Hello, my friends. I can’t believe this is month 10 of this project. You aren’t making the monthly decision any easier. I really hope this post finds you well and enjoying some cooler weather finally! I’m jealous of the snow pictures from some of you. It was 91 in Austin last week!
It’s been a hard last few weeks for so many folks. Though most of the cameras have moved on to the next trending catastrophe, many, many people all over the world continue to try and recover from natural disasters and violence. The mass shooting in Las Vegas and the senseless murder of a policeman in the town where I grew up have been on my mind a lot. There are empty spots at dinner tables where loved ones used to sit, and in some cases missing dinner tables and/or still no place to put one even if you had one. For some, there is very little, if anything, to eat for dinner anyway. I always wish I had some words of wisdom or some other way to soothe people. I don’t know what else to do in the face of these things, but to continue to try and help where I can.
Before I tell you about where the money is going this month, let me tell you a little story. Years ago, while I was still in law school, I was asked to be on the Board of Directors for Women’s Protective Services of Lubbock. I knew they ran a shelter for abused women and that’s about all I knew. One of the first steps in joining the Board was to get a tour of the facility (the offices, program rooms, and shelter). The tour was given by the Executive Director. I was expecting a gymnasium like room with cots and some movable curtains for privacy. I am sure I had seen something like that in some movie.
As is often the case when I make assumptions, I was dead wrong. The vibe of the place was positive. Every decision was guided by an insistence on treating the clients with dignity and helping them see a new normal that did not include emotional, financial, physical, or sexual abuse. I was immediately impressed, but I still almost declined the invitation to join the Board. I almost declined because I felt like I just could not ever identify with any of the clients in a meaningful way. What kind of leader or help could I be with no understanding of what any of them had been through? I had never been abused. I had never been physically afraid for my safety. I didn’t grow up exposed to any domestic violence. I’d never even been in a situation where I couldn’t just walk away from someone who was a jerk. I’m not proud of it now, but back then I was probably in the “why don’t they just leave and go on with their lives” camp. And I sure wouldn’t have thought that people in that shelter had anything to teach me.
I made the decision to join the Board to try and help despite my ignorance about the situation. I tried really hard to learn everything I could and not talk too much for a long time. I read a lot about domestic violence. WPS has a wonderful policy that the Board always has to include a certain number of domestic violence survivors. I think about those specific Board members often because of how much they taught me about leadership and power and courage and resilience. Many of them weren’t experts on business or finance or law or human resources or anything that you think might help lead an organization, but they were experts on our clients and always reminded us of exactly why we were there.
I ended up being on the Board for several years and was privileged to serve as Treasurer and President for a few terms. I often look back on that time. I wonder if those Board members or the clients we served know that they have probably helped me more than I ever helped them. I left the Board when I moved to Houston. I left there with a knowledge that you can help and support people you don’t understand or have much in common with if you are open to really hearing them and letting them lead you no matter which one of you has the official title. Once you allow yourself to break open a little by listening to and learning from people that you may think have nothing to teach you, you find that there is common ground, common humanity in us all. I consider it one of the most enriching experiences of my life.
This month, I had the chance to experience all of that again somewhat – a little more breaking open to try and help some folks that at first glance I may have nothing in common with and don’t really understand.
The Executive Director mentioned in the story above has been a friend of mine since that first tour. She’s got a heart for helping other people as big as Dallas and works at it like the Energizer Bunny. We’ve shared more than a few beers over the years, laughed together more times than I can count, and cried together too when necessary. She now works for a university here in Texas and runs their program for inmates in three Texas prisons to earn a degree while they are incarcerated. The program currently has 114 participants. The inmates have to pay all the fees to participate. Participants must have 5 years of good behavior while incarcerated, no behavioral issues during their schooling, and must be within 5 years of release. The goal is to give these people a way to make a living when they are released and, of course, to instill some confidence and hope in them for the future. This month, my friend asked me for the $1,000 to provide scholarships to 3 inmates who are close to graduation and don’t quite have the funds raised to pay for the last semester. These funds will allow 3 inmates who have already put in lots of work on their own to pay for their final semester and finish their degree in May of 2018. That’s where I am sending the money this month.
It’s easy enough for me, and maybe you too, to think that I have nothing in common with these inmates and no reason to help. Maybe you can think of some good reasons why this money should have gone somewhere else this month. Those thoughts crept into my mind too. I got requests this month for people who really need help and aren’t in jail. If that is what you are thinking, I’ll challenge you, like I have to continuously challenge myself – break open. I often fail at it, but I intend to keep trying. Help someone who you could dismiss as unworthy based on some preconceived judgments. Help someone who seems like they got themselves into a bad situation. Help someone you don’t understand or think you have nothing in common with. I think we do have more in common with such folks than we might like to admit, and touching that common ground, that common humanity, has always been good for me. It’s also something that feels like it’s missing from a lot of what is going on in our world today.
Peace, my friends. And thank you for coming on this journey with me.
Hello, my friends. For those of you whose life has been torn up by recent natural disasters, I hope you are beginning to return to some normalcy. I know you have a long road ahead, but I hope you feel some progress towards recovery. For my friends in Florida, please stay safe and on high ground. Let me know how you are doing if you can.
I got what I expected this month – a lot of suggestions. Most of them were related to disaster recovery, but I got some others as well. It was hard to make a decision. As usual, the suggestions showed me how many people really want to help others. Some suggestions even came from people who were flooded themselves but knew of others who could really use some help. Thank you all for sharing your stories and the stories of your friends and family with me. There was so much need this month. If you have been following along you know that since May I’ve been able to giveaway $1000 a month thanks to my generous friend Ryan matching my $500. This month, I decided to split up the money and send $500 to two people.
The first recipient is a single mom of two daughters. They live in Houston and they lost their house and almost all their belongings in flooding from Hurricane Harvey. I heard about her through a friend of mine from law school. I reached out to tell this woman who I was and that I was sending her $500 for her to use in whatever way she felt would help her family the most. She was incredibly appreciative, but the very next thing she said was that she was looking forward to the day she could pay this forward when she was back on her feet. She also said the whole thing has been devastating, but this surprise helped to give her hope.
The second recipient is a young lady who was renting a space that had a catastrophic roof leak during the storm. She is going to have to replace basically everything she owns, all while trying to wrap up some school and continuing to work. Two friends of mine suggested her. When I contacted her she was speechless and I think had a hard time accepting the money because she is painfully aware of so many others who are struggling right now. After some discussion she said this would really help relieve some stress and get things back to normal. She also said she would like to use some of the money to help her sister who was also hit pretty hard by the storm. I told her that I wanted her to use the money in whatever way felt best to her.
Thank you again for your suggestions this month (and every month).
UPDATE! – After I made the above post a friend contacted me to say that she and her husband wanted to help. Fred and Trina Pecina just sent me $500 so we are going to have a third recipient this month. Wow!
The third recipient is a family of 4 – mom, dad and two young kids. They lost most of their stuff, including cars, to Harvey! Both parents work as first responders. The husband worked around the clock during the emergency and mom has had to be off work a lot to take care of trying to restore some order to their lives, salvage and clean what they can, and take care of the kiddos. The apartment is not a safe environment for their kids so the family has also been separated some, which makes everything even tougher. I’ll be sending funds to them as soon as possible!
Thanks again for all your suggestions and thanks to Fred and Trina for their generosity!
This month’s giveaway is in honor of and with the greatest of appreciation to:
- My wonderful family members involved in education – mom, my aunt, my brother-in-law, both of my grandmothers, one grandfather, my sister, and numerous cousins.
- The mom, two uncles, an aunt, a grandmother, and other family of Ryan (my generous friend who adds $500 to this project each month).
- Every educator who touched my life, who put up with me and taught me, sometimes in spite of myself. I assure you none of them got paid enough for dealing with me.
- Each teacher, counselor, coach, administrator, nurse, janitor, bus driver, and every other person who is getting ready to start another year of taking care of and teaching our kids about reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic – and sharing, and honesty, and helping others, and standing up for themselves, and getting back up when they fall down, and working hard to reach a goal.
It’s back to school time! I know that most of the people who work with our children end up spending money out of their own pocket for their teaching supplies, room decorations, and to help buy things their students need but can’t afford. This month, I thought it would be nice to try and help out a little if we could.
I know almost all educators could use a little extra money to start the year, but I decided I needed to set some kind of limit on who might be eligible or I’d have hundreds of friends of friends who were interested. I also didn’t want to split the $1,000 up into so many pieces that it didn’t help anyone very much. I decided each recipient would get $100 and if I had more than 10 FB educator friends who wanted to participate I would just have to put names in a hat and draw 10 out. When I counted up the folks who said they wanted to participate, I ended up with 15 names.
I personally know all 15 of the educators who are interested and I know they give of themselves constantly for the kids they serve. Best laid plans and all that – I decided that I’d put in some extra money this month so all 15 folks would get $100. I’ve disappointed enough teachers in my life – I didn’t want to disappoint 5 more this month. 😉 I’ll be contacting all the recipients today and getting the money out to them as soon as possible.
If you’ve been along for the fun on this project so far, you know that I often give a little time for readers to add some additional money to the pot for the recipient. I wanted to get this money in the recipients’ hands as soon as possible so I’m not doing it that way this month. If you find yourself thinking “I love teachers – I would have pitched in for this month” right now, let me encourage you to send some money to a teacher you know – it doesn’t have to be $100. Why not give a teacher you know a $10 Target gift card if that is what you can afford? I am sure every little bit helps. If any of you don’t know a teacher, I can help you find someone. Just shoot me a message.