Grandma Love

Imagine with me that you are a grandmother. That role is one of overwhelming love. One of the most difficult aspects of being grandma is standing back when you think your child (your grandchild’s parent) is about to make a mistake.  It is heartbreaking to anticipate the problems that you can see looming on the horizon. Your may interfere, you may not. But, whatever you do it is  pure love. Now, imagine with me that your grandson has done something reprehensible and has been incarcerated. Your grandma love might be tainted with dismay or disapproval, but love is still your default for with this beautiful amazing creature. When this child is released, the greatest need is for a place to stay. Simply a place to sleep while trying to put together a new and free life.

Well, Grandma, if you live in public housing, you can’t help your grandchild. Not that way.  Because you are specifically prohibited from harboring a person on probation or parole.

What an awful place to be.

This system is in place to protect the property of public housing and to protect the residents from being taken advantage of by predatory people. Because society’s assumption is that if a person has committed a crime, that person is a criminal. What a horrible label for someone to have to live into. Sad that some people do what’s expected.

What are our options as citizens? How can we help grandma, and this former prisoner, and still protect the property and well-being of our neighbors? One of our options is to provide housing. A halfway house is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, there are not enough beds for everyone who is released. The rules can be difficult for some people. But, often newly released people are so accustomed to having others make their decisions that it is more difficult to be without external structure than with it.

Hope Restored in Monroe, LA has one house that is available for former prisoners who want their lives to change. Rev. Marcelle Crow conducts bible studies in the local jail and the nearby state prison. She became frustrated that she saw the same people that she had met behind bars when she went with Hope Street Ministries to feed the people living on the streets. With a small amount of money and a congregation with a huge heart, they founded a home for a few of these people.

The house has some rules, but according to one resident, “they are the sort of thing a decent person would just do.” This house only holds a few people. The need Is much greater. The requirement to actually want a life change and be willing to learn keeps some people from even trying. It can be so difficult to envision a different life!

What can we do to make homes like this more available for former prisoners?

How can we come together and support those who are doing this work?

Wrong About Addiction?

 

My experience in counseling people who have problems because of using alcohol and other drugs is that healthy social connections are incompatible with continued use.  This Ted talk shifts my personal observation.  His conclusion is that the lack of healthy social connections is the root cause of these issues. I find it a compelling idea.

What would happen if we shifted the enormous amounts of money that we spend on incarceration and law enforcement to job creation, addiction counseling, and housing support?  What if the people who have addiction issues had help with their relationships to keep families together?  Not all people who are chemically or behaviorally dependent are unemployed and homeless.  Yet, we know that continued addictive behaviors are difficult for families. Sometimes the pressures split the family down the middle. What support can we offer to those families?

But to do that, we would need to shift our attitude toward the people who are caught up in negative cycles of substance use, joblessness, and despair.  We would have to see them as people who deserve our help.

What would it take to shift these attitudes?

Top Ten Issues in our Society

    1.  Child welfare systems: Chronic underfunding, overwhelming caseloads and a crying need for services  interfere with our ability to really help those who desperately need intervention and support.  Our system damages the very families it tries to help.
    2.  Addiction recovery: Much of the excessive imprisonment in our country is related to addictions to alcohol and other drugs. Our punitive system doesn’t fund the way out of this cycle.  Do we want it to continue? Or do we deeply believe that some people who are addicted to substances don’t really deserve to be helped?
    3. Homelessness–affordable housing:  When we have many citizens living on the streets, it is an indication of a lack of care in our world.  There are as many reasons for homelessness as there are people who are suffering.  Sometimes the people who are without a roof over their head are working. However, wages can be very low, and inexpensive housing is rare.
    4. Job readiness training:  Many times people do not learn basic job skills in their formal education. Without a caring person to teach the basics, young people falter and have difficulty holding a job.  A cycle of unemployment, disenchantment, and negative behavior will ensue.  We have to find a way for people caught in that negative spiral to find a way out.
    5. Healthcare access: Our current system has made some impact. However, a large segment of people cannot afford to pay the premiums for the insurances that are available. They have no recourse for consistent health care.
    6. Mental health recovery: There are many things that can help people who experience life in a way that does not serve them.  Depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, and schizophrenia all are treatable conditions. Access to help is lacking.  We need to let go of the stigma that surrounds mental health issues and create ways to surround people with the healing power of love.
    7. Immigration issues: How can we address the practical negative impact of people crossing borders and working without documentation?  The impact is not just on our economy, it is that these people often work with none of the protection of legal safety practices.  They are vulnerable to unscrupulous employers who take advantage of the fear associated with their legal status.  This issue is negative all the way around.  The narrative that undocumented aliens must be sent back to the home country is too simplistic.
    8. Educational deficits:  There are schools that are failing to teach people to read and compute basic math.  What can we do to support the school and the students to make absolutely certain that each child becomes literate to the basic skills of survival in the 21st century?
    9. Drug dealing-using culture:  Criminalization of drugs has created a culture of predatory dealers, people wrapped up in addiction and a violent response to life.  How can we enter in and address the factors that contribute to this ongoing issues.
    10. Massive incarceration of people.  Our system of mandatory sentencing, get tough on crime, and zero tolerance coupled with the “War on Drugs” have increased the number of prisoners in our country.  The result is massive expenditure on imprisonment, cutting funding on recovery issues, cutting other programs.  Not to mention that we have put a large portion of a generation of parents behind bars. The price paid by the children and families and communities is tremendous.

It’s disheartening to list all of these huge, interconnected problems. Ugh. Closing my eyes and pretending that these issues have nothing to do with me is so tempting. It would be easy to think that my most pressing concern is the interest rate on my Visa. What I experience day to day in working with the population whom I serve is that these issues are present and have a tremendous impact on the lives of real people in our communities. And I know that what touches your life touches my life. We are all connected.

These issues can be impacted by policy decisions in the government offices. However, the government cannot mandate the heart to love people who experience these challenges. The government cannot meet the soulful needs for respect and hope and the belief that things can change. The greatest need we have in our communities is for people who are not experiencing these issues to stop looking down on people who need help.

What do you think? Are these the biggest domestic problems we face? What direction do you think we need to take?

What’s Your Purpose?

Finding purpose

Finding purpose in our lives is an on-going quest. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl is a tiny book which has a big lesson. His description of a day in the life of a Jewish prisoner in an internment camp in Nazi Germany is visceral. The take away from the book is that a “why” is the most important element in life. People who lost their sense of purpose and meaning to their lives did not have the internal grit to survive.

Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship is a current movement in commerce. The idea that our businesses need to have a purpose beyond financial profit has taken hold of our imaginations. The people who have begun their careers within the most recent ten years often seem to strive for making a difference in the lives of others. Pencils of Promise and Tom’s Shoes each have a mission far beyond the bottom line. Pencils of Promise is seeking to build schools in developing countries. Tom’s shoes provides simple, sturdy shoes in South America. There are numerous other organizations which have a purpose far beyond themselves. This is a powerful understanding and I celebrate it!

What about us?

But what about those of us who are just starting in our entrepreneurial journey? Do we have to travel to the developing world to get fired up about helping in another country? Is giving money the only way we can help the broken and impoverished of this world?

I believe that our purpose can be much simpler and closer to home. There are many things we can do to help in our own backyard. When we live in urban areas, there can be places which we rarely visit; the poor side of town, the ‘hood, the ghetto, call it what we may. There are pockets of the developing world right in our own backyards. In rural areas, it’s harder to sniff out those who are in dire straits, but when we pause in our striving we know they are there.

My experience is that people who are struggling for survival have many reasons for the challenges they face. Whether their reasons are internal or through systems within our society, reasons exist. If it is internal, then we are the best ones to offer assistance. We can lead and guide in shaping the thoughts and attitudes which get into a person’s way to block their path to success. Because, often we have found our own way over, around, under or through the same boulder on the road.

What do you think?

Politics: Poverty, child welfare, addiction, education, oh my!

Why Politics Can’t Do It

It’s an election year. Woo hoo. We have a bunch of people telling us what we want to hear. Whether it is a message that poor people really need to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps or that rich folks need to kick in more money, the problems are never really ours.

The Problems are Ours.

We are on this planet to help each other out. Our neighbor, whether in our community or on the other side of the world, deserves our help. As much as we deserve theirs.

If you think you don’t take help from the government, think again. You drive on paved roads. Your food is affordable because of subsidies to farmers. Did you or your children ever have a student loan? Government subsidy. Police and fire departments are operated by government entities. National, state and local parks are all government run. That’s what keeps them accessible to you and me. Because we know that if private people own these beautiful sanctuaries, they don’t necessarily want to share them with the rabble, you and me. Our mortgages are often government subsidized. The list goes on and on. We utterly depend on the government in so many ways that we are blind to it.

Responsibility

Somewhere along the line, we the people decided to abdicate our responsibility to our neighbor. It may have begun during the depression, when people were simply unable to help each other. We put government systems in place to keep people from falling through the cracks. Then, since the systems were there we thought that we had no more responsibility. It was no longer us who needed to go alongside the unwed mother and help her with the million and one decisions that must be made in raising a child. We failed to recognize that the elderly and the young are vulnerable populations and if their biological family can’t help them, then we need to step up. It became simpler to just arrest people who turn to drugs and alcohol in the despair of their lives.

The Truth

The truth is, the government makes a really lousy parent. The system doesn’t work for the human beings that it is meant to serve. Foster care truly does help some youth. However, there are plenty that are damaged again and again through moving from placement to placement. What our society needs is strong family units. How can we go alongside families and help them to be stronger? Especially when they don’t seem to want our help? How do we protect children from neglectful and abusive parents PLUS help the family get stronger? How do we support foster families? How do we intervene in the drug culture? How do we turn around the high imprisonment rate in this country? What about education? Is there a way we can help young people learn to read and to do simple math?

The Solutions

This is just the slightest glimpse at the magnitude of our societal woes. The truth is, overwhelm is the only appropriate initial response. None of us can do everything. All of us can do something. What’s your passion? Literacy? How about finding one four year old and help them to learn to love books. Is it hunger? Help a poor neighborhood find a spot and plant a community garden. Maybe you have a passion for abused and neglected teenagers. What about becoming a foster parent? Too much commitment? How about a mentor at a Boys and Girls Club? Tell me, what’s your passion? How would you like to add meaning to your one precious life that you’ve been given?

The Roots of Child Welfare Issues

THE ISSUES

In order to know who to talk to and what to look for, I have begun reading more about the issues. The Child Welfare system, Foster Care, and other state agencies and efforts are in response to an even more awful reality. The roots of the problems with families are buried deeply in poverty and violence. Political oppression, lack of opportunity, sex trade, the drug culture and communities blanketed with hopelessness all play a part in this weight pulling down our communities.

HOPE
Yet, there is hope!
“A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity” is written by Nicholos D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

This book details non-profit efforts in agencies throughout the world. But, it is not just about a feel good, let’s see what is possible. The authors also detail efforts to measure the impact that the projects have on the future of the people served. One project is led by an MIT professor, Dr. Esther Duflo. She experiments on different initiatives and helps us to know what actually helps (P. 35-41). The danger in feel good projects is that they can cost a lot of money and have limited effect on actually helping people.

Overall the book is optimistic that our drive to make a difference in the lives of others is a powerful force for good in our world. The problems of our society are challenging. Yet, the human desire to make a difference for others is a spark of hope in this world.

Possibilities for those aging out of foster care!

Some interesting things have popped up in the past few days. A social movement is underway and may be gaining momentum. More and more people are paying attention to what needs to be changed in our society. Frustration with the lack of real solutions from the government generates a deep need to do something. The cool thing is that nothing enlivens a community more than working together on a common cause. And, it’s good news-bad news, it’s never difficult to find a situation that needs some attention.

Children and families need help. In a state which loves family as much as Louisiana loves family, it is surprising to know that our care for children through state services is appallingly lacking. It becomes less mysterious when we recognize that Louisiana people love their own families. There is not as much care and attention paid to the needs of others.

Chere Breaux is a realtor in the Acadiana area of Louisiana. She helped my daughter’s family find their home. She is spearheading a movement to start a ministry called Seeds To Success. She plans to house young people who have aged out of foster care in the state of Louisiana. This is such a necessary ministry. Our state cut its funding to the program that was able to help this population. One of the problems the state faced is that young people are so sick of dealing with the state’s bureaucracy and inconsistencies that many were not interested in staying in the state’s care. Seeds To Success will offer them a real opportunity without all of the baloney of dealing with the state system. It looks like a wonderful program. She has an initiative on GoFundMe to raise the money to get started. I would encourage you to go and donate! https://www.gofundme.com/seedstosuccess

The direction

I have been thinking about this topic of how can we do better for our children and families for a year now.  I have made a few blog posts learning more about the problem.  I have learned and prayed and talked about it.  This is what I plan to do:

I will reach out to organizations and ministries that are making a difference to the individuals and communities and which they operate. I will connect with a person who has benefited from the services provided and help their story to be told. Then, I will connect with a volunteer from the agency or ministry.  Then, I will connect with the founder or current director. It is my earnest desire to encourage everyone in our communities to become aware of the needs and know what it is that they can do about it.

I will blog and create a podcast from these connections.