The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Is WIFI in Schools Safe? August 21, 2015

Filed under: and a little child shall lead them,Sensible technology,Solutions — Karen Shafer @ 9:39 pm

Friday, August 21, 2015

Allergic to WIFI

For quite a while now — 2-3/4 years, since sustaining a concussion which was one of several over time — I have been a “canary in the coal mine” on the subject of Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity:   an “allergy”, for want of a better word, to electromagnetic fields such as those caused by cell phones and wireless internet.  This is not a fun cultural role to play:  it is extremely isolating, frightening, frustrating, and, at times, dispiriting.

With the explosion in diagnoses of autism, anxiety, depression and other neurological disorders among children, a growing number of scientists and citizens are adding their voices to concerns about the harm this radiation pollution can cause, particularly to children and young adults who are still developing.  Here is an article from Boston Parents magazine that is worth considering.

http://bostonparentspaper.com/article/is-wi-fi-in-schools-safe.html

KS

 

Those Who Risk Everything: Noble May 5, 2015

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

 

Those Who Risk Everything:  Noble

 

http://thenoblemovie.com/?utm_campaign=Dillon%20International%27s%20May%202015%20e-news&utm_source=Robly.com&utm_medium=email

 

Cold Feet March 20, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

 

Cold Feet

by Karen Shafer

 

Although it’s cold here on the New England lake where I’m staying with my family — in the thirties — the weather has not stopped my ten-year-old grandson, Louis, from organizing family rowing parties on the lake the past two days.  It goes without saying that he’s the ship’s captain, which is almost certainly a motivating factor for any ten-year-old.  He’s enthusiastic about being in charge and even got his mother to go out rowing this morning when it was 29 degrees!

 

As a family, we’ve rowed across the lake twice this weekend and staked our claim, like settlers, on the shore of an island or promontory, which my grandson has dubbed ‘New Louis.’  (Please don’t tell the people in the waterside mansions up the hill from where we landed that new settlers have arrived:  they no doubt think they own the land.)  Today when he, his eight-year-old sister, Anna, his father and I made ‘the crossing’, it was 37 degrees and also quite windy — and we were rowing into the cold wind and against the waves.  At times, it seemed seemed to me that we were either going backwards or sitting still in the middle of the lake, paddling our hardest, and I thought, “Hmm, making this crossing yesterday was really fun, but this is starting to feel a little like actual work.”

 

Eventually, though, we gained the coast of New Louis and clambered ashore — or rather, they leaped, and I crawled.  While the other three first scrambled up a pine tree that had been blown over and uprooted to a 45-degree angle by a recent storm, then went off hiking, I sat on a wall, regretting the fact that I’d left my winter boots in Boston.  My feet in tennis shoes and cotton socks had gotten damp from water in the bottom of the boat, and how cold they now felt became the full focus of my attention, delighted though I was with the outing and with our newly conquered territory.

 

I soon figured out that, though the temperature was in the mid-thirties, if I took off my damp socks and shoes and sat barefoot with my feet under a pile of dry leaves and grass, my feet were warmer and I was more comfortable than I was sitting in wet shoes.  I hung my damp socks on a branch to ‘dry’ and piled more dry pine needles over the ‘nest’ into which I’d pushed my feet.  Chastising myself for being a wimp and a whiner did nothing to erase the fact that nothing seemed more important to me than how cold my feet felt.  And I had only been out in the wind and damp for about forty-five minutes… an hour max.

 

As I sat on the wall pondering what a softie I’ve become in middle age, I began to think of our homeless brothers and sisters, out on the street in similar weather and that which is much more severe.  I remembered how, in times past when I’ve been around homeless people in the winter, there’s nothing they’ve seemed to need more — and nothing which is more often lacking — than clean dry socks and shoes, and I recalled how charities serving the homeless population often emphasize this.  Being in New England, I thought of sock drives sponsored by the Boston Red Sox.  I vowed that the next time I show up at a service provider which helps homeless people, I’ll do so with at least a pack if not an armload of white athletic socks…  and I wistfully and pitifully imagined borrowing one of those pairs of socks for myself at that moment, just until we got back to the house.

 

My family came back from their hike, and we rowed back across the lake… with the wind this time, and in a quarter of the time, thank goodness.  I did more reflecting as we paddled;  the rhythm of the oars moving through the water was conducive to it.  I thought about how comfort-dependent I am, especially as I get older — and, indeed, what comfortable lives most of us middle-class Americans live.  How pampered we are, and how miserable it must be to be homeless, living on the street, and know that you are facing hours, days of cold, wet feet.  How does one cope with that?

 

We reached the small sandy beach in front of the house where we are staying, pulled the rowboat onto shore, traversed the yard and entered the lovely, warm, dry house.  I rushed straight to my slippers and greeted them with a sense of appreciation and affection I’d forgotten I could feel for shoes.

 

KS

 

Prayer for Peace December 16, 2012

Sunday, December 16, 2012

While cleaning off a bookshelf today, I found a bookmark with this printed on it in one of my mother’s old prayer books.  Not so easy to do, but worth trying for…  KS

 

Prayer for Peace

 

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt,  faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

 

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;  

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

 

For it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

A Message From Karen Dudley & The Dallas International Street Church August 15, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

 

Personal Message 

from 

Pastor Karen   

 “Where there is no vision the people perish”

Proverbs 29:18

In talking with more and more youth there seems to be a lack of vision for their generation.  Many are meandering through life without purpose or goals.  With this mindset it should come as no suprise that many find themselves in bondage to drugs, alcohol, cutting and abusive relationships.  In other words they are perishing. And adults are no better in that they suffer from the same emptiness.  No vision.  Thats where the church stands in and and cast the vision of God before His people in order that they may get a vision for themselves, their marriage, their family, etc. If we want to stop the perishing in our communities then we the church must begin to cast the vision of God but before we can do that we must first have a vision of God ourselves.

 

 

 

Lessons Learned in a Rowboat April 19, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lessons Learned in a Rowboat

[Rowing With My Grandchildren]

c Karen Shafer, 4/2012

Photo by Mandy Mulliez
'Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream.'

 

 

1)  It’s important to work as a team.

 

2)  Every crew member has something special to give to the effort.

 

3)  If you don’t appreciate the way someone is rowing, try, just for a minute, to row along with them.

 

4)  Never underestimate the power of the Young.

 

5)  Sometimes there’s chop, and sometimes there’s smooth.

 

6)  If you’re drifting off course, correct your direction as soon as possible.

 

7)  At some moments, even on a good day of rowing, things can feel a little dicey.

 

8)  If you have a choice of when to row against the current, do it when you feel fresh.

 

9)  It’s really nice sometimes just to drift.

 

10)  Each time of day has its own kind of rhythm and beauty.

 

11)  The appearance of the boat doesn’t determine how ‘yare’ it is.

 

12)  Never underestimate the power of the Old.

 

13)  Rowing with a lot of effort increases your level of endorphins;  so does just sitting in your boat on the lake and feeling the peace.

 

14)  Just because brush obscures the shoreline doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

 

This Pretty Planet April 18, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

This Pretty Planet

[A Song Louis and Anna Learned at School for Earth Day]

Photo by Mandy Mulliez

This pretty planet,

Spinning through space —

Your garden, your harbor,

Your holy place.

Golden sun going down,

Gentle blue giant,

Spin us around

All through the night,

Safe till the morning light.

Photo by Mandy Mulliez
'Touch the earth. Stay grounded.'

 

Racism, Our Familiar Companion January 28, 2012

Filed under: and a little child shall lead them,healing,peace,Racism — Karen Shafer @ 8:44 pm

Saturday, January 28, 2011

Racism, Our Familiar Companion

Last Sunday, I was sitting on the patio of a Dallas cafe having lunch with my nine-year-old granddaughter and one of her friends.  The friend had gone to climb on some nearby play equipment, and my granddaughter leaned over and whispered to me, “Grandma, do you know the ‘n-word’?”  “Yes, I know it,” I replied, wondering where this was going — this granddaughter is mixed race, partially of African-American descent.

 

 

“A boy at school came up behind me this week and said, ‘Hey, N – – – – -, get out of the way.'”  I didn’t try to hide my astonishment.  “What?????  I am really shocked to hear that,” I told her.  I asked for more details:  whether she’d told the teacher and how things proceeded from there.  “Yes, I told the teacher, and she made him come all the way across the room and apologize.”  “How did you feel about all of this?”  “Well, it really hurt my feelings.”  “I can well imagine.”

 

 

We began to discuss the ‘n-word’ itself.  She was obviously well aware of the ‘not-OK-ness’ of people calling someone of a different race the word, but  I said, “You know, in the rap community, people sometimes use that word towards each other, and they feel that’s OK.”  “Yes, I know.”  It seemed clear that the distinctions between the differing usages were evident to her from our discussion that followed.

 

 

I didn’t want, at that point, to know the race of the name-calling child — let’s call him Howie, and I specifically refrained from asking, not wanting to add to the ‘divide’, nor to begin stereotyping the child in my own mind.  I just wanted to process the transaction, which over the next many hours and days I inevitably have done.

 

 

When I picked up my granddaughter at school on Monday, she said, “I was partners with Howie in class today.”  “Really,” I asked, “And how did that go?”  “Fine, he has trouble reading and can only read little words, like ‘it’.  He’s in a special group.”  “Well,” I said, “that must be hard for him.”  “Yes, but he’s the one who called me the N-word!”  “Oh, yes, I remember.  So how did your work together turn out?”  “Well, at the end, we were supposed to shake hands, but he would only shake with his elbow.”  I guessed at what that action represented in his mind, but to her I said, “Hmm, why do you think he did that?”  “I have no idea,” she replied.

 

 

I have stewed about this day after day.  The incident presents itself to me in the odd hours — quiet times, the middle of the night.   I admit it took me very much by surprise.  I raised a biracial daughter who is now thirty years old, and, to my knowledge, this racial epithet throwing didn’t happen to her.  It is not that I’m naive enough to believe that people don’t think in these terms.  Perhaps any of my daughter’s school fellows who had these thoughts were just too well-mannered to express them.

 

 

The anguish of knowing that someone you love as much as I love this grandchild has to put up with this kind of garbage gets me right in the solar plexus.  I have processed it layer by layer as the days have passed, and I still am — and I’m sure will continue to do so.  It’s so troubling that it took me days to discuss it with friends or family.  But after a lot of reflection, I’ve at least been able to find some positives.

 

 

1)  My granddaughter seems to be handling it well.  I’m not sure about the teacher’s motive in having her and Howie work together, and I want to find out.  But my granddaughter seems to understand that it’s about his belief system and not about her value as a human being.

 

 

2)  The reality that thirty, forty, fifty years ago or more (and probably in some places today), a white person (and this boy is white, it turns out) could put violence behind their words towards a person of color with impunity, and that today the justice system and the public consciousness has begun to come to terms with these issues successfully — that they produce outrage and legal repercussions — shows that, although racism is alive and in many ways has only changed it’s form, a lot of progress has been made.

 

 

3)  What kind of words is this child hearing about race at home?  I can’t be sure, of course, but guessing at the possibilities, I feel frightened and extremely sad.

 

 

4)  Such an experience could prepare one for the world as it is, if handled properly.

 

 

5)  This is my predominant thought:  what kind of courage did it take for those African American parents in the deep south during desegregation to send their precious children off to a white school?  How must it have felt for them, not to mention their children, to meet not only the jeering and vitriolic hatred of white parents and fellow students, but to face angry, self-righteous politicians, armed local lawmen and attack dogs with the same kind of hatred in their hearts and on their faces — and wearing as well the absolute certainty that their bigotry put them in the right?

 

 

It seems that bigotry and racial hatred aren’t going anywhere.  All one has to do is listen to national and international news become aware of that.  But at least, if the light is made to shine on them, if they aren’t allowed to fester in hidden places and are called out and held to account, that is not just something — it is a very great deal.

 

 

KS

 

The Wilkinson Center: ‘Blessed’ November 26, 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

 

Here’s a beautiful letter and appeal from Brian Burton, Executive Director of The Wilkinson Center.  It speaks for itself.

 

Blessed

 

Brave people walk through our doors every day. Listen for five minutes to the wide ranging narrative of stories shared by the newly poor, working poor and homeless people, and you will agree.

One of my first awakenings here was walking through the hallways and asking people waiting for food, “How are you today?” Their consistent response surprised me. Despite a life lacking in possessions, safety, security, employment, health or even shelter, I heard them reply to my question over and over, “I’m blessed.”

Often the statement rolls off the tongues of bodies crippled by years of neglect and abuse. Some manage to smile or raise their hand above their head, as though they have discovered a place of solace and hope.

No matter how bad things get for the “I’m blessed” crowd, their attitude transcends circumstances and plucks hope out of thin air. “Tomorrow will be better, things will work out,” they explain to my disbelieving face.

The State of Texas is about to balance much of its galactic deficit on their backs, and yet these “I’m blessed” neighbors will, as they always do, forgive and love the rest of us. Mitigated by faith and our best attempts to “serve” them, they will make their own way with God, step by step, day by day, facing hardship and struggles inconceivable to me.

Indeed, they have discovered a place of solace and hope. It is a place accessible only when all else has been stripped away: a deep overflowing reservoir of faith in God and an implacable belief in a better tomorrow.

This Thanksgiving, given the anxiety that hangs thick in the air we breathe, it behooves us all to tap into that place of faith these neighbors have found so abundantly. In return for guiding us there, the least we could do is to thank them by sharing the resources we have that will make their hopes for a better tomorrow come true.

Thanks for giving,


Brian Burton

 

http://mywilkinsoncenter.org/


 

We Are the World February 17, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We Are the World

Check out this video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Glny4jSciVI

 

Please Call Me By My True Names February 8, 2010

Monday, February 8, 2010

My good friend, Nancy Johnson, just sent me this poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, one of my two or three favorite sages, and the only one who is still living.  I want to share it with you.  The thing about Thich is, he himself has lived through hell-on-earth during the Vietnam War era, yet has always been and remains a man of peace.  What an inspiration.  KS

Please Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh, Thich Nhat Hanh poetry, Buddhist, Buddhist poetry, Zen / Chan poetry, [TRADITION SUB2] poetry,  poetry

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

1989

 

Haitian Relief January 16, 2010

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Haitian Relief

Readers may already have a preferred way of supporting relief efforts, but if you are concerned about the aid getting in, or about the integrity of the pathway through which it goes, here’s an appeal that can be counted on to do what it says in the way it says.  And it is already established in Haiti and has programs operating there.

Having had personal dealings with Dillon International, our family has found them to be very credible and accountable.  In particular, it’s quite laudable that they operate not only adoption programs in many countries around the world but also humanitarian efforts in these countries — for example, a home for street children who will not be adopted or otherwise cared for in Vietnam.

Also, there is a local connection, as they have recently paired with Buckner Family Services to increase the scope of the operations of both.  Below is an e-mail from Deniese Dillon, a founder.

KS

Dear Friends,

We are so very saddened by the tragedy that has hit Haiti!  We have learned from Gladys Thomas, the Director of Dillon’s Programs in Haiti,  that the Children’s Village and Hope Hospital are okay.  There has been some flooding, one of the walls on a building collapsed, and many people are gathering in this location but otherwise all is well.  The Village (orphanage home) has food but the children are scared.

There will be many people throughout the Haitian community that will continue to come to Hope Hospital looking for care…it is already very full with earthquake victims.

The great need right now is gasoline to run the generators. If you are interested in helping provide aid to the children and people of Haiti please click the link below.  We are able to get the funds directly to Gladys and the funds will be put immediately to use.

https://secure.groundspring.org/dn/index.php?aid=22119

Please check the Dillon International website periodically for updates on this situation. http://www.dillonadopt.com/

Thank you for your help,

Deniese Dillon

3227 East 31st Street, Suite 200 I Tulsa, OK  74105

Voice: 918.749.4600 I Fax:  918.749.7144
Email:
tonnie@dillonadopt.com

www.Dillonadopt.com I www.orphancareintl.org I www.Buckner.org
Making Life Better for Orphans, Vulnerable Children and Families

 

T.S. Eliot on Epiphany January 3, 2010

Filed under: and a little child shall lead them,Christianity — Karen Shafer @ 8:21 pm

Sunday, January 3, 2009


T.S. Eliot on Epiphany


1NOW WHEN Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men [astrologers] from the east came to Jerusalem, asking,

2Where is He Who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east [a]at its rising and have come to worship Him.

~~Matthew 2

The Journey of the Magi

by T.S. Eliot


‘A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For the journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.’

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

 

For To You December 28, 2009

Filed under: and a little child shall lead them,Christianity — Karen Shafer @ 9:23 pm

Christmas Day, Friday, December 25, 2009


For To You


“And the angel said to them, ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you;  you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’”


Luke 2:  10-12


Merry Christmas!

 

Living Proof November 21, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Living Proof


As you may know, the stereotype of the adult Trust Baby who lives on the street by choice because he or she doesn’t want to obey society’s rules is, if not a downright myth, then at least a rare exception among those experiencing street-dwelling homelessness, particularly on a long-term basis.  At a Homeless Advocacy Meeting I attended this week at The Stewpot, as I looked around the room, I asked myself, as I often do:  “What is the profile of a person who is homeless?”  My answer, after years of pondering the question, is that there is no profile.  As with the ‘housed,’ each person’s story is unique.  However, I have observed that a history of family poverty and an interruption in the process of formal education seem to be a common themes among many individuals experiencing so-called ‘chronic’ homelessness that I’ve come to know over the past six years.

 

So, when I hear someone offering solutions to problems of poverty, disease and a lack of education on a global scale, and offering them in a clear-headed and practical way, I tend to listen.  That happened last week when I caught an interview with Melinda Gates on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS (KERA.)

 

It was later than I like to be awake, but I couldn’t quit watching and was riveted to the interchange within the first couple of minutes, because I saw in Melinda a passion and conviction which I’ve come to recognize in those who are committed to positive action on a deep level.  A statement she made — “That mother in Africa whose child is dying of malaria cares just as much about her child as I care about mine” — shows me:  she’s been ‘on the ground,’ engaged in frequent and genuine contact with people who are suffering.   For her, it’s no longer ‘us and them.’

 

What struck me first of all was her manner.  When asked a question, one could tell she had so much information to give in reply that she had to hold back some of it in order to respond to the question within the timeframe allotted.  That kind of interest and accumulation — not to mention synthesis — of data, comes only from a deep and impassioned curiosity.

 

A few things stood out from the interview.

~~ She said that the money she and Bill have put into the The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (many billions) was a drop in the bucket towards solving the problems they address.  In particular, she mentioned the goal of the complete eradication of certain diseases from the planet — malaria, polio, smallpox, HIV-AIDS — and the improvement of public education.  It was Warren Buffet’s donation of tens of billions more that allowed the Foundation to ‘go much deeper’, in her words, in addressing these problems.

~~ She could answer the hard questions, but never in a contentious and divisive way.  When asked about the diversion of aid funds by corrupt governments in the developing world, she answered, with practicality but without blame, that she and Bill had learned that the work was best and most successfully carried out in certain countries where they could work well with accountable governments  — in other words, tried and true solutions based on experience.

~~ The solutions to large, global problems lie, not in one segment of society alone, but rather only in partnerships between private philanthropy, government funding and cooperation, and faith-based organizations.  That’s why, when I hear opinions put forth with monolithic solutions — and most often government participation as an evil is mentioned —  I realize that these comments are based in ideology rather than in reality.  The massive problems of hunger, homelessness, poverty, and global disease are indeed only amenable to large-scale partnering.

~~ The Gates Foundation sticks with it.  They’ve been working on public education for a decade and are just now coming up with really workable answers to the question of what can make it succeed.  At first they tried organizing smaller communities within the larger ones so that troubled kids could feel a sense of connection, but what they’ve learned over time is that the really important variable is — guess what?  the particular adult individual teacher within the classroom.  (How does that make you feel about the Dallas Independent School District laying off experienced, gifted teacher during its budget problems?)  So now, they are trying to quantify exactly what are the characteristics of successful teachers, so that those can be taught and mentored to others.  They are doing this through transparency in teaching methods and outcomes in pilot programs a couple of states — so that success can be shared, passed along, and hopefully instituted across the country.

~~ Something I observed in her manner was a presence of deep caring coupled with a lack of sentimentality.  It may sound strange, but, as I’ve learned myself — sometimes the hard way — sentimentality about an issue can sometimes cloud its reality, and I believe its takes away from the dignity of those experiencing the problem.  There is a fine line between these two, shall we call them ‘values?’ — compassion and sentimentality.  But it’s probably an important line to learn to identify, in order to keep ourselves from enabling on the one hand and becoming cynical on the other.

 

Regardless of our situations, we are all human beings made of the same flesh and blood as well as emotional and spiritual components, and we are in this together.  Not only is ‘right action’ a moral imperative, it is the correct practical option to try and solve these problems that plague our world.

 

KS

 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:  All Lives Have Equal Value

http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Pages/home.aspx

The Living Proof Project

http://www.gatesfoundation.org/livingproofproject/Pages/video-gallery.aspx#video=/livingproofproject/Pages/kangaroo-mother-care-malawi.aspx&pager=0

 

Reconnecting to ‘The Wild’ July 8, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2008

 

Reconnecting to ‘The Wild’

 

This past Fourth of July weekend, one of my daughters, Rose, and granddaughter, Cora, and I went to Glen Rose, Texas to stay a few days, do the ‘Dino’ thing (this granddaughter is six and admires T Rex as much as any six-year-old), and visit Fossil Rim Wildlife Ranch.  [http://www.fossilrim.org/]

 

I’d been to Fossil Rim with my older daughter’s elementary-school class as a Room Mother mannnnnnny years ago for the Scenic Wildlife Drive, accompanied by twenty-five 6-to-9-year olds, and remembered feeding the ostriches through the car window and how it felt like the force of a thunderbolt hitting your hand when they took the food pellet from you.  It was great fun to drive through the 1700 acres, seeing the animals wild and free while we remained safely in our ‘car cage.’

 

This past weekend’s drive through the park was more enjoyable than any of us had imagined.  Cora is a ‘nature fanatic’ — for example, she’s caught and released around fifty snakes and lizards this spring and summer — and her excitement at hand-feeding the endangered Addax, European Red and Fallow Deer, Aoudads and other species through the car windows is easy to imagine.  

 

These days, visitors are warned against feeding the ostriches, but the shrieks and screams all around inside our ‘car cage’ as the aggressive big birds tried to insert their heads and necks through the windows was quite funny.  We got to touch the nose and flank of a Grant’s Zebra as he nuzzled our car door, but the big thrill of the trip was interacting with the giraffes, the only animal one is technically advised to hand feed these days at Fossil Rim because they have no teeth.

 

We’d been told by ranch staff that, if the giraffes were reticent about approaching us to be fed, we should pull our car over, turn off the engine and quietly wait.  “They like to figure out who’s serious about feeding them,” the ranger told us.  When we got to the giraffe area, they were indeed ‘doing their own thing,’ nibbling the tree tops, so we did as instructed, parking near them.

 

It took a few minutes, but soon we saw one of the magnificent giants approaching the rear of the car.  The three of us were giggling and whispering and trying to ‘be cool’ and not scare him away.  Elegantly, he glided slowly over to us and bent his towering head down to the back window, and Cora held out her hand with a feed pellet in it.  His long purple blue tongue gently swooped the pellet into his mouth.  To say that the child was ecstatic understates it.

 

One is strictly forbidden to leave one’s car at Fossil Rim, but we remembered that our car has a moon roof, so we opened it, and Cora stood up through it and continued feeding the enormous, exquisitely beautiful animal as he lowered his head to earth, petting his nose as she did so.  The giraffe was utterly gentle and peaceful, with the most polite entreaties for food we had encountered all day.

 

Cora sat on the top of the car with her legs still inside through the moon roof, and the giraffe nuzzled her ear and then nibbled at her ponytail!  She was overjoyed.  It was a moment none of us will ever forget.

 

We all three came away from Fossil Rim in a joyful state.  It is so important to connect with the natural world, and I often forget this living in the city.  What a gift these beautiful, inquisitive animals gave us.  We have an incalculable treasure just an hour and a half from Dallas.  After the weekend, I felt more restored and whole than I have in years.

 

This experience brought to mind what many of the Stewpot Community Court Volunteers and the Dallas International Street Church disciples said on the Garden-Raising Day at the Street Church on May 2, 2009.  There was something about being outdoors, close to Mother Earth, that helped us all relate and get along in a way that would not have been possible in a different setting.

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

 

We get disjointed, disconnected — or I do — and my life begins to feel compartmentalized.  But how healing it is to remember and to feel at a deep level that we are an integral part of a much greater picture than our daily concerns allow us to realize, even though those concerns may be of the utmost significance.  If we’re lucky and take the time, the ‘critters’ and the grandkids can help us find our way back to sanity.

 

KS

 

‘The Cost of Poverty’: Janet Morrison June 14, 2009

Sunday, June 14, 2009

 

Janet Morrison on ‘The Cost of Poverty’

 

For those who have not come across Janet Morrison’s Community Dialogue blog, I find it a ‘not- to-be-missed’ voice with an eloquence and comprehension of the realities of the inner city and poverty that is rarely heard.

 

http://janetmorrison.blogspot.com/2009/06/cost-of-poverty.html

 

Today’s post in particular touched me, because it explains so well the cycle of the emotional cost of poverty on children and on families.  There’s much here I had never put together — it’s well worth a read.  Thank you, Janet, for your extraordinary heart and commitment.

 

KS

 

The Garden Is Growing! May 15, 2009

Friday, 5/15/09

 

The Garden Is Growing!

Update on The Garden: South Dallas, Texas

 

Stewpot Crew, Mack Houston

 

The Garden: South Dallas, Texas — a community garden for, by and with people who are homeless or formerly homeless in Dallas — is thriving under the leadership of the Discipleship of the Dallas International Street Church at 2706 Second Avenue near Fair Park.  Team Leaders from the DISC took charge and led a work force of forty people from The Stewpot’s Community Court Project in a successful and fun Garden-Raising Day on Saturday, May 2, 2009.  On April 2 we had a lovely but trash-littered field behind the church; by day’s end of the Garden-Raising, we had seven fully-planted organic raised garden beds!

 

All of us involved that day were tremendously joyful and proud of our accomplishment.  Not only did these energetic and hardworking crews clean up the field and dig the turf out of the seven 4’ X 12’ garden beds, they hauled and laid concrete block borders, carried organic soil by wheelbarrow from the soil pile to fill the beds, trimmed trees, dug a flower bed, built garden benches and tables, and — the best part — at day’s end, everyone celebrated their labor by planting all seven beds with vegetables, herbs and flowers.

 

To view a slideshow by Mandy Mulliez of the the garden site, planning meetings,

and the Garden-Raising Day’s events, look here:

http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=1bf3gjjt.cpdg2dyx&x=0&y=bi27he&localeid=en_US

********

 For a video clip of The Garden Team Leaders speaking on television about their experiences, look here:  http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/2009/05/garden-south-dallas-video.html

 

 

For many of us, the best thing about the day was the way that teams of homeless and formerly homeless individuals from the two programs, the Dallas International Street Church and the Stewpot Community Court Project, pitched in and worked together in a spirit which was more than harmonious — it was truly joyous!  So many of us came away from the day elated with not only the significant physical accomplishments of the six crews, but the spirit of love, unity and camaraderie that we discovered working together.

 

More than once during the day, people came up to me and spoke of how hard it can be for people who live or have lived on the street to work together because of the challenges that each faces in his or her life.  They expressed happiness both in their creation of The Garden and in the way they were able to cooperate in order to create it.  Barry, one of the Stewpot supervisors, shared an observation of how people talked about their lives and their challenges with each other as they dug weeds, shoveled soil and planted seeds and plants.

 

Since the Garden-Raising, I’m proud to report that the six Team Leaders and their teams at the Dallas International Street Church have taken full responsibility for the care and nurture of their garden beds, watering them diligently, adding new plants, and reporting excitedly at our Garden meetings about which seedlings are emerging, what plants are producing, a couple of plants that are having problems and possible organic solutions.  We already have a burgeoning crop of green beans!  I quickly learned at our first full-church Garden meeting that we had many very knowledgeable and skilled gardeners in the congregation, and that knowledge grows and is spread around as people work side by side and share their expertise day by day.  A Friend of the Garden has even donated a hammock where the hardworking gardeners can rest from their labors!

 

Here are some of the things we are growing this season:  bush beans, Swiss chard, collards, Japanese eggplant, cucumbers, yellow crookneck squash, lettuce, onions, sugar-pod peas, carrots, okra, tomatoes, several varieties of peppers, strawberries, cantaloupe, watermelon, Italian-leaf parsley, cilantro, citronella, roses, marigolds, dianthus, zinnias, nasturtiums and about five other types of flowers — many of them tucked decoratively into the spaces in the concrete blocks.  One of our gardeners is creating a special butterfly and bee garden bed.  The gardeners have not only worked hard, they’ve been very creative in their garden design.

 

Something exciting and completely unexpected happened a week ago:  just as we had exhausted our initial Seed Money Fund, an Anonymous Angel left an envelope at my house.  On one side was written:  “DON’T ASK WHO…  PLEASE.  IT IS A GIFT.  KEEP UP WITH YOUR WORK.”  On the other side, it said:  “FENCE FUND.  GOOD FENCES MAKE GOOD NEIGHBORS.”  Inside was… $500!  We are very grateful for such kindness, and this Saturday, May 17, the Stewpot DART Community Court Project is sending us another work crew, and we will install our new fencing!

 

If you are currently or formerly homeless, this is your garden, and you may become a gardener now or at any time by joining one of the teams at the DISC.  (The church office telephone is 214-928-9595.)

 

Although we are going to wait until fall growing season to invite groups of volunteers to come in from outside the community and work with us, everyone is ALWAYS welcome to visit us — just knock on the Dallas International Street Church door and ask someone to show you the path.  The Garden: South Dallas is a magical and serene place and one where we already love to sit with friends or alone, to talk or simply and quietly ‘find our peace.’

 

Karen Shafer

 

Special Thanks to:

Bruce Buchanan and the staff of The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church, Dallas

The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, especially Martha Lang, Outreach Director

The Garden Advisory Committee

Friends of The Garden for financial support and in-kind donations

Mandy Mulliez for photography

The Dallas Morning News and Michael Ainsworth for a photo spread of The Garden in the Metro Section on Sunday, May 3

Nancy Baker of White Rock Coffee for great coffee

Aaron Hardwick and Mindy of Breadwinners Restaurants and Catering for breakfast pastries for 100

Sandra Davis of SoupMobile for providing lunch for 100

Soil Building Systems for special pricing on Organic Growers Mix

Lowe’s at Northwest Highway & Jupiter for materials at cost

Louis, Cora and Anna for inspiration

and, OF COURSE, Pastor Karen Dudley for her great leadership, compassion and kindness to us all!

 

Wish List:

a bird bath

a bat house

birdfeeders

concrete blocks for additional beds

cash for additional organic soil purchase

any and all healthy plants

any and all seed, especially heirloom varieties

gardening tools and gloves

limb loppers and pruners

a pole tree trimmer

a subscription to Organic Gardening Magazine [http://www.organicgardening.com/]

 

E-Mail: thegardensouthdallas@earthlink.net

 

 

The Garden: South Dallas, Texas April 17, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009


“The earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein;…”  ~~ Psalm 24

The Garden:  South Dallas, Texas

 

Gardeners, Mandy in Front


On the morning of April 2, 2009, I blithely put up a blog post here about gardens (“The Magic of Gardens”.)  I quote myself from that article:  ”The idea [of a community garden] is something that’s beyond my purview to [help] organize … right now,” – and I was convinced of that at the time.  However, by the same afternoon, I had received e-mails from staff members of two of the best nonprofit agencies benefitting people who are homeless in the City of Dallas saying that they were interested in being involved.

 

Janet offered the possible involvement of some volunteers.  Pat informed me that Pastor Karen Dudley, Founder and Senior Pastor of the Dallas International Street Church in South Dallas, had been wanting to start a community garden for years, and, most importantly, that she had access to land where it could be done.                                                                                           [http://www.kdministries.org/]


I realized that perhaps…  a community garden with and for Pastor Karen’s congregation and neighborhood and the street people of Dallas and was an idea whose time may have come.

 

Pastor Karen is a friend and someone I deeply admire (see “Miracle on Second Avenue”), and by the next afternoon, she and I were in the meadow adjacent to her church property, looking at a possible garden site.  A week later, several people met at the Street Church to discuss what was involved in undertaking such a project.  By the end of the meeting, these generous women, including Pastor Karen, had taken out their checkbooks and given us a significant start on a “Seed Money Fund.”  

 

Driving home, I phoned my church, The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, and asked Outreach Director, Martha Lang, whether they might be willing to contribute to our community garden’s Seed Money Fund.  I sent her a proposal that night and received a reply that she thought they could help.  Miracle of miracles, it is two weeks to the day since “The Magic of Gardens” was written, and… The Garden: South Dallas, Texas (so dubbed by Pastor Karen) seems to be coming to life.

 

Generosity of Friends


 

~~  Our Seed Money Fund is up to $550.00, raised from the Garden Committee and Church of the Incarnation.  $300 of this money will go to purchase organic soil from a Dallas company;  the rest will go for concrete blocks to construct the four raised beds for the first phase of The Garden.  (The soil on the land is not tillable.)

~~  We are incredibly blessed to have a work force of homeless individuals coming for a Garden-Raising Day (remember old-time barn raisings?) the first week in May to clean up the land and construct the beds.  This has been arranged by The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church in Dallas, and the group will work alongside Pastor Karen’s congregation (most of whom have also come from the streets of Dallas).  Our nonprofit friends are also providing work gloves and some tools!

~~  The Garden is being planned to be wheelchair accessible:  one of our Garden Committee members, also an experienced gardener, uses a wheelchair, and she will advise us.  Many individuals experiencing homelessness, whom we hope will come and work with us, use one as well.

~~  We have received invaluable input, research, information, donation of materials and enthusiastic support both from our Garden Committee members and from friends.  All of this is much appreciated.

 

What Do We Need?


 

~~  To increase our Seed Money Fund in order to buy hoses to reach The Garden and soaker hoses for the beds to save water, to put a second level of concrete blocks on a few of our beds to make them higher for those in wheelchairs, to afford to construct additional raised beds beyond the four that our budget allows for now

NO DONATION IS TOO SMALL (unless you want change for a penny!)

~~  Donation of new or used fencing to enclose The Garden in stages to ward off theft or vandalism

~~  Donations of healthy plants or seeds from other gardeners (we’d love to try some heirloom seeds)

~~  Gardening tools of all kinds, garden carts or wheelbarrows for transporting soil and plant materials, or anything else you can think of!

 

Who Is the ‘Community’ in ‘Community Garden’?


‘Who Is the Community’ in the ‘Community Garden’ called The Garden: South Dallas, Texas?  It is Pastor Karen’s church congregation and the friends and neighbors who live around the church (a neighborhood which would benefit greatly from fresh produce, as there are few supermarkets nearby), but also the true and full sense of community for The Garden: South Dallas, Texas, extends beyond geographical borders to include the entire homeless community of Dallas.  One may not typically think of people spread across the city in different geographical locations as such, but a community it is – 

it is a spiritual network of human beings spread across Dallas, the members of which sometimes stay in shelters, sometimes in alleys or behind dumpsters, sometimes under bridges in cardboard homes.


If you wonder whether this is a community, ask a person who is homeless on the streets of downtown whether they know a person who lives under a particular freeway overpass in a cardboard home several miles away. Percentage-wise, I’m guessing they are more likely to know that individual than many of us would be likely to know someone on our own block in the suburbs.

 

Our mission, our vision, our commitment, then, is a little different from that of the typical community garden, and also includes the desire to bring together people from disparate parts of the city with differing backgrounds to help us all come to know each other and to realize:  we are the same — not ‘us and them.’  So come and work with us!


Possibilities for the Future

 

~~  We would like for The Garden to include benches, picnic tables, and walking paths for the enjoyment of  gardeners, congregants, friends, and neighborhood families.  Our dream is that it can become a beautiful and peaceful refuge for the community, with flowers, berries, fruit trees and herbs as well as vegetables.

 

~~  In time, we would love to have a produce stand out front that the gardeners can operate as a small business.  

~~  We hope that a second phase of The Garden can contain raised beds for neighborhood families to rent for a nominal fee and manage on their own, such as is done in the East Dallas Community Garden and others.  Our first four beds will serve the Street Church, the neighborhood, and the homeless community at large across the city.

~~  Perhaps in the future our gardeners can attend Master Classes in gardening at a community college, or go to work for landscaping companies or garden centers.  Thus The Garden could come to help with job skills training.

 

For Now, a Hope for Healing

 

In a time of ’food insecurity’, growing what can sustain you has real power in and of itself.  Along with this, perhaps someone who is in transition in their lives will come to dig or weed or plant in The Garden and remember…  she or he had a garden as a child with their family, and it was a good thing.  A healing reconnection to the past could be made by someone who has been alienated from his or her loved ones.  Perhaps someone will realize, after feeling for a very long time that he or she can do nothing right in society’s eyes or their own… they have a skill, a gift and can make a contribution.  Few things are more powerful than feeling that we matter and that we have something to give.

 

E-Mail:  thegardensouthdallas@earthlink.net

Karen Shafer

 

P.S.  Within 48 hours of writing “The Magic of Gardens”, I received this e-mail from my grandson, Louis, who is six (Cora is his cousin, also six):

“i herd about the homeless garden wen you get started can we help? and is cora helpeng.  love, louis.”

Good news travels fast!!!

 

“…What I do you cannot do:  but what you do, I cannot do.  The needs are great, and none of us, including me, ever do great things.  But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.”   ~~Mother  Teresa

 

Link:  Dallas Homeless Network Blog [http://dallashomelessnetwork.blogspot.com/2009/04/garden-for-homeless-community.html]

 

The Magic of Gardens April 2, 2009

 

Thursday, April 2, 2009

 

The Magic of Gardens

(Someone, Please Steal This Idea!)

 

I love to garden in the winter, and in our North Texas climate, that is probably a good thing.  One has to get an early start on the Texas heat, and it’s always tricky striking a balance between getting a jump on the drought and blistering sun with plants that are liable to bolt, and trying to ‘cheat’ our freeze date of March 17 by planting tender things like potatoes early — then remembering to cover them if we get a late freeze.  There was one year when my kids were little — by the first of April, I had a burgeoning garden over which I was blissfully prideful, only to watch a late freeze take it down in mid-April!

 

This year, my son-law-law and grandson beat me to the punch.  They had their onions in by mid-February, and now theirs are way ahead of mine.  Still, by the second week in March, I could see the beginnings in my small vegetable patch of sugar-pod peas, carrots, Swiss chard, onions, tomatoes inter planted with nasturtiums, Italian parsley, radishes and bibb lettuce — all planted with the help of my three grandchildren.  And in the perennial bed, lavender, rosemary, lamb’s ear, echinacea, artemisia and perennial marigold had over-wintered successfully and were leafing out.

 

Then my granddaughter found some potato plants growing out of small pieces of potato skin in the compost pile, and she pulled them out.  One already had teensy baby potatoes growing on the roots, not an eighth of an inch long.  She and I were pretty thrilled with this discovery and stuck the plants into the dirt at the end of the veggie patch.  Four out of five are still going strong!  

 

Today, she and I found a cloves of garlic sprouting in a basket in the kitchen, took them outside and stuck them in the ground.  Later, we were thinning the lettuce plants, and she asked, “Do we take these and put them somewhere else?”  “We can eat them if we want to, since we didn’t have salad for dinner.”  Her eyes widened with tremendous excitement after a lifetime of being told she absolutely could not eat plants she picked up in her nature studies!  We were washing dirt off lettuce sprouts and popping them in our mouths for the next half hour.

 

And what of my rather fatal tendency to research seed catalogs in the dead of winter, make detailed lists, shop for seeds, plan, diagram, plant, and chart a garden fervently in late winter / early spring, set up elaborate systems of hose hookups for watering…  then get busy with other things and skip the rather vital part of actually doing the watering for several days at a time in a climate where three days without water is a death knell to many plants?  Hallelujah!  My grand kids as almost-first-graders are responsible enough now to head straight out to the garden, grab the hose, and give things a good soaking themselves.

 

When my girls were small, Steve, their dad (an expert gardener who puts me in the shade) kept a really marvelous and large organic garden.  We literally had three or four varieties of fresh vegetables for dinner most nights during peak season.  One mild winter day, my daughters and I went out to sit in the garden plot and ‘watch nature.’  All the vegetables from the previous fall had long been harvested and consumed.  Then one of us noticed some carroty-looking sprouts coming out of the ground and pulled them up.  There were several sweet, cold carrots that had managed to winter over!  We wiped the dirt off and ate them on the spot.  My girls are twenty-eight and thirty-one now, and we still talk about that day and how good those carrots tasted.

 

These days, as soon in the afternoon as I get a chance, I head out to the garden.  It is such a tonic.  There is something healing about being there that helps me leave everything behind — something that goes beyond words.  

 

Recently, while I was out there deadheading winter growth off of some perennials, I began to think of the healing effects of being in the garden, ‘watching the lettuce grow,’ and I thought how great it would be for people in homeless shelters to be able to plant and manage a community garden, while they are in the process of transitioning from the street into housing.  My fantasy spun off into all the elements required to grow strong plants:  getting the proper soil balance and consistency, providing the right combination of water and sun to help a particular plant thrive, finding a healthy harmony between management and ‘letting things be’ — just like the right balance of elements for a happy and successful human life.  Gardening seems to be art as well as science.

 

I thought of the sheer magic of sticking a seed into the ground and seeing it transform itself into a flower, herb or vegetable that can be enjoyed for its beauty or brought to the dinner table (or eaten on the spot, like my girls and their carrots, and mine and my granddaughter’s lettuce sprouts!)  I thought of how people in shelter settings could learn to work together — and of how the healing power of being in a garden would facilitate that. 

 

Then I pictured a stall at the Farmer’s Market in downtown, where the good people of Dallas were lined up to support formerly homeless individuals who had grown prize-winning organic produce and were offering it for sale.  All of the things that had gotten them to that point with a garden would be part and parcel of a skill set that could help them toward self-sufficiency in their lives:  cooperation, organization, planning and executing a project, seeing it through to completion, a bit of ‘prayer and magic’ for an auspicious result, and earning some cash off it all to boot.

 

The idea is something that’s beyond my purview to organize and pull off right now.  But I wish someone would steal it and run with it — maybe someone at the Bridge or other shelter facility or non-profit agency downtown.  If it happens, I’ll come and help with the weeding, and I’ll be the first in line at the Farmer’s Market stall, cash in hand!

 

KS

 

Just Like Us February 26, 2009

Thursday, 2/26/09

 

Just Like Us

 

One of the best and kindest people I know — and definitely the smartest — is my friend, John.  He’s one of those people you look at and think:  “How does he do it?”  He is a doctor of theology and teaches at a Dallas university.  He speaks six languages, including Latin.  And, oh yes, he is a classically-trained pianist and vocalist.  Gosh, John, is that all???  

 

You’d think he’d be ‘full of himself,’ but instead he’s full of humility, humor and love.  The first time my grand kids met him, they talked for an entire year about a story he told them that night — off the top of his head — about a fanciful character called ‘Princerella.’

 

John also puts himself on the line.  When I first mentioned mobile feeders of the homeless to him a few years back, he was volunteering with them within the week.

 

I sometimes find myself spouting a concept that sounds pretty clever and suddenly realize, “Hey, wait, I so didn’t come up with that.  I first heard that from John.”  I think of the hatred one often sees directed towards individuals who are homeless by people who don’t know them and have not had personal relationships with them, except perhaps to pass them on the street.  There are strong examples of this prejudice in comments on public blogs.  

 

When I get frustrated with this irrational hatred and become angered by it, I will sometimes stop and think, “But such hatred is in itself a particular kind of poverty.”  And then… “Wait, I first heard that idea from John.”  I shared this concept with a friend, LeAnne, by e-mail this week when we were both riled up about something unjustly written about our homeless friends, and she got it right away, writing back, “…you’re right.  How awful to have to live that way.” 

 

Here’s part of an e-mail I received from John this week.

 

“Karen,

I guess some people judge the community by different perspectives, and particularly when the economic environment is so troublesome, I think people fear for their own survival. When they do so, helping others becomes a luxury that can be left behind. Prioritizing during crisis makes sense. 

I think the city has to come up with a way to understand the humanity of the homeless in a way that will help the rest of us see how we are better together than apart. Unless you meet the homeless and talk to them, it’s hard to see what we have to gain from knowing them and living with them. Knowing them as the other, they can be caricatured and dispensed with. We do it with so many people…”

 

To me, this e-mail goes to the heart of the matter.  So often, our hearts and minds are changed dramatically when we meet homeless individuals, talk to them, and find out that they are…

 

just

like

us.

 

 

KS

 

Economic Reality at Wilkinson Center Food Pantry’s Doorstep November 20, 2008

 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Brian Burton, Executive Director of the Wilkinson Center in East Dallas, writes a mean fund-raising letter. Even after totaling up my credit card debt this week and nearly falling off the chair, I read this and found myself writing out a [pitifully small] check.  Brian’s also one of the nicest people around, which makes one glad to help, and the Wilkinson Center does a super job at all that it does.  I reprint his letter with permission.  KS


The Wilkinson Center

               “Do all you can for everyone who needs your help.  Don’t tell your neighbor to come back tomorrow, if you can help today.”  ~~ Proverbs 3: 27-28


November 14, 2008


Dear Friend of the Wilkinson Center:

 

Yesterday, I got a heavy dose of the new economic reality.  As I made my way through the Center, I observed in the Food Pantry service area every seat taken — and, there were families standing along the walls waiting.  The reality of our economy is at the Wilkinson Center’s doorstep.


As you plan for your charitable giving this Thanksgiving season, I respectfully ask that you, once again, consider the Wilkinson Center deserving of your support.  Because of a generous matching gift from local foundations, every dollar you give will be matched up to $250,000! [by the Harold Simmons Foundation and the Ginger Murchison Foundation]  …We will always strive to be good stewards of your investment in our shared mission to help those less fortunate.

 

If you’d like to see your gift at work please contact me for a tour.  Thank you for being a member of our Wilkinson Center family.

 

Faithfully yours, in service,

Brian Burton, Executive Director

 

http://www.wilkinsoncenter.org, P.O. Box 720248, Dallas, TX 75372, 5200 Bryan St., Dallas, TX 75206, 214-821-6380

 

The Urgent Importance of Parent Education November 1, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008

 

The Urgent Importance of Parent Education

 

When I say I think there’s no social issue that’s more important than parent education, I mean it literally.

 

Have you ever been in a grocery store and seen a parent jerking or smacking around a child?  Have you struggled with how to intervene without making the situation worse?  Have you been the parent who reacts to your child in a way that you’re less than proud of?  WHO HASN’T???

 

Almost always, a few simple skills or ‘tricks of the parenting trade’ can make a dramatic difference in the way we react, or don’t react, to our children and, in turn, in the way they respond to us.  Diffusing a stressful situation rather than reacting with resistance and anger can make all the difference in the outcome.  But it’s difficult or impossible to do this if you don’t know how, and even harder if you ‘don’t know that you don’t know’.  

 

Also, stress and fatigue can play a big role in parenting, so self-care is essential, something it’s taken me way too long to learn.  My friend, David, has told me often, ‘put the oxygen mask on yourself first and on your child second, just like in an airplane emergency.’  I thought this was an oversimplification until I really thought it through and lived it through.  It’s actually quite profound.

 

This relates to homelessness in a very direct way.  So often when I talk with people who are homeless, particularly those who’ve been on the street for a long time, I’ll hear some reference to being ‘knocked around’ as a child.  They are not complaining.  They think that’s the way the world is.  And on some level, they seem to feel they ‘had it coming.’

 

I was impacted by a comment on this blog made by David Scott in response to the post, “Looking For And Finding Good Things”:

“Contrary to popular belief, most homeless did not become so out of choice. Most did not become homeless because they are lazy, stupid, or immoral. Many homeless people are victims of abuse in the form of neglect and abandonment by their parents or other caregivers.  Like many victims of abuse, a lot of them have chemical dependency problems. Their existence is so miserable that they use alcohol or other drugs as an escape.”  [blog:  http://www.FreetheGods.com/phts/]

 

I remember a billboard I saw in my hometown almost a decade ago which read something like:  “Spend money on parenting and education in early childhood, or spend it on prisons later.”  Dramatic and simple but profoundly true.  I look around me and see so many costly social problems that began in early childhood.

 

Recently my older daughter sought and found a book that addressed a particular issue she was having with one of her children.  When she changed her behavior with him, his behavior changed noticeably for the better.  What impressed me most was that she moved, actively, to find a solution, and was willing to examine her own part in the puzzle and make changes in the way she approached her child, which led to changes in him.

 

To be human is to have problems.  To be wise is to move to solve them.  I wish parenting classes were a mandatory part of parenthood, but, alas, there comes the issue of yet another government program.  I heard a report on National Public Radio tonight on an organization called “Roots of Empathy” and the positive impact it is having on reducing bullying among the population it serves.  The report emphasized that the most important aspect of any relationship is empathy.  If we don’t feel the ‘other’ has pain and that their pain matters, we have no problem inflicting suffering on them. [http://www.rootsofempathy.org/]

 

This also made me think of our homeless friends.  So often, we think it’s ‘them’ and ‘us’… until we meet them face to face, and see that they are us.  Empathy.

 

KS

 

Pregnant and On the Street August 19, 2008

Current Journal

Tuesday, 8/19/08

 

I had this experience two years ago.  I befriended a young street couple;  the woman was pregnant.  I tried in vain to help them find temporary housing.  The short version of the story was that I spent many hours calling every nonprofit I’d ever heard of on their behalf (they didn’t have access to a telephone), and the couple didn’t fit the criteria for any of the programs I contacted because they weren’t married and wouldn’t separate.  They wanted to marry but couldn’t because the man’s identification documents had been stolen, and there were complications from his background in getting them reissued.   

 

I didn’t know a lot about the different organizations who were helping the homeless at that time, and I could write a book on what I learned from that experience.  Things are much better in Dallas since then, especially with the Bridge providing a central location for services.  One thing that was evident then and still is: there were many groups helping the homeless in their own small and valuable way, few of them knew what the other was doing, and none of them could help my friends.

 

The couple ended up moving from the street into an abandoned building in Deep Ellum, then to underneath a bridge, where she miscarried.  It was maddening, trying to put together a puzzle that actually did involve life and death — with many of the pertinent pieces missing.  I simply couldn’t believe that in a city this size, with wealth this predominant, there wasn’t a housing program that would accommodate them together temporarily until the baby was born.  Guess what?  To my knowledge, there still isn’t.

 

Christian organizations do most of the ‘heavy lifting’ with the homeless and depend on church congregations for financial support.  Since the church does not condone living together without marriage, service providers that are connected to the Christian faith community do not generally allow unmarried couples to be housed together in their programs.

 

I might as well go ahead and appall my fellow feminists here and say that I hold a pro-life stance, so I am going to proceed to call the living being within a woman’s belly a child.  If we are going to address this problem of homeless women staying on the street while they’re pregnant and put the unborn child first — first above our ideas of the morality or immorality of conceiving a child out of wedlock — then we have to revisit housing pregnant street mothers who are unwilling to give up living with their street husbands and consider housing them together.  These couples are often married in their own eyes but not married legally or in the eyes of society.

 

Here’s why:  most of those women that I’ve known won’t separate from the man they are with while they are homeless.  They will stay on the street rather than go into housing alone because, along with the emotional and physical attachment they have to ‘their man’, he has been and is their protection — in fact, often their very survival.  The woman I spoke about in the first paragraph told me that, even when she was with her ‘man’ — and he was big, tough, and strong — other men on the street reached out and grabbed at her body frequently, pregnancy notwithstanding.

 

Another thing:  I’m not a person who generally feels I need to be taken care of, but when I was pregnant, this changed.  I felt particularly vulnerable during this phase of married life.  Many other comfortable, middle-class women I know have said the same thing, and one can imagine the magnification of this if one were homeless.

 

People will say these women should think twice before they get pregnant while homeless.  How about this statistic?  I have been told that at least 25% of socially and legally recognized marriages are ‘shotgun’ weddings, and that’s a conservative number of those that are willing to admit to their situation.  But in ‘polite society’, we can rush up the wedding or hedge the conception date.  Unplanned pregnancies happen in all segments of society, but homeless women can’t hide theirs behind closed doors.  Do I think it’s the world’s greatest plan to conceive a child while one’s living on the street?  Of course not, but it’s happening, and that’s the reality.

 

It is all well and good to carefully screen the individuals we let into our nonprofit programs and then report marvelous numbers and statistics of success about how well we’ve served them.  What about the people who don’t meet our narrow criteria?  What if those people are carrying around a new life within them?  What’s our priority?

 

Many years ago, my cousin, Lyn, whom I deeply admire, founded a pilot program for pregnant teens at an inner-city high school in a poverty-and-crime-ridden area in my hometown.  She and her organization, the Junior League, built a day-care center on the school grounds for the children to be cared for while the parents finished high school, and required both the mothers and fathers to take parenting classes, which the center provided.  The program was tremendously successful.  Many young women graduated from high school who would have dropped out, attended college, raised their children and had successful lives because of Lyn’s program.  It became a national model.  The most important part to me was that much better mothers and fathers were created because of the parenting training, and all kinds of problems were circumvented because of those new skills.  I was utterly amazed to learn later that some people in town complained that Lyn and her program were causing teen pregnancies!

 

I call myself a Christian, and I am a churchgoer at that.  Still, call my viewpoint pragmatism or moral relativism if you will.  But we cannot claim to honor unborn life and then fail to do every single thing in our power to facilitate its well-being because we do not approve of the lifestyle choices of the parents involved.  Housing those parents together, regardless of paperwork, in order to give them some stability, guidance, protection and structure would be a start.

 

KS

 

This article is linked to the following:

http://larryjamesurbandaily.blogspot.com/2008/09/pregnant-and-on-street-reality.html#comments

http://www.everydaycitizen.com/2008/09/pregnant_on_the_street_and_don.html

 

Slavery Today: Buying and Selling Children July 9, 2008

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

 

Did you know that, by one account, there are more slaves on the planet today than at any time in history?  27 million.  Many of them are children.  If there’s a topic nearer to my heart than homelessness, it’s the deplorable plight of so many children world wide.

Last night, ABC News’ Nightline did a report on child-trafficking in Haiti.  Here’s the link:

http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/story?id=5326508&page=1

The report was hard to watch.  I cried during much of it, because of the subject matter and because one of the girls in the report resembles so closely one of my granddaughters.  Nonetheless, if we refuse to know, we are unable to make in impact, right?

So, please, click on the link and watch or read the report.  Then click on “Click HERE to learn more about what you can do to help end child slavery.”  These children are people who TRULY have no voice, and, in my view, their exploiters represent the greatest evil on the planet.

KS

 

Little Ones April 2, 2008

BLOGGER’S NOTE: Regarding the children in this story, I am glad to report that I have rarely seen children on the street in about the last three years. This is purely subjective, but our city seems to be doing a better job of getting them into shelters. I am printing this story to show what children sometimes go through.  KS

Journal Archives
Thursday, 2/19/04

Employed!

I went to help crew the mobile soup kitchen truck at the last minute today, as some volunteers had cancelled. I didn’t need to buy the prenatal vitamins for Robin after all, as she and her husband, Sean, had left for the Gulf Coast last night. I didn’t meet Sean last week, but the director told me he is movie-star handsome and is in fact an actor. He was in a soap opera in Los Angeles, then came out to Dallas for an acting job that fell through, which is how he and Robin ended up on the street. He just procured a job on an oil rig at the coast, so they’re headed south.

I worked ‘on the ground’ for the first time tonight, which means standing outside the truck receiving the food from the passthrough at the rear of the truck and handing it to people — sort of crowd control, although there’s nothing to control — our customers are usually very polite. There are most often male volunteers out front, but it was a ‘girl group’ of workers this time. I like the closer contact with people that being on the ground provides, getting to reach out and touch them and talk to them for a minute.

We gave away all the socks I’d bought at the dollar store at the first stop. There was one young man at the City Hall Plaza, dressed in a single light shirt, who asked for a blanket, but we didn’t have any. Blankets will be my focus this week at thrift stores.

One of the people that touched my heart especially tonight was a young man who couldn’t speak — though he could make sounds, I couldn’t understand him, and I hated that I couldn’t. He was asking for something and pointing, perhaps another sandwich, but we had run out.

Little Ones

It was a pretty upbeat run because it wasn’t too cold, and at most stops we had enough food for people to go through the line several times. Then at the third stop came a stomach punch. A mother and two daughters, ages about eight and ten, came through the line and got their food. The director made a special effort to get off the truck and visit with the little girls, giving them some extra cookies.

When we’d finished handing out food, I noticed the family of three sitting together under a tree across the park. I walked over to talk to them and saw that they’d made a bed on the ground out of one thin sleeping bag, so I asked if they had a place to stay for the night. The mother said they’d been kicked out of two shelters. I asked her why, but couldn’t understand her answer; then she told me the shelter said she didn’t do her chores. Privately, I questioned her story, but didn’t confront her about it. I have not known the shelters to kick out children.

For the first time since I’ve been doing this, I thought I was going to start sobbing: those beautiful, trusting little girls with their brilliant smiles were looking up at me from the ground. I asked the mother what she needed. ‘Blankets,’ she said, but we didn’t have any, so I went back to the truck and got a heavy plastic bag for them to put under their sleeping bag and also gave them two thick sweaters I had brought along. ‘Will you be safe here?’ I asked her. She said she hoped so.

The director and I wondered aloud if in fact the shelter did kick out this mother with kids, but just before we left the stop, the mother told me she might be able to get into Austin Street Centre tonight after all.

I continue to be really shaken up by this experience, finding it devastating, and I’m haunted by the thought that I should have done something more to help them. But what? Call 911? Would that have made their situation better or worse? Bring them home to stay at my house? Although the latter may be the answer in my heart, it’s almost certainly not realistic and brings up all sorts of questions. But don’t radical problems require radical solutions?

In retrospect, I believe I made a mistake in not calling 911. I had never encountered such a situation before, and we left the scene before I could think it through. One thing I know: little girls sleeping under a tree in the cold in a park in downtown Dallas is not acceptable.

KS

 

The Roots of War March 31, 2008

Filed under: and a little child shall lead them,Buddhism,peace,Vietnam — Karen Shafer @ 6:30 pm

Our youngest granddaughter, now three years old, was born in Vietnam. Knowing and loving her has given us all a special interest in this beautiful country and its history, as did coming of age during the Vietnam War.  KS

 

The Roots of War

“In 1966, when I was in the U.S. calling for a ceasefire to the war in Vietnam, a young American peace activist stood up during a talk I was giving and shouted, “The best thing you can do is go back to your country and defeat the American aggressors! You shouldn’t be here. There is absolutely no use to your being here!”

He and many Americans wanted peace, but the kind of peace they wanted was the defeat of one side in order to satisfy their anger. Because they had called for a ceasefire and had not succeeded, they became angry, and finally they were unable to accept any solution short of the defeat of their own country.

But we Vietnamese who were suffering under the bombs had to be more realistic. We wanted peace. We did not care about anyone’s victory or defeat. We just wanted the bombs to stop falling on us. But many people in the peace movement opposed our proposal for an immediate ceasefire. No one seemed to understand.

So when I heard that young man shouting, “Go home and defeat the American aggressors,” I took several deep breaths to regain myself, and I said, “Sir, it seems to me that many of the roots of the war are here in your country. That is why I have come. One of the roots is your way of seeing the world. Both sides are victims of a wrong policy, a policy that believes in the force of violence to settle problems. I do not want Vietnamese to die, and I do not want American soldiers to die either.”

The roots of war are in the way we live our daily lives — the way we develop our industries, build up our society, and consume goods. We have to look deeply into the situation, and we will see the roots of war. We cannot just blame one side or the other. We have to transcend the tendency to take sides.

During any conflict, we need people who can understand the suffering on all sides… We need links. We need communication.

Practicing nonviolence is first of all to become nonviolence. Then when a difficult situation presents itself, we will react in a way that will help the situation. This applies to the problems of the family as well as to problems of society.”

                                                                        ~~Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step, “The Roots of War”

[see previous entry from this author, “Meditation on Love,” 3/11/08]

 

Fellow Countrychildren March 24, 2008

This link is from the Co-Grandmother of our three grandchildren, Nancy (married to Steve.)

http://www.photovoice.org/html/galleryandshop/photogalleries/

I hope you’ll look at all the screens, but then go to Screen 3 and click on ‘Street Vision’. These are our youngest grandchild’s fellow ‘countrychildren’ in Vietnam.

When my daughter and son-in-law went to Vietnam a year and a half ago to bring our granddaughter back to her new home in the United States, they fell in love with her first home and country of birth and its beautiful, gracious, loving, peaceful people.

These pictures touch me to the core. Our granddaughter, now three years old, is an angel beyond what we could have ever hoped for or dreamed of, and so are the children in the pictures.

KS

 

The Capitalist March 19, 2008

Filed under: and a little child shall lead them,homelessness,hunger,inspiration — Karen Shafer @ 5:39 pm

My five-year-old grandson, Louis, has an entrepreneurial streak. This past weekend, his mother (my daughter) called me and said, “He is sitting on the front porch with his old beat-up red fireman’s helmet and a sign reading $5.88, trying to sell the helmet to people walking by! Should I make him come inside?” Then, the next day, he had added his well-used child’s yellow construction hard hat to the venue, and the price for the two had gone up to $22.67! “I don’t need these any more,” he told his parents.

This fondness for cash makes all the more remarkable what he had done the previous week. He phoned me to say he had something for me, asking if I would come by their house on my way home to pick it up. When I arrived, he presented me with an envelope which had “Karen” written on the outside. I knew this was important business, because he always calls me “Gaz”, a name he began to call me as a toddler which has become my official grandma name.

In the envelope was a five dollar bill and two quarters, enclosed with the following letter, written out in his careful cursive-and-print-combo handwriting, with wonderful phonetic spelling:

“THEIS IS MUNE FOR THE HOMLISE”

I was unbelievably touched by his generosity and thoughtfulness, which was completely his own idea. It’s all the more remarkable because his total savings at that point was $18, much of which he’d worked hard for by raking leaves and doing other chores for his family.

I asked him, “Do you want me to take this money and buys some socks with it and give them to people?” “No,” he said, “I want you to give them the money directly.”

When you think of it, $5.50 is an embarrassment of riches. It will buy Donna a cup of coffee at McDonald’s, which she loves to have to warm herself up at bedtime. It will purchase a copy of StreetZine from Gordon. And there will be still be some left over for whatever special person comes along with a need or a wish.

 

Wisdom of a Child, Wisdom of the Street February 21, 2008

Filed under: and a little child shall lead them,homelessness,hunger,inspiration — Karen Shafer @ 9:26 pm

 

“The rewards of compassion are not things to wait for. They are hidden in compassion itself. I know this for sure.”

                                                                                                                        ~~Henri Nouwen, Here and Now

Alternating between past and present journal entries, this happened recently…

Current Journal
Sunday, 1/27/08

My granddaughter, Cora, who is five, had been saving money in her pink piggy bank, and one cold Sunday afternoon recently she decided it was time to part with some of it. She, her mom (my daughter, Rose) and I were going to brunch at Lucky’s, and she was promised that, if she was able to keep herself under control and in her chair during the meal, she could buy a gum ball at the restaurant (nothing like a bribe to elicit cooperation.)

Cora was unnaturally angelic during the meal, concentrating with greater-than-usual focus on her drawing in anticipation of spending her money on something resembling candy. After the meal, she bought her treasured gum ball. In fact, she was allowed to get three, one for each of us.

“Now,” Cora said matter-of-factly and with authority, looking levelly at her mother and me, “I want to take the rest of my money and give it to the people who don’t have houses.” “People who don’t have houses” is a phrase I have sometimes used to describe to my grandchildren my friends who live on the street. Rose and I exchanged surprised glances at an idea that seemed to come from out of the blue, but we knew it was an offer we didn’t want to refuse. “I think I know where we can find some of those people,” I told her.

We left Lucky’s and drove downtown to the spot I had in mind and stopped the car. A handful of people who are homeless were on the sidewalk, and I knew a few of them. When we rolled down the windows, they crowded around the car.

Let me say, by the way: I don’t advocate going downtown, opening your windows and handing out money, for many reasons. When I go downtown to help give away clothing or food, I never take or distribute cash. But neither Rose nor I were about to tell Cora she couldn’t ‘live her dream.’

I told her, “You can just give each person a coin as you wish,” and she did. Chaos briefly ensued as Cora handed out her coins through the back car window, but she was undaunted. When the money was gone, everyone outside the car offered their blessings and their gratitude.

Several people wanted to pray with us, so we held hands through the window and listened while they offered their prayers for bounteous blessings on us, guidance for themselves, and strength to overcome their particular problems.

Then a woman I know, Donna, looked at Cora in her rear car seat and said to her, “Now, I want you to always stay in school! It’s very important. Do you promise?” Cora stared at her with wide eyes, very solemn, and silently nodded assent. Donna continued, “And always, always depend on yourself. Be able to take care of yourself when you’re grown up. Don’t expect anyone else to take care of you.” Again, the solemn and awed assent from the back seat.

“Now I can go to McDonald’s tonight and get a cup of coffee!” Donna told us excitedly. “I’m a hot-drinks person myself,” I told her. “Nothing better in this weather.”

We drove home, blessed by this exchange with these people from the street. I am always awed by their faithfulness and the bounty with which they are able to offer blessings to those who come to see them.

The next day, and many times since that time, Cora has said to her mother or me when the subject of ‘people who don’t have houses’ comes up: “Remember that woman??? Remember what she said to me about ‘stay in school’?” “Yes,” her mom or I will say, “and she also said…” “I know! I know! About taking care of myself!” she says, impatient with us, making it clear that she doesn’t need to be reminded.

KS

 

Children, Stuffed Animals, Hot Cocoa and Grace February 15, 2008

Journal Archives
Monday, 12/29/03

When the rear door of the mobile soup kitchen slides up and I see the faces of the people lined up outside waiting for food, it’s as if a powerful energy and grace flow from them into me.

Tonight, my daughter, Mandy, sent along two new plush stuffed animals in case there were children in the food lines of the mobile soup kitchen, and at City Hall Plaza, the first two people in line were children. The soup kitchen director asked if she could be the one to give them the toys. A girl, about seven, chose the lion, and her brother, who looked to be around four, embraced the gray monkey and held it tight. Someone in the crowd around him said, “Look, he doesn’t even care about food! He just wants the monkey!” And the homeless people surrounding him laughed in a carefree way and shared for a moment in his joy.

We had enough food so that at the last stop, some people were able to come through the line three or four times. Some of the cookies had gotten wet, and, when the crisp cookies were gone, I scooped up the soggy bits in my plastic-gloved hands to throw them away, but people stopped me, asking for what was now ‘goo,’ so I opened my hands and they scooped it out, eating it eagerly.

Then, as we were closing up the back of the truck — all the sandwiches, soup, bananas, and nearly every cookie crumb having been given away — a man hurried up to the truck, looking as if he’d come from a distance. “Am I too late?” he said. “We’re so sorry, everything’s gone,” we told him. He was very lean and weathered and obviously hungry. He struggled to hide his disappointment, and succeeded. “Well, I just got here too late, it’s OK,” he said, as we apologized again. It was heartbreaking.

It occurred to me while driving to the bookstore for my ritual hot cocoa, a metaphorical foot still in the ‘street’ world but edging back into the reality of north Dallas, that it is dangerous to look out at the faces of the people lined up outside our mobile feeding truck and think that their being homeless is an acceptable and inevitable reality. One must, I think, keep sharp in one’s mind that solutions must always be sought to homelessness and hunger, even if they’re never found. One cannot acquiesce.

Am tired, drained, going home. I am so grateful that I have one.

KS