Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Do You Remember When....?"

So, I love playing the game "Do You Remember When....?" with my daughters.

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??"
"I'm sure she didn't mean to REALLY strangle you, did she?"

So, I call Sara into the house.

"Sara, Leslie said that you tried to strangle her. Is this true?"
"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?"
"Would you?"

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


As I drove up to PH this morning, I saw a tall, lanky kid sitting on the picnic table by our parking lot. No one else was around, so I knew he wasn't with the shelter. I walked over to him and realized that he looked really familiar. "What's up?" I asked. "Nothing, just waiting til y'all open". Sonja, my street outreach manager walked up about that time. "We're open," she said. "You look really familiar," I said. "Yea," he said. "I'm Russell. I was in TLP (transitional living)." "Oh yea, I remember you," I said. "Where are you now and what are you doing?". "Well, I'm trying to work and am going to AI (Art Institute) to learn to become a chef." "Very cool," I said. "What are you doing here?" "Well, I need to talk to Darrell (his former case manager) and Patrick (our receptionist)." "Patrick??" "Yea." I didn't ask anymore questions--Sonja could sort it out.

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

Crusher Bill--A Fathers Day Tribute

Today is Fathers Day, and my brother, Ross, and I are spending it with Crusher Bill (my father's nick-name--his business was crushed limestone). He also just turned 87. What a life he has lived. I've written about him before, about his service in WWII as a Navy fighter pilot--getting shot down in the Pacific and being rescued by a submarine--, about his outrageous stories, his never-ending energy, his ability to live life full-out. He's a member of the Great Generation, lived through the Great Depression, built his wealth from the ground up, supported six kids, and now breeds and runs race horses (he was at the track yesterday to see four of his horses run!).

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

City of Dallas and Texas Chainsaw Massacre

So, it's all over the news how the City of Dallas is going to have to make big cuts in order to balance the budget. Laying off over 700 employees, cutting core services, etc., etc. BUT we can build a new convention center hotel???? And make improvements to some city golf course???

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

Do You Get It?

I've been somewhat in the dumps lately. I can't decide if it is pre empty-nest syndrome, having to balance the PH budget for next year, arguing with state grantors for two months, or just wanting to spend all day every day at the swimming pool.

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).


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

Celebration Time!


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.