Thursday, December 12, 2013

Take Heart: Hidden Champions Everywhere!

I just finished looking through a photo book tribute done for a friend of mine who retired as principal from an alternative school. She's pretty humble, so I won't name her. I was blown away by the accolades. But, knowing her, she deserved every one.

Having explored the book her staff gave her as she finished 15 years at the helm of the school that provided the last hope for kids in their community, I easily surmised that this was the place the "unwanted" students could feel at home, and perhaps gain the skills and confidence to succeed as adults. My friend probably had lots to do with the caring and compassionate environment, drawing out the best from staff and students, much like...

...the dedicated homeless liaisons at school districts across the land. One huge perk of my nomadic lifestyle under the HEAR US banner is getting to meet hidden champions who pursue the impossible on behalf of invisible homeless students. I've seen liaisons do everything from begging for prom fixings for a student who's made it that far to schlepping the flat-tired bicycle home for repair, and much, much more.

Having directed a large homeless shelter for many years, I witnessed countless mostly invisible kindnesses extended to society's throw-aways. And lest one think that the kindness was a one way street, think again.

The goodness and generosity from "have-not" to have-not, or to "haves" was a constant joy. "Here, you've got to walk further than I do to get to work. Take my gloves." Or, "I saw them giving away boots at the soup kitchen today. You were at school, so I grabbed you a pair." Or, "I'll go with you to the doctor's so you don't have to go alone." Or "Let me carry that box for you, Diane." You get the idea.

With the spate of news stories about ugly deeds and cruelty as daily fodder, it's easy to forget that goodness and kindness is prevalent. My experience tells me it is. I just wanted to reassure you...

...and to thank you for whatever ways you bring goodness into this hurting world. And to thank you for your immeasurable kindnesses shown to me, your support of HEAR US, and your interest in this crazy work of mine.

I'm not much for the holidays. I guess I got burned out on piles of Barbie dolls showing up after a long day preparing for a festive shelter Christmas Eve. I get the underlying meaning, and I do celebrate the birth of goodness in our world everyday. If you're one of these hidden champions, I offer my humble thanks.

You know the meaning of this simple, profound quote by Buddha:
If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.

Monday, October 14, 2013

No Shortage of Wisdom From Those Who Know

Lacking the time and inspiration to develop my own thoughts for this blog, I was bailed out by a single mother from Maine (with help from Wikipedia). With the government shutdown (why do I always insist on putting an "i" instead of "u" in the word shutdown?) in week 2, with no hope in sight, I'll share her words. Diane

"Social security" is a *universal* coverage, greatly expanded since the creation of the program as a response to Depression in the '30's. In the early days, only white men were 'entitled;' since the 50's, women and minorities were no longer excluded and also began receiving benefits. The *whole point* was to limit what were seen as dangers in the modern American life, including old age, *poverty, unemployment, and the burdens of widows and fatherless children.*

Regrettable, the still sexist language; 'widows' and 'fatherless' recall social meanings from the 30's, before eligibility became universal, back in the days when only the (eligible) white men were working, to bring money home to the wives and children. These days we can add 'single mothers.' In most cases, gender matters: the appearance of children affects the people in charge of their care (generally women), in ways that usually mean less time available for income producing work.

While the governmental administration of taxing and benefiting workers is problematic in nightmare proportions, it's nothing like the nightmare people face who find themselves in circumstances that require receiving 'benefits' of assistance for food and shelter.

Words have meaning.

A nation may hope to achieve 'social security,' and will never achieve it by belittling the less fortunate and scrapping for resources rather than sharing the bounties.
Poverty is the enemy, not the people who suffer it.
Poverty has no rightful place in the great nation striving to protect itself with universal coverage created expressly to share the benefits of capital.
Just my two cents.
Shared in a neighborly moment.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

What's Missing? One Key Indicator to Heed...

I'm getting ready to swing out on my 9th round of travels since I started HEAR US Inc. in 2005 to give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth. I've heard and seen lots in these 168,000+ miles. Recently I figured out one thing missing, a very revealing absence.

Smiles. OK, call me crazy but I look at people as I pass by on my mostly backroads' travels.

Elderly man walking out to get his mail. Frowning. Woman on mower. Grimacing. Mail carrier. Numb. Woman driving convertible. Wrinkled brow and downward mouth. Truck driver. Tight-lipped with a cigarette hanging out. Woman pushing baby stroller. Lost. Teen scooting on a skateboard. Isolated. Bicycle rider. Another world.

Interesting but impractical would be to stop and ask my non-smilers how things are going. I'd imagine I'd get an earful. And I don't need any more downer-stories. Working in the field of homelessness, as I have for the past 30 years, gives me enough sadness for a lifetime.

Walking on streets of mega-cities and mini-towns, I've also tried the look-people-in-the-eye gauge to see who makes eye contact and who practices "custody of the eyes." Smaller towns, by far, have people more willing to make eye contact.

Same too with the old-fashioned habit of waving. As a kid, my family had small boats and we spent tons of time traversing canals around Ft. Lauderdale and Pompano Beach, FL. We always exchanged waves with other boaters. Not so much now from what I've seen.

One exception to the waving phenomenon, on the highway, was a stretch of road in southern Nebraska. It was the 1-finger wave, steering wheel hand, kind of a "hey" in a laid back farm country kind of way that gave me something to look forward to on those rare instances when my path crossed another's.

But I've made another fascinating observation: those with the least going for them are the ones who both smile more and respond to a smile. Families and youth without homes, as well as the men and women on the streets and in shelters, seem to recognize the one gift we all can share no matter a person's financial standing.

Yeah, I know. People don't have a lot to smile about. Well, on one hand, I agree things are really tough and our human spirit is being daily tested. But on the other hand, after spending 3 weeks in Tanzania this summer, I also saw a lot of smiles from people who, by our 1st world standard, have very little. Abject poverty was the norm. Grueling living conditions were widespread. Creature comforts as we know them rare.

Not sure what I can extrapolate from all this except to remember that we all have the ability to convey a smile. And the smile, especially when combined with a kind word or two, is a potent tool for creating a wisp of happiness, when woven together wisp-to-wisp will make a full-fledged happy moment...which causes more smiles.

Join me on my travels. Well, at least follow along on Facebook. I'll friend you unless you're an unrepentant ax murderer. And if our paths cross at an event (sign up for our free 1x a mo. newsletter to see where I'm headed), come give me a smile. I need all those friendly looks I can get.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Gratitude--Third World Inspired

My somewhat simple lifestyle, for the past 8 years in a 150 sq. ft. motorhome, should have prepared me for the "lacks" on my recent 3-week sojourn to Tanzania. But I found myself in awe that people across this charming country have little in the way of reliable electricity and water.

Doing without sure made me treasure the abundance I experience here in the good ol' US of A.

Understatement. For sure.
Tanzania, in eastern Africa, is a fairly civilized country. The jarring frenetic pace of their commerce system doesn't compare with our mega stores. Shopping takes on a whole new meaning. So does driving. Road conditions are, well, Third World. Translate hazardous, extremely so.

But at the heart of my experience was the beauty of the people and the unbridled hospitality we were shown. My travel-mates Helen and Julie and I were treated like royalty. Our friends in TZ, Sister Afra and Upendo, made sure things were smooth. They went above and beyond, including making sure our travel was in a sturdy vehicle rather than chaotic public buses.

One purpose of our trip was to explore the work that our nonprofit organization Friends of Imiliwaha NFP has been supporting. Sister Afra, who received her undergrad and graduate education at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL, is overseeing a monstrous project--the building of a school so she can provide quality education and services to children in Sumbawanga. Here's a 5-min video I made about those efforts.

Let me blast a few stereotypes that I held:

  • Mosquitoes would be rampant. Minnesota style. Not. At least not at this time of year, their winter, a drier time. And it depends on where you are in the country. (Was this a plot by the medical world to sell expensive medication and shots?)
  • Heat. Ditto the time of year element. We were a tad chilly some nights and early mornings. Frost covered the ground one morning.
  • Desert. Nope. Most of the countryside we visited looked like scenic northern Wisconsin. 
  • Education. It's way more important than I imagined. Neighborhood kids poured into Afra's informal winter break classes to learn the alphabet, among other things. 
I've found myself saying that this trip was "life-changing." I suspect that will become even more true as the weeks and months pass. I think back to a trip I took in high school, almost 50 years ago, as an exchange student. I spent 3 weeks in El Salvador. I still can count on that experience as a life-changer, although it didn't do much for my Spanish language skills.

Hordes of media followed President Obama's recent trip to Tanzania. I suspect none of the crowd saw what we saw. Certainly this country, with abundant resources and needs, will fall out of favor of the mainstream press. I posted this blog about his visit and ours in my AlterNet space.

Now I need to get back to my challenges of HEAR US, my domestic nonprofit organization. Poverty abounds on both sides of the ocean. And my firsthand experiences of life without will keep me fighting for those who can't escape the chains of poverty. 

Let me offer you a souvenir as I end this little post: Take one thing in your life that's a constant--it can be as simple as your morning coffee or your drive to work. Imagine how that one element happens--all the people that make it possible for you to enjoy whatever your thing is. Appreciating the abundances in our lives will fuel our efforts to level the playing field for those who struggle to survive. 

See. I just increased the value of your day. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lying or Clueless? Whatever. Hurtful. Minority.

Caricature by Mary Ann Parks
I'm basically a transparent person. I will go out of my way to tell the truth. I value truth and trust.

That's why I get quite frustrated with the likes of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, AZ, the infamous pink-underwear, tent city, and a host of other tricks of his lawman image-making persona.

My dear friend and stalwart Babes of Wrath travel partner, Pat LaMarche, amazingly arranged an interview with Sheriff Joe while we were on our recent trip out west. Here's the link to her post, the transcripts and my 2-min video-visit of his office. These will give you some inside insights.

One thing that flabbergasted both of us was the Sheriff's total denial of his awareness of homeless kids in his county. "Homeless children?" he asked, astounded. He even sounded a tad concerned. Welp, that was short lived when we found out that he indeed did know about the homeless kids in the Phoenix area...he had attended several fundraisers for area shelters.

Diane and Pat
I suppose I shouldn't expect so much--honesty, decency, etc.--from our elected officials. After all, they're elected...often times by voters who fall for deceptive, persuasive advertising, and who pay little attention to the behind-the-scenes hooligans. But I do expect it.

Fortunately, albeit quite hidden, we have hosts of counter-forces out here too. Good people doing good things. I was reminded of this every day when I thought about Pat's willingness to spend 5 weeks chasing poverty stories while living in cramped, spartan conditions with me in Tillie. I'm used to traveling alone, beating my head against walls alone. It was wonderful to have her along.

We encountered scads of warm-hearted, compassionate people who daily go above-and-beyond to comfort the afflicted. Although both Pat and I try to share some of these stories, (Pat's blogs, my blogs) it's impossible to counteract the surge of media blasts about the abundant Sheriff Joe-type characters fluttering around like snow in a blizzard.

Most delightful, we encountered scads of people experiencing homelessness who inspired the socks off us by their efforts to strive, not just survive, the dire circumstances thrown at them.

Which got me do we let the tables be turned upside down--where the good people are overpowered by the bullies and ne'er-do-wells from the, um, other side? What can mostly powerless folks do? Well, let me give one relatively simple, cost-free, suggestion:
When you read a blog post, Facebook comment/post, or news story about poverty/homelessness, take a moment to LIKE, COMMENT and/or SHARE. Top dogs determine what stories are important using a complicated system, I'm sure. Part of it is based on LIKES, SHARES, COMMENTS. So...if you can manage a moment to register on the cyberspace toll board, you'll be lending our cause a hand.
My organization, HEAR US Inc., pushes the idea of a compassion epidemic. It's not a unique concept, but this simple, doable approach is sometimes overlooked in the frenzy of crisis and chaos. Do we have confidence that good will triumph over evil? Then...why don't we push the good envelope even harder.

Stand in the face of the evil-doers and say NO. You don't win, bully. The Babes of Wrath will get you!