Let’s Discuss Dignity

Twenty-two years ago I spent two days laying face down, crying into my living room carpet . Everything I had tried just failed.  Big things, a thousand small things, all of the things had slipped from my grasp and I was failing.

I had been psyched up to be a wife, and a young stay at home mother, and maybe someone who completed a BA down the road if I found time in my suburban dream. Instead, my relationship crumbled, Mervyn’s fired me (because I was obviously falsifying comment cards, it was impossible that I could be so good with people…but ask me about this another time), and I had 3/4ths of a degree in Physical Therapy with no way to get back into my life as I had known it.

When it “got real”, I pulled out the phone book, found the blue pages of government listing service and looked up the address to the Welfare Office. Bleakness.  I walked into to a dim green room where my shoes stuck to the floor and I will never be certain if the puddle in the chair next to me was apple juice, but I’ve decided to believe it was. In my hands I held a ten page, double sided application, and a pen. I could not fill it out. I must have made five trips to the Help Desk and I still wasn’t comfortable. I met with an eligibility worker who shamed me; pointed out that all the other white people on the building were employees, and send me home with a list of needed documents and a follow up appointment.  That was the day I walked back into my little apartment and folded onto the floor wondering if if I could ever get up again.

Twenty years later, or 2 years ago, I had my Bachelor’s Degree is Sociology, my own car, house, and no debt at all. I found my revenge on the County Welfare system by becoming an employee within it in a job that allowed me to do outreach work and volunteer in my community. My baby was off at  college, but a second child had arrived and I was still a single mother – only by this time I was doing okay. Education, house, career, and home life were all neatly checked off in the Success column.

   The floors of the Welfare office must never get washed.

I had this thought as I was lying face down in the lobby of the GAIN office in Burbank. Just seconds before I was walking a client to the door when the room spun and the floor ate my face. My doctors pulled me out of work and put me on medical leave.

Medical leave is nice and all, but waiting for Disability to come in so I could pay my bills and feed my youngest daughter was nerve-wracking. I had some concerns. I shared these thoughts with the front desk volunteer at MEND one Thursday morning in late January. I was in the San Fernando Road  office working on the silent auction for the Gala fundraiser my local non-profit throws to breathe life into their programs designed to help people survive in an impoverished neighborhood and find ways to leave that desperate economic strata. As we talked, Adela, the volunteer, walked me into the intake room and put me at a desk.  When a third person walked in, Adela said “This is Sonya and she needs to see if she qualifies for your program.” She smiled down at me and whispered “Come to my desk if you have problems with the forms” and disappeared down the hall. A week later an EBT card arrived in the mail.

This was the MEND effect.

Meet each need with dignity.

I was treated with dignity, and not because I volunteered for MEND, but because that is how MEND works. Some Saturdays I walk in through the floor to ceiling glass doors and stand by that reception desk just to watch the flow of faces. Little kids sit laughing at the tables, parents chat in the waiting room chairs, someone is always knitting in front of the clothing boutique, and bent senior citizens angle their grinning faces up to each other while they wait for food, or a medical appointment, or whatever special program is  offered that day.

Mend staff on Oscar night at universal stidios
MEND staff at their fundraising gala

The floor is not sticky. The room is not dim. The chairs are dry and clean. In my five years of volunteering for MEND, I must have had the opportunity to sit in every chair and even the one I broke in Lupe’s office was clean. I never intended to be a MEND client, even momentarily, and I never felt like one. I don’t think anyone does.

I’m used to volunteering at MEND

The MEND Effect is a design feature that started with the Rose family who just wanted to do a little something nice for their neighbors and then let others in on their idea until it grew into the community icon it is today.

MEND is not the heart of Pacoima. MEND is the limbic system that connects all of the other vital parts of the community ; politicians, doctors, dentists, tutors, teachers, schools, grocery stores, dance teachers, Health educators, financial institutions like Home Street Bank and Wells Fargo, ophthalmologist, dental and nursing students and their programs, the Welfare to Work program, courts, and more all touch and mingle in the bright beautiful building at Pierce and San Fernando Road and in the ETC nestled into the heart of Van Nuys Boulevard. MEND staff are likely to shake hands with a Board of Supervisors Member with the same warmth and enthusiasm they shared while clasping  hands with an elderly client.

Nene with “young volunteers “.

You will hear that MEND is volunteer run. Seasonal volunteers, like me, drop in for special programs like the Santa’s Workshop, Christmas in the Spring, and Head to Toes. Day to day volunteers answer the phones, pack food boxes, drive delivery trucks, teach English, send out mail, scheadule medical, vision, and dental appointments and perform the technical arts of Dentistry and Medicine. Volunteers are everywhere and they are hard to spot unless they come in the form of a Scout Troop. (It is safe to say that eleven-year-olds are not on the payroll.) MEND volunteers are trained, knowledgeable and efficient. This is not accident. Every volunteer is assigned to a department and each department has  staff members tasked with being an expert in their area and teaching their volunteers everything they know. Sharing their knowledge keeps the program alive and the volunteers take these skills back to the neighborhood where they are passed around again and the entire community is better educated, elevated and healthier.

The first time I used the EBT card (it is in my wallet as a reminder, ask and I will show you) was at Food 4 Less in Van Nuys and Glenoaks. The cashier leaned over and whispered “If you need more help than that, go to MEND”.

Volunteers at the 2017 Gala

 Poverty and food scarcity is only a paycheck in either direction. I donate money, time, and goods to MEND because I keep being reminded of this unfortunate truth. Through MEND, poverty can be survived with dignity.

Dignity will pull you up off the floor, not push you down in tears.

Poor People Shouldn’t Buy…

I don’t want my tax dollars to pay for all kinds of things. When my taxes are spent with the Military, I am not asked for an opinion about which brand of ammunition should be purchased. My Education tax dollars do not give me an invitation to decide which texts should be in the curriculum, the placement of desks in a room, the subcontracted uniform vendor elections. My say in how my taxes are used kind of end with me forking over the money and an occasional ballot item.

And then there is the views on Cash Aid and Food Stamps.

Everyone has views on how the recipients should be selected and how they might be allowed to use the funds.

“I don’t want Food Stamps to pay for steaks”

“Food Stamps should only buy fresh veggies, not frozen or canned”

“People on cash aid should have to spend every dollar they have and sell every belonging and become homeless before they are allowed to apply for cash assistance”

“Cash Aid should not be accessible through ATM machines in theme parks . . . because no poor people should ever go to Universal Studios or be gifted with a trip to Disneyland.”

“Medicaid funds should only cover broken bones and emergencies, I do’t want to supplement Big Pharma, Birth Control, dental care or anything more than a band aid for those poor people.”

“Why do beggars or buskers singing for money even have guitars?”


I am wondering…. do you think your say ends when you pay?

Why do we feel okay judging the worthiness of individuals because we actually see them use the program next to us in the grocery line and other public places? Do we judge because we associate poverty with being bad?


Please comment and tell me how you feel about this.

An American Tail

A story of immigrants , Jews, family, love, and the American Dream. It is the story of a family running from Russian oppression . 

Now, more than when this movie was first released, it is relevant . 

“AMERICA, another fairy tale . ..”

It is on STARZ, tune in and watch.

Be a Safety Pin

Hopefully you were told to “be kind” when you were growing up.

Hopefully you were told to “do unto others as you wanted them to do to you“.

Hopefully were told to be loving and tolerant and accepting of others.

But maybe you weren’t, and maybe you are a special snowflake who needed to be first and needed to think that you are better than everyone else. Maybe you just accidentally discovered that things were easier for you than they were for everyone. Maybe you are entitled to the best of everything and to have strangers smile for you and move so that you have a place to sit on the bus.

Maybe you never thought that racism was a real thing because it never impacted you, no matter what color your skin was. Maybe you think you’re  color-blind because you never noticed that your friends came from other cultures or ethnicities or colors.

None of that excuses you from recognizing the fact the not everyone is treated as equals in a country where our Constitution says ” all men are created” equals….(unless you were a black man because then you were 3/4th of a person and women were still property….).

Life is not fair but you should be. You should be fair.

I have read the Torah and The Quran  and The Holy Bible and studied Hinduism. Each of these Professor basic belief and leading by serving and kindness. Each of these believe power of inner goodness and Enlightenment.

I have noticed that we are not always kind to one another. I have noticed that I am not always kind. I get mad and I name call. I get into swearing contest where I always win. I am super extra really very good at being a b****. If being an awful person or an Olympic sport, I would metal internationally.

But right now I want to tell you about being fair and being kind and healing rooms. I want to talk to you about taking the torn pieces of our country and putting it back together. I want to talk to you about safety.

Be a safety pin.

Perhaps you really think that your skin color makes you better than somebody else. Okay, I get that. Hopefully you will not go out into the world and say that out loud because that will make you sound incredibly stupid and aweful.

Perhaps you believe in the depths of your soul that your religious standing is proof that God loves you more than he loves anyone else and you are the best person on the face of the Earth and already pre-selected to go into heaven and pass judgement on other people. Fabulous! That’s wonderful! Good for you! Keep that information to yourself, it does not sound good. It makes you sound elitist, stuck up, and just a little bit very much crazy.

Maybe you are attracted to somebody that the world says you can’t be in love with. Perhaps this gives you a deep burning pain. Do not go into the world and pass judgement on anybody else you suspect has the same feelings. Please worry only about yourself and learning to accept and love yourself without interfering with anybody else’s acceptance of themselves.

Love yourself like mad. Appreciate and know your value. Let others convert to believing you are terrific without screaming this good news in their faces.

Don’t write your self praise on buildings. resist the urge to spray paint your opinions of others on walls and cars or churches . 

Be a safety pin

  • Refuse to let anyone else be hateful in your hearing or sight .  
  • Defend anyone being picked on. 
  • Protest oppression 
  • Teach your children to be fair
  • Take a hard look at who you spend time with and how you behave as a group
  • Smile at strangers
  • Do small and large acts of kindness as many years times a day as you can
  • Ask yourself “what is true for me in this moment” before you act poorly
  • Give others room and permission to be their true selves
  • Listen to the voices of dissenters and try to understand

Be a Safety Pin 

   or at the very least, don’t be a sucky person.


Blame the mother? Must we ?

When a woman is paid significantly less than a man is, and the man in her family is not in the home but she has children to feed : a boyfriend is as much an economical tool as he is an emotional partner. If men are paid more, then a man is needed to pay the bills.

But not all men are good men and a 22 year old is barely more than a child. So when a mother has a man live with her family and builds a relationship and he explodes: is it her fault or his?

If I send my child to school and the teacher hurts her, is it my fault or the teacher’s fault?

If I take my child to church and the minister hurts her: done blame the minister or myself?

If I bring my child home and my boyfriend hurts her: why am I now to blame where I was absolved before?

And why don’t we have sympathy and support for grieving parents? Where are the exit routes out of these bad relationships? Where is the ability for a woman to financially support her own children alone?


I hate Facebook comments.

Domestic Violence is a real thing, a real problem, and absolutely impossible to understand until you’ve felt trapped and hopeless.

http://www.Baby Allegedly Beaten by Mom’s Boyfriend Not Expected to Survive: Family | NBC Southern Californianbclosangeles.com/news/local/Thirteen-Month-Old-Boy-Critically-Injured-306570601.html?_osource=SocialFlowFB_LABrand

Sometimes I Cry

I don’t think I have told you that before.

Sometimes the work prompts me to cry.

Today I met with a man who does not know where his wife is, and does not feel he should remove his children from living with her parents because he is homeless. He sees them in the daytime and does homework with them and them sleeps on the streets at night. He was crusted in filth and smelled of urine and rot. Dirt filled the creases of his neck and his fingernails were indistinguishable because of the buildup of soot and debris. Looking at his clubbed thumbs, I am going to play amateur hour and diagnose him with heart problems. In speaking with him it was apparent that he struggles with English.

The part of me that is a mother wanted to hug him, bathe him and just cry. This man was someone’s baby.

The part of me who is a social worker looked for solutions, GR, Legal Aid, 211, Shelters, and all the places he could find food or a ride. I gave him that information.

The part of me that is human hid in the bathroom and bawled before unconsciously scrubbing my hands and arms and neck because I could not wash his.