Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The American Dream.

When I was a little kid I believed in a lot of things that turned out not to be entirely true. The Eater Bunny and Tooth Fairy went 'poof' when I was around five. Old Man Christmas made one last descent down my chimney when I was eight and then I banished him to the realm of unicorns and the exploding-soda-and-pop-rocks-combination-farce.

I was also told, numerous times, that I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. If I put in enough time and effort (see...there are catches already) the sky was the limit. Soon, once I discovered the tumultuous realm of long division, I scratched my plans involving space travel or anything else that necessitated me having to use scratch paper to achieve my end result. I was a bit disillusioned because I no longer found this mantra of Americana to be absolutely true. But, oh well, I could still be a world class soccer player.

As I grew older I revised this idea of unbridled and boundless potential to include categories where I showed potential... Thought perhaps I could be whatever I wanted as long as there was inclination and ability (my World Cup soccer hopes were dashed when I discovered I was probably the slowest kid in a three-state radius). It doesn't sound quite as catchy,"You can be whatever you want if you happen to have some natural talent in that area, and if not, the likelihood goes waaaay down." But, I found this to be truer than what was explained to me as a child. The one constant, however, is that time and effort were still a crucial part of the equation.

But what happens if a child is very talented or gifted in an area but their life's circumstances do not afford them the chance to develop these skills? Okay, I understand there are incredible stories of successful adults that bucked the odds and overcame traumatic and difficult childhoods to become legends in spite of their environment. These people are not the norm and for every Horatio Algers that struck it rich there are a thousand children who might not ever get a decent opportunity to soar because they lack a few basic things.

Like proper nutrition. Kids who do not eat breakfast go to school hungry and studies show that this affects a child's academic performance. What about privacy? How does trying to study while sharing a room with two other siblings because there are five people living in a one-bedroom apartment factor into this equation?

What if this 10 year old has responsibilities that other kids don't. Cooking dinner and looking after the other children until their mom gets home from work at 7:30pm. Then they can start their homework. Or what if they get sick and cannot afford to go to the hospital? Oh... never mind, there are free and reduced clinics. This solves everything.

My point is this: It is laughable to assume there is a level playing field in America that gives all children an equal opportunity to succeed. This is not a political blog and I will not blame (or praise) any specific party or endorse a political ideology. My sole indictment is reserved for anyone who is able to help children but refuses to. So, what does this look like? That is up to you. Start a free breakfast program. Volunteer to be a tutor or help in an after school program. Become a coach or mentor.

Just don't tell a child that he or she can be whatever they want unless you are willing to be part of the journey.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A cup of Joe.

I am sitting here staring at this blank computer screen with no inspiration except a cup of the world's worst coffee. I'm serious, too. This java is rank. I've traveled a good bit and I rate this percolated monstrosity right up there with the stuff I drank in Port Au Prince last summer. Hey... wait a sec...

Maybe I could write about what it was like in Haiti last year and how I had never seen a country so utterly devastated yet still found many people so full of hope. Hope. Let's talk about that, instead. That's a neat little topic.

A long time ago there was a man from the Near Ancient East who called hope one of the three greatest attributes to humanity. Hope is an idea that looks into an abyss and sees a ray of light. It quells rationality and replaces it with the thought that things might get better. Okay, now perhaps I'm onto something: better.

For a thing to be 'better' there has to be a comparison to something that is not as good. It implies two (at a minimum) objects can be looked at objectively.... Oh! Objectivity. There's something to muse about. Now we're getting somewhere, aren't we?

If I am objective then I can divorce myself from any emotions that would try to creep into my life. Objectivity affords me the opportunity to go about my day and function rather than feel. This is so much better than having to face the issues that would require me to make the subtle changes... empathy over sympathy. Concern instead of condescension. Algerian author Albert Camus once said, "There is no possible salvation for the man who feels true compassion."

I, however, could just really use another cup of coffee. It's easier that way.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The vicious cycle.

*Vince has skills. For the better part of three decades he worked in several Portland restaurants. He went to culinary school for a while but eventually quit so he could garner more on the job experience. He learned everything from how to prep a kitchen and plan a menu to the art of managing a staff and the whole of the kitchen. He loved his job and was good at it.

Fast forward 10 years and you would be hard pressed to recognize Vince. He appears older than his 56 years. He needs dental work and he gave up shaving quite a few years ago. He has lost weight and fidgets a little when he gets too uncomfortable. But there is something about his eyes.

They are steel gray, and they seem conflicted. They appear muted and a person call tell they have seen much: A foreclosure and a chemical dependency issue. The death of his spouce and unemployment. Over ten years of homelessness.

But then, every now and again, they flicker and resonate with the sparkle they held in his younger days. He remembers his days working at various restaurants and he knows that he still has some things to offer. He is sober and industrious and wants to make a clean start but there is a monster looming on his horizon that seems unable to be vanquished: His resume is a bit lacking.

After bouncing around Portland he left Oregon for the Flathead Valley in 2001. These were amongst his darkest days and he battled every day just to find a reason to wake up the next morning. He took jobs as a dishwasher and janitor in the very types of restaurants he might have managed in his old life.

Vince has chosen to make some changes and has been sober for nearly 3 years although he has not worked for more than five. He is at a place in his life where he now feels like he is hireable and will be a good and reliable employee. He wants to work but has difficulty even landing an interview for a job that many people would turn their nose at. Some estimates say that there are nearly 100 applications for most job openings. Without a resume and credible, updated references, Vince faces a daunting task in the hunt for gainful, honorable employment.

Sometimes people just need a chance.

*Not his real name.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Samaritan House Thanks...

In late August, prior to the beginning of the Northwest Montana Fair in Kalispell, Samaritan House was blessed by some generous local businesses. Animals were purchased through the 4-H and the meat was donated to Samaritan House.

Thank you to the following organizations for such generous donations:

Flathead Electric Coop.
Kalispell Dairy Queen and Mary Dutter.
Bob and Laura White.
Alamon and Frank and Peg Gebhardt.

Valley Ford.
Jerry and Cynthia Kennedy.

Thank you to the following for processing the meat:

Lower Valley Meat Processing.

Meat Supply.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

4th Friday Lunch & Concert Series Sept 23rd

Andre Floyd - also known as Montana's Cultural Minister will be bringing his talents to the Samaritan House 4th Friday Concert Series on September 23rd.
Andre, the quintessential musician, has been all over the world with his special brand of music. He's worked with such greats as Taj Mahal, Edgar Winter, Corky Siegal and much more. The $10 admission includes lunch and will prove to be a great time.
Here are the details:

Friday, September 23rd

Noon - 1:30 pm

Samaritan House Administrative Center

1110 2nd Street West

Kalispell, MT

(the former Army Reserve Center on the corner of

Meridian Rd and 2nd St West)

$10 admission includes the concert and lunch

Monday, September 12, 2011

Where will you be?

We all have those times in our life that serve as reference points... the moments where the clock freezes and we're suspended in a state somewhere between bewilderment and denial. These situations might not totally define who we are, but they definitely contribute to our personal perspective on the world.

Ten years ago I took a team of volunteers to Ground Zero after the towers came down. We worked with the Salvation Army feeding the rescue workers around the clock in 12-hour shifts as they tried to extract bodies from the rubble. It marked me.

Many of us can recall with great specificity what we were doing on that day in 2001. It was an unintentional bonding moment most of us never want to relive. We were all changed. And while the memories still resonate and the feelings of that day will never quite fade totally into oblivion, time does have a way to add perspective that allows us to stop and catch our breath before we move on. If we can move on.

Lets be honest, this world is an indifferent place that often places us into scenarios that we did not foresee. We are often forced to react to situations that we never anticipated. Sometimes we face these demons alone and other times we are surrounded by an audience. But these times still come.

And they come often.

Devastation is not constrained to a universal form. Often it comes in waves that are still and quiet and excruciatingly painful. Other times is is a cacophony of confusion and chaos that screams for attention. Whatever the wrappings, it provides us an opportunity to make a choice. A chance to (re)define our livelihood. Will we embrace hope and move forward and cling to the belief that things will get better? Or will we resign ourselves to a fearful existence that cowers and makes no attempt to improve the situation?

Where will we be?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

And the results are in...

Executive Director Chris Krager wears many hats at Samaritan House. One day he might be locked up in meetings while the next he is bombarded with countless questions and people needing to bend his ear. He is gracious and listens and does his best to promote the general well being of his staff and residents.

One aspect of his job goes unseen by the public. Several times during the course of a year Chris turns into a self-imposed hermit so he can focus on writing grants that help secure the longevity of Samaritan House. It is no fun chore to stare at a computer screen and answer an absurd amount of questions for, literally, days upon days. Seriously, why bother?

The answer is simple. At the end of each project and marathon grant-writing session Chris doesn't see numbers or statistics. He sees people. Each percentage point is more than a statistical representation... it is a person who was helped. Seeing behind the numbers is a necessity in order to not lose the vision behind Samaritan House.

With that in mind, here are the numbers from the latest transitional housing APR summary. Transitional housing can be thought of as longer-term shelter with case management. The residents can stay for up to 2 years.

In 2010, Samaritan House Transitional Housing served 121 homeless people.
* 42 single adults
* 34 parents with 45 children

The average length of stay was seven months and one week.

29% were homeless veterans

31% were chronically homeless

65% were homeless families

79% of discharging clients went on to a greater permanency in housing

90% of discharged clients had an increased income
Upon discharge, clients experienced an average increase on income of $118 per month.

There were 5 clients that were unable to be served.

Two babies were born during the mother's stay.

One gentleman passed away.

91% average occupancy rate... we are almost always full.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Will a change do you good?

Throughout the course of history there have been a great deal of smart people. I take that back... brilliant people.

The same human gene pool that is responsible for terrible things like war and poverty and anything to do with late 1980s glam rock also can be credited for amazing things like solar energy and MRI machines and Honda Civics. Suffice it to say, we have been destroying and creating things since the first humans rubbed two sticks together.

There have also been some truly incredible ideas and philosophies that have been passed down through the halls of time. Such wisdom covering topics like survival (stop running with those scissors), health (a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips), and morality (if you don't want it done to you then stop doing it to others). Most of these are pretty right-on and have contributed to the evolution and development of all kinds of societies. There is one pithy saying, however, that might be worth some discussion.

"A change will do you good."

Now, let's be honest. Most of us have uttered these six words at some point in our life. Usually, it corresponds with a situation where we are experiencing some chaos or disequilibrium in our life and the best thing we can think of is to get outta Dodge as quickly as possible. The idea is that if we can distance ourselves from whatever is momentarily plaguing us, we can catch our breath and recover and all will be right with the universe until it is time for another change to do us even better.

The problem, as I see it, is that all change does is extract us from one scenario and plop us down into virgin territory where we are likely to face the same issues from a whole different perspective. The change we make has potential to be a catalyst for a better life, but it should not be the ideal we seek. Really, all a change does is give you an opportunity. If we are honest, we could just as easily argue that "a change might do us ill."

I propose the new statement should be this... (cue the drum roll but then be prepared for disappointment). "Improvement will do us good!" Now, right about now you are likely thinking this is so elementary and self-evident that it really goes without saying. I will concede that point, but than ask why isn't the expression "an improvement will do us good"?

Because improvement takes effort and time and work and is messy. Improving our situation entails more than packing up and switching zip codes. Improvement acknowledges that our problems might actually follow us to said zip codes. Improvement says the problem could actually be us and not Kansas. What changes do we need to make in our life? What support network do we have to rely on? It might be difficult, but it can be done.

Do we see hope at the end of the tunnel or just more tail lights from our rearview mirror as we flee another situation in a desperate attempt to simply change our way out of a bad time?