiana and Texas. He is also a consumate story-teller. Funny, loud, never met a stranger, yarn spinner.

I wonder if kids ever stop being curious about their parents and loving to hear their stories. As with every other time I see my father, some family story gets told or retold, embellished or critiqued, catalogued once again in the family lore. Last night was the story of my dad and his business partner getting fired from the company at which they both worked--which led them to start a very successful business together. But at the time, they had 10 kids between them, and his partner's wife was the only one working. How they made it out of that mess is never revealed, but make it out they did. And,of course, the story was much better coming from him.

As I write this, I think of all the kids who have no family stories, or who have stories of abuse, neglect, abandonment. I think of how difficult it is without positive family stories for them to anchor to a healthy identity, to feel their place in the world, to feel the support of generations past. Kids who get bounced from one foster placement to another or from one shelter to another, kids who end up on the street, kids who don't know who their parents are.

For alot of our teens at Promise House, we are their anchor, their family story. I've often said that whatever it takes to raise a kid is what we do. And part of raising a kid is giving them a story--a good story of who they are, what they are capable of, and who supports them.

I am so indebted to my father for all the incredible stories he has shared with me. Because of him, I know who I am, I know my place in the world, and I know what I am capable of.

If we can give that gift to our teens, I think we will have been pretty good parents.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Funk

Friday. Listening to Bob Dylan. Ruminating on the week--it has been a tough one. I've had too many soul-sucking activities and duties, and I am pretty exhausted. Arguing with the state (always such fun), having to tell staff to cancel our big Cinco de Mayo event, keeping up with the influenza alerts, trying to make sense of the State Rapid Rehousing RFP, grants, grants, and more grants. Too little contact with our teens.

It's hard to keep arguing and fighting--I sometimes think that government people sit around and think of ways to make it totally impossible for us to deliver services. "Let's see. What can we do to Promise House this week to ensure they not only don't get their payment, but that they have to jump through 25 hoops for us." It gets very discouraging.

The other discouraging thing is that no one wants to fund operations. None of the stimulus package dollars can be used to help off-set any of our expenses in delivering the programs. So, in delivering the service, we have already lost money, even before we get it! Further, there are very few foundations or corporations that will fund operations. Most want to fund something new, or restrict their gift to something specific. So, we can have lots of new programs, but no electricity, water, or administrative staff!

Most of the time I can compartmentalize alot of the "garbage" stuff I have to deal with, but this week, it's been all week, and I'm beat.

So, I'm glad it's Friday. I'm going to go home and hide and pretend that all is right with the world. Then on Monday, I'll start again. And I'll persist. And we will keep saving kids.