What are we offering to those in poverty?
“Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt to you represents determinism: the way you play it is free will.”
-- Jawahrlal Nehru
Has everyone is this world of nonprofits gone mad? When is enough money enough? What are we offering to those in poverty and how are we best utilizing the funds available to us?
When did those serving the poor start charging membership dues? We are not meant to be private clubs. If on the one hand you are bragging about the quality of life and deepness of need of those you serve and on the other hand you are asking for program and membership fees from these very same children and taking state and federal monies to serve these clients -- wait a minute, I am both troubled and confused.
If the children you serve (and the operative word here is, serve) have no money for the simplest things like a bathing suit, or a decent pair of shoes, it behooves us all, each and every one of us to step up and do something. I have a young boy who is wearing shoes 2 full sizes too big, hand-me-downs from someone's brother, he is constantly tripping over his own two feet. I have children who are uncomfortable being a part of school concerts because they have nothing to wear.
Need I go on here, or do you readers get the point?
We pay our youth small stipends, they are our janitorial staff. And sometimes we will hold back payment until we and they have $40 or $50 saved up and then we will take them shopping. Sometimes family is simply unable to do this and all of us as caring human beings can step in and fill the bill.
Of course we at QUEST are hurting too, but we have never, ever charged for any program that we offer, or asked for membership dues of any kind. Are we the last of the group to do this? I don’t know but I sure hope not. We don’t even accept TANIF funding because the questions which need to be asked are simply too intrusive. Children who move every 3 or 4 months, just one step ahead of the landlord and Rent A Center do not need any more humiliation in their lives. They urgently need a sense of belonging otherwise they will turn to gangs to feel a sense of belonging somewhere. Your agency should be their sense of home and family. Did you ever have to pay dues to be part of a family? I think not!
“Home is when you go there, they have to take you in.”
I love that quote. It speaks to me of acceptance and caring. You never have a dress code at home, or you shouldn’t have, and as far as locked door policies, too many of our youth have such a problem in their own home with their first family I bring them home often and they are locked out. No house keys for them.
Driving by on rainy and/or snowy nights you will see many a child huddled up in a doorway waiting -- just waiting for someone to come home and let them in. Then there’s the folks who never know where their children are. “Oh he or she is at such and such a place.” And it’s a Tuesday night and its 9:00; no one knows or cares where these bundles of need and love are. Each child is a treasure, a gift and must be made to feel like something truly special. That is right on the front line of all us non-profits, Treasure The Children!
The new superintendent of schools has it right. All of us entrusted with these kids should offer a place where the kids want to be. Yes even schools should be a haven.
This man, this superintendent said, “Children drop out because of a catastrophic life or event. It may take years until the full force of these issues are felt. But they are felt. The problems of life [are] pulling our youth down; we need life issues, not testing, for them to succeed and have a useful place in society. I am tired of drugs, and guns, and violence and just plain meanness.”
Every day I have kids of all ages who just want to sit in my car with me, sometimes to talk, sometimes to do homework, sometimes just to sit companionably with me. Sometime there are 5 or 6 of them gossiping and laughing. Sometimes it’s just one sobbing in fear and self-hatred. Sometimes we go for a ride or get some ice-cream or pizza. And sometimes we solve the problems of the world big and small.
I yell, I want so desperately to teach them that drugs and guns and setting fires are things that bring their own destruction. And they are a captive audience in my car. But they always come back and we do some hard-line life lessons. And sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m stupidly wrong. When I’m wrong they usually catch me up and I am amazed at their self-knowledge and wisdom. Then it’s my turn to say, “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking straight. My heads on backward today.”
We have spats and sparring matches. But we are family and we know it. And even when they get arrested or go to jail they write to me, I do not accept the fact that they broke the law but I still accept them as my children. And when they get out they always come back. And yes I hug them and say I surely missed them, and we start climbing the hill to new beginnings again. Who am I to judge? I look at their lives of misery and deprivation and literally thank God that I can add anything at all of hope and comfort to it.
And yes, they do know when they have erred, and yes they are sorry, and many a youth has wept on my shoulder. I would like to meet that new superintendent of schools. I would like to shake his hand. I would like to say, “Thank you for understanding the lives of these street kids.” I would like to say, “How can I help?” “What can I do?”
I read in the paper recently a story of a man who tried to hang himself in front of King School; I read how someone called 911 and the police were able to save him. But, how many children saw this? Remember we had a rash of young girls hanging themselves a few years ago? How many of you have ever seen someone hanging from a tree? This neighborhood is so full of misery, and so much of it is thoughtlessly inflicted on our children. Every single agency and program must throw open their doors and arms and say, “We’ve been waiting for you, come on in!”
"Gifted," by one of our prison poets:
"I ain't feeling right, but yes I'm feeling gifted. Feeling even if everything in life turns to s*** it would be alright. My feelings are conflicted, feeling that everything in life go wrong before the gift comes. It ain't right. What if I fall to deep? What if I can’t get through this, will it be alright? I’m optimistic yall, right now I ain't feeling right but yes I’m feeling gifted.
"Yes, I step with confidence, address a problem. I’ll be quick to solve it. I like to keep it positive, you negatively affect me, a raged wilder beast coming out of me, metaphorically. Instead of good, you're worrying about how bad it gonna be. You want to battle me instead of trying to build with me. Oh, who am I talking to? I’m talking to the world baby. You know how bad it holds me down but I don’t stay down, crazy? I got living to do. A few babies in the world in truth I need more than they need me.
"Hmm, new topic. Not to get you caught up in me way too much but just to let you know I’m going through it too. I feel you. Stress is building and the bills are piling up and there’s no one there to save you. You feeling shook? Use it as your motivation to get up and so something to better yourself.
"I ain't feeling right but yes I’m feeling gifted. Feeling even if everything in life turns to s*** it would be alright. My feelings are conflicted, feeling that everything in life go wrong before the gift comes. It ain't right. What if I fall to deep? What if I can’t get through this, will it be alright? I’m optimistic y'all, right now I ain't feeling right but yes I’m feeling gifted.
"See I believe we all giving gifts. To overcome the shortcomings, living wasn’t worth it times. Giving everything I had, it’s just that I’ve giving so much really I don’t know what I have left. I have a heart I have feelings, they hurt, I hurt feelings and learned at times that hurt me. Sad see I’ve been so off the walls these days, I’ve made 3 women mothers but I don’t have bank. I’m the hardest working cabroncito I know and I’m unemployed, how the f*** did this happen? I always did have it together but it just so happened, life hit me. An excuses I had. And though it keeps me hitting I know I gotta keep moving. I gotta make it, who else gon’ hold it together better than me? No one. I just gotta whether the storm, absorb all of it and hope that in the end I’m riding, feeling right.
"I ain't feeling right but yes I’m feeling gifted. Feeling even if everything in life turns to s*** it would be alright. My feelings are conflicted, feeling that everything in life go wrong before the gift comes. It ain't right. What if I fall to deep? What if I can’t get through this, will it be alright? I’m optimistic y'all, right now I ain't feeling right but yes I’m feeling gifted."
“Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”
-- Walker Evans