Wednesday, September 30, 2009

PH Conundrum

I have a conundrum with which I need help. Promise House was founded as an emergency shelter for runaway teens. We have continued to operate the shelter for the last 25 years while adding other programs critically needed for these teens, such as transitional living, community-based prevention programs, a maternity group home for homeless young mothers and their children, and scattered-site apartments for older homeless mothers and their children.

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

Empathy Stops Here

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

We're Number One!!

A new Number One headline in the Dallas Morning News today for Texas. So now we are not only Number One in repeat teen pregnancies, but we are also Number One in the rate of uninsured persons. Wow! Let's give each other a High Five! We're Number One, We're Number One!!!

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

Kids Live Through Obama Speech

Well, I see all the school children lived through the Obama speech. Whew! That was a close one! Maybe he isn't the Anti-Christ after all.....but who knows.....he may be able to perform mind control tricks on Congress tonight to make all the Republicans and Blue Dog Dems love his healthcare plan. So, if you see eyes beginning to glaze over or turn yellow, you'll know we're in real trouble.

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

"How Can I Keep From Singing?"

I just started singing with a mixed chorus called Resounding Harmony, directed by Dr. Tim Seelig, who used to direct the Turtle Creek Chorale and the The Women's Chorus of Dallas. I sang with the Women's Chorus for almost ten years, so being able to sing again, particularly with a mixed group is very exciting.

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.