Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Battle Tested

I was recently hanging out with my family pretending that I wasn't watching a popular show that shall remain nameless so I can hold my head up high the next time I enter a man-cave. Its a contest where people sing and four judges vie for their attention so the performer will join their team and compete against other singers who have been snatched up by the other judges. After a few minutes I was only partly listening until something caught my attention.

A segment of the show was introduced and the singers were supposed to sing in a "battle round" where the weaker performer would be eliminated and the better singer would move forward in the competition. I am a competitive person by nature so I like a good contest but for whatever reason I just couldn't buy into the concept that what was happening was a battle. A battle is a struggle with dire consequences and ominous implications, not two kids singing One Direction covers.

I know this might be a pet peeve and perhaps I need to lighten up and embrace the musical hyperbole, but I was having a difficult time conceptualizing what was unfolding as a battle. I've known too many people with issues in their life that have been truly difficult to overcome; real battles. The kind that keep you up at night because they are heartbreakingly real and imply genuine attrition. Again, I'm probably nitpicking to an unhealthy degree but I couldn't help think of a some of the people I've met over the years and how they have waged battles with abuse and addiction and domestic violence. These are true warriors because they have counted a cost and sacrificed things to succeed and achieve victory.

My intent is not to quibble with network television and launch a crusade against reality shows that reward excellent singers. I can appreciate their commitment and the journey they embark upon to reach their dreams. I am merely asking us to consider the sacrifices of others who will never stand on a stage and have the whole world applaud their personal victories.

We all wage battles of different degrees.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Movin' On Up


Just the mere mention of this word sends people into a panic. This laborious activity separates acquaintances from friends and best friends from fantasy football league friends. No one enjoys packing the contents of their life into boxes. Its tiresome, expensive, tedious, and stressful. After doing some research, I realized there were no concrete statistics telling how many times a person moves during their lifetime. Most of the data (US Census Bureau, HUD, and numerous others) suggests the average American moves 11-16 times during the course of their life. Staggering, eh?!

Initially, I thought these numbers were too high. I can rattle off many people who have been firmly planted at their current residence for decades. My grandparents lived in the same house for almost 50 years with nary a UHaul van ever gracing their driveway. But that was a different generation. And as times continue to change (now I sound like my grandparents), residential longevity and stability are fleeting concepts. After a while, it dawned on me that I've moved close to 10 times already and I'm not even close to 'grandparent' age.

There are too many reasons to list that prompt people to move. Pursuing an education or a job are common enough and require effort. Transfers or military duty are other factors as well as retirement or simply wanting a different pace of life or change of scenery. And, don't forget meeting that special person online and moving to meet them. That always ends well! These moves, while difficult, can produce positive changes in an individual or family.

But there are other reasons spawned from less enviable circumstances. Loss of employment or domestic violence can also result in moving, and often the quality of life decreases. Not being able to pay rent or a mortgage can result in more than packing and storing boxes. The emotional toll suffered during these times can be devastating. Humiliation, frustration, and a sense of failure can accompany those forced to leave one place for another. Often, its most difficult for children who must leave friends and family to switch school districts and familiar environments. Parents feel the gravity of the situation as they cannot provide for their families in ways they deem responsible.

The responsibilities of operating a homeless shelter are bogged down with spread sheets, fundraising, legalities, and endless other types of logistics. But at the end of the day it all comes down to the fundamental issue of offering a quality of life for our residents that will help them retain the dignity needed until they can secure permanent residency somewhere. For every ledger filled out, or board meeting attended, we cannot lose sight of the bigger picture. It is our honor to make the moving process as easy as possible for our residents.

After all, moving is just one step along the journey.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Cut It Out

The aisles stretched forever. Boxes and cans sat next to bottles and packages, all neatly arranged to entice the shoppers to pluck them off their shelves and toss them into a cart. The labels were brightly covered with cartoon animals and photoshopped models, guaranteeing the buyer everything from improved health to eternal happiness. Caloric intake and suggested servings warned of the dangers of gluttony, but she knew that wouldn't be a problem.

Having too much was never the problem.

Shopping on a budget is tedious and takes dedication to detail. While it might be easier and more expedient to abandon comparative pricing, it is not financially viable. A few dollars here and a couple cents there add up and can make a profound difference at the checkout register. Many Americans cannot afford to hit the grocery story and simply whirl their way up and down the aisles, irreverently grabbing items with no genuine concern toward the final bill.

Stretching a dollar has become an art form and those who have mastered this medium are reaping the benefits available to anyone willing to put the work in. Too many Americans live paycheck to paycheck and have adopted using coupons as a necessary means to cope with decreasing wages and increasing food prices.

An article released by the Media General News Service reports that 89% of Americans use coupons in some form when they grocery shop. Annual savings can range between $1,500 - $5,000, depending on the size of the family and the amount of coupons used. Recently, couponing has become trendy and even been the subject of television shows and documentaries. Quite simply, saving money is worth the time, energy, and effort involved. Whereas there once might have been a stigma attached to using coupons, (it was only for the poor) it now is practiced by an overwhelming majority of America. Just another reminder we all have much more in common than we realize.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Summer Sun and Fighting Hunger

Every few days we are allowed a brief moment of hope and anticipation that summer will eventually arrive. May is almost upon us and while we are cautiously eyeing that box in the attic labeled "shorts and tank tops," we still know we mustn't stow away gloves and boots quite yet. We look forward to summer because the weather is accommodating and we can move our lives outdoors for a few months.

I recently read an article by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) stressing another aspect of summer other than enjoyment: food insecurity. This happens when families are unsure of how they will eat during the summer. Childhood obesity and hunger are two conditions heightened during the summer because of the challenges faced by families with low incomes. Two reasons for this are a lack of exercise and poor nutritional habits. Because children of poorer homes are often left alone during the day because both parents work, they fall prey to these issues with greater regularity than families who have at least one parent or caregiver at home with the children.

During the school year, children are provided with food, snacks, and regular exercise. This is not always the case during the summer. So while many of us are excited about the prospects of a few months' respite, it is a wholly different experience for others. Those long summer days that stretch and run together into endless moments of warmth and recreation can also feel like a prison sentence to others.

Low-income parents and their children can fall into cycles of food deprivation and overeating, which FRAC defines as the practice of skipping meals to stretch finances and then overeating to compensate. This is a dangerous practice that contributes to potential health problems for both parent and child. We believe it is crucial to the physical and emotional well-being of children to have adequate and nutritious meals during the summer.

Families have always been a top priority for Samaritan House and we will always fight to provide an environment that seeks to help children when their parents are unable to produce the proper nutritional requirements and sustenance needed. Your donations are an important part of this process. Because of your investment into what we do, we are able to provide meals every day for those in need.

And we all know its easier to enjoy the summer when your belly is full.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Danger of Ignorance

Nothing is more frustrating than knowing there is a problem but not understanding how to solve it. It can be infuriating when we try to fix things but are unable to make a positive difference. Working in social services entails a certain level of struggle because there are always problems and issues that arise and sometimes our resources and finances are quite limited.

We plug along as best we can and are thankful for the kindness and graciousness of others who volunteer and help. Often, people ask what the hardest part of this job is and I suppose it depends on the day. Working with the homeless presents numerous challenges and people usually think most difficulties stem from a lack of financial resources. And this is an issue of paramount importance. When we lack the money to make repairs and finance our projects, people inevitably suffer. But I'm not sure this is the most formidable obstacle in our path.

There is a popular saying that goes, "Ignorance is bliss." This is calloused admission that many people are happy to enjoy their lives at the expense of others who need assistance simply because they don't know what is happening in the world around them. When people refuse to look at the issues affecting their communities and continue living as if nothing is wrong, ignorance evolves into indifference. And while ignorance is bad enough, indifference is worse because it is an intentional form of neglect and abuse.

We live in a society centered around instant access and easily-available information. The days are long gone when we can claim (with a straight face) we are unaware of the problems facing our communities. Ignorance is no longer a viable excuse to avoid helping others and Samaritan House will be the first to acknowledge that contributing to the needs of others is a costly endeavor. It takes time, effort, and energy to make a difference. So we applaud all of you who have partnered with us over the years.

Pretending homelessness does not exist will not solve the issue or make it go away. Not only is ignorance not bliss, it is a killer.