Wednesday, April 27, 2011

School Lunch

Is there anything better than lunch with friends?

I attend a lot of lunches:  charity events, meetings, programs with lunch after, lunches to thank someone for doing something, and more – but my favorite kind of lunch is about 8 girls sitting around a table, preferably at someone’s home, just shooting the breeze and laughing.

I think that it takes me back to being in school where you’d get to eat lunch with your friends, then run back off to class.  It was a fun break in the day.  It still is for me.

But for abused and neglected kids, school lunch isn’t always such a fun time.  It is the time when they are ostracized, the time when they are bullied, the time when it is stuck right in their faces that they aren’t “normal”.  You see, when your parents treat you like dirt, you have trouble fitting in.  You might act out and get into fights with other kids, or you might just withdraw completely.  When your parents tell you that you’re worthless and dumb, you believe them – and you believe that others can see it too.

Community Partners of Dallas is gearing up for our Back-to-School Drive and we’d really appreciate your help.  When we can get a child out of a bad living situation, move him in with a relative,  and get him a new backpack full of new school supplies and a new uniform, well, all of sudden he is not the “weird kid”.  He just might find a friend or two to sit with at lunch.

And that might change his life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

From Garages to Pasta Factories

Recently, I was lucky enough to hear Alan C. Lowe of the new Dallas-based George W. Bush Library speak.  Alan was a great speaker and it was so interesting to hear about his journey.  He has worked in starting up many of the Presidential Libraries across the country.
The Bush Library papers and other items are currently housed in a storage space out in Lewisville and will make their way to SMU in the next couple of years.  Alan raved about how nice the Lewisville facility was in comparison to some of the other libraries he had helped start up.  He told us that the Reagan Library started in a pasta factory and the other Bush library in College Station began in a combo chinese restaurant and bowling alley.  Of course we all roared when he told us that he found President Clinton a used car dealership!
Anyway, this got me thinking about how so many charities get started and where they began.  I asked some of the smartest women I know – my friends in my Leaders Circle.  We are all CEO’s of non-profit agencies in Dallas and most of us have been meeting almost monthly for more than 8 years through the Center for Non-Profit Management’s program.
Here is what they said:
Tanya McDonald of the Dallas AfterSchool Network:
DASN began in Janet’s living room.  That's where we had our first meeting of afterschool providers.  After the organization was officially launched, Janet, Terri, and I were the three full-time volunteers and we worked from our respective homes for about a year.  We didn't even have a DASN phone # so people would call for DASN and they'd dial our homes.  That was weird when a child or spouse would answer.  After a year we were invited to share space at a Comerica Bank with another charity.  It was free and that was great, but it was just one big room for two different agencies.  Definitely a little odd.   Needless to say, our current home is simply incredible.  
Linda L. Schoelkopf of Junior Achievement of Dallas, Inc.:
I’m not sure how we started here in Dallas…but I do know that nationally we were founded by the same men (yes, men) who started 4-H, who were worried about those farm kids coming to the city without knowing how the “real world” worked – in a manufacturing plant…
Thea Temple of The Writer’s Garret:
We began on Jack and my living room floor. It was prior to Windows on computers or jpegs or any of that, so when we made flyers, we cut stuff out from magazines and pasted them on and xeroxed them; we also got a stamp that had movable type for our return address, checks going to the bank, etc. We met weekly for a critique group, then started an outreach program for seniors in elderly living homes, visited schools trying to get a writers-in-the-schools program going, and then finally partnered with the MAC to co-sponsor a reading series (they had the $$, and we had the expertise). Jack was so connected to the literary world in Dallas that it was easy to get writers involved with our programs and organization, but hard to get anyone connected with wealth or corporations interested. We've made a lot of headway since then, of course, but not nearly enough!

And Dolores Sosa Green of Trinity River Mission sent me this:
As promised, attached is a picture of the little house where TRM first began. Although it looks like its ready to fall apart, it definitely held many kids and their families together and inspired them to dream big.

How great is that?
Our other Leader’s Circle Member, Harriet Boorhem of Promise House, Inc., must have been too busy helping teens to report back, but I know that she – and every other founder or CEO – has a story of how and why their agency began.
Community Partners of Dallas was started 22 years ago by some women who wanted to help abused and neglected children.  They were former Junior League of Dallas’ members, so they knew they needed to do a lot of research to figure out the best way to help the kids.  These remarkable women decided that the best way to help the kids was through the caseworkers of Child Protective Services and an idea was born – and that idea has helped more than 100,000 children, just through our Rainbow Room program alone.  But back in the beginning our founders had no place to store the clothes, and shoes, and hygiene products that the kids needed.  The garages and trunks of cars all over town were full of stuff for our kids.  Finally, the State of Texas saw how much these volunteers were doing to help the kids, as well as their employees (the caseworkers), and gave our founders a small bit of space in the CPS building.  The Container Store came to the rescue with shelving and Junior League of Dallas’ Provisional Members painted a rainbow on the wall – that’s how the name of our largest program, The Rainbow Room, was found!
I can go on and on about the evolution of CPD – lots of moves, lots of storage units, lots of donors allowing us to use donated space for storage – but it would be too much to write today.
 Just know that if you are a small agency now, you will have growing pains.  You will end up storing stuff in your garage.  You will share office space with boxes of stuffed animals.  But it is worth it.
And thanks to The Meadows Foundation, CPD is not in the market for a used car dealership.  Yet.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What is the meaning of an Easter Basket?

To supplement our 365 days-a-year work of providing clothes, shoes, and hygiene products, etc., CPD holds drives several times a year to provide additional items to the kids with open cases at CPS:
·         Back-to-School provides backpacks with supplies and uniforms to about 1,800 kids
·         Coats to 1,400 kids in the fall
·         Toys at Christmas for 5,000 kids
The Back-to-School and Coat drives provide essential and necessary items to our kids for survival, and really I would argue that the Toy Drive at holiday time is also absolutely necessary for helping our kids to gain a sense of normalcy. 
But we have a fourth drive:
·         Easter Baskets
Even I can see how Easter Baskets might not be considered an essential item.  In December, every kid on the block is going to get a toy or two.  Kids crave the feeling of “fitting in” and they need a toy to do it.  But not every kid is going to receive an Easter Basket this year. 
Do our kids at Community Partners of Dallas really need an Easter Basket?
Maybe not, but what that Basket represents is really needed.  Yes, I’m a Christian and I am thrilled that these kids will get a remembrance of the Easter Season, even if they don’t know what it means.  But that is not why the Baskets are truly needed.  And yes, I know that pretty much anyone is glad to receive a basket with candy and toys.  But that is not why the Baskets are truly needed.
Imagine that you are a CPS investigative caseworker.  You are headed to a home because a teacher called in a report of abuse and you are going to knock on that door and start asking a lot of personal questions of the parent who answers that door – A LOT of personal questions.  You are going to ask to come inside her apartment, look inside her refrigerator, check for bug and rodent droppings, ask to see her child, take notes and photographs, question that parent about her work, her personal life, her habits, and more.  One of our caseworkers told me once that doing this work was just his job every day, but that he always remembers that it is the worst day ever for the person with whom he is talking.
And this is why the Easter Baskets are important.  Instead of knocking on that door and saying “I’m here to look at you, your kid, and more”, that caseworker can say, “I’m here to talk to you about all of these things, plus I’ve brought Easter Baskets for the kids.”
It helps that parent to see that the caseworker is there to help them.  To bring a little joy to their child.  And that (in turn) helps that parent to open up and start talking.  To stop the abuse and start the healing.
Thank you so much if you donated to or volunteered for our Easter Basket Drive.  The caseworkers will be here bright and early tomorrow morning to pick them up.  Healing begins asap.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Are you Over-Parenting Your Teen?

I recently read a book that I could not put down.  It was recommended to me by a cute gal that I was seated next to at a luncheon.  The two of us got to talking and realized that we both loved to read and started recommending books to one another.  I recommended The Memory of Running to her (Have you finished it yet, Alyson?) and she recommended The Hunger Games to me.
I am telling you, The Hunger Games is amazing.  The book is by Suzanne Collins and has been marketed as young adult fiction, so it wasn’t something I would normally have even considered (although The Book Thief was also marketed that way and it is absolutely spectacular…).  The Hunger Games is the first book in a trilogy. 
Although I have already purchased the rest of the series, I haven’t started them yet because I still can’t get over The Hunger Games. 
It’s like I don’t want to move forward just yet.  I’m not quite ready to let the main characters, Katniss and Peeta, grow older or change.
But isn’t that the way we are as parents sometimes?  Our kids become teenagers, but we still fight all their battles for them.  We choose their clothing.  Make their hair appointments.  Schedule their volunteer service.
I have heard of parents who call college professors to argue about whether their baby deserved a “C” on the exam.  Storm the sorority house when their daughter gets cut during rush.  Call and wake their children up for class every morning. 
On a side note – I blame cell phones for a lot of this over-parenting.  When I walked out the door of my parent’s home, they couldn’t easily find me.  I think we both liked it that way!
Now, I know that the forgotten teens we serve at Community Partners of Dallas would absolutely LOVE a parent who cared enough to fight their battles – but that is not who I am thinking about today.  I’m thinking about parents who need to let go a little.
Let your teenagers and young adults make a mistake.  Make them accept the consequences.  If my mother hadn’t told me I’d have to start paying rent to live with her after college, I’d probably still be living there. 
And I never would have found work that I love.