Sunday, August 27, 2006

Making new friends... (cont.)

In the posting just before this one, I mentioned how I had been wondering about how to share the experience of meeting new people about making friends.

Last week, I was invited to a staff party at Kendra's house. I enjoyed visiting with my new co-workers but again have no pictures. At the party, I talked more with Stephanie. She suggested we get our families together for a hike.

The next day, I called her and she told us about a two-mile trail to the beach. We hadn't been on the Tennessee Valley Trail yet so we were excited to meet them there, get to know them better and explore a different area.

The kids began playing together right away. Within minutes of meeting, before setting foot on the trail, they were climbing fences together in the parking area.






Sam and Liam seem to enjoy many of the same activities.











Gladly, the adults enjoyed each other's company too.













The view from the beach was spectacular. Do you see the little boys on these big rocks?














There they are.



















Cam and John walked with them around the bend to another area of the beach (more on his blog) while Stephanie, Alyssia and I rested on the beach at talked.













On the other side of the sea wall, they found cool rocks to climb.






The trail to and from the beach splits into two separate trails for a stretch in the middle. John took the kids on the uphill trail on the way to the beach. I took the high road with the boys on the way back. They had fun seeing who could find the largest boulder. We found and admired a tiny lizard. Liam pointed out and taught us about how you could eat the petals of flowers on a wild mustard.

He also wondered aloud why it was illegal to pick our state flower. If you just picked one, what would it hurt? Yes, but if everyone picked one... And why is the California Poppy our state flower anyway? I thought the answer was obvious.

Sam tried to explain his favorite movie of the day, Monty Python and the Holy Grail to Liam. The hilarity Sam tried to convey wasn't picked up by Liam. Cam tried to explain later that what makes the movie funny is its absurdity and that absurdity is sometimes hard to explain.


(Speaking of hilarious, one night this week, we watched a movie Cam picked, Billy Connolly - The Greatest Hits. We laughed and laughed.)


All in all, it was a very enjoyable day. We greatly appreciate they way Stephanie and her family have extended the hand of friendship our way.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I think we're going to like this place...

Today, I started my job at Sam's school. As wonderful as it was having the summer off, it felt good having a place I was supposed to be today. Getting out of the house, meeting new people and making a contribution to Sam's school was enjoyable.

I met Sam's new teacher, Dianne Bouton.
"Hi! My name is Dianne Bouton. This is my second year teaching fourth grade at Bel Aire. I am excited to be among such a wonderful team of fourth grade teachers, not to mention the rest of the staff. I earned my BA in Human Development from CSU Long Beach, and received my credential from Dominican College of San Rafael. To top it all off, I have just begun my Masters degree in Reading and Language through Sonoma State. Crazy! Whether I am spending time in the bay area or the mountains, I love to be outdoors! I enjoy hiking with my dog and taking her swimming. I love skiing, listening to music (live), and spending time with my friends and family. I am really looking forward to another wonderful year at Bel Aire!"

Dianne seems really great. She was totally welcoming and we talked awhile about Sam. She said he is the kind of student she likes best.

The above greeting is from the school's website. I don't think they have updated it this year yet. So she wrote it during what was her second year teaching fourth grade at Bel Aire. This will be her third year here, I think. The school places a lot of emphasis on math, which is great but Dianne said she will also concentrate on language arts quite a bit. I was happy to hear that and to learn that she is studying reading and language. That is the area where Sam needs the most growth. His reading and writing skills have improved dramatically and are getting better every day but we want to continue to nurture them. [Big Shout Out to Nicole Tsamoulos, Sam's third grade teacher in Chicago. Under her guidance, Sam went from not wanting to read to reading entire series of books. We all love and appreciate her!!] Sam enjoys math and thinks it is easy. Hopefully, that sentiment will remain.

I also found out more about what I will be doing.

I am assigned to work with two third grade teachers in addition to covering morning recess, lunch and lunch recess. I will spend time each morning with one teacher helping her with her class and time in the afternoon with the other.

The teachers I will be working with are Kendra Bontz,

"Hello! My name is Kendra Bontz and I teach third grade. I live in Mill Valley with my husband, two children, and my dog. I was born and raised in Southern California. I received my BA from UCSB and went on to get my teaching credential from SFSU. Our family loves Marin because we can enjoy so many of our favorite activities like swimming, hiking, rock climbing, and camping. In my spare time I love to garden, bake, and sew. I love sewing Halloween costumes for my kids! Bel Aire is a great school and I look forward to being your teacher!"


And Stephanie Bjeldanes. "Hi! My name is Stephanie Bjeldanes (Be-yell-dan-es) and I am thrilled to be returning to Bel Aire Elementary School this year as a fifth grade teacher. I was born and raised in Berkeley, California and attended public schools in the area. After high school, I was accepted to UC Berkeley and earned an undergraduate degree in Anthropology. During that time I worked as a masters' swim coach and rowed on UCB's crew team. After graduating from UCB, I attended St. Mary's College, where I obtained a multiple subject teaching credential. Two months before my credentialing program ended, I was offered a job as a computer instructor/coordinator at a local school. I continued to teach K-6 computer classes for five years and enjoyed the challenge of creating an academic program from scratch. Eventually, I felt the need to experience teaching and bonding with one class of children at a time. I was offered a teaching position at Kensington Elementary School where I taught third, fourth, and fifth grades for seven years.

I live in Mill Valley and take full advantage of all it has to offer. I spend many of my weekends and evenings hiking, mountain biking, playing volleyball, cooking, and spending time with friends. I am looking forward to a wonderful year full of challenges, rewards, and many new friends."

I enjoyed meeting each of them very much and look forward to working with and getting to know both of them better. Again, I think these greetings are from last year, when Stephanie was teaching fifth grade. She is excited about teaching third grade this year and said she has been teaching for 15 years now.

Both Kendra and Stephanie have little boys, near Sam's age, in their lives. Kendra is the mother of two children. One of whom is a fourth grade boy. Stephanie recently married a man with two children and in the process became the step-mom of a boy who just turned ten.

On the school grounds, I met a family who have a boy who is in fourth grade at Bel Aire. I'm not sure if Willie is in Sam's class or not but his mom said they was going to have to keep and eye out for Sam. It was awesome to be able to say I'd introduce the kids at recess.

Tomorrow, Sam starts. Wish us luck.

Are you going back to school this fall? If so, I'd love to hear about it.

Tsotsi

Cam wrote a touching posting about how he was affected by a movie we watched recently. Last night, after dinner at Joe's Taco Lounge, we watched Tsotsi.

Like Cam said, this movie wasn't on our radar. I'd never heard of it but it was given lots of accolades and Cam does more research on movies than I do so I figured if he thought it would be good that it probably would be.

The premise, youngish, innocent-looking guy ends up stealing a car with an unexpected passenger in the back seat, had potential to be good or bad. We gave it a shot and were blown away.

I was captivated by the plot and moved by the incredible acting. My favorite performances were by the main male character, Presley Chweneyagae; Terry Pheto, who plays a young mother in the film and Rapulana Seiphemo who plays John Dube. All of them were extraodinary.

Check it out, if you are interested, and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Renegades

I realized I hadn't written anything about having seen the movie V for Vendetta awhile ago with Cam. The movie was intense, incredibly suspenseful and powerful.

Yesterday, I finished rereading the Handmaid's Tale. It is one of the books that made it on the moving truck. I think I had read it in Iowa as a high school senior but figured I had changed much since then and was interested in seeing how I would respond to the book now. I picked it up a couple of times and had a bit of a hard time getting into it again but once I was in, I was hooked.

It occurred to me that while this movie and this book are quite different, they deal with a similar underlying theme, surviving under a misguided government where insane ideas are perpetuated as gospel and where people live in constant fear of retribution.

The main female characters respond quite differently to the situation but each shows strength and independence despite intense oppression.

Both are thought-provoking. What did you think of them?

If only I could wear a shaved head as well...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Kindness appreciated

Cam's co-worker and friend, Malia decided to throw a party to introduce us to some people in the Bay area. It was incredibly thoughtful of her. She and her husband, Adam are fabulous hosts. We had a wonderful time. Their friendship, hospitality and generosity are greatly appreciated.

The bike ride.

We hadn't used our bikes since we'd been here. So last week, while the people we bought the car from were detailing it, I decided it was time. I read about a nearby trail in Mountain Biking The San Francisco Bay Area, we packed food for a picnic, climbed on the bikes and headed out.

Have I mentioned there are hills in San Francisco? I guess they call it mountain biking for a reason. Before we got anywhere near a mountain, we were working hard to climb hills on our bikes.

From our home, we have to ride to the top of the circle then make our way to the bottom of a very steep hill before coming to the main road. I coasted down the hill on my bike using the brakes the entire time. Sam opted to walk his bike down the hill this time.

We followed the road across the highway and into Mill Valley, our neighboring town. Finally, we made it to the park at the base of the mountain. We are relaxing in the park in these pictures. We had a snack, rested and talked. According to the odometer on Sam's bike, we'd ridden nearly four miles.

There was supposed to be an Old Fire Road trail leading up Mt. Tam. After our rest, we got back on the bikes and rode around a bit looking for the entrance to the trail. We couldn't find it. With that set-back and the recognition that we were quite tired already (and achy in places where we hadn't ached in awhile) we decided to leave the mountain biking for another day and just ride back home.

One of the things that didn't make it out of the basement and onto the U-Haul in our fervor to leave Chicago was the bike rack. I'd been waiting to get another one because I was not sure how much we would really use it. Now I think that when we can swing it, replacing the bike rack will be a worthwhile investment. It would have been nice if the energy we expended had got us at least partially up a mountain. With a bike rack, maybe we can even get Cam to drive us and our bikes to the top of some mountain trails and meet us at the bottom. I think the downhill part is going to be the most fun.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Brick.

We saw another noteworthy movie recently. The previews for Brick were scary, even spooky. It looked like one of those movies I wanted to watch but was afraid to watch. Cameron mentioned wanting to see it and since two of his close friends, Pablo and Anthony had both seen and enjoyed it, we decided to check it out too. I hope Cam will write about it because he said some very intelligent-sounding things about it at Malia's party last night. I'll just say I liked it. Did you?

I had to wear a hair net.

Awhile ago, before I knew about SF Connect and before I found work, I signed up to do some volunteering. I considered it a way to keep busy and make a contribution while Sam was gone and Cam was working but also as a way to begin building a network. Women and children in crisis are the people I am most interested in helping. So I signed up to spend an evening at a Women's shelter.

The night I had committed to came last week. I was hesitant. Not sure I wanted to spend my night with a bunch of women I didn't know. Thinking I'd rather enjoy the evening with Sam and Cam. But I went. I drove into the city and parked. I was back on Mission St. near the area where they hold the SF Connect events.

It isn't a nice area. I would normally rather not walk around there but I approached an ugly green building with bars on the window and rang the doorbell, requesting admittance. In the reflection of the door, I could see people passing behind me on the sidewalk. Each of the two people who passed while I waited seemed to look at me and see someone who needed to spend the night in a shelter. Even the woman who let me in seemed to look at me with a "what do you want" expression until I explained I was a volunteer with Hands On Bay Area. I had imagined there would be a group of us there that evening and that they would be expecting us. She responded less than enthusiastically - pleasantly enough but a bit indifferent.

She brought me into the office and showed me a locker where I could store my things. That reminds me. After I parked the car and started walking to the shelter, I decided to return to the car to leave my phone, money, credit cards, etc. I didn't want to have to worry about where they were or if they were secure or deal with the awkwardness of them possibly disappearing. I felt like a bit of a jerk walking into the situation not trusting but I learned from working with fifth graders last year that it is better not to leave things out that may be too tempting to resist.

My backpack was full of books I'd brought with me to leave behind. Lately, I have been reading books about women overcoming strife or women who have faced difficult circumstances, etc.

Some of the books I left and have read recently are:

1. Couldn't Keep it to Myself Wally Lamb and the Women of the York Correctional Institution (Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters) Wally Lamb has written two books that Oprah included in her book club. I read them in this order I Know This Much is True and She's Come Undone. They are both fictional books about intriguing characters who captured my imagination.

When I heard about Wally's latest work, I was curious to learn more. Turns out, he had been asked to volunteer at a correctional facility near his home. Due to a rash of suicide attempts, morale was low and an instructor at the school asked Wally to come talk to the women about his work. Wally didn't even want to go the day he was driving there. But at that first meeting, someone asked if he was coming back. He agreed to return in two weeks and meet with anyone who had written three pages to discuss their writing. Over 50 meetings later, Wally is still going. This book is a compilation of stories written by women who have participated in his writing workshop. Honestly, I didn't enjoy the stories as much as I hoped but the premise and work behind it is impressive.

2. Back in Chicago, I had bought a book from a used book store because the cover looked interesting. It was called Cavedweller. I recently read it and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Some of the themes are quite heavy (battered wife runs away from abusive husband losing children in the process) but there were redeeming characters and enough hope and inspiration mixed in to carry me through.

At some point, I noticed that in my box of books to be read, I had another book by the same author, Dorothy Allison. This one was a hand-me-down from our friend Jennifer. Jennifer gave away many books when she and her son Brody left Chicago to move to the Portland, Oregon area. I was a grateful recipient. Because I enjoyed the first Dorothy Allison book so much, greedily, I dove immediately into the second one.

3. Its title, Bastard Out of Carolina, is pretty graphic but I guess that's what made me pick it up in the first place. This one was incredibly heavy (child abused by evil stepfather behind mother's back) and there was not much reprieve. It was arduous and troubling but still intriguing.


4. Another Oprah book I think I inherited from Jennifer is We Were the Mulvaney's by Joyce Carol Oates. It is about the idyllic life of this farm family that is turned upside down by a pivital event. Many of this book's characters disappointed me. And while the event that changes everything is certainly disturbing, I didn't think it should have been sufficient to create as much turmoil as it does.

5. I'd also recently read the Memory Keeper's Daughter. This book is newer. It is the story of a doctor who delivers his own twins. He notices the girl baby has Down's Syndrome and without his wife's knowledge, asks the nurse to take the child away to a home. Last year, while I primarily worked with a child who has Autism, I also helped out with a couple of kids who have Downs. Every child brings with it blessings as well as strain. This man's attempt to remove the strain of this particular child from their lives and the ramifications of his decision peaked my curiosity. It wasn't an incredible book either but I did enjoy reading it.

6. We had an extra bible and with limited book shelf space, I decided to pass it on. They gave away books at the Project Homeless Connect event and someone said the four bibles they had were gone in a flash.

So while not all of the books I gave were wonderful, they were about people who have faced strife, a theme I can relate to and I hoped might be empathetic to women staying in a shelter. And one of the books I did really like. The staff person seemed appreciative of the books. She said it was very generous of me.

Then she sat me at the desk, to man the door. It was 5:30pm. The dorms at the shelter are closed from 8am-5pm. During that time, women can meet with a case worker and lunch is served. Otherwise, I'm not sure what they are expected to do. Be out and about, looking for work, attending classes, etc. I suppose. Breakfast is served from 8-8:30 am and dinner from 7-7:30 pm.

Everyone has a chore duty and showers are mandatory every day. Women must return to the shelter by 7pm or they lose their spot. I wasn't to let any men into the shelter. Residents are encouraged to hold any get-togethers with friends or family elsewhere (just not in the evening, I guess.)

The shelter was divided into two different areas. One group of women signed in and out of the shelter area downstairs. Other women had a pass that allowed them up the elevator to the transitional living area. I assume that area affords a bit more privacy than the big room full of beds I saw downstairs. But I wasn't allowed upstairs so I don't really know.

As the women came in, I greeted them and they were kind in return but normally, we didn't talk. I just buzzed them on their way. At 6:30 pm, women who aren't currently staying there but want to be admitted are allowed to wait in the lobby (where I was stationed) until 7:00pm when they hold a lottery for any open beds. I heard them say they had one bed open but wasn't sure if I was supposed to know about the opening. I wondered if anyone would come. I figured there were women out there who could use a place to stay so I hoped someone would come so the bed wouldn't go to waste but I also hoped we wouldn't have to turn anyone away.

A woman came. Her name was Lisa. After some polite hellos, we sat there, not exactly facing each other, not exactly speaking. I wasn't sure what to ask someone who is hoping for a bed in a women's shelter. I figured the people there were going to want as much privacy as they were allowed and I didn't want to pry but I didn't want to seem uninterested either. "How's it going?" didn't seem right. Even, "How was your day?" "Where do you work." was no good. "How long have you lived here" is something you can ask most people how live in San Francisco but I didn't want to ask the people who were living there anything that might sound like I was judging them. I think probably she was the one who asked about me.

When she learned I was from Chicago, she told me that she had studied at DePaul in the late 90s. What a small world. We exchanged stories about the city by the great lake. She had been studying French and while she enjoyed Chicago, she missed San Francisco. She said she was close to completing a degree in Latin Studies at Berkeley now.

When I offered to give her a pamphlet about the place, she said she had stayed there another time for a few months. She asked if I'd been to any other shelters. I said I hadn't. She said this one treated people with more dignity than most. I'd been thinking that the environment imposed several restrictions on people's dignity but was glad to hear that she felt like some was being offered there. While we sat together in the hallway, we could hear a game of BINGO being played inside.

No one else showed so the bed was hers. I was escorted into the kitchen area and given an apron, some latex gloves and a hairnet. I don't know if I've even had to wear a hairnet. If I had been anywhere else, I'd have been pretty humiliated with the way I must have looked. As it was, it was pretty embarrassing. Another woman who I guess was a volunteer got ready to help serve dinner with me. She was loud and boisterous, joking familiarly with the women. Someone asked her about a divorce she was apparently going through. I might have been jealous about her ease in the situation but honestly, she seemed as uncomfortable as I felt. She just handled it differently.

A sweet, soft-spoken woman, who was a resident there, served the drinks (tea and strawberry juice). I had salad patrol while the other woman shoveled out Shepard's Pie. The residents were friendly and appreciative. The salad had Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and two kinds of squash. It was pretty and if I hadn't been scared of the meat, the Shepard's Pie might have looked good too.

I was wishing I could just serve the food and go but knew that socializing, fun and fellowship were part of what I had signed-up for. After basically everyone had been served, the woman who works there came out and took over for me. She wanted me to eat. I didn't see a way around it so I took a plate and looked for a table. It was a bit reminiscent of lunch in the high school cafeteria. Where to sit?

Should I sit with the pretty, together-looking women, the friendliest, the loneliest? I ended up sitting with the woman who had been serving the drinks with us since she'd taken a seat at a table by herself. Mostly, we chewed in silence, each trying to think of something to say. Again, it was the resident who initiated conversation. I stunk at it.

She asked me something about my day. I had had a wonderful day with Sam and we'd had Cam's company as he'd worked from home. She talked about the pain she has in her leg and knee that make it hard for her to walk around all day or from walking around all day. I told her about a new exercise routine Sam and I started that day involving crunches, squats, push-ups and other painful activities. It was a bit awkward talking about an exercise routine to someone who has trouble walking but by saying I can't do a decent push-up, I was trying to say that it is hard for me too. We'd been joined by the woman who works there. She was familiar with the Abs Diet book where I'd read about the routine. We agreed that it is nearly impossible to do those kinds of exercises by yourself and talked about how lucky I am to have Sam to do them with me.

The resident commented on how good the meal was. I agreed but felt bad not being able to finish my one serving. After she'd gone back for seconds, when we were both finished, we bussed our dishes as the rules say we must. She excused herself saying how it was nice to meet me. I hated that I couldn't remember her name and knew she knew I'd forgotten it as I said it was nice to meet her too.

I still had time I was supposed to be there so I started clearing up some random dishes that were lying around, anything to keep busy. Then, one woman asked if I was a volunteer. I said I was and approached her table. I sat down with her and the two other women seated there. She said she was new to San Francisco too. Wherever she had lived before, her landlord had kicked her out three months after she had broken both ankles.

She said she had been looking behind her at traffic when she stepped into a hole in the street. I shared a story about the time in Chicago when I stepped off the curb into a seam in the road. The material that was supposed to cover the seam had deteriorated and my foot sunk down to my ankle into this metal hole. I fell on my face, throwing my cell phone onto Michigan Avenue and scarring the two children with me. Luckily, the only thing hurt was my pride but I called the city to tell them about the hazard because I thought it would have been very easy for me to have broken my ankle. The other women at the table were kind and attractive. It was pleasant sitting with them for a few minutes saying, accidents happen to everyone.

I still had about 15 minutes I was supposed to kill but I didn't think they needed me for anything else and I wasn't up for chasing the women into the room where some of them were showering and others were already lying on their beds. I turned in my apron and told the man who worked there that I was off. He thanked me for coming. I thanked him for dinner. He laughed that it was an even trade.

I had walked past homeless people on my way to the shelter and passed more on my way back to my car. I drove home as quickly as I safely could and was never so happy to be home. I am thankful to be blessed with a wonderful family and a safe home.

Maybe if I was the social worker for the shelter, I would have felt more comfortable. With a purpose, I would have felt better about interacting with these women. I am learning that what I enjoy and am better suited for crisis intervention, responding to people in need who come to me, providing ideas and solutions, encouragement and understanding than I am at small talk. I've never been good at it and don't know that I will sign up for this particular event again but it was a learning experience and for that I am glad I went.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Do you see what I see?

Last weekend, Cam asked me if I wanted to plan our outing. My first thought was just to pick Angel Island or Muir Woods, a couple of places we've been talking about going but haven't been yet. (Sam and I have been to Muir Woods but not with Cam.)

But after telling my mom about out outing to Sculptured Beach, my mom had asked why we hadn't seen tide pools. I wasn't sure. I just knew they hadn't been there. So I started searching and read about Agate Beach. At low tide, Agate Beach, near Bolinas, exposes over 2 miles of coastline covered with tide pools.

I don't know what I expected. I had fond memories of being amazed when my mom took me to see tide pools once before but it seems like it was a very long time ago and my memories are hazy. I wasn't sure we'd see anything but right away, we saw lots of very impressive sea life. (See Cam's blog for more pictures of the creatures we observed.)

Initially, we had planned not to touch anything. But as Cam mentions, just by being there and walking around, we were impacting the area. We tried to tread gently and walk on hard clean surfaces whenever possible but I too felt some crunches. Fortunately, there were a plethora of snails. (Oh gosh, I just had a flashback from the movie "Three Amigos" with Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short. We watched it the evening after the tide pools and El Guapo asks if he really has a plethora of pinatas.) I am sure there were a plethora of snails but still, we didn't like stepping on them.

The first time we saw a starfish, Cam exclaimed that he had never seen a starfish in the wild before. We talked about if it would be ok to touch it and decided to just leave it alone.

We had the beach almost to ourselves except for one other family. Shortly after we arrived, they approached us explaining that the little kids had caught a crab that they wanted to show us. They had it in a bucket. We hadn't seen a crab yet so it seemed like a pretty generous offer and if maybe we wish they hadn't put it in a bucket, they already had it in a bucket. What was the harm in looking at it?




Before we knew it, they were handing us starfish. Since it was already being passed around, I was happy to hold it. I noticed this one was eating a snail.








Sam held it too then carefully put it back into the water on a rock.

The people who joined us on the beach asked if we'd touched a sea anemone yet. I remembered touching them as a child with my mother and being fascinated that they would grab on to my finger. I'd wanted to show Sam but hadn't out of concern for the creatures. But this woman insisted, "Here touch one."

I don't know how we will behave next time. We did have lots of fun wandering from pool to pool exploring.











I like the picture Cam took of Sam in front of an enormous rock wall.
















I like this one of Cam too. Happiness.





Around the bend of the beach, we found whole trees that had been washed ashore. Sam enjoyed using them as balance beams.



Cam found a little hideaway for us.











No complaints about the weather. I expected exploring tide pools to be cool, windy and wet. I brought an insulated jacket and wore my waterproof snow boots. They kept me warm and dry. The mild wind and temperatures helped too. Lovely.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Do I look taller?

Our mayor, Gavin Newsom, made it to yesterday's Project Homeless Connect event. When he addressed the group of volunteers before the event, he said that the tallest people he knows are the ones who kneel to lift someone up. I'd probably heard that before but it was nice to hear again and good to feel like I was one of the people he was directing it towards. He also joked about how "damn happy" people who volunteer are and how while we were going to bring dignity to people, we would receive much in return. He was right.

I don't see the final statistics posted on the website yet, but at the end of the day, they said 2508 people were served by about 1200 volunteers. Several people who needed urgent medical attention were taken to the hospital. Many were given medical, dental and/or vision exams. Most received giveaways of clothes, food, hygiene items, etc. I think everyone was fed.

People who attended the event could apply for food stamps, Social Security, General Aid and get a DMV ID. Someone was available to talk with them about money management (although most people either thought they knew how to manage their money or wondered what the point was since they didn't have any). There was information about childcare, housing and shelter options.

If they wanted to talk to a lawyer, mental health counselor, substance abuse counselor or sign into detox, they could. Wheelchair repair and employment referrals were available.

Sprint provided free phone calls to anywhere in the US. A storytelling area was set up where people could share their experiences and have them documented. A photographer was taking portraits of people too.

I was personally able to meet over 20 homeless people and treat them like people. I would introduce myself, ask their name, look them in the eye, shake their hand and tell them I was glad they were there. I collected some basic information then asked them what they needed and we talked about what was offered. Then, it was someone else's turn to escort them into the service area. I told them it had been nice to meet them and wished them well.

I met 25-year-old Kurt who told me how he had been run over by a truck when he was 16 and lost teeth playing roller hockey. When I asked if he wanted to call anyone, he said he didn't have a phone number for his grandparents, parents or sister. He said he hadn't met his nephew yet.

Larry, a very distinguished gentleman, joked that it would be easy to remember my name since our names rhymed. I laughed back about how I had once been married to Gary and about how people used to ask if we were going to name our kids Sherry or Barry. Then Larry told me about a band he had been in where they had two Garys and three Larrys. When I asked what they called that band, he said it had been John Lee Hooker's Band.

At home, I did a web search and found Larry's name on several of John's websites. Looks like he definately played bass for him in the 80s. John was proud of his back-up band, "Don't forget to mention my young musicians," he says. Larry told me he has been a musician for over 30 years. I told him about my friend, Melissa who is a musician in Chicago. These days, Larry is hoping to see a doctor because he is having a lot of problems with his feet but he still plays at a church on Sundays.

I met Michelle, who is also 25. She used to work in a homeless shelter until she was laid off. While I was helping Michelle, I started coughing. I'd forgotten to bring a water bottle and my throat was dry. A handsome young man standing nearby asked if I needed water. I said, yes, thanks and took the bottle of water he extended eagerly to me, opened it and drank, feeling much better. When Michelle left, I realized that the person who had given me the water wasn't a volunteer as I'd thought but one of the homeless people we were supposed to be helping. He had been happy to willingly hand his water over to me. I found two bottles of water to repay him before he went on his way.

One man who was over 70 seemed to practically pass out while we were talking. He would fade in and out. I don't know if he was drunk, exhausted or what.

Because we couldn't communicate using words, I held hands and exchanged smiles with a sweet, tiny, ancient-looking woman while she waited patiently for an interpreter. She was from Malaysian. The woman volunteering next to me was trying to help her. Marian spoke Cambodian but not Malaysian. The woman waited a long time hoping for a volunteer who spoke Malaysian to materialize. Finally, a man from the crowd recognized the situation and offered himself up as an interpreter for her. We hugged before she left.

One man was a big fan of the mayor. He said he had shelter now because of what we were doing. He talked about an initiative called, "Care not cash."

Another man in a wheelchair was very upset when I told him the vision screening area was full. He said he, "needed an eye exam real bad." I tried to get one of the volunteers to take him over to the area to see if they might fit him in anyway. When she told him he could come back in two months he almost started to cry. Two months is a long time if you can't walk, can't see and live on the streets.

Ann said she had a bone fracture in her eye when I explained that they were no longer offering vision care. Hopefully, the medical unit was able to help them.

Willie came with Ann. Ann was probably in her 30s, Willie was in his 70s. He was soft-spoken, physically small with a very kind demeanor. They appear to have become friends. They both had shelter so maybe that is where they met.

Lisa wanted to talk with a mental health counselor. She has feeling depressed, anxious and like everyone was out to get her. She and her boyfriend have been pan-handling for money for awhile but people are getting mad at them for doing it. She doesn't understand why people have to be so mean.

Gayle told me about her two young kids. They are a boy and a girl, ages 9 and 12. I saw her leave with some clothing.

Matthew told me how his mom died two weeks ago. She was his best friend. He misses her very much. He told me about how he had been in prison for doing heroin and how hard he was working to try to clean up his act. Despite his best efforts, he said he struggles to find work. He thinks people discriminate against him because of his tattoos.

Steve appeared to be in his 40s and seemed to appreciate just being treated decently.

I met Shellie, a transgender individual in awkward, dark glasses. She didn't want to use her legal male name anymore. She was trying to get an ID with her female identity. She wouldn't shake my hand because she said she had body lice.

I met a couple. Kenyata, the man (who said he was in the process of becoming a woman) had a place where he could sleep indoors every night but said he wasn't going to sleep indoors without his fiance, Shirley. He said they were getting married but weren't sure when. He said it cost $86 to get married and that $86 was a lot of money to them. He said a dollar was a lot of money to them. However, when I asked if he wanted to talk to someone about employment he declined and said he was retired. So they sleep outdoors together until they can find a way to raise enough money to get married.

One young guy who was 20 was very interested in help finding a job. Another guy was hoping to find out how to become a citizen so he could work legally.

I don't remember everyone. I was only supposed to spend about 10 minutes with each person. At the Runaway Switchboard, sometimes I spent my entire 2-hour shift talking with and trying to come up with solutions for someone. My level of involvement was different than I am used to but this was probably an ideal setting for me to be able to help homeless people. The time flew by. There were lots of people around for support which offered relative safety and boundaries.

Someone kissed my hand. More than one person said I was beautiful. I was thanked profusely for listening, caring and offering kindness. I had the easy job. I didn't have to try to meet their needs or explain to them why we sometimes couldn't provide what they wanted and thought they should receive.

Today, I wrote a letter to the mayor thanking him for what he is doing. I also told him about the National Runaway Switchboard and their model, thinking while these Project Homeless Connect events they are now holding every two months are wonderful; it would be great if there were a number like 1-800-CONNECT people in crisis could call to find out where to go for help in the meantime.

I know we didn't meet everyone's needs yesterday but we did extend a hand to people who need one and that is something.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

He inspires me to want to change the world.

My Dad's birthday is today, August 10th. How do I begin to tell you about my dad?

My dad loves me unconditionally. That, I have always known.

My dad cares for me, continually offering kindness and guidance.

My dad provides for me. He worked hard so my mom could stay home, so we would have extra money for season passes to the swimming pool, bikes, roller skates, amusement parks, family vacations all across the country, assisting with college educations and bailing me out when I needed it.My dad visits me and I know I am always welcome in his home.

My dad listens to me. He hears my hopes and dreams and wants them to become my reality. He is thrilled with my successes and accomplishments and accepting of me regardless.

My dad helps people. My entire life, my dad earned his living helping people. He says, he "flunked retirement." In NW Arkansas, he donates his time to a local children's shelter (in addition to numerous other pursuits). Today, I will spend my day helping others because I am my father's daughter.

My dad is faithful. My parents raised me in the church and instilled their upstanding values in me. He has always done what he felt was in the best interest of his family.

My dad is friendly. We often hosted Superbowl parties and got together frequently with other families in our communitiy.My dad is creative. He would author and deliver "Reddy Fox" stories for us at bedtime. He writes speeches that move people to tears.

My dad is brave. Although he didn't ask to, he served his country honorably in Vietnam. (He has recently written a book sharing about his experiences.) He is facing prostate cancer with calm resolve and the determination to live every day to the fullest. He is baffling the doctors with his continually improving test scores.

My dad makes my happiness a priority. He taught me how to ride a bike. He built tree houses for me. I still look fondly on weeping willow and crab apple trees because of the perches my dad built for me to spend time in them. Once, at an auction, he saw a pole digger and convinced my mom to let him buy it along with a telephone pole. He dug a hole in the middle of our backyard, poured cement into it and built a pulley swing that allowed us, and the neighborhood kids, to jump from our tree house and fly across the yard.My dad taught me about trees. He spends time with me observing, reflecting, noticing and appreciating beauty in nature and elsewhere. He helped me prepare a forestry book for my 4-H club that received the Reserved Grand Champion prize at the Cherokee county fair.

My dad took me hiking, camping and fishing. He even took us into the woods and let us shoot his guns at aluminum cans.My dad taught me to be capable and respects my opinions. As a child, I was allowed to form my own ideas. In my family, we could say, "I appreciate your suggestion and will take it into consideration" then still decide for ourselves.

My dad is a strategic planner and inductive thinker. From him, I learned to imagine a myriad of possibilities in nearly every situation.

My dad is still learning. He is considering starting a blog of his own. He knows way more about photography and Photoshop than I do. He is working on scanning photos from my childhood to share with me but right now, most of the ones I have are from Sam's.

My dad is an amazing husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and friend. Thank you for all you do, Dad and most of all, thanks for being you. Happy Birthday.