The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

A Night To Remember: Steve Martin and CDM October 28, 2009

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


A Night to Remember:  Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

An Evening of Bluegrass and Banjo Benefitting Central Dallas Ministries


One of my daughters and I attended the above concert at the Meyerson Symphony Center last evening, and we had a great time.  The hall was sold out, and the concert was not only fun, the music was terrific.  Of course, Steve Martin told his share of funny jokes and played a masterful banjo, and the Steep Canyon Rangers are excellent musicians and vocalists.  A fine concert supporting an extremely worthy organization.

 

After the concert, my daughter and I were talking to the fiddle player, and I was telling him that Bluegrass music is close to my heart, since I’m from Tennessee.  “Eastern Tennessee?” he asked.  “Oh, yeh!” I said.  “Our band lives in Asheville,” he told us.  We high-fived.  “You know,” he said, “East Tennessee and Western North Carolina are a separate state unto themselves.”  “Yes,” I said, “no more beautiful place on earth.”  “Absolutely,” he replied, “a well-kept secret.”  A band after my own heart.

KS

 

Starlight October 19, 2009

Filed under: Christianity,healing,hunger,inspiration,Leadership,peace,Vocation — Karen Shafer @ 7:59 pm

Monday, October 19, 2009

 

Starlight

 

“So do not fear,  for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  ~~ Isaiah 41:10 


“Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.”  ~~ Mary Shafer

 

The Shafer clan lost a radiant light when Mary Shafer died this past Wednesday in my hometown of Knoxville, after a 14-year battle with recurrent breast cancer.  A book could be written about her accomplishments, but I like thinking back to when I first met her.

 

I was going through Freshman Sorority Rush at the University of Tennessee, and, when I walked into the Phi Mu room at the Panhellenic Building, Mary, then the sorority’s president, met me at the door.  She took a look at my name tag, and her eyes opened widely.  She put her hand on my arm.  “Are you related to Bo Shafer?”  she said, her face alight with what I took to be hope.

 

As I answered Mary politely, “Yes, he’s my cousin,” and she, becoming even more animated, said to me, “We’re dating!” my first thought — which I obviously kept to myself — was, “Uh-oh, I can see that this poor girl is already in over her head.”  My second:  “Please… don’t get your hopes up,” which, fortunately, I also didn’t share, and next, “Ah, well, another one bites the dust.”

 

I don’t mind telling you, her question was one I got often, because, in addition to being tall and handsome, my older male cousin was frequently in the news.  He’d played varsity football for Tennessee and had met Mary when she was cheerleading there, but his philanthropic work and business acumen were what kept him in the public eye.  

 

This cousin of mine was a quintessential illusive bachelor in our town.  How many beautiful women had set their sites, and their hearts, on him?  I’d met a couple of them at family gatherings — rarely did I see them again.  It’s not that Bo was an intentional heartbreaker — it’s that he was looking for the Real Thing.  I realize now that he’d know it when he saw it, and it turned out to be Mary Gwyn, because the next thing I knew, they were married.

 

Bo wasn’t looking for a trophy wife, but rather for a partner in life, and he surely found it in Mary.  He was quoted on KnoxNews.com this week as saying, “I was so old I didn’t think I could fall in love, but I fell head over heels in love with that woman,” he said. “We never had an argument. Her goal in life was to keep a smile on my face, and my goal in life was to keep a smile on her face.”

 

A number of years ago, when Bo was International Kiwanis President, Mary traveled the world with him, even though she was in and out of cancer treatment at the time.  I could never figure out how she had the stamina to keep up the fierce pace of their commitments, and she never, ever complained.  Instead, she called her battle with cancer ‘an adventure.’  A devout Christian and active member of Second Presbyterian Church, her faith never seemed to waiver.

 

It was Bo who told me throughout my life:  “As middle-class Americans, we are in the top 2% of fortunate people living in the world.  For most of humanity, life is entirely different and much, much harder.  We are extremely spoiled.  It is our privilege and our obligation to give back.”  In Mary, he found someone who lived this philosophy at his side, day in and day out.

 

Bo said that, during the year of his Kiwanis presidency, he and Mary lunched with the King and Queen of Thailand and spent time in the most poverty-ridden villages in Africa.  It surprised no one that Mary was equally at home in either place.

 

During one of my family’s trips to Knoxville in recent years, each time we were with Mary, I knew I was in the presence of someone who was truly living the moments of her life to the fullest, cherishing her family and her life’s work.  The phrase ‘Seize the day’ describes her way of being in the world.  She was the kindest, the friendliest, the most caring individual one could ever meet, with an incisive intelligence.  She was also incredibly fun-loving.  As close as she and Bo were, her description of their recent wine-tour of France, with her imbibing a glass with every course, and Bo being a teetotaler, was hilarious.

 

At their house on the lake, where they spent every weekend, they have a tire swing in the living room.  Not too many women would think that went with their decor!

 

Mary and Bo sent out yearly Groundhog’s Day cards, which were always upbeat and inspiring.  In recent years, their greetings contained business cards for an organization called water.org., as Mary had developed a passion for finding solutions to the problem of clean water scarcity in developing nations.  Together, they built wells in Ethiopia and Guatemala.

 

The message of this year’s card was that life is so precious, we should never complain about small things.  She truly and fully took her own advice.  I am in awe of the life she lived and the legacy she leaves us all.  

 

Looking back to that week of Freshman Rush when I first met Mary, I recall that at the end of the week, Phi Mu did a pageant in which she played the lead.  The title of the presentation was “Starlight.”  All these years later, it fits more than ever.

 

KS

 

http://water.org/

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2009/oct/15/local-philanthropist-mary-shafer-dies-at-64/

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2009/mar/29/shafers-honored-for-their-service-to-others/

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/knoxnews/obituary.aspx?n=mary-gwyn-shafer&pid=134419134

 

 

 

Hard Questions October 8, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

 

Hard Questions

 

A friend of mine moved ‘off the street’ today and into housing, and it was big news.  His was a high-profile ‘success’ story, because this particular friend has been living a life of street-dwelling homelessness for quite a long time — fifteen years — and he has often been in the news, being a person who doesn’t mind being interviewed and is frequently poetically eloquent.

 

However, as is often the case, there is more to the story than its public version.  Isn’t there always?  The ‘more’ in this instance is that a couple of people — well, actually a person and a dog — got left behind when my friend moved into his new home.

 

I got a phone call from my friend’s ‘street wife’ of twelve years yesterday afternoon, saying that her husband had been informed by his employer, who had arranged for the housing, that he was to move into his new home early the next morning — only sixteen hours notice.  Initially, both husband and wife had expected that his housing would include a place for her, too.  When they recently found out this was not the case, they thought they’d have a week or so to try and make arrangements for her safety and well-being.  Additionally, his dog — his constant companion and best friend for eleven years — turned out to be over the weight limit for the housing and would need to stay behind.  And, in his new home, my friend will not be allowed to have visitors.

 

When the wife called me yesterday, she was distraught.  Media had been at their camp as well as at the new home.  Yet, even though his wife was present during the media visits, no mention was made of the her in any news report, nor of the fact that the dog (who did make it into the story!) and she are to remain behind in the ‘cardboard condo’ under the bridge.

 

The wife is frightened to stay out in the open camp without her husband and protector, with good reason.  So some of her ‘housed’ friends banded together today and came up with the money to pay for a two-weeks’ stay in a motel for her and the dog — a temporary fix, but better than sleeping alone under the bridge.

 

On the phone yesterday, she said she couldn’t understand why she couldn’t go with him — had the rules at the housing unit been made purposefully to exclude her?  I reassured her that no, I didn’t think that was the case.  Rather it was more likely to be an issue of funding-raising on the part of the charity providing the housing.  Generally, at least in this part of the world, any sort of housing subsidy for homeless couples requires that they be legally married, which these two people are not.  They would like to be, but there are intransigent problems with his obtaining a divorce from a wife he’s been apart from for decades.

 

I’ll refrain from discussing how her husband made the decision to go ahead with his move, but I spent the afternoon today with my friend, the wife.  As we ran errands in my car, we cried together, laughed together, and visited two of my close friends who have been consistent and steady friends to people who are homeless — both very kind, wise, forthright and resourceful women.  Each of them gave the wife good counsel and support.

 

I believe that, God willing, she will be all right, and, hopefully, more than all right.  She has skills and resources way beyond what most of us possess after living on the street for over a decade, and there are a number of people who are willing to help make accessible to her tools that will help her move out of her current plight.  But her situation raises a number of hard questions, because there are many long-term, stable couples on the street in the same situation — unable to marry for one reason or another;  unwilling to separate in order to get into housing.  

 

Is there a way to make peace between our religious beliefs and morals, and the urgent need to help people — especially women as the most vulnerable parties — move from street-dwelling homelessness to a more stable life of being housed?  What is our priority?


How do those of us who are advocates and service providers share the story of someone experiencing homelessness or poverty with the public in a way that still presents him or her as a person with dignity?  How do we raise funds and practice public relations in ways that will help people move out of homelessness and poverty, without inadvertently falling into the inglorious category of helpers referred to as ‘poverty pimps’?


How do we hold people up as examples of our hopes, dreams and plans for our own organizations without exploiting them? 

 

Where does the line get drawn between the landscape of our plans for them and that of their plans for themselves, and how do we gracefully and honorably navigate the overlapping territory?  How do we do things that we believe to be truly valuable in helping other human beings without falling into the trap of believing we are their saviors?


Whose highest good is being served in this situation, when the cost of housing a husband is that his street wife and dog are left living under a bridge?

 

KS

 

Link:  See Dallas Morning News Photographer Courtney Perry’s blog entry, “Complexities,”  in response to this post at http://courtneyperry.com/pblog/index.php

 

Available On a Street Corner Near You! October 1, 2009

Thursday, October 1, 2009

 

Available On a Street Corner Near You!

 

Today the October, 2009, issue of StreetZine was put into the hands of licensed street vendors downtown and around the city.  As usual, StreetZine is chock-full of fascinating articles and tidbits, and this month you will also find an important article by Pat Spradley, Editor, on the pending court case against the City of Dallas, defending the rights of groups who wish to feed people on the streets of downtown who are hungry and homeless.  [http://thestewpot.org/streetzine.asp]

 

There is also a recent interview I did with The Gardeners from the Dallas International Street Church ministry’s The Garden: South Dallas, Texas.  In it, you will get to know some of them personally and see what gardening organically has come to mean to their lives.  Included are lovely pictures by Mandy Mulliez of a few of The Gardeners and of the Fall Garden at the DISC.

 

Special kudos and big appreciation to Pastor Karen Dudley, Founder and Senior Pastor of the DISC, not only for her soon-to-be twelve years of dedication and commitment to helping people salvage their lives from the ravages of street living, but also for continuing to pay the water bill on The Garden throughout this long hot summer, when it appeared as if the total yield was going to be somewhere around a single cherry tomato and ten green beans!  [www.kdministries.org]

 

Here are some quotes from the interview:

 

ks:  Noting that many of the people in the Dallas International Street Church have experienced homelessness in the past, do you think that having a Garden has any special meaning for people that have been or are homeless?  Does having experienced homelessness give people a special appreciation for having a place to grow their own food?

Luis:  Yes.  Do you remember the first time we planted and we used those community service men and women from the City of Dallas community court program?  You know, last week, two of the guys who did community service came back just to see the beds they had helped build!

ks:  How did that happen?

Luis:  They just came!  I was out at The Garden in the morning, and I saw them, and one of them said, “I just came to see my garden bed,” and I said, “Cool!  Come on!”  He was surprised, he said “Wow!  This is OURS?”  I said, ‘Yea, look!’  It was great.  

He was telling me about when he was in jail and stuff like that and when he got out, and The Stewpot brought them over here to do their community service.  And he was really surprised at how The Garden grew.  He said, “I didn’t think it was going to grow!”  And I said, “Yea, but look at it now!”  I mean, it’s our pride and joy.

ks:  What keeps you motivated to continue working in The Garden?

Raymond:  Getting the fruit from the plants!  Getting the tomatoes…

Luis: Yea, that stuff.  [Pause]  The best and the most important thing is to be WANTED, to be needed by something that — it grows.  Cause it’s not just the plants that are growing, but US, TOO.

 

I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the October StreetZine from a licensed street vendor (or at The Stewpot, 408 Park Avenue, Dallas, TX 75201) and see the beautiful  garden pictures, as well as the expanded interview.  Selling StreetZine provides a sustainable living for many of these men and women and is helping them get off the street and regain their independence.


Karen Shafer

 

For Mandy Mulliez’ slideshow of The Garden, see:

http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=1bf3gjjt.36pvmvjl&x=0&y=-4ezj3m&localeid=en_US


For background on The Garden: South Dallas, see:

https://theintermittentvolunteer.wordpress.com/2009/04/17/the-garden-south-dallas-texas/

https://theintermittentvolunteer.wordpress.com/2009/05/02/the-garden-raising-day-may-2-2009/

https://theintermittentvolunteer.wordpress.com/2009/05/15/the-garden-is-growing-2/