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Thursday, February 26, 2009

the sun is shining!

and it is getting warmer!

I had this wonderful observation about the work we're doing in our office. On one hand we come face to face with poverty, social inequity and injustice. But on the other we are growing this dedicated and empowered leaders who can (and I believe will) make the differences that need to be made.

It is an odd and inspiring thing to be in the midst of these two realities.

Yet the future has never seemed brighter.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

ready or not

Each time I meet with a client, it grabs a part of me. So much so that I worry I will have nothing left when I leave this job. This morning I met with a man who has struggled with drug addiction but wants so much to better his life. I had to bear down to keep the tears from coming. I don't know why it moves me so much.
Maybe I'm tired.
Or maybe I feel his struggle and see his pain and sense how much he needs help and wonder if at all I can give him that. And I cry for his past and his sense of rootlessness and the emptiness he must feel. I feel the void that he must leave in his children's life and how much that pain must weigh on him at times. He lives in a shelter. Shelter life is like a warzone. I don't speak from experience, only from the stories I hear. People in them just want to get out of them but there don't seem to be any clear paths.
In addition, for those that have felony records they are met by a constant barrage of stop signs and dead ends. Lacking little support, they resign to a sense of worthlessness and despair. A hell that very few have the resiliency to emerge from.
I want so much to help him, our office to assist him but I know the limits of what I can do and I wonder what will the others that are on his path contribute to his movement forward. Every life has worth, even if the one living it realizes that very late in life. How can we contribute to the success and growth of all the people I encounter.
In a way I try to stay detached from my emotions, they only serve to do me harm. I tend to get so passionate and absorbed and face only resistance if I refuse to take things as they are. But that way seems like a death. Sometimes you have to get angry and be upset and cry and feel the pain that others feel. Moving through this world unscathed by its atrocities only perpetuates them. I sat there as he poured himself out to me, so unabashed at what he might lose by being so vulnerable. And I felt him and in my naivety responded that I understood, but I don't, I don't have any clue.

Listening to Obama last night, I had this renewed sense of hope at what our government and country can do to bring opportunities to those that sit at the periphery of our existence, and now I feel that, although a little less. Maybe now with a little bit more grounding in the reality of the many lives that get overlooked and under appreciated. I feel it is my duty in some way to contribute to a change. Even if I only begin the ripple, I can't leave this world without contributing to the end of what suffering that I see. But I don't know what the best way is. I can see the ways more effective government structures could bring broader changes for all but inevitably people fall through the cracks of policies, even the best ones. It is then up to all of us, or for those that feel the sense of responsibility, to encourage individuals, to make a way for them. I just know that we can.

Make a difference
Use this degree which you
have earned to increase
virtue in your world

your people, all people
are hoping that you are
the ones to do so

the order is large
the need immense
but you can take heart
for you know that you

have already shown courage
and keep in mind
one person, with good purpose
can, constitute the majority
since life is our most precious gift
and since it is given to us to live but once
let us so live that we will not regret
years of uselessness and inertia
you will be surprised that these years of
sleepless nights and months of uneasy
days will be rolled into
and altering event called the
'good old days.' and you will not
be able to visit them even with an invitation
since that is so you must face your presence
you are prepared
go out and transform your world

Maya Angelou "Letter to my Daughter"

Monday, February 23, 2009

what do you love...

I heard love lists are theraputic and I would appreciate that right now, the order doesn't mean anything, consider it stream of conciousness. And I won't list people because I try very hard to love all of the people in my life:

1. The way the light flows through my window on Sunday mornings. It seems like liquid gold and the warmth of the sun feels like home on my skin. I love it.
2. Feeling a sense of peace. Recently my body has felt tense and unsettled and busy. Peace is possible.
3. My torquoise fireplace. The color reminds me of the essence of life.
4. The arts. going to museums. listening to new music. watching shows. We need the arts. I need the arts. It is the soul and heart of what we do, its redeeming and liberating. Expressing yourself through the
5. My job.
6. Being the best version of myself.
7. Florida Gators.
8. The movie I am Sam
9. Reconnecting with the people in my life, sharing our lives, support and caring and being an encouragement.

This weekend was our leadership team retreat. It was well received by all our team members and at the end of the week they had bonded in such wonderful and powerful way. It made me very proud. Yet it was all so tiring and all I wanted to do was sleep, just sleep forever. But alas, this morning it was back to the grind.

I was reminded of the power and delicateness of idealism in this world. How do you go out and change the world without the world changing you? And when/how do you find the balance between the change that becomes inevitable and necessary and the change that just doesn't feel right.

I recently read this in the Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/22/education/22fafsa.html?ref=education. It reinforced some of the work we've been doing in our office. Namely taking advantage of the new FAFSA application used by our partner.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

anywhere but here

Today, after a meeting, I had to go to CVS to print off some pictures of our volunteers for our vol board. As I was looking at their little faces I teared up. The CVS lab photo guy gave me a sympathetic smile and I had to restrain myself from blurting out..."I love these guys." But I do. I really do.

I feel emotionally cluttered. Very uneasy and off and torn and smooshed. I'm starting reading essential teachings from the Dalai Lama. It has already given my sould a sense of calm that I yearn for. I need to wash, clean my room.

I want to go to Australia.

I have also become inwardly frustrated by the daily inequities I see in the poorer urban areas of Philadelphia. Since I moved here and started working in North Philadelphia there have been a few buildings that looked abandoned and shut down. Now they're open and I know what they are, H&R blocks and Jackson Hewitts. I am sure that these tax places mean no harm but that doesn't pull them away from the reality that they do harm. As I was walking around the neighborhood today I was just, ehh, I don't even know the feeling. Maybe disgust, shame, frustration, sadness. Here are these people who get swarmed in on and victimized and battered and have no one to speak up for them.

I don't even feel I have room to take credit for the work I do. I constantly wonder about the work I am doing. There is a very thin line between helping people and enabling them. And while most of the time I know that our work is helping, a few instances bring my intentions into question and I wonder about it all.

What have I come here to do? Who am I in all of this? Am I the person I want to be? Is change happening? Are comfortale enough with change to let it happen?

I'm hurting...and for what I don't know. But hurting none the less. I have found myself in this place of questioning and confusion. Nothing seems clear or absolute and I wonder, what am I doing? What are we all doing here?

I was sitting in church on Sunday, listening to my pastor. Sermons that used to bring me such peace and understanding now only bring up questions in my head. And I think, cynically, how easy must the problems of the world be to a person who believes that poor will always be with us.

'Look around this world that we call 'civilized' and that for more than 2000 years has searched to obtain happiness and avoid suffering by false means: trickery, corruption, hate, abuse of power and exploitation of others. We have searched only for individual and material happiness, opposing people against each other; one race against another, social systems against others. This has led to a time of fear, of suffering, murder and famine...It is because each person has looked only for his own profit without fear of oppressing others for selfish goals, and this sad and pitiful world is the result. The root of this civilization is rotten, the world suffers, and if it continues in this way, it suffer more and more.' The Dalai Lama.

Monday, February 16, 2009

running past the madness

Do you ever have those weeks where you feel like you're getting smooshed or compressed in some sort of large awkward smooshing machine...really well I do!

The next few weeks seem to be a neverending surge of activities. Today I have off in honor of President's Day, whatever that means. But then the rest of this week will be spent preparing for our leadership team retreat this weekend. Tomorrow half of the day will be spent planning a conference workshop that I will help facilitate next weekend. And then Thursday our office will be hosting our organization's CEO.

I hate to laud these things as 'oh look at my busy week. I'm so busy and awesome. Busy me' but it just feels like a lot and really, come on, everyone loves to feel important. And then there is that upcoming week in DC for our next training/meeting/shinding/mushing over my beloved coworkers. I have been juggling these feelings of feeling like a failure, feeling overwhelmed, feeling inspired and feeling incredibly energized. My body also yearns to rest, just to take a breather and not feel the constant pushing and yearning of my desire to do something. But then I really don't have this acheiver yearning and I have no desire to do anything but merely to learn and be and more importantly be of service.

My apartment is a disaster zone ready to implode. But I'm treating it like Wall Street. The constant mess will at some moment explode within itself and then ,of course, the government will bail me out. Why be responsible when you can be dependent!

I love the work I do yet it keeps me in a state of questioning, altertness, awareness and frustration. Never a sense of peace. The closest I get is contemplation which is really the quiet before the storm. Am I rambling.

So have I learned anything recently. Let me enlighten you:

Pride comes before the fall

You don't really know anything you think you know

There is always work to be done

No man is an island, we must function as teams to get things done

Cherry coke is adictive, in the worst possible most ungodly way

Idealism is nice although pragmatisim is necessary in order to get things done

There is usually a path to the solution you're in search of.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Yesterday I spent three hours in the welfare office.
I have begun the journey of getting food stamps. I officially filled out my application last week. I have heard from my fellow SC's that have also applied for food stamps, that the process is frustraing demoralizing exhausting and tedious.
They were proven right.

The packet I got in the e-mail told me to get to the welfare office by 11:00am to meet my case manager. 'DON'T BE LATE' was boldly printed across the top. So I got there at 10:40 am waited in line to tell them I was there and have them page my case worker to come get me. I sat down and waited and waited and waited. I was ironically sitting in front of a sign on one of the windows that reported on how it is important to wait and that when you really value something you wait and wait. So I did, patiently and respectfully. Then it was 1:30 and well I just couldn't wait anymore. There were a couple also sitting in the large room who had been there since 8:30am and I didn't want that to be my story. And I saw one person after another go into see their case managers. I got up and went to the customer service lady who, despite the fact that no one was waiting to speak to her, made me sign to ask her a question. I let her know that I had been waiting for a while and no one had come out. She told me to go wait in line again. So I did, waiting and waiting. We wait for things we value.

I get up to the line and let her know that I had been waiting and no one had come out. She told me she needed to check her records to make sure I had signed in early. I had. I told her my case manager and then the customer service woman who had told me to go wait in line turned around and said 'he's not in today.'

So I was told to wait while they figured out what was going on.

I was then pulled to the back by a woman who was ready to leave and in fact left before I even finished getting my stuff together. She told me that my case manager wasn't there and neither was the man who picks up his load. So I was told to leave my documents with the front desk. So I got in line to wait again. Then I handed the documents to be copied one by one. What should've been an easy task, take the paper I'm giving you, copy it, check it off on the list, turned into 20 minutes of 'you didn't give me that paper' 'yes I did' 'no you didn't' 'it's right there next to your arm' 'Oh I'm sorry.'

And then I left and that was my day. How can a system that so many people depend on be so horribly inefficient. I was lucky, I could still go home and get something to eat. But there were people there pleading for their cards because they didn't have food for their kids that night or medicine or they hadn't been able to get in contact with their case manager for weeks. I'm sure that these workers are overworked and undersupported but my gosh.

I have learned from that experience that their is a culture of poverty. You can't be patient, you can't expect that people have your best interest at heart, you can't expect that if you show up on a time anyone will give a damn. In fact you can't really expect that anyone will give a damn. People waste your time like it's their jobs. I wasn't mad, I was contemplative. Not discouraged but engaged with what can be done to make the lives of the poor lease burdened. But it was only the first step. It brings new insight into a recent article I read http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/02/us/02welfare.html?ref=politics.

In lighter news, it snowed. Here are some pictures from my hood: