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.

I Need a New T-shirt . . .

AKA – if you donate to @MENDpoverty and tell them I sent you : I can have a new shirt and your TAX Deductible donation will be Doubled! Don’t feel you have to break the bank – even a $2 donation is cool with me.

Write my name on the screen
this is where you say my name . you can write my name, or website, or just “Tell Sonya Hello!”
Please help us reach our year end goal by donating to MEND! Refer four

friends from now until June 30th to give a total of $100 and win a limited edition t-shirt designed by our friends at Big Citizen HUB.

Remember that any donation we receive by June 30th will be doubled, thanks to a matching gift by a generous donor!
Join us in breaking the bonds of poverty and paving a pathway to self-reliance for our neighbors in need.


For an even better time, you can write things like ” I love Tarry ”  ( she is in charge of fundraising ) , “Scott looks great in a tie ” ( he is the math wiz doing the budgets ) or something else fun.

To End Poverty, we need to Mend Poverty. We can meet each need with dignity!”

What happens to what you donate

Seriously, you don’t want it any more and you hope it goes to good use… but once it is out of your house, garage, storage unit – where does it go?

Find out before you donate. When I worked at LAMP Community, someone donated 200 boxes of Calgone Bubble bath. Wonderful, if there were a single bathtub anywhere on skid row or one of the shelters or apartments LAMP was associated with.

I am a big fan of The Goodwill. I did not think I would be once I let the baby crawl around in white pants that came up black a few moments later… but my teenager spent all of $10 and bought two formal dresses. One was a Halloween costume and the other went to Winter Formal.

Do ask your charity of choice if they share donations with other orgs that can put them to good use.

Discover that some places, like Goodwill have a Thrift store Model and others, like MEND have a department store model.  Both are great and I invite you to check both out. It will also give you a good idea of where your donations should go. Another favorite of mine is Out of the Closet Thrift Stores.


Diaper $$$ in Glendale

oh where is @helpamotherout when my heart is breaking.

I don’t just have the homeless CalWorks families in San Fernando Valley – I have the Pregnant and Parenting Teens.
One teen mother is just sweet, smart and amazing and has graduated from highschool and is enrolling in college. I totally dig her.

Today she asked me about finding diapers for her baby.
Her cash aid pays for rent, and lights and heat – but not enough is left for diapers.

My heart is bleeding. Where can I send a girl in Glendale for help paying for diapers? I wish The City of Glendale and Ascencia were repeating the Diaper drive from last year: http://www.achieveglendale.org/blog/2010/11/diaper-drive-coming-soon/

How to volunteer for a Homeless Shelter

these are ideas from @Ascencia  and @URM


 for Ascencia (in Glendale)

Volunteers do a wonderful job of helping us maintain our facility and provide more programs to enrich our clients experience while here.  Depending on your skills and interests, you may be able to help with the following:

  • Reading to children
  • Holiday parties
  • Crafts
  • Play dates with the children
  • Gardening
  • Spring cleaning
  • Tutoring (this is managed by School on Wheels, click here for more information)
  • Miscellaneous building repairs
  • Clerical support
  • Professional services, including accounting, public relations, and grantwriting

Donation “Drives” for:

  • new socks
  • new underwear
  • new or gently used blankets
  • new linens
  • hygiene kits
  • diapers/ pull-ups (especially sizes 4, 5 and 6)

For more information, please contact Elizabeth Tismeer by email or call (818) 409-0506.

♥♥♥♥♥☻☺for The Union Rescue Mission ♥♥♥♥♥☻☺

Volunteers Needed for Christmas Store

We are busy preparing for our 20th Annual Chistmas Store, and we need your help! There are opportunities to volunteer at this years Christmas Store on December 15th and 16th – from Gift Wrappers to Personal Shoppers to Kids Store Crafts, there is something for everyone.

Christmas Store allows families in need to shop for their children for free – we have a Main Store for parents to shop for their kids, while kids get to spend time in the Kids Store shopping for mom and dad, taking a picture with Santa, making crafts and more!

If you are interested in volunteering, PLEASE COPY/PASTE the link(s) below into your browser. For some reason, the links are not working if you click on them. You will need to enter all your individual information in order to be registered; if you are coming as part of a group, please make sure each individual registers through these links.  If you have any questions, please email volunteer@urm.org

Thursday, December 15th from 8am-12:30pm — www.urm.org/christmasstorethursday8am

Thursday, December 15th from 12pm-5pm — www.urm.org/christmasstorethursday12pm

Friday, December 16th from 8am-12:30pm — https://www.urm.org/christmasstorefriday8am

Friday, December 16th from 12pm-6pm — https://www.urm.org/christmasstorefriday12pm

What was Your Call to Action ?

Is there a special “cause” in your life?

Do you Walk for Cancer?

Research and promote autism awareness?

Looking for a cure to Diabetes?

Funding books for the blind?

Rocking AIDs babies?

Housing the homeless?

Feeding the poor?

What do you do – and why do you do it?

Remember in High School; we all had to take “Extra Curricular’, non-core classes? I strongly believe life should be like that. Our focus should be shaved enough to let the light of other people’s lives shine in so we become more well-rounded and less selfish.

Feeding 3rd world countries?

Voters rights?

Women’s Rights

Human Rights

Save the Whales

Religious Freedom

Pro-Gay or Anti-Gay Rights

Hearing Aids for low-income children

Preventing Premature babies

Spay and neutering animals

Free legal aid for victims of Domestic Violence

————————- Do you do these with a friend, or privately and on your own?

Have you made a difference? Is someone or something’s life better because you turned your head and looked at something you wanted to make better?

Car seat safety

Neighborhood watch

Arts in the schools

Clean air

How would you feel if anyone saw what you were doing and told you that you did not do enough? If they complained that someone took your photo while you were volunteering and posted it to their supports, so now they assume you are doing your good work for self glory?

Ending drug sales to youth

Removing junk food from school vending machines

Ending Illiteracy

Cleaning tombstones

Tying yellow ribbons to trees

Protesting war

Delivering food to the homebound

Exposing homelessness in our cities

Trash pick up at the beach

Diaper Drive in Glendale!

Hamo logo

Help A Mother Out is having a Diaper Drive in So. California. – this is the invitation:

Join us at the Glendale Police Department on December 1 at 10am for a morning social to kick off the Glendale Diaper Drive!

Help us diaper babies in need by participating in the Glendale Diaper Drive this holiday season.  Donations will accepted online and at participating dropoff locations from December 1 through December 14. 

At our kick-off event you will meet the people behind the drive – the Glendale Domestic Violence Task Force, Glendale Rotary Club at Noon, and PATH/Achieve Glendale – and learn more about how diaper need affects our community.

  • At any given point there are 42 women and children in Glendale homeless due to domestic violence.
  • Homeless families in crisis need diapers. 
  • Nearly 4,000 families in Glendale earn less than $10,000 per year.
  • It can cost up to $1,100 per year to diaper a baby. 
  • Diapers are not covered under food stamps or WIC.
  • Babies left in dirty diapers face great risk for diaper rash, staph, and urinary tract infections.