Friday, December 17, 2010
As we pulled out the decorations, decided how to do the lights, discussed which ornaments to put where, and ate pounds of popcorn, all the trauma, sadness, instability, abuse, fear, and uncertainty of their lives took a very backseat to the fun of the hour. We had babies, toddlers, tweens, teens, young adults, and us old staffers laughing, talking, decorating, and eating together as the tree blossomed into probably our best Christmas Tree Ever!
Even the shy ones got in on the act. With a little coaxing, a very timid 15-year old girl, who hates crowds, accepted the ornaments I brought her and found just the right spot on the tree for them. The older teens were helping the young kids reach to new heights (literally) while the toddlers wobbled around playing with and dropping the shatter-proof (thank goodness) ornaments.
When completed, the tree shone like magic and the kids, stuffed with popcorn and good cheer, shone right along with it. A good time was had by all.
I’ve often said that one of our most important roles in the lives of our kids is to be an anchor in their many-times stormy lives. Although we facilitate family visits, parties, overnight stays, and gift giving during the holidays with our teens and their families, there are always those kids who have no family, whose families fail to show or who disappoint, or kids who can’t be with their family for a variety of reasons. Consequently, it is experiences like the one we shared last Wednesday that serve as the anchor for them; that help them remember they are cared about, even loved. Hopefully, some day when these kids are grown and decorating their own Christmas trees with their families, they will fondly remember a long-ago day of tree decorating at Promise House…..and the sanctuary provided for them on that day.
That is the best Christmas gift for which we could ever hope!
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I wonder if we even know how profound the traditions we create as families are. How crucial they are to our children's lives, to their growth, to their sense of belonging. And how devastating it is when there are none to which a child can anchor himself or herself. I can't imagine not being able to draw from the incredibly rich traditions and stories of my family, not having that history to add girth and foundation to my history, having no backdrop for my life.
And yet, there are thousands upon thousands of kids who come to us every year totally unmoored from family, from their history, from anything positive to draw upon. And as their temporary sanctuaries, it is our job to BE that anchor, that history, that positive; to create memories and traditions that will live on in them, that will give them stories they want to tell their children, traditions they want to emulate.
Thanksgiving is a very big tradition at Promise House.....every year.....and this year will be no different. There will be tons of food, fun, and memories-in-the-making; so that on some future day, when one of our teens is fixing his or her family's Thanksgiving dinner, voices and images of a happy, long-past Thanksgiving at Promise House will appear and will flavor their feast.
Friday, November 19, 2010
So, what to be grateful for today? All of the twelve-step programs encourage daily gratitude lists to connect with what is right in our lives. In several of the darkest times of my life, these lists have saved me from absolute despair. But, when things get better, we (at least I) "forget" to do them. It's like the saying, "No one in a fox hole does not believe in God".....at our very worst or most fearful or most desperate, we call out, reaching for anything to ease our misery. In better times, we slide into complacency and forgetfulness. We take good things for granted.
But life is only a fleeting moment. What is here this minute is gone the next. There is no tomorrow.....certainly no guarantee of one. To be grateful in the moment, for whatever is in your life is a true gift and skill. To be present, really present TODAY, this minute, this second, is no easy task. Yet, it is the ONLY way to stay in gratitude.
Sounds great, huh? I can only get glimpses of that state of being. I can take baby steps every day. I can text Leslie and tell her I love her. I can "FaceTime" Kat and tell her how beautiful she is. I can look around at my home, my neighbors, my "hood" and smile. I can call my father and yell (he's almost deaf) how glad I am that he is still with us.
Today, I am grateful for Peggy's sweet potato pies, Sonja's green salad, Paloma going and getting ice cream cakes, and the fact that the kitchen and dining room at PH will be crammed with teens and adults sharing a meal together. The smells will be intoxicating, the conversation loud and hilarious, the Turkey games stupid and fun, the amount of food our teens eat, awe-inspiring.
What's on your gratitude list today?
Monday, October 18, 2010
I knew Paloma from her history with Promise House. She not only had gone through our shelter years ago, but had served on the Board of Directors until she moved to Las Vegas. When Sonja, my street outreach manager, told me that Paloma was moving back to Dallas and wanted to interview for the position, I was very hesitant. But, after several conversations and interviews with her, she became my new assistant.....and I totally redeemed myself by hiring her!
Here are just a few of the highlights of her career thus far:
· She totally organized the government grant system (you have NO idea what a mammoth job that is!).
· She has totally taken over grant renewals, including HUD, which NO ONE understands (but her, now!).
· She set up the PH Connect system that we use for meeting and document management and continues to
manage and update it.
· She has created some of the coolest Power Point presentations ever.
· She screens my calls, protects me from weird solicitors, second-guesses what I need before I need it, keeps
all my correspondence catalogued and filed correctly, knows my calendar, and has such a pleasant demeanor
that most people would rather talk to her than me!
· She has served as translator more times than I can count and translates documents into Spanish whenever we
· She plans and organizes meetings like nobody’s business!
· She ALWAYS gets the catering right!
· She kept an orchid alive for almost 2 years that was given to me as a gift when my step-mother died (if it had
been up to me, that poor orchid would have been dead in a month!).
I’m sure I could go on forever, but here is the best part: I have NEVER heard her say anything but, “I’d be glad to”, “No problem”, “Don’t worry, we can fix it”, “I’ll get right on that”, “I’ll be happy to”, “Do you need me to work late?” Who does that??? From day one she kept a running list of her daily activities (she used to work for a law firm) which she emails to me at the end of each day, along with her plans for the next day. How cool is that??
By now she is probably hiding under her desk, but I can’t help bragging on her. I’ve often said that you can train someone on just about anything. But you absolutely CANNOT train someone to have the kind of attitude Paloma has.
So, thank you Universe for sending her to me…...and thank you, Paloma, for being you.
Happy Anniversary. Here’s to many more.
Friday, October 8, 2010
This doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed the Fair in the past. My childhood is replete with great memories of the Fair, and the admonishment from my parents that if we got lost, FIND BIG TEX and WAIT THERE! There were six of us, so someone always got lost. I will never forget the first time I rode the big wooden roller coaster with my Dad (I was about 6). As we crept up the first long hill, he’s saying, “See, Harriet, it’s not scary. Look what a great view you have of Dal……..” Then, WHOOOOOOSH, and the bottom falls out of the world, and I am so traumatized that I am unable to speak for the next 3 hours. Needless to say, I NEVER rode THAT thing again!
Then during high school, we bused down to Dallas every year from Sherman to march in parades, ride the rides, and eat all the gross food. It was a blast.
As my kids grew, an annual trip to the Fair was mandatory, with the numbers of kids to be chaperoned growing every year (as you know kids move in packs, with adults ALWAYS bringing up the rear). These were mostly fun times; HOWEVER, the year my kids were old enough to DROP THEM OFF at the front gate, I felt like I had been released from prison!!
I’ve been to the Fair in great weather, when it was 100 degrees in the shade, when it was pouring rain, on Texas OU Weekend (really bad mistake), during pregnancy (another bad mistake), in the evening when only a few people were there, and on a Saturday, when 10 million people were there. I’ve seen all the animals, new cars, pies, cakes, cooking gadgets, exercise equipment, “freak” shows, acrobats, folk singing groups, bird shows, etc. every year for at least 55 out of my almost 60 years on this earth.
I think I can take a year off. BUT…..I will really miss getting to ride the Carousel. It was the only ride my mother would ever get on, and I LOVED riding it with her every year. I just love those horses….and the music.
And....I have to admit, I will also miss Big Tex’s “HOWDY FOLKS!”
If you go, have a GREAT time and ride the Carousel once for my mother and me.............maybe next year.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Even though this incident in no way compares to other mass shootings i.e., Columbine, West Virginia, I am a wreck. My daughter is right next door to the library where the first shooter killed himself, and I will not breathe easily again until the outcome of the 2nd suspect is determined.
When I texted her originally, she replied, "Chill, Mom. All the doors are locked." As if that could stop someone with an AK47???? Yeah, just chill. I think I'll go throw up, instead.
UT did an outstanding job of alerting everyone and shutting down the campus in record time. Leslie is in with 200 other kids in this auditorium-style class and has no idea how long she has to stay there.
More later, as I know more. I was going to write a nice tribute to my brother, which I will do, but not until I know Leslie is totally out of harm's way and OFF that campus.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
The story revolves around a young Nigerian refugee, Little Bee, who flees to America on a container ship after witnessing unspeakable atrocities to her family during the "war for oil". I won't say more than that in fear of having more nightmares, but suffice it to say it's NOT a comedy.
It is supposed to be a magical story of the undaunting human spirit, of the possibility of a transformed future, of love that conquers all; but truthfully, I never got there. I couldn't get passed the nightmare, the cowardice, the absolute brutality, the never-ending evil portrayed in a thousand different ways throughout the story (the women in my book club will have a field day with this!).
It reminded me of a near-death experience I had in graduate school. Due to an exploding ovary, I hemorrhaged internally and almost died before they got me to surgery to patch me up. As I lay on the surgery table, I felt myself leaving my body, floating up and up (like all the books tell you), could see myself lying there on the table, and thinking, "Wow, this feels great!" But then I remembered that I had a 3-year old daughter who was still at daycare and needed picking up, and, oh by the way, raising. So I decided I couldn't throw in the towel yet and had to get back down there into my body.......which, of course, I did. What I didn't do, however, was have that ecstatic spiritual experience that so many people speak of when they cheat death. All I felt was pissed off, depressed, and angry.
The same feelings occurred with this book. I have no concept of how people can call this book "magical", especially the ending. That is not to say that it is not beautifully written, well crafted, and significant. But the tragedy was simply too overwhelming for me to get to the magic.
This must be the way people feel when I tell them what I do for work. It seems to be almost overwhelming for them.....so much so that they are unable to see the magic I see. The magic of kids transforming before my very eyes. The magic of a horrifically traumatized young woman achieving her dream of a college degree. The magic of my staff and the daily miracles they perform. People who hear about my work go automatically to the tragedy, the loss, the trauma, the sadness; and until I can help them understand the magic, it alludes them.
I am those people about this kind of book. So, although this is beautifully written and profound, I think I can't read books like it anymore. And although I can see magic all day in my work, I need a break from tragedy, from trauma, from evil.....even when transformation or magic follows.....at least in the written word.....because I can't get to it.
My father used to wonder why we would go see "movies with meaning", as he would call them. "Why does everything have to make some damn statement? What happened to just plain entertainment?" I used to think that was so narrow-minded of him......until I began wondering the same thing. Maybe he needed "just plain entertainment" to soften all that he had seen and witnessed in his life. Maybe the same goes for me, as I near the age he was when he said that to me.
Some stories need a warning label: Unspeakable horrors ahead. Read at your own risk.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Dr. Arnett posits several causes for this new life stage: the need for more education to survive in the information-based economy, fewer entry-level jobs after all that education, young people marrying later, young women waiting to have children, to name a few. The characteristics of this stage include: identity exploration, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between, and "a sense of possibility".
The characteristic we see most in the young people with which we work, of course, is instability. They lack the luxury of focusing on education, or self exploration, or possibility, as they spend all of their energy simply surviving. Like Maslow's Heirarchy of needs, until they have their basic needs met, nothing else happens.
Although Arnett's theory in one way seems to be based upon privilege (only those with sturdy support systems have the luxury of "delaying adulthood"), what I really like about it is his insistence that these young adults have very different needs than either adolescents or adults. Although they look grown, the great majority of them are not, which is now being borne out in neurological study of the brain. We now know that the brain does not fully mature until at least age 25, and many times until age 30. Consequently, although these young people are more mature than adolescents, they are NOT adults, as defined by our society.
This research gives validity to my argument that adult homeless shelters are in no way appropriate for homeless young adults ages 18 - 24. However, neither are teen shelters, which operate on rigid schedules with tight supervision and strict curfews. What is needed is a two-pronged approach: a less rigid emergency center AND longer-term transitional housing WITH critically needed support services tailored to this age group i.e., educational support, life skills, parenting skills, credit establishment, family reunification, etc.
As with most other societal ills, we are currently treating the tail and not the dog. If we intervened appropriately in the lives of homeless young adults at this critical stage of between 18 and 24 years of age, we wouldn't see them at age 40 or 45, chronically homeless, addicted, and/or mentally ill (by the way, up to 40% of chronically homeless adults were in the foster care or juvenile justice systems as teens).
And, by the way, it's MUCH cheaper to treat them at 18 than it is at 45.
Why can't we get this???
Monday, August 2, 2010
There have been recent DHA and Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance cooperative permanent supportive housing projects “installed” in other councilpersons’ districts that have occurred smoothly, with good neighborhood input, and with general support (after much education). The difference is this: the other council members showed leadership and were honest and upfront with their constituents about what and what not they had input. Neumann has continuously tried to play both sides and has caused chaos to reign.
The Dallas Housing Authority and Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance are going to house the homeless. Mayor Leppert has said he is in support of this. As a neighbor of Cliff Manor and an Oak Cliff resident for many years, I totally understand the neighborhood rebelling against anything that would impede our many years of hard work to improve Oak Cliff’s image and economic standing in Dallas. As a representative of MDHA, I know the ins and outs of permanent supportive housing and the research that lends credibility to the model. It works. It does not devalue neighborhoods. In fact, it adds value many times.
The knee-jerk reaction of "not in my back yard" is based upon the premise that permanent supportive housing is intrinsically bad, that it causes problems for neighborhoods, that it has a negative impact on home values, and that the people who live in these projects are bad people. Although the research in no way bears this out, the lay person DOES NOT KNOW THIS. It is our job as professionals who KNOW the jargon, who BELIEVE in the model, and who SUPPORT the individuals moving in to do a much better job of educating our neighbors on the benefits of permanent supportive housing, of the controls in place for the protection of the neighborhood, and of the intrinsic value of the individuals moving into their neighborhood.
Otherwise, the Cliff Manor uproar is only the beginning.
Monday, July 26, 2010
These two girls could not have come from any more different worlds; Leslie, somewhat spoiled (actually spoiled rotten!), pampered, dearly loved, bright, with many great things handed to her in life; Lorena, abused, passed from relative to relative, fighting for every good thing she has accomplished. And yet…..they are both teenagers, they are both brilliant, courageous young women…..their hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears, anxieties, are very similar. They both have to get “stuff” ready for their dorm room and apartment. They both had to get registered, will have to get books, will have to manage their schedules, their social lives, their money. They both will be navigating unfamiliar territory (Leslie is changing majors).
As different as the worlds from which they come are, they will be in the same world at UT—the great equalizer. Leslie will have me to call with emergencies, sorrows, joys, accomplishments, challenges, problems. Who will Lorena call? She will call US. She knows she can call Regina, her Program Manager or Sherlyn, her case manager or me or anyone here at Promise House anytime with any question, problem, accomplishment, great news, etc.
For holidays, Leslie will come to her home. Where will Lorena go? She will come to her home…..with Promise House. We have reserved a room for her in one of the TLP houses, so that she will always have a place to come home to while she is in college. And, she will help mentor the younger girls in the house while she is home. Pretty darn cool, huh? Chokes me up a bit.
I don’t know if Lorena has gone shopping for her dorm stuff, yet, but I know Regina and Sherlyn will get that done with her. I’ve told them that if they need my help getting Lorena down to Austin to let me know. Leslie and I will be going anyway, and I’m sure we can cram some more stuff in one of our cars.
I’m tellin’ you…….I just love my job.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
Ashley came to us from a foster placement, because her foster parent could not handle both Ashley and her baby. So, Ashley stayed with us and the baby in foster care (I’m not sure why they would not place her and the baby with us), but luckily, Ashley got to see her baby regularly.
She made great strides while with us. She graduated from High School, became a leader among her peers, got a job with the Texas Network of Youth Services interviewing homeless teens for a research study, worked hard in counseling, got stabilized on the correct meds, and we all fell in love with her.
Since she is in the custody of Child Protective Services, it is their decision as to her next placement. We tried to get them to place her and her baby with us at Wesley Inn, but evidently, she still has life skills she needs to acquire before they will reunite her and her baby. At any rate, if she does well with her mom in the next several months, CPS has said she can have the baby back. Of course, we’ve told her to call us at any time if she needs us, and Alex met with her and gave her all sorts of fatherly advice (take your meds, don’t get in trouble, call us if you need us, etc.).
So say a prayer, send a good thought, or do whatever you do to hope for good things for this child. Cause that’s what she is, and she has become our child over the last three months. And….it’s very hard to let her go…..and sometimes it's just really hard to say goodbye.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
- Why did Dave Neumann front load the question line with citizens he knew are adamantly opposed to this project? Those of us who might have had voices of reasons didn't stand a chance and would have had to stay til midnight to get a word in edgewise.
- Why hasn't Mr. Neumann met with citizens in Oak Cliff who either support the project or at least are not rabidly opposed to it? He has met only with those persons who are railing against the project. I've heard no call or request from him to hear the other side.
- Why did Mr. Neumann allow the meeting to degenerate so quickly? As facilitator, he had a great opportunity to show his leadership as a representative of Oak Cliff. He failed miserably.
- Why hasn't MDHA and DHA put together an educational power point showing research outcomes for permanent supportive housing and the impact on surrounding neighborhoods? The citizens of Oak Cliff are badly informed about this and need good, solid, credible information.
- Why haven't MDHA, DHA, and LifeNet put together a formal presentation on how Cliff Manor will change for the better, exactly what services will be offered (kind, quantity, quality, frequency, etc.) and the impact it will have on the neighborhood? When asked those questions last night, the answers were vague and useless.
- Why didn't Bob Stimson check his research on the saturation of group homes in Oak Cliff? The saturation in Oak Cliff is from unlicensed and/or illegal group homes, hotels, and flop houses; which I would fight against just as hard as anyone. Cliff Manor is not one of these.
- If Mr. Neumann knew about this project for a full year, why wasn't he talking about it much sooner?
It's pretty bad when opponents of this project come to the table with more facts and figures (even if they are inaccurate) than the promoters of the project. This is definitely a lesson in how NOT to move permanent supportive housing into a neighborhood.
It is critical for those of us who support these projects to be totally prepared with excellent educational materials, credible facts, information on how the project will improve the surrounding neighborhood, and to be able to second-guess objections and answer them BEFORE the shouting starts. Just because DHA has the ability to move forward with this project without approval from the neighborhood, that is no excuse for inadequate preparation, unconcerned attitudes about neighborhood reaction, and re-iteration of federal law.
On the other hand, just because the introduction of this project has been handled very poorly, that is NO excuse for the behavior of my neighbors that occurred last night. I hold Mr. Neumann partially responsible for allowing it to occur, but ultimately, each citizen is responsible for his or her behavior. I think we need some lessons in manners!
In the end, if we are going to end chronic homelessness in Dallas through permanent supportive housing, which I totally support, we are going to have to do a MUCH better job of educating our neighbors and building strong relationships with ALL the neighborhoods in Dallas. Nobody likes surprises or having something crammed down their throat.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
So, all of a sudden, Oak Cliff folks are screaming about Cliff Manor Apartments housing chronically homeless adults, even though it has been housing very similar clientele forever. One of the primary arguments they put forth is the possible danger to school kids vis a vis the proximity of the apartments to area schools. It's like, all of a sudden, all of the perpetrators in Dallas will be moved into Cliff Manor and swoop down on the kids or sell them drugs or abduct them or god-knows what else. The companion argument is, why not let Cliff Manor continue to house senior citizens and disabled citizens.......as if, once you reach a certain age or if you're disabled, you can no longer be a perpetrator! Sorry folks, but grandpa (or grandma, for that matter) is just as likely to be a perpetrator as is chronically homeless Joe or Jane; and a disability hardly disqualifies you from being a perpetrator.
The folks who will live in Cliff Manor have NO greater chance of being terrible people than the ones already living there. In fact, they stand a much better chance of being productive, contributing citizens, because of the intense support services that will be available to them i.e., counseling, case management, psychiatric services, help finding jobs, etc. There are no such services available to the current residents.
There is also upset about some kind of permit being needed. Why now, when DHA has been operating this apartment building as is for years.....?
So are you really upset about the change in clientele, or is the upset because Mary Ann Russ, CEO of the Dallas Housing Authority, didn't come begging for approval from all 12 neighborhood association presidents who are so up in arms about this? Or, that she dared say that DHA did not require a permit to operate THEIR OWN building?
And, just so you know that I am not pointing my finger from afar, I live AND work in Oak Cliff and have for 22 years. Like all of you, I'm not crazy about this kind of housing, but homeless folks deserve a shot at life just like the rest of us. And this kind of set-up (housing with support services attached) is exactly what can give them that shot.
Here is my question. Would you rather have them living in Cliff Manor, getting lots of help......or in your alley, or park, or on your doorstep?? And, as I've said before, many of the chronically homeless are veterans who, in return for their service to our country, get to end up on the street.
How's that for patriotism on our part???
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Lorena - Valedictorian of Carter High School - Attending UT Austin in the fall with FULL scholarship!!
Courtney - Graduated from Duncanville High School and will attend community college in the fall.
Mustaque - Graduated from Grand Prairie High School. He would have been Salutatorian of his class except for the disruption to his classes while he was on the street. He will attend the University of Illinois on FULL scholarship!!
Shanqwuisia - Completed her GED
Ashley - Graduated from High School
Joseph - Graduated from DeSoto High School
Shanita - Graduated from Dental Assistant School
Congratulations go out, also, to the Promise House staff who work directly with these teens every day. It is because of your belief in their promise that each of these teens was able to succeed. I hope you know what a powerful presence in their lives you are.
I've said so many times how much we love these kids. Teens get such a bad rap on so many levels. Yet, here is living proof of the unstoppable spirit and strength of even the most challenged.
We expect great things from each of our teens. And if they stay with us, work the program, do the deal, they succeed beyond their wildest imaginings.
I've often said that we have future astronauts, artists, architects, teachers, actors, and even a U.S. President or two at Promise House. Well, I think Lorena may just end up in the White House as the first female U.S. President. Wouldn't that be something (but no pressure, Lorena!).
Whatever these kids choose for their futures, they will succeed. And most importantly, I know they will lend a helping hand to kids coming up behind them bearing similar burdens, facing similar challenges.
THAT is TRUE success.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
He and his team, The Little Red Wagon Foundation, came to Promise House last week on their way across the country. Zach is a typical 12-year old in many ways, and oh-so a-typical in so many others. With flaming red hair and crystal blue eyes, he politely shook my hand upon introduction and looked to his big brother, Matthew, before answering any question. When I asked him why he decided to do this, I never really got an answer. "Well, I started in 2004 helping victims of Hurricane Charlie and ........." His answer sorta faded into the woodwork (just like ALL 12-year olds' answers), so I still don't know why exactly he became passionate about helping homeless kids.
Here's what I do know. He created the Little Red Wagon Foundation and is currently engaged in his "Walk Across America" to raise awareness about and funds for homeless kids. He does school on-line, his sister Kellie and brother Matthew trade off handling PR, logistics, and shepherding him across the country. His mother, Linda, travels with him in an RV. They have a REALLY cute VW bug decked out with the foundation logo and an actual red wagon on top! How cool is that?
Last Thursday, he took the PH shelter teens to Six Flags for a fun-filled day (yes, right in the middle of the monsoon). Typical 12-year old behavior: "Mom, I TOLD you I did not want to get wet on any of the rides, and I got REALLY wet on that last one (like it was her fault!)." A-typical 12-year old behavior: to my shelter manager, "I am so sorry the film crew is late. We are off schedule, and I know that is inconvenient for you." What 12-year old says stuff like that??
On the tour of PH, he was very subdued until we got upstairs to the classrooms. Dallas ISD furnishes us with two certified teachers, computers, smart boards, and TONS of books and supplies for our classrooms. He lit up like a Christmas tree! "Wow! It is so cool that the kids don't have to leave here to go to school! And a Smart Board! How cool is that?"
He and his crew went out with our Street Outreach team on Friday night. He was VERY excited to get a Street Outreach t-shirt (seriously?), as was the entire film crew (really, seriously???). According to my SO manager, Sonja, they had a fabulous time talking to kids, asking questions, and visiting the places we frequent. Supposedly, they've had the best time with us of those agencies they have visited (could be blowing smoke, but I doubt it, cause we really are tons of fun to be around!).
They are headed across the Southwestern US, headed for California with ETA of October. It's gonna be a REALLY long, hot summer for them. They have a film crew with them documenting Zach's travels. When the film comes out, I'll let you know.
It really is unbelievable what kids can do. Zach has the support and love of his family to back him, and there is no telling what other great things he will accomplish in his life-time. But even kids with NO support can do great things.......like graduate Valedictorian of her class.....graduate from nursing school and become an Army nurse.....complete a degree in Electrical Engineering from UTD....attend nursing school while raising a child.....complete Mortuary School and own a funeral home.....be happily married and have children that are loved and supported.
These are all true examples from lives of teens that have been at Promise House. Defying the odds, overcoming unbelievable obstacles and challenges, becoming brilliant and unforgettable, they have already left their mark on life in such an outstanding way and will continue to do so for a very long time.
Maybe I do know why Zach is walking across America for these kids.
Check out Zach at: http://www.littleredwagonfoundation.com/.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
1. 94% did not have even a two-year college diploma.
2. Over 1/2 were unemployed.
3. Eight in ten males had been arrested at least once.
4. 2/3 of the young women had at least one child.
5. 44% of males were responsible for parenting a child.
6. 1/4 had been homeless at least one time.
7. Over 1/2 had serious, untreated mental health issues.
Geez....where do I begin? We have been hearing similar statistics in the youth services field for years, so the results of this study are no surprise to me. What continues to surprise me, however, is how totally unresponsive government and the private sector continue to be regarding the plight of these kids. It truly baffles my mind on a daily basis how we think we can really end homelessness without attending to these kids. How many different ways do you have to say, "FIRE!" before people finally start to leave the building?! These kids are burning right before our very eyes, and we just continue to sit around and pretend they don't exist. Will SOMEONE please explain that to me????
My last blog post had a long list of "what needs to happen to solve this problem", so I won't go into that again. What I will say again is that these are kids who were supposed to be taken care of by the state, who were removed from their homes through no fault of their own, who were bounced around their entire lives, who were caught in the unbelievable web of bureaucracy that is government, and then who were flung from the web and told to fly......but given no wings with which to do it. It makes my head explode.
How can we as a nation be so uncaring? How can we continue to allow our legislatures to cut critically needed services for these kids, or even worse, ignore the fact that services like transitional living programs are so desperately needed?
Sometime I'd like to do an informal study. I'd like to sit a group of people down and show them various slides of animals, babies, children, teens, and young adults......all of whom needed rescuing from some type of abusive or life-threatening situation. I would bet my house that teens and young adults would be the LEAST chosen group to be saved. We care more about puppies than we do these kids!
Until we face THAT reality, the reality that as a whole, we just don't really like teens, especially those who look weird or scary or angry; or at the least, we just don't think about them at all when we think of groups that need help; until we face that and the fact that even though we may not like them, they still need our help; and the reality that up to 48% of chronically homeless adults have history in the foster care system (if you don't like them as teens, wait til you get to deal with them as chronically substance abusing, mentally ill adults!), I guess we'll just keep pretending the building is not really on fire.,
As for me, I'm leaving the building! I hope some of you will come with me.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
There HAS been much progress made....BUT.....and it is a very big BUT.....once again a vital component has been left out of the conversation, out of the stories, out of the press. The only way to truly end chronic homelessness is to stop the pipeline into homelessness....the biggest one of which is the 20,000 eighteen year olds who age out of the foster care system every year in the United States.
The statistics are dismal. Within two years of aging out, up to 48% of these teens will have been homeless at least once. One in four will be incarcerated. Only 58% of foster youth receive highschool diplomas as compared to 87% of the total teen population, making them very UNemployable.
Worse than these statistics, though, is the fact that these kids know NOTHING about how to survive in life (the failure of the Foster Care System is another story). Without intense support, they flounder, they drift, they become the next generation of chronically homeless aduts. IN FACT, a significant percentage of chronically homeless adults were in the foster care system as kids!
The equation seems easy enough to me. Aging out with no support equals high risk of becoming homeless. Why, then, have we created solutions only at the end result i.e., chronically homeless adults, but none for shutting the door INTO homelessness through support for the young people who are most at risk of becoming the next generation of chronically homeless adults?
The tragedy of this is, they are in this highest risk category THROUGH NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN. They were removed from their homes with no say in the matter, most likely shuffled through many different placements throughout their young lives, and then told "Bye!" at age 18.
AND, instead of helping them THEN, when prevention services can have great impact at a reasonable cost, we wait until they are deep into chronic homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse, etc....when the cost of help for them is extraordinary! What is wrong with us?!
To win this race, it is time NOW to turn our attention to these kids. Here is what needs to happen:
- HUD (The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) needs to lift its restrictions on the type of new projects Continuum of Cares can propose. Currently, the only new projects eligible are permanent supportive housing projects, which are for chronically homeless adults with a disability. Eighteen - 24 year old kids are too young to qualify for chronic homeless status and most do not have a long-term disabling condition. Transitional housing projects for this specific age group should not only be allowed, but encouraged or mandated by HUD.
- Congress should appropriate MUCH more funding for the Runaway, Homelesss Youth Act, through the Department of Health and Human Services, in particular the Transitional Living Program funding. Further, DHHS should lift its restriction on this funding that disallows foster youth from taking advantage of these transitional living programs.
- Every state should have a line-item in their budget specifically for transitional housing funds WITH supportive services for this age group. The State of Texas, through the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, agreed to funding for several large cities to help end homelessness. However, the funds were for chronic homelessness.....again.
- Every county and city should channel funding into transitional housing projects for homeless young people, again, WITH supportive services. Dallas County decided to divert all its Emergency Shelter Grant funding as of January 2010 to the Bridge, instead of dividing it between several shelters, as it had done in the past. Again, this funding now will help only chronically homeless adults.
- Mike Rawlings, Homeless Czar, Mike Faenza, CEO of Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, John Castle, incoming Chair of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance Board of Directors, the MDHA Board of Directors, and all agencies who are members of the alliance MUST turn our attention to these kids and ensure they are taken care of . It's time, and it's the next logical step. Aside from the moral issue of ignoring these kids, the economics of prevention v.s. the economics of long-term intervention are stunning. Why can't we get this?
- The Dallas Morning News needs to turn its attention long-term to this group of homeless young people. The News' influence in this city can go a very long way to bringing attention and funding to this issue.
- We need the influential individuals in this city (you know who you are) to rally around the cause of these homeless young people just as you did for the cause to end chronic homelessness. These kids are the missing piece to completing the task.
- Every discussion regarding ending homelessness MUST include solutions for this age group. AND institutions that regularly deal with young people i.e., school systems, colleges, churches, should be at the table and should be offering help.
It would truly be a shame to be crossing the finish line of the race and think we have won, only to look over our shoulder and see thousands of homeless young people coming up fast behind us.
Is that what we want?
Thursday, May 6, 2010
As I sat enjoying the festivities and visiting with guests, I couldn't help but wonder if near this many people would have come to such a celebration in Arizona? After all, we had several police officers stop by to visit, as well as an officer patrolling our parking lot for safety.
How much fear and loathing the Arizona bill has already caused. How much more it will cause as arrests are made, lawsuits filed, protests continue. How much more polarizing politics will become as each side digs in their heels, blames the other for whatever happens, postures for reporters, and debates, debates, debates. Meanwhile, people suffer. People hide. People become suspicious. People worry. People fear other people.
I don't have an answer to the immigration issue. I just know THIS is NOT it. Promise House welcomes teens and families for services with no questions asked......no questions about income, legal or illegal status, ability to pay, or even sometimes where they live. We are so fortunate to have funding that allows us to offer services at no charge to any of our clients; and we just never have asked any of the other questions. Our goal is to embrace whoever needs help.
I worry that even though this is not Arizona, fear may keep people from seeking the help they need. That is so unfortunate. I feel like putting a sign on the door in Spanish saying, "We ask no questions" or something.....to let everyone know they are safe with us.
After all, we are here to mitigate suffering, not cause it. I have seen the ramifications of parents being deported with their children left behind. I have seen the trauma caused by teens transported across the border illegally for trafficking. And I have seen first hand the struggle of some of our clients to become citizens....to do the right thing....and the enormity of the obstacles placed in front of them. We are not a very friendly country to immigrants...period. Even though we ARE a country of immigrants.....go figure.
Honestly, I am ambivalent about the issue. I really see both sides and don't have a solid opinion either way. I just see the suffering and feel the loss and sadness of those who get caught in the web of the issue. That's all.
As I watched all 300 people having such a good time on Tuesday, I was just so grateful that we weren't in Arizona.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
If Mothers Day carries such feelings for me, I can only imagine how painful the day must be for our teens, many of who have never known their mothers, were abandoned by or taken from them, or whose mothers are no longer living. It is easy to forget for those of us who work here that all of these kids come to us out of some form of tragedy—broken family, abuse, abandonment, forced removal….the list goes on. Try as we might, we cannot always give them their mothers back….and that is what they ALL want…..regardless of what they say or how they act or how old they are.
It is a fine line that we walk with our teens. For although we must be there to support them, dry their tears, talk with them about their sadness, encourage them, hold them accountable, help them make the best of themselves, we must NEVER try to be their mothers—even when they want us to. Why? Simply, they already have a mother—good or bad, present or absent, alive or deceased. We cannot and should not take her place.
We can love them, be proud of them, pick them up when they fall, welcome them back when they run, always and always be there for them. But we cannot be their mothers….and we must always remember that their first choice would ALWAYS be to have her back. And it should be ours, also.
If your mother is living, hug her extra hard this Mothers Day. If she is deceased, light a candle for her…..and for all the missing mothers of our teens….and for our teens…..who brave the world without her. It was not easy at age 28 to be in the world without my mother…..imagine how hard it is for our kids.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
When we hear "child abuse", we normally associate it with young children. However, there is a large group of kids that is mostly ignored who endure many kinds of abuse from family members, peers, institutions, churches, and communities. Teens continue to be left out of the child abuse discussion; and yet, 95% of the teens who come to Promise House have experienced some form of abuse....recently....not just when they were young. Abuses such as: being hit or slapped by a parent repeatedly; sexual assault by a parent, step-parent, family acquaintance, or peer; being kicked out of their home because they are gay or lesbian, or pregnant, or are old enough to "fend for themselves"; being "pimped out" by parents or other adults; living with drug addicted adults; being used as "drug runners".....the list goes on and on.
Why does concern for kids stop at age 13? Where are the systems to protect these young people? Child Protective Services rarely rates an abuse call about a teen as Priority 1--partly due to the overwhelming number of abuse cases, period. I guess they figure teens have a better chance of saving themselves than does a child. BUT, and this is a BIG but.....that is rarely the case. Very few teens are actually able to escape an abusive situation on their own---think about it---where are they going to go, besides the street??
I've said it many times....just because teens have grown-up bodies.....it doesn't mean they are grown up. They still love getting stuffed animals when they come here; love being read to, getting their hair brushed, doing "make believe" nails and hair, playing silly games. They still cry at night, are still scared of the dark, still have bad dreams. They are kids. Yes, they are big....sometimes REALLY big....but they are kids....in need of protection.
Please remember them in the discussions about child abuse this month. And, please remember, they need our protection EVERY month, not just in Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
How can we allow a few fundamentalist right wingers to totally re-write history?? How can we allow our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and children to be left with NO health insurance?? Where is the outcry? Why aren't we marching?
Here's the problem: The Centrists and Liberals who support Health Care Reform and objective reporting of history just aren't irrational and emotional enough. We think that SURELY people will see the insanity of what's happening. We talk rationally about it.....try to persuade with facts.....feel morally superior......meanwhile, we are getting our butts kicked!!
Until we are willing to meet the insanity and over-the-top emotion with the same level of power, we will continue to see a few totally bulldoze the majority. I'm not saying that we have to be insane or totally irrational. BUT, and this is VERY important, we MUST be willing to get back in their faces and shout them down, bullhorns and all.
There's a saying in AA....insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. That is what we are doing. We keep trying to persuade the Right to be rational, objective. NEVER gonna happen. Where is our Glen Beck? Where is our Rush Limbaugh? Come on, guys....you have to give it to 'em....they know how to get folks riled up! We, on the other hand, are pitiful. And Obama isn't helping. He could use a few lessons from the Right on how to get his troops mobilized. As it is, we are SUNK!
As it is, a few radical extremist folks will set the direction for this entire nation. And I am not speaking of Conservatives. I'm speaking of the one or two on the Texas School Board Commission, the few in the Senate and House, the one or two who know how to work the media. Until we learn from their tactics, we will continue to have our faces pushed in the dirt. Is that where you want to be?? Not me.
I'm ready to march. Anyone want to go with me?
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
We associate Spring with new beginnings, new life, hope. My father always has a bunch of new foals in the Spring, hibernating animals venture forth with their new families, rivers swell with melting ice, grass grows, leaves turn green, flowers bloom.....the earth wakes up. What a burst of life!
And speaking of new beginnings and a new life, I just heard from one of our case managers that she is moving to Austin to work with foster kids who are aging out of the care of the Department of Family and Protective Services. She is a former foster youth herself and has an incredibly deep passion to help these aging-out teens know what services are available to them as they transition from the care of the state to being on their own.
Did you know that foster teens are eligible for tuition waivers for college? Or that they are supposed to get a transition allowance? Or that they can stay in care as long as they are in school if they want to? Or, that they can go back into care once they have aged out if they find they aren't making it on their own? Most foster teens have no idea that these services are available to them. There are a myriad of reasons for this, but Courtney, our case manager, knows EVERY service for which they are eligible.
Although her moving to Austin is a real loss for us, she is living her dream and will have such a meaningful impact on the lives of young people in the foster care system. She came to see me today to thank me for the opportunity to work with our teens at Promise House. I think we are the lucky ones. With her heart and passion for this work, she will go far.
What a thrill it is for me to see our young employees progress through their careers. Even though Promise House is many times the first stop on their ladder to success, watching them gain experience, confidence, and expertise here that they will carry with them throughout their careers is well worth it.
Like many of our teens, our young employees may move on from Promise House; but they carry us in their hearts forever. I'm not quite sure why, but it is VERY hard to ever really leave PH.
There are always endings before beginnings. The end of winter brings spring. The end of service at Promise House brings a new opportunity, the opening of a new door. Another young professional will join the Promise House family, and life at PH goes on. And.....spring is almost here!
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
So, what are these services? Well, when you think of everything it takes to raise a child, that is what we provide. Here are just a few:
- Medical Services through the Parkland HOMES Van and Parkland Hospital Services
- Dental services through the First Presbyterian Stewpot's dental program and Parkland's Dental Van
- Food through the North Texas Food Bank
- Child care slots through the Vogel Alcove
- STD education through Planned Parenthood
- Hygiene supplies from individual and corporate contributors
- Shoes through the Wilkinson Center's annual shoe drive via Pay Less Shoes
- Two on-site DISD classrooms with certified DISD teachers
- Baby supplies from Captain Hope's Kids
- Baby showers from various churches
On top of those listed above, Promise House is connected to ALL metroplex colleges and universities. Via our training institute, graduate and post-graduate level psychology, social work, marriage and family, and counseling interns receive free clinical supervision in return for providing counseling to ALL our teens and family members. Talk about win-win!
And, we continue to develop new collaborations. This summer, we will be working with the University of Dallas on a 7-week math/science/astronomy camp, with the last week being a trip to Western States University in Colorado to view the stars through a HUGE telescope--all paid for through a grant written and submitted by the university. How cool is that??
In addition, we are hoping that Junior Players will be awarded a grant they submitted that will provide on-site theatre and drama training for our teens. AND, we recently began discussions with Junior Achievement to take part in their Finance Park financial literacy program this coming year. Finally, we will be working with Dallas Metrocare to provide psychiatric services to our teens this coming year.
These collaborations are so exciting and SO beneficial to our teens. And instead of a little help from our friends, Promise House is incredibly fortunate to be getting ALOT of help from our friends.
Thank you. The part you play in healing our kids is immeasurable.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Snow this heavy quiets things. It hushes footsteps, makes you want to whisper. The world seems brighter, even with gray skies. Because it is such a rarity here, everyone's talking about it, watching it, wondering how long it will last. I'm sure if it did this all winter, I'd be sick to death of it, but today it is beautiful, almost heavenly.
When I let my dogs out this morning, they were like, "Huh? What? What is this?". Millie, the prissy one, tiptoed through it to do her business. Tucker, the hulk, went barreling all over the yard, jumping up and down, having a great time. Neither one could find a familiar scent--the snow covered everything!
The mermaid in my fountain looked like the Snow Queen, my Japanese Maple was gorgeous, with each limb lined with powder, and my crepe myrtles looked like a row of huge snow bouquets. Even the garbage cans looked better with their coats of snow!
In a few days the beauty will turn to ugly slush. But for today, Dallas is dressed in her finest white coat of the season! Enjoy!
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY, UNTIL THESE KIDS ARE TAKEN CARE OF, WE WILL NEVER END HOMELESSNESS??? We have 30, count them, 30 girls on our waiting list for an apartment. What do they do while they wait? Double up, sofa surf, stay with someone they shouldn't be staying with, roam the streets.
These are GOOD kids. One young woman in our transitional living program is on track to be VALEDICTORIAN of her high school. And she has done this while dealing with a totally unacceptable living situation. Just think what she could do with support???
Now I know why I haven't posted much in a month. I just didn't want to get angry all over again. Where is the justice for these teens? Where is the help? The Family Youth Services Bureau is the only federal agency that provides funds for transitional living programs for teens; BUT they only fund about 90 a year NATIONALLY. The Department of Housing and Urban Development will not accept any new projects unless they are permanent supportive housing for "chronically" homeless. Well, guess what? These teens haven't been on the street long enough to be chronic---but they WILL be, I promise you, unless they get help.
I'm also tired of being nice about this. Why don't we WAKE UP and see what is around us?? Those of us in this field have been saying for YEARS that the population of teens aging out of foster care is going to cause a second homelessness crisis. Statistic? Forty-two (42%) percent will be homeless at least once within two (2) years.
One glimmer of hope, the Department of Family and Protective Services is developing programs for teens to stay in care up to age 21; or to come back into care if they have aged out and haven't done well. But there is soooo much more that needs to be done,
So, if any of you out there are looking for a cause, are looking to change a life, want to witness miracles; or if you have alot of money just sitting around, and you're wondering what to do with it??? HERE IS YOUR CAUSE.
We were all teens once. We know how tough it is to get through those years,even with help. Our teens are trying to navigate those years under horrendous conditions. As I say over and over again, if it was your kid on the street, you would want all the help you could get.
I'm not asking for your help anymore, though. I'm challenging you to take up this cause for the sake of these kids, our community, our country.
They are the ones who need all the help they can get.....WILL YOU RISE UP?
Friday, January 29, 2010
The good news? There is finally some attention being paid to the fact that these girls are VICTIMS, not criminals. Law enforcement has begun to change their philosophy on arrest of these young girls. Youth-serving agencies are becoming educated on best practice treatment for these kids and on attending to their critical needs. One of the most immediate needs of these girls is medical attention; most have some kind of STD, could be pregnant, or HIV positive.
As long as law enforcement fails to focus on the perpetrators of these girls, NO progress will be made. Unfortunately, historically, the perpetrator was the LAST to be arrested. However, I've yet to meet a girl who entered prostitution willingly. I don't think they wake up one morning and say, "Hmmm, I think I'll become a prostitute". Let's change the focus to where it will have an impact--on the perpetrators of these young women.
Don’t mean to be a downer on Friday, but these are our kids…..they are lost children. It behooves us at PH and as a community to know all we can about this issue, and embrace these teens just as we do others.
Saturday, January 2, 2010
- If you sit around all day and watch T.V. and/or movies, you WILL gain weight.
- As I said in my pre-holiday missive, all families are dysfunctional--and mine certainly is--but I had a blast with them this year.
- Snuggies were the top White Elephant gift.
- Milk Duds call to me at ANY movie theatre at ANY time, day or night.
- One can tire of going to movies.
- Promise House CAN survive without me.
- Great surprises are in store if you're open to them.
- I LOVE being around my and my friends' grown children.
- I'm over New Year's Eve.
- NEVER go to a movie at North Park right after Christmas unless you have a limousine and a driver.
- My father is a real person.
- My brother is a younger my father.
- My oldest sister has been transformed.
- My twin sisters should be in a movie.
- Old, and I do mean chronologically, family friends are delightful.
- I LOVE being in my house alone.
- Amelia has to have been sent from heaven.
- I'm probably going to end up with Hermit Crabs that should be going to Austin with my youngest.
- My dogs are great people to talk to--they don't talk back.
- I still love my almost step-kids madly--but not as much as I love my fabulous, gorgeous, brilliant, funny, daughters.
- My son-in-law is fabulous.
- I make dynamite black-eyed peas and cornbread.
- I'm with the bears--we should hibernate til spring, which I could do very easily.
- Meryl Streep is a goddess.
- I'm newly in love with Alec Baldwin and re-in love with Robert Downy, Jr..
So, all in all, I think this holiday season was a hit. It's back to organized life on Monday, but surely all that I have learned over the last 2 1/2 weeks will keep me in good stead as I struggle to get back in the harness.
I turn 59 Wednesday (Epiphany for those of you who are Christian), and my own Epiphany for this season is that fun lurks everywhere--you just have to be open to it.
Happy New Year. May you have your own Epiphanies throughout this new decade.